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

March 2014

Mar 28 2014

The Multi-layered Life

by Rebekah B

Reincarnation and the life of the  mind/soul beyond the body are concepts that interest me.  Really, the nature of life and reality – why things are the way they are…these philosophical questions intrigue me deeply.

Two novels I recently read have opened up glimpses of possibility about the nature of the soul through time. One is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, and the other is The Reincarnationist, by M.J. Rose.

kate-atkinson

In Life After Life, the main character, Ursula Todd (called Little Bear by her father), lives out countless episodes of life, dying successively and repeatedly from various causes.  The entire book takes place during the first half of the twentieth century; no other centuries are revisited, and Ursula remains “herself” in various situations, relationships, and professions throughout the book.  She tries to rewrite her own fate and that of her family and friends, as some essence of memory, often obscure, remains in her psyche from one life to the next.  She feels a terrible responsibility for the fates of others, but it would seem that she is the only character in the story plagued with this syndrome.  And yet, each family member or friend who appears in the story reappears in each sequence, leading the reader to assume that they too are living successive lives and deaths.  We are simply not privy to their inner thoughts.

It is explained at one point late in the novel that the nature of time is a palimpsest, in which each set of circumstances lived does not precede or follow another.  Like in an oil painting, the images and events of each life are layered over the previous sequences, forming a new image or layer.

What if all of these lives were lived simultaneously, and there were no past, no future, just pure experience in all of its forms and permutations? What especially delighted me about Life After Life was the wonderful writing, which contained a fluidity and special magic.  The continuous deaths and rebirths never seemed unrealistic, abrupt, or undesirable.  The novel is extremely readable and incredibly real, with an amazing flow and vividness of description.

cover_reincarnationist_sm

The suspense novel The Reincarnationist follows a more traditional view of history, both personal and collective, as well as of rebirth.  The quality of writing is solid, but definitely of a lesser literary quality than Life After Life.  More plot driven, the characters are less dimensional, but the descriptions and historical scenes are quite evocative.  Nonetheless, it is an excellent thriller.  The main character, Josh, after a nearly deadly encounter with a terrorist suicide bombing in Israel, becomes prey to successive PTSD-like “attacks” of what are revealed to be past life memories resurfacing.  Three different lifetimes intertwine themselves into the fabric of the story: the present Josh Ryder, a journalistic photographer, Percy Talmage, poisoned by his uncle in the 1880’s in an intrigue involving a set of ancient memory stones and, Julius, in ancient Rome during the violent transition between the traditional pagan rites and the imposition of Christianity in 4th century Rome by Emperor Theodosius (if I remember correctly). Julius experienced a forbidden intimate relationship with Sabina, a vestal virgin during the last years of the cult. Pregnant, Sabina’s fate was death by suffocation – she would be buried alive after the birth of the child. Various themes run through the book involving art, history, antiquities, archeology (the burial vault of Sabina is found, containing ancient Egyptian “memory stones” coveted by various nefarious characters through the successive histories throughout the story).

The nature of time in The Reincarnationist is summed up by a quote by Victor Hugo cited by the author: The tomb is not a blind alley: it is a thoroughfare. It closes on the twilight. It opens on the dawn.

In this philosophy as reflected in this novel of suspense, each life lived is connected to the next, and karma plays a central role.  The nature of time is not quite linear, because the past continues to live in the present, and perhaps the future as well, but the future is not referenced or mentioned in this novel.  Harm that is done in the past, or hurt that is experienced can be redeemed if, with the opportunities of a new life in a new body, a person chooses to make different choices with different outcomes.  From one life to the next, certain individuals maintain relationships with one another in different forms.  Free will is maintained throughout.

where-does-the-time-go

It is interesting to contemplate the nature of the continuity of the life of the soul and the mind beyond the confines of time, beyond the limits of the physical body. Suddenly, this shift in perception lends us more time to learn and evolve, and, depending on how we conceptualize the nature of time, energy, and life, the possibilities for our growth and the opportunity to love and to grow are indeed endless. The nature of life, of self, is a great mystery, and yet so often we live our lives submerged in a sea of banality. Deep beneath the surface of the conventions we have invented to get through our days lies an incredibly complex tapestry that ties all of our personal potentialities into a unity of purpose and intention that is always in flux. The literary format of the novel allows us to gaze deeper into the possibilities of our own realities and into the conventions that we collectively accept as the foundations of our lives.

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Mar 24 2014

Athlete Wannabe

by Hope L

Born to RunI have never been able to run.

Sashay …  sort of.  Jog …  maybe.  Slog  …  definitely!   But,  RUN?  …   fogettaboutit!

Unless you count running to the bathroom during a really good movie or running across the street on a freezing-cold, wind-whipping day.  Then, I can and will RUN.

But, with the Olympics on television recently, I would still like to think of myself as an ‘athlete.’

Now, I have known people who have run 3 + miles (5k) and 6+ miles (10k), and I  hear there are people who can run 26 miles and change (in one outing!!!) in what we commonly call a ‘marathon,’  but I had never heard of a human running 50 or 100 miles (or more!!) in a single event.

But wait!  I had  heard of this before, a few years back on the television program “Live with Regis and Kelly,”  Regis was joshing with Dean Karnazes, an “ultramarathon” runner, via Skype.  (An ultramarathon is any sporting event involving running and walking longer than the traditional marathon length of 42.195 kilometers: those that cover a specified distance, and events that take place during a specified time span.)

Phew!  My shin splints hurt just thinking about it!

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Mar 21 2014

Making silk purses

by Dea Anne M

Regular readers of this blog might assume, with as much as I write about food and food related literature, that I dine every evening on a lucullan scale. Well I don’t. In fact, I have moved far away from the meat/veggie/starch model of my childhood. These days, a weekday dinner is most likely to be a bowl of soup, a simple pasta dish, or something on toast. Then again, it might be my most favorite thing of all…leftovers.

I love leftovers, perhaps because they never featured strongly in the refrigerator landscapes of my childhood. My mother always seemed to make just enough food to serve each of us once although she occasionally planned for second helpings of those dishes that she knew we really liked. I suspect that my father might not have been a big fan of second act edibles. His mother, after all, set a table for which the term “groaning board” would have been an understatement—not to mention the fact that she would can or freeze just about anything that couldn’t run away from her.  Then there was my extremely picky brother who could spin dinner time drama from the simplest meals. Every dish that wasn’t dessert carried the potential of hidden threats (like diced onion) and dangerous spices (like pepper). Given the frequent scenes over, say, a casserole…or really anything “new”… I can understand my mother not wanting to risk a rerun by serving any dish a second time.

Not me. Nothing says meal time contentment like the knowledge that my refrigerator contains roasted chicken, cooked vegetables, a container of rice or mashed potatoes – not to mention eggs, chicken or vegetable stock, salad greens, and all sorts of condiments. Given these components, making dinner becomes primarily an assembly job and a very pleasant one at that. Or maybe I made a lasagna or a pot of beans over the weekend or even two months ago. Dinner is then a simple matter of pulling a container from the freezer and reheating.

You might be wondering how to attain that happy state of affairs in your own kitchen. Maybe you’re tired of relying on packaged food or store prepared dishes or take out. There’s nothing horrible about any of these options but they may not be as healthy for you as food that you make yourself and they certainly are going put a deeper dent in your budget over time. The older kitchen classics can guide you well in not only how to use leftovers but how to get them in the first place. I would recommend The Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham, or my favorite, the 1975 edition of Irma Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking. The leftover concept can be a bit more difficult to track down in recent cookbooks. In spite of the popularity of cooking shows and food based blogs, it seems that more and more people think of actual cooking as something that belongs only to the most “iron” of chefs or to the sort of deep thinker who has hours in her or his day to stroll through the local markets picking up the choicest ingredients which will be transformed into exquisite food…in an equally exquisite kitchen…in Paris if at all possible. Well, what if you don’t possess that sort of training or time? What if your food shopping mostly happens on the way home after work and you don’t want to sit down to eat dinner at 10:00 p.m.? If that’s your situation (as it is mine) then check out theses resources from DCPL.

[read the rest of this post…]

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Mar 6 2014

Big night

by Dea Anne M

Made for Each Other by Bronwyn CosgraveWho doesn’t love the Academy Awards? I sure do. Each year, I eagerly await the  chance to experience once more the lavish spectacle, the breathless anticipation, the heartfelt acceptance speeches…

Ha, ha…just kidding! I watch it for the clothes. Truthfully, in recent years, I don’t watch the show at all (I just can’t stay up that late). Without fail though, I check the internet in the days following to see who wore what. I don’t care much for the snarkier “What was she thinking?” pictorials and usually ignore those, but I am drawn like the proverbial moth to the flame of each year’s fashion triumphs.

I know I’m not alone in my love for awards show fashion and if you share my interest and want to delve more deeply, DCPL has resources for you.

The Complete Book of Oscar Fashion: variety’s 75 years of glamour on the red carpet by Reeve Chace is as complete a compendium as one could wish of the subject (at least up to 2003). Page after page of snappily captioned photographs capture Oscar’s stellar fashion moments as well as some of the more startling (though no less famous) outfits.

Made for Each Other: fashion and the Academy Awards by Bronwyn Crosgrave is a detailed and well-illustrated account of Oscar fashion starting with the ceremony’s inception in 1929. It might be fair to say that this book gives us the “story behind the dress”, from the blue bias-cut gown Mary Pickford wore in 1929 to Nicole Kidman’s 1997 embroidered chartreuse  frock. Cosgrave devotes a major portion of the book to designer/ actress partnerships such as Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn, Edith Head and Grace Kelly, and Bob Mackie and Cher. Fascinating stuff!

Speaking of Edith Head, you might enjoy David Chierichetti’s Edith Head: the life and times of Hollywood’s celebrated costume designer. Arguably one of Hollywood’s most gifted costume designers, Head’s career spanned more than 50 years. She dressed dozens of actresses in as many classic films including:

Click the actresses names above to see fabulous examples of Head’s work!

Here’s a fun  infographic of every dress worn by every Best Actress winner from 1929 to 2013. You will note that some years are missing and these indicate years that the winning actress did not attend the awards ceremony. My favorites include Vivian Leigh’s simple floral dress from 1940, the blue satin gown worn by Grace Kelly in 1955 (designed by Edith Head!), the black and white vintage Valentino that Julia Roberts wore in 2001, and Reese Witherspoon’s Dior gown from 2006.

Of course, I realize that I’ve only touched on women’s fashion in this post. Part of that, I suppose, has to do with a definite media bias. After all, women’s formal fashion tends to allow a greater variation in color and style than that of men.  From time to time, a brave actor attempts his own bit of sartorial rebellion—usually to mixed responses.  Consider this year’s winning actors Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in their matching white jackets. Some are saying yea and some nay. Call me old fashioned,  but I think that nothing beats the classic black tuxedo for elegance and style.

What are your favorite Oscar fashions?

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Mar 3 2014

Women’s History Month

by Joseph M

March is Women’s History Month, and the library is a great place to learn more about the countless contributions of women throughout the ages. In addition to a wide selection of biographical materials showcasing the lives of numerous notable women, DCPL has many titles appropriate to the theme. Among these are Celebrating women’s history : a women’s history month resource book, as well as one that I’m currently enjoying, The Great Women Superheroes.

Of course, there are many other ways to observe Women’s History Month. This morning when I was listening to WABE (the local NPR station) I heard a bit about Storycorps Atlanta, and how they are encouraging people to come and talk about the great women in their lives. Neat idea, right? How will you celebrate?

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