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

August 2010

Aug 31 2010

Better Living Through Sci-Fi

by Joseph M

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but inspiration can come from the pages of a book as well. In fact, science fiction authors can exert considerable influence on development of modern technology. An example of this is the virtual world known as Second Life, which was directly inspired by Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash, as described in this NPR story. More examples can be found in this related article.

The website Technovelgy helps interested users explore this phenomenon with tools such as a timeline of science fiction invention as well as an alphabetic glossary of science fiction technology, searchable by book, author, or category. Users can also browse the site’s archive of almost 3,000 news articles featuring science fiction.

What science fiction innovations do you foresee in our future?

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Aug 30 2010

Just Whistle a Happy Tune

by Veronica W

Balloons. Any occasion calling  for cheap, festive decorations can count on balloons to add just the right touch. They are a staple at fairs, carnivals, store openings, baby showers and birthday parties. They are given to fractious kids to keep them quiet and are used, when filled with water, as weapons in mock war games. Bright, colorful, helium-filled orbs of plastic.  I hate them.

More accurately, I am afraid of them. Even more accurately, I am afraid of their propensity for suddenly popping. When I see a balloon my stomach clenches, my breathing accelerates and my blood pressure rises. I cannot relax until they (or I) go away. Any pleasant meal in a restaurant turns sour and anxiety-filled by the arrival of people about to celebrate with balloons. This abhorrence is not just for balloons but also for fire crackers, exploding champagne corks and thunder. When I was three or four years old, it was also the flash of a camera. A co-worker told me I have  a “heightened startle response.”  Whatever it is, it has ruled my life since…forever.

Phobias come in a kaleidoscopic array. Name some animal, mineral, vegetable,  circumstance or situation and someone, somewhere is probably afraid of it (Remember Indiana Jones’ clenched fist and horrified utterance “Snakes! I hate snakes!?”). If it’s not your fear, you may think the other person just needs some resolve to overcome it. Some phobias have become relatively well known: spiders, enclosed spaces, heights, clowns, injections, flying, germs and dogs. Don’t see yours? Then take a look in The Encyclopedia of Phobias, Fears and Anxieties. You’ll probably find it there. If you don’t, wait until the next edition comes out.

There is a wealth of information and material about phobias.  Even books or movies  ostensibly about something else may have a reference to  a character who has a phobia. Depending on whether you want a serious work of non-fiction or a  lighthearted story, the library provides both.  What Are You Afraid Of ? is a wonderful collection of short stories by well known authors such as Jane Yolen, Angela Johnson and Joan Bauer. In each story the protagonist is beset by a consuming fear but struggles, sometimes hilariously, to conquer it. Ambulance Girl and Nim’s Island also deal with people who lead restricted lives because of their phobias. Both books were made into movies, starring Kathy Bates and Jodie Foster, respectively.

The list of  fearful fictional characters is long, as is the surprising list of celebrity phobics. For instance Keanu Reeves suffers from scotophobia, a dread of darkness and Matthew McConaughey fears tunnels and revolving doors. If you want a more academic or real life approach, then perhaps Wish I Could Be There: Notes From A Phobic Life or Phobias:Fighting the Fear may be worth checking out. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Phobias will be on the shelves soon as well.

In the classic musical, The King and I, Deborah Kerr trills “I whistle a happy tune/And every single time/The happiness in that tune/Convinces me that I’m not afraid.” If only it were that easy. Are you brave enough to tell what you fear?


ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

I recently came across One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and shuddered as I remembered slogging through it after several dear friends praised it to the rafters.  I managed to read the entire book over the course of many months of picking it up, getting annoyed, putting it down, feeling guilty about putting it down, whining about it and picking it up again.  It was a vicious cycle!

I have yet to figure out why there is so much love for One Hundred Years of Solitude.  As other people have shared their fondness for the book with me, I have stopped and asked why they feel the way that they do.  And, I am still baffled after all these years.  I know that I found the book dull, pointless and a bit annoying.  I do not see or understand their reverent chattering on the masterful use of magical realism, poetic prose and powerful plotting.  Nope, sorry, I did not feel the earth move under my feet as I turned the pages.

Other books that folks have told me are their absolute, most favorite, top-10-on-the-list-of-must-have-items-if-stranded on a desert island, that I have arched my eyebrow at:

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.  I have attempted to read this three times (in earnest, I promise) and have yet to make it past page 53.
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.  I loved the start of this book, but lost that love and feeling when she started proselytizing Objectivism in the middle of the book.
  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.  The main character is way too whiny and lazy (and, this is coming from a proud self proclaimed lazy whiner) for me to stomach or relate to.
  • Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart.  See the comments above.  This is A Confederacy of Dunces set in Russia.  Blech.

But hey, I love Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, which others have found to be totally convoluted and depressing, and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (not the whole series, just this one; Breaking Dawn definitely falls into the category of ugh), which others have found to be absolutely atrocious and vapid.  Every book has its reader, no?  What are some of the books that you’ve been told are the bestest but leave you cold, bored, or just scratching your head?


Aug 25 2010

We Are What We’ve Eaten

by Dea Anne M

The title of this post is an adaptation of the now famous quote from Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s monumental work of gastronomy, Physiologie du Gout or, in translation, The Physiology of Taste. What Brillat-Savarin actually wrote was “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are,” which has, of course, been commonly paraphrased as “You are what you eat.”  Now, anyone who knows me, knows also that I am interested (obsessed?) with culinary matters. I like reading about, and pondering, what we choose to eat and what it tells us about ourselves. Why eat yogurt, and how is it made? Who figured out that an artichoke ( a thistle, for Pete’s sake!) might be edible? There may be no definitive answer to these questions, but I find them fascinating to contemplate.  Other aspects of our culinary heritage are very well documented and I find these no less fascinating.

Some libraries have special collections devoted to gastronomy such as the Peacock-Harper Collection at Virginia Tech or the Food, Wine, and Culinary History Collection at Cornell University. Then, of course, there is that revered institution, the New York Public Library. The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street houses a world-class collection of cookbooks, menus, and other culinary related materials.  Check out the blog Cooked Books run by librarian Rebecca Federman for a glimpse of the culinary wonders at NYPL. One of my favorite regular features is “Desert Island Cookbook.” In each post, Federman interviews a different New York personality about the cookbook that she or he would bring to a desert island.

Does this pique your interest in doing a little culinary research of your own? Check out some of DCPL’s resources.

For a classic culinary encyclopedia:

Larousse Gastronomique

(This is part of the non-circulating reference but well worth your time to page through.)

Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950’s America by Laura Shapiro.

(A fascinating overview of an era full of contradictions and promise.)

On DVD there is…

The Meaning of Food.

Don’t miss…

The Gallery of Regrettable Food by James Lileks.

(This is seriously hilarious!)

Published in 1825, The Physiology of Taste is an enduring classic (it has never gone out of print). Brillat-Savarin was a lawyer by profession with a lively interest in science, music and languages and, of course, food.  He wrote, “The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star.” You might agree with that statement, or you might not,  but you can read more of Brillat Savarin’s writing in:

Choice Cuts: A Savory Selection of Food Writing from Around the World and Throughout History edited by Mark Kurlansky.


Aug 23 2010

Books In Art And Architecture

by Jesse M

Sometimes books find a purpose beyond the contents of their pages.

The Jardin de la Connaissance is a temporary garden in a forested area. It is built from a large quantity (approximately 40,000) of discarded books that form walls, benches, and carpets. Eight types of edible fungi such as Winecap and Oyster mushrooms are cultivated within the pages of the books. It was designed and erected for the The International Garden Festival in Quebec, Canada, whose theme this year was ‘Paradise’. The architects explain their work:
Invoking the mythic relation between knowledge and nature, integral to the concept of ‘paradise’, we invite the emotional involvement of the visitor by exposing these fragile and supposedly timeless cultural artifacts to the processes of decomposition.

The Book Cell

The architects of the above piece are in good company. Other artists have envisioned and created similar installations by re-purposing the written word with impressive results, such as the Book Cell (temporarily installed at the Modern Art Center in Lisboa) and Scanner (on display at the Museum of Modern Art in Bologna) by artist Matej Kren. Or on a smaller scale, like these tree planters fashioned from old books.

For myself, book art such as this is appealing on an aesthetic level, but also due to its potential to stimulate conversation on the importance of medium in the discourse of content delivery, and ask the question of what place traditional print and ink books will have in our increasingly digital future.


Aug 20 2010

ShareReads: Bugged Out

by Jimmy L

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

About a month ago, I was poking around my crawlspace when I noticed a lot of dark crickets jumping around like popcorn as soon as I got close to them.  Wondering whether they were harmful, I looked online and found out that they were called camel crickets (but also sometimes known as cave crickets), and completely harmless.  They like dark damp spaces, eat detritus, and are completely silent, so you won’t hear them chirping at night.   The little things looked so cute, the 5 year old in me thought about raising a few in a cage so I could observe them.

Then last week, I was in a used bookstore and I came upon a book through pure luck— Broadsides from the Other Orders: A Book of Bugs by Sue Hubbell.  A cursory glance through the contents revealed that each chapter is about a different insect, from much loved ones like the butterfly and the ladybug, to ones we consider pests like gnats, silverfish, and flies.  I put it in my huge pile of finds that day and took it to the checkout counter.  It wasn’t until later that I saw the title of the last chapter—Order Orthoptera: Camel Crickets.

I’m still reading this book, slowly, savoring it chapter by chapter, and I’m reading it impulsively rather than in order, skipping to katydids or dragonflies just because I suddenly feel like it.  But, obviously, I started with the camel crickets.  I found out so much more about these little critters than Wikipedia could ever be able to tell me.  Hubbell writes from a personal angle; she is not a bug expert, just someone who’s very enthusiastic about them, so I was able to get that same sense of excitement and discovery that she did.  She presents you with amazing tidbits (did you know that the daddy longlegs uses his legs as a kind of cage to trap other insects underneath him as he feeds?) that never feel dry.  Her approach with each insect is different.  With the ladybug, she followed ladybug harvesters (because they sell them now for people who want them in their gardens), for the daddy longlegs and camel crickets, she raised some of her own in cages and observed them, for the butterfly, she followed a few taxonomists, helping them count the different varieties in the Beartooth Mountains.

Sue Hubbell has written many other books, some of which are available at the library.  A Book of Bees… And How to Keep Them is about beekeeping, A Country Year: Living the Questions is a book about living and exploring nature, and Waiting for Aphrodite: Journeys into the Time Before Bones is a book about invertebrates.  I’m excited to check these books out too, once I finish with this one.

Have you read any books lately that make you feel like a giddy 5 year old?  Any books that satisfy an odd curiosity?  Please share in the comments.


Aug 18 2010

A Victory Worth Remembering

by Joseph M

Sojourner TruthAmong the most significant American sociopolitical developments of the 20th century was the achievement of national women’s suffrage, as codified 90 years ago in the 19th amendment of the U.S. constitution. Ratified by the states on August 18, 1920, the 19th amendment enshrined the right to vote as an essential liberty of all adult citizens, regardless of gender. This triumph was the culmination of a tremendous amount of activism and struggle, and the library is a great place to explore the stories of the courageous women who helped bring about this landmark piece of legislation.

Interested in learning more about the lives of women’s suffrage activists like Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony? You can get more information from the Biography Resource Center, one of many great reference databases available on our website and accessible with your library card.

Another noteworthy suffragette, Carrie Chapman Catt, founded The League of Women Voters in 1920. The group is perhaps best described by their mission statement: “The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.” Their website has a wealth of resources to explore and is well worth visiting.

While we’re on the subject of voting, did you know that you can get a voter registration form from the library?  Be sure to check out our Voting and Elections subject guide, a handy resource with links and answers to all your questions about the upcoming elections.


Aug 16 2010

I Beg to Differ With You

by Veronica W

“First me, then maybe you – but not for a long, long time!” When my friend said that, in the middle of  our heated discussion, I laughed so hard, all the fire of the moment vanished. Her tirade was winding down and as I opened my mouth for a cogent, lucid rebuttal, she held up her hand and autocratically uttered that ridiculous statement.  I don’t know whether it was original or not, but the sheer audacity of it struck me as very amusing. While her argument was weak, her bravery was admirable. What’s that  amusing threat about losing the hand you’re waving in my face? “Keep it up and you’ll draw back a nub!”

At some point, don’t we all feel there are some subjects for which it is worth going to the mat? Listen in on conversations during any pre-k or kindergarten recess (Do they still have those?).  Debating skills have not been honed yet, so many “discussions” are ended with a frustrated “Is not! Is too!” Sometimes this is punctuated with a stuck out tongue. The victor is the one who doesn’t cry or run to the teacher. Older children, all the way through high school, learn there is strength in numbers and develop their own cliques and  political parties, with  friends who think, act and dress like them. Backed by their cronies, they can take on all verbal opposition.

Adults are troubled, for the most part, about weightier matters. Beer, paper towel, garbage bag and soap powder commercials notwithstanding, grown -up concerns center around  world changing issues, such as politics, religion, social and environmental problems. To see just how many topics there are which are considered worthy of debate, you can go to the DCPL website, click on Reference Databases and then Student Resources. Under Opposing Viewpoints, there is a mind-boggling number of themes with two sides. If you are passionate about something and want to take on all comers at your next Tupperware or Superbowl party, but have no confidence in your persuasive rhetoric, there are also books that will help you.  How to Debate by Robert Danbar, Thank You for Arguing by Jay Heinrichs, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Persuasion by Steve Booth-Butterfield and Persuasive Speaking by Dixie Waldo will get you started. Also, just to get in the spirit of it, you can check out that wonderful movie, The Great Debaters, which was inspired by a true story and stars the remarkable Denzel Washington.

When we think about the ill will  sometimes generated by the passionate discussion of our personal bugaboos, we may realize some things in life are not worth any discussion at all, and certainly not worth our strident zeal. There are a few really important issues we may want to address but the merits of, say, Krispy Kremes vs. Dunkin’ Donuts is certainly not one of them.  “Is too?”  “Is not!!”                                           


ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

Have you ever read a book that makes you shudder yet you have to finish reading it?  And, even worse, you feel the need to encourage others to read it too, so that you can have someone to talk about it with and share the not quite comfortable experience of reading it? Recently, I read two books that fit this bill  – Geek love by Katherine Dunn and Train by Pete Dexter.

Geek love is about a family of carnival freak show members.  The patriarch of the family created cocktails for his lovely wife with amphetamines, arsenic and other drugs when she was pregnant.  From their love, four children with mostly marketable, freakishly abnormal conditions were brought into this world.  Arturo the Aqua Boy, born with flippers and touted as an underwater fortune teller, is destined for greatness as a cult leader who encourages amputations.  Iphy and Elly, the attractive and alluring Siamese twins, play the piano to entertain.  Chick, who appears to be normal, has a strange, mysterious power that is exploitable.  And, finally, there is Oly, an albino hunchback, who is simply deformed with  no profitable condition, and the loving grunt for her family.  She is the voice that shares the tragic story of her family’s past and her present.

Train weaves together the stories of Lionel Walk, also known as Train, and Miller Packard. Train is a street smart, talented black caddy at a ritzy, white golf club.  He stays quiet and does his job. Miller Packard is a distant, hardened detective who seems to bend the interpretation of the law to his will.  A random day on the links and their paths and fates are forever crossed.  Packard is playing the game for money and Train is assigned as his caddy.  With a random challenge, Train’s talents with a putter are brought to Packard’s attention and a future of winning big money is inevitable.  In the midst of their story is Packard’s love for Norah.  Norah is the victim of a horrible, heinous crime that Packard investigates.  Her story is perhaps the most haunting and troubling of any, but all three have their crosses to bear.

Now, I realize that these descriptions are rather innocuous and do not give any indication of the true weight of these books.  Aye, there’s the rub!  These are well written, engaging stories; you want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens!  They cause you to think and remain with you long after you’ve turned the last page, but they are horrific and disturbing in ways that I cannot describe in this post.  I know that I can’t be the only one who has continued reading books that troubled me and freaked me out.  Right?


Aug 11 2010

Kneadless Effort

by Dea Anne M

I’ve been baking bread at home on a weekly basis for a few years now. I had always wanted to explore this aspect of cooking, but I was held back by kitchens that never had enough counter space to mix, knead, and shape dough.  Once that situation changed, I became a happy and enthusiastic baker though my earliest efforts left a lot to be desired. The brick-like loaves that I turned out at first would have worked quite well in a construction project. Texture finally mastered, my next series of loaves resembled nothing so much as a parade of hippopotamuses and camels – quite edible but sporting weird, bulbous ends and middles.

Due to practice and some patience, today, I turn out well-textured, properly shaped loaves with ease.  I don’t really even bother to measure out ingredients anymore. Still I’m always curious about new approaches to this most basic, and satisfying of foods. I’ve been hearing about “no-knead” methods for awhile, so recently I tried it for myself.  At its most basic, the procedure involves mixing a dough which is wetter and floppier than one that is “kneadable.” The dough then sits in its covered mixing bowl for anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. After the initial long rise, the dough is shaped for the final rise and baked in a very hot oven. The result is a chewy “artisan” style loaf with a crunchy crust and an irresistable flavor. This is no grocery store sandwich loaf. This is bread that makes you really understand the phrase “staff of life.” Most exciting to me is the fact that no knead bread require so little in terms of equipment and space. Had I known about this method back when I was living with postage stamp size counter space and shoe box cabinets, I would have been baking bread long ago.

Think you want to try it? DCPL has resources to help.

My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method by Jim Lahey.

Lahey is the owner of New York’s Sullivan Street Bakery and might be the best known proponent of the no-knead method.

Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.

The authors present an exciting variety of shapes and flavors.

No Need To Knead: Handmade Italian Bread in 90 Minutes by Suzanne Dunaway.

An Italian approach!

Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Everyday: Fast and Easy Recipes for World Class Breads by Peter Reinhart.

Not strictly no-knead, the author presents a versatile yet approachable method to great breads. Mario Batali has called Reinhart the “Leonardo Da Vinci of bread.”

No-knead methods can put home baked bread within your reach and I urge you to give it a try. Once you taste your results, I’m sure you will agree that there is nothing quite like that fresh baked texture and flavor. Happy baking adventures!