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Getting to Know Thomas Edison

1 hour 48 min ago

Book cove for Edison and the Rise of InnovationFebruary 11 marks the 169th birthday of Thomas Edison. Known for holding over 1,000 patents, Edison’s work left a huge impact on the world. He helped usher in the era of electric light and gave the world a way to capture both sound and motion pictures. There are those who believe that Edison was a ruthless businessman, his iconic image more myth than reality, and that many of his great ideas should in fact be attributed to others. So what is the truth? The library offers several interesting items that explore different perspectives on Edison and the stories behind his many creations.

Readers interested in Edison’s many inventions may want to check out Leonard DeGraaf’s book, “Edison and the Rise of Innovation.” DeGraaf serves as the archivist for the Thomas Edison National Historical Park and draws from the collection he oversees to give readers an image-filled guide to Edison’s life and work. From photos of Edison’s workplace in Menlo Park, to drawings and diagrams of his many creations, DeGraaf illustrates the broad scope of Edison’s creativity.

book cover for The Wizard of Menlo ParkOf all of his creations, Edison’s fame may have been his most incredible undertaking. Randall Stross’ book, “The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World” examines the fame Edison experienced during his lifetime and how he built his larger-than-life image. Stross’ book focuses more on Edison’s celebrity than his technical achievements, even downplaying them as less impressive than the public persona he created. By the end of his life, Edison held not only multiple patents, but also the title of the most well-known American in the world.

Book cover for Empires of LightEdison not only seemed to crave fame, but he also was highly competitive. As the idea of electric power became a reality, Edison found himself drawn into the race to capture it for public consumption. “Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World” by Jill Jonnes explores the exciting race between Edison (who was pushing for DC power) and the eccentric Nikola Tesla and businessman George Westinghouse (who both were pushing for AC power). Jonnes’ book illustrates the challenges they faced as they worked to take their ideas from the drawing board to reality, as well as the somewhat ruthless methods Edison employed to ensure he would win the race.

Audiobook cover art for Camping With Henry and TomOne thing that is certain of Edison is that a big part of his success came from his ability to work with the other great minds of his day, particularly those in the financial and political worlds. Mark St. Germain’s play, “Camping with Henry and Tom: A Comedy,” offers a funny and entertaining take on a real-life meeting between Edison, President Harding and Henry Ford. Imagine the discussions the three may have had! The library offers both the print edition and the audiobook version of St. Germain’s play. (It is a great listen for a road trip!)

Whatever his exact role in shaping the technology of the 20th century, Edison certainly was an unforgettable character. Happy reading!

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Books for Black History Month

February 5, 2016

In honor of Black History Month, here are some newer titles that explore the varied experience of being black in America, some from historical perspectives and others from a contemporary point of view.

Book cover for Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson
In vivid poems that reflect the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, an award-winning author shares what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s in both the North and the South.

The Family Tree: A Lynching in Georgia, a Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth” by Karen Branan
A provocative true account of the hanging of four black people by a white lynch mob in 1912 is written by a descendant of the sheriff charged with protecting them and draws on diaries and letters to piece together the events and motives that led up to the tragedy.

Book cover for Jam on the VineJam on the Vine” by LaShonda Katrice Barnett
A poor, African-American Muslim girl in rural, racially segregated turn-of-the-century Texas, Ivoe Williams discovers a passion for journalism while pilfering old newspapers from her mother’s white employer. Ivoe, together with her former teacher and lover, Ona, starts Jam! On the Vine, the nation’s first female-run African American newspaper. Loosely based on pioneering journalist Ida B. Wells and Charlotta Bass, this is a dramatic debut novel.

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” by Issa Rae
These essays on the challenges of being black and introverted in a world that glorifies “cool” behavior, drawn from the author’s award-winning social media series, share self-deprecating perspectives on such topics as cybersexing, weight and self-acceptance.

Book cover for The SelloutThe Sellout” by Paul Beatty
In this satirical take on race, politics and culture in the U.S., a young black man grows up determined to resegregate a portion of an inner city, aided by a former Little Rascals star who volunteers to be his slave. This illegal activity brings him to the attention of the Supreme Court, who must consider the ramifications of this (and other) race-related cases. A provocative novel.

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace” by Jeff Hobbs
This work of nonfiction presents the life of Robert Peace, an African American who became a brilliant biochemistry student at Yale University but after graduation lived as drug dealer and was brutally murdered at the age of thirty.

Book cover for The Turner HouseThe Turner House” by Angela Flournoy
Learning after a half-century of family life that their house on Detroit’s East Side is worth only a fraction of its mortgage, the members of the Turner family gather to reckon with their pasts and decide the house’s fate. A powerful portrait of an American family.

For local events, history and research tools, visit our Black Culture and History subject guide.

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Mother-Daughter Book Clubs

February 3, 2016

Book cover for Little WomenMy daughter, Samantha, and I joined a mother-daughter book club when she was in fourth grade. The club consisted of the two of us and Samantha’s best friend and her mother. That club lasted until we had to move just before the start of sixth grade. And even though we are now just a club of two, Samantha and I have continued reading books together. We are currently reading “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. (Samantha chooses the books even if I offer suggestions.)

When I ran across the title “Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip, and So Much More” by Lori Day, I couldn’t resist and requested that it be purchased for the library. I think we did fine with our book club, but now that I have read this one, I really wish we had had the benefit of its recommendations and insights from the beginning. The first part of the book gives tips on how and why to begin a mother-daughter book club and how to keep it running smoothly. Part two delves into topics such as gender stereotypes and sexism, the sexualization of childhood (and how to bypass it), body image, bullying and how to be allies, encouraging healthy relationships, how to be inclusive, female leadership and the welfare of girls and women around the world. Each topic chapter highlights one or two books, provides discussion questions, suggests activities and finishes with a list of recommended books, including some kid appropriate, adult level books, movies/TV and media with suggested age ranges.

Our club read books such as  “The Giver,” “Hunger Games” and “Divergent” that led us into discussions about utopias/dystopias and how those societies reflect our own. We also had some deep discussions about race and racial violence when we read “Number the Stars,” and “If We Must Die: A Novel of Tulsa’s 1921 Greenwood Riot.” We even had discussions about about — shhhhh — s-e-x when we read “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Speak,” and “Fangirl.” And, of course, once you have read the books, who can resist seeing and comparing the movies?

I can’t overstate what our mother-daughter book club has meant to me. I’m sure that it would have meant a lot to us even if we had not moved, but it became so much more important because of the move. I miss having other members in our club if for no other reason than to help us narrow down book club selections!  I also miss the camaraderie and support that we gained from our other mother-daughter pair, and I would love for our club to expand again someday. But I’m so glad that we had this partnership developed ahead of our move to help support us through the loss of friends, family, pets, our place in the world and, at times, our sanity. I hope we continue for a long, long time.

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Keyword Search: Heart, States, Love, Matters, Poetry, Heal

February 1, 2016

Photo of a heart cut out of a wooden fenceValentine’s Day is not the sole domain of those enveloped in romantic love, though that does seem to be the emphasis. (Notice the numerous advertisements that run for heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, bouquets of roses and dinner reservations for two in the weeks approaching February 14.) But this red-letter day, designated to celebrate love, is fair game for everyone. After all, love takes many forms and evolves in stages across all kinds of relationships – between friends, parents and children, siblings and so on.

Seeking to expand beyond this romantic aspect of Valentine’s Day (but not wanting to exclude it), I decided to treat the library’s online catalog as an oracle and ask her (or him, or them???) to provide some alternative material to use in recognizing this day of love and also to address the varying places the human heart might find itself on the love continuum. So I typed in “heart, states, matters, heal, love and poetry” in the keyword search bar and waited patiently for a response. The answer divined from our cyber sage was a wonderfully varied list of titles that deal with the spiritual, physical and emotional realms of the heart.

Here are a few of the standouts:

Book cover for To Bless the Space Between UsTo Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings” by John O’Donohue is an exquisite collection of wisdom in the form of blessings that can help readers navigate both quotidian and extraordinary life events (marriage, new job, death, etc.). O’Donohue’s poetic and elegant language gives voice to the sometimes inexplicable feelings that arise in our hearts, providing a salve of both comfort and inspiration. For a taste of his eloquence in penetrating the essence of a heart state, read his blessing “For Courage” and see if your heart is moved in some way.

Book cover for The Heart HealersThe Heart Healers: The Misfits, Mavericks and Rebels Who Created the Greatest Medical Breakthrough of Our Lives” by James S. Forrester, M. D., chronicles the history of cardiac surgery and medicine. Before the 20th century, cardiac disease was a fatal diagnosis because operations on the heart were thought impossible. But then, in 1895, Ludwig Rehn sutured a knife wound in the heart of a living man (who survived), signaling a major turning point in cardiac medicine. From that launch point, Forrester provides a compelling read that covers a string of breakthroughs pioneered by unconventional physician-scientists. The long list of contributions made in the field of cardiology includes the invention of the heart-lung machine; cardiac resuscitation; valve replacements; pacemakers and defibrillators; clot-dissolving therapy; coronary artery bypass graft surgery; balloon angioplasty and stents; heart transplantation; and statin drugs that lower cholesterol levels, all of which have saved and extended countless lives.

Book cover for Love Poetry Out LoudLove Poetry Out Loud: 100 Passionate Poems to Stir the Heart,” edited by Robert Alden Rubin, is a delightful compilation. As the title suggests, a key criterion in his selection process was out loud readability, and he recommends you read the poems aloud to yourself or loved one(s) to fully appreciate them. Old and new poems are included, and they cover the wide-ranging landscapes that love cycles across – seduction, amusement, regret, infatuation, grief, passion, etc. Accurately expressing the complex feelings that arise in the heart is no easy feat, and these powerful poems bridge the gap between two people to create a shared experience of love, in all its permutations.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

photo credit: Hole in the Heart via photopin (license)

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Cooking With eBooks

January 29, 2016

My iPad rarely leaves the kitchen. I use it to play podcasts or audiobooks while I do the dishes. I check Facebook while I’m waiting for the pasta water to boil. But the thing I use the device for the most is my daily meal preparation. No, I’m not like that German dad using the tablet as a cutting board in the YouTube video that made the rounds a few years ago. Through the library’s OverDrive eBook collection, I can download new cookbooks from some of my favorite foodies and make meal planning and cooking that much easier. Whether I want to consult the Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten,  New York Times columnist Mark Bittman or the Food Network’s Rachael Ray, the library’s eBook collection has me covered. Here are just some of the new and popular cookbooks you can have at your fingertips in almost no time.

book cover for NOPI cookbook

NOPI: The Cookbook” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully

Yotam Ottolenghi is beloved in the food world for his beautiful, inspirational cookbooks, as well as his Ottolenghi delis and his fine-dining restaurant, NOPI. In the NOPI cookbook, head chef Ramael Scully’s Asian-inspired pantry meets Ottolenghi’s Middle Eastern influences and brings the restaurant’s favorite dishes within reach of the home cook.

 DinnertimeThe Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime” by Ree Drummond

The #1 bestselling author and Food Network personality at last answers that age-old question –“What’s for Dinner?”– bringing together more than 125 simple, scrumptious, step-by-step recipes for delicious dinners for the whole family. She includes her family’s favorites, like  tomato soup with Parmesan croutons, buffalo chicken salad, baked ziti and shrimp scampi. 

Book cover for The Food LabThe Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science” by J. Kenji López-Alt

As Serious Eats’s culinary nerd-in-residence, J. Kenji López-Alt has pondered how to pan-fry a steak with a charred crust and an interior that’s perfectly medium-rare from edge to edge when you cut into it and more. In this book, Kenji focuses on the science behind beloved American dishes, delving into the interactions between heat, energy and molecules that create great food. Kenji shows that often, conventional methods don’t work that well, and home cooks can achieve far better results using new — but simple — techniques

Book cover for 100 Days of Real Food100 Days of Real Food” by Lisa Leake

The creator of the 100 Days of Real Food blog draws from her hugely popular website to offer simple, affordable, family-friendly recipes and practical advice for eliminating processed foods from your family’s diet.

Here are more popular eBooks for cooks!

OverDrive has a sizable selection of books on food and cooking, including food memoirs and cookbooks for kids – look for the “Cooking and Food” category under eBook nonfiction.  Finally, if keeping your tablet in the kitchen has the screen greasy and food-spattered, see tips for screen cleaning from Tablet PC Review. Happy cooking and eating!

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The Slow Lane: Docs About Small Town Life

January 27, 2016

vernon floridaIt often takes a patient viewer to sit through films about small-town life, but the rewards can be rich and powerful. Check out a few of these films that examine life at a slightly slower pace.

vernon-floridaVernon, Florida” (1981)

Fire up the pickup and head down to this bizarre backwater town with Errol Morris, as he presents a pastiche of fascinating interviews with the weird and wonderful people of Vernon, Florida.  From the passionate turkey-hunter to the peculiar pet collector, each member of this motley crew has a story to tell.

middletownMiddletown” (1982)

This classic six-part series explores both the continuity and the change embodied in the people and institutions of one Midwestern community: Muncie, Indiana. In intimate detail, the films demonstrate how society and culture have changed less than one might think.

nimrod nationNimrod Nation” (2007)

This eight-part series profiles rural Watersmeet, Michigan, where everyone follows the progress of the high school basketball team – the Nimrods. This series sympathetically observes life and conversation in local coffee shops, hunting lodges and locker rooms as the long, cold basketball season unfolds.

 

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Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The February 2016 List

January 22, 2016

Library Reads LogoMy library coworkers’ reading tastes vary widely. Some are graphic novel and comics experts, others are sci-fi and fantasy aficionados and some kill it at every trivia night because they are voracious nonfiction readers. Many best-of lists in book-ish publications (both in print and online) offer recommendations that lean towards what you might call literary, which I personally love (I read a lot of contemporary fiction and memoirs). The LibraryReads monthly list, however, often offers up a list as diverse as the reading tastes of our patrons. The list of books publishing in February that librarians across the country recommend clearly reflects this diversity. What other list has a stunningly written historical fiction sharing space with a steamy romance? Enjoy this month’s picks!

Book cover for Salt to the Sea by Ruta SepetysSalt to the Sea” by Ruta Sepetys
“Titanic. Lusitania. Wilhelm Gustloff. All major maritime disasters, yet the last is virtually unknown. Ruta Sepetys changes that in her gripping historical novel. Told in short snippets, “Salt to the Sea” rotates among four narrators attempting to escape various tragedies in 1945 Europe. Powerful and haunting, heartbreaking and hopeful–a must read.” – Jennifer Asimakopoulos, Indian Prairie Public Library, Darien, IL

Book cover for Black Rabbit HallBlack Rabbit Hall” by Eve Chase
“Young Amber Alton and her family adore Black Rabbit Hall and the joy and peace it brings to them all. That is, until a tragic accident changes everything. Three decades later, Lorna decides her wedding must be celebrated at the crumbling hall. As the book moves between these two time periods, secrets slowly unfold. Perfectly twisty with interesting characters and a compelling story that kept me up too late.” – Deborah Margeson, Douglas County Libraries, Parker, CO

Book cover for A Girl's Guide to Moving OnA Girl’s Guide to Moving On” by Debbie Macomber
“Leanne and her daughter-in-law Nichole both leave cheating husbands to start over. They learn that it is never easy and that hardships abound, but they meet many wonderful people on their way to happily-ever-after. Believable characters and an enjoyable story made this perfect for relaxing reading—definitely one of Macomber’s best. An excellent choice both for long-time fans of the author and for those who have never read her novels.” – Linda Tilden, Cherry Hill Public Library, Cherry Hill, NJ

And here is the rest of the February list for your hold-placing pleasure. 

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Oscar Buzz for Book Adaptations

January 20, 2016

The Best Picture nominations for the 2016 Oscar’s were announced last week, and films based on books make up the majority of the list. If you are a read-it-before-you-watch-it kind of person, then your to-read pile just got much bigger.

Book cover for The Big Short by Michael LewisThe Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine” by Michael Lewis
This nonfiction work investigates the 2008 stock market crash and economic crisis, citing such factors as expanded home ownership and risky derivative elections in the face of increasing shareholder demands, and profiles responsible parties in government, financial and private sectors. An unlikely basis for the plot of a riveting drama, but there you go.

The film is nominated for Best Picture, Director (Adam McKay), Supporting Actor (Christian Bale) and Adapted Screenplay.

Book cover for Brooklyn by Colm ToibinBrooklyn” by Colm Tóibín
Leaving her home in post-World War II Ireland to work as a bookkeeper in Brooklyn, Eilis Lacey discovers a new romance in America with a charming blond Italian man before devastating news threatens her happiness.

The film adaptation is nominated for Best Picture, Actress (Saoirse Ronan) and Adapted Screenplay.

Book cover for The MartianThe Martian” by Andy Weir
After a bad storm cuts his team’s Mars mission short, injured astronaut Mark Watley is stranded. Now he’s got to figure out how to survive without air, shelter, food or water on the harsh Martian landscape until the next manned mission in four years.

The film adaptation is nominated for Best Picture, Actor (Matt Damon) and Adapted Screenplay.

Book cover for The Revenant by Michael PunkeThe Revenant: A Novel of Revenge” by Michael Punke
A story of survival on the American frontier chronicles the exploits of fur trapper Hugh Glass. Glass is attacked by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his fellow trappers but survives and treks through the wilderness to seek justice.

The movie adaptation is nominated for Best Picture, Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu), Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Supporting Actor (Tom Hardy).

Book cover for Room by Emma DonoghueRoom” by Emma Donoghue
A five-year-old narrates a story about his life growing up in a single room where his mother aims to protect him from the man who kidnapped her when she was a teenager and has held her prisoner for seven years.

The film is nominated for Best Picture, Director (Lenny Abrahamson), Actress (Brie Larson) and Adapted Screenplay.

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The Gentleman Recommends: Glenn Taylor

January 18, 2016

Book cover for A Hanging at Cinder BottomAs the old saying goes, “…judge a book by its cover.” The eye-catching cover of “A Hanging at Cinder Bottom” by Glenn Taylor caught my eyes, and the contents held them. If my team of editors, web developers, interns and chefs has done its job, the cover should be to the right. A keen eye will spot a monkey on a pedestal. Beware though: the monkey doesn’t show up until deep into the novel, and he doesn’t appear on a pedestal, but the wait and subterfuge about his standing gear is worth it. He’s a brave and loyal little rascal, and he wins his owner’s bets by being able to drink a bottle of beer and smoke a cigarette in under two minutes. Now, we’ve all seen our share of smoking, alcoholic monkeys, but this monkey is special. His owner, Tony Thumbs (he’s missing a thumb), loves him, and this gentleman reader was moved by the revelation that Tony, out of concern for the monkey’s health, only asked his little pal to pull the trick on occasion, when it might prove useful in making friends.

While it shouldn’t take more than a quality monkey to sell you on “A Hanging at Cinder Bottom,” it is a ripping yarn written with a poet’s dedication to word choice, and it is about much more than an awesome monkey. There is also a stage show featuring a man perfectly playing the tune “Yankee Doodle” with his farts.

The novel opens in 1910 with life-long loves Abe Baach, a card sharp and conman, and Goldie Toothman, a brothel madam capable of throwing a playing card with deadly precision, awaiting the gallows for murdering the mayor. With ropes around necks and Abe’s promise to “tell the truth before I die” or “walk out of hell in kerosene drawers and set the world on fire” ringing in the crowd’s ears, the evil sheriff collapses on the stage and lets loose some profound flatulence, and with that ringing in the crowd’s ears:

“The sun came free of the clouds then, and the people looked skyward, and there was only the north-born sound of the tardy noon train’s wheeze. The engine was not yet fully stopped at the station when men began to jump from inside the empty coal hoppers. They hit the hard dirt beside the railbed and rolled and got to their feet quick. They ran on wrenched ankles, headlong into the people staring at the heavens.”

And there, as we hope those men are injuring their ankles in an effort to save our charming heroes, the novel leaps back to 1877, and then to 1897, so that we might better understand why our protagonists would run afoul of the most powerful people in the county. Then the novel returns to 1910 and the months leading up to the hanging, where the bulk of our time is spent, and we get the story of the long con that puts them in the nooses we find them in at the beginning. While you might guess the general thrust of the ending, the specifics will delight you. Someone will eventually film the closing sequence, and while it will be impossible to improve on the novel and a reader’s imagination, it will be great fun to see someone try. Here’s hoping they cast the right monkey.

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Win a Pair of Lux Passes to the True/False Film Fest

January 15, 2016

True False LogoUPDATE: This contest is now closed. Congratulations to Chris W. of Boone County, our Lux Pass winner! Thanks to all who entered.

Saturday, January 30, at 10:30 a.m., 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. They will also share an exclusive sneak peek at a few films before the official fest schedule is released.

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 are giving away 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 Monday, February 1. One entry per person, please. You must live in Boone or Callaway County to be eligible. Good luck!

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New DVD List: Meru, Finders Keepers & More

January 13, 2016

meru imageHere is a new DVD list highlighting various titles recently added to the library’s collection.

meruMeru
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Playing last year at the True False Film Fest, this film follows three renowned climbers as they navigate nature’s harshest elements and their own complicated inner demons to ascend Mount Meru, the most technically complicated and dangerous peak in the Himalayas. Meru is the story of that journey – one of friendship, sacrifice, hope and obsession.

finders keepersFinders Keepers
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Another True False Film Fest pick, this film finds recovering addict and amputee John Wood in a battle to reclaim his mummified leg from Southern entrepreneur Shannon Whisnant, who found it in a grill he bought at an auction. The stranger-than-fiction chain of events soon sets John heading to his certain demise.

hunting groundThe Hunting Ground
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Playing in 2015 at the Missouri Theatre, this film is a startling expose of sexual assault on US campuses, their institutional cover-ups and the devastating toll they take on students and their families. Weaving together footage and first person testimonies, the film follows the lives of several undergraduate assault survivors.


kurt cobainKurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Playing at the 2015 True False Film Fest, this film explores Kurt Cobain like never before in the only fully authorized portrait of the famed music icon. Directed by acclaimed film maker Brett Morgen, who blends Cobain’s personal archive of art, music, movies, animation and revelatory interviews from his family and closest friends.

twinstersTwinsters” 
Trailer / Website / Reviews
A remarkable true story of identity and journey into sisterhood. Raised on different continents, with no idea the other existed, and connected 25 years later through social media, Samantha and Anais discover that they are identical twin sisters separated at birth. The film explores the ideas of family, adoption, nature vs. nurture and the power of social media.

Other notable releases:
Seymour” – 
 Website / Reviews / Trailer
Burroughs” –
Website / Reviews / Trailer
Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown” – Website / Reviews / Trailer
1971 – Website / Reviews / Trailer
Fear the Walking Dead” 
 – Season 1 – Website / Reviews
One Cut One LifeWebsite / Reviews / Trailer
HannibalSeason 3 – Website / Reviews
Matt Shepard Is A Friend of MineWebsite / Reviews / Trailer
Doc MartinSeries 7 – Website / Reviews
Emptying the SkiesWebsite / Reviews / Trailer
ShamelessSeason 5 – Website / Reviews

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Classics For Everyone: Brave New World

January 11, 2016

Book cover for Brave New WorldKids these days, with their “Hunger Games” and “Divergent.” The millennial generation thinks they’re the first ones to discover futuristic dystopian literature? I’ll show them futuristic dystopian literature. Aldous Huxley was writing it before their grandparents were born.

His 1932 book, “Brave New World,” presents a society where lives are created by cloning and controlled through technology and drugs. Fulfillment is meant to be found in consumer goods, and Henry Ford is worshiped. A caste system is enforced through genetic engineering. There are no families, no personal attachments. Or at least there aren’t supposed to be.

Enter John, aka “the Savage.” Through happenstance, he has grown up removed from the World State, raised by a mother, even, albeit not a stable one. His development was largely influenced by an old volume of the works of William Shakespeare, and it provides his frame of reference as he tries to understand what passes for the civilized world, once he is dropped into its midst. He repeatedly speaks of the “brave new world,” a quote from Miranda in Shakespeare’s play, “The Tempest.” But each time he utters the phrase, it takes on a different meaning.

John’s three main companions in his new life are Bernard Marx, who oversees psychological sleep training at the (human) Hatchery and Conditioning Center, Bernard’s friend Helmholtz Watson, a university lecturer and Lenina Crowne, a giver of vaccines at the Hatchery. All three are, in their own ways, discontent with life in their supposed Utopia, though Lenina tries her best to find happiness, or failing that, at least numbness.

“Brave New World” tackles questions that are still relevant today, issues about the role of technology and medical ethics. To what extent should we meddle with nature? How much can we improve life and health by doing so, and what do we risk losing? Is complacency the same as happiness? How much social engineering is acceptable in order to maintain a stable society?

Kids these days. Do they think they’re the first one to ask those questions? They’re not. Every generation asks them. Aldous Huxley saw this.

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New Year, New You? Three Books for Your Best Self

January 8, 2016

Year of Yes book coverI rarely make resolutions. I do like the notion of the coming year as a clean slate, a calendar full of possibilities, and I’m a proponent of self-improvement. However, I bristle at the typical resolution’s focus on weight loss or basis in dissatisfaction, what I don’t have or don’t do but should. And because they are so often abandoned, making resolutions feels like I’m setting myself up for failure.

This year I bucked my own trend and made some resolutions. Why? Maybe it’s because I’m in my 40s now and feel like I need to make some lifestyle adjustments for my future health. (Calcium supplements! Weight training!) Maybe it’s because I really like checking items off of to-do lists. (Session with personal trainer scheduled? Check! Best calcium supplements researched – I am a librarian, after all – and purchased? check!) Whatever the reason, I’ve started off 2016 as a goal-setter. If you want to join me and need some inspiration for shaking up your status quo, finding work-life balance or otherwise becoming a better version of yourself, pick up one of these books.

Book cover for 10% Happier10% Happier” by Dan Harris

Subtitled, “How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-help That Actually Works – a True Story,” this often funny narrative winds up a convincing argument for meditation and mindfulness. While I haven’t read it yet, a woman in my book club quietly asserted that this book changed her life. Endorsement enough for me.

Year of Yes” by Shonda Rhimes

Chronicles of the year a writer spent conducting some sort of personal experiment – strictly living according to the bible, only eating food grown within 100 miles of home, etc. – are not new. However, Rhimes’ fresh and personal voice keeps her memoir from feeling like it’s something we’ve already heard. On her sister’s challenge, Rhimes embarks on a year of saying yes to things that scare her, from public speaking engagements to promotional opportunities. The outcomes are pretty dramatic, and Rhimes’ journey inspires.

Book cover for OverwhelmedOverwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time” by Brigid Schulte

I often think that if I added up all of those little chunks of time I spend at the end of my day scrolling through Facebook posts, I could get a whole lot more novel reading done. Or at least some laundry. Schulte investigates why modern workers (particularly women with kids) have so little leisure time. She looks to European countries for alternative models and makes some practical suggestions for time-management and reclaiming time we waste attempting to multitask or spend on manufactured busyness.

Happy New Year!

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Audiobooks for Book Clubs on Hoopla

January 6, 2016

Hoopla logoDo you love listening to audiobooks? Have you ever run all over town trying to find the book for your book club’s next meeting, only to discover that the slightly faster members of your book club already grabbed every copy available within a 50-mile radius? Hoopla can help! Hoopla is a media service that allows you to stream and download audiobooks, eBooks, comics, movies and television shows. Sign up for an account (this quick start guide shows you how), and borrow up to 10 items per month. The best part? Everyone in your book club can borrow the same book on Hoopla – there’s no limit to how many people can borrow an item at once!

Here are just a few of the book club-worthy titles available as audiobooks on Hoopla:

Book cover for My Brilliant Friend by Elena FerranteMy Brilliant Friend” is the first novel in the popular Neapolitan series by Italian author Elena Ferrante. Set in a downtrodden neighborhood, this story of female friendship is told in luscious prose. Book clubs will find lots to talk about in the forces that shape Elena and Lila’s evolving friendship.

Need a thriller that will keep you guessing? Try “The Good Girl” by Mary Kubica. Told in “before” and “after” and by multiple characters, this novel keeps the tension high as readers piece together the story.

Book cover for The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying UpIf your book club is approaching the new year with resolution-mindedness, then try “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo. This small book contains the tenets of the KonMari method, including a clothes-folding technique that turns messy dresser drawers into expanses of true beauty. Take before and after pics for a spirited discussion!

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What a Year! My 2015 in Books

January 4, 2016

Book cover for Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?Book cover for Being Mortal by Atul GawandeBook cover for Still AliceI am one of those crazy, weird, super geeky people that actually tracks what they read. Not only that, but I have participated in a reading challenge for the past five years. This year, I originally set a reading goal of 75 books and then increased it to 100 when it became apparent that I was going to blow right past the original goal. I have reached and surpassed my revised goal by reading 125 books! I had someone tell me that a personally difficult year translates into a fruitful reading year, and this seems to be true. Looking over my list, there are several stand-out books, some that I have already written about and others that deserve a mention. There are also a few stinkers, but why dwell on that? I also discovered some interesting trends in my reading.

A member of our family is struggling with the end stages of Alzheimer’s and bladder cancer, which is reflected in many of the books I read in 2015, including “Can’t We Please Talk About Something More Pleasant,” “Being Mortal” and “Still Alice.” All three of these books gave me comfort, courage and an expanded perspective.

Book cover for All the Light We Cannot SeeI found several incredible books that allowed me a few moments of pure escapism. “All the Light We Cannot See” is probably one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. “Good Lord Bird,” “Furiously Happy” and “Hyperbole and a Half” kept me laughing even about things that are not supposed to be funny. I really needed to find reasons to laugh this year.

There were nonfiction titles that kept my mind active during long periods of just waiting.  And waiting. And waiting. “The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements,” “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” and “Knowledge is Beautiful: Impossible Ideas, Invisible Patterns, Hidden Connections – Visualized” all fed the geek in me.

Book cover for My Life on the RoadFor pure inspiration, I discovered a few role models. “My Life on the Road” by Gloria Steinem – I just want to HUG her! But I’m an introvert, and that would be creepy and weird, but still…I just want to HUG her! Or maybe I could be like her, except that I’m a horrible homebody. This is definitely one of my favorite books of the year. I had actually read Steinem’s classic, “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions,” earlier in the year before I even knew that she had another book coming out. Oddly enough, her books dovetailed nicely with Amanda Palmer’s “The Art of Asking: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help.” Okay, so Amanda Palmer can still make me very uncomfortable (blame it on my age, environment, introvertedness, whatever) but I also think I really love her. I mean really. Love her.

There are so many more great books that I probably should mention, but it’s time to look forward. My reading goal for next year is once again 75 books. I know that having read 125 I should try to keep that up, right? But I’m hoping for a happier and healthier year spent doing more things with family and friends. And hey, 75 is still a highly respectable goal!

Happy New Reading Year!

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Your New Year’s Reading Resolution: Read Harder Book Challenge

December 30, 2015

My reading stack photo by Chris Chapman, FlickrSure, you can resolve to make 2016 the year to lose 10 pounds, run a marathon or learn to speak Spanish. Those are all fine goals. But here at the library we like our resolutions literary, and book challenges fit the bill quite nicely.

What’s a book challenge? Basically, you read books according to a certain set of guidelines and share your reviews of those books with other readers. There are food writing challenges, debut author challenges and “to be read pile” challenges, just to name a few.

This year I’ve got my eye on Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge. The idea is to read a book in each of 24 categories, many of which will require you to sample new genres and stretch your usual reading boundaries. Read a play! Read a collection of essays! Read a nonfiction book about science! Join this book challenge and be a better person. (Or at least get way better at trivia night and cocktail party small talk.) If you want to join this challenge, you can download a pdf of the reading task list. Not sure where to start? I’ve got recommendations for each of the categories below. Enjoy!

Book cover for Broken MonstersRead a horror book
Shining Girls” or “Broken Monsters” by Lauren Beukes or “Revival” by Stephen King

Read a nonfiction book about science
The Nurture Effect” by Anthony Biglan or anything by Mary Roach (“Gulp,” “Packing for Mars“)

Read a collection of essays
The Empathy Exams” by Leslie Jamison or “Our Only World” by Wendell Berry

Book cover for To Kill a MockingbirdRead a book out loud to someone else
To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster or “The Book With no Pictures” by B. J. Novak

Read a middle grade novel
Wonder” by R.J. Palacio or “My Diary From the Edge of the World” by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Read a biography (not a memoir or autobiography)
Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill” by Sonia Purnell, “E.E. Cummings: A Life” by Susan Cheever or “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough

Book cover for Zone OneRead a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel
The Road” by Cormac McCarthy (obvious choice), “Zone One” by Colson Whitehead (zombies!) or “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel (no zombies! Shakespeare!)

Read a book originally published in the decade you were born
1960s: “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson
1970s: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” by John Le Carré
1980s: “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
1990s: “Paradise” by Toni Morrison

Book cover for Still Foolin' Em by Billy CrystalListen to an audiobook that has won an Audie award
Silkworm” by Robert Galbraith (Read by Robert Glenister) or “Still Foolin’ ‘Em” by Billy Crystal (Read by Billy Crystal)

Read a book over 500 pages long
All the Light we Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr or “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt

Read a book under 100 pages
The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka or “Turn of the Screw” by Henry James

Book cover for George by Alex GinoRead a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender
George” by Alex Gino or “She’s Not There” by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Read a book that is set in the Middle East
The Ruins of Us” by Keija Parssinen or “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi

Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia
In the Shadow of the Banyan” by Vaddey Ratner or “Sightseeing: Stories” by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Book cover for The White QueenRead a book of historical fiction set before 1900
Caleb’s Crossing” by Geraldine Brooks or  “The White Queen” by Philippa Gregory

Read the first book in a series by a person of color
Devil in A Blue Dress” (first in a mystery series) by Walter Mosley or “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” (first in a sci-fi trilogy) by N.K. Jemisin

Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years
Descender” by Jeff Lemire or “The Woods” by James Tynion

Book cover for Brooklyn by Colm ToibinRead a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which is better
Brooklyn” by Colm Tóibín, “The Martian” by Andy Weir or “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews

Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes
How to Be a Woman” by Caitlin Moran or “Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay

Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction)
Learning to Walk in the Dark” by Barbara Brown Taylor or “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty” by Mustafa Akyol

Book cover for Team of RivalsRead a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction)
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin or “Double Down” by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann

Read a food memoir
Blood, Bones, and Butter” by Gabrielle Hamilton or “Tender at the Bone” by Ruth Reichl

Read a play
Wit” by Margaret Edson or “The Piano Lesson” by August Wilson

Book cover for furiously happyRead a book with a main character that has a mental illness
Furiously Happy” by Jenny Lawson, “I Know This Much is True” by Wally Lamb or “Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See” by Juliann Garey

Have other books you’d like to suggest in any of these categories? Let us know in the comments.

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Top 10 Books Librarians Love: The January 2016 List

December 28, 2015

Library Reads LogoNew books for the New Year! Here is the latest LibraryReads list, the top 10 books publishing in January 2016 that librarians across the country recommend. The list includes new novels from Elizabeth Strout (“Olive Kitteridge“) and Melanie Benjamin (“The Aviator’s Wife“), as well as nonfiction from the incomparable Bill Bryson (“A Walk in the Woods“)!

Book cover for My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth StroutMy Name Is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout
“Set in the mid-1980s, Lucy Barton, hospitalized for nine weeks, is surprised when her estranged mother shows up at her bedside. Her mother talks of local gossip, but underneath the banalities, Lucy senses the love that cannot be expressed. This is the story that Lucy must write about, the one story that has shaped her entire life. A beautiful lyrical story of a mother and daughter and the love they share.” – Catherine Coyne, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, MA

Book cover for The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend” by Katarina Bivald
“Sara arrives in the small town of Broken Wheel to visit her pen pal Amy, only to discover Amy has just died. The tale of how she brings the love of books and reading that she shared with Amy to the residents of Broken Wheel is just a lovely read. Any book lover will enjoy Sara’s story and that of the friends she makes in Broken Wheel. If ever a town needed a bookstore, it is Broken Wheel; the healing power of books and reading is made evident by this heartwarming book.” – Barbara Clark-Greene, Groton Public Library, Groton, CT

Book cover for The Swans of Fifth AvenueThe Swans of Fifth Avenue” by Melanie Benjamin
“Benjamin transports readers to 1960s Manhattan. This story gives us the chance to spy on Truman Capote’s close friendship with Babe Paley and his society “swans,” and the betrayal and scandal that drove them apart. I loved the description of the Black and White Ball.” – Emily Weiss, Bedford Public Library, Bedford, NH

And here is the rest of the list with links to the catalog for your holds-placing pleasure.

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The Library Buildings Are Closed, but Our Digital Branch Is Always Open

December 24, 2015

December 24, 25, after noon on December 31 and all day January 1, our buildings are closed and the bookmobiles are parked in the garage, but the digital branch is always open. Below are just a few of the ways you can use the library this holiday or any day. All you need is an active DBRL library card.

Stream five hours of music a day using Freegal (including albums from mega-stars like Adele and Meghan Trainor). Download (and keep forever!) five songs a week.

Start tackling those New Year’s resolutions now and use Transparent Language Online to learn Spanish, German, Russian, Japanese, Turkish and so much more – from Afrikans to Zulu, you can learn a new language with this online resource from your library.

Get some gift cards for Christmas or Hanukkah? Research your purchases using the library’s online subscription to Consumer Reports.

Drowning in stuff? Use Hoopla to download and listen to Marie Kondo’s bestseller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” (Listening to the audiobook will keep your hands free for clutter sorting.)

www.dbrl.org has so much for you to read, listen to, learn and explore, so check out the digital branch. Happy holidays!

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On the Street: Docs About Homelessness

December 23, 2015

tent city usaHow would you live your life if you didn’t have a home? These documentaries explore various homeless populations and examine the challenges they face in everyday life.

DVD cover art for Dark DaysDark Days” (2000)

For years, a homeless community took root in a train tunnel beneath New York City, braving dangerous conditions and perpetual night. “Dark Days” explores the surprisingly domestic subterranean world, unearthing a way of life unimaginable to those above.

DVD cover art for Kamp KatrinaKamp Katrina” (2007)

Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, Louisiana, this film follows Ms. Pearl, who enthusiastically offers her backyard to the displaced, and ten people immediately move into “Kamp Katrina,” their self-made tent community. She ends up facing many challenges and playing many roles to meet the residents’ needs.

DVD cover art for Tent City USA

Tent City, U.S.A.” (2012)

Nearly 100 homeless individuals have come together to form Nashville’s Tent City. This film explores this community, which is self-sustained and self-governed. The camp has its own council, composed of eight camp residents who meet once a week to discuss residents’ issues.

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Celebrate Short Fiction

December 21, 2015

“The color of springtime is in the flowers; the color of winter is in the imagination.” – Terri Guillemets

Winter reading is vital to my well-being, a respite from what can feel like eternal night. I was happy to discover December 21, the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, is Celebrate Short Fiction Day. If you’d like to join the festivities, I can give you a few book suggestions:

Book cover for Nothing Gold Can Stay by Ron RashNothing Gold Can Stay” by Ron Rash. This collection of stories centers around the people of Appalachia. “The Trusty” is the kind of tale that can haunt you long after you finish reading it. Set in Depression-era North Carolina, it follows the efforts of a prisoner to escape his chain gang by enlisting the help of a young farm wife who supplies water to the laborers. But all is not as it seems. “Cherokee,” a contemporary story of a young couple trying to win enough money at the casino to pay off their truck, had me holding my breath several times. Rash uses concrete words to explore spiritual and emotional depths, providing vivid mental images of the landscapes and people.

Book cover for The Real and the Unreal by Ursula Le GuinThe Real and the Unreal” is a collection of Ursula K. Le Guin stories in two volumes. The first book contains tales all set on earth, though often in fictional locales. One of them is even titled “Imaginary Countries.” It’s a story of children creating their own world, as children do. “The Direction of the Road” is narrated by an old tree, one that has witnessed the path of human progress, from travelers on horseback resting in its shade to the fatal crashes of speedsters in sports cars. The second volume presents Le Guin’s visions of other worlds. “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” is often assigned by high school teachers who want their students to ponder how much each of us is willing to allow another to suffer for our own gain.

Book cover for 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories100 Years of the Best American Short Stories.” Judging by the selections I’ve read, the title of this anthology isn’t hyperbole. Many excellent writers are represented here, from Edna Ferber to Lauren Groff. Seeing George Saunders’ “The Semplica-girl Diaries” – a satirical look at consumer culture as expressed in the competition of children’s birthday parties – listed in the table of contents was enough to prompt me to pick it up. This compilation provides a chance to revisit some old literary favorites and discover new ones.

Book cover for Flash Fiction InternationalFlash Fiction International.” If you’re really pressed for time, this collection is for you. Here are stories you can read in less than five minutes. Every continent is represented, with the exception of Antarctica. Some of the authors amaze me with their ability to portray a character’s entire life in under 1,000 words. Two of my favorite pieces, “Barnes” by Edmundo Paz Soldán and “Idolatry” by Sherman Alexie, are each only one page long. Both authors explore the human craving for recognition, but in different ways.

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