The Otis Library Asks:
What are you reading?

Book reviews and best sellers lists are all well and good, but sometimes the best books are those you hear about from word of mouth. With that in mind, the Otis Library asks “What are you reading?” Add their recommendations to your own reading list! Remember to ask at the Information Desk if you need help locating one of these books.

Our reader this month is:
Keith Fontaine

Keith Fontaine is Vice President for Corporate Communications at The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich. In that role, he is responsible for the hospital’s marketing, public relations, fundraising, volunteer services and patient satisfaction programs.

Keith is also President of the Otis Library Board of Trustees, and has served on the Board for eight years. Prior to his career in healthcare, Keith was Executive Editor of the Norwich Bulletin, and had worked at the newspaper for 21 years.

He loves to read — just about anything. He and his wife, Nancy, live in Norwich, in their book-filled house with their children Emma, 14, and Nick, 11.


You might think a novel with a title “On Chesil Beach” would be a great
sun-’n’-surf read. It’s short (only 203 pages); it’s by best-selling author
Ian McEwan ("Saturday," "Atonement"); and, hey, it’s got "beach" in the title.

You’d be right — if you wanted to forget about the sand, the waves, the family and the sun. The sentences are dense but gorgeous. The time is mainly constrained to one single night, a disastrous wedding night, with vivid flashbacks. The characters — there are really only two, Edward and Florence — are both sparingly and richly drawn. We may not ever like them, but we care about them.

Think about how long it would take you to read a 200-page book, and add at least half again as long. Like me, you may find yourself re-reading paragraphs or entire pages — mining them for sheer pleasure. Take it to the beach, if you must. But, better yet, save it for a rainy weekend.


I’m usually not a fan of autobiographies or memoirs; most famous folk don’t seem nearly as willing to share their foibles as well as their feats. Maybe that’s why they’re famous. But a journal kept for half-century by a noted historian as he rose to and fell back from Washington’s power base? That’s another story.

Arthur M. Schlesinger'sJournals: 1952-2000” is a delightful romp through the decades. It’s like palling around with the powerful —feeling the rush that young Arthur felt when first invited to the White House, his remorse and disgust at deaths and dalliances, his ennui with the rich and famous as years went by. He’s self-aware, or introspective, enough to include some of his petulant moments. But what a treat to be at social events with Lauren Bacall, Bianca Jagger, and an endless stream of Kennedys (especially Jackie).

Almost every page has a gem of history — or, better yet, gossip. And when he rants about Richard Nixon, who later became a next-door neighbor — what fun.


I could probably double the number of books I read in a year if I didn’t spend so much time reading newspapers. Notice I didn’t say, "waste". Time spent with papers — in print or online, but I really do prefer the paper-and-ink version — is a joy. I appreciate newspapers even more now that I no longer work for one.

My favorite, by a long shot, is The New York Times. No newspaper is perfect, and the Times, which publishes a million words or more each week, has more chances to get it wrong — sometimes magnificently so — than most journals.

That’s why I enjoyed "Public Editor #1," a collection of columns by the Times’s first Public Editor, or ombudsman, Daniel Okrent. For 18 months, Okrent was given free reign to opine, scold, blame or explain the Gray Lady’s coverage and policies. You don’t have to be a journalist to enjoy these columns. They offer a rare inside look at one of the free world’s most powerful institutions, its occasionally brilliant and sometimes flawed people, its readers and its place in democracy. That’s quite a job description, and in the course of his duties, Okrent got some honchos at the Times mighty riled up.

He also produced lasting changes: Better corrections, fewer anonymous sources, enforceable ethics standards — even a better arts calendar. The Times still can’t live up to its motto, "All the News That’s Fit to Print," but Okrent’s voice made some of what’s printed better.


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