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Prepare Yourself for NaNoWriMo

October 31, 2014

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing MonthNovember is NaNoWriMo. If you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, and yes, it’s as daunting and hard as it sounds – 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s an average of 1,600 words a day, including Thanksgiving. Easy? Definitely not.

Lots of writers participate in NaNo, using it as motivation to write that book they’ve been thinking about or to finish their current work in progress. But NaNo isn’t just for writers; it’s for anyone creative who has been procrastinating and needs inspiration (or peer pressure!) to accomplish their creative goals. Maybe that goal is drawing one illustration a day, painting for 10 hours a week or posting two blog posts each weekend.

Use November as the month to set your goals and meet them. (And sometimes even beat them!)

The books I’m suggesting are ones meant to inspire you creatively and to help you through those phases where you think, I simply can’t go on. When you meet your goal at the end of November (because I know you will), you’re going to feel very accomplished.

Book cover for Steal Like an Artist by Austin KleonSteal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative” by Austin Kleon

Austin speaks from his own experiences in “Steal Like an Artist,” breaking the creative process down into 10 major ideas. Full of humor and wit, this compact book will give you suggestions on how to keep going and new ways to develop your creative self. Easy to read and full of cartoons and pictures, “Steal Like an Artist” is a must read for all artists, not just writers.

Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity” by Hugh Macleod

I discovered Hugh Macleod while searching for books on creative thinking. I’d never heard of him before, but this book is amazing. Between the text and Macleod’s quirky business card cartoons, you’ll be amused and intrigued. Hugh focuses on the hard aspects of a creative life that no one wants to hear but everyone needs to understand. After reading “Ignore Everybody,” you’ll understand yourself and your process better. I know I did.

Book cover for 3 a.m. EpiphanyThe 3 A.M. Epiphany” by Brian Kiteley

This book is specific to writing, but I think many of the prompts could easily be altered to fit other arts. “The 3 A.M. Epiphany” is meant to get your creative juices flowing when you’re feeling stumped or unable to move forward. With over a hundred writing prompts, it will be impossible not to find something to write about (or draw about), and after you get going, hopefully it will be easier for you to return to your original work.

Finish This Book” by Keri  Smith

“Finish This Book” is similar to “The 3 A.M. Epiphany,” but instead of writing prompts, this book is full of questions awaiting answers. Smith will ask you to finish drawings, to make observations, to write ideas or go “hunting” with your camera.  No matter which activity from this book you choose, it will get your brain moving. Just promise you won’t write directly in the library’s copy – use a your own journal, please!

And don’t worry that you’ll be on your own; I’ll be doing NaNoWriMo this month, too. My goal is to finish my current work in progress.

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Terrifying “Funny Books” for Halloween

October 29, 2014

Book cover for Just as a vampire needs the blood of the living to sustain it, or a zombie needs brains, comic books might have faded from existence without the chewy, pulpy sustenance of horror stories. This same subject matter was also almost their undoing, but such are the risks when you dabble in the dark arts.

For a look at the early days of horror comics check out “The Horror! The Horror!” This collection contains numerous covers and complete horror comics from the pre-code 1950s, (before such comics were censored). Commentary and informative text provide some context for the stories.

Action! Mystery! Thrills!” is a great look at the weird world of old comic book covers. Most of these depict scenes intended to simultaneously shock and entice you.

The Weird World of Eerie Publications” is another fine collection of old horror comics and a history of the industry. It tells the story of the eccentric, ethically challenged and at times scary owner of Eerie Publications.

Book cover for If you don’t know what a pre-code comic is, you should check out David Haju’s “The Ten-Cent Plague.” This book explores the censorship campaign against comics like those in the collections above. That campaign led to the Comics Code Authority, which many people feel hamstrung creativity in comics for decades. Even after reading some of the horror comics of the time, it’s shocking the lengths people went to stop them. This book is both a fascinating history of a moment in American pop culture and a frightening look at hysteria.

Not all horror stories are held in low esteem. More than a few are now considered classics. If you’d like to look a little more highbrow while scaring yourself with comics, pick up a graphic novel adaptation of “Dracula,” “Frankenstein” or the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Richard Sala’s style shows the influence of classic illustrators of the macabre Charles Addams and Edward Gorey. Sala has a knack for drawing grotesque caricatures that are just cartoonish and humorous enough. His stories maintain an eerie mood but still wink at the reader letting them know it’s just a comic book, right? “Delphine” is a retelling of the story of Snow White from Prince Charming’s perspective. This is based on the original fairy tale and not the Disney film, so it’s a darker story told by a master of them.

Book cover for Scott Snyder currently writes Batman, but his strongest work is another series about a bat-human hybrid. “American Vampire” tells the story of a new breed of Vampire (originating in America) that can not only walk in daylight, but also is made stronger by the sun. He’s a particularly viscous vampire too. Not only does he fight with the requisite vampire hunting organization, but he also doesn’t get along well with the old-school vampires either. The series is an ongoing epic that starts in the late 19th century and sets each story arc in a different period of the 20th. It’s a new take on a classic horror trope.

Baltimore” is another fresh take on the vampire story by novelist Christopher Golden and comic book artist and writer Mike Mignola (best known for “Hellboy“). Originally a novel co-written by the two with illustrated pages by Mignola, the character of Lord Henry Baltimore has found continued life in comics. This alternate history tells the story of an ancient race of vampires brought back to life by the blood soaked battlefields of WWI. Lord Henry Baltimore is a soldier who has a confrontation with one of these vampires during the war, which sets his life on a course for revenge.

Dylan Dog” is Italy’s most popular comic book. It describes the adventures of the eponymous “Nightmare Investigator.” Dylan is a former Scotland Yard detective who lives with his sidekick Groucho (who looks exactly like Groucho marks and loves puns). He is also a penniless, poetry quoting hopeless romantic who can only play one song on the clarinet. In this collection of interconnected stories, Dylan deals with zombies, mad scientists and an axe murderer. It’s a quirky combination of surrealism, humor and horror, but the story is executed in a way that is sure to appeal to many.

Have you heard of “The Walking Dead“? I’ll bet you have. It’s a hugely popular television show that got its start as a comic book. If you like the show and haven’t read the comics, you should check them out. If you don’t like the show but like stories of surviving a zombie apocalypse, you should still check out the books.

Afterlife With Archie” is indeed about the famous Archie and his hometown of Riverdale. When Jughead’s dog is hit by a car, he calls on Sabrina to bring the dog back. As is always the case (Will we never learn?!) the dog comes back wrong. Zombie contagion ensues. A lot of people would turn this idea into an easy joke or a way to mock Archie Comics. Instead, the creators take the subject seriously and use the familiarity of the characters as a way to make the story more frightening and emotionally affecting.

Book cover for Perhaps all the monsters, darkness, terror and gloom have got you down at this point? Then let me end with a story of romance. This being a list for Halloween, it’s a romance involving a sea creature. In much the way John Gardner’s novel “Grendel” took the epic poem Beowulf and told the story from the monster’s point of view, “Dear Creature” takes the classic “sea monster terrorizes beach goers” story and tells it from the sea monster’s point of view. The sea monster, Grue, has been finding bottles stuffed with Shakespeare’s writings. This subdues his appetite for beach goers and kindles his romantic interest in the source of the bottles. How could anything go wrong?

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Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The November 2014 List

October 27, 2014

Library Reads LogoThis November, librarians are loving genre fiction. Maybe during these longer nights we like the comfort of familiar series or predictable plot structures. This month’s LibraryReads list, the top 10 books publishing this coming month that librarians nationwide recommend, includes a police procedural, historical romances and more than one mystery. Enjoy!

Book cover for Us by David NichollsUs
by David Nicholls
“Every once in a while you stumble upon a book that makes you wish you could meet the characters in real life. This is the case with “Us,” the poignant story of a middle-of-the-road British family spiraling out of control, and one man’s attempt to win back their love. Quirky, delightful and unpredictable, the novel delves into what makes a marriage and what tears it apart.” – Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Community Library, Austin, TX

Book cover for Never Judge a Lady by Her CoverNever Judge a Lady by Her Cover: The Fourth Rule of Scoundrels”
by Sarah MacLean
“Having lost her innocence in a teenage love affair, Lady Georgiana is a social pariah. Trying to save the tatters of her reputation, she must marry and marry well. By night, she is Anna, the most powerful madame in London, and a powerful seductress in her own right. Will Georgiana succeed in re-entering society, or will her past catch up with her once and for all?” - Emily Peros, Denver Public Library, Denver, CO

Book cover for Lives in RuinsLives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble
by Marilyn Johnson
“Johnson takes a fascinating look at the field of archaeology, profiling a number of archaeologists at work. She visits sites as diverse as an army base, Rhode Island, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and Peru, but the best part of this book is learning about the archaeologists and their passions. A fun, interesting read that may cause an uptick in field school applications.” - Jenna Persick, Chester County Library, Exton, PA

And here is the rest of the list with links to our catalog, so you can place holds on these forthcoming titles.

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It’s Oktoberfest!

October 24, 2014

Munich GermanyThe first thing that comes to my mind when I think about October is its colors – or, rather, whether we’ll have the wonderful fall colors that the American Midwest is famous for. (We usually do, but I’m worried about that every year. :) ) And the second October thing I think about is Oktoberfest.

Of course, unlike fall colors, Oktoberfest is not “native” to the Midwest. It originated in Munich, Germany, in 1810, and has been celebrated there ever since (except during wars and cholera epidemics) with large quantities of beer. To give you an idea of these quantities, during Oktoberfest 2014, 6.5 million two-pint mugs of beer were consumed. This resulted, among other things, in at least one attempted heist of a trolley full of beer mugs and a number of lost items – including 230 pairs of eyeglasses, two wedding rings, a set of dentures (!) and a French horn.

Strawberry cakeMy husband and I were in Munich at the end of August, and beer tents were already going up. We also noticed that many old buildings were being thoroughly cleaned – although that could have had nothing to do with the festival but with the fact that Germany has money to spare :) . In any case, we both decided that there is more to Munich than its Oktoberfest celebrations: impressive medieval churches, neoclassical buildings and theaters and crowds of tourists from all over the globe. We had a pleasant stay there, but we didn’t drink much – my husband doesn’t drink and I prefer wine. Instead, we enjoyed German desserts: plum and strawberry cakes, sweet pretzels and such.

Back home, Oktoberfest finally caught up with us. Of course, Oktoberfest in Missouri is not as big as in Munich, where some six million people attend every year, but it is just as festive – especially if you like wine. Yes, unlike the one in Munich, our Oktoberfest is mostly about wine, although the people who brought it to this country did come from Germany.

photo of a vineyardThe influence of German immigrants in Missouri cannot be overestimated. In 1860, more than half of Missouri’s foreign-born residents were Germans, many of whom settled on the south bank of the Missouri River, west of St. Louis. They brought with them their food (apple butter, potato salad, hamburgers, etc.), their music (think “Silent Night”), their architecture and carefully-wrapped cuttings from their old vineyards.

A number of grape varieties found Missouri’s climate and rocky soil suitable for growing, so it is no surprise that by the turn of the century, Stone Hill Winery (Hermann, MO), was the third largest winery in the world (second largest in the U.S.), producing more than a million gallons of wine a year. And by 1920, Missouri was the second largest wine-producing state in the U.S.

Another jewel in the Missouri wine crown is the fact that our vineyards saved the French wine industry from total destruction. The way the story goes, in 1876 an insidious louse began an assault on vineyards throughout France. (I have to mention that the louse was transported there from Missouri :) .) Fortunately for the French, Missouri’s first entomologist, Charles V. Riley, discovered that some American grape rootstocks were immune to the louse, and by grafting French vines onto them, healthy grapes could be produced. Millions of cuttings of Missouri rootstock were shipped to France, and the imminent disaster was avoided.

Prohibition hit the Missouri wine country hard. Vines were removed from the ground and numerous barrels of wine were destroyed. (It is said that the brick roads of Hermann were blood red with wine.) Many families lost their livelihood, and the region’s economy took a downturn. It wasn’t until 1960 that Missouri began recovering its lost viticultural glory.

These days, Missouri vineyards and wineries are spread all over the state (113 wineries as of 2013), and Missouri wines regularly win prestigious national and international awards. All the wineries provide tasting rooms, and many have patios overlooking the Missouri River – or other beautiful scenery – and offer winery tours. Also, nine Missouri Wine Trails host events and festivals year-round, like live music and grape stomps.

A drive along the Missouri River Wine Trail (which includes our nearest Les Bourgeois Winery) would be a great wine-and-fall-color outing this weekend. Those who’d like to take advantage of Oktoberfest (or other wine-related events) but prefer not to drive, can do it by train, boat or bike (biking on Katy Trail could be your ticket to enjoying Missouri wine and exercising at the same time :) ).

Whichever way is right for you, don’t forget to drink responsibly. And cheers!

FYI: The three largest wineries in Missouri are St. James Winery in St. James, Stone Hill Winery in Hermann and Les Bourgeois Winery in Rocheport.

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Put Your Own Garlic to Bed

October 22, 2014

garlic photo by Kate ProtzmanI’ve been growing my own garlic for roughly 14 years, thanks to a master gardener friend of mine who got me started.  He gave me some of his “seed” stock and loaned me one of his 3’ x 25’ garden beds. I’ve been borrowing his garden bed and growing garlic ever since. Of the two garlic varieties he gifted me, I’m especially fond of the German extra hardy hardneck and now grow it almost exclusively. I like it best for several reasons: the cloves are large, so fewer cloves have to be peeled when cooking; it stores well; and most importantly, it has a good, strong flavor.

I’ve gardened itinerantly for years and still am no expert, but I do know that garlic (the deer don’t bother it, hallelujah) is my favorite crop to grow. That’s because it’s easy – so easy that I don’t really feel like a real gardener, since not much toiling is involved. I just punch a hole in the earth about four inches deep with a dibber, drop a clove of garlic into it and then fill the hole back in with dirt. In mid-October I can plant 120 cloves of garlic in the above mentioned bed in about an hour and then cover it up with a thick layer of leaves for mulch, leaving it until May or June before I have to do any tending.

My gardener friend says you can plant garlic in the spring and harvest it in the fall, but he says the results aren’t as good, meaning the bulbs will be small in size. Garlic, at least the hardneck type we’re growing, seems to do much better with a long winter’s nap. I like to think of it snug beneath its leaf blanket when the temperatures drop below freezing. All I have to do is send it some good growing vibes from the warmth of my own home.

The simple tending of garlic begins sometime in May or June when the plant sends up a flower stalk or “scape.”  This flowering stem that snakes up and coils elegantly near the top should be snapped at the place where it emerges from the plant stalk. This pruning of the scape directs the plant’s energy to the bulb, thereby increasing the bulb size. Scapes are a flavorful edible and can be eaten raw or cooked. I like to use them thinly sliced in salads and sauteed with other vegetables in frittatas. I came across a garlic scape and walnut pesto recipe in “Vegetable Literacy” and look forward to trying it…mmmm.

Wagon of Garlic photo by Kate ProtzmanOkay, back to the tending. Two to three weeks after the scapes emerge, the garlic is ready to harvest. When I see the stalks start to die down while turning yellow and brown, I know that it’s time to get out the spading fork. It’s very gratifying to unearth the pearly bulbs from the dark earth, especially when all the conditions come together to yield a healthy and bountiful crop.

If you’ve been daydreaming about growing your own garlic, I encourage you to go for it. If I can do it, you can do it. I rounded up the relevant materials from DBRL’s collection so you can read further about how to grow garlic and learn more about its healing properties and seductive culinary uses.

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The Gentleman Recommends: Graham Joyce

October 20, 2014

Book cover for Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham JoyceThere should be a word for the feeling one gets when wooed by an artist from beyond the grave. After several seconds of  consideration, I propose “melanarsabsentia.” Graham Joyce gave me a severe case of melanarsabsentia. He died on September 9th, and I didn’t read him until a few days later. The first thing I read by him, a blog post in part concerning his impending death and the beauty of living, made clear his large heart, fine wordsmanship and my need to read his novels. Of course, it’s not like if I’d have read him while he was living that we would’ve gathered for snacks shared over a tedious board game, though I can’t rule it out. Regardless, there will be no yogurt-covered pretzels and monopoly for us, unless he comes back to haunt me and/or my ability to communicate with the spirit world finally manifests. If I were a character from his novels, I might very well have such a haunting, or at least my sanity might bend in such a way as to believe I’m being haunted. But as I’m a character from some other novel with no perceptible ghosts and a narrative that can’t be bothered to skip a single bathroom break or dull moment, I guess I’ll never meet Mr. Joyce. But melanarsabsentia is only just barely about the elimination of the unlikely possibility of meeting the artist; it’s more about an artist whose work deserves to be appreciated by everyone inclined to appreciate their sort of work being robbed of having such persons appreciate them while they’re still alive to appreciate it, even though the appreciation directed the artist’s way almost certainly won’t be perceivable.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale” is sort of a kind of tale about fairies, but mostly about a family of humans. Joyce needs only a few hundred words to deeply invest you in his characters so you feel their shock when, during the novel’s opening scene, a man answers the door to find his daughter, gone missing 20 years ago, returned and not aged a day.

The Silent Land” follows a couple who, after an avalanche during their ski trip, finds their resort empty and then the resort town empty and then that they are unable to leave the town. Their compass spins, food doesn’t rot, burning candles don’t diminish. They come to the conclusion that they’ve died in the avalanche and go about trying to make the best of a strange afterlife.

The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit,” renamed for the American audience from “The Year of the Ladybird” (because sharply dressed ghosts are much more rad and freedom-y than ladybirds, and what kind of tea-taxing duffer comes up with the codswallop of calling a ladybug a ladybird?), is a story about a young man who takes a summer job at a resort and is menaced by a ghost in an electric blue suit and an absurd amount of ladybugs.

Graham Joyce was a prolific writer, and Daniel Boone Regional Library carries several of his works. He wrote the sort of novels you might suspect from someone who, as a child, was advised by his reluctantly psychic grandmother to simply cuss out a ghost if one ever gave him trouble. It should be common knowledge that ghosts cannot abide a coarse tongue and will peacefully leave upon encountering one. If Joyce’s ghost shows up, I plan to speak bloody politely.

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Roots of the Local Genealogical Movement

October 17, 2014

Book cover for Roots by Alex HaleyThirty-five years ago this October, the Missouri State Genealogical Association (MoSGA) began its grass roots efforts to protect old family cemeteries, preserve precious records and help people discover their own roots.

This work began after the popular television mini-series “Roots,” based on the book by Alex Haley, and its sequel were aired in 1977 and 1979, respectively. Today, the organization is still going strong, holding a state conference that includes a nationally known speaker and several support speakers. MoSGA also helped pass a state law that protects many family cemeteries that dot the countryside throughout Missouri. This organization has funded several causes related to genealogy: collecting money to give to the National Archives Trust Fund to save documents in the National Archives; contributing to a 21st Century Fund to give money to local historical and genealogical societies where manpower to preserve some of their records is available, but not monies; and providing the funding to purchase thousands of dollars worth of books written about Missouri that are historical and/or genealogical in nature. These books are housed in the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri, but they are available to all DBRL users via interlibrary loan (ILL).

The fact that MoSGA started in Columbia says something about the people of central Missouri and their pride in their heritage. The Genealogical Society of Central Missouri also started in Columbia, with several of its earliest meetings being held at the Columbia Public Library. Soon they, along with several visionaries who wanted a permanent building to house local history, began the construction of the Boone County Historical Society Museum and Galleries on Ponderosa. This facility is home to the Wilson-Wulff Genealogical Library. Run by volunteers, it is staffed the same hours the museum is open to the public. This group holds monthly meetings – generally with a program – and also produces a journal called “The Reporter,” which is full of information about families that settled the central Missouri area.

The Daniel Boone Regional Library generally offers a genealogy or historical program every month in at least one of its branches. This past July, 50 people attended a program about DNA’s uses in genealogy, given by Kathleen Brandt of Kansas City. Brandt is a nationally known researcher appearing on the television show “Who Do You Think You Are.” The library is also a good resource for not only local and statewide genealogy resources, but also general how-to information. Come see us. Maybe we can help you find your roots – where ever they start!

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Win a Free Audiobook! (Because it’s Raining and We Need Cheering Up)

October 15, 2014

stack of audiobooksIs autumn supposed to be this soggy? My chrysanthemums are struggling in my swampy flower beds. I’m thinking of designing water-proof Halloween costumes for my kiddos. All of this rain has me feeling a little down, and I thought our readers might be having a similar case of the weather-induced blues. My cure? Let’s give away some free stuff!

Register to win one of following audiobooks on CD by filling out our short online form. We’ll notify winners after November 5.

One entry per person. Good luck!

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Jack the Ripper: Case Closed?

October 13, 2014

Book cover for Naming Jack the Ripper“Jack the Ripper Murders Solved!” “Identity of Jack the Ripper Proven by DNA Evidence!” For a couple of days, I saw headline after headline proclaiming the serial murder case that has befuddled investigators for more than 120 years had finally been cracked by modern forensics. This flurry of discussion was prompted by the publication of a new book, “Naming Jack the Ripper” by Russell Edwards, a London history buff who came into possession of a shawl worn by one of the victims. He claims some DNA left on the material matches the DNA of a descendant of Aaron Kosminski, a London hairdresser and long-time resident on the suspect list. Additionally, Edwards quotes a detective who worked the case as saying he believed Kosminski was the culprit. Case closed. Right?

Soon enough articles started popping up, saying, in essence: “Not so fast.”  They point out that even if the DNA is Kosminski’s, it doesn’t mean he killed the owner of the shawl, only that he had some contact with it. Maybe he sneezed on it while standing next to her. Then, too, the garment has changed hands many times. A lot of people have handled it over the years. And Edwards is not the first person to have “named” the killer.

There’s an “Autobiography of Jack the Ripper,” published from a purportedly found manuscript, penned in 1920, containing the author’s recollections of the time in his life when he was on a murder spree. Or possibly it’s an anonymously-written work of historical fiction. Or an outright hoax. The book includes notes – some skeptical – by Paul Begg, who has made a career of writing about the case.

Patricia Cornwell, known primarily for fictional crime stories, tried her hand at solving the real-life mystery a few years ago. She, too, thought she’d solved the old case using contemporary techniques. In her 2003 book “Portrait of a Killer,” she concludes the guilty party was an artist named Walter Sickert. Her case hinges on “the successful use of DNA analysis to establish a link between an envelope mailed by the Ripper and two envelopes used by Sickert.” Well then.

It seems everyone claims proof of the murderer’s real identity, but in each case it’s a different person. In 2011, the Whitechapel Society – named for the area in which the murders took place, and devoted to investigating the crimes and their surrounding social context – published a book compiling the cases for and against several suspects. “Jack the Ripper, the Suspects” mentions Cornwell’s book and addresses some of its points directly. In the chapter on Kosminski, they speculate one of the reasons he drew so much focus from detectives was because of a tendency in the police department at that time toward anti-Semitism. Beyond speaking about suspects and evidence, this book explains some of the societal factors at play that made the investigation of the case difficult. The only conclusion I was able to draw was that we might never know the truth.

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Staff Book Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

October 10, 2014

Photo of Silent Hill Down The Path by Michael ShaheenThemes of dystopia and survival in a post-apocalyptic world run heavy through popular fiction. Readers have ventured into The Hunger Games series, which presents a world in which children must participate in a televised fight to the death. Max Brooks’ “World War Z” examines the chaos that would erupt under a worldwide threat such as a zombie invasion.  Even older novels, such as Stephen King’s “The Stand,” give readers the chance to ponder “what if?” from the comfort and safety of their own non-apocalyptic world.

The RoadThe Road” by Cormac McCarthy is another tale in the apocalyptic, dystopian sphere. McCarthy’s story follows a man and his young son as they venture through a barren, desolate wasteland on a journey to the ocean. What exactly happened to the land they venture through is never stated, but I think one can surmise. And in the end it’s not really important how this terrible thing happened – something bad occurred that made life on the planet mostly unlivable. A few people have managed to survive, but doing so has often meant living by unspeakable means.

The father and son’s journey is fascinating, but what really drew me in is their relationship. Throughout their perilous travels, the two share many discussions about life, often centering around the question of what it means to be good or bad. These talks allow McCarthy to flesh out the two characters, allowing readers to connect with and get to know them better. The father clearly adores the boy, doing everything in his power to keep the child safe and secure. And the boy loves this man who has served as his guide and protector. At one point in the book, McCarthy sums up their relationship perfectly, describing the pair as being “each other’s world entire.” In many ways, their love for each other is the only good thing remaining in their world.

McCarthy uses a sparse, poetic writing style. This makes the novel fairly compact, but it still packs quite a punch. I listened to the audiobook version, which is narrated by Tom Stechschulte. He is a masterful reader, jumping from the voice of the man to the voice of the child with apparent ease. The story moved me deeply; I’d be lying if I did not admit that this story is often incredibly sad. But it is also one of the most hopeful stories I’ve read because of McCarthy’s exploration of the bonds of love and family and how they can manage to survive even in a world that has been burnt down to little more than ashes.

photo credit: Mike Shaheen via photopin cc

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Journey to Make a Quilt

October 8, 2014

I recently found myself in a little bit of a fix. I needed to get my brother a gift for his wedding. As an artist, I felt obligated to make him something because, well, making things is what I do. I love to sew, and this grand idea of making a quilt took over me. Now, eighty percent of a quilt later, I’m thrilled to be close to finishing but also sick of sewing.

Photo of an unfinished quilt

This is my quilt. It has yet to have edging, needs to be trimmed down and still requires a few more feet of quilting. Before I decided on this pattern, I spent hours flipping through quilting books from the library’s collection.

I started by looking at various patterns. “Kaffe Fassett’s Quilts in the Sun” by Kaffe Fassett, was one of my favorite books. The way she mixes floral prints is breathtaking. I was very inspired by her work and plan to, one day very far from when I finish this project,  make one of her diamond quilts.

Another one of my favorites is “City Quilts” by Cherri House. I thought the designs were modern and simple, yet elegant. I was inspired by the fabric choices in this book and tried to incorporate some of the modern simplicity of “City Quilts” into my own design.

I spent a lot of time practicing continuous-line machine-quilting, specifically designs from “Doodle Quilting” by Cheryl Malkowski and “Mindful Meandering” by Laura Lee Fritz. Continuous-line quilting is amazing, but it’s also very hard. Imagine trying to tug a 30 pound quilt around a tiny needle. After half an hour, I need a break because my forearms ache from pulling around so much fabric. Although it’s hard work, machine quilting is still faster than hand quilting, and it still has that human hand feeling unlike programmed machine quilting.

If you want to learn this style, practicing it is going to be very important. I did not practice enough and had to rip out a good chunk of my quilting stitches before I got into a good rhythm.

Photograph of a continuous line pattern on a quilt

This is a close up of my continuous-line pattern. I went with zigzags for a third of the quilt, and swirls for the rest. As you can see, the swirls are far from perfect.

I also checked out and used “The Quilting Bible: The Complete Photo Guide to Machine Quilting” for basic quilting information I didn’t know. For example, you shouldn’t iron every seam open. You should only finger press them. I destroyed quite a few quilt pillow tests this way, because my ironing was causing the fabric to warp all over the place. I only found out this was a problem after hunkering down with “The Quilting Bible” and reading up on the basics.

The library has a HUGE collection of quilting books. You will spend hours going through all of them, and somewhere on that shelf is a quilt design that’s perfect for you. Just be prepared for a lot of work, time and – if you are buying new fabric – money.

Good luck, my quilters!

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If You Enjoyed Boys in the Boat…

October 6, 2014

Book cover for Seabiscuit by Laura HillenbrandBook cover for Boys in the BoatWe have a bit of a One Read hangover around here. After spending an intense month exploring Daniel James Brown’s “The Boys in the Boat” through numerous programs celebrating Olympic sport and the American spirit, we find ourselves feeling a little bit down and a little adrift. What next? If you are in the same boat (ha, ha), here are some reading suggestions to fill that One Read-shaped hole in your life.

A no-brainer read-alike for this year’s community read is “Seabiscuit” by Laura Hillenbrand. Also set during the depression, this work of nonfiction is another inspiring look at an unlikely winner, a racehorse that made history despite his short legs and knobby knees.

Many of our readers surprised themselves by not only enjoying the moving story of Joe Rantz but also becoming deeply curious about the sport of rowing. In “The Amateurs,” David Halberstam profiles the struggles of four unknown young men who compete to represent the U.S. as its lone single sculler in the 1984 Olympics. Like in Brown’s book, the athletes’ stories and descriptions of their singular dedication make for compelling reading, as do richly described rowing competitions. While not rowing-related, Halberstam’s “The Teammates” – which follows the friendship of Boston Red Sox teammates Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky from their playing days in the 1940s to Ted Williams’ death in 2002 – would also be a great choice for sports fans.

Maybe you loved how Brown wove extensive research into his book. You may find other works of historical narrative nonfiction appealing. Like Brown, Lawrence Goldstone uses extensive research in “Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies” to present Orville and Wilbur Wright and their rival as complex and fully-formed characters. Goldstone weaves the history of aviation into his narrative and creates a palpable sense of the spirit of innovation that infused the dawn of the 20th century.

What works of narrative nonfiction would you recommend? Let us know in the comments.

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Reader Review: Leaving Everything Most Loved

October 3, 2014

Editor’s note: This review was submitted by a library patron during the 2014 Adult Summer Reading program. We will continue to periodically share some of these reviews throughout the year.

leavingeverythingmostlovedMaisie Dobbs is a female detective living in London after WWI. Maisie was born in a working class family, but through her grace and extreme intelligence she has gone beyond the standard social and gender barriers to earn her education and establish her own detective agency. This book is the tenth in the Maisie Dobbs series, and the mystery centers around a murder committed due to class barriers and prejudice. All the mysteries in the series merge with England during the historic time frame, so not only are you reading about a good mystery story, but you are also exposed to social issues that are occurring in England.

Three words that describe this book: engaging, strong, female

You might want to pick this book up if: If you love reading a good mystery story over a hot cup of tea.


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Need to Spice Up Your Life? Make Your Own Hot Sauce!

October 1, 2014

bottle of SrirachaWho doesn’t love a good hot sauce? Tabasco, Frank’s and Cholula are just some of the many different ways to liven up a meal. Beyond adding some heat to your dish, capsaicin, the spicy chemical in peppers, causes the brain to release endorphins, which are strong natural painkillers. I recently checked out The Hot Sauce Cookbook, which contains recipes for spicy foods and hot sauces from all over the world, paired with historical and cultural backgrounds of the dishes. Some of the recipes include the Ethiopian berbere, nuoc mam cham (of Vietnam), a Yucatan salsa called xnipec, and piri-piri, a Portuguese-African sauce. Learning about these condiments was really interesting, and I was excited to find a recipe for one of my favorites, Sriracha.

Photo of Sriracha chipsSriracha is originally a Thai sauce, which traveled to America and carved a distinct place in our culture. The “rooster sauce” was created by a housewife named Thanom Chakkapak in Thailand in the 1930s. Her friends loved her recipe so much they encouraged her to sell it commercially, and when she did, it became the best selling hot sauce in Thailand. The US incarnation of Sriracha has been around since 1980, when it was popularized by the brand Huy Fong (the one with a green lid and picture of a rooster on the bottle). Recently the company was in the news when they were accused of making the entire town of Irwindale, California cry with their factory’s spicy fumes. As one of America’s most popular condiments, sriracha also holds a place in our popular culture. The sauce is used in many major corporate restaurants, including Subway and White Castle, and there are even Sriracha-flavored potato chips and candy canes. Earlier this summer the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles held an art show exploring the impact of Sriracha and Tapatio, another popular hot sauce, on that part of our country.

Cookbook in hand, I decided to try my hand at making Sriracha. Making it took longer than I’d anticipated (you have to ferment it for 1-2 weeks), but the end result was good, and tasted similar to the store-bought product, with a few differences. I couldn’t find red jalapenos, so I used green ones instead (which made the end product green as well). My Sriracha also turned out slightly chunkier in texture than the popular Huy Fong brand’s sauce, and it seemed to be more spicy (probably because I didn’t take all of the seeds out. Here is the recipe I followed (from The Hot Sauce Cookbook).

Photo of fresh jalapenos

The first step is to make a fermented pepper mash out of about 2 pounds of red chiles (I used green jalapenos). For this you will need:

  • 2 pounds of peppers (classic Sriracha is made with red jalapenos, but they’re hard to find. Using green ones will still give you a similar taste.)
  • 1/4 cup of salt

Photo of cut peppers

Next cut the peppers in half lengthwise. Wearing gloves will prevent your hands from getting spicy.

Photo of mashed peppers

Put the peppers in a stainless steel bowl, sprinkle them with 1/4 cup of salt, and mash them up with a potato masher until they are soft and bruised, yet still intact. Let them sit uncovered in the bowl overnight. The next morning there should be a layer of liquid at the bottom of the bowl.

Transfer the peppers and liquid to a mason jar, and fill the jar with water. Loosely seal the jar with a canning lid and set it on top of some towels. The mixture will fizz and spill over the jar during the next few days. Fill the jar with more peppers or water as needed. Allow the peppers to ferment for at least one week, and up to two weeks.

Photo of peppers in a food processor

After they’ve fermented, dump the sauce into a jar. Using gloves, pull out as many seeds as you can, while putting the jalapenos into a food processor. When you’ve got them all in, strain the liquid left over and add it to the food processor. Blend.

Congratulations, the hardest part is over! Now all you have to do is blend the following ingredients together in a food processor:

  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 cup of the pureed pepper mash that you just made
  • 2 garlic cloves (I used more like 5)

Now go put your homemade Sriracha on everything you eat. If you’re running out of ideas, this book can give you some tips on recipes to make with your hot sauce.  Happy spicy eating!

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Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The October 2014 List

September 29, 2014

Library Reads LogoIt’s nearly October. The days grow shorter and the temperatures colder. Halloween is on the horizon. So it seems appropriate that a ghost story of sorts tops this month’s LibraryReads list, the top 10 books publishing this month that librarian’s love. Make a cup of hot tea, curl up under your favorite blanket and lose yourself in one of these titles.

Book cover for A Sudden LightA Sudden Light
by Garth Stein
“Garth Stein has given us a masterpiece. This beautiful story takes readers on a thrilling exploration of a family estate brimming with generations of riveting Riddell family ghosts and secrets. This is a true exploratory novel, taking readers through secret passageways, hidden rooms and darkened corridors that engage all of the senses.”
- Whitney Gayle, James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford, CT

Book cover for Leaving TimeLeaving Time
by Jodi Picoult
“Leaving Time is a love story – love between mother and child, love between soulmates and love between elephants. The story is told from a variety of narrators, all of whom are broken and lost. Jenna is searching for answers to the disappearance of her mother and seeks the help of a retired police detective and a psychic. Alice, Jenna’s mom, disappeared after a tragic accident at the elephant sanctuary, and her work with the elephants is fascinating and touching. The book is an ode to motherhood in all its forms – the good, bad and the ugly – and it is brilliant.”
- Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Community Library, Austin, TX

 inconceivable tales from the making of The Princess BrideAs You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride
by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden
“Even if you don’t have a crush on Cary Elwes, you’ll enjoy this vivid behind-the-scenes account of the making of The Princess Bride. His stories, especially those involving Andre the Giant, will leave you in stitches. Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Billy Crystal and others also recount their experiences. An amusing account of a group of performers who came together to make a heartfelt film that is loved by many.”
- Emily Weiss, Bedford Public Library, Bedford, NH

Here’s the rest of the October list with links to these on-order titles in our catalog for your hold-placing pleasure. Happy reading.

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Feeding Your Hunger for Roots N Blues N BBQ

September 26, 2014

Preservation Hall Jazz Band, 2014 Roots N Blues N BBQ featured artistsIt’s Roots N Blues N BBQ time in mid-Missouri, which has us all hankering for good music and good food. If this festival leaves you hungry for more music from this year’s featured artists or inspired to fire up your own grill, your library has plenty of materials to satisfy your cravings!

New since last year’s festival is Hoopla, a service that allows you to stream and download music (and audiobooks, movies and television shows) to your smartphone, tablet or computer. You never have to wait to listen to music through Hoopla, because more than one person can access the same  album at the same time. Want to listen to Roots N Blues artists Avett Brothers or Amos Lee right now? You can, through Hoopla.

If you like traditional formats, we also have plenty of CDs for check out from David Wax Museum, Rosanne Cash, Los Lobos, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and other festival headliners.

Finally, if you haven’t gotten your fill of grilled meats, we have a whole slew of cookbooks for you to drool over. Enjoy!



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A Sweetener Like No Other: Celebrating National Honey Month

September 24, 2014

North Charleston Farmer's MarketImagine being an ancient human and stumbling upon honey for the first time. Maybe you were out foraging for food in the forest and observed another creature, perhaps a bear, clawing around in a tree cavity and blissfully licking something golden from her paw, while batting at winged creatures buzzing angrily around her face. You waited her out and then crept up to the tree and found a chunk of something sticky and waxy on the ground. You swiped your finger across it and dabbed the substance on your tongue. Mmmm…whatever this was and however it got there, you wanted to share the news with your clan and figure out a way to make this thick liquid sweetness a regular part of your life.

Book cover for Natural BeekeepingHoney, the first sweetener known to humankind, has been prized as a food (and for medicinal properties) for thousands of years. It is no wonder that it tastes so lusciously divine, because it is essentially a reduction of flower nectar. The early honey hunters likely broke hives from tree branches and brought the hives home. Later, humans got the big idea to try and “keep” bees, and they devised cavities for bees to live in so they would manufacture their honey close by. Early beekeepers constructed hives that varied from mud or clay pots to wicker baskets to straw skeps. Later, in the 1850’s, a fellow named Langstroth devised a wooden hive that was so sweet-spot-on in design and usefulness that it remains the hive of choice by today’s modern beekeepers.

Book cover for Taste of HoneySo humans and bees have had an intimate relationship (with the aid of smoke which calms the bees while their hives are harvested) for a very long time. Honey is not the only reason bees are revered by humans. Bees build comb out of self-generated wax in which to store their honey and brood (baby bees); this wax is harvested to make candles and to use as an ingredient in cosmetics. Pollen, also gathered by bees to feed their young, is collected and consumed for its therapeutic properties.

Perhaps the most important of all the gifts we receive from honey bees is their fertilization (or pollination) of plants, a natural act completed in their process of gathering nectar and pollen. As they fly from flower to flower, they transfer pollen grains between the blossoms – this pollinating activity is what makes large scale agricultural production possible. It’s because of the bees that we have fruits and vegetables amply available to us. In fact we are truly dependent on them for much of our food supply.

So it was with great alarm, back around 2004, that beekeepers started to report that bees were mysteriously vanishing in droves. This syndrome of disappearance now has the name “Colony Collapse Disorder,” and though its exact causes are not known, likely culprits include pesticides, mite infections and malnutrition. So with this dark turn of events, how can we celebrate National Honey Month and the honey bees? I believe it is imperative that we support organic farming methods because these methods avoid the use of pesticides that are damaging to honey bees as well as other beneficial insects. And we can support our beekeepers by purchasing their honey and other bee products, of course.

Photo credit: North Charleston via photopin cc

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Classics for Everyone: Maya Angelou

September 22, 2014

Book cover for I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsI like to think of Maya Angelou as a native Missourian, although she spent only a small percentage of her life in the state.  She was born in St. Louis in 1928 with the name Marguerite Anne Johnson. Upon the break-up of her parents’ marriage when she was three years old, she and her older brother Bailey were sent to live with their paternal grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas.

This is where her story begins in the memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” The most well-known of her books, it follows her life through the age of 17, ending with the birth of her son. She shared more about her remarkable life in subsequent volumes, conducting readers on a tour of the circuitous route that led to her achievements as an author, poet, performer, activist and San Francisco’s first black streetcar conductor. It’s a truly American story:  a scared little girl feeling abandoned by her parents grows up to present an inaugural poem for one president and receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from another.

But some details show less pleasant aspects of the country, including troubled race relations.  Angelou describes her grandmother’s worried anguish when by-then teenaged Bailey fails to come home on time. “The Black woman in the South who raised sons, grandsons and nephews had her heartstrings tied to a hanging noose.”

Maya and Bailey found themselves shuttled back and forth a few times among parents and grandparents. It was during their second St. Louis sojourn that one of the most disturbing events of the book happened – 8-year-old Maya was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. The child stopped speaking to anyone but her brother. But after they returned to Arkansas, something inspiring occurred. Her grandmother’s neighbor and friend, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, helped her regain her voice through the power of literature, inviting the girl to read great books with her.

Eventually Maya’s parents both migrated to California, and the two kids followed. This is where the story wraps up, but not before some major learning and growth on Maya’s part, including a short stint as a runaway living on the streets. She fell in with a group of other homeless teens, who provided her first experience of true cooperation and equality among different races. The influence was lasting, and her words about it seem like a good place to conclude, as they describe so much of her life’s work: “After hunting down unbroken bottles and selling them with a white girl from Missouri, a Mexican girl from Los Angeles and a Black girl from Oklahoma, I was never again to sense myself so solidly outside the pale of the human race. The lack of criticism evidenced by our ad hoc community influenced me, and set a tone of tolerance for my life.”

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Reader Review: The Steady Running of the Hour

September 19, 2014

Editor’s note: This review was submitted by a library patron during the 2014 Adult Summer Reading program. We will continue to periodically share some of these reviews throughout the year.

steadyrunningofthehourWith dual stories, the plot develops quickly in “The Steady Running of the Hour” by Justin Go. The WWI background brings to life a period that resonates decades later, with a descendant racing a clock to find out his ancestry. As an interested party to genealogy research, I liked the connection and the questions that were raised – and I felt the same desire that I wanted to talk to these people who came before me. The ending may be a surprise – that may be what I didn’t like about the book, but I am still thinking about it.

Three words that describe this book: historical, engaging, provocative

You might want to pick this book up if: you are interested in WWI. WWI tends to be overshadowed by the Second World War, so this book delves into lives of Europeans at this time period and the aftermath of the next decade. Also, mystery readers will enjoy the plot development.


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Let’s Travel: Nuremberg

September 17, 2014

Kaiseburg Castle, Nuremberg Never in my life did I plan on traveling to Nuremberg. For one thing, as far as I knew, it was a relatively ordinary German town, remembered mostly for the Nuremberg Trials, a series of military tribunals held there by the Allied forces after World War II. For another thing, it’s hard for me, a Jew, to visit a place whose prominence is based on its Nazi past. Yet there I was, with a group of tourists who were brought there by their passion for travel, and who were kept together by Tunde, our energetic Hungarian tour director, and Giorgio, our Italian bus driver. It was an English-speaking tour, although we had two South-Korean young women, six Lebanese middle-aged women, a Filipino family with an adult son (all now living in California), a Brazilian and a Portuguese married to each other (now living in Florida), quite a few Brits (some born and raised there and some brought there from Greece or Spain by marriage or other verisimilitudes of life), lots of Australians (strangely, mostly of Italian descent), one former Russian (me) and several American couples – 47 people in all.

Making a wish at Beautiful FountainWe were traveling to Prague (our tour started in Munich), and Nuremberg was just a convenient place for our bus to stop and for us to have lunch in the center of this medieval Bavarian town. Tunde gave us a brief introduction to the city, and Giorgio dropped us off at the Old Town. At first, we walked around the ornate Beautiful Fountain (that is its actual name!), densely surrounded by tourists trying to reach two golden rings welded within the fountain’s iron fence. (A legend says that if you turn the “golden ring” and make a wish, it will come true.) Then we spent several minutes gazing at the prominent facade of the Church of Our Lady, whose mechanical clock comes to life every day at noon. Finally, we wandered up the street to the Kaiseburg Castle, one of the most important royal palaces in the Middle Ages.

There was no lack of cafes and restaurants anywhere, many spilling invitingly on the streets, offering beer, sausages and other German staples. Everything looked clean and appealing: the signs, the potted flowers on the window sills and the waitresses’ uniforms. After lunch, I thought briefly about visiting the Albrecht-Durer’s House, but our time in Nuremberg was up and soon we boarded our bus and moved on.

“That was a very cute town,” somebody said behind me.

“Sure,” I thought. “Today it is. But what was it in the past?”

Nuremberg first rose to prominence in the Middle Ages, as a key point on trade routes. The first big Jewish pogrom there took place in 1298. Some 700 people were killed, and a church and a city hall were built where they used to live. In the late Middle Ages, Nuremberg became known as a center of science, printing and invention. Albrecht Durer produced the first printed star charts there, Nicolaus Copernicus published the main part of his work and baroque composer Johann Pachelbel, native of Nuremberg, received his early musical education there.

In the 20th century, the reputation of Nuremberg changed dramatically. From 1927 to 1938, it served as a playground for Nazi Party conventions (the Nuremberg Rallies), and quite a few buildings were built there to accommodate them. After Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, these rallies became important propaganda events. At one of them Hitler passed the anti-Semitic laws, which took German citizenship away from all Jews. The pogrom of Kristallnacht, a precursor to Hitler’s Final Solution, was crueler in Nuremberg than anywhere else in Germany. (So far, Nuremberg city archives contain the names of 2,374 of Nuremberg’s Holocaust victims.)

During World War II, the city served as a site for military district headquarters and military production. Airplanes, submarines and tank engines were built there, with many factories using slave labor (a branch of Flossenburg concentration camp was there as well). After the war, Nuremberg was selected for conducting the International Military Tribunals (a choice based largely on the city’s importance for the Nazi party), where high-ranking Nazi officials, officers, doctors and judges were prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Nuremberg was heavily bombed during the war – a fact many tourists wouldn’t even know, since most of the city was rebuilt (with the exception of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds, which were left in ruins) and its prominent Medieval buildings reconstructed. Today, the city boasts Germany’s most famous Christmas market, the world’s largest toy fair, car races and many cultural events from folk festivals to classical open-air concerts. Tourists come here from all over the world, eager to inhale the medieval charm of the Old Town, try new foods and generally enjoy themselves.

Nuremberg is a city in one of Europe’s richest countries – the status Germany achieved not by conquering other nations and erasing whole populations from the face of the earth, but by implementing a good education system, supporting businesses, maintaining a stable political system and encouraging perfect work ethics. Ironic, isn’t it? So what was it all about: the fighting, the deaths and the suffering of so many? Was it just a fluke? A lesson to remember? If so, how long must we remember? Ten years, twenty, a hundred? And is remembering always a good thing? Centuries-old ethnic and religious conflicts still result in horrific events even now. How strange it must be to be a German tourist, since so many places still preserve the evidence of their country’s infamous past.

Not Nuremberg, though. There, everything is minimized. In fact, the first memorial to the Nuremberg Trials was not opened there until November 2010. Well, who can blame them for not willing to stir up the past? As they say, let sleeping dogs lie. It’s time to move on – as in fact we were, for our tour bus was already rolling along the pretty Bavarian landscape, carrying us to Prague.

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