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Images of the Past: Docs Featuring Archival Footage

February 11, 2015

how to survive a plague

Creating documentaries can take a lot of time, but it can be even harder when you don’t shoot the footage yourself. Check out these documentaries that use old footage to tell a story from the past.

the black power mixtapeThe Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975” (2011)

Footage shot by a group of Swedish journalists documenting the Black Power Movement in the United States is edited together by a contemporary Swedish filmmaker. Includes footage of Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis and Eldridge Cleaver.

how to survive a plagueHow to Survive a Plague” (2012)

The story of two coalitions whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition. The activists bucked oppression, helping to identify promising new medication and treatments and move them through trials and into drugstores in record time.

let the fire burnLet the Fire Burn” (2013)

A found-footage film that unfurls with the tension of a great thriller. In 1985, a longtime feud between the city of Philadelphia and controversial Black Power group MOVE came to a deadly climax. TV cameras captured the conflagration that quickly escalated, resulting in the tragic deaths of 11 people.

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What to Read While You Wait for The Girl on the Train

February 9, 2015

Book cover for The Girl on the Train by Paula HawkinsThe Girl on the Train”  by Paula Hawkins  follows the mundane life of down-and-out Rachel who commutes daily into London by train. Before long she realizes she has been observing a couple every morning as they enjoy breakfast up on their roof top. Rachel begins to fantasize about their life, creating names for the couple while wishing their life was all hers. Then one day she notices a stranger in the garden, and the woman she fondly named Jess is no longer there! Written in the same vein as “Rear Window,” you will soon find yourself entangled in this psychological thriller. Place a hold on this popular best-seller, then pick up one of these similar books that draw in the curious observer.

Book cover for A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil HoganA Pleasure and a Calling” by Phil Hogan

Mr. Hemming, such a nice man. He is a real estate agent for a small community and likes to spy on his clients. He does this by keeping keys to the homes he has sold — all of them.  Then his creepy little secret life gets put on hold when they find a dead body in one of his homes.

 Book cover for Death Match by Lincoln ChildDeath Match” by Lincoln Child

Eden Incorporated — surveillance, artificial intelligence, state of the art matchmaking. It’s a perfect company. They create the perfect couple, the perfect match. Young, attractive, they have everything — it’s perfect. Now, a double suicide on their perfect living room floor. How is it that if everything was so perfect, they are dead? Isn’t Eden perfect?

Book cover for The Other Woman's House by Sophie HannahThe Other Woman’s House by Sophia Hannah

Unable to sleep, Connie Bowskill uses her husband’s laptop to log on to an Internet real estate site to view a home she has become obsessed with. While taking the virtual tour, she is witness to a woman lying face down in a pool of blood! Flustered by what she sees, she awakens her husband to show him, but when they return to site the photo is no longer there!

Have other similar titles to recommend to your fellow readers? Let us know in the comments!

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The Work of Denis Johnson

February 6, 2015

Book cover for Train Dreams by Denis JohnsonIf you’re a Denis Johnson fan, part of the excitement about a forthcoming book is anticipating where he will take you this time. He is not an author to be pigeonholed. His wonderful novella, “Train Dreams,” was originally serialized in “The Paris Review” and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2012. (Nobody won that year — the Pulitzer Committee couldn’t come to a final decision.) The story follows a day laborer’s travels in the American West during the early 20th century. Before that Johnson published another novella, “Nobody Move,” this time serialized in Playboy. It tells an archetypal noir story about a group of shady characters in pursuit of a bag of cash. You can get an idea of the diverse subjects he is interested in through his nonfiction collection, “Seek.” There he writes about hippies, militia groups, gold mining in Alaska, Christian biker gangs and war-ravaged Liberia.

Book cover for The Laughing Monsters by Denis JohnsonSome of his experiences in Liberia were inspiration for his newest book, “The Laughing Monsters.” This book treads some similar territory to a previous one, “Tree of Smoke.” That was Johnson’s “Big Novel,” which won the 2007 National Book Award. It focuses on a spy-in-training during the Vietnam War engaged in psychological operations against the Vietcong, but its scope is broad. Covering a span of 20 years, it is as much about the character of America as the war in Vietnam. “The Laughing Monsters,” on the other hand, is a novella with a small cast of characters, set in the present day, and covers a short period of time. Like “Tree of Smoke,” it concerns intelligence operatives who have represented western governments, although their original countries of origin are convoluted, and their loyalties/allegiances are dubious. These operatives are also traveling through damaged and war-torn countries on missions, and maybe counter-missions, while opportunistically pursuing personal profit. It might be the closest thing to a comedy Johnson has written, although there aren’t many belly laughs to be had. The New York Times picked the book as one of it’s 100 notable books for 2014 and described it as “cheerfully nihilistic.”

Book cover for Tree of Smoke by Denis JohnsonTwo of the main characters in “Tree of Smoke” are soldiers in the Vietnam War, the brothers Bill and James Houston. Bill Houston is also one of the central characters in Johnson’s first novel, “Angels.” Bill meets a wife running away with her two kids on a Greyhound bus. Together they bounce around the fringes of America through bus stations, bars and cheap motels. They encounter lots of dispossessed, strange and dangerous people. They inevitably get into trouble and make bad decisions, which get them into even more trouble. The book’s bleak subject matter could come off as exploitative in another author’s hands, but Johnson’s deft characterization and artful sentences make this story of marginal characters about something bigger than them. While it isn’t necessary to read “Angels” before reading “Tree of Smoke,” there is an added poignancy to reading about Bill Houston’s past when you already know his future.

The setting, time period and character types of Johnson’s stories can vary greatly from book to book, but there are shared characteristics within his body of work. Like most writers, he returns to certain themes and fascinations. You can see his interest in the spy genre in “The Laughing Monsters,” and “Tree of Smoke.” They are more like the spy stories of Graham Greene or John LeCarre than Ian Fleming, but the trappings of spycraft are there, as is the thrill of reading about it. He’s also a fan of crime, noir and hard-boiled fiction. (He adapted the Jim Thompson novel, “A Swell Looking Dame” for the screen.) His novel “Already Dead” is a complex noir about a descendant of a wealthy family who’s at risk of losing what remains of his fortune. After crossing a member of a drug syndicate, he’s on the run from two of his goons, including one who likes to punctuate punches to the face with quotes from Nietzsche.

While the protagonist in “Already Dead” might already be dead, the protagonist in “The Name of The World” is living a “posthumous life,” or so he has felt since his wife and child were killed in a car crash. An excellent addition to the genre I’m going to call “University Novels,” “The Name of The World” is about an academic in a small college town who finds himself forced to “act like somebody who cares what happens to him” despite his tentativeness about re-engaging with life. It is another short, poignant and beautifully written novel by Johnson.

Denis Johnson started his writing career as a poet. His first book of poetry was published when he was 19. I think this is the reason so many of his novels are short, but they never suffer for it. The books are as long as they need to be and crafted as precisely as his sentences. Sometimes he illuminates the emotional weight of his stories with language and images that are borderline hallucinogenic. There are always elements that surprise in his work and a consistency of quality, whether it’s short stories or plays, fiction or nonfiction. Despite some of his awards and critical acclaim, he remains an underappreciated writer in many ways. Just as he deserves the accolades he has received, he deserves to be read widely.

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Books to Celebrate a Century of Black Life, History and Culture

February 4, 2015

Book cover for Extraordinary Black Missourians by John A. Wright and Sylvia WrightFebruary is Black History Month, a time when we celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of African Americans in our nation’s history and our local communities. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) was founded in 1915 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, and in celebration of this organization’s 100th anniversary, this year’s Black History Month theme is “A Century of Black Life, History and Culture.”

Perhaps no book illustrates how African Americans shaped the past 100 years better than  “The African-American Century” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cornel West. From authors to politicians, activists to artists, this book profiles the rich variety of black Americans’ contributions to this nation’s development.

Similarly grand in scope is “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” by Pulitzer Prize-winner Isabel Wilkerson. This sweeping narrative follows the movement of black citizens, looking for a better life, from the South to cities in both the north and west over a period of more than 50 years.

Black America a Photographic JourneyBlack America: A Photographic Journey” by Marcia A. Smith surveys the black experience throughout the past century and earlier, using powerful visuals to accompany written narratives about the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Great Depression, the Harlem Renaissance, the civil rights movement and more.

Want to know more about black history in Missouri? Educator and writer John A. Wright, with the assistance of his wife Sylvia Wright, has published a number of books on the history of African Americans in Missouri, particularly in the St. Louis area. Their most recent book is “Extraordinary Black Missourians: Pioneers, Leaders, Performers, Athletes, and Other Notables Who’ve Made History.”  For more local history, check out Gary Kremer’s “Race and Meaning: The African American Experience in Missouri” and Rose Nolen’s “African Americans in Mid-Missouri: From Pioneers to Ragtimers.”

More resources from DBRL

  • Browse our Black Culture and History subject guide with links to library research databases and the best web links for learning about African Americans in Missouri and nationwide.
  • Discover our African-American History Online database (free with your library card) and find expansive and in-depth information – including primary source documents – on the people, events and topics important to the study of African-American history.

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Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The February 2015 List

February 2, 2015

Library Reads LogoThis month’s LibraryReads list definitely has something for every reading taste (just like the library itself)! The list of books publishing in February that librarians across the country recommend includes an entertaining historical fiction set in Hollywood during filming of “Gone With the Wind,” as well as a Regency romance, fantasy and plenty of mysteries to keep you and your cup of tea company. Top of the list is the latest penetrating look at a family’s inner life from Anne Tyler. Enjoy this month’s selections!

Book cover for A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne TylerA 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 A Touch of Stardust by Kate AlcottA Touch of Stardust” by Kate Alcott
“With the background of the making of ‘Gone with the Wind,’ this is a delightful read that combines historical events with the fictional career of an aspiring screenwriter. Julie is a wide-eyed Indiana girl who, through a series of lucky breaks, advances from studio go-fer and assistant to Carole Lombard to contract writer at MGM. A fun, engaging page-turner!”
- Lois Gross, Hoboken Public Library, Hoboken, NJ

Book cover for My Sunshine AwayMy Sunshine Away” by M.O. Walsh
“A crime against a 15-year-old girl is examined through the eyes of one of her friends — a friend who admits to being a possible suspect in the crime. This is a wonderful debut novel full of suspense, angst, loyalty, deceit and, most of all, love.”
- Alison Nadvornik, Worthington Libraries, Columbus, OH

And here is the rest of the list with links to these on-order books in our catalog.

Happy reading!

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How Do You Brew? All About Tea

January 30, 2015

Photo of tea cups by Naama ym via FlickrMy tea drinking habit goes way back. I recall developing a tea drinking routine as a university undergraduate.  Tea was cheaper than coffee (which I adored). At that time, I was pinching every single penny, so that might be the reason for my pronounced commitment to the way of tea. I’m hardly alone in my predilection — worldwide, tea is the most consumed beverage after water.

Although the tea plant originated in ancient China, over the centuries it traveled around the globe, leaving a rich historical trail, and it is now cultivated on five continents. It derives from the evergreen tree Camellia sinensis, and only the leaves of the plant are used in making the beverage. All tea starts as freshly plucked leaves, but it is transformed into six classes depending on manufacturing processes, which yield either green, yellow, white, oolong, black or Pu-erh style tea, each with a distinctive taste and appearance. It’s possible to become quite a connoisseur of this aromatic plant, given the varieties and diverse terroirs of its evergreen leaves.

Photo of tea by Gloria Garcia via FlickrTea is soothing; tea is invigorating. Served hot, it can warm you on a cold day, or it can quench your thirst and cool you down when served iced on a hot day. Either way, it’s hard to deny the joy its flavor and caffeine infusion can bring. In fact, I’ve claimed strong black tea dosed with heavy cream to be my first line of defense in fending off the blues. In order to enjoy a cup of tea to its utmost, it is important to brew it correctly. Here are the basic instructions, but know that depending on the class of tea, the brewing instructions can be tweaked to enhance the outcome. Is it possible to brew a bad cup of tea? You bet! The worst cup of tea I ever had was served in a tavern where the server ran lukewarm tap water into the mug with a tea bag and delivered it to me. It was undrinkable and truly a disappointment on that cold and clammy day.

Your favorite tea can change over time. (And so can your favorite teacup and teapot — I’ve broken many!) Earl Gray, a black tea flavored with oil of bergamot, was my first favorite. Later, I went on a serious binge of drinking mango-scented black tea, complete with little pale orange mango blossoms in the mix. Nowadays, my preference is English Breakfast, a blend containing a few types of black tea. It has a rich, full-bodied, robust flavor that calls me back again, day after day and year after year.

Photo of macaronsThe British have a deep appreciation for tea, and the wealthy classes developed a formal ritual of “afternoon tea” that dates back to the 1800s. It was a light meal usually eaten between 4 and 6 p.m., and it began as a means to stave off hunger until the evening meal (which could be 8 p.m. or later). Along with cups of tea with milk and sugar added, small sandwiches, cakes and pastries were served. In modern times, most folks are working at this time of day, so this formal tea meal is reserved as a treat for those visiting fancy tea houses or hotels, or as a way to celebrate a special occasion. Still, taking a less formal afternoon tea break with a little confection is a deeply embedded cultural habit, and this little batch of books attests to that fact.

With the winter dark bearing down, I’ve decided it’s time to have an afternoon tea party chez moi. I’ll invite my girlfriends, and we will visit over our cups of hot tea served with sweets and savories. Then we will retire to the living room where we will read aloud to each other our favorite inspirational poems and enhance the boost from the tea and camaraderie. Ahhhh…

 

Photo Credits:
Tea cups by naama via photopin cc
Tea by Gloria García via photopin cc
Macarons by ajagendorf25 via photopin cc

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Dining Out: Docs About Restaurants

January 28, 2015

Jiro Dreams of Sushi DVDCapturing the ambiance of a specific restaurant on film can be tricky. Check out these films that try to serve you up the sights and sounds associated with some exceptional restaurants from around the world.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi DVDJiro Dreams of Sushi” (2012)

The 85-year-old Jiro Ono is the proprietor of a 10-seat sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimages, shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar.


El Bulli DVDEl Bulli: Cooking in Progress” (2011)

For six months of the year, renowned Spanish chef Ferran Adrià closes his restaurant El Bulli – repeatedly voted the world’s best – and works with his culinary team to prepare the menu for the next season. An elegant, detailed study of food as avant-garde art.

I Like Killing Flies DVDI Like Killing Flies” (2007)

With more than 900 items on its menu all made from scratch, Shopsin’s has long been a quirky gem of New York food culture. The film follows Kenny Shopsin, his family and customers as the restaurant looks for a new place to move to in New York.

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Exploring the Strange World of Lewis Carroll

January 26, 2015

Book cover for Alice in WonderlandLewis Carroll introduced the world to Alice, a young girl who stumbles out of her dull reality into Wonderland, an absurd world of talking cats, mad hatters and a croquet-playing queen. Carroll was also an accomplished poet, turning the art of poetry on its head (check out his “Jabberwocky,” a personal favorite of mine that manages to make sense out of gibberish — “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”). His sense of humor and tales of the absurd have engaged readers of all ages for over a century.

Lewis Carroll, born Charles L. Dodgson on January 27, 1832, was the third of 11 children born to a country parson. As an adult, he taught and published material on math and logic in Oxford. His vivid imagination was visible even in his teaching. “Lewis Carroll in Numberland: His Fantastical Mathematical Logical Life” explores Carroll’s body of mathematical publications, with a special focus on the fascinating (and fun!) puzzles, riddles and ciphers he created to use in his teaching.

Photo of Alice Liddell

Carroll spent his time outside of the classroom engaged in photography, and he was particularly interested in portrait photography. This hobby introduced him to Alice Liddell, the girl many believe inspired his most famous character (although he denied that Alice was based on any one person). “The Alice Behind Wonderland” explains the technology and techniques involved in Carroll’s photography and offers a glimpse at the life of the “true” Alice.

Book cover for The Mystery of Lewis CarrollDue to his private nature, Carroll remains a bit of a mystery. Many of his private diaries have been lost. Fortunately, he was a prolific writer of letters to friends and family and much of that correspondence remains. Both “Very Truly Yours, Charles L. Dodgson, Alias Lewis Carroll: A Biography” and “The Letters of Lewis Carroll” draw on Carroll’s letters, photos and writings to construct engaging and insightful biographies. Carroll was considered a bit odd and that certainly inspires many questions about him that cannot be answered due to lack of access to his private writings. “The Mystery of Lewis Carroll: Discovering the Whimsical, Thoughtful, and Sometimes Lonely Man Who Created ‘Alice in Wonderland’” draws on Carroll’s personal bank records and correspondence from his family and the Liddell family in an attempt to explain just who he was and whether he was as odd as he seemed.

At his death in 1898, Carroll was a beloved, best-selling children’s author. His stories remain popular to this day. People are still drawn to him and his work because they are fun stories, but also because of the questions they raise. For example, “Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy: Curiouser and Curiouser” looks at Carroll’s stories from a philosophical point of view and ponders the deeper meanings behind them, relating them back to different philosophical ideas. Lewis Carroll was a fascinating man, both in his writing and in his life. Understanding him is certainly not an easy task, but there are many wonderful books in the library that offer insight into who he was and how he created those imaginative tales.

Source of Carroll’s photo of Alice Liddell: serenity_now via photopin cc

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

January 23, 2015

True False LogoOn Saturday, February 7,  the Columbia Public Library will be hosting our fourth annual “How to True/False” with 102.3 BXR and 1400 KFRU. You’ll get a step-by-step explanation of all things True/False, including a Q&A session with fest organizers David Wilson and Arin Liberman. They will also share an exclusive sneak peek at a few films before the schedule is released early next week.

This program is expected to fill up, so we’re offering two sessions: 1-2 p.m. –OR– 2:30-3:30 p.m. Space is limited, so plan to arrive early. For easier parking, consider using the library’s north lot, across from Landmark Bank at the corner of Garth and Walnut.

In celebration of our partnership with the True/False Film Fest, we will be raffling two free Lux passes to one lucky winner. You must register online to enter. These passes, valued at $200 each, will give you nearly unlimited access to the festival’s most popular films and special events. The winner will be selected at random and contacted on Tuesday, February 3. One entry per person, please. You must live in Boone or Callaway County to be eligible.

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Ask the Author: An Interview With Trudy Lewis

January 21, 2015

Book cover for The Empire Rolls by Trudy LewisTrudy Lewis is the Director of Creative Writing at the University of Missouri and author of two full-length novels (“The Empire Rolls” and “Private Correspondences“), along with many acclaimed short stories. Her latest novel, “The Empire Rolls,” is about roller derby and captures the changing social and financial climate of the Midwest surrounding the economic crash in 2008.

DBRL: Can you tell us about some of your inspirations for “The Empire Rolls”?

TL: “The Empire Rolls” was inspired by several factors: the Missouri landscape, the recession of 2008, a friend’s encounter with industrial polluters at a local creek and the changing status of public space and private interests in our national imagination. I began writing “The Empire Rolls” when I returned to Columbia after a stint as the Viebranz Visiting Writer at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York. I’d been writing a historical novel, but when I came back to Missouri and saw the changes that had occurred in a single year, I realized that I needed to capture the shifting scenes and values of our own times. One of the changes was the new roller derby team in town, the CoMo Derby Dames. Roller derby had all the elements that appealed to me: women’s empowerment, Midwestern populism, spectacle and ambiguous sexuality. Of course, the book is about more than the roller derby. It is about the changes that overtook our culture at this precise moment—the fall of 2007 leading into the great recession of 2008.  It was around this date that roller derby, first developed in the depression, began to see another dramatic rise in popularity. At the same time, the war in the Middle East was coming home to Middle America, as veterans returned from military duty. In my novel, there are a number of returning veterans, and the skaters take on warlike identities such as “Raven Pillage” and “Gigi Haddist.” My protagonist, Sally LaChance, moonlights as the emcee at the roller derby. But by day, she works as a park ranger in Karst Park. In this capacity, she carries a gun and engages in a questionable use of force to defend her territory against polluters. Sally’s story mirrors both the violence of the war in Iraq and the comic mock aggression of the roller derby.

DBRL: Do you play roller derby?

Trudy Lewis - by Jon K via Photopin httpswww.flickr.comphotosjonu2353448078151TL: No, I don’t play. But I have two friends, Whiskey ShinDig (Felicia Leach) and Stonecold Janeausten (Devoney Looser) who are former members of the CoMo Derby Dames. When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time at the roller rink, waiting for a longtime crush to look up from the pinball machine and skate with me. So I’m sure that’s another factor in my attraction to roller derby.

DBRL: The novel is set in the Boonslick area of Missouri. From what I understand that was a deliberate choice for the book. Would you like to discuss why you chose that location?

TL: Boonslick is a cultural region that includes Columbia, along with a number of nearby counties. By using the name, I set up a regional reference point without actually claiming to write about Columbia (although, if you are looking for verisimilitude, you will recognize mirror images of many Columbia institutions). I’m also trying to evoke the underlying Missouri culture. Many people think of Columbia as a place that is made livable by its cultural connections to urban areas elsewhere. I’ve found, on the contrary, that I’m energized by Columbia’s Missouri connections: the physical landscape, the small towns and rural areas, the music and folklore. My husband Mike Barrett teaches at Moberly Area Community College and I’ve been inspired by his students, who are often deeply embedded in the local culture and who don’t feel the need to disavow their roots in order to pursue some other goal, whether it is travel or art or career. So the invented town of Boonslick allows me to write about these issues and to work in the vein of realism without establishing a one-to-one correspondence between my fictional city and the Columbia readers may recognize. I’ve published a number of short stories set in Boonslick in addition to “The Empire Rolls.”

DBRL: Have you read any good books recently that you would recommend?

TL: I’ve been teaching and recommending “Fools” by Joan Silber, a book of linked stories about anarchists, lovers and other quixotic idealists. Silber will be reading in MU’s Visiting Writers Series in the spring (April 23). Another favorite is “A Tale for the Time Being,” Ruth Ozeki’s cross-cultural, cross-generational Buddhist novel. I’m also a big fan of the British writer Edward St. Aubyn; his most recent book “Lost for Words is a hilarious sendup of the literary awards system, including brilliant parodies of familiar writerly types. I’d like to take the opportunity to recommend some excellent books by local writers: Deb Brenegan’s “Shame the Devil,” a lively fictional take on the life of Fanny Fern, and Phong Nguyen’s “Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History,” a provocative collection of short stories examining history’s missed chances and close calls. Finally, anyone interested in Missouri fiction should look up “The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton, originally published in 1962 but reissued in 2009. This book vies with “Stoner” (John Williams) as the best Missouri novel of the 20th century.

For more information about Trudy Lewis and her work, please visit her website. Be sure to check out “The Empire Rolls” at the library, or buy it from The University of Arkansas Press or locally at Yellow Dog Bookshop. Don’t miss her presentation here at the Columbia Public Library on February 10th at 7 p.m. in the Friends Room!

photo credit: JonU235 via photopin cc

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The Gentleman Recommends: Daniel Kehlmann

January 19, 2015

Book cover for F by Daniel KehlmannDuring a typical evening of discussing literature, violins and politeness in my conversation parlor, a colleague said to me, “Gentleman, it seems you love everything you read.” I stopped reading a cake recipe and smacking my lips and rubbing my stomach to consider. Considering all it takes is a savvy recommendation and/or a glance at the first few sentences to gather enough clues to know if a book will be to my taste, I am plenty fond of nearly every book I read. But while it’s true there are more great books than anybody could read in a lifetime, perhaps a gentleman’s effusions lose their weight when they’re spewed forth with identical giddiness and on a schedule one could set their tailor’s visits to. So take heed, I want to effuse really hard right now: “F” by Daniel Kehlmann makes the short list of my favorite books of all time.

It’s all the things I so often say about books I love: hilarious, heartbreaking, beautifully written. Rather than offer cogency and worthwhile words to demonstrate this, I encourage you to peruse the links I’ve provided above so that I can proceed in my typical slapdash fashion. “F” begins with Arthur taking his three sons to see a hypnotist’s show. His emphatic claims that he cannot be hypnotized are maintained even as he’s on stage and interspersing them with the words and actions of the thoroughly hypnotized, among them some things a parent shouldn’t say in front of his child. He’s hypnotized into being a vehicle for his ambition, which once unfettered by obligations like parenthood and not stealing his spouse’s money, is massive and fruitful. Arthur empties the family bank account and disappears to be a reclusive genius author. (One of his books so convincingly argues that existence isn’t real that it inspires a spate of suicides.) “F” then jumps years to delve into the adulthood of Arthur’s children.

Each child gets an awesome chapter. One, a faithless obese priest and Rubik’s Cube expert (though not championship caliber), eats candy in the confessional and reasons that his lack of faith can’t stop him from being an adequate priest. Another forges art under the name of his much older lover, a man he met while interviewing him for his thesis on artistic mediocrity. The forger’s twin is a finance guy, struggling to maintain his sanity while trying to prolong his clients’ ignorance concerning the millions of their dollars he’s lost. The offspring’s chapters sometimes intersect: one delightful instance is the priest’s lunch with the finance brother. When we see it from the priest’s side, we see his brother’s behavior as absurd and unexplainable. When he see it from the money brother’s side, the unexplainable behavior is gloriously explained, which isn’t to say that he’s not in need of a balanced regimen of medication. Also, there’s an apparition imparting crucial messages to the twins, but unfortunately it can’t tell them apart.

I’m wary of translated works because I worry something often gets, to coin a phrase, lost in translation. Since I can’t read German (I’m barely even comfortable in lederhosen), I don’t know if anything was lost, but I am sure this book looks great in English, as does “Fame,” the other Kehlmann novel carried by DBRL. Kudos to Carol Brown Janeway for the translation.

Daniel Kehlmann is a literary superstar in Germany (meaning he sells lots of books and probably gets all the writing implements and sausages his minions can carry), but he should be one everywhere.

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New

January 16, 2015

Photo of Missouri in winterThere are several things about Missouri that are quite predictable, like brilliant fall colors and the cadence of the Missouri Waltz. As for the weather around here, it is as unpredictable as life itself. Take me, for example. Who would predict that a timid girl from Moscow would land in the American Midwest? Or that I — a person whose ancestry goes back to the Diaspora Jews and, more recently, to the Ukrainian small farmers who were sent to exile by the Stalin regime and died of hunger — would marry an American man whose great-great-great uncle was Henry Clay, a US senator, Speaker of the House and Secretary of State who ran for president four times? (No, my husband is not in politics, he’s in linguistics; no family can withstand the tide of time :) ).

Going back to Missouri weather. The worst thing about it is that summers here are hot and humid and winters are completely useless. What I mean by that is that if it snows, the snow doesn’t stick around long enough for cross-country skiing or sledging. And if the temperature falls below freezing without snow, it seldom stays cold long enough for us (my husband and I, and several more transplants from Michigan and Minnesota) to skate on the pond of our nearby wetland area. So, as a result, we have a lot of luke-cold days with no practical value whatsoever. (We do say “lukewarm,” so, I believe, the term “luke-cold” has the right to exist!)

Here’s a recent example. A couple of days before New Year’s the temperature dropped below freezing, and on New Year’s eve it was in single digits. Yet when I got up on January 1, the weather forecast was already showing a warming trend.

Photo of Missouri wetlands“Two more cold days would’ve made our wetlands skatable,” I said to my husband.

“I think it may be good even now,” he said.

“Well, there is only one way to find out. Let’s go and test the ice! If it’s good, we’ll come back and grab our skates. If not, we’ll just walk around the wetlands.”

“No, let’s take our skates with us, so if the ice is good, we won’t have to come back. I’ll carry them,” my husband said and headed to the basement to get our skates.

When he returned, a large blue bag with the skates was slung over his shoulder, making him look like Santa Claus. In his left hand he carried a lounge chair.

“What’s that chair for?” I said. “There are benches all around the pond. We can change our shoes there, if we need to.”

“I don’t want to scratch my skates,” my husband said sternly.

“You mean that if the ice is not thick, you’ll be walking with a large bag and a lounge char for two miles?” I said. “People will think we’re nuts!”

But he was already putting on his jacket.

“Whatever,” I said. “But I’ll walk behind you, like I don’t even know who you are!”

It was a typical winter day in Missouri, gray and windy, and not promising any fun. In 10 minutes or so, we reached the wetlands and carefully walked to their edge — the ice crackling noticeably under my husband’s feet and not so much under mine.

“The ice is too thin for me,” my husband said, putting his bag down on a bench several feet away from the ice.

“Too bad,” I said. “But I’ll try.”

Photograph of skatesI put my skates on and walked onto the ice. It seemed fine. Making small uncertain steps, I half-slid, half-walked farther from the edge. No crackling sounds. Getting bolder, I made the first sliding movement, then the second, and soon I was gliding along — at first somewhat awkwardly but more confident by the minute.

“Are you sure you’ll be okay?” I heard behind me. “Yes,” I waved in response.

It was still grim and windy, but I no longer cared. The air was fresh, the ice smooth, and although I did, sometimes, hear light crackling underneath, by the time my mind registered it, I was already safely away from the dangerous spot, enjoying the freedom of movement and the sounds of my skates cutting the ice.

To tell the truth, it was never really dangerous. The wetlands are shallow. The worst that can happen to a skater falling through its icy surface is wetting her feet and, possibly, catching a cold.

In 30 minutes or so, the pleasure of defying my weight and almost flying over the frozen water began wearing off, and I started paying attention to my surroundings: wilted grasses, bare trees and bushes, people taking their dogs (or children) for a walk and joggers in colorful Nikes — all staring at me as if I were a rare species released from some northern zoo.

Photograph of turtles under iceAlso, I suddenly noticed a round object lying on the bottom underneath the ice. “There’s a dead turtle down there!” I shouted to my husband who, while waiting for me, patiently walked around in circles. But as I was finishing my phrase, the turtle sprouted its head and short little legs and began moving.

“It’s not dead!” I shouted again. “It’s moving!” And I skated after the disappearing animal — only to notice another one nearby. In fact, there were quite a few of them there, all trying to get away from my unwanted attention.

How did they survive down there without oxygen? While it was true that the ice was not very thick, it had covered the wetlands for several days. The turtles, however, are air-breathing creatures, that is why we see them sitting on logs in the summer. Also, what will happen to them if the ice doesn’t melt soon? Will they die and be drowned in their icy prison?

We talked about the turtles all the way back to the house. When we got there, we Googled: “turtles under ice” and found our answer (try that, too :) ). No, the turtles are not going to drown. They will survive the winter and continue going about their business in the spring. Still, I couldn’t get the image of the animals crawling under my feet, confined by the ice and their slowing metabolism, but still alive nevertheless.

Is that how we live, too? — I kept thinking to myself. Believing that, as the Greek philosopher Protagoras put it a long time ago: “Man is the measure of all things.” But, in fact, are we scurrying around in endless pursuits while trying to escape our inevitable end? Maybe we are even observed by some bigger — and more sophisticated — creatures for whom our struggles make no sense and have no meaning.

I spent some time ruminating on that, but it was the first day of a new year, and it didn’t seem right to start it on such a gloomy note. So, I curtailed my contemplations and went on with my regular duties. After all, that small incident may not have been a sign of our falsehood and frailty but just an indication of a multitude of things we still do not know. A reminder that we should keep our eyes open and our minds active, because it is an act of learning that makes us human. And if you think about it, it was great to start a new year by solving a new — to me, anyway — mystery of life. Let’s hope that 2015 will bring us many more mysteries to solve :).

Happy New Year, everybody!

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New DVD List: Game of Thrones & More

January 14, 2015
gameofthrones-season1

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

gameofthronesGame of Thrones
Season 1Season 2Season 3
Website / Reviews
This television drama series broadcast on HBO adapts the acclaimed series of fantasy novels written by George R. R. Martin. This is a story of duplicity and treachery, nobility and honor, conquest and triumph. In the Game of Thrones, you either win or you die.

whoisdayanicristalWho Is Dayani Cristal?
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Shown at the True False Film Fest in 2013 and featuring reenactments by actor Gael García Bernal, this documentary tells the story of a migrant who found himself in the deadly stretch of the Sonora Desert known as “the corridor of death” and shows how one life becomes testimony to the tragic results of the U.S. war on immigration.

walkingdeadThe Walking Dead
Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4
Website / Reviews
This television drama is based on the graphic novels of the same name by Robert Kirkman. Waking up in an empty hospital after weeks in a coma, County Sheriff Rick Grimes finds himself utterly alone. The world as he knows it is gone, ravaged by an epidemic. In the weeks and months that follow the apocalypse, Grimes will lead a group of survivors in a world overrun with zombies.

manakamanaManakamana
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Shown earlier this year at the 2014 True False Film Fest, this unusual film takes place entirely inside the narrow confines of a cable car, high above a jungle in Nepal that transports villagers to an ancient mountaintop temple. The film is an acute ethnographic investigation into culture, religion, technology and modernity.

sonsofanarchyseason1Sons of Anarchy
Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4, Season 5, Season 6
Website / Reviews
This television drama takes you into the ruthless underworld of outlaw bikers. The Sons of Anarchy live, ride and die for brotherhood. But as the club’s leader (Ron Perlman) and his wife (Katey Sagal) steer them in an increasingly lawless direction, her son Jax (Charlie Hunnam) is torn between loyalty and the legacy.

burtsbuzzBurt’s Buzz
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Shown earlier this year at Forum 8, this documentary is a glimpse of the face and co-founder of Burt’s Bees. The film shows the reclusive backwoods world of beekeeper Burt Shavitz, still committed to living off the land in Maine, as he has since the 1970s, in a renovated turkey coop with no running water. The film explores the peculiar relationship with the company he co-founded with Roxanne Quimby.

Portlandia
Seaportlandia-season1son 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4
Website / Reviews
The short-based comedy series Portlandia was created, written by and stars Fred Armisen (SNL) and Carrie Brownstein (vocalist/guitarist, “Wild Flag,” “Sleater-Kinney“). Each episode’s character-based shorts draw viewers into “Portlandia,” the creators’ dreamy and absurd rendering of Portland, Oregon.

dogThe Dog
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Shown earlier this year at Forum 8, this documentary is a portrait of the late John Wojtowicz, whose attempted robbery of a Brooklyn bank to finance his male lover’s sex-reassignment surgery was the real-life inspiration for the 1975 film “Dog Day Afternoon” starring Al Pacino.

Other notable releases:

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It Came From the Bottom Shelf! Books Not to Overlook in the 900s

January 12, 2015

History! History! History!…and a little travel too!  The 900s in nonfiction are a must for the history buff and the travel enthusiast. Did I mention history? In this section there is a wide variety of books including dictionaries, encyclopedias, ancient civilization, baby names, genealogy, geography, travel guides, world history, biographies and even local history! While browsing the aisles I found these curious titles tucked away on the bottom shelves.

  • Book cover for Hey American Your Roots Are ShowingHey, America, Your Roots Are Showing!” by Megan Smolenyak
    Ms. Smolenyak has been call the “Indiana Jones” of genealogy. She is best know for revealing connections between famous people such as Al Sharpton and Strom Thurmond, using DNA to solve crimes for the real NCIS and FBI and to locate family members of fallen soldiers as far back as the Civil War!  This book is not a how-to book, but a novice genealogist could learn some pointers from this super sleuth.
  •  Everything You Ever Wanted to KnowLondon: Everything You Wanted to Know” (part of the Not for Parents series) by Klay Lamprell.
    This is not a travel guide, rather it is an insider’s guide to the native’s life. The book is a collage of colorful, funky photos and drawings similar to those in the “Guinness World Records” books, with facts, true tales and trivia interspersed. You will see photos of weird cuisine (eels on a plate!) and punk style dress with mohawks. You’ll read about murdered kings, famous and infamous people such as Jack the Ripper, the Royals’ ancestral tree, creepy underground catacombs, a famous graffiti artist, how the streets in London were named and much, much more!

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2015: A Banner Year for Books

January 9, 2015

Book cover for God Help the Child by Toni MorrisonBook cover for The Buried Giant by Kazuo IshiguroBest books of the year lists are one of my favorite things about winter. Adding titles I’ve overlooked to my to-be-read list is a great pleasure, and I enjoy looking back at the year in publishing. However, time for reminiscing is short, because suddenly blogs and magazines are all atwitter over those books they can’t wait to read in the New Year. The buzz seems warranted, with forthcoming titles from heavy hitters like Toni Morrison (“God Help the Child,” April 2015) and Jonathan Franzen (“Purity,” September 2015), as well as a boatload of promising debuts. Neil Gaiman, Kazuo IshiguroNick Hornby and many other big names also have books hitting the shelves in the next several months. I’m going to have to get a bigger night stand for all of these novels and learn to do with less sleep.

Here’s a sampling of recommended books. There is some overlap among the lists, but each has at least a handful of gems the others omit.

What book are you most looking forward to reading this year? Let us know in the comments!

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Resources for Teen Drivers (and Their Terrified Parents)

January 7, 2015

Book cover for The Driving Book by Karen GravelleHere’s my New Year’s resolution: spend more time in the passenger seat of my car. The student driver in my house is a little over half-way through the 40 practice hours he needs before he can get his license. So, another 20 hours of putting my life in the hands of a 16-year-old. No biggy. I’m sure I’ve done things that were more terrifying, even if they don’t come to mind immediately.

According to Missouri‘s graduated licensing laws, residents are eligible to test for a learner’s permit at 15 and an intermediate license at 16. Your library is here to help your family through this difficult exciting time. Drop by one of our three buildings to pick up your very own free copy of the “Missouri Driver’s Guide.” Or if the audio or DVD version would work better for you, those are available for check-out.  A copy of the guide is also online.

To reinforce responsible driving behavior, the library has books addressing the issue of drunk driving. For a wider range of related topics, check out “The Driving Book,” which promises to cover “everything new drivers need to know but don’t know to ask.” “Real Life Teen: Teen Driving” is a DVD about important facets of driving that might not be on the test. While teens are conscientiously perusing these materials, parents can enlighten themselves with the book “Not So Fast, Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving.

In addition to the online guide for the written test, the state of Missouri has a web page devoted to all things teen driving. Another valuable Internet resource is teendriversource.org, with a bevy of downloadable fact sheets for teens, parents, educators, legislators and other interested parties.

Let me finish on an encouraging note. The kid I’m teaching to drive right now – he’s my second student. I’ve already been through this once and can promise it’s not all fear and danger. I’ve spent many hours of my parenting life sitting in cars waiting for a child to emerge from a school, movie theater or other building.  A lot of time gets freed up when your teen obtains a license. And then there’s the errand thing. When I’m in the middle of cooking dinner and realize I’m out of an ingredient, I find real joy in being able to hand someone else the car keys while saying, “I need you to run to the store for me.”

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Fitter, Happier, More Productive

January 5, 2015

Book cover for Paddle Your Own Canoe by Nick OffermanBook cover for Promise Land by Jessica Lamb-ShapiroAnother year completed, another year begun. This is when we look behind us and say, “What was that all about?” while looking forward saying, “This time it will be different!” If you’re like me, this is also the time of year you take a long look in the mirror and say, “Grandpa?” To paraphrase the band They Might Be Giants, “We’re older than we’ve ever been, and now we’re even older.” We can’t hit the brakes on this process, and we can’t hit the reset button. Time waits for no one while it marches on like sands through the hourglass, or something. So we find our resolve, and we make promises we don’t keep, and we say to ourselves, “This time it will be different. We will eat better and get in shape. We will get a hobby, learn a skill or at least finally paint the house. We will find the cause of our dissatisfaction and fix it.” Then, next thing we know, it’s another new year.

So how do we break free from this Sisyphean hamster wheel of broken New Year’s resolutions and take care of business? Books (obvs)! There are many useful books to help guide and inspire us on the path to self-improvement. It just so happens that I have written three manuscripts which fall under this category (totally crushed my resolutions for that year!): “Cooking, With Food,” “Find the Right Pilates Instructor for Your Blood Type” and “Being Fat Is Stupid, Stupid!” Unfortunately, I have yet to find a forward-thinking publisher who wants to purchase the rights to these books. Until then, here are some titles that have actually been published to help you achieve your goals for 2015, or at least keep the trials and tribulations of this annual ritual in perspective.

Stretch” by Neal Pollack
Based on Neal Pollack’s earlier satirical work it’s difficult to believe this man has a sincere dedication to the practice of yoga, but it’s true. Finding his career at a crossroads, and his body aging, he gives yoga a shot. He now writes a column for Yoga Journal and is a yoga instructor. The book is in a part a memoir of his experience as well as a look at the different corners of the yoga world. Don’t worry – despite the sincere devotion to his practice, he hasn’t lost his sense of humor or skeptical eye. This is an excellent introduction to yoga for people who think it “isn’t for them,” or are allergic to the earnestness often associated with it.

Book cover for Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. JacobsDrop Dead Healthy” by A.J. Jacobs
A.J. Jacobs has cut out a successful career as a writer of “stunt journalism.” He regularly immerses himself in a subject to see what it’s like, using himself as a guinea pig (in one case, literally). In this book he sets a two-year goal to become as a healthy as possible. The book’s combination of thorough research and humorous tone make it a great survey of various health fads. It’s nice of him to put himself through all this so we don’t have to.

The Road to Wellville” by T.C. Boyle
T.C. Boyle’s comic historical novel is set in Dr John Harvey Kellog’s (yes, the Corn Flakes guy) Battle Creek Spa. The book pokes fun at the strange “cures,” pseudo-science and hucksterism of the time. The scary part is when you start wondering how much resemblance there is to present-day health fads.

Book cover for Helping Me Help Myself by Beth LisickHelping Me Help Myself” by Beth Lisick
Beth Lisick wakes up on New Years Day to find she is tired of dealing with the same problems year after year. Despite her skepticism, she binges on the works of successful self-help gurus. In addition to reading their books she attends their seminars and starts to fear she might actually learn something from these “gurus.”

Promise Land” by Jessica Lamb Shapiro
Jessica Lamb Shapiro’s book takes on a similar challenge to the one in “Helping Me Help Myself,” but her skepticism has a more personal source because her father was an author of self-help books. The book is part memoir and part exploration of self-help culture. With an irreverent tone, she points out some of the snake-oil salesman in the field and attempts to determine if self-help culture really can be helpful.

Book cover for The Will to Whatevs by Eugene MirmanThe Will To Whatevs: A Guide to Modern Life” by Eugene Mirman
Eugene Mirman is a writer and stand-up comedian. He also is the voice of Gene Belcher on the television show “Bob’s Burgers.” With a resume like that, why wouldn’t you accept his advice on life and act accordingly? His book contains advice on family, school, romance, money (to be exact, “The Money Lover’s Guide to Making Money”) and my favorite, “The Theory and Practice of Organizations Connected With Government, I think.” I’m pretty sure you could just read this book and throw all the others I’m recommending in the trash. (Wait! Forget that last part. Treat library books with kindness!)

Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Principles for Delicious Living” by Nick Offerman
Nick Offerman is another comedian on another TV show (“Parks and Recreation” – watch it!). Messrs. Offerman and Mirman are making me me think the real answer to all our problems is to tell lots of jokes and get a TV show. Offerman’s character on “Parks and Rec” has taken on some of the traits of the man himself, most notably his appreciation of whiskey and his skills in the woodshop. Offerman’s book is part memoir, part manifesto for a life well lived, and all hilarious. It might even inspire you to dig your jigsaw out of that mess you call a workbench and start making something.

Book cover for How to Sharpen Pencils by David ReesHow To Sharpen Pencils” by David Rees
For some, learning a new craft or honing a skill is simply a hobby. For others, the act of mastering that craft is transformative. Can mastering the art of pencil sharpening be transformative? The last chapter of this book is titled, “How to sharpen a pencil with your mind.” We’re talking about some serious Jedi-level pencil sharpening here. I doubt you come out of that experience the same way you entered into it.

Simple Times” by Amy Sedaris
Not everyone’s New Year’s resolutions aspire to change their body, mind or entire way of life. Some people just want to get around to learning that craft they’ve never made the time for. Now is the time! Amy Sedaris has some excellent crafts to teach. Personally, I’m looking forward to watching squirrels get diabetes at the Donut Squirrel Feeder I’m going to construct. The perfect accompaniment to that scene will be the gentle clanging of the Rusty Nail Wind Chime I will also make. Very soon. Before 2015 is over. I swear.

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Let’s Travel: Budapest – a Journey Continues

January 2, 2015

“The best way to learn about a new country is to experience its native food and culture,” Tünde, our tour director, said before we left the bus. “We have the opportunity to have a traditional Hungarian dinner and see a folk performance afterwards. It’s optional, or course, but I highly recommend it.”

IMG_3536The dinner, which started with a shot of hard liquor offered to us before we even crossed the threshold of the large, brightly lit restaurant, was, let’s say, interesting. Since I left Russia in 1990, I hadn’t seen so much alcohol splashing around. There was a lot of food, too: goulash (meat stew in a thick, paprika-infused sauce), a dish called galuska (dumplings), and – for dessert – another galuska, this time with raisins, nuts and ice-cream.

Then the concert began. It was exactly what I had envisioned – lots of jumping and loud singing with several fiddlers accompanying the action. But, with help of plenty of wine, everybody seemed to enjoy it. In fact, several tourists joined the folk dancers, while my husband kept raising his eyebrows and rolling his eyes. (What can you expect from a guy who doesn’t drink? It’s a miracle that he can have fun at all!)

Photo of the Hungarian ParliamentOur “official” introduction to Budapest started the next morning. A local tour guide told us that the name came about by joining the names of its twin cities: Buda, which is hilly and more historical, and Pest, flat and more commercial – with the Danube River dividing the two, and a series of bridges connecting them. We learned that the cultural fabric of the city had been woven by Hungarians, Slavs and Jews. We were shown the city’s major attractions: the Castle District, Heroes Square, the Hungarian Parliament, the Opera House and others. And, in the afternoon, we were left alone to shop and do other touristy things.

First, my husband and I had a lunch in an outdoor cafe, from where we enjoyed the view of St. Stephen’s Basilica and soaked up the atmosphere of the city. Then we continued our exploration. We walked for hours, passing by imposing buildings and statues, posters for upcoming concerts (it’s not for nothing that the Franz Liszt Museum is located in Budapest!), street vendors and restaurants, until our legs began to ache and the city began to grow on us.

Photo of the Széchenyi Chain BridgeIt was cloudy, but the temperature was pleasant. For a while, I moaned about the lack of blue sky, but soon I stopped complaining and began enjoying the city. Budapest rewarded me grandly. From the hilly grounds of the Castle and the Royal Palace on the Buda side, we admired views of the Danube and its bridges, the Pest skyline across the river and busily shuttling tour boats. On the Pest side, we happened onto a qualifying race for the 2015 Ironman World Championship. At the beautiful Chain Bridge, we witnessed the arrival of a Viking Cruise boat. Once again, we circled the Parliament building and, finally, headed back along the Danube Promenade.

As we walked, I noticed some brown shoes sitting on the river bank – several people were taking pictures of them. What was that about? But then I remembered the tour guide’s story.

Photo of The Shoes on the Danube BankThe shoes, 60 in all, were made of cast iron and set into the concrete of the embankment. They were a memorial to the people killed by the Hungarian Fascists in the winter of 1944-45. A vast majority of the victims were Jews, but there were some non-Jews, accused by the Fascists of “Jewish activities.” (The courageous efforts of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg saved almost 100,000 people. Still, some 600,000 Hungarian Jews died during the war.)

The war was in its final stage, and the Fascists had no means of deporting people to Auschwitz. The easiest way to get rid of them was to shoot them by the Danube and let the river carry their bodies away. Before the Fascists murdered their victims they ordered them to take off their shoes, for the shoes could still be used or sold on the black market. Then people – men, women and children – were positioned on the edge of the embankment and shot, and their bodies fell into the river. Sometimes the militiamen tied several Jews together and then shot one of them, so that the dead body would pull the living into the river. If any of them survived the fall, the militiamen used them for target practice. This didn’t happen often, though. Most of the people – especially the children – died quickly in the freezing water.

I, too, took some photos, then we headed back to our hotel – quiet and suddenly tired. Oh, humanity – I thought to myself – how can you be so inhuman?

Luckily, that wasn’t my last memory of Budapest. At dusk, the ever energetic Tünde brought our group back to the river. We boarded a dinner boat, and while we ate, we listened to yet another tour guide and stared at the darkening city through the windows.

Photo of lighted buildings along the Danube RiverBy dessert, magic happened. All the prominent buildings along the Danube suddenly lit up, transforming the river into a vast, Christmas-like alley, and the city skyline into geometric formations of glimmering stars. It was drizzling, but nobody paid attention. Budapest stood out in the dark – golden, enchanted and unforgettable.

At 11 p.m., the lights were switched off, and night overtook the city once again. We boarded our bus and headed back to the hotel. Tomorrow we would travel to Salzburg.

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Kill the Messenger

December 31, 2014

Book cover for Dark Alliance by Gary WebbI saw a wonderful film not long ago called “Kill the Messenger.” That phrase is an old saw about taking out one’s displeasure on the one who brings bad news. This particular messenger was the San Jose Mercury reporter Gary Webb, and the message was his work tying the explosion of crack cocaine in the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles in the 1980s to important leaders of Ronald Reagan’s beloved Contras. The Contras were mercenaries who fought against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and who (believe it or not!) were supported by drug sales in Los Angeles and other cities after Congress voted down funding for Reagan’s war in Central America. Turns out they were protected by the CIA and the mainstream press, as well as functionaries close to the White House.

The film was a thriller with a bit of pathos thrown in to demonstrate what happened to a reporter who embarrassed the US “deep state.” It can be found online (if you have a credit card), but in any case, DBRL has Webb’s book “Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion,” as well as a few other interesting titles on the subject.

If you find it difficult to believe that the government prioritizes the “War on Drugs” and at the same time elements within the state are supporting the importation of those drugs, check out Douglas Valentine’s “The Strength of the Wolf,” which elucidates the many connections between the “deep state” and drug trafficking as discovered by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics prior to 1968 when the FBN was dissolved.

Book cover for Cocaine Politics by Jonathan MarshallWe also have Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall’s  “Cocaine Politics,” perhaps the first to document the drug trafficking of Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries (the Contras) and the complicity of mercenaries and US government leaders and institutions. Here I bow to another reviewer, Marilynn Larew, who reviewed the book for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (September 22, 1991, N9):

“Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall expand on revelations in the Iran-Contra scandal and the 1989 Kerry Committee Report. They assert persuasively that the CIA has long-standing alliances with men who deal drugs while doing dirty tricks for us in Latin America. The links go as far back as 1961 and the Bay of Pigs. Their story, however, is about the contra war, in which drug money paid for arms, the planes that carried ‘humanitarian aid’ in [and] flew drugs out, and Latin American colonels [who] made fortunes on drugs destined for American streets, all with our government’s connivance….The core of the book, the adventures of Jack Terrell…the soldier of fortune who tried to blow the whistle on the contra drug dealers, is taut as a thriller….The authors appear to evaluate the murky evidence in the government documents and news stories temperately. The thesis rings true.”

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Young Adult Books For Adults: Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

December 29, 2014

book cover for Ashes by Ilsa J. BickAlex believes she is going to die. The tumor growing in her brain, she expects it to be her end. When an electromagnetic pulse flashes across the sky, all of Alex’s expectations change. Suddenly, everyone in the age range of 20 to 60 is dead. Technology no longer works, and the world Alex knew no longer exists. Alex bands together with a little girl and a young soldier to survive, finding family and friends in them she never expected.

Obviously, by my description of “Ashes,” you can tell it’s apocalyptic fiction. I admit I’ve never been a big fan of apocalyptic fiction. For me, I find it a hard genre to read because reading about the world ending can be a pretty depressing topic. But Ilsa J. Bick is an amazing writer, and “Ashes” is easily in the top five best books I have read in the past two years.

It’s a fast read, and if you like the TV show “The Walking Dead,” I’m pretty sure you’ll love “Ashes” too. “Ashes” has the same feel as “The Walking Dead.” Odd characters come together, they fight together, create bonds, and then bad things happen. You’ll scream internally for the characters, root for them and cry for them, all because Bick creates them so beautifully. Before you know it, you’ll have finished the entire book in a few days.

Bick is an amazing writer, and although “Ashes” is considered YA, I would highly recommend it to the adult reader. Bick’s writing style is very honest. She’s got a unique take on action scenes, and I believe this is due to her background as an Air Force major. Her writing has a militaristic aspect, which happens to be perfect for apocalyptic fiction. Between this and her beautifully rendered characters, “Ashes” stands apart from the other reads in its genre.

Thankfully, “Ashes” is the first in a trilogy, and all three books are available. So, once you’ve finished “Ashes,” make sure to check out the second book, “Shadows,” and the third, “Monsters.”

The post Young Adult Books For Adults: Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick appeared first on DBRL Next.

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