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

June 2013

Jun 28 2013

ShareReads: Anti-Summer Books

by Jimmy L

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I never understood the concept of a summer read. It’s supposed to be light, breezy, and fun, right? Well, I’ve always gone the exact opposite route. This summer, I decided to revisit Gitta Sereny’s books. A while ago I read her book Cries Unheard: Why Children Kill: The Story of Mary Bell. It was captivatingly dark; I was spellbound by Sereny’s journalistic prowess, and her writing was always clear and empathetic. If you don’t already know the story of Mary Bell, here it is in a nutshell:

Cries Unheard coverIn 1968: an eleven year old girl named Mary Bell killed two boys (ages 3 and 4). The courts tried her, found her guilty, put her in jail until she was in her 20’s. This book revisits her case years after she was released from jail and tries to figure out why she did it, what her life was like before she committed this crime, and whether she really understood the gravity of what she did at the time. I don’t want to give any of it away, but I was so engrossed that I wanted to read the whole thing in one sitting… I couldn’t only because it was so overwhelming: at times so depressing, at other times funny and even joyful. I had to take breathers because it was so intense.

The author does a good job of bringing out the various threads of the story. She’s compassionate and understanding, but also she makes it clear that none of this is an excuse for the crime itself. She makes the case that when a child commits a horrible crime like this, the court’s job is not only to say whether she was guilty of the crime or not, but also to ask why a child would do this? And to help the child psychologically with their problems.

This time around, I am reading her book Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth. It’s about Hitler’s architect and armaments minister. He was “one of the few defendants at the Nuremberg Trials to take responsibility for Nazi war crimes, even as he denied knowledge of the Holocaust.” Sereny is drawn to these dark corners of humanity, and yet she does not blindly accuse. She stares into evil and tries to understand every thread of how it came to be. Through hours of interviews and research, she has written a biography full of insight and compassion. I’m only a fraction of the way into this huge book, but I’m already enjoying it immensely.

Do you also have an unconventional take on what makes a good summer book? What’s your idea of a good summer read?

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Jun 26 2013

June is National Soul Food Month

by Glenda

Soul_Food_DinnerSoul food originated in Africa and came to the United States with African slaves. Foods such as okra and rice, which are common in West Africa, were introduced to the Americas as a result of the transatlantic slave trade. These foods were dietary staples among the slaves. Foods such as corn from the Americas, turnips from Morocco and cabbage from Portugal would become staples in African-American cuisine. Slaves were fed as cheaply as possible; they were given the scraps: pig ears, pig feet, ox tail, ham hocks, hog jowls, trip and skin of animals. The slaves developed dishes using the scrap parts and these dishes became a part of their daily diet. They used onions and garlic to add flavor and lard for baking and frying. In addition to the scrap animal parts they were given the small intestine of the pig, or chitterlings, which were a poor dish for Europeans during medieval times.

These cooking rituals would be passed on from generation to generation of African-Americans, and these recipes are alive and well even today. Of course these dishes are not prepared in the same manner as during slave times, but they have not changed a whole lot. For instance, chitterlings are prepared in African-American homes during the holidays every year. In my family, my mother, grandmother and aunts prepare chitterlings every Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. Chitterlings are cooked with onions and garlic the same as the slaves, but are prepared in much nicer cookware and maybe with a little vinegar. Fried corn, a major staple in soul food, was introduced to the slaves by the Native Americans and continues to be a popular dish today. Other products made from corn, such as cornbread, grits, whiskey and moonshine are still a part of the African-American diet.

When I think of soul food, I think of Sunday dinners that include fried chicken, fried corn, macaroni casserole, collard greens, turnip greens, cornbread, fried pork chops smothered in gravy, black eyed peas, potato salad and sweet potato pie. I can smell these wonderful dishes right now. Some people say soul food is not exactly the food a person cooks; it’s that the person cooks from the heart. Personally I think the enslaved African women put their heart and soul into the food they were cooking for their families.

If you would like to cook some of these wonderful dishes, you should come to the library and check out African-American Kitchen: Cooking from our heritage by Angela Shelf Medearis, The Welcome Table: African-American heritage cooking by Jessica B. Harris, and Down Home with the Neely’s: A southern family cookbook by Patrick Neely.  Or for a lighter version of soul food try Healthy Soul Food Cooking by Fabiola Gaines.

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Jun 21 2013

ShareReads: I don’t read that!

by Heather S

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outliersI’ve always been one of those folks who claims to never read non-fiction books, but, as I started thinking about what to write about and reviewed the list of books I’ve read in the past few months, I realized that I honestly cannot make that claim.  I have read on average a nonfiction book a month this year.  The one title that has resonated and remained with me the most is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

In this short, quick reading book (also available from the library as an eBook, which is actually how I read it), Gladwell examines why the outrageously successful, those that he calls outliers are so successful.  As old adages say, success is due in part to passion, persistence and preparation. Bill Gates and the Beatles perfected their crafts with over 10,000 hours of practice. However, it is also due to a fair amount of luck, such as being born at the right time and in the right place.  For example, he explains why many professional hockey players are born in January, February and March.   He also uses generational legacies, such as those that benefited the Robber Barons or certain corporate lawyers in the 1950s.

The book is not the most academic, and I can see how many could argue against Gladwell’s claims.  I found it to be an interesting and entertaining read, as well as one that continues to come up in conversations.  Perhaps this is why I find myself reading nonfiction, despite my self-professed dislike for it; I often find it engaging and relevant in ways that linger.

So, dear readers, share!  Are there genres or categories of books that you do not think you read, but you do?  What are books that have continued to reappear in thoughts or dialogues?

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Jun 17 2013

ShareReads: Finishing the Hat

by Ken M

sharereads_intro_2013 If I could choose to be any Broadway composer of the 20th century, my choice would be Stephen Sondheim. While I love the music of Richard Rodgers, Fritz Loewe and any theater work Leonard Bernstein created for the stage, I’ve always felt that Sondheim’s art stands in a class by itself.

I recently reacquainted myself with his work by way of two recent books, Finishing the Hat and Look, I Made A Hat. I think these are the closest we’ll get to an autobiography or memoir from the man himself. In these books, he shares the wealth of knowledge gained in more than fifty years of writing for the stage. Finishing the Hat

Finishing the Hat takes you from the early show Saturday Night through 1981’s Merrily We Roll Along. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on West Side Story, which gives you the real dirt on who wrote what in the collaboration with Leonard Bernstein. I’m a big fan of Sweeney Todd, and I learned lots of new trivia from this chapter. I was surprised to find that Sondheim was always displeased by the last few lines of the Act 1 closing number, A Little Priest. He says he got it right, belatedly, for the movie version starring Johnny Depp. (By the way, if you only know that version, you really should see the television adaptation of the stage musical starring George Hearn and the marvelous, original Mrs. Lovett, Angela Landsbury.)

Look, I Made A Hat contains some of the shows I got to know first, including the Pulitzer Prize winning Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods. I’ve played for high school productions of the latter twice, so I was fascinated to learn that cast input solved a particular problem for Lapine and Sondheim. I won’t tell you what that was – you should read this to find out. You also get the full explanation of the creation of his most recent work, last named Road Show. This one had a particularly difficult evolution, and he effectively guides you through the complicated maze of what stayed, what went, and what was completely rewritten. In fact, both books contain lots of cut lyrics, observations and musings, as well as reproductions of neat documents like handwritten drafts with lots of discarded ideas. You’ll also learn why rhyme and precision are so important to him.

While the words are wonderful, his music is equally exquisite. Hearing makes the reading even more fun, and you can enjoy cast and tribute albums from the DCPL collection to enhance your reading. I do hope you spend a little time with Sondheim this summer, and I really must go now. I have a meat pie in the oven…

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Jun 12 2013

Happy at home…any problems with that?

by Dea Anne M

In recent years there’s been a movement growing in this country and elsewhere that centers around ideas of self-sufficiency, re-learning traditional skills, and reducing one’s “footprint” so to speak. Long time readers of this blog know that this is an area of special interest to me for example this post and this one. If these topics interest you too than DCPL has plenty of resources to aid you in your pursuit. Want to learn about urban farming? Check out  Your Farm In the City: an urban dweller’s guide to growing food and raising livestock by Lisa Taylor. Are you interested in homesteading and old skills? Don’t miss Jenna Woginrich’s fine memoir Made From Scratch: discovering the pleasures of a handmade life. Maybe you’re fascinated with the “tiny house” movement. If so, you might want to start with the book that many people agree launched the phenomenon, The Not So Big House: a blueprint for the way we really live by Sarah Susanka.

Realistically, my own pursuits are hobbies that I spend time on with pleasure. Becoming completely self-sufficient involves a commitment of time and energy that I homeward prefer to spend elsewhere. Some people though are making that commitment and an interesting new book explores this rising phenomenon. Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound: why women are embracing the new domesticity delves deeply into what Matchar does indeed call the “New Domesticity” and presents a balanced view of both its appeal and some of its dangers. This is domesticity as rebellion – young women (and some men as well) are taking up knitting, sewing, gardening and baking. Some are even leaving careers and fully embracing a life centered on the home. They are homeschooling, homesteading, and starting their own businesses on Etsy. Matchar interviewed many of these people and the  book is filled with these well-educated women and men explaining their passion for this style of life. It is very easy to fall sway to the romance and appeal of these life choices but Matchar is an exceptionally clear-eyed writer and thinker. She points out, throughout the book that it’s only in recent history that this way of life has been a “choice” for most people – it was the way you had to live if you and your family were going to survive. Matchar does a good job too in analysing some tenets of the movement that are dubious or just plain wrong. For example she very smartly refutes the popular idea that feminism is what drove women out of the kitchen and into the work force leaving them no time or inclination to cook proper meals. In fact, it was post World War II market forces that shaped and drove the success of the processed food industry along with the overwhelming popularity of such cookbooks as Peg Bracken’s legendary The Compleat I Hate to Cook Book. That volume, by the way, was an enormous hit with, you guess it, stay-at-home wives and mothers. This linking of feminism with the rise of the fast and processed food industry has been promoted by everyone from controversial lightning-rod Caitlin Flanagan to Slow Food advocate Michael Pollan who really ought to know better (and I’m one of his many fans!). Finally, I appreciated Matchar’s thoughtful exploration of some of the potential dangers involved in some of the passionately held and promoted beliefs in the movement. What effect on “herd immunity” does a wide spread choice of parents not to have their children vaccinated? What happens to social ideals such as affordable day care and quality public schools if more and more people opt out of the culture?

shop classWhat do you think? Regardless of where you stand on these questions or even if you’ve not considered them at all I think that you’ll find a lot to interest you in Matcher’s provocative book.

For a masculine focus on some of the same questions, check out Shop Class As Soulcraft: an inquiry into the value of work by Matthew B. Crawford.

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Jun 10 2013

Survey Says…

by Jimmy L

Take the SurveyA few weeks ago, we had a survey to better determine who our readers (you!) were and what direction you’d like to see the blog take. Well, the survey results are in. Thank you all for responding (and if you haven’t yet, there is still time. Just follow this link):

We have many loyal repeat visitors. Over half the respondents check DCPLive several times a week! Most of you like what you see on here so far, (I guess that’s why you come back) including the variety of different voices and different opinions on books, movies, and music. You like our light-heartedness and our attention to the far corners of the web as well as the far corners of the county, bringing you news of book related events and happenings.

Some of you have not commented, either because you’re too shy or because nothing has moved you to comment yet. But many have also commented either for a point in Summer Reading for Adults or because a post has been enticing enough. Keep commenting. Don’t be shy! We love to hear from all of our readers.

As for what you’d like to see more of, there seems to be more divergence of opinions. Some want shorter posts, some want longer posts, some want to see more conversations and discussions, others had a very specific list of topics we could cover better. We thank you for all these suggestions and will definitely try to keep them in mind when writing our posts in the future.

Thanks again for reading and participating!

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Jun 7 2013

ShareReads: Cryptonomicon

by Jesse M

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ShareReads - Cryptonomicon coverAs long-term readers of DCPLive know, I am a big fan of the science fiction genre. In past ShareReads posts, I’ve talked about the sub-genres of space opera and cyberpunk, and this year, I am going to discuss a different type of science fiction novel, one that seems to straddle the boundaries between science fiction, historical fiction and techno-thrillers: Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.

Unlike some of Stephenson’s other novels, in which the imaginative/speculative element of science fiction is more prominent (such as in the seminal cyberpunk novel Snow Crash or its loosely related “post-cyberpunk” sequel, The Diamond Age), Cryptonomicon features technology that while complex and technical to the layperson isn’t fictional at all. Information security is a major theme of the book, and in-depth asides and descriptions of cryptography and digital espionage techniques such as Van Eck phreaking pepper the narrative. The lengthy story (the paperback version owned by DCPL clocks in at 1152 pages!) is split between two time periods, one circa World War II and the other in the late 1990s, and as the plot evolves the connections between the two storylines become increasingly apparent (in fact, the main protagonists of the latter storyline are direct descendants of the protagonists in the WWII storyline). With the exception of a very few instances in the novel where phenomena seem to occur without any basis or explanation in modern science, Cryptonomicon can be considered to be very hard science fiction. The World War II storyline, while sparing no technical details of the complex struggle between Allied and Axis cryptographers and codebreakers, also features several notable historical figures including Alan Turing and General Douglas MacArthur, placing the book firmly into the category of historical fiction as well.

Fans of Stephenson’s digressive style will love Cryptonomicon, which features informative tangents in spades, from the mechanics and structure of pipe organs to the description of a manual cryptosystem calculated with an ordinary deck of playing cards. Indeed, such asides are a major factor in the book’s appeal. Upon finishing Cryptonomicon, readers looking for something similar should check out Quicksilver and its sequels, which form a sort of prequel to Cryptonomicon (featuring ancestors of the protagonists and shedding light on a few of the unexplained mysteries in Cryptonomicon) and are also written in a digression-heavy style. I also encourage interested readers to pick up a more recent work by Stephenson, Anathem, which although more speculative in nature than Cryptonomicon possesses similar qualities in terms of informative asides.

And if you’ve just finished Cryptonomicon and are feeling like you’ve missed some references, or that a plot point went unexplained, take a look at this site, which offers a good deal of insight into some of the more complex and esoteric references and plot points. But don’t click the link until you’ve completed the story, as there are spoilers aplenty to be wary of.

What are your favorite books that straddle genre boundaries? How do you feel about the digressive writing style that Stephenson so often employs? For the sci-fi enthusiasts out there, would you consider Cryptonomicon to be science fiction? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments.

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