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

March 2015

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Hello readers,

Have you ever wondered how famous writers, painters, musicians, sculptors, composers, scientists, filmmakers, poets, philosophers, or inventors actually go about the business of creating new art, ideas, books, concepts? As it turns out, there are as many ways to combat anxiety and to be productive as there are personalities. The main thing is to get the job done, and the majority of creative people rely on sometimes rigid routines in order to produce the desired quantity of work. Many creative people struggle with the act of creation, and I am well familiar with the art of procrastination and the anxiety that can surround the creative act. Each creative individual resolves his or her existential angst in a highly personal manner, and this book provides much insight (in minute detail) into this aspect of the creative process.

A truly fascinating book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, written by Mason Currey and published in 2013, is a compilation of descriptions of the work and life habits of 161 renowned individuals ranging from Jane Austen to Beethoven. A profile of more than three or four pages, and often much less, is devoted to each individual, and it would seem that channeling the compulsion to create requires for many not only devotion to art but also a dedication to rote habits. Details of eating habits, social activities, various idiosyncrasies, when, how, and where the artist worked, as well as routines involving physical exercise, are all explained in precise detail, many of which are amusing. For example, Thomas Wolfe, who measured 6’6″, would work standing up using the top of a refrigerator as his desk!

Each of these mini-biographies brings insight into the work and personalities of the likes of Franz Kafka, who struggled to find time to write between long shifts, with frequent overtime hours spent working in an insurance agency, and little privacy, as he shared a cramped apartment with numerous family members. His nightly writing rituals were preceded by ten minutes of exercise executed naked in front of an open window, followed by an hour-long, semi-solitary walk with a friend, such as Max Brodt, and dinner with his family…after all of which he would sit down to write at 10:30 or 11:00 p.m., working until well after midnight. The writing session would be followed by more physical exercise, followed by attempts to sleep, which were mostly thwarted by an overactive mind.

Some of the personalities in the book are quite eccentric, such as inventor Nikola Tesla, who worked regularly and compulsively from 10:30 each morning to 5:00 the following morning, and who had a variety of scripted rituals–such as taking his evening meals at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where he dined in solitaire. Prior to each meal, Tesla would require that he be supplied with 18 freshly-pressed linen napkins with which he would clean the already spotless tableware. When his meal would arrive, he would also compulsively, mentally calculate the cubic contents of each dish, a habit developed in childhood that he pursued until the end of his life.

A common trait to many of these biographies of prolific creators seems to be the practice of regular physical exercise as well as the embracing of a regular work schedule, for some diurnal and others nocturnal. While some of the creative people profiled in this book needed to work a salaried job in order to pay the bills, others had financial means allowing them to create their own schedules. Some, such as Thomas Mann or Anthony Trollope, could work as little as three hours a day on their creative work, while others, including Philip Roth, would regularly produce eight or more hours per day of work. Roth eventually divorced and realized that the single life was more suited to his personality and literary habits, as he no longer felt constrained to keep a spouse or partner company in the evenings.

The image of the artist as a hedonist and substance abuser (of which there are many in this book–Jean-Paul Sartre or Toulouse Lautrec come to mind) who awaits the visit of a muse in order to find the inspiration to work is, however, a rarity among these productive individuals. Patricia Highsmith was one of the few who absolutely required that writing be pleasurable and would work only when inspiration struck. Apparently, habit and routine are by consensus a better way to channel the muse than simply waiting for her to knock at the studio door.

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Mar 20 2015

Devouring Downton

by Dea Anne M

Like many people (including some fellow bloggers), I have fallen under the spell of Downton Abbey, the PBS period drama. Through war and social upheavals; marriages, births and deaths; scandals and joys–I find the story of the Crawley family and the servants who work for them utterly irresistible. One aspect of the show I find particularly fascinating is the impeccable attention to detail that goes into the set designs and the costumes. Every aspect of the Crawley’s world seems rendered perfectly–including the routines of the household which, of course, feature many, many meals. I love watching scenes that take place at the many elaborate dinner parties as well as those of humbler meals shared by the servants. I think my favorite food-related sequences are the ones set in the Downton kitchens. I’m fascinated with the food that Mrs. Patmore and her staff prepare week after week, and I often wonder how everything appears so seamless. Well, this recent article in the New York Times makes it clear exactly how hard the show’s food stylist, the very talented Lisa Heathcote, works to guarantee the sleek appearance and historical accuracy of any scene involving food. Imagine cooking 60 chickens in one day! All in all, a very interesting article for of us Downton fans.

Can’t get enough of Downton Abbey? If so, you might want to explore these titles from DCPL.

edwardian

If you’d like to delve into some of the cooking of Edwardian Britain (the series begins slightly after), consider Recipes From An Edwardian Country House by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, as well as The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines. Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book is charmingly written while the Baines book includes recipes for some very scrumptious looking dishes with cutesy names such as Tom Branson’s Colcannon and Lady Mary’s Crab yearCanapes. I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the recipes in either book, but they look like fun. You’ll find more recipes in A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes, which depicts life at Downton during the year 1924 and includes descriptions of family trips and festivities.

In the show, Cora Crawley, i.e. Lady Grantham, is an American heiress whose fortune is key toward allowing Downton Abbey to stay in the family. This story reflects the reality of many wealthy young American women during what’s known as The Gilded Age. They flocked to England to marry noblemen whose finances were in need of some shoring up–basically trading money for titles. Arguably, the most famous of these so called “Dollar Princesses” was Consuelo Vanderbilt who became the Duchess of Marlborough in 1895. Her marrymemoir, The Glitter and the Gold: The American Duchess–In her Own Words, originally published in 1953, has been reissued in paperback and promises to be a fascinating read.

You can read more of Cora’s story, and those of her sisters in this peculiar marriage market, in Gail MacColl’s and Carol Wallace’s book To Marry An English Lord. Gossipy and engaging, the book provides insight into the pleasures, and often pains, experienced by this unique group of women. And for the view from “downstairs,” don’t miss Minding the Manor: The Memoir of a 1930s English Kitchen Maid by Mollie Moran and Below Stairs by Margaret Powell, belowboth written by women who worked as kitchen maids in two of the great houses in the early twentieth century.

Of course, I can’t seem to make it through a single episode of Downton Abbey without sighing over some item of clothing worn by one of the show’s characters, and now that the action has moved into the 1920’s (one of my favorite fashion eras ever!) the pleasures are non-stop. If you, like me, love the show’s costuming and you plan to be in Asheville this spring, be sure to check out the more than 40 Downton costumes which will be on display at our country’s own stately home, the Biltmore Estate. It might be worth making a special trip just to see the scrumptious green silk dress that Lady Mary wore at Matthew’s first Downton dinner.

Do you like Downton Abbey? What aspect of the show pleases you most and do you have a favorite character?

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Terry Pratchett at the 2012 New York Comic Con - © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia CommonsThe world of fantasy literature lost one of its luminaries earlier this month when beloved author Terry Pratchett died at age 66 after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Pratchett was a prolific writer who was best known for his Discworld series, which spans 40 novels published over the course of more than 3 decades. He has also collaborated with other popular authors such as Neil Gaiman (Good Omens) and Stephen Baxter (The Long Earth series). The recipient of numerous honors and awards, Pratchett was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1998 and received a knighthood in 2009, in both cases for “services to literature.”

Given his prodigious output, readers unfamiliar with Pratchett’s work may wonder at the best place to start. This handy graphic might be useful in making that determination; it lists all of the Discworld novels, grouped by storyline and arranged chronologically, with the connections between individual novels mapped out. Personally, I’d suggest beginning with Small Gods; it is almost entirely stand-alone but provides a great introduction to the Discworld setting and Pratchett’s characteristically humorous and satirical style.

Pratchett’s wit and way with words have resulted in a plethora of notable quotations attributed to him, many of them originating as lines in his novels. The quote used in the title is from the book Going Postal, and I’d like to conclude this post with another from the book Reaper Man:

No one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away — until the clock he wound up winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence.

By that measure, Terry Pratchett will live on on our bookshelves forever.

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Mar 11 2015

National Freedom of Information Day

by Glenda

foidayMonday, March 16, 2015 is National Freedom of Information Day. Freedom of Information Day is an annual event held on or near March 16, the birthday of James Madison. James Madison is regarded as the Father of the Constitution and an advocate for openness in the government. Freedom of Information Day comes from the Freedom of Information Act of 1966. On July 4, 1966, the Freedom of Information Act was enacted and came into effect on July 4, 1967.

As described at foia.gov: “The Freedom of Information Act is a law that gives citizens of the United States of America the right to access information from the federal government. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about the government. Under the Freedom of Information Act, agencies must disclose any information that is requested–unless that information is protected from public disclosures.” Frequently requested records are automatically disclosed as a requirement of the Freedom of Information Act. The Executive Branch, which is led by the President of the United States of America, is responsible for administering the Freedom of Information Act across the government. The Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy oversees all agency compliance with the Freedom of Information Act directives and requires all agencies to comply fully with requests. So the next time you stop by your local library to look at the President’s Budget, the DeKalb County Budget, or the DeKalb County Code, you will know that this information was made available due to the Freedom of Information Act and the commitment of public libraries to openness in government.

If you want more information about the Freedom of Information Act and more, check out these books.

The Right to Know: Your Guide to Using and Defending Freedom of Information Law in the United States by Jacqueline Klosek

Secrecy Wars: National Security, Privacy and the Public’s Right to Know by Philip H. Melanson

 

 

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Mar 9 2015

Survival 101

by Hope L

232In a couple of months I will be going on an Alaskan cruise. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we will have to fly to Vancouver, B.C., to begin the cruise. I’m excited, as this will be my first cruise. Alas, it will not be my first time flying.

When I was growing up my family traveled a lot, so flying was no big deal for me. And frankly, I did not think about how and why that huge thing we were in was up in the air.  But the older I get, the less I want to get on an airplane to go anywhere.  I should not have started reading about aircraft.

You see, some fifteen years ago, I made the mistake of reading about airline turbulence and what can happen when one is not wearing a seatbelt. This was around the time when airlines started asking passengers to keep their safety belts fastened even after the captain turned off the seatbelt sign. It was then that my OCD really started to kick in and I became obsessed with hurtling through the sky in a tube. (It shouldn’t surprise you that during this time I began to experience panic attacks.)

According to Aerospaceweb.org, a Boeing 777 has a typical cruise speed of about 560 mph (900 km/h) at an altitude of 35,000 ft. (10,675 m).  That’s over six miles up, folks.

Now, I know that it is common knowledge that flying is much safer than riding in an automobile (which on I-285 can be a real death wish), but still.

Recently, I read Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival by Laurence Gonzales, and I have learned that yes, it IS possible to survive an airplane crash. So now, I shall choose to meditate on my “Brace, Brace, Brace” position (this is what the flight attendants called out to remind the passengers what to do just prior to when the plane landed -er- crashed in that Iowa cornfield in the summer of 1989).    Miraculously, 184 of 296 passengers and crew lived.

A miracle because:

“…the captain has told us that we have lost all our hydraulics.”  (According to a flight attendant informing another United pilot onboard.)

“He stared at her for a minute…. He knew that wasn’t possible. DC-10s must have hydraulics to fly them. Period.”

But the aircraft had lost its hydraulics.  And according to the pilot:

…The plane was traveling northeast at thirty-seven thousand feet. Just east of the Cherokee airport, the fan on the number two engine blew apart, cutting hydraulic lines and disabling flight controls.

“Having hydraulic fluid in the lines is a necessary condition of flight in a DC-10. After a complete loss of hydraulic power, the plane would have no steering. It would roll over and accelerate toward the earth, reaching speeds high enough to tear off the wings and tail before the fuselage plowed into the ground. Or it might enter into an uncontrollable flutter, falling like a leaf all the way to the earth, to pancake in and burst into flames.”

 

And yet the pilots of this aircraft managed to steer and careen, in circles, and somehow lower the 185-ton behemoth. You can see the wild flight in the diagram below.

232path

Evidently, I’m not the only one obsessed. The author of this book has written other books about surviving, the following which are available at DCPL:

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why–True Stories of Miraculous Endurance and Sudden Death

Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things

Actually… I’ve just been thinking…wouldn’t the view be just gorgeous to Vancouver on Amtrak…or Greyhound?

 

 

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Mar 6 2015

Racing the Clock

by Dea Anne M

Regular readers of this blog know that cooking is one of my hobbies. I love nothing better than spending hours in the kitchen, chopping, sauteing, stirring and braising, all in the service of what I hope will be a memorable meal. Realistically though, on a day-to-day basis, I don’t have hours to spend cooking–unless I wanted to sit down to dinner at ten or eleven every night, which I don’t. That’s one reason why I’m excited about Mark Bittman’s latest compendium How to Cook Everything Fast: A Better Way to Cook Great Food.

I’ve long been an admirer of Bittman’s work for the “Opinions” column of The New York Times as well as his food writing for the paper’s “Dining” section. Bittman’s opinion pieces can inspire, shall we say, lively debate among readers. He’s a passionate advocate for a more plant-based diet and for cooking at home, as well as stricter government regulation of food production. His outspoken stand on these and other related issues has earned him labels ranging from elitist to hero to public menace. He tends to provoke commentary that often boils down to “Mark Bittman can’t tell me what to do!” In any case, his cookbooks are admired by a larger group than perhaps appreciates his politics and none more so than his “Everything” titles–which include the original How to Cook Everything: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Good and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food.

Since Bittman is focusing on speed in How to Cook Everything Fast, you won’t find every recipe under the sun. Still, at 1,056 pages, it’s a surprisingly comprehensive work. No, you won’t find cassoulet or beef stew here … except wait…there are recipes for cassoulet and beef stew! True, these are streamlined versions of the cook-all-day classics, but they appear to be creditable renditions nonetheless. I’ve already pegged Beer Glazed Black Beans with Chicken and Chorizo and Pasta with Kale and Ricotta as two recipes I plan to try this week. You could cook exclusively from this book for a very long time and never repeat yourself.

Are you someone who appreciates a delicious dinner but needs to get it ready fast? If so, DCPL has resources to help. Along with Bittman’s book (very highly recommended) check out the following:

Weeknight Wonders: Delicious, Healthy Dishes in 30 Minutes or Less from the Food Network’s healthy cooking guru Ellie gourmetKrieger.

Gourmet Weekday: All-Time Favorite Recipes by the editors of gone, but not forgotten, Gourmet magazine.

Kitchen Simple: Essential Recipes for Everyday Cooking by celebrated cookbook author and master of technique James Peterson.

kitchenEveryday Food: Great Good Fast from the kitchens of Martha Stewart Living.

Real Simple Meals Made Easy by Renee Schettler, from the editors of Real Simple magazine.

Everyday Easy by British food television superstar Lorraine Pascale.

What’s your favorite way to get dinner on the table fast?

 

 

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Mar 2 2015

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

by Jesse M

Dr. SeussThe man who would come to be known as Dr. Seuss was born Theodor Seuss Geisel on March 2, 1904. He made his living as a writer and cartoonist, and is most famously an author of children’s books, responsible for such well-known characters as The Cat in the Hat and his nemesis the Grinch. The award-winning author has seen his work adapted into a variety of formats, including animated films, movies, and musical theater.

Although his entire bibliography is worth celebrating, as a child my favorite books of his were those whose pages featured a variety of zany fictional animals, like On Beyond Zebra, Scrambled Eggs Super, If I Ran the Circus, and If I Ran the Zoo. All of those titles and more are available from DCPL!

In recognition of the appeal that his books still hold for young readers, March 2nd has been designated Read Across America Day by the National Education Association. Across the country, thousands of schools, libraries, and community centers participate by bringing together kids, teens, and books!

To view information about Dr. Seuss related programming at DCPL, follow this link.

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