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

March 2017

Mar 30 2017

The Eternal Jane

by Dea Anne M

“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine.”northanger

Upon reading this sentence, the first in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, during my second year of college – I was hooked and from that moment forward I joined the legions of passionate Jane Austen fans. “Janeite” is a term coined and taken up during the late nineteenth century by a group of male literary critics and publishers and the label carried a clubby sort of aura. It denoted a privately held enthusiasm, almost on the order of a guilty pleasure, sort of how some people nurture a secret fondness for mayo and peanut butter sandwiches or for playing the lute. Now, “Janeite” often carries mansfielda pejorative meaning (though not always) for those who move in the rarefied academic world and tends to refer to people who indulge in the campier side of Jane Austen fandom such as costuming and reenactment events. Me? I just love the books. From the popular, much beloved and often filmed Pride and Prejudice to the undeniably problematic Mansfield Park – I can’t get enough Austen. I admit that I’ve yet to read Lady Susan – an early work of Austen’s which has been adapted for the screen by Whit Stillman as Love and Friendship (see it – it’s fun!) – but I look forward to doing so soon.

Make no mistake, I’m not one of those readers who swoon over Mr. Darcy (although there’s nothing wrong with it if you are!). My appreciation for Austen is tied up more with her consistently acute observation of what was, admittedly, a fairly narrow slice of the world and with her ironic sense of humor. Indeed, I’ve read most of Austen’s novels more than once and never fail to find them newly entertaining. I also remain fascinated with the offshoots and culture that have grown up around Jane Austen’s life and work. From the weird (but kind of wonderful) to the knitsearnestly correct there appears to be something for everyone in Austenland (which, incidentally, is the title of a 2013 feature film based on a Shannon Hale’s 2007 novel). I encourage you to explore and find your own cozy niche. Are you into needlework? Don’t miss The Best of Jane Austen Knits: 27 regency-inspired designs. Do you fancy a stirring love story mixed in with your epic struggle against the undead?  Be sure to check out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: the classic Regency romance – now with ultraviolent zombie mayhem.

Of course, apart from Austen’s own novels, there’s a plethora of fiction inspired by it. Here’s a very abbreviated list.

Longbourn by Jo Baker (Pride and Prejudice told from the household servants point of view)

longbornEmma: a modern retelling by Alexander McCall Smith ( from the creator of the wonderful Mma Precious Ramotswe series)

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict: a novel by Laurie Viera Rigler (A modern woman’s time travel leads to amusing complication…and culture shock!)

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor by Stephanie Barron (the first in a mystery series featuring Jane Austen as sleuth)

Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg (an engaging YA romp set at an exclusive girl’s academy)

The works of Jane Austen have also inspired a host of non-fiction books. Here’s a few that provide an unusual approach to the material.

A Jane Austen Education: how six novels taught me about love, friendship and the things that really matter by educationWilliam Deresiewicz

The Jane Austen Handbook: a sensible yet elegant guide to her world by Margaret C. Sullivan

At Home With Jane Austen by Kim Wilson

Jane Austen Rules: a classic guide to modern love by Sinead Murphy

Do you like Jane Austen? What’s your favorite of her novels? If you’ve never read her books and want to see what they’re all about, I would recommend starting with Pride and Prejudice – to my mind still her best – although I can’t help putting in a plug for my first Austen crush, Northanger Abbey. It’s one of her shorter novels, and most important, it’s very, very funny. Enjoy!

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VictHow many of you have watched the PBS series Victoria? This show is based on Queen Victoria of England. She was one of England’s longest reigning monarchs. At the library we have many opportunities to explore the various lives of women. Daisy Goodwin has, in her latest book Victoria, created a great a companion to the PBS program.

I find it so fascinating to read about another life. One that I will never experience. What is it like to be royal or a head of state? What constrictions does it place on one’s life? Can they truly have the freedom to marry who they choose or live where they want to?

 

Victoria became queen after her two uncles died with no heir. Her early life was spent at Kensington Palace. Where she often felt like a prisoner. Upon her uncle the King of England’s death she achieved the throne and her independence. What kind of monarch would she become? Who would her husband be?

Ms. Goodwin also introduces us to other characters such as: Lord Melbourne (Lord M), the Duchess of Kent, Sir John Conroy, King Leopold of Belgium, and Prince Albert. There are many others as well.

Readers will fly through the pages of the fabulous book on Victoria. The library has other books on Victoria listed here:

Victoria A Life by A.N. Wilson

We two: Victoria and Albert Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill

Queen Victoria At Home by Michael De-La-Noy

We also hYoung Elizabethave books that follow the lives of other monarchs of England who also are featured on current television shows, such as The Crown and The White Princess.  If you are not familiar with The Crown it follows the rise of Elizabeth II to the throne of England.  It also delves into the personal lives of the Queen and her family.  The White Princess on the other hand follows the conclusion of  the War of the Roses or the Cousins War.  It follows the perspective of the young princess Elizabeth of York.

 

Other titles include: 
Young Elizabeth: the Making of a Queen by Kate Wililams

Prince Philip: the turbulent early life of the man who married the Queen Elizabeth the Second by Philip Eade

 

The White Princess by Philippa GregoryPrincess of York

Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir

Elizabeth of York, the mother of Henry VIII by Nancy Lenz Harvey

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Mar 10 2017

Small Great Things

by Camille B

Small Great Things(No Spoilers)

I have never been a member of a Book Club, but after reading this book I honestly wished that I was. Small Great Things left me so charged up- in a good way- that I wanted to sit down with others who had read it to hear what they had to say about it. Did the emotions they experienced mirror mine? Or were they totally opposite?

There is probably no author worth his salt, who has ever written a book that was totally loved the world over, no matter the effort, research, humility and best intentions he’d put into capturing a particular truth. There would always be the few who felt that the facts weren’t accurate, or if they were, they weren’t presented the right way. Or maybe they simply felt that the author was presumptuous to speak on the topic at all. To these folk I say, get it right when you write your book.

The blurb of Small Great Things actually sells itself, and I found myself being quickly reeled in as I read it: a black labor and delivery nurse, white supremacist parents; the black nurse is told not to touch their baby because of the color of her skin, she ends up doing so anyway in a moment of crisis, the baby dies and the story takes off! I placed a hold on the book immediately. Who was going to pay for this…crime? How? And most importantly…why?

Jodi Picoult uses the lives of her three main characters:  Ruth, a nurse; Turk, a white supremacist father; and Kennedy, a white public defender, each with different lives, cultures and backgrounds, to explore a topic that so many tiptoe around or find difficult to speak about. “Racism is hard to discuss,” says Picoult in the author’s note. “And as a result we often don’t.”  So she puts out the three pairs of shoes for us to walk in, and as we do we see firsthand the many cracks and crevices where racism can lie, sometimes hidden in plain sight. 

Parts of the book will make you squirm, and you may be tempted to skip over a few pages or even chapters. Some of the deeds done would seem atrocious and cause your blood to boil. There are words that may make you cringe, because you can’t imagine ever saying them yourself, but they’re necessary and the book won’t be complete without them.

And Picoult stays true to her characters and their voices throughout her book. I remember commenting to a friend while reading it that, had I written the book myself, I would have been drenched in sweat by the end of the final chapter from the sheer effort of having to keep those three voices as clear and distinct in the reader’s mind as they were throughout the entire novel- a black nurse, a white lawyer and a white supremacist.

The wealth of research that went into breathing life into Ruth Jefferson, Kennedy McQuarrie and Turk Bauer, and causing them to come alive for us on the pages included Jodi sitting down to speak with women of color- many of them mothers- who were willing to share with her openly what it really feels like to be black. She interviewed former skinheads who gave her an inside look of how white supremacists think and what they actually believe. She spoke with white mothers as well, many of whom admitted that they never discussed racism with their children. She spent hours poring over books on the topic and even enrolled in a social justice workshop called Undoing Racism.

I was learning about myself,” Picoult says in her author’s note. “I was exploring my past, my upbringing, my biases, and I was discovering that I was not as blameless and progressive as I had imagined.” Mrs. Picoult is white, I am black, but her words ring true for me as well, as I’m sure they will for you, whether you’re black, white, blue or purple.

For some, this might be a difficult book to read, but what growth is there if we only read the books that we’re comfortable with? The ones with easy answers and a happy ending? I think that it’s imperative that we also  read the ones that stretch us; the ones that make us look at life in another way, whether we agree with that way ourselves or not. And this is what Small Great Things does– it causes you to walk in the other person’s shoes, see through the other person’s eyes, even though doing so might be uncomfortable.

So if you’re looking for an easy read, this is not the book for you. Easy it’s not and change you it will, because there’s no way you can remain indifferent to the racism we see in our world everyday after the myriad of emotions you’re bound to experience as you go through the pages of this book.  There is no way you can continue to hide beneath a cloak of ignorance.

It’s the best book I’ve read so far this year, with a surprising twist that will knock your socks off. I urge you to get it, read it and pass it on to your friends, share it with your husband, wife and coworkers.  I guarantee you that unless your heart is made of stone, there is no way you can read it and not come away with a different imprint upon your  soul that wasn’t there before.

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way” 

                                                                   – Martin Luther King Jr.

Small Great Things– Jodi Picoult

 

 

 

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recyle

As the time for Spring cleaning approaches, some of us may find we have certain troublesome items we would like to be rid of, from old paint cans to spent batteries to used fluorescent bulbs. These materials aren’t suitable for normal garbage collection, but DeKalb County provides an environmentally-friendly alternative. On Saturday, March 25, the DeKalb County Sanitation Division will host its biannual household hazardous waste recycling event from 8 a.m. – noon at the Sanitation Division’s Central Transfer Station, 3720 Leroy Scott Drive, Decatur, GA 30032. The event is free and open to all DeKalb County residents. For more information, check out this flyer. Happy recycling!

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Mar 3 2017

Keeping It Simple

by Dea Anne M

I love to cook. This statement will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. In fact, I imagine that some regular readers of this blog might think of me as “…that one writer who goes on and on about cooking and food. I mean it’s non-stop. Talk about obsessed!” Well, maybe I am – a little obsessed that is – and I freely admit that I love having a day during which I have nothing to do but cook an elaborate meal – no groceries left to shop for, all cooking implements accounted for and ready, (presumably) grateful  guests already invited – I love it all! That being said, my life is a lot like yours in that although I want to eat well, and at home, most evenings – I don’t have unlimited cash or hours to spend in getting meals to the table. Basic templates work well for me – frittata or quiche and salad, protein and pan sauce with roasted vegetables, good old rice and beans – I do them all, and often.

Now I realize that being able to do this rests on the reality that I’ve been cooking a long time and I understand at this point how to do certain things. When I was first starting out in the kitchen, I relied on cookbooks with some pretty mixed results. Don’t get me wrong. Using cookbooks can be a great way to learn on your own but as is the case with so much in life definitions of such concepts as “simple” can be very subjective. For some recipe writers, “simple”means that the cook just needs to open a couple of boxes and cans – never mind that the resulting quick dish tastes exactly like a box or a can. Other recipe creators seem convinced that a “simple” dish means you needn’t grind or pluck something first in order to begin preparing dinner. What I mainly look for in a recipe these days, or really in any book about food and cooking, is inspiration for what I might create with my existing skills out of ingredients that won’t be too inaccessible or pricey. If an idea for a meal can use what I already have on hand – well, that’s a delicious bonus. Here are some resources available from DCPL that have been inspiring me lately. Some of these I’ve mentioned in other posts, but hey, a good book is a good book.

Poor Man’s Feast: a love story of comfort, desire, and the art of simple cooking by Elissa Altman is written not by a chef but by a feastwoman who simply loves food. For many years, the tendency in her own cooking was toward the elaborate – game birds, exotic vegetables arranged in towers, lobster bisque.  No ingredient was too expensive or outre. Then, Altman met the love of her life, a New Englander devoted to frugality and simple living, and everything for this born and bred New Yorker changed. This is a wonderful meditation on the power of love and what it is exactly that transforms mere ingredients into something delicious. The recipes that end each chapter are straight-forward, delicious and, as the title promises, simple.

While there are many recipes in Tamar Adler’s lovely book An mealEverlasting Meal: cooking with economy and grace, I wouldn’t call it primarily a cookbook. Instead, it is a meditation on how to live a practical yet elegant life. Surprisingly, it all starts by boiling a pot of water and twines beautifully and hypnotically from there. I have read this book quite a few times and I never fail to be inspired by it in my own kitchen. I guarantee that Adler’s book will help you approach leftover rice and roasted vegetables in a brand new way. Highly recommended.

I sometimes find Jamie Oliver’s rugby scrum mateyness and amplified energy a little hard to take, but you cannot deny his revolutionenthusiasm for what he does. The British chef is well known by now for his commitment to improving school lunches, both in his native country as well as here in the United States. Also, well known is Oliver’s “you can do it” attitude about cooking. It’s a refreshing approach when one grows weary of gorgeously photographed cooking tomes authored by imperious chefs who think nothing of ordering us to prepare five different sauces for the “peasant style” duckling that we’ll be eating for dinner (about five days from now) or to process coffee beans and hazelnuts into a fine powder (sift three times to remove impurities!) to sprinkle atop the cherimoya-kumquat ice cream that we have churned by hand. These are the cookbooks that make you fling down your spatula and decide to just call out for a pizza. The food photos in Jamie’s Food Revolution: rediscover how to cook simple, delicious, affordable meals certainly don’t resemble those in the “cheffy” books. In fact, these dishes look exactly like what you would produce at home in your own kitchen and that’s kind of the point. Straightforward roasts, pasta dishes, easy curries and stir fries – this really is simple food – bound to inspire novices and experienced home cooks alike in a way that the gorgeous yet complicated  cookbooks never could. I also love Oliver’s “pass it on” philosophy by which he advocates learning a couple of recipes and then teaching them to a few other people and ask that they pass them on to still others. Sure, it won’t bring any of us clearer skin, better gas mileage or world peace anytime soon but it might help make the world a better place. Also, think how much money you’ll save by not buying fancy cookbooks or pizza!

I’ve been concentrating here on titles that seek to inspire by simplepromoting a specific philosophy about cooking and food. I want to end by recommending two books that are focused purely on recipes but carry out the simple food theme beautifully. They are The Best Simple Recipes by the editors of America’s Test Kitchens and Simple Fare: rediscovering the pleasures of real food by Ronald Johnson. The Test Kitchens book, as with all that this team has produced, gives us recipes that have been exhaustively tested until they really are the best. Johnson’s book has a much older copyright (1989!) but the recipes are both budget conscious and really delicious. A home cook could use either of these books as a sole kitchen reference and be completely satisfied with the results for a very long time.

How about you? What’s your definition of simple cooking? And what, by the way, is your favorite cookbook or cooking guide?

 

 

 

 

 

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