Jordan Hart
Programs & Services Coordinator
Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce

“I Looked Over Jordan, and Other Stories” by Ernie Brill
It’s my favorite book anyone has ever given me, a present from my creative writing teacher on my last day of high school. One of my favorite teachers, he helped me tap into my skills as a writer. In high school, I was always carrying a blank note pad because I wrote poetry all the time. I am not really a story teller, but I like to tell stories through short poems.
My creative writing teacher enjoyed my work and he always let me know that. He was a teacher who really saw my potential and taught me how to be vulnerable in my writing, really express emotions. Being vulnerable is important as a writer, it allows the reader to tap into hidden emotions and really feel a connection with the characters you are reading about. I think that you know that you found a good story when you feel enlightened, or you feel like a new person by the end.

“I Looked Over Jordan” is a collection of short stories, published in 1980. It is Ernie Brill’s first published book. Many of the stories center the patients or co-workers that he encountered in the 1970’s, working various jobs within hospitals and institutions. The stories are often very raw situations, but he turns them around to show the light in some dark scenarios. The stories are cleverly written, so you can really picture everything that’s going on. What I really like about not only this book, but all well written books, is that you can really know all of the stories’ characters. I think that’s what’s powerful about reading.”

Christopher Riffenburg

The Last Republicans by Mark K. Updegrove

What brought me to this book is the respect that I have for former president George H.W. Bush, and his lifetime dedication and service to others. This book is focused on former presidents, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush – the second father and son Presidents in American history. It is the story of their lives, family, legacy, and service. Although it’s a political book, it also talks about their relationship as father and son, and I was deeply drawn to that as well. The basic idea of this book is “What kind of mark do you want to leave on your community and neighborhood”. The goal should always be to leave our community better that how we found it.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this book is the decision-making process of former president George H.W. Bush, and how he held to his political beliefs. The Bushes have the ability to agree to disagree. Sadly, politics and public discourse have changed, and nowadays politicians do not disagree with civility, compassion, or respect. The idea of respectful dissent or disagreement have turned into a cult of personality where winning is the only acceptable outcome.

The title, “The Last Republicans”, comes from the political change towards how Republican affiliation is portrayed in its current stereotype. “The Last Republicans”, the Bushes are two gentleman that let the values of their leadership within their party determine their lifetimes of public service, their values as a family and their beliefs that we can make our neighborhoods better places for all of us.

Maria Pagan

Walking In The Shadow Of The Veteran: The Heart Of The Veteran by Linda Leary

It is a Veteran’s caregiver memoir. The book spans Ms. Leary’s dedicated 34-year career, putting a human face on those who served us by serving their country. It captures veterans in real life situations as they try to put their lives back together. Ms. Leary brings insight into some of the inherent issues that are stumbling blocks for our vets while at the same time highlighting some of the wonderful people who help them. It’s especially pertinent at a time when our VA system is often in the news. Getting to know who our vets are is so important. My brother, Jorge A. Pagan, was an Operation Desert Storm Veteran and passed away on February 1, 2019, at age 53. A few days later, this book came into the Library. Written by a Veteran Care-giver and a Holyoke resident, it automatically attracted my attention. First, because it was written by a local resident, so it is a perfect fit for the Holyoke Public Library’s “Conversations with Author” series. Second, with Memorial Day approaching, hearing personal experiences from one who dealt day after day with veterans and saw first-hand what they go through is important. Third, because of losing my youngest sibling and only brother, I thought it could help me understand what my brother was going through and learn why he protected us from knowing too much of what he was dealing with.

Ms. Leary will be speaking at Holyoke Public Library Monday April 22nd at 6pm.

Lora McNeece Barrett

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

I made a goal for myself that I would read one book each week. I share with some old high school friends what we are reading, and one of the people whose reading taste I really respect had suggested this book. I think I read it maybe three or four years ago. The boys in the boat just got stuck with me because it’s the classic story of the underdog. I’m drawn to books that have a storyline that is grounded in reality. My book preference are biographies, documentaries and autobiographies. The book presents what these young men went through to get to the 1936 Olympics. The story is a testament to the strength and the resilience of people who have almost nothing. All nine team members were young college students from the University of Washington who did not come from wealthy households; they needed to work during the summer and find time to practice. These men were all rowing when it was considered to be the main sport in the U.S. These young men were competing against universities such as Yale, Harvard and other elite colleges. They did fundraisers to get to the Olympics, they stayed in nasty hotels, they didn’t travel in luxury, they were assigned to row in the worst lane in the race, and yet they beat everybody against the odds. I am in love with this book because it speaks to the joy in resilience.

Book: “Man’s search for meaning” by Viktor Frankl

“I first came across the book during my graduate program, where it was a required reading. I believe that a positive attitude/mindset can help you get through hard times as well as positively affect your mental and physical health. During his three years of extreme suffering in a concentration camp, Viktor Frankl discovered that the desire to find meaning is essential to the human experience. One quote from the book that stood out to me was, “he who has a WHY to live for can bear almost any HOW”. This book is very powerful and I recommend it to anyone who find themselves stuck in life or anyone who wants to be inspired to keep on fighting the good fight.”

– Richard Rodriguez

Alena Ayvazian

Best Friends for Frances by Russell Hoban

This is one of many books in a series about Frances. Part of the reason why I like it so much is because my parents would read it to me and my little brother. Frances has a little sister and they go on all these adventures, and they’re always either eating or planning on what they’re going to eat next. And we could never figure out what kind of animal they are. They look like raccoons, bears, or like a skunk. They have such big appetites. All the books are related because they’re all about Frances, her family, and her friends. She always learns something in the end, kind of like a “moral of the story”.

Even if they’re categorized as kid’s books, I still enjoy reading them. I still find myself talking about the book with my parents or brother. My parents are from Brazil, so they also read a bunch of books to us in Portuguese, so I guess reading was a big part for us in learning both languages.

2017 Holyoke Saint Patrick’s Parade Grand Marshal Sister Jane Morrissey on a favorite book:

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

It was one of the first two movies that I ever saw, I think with my dad. In the theater, the girl who played the lead character, Margaret O’Brien, was just really good. She was a lovely actress and I could identify with her. The book starts in Colonized India, a country that I love, when there is sickness, death, devastation and grief. All she had was in this new manor house and a head housekeeper is the only one taking care of her. She is just seeing the world that she knew disappearing. She could sympathize with everyone. This new world is enchanting but strange for her. She finds out gradually that there is a boy in the manor house who’s crippled. When she starts to empathize with this boy in the movie, then I became emphatic too. They find this secret garden, which like the boy’s own story life has been closed up and become all brambles. They bring it back to life. In the movie it’s very beautiful because it’s in black and white but when the garden comes to life it turns to color. Several movies have been made of the Secret Garden but this one, clearly, won my heart and drew me to the book.- Sister Jane

Topdog Underdog by Suzan Lori-Parks

I studied African American culture in college. It has always been a part of my frame of reference, literature especially. The play tells a story about two African American brothers who live in a rundown part of town. One’s named Lincoln and the other named Booth. They constantly play on American violence and the legacy of violence. Going back to the civil war, how President Lincoln is supposed to be the emancipator yet died tragically in a theater booth. The play depicts themes of masculinity shedding light on its inherent violence. In a single room setting the two men hash it up, they argue, they fight, they hate each other, love each other, they’re family, they’re not family. It’s pretty fascinating and sad. The time set for the audience and the reader is the present. In 2002 it won the Pultitzer Prize for Drama. Yet it feels that it never stops being relevant. This is an issue that never stops happening and that’s the implication. I taught this book a lot and it causes students to question themselves and society. – Benjamin Hersey

From Bomba to Hip Hop Puerto Rican Culture and Latino Identity by Juan Flores

“Juan was a professor in sociology in NYU. “From Bomba to Hip Hop Puerto Rican Culture and Latino Identity” is a very synthetic book, bringing together different aspects of Latino culture and identity. Honing in on the question “What does Puerto Rican identity mean?” Also exploring how Puerto Rican culture has been played out in a diasporic context. It talks about the migration of Puerto Ricans from the island to the mainland. How that back and forth-ness gives certain qualities and characteristics that define Puerto Ricans. This book holds a special place in my life, mainly because growing up in a Puerto Rican and Polish household in the middle of Brooklyn, my identity has always been confusing. On one hand it’s a scholarly book but also a very accessible one. Anyone can and should read it. When I first came across this book I was beginning to look at the work that I was doing in Holyoke and thinking about my identity as a Puerto Rican. It was this kind of framework that he talked about, this nature of being in between, that drew me to the book, both personally, professionally and academically. “- Joseph Krupczynski

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

The book itself I guess has two components to it, first my story and then the author’s story. I was always a reluctant reader, I hated reading. It always seemed like a chore to me, like something you did “in school”. As a growing adult the notion continued. Until a buddy of mine said to me “Hey I have this book that might jump start your interest in reading, “A Confederacy of Dunces”. You are really going to love this book because it’s so out of the ordinary, you know.”
The title itself is a play on words by Jonathan Swift: “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in a confederacy against him.” The title is a spin on that concept. I read this book in 1991 and people are still reading it, it’s still just as relevant today”- Luis Soria


OneHolyoke CDC Executive Director announces Holyoke – City That Reads with a book he loved:

The most important book I read in 2018 was The Deepest Well by Dr. Nadine Harris Burke. She is a pediatrician who discovered how much trauma harms the children she treats. Her research and persistence changed the way she practices medicine, and improved the lives of her patients and their families.

And she doesn’t just tell a personal story or a medical memoir. She points the way in meaningful and practical terms for all kinds of practitioners that serve the housing, educational, economic and health needs of children and families.

It’s not just about poor communities, but matters a lot in places of concentrated poverty that are the most severely affected.

It has so much potential for the work we do as a community development corporation that I have given copies to over a dozen community leaders who I hope will help me bring Dr. Burke Harris’s ideas to Holyoke.