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

June 2012

Jun 29 2012

ShareReads: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

by ShareReads

ShareReads intro

I am not normally drawn to realistic murder mysteries. I prefer my murders nice and tidy, light on details, heavy on wit and atmosphere. If the crime took place a century ago and on another continent, then so much the better. Every once in a while, however, a more realistic mystery is recommended to me over and over again. It shows up on “Best of …” lists and I feel compelled to see what all the fuss is about. That is how I discovered Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin.

Set in the small town of Chabot, Mississippi, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is the story of two men, one black and one white. They shared a brief but meaningful friendship when they were teenagers. This friendship ends, however, when a girl disappears and one of them is suspected of the crime. Twenty five years later, the men become reacquainted when another young girl disappears. While working to solve this new mystery, they discover secrets from their past that will either drive them apart or bring them together again.

This book was thoroughly enjoyable for a number of reasons. The characters were colorful and wonderfully flawed. The mysteries, past and present, unfolded slowly. And the mood of the location pervaded every scene. What I appreciated most about Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, however, was the beautifully subtle way in which the author dealt with relationships between races, between family members and between friends. In this book, as in life, things are rarely black or white. Usually, the most important things lie somewhere in between.

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Jun 27 2012

A fine pickle

by Dea Anne M

For me, every gardening season brings its own unique excitment and pleasures, and right now I’m re-experiencing the joys of the first summer produce. Ripe tomatoes, snappy beans, tart tomatillos—I love them all. This year, with the increased yields due to our raised bed garden, I’m eager to really dive in and start canning, pickling, and otherwise preserving the fruits of my labor. In the meantime, I’ve been discovering inspiration at the farmers market. While shopping a few weeks back, I selected a bag of Kirby cucumbers. These are the cute, chubby cukes (I think of them as the Golden Retriever puppy of the vegetable world) and they are meant for pickles. I wanted to start out with something easy and refrigerator pickles fill that bill. I’d been casting around for a good recipe/technique. One was too sweet. Another rendered my crisp little cukes into tasteless mini-blimps hued an unappetizing grayish green. Finally, I tried Ted Allen’s recipe from his fun new cookbook In My Kitchen: 100 recipes for food-lovers, passionate cooks, and enthusiastic eaters. This was it! An abundance of whole spices like coriander and mustard seeds along with plenty of garlic and chile peppers make for the crispy savory pickle of my dreams. I was planning to include a photo of my latest batch but I’m a little embarrassed to say that the jar already looks pretty picked over since, at my house, we can’t seem to stay away from it. Here’s an image of the recipe from the Food Network website. You’ll see that Ted’s pickles include cauliflower and carrot. I have used only cukes so far – with great results – but now that I have the technique more or less mastered I am looking forward to trying it with other types of produce.

Pretty much anyone who knows me knows that I love kitchen oriented “projects.” Does that describe you too? If so, DCPL has resources to help. I’m amused to look back and see that I posted on this exact topic just a little over a year ago, but I suppose that’s a testament to my seasonal enthusiasm. Here are some new books that will be of interest to those just coming to canning and preserving as well as those more experienced in the art of putting food by.

Food in jars: preserving in small batches year-round by Marisa McClellan

Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It: and other kitchen projects by Karen Solomon

Canning and Preserving All-In-One for Dummies by Eve Adamson

The Preservation Kitchen: the craft of making and cooking with pickles, preserves, and aigre-doux by Paul Virant

As an aside, one of my ongoing kitchen projects has been making a batch of yogurt every week. The technique involves no exotic equipment—just a saucepan, a bowl, a strainer, and some porous cloth—and the only ingredients are milk and a spoonful of the current batch of yogurt. It’s so easy to do and makes an absolutely delicious quart of  Greek style yogurt. I learned how from Jennifer Reese’s wonderful book Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: what you should and shouldn’t cook from scratch – over 120 recipes for the best homemade foods. This book is very entertaining, often hilarious, and it truly does tell you what costs less or tastes better to make and what you’ll do better to buy. Highly recommended!

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Jun 25 2012

I want to do that!

by Amanda L

I have a confession to make, I watch reality television. I love Ax Men, Wild Justice, Swamp People, American Pickers etc.  Recently, I realized that all of these shows are about the interaction between the people within a variety of careers. Watching Ax Men and Wild Justice it gives me a glimpse at what my life would have been like if I hadn’t changed my major in college at the end of my freshman year.

Swamp People and American Pickers fascinate me with how people can earn a learning. I never knew that people could earn a living hunting alligators or buying and selling old things.  There are so many careers out there that I never would have thought were available to people looking for a way to earn a living. What career did you aspire to be a part of when you were younger or what career would you like to pursue now? The library has many books that can give you a glimpse or information about a variety of careers.

Best green careers: explore opportunities in this rapid growing field by Jeffrey Dinsmore

The career chronicles: an insider’s guide to what jobs are really like: the good, the bad, and the ugly from over 750 professionals by Michael Gregory

 Odd jobs: 101 ways to make an extra buck by Abigail Gehring

The complete idiot’s guide to dream jobs by Brian O’Connell

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Jun 22 2012

ShareReads: Alice’s Piano

by Ken M

I just finished Alice’s Piano, a biography of the concert pianist, Alice Herz-Sommer, who is now the oldest living Holocaust survivor. Her remarkable story is one of determination, triumph and optimism.  This is one of two recently acquired titles about Ms. Herz-Sommer.

Alice was one of twins, and part of a musical family. All the sisters in her family learned to play the piano, and her brother was a violinist. After evening meals, the family often made music together, and word of these musicales spread throughout her town. She received fine musical training at the German Musical Academy in Prague, headed by Alexander von Zemlinsky (a prize pupil of Johannes Brahms, and later the friend and brother-in-law of Arnold Schoenberg). Alice made her debut playing the Chopin E-minor concerto with the Czech Philharmonic, and gave many concerts, including radio broadcasts; she was also highly regarded as a teacher.

After the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia, she was sent to Theresienstadt, along with her husband, Leopold, and their very young son, Stephan. Her talents were already well known upon her arrival, both to guards and prisoners alike. She was expected to continue to practice and give concerts in the camp; while she did, she strove to give her young son as normal a life as possible.  She made a project of mastering all the Chopin etudes, gradually performing them in groups, and then as a whole concert made up of both books. She gave weekly concerts from her copious repertoire, and brought temporary solace and even joy to all those who heard her.

After the war, Alice taught at the Jerusalem Conservatory.  Stephan took the Hebrew name, Raphael, and took up the cello, becoming a fine artist and teacher himself, and living and working in Great Britain. Alice followed him there years later.

Though it might seem like it, I really haven’t told you everything about Alice and her family. She’s a wise and optimistic person, who cares as much for people as she does for music. She’s still with us, beloved by friends in at least eight countries. I hope you can make time in the near future for her inspiring life story.

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Jun 20 2012

No, Not That One

by Veronica W

When a shelf holding a part of my personal library broke and books cascaded down on my head, I brought forth that word which had been relegated to the farthest reaches of my mind; weed.  My collection of books spanned over thirty years and each one had been selected because, at the time anyway, I loved the book. Like a greedy chipmunk, I wanted to fill my cheeks—or shelves—with things for future use.  However, unless I wanted my house to look like the woman’s in Sara Stewart’s The Library, I would have to divest my holdings.

As I scanned the shelves, I pulled out and fondly glanced through, some long ago favorites (no matter that my hands came away rather dusty). On The Road with Charles Kuralt, Five Smooth Stones, Lilies of the FieldGet Fuzzy: Groovitude had all at one time been worthy of purchase.  There was even a strange book entitled The Grand Panjandrum and 1,999 Other Rare, Useful and Delightful Words and Expressions.  (Did you know that “elflocks” is another name for matted hair?)

Almost weeping now, I moved on to the poetry section. Everyone should have a personal copy of  the Complete Pelican Shakespeare, The Poetry of Robert FrostThe Norton Anthology of PoetryAnd Still I Rise or The Prophet, shouldn’t they?  What to do, what to do?!!  My collection of classics abutted the poetry section and my eyes lit on Dodsworth, Summer of My German Soldier, Old Man and the Sea and Persuasion, among many others. Granted, I hadn’t picked up any of them in years but so what? They were still keepers. Needing a comfort break, I headed for the freezer and some Haagen-Dazs.

Fortified—and being made of sterner stuff—I waded back into the fray. I refused to look at my rather extensive collection of children’s books. Anything by Seuss, Wilder,  the Woods, Willems, Sabuda, Hamilton, Myers or Greenfield was there to stay. Perhaps the cookbooks? My hand hovered over Deceptively Delicious, written by Jerry Seinfield’s health conscious wife, then touched Jan Karon’s Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader.  Ann Byrn’s The Cake Mix Doctor was a contender but glancing through it and seeing the mouth watering illustrations, I put it back. In fact, I was sure that one day I would make something wonderful out of all of those books and when everyone asked me for the recipes, I would whip out the books.

Sighing deeply, I sat down finally in a chair and looked at my “friends.” I couldn’t get rid of any of them. With pursed lips and a narrowed gaze, I honed in on my clunky, outdated desktop computer, which took up almost an entire wall in the small room. Visions of a new laptop danced in my head, along with sleek new shelves, waiting to hold anything else I wanted, needed, to keep. Mentally dusting my hands in satisfaction, I shoved that distasteful word (weed) back into the deepest, darkest corner of my mind. Problem solved…for now.

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I’ve been allowing myself to splurge on one album a month (or rather, I’ve allotted myself a budget of one album a month). Sometimes, to help myself decide which music to check out, I’ll visit a website like Metacritic, a great site that gives you an overview of new releases and how they rank among leading critics. Now if you were a teenage girl in the 90s like I was (or just a fan of wonderful music in general ) you can probably imagine my delight when I noticed that Fiona Apple is releasing her fourth studio album this month.

“Squeeeeeeaallll!” I squealed.

I resolved in that moment that that album would be my monthly music expenditure…but then I remembered that I’d just purchased The Notorious B.I.G‘s Ready To Die remaster from iTunes. But shortly on the heels of that realization I decided that I would simply break my rule and purchase Fiona Apple’s new album anyway, fiscal responsibility be doggoned. Just as I was about to search for Apple’s new album through my phone (as of this writing it’s not available yet) I read the name of the new album —The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do—and decided that I would not download but instead walk into my nearest music retailer (or, more likely, Target) and purchase the actual CD for the music and the liner notes.

Perhaps this new release boasts lyrics just as intriguing as Apple’s previous albums, including another eccentrically-titled set like 1999’s (deep breath) When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He’ll Win the Whole Thing Fore He Enters the Ring There’s No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You’ll Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won’t Matter, Cuz You Know That You’re Right (or When The Pawn for short).

Fiona Apple has been, since she thundered and sulked her way onto the musical landscape back in the mid 90s, an intriguing artist and one of my favorites. She spoke to the confused, soulful and angst-ridden idealist in many a youngster—that is, if you were a fan of hers. Her wise-beyond-her-years jazz-tinged vocals and her prodigious piano talent were a force to be reckoned with (still are).

I think about this impending Fiona Apple release and it reminds me of all the exemplary female talent that flooded the music scene in the 90s. I try my darnedest to not succumb to musical nostalgia that borders on snobbery (i.e “Music really went to the dogs after my generation came of age”). But, to me, the 90s felt like an incredible and exciting time to be a young woman with a song in her heart, a mic in her hand and something to get off her chest. I suppose lots of people feel this way about the music of their formative years but it was the work of young artists that were growing up right along with me that really fostered my love for music. Singer/songwriters  like Alanis MorrissetteSarah McLachlan, Lauryn Hill, Sheryl Crow, Jewel, Joan OsborneShawn Colvin, Tori Amos and Paula Cole made me wanna pick up a guitar and figure out how to set my journal entries to music. The list is, essentially, endless of great musical artists whose work spoke to me when I was young. I’m just grateful for their work…and for another Fiona Apple record. Now if we could just cajole Ms. Lauryn Hill for a new release (Please, L. Boogie?)

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Jun 15 2012

ShareReads: The Art of Tearing Up

by Jimmy L

ShareReads intro

Admit it, we’ve all cried at the movies. Many have cried at the end of a book. And some may have even cried at the cancellation of their favorite TV show (OK, so I’m stretching the category a bit here). But how many of us have cried in front of a painting in a museum? That is the subject of a book I recently borrowed from the library purely because I found its unconventional subject matter intriguing. It’s called Pictures & Tears: A History of People Who Have Cried in Front of Paintings by James Elkins. Elkins claims that we have lost touch with our emotional reaction to paintings, and whereas previous generations had a highly emotional relationship with art, the past 100 years of art history have been the driest in terms of tear-duct/facial interaction.

One of the things I loved about this book is that it is a non-academic humanist look at art history by an academic. Elkins wrestles with the idea of art criticism caught between intellectual distance and emotional investment, and wonders if the two approaches had to be mutually exclusive. Are they not both valid? Time and again he runs into the problem where other academics and art historians simply wouldn’t talk to him. And many of them who did talk to him wanted to remain anonymous so as not to ruin their credibility. He constantly heard the following reaction, slightly paraphrased by me: “Crying (and other more base human reactions) are not a proper way of interacting with art. In fact, the phenomenon doesn’t even deserve to be studied.”

"Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun" by Van Gogh

But study it he does. Being an academic, Elkins has loved paintings for all sorts of reasons, but has never cried in front of one himself. So the phenomenon is not foreign to him, but at the same time he is too knowledgeable in art history for a painting to catch him unaware in that welling-up-weepy way. So he decides to ask other (normal-ler) people: “What paintings (if any) have you cried in front of, and why (or why not)?”

I won’t go into them here, but it turns out there are many reasons, and some of them are enlightening while others not so much. Though not perfect by any means, I really enjoyed this book because of its unconventional treatment of its subject. Another book comes to my mind when speaking of books that think outside the box, Freakonomics (though I could write a whole blog post on why I disliked that book). To this end, I will pose a question: “What books have you read that treat a subject in a completely new or unconventional way?” Alternately, you may also answer Elkin’s question: “What paintings (if any) have you cried in front of, and why (or why not)?”

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Jun 13 2012

Art and appetite

by Dea Anne M

I think I can say that I’m not the biggest Hemingway fan in the world but probably the book of his that I like best is A Moveable Feast — his memoir, told in a series of essays, of his life in Paris after WWI. Perhaps part of my admiration for that book has to do with my fascination with a period of history when  so many American writers, artists, and thinkers made the choice to live and work in Europe far from the limits and conventions of home. Many of these expatriates were not without a safety net though, and I have to admit that a particular passage in Hemingway’s book irritated me for awhile.

“It is necessary to handle yourself better when you have to cut down on food so you will not get too much hunger-thinking. Hunger is a good discipline and you learn from it.”

“Hunger is Good Discipline,” A Moveable Feast

Now, Hemingway was far from starving in Paris as his wife Hadley came into the marriage with an inheritance that supported them more than comfortably (of course those dollars went a long way in the Paris of those times). “Hmph!” I thought, convinced as I was that Hemingway was merely posturing. These days, I think a bit more kindly about those lines as a re-reading of the book not too long ago reminded me that the book as a whole deals in many ways with hunger  not so much of the physical body but of the spirit. Hemingway is hungry in these essays for experience and for the dedicated pursuit of art. I believe now that I was overly influenced by a later persona of Hemingway who honestly mostly struck me as a macho braggart. A Moveable Feast reminds me how much more there is to Hemingway as a writer and how very enjoyable his prose can be.

All this musing about Hemingway has been inspired by a favorite website that I have recently discovered, Paper and Salt, whose stated mission is to “…attempt to recreate and reinterpret the dishes that iconic authors discuss in their letters, diaries, essays, and fiction.” The site hasn’t been up for a long time and there are not, as yet, a huge number of posts but the writing is both eloquent and entertaining, the photography is beautiful, and the recipes…well,  they’ve made me want to get into my kitchen as quickly as I can and start cooking. I don’t know about you, but Lobster Tail with Spaghetti and Bread Crumbs inspired by the letters of Gabriel Garcia Marquez sounds pretty scrumptious. Apparently,  Marquez enjoyed a long-time correspondence with Fidel Castro and many of their letters involved discussions on best methods of preparing seafood. Oscar Wilde was famous, if not notorious, for his love of champagne and his recipe is a luscious sounding cocktail involving the bubbly stuff and fresh strawberries. I think my favorite post so far though is the one for Truman Capote and Italian Summer Pudding. In Too Brief a Treat: the letters of Truman Capote Capote writes “Food. I seldom think of anything else.” I’m not quite that obsessed (I think), but the posted recipe is certainly something that I wouldn’t mind my thoughts lingering on. Featured ingredients are bittersweet chocolate, raspberries, ladyfingers, and mascarpone cheese. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth but I think it’s irresistible. Need proof? Just look…

Image from paperandsalt.org

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Jun 11 2012

Got it Covered?

by Greg H

One of my musical passions is the cover song.  I love hearing my favorite musicians put their stamp on another artist’s song or, conversely, hearing my favorite musicians being reworked by other artists.  At times the results can be disappointing. Sometimes the artist performing the cover simply produces a note for note rendition of the original, bringing nothing fresh to the song.  On some occasions, however, the cover artist produces a version that meets or exceeds the original and makes the song a classic all over again. Joe Cocker certainly did that when he performed the Beatles “A Little Help From My Friends”, infusing the song with a passion and urgency that the Fab Four did not.  And have you ever heard Johnny Cash’s version of the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt”?  I would not have guessed that the Man in Black was even aware of the Nine Inch Nails existence, let alone that song. Yet he takes that already disturbing song and finds a level of even deeper solitary suffering.

This may be sort of a golden age for fans of cover songs.  Tribute albums, audio valentines from one group of musicians to the bands and performers who influenced them, seem to hit the shelves regularly these days.  Matthew Sweet and former Bangle Susanna Hoffs are two musicians who have collaborated on two collections called Under the Covers on which they play their favorite songs from the 60’s and the 70’s.  Movie soundtracks also provide a rich source of cover songs. The problem for the cover song buff is finding out all the ways a favorite song might be available.

A nice solution to that problem is the Covers Project website.  Music fans from all over have pooled their musical knowledge to compile an alphabetical listing of recording artists and the songs that they have covered, as well as their songs that have been covered by others. Users can search by the group or artist’s name or they can search by the song.  For example, I love the old Townes Van Zandt song “Pancho and Lefty”.   A quick search reveals that Emmylou Harris, Dick Gaughan, Bob Dylan, Counting Crows, Steve Earle and Willie Nelson have all recorded versions of the Van Zandt classic. If you’re interested in more information or purchasing the tune, each song listed includes links to Amazon, iTunes, or MusicBrainz. There are also links to Facebook and Twitter if you just want to share.  And if you know of another version that they haven’t listed, you can add that to the webpage. (Delbert McClinton did “Pancho and Lefty” too!)

The Covers Project’s website is a lot of fun to snoop around on, and you might even learn that your favorite song by your favorite group wasn’t theirs to begin with.

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Jun 8 2012

ShareReads: The Maya

by ShareReads

Long before other world cultures conceived the use of zero, the Maya of Mexico and Central America were using zero to calculate and indicate dates in their books and on their monuments. They could calculate dates millions of years in the past and far into the future. The current epoch in the Maya calendar began in 3114 B.C. and ends in December of this year. The Maya built large cities with towering temples; to this day, the tallest building in Belize is a Maya pyramid at the ruins of Caracol. When the artist Frederick Catherwood first tried to draw a picture of a Maya carving at Copan, around 1840, he had difficulty wrapping his mind around what he was seeing because the art was so alien to his way of thinking.

I’ve been interested in Maya history and culture since I read Time among the Maya by Ronald Wright. That book tells of Wright’s travels in Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala during the early 1980’s. I found the book fascinating, if a bit over my head. When I read it I had never traveled to the area where the Maya live, I was not familiar with the names of the ancient cities Wright described and I had no clue about Maya culture, past or present. Since reading that book I have visited areas in Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and Mexico where Maya live and have enjoyed almost every minute of my travels there.

I just read Michael D. Coe’s The Maya and wish I had done so years ago. Coe is a noted anthropologist and first published The Maya in 1966, but he has revised it every few years since then. While it could be used as a textbook, The Maya is written in a straightforward style that is easy to follow. I finally feel I am starting to understand the development of the Maya civilization and how the seats of political power shifted over the centuries. This book also has information on modern Maya culture and tips on visiting the area, though the focus is on the past. Other books on Maya history are A Forest of Kings, The House of the Governor, The Blood of Kings, and Maya Art and Architecture.

If the ruins of Maya cities interest you,An Archaeological Guide to Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, by Joyce Kelly, is a great book to read. Kelly also wrote An Archaeological Guide to Northern Central America, which covers sites in Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Thinking of visiting the Maya region? The Library has a number of travel guides, including Cancún and Cozumel, The Rough Guide to the Yucatán, Honduras and the Bay Islands, Guatemala, Belize and the Yucatán, and Lonely Planet/Mexico. These guides and others are good even if you have no interest in ruins; they tell you how to get around, suggest places to stay, and recommend restaurants. Restaurants in Yucatán often feature Maya cuisine, and these guides will let you know ones that are worth trying. The Maya culture covers a large area, from the Pacific coast to northern Yucatán, so there is something for almost every traveler to be found there.

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