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Readers Advisory

Jan 6 2014

Resolving to Renew

by Rebekah B

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As creatures who enjoy habits, creating or finding meaning, patterns, and structure in our lives, most humans keep track of time for these very reasons.  Our connections of the cycles of the seasons and the passage of time are intimately connected to our sense of identity.  With this comes the resolutions of the new year.

The sentiment of being given a clean slate (tabula rasa) is literally refreshing, the idea that we can each start anew, let go of some less than savory habits, pounds, grudges, and dedicate ourselves to healthier eating or exercise regimens, better financial planning, or creative pursuits we have previously allowed to fall by the wayside.  I think about checking out only as many library items as I can possibly read, listen to, or watch.  Hmmm…

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That most of us, soon after the January rollover, will also roll back to our previous comfort zones is probably inevitable and statistically about 80% of Americans do fall back to old habits, but this state of affairs does nothing to prevent us from hoping that our will power will be made of sturdier stuff than it was in previous years.  And some of us will accomplish or at least come nearer to the goals we have set for ourselves.  I might add that it is probably helpful to our self-esteem to set goals that are realistically achievable, as this is encouraging to the continuity of the process itself.  This blog post  contains a short history of new year’s resolutions and traditions and suggests writing down the goals, tracking your progress, and relying on friends to remind and support you along the path.  In fact, this site includes a page where you can record and track your goals.

While the ancient Babylonians modestly paid off old debts or returned borrowed items to turn a new leaf, the Romans offered promises of improved conduct to their two-faced god, Janus, at the beginning of the year.  As Janus was able to look backward into the past as well as into the future, this seems appropriate!

Here are a few recently published books available through DCPL that might help you focus and organize on your goals, or for those less goal oriented, to show gratitude and appreciation for self and the gifts you already enjoy.

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Of course, not everyone celebrates Christmas and those who do don’t celebrate in exactly the same way.  My own holidays have tended to be fairly low-key especially in recent years. I bake cookies,  but I normally try to avoid actual shopping as much as possible. As far as decorating my home goes, I hang a wreath on my front door and put up a Christmas tree and that’s it. I have to say that decorating the tree is one of my favorite holiday activities. After celebrating a fair number of holidays,  I now have a couple of boxes packed with  ornaments.  Each one calls up a fond memory as I put it on the tree.

Do you put up a tree? Mine is artificial but for many people only a live tree will do. Or consider a tree made of…books…as in this post from Jesse last year.

How about ornaments? My tree decorating strategy mostly involves just trying to find room for everything (really…I have a lot of ornaments!) but I’ve known people who create subject themes (Star Wars anyone?) for their trees or devise a strict color scheme. Of course the decorating magazines this time of year are full of ideas for beautifully decorated trees.

Do you need new decorating ideas for your home? Are you decorating for the first time? Either way, DCPL has resources for you.

bestIf you prefer a traditional approach, check out Victoria 500 Christmas Ideas: celebrate the season in splendor by Kimberly Meisner. Or you might consider Best of Christmas Ideas from the editors of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Are you the crafty type? You might love the ideas in A Very Beaded Christmas: 46 projects that glitter, twinkle and shine by Terry Taylor or the Christmas section in Martha Stewart’s Handmade Holiday Crafts by the doyenne of crafting perfection …Martha Stewart. Do you like to reuse, recycle and reduce your carbon footprint? If so, check out I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas by Anna Getty.

historyFinally,  if you’re interested in learning how Christmas has evolved over time, don’t miss two excellent histories of the holiday—Stephen Nissenbaum’s The Battle for Christmas and Christmas in America: a history by Penne L. Restad. You’ll learn that the Puritans banned the holiday altogether—associated as it was with rioting and public drunkeness. You’ll also learn that for all we (at least many of us) bemoan the warping of this family holiday into a tangle of commercial excess—it was actually the Victorians who transformed the holiday into what we think of as the “traditional” Christmas which includes Santa Claus, Christmas cards and what had been, up until then, a German novelty…the decorated Christmas tree.

Do you decorate for Christmas? What’s your decorating style?

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Multiple magazine articles, both scholarly and popular extoll the benefits of bilingualism or multilingualism for the health and efficiency of the human brain.  It is said that those who learn multiple languages from birth are less likely, for example, to develop early onset Alzheimer’s disease…if the disease does appear, it is more likely to be delayed proportionately to the fluency and depth of understanding attained in a second language.  Foreign languages are promoted as a means to make your child (or self) appear more sophisticated and cognitively advanced, leading parents to believe their child will become a front running contender for advanced educational programs, degrees, and be more competitive in the job markets of the future.  Of course, certain languages are considered more useful than others, depending on where you live in the world.  In a not so distant past, it was believed that learning a second language could cause developmental delays, but this is no longer the current consensus.

From my readings, I often gather that an overlying assumption motivates parents’ wishes for their children to learn foreign languages: that it makes their minds more logical and mathematical, and therefore better prepared for our technical and information age.   While I understand these arguments, some of which seem plausible and worthy, I have my own reasons for defending and promoting multi-lingualism.  To learn a new language means to learn to understand and assimilate a new culture.  Culture includes body language and unspoken assumptions about time, proximity, morality, justice, love and how affection is demonstrated or withheld, diet, and so much more.  Simply learning grammatical constructs, while being great gymnastics for the rational mind, is only a small part of the benefits of bilingualism.

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Nov 20 2013

National Bake Cookies Day

by Glenda

Christmas Cookies by Lisa ZwirnDecember 18th is National Bake Cookies Day. This comes at a wonderful time, because winter holiday celebrations are in progress. This gives everyone an opportunity to bake cookies. Cookies can be made from ready-made dough or from scratch. When deciding to bake cookies from scratch you may be at a loss for ideas. I suggest you visit your local library and pick up a few books on baking cookies. The joy of cookies by Sharon Tyler Herbst, The Christmas cookie book by Judy Knipe and Barbara Marks, Christmas cookies: 50 recipes to treasure for the holiday season by Lisa B. Zwirn, or Southern living best loved cookies: 50 melt-in-your-mouth Southern morsels are all wonderful books with excellent recipes for baking cookies. If you are more of a visual learner then check out Martha’s favorite cookies DVD, the DVD features thirty-three of Martha’s best cookie recipes. These are just a few of the wonderful items that are available to help make National Bake Cookies Day a success. Other ideas for National Bake Cookies Day are to have a Cookie Swap Party, make cookies for your local school, fire station or police station. I just can’t wait for December 18th. I can smell the cookies already, can’t you? My favorite cookie is the classic chocolate chip cookie, but I also like ginger snaps, lemon bars and oatmeal cookies without the raisins. Tell me your favorite cookie and/or post your favorite recipe.

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Oct 29 2013

Jack-o’-lanterns!

by Jesse M

There are a lot of things to love about Halloween: the haunted houses, the costumes, the candy! But perhaps my favorite aspect of Halloween is one I observe every year, even when I don’t elect to dress up or decorate much, and that is pumpkin carving.

Extreme pumpkin carving coverThe origin of pumpkin carving is uncertain. In the United States, the first jack-o-lantern associated with Halloween was recorded in 1866, although carved pumpkins were first associated with the harvest season in general long before they became emblematic of Halloween.

Freakishly cool pumpkins coverThese days, the art of pumpkin carving has evolved into a complex affair, with numerous contests showcasing elaborate and inventive works of art that most of us couldn’t hope to equal. Yet there are resources available through DCPL that can help you create the jack-o-lantern of your dreams (or perhaps nightmares?), such as How to Carve Freakishly Cool Pumpkins and Extreme Pumpkin Carving. Other good resources for techniques and ideas are available online.

Did you carve an awesome jack-o’-lantern this year? Snap a picture and share a link to it in the comments! Here is one I’m particularly impressed by: R2D2 of Star Wars fame, carved just yesterday by my girlfriend. Below photos courtesy of Amy E.

Photo courtesy of Amy E.

Photo courtesy of Amy E.

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Sep 20 2013

Tech detox. Could you? Would you?

by Dea Anne M

I recently came across an article published this summer in the New York Times that profiles Camp Grounded in Navarro, CA, a three-day summer camp for adults. Campers relinquish their phones, computers, tablets and watches. There is no television. Furthermore, campers are not allowed to discuss their work or ages and each camper has a “camp name.” Camp diet is gluten-free and vegan. Camp Grounded is a creation of Digital Detox an Oakland based group that offers tech-free retreats. Their motto is “Disconnect to reconnect.”

There’s something to be said for taking a tech break now and then in order to recharge. I know that part of what I find so profoundly relaxing about a vacation at the beach is that I wind up spending very little time in front of a screen and don’t pay attention to the clock. Instead, I read, walk, cook and just watch the water. Many experts today suggest creating a tech-free zone in one’s home. This may not be desirable to everyone, or even possible for some, but it’s certainly something to think about.

A recent article by Jay Turner of Georgia Public Libraries Continuing Education and Training discusses a keynote address delivered by Stacey Aldrich who is the Deputy Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Education Office of Commonwealth Libraries. Among the areas of future technology that libraries may be involved with,  Aldrich suggests that libraries may soon provide not only access to all sorts of technology but also to tech-free areas in which users will engage in “self-reflection or face-to-face communication with others.” And a  2011 article from American Libraries magazine discusses the possibility of libraries offering gadget-free zones and whether or not library patrons would use and appreciate these.

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Where do you stand on the tech-free question? Do you provide yourself with “digital breaks” or do you like to stay wired?

If you’d like to do some reading on the effects and future of digital culture, try these titles available from DCPL.

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Sep 16 2013

Inspirations for a healthier life

by Jesse M

Reading Glenda’s post from last month about losing weight got me thinking about books I’ve read over the years that have inspired me to alter my diet or exercise habits. These are not diet or exercise books though. Rather, these books inspire lifestyle changes by providing information that challenges the reader to think about their everyday behaviors in a different way.

Stuffed and starved coverStuffed and starved: markets, power, and the hidden battle for the world’s food system by Raj Patel

In this eye-opening book, author Raj Patel takes readers on a journey through the global food system, demonstrating how both the problems of malnourishment and obesity are both symptomatic of the worldwide corporate food monopoly. Well sourced and argued, this book may make you think twice about alternatives when considering your next trip to the supermarket.

Born to run coverBorn to run: a hidden tribe, superathletes, and the greatest race the world has never seen by Christopher McDougall

An epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? Part investigation of the biomechanics of running, part examination of ultra-marathons and their enthusiasts, McDougall takes readers into Mexico’s Copper Canyons to meet and learn from the Tarahumara Indians, who have honed the ability to run hundreds of miles without rest or injury utilizing only the simplest footwear. By the end of this book you’ll want to get up and go for a run yourself.

Hungry Planet coverHungry planet: what the world eats by Faith D’Aluisio

This award-winning book profiles 30 families from around the world and offers detailed descriptions of weekly food purchases; photographs of the families at home, at market, and in their communities; and a portrait of each family surrounded by a week’s worth of groceries. The photography is the real star of this book, especially the images of each family with one week of food. The disparity from country to country (and in some cases, across different regions of the same country) is often startling, and may cause readers to take a closer look at how much they themselves are consuming.

Stumbling on happiness coverStumbling on happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Written for a lay audience by Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert, the central thesis of this book is that, through perception and cognitive biases, people imagine the future poorly, in particular what will make them happy. Gilbert discusses these issues and suggests ways that we can more accurately predict our future feelings and motivations. A major takeaway for me from this book was that if I wasn’t feeling motivated to do something now, it isn’t likely I’ll be miraculously more motivated later. This applies to all sorts of things in my life I have a tendency to procrastinate on, such as exercising, doing laundry, or starting a diet.

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Collage of my front porch garden

Any little corner of the world can be transformed into a personal and unique work of art.  Every change that we make to our world and environment changes all of us just a little bit.  Flowers and plants, like books, are among my best friends in the world.  They are quiet and dynamic, and the depth of their being touches my heart.

I became a home-owner for the first time just three years ago this month.  My favorite type of house is the Craftsman bungalow.  While my house is not a 1930’s artisanal gem, it is a renovated small 1950’s ranch with a large front porch add-on.  A front porch is an architectural hug, an invitation, a welcoming embrace.  I fell in love with my house because of the porch with its columns, ceiling fan, and large front window.  I immediately sketched out in my mind the containers overflowing with luxuriant plants, flowers, and herbs that would adorn the biggest room in my house!

A porch can be an oasis...

While trained as a visual artist and painter, gardening affords me a multi-dimensional experience, artistically speaking.  The plants have color, texture, aromas, form.  As living beings, the plants interact with one another, and they attract a world of what most would consider to be pests.  In any case, as I stated above—plants are dynamic, and they act on the environment around them.  My basil has introduced miniature snails to my front porch.  Tiny bees hum, darting in and out of the blooming oregano, while moths find shade and shelter during daylight hours under the leaves of flowering plants.  A salamander enjoys frolicking around my geraniums.  Zippered webs with juicy lemon yellow and black garden spiders have haunted my columns and rosemary.  Birds, chipmunks, and squirrels peck around in the soil and mulch, searching for succulent treats, scattering debris in their wake.

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Jul 26 2013

ShareReads: Adventures with the Classics

by Dea Anne M

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When I was 14, I went into the school library and checked out a copy of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Later that day, my English teacher saw me carrying annait in the hallway. She raised an eyebrow and said, voice dripping with scepticism.

“Don’t you think that’s a little bit much?”

Well, that just made me more determined than ever to read the whole book. What I didn’t admit to myself (or to anyone else) was that as interested as I was in the book, I was even more interested in being seen carrying it around. Trying to impress others with my reading choices was a youthful bit of vanity that it took an unfortunately long time to shake. Anyway, I finally finished the novel though I had no real idea of what I had read. Not that I would have let anyone know that.

High school had its required reading as did college but none of the assigned northangertexts, though interesting enough, inspired me to take up reading classics in my leisure time. The change occurred in my Romantic Literature class when the professor assigned us to choose one of two novels and write a paper about it. I think the only reason I picked Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey was because I just didn’t want to read the Last of the Mohicans. I was only a few pages into the book, however, before I realized that I’d fallen in love. Since then, I’ve read all of Austen’s work and have happily reread most of them as well – notably my two favorites – Emma and Pride and Prejudice.

In the years since that first delightful experience with Jane Austen, I’ve brothersexplored classic novels sporadically. I went through a Dostoevsky phase which was pretty heavy going but overall worthwhile (favorite novel – The Brothers Karamazov). After that, I experienced a year long flirtation with the works of Henry James of which (and I’m a little embarassed to admit this) I like most the shortest namely The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller. Thomas Mann followed Henry James then came James Joyce and after that I stopped setting myself the “project” of trying to read any author’s entire body of work.

Lately, I’ve become interested in exploring the classics again though this timedavid I want to take a less studied approach and select books with an eye toward sheer reading pleasure. Remembering how much I enjoyed Great Expectations, I recently checked out Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. I couldn’t put it down! It’s a very long book so it took me a good while to get through and I’m sure that the inmates of my house became less than charmed with my nightly cries of “Poor David!” and “I hate Uriah Heap!” but I really found it that engaging a novel. I followed Dickens with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and I’m happy to report that experience as every bit as enjoyable. I suppose I’ve finally learned that I don’t janehave to  read a classic work of literature in order to “improve” myself or (cringe) in order to impress other people. I can just relax and relish the reading experience. As Italo Calvino reminds us in his book of essays The Uses of Literature, “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”

If you’re interested in dipping into the classics but don’t know quite where to start, check out the “Best Classic Literature Ever” list on the Goodreads website. You can get more ideas from Modern Library’s “100 Best Novels” list. This last is actually two lists in one – the board’s list which is dominated by classics and the reader’s list which leans more toward genre fiction and includes more science fiction and dark fantasy.

What’s next on my reading list of classics? Middlemarch by George Eliot. Then, who knows, maybe I’ll tackle Anna Karenina again!

What are some of your favorite classics? How do you define a classic?

 PS – This is the last ShareReads post. Hope you had fun with us, and don’t forget to submit your reading and activities completed on our Adult Summer Reading page. Click here to see all of our ShareReads posts this year.

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Jul 10 2013

Rediscovered treasures

by Dea Anne M

Regular readers of this blog know that I am an avid reader of what I might term “culinary literature,” and I suspect that I am not alone with this fondness. Given the huge success of such books as Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, julieKitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, and Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, it appears as though many people are interested in reading well-written books that touch on the ways that food intersects with life. Indeed, it seems that every week there’s a new culinary memoir or collection of essays on gastronomy that appears on the publishing horizon and that trend shows no current signs of stopping.

But what about the older treasures?   There is much pleasure in discovering, or rediscovering, the wonderful food writing of the past. This was brought home lambto me recently after reading (I might even say devouring) The Supper of the Lamb: a culinary reflection by Robert Farrar Capon. Ostensibly a cookbook, this literary gem is also about what it means to be human and fully in the world. Capon, an Episcopal priest combines theological and culinary insights in a quirky yet completely readable fashion. Yes, there are recipes here (and they look like good ones) but what truly captivates is Capon’s obvious joy in creation and his love of simple pleasures. First  published in 1969 and reprinted as part of the excellent Modern Library Food series, the book is as strange, moving, funny, and gorgeous today as it must have seemed when it first appeared. Highly recommended.

Samuel Chamberlain and his family lived an idyllic existence in France prior to WWII. When war appeared inevitable, Chamberlain’s company called him home to the small town of Marblehead, MA. Accompanying the family, was Clementine, the magically resourceful cook who had come to work for them. First published in 1943 under the nom de plume Phineas Beck, Clementine In the Kitchen is a charming and funny portrait  of the Chamberlain’s culinary adventures in France and the U.S. courtesy of the indomitable and always interesting Clementine.

I have long been an fervent admirer of the writing of M. F. K. Fisher and A Stew or a Story:  an assortment of short works contains some of her best stewpieces. I particularly enjoyed “Love In a Dish” and “Little Meals With Great Implications,” but all the essays in the collection display Fisher’s trademark wit and beautiful use of the language. Also, included are some of Fisher’s short fiction and travel articles. All in all, the book provides a fine introduction to one of the best writers America has ever produced.

Elizabeth David was an elegant and marvelous writer and though DCPL does not own her fine collection of magazine writing, An Omelet and a Glass of Wine, you will find her Elizabeth David Classics: Mediterranean Food, French country cooking, Summer cooking which collects in one volume three of her best known cookbooks: A Book of Mediterranean Food, French Country Cooking, and Summer Cooking. Though this is a book of recipes, there is a wealth of David’s wonderful writing contained within, particularly in the prefaces to the chapters. David’s brief treatise on garlic in the French country cooking section alone is worth checking out this wonderful book. You probably won’t actually cook much from Elizabeth David Classics (David was notoriously inexact both in measurements and instruction) but it makes for marvelous reading.

A bit dated, the Compleat I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken still makes for entertaining reading. Ruth Eleanor “Peg” Bracken published the first I Hate to Cook Book in 1960 and it was an instant sensation. Heavy reliance on cans, packaged products, and short cuts goes against today’s  general belief that good cooking must always use the freshest, highest quality ingredients and preferably be a bit (or very) labor intensive. You’ll find no handmade pasta here and you certainly won’t learn how to remove the bones from a chicken without breaking the skin, but if you’re a beginning cook you’ll actually find some usable recipes. Everyone else can enjoy the witty writing, Bracken’s sly sense of the absurd and vintage illustrations by Hilary Knight. Knight is famous for illustrating Kay Thompson’s Eloise.

What are some of your rediscovered treasures?

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