Summer Learning at the Orange County Public Library

Summer Learning 1 pagerSummer is fast approaching, and that means it’s time for Summer Learning at the Orange County Public Library! This year’s theme is “Build a Better World,” and the Friends are proud to sponsor many fun and engaging activities at the Library over the summer, for learners of all ages. It all kicks off Saturday, June 3, beginning with a 5K walk and fun run on the Riverwalk at 8 a.m. Then head over to the library from 9 a.m. to noon for a sign-up registration party, with activities for kids, folk music, snoballs, and more.

Over the summer, you can enjoy local author panels, family yoga, an ice cream social, and National Dance Day. Read great books, of course, and find out how you can make a difference in your community and library by volunteering. For more information, visit the library’s website.

The Friends will sponsor two author panels over the summer, so mark your calendars:

  • Monday, June 12, 6:30 p.m. — Summer Learning Discussion: A panel of local authors recommend nonfiction favorites to rev up your summer learning.
  •  Saturday, July 8, 1:00 p.m. — Summer Loving Discussion: A panel of local authors share their best-loved stories just in time for vacation reading.

Stay tuned for other exciting events that the Friends have planned for the summer! And thank you for being a Friend.

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Book Sale Success

We had a terrific book sale last weekend, thanks in large part to our terrific volunteers, as well as to all the members of the community who turned out for the sale. We raised over $4,000 for the Library! We’re already looking forward to our fall book sale, which will be held the last weekend of September. As always, bring your book donations to the library at any time. (Please call first if you have more than one box of books to donate.) While you’re there, remember to stop by the ongoing book sale and pick up a membership form to renew your Friends membership (or download the form here), if you haven’t already done so for 2017.

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Spring Book Sale, May 11-14

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Thursday, May 11, 5-7:30pm: Preview sale, reception, and silent auction for members only

Friday, May 12, and Saturday, May 13, 10am-5:30pm: General sale and silent auction open to members of the public

Sunday, May 14, 12-4pm: $5 bag day

Location: Meeting room of the main library branch, 137 W. Margaret Lane, Hillsborough

Volunteers are still needed to help set up and break down. Sign up here.

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Book Sale May 11-14 (and More!)

We on the Board of the Friends of the Orange County Public Library are looking forward to a fun and productive 2017.

First, we’d like to thank all of our Friends members as well as members of the community who supported the Library after it was flooded in January. The Friends held an impromptu fund raiser to cover the insurance deductible, and with your generous help, we exceeded our goal in just a few days. 

Last year, the Friends sponsored a pilot project to fund Book Harvest’s Books on Break summer-reading program at New Hope Elementary. This year, we were pleased to continue our support of this important and successful effort to provide children with books for summer vacation reading.

We have also continued our support of the Library’s terrific Summer Learning program by providing funding for activities, prizes, and events all summer long. Summer Learning kicks off June 3 with a fun run and a day of events at the Library. Stay tuned for details on how you can get involved! If you or your organization is interested in sponsoring any Summer Learning events, please contact us.

The Spring Book Sale is coming up: May 12-14 at the Library. Friends members are invited to attend a reception, auction, and sneak peek on Thursday, May 11, 5-7:30. We need volunteers to work the book sale! Please click here to sign up to volunteer.

If you have not renewed your membership for 2017, now would be a great time to do so. Please click here to download an application form, which you can drop off at or mail to the Library. You can also easily renew your membership at the book sale.

If you would like to contribute, volunteer, or join our Board, please contact us at focplnc@gmail.com. Thank you for being a Friend!

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First Monday Classics – The Stranger by Albert Camus

On May 1, First Monday Classics will be tackling The Stranger by Albert Camus. While researching the book, I saw multiple references to the fact that it’s often assigned reading in high school, which was surprising to me. I first read the book in my early twenties, after I’d graduated from college. I remember being shocked by the book’s blatant and unrepentant atheism. I’d grown up in the Bible belt. Perhaps this book was assigned reading elsewhere in high school, but it seemed to me to be the sort of book that would have wound up getting removed from the library if it had been assigned reading while I was attending school in Mississippi.

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Note that I wasn’t shocked by the atheism itself. I’d been raised a fundamentalist, but in my teens I’d become an atheist, and a somewhat loud, militant, and obnoxious member of that tribe. Confronting others with the absence of God was one of my favorite hobbies. What shocked me was the nakedness of Camus’ treatment of the subject, the fact that someone had put so many of my thoughts and feelings onto paper twenty years before I’d been born. Reading the book in my early twenties, I felt tremendous empathy for Meursault, and felt a little less alone in the universe.

The irony of this reaction isn’t lost on me, since the whole argument of the book is that we are ultimately alone in the universe, and Meursault responds to this truth by shedding all traces of empathy. He kills a man and is incapable of feeling remorse. He’s not even able to understand his own motivations for the murder, defending the fact he fired five bullets into a man as simply a thing that happened because the sun had been shining too hot and bright. He has no logical explanation for his action, because he’s incapable of believing that things happen for a reason. Things happen as they happen, and to try to say that not killing the man was a better course of action than killing him is absurd to Meursault. He’s living in an uncaring universe where his death is certain, his victims death was certain, and the details of how a life plays out is ultimately meaningless because eternity will inevitably wash away all memory of our actions. Life is only a short absurdity, and the best we can hope for is to enjoy the few sensual pleasures available to us while we’re here.

When I was twenty three, Meursault’s feelings resonated with me. Yes, of course, life was pointless and absurd, but have what fun you can with it. Now that I’m fifty three, rereading the book proved uncomfortable. I find Meursault’s lack of empathy to be a devastating character flaw. He has the courage to accept the absence of God, but lacks the imagination to see that this doesn’t render life pointless. If we’re all trapped in a universe devoid of any higher meaning, it doesn’t follow that we must withdraw into ourselves and live like selfish, emotionless strangers. Quite the opposite. If there is no God to watch over us, then the full responsibility for the safety and happiness of our fellow man falls on our shoulders. The band Typhoon has a lyric in the song “Morton’s Fork” that sums up my feelings perfectly: We’re all alone in this together.

While I’ve lost respect for Meursault, I still have a great deal of respect for the Stranger. To qualify as a classic, a novel must struggle with a great theme. Camus faces a godless universe within these pages, and does so with skill and beauty. The writing is spare and precise, and despite the focus on the indifference of the universe, you can’t help but be moved by the wonder of small details like the way the sky changes color during the course of a day as Meursault watches from the tiny window of his prison cell. It’s a carefully crafted, thought provoking novel that still rewards the reader’s time and attention.

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First Monday Classics: The Grapes of Wrath

On the first Monday of each month at 6:30pm, I take part in the First Monday Classics Book Club at the Orange County Library in Hillsborough. April 3 will be the second anniversary for our group. We’ve covered a broad range of classics by authors such as Austen, Dostoevsky, Twain, and Cervantes, and now we’re getting ready to tackle one of the most acclaimed American novels, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. JohnSteinbeck_TheGrapesOfWrath

In choosing to focus on classics, this book club inevitably runs into a problem of definition: What, exactly, constitutes a classic? One of the criteria I look at when proposing books for the group is that the novel has a timeless quality, that the topics under discussion are just as relevant today as they were at the time the book was written. The Grapes of Wrath is nearly 80 years old, but as I’m rereading it this time I keep being struck by the sense that the novel could have been written today as a commentary on current issues.

To begin with, the novel is about the consequences of man-made climate change. The dust bowl was partly caused by poor farming practices that turned once fertile soils into barren dust. The Joads and thousands of other families are forced from their land as their crops fail. But even if the dust bowl draught years had never come, the novel makes clear that the Joads’ way of life is doomed by another force: technological advance. With big combine harvesters, a single man can work hundreds of acres that once required the labor of dozens of men. Yet another force of social change that will seem relevant today is that distant banks run by people the Joads will never meet decide their fate. There’s no one local to blame, no one to personally appeal to for another chance. The faceless world of finance doesn’t judge you by your character or your needs, only by whether or not you can pay.

Once the Joads reach California, they become migrant farm workers, facing the problems that still bedevil migrant workers. Employers need to hire hundreds of able hands for a few weeks, but after that the workers must move on. As people without homes, they’re treated as potential criminals by the locals. And not without cause, as Tom Joad, Steinbeck’s primary protagonist, is a convicted murderer violating his parole by leaving his home state. I admire Steinbeck’s courage in choosing Tom as his vehicle for exploring these difficult themes. It would have been tempting to make the central character a saint. That this far more complex character still earns our sympathy shows the depth of Steinbeck’s skills.

Of course, it’s possible to appreciate this novel without once thinking about how the problems faced by the characters are echoed in the modern world. The language of this novel is powerful in its clarity and beauty. Steinbeck’s ability to create a scene, to make you dwell inside a single moment, is something few writers can match. Near the beginning of the book he devotes an entire chapter to a turtle attempting to cross a road, turning an event most people barely notice into an epic tale of determination. This is the third time I’ve read this book, and on this pass I’m taking more time to step back from the story and simply appreciate the beauty of the words.

If you’ve appreciated this book in the past, or are considering reading it in the near future, please feel free to join us at the library at 6:30 on April 3. I can promise a lively, thought provoking discussion on a truly enduring classic.

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Fund-Raising Success!

Thank you to all the Friends and other supporters who donated to our GoFundMe campaign to help the Orange County Public Library after it was recently flooded. We raised $1,500 in total–which was well over our campaign goal! We are no longer accepting donations for this campaign; however, we encourage you to join the Friends of the Library or renew your membership and keep supporting our community library. For more information, pick up an application form in the library or download the application form here.

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