Friday, November 30, 2007

A Guest Reviewer

This is the first time I've ceded the floor to a guest reviewer, but I liked the review so much I felt compelled to share. The book in question in Alaskana; or, Alaska in Descriptive and Legendary Poems by Prof. Bushrod W. James. The review (the reviewer is unnamed) appeared in the Nov. 18, 1892 issue of the journal Science:

"If Professor James had not had the unfortunate idea that he is a poet, he would have written a book of considerable interest, as he has visited various localities in Alaska and read read several works about that country. As it is, he gives us 360 solid pages of verses in the meter of "Hiawatha", with "some slight improvements," as the announcement of the publishers modestly puts it....And are there people who will read 360 pages of such? If so, human nature has certain qualities of patience or kindliness for which we did not give it sufficient credit."


But be assured, we have this book if you have the patience and kindliness to read it.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

It ain't sexy

We have a new item on the shelves that might not be the most exciting thing we've ever gotten, but if you're a commercial fisherman it might well be the most useful. Financial Statements and Business Calculations for Commercial Fishermen & Alaska Fish Business Plan is a CD-ROM produced by the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program. The CD contains spreadsheet templates for both MAC and PC users that will allow them to create asset/liability statements, income statements, and cash flow statements. This disk also has worksheets for calculating the cost of crew, fuel and lubricants, permits and IFQs and vessel and equipment needs. On a positive note, it can also help you keep track of revenue! For PC users there is also a tool that will help you create a Fish Business Plan. You can be the canniest seaman and luckiest fisherman in the world and still come up against a brick wall when it comes to the accounting side of things. This CD is designed to make things easier for you in the office so that you can spend more of your time and energy on the water. And what better time to organize your accounts than over the slow season (unless you're participating in a winter fishery, of course.....). We would like to thank the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program for donating this handy item to our library.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Vita Romana

Some time periods and civilizations are more interesting than others, and I personally think the Romans were an incredibly interesting group of people. And since people continue to create books, movies and TV series set in Roman times, I feel I'm not alone. We have a new book that looks at the various aspects of living in the Roman Empire. Roman Life: 100 B.C. to A.D. 200 by John R. Clarke focuses on the heyday of the Empire, when things were really exciting (from Spartacus to Mark Anthony to Nero). He breaks the book into general themes - work, bathing, taverns, religion, death, dinner parties - and then in each section he provides the information in a variety of ways. There are beautiful photos of statues, mosaics and ruins. There are also digital reconstructions of what rooms and buildings really looked like (based on the pieces that have survived to present day). But one of the most intriguing things Clarke has done is to include little novellas about Romans going about their daily business. For instance, the chapter about Shows focuses on Marcus Holconius Rufus - high counselor of Pompeii - who has financed a theater performance for the entire city. As Rufus goes through all the ceremonies and events of the big holiday, the reader learns how theaters worked: who paid for them, how they were set up, what they looked like and what was performed. Both instructive and entertaining, this book is perfect for anyone who would like to know more about Roman life without hacking their way through dry, footnoted text. It also includes a glossary, a bibliography for further reading, and an interactive CD-ROM that lets users choose an identity (slave, guest, client, etc.) and wander around the House of Vettii in Pompeii. Very fun.


How does this sound?: a world cruise with 74 ports of call.
Actually, it sounds totally exhausting. But what if you could visit these ports from the comfort of your own home (and your own Norwalk-free bathroom?). Well, with our new Ultimate Cruise Collection DVD, you can view tropical beaches, Mayan temples, majestic glaciers and historic European cities. Get the inside scoop on six different cruise itineraries: Alaska, Hawaii/Tahiti, Mexico, the Eastern Caribbean, the Western Caribbean and Northern Europe. Each disc will also give you the top 10 attractions of each region, as well as special trips below the warm blue-green waters of the Caribbean and the icy stretches of Alaskan glaciers. Heck, you can even visit "densely forested Ketchikan, with its colorful, mysterious totem poles created by early natives". Well, O.K. it's not Encyclopaedia Brittanica. But you can spend over 6 hours gazing longingly at warm water, sandy beaches and tropical paradise. Crank up the heat, sprinkle some kitty litter on the floor (closest thing we have to sand), drink something out of a coconut and dream yourself to a warmer clime.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A good excuse for traveling

San Francisco is one of my favorite cities because of its nice blend of cosmopolitan ennui, leftist idealism and strong neighborhood character. And Lonely Planet is my favorite guidebook publisher because their books don't advocate staying at the YMCA (at my age? Please!) or a $400-a-night hotel. They manage to provide info for slightly adventurous, yet comfort-loving travelers who don't have an unlimited amount of money to spend but don't want to take a bus tour with a dozen octogenarians. So what better book than Lonely Planet's San Francisco Encounter?
Small enough to fit in your coat pocket or purse, this guide boasts a handy pull-out street map with index, a section of 'must-see' highlights, an event calendar for the year and some handy itineraries for your particular length of stay. But best of all, the author (Alison Bing) goes through every neighborhood in San Francisco and gives you a summary of its history and feel as well as the best places to see, shop and eat. Each entry includes hours of operation, bus route numbers and trolley car lines (where appropriate). There is even a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) map inside the back cover. Everything you could need in the smallest of packages: a real jewel of a travel guide.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

World War I

World War I ended 89 years ago this month, and there are a mere handful of veterans left from that period. So much senseless death needs to be remembered and a new video series we have here at the library is a perfect way to learn more about a war that was so horrible people were sure it could never happen again. The First World War is a 10-part series based on the book by Professor Hew Strachan, which is available through the Schoenbar library. This British film is produced and directed by Jonathan Lewis, who has made dozens of historical documentaries. Although told from the British viewpoint, it also includes footage from Eastern Europe that was previously unavailable to filmmakers during the Communist Era. Strachan and Lewis take the viewer on a detailed tour through the political and military events that occurred during that terrible 4-year period, and the scenes of carnage and destruction are truly moving. The packaging of this critically-acclaimed production also includes helpful maps of the various theaters of combat, and a nice booklet that summarizes each episode. This is a completely riveting series about an historical event that had global repercussions, and a must-see film for anyone remotely interested in history and world events.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Bizarre Buildings

Not every building is entirely practical, and not everyone judges the worth of a building by whether or not it has too many corners. In Bizarre Buildings authors Paul Cattermole and Ian Westwell explore some of the most architecturally daring and visually stunning buildings in the world. The authors have taken the word 'bizarre' to heart, and rather than include ornate and grandiose examples of period architecture (Angkor Wat, Chartres cathedral, the Breakers, the Guggenheim) they have focused on buildings where the design completely overpowers the function of the structure itself. Most of their examples are modern architecture, but they do include some older examples: an 18th-century pineapple dome in England, Mad King Ludwig's castle, and the work of Antonio Gaudi. Some of the other architects are well-known modern designers like I.M. Pei, Frank Gehry, and Buckminster Fuller, while other buildings are one-hit wonders (in fact, the authors don't even include the architect's name with some of the examples). Sweeping curves, giant domes, chunky blocks, walls of glass and hovering saucers dot the pages of this book. The photographs are beautiful, and if you ever wanted to take an architectural tour of the world (the bizarre world, of course), this is the book for you.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Art of Ill Will

There are few things that can pack as strong a punch as a really good political cartoon. A simple drawing and a short caption can puncture egos, expose scandals, inflame public opinion, and affect elections. They are also a wonderful barometer of the mood of the country. One of our new books - The Art of Ill Will: the story of American political cartoons by Donald Dewey - is a fun way to learn more about the political history of the United States. Ranging from the Boston Massacre to the Patriot Act, the cartoons in this box satirize and memorialize some of the biggest historical events and political scandals of our nation. The cartoons range from the very funny to the very somber (check out Bill Mauldin's reaction to JFK's assassination on page 107).
The book begins with a lengthy introduction, and the cartoons are broken into general subject heading (Presidents - Wars & Foreign Relations - Ethnic, Racial and Religious Issues - Local and Domestic Politics - Business & Labor) and then each heading presents the cartoons in chronological order. I have a quibble with the indexing, however. The index only covers the text, not the actual cartoons, so if you are looking for a specific cartoonist you are out of luck. In addition, the table of contents only lists the subject headings, not the cartoons. Again, finding a specific illustration is very difficult. Other than that, however, this is a very interesting book. It would be a wonderful resource for teachers trying to convey the mood of a period to their students.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Holiday novels

The Christmas season gets its official start on Friday (despite what some pushy retail organizations say), so in order to get in the Christmas mood, stop by the library and grab one of our holiday-themed novels. We have a display up by the catalog terminals, and we have also added a few to the New Book shelves this week:

Cat Deck the Halls: a Joe Grey mystery by Sheila Rousseau Murphy. Joe Grey is a feline detective. Take that as either a selling point or a warning, depending on your taste.

Where Angels Go by Debbie Macomber. More gentle, feel-good stories involving the angels Mercy, Goodness and Shirley.

Finding Father Christmas by Robin Jones Gunn. A young San Francisco woman goes searching for her father in England. There's always something appealing about spending Christmas in England (unless you're Bob Cratchit).

Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt. Once you get past the fact that the sweet little girl in this story grows up to be not-so-great mother in Angela's Ashes, this is a very beautiful tale that is perfect to share with your kids.

These are just some of the many mysteries, romances, thrillers and gentle reads we have on the shelf that use the wonderful emotional ups and downs of the holiday season as a backdrop.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Good times

Nothing brings kids closer to their parents than the opportunity to make fun of their childhood. Most of the time, this is restricted to wedding photos (nice beehive, Mom) and old yearbooks (cool plaid suit, Dad). But why not give your kids the chance to make fun of your entire generation? Sit down with the family and watch Chalkdust Memories: classic classroom films. Over 3 hours of some of the most vital information you ever learned in school is on this DVD. Relive the hilarity of the Cold War with such classics as "Survival Under Atomic Attack" (1951), "Red Nightmare" (1962) and everyone's favorite - "Duck and Cover" (1951). Parents of young drivers will enjoy sharing the important lessons in "Tomorrow's Drivers" (1954) and "Smith System of No-Accident Driving" (1956). Wow, even the title is exciting! The melodramatic anti-drug films from the late sixties will certainly inspire some interesting family conversations, but for pure giggle-inducing fun, you should watch the 'relationship' films you remember from Health and Hygiene Class (the fact that they couldn't even call it 'Sex-Ed' will give your kids a hint about the tone of the films). There is something comforting in realizing that your parents were just as concerned about sex, drugs and fiery car crashes as you are with your kids. The world may have changed, but there are some things about parenting that will always stay the same.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Three new mysteries

Mysteries are one of the most popular types of books in the library, and people often follow the exploits of a particular detective or police official. But sometimes it's good to try something new.

The Art Thief is the debut novel of Noah Charney, the founding director of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA). His richly detailed novel about three simultaneous art thefts - in Rome, Paris and London - and the common threads that connect these crimes will please anyone interested in complex plots and beautiful settings.

Noble Lies, by Charles Benoit, involves a Desert Storm vet working as a bouncer in Thailand. He takes on a job helping an American woman find her missing brother (the 2004 tsunami is a background character in the novel), but runs afoul of some Thai gangsters. What follows is fast-paced action and lots of plot twists.

Set in the colorful community of Provincetown, Massachusetts, High Season starts with the discovery of a murdered TV evangelist (decked out in a dress and wig) and escalates into a series of murders that has the entire Cape on edge. Local readers will enjoy this Jon Loomis mystery set in a seaside tourist town a little like Ketchikan (well, not much like Ketchikan. But there's boats. And tourists. And seafood.)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

We are amused

Having been Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, etc., etc. for over 55 years now, Elizabeth II is one of the most recognizable figures in the world today. And lately she has been taking on more of a pop culture status, as her personal life seems fair game for artistic license. English novelist and Beyond the Fringe alum Alan Bennett has used the Queen as the protagonist for his new novel: The Uncommon Reader. In this book, Elizabeth ducks into a bookmobile (or 'mobile library' as they are called in the UK) following her irritating corgis. On impulse, she checks out a book, and her life is transformed by the joy of reading. As her reading tastes flourish, she begins to look at her life - and life in general - differently, to the consternation of her staff and the government. Bennett manages to put in a lot of sly humor about the monarchy, British institutions, and the growing attitude that readers are 'elitist'. Despite the less-than-flattering premise of the book (that until the bookmobile incident, she never read), the Queen comes off as a rather endearing character with a good heart and a quick wit. I don't know if Bennett has close knowledge of the Queen, or if he is just reflecting the ingrained British attitude towards the sovereign, but he appears quite fond of Her Majesty. As for the ending of the book....well, what a jaw-dropper.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Real Master and Commander

Fans of Patrick O'Brian will probably know that the purposeful hero of his books - 'Lucky' Jack Aubrey - was closely based on a real naval hero and adventurer. Cochrane: the real master and commander by David Cordingly details the meteoric rise - and sharp downfall - of one of the British Navy's most colorful characters. His exploits during the Napoleonic Wars caused the Emperor himself to nickname him "the sea wolf". He was handsome, very cunning about naval matters, and phenomenally successful. Until it came to business matters. In 1814, an acquaintance of Cochrane's started a rumour of Napoleon's death and he, Cochrane, and 4 others were found later to have made a vast sum of money selling stocks while the rumour was flying. A one-year prison sentence was devastating to Cochrane's naval career (see The Reverse of the Medal for the Jack Aubrey version).
Cordingly writes an account of Cochrane that is just as interesting as the novels of C.S. Forester and Patrick O'Brian. The fact that these exploits were real just adds to the excitement. The book flows well, there are lots of illustrations of the prominent names of the time - Lord St. Vincent, Admiral Lord Keith, General Bernardo O'Higgins - and nice appendix. Cordingly includes a glossary, a diagram of the frigate Imperieuse, and a thorough bibliography, as well as footnotes and index. For true lovers of naval history, this is a great book.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A classic film

Ah, where has all the romance gone? Modern movies about relationships seem to fall into the categories of schmaltzy (While You Were Sleeping) or harsh (Closer). If you want a truly romantic movie, then I suggest a classic tear-jerker that's just been put on our shelves: Now, Voyager. This fabulous film stars Bette Davis, a fabulous actress, and Paul Henreid, who is best known for playing Victor Laslo in Casablanca.
On paper, the story line sounds terrible: Davis is a repressed spinster dominated by her mother. She seeks help from a kindly psychiatrist (Claude Rains, another Casablanca alum) and emerges a new woman - one of the first 'makeover' films. She goes on a cruise and falls in love with an unhappily married Henreid. [This was back when ocean cruises were the height of luxury and sophistication, rather than being all about the food buffet]. Their paths continue to cross, and their love never dies, but there is no happy ending here. What saves this plot from being a sappy mess is the stellar acting of Davis, Henreid and Rains. Davis emerges as a strong, sympathetic character who channels her love into helping Henreid's disturbed daughter. Henreid's performance is also wonderful. And when Henreid lights two cigarettes at once, and offers one to Davis, you will see just how much modern romance flicks miss the mark.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ho ho ho

Like a force-9 gale, Christmas is bearing down upon us, and it's never too early to get ready. (Well, wrapping your gifts in August is a little intense, but to each his own). So, to help everyone get in that holly-jolly mood, we have dragged all the Christmas stuff out of storage. As you enter the library, you will see our large selection of holiday CDs and craft magazines on display. We have 170 Christmas albums in our collection, from carols and hymns to Don Ho and Zamfir (the master of the pan flute). I defy anyone to resist as wide-ranging a collection as that. We also have a huge number of craft magazines - both general and craft-specific - that you can choose from: cross-stitch, paper craft, cooking, knitting, woodworking, painting, card making, etc. When you stop off to browse the display, feel free to pick up one of our brochures highlighting some of our Christmas Craft books. If it can be gilded, wrapped, painted, sequined, laminated, engraved, woven or folded we have a craft guide that will show you how to do it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New Home Wish List

If you or someone you know is thinking about building a new house, or renovating an existing home, then we have a new book that is a fabulous resource: Architectural Inspiration: styles, details & sources by Richard Skinulis and Peter Christopher. Whether you are just starting the building process and are still in the conceptual phase, or if you are picking out knobs for the kitchen cabinets, this book is a cornucopia of ideas and possibilities. Beautiful color photography and instructive, well-written text make this book a pleasure to read. Each chapter covers a different aspect of the house and gives you a broad overview of popular styles and historical trends, and also presents a photo gallery of designs: weathervanes, brickwork, bathtubs, ceiling panels, fireplaces, and decorative moldings. The authors even explain the relative merits of different types of light bulbs and exhaust hoods. You can see what appeals to you and what styles are available on the market. If you are remotely interested in interior design, then looking through the pages of this book will be like a 6-year-old with a toy catalog; you'll want one of everything. Even if you are just planning your dream house, this is still a fun book to read. A word of warning, though: the items and ideas that are presented are not cheap. If your idea of home design is buying whatever's on sale, then this book won't be of much use to you. But you could always look for more economical look-alikes, build your own, or pick one or two features (tile, lighting, moldings) on which to splurge. There's a world of possibilities out there.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Videos for Veterans' Day

Housekeeping note -
The library will be closed on Sunday the 11th (which is actually Veterans' Day) and Monday the 12th (which is the observed holiday). We'll see you again on Tuesday.
The end of World War I - the war to end all wars - came about on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, and we now use that day to honor all the men and women who have served in the armed forces of the United States. As you celebrate Veterans' Day this year, consider watching some of our new films about the military:
Navy Seals: the untold stories. This 2-volume set covers heart-stopping covert operations in Vietnam, Panama, Bosnia and Columbia.
The War Tapes is comprised entirely of footage captured by three men serving with the Army in Iraq: Sergeant Steve Pink, Sergeant Zack Bazzi and Specialist Mike Moriarty. See what the war is like from the perspective of these soldiers.
The War is another epic documentary from Ken Burns (see my posting from September 27 about the accompanying book)
Off to War: from rural Arkansas to Iraq is a ten-part series that follows 57 members of the Arkansas National Guard as they leave friends, family and their familiar lives and get deployed to Iraq.
Silent Wings: American glider pilots of WWII is sure to please aviation fans as well as those interested in military history.
Of course, these are just the new films. We have dozens of other documentaries and feature films that use the military experience as their theme; just search the "Film Subject" option of our catalog using the word 'war'.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Heavy hitters on audio

We have some new audiobooks on the shelves that feature bestselling authors:

J.A. Jance's latest J.P. Beaumont novel may have gotten mixed reviews, but fans of the series will still enjoy the experiences of this Seattle-based detective. In Justice Denied - the 18th novel in the series - Beaumont works on 3 cases simultaneously and continues his relationship with his girlfriend Mel Soames.

Early in his career, Stephen King wrote under the pen name of Richard Bachman, and one of his early novels has just been published this year. Blaze is the nickname of a physically powerful man whose horrific childhood has left him mentally retarded. Befriended and influenced by one of King's trademark evil characters, Blaze pursues a plot to kidnap a baby for ransom. King manages to make Blaze a sympathetic character, and this is a powerful book.

Play Dirty is another tale of sex and suspense from popular author Sandra Brown. This one deals with a disgraced ex-NFL player, an impotent millionaire looking for someone to impregnate his wife, and an unsolved murder.

Kingdom Come: the final victory is the conclusion to the hugely popular Left Behind series by Time LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. It's taken 12 years, but readers can finally find out what happens as the Millennium ends and the final battle between good and evil begins.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


Function + Form = Design. We have a new book on the shelves that not only celebrates that idea, it epitomizes it. Design: intelligence made visible by Stephen Bayley and Terence Conran is an encyclopedia of design: industrial, graphic, fashion and commercial. From the 18th century potter Josiah Wedgwood to the iPhone, this book encapsulates centuries of creativity into an easy-to-use alphabetical format. This is a nice research tool for anyone who is interested in art or design, and it begins with a brief (60 pages) overview of the history of design. Each entry is nicely cross-referenced, with underlined terms found elsewhere in the book. Not just practical, though, this gorgeous book also includes hundreds of beautiful color photos of teapots, chairs, dresses, buildings, logos, vehicles and flatware, as well as Fiat cars, Olivetti typewriters, Chanel dresses, and Braun appliances. Learn who designed the London double-decker buses, the paper clip, and the carousel slide projector. Not everything we use has to be utilitarian and ugly, and it's very inspiring to read about people who spend their lives trying to incorporate beauty and style into everyday objects. Some might be more successful at it than others, but you gotta admire the effort.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Two by two

The way our ordering system works, new items trickle in over a period of months and I usually have a pretty eclectic mix of materials on my 'new' cart. Sometimes, however, recurring themes seem to pop up. Here are a few of the themes for this week:

Clean up your boat! Boat Cosmetics Made Simple: how to improve and maintain a boat's appearance by Sherri Board and Get Rid of Boat Odors: a boat owner's guide to marine sanitation systems and other sources of aggravation and odor by Peggie Hall. I could draw attention to the fact that these are both written by women, but I won't bother.

Kids and the Internet How to Protect Your Children on the Internet: a road map for parents and teachers by Gregory Smith and Logged On and Tuned Out: a nontechie's guide to parenting a tech-savvy generation by Vicki Courtney. Paying attention to what your kids are doing is always the first step.

The problem with this country is...fill in the blank. Nanny State: how food fascists, teetotaling do-gooders, priggish moralists and other boneheaded bureaucrats are turning America into a nation of children by David Harsanyi and Overtreated: why too much medicine is making us sicker and poorer by Shannon Brownlee

Learning Disabilities The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities by Marybeth Kravets and Imy F. Wax and Dyslexia: how to survive and succeed at work by Dr. Sylvia Moody. Learning disabilities aren't just an issue for public schools.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


There are two things I love to do in my library job: suggest books that people might like (this is called "Reader's Advisory" in the biz) and find themes in the collection (check out the Pathfinders page on our website to see what I mean). We have a new book that not only does both these things, but it does them with movies! Every whim, every subject, every situational need can be fulfilled with an offering from the silver screen, and Flickipedia: perfect films for every occasion, holiday, mood, ordeal and whim lists your options. Selected by Michael Atkinson and Laurel Shifrin, the lists in this book are necessarily subjective (Reader's Advisory is an art, not a science) and sometimes it can be difficult to determine their overall criteria for selection - how could you not include Lawrence of Arabia in your "Summer" section? - but as an overall viewer's aid this book is fantastic. The headings include 'Holidays' (26 of them), 'Seasons' (including March Madness), 'The Time of Their Lives' (for all your momentous life events, including dating), 'Altered States' (heartbreak, party time, etc.), 'World Traveler' and 'Flashbacks'. In addition to being a great list of movies, this book is also a good memory prompt. You may not find the perfect movie for your situation, but their lists will probably make you think of one you saw a million years ago. It might even spur you to make your own special lists ('Movies to watch after the kids go to bed', 'Tourist Season'). And don't forget, you can search our catalog for "Movie Title Keyword" and "Movie Subject Keyword". Have fun!

Monday, November 5, 2007


Few names conjure up the idea of exotic isolation like Timbuktu. Perched on the edge of the Sahara, it was a flourishing center of trade between north and west Africa. Gold, ivory, salt and slaves were traded and much wealth was accumulated in the city, which was then used to found libraries, mosques and schools. But what of the famous city now? Marq de Villiers and Sheila Hirtle take readers into the deserts of Africa to meet the modern residents in Timbuktu: the Sahara's fabled city of gold. Using historic documents and interviews with current residents and scholars, the authors present a biography of a city that is a thousand years old. The history of Timbuktu is also the history of Islam, European colonization, African Independence and globalization. This book is a nice mix of history, anthropology and travel, and the interviews with the local people are just fascinating. They accept their almost mythical status in the world's mind just as they accept the difficulties inherent in living on the edge of the Sahara. 'Yes, we are unique, and yes, we understand why you are fascinated with us'. As an Alaskan, I can really sympathize with that point of view.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Beautiful music

I rarely find myself on the cutting edge of music (or anywhere in its remote vicinity), so it's nice to be able to recommend a CD that may be flying under the radar. Land of Sea is a wonderful acoustical folky album by the duo Chris and Thomas. Since I don't usually listen to folk music or acoustic music, my recommendation is a testament to how beautiful this album is. The guitar work is very light and precise, with a nice melody to each song. Chris and Thomas - no last names, please - have voices that harmonize together quite well. Not Simon and Garfunkel, perhaps, but who is? These guys are definitely songwriters, and their lyrics are interesting and a tad melancholy. Unfortunately, they did not include the lyrics in the packaging for this album, so you have to listen closely. But considering how lovely (dare I say 'delicate'?) each song is, it is pure pleasure to put this album on the stereo, slip the headphones over your ears and melt away into the music. This is their first album, and I hope we hear more from this talented duo.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Attention Gipetto

My son turned 1 recently, so I can testify to the difficulty of finding toys that aren't made in China. Regardless of the brand name or the price tag, the toys on the store shelves all seem to have come from a country that has figured largely in the news lately (along with the word 'recall'). Overprotective or not, there is going to be a huge demand this Christmas for toys with a safer provenance. If you are a woodworker, this is the year for you. And we have just the book for you: Traditional Wooden Toys: their history and how to make them, by Cyril Hobbins. This is not a book for the beginning band saw user. The phrase "how to make them" is used in the loosest possible way. There are no patterns, no dimensions, no step-by-step instructions. This is a book for people who are comfortable creating on the fly.
This book is fabulous, however, when it comes to giving ideas and inspirations. He presents drawings of almost 100 toys, along with a little bit of history and a brief explanation of how to put them together (again, no dimensions). He covers animated, climbing, balancing and spinning toys. He discusses flying toys, wheeled toys, and ones powered by rubber bands. There are dolls, tanks, shuttlecocks, whistles, rattles, skittles, marble bridges and optical toys. There are toys from the 1800's and World War II. There is a toy for every age group in here, and (speaking as a parent) none of them require batteries, have flashing lights or - with the exception of the whistles and rattles - make noise! The toys in this book are wonderful. They will delight parents, intrigue children, and will stay in the toybox long after some cheap plastic toy has been broken and discarded. These are heirloom toys.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Come fly with me....

Since Alaska has more licensed pilots per capita than any other state in the country, I am sure that there will be some people who are interested in one of our newest books: 50 Aircraft That Changed the World by Ron Dick and Dan Patterson. This book is filled with beautiful color photos of the most famous names in aviation. Some of the featured planes are flashy - Messerschmits, Spitfires and the X-15 - while other planes are sturdy workhorses. The De Havilland Beaver is the first plane that comes to mind, of course. The LearJet, Boeing airliners and Cessnas are also here. The entries are in chronological order, and each plane gets a lovely history that includes design features, technical attributes, highlights of its use, and recollections of pilots who have flown them. This book is a loving tribute to aeronautics and the engineering of flight. Even someone as ignorant of aircraft as I am can enjoy reading about the evolution of flight and the way that planes have changed history through wars, globalization, feminism and politics. Pretty impressive stuff for a chunk of machinery.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

I got rhythm

We have some new music on the shelves, and amongst the selection are three very different CDs that share one quality: they are real toe-tappers.
The Very Best of the Andrews Sisters contains 40 of their most popular songs, including "Pennsylvania 6-5000", "Rum and Coca-Cola" and "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree". Backed by a lively big-band sound, the songs of the Andrews Sisters became the soundtrack to World War II. Peppy and optimistic, most of the tracks on this album are perfect for dancing around the house. There are also some beautiful ballads here that show off the quality of their voices.
Bhangra Beatz is another great dance album. This one has a much more modern beat, though, as it fuses traditional Indian harvest music with a techno beat to give it a real club feel. You won't be able to sing along, like you can with the Andrews Sisters, unless you want to learn the songs phonetically (hey, it worked for ABBA, right?).
Agarrese! is by the Chicago-based band Grupo Montez de Durango. Nine members strong, this group fuses merengue and quebradita music to form pasito duranguense. This is lively music with an emphasis on the horn section. The vocals have a bit of a longing, melancholy sound to them, but the rhythm of the album is irresistible. Their cover of the drippy 1974 hit "Seasons in the Sun" - here retitled "Etapas de mi Vida" is very arresting (and a definite improvement on the original).
November is such a bummer month anyway, why not spice it up a little with some toe-tapping, hip-shaking music?