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Murder, With a Side of Pasta ‘ncasciata

March 3, 2014

(Review of the Inspector Montalbano mystery series, by Andrea Camilleri)

Book cover for The Shape of Water by Andrea CamilleriSalvo Montalbano is the world-weary but always upstanding Chief Inspector for the police force of Vigata, a smallish (and imaginary) town in Sicily. He’s a sensitive, ethical guy who struggles with the endemic Sicilian political corruption, superiors who can’t be bothered and subordinates who are eager but sometimes inept. Also problematic are the many attractive women who find him molto interessante – causing no end of conflict with Livia, his volatile out-of-town girlfriend.

This sounds like a standard backdrop for a police procedural mystery, international or otherwise. But this series, and Montalbano, rise above the standard. For starters, this is one well-read cop, given to Italian literary and historical references. He’s also a passionate gourmet: a steaming plate of pasta ‘ncasciata will always take precedence over police business.

Montalbano introspects fiercely, and the reader gets to spend quality time inside his head, getting to know this often melancholy and obsessive, but ultimately likable, character. In fact, all of Camilleri’s characters are worth knowing, from Ingrid Sjostrom, the beautiful six-foot-tall Swedish race-car driver (and Montalbano’s greatest temptation) to the creepy, sex-obsessed Judge Tommaseo. Add some dark Sicilian atmosphere and consistently elegant plotting, and you have a series that is just plain delizioso.

(Important disclaimer: The first book, “The Shape of Water,” begins with a single, nearly incomprehensible paragraph that goes on for a full five pages. It was so obtuse that I almost gave up. Fortunately I didn’t, because after page five things got much clearer and a whole lot more interesting – and stayed that way for 15 more books.)

For an appetizer, here are the first four books of the Inspector Montalbano series at DBRL:

  1. The Shape of Water“  (2002)
  2. The Terra-cotta Dog“  (2002)
  3. The Snack Thief“  (2003)
  4. Voice of the Violin“  (2004)

For the complete list of 16 titles, see our book list in the library’s online catalog.

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Upcoming Author Events: Rebecca Skloot and Colson Whitehead

February 28, 2014

Authors Rebecca Skloot and Colson Whitehead are making appearances in mid-Mo during the next two weeks. Mark your calendars for these free events!

Book cover for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot2011 marked the 10th anniversary of the library’s community-wide reading program, One Read, and that year we read and discussed the important work of narrative nonfiction, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. The closing program was a visit with David “Sonny” Lacks, Henrietta’s son, which proved inspiring for many in our community. Mr. Lacks was a charming guest and graciously accepted thanks from several people who waited in line to share with him their personal stories and to express gratitude for his mother’s contributions to science. Now our community has the opportunity to hear about Henrietta Lacks from the author’s perspective. Skloot will appear as part of the 10th Annual MU Life Sciences & Society Symposium on Monday, March 10 at 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 7:00) at Jesse Auditorium. Tickets to this event are free, but they are required for entry. You can pick them up at one of the following locations.

  • Missouri Theatre Box Office (203 S 9th St, Columbia, MO 65201)
  • MSA/GPC Box Office in the MU Student Center at the University of Missouri

Find more details at the University of Missouri’s website, and cross your fingers that the weather cooperates!

Book cover for Zone One by Colson WhiteheadWhy might I be worried about weather? Well, February’s snow-pocalypse forced the cancellation of another author’s – Colson Whitehead’s - visit to mid-Missouri, so we’re a little paranoid about the forecast. We were really looking forward to Whitehead’s talk, so we are pleased to announce that this event has been rescheduled! Whitehead is the author of the New York Times bestselling zombie survival tale “Zone One” and a forthcoming book about the 2011 World Series of Poker, titled “The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky & Death.” He’ll be speaking on Thursday, March 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Reynolds Alumni Center on the University of Missouri campus as part of the Department of English Creative Writing Visiting Writers Series.

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Beating the Winter Blahs and Boosting Health With Beneficial Bacteria

February 26, 2014

Photo of sauerkraut by JoePhoto via FlickrOkay, who out there is weary of this winter weather and being inside-bound and weighted down with layer upon layer to fend off the bitter cold?  I have been seriously stir-crazy and blue, too, so I went looking for some solution, some relief from the bleakness found within and without. I needed some way to figuratively “climb out of winter,” like the flower bulbs will do come springtime. I decided a new hobby would help keep me going until the first crocuses surface.

Here’s what I found to do:

Make sauerkraut!

I’d been hearing in the ambient noise surrounding me the past few years that fermented foods had health benefits, and I had a vague notion it had to do with dosing your gut with friendly bacteria. Fermented foods (miso, tempeh, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, kimchi and other cultured vegetables, cheese, beer, wine, etc.) are taste bud-pleasers with lots of flavor and zing and texture – that in and of itself is good thing.

And always looking to economize, I felt compelled to try making my own kraut, because unpasteurized (pasteurizing foods kills bacteria, including the friendly stuff) kraut is expensive – $7 for a quart jar! Since the ingredients are very cheap, just salt and cabbage, $7 seemed too dear a price to pay, especially if I wanted to eat it on a regular basis.

But what makes fermented foods so beneficial to your health? In the fermentation process microscopic bacteria and fungi produce alcohol, lactic and acetic acids, which naturally preserve the food, thereby retaining their nutrients. Fermentation also breaks the nutrients down into more easily digestible form, increases the bioavailability of minerals and creates new nutrients. In a nutshell, by eating fermented foods you essentially line your gut with healthy living cultures vital to breaking down food and assimilating its nutrients. “Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods” by Sandor Ellix Katz has a short and informative chapter, “Cultural Rehabilitation,” that nicely explains the health benefits of fermented foods. In my reading about this topic, I also discovered that research indicates that live bacteria in fermented foods improve the body’s “response-ability” to infection and inflammation.  Wow! That’s a lot of health benefits to claim.

I was thrilled to demystify this process, and it was SO easy. The results were scrumptious, and visually, the food was stunning. (Did you know that purple cabbage turns a bright, neon magenta when transformed into kraut?) There is an easy recipe in this book if you’d like to give kraut a crack.

So now I have a spot on my kitchen countertop permanently dedicated to small-batch jars of fermenting food. I’m not going to stop with kraut either. On to kimchi, kefir and kombucha!

Photo used under a creative commons license

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Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The March List

February 24, 2014
Library Reads Logo

LibraryReads_banner1_MARCHLibraryReads is a monthly list of forthcoming books librarians across the country recommend. The March list is particularly awesome because local author Laura McHugh’s book (partly written at the Columbia Public Library) is the number one pick!

Book cover for The Weight of Blood by Laura McHughThe Weight of Blood
by Laura McHugh
“The Dane family has been keeping secrets in the Ozark town of Henbane for years. An outsider steals the heart of one of the Dane brothers, and the secrets threaten to unravel. When 16-year-old Lucy’s friend is found murdered after being missing for a year, Lucy begins to ask questions–the answers to which may destroy her family. Atmospheric and visceral, McHugh’s story is vividly and effectively told.”
- Jennifer Winberry, Hunterdon County Library, Flemington, NJ

Book cover for The Accident by Chris PavoneThe Accident
by Chris Pavone
“Kudos to Pavone for coming through with another captivating international suspense novel. How ironic that I couldn’t put down a book about Isabel, a literary agent who stays up all night to finish an unsolicited manuscript that’s so explosive, some will kill to keep it from being published. During the 24 hours that Isabel is on the run, readers will be on the edge of their seats. Be prepared to lose some sleep!”
- Paulette Brooks, Elm Grove Public Library, Elm Grove, WI

Book cover for The Divorce Papers by Susan RiegerThe Divorce Papers
by Susan Rieger
“When Sophie, a loveable 29-year-old lawyer, gets roped into working on a divorce case, her life takes an unexpected turn. Though this gives her a new perspective on life, it also forces her to confront some unresolved childhood issues. Except for a few tearful, poignant moments, I had a smile on my face for the entire book. Engaging and humorous, this debut epistolary novel has become a favorite read.”
- Jennifer Asimakopoulos, Indian Prairie Public Library, Darien, IL

Here is the rest of the list for your browsing and hold-placing pleasure!

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Let’s Travel: Steamboat Springs, CO

February 21, 2014

“Slow down!” I screamed at my husband when a gust of wind threw another clump of snow at our front window, obscuring the world outside our car. We were driving through a blizzard, and my rhetorical question “Are we there, yet?” no longer reflected boredom but acquired a true urgency. Yet – finally! – our Subaru, loaded with ski clothes, equipment and electronic gadgets (just the number of chargers is unbelievable!) reached Rabbit Ears Pass and began descending to Yampa Valley – the town of Steamboat Springs within it.

Steamboat 4Those who’ve never seen the Rocky Mountains in the winter should definitely rethink that (if you live outside the U.S., substitute a mountain region in your country :) ), for, as far as I’m concerned, the austere beauty of snow-covered peaks and valleys is incomparable with any other natural setting. As for Steamboat Springs, its charm is in preserving the aura of a 19th century miners’ and ranchers’ town, where herds of cattle still run along its wide main drag to the rodeo grounds every 4th of July.

Ranching, of course, is no longer the main occupation there. The thing that puts Steamboat Springs on the map now is outdoor activities: skiing in the winter (mostly downhill but Nordic skiing and snowshoeing as well); biking, whitewater rafting and hiking in the summer; and bathing in hot springs year around. Yet despite new fads and diets, there are establishments in this town that are over 100 years old, where you can order an old-fashioned burger and unabashedly brush peanut shells on to the floor (don’t worry, there are fancy restaurants there, too :) ). Also, as it was in the past, the town is full of people with faces burnt by the sun, wind and snow, although they are more likely to work in the ski village several miles away than on a ranch.

Steamboat 1Since we first came to this area, it has grown considerably, especially the village: new houses and condos have popped up all over the valley, new inns and hotels brighten long winter nights with their perpetual Christmas lights and shops and galleries have spread all over. Yet the village, bustling with activity by day, largely empties by night – some visitors stay put while many drive (or take a shuttle) to the town.

Our first morning started slowly – it’s hard to feel vigorous at 6,900 feet when you have spent most of the year at 758. Besides, the blizzard was still raging, adding low visibility to our almost forgotten skiing abilities (when you ski once a year, your body forgets what it’s supposed to do). When, at the end of the day, a young receptionist asked us where we skied that day (easy runs only), our response didn’t impress him.

“That sure is mellow,” He said condescendingly.

“We’ll see where you’ll be skiing where you’re our age!” I wanted to say, but my husband wouldn’t allow it. My husband is always like that. He never lies (what damage can a couple of white lies cause?), he never cheats on line calls in tennis (we’re not playing for money, so what if I call something out when it is in?!) and he never argues with sales clerks (recently, when he tried on crooked reading glasses, a clerk told him that his face was crooked, and my husband thought that was funny!?).

Steamboat 2Our second day was even worse. Without much thought, we took the Storm Peak Express (should the name have told us something?) and found ourselves in a whiteout so dense that we could hardly see each other two feet apart! Yet, as often happens in the mountains, the blizzard retreated as quickly as it came, and on our third morning, the bright sun illuminated the mountains and the surrounding valley, transforming everything into a sparkling-white playground. Seemingly overnight, our bodies found their perfect balance, our skis followed our every move (almost :)) and we no longer fought against the landscape but enjoyed the views, the fresh air and the swift movements. We even had enough energy left for a night on the town: sizzling fajitas and fried ice-cream in a Mexican restaurant, a stroll through local galleries and a photo walk under the starry sky.

The next two days were picture-perfect as well: skiing under the gorgeous blue sky, stopping for lunch at a mountain lodge and watching early afternoon shadows spread their blue wings on the snow – winter days in the mountains are short. At that point, my main task always is not to lose the sight of my husband. The thing is, I have no sense of direction, and left to my own devices, I can easily end up on the other side of the mountain, alone. My husband, however, is always aware of his whereabouts. In our 16 years of skiing together, he lost that ability only once – after a fall that left him so disoriented that he asked me where the base village was. That scared me out of my wits – not because I had no idea where it was, but because it was a sign of something being very wrong with him. Lucky for me, his confusion didn’t last long, and after we got safely down, I made him buy a helmet, so he won’t scare me like that again.

Being directionally challenged, I, however, tend to ski first, ignoring (according to my husband) landscape markers and signs (trust me, I don’t – I just don’t see them!). Once in a while, I stop and wait for his directions, unless – in rare moments of absolute self-assurance, usually visiting me on our last run of the day – I take the wrong turn and hear, “No-o-o! Not there!!!” from my long-suffering ski companion.

Steamboat 3A week in the mountains passes too quickly, and soon we were preparing to go home (didn’t we just unpack everything?!). As usual, I wondered — would we enjoy a longer stay more or would it become monotonous? After all, we do the same things every day, and we don’t speak much to anybody. Well, we talk to people in shops and restaurants, and we have short conversations on the chairlifts – this time we mostly met Texans, Australians (where it’s summertime :) ), college students and several locals. I’ll never know, since we never stay for more than a week.

What I do know is this: it’s great to spend time outdoors, and it’s great to be able to enjoy physical activity while surrounded by natural beauty. And when I watch ski competitions from the Sochi Olympics, I feel that my humble experience allows me to more fully appreciate the spirit of the competitors, the agony of defeat and the colossal efforts of the athletes.

So if, like me, you enjoy watching the 2014 Winter Olympics, remember that you don’t have to be a champion to see what they see and do what they do (well, to some extent:) ). All you need to do is travel!

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Books For 20-Somethings

February 19, 2014

Artwork by Allie Brosh, creator of Hyperbole and a HalfI recently stumbled across a BuzzFeed article that offers advice which is even more useful than tips on creative ways to use mason jars! “Twenty-Nine Books To Get  You Through Your Quarter-Life Crisis” is a compilation of books about people in their 20s and issues that people face during this stage of their life. The list includes both fiction and nonfiction books, most of which we have in our collection (and the ones we don’t have you can get through our ILL service). As a 20-something, I enjoy learning about the various directions in which people choose to steer their lives and about the different ways people carve out their identities. Here are a few books I’ve found interesting:

  • Book cover for Wild by Cheryl StrayedWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed. The author’s collection of advice columns, “Tiny Beautiful Things,” made it on to the BuzzFeed list instead of this book, but “Wild” also tackles issues people in their 20s face. I’ve never been a fan of memoirs or books about nature, but this book completely won me over. At age 26 Strayed’s life was in shambles from her mother’s death four years earlier. With nothing left to lose, she impulsively decided to hike the entire 1,000+ mile Pacific Crest Trail. Armed with only a giant backpack, paperback books and no wilderness experience, the author treks through physical and emotional pain to ultimately become healed. Heart-wrenching, honest and totally inspiring.
  • Book cover for The Defining Decade by Meg JayThe Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now” by Meg Jay. This is definitely not a feel-good book, but rather a therapist’s argument for what people should be doing while they’re in their 20s. Reading it was frustrating at times, because I disagree with a lot of things Dr. Jay had to say. She assumes the reader has a certain amount of privilege, and also that people in their 20s feel like they have all the time in the world. (I don’t know anyone my age that feels that way!) I could go on and on about the ways this book is problematic, but that being said, I still felt like I was able to glean some valuable information from this book. The author uses real-life examples of her clients’ struggles, which are common issues to people in their 20s. This book also includes some solid advice on moving forward in your career. Check it out and decide for yourself!

If you’d like more advice on what to read to get you through your quarter-life crisis, be sure to take a look at Book Riot’s article on this subject.

Image credit: Artwork copyrighted by Allie Brosh, creator of Hyperbole and a Half, and used according to guidelines outlined on the Hyperbole and a Half website.

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The Gentleman Recommends: Patrick deWitt

February 17, 2014

Book cover for The Sisters BrothersBooks and movies provide the fuel for allowing a gentleman to reminisce of simpler times, even when he’s born long after whatever simpler time about which he wishes to reminisce. So it’s good for some of that fuel to remind the unscrupulous reminiscer that simpler times were terrible. One such time occasionally pined for is the gold-rush era, a time when a forward thinking person might be willing to spare a penny for a toothbrush, but a time when forward thinking people were often hunted for sport. Indeed, for every attractive aspect of the era (horse emissions pale when compared to an automobile, disagreements could be solved by a simple duel), there are significant drawbacks (horses age and poop and get attacked by bears and travel at a fraction of the speed of even the slowest autos, a duel ends in murder). Patrick deWitt’s hilarious, violent and gripping novel, “The Sisters Brothers,” is a potent reminder that even though cowboy hats are awesome and spurs make you sound really cool while you walk, now is a much better time to be alive, what with medicine and civil rights and whatnot. Remember, for every glass of whiskey only costing a penny there’s a gypsy keen to curse you or a little girl poisoning dogs, and both folks have terrible breath. (Because they don’t own a toothbrush.)

The novel is narrated by Eli Sisters, a sensitive and relatively kind-hearted killer with a penchant for giving his excess cash to friendly prostitutes and becoming attached to horses even when they’re unable to meet his robust travel needs. Eli’s voice is hilariously mannered and often poetic, and the book brims with brilliant movie-ready dialogue. One can easily imagine it as the next Coen Brothers masterpiece. The book joins, among others,  ”Deadwood“ (fans of which should love this novel) as evidence that the western isn’t dead.

Eli accompanies his brother, the less sensitive and more cold-blooded killer Charlie Sisters, on a mission to hunt down Hermann Kermit Warm for a man called The Commodore. Until deep into the book the reader must presume the reason for the hunting is The Commodore’s jealousy over Warm’s spectacular name. Which the reader finds weird as it’s pretty neat to be addressed as “The Commodore” and must thus presume The Commodore is a terribly petty man and doesn’t want anyone else to have a cool name. The reveal of the real reason for the hunting leads to some brilliant images and devastating scenes.

“The Sisters Brothers” is even more impressive for being the follow-up to deWitt’s first novel, the also wickedly funny but decidedly less cowboy laden “Ablutions: Notes for a Novel.”  It is told in second-person and concerns a man tending bar in Hollywood. The book is loaded with people getting loaded and all the hijinks and misery that often entails and will serve as a stern reminder to next century’s reminiscers to be satisfied with their cyborg bodies and talking furniture and not pine for a time when one had to drink alcohol rather than simply turn the virtual knob on their intoxicant interface.

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Catalog Improvements: Small Changes, Big Impact

February 14, 2014
BiblioCommons logo

BiblioCommons logoBiblioCommons, the library’s online catalog, has some updates and features that make book discovery and sharing content even better.

Everyone’s a critic
On a book’s title page, you will now see a feature called From the Critics, which integrates professional reviews from a wide variety of publications into the catalog. If a title has been reviewed in any of over 2,000 source publications, this page will feature an excerpt from and a link to that review, so that you can learn more about a title right within the catalog. And as always, you can write your own reviews by clicking the “add a comment” button when you are viewing a title. Love something? Hate something? Did a book leave you lukewarm? Help others with similar tastes decide on their next read.

online catalog screen shotLet’s share
We’ve added the sharing widget on all pages that can be permalinked. This means you can share an individual comment, summary or video to Twitter or Facebook, or via email. Let your online friends know what you are reading, listening to or watching.

Lovely Lists
In the catalog you can make lists, both private and public, of titles on favorite topics, genres and more. You can also add links to other websites to your list. Now, when you add a website link to a list, an image-generating widget will create a thumbnail of the associated website, replacing the current generic icon. You can click the thumbnail to go to the associated website. The general appearance of the lists has also been improved, with larger images and the Add to My Shelves and Place a Hold links now in a more obvious place under the title’s descriptive text.

If you are a DBRL cardholder but haven’t set up your account within the library’s catalog, do it today! You can place holds on about-to-be-published books, review titles, keep track of books you want to read in the future, and more.

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POTUS: Books and Biographies About Our Presidents

February 12, 2014

“With the Union my best and dearest earthly hopes are entwined.”
- President Franklin Pierce, 1847

Book cover for Don't Know Much About the American Presidents by Kenneth DavisFebruary is a month when we often reflect upon our presidents, celebrating the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.  Washington’s birthday is now a federal holiday and in some areas of the country is referred to as “President’s Day.” The library has many books about the 44 presidents who have occupied the White House since George Washington took office.

First, let’s first turn back the clock thirty years to 1984. The United States legislative and executive branches looked very different than they do today. Democrats had an entrenched hold on both the House and Senate, while a very popular Republican president was running for his second term in office. However, while political ideology was trumpeted throughout Capitol Hill, gridlock was often averted because of the basic pragmatism of two figures: President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. “Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked,” written by Chris Matthews of MSNBC fame, investigates their relationship in detail. Matthew’s point is the following: that ultimately the good of the country seemed to be the overwhelming concern for both of them. “Their way of life comprised an ongoing series of alliances and antagonisms, but did not include personal analysis of themselves or others,” Matthews writes. And he continues: “In his own way, each was a true gentleman in a way we don’t ask our leaders to be anymore.” Civility has since vanished from much of our political discourse.

Franklin Pierce, quoted above, is perhaps an obscure president, but he led the country during an important time. The 1850s were perhaps one of the most divisive points in American history, and Pierce’s efficacy as president was questionable. The book “Don’t Know Much about the American Presidents” by Kenneth Davis covers the lives, loves and frailties of American presidents. Speaking of Pierce, Davis says, “He was among a trio of pre-war presidents whose uninspired, shortsighted, and even cowardly administrations did nothing to avert the Civil War.” “Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents” also includes helpful timelines and a research guide.

Book cover for The Kennedy YearsDuring his three years as president, John Kennedy was a familiar figure in the press. “The Kennedy Years: From the Pages of the New York Times” retells the Kennedy story through the pages of the Times. As Richard Reeves points out in the introduction to the chapter about 1962, “An astonishing series of events punctuated the Kennedy years. In 1962 alone, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, Jacqueline Kennedy became a beloved, style-setting public advocate of high culture, and a walled-off, fearful West Berlin was suddenly isolated from the American sector by a Communist regime in East Germany that could no longer face the international embarrassment of a rising river of fleeing refugees.” Sadly, the November 23rd, 1963 issue heralded the end of Kennedy’s presidency and his life.

 Gentleman Warrior by Stephen BrumwellMost of us know George Washington as one of the country’s founding fathers and as a diplomat; less is known about his military service, which prepared him for those greater roles. Stephen Brumwell’s book “George Washington: Gentleman Warrior” describes in rich detail his beginnings as a military commander and his ultimate triumph as Commander in Chief during the Revolutionary War. His career did not begin auspiciously. Washington was a commander for British forces during the French and Indian War, and his initial foray (called Braddock’s Defeat) ended terribly. Of his first time as a commander, Brumwell reports that the mission “had failed at all levels” and that “Washington himself bore a large share of responsibility.” However, as history shows, Washington was a quick study. Despite this inauspicious start, Washington’s early history did mold his future. Brumwell says, “Without his youthful hankering after military fame, kindled by his half-brother Lawrence at Mount Vernon and the Fairfaxes at Belvoir, Washington would, in all probability, have remained a footnote in history; a respectable, if unremarkable, surveyor and planter.”

No current review of books about American presidents would be complete without a title about President Obama. Dozens of books have been printed about our 44th president since he came into office in 2008. Last year, Jonathan Alter, a correspondent for NBC news, sketched Obama’s incumbency in the book “The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies.” A book ostensibly about the run-up to the 2012 election, it is also about how the embrace of social media might have won the election for Obama. “While Romney lumbered through his convention, Obama was on Reddit, a crowdsourced social news site known by few of the Tampa delegates, though popular with many of their children . . . The Reddit appearance was another sign that Obama’s dominance of the digital campaign was not only not bad, it was a pretty good indicator that he was on the winning track.”

Find these books about American presidents (and many more!) here at the Daniel Boone Regional Library.

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The Beatles Fifty Years Later

February 10, 2014

Ed Sullivan Shows Starring the Beatles“Can we listen to ‘Yellow Submarine’?” I asked for approximately the 500th time.

I was around 7, and my brother, older by 10 years, wanted to make sure I was properly enlightened regarding the Beatles. He tried to explain their deep songs to me – “The Fool on the Hill,” “Eleanor Rigby.” But I only wanted to hear “Yellow Submarine” over and over. And over. I think he wore out his copy of it on my behalf.

As I got older, I came to appreciate more Beatles’ songs. In my teen years, I liked the danceable numbers. “Twist and Shout” was a favorite. I was thrilled to discover the group recorded a number about my hometown: “Kansas City/ Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey.” These days I gravitate more to their mellower tunes, such as “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Yes, I do still listen to the Beatles, all this time later.

And I’m not the only one. The group made their American Debut on the Ed Sullivan Show 50 years ago, on February 9, 1964. Since then, eight-track tapes have come and gone, as have cassettes. Through the rise and decline of MTV, and the advent of the Internet, downloadable music and YouTube, the Beatles have remained a popular listening choice. In DBRL’s music collection, their CDs are among the most widely circulated. One copy of “Abbey Road“ has been checked out 222 times.

In addition to dozens of their music CDs, the library has a number of Fab Four-related books and DVDs. You can see how things began on this side of pond with a DVD of “The Ed Sullivan Shows Starring the Beatles.” For those who want more details, Bob Spitz chronicles the group’s first American tour in his new book “The Beatles Invasion.”  For a broader overview of the band’s music, there’s “All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release.” And for pure frivolous entertainment, George, Paul, John and Ringo star in the zombie fiction book “Paul is Undead.”

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The Monuments Men – Art in Fiction and Cinema

February 7, 2014

Book cover for Monuments MenDid you ever wonder how priceless art objects survived World War II in devastated Europe? Frankly, I never did – not until I came across Robert Edsel’s book “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History.” Obviously, I wasn’t the only one struck by this subject. So was George Clooney, and as a result, a new movie, “The Monuments Men,” starring George Clooney (no surprise here :) ), Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon is coming to the big screen starting February 7. (The author, Robert Edsel, is also given a movie credit – at the end of the screenwriters list :) ).

So, what made this book worth turning into a movie? Lots of books (and movies) take place during WWII, right? Well, for one thing, the main characters are not soldiers, generals or suffering civilians, but middle-aged people from art-related backgrounds: architects, sculptors, museum curators, archivists and others. For another, these people, drawn from 13 nations (most of them from the U.S. and UK), were not assigned any military duties. Their tasks were first to advise on how to limit combat damage to the historic structures of northwest Europe (thus the name: the monuments men) and later to recover cultural treasures that had been looted by top Nazis, especially Hitler and Göring. This wasn’t an easy assignment by any means. As the Allied armies moved deeper inside Europe, the monuments men (there were women, too, but, apparently, only one appears in the movie :) ) moved onto the front lines, working fiercely and tirelessly, often at personal risk, to protect and restore art damaged by the ravages of war.

Book cover for The Rape of Europa by Lynn H. NicholasReaders who want to learn more about that period may consider checking out “The Rape of Europa” by Lynn Nicholas, too. This book covers largely the same territory, and its cast of characters includes Hitler, Göring, Marc Chagall and Gertrude Stein.

If straight history is not your thing, consider reading the novel “Shadowed by Grace: A Story of Monuments Men“ by Cara Putman. Here destruction, art and whodunit are combined into a war-time love story.

And last but not least, don’t miss Robert Edsel’s latest book: “Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis,” which is devoted to saving European artistic treasure in Italy.

Also, remember that you don’t have to wait for George Clooney to turn these books into movies. All you need to do to learn fascinating facts about WWII (or any other subject, for that matter) is check out library books :) .

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The Gentleman Rock-emmends: Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks

February 5, 2014

Album cover for Wig Out at Jagbags by Stephen Malkmus & The JicksOn February 14th Cupid brings Mid-Missouri the ultimate valentine: a concert at Mojo’s by the best rock and roll band going, Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks. I recommend you attend this concert. If you don’t have a valentine, the show will be a perfect respite from the world’s constant reminders that you are alone. If you have one, bring them. If they refuse to go and you don’t care to scorn them, I recommend you write messages of your devotion on their favorite possessions and fill their living space and/or automobile with rose petals, doves and massage oil. They will be moved by this show of affection and no longer a hindrance to your attendance at what is likely the single greatest musical happening in the history of the world: a concert by my favorite band in an intimate venue that I don’t have to drive very far to get to.

In January Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks released their sixth album, exhorting listeners to action with its title: “Wig out at Jagbags.“ The exhortation presents a conundrum. I ache to acquiesce to their demands, but it may be ungentlemanly to find the nearest jagbag and confront them for their jagbagery, my mouth frothing, blood vessels bursting in my eyes, howling at a moon only I can see. Perhaps the gentlemanly thing to do would be to continue giving my customary polite nods and encouraging whistles to everyone, even when some folks’ actions dictate more than the lack of such niceties, whose actions indeed demand the thorough wigging-out-at of a sort a gentleman would find wholly uncouth. This is a puzzle through which I fear I may always be working. For the time I’ve struck a compromise: rather than spew outrage with physicality, I will simply leave sternly worded missives in jars buried on the property of those whose behavior demands it. Until a better solution presents itself, I can soothe my troubled mind by dipping into the music of Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks, a band that brews a mix of songs eclectic enough to match any mood.

If one’s jangled nerves need soothing, perhaps due to their internal struggle between heeding the decrees of their musical heroes or succumbing to their natural inclination to doze peaceably in silken hammocks, the soft rocking trombone and guitar duel of “J Smoov” is apt to seduce one into an amiable mindset. If you’re more inclined to release some frustration with clapping and foot-stomps, the coupling of a rhythmic chug and sweetly spastic guitar solo in “Planetary Motion” will facilitate these primitive urges. Maybe you want to smile and bop your head, loving that things as beautiful and strange as “Houston Hades” exist. Its calamitous deluge of an intro builds then snaps into a sublime earworm groove that demands repetition and delivers it until sprinting to the end with a coda as perfect for its song as any ever has been. Perhaps you crave a catchy song narrated by a man who commiserates with a troubled mind, singing “The mental speedbumps you must navigate/the frigid shoulders interrupting fate/I often jump-cut to my future days.” The narrator believes he’s “destined for greatness by design,” but the Malkmusian tendency to give everything a double or triple-edge undercuts the sentiment and supplies the song’s title: “The Janitor Revealed.”

I yearn to quote lyrics and give overwrought descriptions of every song on this album, and indeed of all the songs on each of their five previous outstanding releases, but I’ve prattled on too long, and besides, I have a lot of jars to gather and digging to do. While you’re reading this the show is selling out, and missing this concert, should you allow that to come to pass, will prove to be one of your life’s great regrets.

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Black History Month Celebrates Civil Rights Act Anniversary

February 4, 2014

UPDATE: The program dates originally listed below for presentations by family history research consultant Traci Wilson-Kleekamp have been changed. February is Black History Month, and this year the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History has chosen the theme …
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Prison Reform and Zombie Pandemics: This Week in Community Events

February 3, 2014

I moved to Columbia to attend university and never left. I love the trails, and living in a college town affords me opportunities that might not be present in a city of similar size. This week, I have two such opportunities. Columbia will be visited by two popular authors: Piper Kerman and Colson Whitehead. Both events are free and open to the public.

Book cover for Orange Is the New Black by Piper KermanEditor’s note: due to weather, Piper Kerman’s talk is being rescheduled. She will not appear at the Missouri Theatre on February 5 as previously advertised. We will provide an update when we have one. 

Piper Kerman, author of the memoir “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison,” will speak at the Missouri Theatre on Wednesday, February 5 at 7:30 p.m. Kerman served time in federal prison for a crime she had committed a decade prior to incarceration. As viewers of the Netflix series based on her memoir can attest, Kerman’s experience ranges from funny to tragic. Kerman will talk about both her experience specifically and the prison system in general.

Book cover for Zone One by Colson WhiteheadThe following night, Colson Whitehead, author of the New York Times bestselling zombie survival tale “Zone One,” will be the latest speaker in the Department of English Creative Writing Visiting Writers Series. The event will take place Thursday, February 6 at 7:30 p.m. in the Reynolds Alumni Center on the University of Missouri campus. Whitehead writes everything from autobiographical essays to post-apocalyptic novels and has won loads of awards. His latest book, “The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky and Death,” is about the World Series of Poker and will be published in May.

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

January 31, 2014

Editor’s Note: Thanks to all those who registered for our Lux pass giveaway. We are happy to announce that Helen Katz is the lucky winner! This Saturday, February 1,  the Columbia Public Library will be hosting our third annual “How …
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Ready to Start Making Movies? You’re in the Right Place!

January 30, 2014

Thanks in large part to the True/False Film Festival, Mid-Missouri has developed a reputation for supporting independent movies. From our documentary film series Center Aisle Cinema to our collection of books on filmmaking and screenwriting, your library has plenty of resources to increase your appreciation of film and provide inspiration should you want to make a movie of your own.
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Top Ten Books Librarians Love – The February List

January 27, 2014


Last year I encouraged you to read like a librarian and use the newly launched Library Reads list to find out what about-to-be-published books we library folks across the country are most abuzz about. Well, get ready to add more titles to your holds list – the February edition of Library Reads is here.

Book cover for Red Rising by Pierce BrownRed Rising
by Pierce Brown
“The next great read for those who loved The Hunger Games. This story has so much action, intrigue, social commentary and character development that the reader who never reads science fiction will happily overlook the fact that the story takes place on Mars far in the future. The characters are perfectly flawed, causing the reader to feel compassion and revulsion for both sides. Can’t wait for the next installment!”
- Cindy Stevens, Pioneer Library System, Norman, OK

Book cover for The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew QuickThe Good Luck of Right Now
by Matthew Quick
“Socially-awkward 40-year-old Bartholomew has lived with his mother all his life and has never held a job. When she succumbs to cancer, he channels her favorite actor, Richard Gere, to make her happy during her last days. Funny and sad, with moving, unsentimental prose and a quick, satisfying pace. Highly recommended.”
- Michael Colford, Boston Public Library, Boston, MA

Book cover for This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley CashThis Dark Road to Mercy: A Novel
by Wiley Cash
“Cash’s second novel is as good as his first. In this story, we meet Easter and her sister Ruby, who have been shuffled around the foster care system in Gastonia, North Carolina. Then their ne’er-do-well father whisks them away in the middle of the night. I was on the edge of my seat as I followed the girls’ tale and hoping for a safe outcome. Fans of ‘A Land More Kind Than Home’ will enjoy this book as well.”
- Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Library, Columbus, OH

Here are the remaining titles on February’s list that are on order and ready for you to place on hold. Be the first among your friends to get your hands on these great reads!

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Congratulations to Our Audiobook Winners!

January 24, 2014

TrophyImagine balloons and confetti dropping from the ceiling as you read this post. A big congratulations to the winners of our audiobook giveaway! Renee won a copy of “The Age of Miracles” by Karen Thompson Walker, and LaShawn received “The Future” by Al Gore. Thanks to everyone who entered.

If you weren’t a winner this time around, don’t fret. We have more freebies in the works, so check back in the upcoming weeks to learn how to enter our next giveaway!

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Pie Pie Love

January 22, 2014

Eat Pie, photo by Todd Lapin via FlickrDo you love pie?  Most everyone does, and in my family there is a deep vein of love for it. When my oldest son was very young, we regularly visited my mother out in the Maryland countryside. Being a chef, recipe columnist and cookbook writer, she has tons of cookbooks. At the age of 2, my son pulled “Martha Stewart’s Pies and Tarts” off a low bookshelf at her house and started leafing through it, totally absorbed by all the sumptuous photos of scrumptious pies presented therein. It became his favorite picture book, and for the next year or so, every time we visited “Banana” he would go directly to the bookcase, extract it from the shelf and sit to feast his eyes.

Peanut Butter Pie, photo by Stefani via FlickrMy youngest son’s first sentence was “Mo’ pie,” as in “More pie.” He was sitting in his booster seat at my sister’s kitchen table. We (my extended family and I) were enjoying a homemade pecan pie, and he had just finished his first ever piece of this divine concoction. I could tell he was enjoying it, and through his eyes I saw the gears turning in his mind – he was formulating something.  Then, with effort, he let that two word sentence fly. We all busted out laughing, which delighted him, and then I gave him another sliver, which delighted him even more.

I am pleased to inform you that January 23 is National Pie Day.  Now, you don’t really need an excuse to tuck a sweet or savory filling between buttery layers of crust that flake up with baking, but if your culinary life has been deprived lately of this comforting treat, why not take the time now and celebrate this pie-designated day. What about an earthy and filling chicken pot pie for dinner and then a refined and decadent chocolate chess pie, dolloped with whipped cream, for dessert? There is no shortage of options - here’s proof. If you are gluten intolerant, as I am, you can still enjoy pie because there are lots of recipes for gluten-free crusts roaming around out there. It’s cold outside! Turn that oven on; make and bake a pie. You’ll warm your home, then your belly and finally your heart.

Photos used under the Creative Commons License.

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The Gentleman Recommends: Susanna Clarke

January 20, 2014

Book cover for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna ClarkeIf what we read is awesome enough it will contribute to who we are. “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” is exceedingly awesome and about magic and magicians and an era when gentlemen were commonplace. So it will not surprise the reader to learn of my affinity for the novel and that I was both drawn to it by what I already was and shaped by it into what I currently am: a wearer of tophats and caster of the occasional spell. One cannot spend 850 often breathtaking pages in the company of gentlemen and gentlewomen without absorbing their delightful (and, increasingly in my view, mandatory) manners. The book’s influence extended beyond making suits and kerchiefs compulsory and replacing ibuprofen with laudanum as the tonic for headaches and chills*; it also provided much of the origin for my immense fear of faeries.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” is overflowing with ideas. There are footnotes throughout relaying stories other writers would have been thrilled to settle on for the course of a book but that Susanna Clarke uses as spice to deepen the flavor of a work so savory and rich that if it were food it would be impolite to serve to the book’s characters and their stiff English palates without stern warnings of its decidedly un-pudding like flavors.

Clarke created a history so persuasive that one is given to wonder if she did not simply unearth England’s true history and that the country was shaped by magic, both literally in the sense of magically altered coastlines, and figuratively in the sense of magicians aiding them in their wars and inspiring their limericks. She tells, with a voice made to illicit chuckles and wry appreciative nods, the story of the titular magicians and their plight to reassert magic to its lofty and rightful heights. At the book’s onset magic is studied by a society of gentleman but never performed as they are unable. Soon Mr Norrell emerges,** desiring to disband the “theoretical magicians” and succeeding by showing that magic can be done. His spell provides the first of hundreds of the book’s mind-searing images: he causes the statues of a great church to come alive for a short while. Magic begins its ascent in esteem. Jonathan Strange, a career-less young man, accidentally discovers his aptitude for it. The two magicians join forces. Mr Norrell brings a young woman back to life with the aid of a faerie.*** The faerie, referred to only as “the man with the thistle-down hair,” has rather disagreeable terms. In addition to taking one of Lady Pole’s fingers, he bargains for domain over half her life. Mr Norrell accepts the terms, foolishly believing the faerie will take the last half of the lady’s life. Instead the resurrected finds her nights occupied by a perpetual ball taking place in the eerie bone-strewn semi-ruins of the faerie’s castle, a place called Lost-Hope. Lady Pole and her butler, Stephen Black, to whom the faerie has taken an unfortunate liking, find when trying to speak of their predicament and thereby exercise themselves from it they can only relate arcane bits of faerie history.

The novel builds to a climax worthy of its bulk. Readers will be sad to leave it and find themselves tempted to summon a faerie that might enchant them into the book’s pages permanently. Take heed though – a reread is a better idea; unlike a faerie’s bargain it won’t leave you missing a digit and with your house, which you can never leave, made from  the pages of a novel. Great novel though it may be, weather will not do it any favors.


*Also contributed to my fondness for footnotes.

**Figuratively. Norrell much prefers to remain cloistered in his library where he’s hoarded every book of magic, thereby effectively preventing anyone from practicing.

***A creature he detests but needs for such lofty magic.

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