Joseph Bernt

Joseph Bernt

At the April meeting of the Cannon Beach Library’s board of directors, the board decided the library would not hold, for the second year in a row, the Memorial Day weekend Rare and Old Book Sale nor the traditional Fourth of July Book Sale because of the rising level of COVID infection in Oregon.

The Board hopes to begin planning for a book sale later in the year, perhaps over Labor Day weekend or during Stormy Weather. At present, the book sale room remains fully stocked and open during limited browsing, Wednesday and Saturdays, Noon to 4 p.m. The library also continues to accept used books.

Book sales require the participation of many volunteers. Anyone interested in helping with a book sale later this year or serving on a committee planning the specifics of such a sale should contact the library by emailing info@cannonbeachlibrary.org or calling 503-436-1391.

To update announcements made in the last “At the library” column, let’s begin with a reminder that Lori Tobias—a former Oregonian correspondent who for 15 years covered the Oregon coast from Astoria south some 360 miles to the California border—will discuss “Storm Beat,” her memoir recently published by Oregon State University Press about her experience writing of boating accidents, drownings, murders, suicides and the drop-dead beauty of God’s country.

As noted in my last column, Tobias’ presentation, sponsored by the Cannon Beach Library’s Northwest Authors Speakers Series, will be virtual via Facebook, Saturday, May 15, at 2 p.m. To join this presentation directly from the library’s Facebook page, go to facebook.com/cannonbeachlibrary/ and scroll to “posts.”

Tobias also has also published “Wander,” a novel set in Alaska. It received the Nancy Pearl Book Award for best book of fiction from the Pacific Northwest Writers Association.

No longer an Oregonian staff writer, her byline still appears occasionally in that Portland tabloid, as well as in the New York Times, Denver Post, Seattle Times and 1859 Magazine. She also pens a column for Oregon Arts Watch.

Tobias, who lives in Newport with her spouse and two rescue dogs, may be the last speaker in the Northwest Authors Speakers Series until the fall.

Another reminder. Members of Cannon Beach Reads will meet via Zoom at 7 p.m., Wednesday, May 19, to discuss “The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America” by Ernest Freeberg. Joseph Bernt will lead this online discussion.  

Information for joining this Zoom meeting will be sent by May 18 to past participants in Cannon Beach Reads.  Others who have not participated in Cannon Beach Reads in the past but interested in discussing Freeberg’s account of the impact of electric light in the United States after Thomas Edison patented his incandescent lightbulb in 1879, are welcome to join the discussion.

Anyone interested in receiving Zoom information for Cannon Beach Reads should send their contact information to Joseph Bernt (berntj@ohio.edu) by Tuesday so he can add them to the CB Reads email list and send them information about how to join this Zoom session.

Having just finished reading “The Age of Edison,” I have a few observations to share about this book, one I recommended for inclusion on this year’s reading list well before Covid’s arrival ended in-person events. I doubt a spoiler alert is necessary, but I will avoid giving away surprising plot twists.

First, before I start a short review of Freeberg’s praise for Edison, let me reveal my discount rate for biographical writings—I’m a sucker for histories that focus on the impact of a single individual or event during a particularly rich or significant historical period.

If an author or publisher has a passing interest in marketing, a book’s title will suggest its subject, in this case, “Edison,” and what is really the subject of the book, “Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America.” Wow! A history that promises to cover some territory.

I’m far less interested in reading more about every American’s iconic inventor than I am in the extensive transformation of American industry, corporate science, entertainment, nightlife, urbanism, glitz and hype that electric light made possible.

Neither a book titled “The American Inventor” nor “Early Electric Light Bulbs” conjures a grand reading experience in the way that either “The Age of Edison” or “Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America” does singlely and certainly not with the intensity achieved by pairing the main title and subtitle of Freeberg’s book.

Together, they promise a grand reading experience focused on American life during what Mark Twain mocked as the “gilded age.”

That implied promise, however, suggests the weakness I find disappointing about “The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of America.” The title that originally attracted me to this book claims more than it delivers.

Don’t get me wrong. The corporate structure, the manner of industrializing the development of patents, the selling of product before fully developed through national and international fairs and competitions, the creation of teams and laboratories through accumulated dollars from investors was a big deal.

This approach to problem solving and product marketing was a big deal, accomplished in an age that saw the creation of corporations by the likes of Edison, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Firestone, Vanderbilt, Morgan, Hearst, Ford, Westinghouse, Eastman to mention a few who played major roles in inventing modern America.

It was not the age of Edison alone. Edison’s incandescent light bulb did not invent modern America. Was it significant? Certainly. Was it determinative? No.

Would modern America look much like it does had Edison not patented his light bulb and built early electrical distribution systems to light at least portions of American cities? Most likely.

This does not note, as Ernest Freeberg admits in his account, how dependent Thomas Edison was on scientists and hobbyists from Europe and elsewhere in the U.S. for his accomplishments, especially those at his laboratories in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

Take a clue from Edison. Plan ahead. On June 16, Arthur Broten will lead members of Cannon Beach Reads in a discussion of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and “Brave New World Revisited.” Both Huxley titles are often published together in paperback, and the library collection includes two such copies for patrons.

In April, the library added 24 new titles to the collection, including 13 novels, seven mysteries and four works of nonfiction.

Given the Gazette’s limited space, a listing of the new mysteries and nonfiction titles will wait until May 28 to appear in the Gazette.

The 13 new fiction titles added in April include “Northern Spy” by Flynn Berry, “The Venice Sketchbook” by Rhys

Bowen, “The Devil’s Hand” by Jack Carr, “Raft of Stars” by Andrew J. Graff, “The Good Sister” by Sally

Hepworth, “Outlawed” by Anna North and “What Are You Going Through” by Sigrid Nunez.

“Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid, “Good Company” by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, “Hummingbird Salamander” by

Jeff VanderMeer, “The Night Always Comes” by Willy Vlautin, “The Last Night in London” by Karen White and

“August” by Callan Wink were also added to the fiction collection.

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