Chernobyl on Page and Screen

By Kristen B.

It’s not exactly a cheerful topic – the most devastating nuclear accident ever to have happened. However, the story of what went wrong is riveting and amazingly complex. More than 30 years ago, on April 26, 1986 at 1:23:58 am, one of the nuclear reactors at the Chernobyl site suffered a massive explosion and containment failure, which led to fallout poisoning in large areas of Ukraine and Belarus. At the time, the Soviet government was more concerned with containing the political and international ramifications than protecting its citizenry. I have to admit that until recently I hadn’t thought much about Chernobyl other than as an unfortunate incident that happened during my teenage years.

A member of the book discussion group that I moderate, Books on Tap, advocated for reading oral histories and books in translation, particularly this one. She argues (and I agree) that it’s a marvelous way to gain insight and perspective from other cultures and points of view. Voices of Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster presents the ultimate expression of telling stories “in their own voices.” Svetlana Alexievich, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote it 10 years after the nuclear accident, and it was more recently translated in 2014. The book presents the written account of her interviews with a wide cross-section of people who lived through the catastrophe and the subsequent years. A surprising number of people returned to their homes or fled to the “open” country as other Soviet Socialist Republics disintegrated into ethnic warfare. They often refer to Chernobyl as “war,” being their only other frame of reference to so many people dying and the subsequent governmental propaganda. Although it can feel a bit repetitive, that sheer recounting from so many different people – teachers, party loyalists, army conscripts, wives, and mothers – drives homes the devastating, ordinary reality of living on top of nuclear fallout.

Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham (also an eBook and eAudiobook) offers another side of the story, one rich in politics and science. Where the previous title provides a direct line to individuals, this book takes a much larger overview of the history of Chernobyl – literally starting with the creation of the plant and its company town along a marshy stretch of wilderness. The perfidy of the Soviet institution’s need for results and optics, above any adherence to safety and good practice, was something I had forgotten since the fall of the USSR. The Chernobyl disaster was nonetheless a direct result of the political reality during that time… and in fact contributed to the fall of the communist regime. This book draws on interviews and recently declassified archives to bring the disaster and the people who lived through it to life. Although there’s a short holds list for the book, it’s worth the wait.

HBO aired a five hour, five episode Chernobyl miniseries in 2019 that combined the source material from these two books into an excellent show about what happened during the explosion and in the two years after, available to borrow as DVDs. You can’t turn away from the real-life drama unfolding on the screen, not even knowing the basic outlines of the story. All sources, books and screen, point to the complete cognitive dissonance of dealing with an accident that was largely deemed to be impossible. The show is immensely well-written and well-acted, pulling you in almost despite yourself. Content warning: The middle episode contains some particularly hard scenes of “cleaning up” wildlife and abandoned pets. Here, too, the faces and the voices give a human accounting to an unimaginable tragedy.

The area will not fully return to “safe” for millennia, barring any further contamination. I feel like this was an important moment in time, and only now can we begin to appreciate its history. I also hope it will give us some optimism about human resilience and the ability to solve big problems… because one thing has been made perfectly clear: it could have been so much worse.

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, cook, and take walks in the park.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

A clean, clear illustration of a red-headed woman in an aqua blue shirt looking down to read a book. The double-O of "Bookish" forms her classes, in the same color as her shirt. All against a yellow background.

by Piyali C.

Smart, sarcastic, socially awkward, 29-year-old Nina Hill lives by Khalil Gibran’s saying in The Prophet, “You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts.” Nina is the daughter of a free-spirited single mother, a famous photographer who concealed Nina’s father’s identity because she did not consider his presence essential in Nina’s life. Nina grew up under the loving supervision of her amazing nanny Louise who was ‘bookish, loving and gentle’ while Nina’s mother traveled the world for her job, appearing occasionally and briefly in Nina’s life. Nina’s childhood was surrounded by books and solitude. For someone who finds sanctuary in book stores and libraries, what could be more fulfilling than working at an independent book store for a living? Nina works as a book seller in a book store called Knights, owned by lovable and eccentric Liz who is always behind on her rent for the store and has to hide from the landlord. The book store is only part of Nina’s commitments though. She runs several book clubs, is part of a champion Trivia team Book ‘Em, Danno, and has perfectly sane conversations with her cat Phil. Plus, there are so many books to read. Nina’s calendar, as well as life, are full and busy. If she ever feels something is missing, she simply picks up another book.

One fine day, a man comes calling for Nina in the book store with such surprising news that it throws a wrench into Nina’s well organized, tightly scheduled, semi-secluded life. The man is a lawyer who informs Nina that her biological father, William Reynolds, has died leaving behind not only something for Nina in his will but also innumerable step brothers, step sisters, nieces, and nephews. And they all live close by! William Reynolds was married thrice and was fruitful. Not only does she have relatives, they all are eager to meet her, at least some of them. Whether she wants it, she has to attend the reading of the will of William Reynolds. Nina’s well-organized world is turned completely upside down.

To add to this complication, Nina’s trivia nemesis, the lead guy from team You Are a Quizzard, Harry is cute and funny. Nina is starting to develop feelings for him. But Tom does not read!! Will Nina be able to contain her crippling anxiety that she has suffered from all her life as she deals with these double calamities in her life? Romance AND relations?

There is a pandemic raging outside. The real world looks grim and uninviting. Why not escape into the quirky, funny, filled with fun literary quotes, bookish life of Nina Hill? Abbi Waxman’s humorous novel The Bookish Life of Nina Hill not only tells a lovely story that warms the cockles of our heart but also presents us with a book loving heroine who we can not help but fall in love with. Nina’s love for books is sure to resonate with all of us bibliophiles and introverts out there. This title is available as an ebook as well as eaudiobook.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

Looking for Something New to Read?

Woman in silhouette against green sunny background, look at a book in her hands.
Contactless Pickup at HCLS Glenwood Branch.

By Eliana H.

Do you sometimes wonder what to read next? But now it’s even more difficult because our buildings aren’t open for browsing the stacks? Sometimes I take calls from customers with just those sorts of questions. I and other library staff are always happy to help our community find a good book, but I will admit that it’s not always easy to find the right book. Thankfully, we have NoveList, a tool that can help us answer those “what should I read” questions.

NoveList icon with a person reading a book while sitting in a tree with a orange background.

The great part is YOU can access that tool also! On our Research Tools page, click Book Recommendations, then NoveList, and you’ll find yourself on a Remote Authentication page where you need to enter your library card barcode and PIN (if you’re not sure what these are, visit My Account and use the links below the boxes to have your information emailed to you).

Now, you are inside the treasure trove that is NoveList. Choose from highlighted themes and styles, browse genres by age range, or check out a Recommended Reads List. If you have something specific that you want to match, enter it in the search bar and explore title or author read-alikes.  Maybe you have read all of the books Louise Penny has written, but you’re looking for something that has a similar feel to the Inspector Gamache mysteries. If you enter her name in the search bar, you can choose Title Read-alikes, Author Read-alikes, or Series Read-alikes below any of the books from that series that come up in your results list. Considering any of the “Read-alike” options shows you a list with a brief explanation of what the two items have in common. 

While you’re in NoveList, preview some of the “Recommended Reads Lists” in the left-hand panel. These are fixtures, but staff at NoveList update them periodically. For instance, right now there’s a “Reading During Pandemic” category. Each of the categories has several sub-categories before you get to the actual list. For instance, if you click on “Reading During Pandemic,” you will see “Quarantine Reads: Cozy and Gentle Stories,” “Quarantine Reads: Fast-paced Thrillers,” “Quarantine Reads: Heartwarming Reads,” and “Quarantine Reads: Pandemic Apocalypse Fiction.” You will obviously see very different options across those categories!

Screenshot from within NoveList.

One thing to note is the “Check Availability” button that appears at the bottom of the listing for a title. Unfortunately, HCLS does not own every title listed in NoveList. You can use “Check Availability” to see if we do own it, though, and how many copies are on the shelf. The listing within NoveList only includes print and ebook formats, but you can search in our catalog to see audiobook (including eAudio) options. If you find a listing you want to read that says “Not owned by this library,” you can always take a look in Interlibrary Loan or suggest we add the title to our collection via the purchase suggestion option on our website.

I hope you take the time to explore NoveList and find some great titles to enjoy. Feel free to leave some of your own recommendations for fellow readers in the comments!

Eliana is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. She loves reading, even if she’s slow at it, and especially enjoys helping people find books that make them light up. She also loves being outside and spending time with friends and family (when it’s safe).

By Cherise T.

Do you miss browsing our library shelves? Settling into a cozy chair to explore a stack of books and deciding which to check out and take home? Filling your bag with books by new authors, DVDs for that sitcom your daughter thought you’d love, CDs by a band you’ve been hearing on the radio? If so, Howard County Library System’s Bundle Bags will bring you joy, information, and entertainment. Especially with the colder weather setting in, a bag of library materials prepared just for you will brighten the day. Think about snuggling under a blanket with a new book, immersing in a compelling period drama, laughing at a romantic comedy or dancing to energizing music. Whether you want to challenge yourself and learn to knit in time for holiday gift giving or bake a great pie using recipes from a gorgeous cookbook, there’s a Bundle Bag for you. 

Save time assisting your student with a homework assignment by requesting a Bundle Bag. Just imagine, a bag filled with books about trucks, colors, and shapes. Or maybe your child is ready to add chapter books to his reading journey. Our library staff is skilled in selecting children’s and teen books ranging from educational to inspirational, from sports to fantasy to classics. The next time a family member complains of running out of things to read or watch, be reassured that help is on the way. 

Destress throughout your daily activities with some holiday music. We’ve got a Bundle Bag for that. Always wanted to try a romance novel? We’ve got a Bundle Bag for that. Relax into an audiobook about your favorite movie star or escape with a thrilling mystery. Explore true crime accounts. Check out a British television series. With a bag filled with materials, you may just find your next favorite book or movie.  

Easily complete the form for a Bundle Bag on our website. There are five age categories ranging from infant to adult. Request books or CDs/DVDs, or both. For each category requested, a library research staff member selects six items. Choose up to five categories for a total of 30 items. After selecting the bundle contents, complete the form by entering a pickup date and time as early as the second library business day and up to two weeks from the date of form submission. Bags may be picked up at any of our six branches. With one trip to the library for contactless pickup, bring home everything from board books for your grandson to Oscar-winning films for you.  

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks. 

Bundle Up

Contactless Pickup Begins Today!

A library staff member, wearing a face covering, places blue bags on a table with alphabetic signs, A-F and G-L.

Welcome back to the Library! We are so happy to be able to lend physical items to you again. Our electronic resources have been invaluable during our collective quarantine and our statistics show it, but we know you are interested in our tangible items, too.

You can now return the materials you have had since March (if not earlier) and borrow new books, movies, Playaways, tools, art, and more. All six branches of HCLS are open for contactless pickup, Mon-Sat*, 10 am – 6 pm.

More than 300,000 items were borrowed before HCLS closed, and customers have placed requests for more than 52,000 items during the closure. All items retrieved from book drops – and returned during contactless pickup – will be quarantined for 72 hours. HCLS staff returned to branches more than a week ago, preparing to begin this new service.

HCLS President & CEO Tonya Aikens comments, “The health, safety, and well-being of our staff and customers remains top priority. Guidance from health officials and the CDC continues to inform our plans. Decisions about how we progress to future phases will depend on the most current health and safety guidelines.”

County Executive Calvin Ball said, “The HCLS team has been instrumental in connecting residents with online resources throughout this pandemic, and we’re thrilled they have found a safe way to provide more access to our residents with contactless pickup.”

So, how does it work? The basics are below, but all the details and FAQs are available here.

1. Place items on hold.

Search the Library’s catalog for titles of interest. To request items from the art collection, please call Central Branch at 410.313.7800, or the DIY collection, please call Elkridge Branch at 410.313.5077.

Use your HCLS-registered library card or A+ student account (for HCPSS students) and PIN to log in and place requests, selecting your preferred pickup location.

You may also make requests by phone by calling your HCLS branch during business hours (10 am – 6 pm, Monday – Saturday).

2. Wait for notification, then reserve a pickup day and time.

You will receive a notice when your holds are available.

Then, fill out the Contactless Holds Pickup Request form online or call your pickup branch to make an appointment.

3. At the scheduled date and time, pick up your holds at the designated HCLS location.

Prior to your appointment, HCLS staff will locate your items, check them out to your account, and bag them. The bag will be labeled with your name and placed on a table in the lobby of the pickup branch.

When you arrive, maintain at least 6 feet of social distance from others. Face coverings are required.

If you notice another customer in the lobby, please remain outside until the previous customer has departed.

Grab your bag and go – items have already been checked out to you. Your receipt will be in the bag.

We have missed you and are so pleased to be offer this service. We can’t wait to see you in person again soon!

*HCLS is closed on July 4, as well as five Fridays for furlough: July 3, 17, 31, and August 14 & 28.