Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's just a popularity contest

As we wind up 2009 (we will be closed on Thursday and Friday, by the way), let us take a brief moment to see what items here at the public library caught your eye the most:
In the Adult Library Section -
Novel: The Shack by Wm. Paul Young
Graphic Novel: Watchmen by Alan Moore
Nonfiction: Spirit!: historic Ketchikan, Alaska by compiled by June Allen
Magazine: People Weekly
CD Audiobook: Plum Lucky by Janet Evanovich
Playaway: Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs
Movie: 24, Season Six
CD: Rubber Soul by the Beatles

In the Children's Library Section -
Picture Book: Bunny party by Rosemary Wells
Juvenile Novel: Diary of a wimpy kid: Rodrick rules by by Jeff Kinney
Young Adult Novel: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Graphic Novel: Dragon Ball Z by Akira Toriyama
Nonfiction: Guiness Book of World Records
Audiobook: Harry Potter and the deathly hallows by J.K. Rowling
Movie: Star Wars, the Clone Wars
Young Adult Music: Fearless by Taylor Swift

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A last gasp for the holidays

The Ketchikan Public Library will be closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas, but before we close our doors to enjoy the holiday with our families, there is still time to come in and stock up on DVDs, music, magazines and books for the long weekend. A couple of our holiday-themed items have just come in:

You Better Not Cry: stories for Christmas by Augusten Burroughs. This autobiographical (really?) collection of short stories is not your holiday typical heart-warming. It's much more along the lines of David Sedaris (Holidays on Ice), and if your humor runs towards the sarcastic and irreverent (as mine does), Burroughs will have you chuckling. By the same token, his memories of Christmas in an alcoholic fog, dealing with a loved one dying of AIDS, and his mentally-unstable mother give the book a bit of an edge.

Knit the Season: a Friday Night Knitting Club novel by Kate Jacobs is available in both book and audio format, and is the third Knitting Club story in our collection. A gentle story about friendship, family and growing up, it will appeal to anyone who likes stories about relationships and personality. And you don't even have to know how to knit!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Scandinavian cooking

I was unable to get to the Lutheran church this year for the fishcakes at the Christmas bazaar, but thanks to one of our latest titles, The Scandanavian Cookbook, by Trina Hahnemann, I can make my own "fishcakes with herb remoulade and dill potatoes". Or perhaps some "Swedish Lucia breads" to celebrate the season.
If you've been particularly successful this hunting season, you might want to try the "Moose tournedos with kale salad and cowberry (cranberry) compote" or the "Venison with anise and pepper, potato-celery root gratin, and Brussels sprouts".
Once the weather turns a little warmer, there's "Rhubarb trifle" and "Baked trout with new potatoes and smoked-cheese cream". If you're looking for something different this Easter, try "Mint, apricot, and celery stuffed lamb with spinach and minted roast potatoes".
Until then, you can fall back on the goodies you have stashed in your freezer: "Salmon burgers", "Jumbo shrimp with herb mayonnaise", "Cod with mustard sauce" and "Gravlax with sweet mustard sauce".
Speaking for myself, however, I found my taste buds were most tantalised by the goodies: Glögg, Medaljer cookies, apple trifle, Kartoffelkage pastries and crisp vanilla Danish butter cookies (just like the ones that come in the blue tins, only better). Top the whole thing off with a steaming mug of hot chocolate, and I'm there!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Christmas novels

As if the constant barrage of holiday shopping ads, Christmas carols, TV specials, Santa photo ops and twinkling light displays weren't enough, we are adding to the Christmas cacophony by putting out a slew of new holiday novels:
Matchless: an illumination of Hans Christian Andersen's classic 'the Little Match Girl' is Gregory Maguire's latest take on a traditional fairy tale. I've always found this to be the most depressing of the fairy tales, but Maguire introduces a new thread into the story and changes it from a tale of sorrow into one of continuity. Maguire's pen-and-ink illustrations are lovely, and he has a beautiful dedication at the beginning of the book. (For another short Christmas story sure to make you cry, try Frank McCourt's Angela and the Baby Jesus).
The Gift, by Cecelia Ahern, is a Christmas redemption story in which a career-driven executive is made to see the treasure he already has - his family - by a homeless man (guardian angel?).
Merry, Merry Ghost is a mystery by Carolyn Hart. A wealthy woman is murdered before she can alter her will in favor of a newly discovered grandson, and it's up to ghostly Bailey Ruth Raeburn (she really is a ghost, I'm not being metaphorical) to discover the identity of the killer.
Winter of secrets, by Vicki Delany, is the third Constable Molly Smith novel. Set at a British Columbia ski resort (I like to think Smithers, but it's probably more like Whistler), this story involves "sexual predators, recreational drugs, privilege and high-living". Ho, ho, ho.
The Body in the Sleigh by Katherine Hall Page is a new entry in her popular Faith Fairchild mystery series. (I'm not sure why the holiday season is so inspiring to mystery writers...are we all more prone to murderous rages at Christmas?)
Of course, we also have plenty of Christmas-time romance, if you prefer books that are less likely to make you cry or lock your doors. So take a break from shopping, baking and wrapping and settle down with a good holiday read and a hot cup of cocoa.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Gobble gobble

Maybe because I'm writing this in the late afternoon, and it's cold and dark outside, but it's been a long time since I've opened a cookbook that's made me as hungry as The New Thanksgiving Table: an American celebration of family, friends and food by Diane Morgan. This is actually an update of a book we already have, but come November, you can't have too many turkey recipes. Not just turkey, either....soups, appetizers, stuffings, side dishes, and desserts appear in glorious color in page after page. Here's a possible menu:
Rogue River bleu cheese wafers with celery crudites, followed by roasted chestnut soup with pumpernickel croutons. Turkey roasted with lemon, garlic and sage butter accompanied by a rich giblet gravy, stuffed with New England bread stuffing with Bell's seasoning (I can picture the colorful turkey on the bright yellow box). A few side dishes of southern-style biscuits, framboise cranberry sauce, green beans with lemon-butter bread crumbs and butter-mashed Yukon Gold potatoes with Parmesan. Finish the meal off with an Indiana persimmon pudding, cranberry-cherry crisp, and a spiced pumpkin layer cake with cream cheese frosting.
The recipes are easy to follow, and Morgan even manages to make succotash sound good (but maybe I'm just hungry). An entire chapter on Leftover Favorites is really helpful, as are the "Do Ahead" and "Cook's Note" helpers at the end of each recipe.
Toothpick, anyone?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Convenience

A couple of years ago - before we got our new software - we told our patrons about a free online service called Library Elf. This system would send you emails to let you know ahead of time when something was due and notify you concerning your current overdue fines. Sadly, this system was not compatible with our new software.
We are now offering that same convenient notification system to all our patrons. We will email you a courtesy reminder 3 days before your library items are due, and we will email you overdue notices at 7, 10 and 14 days past the due date. These courtesy reminders will cut down on your overdue fines, and the email overdue notices will save paper and postage. All you need to do is give us your email address.
Wow! Convenient, good for the environment, and economically responsible. You can't do better than that.
Wait a minute....maybe you can. Some of our patrons have expressed a wish for email notification about author visits, slide shows, craft events, family nights and film screenings. If you would like to be included on this separate email list, please let us know.
We do not disclose your email address, or any part of your account information, to other people according to state law (Alaska State Statutes Sec. 40.25.140).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Upcoming author visit

What Sir David Attenborough did for jungles, caves and forests, Jacques Cousteau did for the sea. He brought the strange and wonderful denizens of the deep into our living rooms via the television and his famous submersible Calypso.
But what of Cousteau the man? Brad Matsen (Titanic's last secrets : the further adventures of shadow divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler) has written a fascinating biography of a man with salt water in his veins. He delves into Cousteau's childhood in France and New York, his work with the French Resistance in World War II, and his development of the regulator device essential to the operation of scuba gear. His company, which manufactured the Aqua-Lung, provided the financial wherewithal that allowed him to pursue his passion for diving and the exploration of the undersea environment.
It was Cousteau's collaboration with the camera, however, that brought him true fame. From his early days working with a then-unknown Louis Malle to his multi-million-dollar contracts with ABC and PBS, Cousteau used film and television to spread his message of ecological preservation and to fund his further expeditions.
All this interesting background and more can be yours for the asking - just check out Jacques Cousteau: the sea king by Brad Matsen. And better yet, come meet Brad at the public library on Nov. 24 at 6:30 pm, when he will talk about his book and his contacts with the friends and family of Monsieur Cousteau. Aye, Calypso.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Because I said so

I've seen a lot of parenting manuals go across my desk here at the library, and it's nice to finally find one that fits my parenting style. The Well-Behaved Child: discipline that really works is by psychologist John Rosemond, whose column frequently appears in the Anchorage Daily News, amongst other newspapers.
Rosemond is an advocate of old-school parenting - 'because I said so' parenting. You don't reason with your 3-year old, you don't justify yourself to your 9-year old, and you maintain a firm 'my house, my rules' attitude with your 16-year old. (To the parents who felt that their 4th grader had a point when she defended her pigsty room by saying "it's my room", Rosemond responded "When she's 16, will you let her have wild parties in there, just because it's her room?').
The first couple of chapters cover the basics: why children misbehave & the 7 fundamentals of effective discipline. I like Rosemond's explanation of why children misbehave ("they are factories of antisocial tendencies", although I'm sure many parents would hotly contest his belief in the innate "badness" of kids. Perhaps the word 'selfishness' might be a better term.) You might be tempted to skip over these introductory chapters and head straight for the third chapter (7 essential tools). Don't skip these, though, because Rosemond points out that following the 7 fundamentals will dramatically reduce your need to use the 7 tools.
So if other parenting methods and manuals just don't seem to be working out for you, read this new book. Even if you don't choose to follow the 'because I said so' philosophy, it will definitely be different from all the other advice you've read.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reduction of library hours

Due to proposed budget cuts in the 2010 City budget, the Ketchikan Public Library will be closed on Sundays beginning January 3rd. We sincerely regret the closure.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bits o' history

Some of the new books on our shelves reflect interesting little snippets from history:
The First Fall Classic: the Red Sox, the Giants, and the cast of players, pugs and politicos who reinvented the World Series in 1912 by Mike Vaccaro. Back when Ty Cobb was spiking infielders, organized crime had a hand in the game, and tempers between baseball rivals ran high (even when they played on the same team), two legendary teams battled it out over an eight-game series. Lots of great backstories and famous sports names in a book sure to interest sports fans.
Famous Players: the mysterious death of William Desmond Taylor by Rick Geary. This is the story, told in graphic-novel format, of the unsolved murder of actor and director Taylor. A well-known player in the hedonistic atmosphere of Hollywood in the 1920's, Taylor had a shadowy past that involved the abandonment of his wife & daughter, and multiple affairs with young starlets. His shooting death in 1922 led to a frenzy of journalistic speculation and sensational claims.
Troubled Water: race, mutiny, and bravery on the USS Kitty Hawk by Gregory Freeman. Five thousand men, deployed for the longest naval tour of the Vietnam War, begin to divide along racial lines until tensions finally erupt on October 12, 1972. The disturbance that resulted was long played down by the U.S. Navy as a riot, but Freeman makes the case that the incident was in fact the first mutiny in American naval history.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Picture books for grown-ups

You're never too old to sit down and enjoy books full of big, colorful pictures. And - thanks to the library - you don't have to find permanent shelf space for these big coffee-table books, either. Take them home, enjoy, and let us worry about storage.
The National Parks: America's best idea, by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns. This is the accompanying book to Burns' latest documentary series, and it is a wonderful story of America and the impact of our glorious geology and wildlife on our collective psyche. Our National Parks are an enshrinement of the idea of equality for all, and Duncan & Burns track the development of the park system over 125 years, from Yellowstone (WY) in 1872 to Congaree (SC) in 2003. Lots of photographs enliven the narrative.
Over the Coasts: an aerial view of geology is by writer and photographer Michael Collier. If you think this a book full of dull pictures of shale beds, cliff striations and igneous rock, think again. Collier's beautiful aerial photos really drive home the relationship between water and land, and how the waves and tides have inexorably shaped our coastline. I do think it a little odd that he doesn't have any photos of the coast between Astoria, OR and Eureka, CA - a truly rugged section of coastline (but I may be biased, having previously lived in Oregon).
Woodstock: three days that rocked the world is edited by Mike Evans and Paul Kingsbury. This book is a collection of photos and memories from people who were there - artists, organizers, attendees, support crew - and even those who weren't (like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell). It's a book full of the rosy glow of good memories (well, pretty hazy drug-fogged memories, actually). If you want a book with a little more piercing view of the time period, try Daughters of Aquarius : women of the sixties counterculture by Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Reader discretion advised!

I love cheese: bleu, Brie, feta, romano, 6-yr old Vermont cheddar. Yum! But I look at cheese the way I look at sausage - I just want to eat it, I don't want to think about how it's made. And I certainly don't want to see page after page of close-up photos of furry mold and read descriptions like this: "Over the fine ash coating, a fine, velvetlike white Penicillium candidum mold is overlaid by splotches of blue-gray Penicillium glaucum". Hmm...carve me off a slice of that, please!
But if you are a cheese fanatic, someone who gets "Cheese of the Month" club for Christmas, someone who drives around California sampling artisinal cheesemakers rather than vinyards, then you want to read this new book; World Cheese Book, edited by Juliet Harbutt, is a celebration of salted, curdled milk. Cypriot Halloumi, Swiss Emmentaler, British Stinking Bishop, Catalan Tupi and Montery Jack are all lavishly laid out, complete with tasting notes, age and producer. You can see how different cheeses are made, learn about their historical connotations, and get inspired to host a cheese-tasting party of your own. Just don't tell your guests they're ingesting "fine gray, brown, and white molds...like an intricately woven spider web".

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Booklovers' books

If the smell of an old library makes you inhale deeply, treasuring the aroma of old leather bindings and yellowing paper, than we have some new books for you.
The Library: an illustrated history by Stuart A.P. Murray is a fascinating tour through centuries of libraries. From collections of tablets stored by Babylonian kings, baskets of scrolls housed in the ancient libraries of Alexandria and Rome, and medieval codexes protected in monasteries, to the first public lending libraries, the incorporation of computer technology into cataloging and the importance of school libraries, Murray covers everything. Lots of illustrations and interesting information makes this an enjoyable read for anyone who loves a good library.
There is a limit, however, and Allison Hoover Bartlett's new book The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: the true story of a thief, a detective, and a world of literary obsession is a true-crime novel without sex or gore. She digs into the crimes and personality of John Charles Gilkey, whose mania for stealing rare books landed him in prison again and again. His apartment full of books, however, was a testimony to how often he escaped punishment. An interesting look into the world of book collectors, dealers and bibliophiles, and what drives people to collect.
The Book of William: how Shakespeare's first folio conquered the world, by Paul Collins, is not a biography of the Bard, and it is not an analysis of his works. It's a book about how things got published in the 1620's, the financial support required, the censorship issues. It's a book about marketing, scams, auctions and booksellers. It's about the passage of time and the events that cause a book to become worth fifty-five times it's weight in gold. If you had a time machine, you could scoot back to 1623 and snap up a First Folio edition of Shakespeare's works for a few shillings. And then you could put it up for auction four centuries later and sell it for over $4 million dollars. Not a bad return on an investment.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bread: the staff of life

Bread is one of the most basic of foodstuffs and has been baked for millennia. And yet, for the modern home baker, it seems to be a type of Holy Grail: how to produce a light, airy bread with a firm, chewy crust and a deep, almost nutty, flavor. Baking stones, bread machines, special flours, exotic ingredients and wood-fired ovens have all been peddled to everyday bakers hoping for the perfect bread. (I actually have a bread machine, and I hate the texture of the bread that comes out of it).
But Baker (he gets a capital-B because he's so good) Jim Lahey has a new idea. With a cast-iron pot, 5 minutes of mixing, and a little patience, you can produce amazingly light bread with a fabulous crust without getting tendinitis in your elbows from kneading. My Bread: the revolutionary no-work, no-knead method is all about the slow-rise. You mix water, flour, yeast and salt in a bowl and let it sit for 12-18 hours. Fold it into a nice shape, let it rise for a couple more hours and then bake it.
There's a little more to it than that - Lahey does a really nice job of explaining how bread bakes, what pan to use for cooking the bread, and how important cooling is for the finished product - but overall the technique is so simple you have to wonder why everyone doesn't already bake bread this way. But when you get rave reviews from Anthony Bourdain, Mark Bittman, Mario Batali and Martha Stewart, you know you're on to something special.
Once you have the basic technique down, you can expand into olive-studded loaves, ryes, beer breads, pizzas, sweet breads and more. Lahey also includes recipes for spreads, sandwiches and salads using your amazing home-cooked bread. What a perfect way to spend a fall weekend.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak is an author and illustrator who keeps popping up in my life. I grew up with In the Night Kitchen, and when I was in high school I went on a field trip to watch the Pacific Northwest Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker, for which Sendak designed the sets and costumes. I have read my daughter all of the Little Bear books, and the film version of his iconic book Where the Wild Things Are is currently playing at the theater.
So how fitting, how comfortable to pick up a beautiful tribute to Sendak, lush with his drawings and illustrations. Making Mischief: a Maurice Sendak appreciation is by another fantastical author, Gregory Maguire (Wicked). He has a talent for looking at Sendak's work and pulling out the inspirations, the common threads, the allusions. He understands the layers of fantasy and imagination that go into Sendak's illustrations and how inspiring those layers are to young minds.
The text in certain points reads like stream-of-consciousness (Maguire originally presented this appreciation as a slideshow at MIT, and you can easily imagine this as a narrative accompanying the warm hum of a slide projector in a darkened auditorium, with each new slide stirring a murmur of recognition and approval from the audience).
If you love Sendak, you will love this book. (A note to parents: not all of Sendak's illustrations have been for children's books, so be prepared for a little nudity and a passionate embrace).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thank goodness for gummies!

Their gustatory merits might be arguable, but you have to admit that gummy worms & gummy insects are a lifesaver (I toyed with making this whole post full of candy puns, but I restrained myself). Schoolkids all over town will be having Halloween parties tomorrow, and parents have been scrambling to think of cool thematic treats. Gummy worms are the perfect accessory, and Ghoulish Goodies: creature feature cupcakes, monster eyeballs, bat wings, funny bones, witches' knuckles, and much more by Sharon Bowers will show you how.

  • Create a repulsive worm pie by mixing Jello and gummy worms in a clear dish (the recipe calls for using lemon Jello, but I found that if you mix up lemon, lime and orange Jello powder together, the resulting color is a nice puke-green).
  • Roll your gummy worms in cocoa powder to give them a more realistic dullness, and plop them in pots of 'dirt' (clear cups of chocolate pudding covered with ground-up Oreos).
  • Fill a little goodie bag with ground Oreos, and hide a couple of gummy insects inside for the kids to discover.
  • Gummy fruit slices, dotted with chocolate-covered sunflower seeds, make great monster eyes for decorating cupcakes and cakes (Bowers' example is a fabulous tentacled green sea monster cake).
  • You can really jazz up simple chocolate-frosted cupcakes by decorating them with gummy worms (try to make the worms look like they're poking up through the frosting 'ground').

Quick and simple prep, ingredients that are easy to get (you might even have the cake mixes and Jello boxes sitting in your pantry), and a fun Halloween look make these treats perfect for school parties. There are plenty of other recipes - including dishes that would appeal to grown-ups - in Ghoulish Goodies. The hard part is choosing which ones to make.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Doesn't anyone want to watch this video?

I usually have pretty positive feelings about things I purchase for the collection (many times, I can match a new book, CD or video to a particular patron in my mind). But occasionally I put things in the collection that I think will fly off the shelves, only for them to remain untouched.
When I saw the review for our new video Halloween face painting I figured it would be a best-seller this month. This DVD features over an hour of tips and techniques for creating scary or cute costume faces, from animals and fantastic creatures to scars, wounds and cuts. Learn which types of paint are best for face-painting, and what kind of brushes you should choose. You can even learn how to create ears, hats, and other accessories for your costume.
And yet, Halloween face painting has been sitting out on display at the front desk for almost two weeks now, and no one has touched it.
Perhaps people are waiting until the last minute to put together their costumes. Or maybe people are purchasing their entire costume, instead of making it from scratch. Whatever the reason, I just hate to think of such a helpful video sitting on the shelf, gathering dust and feeling unloved. Won't someone check it out?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Quirky films

If you like unusual films with great acting, interesting plotlines and good dialogue, try some of our new DVDs.
Julia is a British film featuring a powerful performance by Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton, Burn After Reading). She portrays an alcoholic who is on a downward spiral of lousy jobs, tawdry relationships and mental deterioration. She gets involved in a kidnapping scheme that quickly gets out of control - much like her life.
Rudo y Cursi stars Diego Luna (Milk) and Gael Garcia Bernal (Babel) as soccer-playing brothers whose talent takes them from a small Mexican town to the bright lights - and multiple distractions - of Mexico City. Lifelong friends, the actors have great chemistry on screen. This film is in Spanish, with English subtitles.
Goodbye Solo is from director Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart), and like his other films, it deals with the immigrant experience in America. A Senegalese cab driver and an unhappy old man bent on suicide come together in this touching story. This film has won very positive reviews, as well as the International Critics Prize at the Venice film festival.
Sunshine Cleaning is from the producers of Little Miss Sunshine, and the feel of the two movies is very similar: low-key comedies that feature offbeat characters and unusual situations. In Sunshine, sisters Amy Adams and Emily Blunt put aside their personal differences to start up a business cleaning up after crime scenes and suicides. Alan Arkin makes an appearance as their unsuccessful salesman father, and the whole film oozes heartwarming relationship building.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Last little bit

The final three craft books I want to highlight are lumped together only because they didn't really go with anything else.
The Artist's Guide: how to make a living doing what you love by Jackie Battenfield. "Starving artist" is such a cliche, although there is a certain romantic aura to struggling and under-appreciated artists such as Van Gogh (until you get to the whole ear thing). But if you're an artist who likes the idea of being able to eat, keep a roof over your head, and afford an occasional vacation, try Battenfield's book. She explains grants, awards, residencies and legal matters. She offers advice on peer networking, self-promotion and establishing professional relationships with galleries. She also talks about the organizational skills required to deal with deadlines and bookkeeping, and how to stay socially connected.
Compendium of Celtic Crafts is by Judy Balchin, Courtney Davis, Vivien Lunniss and Suzen Millodot. They cover jewellery, glass painting, paper crafts, calligraphy and illumination. Not only do the authors provide you with numerous patterns, there is also a nice section about designing your own Celtic motifs. The instructions on braiding for jewellery are nice, since some of the knot patterns are quite complex. Although all the sections in this book offer start-to-finish instructions, if you're new to the technique (if you've never done glass painting, for example), you might want to start off with guides aimed more towards beginners, and save this compendium for pattern ideas for later projects.
Penny Haren's Pieced Appliqué: more blocks & projects provides quilters with the technique for creating beautiful quilt squares from simple foundation blocks, all by using appliqué. Haren shows you how to eliminate puckers, create beautiful curves and nice sharp points, achieve perfect placement and produce complicated blocks very quickly. (I'll be honest, I'm not a quilter, so even making the foundation blocks looks like a lot of effort. But I'm assured that this is a much faster, simpler technique than trying to cut and piece together the entire block in the traditional way).

Friday, October 23, 2009

The canvas

If the blank canvas calls to you, here are some new books you might enjoy:
Colored Pencil Painting Bible: techniques for achieving luminous color and ultrarealistic effects by Alyona Nickelsen. Make your colors pop off the page, bring more light and shadow into your work and deepen the level of detail by using Nickelsen's techniques. She provides step-by-step instructions, along with many illustrations and examples, of how to blend, fuse, layer and burnish your colors. Clever application of mineral spirits, masking fluid and mounting putty, as well as techniques such as sgraffito, powder brushing and negative painting can really elevate your work.
Creative Paint Workshop for Mixed-Media Artists: experimental techniques for composition, layering, texture, imagery and encaustic by Ann Baldwin will show you how to create textures in your paint using spattering, rock salt washes, and found objects. You can layer materials for color, texture or collage. You can learn stamping, stenciling and block printing. Baldwin also includes instructions on doing encaustic painting and adding digital photographs to your canvas. There's a wide range of creative techniques and inspiring ideas in this book.
Watercolor Essentials: hands-on techniques for exploring watercolor in motion is by Birgit O'Connor, and it comes with a very handy DVD that further illustrates each lesson. O'Connor takes you through choosing your brushes, paint and palettes into mixing colors, blending and laying in washes. She also explores ways to create shadows, movement and depth in your watercolors, as well as various techniques for masking, spattering, staining and marbling. The accompanying DVD makes it much easier to apply the skills yourself.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stitchery

For those of you who like to ply a needle, we have a couple of unique new books.
Arts & Crafts Needlepoint: 25 patterns & projects, by Beth Russell. This book is full of beautiful designs that have either been adapted from, or inspired by, the work of William Morris, William de Morgan and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Subtle colors, organic lines and intricate patterns characterize the look of the Arts & Crafts movement, and Russell has done a wonderful job of capturing that in her designs. Her instructions tell you where to begin on the canvas, and she includes the color numbers for the yarn. Being a British author, she has used Appleton yarns, which you could order (she provides a list of American suppliers in the appendix) or you could eyeball the colors and try to match with a locally-available yarn. And if you're not a needlepoint person, these designs could easily be adapted to cross-stitch.
Stitch Alchemy: combining fabric + paper for mixed-media art by Kelli Perkins. This book takes the various techniques of collage, watercolor, stamping, sewing, quilting, and papier-mache and melds them all together to create a really intriguing medium. Perkins instructs you on how to create the base papercloth, and then she offers you a wide range of options for coloring, texturing and embellishing the papercloth. From something as simple as a bookmark to creating papercloth beads for jewelry or an entire papercloth quilt, the book provides ideas that will inspire your creativity.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's all about the craft

Last week I spent a few days focusing on our new music; for the rest of this week I'll be looking at all our new craft resources. Fall is a perfect time to crank up your crafting activity or dive into a totally new medium. Not only is the weather conducive to indoor tasks, but Christmas is right around the corner!
Sewing Green: 25 projects made with repurposed & organic materials by Beth White caught the eye of one of my co-workers. "What is environmentally-friendly sewing?" As White points out, don't throw away that frayed sweater, those faded curtains, or that stained shirt. With her clever suggestions (and a handy section of pattern sheets), you can save those prints, colors and textures you love. Make lounge pants, coasters, slippers, aprons, scarves and shopping totes. The color photos showcase her examples - skirts made of pillowcases, baby toys from old sweaters - and she offers tips for those who are new to sewing. She also promotes the idea of fabric swaps, using cloth napkins and making your own laundry detergent.
Contemporary Loom Beading: a new look at a traditional stitch is by Sharon Bateman. This book can actually be used two ways. You can use her dimensions and construction techniques to build various projects (leashes, cell-phone holders, switch plate covers, guitar straps, bracelets and chokers). Or you can adapt the beautiful patterns to your own uses and embellishment projects. She has over 75 different patterns in the appendix to choose from. Bateman begins the book with tips on beads, tools and techniques, as well as clear instructions on how to do the weaving, finishing and embellishment. The end of the book has instructions on building your own bead loom. The projects themselves do not, unfortunately, indicate their difficulty level. Novice may want to start with Beading on a loom : a beadwork how-to book by Don Pierce, or our video Bead woven necklaces: loom beading techniques by John Santich.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Who am I?

Like biographies? Try some of these:

Elizabeth Cady Stanton: an American life, by Lori Ginzberg. This is a straight-up biography of one of the early pioneers of women's rights.

The Last of His Kind: the life and adventures of Bradford Washburn, America's boldest mountaineer, by David Roberts. Washburn had nine 'first ascents' of North American peaks under his belt when he died in 2006. He made numerous trips to Alaska, and in 1935 led a 3-month expedition into the then-unexplored vastness of the St. Elias Range.

Long Past Stopping, by Oran Canfield is actually a memoir, not a biography. But as the son of 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' guru Jack Canfield, he's got a bit of name recognition. He also has one messed-up childhood. If you're a fan of the Chicken Soup books, Oran's memoir might be a bit of an eye-opener.

The Secret Wife of Louis XIV: Francoise D'Aubigne, Madame de Maintenon by Veronica Buckley. Born in a prison, reduced to begging in the streets, Francoise marries a poet crippled by rheumatism. After his death, she becomes governess to the illegitimate children of the Sun King and soon catches his eye. A book full of social mores, political chicanery, opulence and history. Her life would make a great movie.

Where Men Win Glory: the odyssey of Pat Tillman, by Jon Krakauer. Bestselling author Krakauer turns his attention to a former NFL player he turned in his jersey to enlist following 9/11. His death in Afghanistan was a patriotic rallying point, until it was discovered that he had been killed by friendly fire. The Army cover-up was a huge scandal, which Krakauer picks apart.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Will somebody buy Gregg Hurwitz a map?

I hate watching movies with people who nit-pick all the details, especially in historical flicks ("You know, that version of the flag wasn't adopted until the fall of 1792. It couldn't have been flying over the fort in June"). But sometimes people are so off-base it's just silly.
Take Gregg Hurwitz. This L.A.-based author has a new book on our shelves, a couple of pages of which take place in Alaska. It is obvious that not only hasn't Mr. Hurwitz ever been to the state, he hasn't even looked at a map. He has his protagonist get off a plane in Anchorage and take a bus to Ketchikan - "the end of the line". Wow, that's one halacious, wet bus ride to Ketchikan, what with us being on an island and all.
And while the hero spends his days working in a salmon cannery (with "all those felons in Alaska, everyone on the run from something. Deadbeat dads and bail skippers."), he spends his off-time hanging out on the tundra, or watching his co-worker (one of our town's many felons, I guess) shoot up the Moose Crossing sign across from the bar.
My favorite part? While his co-worker is busy firing off rounds in middle of town, the local police force has "wisely parked at a good distance and sat smoking on the curb, waiting for him to pass out.....The cops waved as we passed". Thank God I apparently live in a town where anyone can get blotto and blaze away at downtown traffic signs with impunity. That's why I live in Alaska. That, and my need to avoid the long arm of the law.

Traveling oddities

We have a slew of guidebooks that cover pretty much every continent (there is actually a Lonely Planet guide to Antarctica out there, but we don't own it). Interspersed with all those Frommer's, Fodor's, Lonely Planets and Eyewitness guides are some other travel books that can actually be read purely for pleasure. Here's some new ones:
Travel as a Political Act by Rick Steves. Steves is a travel guru, having written his first guidebook almost 30 years ago; he has also produced a very successful PBS series (Rick Steves' Europe). In this book, however, he muses on one of the hidden benefits of travel: acting as an ambassador for your country. He talks about visiting the former Yugoslavia after the war, of the hospitality of Iranians, and the attitude of Europeans towards Americans. He advocates choosing travel destinations that allow you to truly learn about a nation and her people, rather than just shopping for cheap curios and lying on the beach. He promises you a more rewarding vacation experience, and I think he's right on the mark.
60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Seattle by Andrew Weber and Bryce Stevens. Since I live in Alaska, I generally view my forays to Seattle as an opportunity to suck up a little urban living: good food, funky architecture, artistic events and lots of shopping. But if you're planning on an extended stay in the Puget Sound area and you need to knock the urban grime off a bit, then you might enjoy sampling some of the beautiful day hikes near Seattle. There are plenty of large city parks to choose from, or you could head all the way out to Mount Rainer National Park or the Snoqualmie Pass area.
Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne. You're biking through various cities around the world with Talking Heads-frontman Bryne. Need I say more?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Classical music, too

I wouldn't want our classical music fans to feel they've been left out (we covered a lot of new music last week). Here are some beautiful new CDs featuring piano, violin, and choral pieces.
Pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy plays the Diabeli variations of Beethoven. 33 variations in C major on a waltz by Anton Diabelli, op. 120 and 12 variations in A major on the Russian Dance from Paul Wranitzky's Ballet Das Waldmädchen, WoO 71.
Violinst James Ehnes - Homage. Hear a selection of pieces played on 12 of the most valuable stringed instruments in the world, including violins by Antonio Stradivari & Pietro Guarneri and violas by Gasparo Da Salo & Andrea Guarneri. For true aficionados of the instrument.
Josquin des Pres masses. Performed by the Tallis Scholars, these masses - Malheur me bat and Fortuna desperata - were composed in the 15th century. Lovely music.
Pianist Christof Keymer performs the complete piano transcriptions of Moritz Moszkowski. Moszkowski reworked pieces from composers such as Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Bizet and Handel to highlight the talent of the pianist. This disc also includes a selection of 'musical parodies'.
Tchaikovsky and Glazunov: Violin Concertos. Interpreting two Russian greats, Ukrainian-born Vadim Gluzman plays Glazunov's Violin Concerto in A Minor, op. 82 as well as two pieces by Tchaikovsky: Souvenir D'un Lieu Cher, op. 42 and Violin Concerto in D Major, op. 35. He is accompanied by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of Andrew Litton.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cookbooks

Here are three new cookbooks that do a good job of representing the wide range of recipes we have available here at the Public Library.
The New Portuguese Table: exciting flavors from Europe's Western coast by David Leite. Portugal always seems to be one of the overlooked countries in Europe (perhaps not as bad as Andorra, but close). So how exotic it will sound to invite your friends over for an authentic Portuguese supper. Befitting a country bordering the ocean, this cookbook has lots of seafood recipes, including a lovely "Skate with leeks in a saffron broth" that would work well with halibut or cod instead of skate. "Pumpkin soup with spicy seeds" is a nice choice for fall, and the classic Portuguese dessert "Baked custard tarts" will round off the meal nicely.
Rustic fruit desserts by Corey Schreiber and Julie Richardson is invaluable - if for no other reason - because it actually defines the differences between pie, tart, galette, cobbler, grunt, slump, crisp, crumble, betty, pandowdy, buckle, teacake, fool and trifle. So if you have fond memories of some kind of fruit-based dessert that your grandmother used to whip up when you were a kid, it's a good bet you'll find something similar here. "Ginger Pear and Raspberry Pandowdy", anyone?
The Sauce Book: 300 world sauces made simple is by London chef Paul Gayler. This is more of a reference than a cookbook, since the majority of the recipes are for straight sauces, not the entire dish. Gayer does include some examples of how to use a few sauces, though ("Provencale toasts with sea bass and tapenade", "pork strips in adobo"). Organized geographically, this book is a way of stirring your creative juices. Pick a place (I think I feel like Mediterranean food tonight), then pick a sauce ("avgolemono", a classic Greek lemon sauce), and then consider Gayler's suggestions ("baked cod steaks with butter beans and avgolemono"). Or you might prefer to come up with your own use (drizzle over wild rice, perhaps...or grilled chicken breasts). The world's your oyster.....perhaps with a Japanese citrus ponzu marinade.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Vampyr

If you need proof of just how bleak a place Central Europe was between the World Wars, just take a look at some of their cinema. In 1930, director Fritz Lang brought a completely creepy Peter Lorre to the big screen in M, in which he plays a child murderer. A few years earlier, the first 'Dracula' movie had been filmed. Titled Nosferatu, the film starred Max Schreck in a powerful performance as the blood-sucking Count Orlock. In fact, Schreck's role and his off-screen behavior are so legendary that a loose bio-pic was made a few years ago, starring Willem Dafoe (Shadow of the Vampire).
We've just added yet another atmosphere-heavy Gothic horror film to our collection. Vampyr, filmed in 1932, showcases Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer's brilliant use of shadows, fogs and camera tricks to create a sense of the eerie. The film is a vampire tale that is based on a 1872 short story by the Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu ("Carmilla"). This special DVD edition from the Criterion Collection folk features a nicely restored original German film, an alternate version with English text, a 1966 documentary that looks at the career of director Dryer, and some additional information.
Best of all, it comes with a copy of "Carmilla". You can read the story upon which the film was based and decide yourself whether Dreyer's pared-down version is a chilling adaptation true to the tone of the story, or if Dreyer's film should almost be considered a work of its own. Either way, this is the perfect movie to watch during October.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Rock on

Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood Live From Madison Square Garden. A dream combination of Winwood's vocals and Clapton's guitar, this album includes versions of some of their most famous songs ("Cocaine" and "Can't find my way home"). Guaranteed to please anyone who knows what 'LP' means.
Bob Dylan Together Through Life. Featuring 10 new compositions from the master songwriter, this is a collection of love songs with an edge. C'mon, it's Dylan.
Gomez A New Tide. British band Gomez is an indie-rock band that has been featured on World Cafe, and their latest album has been getting good reviews.
Paper Route Absence. It's electronica-based rock, but the true beauty on this album lies in the lyrics and the ethereal vocals.
Shearwater Rook. "Rook meditates on man's intersection with the natural world; the world after human beings are gone. A dark fairy tale encased in a cycle of songs." - from the product description. Complex indie-folk music with delicate vocals from Jonathan Meiburg.
Viva Voce Rose City. Portland, Or.-based husband and wife team combine smooth vocals and percussive guitar playing in a nice, stripped-down album.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sounds of jazz

  • Ann Hampton Callaway At Last. This is an album of love songs, including old standards (Cole Porter), newer songs (Joni Mitchell), and original compositions from Callaway herself.
  • Big Bad Voodoo Daddy The Music of Cab Calloway. A spirited tribute to a legendary band leader, from a modern swing band with a big sound.
  • Sean Jones The Search Within. A young trumpeter who has made a name for himself, Jones is joined on this album by Orrin Evans, Brian Hogans, Walter Smith, Luques Curtis and Obed Calvaire, as well as other special guests.
  • Julian Lage Sounding Point. Lage emerged on the music scene at the tender age of 7, and now this guitar prodigy celebrates his coming-of-age with an album of improvisation, interpretation, and original composition.
  • Miles Okazaki Generations. This album of progressive jazz was recorded in one take, and serious jazz fans will want to set aside time to experience the album as a whole set piece.
  • Nina Sheldon Harvest. Jazz vocalist and pianist Sheldon recorded this album of standards with David "Fathead" Newman in what would turn out to be one of his last studio appearances.
  • Allen Toussaint The Bright Mississippi. Legendary pianist Toussaint covers standards from blues and jazz greats Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, Thelonious Monk, Django Reinhardt and Duke Ellington, among others.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A little world beat

We've got a flush of new music on the shelves, so for the next few days I'll be focusing on our different collections. Today, I'll be taking an international approach by looking at our new Global Music.
African: Introducing Mamane Barka is an album of traditional songs from the Lake Chad region of Niger. Played on a boat-shaped instrument called the biram, these tracks represent an historical preservation of the Boudouma tribe's music by Mamane Barka, one of the last remaining biram players.
Celtic: Double Play features the Irish fiddle of Liz Carroll and the guitar of John Doyle, and is a collection of beautiful original pieces and new arrangements of older songs, all of which evoke the memory of traditional Irish music.
European: The Rough Guide to Gypsy Music highlights the music of the Romany people. Their nomadic tradition is reflected in their variety of musical influences. However, the tracks on this CD are definitely contemporary in feel: blues, swing, jazz, ska and hip-hop are all here.
Cafe Musette: the most beautiful French melodies preformed on a solo accordion. This CD doesn't need much explanation. Just put it on, and feel yourself transported into every Hollywood movie that's ever been set in Paris.
Latin: La Luz del Ritmo by Los Fabulosos Cadillacs is one rockin' CD that's heavy on the brass. Mariachi music on steroids, this album also shows influences of funk, rap, punk, and electronica. Crank it up!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Outdoorsy folk

I have a feeling that there are more than a few people in this community who - for some inexplicable reason - enjoy spending great amounts of time outdoors in the wilderness. It's probably something to do with living in Alaska. At any rate, we have a couple of new books that might appeal to the outdoorsy sort.
Geocaching: hike and seek with your GPS by Erik Sherman instructs readers on an activity that is hugely popular down south. This is an all-encompassing guide. He covers geocaching sites on the web (I did a quick check on geocaching.com, and there are 4 caches listed for the Ketchikan area). He also talks equipment: GPS, maps, compasses, cell phones, 2-way radio and altimeters. Learn how to prepare and stash a cache, how to find a cache, and some variations on geocaching. Scout camp, fitness group, family fun or for educational purposes, geocaching can be tweaked to many situations. In fact, you don't even have to go in the woods to have fun - you can cache in the city, with a GPS in one hand and a latte in the other.
The Happy Camper: an essential guide to life outdoors is by Kevin Callan, a canoeing expert from Ontario. He touches on all the aspects of camping outdoors: substitutes for toilet paper, how to de-skunk a dog, spooky songs for the campfire, and the definition of an F-stop (although, if you've got a nice enough camera that you're able to control the F-stop, shouldn't you know what that means?). There are recipes for camp cooking, essential knots you should know, what to include in a first-aid kit, how to use a compass, and an entire chapter on camping in the rain. I'm not sure he provides in-depth enough information for dealing with the Alaskan wilderness, which can be pretty dang harsh, but it's a fun overview that might be entertaining for Schoenbar students.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A smattering of genres

Here's a quick snapshot of the wide-ranging novels we've put out on the New Book shelves this week:
The Good Humor Man by Andrew Fox. Part science fiction, part satire on society's fascination with thinness, this novel comes from the author of the Fat White Vampire books. The year is 2041, fattening foods are against the law, liposuction addicts litter the country and everyone is hooked on 'fat-burning' nutritional supplements. Enter Dr. Louis Shmalzberg, an ex-plastic surgeon and one-time leader of the anti-fat movement. He has come to see the error of his ways, and his attempts to save civilization from becoming too thin lead to interesting consequences. For Douglas Adams and Ray Bradbury fans.
Never the Bride by Cheryl McKay and Reene Gutteridge is a Christian chick-lit novel. Jessie Stone is a classic "always a bridesmaid but never a bride" heroine who longs for a wedding (and a groom) of her own. She's so focused on her own plans and schemes that when God shows up in the flesh to help her, she has difficulty letting go and turning control of her life over to God.
Deadly Intent by Lynda La Plante is the fourth book featuring Detective Inspector Anna Travis. This story focuses on the hunt for a drug trafficker that may have been involved in the murder of an ex-colleague. What makes things more complicated for DI Travis is that she ends up working with DCI Langton not long after their breakup. If you are a fan of the PBS series Prime Suspect, you will enjoy this series (since they were both written by La Plante).
This is How by M. J. Hyland is a difficult book. Set on the coast of England in a drab boarding house (a difficult place to live), the narrator is a young man who has spent his entire life having difficulty being happy, difficulty maintaining relationships, and difficulty finding his place in the world. He has dropped out of college to become a mechanic, and finds the work soothing, but the tensions and unhappiness in his life mount and he ends up in prison (another difficult place to be). A good book for fans of character development and the pain of loneliness.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Historical fiction

Historical fiction is a nice crossover between fact and fiction; if you are fond of nonfiction titles dealing with a particular period in history, you might well enjoy novels set in that time period. For those of you who are English history buffs - especially her Golden Age - we have a couple of new novels that may appeal to you.
The Elephant Keeper, by Christopher Nicholson, is set in the late 1700's. A pair of young elephants, sickly after their long sea voyage from the East Indies, are purchased by aging Lord Bidborough. They are placed in the care of young stable boy, and as he learns to care for the strange beasts he develops a deep relationship and an understanding with them. Told as entries in his diary, the stable boy's story depicts the lives of masters and servants and the precarious grip we all have on life.
The Wet Nurse's Tale, by Erica Eisdorfer, is another servant's tale. In this novel, Victoria is Queen and motherhood is sacred. As long as you're married, that is (and it helps to be wealthy, of course). For kitchen maid Susan Rose, however, the stigma of giving birth to an illegitimate daughter is compensated for by her new career: a wet nurse for rich women. An appealing heroine with a fair amount of spirit and self-reliance, Susan brings the reader into the relationships and intrigues that go on both upstairs and downstairs in the Victorian home.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mexico in a dish

We have a couple of new cookbooks that will help you spice up your kitchen and take you beyond tacos and fajitas (which is the extent of my forays into Mexican cooking, unfortunately).
If you are a completely new to making Mexican dishes, try Simply Mexican by Lourdes Castro. her collection of 60 simple recipes comes accompanied with 'Cooking Notes' that helps familiarize readers with techniques and ingredients central the the Mexican table. You can learn how to wrap meat in banana leaves, put together tamales (time consuming, but oh so good) and prepare an achiote marinade. These are nice, simple dishes that are quick to prepare and serve as a good introduction to Mexican dining.
If you would like to move on to dishes that are a little fancier, try Fresh Mexico: 100 simple recipes for true Mexican flavor by Marcela Valladolid. Her recipes use a wide range of ingredients, from cactus leaves to fresh guava to amaranth seeds. She also incorporates a little ethnic fusion as well, offering Mexican twists on sushi, osso bucco and Napoleons. The mascarpone-stuffed squash blossoms will transport you to the streets of Tijuana. Many of the recipes here are very elegant and would create a perfect meal for guests.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Banned Books Week

I'm not sure 'celebrate' is the word to use, since we're not exactly advocating the banning and censorship of books. Perhaps 'commemmerate' might be a better term for what we want to do: alert everyone to the fact that even in a country that prizes freedom, equality and the power of knowledge, there are people who want to restrict the access of others to information (books, usually) deemed 'unsuitable'.
I will willingly admit that there are books in the library that I don't like. I don't agree with the author's politics, their morals, their perception of history, or their writing ability. But I'm not here to dispense only the information that I personally like. I don't have the right to tell you what you can and can't listen to, read or watch. And censorship is a slippery slope.
You might agree with the banning of a particular book; it may fall perfectly in line with your sense of what is right and wrong. But book banning, like murder, gets easier and easier to accomplish as it gets done more often. So eventually you get to the point where people in the community start trying to block the information you are looking for and trying to ban the books you want to read.
The best way to preserve your rights is to exercise them: read a book today. We have lists of books that have been 'challenged' the last few years across America. Stop by and take I look, I guarantee the titles on the list will surprise you.

Friday, September 25, 2009

More Playaways

Our most popular audio collection just got a little bit larger. Here are the new Playaway titles on the shelf this month:

Borderline by Nevada Barr, narrated by Barbara Rosenblat. This is the 15th in the popular mystery series starring National Park ranger Anna Pigeon.

Fatally Flaky by Diane Mott Davidson, read by Barbara Rosenblat. Another culinary cozy from mystery writer Davidson, this one centers around a wedding reception at a ritzy spa and a bride from Hell.

Fugitive by Philip Margolin, read by Jonathan Davis. This is a legal thriller, with attorney Amanda Jaffe defending a con man accused of murdering a Congressman. Her client's most immediate concern is the ruthless African dictator unhappy about being cuckolded by the con man.

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith, read by Lisette Lecat. The 10th installment in a delightful series set in Botswana. Catch up on the latest events in the lives of Precious Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni.

Wicked Prey by John Sandford, read by Richard Ferrone. Private investigator Lucas Davenport is back, and this time he's trying to prevent a crime at the Republican National Convention and save his daughter from a disabled pimp with an axe to grind against Davenport.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Walking for your health?

I took my customary lunch time walk along the 3rd avenue bypass today, and just as I came to the large rock outcropping above Gorge St., a black bear stepped out from behind the rock.
We both came to a complete stop and eyed one another for a second before the bear turned around and started climbing up the rock. I crossed the street to the upland side, turned around and saw the bear standing on its hindlegs looking down the street. A van drove between us (I'm pretty sure the driver didn't see the bear), and I started walking toward town. I glanced back and the bear was crossing over to my side of the street, so I immediately crossed back over to the sidewalk and then watched the bear scramble down into the gully where the little waterfall ends.
Looking back on the whole thing, I don't think I behaved quite as I ought. I didn't run (that's a good thing) but turning my back on a black bear (and - hello!- not turning off my mp3 player) was probably not the wisest thing I've ever done. If you are a frequent habitué of the bypass, you might want to brush up on your bear encounter etiquette. And perhaps carry a whistle.

Anarchy at a date to be determined later!

Although librarians have a reputation as being rabble-rousers for intellectual freedom, most of us don't promote anarchy and mass civil disobedience. That being said, I got a real kick* out of Causing a Scene: extraordinary pranks in ordinary places with Improv Everywhere by Charlie Todd and Alex Scordelis. The phenomenon of mass coordinated stranger pranks got it's start in 2001 when Charlie Todd decided to pass himself off in a restaurant as Ben Folds (of Ben Folds Five semi-fame). What started as a lark soon became a website and then the book.
Basically, it's all about devising a silly, Candid-Camera like stunt and getting a whole bunch of total strangers to participate - some knowingly and some not. For instance, one group staged an author reading and book signing at a Barnes & Noble store. The author: Anton Chekov (who died in 1904). Another prank, which seems to have gotten a life of its own, involved getting a whole bunch of people to ride the subway without wearing pants. The book explains how the whole project got started, showcases some of the more brilliant pranks - and fills you in on the 'aftermath' - and ends with the eventual outcome from the Ben Folds impersonation.
In accordance with the spirit of Improv Everywhere, the stunts are all benign goofiness. There's no humiliation of unsuspecting people, no property damage, no financial gain. This isn't solving world peace or contributing to the greater good of mankind, but it's funny and silly...and don't we all need to lighten up a little?

(*This kind of humor - much like 'Kick Me' signs - is always funnier when it happens to someone else. I don't know that I would find it quite so droll if I was the target)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Yarn Bee is back!!

Fall is here, the tourist season is winding to a close, the kids are back in school and all is right with the world. It's time to go back into cozy mode: high-carb meals, curling up with a good book, and dusting off all the craft projects you set aside in May.
We are starting up our monthly Yarn Bee again this Sunday, from 1 pm to 3 pm. Come down with your knitting, crocheting and felting projects and meet up with fellow crafters. Enjoy some cookies and hot coffee, and see what clever new crafting books the library has to offer. We've got new patterns for knitting socks, inspirations for blending color (including a beautiful shawl inspired by Monet's painting Water Lillies), and some adorable finger puppets that would make perfect stocking stuffers for the little ones on your Christmas list. We also have some wider-ranging craft ideas that are based on the techniques of knitting and crocheting.
Judith will be your host this month (we had a few schedule changes this month) and since she actually knows how to knit (unlike yours truly), it should be a great gathering. We hope to see some new faces this fall...tell your friends!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

So you'ld like to play an instrument

I think it would be a wonderful thing to touch an instrument and produce beautiful music. I took flute lessons in elementary school, but didn't have the discipline required to practice (and the flute is not forgiving of bad technique). I've toyed with the idea of trying to teach myself an instrument, but have yet to follow through on that ambition.
If you have more intestinal fortitude than I do, the public library has the resources you need. We have just gotten new guides on learning to play the acoustic guitar, fiddle - even the harmonica! We also have teaching guides for the piano, drums, banjo, concertina and the bagpipe. Our guitar manuals include acoustic, electric, bass and blues.
Are you a more of a visual learner? Then try our instructional videos on playing the piano, drums, guitar or the spoons (always a hit at parties). For aural learners, our bagpipe manuals are each accompanied by CDs. We even have an iPod-compatible instructional guide to playing Latin and African rhythms on the drum - just go to our ListenAlaska audiobook service.
So as the days get shorter and the cold rain drives you indoors, consider the possibility of learning a musical instrument. As you spend the next 6 months cooped up in the house, learning the bagpipe, it will be the perfect opportunity to test those family bonds of love and loyalty.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Cheater

Cheating in sports has become big news lately, especially the issue of steroid use. As fans hear story after story about major league baseball players, cyclists, Olympic hopefuls and college players caught using illegal 'performance enhancing drugs' (odd that no one has started calling them 'peds' - 'roids' is a popular way to shorten the word steroids....but I digress) the public discourse often follows one of two patterns:
  • 1. Everybody does it, everybody's crooked. It's not really newsworthy, and it doesn't really matter.
  • 2. Sports used to be more honorable, and today's athletes are irresponsible criminals who are setting a terrible example for our kids.
So what's the truth? Is it steroid use any worse than using high-tech swimsuits or sleeping in hyperbaric chambers? Has the integrity of the sports world taken a sharp nosedive in recent years? Fran Zimniuch looks at these questions in his new book Crooked: a history of cheating in sports. From the 1905 Olympic marathon runner who used strychnine to overcome the heat to the BALCO scandal still causing shockwaves today (say it ain't so, Big Papi), Zimniuch looks at just how far people are willing to go to win. Biased referees, gambling fans, ambitious coaches and unscrupulous recruiters get their fair share of blame along with the athletes themselves. This is an interesting read for anyone who enjoys watching - or participating in - sports.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cheap eats

Everybody is very budget-conscious these days, and cutting costs means not just curtailing restaurant visits but trying to spend less at the grocery store as well. A couple of our new cookbooks can help you put delicious, filling meals on the table for a lot less money.
Eat Cheap But Eat Well: over 120 penny-pinching recipes is from Charles Mattocks (TV's The Poor Chef). He presents a variety of dishes that use either inexpensive cuts of meat or combine the meat with other ingredients to stretch it into more servings. As he points out, cutting out 12-oz steaks from your diet is not only good for your wallet, it's good for your health. Each recipe is simple to follow, the ingredients are easy to get here in Ketchikan, and he gives you a general idea of cost per serving (a note of caution here: this book is written for the readers Down South, who pay a lot less money for groceries than we do on our Alaskan island paradise. If Mattocks can get a pound of tilapia for under $5, more power to him. I know I can't). That being said, this book is a great way to start cutting your food budget.
Almost Meatless: recipes that are better for your health and the planet is focused on semi-vegetarianism as a health and ecology issue. But since the most expensive item on your dinner plate is the meat ($4 a pound for ground beef, for pete's sake!) - than the less meat you use, the cheaper your meals. Like Charles Mattocks, the authors of this cookbook propose a variety of ways to stretch a little bit of meat into many servings. Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond use chilis, casseroles, fajitias, soups, wraps, salads, stir-frys and pasta to make things interesting. Dine on Greek gyros, Albondigas meatballs, Shrimp risotto, Crab pad thai, Shepherd's pie or Tuna tartine. Good for you, and not hard on your pocketbook....

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Rare or medium-rare?

I know summer is supposed to be the time for hamburgers, grilled chicken, hot dogs, ribs and anything barbecued, but I find that autumn is when my thoughts turn to fat-laden, protein-rich foods. Bring on the roast turkey, roast beef and roast pork! We do have some new cookbooks that will help you straddle the summer grilling season and the fall fat season...
Bobby Flay's Burgers, Fries and Shakes. Flay shows you how to make the perfect french fry, blend the creamiest milkshake and grill up some truly juicy burgers. From a simple buttermilk onion ring to a peanut-butter-banana-marshmallow milkshake, this book is guaranteed to ladle on the insulating fat for winter. Bring on the arctic cold, I've just eaten a burger smothered in cheese, bacon and fried onion rings.
Emeril at the Grill: a cookbook for all seasons. This book is a little more upmarket than Bobby Flay (Rib-eye, new potato and portobello kebabs on rosemary skewers. Oh, man). Paninis, pizzas, roasted vegetables, grilled seafood and seared slabs of meat pop up all over this book, accompanied by gorgeous pictures. For Thanksgiving, you can even try Emeril's Turkey roulade with peach and sage gravy.
Grillin' With Gas: 150 mouthwatering recipes for great grilled food. Author Fred Thompson takes you on a global tour of grilled meats, preparing dishes with Asian, Caribbean, Mexican and Mediterranean flavors. He has a nice chapter on seafood, with an emphasis on salmon. The recipes are varied and easy to follow, and he even has vegetarian entrees to offer.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Techie craft

A few months ago we acquired a cookbook for the electrical engineer in all of us - The Hungry Scientist Handbook. We have a new addition to the science geek/homemaker genre: MAKE: the best of...75 projects from the pages of MAKE. It is jam-packed with craft ideas for anyone with a cabinet full of electrical components, a soldering tool and a knowledge of circuitry.
  • Make a mini-amplifier for your headphones out of an Altoids tin.
  • Turn your old VCR into an automatic cat-food dispenser.
  • Build a light-controlled robot from your computer mouse.
  • Construct a 'clock' that monitors the number of unread email messages in your inbox.
  • Launch potatoes over 200 yards with stun-gun power.
  • Build your own wind-powered generator.
The instructions assume that you know what you're doing when it comes to wiring, chemistry and model construction....the contributors have ironed out the bumps for you. Their ideas might ignite your own creativity, as well. This is the perfect book for the tinkerer in you, and who knows? You might actually get something useful out of it.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Memoir of a museum

Our new book A Museum of Their Own: National Museum of Women in the Arts is an interesting blend of books. It is a behind-the-scenes account of how art museums raise funds, plan exhibits and acquire pieces for the collection. It is a coffee-table book full of color images of the various statues, paintings, photographs, vessels, pottery and textiles that have been exhibited at the museum. It is also a brief autobiography of the driving force behind the creation of said museum, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay.
Her first experience with causes and fundraising was as a young mother, when she launched a campaign to construct a new building for the private school her daughter attended (don't be surprised to find the book liberally sprinkled with references to politicians, diplomats, art patrons, corporate executives and First Ladies - you have to operate in a certain level of Society to create a national museum). A part-time job in the gift shop of the National Gallery stirred her interest in art, and she began to be more interested in the work of female artists, slowly accumulating her own private collection.
For a while, her collection was open to public viewing in her own residence, with a docent leading tours. In 1987, however, years of fundraising paid off and the National Museum of Women Artists opened its doors to the public. Twenty-two years later, the museum is continuing to expand its collection and to preserve and display the artwork of many talented women, from 17th-century painters & 18th-century silversmiths to the Broadway costumes of Julie Taymor.
This is a very interesting book, and a good inspiration for anyone who is trying to champion an artistic or intellectual cause of their own. (New library building, anyone?)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A book geek moment

Bear with me. Yesterday, when I blogged about The photographs of Homer Page : the Guggenheim year, I mentioned one of the photos that caught my eye - a bookseller's rack of Pocket Books - and that I thought I recognized one of the titles. Well, the first thing I did when I got home was go to my bookcase and look for that book.
The Pocket Book of Old Masters, with sixty-four gravure illustrations edited by Herman J. Weschsler was published in March, 1949 - 3 months before Homer Page took his photo of the sidewalk bookseller. My copy is in pretty good condition, with a slight water stain on the first page and a small tear on the Acknowledgements page. The photo gravures are in black-and-white, which probably explains why the book didn't get used more (the images from the Sistine Chapel loose a lot of oomph when they're colorless).
I was so excited to actually own one of the books in that photograph from 1949 - and one of the more obscure titles, at that - that I brought the paperback to work to show everyone.
O.K., geek moment over....

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A gentler time

From my perspective (standing at the circulation desk, across the hallway from the museum's entrance) I would say that two of the most popular exhibits at the Tongass Historical Museum has been the collections of old Ketchikan photos taken by Paulu Saari in the 1950's. Even if you weren't living in Ketchikan at the time - or living at all - there's something really fun about looking at photos from the post-war period.
The Photographs of Homer Page: the Guggenheim year, New York 1949-1950 captures that same fascinating time in an even more complicated place. It was a period when men wore hats and waistbands right up to their chest, and women wore white gloves and stockings with seams. Fabric was 29¢ a yard, baseball scorecards were a dime, and you could get a suit for $10. O.K., it probably wasn't a great suit, but it was made right there in the Garment District. One of the photos shows a rack of paperback books - probably Pocket Books - with titles from Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Zane Grey. I think I own one of the editions there on the rack.
But, of course, as much as things change some things are always the same. Images of men passed out on the sidewalks and in doorways, graffiti in the subway, matronly women grilling themselves on the sands of Coney Island, and the hard expressions on some of the faces can still be seen in the Big Apple today. One of my favorite photos is of a man in a suit standing before a newsstand. Is he intently reading the day's edition of The Public Guardian, or is he staring at the girlie magazines and the pinup illustrations being displayed on the next row down? Ah, a mystery for the ages....

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Face

There is something about the way Sherman Alexie writes, some way he has of stringing together words and syllables, that is almost melodic. So it seems only natural that he has published a book of poetry. Face is very similar to his prose works (Flight, The Lone Ranger and Tonto fistfight in heaven) in that many of the themes arise from the experiences of contemporary Native Americans. The poems in Face are much more auto-biographical than his novels, however, and many of them are his thought processes and emotions spilled out onto the page in a style that is almost stream-of-consciousness. They're funny, they're bleak, they're raw and open and frank. I would love to go on in more detail, but I think quoting lines of poetry out of context of the whole doesn't do justice to the poems. I will say, though, that this is a wonderful book, and I sincerely hope he reads a few selections when he appears at the 2010 conference of the Alaska Library Association.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Family Man

Elinor Lipman (Then She Found Me) has written a nice little novel about a very extended family. The Family Man is Henry, a recently retired gay divorced lawyer (all those adjectives are relevant to the plot). On impulse, he sends a condolence note to his recently widowed, adulterous ex-wife. She not only contacts him, she tells him he is her only friend in the world. Her stepsons are trying to force her out of her apartment (this story takes place in New York City, so real estate is worth more than gold); her daughter - from a pre-Henry marriage - isn't speaking to her; and she has no employable skills. Henry doesn't want to let her back into his life, but he longs to connect with the stepdaughter he hasn't seen in 24 years. Henry resolves to keep his renewed relationship with aspiring actress Thalia a secret from her mother, especially since Thalia's latest acting gig is a real-life role as arm candy to a B-level actor.
Believe it or not, this is just the start of the plot. Things get more complicated from here, but Lipman does a good job of keeping the narrative threads from getting too tangled. Her characters (with the exception of the ex-wife) are all very likable and sympathetic, and she resists the urge to turn them into narrow stereotypes (with the exception of Henry's boyfriend). The dialogue is interesting, the story is essentially happy, and while this novel probably won't change your life or bring tears to your eyes, it's not a bad way to spend a sunny summer afternoon on the deck.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

WFB

Christopher Buckley has penned one of the funniest, sweetest, most sincere memoirs I've ever read. Losing Mum and Pup is about the terrible year in which Buckley lost both his mother and his father to infirmity and disease. This would be a moving enough story (since most of us will be predeceased by our parents), but the identity of his parents makes it even more interesting. He is the son of famous New York socialite and hostess Patricia Buckley and "Lion of the Right" William F. Buckley Jr. (thankfully, referred to as WFB throughout the book).
This is a multi-layered story, with each layer affecting the reader in a different way. Part of this is a biographical sketch of Pat and WFB, both of whom come across as hilarious, in a 'maddening-if-they-were-your-parents' kind of way. Pat makes up facts and statistics to win 'discussions' with dinner guests. WFB is impatient and self-assured enough to take his son sailing in a hurricane ("We'll have a brisk sail" was WFB's attitude about the weather). I actually found myself laughing out loud more often than I have while reading David Sedaris.
This is also a story of a very close-knit family whose members - Christopher is an only child - love each other deeply without being particularly demonstrative about the fact. Even when Christopher is writing scolding letters to his mother, or remembering that his dad left in the middle of his graduation ceremony ("I just assumed you had other plans" - WFB), he is exasperated and loving, not bitter and angry.
His description of trying to parent his increasingly erratic parents will resonate with anyone who has tried to talk a sick parent or grandparent into taking their medicine, giving up smoking, doing what the nurse tells them and not wandering outside in nothing but their underwear. A weak, disoriented WFB is a new experience for his son Christopher, and on top of his anxiety about his father's health there is the confusion of not knowing how to interact with this new persona.
Overall, this is a wonderful book full of bewildering funeral expenses, dinner parties and celebrity guests, marital sparring, larger-than-life behavior, funny anecdotes, sorrow and grief. Buckley writes with humor, humility and an eye for realism. He grieves his loss, but you can sense that he's aware of how lucky he was to have such a relationship with his parents. Highly recommended.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ex-families

A divorce is a difficult enough situation to go through, but what if you can't just sever all ties and completely ignore your ex's existence? What if you and your ex are still parenting? What if you're the new step-parent having to step into a potentially hostile atmosphere?
Since most divorces are not entirely amicable, and resentments still simmer, it takes a lot of extra effort to try and keep things mellow when dealing with the children. Fortunately, we have quite a few new books to help you with this task.
Ex-Etiquette for Parents: good behavior after a divorce or separation by Jann Blackston-Ford and Sharyl Jupe. This book covers all the minefields (such as 'Interacting with your counterpartner when there has been an affair') and offers important advice about keeping your emotions out of the situation.
StepParenting: everything you need to know to make it work by Jeannette Lofas. Regardless of how old the children are, there are going to be some issues. This book covers all the stages of the relationship, from dating to wedding to new children, and dealing with common parenting problems when "you're not my mother!".
Step-Wives: 10 steps to help ex-wives and stepmothers end the struggle and put the kids first by Lynne Oxhorn-Ringwood and Louise Oxhorn. Ex-wives should read this to protect the happiness of their children, and stepmothers should read this to protect the happiness of their marriage. This guide is written by an actual ex-wife and stepmother pair, so they know what they're talking about.
Yours, Mine and Hours: relationship skills for blended families by John Penton and Shona Welsh. Advice from a couple who has successfully made a family out of step-siblings, this book would also be helpful for widows and widowers. The book covers issues such as rivalry, accusations of favoritism, and establishing new traditions for your new family.

Friday, August 14, 2009

New music

We've got another interesting group of CD's newly out on the shelves. Don't forget - we have a CD player and headphones available so you can 'try before you buy'.
The Crow: new songs for the 5-string banjo by Steve Martin. When Martin was first making a name for himself as a stand-up comedian, his banjo was a featured part of his routine. After years of Hollywood success, it's easy to forget what a great musician he is; this album is a good reminder. Almost all the songs were penned by Martin himself, and he plays with guest artists Dolly Parton, Earl Scruggs, Vince Gill, Tim O'Brien and Mary Black.
He and She by Wynton Marsalis is a love token. I don't know anything about Mr. Marsalis' personal life, but I can easily imagine that this album is a beautiful gift to the woman in his life. Sweet, clean tracks are interspersed with stanzas of poetry about the awestruck love a man has for a woman and his incredulity that she loves him back. Remember this album when Valentine's Day rolls around.
Gospel Keepsakes: the unreleased recordings by Hank Williams. Classic, old-time gospel music in William's beautiful but plaintive voice. These tracks were restored from original recordings belonging to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Whether you are a fan of gospel music or old-time country, you will enjoy this album of lost gems.
Mr Lucky by Chris Isaak. To me, Chris Isaak is a lot like k.d. lang: his voice is so amazing, I would listen to him sing anything. This album straddles country and rock music, and his sultry voice makes this album broadly appealing. There are a lot of weepy love songs here, as well as one track where he seems to be channeling Roy Orbison ("We've Got Tomorrow").
War: Anthology is a collection of greatest hits from 70's band War. The first few tracks on this set feature Eric Burdon (remember "Spill the Wine"?). They must have been at their best in the early 70's, because the first disc only covers 4 years, while the second disc spans the last 20 years of their output. (Sorry to broadcast my ignorance, but for me this was one of those bands where I'm continually thinking "I didn't know they did that song!"). You gotta like 'Low Rider', though - that's classic summer music.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New fantasy

We have three new fantasy novels that blend together elements of romance, historical fiction, political intrigue, magic, alternate realities and witches. Since all of these authors are recent arrivals in our collection, their names may be unfamiliar.
Darkborn is the first in a projected trilogy by Alison Sinclair. The city of Minhorne is co-habited by two groups who never interact. The Darkborn perish in sunlight and navigate through their world by 'sonning' rather than seeing, while the Lightborn are drained of life in the dark. Somehow, Darkborn Tercelle has become impregnated by her Lightborn lover and begs physician Balthasar to get rid of the newborn twins to avoid scandal. An interesting world, with overtones of 18th-century society, and a tale of deceit and intrigue will hold your attention.
Fire Raiser is Melanie Rawn's sequel to Spellbinder. There's a little bit of witchcraft, some romance, a mysterious rash of arson, and an enemy from the past liven up the life of Holly McClure. Successful author, wife of the county sheriff, mother of twins and witch: there's some life experiences to draw from.
End of the Century, by Chris Roberson, is rather vague about which century. Three very different characters - an American teenager in 1999, a British detective in 1897, and a gallant knight in 498 - all seem to be on the track of entirely different mysteries. But somehow, medieval glass towers, Victorian fascination with the Holy Grail, and a modern jewel-heist are all related. A good choice for readers who love complicated plots.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

That's not my West

There's a lovely romantic aura to the West that you don't find with other areas of the country - New Jersey, for example. Between the topographical extremes (Rocky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Big Sur) and the huge expanses of inhabited land (I'll stop here, lest William Shatner reads this out loud), there's something very striking about the West.
In our new book Into the Sunset: photography's image of the American West, editor Eva Respini has brought together images of dusty roads, suburban sprawl, cowboys and characters. The photos span a century and a half, from the 1860's & the incursion of the railroads into the territory of the Native Americans to the real estate boom in the 1960's and the depressing urban culture of today.
Respini is an assistant curator, Department of Photography, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. This probably explains why, in a book of 133 plates, there is only a half-dozen photos from Washington, Oregon and Idaho. To people back East, the American West always means cowboys, cactus and sun. The majority of the pictures are from the desert West: Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Texas. I think perhaps that is the reason why to overall feel of the book is sad, dry, dusty and lonely. The images in this book are hot and thirsty, with no rain or snow to cool the soul.
This is somebody else's West. I don't think it's mine.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Arts, arts, arts

The Blueberry Arts Festival is this weekend, and the smell of creativity (and blueberry crepes!) is in the air. When you go up to peruse the booths, be sure to stop by the Friends of the Library booth. In addition to entering the drawing for an amazing basket of free books, you can get more information about the many different services we offer: downloadable music, electronic magnifiers for the visually impaired, over 150 magazine titles, engine repair databases, Playaway audiobooks, story times, the Teen Advisory Group, books and magazines in Large Print, and board games.
After you've enjoyed some snacks at the festival, come down to the Children's Library to see the Summer Reading Club Art Show. The theme for this year's reading program was Get Creative @ Your Library, and Ketchikan's youth have been busy this summer making paintings, sculptures, collages, and crafts. There have been a dozen different art-making events at the library in the last two months, and there are some beautiful things to look at and admire.
The Teen Summer Reading program is continuing on through the month of August, and they will be hosting an Improv Night with Clare Bennett on Tuesday, Aug. 4th. Everyone is welcome to come and stretch their dramatic legs. The art events continue on for the rest of the month, so be sure to check our calendar for: Crazy Critter StoryCraft, Magnetic Poetry, Wimpy Kid art & activities, and Needle-Felted Stars.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Fun flicks

Overheated? Grumpy? Looking for some cheerful film to take your mind off the heat? Try one of our new fun-themed DVDs.
Danton, starring Gerard Depardieu and Wojciech Pszoniak, retells the merry hijinks of The Terror: the post-revolutionary period in France when everyone had a date with Madame La Guillotine. Depardieu is the popular folk hero Danton, and Pszoniak is the merciless revolutionary leader Robespierre.
"Into the valley of Death rode the six hundred". The events that inspired Tennyson's famous poem are recreated on film in The Charge of the Light Brigade. Starring Trevor Howard and David Hemmings, this movie was filmed in 1968 and uses the backdrop of a Crimean War fiasco to drive home an anti-war message geared for modern audiences.
The Wages of Fear is a classic suspense film. Four men drive a cargo of nitroglycerin over treacherous mountain roads in South America. Gritty and depressing, this movie stars the charismatic Yves Montand.
One of the most tragic tales in Western literature is that of Romeo and Juliet, and in 1961 Hollywood upped the ante by changing the setting to the tenements of New York City and infusing the story with racism and gang warfare. West Side Story has some really catchy music, tho.
In one of Jack Lemmon's most acclaimed dramatic roles, he plays a public relations guy whose career is on a tear. As his social drinking becomes more frequent, he drags his wife down with him into co-dependant alcoholism. Days of Wine and Roses was one of the first Hollywood films to take a harsh, realistic look at alcohol abuse in average America.
Hmm....I don't think I was feeling blue when I ordered all these films, so I like to think it's coincidence that such a grim selection of movies comes together at one time. Ah well, ours not to reason why...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Stories

Have you ever been to one of those big family gatherings where the elders start telling family stories, remembering people and events from many years ago? It's always fascinating to sit and listen to the history of your great-grandparents, and their great-grandparents, and have these names emerge as fully-fleshed individuals.
Been Here a Thousand Years is like that. Mariolina Venezia tells the story of a family over 5 generations, from the beginning of the Italian nation in 1861 until the crumbling of Communism. This family from a tiny village in the boot-heel of Italy goes through the upheaval of loveless marriages, illness, death, bandits, poverty, blinding love, emigration, wars and modernization and through it all Venezia tells their stories with a slight touch of mysticism and fantasy. There is something deeper at work here in the relationships than pure love, hate or loyalty. She establishes this from the very beginning of the book, when the streets of the village run with olive oil - oil whose pots have been shattered by the screams of a woman in labor.
This is a beautiful story reminiscent of Gábriel García Marquez or Laura Esquivel, and is sure to please readers who remember listening to their own family sagas.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

An unlikely romance

If you were to troll our shelves looking for Romantic Fiction novels, the chances are pretty high that the heroine of the story won't be a 68-year old Hungarian peasant and the object of her affection won't be a squat, white-haired potter. That's what makes our latest novel - Valeria's Last Stand, by Marc Fitten - such a rare find. Set in a village so unremarkable that two World Wars and a Communist Revolution passed by without so much as a glance towards its cobbled streets, Valeria is a story about opportunity and possibility. All of the characters face a moment when they realize that there is a chance for their lives to change, for their destiny to travel down a different path, and that it's never too late to take that first step towards something new and wonderful. It could be lust, it could be art, it could be a career, or it could just be stability.
This is not an overtly philosophical novel, however. The characters recognize their new possibilities rather quickly (Valeria's moment of epiphany happens in the middle of the farmers' market) and there isn't a lot of hemming and hawing about choosing a new life. In the case of the woman who is run out of town, she didn't have much time for vacillating, but generally Fitten sketches characters who act decisively without too much introspection. I think that's true of many people, and frankly, its a nice change from novels with page after page of angst-ridden self-analysis. Fitten's novel moves along nicely, and it's earthy without being vulgar. There's a 'small town trying to enter the global marketplace' subplot that should be familiar to Alaskans, as well as a great deal of gentle humor. This book is recommended for anyone who would like a well-paced story about autumnal romance and awakenings.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Landscaping 101

Whether you are putting together a complete garden space from a bare building site, or trying to freshen up a tired existing yard, Garden Design: planning, building and planting your perfect outdoor space is the first place to start. Editor Chris Young has put together a soup-to-nuts guide on designing a beautiful garden. From planning the scope of your project (how much time and money do you have?) to choosing a style that fits your taste and surroundings (my cottage-style house would look goofy with a formal French herb garden in back), this book helps you get your creative juices flowing.
There are sections on laying out your new space around existing features, thinking about building materials, taking seasonal changes into account, and incorporating complimentary color schemes into the plant beds and design features. This book does a wonderful job supporting the textual information with diagrams and photos, as well as demonstrating that the same space can be utilised and shaped many different ways.
The chapter on constructing your garden - preparing the site, building outdoor structures, doing your planting - is very brief and should be considered more of an overview. It will give you an idea of how much effort is involved in laying out a certain type of path, building a pergola, or putting in a water feature (apparently, this is more involved than just leaving a wading pool out on your lawn all year). To actually build your deck, lay out your patio, or install a fence I recommend checking out one of our books devoted entirely to that subject.
The final chapter - a Plant and Materials guide - is nice because it gives you a variety of options without being overwhelming. If this is your first big garden project, choosing perennials from a book listing 600 species can be pretty daunting. In addition, since the contributors to Garden Design are all British, most of the plants they suggest would do well in our climate. We do, however, have plenty of books about Northwest annuals and perennials, if you need more plant suggestions.
This is an extremely helpful, nicely illustrated book that should be your first source of advice and inspiration for your next gardening project.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Renaissance Art

I've never seen a good book about Renaissance art come in anything other than a huge size, probably because the art of that period demands large color reproductions that highlight the details of each sculpture, painting and carving. There is a wealth of these books out there, and as wonderful as it is to look at beautiful paintings by Titian, Botticelli and Tintoretto, it takes something special to set an overview of the Renaissance apart from other like books.
Christopher Masters has done a nice job of this. His new book, Renaissance, groups works of art (mostly paintings) by general theme: Love, War, Home, Landscape, City, Birds & Beasts, etc. The section on The Ancient World is very interesting because he displays the Renaissance piece next to the Greek or Roman sculpture from which it was inspired. The famous Roman statue of Laocoon and his sons being attacked by serpents is replicated in the twisting forms in Buonarroti's painting The Sacrifice of Noah from the Sistine Chapel. Masters also shows both the Renaissance and Roman depictions of Spinario ("Thorn Puller"), and points out that the Roman version is probably a copy of an earlier Hellenistic statue, which itself was probably based on an original Greek work. The chain of inspiration moves on through time.
The section on Sacred Themes - a dominant subject of art during the Renaissance - depicts the similarities and differences in the way painters approached the same subject: the Adoration, the Birth of the Virgin, the Crucifixion. You can see the technique maturing over time, but what I found most interesting was the way artists would pluck particular poses and compositions directly from the work of their predecessor's. Was it a flattering imitation, or an attempt to get things right?
The postscript shows how certain paintings from the Renaissance had direct effect on the artists of the 19th century, some of whom directly parodied (Master's word - I think reinterpreted might be a less judgmental term) the paintings of the past. Manet's famous Olympia is taken from Titian's The Venus of Urbino, for instance.
This is a really interesting book, and is very instructive about the way in which Renaissance artists drew from the Classical tradition and further influenced art through the centuries. And there's a lot of pretty paintings, too.