Category: Fiction

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

By , October 1, 2015

We need diverse books! I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase or seen the hashtag on Twitter in the past year. Per statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, only 36 out of 3,500 children and young adult books published in 2014 were written by Latino authors. September 15th kicks off the annual celebration of Hispanic Heritage month. Nashville Public Library is hosting various events this month that highlight the literary and artistic contributions of Hispanic and Latino culture. In honor of this celebration, check out some of my favorite YA libros (books) written by Hispanic authors. Happy Reading!

Last night I sang to the...
Last Night I Sang to the Monster
by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Zach is an alcoholic. Zach is an addict. Zach doesn’t remember, but his therapist keeps asking him questions. He’s searching for answers to questions that Zach doesn’t want to remember, like how he got to rehab, who is paying for it, and why hasn’t he heard from his mom, dad, or brother?

Funny, heart-wrenching, and hopeful, Last Night I Sang to a Monster is about a young man’s struggle to face his troubled past and reconcile the challenges of the present in an uncertain future.

Mexican Whiteboy
Mexican Whiteboy
by Matt De La Peña

Danny Lopez is too white to fit in with inner-city kids and too brown to fit in with his private school classmates and, on top of that, he doesn’t even speak Spanish. The only thing Danny’s got going for him is his mean fastball, but life on the streets is a bit different than the ball field. Danny’s goal for the summer is to figure out who he is and, hopefully, track down his father in Mexico and find out why he left their family. Mexican Whiteboy addresses the complexities of racial identity and finding friendship in unlikely places.

*Since it is also Banned Books Week (September 27th-October 3rd), it is interesting to note that in 2012, Mexican Whiteboy was banned for containing “critical race theory”. If you needed (yet) another reason to check out this novel, you should totally read a banned book. It’s good for your brain.
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
By Meg Medina

Who is Yaqui Delgado?

Piddy needs to answer this question fast and diffuse the situation before she ends up in a fight with someone she doesn’t even know. Unfortunately, Piddy has a lot on her plate: new school, new apartment, and an absentee father who her mother refuses to discuss. The last thing she wants to deal with is a bully who thinks Piddy doesn’t act Latina enough.

A 2014 Pura Belpré Author award winner, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, is a brutally honest depiction of teen bullying.

Further reading:

The Firefly Letters: a suffragette’s journey to Cuba by Margarita Engle

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

- Raemona

Minecraft: Full STEAM Ahead

By , September 29, 2015

Minecraft Game Screenshot

Minecraft, a computer game where everything is made of blocks, is sweeping the nation. Everywhere you look you can find children playing the game, reading the books, or begging adults to buy them Minecraft merchandise at the store. There are many benefits to playing the game, and they can all be summed up in five letters – STEAM.

But wait, what is STEAM?

STEAM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art + Design, and Math.

How does STEAM apply to Minecraft?

Science: Players use their knowledge of materials to create different objects, tools, homes, or cities. For example, at the start of the game, players are automatically tasked with digging in order to find the material they need to create with – iron. Then, players smelt their iron – a process of placing iron ore into a forge, heating it up, and waiting for the final product: an ingot. Players can then make tools and other items out of their ingots.

Technology: Minecraft requires some kind of computer device whether it be a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, or a phone. You can access Minecraft anywhere! The benefit of playing Minecraft on different devices is that players learn new technological skills. Players become more adept at using keyboards and mice when playing on a computer. They can also develop their hand-eye coordination by playing on an Xbox or a tablet. Some advanced players may even become proficient at “hacking,” “modding,” or changing the code of the game.

Engineering: There are different game modes that children and young adults can play in, such as Sandbox style and Inventor style. In Sandbox style, players can create different environments and structures. In Inventor style, players can figure out how to build working objects, like elevators and cannons.

Art + Design: When children and young adults play Minecraft, they will likely spend hours creating the perfect design. They will decide on colors, sizes, placement, etc. for their blocks based on their mined items. Creating their world will help develop architectural skills as they put their blocks together and create different structures and equipment.

Math: Mathematics encompasses more than just using numbers to calculate amounts. It also incorporates logic and reasoning skills. Using logic and reasoning, players determine how to build their world inside Minecraft. Minecraft also helps players understand the concept of graphing because the Minecraft world operates through grids, and it helps them understand geometry using and creating different three-dimensional shapes.

Schools are beginning to acknowledge the many benefits of Minecraft, and the developers of the game have responded by offering a bundle pack available specifically to schools called MinecraftEDU. Some schools are even implementing Minecraft labs for students to use during the day to focus on and build STEAM skills. Dan Thalkar, a Los Angeles Charter School teacher, believes that Minecraft is successful in classrooms because you can use it for pretty much anything:

“If you want to use it for something for math or for science you can, either just by using the game itself or by modifying it.”1


Minecraft Handbooks for Kids (and Adults)

Minecraft Redstone Handbook

Minecraft Redstone Handbook

Minecraft Combat Handbook

Minecraft Combat Handbook

Minecraft Construction Handbook

Minecraft Construction Handbook

Minecraft Essential Handbook

Minecraft Essential Handbook


Minecraft Chapter Books Encourage Reading

The Skeletons Strike Back: an Unofficial Gamer's Adventure

The Skeletons Strike Back: an Unofficial Gamer’s Adventure

Last Stand on the Ocean Shore: an Unofficial Minecrafter's Adventure

Last Stand on the Ocean Shore: an Unofficial Minecrafter’s Adventure

Escape from the Overworld: an Unofficial Minecraft Gamer's Quest

Escape from the Overworld: an Unofficial Minecraft Gamer’s Quest

Battle for the Nether: an Unofficial Minecrafter's Adventure

Battle for the Nether: an Unofficial Minecrafter’s Adventure

Book review: The Bourbon Kings

By , September 22, 2015

The Bourbon Kings
By J.R. Ward

I have been a fan of the Warden for a while now. When her Black Dagger Brotherhood series came out, I thought it was awesome. Now that it has a few years on it, I’m starting to get a little annoyed with the Brothers and their quirky language, true? And don’t even talk to me about her Fallen Angels series. I could do 14 separate posts on what was wrong with it. I was never so happy that something came to an end and I don’t think I’m alone in this.

My colleague, Sharra, posted about the book release a month or so ago, and I’ve been intrigued ever since. A Southern family dynasty romance? I’m so in. I have a real soft spot for Southern literature and family sagas, so to put those together was very exciting. Plus, I had a feeling that the characters wouldn’t talk like drug-dealing morons (come one BDBers, you know I’m right).

Ward sets her story in the fictional town of Charlemont – which sounds a whole lot like Louisville, Kentucky. The Bradford family is world-renown as the best producers of bourbon, and they like to show off their wealth. But like many uber-wealthy families, theirs is completely dysfunctional. It’s derby time and somehow the whole clan finds itself together again for the big race day. Will everyone survive all this wonderful family togetherness?

It’s a good thing I grew up watching soap operas, because is this ever one. For a minute I thought we were in Dallas and someone was gonna shoot JR. My only real complaint is that if you are going to write a book about a city like Louisville, at least do us the courtesy of calling it Louisville. In the BDB, she invented the city of Caldwell just outside of New York City. She could have done the same thing here just as easily. Every time they refer to Charlemont, it pulled me out of the story because I knew they really meant Louisville. It’s not like it’s trademarked or anything.

But overall, I would say this was a pretty good book. It definitely grabs you and you don’t want to put the book down. Plus, there’s a big scene with a thunderstorm and honestly, she had me at the boom! All it needed was an evil cloned twin who was stolen by Russians at birth to be perfect.

It looks like this is going to be her new series, and I’m in to see what happens to the Bradford family. (Insert creepy soap opera music here…dun dun dahhhh!)

Happy reading…

:) Amanda



Book review: Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes

By , September 11, 2015

913YAFmLDXLAlly Hughes Has Sex Sometimes
by Jules Moulin

This may be an unusual way to start a book review, but in a minute you’ll understand why. I would like to acknowledge, celebrate, and applaud all of the single parents out there. Single parents work so hard to care for and raise your children, to work and maintain a home. You deserve all the happiness, good fortune, and moments of relaxation that come your way.

Ally Hughes is a single mom. She got pregnant during her junior year of college, and had her daughter Lizzie, without any support from the father. Ally finished college, completed her PhD, and is now teaching feminist economics at Brown, all while raising her extremely gifted, now ten year old daughter Lizzie. Enter Ally’s chance at happiness and relaxation (and dare I say love?!): Jake Bean, a twenty-one year old student in Ally’s class, who has requested a meeting to discuss his failing grade. Ally not only grants him that passing grade, but hires him to do some chores and repairs that her usual handyman has bailed on.

As Jake works around the house, he and Ally connect, and the romantic tension builds.   When Jake suggests they spend the night together, Ally reminds him she’s 31, he’s 21, AND her student.   Not anymore, he admits. Jake has quit Brown to take his life wherever it leads him. Ally has been so devoted to her daughter and focused on her career for so long… She reluctantly says yes, but only if their time together can remain a secret, and just for the weekend. If you’ve paid attention to the title of this book, you know what happens next.

Fast forward ten years. Ally’s twenty year old daughter Lizzie is pursuing a career in acting, and gets a bit part in a big movie, opposite the handsome A-List co-star Noah Bean. Lizzie invites him to have dinner at her mom’s house. When they arrive, Ally is shocked to find that her daughter’s friend, Noah Bean, is actually Jake Bean, her long-lost lover. Yikes!

Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes is Jules Moulin’s first novel, but if you were a Party of Five and/or The West Wing fan, you’ve experienced her smart, insightful, and witty writing.   Although her first novel isn’t perfect, Moulin’s cast of characters remains fully realized when her plot falls a little short. The love affair between Jake and Ally is as hot as a ghost pepper, but Moulin also brings to life that deep intimacy you expect between two people who are meant to be together. And I haven’t even mentioned the Internet sex-crimes ring that gets a big smackdown!

Ally Hughes would be a great beach read,  or just a great read for when you’re sitting in an easy chair with a cat (in my case) or your beloved toddler asleep in your lap.


Book review: Who Do You Love?

By , September 8, 2015

Who Do You Love by Jennifer WeinerWho Do You Love
By Jennifer Weiner

Who do I love? Hmm…let’s see. I love my husband. I love my crazy kittens. I love my family. I more than like my job. I love…



Oh. Who Do You Love is the title of a book by Jennifer Weiner? And you weren’t asking me who I really loved?

That’s ok. I love Jennifer Weiner too! Ever since her first book, Good in Bed, came out in 2001 I’ve enjoyed her Chick Lit novels. If her name sounds familiar, that’s because her second book, In Her Shoes, was made into a movie staring Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette. Good in Bed has always been my favorite, and after the first two, Weiner’s other books have kind of left me flat. It felt like she was working too hard and not letting the story tell itself.

Until now.

Who Do You Love, her latest book is giving Good in Bed a run for its money as my favorite Jennifer Weiner book. I wasn’t really expecting much because I’d all but given up on Weiner as a novelist, and then she comes out with something great like this.

Basic premise: Rachel has a heart defect that kept her in and out of hospitals throughout most of her childhood. During one particularly memorable visit, she stumbles across Andy sitting in the emergency room without any parents, holding a broken arm. The nurses can’t treat him until they have parental permission because he’s minor, so to help him pass the time, Rachel comes over and starts to tell him a pretty convoluted version of Hansel and Gretel. From that point, it seems like Andy and Rachel’s star are linked and they break apart and come together over the course of the story.

I enjoyed how Weiner wove the two story lines together. It wasn’t completely unexpected, but it had enough life that I stayed engaged. Both characters were well-developed and they felt real and not cliched. I’m so glad that Weiner has returned to her original, completely awesome  form. I was thisclose to breaking up with her. I’m glad I stayed the course so I could meet Andy and Rachel. They were worth the wait.

If you haven’t read Weiner yet, I definitely recommend Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, and Who Do You Love. The others you read at your own risk. They aren’t bad, but they aren’t as good as these three.

Happy reading…

:) Amanda



Book Review: Armada

By , August 25, 2015

By Ernest Cline

A few years ago we all (and I mean ALL of us) geeked out over a little book called Ready Player One. It was an epic battle filled with gaming, fun 80′s stuff, and adventure. It even made our Best of 2012 Popmatic Podcast episode as one of our favorite books of the year. Thanks Crystal for bringing us so much fun and entertainment!

Then we waited. And waitedandwaitedandwaitedandwaitedandwaitedandwaitedandwaited…sigh.

We had to wait three more years until Cline wrote a follow-up to his best seller. But have no fear my friends. It’s finally here!

In his smashing new novel, Ernest Cline brings you…THE END OF THE WORLD!!!! (Insert cymbal crash)

Wait. What?

Well, imagine that all the video games that you’ve played and movies that you’ve watched about aliens invading Earth, weren’t just Science Fiction. That’s right, Star Wars, Independence Day, Contact, Space Invaders, and the fictional game (I think) called Armada are all actually training simulations designed to educate humans and train them to defeat the aliens in the coming invasion. Zack Lightman, aka Iron Beagle, is ranked sixth in the world of Armada fighter pilots. One day he is sitting is class and when he sees the alien warships  from his game hovering over his town. Is he hallucinating? Is he going crazy, just like his dad?

The next day, Lightman is recruited to join to Earth Defense Alliance and the adventure begins. Will they be successful? Will they pull a Will Smith and totally save the day?

You’ll have to read it to find out. In comparison to Ready Player One, this one doesn’t quite beat it. BUT, since I think that RPO was just about the best book written since Gone with the Wind or Harry Potter, that still means that Armada is a pretty decent book. (If you’ve not read any of these books, I still love you, but you need to come into my office for a little chat.) Also, I’ve never been the biggest fan of aliens, so that might be part of the reason that I didn’t super love it. At this point, though, I’ll pretty much read anything Ernest Cline will write, and this will make a great movie someday (hopefully…hint hint).

Speaking of movies, it looks like Steven Spielberg will be directing the big screen version of Ready Player One which is set to come out sometime in 2017. And if you’ll excuse me, I now need to go get in line at the movie theater…

Happy gaming…

:) Amanda

Back to School with the Wilson Collection!

By , August 24, 2015
"The Canterbury Tales" by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer

“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

This is a favorite time of the year for parents but not so much for kids – that’s right, school is back in session. Summer flies by when you’re having fun, kids! BUT that doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun in school. Think of all the awesome books you get to read – both for fun and required. While schools are aspiring to remain modern with their pick of required reads such as Enders Game or The Book Thief, there are still several classics that are both required-reads and must-reads. AND the Wilson Collection at NPL is the perfect place to find almost every required read throughout the last century (and more…)

Currently, several of the most popular required reads such as The Great Gatsby and Brave New World are on display in the Wilson Room, including a few you may be unfamiliar with that were on the Limitless Libraries’ Summer Reading List this year (or a few I was unfamiliar with).

Here’s a sample:

LEC_All Quiet on the Western Front_1969

All Quiet on the Western Front
Author: Erich Maria Remarque
Artist: John Groth
Published by the LEC: 1969

McGavock High School included this book on their summer reading list, along with a few contemporary books such as Divergent and Code Name Verity. It’s required for the German III class because the author is a German veteran of World War I. A real thriller you might say, the story describes the extreme stress that the soldiers went through during and after the war.

The story was first published in 1928 in a German newspaper, Vossische Zeitung. It came out in book form later in January 1929. There was a sequel written in 1930 as well - The Road Back. Both books by Remarque were banned and burned in Nazi Germany. So there’s your reason if you’ve never heard of it.

"Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka

Author: Franz Kafka
Artist: José Luis Cuevas
Published by the LEC: 1984

As a part of McGavock’s German IV & V curriculum, Metamorphosis is an even more thrilling story among college students. A classic novella originally published in 1915, Kafka’s story is also commonly known as “The Transformation” due to its content. The story begins with the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, waking to find himself transformed into a large, insect-like creature. No reason is given or alluded to, but the rest of the story follows Gregor’s life as he adjusts to his new condition and the response he receives from his family.

And now for a few that you might know…

LEC_Scarlet Letter_1941The Scarlet Letter
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Artist: Henry Varnum Poor
Published by the LEC: 1941

I remember when I read this one in high school and it was definitely unprecedented to anything else I had ever read. And to be honest, CliffsNotes was a big help to me when I read this as well because at that age, the content and language was a little advanced for me. But I don’t regret reading and encourage others to check it out if you haven’t, because it is a compelling story that speaks volumes about human nature, especially during that time frame (roughly during the years 1642 and 1649).

Considered Hawthorne’s most popular work, The Scarlet Letter tells the story of young Hester Prynne. Hester finds herself in a troubling situation when she becomes pregnant and has a daughter from an affair. I will not spoil the story by revealing the man in which she has an affair with because that is part of the plot, but it is a shocker. Hester is shamed and punished for her adultery and forced to wear the scarlet letter “A” on her clothing. Without revealing anymore details, I will say that this is a must read whether you are required to or not.

Wuthering HeightsWuthering Heights
Author: Emily Brontë
Artist: Balthus (really talented artist that has illustrated several other books for the LEC)
Published by the LEC: 1993

Though I’ve never read this book because it was not required in any of my classes, it is on my to-read list on Goodreads. But from what I can interpret from reviews and descriptions of the story, it is a frustrating and passionate love story between the characters Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. I say frustrating because if you’ve ever read anything by Jane Austen, you’d identify her love stories as well, frustrating…and maybe that’s love. But the story and language is very much similar. A good summary of this love story based on my research is that love is not easy. So how’s that for vague.

But this was Emily Brontë’s only novel, so it makes it even more inviting to sample. It was written sometime around 1845 and 1846, then published in 1847 under her pseudonym “Ellis Bell.” Brontë then passed away a year later at the young age of 30. Emily’s sister, Charlotte (famously known for her book, Jane Eyre), edited the manuscript of Wuthering Heights and republished a second version in 1850.

I love this version of the book by the LEC because the illustrations by Balthus are extraordinary. They really bring out the angst and general atmosphere of the story. This is one of my favorite books in the Wilson Collection so I definitely recommend coming to check it out!

More Pictures! 

White Fang by Jack London. Published by the LEC in 1973

White Fang by Jack London. Published by the LEC in 1973.

The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper. Published by the LEC in 1961.

The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper. Published by the LEC in 1961.

Emma by Jane Austen. Published by the LEC in 1964

Emma by Jane Austen. Published by the LEC in 1964.

If you are interested in viewing more books from the Wilson Collection individually, you can make an appointment by calling either (615) 880-2356 or (615) 880-2363, or simply respond to this blog post.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more next month!

YA Road Trips

By , August 15, 2015

“It’s a road trip! It’s about adventure! . . . It’s not like we have somewhere to go.”

John Green, An Abundance of Katherines

Summer is winding down, the days are getting shorter, and the first day of school is just around the corner. Shake off your back to school blues and go on an end-of-summer vacation with a hot YA Road Trip title. Before hitting the open road, don’t forget to fill up the gas tank, pack some snacks, and create the perfect summer playlist.

Summer Went Up In Flames
How My Summer Went Up in Flames
by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski
First comes love, and then comes… a temporary restraining order? Rosie didn’t mean to set her ex-boyfriend’s car on fire. She was just trying to burn everything he ever gave her after finding out he was “dating” i.e. cheating on her with a cute, blond freshman. The summer before senior year was not supposed to turn out like this. Between pending criminal court dates and stalking charges, Rosie’s parents decide it would be best to send her on a road trip to Arizona with neighbor, Matty, and two of his responsible (a.k.a “nerdy”) friends. Can Rosie’s summer be salvaged by finding real love in unfamiliar places?Playlist: 1000 Forms of Fear by Sia

Eat, Brains, Love
Eat, Brains, Love
by Jeff HartSenior Year. Zombie Virus. Two Undead Fugitives. One psychic zombie hunter. After Jake and Amanda devour half the senior class during lunch period, they realize something has gone terribly wrong. They’ve become zombies. As suspicious news reports are released calling the lunchtime massacre a run-of-the-mill “school shooting”, Jake and Amanda decide the open road is their only option for freedom and…Food. Meanwhile, Cass, a telepathic, zombie-hunting, government agent is tracking their cross-country movements, as she questions the ethics of her chosen profession. Tensions rise and attractions grow as the hunt for the undead duo continues across state lines and Jake, Amanda, and Cass find themselves in a strange zombie love triangle.Playlist: Strange Desire by Bleachers

The Disenchanchments
The Disenchantments
By Nina LaCourBev and Colby are the only seniors at their high school who are not going to college next year. However, they’ve planned an epic travel adventure filled with music, friends, and fun. First, they’ll embark on a West Coast tour with Bev’s band, The Disenchantments, followed by a year dedicated to exploring Europe. The van is packed, the band hits the road, and everything is going well, until Bev reluctantly admits to applying for college in secret. Colby is finally forced to figure out what his future looks like without Bev, or a backup plan.Playlist: Peace & Noise by Patti Smith

Amy and Roger's Epid Detour
Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour
by Morgan MatsonEver since her father’s fatal accident, Amy Curry doesn’t drive. No one talks about what exactly happened or whether Amy is to blame. In the aftermath, solitude becomes Amy’s best friend after her twin brother, Charlie, is placed in a North Carolina rehab center and her mom lands a teaching job in Connecticut. Sad and alone on the West Coast, Amy has to face her biggest fears to get from California to Connecticut with Roger, an old family friend, who is incredibly cute. Can Amy confront the ghost of her past while road tripping with a seriously hot chauffeur?Playlist: Coming Home by Leon Bridges

- Raemona

Back to School with Jack D. Ferraiolo

By , August 11, 2015

The Big Splash
By Jack D. Ferraiolo

I kinda hated school. I know a lot of people think that high school is the “time of your life” or it’s “the glory days.” To you I say, “Bah. Humbug” and then I shake my cane. But even middle school wasn’t that great for me. My mom taught 8th grade math in my school, so she was always there with me. This meant I could do nothing wrong ever because everyone (and I do mean everyone – even other teachers) would run to my mom to tattle.

And yet…

And yet, it still seems like my school experience wasn’t as bad as that of Matt Stevens. Matt goes to Franklin Middle School, aka The Frank, and he is the local PI for hire. Unfortunately, kids at his school are ending up in The Outs – usually with a squirt gun to the pants. Big Boss (and former teasee), Vincent Bigglio, aka Vinnie Biggs is running the show, dictating whose pants get soaked and when.

In Ferraiolo’s first book, The Big Splash, Vinnie’s number one assassin, Nicky Fingers is sent to The Outs and Vinnie hires Matt to find out why. Matt’s also trying to figure out what’s going on with his single mom and her two jobs.

In the sequel, The Quick Fix, Ferraiolo explores the dangerous world of pixy stick addiction. The Outs are still going strong, only this time, Matt has a feeling he’ll be joining them soon. Someone’s gunning for the star basketball player and it doesn’t look good. Plus what is up with his Mom?

These books have been described as Middle School noir and they are really more Maltese Falcon than Veronica Mars. Ferraiolo takes the gritty underworld of the detective and sends him to middle school where his problems are pixy sticks and Super Soakers, instead of drugs and Tommy guns. It’s really very cleverly done – almost to the point of stupefaction. Some of the analogies were almost laughable in the book, but it really works to tell a good story.

I think I most enjoyed how the ending of the second book set up the potential for an Outs rebellion. I don’t want to say more: SPOILER ALERT! But so far I have seen no sign that the author is getting ready to publish a third book. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, though.

These books were funny and enjoyable and relatively quick reads. They are officially listed as Juvenile Fiction, but adults would definitely enjoy them. And if you are a fan of any kind of noir, you need to check these out just for comparison. So I hope that your back to school adventure doesn’t land you in the dreaded Outs, but honestly, I’m pretty happy not to have to join you.

Happy Reading (and Writing and Arithmetic)…

:) Amanda

Two Days in Hemingway’s Cuba

By , August 8, 2015

Ernest HemingwayErnest Hemingway spent much of the 1940s and 50s in Cuba, where he penned The Old Man and the Sea. This summer, my sister and I spent several days in Cuba and visited some of Ernest Hemingway’s haunts.

Until recently, visiting Cuba has been prohibited due to travel restrictions for Americans, passed in 1963 after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Those travel restrictions have been lifted. Take a literary journey and retrace our steps.


Sloppy Joe’s (Freddy’s Bar)

Sloppy Joe's Exterior

One block from our room at Hotel Parque Central, mosaic tiles appeared beneath our feet, announcing that we had found Sloppy Joe’s. Commemorated as Freddy’s Bar in To Have and Have Not, Sloppy Joe’s was renovated and reopened in 2013, after 54 years of neglect. Dark wood paneling and display cases filled with rum bottles line the walls. Large square columns showcase photographs of mobsters and Hollywood celebrities who have visited, including a shot of Hemingway with Noel Coward and Alec Guinness. At the 59 foot bar, the longest bar in the city, we nibbled Spanish peanuts and ordered the Sloppy Joe, a cocktail made from brandy, Cointreau, Port and pineapple juice. With the 1950s Cuban music playing in the background, It was as if Hemingway could be there today.

The Floridita

Floridita Exterior

Our next stop was the Floridita, established in 1817. It was Hemingway’s favorite haunt and was featured in his novel Islands in the Stream. Inside, a life-sized bronze statue of Hemingway leans against the mahogany bar in his favorite corner. He often ordered what is now known as the “Hemingway Special” or “Papa Doble”- a double shot of rum and no sugar. They have the best banana chips we’ve ever tasted (thin and crispy and salted), free at the bar, and the best daiquiris in town. A blue ceiling, heavy red curtains, and Art Deco furnishings evoke an elegant time and place. We had our first taste of live music in the city at the Floridita, where a 4-piece combo played on the miniature stage.

Room 511, Hotel Ambos Mundos

Hotel Ambos Mundos Interior

We made our way through the concrete rubble of a ripped up street to the pink Hotel Ambos Mundo, built in 1924. We took the original Otis screened cage elevator to the 5th floor to see Room 511, a small tidy room, kept as a museum. Hemingway stayed here off and on during the 1930s, when he began writing For Whom the Bell Tolls. The room contains a bed, a small bathroom, and is decorated sparsely with fishing rods, old magazines and other memorabilia. A Royal typewriter sits on a desk in the center of the room. Next to the typewriter is his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in 1954, typed in Spanish. The rooftop bar, with its cooling breezes and views over tiled rooftops of Habana Vieja, is not to be missed.

La Bodeguita del Medio and Hemingway’s Mojito

Quote reading My Mojito in La Bodeguita

Of all the bars we visited, La Bodeguita del Medio had the most authentic atmosphere and was excellent for people watching. It opens right onto the street and has just enough room for the bar itself, a few seats, and the uniformed 4-piece combo crammed in the corner, just an arm’s length away from my stool. The blue walls were covered in signatures, the most famous of which is attributed to Ernest Hemingway and reads: “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita.” My mojito appeared, mint leaves uncrushed, and it was delicious. If you go, buy one of the stogies they have for sale and smoke it for me – it is my one regret of the whole trip.

Cojimar and The Old Man and the Sea

Red car

The next morning, we headed out in the back seat of a red 1955 Cadillac El Dorado convertible with our guide, Roosevelt. Our destination was Cojimar, a small, former fishing village, and the setting of The Old Man and the Sea. Cojimar was also home to Gregorio Fuentes, Hemingway’s friend, and skipper of Pilar, Hemingway’s sport-fishing boat. When Hemingway died, all the fishermen in the town donated brass fittings from their boats to be melted down to create the Monumento Ernest Hemingway. This bust of the writer looks out to sea from a rotunda, near the 1649 Spanish fortress, El Torreón. Two shirtless men fished from the wooden pier, one without a pole.

We stopped at La Terazza, a clean and breezy restaurant with dark wood and beautifully tiled floors. The bartender charged my phone and camera while I read The Old Man and the Sea at Hemingway’s favorite corner table. I ordered the Coctel Fuentes, turquoise blue like the sea, and drank it while being serenaded by a trio of musicians, who I tipped with a pack of guitar strings and CUC$5.

Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s Home

From 1939 to 1960 Hemingway lived at Finca Vigia in the suburb of San Francisco de Paula, 8 miles east from the city center. Here he wrote Islands in the Stream, Across the River and into the Trees, A Moveable Feast and The Old Man and the Sea.

Four story tower where Hemingway wrote

The house and grounds were opened to the public in 1994 as Museo Ernest Hemingway. We drove up the long, shady drive, through the lush grounds to the one-story Spanish colonial, built in 1887. We weren’t permitted to enter the house, but were able to clearly see the interior through the open windows and doors. The rooms are filled with 9,000 books, mounted animal heads, and replicas of the original bullfighting paintings by Picasso, Miro, and Klee, that used to hang here. In the bathroom, tour guides pointed out where Hemingway recorded changes in his weight on the wall. There was also a jar in the bathroom that contains a preserved lizard that one of his cats had killed.

Hemingway's Typewriter

We climbed the steps of the four-story tower to see his first typewriter, a portable Corona #3, given to him by his first wife Hadley, in 1921. He wrote standing, it was explained, due to a war injury. Then, we followed a palm-lined path leading to a concrete swimming pool, where Ava Gardner once swam naked. Nearby, two small buildings serve as display rooms for photographs of Hemingway and his guests relaxing and smiling on pool-side furniture. His wooden boat, Pilar, is nearby, as are graves of four of his dogs. Many of his 57 cats were buried in the terraced garden behind the house, overlooking the city of Havana.

Learn more about Ernest Hemingway:

- Linda

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