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Presence of Absence: Docs With Subjects Who Barely Appear on Film

4 hours 36 min ago

hermans house

Most documentary filmmakers who want to tell a story about an individual try to gather footage of their subject. But what if you don’t have access to the person, or you want to take a different storytelling approach by not showing the individual? Whether by choice or not, documentary filmmakers who barely have their subjects appear on film offer a unique kind of documentary experience that tries to reveal more about a subject by their absence rather than their presence.

herman's houseHerman’s House” (2013)

The injustice of solitary confinement and the transformative power of art are explored in “Herman’s House,” a feature documentary that follows the story of one of America’s most famous inmates, Herman Wallace, as he collaborates with a New York artist on a unique project.

Kurt Cobain: kurt cobain about a sonAbout a Son” (2008)

A rare and personal portrait of a boy who becomes a musician, a husband, a rock star, a father and a songwriter whose words have touched millions. Cobain’s story unfolds through his own narrative assembled from more than 25 hours of audio-taped conversations, never before made public.

dear mr wattersonDear Mr. Watterson” (2013)

Calvin & Hobbes took center stage when it appeared in comics in 1985. A decade later, when Bill Watterson retired his strip, millions of readers felt the void. Here is an exploration to discover why his ‘simple’ comic strip has made such an impact on so many readers.

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Comedy Club: Memoirs by Female Comedians

November 23, 2015

Book cover for Tina Fey's BossypantsLike many readers, I was charmed by Tina Fey’s “Bossypants.” Though it’s already a cliché, I’ll admit that my favorite part of the memoir was “The Rules of Improvisation that Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat.” Sadly, I have not experienced a reduction in belly fat, but the falsity of that claim was disclosed in the footnote, so the period of jubilant hope was a short one. Fey exhorts us not only to say yes but also to say “Yes, and.” I know that I can always use a reminder to contribute, whether to an improv set, a project at the office or dinner plans.

On that note, yes, “Bossypants” was a delightful read, and here are a few other memoirs by female comedians that I found delightful as well.

Book cover for Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy KalingI am never one to skip a “Mindy Project” episode or a book by Mindy Kaling. “Why Not Me?” is her latest, but I’ll admit to being fonder of “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns),” which is a more straightforward memoir (with all the kookiness you’d expect). “Why Not Me?” overall feels less substantial, more joke than the kind of meaty substance I want in a memoir. But it’s a quick, fun read, and Mindy fans would be remiss in skipping it.

The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee” isn’t for all readers. (Note that the book contains both explicit language and images.) But if you find Sarah Silverman’s provocative variety of funny . . . well, funny, then check out her memoir. Silverman allows readers a glimpse into her childhood, including (as you may have guessed) a propensity to wet the bed far beyond the typical bed-wetting years. She also talks about her struggle with depression during her teen years and her journey to becoming a comedian.

Book cover for Kelly Oxford's Everything is Perfect When You're a LiarTwitter sensation Kelly Oxford proves her writing skills extend past the 140-character limit in “Everything is Perfect When You’re a Liar.” Be warned that this isn’t a book about Twitter — go there instead for one-liners. If you’re interested in her backstory and a more traditional narrative, you’ll enjoy her tales of the struggles of adolescence and the trials of parenthood.

Last but never least, no list about female comedians would be complete without the incorrigible Joan Rivers. This isn’t a memoir — or even a book — but I can’t recommend the funny and heartfelt documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” highly enough. Rivers’ swank New York City apartment has to be seen to be believed, but her tireless drive to work is the most remarkable reveal.

On My To-Read List:

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Get Help With Your Holiday Photo Gifts

November 20, 2015

Studio CameraFor many, this is the time of year to begin crafting  handmade gifts for the holiday season. Perhaps the easiest, most popular gifts to make are those incorporating personal photos. From quilts to coffee mugs, you can personalize just about anything with a digital photograph.

To help you get ahead of your gift-giving game, the library will be offering several photography-related classes. Because space is limited, registration is required for all our technology classes. To sign-up, simply call (573) 443-3161.

Working With Digital Photos
Thursday, December 1, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Training Center
Using Google’s free Picasa software, learn to move digital images from your camera to a Windows computer or online album, do basic editing and share pictures. Windows computers only. Registration is already underway.

Photo Story for iPad
Friday, December 4, 2-4 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Studio
Using the Shutterfly Photo Story app, learn how to create photo books in time for the holiday season. This class is for intermediate and advanced technology users. Bring your iPad and your Apple ID. Registration begins Friday, November 20.

Apple OS X Photos for Beginners
Thursday, December 10, 1:30-3:30 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Studio
We’ll discuss how to use Apple Photos for Mac desktops and laptops, including basic photo editing techniques, organization and how to move digital images from your camera to a computer. Bringing a Mac laptop is optional. Registration begins Monday, November 23.

For added inspiration, you might also check out our collection of photo craft books. Some of my personal favorites include “Photojojo! Insanely Great Photo Projects and DIY Ideas,” “Make & Give: Simple and Modern Crafts to Brighten Every Day” and “Photocraft: Cool Things to Do With the Pictures You Love.”

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Film Adaptation of “Room” by Emma Donoghue

November 18, 2015

Ragtag CinemaRoom by Emma Donoghue will be debuting the film adaptation of “Room” by Emma Donoghue this Friday, November 20. This movie has been generating a lot of Oscar buzz, so now’s a good time to grab a copy from the library before film awards season begins in earnest.

“Room” is the story of five-year-old Jack who has lived his entire life in a tiny fortified garden shed with his kidnapped mother. I’m not gonna lie; it’s a tough read. It echos the gruesome experiences of real-life abduction victims Jaycee Lee Dugard and Amanda Berry.

However, since the story is told entirely from the child’s perspective, the reader focuses more on the relationship between Jack and his mother and less on their abuser, Old Nick. For some people, Jack’s voice presents an opportunity for some unique and creative storytelling. For others, though, having such a dark tale told from a child’s perspective is a deal-breaker, and they feel compelled to put the book down.

Since Donoghue also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation, I’m hopeful that it will remain faithful the major themes of the book. Ultimately, this story is a testament to the bond shared between parent and child.

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The Gentleman Recommends: Patrick deWitt (again)

November 16, 2015

Book cover for Undermajordomo MinorKeen readers might notice this is the second time I’ve recommended Patrick deWitt’s work. Some will exclaim, “Sir, are there not a practically infinite number of worthy writers to recommend? Why recommend an author twice?” I will respond, “Indeed, there is a seemingly endless sea of writers deserving of my endorsement, but several factors conspire to cause a repeat recommendation of his work. I’m particularly enamored with Mr. deWitt’s writing. His newest novel was published subsequent to my previous recommendation and it is amazing. And while some quick and dubious math tells me I read upwards of 8,000 books a year, I cannot read everything, but I did recently read “Undermajordomo Minor.” Furthermore, as I saunter around town twirling my cane and mustache, my query of, ‘Have you yet mined the depths of Patrick deWitt’s talents?’ is nearly always met with either confusion, averted eyes or a non-sequiturial admonishment to ‘be careful with that cane, you nearly hit my baby.’ (I’ve said this countless times, but I will reiterate here: I never twirl my cane with anything less than utmost precision, and your baby could stand to toughen up.) Clearly, I have not been sufficiently persuasive. So until passersby respond to my deWitt-centric interrogations with a tip of their headgear and an enthusiastic, ‘Yes. And by the way, you are rather precise in the manner with which you twirl both your mustache and your cane,’ I must continue to espouse the virtues of Mr. deWitt’s work.”

So, to espouse, “Undermajordomo Minor” is a dryly hilarious novel containing brilliant sentences, memorable characters, an uncanny setting and a captivating plot. The word choices alone were enough for decorum to dictate that I employ my trusted chuckle hankie to mitigate the unseemly act of laughing. The novel’s other assets mandated that I draw my chuckle curtains.

This sort of fairy tale concerns a young man named Lucien (Lucy) Minor. Lucy isn’t sure what to make of his life, and so when that time comes, as it does in every young man’s life I assume, when a man draped in burlap asks, “What do you want from life?” Lucy responds, “Something to happen.” And so something does. The man in burlap seemingly transfers Lucy’s life-threatening illness to Lucy’s cruel father. Lucy secures work in a majordomo’s castle and buys a pipe. The pipe makes him cough. On the train ride to the castle seeds are planted for a relationship with a father and son pickpocket team. Lucy’s new pipe is pickpocketted. Once arriving at the castle grounds, Lucy finds himself in the midst of a very small war. A handful of men fire rifles at each other and ask for Lucy’s nonexistent valuables. Once he manages to secure entry to the castle, he is entreated to always lock his door at night. He is made aware of the “Very Large Hole.” Eventually, having disregarded his curfew, he comes across a ghastly sight in the castle halls — rarely does a scene manage to be so horrifying and hilarious. Also, he falls in love.

If this blog post and my street-side hectoring are not enough to convince you to read “Undermajordomo Minor,” then perhaps Daniel (Lemony Snicket) Handler’s unprecedented act of writing an amusing book review will convince you. I warn you, more informative and insightful though he may be, I doubt Handler capable of twirling a cane with even a modicum of the grace and majesty I employ.

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Pie Season

November 13, 2015

Book cover for A Year of PiesCrisp weather and turning the calendar’s page to November means it’s pie season. This time of year my extended family begins discussions about who will bring what dish to our Thanksgiving meal, but the question of who should bake the pies is never up for debate. My mother will bake one pumpkin and one pecan pie, and the crust will be made with lard – no butter or (shudder) shortening. The pastry will be flaky and perfect, and I, unable to decide between the two flavors, will end up having a slice of each. And then I’ll ask for another piece of pumpkin to take home and have the next morning for breakfast.

I love pie. “Pie or cake?” is something my husband might ask a new acquaintance, trying to suss out his or her character. He’s a skilled baker himself, and I often request his coconut cream pie on my birthday. After a lot of trial and error, he now prefers to make his crusts using a combination of lard and butter (don’t tell my mother).

If the scent of cinnamon and sugar in the air has you hungry for warm fruit tucked between blankets of flaky pastry, check out one of these books from the library.

A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies” by Ashley English
Everyone knows that fruits and vegetables taste better when they are in season, so fall is the perfect time for rosemary bourbon sweet potato pie or gingersnap pumpkin pie. This cookbook is organized into spring, summer, fall and winter pies and serves up both traditional recipes and some uniquely mouth-watering flavor combinations.

Book cover for Pie SchoolPie School: Lessons in Fruit, Flour and Butter” by Kate Lebo
As the title indicates, this book is good for students of baking and focuses mainly on fruit pies. More than just recipes, this book also ponders pie as metaphor and investigates its social history. Newbie bakers will appreciate her step-by-step instructions – accompanied by photographs – for making crust and other techniques that appear at the book’s beginning.

Teeny’s Tour of Pie, a Cookbook: Mastering the Art of Pie in 67 Recipes” by Teeny Lamothe
A good book for beginners and those who like cookbooks that are just as fun to read as they are tasty to bake from. Lamothe traveled around the country to learn first-hand from some of the best bakers. She shares tips and techniques that take the mystery and fear out of pie baking, and she shares some gorgeous recipes. (One I’ve got marked to try: peanut butter brownie pie with a pretzel crust – yum!)

United States of Pie: Regional Favorites From East to West and North to South” by Adrienne Kane
If you enjoy the stories behind regional cuisines, pick up “United States of Pie.” While short on pictures, this narrative cookbook makes up for that lack with its mouth-watering descriptions of southern peach pie, concord grape pie, shoofly pie and more.

Enjoy these and many more baking books available from your library. Ready your rolling pin, and check out a few!

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New DVD List: An Honest Liar & More

November 11, 2015

honest liar poster 3Here is a new DVD list highlighting various titles recently added to the library’s collection.

an honest liarAn Honest Liar
Playing at last year’s Boone Dawdle, this film tells the story of the world-famous magician, escape artist and enemy of deception, James ‘The Amazing’ Randi. He devised intricate investigations exposing the ‘miracles’ of psychics, faith healers and con-artists. When a shocking revelation is discovered, is Randi is still the deceiver — or the deceived?

penny dreadful s3Penny Dreadful
Season 2
Website / Reviews
Vanessa Ives and Ethan Chandler are forming a deeper bond as the group, including Sir Malcolm, Dr. Frankenstein and Sembene, unite to banish the evil forces that threaten to destroy them. Meanwhile, Dorian Gray, the Creature and Brona are all waging battles of their own.

home firesHome Fires” 
Season 1
Website / Reviews
Bitter rivals fight for control of the Women’s Institute in a rural English town as it struggles with the onset of World War II. Separated from husbands, fathers, sons and brothers for years at a time, some permanently, they face extraordinary pressures in a rapidly fragmenting world.

vikings s31Vikings
Season 3
Website / Reviews
Now king of his people, Ragnar remains a restless wanderer, leading his band of Norse warriors on epic adventures from the shores of Essex to the mythical city of Paris. But stunning betrayals and hidden dangers will test Ragnar’s courage and strength like never before.

american horror story s4American Horror Story
Season 4
Elsa Mars is the proprietor of a troupe of human “curiosities” on a desperate journey of survival in the sleepy hamlet of Jupiter, Florida, in 1952. But the strange emergence of an entity will savagely threaten the lives of the townsfolk and freaks alike.

Other notable releases:
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” –
Season 3 – Website 
Happy Valley” –
Season 1Website / Reviews
Murder in the Park
 –  Website / Reviews / Trailer
The 100” – Season 2 – Website / Reviews
Bates Motel” – Season 3 – Website / Reviews
The Leftovers” Season 1Website / Reviews

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Kindness Makes the World Go Around and Improves Your Health

November 9, 2015

Photo of a kindness mosaicYou’ve probably realized from your own experience that being kind brings you positive effect. We all know that warm, fuzzy feeling (known as “helper’s high” or “giver’s glow”) evoked from selfless acts of kindness and generosity extended to others. Well, it turns out that the benefits of being kind go way beyond that “feel good” feeling. Scientific research indicates significant physical and mental health benefits come from offering kindness to others. And interestingly, the bundle of benefits comes not only to those offering the kindness, but also to those receiving it and even to third party witnesses of kind acts.

The documented benefits of being involved in a circuit of kindness are many. They include: reductions in stress levels (and conditions associated with stress such as high blood pressure, heart disease and asthma); a decrease in feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation and/or hostility; a decrease in physical pain; an increase in feelings of contentment and/or joy; and emotional calm, stability and resilience.

Photograph of man giving a warm drink to a homeless personBiochemically, there is a lot going on inside us during exchanges of kindness. During these exchanges, emotional warmth is created and this causes the hormone oxytocin to be released. Oxytocin causes blood vessels to dilate and relax which results in lowered blood pressure. Oxytocin also acts to slow the aging process by counteracting the effect of free radicals and inflammation, which are also major contributors to heart disease and cancer.

Kindness is a highly valued virtue in many cultures and religions. It is a gift that makes living life much sweeter and more meaningful. In fact, it seems to me that kindness is what makes the world go around (not money, as the song in the musical Cabaret claims). The World Kindness Movement has designated a day to focus attention on this virtue and to encourage people to celebrate it by offering acts of altruism to our fellow humans (and other animals, too)!  This year World Kindness Day falls on Friday, November 13.

If you are wondering about ways to add more kindness to the world, the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website has a wide-ranging list of ideas.  And here at DBRL we have lots and lots of books on this topic from which to pick and choose. Kindness is like a muscle; the more you exercise it as a practice, the stronger it gets and the easier it becomes to extend your generosity. I’ll end here with a poem on kindness that alludes to the many trials we suffer as humans and how these hardships make being kind the thing that makes the most sense.

Kindness, by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Photo credits:

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Reader Review: In the Shadow of the Cypress

November 6, 2015

Editor’s note: This review was submitted by a library patron during the 2015 Adult Summer Reading program. We will continue to periodically share some of these reviews throughout the year.

in the shadow of the cypressThe son of John Steinbeck delivers a captivating novel similarly set in Montgomery, California (same as “Cannery Row“). “In the Shadow of the Cypress” explores the roles and culture of the Chinese throughout the history of the American West Coast. A potentially mind blowing archeological discovery is found pertaining to Chinese American history in the 1900’s. Narrators change in the story as the setting shifts from early 20th century to present day while the facts continue to unfold. Thomas Steinbeck’s voice has traces of his father but maintains a distinct difference. Almost a mystery novel, but not quite, it walks an interesting line of suspense, being gripping without any threat of mortal peril to any characters. It can be read and enjoyed without any prior knowledge of the former Steinbeck’s work.

Three words that describe this book: Intriguing, captivating, interesting.

You might want to pick this book up if:


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Best Books of 2015: Early Bird Edition

November 4, 2015

I know, I know. We just turned the calendar page to November, and bookish types are already making pronouncements about the best books of 2015. We can’t help it. As a book person and a list-maker, this time of year makes me positively giddy.

Before sharing some of the year’s best titles, we want to hear what you think was the best book of 2015. Specifically, what book did you read this past year that you think would make an excellent selection for next year’s One READ program? Our reading panel is looking for books that will appeal to adults of different ages and backgrounds and that have numerous topics for discussion. Pop on over to oneread.org, nominate a book, and then come on back to this list. I’ll wait.

Back? Okay. Here we go.

 A Surfing LifePublisher’s Weekly is one of the first out of the gate with its best books of 2015 list. The lyrical and important “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coats, previously reviewed here on the blog, tops their list. Other stand-outs (and their publishers’ descriptions):

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life” by William Finnegan
This memoir describes the author’s experiences as a lifelong surfer, from his early years in Honolulu through his culturally sophisticated pursuits of perfect waves in some of the world’s most exotic locales.

Book cover for Black Earth by Timothy SnyderBlack Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning” by Timothy Snyder
It comforts us to believe that the Holocaust was a unique event. But, as Timothy Snyder shows, we have missed basic lessons of the history of the Holocaust, and some of our beliefs are frighteningly close to the ecological panic that Hitler expressed in the 1920s. As ideological and environmental challenges to the world order mount, our societies might be more vulnerable than we would like to think.

Delicious Foods” by James Hannaham
Hannaham tells the gripping story of three unforgettable characters: a mother, her son and the drug that threatens to destroy them. Through Darlene’s haunted struggle to reunite with Eddie, through the efforts of both to triumph over those who would enslave them, and through the irreverent and mischievous voice of the drug that narrates Darlene’s travails, Hannaham’s daring and shape-shifting prose infuses this harrowing experience with grace and humor. The desperate circumstances that test the unshakable bond between this mother and son unfold into myth, and Hannaham’s treatment of their ordeal spills over with compassion.

Book cover for A little LifeA Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara
When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome — but that will define his life forever.

Happy list season!

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We Never Outgrow the Need for Family

November 2, 2015

National Adoption Month logoMore than 100,000 children in the U.S. are waiting for permanent homes and families.* November is National Adoption Month, and the motto for 2015 is “We never outgrow the need for family.” The focus this year is on older youth in foster care.

In keeping with this theme, here is a list of resources for those interested in expanding their families by adding some big kids:

  • AdoptUSKids provides information on almost every conceivable topic related to domestic adoption and foster care. They link to resources for families and professionals.
  • The DBRL adoption subject guide links to informational sites and support groups for families hoping to adopt, those who already have adopted and for birth parents.
  • In the book “Adopting Older Children,” Stephanie Bosco-Ruggiero writes about the logistics and needs involved in adopting school-aged children – ages four and older. She includes stories of real-life families and adds an appendix of resources at the end of the book.
  • Parenting Adopted Adolescents” by Gregory C. Keck addresses concerns of parents and kids. Some issues are typical of most teens and some are specific to adoption.
  • Michael Orlans’ book, “Healing Parents,” is subtitled “Helping Wounded Children Learn to Trust and Love.” Though this is for any family with a child who has experienced trauma, there are chapters about adoption and foster care.
  • The Foster Parenting Manual” is a guide for those who provide interim care to children in transition, whether those kids are only temporarily unable to be with their birth parents or are awaiting adoption.

For those who need any of the above resources, I have one word: congratulations!



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Chilling Tales of Terror!

October 30, 2015

Good evening.

Before we begin, I would like to set the mood with some music. Here is the first verse of a song called “Black Sabbath” by the band Black Sabbath from their album titled . . . “Black Sabbath“:

Zombie book display at the Columbia Public Library“What is this that stands before me?
Figure in black which points at me.
Turn around quick, and start to run.
Find out I’m the chosen one.
Oh no!”

Oh no, indeed.

This is a spooky time of year. It gets dark earlier, trees look like they’re dying, and people stand outside in the cold with crazed looks saying it’s “good football weather.” Then there’s that eerie orange hue to their eyes from starting the day with pumpkin lattes and ending it with pumpkin beers. Also, Halloween is coming!

Twilight Zone DVD cover artAs a kid, the scariest TV shows were “Tales From The Darkside” (just the opening credits are terrifying), “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “The Twilight Zone.” Many of the episodes of those shows were based on short stories. I think there is something claustrophobic about short stories, which makes them such a good medium for tales of horror and suspense. You’re always expecting something to happen, something to be around the corner, because you know the end is near. So here are some collections of suspenseful stories and a short novel to make sure you spend this season properly terrified.

Charles Beaumont is credited with writing several classic “Twilight Zone” episodes. “The Howling Man,” “Miniature,” “Printer’s Devil” and “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You” are a few of the episodes he gets credit for. “Perchance to Dream” is a collection of his short stories that play with the same variety of genres that appeared in “The Twilight Zone.” Vampires, magicians, monsters, aliens and more populate these well-crafted stories.

Book cover for Haunted Castles by Ray RussellHaunted Castles,” a collection of Ray Russel stories, contains the story “Sardonicus,” which Stephen King has called “perhaps the finest example of the modern Gothic ever written.” Do you need to know more than that? This book is also part of the Penguin Horror series, which is curated by director, writer and all around fan of horrors and monsters, Guillermo del Toro. Also, the book is titled “Haunted Castles” and contains creepy castles, monsters and grotesques.

The Haunting of Hill House” is another book in the Penguin Horror series by master of the Gothic, Shirley Jackson. The setup is classic: four people staying in an old house looking for proof it’s haunted. But this ain’t Scooby-Doo, and neither is it Amityville.  Something weirder – and deeply psychological – might be going on in Hill House.

One more from Penguin Horror is “Book cover for The Thing on the DoorstepThe Thing on The Doorstep,” a collection of a dozen tales spanning the career of H.P. Lovecraft. Besides skillfully creating a weird mythos combined with classic horror tropes, Lovecraft was a master of dread. You can feel it descend on you a little more page by page. This book contains one of my favorite Lovecraft stories, “At The Mountains of Madness.” If the story’s awesome title isn’t enough of a hook, it contains giant penguins.

Speaking of dread, how about some influenced by the works of Lovecraft, philosophical pessimism and existential nihilism? Sounds like a recipe for fun! Thomas Ligotti is a writer of experimental works of “cosmic horror.” “Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe” is a collection of his first two books of short stories. Relatively free of gore, these stories are meant to frighten readers on a deeper level.

McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories” is the second pulp-inspired collection from McSweeney’s and Michael Chabon. Although not all the stories strictly fall into the horror category, they are intended to keep you on the edge of your seat with contributions from Stephen King, David MitchellChina Miéville and Mike Mignola.

Happy Halloween!

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Rhythm is Key: Docs About Cuban Music

October 28, 2015


The album and documentary Buena Vista Social Club was released to much praise in the late 1990s, piquing America’s interest in Cuban music. The band released a live album in 2008 and a collection of previously unreleased tracks earlier this year, reigniting interest in the island to the south. If you’re craving the sound of Old Havana and the beat of the clave, check out these documentaries that explore Cuban music.

roots of rhythmRoots of Rhythm” (1989)

Cuban music plays heavily into this three-part historical survey of the African musical roots of Latin music. Harry Belafonte takes you to Africa’s steamy jungles, Cuba’s wild carnivals and the packed dance floors of New York’s hottest nightspots for an exhilarating musical odyssey.

buena vista social clubBuena Vista Social Club” (1999)

While in Cuba in 1996, Ry Cooder re-discovered the talents of some of Cuba’s foremost folk musicians. His recording with the musicians sold millions and earned a Grammy Award. Cooder returned to Cuba with film maker Wim Wenders to reveal the stories and personalities behind the music.

la tropical

La Tropical” (2002)

Playing at the True False Film Fest in 2004, this film showcases the club La Tropical, located in Havana where generations of working-class Cubans have always gathered to dance, sing, and let loose. This documentary explores the positive affects the club has had on Cuban culture since opening in the 1950s.

cuba island of musicCuba: Island of Music” (2004)

Behind the scenes documentary of the presence of Afro-Cuban music in the daily life and cultural identity of Cubans. Brings the viewer into the heart and soul of Havana through a vibrant mosaic of street musicians, big bands, dancers, religious rituals and classic cars.

For additional perspectives on Latin American culture, join us for upcoming events in our “Latino Americans: 500 Years of History” series, sharing how the rich and varied experiences of Latinos have contributed to American culture.

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Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The November 2015 List

October 26, 2015

In November the nights get longer and colder, which makes this the perfect month to snuggle up with a good novel. The latest LibraryReads list – the top 10 books publishing in November that librarians across the country recommend – is heavy on the historical fiction but still includes a few thrills, mystery and even some fairy tales to keep you warm on cold nights. Happy reading!

Book cover for The Japanese LoverThe Japanese Lover” by Isabel Allende
“Irina is a young Moldavian immigrant with a troubled past. She works at an assisted living home where she meets Alma, a Holocaust survivor. Alma falls in love with Ichi, a young Japanese gardener, who survived Topaz, the Japanese internment camp. Despite man’s inhumanity to man, love, art and beauty can exist, as evidenced in their beautiful love story.” – Ellen Firer, Merrick Library, Merrick, NY

Book cover for The Improbability of LoveThe Improbability of Love” by Hannah Rothschild
“The engaging, totally unexpected story of Annie, a lonely young woman who wanders into a junk shop and buys a painting. The painting turns out to have a long and storied past, with powerful people searching high and low for it. Unpredictable and fascinating; I loved the peek into the cutthroat art world and watching Annie blossom as she discovers her true calling.” – Heather Bistyga, Anderson County Library, Anderson, SC

Book cover for Little VictoriesLittle Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living” by Jason Gay
“This was a quick, enjoyable read that offers a refreshing perspective on some of the trivialities we all find ourselves caught up in. I enjoyed the tone and humor throughout. A standout for me was Gay’s list of recommendations for his child’s future baseball team. His open letter to this imagined future team envisions a team that can just let kids be kids. My only disappointment with this book was that there wasn’t more of it – it seemed to end all too soon.” – Lindley Homol, Chesterfield County Public Library, Chesterfield, VA

Here is the rest of the list for your holds-placing pleasure – enjoy!

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Staff Book Review: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

October 23, 2015

Book cover for An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United StatesI love reading about history, especially histories with unique perspectives! Traditional histories omit so much, and what we know has been carefully shaped by what schools usually teach and promote. The myths these texts create often overshadow the realities.

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States” is a book that dispels many of the myths surrounding indigenous people, such as the myth that the “New World” was sparsely populated at the time of first contact by Europeans or that their cultures were unsophisticated.  The indigenous populations were actually much denser than European societies at the time, and they were “supportable because the people had created a relatively disease-free paradise. There certainly were diseases and health problems, but the practice of herbal medicine and even surgery and dentistry, and most importantly both hygienic and ritual bathing, kept diseases at bay. “

We tend to ignore the centuries-long genocidal campaign of the indigenous peoples by US settlers even while we deliberate on genocides perpetrated by others. Here, the author shows that many famous authors, such as Walt Whitman and James Fenimore Cooper, helped champion and advocate for drastic policies and helped shape the national narrative related to native populations. Even thinking of indigenous people as a monolithic culture is a myth, as there were hundreds of distinct nations.

I was particularly fascinated by this book because my own family has an oral history of Cherokee ancestors who tried to hide their heritage by claiming to be “Black Dutch.” They fled the Carolinas for Texas during Andrew Jackson’s campaign after the Civil War.  They hid so well in fact that part of our heritage is all but lost.

“An Indigenous Peoples’ History” is a very thought-provoking and well-documented book that connects Europeans’ first contact with native populations to modern conflicts of “settler colonialism” by, as the author puts it, “a thin red line.” She asks us to face the reality of the past, “…not to make an accusation but rather to face historical reality, without which consideration not much in US history makes sense, unless indigenous peoples are erased.”

For other recent books that offer history with a unique perspective, you can try some of these titles.

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Let’s Travel: Oregon 101

October 21, 2015

Photo of Multnomah FallsThe first thing my husband and I noticed while landing in Portland was how smoggy the city was. With the hottest summer on record and wild fires raging in Oregon, Washington and California, that was hardly surprising. Yet we had no time to dwell on it. We rented a car and drove to Multnomah Falls, located 30 miles away from Portland.

We humans are hardwired to be drawn to water, but waterfalls seem especially magical. Is it the sheer force of falling water? The cool glimmering beads that gently spray your face? The fresh smells and the haunting monotony of the sound? Who knows? All I know is that no picture can do justice to Multnomah Falls (at least not my picture :) ). The falls are immense – the drop from the upper falls is 542 feet and from the lower 69 feet – and they attract two million visitors every year.

We spent hours admiring the scenery, had lunch at the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge, and headed to our next destination – Mt. Hood. To my disappointment, the Columbia River Scenic Highway appeared hazy – the smoke of nearby fires washed out the dark greenery of Douglas firs and the rocky cliffs on the other side of the river. Even a bigger disappointment awaited us at Mt. Hood. The mountain, so photogenic on a clear day, was obscured by smoke. I gave up my idea of taking pictures, and we headed to Timberline Lodge, set at the tree line of the mountain.

Photograph of Timberline LodgeNext day, though, the wind changed, and, as if in a theater, the smoke receded, the sky turned velvety blue and the mountain appeared in all its glory. Well, in as much glory as the diminished amount of snow on its top allowed. To give you an idea, the first time we visited Mt. Hood together was April, 2010. Deep snow lay on the ground when we arrived, and when we woke up next morning, 33 inches (!) of fresh snow puffed up the already wintry scene, deep snowdrifts reached the windows of the third floor and the chairlift (we came to ski) was hardly visible in the whiteout of falling snow.

This time, we spent our days admiring distant views of Mt. Jefferson and Three Sisters, hiking on Mt. Hood and walking in the deep Northern woods, where stately Douglas firs stand guard over cool mountain lakes that provide fun for kayakers, fishermen and sunbathers. Then we continued to Bagby Hot Springs, highly recommended to me by a library friend.

After an hour of driving, we stopped at a Forest Service office and asked for directions. A female staff member gave us a funny look and said, “Who told you about Bagby?”

“A colleague of mine,” I answered. “He said it’s a great place to visit.”

“If you’re into that kind of things, yes.” The woman said. “Where are you from?”

Missouri,” I said, feeling somewhat uneasy.

“Missouri?!” The woman said. Then she hollered to someone in the other side of the office,

“Look, Mary, people from Missouri are asking about Bagby!”

Another woman got up and looked us up and down.

“Nudity is limited these days,” She finally said and sat down.

“Nudity!? He didn’t say anything about nudity!” I started, but the first woman interrupted me.

“And you’ll have to bring several buckets of water from the creek to cool off the spring water.”

“We’re renting a car,” I said. “It didn’t come with a bucket!”

“Exactly,” the second woman said. “And the baths aren’t in good shape. They’re made of wood. Deteriorated.”

Hiker in the treesAt that point, I pulled my husband to the exit, and we headed to Silver Falls State Park instead. The park, a nine-mile-loop that begins with the 177-foot-high South Falls and snakes through a densely wooded landscape connecting 10 waterfalls, is an example of park-design-ingenuity. Of course, the unusually dry summer affected it, too, turning several waterfalls into trickles. Yet we enjoyed the park anyway, especially since two waterfalls allowed visitors to walk behind the cascading water and see the other side of the fluid curtain.

Next day we drove to the Oregon coast. The famous Pacific Northwest coastline was smoggy, and, once again, I put away my camera and waited for a food stop. The small town of Tillamook proved to be just that. A busy restaurant /gift shop offered local cheeses and wine/dips/spices-and-you-name-it tasting, while a next-door art gallery provided food for the visual sense.

Having fulfilled our tourist duties, we continued to the town of Seaside. A fancier place to stay would’ve been Canon Beach, but a librarian (me) and a retired professor (my husband) cannot afford to be fancy :) . We had no regrets, though. Seaside is a cute town with a grand, 1.5 mile-long promenade, wide sandy beaches, an aquarium and the best pancake restaurant I’ve encountered – Pig ‘N Pancake. (Tip: sourdough pancakes are to die for!)

Unfortunately, the town was veiled in smoke, too, but our luck held – the wind soon changed and the Pacific Ocean appeared before our eyes, mighty and austere. We spent our time walking along the promenade, hiking in the woods and watching windsurfers at Ecola State Park (surfing there is not for the faint of heart – the peak temperature is 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit).

Photo of Haystack RockEven if you don’t stay in Canon Beach, you owe it to yourself to see its shoreline. The 235-foot-high Haystack Rock rises from the bottom of the ocean as a reminder of prehistoric times. (At low tide, visitors can walk up to it and see starfish and other tide-pool creatures.) Several other large monoliths next to Haystack courageously defy the crashing of ocean waves. And wide beaches offer enough space for sunbathers (swimmers are rare, but they can be easily pinpointed by their loud screams when they splash in the cold water), sandcastle builders, windsurfers, tricyclists, dog walkers and kite runners. (Tip: bring some warm clothes, preferably a hoodie – the wind there is strong and cool).

Time flew, and soon we were driving back to Portland to take a plane home. The return, always anticlimactic, was also marked by low visibility, and I began to pay more attention to the scenery close to the highway: small, rundown houses and glaring spots in the forests covered the nearby rocky landscape – a result of merciless logging. On the radio, the announcers were talking about the alarming air quality in Portland.

In the airport, while waiting for our flight, I scrolled through my photos – a barely-covered-with-snow Mt. Hood, hazy landscapes along the Columbia River, diminished waterfalls, and my thoughts turned to the environment. We, the older generation, are lucky to have seen amazing landscapes and jungle-like forests, to have skied in deep snow and enjoyed clear horizons. But what about our grandchildren? Will they ski on Mt. Hood, walk in the deep woods or swim in the lakes and rivers? Will they inhale clean air and observe clear views?

It’s about time we understood that we cannot afford to be careless and oblivious to the changes that are happening in our time. Otherwise, we’ll go the way of Easter Islanders who deforested their island, ruined its ecosystem and, eventually, caused their civilization to collapse. Let’s do something to prevent this, and do it soon – despite the inertia and political squabbles that poison our souls and our environment. If not now, when?

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NaNoWriMo Inspiration: Favorite Short Novels

October 19, 2015

photo of the words story boardNovember will be year 17 of National Novel Writing Month. (I promise “NaNoWriMo” has a certain ring to it after you say it enough times!) Those who finish the challenge write rough drafts of at least 50,000 words during the month of November. Whether you’re NaNoWriMo-curious or a seasoned finisher, be sure to check the calendar for events at both the Columbia and the Callaway County Public Libraries, including starter sessions later this month and write-ins in November.

The thought of writers across the nation sharpening their pencils (okay, double-clicking on the shortcut for their word-processing program of choice) makes me want to read short novels. Here are a few I have loved.

Book cover for The Great GatsbyA longstanding high school assignment, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s  “The Great Gatsby,” deserves a read post-adolescence.  Forget Gatsby and Daisy — this tale of the excesses of the 1920s and the enduring truths of human nature owes its charm to the stunning narration of Midwestern outsider Nick Carraway.

Recounting the events of only a few days in the 1940s-era South, Carson McCullers’ “The Member of the Wedding” is a masterful portrait of the ignoble experiences of adolescence. At 12, Frankie’s only companions are Berenice, the maid, and John Henry, her 6-year-old cousin, but her brother’s upcoming nuptials bring a desperate agitation to an otherwise tedious summer.

Book cover for Play it as it LaysPublished in 1970, “Play It As It Lays” by Joan Didion is a quintessential Los Angeles novel. Separated from her husband and her institutionalized daughter, Maria Wyeth drives the freeways methodically and yet without hope of arriving anywhere or escaping the void that is her life. Maria’s journey is told in extremely short chapters, the white space on the page mirroring her emotional landscape.

Remember the first Mrs. Rochester in “Jane Eyre“? Jean Rhys reimagines her story in “Wide Sargasso Sea.” With language as lush as the Caribbean setting, Rhys gives a voice not only to Antoinette (Bertha’s birth name) but also to Mr. Rochester. This alternate literary history proffers the blossoming — and withering — romance that inevitably led to the tragedy at the Rochester mansion.

Book cover for Ask the DustIt seems appropriate to include an autobiographical novel about a young writer. Set against 1930s Los Angeles, John Fante’s “Ask the Dust” is the story of Arturo Bandini’s struggles to write, to find love and, frankly, to be able to afford enough to eat. (Charles Bukowski considered Fante his principal literary influence; his short introduction to “Ask the Dust” is not be skipped.)

What are your favorite short novels? Leave a comment below if you’d like to share a recommendation or two!

photo credit: PICT1441.JPG via photopin (license)

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The GMO Controversy

October 16, 2015

Photo of seed corn bag, titled Better Living through Genetic ModificationAre you concerned about or interested in determining whether genetically modified organisms (GMOs, also known as GM foods) are safe for the environment and safe to eat? GMOs are very controversial; just look in the media for evidence. You can find no end of articles asserting data of their safety and benefits on one side of the debate, and just as plentiful are contradictory arguments that present otherwise. With GMOs it appears that the truth is a moving target, so it may be hard to trust that you can find an ultimate truth on which to base your decision-making. Still, making an effort to inform yourself of their pros and cons can help you determine whether to avoid them or not and whether to support any, all or none of their use should you decide to engage with your elected officials on this matter…because the GMO debate is a political one.

There has been an on-going struggle between industry agriculture and consumers about labeling foods that contain GMOs. The majority of Americans would like to know what they are ingesting and want foods containing GMOs to be labeled as such. On the flip side, food industry giants are pushing for legislation that would prohibit states from requiring food manufacturers to label products containing GMOs, claiming labeling would drive the costs of foods higher.

To help you decipher this complicated issue, the Columbia Public Library is hosting a forum on GMOs. Please join us and listen to an informed panel of speakers discuss the multiple facets of this heated topic and answer questions you may have. Afterwards, you can peruse the library’s collection of materials on this topic so you can further your information gathering at your leisure at home. Then you can make up your own mind about the risks and/or benefits of GMOs.

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New DVD List: The Jinx, Alive Inside, & More

October 14, 2015


Here is a new DVD list highlighting various titles in fiction and nonfiction recently added to the library’s collection.

the jinxThe Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
Playing earlier this year at the True False Film Fest, this groundbreaking new HBO series exposes long-buried information discovered during their seven-year investigation of a series of unsolved crimes, and the man suspected of being at its center — Robert Durst, scion of New York’s billionaire Durst family.

alive insideAlive Inside
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Playing earlier this year at Ragtag Cinema,  this film chronicles the astonishing experiences of individuals around the country who have been revitalized through the simple experience of listening to music. A joyous cinematic exploration of music’s capacity to reawaken our souls and uncover the deepest parts of our humanity.

olive kitteridgeOlive Kitteridge
Based on the book of the same name, this four-part drama that tells the story of a seemingly placid New England town that is actually wrought with illicit affairs, crime and tragedy, all told through the lens of Olive, whose wicked wit and harsh demeanor mask a warm but troubled heart and staunch moral center.

glen campbellGlen Campbell: I’ll Be Me
Trailer / Website / Reviews
In 2011, music legend Glen Campbell set out on an unprecedented tour across America. They thought it would last 5 weeks instead it went for 151 spectacular sold-out shows over a triumphant year and a half across America. What made this tour extraordinary was that Glen had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

homeland s4Homeland
Season 4
Website / Reviews
In her new role as a CIA station chief, Carrie convinces Saul and Quinn to help her hunt down one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists. But when Carrie recruits a young Pakistani as an asset, the lines between right and wrong blur and the operation spins out of control.

in countryIn Country
Trailer / Website / Reviews
The idea of Civil War re-enactment is a familiar. But the men of Delta 2/5(R) recreate the battles of a far more charged conflict: The Vietnam War. For one weekend a year, the woods of Oregon transform as a mix of combat enthusiasts, Iraq veterans and even a former South Vietnamese Army officer revive, by choice, a war that a generation would much rather forget.

Other notable releases:
Misery Loves Comedy” – 
The Seven Five
 –  Website / Reviews / Trailer
Lilies – Season 1Website / Reviews
CastleSeason 7 – Website / Reviews
NightingaleWebsite / Reviews / Trailer

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The Gentleman Recommends: Jess Walter

October 12, 2015

Book cover for Does this gentleman’s influence know no bounds? First there’s the Gentleman’s Quarterly periodical that I presumably inspired and thus have no need to read, then there’s the fact that one of my recommendations was so convincing that an entire city banded together to read the same book. What’s next? A discount at the local deli? A trend of tattooing my face upon one’s own? No one knows (but at minimum I will surely be spared the glares and grimaces directed my way by fellow delicatessen patrons during my sampling hour). One thing is certain: I have tremendous clout and a duty to wield it wisely. So, friendly reader, I’m going wield it with incomparable wisdom and recommend Jess Walter.

Jess Walter is a genius, in part because he can tell a variety of different types of stories. First, I’ll type about “Citizen Vince,” another novel the Coen Brothers should adapt. It concerns a former low level criminal currently in witness protection; but – oh dang – his past is coming back to hunt him. Vince is a clever guy, and it’s tremendous fun to read his witticisms and follow his twisty tale. The story begins shortly before the 1980 presidential election and ends shortly thereafter. Like most people whose felonious past has been erased, Vince is giddy to take part in the selection of the nation’s next president. He reads the beginnings of a lot of books in order to always have a new one to talk about with a young lady who frequents the donut shop where he works. You should read this particular book to the end though, because “Citizen Vince” picks up steam as it goes.

Beautiful Ruins” is not the sort of book you’d expect the Coen Brothers to adapt (though I’m sure they could handle it), but it is easily imagined as an epic film. Some brilliant movie-makers will adapt it one day, and if they do it right,  they will probably win trophies, livestock and the other assorted plaudits Hollywood loves to dispense. The novel opens in a small Italian town with the proprietor of the “Hotel Adequate View” removing rocks from the port by hand in hopes of one day turning it into a proper beach. A young and purportedly dying actress arrives. The proprietor is smitten. But, before we learn their fates, we are spirited forward fifty years to Hollywood where a disillusioned production assistant is hoping to be convinced to stick with her movie making dreams. She decides if she doesn’t get a great pitch today,  she’s going to be the reluctant director of a cult’s museum.  A writer is ready to pitch his epic film about the Donner Party. (His pitch gets its own amazing, horrifying chapter.) A 72-year-old Hollywood big shot (with the surgically modified face best described as that of  a “nine year old Filipino girl”) is looking for a way out of his contract. The alcoholic war veteran that visited the Hotel Adequate View for a week every summer to drink and pretend to work on his novel turns back up. (We read his only completed chapter, which succeeds mightily as a short story and further proves Walter’s mastery.) Eventually, everyone’s paths intersect, and spectacularly so.

The novel closes with a firecracker of a montage that ties up the various loose ends; you will alternately and simultaneously cry and chuckle. Indeed, that sad fog condensed on more than one pair of monocles, and my chuckle hankie was often used to demurely conceal the happy bounce of my mustache. I was amazed by this book. My hunch is that you will be too.

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