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

January 2016

Jan 29 2016

Cross That One Off

by Amie P

Call me a nerd (go ahead, do it) because I admit that I love lists. I love having a to-do list so I can check things off, I loved watching David Letterman’s Top 10 Lists, I love checking to see what’s on the New York Times bestseller list each week. I love lists!

So naturally when a new year rolls around, I have to check all the reading challenge lists that people post online.

Here’s the problem: I never truly like any of them.

Sure, they all have some strong points. “Read a book of comics.” Gladly. “Read a book about somewhere you’ve traveled.” Sure. “Read a book published in 2016.” A bit of a given.

But then this: “Total books for this list: 195.” I did the math. That’s one book every 1.87 days. “Read a book used as a textbook.” I got my master’s degree, so I don’t feel compelled to read textbooks anymore, ever again, thank you very much. “Read a book with a title that describes your life.”

Huh?

So I did what anyone else would in this situation; I made my own list! I made sure to include some things that I wouldn’t normally read—what good is a challenge if it doesn’t stretch my boundaries a little—but I didn’t include anything that I absolutely don’t want to read. It’s perfect.

MartianWeirAlso, I’ve decided that books can count for more than one category. I just finished The Martian by Andy Weir. That counts as both “a science fiction novel” and “a book that’s been made into a movie.” Good for me.

My list is currently 83 items long (one book every 4.4 days). Other highlights include:

  • a book written by an author with initials in his/her name
  • a book written by an author born in the same year or month as you
  • a book you saw someone else reading

As for “a book you’ve started but never finished,” well, The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene, I’m coming for you, and this time I’m going to finish.

What’s on your list?

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Jan 25 2016

The Things That Scare You…

by Dea Anne M

And I hope that title doesn’t scare anyone out of reading this post! I’m thinking about scary books today because of an article on the site Bustle called “11 Books That Scared the Master of Horror…” with said Master of Horror being no less an expert than the author Stephen King. Some of the titles fall squarely within the horror genre (although that category encompasses many different types of styles and stories in my opinion) while others might seem a bit surprising, Big Little Lies and The Girl On the Train among them. In any case, it’s a thoughtful and unusual list from a writer I’ve always found more deeply thoughtful than many people give him credit for being. Of the 11 titles, DCPL owns the following:

headfullofghostsA Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

You: A Novel by Caroline Kepnes

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Accident: A Novel by Chris Pavone

The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood

Considering King’s list unleashed some memories about books that have scared me in the past, let me hasten to add here that I am one of those people who love being scared–not, of course, in real life and by things that are genuinely frightening–but through books or movies. If you’re that kind of person yourself, then you know what I’m talking about. If you aren’t that sort of person, then you may find this preference completely baffling–but I’m willing to bet that you know more than one person like me…maybe even your own partner or child!

What scares me in a book or movie? Well, gore and slasher epics leave me a little cold. Nor do zombies or vampires give me that delicious tingle of fright (while ensconced on my perfectly safe living room couch of course). I generally hate the sort of movie, or book, where the menace just won’t stay down and keeps popping up again and again. My private name for that sort of conclusion is “The End…or is it?”

I think the scary books that I have found the most effective are those in which the menace can’t be seen and either never really reveals itself or when it does it’s simply too late. I have read many, many books in my life, but of the stories that have really and truly scared me only three stand out. All three of these had me sleeping with my lights on for many nights in a row and, to be honest, I don’t think that I want to go back and re-read any of these again. Even for me, they were far too scary. Given, I was a teenager when I first experienced them. Still, I think I’ll play it safe and let them stay on the shelf for others to experience in their own way.  They are:

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty – a very scary novel which also explores questions of faith in a surprisingly deep fashion.

In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences by Truman Capote – a classic of true crime writing and completely chilling. Capote transcended the genre with this one and the story of his writing the book is as fascinating as the book itself.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – mesmerizing and unsettling in a way that more overt attempts at horror will never approach, this is an utterly singular novel.

Are you a fan of scary stories too? What are some of your past and current favorites?

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Jan 20 2016

New Year’s Resolution? Fat Chance!

by Hope L

Well, it’s that time again. Many of us will swear off sweets, junk food, cigarettes, spending frivolously, swearing, sloth, and rudeness to our fellows, among tons of other things we do or don’t do. It is time to follow through on that New Year’s Resolution.

Yeah, well, there won’t be any resolutions here, not this year. I’m already exercising more, trying to get plenty of sleep, and drinking lots of water. I had a good friend tell me a couple of years ago that I “shouldn’t drink so much Diet Coke because it turns to formaldehyde in one’s stomach.” Formaldehyde! Well, I’m sorry to say that almost one month after that ominous warning, my bottled-water-swigging friend passed away. And she wasn’t even sick. I’ve since upped my intake of Diet Coke.

One day the news is telling us caffeine is bad for us, the next day they are saying that drinking a couple of cups of java a day is good for you. Fat is bad–wait, no–fat is good for us. Salt–long the enemy of us all–my doctor told me to eat more salty foods to keep my blood pressure up. Alcohol is a no-no. Wrong again. A couple of glasses of wine a day provide antioxidants and often pair well with Hamburger Helper.

I mean, consider the following titles of books I just perused on the shelf at DCPL:

changebrainChange Your Brain, Change Your Body: Use Your Brain to Get and Keep the Body You Have Always Wanted by Daniel G. Amen

YOU:  The Owner’s Manual – An Insider’s Guide to the Body That Will Make You Healthier and Younger by Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet C. Oz

The Detox Strategy: Vibrant Health in 5 Easy Steps by Brenda Watson

Seems like there is plenty of interest out there in changing one’s self. Even Oprah Winfrey herself, the queen of success, change, and financial prosperity, would still like to succeed at something that has long eluded her with a permanent solution: weight loss. She can be seen on commercials for a leading diet program, encouraging us to “try again” along with her.

Well, yeah, but why would this time be any different than all of the other times? I know how hard it is to be overweight because I was a chubbyish child and weighed 250 lbs. in my early twenties. It’s not easy carrying an extra 100 lbs. or more around with you every day.

But the worst part, in my mind, is the prejudice/bias/loathing regarding heavy people. Especially toward women. (I was once asked when the baby was due, and I was not pregnant. Not surprising, though, since I could gain 50 lbs. in the blink of an eye.) Tabloids love to put cellulite on their covers, with gal stars who are caught unawares frolicking at the seashore or pool in bathing suits showing their not-so-best sides. I’d like to see men treated in this way. Sure, on occasion, you will see a man’s beer belly or two photographed and put out there for all to see. But it is and always has been more about women.

I’m glad to report that the times are a-changin’, though, however slowly. Some very famous people nowadays are generous in size and, in part, may just owe their very success to the fact that they are “relatable” to the rest of us real people.

fatgirlewalkingMo’Nique, one of my favorite stars, has a couple of hilarious books (available at DCPL): Skinny Women Are Evil: Notes of a Big Girl in a Small-Minded World and Skinny Cooks Can’t Be Trusted.

And, also at DCPL: The fabulous Brittany Gibbons, aka Brittany Herself, and her book Fat Girl Walking:  Sex, Food, Love, and Being Comfortable in Your Skin … Every Inch of It.

It’s about time for my mid-morning snack … But first, I do believe I will make just one New Year’s resolution:  I shall look both ways before crossing.

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Jan 15 2016

Cloudy, With a Chance of Snow

by Camille B

girl-playing-in-showComing from the Caribbean, one of the things I was most excited about was the idea of seeing snow for the very first time. Needless to say, as a resident of  Georgia, this didn’t go as smoothly as planned.

For one thing, I couldn’t understand why every time I mentioned snow, people would snicker and give each other knowing looks–like there was some kind of inside joke I just didn’t know about. Finally one older woman said to me, “Baby, you won’t get any snow, not down here, you’re gonna have to go up north for that.”

I honestly became quite frustrated. Why was everyone trying to dash my hopes? But, I remained positive that come winter I was going to get my snow.

And so I waited, and waited. And finally in January of the following year, when it seemed like all hope was lost, the powdery mixture fell from the sky. To my surprise, it seemed that Georgia residents were just as excited as I was to see the snow come down. I guess, as the older woman rightly said, snow falling in the south is kind of a rare occurrence–and when it does happen, everyone gets excited and, well, a little crazy, too.

You want to see bread and milk disappear off grocery shelves like dew on a June morning? Just say the words “possibility of snow.” I mean, no bread, no milk, no juice, no gas at the pumps. Better to be safe than sorry, right?

And then comes the waiting game. Is it really going to snow? If it does, will it stick? How much will we get? Will they close the schools? Of course kids are thrilled by this last possibility, and they bundle up in front of the television, waiting for their school’s name to scroll across the red banner at the bottom of the screen. Adults wait too–for an early morning phone call telling them they don’t have to come in to work today.

Then, almost everything shuts down. Kids go outside to make an attempt at playing in the snow, making the most of whatever snowfall there is for snow angels and building haphazard, muddy snowmen. Grownups make hot chocolate, soup or chili, and everyone just has a good old time in the snow. (I jokingly tell people that Atlanta has the most disciplined snow I’ve ever seen. It moves in slowly and sprinkles over us for a few hours, maybe a day or two, leaving everything covered in its white blanket. Then it moves on, the sun comes out again, melting everything in its path, and it’s back to life as normal.)

Right now I know that northerners are probably shaking their heads in amusement. Our snow here is more like a couple of teaspoons compared to their shovelfuls (okay, bad comparison). But you get what I mean? And I have to admit it’s totally understandable when you see places like New York and Boston being slammed with record breaking snowfalls. Just take a look at this video of Boston’s snowfall last year–I couldn’t believe it.  Can you imagine us having to deal with 108 inches of snow here in Georgia? It would be insane.

We have seen our share of serious snow accumulation over the years, though nothing quite as debilitating as what’s in that video. According to a news item in the AJC from March of last year, 8.3 inches of snow fell in January 1940, the most in Atlanta history according to the National Weather Service. Then there was the blizzard of 1993, dubbed the Storm of the Century, which people still talk about to this day. And let’s not forget the 4-plus inches of snow and sleet in 2011 that sidelined the entire city for almost five days.

Sometimes, like those rare instances, it can be brutal because we’re not really equipped to deal with such extreme winter conditions here. We are getting better, but a really bad snowstorm can still cause us some major hurt. Overall, I think we can usually take our snowfall in Georgia pretty much in stride. If and when it does come, we do our best to cope–be it with an unexpected 8 inches or the amusing one flurry.

snowstoryAt DCPL:

Snowy Day: Stories and Poems edited by Caroline Feller Bauer

Snowy Weather Days by Katie Marsico

New Orleans Classic Gumbos & Soups: Recipes from Favorite Restaurants by Kit Wohl

The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson

Southern Soups & Stews by Nancie McDermott

 

 

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Jan 8 2016

Chocolate and Watermelon

by Dea Anne M

The weather has been weird this winter. There, now that I’ve dispensed with that bit of gauche understatement, let me go on to say that I knew things had approached the ridiculous when I found myself thinking on December 27th, “Mmmm…some watermelon would taste great right now!” Obviously my physical being, overloaded at that point with rich holiday food, craved a change. At the same time, bedrock reality insisted that the temperature outside had hit the seventies. “Where am I, Australia?” I asked myself while craving the taste of light food, fruity food, and–basically–summery food. Unlike The Honourable Phryne Fisher, the title character (and very stylish dresser) of Kerry Greenwood’s detective series (available at DCPL), I am, of course, a lifelong resident of the Northern Hemisphere. So what flavors am I supposed to crave at this time of year?

According to the The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, the following flavors belong, typically, to winter: beef, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, chocolate, citrus, game, lobster, maple syrup, pork, root vegetables, bible“warming” spices (such as ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg) and winter greens like collards and kale. To me, this list makes perfect sense. While summer and early fall bring a bonanza of fruit in season, what we mainly get in winter is citrus. Maple trees, of course, need a specific range of temperature in order to yield their sap. Many animals too, including some shellfish, traditionally came into season in the very late fall and winter and were “harvested” (a word I can’t use, even after years of meat-eating, without pause) at that time. Compare Page and Dornenburg’s winter list to their list of summer flavors: apricots, arugula, beans, blackberries, cherries, corn, eggplant, peaches, strawberries, tomatoes and yes…good old watermelon. These lists reconfirm my belief that the gingerbread I bake tastes best when the weather is cold, and chocolate–though many of us agree it goes down easy any time of year–has a velvety richness that really does make a good winter contrast to the light, vibrant flavors of summer fruit.

And I think this is what “seasonal flavors” are all about. It isn’t so much that you can’t get watermelon in December or venison in July. Imports and freezing technology have completely changed what is or is not available during certain parts of the year. Still, there’s something to be said for keeping certain tastes and textures to their traditional season. If nothing else, it can make for interesting reading. Allow me to recommend two very different, yet equally entertaining, accounts of seasonal eating–both available at DCPL.

Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life is the novelist’s chronicle of the year her miraclefamily spent growing most of their own food. What they didn’t grow themselves was purchased from local farmers–the exceptions being wheat flour, olive oil, coffee, chocolate, dried fruit and some spices. Kingsolver is a moralist in the best sense, lacing her narrative with wry humor instead of finger wagging, and the book winds up being as gripping as any novel. It is, in fact, one of my favorites.

I love memoir, especially culinary memoir, and Ruth Reichl is, in my opinion, one of the best practitioners of this particular craft. Her enticing writing, full of candor and poetry, swirls around themes of love and work and family and, most of all, food. I love, and have re-read often, Tender At the Bone, Comfort Me With Apples and Garlic and Sapphires. Reichl’s latest book, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life, is yearsomething a little different. The book is partially Reichl’s story of how she suddenly lost her job when, in 2009, Gourmet‘s parent company ended the magazine’s almost sixty-year run. (Reichl became the editor in 1999.) The book is also a cookbook as Reichl chronicles healing herself of pain, and the loss of her professional identity, by cooking. The book is divided into four sections–Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer–and Reichl fills each section with recipes appropriate to that season (at least if you live in upstate New York as Reichl did at the time). Fall, for example, is the time for Buttermilk Potatoes with Brown Butter inspired by a trip to a local farmers market, or just a simple Steak Sandwich, equally inspired, by the unexpected kindness of a stranger at the airport. Examples of what Reichl calls “word pictures” herald pieces of narrative and accompanying recipes. (Reichl claims that Twitter opened up an entire new way of communicating–more formal and incantatory–and though some have found these haiku-like pieces to be excellent fodder for parody, I think they are charming.) The recipes are approachable, the photography is beautiful and, all in all, Reichl’s always compelling voice comes through with clarity and new strength. Highly recommended.

The previously mentioned Flavor Bible is an excellent reference for anyone interested in learning improvisational cooking. Certainly, cooking with the seasons is, in my opinion at least, a viable way of gaining confidence in one’s skills and tastes. If you think you might be interested in this approach, check out the following offerings from DCPL:

rootTender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch by Nigel Slater – all about vegetables from a passionate gardener.

Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard – also by Slater but focused on fruit.

Root to Leaf: A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons by Steven Satterfield, genius chef at, and co-owner of, Atlanta’s Miller Union.

The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen: A Fresh Take on Tradition by Amelia Saltsman – an original approach to a rich and multi-faceted cuisine.

Today, it’s 45 degrees where I live in Decatur, GA, and the forecast promises a low tonight of 34. So what’s for dinner? I don’t know about you, but I’m making a nice, hot batch of Leek and Potato Coup.

Are you a seasonal eater? What food do you like best in cold weather? How about when it’s sweltering outside?

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Jan 6 2016

(Not) Everyone Has Read That

by Amie P

Sitting at the table for our morning meal at a bed and breakfast a couple weeks ago, I happened to mention to all the guests that I was a librarian. A woman at the other end of the table blurted out, “Oh, I love to read. What book should I read now?” After a short pause she added, “I like historical books.”

Now I read a lot—two or more hours a day on MARTA gives me plenty of time to bury myself in a book. Still, whenever I’m asked to recommend a book, my mind instantly goes blank. Then when I do think of a title, my next thought is, “That’s a terrible recommendation. Everyone has already read that. You’re a librarian—can’t you think of something that isn’t on the NYT Bestseller Lists?”

In this particular instance, the only book I could think of was one that won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. I was sure she must have already read it. But I had no other ideas. So I asked her, “Have you read All the Light We Cannot See?”

She hadn’t.

She hadn’t even heard of it.

And this was a woman who loved to read, liked historical books, and even came down to breakfast with her Kindle.

So I’ve decided I need to stop making assumptions about the books that everyone has read, and need instead to simply recommend good books.

Here are a few books that “everyone” has read.  If you’re not yet among that everyone, I recommend putting these on your to-read list:

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr allthelight

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Often people follow the crowd for the sake of following the crowd.

But sometimes people follow the crowd because the crowd is going in the right direction.

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