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Read Your Way to Earth Day

April 17, 2015

Photo of Earth by NASA, used via a Creative Commons licenseI’ve read that “every day is Earth Day.” I believe I read it off a bumper sticker on a vehicle burning fossil fuels in its engine and releasing CO2 through its exhaust. Love the Earth, man. Don’t worry — in reality Earth Day is just one day a year. The other 364 days a year we aren’t required to acknowledge that we live on Earth. We can pretend this is all a magnificent dream (or terrible dream, depending on how your day is going), claim we’re on Mars or try to start snowball fights on the Senate floor. I see that Columbia’s Earth Day celebration is on April 19. In Jefferson City, the Missouri Department of Conservation sponsored celebration will be on April 24. So maybe we have to maintain awareness of our home planet for approximately a week. That’s doable.

Perhaps you’d like to pass the time reading a book or two during that week? Environmental issues have proven inspiring subject matter for excellent works of both fiction and nonfiction. If all this Earth hugging talk is a little too crunchy for you, you can take solace in the fact that these books have been printed on the flesh of dead trees.

OK, strap into your strappiest sandals and check out these books:

Book cover for Oryx and Crake by Margaret AtwoodThe possibility of the world as we know it being dramatically upended or gradually changed to something unrecognizable to us is a common trope in speculative fiction. The threat of environmental catastrophe has provided new possible worlds and cautionary tales for writers. Margaret Atwood, a longtime fan of science fiction, wrote the classic work of speculative fiction, “The Handmaid’s Tale.” She went back to that genre for her Maddaddam Trilogy, which the New York Times called “an epic not only of an imagined future but of our own past.” The story unfolds both forwards and backwards in the first book, “Oryx And Crake.” The disoriented narrator wanders through a bizarre wasteland populated by bioengineered animals while sorting through his memories of how the world got this way. While the subject matter is dire, Atwood handles it with wit, dark humor and love for the genre in which she’s writing.

Book cover for The MassiveBrian Wood’s comic book series “The Massive,” now up to volume four in the collected editions, asks “What does it mean to be an environmentalist after the world has already ended?” The story follows crew members of The Kapital, half of the fleet for Ninth Wave, an activist group that seems to be modeled after the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. They are searching for their sister ship, The Massive, with which they lost contact after the world fell into chaos. An environmental disaster and the wars that have followed draw into question the mission of Ninth Wave. It’s part seafaring adventure, part post apocalyptic survival story, and an examination of the world we live in.

Book cover for A Friend of the Earth by T.C. BoyleT.C. Boyle’s novel “A Friend of the Earth” similarly follows a hard-line environmentalist coping after the disaster he fought to avoid has come to pass. The biosphere has collapsed. Overpopulation and deforestation have taken their toll. Yet the human race continues on, if in a highly degraded state. Tyrone O’Shaughnessy Tierwater, former member of Earth Forever! and convicted ecoterrorist, now manages a sad collection of endangered animals owned by a rock star. Tyrone unintentionally endangered his family through his Earth Forever! activities and lost them. Now, as he is just trying to survive in a dying world, his ex-wife contacts him after 20 years.

Book cover for The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward AbbeyEarth Forever! is T.C. Boyle’s fictional creation based on the radical environmental group Earth First! One of the Inspirations for their formation was “The Monkey Wrench Gang” by Edward Abbey. An ex-Green Beret returns to the United States and is outraged to find his native southwest overrun by developers. He eventually teams up with an eclectic group of activists that becomes known as The Monkey Wrench Gang. They engage in exploits that are anarchic, righteous and at times misguided. The result is a book that acts as a call to arms, cautionary tale and raucous comedy.

Book cover for Encounters With the Archdruid by John McPheeFor “Encounters With the Archdruid,” master of narrative nonfiction John McPhee followed environmentalist David Brower as he engaged in fights over conservation in three areas of the country. The title comes from real estate developer Charles Fraser who refers to environmentalists as druids. He and Brower come into conflict over development on Cumberland Island in Georgia. Brower also battles with a mineral engineer over Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington, and with the commissioner of the United States Bureau of Reclamation over flooding of Glen Canyon by the Glen Canyon Dam (a great source of anger for the aforementioned Monkey Wrench Gang). McPhee’s style puts you there as the events unfold, and the description of each participant is clear-eyed and nuanced.

Book cover for Wilderness Warrior by Douglas BrinkleyJust the size of “Wilderness Warrior” is a testament to the importance the natural world played for President Theodore Roosevelt. That a biography focused on that aspect of Roosevelt’s life and career could add up to such a doorstopper says something about the man’s priorities. Roosevelt preserved approximately 230,000,000 acres of public land during his presidency. In this book, Pulitzer Prize-winner Douglas Brinkley doesn’t just describe Roosevelt’s well known hobbies in nature. He describes his serious dedication as a naturalist (he trained in Darwinian biology at Harvard) and the political efforts he made to preserve so much land.

Book cover for Silent Spring by Rachel CarsonSilent Spring” by Rachel Carson became a runaway bestseller in 1962, and its publication was a watershed moment in the history of environmentalism in this country. The book alerted the public to the dangers of the indiscriminate use of pesticides for both human beings and the environment at large. It provoked a ruthless assault from the chemical industry and spurred changes in laws regulating our air, land, and water. It is a true classic and testament to the potential influence a book can have.

Elizabeth Kolbert’s “Field Notes From A Catastrophe” manages to take the complicated system of our climate and describe the changes happening to it Book cover for Field Notes From a Catastrophein just over 200 pages.  The concise nature of the book doesn’t come at the expense of the subject but is due to Kolbert’s skill as a writer. Through a series of reports around the globe from the “frontlines of global warming,” she gathers up evidence of climate change and creates a vivid picture of the dangers in clear language. This often abstract subject and the potential human costs are made palpable.

photo credit: NASA Blue Marble 2007 East via photopin (license)

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Working With the Conundrum of Autism

April 15, 2015

Autism Awareness RibbonApril is Autism Awareness Month, and the Columbia Public Library is doing its part to help raise awareness and educate the public by hosting a presentation, The Future of Autism Treatment, on April 29 at 7 p.m. Rachel Zamzow — doctoral candidate in neuroscience whose research is supported by Columbia’s Thompson Center — will discuss autism and current treatments, as well as her own research focusing on treatments for the social impairment aspects of this disorder.

In case you didn’t know, the Thompson Center is a premier institution, addressing the challenges of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders via the research it conducts and the training and services it provides to families across Missouri impacted by these spectrum disorders. Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), which affect about one in 72 people in Missouri, are characterized by difficulties with social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication and repetitive behaviors. In addition, anxiety is often a significant component for those on the spectrum. Rates of ASDs have been increasing for the past few decades and now affect approximately one in 88 people, with a four-fold higher rate in males. Though the reasons for its increase are cause for scientific debate, research at this time reveals causative factors to be both genetic and environmental in origin.

Since ASDs derive from complex neurobiological bases, it seems unlikely that a “cure” will be found. However, effective treatments that include behavioral, pharmaceutical and dietary interventions have been developed, and these have improved the lives of those impacted by ASDs. As time unfolds and research continues, it’s likely that other treatment options will emerge.

Photo of protesters at the Walk Now for Autism fundraiser in Portland, ORGetting back to this “cure” idea — many people on the spectrum active in self-advocacy groups, like Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), are not necessarily interested in a cure, but acceptance. They are also interested in making policies that encourage more inclusion in society at large for people with ASDs, as well as enhancing and growing resources for affected individuals and their families. “Citizen Autistic” is an important documentary that gives an inside view of those working on the frontlines of autism advocacy and provides valuable perspective on how they’d like to be supported.

If you’d like to gain a better understanding of the challenges of either living with someone on the spectrum or what it’s like to be on the spectrum yourself, consider looking at this list of memoirs for a book or two to read. “Boy Alone: a Brother’s Memoir,” by Karl Taro Greenfeld, paints a stark and haunting portrait of a family’s desperate and loving struggle to help one of their children, who is severely impacted by autism. The other stories on this list are deeply personal and offer inspiration from hard-earned triumph.

photo credits:
Autism Awareness ribbon via Flickr (license)
Not a puzzle via Flickr (license)

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What to Read While You Wait for A Spool of Blue Thread

April 13, 2015

Book cover for A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne TylerOne highly sought-after title this spring is Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread.” This realistic tale chronicles three generations of the Whitshank family of Baltimore.

Things have changed in the Whitshank household. Abby and Red are getting older. Abby is getting forgetful, Red’s health is declining and the adult children have returned to the estate with all their long festering resentments, drama and family secrets to help their aging parents make decisions about their care, as well as the fate of the home Red’s father built decades ago. If you are currently on the list for this book or are looking for something similar to read about families, relationships and aging, you might try one of these titles to get you by.

Book cover for After This by Alic McDermottAfter This” by Alice McDermott

It is the end of World War II in New York. Mary, an Irish Catholic girl leaving church, takes shelter in a diner away from the gusting winds. Little does she realize that the fellow she sits down beside at the counter will someday be her husband. This tale is about Mary and John who live and raise four children during the 1960s. They experience the social changes and events of the decade, from the sexual revolution and abortion to racial segregation and the Vietnam War.

Book cover for Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth BergTapestry of Fortunes” by Elizabeth Berg

Cecilia Ross is a burned out, procrastinating national motivational speaker who won’t follow her own advice “to live your own truth.”  She receives a postcard from an old love she never got over, which gets her thinking about her future. So, she consults several fortune telling devices and decides to sell her house and take a break from her career. She moves into a Victorian home with three other restless women at loose ends themselves. The ladies and their dog go on a road trip, each searching for something: Cecilia seeks her lost lover; Renie, the advice columnist, is looking for the daughter she gave up for adoption; Lisa, a family physician, is hunting  for her ex-husband; and chef Joni is in search of culinary inspiration.

Book cover for Deaf Sentence by David LodgeDeaf Sentence” by David Lodge

Desmond Bates is going deaf. His hearing aids are helpful yet cause him frustration and embarrassment. Recently retired from the university as a linguistics professor, he finds himself bored, just when his wife’s career is beginning to take off. To top things off he is trying to convince his aging father that assisted living might be a worthy option for him, and his daughter is about to give birth. Out of habit and to keep things somewhat normal, he continues to use the university’s library and his former department’s common room. Soon, his routine is upset by an attractive PhD candidate named Alex who uses flattery to draw Desmond closer to her. Alex turns out to be a liar and a plagiarist who tries to use suggestive acts on Desmond to persuade him to help her with her dissertation!

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Stories in Fabric: History of Quilting

April 10, 2015

When I got married, my grandmother gave me a quilt. Its pattern is simple, but each square contains great meaning. She created this gift using fabric collected from earlier in my life, including pieces of my first sundresses and scraps of my prom dress (both sewn by my mother). The quilt is a story of my growing up.

Book cover for American Quilts by Robert ShawThe history of quilting in this country is itself quite a story. For more than 200 years, women have been sewing quilts  as functional household objects, as means of expression, as historical documentation and as ways to create community. Robert Shaw, in his informative and visually spectacular book, “American Quilts: The Democratic Art, 1780-2007,” describes quilts as “emblems of hope, infused with a host of meanings – some broad, national and patriotic; others subtle, familial, and personal. Quilts are banners of self-realization and individual creativity, and the best quilts are significant works of visual art – objects of great beauty and expressive power.”

While we often imagine the first quilts being created by thrifty and clever colonialists, fashioning odd scraps into blankets, the truth is that the first American quilts belonged to the very wealthy – fabric had to be imported from England, and all but the very well-off needed what little fabric they had for their clothing. (And nobody but the rich had the number of free hours it took to actually sew a quilt by hand.) Elise Schebler Roberts, in “The Quilt: A History and Celebration of an American Art Form,” explains that it wasn’t until the 1840s that the textile industry was established enough in this country to make fabric widely affordable and quilting a common activity. But once it did become commonplace, what a rich variety of creation occurred!

Book cover for The American Quilt by Roderick KiracofeBlock quilts, strip quilts, applique quilts, Baltimore Album quilts, mourning quilts, crazy quilts, African-American quilts – read about them all in “The American Quilt: A History of Cloth and Comfort, 1750-1950” by Roderick Kiracofe. Kiracofe uses quilting as a lens through which to examine the cultural and social attitudes throughout our nation’s history.

Check out these books and more on the history of quilting, at the very least for the incredible images they contain. And through April 14, enjoy a quilt showing at the Columbia Public library, featuring 24 quilts from the mid-Missouri region, as well as programs related to the rich history of quilting.

 

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New DVD List: Keep on Keepin’ on & More

April 8, 2015

keep on keepin on

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

keeponkeepinonKeep on Keepin’ on
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Playing recently at the Ragtag in conjuction with the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series, this documentary follows jazz legend Clark Terry over four years to document the mentorship between Terry and 23-year-old blind piano prodigy Justin Kauflin as the young man prepares to compete in an elite, international competition.

outlanderOutlander
Season 1
Website / Reviews
TV series based on the book series by author Diana Gabaldon. Claire Randall is a married combat nurse from 1945 who is mysteriously swept back in time to 1743. When she is forced to marry a Scottish warrior, an affair is ignited that tears Claire’s heart between two men.

girlsinthebandGirls in the Band
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Playing last year at the Ragtag in conjuction with the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series, this films tells the poignant, untold stories of female jazz and big band instrumentalists from the late 30s to the present day. The challenges faced by these talented women provide a glimpse into decades of racism and sexism that have existed in America.

silicon valleySilicon Valley
Season 1
Website / Reviews
In the high-tech gold rush of modern Silicon Valley, the people most qualified to succeed are the least capable of handling success. A comedy partially inspired by Mike Judge’s own experiences as a Silicon Valley engineer in the late 1980s.

code blackCode Black
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Physician Ryan McGarry gives an unprecedented access to America’s busiest Emergency Department. Amidst real life-and-death situations, McGarry follows a dedicated team of charismatic young doctors-in-training as they wrestle with both their ideals and the realities of saving lives in a complex and overburdened system.

Other notable releases:
Sons of Anarchy” – Season 7Website / Reviews
Master of the Universe” – Trailer / Website / Reviews
Longmire” – Season 3Website / Reviews
Girls” – Season 1Website / Reviews
Watchers of the Sky” – Trailer / Website / Reviews
The Sixties” – Website / Reviews
House M.D.” – Season 1Website / Reviews
Trailer Park Boys” – Season 1 & Season 2Website / Reviews
Banshee” – Season 1, Season 2Website / Reviews
The Thin Blue Line” – Trailer / Website / Reviews
Veep” – Season 3Website / Reviews
WKRP in Cincinnati” – Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4Website
Remington Steele” – Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Seasons 4 & 5Website

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Classics for Everyone: Spoon River Anthology

April 6, 2015

Book cover for Spoon River AnthologyLet’s play literary Jeopardy. The clue is: Making its first appearance in April 1915, this book of poems spoke of life in a fictional Midwestern town and has been the inspiration for numerous theatrical productions, musical compositions in multiple genres and at least one computer game. If you said “What is ‘Spoon River Anthology’ by Edgar Lee Masters?” you won this round.

Masters was a practicing attorney who dabbled in literature on the side. He’d published a few pieces previous to 1915, but “Spoon River Anthology” brought him a level of success that allowed him to quit his law practice and follow his dream of writing full-time.

The fictional village of Spoon River was based on Masters’ hometown of Lewiston, Illinois. Each poem in the book, with the exception of the introductory one, is narrated from the grave by a different deceased town resident. Since there are no consequences to be suffered, the characters can speak with honesty, showing realities of small town life not often acknowledged at the time. People discuss extra-marital affairs, domestic violence, greed, swindling and all manner of pettiness with surprising frankness.

Just as in life, some speak with bitterness and others with contentment. This is true not only of their lives, but also their deaths and graves. A couple of cemetery dwellers quarrel with what’s written on their tombstones. But the town drunk is happy enough with his lot in death, enjoying the prestige of finding himself — through sheer happenstance — the next-door neighbor of a prominent citizen.

Some names come up again and again. The bank president, for instance, affected many lives. By allowing the characters to tell not only their own stories, but also share their memories of family and neighbors, Masters gives readers a more complete view of the life of the town. For instance, the village pharmacist muses on a married couple who have each already had a say about their relationship:

There were Benjamin Pantier and his wife,
Good in themselves, but evil toward each other:
He oxygen, she hydrogen,
Their son, a devastating fire.

Read the book and get to know the late residents of Spoon River. Your life will be richer for it. 100 years later, their voices still resonate.

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Reader Review: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

April 3, 2015

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.

toalltheboysivelovedbeforeLara Jean seems to think her life if pretty perfect with her sisters and her dad. When her older sister leaves for college, her life takes a sudden unexpected turn. She is left to take over as the “mom” of the family, but the biggest surprise she receives is when her secret love letters, kept in a hatbox, are all accidentally mailed out to all the boys she had feelings for in the past. She learns how to deal with it as each one emerges in her life as they receive them. “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” is a great book about a teenage girl learning to navigate her life and new love.

Three words that describe this book: easy read, self-discovery, sweet

You might want to pick this book up if: you like books with a little bit of romance and a high school girl learning how to navigate through life.

-Marisa

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Ask the Author: An Interview With Keija Parssinen

March 31, 2015

Book cover for The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija ParssinenKeija Parssinen, director of the local Quarry Heights Writers’ Workshop and author of the 2013 One Read book, “The Ruins of Us,” just published her second novel, “The Unraveling of Mercy Louis.” Kirkus Reviews described the book as “a modern Southern gothic with a feminist edge and the tense pacing of a thriller.” In anticipation of her talk at the Columbia Public Library this Thursday, Parssinen kindly agreed to be interviewed as part of DBRL Next’s Ask the Author series.

DBRL: Many of our patrons are familiar with your last novel, “The Ruins of Us,” which was the library’s One Read selection in 2013. That book told the story of a wealthy American-Saudi Arabian family living in Saudi Arabia. “The Unraveling of Mercy Louis” focuses on the stories of younger women and is set in a fictional oil refinery town in southern Texas. Can you discuss some of the differences between these books?

KP: While “The Ruins of Us” unfolds slowly, culminating in a violent act that undoes the Baylani family, “The Unraveling of Mercy Louis” opens with a bang — the discovery of a deceased fetus in a dumpster — and hurtles the reader forward, headlong, into the story. It is also narrated by two teenage girls, so it has a slightly narrower scope than Ruins, though I think both the narrators of Mercy are wise and astute in their own way. The books share more in common than appears at surface level, though — both novels are character-driven, with plot used as a device through which to examine individuals and their broader community. Character psychology, or what makes people act the way they do, is the most interesting thing about fiction, to me, so developing complex, fully dimensional characters in both books was important to me.

DBRL: What were some books or events that inspired “The Unraveling of Mercy Louis”?

KP: The spark of the idea came from an article by Susan Dominus in the New York Times Magazine, titled “What Happened to the Girls in LeRoy,” about a curious case of uncontrollable physical and verbal tics among a group of high school girls in upstate New York. The article immediately made me think of the Salem Witch Trials and Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” which is one of my favorite plays. Many of the characters’ names in Mercy Louis are borrowed from Salem, including Mercy’s. Some reviewers have also compared Mercy to “The Scarlet Letter,” which I had in mind, peripherally, while I was writing.

DBRL: The story is told partially from the protagonist, Mercy’s, point of view, and partially from Illa’s, an acquaintance at her school. Why did you choose to tell the story this way?

KP: Mercy is in some ways the classic Gothic heroine, naive to a fault. While she’s tough and strong and smart, she’s not very worldly. Illa is far more shrewd and can give the reader insight into Mercy’s world, and the town of Port Sabine, which Mercy herself can’t give. Plus I’m always drawn to narratives of obsession, and wallflower Illa’s obsession with superstar Mercy is a big plot driver in the novel.

DBRL: This book has been described as a coming-of-age story. Do you think that there is a lack of these types of books, at least ones that are told from the female perspective? Are there some particularly good ones that you’ve read?

KP: One reviewer very kindly compared Mercy to “To Kill a Mockingbird,” that classic Southern bildungsroman. I was very flattered by that comparison. Harper Lee aside, there does seem to be a dearth of classic coming-of-age stories from the female perspective, perhaps because until recently, society hasn’t been able to look honestly at what happens as a girl transitions into womanhood — it’s perhaps too messy, or too sexual, or too ugly. Only boys can make mistakes and then afford to write about them; girls had to hide them away like blemishes, I suppose. Lately, I’ve been devouring Elena Ferrante‘s Neapolitan novels, which offer a blazingly brave tale of coming of age in 1960s/70s Naples. In fact, they present the most astonishing, raw, sincere portrait of girlhood, sex, motherhood, marriage and friendship that I’ve ever read! I can’t say enough good things about these books. They have meant so much to me, as a woman and a writer.

DBRL: Have you read any other good books lately that you would like to recommend to our readers?

KP: See above! But also: I recently loved “Migratory Animals” by Mary Helen Specht, “Limestone Wall” by Marlene Lee, Alice Munro’s “Dear Life” and “Telex From Cuba” by Rachel Kushner.

Don’t miss Keija Parssinen’s author talk this Thursday, April 2nd at 7 p.m. in the Friend’s Room of the Columbia Public Library! Copies of the book will be available for purchase or signing. Also, check out her website to find more events or to learn more about the book.

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What to Read While You Wait for All the Light We Cannot See

March 30, 2015

Book cover for All the Light We Cannot SeeBestseller “All the Light We cannot See” by Anthony Doerr has a long waiting list at the library. This is a tale of two young people – blind Marie-Laure, living with her father in France, and Werner, a teenage orphan who as a child in Germany had great tenacity to learn all he could about radios and transmitting. Their paths cross when he, now a soldier in the the Nazi army, intercepts Marie-Laure’s innocent (but forbidden) reading of Jules Verne over the radio. If you find yourself on the waiting list for this work of historical fiction, here are a few other choices you might find enjoyable.

Book cover for Jacob's Oath by Martin FletcherJacob’s Oath” by Martin Fletcher

World War II has come to an end. Europe’s roads are clogged with homeless holocaust survivors. One survivor, Jacob, is consumed with hatred for the concentration camp guard nicknamed “The Rat” for killing his brother as well as many others. He meets Sarah on his journey home and falls in love. Now, he must choose to avenge the past or let it go and build a new life with Sarah.

Book cover for In the Wolf's Mouth by Adam FouldsIn the Wolf’s Mouth” by Adam Foulds

In this work of literary fiction set in Sicily at the end of World War II, as the allies chase the Nazis out into the Italian mainland, two parallel stories unfold. One focuses on two service men – Will Walker, English field security officer, and Ray Marifione, an Italian-American infantry man. The second story explores the presence of the mafia through the eyes of a young shepherd named Angilu and Ciro Albanese, a local Mafioso. The war is portrayed as just a temporary distraction from what is really going on in Sicily.

The Invisible Bridge” by Julie Orringer

In 1937 Budapest three brothers leave home to find their calling. Andras-Levi, architectural student, heads to Paris with a letter he promised to deliver to C. Morgenstern, with whom he ends up having a complicated relationship. His older brother heads to Modena to medical school as his younger brother leaves school for the stage. At the end of Andras’ second year in Paris, the Germans occupy the city, thrusting the brothers into the erupting war.

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Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The April 2015 List

March 27, 2015

Library Reads LogoSpring has sprung! And with spring arrives a new crop of LibraryReads books, the top ten titles publishing in April and recommended by librarians across the country. With new books from old favorites like Sara Gruen and Elizabeth Berg, this month’s list contains nothing but novels and is heavy on the historical fiction. A little romance and some twisty thrillers round out the list. Enjoy!

Book cover for At the Water's EdgeAt the Water’s Edge” by Sara Gruen
“Set in Loch Ness, right in the middle of WWII, a foolish group of rich Americans arrive in search of the famous monster. Narrator Maddie must make sense of the circumstances that have brought her to this wild locale. Only then can she discover the strength she needs to make her own decisions. Enjoy a delightfully intriguing cast of characters and the engaging style of storytelling that has made Gruen so popular.” - Paulette Brooks, Elm Grove Public Library, Elm Grove, WI

Book cover for A Desperate FortuneA Desperate Fortune” by Susanna Kearsley
“While transcribing an old manuscript of a young girl’s diary, Sara decodes an account of Jacobite spies. Long before, Mary Dundas gets involved in a mission which makes her confidante to the King of Scotland in exile. And along the way, both women fall for men they know little about. Kearsley is a master at seamlessly blending stories from two time periods. Readers who enjoy a little puzzle solving with their historical fiction will be rewarded.” - Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Community Library, Austin, TX

Book cover for The Dream Lover by Elizabeth BergThe Dream Lover” by Elizabeth Berg
“George Sand leaves her estranged husband and children to embark on a life of art in bohemian Paris. A talented writer who finds monetary and critical success, Sand adopts a man’s name, often dresses as a gentleman and smokes cigars. Through her writing, politics, sexual complexities and views on feminism, Sand is always seeking love. This novel has spurred me to learn more about George Sand, a woman truly ahead of her time.” - Catherine Coyne, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, MA

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

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Director Spotlight: Albert Maysles

March 25, 2015

albert maysles

“The closer I adhere to reality the more honest and authentic my tales. Knowledge of the real world is exactly what we need to better understand and therefore possibly to love one another. It’s my way of making the world a better place.” – Albert Maysles

Documentary film director Albert Maysles passed away earlier this month at the age of 88. Albert, who often collaborated with his brother David (1931-1987), was a pioneer of the “direct cinema” genre and created several influential films that helped form the documentary film world we know today. The library has many films that Albert was involved with during his lifetime, but I’ve decided to highlight a few notable ones in this blog post:

salesmanSalesman” (1968)

Captures in vivid detail the bygone era of the door-to-door salesman. While laboring to sell gold-embossed bibles, Paul Brennan and his colleagues target the beleaguered masses, then face the demands of quotas and the frustrations of life on the road.

gimme shelterGimme Shelter” (1970)

A documentary on the Rolling Stones’ 1969 tour of the United States, including a performance at Madison Square Garden and a free concert at the Altamont Speedway in California where violence broke out between fans and Hell’s Angels who were providing security.

grey gardensGrey Gardens” (1975)

A portrait of the relationship between Edith Bouvier Beale and her grown daughter, Little Edie, once an aspiring actress in New York who left her career to care for her aging mother in their East Hampton home and never left again. This influential film inspired various works over the years.

Top photo by UNIONDOCS via Flickr and used under a Creative Commons License.

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Exploring the Magic and Spectacle of Harry Houdini

March 23, 2015

Houdini, photo by tmolini via Flickr“I am a great admirer of mystery and magic. Look at this life — all mystery and magic.” — Harry Houdini

On March 24 we celebrate the birthday of one of the world’s most famous magicians — Harry Houdini. As a young Hungarian immigrant growing up in Appleton, WI, Houdini (then known as Ehrich Weiss) loved to entertain, and so he spent his days practicing acrobatics and circus tricks. Houdini became fascinated with magic and spectacle after seeing traveling conjurers perform seemingly impossible acts. At age 12 he left home to study magic, eventually becoming quite adept with feats of escape. No set of handcuffs or straitjacket existed that he could not not escape from! Houdini’s death-defying acts eventually drew huge crowds who wanted to see him complete the impossible. One of his most famous acts involved escaping in less than three minutes from a locked, water-filled tank he was suspended upside down in — and he did this all with his hands tied together. How exciting it must have been to see him at work!

It’s too late for us to witness his magic in person, but the library has several interesting offerings if you’d like to learn a bit more about Houdini:

  • Book cover for Houdini by Kenneth SilvermanHoudini! The Career of Ehrich Weiss” by Kenneth Silverman is probably one of the most thorough Houdini biographies available. Drawing extensively from diaries, letters  and other personal documents, Silverman’s book illustrates Houdini’s captivating rise to great fame ending with his tragic death at age 52. (Houdini was sucker-punched and died days later from complications of a burst appendix; Don Bell’s, “The Man Who Killed Houdini,” explores the strange events that lead up to this devastating event.)
  • What drives a man to put himself in situations that could potentially cost his life? Author Ruth Brandon’s “The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini” examines Houdini from a psychological perspective, offering insightful glimpses into what pushed him to attempt the impossible.
  • Book cover for Houdini by Brooke Kamin RapaportHoudini was a man of his times, and his art was very much shaped by the world around him. Brooke Kamin Rapaport’s “Houdini: Art and Magic,” is a non-traditional biography about Houdini’s place in history and the effect he had on the art and performance worlds. This book is quite beautiful with photos of Houdini and artifacts from his time, including images of his own diary entries. If photos and images are appealing to you, you may also want to check out “Houdini: His Legend and His Magic” by Doug Henning. This entertaining read is full of imagery, including illustrations of some of Houdini’s most famous escapes.
  • Houdini’s life was recently recreated in the television movie, “Houdini.” Although it is not completely historically accurate, it does provide an engaging (and entertaining) look into his life and magic.

After reading up on Houdini, you may be inspired to try a little magic of your own. Escaping from a water-filled box might not be a trick you’re capable of replicating, so thankfully the library has several resources that offer plenty of magic tricks you can learn to impress your friends and family. Happy reading!

photo credit: Houdini via photopin (license)

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Let the Library Contribute to Your (March) Madness

March 20, 2015

If you’re like me, basketball is your favorite sport. You like the way they dribble up and down the court. Perhaps unlike me, you actually have skills on this court. My basketball career ended when I tried out for the team in the seventh grade and didn’t make the cut. What’s that? Oh, no, no — I just have something in my eye. . .

 The LifeYet I still play, and display mad skills, on the basketball courts of my mind! I’m the Michael Jordan of these imaginary courts. (Actually more of a Dr. J/Pistol Pete hybrid, but with the dominance of Jordan — I’ve put some thought into this.) See, long ago I was consumed by the madness — March Madness. I grew up in a relatively sports-free household, except for this strange time of year when my father, not much of a TV watcher, camped out in front of the TV for hours at a time. He was watching college basketball. Would a weekend of early spring weather get my father, a fan of the outdoors, to stop watching? No. He just opened one of the windows and propped the TV on the sill so he could watch from our back patio. Curious, I watched too. Inevitably the madness consumed my young mind. The transformation was complete in 1981 when I won a bet with my father that Indiana would beat North Carolina for the championship. It was a gentleman’s bet, bragging rights only. In your face, Dad!

Book cover for Players First by John CalipariSince then, every March has been a blur of clutch three-pointers, tragicomic brackets, Cinderellas and John Calipari. He’s inescapable. Sadly, the tournament games are only Thursday through Sunday for the first two weeks. The Final Four play on a Saturday, and the Championship is on a Monday. That leaves a lot of basketball-less days when all your fevered mind will be thinking is, “swish, swish, swish!” (What are you going to do with that time? Bathe? Go to work?)

Never fear, the library has the fix to soothe you until the next round starts. You can feed your insatiable hunger with books and DVDs on the great sport of basketball. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Fittingly, we shall start on the playground.

Book cover for Heaven is a PlaygroundHeaven Is a Playground” was the first book on Urban Basketball. Photojournalist Rick Telander spent the summers of 1973 and 1974 with his subjects in Brooklyn, even sleeping on the apartment floor belonging to one of them. It’s about their lives and the hopes for better ones that they attach to the sport.

The DVD “Fathers of the Sport” follows the lineage of playground basketball to stars like Magic Johnson and Wilt Chamberlain.

Gunnin for That #1 Spot” was filmed by the late, great Adam Yauch (MCA of The Beastie Boys). It covers the first annual Elite 24 Hoops Classic in Rucker Park where the top 24 high school basketball players in the nation compete.

Some people actually get picked for a team, unlike me (but I’m not bitter!), and end up playing in High School.

DVD Nimrod NationNimrod Nation” follows The Nimrods, a high school basketball team in a rural, basketball-obsessed town in Michigan.

One of the classic sports documentaries, “Hoop Dreams” followed two high school kids from inner-city Chicago for five years as they pursued their aspirations to make it into the NBA.

Of course the participants in March Madness are collegiate athletes. They have worked hard to graduate from high school basketball to college basketball.

Compared the huge sporting event it is today, the first NCAA tournament was considered a risky experiment. “March 1939” tells the story of the first tournament and the first champions against the backdrop of a looming world war.

 The Story of the NCAA Men's Basketball TournamentThere are so many good books about “The Big Dance.” You could go behind the scenes of the Final Four in “Last Dance,” learn about “How March Became Madness,” or “When March Went Mad.” That last book is written by Seth Davis, whom you will see a lot of on TV if you’re watching the tournament. It tells the story of the 1979 championship where Larry Bird and Magic Johnson played against each other, raising the profile of the tournament to a whole new level and starting a rivalry that continued into the NBA.

The Fab 5” is about the five freshmen who started for Michigan in the early ‘90s. They were considered one of the greatest classes ever recruited and made it to the championship two years in a row, but controversy followed the team. The scene where Chris Webber talks about trying to collect enough change to buy a pizza and seeing his jersey for sale in a shop window speaks to the current controversy about the status of collegiate athletes today.

The Last Amateurs” is about John Feinstein’s search for basketball played away from the influence of the vast sums of money associated with “big conference” college basketball and the temptations of the NBA.

Sports and social issues often intersect, and basketball in no exception.

The Game of Change” is about a game in the 1963 NCAA tournament when the all-white Mississippi State Bulldogs played the Loyola Ramblers, who had four African-Americans starting for the team. The Bulldogs had been kept out of the tournament due to an unwritten Mississippi law prohibiting competition between white and non-white players. The book tells the story of the players in this game and puts it in context with the broader struggle for equality.

And The Walls Came Tumbling Down” is about the 1966 NCAA championship when the all-white starting five of the Kentucky Wildcats, coached by the overtly racist Adolph Rupp, lost to Texas Western’s all African-American starting five. This game has been credited for having a profound social effect and delivered a major blow to segregated college sports.

The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central” is about a high school basketball team that made history and drew unwanted attention from segregationist George Wallace with their all African-American starting lineup.

Full Court Press” uses a close look at the University of Oregon women’s basketball team as a way to explore what it means to be a female athlete in America.

The memoir “She’s Got Next” is about how Arkansas transplant Melissa King finds herself playing pickup basketball in inner-city Chicago.

Training Rules” follows Penn State basketball champ Jennifer Harris as she challenges the homophobia of coach Rene Portland and takes a look at how homophobia has hurt the careers of other athletes.

In 1904 the most prominent women’s basketball team was from an Indian boarding school in Montana. The girls from Fort Shaw played at the St. Louis World’s Fair to introduce the world to the sport and returned with a trophy declaring them world champions. “Full-court Quest” tells the story of this team and offers a look at American Indian life and the early days of women’s basketball.

If you’ve read Sherman Alexie’s great short story collection, “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” you have an idea the passion for basketball that can be found on Indian Reservations. In “Counting Coup,” Larry Colton travels into the world of Montana’s Crow Indians. He follows a talented young basketball player who is a descendant of one of Custer’s Indian scouts. Colton uses basketball as a window into a part of our society long excluded from the American Dream.

If you’ve ever wondered about basketball above the Arctic Circle (who hasn’t?) “Eagle Blue” is the book for you. The population of basketball-crazed Fort Yukon is almost entirely composed of Athabascan Gwich’in Natives. It’s home to the Fort Yukon Eagles, winner of six regional championships in a row. This book follows the team through another Winter of near round-the-clock darkness and fifty-below-zero temperatures.

Going Pro?

When March Madness ends do you feel an emptiness that can’t be filled? Did this very long list of books just leave you hungry for more? Then let me point out that the NBA Finals will start April 18th. Perhaps “The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History” or Bill Simmons’ “The Book of Basketball” will help you prepare for that.

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Reading on the Road: Recommended Audiobooks

March 18, 2015

I’m not actually recommending that you read while driving. Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. However, you can keep your ears occupied and make the time fly with an audiobook. If the approaching spring break (hooray!) means that a road trip is in your future, here are some audiobooks to keep you and your fellow passengers entertained.

Family friendly
These books are for a younger audience, but they are plenty entertaining for adults as well.

Book cover for The Mysterious Benedict SocietyThe Mysterious Benedict Society” by Trenton Lee Stewart. Brainy orphans, an eccentric benefactor and a puzzle to solve – what’s not to love?

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy” by Jeanne Birdsall. While vacationing with their widowed father in the Berkshire Mountains, four lovable sisters share adventures with a local boy, much to the dismay of his snobbish mother, in this smart and funny story.

Book cover for Peter and the StarcatchersPeter and the Starcatchers” by Dave Barry. Young adventurers will love this Peter Pan prequel, and I can’t make an audiobook list without including something narrated by the fantastic Jim Dale, the voice artist who also read the Harry Potter series.

A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle. The grown-ups in the car will enjoy revisiting this story from their childhoods, and young listeners will be transported by the tale of Meg and Charles Wallace travelling through space and time to find their father, a physicist working for the government in secret, who has disappeared.

Book cover for Wonder by R.J. PalacioWonder” by R.J. Palacio. Listeners will fall in love with Auggie, a 5th grader entering school for the first time.  Born with extreme facial abnormalities, he has been home-schooled his entire life, making starting middle school an even more daunting prospect. At its conclusion, don’t be surprised if you and your car-mates end up having a discussion about kindness, overcoming obstacles and the acceptance of difference.

Adult (but not too adult)
These books are written for adults, but they have elements older children will enjoy and little in the way of language/themes you don’t want little ears to hear.

Book cover for Boys in the BoatThe Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” by Daniel James Brown. This 2014 One Read selection is a Cinderella story of sorts that describes the journey of nine working class young men from the University of Washington as they row their way out of obscurity and into the gold-medal race at the 1936 Olympic Games in Hitler’s Berlin.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. This off-beat (and very British) work of science fiction follows Arthur Dent, the last surviving person from Earth, and tour-guide writer Ford Prefect on their intergalactic journeys and extraterrestrial encounters. This most recent audiobook version is narrated by the very talented, very funny Stephen Fry.

Grownups only
These are crowd-pleasing audiobooks because of good writing, engaging storytelling and – most of all – terrific narration.

Book cover for Yes PleaseYes Please” by Amy Poehler. The “Parks and Rec” star dispenses life advice, cautionary tales, and plenty of behind-the-scenes looks at her life on the improv stage and as a member of the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” Guest appearances from Seth Meyers, Carol Burnett and even Poehler’s parents make listening to this book even more fun than reading it (which is already pretty fun). If our copies are all checked out, Tina Fey’s hilarious”Bossypants,” read by Fey herself, is a great second choice.

The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion. Narrator Dan O’Grady nails the voice of Australian Don Tillman, a socially challenged, possibly autistic, definitely brilliant geneticist as he uses logic to pursue love. A funny and smart romantic comedy.

Book cover for The End of the AffairThe End of the Affair” by Graham Greene. One online review said something like, “This is actor Colin Firth talking in your ear about love. Enough said.”

Any audiobooks you’ve enjoyed to make the miles fly? Let us know in the comments.

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The Gentleman Recommends: Sir Terry Pratchett

March 16, 2015

Sir Terry Pratchett with two birds on his head - ImgurSir Terry Pratchett died on March 12, 2015. Prior to that he lived for 66 years. I’m not proud that it took his death to motivate me to recommend him. (It seems there is a clear formula to getting this gentleman’s recommendation: either author a book or three that I’ve read and loved in the last few months, or write dozens of books that I’ve loved at some point in my life and die.) Forgive me if I seem crass or irreverent, but the combination of grief and the tears it’s causing to ooze past my monocles and into my now watered-down brandy leave me shy of my customary humours. I think Sir Pratchett would have appreciated irreverence in the face of death.

I’ve been reading a lot of Sir Pratchett’s obituaries and tributes today, and I’m astounded each time at the reminder that he wrote over 70 books, both because that’s an astonishing amount of work from anyone that isn’t several centuries old (and even in that scenario involving some sort of immortal writing machine (or maybe a bookish vampire?) it would still be impressive) and because no one has specified the exact number. So, I scampered off to the Internet and counted, and if my counting hasn’t gotten too rusty, Sir Pratchett wrote 78 books. Only at snacking and lounging and referencing my fondness for snacking and lounging can I manage to be more prolific.

This era of constantly increasing celebrities brings about constantly increasing celebrity death, which causes the awkward situation of periodically grieving for someone you’ve never met. And while I can’t grieve Sir Pratchett the person, I can grieve the author and the absence of the 40 plus books he’d have written given a few more decades on earth, the man who combined hilarious/cutting/insightful satire, wordplay, remarkably imaginative world-building and immense compassion to create a stunning combo of quantity and quality fiction the likes of which I doubt the world, going forward, will ever see matched. Also, Sir Terry Pratchett was a knight, and while I’m sure there are others, I worry they won’t have the imagination needed to slay the more vicious dragons or keep the queen safe.

Sir Terry Pratchett taught me that you could write about wizards, dwarves, vampires, Igors, witches, zombies, politics, the grim reaper, war and the post office and be hilarious while having a great deal to say about ye old human condition. I wish I could apply the lesson half as well as it was taught.

I will close this post the way most of the articles about his death have closed: with a reprinting of the three tweets that came from his twitter account shortly after his death. It is helpful to know that among the hundreds of his characters was Death, who spoke in all caps and sometimes sarcastically, appears in nearly every book, is the star of a few, and occasionally takes a holiday from his grim duties.

“AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER”

“Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.”

“The End.”

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