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High-spirited Winter Holiday Cheer

December 18, 2015

Photo of Irish Coffee, used under a creative commons license via FlickrI’m not a big consumer of alcohol. It’s not that I don’t like beer and wine and other spirits; they just don’t agree with my fair-skinned, allergy-ridden constitution. So instead, I daydream about delicious drinks paired with tasty party foods or holiday meals, and then occasionally make an exception to my habit of avoiding alcohol. With the winter holidays on the verge, I’m about to make one of those exceptions. Eggnog!  I love it – all that luscious heavy cream, frothed with eggs, darkened with rum and/or bourbon (or brandy, depending on the recipe) and tinged with freshly grated nutmeg. Mmmmmm. Really, what’s not to love?!

My mother had a passion for entertaining at Christmas time, and eggnog was on her list of things to make. She would haul her giant crystal punch bowl out from the corner cupboard and fill it with her version of this ambrosial concoction (borrowed from the American Heritage Cookbook – see recipe below), ladling it into matching crystal mugs to serve to the eager crowd.

Book cover for Holiday CocktailsThe winter holidays are right before us, so there is plenty of potential for merry-making with friends and family.  Here at DBRL, we can help you create a menu of delicious winter warm-ups to serve. If you are planning on hosting parties or gatherings, be they large or small, use this handy list of holiday cocktail recipe books to help you scheme. Wishing you a festive winter holiday season – bottoms up!

Old Fashioned Eggnog (from: The American Heritage Cookbook)

12 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 quart milk
2 cups bourbon
1 cup Jamaican rum
1 quart heavy cream, whipped

Beat egg yolks slightly, add sugar, a little at a time, and continue beating until smooth.  Pour in milk, bourbon and Jamaican rum. Beat egg whites until they stand in peaks. Fold egg whites and whipped cream into yolk mixture, gently but thoroughly. Serve cold with freshly grated nutmeg on top. Serves 25-30.

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Better Know a Genre: Holiday Humor

December 16, 2015

Stack of books by Thomas Galvez via FlickrWelcome to the latest entry in the sporadically occurring series Better Know a Genre. Like many people, I find the holiday season to be more stressful than festive. I have to cook, shop, wrap and plan the order in which I will see all the branches of family (which always means somebody feels disappointed). It doesn’t help my mood that there are about 30 minutes of sunlight in the winter. So, to help lift my spirits, I try to keep my pre-solstice reading light-hearted and funny. Humor is a genre that is both easily defined and broad. It can be fiction or nonfiction. It can run the spectrum from gentle to raunchy (brown chicken brown cow). What one person finds witty, another person can find offensive (that’s the title of my autobiography). Laughter can be intended or unintended, but to be included in the humor genre, the author must be actually attempting to amuse the readers of the work. Here are some funny titles to get through the month:

Book cover for Awkward Family Holiday PhotosWhen you can’t focus because of all the noise: Flip through “Awkward Family Holiday Photos” by Mike Bender. It is a collection of the most ridiculous family pictures taken during the holiday season, and it is spectacular.

When you want to inject some sci-fi into your celebration:A Very Klingon Khristmas,” by Paul Ruditis, is a heart-warming tale of the warrior race in the Star Trek Universe. It’s probably the only Christmas story that includes tribbles.

Book cover for Christmas at the New YorkerWhen you’ve been watching holiday cartoons on a loop and you need to feel like a grown-up:Christmas at the New Yorker: Stories, Poems, Humor, and Art” doesn’t only contain humor, but it’s sprinkled throughout this anthology. Also, John Cheever! Alice Munro! Vladimir Nabakov!

When you need your hands free to wrap, but you also need that holiday humor RIGHT NOW: Log in to your hoopla account and download “NPR Holiday Favorites.” David Sedaris is, of course, a master of the humorous essay (holiday and otherwise), but there are seasonal works by other great NPR contributors, too.

Happy Reading!

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The Gentleman Recommends: Zachary Thomas Dodson

December 14, 2015

Like most people, I find new books by reading library blogs, or visiting askjeeves.com and typing “please show me a good book,” or perusing the shelves at my local library until I find a book with a cover that seems sufficiently gravy resistant. Occasionally though, a human will recommend a book. Such is the case with this month’s recommendation: a colleague said “Bats of the Republic” sounded like one of the weird books I like. I tipped my hat, gave my monocle a friendly shake and asked Jeeves about this weird book. (I’m compelled to note that while I do often enjoy literary oddities, in general my tastes lean to the conventional, and I have the crystal decanter collection to prove it.) Jeeves obliged and showed me a picture of the author’s tremendous mustache (or perhaps the mustache’s tremendous author?). I swooned, such was my joy at finding a novel so presumably suited to my tastes. After a quick trip to the market for a crystal decanter or two, I eagerly set to reading the words birthed by such an inspiring swatch of follicles.

Bats of the Republic” is subtitled “an Illuminated Novel,” which, rather than meaning it is self-lit, perhaps by a series of small magic candles, means that it is fancy. This fanciness includes handwritten correspondence, maps, illustrations from a character’s burgeoning field guide and there being a book within the book (though that is not exactly accurate, but to explain it entirely, to make this sentence make some sense, would subtract from the book’s delights). “Bats of the Republic” is set in a future where most of society has crumbled,  steam has replaced electricity, and the freedom to live where you want if you can afford it is replaced by a government-mandated life cycle (young, single people live in Port Land, the elderly live in Chicago, gay people live in Atlanta, couples and crazy sheriffs live in Texas, etc). The novel opens with Zachary Thomas (the character, not the author after having shed the final third of his name) slashing a steam tube with his sabre in an effort to vent his emotions and some steam. Zachary finds a letter labeled “Do Not Open.” The letter goes missing. Someone or something is murdering people. It is illegal to possess a pencil or a document that hasn’t been carboned and entered into the vault. Laudanum is plentiful.

The book within a book is called “The Sisters Gray,” and it is the sort of 19th century novel of manners you would expect from a man with magnificently cultivated facial hair. Its pages are marked by a hole, which we eventually discover is the result of its having stopped a bullet on behalf of a character that exists within the world of “The Sisters Gray.” (Indeed, this may prove a most confounding reading experience.)

The stories within “Bats of the Republic” twist and meet in ways that may compel the reader to sit for a spell and think, their hands running idly over the nearly imperceptible imperfections in their newest decanter. A final bit of fancy: The book ends with a sealed envelope labeled “Do Not Open.” I did not abide, and neither should you. Here’s hoping the letter is always returned with the book. If you enjoy being confounded, my recommendation is to read the novel soon, before the letter is lost or ruined by gravy stains.

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New DVD List: Better Call Saul & More

December 11, 2015

better call saul s1Here is a new DVD list highlighting various titles recently added to the library’s collection.

DVD cover art for Better call saul Better Call Saul
Season 1
A spinoff from the “Breaking Bad” television show, “Better Call Saul” takes place six years before the events of “Breaking Bad” and follows small-time lawyer Jimmy McGill and the circumstances that lead to his metamorphosis into criminal-minded lawyer Saul Goodman.

DVD cover art for documentary going clearGoing Clear” 

Trailer / Website / Reviews
Playing earlier this year at the True False Film Fest, this film profiles eight former members of the Church of Scientology – whose most prominent adherents include A-list Hollywood celebrities – shining a light on how the church cultivates true believers, detailing their experiences and what they are willing to do in the name of religion.

DVD cover art for nurse jackie television showNurse Jackie
Season 7
Website / Reviews
Nurse Jackie Peyton faces her biggest challenge yet as the whole truth about her addiction is seemingly out to everyone. The stakes have never been higher and the question is, can the world’s toughest nurse save herself?

DVD cover art for documentary film the only real gameThe Only Real Game
Trailer / Website / Reviews
The once princely state of Manipur, in volatile northeast India, has a surprising passion for America’s national pastime. Manipur entered the Indian Union under protest in 1949, triggering a corrosive separatist conflict. For decades baseball has delivered release from daily struggles and a dream for healing a wounded society.

Other notable releases:
Althea” –
Website / Reviews / Trailer
The Peaky Blinders” –
Series 1Website / Reviews
The New Rijksmuseum – Website / Reviews / Trailer
Doctor Who” 
 – Series 9, Part 1 – Website / Reviews

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Human Rights Day 2015

December 9, 2015

Book cover for Where Do We Go From Here by Martin Luther King, Jr.In 1950, the UN General Assembly proclaimed December 10 Human Rights Day in order to highlight the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as “the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” Now, I think that is a really great idea. Human rights – everyone should have them and they should be protected.

But what exactly is meant by “human rights”? In trying to answer that question I have learned that there are two types of rights: rights that are essential for a dignified and decent human existence, and rights which are essential for adequate development of human personality. Rights under the first category include the right to fulfillment of basic human needs like food, shelter, clothing, health and sanitation, and earning one’s livelihood. The second category of human rights includes the right to freedom of speech and expression, as well as cultural, religious and educational rights. Whew! I’m glad we’ve gotten that straight! I’m sure the book “The International Human Rights Movement: A History” could help explain the concept a lot more.

Book cover for Active HopeIt would be easy to get hung up on all the small stuff – and all the big stuff! There seems to be so much chaos and turmoil these days, both far away and close to home, and all affecting or having to do in one way or another with human rights. It feels as though the world is coming apart at the seams. But with this blog post, I wanted to focus on the positive because I feel like we could all just use a hug these days, even if it’s only a metaphorical or literary hug. So I went searching for books to give me a me a sense of hope in our communities, both local and global, and in our shared future.

The first book I found was the classic, “Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community” by Martin Luther King, Jr.  I have had this book on my “to-read” list for a very long time, and perhaps it’s time to move it up because his “dream” is still far from reality. Perhaps one way of making that dream a reality would be through forgiveness, and the book “Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World” by Megan Feldman Bettencourt could help in that quest.

Book cover for Keeping Hope Alive by Doctor Hawa AbdiI also found many books about inspiring people in war torn areas, like the book “Keeping Hope Alive: One Woman, 90,000 Lives Changed.” This book tells the story of Dr. Hawa Abdi who has dedicated herself to helping people whose lives have been shattered by violence and poverty by turning her 1,300 acres of farmland into a camp just outside of Mogadishu. There is also the book “Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer and Sex Changed a Nation at War” about Leymah Gbowee. This remarkable woman founded the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, “a coalition of Christian and Muslim women who sat in public protest, confronting Liberia’s ruthless president and rebel warlords, and even held a sex strike.”

Then there were books to give me hope for peace in the world. “Soup for Syria: Building Peace Through Food” sounds very promising. It actually reminds me of a book I read several years ago called “Peace Meals: Candy Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories.” And I think we could all use more peace through good food.

But what can I do? Wendell Berry has always been an inspiration for me, and he has a new book called “Our Only World: Ten Essays,” which calls for “clear thinking” and “direct action.” There is also President Carter’s “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power.” Carter addresses the violence, patriarchy and abuse that can be found in religion without denying his own religion, which I deeply respect. And then there is “The Art of Waging Peace: A Strategic Approach to Improving Our Lives and the World,” which promises to show us “how we can become active citizens with the skills and strength to defeat injustice and end all war.” That’s a tall order, but I’m willing to give it a go!

Here are some more books (and some DVDs) for further reading.

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The Art of Letter Writing

December 7, 2015

Photo of a letter and pen by Ryan BlandingMy brother Michael and I were born about 16 months apart and have always been very close. When we started our adventures away from home, in the early 1990s, we began a series of correspondence by letter that has continued to this day. Back in the early days, we wrote each other once or even twice a week. We continue to correspond by pen and paper, although less frequently than in our youth, as we still live half a continent apart. Considered a “lost art” by many, both of us uphold the art of letter writing as communication, solace and even therapy. The library has many books about letter writing, and what better time to celebrate than December 7 – National Letter Writing Day!

Book cover for If you Find This LetterFor the author Hannah Brencher, letter writing was found to be an elixir for melancholy, leading her to pen the book “If You Find This Letter: My Journey to Find Purpose through Hundreds of Letters to Strangers.”  The premise is especially captivating: Brencher started a website called “The World Needs More Letters” so that she might reach out beyond herself and connect with others, while attempting to recover from her bouts with serious depression. Thus began a campaign to spread love and well-wishes to strangers throughout the world. Brencher writes, after getting the project off the ground: “The stories kept coming. They keep coming very day. And with each one I read, there is less urgency to tie the thing up with a white bow or look for the happy ending.” You can find her website here: www.moreloveletters.com.

Uncertainty about engaging in this seemingly lost art might keep some people from writing. For encouragement, look no further than the book “The Art of the Personal Letter” by Margaret Shepherd. In chapters like “The Tools of the Trade,” Shepherd helps guide readers toward rewarding letter writing experiences. “Once you see how much easier it is to write with a roller-ball pen or marker, and how much better the script looks, you might be inspired to go one step further and explore the traditional look and feel of a fountain pen,” she writes. Included in the book are examples of real letters, samples of good penmanship and formats for “better document design.”

Book cover for The Love of LettersFor the Love of Letters: The Joy of Slow Communication,” written in 2012 by John O’Connell, is an exuberant celebration of the art. Using historical examples of the form from dozens of famous and not so famous Englishmen (O’Connell is British himself), he goes on to say, “letters shape and define lives. They also encapsulate them much more effectively than biography because they show rather than tell us what a person was like.”  O’Connell also takes a long look at the letters produced during wartime, and how these particular letters often were the “only way to stay in touch with fathers, sons and brothers who had been posted abroad.”

Speaking of war – please see “Conkrite’s War: His World War II Letters Home.” Compiled by Walter Conkrite IV and Maurice Isserman, the book is a collection of correspondence by the then obscure 23-year-old United Press wire service reporter. His grandson, Conkrite IV, says in the introduction to the book, “The effect that World War II had on my grandfather was profound – and provided the foundation for the rest of his illustrious career.” Attached as a reporter to the 8th Air Force, Cronkite’s letters are at times filled with loneliness and longing for his life in America. Cronkite writes in January of 1944: “My precious Betsy,  Here it is Betsymas Eve (referring to his wife’s upcoming birthday) and we are still apart and I am very lonely and unhappy. How much I would like to be with you on your birthday . . .” Interestingly, because of the sensitive nature of many of his assignments, most of his correspondence did not disclose his location or exact whereabouts.

Finally, one must not forget love letters. An especially touching volume, “The Love Letters of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning,” is found on our shelves. Browning writes in an early epistle: “Your letter made me so happy, dear Miss Barrett, that I have kept quiet this while: is it too great a shame if I begin to want more good news of you, and to say so?” Their letters are filled with longing but also with practical concerns as they were written in secret, mainly because of her demonstrative and abusive father.  Elizabeth eventually married Browning and was subsequently disinherited.

Write a letter or two this month – to a loved one or even a stranger. You will feel better for it and help uphold this meaningful and very personal form of communication that has survived the centuries.

photo credit: Studio V2 via photopin (license)

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Remembering John Lennon

December 4, 2015

 The Life“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one, I hope some day you’ll join us, And the world will be as one.” – John Lennon

It’s hard to imagine, but December 8 marks the 35th anniversary of the passing of John Lennon. As a member of the Beatles, his music sent a startling ripple through the music world. Lennon and his bandmates didn’t create rock and roll, but their role in popularizing it and helping to bring about the musical revolution of the 1960s can’t be denied. The music Lennon wrote during his Beatles years can certainly be credited with getting people dancing. As a solo musician, his music, which had evolved to reflect his interest in social activism, got people thinking. 

Lennon’s life has been written about numerous times. “John Lennon: The Life,” by Philip Norman is quite notable for its rich detail and vivid imagery of the Liverpool of Lennon’s youth, as well as its exploration of the darker side of the multi-faceted artist. Cynthia Lennon, the musician’s first wife, presents a very personal look into Lennon’s years with the Beatles in the biography “John.” Their marriage was tumultuous, and her book captures its unraveling as Lennon tried, and ultimately failed, to balance his life as a Beatle with his life as a husband and father. Author Gary Tillery presents yet another side of the singer in “The Cynical Idealist,” which focuses on how Lennon’s spirituality and philosophies ultimately influenced his music.

 In His LIfeSometimes the most interesting part of reading biographies are the pictures they contain. Author John Blaney’s photo-biography “John Lennon: In His Life” contains full page images that capture Lennon and his bandmates through the exciting 1960s, giving way to photos of Lennon during his later years as a solo musician. Mat Snow’s “The Beatles Solo: John Lennon” is a beautifully illustrated guide to Lennon’s life during his solo career. Perhaps the most personal, “Instamatic Karma” by Lennon’s former girlfriend May Pang, contains candid shots of Lennon at work and at play with his family and friends.

Of course, Lennon was a man of words, so perhaps the best way get to know him is through his own writings. “The John Lennon Letters,” edited by Hunter Davies, is a collection of over 300 letters and postcards that Lennon sent during his lifetime. These unguarded writings are enhanced by annotations that tell the stories behind these communications. “Skywriting by Word of Mouth” offers a personal look into Lennon’s life through essays and drawings he created during his transition from Beatle to solo artist. It includes his own mini-autobiography, “The Ballad of John and Yoko.”

One can’t help but wonder how much more Lennon would have contributed to the art world had his life been longer. Thankfully, he left behind a body of work that will continue to inspire and entertain for generations to come.

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Librarian Favorites of 2015

December 2, 2015

Book cover for Girl on the TrainLibraryReads is a monthly top-ten list of forthcoming books librarians across the country recommend. This December, the organizers compiled a “favorite of favorites” list, asking librarians to vote on their top picks from the more than 100 titles appearing on LibraryReads lists over the past year. If you didn’t read these books the first time they were recommended, now is your chance! Check them out to read over the holidays, or use the list for gift ideas when shopping for the readers among your friends and family.

Topping the list is “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins – no surprise there. The holds list at the library for this book was miles long, and everyone seems to be seeking the next “Gone Girl.” This dark, psychological thriller fits the bill.

Here’s the rest of the best – happy reading!

Book cover for Dead WakeDead 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 The Rosie EffectThe Rosie Effect” by Graeme Simsion
“Don Tillman and Rosie are back again, and they’ve relocated to New York. Rosie is continuing her studies, while Don is teaching and even adding to his small circle of friends. But when Rosie announces that she is pregnant, Don is once again out of his depth. What follows are crazy situations that could only happen when Don is involved. Funny and heartwarming.” – Catherine Coyne, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, MA

Book cover for The Nature of the BeastThe Nature of the Beast” (A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel) by Louise Penny 
“Louise Penny set the bar high with her last two books, but she had no trouble clearing it with this one. All our old friends are back in Three Pines where a young boy with a compulsion to tell tall tales tells one true story with disastrous results. But which story is the truth and why is it so threatening? Exquisitely suspenseful, emotionally wrenching and thoroughly satisfying.” – Beth Mills, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY

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

Book cover for Circling the SunCircling the Sun” by Paula McLain
“I couldn’t stop reading this fascinating portrayal of Beryl Markham, a complex and strong-willed woman who fought to make her way in the world on her terms. McLain paints a captivating portrait of Africa in the 1920s and the life of expats making their home there. Highly, highly recommended.” – Halle Eisenman, Beaufort County Library, Hilton Head, SC

Book cover for Furiously HappyFuriously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things” by Jenny Lawson
“Lawson’s hilarious memoir is a romp between absurdity and despondency. Passages alternate from ridiculously funny stories of her life to episodes of her sometimes debilitating depression. Lawson embraces living life, rather than merely surviving it. Why be just happy when you can be furiously so? Recommended to fans of David Sedaris and Sloane Crosley.” – PJ Gardiner, Wake County Public Libraries, Raleigh, NC

Book cover for The Little Paris BookshopThe Little Paris Bookshop” by Nina George
“Quirky and delightful, Nina George’s book focuses on Jean Perdu, owner of the Literary Apothecary, a floating bookshop. When a new tenant in his apartment building sets in motion events that force Jean to re-evaluate his past, he finds himself floating off down the rivers of France in search of lost love, new love and friends he didn’t know he needed.” – Beth Mills, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY

Book cover for Kitchens of the Great MidwestKitchens of the Great Midwest” by J. Ryan Stradal
“This novel is quirky and colorful. The story revolves around chef Eva Thorvald and the people who influence her life and her cooking. With well-drawn characters and mouthwatering descriptions of meals, Kitchens of the Great Midwest will appeal to readers who like vivid storytelling. Foodies will also enjoy this delicious tale.” – Anbolyn Potter, Chandler Public Library, Chandler, AZ

Book cover for A God in Ruins by Kate AtkinsonA God in Ruins” by Kate Atkinson
“In A God in Ruins, we become reacquainted with Teddy Todd, the beloved little brother of Ursula from Atkinson’s last book. As with Life After Life, this novel skims back and forth in time, and we see the last half of the 20th century through Ted’s eyes and the eyes of his loved ones. At times funny and at others heartbreaking, Atkinson revels in the beauty and horror of life in all its messiness.” – Jennifer Dayton, Darien Library, Darien, CT

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Three Books (and One Film) to Mark World AIDS Day

November 30, 2015

Book cover for And the Band Played OnWorld AIDS Day is held on December 1 each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died.

This annual event also raises awareness about HIV/AIDS and promotes prevention and the search for a cure. Much misinformation still exists about who has the disease and how it is spread.

The following brief list of books (and one film) is an effort to provide good information about the history and impact of HIV/AIDS on both a personal and a global level.

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the Aids Epidemic” by Randy Shilts
Published in 1987, this riveting and important work of investigative journalism details how AIDS was allowed to spread unchecked in the early ’80s, virtually ignored by government institutions. Widely lauded as a “modern classic,” Shilts’ account reads like a medical thriller.

Book cover for The Invisible CureThe Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the fight against AIDS” by Helen Epstein
The majority of HIV-positive people worldwide live in Africa. “The Invisible Cure” is a provocative analysis of the AIDS epidemic that looks at the social, economic and political factors that have caused and exacerbated the situation, its impact on gender relations and the spread of HIV. In addition to presenting the devastating effects of the disease on entire countries on that continent, Epstein offers possible solutions to the crisis.

Visions and Revisions: Coming of Age in the Age of Aids” by Dale Peck
Part memoir, part extended essay, this book is a foray into what the author calls “the second half of the first half of the AIDS epidemic,” i.e., the period between 1987, when the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) was founded, and 1996, when the advent of combination therapy transformed AIDS from a virtual death sentence into a chronic manageable illness. Gritty, powerful and raw.

How to Survive a Plague,” directed by David France
This documentary, shown at the 2012 True/False Film Festival, tells the story of the brave young men and women who successfully reversed the tide of an epidemic, demanded the attention of a fearful nation and stopped AIDS from becoming a death sentence. This improbable group of activists infiltrated government agencies and the pharmaceutical industry, helping to identify promising new medication and treatments and move them through trials and into drugstores in record time.

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The Gift of Inspiration: Books for the Readers on Your List

November 27, 2015

Book cover for Big Magic by Elizabeth GilbertWhatever your feelings about Black Friday, today kicks off the holiday shopping season. Personally, I like to spend the day after Thanksgiving in my pajamas, reading and recovering from a hefty pie hangover. However, I realize others enjoy that bargain-hunting buzz. Here are some books that can help us all.

For the readers on your list, give them the gift of inspiration and pick up one of these uplifting titles. Or, if you are staying home the Friday after Thanksgiving (or visiting the library – we’re open), check out one of these books for yourself. These moving and motivating books provide stories of perseverance and advice for living – both serious and humorous – and may just inspire you to write that play or start that business. Or at least get up off of the couch. (Book descriptions provided by their publishers.)

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert
Gilbert offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us.

Book cover for Find a Way by Diana NyadFind a Way” by Diana Nyad
On September 2, 2013, at the age of 64, Diana Nyad emerged onto the shores of Key West after completing a 110 mile, 53 hour, record-breaking swim through shark-infested waters from Cuba to Florida. Her memoir shows why, at 64, she was able to achieve what she couldn’t at 30 and how her repeated failures contributed to her success.

Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living” by Jason Gay
Little Victories is a life guide for people who hate life guides. Whether the subject is rules for raising the perfect child without infuriating all of your friends, rules for how to be cool (related: Why do you want to be cool?) or rules of thumb to tell the difference between real depression and just eating five cupcakes in a row, Gay’s essays – whimsical, practical and occasionally poignant – will make you laugh and then think, “You know, he’s kind of right.”

Rising Strong” by Brené Brown
The physics of vulnerability is simple: If we are brave enough often enough, we will fall. The author of the bestsellers “Daring Greatly” and “The Gifts of Imperfection” tells us what it takes to get back up and how owning our stories of disappointment, failure, and heartbreak gives us the power to write a daring new ending. Struggle, Brown writes, can be our greatest call to courage, and rising strong our clearest path to a wholehearted life.

Year of Yes” by Shonda Rhimes
In this poignant, hilarious and deeply intimate call to arms, Hollywood’s most powerful woman, the mega-talented creator of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” and executive producer of “How to Get Away with Murder” reveals how saying “yes” changed her life – and how it can change yours too.

Have inspirational books of your own to recommend? Let us know in the comments.

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Presence of Absence: Docs With Subjects Who Barely Appear on Film

November 25, 2015

hermans house

Most documentary filmmakers who want to tell a story about an individual try to gather footage of their subject. But what if you don’t have access to the person, or you want to take a different storytelling approach by not showing the individual? Whether by choice or not, documentary filmmakers who barely have their subjects appear on film offer a unique kind of documentary experience that tries to reveal more about a subject by their absence rather than their presence.

herman's houseHerman’s House” (2013)

The injustice of solitary confinement and the transformative power of art are explored in “Herman’s House,” a feature documentary that follows the story of one of America’s most famous inmates, Herman Wallace, as he collaborates with a New York artist on a unique project.

Kurt Cobain: kurt cobain about a sonAbout a Son” (2008)

A rare and personal portrait of a boy who becomes a musician, a husband, a rock star, a father and a songwriter whose words have touched millions. Cobain’s story unfolds through his own narrative assembled from more than 25 hours of audio-taped conversations, never before made public.

dear mr wattersonDear Mr. Watterson” (2013)

Calvin & Hobbes took center stage when it appeared in comics in 1985. A decade later, when Bill Watterson retired his strip, millions of readers felt the void. Here is an exploration to discover why his ‘simple’ comic strip has made such an impact on so many readers.

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Comedy Club: Memoirs by Female Comedians

November 23, 2015

Book cover for Tina Fey's BossypantsLike many readers, I was charmed by Tina Fey’s “Bossypants.” Though it’s already a cliché, I’ll admit that my favorite part of the memoir was “The Rules of Improvisation that Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat.” Sadly, I have not experienced a reduction in belly fat, but the falsity of that claim was disclosed in the footnote, so the period of jubilant hope was a short one. Fey exhorts us not only to say yes but also to say “Yes, and.” I know that I can always use a reminder to contribute, whether to an improv set, a project at the office or dinner plans.

On that note, yes, “Bossypants” was a delightful read, and here are a few other memoirs by female comedians that I found delightful as well.

Book cover for Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy KalingI am never one to skip a “Mindy Project” episode or a book by Mindy Kaling. “Why Not Me?” is her latest, but I’ll admit to being fonder of “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns),” which is a more straightforward memoir (with all the kookiness you’d expect). “Why Not Me?” overall feels less substantial, more joke than the kind of meaty substance I want in a memoir. But it’s a quick, fun read, and Mindy fans would be remiss in skipping it.

The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee” isn’t for all readers. (Note that the book contains both explicit language and images.) But if you find Sarah Silverman’s provocative variety of funny . . . well, funny, then check out her memoir. Silverman allows readers a glimpse into her childhood, including (as you may have guessed) a propensity to wet the bed far beyond the typical bed-wetting years. She also talks about her struggle with depression during her teen years and her journey to becoming a comedian.

Book cover for Kelly Oxford's Everything is Perfect When You're a LiarTwitter sensation Kelly Oxford proves her writing skills extend past the 140-character limit in “Everything is Perfect When You’re a Liar.” Be warned that this isn’t a book about Twitter — go there instead for one-liners. If you’re interested in her backstory and a more traditional narrative, you’ll enjoy her tales of the struggles of adolescence and the trials of parenthood.

Last but never least, no list about female comedians would be complete without the incorrigible Joan Rivers. This isn’t a memoir — or even a book — but I can’t recommend the funny and heartfelt documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” highly enough. Rivers’ swank New York City apartment has to be seen to be believed, but her tireless drive to work is the most remarkable reveal.

On My To-Read List:

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Get Help With Your Holiday Photo Gifts

November 20, 2015

Studio CameraFor many, this is the time of year to begin crafting  handmade gifts for the holiday season. Perhaps the easiest, most popular gifts to make are those incorporating personal photos. From quilts to coffee mugs, you can personalize just about anything with a digital photograph.

To help you get ahead of your gift-giving game, the library will be offering several photography-related classes. Because space is limited, registration is required for all our technology classes. To sign-up, simply call (573) 443-3161.

Working With Digital Photos
Thursday, December 1, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Training Center
Using Google’s free Picasa software, learn to move digital images from your camera to a Windows computer or online album, do basic editing and share pictures. Windows computers only. Registration is already underway.

Photo Story for iPad
Friday, December 4, 2-4 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Studio
Using the Shutterfly Photo Story app, learn how to create photo books in time for the holiday season. This class is for intermediate and advanced technology users. Bring your iPad and your Apple ID. Registration begins Friday, November 20.

Apple OS X Photos for Beginners
Thursday, December 10, 1:30-3:30 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Studio
We’ll discuss how to use Apple Photos for Mac desktops and laptops, including basic photo editing techniques, organization and how to move digital images from your camera to a computer. Bringing a Mac laptop is optional. Registration begins Monday, November 23.

For added inspiration, you might also check out our collection of photo craft books. Some of my personal favorites include “Photojojo! Insanely Great Photo Projects and DIY Ideas,” “Make & Give: Simple and Modern Crafts to Brighten Every Day” and “Photocraft: Cool Things to Do With the Pictures You Love.”

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Film Adaptation of “Room” by Emma Donoghue

November 18, 2015

Ragtag CinemaRoom by Emma Donoghue will be debuting the film adaptation of “Room” by Emma Donoghue this Friday, November 20. This movie has been generating a lot of Oscar buzz, so now’s a good time to grab a copy from the library before film awards season begins in earnest.

“Room” is the story of five-year-old Jack who has lived his entire life in a tiny fortified garden shed with his kidnapped mother. I’m not gonna lie; it’s a tough read. It echos the gruesome experiences of real-life abduction victims Jaycee Lee Dugard and Amanda Berry.

However, since the story is told entirely from the child’s perspective, the reader focuses more on the relationship between Jack and his mother and less on their abuser, Old Nick. For some people, Jack’s voice presents an opportunity for some unique and creative storytelling. For others, though, having such a dark tale told from a child’s perspective is a deal-breaker, and they feel compelled to put the book down.

Since Donoghue also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation, I’m hopeful that it will remain faithful the major themes of the book. Ultimately, this story is a testament to the bond shared between parent and child.

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The Gentleman Recommends: Patrick deWitt (again)

November 16, 2015

Book cover for Undermajordomo MinorKeen readers might notice this is the second time I’ve recommended Patrick deWitt’s work. Some will exclaim, “Sir, are there not a practically infinite number of worthy writers to recommend? Why recommend an author twice?” I will respond, “Indeed, there is a seemingly endless sea of writers deserving of my endorsement, but several factors conspire to cause a repeat recommendation of his work. I’m particularly enamored with Mr. deWitt’s writing. His newest novel was published subsequent to my previous recommendation and it is amazing. And while some quick and dubious math tells me I read upwards of 8,000 books a year, I cannot read everything, but I did recently read “Undermajordomo Minor.” Furthermore, as I saunter around town twirling my cane and mustache, my query of, ‘Have you yet mined the depths of Patrick deWitt’s talents?’ is nearly always met with either confusion, averted eyes or a non-sequiturial admonishment to ‘be careful with that cane, you nearly hit my baby.’ (I’ve said this countless times, but I will reiterate here: I never twirl my cane with anything less than utmost precision, and your baby could stand to toughen up.) Clearly, I have not been sufficiently persuasive. So until passersby respond to my deWitt-centric interrogations with a tip of their headgear and an enthusiastic, ‘Yes. And by the way, you are rather precise in the manner with which you twirl both your mustache and your cane,’ I must continue to espouse the virtues of Mr. deWitt’s work.”

So, to espouse, “Undermajordomo Minor” is a dryly hilarious novel containing brilliant sentences, memorable characters, an uncanny setting and a captivating plot. The word choices alone were enough for decorum to dictate that I employ my trusted chuckle hankie to mitigate the unseemly act of laughing. The novel’s other assets mandated that I draw my chuckle curtains.

This sort of fairy tale concerns a young man named Lucien (Lucy) Minor. Lucy isn’t sure what to make of his life, and so when that time comes, as it does in every young man’s life I assume, when a man draped in burlap asks, “What do you want from life?” Lucy responds, “Something to happen.” And so something does. The man in burlap seemingly transfers Lucy’s life-threatening illness to Lucy’s cruel father. Lucy secures work in a majordomo’s castle and buys a pipe. The pipe makes him cough. On the train ride to the castle seeds are planted for a relationship with a father and son pickpocket team. Lucy’s new pipe is pickpocketted. Once arriving at the castle grounds, Lucy finds himself in the midst of a very small war. A handful of men fire rifles at each other and ask for Lucy’s nonexistent valuables. Once he manages to secure entry to the castle, he is entreated to always lock his door at night. He is made aware of the “Very Large Hole.” Eventually, having disregarded his curfew, he comes across a ghastly sight in the castle halls — rarely does a scene manage to be so horrifying and hilarious. Also, he falls in love.

If this blog post and my street-side hectoring are not enough to convince you to read “Undermajordomo Minor,” then perhaps Daniel (Lemony Snicket) Handler’s unprecedented act of writing an amusing book review will convince you. I warn you, more informative and insightful though he may be, I doubt Handler capable of twirling a cane with even a modicum of the grace and majesty I employ.

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Pie Season

November 13, 2015

Book cover for A Year of PiesCrisp weather and turning the calendar’s page to November means it’s pie season. This time of year my extended family begins discussions about who will bring what dish to our Thanksgiving meal, but the question of who should bake the pies is never up for debate. My mother will bake one pumpkin and one pecan pie, and the crust will be made with lard – no butter or (shudder) shortening. The pastry will be flaky and perfect, and I, unable to decide between the two flavors, will end up having a slice of each. And then I’ll ask for another piece of pumpkin to take home and have the next morning for breakfast.

I love pie. “Pie or cake?” is something my husband might ask a new acquaintance, trying to suss out his or her character. He’s a skilled baker himself, and I often request his coconut cream pie on my birthday. After a lot of trial and error, he now prefers to make his crusts using a combination of lard and butter (don’t tell my mother).

If the scent of cinnamon and sugar in the air has you hungry for warm fruit tucked between blankets of flaky pastry, check out one of these books from the library.

A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies” by Ashley English
Everyone knows that fruits and vegetables taste better when they are in season, so fall is the perfect time for rosemary bourbon sweet potato pie or gingersnap pumpkin pie. This cookbook is organized into spring, summer, fall and winter pies and serves up both traditional recipes and some uniquely mouth-watering flavor combinations.

Book cover for Pie SchoolPie School: Lessons in Fruit, Flour and Butter” by Kate Lebo
As the title indicates, this book is good for students of baking and focuses mainly on fruit pies. More than just recipes, this book also ponders pie as metaphor and investigates its social history. Newbie bakers will appreciate her step-by-step instructions – accompanied by photographs – for making crust and other techniques that appear at the book’s beginning.

Teeny’s Tour of Pie, a Cookbook: Mastering the Art of Pie in 67 Recipes” by Teeny Lamothe
A good book for beginners and those who like cookbooks that are just as fun to read as they are tasty to bake from. Lamothe traveled around the country to learn first-hand from some of the best bakers. She shares tips and techniques that take the mystery and fear out of pie baking, and she shares some gorgeous recipes. (One I’ve got marked to try: peanut butter brownie pie with a pretzel crust – yum!)

United States of Pie: Regional Favorites From East to West and North to South” by Adrienne Kane
If you enjoy the stories behind regional cuisines, pick up “United States of Pie.” While short on pictures, this narrative cookbook makes up for that lack with its mouth-watering descriptions of southern peach pie, concord grape pie, shoofly pie and more.

Enjoy these and many more baking books available from your library. Ready your rolling pin, and check out a few!

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New DVD List: An Honest Liar & More

November 11, 2015

honest liar poster 3Here is a new DVD list highlighting various titles recently added to the library’s collection.

an honest liarAn Honest Liar
Playing at last year’s Boone Dawdle, this film tells the story of the world-famous magician, escape artist and enemy of deception, James ‘The Amazing’ Randi. He devised intricate investigations exposing the ‘miracles’ of psychics, faith healers and con-artists. When a shocking revelation is discovered, is Randi is still the deceiver — or the deceived?

penny dreadful s3Penny Dreadful
Season 2
Website / Reviews
Vanessa Ives and Ethan Chandler are forming a deeper bond as the group, including Sir Malcolm, Dr. Frankenstein and Sembene, unite to banish the evil forces that threaten to destroy them. Meanwhile, Dorian Gray, the Creature and Brona are all waging battles of their own.

home firesHome Fires” 
Season 1
Website / Reviews
Bitter rivals fight for control of the Women’s Institute in a rural English town as it struggles with the onset of World War II. Separated from husbands, fathers, sons and brothers for years at a time, some permanently, they face extraordinary pressures in a rapidly fragmenting world.

vikings s31Vikings
Season 3
Website / Reviews
Now king of his people, Ragnar remains a restless wanderer, leading his band of Norse warriors on epic adventures from the shores of Essex to the mythical city of Paris. But stunning betrayals and hidden dangers will test Ragnar’s courage and strength like never before.

american horror story s4American Horror Story
Season 4
Elsa Mars is the proprietor of a troupe of human “curiosities” on a desperate journey of survival in the sleepy hamlet of Jupiter, Florida, in 1952. But the strange emergence of an entity will savagely threaten the lives of the townsfolk and freaks alike.

Other notable releases:
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” –
Season 3 – Website 
Happy Valley” –
Season 1Website / Reviews
Murder in the Park
 –  Website / Reviews / Trailer
The 100” – Season 2 – Website / Reviews
Bates Motel” – Season 3 – Website / Reviews
The Leftovers” Season 1Website / Reviews

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Kindness Makes the World Go Around and Improves Your Health

November 9, 2015

Photo of a kindness mosaicYou’ve probably realized from your own experience that being kind brings you positive effect. We all know that warm, fuzzy feeling (known as “helper’s high” or “giver’s glow”) evoked from selfless acts of kindness and generosity extended to others. Well, it turns out that the benefits of being kind go way beyond that “feel good” feeling. Scientific research indicates significant physical and mental health benefits come from offering kindness to others. And interestingly, the bundle of benefits comes not only to those offering the kindness, but also to those receiving it and even to third party witnesses of kind acts.

The documented benefits of being involved in a circuit of kindness are many. They include: reductions in stress levels (and conditions associated with stress such as high blood pressure, heart disease and asthma); a decrease in feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation and/or hostility; a decrease in physical pain; an increase in feelings of contentment and/or joy; and emotional calm, stability and resilience.

Photograph of man giving a warm drink to a homeless personBiochemically, there is a lot going on inside us during exchanges of kindness. During these exchanges, emotional warmth is created and this causes the hormone oxytocin to be released. Oxytocin causes blood vessels to dilate and relax which results in lowered blood pressure. Oxytocin also acts to slow the aging process by counteracting the effect of free radicals and inflammation, which are also major contributors to heart disease and cancer.

Kindness is a highly valued virtue in many cultures and religions. It is a gift that makes living life much sweeter and more meaningful. In fact, it seems to me that kindness is what makes the world go around (not money, as the song in the musical Cabaret claims). The World Kindness Movement has designated a day to focus attention on this virtue and to encourage people to celebrate it by offering acts of altruism to our fellow humans (and other animals, too)!  This year World Kindness Day falls on Friday, November 13.

If you are wondering about ways to add more kindness to the world, the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website has a wide-ranging list of ideas.  And here at DBRL we have lots and lots of books on this topic from which to pick and choose. Kindness is like a muscle; the more you exercise it as a practice, the stronger it gets and the easier it becomes to extend your generosity. I’ll end here with a poem on kindness that alludes to the many trials we suffer as humans and how these hardships make being kind the thing that makes the most sense.

Kindness, by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Photo credits:

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Reader Review: In the Shadow of the Cypress

November 6, 2015

Editor’s note: This review was submitted by a library patron during the 2015 Adult Summer Reading program. We will continue to periodically share some of these reviews throughout the year.

in the shadow of the cypressThe son of John Steinbeck delivers a captivating novel similarly set in Montgomery, California (same as “Cannery Row“). “In the Shadow of the Cypress” explores the roles and culture of the Chinese throughout the history of the American West Coast. A potentially mind blowing archeological discovery is found pertaining to Chinese American history in the 1900’s. Narrators change in the story as the setting shifts from early 20th century to present day while the facts continue to unfold. Thomas Steinbeck’s voice has traces of his father but maintains a distinct difference. Almost a mystery novel, but not quite, it walks an interesting line of suspense, being gripping without any threat of mortal peril to any characters. It can be read and enjoyed without any prior knowledge of the former Steinbeck’s work.

Three words that describe this book: Intriguing, captivating, interesting.

You might want to pick this book up if:


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Best Books of 2015: Early Bird Edition

November 4, 2015

I know, I know. We just turned the calendar page to November, and bookish types are already making pronouncements about the best books of 2015. We can’t help it. As a book person and a list-maker, this time of year makes me positively giddy.

Before sharing some of the year’s best titles, we want to hear what you think was the best book of 2015. Specifically, what book did you read this past year that you think would make an excellent selection for next year’s One READ program? Our reading panel is looking for books that will appeal to adults of different ages and backgrounds and that have numerous topics for discussion. Pop on over to oneread.org, nominate a book, and then come on back to this list. I’ll wait.

Back? Okay. Here we go.

 A Surfing LifePublisher’s Weekly is one of the first out of the gate with its best books of 2015 list. The lyrical and important “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coats, previously reviewed here on the blog, tops their list. Other stand-outs (and their publishers’ descriptions):

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life” by William Finnegan
This memoir describes the author’s experiences as a lifelong surfer, from his early years in Honolulu through his culturally sophisticated pursuits of perfect waves in some of the world’s most exotic locales.

Book cover for Black Earth by Timothy SnyderBlack Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning” by Timothy Snyder
It comforts us to believe that the Holocaust was a unique event. But, as Timothy Snyder shows, we have missed basic lessons of the history of the Holocaust, and some of our beliefs are frighteningly close to the ecological panic that Hitler expressed in the 1920s. As ideological and environmental challenges to the world order mount, our societies might be more vulnerable than we would like to think.

Delicious Foods” by James Hannaham
Hannaham tells the gripping story of three unforgettable characters: a mother, her son and the drug that threatens to destroy them. Through Darlene’s haunted struggle to reunite with Eddie, through the efforts of both to triumph over those who would enslave them, and through the irreverent and mischievous voice of the drug that narrates Darlene’s travails, Hannaham’s daring and shape-shifting prose infuses this harrowing experience with grace and humor. The desperate circumstances that test the unshakable bond between this mother and son unfold into myth, and Hannaham’s treatment of their ordeal spills over with compassion.

Book cover for A little LifeA Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara
When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome — but that will define his life forever.

Happy list season!

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