DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Oct 20 2014


by Hope L


Imagine you are venturing into a tunnel that’s been bored into the bedrock underneath the ocean and that continues straight out, hundreds of feet below the seafloor, for almost ten miles.  There is no light, besides the faint glow coming from the bulb on your helmet. There is no sound, besides the water dripping overhead or sloshing around your boots. Most important, there is no breathable air, besides what you brought in with you, a lifeline pumping through a hose and into your facemask. At the end of the tunnel, you don’t even have enough room to stand up straight, since it chokes down to just five feet in diameter before ending abruptly. It’s the world’s longest dead-end tunnel, so there’s no way out other than turning around and making the hazardous trek back to where you started.”–from the Prologue to Trapped Under the Sea by Neil Swidey

Once, about twenty years ago in Bisbee, Arizona, I had the opportunity to go on a small rail cart into a tunnel, which led to a mine located almost a mile inside a mountain.  Upon entering the tunnel, the tour guide warned that it was the last opportunity to get off the cart and back out for those who were squeamish about such things.  As the cart slowly entered the narrow shaft into the mountain, with barely enough room for our heads and shoulders, the adrenaline in my body surged and I started to panic.  I was moving deeper and deeper inside the mountain, with no quick way out!

I had never thought about it, frankly.  Not until that very dayTra.  And from then on, I realized that I was VERY uncomfortable in certain situations: airplanes thousands of feet in the air, caves miles under the ground, and yes, narrow tunnels carved into rock a mile into a mountain.  In the above-mentioned Bisbee mine shaft there were wooden beams standing vertically in places, literally holding the mountain over our heads.

So, as I read Trapped Under the Sea by Neil Swidey, a chronicle of the engineering complexities of a tunnel built underneath Boston Harbor and carrying waste from a state-of-the-art treatment plant ten miles out to sea, I felt lucky to not be there.  I mean, the professional divers and construction workers who completed this impossible endeavor were paid to do a job.  It’s not like they would receive a gold medal, a place in the Guinness World Book of Records, or even special recognition in a newspaper or technical journal–like the engineers who devised the thing on paper, in the safety of their well-lit office, with ample oxygen, and above ground.

The premise of the task at hand was ludicrous. In order to retrieve the huge plugs that fitted over the many side outlets to sea, a team of professional divers would drive a Humvee loaded with equipment and towing a Humvee facing the opposite direction (to come back out of the tunnel). They would drive almost ten miles in the tunnel constructed under the sea floor–and they would walk once the space became too narrow for the vehicle(s).

The impossible task was eventually accomplished, but not without the ultimate sacrifice paid by workers.

I shall try to remember this when my life gets tedious, annoying and/or boring, for I choose to experience any dangerous adventures vicariously through books, thank you very much. (See the book trailer here.)


Oct 17 2014

For the Love of Books

by Dea Anne M

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I worked for a number of years as a bookseller. Although I prefer working in libraries now, bookselling, for a while, was the job of my dreams and I was often surrounded by people who felt exactly the same way. Don’t get me wrong–it certainly wasn’t the monetary compensation that kept me in the industry–most booksellers make small salaries. But many of us who love books also love selling them. There’s just something so satisfying about talking to a customer, an individual, and helping her or him to select the perfect book. Sometimes I would feel that I had truly made someone else a little happier–and that is a good feeling indeed.

Of course the advent of big “boxes” like Barnes and Noble and Borders very often spelled the end for independent bookstores in communities across the country. More recently, online bookselling–most notably that provided by Amazon–has significantly changed the way these large companies do business. Today, Barnes and Noble sells more toys, music and coffee than it ever has before. Borders is, of course, out of business altogether. While I don’t celebrate the demise of any sort of bookstore, all of this may be a good thing for independent bookstores and those of us who love them. For many of us, there is nothing quite like browsing the offerings of a well-curated bookstore, actually looking through and touching the books, and maybe going home with a new find. I think of bookstores that I have experienced and loved: Faulkner House Books in New Orleans, City Lights Books in San Francisco, Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville. I treasure those memories.

It may very well be that your neighborhood independent bookstore is on its way back. Check out this September 9, 2014 article from Slate or this from Quartz September 10, 2014. In other bookstore news, you’ll find no less an entity than the mighty publishing juggernaut that is James Patterson. In the fall of 2013, Patterson pledged to give $1 million dollars to independent bookstores.  Think what you will about what some call the “Patterson franchise,” I personally find it refreshing when a best-selling author says, as does Patterson in this New York Times article “I’m rich. I don’t need to sell more books.” And he adds, “But I do think it’s essential for kids to read more broadly. And people just need to go in to bookstores more.” Read the Los Angeles Times coverage of the story here .

Am I whetting your bookstore appetite? If so,  don’t miss this peek at some of the world’s most beautiful and unusual from the September 2, 2014 issue of CNN Travel.  My favorite is the stunning and elegant Argentinian bookstore housed in what was once a theater.

If you’d like to read more about the abiding passion that so many of us have for independent bookstores, checkout these offerings from DCPL.

Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercerbookstore

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History by Lewis Buzbee

My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop edited by Ronald Rice and Booksellers Across America

Bookstore: The Life and Times of Jeanette Watson and Books & Co. by Lynne Tillman

marriageFinally, don’t miss Ann Patchett’s collections of essays This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Patchett’s writing in this collection addresses such varied topics as divorce, family, and aging.  And bookstores. Sometime in 2010 after the last two of Nashville’s in-town bookstores closed, Patchett (who lives in Nashville) decided to help open a new independent bookstore with two other women. At first, Patchett saw her role as predominantly that of financial backer. Her involvement quickly became much deeper and remains so.  Check out this book chapter that Patchett published in the December 2012 edition of The Atlantic. 

Do you love bookstores? What are some of your favorite bookstore experiences? 


Oct 13 2014


by Jesse M

Echopraxia coverPeter Watts, author of the recently published novel Echopraxia, is one of the luminaries of modern hard science fiction. Drawing on an educational foundation that includes both a Bachelor’s and Master’s of Science as well as a PhD in Zoology and Resource Ecology, Watts has paired his scientific knowledge and creative talents to produce a number of award winning novels and short stories.

His novels have a reputation for being bleak and nihilistic; although, in a recent reddit Q&A session, Watts argues that it isn’t a nihilistic viewpoint so much as one that is informed by his background as a biologist:

I was trained as a biologist. Humans are vertebrates, humans are mammals, and when you take a clade-wide perspective you can’t not notice that we’re all connected by far more than that which separates us. People…assume that anyone who regards us as just another mammal must be a cynic, must be doing it for shock value or trendy points. But I remember whole buildings where everyone had that perspective, and it wasn’t considered grim or nihilistic. It was cool; we were discovering patterns… We were connecting the dots in a global puzzle. It wasn’t depressing. It was exciting.

Echopraxia is the follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2006 novel Blindsight. Like Echopraxia, it takes its title from a neurological condition which serves as a motif for the events of the novel. In Blindsight, Watts takes both common (alien first contact) and uncommon (vampires in space!) science fiction tropes and weaves them into one of the most brilliant hard science fiction novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, a tour de force exploration of the nature of consciousness and its utility for intelligent life.

For those unfamiliar with Watts, or in need of a refresher, I recommend checking out this in-depth guide compiled by a fan. Watts’s website is also worth taking a peek at. Watts has released much of his shorter material for free; I recommended starting with The Island, which won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette in 2010.


Oct 10 2014

Fed Up or Fulfilled

by Rebekah B

Hello readers,

When I was a little girl, my mother claimed that tea tasted so much better when drunk out of a beautiful porcelain cup. She would get out her best tea set dishes, Royal Crown Derby to be exact, and she trusted me and my sister to be careful not to break them. Although there are many subjects on which my family and I don’t agree, I think there was a great deal of wisdom in my mother’s approach to the proper enjoyment of tea. tea_royalcrownderby

As I muse over a selection of my recent readings and viewings of films, I find a common theme running through most of them: Fulfillment, health, and finding balance in life. Recently, my son showed me a Buzzfeed article showing school cafeteria meals from around the world. It is interesting to see how various countries present their meals, many of them using “real” dishes, silverware, and glass goblets. Whole foods, prepared with care, and the importance of care and beauty, attachment to traditions…these seem to be aspects of life too often ignored by our culture of convenience in America. What if the quality of care taken in the preparation of our meals, the way we grow our foods, and the way we treat one another actually enhances the nutritional value of the food we eat and the ability of our bodies to better process these foods?

school lunch france

I often feel that it is an integral part of American culture to be (in my opinion) highly competitive and dissatisfied. This state of incompleteness gives us goals, things to do, things to buy to improve our condition and lot in life.  We are all about fixing things without taking into account that perhaps our enhancements are not always needed. Although few of us actually stop to consider this aspect of our culture, there exists a concerted effort by factions of all kinds to make us feel as if we are somehow not good enough as we are right now. Doing and accomplishing is generally considered more important than simply being and joyfully accepting reality exactly as it is. This predominance of masculinity, that in order to be worthy, we must constantly modify ourselves and our environment, weighs me down.


After living in France for nearly 18 years, and after 10 years in the U.S., I have realize that France seems a much more balanced yet more conservative culture than ours. The conservative aspect is the feminine, an attachment to tradition and rituals of life that keep the people and the country stable and fairly happy. The attention to the quality of food, of conversation, and the devotion to agricultural traditions, preventive health care, abundant vacation time, and family life are all aspects of nurturing that counter-balance the rush of modern life and the constant changes brought about by science and technology. Both aspects of life are necessary for balance.

kids playing

In the United States, our mainstream culture has cut most of us off from many of the nurturing and artful traditions that fulfill us and that connect us to nature, to our ancestors, and to our own nature as human beings. Without a constant connection to our inner source–which can be personal or collective–we may feel untethered, and the results of the imbalance are evident throughout our primarily masculine-driven society. Anyone who watches the evening news will observe an excess of violent and anti-social behaviors, and if you look around your neighborhood, more than likely, you’ll observe a growing lack of community. People are addicted to work, to sugar, to their electronic devices. Everyone seems to be driven to perform, and yet no performance ever seems good enough. Social media promotes endless chatter, and yet there seems to be little or no time for real conversation, for cooking or eating meals together as a family, for finding meaning in the simple acts of daily life. Instead, we are offered entertainment to distract us from our discomfort and sense of disconnection. Convenience reigns, yet disease is also equally prominent. Our American lifestyle is out of balance.

While I personally believe that culture is not the answer to everything, and that there is no ideal collective or individual way to be or to live, I do find it interesting to observe and to compare how various societies deal with what it means to be human. As creative and complex beings, it is challenging to be human, as we are continually required to reinvent ourselves. The biggest challenge of all is self-awareness and self-love. In the meantime, why not try to use your best dishes every day, celebrate any occasion with a long dinner around the table, without any scheduled activities or events, and observe what it’s like to simply enjoy whatever happens during your day, without any expectations.

Here are some of my recent reads and views…some in progress:

Fed Up, a 2014 documentary by Stephanie Soechtig with Katie Couric.  I definitely recommend this film for viewing by all parents and anyone who feels concerned about the obesity epidemic, the omnipresence of sugar in the diets of our children (and adults), and the state of public health in the United States.

Year of No Sugar: A Memoir, by Eve O. Schaub.  The story of a mom who grew up with a deep and abiding love of home-baked desserts and for whom sugar was the chemical equivalent of true love. She basically transformed her own life and that of her family after viewing a documentary about the evils of sugar in our diet. She decided to embark on a year-long experiment to mostly ban all added sugar from her family’s diet, with the exception of a monthly treat and birthdays. The book details the emotional roller coaster of the experiment. What impressed me in particular was that new family closeness grew, as well as creativity and cooperation. The children seemed to adapt well for the most part, and they learned to cook and create new recipes. When the year came to an end, to some extent sugar was re-incorporated in various ways into the family’s diet. All of the family members were transformed by the experience of trying to find ways to compensate for their sweet tooth.

Writing Diet: Write Yourself Right-Size, by Julia Cameron, 2007.  This is a book for the creative person who feels that he or she is not sufficiently fulfilled creatively-speaking, and who is probably compensating for that frustrated feeling by eating too much.  Ms. Cameron noted in many of her other workshops that participants were leaner going out, and she began to examine the connection between frustrated creativity and weight gain. She explains that the more we express our feelings with the written word, the less we are driven to eat for unhealthy reasons. The fulfillment that comes from expressing the inner self satisfies the hunger, and the weight is lost without real effort.

Dying to Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, To Near Death, To True Healing, by Anita Moorjani, 2013. This book is a highly personal account of one woman’s inner transformation. Ms. Moorjani grew up in Hong Kong. Exposed to multiple cultures in her youth, she was pushed to conform and to repress her individual dreams and desires for her life. She describes how she believes fear (specifically the fear of cancer) and repression (of herself in order to obtain approval by her family and peers) led her body to rebel, causing her to develop lymphoma, from which she very nearly died. After all of her organs began to shut down and she drifted into a coma, Ms. Moorjani was not expected to recover, and yet she experienced a miraculous withdrawal of the disease which doctors had given a terminal diagnosis. The experience also transformed her thinking and freed her to live according to her true nature and personality. I was personally more drawn to her choice to fully love and embrace herself and all of life without judgment–and to her realization that heaven is not a place, but a state of being–than to the near death experience and healing, of which I have read many similar accounts. I have observed that people who have touched the extremes of human experience enjoy a refreshed view of the real. While it is not necessary to experience near death in order to live life with the awareness that we are all inter-connected and that everything we think, say, or do affects everything and everyone else, it is nice to know that there are others who are able to appreciate life and reality for what it is, simply and without judgment of self and others.

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Oct 8 2014

National Pizza Month!

by Glenda

pizzaDid you know that October is National Pizza Month? Whether it is fresh from the delivery or hot out of your oven, most of us love pizza. Some of us are traditional pizza eaters and delight in cheese and pepperoni. Then there are those who enjoy non-traditional pizzas like Spinach Alfredo or Chicken Parmesan. No matter how you take your slice, America loves pizza.

National Pizza Month was first observed in 1984. October was designated as National Pizza Month by Gerry Durnell, the founder of Pizza Today magazine. Americans enjoy eating pizza. 252 million pounds of pepperoni are consumed every year on pizza. Americans spend $32 billion dollars per year on pizza. 350 slices of pizza are consumed each second in America. On average, each American eats 46 slices of pizza each year. 93% of Americans report eating at least one slice of pizza per month. There are 70,000 pizzerias in the United States. Of those 70,000 pizzerias, 9,000 are in New York. Three billion pizzas are sold in the United States each year. (Pizzamarketplace.com has lots of information about industry trends and statistics.) No matter how you slice it, pizza is adored by America. If you are looking to make you own pizza, check out some of these books from DCPL: Pizzas by Linda Henry, Cool Pizza to Make and Bake: Easy Recipes for Kids to Cook by Lisa Wagner, Grilled Pizzas and Piadinas by Craig W. Priebe, and Pizza on the Grill: 100 Feisty Fire-Roasted Recipes for Pizza and More by Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer.

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Oct 3 2014

It came from the back of the fridge!

by Dea Anne M

Most of us are familiar with the situation. You reach into your refrigerator’s vegetable bin and pull out a bag of…something. What the heck is it? It might have begun its over-long stay in the fridge as lettuce or green onions, but now it resembles nothing so much as what might live at the bottom of a pond. Or maybe you find a storage container you had forgotten about. Do you dare lift the lid? Maybe it would be less disturbing to just toss it, and all those other mystery containers, into the trash and resolve to not let the situation reoccur. Except it does. Over and over.

What would you find if you cleaned out your fridge right now? Are there three opened, and expired, pints of heavy cream? I’ve been a member of that club. Have you unearthed hopelessly freezer-burned meat or fish? I feel your pain because they sure didn’t give that stuff away. I have come to believe that the two keys to successful refrigerator management are first–being able to see what you have, and second–having a plan for what to do with it. While there are apps available to help you track what’s in your refrigerator, you can probably manage this on your own. Maybe you make a spreadsheet after every shopping trip of what has been purchased and when it will expire. Maybe you make a habit of checking through the refrigerator and freezer every few days to see what you have, when you need to use it, and what you need to replace.

In my house, what seems to work best is keeping the refrigerator contents as streamlined as possible. When I’m staying on top of things, I only have as many perishable items on hand as I will use up within a week. This state of affairs has been by no means easy for me to reach. I grew up with a mother who kept the refrigerator and cabinets filled with food of all kinds. Sure, my brother and I would sometimes complain that “there’s nothing here to eat” (we usually assembled our own breakfasts, snacks, and lunches eaten at home), but that just meant we were out of a particular, highly desired food such as Trix cereal or bologna. It has taken me awhile to be able to see a well-stocked refrigerator as anything other than one that is about to burst open, but I’ve learned that a more sparely-stocked fridge is not only easier to manage but also cools and freezes more efficiently.

Of course, one has to make a habit of these things and I realized this past Sunday that things, refrigerator-wise, had once more spiraled out of control. It was time to clean and reorganize. Here are just some of the things that I pulled out and had to pitch: a quart of barbeque sauce that I made at the beginning of the summer, two jars of refrigerator pickles that I made around the same time, a jar of turnip pickles that I made even earlier, an almost full jar of beets that I bought to make the turnip pickles (I only needed two of them. I always think that I like beets…until I taste one and remember that I don’t.), and a jar of some mysterious brown liquid that turned out to be more barbeque sauce.  The situation was certainly not the worst it’s ever been and I harbor rosy hopes of being able to maintain my now clean and well-organized fridge.

This brings me to the second part of my refrigerator management strategy–having a plan. For me, this means planning meals and shopping weekly only for what I need to make the meals, plus staples like milk and coffee. This works well for my small household. You may need a slightly different approach for your family. Still, I am convinced that making a weekly meal plan, and sticking to it, saves me money and the aggravation that comes from realizing that, once again, I have let perfectly good food go to waste.

We here in America waste in excess of 40 percent of our food every year. Of course wastelandnot all of this comes from our home kitchens, but much of it does. If you’d like to explore this crucial issue in detail, check out American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (And What We Can Do About It) by Jonathan Bloom. Bloom presents an intelligent overview of the problem and provides practical tips and advice to help all of us waste less food. He’s a lively writer and his spirited prose makes this book not just a thought-provoking read but also a fun experience. Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal by Tristram Stuart is another valuable study of the topic. Interestingly, Stuart is a freegan, a term used to describe someone who is dedicated to living off discarded or self-produced food.

If you want to try meal planning as a way to reduce waste in your kitchen, be sure to look at Family Feasts for $75 a Week: A Penny-Wise Mom Shares her Recipe for Cutting Hundreds from Your Monthly Food Bill by Mary Ostyn. This is mainly a menucookbook (and a good one, too) but Ostyn devotes a substantial section of the book to meal planning tailored to personality. You might be someone who likes to plan everything ahead (that’s me) or someone who likes to be much more spontaneous. Ostyn’s tips must work–she feeds a family of twelve! Another useful book, if a bit dated now, is Still Life With Menu: Fifty New Meatless Menus with Original Art by Mollie Katzen. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to appreciate Katzen’s vibrant recipes and well-balanced menus, and you can use her tips on planning meals and cooking ahead for any type of cooking you do.

Are you interested in rearranging your refrigerator for maximum efficiency kitchensand minimum waste? If so, Lillian Hayes Martin’s  Room by Room: Kitchens: Your Home Made Simple and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Organizing Your Life by Georgene Muller Lockwood can help. Both books have well-written and complete instructions on optimal kitchen organization as well as tips for effective grocery shopping. Also, I must put in a word here for the book that I consider an invaluable reference for all topics related to the proper care and running of one’s home. This book is Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson. Mendelson’s book is home comfortsas interesting to read as any novel, and her knowledge is solid. She devotes a number of pages to meal planning as well as entire chapters on grocery shopping and food storage. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. My copy lives on a shelf in my kitchen and I use it all the time.

How do you cut down on food waste in your kitchen? Are you a meal planner or do you prefer a more casual approach?



Sep 30 2014

Banned Books Week 2014 Wrap-Up

by Jesse M

Out from Boneville coverLast week was Banned Books Week, and this year the focus was squarely on comic books and graphic novels. Charles Brownstein, Executive Director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, tells The Guardian:

Comics are one of the most commonly attacked kinds of books. They’re uniquely vulnerable to challenges because of the medium’s visual nature and because comics still carry a stigma of being low-value speech. Some challenges are brought against comics because a single page or panel can be taken out of context, while others come under attack because of the mistaken notion that all comics are for children.

This stigma Brownstein mentions is reflected on the list of the top 10 challenged titles of 2013; both the #1 and #10 spots are occupied by graphic novels.

The holder of the #1 spot is the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey, which also occupied the top spot in 2012. Since I did a write-up of that series last year (see my blog post on that topic here) I decided to focus today’s post on the 10th book on the list, Jeff Smith’s award-winning series Bone.

Series author and illustrator Jeff Smith first began drawing the characters that would populate the pages of Bone when he was five years old. He began self-publishing the series in 1991 under his own company label, Cartoon Books, although eventually by 1995 the series was picked up by Image comics. Originally serialized in 55 irregularly released issues from 1991 to 2004, the story is now available across nine volumes (in addition to a number of spin-offs). The series is critically acclaimed and has won numerous awards (winning the Eisner and Harvey awards multiple times), which makes its position of #10 on the list of most challenged books quite puzzling. According to the American Library Association, the book was challenged by critics for three main reasons: political viewpoint, racism, and violence. Smith responds to the charges in an NPR article on the topic:

Smith doesn’t understand how anyone could find his books racist. As for political viewpoint, he says books should reflect a certain moral sensibility. And violence? Well, he says, it is a comic book.

Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin, and Weird Al Yankovic show their support for banned booksAnd that’s it for this year’s banned books week wrap-up. To conclude, I’d like to share this image of three of my favorite entertainers (parody musician “Weird” Al Yankovic, and fantasy authors Neil Gaiman and George R. R. Martin) showing their support for banned (comic) books. Until next year!


Sep 22 2014

A Sad Goodbye

by Hope L

diva1“Can we talk?”

One of my all-time favorite icons passed away unexpectedly.  She was as active as ever. Still tossing her barbs out, she had just written a book, was starring in two television programs and a podcast, and was still delighting audiences including myself in her stand-up performances (I saw her three times, the latest this past February at Atlanta’s Symphony Hall), plus she was hawking her very successful QVC merchandise.  Her energy amazed me, and I had to keep reminding myself as we watched her recent performance that she was an octogenarian.

“I don’t exercise; if God had wanted me to bend over he would have put diamonds on the floor.”

Her jokes were often salty and politically incorrect, but her favorite target was definitely Joan Rivers. Her constant joking about her numerous plastic surgery procedures and gravity’s effect on her aging body, the fact that she was ugly (“Bow-wow!  Arf-Arf!”), or fat, or old…  And, of course, one must ALWAYS marry rich, no matter what:

“The problem with marrying for money is that you end up earning it.”

Now, arguably, much of what came out of Joan’s mouth is not appropriate to include here, and she was constantly garnering attention because of her politically incorrect or just plain crude statements.  I always thought she got a lot of flak, though, for saying things that male comedians could say with impunity.

“The first time I see a jogger smiling, I’ll consider it.”

When I find myself missing that catty chatter from my favorite comedienne, I can turn to one of the books written by Joan here at DCPL, her most recent being this year’s Diary of a Mad Diva.

“My mother kept asking ‘why can’t you be more like your sister?’ My sister had died at birth.”

I must admit that I have winced and even pouted at things she said at times during the all the years I’ve listened to Joan.  But, I know what Joan would say to me:

“Oh, GROW UP!!!”

Joan, you made me laugh until I cried.  You will be missed.



Sep 19 2014

Eating Right…The Debate

by Dea Anne M

Battling a cold virus recently, and suffering defeat, brought me to wonder–can the way we choose to feed ourselves really help to keep us healthy? For myself,  when I feel the very first ticklings of a cold coming on I can sometimes fend it off by eating dishes heavily laced with garlic and ginger. Even just slurping up good old chicken soup can help. Sometimes. Maybe.

My regular diet is fairly omnivorous and marked by ongoing attempts to get as many vegetables into it as I can. (I’m glad I like them!). But is there really an optimal diet for human beings? Leaving aside issues around unequal distribution of wealth and resources, industrial versus sustainable farming (which my fellow blogger Rebekah has written about quite admirably here), and the possible moral issues posed by the consumption of animals and their products, is there one correct way to eat in order to maintain health? As with so many things, there’s more than one opinion about this question and plenty of advocates for any stance that you can imagine. Let’s investigate some of these through resources available at DCPL. Be aware that some of these titles refer to weight loss, but I suspect that this marketing slant may come more from the publishers than the authors. The primary emphasis in these books seems to be the restoration, and maintenance, of optimal health through a “correct” diet.

First up is the Traditional Foods diet. This school of thought advocates a return to the diet of our ancestors and incorporates pasture-raised meats, wild fish, and organic fruits and vegetables along with whole grains. The idea is nourishingto eliminate from our diet all overly processed food and, basically, anything that–as Michael Pollan would say–our grandparents (or great grandparents!) wouldn’t recognize as food.  A typical meal of Traditional Foods will probably look a lot like your childhood Sunday dinner–that is, if you grew up as I did with a mother and grandmothers who cooked from scratch. Where the advocates of Traditional Foods may lose some people is with their emphasis on organ meats. That can be a hard sell if you didn’t grow up consuming them–as we don’t much in this country. An even more controversial aspect of Traditional Foods is its advocacy of raw milk consumption. The Food and Drug Administration warns that raw milk can pose serious health risks and retail availability of raw (i.e., unpasteurized) milk for nourished kitchenhuman consumption is strictly controlled in most states with many banning it altogether. Raw milk’s defenders argue that processed milk lacks key nutrients and helpful bacteria that keep people healthy.  In any case, the debate rages on. If you want to find out more about the Traditional Foods diet, you would do well to start with Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. This book is encyclopedic in scope and depth and includes not only many recipes, but also a vast amount of background information to help get you oriented. For an updated approach to the topic, check out Jennifer McGruther’s The Nourished Kitchen: Farm-to-Table Recipes for the Traditional Foods Lifestyle. The author lives in the mountains of Colorado and her specific approach and choice of local ingredients will vary from what is available here and in other parts of the world. Regardless, the book is very informative and is packed with stunning photographs.

A subject of recent debate is the Paleo diet, which seems to have as many passionate detractors as defenders. The Plaeopersonal diet takes the idea of eating only what our ancestors ate even further back than the Traditional Foods diet does. Basically, if an ancient hunter-gather didn’t eat it, then you shouldn’t either. The diet guidelines call for meat, fish, non-starchy vegetables, berries, nuts, and seeds. A strict interpretation of the diet eliminates all grains, potatoes, and dairy products. The lack of processed food in the diet seems more than laudable, but the sometimes staggering quantities of animal protein might give some (including myself) pause. If you think the Paleo diet might be for you, pick up Your Personal Paleo Code: The 3-Step Plan to Lose Weight, Reverse Disease, and Stay Fit and Healthy for Life by Chris Kresser. Kresser’s approach is a bit less strict than some and his guidelines allow you to tailor your diet to include some grains and dairy. For a somewhat stricter interpretation of the Paleo approach, try The Primal Blueprint Cookbook by Mark Sisson with Jennifer Meier.

The central tenet of the Raw Foods diet is that any food cooked at 115 degrees or above has lost much of its nutritional value and may actually be harmful to consume. Advocates for this way of eating recommend raw, or minimally bradprocessed, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Some variations of the diet can include eggs, dairy products, fish, meat and some fermented foods like sauerkraut or kefir. The diet sounds great for those of us who adore fruit and vegetables. Less entrancing, at least to me, is the idea of consuming raw animal protein. I consider myself a relatively adventurous eater, but I have never summoned the courage to order steak tartare and I find the prospect of consuming sashimi without its usual pillow of rice more than a little daunting.  Still (and keeping in mind that most raw foodists do include a small percentage of cooked food in their diets) boosting our intake of vegetables and fruit is probably a good idea for most of us. If you’d like to try this approach, check out Brad’s Raw Made Easy: The Fast, Delicious aniWay to Lose Weight, Optimize Health, and Live Mostly in the Raw by Brad Gruno for an in-depth look at the thinking behind the diet and tips on using it successfully. Also popular with the Raw Food crowd are the books of Ani Phyo. Wellness coach and host of the popular YouTube show “Ani’s Raw Food Kitchen Show,” Phyo presents her take on the Raw Foods lifestyle in Ani’s Raw Food Essentials: Recipes and Techniques for Mastering the Art of Live Foods.

How do you eat for health? What are your thoughts about an optimal diet?


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Fales library special collections - Photo courtesty of Mal Booth

In many libraries, special collections is the name applied to materials housed in a separate unit with specialized security and user services. Though DCPL does not currently maintain a separate space for our special collection, we do house materials by and about DeKalb County and its citizens, DeKalb County governmental activities, and Georgia history and genealogy. You can learn more about some of DCPL’s special collection here.

Recently Mental Floss Magazine compiled a list of fifteen of the most interesting library special collections from around the country. Some of my favorites include The Browne Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green State University and the DC Punk Archive, a work in progress under the auspices of the D.C. Public Library that will focus on the Washington D.C. punk rock scene from 1976 to the present day.

Check out the full list here.

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