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Director Spotlight: Albert Maysles

March 25, 2015

albert maysles

“The closer I adhere to reality the more honest and authentic my tales. Knowledge of the real world is exactly what we need to better understand and therefore possibly to love one another. It’s my way of making the world a better place.” – Albert Maysles

Documentary film director Albert Maysles passed away earlier this month at the age of 88. Albert, who often collaborated with his brother David (1931-1987), was a pioneer of the “direct cinema” genre and created several influential films that helped form the documentary film world we know today. The library has many films that Albert was involved with during his lifetime, but I’ve decided to highlight a few notable ones in this blog post:

salesmanSalesman” (1968)

Captures in vivid detail the bygone era of the door-to-door salesman. While laboring to sell gold-embossed bibles, Paul Brennan and his colleagues target the beleaguered masses, then face the demands of quotas and the frustrations of life on the road.

gimme shelterGimme Shelter” (1970)

A documentary on the Rolling Stones’ 1969 tour of the United States, including a performance at Madison Square Garden and a free concert at the Altamont Speedway in California where violence broke out between fans and Hell’s Angels who were providing security.

grey gardensGrey Gardens” (1975)

A portrait of the relationship between Edith Bouvier Beale and her grown daughter, Little Edie, once an aspiring actress in New York who left her career to care for her aging mother in their East Hampton home and never left again. This influential film inspired various works over the years.

Top photo by UNIONDOCS via Flickr and used under a Creative Commons License.

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Exploring the Magic and Spectacle of Harry Houdini

March 23, 2015

Houdini, photo by tmolini via Flickr“I am a great admirer of mystery and magic. Look at this life — all mystery and magic.” — Harry Houdini

On March 24 we celebrate the birthday of one of the world’s most famous magicians — Harry Houdini. As a young Hungarian immigrant growing up in Appleton, WI, Houdini (then known as Ehrich Weiss) loved to entertain, and so he spent his days practicing acrobatics and circus tricks. Houdini became fascinated with magic and spectacle after seeing traveling conjurers perform seemingly impossible acts. At age 12 he left home to study magic, eventually becoming quite adept with feats of escape. No set of handcuffs or straitjacket existed that he could not not escape from! Houdini’s death-defying acts eventually drew huge crowds who wanted to see him complete the impossible. One of his most famous acts involved escaping in less than three minutes from a locked, water-filled tank he was suspended upside down in — and he did this all with his hands tied together. How exciting it must have been to see him at work!

It’s too late for us to witness his magic in person, but the library has several interesting offerings if you’d like to learn a bit more about Houdini:

  • Book cover for Houdini by Kenneth SilvermanHoudini! The Career of Ehrich Weiss” by Kenneth Silverman is probably one of the most thorough Houdini biographies available. Drawing extensively from diaries, letters  and other personal documents, Silverman’s book illustrates Houdini’s captivating rise to great fame ending with his tragic death at age 52. (Houdini was sucker-punched and died days later from complications of a burst appendix; Don Bell’s, “The Man Who Killed Houdini,” explores the strange events that lead up to this devastating event.)
  • What drives a man to put himself in situations that could potentially cost his life? Author Ruth Brandon’s “The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini” examines Houdini from a psychological perspective, offering insightful glimpses into what pushed him to attempt the impossible.
  • Book cover for Houdini by Brooke Kamin RapaportHoudini was a man of his times, and his art was very much shaped by the world around him. Brooke Kamin Rapaport’s “Houdini: Art and Magic,” is a non-traditional biography about Houdini’s place in history and the effect he had on the art and performance worlds. This book is quite beautiful with photos of Houdini and artifacts from his time, including images of his own diary entries. If photos and images are appealing to you, you may also want to check out “Houdini: His Legend and His Magic” by Doug Henning. This entertaining read is full of imagery, including illustrations of some of Houdini’s most famous escapes.
  • Houdini’s life was recently recreated in the television movie, “Houdini.” Although it is not completely historically accurate, it does provide an engaging (and entertaining) look into his life and magic.

After reading up on Houdini, you may be inspired to try a little magic of your own. Escaping from a water-filled box might not be a trick you’re capable of replicating, so thankfully the library has several resources that offer plenty of magic tricks you can learn to impress your friends and family. Happy reading!

photo credit: Houdini via photopin (license)

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Let the Library Contribute to Your (March) Madness

March 20, 2015

If you’re like me, basketball is your favorite sport. You like the way they dribble up and down the court. Perhaps unlike me, you actually have skills on this court. My basketball career ended when I tried out for the team in the seventh grade and didn’t make the cut. What’s that? Oh, no, no — I just have something in my eye. . .

 The LifeYet I still play, and display mad skills, on the basketball courts of my mind! I’m the Michael Jordan of these imaginary courts. (Actually more of a Dr. J/Pistol Pete hybrid, but with the dominance of Jordan — I’ve put some thought into this.) See, long ago I was consumed by the madness — March Madness. I grew up in a relatively sports-free household, except for this strange time of year when my father, not much of a TV watcher, camped out in front of the TV for hours at a time. He was watching college basketball. Would a weekend of early spring weather get my father, a fan of the outdoors, to stop watching? No. He just opened one of the windows and propped the TV on the sill so he could watch from our back patio. Curious, I watched too. Inevitably the madness consumed my young mind. The transformation was complete in 1981 when I won a bet with my father that Indiana would beat North Carolina for the championship. It was a gentleman’s bet, bragging rights only. In your face, Dad!

Book cover for Players First by John CalipariSince then, every March has been a blur of clutch three-pointers, tragicomic brackets, Cinderellas and John Calipari. He’s inescapable. Sadly, the tournament games are only Thursday through Sunday for the first two weeks. The Final Four play on a Saturday, and the Championship is on a Monday. That leaves a lot of basketball-less days when all your fevered mind will be thinking is, “swish, swish, swish!” (What are you going to do with that time? Bathe? Go to work?)

Never fear, the library has the fix to soothe you until the next round starts. You can feed your insatiable hunger with books and DVDs on the great sport of basketball. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Fittingly, we shall start on the playground.

Book cover for Heaven is a PlaygroundHeaven Is a Playground” was the first book on Urban Basketball. Photojournalist Rick Telander spent the summers of 1973 and 1974 with his subjects in Brooklyn, even sleeping on the apartment floor belonging to one of them. It’s about their lives and the hopes for better ones that they attach to the sport.

The DVD “Fathers of the Sport” follows the lineage of playground basketball to stars like Magic Johnson and Wilt Chamberlain.

Gunnin for That #1 Spot” was filmed by the late, great Adam Yauch (MCA of The Beastie Boys). It covers the first annual Elite 24 Hoops Classic in Rucker Park where the top 24 high school basketball players in the nation compete.

Some people actually get picked for a team, unlike me (but I’m not bitter!), and end up playing in High School.

DVD Nimrod NationNimrod Nation” follows The Nimrods, a high school basketball team in a rural, basketball-obsessed town in Michigan.

One of the classic sports documentaries, “Hoop Dreams” followed two high school kids from inner-city Chicago for five years as they pursued their aspirations to make it into the NBA.

Of course the participants in March Madness are collegiate athletes. They have worked hard to graduate from high school basketball to college basketball.

Compared the huge sporting event it is today, the first NCAA tournament was considered a risky experiment. “March 1939” tells the story of the first tournament and the first champions against the backdrop of a looming world war.

 The Story of the NCAA Men's Basketball TournamentThere are so many good books about “The Big Dance.” You could go behind the scenes of the Final Four in “Last Dance,” learn about “How March Became Madness,” or “When March Went Mad.” That last book is written by Seth Davis, whom you will see a lot of on TV if you’re watching the tournament. It tells the story of the 1979 championship where Larry Bird and Magic Johnson played against each other, raising the profile of the tournament to a whole new level and starting a rivalry that continued into the NBA.

The Fab 5” is about the five freshmen who started for Michigan in the early ‘90s. They were considered one of the greatest classes ever recruited and made it to the championship two years in a row, but controversy followed the team. The scene where Chris Webber talks about trying to collect enough change to buy a pizza and seeing his jersey for sale in a shop window speaks to the current controversy about the status of collegiate athletes today.

The Last Amateurs” is about John Feinstein’s search for basketball played away from the influence of the vast sums of money associated with “big conference” college basketball and the temptations of the NBA.

Sports and social issues often intersect, and basketball in no exception.

The Game of Change” is about a game in the 1963 NCAA tournament when the all-white Mississippi State Bulldogs played the Loyola Ramblers, who had four African-Americans starting for the team. The Bulldogs had been kept out of the tournament due to an unwritten Mississippi law prohibiting competition between white and non-white players. The book tells the story of the players in this game and puts it in context with the broader struggle for equality.

And The Walls Came Tumbling Down” is about the 1966 NCAA championship when the all-white starting five of the Kentucky Wildcats, coached by the overtly racist Adolph Rupp, lost to Texas Western’s all African-American starting five. This game has been credited for having a profound social effect and delivered a major blow to segregated college sports.

The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central” is about a high school basketball team that made history and drew unwanted attention from segregationist George Wallace with their all African-American starting lineup.

Full Court Press” uses a close look at the University of Oregon women’s basketball team as a way to explore what it means to be a female athlete in America.

The memoir “She’s Got Next” is about how Arkansas transplant Melissa King finds herself playing pickup basketball in inner-city Chicago.

Training Rules” follows Penn State basketball champ Jennifer Harris as she challenges the homophobia of coach Rene Portland and takes a look at how homophobia has hurt the careers of other athletes.

In 1904 the most prominent women’s basketball team was from an Indian boarding school in Montana. The girls from Fort Shaw played at the St. Louis World’s Fair to introduce the world to the sport and returned with a trophy declaring them world champions. “Full-court Quest” tells the story of this team and offers a look at American Indian life and the early days of women’s basketball.

If you’ve read Sherman Alexie’s great short story collection, “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” you have an idea the passion for basketball that can be found on Indian Reservations. In “Counting Coup,” Larry Colton travels into the world of Montana’s Crow Indians. He follows a talented young basketball player who is a descendant of one of Custer’s Indian scouts. Colton uses basketball as a window into a part of our society long excluded from the American Dream.

If you’ve ever wondered about basketball above the Arctic Circle (who hasn’t?) “Eagle Blue” is the book for you. The population of basketball-crazed Fort Yukon is almost entirely composed of Athabascan Gwich’in Natives. It’s home to the Fort Yukon Eagles, winner of six regional championships in a row. This book follows the team through another Winter of near round-the-clock darkness and fifty-below-zero temperatures.

Going Pro?

When March Madness ends do you feel an emptiness that can’t be filled? Did this very long list of books just leave you hungry for more? Then let me point out that the NBA Finals will start April 18th. Perhaps “The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History” or Bill Simmons’ “The Book of Basketball” will help you prepare for that.

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Reading on the Road: Recommended Audiobooks

March 18, 2015

I’m not actually recommending that you read while driving. Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. However, you can keep your ears occupied and make the time fly with an audiobook. If the approaching spring break (hooray!) means that a road trip is in your future, here are some audiobooks to keep you and your fellow passengers entertained.

Family friendly
These books are for a younger audience, but they are plenty entertaining for adults as well.

Book cover for The Mysterious Benedict SocietyThe Mysterious Benedict Society” by Trenton Lee Stewart. Brainy orphans, an eccentric benefactor and a puzzle to solve – what’s not to love?

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy” by Jeanne Birdsall. While vacationing with their widowed father in the Berkshire Mountains, four lovable sisters share adventures with a local boy, much to the dismay of his snobbish mother, in this smart and funny story.

Book cover for Peter and the StarcatchersPeter and the Starcatchers” by Dave Barry. Young adventurers will love this Peter Pan prequel, and I can’t make an audiobook list without including something narrated by the fantastic Jim Dale, the voice artist who also read the Harry Potter series.

A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle. The grown-ups in the car will enjoy revisiting this story from their childhoods, and young listeners will be transported by the tale of Meg and Charles Wallace travelling through space and time to find their father, a physicist working for the government in secret, who has disappeared.

Book cover for Wonder by R.J. PalacioWonder” by R.J. Palacio. Listeners will fall in love with Auggie, a 5th grader entering school for the first time.  Born with extreme facial abnormalities, he has been home-schooled his entire life, making starting middle school an even more daunting prospect. At its conclusion, don’t be surprised if you and your car-mates end up having a discussion about kindness, overcoming obstacles and the acceptance of difference.

Adult (but not too adult)
These books are written for adults, but they have elements older children will enjoy and little in the way of language/themes you don’t want little ears to hear.

Book cover for Boys in the BoatThe Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” by Daniel James Brown. This 2014 One Read selection is a Cinderella story of sorts that describes the journey of nine working class young men from the University of Washington as they row their way out of obscurity and into the gold-medal race at the 1936 Olympic Games in Hitler’s Berlin.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. This off-beat (and very British) work of science fiction follows Arthur Dent, the last surviving person from Earth, and tour-guide writer Ford Prefect on their intergalactic journeys and extraterrestrial encounters. This most recent audiobook version is narrated by the very talented, very funny Stephen Fry.

Grownups only
These are crowd-pleasing audiobooks because of good writing, engaging storytelling and – most of all – terrific narration.

Book cover for Yes PleaseYes Please” by Amy Poehler. The “Parks and Rec” star dispenses life advice, cautionary tales, and plenty of behind-the-scenes looks at her life on the improv stage and as a member of the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” Guest appearances from Seth Meyers, Carol Burnett and even Poehler’s parents make listening to this book even more fun than reading it (which is already pretty fun). If our copies are all checked out, Tina Fey’s hilarious”Bossypants,” read by Fey herself, is a great second choice.

The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion. Narrator Dan O’Grady nails the voice of Australian Don Tillman, a socially challenged, possibly autistic, definitely brilliant geneticist as he uses logic to pursue love. A funny and smart romantic comedy.

Book cover for The End of the AffairThe End of the Affair” by Graham Greene. One online review said something like, “This is actor Colin Firth talking in your ear about love. Enough said.”

Any audiobooks you’ve enjoyed to make the miles fly? Let us know in the comments.

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The Gentleman Recommends: Sir Terry Pratchett

March 16, 2015

Sir Terry Pratchett with two birds on his head - ImgurSir Terry Pratchett died on March 12, 2015. Prior to that he lived for 66 years. I’m not proud that it took his death to motivate me to recommend him. (It seems there is a clear formula to getting this gentleman’s recommendation: either author a book or three that I’ve read and loved in the last few months, or write dozens of books that I’ve loved at some point in my life and die.) Forgive me if I seem crass or irreverent, but the combination of grief and the tears it’s causing to ooze past my monocles and into my now watered-down brandy leave me shy of my customary humours. I think Sir Pratchett would have appreciated irreverence in the face of death.

I’ve been reading a lot of Sir Pratchett’s obituaries and tributes today, and I’m astounded each time at the reminder that he wrote over 70 books, both because that’s an astonishing amount of work from anyone that isn’t several centuries old (and even in that scenario involving some sort of immortal writing machine (or maybe a bookish vampire?) it would still be impressive) and because no one has specified the exact number. So, I scampered off to the Internet and counted, and if my counting hasn’t gotten too rusty, Sir Pratchett wrote 78 books. Only at snacking and lounging and referencing my fondness for snacking and lounging can I manage to be more prolific.

This era of constantly increasing celebrities brings about constantly increasing celebrity death, which causes the awkward situation of periodically grieving for someone you’ve never met. And while I can’t grieve Sir Pratchett the person, I can grieve the author and the absence of the 40 plus books he’d have written given a few more decades on earth, the man who combined hilarious/cutting/insightful satire, wordplay, remarkably imaginative world-building and immense compassion to create a stunning combo of quantity and quality fiction the likes of which I doubt the world, going forward, will ever see matched. Also, Sir Terry Pratchett was a knight, and while I’m sure there are others, I worry they won’t have the imagination needed to slay the more vicious dragons or keep the queen safe.

Sir Terry Pratchett taught me that you could write about wizards, dwarves, vampires, Igors, witches, zombies, politics, the grim reaper, war and the post office and be hilarious while having a great deal to say about ye old human condition. I wish I could apply the lesson half as well as it was taught.

I will close this post the way most of the articles about his death have closed: with a reprinting of the three tweets that came from his twitter account shortly after his death. It is helpful to know that among the hundreds of his characters was Death, who spoke in all caps and sometimes sarcastically, appears in nearly every book, is the star of a few, and occasionally takes a holiday from his grim duties.

“AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER”

“Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.”

“The End.”

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Welcome to the Wonderful World of Podcasts

March 13, 2015

Podcaster logoLate last year I noticed a new question cropping up at the library: “Can I listen to ‘Serial’ on your computers?” For those who haven’t heard of “Serial,” it’s a podcast that began last October and became a cultural phenomenon, gaining millions of listeners.

For those who aren’t sure what a podcast is, here’s an explanation from dictionary.com: “a digital audio or video file or recording, usually part of a themed series, that can be downloaded from a website to a media player or computer.”

No matter what your interest, someone’s created a podcast about it. I conducted a brief survey amongst my family and friends that yielded recommendations for dozens of titles and brought me a renewed appreciation for the diversity of my acquaintances. The list included humor, history, true crime, memoirs, relationships, dharma talks, cooking, music, literature, finance and several other topics.

Here are a few other things to know:

How much do podcasts cost and where does one find them?
Most podcasts are free, and there are many places to find them. Some of the more popular browsing sites are: iTunes (you need an account), NPR, Podcast Alley, and my favorite discovery – Stitcher.

How does one listen to a podcast?
Most podcasts can be listened to via streaming, with no need to download. And yes, you can listen on our library computers as long as you use earbuds or headphones. Please be aware of the length of the podcast compared to time limits on computer use. The advantage of downloading to a mobile device is that you can take it with you and listen even when you don’t have Internet access. Many podcasts offer subscriptions, through which the newest episode will automatically download for you as soon as it’s available.

Does the library offer resources related to podcasting?
So glad you asked!  Through Lynda.com you can find tutorials to help you download and listen, as well as lessons on producing your own podcast. We also offer an in-person class, “Downloading Made Easy,” in our Columbia building. The next session is April 22. Registration begins April 8. (Call 573-443-3161 to register.) For old-fashioned book learning about this new-fangled technology, check out “Content Rules, How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and more).”

For those who are curious, the top podcast recommendations from this blogger’s family and friends are:
Serial” – The first season focused on a 1999 murder and the subsequent investigation and trial.
The Moth – Storytelling
Welcome to Nightvale – Humor in the vein of the Addams family
Invisibilia – Explores “the intangible forces that shape human behavior…ideas, beliefs, emotions…”
Slate Audio Book Club – Book discussions
Hardcore History – History
Consequence of Sound’s Relevant Content – Pop culture, music and modern life

Happy listening!

 

photo credit: podcaster_logo via photopin (license)

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New DVD List: Life Itself & More

March 11, 2015

life itself

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

life itselfLife Itself
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Playing last year at the Ragtag, this documentary film by acclaimed director Steve James (“Hoop Dreams“) and executive producers Martin Scorsese and Steven Zaillian recounts the inspiring and entertaining life of world-renowned film critic and social commentator Roger Ebert – a story that is by turns personal, funny, painful and transcendent.

game of thrones season 4Game of Thrones
Season 4
Website / Reviews
As season four begins, encouraged by the Red Wedding slaughter in the Riverlands that wiped out many of their Stark nemeses, the Lannisters’ hold on the Iron Throne remains intact. But can they survive their own egos as well as new and ongoing threats from the south, north and east?

out of stepThe Pleasures of Being Out of Step
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Nat Hentoff is one of the enduring voices of the last 65 years, a writer who championed jazz as an art form and who also led the rise of ‘alternative’ journalism in America. This unique documentary wraps the themes of liberty, identity and free expression around a historical narrative that stretches from the Great Depression to the Patriot Act.

Other notable releases:

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A Smart-aleck Sleuth in Ancient Rome

March 9, 2015

Book cover for The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis(Review of the Marcus Didius Falco Mysteries, by Lindsey Davis)

If you grieve (as I do) at the end of a good mystery series, when the last mesmerizing page of the last book is turned, do I have a series for you! The Marcus Didius Falco Mysteries—a total of 20 novels, each a hefty 350-or-so pages—will delay that sad moment and keep you vastly entertained, possibly for the next decade.

Author Lindsey Davis has set her epic in first century AD Rome, where Falco, an informer (read “private detective”), plies his dangerous and not-very-lucrative trade. Falco is an enlightened rogue, occasionally employed by the Emperor Vespasian for cases no one else will take. One of the appeals of this series is Falco’s dry wit as he narrates his many adventures, both professional and personal (he also has an active love life and a large, drama-prone family.)

Book cover for Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey DavisAnother treat is the astounding amount of historically accurate detail crammed into every paragraph. You’ll read about Roman street vendor food (awful), the view from Falco’s seventh-floor Avantine tenement room (spectacular), first century urban firefighting (with fiber mats and brute strength), Roman bathing (with steam and olive oil) and countless other realities of daily Roman life. The effect is like time travel, or the most entertaining history course ever.

I’m not interested in the Roman Empire, and I rarely read historical fiction. Which makes it all the more remarkable that I have read and thoroughly enjoyed every single Falco novel. If you would like to do the same, here are the 15 titles available from DBRL. The five remaining titles* (which are not currently published in the US) are available through our interlibrary loan service.

Marcus Didius Falco Mysteries (in series order)

  1. The Silver Pigs
  2. Shadows in Bronze
  3. Venus in Copper
  4. The Iron Hand of Mars
  5. “Poseidon’s Gold”*
  6. “Last Act in Palmyra”*
  7. Time to Depart
  8. A Dying Light in Corduba
  9. Three Hands in the Fountain
  10. “Two for the Lions”*
  11. “One Virgin too Many”*
  12. “Ode to a Banker”*
  13. A Body in the Bathhouse
  14. The Jupiter Myth
  15. The Accusers
  16. Scandal Takes a Holiday
  17. See Delphi and Die
  18. Saturnalia
  19. Alexandria
  20. Nemesis

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The Epigenetics Revolution: Free MU Life Sciences & Society Symposium

March 6, 2015

Book cover for The Epigenetics RevolutionBiology is not necessarily destiny. The quickly evolving field of epigenetics is the branch of science that studies the regulation of genes and other genetic material, and recent research is raising many questions about nature versus nurture when it comes to disease and human behavior. (Very) simply stated, environmental factors – like stress, toxins and childhood trauma – can determine whether or not certain things programmed into a person’s genetic code get turned “on” or off. And extreme stress experienced by an individual can be so strong as to affect not only their genes but also the genes of their children.

A number of science writers in the last few years have published books trying to explain this complicated new field to the lay reader. One such book that terrified me personally is Annie Murphy Paul’s “Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives.” As a mother of young children, the fact that I could have been screwing them up in a number of unrealized ways while they were in the womb is unsettling to say the least. But this book raises important concerns about how we think about pregnancy and support expecting mothers and calls into question commonly held assumptions about which aspects of our health are biologically determined and which are influenced by environmental factors.

Paul is just one of the speakers at this year’s MU Life Sciences & Society Symposium, “The Epigenetics Revolution: Nature, Nurture and What Lies Ahead,” being held March 13-15. The event is free and open to the public, but advance registration is required. The symposium will explore what epigenetics means, discuss how epigenetic effects work and explore examples of how the environment can affect genetic expression in infants, children and adults. Several speakers will focus on the implications of epigenetics for human health and medicine, including the causes and treatments of diseases such as autism and cancer. See the full line-up of speakers and topics at the symposium’s website.

If you aren’t able to attend but want to learn more about this fascinating field, check out the very readable “Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance” by Richard C. Francis or Cary Nessa’s “The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance.”

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Better Know a Genre: Cozy Mysteries

March 4, 2015

Stack of books by Thomas Galvez via Flickr

It has been a while since I have helped readers to Better Know a Genre. What have I been doing instead of writing? Hibernating. But I’m back, and there are still a few weeks left until spring, so let us take these last days of winter to focus on the genre known as “cozy mysteries.”

Imagine the television show “Murder She Wrote” as a book. (Wait! You don’t have to imagine it.) Cozy mysteries, like all whodunits, begin with a crime. The crime usually takes place in a small town. Although the stories can contain murders or sexual activity, these are not explicitly described. There are not graphic depictions of violent crime. It is not usually the examination of forensic evidence from the crime scene that leads to the arrest of the perpetrator. Instead, there is a focus on solving the puzzle using knowledge of the town and its inhabitants.

The crime is often solved by a female amateur detective. The women tend to have a job that puts them into contact with the community, such as a teacher, author, librarian (hi!) or caterer. She might also have a hobby that serves as one of the themes of the book or series. Cooking and crafting are popular examples, and sometimes the books even contain recipes or patterns. She herself does not often work in law enforcement but will likely have unofficial help from someone on the police force. She is likable and engaging, not like the unfriendly Sherlock Holmes or the hard-drinking Philip Marlowe.

Also, cats. Lots of cats.

Check out some of these popular cozy mystery series from our collection!

Book cover for Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne FlukeCulinary cozies:

Tea Shop Mystery series, by Laura Child
Goldy Bear Mystery series, by Diane Mott Davidson
Hannah Swenson Mystery series, by Joanne Fluke
Faith Fairchild Mystery series, by Katherine Hall Page

Book cover for Crewel World by Monica FerrisCrafting cozies:

Needlecraft Mystery series, by Monica Ferris
Seaside Knitters Mystery series, by Sally Goldenbaum
Quilting Mystery series, by Terri Thayer

These are just two of many many many cozy mystery themes. What is your favorite series?

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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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