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Recommendations

As readers of this blog know, I am a big fan of science fiction.  And as I’ve discussed in a previous post, I also enjoy reading flash fiction, which is usually defined as “fiction of extreme brevity.” In today’s post, I’ll be highlighting not one but two flash science fiction blogs, 30 Second Sci Fi and 365 Tomorrows.

The stories on 30 Second Sci Fi are all courtesy of a single author who began the project as a personal challenge. The rules are that the author must write one new story every day for a year, no longer than 250 words, that is complete in its own right (thus no multi-part stories). A look at the site’s archives shows that the project began back in November of last year.

Unlike 30 Second Sci Fi, 365 Tomorrows is a collaborative project involving multiple authors. The remarkable longevity of the site is probably attributable to this difference; like its fellow flash science fiction blog, it aims to present a new work of science fiction every single day, but it has been doing so since August of 2005. The stories are also a bit longer in terms of word count, with the maximum length set at 600. Another cool feature of 365 Tomorrows is that you can submit your own story for publication on the site.

If you are a fan of science fiction short stories you might also like one of these anthologies available through DCPL!New space opera
The New Space Opera

The Best of the Best: 20 Years of the Year’s Best Science Fiction

The Best of the Best. Volume 2, 20 Years of the Best Short Science Fiction Novels

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Feb 10 2014

Laura’s world

by Dea Anne M

Getting snowed in the week before last  reminded me of a much-beloved book from my childhood. I’m thinking of course of  The Long Winter which is part of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series of books. Set in the later 1800’s and forward and based on the Ingalls family’s peripetatic life (Wilder changed some things – most notably some of the chronology and the age of the main character whom she based on herself) the series begins with Little House in the Big Woods and ends with The First Four Years (which was published after Wilder’s death). The Long Winter is a fictionalized account of an actual event which took place in De Smet, South Dakota. Blizzards began in the early fall of 1880 and continued through the late spring of 1881 and attacked the area with such frequency that trains were snowed in on the tracks and the townspeople faced lack of fuel and near starvation. I don’t know about you, but that puts some aspects about our recent snow storm into perspective for me.

It’s difficult for me to exaggerate how much I loved these books as a child. That isn’t to say that there weren’t some aspects of the stories that bothered me. Some of the characters express very unpleasant racial attitudes (especially Ma Ingalls) and I was always vaguely troubled by Pa’s insistence on uprooting his family so dramatically and so often. In the books, the Ingalls family moves from Wisconsin to Kansas then back to Wisconsin then to Minnesota and finally to South Dakota. Of course, by the time I turned ten my own family had moved at least that many times, and always for my father’s work, so make of that what you will.

Now you shouldn’t think that I actually wanted to be a pioneer girl myself what with all the stampeding oxen, creeks filled with leeches and grasshopper invasions but it was delicious to read about such exotic things. It was also comforting to recognize things that Laura’s world and mine had in common – sibling love and combat, strong parental affection, animals, school and, of course, mean girls like Nellie Oleson. I especially loved reading about the clothes the characters wore and how they fed themselves (or couldn’t as in The Long Winter ) and to this day I love books that describe fashion and food in detail (like the books in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series).

Would you like to explore the world of “Little House yourself or rediscover its pleasures? If so, DCPL has what you need. Here’s a list of the books and all are available from DCPL.big woods

cookbookAfter reading about such exotic foodstuffs as prairie chicken and maple sugar on snow you might get the urge to try out some frontier cooking of your own. If so, Barbara M. Walker’s Little House Cookbook: frontier foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic stories will be just what you need. I can’t promise that you’ll care for blackbird pie (Little Town on the Prairie) or stewed jack rabbit and dumplings (Little House on the Prairie) but you might very well love fried apples and onions (Farmer Boy) or vanity cakes (On the Banks of Plum Creek). All in all, this is a charming companion to the series.

wilderIf you really develop a fascination with all things Laura, don’t miss The Wilder Life : my adventures in the lost world of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure. A lifelong devotee of the books, McClure begins to delve deeper into the world of the series. She even goes so far as to buy a churn on eBay. She sets up the churn, works the churn for about twenty-five minutes, and when she looks inside she discovers…butter. Butter which tastes remarkably like regular butter. McClure reports that “…I felt like a genius and a complete idiot at the same time.” McClure is an engaging writer – both sincere and hilarious. I’ve only just started the book and I’ve laughed out loud at least a dozen times. Highly recommended.

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Dec 2 2013

The Know-it-All

by Hope L

The book of general ignoranceOkay, I’ll just admit it:  I vacillate between two extremes:  either I feel like I know everything about everything, or I feel like I know absolutely nothing about anything.  And as annoying as I know it must be, you could call me a ‘Know-It-All’ most days.

But after reading The Book of General Ignorance: Everything You Think You Know is Wrong by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, I’m convinced that I’m a ‘Know-Nothing.’

Here are a few examples that perhaps you don’t know either:

“No ostrich has ever been observed to bury its head in the sand.  It would suffocate if it did.  When danger threatens, ostriches run away like any other sensible animal.”

And

“What killed most sailors in an eighteenth-century sea battle?  A nasty splinter.  Cannon balls fired from men o- war didn’t actually explode (no matter what Hollywood thinks), they just tore through the hull of the ship, causing huge splinters of wood to fly around the decks at high speed, lacerating anyone within range.”

Or

“Whips were invented in China seven thousand years ago but it wasn’t until the invention of high-speed photography in 1927 that the crack of the whip was seen to be a mini sonic boom and not the leather hitting the handle.”

Say what?!!!  I had noooo idea!  This last one, however, some of us knew in the back of our minds …

“Work is a bigger killer than alcohol, drugs, or war.  Around two million people die every year from work-related accidents and diseases, as opposed to a mere 650,000 who are killed in wars.  …Worldwide, the most dangerous jobs are in agriculture, mining and construction.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the year 2000, 5,915 people died at work – including those who had a heart attack at their desks.”

I’ll remember that next time someone says their job is killing them!  And if I say it aloud, youll  just have to call me a know-it-all.

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commandEric Schlosser’s new book keeps me up at night.

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser, that is.   He scared the willies out of me with Fast Food Nation and now this.   I do appreciate the way nuclear fission is explained fairly clearly for laypeople like me.  The book gives a brief history of the Manhattan Project and the events leading up to the use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it relates frightening  tales of what has occurred since.

Here is Publisher’s Weekly‘s summary:

“In 1980 in rural Damascus, Ark., two young Air Force technicians (one was 21 years old, the other 19) began a routine maintenance procedure on a 103-foot-tall Titan II nuclear warhead-armed intercontinental ballistic missile. All was going according to plan until one of the men dropped a wrench, which fell 70 feet before hitting the rocket and setting off a chain reaction with alarming consequences. After that nail-biting opening, investigative reporter Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) goes on to tell the thrilling story of the heroism, ingenuity, mistakes, and destruction that followed. At intervals, he steps back to deliver an equally captivating history of the development and maintenance of America’s nuclear arsenal from WWII to the present. Though the Cold War has ended and concerns over nuclear warfare have mostly been eclipsed by the recent preoccupation with terrorist threats, Schlosser makes it abundantly clear that nukes don’t need to be launched to still be mind-bogglingly dangerous. Mixing expert commentary with hair-raising details of a variety of mishaps, the author makes the convincing case that our best control systems are no match for human error, bad luck, and ever-increasing technological complexity. “Mutually assured destruction” is a terrifying prospect, but Schlosser points out that there may be an even more frightening possibility: self-assured destruction.”

Mind-boggingly dangerous, indeed!  What is suprising to me is that we have been so lucky thus far.

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Oct 22 2013

Scare Me Silly!

by Hope L

scared-woman-retroI like to be scared.  Not grossed out, and not shocked by violent images.

A good scary movie—the kind I like—is hard to find, especially nowadays. The scariest movie I can remember seeing as an adult was when I saw The Blair Witch Project by myself (during a time in my life when I lived in a house in the woods—the movie and the screech owls in South Carolina had me running into my house after I got out of the car at night).

The Conjuring, released this year, was not that scary, but then of course, I no longer live in the woods or by myself. Nor do we have screech owls bidding their hellos at night where I now live.

The Conjuring tells the story of Lorraine and Ed Warren, paranormal investigators who founded the New England Society for Psychic Research in 1952 and who had dealt with the case made famous by Jay Anson’s 1977 book, The Amityville Horror (which was itself the basis for ten films released between 1979 and 2011).

Now, just in time for Halloween, here are some other scary movies I’ve loved:

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Oct 7 2013

The Atlanta Mary Mysteries

by Hope L

Truth really is stranger than fiction. That’s the main reason I enjoy reading non-fiction books.  In this post and the next, I will explore the strange stories of the two Marys.

I’m fascinated with true crime mysteries right here in our own metropolis, but none intrigue me more than the cases of the two Marys: Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old pencil factory worker who was found murdered in 1913, and Mary Shotwell Little, a 25-year-old C & S secretary who disappeared seemingly into thin air from Lenox Mall in 1965. Mary Shotwell Little vanished after eating dinner with a friend at the S & S Cafeteria at Lenox Mall.

Here are a few books from the Library’s collection about the Mary Phagan case. My next post will highlight some publications on the Mary Shotwell Little case.

And the Dead Shall Rise:  the Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank, by Steve Oney, is definitely the most thorough account of the Phagan/Frank crimes I’ve read.  If you don’t know about Mary Phagan:  The 13-year-old was found murdered in the pencil factory where she worked. Factory superintendent and part-owner Leo Frank was tried and convicted of the crime. His death sentence was later commuted by the governor to life in prison. Upon hearing this, an angry mob took Frank at gunpoint from the state prison at Milledgeville and brought him to Marietta where they hanged him. Frank was ultimately pardoned posthumously. The story became nationally famous because of the anti-Semitism involved, the founding of B’nai B’rith’s Anti-Defamation League, the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and the local newspaper sensationalism pitting the working class and child labor vs. Atlanta’s moneyed elite.

Murder in the Peach State – Infamous Murders from Georgia’s Past, by Bruce L. Jordan, starts with a chapter on Mary Phagan and Leo Frank. The book itself is dedicated to columnist Celestine Sibley, who was a court reporter for years covering the trials of Georgia’s most infamous murders.

The Murder of Little Mary Phagan, by Mary Phagan (great-niece and namesake of the Mary Phagan), tells the family’s side of the story and the grim nature of the crime. Another book about the story is The Leo Frank Case, by Leonard Dinnerstein.

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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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Aug 26 2013

A Good Laugh

by Hope L

laugh460Having gone to see We’re the Millers this past weekend, I was thinking about how good it felt to laugh; then I started remembering some of my favorite funny movies.

And it just so happens that (in my humble opinion) DCPL has an impressive collection of comedy DVDs.

So, without further ado, here is my list of DeKalb County Public Library’s funniest movies (in order):

1. Airplane (1980) – Silly take-off of “Airport,” (the original disaster movie). Cracks me up every time. Leslie Nielsen reawakened his career with this comedic turn. As soon as I see him driving the luggage cart I start laughing uncontrollably.
2. Death at a Funeral (2010) – Chris Rock presides over his family’s ordeal with hysterical goings-on. Very, very funny.
3. The General (1926) – This uproariously funny film is silent. Buster Keaton, known for his stone face, struggles with the enormous steam engine train while pursuing a beautiful girl. I actually saw the real General years ago; it now resides in Kennesaw at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History.
4. Bridesmaids (2011) – Hilarious female answer to The Hangover, except that I liked this much better. Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig are awesome.
5. Barbershop (2002) and Barbershop 2 (2004) – Ice Cube stars in both of these, with Cedric the Entertainer, who always cracks me up.
6. A Night at the Opera (1935) – Groucho and his brothers on the loose to the consternation of Kitty Carlisle. Still funny after all these years.
7. Harold and Maude (1971) – Watching Harold in the background while his mother interviews prospective dates for him makes me laugh each and every time. Ruth Gordon as the free spirit Svengali and the original cougar. The Cat Stevens soundtrack makes it even sweeter.
8. City Lights (1931) – Charlie Chaplin tries to impress the girl and gets into all kinds of mischief in another classic silent film. My favorite line, often quoted… The Tramp: “Be careful how you’re driving.” Eccentric Millionaire: “Am I driving?”
9. Tootsie (1982) – Dustin Hoffman’s drag is cute 80’s fun.
10. Babe (1995) – Cute and funny with the irresistible Pig.  I loved the cat, too!
11. The Three Stooges Collection – Volume 1 and Volume 2 (1934-1939) – I just had to include these guys.
12. Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005) – Hometown boy Tyler Perry stars as one of my favorite characters: Madea. Watch out for that chainsaw!
13. The Muppet Movie (1979) – I just LOVE The Muppets!
14. Annie Hall (1977) – Diane Keaton plays the ditzy heroine in this Woody Allen film.
15. Shrek (2001) – Cute for the kids, funny for the grown-ups. Mike Myers voices the loveable ogre. Eddie Murphy supplies plenty of laughs as Donkey. I loved the gingerbread man.

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Aug 16 2013

More Documentaries…

by Jimmy L

Rebekah’s excellent post about documentaries on Wednesday started me thinking about what my own favorite documentaries were. Sometimes it’s hard to remember them all, and it’s hard to compare a documentary about a social cause to one about an artist’s life. Nevertheless, I have racked my brains and come up with a short list of 3 of my favorites:

Nanook of the North screenshotNanook of the North

The first full-length, antropological documentary ever made, and a favorite of filmmaker Werner Herzog’s (Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams), Nanook of the North documents one year in the life of Nanook, an eskimo (Inuit) and his family, following him as he conducts his everyday life, trading, hunting, fishing and migrating in a landscape that is barely touched by industrial technology. While the film is fascinating both as a document of a lifestyle and a document of an early way of making films, it’s also been criticized for its occasional spicing up of the truth with staged scenes and other inaccuracies.

Harlan County, USA

This 1976 Academy Award winning documentary film covers the coal miners’ strike against the Brookside Mine of the Eastover Mining Company in Harlan County, Kentucky in June, 1973. Eastover’s refusal to sign a contract (when the miners joined with the United Mine Workers of America) led to the strike, which lasted more than a year and included violent battles between gun-toting company thugs/scabs and the picketing miners and their supportive women-folk. The film captures the brutal reality of a strike as if you were experiencing it yourself, along with all the strong personalities of that town. I’ve written about this film on this blog before, in much more detail here.

Capturing the Friedmans

Focusing on the 1980s investigation of Arnold and Jesse Friedman for child molestation, this is one of the most thought provoking and conversation provoking documentaries I’ve seen. By the end, you start to question the nature of truth. Watch it with a friend and discuss afterwards. But fair warning, it’s not for all audiences, as it discusses some sensitive issues, and is rated R.

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Aug 14 2013

Documenting Life in Film

by Rebekah B

Au Palais du Louxor, cinema ParisGrowing up, I only saw three movies in the theater.  I specifically remember which ones: Bernard and Bianca, E.T., and The Meaning of Life (Monty Python). This rarity sparked a desire and love for film in me, and when I moved to Paris at age 19 to go to art school, I quickly became addicted to the cinematic arts. Paris is an amazing city for film, with hundreds of theaters, large and small, including some very unusual theaters. Every day, you can see movies made in every country, projected for the most part in V.O. (original version, with subtitles). The photo to the right was taken by my former teacher and photographer, Lesly Hamilton, at the Louxor, Palais du Cinema in the 10th arrondissement, quartier Barbes.  The Louxor was built in 1921 and is famous for its elaborate Egyptian style mosaics.  Recently entirely renovated, it re-opened in April of this year. Click on the links if you would like to see more photos.

ouverture-du-cinema-le-louxor-a-paris-7092

Documentary films are a genre that many people enjoy.  The fairly recent phenomenon of reality shows of which the documentary might be called the avatar, shows evidence for humanity’s thirst for real experiences.  One patron at the library confided to me that documentaries are her “best reality shows.” She also said that when ill in the hospital, documentaries on the themes of veteran’s rights, the state of health care, and other social welfare related issues helped her to keep up with continuing education requirements in her field as a social worker.

Vision is the primary sense with which we humans perceive our world, and culture helps us to understand ourselves and to relate to one another.  As global economics, world travel, and social media have extended everyday communication far beyond the borders of the familiar, it is important for all of us to be informed about how to better our world and to know more about cultures beyond our own.  It is the unique privilege of humans to witness life, and if we are truly paying attention and homage to our surroundings, to create works of art that reflect what we see.

Documentary films are a wonderful way to catch a glimpse of how others experience life in places and circumstances very different from our own, as well as to improve awareness about issues that are immediately important to our everyday lives.  Many festivals around the world celebrate documentary film, from Atlanta to Helsinki, Amsterdam to  Beijing.  Every continent – even Oceania – is represented.

I have discovered many wonderful, thought-provoking, and entertaining documentaries within the DCPL collection.  Perusing IMDB’s top 100 documentaries since 2000, I found several that I too had watched and loved, some that I know we have in our collections but have not yet seen, and yet others that are not available through DCPL. While each of us enjoys life through the particular filter created by our temperament and interests, documentaries on every possible subject can be found—from art to politics, environmental issues, animal rights, health, unsolved crimes, history, quirky personal stories, theater, education, music, travel, fashion…

Here is my own top ten.  Hope you explore the 650 plus films in the DCPL documentary collection (excluding tele-films) and find your own favorites. Each title is connected by hyperlink to either the title in our library catalog, or (if we don’t have it,) official movie website.

[read the rest of this post…]

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