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

November 2010

Nov 29 2010

Nook for Crook Books Hooks Schnooks!

by Greg H

I’ve never seen an entrance that more snugly exemplified its store’s name.  I was walking down Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles with my cousin, George, and our patient driver and tour guide, my brother Thom. For some reason, only steps away from the door to our destination I looked up above my right shoulder and high on the wall was a sign for The Mystery Pier Bookstore…a sign, but no store front.  Hmmmmmm!

Upon closer inspection, the sign first directed me to enter a short, dingy hallway, the kind that on a rainy night might shelter a shadowy, trench-coated figure, nervously fingering the black jack and pistol in his coat pockets. After only a few steps I reached the hallway’s abrupt end and made a right turn that put me at the top of a long, dim staircase. The only way to go from there was down towards where the murky light gradually brightened.  Each step took me further from my friends and the sunlit street above.  I reached the bottom of the stairs and saw The Mystery Pier Bookstore.

And, just let me say, the store could not have been less noir! The Mystery Pier Bookstore is a quaint little bungalow fenced within a cozy courtyard. The hardwood floors and tastefully displayed books were typical of many good used book stores.  What really sets this bookstore apart, however, is that every book in the store is a first edition, many are signed, and all are quite collectible.  As owner Harvey Jason was quick to point out to me, “This isn’t really a browsing store.”  I quietly disagreed. For me this was only a browsing store since every book was priced at hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Still, Mr. Jason was gracious enough to show me, and later my friends, around.

The mystery and detective fiction that contributes to the store’s name is only a small part of the attractions found there. The crown jewel of Mr. Jason’s wares was a signed first edition of To Kill A Mockingbird, priced at $25,000.  After seeing that volume, carefully locked inside its book case, the severity of our sticker shock lessened and we could simply enjoy what we were seeing: all manners of rare books by writers like Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and, most especially, Kurt Vonnegut.  We looked on reverently, like pilgrims admiring a saint’s finger bone in its reliquary.  Still, it was difficult, when seeing yet another treasure, not to engage in mental mathematics just in case there was some hitherto un-thought of way to make the buy. We could have nosed around the store for a lot longer but, having confessed to our status as looky-loos, we said our thanks and left after a reasonable interval.

If you are not due to visit West Hollywood soon, perhaps you can enter the world of rare books through these titles which can be found in the Library’s collection:  How to Identify and Collect American First Editions: A Guide by Jack Tannen; The Man who Loved Books Too Much: A True Story of a Thief, a Detective and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett; and A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books by Nicholas Basbanes.

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Nov 24 2010

Beyond Turkey Day

by Joseph M

Of all the things affiliated with Thanksgiving, the most ubiquitous association is the turkey, so much so that many folks refer to the holiday as “Turkey Day”. But not all of us indulge in consumption of the infamous gobbler; in some families, other foodstuffs take center stage. In fact, the wide variety of traditions, culinary and otherwise, are one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving. One book that explores this positive conception of diversity is the juvenile picture book Duck for Turkey Day by Jacqueline Jules, which reminds us that different families celebrate in different ways. If you’re a vegetarian, like myself, or are working with some other type of dietary restriction, the library has numerous cookbooks to help you prepare a meal suitable for your requirements; a good example is The Flexitarian Table by Peter Berley. And if you’re curious as to how the turkey came to be so supremely conflated with the Thanksgiving holiday, check out The Turkey: An American Story by Andrew F. Smith.

Happy Thanksgiving, whatever your particular traditions!


Nov 22 2010

Need a Nook?

by Veronica W

Hilton Head beach on a shimmering summer day. Comfortable lounge chair? Check. Umbrella for shade? Got it. Snacks? Yup. Long awaited best seller? Oh yeah!  Everything was  in place for an anticipated, much needed time of leisure. I picked up Nicholas Sparks’ newest and proceeded to read the first paragraph…and never got past  it. Whether I was too distracted by the sailboat on the horizon, the warm sand between my toes or just the sheer immensity of the water, I don’t know. I just know that I could not concentrate and trying to read was a waste of time. I needed my favorite nook at home.

There are folks who can read anywhere, as evidenced by the New York City subway riders, who can hold on to the pole with one hand and focus intently on a book or newspaper held in the other hand…and still know when their stop comes! It’s a skill I never acquired, even when I lived in NY and rode the subway on a regular basis. For some of us, where we read is almost as important as what we are reading.

During my online travels, I came across a delightful website called “the boo and the boy: reading nooks for kids.”  It showed some of the most charming and creative spots in which kids can hide away and lose themselves in a good book.   For adults there are other sites which will encourage you to create or find a nook of your own such as this one and this one.  Readers may enjoy Paul Deen’s Savannah Style, which has a section on book nooks, as well as Southern Lady Gracious Spaces: Creating the Perfect Sanctuary in Every Room.

There are some people who can read comfortably in odd positions and places. ..

…while others are happiest only in the most luxurious settings.

After taking an informal poll of where people read, I found that a few actually enjoy reading in cemeteries. Honesty compels me to admit that I generally don’t have an inclination to visit graveyards and found the thought of sitting among tombstones and reading a good book a bit unnerving. Then I came across this picture of Highgate Cemetery in London and understood how reading in this sylvan setting could be  possible.

To borrow from a favorite Seuss book, Green Eggs and Ham “Would you, could you in a house? With a mouse? In a box? With a fox? Would you, could you here or there? Would you, could you anywhere?” Although I am usually in the habit of carrying a book with me at all times ( just in case I have a flat and have to wait for the HERO truck), my beach experience has shown me that for anything heavier than a fashion magazine, I need my nook. How about you?


Nov 19 2010

Tales of a prison librarian

by Jesse M

Harvard University is a venerable and storied institution whose alumni have gone on to achieve a variety of notable positions and accomplishments. Eight U.S. presidents have graduated from Harvard, and some fifty Nobel prize winners have been associated with the university. Not all graduates move on to such prominent appointments however. After Avi Steinberg graduated from Harvard, he took a job as a prison librarian.

Not the most glorious occupation, perhaps, but certainly an interesting one. Steinberg chronicled his time at the Suffolk County House of Correction near Boston in a recently published memoir entitled Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian. In it he describes encounters with a variety of inmates, including a Shakespeare-quoting pimp; details sometimes poignant interactions with students in his creative writing class, and gets a nickname bestowed upon him: Bookie. He also shares tidbits about prison life as it relates to the library, including the prisoners’ attempts to communicate with members of the opposite sex by leaving notes called “kites” hidden in books (males and females are segregated, but both populations have access to the library) and relates some of the more popular titles requested by inmates (including The Diary of Anne Frank, The 48 Laws of Power, and anything by Sylvia Plath or James Patterson). Steinberg’s memoir has been favorably reviewed by a number of different publications, including the New York Times and National Public Radio, where you can also read an excerpt from the book.

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Nov 17 2010

Backyard Birds

by Dea Anne M

A few years ago my mom gave us a gorgeous ceramic bird feeder that wound up sitting in its box for several months while we tried to decide where to put it. Finally, we figured out a way to suspend it right outside of one of the kitchen windows. It’s the perfect spot for watching the birds as we wash dishes or cook and, for the cats, it has become like television (all birds, all the time!).

Of course, once you start noticing birds, you want to know more about them, particularly what it is you’re actually looking at. Some of  the birds I see are the ones most of us know—robins, cardinals, and, in my neighborhood, lots of red-headed woodpeckers. A few of these larger birds visit the feeder, but most of the birds I see feasting there are the smaller varieties that I don’t know as much about. One in particular has interested me lately—a cute, lively, little gray guy with a crest at the top of its head. What kind of bird is that?

If you find yourself posing the same sort of question to yourself, then DCPL has abundant resources to help.

If you like using books, you might try these two well-regarded birding guides.

The Audubon Society field guide to North American birds. Eastern region

A field guide to the birds by Roger Tory Peterson.  

For information that’s more specific to home try Common Birds of Atlanta by Jim Wilson and Anselm Atkins.

Kids like to bird watch too. Younger birders can try:

Simon &  Schuster Children’s guide to birds


Crinkleroot’s 25 birds every child should know by Jim Arnosky.

Want to pop in a DVD? Try

So many feathers (bird watching without binoculars!)

Finally, there are some really handy tools online that you can use to identify your bird. My favorite of these is National Geographic’s Backyard Bird Identifier. It’s easy to use. You input your region and state, then specify the current month. Next, you click on your bird’s color(s) and submit. Pictures of likely candidates pop up making it easy to identify the bird that interests you. I love leafing through bird books, but using this tool helped me to quickly peg the identity of my little gray guy.

What is he? He’s a Tufted Titmouse. Check him out in the picture below.

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Once upon a time one of my graduate school professors gleefully recounted her days as a militant library science student (yeah, you never saw that phrase coming, didja?) at Columbia University in the ’60s.   She said the school administration’s biggest fear during all the unrest was, of all things, that students would destroy the university library’s master catalog, known in jargon as the shelf list.  Back in the day, as they say, it would have been too easy to destroy a shelf list–just pull the rods out, dump the drawers and kick the cards all over the place–thereby rendering a rich and extensive collection pretty much useless.  Sure, it could be reconstructed but doing so would take ages and a lot of people who knew their ABCs and understood the mysteries of either the Dewey Decimal classification system or the even more mysterious Library of Congress system.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with card catalogs since I was a small child, when my children’s librarian, after making certain I had washed my hands, introduced me to the mysteries of looking up a book.  As I started my life in libraries I got more involved and the shine sort of wore off.  I still loved the smell of the cards, the sound of a drawer being pulled out and set with a thunk on the little pull out shelf and the feel of that honey brown wood.  I admired the elegance of tracings (the subject headings for each title) and was strangely comforted by the presence of the the shelf list that hulked behind the “staff only” doors of every system I ever worked in save one.  However, I was never so lost to the romance that I couldn’t see the ugly side, especially when I was  on my knees trying to scoop together the contents of several drawers that a frolicsome patron, no doubt in a brave attempt to amuse the staff, would dump at the end of a long Saturday.  My love for all that solid wood and perfectly sized cardstock died violently when I took a job at a major university and was presented with cases of retired shelf list cards.  My task was to pull all those elegant tracings, rendering the catalog accurate.  I felt like the miller’s daughter in Rumpelstiltskin, faced with a room full of straw to be spun into gold, but there was no crazy little man with a long beard to save me.  Nope.  That task took the better part of two years.  On-line catalogs have some drawbacks too, but they are here to stay, despite early predictions.  They offer more access points, are much easier to update and keep accurate and offer so much more information than their venerable predecessors.  They can even be browsed at 2:00 a.m. by folks in their jammies and scuffies.

Starting today, the DCPL catalog also contains, along with a record of holdings for books, music CDs, DVDs and Read-alongs, holdings for electronic content that we purchase.  A good portion of our budget has been trending towards electronic media the past few years and now it’s easier than ever to find.  Go on, try it out—go to the catalog on our homepage and look up Learning Express Library, home site for many on-line practice tests including the TOEFL.  Try  Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell and then follow the hotlink to other OverDrive products.   I think it’s all pretty cool and I’ll never, ever have to pick these records up off the floor.


Nov 12 2010

Family Stories Month

by Amanda L

November is known as Family Stories month. What a great month to gather all of the family stories that have been handed down from generation to generation. We all get together for Thanksgiving and other events over the next few weeks and months.  I know for me, family events or meals always meant that the elders talked about the good ole days. How would I ever have heard the story about my grandfather being taken for a stroller ride by Geronimo? (Now whether that was true or not, I’m not sure but it makes for a good story.) I do regret not gathering all of the stories I heard as a child, and unfortunately everyone from the previous generation is gone. We do have many old pictures and movies dating back from the early 1900’s which has helped my generation jog our memories about some of the stories.

Do you have some old pictures, movies or stories of your family that you would like to hand off to the next generation. There are many ways to preserve the family social history. You can create books, blogs, websites or scrapbooks that could be passed on.  Not sure where to start? The Library has a few books that might help you.

Writing the Family Narrative by Lawrence P. Gouldrup

For all time: a complete guide to writing your family history by Charley Kempthrone

Producing a quality family history by Patrica Law Hatcher

If you have a interesting family story and would like to share, we would love to hear about it.


Nov 10 2010

Time Capsules

by Joseph M

I was doing some much needed housecleaning last weekend, rifling through piles of old paperwork and the like, when I discovered an interesting little tidbit from my recent past; a “to-do” list for the year 2010, presumably written up in the first few weeks of the year and then lost. Upon finding it, I spent a few moments looking over my list and evaluating my progress, striking through goals that had been achieved and refreshing my commitment to follow up on the things I hadn’t yet accomplished.

My ratio of finished to unfinished items was rather heavily weighted towards the latter, but that didn’t concern me overmuch. I am a big proponent of to-do lists; even though I can’t be sure they actually increase my efficacy, they help me identify what I want and need to do in order to improve my quality of life and advance my various agendas. The thing that really intrigued me about this experience was how the list became a window into my personal past. In my terse, earnest statements messily scribbled on the crumpled page, I could see myself at the top of the year, with all of the anxieties and aspirations that had informed the document my former self had written out. It brought to mind a website that I stumbled upon a few years ago called www.futureme.org. The site allows you to write yourself an email, then specify a date in the future when you want the site to send it to you, creating a sort of digital time capsule for your future self to enjoy. You can also read letters that other users have made public to see the wide variety of applications available with this nifty service.

Another thing that can really bring you back is picking up a book you really enjoyed as a kid but haven’t re-visited in years; you might be surprised at your take on it as an adult. Why don’t you visit your local library and give it a try?


Nov 5 2010

750 Words

by Jesse M

November is upon us, have you started on that novel yet? That’s right, once again it is National Novel Writing Month. Beginning November 1st, participants (over 165,000 in 2009!) attempt to write a 50,000 word novel from scratch, completing it by midnight, November 30th. We’ve blogged about National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short) here on DCPLive before, so this year I’ve decided to introduce an alternative, for those daunted by the prospect of churning out a 175 page novel in under 30 days.

That alternative is 750words, a website whose purpose is to help facilitate the writing process. The idea is based on a concept from The Artist’s Way : A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity called morning pages. The creator of the site explains:

Morning pages are three pages of writing done every day, typically encouraged to be in “long hand”, typically done in the morning, that can be about anything and everything that comes into your head. It’s about getting it all out of your head, and is not supposed to be edited or censored in any way. The idea is that if you can get in the habit of writing three pages a day, that it will help clear your mind and get the ideas flowing for the rest of the day.

The site makes it easy by offering features such as automatic scrolling and saving as you write and a word counting function which informs you when you’ve reached the goal of 750 words (As the site explains “250 words per page is considered to be the standard accepted number of words per page. So, three standard pages are about 750 words.“). Try it out, and maybe by next year you’ll be ready for the 50,000 word NaNoWriMo challenge.

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Nov 3 2010

Culinary Goddesses

by Dea Anne M

Anyone who knows me knows that I am very interested in food. I wouldn’t call myself a connoisseur of fine dining per se, although I do love eating a good meal. What I actually enjoy more than eating is putting food together. I love the process of constructing a pan sauce, roasting vegetables and watching them caramelize, using spices and herbs in a way that makes a balanced and satisfying soup. Most days of the week find me cooking something from scratch simply because, for me, it is such a pleasure.

Even more enjoyable than cooking though is reading about cooking. I devour cookbooks, so to speak, follow a number of cooking blogs, and Bon Appetit is my favorite magazine. My favorite writing though has to be a species known as the “culinary memoir,” and while I have enjoyed the muscular prose of writers such as Anthony Bourdain and Jacques Pepin, my favorite writers of this sort are women. Here follows a casual “pantheon” of those who I most admire…at least this week.

First, here’s some of the newer voices. All three of these women have been strong voices in the culinary world for some time now but I think you could say that each one is still testing her powers.

Julie Powell (above left) is the author of  Julie and Julia a book that grew out of a blog she started in order to record her struggles and triumphs to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s hugely influential Mastering the Art of French Cooking within the space of one year. The book has, of course, since been adapted into a film starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep.  Since then, Powell has published Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession an equally absorbing, though to my mind much darker account, of the aftermath of her publishing success and the changes that have taken place  in her marriage.

Amanda Hesser (above center) is a former food editor for the New York Times and is the author of Cooking for Mr. Latte, a compulsively readable (and re-readable!) account of the courtship between herself and her husband. Hesser now runs, with Merrill Stubbs, the food website food52. At DCPL check out  The Cook and the Gardener, Hesser’s story of a year she spent as cook at a chateau in France and the interesting friendship that developed between herself and the estate’s gardener.

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