Sunday, December 30, 2007

Quick note

Due to a bereavement in the family, I will not be posting for the rest of the week. Thank you.

City of Light

For anyone who wants to know what the big deal is about Paris, I recommend Sandrine's Paris: a cultural history of the world's most romantic city. Author Sandrine Voillet - a native Parisian - explains why so many people over the centuries have been driven to visit Paris. This is a lovely coffee-table book, with beautiful pictures and an entertaining text. She doesn't tell you where to stay or eat, or what the best shopping district is, or what the 'must see' sights are in this tourist hotspot. Instead, she describes the ups and downs of French history and culture, and how those cycles always emanate from Paris. She also points out some of the ways in which these cultural changes have rippled beyond the borders of France to affect Western civilization as a whole. One of the nicest things about this book is that it includes a fair amount of information about modern Paris, including architecture, fashion, cinema and historical events. The Folies Bergère was not the last exciting thing to have happened in Paris, but many books focus on the city's elegant past rather than its vibrant present. Sandrine will show you what it is about this city that so fascinates the armchair traveler and captivates the visitor, and make you long to walk its lively boulevards.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

China's Sacred Sites

My aunt went to China about 20 years ago, and the photos and stories that she brought back fascinated me and instilled in me a strong desire to see that beautiful country. Books like China's Sacred Sites, by Nan Shunxun and Beverly Foit-Albert augment that desire. Just from the law of averages any area as large as China is bound to have a fair amount of lovely spots, but the Chinese seem to have an aptitude for combining amazing architecture with breathtaking natural settings. This book presents page after page of valleys, cliffs, caves, mountains and rivers, with each location graced with a beautifully ornamented temple, some of which are over 1,000 years old. The descriptions of the more elaborate complexes include floor plans and section maps so that the reader can truly appreciate the way the building has been adapted to the setting (often a vertical one). The authors also include a nice summary of the history and architectural high-points of each temple and a map showing its location in China (for those of us whose Chinese geography is a little shaky). The back of the book has a helpful glossary and timeline, a bibliography for further reading, and a map of China showing the location of all the sites in the book. Apparently, Shaanxi and Guizhou provinces are the places to go to see amazing temples. Now, where did I put that passport?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Brutally funny

You have to have a certain sense of humor to enjoy our newest book from the red-hot publisher Hard Case Crime. Think of a book loaded with strong language, gratuitous sex and graphic violence. Now ratchet it up a notch, and you will have Slide, by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr. The fact that everything is just slightly over the top, and the cast of characters are all such complete losers, is what makes this book so darkly funny. The basic plot thread is a standard double- and triple-crossing drug deal, and each chapter is told from the point of view of one of the characters. Some of the plot elements in each chapter overlap, and it's interesting to see the different perspectives of each person involved. The characters themselves are wonderful: narcissistic and delusional, they have a completely whacked idea of their own importance and their own level of success. These people are perennial optimists, even if that sense of optimism is usually chemically-induced. The book is set in New York and Dublin, and Bruen brings the Irish brooding while Starr supplies the American gang violence. The body count is reminiscent of Hamlet, but the plot twists are more like a Coen brothers movie. Not for the squeamish, the sensitive or the literal, this book would be great for fans of Elmore Leonard and Quentin Tarantino.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Books for book lovers

If you are a true bibliophile, there are three new books on the shelves that you might enjoy:
Books on Fire: the destruction of libraries throughout history by Lucien X. Polastron chronicles the sad fate of libraries destroyed by man and nature. He begins with the Sumerian library at Nineveh, which was razed in 612 B.C. and then goes on to circle the globe and travel through time. Sadly, many of the libraries and collections he eulogizes were lost in the 20th century to wars, dictators and cultural upheaval. He concludes with an examination of the movement to digitize books and the supposed goal of a 'paperless society'.
After you have gotten depressed by reading about the destruction of books, then try Classics for Pleasure by Michael Dirda. This is not the scary reading list you received in Honors English class, but instead is a collection of essays extolling the virtues of almost 90 novelists and poets whose work has had a profound impact on society, culture and avaricious readers. If you are familiar with the writers on Dirda's list, you will be able to carry on witty dinner conversation at any table. (Everyone's goal in life, I'm sure)
For fans of nonfiction, we have The New Kings of Nonfiction edited by Ira Glass, host of This American Life on NPR. Nonfiction has moved beyond how-to manuals and dreary textbooks into a type of reality-based storytelling, and Glass includes some masters of the genre: Malcolm Gladwell, Chuck Klosterman, Dan Savage and Susan Orlean. The subjects of these essays and articles are wide-ranging, but they all share a compelling narrative and a gift for engaging the reader and getting to the bigger picture. There's a reason our nonfiction shelves are heavily used, and it's because of writers like those featured in this book.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Dreaming of gardening

We're in the depths of winter and we all woke this morning to a dusting of snow on the ground, but it is actually the perfect time to begin thinking about your garden. If you don't have your garden plans in place by that first sunny week in May, then you will lose precious growing time trying to figure things out. We have two new books that will help kick-start some ideas.
Container Gardening: through the seasons, by Jim Keeling, is a great resource for anyone trying to have a garden on their porch, deck, parking platform, dock, or boggy yard. This is not your typical container garden book. Author Keeling founded Whichford Pottery in England about 30 years ago, so half of this book is about the design, creation and care of pots for your garden. No Wal-Mart plastic pots or boring terra-cotta pots here! The photos are beautiful, and follow the cluttered English cottage garden aesthetic. He has lots of good suggestions for how to pick containers, what to put in them, how to arrange them, how to winter them, and how to use them to create a lovely space year-round.
Fallscaping: extending your garden season into autumn, by Nancy Ondra and Stephanie Cohen is another book that has an unusual perspective on gardening. Fall in Ketchikan usually means sodden, rotting plants. But why not scatter some plants throughout your garden that will actually look good in fall and distract the eye from the pathetic petunias and straggly nasturtiums? Move past the ubiquitous decorative cabbage and install some unique characters into your design scheme. This book is also packed with maintenance, winterizing and design tips.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


There are three new books on the shelf that are inherently interesting for different reasons.

Berlin: the Twenties by Rainer Metzger and Christian Brandstatter. The city of Berlin developed a wicked, wicked reputation between the wars, and the hundreds of photos in this book give you a glimpse into that daring, desperate time. America likes to think we coined the idea of the 'Roaring Twenties', but we were pretty buttoned-down in comparison to Berlin.

Supercapitalism: the transformation of business, democracy and everyday life is a new book by Robert B. Reich, who was the Secretary of Labor during the Clinton administration and is now a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley. Books about economics usually make my eyes glaze over, but every time I've heard Reich talk (TV and radio, never in person, alas) he always has the most interesting ideas. This book is sure to be full of more such unique ideas and perspectives.

Bill Bryson has written a new book about Shakespeare, and although the Bard has been analyzed to death, I am willing to sit down and read a shopping list if it's been written by Bill Bryson. Shakespeare: the world as stage is a clever, flowing biography of one of the greatest writers of all time (please, no letters from Francis Bacon fans).

The library will be closed on Monday and Tuesday, so I'll take this opportunity to wish you and yours a wonderful holiday.....I'll talk to you again on the 26th.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Armed America

Looking for a nice, controversial topic to throw out at the dinner table this holiday? How about gun ownership? Regardless of which 'side' they're on, people are rarely indifferent about the subject. If you would like to get a broad overview of the average American gun owner, you could look at a new book Armed America: portraits of gun owners in their homes. This is not a scientific sampling of gun owners; there are plenty of people who own guns but might not feel comfortable having their picture published holding one. But photographer Kyle Cassidy spent two years criss-crossing the United States looking for gun owners willing to pose with their weapons and answer the question "Why do you own a gun?". The answers are very interesting. Some guns are family mementos, others are collectors items. Some are for hunting or target practice, while others are kept as a matter of principle. Many, many people in this book keep them for self-defense: either against their neighbors or against the government. Another interesting aspect of the book is the backdrop of each picture - generally the living room. It's a snapshot glimpse into someone else's life, and it becomes so easy to try and look for clues to their personality hidden in the books on their shelves, the art on their walls, even the type of pets they keep. This is a very voyeuristic book and you can't help but wonder if the subjects are happy with the persona they project, or are even aware of interesting look at America as a whole, and not just gun owners.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Teen fashion

It's hard to find a group more fashion-conscious than teenagers, and the odd thing about current trends is that the rattier and grungier the clothing, the more expensive it seems to be. So what is a financially strapped teen to do? Well, they could check out two of our new books: Generation T: 108 ways to transform a T-shirt by Megan Nicolay and Subversive Seamster by the Stitch Lounge Girls (Melissa Alvarado, Hope Meng and Melissa Rannels). Nicolay is a designer and seamstress in Brooklyn, New York, while the Stitch Lounge Girls are home-based in San Francisco. The first book modifies tees - usually printed ones - in a variety of ways to create an urban, post-punk look (think Gwen Stefani). Nicolay also shows you how to transform tees into skirts, scarves, leggings, pillows, bikinis and seat cushions. Subversive Seamster has a broader range of starting materials and will show you how to take any thrift store find and change it into something totally different. A pair of checked men's slacks? Presto, it's a halter top with the fly revealing a tiny bit of cleavage. Bedspreads become vests, wool coats become skirts, and sweaters become mittens. And each piece has that requisite sloppy look that is so coveted by today's young people (wow, I must be galloping up on middle age!). A warning note to parents and grandparents: it's a fine line between cool and embarrassing, so if you try to make these fashions for your young relatives be sure you get their input on whether or not your project really is 'hip'.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Book love

Every once in a while we have someone come in with a tattered book, asking if we will mend it for them. No fancy first editions, no collected works of Shakespeare signed by the author. The books people bring in are far more valuable than that: gifts from beloved grandparents, Bibles handed down through family generations, the first book they ever purchased. For those people who are trying to preserve a piece of themselves, we have a new book that will help you: The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New: a simple repair manual for book lovers. Authors Margot Rosenberg and Bern Marcowitz own a bookstore in New York City, and they share easy techniques for maintaining and repairing the special books in your life. The nice thing about this book is that they use easily obtained supplies and simple to follow procedures. You don't need to be a trained archivist to renovate your personal library. This excellent guide covers such common problems as page tears, stinky books, dog-eared pages, wet books and loose pages. It also discusses routine cleaning, creating the proper environment for your books, and how to put together your own little repair kit. This is a must-read for anyone who loves their books (just don't dog-ear the pages!).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Voice of the Poet

There is something especially intriguing about hearing a poet read their own works. It's like hearing a giant of the silent film era; sometimes they have a thin, reedy voice that is at odds with their powerful persona, and sometimes their voice seems to be a natural extension of their character. With poets, there is the added interest of hearing how they envision the pace of their narrative and the words they choose to emphasize. Poetry is meant to be spoken out loud, and we have a new series of audiobooks which showcases some of America's most famous poets reading their own works. You can hear the voices of W.H. Auden, Robert Frost, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes and Sylvia Plath, and all of these discs contain never-before released recordings. We also have a disc entitled American Wits, which includes Dorothy Parker, Ogden Nash and Phyllis McGinley. Anyone who enjoys listening to Garrison Keillor's Writers Almanac or the radio program Selected Shorts on KRBD will love these sets. Since each set comes with a text of the poems, a bibliography and a commentary by J.D. McClatchy, editor of the Yale Review, they are a must for any student of poetry and a wonderful classroom aid. Listen and enjoy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I'm baaaack!

Rather than wasting your vacation time on the actual holidays, I heartily recommend using it beforehand, so you can get everything done. And, in fact, I still have my Christmas cards to write and my tree to put up, so I shudder to think what state I would be in if I hadn't just spent 9 days running errands. It's nice to be back, tho.
If you are traveling for the holidays, perhaps you might want to take along one of our newest books: The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: travel by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht. Interested in adventure travel? There are instructions for how to control a runaway camel, jump from a moving train and ram a barricade. Intrigued by an exotic locale you have heard mentioned in the news? Learn how to pass a bribe, survive a riot, and navigate a minefield. Looking to become one with nature? Learn how to cross a piranha-infested river, survive a tsunami, and build a shelter in the snow. (Well, you don't have to leave town to use that skill this week). You might be thinking 'Ha, ha, what a useless book', but the authors did actually contact experts in these fields to ask their advice and suggestions. The chance you will ever use this information might be slim, but at least it's quality stuff. And you never know when you will need to foil a UFO abduction. So there.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Vacation Time!

Hi...thanks for sticking with me so far. I'm going to be taking a short vacation to try and get my life in order before the holidays (Ha!). I'll be back and posting again on the 18th of December.

Do you hear what I hear?

We just put over a dozen new audiobooks on the shelf today, so I thought I would highlight some of the most popular authors and hottest titles:
  • A Lick of Frost by Laurell K. Hamilton. Another steamy blend of thriller and fantasy novel.
  • The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold. By the author of the bestselling novel The Lovely Bones
  • Giving by Bill Clinton. The active ex-president puts forth his ideas for how everyone can help their neighbors
  • Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. We can't keep this memoir of self-discovery on the shelf. Here's your chance to snatch it up in audio format
  • Book of the Dead by Patricia Cornwell. A new Kay Scarpetta mystery!
  • The Choice by Nicholas Sparks. This author is also very popular with young adults, who like his gentle romances and teary themes
  • The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen. Flicking back between present-day Massachusetts and 1830's Boston, this novel is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.

We have lots of audio options for you this month, and audiobooks are a perfect way to pass the time while you bake cookies, wrap presents, and hang up Christmas lights.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Sliced Bread

We have a new resource available to our patrons that is the best thing since you-know-what. It is an online database of repair manuals for a wide variety of small engines:
  • Outboard motors
  • Chainsaws
  • Snowmobiles
  • ATVs
  • Weed whackers
  • Motorcycles
  • Generators
  • Lawnmowers
  • Diesel engines
So if you're trying to get the skiff ready for a little weekend fishing, or if your generator just went kaput, you can find the technical information you need 24 hours a day: no worries about the manual being checked out, no having to wait for the library to open, no having to drive into town. The link is on our website: Just scroll down the page to see the icon. It is next to another fabulous database - Auto Repair Reference Center - which is provided by the Alaska State Library. With these two databases, you can repair anything. The repair website does have database recognition, but if you can't access the site, just call us for the passwords: 225-3331. Good luck, and happy wrenching!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Nostalgic but bad

The holiday season is all about memories - some good and some bad - and this seems to be the one time of year when people are feverishly busy trying to recreate their childhood (how else could you explain the sudden popularity of aluminum trees?). Something that brings up warm fuzzies to you might just look like schlocky garbage to someone else, but that's life. So we have added a new DVD for the holidays that has little if any artistic merit, but is sure to conjure up waves of nostalgia in anyone who was born after 1965. Christmas Television Favorites sucks you in with "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" - one of the best cartoons you can find - and then piles on 4 cheesy stop-action animation specials done by Rankin and Bass: "The Year Without a Santa Claus", "Rudolph's Shiny New Year", "Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July" and "Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey" (I have never even heard of that last one). The set is then topped off with two cartoon specials: "Frosty's Winter Wonderland" and "'Twas the Night Before Christmas". It may have been 35 years since you've seen some of these productions, but they will definitely take you back to your childhood, back to those crazy days before cable television and VCRs when you gladly lapped up whatever the big 3 networks had to offer. Ah, memories.....

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


We have a couple of new books in our art section that have been cataloged into that section rather hesitantly, not because we questioned their artistic merit but because they are equally powerful in other contexts.
Burning Man: art in the desert by A. Leo Nash chronicles the more amazing installation art pieces that have appeared at this annual festival over the years. The photographs are all in grainy black and white, which not only highlights the details of the pieces but also fits in well with the desert environment. But this isn't just art. There are people here: in the photos, working on the crews, sitting in the audience, relaxing in the campsites. This makes Burning Man more than just a gallery collection of installation art (which is the shelf section where we ended up placing it); this book is also a photographic journey through time that depicts a unique subculture. In the text, Nash alludes to the Mad Max films as an inspiration for the Burning Man festival. Throw in Salvador Dali, and you've got a good idea of what you'll find in this book: unreal beauty and true free spirits.
Collect Raindrops: the seasons gathered is an interesting book by Nikki McClure. Two-tone prints created from papercuts, the beautiful images in this collection are idyllic and peaceful. These are pictures of friendship, cooperation, nature, contentment and hard work (the good kind, like weeding a garden or building a shed). Accompanying each image is a single word or phrase that invests the piece with more meaning. The designs in this book are reminiscent of the graphic design of the Arts & Crafts movement, which is why we placed it in with our art poster section. It could just as easily be with the poetry, environmentalism, or graphic novel books. Art as collective conscience.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A reasonable effort

How many times have you resolved to change your diet, eat healthier and lose some weight? And how many times did you give up in frustration after a couple of weeks of eating tasteless food and yearning after your favorite dishes? Let's be honest - cutting out a few calories is better than not cutting out anything at all. So if you could find a cookbook that would show you how to shave a few calories off of yummy dishes like macaroni and cheese, brownies, and french toast, wouldn't that be a blessing? Well, here you go: The Complete Light Kitchen by Rose Reisman will help you whittle down your daily intake without making you feel like you're on bread and water rations. Chicken and Eggplant Parmesan for only 312 calories a serving? Bake, don't fry, and use skinless chicken breasts and part-skim mozzarella. Make a pesto cream sauce with low-fat sour cream, use cocoa, oil and yogurt to replace the butter and chocolate in brownies, and egg whites in your omelets. Nothing earth-shattering, but it's nice to have someone spell it all out for you. Each recipe has a nutritional analysis, so you can see how much fat, protein, sodium, cholesterol and fiber is involved. Instead of choosing a radical diet for your New Year's resolution, try easing yourself into healthy eating with this book.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

An eye-opener

Our new book Earth Then and Now: amazing images of our changing world by Fred Pearce is many things. It is a graphic representation of the effects of climate change. Pearce presents 'then and now' photos of receding glaciers, melting ice caps and shrinking lakes. It is a sobering documentation of the result of industrialization and urbanization. There are photos of urban sprawl taking over forests, towering skyscrapers replacing two-story houses, and dry riverbeds downstream from dams. It is testimony to regrowth and healing as photos of rebuilt and restored towns replace the bomb debris left over from World War II. One particularly sad photo is the gouged fields of the Somme. Green grass has grown over the mud and trenches of the first World War, but you can still see the impact that was left. The photographic evidence of Mother Nature's ability to wipe us off the map is very chilling (earthquakes, landslides and floods), but there's always hope for mankind. Pages 74-75 show the ability of civilization to change, as Mexico City shrugs off its notorious smog after 20 years of clean-up efforts. Mostly, though, this book is hugely depressing. It's one thing to hear about our negative effect on the environment, its another to look at big color pictures of our destructiveness

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Valerie Plame Wilson

I heard former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson on the NPR program "Fresh Air", and I was mesmerized. Like everyone else, I had followed the story of her 'outing', the subsequent investigations and the trial of Vice-Presidential Chief of Staff I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby. It was interesting, but when it was all over I moved on, with no intention of giving it much more thought. But Mrs. Wilson's new book - Fair Game: my life as a spy, my betrayal by the White House - has reopened the topic for discussion, and in her publicity interviews for the book she comes across as matter-of-fact about the damage that was done to her career and her life without sounding angry or bitter. She was composed and erudite, with a certain sense of humor, and I was very impressed.
I found her book interesting for two reasons totally unrelated to the scandal surrounding the disclosure of her identity. The first reason was that the CIA deleted large sections of her manuscript prior to publishing (like any CIA employee, she signed a confidentiality agreement). The publisher - Simon & Schuster - felt that the editing went beyond the bounds of national security so they not only left in the big black boxes that replaced the censored text, they had reporter Laura Rozen write an afterword that uses publicly available information to basically fill in the CIA-deleted text. Therefore, the CIA comes across as looking totally idiotic.
The second reason I found this book intriguing was that smack in the middle of the book was a chapter describing the premature birth of her twins (now 7) and her struggles with postpartum depression (PPD). The difficulties she encountered getting anyone, including her husband, to appreciate the severity of her problem are clearly laid out. Treatment and time eventually cured her depression, and she went on to volunteer at a support group for new mothers with PPD, and she includes a list of resources in the back of the book for anyone suffering from this problem. This chapter is a very powerful episode of humanity in the midst of a CIA memoir that is full of dates, facts and quotes.
It will be interesting to see what path Valerie Plame Wilson follows from here. I'm sure it will be a successful one.