Friday, February 27, 2009

Extreme birds

I stumbled across my old high school yearbook the other day, and was looking at the list of peer-nominated superlatives: Best Dressed, Worst Driver, Most Academic (gee, what a boost to your teen social life!). Our splashy new book about birds is very similar to this odd need to categorize people.
Extreme Birds: the world's most extraordinary and bizarre birds is crammed full of gorgeous color photos and interesting tidbits about the class Aves. In an attempt to enliven the subject and appeal to a wide range of readers, British birder and author Dominic Couzens has assigned each of the 125+ birds in this book with a particular accolade. Some of them make perfect sense: longest wingspan, most number of eggs, biggest eyes, etc.
Most of the categories seem to be a bit more subjective: biggest chauvinist, funniest forager, and most elegant dancer. When you read the accompanying text, however, you are completely drawn in to learning more about the life of each bird. Some of the categories and descriptions are amusing enough (and short enough) to entertain children as well as adults. I can't say whether the Northern Cardinal is truly the "Pushiest Female", but after reading Couzen's explanation I'm certainly ready to give it my vote.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Special-needs families

Anyone who is a parent can tell you that having children requires a significant readjustment of your marital relationship and personal priorities. For many couples, the strain of coping with a new baby (and even worse, the 2-year-old tyrant it eventually becomes) can shatter a marriage. Consider the difficulties of keeping your relationship strong when you have a special-needs child...
Married with Special-Needs Children: a couples' guide to keeping connected is an important resource for anyone who is in this situation. Financial issues, worry over the health and development of your child, intensive child-care schedules and the abrupt decline in romantic opportunities can burden even the strongest of relationships. Authors Laura Marshak and Fran Pollock Prezant offer parents ways to cope with stress, communicate about difficult subjects, find support sources outside the home and preserve a little bit of alone-time.
This book has a very specialized audience, but for those parents, the understanding and guidance in these pages can be of enormous assistance.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The other side of India

We've been hearing an awful lot about Slumdog Millionaire lately, thanks in part to it's historic run of film awards including the Oscar for Best Picture. I haven't watched Slumdog yet, but there has been some unhappiness amongst the people of India about the less-than-glamorous image the film presents of India.
One way to counter that would be to watch the new Indian epic on our shelves: Jodhaa Akbar. This is a sweeping 3 1/2 hour film in the tradition of the old Hollywood epics: monumental battles, tender romance, fabulous costumes and lots and lots of extras milling around in the background. Jodhaa is a fictional recreation of the marriage of the great Mughal Emperor Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar and the gorgeous (in the film, at least) Hindu Rajput Princess Jodhaa. If you want to set this in an historical context, their son went on to have his own legendary love story and built the Taj Mahal to his dear departed wife.
Since there were no People Weekly or FOX News reporters back in sixteenth century India, a lot of this film comes from the director's imagination. But wow, what a great story, and the sets and costumes are luscious. If you like to watch epic battles or splashy costume dramas (like The Duchess, starring Kiera Knightly - another film we recently purchased), then you should give Jodhaa a try.
Disclaimer: the dialogue is entirely in Hindi, with English subtitles, and it is not rated.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Upcoming outage

The City is going to be doing some electrical work over at City Hall this Saturday, and electrical power to that small area will be cut off from 7 am to 3 pm. (The affected buildings include City Hall, Borough Offices (Reid Building), Redman hall, Masonic Lodge, Pioneers of Alaska, Fireside, First bank warehouse.)
How does this affect the library and our patrons? Well, our server is sitting in City Hall. So on Saturday we will have to alter our services a little.
What we can do:
  • Check books out to you using your library card
  • Check your books in
  • Renew items for you
  • Help you find things on the shelf based on our innate knowledge of the Dewey Decimal system and years of experience knowing exactly where each book is kept in the building (like asking your Mom where is the lanyard you made at summer camp last year)
What we cannot do:
  • Look you up in the computer by name
  • Search the catalog (it will be down)
  • Let you use the Internet (it will be down)
  • Get you a new library account
  • Collect overdue fines
  • Tell you when things already checked out on your account are due
  • Place books on hold for you

This will be the first time we use our new 'emergency offline circulation system', and I am looking forward to seeing how it goes. Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Music for all ears

Our latest group of new CD titles manages to cross quite a few genres, and should appeal to a wide range of tastes:
Two legends of the blues have new offerings on our shelves.
  • Maestro from Taj Mahal
  • One Kind Favor by B.B. King
Just in time for St. Patrick's Day we have The Rocky Road. Damien Dempsey performs a selection of traditional and newer Celtic songs, with John Sheahan and Barney McKenna from The Dubliners.
For lovers of classical music we have Mr Abel's Fine Airs. Musician Susanne Heinrich plays the viola de gamba. Carl Freidrich Abel was an 18th century composer whose works are very soothing and beautiful.
Jazz fans are familiar with Charlie Haden and his 50-year career as a bassist, but his new album brings him back to his early roots as "Little Cowboy Charlie". Rambling Boy features an impressive list of guest artists joining Haden to perform a variety of traditional and original country songs.
Another album for country music fans is That Lonesome Song by Jamey Johnson. The award-winning songwriter finally performs his own compositions on his debut CD.
Some old names and some new faces are on our Rock shelves, and they each have a distinctive sound.
  • Time the Conqueror by Jackson Browne
  • Modern Guilt by Beck
  • Tennessee Pusher by Old Crow Medicine Show
  • The Seldom Seen Kid by Elbow
  • The Rhumb Line by Ra Ra Riot. Who? This is only the second album from the Gloucester-based band, but the beautiful music and melancholy lyrics (the CD is dedicated to their drummer and founding member John Pike, who drowned after a summer concert last year) make this a group to watch.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Are you listening?

Another month, another flush of audiobooks on the shelves:
Last session, the Alaska State Legislature gave the public library $16,000 for new materials (thanks to the efforts of Rep. Kyle Johansen). One of the many projects we have accomplished with this money is to replace some of our aging and obsolete AV materials with newer, more popular formats. To date, we have replaced our audiocassette versions of the Amelia Peabody mysteries (written by Elizabeth Peters), the Aubrey/Maturin series (written by Patrick O'Brian), and the Dragonrider series (written by Anne McCaffrey). We have also been able to fill in the holes in our Jack Reacher series (written by Lee Child).
As for audio titles that are brand new to our library, be sure to check out Finding Nouf (by Zoe Ferraris), A Lion Among Men (another updating of the Oz series by Gregory Maguire), The Year of Pleasures (by Elizabeth Berg), Twenty Wishes (a Blossom Street book by Debbie Macomber) and The Snack Thief (an Inspector Montalbano mystery by Andrea Camilleri).
The weather has been so beautiful and sunny lately that it has been an absolute pleasure to fire up my audiobook and take a brisk walk. I don't know how much sunlight I'm soaking up (a necessary component for making Vitamin D), but it sure feels good....

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lemme take you on a sea cruise

Believe it or not, we are only two months away from the annual summer occupation of our docks. In the spirit of the approaching tourist season, I would like to offer up a new book: Cruise Confidential: a hit below the waterline by Brian David Bruns. Bruns spent a year working restaurant duty for Carnival Cruise Lines. To truly appreciate this feat, you apparently have to know that there is a rigid international hierarchy on board ship, and that the job you have on board is usually directly related to what country you're from (Brits and Americans are always Entertainment). You also have to know that in the entire 30-year history of Carnival Cruise Lines, Bruns is the only American to stick out his entire 8-month contract as a waiter.
The book is a little like an expose, in that it details the seedy side of life aboard the ship (heavy drinking, promiscuous behavior, petty squabbles that erupt into fistfights....and that's just the passengers). Bruns also gets a crash course in international relations and diplomacy as he works against the stereotypes of Americans harbored by the crew. Some of these stereotypes are perfectly justified...he's the only member of the staff who is not multilingual and he's shocked to find that he is sharing a hotel room when he arrives in Miami for training.
I was personally interested in the book because my cousin has spent the last two years working for Holland America (he's Canadian, so naturally he's in Entertainment). When he docks in town this summer, I will be sure to ask him if he's read this book and if everything is true to form. Somehow, I suspect that there is very little hyperbole here....anyone up for a career change?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Culinary jazz

What separates a good cook from a great cook? A good cook can follow any recipe and prepare a wonderful dish. A great cook can create their own recipes. I used to work at a restaurant where the owner would prepare soups from instinct, knowing which spices worked well together and what flavor was missing or too powerful. She would get inspirations from cookbooks, but would rarely follow a recipe.
With our new book The Flavor Bible: the essential guide to culinary creativity, based on the wisdom of America's most imaginative chefs, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg give you that fundamental knowledge of flavors, seasonings and ingredients that allows you to understand why certain things compliment each other and other foods should never be used in the same dish. Even better, their interviews with chefs from around the country help explain the underlying factors that can elevate a dish from good to great. Are you using foods appropriate for the season? For the climate? Is your cooking technique overpowering the strength of your ingredients?
After a couple of chapters of theory and explanation, the book gets down to the nitty-gritty: an encyclopedia of spices, techniques and ingredients that lists what compliments the item (in three different levels of affinity) and often what combination of foods works well with the item to create an overall dish. I looked up rhubarb - which is abundant in Southeast in the spring, but has limited appeal to me - and saw that it's a medium-weight food with a strong flavor that works well being baked, stewed, sauteed or pureed. It pairs best with strawberries, cream, ginger and sugar (all of which I knew), but I also found out that caramelized sugar works well for rhubarb because it doesn't make it too sweet. Blood orange juice, mint, almonds, game birds and Stilton cheese are all recommended, as is angelica (which I had to look up in the dictionary).
So give this book a try and see if it doesn't open up some new possibilities for you in the kitchen. Remember that scene in Sabrina where Audrey Hepburn returns from Paris and whips up a meal at Humphrey Bogart's office using tomato juice, crackers and eggs?

Thursday, February 12, 2009


One of the nice things about libraries is that they buy books that you wouldn't necessarily purchase (but would love to look at). Coffee-table photography books are a great example of this. Who doesn't like paging through beautiful and interesting photos, but who wants to spend $50 to do so? Our four new entries in the field include glamour, history, and everyday life.
Edward Sheriff Curtis is a collection of historical images taken at the turn of the 20th century by photographer Curtis. The book begins with his work in Alaska with the Harriman Expedition and ends with his trip to Kotzebue and Nunivak in 1927. Along the way, the reader can see beautiful sepia-toned photos of Native Americans from tribes across the Southwest and the Plains. There has been some question about the authenticity of the tableaux, and how much staging was involved...but they're still wonderful images.
R.F.K: a photographer's journal is a recollection of the 1968 Presidential campaign by photographer Harry Benson (who is also known for his images of the Beatles' American tour). It starts out with a family rafting trip in 1966 - along with astronaut John Glenn - that shows Kennedy at his most relaxed and happy. The book then goes into the adoring crowds that came to his campaign stops and cheered for him in parades before laying out the tragedy of Kennedy's assassination. Benson was one of the few photographers present, and the images he took that night are part of America's history, as are his touching photos from the funeral train.
Vanity Fair's Hollywood is much lighter fare. The iconic photographs of Edward Steichen, Herb Ritts and Annie Leibovitz (among others) bring the beauty and glamour of Hollywood alive. From the ethereal Gish twins (1921) to a voluptuous Jennifer Lopez, you can see the styles in beauty and fashion evolve. My favorite photo is the sideways glance that Sophia Loren is giving to Jayne Mansfield's cleavage (which is extending down practically to the table top).
Who We Were: a snapshot history of America is a collection of photographs taken by ordinary people chronicling their life. Artsy double-exposures, honeymoon snaps, and family photos taken on the beach mingle with images from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Selma march and the Vietnam war. The book ends with a wonderful shot: a family photo lying in the surface of the moon, with the footprints of astronaut Charles Duke in the frame. That photo is still there.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mrs. Scieszka was a saint

You may not usually think of autobiographies as laugh riots, but if you are a guy who was born between 1940 and 1965, you really have to read Knucklehead: tall tales & mostly true stories about growing up Scieszka by the hugely popular children's author Jon Scieszka.
Here's what I mean: I started reading my husband a passage about Jon and his brother Jim heading down to the basement with their WWII model tanks and a dry cleaning bag to have a battle. Before I even finished reading the sentence, my husband said "Oh yeah, those bags make great dive bombs". It turns out that if you tie the bag in a string of knots, suspend it from the ceiling and light it on fire, the melting plastic will descend in blobs onto the model tanks with an authentic 'zipping' bomb sound. Who knew?
This book is full of stories like this: homemade Halloween costumes, handing clothes down through the seceding brothers (there were 6 Scieszka boys...I don't know how their mother coped), going to parochial school, being a Boy Scout, and 'keeping an eye' on the younger brothers. They're told with a great deal of humor and honesty (and plenty of disclaimers telling the reader not to attempt this at home). Don't be put off by the fact that it is a children's book...this is a fabulous read for adults and it has helped me understand my husband and my dad are so darn odd.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Shake your moneymaker

For the second year in a row, the library had a presence at the Wearable Art Show. Kathy Bolling put together another wonderful costume with a library-related theme (remember the library beauty queens from last year?). This year she designed a money tree with foam and willow branches, decorated with fabric and gauze leaves - some of which held real dollar bills!
I was lucky enough to get to model again this year and I had a great time strutting down the catwalk, shaking my dollars to an oh-so-subtle cover version of the Beatles' "I Want Money". That was fun enough, but on Friday night someone from one of the school libraries (who may wish to remain anonymous) dashed up to the catwalk and handed me money! Other people in the audience got into the spirit of the thing, and I made $11 that night for the New Library Building Fund.
By the final performance on Saturday, the buzz had apparently gotten around and people were prepared. I got so much money handed to me during my performance that I ran out of places to stuff it all ('cause trees don't have pockets, ya know) and I almost ran out of music.
The collection for Saturday night? $288!!
I would like to give a huge 'Thank You' to Kathy for creating such a brilliant costume, to the school librarian who opened the floodgates, and to all the people in the audience who made such a powerful statement by donating to the cause.
I can't wait till next year....

Saturday, February 7, 2009

British history

For aficionados of British history - or for anyone with an eye for a really good story - we have a couple of new books that look at two major components of Britian. One book details her globe-spanning empire, while the other looks at one of her most iconic symbols: the Thames river.
The modern world would be a vastly different place if the British had not extended their reach beyond the narrow confines of their small island (North America's political boundaries would certainly be much different). In The Decline and Fall of the British Empire: 1781-1997, Piers Brendon lays out an entertaining narrative of where the Brits went (practically everywhere), what they did there (some good, some bad) and how they left (occasionally with pomp and circumstance, almost always on the heels of bloody conflict). The book begins with Cornwallis' surrender to Gen. Washington at the battle of Yorktown, and ends with the sulky return of Hong Kong to the Chinese government. Along the way, there are tales of political intrigue, financial rapaciousness, cultural insensitivity and stunning ingenuity and ambition. Smashing fun!
Peter Ackroyd's portrait of a river - Thames: the biography - is a little more light-hearted, since it only involves rampant disease, environmental disasters, class discrimination and grinding poverty. The Thames is a really interesting body of water, since its character changes so dramatically in such a short distance. It's only 215 miles long, but it ranges from meandering tree-lined countryside to industrial squalor in one of the world's largest urban centers. The Thames is dripping with history, from Queen Elizabeth I's trip downriver to the Tower of London to the first underwater tunnel in the world to the bleak career of the gallows at Execution Dock. Ackroyd also does a nice job illustrating the amount of influence the Thames has had on artists and writers over the centuries. This is a very interesting, enjoyable story to read.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Wanna decorate?

People love decorating ideas, and there's about as many styles and tastes out there as you could possible imagine. Two of our newest decorating idea books are geared towards the 20-40 year old crowd, with a fair amount of kitschy artistic taste thrown in.
If you've ever seen the magazine domino (and if you haven't, don't worry - we'll soon be getting a trial subscription), then you know that the pages are full of ideas on paint schemes, furniture combinations, and soft furnishings. It's all about evoking a mood and making a statement, often with pieces that look like you picked them up at upscale thrift shops. domino, the Book of Decorating: a room-by-room guide to creating a home that makes you happy continues in this vein. The combinations, suggestions and hints from editors Deborah Needleman, Sara Ruffin Costello and Dara Caponigro are sure to appeal to hip young urbanites (or urbanite wanna-be). Very colorful, very eclectic, very bold...I'm showing my age when I say that a lot of the pictures look too visually cluttered and downright tacky, but if I was 25 I would be totally inspired.
Apartment Therapy is a blog whose online community shares what they have done with their tiny cramped apartments. Through these House Tours, others are motivated to be all they can be...don't just settle for white walls and hand-me-down furniture! Three years worth of these House Tours have been compiled in Apartment Therapy presents: real homes, real people, hundreds of real design solutions. Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan introduces you to these self-made decorators (just like you!) who have managed to imprint their personality on spaces that can be astoundingly small. This book is all about modern, urban design in a variety of living situations. There's a nice listing in the back that breaks all these tours down by geographic region, apartment vs. home, and size. Whether it's a 265 sq. ft. apartment for a family of three - holy cow! - or an 1,800 sq. ft. Victorian home, you can get plenty of ideas for your own space. These dwellers give you their inspiration, their DIY, biggest indulgence and best advice. Even if you're not planning on decorating your own space, this is still a fun book to page through.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


About 15 years ago, Robert Hellenga wrote a lovely little piece of literary romantic fiction titled Sixteen Pleasures. Set in Florence in the late 60's, it centered around a young American student who goes to Florence after a devastating flood to help salvage and repair the vast collection of art and manuscripts damaged in the flood. It was a nice read, but it left me with questions about the 1966 flood: how did it happen, what was the extent of the damage, and how much was salvaged from the mud?
Dark Water: flood and redemption in the city of masterpieces by Robert Clark answers these questions and more. Clark gives the reader a history of Florence's relationship with its river - the Arno - and how that relationship influenced artists and writers over the centuries. Using the perspective of various people who came to assist rescue efforts, Clark tells a story of young students scraping muck from Renaissance texts, art historians and conservators squabbling over techniques, and Florentines trying to save one another from the rapidly rising waters.
Like all disaster stories, Dark Water has a very compelling narrative and Clark does a good job of conveying the tragedy and loss without being maudlin or extravagant. The bulk of his tale, however, is the superhuman efforts of volunteers from around the world who came to Florence to save centuries of priceless art. How bad was it? Restoration of Girogio Vasari's Last Supper is still in the planning phase, 40 years after the flood.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A real poser....

So here's my question for the week: if you're going to put together a photographic retrospective from a magazine that has been famous for it's images for over a century, why would you make the book 7 inches tall? Our Annie Leibovitz collection - A photographer's life : 1990-2005 - is almost a foot taller than our new addition to the photography section - National geographic : the photographs. Considering the emotion, beauty and historical significance of the photos it seems a shame to shrink them down to such a small size, and I'm not sure what author Leah Nendavid-Val's motivation was for this.
Having said that, this National Geographic book draws you in and keeps you thumbing through the pages. Mummies, shipwrecks, endangered animals, natural disasters, cowboys, famine victims and new technologies all grace the pages and cover a span of years and locations from a 1906 photo of the explorer Robert E. Peary in the Arctic to underwater photography in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica in the 1990s. The images of children are especially moving, as they always seem to be more inured to their surroundings and honest with their emotions. A smiling line of Moscow children, born without hands due to rampant industrial pollution; a young Peruvian boy weeping over his dead flock of sheep, a financial catastrophe caused by a hit-and-run driver.
Just so you know, the library has back issues of National Geographic extending back to 1888. If you see a photo in our new book that inspires you to read the entire article (or if you want to see the pictures in a larger size), we would be happy to dust those back issues off for you.