Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I got bupkis....

I am totally copping out this week and putting the blog on hiatus until the 4th of March. Part of my excuse is that we are feverishly trying to finish inventory before we pull the plug on our current software system (we still don't know yet if our barcode readers will work with the new software, and we certainly don't know how to process inventory with the new system). And part of my excuse is that I will be out of town during the latter half of the week, as I am going to Fairbanks for the state library convention. (I graduated from UAF more years ago than I want to mention, so it will be interesting to see how the town has changed since my stay there. Unfortunately, I'm just missing the end of the Nanook hockey season).
The upshot of all this is that I appreciate you checking in to see what's up with the library, and we will hopefully have a cheery update on the progress of our software migration next Tuesday. We will be open through Sunday, March 2, so feel free to come in and stock up on books, videos and music.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

One week to go....

We're in our final countdown week as we prepare to bid a fond farewell to our 16-year-old library software system. Come next Sunday, we are pulling the plug on our old Dynix catalog and moving to a spiffy new Windows-based system called Unicorn (which will soon become Symphony, but you don't even want to get into that).
What does this mean to you, the library user? It means that we will be unable to check anything in or out for three days - March 3, 4, 5 - so we will be closed during those days for additional training with the new system. We have fiddled with due dates, so there will be no library items that are due while we are closed (so no worries about trying to shove them in our bookdrop to avoid late fees).
We will reopen at 10 am on Thursday, March 6th with balloons, cake and a look of concentration on our faces. We are so accustomed to the old system that we do things automatically, and we will now have to think our way through things for a little while. We're sure you will overlook our brief period of inefficiency.
In addition, on Saturday March 8th members of the Teen Advisory Group will be on hand to help people use the new library catalog. Since that week is also Teen Tech Week, it will be a nice chance for the members of TAG to show off their computer skills to everyone in the community. Please stop by and check out our new system! And thanks for being patient.....

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Spring's Coming!

The snow has finally melted, March is just around the corner, and it is time to start thinking about gardening. We have some new books on the shelf this month that might answer your gardening questions and inspire you to new heights of horticultural creativity.
Viburnums: flowering shrubs for every season by Michael A. Dirr is a book for serious gardeners. He goes into great detail about the various species and cultivars of this tough little shrub, and he also includes extensive notes about propagation and breeding as well as pests & diseases. Since they love moist, acidic soil, viburnums are a good addition to any Southeast garden.
Impatiens are another Southeast staple, and to get an idea of the dizzying variety of colors and shapes available, you should pick up Impatiens: the vibrant world of busy lizzies, balsams, and touch-me-nots, by Raymond J. Morgan. I love impatiens because they love shade and water, and Morgan provides helpful in-depth commentary and photos about the different varieties. They're a nice, easy way to brighten up your garden or containers.
If you feel that impatiens, astilbe and nasturtiums are for sissies, you may be ready for a bigger gardening challenge. The Encyclopedia of Exotic Plants for Temperate Climates, by Will Giles, is the book for you. He includes photos, descriptions and cultivation information for over 1500 eye-grabbing plants that will astound your friends and impress your neighbors. (And he does include some impatiens, so Ha!).
For the artistic - and patient - gardener, there is Tricks With Trees: growing, manipulating and pruning by Ivan Hicks and Richard Rosenfeld. More than just a bunch of lame topiaries, the trees and shrubs in this book are truly amazing. Page after page of gorgeous, sculptural, carefully aligned plants. This definitely crosses the line from gardening into 3-D art forms. Just so you know, alders make excellent candidates for this.
So roll up your sleeves, dig out the extra-tuffs, and start mucking out that garden!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Children's Health Books

We have a couple of new books at the library that deal with important health issues that many children are facing today: diabetes and fitness. Parents should find both of these books very helpful in raising healthy, happy kids.
We have lots of cookbooks with recipes for kids, and we have cookbooks specifically for diabetics and anyone watching their blood sugar levels, but we finally have one that marries the two. You Can Eat That! Awesome food for kids with diabetes, by Robyn Webb, is a useful guide for parents that are looking for advice on how to plan healthy meals for their diabetic children. These recipes are easy to make, very kid-friendly and come with a nutritional summary that lists calories, fat, sodium, cholesterol, protein and carbohydrates (both fiber and sugars). the chapters include lunchbox items and after-school snacks. Since there are lots of great color photos, as well, you can have the kids help you pick out the menu for the day.
Athletic Fitness for Kids, by Scott Lancaster and Radu Teodorescu, is a great resource for parents, teachers and coaches. There are various drills, games, and programs for developing flexibility, balance, stamina, coordination, strength, speed and agility. Most helpful is the chart at the beginning which cross-references the different skills with the applicable sports. In addition, the drills come in different levels that are appropriate for different age groups and experiences. Most of the drills require little, if any, special equipment and there are options for single children as well as groups. There are hints for progressing through the drills, and ways you can make the drills competitive for team use.
Summer's coming, and it's time to get those kids outdoors and moving!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Have aliens abducted Patrick Buchanan?

I usually avoid political commentary books like the plague because they are never unbiased. So either the author disagrees with my politics (and who wants to read an entire book of someone telling you you're wrong?), or the author is of my political persuasion, in which case reading the book is like having someone pat me on the back for correct thinking. But the back cover of our newest book by ultra-conservative pundit and former Presidential candidate Patrick J. Buchanan grabbed my eye. According to the cover of Day of Reckoning: how hubris, ideology, and greed are tearing America apart, Buchanan explains how the era of U.S. dominance in global affairs is over; how the country is breaking down among class, culture and ethnic lines; how free trade is crippling American industry; and how "one of every six U.S. manufacturing jobs vanished under Bush". These are not statements that I would have ever predicted hearing from Buchanan. I am tempted to break my self-imposed rule and pick up this book, to read his arguments and listen to his predictions. When a regular guest on The McLaughlin Group laments that "America is today less a nation than an encampment of suspicious and hostile tribes quarreling viciously over the spoils of politics and power", you have to wonder....is he baring his soul, or just trying to sell books? Will the real Patrick Buchanan please stand up?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Telling it like it is

We have a new book that was written by someone who works here at this library. Well, no, that's a lie. He actually works at a library in Southern California. But his book of library life is so spot-on, so accurate, that it feels like I work with him. Free For All: oddballs, geeks, and gangstas in the public library is my new favorite book. The author - Don Borchert - has spent years working behind the desk of his public library, dealing with an assortment of common library problems: people who argue about paying for a book they lost, drunks loitering outside the entrance, the one unmotivated employee, the shoving matches in the book stacks. He also talks about cheery people who come in and use everything the library has to offer, who enjoy spending time in the library, and who are happy to accept responsibility for their overdue fines. Every chapter, I found myself nodding and thinking "Oh yeah, I've seen that" (except the two guys using the men's room as a distribution center for methamphetamines. But it ain't beyond the realm of possibility....).
There is one problem with the book, and it's a problem I am guilty of also. Happy, smiling, pleasant patrons are not as memorable as angry, disruptive, irresponsible patrons. Nice people don't make as a good a story as bad people. So although the book is full of tales of conflict, frustration and marginally criminal activity, and although there aren't a lot of perky stories here, I think deep down Borchert (like all librarians) has a deep love for his job and a real affection for the people that come into his building. And that's the way it really is.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

China on the brain

Well, I don't know what it is about me lately, but I seem to be ordering and reviewing an awful lot of books about China. In my defense, there is a heightened interest in that country due to the upcoming summer Olympics (and because of less cheery topics like consumer product safety). So the publishers have been busy cranking out beautiful books that introduce Westerners to the history, culture, religions, politics and economics of China. We have yet another one on the shelves (from DK, one of my favorite coffee-table book makers): China: people, place, culture, history. The first chapter - Landscape - is page after page of gorgeous wide-angle shots of various locations around the country. It gives you a very real appreciation of the geographic diversity and immense size of China. The second section goes through the history of China. The format of this section is basically a running timeline with scattered pictures and blurbs of information. If you want a more in-depth history, try The Great Wall: China against the world, 1000 BC - AD 2000, by Julia Lovell. Then follows an interesting section about the Chinese people, which focuses on various representative professions (cricket seller not being one you would commonly find in the U.S.). The chapter on culture is alarmingly brief, but the architecture chapter is great. Sometime before the torch fires up in Beijing this summer, you should check out one of our many new books on this fascinating country.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Peter Jennings

Our new biography of journalist Peter Jennings - who died of lung cancer in 2005 - follows an unusual format. Rather than sitting down and interviewing a bunch of Jennings' associates, combing through his old letters and quotes, and then parsing it all out into a 300-page narrative of his life, Peter Jennings: a reporter's life takes a different approach. Editors Kate Darnton, Kayce Freed Jennings and Lynn Sherr have created a bare-bones oral biography of the former anchorman of ABC's World News Tonight. Friends, relatives, colleagues, and prominent political figures have all contributed their recollections of Jennings: his charm, his insightful questions, his work ethic and his passion for reporting the news. The quotes follow a chronological track, beginning with his public-school upbringing in Canada (Jennings became an American citizen in 2003), his brief foray into nightly news as the youngest anchorman ever (a mere 26 years old), his on-the-spot reporting at the Munich Olympics and on to his 27-year stint at the anchor desk of ABC News. This book actually ends up being more of a tribute than a biography. There are no laundry lists of dates or facts, and while the commentators don't shy away from mentioning mistakes Jennings made, or arguments they had with him, the sense of respect and affection each commentator has for Jennings comes through on each page. It definitely shows Jennings in a much more human way than a half-hour newscast.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Patrick and Arthur Collaborate

We have a new mystery that should appeal to a wide range of readers: Deadly Shoals by Joan Druett. Part nautical adventure, part mystery, part cultural and historical commentary, Druett's book marries the traditions of Patrick O'Brian and Arthur Upfield to create an intriguing series with an unusual protagonist. Wiki Coffin is half-Maori, a sailor who acts as translator for the U.S. Exploring Expedition as it sails the oceans of the mid 19th century. In addition, Coffin acts as the official representative of United States law and order (such as it was back then) whenever trouble arises involving American citizens. In this book, he is hashing out a fradulent deal involving a New England whaler, political unrest in South America, and a killer who is targeting the expedition itself. Extremely well-researched and historically accurate, this story is also a rolicking mystery that will keep the reader turning pages. A very fun read. (We also have the first book in the series - A Watery Grave).

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Marco who?

The name is legendary, but do any of us have more than a vague idea of the actions and events that made Marco Polo such a renowned public figure? Aside from the whole introducing Italy to macaroni myth - which, according to Laurence Bergreen's book Marco Polo: from Venice to Xanadu, is a myth - what do we know? Well, by sifting through original source material in more than half a dozen different languages, and by traveling over the same silk trading routes that Marco Polo himself crossed, Bergreen manages to put together a very thorough, very readable biography of one of history's most intrepid merchants. What an amazing experience it must have been for Marco Polo to travel through China during a period of great cultural, economic and military wealth, especially coming from the dark squalor of 13th century Venice. As he becomes a trusted diplomat of the Kublai Khan and travels throughout the Mongol kingdom on the Khan's business, Marco Polo not only gained an enormous amount of information and experience, he also developed a deep appreciation and respect for the cultures he saw. When you think that his fellow Europeans were busy burning one another at the stake for marginal heresies, Marco Polo's humility and adaptability were truly remarkable.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Book for English Majors

I remember reading the promotional blurb for The Heroines, by Eileen Favorite, and thinking to myself 'I have got to order this book'. The premise is great: Anne Marie runs a cute bed-and-breakfast in rural Illinois where literary heroines can come to get a grip when their story becomes too intense. Anne Marie is always willing to listen and nod sympathetically, but does not want to dispense counsel, lest she alter the course of great literature. Her 13-year-0ld daughter Penny is tired of her mother's time and attention being taken up by weepy 19th century women, but when she gets involved in one of the stories (and I mean involved), the weepy lodgers are the ones who come to her rescue. Some of the lines in this book are great. When a dashing horseman comes thundering into the woods looking for his lost love Deirdre, Penny's thought is "Deirdre was so depressed...she must have come from some awful romance. Only a cheap book would have binding too weak to hold back a stereotype like this guy". A little bit about teenage angst, a little bit about the importance of literature in shaping in our lives, and a little bit of a love story, Heroines is a wonderfully fun read (even if you hated Senior English class).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Valentine Read

I don't usually do humor books in the blog (since funny is such a subjective thing), but a new book caused such unbridled laughter amongst the library staff that I feel compelled to share. Everything He Hasn't Told You Yet: a new way to get men talking about stuff that matters, by Burton Silver and Martin O'Connor, is so far out in left field that even though it bills itself as a help guide for interpersonal communication, it really is just plain humor. Here's the scenario: you are supposed to get the man in your life to sit down, listen to a hypothetical situation, and answer a series of questions which you then interpret - much like dreams - to discover his true inner workings. Want to find out if he's interested in being in a relationship? Read out loud a list of animals and ask him to come up with names for each animal pair. If he picks a male name and a female name (Rex and Fluffy), then he's interested in committment because "he sees a world of couples". If he picks Rex and Scamp, then you might as well pack up your toothbrush. Want to find out what he thinks about women? Have him answer a bunch of stupid questions from an alien, like "Why do women have so many shoes?"
This book reads like the literary equivalent of a cootie catcher. If you can get a guy to go through these dumb exercises with you, you've either been dating for less than 4 months or he's making stuff up to pull your chain. He's in a relationship with you - he's not applying for a job. Save the goofy personality tests for Human Resources.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A troubadour, a Templar, and a lady walk into a bar....

A tarot-inspired retelling of the events of the Cathar crusade? A tongue-in-cheek parody of historical intrigue novels? A prequel to The Da Vinci Code?
The Last Troubadour: song of Montsegur, by Derek Armstrong, is a hard book to categorize. Set in the 13th century, this book follows the sometimes funny adventures of a troubadour, a Knight of the Templar, and a beautiful woman as they work together to find an important religious relic before an evil agent of the Pope gets to it. Not having read The Da Vinci Code, I can't comment on any parallels or judge whether this is a true parody. The 13th century was not a real great time to be alive, and I don't ordinarily connect an Inquisition with big belly laughs, but Armstrong does his best to inject some wit and humor into his story. The Tarot-inspired characters will interest anyone familiar with the history of the Tarot (again, not my thing). I guess at the end of all this I'm not really sure if I'm recommending this book or not. Perhaps the most mysterious thing about this mystery is whether or not it's worth reading.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Forgotten Genre

Mysteries, Fantasy, Chick Lit, Romance, SF (not Sci-Fi, I was informed), Christian, Thriller....all these literary genres get all the glory, the awards, and the big names. But what about the poor Western? Whatever happened to the glory days of Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour and Ray Hogan? The steely-eyed cowboy, the lonesome drifter and the determined but beautiful farmer's widow all seemed to disappear. But wait! With the sound of hooves, a cloud of dust and a hearty High-Ho Silver, new popular interest has arrived in the nick of time to breathe life back into a moribund genre. Two of the most watched films of last year were Westerns: 3:10 to Yuma and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Maverick Arizona politician John McCain (who would probably have been a cowboy in an earlier time) is the Republican front runner. And we have a new book on the shelves: The Rebels: sons of Texas. A reprint of Elmer Kelton's 1990 edition that he published under a pseudonym, this book follows the adventures of the Lewis brothers in Mexican-controlled Texas just before the Battle of San Jacinto (which is actually how the book closes). Reacquaint yourself with all the comforting hallmarks of the Western genre and drift back into our frontier past.
(On a side note, thank you for your patience during this incredibly snowy weekend. I don't know what the deal is with all this snow - I didn't move to Alaska to deal with a bunch of cold weather, for pete's sake!)

Friday, February 8, 2008

Branching out

I don't ordinarily read YA (teen) novels, but I had been told that they can be just as interesting and well-written as adult novels. So I have dipped my toe in, and I've found the waters surprisingly pleasant. My first YA read was General Winston's Daughter by Sharon Shinn. A fantasy novel set in an alternate world, it actually reads like a Regency romance. Averie’s father is the general of a colonizing army, and she sails to the conquered land of Chiarrin to join him and her fiancĂ©, a handsome young Colonel. Chafing at the social and political constraints imposed upon her by her conservative culture, Averie is intrigued by Lieutenant Ket Du’kai – a native of another conquered territory. Once she has reached her father’s new outpost, she begins to push her limits as she adopts local customs, befriends a Chiarrin merchant girl, and begins questioning the imperialistic policies of her homeland. Along the way, she realizes that perhaps true happiness lies with brooding Ket, rather than her stolid – and boring – Colonel. Local unrest and guerilla attacks bring issues of trust, loyalty and politics to a head, and readers may be surprised by the way the story ends (or not - I suspected the big plot twist pretty early on). There are obvious parallels with the situation in Iraq, but I won't dwell on them. This is a very light novel that reads quickly and doesn’t particularly challenge the reader, but it is romantically satisfying. Give it a try - you may find yourself drawn in to the world of YA literature.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Dead Man's Hand

To me, watching someone else play poker is like watching paint dry. But judging from the number of poker tournaments being broadcast on TV - even before the writers' strike - I am in the minority on this. Poker is a wildly popular, and noir is a wildly popular literary genre, so why not marry the two into one great book? Dead Man's Hand: crime fiction at the poker table is a short story collection edited by Otto Penzler (who also edited The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps). Such famous mystery writers as Walter Mosley, John Lescroart, Jeffrey Deaver, and Michael Connelly join forces with such literary talents as Joyce Carol Oates, Alexander McCall Smith and Eric Van Lustbader. Each author has been given the same task: pen a gripping short crime story in which the cat and mouse game of poker plays a central role. Sounds easy? Well, these writers managed to come up with a huge array of plots, angles and hooks that will captivate the reader. Even if you don't know the difference between a deuce and a trey, you'll enjoy this book.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Library Beauty Queens

For those of you who were unable to catch the Wearable Art Show this weekend, let me assure you that you missed quite the spectacle. Kathy Graham - from the UAS library - outdid herself in designing 3 of the most fabulous gowns ever to come out of the Closed Reserve stacks! The title of the piece was "I Want to be a Librarian", and the three librarian beauty queens were:
Miss Directed (Judith McQuerry) - who wore a lovely pleated skirt made of discarded nautical charts
Mis Printed (Lisa Pearson) - who wore an overdress of hardback book covers with a lovely long train
Miss Shelved (Kathleen Wiechelman) - whose ruched dress and ruffle were made entirely of government document envelopes
I rarely get to sashay in front of a cheering crowd, so this was a total blast. Thank you, Kathy, for making my dreams of glamour and adoration possible....

Monday, February 4, 2008

Citizenship Toolkit

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a United States citizen, we have a new kit of materials here at the public library that may be of use. The Civics and Citizenship Toolkit: a collection of educational resources for immigrants is a joint effort of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the U.S. Government Printing Office. These organizations compiled and printed the material and donated it to our library, and now we are making it available to you. The kit contains a DVD introduction to U.S. history and civics, a CD overview of the naturalization process, a set of flash cards for studying for the citizenship exam, a copy of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, two guides for new immigrants (one in Spanish, one in English), a book of quick civics lessons - including an audio CD - and a Citizen's Almanac, which compiles a variety of historical documents, biographies and events. I have a great deal of respect for anyone who is committed enough to the dream of being an American that they would sit down and learn all of this information to pass the citizenship test (and English is quite likely not their first language). Hopefully, this toolkit will make the process a little easier for you as you work towards becoming a full-fledged citizen of the United States of America. As always, we are here to help.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Going to Africa?

It's hard to find a continent more diverse - culturally and geographically - than Africa. I'm sure the French and Belgians will argue that they are very different from one another, but hey, c'mon. So if you are a traveler looking for unique adventure, stunning wildlife, exotic scenery and fascinating culture then you might well think of going to Africa. And if this is your first time, you might want to thumb through The Rough Guide to First-Time Africa: everything you need to know before you go. There are two things to keep in mind with this book, however: it is indeed a rough guide to a vast continent, and it probably doesn't tell you everything you need to know before you arrive on the tarmac in Addis Ababa. It is an excellent jump-off point for your research, though. It has a very brief overview of the diversity of Africa's lands and cultures, a short summary of each country that includes information about attractions, tourist season and travel, and larger chapters on how to plan your trip. These cover topics such as visas, costs, culture shock, how to stay healthy and how to stay out of trouble (not a minor issue). You can encounter Kalahari wildlife in Botswana, travel by boat across Lake Victoria, or see the Numidian mausoleums of Algeria. This being a print publication, however, the information might not be as current or as thorough as you need. For instance, it doesn't include any mention of the recent unrest in Kenya, and in Sudan it says that "things finally seem to be changing for the better". If you are serious about traveling (anywhere off the beaten path, not just Africa), you might want to also check out the State Department's website for Background Notes and Travel Advisories: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/ . Bon voyage!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

New Mysteries

We have some new mysteries on our shelves from some rather unique mystery series. The authors present the reader with very unusual settings or characters, which adds an extra level of interest onto their already gripping plots.
Red Mandarin Dress by Qiu Xiaolong is the third Inspector Chen novel in our collection. A Chief Inspector of the Shanghai police department, Chen is doing double duty: tracking a serial killer and investigating a sensitive corruption case. A native of Shanghai himself, Qiu vividly recreates the teeming city and the intricacies of modern China.
A Prayer for the Damned by Peter Tremayne takes readers back to 7th century Ireland. Sister Fidelma and Brother Eadulf are about to get married, but the ceremony is disrupted by the murder of the nasty Abbot Ultan and it falls to Fidelma to discover the truth behind the killing. Tremayne is the pseudonym of Peter Ellis, a scholar of Celtic history, and his books are meticulously accurate and filled with interesting details.
The Mortal Groove by Ellen Hart is the latest Jane Lawless mystery. Lawless is a restaurateur in Minneapolis who solves mysteries on the side (I helped manage a restaurant, and I don't remember there being that much free time). Hart is "a top novelist in the cultishly popular gay mystery genre" (Entertainment Weekly), and she provides lots of fun plot twists as Lawless' father runs for Governor and discovers just how dirty politics can be.