Recommendations Basket

By Mary Lynn Kittelson
Originally published in the April 2017 issue of the 1666 Coffman Newsletter

Sometimes you want to read a book, but you have no idea what to choose. It can feel daunting on some days.

Well, the library now provides a recommendations basket. It’s a little red wire basket sitting on the library table as you enter. In it are index card descriptions of books that we on the Library Committee have been impressed by, and why. There are three categories: biography & history, fiction & mystery, and everything else. The cards tell you in what bookcase and on which shelf the book can be found. We are steadily adding cards to the basket as we go, offering more good ideas for books. After all, there’s nothing like a friendly tip on a good book.

You can also read these recommendations cards on the Coffman library website, with eye-catching graphics provided by webmistress Victoria Tirrel.

And if you would like to write up your own book recommendation, we welcome it. Please take a card and also a green sheet (folded up underneath the basket), and you will see the format we are using. You can drop your recommendations card off at Mary Lynn’s at 104.
By the way, the basket is inspired by those scrappy little post-it comments from bookstore staff on their new and featured books. These intriguing notes can make you grab the book off the shelf and pay good money. With our cards, all you do is sign it out!

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Writing from Warm Places

by Barbara Woshinsky
Originally published in the March 2017 issue of the 1666 Coffman Newsletter

…books she had read to him [are] landscapes they have already walked through. (93) —Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

At this time of year, even the hardiest of Minnesotans may long for balmier climes. If you can’t take a Caribbean cruise and don’t own a second home in Madeira, the next best thing is to wrap yourself in a warm book. Here are some compelling suggestions from the 1666 library collection.

The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje, is a spellbinding story of love and betrayal that won its author the Booker Prize in 1992. A film based on the novel starring Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas earned nine Academy Awards. Though the novel begins in postwar Italy, its heart lies in Cairo and the Libyan desert. A plane crashes in the sand; a badly burned man, later known only as the English patient, floats down to earth and is rescued by Bedouin tribesmen. From the outset, the book’s language appeals to all the senses: “He could smell the oasis before he saw it. The liquid in the air. The rustle of things.” (6) “He saw the moving veins of flamingos cross his sight in the halfdarkness of the covered sun.” (9) As the story moves back and forward in time, we slowly learn the truth about the mysterious “English” patient and the others surrounding him.

If you are in the mood for lighter reading, you can travel several time zones to the east to make the acquaintance of Dr. Paboun Siri, the reluctant official coroner of Laos. The library has just acquired the first of Colin Cotterill’s engaging mystery series, The Coroner’s Lunch, which won the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger in 2009. Dr. Siri, a curmudgeonly old veteran of the Pathet Lao campaign, is afraid of no one—except the spirit of a Hmong shaman ancestor. Battling incompetent bureaucrats, Siri consults the dead to solve the murder of an important official’s wife. The novel combines evocative descriptions of Laotian culture, with its blend of French baguettes and larb na, beauty and decay, while taking satirical aim at the less-than-paradisiacal socialist world Siri fought so long to achieve.

Those of you who know we spend the winter in Miami may wonder at the absence of Floridian authors from this article. Of course, South Florida offers a fertile climate for crime writers such as Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan. Others, like Diana Abu-Jaber, depart from the CSI model of Miami to show what it’s really like to live in this vibrant and fascinating place. That may be the topic of a future article!

Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1992; reprint, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1996).

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So Many Lists, So Little Time

By Carol Van Why

Since late last year every serious media outlet has published their version of a Best Books of 2016 list. Just scanning these lists embarrasses me, because most of the time I haven’t read a fraction of the dozens of books mentioned.

This year I’m putting less pressure on myself. I scanned those lists just to find titles in the 1666 Coffman Library’s collection. I have to say that I’m impressedFind them in the Library’s shelving sections shown in bold print below.

Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Hillbilly Elegy – J. D. Vance
Lab Girl – Hope Jahren

Hidden Figures – Margot Lee Shetterley

Hamilton:  The Revolution – Lin-Manuel Miranda

Commonwealth – Ann Patchett
La Rose – Louise Erdrich
They May Not Mean to But They Do – Cathleen Schine
Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
Wintering – Peter Geye

All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation – Rebecca Traister

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

A Great Reckoning – Louise Penny

The Gene: An Intimate History – Siddhartha Mukherjee
Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars – Dava Sobel
I Contain Multitudes:  The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life – Ed Yong

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right – Jane Mayer

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Library’s Website Back in Business

By Victoria Tirrel and Carol Van Why
Originally published in the March 2017 issue of the 1666 Coffman Newsletter

When you’ve finished reading this issue of the newsletter open your computer and go to  You’ll arrive at 1666 Coffman Library’s new website!  Before you explore the content, we want you subscribe to the website.  Find “Subscribe by email” on the right side of the page.  Fill in your name and email address in the boxes and then click on “Subscribe.”

Next time you open your email you’ll find a message from the 1666 Coffman library committee.   The email contains a link, which you must click to confirm your subscription.  Now each time the library publishes any news you’ll receive an email announcement.  With just a click you’ll be taken directly to the newest post on the library’s site.

Much of the website content is in place, but we’ll add more in the next month or so.   Our site should be the first place you check to learn how to use the library.  You’ll also find guides to some of the best books we’ve added to the collection in the last three years and suggestions for more good reading.

Victoria Tirrel is the website administrator.  Mike O’Connor continues to host the site and provide technical assistance.  Carol Van Why is the content coordinator.   All library committee members write occasional articles that appear as blog posts on the site.  Barb Gaiser provides digital copies of library related 1666 Coffman Newsletter items so they can be archived and retrieved from the site.

Finally, thanks to Bob Tapp for his early work on the site.  Residents reported missing the link to Bob’s Your Virtual Library when we took the site down a couple of years ago.  We’re pleased that our new website provides that link once again.

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Book Night…It’s All Ours!

By Joanne Kendall
Originally published in the March 2017 issue of the 1666 Coffman Newsletter

Twenty five people who attended the February 22 announcement of future plans for Book Night were reminded that all Coffman endeavors belong to the whole community. Then they were invited to share the honors as the 23-year Book Night tradition continues.

Victoria Tirrel outlined The Plan that grew out of a community survey, an evening of discussion, and the resulting outline drawn up by volunteers Kendall, Tirrel and Katie Weiblen.  Then she issued the invitation.

  1. “Everyone is welcome to sign up to present a book review. “
  2. “ You who choose not to be reviewers can support Book Night by signing up as Planning Partners to assist an individual reviewer.”

Then came a brief, yet spirited drama–“probably more a skit,” said Kendall, “to help you, the audience, see how the new plan will work.”   She and Jean Larson, as partner and reviewer, pointed to two instruction sheets that will guide each reviewer and planning partner. Six other actors with scripted lines demonstrated the united effort involved in planning and producing Book Night (and almost every 1666 Coffman program):  Dottie Waltz, Barb Gaiser, Fred Waltz, Helen Tang, Vern Weckwerth (and Al Cecka, in absentia).

In the next several weeks, sign up opportunities will be available at various gatherings for readers who would like to review at a future Book Night and for those who like the idea of being their planning partners.

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Library Committee News

by Katie Weiblen, Joanne Kendall, Victoria Tirrel
Originally published in the February 2017 issue of the 1666 Coffman Newsletter

At the February 15 Book Night, Coffman’s own Jean Larson will talk about her recently
published book, Hope on the Journey: Walking with Chronic Disease. This book
combines essays and poetry about caring for her husband Milt through a decades-long
journey with Parkinson’s Disease. It just recently arrived on the library shelves, thanks to a donation from Vic Cox. To complement Jean’s presentation, there will be brief reviews of one or two books on related issues.

We invite residents now to recommend book titles on living with chronic disease
and medical issues related to health care. We will compile a reading list to share on Book
Night. Titles you recommend should be given or emailed to Victoria Tirrel, #202, by February 18.

What’s next? Read on: As promised, book lovers, readers, and listeners-to-all-things-books are invited to a Book Night update meeting on Wednesday, February 22, at 3:30 pm in the Social Room. Ideas offered by community members will be fleshed out and volunteers for presentations noted. Those attending will review the resulting vision—format and content for future Book Nights—and offer any new ideas.

An important part of the discussion will involve addressing the challenges of
ensuring that a vital, creative Book Night will continue. That process now needs to
become more concrete and will depend on resident involvement—volunteer reviewers
and others who will agree to work on the logistics involved (scheduling, room
arrangements, microphone availability, and providing information for poster publicity).

Where did this vision begin? The December resident survey on views related to
Book Night provided a good indication of community thinking. Then, the January Book
Night featured three four-minute reviews by Shirley Ungar, Joanne Kendall, and Ed
Lotterman. Respectively, they reviewed Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture
Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barr Estabrook; three books by travel writer
Patrick Leigh Fermor, including A Time of Gifts; and The Last Fine Time and other works
by Verlyn Klinkenborg. Thanks to these reviewers for kicking off 2017 in style (and with

The rest of the January Book Night involved a lively exchange of ideas about new
formats and themes moderated by Katie Weiblen. Discussion focused primarily on fiction
but all the ideas that emerged are relevant for other reading areas, such as history,
biography, and essay.

Victoria Tirrel then summarized ideas from the information gathering process, the
resident survey and that Book Night gathering. Since survey respondents indicated a
strong preference that the Book Night tradition continue, there will be Book

Night reviews scheduled from February through May. The promised update meeting is
now set for February 22 to unveil the plan that includes an ongoing focus on books in
both traditional and new formats for Book Nights. Many people stayed after the January
meeting to talk in small groups, a great sign that there is excitement about and energy for
Book Night’s future.

Book Night at 1666 Coffman is alive, well, and flourishing thanks to a community that
values the life of the mind it promotes!

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Not Downsizing, but Trading Up

By Victoria Tirrel
Originally published in the January 2017 issue of the 1666 Coffman Newsletter

When Ed and I began planning to leave our house in Saint Anthony Park, one concern
was finding a new home with space for our sizeable library. Even if we downsized
ruthlessly, over his thirty years and my eighteen in our house we’d stashed books in every
room—living, dining, den, kitchen and pantry. Books slept in the bedrooms and toiled in
our offices. The back walls of both back porches, upstairs and down, were windows into
other worlds thanks to the contents of their shelves. In the attic, we kept our loftiest
books—two rooms of them! You folks are bibliophiles, so you know what I mean.

Books were on my mind when we decided to look at 1666. So it was a relief to walk
into the entryway of our Duluth model and envision poets Amy Lowell, the Bard and
Robert W. Service greeting visitors from our antique attorney’s bookshelves. In the
master bedroom, floor to ceiling shelves flanked the lovely view to the courtyard. A niche
in the living room called for books like the siren Lorelei.

But the revelation wasn’t over until we walked into the library. Wonder of wonder,
miracle of miracles! The spines of old (and new) friends welcomed me from the shelves,
and I knew I was home.

We’ve still had to downsize. Ed got us rolling by donating his scholarly books to
several university libraries. I gave books away and slowed my purchase of fiction, a
sacrifice for an aspiring novelist who wants to support fellow writers and independent

Next we gathered 800+ books we could part with and had a sale. Some things were
easy to let go of. After all, we owned three copies of Tim O’Brien’s masterpiece The
Things They Carried and two copies of Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time and
Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward. In the humor section, we had primers on teaching your cat
French, volumes 1 and 2. Slowly the survivors are making their way to 1666, some into
Unit 202 but several into 1666 Library.

So while I’m downsizing a lot to live at 1666, I’ve also traded up. Unit 202 is just
steps from the library, so when I finish a book at 11 pm (or 3 am), I can slip down the
hall to our jewel to select the next. And the next. And the next.

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Start the New Year Reading

By Joanne Kendall, Katie Weiblen, Victoria Tirrel
Originally published in the January 2016 issue of 1666 Coffman Newsletter

In December, nearly fifty of you took the time to complete a survey about what Book
Night has meant to you since it began more than twenty years ago. Overwhelmingly, you
said that Book Night conveners and presenters have gotten it right in two big ways. Through them your reading world has been enlarged and elucidated. And, just as
important, you’ve gotten to know them and your neighbors better.

Many of you wrote about the value to our Coffman community of intellectual
pursuits like Book Night. If we were creating a balance sheet, the events that contribute
to “the life of the mind” surely would be listed as a long-term asset. And from the
promotion angle, such an amenity can be a powerful draw for potential new residents. As
we move forward into the next era of Book Night, a great opportunity lies before us to
recommit to and possibly give a new look to this asset.

So what’s in store for our first Book Night of 2017? Our evening will open with
Joanne Kendall’s brief review of the history of Book Night, followed by an idea that
emerged from the survey—several minireviews in an evening. We’ll briefly hear from
three residents about books they’ve recently enjoyed.

Other terrific ideas emerged as part of the survey, and we didn’t want to end the
input there. Next, we’ll turn things over to Katie Weiblen, who’ll guide a discussion
among all attendees about more ideas for how Coffman residents can work together to
continue and build on the terrific heritage of Book Night.

For wrapup of the evening, Victoria Tirrel will bring together the ideas that
emerged in both the discussion and survey, then talk about next steps.

By the way, an overwhelming number of survey respondents (82%) asked that the
frequency of Book Night not change. So, at least through spring, we’ll continue to gather
on the third Wednesday evening of each month at 7:30 pm.

We invite you to invest your time on January 18 for a conversation about Book
Night. And bring your neighbor! Working together, we can be sure this shared asset is
there for each of us—and our future neighbors—well into the coming years.

Book Night
Wednesday, January 18  *  7:30 pm
Social Room

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2016 Annual Report


Members as of November 2016:  Mary Abbe Hintz, Joanne Kendall, Mary Lynn Kittelson, Gretchen Kreuter, Jenny Rajput, Victoria Tirrel, Helga Visscher, Huber Warner, Katie Weiblen, Catherine Wengler, and Barbara Woshinsky.

Committee members regret 2016 resignations of Agnes Tan, Robert Tapp and Co-Chair BJ Zander and thank them all for their service.

The Library Committee also recognizes Gretchen Kreuter’s 7 years of service as Book Night’s convener upon her resignation from that position in October.

The purpose of the committee is:

  • To manage the 1666 Coffman Library.
  • To add to the collection through purchases and gifts.
  • To promote the use of the library via a section of the Coffman website, blog posts, newsletter articles and bulletin board posters.

The Library Committee meets monthly.  Members contribute 1666 Coffman News articles on a rotating basis.  Bulletin board displays are refreshed to remind residents to stop in and browse the collection.

Books are added each year, either as gifts from residents or as purchases paid for from one of the library’s budgets. To keep the collection fresh, less popular books are regularly weeded from the collection.  These are offered for sale via our Book Cart sales.  This year just over $130 in proceeds were returned to the treasury to be used to purchase books and supplies.  Unsold books are offered to the AAUW and the St Paul Public Library for their book sales.  Others are used to support the Little Free Library in neighboring Grove Park.

Once again financial gifts from a number of residents boosted the total library budget by $500, helping the Committee purchase more new books than in any previous year.   For the third year Catherine Wengler coordinated an exhibit of new books in conjunction with August’s Book Night.  Residents were able to borrow books at the event and take home a copy of the 2016 companion booklist.  The library is on track to circulate nearly 700 books by year’s end – easily 65% more than were borrowed in 2013.

 Read Aloud made its second annual appearance in 2016.   Coordinated by BJ Zander, Read Aloud is an adult story hour for residents held in the library.   Over the course of three January Mondays, 8 readers read portions of Barbara Kingsolver’s High Tide in Tucson to assembled residents.

Gretchen Kreuter and Carol Van Why welcomed over 100 guests to the Library during 1666’s May 8, 2016 Open House.  Visitors were surprised and impressed with the space, proving once again that the Library is 1666’s Jewel in the Crown. 

After being on the back burner for some time, the problem of glare from the windows was solved.  Under BJ Zander’s leadership, with advice from the committee and special assistance from Jenny Rajput and Katie Weiblen, attractive shades were purchased and installed in early fall.  Members noticed an immediate improvement in the comfort of the room.  The Committee wishes to thank members of other Coffman committees for approving funds for this improvement.

With assistance from Mike O’Connor new committee member, Victoria Tirrel has begun updating the Library’s section of the 1666 Coffman website.  The website will re-emerge in early 2017 and residents will be able to subscribe to a blog to keep up with library news.

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Book Night – The Next Chapter

By Carol Van Why, Library Committee Chair
Originally published in the December 2016 issue of 1666 Coffman Newsletter

With a message in the January 1994, 1666 Coffman Newsletter, Thor Kommedahl invited
residents who were interested in starting a Coffman book club to gather in the social
room on January 19, 1994. A February article called Thor’s “trial balloon an unqualified
success.” Thus, Book Night was launched with Thor serving as convener for fifteen and a
half years.

In August 2009, Thor decided it was time to pass the Book Night gavel on to
someone else. For the next seven years, Gretchen Kreuter graciously filled the role of
convener, lining up reviewers with seeming ease. October 2016, was Gretchen’s last
Book Night event as convener.

So, what’s next for Book Night? One thing is certain: there will be no Book Night
this December. No reviewer had been scheduled, and a new convener(s) is not in place.
And seriously, aren’t you happy to free up one night on your calendar during that very
busy holiday week?

Book Night returns on January 18, 2017. The theme of the evening will be “Start
the New Year Reading!,” hosted by bibliophiles Joanne Kendall, Victoria Tirrel, and
Katie Weiblen. A feature of the event will be several residents presenting snappy four-minute reviews to help you jumpstart your own 2017 reading.

You can be a part of the evening’s planning. Soon you’ll receive a brief survey
from Victoria Tirrel. Whether you’re a regular Book Night attendee or not, I hope you’ll
complete the survey and return it by the deadline.

Plan to join your neighbors as we celebrate the importance of books and reading in our
lives along with Book Night’s twenty-three year run. Mark Book Night on your calendar
for Wednesday, January 18, 2017 at 7:30 pm. Then watch for “Start the New Year
Reading!” updates and posters once the new year begins.

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