Fever by Mary Beth Keane

feverFever by Mary Beth Keane (Scribner, publication March 12, 2013)

Fever is a richly imagined, sympathetic portrait of Mary Mallon, the Irish immigrant better known as Typhoid Mary.

Mary, who makes her living as a chef to fancy households in New York, is one of the first known carriers of typhus; she is immune, but can pass on the disease through her cooking. Eventually, a government “sanitation engineer” tracks her down, and she is essentially kidnapped and imprisoned. Three years later, she finally wins her freedom, but only by agreeing to give up her life’s work and passion: cooking.

Giving up cooking means not just giving up her livelihood, but admitting that the health officials were right: that she is a carrier, that she did – inadvertently – bring sickness and death to many families. It is a difficult truth to face. Mary acknowledges, “It was possible to live in such a way as to keep one’s back to the things that were not convenient….She’d taken a risk, but living was itself a risk, and more people agreed it was a risk worth taking.”  And toward the end of the novel, Mary reflects: “[She] wondered whether it was possible for a person to know something and not know something at the same time. She wondered whether it was possible to know a truth, and then quickly un-know it, bricking up that portal of knowledge until every point of light was covered over.”

Most of the book is written in close third person from Mary’s perspective, which encourages the reader to sympathize with Mary. There are also a few sections with just Alfred, Mary’s longtime partner (but not husband), which explain his side of the story, but which probably aren’t entirely necessary.

Overall, Fever was a rich, engrossing, compelling novel. In fact, I so enjoyed it that I read two follow-up books: the short, nonfiction Typhoid Mary by Anthony Bourdain, and Keane’s earlier novel, The Walking People - both of which I recommend.

Thanks to Greg Mortimer at Scribner for a pre-pub copy of the book.

Fellow Mortals by Dennis Mahoney

fellowmortalsFellow Mortals by Dennis Mahoney (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, published February 5, 2013)

By throwing a match and a cigar into some dry bushes while on his route, mailman Henry Cooper causes a fire that kills a woman, burns down two houses, and damages two more. Henry is desperate to do everything he can to help the people whose lives he affected: Sam, now a widow; the Finn sisters, whose house was destroyed; the Carmichaels, a family of four; and couple Billy and Sherri Kane. Some of them want nothing to do with Henry; others accept his help immediately.

Of all of the people whose lives the fire affected, Sam Bailey is the one Henry must try hardest to reach. Sam’s wife Laura died in the fire, and Sam has retreated into the woods behind their old house, where he builds a cabin and carves trees into sculptures. Henry insists on helping him, and the two develop a relationship that is at first uneasy, but eventually becomes something resembling a friendship. Eventually, Henry draws his wife Ava out to the woods to spend time with Sam as well, though Henry asks Sam not to tell her how much he’s helping build the cabin; due to a heart condition, Henry isn’t supposed to do hard physical labor (yes, that’s foreshadowing).

This is a quiet, observant, transformative novel in which the characters wrestle with innocence and guilt, loss and forgiveness. Henry’s culpability for the fire, his guilt and desire to help both deepen and complicate his relationships with the people on Arcadia Street, and with Ava. In the wake of the tragic fire, some people are cleaved apart, while others cleave together. Henry’s essential goodness and innocence allow him to persevere, if clumsily, in forming bonds between people.

Mahoney’s characters are believable, and the sense of place is keenly developed. Comparisons to Stewart O’Nan (Songs for the Missing, Last Night at the Lobster) and Leah Hager Cohen (The Grief of Others) are apt.

Thanks to Emily Bell at FSG for a pre-publication copy of the book.

 

Just One Day by Gayle Forman

justonedayJust One Day by Gayle Forman (published January 2013)

Those who read a lot of YA fiction have doubtless encountered many trilogies recently. Often, the second book is the least satisfying, merely providing a bridge from the first book (in which most of the world-building takes place and the characters are introduced and established) to the final book (which, one hopes, provides the exciting and dramatic conclusion).

Gayle Forman wisely avoids this trap, opting to write books in pairs rather than in sets of three. I adored If I Stay and Where She Went, which together tell the story of Mia and Adam; she narrates the first book, he narrates the second. I was looking forward to Just One Day (the next book in this pair, Just One Year, comes out in the fall), and it did not disappoint.

Just One Day is Allyson’s story. Like Mia and Adam, Allyson is leaving high school and entering the world beyond: in her case, college, preceded by a summer tour through Europe. Allyson, always a good girl who lets her mother run her life to a degree unfathomable by me, impulsively takes a day trip to Paris with a young actor she meets in London, Willem. Their day and night is eventful and wonderfully romantic, until she wakes up the next morning and discovers him gone; heartbroken, she returns to London and then home, vowing to forget him, but when that strategy proves a failure, she decides she has to find him, and find out what happened.

There are so many great things about this book: it covers that transitional period between high school and college; the writing is lovely; Allyson’s friendships are realistic (she grows apart from a high school friend, miscommunicates with her roommates, finally makes a friend in her Shakespeare class), as are her relationships with her parents. For those who are partial to Shakespeare and European travel, those are bonus elements. Most of all, this is a story of personal growth, but it’s not a formulaic coming-of-age story; the author lets Allyson flounder for a while before getting back on her feet.

This story ended in a perfect place, and I can’t wait to read Just One Year.

Copyright and Plagiarism

Last month, I attended two webinars on copyright with Mary Minow of LibraryLaw.com. The first was Copyright Basics, and the second was called Hot Issues in Copyright; the webinars were presented by the Massachusetts Library System.

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Some of the material was familiar, of course, but some was new. Minow (coincidentally, the aunt of a close friend of mine) confirmed that all original creative content is automatically copyrighted to its creator. However, in order to gain the additional level of legal protection required to bring a lawsuit against someone who has infringed upon your copyright, it is necessary to get the official copyright from the government (there is an excellent Q&A page at copyright.gov).

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Some people infringe upon others’ copyrighted work because they think they can get away with it; others do it out of ignorance. Using a Creative Commons (CC) license is one way to raise awareness that you hold the copyright to your work, and that others must ask permission before using it. There are a variety of CC licenses, but, as it says on the site, “All Creative Commons licenses have many important features in common. Every license helps creators — we call them licensors if they use our tools — retain copyright while allowing others to copy, distribute, and make some uses of their work — at least non-commercially. Every Creative Commons license also ensures licensors get the credit for their work they deserve.”

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Though I had included a note on the “About” page of this blog and my other blog (“Unless otherwise noted, all blog content © Jenny Arch”), I added Creative Commons licenses recently as well – partly thanks to Minow’s reminder, and partly because, coincidentally, some of my own work was plagiarized right around the same time.

The internet is vast; I never would have known about it had an alert former co-worker not e-mailed me to let me know. She sent me a link to a post entitled “Plagiarism Sucks: It’s More Than Just Drama” on the blog Sparkles and Lightning, which is written by Annabelle, a high school senior in California. Annabelle’s fellow blogger Jessi (of Auntie Spinelli Reads) compiled a list of plagiarized reviews and bloggers, which Annabelle included in her post; my former co-worker noticed that one of my Goodreads reviews (for Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eyre Ward) was on the list.

I can’t slap a Creative Commons license up on Goodreads, because they have their own Terms. The “User Content” section of these terms includes the statement, “You understand that publishing your User Content on the Service is not a substitute for registering it with the U.S. Copyright Office, the Writer’s Guild of America, or any other rights organization.” This means that content-producing Goodreads users retain their automatic copyright, but don’t have an official government copyright – the same as if that content was posted on a blog online.

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The “License Grant” section of the Goodreads terms reads, “By posting any User Content on the Service, you expressly grant, and you represent and warrant that you have a right to grant, to Goodreads a royalty-free, sublicensable, transferable, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, worldwide license to use, reproduce, modify, publish, list information regarding, edit, translate, distribute, publicly perform, publicly display, and make derivative works of all such User Content and your name, voice, and/or likeness as contained in your User Content, in whole or in part, and in any form, media or technology, whether now known or hereafter developed, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing for any purpose at the sole discretion of Goodreads.”

The key words in the above paragraph are grant and license. By adding content to Goodreads, all users give Goodreads permission to “use, reproduce, modify, publish,” etc. that original content. I’m not a lawyer or an expert in copyright law, but it seems pretty clear from these terms that the user still retains the copyright to their original content, while giving Goodreads these permissions.

Neither Goodreads nor its users, however, give permission for user content to be copied by a third party and passed off as their own work – otherwise known as plagiarism.