Friday, October 31, 2008

St. Paul, Minnesota

I love it when we get little coincidences happening in the library, and today is a fun one; what are the chances that we would have two books by St. Paul writers appearing on our shelf on the same day? Both books are set in the state of Minnesota, but you couldn't get two more different stories.
Liberty is by Minnesota's most famous son - Garrison Keillor. Set in his lovely fictional town of Lake Wobegon, Liberty is a story of small town politics, rivalries, scandals and personalities. But in typical Keillor fashion, the rivalries are funny, the scandals are tame and the personalities are larger than life. Keillor's work (his books, his audio recordings and his radio show) are hugely popular amongst our library patrons, and I think it's because his Lake Wobegon is oh-so-similar to Ketchikan. Listening to his 'news from Lake Wobegon' segment on A Prairie Home Companion, there have been many times that I have substituted in Ketchikan residents for the characters in his narrative, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who does this.
Red Knife, by William Kent Krueger, presents a completely different picture of Minnesota. This dark mystery features private investigator Corcoran O'Connor, and the story revolves around racism and a nasty gang war that erupts after the death of a meth addict, who just happens to be the daughter of a powerful local businessman. Kruger presents the nasty underside of small town life: drug abuse, vigilante justice, corrupt officials and long-held racial tensions. You may not want to run out and book a vacation in the Land of 1,000 Lakes after reading this, but it sure is a gripping story.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Adorably practical gifts

Every once in a while, we get a craft book that makes me wish I had just an iota of crafting skills. Pretty Little Pincushions, edited by Susan Brill, contains page after page of cute little pincushions that would make perfect gifts for coworkers, friends, neighbors, teachers and anyone else to whom you would like to say "I was thinking of you".
Elegant silk fruit, corsage flowers that sit handily on the wrist, lavender-filled sachets and cute little figurines offer a variety of creative ideas. The patterns also incorporate the use of 'found' objects in the home: old shirt cuffs, canning jar lids, cast-off buttons, bottlecaps and old mittens and sweaters. The book begins with a brief overview of the tools you will need (not many), the different types of fabrics, stuffings and weighting materials you can use, and hints for dealing with curved seams, stuffing tiny pockets and trimming loose threads.
The design ideas range in difficulty from simple pillows to colorful little cushions embellished with tiny felt flowers and hand embroidery. The styles vary, also, so if your gift recipient isn't a 'cutesy flowers and animals' kind of person, then try the Bacon & Eggs set of cushions, the voodoo dolls, or the little bottlecap cushions topped with a giant embroidered eye. This is a very fun book full of creative ideas for holiday gift-giving.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Upcoming author visit

We have another fabulous author who will be visiting the public library in November for a reading and discussion of his work, so I wanted to give everyone advance notice so that they have time to read his latest book.
Brad Matsen has just published Titanic's Last Secrets: the further adventures of shadow divers. This book follows the adventures of professional divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler as they explore the wreck of the Titanic, looking for evidence to answer the question: 'Why did the Titanic sink so quickly?' Repeated dives, searches of archives, consultation with marine forensic specialists and investigative work by Matsen comes together to present the reader with a gripping story of the history of the Titanic's construction, the flawed engineering that led to the catastrophe, and the cover-up that ensued. Chatterton and Kohler faced skeptics, dangerous diving conditions and the drawn guns of the Greek police in their quest for answers.
Matsen is also the author of Descent: the heroic discovery of the abyss and Fishing Up North: stories of luck and loss in Alaskan waters. He has co-authored a few books - both for adults and children - with Ketchikan artist Ray Troll (Planet ocean : a story of life, the sea, and dancing to the fossil record and Ray Troll's shocking fish tales : fish, romance, and death in pictures are in the adult library).
Matsen will be at the Ketchikan Public Library on Saturday, Nov. 22nd at 6:30 pm. Be sure to put this on your calendar, as it promises to be a fascinating talk about the most famous maritime disaster in history.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Billy Budd

Three decades before he enchanted audiences with his performance as a hormone-popping drag queen in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Terence Stamp made his debut playing a quite different character: Billy Budd. Stamp's rugged good lucks and an undercurrent of working-class brute strength (he was one of the 'angry young men' of the British film industry in the 1960's) made him as instant star in England. He turns in a very nuanced performance in this film adaptation of Herman Melville's tragic story.
Billy Budd is a young, simplistic sailor in the British Navy at the start of the Napoleonic War. The ship's master-at-arms takes an unaccountable dislike to Billy and makes his life a misery, as the crew looks on and even the Captain seems powerless to intervene. When Budd finally strikes back against his tormentor, the Captain is forced to try him for murder. A complicated story with a compelling underlying theme of good vs. evil, and wonderful performances by Robert Ryan as the cruel officer and Peter Ustinov as the helpless Captain all work together to make this a film well worth watching. Ustinov also produced, directed and wrote the screenplay.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A few new films

Foreign films, comedies, historical dramas and thrillers have found their way onto the New Video shelf lately.
Savages is a critically-acclaimed drama about dysfunctional siblings dealing with their father's struggle with Alzheimer's. As painful as the subject is, writer Tamara Jenkins has managed to infuse quite a bit of wry humor into the story. The performances of Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman make this a very moving film.
The Other Boleyn Girl is one of those lush period dramas where the costumes and sets are so beautiful that it's hard to focus on the story (based on Phillipa Gregory's popular novel): Anne and her sister Mary try to further the fortunes and ambitions of their family by attracting the lusty attention of King Henry. Natalie Portman and Scarlet Johansson are nicely cast as the seductive and beautiful Boleyn sisters.
Marathon Man is a classic thriller starring Dustin Hoffman, Roy Scheider and Laurence Olivier. Olivier's performance as an aging fugitive Nazi will have you rethinking your next trip to the dentist.
The Willow Tree is a lovely film from Iranian director Majid Majidi (Children of Heaven and The Color of Paradise). A successful man - blind since birth - finds the basis of his happy life shaken after a miraculous surgery restores his vision. This film is full of gorgeous images, which underscore the message of the story.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A variety of graphic novels...

We have four new graphic novels on the shelf (in the wooden Graphic Novels bookcases, not the New Books section) that represent a wide range of styles.
Fall of Cthulhu: the fugue is my favorite. Written by Alan Michael Nelson and drawn by Jean Dzialowski, this book is a horror story dealing with otherworldly demons and nightmare cults. I don't ordinarily read this type of fiction (I don't like being frightened), but the depiction of The Dreamlands - a creepy alternate dimension - were so compelling I ended up reading the entire book.
Hunter's Moon is my least favorite. Since it was written by James L. White, who also wrote the screenplay for the film Ray, you would expect good things. Unfortunately, it's your standard Hollywood action movie; an African-American stockbrocker and his son are on a camping trip when rural bigots kidnap the boy for ransom. Local white law enforcement officials don't believe him and he's forced to rescue the boy himself. Think The Fugitive meets Deliverance, with Denzel Washington as the star. Boring artwork doesn't do anything to redeem this book.
Hall of Best Knowledge is an intriguing book by Ray Fenwick. Written in the tone of voice of a Victorian Englishman, each page is constructed as a brief 'lesson' wherein the author imparts a piece of his genius knowledge in relation to a particular topic (see, verbosity is contagious!). The illustrations are a complete gallery of graphic design, and the 'lessons' can be very funny. A boon to calligraphy students, as well as graphic novel fans.
Bottomless Belly Button is a look at a dysfunctional family at a seminal moment in their lives. The three Looney siblings are called to their parents' beach house and told that their mother and father are ending their 40-year marriage. Artist Dash Shaw uses a cartoon style that brings the reader smoothly through the story of each person's reaction to the divorce.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Graphically novel

Lynda Barry is an extremely influential cartoonist and author whose work, while commercially successful, has managed to stay in the realm of independent, non-mainstream commentary. Best known for her weekly comic strip Ernie Pook's Comeek, Barry has a gift for looking at the realities and contradictions of life - especially through the eyes of children and adolescents. A graduate of Evergreen State College, she herself teaches workshops on creative thought and writing. The ideas, techniques and processes she goes through in her workshops are distilled into a unique form in her new book: What It Is.
Part graphic novel, part collage, part workbook, What It Is leads the reader into examining their own thoughts and ideas. How do you look at things? What is your authentic voice? How do you get your imagination out of your head and onto a page? Whether you are an artist, a writer, or just a fan of graphic novels, you will be fascinated with this tour through the brain of an extremely inventive person. It's a little like being able to examine Barry's notebooks, go through her purse and read the Post-It notes on her refrigerator. Required reading for anyone trying to get their creative juices flowing.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Planning ahead

As we settle down into fall, the true gardeners amongst us know that now is one of the most active times of the gardening year: it's time to clean up and prepare for the next growing season. And since this autumn hasn't been too bad so far, there's no reason to not grab a few of our new gardening books and hit the dirt.
Time-saving Gardener: tips and essential tasks, season by season by Carolyn Hutchinson. According to the book, this is the month you should be planting bulbs, tidying up your rock garden, pruning roses, dividing and transplanting perennials, patching your lawn and building new landscape design elements (which is where the next two books come in handy...)
Trellises & Arbors: over 35 step-by-step projects you can build is a Sunset design guide. Using a wide variety of materials (wire, wood, branches, copper, bamboo, even rebar) you can create some beautiful trellises in time for next year's nasturtiums, clematis and honeysuckle. Build a formal arbor with bench seating underneath, or a more rustic version from those alders you've been meaning to clear out.
Once you've got a beautiful little arbor built, you need an inviting path to go under it. Walks, Walls & Patio Floors: build with brick, stone, pavers, concrete, tile and more is another Sunset book. This book contains a lot of helpful information on proper preparation and design, including layout, grading, drainage and fill. From a simple stepping-stone path through the grass to an elegant brick patio, there is plenty of inspiration here. The chapter on walls is particularly useful here, where so many people rely on retaining walls and terraced slopes in their garden.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Man Booker prize

The annual Man Booker prize - which goes to the best contemporary fiction author from the British Commonwealth and Ireland - has been awarded to debut Indian novelist Aravind Aviga for his book The White Tiger. Other favorites that were in the running for this highly prestigious award include The Secret Scripture by Irish author Sebastian Barry, A Sea of Poppies by Indian writer Amitav Ghosh, and A Fraction of the Whole by Australian author Steve Toltz.
All of these books are in our catalog, and you can place a hold on them from your computer: First City Libraries catalog.
According to Booker panelist Michael Portillo,

"The novel undertakes the extraordinarily difficult task of gaining and
holding the reader's sympathy for a thoroughgoing villain. The book gains from
dealing with pressing social issues and significant global developments with
astonishing humour."

If you would like to watch a video interview with Aviga, you can go to the Man Booker Prize website (there are also interviews with Steve Toltz and Salman Rushdie, whose latest book The Enchantress of Florence was passed over for the short list).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Classic books = Classic movies

We have some new DVDs on the shelf that are film adaptations of classic works of literature:
A Raisin in the Sun (1961) is the film version of Lorraine Hansberry's acclaimed play (she wrote the screenplay for this, as well). Starring the Oscar-winning actor Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee, this film focuses on an African-American family that must rely on each other to withstand prejudice after the matriarch buys a house in an all-white neighborhood. This is also a story about the struggle of a man who sees his dreams of a better life slipping away from him. As always, Poitier's acting is superb.
The Good Earth (1936) is based on the Pearl S. Buck novel about a couple whose arranged marriage blossoms into mutual love and admiration as they struggle for survival in poor, rural China. The lead characters are played by Caucasian, rather than Asian, actors (Paul Muni and Luise Rainer), but that was typical for Hollywood. (This persisted on for decades - think of Marlon Brando's horrible stereotype of the Japanese in Teahouse of the August Moon). Beautiful footage from China, a tender storyline and Rainer's subtle performance - which won her a second Academy Award - all help make this film into a nice adaptation of Buck's classic tale.
Captain Blood (1935) is based on Rafael Sabatini's 1922 swashbuckler novel, which the UAS library has available for checkout. Not having ever read the book, I can't tell you if it's really a classic, but the film catapulted Errol Flynn to fame and has been the quintessential pirate film ever since. The dramatic action sequences are leavened with a romance with the beautiful Olivia de Havilland.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A different perspective on global hotspots

When you only hear about a country in one type of context, it's easy to forget about the other facets of that nation. The words 'Iran' and 'nuclear' often appear in the same sentence, but what about Iran's early history as the center of the Persian empire? How many of us are aware that Afghanistan, which has suffered decades of destruction, was once home to ancient nomadic tribe whose rulers dripped with gold?
A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy, looks at Iran's evolution from Persian capital to Turkish conquest, it's reassertion of control, the influence of Westernized leaders, and its recent anti-Western revolution. Axworthy looks at the various cultural and political movements and the effect that these changes have had on the group psyche and identity of the Iranian people. It's very difficult to understand, assess or appreciate someone if you don't know their background and history. Since Iran is obviously going to play a prominent role in American foreign policy in the coming decades, it seems an auspicious time to get to know the Iranian people better.
In 1979, just before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, archaeologists working in the Northern Plains of Afghanistan discovered a treasure trove: tombs of nomadic Bactrian nobles, containing thousands of pieces of carefully worked gold. Hurriedly hidden away during the conflict, the Bactrian Horde (as it has come to be known) has been kept safe from invading armies, tribal brigands and the Taliban for three decades. It has now resurfaced and the National Museum in Kabul has allowed the artifacts to tour the United States (the exhibit - organized by the National Geographic Society and the National Gallery of Art - will be at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco from Oct. 24 - Jan. 25). Afghanistan: hidden treasures from the National Museum, Kabul is the official companion guide to the exhibition. Edited by Fredrik Hiebert and Pierre Cambon, this fascinating book contains page after page of beautiful artwork: statues, bowls, earrings, carvings, medallions and furniture. These pieces reflect the influence of Greek, Persian and Indian incursions into the area of Afghanistan. A beautiful book and a very interesting story...

Friday, October 10, 2008


There is something inherently cool about being able to take a flat sheet of paper and transform it into a 3-D object: a bunny, a crane, a rocket ship, etc. But once you've made this really cool thing, what do you do with it? What are the practical applications of origami? Well, let me tell you...
Napkin Origami: 25 creative and fun ideas for napkin folding, edited by Brian Sawyer, is full of fun ideas for dressing up the place settings on your table. I'm not sure most of us have the time to go into this every time we sit down to eat, but if you're hosting a dinner party, celebrating a birthday or holiday, or throwing a shower (bridal or baby), then the ideas in this book are a nice, easy way to decorate for the event. You can use either paper or cloth napkins, and the designs come in various levels of difficulty. Make a pirate ship for a kid's birthday party, a bunny for an Easter brunch, or a paper rose for a special dinner for two. You can even whip together a bread basket.
Minigami: mini origami projects for cards, gifts and decorations, by Gay Merrill Gross, shows you how to incorporate little origami touches into other projects. Flowers, stars, animals, and pockets can be used to decorate packages, scrapbook pages and letters. You could even make these into little brooches and earrings! (They don't show you how to do that in this book, but I thought it was a good idea. Try The Best of Making Jewelry by Jo Moody for tips on how to finish your origami off as pins, barrettes and bracelets.) My favorite design was for the little tiny Santa Claus - it uses only 2 pieces of paper and is 'low intermediate' on the skill level. It's perfect for the upcoming holidays. The nicest thing about this book is the Picture Index in the back, which allows you to easily browse for designs.
So have fun, and get busy folding!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

And I thought being a librarian was exciting...

Would you like a job where you get to travel to exotic destinations, hobnob with movie stars and drive really fast cars? Do you mind the possibility of being crushed, incinerated, impaled, dismembered or made really, really filthy? Then welcome to the exciting world of the Hollywood stunt performer.
The Full Burn: one the set, at the bar, behind the wheel and over the edge with Hollywood stuntmen, by Kevin Conley, takes you behind the scenes of an extremely dangerous profession. This is a very interesting book, because not only do you get to see the technical magic that occurs to make a stunt work - breakaway glass, fire retardant gel, airbags, spring boards and cables - but Conley also shows you why these people do this work. Most of the stuntmen he talks to didn't start out planning to work in Hollywood; they were originally race car drivers, athletes, police officers, soldiers and commandos. These are people who apparently have a high tolerance for pain, an uncanny ability to stay calm in stressful situations, and a good eye for detail. A 5-second stunt (or 'gag', as it's called in the profession) can take weeks of planning and rehearsal to make sure that everything is going to work correctly - not just because car chases and explosions are expensive to film, but because the cost of a mistake can literally be someone's life. For anyone interested in movies, this is a great look at how those adrenalin-pumped scenes actually get made and a brief glimpse into what makes stunt performers tick.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Arizona Senator runs for President

We have a new book about the political career, Presidential campaign and personal history of a famous Arizona Senator. Nope, not that one. Our new book is about Barry Goldwater, who became a political lightning rod during the 1964 Presidential campaign. Pure Goldwater, by John W. Dean and Barry M. Goldwater, Jr., isn't so much an analysis or interpretation of Goldwater's actions and motivations. Instead, it is a collection of journal entries, speeches, letters and editorials whose selection attempts to present Goldwater in his own words. The authors do add notes to the various entries, notes that often place the entry in a historical context or provide additional background related to the text. Since I don't know very much about Goldwater (mea culpa), I found these notes just as informative as his own words. Some of the other tidbits I gleaned from this book:
Goldwater designed clothing - including "antsy pants" (page 6).
He sat in the Oval Office and gave President Nixon a tongue-lashing for being too isolated (pg 240).
He had a lifelong antipathy to Bill Moyers based on Moyers' aggressive tactics during the 1964 campaign (pg 141).
After retiring from politics, he spoke out publicly in favor of gay rights, endorsed a Democrat for an Arizona state congressional seat, and called on the media to be nicer to President Bill Clinton. An Arizona maverick, indeed.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Thank you very, very, very much

The Friends of the Ketchikan Public Library held their annual book sale this last weekend, and it was a huge success! They raised over $5,200 in sales, $170 in memberships and more than $100 in donations for the New Library Building Fund. The library would like to send out a few thank-yous:
  • Teresa Chenhall, for coordinating this year's sale
  • The volunteers who transported, sorted and sold books
  • The TAG members, who cleaned up all the unwanted books after the sale
  • Dan & Sue Greer, who have come to the library on a weekly basis for the past year sorting, boxing and transporting all the donations we've received
  • Debbie Gravel, for her eye-catching publicity posters
  • The staff of the Plaza Mall
  • All the community members who have donated their much-loved books, CDs, videos and audiobooks for the sale. Without your generous donations, there wouldn't be a book sale.
With the money they raise during the year, the Friends provide financial support for:
  • Born-to-Read program
  • Teen Advisory Group
  • ListenAlaska free audio download service
  • Summer Reading Club
  • Author visits
  • Kids Pick the President voting drive
  • Preschool Christmas Party
  • Haunted Ghost Town Halloween night

Thanks again to's great to have such good Friends!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Community Novel

Would you like to be an author? Perhaps you don't feel you have enough creative juices for a 300-page book, but what about a paragraph or two? Well, here's your chance.
October 12th - 18th is national Teen Read Week, during which schools and libraries plan special events to try to get teenagers excited about reading. It's a tough demographic nut to crack, so we thought we would approach it in a slightly different way: we're going to get teens to think about reading by having them - and the rest of Ketchikan - do some writing.
Here's the setup: Thomas Alistair, Jared Mason and Enid Isabella are three teens hanging out in a laundromat in Generaltown, WA. Now you can have them do whatever you want (you do not need to be a teen to participate in this community project). They can leave the laundromat, leave the state, grow up, fall in love, fold clothes...the sky's the limit. The only thing we ask is that you keep it PG-rated (no gore, serious violence or profanity. And please, no deaths - it will just cause merry havoc with the overall narrative).
Turn your paragraph in to us by October 11th (you can drop it off at the front desk, slip it into the mail - 629 Dock St., Ketchikan AK, 99901 - or email it to us at The members of the Teen Advisory Group will then thread the paragraphs together in as coherent an order as possible, and there will be A Reading Of The Novel at the UAS Campus library on October 17th at 7:00 pm. Even if writing isn't your bag, please feel free to come up to the campus library and hear what your neighbors have created - it promises to be loads of fun.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Who do you believe?

It's bad enough when you receive the thrice-forwarded email warning you of the health risks of _________ (fill in the blank). But what media outlet does not have a regular feature that 'exposes' these risks or advocates specific ways to stay healthy, lose weight, avoid cancer and increase your life span? Under a constant barrage of advice that is often contradictory (Are carbs good or bad? Does chocolate make me fat, or does it prevent cancer? How much water should I be drinking, and from what kind of container?), the average American consumer can be excused for feeling a little confused. What we need is a book that looks at all the claims and helps us ferret out the truth.
The Healthy Skeptic: cutting through the HYPE about your health is written by Robert J. Davis, a nationally-known health journalist who also teaches at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health. He looks at some of the major health topics being reported today - nutrition, supplements, environmental chemicals, medical testing, and sunscreen - and points out what facts are actually supported by research. More importantly, he also focuses on the people who are crafting these dire warnings: the news media, celebrities, consumer advocates, commercial groups and health organizations. He points out that some of these entities are not above inflating claims and misleading the public in order to push forward their agenda (or make a buck). If you're confused about what you should and should not be doing to safeguard the health of you and your family, you should read this helpful book.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dude Lit

As you may know, we have a selection of pamphlets by the front desk that offer reading suggestions. One of the themes is 'Chick Lit' - light, humorous novels featuring (usually) urban single women between the ages of 25 and 40 with plots that highlight romance, careers and friendships. (I know there are many exceptions and subgenres here, but this is a short and sweet definition). A library visitor remarked that she was offended by the use of the word 'chick' and the absence of any equivalent list for men.
So I started poking around, trying to come up with titles that would fit the male version of Chick Lit (which is actually a Library of Congress-sanctioned subject heading). Based on my personal experience, books that are popular with male readers include history, science fiction and noir thrillers. However, I wouldn't consider those books as humorous beach reading. We do have two new books that might possibly fit my new burgeoning 'Dude Lit' reading list:
Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse, by Victor Gischler, is funny post-apocalyptic fiction (if such a thing exists). An insurance salesman hiding out in the hills of Tennessee escapes annihilation, only to find that future of civilization is being protected by a chain of strip clubs. A weird roadtrip, oddball characters and a thundering showdown between rival factions all keep the plot bouncing along. Full of cartoon violence and sardonic humor, this is not for the 'gentle read' crowd.
Stalking the Vampire: a fable of tonight, by Mike Resnick, is actually the second book in the John Justin Mallory series (following Stalking the Unicorn). A detective mystery set in an alternate Manhattan populated by vampires, dragons and goblins - not that outlandish a concept - Stalking blends humor, pulp fiction, and supernatural beings. For fans of Mickey Spillane and Terry Pratchett.
I plan on keeping my eyes open in the future for more of these potential candidates for the 'Dude Lit' reading list.

Adventures in the Wild

The writing of scientific papers is a precise art and produces material that is highly informative, sometimes quite controversial, but is rarely funny. And yet many scientists have a creative side that makes them wonderful storytellers. Adventures in the Wild: tales from biologists of the natural state, edited by Joy Trauth and Aldemaro Romero, presents the human side of science. Reading these brief accounts is like sitting at the campus pub with your favorite professor: there are a few funny mishaps, some hair-raising encounters, some ingenious approaches to the problems that crop up during field work, and some great insight into what it's really like to be a field biologist. Richard Grippo shares a wonderful story of trying to outrun a pod of hunting orcas while sharing a skiff with an excited labrador retriever. Staria Vanderpool shares the frustration of trying to identify a plant for a curious member of the public - over the phone. My favorite piece is "Sir David Attenborough visits Arkansas", by Stanley Trauth. Basically an account of his brush with fame - when Sir David came to film a segment of mating salamanders - Trauth perfectly captures the absolute thrill of working with an absolute legend. (You may have to be a true science geek to get the appeal of this story). But if you have any interest at all in science, you will enjoy these 'behind-the-scenes" essays, and come to appreciate the multi-faceted life of a biologist.