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Grolier Poetry Book Shop plans fund-raisers

Library of Congress

Father doesn’t always know best. That’s one of the lessons in Susan Goldman Rubin’s young adult biography “Music Was It: Young Leonard Bernstein” (Charlesbridge), which tackles head-on a defining conflict of Bernstein’s youth. His father did not think it was a good idea to try to make a career in music. As Samuel Bernstein wrote in a letter to his son’s music teacher, “From a practical standpoint, I prefer that he does not regard his music as a future means of maintenance.” A successful businessman, he wanted his son to work in the family wig and hair-care company.

“Music Was It” won this year’s Sydney Taylor Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries for “exemplifying the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience.” Readers gain unusual access to the world of the young Bernstein, from a reproduction of his final exam in a music class at Harvard for which he received an A-minus to a page of his doodles and class notes (with the comment at the top “hollow empty stupid dull uninteresting”).

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After Leonard’s sensational debut conducting the New York Philharmonic, his father softened. As Rubin recounts: “When a reporter asked Sam why he had ever objected to Lenny’s desire to be a musician, Sam replied, ‘How could I know my son was going to grow up to be Leonard Bernstein?’ ”

Fund-raisers for the Grolier

The Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Harvard Square turns 85 this year, and it needs a little help from its friends. Owner Ifeanyi Menkiti puts it kindly, “Sales are not very robust.” Menkiti, a poet and a philosophy professor at Wellesley College, bought the shop in 2006 when it was in danger of closing. He is still working to ensure that the bookshop, which he views as more of an educational and cultural institution than an engine of commerce, endures. Perhaps it can be turned into a nonprofit. It’s something he’s looking into.

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In the meantime, fans of the Grolier are invited to two fund-raisers. At 7 p.m. on Wednesday Jim Vrabel will perform a dramatization of John Berryman’s “The Dream Songs,” a meditation on wine, women, faculty meetings, fame, family, growing old, searching for God, and the point of poetry. Tickets to the benefit at Oberon, 2 Arrow St., Harvard Square, are $15, and are available at the bookshop and theater.

At 3:30 p.m. on Sunday May 20, “Laughter at the Grolier,” a light-hearted reading, will take place upstairs at Bloc 11, 11 Bow St., Somerville. Suggested donation is $10. Menkiti and other writers of funny verse will join a crew of poets who call themselves “Readers of the Lost Arc.”

Coming out

•  “The Chicago Companion to Tocqueville’s ‘Democracy in America’ ” by James T. Schleifer (University of Chicago)

•  “The Charge: Activating the 10 Human Drives That Make You Feel Alive” by Brendon Burchard (Free Press)

•  “Making a Difference: Stories of Vision and Courage from America’s Leaders” by Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III (Morrow)

Pick of the week

Bill Lundgren of Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine, recommends “City of Bohane” by Kevin Barry (Graywolf): “Bohane is a futuristic Irish metropolis ruled by ritual and violence and described in a language all its own. As you prowl the streets of Bohane with Barry’s motley assortment of thugs and criminal masterminds, you will find yourself drawn into their world and increasingly sympathetic to their assorted aims and dreams.”

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Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter @JanLGardner.