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


Jun 22 2012

ShareReads: Alice’s Piano

by Ken M

I just finished Alice’s Piano, a biography of the concert pianist, Alice Herz-Sommer, who is now the oldest living Holocaust survivor. Her remarkable story is one of determination, triumph and optimism.  This is one of two recently acquired titles about Ms. Herz-Sommer.

Alice was one of twins, and part of a musical family. All the sisters in her family learned to play the piano, and her brother was a violinist. After evening meals, the family often made music together, and word of these musicales spread throughout her town. She received fine musical training at the German Musical Academy in Prague, headed by Alexander von Zemlinsky (a prize pupil of Johannes Brahms, and later the friend and brother-in-law of Arnold Schoenberg). Alice made her debut playing the Chopin E-minor concerto with the Czech Philharmonic, and gave many concerts, including radio broadcasts; she was also highly regarded as a teacher.

After the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia, she was sent to Theresienstadt, along with her husband, Leopold, and their very young son, Stephan. Her talents were already well known upon her arrival, both to guards and prisoners alike. She was expected to continue to practice and give concerts in the camp; while she did, she strove to give her young son as normal a life as possible.  She made a project of mastering all the Chopin etudes, gradually performing them in groups, and then as a whole concert made up of both books. She gave weekly concerts from her copious repertoire, and brought temporary solace and even joy to all those who heard her.

After the war, Alice taught at the Jerusalem Conservatory.  Stephan took the Hebrew name, Raphael, and took up the cello, becoming a fine artist and teacher himself, and living and working in Great Britain. Alice followed him there years later.

Though it might seem like it, I really haven’t told you everything about Alice and her family. She’s a wise and optimistic person, who cares as much for people as she does for music. She’s still with us, beloved by friends in at least eight countries. I hope you can make time in the near future for her inspiring life story.


Dec 12 2011

Joseph Heller

by Greg H

If you have found yourself of late wondering “Is it just me or am I seeing a lot about Joseph Heller recently?”, rest assured, it isn’t just you.  2011 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Heller’s classic novel, Catch-22, reason enough for Heller, who died in 1999, to be memorialized by two new biographies.

Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller, by Tracey Daugherty, is the more comprehensive of the two but the more intimate,  obviously, has to be that written by Heller’s daughter Erica: Yossarian Slept Here: When Joseph Heller Was Dad, the Apthorp Was Home and Life Was a Catch-22.  Daugherty may have dug more deeply but Erica Heller knows her way around the Heller family plot, having known the residents when they were still walking among us.  (My favorite thing I learned about Heller: his best friend was a guy named Speed Vogel. Who wouldn’t want a best friend named Speed Vogel?!?!?!)

Erica Heller tackles the daunting task of making the reader understand how a man could be so egotistical, irascible, and insensitive and still be loved, at least by his daughter.  After his infidelity drove his wife into a bitter divorce,  Joseph Heller’s biggest regret, of the many he could have chosen,  seemed to be the loss of his ex-mother-in-law’s pot roast recipe. This was forever withheld from him as retribution for his betrayal. Erica, out of loyalty to her mother, would reject her father’s repeated entreaties and even an offer of $10,000 in exchange for the recipe.

Erica Heller has written a truly entertaining account of her place within her family’s tumultuous history, most of it lived out within the confines of various apartments in the Apthorp building. The double-edged sword of her father’s literary acclaim impacts much of her childhood and Heller develops  Job-like patience as she deals with her increasingly hostile parents from her precarious place between them.

Yossarian Slept Here is the perfect appetizer to a heftier tome like Daugherty’s.  Besides, even if Just One Catch covers Joseph Heller from soup to nuts,  Erica Heller trumps all with one last surprise at the end of the book: Grandma Dottie’s pot roast recipe.


Aug 12 2011

ShareReads: Looking for Calvin

by David T

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.

Though it had a comparatively short life on the comics page, ending its original run more than 15 years ago, Calvin and Hobbes still has a tremendous following. As a longtime fan of the strip, I was intrigued by Nevin Martell’s Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip.

C&H creator Bill Watterson is an intensely private man who has succeeded in doing something quite unusual for a famous person in 21st century America – he has largely kept his personal life out of the media. He seldom gives interviews, discourages interest in himself as opposed to his work, and maintains his integrity to a degree for which he has sometimes been criticized. He turned away millions of dollars by refusing to allow his syndicate to license Calvin and Hobbes merchandise, and ended the strip early rather than see it outlive its freshness and originality.

Not surprisingly, Watterson chose not to give his biographer an interview, or otherwise participate in the creation of Martell’s book. That could have been a fatal blow to the book, but it’s not. Martell visited Watterson’s hometown, met people who knew him, including his mother, and interviewed many other cartoonists, most of whom hold Watterson’s work in high esteem. The result is a book that tells those of us who love Calvin and Hobbes a little more about how it came into being, explains why it stands out as something special, and, best of all, encourages us to revisit the strips themselves. In addition to Martell’s book, DCPL has more than a dozen collections of C&H strips; if you haven’t checked them out, you’re in for a treat. Don’t miss the ones in which Calvin shows his own unique uses for libraries and reference librarians!

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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.


Working in DCPL, for me, is like being a kid in a candy store. All day long I’m surrounded by intriguing and irresistible books and media. As a result, I often take leave of my senses and borrow more items than I can reasonably read in 3, 6 or even 9 weeks. Thus, I find myself returning many items before I have the chance to complete them, vowing to one day pick up each book where I left off. Here are a few titles that top my To Be Continued list:

Evil: An Investigation by Lance Morrow:  Of all the different types of books in the Library, I find that I’m drawn to nonfiction more than anything else. I love books that are thought-provoking, informative, startling and, in many cases, infuriating. So you can imagine how intrigued I’d be by a book entitled Evil. Morrow’s essay is an examination of an idea that’s as ancient as time and as elusive as eternity. What is evil? Can it be quantified? Can it be controlled or vanquished? How should I know? I didn’t get to finish this one.

Paint It Black by Janet Fitch:  This was a book I thoroughly enjoyed and came this close to finishing but I think it was fairly new at the time and I couldn’t renew it. Either way, this story introduces us to Josie Tyrell, a young actress/model, coping with the death of her boyfriend and forging an uneasy relationship with Meredith, her boyfriend’s mother. It’s a book that I poured over and thoroughly enjoyed reading. Alas, that wasn’t enough to allow me to finish reading it in my three allotted weeks.

Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography by Andrew Morton: Normally, I have little trouble reading through Unauthorized Biographies. They are easy to digest, chock full of gossip and delicious dish from reliably unreliable sources and, perhaps most importantly, once one has finished reading it, there’s no distracting aftertaste of profundity and a lesson learned. I don’t remember what, if anything, I learned from the few pages I read of this. But everytime I watch Jerry Maguire it reminds me I never did finish that Tom Cruise book.

The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien: I’ve tried several times throughout my life to finish this one. Not that it’s not a classic and an incredible book. It’s just that, whenever I’m in the midst of this book, another book always comes along and catches my eye. But I’ve been watching the animated film since I was kid so maybe I that’s why I keep skipping it over on my To Be Continued List (“Well, I do already know the story…and I did see all of the Lord of The Rings films. I’ll just come back to it…”).  But that’s not really much of an excuse, is it?

What’s on you guys’ To Be Continued List?


May 17 2010

Regency Reads and Research

by Patricia D

Many years ago a friend handed me a book to read.  I immediately put it down because it was a romance and I did not read romances.  My experiences with the genre had come primarily at the hands of the good folks at Harlequin Publications and I had learned, even as a tender teen, that I can’t abide stories where the plot hinges on the heroine being stupid to a fault.  However, I have pushy friends.  So, I read Georgette Heyer’s Friday’s Child and  was hooked.  Her Regency romances were my new passion.  All these years later she still is one of my favorite writers and though there are others who have tried to tread the Regency Romance stage (Marion Chesney, Patricia Veryan, Patricia Wrede)  they, IMHO as we now say,  have been found lacking.  Yes, I know.  Calm down.  You are sitting there screaming “What about Jane Austen!”   She is, it should not need saying, magnificent.  She is sharp, satirical and a wonderful window to her times and a woman’s lot in them.  For all her sterling qualities though, she’s never made me laugh so hard I dropped the book.  Ms. Heyer gives us one heroine who accidentally puts off a proposal by requesting Restorative Pork Jelly of her suitor (Frederica, which is currently on order for our collection) and another who shoots her cousin’s jilted suitor in an effort to drum up some sympathy for him (The Grand Sophy, also on order for the collection) and is not at all surprised when her plans actually produce the intended results.

Georgette Heyer was an accomplished historian and I believe it is this fact alone that ranks her work so far above others.  Her books are filled with romance and manners but she thoroughly grounds them in the times, providing a sweet counterpoint to Bernard Cornwell’s equally well researched Richard Sharpe stories.  It is Georgette Heyer who led me to delve so deeply into the non-fiction section, and frankly, I’d rather get my Regency fix reading a good biography than slogging my way through a pale imitation of Austen or Heyer.   Some titles I turn to are:

An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England by Venetian Murray

Social England under the Recency by John Ashton

Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman

Privilege and Scandal: the Remarkable Life of Harriet Spencer, Sister of Georgiana by Jo Manning

My Lady Scandalous: the Amazing Times and Outrageous Life of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Royal Courtesan by Jo Manning

Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England by Kristine Hughes


Feb 12 2010

Who is Brett Favre?

by Amanda L

I often have questions come to me about information concerning a variety of people. The Library has a wonderful resource called Biography Resource Center. I have found that if the person is even remotely famous, you can find information about him/her in this resource.

The type of information available ranges from short biographical entries to very detailed biographical information.  Biography Resource Center often provides links to magazine articles. If you have a library card with us, you can access this resource 24/7 using your library card and PIN number.  It is located on our Reference Database page under the History and Biography section.

To answer my original question, Brett Favre is a quarterback who has been playing professional football since 1991. He has played for the Atlanta Falcons (drafted),  Green Bay Packers,  New York Jets and the Minnesota Vikings. Want to know more about Brett Favre? Check out the Biography Resource Center. Of course, we also have a few biographies about him if you want a more detailed account about his life.

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s-ashesFrancis “Frank” McCourt, an Irish-American high school teacher and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, died July 19 at the age of 73. He is best known as the author of Angela’s Ashes, a gripping memoir about his childhood growing up in both America and Ireland during the 1930s and 1940s. Angela’s Ashes was awarded the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, as well as the 1996 National Book Critics Circle Award (Biography) and the 1997 Boeke Prize. It’s success led to it’s adaptation as a feature film released in 1999 by Paramount Pictures. Along with Angela’s Ashes, McCourt has published two additional autobiographical works which continue chronicling his life after his move back to America. ‘Tis examines his experiences attempting to acclimate to life in New York City, his stint in the Army, and his attendance and eventual graduation from NYU and later Brooklyn College, while Teacher Man focuses mainly on his life as a teacher in NYC public high schools. In addition to his autobiographical works, McCourt has also written a children’s picture book entitled Angela and the Baby Jesus and appeared as the host of a travel DVD entitled The Historic Pubs of Dublin. For those interested in more information on Mr. McCourt, Time magazine has published an obituary replete with details of his life and work. Additionally, I have linked to a NY Times piece wherein several of his former students have written letters sharing their recollections of him and the affect he had on their lives.

“My dream was to have a Library of Congress catalog number, that’s all,” said McCourt, speaking of his modest hopes for the success of Angela’s Ashes. It went on to sell over 5 million copies. Sometimes dreams come true, and then some. E 184.I6 .M117 1996


May 8 2008

Marvelous Miss Lee

by David T

Peggy1 Don’t you love using your library to sample authors and artists? There’s nothing like taking a book, or a CD, for a test drive before you purchase your own copy. A couple of years ago, I was on the lookout for a new female vocalist, and checked out The Best of Miss Peggy Lee. From the opening strains of the first song on that CD, “Waiting for the Train to Come In,” I said, “I like this!” Since I tend to like unfamiliar music about as often as Mikey, of TV commercial fame, likes new cereals, this was not a small compliment. Nor is it insignificant, I think, to praise her as one of the most understandable singers I’ve ever heard. I doubt that anyone has ever listened to the lyrics on a Peggy Lee CD and said, “Whud she say?” (Yes, I’m over 40).

Born in 1920, Peggy Lee was that rare singer who was both popular with listeners, and respected by critics. She won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. Among her peers who expressed admiration for her work were Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Frank Sinatra, who said, “Her wonderful talent should be studied by all vocalists; her regal presence is pure elegance and charm.” Her career lasted from her early days with the Benny Goodman orchestra in the 1940s through the 1990s, when she sometimes performed from a wheelchair — and still charmed audiences. In her later years,Peggy2_3 she successfully sued Disney for her share of the profits from the video releases of Lady and the Tramp, the hit 1955 animated film for which she contributed not only her vocal but her songwriting skills. (Remember “The Siamese Cat Song”?)

Interest in Lee’s work has only increased in the years since her death in 2002. The first major biography, Fever: The Life and Music of Miss Peggy Lee, by Peter Richmond, was published to critical acclaim in 2006. A more detailed study of her career year-by-year can be found in Miss Peggy Lee: A Career Chronicle, a lavishly illustrated volume by devoted fan Robert Strom. There’s also a fact-filled website at www.peggylee.com.

To borrow a phrase from one of her best-remembered songs, “It’s a Good Day” to check out the unforgettable Miss Peggy Lee.


Feb 12 2008

Library Basics: Finding Biographies

by Chris S

It’s Black History Month, when students everywhere are suddenly needing to know details about the lives of scientists, inventors, politicians, civil rights leaders, other notables.  Lucky for you, the library is your first stop for biographies and between our books and our databases, we have about everything you would need for a book report or other project about people’s lives.

Okay, first let’s talk about books.  All of our branches have biography sections, both in the juvenile and adult sections of the library.  They’re arranged by the subject’s last name (as opposed to the author’s name or anything else), which means that if you’re looking for a book about the late civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, you would look under “Rustin.”

The biography section, though, as nice as it is that we separate those out for you, is not the only section to look for books about notable figures.  You can also look under the Dewey Decimal number that covers the subject related to your famous person (say, baseball – 796.357, science – 500s, or journalism – 070s, for example).  You can also check our biographical dictionaries or other reference books that cover biography, history, or other subjects.

Our online databases, though, are where you procrastinators can thrive!  With your library card and PIN number (and a computer with an internet connection), you have access to these 24/7.  Try out the African American Experience, which covers an incredible amount of information, and the Biography Resource Center, which gives you enough information to get you through your paper.  Oh, and here’s the best news for students whose teachers ban internet sources:  these databases count as books.  Most of them are the actual text from many of the print resources we have on the shelves.

As always, knowing what your library has and how to get to it is the key to having the best resources around.  During this month of celebration, remembrance, study, find a way to make your local library a part of the experience.