Thursday, May 31, 2007


If you are of a certain age, you may have ravenously devoured a series of children's mystery/adventure novels called "Choose Your Own Adventure". At the end of each short chapter, you are given a decision to make, and the action you choose determines the direction the story takes. And when you finish the first run, you go back and make different choices and get a different story, and you keep replaying your options until you have read every possible combination. I loved those books.
So imagine my delight at finding Pretty Little Mistakes, by NPR regular Heather McElhatton. Just like the kids' books, you are asked to make a choice at the end of each little chapter. The choices are a little different, however, as I find myself becoming the discarded mistress of a sixty-something Italian. Whoops, lets redo that. Now I'm getting shot in the parking lot of an Arby's . Bummer. Try again. Well, actually, none of the endings are really cheery. But I guess that's part of being an adult too. Regardless of the dearth of happy endings, it is so much fun to travel through your imaginary life making irresponsible, outrageous, dangerous choices that I enjoyed every story I conjured up in this book. It seems so easy to live a life when there are no real consequences.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Conscientious dining

One of the hottest discussion topics lately seems to be the concept of 'food miles' - the distance that an ingredient has to travel from harvest site to table. More and more people are embracing the idea of eating locally, cooking only with ingredients that originated within a certain distance of their house (100 miles is a common choice). Novelist Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible, The Bean Trees) has penned a nonfiction account of her own family's experience with eating locally: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: a year of food life. She and her family raised their own poultry, grew their own vegetables, even made their own cheese (with milk from local cows and goats). They ate food when it was in natural season, rather than dining on 'fresh' strawberries in November. She describes their efforts in a very readable way, with her usual skill with prose. The book also contains some recipes and some short essays by her daughter - a student at Duke University. For anyone who is interested in this new drive to return to a simpler, more ecologically-sensitive table, this is an enjoyable way to start. [Personally, I wouldn't have any problem eating locally if I was living in Washington or Oregon, but I'm not. I live here, and I don't relish the idea of living without flour, sugar, or milk. Or beef, pork, corn, tomatoes, chocolate, oranges, apples, rice, etc. etc. etc.]

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Subterranean secrets

It's always fascinating to find out how things work, or are built, or operate. Even when you don't really want to know (think sausages and legislation - thank you, Otto von Bismarck). So believe me when I tell you that Beneath the Metropolis: the secret lives of cities is an absolute page-turner. So, what is below the streets of some of the most famous cities in the world? Well, water and sewer lines, obviously - even we have those - and often some sort of public transportation. (It's amazing to think of the work involved in retrofitting a centuries-old major metropolis with a subway, but that's another story). But what else is below the surface?

  • Catacombs

  • Torture chambers

  • Libraries

  • Abandoned ships

  • Shopping malls

  • Ancient ruins

  • And lots of polluted aquifers

Surprisingly, New York - always good for an impressive story - is actually a very boring city underground. No rubble from earthquakes or firebombings, no abandoned civil defense tunnels, no secret cult chambers. What a disappointment. One of the most interesting tidbits of information in this book is that the refuse of Cairo has been building up for so many centuries that the doorways in the oldest sections of town are a few feet below street level.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Back to the Badlands

Not being an author myself, I don’t usually read books where authors talk about their craft. And since I don’t read gritty American crime novels, you would think an entire book of interviews with famous crime writers would not be my cup of tea. But I was enthralled with Back to the Badlands by John Williams. In 1989 the Welsh journalist and writer traveled around America talking with a number of famous authors - Carl Hiaasen, Sara Paretsky, Tony Hillerman - about their crime novels, and about the settings in which the stories took place - Miami, Chicago, Arizona/New Mexico. The product of this journey was Into the Badlands (1993). He’s repeated his journey, visiting newer writers on the crime scene: George Pelecanos, Kinky Freidman, and Daniel Woodrell, among others. This new book reads like a collection of Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone articles: well-written, with Williams a strong presence in the narrative, and a lot of descriptive touches. The nice thing about the new book is that it not only includes his interviews from 2005, but also some of the chapters from his original 1993 book. And if you really like his work, and would like to read more, then the interviews omitted from Back to the Badlands are available at his website: Fabulous.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Biblical cheat sheet

Confession time – I have never read the entire Bible. Cover to cover, it can be a bit of a slog (especially the begats in Matthew), and most people cherry-pick the sections they read. But it is very difficult to experience Western culture (books, movies, poetry, music or art) without knowing the Bible. If you don’t have time to read the entire thing, then Everday Biblical Literacy: the essential guide to biblical allusions in art, literature, and life can help you truly appreciate your favorite Renaissance painting, or get the background on Ahab before you read Moby Dick (another light classic). Some of the entries are a little obvious (hello, who hasn’t heard the story of Moses?), but the etymological entries are pretty interesting. The word ‘patter’, for instance, arose from the common prayer "Our Father", which used to said in Latin: "Pater Noster". Even the corny marketing phrase “Go the extra mile” has a biblical origin (Matthew 5:41-42). So gird up your loins (page 400) dust off your old set of Harvard Classics and reread the great works of Western Literature with a new appreciation.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Mediterranean Modern

I’ll be totally upfront here – I hate modern architecture. That being said, Mediterranean Modern, by Dominic Bradbury is a great book to page through. And even though I find the majority of the houses themselves to be appallingly ugly and jarring in their natural setting, some of their elements are just beautiful. The infinity pool of the Fontpineda House (pg 42) makes it appear as if you will swim off the edge of the cliff. The bathtub (bathing pool, really) in the Tsirigakis House (pg 118) is inviting, romantic and exotic while at the same time being very plain and austere. That house in its entirety is actually quite nice, with just enough traditional elements to avoid the blocky, modern look. It also blends magnificently into its setting. My favorite house in this book, if I had millions and millions of dollars, is Can Helena in the Balearic Islands (I confess, I had to look them up in an atlas – they’re off the east coast of Spain, and Majorica is the largest island in the group). The house is a series of levels carved into the hillside, overlooking the Mediterranean, with multiple pools and water features. Lovely. Although, looking at all these houses, I can’t help but wonder if the bank of windows that are so necessary in our gloomy climate wouldn’t just bake you like an ant under a magnifying glass in the heat and sun of the Mediterranean. If any of the homeowners in this book would like to invite me for the summer, I’ll report back to you.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Face: the new photographic portrait

260 images – some candid, some posed, some digitally altered. Portraits of the dead, pictures of babies just delivered from the birth canal. Grainy, blurry, overexposed, beautiful. Faces without eyes or mouths, male and female blended together, eyes held open, eyes sewn shut. The images in Face: the new photographic portrait, by William Ewing, are always compelling and often disturbing – especially the digitally altered images. They appear real and your eye accepts them, but there is something just wrong enough to make you uneasy. As a society (and a species) we rely so heavily on the evidence of our eyes and the way things look that when that visual reality is altered in any way it’s very unsettling. The entire book is fascinating, and it’s hard not to look at every single photograph and image multiple times in one sitting.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

New this week...

We have some new fiction titles by some well-known authors on our shelf this week:
The book with the biggest buzz in Alaska is The Yiddish Policeman's Union, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon. Set in an alternate-reality Sitka, this murder mystery explores the story possibilities of a Jewish homeland (Alyeska) situated on Baranof Island after World War II.
Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club) delivers Rant, a fictional oral biography of a (possible) serial killer. Fun stuff.
We also have the latest in James ‘Prolific’ Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club: The 6th Target. All three copies are currently checked out, but you can place a hold online for the next available one.
For something a little lighter, we have Tumbling Blocks, another mystery starring quilt museum maven Benni Harper.
Look also for new titles by David Baldacci (Simple Genius), Anita Shreve (Body Surfing) and Amanda Quick (The River Knows). Memorial Day is coming up, and it’s time to kick-start your summer reading.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Green for Danger

I am a huge fan of British mysteries, and I love old films, so I truly enjoyed Green for Danger, a 1946 British film starring Trevor Howard and Alastair Sim. The story is set at a British hospital during World War II, and concerns the mysterious death of a patient. Trevor Howard plays a prickly anesthesiologist, and Alastair Sim is the most enjoyable film detective I've ever seen. He manages to portray a blend of bumbling fool and witty intelligence (not the easiest thing in the world to do, since you would think those characteristics would be polar opposites). The acting is wonderful, since many of the cast were well-known from the stage, the script is funny, and there are even moments of true suspense in the midst of the humor. Even the lighting is superb. This film also illustrates that you can have an enjoyable, mature story that appeals to adults without any sex, violence, or bad language (there is a fistfight scene between two people, but it's pretty fake). They don't even show the actual murder, or any blood-soaked body. So if you're looking for something to watch with your school-age kids, this would be a great choice. You won't be bored, they won't be exposed to explicit material, and it's a great opportunity to teach them a little bit about World War II. (Look up the word 'buzzbomb' before fielding any of their questions, and you'll be fine).

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Last night PBS showed a fascinating program about the New York Public Library: the crème de la crème of libraries. The show was packed with little bits of information and trivia, the most interesting of which was that this grand dame of a library was built in 1911 - a decade after the Ketchikan Public Library was formed. For a bunch of hardscrabble miners and frontier folk, the early citizens of Ketchikan were a forward-thinking group of people. If you missed the program, don't worry, we'll be adding it to the collection as soon as it is available on DVD.
In the meantime, slake your thirst for library images with The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World, by Guillaume de Laubrier. There are over 240 pages of gorgeous color photos of the oldest, largest, most ornate libraries in the world. The Vatican library, the Boston Athenaeum, Trinity College in Dublin, and the national libraries of Portugal, Austria, Russia and the Czech Republic are just a few of the amazing buildings included in this book. Some of these libraries were built to impress visitors, some were built to inspire learners, and some to facilitate quiet contemplation. The ideal library, I suppose, would accomplish all three tasks and then some. There is something about libraries that attract people. Even our library gets visitors every summer who are just coming in to look and relax (and sometimes, of course, to avoid the rain).

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Five Laws of Library Science

I obviously don't have the soul of a true blogger, because instead of sitting inside this afternoon posting about Raganathan's Five Laws of Library Science (as I promised I would in this weekend's Ad-Lib column), I was outside enjoying the beautiful weather. Ah, well.
So, as promised: The Five Laws of Library Science, according to S.R. Ranganathan (with my own little idle comments in italics)
1. Books are for use. As lovely as they all look lined up neatly on the shelf, librarians really do want people to pick them up and use them. When you see a book display at the library, please feel free to take the books. You're not disturbing the feng shui of our display.
2. Every person has his book. Or her book. Ranganathan published this in 1931 in India.
3. Every book has its reader. One person might consider a book offensive, or silly, or a waste of money and shelf space, but someone else will value the book as a source of information or entertainment. One person's meat is another one's poison.
4. Save the time of the reader. The library tries to be organized and easy to use, so that people can find what they want without getting frustrated. If you can't find something at the library, please ask us to help. That's what we're there for.
5. The library is a growing organism. We are continually adding new books, videos, CDs, magazines and audiobooks. We are continually looking at new advances in technology. We are continually trying to find ways to reach out to more people, and to make the library even better for everyone in Ketchikan. If you have an idea or a suggestion, please let us know. We really do want to hear what you think, and it is always helpful to look at things from a non-librarian perspective. Oh, and by the way, we are desperately in need of a building to house the expanding collection and technology. The last time the library was housed in a building that was built expressly for that purpose, Calvin Coolidge was president.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Beauty in Afghanistan

We have the rare coincidence of having a new book and a new video telling the same tale: the founding of the Kabul Beauty School in 2003. Deborah Rodriguez, a hairdresser from the Midwest, went to Afghanistan in the spring of 2002 as part of a humanitarian mission. She was surprised to find out that in addition to medical supplies and food, one of the things that Afghan women desperately wanted was beauty. Before the Taliban regime cracked down on anything they deemed immoral, the women of Afghanistan patronized beauty parlors the same way we do: perms, manicures, waxing, and makeovers. But during the oppression of the Taliban, the training, tools, and skills from these Afghan beauty parlors disappeared. So Rodriguez decided to help bring them back. In her book Kabul Beauty School, she relates her experiences and shares the stories of the women she came to know through the school. The DVD The Beauty Academy of Kabul tells much the same story, but through the eyes of an outsider. The DVD also focuses more on the Afghan women themselves. Both are fascinating, and allow the women of Afghanistan to have an identity of their own. By talking about their experiences, thoughts and hopes, the Afghan women show their audience that they are individual people with unique personalities worthy of respect. And how beautiful is that?

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Jamestown Project

Not exactly on time – the settlers landed on May 14th – but darn close to the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first successful British settlement in the New World comes The Jamestown Project by Karen Kupperman. As schoolchildren we got the brief mention of Jamestown, and the love story between John Smith and Pocahontas, but did we hear the real story? Did we get the details of how the colony was founded, how it managed to survive starvation, disease and ignorance? And more importantly, did we hear how the British attempts to establish an American colony fit into the geopolitical situation of the time? Well, probably not, because we were in 4th grade, and it’s hard to make a diorama of all that. But it’s never too late to learn, and Kupperman tells an interesting story with her new book. She presents a very thorough picture of what the situation was in Europe, and particularly England, that drove this expansion into North America. She also discusses the contacts that Atlantic Coast Native Americans had with Europeans prior to the settlement of Jamestown. This is not a part of American history that gets a lot notice, and the recent widespread attention (due to the anniversary) is long overdue.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Party down, dude

If you want a book that is guaranteed to make you want to get up off the couch, try World Party: the rough guide to the world’s best festivals. Every picture in this book is about having a good time – movement, music, color, and beauty. The images, even though they're not large, just leap off the page at you, making the entire book feel vibrant. The festivals and parties listed in this book span the globe (with the exception of Antarctica, go figure) and touch on hundreds of different cultures and religions, but they all share the same basic elements: music, alcohol and dangerous animals. Cheese-rolling, wife-carrying, camel-riding, and mass-bathing with 70 million (yeah, that’s million) other people are just some of the ways to add a little zest to your life. I actually found an event in this book that I had attended (not the Oil Wrestling Championships, keep guessing). This book is educational, entertaining, and inspiring. Go somewhere, anywhere and do something, anything!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A breed apart: the VW camper

My grandparents loved their VW camper. I should say campers, as they had more than one over the years, but they were always the same color: orange. It was more practical that way, as my grandmother could transfer her homemade curtains and cushions directly to the new vehicle. I have many happy memories of the camper, with its fold-down table, pop-up top and the little cabinets tucked away in every nook and cranny. Apparently, I am not alone. Like every vehicle with character and style (bad or good is in the eye of the beholder), VW campers have a devoted fan club. The handbook of this fan club has to be Traveling with the VW Bus & Camper, by David and Cee Eccles. Filled with reminiscences, photos, old advertisements, and custom makeovers, this book is a tribute to the ultimate hippy-mobile. The camper has actually gone through five transformations since it was first introduced in 1950, but true aficionados don't consider the last three versions (post-1979) to be 'true' campers. The distinctive look (and sound) of a VW bus is a large part of its appeal, and the newer Vanagons just don't have that. This is a wonderful summary of a truly unique vehicle, and highly recommended for anyone from the Woodstock generation.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The 'It' girl from Down Under

In the 1920's, the goal of every flapper was to have 'It': a polite euphemism for sassy sex appeal. While you can argue that sass and sex are in the eyes of the beholder, if you're a fan of Australian author Kerry Greenwood, you have to admit that her detective protagonist - Phyrne Fisher - has both qualities in spades. Phyrne (pronounced fry-knee, according to the dust jacket) is a rich, beautiful, sophisticated and sexually adventurous woman who has returned home to Australia after living in Europe for many years. The 1920's in Australia were apparently a little less 'roaring' than they were in New York or Paris, but Phyrne manages to generate her own excitement wherever she goes. She works as a private investigator and solves murders, robberies, and kidnappings with the help of a recurring set of characters.
The Phyrne Fisher mysteries have been very popular in Australia, where they were first published in 1989. Author Greenwood has written 16 books in the series so far and the American mystery publisher Poisoned Pen Press has started reissuing them for an American audience. We have just added another volume to the collection (we now have 7 titles), and The Green Mill Murder is just as fun and exciting as the others. A little mystery, a little romance, a little fashion: what a great recipe for a good summer read.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Clothes with pizazz

While the proliferation of mega-retailers (Gap, Target, Old Navy, Wal-Mart) has increased the amount of clothing available for sale, the diversity of styles available seems to have decreased. The khaki cargo shorts at the Gap look just like those at Old Navy (same company, go figure!), and just like those at Target. So how do you establish any type of identity or individuality? According to author Kate Haxell, you do it by Customizing Cool Clothes: from dull to divine in 30 projects. Haxell takes a bunch of relatively ordinary clothes - skirts, jeans, camisoles, t-shirts - and jazzes them up with a variety of techniques that range from the simple (sew some beads on a basic skirt) to intermediate (change a plain t-shirt into a shirt with a lace-up front). She also offers a nice continuum of flashiness. Are you a conservative dresser? Then it's best to start with adding a few small fabric flowers to a camisole, and save trimming your jeans with leopard-print fabric until you're feeling a little more bohemian. The mint-green faux fur stole with the hot pink satin lining might be a bit too outre as well, but perhaps a brown fabric with cream lining will be demure enough. Whatever your style, whatever your age, this book will definitely give you food for thought.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

David Grisman Quintet - 30 and counting

Folk and bluegrass legend David Grisman is back with his quintet for an upbeat, jazzy CD titled Dawg's Groove. Since forming 30 years ago, the David Grisman Quintet has featured such famous names as Vassar Clements, Bela Fleck, Jerry Garcia, Stephane Grappelli, Mark O'Conner, and Earl Scruggs. His fellow musicians on this CD are no less accomplished, and together they've blended Latin, bluegrass and jazz sounds for a lovely acoustic album. Grisman's 1996 collaboration with Jerry Garcia - Shady Grove - was my introduction to his amazing mandolin playing, but that was definitely a bluegrass album, while this new one is for jazz fans. Serving suggestion: dinner for two, candles on the table, a nice bottle of wine and Dawg's Groove playing on the stereo.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


Generally speaking, etiquette books have a bad rap for being full of arcane information that real people are never going to use (not that I don't frequently attend formal dinners where I use fish forks and finger bowls). But that ain't necessarily so, and Peggy Post's new book - Excuse me, but I was next: how to handle the top 100 manners dilemmas - is a prime example of an etiquette book that is geared for 21st century living. Cubicle manners, internet dating, and cell-phone etiquette (for instance, don't carry on conversations in the stall of a public restroom) are all touched on, as are the age-old standards of wedding invitations, dinner table topics, and saying thank you. How do you tell a coworker they have terrible body odor? What do you say to someone who has just had a miscarriage? How do you introduce your ex-sister-in-law without going into a 10 minute history of your marital woes? Everyone bemoans the loss of manners and civility in society today, but I think people are still concerned about offending others or appearing rude. There are always letters in the Dear Abby column asking about the right and wrong way to deal with situations, and it's heartening that most people are genuinely concerned about the answer (and not just looking for justification for their own rude behavior). Hopefully, civility is not dead, it's just resting in a dark room with it's eyes closed for a little while.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Best American Series

We have a number of books published under the 'Best American Series' heading: essays, spiritual writing, travel writing, science and nature writing, and short stories. Our newest addition to this group is Best American Nonrequired Reading - 2006, edited by Dave Eggers (who has a new book of his own on our shelves - What is the What: an autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng - a reality-based novel about the civil war in the Sudan).

BANR (Best American Nonrequired Reading is too long to type out) is an interesting collection of fiction and nonfiction written works, with a diverse origin. This includes a commencent speech, a section from the new Iraqi constitution, blog excerpts, portions of a script, and a list of best first lines from a novel. Some of the selections are funny (Best Fictional Headlines from The Onion), while others are more thought-provoking (an excerpt from Kurt Vonnegut's last book, A Man Without a Country). Even the introduction by Matt Groening is enjoyable to read - and I don't typically pay much attention to introductions. You can use this book to sample what's been published recently if you're looking for something to read, or to keep your finger on the pulse of popular culture if for some reason you don't have the time or inclination to read the entire Iraqi constitution.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

A source for new information

We've tried a variety of formats for spreading information about our new materials: we have a weekly radio show on KRBD public radio, and we appear twice a month on KTKN's First City Forum. We have a weekly column in the Ketchikan Daily News, we have a website, we put up posters, we're on TV, we send updates to Sitnews, we send flyers to the schools, etc. etc. We even call up people that we think might be interested in a new book or video to let them know we have it. And each one of those formats has a dedicated audience that relys on that source for information. But it's a rapidly changing world, and sometimes people are looking for rapidly changing information, and a weekly column or radio show is just not fast enough. So this blog will be a lot more informal, and the information will be a lot more abbreviated, but it will be updated more frequently than our other outlets. Feel free to add comments, especially if you've read/seen/heard the item in question and would like to throw in your two cents about the writing, or the plot, or even the cover art on the dust jacket. If you'ld like your comments to be a little more anonymous, then feel free to send us (me) and email: