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

April 2014

Amy Falls Down cover

Hello readers,

One of my favorite aspects of being a library staff member and library user is the constant exposure to a nearly endless array of books that I would most likely never otherwise encounter.  Among that selection, I might occasionally randomly, or accidentally, as it were, choose a novel just because the title or cover is alluring.

Amy Falls Down was one such discovery for me. I had not previously read anything by Jincy Willett, but I am prepared to read her past or future work.  In Amy Gallup she has created a character who is endearing in her eccentricity and rambunctiousness, despite her not being exactly loveable. It is a literary satire (to some degree) about books, writing, and about the business of contemporary publishing, promotion, and social media. I discovered through the New York Times Book Review of this title that Willett has written a previous novel featuring Amy Gallup, The Writing Class.

bassett hound

Amy’s adventures begin, after a long dry spell, both in her writing and socially.  She is 62 years old and she lives with her basset hound Alphonse in a nice suburban neighborhood near San Diego, California.  Living from the proceeds of her online writing course, Amy has not written or published any new material since her last collections of short stories, which received a certain degree of literary acclaim about thirty years previously.  After the death of her best friend and late, gay, platonic husband Max from AIDS, Amy forces herself to web Bob, whom she detests, and the experiment aborts after three years.  The writing circle of which she is the group leader disbands before the novel commences after one or possibly two of the members run amok.  Blood is shed, lives are lost, and the most promising of the writers, according to Amy, ends up in federal prison serving a life sentence.

The themes of accidents, phobias, inertia, change, and the value of fiction as well as that of relationships (being known by others) run throughout this unusual and absorbing novel.  Amy comes to both regret and accept the consequences of her own self-imposed limitations on her life once “the accident” brings her very reluctantly out of her shell and into the limelight of viral videos, BuzzFeed, Epic Fail, Twitter, NPR, C-SPAN, YouTube and a nationwide tour, organized by her more than persistent agent Maxine.  Before preparing for an interview with Holly Antoon, a young reporter, Amy, wondering why in the world anyone might be interested in her life or her out-of-print short story collections, goes into her backyard to plant a gift plant, a Norfolk Pine.  Overweight and ungainly, she trips, falls and knocks herself out by hitting the back of her head on a birdbath.  She manages to drag herself out of the garden, into the house, and out onto the front porch for an interview that she conducts when mostly out of her mind. The hilarious qualities of her mostly incoherent discourse during this interview begin to attract attention, jump-starting anew her moribund writing life and career.

birdbath

We accompany Amy on her path back to writing and back into the weave of life once again, through her fears of flying to her cross-country tour with Alphonse on Amtrak, which is interrupted by a serious accident with multiple fatalities.  Amy begins to show her affection for her fellow humans as well as for herself as she engages, if only briefly, with a few of the wannabe writers at the workshop her former student has set up.  A moving moment occurs when Amy unexpectedly accompanies a dying woman, whose arm has been torn off during the train accident, in her final moments.  The emotion is tinged with awkwardness, so while Amy feels privileged to share this stranger’s dying words and breath, she mistakes her for another fellow passenger, Thelma.  Alphonse, her basset of whom she is enormously fond, is a constant throughout the novel as well…and he is as dryly humorous and engaging a character as is the protagonist Amy.

train

The title of the novel, Amy Falls Down, is the pivotal moment of the book in which Amy’s life changes.  In the book on at least two occasions, Jincy Willett the author, very specifically comments that the necessity and purpose for the writing of fiction is to make narrative sense of the chaos of life and to bring form and meaning to the random chains of events that make up a typical human experience.  The jumbledness, zigzags, and accidents of day-to-day life become infused with meaning when seen through the eyes of an author.

In this manner, fiction plays a key role (as do other art forms) in humanizing our survival in an often hostile world.  Amy Gallup also expresses an interesting concept with regard to creativity and the unconscious mind.  She notes that her dreams are often banal, a land which many visit and deposit common fears and images.  However, she is convinced that stories do come from a deeper place over which she has no conscious control.  Amy cares absolutely nothing about those who seem fascinated by her, nor does she care about the media itself, which is what makes her so funny and appealing to the creators of memes and the like.

I enjoyed this well-written novel with its interplays of sarcasm and tenderness, philosophical explorations and a humorous depiction of contemporary life.  Throughout the book, Amy often deplores an excess and exponentially increasing number of published authors or bloggers creating a superabundance of reading material.  It is as if the modern western human has a constant need for self-expression and validation by others, without which we feel we are no longer needed or no longer exist.  Amy Gallup, after living for nearly 30 years oblivious to others and only paying marginal attention to popular culture, evolves enough throughout the story so as to feel the need to be known, not so much as an author, but as a human being.  And she has the grace to recognize that there are indeed, among her entourage, people who do truly know, respect, and appreciate her.

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Apr 28 2014

Literary Meals Recreated

by Jesse M

The great gatsby food spread

“On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold.” – The Great Gatsby

My fellow bloggers and I have written before on the topic of meals and recipes inspired by descriptions of food in books (see previous posts here and here), so when I came across photos of Dinah Fried’s recreations of famous meals from classic literature I knew I had to feature them here. Fried has derived inspiration for her arrangements from a variety of sources, including A Confederacy of Dunces, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and many more. You can view a collection of her photography here. Although most of the dishes will make your mouth water, a couple are decidedly unappetizing (such as the days old pile of food inspired by a passage from Kafka’s Metamorphosis or the gruel from Oliver Twist), so consider yourself warned!

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Apr 25 2014

Funny Girl

by Hope L

Comedy Portrait Session With Paula Poundstone At The Ice House Comedy ClubI really enjoy some stand-up comedians, and I’ve actually read a few books by female comedians (or comediennes) that make me chuckle.

But recently, I read one that made me crack up out loud.  A lot.

There’s Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say by Paula Poundstone, whom I still hear from time to time on “Wait-Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” a PBS radio game show, was a hilarious read  for me.  I may read it again soon just to cheer myself up.

Ms. Poundstone, who will perform her stand-up comedy routine here at the Variety Playhouse in July, is a talented comedian–but I think she is an even better writer.

She manages to weave biographical sketches from people throughout history into her own unique memoir.  As the writer of the foreword to this book puts it:

“Her flawless comedic musings on life, her own chief among them–which is good, it being an autobiography and all–spring from stories she tells about her heroes:  Joan of Arc,  Abraham Lincoln, and Helen Keller, to name a few. ”  (Written by her friend, Mary Tyler Moore, who seems to know comedy.)

Poundstone has so many funny statements in this book it’s difficult for me to choose favorites, but here are a couple:

“Abraham Lincoln loved books.  He once walked twenty miles to borrow a book, and was known to work hard from sunrise to sunset and then read by flickering frontier light until midnight.  Lincoln was self-taught.  I didn’t graduate from my high school.  You could say that I’m self-taught; Lincoln just had a better teacher.”

“While seeking my first job, I filled out twenty-one minimum-wage job applications.  One of the last questions was always what my hobbies were.  Why would they care?  ‘Thank you for your application.  We’re looking for someone to mop the floors and clean and stock the bathrooms.  I see you’re available anytime we need you and you’re willing to work for minimum wage with no benefits.  That’s great, but I see that in your spare time you enjoy working with beads, so we’re going to have to pass on you.’  Do they think someone’s going to divulge something that makes them somehow unacceptable?  Hobbies, uhm … counterfeiting, glue sniffing, graffiti, and I love to disorient the elderly.”

Thanks, Paula.  I needed a good laugh. :)

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Apr 21 2014

National Jelly Bean Day

by Glenda

Did you know that April 22, 2014, is National Jelly Bean Day? Oh my! Lately anytime you go into the grocery store you see tons of varieties of jelly beans. I did not know there was a national day. The jelly bean, just in case you don’t know, is a small bean-shaped candy that has a soft shell with a gel interior and comes in just about a thousand different flavors–well, not actually a thousand. Credit for the first jelly bean is usually given to Boston confectioner William Schrafft. He encouraged people to send his jelly beans to soldiers during the Civil War. Historians think the jelly bean was first linked with the celebration of Easter as early as the 1930s. Today we eat jelly beans to celebrate Easter as well as other holidays, but there are some of us who eat jelly beans any day of the week. And jelly beans can be used for more than eating. They are an excellent decorating tool as well as a craft tool. Personally, I love eating jelly beans. My favorite flavors are pineapple and watermelon. What’s your favorite flavor? Also, if you are looking for jelly bean books check out Danny’s Doodles: The Jelly Bean Experiment by David A. Adler and The Giant Jelly Bean Jar by Marcie Aboff.

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Apr 18 2014

…and the winner is

by Dea Anne M

The Pulitzer Prize winners for 2014 were announced on Monday, April 14, and among them was this year’s Fiction prize goldfinchwinner Donna Tartt for her novel The Goldfinch. The list of winners through the years since the inception of the Pulitzers in 1917 is an interesting one and seems to vary a great deal from many “great books” lists such as Modern Library’s 1oo Best Novels or TIME Magazine’s ALL-TIME 100 Novels. Many of the older Pulitzer winners are titles we recognize and still read today such as Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Other titles are less well known such as Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin, which won in 1929 and is set among the Gullah people of South Carolina, or Conrad Richter’s pioneer saga The Town.

The first Pulitzer Prize for Fiction was awarded in 1918 and you’ll find a complete list of winners here. If you want to learn more I recommend The Pulitzer Prize Thumbnails Project site, which is full of interesting facts about the prize and has a neat link that will take you to the author Harry Kloman’s brief descriptions of each and every winning book.

Of course so much of this awarding of prizes has a large measure of subjectivity operating within the process and in the confederacyultimate decisions. I expect plenty of people over the years have disagreed with the Pulitzer panel’s choices. I know I have. I tried to reread John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, which won the prize in 1981, a few years ago and just could not get through it.

Do you pay attention to prize winners? Have you ever read a prize winner and been disappointed?

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Seattle Central LibraryFor nearly two decades, photographer Robert Dawson has been taking pictures of libraries. Since 1994 he has photographed hundreds of public libraries across 48 states, and the results have been compiled in a new book published just this month, titled The Public Library: A Photographic Essay.

Dawson’s photographs reveal the longstanding American institution in all its variety, from the quaint to the awe-inspiring. Check out this NPR story to read an excerpt from the book and hear an interview with the author, as well as view a brief slideshow of some of the images (even more photos are available for perusal on the author’s website).

In the introduction of his recently published work, Dawson writes that “Public libraries are worth fighting for, and this book is my way of fighting”. To reserve a copy of the book through DCPL, follow this link to place a request.

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Apr 7 2014

Nose Notes

by Hope L

sneezingSpring has sprung and so have the faucets for hay fever sufferers–our noses are running, ears draining, eyes itching, throats rasping and heads throbbing.

As I lay awake the other night, hacking and sneezing sporadically, with my arsenal of tissues with aloe, cough drops, and a cabinet full of drugstore attempts at fighting my misery, I wondered why someone had  not yet invented a way to cover the nose to prevent allergies in the first place. I mean, we put a man on the moon, right? A person could get rich. Hey!!! Wait a minute…

That person could be me! I could go on Shark Tank and the sharks would all fight over little ol’ me with my nose filter. (I could call it NasaStop or Hay-Free, or Cry No More.)

Well, somebody has beaten me to the punch.

Look what I found at WebMD:  “Could ‘Nasal-Filter’ Device Help Ease Allergies?”

THURSDAY, March 20, 2014 (HealthDay News) — A new device that you wear in your nose — about the size of a contact lens and works like a miniature air filter for a furnace — might help filter out pollen and other allergens and keep them out of your sinuses.

A small study reports that this nasal filter could reduce daily sneezing by an average of 45 percent and daily runny nose by an average of 12 percent. The device, with the brand name Rhinix, is not yet commercially available.

“We found clinically relevant reductions in daily nasal symptoms with Rhinix compared to placebo, especially in sneezing, itching and runny nose symptoms,” said Peter Kenney, the study’s lead author.

Kenney, who’s a medical and doctoral student at Aarhus University in Denmark, is the inventor of the nasal filter. He’s the founder and CEO of the company that has filed an application for approval of the device by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (Go to WebMD for the complete article.)

Shark Tank will just have to wait until my next great idea…

 

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