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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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The Gentleman Recommends: B.J. Novak

September 15, 2014

Book cover for One More Thing by B.J. NovakB.J. Novak has been somewhat active: from his humble beginnings as the cad Ryan Howard, subject of the hit hundred-hours-long documentary “The Office,” to the trials associated with choosing his favorite initials and legally changing his name to them in a futile attempt to exercise his awful reputation, to writing a collection of stories that are good enough to almost make one forget how mean he was to Kelly and Jim, to being recommended by this blog post. It’s enough to make me of a mind to recline with a nice pastry and a warmed washcloth.

Consisting of 64 pieces, the collection opens with the long-awaited sequel to “The Tortoise and the Hare,” which finally puts that pompous tortoise in its place and updates the original’s creaky old moral, and closes with “Discussion Questions,” which will be a nice jumping off point for your book club or master’s thesis. In between we get a man dealing with the fame associated with returning a sex robot because it fell in love with him. We finally learn the truth about Elvis Presley’s death (and a little about ourselves!). Nelson Mandela gets roasted by Comedy Central and its usual cast of ribald hacks. A boy wins a cereal box sweepstakes only to be ruled ineligible because it turns out his real father is Kellogg’s CEO. A woman goes on a blind date with a warlord. In “No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Fogelberg,” a man reaches heaven and enjoys a series of concerts performed by history’s greatest musicians until backstage access at a Frank Sinatra show reveals a different side of his grandmother. One story is called “Wikipedia Brown and the Case of the Missing Bicycle.”

If a book has 64 pieces and is still light enough for my dandy-ish arms to lug around from my fainting couches to the snack emporium to my sleep chamber to my eating pit, then many of the stories must be very brief indeed. To show you how my arms, weakened by a life of near-constant lounging, could possibly carry ANYTHING with 64 of something in it, I will reprint one story in its entirety:

Romance, Chapter One

“The cute one?”

“No, the other cute one.”

“Oh, she’s cute too.”

There are several pieces of this sort. There’s stuff here that will please fans of Internet sensation “The Onion,” and there is stuff that will make you hungry for other foods too. There is more than comedy and absurdity here, sometimes things get downright philosophical and/or sad, like when the lovelorn sex robot tries to keep her beloved in the room with her with the promise of needing to say just “one more thing.” Sometimes it’s sad and funny, like the absurd “Missed Connection” ad posted by someone who most definitely “connected” with the intended reader over the course of many hours.

Mr. Novak wrote a really nifty book, and I’m so excited to see what he does next that I’ve fainted twice in the course of typing this sentence and so will cut it short, as I’m nowhere near the appropriate furniture, before a third spell happens upon me.

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September Is Fall Hat Month – Time to Knit!

September 12, 2014

In the spirit of September, which if you didn’t know is Fall Hat Month, I’m going to share some of my favorite knitting books all about things that go on your head. So dig out some yarn and find a pair of matching knitting needles, because soon it’s going to be cold out, and you’ll want some fresh, fun hats to keep you warm.

Book cover for Hat HeadsMom, dad, brother, son, wife, daughter – it doesn’t matter. “Hat Heads” by Trond Anfinnsen  has something for everyone. There are many different hat designs to choose from in this book, so it’s hard to pick just one. I love the self-portrait page where Trond shows himself in all the different hats he’s made. My personal favorites are Hege’s hat and Silje’s hat. I love the contrast of colors in both these hats, and red happens to be my favorite color. Beware, you might end up checking this book out for a long time because you won’t be able to stop making hats!

Book cover for Knit Hats NowI know I like to have a variety of hats to pick from to wear with my winter jacket, and I’m sure many ladies are the same. “Knit Hats Now” features hats designed for women with a little fashionable twist to them. Don’t worry, “Knit Hats Now” has a level of difficulty category for each hat design, so if you’re like me and aren’t the most amazing knitter in the world, you can pick and choose from hats you know are within your capability to create. I love the texture of the Chocolate Dream hat, but my favorite is the first hat in the entire book, the Colors hat. I’ve already got some yarn set aside for this pattern.

Book cover for Baby BeaniesBaby Beanies” by Amanda Keeys is adorable. Babies = cute. Babies in hats = beyond cute. I can’t wait until I have a little niece or nephew to knit for. This book will definitely be the first I check out because these hats are just too adorable. “Baby Beanies” has a wide range of patterns, from simple little basic beanies to more complicated multicolored cone shaped hats. For me, though, the two cutest are the Pompom Bear hat and the Flour Sack hat.

We don’t own “Knitted Beanies and Slouchy Hats” by Diane Serviss yet, but we do have the book on order. I’m a little sad I have to wait to look at this book because I could use a good slouchy hat myself. Feel free to put this book on hold, though, if it interests you!

The library has a large collection of other knitting books. You might need to knit a scarf to go with your hat, so make sure to check out the knitting section in adult non-fiction at the call number 746.432. (And if you need a guide to navigate the Dewey Decimal System, just ask at a desk!)


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Jane Goodall: Champion of Chimps, Defender of the Earth, Rock Star

September 10, 2014

Book cover for Seeds of Hope by Jane GoodallJane Goodall is coming to town! In my circles, this is the biggest news since Bob Dylan did a show here ten years ago. Goodall will be speaking at Mizzou Arena on Wednesday, September 17. According to her website “She will…discuss the current threats facing the planet and her reasons for hope in these complex times.”

Goodall is best known for her studies of chimpanzees. She was 26 when Louis Leakey sent her to Tanzania to begin her research in 1960. Authorities in the area expressed resistance to the idea of a young woman traveling alone on this project, so her mother accompanied her for the first few months. Goodall made several new discoveries about chimps. The most remarkable was the fact that they create and use tools. She made it her mission to educate humanity about the fascinating creatures who are so similar to us in some ways, and in the process she became one of the most widely recognized scientists in the world. In 1977 she founded the Jane Goodall Institute to “protect chimpanzees and their habitats.”

Over the years her focus has expanded to other animals, to plants and to the world environment as a whole, including her own species. Roots and Shoots is a youth-led program affiliated with the Jane Goodall Institute. It encourages young people to become involved in solving problems within their own communities.

If you can’t make it to the lecture, we have plenty of Goodall goodness here for you at the library. Check out some of the following materials:

Among the Wild Chimpanzees.” This DVD from “National Geographic” shows us two decades worth of Goodall’s work among these amazing primates.

Hope for Animals and Their World.” In this book Goodall provides evidence that we can save endangered species by highlighting conservation efforts that have made a positive difference.

Seeds of Hope” discusses the roles of plants in the world and humanity’s relationship with the flora around us.

Jane Goodall,” a 2008 biography by Meg Greene, provides background on Goodall’s childhood, career and personal life.

Our catalog list will direct you to even more titles about Goodall and wildlife conservation.

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Remembering Joan Rivers

September 8, 2014

Book cover for I Hate Everyone by Joan RiversShe was sassy, opinionated, brash, self-deprecating, raunchy, offensive and funny. Joan Rivers passed away last week at the age of 81, and her death has left me thinking about both her signature brand of stand-up and the female comedians who have followed in her wake. Her daughter, Melissa Rivers, said in a statement, “My mother’s greatest joy in life was to make people laugh. Although that is difficult to do right now, I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon.” Here are some books from Rivers and her cohort to help us fulfill that wish.

We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy” by Yael Kohen.
This oral history presents more than 150 interviews from America’s most prominent comediennes (and the writers, producers, nightclub owners, and colleagues who revolved around them) to piece together the revolution that happened to (and by) women in American comedy. Kohen traces the careers and achievements of comediennes – including Rivers – and challenges opinions about why women cannot be effective comedic entertainers.

I Hate Everyone – Starting With Me” by Joan Rivers
Read this with a cocktail in hand. Rivers humorously lashes out at the people, places and things she loathes, including ugly children, dating rituals, First Ladies, funerals, hypocrites, overrated historical figures, Hollywood and lousy restaurants.

Enter Talking” by Joan Rivers
Joan Rivers describes her bitter and bizarre rise to stardom, from her earliest memories that she belonged onstage, through her independent struggle in Manhattan, to the evolution of her one-person show and the winning of public and critical acclaim.

Book cover for The Bedwetter by Sarah SilvermanThe Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee” by Sarah Silverman
Comedian Silverman’s memoir mixes showbiz moments with the more serious subject of her teenage bout with depression as well as stories of her childhood and adolescence.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns)” by Mindy Kaling
The writer and actress best known as Kelly Kapoor on “The Office” shares observations on topics ranging from favorite male archetypes and her hatred of dieting to her relationship with her mother and the haphazard creative process in the “Office” writers’ room.

Seriously, I’m Kidding” by Ellen DeGeneres
For those who like their humor to be cleaner than what Rivers delivers. The stand-up comedian, television host, bestselling author and actress candidly discusses her personal life and professional career and describes what it was like to become a judge on “American Idol.”

Editor’s note: book descriptions adapted from publishers’ marketing text.

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Reader Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

September 5, 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.

Book cover for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty SmithA Tree Grows in Brooklyn” is about life, family and resilience in the early 1900s (In Brooklyn). Despite the departure in time and location from my present existence, it resonated with me. Smith’s character development was rich and truthful. Characters were not portrayed as foes or heroines, just people. It’s nice to read something without an overt slant or agenda or predictable plot.

Three words that describe this book: genuine, rich, fulfilling

You might want to pick this book up if: you love people and how they interact. This is a story of resilience.


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Stan Lee Wants You to Get a Library Card

September 3, 2014

National Library Card Sign-up Month Poster featuring Stan LeeSeptember is the National Library Card Month (chaired this year by comic creator Stan Lee), and libraries across the country want you to know that one of the most important back-to-school supplies is a library card. It’s also the cheapest (i.e., free), and getting your hands on one doesn’t require fighting the hoards at a big box store.

Since this is a library blog, I’m preaching to the choir here. You, dear reader, already have a library card. (If you know someone who doesn’t, encourage them to apply for one in person or online.) But did you know the range of tools and materials you have access to with that card? Not only can you get books, but your library card is also your ticket for free access to:

Mr. Lee says it best: “The smartest card in my wallet? It’s a library card.”

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On the Water

August 29, 2014

Book cover for Perfect WavesMy family is lucky to own a beachfront home on Lake Michigan, an amazing place. Sounds fancy, doesn’t it?  Well, it has lots of quirks.  We have had floods, erosion and falling trees. But the lake has its own kind of magic. When we were there on a recent trip, the water was in the low sixties. Despite the cold, we all ended up boating, kayaking and swimming.

When I was a child it seemed like every summer day was spent in a river, lake, pond or puddle. If I ever need to get away, I find myself near water. The sounds, smells and rhythm of water soothe my soul. This year’s One Read book, Daniel James Brown’s “The Boys in the Boat,” captures the magical properties of water much more eloquently than I do. If you cannot get to the water, below is a list of books that have images to help you imagine.

For even more views of being “On the Water,” join us for a One Read art exhibit at Orr Street Studios in Columbia, on display September 7 – 20, with a reception on September 9.

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Review: Dominion by C.J. Sansom

August 27, 2014

Book cover for Dominion by CJ SansomOn a recent day trip to the Omnimax theater at the St. Louis Science Center to see a film about D-Day, my father-in-law commented on how things might be now if Germany won the war. His comment struck a chord, reminding me of a book that I had recently learned of – C.J. Sansom’s alternate history, “Dominion.” This alternative history imagines a world in which World War II has not occurred.

Great Britain, still reeling from the war torn years of WWI, finds itself under the leadership of Lord Halifax rather than Winston Churchill. This single act drastically changes the world that would have been had WWII been allowed to play out. Author C.J. Sansom sets “Dominion” in the early 1950s, over a decade after a 1940 truce between the two nations. Great Britain now finds itself more and more under the control of its Fascist alli. During that decade, European Jews and now British Jews are gathered and shipped off to camps, under the guise of separating the races. In fact, they are being exterminated, as Nazis attempt to create a “pure” empire.

Sansom focuses his story on the growing resistance movement that fights relentlessly to overthrow the German regime that has infiltrated Great Britain. He follows David, a civil servant, who also happens to be working as a spy for the resistance; Sarah, David’s wife, and a pacifist; Frank, a college friend of David’s who holds a secret the Nazis will kill to get their hands on; and Gunther, the SS officer sent to capture Frank. “Dominion” is told from their various perspectives.

I loved the depth brought to the story as its perspective moved back and forth between these rich and compelling characters. Sansom’s research is also highly evident, particularly in his notes section at the book’s end. So although this is an alternative history, it is chock full of people who did exist. Sansom even incorporates other aspects of history into the story that add to its realism. For example, he includes a true fog event that occurred during the very time period during which the novel is set, which ultimately impacts the events that occur within the novel. Sansom’s extensive research truly creates a world that could have existed if the events of 1940 had gone differently.

“Dominion” is a great read for anyone who loves a thriller, but readers of historical fiction may find it satisfying as well thanks to all the research and real history found throughout the story. And for those of us who enjoy learning about history, but also enjoy pondering “what if,” it is certainly a book that does not disappoint. (And for those who are intrigued by the idea of reading alternative histories, the library owns several beyond this title. Check out some that you may enjoy reading by browsing our catalog.)

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Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The September 2014 List

August 25, 2014

Library Reads logoSeptember is upon us! Time to get serious and hit the books. This month’s list of recommended titles from LibraryReads leaves behind the lighter fare of summer and includes some heavy-hitting literary fiction, as well as a book that stares death in the face. Here are the top 10 books being published in September that librarians love.

Book cover for Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin DoughtySmoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
by Caitlin Doughty
“Part memoir, part exposé of the death industry, and part instruction manual for aspiring morticians. First-time author Doughty has written an attention-grabbing book that is sure to start some provocative discussions. Fans of Mary Roach’s ‘Stiff’ and anyone who enjoys an honest, well-written autobiography will appreciate this quirky story.”
Patty Falconer, Hampstead Public Library, Hampstead, NH

Book cover for Station Eleven by Emily St. John MandelStation Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel
“An actor playing King Lear dies onstage just before a cataclysmic event changes the future of everyone on Earth. What will be valued and what will be discarded? Will art have a place in a world that has lost so much? What will make life worth living? These are just some of the issues explored in this beautifully written dystopian novel. Recommended for fans of David Mitchell, John Scalzi and Kate Atkinson.”
Janet Lockhart, Wake County Public Libraries, Cary, NC

Book cover for The Secret Place by Tana FrenchThe Secret Place
by Tana French
“French has broken my heart yet again with her fifth novel, which examines the ways in which teenagers and adults can be wily, calculating and backstabbing, even with their friends. The tension-filled flashback narratives, relating to a murder investigation in suburban Dublin, will keep you turning pages late into the night.”
Alison McCarty, Nassau County Public Library System, Callahan, FL

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

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