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‘Tis the Season

November 24, 2014

Yes, it’s the holiday season, but it is also awards season. Each fall we are treated to not only best-of-the-year book lists but also the Man Booker prize-winner and National Book Award titles, among others. If you have readers on your holiday shopping list, consider giving them one of these excellent books. (Book descriptions provided by their publishers.)

Book cover for RedeploymentRedeployment” by Phil Klay
Winner of the National Book Award for fiction
This collection of stories takes readers to the front lines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking us to understand what happened there, and what happened to the soldiers who returned. Interwoven with themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival, the characters in these stories struggle to make meaning out of chaos. These stories reveal the intricate combination of monotony, bureaucracy, comradeship and violence that make up a soldier’s daily life at war, and the isolation, remorse and despair that can accompany a soldier’s homecoming.

Book cover for Age of Ambition by Evan OsnosAge of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China” by Evan Osnos
Winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction
From abroad, we often see China as a caricature: a nation of pragmatic plutocrats and ruthlessly dedicated students destined to rule the global economy – or an addled Goliath, riddled with corruption and on the edge of stagnation. What we don’t see is how both powerful and ordinary people are remaking their lives as their country dramatically changes. As the Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker, Evan Osnos was on the ground in China for years, witness to profound political, economic and cultural upheaval. In Age of Ambition, he describes the greatest collision taking place in that country: the clash between the rise of the individual and the Communist Party’s struggle to retain control.

Book cover for The Storied Life of A. J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” by Gabrielle Zevin
LibraryReads favorite title of 2014
A.J. Fikry’s life is not what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is failing, and his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. He is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island and from Amelia, the Knightley Press sales rep who refuses to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore that gives A.J. the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world.

Book cover for The Narrow Road to the Deep NorthThe Narrow Road to the Deep North” by Richard Flanagan
Winner of the Man Booker Prize for fiction
A magisterial novel of love and war that traces the life of one man from World War II to the present. In 1943, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. His life, in a brutal Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma Death Railway, is a daily struggle to save the men under his command until he receives a letter that will change him forever. This is a savagely beautiful novel about the many forms of good and evil, of truth and transcendence, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.

Book cover for Ordinary Grace by Williams KruegerOrdinary Grace” by William Krueger
Winner of the Edgar Award for best mystery fiction
Looking back at a tragic event that occurred during his thirteenth year, Frank Drum explores how a complicated web of secrets, adultery and betrayal shattered his Methodist family and their small 1961 Minnesota community.

For more inspiration, check out the awards lists in your library’s catalog!

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2014 Winter Program Preview

November 21, 2014

Promotional photos of library programsThe weather outside is frightful, but our library programs are delightful! Here are just a few highlights for the month of December.

Movie Maker
Wednesday, December 3, 2014 › 3-4:30 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Training Center
Learn how to create your own movie using Windows Movie Maker. We’ll go over how to make a movie and use transitions, sounds and special effects. Please bring a small collection of digital videos and/or images to work with. Adults. Call 573-443-3161 to register.

Coping With Holiday Stress
Thursday, December 4, 2014 › 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Callaway County Public Library (FULTON), Friends Room
LaDonna Zimmerman, team leader for the New Outlook Program for Behavior and Mood Self-Management at the Fulton State Hospital, will give you insights on what stress triggers to watch for during the busy holiday season and how to cope with stress levels. Call 573-642-7261 to register.

Google Toolbox
Thursday, December 4, 2014 › 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Training Center
This class is a survey of the numerous tools Google provides to enhance your online experience. Learn how to optimize your web searches, improve your productivity with Gmail and Google Calendar, explore the world with Google Maps/Earth and Google Translate, and enjoy the arts through Google Books, the Play Store and YouTube. Call 573-443-3161 to register.

Facebook Friday Reading Recommendations
Friday, December 5, 2014 › 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
www.facebook.com/yourdbrl
Get a personalized reading suggestion through Facebook one Friday a month. Just look for our reading recommendations post, leave a comment sharing two or three books or authors you like, and we’ll recommend your next great read.

Holiday Crafts
Saturday, December 6, 2014 › 12:30-2 p.m.
Southern Boone County Public Library (ASHLAND)
Craft an ornament from a design created by the Ashland Artist Group. Members will be on hand to demonstrate the steps as you create your own keepsake. Space is limited. Registration begins Monday, November 24. Call 573-657-7378.

Checking Out Digital Materials
Tuesday, December 9, 2014 › 2:30-4:30 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Training Center
Learn about the library’s digital services for borrowing eBooks, audiobooks, magazines, music, movies and TV shows. Bring your mobile device or laptop. Register for a 45-minute session. An active library card and email account are required. Adults. Registration begins Tuesday, November 25.

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Ask the Author: An Interview With Eric Praschan

November 19, 2014

Book cover for Blind Evil by Eric PraschanI am excited to introduce a new series here at DBRL Next: Ask the Author. In these posts we will interview writers in our library community. Do you know of a local author from whom you’re dying to hear? E-mail us and we’ll see what we can do!

Our first interview is with author Eric Praschan. Praschan launched his writing career after suffering from a reoccurring illness that left him temporarily mute and unable to feel his extremities. In order to process this traumatic event, Praschan decided to turn this experience into research for his writing. Three years later, he self-published his first full-length novel, “Therapy for Ghosts,” which he later turned into a trilogy following protagonist Cindy James on her quest to uncover her past and reconcile with her family’s dark secrets. The author has now sold over 16,000 books. His latest book, “Blind Evil,” was published earlier this year.

DBRL: One of your first books, “Therapy for Ghosts,” was inspired by your battle with mute paralysis, as well as your experience with cognitive behavioral therapy. Your latest book, “Blind Evil,” is a psychological thriller about a police detective whose best friend is a primary subject in a double homicide. Can you talk about some of your inspirations for this book?

EP: Strangely enough, the initial idea for “Blind Evil came to me almost eight years ago on my honeymoon. My wife and I booked an inexpensive “beachside cottage” in Florida, but when we arrived at night, we discovered that the cottage was several miles into the woods surrounded by head-high grass. The cottage didn’t have window curtains and the cottages next door didn’t have curtains, either. There were cars parked nearby, but no lights were on, and no one was around. The moonlight trickled in through the trees, and it was dead silent. It was very creepy. My wife and I looked at each other and said, “I don’t think so.” We got out of there like our pants were on fire and drove back into town to stay in a resort. After we were safe in a room fully furnished with curtains and working lights, we laughed about it and said that that cottage was the kind of place from a horror movie “where people go to die.”  Lesson learned – don’t go cheap on your honeymoon.

The image of that creepy cottage stayed with me, and over the years, the story started to emerge.

I could still envision that chilling moonlight, the eerie stillness and our skin crawling. Then the characters began to come to life. In terms of the psychological aspects of “Blind Evil,” the subject of psychology is fascinating to me – how the human mind works, how we react to each other and how we respond in difficult circumstances. I wanted to see what would happen if three close friends, whose lives had been entangled in a complicated manner while growing up, were placed in a psychological pressure cooker.  John, a police detective, doesn’t know if he can trust his best friend, David, who is now the prime suspect in a double homicide. Emily, the woman they both have loved, is caught in the middle, and the tension rises. My motto for writing is: the more conflict, the better!

DBRL: All of your published books, with the exception of your short story “The Furrowed Brow,” are set in Missouri. As a local Columbia, Missourian, you understand the advantages and limitations of living in mid-Missouri. What are some things you like most about living here?

EP: I love the geography of Missouri.  The forests, hills and rivers provide rich texture to the landscape, and I’ve always found great story inspiration from nature. There’s haunting allure and mystery hidden in the picturesque Missouri scenery. I enjoy the close proximity of rural and urban territories in Missouri. If you’re in a city, just drive 10 or 15 minutes in any direction and you’ll probably end up in the country surrounded by farms, fields and majestic horizon lines. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Devil's Icebox - photo by Mike Tigas via photopinColumbia, Missouri is particularly inspiring for me because it is located near Rock Bridge Memorial State Park  and other natural landmarks that can fuel the imagination. For my most recent novel, I actually hiked one of the trails and descended into the Devil’s Icebox cave at Rock Bridge State Park to do some research for a scene. The experience was thrilling, and I took pictures and notes in the darkness of the cave with only the light of my cell phone, all the while trying to keep my feet steady on the slippery, wet rocks. The people around me probably thought I was crazy, but I just smiled. Authors do crazy things for their stories, I suppose!

I also enjoy living in Columbia because it offers a great artistic community. There are so many wonderful writers I’ve had the opportunity to meet and become friends with, and it’s been invaluable to share stories, resources and experiences with them. Writing can often feel like a solitary journey, so it’s encouraging to have a writing family around you, and Columbia certainly provides that sort of environment.

DBRL: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers in our area? Are there local resources they should consider taking advantage of?

EP: The best piece of advice I have is simply this: don’t give up. Everyone has an idea for a book, but the difference between an idea and an actual book is the willingness to commit to your idea, to shut out distractions, to dedicate yourself to developing your craft and to sit in the chair and pound out the pages until the story is done. Discouragement, self-doubt, fear of failure, fear of rejection and fear of negative criticism will loom like a dark cloud threatening rain, but it’s your job to ignore the cloud and keep those words coming, even writing through the rain, if you must. The only person who can make you stop writing is you, so never give up and never stop growing as a writer.

For writers in Columbia, I would recommend taking advantage of several local resources:

DBRL: Have you read any good books lately that you would like to recommend to our readers?

EP: Recently, I’ve read and would highly recommend Laura McHugh’s “The Weight of Blood,” which is set in the Ozark Mountains. With deeply developed characters, a rich atmospheric setting and a barn burner of a plot, it’s a literary thriller you won’t want to miss. I also recently finished Daniel Woodrell’s “Winter’s Bone,” which is set in the Ozarks as well. Woodrell’s novel showcases the landscape of Missouri in an unforgettable manner, and his main character, Ree Dolly, is a heroine for the ages.

More information about Eric Praschan can be found on his website. Check out “Blind Evil” or “Therapy for Ghosts” from the library today! His other books are available from Amazon.

photo credit: mtigas via photopin cc

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The Gentleman Recommends: John Darnielle

November 17, 2014

Book cover for Wolf in White Van by John DarnielleThese days many people like to do more than one thing with their lives. The results are often generously deemed unspectacular. For every brilliant acting performance by political savant Arnold Schwarzenegger, there are three ill-advised folk or jazz albums by some actor who found the time to buy a guitar or piano and grow a beard on the downtime from his day job. For everybody that grimaces at the idea of Stephen King directing a movie, or Wolf Blitzer babysitting their kids, or catching a glimpse of Terry Bradshaw, there is understandable trepidation caused by a novel by an acclaimed rock and roller. But John Darnielle is not your typical song and dance man. His acclaim hasn’t been generated by facial paints or scandalous dance moves but by the quality of his songcraft. Indeed, the author bio on the back flap of the magnificent “Wolf in White Van” proclaims he’s “widely considered one of the best lyricists of his generation.” Now granted, not everyone that can pen pretty lyrics can craft a decent novel. But consider this: Darnielle’s acumen for fiction is made evident by the fact that his band is called “The Mountain Goats” when in fact it is comprised often times by only a single human, Darnielle himself, and never by any non-human mammals. Also, a big hat tip to the interns here at the Next Blog for pointing out the band’s inability to scale the sheerest rock faces.

Wolf in White Van” is a powerful book, dense with pretty sentences you can imagine Darnielle setting to music. Darnielle, in addition to shaming Sir Elton John’s tennis game, has written the sort of page-turner character study that most novelists don’t have in them. It’s a melancholy and sometimes grim look at the early life of a damaged man. While a teenager, the narrator survived a gunshot that left his face radically deformed. The novel flashes between Sean’s present and his past, eventually coming all the way back to the night when a bullet changed his future. To deal with living inside his head during his hospital stay, and with the loneliness that sticks with him indefinitely, Sean has created a mail-in role playing game. There are frequent asides from inside the post-apocalyptic world its players must navigate. Completing the game is impossible, which, given its subscription based nature, is just good business sense. This perhaps hints at a third talent Darnielle could unleash; I’m sure Pat Sajak is somewhere gritting his teeth right now.

John Darnielle will write and perform more songs. It seems likely he’ll write more novels. Here’s hoping he has plenty of time to do both and that fewer athletes open restaurants.

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Best Books of 2014

November 14, 2014

This time of year is a list-lovers dream. 2014 won’t be over for weeks, but lists naming the year’s best books are already cropping up, just like Christmas trees appearing in department stores well before Thanksgiving.

Last week Library Journal weighed in with their top 10 titles, as did Publisher’s Weekly.  “Only 10 books?” scoffs Amazon.com. How about 100?

These lists have some sleepers and some surprises, but there is something here for every reader. Below are just a few books receiving rave reviews, along with their publishers’ descriptions.

book cover for A Brief History of Seven KillingsA Brief History of Seven Killings” by Marlon James
A lyrical, masterfully written epic that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s. Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters – assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts – “A Brief History of Seven Killings” is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the ‘70s, to the crack wars in ‘80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the ‘90s.

Book cover for Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee – their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue – in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party. When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart.

Book cover for On ImmunityOn Immunity: An Inoculation” by Eula Biss
Upon becoming a new mother, Eula Biss addresses a chronic condition of fear: fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what is in children’s food, mattresses, medicines and vaccines. Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding the conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body. As she hears more and more fears about vaccines, Biss researches what they mean for her own child, her immediate community, America and the world.

Book cover for Station ElevenStation Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel
An audacious, darkly glittering novel about art, fame and ambition set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse. One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time – from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains – this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

Book cover for Thirteen Days in SeptemberThirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David” by Lawrence Wright
A gripping day-by-day account of the 1978 Camp David conference, when President Jimmy Carter persuaded Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to sign the first peace treaty in the modern Middle East, one which endures to this day. With his hallmark insight into the forces at play in the Middle East and his acclaimed journalistic skill, Lawrence Wright illuminates the issues that have made the problems of the region so intractable, as well as exploring the scriptural narratives that continue to frame the conflict.

And if you are anti-best-of-book-lists, you might try some titles that appear on Kirkus Reviews’ list of most overlooked books (so far) of 2014.

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Thanksgiving, Happiness and Gratitude

November 12, 2014

Book cover for One of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving.  There is something invigorating about the crisp Missouri air during this time of year.  Also, the holiday is primarily about family and food and generally devoid of consumerism, which is refreshing in the hyper-marketed world that we live in. However, the celebration of food and family is only part of the Thanksgiving equation for me. I often ponder happiness, gratitude and peace during the holiday.

I often refer to my well-thumbed copy of the “Varieties of Religious Experience” by William James when I think of Thanksgiving. Starting with lectures IV and V, James writes: “If we were to ask the question: ‘What is human life’s chief concern?’ one of the answers we should receive would be: ‘It is happiness.’  How to gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness . . .”  Perhaps Thanksgiving is a good time to reflect on what has made us joyful during the year, in addition to giving thanks for the many blessings we have received.

About this time last year, my then three-year-old daughter gave me a “Daddy present.” “Daddy presents” are often crumpled pieces of paper with incredibly cute drawings on them stuffed into small envelopes. With a flying pony sticker on the front. This gift, though, was a purple bracelet with “Complaint Free World” engraved on the side. It was bought for 5 cents at a garage sale. DBRL has several books associated with the “Complaint Free World” movement, including the popular “Complaint Free World: How to Stop Complaining and Enjoy Life.” The movement was started by Will Bowen, who is relatively local (based in Kansas City), and the book is a gratitude-based look at life in the modern world. His motto is: “if you feel you must complain about something, try to change what it is in your life that is causing you to complain.” The most updated version was published in 2013.

In the same vein, look no further than Victor Frankls’ book “Man’s Search for Meaning.”   Frankl lost all of his family during the Holocaust and is himself a survivor of the Nazi death camps. He emerged from the experience with tremendous insight into the human condition, and indeed, into the very heart of what makes us grateful, successful and happy creatures. The main premise of “Man’s Search for Meaning” is that happiness and gratitude come from working toward something greater than oneself. “Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run – in the long run, I say – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”

Thanksgiving time is also usually still lovely in Mid-Missouri. The trees still hold some color, the weather can be warm, and Thanksgiving Day hikes are a favorite in our family. For a celebration of trees and nature, one might pick up a copy of Jane Goodall’s recent “Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder From Plants.” In this book, Goodall discusses a variety of issues surrounding ecology, plants and agriculture. She asks us to strive for a transformational appreciation of the natural world as a source of societal renewal.

Finally, philosophy aside, Thanksgiving is perhaps most importantly a celebration of all that is important about food: it’s sustaining properties, cultural significance and seasonal variety (the pilgrims probably would not have survived without some of the common foods celebrated during the holiday, such as corn introduced to them by local Indians). A recent anthology of poems about food was published in 2013: “The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food & Drink” edited by Kevin Young. “Food transports us to another place” writes Young. Even if it’s just to the couch after Thanksgiving turkey.

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Recommending YAFA (Young Adult Books for Adults)

November 10, 2014

Photo of a readerThere’s been a lot of controversy lately about adults reading young adult fiction (YA). Many argue that adults should be ashamed for reading books written for children, while others say it shouldn’t matter. If you enjoy reading YA, that’s all that’s important. I have to agree with the latter argument. Telling adults they should be ashamed to read YA is absurd, but then again, telling anyone they should be ashamed to read ANYTHING is absurd!

Sure, YA books are novels aimed at readers aged 12 to 19, but YA is more than that. Many books for teens are written in a style meant to keep these readers engaged, and thus much of YA is full of more direct language, faster pacing, action scenes and emotional turmoil. These features appeal to many people (not just teens!!) because of the other media they love with similar plots or pacing – movies, TV shows, Twitter and Instagram.

Enjoying this style of book isn’t just something teens can do. Everyone can.

Now, that being said, I don’t think the classics are dead, or adults should read only YA. That’s also crazy talk. Everything has its place and time. Everything is important to someone. But should an adult feel ashamed for not wanting to be bogged down with what they might see as superfluous language or ambiguous endings? Hardly. Everyone has their preferences.

If you have read YA fiction and thought it was immature, then maybe you haven’t read enough YA. Just like in any genre or category of books, there is the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. You can’t judge an entire type of book based on one work, or even two.

My series of YAFA posts will suggest YA books that will, I hope, appeal more to adult readers. And they won’t be books already enjoying big buzz like “The Hunger Games” or “The Fault in Our Stars.” Here is my first recommendation.

Book cover for Grave Mercy by Robin LaFeversGrave Mercy” by Robin LaFevers

“Grave Mercy” is a historical fantasy. It follows Ismae, a daughter of Death, as she trains to become an assassin. When the Duchess is killed, Ismae must pretend to be Gavriel Duval’s mistress and hope to find the truth behind what happened. Used to always having Death on her side, Ismae must question everything she’s learned and save the soon-to-be Duchess Anne’s life.

Full of political intrigue, historical references and a mature love interest, “Grave Mercy” has more adult elements than teen ones. Ismae sounds like a narrator above her years, and LaFevers’ language is beautifully balanced, descriptive yet direct. Longer than the average YA, “Grave Mercy” is the first in a trilogy. Each book follows a different daughter of Death. “Dark Triumph” is book two (also amazing!), and book three is yet to be released, titled “Mortal Heart.” (I have it on hold!)

No matter what anyone says, if you enjoy reading something, no matter what it is, be happy and READ!

photo credit: Cayusa via photopin cc

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From Humble Beginnings to the Nobel Prize: Marie Curie

November 7, 2014

Photo used under a Creative Commons license, photo by Tekniska museet via FlickrOn November 7, 1867, two teachers in Poland welcomed a daughter into the world. They were poor but managed to nurture within her a love of learning. In a day and age where most women did not consider higher education, the girl found herself fascinated by math and science. It was this fascination that lead the girl – Maria Salomea Sklodowska, better known as Marie Curie – on a journey to the University of Paris in 1891. This journey changed not only her life but also directly influenced the future of science and medicine.

In Paris, Marie met Pierre Curie, a physics and chemistry instructor. Pierre was the love of her life, as well as  her scientific partner in Nobel Prize-winning research on radioactivity. Marie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and she was the first person (and only woman so far) to be awarded a second Nobel Prize, which she won in 1911 for the discovery of radium and polonium. Marie’s life was marked by these great successes but also by great tragedy. Both her mother and husband died far too early in their lives. Despite these losses, she persevered. Marie Curie was an unassuming woman who saw herself as simply a wife, mother and scientist. She probably never imagined her role as such an important pioneer for women and science. If you’re interested in learning more about her, the library owns several fascinating books that explore Marie’s life, family and legacy.

  • Madame Curie: A Biography” by Eve Curie. Marie Curie’s daughter, Eve, recounts Marie’s scientific successes, examining how her mother’s Polish childhood ultimately shaped her into a superstar of the scientific world.

  • Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie” by Barbara Goldsmith. Pulling from diaries, letters and family interviews, author Barbara Goldsmith explores Curie’s challenge of living the conflicting roles of wife, mother and scientist.
  • Sudden Genius? The Gradual Path to Creative Breakthroughs” by Andrew Robinson. Author Andrew Robinson explores 10 creative geniuses, including Marie Curie, looking for what they have in common that may have directed the paths their lives took and shaped the breakthroughs they made in their work.

photo credit: Tekniska museet via photopin cc

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November is National Adoption Month

November 5, 2014

Book cover for November is National Adoption month. More than 100,000 children and youth in the U.S. foster care system are awaiting permanent families. National Adoption Month is a time to raise awareness about the adoption of children and youth from foster care, and we wanted to share with you some informational resources about adoption, books available from your library and a publication put out by the Missouri Attorney General called “Welcome Home,” a step-by-step guide to the adoptive process.

A newly updated resource on adoption topics is located on our library’s website. In this adoption subject guide, you will learn current information about the adoption process, including local adoption resources, national and international services, post adoption support and, of course, financial and legal resources.

Adoption Display at the Columbia Public LibrarySeveral books written on the adoption process are available for check-out from DBRL. Here is just a sampling (and some of these books are on display at the Columbia Public Library).

“Welcome Home,” the adoption process publication put out by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, is available online and at the reference desk at the Columbia Public Library. It provides a nice overview for anyone wanting to learn more about the process in Missouri and covers everything from types of adoptions and frequently asked questions to forms, legal terms and available resources.

Adoption is a very large subject with many sub categories, and each one is worthy of more in-depth exploration. Some related topics of interest might include orphan trains, adoption laws state-by-state and reunions.

Genealogy and adoption is another topic of great interest, and next week we’ll share information here on DBRL Next about the challenges and some resources related to adoption and researching family histories.

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Better Know a Genre: Weird Fiction

November 3, 2014

Stacks of books by Thomas GalvezOur first Better Know a Genre post was in the realm of nonfiction. In this installment, we turn our attention to fiction. Earlier this year, I read “Annihilation,” the first book in Jeff VanderMeer’s wonderfully unsettling Southern Reach Trilogy. At just over 200 pages, it was a slight book, but it lingered in my mind for many weeks. I did a little research and discovered that this book was in a genre known as “weird fiction.” I was excited to learn that not only did this genre have a name, but also that it contained some of my favorite authors. I liked weird fiction and hadn’t even known it!

So what is weird fiction? As one would guess from its name, it is unusual. Before we (society) had genres, we just had stories, and some of these stories had ghosts and vampires and swamps and mysterious deaths, but they were still just stories. Later, we (publishers) had to make it easier for readers to distinguish among all the possible books to purchase, and genres became established.

H.P. Lovecraft, a famous and early writer of weird fiction, wrote that these stories have a “certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread.” These are not traditional ghost stories, but they do have a supernatural element. The stories can be horrific, but they are often psychologically terrifying instead of gory or violent. The stories are different from science fiction because they do not contain the world building that is present in much of sci-fi. The setting is often our world (or something very close to it). There might be a tentacle or two.

If you are like me, you probably have read some weird fiction and not even realized it. Edgar Allan Poe, Daphne du Maurier, Franz Kafka, Shirley Jackson and Ray Bradbury have all contributed unsettling tales to the genre. The aforementioned Jeff VanderMeer is considered one of the foremost writers of the New Weird – a recent resurgence in weird fiction. He and his wife, Ann VanderMeer, are editors of “The New Weird,” an anthology containing some of the most recognized authors of the genre. You could start there, or you could jump in with a single author. Pick up a novel by China Mieville, or take our gentleman’s recommendation and check out Kelly Link’s short story collections. As Jeff and Ann VanderMeer write in the introduction to the anthology, “Because The Weird is as much a sensation as it is a mode of writing, the mostly keenly attuned among us will say ‘I know it when I see it,’ by which they mean ‘I know when I feel it.’”

photo credit: ToGa Wanderings via photopin cc

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Prepare Yourself for NaNoWriMo

October 31, 2014

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing MonthNovember is NaNoWriMo. If you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, and yes, it’s as daunting and hard as it sounds – 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s an average of 1,600 words a day, including Thanksgiving. Easy? Definitely not.

Lots of writers participate in NaNo, using it as motivation to write that book they’ve been thinking about or to finish their current work in progress. But NaNo isn’t just for writers; it’s for anyone creative who has been procrastinating and needs inspiration (or peer pressure!) to accomplish their creative goals. Maybe that goal is drawing one illustration a day, painting for 10 hours a week or posting two blog posts each weekend.

Use November as the month to set your goals and meet them. (And sometimes even beat them!)

The books I’m suggesting are ones meant to inspire you creatively and to help you through those phases where you think, I simply can’t go on. When you meet your goal at the end of November (because I know you will), you’re going to feel very accomplished.

Book cover for Steal Like an Artist by Austin KleonSteal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative” by Austin Kleon

Austin speaks from his own experiences in “Steal Like an Artist,” breaking the creative process down into 10 major ideas. Full of humor and wit, this compact book will give you suggestions on how to keep going and new ways to develop your creative self. Easy to read and full of cartoons and pictures, “Steal Like an Artist” is a must read for all artists, not just writers.

Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity” by Hugh Macleod

I discovered Hugh Macleod while searching for books on creative thinking. I’d never heard of him before, but this book is amazing. Between the text and Macleod’s quirky business card cartoons, you’ll be amused and intrigued. Hugh focuses on the hard aspects of a creative life that no one wants to hear but everyone needs to understand. After reading “Ignore Everybody,” you’ll understand yourself and your process better. I know I did.

Book cover for 3 a.m. EpiphanyThe 3 A.M. Epiphany” by Brian Kiteley

This book is specific to writing, but I think many of the prompts could easily be altered to fit other arts. “The 3 A.M. Epiphany” is meant to get your creative juices flowing when you’re feeling stumped or unable to move forward. With over a hundred writing prompts, it will be impossible not to find something to write about (or draw about), and after you get going, hopefully it will be easier for you to return to your original work.

Finish This Book” by Keri  Smith

“Finish This Book” is similar to “The 3 A.M. Epiphany,” but instead of writing prompts, this book is full of questions awaiting answers. Smith will ask you to finish drawings, to make observations, to write ideas or go “hunting” with your camera.  No matter which activity from this book you choose, it will get your brain moving. Just promise you won’t write directly in the library’s copy – use a your own journal, please!

And don’t worry that you’ll be on your own; I’ll be doing NaNoWriMo this month, too. My goal is to finish my current work in progress.

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Terrifying “Funny Books” for Halloween

October 29, 2014

Book cover for Just as a vampire needs the blood of the living to sustain it, or a zombie needs brains, comic books might have faded from existence without the chewy, pulpy sustenance of horror stories. This same subject matter was also almost their undoing, but such are the risks when you dabble in the dark arts.

For a look at the early days of horror comics check out “The Horror! The Horror!” This collection contains numerous covers and complete horror comics from the pre-code 1950s, (before such comics were censored). Commentary and informative text provide some context for the stories.

Action! Mystery! Thrills!” is a great look at the weird world of old comic book covers. Most of these depict scenes intended to simultaneously shock and entice you.

The Weird World of Eerie Publications” is another fine collection of old horror comics and a history of the industry. It tells the story of the eccentric, ethically challenged and at times scary owner of Eerie Publications.

Book cover for If you don’t know what a pre-code comic is, you should check out David Haju’s “The Ten-Cent Plague.” This book explores the censorship campaign against comics like those in the collections above. That campaign led to the Comics Code Authority, which many people feel hamstrung creativity in comics for decades. Even after reading some of the horror comics of the time, it’s shocking the lengths people went to stop them. This book is both a fascinating history of a moment in American pop culture and a frightening look at hysteria.

Not all horror stories are held in low esteem. More than a few are now considered classics. If you’d like to look a little more highbrow while scaring yourself with comics, pick up a graphic novel adaptation of “Dracula,” “Frankenstein” or the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Richard Sala’s style shows the influence of classic illustrators of the macabre Charles Addams and Edward Gorey. Sala has a knack for drawing grotesque caricatures that are just cartoonish and humorous enough. His stories maintain an eerie mood but still wink at the reader letting them know it’s just a comic book, right? “Delphine” is a retelling of the story of Snow White from Prince Charming’s perspective. This is based on the original fairy tale and not the Disney film, so it’s a darker story told by a master of them.

Book cover for Scott Snyder currently writes Batman, but his strongest work is another series about a bat-human hybrid. “American Vampire” tells the story of a new breed of Vampire (originating in America) that can not only walk in daylight, but also is made stronger by the sun. He’s a particularly viscous vampire too. Not only does he fight with the requisite vampire hunting organization, but he also doesn’t get along well with the old-school vampires either. The series is an ongoing epic that starts in the late 19th century and sets each story arc in a different period of the 20th. It’s a new take on a classic horror trope.

Baltimore” is another fresh take on the vampire story by novelist Christopher Golden and comic book artist and writer Mike Mignola (best known for “Hellboy“). Originally a novel co-written by the two with illustrated pages by Mignola, the character of Lord Henry Baltimore has found continued life in comics. This alternate history tells the story of an ancient race of vampires brought back to life by the blood soaked battlefields of WWI. Lord Henry Baltimore is a soldier who has a confrontation with one of these vampires during the war, which sets his life on a course for revenge.

Dylan Dog” is Italy’s most popular comic book. It describes the adventures of the eponymous “Nightmare Investigator.” Dylan is a former Scotland Yard detective who lives with his sidekick Groucho (who looks exactly like Groucho marks and loves puns). He is also a penniless, poetry quoting hopeless romantic who can only play one song on the clarinet. In this collection of interconnected stories, Dylan deals with zombies, mad scientists and an axe murderer. It’s a quirky combination of surrealism, humor and horror, but the story is executed in a way that is sure to appeal to many.

Have you heard of “The Walking Dead“? I’ll bet you have. It’s a hugely popular television show that got its start as a comic book. If you like the show and haven’t read the comics, you should check them out. If you don’t like the show but like stories of surviving a zombie apocalypse, you should still check out the books.

Afterlife With Archie” is indeed about the famous Archie and his hometown of Riverdale. When Jughead’s dog is hit by a car, he calls on Sabrina to bring the dog back. As is always the case (Will we never learn?!) the dog comes back wrong. Zombie contagion ensues. A lot of people would turn this idea into an easy joke or a way to mock Archie Comics. Instead, the creators take the subject seriously and use the familiarity of the characters as a way to make the story more frightening and emotionally affecting.

Book cover for Perhaps all the monsters, darkness, terror and gloom have got you down at this point? Then let me end with a story of romance. This being a list for Halloween, it’s a romance involving a sea creature. In much the way John Gardner’s novel “Grendel” took the epic poem Beowulf and told the story from the monster’s point of view, “Dear Creature” takes the classic “sea monster terrorizes beach goers” story and tells it from the sea monster’s point of view. The sea monster, Grue, has been finding bottles stuffed with Shakespeare’s writings. This subdues his appetite for beach goers and kindles his romantic interest in the source of the bottles. How could anything go wrong?

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Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The November 2014 List

October 27, 2014

Library Reads LogoThis November, librarians are loving genre fiction. Maybe during these longer nights we like the comfort of familiar series or predictable plot structures. This month’s LibraryReads list, the top 10 books publishing this coming month that librarians nationwide recommend, includes a police procedural, historical romances and more than one mystery. Enjoy!

Book cover for Us by David NichollsUs
by David Nicholls
“Every once in a while you stumble upon a book that makes you wish you could meet the characters in real life. This is the case with “Us,” the poignant story of a middle-of-the-road British family spiraling out of control, and one man’s attempt to win back their love. Quirky, delightful and unpredictable, the novel delves into what makes a marriage and what tears it apart.” – Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Community Library, Austin, TX

Book cover for Never Judge a Lady by Her CoverNever Judge a Lady by Her Cover: The Fourth Rule of Scoundrels”
by Sarah MacLean
“Having lost her innocence in a teenage love affair, Lady Georgiana is a social pariah. Trying to save the tatters of her reputation, she must marry and marry well. By night, she is Anna, the most powerful madame in London, and a powerful seductress in her own right. Will Georgiana succeed in re-entering society, or will her past catch up with her once and for all?” - Emily Peros, Denver Public Library, Denver, CO

Book cover for Lives in RuinsLives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble
by Marilyn Johnson
“Johnson takes a fascinating look at the field of archaeology, profiling a number of archaeologists at work. She visits sites as diverse as an army base, Rhode Island, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and Peru, but the best part of this book is learning about the archaeologists and their passions. A fun, interesting read that may cause an uptick in field school applications.” - Jenna Persick, Chester County Library, Exton, PA

And here is the rest of the list with links to our catalog, so you can place holds on these forthcoming titles.

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It’s Oktoberfest!

October 24, 2014

Munich GermanyThe first thing that comes to my mind when I think about October is its colors – or, rather, whether we’ll have the wonderful fall colors that the American Midwest is famous for. (We usually do, but I’m worried about that every year. :) ) And the second October thing I think about is Oktoberfest.

Of course, unlike fall colors, Oktoberfest is not “native” to the Midwest. It originated in Munich, Germany, in 1810, and has been celebrated there ever since (except during wars and cholera epidemics) with large quantities of beer. To give you an idea of these quantities, during Oktoberfest 2014, 6.5 million two-pint mugs of beer were consumed. This resulted, among other things, in at least one attempted heist of a trolley full of beer mugs and a number of lost items – including 230 pairs of eyeglasses, two wedding rings, a set of dentures (!) and a French horn.

Strawberry cakeMy husband and I were in Munich at the end of August, and beer tents were already going up. We also noticed that many old buildings were being thoroughly cleaned – although that could have had nothing to do with the festival but with the fact that Germany has money to spare :) . In any case, we both decided that there is more to Munich than its Oktoberfest celebrations: impressive medieval churches, neoclassical buildings and theaters and crowds of tourists from all over the globe. We had a pleasant stay there, but we didn’t drink much – my husband doesn’t drink and I prefer wine. Instead, we enjoyed German desserts: plum and strawberry cakes, sweet pretzels and such.

Back home, Oktoberfest finally caught up with us. Of course, Oktoberfest in Missouri is not as big as in Munich, where some six million people attend every year, but it is just as festive – especially if you like wine. Yes, unlike the one in Munich, our Oktoberfest is mostly about wine, although the people who brought it to this country did come from Germany.

photo of a vineyardThe influence of German immigrants in Missouri cannot be overestimated. In 1860, more than half of Missouri’s foreign-born residents were Germans, many of whom settled on the south bank of the Missouri River, west of St. Louis. They brought with them their food (apple butter, potato salad, hamburgers, etc.), their music (think “Silent Night”), their architecture and carefully-wrapped cuttings from their old vineyards.

A number of grape varieties found Missouri’s climate and rocky soil suitable for growing, so it is no surprise that by the turn of the century, Stone Hill Winery (Hermann, MO), was the third largest winery in the world (second largest in the U.S.), producing more than a million gallons of wine a year. And by 1920, Missouri was the second largest wine-producing state in the U.S.

Another jewel in the Missouri wine crown is the fact that our vineyards saved the French wine industry from total destruction. The way the story goes, in 1876 an insidious louse began an assault on vineyards throughout France. (I have to mention that the louse was transported there from Missouri :) .) Fortunately for the French, Missouri’s first entomologist, Charles V. Riley, discovered that some American grape rootstocks were immune to the louse, and by grafting French vines onto them, healthy grapes could be produced. Millions of cuttings of Missouri rootstock were shipped to France, and the imminent disaster was avoided.

Prohibition hit the Missouri wine country hard. Vines were removed from the ground and numerous barrels of wine were destroyed. (It is said that the brick roads of Hermann were blood red with wine.) Many families lost their livelihood, and the region’s economy took a downturn. It wasn’t until 1960 that Missouri began recovering its lost viticultural glory.

These days, Missouri vineyards and wineries are spread all over the state (113 wineries as of 2013), and Missouri wines regularly win prestigious national and international awards. All the wineries provide tasting rooms, and many have patios overlooking the Missouri River – or other beautiful scenery – and offer winery tours. Also, nine Missouri Wine Trails host events and festivals year-round, like live music and grape stomps.

A drive along the Missouri River Wine Trail (which includes our nearest Les Bourgeois Winery) would be a great wine-and-fall-color outing this weekend. Those who’d like to take advantage of Oktoberfest (or other wine-related events) but prefer not to drive, can do it by train, boat or bike (biking on Katy Trail could be your ticket to enjoying Missouri wine and exercising at the same time :) ).

Whichever way is right for you, don’t forget to drink responsibly. And cheers!

FYI: The three largest wineries in Missouri are St. James Winery in St. James, Stone Hill Winery in Hermann and Les Bourgeois Winery in Rocheport.

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Put Your Own Garlic to Bed

October 22, 2014

garlic photo by Kate ProtzmanI’ve been growing my own garlic for roughly 14 years, thanks to a master gardener friend of mine who got me started.  He gave me some of his “seed” stock and loaned me one of his 3’ x 25’ garden beds. I’ve been borrowing his garden bed and growing garlic ever since. Of the two garlic varieties he gifted me, I’m especially fond of the German extra hardy hardneck and now grow it almost exclusively. I like it best for several reasons: the cloves are large, so fewer cloves have to be peeled when cooking; it stores well; and most importantly, it has a good, strong flavor.

I’ve gardened itinerantly for years and still am no expert, but I do know that garlic (the deer don’t bother it, hallelujah) is my favorite crop to grow. That’s because it’s easy – so easy that I don’t really feel like a real gardener, since not much toiling is involved. I just punch a hole in the earth about four inches deep with a dibber, drop a clove of garlic into it and then fill the hole back in with dirt. In mid-October I can plant 120 cloves of garlic in the above mentioned bed in about an hour and then cover it up with a thick layer of leaves for mulch, leaving it until May or June before I have to do any tending.

My gardener friend says you can plant garlic in the spring and harvest it in the fall, but he says the results aren’t as good, meaning the bulbs will be small in size. Garlic, at least the hardneck type we’re growing, seems to do much better with a long winter’s nap. I like to think of it snug beneath its leaf blanket when the temperatures drop below freezing. All I have to do is send it some good growing vibes from the warmth of my own home.

The simple tending of garlic begins sometime in May or June when the plant sends up a flower stalk or “scape.”  This flowering stem that snakes up and coils elegantly near the top should be snapped at the place where it emerges from the plant stalk. This pruning of the scape directs the plant’s energy to the bulb, thereby increasing the bulb size. Scapes are a flavorful edible and can be eaten raw or cooked. I like to use them thinly sliced in salads and sauteed with other vegetables in frittatas. I came across a garlic scape and walnut pesto recipe in “Vegetable Literacy” and look forward to trying it…mmmm.

Wagon of Garlic photo by Kate ProtzmanOkay, back to the tending. Two to three weeks after the scapes emerge, the garlic is ready to harvest. When I see the stalks start to die down while turning yellow and brown, I know that it’s time to get out the spading fork. It’s very gratifying to unearth the pearly bulbs from the dark earth, especially when all the conditions come together to yield a healthy and bountiful crop.

If you’ve been daydreaming about growing your own garlic, I encourage you to go for it. If I can do it, you can do it. I rounded up the relevant materials from DBRL’s collection so you can read further about how to grow garlic and learn more about its healing properties and seductive culinary uses.

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The Gentleman Recommends: Graham Joyce

October 20, 2014

Book cover for Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham JoyceThere should be a word for the feeling one gets when wooed by an artist from beyond the grave. After several seconds of  consideration, I propose “melanarsabsentia.” Graham Joyce gave me a severe case of melanarsabsentia. He died on September 9th, and I didn’t read him until a few days later. The first thing I read by him, a blog post in part concerning his impending death and the beauty of living, made clear his large heart, fine wordsmanship and my need to read his novels. Of course, it’s not like if I’d have read him while he was living that we would’ve gathered for snacks shared over a tedious board game, though I can’t rule it out. Regardless, there will be no yogurt-covered pretzels and monopoly for us, unless he comes back to haunt me and/or my ability to communicate with the spirit world finally manifests. If I were a character from his novels, I might very well have such a haunting, or at least my sanity might bend in such a way as to believe I’m being haunted. But as I’m a character from some other novel with no perceptible ghosts and a narrative that can’t be bothered to skip a single bathroom break or dull moment, I guess I’ll never meet Mr. Joyce. But melanarsabsentia is only just barely about the elimination of the unlikely possibility of meeting the artist; it’s more about an artist whose work deserves to be appreciated by everyone inclined to appreciate their sort of work being robbed of having such persons appreciate them while they’re still alive to appreciate it, even though the appreciation directed the artist’s way almost certainly won’t be perceivable.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale” is sort of a kind of tale about fairies, but mostly about a family of humans. Joyce needs only a few hundred words to deeply invest you in his characters so you feel their shock when, during the novel’s opening scene, a man answers the door to find his daughter, gone missing 20 years ago, returned and not aged a day.

The Silent Land” follows a couple who, after an avalanche during their ski trip, finds their resort empty and then the resort town empty and then that they are unable to leave the town. Their compass spins, food doesn’t rot, burning candles don’t diminish. They come to the conclusion that they’ve died in the avalanche and go about trying to make the best of a strange afterlife.

The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit,” renamed for the American audience from “The Year of the Ladybird” (because sharply dressed ghosts are much more rad and freedom-y than ladybirds, and what kind of tea-taxing duffer comes up with the codswallop of calling a ladybug a ladybird?), is a story about a young man who takes a summer job at a resort and is menaced by a ghost in an electric blue suit and an absurd amount of ladybugs.

Graham Joyce was a prolific writer, and Daniel Boone Regional Library carries several of his works. He wrote the sort of novels you might suspect from someone who, as a child, was advised by his reluctantly psychic grandmother to simply cuss out a ghost if one ever gave him trouble. It should be common knowledge that ghosts cannot abide a coarse tongue and will peacefully leave upon encountering one. If Joyce’s ghost shows up, I plan to speak bloody politely.

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Roots of the Local Genealogical Movement

October 17, 2014

Book cover for Roots by Alex HaleyThirty-five years ago this October, the Missouri State Genealogical Association (MoSGA) began its grass roots efforts to protect old family cemeteries, preserve precious records and help people discover their own roots.

This work began after the popular television mini-series “Roots,” based on the book by Alex Haley, and its sequel were aired in 1977 and 1979, respectively. Today, the organization is still going strong, holding a state conference that includes a nationally known speaker and several support speakers. MoSGA also helped pass a state law that protects many family cemeteries that dot the countryside throughout Missouri. This organization has funded several causes related to genealogy: collecting money to give to the National Archives Trust Fund to save documents in the National Archives; contributing to a 21st Century Fund to give money to local historical and genealogical societies where manpower to preserve some of their records is available, but not monies; and providing the funding to purchase thousands of dollars worth of books written about Missouri that are historical and/or genealogical in nature. These books are housed in the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri, but they are available to all DBRL users via interlibrary loan (ILL).

The fact that MoSGA started in Columbia says something about the people of central Missouri and their pride in their heritage. The Genealogical Society of Central Missouri also started in Columbia, with several of its earliest meetings being held at the Columbia Public Library. Soon they, along with several visionaries who wanted a permanent building to house local history, began the construction of the Boone County Historical Society Museum and Galleries on Ponderosa. This facility is home to the Wilson-Wulff Genealogical Library. Run by volunteers, it is staffed the same hours the museum is open to the public. This group holds monthly meetings – generally with a program – and also produces a journal called “The Reporter,” which is full of information about families that settled the central Missouri area.

The Daniel Boone Regional Library generally offers a genealogy or historical program every month in at least one of its branches. This past July, 50 people attended a program about DNA’s uses in genealogy, given by Kathleen Brandt of Kansas City. Brandt is a nationally known researcher appearing on the television show “Who Do You Think You Are.” The library is also a good resource for not only local and statewide genealogy resources, but also general how-to information. Come see us. Maybe we can help you find your roots – where ever they start!

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Win a Free Audiobook! (Because it’s Raining and We Need Cheering Up)

October 15, 2014

stack of audiobooksIs autumn supposed to be this soggy? My chrysanthemums are struggling in my swampy flower beds. I’m thinking of designing water-proof Halloween costumes for my kiddos. All of this rain has me feeling a little down, and I thought our readers might be having a similar case of the weather-induced blues. My cure? Let’s give away some free stuff!

Register to win one of following audiobooks on CD by filling out our short online form. We’ll notify winners after November 5.

One entry per person. Good luck!

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Jack the Ripper: Case Closed?

October 13, 2014

Book cover for Naming Jack the Ripper“Jack the Ripper Murders Solved!” “Identity of Jack the Ripper Proven by DNA Evidence!” For a couple of days, I saw headline after headline proclaiming the serial murder case that has befuddled investigators for more than 120 years had finally been cracked by modern forensics. This flurry of discussion was prompted by the publication of a new book, “Naming Jack the Ripper” by Russell Edwards, a London history buff who came into possession of a shawl worn by one of the victims. He claims some DNA left on the material matches the DNA of a descendant of Aaron Kosminski, a London hairdresser and long-time resident on the suspect list. Additionally, Edwards quotes a detective who worked the case as saying he believed Kosminski was the culprit. Case closed. Right?

Soon enough articles started popping up, saying, in essence: “Not so fast.”  They point out that even if the DNA is Kosminski’s, it doesn’t mean he killed the owner of the shawl, only that he had some contact with it. Maybe he sneezed on it while standing next to her. Then, too, the garment has changed hands many times. A lot of people have handled it over the years. And Edwards is not the first person to have “named” the killer.

There’s an “Autobiography of Jack the Ripper,” published from a purportedly found manuscript, penned in 1920, containing the author’s recollections of the time in his life when he was on a murder spree. Or possibly it’s an anonymously-written work of historical fiction. Or an outright hoax. The book includes notes – some skeptical – by Paul Begg, who has made a career of writing about the case.

Patricia Cornwell, known primarily for fictional crime stories, tried her hand at solving the real-life mystery a few years ago. She, too, thought she’d solved the old case using contemporary techniques. In her 2003 book “Portrait of a Killer,” she concludes the guilty party was an artist named Walter Sickert. Her case hinges on “the successful use of DNA analysis to establish a link between an envelope mailed by the Ripper and two envelopes used by Sickert.” Well then.

It seems everyone claims proof of the murderer’s real identity, but in each case it’s a different person. In 2011, the Whitechapel Society – named for the area in which the murders took place, and devoted to investigating the crimes and their surrounding social context – published a book compiling the cases for and against several suspects. “Jack the Ripper, the Suspects” mentions Cornwell’s book and addresses some of its points directly. In the chapter on Kosminski, they speculate one of the reasons he drew so much focus from detectives was because of a tendency in the police department at that time toward anti-Semitism. Beyond speaking about suspects and evidence, this book explains some of the societal factors at play that made the investigation of the case difficult. The only conclusion I was able to draw was that we might never know the truth.

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Staff Book Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

October 10, 2014

Photo of Silent Hill Down The Path by Michael ShaheenThemes of dystopia and survival in a post-apocalyptic world run heavy through popular fiction. Readers have ventured into The Hunger Games series, which presents a world in which children must participate in a televised fight to the death. Max Brooks’ “World War Z” examines the chaos that would erupt under a worldwide threat such as a zombie invasion.  Even older novels, such as Stephen King’s “The Stand,” give readers the chance to ponder “what if?” from the comfort and safety of their own non-apocalyptic world.

The RoadThe Road” by Cormac McCarthy is another tale in the apocalyptic, dystopian sphere. McCarthy’s story follows a man and his young son as they venture through a barren, desolate wasteland on a journey to the ocean. What exactly happened to the land they venture through is never stated, but I think one can surmise. And in the end it’s not really important how this terrible thing happened – something bad occurred that made life on the planet mostly unlivable. A few people have managed to survive, but doing so has often meant living by unspeakable means.

The father and son’s journey is fascinating, but what really drew me in is their relationship. Throughout their perilous travels, the two share many discussions about life, often centering around the question of what it means to be good or bad. These talks allow McCarthy to flesh out the two characters, allowing readers to connect with and get to know them better. The father clearly adores the boy, doing everything in his power to keep the child safe and secure. And the boy loves this man who has served as his guide and protector. At one point in the book, McCarthy sums up their relationship perfectly, describing the pair as being “each other’s world entire.” In many ways, their love for each other is the only good thing remaining in their world.

McCarthy uses a sparse, poetic writing style. This makes the novel fairly compact, but it still packs quite a punch. I listened to the audiobook version, which is narrated by Tom Stechschulte. He is a masterful reader, jumping from the voice of the man to the voice of the child with apparent ease. The story moved me deeply; I’d be lying if I did not admit that this story is often incredibly sad. But it is also one of the most hopeful stories I’ve read because of McCarthy’s exploration of the bonds of love and family and how they can manage to survive even in a world that has been burnt down to little more than ashes.

photo credit: Mike Shaheen via photopin cc

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