Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Secret to Life

Our shelves are brimming with books on how to stay healthy and lose weight. Every year a new crop of diet fads emerge: low-carb, high-protein, low-fat, high-fiber. The simple answer - eat less and exercise more - seems to please no one. When it comes to health advice, Michael Pollan offers another seemingly simple rule to live by: "eat food, not too much, mostly plants". You can glean this and many other fascinating pieces of information and advice from his new book In Defense of Food: an eater's manifesto. You may have heard him interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air earlier this month, and I can attest to the fact that he is just as entertaining and interesting in print as he is on the radio. I will warn you, however, that there will be numerous times while you read this book that you will flinch in recognition of your bad habits. Yes I eat at my desk, and yes I have eaten in my car while I was driving, and no I do not make a consistent effort to eat minimally-processed foods. But guilt aside, this is a great read. According to Pollan, American gas stations make more money selling food and cigarettes than they do selling gasoline (one of his rules for eating is Don't Get Your Fuel From the Same Place Your Car Does). It is information like this that makes this book a must for everyone's reading list. And since it's well-written, it makes the medicine go down a little easier.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


In Lower Manhattan, the reconstructed ruins of an Irish cottage lie in a green field dotted with heather and bullrushes. Only a few years old, this monument memorializes the millions of Irish men, women and children that died or fled during the Great Hunger (1845-1852). It's not your typical historical monument. In her new book Monuments: America's history in art and memory, Judith Dupre shows us that there are many ways to celebrate, mourn and honor the events and people that made America. Some of the examples she discusses are quite famous: the Liberty Bell, the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial. Others are less well-known and/or newer, and some of these mementos are quite unusual. She includes the Aids Quilt, the wall of photos and missing posters that appeared right after 9/11, a time capsule, the schooner Amistad, and the first park-like burial grounds in the United States. She explains the different types of monuments, the great designers and sculptors, and the importance of photographs - small personal monuments. This is a beautifully-constructed book (that phrase will make more sense when you see the cover), and even her choice of using only black-and-white photos and illustrations seems fitting considering the subject matter. This book is an interesting look at the way we remember.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Books for Artists

Yesterday we focused on creating beautiful things for the mouth, today we will focus on creating beautiful things for the eyes.

Oil Painting Workbook: a complete course in 10 lessons by Stan Smith (not the former Ketchikan artist Stan Smith) and Pastel Workbook: a complete course in 10 lessons by Jackie Simmonds are both great resources for the beginning artist. Spiral bound for easy display next to an easel, these books take you through the techniques of working with oil paints and pastels with helpful advice, beautiful examples and clear photography.

Artful Journals: making & embellishing memory books, garden diaries & travel albums by Janet Takahashi shows you how to make works of art out of your thoughts and mementos. She demonstrates different types of binding and display, ways to embellish your covers and pages, and advocates expressing your ideas and feelings visually.

Craft in America: celebrating two centuries of artists and objects by Jo Lauria and Steve Fenton, is a lovely browse. A companion book to the PBS series (which we have on DVD), this takes a gentle, meandering approach to the history of American craft pieces. The book is grouped by theme or school, rather than chronologically, which is good idea since many craft works (practical objects imbued with beauty) are timeless. Check out the piece by Nathan Jackson on page 14.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Books for Cooks

We have a few new books on the shelves that might interest you if you enjoy spending time in the kitchen - or time at the table.

Steam Cuisine: over 100 quick, healthy and delicious recipes for your steamer by Marina Filippelli. Rice cookers, steamer baskets, parchment paper, even shallow dishes can be used to cook your food quickly without a lot of fat and grease. Everything stays moist and flavorful, and there are a wide variety of foods that can be cooked this way. The pictures are appealing, the recipes are simple, and everything sounds delicious.

Tassajara Cookbook: lunches, picnics & appetizers by Karla Oliveira. This book is packed with light vegetarian and vegan recipes from the famed Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California. Simple yet delicious, these recipes are perfect for anyone looking for healthy snack and lunch ideas.

A Love Affair With Southern Cooking: recipes and recollections by Jean Anderson. A history of Southern cuisine, this book covers a large region from the Texas plains to the Florida panhandle, the mountains of West Virginia to the Carolina coast. Each recipe comes with a sweet memory or backstory.

Cooking: 600 recipes, 1500 photographs, one kitchen education by James Peterson. With 20 years experience in teaching chefs, Peterson is well qualified to write this book. The recipes touch on a variety of cuisines and ingredients, he covers a wide range of cooking techniques, and the explanations and photographs are very informative. This is Cooking 101 for the ambitious, not the true novice, though.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

DK Does it Again

When you deal with a lot of books, you start to get a feeling for publishers: who does what, whether they do it well, and who to keep on your radar screen. One of my favorite publishers is Dorling Kindersley (DK) because they can take any book, regardless of the subject, and make it a feast for the eyes as well as the mind. Their graphics, images and layouts are really well done and always make a book more appealing. We have two new examples of their work - Bird: the definitive visual guide and Reef. The Roger Tory Peterson guides are great (absolutely packed with information), but they always look so darn dull. At a foot tall and weighing in at over 5 pounds, Bird is not a field guide. It is a coffee table book, to be lovingly browsed through and each colorful image admired. You get a little natural history and description, a note on migration patterns, a distribution map and a habitat description. You also get fabulous color photos of over 1,000 species. Even the LBBs (little brown birds) look good in this book.

Reef is no less beautiful, although it is lighter on the hard-core information than the bird book. Billed as a "photographic portrait" (as opposed to a painted portrait, I suppose), Reef has over 350 pages of beautiful underwater images in full color. Corals, fish, seaweed, sponges, sharks, mollusks and mammals are all presented here. It makes you truly appreciate the diversity of the reef environment. The book finishes up with a short, sweet description of the various reefs around the world: coral reefs, mangrove swamps, seagrass beds, kelp forests and temperate reefs. Learn about their distribution, their importance in the overall ecology of the planet, and some key inhabitants. Another beautiful browse.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Get Your Game On

The Super Bowl is coming up a week from tomorrow, and I'm sure everyone's interested to see if the Patriots can pull off a perfect season (as a native of Massachusetts, you can guess which team I'm rooting for). But let's face it, there's a lot of down time in football and the Super Bowl is even worse. Pre-game shows, half-time shows, tons of commercials - coverage begins 4 hours before kickoff! And what do you do to occupy your time while the commentators yap and Chevy tries to sell you a new truck? You eat! And you use our newest cookbook - Fan Fare: a playbook of great recipes for tailgaiting or watching the game at home, by Debbie Moose - to plan a perfect Super Bowl party. Spicy and savory appetizers, luscious drinks, hearty stews and chilis, finger-licking barbecue, and even some nice salad and brunch recipes. (Let's face it, tho, eating on game day is all about grease and calories. I'm not sure how the "Poached Salmon with Ginger-Yogurt Sauce" snuck it's way in to the chapter on marinated ribs, chicken and steak). When you watch the game next Sunday, you're in it for the long haul. Don't just settle for throwing a bag of Doritos onto the coffee table. Cook some real food, for pete's sake.

Friday, January 25, 2008


What do you get when you mix the wittiest playwright of the 20th century with some of Britain's finest actors and actresses? You get 20 hours of delicious theater: plays, short stories and radio plays by Noel Coward. The Noel Coward Collection contains seven discs, featuring Academy Award winners Judi Dench, Paul Scofield, Deborah Kerr, and Tom Courtenay. Fans of BBC and Masterpiece Theater will also recognize Nigel Havers, Ian Richardson, Ian Holm, Penelope Keith, Patricia Hodge, Judy Parfitt, and Geraldine McEwan. In many of the plays you can expect witty repartee and plots that border on farcical, but there are also some plays in this collection where there is a underlying layer of pathos. The pieces span a few decades, so the production values vary greatly. Remember also that the BBC is not used to lavishing money on their sets. But hey, this isn't a George Lucas film. We're not here for flashy special effects and noisy explosions. This is all about well-written dialogue and brilliant acting. So pop a disc in your DVD player, pour yourself a G & T, and slip away into high society.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A believable musical

Some people truly love musicals, while others just cannot get past the fact that rarely in real life do large groups of strangers break out in perfectly coordinated song-and-dance routines in the middle of the street (think A Music Man and Hello, Dolly). In order to get around this mental block, a director would need to come up with a plausible story line where singing in public doesn't look stupid. Apparently, director John Carney has done this with Once, a sweet romance between an Irish street musician and a Czech flower seller. Street musicians are supposed to sing in the street, and since the flower seller is a musician also, it makes perfect sense for them to make music together. And since the lead actor and actress are honest-to-God musicians who wrote and performed almost all the music on the soundtrack, the resulting album has a very true feel. The songs all have a light, folk-pop feel to them that makes the CD a worthwhile album in its own right. You may have heard the duo on World Cafe talking to David Dye about their music and the movie (August 22, 2007). It's a lovely album, and we have the movie as well. The song "Falling Slowly" has just been nominated for an Oscar for Best Song.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Senior News Analyst

If you spend any time at all listening to the news on NPR, then your brain probably automatically finishes the phrase 'Senior News Analyst' with the name Dan Schorr. Now 91, Mr. Schorr broadcast his first radio piece 60 years ago. He has had conversations with Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro, as well as Lyndon Johnson, and appeared on Richard Nixon's enemies list. Basically, if you want someone with a steamer trunk full of experience to give you their insight on world events, you want to listen to Dan Schorr. In his latest book, Come to Think of It: notes on the turn of the millennium, Mr. Schorr has collected 17 years worth of NPR essays and commentaries. He covers pretty much all the hot-button topics for news junkies: election campaigns, cronyism, espionage, wars, assassination, terrorism, wiretaps, Vietnam and NAFTA. Going through the transcripts (which are presented in chronological order), is like taking a hyperspeed trip through the past 3 presidencies, with one "oh yeah, I remember that" moment after another. Scanning the index is the ultimate in trivia contests. Can you give a one-sentence biography of Dick Morris? Archibald Cox? Gertrude Ederle? (That last one should really throw you if you are thinking in terms of world politics). This is an enjoyable read from someone who knows more than we do.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Last Viceroy

One of my favorite Masterpiece Theater productions is The Jewel in the Crown, a beautiful adaptation of Paul Scott's Raj Quartet. It tells the story of India's independence from Britain and the bloody upheaval of partition through the eyes of British colonials living there. Lord Mountbatten: the last viceroy looks at the same events from the perspective of the people shaping them: Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. While The Jewel in the Crown was a soap opera with an historical backdrop, Lord Mountbatten is an historical drama with an underlying love triangle. The acting is great, and the scenery - India, how could you go wrong? - is stunning. Nicol Williamson does a wonderful job portraying a Lord Mountbatten as dedicated to duty, concerned about the welfare of the Indian people, and a brilliant negotiator (this is, after all, a British production. Whether Mountbatten really was such a wonderful person I will leave to individual viewer discretion). Sir Ian Richardson (House of Cards) is so charismatic and handsome as Nehru that I can easily understand Lady Mountbatten's fascination with him. Overall, this is a solid, well-done miniseries that retells a very interesting piece of history. Perfect for all BBC devotees, history buffs, and Ian Richardson fans.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

New films

We have a wide-ranging selection of new movies on the shelf this week, including independant films, documentaries, and classics.

Sicko is Michael Moore's latest offering, and he takes on America's health system. Regardless of how people feel about Moore, and regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum, most would agree that there are some serious issues with health care in this country. Moore is sure to make you think.

Man Push Cart garnered wide praise at film festivals in Venice, London, Seattle and the Sundance Institute. A great story about what it means to be an immigrant in a vast, impersonal city.

Sallah was filmed over 40 years ago, and it remains one of the classics of Israeli film. Its star - Topol - went on to fame as the lead character in Fiddler on the Roof. A film about a large Middle Eastern Jewish family arriving in Israel, determined to carve out a life for themselves, this film is just as pertinent now as it was in 1964.

Alibi has the same dark cinematography and expressionistic vision as some of the great European films of the late 1920's (think Fritz Lang). No one comes out good in this story as a violent police force attempts to pin the murder of one of their own on a recently paroled gangster.

Talk To Me is another example of the charisma and versatility of actor Don Cheadle. An entertaining biography of ex-con and radio personality 'Petey' Greene, this movie chronicles how Greene revitalized a sagging Washington, D.C. radio station and kept the city riveted during the turbulent late 60's.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

TAG selection #1

Hopefully, you have heard or seen our enthusiastic Teen Advisory Group members here at the library. These local teenagers meet twice a month to talk about books, music and movies; plan fun events; assist us with library programs; and make purchase suggestions. We have just added their first suggested book title to the Adult library, and even if you are not a teen you might want to check it out. My Secret is the second collection of postcards compiled by Frank Warren from the popular PostSecret project, and this book features cards from high school and college students. Warren encourages people to send him postcards (anonymously or not) upon which they have written a secret about their life. The secrets range from silly - "I lick the inside of microwave popcorn bags" - to embarrassing - "I like it when you sing because it makes me feel better about my voice". Many of the secrets are also truly sad, dealing with abuse, mental illness, suicide attempts and rape. You can sense how cathartic some of these messages are for the sender, and how long they have wanted to let someone else know what has been bottled up inside. Hand-drawn, hand-lettered, collaged, painted, each postcard is like a tiny little work of art. Flipping through this book, you may well find a secret with which you can truly relate. At the very least, you will gain a better understanding of some of the issues that young people are dealing with today.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Authentic Alaska?

I'm not exactly the doyenne of Alaska, but I've lived here over half my life and I have a certain amount of skepticism when anyone from Down South purports to have written a book about the 'real' Alaska. New York resident Stephen Foreman has been a university professor and Hollywood screenwriter, but according to his author bio, has actually "trekked across the Alaskan wilderness". His recent novel - Toehold - is set in a small town in the Interior which is populated with a variety of wacky characters. Simmering romantic tension between the local taxidermist and a pugnacious, but beautiful, hunting guide is brought to a head when her first customer turns out to be an obnoxious Hollywood producer. Personally, I think the whole thing sounds very similar to Northern Exposure (which I didn't find particularly authentic, either), but perhaps I am too judgemental. We have this new story in both paperback and audio format, and I would love to have people read and/or listen, and then post their opinion of the work. Is it an enjoyable romantic comedy? A great hunting story? An evocative portrayal of small-town life in Alaska? Have you known - or even been - characters like this? Think of this as an informal, low-key book discussion group. Check it out and let me know what you think.......tell me I'm being a picky grump who should just lighten up and enjoy a fun story. Or tell me you're tired of people taking a 2-week vacation in the Rail Belt and deciding they know the real Alaska. Wadda ya think?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A dirty little secret...

We have just gotten a book that should be required reading in any library school: How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard. The title is really much more flippant than the actual book (which, true to form, I have skimmed but not actually read). Bayard, who is a professor of French Literature and a psychoanalyst in Paris, takes a philosophical view of the situation - and it's French philosophy, at that. He makes the point that some works are so much a part of the collective consciousness that you don't actually have to read them line by line to know and understand what they are about, Hamlet being an obvious example of this. He also explains that you shouldn't feel ashamed about not having read a particular book. Since every minute you spend reading one book means a minute spent not reading another one, it is almost a moral obligation not to make such exclusionary decisions. He helpfully demonstrates the ways to handle various situations in which you might be expected to comment on a book you haven't read: at a party, in class, even meeting the actual author. He illustrates each of his chapters with excerpts from famous authors and critics who seemingly agree with his philosophy: Oscar Wilde, Umberto Eco, Balzac, Montaigne, even Bill Murray (yes, the SNL guy). You can read as much or as little irony into his writing as you would like - heck, you don't even have to read the book at all! What a liberating philosophy this is....

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Woodworking for women

Generally speaking, I tend to resist how-to guides that are supposed to specifically counter-act stereotypes. Cooking is cooking, and if a man doesn't know how to cook, he needs a guide for new cooks, not male cooks. I have the same trepidation about our new book Woodworking 101 for Women: how to speak the language, buy the tools & build fabulous furniture from start to finish, by Marilyn MacEwen. I would love to block out the "for Women" part of the spine label, because this is a good overall guide for any beginning woodworker, and it would be a shame if men didn't bother to pull it off the shelf because of the title. MacEwen begins the book with a nice overview of wood and its properties, as well as the selection and care of tools. The chapter on techniques might be the most valuable part of the book, as she gives lots of hints and pointers about milling lumber, using biscuits, mortise and tenon, dadoes, grooves and rabbets, as well as dovetailing, curving wood, and doing inlays. She then offers the burgeoning woodworker 13 projects of increasing difficulty, including tables, cabinets, a mantel and a beautiful inlaid platform bed. Woodworking being an art, the look and design of the pieces is very modern (one of the difficulties of keeping woodworking books in the collection is that trendy-looking projects age quickly). Not being a woodworker, the instructions seem a bit brief to me, but if you know what you're doing they should be perfectly adequate. In fact, this book can be quite valuable to an experienced woodworker as a source of additional project and design ideas. So don't let the title turn you off, guys - this is woodworking for everyone.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Martin Luther King

Today is Martin Luther King's birthday (although we don't officially commemorate the event until next Monday - when the library will be closed in observance of the holiday), and he was assassinated 40 years ago this April. Between the anniversary of King's death, and the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, there is a lot of attention being paid right now to history and impact of the civil rights movement. We have a few video series that you might find interesting.
Eyes on the Prize: America's civil rights years 1954 to 1965 was an award-winning documentary series that appeared on PBS. It chronicles the beginnings of the modern struggle for civil rights and the various events that alerted the nation to the racial inequalities present in the society.
A few years later PBS followed up with Eyes on the Prize II: America at the racial crossroads 1965-1985. Learn more about the legacy of Dr. King's leadership, and the work that was still left to be done in the years following his assassination.
For a more general view of the issue of race and its effect on society, you might try the 3-part series Race: the power of an illusion. This series examines the way that cultural beliefs and historical events have influenced our perception of race and ethnic divisions. This series focuses not just on African Americans, but on all racial groups and instances of 'us' and 'them'.
Communicating Across Cultures is a 4-part series that looks at the way different racial and cultural groups relate to each other. Produced by Juneau's KTOO television station, and narrated by the brilliant Father Michael Oleksa, this series focuses particularly on ethnic groups in Alaska. This would be a great video to watch next month, also, in commemoration of Elizabeth Peratrovich Day.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Another hiatus

Being the little world traveler that I am, I will be flying down to Seattle tonight. I'll post again on Tuesday. (Keep your fingers crossed for sunny, 70° weather. HA!)

And yet more politics...

We would all like to be conscientious voters, to follow every debate and speech, to carefully research each candidate and learn their platform and positions. But most people don't, and with 8 Republicans and 5 Democrats (Bill Richardson is dropping out today) who could blame them for not being able to keep up? What we really need is for someone to wade through all the speeches, press releases and news stories to synthesize each candidate bio into a digestible piece of information. And by golly, Mark Halperin has done just that! A political analyst for Time and ABC News, Halperin has just published The Undecided Voter's Guide to the Next President: who the candidates are, where they come from, and how you can choose. The chapter for each candidate begins with a brief resumé and where they stand on 14 major voting issues. Halperin includes quotes from the candidate and indicates how important that particular issue is for them. He then follows up with a summary of the ups and downs of their career, an introduction to their spouse (and the particular assets and liabilities the spouse brings to the campaign), and areas of potential controversy. He lists why each candidate can win a general election, and why each one can't (an important analysis, since this primary season seems to be all about electability). He finishes off by telling you what to expect if they become President, including a best case and a worst case scenario, and a collection of quotes by and about the candidate. He even includes a bibliography for each person. Wow! If you're a registered voter, you need to check this book out before November.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

An inside look

The results of the Iowa caucus have fired up the already high interest in Barack Obama - a relative newcomer to the political stage. We have had many people check out the two books he has authored - Dreams From My Father: a story of race and inheritance and The Audacity of Hope: thoughts on reclaiming the American dream. If you're interested in finding out even more about the Senator from Illinois, then try Obama: from promise to power by David Mendell. The author is a journalist for the Chicago Tribune, and has followed Obama's political career for 4 years (which is basically Obama's entire career). He acknowledges in his introduction that Obama himself has supplied the public with most of his biographical facts through the publication of his two books, so Mendell has tried to fill in any gaps. He does this mostly by interviewing those who are closest to Obama and by looking at the effect Obama has had on others. His relatively long association with Barack Obama gives him a unique ability to analyze the candidate. Whether Obama wins the Democratic Presidential nomination or not, he is definitely on his way up the political ladder and the subject of much speculation. This is a timely book about a very interesting person.