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Judging a Book by Its Cover: Science Coffee Table Books

June 2, 2014

Book cover for The Elements by Theodore GrayI generally follow the advice to never judge a book by its cover, but sometimes the cover is what attracts me to a book. When I was a child, I read the book “National Geographic Picture Atlas of Our Universe,“ by Roy A. Gallant, because there was a cool-looking spaceship on the cover. The book was about astronomy and physics, of course, but it also had mythological stories about each planet and about the universe as a whole. There were illustrations and charts that helped my puny mind begin to grasp the complex ideas of space and time. But what I most clearly remember about the book was the section in which the author imagined what characteristics life would have to survive the heat of Venus of the atmosphere of Jupiter.

My attraction to coffee table books continues through the present day. They are convenient to browse when you are waiting 15 minutes for the oven timer to sound but are equally suited to intensive investigation on the back porch with a cup of coffee. Here are some of my more recent favorites.

The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe
by Theodore Gray
The author describes this book as containing “Everything you need to know. Nothing you don’t.” Gray lays out the requisite structural information for each element, but he also shows you what each element looks like. He also shares examples of how each element is used, both in nature and by humans. Learning about atomic weights and density might not seem immediately thrilling, but this book is fun enough to have inspired puzzles and posters.

Book cover for The Oldest Living Things in the World by Rachel SussmanThe Oldest Living Things in the World
by Rachel Sussman
This book is the culmination of 10 years of Sussman’s work. She traveled to every continent and even learned to scuba dive so she could photograph organisms that are all at least 2,000 years old. The pictures are exceptional, of course, but what distinguishes this book are the stories that Sussman shares about her process.

 The Definitive Visual GuideScience: The Definitive Visual Guide
edited by Adam Hart-Davis
If you can’t decide which scientific discipline you want to learn about, then this book is the place to start. It is organized chronologically and covers biology, medicine, astronomy, math, chemistry, life, the universe and everything. Parents (or anybody who likes awesome juvenile books) might recognize DK Publishing as the publisher of the Eyewitness book series. This science book has a similarly pleasing aesthetic, breaking down complicated ideas into simpler and manageable elements.

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Summer Program Preview: Technology and Science

May 30, 2014

Summer of Science logoSummer Reading launches Monday, and this year’s programs celebrate science of all sorts. Here are just some of the programs coming up next week and beyond. Learn something new this summer!

Drop-in Windows 8 Help
Monday, June 2 › 3-4 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Training Center
Did you just buy a new Windows 8 computer and have no idea where to start? Come to our informal session to learn about the Windows 8 operating system and get pointers on how to use it.

Selling Online
Monday, June 2 › 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Training Center
In this intro class, learn the basics of selling your stuff on three popular websites–eBay, an auction site; Craigslist, a classified ad site; and Etsy, a marketplace for handmade and vintage items. Basic computer skills required. Register by calling 573-443-3161.

Discover Nature—Fishing in Missouri
Thursday, June 5, 2014 › 6:30-8 p.m.
Callaway County Public Library, Friends Room
Mariah Morrison with the Missouri Department of Conservation will talk about fishing in Missouri and teach you to identify the most common fish in our state’s waters. She’ll also share tips on bait, lures and tying knots. Adults. Register by calling 573-642-7261

Google Toolbox
Friday, June 13, 2014 › 2:30-4 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Training Center
Learn to use Google to create a website or blog; keep a calendar; organize and share your pictures and videos; work with web-based documents, spreadsheets and presentations; do scholarly research; and more. Register by calling 573-443-3161.

The Art and Science of Archaeology
Saturday, June 14, 2014 › 2-3 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Friends Room
As they study earlier human cultures, archaeologists draw from a wide range of sciences including chemistry, geology, biology, astronomy, botany and paleontology. We’ll take a look at some of these scientific methods and tools and how they help construct a more accurate view of history. Museum educator Rachel Straughn-Navarro will show some examples of ancient artifacts and talk about the ways the museum helps in the preservation and exploration of the past. Co-sponsored by the Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri.

Free Websites for Genealogists
Monday, June 16, 2014 › 6:30-8 p.m.
Callaway County Public Library, Friends Room, or 
Tuesday, June 17, 2014 › 7-9 p.m.
Southern Boone County Public Library, Meeting Room
Genealogist Tim Dollens will introduce several free sites you can use to track down your family’s history.

See all our Adult Summer Reading programs online!

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Books for Cooks: “Jerusalem” and “Share”

May 28, 2014

I’ve finally reached that age where I need to learn how to cook. I no longer have the excuse of college to explain my diet of pizza and coffee, and while microwaveable dinners are oh, so delicious, I think it’s time I educated myself on the world of cooking.

The library has a section of cookbooks so ginormous that it’s almost overwhelming. Perusing it is like trying to pick only one candy from a candy store to taste - nearly impossible. I started my selection inspired by a book I’d seen around my parent’s kitchen, thinking, “Yeah, I’ll start by cooking something I’ve already tasted.”

Book cover for JerusalemThis led me to the cookbook “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. It’s hard not to love a cookbook full of delicious looking pictures and dishes rich with history. I found myself overwhelmed with the choices. I often had to judge if I had the required patience to cook the more complex recipes within “Jerusalem.” I’m newer to this cooking thing, so I thought, keep it simple. I tried the baby spinach salad with dates and almonds. I did cut corners with the pitas, using old bread instead, but it was still delicious.

Picture of clementine syrup cakeThere is one recipe in this book I will dance around and scream at you to try, and that’s the clementine and almond syrup cake. I am currently dieting, but of course, I sit, drooling, staring at this recipe and thinking back to the time I ate it at my parents’ house. It was an explosion of yummy goodness. It’s sweet but not too sweet, sticky with a citrus syrup and so good you could gobble up the whole thing. I love lemon and orange cakes, and this was a perfect mix of sweet, smooth and sticky.

Share: The Cookbook That Celebrates Our Common Humanity” wasn’t a cookbook I’d seen before, but I couldn’t pass it by. It was full of pictures, and the recipes felt full of heart. They come from hard-working and loving women across the world. The cooking isn’t as fancy as the stuff in Jerusalem, but it’s just as delicious. I was, of course, drawn to its sweet and drool-worthy desserts – all of which I shouldn’t eat but can’t help fantasizing about.

Book Cover for ShareThe dish I want to try the most is Manal Alsharif’s Basbosa. This is definitely a recipe I am saving for that time in my dieting when I can’t take it anymore and need a sweet. Basbosa is a dessert that looks similar to Jerusalem’s clementine and almond syrup cake, which is probably a large reason why I want to eat it. The base cake is made with cornstarch and coconut, cooked till golden, drizzled with syrup made of sugar and lemon juice and finally sprinkled with almonds and pistachio nuts. Yum.

Check out the cookbook section (starting at call number 641.5) and whip yourself up a dish one of these nice summer evenings.

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Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The June List

May 27, 2014

Library Reads LogoLibrarians clearly have summer on their minds. The June edition of LibraryReads – the monthly list of forthcoming titles librarians across the country recommend – is full of books set near water – cities on the ocean, summer homes with pools, sandy beaches. From thrillers to family dramas, many of these books would make fantastic vacation reads.

Book cover for China Dolls by Lisa SeeChina Dolls
by Lisa See
“Set in 1938 San Francisco, this book follows the lives of three young women up through WWII. Grace travels to California seeking stardom, where she meets Helen, a young woman from Chinatown, and the two find jobs as nightclub dancers. While auditioning, they cross paths with Ruby, and the book alternates between all three viewpoints. Lisa See is one of my favorite authors, and her newest title doesn’t disappoint.”
- Catherine Coyne, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, MA

Book cover for The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard StreetThe Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street
by Susan Jane Gilman
“In the tenements of old New York, a young Russian Jewish immigrant woman is taken in by an Italian family who sells ice. Through sheer persistence and strong will, she manages to build an ice cream empire. Lillian Dunkle is a complex character who will make you cheer even as you are dismayed. Have ice cream on hand when you read this book!”
- Marika Zemke, Commerce Township Public Library, Commerce Twp, MI

Book cover for I Am Having so Much Fun Here Without YouI Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You
by Courtney Maum
“Set mainly in Paris, this love story for grown-ups tells the story of a decent man who almost ruins his life and then goes to great lengths to restore his marriage. If your path to a happy marriage has been straightforward, you may not appreciate this book – but it’s perfect for the rest of us!”
- Laurel Best, Huntsville-Madison County Public Library, Huntsville, AL

Here is the rest of the list, with links to the library’s catalog so you can place holds on these on-order books!

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While the Library Is Closed…

May 21, 2014

Photo of a sign reading open 24 hoursOn Friday, May 23 we’ll be closed for staff training, and on Sunday, May 25 and Monday, May 26 we’ll be closed in observance of Memorial Day. While our buildings are closed and the bookmobiles are parked in the garage, don’t forget that the digital branch is always open. Below are just a few of the ways you can use the library this holiday or any day.

photo credit: Tallent Show via photopin cc

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The Gentleman Recommends: Bill Cotter

May 19, 2014

Book cover for The Parallel Apartments by Bill CotterA modern gentleman buys his monocles fair-trade, extends his habits of refined discourse to the Internet and understands that literature sometimes pulls the curtain back on acts of marital intimacy that are often neither preceded nor followed by nuptials. Even so, I was unable to prevent the frequent dropping of my monocles during the course of reading Bill Cotter’s “The Parallel Apartments.” But not all droppings were related to the artfully depicted acts of often artless intimacy. Indeed, the monocle carnage extended past the reading of the novel and to the reading of reactions to it. I ruined one when I read a review focusing on the ribald aspects rather than the myriad less scandalous reasons to recommend the book. As Cotter alludes to in this charming interview, the Puritanism regarding a few scenes of bodily congress is surprising given erotica’s stranglehold on bestseller lists.

But now I’m guilty of focusing on the tawdry when I should be trying to convince fans of tragicomedy and exquisite writing to check out this book. “The Parallel Apartments” aims most of its focus on three generations of mothers and most of the remaining on assorted inhabitants of the titular complex. One character has $400,000 of credit card debt, and when she inherits enough to pay it off, she instead decides to invest in a robot gigolo and start a brothel in her home, which is both a good business plan and an aid in avoiding her greatest fear: becoming pregnant. Another’s desire to become pregnant is intense enough to require the reader have several backup monocles at the ready. Another character yearns to be a serial killer but thwarts himself, among other ways, by tipping his darts with harmless frog juice rather than deadly frog poison. A retired prostitute hopes to defeat AIDS by having a guru and his unfortunate raccoon clean her blood. She’s accompanied back to Austin by a man that fled it for reasons, revealed brilliantly and late in the novel, that will again have your monocle in shocked descent. Eventually the characters converge to form an ending I’d love to prattle on endlessly about.

The author says his focus was on the sentence level, and the attention to pretty and amusing sentences shows. Cotter’s plot is also worthy of praise, though. The story’s timeline weaves back and forth through decades in a way orchestrated to maximize the impact of various alarming bits of back story and have your eyewear flying off your face. “The Parallel Apartments” is a unique novel, and it gave me a unique feeling (that has nothing to do with the aforementioned scenes of fleshy goings-on). I was heartbroken, delighted, awed and some other stuff there’s probably words for in German. This emotional cocktail caused both a special breed of the weird melancholic elation that often accompanies the finishing of great books and also the need to replace several shattered and/or irreparably moistened monocles.

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I (Finally) Have a Smartphone! Now What?

May 16, 2014

iPhone 4SI have a love-hate relationship with technology. I enjoy the ways technology has democratized access to information and transformed librarianship. Yes, we still have books printed on actual paper (my preferred way to read), but we also provide downloadable eBooks, audiobooks and digital magazines, as well as streaming music and movies. I love being able to have something to read or listen to, any time and anywhere.

However, I don’t want to always have my face in a screen, and I don’t want my young children to become device addicts either, always clamoring to play Minecraft or Angry Birds. So I’ve resisted smartphone ownership (being ridiculed for my old-school cell phone with its slide-out QWERTY keyboard) until this Mother’s Day when I received a shiny new Galaxy S 5. Now I have to figure out how to make this device work for me and not become a slave to its many tempting features and functions.

I could start with a class. Every month or so the library offers a training session called Maximizing your Android Device. (We also have similar classes for Apple device owners.) The next class will be at 2:30 p.m. on June 9 at the Columbia Public Library. (Call 573-443-3161 to register starting May 27.)

Of course, there are books I could consult as well. We have a slew of books about smartphones, from the Missing Manual series to the Teach Yourself Visually books.

Book cover for Hamlet's BlackBerry by William PowersIn order to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the number of apps available for download, I’m starting with my library favorites, including our mobile catalog app from BiblioCommons, the OverDrive app for my eBooks and Hoopla for music and video. (All of these apps are featured at DBRLTeen in a handy guide that includes links for downloading.)

Finally, to make sure I don’t let this very seductive device ruin my real-life relationships with friends and family, I’m going to check out William Powers’ book “Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age.” In hardback. :-)

photo credit: Jonas Tana via photopin cc

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Mental Health Awareness Month

May 14, 2014

Book cover for Health With the ArtsWhen someone in the family suffers appendicitis, breaks an arm or develops an insufferable case of poison ivy, we usually know where we can look for help. For mental health needs, it’s not always obvious.  Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, this is a good time to highlight resources related to this topic.

On Tuesday, May 20, the Columbia Public Library will host a Mental Health Forum focusing on local resources for children and youth. Refreshments will be available at 6:30 p.m., and the panel presentation will take place from 7:00 to 8:30. No registration is required.

During the month of May, two of our branches will have displays focusing on the subject of mental health. The Callaway County Public Library exhibit can be found outside their Friends Room. It features winning artwork from the Missouri Department of Mental Health’s 2013 poster contest, with a theme of “Recovery, Hope and Stigma Reduction.”

Beginning Thursday, May 15, the Columbia Public Library will have a table display on the second floor. This will include books for checkout, along with brochures, flyers, bookmarks and stickers provided by the Missouri Mental Health Foundation and supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services in partnership with the Missouri Department of Health.

Pillow case artwork from The Pillows of Unrest & Hope ProjectThe Columbia Public Library will also provide space for the “Pillows of Unrest & Hope” display, beginning Saturday, May 17. This exhibit includes pillow cases used as artistic canvases by clients of the Fulton State Hospital. They were asked to depict their struggles with mental illness or developmental disability and what gives them hope.

Of course, the library has a plethora of helpful resources available year-round:

Our Mental Health To-Go Kits address a variety of specific issues – depression, schizophrenia, substance abuse and more. Each kit contains books and DVDs for checkout, plus pamphlets, magnets and other items you can keep.

Junebug” is an autobiographical novel with fantasy elements. Local author and Cherie Doyen penned this empowering story of a girl overcoming the trauma of sexual abuse in the hopes that others suffering similarly would not feel alone or powerless.

Healing With the Arts” speaks to integrating the arts into medical care, both physical and mental, as an essential part of the healing process. Literature, visual arts, dance and music are all part of the program.

After the Crisis: Using Storybooks to Help Children Cope” provides a list of 50 book recommendations with related activities to help kids recover from traumatic life events such as natural disasters, homelessness and loss of a loved one. The book is geared toward teachers, but other adults will find it useful, too.

For more items, see our catalog list. And remember, these resources wouldn’t exist if there were no demand for them. That means you’re not alone.


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Classics For Everyone, and a Book Giveaway: Wilkie Collins

May 12, 2014

Book Cover for The Woman in White by Wilkie CollinsI hate to tell Charles Dickens, but one of his contemporaries is a rival for my literary heart. “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins has been collecting dust on my “to read” list for years. When I discovered the book is one of J.K. Rowling’s favorites, it moved up the list, but didn’t make it to the top until a few weeks ago. Then, wowza! I stayed up late several nights in a row, reading “just a few more pages.”

“The Woman in White” is a story of mysterious characters and devious plots, assumed identities and international intrigue, family scandals and thwarted love. We see the full range of human character – greed, devotion, manipulation, love, hate, duty, evasion of duty, cheating, honesty – as different parts of the story are related by various characters involved.

Walter Hartright has no idea the turns his life will take after he accepts a position as drawing teacher for the Fairlie family. He has two pupils, Marian and Laura, who are half-sisters. The head of the estate is Laura’s uncle, who provides much of the humor in the book. He suffers from nerves, poor thing, and can’t tolerate sunlight, conversation, decision-making or servants who fail to mind-read. Before Hartright reaches the Fairlie home, he encounters and assists a strange young woman in white during a late-night walk. As it turns out, she has some connection to the family who has employed him. And some mysterious, less-than-desirable connection to Laura’s fiancé, Sir Percival Glyde. (Even his name sounds oily and corrupt.) Assisted by his friend Count Fosco, who is Laura’s uncle by marriage, it’s obvious early on that Glyde is up to something nefarious. But what could it be?

I feel it is my duty, dear reader, to warn you that there is a fainting couch and it is swooned upon. You will also encounter some gender stereotyping typical of the mid-19th century. However, the plot and strong characterizations (Marian, in particular, is an intelligent and active female character) make these deficiencies forgivable. A bonus for me, as a Harry Potter fan, was discovering where J.K. Rowling found inspiration for a certain trademark of a cohort of villains.

Are you intrigued enough to want your very own copy of “The Woman in White?” Fill out the following form, including the answer to this trivia question for a chance to win:

Wilkie Collins’ book “The Moonstone” involves the theft of a jewel. What type of jewel is it?

One winner will be selected at random from among correct entries.


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Stream Free Movies, Music and Audiobooks From Your Library

May 9, 2014

Hoopla- Stream free movies, music and audiobooksWith our new digital service, Hoopla, you can watch videos or listen to music and audiobooks with your computer or mobile device for free. Hoopla allows us to add music, movies and TV to our digital offerings for the first time. Plus, you’ll never have to wait on any item through Hoopla because more than one person can access the same movie, album or audiobook at the same time.

Download the free Hoopla mobile app on your Android or iOS device to begin enjoying thousands of titles from major film studios, recording companies and publishers. Hoopla items can also stream to your computer through your Web browser.

  • You will be allowed to borrow 10 titles each month.
  • Movies & TV shows check out for 72 hours.
  • Music checks out for 7 days.
  • Audiobooks check out for 21 days.
  • Content begins streaming immediately. You can also download most titles to devices for offline viewing or listening.
  • Once you borrow a title on one device it is automatically available via all devices with the Hoopla app or, on your computer, through your browser (Internet Explorer 8+, Firefox 12+, Safari 5+, Chrome 19+).
  • View or listen to the borrowed content as often as you want during the check-out period.

To use this free service, you need to have a current Daniel Boone Regional Library card. Don’t have one? Learn more at www.dbrl.org/librarycard.


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A Son’s Tribute to His Mom’s Story (and History)

May 7, 2014

We all could say something nice or special about our moms, and I’m no exception. What makes my mom amazing and notable is the way she lives her life. But before I tell you about her life today, you need to know where she has been.

Photo of Dorothy Isgrig circa 1932Dorothy Elizabeth Isgrig was born in 1926 in Montgomery City, Missouri, the first of three children born to her parents Frederick William Isgrig and his third wife Stella Moore Yates Nalley. She also had 12 older half brothers and sisters, as her parents already had several children between the two. The Great Depression was in full swing when my mom was little, and she can remember getting her Christmas toys from the Salvation Army. From the ages of 2 to 9 she lived in Kansas, and then she returned to Missouri in a Ford Model T or Model A, driven by her brother-in-law. In 1936, her first year back in Missouri, my mom and her immediate family lived in a shack that had previously been occupied by hired hands of a local farmer. My mom went on to get her eighth-grade diploma at Jesse School house two miles west of Mexico. She walked over five blocks every day to be picked up by her teacher to be taken to school.

Photo of one-room school houseOn Easter Sunday this year, my mom and other family members went to see the one-room Beagles schoolhouse in Audrain County, now a community center, that mom attended. On that same trip we drove by where my mom’s other school, Erisman, once stood. She attended there four years. We then went on to the Presbyterian Church where she was “sprinkled” as a teenager. While on the road, my mom began to tell me even more details about her childhood – teachers’ names, schoolmates and stories from her younger days. I said, “Mom, I can’t write this stuff down while I’m driving!” Soon after our excursion, we sat on the couch, and I wrote down everything I could remember her telling me. She had never spoken about these details before. There is something about “going home” that jogs the memory.

Photo of Dorothy Isgrig age 16We didn’t have much growing up, and my mom didn’t either. She grew up during the Great Depression when there was no work to be had. When she was a young teenager she peeled apples for ladies who made pies. At 16 she got a job at the Crown Laundry and continued that until she had her first child. Women could get work then because so many men were in the service.

Dorothy married my father, Raymond Lee Dollens, in April of 1947, just less than four months shy of her twenty-first birthday. Two days shy of their first wedding anniversary they became the parents of their first child, Ruth Ann. A baby would follow almost every year after that until they had their fourteenth child (me) in December of 1964. So all of us kids are baby boomers. We could be a sociological project! My Mom now has 35 grandchildren and 35 great grandchildren, with two more great grandchildren on the way.

Raising a large family is much like army life. Order, discipline and pecking order are all in play. If I told you I didn’t have an opinion until I was an adult on my own, you might not believe me, but it is TRUE. I had more peer pressure from my siblings than I ever had from kids I knew from church or school. My mom pretty much followed the same routine every day to keep the household running. She still washes the dishes with my older sister every day.

Photo of Dorothy Isgrig Dollens todayWhat makes my mom amazing is that things she does today should inspire anyone of the baby boom generation or older. First, she keeps a regular schedule. She walks up to two miles a day, five to six days a week like clockwork. She goes to her doctor regularly and actually follows through with her diet plan. Oh, she will tell you that she gained 30 pounds with her first baby and has never been able to lose them, but that doesn’t keep her from maintaining her diabetes. She became a diabetic at the age of 79, and up until the age of 87 she maintained it with diet and exercise alone. Talk about discipline. She now has to take a pill to help regulate her diabetes. How many octogenarians can say that? Her lifestyle is what makes her the strong person she is.

Most of my mom’s contemporaries are deceased, including all of her siblings and most of her in-laws. Her friends now are her children and their families. She does enjoy the babies. She loves to hold the babies and talk to the toddlers. I am so very thankful that at the age of 87 my mom is as alert, mobile, social and healthy as a person of her age can be.

So now you know why my mom is special. Why is your mom special? Whatever the reason, make sure you let her know this Mother’s Day!

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Motherhood (and Parenthood) Humor

May 5, 2014

 Illustrated With Crappy PicturesMy wife and I have found parenting small children to be one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives. While our children are little, we see it as a way to relive our own childhoods in some ways: watching the old Muppet Movies again, flying kites, enjoying Fruit Loops guilt-free, playing board games that involve colorful shiny plastic objects and lots of rudimentary counting.

Along with the fun it can get difficult. And dirty. And tiring. And also incredibly funny. The moments of laughter spent with our own daughters account for some of the most hilarious times in my life so far. Much of it is unintentional – just moments of pure joy wrapped in semi-ridiculous situations. In celebration of Mother’s Day, let’s take a look at some of the more recent humorous parenting and mothering titles out there. (Think Gen-X’s answer to Erma Bombeck – a little more irony, a few more swear words.)

How about “Parenting Illustrated with Crappy Pictures,” a book of cartoons by Amber Dusick. Amber’s experiences are universal – toddlers who create constant chaos and havoc, misuse common phrases (and swear words, with the expected results), treat the cats badly and display affection and sweetness with sincere deliveries of flowers, pronounced “fowlers.” The sleeplessness and chaos that come with parenting young children are fleshed out in (very poorly) drawn cartoons, but the humor is very real. Why cry when you can laugh? My favorite chapter, “The Good Stuff,” includes this classic two year-old knock knock joke: “Knock, knock.  Who’s there?  Cookie. Cookie Who?  BIG COOKIE!!”

Book cover for Don't Lick the Minivan by Leanne ShirtliffeDon’t Lick the Minivan, and Other Things I Never Thought I’d Say to My Kids” by blogger and humorist Leanne Shirtliffe examines raising baby twins in the international city of Bangkok, Thailand and returning to the suburbs of Canada, where absurdities continue, such as a barbie funeral. Anecdotes from the Shirtliffe family’s time in Bangkok are profoundly funny: “As we left the village .   .   .  our driver navigated around an accident, likely caused by our screaming child – and he maneuvered around other developing world obstacles, like a family of five on a motorbike and a 1960s truck filled with jingling propane bottles.” The book is also spiced with sidebars that include advice such as “Parenting Tip: When you’re arguing with your spouse over parenting issues, imitate a cartoon character to defuse the situation.”

Julia Sweeney is best known for her stint on Saturday Night Live, but she is also an author, speaker and mother, having adopted a Chinese child, Mulan. In her new book “If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother,” she recounts the adoption process, all the while balancing her career. “It took so long to assemble my lovely family. I did it all a bit backward: first a delightful daughter, then a beloved husband.”

Sweeney eventually ends up in Wilmette, Illinois (near the college town of Evanston, IL) which she describes as “like living in Logan, Utah, six blocks from Berkeley, California.” Coming from California was a change, she writes. “The entire city of Wilmette is set up to accommodate families. While I appreciate this, it can be mind-numbing. Also, I should add that I live in a city of blond ponytails; one might describe it as a sea of blond ponytails.” However, she does find her own domestic bliss in her new circumstances: “Thinking through this whole family experience has made me feel less attached to places and things, and more invested in experiencing being with people I love.”

Lastly, although only available in audiobook format, let us not forget Garrison Keillor’s wonderful tribute to the mothers of the world: “Motherhood.” Prairie Home Companion is, above all else, a true celebration of family and community. Listen to the cast from the show present humorous skits that showcase the joys, travails, and delightful moments encapsulated in being a Mom.

Please see these books (and many more!) for a humorous explorations of what it means to be a parent and most especially a Mom. Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful moms out there!


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Updates to LearningExpress Practice Tests and Career Tutorials

May 2, 2014

LearningExpress Library logoRaise test scores, prepare for a new career or improve math and writing skills, all with just the click of a mouse with LearningExpress Library, available through your library’s digital branch.

LearningExpress Library is a comprehensive, online learning platform of practice tests and tutorial courses designed to help students and adult learners succeed on the academic or licensing tests they must pass. On June 2, 2014, LearningExpress will be updated to LearningExpress Library 3.0. This new version has a cleaner, updated look and is much easier to navigate and use but houses the same quality content.

Free with your library card, use this resource to practice and prepare for:

  • The HiSET Exam, which has replaced the GED for Missouri High School equivalency testing.
  • College and graduate placement tests (ACT, SAT, GRE, MCAD, LSAT).
  • Elementary and high school tests (Advanced Placement; high school, middle school, and elementary school skills).
  • Career preparation exams (EMS, Firefighter, PPST – Praxis, Civil Service, and reading, math and writing skills practice).
  • TOEFL and U.S. Citizenship Exams.

The update and the shift to a new platform requires existing users to re-register their accounts. Existing accounts will not be carried over to the new version. Work done on the old LearningExpress will be not be available after June 2, 2014. Users should finish their current tests and courses and register for a new account at their earliest convenience after June 2. To see the new look of this learning platform check out www.learningexpresslibrary3.com.


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Support Your Local Critters

April 30, 2014

Photo of deer by Bagsgroove via FlickrOn the heels of Earth Day at the end of April comes Garden for Wildlife Month, celebrated each May. Here is an opportunity to be a good steward of the planet by gardening in a way that nurtures the natural environment and the plants and animals that depend upon it. What do wildlife gardeners do? They create habitats that contain native plants and mimic a landscape that would have been there had development not occurred. They foster biodiversity by creating habitats that provide appropriate food, water and shelter to attract a wide range of animals, from tiny insects to deer. They typically utilize organic methods and conserve on water use (since native plants tend to need less water).

My family’s home in the city of Columbia has a backyard that butts up against 7 acres of private, forested land that includes a large pond. I love the quiet and privacy this affords us and the wildlife it supports. Because of these surroundings, we enjoy (without much effort) sightings of all kinds of critters. There are songbirds galore, which we further entice with feeders. We have resident barred owls, red-tailed hawks and once we had a wild turkey trot through. Beyond the bird category there are raccoons, opossums, rabbits, groundhogs, toads, tree frogs, garter snakes, box turtles, countless insects, etc., and we even have a resident herd of deer.

You can create a wildlife-friendly garden and still enjoy decent yields of flowers and vegetables. By observing the wildlife and their habits in your immediate area you can design a garden habitat that supports them and allows you to reap the edible and visual benefits of your toil in the soil. This is what I’ve been told in my recent readings on this topic, and I’m interested in testing this theory myself because…

I have been confounded by that herd of deer! If I didn’t want to flower and vegetable garden, I’d delight in seeing them amble through, but they have undermined my attempts, demoralizing me when my blood, sweat and dollar bills never pay off with any kind of harvest due to their ransacking. Looking into this particular deer “pest” problem further I’ve learned various ways to protect the plants from these marauders. The most surefire way to keep deer from munching out is to build a 9 foot-high fence. Since I don’t have the resources for that, I’ve decided to try the “coexist” method and will put in plants that deer are not much interested in (such as rhubarb and aromatic herbs). Of course, there are other animals and insects that can be problematic to gardeners (groundhogs, rabbits, aphids, etc.), and depending on the critter, different approaches are needed to deter them.

There are resources aplenty available here at DBRL to answer your questions about wildlife gardening, including how to design gardens that allow a peaceful coexistence between humans and other animals. With some planning and specific types of effort you can reap a harvest of flowers and veggies and enjoy seeing the critters that your garden invites and supports.

Photo credit: Photo by Bagsgroove via Flikr and used under a Creative Commons License.

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Poetry for People Who Don’t Read Poetry

April 28, 2014

Book cover for The Trouble With Poetry by Billy Collins“I don’t get poetry.”

Somewhere along our educational paths, some of us became convinced that poetry, by definition, must be hard, esoteric, incomprehensible. Others believe poetry is boring, the word conjuring up memories of a too-warm classroom and a lecture about syllables and iambic pentameter. If you believe you are not a poetry person, in honor of the last few days of National Poetry Month, I’m going to attempt to convince you otherwise.

Exhibit A: Billy Collins
Collins’ poetry is conversational, approachable and often gently humorous. He writes about love, loss, growing older, teenagers, camp lanyards, his kitchen and a whole host of other everyday topics, using elegant phrasing, surprising images and even wit to make what is common seem new.

Exhibit B: Mary Oliver
Oliver’s most recent collection of poems is all about the dogs she has owned. The verses in “Dog Songs” are unashamedly celebratory, as is much of her work. Nature is often the subject of her writing, and while not overtly religious, there is a quality of thanksgiving in her poems, an open wonder at the world and gratitude for her place in it. 

Exhibit C: Sharon Olds
There is a sharpness to Olds, and even a harshness at times, like she is shining a bright spotlight on her subjects. She writes fearlessly about death, sexuality, brutality and makes even the hardest truths beautiful through words and images.

What other poets would you recommend to reluctant poetry readers?

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Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The May List

April 25, 2014

Library Reads logoThe days are getting warmer and longer, and summer reading is on the horizon! Here is the monthly list from LibraryReads, highlighting forthcoming titles librarians across the country recommend, including family dramas, suspense, literary fiction, and a memoir. Get ready to pack your beach bag with some great new books.

Book cover for We Were Liars by E. LockhartWe Were Liars
by E. Lockhart
“This brilliant and heartbreaking novel tells the story of a prestigious family living on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. Full of love, lies, secrets, no shortage of family dysfunction and a shocking twist that you won’t see coming. Though this book is written for teens, it shouldn’t be overlooked by anyone looking for a fantastic read.”
- Susan Balla, Fairfield Public Library, Fairfield, CT

Book cover for All the Light We Cannot See All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr
“Set during World War II Europe, this novel is sobering without being sentimental. The tension builds as the alternating, parallel stories of Werner and Marie-Laure unfold, and their paths cross. I highly recommend this beautiful and compelling story.”
- Kelly Currie, Delphi Public Library, Delphi, IN

Book cover for The Bees by Laline PaullThe Bees: A Novel
by Laline Paull
“This book is set entirely in a beehive, but the novel and its characters are so beautifully rendered that it could have been set anywhere. Societal codes and social mores combine with the ancient behavior rituals of bees, bringing forth a remarkable story that is sure to be a book club favorite.”
- Ilene Lefkowitz, Denville Public Library, Denville, NJ

Here is the rest of the list, with links to the library’s catalog so you can place holds on these on-order books!

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Being Puppy Prepared

April 23, 2014

Photo of the author's dog, ZarraI’ve had family dogs, where the responsibility of training, walking and caring for the animal was shared among four people, but Zarra, my red heeler, is the first dog I can completely call my own.  She’s spastic, energetic and, as her name implies, bizarre. When I first adopted her, I thought my previous experience raising dogs would be enough to reign in her crazy, but after a few months her behavior immediately alerted me that I was very, horrifyingly, wrong.

I constantly struggle to stop her from violently shaking her leash in an excited fit, and although I love the sound of her beautiful voice, her infatuation with barking is infuriating.

On the bright side, she is wicked smart, has more personality than three dogs combined and is the perfect snuggle companion when she’s not attempting to thrust me from the bed with tiny outstretched legs.

All this hassle led me to a moment of brilliance where I thought, why, I work at a library, don’t I? We have a dog training collection, don’t we? Then why don’t I check myself out some much-needed books that will enlighten me on how to reign in my fiendish friend?

And that’s what I’m here to tell you, all of you pessimistic people out there thinking of getting yourself a puppy this summer, or even adopting a dog from Second Chance. Make sure you properly equip yourself to handle your rowdy pup, and be sure to do it while they are still malleable little innocent beings unlike my red furred friend.

 Okay, I want a dog. Where do I start?

Book cover for Choosing the Dog That's Right for YouChoosing the Dog That’s Right for You” by Sam Stall

“Choosing the Dog That’s Right for You” goes over every canine breed and their individual quirks. At first, the type of breed you’re thinking of adopting might not seem important past looks, but trust me, it’s very important. This book covers factors you probably weren’t even considering, like known health issues and activity needs. Stall covers everything you’ll need to know from the amount of time you’ll spend caring for a Yorkshire Terrier’s hair, to the awful watch-dog ability of the overly friendly Huskie, to the loud and overactive personality of the Jack Russell Terrier.

Okay, I got my dog, What now?

Book cover for Good Dog, the Easy way to Train Your DogGood Dog! The Easy Way to Train your Dog” by Sarah Whitehead

This is a quick and easy-to-use book packed full of useful pictures and one-page training guides. I flipped through it multiple times, using the images to remind myself of the step-by-step process of whatever training technique I was currently working on. The pictures are extremely helpful, and it covers a wide range of tricks from the simple sit to the complex rollover.

 I want more training!

Book cover for Love That Dog Training ProgramThe Love That Dog Training Program” by Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz

Where “Good Dog!” is simple, “The Love That Dog Training Program” is detailed, thorough and complex. Sylvia-Stasiewicz sets up a day-by-day training schedule for you to follow over a five week-long course. Although I didn’t apply the Sylvia-Stasiewicz program, I do wish I’d had the opportunity when I first got Zarra. Instead, I found myself flipping through this book and using its troubleshooting section in an attempt to fix my dog’s behavioral problems while implementing its cookie sit and stay training techniques.

 More! More! More!

Columbia Public Library has over three shelves of books on dog training, and I highly recommend coming in and checking them out whether you have a troublesome pup on your hands or are thinking about getting yourself one.

Good luck! Be patient!

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The Gentleman Recommends: Flann O’Brien

April 21, 2014

Book cover for The Third Policeman by Flann O'BrienThe most important thing I can tell you about Flann O’Brien is: you should not read the introduction to “The Complete Novels” until after you’ve read the complete novels. Perhaps the introducer believed he was writing an afterword, or perhaps he believes he lives in a surreal utopia where everyone has read Flann O’Brien. Regardless, he drops spoilers like race cars during a bolt shortage, including a huge one that will change the way you read “The Third Policeman.” Fortunately, I long ago developed a suspicion of introductions and always save them for last, so it was with a self-satisfied smirk, wagged finger of admonishment and chest-puffed entreaty of “don’t be a monster that spoils stuff” that I greeted the introducer’s ghastly act of revealing the end of the “The Third Policeman,” where the reader should discover for themselves that [spoiler removed by editor].

Flann O’Brien, much like Batman or a rapper, has more than one name. His realest name is Brian O’Nolan, and, in addition to Flann, he also wrote as Myles na gCopaleen, which I presume is the result of several typos and an urge to be the most inscrutable superhero ever. Unlike my previous recommendations whose recommending came at least partially in the service of bribing them to be my friends, any relationship with O’Brien would be awkward and one-sided as the man died on April Fools’ Day in 1966. (Which, if one has to die, must be the best day to do so. Think of the incredulous responses when his friends and loved ones were notified!)

“The Third Policeman” begins with the narrator confessing to murder. From there it is a whirlwind consisting of a plot to obtain the deceased’s fortune; asides concerning the ludicrous theories of the philosopher de Selby (whom the narrator is obsessed with and had been planning to write a book on), such as his belief that night is an illusion caused by an accretion of black gases, that the earth is sausage-shaped and that with a large enough series of mirrors one is capable of seeing into the past; and absurd policemen whose fixations on bicycles, high-fallutin’ rhetoric and incomprehensible mathematics provide much of the fuel for this spectacular comedy.

There’s also some spectacular horror. In addition to murder, there is a conversation with a ghost, a journey into a surreal landscape where a police station looks two-dimensional, as if “it was painted on the sky,” an alliance with an army of one-legged men, some incomprehensible mathematics and a bicycle painted a color that drives anyone who sees it mad. There’s a chest of drawers so flawless that the only thing the policeman found worthy of putting in it was a smaller replica, which presented the same problem, which meant it must contain a smaller replica and so on until there’s a chest so small it can’t be spotted with a magnifying glass. This is a rare book that is creepy, hilarious and uncanny within the same sentence. Also, the ending is neat.

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Earth Day Approaches

April 18, 2014

Are you ready to celebrate your momma? Don’t worry, Mother’s Day isn’t for another month, but you can celebrate your earth mother on April 22! Jefferson City celebrates Earth Day 2014 on Friday, April 25, and Columbia will hold its downtown Earth Day celebration the following Sunday (April 27th).  Until then, here are some books to get you in the Earth Day spirit.

Read a novel about our planet (fictional books):

  • Book cover for Flight Behavior by Barbara KingsolverFlight Behavior” by Barbara Kingsolver. A story of a woman and her family living in modern-day Appalachia, which discusses the intersection of rural poverty and the environment. Kingsolver has written many other books regarding the environment, including an account of her family living solely off food they and their neighbors grew for an entire year!
  • Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn. The novel begins with this newspaper advertisement: “TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” This philosophical work employs a monkey teacher and his human student to examine mythology’s effect on ethics and how it relates to sustainability.
  • Arctic Rising” by Tobias S. Buckell. In this futuristic tale, the arctic ice cap has almost completely melted, and militaries and corporations are racing to claim the newly exposed ocean oil.

Educate yourself on environmental issues (nonfiction books):

  • Book cover for Mycelium Running by Paul StametsMycelium Running” by Paul Staments. Learn about the mysterious world of mushrooms and how they can help save the world! Staments has discovered a way to use mushrooms’ microscopic mycelium to decompose toxic waste, reduce pathogens from agricultural watersheds, control insect populations and generally promote the health of our forests.
  • The Upcycle” by William McDonough. It’s rare to read a book that is optimistic about humanity’s future on earth, but according to this book we can save the health of our planet by taking a different approach to the way we live on it. Author William McDonough believes our ecological crisis is fundamentally a design problem and that we can (and must) create products that are designed to leave a positive impact on the environment instead of a negative or even a ‘zero impact.’
  • The Sixth Extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert. Guess which species the title refers to? Yep, it’s us, womp womp. Earth has hosted five major extinctions over the past half a billion years, all of which caused the number of species on the planet to greatly diminish. “The Sixth Extinction” uses natural history and field reporting to chronicle the extinction unfolding before us.
  • Radical Homemakers” by Shannon Hayes. This book documents a new kind of homemaker: men and women who have chosen to return to their homes and families as an ecological and political act. These individuals seek to reclaim the role of a homemaker from corporations, capitalism and patriarchy in an attempt to find empowerment and fulfillment through nurturing their families and the environment.

Now get out there and do something! (books about gardening and green living):

  • Book cover for Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary AppelhofWorms Eat My Garbage” by Mary Appelhof. Take composting to a whole new level by using worms to recycle your waste.
  • The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture” by Christopher Shein. Go beyond gardening and create your own sustainable food ecosystem!
  • The Backyard Homestead.” Whether you live in town or in the country, learn how to raise chickens, grow and preserve food, keep bees and much more! Be sure to check out this book or one of our many other books on the subject of homesteading.
  • Cooking Green” by Kate Heyhoe. Take steps to reduce your carbon footprint starting in the kitchen! This book discusses ways you can cook and eat that are healthier for both you and the planet.
  • The Naturally Green Home” by Karyn Siegel-Maier. Save money and the environment by learning how to use non-toxic substances to clean your house.

Happy Earth Day!

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Libraries Change Lives

April 16, 2014

Book cover for This Book Is Overdue by Marilyn JohnsonThis week we’re commemorating National Library Week.  Many of us have a story about the role of libraries in our lives. Here is mine.

“Two books per visit per week,” said the unsmiling librarian as she handed me a library card. Neither the limits nor her demeanor surprised me, a 9-year-old Jewish girl growing up in Moscow in the 1950s — a city where everything was strictly regulated and rationed. I read the two books in two days and impatiently waited for the next visit.

I needed those visits. The books were filled with stories in which, no matter how grim things seemed, everything came out well in the end, rewarding honesty, bravery and wisdom — a striking contrast to my everyday experiences. I needed the security of the bookish world, with no worries about the future and no anti-Semitism, which followed me even to my library where, recorded below my age and address, appeared the label: Jewish.”

Thirty years later, a recent immigrant to the U.S. with a 13-year-old daughter, I stood in front of another librarian. This librarian was smiling.

“What did she say?” I asked my daughter, who already knew a little English and often served as my interpreter.

“She said, ‘Can I help you?’ “

Photograph of the Columbia Public Library“Ask if they have any books in Russian,” I requested.

“No, they don’t,” translated my daughter.

“Let’s go, then,” I said, disappointed.

The Midwestern town that became our home had greeted us with lush greenery enveloped in heat and humidity. Its look was startling to me — a small downtown, broad residential areas and numerous cars. Yet with few Russian speakers in town, it was a place where loneliness surrounded me with thick walls. Outside those walls, people were conversing, laughing and smiling. Inside, everything was quiet.

Meanwhile, life went on, demanding food and clothes, and, therefore, a job. “The library needs people to shelve books,” someone told me. The interview was short — the job didn’t require much English, just a knowledge of the alphabet. I started the next day.

Most of my new colleagues were young and carefree. They chatted with patrons and with one another, not paying much attention to me. Several older employees tried to break through the language barrier, but had little success.

Every day I handled hundreds of books whose meanings were hidden from me, mentally dividing them by size and color, as a child would. One day, while shelving, I found “English for Beginners” and began studying it on my own. Days became weeks, weeks became months, and gradually English letters started forming words I could recognize, words assembled into phrases, and — oh, miracle! — I was reading. It was a slow process, supported by dictionaries and accompanied by tears, but it was progress.

As my English improved, the library began to open up for me. The staff was friendly. There was no limit on how many books could be checked out. And nobody called me Jewish. Here I was just Russian.

After a while, I got promoted to the front desk — checking books in and out and answering simple questions.

“Today, I’ll get fired,” I thought to myself every morning. My vocabulary was still small, my comprehension limited, and my strong Russian accent amused the Midwestern patrons. Yet, many of them smiled at me, and I smiled back — first laboriously, and then, affected by the contagious amicability of the place, openly and sincerely.

I liked working in the library now. I liked its welcoming atmosphere and its air of learning.

Book cover for The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne“You should get a library degree,” my supervisor suggested.

A degree? In Moscow, people my age didn’t go back to school. Still, later that year, I filled out an application for the library science program at the local university. I had to look up the spelling of “science,” but I applied anyway. The next four years of my life were spent in two libraries — the public library where I worked and the university’s library, where I studied after work.

It’s now been 23 years since I arrived in America. My English has improved, and I no longer confuse “whales” with “Wales” and “tongue” with “tong.” I’ve learned that a stagecoach is not someone who coaches actors on a stage and that keeping people “posted” does not mean gluing stamps on their clothes. If someone “drops the ball,” I don’t look down to see where it hit the ground.

I am still with the same library. Every day I meet dozens of people, looking for a book to read, using computers or doing their homework. Sometimes, I spot new immigrants. They come from all over the world, so their looks vary, but the hesitant expression on their faces and their shy manners are similar. My heart goes out to them, for they are people like me, and I recognize the difficult road upon which they’ve embarked.

“They’ve come to the right place,” I think to myself. Then I smile and say, just as a librarian said to me a long time ago, “Can I help you?”

Tell us your own story!

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