Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Food & Lodging

History shelves abound with books examining the beliefs, actions and motivations of the Founding Fathers and the successive Presidents. We have two new books that takes a lighter approach to learning more about these influential men:

The President's Table: two hundred years of dining and diplomacy, by Barry H. Landau, is a scrapbook of menus, invitations, photos and anecdotes from state dinners and small supper parties hosted by - or attended by - the Presidents from Washington to George W. Bush. Landau, a Presidential historian and collector of memorabilia and artifacts, takes us on a gustatory walk through history. The mementos from the earliest Presidents are less plentiful, but after the end of the Civil War, the amount of 'stuff' associated with state dinners escalated. A bonus lesson from this book? Even the most boring menu item sounds better in French.

Houses of the Founding Fathers: the men who made America and the way they lived is more temporally restricted. Hugh Howard and Roger Straus III take the reader on a tour of the colonial mansions, plantations, and farms of the men who shaped our country. These homes were all built in the late-Colonial, early-Republic period (1740-1830) and there is a wide range of architectural styles, cultural tastes and wealth displayed by these houses. There are lots of wonderful interior and exterior photos, including furniture, and a concise little biography of each owner. At the back of the book is a listing of each historic property with visitor information (what a fabulous road trip that would be!) and a glossary with some of the architectural terms and period language explained.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Sip of Tey

The all-time queen of crime was Agatha Christie, whose mysteries have been translated into a jillion languages and whose books are found in every airport bookstore on the planet. One of her lesser-known peers was Josephine Tey, who died was she was in her mid-50's and has a mere 8 novels to her credit. However, the quality of these novels is superb and her work has a more literary, descriptive tone than that of Christie. Our old copies were depressingly worn (a sure sign of a well-read book) and the covers dated, so that people seemed less and less inclined to pick them up off the shelf. Therefore, we've replaced our most tattered copies with crisp new editions and even added a title that we did not own before - A Shilling For Candles. Like the classic mysteries of Agatha Christie, Tey's books are puzzlers set in England during the first half of the 20th century - back when murderers seemed to confine themselves to tasteful homicides of unpleasant local characters using genteel methods such as arsenic in the potted meat. Her protagonist - Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard - is a solid character (the classic Scotland Yard man), and her plots are interesting and intricate. If you enjoy a good mystery and have not read Tey before, you should give her a try. Her reputation is well-deserved.
Brat Farrar
The Franchise Affair
To Love and Be Wise
Miss Pym
A Shilling For Candles

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Feeling brave?

I'm a big advocate of using native (or nearly native) plants in your garden - less fuss, greater certainty of reward. But I'm a bit of a gardening wimp, so if you are looking for a bigger horticultural challenge than nasturtiums, astilbe and foxglove you might want to read our new book by Susan Roth and Dennis Schrader. Hot Plants for Cool Climates: gardening with tropical plants in temperate zones gives gardeners in less-than-balmy regions good advice on how to select, cultivate, maintain and protect showy tropical plants. Goodness knows Ketchikan has the precipitation to rival the equatorial areas - our biggest drawback is that it never gets very warm. The authors take a particularly crafty approach to this problem. Rather than use actual tropical plants, they suggest using hardy plants with tropical-looking features: hostas, ferns, mallow, bamboo, elephant ears and goatsbeard. Once you've created a lush background with these foliage plants (all of which I have seen growing in Ketchikan, by the way), you sprinkle in some showy flowers - azaleas, lilies, begonias, fuchsias, and impatiens, for example - to add some color. In addition to their design suggestions, the authors also give you advice on fertilization, wintering plants, putting together containers and pairing plants for the greatest visual impact. With a little creativity, you could have your own little tropical island in the middle of the Tongass rainforest. Save a mai-tai for me!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Age of Empires

Imperialism, much like smoking, has seen a downturn in its popularity due to its deadly side effects. Once regarded as a source of economic wealth and national pride, empire building has now become an example of being a poor neighbor - the bully on the global playground. Our new book The Age of Empires, edited by Robert Aldrich, examines the chequered history of 13 empire-builders (including the Americans). The Austro-Hungarians come off relatively well, having confined themselves to simply taking over other Europeans, but the other countries in this book spread themselves far and wide across the globe. Aldrich confines himself to a specific time period - the Renaissance to present day - which explains the absence of such past power players as the Romans, Greeks, Chinese, Mongols, Mughals, Aztecs and Incas. Overall, Age of Empires helps explain the backdrop of many of today's hot-button issues: the war in Bosnia, the economic collapse in Zimbabwe, class conflicts in Brazil and tensions in the Middle East. This is a nice overview of a specific aspect of world history, with lots of beautiful illustrations and helpful maps. It is also well-researched, with an extensive bibliography and list of notes in the back. Anyone interested in history, economics and cultural relations would enjoy reading this lovely book.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Simply Irresistible

Part history, part dating manual, part pop-culture review, Simply Irresistible promises to show you how to "unleash your inner siren and mesmerize men, with help from the most famous and infamous women in history". Author Ellen T. White has collected short biographies of history's 'It' girls, from Cleopatra to Angelina Jolie. Her classic siren types include Goddess (Evita Peron), Companion (Lady Randolph Churchill), Sex Kitten (Marilyn Monroe), Competitor (Beryl Markham) and Mother (Wallis Simpson - Duchess of Windsor). She also presents examples of alluring behavior and strategies that will bedazzle men: be unforgettable, scintillating, attractive, erotic and don't take 'no' for an answer. Most of the women in the book are from the 20th century and are well-known today for their sex appeal. My favorite entries are older and less famous - women who challenged societal mores back when the rules were pretty darn strict. Anyone can flash a little thigh now, but it was more difficult at a time when men weren't even supposed to see your ankles. Let's raise a toast to Mata Hari, inventor of the striptease, and the tempestuous Lola Montez ('what Lola wants, Lola gets'). This is a fun read, if not a particularly practical self-improvement guide.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Human Smoke

Nicholson Baker has penned a controversial new book about the buildup to World War II. Human Smoke: the beginnings of World War II, the end of civilization takes a very unusual approach to the subject. Rather than interpreting facts and events in a narrative form, Baker instead presents snippets of information: a diary entry, a newspaper quote, part of a speech, letters. These snippets act like a strobe light in the dark - they illuminate individual moments without providing a connecting thread. It is left to the reader to come up with their own interpretation. It's an interesting idea.
The controversy arises not from Baker's interpretation of pre-war events and comments, but from his selection of which events, comments and quotes to include in his book. The reader is left with a distinct impression of Churchill as a bloodthirsty warmonger, Roosevelt as an ingrained anti-Semite, and the powerful industrialists of Europe and America as deliberately prodding the world toward war for the sake of a few bucks (or many bucks, actually). If you are interested in history at all then you will either love or hate this book - depending on your point of view. But regardless of your feelings, this book is sure to provoke strong emotions and serious thought about how exactly a world marches towards war.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Looking for wholesome family viewing fare that doesn't involve animation and/or singing dinosaurs? We have four new films by the acclaimed Oscar-winning director John Ford. These films weren't made for kids, but they don't have strong language, graphic violence or gratuitous sex (as opposed to non-gratuitous sex). Best of all, they're films that won't bore grown-ups to death.
Grapes of Wrath is a film adaptation of John Steinbeck's classic novel starring Henry Fonda. A painless way of teaching kids about the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. You might even get them to read the book!
Drums Along the Mohawk is a film adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper's novel about frontier living back when the frontier was upstate New York. Starring Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert as the 1940's-version of the hardscrabble frontier wife.
My Darling Clementine is a film adaptation of Stuart Lake's biography Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshall. Starring Henry Fonda and a great re-enactment of the shootout at the O.K Corral, this disc also features a 1939 adaptation of this book. Two films for the price of one!
How Green Was My Valley is a film adaptation (do we detect a pattern here?) of Richard Llewellyn's novel about growing up in a Welsh mining town. Oddly enough, it does not star Henry Fonda. It does, however, feature a cute young Roddy McDowell and a touching romance between Maureen O'Hara and Walter Pidgeon.
Powerful stories, great acting and award-winning direction. Why settle for another episode of Hannah Montana?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Global Sleuths

Want something a little exotic to read? Try a mystery with an exotic foreign locale - preferably one set in another time as well.

The Poisoner of Ptah, by P.C. Doherty, is set in ancient Egypt during the reign of the Pharaoh-Queen Hatusu of the XVIII dynasty. Amerotke, Chief Judge of the Halls of Two Truths must investigate a rash of poisoning crimes that is terrorizing the royal city of Thebes.

A Grave in Gaza, by Matt Beynon Rees, is the second Omar Yussef mystery. Set in a troubled landscape of violence and despair, this book sees Yussef trying to unravel the connection between a teacher's arrest on charges of spying, the murder of a Palestinian security officer, the kidnapping of Yussef's colleague and a stolen missile.

Death of a Gentle Lady, by M.C. Beaton, is the 23rd installment in the Hamish Macbeth series. As poorly written as they are, these books still manage to pull you into the story, probably due to Macbeth's character and the twee nature of the Scottish Highlands. (It used to be the rural Irish that were cute and quaint, now it's the rural Scots).

Special Assignments: the further adventures of Erast Fandorin is by Russian author Boris Akunin. Set in Czarist Moscow, this book follows the path of gentleman sleuth Erast Fandorin as he tries to catch both a canny swindler and psychotic serial killer (that's really a redundancy, isn't it?) who preys on women at the direction of a powerful 'patron'.

So pick a place, any place, and blend a little foreign scenery in with your mystery plot. Spice things up a little.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Feeling the pinch

With tough economic times on the horizon, many people are looking for ways to stretch their budget. Don't Throw It Out: recycle, renew, and reuse to make things last, by Lori Baird and the editors of Yankee Magazine, will show you how to hang on to your things a little longer. It's not only economical, it's environmentally sensible. As a Yankee myself, I'm impressed with some of the tips in this book. You'll find out how to re-lace baseball gloves, extend the life of your brooms, and use candle stubs as pin cushions. Shoe bags - the type that hang off doors - are a cheap way to store craft supplies. Putty-type wallpaper cleanser will clean canvas shoes and coats. Old croquet stakes make great hose guides. The list goes on, and touches pretty much everything in and outside of your house and the hints come in three general varieties: fix it, make it last, reuse it as something else. Like all of these types of books, Don't Throw It Out has too many ideas to incorporate into your daily life (if you find yourself obsessing about implementing every suggestion in the book, you need to get a life). But even half a dozen hints gleaned from the pages can make a difference, and if you are looking for help on a specific topic, this is a great place to start.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Unpublished classics

It never rains but it pours. We have not one, but two, never-before-published books by two famous authors: Alexandre Dumas and Richard Wright.

The Last Cavalier: being the adventures of Count Saint-Hermine in the age of Napoleon was lost for 125 years in the archives of the National Library in Paris (I don't feel so bad about our cluttered storage!). The poor Count comes from a Royalist family who have lost their battle against the powerful Emperor. After a few years imprisonment, he is stripped of his titles and his fiancée and sentenced to the life of a common sailor. A series of suicidal missions brings him not the death he longs for but glory. For fans of Patrick O'Brian or Bernard Cornwall.

A Father's Law is an unfinished novel by the author of Native Son and Black Boy. A crime thriller, it involves a black police chief of a Chicago suburb who is hunting down a serial killer. As the investigation goes on, he begins to suspect his son - a temperamental university student. Are his suspicions based on fact or father-son tensions? Since this story was cut short by Wright's death in 1960, I don't advise reading this book if you hate loose ends. It doesn't exactly stop mid-sentence, but it definitely leaves you hanging.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

First Aid

My daughter ended up in the Emergency Room yesterday after a playground accident, and received 12 stitches in her perfect little forehead. So I thought I would remind everyone about the wide variety of First Aid resources we have here at the library.
Could You Save Your Baby's Life? the CPR review for infants and children is a 35-minute video that shows you how to perform CPR on a little person.
First Aid and CPR is a more updated, and longer, DVD that reviews how to deal with minor and major medical emergencies, and also includes a short section on child CPR.
American College of Emergency Physicians first aid manual is a nice comprehensive guide to dealing with emergencies, with lots of photos and illustrations, and is helpfully organized by situation type (respiratory, chocking, bleeding, poisonings, childbirth, etc.). The guide also includes child-specific instructions for choking, seizures and resuscitation.
Survival at Sea Series is a set of 4 DVDs produced by the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association, and these films cover the use of immersion suits, onboard emergency drills, rescues at sea and liferaft survival packs. With the boating and fishing seasons heating up, these are must-watch videos.
Wilderness Survival Handbook is a "practical all-season guide to short-trip preparation and survival techniques for hikers, skiers, backpackers, canoeists [and kayakers], snowmobilers, travellers in light aircraft - and anyone stranded in the outdoors". There you go, then.
Obviously, if you're in an emergency situation you're not going to run down to the library to check these materials out ("Try not to bleed so much, I'm trying to find my library card"). But browsing through these books and reading their suggestions is a good way to mentally prepare yourself for what could happen. Hopefully things will turn out fine (as they did with my daughter, thanks to the wonderful staff at the Ketchikan General Hospital. Thank you Dr. Ritchie and Nurse Morris!)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Pocket philosophy

Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing? 23 questions from great philosophers is a very attractive book. The cover has a beautiful William Morris-inspired design and it's diminutive size (16 cm, 222 pgs.) makes it a nice little item to slip into a purse or backpack (after it's been properly checked out at the front desk, of course).
The contents are just as attractive. Author Leszek Kołakowski is a senior research fellow at All Souls College, Oxford and he has provided the reader with a very readable introduction to many great philosophers. In his introduction, Kołakowski states that the book should not be taken as a condensed history of philosophy, but instead each chapter focuses on one important issue that each man considered (there are no women represented here - I don't know enough about philosophy to judge whether that is a truly glaring omission). Socrates and St. Augustine ruminate on the concept of evil, John Locke ponders our God-endowed rights, and Kierkegaard questions the need for the Church. And like any good philosopher, Kołakowski ends each essay with a series of questions for the reader. This is not a book of answers, but instead will make the reader think about themselves, human nature, our place in the world, and our relationship with faith. Not bad for a cute little book.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Wallpaper 101

In our current issue of Time Magazine (current for us being March 31, 2008 - don't get me started on library subscription delivery) there is a brief article about the resurgence of wallpaper as a popular interior decorating tool. Ever on the ball, we have a new book about this subject. How to Decorate With Wallpaper: a practical and inspirational guide with step-by-step projects, by Bernadette Fallon and Lauren Floodgate, will answer the questions you have about hanging wallpaper. They start with the basics, including the tools you will need, the types of wallpaper currently available, and how to estimate the number of rolls to buy. There is also a very handy guide to wallpaper symbols (washable, color fastness, hang horizontally, peelable, etc.). They also show you how to cut, paste and hang your paper. There are lots of diagrams and photos in this book, as well as some very helpful tips on how to prevent problems and fix mistakes. They even discuss difficult areas, such as alcoves, arches, stairwells and hanging striped paper. The photos in the book are very inspiring and demonstrate that a well-chosen wallpaper can make a room look so much more appealing than plain paint. And with the authors' assistance, a wallpapering project is definitely do-able. (I helped my Mom paper her kitchen, and I'm a total klutz when it comes to DIY projects. If I can do it, you can do it.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I've just finished Ken Bruen's fourth Jack Taylor novel - Cross - and the story has left me feeling a little depressed and bleak, as though I should be lashing out at someone. I also feel like I've stumbled across an amazing writer whose prose is so intriguing that it sucked me into reading a genre of book I don't ordinarily enjoy: gritty realistic crime fiction. I'm more the Hercule Poirot type, so I wouldn't think a story that involves one victim being crucified and another burned alive as being a page-turner, but I couldn't put this one down. Set in Galway, and revolving around a disgraced former policeman who has only recently pulled himself up out of alcoholic spiral, Cross has an amazing atmosphere. You really feel like you are in the wet, dirty streets of rundown Galway. Jack Taylor is barely hanging on to sobriety, and he is beginning to identify the holes in his life that the alcohol used to disguise. He has no friends or family, no hobbies or employment, and he's been indirectly responsible for the death of a young man who admired him and a friend's young child. The plot of the story is somewhat unimportant, since the reader knows the identity of the killer and the motivation early on in the book. This novel is all about character and setting and it truly sucks you in. If you are a fan of John Straley's Cecil Younger books (set in Southeast Alaska), you will see the parallels. Two washed-up guys on the downhill slide of their lives, trying to get past alcohol and drugs, and seeing very little on their horizon. As Townes Van Zandt said, they're "just waiting around to die".

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In Arabian Nights

One of my favorite travel writers is Tahir Shah (In Search of King Solomon's Mines), who in 2006 published an account of his home-buying experience in Morocco (The Caliph's House). His experiences were very similar to those in Peter Mayle's classic Year in Provence: good-natured yet superstitious locals slyly taking advantage of the poor chump with the crumbling monstrosity - plumbers, carpenters, grocers, electricians, and in Shah's case, servants. His new book continues with anecdotes of Moroccan living, but with a much deeper and philosophical tone. This might be accounted for by the fact that he spent 2 weeks being tortured by the Pakistani police while trying to film a documentary on Afghanistan (an episode he discusses periodically in Arabian Nights). Going through a mock execution would be enough to rearrange anyone's priorities, but even though this book is less light-hearted than his previous works, it is still very entertaining and well written. He exposes us to a side of North Africa that few outsiders get to see and the stories he relates - often told to him by his Moroccan neighbors - highlight ethnic differences, relationships between the sexes, classism and snobbery, and a yearning for the past. He also brings up some interesting points about personal destiny and identity, but he never gets depressing or boring. A fascinating story in the hands of a talented writer is always a treat.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Fishing for newbies

I say 'newbies' because even though Ken Schultz's North American Fishing is a nice book with great photos and interesting information, it's an entry-level book. Anything that covers the entire North American continent in less than 250 pages is going to leave some specifics out, and the seasoned mariners on our little isle probably know all this information.
BUT: if you are going to do some fishing down south for species you've never tried before (swordfish off the Florida coast or catfish in Missouri, for instance), then this would be a good book to look at. Or if you grew up in Phoenix and have recently moved to Ketchikan, then this book is for you.
Schulz starts with individual profiles of 39 different species (including sharks - apparently some people actually want to catch the darn things). He includes steelhead, coho salmon, Arctic charr, halibut, rockfish and snapper. He then discusses tools: rods, reels, lures, lines, bait, tackle and GPS. The most helpful chapter is the one on Skills and Techniques. This is the hard part of fishing, and he explains the difference between trolling and drifting, as well as how to jig and use a downrigger. He shows you how to tie knots, sharpen hooks and land a fish. As an introduction to the art of fishing, this is an excellent resource for anyone who dreams of spending their summer out on the water, filling up their freezer with prime Alaskan seafood.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Be happy

We have some new additions to the self-help section of the library:

Staring at the Sun: overcoming the terror of death, by Irvin D. Yalom is written in a nice narrative style, filled with personal stories, that make it very easy to read. The author is an Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford, and he encourages the reader to use mortality as an impetus for communicating with our loved ones, examining our priorities, and taking a few risks to make ourselves happier.

Emotional Sobriety: from relationship trauma to resilience and balance, by Tian Dayton, is for anyone who deals with stress in self-destructive ways: overeating, substance abuse, overspending and lashing out. Dayton is a clinical psychologist who advocates looking at the root cause of self-destructive behavior, and suggests ways to restore your emotional stability.

Forgive for Love: the missing ingredient for a healthy and lasting relationship, is by Dr. Fred Luskin. It's an important concept: holding a grudge against your partner will spread bitterness throughout your relationship and will destroy it in the end. He's not necessarily talking about major incidents (such as infidelity), but even little errors that are unforgiven (leaving the toilet seat up, again) will eventually blossom into something bigger. Let go of it, and move on.

Be Happy Without Being Perfect: how to break free from the perfection deception, is by Alice D. Domar. Sorry, I can't identify with this...(actually, this book is great for overacheivers and A-type personalities who feel as if everything has to be done perfectly or they have somehow failed).

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ketchikan gardening

If you're not a big fan of gardening in the rain (there's been more than one occasion when I have been digging in my garden whilst wearing full rain gear), yet you would like a pretty little yard full of plants, I have one word for you: perennials. They may not be as showy as a bed full of petunias, and they're not completely maintenance-free (for a garden that requires no upkeep whatsoever, I suggest plastic flowers - the silk ones just melt). But those dogged perennials will keep coming back with a minimum of fuss, and in our gloomy climate you need shade-loving perennials. Voila! An Encyclopedia of Shade Perennials, by W. George Schmid has just hit our shelves. This book doesn't just list a bunch of plants, it explains how to garden in the shade. Schmid discusses the different types of shade, soil enrichment and common pests, and how to decide which types of shade plants you need. He also describes the various genus in some detail, with helpful advice about their ease of cultivation and hints for landscaping. This is a must-have book in Ketchikan.
Another must-have book is Gardening in Southeast Alaska, which was produced by the members of the Juneau Garden Club. We have had this book on the shelf for years, and if you garden in Ketchikan you have probably looked at it. The third edition of this Southeast gardening bible was just released, and we have a couple of copies if you would like to page through them for valuable Inside Passage-specific advice.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Need a good book?

I don't know what qualifies as a good book in your opinion, but we just put 40 new novels on our shelves, so the chances are pretty high that at least one of them will interest you. I won't do anything so boring as list them all, but they run the range from mystery to SF to western to romance. They include popular authors such as Sophie Kinsella, Arthur C. Clarke (who just passed away), Martha Grimes, Kristin Hannah and G.M. Ford. There are also some new names on the shelf:
Seekers of Chalice, by Brian Cullen, is a blend of Irish mythology and Tolkien-like fantasy.

Souvenir, by Therese Fowler, is a story about lost loves and the complex mother-daughter relationship.

Four Wives, by Wendy Walker, is about 4 suburban wives who seemingly have it all but are struggling with their own bitter disappointments and dark secrets.

The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff, has received a nod of approval from no less than Stephen King himself.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Arts on video

We have three new DVDs that present various aspects of the arts: dance, painting and printing.
Medea: a ballet in one act is presented by the Orchestra and Ballet Troupe of the Tbilisi Z. Paliashvili Opera and Ballet State Theatre (now, there's a mouthful). Based on Euripides' classic play, this Georgian production was filmed during the era of the Soviet empire and has never been seen before by Western audiences. The composer and choreographer are both Georgian, and this is a wonderful example of the pure art of Russian-style ballet.
Goya: crazy like a genius is written and presented by the Australian art critic Robert Hughes (as well as hosting another art series - The Shock of the New - Hughes was the author of the quintessential Australian history book The Fatal Shore. If you've never read this book, it is a must!). In his new series, Hughes looks at the beautiful and disturbing paintings of Francisco Goya and takes the viewer on a tour of Spain as he deconstructs various works and puts them in context with Goya's life. We also have the accompanying biography of Goya authored by Hughes.
For those of you who like a more hands-on approach to art, we have The Art of Block Printing. This short program will demonstrate the various stages in producing a beautiful print, including cutting techniques, materials, safety (we're talking sharp instruments here) and using one or two colors in making your prints. Some of our local artists have done beautiful work with block prints, and if you would like to try it yourself, check out this helpful DVD.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bill Mauldin

We have a really interesting new biography on the shelves of the famous political cartoonist and bane to the rear echelon: Bill Mauldin. Todd DePastino has covered the entire tract of Maudlin's life in Bill Mauldin: a life up front, whereas many biographies focus mainly on his career during World War II. During the war, Mauldin was the unofficial spokesman of the enlisted guy in the foxhole, covered with mud and worn to a bone. His cartoons were a scathing commentary on unrealistic expectations, military regulations and the glorification of war. An infantry sergeant, Mauldin knew what the soldiers really experienced on a daily basis and refused to gloss over unpleasantries. In a way, his truthfulness and refusal to back down when confronting the brass actually helped boost morale among the soldiers (his encounter with an unadmiring General Patton made the Time magazine). It definitely made him a hero to the average G.I.
However, Mauldin's ability to skewer pretense and his determination to stand up for the little guy didn't stop when the war was over. His career as a cartoonist continued, earning him a second Pulitzer in 1958. His most memorable post-war cartoon, created on the occasion of President Kennedy's assassination, captured the feeling of the nation (pg. 285). The topics of his cartoons ranged from McCarthyism to Soviet gulags, the creation of the U.N. to the fight for civil rights, Vietnam to Chicago politics. The most prescient example in the book is on page 275 and concerns Arab nationalism. This is a fascinating book about a man who deserves to be remembered.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Susan Sontag

Writer and essayist Susan Sontag was perceptive and intelligent to the point of being intimidating, but death is the great leveler. Her son, David Rieff, has just published a memoir of Sontag's final months after being diagnosed with incurable cancer. He writes not only of her reactions to the news, and the way she prepared herself for death, but also about his thoughts and feelings. What should he say? What should he do? How should he react?

These are questions we all face when confronted with the illness and death of a friend or loved one, and Rieff's book - Swimming in a Sea of Death - is sad and gripping without being maudlin. When you're suddenly put in the position of being the emotional caregiver for a parent, it feels very strange. All your life you have regarded this person as the one who consoles you, who comforts you, who protects you; is anyone ever mentally prepared to take on a role that seems to belong to someone else? Intellectually, we're fully aware that our parents will die one day and that the time will come when we have to take care of them. But I think it is always a shock when that day comes, and it's hard not to feel unsure of oneself. Rieff's book conveys this message beautifully in thoughtful prose. You can feel his affection and respect for his mother come through the pages to you, and I imagine Sontag would be very touched by his musings.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Get Organized!

One increasingly popular sub-genre of the DIY shows on TV these days is the organizational show: clean out your house, get rid of the clutter, and get the rest of your stuff organized. Spring Cleanup week is coming next month, so there is your opportunity to haul large quantities of junk out of your house. But what about the organizing? Well, check out a couple of our new DIY books from the people at Black & Decker.

Build Your Own Custom Closet: designing, building & installing custom closet systems will show you how to tear out old closets, repair damage, plan an efficient new design, and construct it yourself. The end product can range from hooks and particle board to pocket doors and tie racks. In other words, you decide how fancy you want to get.

The projects and ideas in The Complete Guide to Custom Shelves & Built-ins: build custom add-ons to create a one-of-a-kind home are a little more decorative, since you will be looking at the results all the time (who sits around and stares at their closet?). Bookshelves, window seats, entertainment centers, niches, loft beds, bath cabinets and a club-bar (cocktail, anyone?) are included in this book. The best project has to be the work center and computer desk that fit cozily in the unoccupied space under your stairs. Perfect.

Now if I could just find someone to come build all of this for me....

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Mind-Body Connection

Anne Harrington, a Harvard professor, has written a really interesting book about the history of Western science attempting to understand the effect our mind has on our body. The Cure Within: a history of mind-body medicine is not an attempt to prove or debunk any theory, but instead looks at the way scientists have tried to analyze the extent to which a person's mental processes (conscious and subconscious) can change the actual physiology of their body. Harrington begins with one of the earliest examples of this - exorcism - and continues on to discuss the study and practice of hypnotism (the physician Franz Mesmer actually began work with hypnotism when he was investigating a German exorcist in the 1770s). She also talks about placebos, psychoanalysis, meditation, biofeedback, Lourdes, Christian Scientists, and qi. What's really fascinating about this book is that it shows you the extent to which these studies and practices have been absorbed into popular culture and belief. It's peppered with common phrases - 'Type A personalities', 'animal magnetism', 'fight or flight' - that all rose directly from research. The case studies Harrington uses to illustrate her points are all very interesting as well, and in some instances I was disappointed not to know more about the outcome of the patient's difficulties (sometimes the researchers themselves did not follow up, and sometimes they actively left unsatisfactory results out of their reports). This is a very informative book, regardless of your opinions on mind-body medicine.

Friday, April 4, 2008


The conventional image of the Pilgrims is that of a single boatload of people who landed in Plymouth in 1620, spent the rest of their lives in the New World, and established a European colony that eventually went on to become the United States. In other words, Pilgrim = Mayflower passenger.
In her first book, historian and theologist Susan Hardman Moore takes a broader approach. Pilgrims: New World settlers & the call of home looks at the Puritans who arrived in New England following the Mayflower. More specifically, this book focuses on those who eventually returned home to England. Moore argues that migration to the New World was not an endpoint to the spiritual and political journey of these people and that their return home was not due solely to a failure to thrive in the Americas. She discusses the effects that the Cromwellian Revolution and the power struggles of Puritans and Anglicans in England had on the far-off pilgrims. She also looks at the financial considerations involved with establishing and maintaining settlements in the New World, as well as growing tensions with settlers from other European nations.
Exhaustively researched, with copious endnotes and appendices (over half the book, in fact), Pilgrims will introduce you to another part of the colonization story and a deeper understanding of who these people were who faced the horrible trans-Atlantic crossing twice.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Gardener's Reference Tool

One of our new gardening books is The Plant Finder: the right plants for every garden. The name is a bit of a misnomer, though. You don't open this book and find a handy list of flowers and shrubs perfect for low light, high wind and heavy rainfall. There are no groupings by climate, season, color or style (English cottage, French traditional, Japanese Zen).
However, if you already have your list of potential plants drawn up, this book will tell you all you need to know about its light, moisture, space and drainage needs. You can find its planting season, flowering season and whether or not it does well in containers. The book describes the various species of each genus, and for the more popular varieties of plants it also describes cultivars. The book is broken down by general plant type (cacti, vegetable, annual, shrub, etc.) and the beginning of each section features a handy chart that lists all the attributes of each featured plant. Color photos abound within the section, and since this book covers over 5,000 plants, it's a good bet that the plant you are looking for can be found within its pages.
My advice is to browse through some of our other wonderful gardening books to get ideas for plants, and when you have assembled your list of suggestions, crack open The Plant Finder and see which ones are right for you.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Audio nonfiction

Anyone who thinks that reading nonfiction is akin to curling up with a textbook hasn't read some of the literary jewels that have been published lately. In fact, really good nonfiction can be more entertaining than many novels. We have a couple of new audiobooks that are very interesting, and should hold the attention of any listener.
The Center Cannot Hold, by Elyn Saks is an autobiographical account of her experience with schizophrenia. Currently a professor of psychiatry, Saks first began exhibiting signs of schizophrenia when she was eight, and she eventually was confined to an institution for a period of time. She struggled back against the illness and went on to live a successful life on her terms. This is a powerful book for anyone who is touched by a devastating mental illness.
The Day of Battle: the war in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, by Rick Atkinson, is the second book in his Liberation Trilogy. His first book in the trilogy won a Pulitzer Prize, and Atkinson continues the strong narrative and detailed research as he describes the events in the southern European theater of World War II. Over 30 hours, in two volumes, this book is sure to fascinate history buffs.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

New audiobooks

We just got another flush of new audiobooks on CD here at the library, and they are all very popular titles by successful authors:
A Morning for Flamingos is a new Dave Robicheaux mystery, set in New Orleans, by James Lee Burke
The New Year's Quilt is #11 in the Elm Creek Quilts series by Jennifer Chiaverini
T is for Trespass, by Sue Grafton, is the latest entry in one of the most popular mystery series we have here at the public library.
Hand of Evil is the follow-up to J.A. Jance's 2007 novel Web of Evil, starring amateur sleuth Ali Reynolds.
Home to Holly Springs, by Jan Karon, is the start of a new series centered around retired Episcopal priest Tim Kavanagh.
Run is by Ann Patchett, who authored the very popular Bel Canto, which was a featured book in one of the library's book discussion groups.
Exit Ghost, by Philip Roth, is his ninth novel featuring Nathan Zuckerman, following his 2001 novel The Human Stain.
There's a little something here for everyone, and tomorrow I'll talk about a couple of other new audiobooks for those of you who prefer literary nonfiction.