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

August 2011

When the economy is down in the dumps, the library becomes an even more valuable part of the community. Not only does it help people find jobs with job search classes and resources, not only does it educate children so that they become productive members of society, the library also gives back immediately to your pocketbook! Georgia Public Library Service (GPLS) recently created a Value of Library Services Calculator.  Just fill in the fields and it will tell you how much money you are saving by using the library.

We recently posted the same link to our Facebook page, and asked people to post a reply with the results of how much they were saving. Six people responded, and the average amount saved was $557.72 per month!

How much are you saving? Feel free to reply to this blog post with your amount saved.

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Aug 26 2011

ShareReads: History!

by Jesse M

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.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been interested in history. I can recall hours spent paging through my family’s set of encyclopedias, completely engrossed by the descriptions of the troop movements and battles during World War I or marveling at the intellectual prowess of Leonardo DaVinci and other luminaries of the Renaissance . My fascination with history was further encouraged by my parents, particularly my step-mother, who is both an amateur Civil War historian and genealogist who has traced her descent back to British Royalty. I love reading about the past foundations on which the present is built upon.

While I enjoy learning about history generally, my favorite subjects of examination are ancient and medieval history. Working at a library has given me numerous opportunities to indulge my taste for historical books on these time periods, and for today’s post I’m going to share some of my favorites with you.

Susan Wise Bauer’s The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome is an excellent starting point for students of ancient history. The author examines the civilizations of China, Egypt, Greece, India, Mesopotamia and Rome, taking pains to illustrate the interconnectedness of their histories. The engagingly written, well-organized text is supplemented by a number of maps and timelines which help to further aid the reader in understanding the sweep of historical events. This book is the first in a planned four-volume series covering the history of the world from ancient through modern times; the second volume of the series, The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade, is also available through DCPL.

Another fascinating book covering the middle portion of the medieval time period is Storm From the East: From Genghis Khan to Kubilai Khan. It chronicles the rise and fall of the Mongol empire and the khans who ruled it. Replete with maps, diagrams, artwork and pictures, this book is not only an excellent resource for learning about the Mongol empire but also illustrates the impact of their campaigns of conquest on their Asian and European neighbors.

The library also has a number of very fascinating books which examine broad swathes of history through the lens of a specific topic rather than a survey of a time period or geographic location. The Rich and How They Got That Way: How the Wealthiest People of All Time—From Genghis Khan to Bill Gates—Made Their Fortunes tells the tale of how the business of acquiring wealth has changed throughout the centuries, from warfare and plunder, to taxation, to trade and finance, and technological innovation. The author profiles 10 of the richest individuals throughout history, briefly describing the circumstances and personality traits which helped to enable their phenomenal success.

Two other works that follow the same model of discussing history through the lens of a specific topic are Salt: A World History and Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, both by Mark Kurlansky (author of a number of historical books on a variety of subjects). The books examine the importance of the two commodities and their effects on populations throughout history.

What are some history books you couldn’t put down?

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Aug 24 2011

Double lives and new frontiers

by Dea Anne M

August 24th is the birthday of American science fiction author Alice Bradley Sheldon who is better known to the world by her pen name, James Tiptree Jr. Sheldon adopted the pseudonym when she began to publish science fiction around 1967. Her work won quite a bit of acclaim through the years but it wasn’t until 1977  that the public discovered that Tiptree was a woman. Apparently, Tiptree was afraid that her work would suffer negative feedback if her true gender was known and she also seemed to have concerns about exciting the wrong sort of notoriety by being a woman publishing in what had traditionally been a male-dominated genre. In an interview, Tiptree said “I had the feeling that a man would slip by less observed. I’ve had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation.” Indeed, Alice Sheldon had been in Air Force photo-intelligence, the CIA, and had received a doctorate in experimental psychology.

Tiptree was a unique stylist who expressed an often dark vision in her fiction. Some of her more famous pieces, such as “The Women That Men Don’t See” and the novella, Houston, Houston Do You Read?,  deal with gender and sexual politics in very interesting and surprising ways. In 1991, science fiction authors Pat Murphy and Karen Joy Fowler established the James Tiptree Jr. Award, an annual prize given to works of science fiction and fantasy that expand or explore our understanding of gender. If you’re in the mood to sample some of these award winners, DCPL has several to choose from. Some of these are:

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (2008), Camouflage by Joe Haldeman (2004), Set This House In Order: a romance of souls by Matt Ruff (2003), Wild Life by Molly Gloss (2000), Black Wine by Candas Jane Dorsey (1997), The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (1996), Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand (I highly recommend this one!) and Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Theodore Roszak (both books won in 1995) , Woman of the Iron People by Eleanor Arnason (1991), and White Queen by Gwyneth Jones (also 1991).

Would you like to sample Tiptree’s writing for yourself? DCPL has these titles:

Crown of Stars

Byte Beautiful: eight science fiction stories

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever: the great years of James Tiptree Jr.

If you want to learn more about this brilliant and unusual writer and woman, don’t miss James Tiptree Jr.: the double life of Alice B. Sheldon. In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly called this book “…a wonder: an even handed, scrupulously documented, objective yet sympathetic portrait of a deliberately elusive personality…”

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Aug 19 2011

Sharereads: Little Bee

by Joseph M

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.

Today I’ll be talking about Little Bee by Chris Cleave, which I read earlier this summer. There are a number of things about this novel which are worthy of discussion, but before I go any further, I should mention the blurb on the inside flap of the cover of the book. I’ll give you the first two sentences: “We don’t want to tell you much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it.” This is not the first book to play it coy with the plot summary; the synopsis for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne is similarly vague. In keeping with the wishes of the author, I’m not going to tell you much about the plot of the story in this blog post; I don’t want to spoil anything either! I will, however, be talking about aspects of the story and the way it is written.

The book unfolds through alternating point-of-view narratives of the two main characters, women from very different backgrounds whose lives intersect in a very dramatic and unexpected way. The split narrative style artfully demonstrates the similarities and differences between the two main characters and allows the reader to explore the story in an intriguingly non-linear fashion. Books written in a similar style include The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn. Can you think of others?

Another thing I found interesting was the dialect present in parts of the story. This technique uses unorthodox spelling and word choices to convey the sense of a particular accent or dialect. I like accents; I find them to be fascinating verbal insights into how people in different areas create their shared realities, and allowing for the representation of accent and dialect in writing can add authenticity and bolster characterization. A few examples of other books which utilize this technique include A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok, and Bloodroot by Amy Greene, as well as a variety of works by Mark Twain, Irvine Welsh and Terry Pratchett. Some people find it difficult to read books with a lot of this type of writing, but in Little Bee the technique helps illustrate the contrasts between the characters in an effective yet unobtrusive manner. How do you feel about books written in this style? Any that you love, or hate?

One more thing to consider: Little Bee is actually not the original title of this story. It was first published in the UK as The Other Hand. After reading the book, I think I prefer the name of the American release, but I also can’t help but wonder about the process that led to the title being changed in the first place. Can you think of any other books (or movies, music, etc.) which have undergone a name change based on geography?

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Aug 17 2011

King of the Wild Frontier

by Joseph M

Today marks the birth of Davy Crockett, one of the more iconic figures of the American frontier. When I was a kid, he was one of my favorite folk-heroes, and I have vague but fond memories of watching the TV miniseries. Growing up in San Antonio I had plenty of occasions to visit the Alamo, where Crockett died in battle, and I was the proud owner of a faux coonskin cap purchased at the giftshop there.

DCPL has a wealth of resources to help you explore the life and legends of Davy Crockett, including books for both children and adults. Try searching with his name in the catalog, or take a look at his entry on Biography in Context, one of our Reference Databases, which you can access with your library card.

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Aug 15 2011

Borders Memories

by Greg H

More and more information is seeping out about the demise of the Borders book chain and, from the sound of it, Borders’ failure was self-inflicted and expected by those in the know.  The Atlanta Booklovers Blog featured a link to a story in The Stranger that was especially enlightening. Written by a former employee at the Boston store, the piece touched on numerous corporate missteps and gaffes, not the least of which was the management’s attitude shift from very cool and high quality to very corporate and bottom line. I loved shopping at the Buckhead Borders and that blog post was like the autopsy report that explained why a friend died. Just desserts or not, losing any bookstore is like losing an acre of rain forest, so, in the spirit of speaking no ill of the dead, or the bankrupt as the case may be, I want to share my best Borders moment.

In the late spring of 2007 I visited my brother and future sister-in-law in Los Angeles. The trip within this trip was an excursion to the bay area that we’d planned so that we could visit the major league stadiums in Oakland and San Francisco. We stayed at a very nice hotel near Union Square on the fringe of the Tenderloin district and I was thrilled to find a big, beautiful Borders store only three steep blocks up Powell Street.

Our first full day included breakfast with one old friend, an afternoon Boston-Oakland baseball game, and dinner with two other friends. They had to get their little boy to bed so I had a couple hours of early evening light and a big city at my disposal. I took the train back to our hotel, fetched some postcards from my hotel room, and headed for the Borders. I got a tea and a snickerdoodle cookie, found a seat in the cafe, and began writing to friends.

And to each of those friends I couldn’t help but write ‘Guess where I am writing you from?”  I was in one of our most literary cities, surrounded by books, writing! Yes, only postcards…but writing in any case.  As I worked at my cards, the sunlight faded and the lights of the buildings outside grew brighter. Somewhere out past those lights were Coit Tower and Fishermen’s Wharf and Alcatraz and streetcars and the Pacific Ocean.  Suddenly I felt that I was in a very enviable place.  I would visit City Lights book store the next day but for that evening the second floor of a Borders felt like the best possible place to be.

For lovers of books and bookstores, be sure to our check out our blog links (on the right) from time to time.

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Aug 12 2011

ShareReads: Looking for Calvin

by David T

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.

Though it had a comparatively short life on the comics page, ending its original run more than 15 years ago, Calvin and Hobbes still has a tremendous following. As a longtime fan of the strip, I was intrigued by Nevin Martell’s Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip.

C&H creator Bill Watterson is an intensely private man who has succeeded in doing something quite unusual for a famous person in 21st century America – he has largely kept his personal life out of the media. He seldom gives interviews, discourages interest in himself as opposed to his work, and maintains his integrity to a degree for which he has sometimes been criticized. He turned away millions of dollars by refusing to allow his syndicate to license Calvin and Hobbes merchandise, and ended the strip early rather than see it outlive its freshness and originality.

Not surprisingly, Watterson chose not to give his biographer an interview, or otherwise participate in the creation of Martell’s book. That could have been a fatal blow to the book, but it’s not. Martell visited Watterson’s hometown, met people who knew him, including his mother, and interviewed many other cartoonists, most of whom hold Watterson’s work in high esteem. The result is a book that tells those of us who love Calvin and Hobbes a little more about how it came into being, explains why it stands out as something special, and, best of all, encourages us to revisit the strips themselves. In addition to Martell’s book, DCPL has more than a dozen collections of C&H strips; if you haven’t checked them out, you’re in for a treat. Don’t miss the ones in which Calvin shows his own unique uses for libraries and reference librarians!

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Aug 10 2011

National treasure

by Dea Anne M

August 10th marks the anniversary of the passage of the  Smithsonian Institution Act, an event which paved the way for the establishment of the immense and awe-inspiring collection of museums and research facilities that are collectively known as the Smithsonian Institution.

In the 1800’s, a British scientist named James Smithson stipulated in his will that should his nephew die without heirs, then the whole of the Smithson estate would go to the government of the United States to create an “Establishment for the increase and diffusion of Knowledge among men.” Ironically enough, Smithson had never visited the United States.

Today, the Smithsonian Institution includes19 museums, the National Zoo, and nine research centers. Most of these are in D.C., but some are located in New York City, Virginia, and other places. The Institution is functionally and legally a body of the U.S. government and employs its own police force.

The institution has over 136 million items in its collection. Some of these include:

  • The Hope Diamond
  • A giant squid
  • The Wright Flyer
  • A Harley-Davidson XR-750
  • Kermit the Frog
  • Bee-Gees, Thundercats, and Flintstones lunch boxes
  • A 1955 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon
  • …and many more.

Even if you can’t make the trip to D.C., DCPL has resources to help you learn more about this precious national treasure.

For a general overview of the institution, try The Smithsonian: 150 years of adventure, discovery, and wonder by James Conaway, A Picture Tour of the Smithsonian, or Treasures of Smithsonian by Edwards Park.

For museum specific material try:

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum: an autobiography edited by Michael J. Neufeld and Alex M. Spencer, The National Museum of Natural History by Philip Kopper, or America’s National Gallery of Art: a gift to the nation by Philip Kopper.

For kids, try S is for Smithsonian: America’s museum alphabet by Marie and Roland Smith or The Smithsonian Institution by Mary Collins.

And for your viewing pleasure, don’t miss Night at the Museum: Battle of  the Smithsonian starring Ben Stiller and Amy Adams.

By the way, James Smithson finally did come to this country. His remains are entombed in the Smithsonian Institution Building , otherwise known as “the Castle” (seen at the top of this post).

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Aug 8 2011

Six Word Library Memoirs

by Jesse M

A couple of years ago I posted about Six Word Stories, an extreme form of flash fiction reputedly invented by Ernest Hemingway. An offshoot of the six word story is the six word memoir, where the author relates a real-life tale rather than a fictional story; this variant was introduced by online magazine SMITH and examples can be viewed here. In today’s post I will discuss a further spin-off of that format, the six word library memoir. I was introduced to the concept after reading this article written by a professor at UMUC who teaches a course on library skills for undergraduate students. For extra credit at the end of his course, students are asked to compose a memoir that conveys in exactly six words a library or reading or research experience.   His students’ submissions range from appreciative to seemingly frustrated, and many are quite droll.  I’ve included some of the more inspired memoirs below:

  • Contented quiet hours among beautiful books.
  • What happened to the card catalog?
  • Must bend databases to my will.
  • Would pay for a researching robot.
  • Finally, I know how to cite!
  • Still love to read paper books!
  • Is the Kindle version available yet?
  • Never met a librarian I disliked.

Try your hand at composing your own library memoir! Here’s mine:

  • Came for books, stayed for career.

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Aug 5 2011

First Novels – Blind Sight

by Ken M

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 seem to have this thing about first novels. I read lots of them, often without realizing until I’m into them that they are indeed debuts. That’s been the case recently in my reading life.

Last week I finished Blind Sight by Meg Howrey. This is the story of a seventeen year old boy named Luke, who was raised by his mom and grandmother, both of whom are very spiritual from different perspectives. During the course of the novel, he makes various attempts at a college entrance essay while he visits his famous father in Los Angeles. Having grown up in the east in a very unassuming environment, Luke is immersed in the show business world, and the demands it makes of the father he is just beginning to get to know.

I really enjoyed this one for the most part. I’m drawn to characterization and plot, and this novel satisfies on both those counts. Luke is (for the most part) grounded, mature and very insightful, though he makes his mistakes along the way. The novel is written in a curious mix of first and third person, but this enhanced the novel for me; it caused me to care more about Luke as I began to prefer hearing him speak in his own voice.

The other major players in Luke’s life, his mom and grandmother, his two sisters and (as the novel progresses) his father are all developed in differing degrees, but none seemed sketchy or undeveloped. Each reader will have to decide whether the ending is conclusive enough; having had a little time to reflect, I’m ok with the author’s choice not to tie up every loose end.

Right on the heels of Blind Sight, I picked up David Abbott’s The Upright Piano Player, which I still haven’t finished. I also have this thing about England, so this appeals to me for the British setting. It’s paced differently, almost like a collage of images. The timeline isn’t straight forward, but unlike some novels which jump from one time period to another, this one isn’t annoying me on that front. The main character in this one is a retired man who is coping with loss on various fronts. The novel opens as he is trying to deal with his grief for his beloved grandson, then shifts to an earlier period when he was more recently retired and divorced, and trying to make sense of the unchartered space ahead of him. This one is sad, but it’s holding my interest so far.

So, are you a first novel fan too? What would you recommend? What’s my next reading fix?

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