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

July 2010

Jul 30 2010

ShareReads: Try It, You’ll Like It

by Lesley B

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

How do you decide you want to read a book? What is more likely to inspire you to try a book – someone else’s recommendation or a written review?  I used to rely almost exclusively on written reviews and I rarely followed up when someone told me how much they loved a book. That’s not to say my taste in reading is so lofty or refined. There are a lot of classics I’ve never gotten around to and I read a lot of what my old English teacher would call “junk”. However, I was a bit of a bestseller snob. If a book was popular with many, many people, I was less likely to read it and more likely to suspect it wasn’t very good.

At some point I realized I was in a reading rut. Sure, the Internet made it much easier for me to find reviews from people who liked the sort of books I liked.  (Put a list of your favorite authors into Google and see what comes up.  Any new names that pop up on similar lists are automatically writers to check out.)  It made it too easy. It felt like I was eating the same thing for dinner every night.

So I got over myself and tried something new to find my next book. When someone recommended a book and I felt that old impulse to reject their recommendation, I jotted down the title and read it.  Sometimes it doesn’t work, but more often I’ve liked the book. Taking other people’s suggestions, I read The Help by Kathryn Stockett (more humor and nuance than I expected), A Sudden, Fearful Death, one of Anne Perry’s Victorian murder mysteries (I enjoyed all the background information about hospitals in that era), My Life in France, Julia Child’s autobiography (her enthusiasm and determination are inspiring) and Emily Giffin’s Love the One You’re With (I assumed it was typical chick lit, but her characters are more thoughtful and real). The book club I joined did me a real favor by picking Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. I don’t know that I ever would have gotten around to reading this book otherwise and what I would have missed by not knowing the story of Janie and Tea Cake.

Try putting those author’s names into Google together and you get nothing; so if you are one of the people who suggested a book to me – thanks! And what have you been reading lately? Have you read books that surprised you? How do you usually find out about books? Do you use the bestseller lists? Share Reads is for sharing books, but I’m also curious about how someone decides to open that book up in the first place.

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Jul 28 2010

Lives In Nature

by Dea Anne M

Today marks the birthday of Beatrix Potter who is perhaps best known as the author/ illustrator of such charming classics as The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tailor of Gloucester. What you may not know is that Beatrix Potter was very well known during her lifetime as a naturalist. She was highly respected as a mycologist and was one of the first people to suggest that lichens were composites of fungi and algae as opposed to autonomous organisms. In spite of the esteem in which her scientific work was held, her paper “On the Germination of Spores of Agaricineae” had to be presented to the Linnean Society by her uncle since women were barred from attending meetings.

Beatrix Potter came of age during the Victorian Era, a period of time characterized by sweeping social reforms, increasing industrialization, and widespread curiosity about the natural world.  Women shared in this curiosity, and though restricted by law and custom from taking center stage, quite a few Victorian women made a name for themselves within the realm of the natural sciences. Some of these women include:

Jemima Blackburn (1823-1909) – Scottish painter and naturalist.

Mary Treat (1830-1923) – American naturalist and correspondent of Charles Darwin.

Margaret Fountaine (1862-1940) – British lepidopterist and world traveler.

Perhaps the most unusual of these sisters in science was Mary Anning (1799-1847) a British fossil collector and paleontologist. Unlike many of the other women pursuing scientific studies during the Victorian era, Mary Anning had limited financial resources and was largely self educated. Still, she was widely recognized during her lifetime for her work with fossils and she made many important finds. Her very interesting life has made its way into works of fiction including The French Lieutentant’s Woman by John Fowles and, most recently, Remarkable Creatures: A Novel by Tracy Chevalier.

For more on Beatrix Potter, check out these titles from DCPL.

Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda Lear.

The Journal of Beatrix Potter, 1881 to 1897 compiled by Leslie Linder.

For more about women in science, check out:

Hypatia’s Heritage:  a History of Women in Science from Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century.

She’s Such a Geek!: Women Write About Science, Technology, & Other Nerdy Stuff.

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The first bookmobile, 1905

According to the Online Dictionary of Library and Information Science, outreach is defined as a library public service program initiated and designed to meet the information needs of an unserved or inadequately served target group.

A bookmobile is a large vehicle designed for use as a library. Since the establishment of the first “library wagon” service in Washington county Maryland in 1905, bookmobiles have remained an important tool in the outreach programs of many libraries. Mary Titcomb, first librarian of the Washington free county library, emphatically made the case for bookmobiles, arguing:

Would not a Library Wagon, the outward and visible signs of the service for which the Library stood, do much more in cementing friendship [than current outreach efforts]?…No better method has ever been devised for reaching the dweller in the country. The book goes to the man, not waiting for the man to come to the book.

The original bookmobile was a wagon drawn by two horses and driven by the library janitor. Bookmobiles have come a long way since then and many variations on the original theme have sprung up.

A pair of notable ones include Columbia’s “biblioburro” (a mobile library transported on donkeys) and Chicago’s book bike (which distributes books donated by publishers at public parks throughout the city).

Closer to home, DCPL had a bookmobile service at one point (briefly detailed here in paragraph five), though this is no longer in operation.  We do, however, have other outreach services including Library Take-Out (where we go into different communities to introduce library services to recent immigrants and residents of DeKalb who are not familiar with the library), Mailbox Books (where we mail books to library patrons who are unable to visit the library), Daycare / School Visits, and many Literacy Outreach programs.

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Jul 23 2010

ShareReads: A Vote for Arthur and George

by ShareReads

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

With an election only a few days behind us, I’m ready for another. ShareReads is the new ballot box, and I’m casting a public vote for Arthur and George by Julian Barnes as the best novel I’ve read in the last year and a half (maybe even longer).

It’s a wonderful work of historical fiction, based on real events which occurred in Britain in the late Victorian area. Arthur and George grow up completely apart, not knowing each other at all, living in different environments. Then, their circumstances are drastically altered, and ultimately the two meet. The reader is slowly and expertly drawn into a mystery which addresses all sorts of complex life issues: belief (or the lack of it) and its changing nature, honor, identity, friendship, personal morals, ambition, family relationships, and the passage of time. Read this book, and I guarantee you’ll discover even more. It’s deep, rich, resonant, and subtle all at the same time.

A previous ShareReads post raised the question of reader preference for character driven vs. plot driven novels. I’m happy to tell you that this book scores off the chart on both counts. The characters are well developed, vivid and compelling, and the plot never slackens. Another selling point: for those who love short chapters, you’ve got ‘em, and for those who love long chapters, ditto.  Furthermore, while there’s suspense and drama, the reader is not shortchanged on humor along the way.

Confession time: Arthur and George has kicked me out of a real reading slump. For months I’ve rarely gotten past the first 50 pages of most novels I’ve tried. Pardon me for rhapsodizing a little here, but this book made me realize all over again the sheer power of reading, and not only in the sense of inhabiting the thoughts and feelings of characters and being swept away by a narrative. It reminded me of why I read because it shook me up, making me think about those life issues I mentioned earlier and engaging me thoroughly while doing it. It has been the experience I hope for in a book, but rarely encounter.

Arthur and George also a perfect book club book, as several of our library book clubs have or soon will discover. I read it on the thoughtful recommendation of a trusted friend to whom I’m very grateful. Consider me a friend who’d like to recommend it to you, whether you read it alone or with a group of friends.

Is there a book you’d consider to be the best you’ve read so far this summer? Conversely, have you found one which you’d warn readers to miss by a country mile? Let’s kick up some ShareReads dust out there! What are you reading?

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Jul 21 2010

In Case You Need a Break From BBQ

by Joseph M

Vegetarian cuisine may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Atlanta’s dining scene, but it appears that local restaurateurs are doing a brisk business feeding those inclined to avoid meat products. According to a recent article from the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Atlanta ranks as number 4 in a list of the top ten most vegetarian-friendly big cities in the US. The ranking is based on the number of vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly restaurants per capita, as well as input from PETA supporters. Atlanta ranked higher than such notable metropolises as San Francisco and New York City; the top three slots in the list were taken by Washington, D.C., Portland, OR, and Albuquerque, NM. While Atlanta is still home to a thriving culture of meat eaters, the increase in alternatives is good news, whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, or an omnivore who just craves more variety.

Despite all the great restaurants, it’s rarely feasible to eat out every day, and the library has a wide selection of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks for when you’re spending mealtime at home. Two titles I’ve had good experiences with are Vegan with a Vengeance and Veganomicon, both by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and both chock-full of tasty recipes that will satisfy a variety of different tastes.

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Jul 19 2010

In Defense of Clutterbugs

by Veronica W

I know your little secret. I know it because it’s mine too. In every home, on every block, in every hamlet, village and town, there is a drawer devoted to delicious clutter. Some houses have two or three drawers and the unashamed may even have closets full of accumulated “stuff.”

When I was around 10 or 11, one of my older sisters got her own apartment. Having a serious case  of hero worship, I thought she was wonderful, especially when she took me shopping or out to eat. However, I enjoyed nothing more than going through “the drawer.” This was a slim top drawer in her dresser and it was an unending source of delight. It was full of perfume samples, assorted domestic and foreign coins, hair accessories, half empty nail polish bottles, rejected lipsticks, cough drops and mints (which tasted like the perfume samples). Mysterious tubes and tools, funny-shaped bandaids, discarded costume jewelry and countless other treasures kept me happily rummaging and experimenting for hours. Only much later did I learn  this particular sibling was a packrat and I could just as easily have rummaged in her shoe closet, her handbag closet or her kitchen pantry.  She was a devotee of clutter.

While I have not followed in her footsteps totally, I do have one of those drawers in the bathroom vanity and one in the kitchen. The vanity drawer is very much like my sister’s and the kitchen drawer defies inventory. Things you want to keep but are too small to have their own place must be put somewhere, right? Where else can you put extra soy and duck sauce packets, those plastic encased eating utensils from Wendy’s, boxes of toothpicks, egg timers, stray corn-on-the-cob holders, collapsible cups and other things too many (or trivial) to count?  Where, I ask you, where?

By now the uber organized are yelling “I’ll tell you where!” as they race through their homes, checking on the pristine order of their own drawers and closets. However all that angst is not necessary. Those folks who want to make a fresh and uncluttered start can find help. The neatly organized shelves in the library have books for anyone who wants to de-stuff their lives.  Here are just a few (in no particular order, of course):

Clutter’s Last Stand – Don Aslett

Clutter Control: Put Your Home on a DietJeff Campbell

Cut the Clutter and Stow the Stuff – Lori Baird (Ed.)

Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life – Gail Blanke

The Everything Organize Your Home Book: Eliminate Clutter, Maximize Storage Space and Make Every Square Foot Count -Jenny Schroedel

With all  this help, you’ll be an “uber” in no time.  You can call me if you need one of those twisty things that wrap around the plastic top of  the bread. I have bunches.

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Jul 16 2010

ShareReads: Chemical Concerns

by ShareReads

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

I hate to admit it, but until recently I’d never really worried too much about things like BPA in my plastic storage bowls, Teflon in my frying pans, or using weedkiller on my lawn.  I come from a family of long-lived folks; my maternal grandmother was 94 when she passed away and my paternal grandmother is currently alive and kicking at 101.  I was concerned about more “immediate” dangers, like plane crashes or falling down the stairs.  Denial can be a powerful motivator (de-motivator, maybe?), and floating around in my mental periphery were books like Fast Food Nation, An Inconvenient Truth, and Silent Spring—books I’d always planned to read but never got around to.  Then…I became a parent.  Suddenly things that didn’t seem so scary for me personally became terrifying when I thought of how they might affect my children.  Even a remote possibility that everyday products could contain potentially hazardous ingredients made me want to learn more.

So we started trying to live greener and eat better.  We planted a garden, and we started reducing, reusing, and recycling.  But living the green life can be expensive, and sometimes the best choice can be elusive.  The list of things we are supposed to be avoiding grows daily, and frankly, it’s becoming a bit overwhelming.  Short of moving out in the woods a la Walden, I’m beginning to lose perspective of what’s most important and how to make an informed decision.

Slow Death by Rubber Duck: the Secret Danger of Everyday Things is the story of two men who had similar concerns and set out to find some answers.  Worried about the chemical levels in their kids’ bodies and what problems it might cause, they decided to experiment—somewhat in the spirit of Supersize Me, and much to their families’ dismay—on themselves.  By exposing themselves to everyday chemicals, Canadian authors Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie attempt to “demonstrate, in concrete terms, the impact of daily life on the pollution load our bodies all carry.”  The authors choose to expose themselves to phthalates, Teflon, brominated flame retardants, mercury, the antibacterial chemical triclosan, and BPA (bisphenol A).  The result is an informative, often humorous, and somewhat hopeful account of the history of chemical use in the world and where the future might be taking us.

I was amazed and horrified by some of the historical accounts of chemical use gone wrong in our past, such as the story of the women who painted luminous dials on watch faces during World War I.  A nifty use for radium—that is until the women painting the dials (and licking the brushes to create a fine tip for painting numbers) began to develop dental problems and anemia.  The suit was settled in 1928, but all five women who had brought a lawsuit against the company died of radiation-induced cancer a few years later.

I appreciate that the book isn’t all doom and gloom, but offers some hope for the future.  Even as the book was being written, laws banning certain chemicals went into effect, and one such law even prevented them from conducting a planned experiment (a ban on the “cosmetic use” of pesticides on lawns in some Canadian provinces).  I was a little worried when I started reading that the book would focus too much specifically on Canada, but I think they did a good job of presenting information in a more universal way.  The authors were sometimes surprised by the results of their testing, but presented their findings even when they aren’t quite what were expected.  They did, however, dash my hopes of escaping out to the woods…studies show measurable levels of chemicals and pesticides in polar bears and residents of remote areas of the world, and long-ago banned chemicals such as DDT still show up in the human body today.

I haven’t quite finished the book yet, but so far I’ve found it entertaining, eye-opening, and thoughtful.  It’s given me some background information on household chemicals and their lasting effects on the environment, as well as a starting place for deciding what sort of changes I want to make in my own life (and that of my kids).  What are your favorite reads on environmental concerns?  Do you worry about chemicals in everyday products?  Are you making choices to live greener and if so, do you find it difficult?

{ 4 comments }

Jul 14 2010

I scream. You scream.

by Dea Anne M

Lately, I find myself having thoughts like “Whoever invented air conditioning should have received a prize.” (something on the order of a Nobel is what comes to mind). I also ask myself the idle question “How did people cool off before air conditioning?” knowing full well that most of the world’s population gets along without what many of us consider an utter necessity. Of course, what we eat and drink can go a long way toward making us feel more comfortable in sweltering weather. Much of the planet’s citizens know that hot peppers, due to their sweat inducing properties, can help conquer the heat. Many of us would put in a vote for a frosty bottle of beer. Of course, a lot of us hard-core Southerners will vow that nothing beats a tall glass of iced tea.

For me though, the supreme heat soother is ice cream.  What’s my favorite flavor? All of them! I maintain a fond nostalgia for the garish purple color and Nehi flavor of the grape ice cream that I always ordered at the ice cream parlor of my Orlando childhood. I remember too a more recent ice cream experience. The flavor was basil (unusual but delicious) and it followed a bouillabaisse that featured a tiny squid tentacle sticking up out of the bowl (unusual and not delicious).  But the ice creams I enjoy the most are the ones that I make at home.  Making ice cream is a straight forward procedure and most ice cream makers come with instructions plus simple recipes. To help with your more ambitious, and delicious, ice cream projects DCPL has some great resources.

For making ice cream, check out these titles.

The Ultimate Ice Cream Book: Over 500 Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, Drinks and More by Bruce Weinstein

The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas,  and Sweet Accompaniments by David Lebovitz

Do you like a little history with your ice cream?

A Month of Sundaes by Michael Turback

…and remember…kids love ice cream too.

Ice Cream Larry by Daniel Pinkwater

Give it a try! So what’s my favorite flavor today? It would have to be Brown Sugar Peaches and Cream.  I made a batch this weekend. It was delicious…if I do say so myself.

Maybe next time I’ll invite you over.

{ 7 comments }

Jul 12 2010

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

by Jesse M


Most of us are familiar with the expository phrase, “ It was a dark and stormy night“. It has been utilized by a number of authors over the better part of the past two centuries, including such notables as Ray Bradbury (in Let’s All Kill Constance) and Madeleine L’Engle (in A Wrinkle in Time). But did you know that the famous opening line is actually the beginning of a much longer sentence? Here it is in its entirety:

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents–except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

The quote comes from a book published in 1830 titled Paul Clifford by author Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. The sentence is a prime example of what is referred to in literary criticism as “purple prose“, which wikipedia describes as “passages…written in prose so overly extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to itself”.
Back in 1982, a professor in the English department of San Jose University began a contest named in honor of the author, wherein entrants compete to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. Since its inception the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest has grown to feature multiple competitive categories (such as detective, science fiction, and children’s lit, among many others) and thousands of submissions. This year’s winner is author Molly Ringle and here is her winning entry for your reading enjoyment:

“For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity’s affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss–a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world’s thirstiest gerbil.”

If you enjoyed that, go here check out the rest of this year’s winners as well as (dis)honorable mentions. And to read a “Lyttony” of grand prize winners from previous contest, go here.

Do you have a favorite bit of purple prose you’d like to share? Post it in the comments, or even try composing your own!

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Jul 9 2010

ShareReads: Find a New Favorite!

by ShareReads

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

Many of us have had the experience of reading a book that, long after it is over, we can’t seem to shake. The characters stick with us, the surprising plot twist at the end keeps popping up in our mind, the beauty of the writing compels us to seek out something of equal quality. I read The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, translated from the French by Alison Anderson for my monthly book club earlier in the spring. There are always “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” members of the group for each book we read but this was the first—and possibly only—unanimous “thumbs up” title we’ve had since I joined. The interesting and somewhat unique quality (for a modern novel in any case) is that not much seems to happen in terms of plot, but to me, that was perfectly fine. The novel takes place in Paris, and centers around two main characters, Renee and Paloma. Renee is a middle-aged concierge of an upper-class apartment building who wears the façade of a frumpy, vacuous, stereotypical working-class grunt in order to camouflage her true identity: a deep thinker, and a lover of Russian literature, Japanese cinema, and philosophy. Paloma, a 12-year old who lives in her building, is more than precocious, with astute, adult observations about herself and those around her. Her dissatisfaction with her world has led her to the decision to commit suicide when she turns 13, and her side of the story is told in the form of a journal in which she records her profound thoughts for posterity. When a new and mysterious resident moves into the building, the characters’ lives begin to more closely intersect as they gradually reveal their true selves to each other.

These characters, while perhaps unbelievable, are so rich and vivid (thanks to truly poetic prose) that I wanted this book to go on and on so that I could continue getting to know them. The last book to affect me the way this one has was The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, and I think a large part of its appeal is its engaging and charming characters (also a child and an adult, an elderly man in this case) and a tendency on the part of the writer to prefer depth as opposed to breadth. I wholeheartedly recommend both, as well as Barbery’s first book, Gourmet Rhapsody.

In general, do you find that a plot-driven book catches and holds your interest more than one that is character-driven? I would have placed myself in the first category until I reflected on those books that have most impacted me; almost all of the books that I would rate 10 of 10 focus much more on characters than plot.

Are there characters that have stuck with you, the way that Renee and Paloma have done for me? What are qualities that make a character memorable or compelling?

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