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Books

Mar 4 2016

By Any Other Name

by Dea Anne M

I admit that I’m quite a bit late to the game, but I checked out The Cuckoo’s Calling over the weekend and have not cuckoobeen able to put it down. Really. Of course, by now, everyone knows that the novel’s author, Robert Galbraith, is actually J. K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame and that this book is the first in a series of detective novels featuring the very interesting and mysterious Cormoran Strike and his clever assistant Robin Ellacott. On the surface, these books seem as far away from the world of Harry Potter as it is possible to get, yet one could argue that the prominent plot of each of the Potter books involves the characters in attempting to unravel a mystery. Think about it – who is the Half-Blood Prince? What exactly are the Deathly Hallows? Rowling herself has declared “…that the Harry Potter books are whodunnits in disguise,” and she had often expressed a deep love for the detective genre. I can tell you right now that even though I’m not yet finished with the first book in the series I know that I will be tearing through the second and third (The Silkworm and Career of Evil respectively) and eagerly awaiting the fourth book and all those to follow.

So, one might ask, why a pseudonym, Joanne Rowling (J. K. Rowling itself is a pseudonym – Rowling’s name is Joanne – no middle name)? Apparently, her publisher feared that boys wouldn’t read the Potter books if it was obvious that they were written by a woman. Hard to believe now, I know – but plausible enough. There has been some public speculation that the decision to use the Robert Galbraith pseudonym was similarly publisher driven – and for similar reasoning based of supposed genre-driven reading preferences. However, Rowling herself has said that the Galbraith nom-de-plume reflects a desire to create something that can “stand or fall on its own merits.”

Many authors have used pen names and for many different reasons. Here are a few that you may already know, or that you may want to get re-acquainted with or meet for the first time.

bronteThe famous Bronte sisters – Anne, Charlotte and Emily – originally published their work under the pseudonym Acton, Currer and Ellis (respectively). In 1850, in a preface to the new combined edition of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, Charlotte Bronte, who of course wrote Jane Eyre, revealed that the sisters agreed to more  masculine pen names because they “had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.” If you want to know more about the work, and the daily lives, of these fascinating women, pick up The Bronte Cabinet: three lives in nine objects by Deborah Lutz at DCPL.

Globally beloved, and Nobel Prize winning, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda initially used that name in order to keep his publishing activities a secret from his father who disapproved of literature as a profession. Later, Neruda – whose given name was Ricardo Eliecer Reyes Basoalto – took the pseudonym as his legal name. You’ll find a number of Neruda’s books at DCPL including All the Odes and On the Blue Shore of Silence as well as Neruda: an intimate biography by Volodia Teitelboim.duck

Theo Lesieg, author of popular books for young readers such as I Wish That I Had Duck Feet! and Please Try To Remember the First of Octember! is the nom-de-plume of beloved writer/illustrator Dr. Seuss. Seuss is also a pen name as it is the middle name of Theodor Geisel – the “real” Dr. Seuss. Lesieg, of course, is Geisel spelled backwards. Check out Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel by Judith and Neil Morgan for more about this very interesting man.

Alice Bradley Sheldon will be better known to readers of science fiction as James Tiptree, Jr. Sheldon began publishing her provocative and unusual brand of fiction under the pen name in 1967 and her identity remained a secret until 1977 when enthusiastic fans ferreted out the truth. Why Sheldon used a pen name at all is open to debate as there doesn’t seem to have been any significant pressure on her to do so by family or the publishing world. It appears to have been a deeply personal decision on her part. In any case, Sheldon was a complicated person – as unusual as her fiction itself. Check out my previous post devoted to Sheldon here and if you’re interested in reading her work (which I highly recommend) check out Byte Beautiful: eight science fiction stories and Her Smoke Rose Up Forever – both available from DCPL. You can read more about Sheldon herself  in James Tiptree, Jr.: the double life nomof Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips.

You can read more about pen names in Carmela Ciuraru’s highly entertaining Nom de plume: a (secret) history of psuedonymns. Of course, I wonder how many pseudonyms have been selected because the author thought it sounded cool? Just for fun, here‘s a simple pen name generator. Or invent your own! What name would you publish under? Then again, you might want to keep that information under wraps!

 

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Feb 17 2016

Brian K. Vaughan

by Joseph M

I am a big fan of sequential art. As a kid I read comic books all the time, and as an adult the graphic novel continues to be one of my favorite formats. Luckily, DCPL has a wealth of great titles to enjoy. One of my favorite “graphic novelists” is Brian K. Vaughan, author of such series as Runaways, Saga, and Y: The Last Man, among others. Some of his work may be a bit on the edgy side for the sensitive reader, but for the adventurous I highly recommend trying it out. Take a look at this catalog listing for a selection of his titles owned by DCPL. Happy reading!

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Feb 8 2016

Presidential Edition

by Hope L

This month brings us Presidents’ Day, the federal holiday first started as Washington’s Birthday and later consolidated into Presidents’ Day.

I appreciate the fact that DeKalb County gives its employees Presidents’ Day off, so we can stay home or attend a parade and celebrate and/or meditate on the office of POTUS.

Now, I wouldn’t want the job–would you? But for those hardy souls who have taken on what must be the toughest gig around–and for those seeking to be POTUS in November– there is a lot to consider.

Take the scrutiny that will accompany one’s every move, both before being president and after–for probably the rest of their lives and throughout the existence of this great nation. Books are still being written about John F. Kennedy and other presidents; popular Broadway plays are attracting attention to LBJ and Alexander Hamilton (the latter not POTUS, but close), and television documentaries abound about our leaders now and then.

PresCourageAt DCPL, I’ve found loads of books about POTUSes and potential POTUSes.

Will we see someone in a dress behind the big desk in the Oval Office? Is America ready for a female Commander in Chief?  I don’t know, but it has been fun for me to read up on some of the icons of American history.

Some of DCPL’s books about the presidents:

Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents:  Everything You Need to Know About the Most Powerful Office on Earth and the Men Who Have Occupied It by Kenneth C. Davis

Presidential Courage : Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989 by Michael Beschloss

So You Think You Know the Presidents? Fascinating Facts About Our Chief Executives by Peter E. Meltzer

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Feb 3 2016

Try a New Format

by Amie P

I always had some trouble working through graphic novels. I love books of comic strips—my parents own dog-eared collections of Calvin and Hobbes, Foxtrot, Get Fuzzy, and The Far Side. But full-length graphic novels are more difficult for me to work through. Every one that I had looked at seemed dark and bloody, or difficult to follow, or cheesy, or… or… or…

Then I read American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. I’m not going to tell you that suddenly I embraced all graphic novels, that I’ve become an ambassador for the form, that it changed my life… but when I finished, I did understand for the first time why people would read and write graphic novels.

americanThe story follows three different characters: Jin, a Chinese-American teen struggling to deal with the racism he encounters from his classmates; Danny, another teen dealing with the embarrassment caused by a visit from his Chinese cousin Chin-Kee; and the Monkey King of Flower-Fruit Mountain, a mythical figure from Chinese folklore. I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t explain how these different stories come together—I’ll just tell you that it is extremely well done and worth the read.

If you haven’t yet tried graphic novels, or if you’ve struggled with them as I have, I highly recommend giving American Born Chinese a try. I can’t guarantee you’ll come away wanting to read every other graphic novel ever written, but I do think you’ll be satisfied with this read.

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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 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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Dec 30 2015

Thinking in Systems

by Arthur G

Curiosity isn’t just a gift–it’s a gateway. Children endowed with an unquenchable thirst for figuring things out will be a real force in the world–as long as they never lose the simple joy in finding the bridge between knowing and not knowing. As a kid, that bridge was always over another horizon, obscured by a mountain of books and a plethora of facts, equations, theories, and gadgets–the collected wreckage of my endless pursuit for understanding. In my childish egocentrism, I thought I was alone in my thirst and occasionally wondered if anyone else thought the same way. I used to fumble through my local library, digesting facts, flitting from shelf to shelf and from subject to subject. It was there that I first discovered the quintessential “Renaissance Man,” Leonardo di Vinci. The fabled “Universal Genius” was my first encounter with the polymath concept, and every book on him I explored filled me with the hope that it was both possible and desirable to be a jack-of-all-trades and master of some.

LeonardoLegacyBut there was something missing. Many authors tended to rattle off his accomplishments like a Wikipedia list: he IS a scientist-mathematician-painter-sculpture-anatomist-writer-engineer. Any insight into his mind, his motivations, are usually swept under the rug or left unexamined. But there is one notable exception: Leonardo’s Legacy: How da Vinci Reimagined the World. A spectacular book penned by Stefan Klein, noted physicist and essayist, it departs from the laudatory fluff of most da Vinci biographies and examines some of the core tenets driving not just the man, but the polymath paradigm as a whole.

For instance, while da Vinci’s extensive resume usually places “mathematician” near the top, he in fact only knew the basics of long division–pretty advanced for his time, but hardly the stuff of pure genius. Instead of firing labels like a rabid kid with a paint gun, Klein looks for the origin of da Vinci’s unique mind view in his notes, letters, and sketches. As it turns out, da Vinci’s drive and most of his discoveries sprung from his pursuit of the ideal expression of art. His examinations into anatomy were born out of dissatisfaction with the outdated models of his time, so often used by artists; his discoveries in optics were spurred by his obsession with accurate light and shadow, and his engineering feats were extensions of these findings, fed also by his need for patronage and the demands of his volatile slice of Italy. Klein presents da Vinci’s achievements as both an extension of his artistry and as an outgrowth of his social and historical context.

By moving his development and discoveries beyond the vague and unhelpful “genius” label, Klein introduced me to a fuller and, dare I say, more accurate model of the “Renaissance soul.” Da Vinci never viewed his varied accomplishments in isolation. Though stricken by a lifelong love for knowledge, he tried to fit what he learned into a comprehensive framework, one much greater than the sum of its parts. Though Klein doesn’t quite mention it by name, his book was my first introduction to the idea of “systems thinking”–an approach to problem solving that views different elements and ideas in the world as part of a larger, interconnected whole, however isolated they appear. To da Vinci and other polymaths, knowledge isn’t just a series of disparate facts, separate leaves to be admired and collected in isolation. The objective is always to get at the “root,” so to speak, to see the tree in its entirety–leaves, branches, and all.

Unfortunately, Klein also points out just how fragile this peculiar brand of curiosity can be when not nurtured or funded by a generous patron. He argues that while we often lament the dearth of “modern day da Vincis,” our current emphasis on specialization and compartmentalization in education can hammer a budding polymath’s interests flat. This, of course, is a debatable point–but even so, Leonardo’s Legacy is a great book for anyone whose passions branch in many directions by offering a peek into one of our most illustrious champions.

Here are other books well worth a look:

The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One by Margaret Lobenstine (the rare career advice book aimed at people with multiple passions)

How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day by Michael J. Gelb

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Dec 28 2015

Whale of a Story

by Hope L

SmithsonianDec2015My favorite quick read, which is available at DCPL (natch), is Smithsonian Magazine*–and the December issue certainly does not disappoint.

The article “Quakers with a Vengeance” is all about the history of Nantucket, so of course it delves into the history of whaling–and, of course, it talks about Herman Melville and Moby Dick. And it explores a more recent item: Ron Howard’s new movie In the Heart of the Sea, now in theaters.

One fascinating tidbit I just picked up from reading this piece is that Melville had never been to Nantucket (the place where his famous classic is at shore) when he wrote his famous story. Turns out he only visited it a year after Moby Dick was published. I did know however (being a Card-Carrying Know-It-All and everything), that Melville’s book was a flop during his lifetime, which is indeed a shame. The more I read about Herman Melville, the more I respect him as a writer and an adventurer. (You, too, can be a Card-Carrying Know-It-All by signing up today for a DCPL library card.)

I haven’t been this excited about whaling since I visited Provincetown, MA, a few years ago. Not quite Nantucket, but it’s the closest I’ve been to the world-famous home of whalers, that little island out there off of Cape Cod. It also turns out that Nantucket and its environs had little in the way of whales in any nearby waters after about 1800, having been all fished out. Still, the infrastructure was in place for the processing of whale blubber, and Nantucket continued to be the top producer of whaling oil in the world.

The thing about Melville’s Moby Dick is that initially one could mistake it as a difficult and monotonous read, as I did before I became a die-hard ship/sea stories/whaling aficionado. But when I read it years later, I was smitten.

melville

Melville’s tales of his seafaring adventures led to his success as a writer with Typee published in 1846. Other books followed, with Moby Dick being published in 1851 to little acclaim.

So, if you care to dream about ocean adventures while in landlocked Atlanta, DCPL has an assortment of whaling and seafaring books in addition to Melville’s writings, for example:

Looking for a Ship (1990) by John McPhee

Seaworthy: Adrift with William Willis in the Golden Age of Rafting (2006) by T.R. Pearson

The Shipwreck that Saved Jamestown: The Sea Venture Castaways and the Fate of America (2008) by Lorri Glover and Daniel Blake Smith

*The Smithsonian Magazine is available in print (paper) at various DCPL branches. Check with your local library. You can read full-color, digital issues of the Smithsonian Magazine in our DCPL Zinio Library Collection, and the magazine is also available full-text via EBSCOhost from GALILEO.

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