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

August 2012

Aug 31 2012

ShareReads Wrap Up 2012

by Ken M

The days have flown by, and here we are at the end of another summer of fulfilling reading. Adult Summer Reading participants have until September 4 to turn in forms and be eligible for prizes. Revisit the posts listed below to see all the recommended titles. Thanks to all for participating!

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Aug 29 2012

French Fries and Lettuce

by Veronica W

There was a time when I believed my primary role in the library was to point the way to the “good” books; those materials which would educate, enlighten and uplift the reader. The young especially, needed to have their malleable minds molded to encourage a taste for the enduring works. So I smiled with favor on the 11 year old who was checking out Treasure Island and not so much on the one who clutched a lurid comic book… yes, it was called a comic book then.

However I’ve looked at shelves from both sides now and after reading some really fun but lightweight stuff, I realize… junk tastes good! If you’ve noticed, there is an irresistible pull towards things that are bad for us, whether it is food (french fries), relationships or reading matter.  Even if they’re not really bad, they may have no real nutritional value… kind of like iceberg lettuce. Given a choice between reading Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, which I plowed through in college, or Georgette Heyer’s The Reluctant Widow, guess which one I would choose on a rainy afternoon?

Faced with what I considered a quandary, (after all, I had a standard to uphold) I decided to create a totally new classification: junky good books. These books would have all the  adventurous, exciting, romantic or prurient things you look for in a less-than-classic work but would not elicit sneers from the purists. The list started off small but as I began it, I realized that some of my titles actually were rather “classy” after all. Take a look.

If you’re looking for horror, in my humble opinion nothing beats Stephen King’s The Shining. I confess I had to sleep with the light on after I read it. Although only a short story, The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson, is also unequaled for its subtle horror and its ability to scare the pants off you without using blood and gore.

Spy thrillers don’t get much better than John Buchan’s The Thirty Nine Steps, which was made into a movie twice. The story revolves around Richard Hannay who witnesses a murder, learns of an assassination plot, and races across the wilds of Scotland in an attempt to stop it.

Daphne Du Maurier is one of my favorite authors and while almost everyone knows Rebecca, few are familar with Jamaica Inn. A historical suspense story which takes place on the windswpt Cornish coast, it has  smugglers, pirates and a surprising ending. It was made into a movie starring Jane Seymour.

For those who  desire heavy breathing,  groping hands and cries of ecstasy, D.H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover,  a forbidden read when I was a teenager, has it all. Of course, by today’s standards it may be considered tame.

Although by no means a classic, M.M Kaye’s The Shadow of the Moon is one of the best stories I have ever read. Masterfully written, it is a tale of the Sepoy Rebellion in India and has history, great action and romance as well as cultural exploration. Although rather long (614 pages), it was an enjoyable read from beginning to the end.

I love french fries. Those greasy little sticks, slathered in catsup and dusted with salt, call to me from any menu. It’s pretty much the same siren call I hear when I pick up a less than worthy or edifying work, know that it’s really just “lettuce” and hurry to check it out.

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Aug 27 2012

On Thinkin’ Up Stuff To Blog About

by Jnai W

Sunday is the day that has become my default blog post writing day. There is that part of me that would love to have several blog posts waiting, cued up and ready to publish—one after another—so that I wouldn’t feel so rushed (and so guilty when perhaps the quality of my writing has suffered for lack of time and preparation). But that doesn’t always happens. My muse is capricious…and she likes to sleep in on Sundays.

I do other things while waiting for lightning to strike. I dumb out in front of my computer, scouring gossip blogs, checking my email and, mostly, clicking on video after video on YouTube. I click on a variety of videos—tutorials on roller setting afro-textured hair, tips on applying make up like Kim Kardashian and techniques for playing piano using the Nashville Number system.

The Nashville Number system? That’s extraordinary! is what I’m thinking instead of coming up with a blog idea. Since my muse appears to have gone on some day trip far, far away, I decide I’d be better served practicing what I’m learning from InstantPianoGenius on YouTube. The blog post will come together…or not. Who can say?

I run to my Yamaha keyboard and am astonished at the progress I’m making. While tentatively, yet proudly plonking my way through the 3-chorded “Twist and Shout” I’m thinking that I may actually be able to teach myself how to play keyboard. Rather out-of-the-blue, I remember a well-spoken little girl at Decatur library checking out a huge book about sewing the day before. When I asked her if she knew how to sew she said “No, but I thought I might check out this book and teach myself.”

This made me think of things I’ve learned or attempted to teach myself using library materials. There’s the Learn The Essentials of Piano DVD series featuring Talc Tolchin, a highly skilled, slightly extraterrestrial (in my opinion) piano master. There are the Origami Yodas I’ve tried (and failed at) making, inspired by the hilarious The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger. There is the Eggs For The Infanta recipe featured in an anthology of M.F.K Fisher’s work A Stew or A Story. One idea for a delicious sounding tea I gleaned from a great novel American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar; I haven’t made it yet but perhaps I’ll give it a try next Sunday.

At that moment my muse, well-rested, refreshed and a little tanned, saunters in like the whole day hasn’t just passed. She’s pointing at the computer screen and the words I’ve just typed.

“You’re welcome,” she offers, blithely.

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Aug 24 2012

ShareReads: Caution School Zone!

by ShareReads

ShareReads intro

As I was driving to work I realized traffic was busier than usual. Unaware of the start of the school year I was smack dab in the middle of blinking lights, stop signs, twenty-five miles per hour school zones and  happy kids eager to enter school to learn and make friends. A jolt of reality hit me of how far I had come from those formative years but how in ways I yearned to return to a more structured and protected life. So I went in search for the authors who I loved as a child but could still enjoy as an adult. I allowed Shel Silverstein to remind me about relationships in The Missing Piece Meets the Big O:

“The missing piece sat alone waiting for someone to come along and take it somewhere. Some fit… but could not roll… Others could roll but did not fit. One didn’t know a thing about fitting”

or the power of change in Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss:

“You do not like them. So you say. Try them! Try them! And you may. Try them and  you may, I say. Sam! If you will let me be I will try them. You will see.”

Who could forget the comfort of unconditional love and family in The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown:

“If you become a sailboat and sail away from me,” said his mother. “ I will become the wind and blow you where I want you to go.”

The memories…

Though I can never return to elementary school and the carefree world of childhood, remembering these books created for kids but still needed for adults gave me hope and renewed me for the day. I said to myself, “I’m going on a bear hunt. I’m going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! I’m not scared…”

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Aug 22 2012

Cooking the books

by Dea Anne M

I am just one of a legion of fans who love George R.R. Martin’s series of novels collectively known as A Song of Ice and Fire. Halfway into the first book, A Game of Thrones, I knew that I was hooked. Martin’s work inspires a great deal of admiration and devotion in his followers and has been, in fact,  the subject of several posts on this blog ( for example here and here).  One of the latest Martin-inspired creations is the wonderful cookbook A Feast of Ice and Fire: the official companion cookbook by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Leher. Truly a labor of love, this book is compiled from the authors’ clever blog, The Inn at the Crossroads (featured in this post by my fellow blogger Jesse). A prominent feature of Martin’s series is his detailed descriptions of meals enjoyed (or not) by his characters. Monroe-Cassel and Leher’s blog project recreates dishes from the different regions that Martin has invented for his books. One of my favorite aspects of both the blog and the cookbook is that there is often a medieval version of the recipe on offer as well as a modern version. The authors have clearly done their research regarding the cooking and flavors of medieval Europe and their notes on the recipes are fascinating to read. Plus the recipes sound delicious!  I for one can’t wait to try cooking the Quails Drowned in Butter and the Almond Crusted Trout.  If you too are a fan of Martin’s work, I encourage you to check out this very interesting work. I promise you don’t have to be a cook to enjoy it!

DCPL has other cookbooks inspired by works of fiction that you may want to look into. Jan Karon’s Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader edited by Martha McIntosh includes recipes for dishes mentioned throughout Karon’s much beloved Mitford series. Joanne Fluke, who writes a mystery series featuring bakery owner Hannah Swensen regales fans with Joanne Fluke’s Lake Eden Cookbook which features new recipes as well as those from the books. For the younger set, don’t miss The Little House Cookbook: frontier foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic stories by Barbara Walker if you’re a fan, as was I, of the Ingalls/Wilder saga. Finally, check out Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook: recipes inspired by Dr. Seuss! by Georgeanne Brennan. Included are recipes for (among many others) Pink Yink Ink Drink, Glunker Stew, and yes, Green Eggs and Ham featuring guacamole, cilantro, and parsley.

Do you have a favorite cookbook inspired by a work of fiction? Is there a book that you’d love to see inspire a cookbook?

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Aug 20 2012

Mysteries and small towns

by Amanda L

This summer I discovered a great new television series, Longmire. The series takes place in Wyoming and the main character is a sheriff who always seems to have a dead body on his hands.  I was pleasantly surprised after reading the credits of the show that it was based on a series of books which was written by Craig Johnson. Being the library person I am, I proceeded to look at the DCPL catalog to discover that we had three of the books in the series. 

A few weeks later, I went back to the catalog to order the first in the series which the library had but was disappointed that there was a small waiting list. I placed my name on the list but I really had a hankering for a good mystery that takes place in the western United States. I decided to see if the resource NoveList might produce a list that would be similar to the Longmire series. Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series had already crossed my mind while I was watching the show. (I have seen the movies based on the books starring Tom Selleck.) NoveList can be found on the Reference Database page under the book section. Below is a sampling of books that NoveList suggested I try if I liked Craig Johnson’s Longmire series.

Want to read the entire Longmire series? Although the Library does not have all of the books in the series, you can always use the interlibrary loan service to read most of the others in the series.

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Frances Farmer (1913-1970) was an American film and stage actress better remembered today for her traumatic private life than her professional accomplishments. In the early 1980s, Jessica Lange was Oscar-nominated for her starring performance in the film Frances, a somewhat fictionalized account of Farmer’s life, including the years she spent involuntarily confined to a mental hospital. Many of Farmer’s fans and supporters believe that she may not have been as seriously ill as her family believed, that she may have been mostly guilty of being an unhappy, outspoken, and volatile woman at a time when those traits were not always well-received.

Peter Shelley’s Frances Farmer: The Life and Films of a Troubled Star has two major components. The first section of the book tries to sort out fact from fiction in previous accounts of the actress’ life, as told in biographies, the aforementioned film, and a controversial memoir that Farmer authorized but may not have written. In the second half, Shelley takes a detailed look at the legacy left by Frances Farmer in her films. While she may not belong to the pantheon of great actresses, Shelley convincingly makes the case that the best of her work merits serious critical attention, which he provides here.

As so often happens when you read one book, Shelley’s led me to another. One of the long unanswered questions about Farmer’s life, which Shelley investigated in writing his book, was whether she was lobotomized during her years as a mental patient. In The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness, author Jack El-Hai wrestles with a complex question. Was Dr. Walter Freeman (1895-1972), the controversial physician who championed the widespread use of lobotomies to treat mental illness (and was long-rumored to have performed the procedure on Frances Farmer), a fearless pioneer, a grossly irresponsible doctor with delusions of grandeur, or simply a tragically misguided man who did his best to help patients who otherwise had few chances for a productive life? (If you’re a follower of the Kennedy family history, you might know that one of Dr. Freeman’s patients was JFK’s sister Rosemary, though the operation apparently did her more harm than good).

These may not be the kind of books you want to drop into your beach bag to read by the pool this summer. But if you’re in the mood to read something that will keep you thinking long after you’ve turned the last page, give one, or both, a try.

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Aug 15 2012

Still the Highest Calling

by Veronica W

Her name was Miss Blanchard and she was so pretty. She also smelled good and she was very, very kind. She seemed old to me then, although she was probably only about 23 or 24. She had infinite patience with a 6 year old who had never been to any school before and who could only cry and ask to go home.  She hugged me and gave me treats and let me stand next to her when the terror of being away from everything familiar overwhelmed me. In my young mind the teacher standard was forever set.

Years and years and more years ago, teaching was a high calling, especially in the African-American community.  Except for being a doctor—or a mortician—there was no more respectable  profession, and you did your family and neighbors proud when you became a teacher. Not so much now. Tired, underpaid and so often unappreciated, today’s teachers must often look out over the sea of twenty five or thirty childish faces at the beginning of a new school year and wonder if it’s worth it.  The library shelves are filled with people who say it is.

The book Christy, by Catherine Marshall, was the first one I read that brought home to me the special role teachers have in children’s lives. Granted, it is a love story and reading it as a teen, that aspect certainly appealed to me.  However the story of a young woman who goes into the Appalachian village of Cutter Gap, Tennessee in 1912, to teach against incredible odds, drew me in. Later I read The Water is Wide, Pat Conroy’s extraordinary memoir about teaching in a two room schoolhouse on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina…and there are so many more stories like his.

Just to name a few of them:

These stories—true or fictional—remind us that teaching is still a privilege. The ability to impart knowledge and understanding to someone else is nothing short of wonderful. With very few exceptions, every other profession, no matter how lauded or revered, has started out with a teacher. Yes, there are scandals and horror stories about what goes on in some classrooms. However I am able to write this post and you are able to read it because someone, at some time, taught us how. If you were lucky, they were like Miss Blanchard.

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Aug 13 2012

On Jazz

by Jnai W

I’m thinking about my new favorite jazz standard (perhaps new isn’t the word I should use–how about song I’m newly aware of?)–the song “Nature Boy” sung by Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Nicole Chillemi among others. It’s a beautiful song with very few words and a haunting, delicately challenging melody. I’m drawn to songs like these that remind me not only of what singing is all about but also of how much of an art, an exact science songwriting is. Songwriting, like any other writing, is not just about putting words on a page or over some chords. It’s about placing the right words on a page, the right words over an instrumental, the perfect lyric to express everything we’ve ever wanted to say.

Jazz music has always been in my peripheral view for as long as I can remember. Growing up WCLK, Clark Atlanta University’s incredible radio station, was always in the background of every car ride. My mother had an amazing multi-CD jazz anthology that introduced me to the likes of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk (although my favorite song in this set was John Coltrane’s “Naima”—a song that I’d literally loop for hours, listening with my eyes closed).

But now as I think of jazz, I’m reminded of a few key things:

1) The voice can be as potent, as dynamic and as masterfully wielded as a trumpet, a piano or a double bass (and all of those instruments can sing and hum as beautifully as a voice). No one proves this point, in my opinion, quite like jazz vocalist, pianist, iconoclast Nina Simone—my favorite singer in the universe (Please don’t get me started!)

2) One impeccably placed lyric is worth a thousand pictures.

3) Jazz music is about understanding the rules and conventions of musical theory while respectfully playing within or outside of these rules…or breaking them altogether.

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Aug 10 2012

Sharereads: Fiction and Nonfiction

by Joseph M

ShareReads intro

I’m a voracious reader, and working in the library, I come across interesting books on a regular basis. That being the case, I often find myself reading multiple books at a time. What I’m reading at any given moment depends on the occasion and my mood, and can run the gamut of content and format types. Generally, I find it easier to juggle more than one book at a time when I’m switching primarily between a work of fiction and a work of nonfiction. Earlier this summer, I found myself in just such a situation, dividing my reading time between two great books, which I’m going to talk more about below.

First, the fiction. The novel is called Hunter’s Run, and I found it noteworthy for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is a collaborative effort between three authors: George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, and Daniel Abraham. All are notable writers on their own. George R. R. Martin is, among other things, the author of the bestselling Song of Ice and Fire series of books, on which the popular HBO series Game of Thrones is based. Gardner Dozois was the longtime editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine and has won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards for his work as a writer and editor of short fiction. Daniel Abraham is a prolific voice in American science fiction, and no stranger to successful collaborations, having penned the lauded epic Leviathan Wakes (unfortunately not yet available at DCPL) with author Ty Franck under the pseudonym James S. A. Corey.

There are many different ways for authors to collaborate on books, and in this case the story took shape over the course of several decades, passing back and forth between the authors and appearing in a number of different variations before publication in its present form in 2007. You can click here for a more detailed summary of the process. In addition to Hunter’s Run, Abraham and Dozois have separately collaborated with Martin on other projects.

But the writing process which created it isn’t the only fascinating thing about Hunter’s Run. It’s a science fiction novel, but with elements reminiscent of Western and Adventure/Exploration genres of literature. In many ways, it could be classified as a Space Western. The sense of a wild frontier is established with a description of the setting: a mostly-unexplored alien planet, settled by human colonists within living memory, and much of the action takes place in the wilderness away from the human communities. A majority of the characters and place names have a Latin American or Caribbean flavor, which also adds to the “Western” feel of the book.

Another aspect of the novel worth mentioning is the main character, Diego Rivera. Diego could definitely be classified as an antihero (and we’ve written about antihero protagonists before on ShareReads) at the start of the story, but he undergoes a fascinating internal transformation as the plot unfolds, providing an interesting counterpoint to his travels in the external world and allowing the authors to explore complex themes of memory, identity, communication, and the ways we are shaped by our experiences.

In addition to all of that, Hunter’s Run is also quite an exciting book, and does not lack for action and suspense; I certainly had trouble putting it down once I got started.

Now I’d like to talk a bit about What I Eat: Around The World In 80 Diets by Faith D’Aluisio and Peter Menzel, the excellent nonfiction work I enjoyed concurrently with the novel discussed above. Peter and Faith are a husband and wife team who have traveled the world and documented the lives of people they met through photography and essays. In previous works such as Material World and Hungry Planet, they arrange “family portraits” based on the theme of the work; all the household possessions of the family were piled together for the portraits in Material World, while in Hungry Planet the families were pictured with a week’s-worth of food. In What I Eat, the authors alter the concept, focusing on the food intake of individuals over the course of a single average day, and using meticulous research to determine a caloric count. In all, 80 individuals were profiled in the book, and are ranked from first to last in order of calories consumed. The result is fascinating, informative, and poignant. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone. For a “taste” of what the book has to offer, you can visit the official website. Or, you can just check it out from your local library!

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