Sunday, January 31, 2010

World's smallest library

A village in Somerset, England has remodeled a bright red phone booth that was purchased for one pound and turned it into the smallest library in the world.

Patrons line up to swap their already read books for new ones left by other patrons.

Over 100 books and a variety of music CDs and movies are available at this tiny library.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

This Book is Overdue by Marilyn Johnson

I love being a librarian. It's just the nature of my groove. Here's a book that tells you what it's like being a librarian in the age of too much information. Marilyn Johnson says she wrote this book after chasing dozens of tech-savy librarians who were wrestling the accumulated culture and history of the world in a variety of mutating formats while serving needy techno-stressed patrons. Librarians who were marching boldly into the digital age all the while holding onto values like privacy, accuracy, open access, and free speech. She thinks we've never needed them more, and I guess I would have to agree.

I think I like O Magazine's review of the book the best. They said simply "This is a book for readers who know that words can be wild and dangerous, that uncensored access to information is a right and a privilege, and that the attempt to 'catalog the world in all its complexity' is heroic beyond compare."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Where I'm From by George Ella Lyon

Award winning author George Ella Lyon was born and raised in the mountains of Kentucky. She has published two collections of poems (Mountain and Catalpa, winner of the Appalachian Book of the Year award), 18 picture books (including Come a Tide, featured on "Reading Rainbow," Who Came Down That Road? a Publishers' Weekly Best Book of the Year, Basket, winner of the Kentucky Bluegrass Award, and, most recently, A Sign, Counting on the Woods, A Traveling Cat, and Book), 3 novels for young readers (including Borrowed Children, winner of the Golden Kite Award), an autobiography (A Wonderful Child, in the Richard Owen Meet-the-Author series), and Choices, a book of stories for adult new readers. Her work appears in the PBS series, "The United States of Poetry," and her adult novel, With a Hammer for My Heart, was featured in Borders Bookstores' "Original Voices" series. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

The subtitle of the book is "Where Poems Come From", and this little treasure of a book is not only sprinkled with her poems, but wise little gems about the source and inspiration for them, and suggestions on how to focus on what you want to say and how to say it. I found this book to be a pure delight, just like George Ella Lyon herself is. As she says, "poetry is for you. It's in you--in the rhythm of your heartbeat and your walking, in the music of your talk. This book is to help you see and say that. This book is for the poems in us all."

Here's a little taste of it, the first poem in the book, which is where the title of the book came from:

Where I'm From

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride,
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

I'm from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I'm from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I'm from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.

I'm from Artemus and Billie's Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments--
snapped before I budded--
leaf-fall from the family tree.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

This is a superb little book, with excellent writing advice for anyone who has ever written or wanted to write. It is funny, wise, and most importantly helpful. My recommendation is to treat yourself to a copy of this book. You won't be sorry that you did.

The title of the book comes from a story the author tells about her older brother when he was about ten years old. He was trying to get a report on birds written that he had been procrastinating over for 3 months. It was due the next day. They were gathered at their family cabin and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds. He was absolutely immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead of him. Her father sat down beside him, put his arm around her brother's shoulder, and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird."

The book is split into five parts. Part One: Writing (which includes Getting Started, Short Assignments, Shitty First Drafts, Perfectionism, Character, Plot, Dialogue, etc.); Part Two: The Writing Frame of Mind (which includes Looking Around, The Moral Point of View, Jealousy, etc.); Part Three: Help Along the Way (which includes Index Cards, Writing Groups, Writer's Block, etc.); Part Four: Publication and Other Reasons to Write (which includes Finding your Voice, Giving, etc.); and Part Five: The Last Class.

And lest you think that being published is the end all and be all of writing, let me quote just one small part of this delightful guide through a writer's world:

"Almost every single thing you hope publication will do for you is a fantasy, a hologram--it's the eagle on your credit card that only seems to soar. What's real is that if you do your scales every day, if you slowly try harder and harder pieces, if you listen to great musicians play music you love, you'll get better. At times when you're working, you'll sit there feeling hung over and bored, and you may or may not be able to pull yourself up out of it that day. But it is fantasy to think that successful writers do not have these bored, defeated hours, these hours of deep insecurity when one feels as small and jumpy as a water bug. They do. But they also often feel a great sense of amazement that they get to write, and they know that this is what they want to do for the rest of their lives. And so if one of your heart's deepest longings is to write, there are ways to get your work done, and a number of reasons why it is important to do so.

And what are those reasons again?

Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of all the things that you don't get in real life--wonderful, lyrical language, for instance, right off the bat. And quality of attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift. My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I'm grateful for it the way I'm grateful for the ocean. Aren't you?"

Yes, I am.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

I absolutely loved this book by Poet, Author, Teacher, Kathi Appelt. Kathi is the author of over thirty books for children and young adults. She has taught creative writing to both children and adults and currently serves on the faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts in their MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. She also teaches an occasional course in creative writing at her alma mater, Texas A&M University. Her books have won numerous national and state awards.

One reviewer calls it Watership Down meets The Incredible Journey meets Holes meets The Mouse and his Child. In other words, this book is probably going to be an instant classic. Kathi Appelt's writing style is beautiful and quite lyrical, and it just begs to be read aloud. The story is dark and haunting and heartrending and infused with a deep and abiding knowledge and respect for the natural world. Because of the cruelty experienced by several of the main animal characters, this book would probably not be suitable for the younger child, but older kids and young adults will find much to admire in this magical story.

The story involves a cruel man, Gar-Face, who lives inside a dilapidated shack in the backwaters of the bayou, a lonely chained hound dog, Ranger, who the man starves and beats and keeps on the end of a chain, and a calico cat about to have kittens who will surely be used as alligator bait should Gar-Face find them. But they are all safe as long as they stay in the Underneath. There is also a subplot to the story involving Grandmother Moccasin, a shape shifting water snake, who has been buried in a jar in the roots of a loblolly pine for a thousand years, the Caddo people (an ancient tribe) and its members Hawk Man and Night Song that Kathi manages to weave into the story as she builds it to a suspenseful climax. David Small's drawings really compliment and don't distract from the story, and each section of the story is told briefly, in just a few pages. An unforgetable and exceptional tale.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Book of Photographs from Lonesome Dove by Bill Wittliff

I've always loved westerns. Growing up, my Dad was a big fan of True West magazine (which I devoured), and when I was old enough I graduated to the writings of Louis L'Amour, where I always felt right at home.

A friend of mine loaned me this book because he's a big fan of Lonesome Dove, and I am too (who isn't?) . The visual imagery in these photos truly make you feel like you have stepped back in time. This is fine art photography that is worlds apart from ordinary production stills. And this is the thing you have to remember about Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry's epic tale of two aging Texas Rangers who drive a herd of stolen cattle 2,500 miles from the Rio Grande to Montana to found the first ranch there. It captured the imagination of the public. When it was published in 1985, it became a New York Times best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize. More than two decades after its publication, it still sells tens of thousands of copies every year. The miniseries, which first aired in 1989 on CBS garnered an even wider audience. Twenty-six million households watched the premier episode, and millions more have watched each time the movie was rerun on TV, video, or DVD. The miniseries was nominated for eighteen Emmy Awards and won seven. It also won Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Miniseries and Best Actor; a Peabody Award; the D. W. Griffith Award for Best Television Series; National Association of Television Critics Awards for Program of the Year and Outstanding Achievement in Drama; and the Writers' Guild of America Award for Best Teleplay.

This book brings the sweeping visuals of the miniseries to the printed page. These photos are reminiscent of the cowboy photographs of Erwin Smith and the Western paintings of Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. A definite feast for the eyes, and if you are a western lover, a feast for your soul too.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Made from Scratch by Jenna Woginrich

In a world of mass-produced food, factory-stitched clothing, 300-channel cable television, and computer-centric desk jobs, it's easy to overlook the simple pleasures of eating homegrown vegetables, raising animals naturally and humanely, wearing hand-sewn clothing, or simply enjoying an evening of unplugged entertainment. Inspired by her growing admiration for small farmers and her equally strong distaste for out-of-control consumerism, Jenna Woginrich, a 26-year-old web designer, decided to take greater control of her life and learn a few basic country skills. She taught herself how to bake, spin wool, sew, raise chickens, grow vegetables, and play the fiddle and the mountain dulcimer. This fine simple book is for anyone yearning for the satisfactions that come with being more self-reliant and leading a more sustainable life.

Here's the lineup of Chapters: Chickens; Grow Your Own Meal; Beekeeping; The Country Kitchen; Old Stuff; DIY Wardrobe; Working House Dogs; Angora Rabbits: Portable Livestock; Homemade Mountain Music; Outside the Farm; and Want More? And if you want more, visit her at

Walking the Trail: One Man's Journey Along the Cherokee Trail of Tears by Jerry Ellis

In 1838, the Cherokee Nation thrived in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina. The eighteen thousand Indians had their own newspaper; they raised corn, cotton, hogs, and cattle: they lived in peace. But in that same year, U. S. soldiers rounded up the Cherokees and forced them to walk nine hundred miles across eight states to Oklahoma, where they were put on reservations. Along the way, thousands of them died, and this haunted path became known as the Trail of Tears.

I enjoyed Jerry Ellis's story about his 900 mile walk retracing the Cherokee Trail of Tears, following the route of his ancestors. Jerry was born and raised in the old Cherokee Nation in Fort Payne, Alabama. He made his walk to honor those who had died along the trail. Along the way, he encounters the modern day people living in the small southern towns (who many times told him their own stories), slept in a tent in woods or meadows, fished the streams, built campfires, and tried to understand the rich, tragic history of the Cherokee people. It is a book that is filled with insight, but I think I have to agree with Terry Johnston, a western author who wrote on the back cover of this book "What Jerry Ellis does best is to magically touch the wanderer down deep inside all of us with his eloquent prose."
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