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Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The March 2015 List

March 2, 2015

Library Reads LogoThe list of books publishing this month that librarians across the country love is nearly all fiction. And the one work of nonfiction — by the accomplished Erik Larson, author of the bestsellers “The Devil in the White City” and “In the Garden of Beasts” — is narrative nonfiction, its propulsive storytelling making it read much like a novel. Still, the selections are wide-ranging in terms of topic and appeal, with everything from the character-driven follow-up to the extremely popular “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” to a new steampunk fantasy spin-off from the writer of the Parasol Protectorate series. Here’s this month’s LibraryReads list.

Book cover for The Love Song of Miss Queenie HennessyThe Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy” by Rachel Joyce

“Miss Queenie Hennessy, who we met in Joyce’s first book, is in a hospice ruminating over her abundant life experiences. I loved the poignant passages and wise words peppered throughout. Readers of ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ will enjoy this book. There’s no fast-paced plot or exciting twists — it’s just a simple, sweet story of a life well-lived.” - Andrienne Cruz, Azusa City Library, Azusa, CA

Book cover for Dead Wake by Erik LarsonDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania” by Erik Larson

“In cinematic terms, this dramatic page-turner is Das Boot meets Titanic. Larson has a wonderful way of creating a very readable, accessible story of a time, place and event. We get three sides of the global story — the U-boat commander, British Admiralty and President Wilson — but what really elevates this book are the affecting stories of individual crew and passengers.” - Robert Schnell, Queens Library, Jamaica, NY 

Book cover for Prudence by Gail CarrigerPrudence” by Gail Carriger

“I was hoping we’d be seeing Prudence in her own series. Baby P — Rue to you — is all grown up and absolutely delightful. First-time readers will think it’s a wonderful book on its own merits. However, it becomes spectacular when we get to revisit some of the beloved characters from the Parasol Protectorate. Gail Carriger is always a delight!” - Lisa Sprague, Enfield Public Library, Enfield, CT

And here’s the rest of the list with links to the library’s catalog so you can place holds on these forthcoming titles!

The Witch of Painted Sorrows” by M. J. Rose
Cat Out of Hell” by Lynne Truss
Vanishing Girls” by Lauren Oliver
Delicious Foods” by James Hannaham
The Fifth Gospel” by Ian Caldwell
The Pocket Wife” by Susan Crawford
Where All Light Tends to Go” by David Joy

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New Creative Digital Lab @ Your Library

February 27, 2015

Studio CameraThe Studio is the new creative digital lab that will be opening next month on the first floor of the Columbia Public Library. We will use this space to host computer classes and special programs for all ages and to offer assistance to those working on their own creative projects. This new space will be evolving throughout the year, so be sure to like the library’s Facebook page for updates and photographs!

Studio Open House
Thursday, March 12, 4-7 p.m.
Saturday, March 14, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Take a tour and learn more about how the library can help you cultivate inspiration for your latest project. You can learn more about our digitization program, explore apps and other technology helpful for children and parents, test drive devices at the e-reader petting zoo and have fun with our green screen photo station. Open house demonstrations are geared toward teens and adults, but kids are welcome, too. Refreshments served.

Digital Playground
This is our new series of children’s programs designed to spark creativity using technology and exploratory play. Our April 23 session will focus on colors while the May 7 session will focus on music and sound. Registration for these events will begin two weeks before the program.

Personal Archiving 
At this revamped class, we’ll share tips for preserving photos, videos, digital files and social media accounts and then demonstrate the library’s new digitization equipment. This class will qualify attendees for further hands-on instruction in the use of the scanning and digitizing equipment. This class will be held on April 27; registration will begin two weeks before the program.

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New DVD List: Downton Abbey Season 5 & More

February 26, 2015

downton abbey season 5

Here is a new DVD list highlighting various titles in fiction and nonfiction, now available through your library.

downton abbeyDownton Abbey
Season 5
Website / Reviews
As season five begins in 1924, the radio is the latest miracle, a new Labour government heralds changes through the land and Downton’s traditional ways are besieged on all fronts. Robert, Mary and Branson must navigate these shifting sands together to ensure the future of the estate.

overnightersThe Overnighters
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Shown at the True False Film Fest in 2014, this modern-day Grapes of Wrath is an intimate portrait of job-seekers desperately chasing the broken American Dream to the tiny oil boom town of Williston, North Dakota. A local pastor starts the controversial “overnighters” program, allowing down-and-out workers a place to sleep at the church.

fargo season 1Fargo
Season 1
Website / Reviews
The Coen Brothers Best Picture Oscar Nominee transforms into the season’s most talked about TV debut. It features a new “true crime” story and new characters, all chilled in the trademark dry wit, murderous mayhem and “Minnesota nice” of the original classic film.

to be takeiTo Be Takei
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Take a hilarious, entertaining and moving look at the many roles played by eclectic 77-year-old actor/activist George Takei. Over seven decades, he boldly journeyed from a WWII internment camp, to the helm of the starship Enterprise, to the daily news feeds of five million Facebook fans. Join George in his profound trek for life, liberty and love.

arrested development season 4Arrested Development
Season 4
Website / Reviews
The Bluths return for a fourth season as the series is brought back from the dead by Netflix. Featuring the entire original cast from the first three seasons, the fourth season incorporates a non-linear storyline that leaves the viewer wanting more from the ever-dysfunctional Bluth family.

makersMakers
Season 2
Website / Reviews
Similar to the first season, this PBS series features a history of the modern women’s movement. This season’s themes include war, space, comedy, business, Hollywood and politics. Columbia, Missouri native filmmaker Grace Lee (“American Revolutionary“) directs the politics episode.

newsroomNewsroom
Season 1, Season 2
Website / Reviews
The TV show Newsroom takes a behind-the-scenes look at a high-rated cable-news program at the fictional ACN Network, focusing on the on and off camera lives of its acerbic anchor, a new executive producer and their newsroom staff.

Other notable releases:

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Previous Docs From True/False 2015 Directors

February 25, 2015

true false 2015

We’ve compiled a list of previous documentaries available at DBRL from the directors who are presenting films at the upcoming True/False Film Fest. Check out their old films before you attend the fest for their new films!

Morgan Neville
True/False 2015 film: “Best of Enemies” (Robert Gordon co-director)
Past films as director: “Twenty Feet From Stardom,” “Troubadours,” “Respect Yourself” (Robert Gordon co-director), “Muddy Waters” (Robert Gordon co-director), “Shakespeare Was A Big George Jones Fan” (Robert Gordon co-director), “Iggy and the Stooges

Matthew Heineman
True/False 2015 film: “Cartel Land
Past film as director: “Escape Fire

Alex Gibney
True/False 2015 film: “Going Clear
Past films as director: “The Armstrong Lie,” “We Steal Secrets,” “Mea Maxima Culpa,” “Catching Hell,” “Magic Trip,” “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” “Freakonomics,” “Casino Jack and the United States of Money,” “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson,” “Taxi to the Dark Side,” “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Jerry Rothwell
True/False 2015 film: “How to Change the World
Past film as director: “Deep Water

Andrew Jarecki
True/False 2015 film: “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
Past film as director: “Capturing the Friedmans

Brett Morgen
True/False 2015 film: “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
Past films as director: “Crossfire Hurricane,” “Chicago 10,” “The Kid Stays in the Picture

Joshua Oppenheimer
True/False 2015 film: “The Act of Killing,” “The Look of Silence
Past film as director: “The Act of Killing

Sam Green
True/False 2015 film: “The Measure of All Things
Past film as director: “The Weather Underground

Bill & Turner Ross
True/False 2015 film: “Western
Past film as director: “Tchoupitoulas

Liz Garbus
True False 2015 film: “What Happened, Miss Simone?
Past films as director: “Love, Marilyn,” “Bobby Fischer Against the World,” “Yo Soy Boricua, Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas!, “The Execution of Wanda Jean

To see more about the films showing at True False 2015, check out the list of films on the True/False website. Be sure to check out our True/False Film Fest films at DBRL to see lists of past True False films.

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Classics for Everyone: Cry, the Beloved Country

February 23, 2015

Book cover for Cry the Beloved Country“Cry the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply.”

Alan Paton’s South African novel is full of lyrical phrasing like that. It’s one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. The action takes place in the late 1940s, amid apartheid practices and attitudes. There’s another sentence in the book I believe could be the title, as far as it describes the story: “All roads lead to Johannesburg.”

When Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo hears that his sister needs him, he leaves the small village of Ndotsheni for Johannesburg.  Since he’s going anyway, he decides to try to find his only son, Absalom, who moved to the city and stopped writing home. Also, Stephen’s brother who went there several years ago. Oh, and one of the pastor’s friends has a relative there. Would he possibly be able to check on her as well? Kumalo finds his family members, one by one, but the reunions are not joyful occasions. People move to Johannesburg because it’s where the jobs are, but it is an overcrowded city full of corruption, vice and crime. Everyone lives in fear.

The wealthy white farmer who lives near the pastor’s village also has a son in Johannesburg, a son who has been working for racial justice, until he is shot dead by burglars who expected to find nobody home. Kumalo remembers him as “a small bright boy.” Paton’s wording is everything when it comes to capturing the emotion of a scene: “…he was silent again, for who is not silent when someone is dead, who was a small bright boy?”  An even more tragic turn comes when Absalom Kumalo confesses to the crime, explaining how he fired the shot in panic.

The realities of apartheid are consistently woven into the fabric of the story. When a black man falls, a white man would like to help, but he finds himself at a loss, because “it is not the tradition” that people of different races should touch each other. The white churches are magnificent. The Ndotsheni church has multiple leaks when it rains. The children in the village have no milk.

But this book is not all pathos and tragedy. Though it is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of suffering.* As the two fathers cross paths and attempt to resume their lives, they both draw deep from the well of compassion to create meaning from their losses, to give the world a continuation of whatever positive they saw in the spirits of their respective sons.
 

*Refers to a well-known quote by Helen Keller

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Book Review: The Queen of Tearling by Erika Johansen

February 20, 2015

Book cover for The Queen of Tearling by Erika JohansenIf you are familiar with other book reviews I’ve written here, you know that I read mostly YA fiction. But about once every three months I get filled with the overwhelming desire to read adult fiction, usually a new adult fantasy.

A month ago this need came over me, and I started using one of our lovely online databases, NoveList Plus. This database is great if you are trying to find read-alikes to a title, author or series you loved, and it is free to use with your library card. I searched for “The Bone Doll’s Twin” by Lynn Flewelling, the first in a great fantasy trilogy that still stands out when I think about some of my favorite reads.

The first book recommended for me as a read-alike for “The Bone Doll’s Twin” was “The Queen of Tearling” by Erika Johansen. Another great and amazing thing about NoveList is that it tells you a reason WHY the book is recommended as a read-alike, so you aren’t flying blind. NoveList told me that, “Princesses cast off their disguises and return from exile in order to assert their claim to hotly contested thrones in these fantasy novels, which boast sympathetic characters, extensive world-building, and detailed political and magical systems.”

To me, that sounded like a pretty good reason for the recommendation, so I went ahead and put a copy on hold.

At first I found “The Queen of Tearling” slow. It isn’t action packed like the YA I’m used to reading. The pace is a slow, delicate climb, but the writing is so beautifully done, pace didn’t matter to me. I couldn’t put the book down.

A 19-year-old girl must take her role as queen and rule a country that desperately needs her. There’s just one problem. She’s never been told about the issues troubling her country, and every time she believes she’s figured something out, another new issue arises. As assassins try to end her life, she must find a way to stabilize her country and protect it from a threatening empire.

The characters are strongly developed and enchanting. Johansen makes the bad guys sympathetic, even as you hate them, and Kelsea, the main character and queen, is strong, powerful and, thankfully, not a cliché. Johansen makes a point of expressing how plain Kelsea is. She’s not the tall gorgeous princess we are so used to reading about. She is, well, human. The great thing is, she’s still an amazing character, and an amazing woman.

After finishing the book I was curious to see what type of response it had garnered and did some searching. I found out that “The Queen of Tearling” had earned some real hype, including a movie deal with Warner Bros. It seems actress Emma Watson was strongly drawn to the book too. Check out the information here, from the New York Post. 

That’s right. Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame thought “The Queen of Tearling” was such a good book she decided to be the executive producer for its movie production and play the main character’s role. I’m excited to see such a well written book get the attention it deserves, and I probably will end up seeing the movie when it comes out, but I am left wondering how Kelsea, a plain and unattractive girl, is going to be played by the gorgeous Emma Watson. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, make sure to catch up on this read, and expect at least two more books. Johansen planned on “The Queen of Tearling” being the first of a trilogy.

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The Promise of Groundhog Day

February 18, 2015

Book cover for Groundhog Day by Don YoderOn Feb 2, 2015, in the small northern Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney, Phil the groundhog popped out of his hole to check his shadow. According to legend, spring may be less than six weeks away, depending on whether the sun is shining. Six weeks from February 2 brings us to the middle of March, which, in Missouri, is a time that often seems to be still stuck in winter. But there is an inherent hopefulness in this odd holiday that extends beyond the shadows and sunshine of the first season of the year.

A couple of weeks ago, browsing the library’s collection, I came across the self-help book “The Magic of Groundhog Day: Transform Your Life Day by Day” by Paul Hannam, and it made me think a bit further on the topic. Focusing on the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray, Hannan states that the term “Groundhog Day” has entered the modern lexicon as a place or state of mind that represents repetition and drudgery. Finding meaning despite the humdrum is what is important (as Bill Murray did near the end of the movie). Hannan writes that mindfulness is the key: “Where you choose to consciously place your attention ultimately determines how happy you are.” He also noted: “You can change your personal reality but you cannot change reality itself, like the past or how other people think and act.”

Book cover for Paddlenorth by Jennifer KingsleyAs useful as mindfulness techniques are for many of us in dealing with the tedious components of daily life, sometimes we need to shake ourselves out of the physical reality of our existence and venture far beyond our comfort zone to find renewal. Jennifer Kingsley does this in her fine new book “Paddlenorth: Adventure, Resilience, and Renewal in the Arctic Wild.” Of the arctic, Kingsley writes “if you measure yourself against the Earth–to test perspective on life and distance–there is nowhere better. Our planet is about 10 percent tundra, but relatively few of us will ever set foot on it.” As Kingsley traveled up the Back River in the Northwest Territories with her six companions (she made the journey in 2005), a transformation occurred: “most of the people closest to me would never see me in the places I love most. When those letters arrived on the Back River, I felt both loved and forgotten. Both feelings gave me freedom. The letters snipped another thread between me and them, here and home.”

What does it mean when your familiar completely disappears? In his memoir “My Orleans, Gone Away: A Memoir of Loss and Renewal,” Peter Wolf sketches out a life mainly spent fleeing the confines of a privileged and stuffy upbringing as a Jewish boy in New Orleans, to life at Exeter and Yale and the far flung reaches of the academy. Flanked by harrowing accounts of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina, the book is filled with a longing for a childhood in a city that has long since vanished. The memoir was written partly to fill in the blanks for all that was lost during the hurricane. Wolf put it this way: “I decided that in my own way I will try to preserve what I can, and understand what I have not, by writing this memoir.”

On a final note, it is worth mentioning that contemporary ruminations about Groundhog Day and renewal are rooted in ancient European traditions. Societies lived and died depending on the weather during the Middle Ages and weather prognostication was part ritual, part art. See Don Yoder’s book “Groundhog Day” for history and trivia regarding this holiday and its ancient meanings. In the end of his book, Yoder writes, “Our ancestors were geared into the universe and linked with the natural environment in ways that we today have either completely forgotten or no longer fully accept.”

However you find meaning in this little holiday in the depths of a sometimes cruel month, remember that warm sunshine and the springing of new life are just around the corner.

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The Gentleman Recommends: Emily St. John Mandel

February 16, 2015

Station_ElevenPost-apocalyptic fiction is as popular and ubiquitous as this simile is confusing and ineffective. For some it is a gloomy respite from the constant barrage of good news, utopian grocers and complementary snacks. For others it is a chilling vision of events horrifyingly near at hand. For others still it is a genre of stories that they read for pleasure.

Unlike the supplies in these stories, there is a massive selection of such books to peruse. Readers know that one of the following, in order of likelihood, will be what brings civilization to its knees: zombies, super flu, war, aliens, weather or vampires. We know roughly how things will play out and that the most important people left will be attractive and/or magical. We know it will be nearly as excruciating to experience as it is fun to read about. But what we don’t know, and what has long been one of my chief concerns about life in a hellscape, is whether or not there will be traveling bands of actors and musicians, and if there are, whether or not they will eventually run into trouble. Emily St. John Mandel’s gnarly novel, “Station Eleven,” answers my questions while being really fun to read.

One of this novel’s nifty tricks is to jump around in time and among characters. It opens, just prior to the “Georgian Flu” outbreak it uses to decimate the population, with one of its main characters dying on stage, and then proceeds forward and backward in time to check on characters connected to the dead thespian. One connected character is the child actress that helped provide a twist to his production of “King Lear,” and twenty years later was one of the world’s foremost traveling actors. Another is a paparazzo that hounded the actor until switching careers to be a paramedic and attending the actor’s fateful play. Another, the dead actor’s agent, starts a “Museum of Civilization” (its most popular exhibits include stilettos and cell phones) in an airport where several people take refuge after the outbreak. (The airport is home to one of the novel’s best and most distressing images: a plane, landed safely on the runway but with its doors sealed to forever contain infected passengers.)

This novel quickly introduces a plethora of questions (like why is the nefarious prophet’s dog’s name taken from an extremely limited edition comic that happens to be another character’s most prized possession?), and as the answers start to come the book becomes extra-impossible to put down. “Station Eleven” bounces between post-apocalyptic suspense and pre-apocalyptic drama, but its characters and language are always well-crafted and immersive. It is doubtful the looming Armageddon will be anywhere near as enjoyable.

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Happy Valentine’s or as Good as It Gets

February 13, 2015

Photo of a Rose by Svetlana GrobmanWe got married on Valentine’s Day. My husband thought that it was romantic. (Well, he also figured that it would help him remember our future anniversaries.) I thought it was cute and also special, since there was no Valentine’s in my home country, Russia. Yet whatever our ideas about the joys and responsibilities of marriage were, our Valentine’s wedding turned out to be a true commitment.

I’m not talking about the everyday challenges of married life: suppressing your true feelings about endless football, basketball and what-ever-ball games, picking up things lying around the house (like his size-large gloves on our dining table), suffering through Chinese meals he loves so much and patiently repeating questions that he cannot hear because he’s watching some bloody thriller on TV. You expect these things after you say, “I do.” I’m talking about difficulties that are outside our control, like every year we want to celebrate our anniversary, we have to compete with a whole slew of people who go out on Valentine’s Day just for fun.

It took us a few years to realize what we had gotten ourselves into, since on our first anniversary we (meaning me) had to plan a long time in advance anyway. That year, Valentine’s happened to fall on Friday, so we drove to St. Louis (a two-hour drive) for an “Evening of Romantic Music,” performed by the St. Louis Symphony. Since we had to buy tickets a couple months earlier, it seemed only logical to reserve a hotel room and a dinner to go with it well in advance, too.

Everything worked like a charm that time. The orchestra was good, the music was beautiful and romantic (with the exception of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Samson and Delilah, which I personally find erotic and not good PR for women :) ). And after the concert, every woman was given a piece of chocolate and a rose.

For our second anniversary we drove to Kansas City (also a two-hour drive) to see the Russian opera “Eugene Onegin.” That also had to be carefully arranged, since the opera seemed to have attracted every Russian living in a 100-mile-radius of Kansas City. (There were a few Americans there, too — probably spouses or companions of the Russians :) .)

Book cover of The Saint Louis Art Museum Handbook of the CollectionLater, things began getting harder. For our third anniversary, I planned another out-of-town outing, which included visiting an art museum and other stuff like that. Yet the weather turned bad, and although the temperature was 35 degrees Fahrenheit, the roads were covered with sleet. (How rain can turn into ice when the temperature is above freezing is beyond me!) So, instead of enjoying the experience, all I could think about was whether we’d get home alive.

After that, I decided that February is not a good month for traveling, and we should celebrate our anniversary locally. There were other reasons for that, too. For one thing, Valentine’s Day rarely takes place on weekends, and unless you don’t have to work or you’re retired (which my husband now is, but I am not), next day you have to go to work. For another, sleeping in a strange bed has much less attraction for me now.

The thing is, I am a creature of habit. I eat the same cereal every day. I sleep on the same side of the bed. And when we go to the movies, I like to have my husband to the left of me, so I can lean on his shoulder if I feel sleepy, and when we attend concerts, he has to be on my right, so I can squeeze his hand with my right hand when I get excited.

Book cover for Ultimate Food JourneysI like going to the same restaurants, too, and I usually order the same dishes in each one of them. Yet, as soon as I get used to a particular restaurant, it closes down. If that is because I always order the same meal or because we don’t eat out often enough — or both — I cannot tell. All I know is that it’s getting harder and harder to make reservations at those few I like.

Some of them don’t even take reservations for two people. (How do they expect couples to celebrate Valentine’s? To my knowledge, communal living, which was so popular in the 1960s and 1970s, is long gone!) Some restaurants don’t take reservation for holidays, and some seem to be full even if you call them just after New Year’s! They first say that it is too early, but when you call them close to Valentine’s, it’s already to late :) . Of course, it’s all relative. A friend of ours, who once found himself stuck in Tokyo, feeling lonely, decided to go to a nice restaurant. Yet they wouldn’t serve him at all! The reason being that he went there alone.

Another thing about celebrating an anniversary on Valentine’s Day is that there is too much chocolate around, which is a terrible temptation for chocoholics like me :) . Once, during our Valentine’s dinner, I ate a whole flowerless chocolate cake (my husband doesn’t like chocolate)! It tasted great while I was eating it, but, for the rest of that day, I didn’t feel so good. Since then, I’ve ordered chocolate-covered strawberries, so I eat less chocolate and more vitamins.

Photograph of an Orchid by Svetlana GrobmanAnd what about flowers? You’ve got to have roses for Valentine’s, right? Yet again, roses triple in price on that day, and I don’t even like them that well. One year, I told my husband that I like orchids much better (we had no orchids in Moscow, so they seem special to me, too). The problem with that is that I have a green thumb, and as soon as orchids appear in our house, they just stay there. And since my husband buys new orchids every year, recently, I looked around and realized that our house resembled a jungle, and I was spending all my free time watering orchids!

Well, once again, our anniversary is coming around, marking the eighteen years we have spent together. To tell the truth, despite all my complaints, I still like the fact that we got married on Valentine’s. I like talking about it and, more importantly, I still love my husband. And although the passion that brought us together all those years ago may not be as burning as it once was, there is no tragedy in that. For what really counts in people’s lives is mutual trust and respect, and also that hand you can squeeze in the moment of excitement and that shoulder on which you can lean in a moment of weariness or distress and feel valued and protected by the person by your side. And that is as good as it gets.

Happy Valentine’s to you all!

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Images of the Past: Docs Featuring Archival Footage

February 11, 2015

how to survive a plague

Creating documentaries can take a lot of time, but it can be even harder when you don’t shoot the footage yourself. Check out these documentaries that use old footage to tell a story from the past.

the black power mixtapeThe Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975” (2011)

Footage shot by a group of Swedish journalists documenting the Black Power Movement in the United States is edited together by a contemporary Swedish filmmaker. Includes footage of Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis and Eldridge Cleaver.

how to survive a plagueHow to Survive a Plague” (2012)

The story of two coalitions whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition. The activists bucked oppression, helping to identify promising new medication and treatments and move them through trials and into drugstores in record time.

let the fire burnLet the Fire Burn” (2013)

A found-footage film that unfurls with the tension of a great thriller. In 1985, a longtime feud between the city of Philadelphia and controversial Black Power group MOVE came to a deadly climax. TV cameras captured the conflagration that quickly escalated, resulting in the tragic deaths of 11 people.

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What to Read While You Wait for The Girl on the Train

February 9, 2015

Book cover for The Girl on the Train by Paula HawkinsThe Girl on the Train”  by Paula Hawkins  follows the mundane life of down-and-out Rachel who commutes daily into London by train. Before long she realizes she has been observing a couple every morning as they enjoy breakfast up on their roof top. Rachel begins to fantasize about their life, creating names for the couple while wishing their life was all hers. Then one day she notices a stranger in the garden, and the woman she fondly named Jess is no longer there! Written in the same vein as “Rear Window,” you will soon find yourself entangled in this psychological thriller. Place a hold on this popular best-seller, then pick up one of these similar books that draw in the curious observer.

Book cover for A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil HoganA Pleasure and a Calling” by Phil Hogan

Mr. Hemming, such a nice man. He is a real estate agent for a small community and likes to spy on his clients. He does this by keeping keys to the homes he has sold — all of them.  Then his creepy little secret life gets put on hold when they find a dead body in one of his homes.

 Book cover for Death Match by Lincoln ChildDeath Match” by Lincoln Child

Eden Incorporated — surveillance, artificial intelligence, state of the art matchmaking. It’s a perfect company. They create the perfect couple, the perfect match. Young, attractive, they have everything — it’s perfect. Now, a double suicide on their perfect living room floor. How is it that if everything was so perfect, they are dead? Isn’t Eden perfect?

Book cover for The Other Woman's House by Sophie HannahThe Other Woman’s House by Sophia Hannah

Unable to sleep, Connie Bowskill uses her husband’s laptop to log on to an Internet real estate site to view a home she has become obsessed with. While taking the virtual tour, she is witness to a woman lying face down in a pool of blood! Flustered by what she sees, she awakens her husband to show him, but when they return to site the photo is no longer there!

Have other similar titles to recommend to your fellow readers? Let us know in the comments!

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The Work of Denis Johnson

February 6, 2015

Book cover for Train Dreams by Denis JohnsonIf you’re a Denis Johnson fan, part of the excitement about a forthcoming book is anticipating where he will take you this time. He is not an author to be pigeonholed. His wonderful novella, “Train Dreams,” was originally serialized in “The Paris Review” and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2012. (Nobody won that year — the Pulitzer Committee couldn’t come to a final decision.) The story follows a day laborer’s travels in the American West during the early 20th century. Before that Johnson published another novella, “Nobody Move,” this time serialized in Playboy. It tells an archetypal noir story about a group of shady characters in pursuit of a bag of cash. You can get an idea of the diverse subjects he is interested in through his nonfiction collection, “Seek.” There he writes about hippies, militia groups, gold mining in Alaska, Christian biker gangs and war-ravaged Liberia.

Book cover for The Laughing Monsters by Denis JohnsonSome of his experiences in Liberia were inspiration for his newest book, “The Laughing Monsters.” This book treads some similar territory to a previous one, “Tree of Smoke.” That was Johnson’s “Big Novel,” which won the 2007 National Book Award. It focuses on a spy-in-training during the Vietnam War engaged in psychological operations against the Vietcong, but its scope is broad. Covering a span of 20 years, it is as much about the character of America as the war in Vietnam. “The Laughing Monsters,” on the other hand, is a novella with a small cast of characters, set in the present day, and covers a short period of time. Like “Tree of Smoke,” it concerns intelligence operatives who have represented western governments, although their original countries of origin are convoluted, and their loyalties/allegiances are dubious. These operatives are also traveling through damaged and war-torn countries on missions, and maybe counter-missions, while opportunistically pursuing personal profit. It might be the closest thing to a comedy Johnson has written, although there aren’t many belly laughs to be had. The New York Times picked the book as one of it’s 100 notable books for 2014 and described it as “cheerfully nihilistic.”

Book cover for Tree of Smoke by Denis JohnsonTwo of the main characters in “Tree of Smoke” are soldiers in the Vietnam War, the brothers Bill and James Houston. Bill Houston is also one of the central characters in Johnson’s first novel, “Angels.” Bill meets a wife running away with her two kids on a Greyhound bus. Together they bounce around the fringes of America through bus stations, bars and cheap motels. They encounter lots of dispossessed, strange and dangerous people. They inevitably get into trouble and make bad decisions, which get them into even more trouble. The book’s bleak subject matter could come off as exploitative in another author’s hands, but Johnson’s deft characterization and artful sentences make this story of marginal characters about something bigger than them. While it isn’t necessary to read “Angels” before reading “Tree of Smoke,” there is an added poignancy to reading about Bill Houston’s past when you already know his future.

The setting, time period and character types of Johnson’s stories can vary greatly from book to book, but there are shared characteristics within his body of work. Like most writers, he returns to certain themes and fascinations. You can see his interest in the spy genre in “The Laughing Monsters,” and “Tree of Smoke.” They are more like the spy stories of Graham Greene or John LeCarre than Ian Fleming, but the trappings of spycraft are there, as is the thrill of reading about it. He’s also a fan of crime, noir and hard-boiled fiction. (He adapted the Jim Thompson novel, “A Swell Looking Dame” for the screen.) His novel “Already Dead” is a complex noir about a descendant of a wealthy family who’s at risk of losing what remains of his fortune. After crossing a member of a drug syndicate, he’s on the run from two of his goons, including one who likes to punctuate punches to the face with quotes from Nietzsche.

While the protagonist in “Already Dead” might already be dead, the protagonist in “The Name of The World” is living a “posthumous life,” or so he has felt since his wife and child were killed in a car crash. An excellent addition to the genre I’m going to call “University Novels,” “The Name of The World” is about an academic in a small college town who finds himself forced to “act like somebody who cares what happens to him” despite his tentativeness about re-engaging with life. It is another short, poignant and beautifully written novel by Johnson.

Denis Johnson started his writing career as a poet. His first book of poetry was published when he was 19. I think this is the reason so many of his novels are short, but they never suffer for it. The books are as long as they need to be and crafted as precisely as his sentences. Sometimes he illuminates the emotional weight of his stories with language and images that are borderline hallucinogenic. There are always elements that surprise in his work and a consistency of quality, whether it’s short stories or plays, fiction or nonfiction. Despite some of his awards and critical acclaim, he remains an underappreciated writer in many ways. Just as he deserves the accolades he has received, he deserves to be read widely.

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Books to Celebrate a Century of Black Life, History and Culture

February 4, 2015

Book cover for Extraordinary Black Missourians by John A. Wright and Sylvia WrightFebruary is Black History Month, a time when we celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of African Americans in our nation’s history and our local communities. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) was founded in 1915 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, and in celebration of this organization’s 100th anniversary, this year’s Black History Month theme is “A Century of Black Life, History and Culture.”

Perhaps no book illustrates how African Americans shaped the past 100 years better than  “The African-American Century” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cornel West. From authors to politicians, activists to artists, this book profiles the rich variety of black Americans’ contributions to this nation’s development.

Similarly grand in scope is “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” by Pulitzer Prize-winner Isabel Wilkerson. This sweeping narrative follows the movement of black citizens, looking for a better life, from the South to cities in both the north and west over a period of more than 50 years.

Black America a Photographic JourneyBlack America: A Photographic Journey” by Marcia A. Smith surveys the black experience throughout the past century and earlier, using powerful visuals to accompany written narratives about the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Great Depression, the Harlem Renaissance, the civil rights movement and more.

Want to know more about black history in Missouri? Educator and writer John A. Wright, with the assistance of his wife Sylvia Wright, has published a number of books on the history of African Americans in Missouri, particularly in the St. Louis area. Their most recent book is “Extraordinary Black Missourians: Pioneers, Leaders, Performers, Athletes, and Other Notables Who’ve Made History.”  For more local history, check out Gary Kremer’s “Race and Meaning: The African American Experience in Missouri” and Rose Nolen’s “African Americans in Mid-Missouri: From Pioneers to Ragtimers.”

More resources from DBRL

  • Browse our Black Culture and History subject guide with links to library research databases and the best web links for learning about African Americans in Missouri and nationwide.
  • Discover our African-American History Online database (free with your library card) and find expansive and in-depth information – including primary source documents – on the people, events and topics important to the study of African-American history.

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Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The February 2015 List

February 2, 2015

Library Reads LogoThis month’s LibraryReads list definitely has something for every reading taste (just like the library itself)! The list of books publishing in February that librarians across the country recommend includes an entertaining historical fiction set in Hollywood during filming of “Gone With the Wind,” as well as a Regency romance, fantasy and plenty of mysteries to keep you and your cup of tea company. Top of the list is the latest penetrating look at a family’s inner life from Anne Tyler. Enjoy this month’s selections!

Book cover for A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne TylerA Spool of Blue Thread” by Anne Tyler
“In this book, we come to know three generations of Whitshanks — a family with secrets and memories that are sometimes different than what others observe. The book’s timeline moves back and forth with overlapping stories, just like thread on a spool. Most readers will find themselves in the story. Once again, Tyler has written an enchanting tale.”
- Catherine Coyne, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, MA

Book cover for A Touch of Stardust by Kate AlcottA Touch of Stardust” by Kate Alcott
“With the background of the making of ‘Gone with the Wind,’ this is a delightful read that combines historical events with the fictional career of an aspiring screenwriter. Julie is a wide-eyed Indiana girl who, through a series of lucky breaks, advances from studio go-fer and assistant to Carole Lombard to contract writer at MGM. A fun, engaging page-turner!”
- Lois Gross, Hoboken Public Library, Hoboken, NJ

Book cover for My Sunshine AwayMy Sunshine Away” by M.O. Walsh
“A crime against a 15-year-old girl is examined through the eyes of one of her friends — a friend who admits to being a possible suspect in the crime. This is a wonderful debut novel full of suspense, angst, loyalty, deceit and, most of all, love.”
- Alison Nadvornik, Worthington Libraries, Columbus, OH

And here is the rest of the list with links to these on-order books in our catalog.

Happy reading!

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How Do You Brew? All About Tea

January 30, 2015

Photo of tea cups by Naama ym via FlickrMy tea drinking habit goes way back. I recall developing a tea drinking routine as a university undergraduate.  Tea was cheaper than coffee (which I adored). At that time, I was pinching every single penny, so that might be the reason for my pronounced commitment to the way of tea. I’m hardly alone in my predilection — worldwide, tea is the most consumed beverage after water.

Although the tea plant originated in ancient China, over the centuries it traveled around the globe, leaving a rich historical trail, and it is now cultivated on five continents. It derives from the evergreen tree Camellia sinensis, and only the leaves of the plant are used in making the beverage. All tea starts as freshly plucked leaves, but it is transformed into six classes depending on manufacturing processes, which yield either green, yellow, white, oolong, black or Pu-erh style tea, each with a distinctive taste and appearance. It’s possible to become quite a connoisseur of this aromatic plant, given the varieties and diverse terroirs of its evergreen leaves.

Photo of tea by Gloria Garcia via FlickrTea is soothing; tea is invigorating. Served hot, it can warm you on a cold day, or it can quench your thirst and cool you down when served iced on a hot day. Either way, it’s hard to deny the joy its flavor and caffeine infusion can bring. In fact, I’ve claimed strong black tea dosed with heavy cream to be my first line of defense in fending off the blues. In order to enjoy a cup of tea to its utmost, it is important to brew it correctly. Here are the basic instructions, but know that depending on the class of tea, the brewing instructions can be tweaked to enhance the outcome. Is it possible to brew a bad cup of tea? You bet! The worst cup of tea I ever had was served in a tavern where the server ran lukewarm tap water into the mug with a tea bag and delivered it to me. It was undrinkable and truly a disappointment on that cold and clammy day.

Your favorite tea can change over time. (And so can your favorite teacup and teapot — I’ve broken many!) Earl Gray, a black tea flavored with oil of bergamot, was my first favorite. Later, I went on a serious binge of drinking mango-scented black tea, complete with little pale orange mango blossoms in the mix. Nowadays, my preference is English Breakfast, a blend containing a few types of black tea. It has a rich, full-bodied, robust flavor that calls me back again, day after day and year after year.

Photo of macaronsThe British have a deep appreciation for tea, and the wealthy classes developed a formal ritual of “afternoon tea” that dates back to the 1800s. It was a light meal usually eaten between 4 and 6 p.m., and it began as a means to stave off hunger until the evening meal (which could be 8 p.m. or later). Along with cups of tea with milk and sugar added, small sandwiches, cakes and pastries were served. In modern times, most folks are working at this time of day, so this formal tea meal is reserved as a treat for those visiting fancy tea houses or hotels, or as a way to celebrate a special occasion. Still, taking a less formal afternoon tea break with a little confection is a deeply embedded cultural habit, and this little batch of books attests to that fact.

With the winter dark bearing down, I’ve decided it’s time to have an afternoon tea party chez moi. I’ll invite my girlfriends, and we will visit over our cups of hot tea served with sweets and savories. Then we will retire to the living room where we will read aloud to each other our favorite inspirational poems and enhance the boost from the tea and camaraderie. Ahhhh…

 

Photo Credits:
Tea cups by naama via photopin cc
Tea by Gloria García via photopin cc
Macarons by ajagendorf25 via photopin cc

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Dining Out: Docs About Restaurants

January 28, 2015

Jiro Dreams of Sushi DVDCapturing the ambiance of a specific restaurant on film can be tricky. Check out these films that try to serve you up the sights and sounds associated with some exceptional restaurants from around the world.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi DVDJiro Dreams of Sushi” (2012)

The 85-year-old Jiro Ono is the proprietor of a 10-seat sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimages, shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar.


El Bulli DVDEl Bulli: Cooking in Progress” (2011)

For six months of the year, renowned Spanish chef Ferran Adrià closes his restaurant El Bulli – repeatedly voted the world’s best – and works with his culinary team to prepare the menu for the next season. An elegant, detailed study of food as avant-garde art.

I Like Killing Flies DVDI Like Killing Flies” (2007)

With more than 900 items on its menu all made from scratch, Shopsin’s has long been a quirky gem of New York food culture. The film follows Kenny Shopsin, his family and customers as the restaurant looks for a new place to move to in New York.

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Exploring the Strange World of Lewis Carroll

January 26, 2015

Book cover for Alice in WonderlandLewis Carroll introduced the world to Alice, a young girl who stumbles out of her dull reality into Wonderland, an absurd world of talking cats, mad hatters and a croquet-playing queen. Carroll was also an accomplished poet, turning the art of poetry on its head (check out his “Jabberwocky,” a personal favorite of mine that manages to make sense out of gibberish — “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”). His sense of humor and tales of the absurd have engaged readers of all ages for over a century.

Lewis Carroll, born Charles L. Dodgson on January 27, 1832, was the third of 11 children born to a country parson. As an adult, he taught and published material on math and logic in Oxford. His vivid imagination was visible even in his teaching. “Lewis Carroll in Numberland: His Fantastical Mathematical Logical Life” explores Carroll’s body of mathematical publications, with a special focus on the fascinating (and fun!) puzzles, riddles and ciphers he created to use in his teaching.

Photo of Alice Liddell

Carroll spent his time outside of the classroom engaged in photography, and he was particularly interested in portrait photography. This hobby introduced him to Alice Liddell, the girl many believe inspired his most famous character (although he denied that Alice was based on any one person). “The Alice Behind Wonderland” explains the technology and techniques involved in Carroll’s photography and offers a glimpse at the life of the “true” Alice.

Book cover for The Mystery of Lewis CarrollDue to his private nature, Carroll remains a bit of a mystery. Many of his private diaries have been lost. Fortunately, he was a prolific writer of letters to friends and family and much of that correspondence remains. Both “Very Truly Yours, Charles L. Dodgson, Alias Lewis Carroll: A Biography” and “The Letters of Lewis Carroll” draw on Carroll’s letters, photos and writings to construct engaging and insightful biographies. Carroll was considered a bit odd and that certainly inspires many questions about him that cannot be answered due to lack of access to his private writings. “The Mystery of Lewis Carroll: Discovering the Whimsical, Thoughtful, and Sometimes Lonely Man Who Created ‘Alice in Wonderland’” draws on Carroll’s personal bank records and correspondence from his family and the Liddell family in an attempt to explain just who he was and whether he was as odd as he seemed.

At his death in 1898, Carroll was a beloved, best-selling children’s author. His stories remain popular to this day. People are still drawn to him and his work because they are fun stories, but also because of the questions they raise. For example, “Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy: Curiouser and Curiouser” looks at Carroll’s stories from a philosophical point of view and ponders the deeper meanings behind them, relating them back to different philosophical ideas. Lewis Carroll was a fascinating man, both in his writing and in his life. Understanding him is certainly not an easy task, but there are many wonderful books in the library that offer insight into who he was and how he created those imaginative tales.

Source of Carroll’s photo of Alice Liddell: serenity_now via photopin cc

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Win Two Free Lux Passes to the True/False Film Fest

January 23, 2015

True False LogoOn Saturday, February 7,  the Columbia Public Library will be hosting our fourth annual “How to True/False” with 102.3 BXR and 1400 KFRU. You’ll get a step-by-step explanation of all things True/False, including a Q&A session with fest organizers David Wilson and Arin Liberman. They will also share an exclusive sneak peek at a few films before the schedule is released early next week.

This program is expected to fill up, so we’re offering two sessions: 1-2 p.m. –OR– 2:30-3:30 p.m. Space is limited, so plan to arrive early. For easier parking, consider using the library’s north lot, across from Landmark Bank at the corner of Garth and Walnut.

In celebration of our partnership with the True/False Film Fest, we will be raffling two free Lux passes to one lucky winner. You must register online to enter. These passes, valued at $200 each, will give you nearly unlimited access to the festival’s most popular films and special events. The winner will be selected at random and contacted on Tuesday, February 3. One entry per person, please. You must live in Boone or Callaway County to be eligible.

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Ask the Author: An Interview With Trudy Lewis

January 21, 2015

Book cover for The Empire Rolls by Trudy LewisTrudy Lewis is the Director of Creative Writing at the University of Missouri and author of two full-length novels (“The Empire Rolls” and “Private Correspondences“), along with many acclaimed short stories. Her latest novel, “The Empire Rolls,” is about roller derby and captures the changing social and financial climate of the Midwest surrounding the economic crash in 2008.

DBRL: Can you tell us about some of your inspirations for “The Empire Rolls”?

TL: “The Empire Rolls” was inspired by several factors: the Missouri landscape, the recession of 2008, a friend’s encounter with industrial polluters at a local creek and the changing status of public space and private interests in our national imagination. I began writing “The Empire Rolls” when I returned to Columbia after a stint as the Viebranz Visiting Writer at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York. I’d been writing a historical novel, but when I came back to Missouri and saw the changes that had occurred in a single year, I realized that I needed to capture the shifting scenes and values of our own times. One of the changes was the new roller derby team in town, the CoMo Derby Dames. Roller derby had all the elements that appealed to me: women’s empowerment, Midwestern populism, spectacle and ambiguous sexuality. Of course, the book is about more than the roller derby. It is about the changes that overtook our culture at this precise moment—the fall of 2007 leading into the great recession of 2008.  It was around this date that roller derby, first developed in the depression, began to see another dramatic rise in popularity. At the same time, the war in the Middle East was coming home to Middle America, as veterans returned from military duty. In my novel, there are a number of returning veterans, and the skaters take on warlike identities such as “Raven Pillage” and “Gigi Haddist.” My protagonist, Sally LaChance, moonlights as the emcee at the roller derby. But by day, she works as a park ranger in Karst Park. In this capacity, she carries a gun and engages in a questionable use of force to defend her territory against polluters. Sally’s story mirrors both the violence of the war in Iraq and the comic mock aggression of the roller derby.

DBRL: Do you play roller derby?

Trudy Lewis - by Jon K via Photopin httpswww.flickr.comphotosjonu2353448078151TL: No, I don’t play. But I have two friends, Whiskey ShinDig (Felicia Leach) and Stonecold Janeausten (Devoney Looser) who are former members of the CoMo Derby Dames. When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time at the roller rink, waiting for a longtime crush to look up from the pinball machine and skate with me. So I’m sure that’s another factor in my attraction to roller derby.

DBRL: The novel is set in the Boonslick area of Missouri. From what I understand that was a deliberate choice for the book. Would you like to discuss why you chose that location?

TL: Boonslick is a cultural region that includes Columbia, along with a number of nearby counties. By using the name, I set up a regional reference point without actually claiming to write about Columbia (although, if you are looking for verisimilitude, you will recognize mirror images of many Columbia institutions). I’m also trying to evoke the underlying Missouri culture. Many people think of Columbia as a place that is made livable by its cultural connections to urban areas elsewhere. I’ve found, on the contrary, that I’m energized by Columbia’s Missouri connections: the physical landscape, the small towns and rural areas, the music and folklore. My husband Mike Barrett teaches at Moberly Area Community College and I’ve been inspired by his students, who are often deeply embedded in the local culture and who don’t feel the need to disavow their roots in order to pursue some other goal, whether it is travel or art or career. So the invented town of Boonslick allows me to write about these issues and to work in the vein of realism without establishing a one-to-one correspondence between my fictional city and the Columbia readers may recognize. I’ve published a number of short stories set in Boonslick in addition to “The Empire Rolls.”

DBRL: Have you read any good books recently that you would recommend?

TL: I’ve been teaching and recommending “Fools” by Joan Silber, a book of linked stories about anarchists, lovers and other quixotic idealists. Silber will be reading in MU’s Visiting Writers Series in the spring (April 23). Another favorite is “A Tale for the Time Being,” Ruth Ozeki’s cross-cultural, cross-generational Buddhist novel. I’m also a big fan of the British writer Edward St. Aubyn; his most recent book “Lost for Words is a hilarious sendup of the literary awards system, including brilliant parodies of familiar writerly types. I’d like to take the opportunity to recommend some excellent books by local writers: Deb Brenegan’s “Shame the Devil,” a lively fictional take on the life of Fanny Fern, and Phong Nguyen’s “Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History,” a provocative collection of short stories examining history’s missed chances and close calls. Finally, anyone interested in Missouri fiction should look up “The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton, originally published in 1962 but reissued in 2009. This book vies with “Stoner” (John Williams) as the best Missouri novel of the 20th century.

For more information about Trudy Lewis and her work, please visit her website. Be sure to check out “The Empire Rolls” at the library, or buy it from The University of Arkansas Press or locally at Yellow Dog Bookshop. Don’t miss her presentation here at the Columbia Public Library on February 10th at 7 p.m. in the Friends Room!

photo credit: JonU235 via photopin cc

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The Gentleman Recommends: Daniel Kehlmann

January 19, 2015

Book cover for F by Daniel KehlmannDuring a typical evening of discussing literature, violins and politeness in my conversation parlor, a colleague said to me, “Gentleman, it seems you love everything you read.” I stopped reading a cake recipe and smacking my lips and rubbing my stomach to consider. Considering all it takes is a savvy recommendation and/or a glance at the first few sentences to gather enough clues to know if a book will be to my taste, I am plenty fond of nearly every book I read. But while it’s true there are more great books than anybody could read in a lifetime, perhaps a gentleman’s effusions lose their weight when they’re spewed forth with identical giddiness and on a schedule one could set their tailor’s visits to. So take heed, I want to effuse really hard right now: “F” by Daniel Kehlmann makes the short list of my favorite books of all time.

It’s all the things I so often say about books I love: hilarious, heartbreaking, beautifully written. Rather than offer cogency and worthwhile words to demonstrate this, I encourage you to peruse the links I’ve provided above so that I can proceed in my typical slapdash fashion. “F” begins with Arthur taking his three sons to see a hypnotist’s show. His emphatic claims that he cannot be hypnotized are maintained even as he’s on stage and interspersing them with the words and actions of the thoroughly hypnotized, among them some things a parent shouldn’t say in front of his child. He’s hypnotized into being a vehicle for his ambition, which once unfettered by obligations like parenthood and not stealing his spouse’s money, is massive and fruitful. Arthur empties the family bank account and disappears to be a reclusive genius author. (One of his books so convincingly argues that existence isn’t real that it inspires a spate of suicides.) “F” then jumps years to delve into the adulthood of Arthur’s children.

Each child gets an awesome chapter. One, a faithless obese priest and Rubik’s Cube expert (though not championship caliber), eats candy in the confessional and reasons that his lack of faith can’t stop him from being an adequate priest. Another forges art under the name of his much older lover, a man he met while interviewing him for his thesis on artistic mediocrity. The forger’s twin is a finance guy, struggling to maintain his sanity while trying to prolong his clients’ ignorance concerning the millions of their dollars he’s lost. The offspring’s chapters sometimes intersect: one delightful instance is the priest’s lunch with the finance brother. When we see it from the priest’s side, we see his brother’s behavior as absurd and unexplainable. When he see it from the money brother’s side, the unexplainable behavior is gloriously explained, which isn’t to say that he’s not in need of a balanced regimen of medication. Also, there’s an apparition imparting crucial messages to the twins, but unfortunately it can’t tell them apart.

I’m wary of translated works because I worry something often gets, to coin a phrase, lost in translation. Since I can’t read German (I’m barely even comfortable in lederhosen), I don’t know if anything was lost, but I am sure this book looks great in English, as does “Fame,” the other Kehlmann novel carried by DBRL. Kudos to Carol Brown Janeway for the translation.

Daniel Kehlmann is a literary superstar in Germany (meaning he sells lots of books and probably gets all the writing implements and sausages his minions can carry), but he should be one everywhere.

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