Monday, December 27, 2010

The Guinea Pig Diaries by A. J. Jacobs

A. J. Jacobs is the editor at large at Esquire magazine.  He is a man on a mission.  He practices "participatory journalism"--which means that he feels that if you really want to learn about a topic, you should dive in and try to live that topic.  So his life has in essence become a series of "experiments" that he in turn writes about.

In 2004, he wrote a book called The Know-It-All, after he decided to read the Encyclopaedia Britannica from A to Z (all 44 million words of it, which took him about a year).  This was my first taste of A. J. and his writing, and quite frankly I was hooked and have loved him ever since.

In 2007, The Year of Living Biblically was published.  I loved this book as well.  He tried to follow every single rule in the Bible , as literally as possible.  As Jacobs himself said, "I tried not to covet, gossip, or lie for a year. I’m a journalist in New York. This was not easy."


This book is his latest, and chronicles several of his life experiments.  It contains some previously published experiments (including “My Outsourced Life,” Jacobs’ quest to delegate every task in his life to India). It also has new experiments -- including life-changing quests featuring George Washington’s rules of life, marital harmony/disharmony, multitasking, and Chaper Six, "The Truth About Nakedness".
This book is fearless, hilarious, and thought provoking.  Along with A.J.'s trademark humor, we actually receive a little insight.  Most women will love the chapter about the month he spent catering to his wife's every whim (the same wife that many of his readers have said for years is a saint).

He's now working on a book called The Healthiest Human Being in the World, as he tries to perfect his physical condition while simultaneously dissecting the meaning of the word “healthiest.”   I can't wait to read it.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Let's Bring Back: An encyclopedia of forgotten-yet-delightful, chic, useful, curious, and otherwise commendable things from times gone by...by Lesley M. M. Blume

This encyclopedia of nostalgia honors the timeless tradition of artful living.  It is based on the author's popular Huffington Post column of the same name and features entries from many contemporary icons like Nora Ephron and Arianna Huffington.  It celebrates hundreds of discarded or forgotten objects, pastimes, curiosities, recipes, words, architectural works, etc. from bygone eras that the author believes should be reintroduced today.

Blume warns us, lest we get the wrong idea, that this book is not about stopping the clock or extolling the virtues of simpler times.  Times have never been simple.  And it's not just about nostalgia for nostalgia's sake alone.  Looking back in the right way can help us to intelligently look forward as well.  It makes us preservation-minded, astute observers of contemporary culture and helps us evaluate what traditions, heirlooms, and elements of our own lifestyles and households we want to pass on to the next generation.  It makes us consider why we value an object or ritual one day and forsake it the next.

I love the humor inherent in her entries.  For example, DRAWBRIDGES AND MOATS, is one entry...followed by "For the privacy-minded homeowner:  These features are much more creative than the been-there-done-that two-story hedge."  Here's another one, LONG HAIR ON WOMEN OF ADVANCED YEARS "There seems to be a mandate that women must crop their hair into short, frumpola styles when they reach a certain age.  I'd hate to think that this was an implicit social commentary about older women losing their feminity and sensuality, requiring them to craft themselves into sexless objects.  My grandmother had waist-length hair for her entire adult life, and even in her nineties, she still wore it up in an elegant, dignified French twist; sometimes she'd cross two long braids over the crown of her head, or wind them into a bun at the base of her neck.  Nothing is more beautiful than torrents of silver or ghost-white hair; it reminds me of unicorn manes."

A fast, easy, and delightful read with passages that you will linger over.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Irene M. Pepperberg


"You be good.  I love you," were Alex's final words to his owner, Irene Pepperberg, before he died at age 31.  Alex was an Afridan Grey parrot with a brain the size of a shelled walnut, yet he could sound out words, understand concepts, and do other things comparable to human intelligence.  This book is the true account of an amazing parrot and his best friend who worked together for 30 years.

Dr. Pepperberg's training of Alex differed from accepted standards of the time.  Under the prevailing psychological dogma of the time, known as behaviorism, animals were seen as automatons, with little or no capacity for cognition, or thought.  It was claimed that much of animal behavior was innately programmed.  When you worked with animals, they were actually supposed to be starved to 80 percent of their body weight so they would be eager for the food given for a "correct" response.  They were also supposed to be placed in a box so that the appropriate "stimuli" could be very tightly controlled and their responses precisely monitored.  This technique was known as "operant conditioning".

This was contrary to all of Dr. Pepperberg's gut instincts.  She adopted instead a model/rival program of training having two trainers, trainer B being the "model" for the animal subject and its "rival" for the attention of trainer A.

In the process she taught all of us that animal minds are a great deal more like human minds than the vast majority of behavioral scientists believe.  They are far more than the mindless automatons that mainstream science held them to be for so long.  Alex taught us how little we know about animal minds and how much more there is to discover.  Clearly, animals know more than we think, and think a great deal more than we know.  Our vanity has blinded us to the true nature of minds, animal and human.

This is the story of a landmark scientific achievement and a beautiful relationship.

Friday, December 10, 2010

How Bad are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee

Just finished a class in "Human Ecology" that I found very intriguing.  Got me to thinking about a lot of environmental issues again.  Then I came across this book.  I think I'm going to add it to my Christmas wish list.  Here's the product description lifted from Amazon.  See if you might want to add it to your Christmas list.

"Is it more environmentally friendly to ride the bus or drive a hybrid car? In a public washroom, should you dry your hands with paper towel or use the air dryer? And how bad is it really to eat bananas shipped from South America?

Climate change is upon us whether we like it or not. Managing our carbon usage has become a part of everyday life and we have no choice but to live in a carbon-careful world. The seriousness of the challenge is getting stronger, demanding that we have a proper understanding of the carbon implications of our everyday lifestyle decisions. However most of us don't have sufficient understanding of carbon emissions to be able to engage in this intelligently.

Part green-lifestyle guide, part popular science, How Bad Are Bananas? is the first book to provide the information we need to make carbon-savvy purchases and informed lifestyle choices, and to build carbon considerations into our everyday thinking. It also helps put our decisions into perspective with entries for the big things (the World Cup, volcanic eruptions, and the Iraq war) as well as the small (email, ironing a shirt, a glass of beer). And it covers the range from birth (the carbon footprint of having a child) to death (the carbon impact of cremation). Packed full of surprises-a plastic bag has the smallest footprint of any item listed, while a block of cheese is bad news-the book continuously informs, delights, and engages the reader.
Highly accessible and entertaining, solidly researched and referenced, packed full of easily digestible figures, catchy statistics, and informative charts and graphs, How Bad Are Bananas? is doesn't tell people what to do, but it will raise awareness, encourage discussion, and help people to make up their own minds based on their own priorities. "

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing by Ann Angel

Janis Joplin was born January 19, 1943 in Port Arthur, Texas and died on October 4, 1970 (at the age of 27) from a drug overdose.  She lived fast and died young.

She was a white girl who sang the blues and captured the attention of the world after her performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.

When she was growing up she was a misfit and shunned by most of her peers.  She kept to herself, read and painted, and waited for her opportunity to escape.

This book is based on interviews with Joplin's friends and colleagues.  It's the portrait of a complicated, talented young woman who was powerful and yet completely insecure at the same time.  She was a wild child, unable to follow her parent's rules, or anybody else's.

Dozens of photos capture the singer and frame the decade that she so dominated.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Urban Pantry: Tips and Recipes for a Thrifty, Sustainable and Seasonal Kitchen

This handy little book is on my desk at the moment.  I have really enjoyed looking through it.  It has a wealth of dandy information and would be a good choice for that person on your Christmas list that is obsessed with cookbooks or anything food related. 

The interesting thing about this book though is that when it was first published, the response wasn't exactly overwhelming.  Then actress Gwyneth Paltrow took notice of it (mentioning it on her blog), and it was like receiving Oprah's blessing.  All of a sudden there was a lot of media attention (including a mention in Bon Appetit), and the next thing you know the book has sold nearly 10,000 copies. 

There are a lot of wonderful little books published quietly with not much fanfare by small presses that actually really deserve this kind of attention, but in today's publishing climate, it's not very likely they will get it.  Not unless Oprah or Gwyneth mention them.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

COOLEST. STAGE. EVER.

I first saw this picture in the terrific blog of a special lady (if you are curious, click here), but this recent version from TwistedSifter finally ID'd it.  And the title says it all.  Coolest.  Stage.  Ever.  Indeed.  It's an incredible floating stage on Lake Constance in Bregenz, Austria. The Bregenzer Festspiele (Bregenz Festival) has become renowned for its unconventional staging of shows. Verdi’s opera, “A Masked Ball” in 1999, featured a giant book being read by a skeleton.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Picture of the day

I'd say the occult section of this Boston bookstore is pretty well stocked.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I Have a Problem

Grant Snider's "Confessions of a Book Fiend" is a problem I can certainly relate to.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

This beautiful haunting book about the unlikely friendship of two women brought together by war, loss and fate, is compelling and unforgettable.  Bestselling author Khaled Hosseini is a powerful writer with the lyricism to pull off this wrenching story about the power of love and the heroic and self sacrificing acts that result from it.

The two central characters of the book, Mariam and Laila, are both born in Afghanistan--but a generation apart. Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of a well to do man.  Because she is illegitimate, she cannot live with him and instead lives on the outskirts of Herat with her mother.  Her father then visits her every week.  On her fifteenth birthday when she wants her father to take her to see Pinocchio at his movie theater, and he stands her up, she ends up going to his house and sleeping on his porch while waiting to see him.  When he refuses to see her, she returns home only to find that her mother has hanged herself in fear that her daughter has deserted her.  Mariam is then taken to live in her father's house, which doesn't go over very well with the rest of his family.  They hastily arrange a marriage for Mariam to a man in Kabul who is thirty years her senior, a shoemaker named Rasheed.  Mariam lives with this man and suffers repeated miscarriages and ever increasing abuse.

While Mariam is in Kabul, a neighborhood girl, Laila, is taken into their household after she loses her parents and becomes a second wife to Rasheed.  Laila is able to bear children to term and at first there is great animosity between the two.  But eventually Mariam and Leila become confidantes and friends and eventually survivors of the abuse Rasheed liberally doles out.  I don't want to give away too much about what happens to these two women within this basic framework, but suffice it to say that Khaled Hosseini weaves a powerful tale of the strength of these two women juxtaposed against the brutality directed toward women by the Taliban.  Under their rule women were expected to stay inside at all times, if they did have to go out they had to be accompanied by a male relative.  If you were caught alone on the street you were beaten and sent home.  You could not show your face under any circumstances.  They had to be covered by a burqa when outside, if not, they were again severely beaten.  Cosmetics were forbidden.  Jewelry was forbidden.  You did not speak unless spoken to.  You didn't make eye contact with men.  You did not laugh in public, if you did, you were again beaten.  If you dared to paint your nails you would lose a finger.  Girls could not attend school.  Women did not work.  If you were found guilty of adultery, you would be stoned to death.

The title of the book comes from a line in the poem "Kabul" by Saib-e-Tabrizi..."One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, and the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls."  If you are a woman, this book will sear itself into your heart and break it too.  Guaranteed.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Libraries are Great Good Places

I love the ideas expressed in this film. Some of them come from a book called "The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community" by Ray Oldenburg. At a time when independent bookstores everywhere are under siege it is a timely read indeed. He talks about the importance to society at large and to individuals of that "greeting and meeting" place, where to quote Cheers "everybody knows your name". Although the Darien Library is a small town New England library, I think it should be the template for our new local library, in terms of it being the focal point of the community and that it is completely people oriented.

Darien Library: The Great Good Place from Darien Library on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Field Museum Library



When I worked at the University of Chicago, I had many good friends at Chicago's Field Museum. One of them even gave me a behind the scenes tour of the place that was fascinating. If you haven't been there, it's a marvelous place full of wondrous things and well worth a few hours of your time to explore. I did not know about their library, so found this short film piece very interesting.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Householder's Guide to the Universe by Harriet Fasenfest



I love the very idea of this book.  Check it out!

Small Presses: 'Closest Equivalent to Your Local Farmer's Market'

Adam Roberts, a poet, educator, and post-graduate fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, is doing a five part series about the value of verse in the 21st Century that is appearing in the Atlantic.  In the fourth part of that series he makes a wonderful statement comparing small presses to your local farmer's market.  He also ties that together with the Slow Food movement and the broader Slow Culture movement saying that all these things are a part of restoring to us a sense of time that our current world system strips away from us.  It's a wonderful series.  Here's the link to part four of the series, which contains links to the first three installments. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Adopt an Obsolete Word


This is just too cool.

5 Reasons You Don't Need an E-book Reader

According to PC World, with technology changing so quickly and tablet computers cropping up in businesses (with color or not), the e-reader is a superfluous purchase...because

1.  There's an App for That

2.  It's Not Cheap Enough

3.  Less Functionality for Work or Play

4.  E-books Are Not More Eco-friendly Than Paper Books

5.  Most Business Materials Aren't Available on an E-reader

Monday, November 1, 2010

High Water Mark by David Shumate

I love my Writer's Almanac newsletter and have found some interesting new poetry books recommended by them.  This one by David Shumate caught my fancy.

I found his poems to be simple and easy to read, yet funny and literate and thoroughly enjoyable.  Here's one:

The Buddha of Arithmetic

He spends eternity counting the contents of the universe.  How many of these...How many of those...He arranges them in groups of tens.  Hundreds.  Thousands.  He prefers round numbers.  That way when someone picks an apple or an opossum sacrifices itself under the tire of a car, he just traces his way back to the nearest ten.  In this expanding universe, it's an unending task.  But he never complains.  It's all the same to him.  If he weren't keeping track of the numbers he would be listening to prayers or granting boons or performing a miracle from time to time to keep us intrigued.  His hours are regular.  His work routine.  He could just make up the numbers and spend his days out on a southern planet where the weather is pleasant all year long.  But he knows he needs to provide a model for all of us.  This is the 42,718th poem written on this planet today.  And it's not yet noon.

Here's one of the more serious entries:

Shooting the Horse

I unlatch the stall door, step inside, and stroke the silky neck of the old mare like a lover about to leave.  I take an ear in hand, fold it over, and run my fingers across her muzzle.  I coax her head up so I can blow into those nostrils.  All part of the routine we taught each other long ago.  I turn a half turn, pull a pistol from my coat, raise it to that long brow with the white blaze and place it between her sleepy eyes.  I clear my throat.  A sound much louder than it should be.  I squeeze the trigger and the horse's feet fly out from under her as gravitry gives way to a force even more austere, which we have named mercy.

Overall, I found it to be a sweet little book.

Book Laptop Cover

The perfect way to hide your laptop.  No one wants to read a musty old book.  Books are for nerds.  [Courtesy Derek L; Buzzfeed]

Thursday, October 28, 2010

20 Heroic Librarians Who Save the World

I love superheroes.  My favorite female superhero has always been Wonder Woman.  But now I'm thinking, Superman's biological Mother might have been pretty cool too.  Heroic Librarians

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger

I love this quote by Neil Gaiman about Audrey Niffenegger's first graphic novel, so I intend to get a copy for my personal bookshelf:

"The Night Bookmobile is a love letter, both elegiac and heartbreaking, to the things we have read, and to the readers that we are. It says that what we read makes us who we are. It's a graphic short story, beautifully drawn and perfectly told, a cautionary fantasia for anyone who has ever loved books, and I hope the story of the library, of Alexandra, finds its place on the night bookmobiles of all of who'd care. It's a treasure." —Neil Gaiman

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney by Howard Sounes




Howard Sounes is the author of Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan.  In this recently published biography of Paul McCartney, former Quarryman, Beatle, Wing, Poet, Father, Front man, Producer, Business Mogul, Painter, and Knight, he presents two years of investigation into every aspect of Macca's life and work.  He covers it all; early life, life as a Beatle, and even Paul's disastrous second marriage to Heather Mills.  To those who are well acquainted with McCartney, there won't be much new in this offering, but to the casual reader it's a pretty good summation of Paul's life up to this point.  There are quite a few Source Notes, a bibliography, an extensive index, and the requisite sprinkling of pictures.

McCartney is the most successful Beatle, not only musically, but financially.  This treatment of his life and times is another interesting piece of the puzzle.

Friends of Libraries



Find a friends group and join it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Literary Sandwich


Well this was just cute:  "The Nora Roberts sandwich:  all cheese."  Hee...Hee!

Little Librarian

Awww.  Wish they would have had this when I was a kid.

Chicago's Best Used Book Stores

After spending years in the Chicago area, I couldn't help but pay attention to The Huffington Post's recent listing of "Chicago's Best Used Book Stores".  I worked at the University of Chicago in the Hyde Park neighborhood, and one of my favorite lunch time activities was to peruse the Used Book Stores, which seemed to be on every other corner.  It was one of the things I really missed when I moved here to Kentucky and found the town I lived in did not have one bookstore, much less a used one.


One of my favorites from the University/Hyde Park community was the Seminary Co-Op.  The lovely thing about this place was its quirky layout and its emphasis on the Books.  You really felt like you were Alice going down the rabbit hole.  It was a total experience.  I understand they are moving now, to a place bigger, and only a block away from the original store, but I do hope they manage to hang on to the unique character that the old place provided. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

While We've Still Got Feet by David Budbill

Inspired by classical Chinese hermit-poets, David Budbill has spent 35 years on the side of a mountain in Vermont writing about his wilderness home, loneliness, and mortality, with great humor and insight.  If you listen to The Writer's Almanac, you may have heard Garrison Keillor reading some of David's poetry.  For a time he was a commentator on NPR's "All Things Considered".  He also has a website where he edits and publishes "The Judevine Mountain Emailite: An On-line and On-going Journal of Politics and Opinion" (see http://www.davidbudbill.com/ ).  You may want to check out some of his poetry books, or essays and plays, or one of his children's books, or Young Adult books.

This slim volumeof poetry is a delight.  David's poems are funny, self deprecating, and contain a lot of wisdow.

A couple of examples:

Tomorrow
Tomorrow
we are
bones and ash,
the roots of weeds
poking through
our skulls.

Today,
simple clothes,
empty mind,
full stomach,
alive, aware,
right here,
right now.

Drunk on music,
who needs wine?

Come on,
Sweetheart,
let's go dancing
while we've still
got feet.

Ryokan Says
With what can I
compare this life?
     Weeds floating on water.

And there you are with your
dreams of immortality
     through poetry.

Pretty pompous--
don't you think?--for a
     weed floating on water?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

15 Amazing Literary Tattoos from Diehard Bookworms

The Huffington Post featured a slide show of literary tattoos that are pretty cool.  Check it out.

But my favorite perhaps is one that a fan of children's author Brian Lies had done from his book Bats at the Library.  Her entire left arm from elbow to shoulder displays the book jacket.

Literature's 10 Best-Dressed Authors

Sartorial splendor is not usually associated with authors, but there are a few who are recognized for their style as well as their literary skill.  Check out flavorwire for a list of authors with distinctive personal styles.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Resolution by Robert B. Parker

This book is the October selection for our local Book Club, the Porch Page Turners.  We have a woman in our group who loves westerns, so we try to include one every year for her.

I must admit that I like westerns too, as well as biographies, fiction, non-fiction, juvenile, young adult...you name it.  If it's a good book, I'll read it.

Parker is the same author who writes about the street-smart Boston private-eye, Spenser, and he is known as the dean of American crime fiction.

He published his first western in 2001, Gunman's Rhapsody.

The two main characters in this book are Everett Hitch and Virgil Cole.  After a bloody confrontation in Appaloosa, Hitch winds up in Resolution.  He takes a job as a lookout at Amos Wolfson's Blackfoot Saloon and becomes the protector of the ladies who work the backrooms.  He is a man who is not afraid to stand up to people when it's required.  He manages to make short work of a hired gun, and tensions begin to mount.  Hitch is relieved when his old friend Virgil Cole arrives on the scene.  But soon they find themselves in the middle of a war between the two businessmen who want to own the town, the local ranchers who are just trying to hold on and make a hardscrabble living, and the miners who work the copper mine.

This was a fast and easy read.  The dialogue is sparse, but they manage to communicate quite a lot in just a few words.  The action is fast paced and justice is meted out usually on the spot...no need for a trial or long incarceration first.  I think this may be the appeal of westerns in today's fast paced complicated society.  It harkens back to a simpler time when men and women on the frontier didn't have any kind of governmental backup and often had to make split second decisions involving life and death and live with the consequences.  Most people probably think of gunslingers as a pretty uneducated lot, but the charm of a Parker western is the fact that Everett Hitch is a former West Point man who is well acquainted with books and reading and philosophy.

If you like westerns, this one should suit you...and even if you don't usually read them, this one would be an enjoyable diversion.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Okra Picks: Great Southern Books fresh off the vine


I love this take on "Oprah's Picks" highlighting fresh titles that are southern in nature but covering any genre, not just fiction.  Okra Picks

Library Information Desk


This enormous library desk made of recycled books is a very clever idea.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fight for Libraries as you do for Freedom


Karin Slaughter books check out pretty well at our library.  This op ed piece that she wrote in today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution is very well stated.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The joy of reading more than one book at a time


Do you read only one book at a time, or do you have a pile of books on your desk or nightstand that you are reading simultaneously? NPR's Talk of the Nation recently covered the topic of reading more than one book at a time.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Template for local Chamber of Commerce sites


I think we would do well to emulate Debbie Macomber's Chamber of Commerce for her fictional town Cedar Cove.  Our town would really be hopping then.

How to Open a New Book


I too wish I had this on a T-Shirt.  The comments underneath the graphic are hilarious.

13 Books Nobody's Read but Say They Have

This interesting list appeared in the Huffington Post today.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Être the Cow by Sean Kenniff

There are two extraordinary things about this little book.  One is the quote from Jane Goodall on the back, which states "Être the Cow is one of the most extraordinary books I have ever read.  Dr. Sean Kenniff describes, in a completely convincing way, the drab, sometimes terrifying world of a modern 'farm' seen through the eyes of a bull.  The characters and their inescapable fate will linger on in my mind for a very long time--probably forever.  Please read it, and send copies to your friends--as shall I." And the other is the review from Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, which states "Être the Cow is one of the most important books written in a generation. Être's fight for freedom and dignity is a fight for life itself. Sean Kenniff's Être the Cow depicts a very human struggle—and it's a story I won't soon forget."

Okay.  That was enough to make me want to read the book.  Jane Goodall and Desmond Tutu blurbs on the same book.

As the two introductory pages state...this is a story about a cow...or not.  It's obvious this sweet little book is a satire or parable that will have you chewing its prose like  Être's chewing of cud.  What does it mean to be aware, and yet be caught up in forces that are beyond your control? Aren't people like that? This little book is so intensely thought provoking and emotionally hard hitting you will revel in its beauty.

Make room on your shelf next to Ferdinand (one of my favorites from childhood) ...Être is here.

Body Parts: A Collection of Poems About Aging


Janet Cameron Hoult is a Professor Emerita at California State University, Los Angeles.  Now in her 70s, she lives with her husband in Southern California.  This collection of poems about aging takes a humorous look at the whole degenerative process involved in aging (something we will all face if we are lucky enough to live very long on this earth).  She has written these poems from experience, but I think all of us can relate.  If you can manage to laugh about your aging body parts, then I'm sure all the other little problems that life throws your way will be a breeze by comparison.  Her writing is simple and direct, as well as sincere and funny and wise.  This book is worth spending some contemplative moments with.  Here are a couple of examples to show you what I mean:

Wrinkle Free

My skin's not like it used to be
All soft and smooth and wrinkle free.
It's lined with wrinkles wrought by care
And years and years of wear and tear.

Wrinkles come as each day passes
'Cause we're no longer lads and lasses
Perhaps it's time to look at life
In different ways and reduce strife.

Grandmother said it's best to smile
Though you can't go that extra mile.
She said "Keep yourself from getting down
'Cause you get more wrinkles
when you frown."

Repair Job

Kegels and exercise
Don't do the trick.
So, I'm off to the doctor
To get myself fixed.

A snip and a tug,
A mend of a tear,
My doctor has done it.
She's made a repair!

So tell me a joke
Something funny and rare.
I don't leak anymore
I can laugh without care!


Monday, August 30, 2010

Heads up for any Poe fans



I'm a rabid Poe fan.  Just thought I would pass this along to others out there who have a fondness for all things Poe.  There is word from John Cusack's Twitter feed that he will be playing Edgar Allan Poe in a film called the Raven.  With the success of the film "Sherlock Holmes", it's a good bet that this film will be an action packed film too, and I think Cusack is a wonderful choice for the role.  Let's hope there is a corresponding jump in readers of Poe's books and poems.  That would be nice.   


Monday, August 23, 2010

Medieval Copy Protection


Here's another amusing posting on a blog concerning book owners who were so worried about theft and damage to their property that they included book curses on the inside covers.  Gee, as a librarian who has to deal with people NOT returning our books all the time...maybe we should reinstitute some of these!

Fusion: the Synergy of Images and Words

Photographer Steve McCurry has some wonderful pictures on his blog of people around the world reading.  Check them out.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

This is truly a most amazing book.  If you are a fan of Yann Martel's after reading "Life of Pi", his fantasy adventure novel that was a huge success a few years back, then this is a natural follow up.  If you have not read "Life of Pi" yet, I highly recommend that you do this first.  Then read "Beatrice and Virgil".  You will be exactly in the right frame of mind.

What's the book about? Well...it's about a donkey called Beatrice and a howler monkey called Virgil.  They are characters in a play that a very creepy taxidermist has written.  This taxidermist approaches the main character in the book, Henry, a famous novelist, for advice and help.  This is the bare bones skeleton of the story.  But Martel hangs so many psychological layers upon this framework to shape his story that by the end of the book your head is spinning and your heart is breaking.

This book is being put forward as a satire of the holocaust, and some have said it's not worth the emotional toll...but I highly disagree.  This book represents writing at its most powerful.  A writer who can manage to speak volumes between the lines of a simple basic story structure and who can work your emotions like a concert violinist playing a stradivarius is one who is a master storyteller and magician.

I think the best I can do to convey the nature of this book is to quote the author himself.  In an interview, Yann Martel says this about Beatrice and Virgil:

"I often get asked the question why I use animals in my stories. Life of Pi was set in a zoo and featured a number of animals, and animals once again play a prominent role in my new novel, Beatrice and Virgil. Am I a great animal lover? Well, I suppose I am; nature is indeed beautiful. But the actual reason I like to use animals is because they help me tell my tale. People are cynical about people, but less so about wild animals. A rhinoceros dentist elicits less skepticism, in some ways, than a German dentist. I also use animals in my fiction because people rarely see animals as they truly are, biologically. Rather, they tend to project human traits onto them, seeing nobility in one species, cowardice in another, and so on. This is biological nonsense, of course; every species is and behaves as it needs to in order to survive. But this animal-as-canvas quality is useful for a storyteller. It means that an animal that people feel kindly towards becomes a character that readers feel kindly towards.

Why did I choose to write a novel about the Holocaust? There’s nothing personal to this interest; I’m neither Jewish, nor of German or eastern European extraction. I’m a complete outsider who’s been staring at this monstrous massacre of innocents since I first learned about it as a child living in France. It’s as an artist that I’ve kept coming back to the subject. What can I do as an artist about the Holocaust? I believe that if history does not express itself as art, it will not survive in common human memory. And so I took what I knew of the Holocaust, the cumulative knowledge of my reading and viewing and visiting (both to camps in Poland and Germany and to Yad Vashem in Israel and to various museums), and I set it next to that part of me that wants to understand through the imagination. Then I sat down and wrote Beatrice and Virgil."

Now, I strongly urge you to read this most amazing and powerful book.  At the end I weeped for humanity, for the holocaust that took place emphasizing man's inhumanity to man, and for the animal holocaust that is currently raging.  And I, like Henry, missed Beatrice and Virgil. 

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Twenty Wishes by Debbie Macomber

Anne Marie Roche is a widow and lives alone in an apartment over a book shop she owns.  Her life has certainly not turned out the way she had expected it to.  On Valentine's day, she and several other widows get together and decide to make a list of twenty wishes...not really a bucket list per se, but just things they always wanted to do but just hadn't gotten around to yet.  Anne Marie's list starts with "Find one good thing about life", then she adds "learn to knit", etc.  When she volunteers at a local school to be a "lunch buddy", she crosses paths with eight-year-old Ellen.  As Anne Marie becomes more and more involved in Ellen's life (due to a life threatening illness concerning Ellen's grandmother, her primary caretaker) she finds that this isn't the casual relationship she thought it was going to be going in.  In the meantime, we see how the twenty wishes lists of some of the other women play out in their lives.

This is the first Debbie Macomber book I've read, though she checks out very well at our library;  after all, she has 60 million books in print and is a New York Times best selling author, as well as a leading voice in women's fiction.  Now this quote comes directly from her website, but I find it really tells you all you need to know about the style of her books:  "Debbie is best known for her ability to create compelling characters and bring their stories to life in her books. Drawing on her own experiences and those of her family and friends, she demonstrates an almost uncanny ability to see into the souls of women and to express their emotions, values and concerns. In every book her sense of humor enlivens her writing."

I must say I found the book very heartwarming and funny.  I think I laughed out loud several times in just the early pages, so I was pretty well drawn into the story and characters from the beginning.  Macomber writes a whole series of these Blossom Street books and based on my reading of this one I would definitely pick up another volume from the series, if not another one of her other books in general.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Top 100 Killer Thrillers

NPR's audience nominated 600 novels to its Killer Thrillers poll of the best all time mystery novels.  Here's the final 100 list of "fast moving tales of suspense and adventure" and unexpected darkness.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book Trailer of the Day


A Dog's Purpose - Book Trailer from W Bruce Cameron on Vimeo.

The Extraordinary World of Ex Libris Art

Interesting site with Ex Libris Bookplates

On my Wish List

This is a lovely idea by Book Chick City.  I'm going to post some of the books on my wish list at random times (no regular day for me, as I'm usually pretty unpredictable).  The first one is:  Running the Books by Avi Steinberg

This one caught my attention because of the mini review from A. J. Jacobs...

"This wonderful memoir is about a prison library, but it’s also about love, religion, Shakespeare, murder, the human condition and Ali G. This is a book for everybody who loves books—felons and non-felons alike."

—A. J. Jacobs, bestselling author of The Year of Living Biblically and The Guinea Pig Diaries

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks

I like Nicholas Sparks.  And I like his writing.  I know some people consider him a bit treacly, but I have read most of his books and enjoyed them.  He has a very big following in our library and a huge fan base.  This book is one of my favorites of his.

Seventeen year old Ronnie Miller's life is in turmoil after her parents divorce.  She and her brother Jonah are spending the summer with their father in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina where he moved from New York after the divorce.  Ronnie is resentful and hateful towards her father, whom she blames for leaving them.  Ronnie is scornful of all her father's attempts to reach out to her, but she does meet and fall in love with Will, a local boy who on the surface seemed not her type at all. 

Her father, a former concert pianist and teacher, is living quietly and working on a stained glass window for a local church.  Over the course of the summer, their relationships will change and their lives will change dramatically.  The feature film that was made starring Miley Cyrus as Ronnie and Greg Kinnear as her father has of course brought people to the library to check out the book.

This is a book all about love.  It simply resonates on every page.  Love can break our hearts and yet heal us at the same time.  This book definitely drives that lesson home.  It is an emotional book that will appeal to teens as well as other age groups.  I suggest you keep a box of kleenex handy.  You will need it for the last part of the book.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Neil Gaiman's Acceptance Speech for the Carnegie Medal

Listening to Neil's speech, made me feel like I was (in a weird way) looking through some sort of strange prism, watching myself.  He so embodies my thoughts and feelings about books and reading and the importance of libraries.  If you haven't read "The Graveyard Book" yet, what are you waiting for?

video

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer

I know I should have finished this series a long time ago, but I have been reading them slowly, leisurely...just as each movie comes out--so I can read the book, then see the movie.  I've got my tickets to the midnight premier of the movie, and just finished the book, so I'm ready.

This book continues the story of Bella Swan and her vampire lover Edward Cullen.  In this book Bella is anxious to become a vampire, but Edward wants to marry Bella first, and to complicate matters, Jacob Black (her werewolf friend), declares his love for her too.  Thrown into the mix is Victoria, a vampire who is hunting Bella for revenge, and Seattle murders that are being committed by an army of newborn vampires. The Cullens and the wolves join forces to combat this threat and Jacob and Edward manage to become allies.  They defeat the newborns, but not before Jacob is hurt and  Bella comes to the realization that her friendship with Jacob Black is more than just friendship.  She is forced to confront the fact that she loves Jacob too...just not as much as Edward.

The touching scene where Bella has to confront Jacob after leading him on and ultimately rejecting him, is done better than I thought it would be.  But I'm sure lots of Jacob fans will be angry with Meyer and disappointed with Bella by the end of this book.  And if you were angry with Edward for leaving Bella in New Moon, you'll be much more sympathetic to him after Eclipse.  His motivations are more completely explained and he really does seem to have Bella's best interests at heart--always.

An interesting twist is that when Jacob receives a wedding invitation in the last pages of the book, it is not from Bella it is from Edward.  He then transforms into a wolf, and runs away to escape the heartache.

I do like this one the best so far, but one thing I really do have to remedy.  I have to read "Wuthering Heights".  There are many references to the book in Eclipse and it's got me really interested in finally reading it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

In the Wizard of Oz, we got only Dorothy's side of the story.  In this highly imaginative book, Maguire tells us a bit more about the life and background of her arch-nemesis, the Wicked Witch of the West, and how she became so "wicked".

The book is broken into several sections.  In "Munchkinlanders", we learn about Elphaba's early life.  "Gillikin" takes us through her young adult years.  "City of Emeralds" (one of my favorite sections) takes us through her first love affair and its tragic outcome.  "In the Vinkus" concentrates on her life immediately prior to Dorothy's house falling out of the sky onto her sister, and the last section "The Murder and its Afterlife" tells the rest of the story.

What I liked about the book was the philosophical underpinning to the writing that was constantly challenging notions I had about good and evil.  Surprisingly, Elphaba came off as a very sympathetic character at times, and the motives of others seemed to be questionable.  I did think the book bogged down a little bit in the middle, but finished strong.  I found it an interesting book and overall I'm glad I read it.

I haven't seen the stage play that is based on this book, but I understand it is very different from the book. 
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