Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hot & Steamy

Well, it might be 35° outside, but things are burning up here in the library. If summer weather and sultry beach reads seem a distant prospect, come in and pick up one of our hot new romances:
The Decadent Duke by Virginia Henley. Lady Georgina Gordon seems destined to marry the arrogant Duke of Bedford, despite his total lack of attraction and Lady Georgina's best efforts to avoid the match. Unfortunately, she is drawn towards the Duke's younger, dashing - and ineligible - younger brother.
To Seduce a Texan by Georgina Gentry. This Western romance, set in the 1860's, sees Will 'Waco' McCain kidnap a banker's stepdaughter for ransom, only to find that the banker is happy to get rid of her in order to keep her inheritance. Worse yet, the stepdaughter is becoming reconciled to staying within the grasp of a rugged, yet decent, outlaw.
When the Duke Returns by Eloisa James. Lady Isidore is happy to find that the man she was married to by proxy as a child is in fact a handsome stunner. But she is dismayed to find out that he wants an annulment because he thinks her too beautiful and sensual to be his docile Duchess. If only Isidore can find a way to consummate the marriage before it's too late...
Wicked Intentions by Lydia Joyce. Esmerelda is a beautiful Victorian spiritualist who is trying to discover the dark secrets of Viscount Varcourt as revenge for his public skepticism of her talents. As she gets closer to the truth behind his older brother's death, new enemies arise to harm both of them.
Zen and the Art of Vampires by Katie MacAlister. On the brink of her 40th birthday, and with a personal life that is less than fulfilling, Pia takes a singles' tour through Europe in an attempt to change her luck. Things start to look up when she meets a couple of gorgeous guys in Iceland. Small problem. They're vampires.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A farce, p'raps

Mistaken identity has been a fruitful plot device for centuries, and one classic example of this is Oliver Goldsmith's play She Stoops to Conquer. Being a great favorite of the London dramatic scene, Goldsmith amused audiences when this play debuted in 1773, and you can't help but wonder if word of it's success trickled across the Atlantic to the restless Colonies.
The stage play has been taken outdoors in our latest DVD offering, with a British cast and a 17th-century manor house as the backdrop. Lush costumes, period music and authentic props are all par for the course when it comes to British film productions (can you imagine what the storage rooms at the BBC look like?), and these all combine to bring this 200+ year old story to life.
Beautiful Kate has spent her whole life in her father's rustic country manor, but he has arranged a marriage with the polished London-beau son of his oldest friend. This new suitor - Mr. Marlow - is on his way down to meet her, accompanied by his friend Mr. Hastings. Kate's cousin Constance is already involved in a secret romance with Mr. Hastings, and they hope to win the consent of Constance's guardian (Kate's mother), as well as possession of Constance's jewels. Mr. Marlow is handsome and glib around his friends and the maidservants, but he turns tongue-tied around women of his own class ("modest women", in Goldsmith's parlance).
When Marlow and Hastings encounter Kate's boorish stepbrother on their way to the manor, he tricks them into believing that they are miles from their destination and that the manor is in fact an inn run by an eccentric innkeeper (who is actually Marlow's prospective father-in-law).
That only gets you through the first 1/2 hour of the play, so you can see that there are plot twists, confusion, misapprehension and ludicrous mistakes in the offing. This is a very fun play that is also beautiful to look at...definitely worth watching!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On-dits, reticules and phaetons

If you know what all three of those words mean, than we have a couple of new novels just for you. Regency romances are a very common genre, but it's hard to find ones that are well-written and historically reasonable. These two fit the bill:
Georgette Heyer, who was born in 1902, is the next best thing to Jane Austen. Frederica is far and away one of her best books. A down-to-earth heroine, an attractive hero with a sense of humor, and two engaging boys all combine to produce a story with some wonderful dialogue and amusing situations. Frederica is a capable young woman caring for her younger brothers and sisters and attempting to launch her gorgeous younger sister - Charis - into society on a shoestring budget. Lord Alverstoke is the distant cousin who agrees to pave their way into the haut ton as a means of amusing himself at the expense of his demanding sisters (who have young girls of their own to launch). I'm not a huge fan of precocious children in novels (authors have a tendency to make them a bit too pert), but Frederica's young brothers are realistic, well-rounded characters and their interactions with Alverstoke are some of the most amusing parts of the novel. Originally written in 1965, this is a perfect choice for someone looking for a gentle read.
The Edge of Impropriety is a brand-new novel by Pam Rosenthal. The sex scenes, of which there are quite a few, are moderately graphic, but Rosenthal has done a good job of putting them in a reasonable context for the time period. (Apparently, you can't publish a romance novel these days without graphic sex, and it's very difficult to avoid making the characters seem like time-travelers, rather than true products of their era). Lady Gorham is a dashing widow with a precarious position in society - a position she maintains by writing society novels and a position that is threatened by secrets from her past: secrets she is paying a blackmailer to keep hidden. Jasper Hedges is a scholar and younger son of a baronet who is still smarting from an unhappy love affair, and miserable that he has been unable to claim the son that resulted from that brief alliance. He and Lady Gorham agree to become lovers for the duration of the Season - purely for the sex - but things become complicated when their feelings become more romantic. There is a nice side-story of Jasper's nephew and his love-life, a story that is much more reminiscent of Georgette Heyer than the steamier main plot. The various plot lines will definitely keep you interested, and the characters are likeable and not one-dimensional.

Friday, March 20, 2009

An ingenious species?

Six-Legged Soldiers: using insects as weapons of war highlights the twisted ingenuity of one of the most pervasive species on the planet. No, not the bugs - the humans. Author Jeffrey A. Lockwood tracks the various ways that humans have commandeered in their millennia-old fight amongst themselves. From the plagues called down upon the Pharaoh by Moses to an assassination attempt on President Lincoln using the clothes of yellow fever victims (the Confederate doctor who sent them didn't understand how the disease was did him no harm in the eyes of his fellow Kentuckians, who elected him Governor after the war), man has used the natural habits of insects to spread devastation. Lockwood tells a fascinating story that interweaves scientific discovery with military tactics, sometimes with truly gruesome results. There is an extended chapter on Japan's Unit 731, which conducted brutal experiments on Chinese civilians and POWs during World War II in an attempt to develop biological weapons with insect vectors. He also details accusations of American use of insect-borne diseases during the Korean War. Beehive booby-traps, insect cyborgs and crop-devastating swarms of insects are some of the many ways that humans have used arthropods for their own ends. And who knows what the future will bring - what microscopic foe will be used to decimate a country or wipe out an invading army? This isn't a very cheery book, but it is certainly an instructive one.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A year in the life...

One of our more popular series of photography books is the "A Day in the Life of..", in which a group of photographers across a country are invited to collect images on a particular day, and those images are then assembled into a lovely overview of how the country as a whole pursues their daily lives.
A century ago, a wealthy philanthropist pursued the same idea on an even grander scale. French banker Albert Kahn financed photographic expeditions to every corner of the globe, to record human civilization in color. Beginning in 1909, and continuing on for the next twenty years, these expeditions took portraits of families, scenery and workers on every inhabited continent except Australia. To put this into perspective, remember that the North Pole has just been discovered, the Montreal Canadiens have just been founded, and the U.S. Navy has just built a naval base at Pearl Harbor. Travel was difficult, communities were wary of foreigners, and color photography was still being experimented with.
The images in The Dawn of the Color Photograph: Albert Kahn's archives of the planet by David Okuefuna, are truly beautiful. Using the autochrome process, Kahn's photographers have recorded lush images of colorful ethnic dress and unspoiled wilderness. They have also recorded images of war, harsh criminal justice and poverty. Photos of buildings and machines that were considered the pinnacle of industry and technology then look quaint and historic now, while the portraits of the people are truly arresting. It's easy to see how much globalization has done away with cultural identity when you look at this book. People now all wear jeans, t-shirts and sneakers regardless of what continent you're on, while the villagers in these photos look like they've stepped out of a display of ethnic costumes. This is an interesting book to browse through, and the soft focus and static poses drain the images of harsh reality - even the children in cattle cars being sent to concentration camps prior to the Greco-Turkish War seem oddly detached from their fate.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Those wacky astronomers

In the year 2000, something akin to an atomic bomb went off in the middle of the scientific community: the American Museum of Natural History (in New York City) opened it's new Rose Center for Earth and Space. The visual focal point of the center is a huge replica of the solar system, complete with Sun and orbiting planets. Pluto is not one of them.
The Director of the Rose Center is Neil deGrasse Tyson, and in his new book The Pluto Files: the rise and fall of America's favorite planet, he chronicles the events leading up to Pluto's demotion from a planet and the world-wide furor that arose from having this decision graphically represented in one of the world's premier natural history museums.
(Blogger's admission: I am not a fan of astronomy and would be hard-pressed to name all the planets in correct order). Having said that, this book is really interesting. It's interesting to read about Pluto's discovery by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, about how this celestial object was named, and about how American culture glommed onto it (perhaps because it was discovered by an American). It's interesting to read the dialogue between scientists after observations showed that there is a belt of icy bodies at the edge of the orbiting planets (a Kuiper Belt, named after George Kuiper, who theorized its existence in the 1950s). Proof of this belt began a re-examination of Pluto's status, and one of the tiny planet's defenders in the ensuing 'discussion' happened to be the man who first discovered Pluto. It's even interesting to read the scientific reasoning behind the arguments.
What I found most interesting, however, is the reaction of the public. Tyson shares some of the letters he received from irate retirees and impassioned schoolchildren (one of whom asked him not to reply in cursive, as she can't read it). There were poems, there were songs, there were editorial cartoons and newspaper headlines, and jokes on late-night TV. And in the end, the International Astronomical Union officially declassified Pluto as a planet. It is now a Dwarf Planet. But what a fabulous discussion and what a great opportunity to get children turned on to science and the principles of scientific debate. That's the real story here....

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Underneath all that snow - a garden!

Believe it or not - with all the snow flying past the windows - it is almost time to start getting out in your garden. The first day of spring is this Friday, so I thought I would highlight one of our new gardening books. Generally speaking, when I choose new books for the gardening section anything with the words 'drought-resistant', 'desert' or 'heat-tolerant' in the title get passed over. But books with the words 'shady', 'cool', and 'wet' are a must-have for our library.
Managing the Wet Garden: plants that flourish in problem places is by British horticulturist John Simmons. About 20 years ago, he purchased a wet meadow in Norfolk, England and he began experimenting with different species and varieties. This book is the product of that long-term experiment. Since the climate of England and Southeast is so similar, his advice should translate well to our own gardens here. He has plenty of ideas for selecting plants - including ferns, trees, shrubs, climbers, bulbs and perennials - and for keeping your garden healthy. A mild drought that might not affect your standard garden plants (which might be barely surviving our normal soggy climate) can wipe out a moisture-loving plant. Grass, too, needs special considerations to grow in wet soil. Some of the characters in this book might be old favorites in your garden, but you will probably find some new possibilities in these pages. And thanks to our wacky weather, you still have plenty of time to special-order for the planting season.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Another Outage

There is another power outage scheduled this Saturday for the City Hall area. Since both our Internet and our ILS servers are in that building, that means there will be no Internet available at the public library until after 3:30 on Saturday. It also means that the system we use to run the library will also be inoperable.
Here's a list of 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

The online catalog for the library will also be unavailable, so you will not be able to access this information from home. Thanks for your patience, and hopefully this will be the last of the outages.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


If you want to truly appreciate how powerful a photograph can be, you need to look at What Matters: the world's preeminent photojournalists and thinkers depict essential issues of our time created by David Elliot Cohen. Cohen has brought together talented photographers and policy experts to lay out 18 of the major crises facing our planet. Environmental issues, epidemic disease, festering hatreds and economic inequality stare out at you from the pages of this book.
I found one chapter in particular - that dealing with child labor - to be particularly depressing. In the battery recycling industry of Bangladesh, women and children crack apart discarded batteries with hammers to retrieve the carbon cores. Children as young as 3 are taught to rinse these cores in river water, becoming caked with black dust in the process. In this sad version of 'bring your child to work' day, babies lie on sacks next to their mothers, experiencing horrible pollution from the earliest age. In one photo, a young mother who appears to be about 15 cradles her little baby, who is jet-black with dust and bleeding from his nose due to chronic infections. The average Bangladeshi child makes less than $1 a week. As I stared at these photos, I saw my own little children covered in filth and working grueling hours in order to eat.
I guess I don't feel so bad about my 401(k)....

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Voices of the Iraq war

We have three new books that examine the Iraq war from three different perspectives: injured Marine, a young mother dealing with her husband's tour of duty, and an ex-Navy SEAL turned analyst.
Once a Marine: an Iraq War tank commander's inspirational memoir of combat, courage, and recovery is by Nick Popaditch and Mike Steere. Gunner Sgt. Popaditch was in one of the first American tanks to roll through the streets of Bagdhad, and a year later he was seriously wounded in the First Battle of Fallujah. This book is not about his time in Iraq, however. It is about his return home, missing an eye and riddled with shrapnel, and his long fight to not only recover from his injuries but to remain a Marine.
The Day After He Left for Iraq: a story of love, family & reunion is by Melissa Seligman. When her husband departs for Iraq in the fall of 2005, Seligman is left behind with an 8-week old son and a two-year old daughter. Woken by nightmares, worried for her husband's safety and lonely, she is also coping with the stress of taking care of two young children by herself. Over the next year, she tries to deal with her challenges by keeping a diary and tracking her evolving emotions.
The Sheriff of Ramadi: Navy SEALs and the winning of al-Anbar is by Dick Couch. An ex-SEAL himself who served during the Vietnam War and has written many books about the SEALs and Green Berets, Couch takes an outside look at the battle for control of Ramadi. A monumental struggle that resulted in a posthumous Medal of Honor for PO2 Michael A. Monsoor, the battle of Ramadi is picked apart and analyzed by Couch, who comes to the conclusion that it was an important victory against the al-Queda insurgents.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The good, the bad, and the savory

Good: as in "good, solid traditional American cooking". When it was first published 60 years ago, James Beard's The Fireside Cook Book: a complete guide to fine cooking for beginner and expert was the go-to book for American women. The recipes can be a bit dated (does anyone really eat sweetbreads anymore, even if they are cooked 'en brochette'?), but this book is full of standards that can be hard to find in flashy modern cookbooks (like succotash or cherries jubilee). Besides, just because you don't enjoy tuna or chopped chicken suspended in gelatin and molded into decorative shapes, that doesn't mean your guests might not wolf it down. Here's my party idea for 2009: retro dinner night, with a menu of recipes from the pre-Kennedy years.
Bad: as in sinfully, delightfully, deliciously bad. BakeWise: the hows and whys of successful baking with over 200 magnificent recipes is the new book by Shirley O. Corriher. I'm a nut for photos, and they're a little sparse in this book, but the recipes are great because Corriher explains why things work the way they do. For instance, "a very wet dough makes more steam in a hot oven and creates a lighter scone" (from Shirley's not-so-sconey scones, pg. 155). Scrunch the scones together on the baking sheet so that they rise up, not out. In another life, I baked scones every morning for 8 years, and I never knew those tricks. What a great book!
Savory: as in a melange of tumeric, cumin, garlic, cilantro, tamarind, curry, ginger, lime powder, cinnamon and cardamom. Cardamom and Lime: recipes from the Arabian Gulf, by Sarah al-Hamad, introduces Western cooks to the scents and flavors of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and the UAE. Centuries of trade and travel between these Gulf states and the coast of India has added the strong spices and curries to the menu. These are dishes that will liven up the cold winter months.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Alaska's best-loved libraries

The Library Journal, which is the industry publication for us library folk, recently came out with the rankings of the 'best' libraries in the country. This idea - what makes one library better than another - is pretty subjective, so the editors at LJ did their comparison using 4 statistical measures:
  • Per capita circulation (number of items per person, per year, based on population)
  • Per capita visits (measured by the number of people walking through the door)
  • Per capita program attendance (story times, slide shows, author visits, meetings, etc.)
  • Per capita Internet use (pretty self-explanatory)
The bottom line is that the library that manages to provide services to the greatest percentage of people in the community could arguably be called the best and most loved library.
The winner for Alaska?...
The Delta Community Library in Delta Junction is considered a "5 Star Library", with a score of 2648. The Haines Borough library came in a close second with a score of 2550. Unalaska and Seward were both 4-star libraries, and Petersburg and Soldotna were 3-star libraries.
These libraries obviously play a pivotal role in their community and serve as a gathering place and information hub for their patrons. (There are many small towns and villages in this state that were not included in the LJ study, simply because their budget is less than $10,000 a year. Run on a shoestring and staffed with dedicated volunteers, these tiny libraries are still essential for their communities).
Where did Ketchikan fall? We are #15 of 32 Alaskan libraries, with a score of 761. We do well with circulation, visits and program attendance, but we are a total washout with per capita Internet use - most likely because we only have 6 computers for a population of 13,000 people. But with a new building....


Another interesting mix of new music on the shelves:
Hard Again by Muddy Waters. This album, produced by Johnny Winter, blew the dust off Waters' reputation and brought his cranking Chicago Blues to the attention of a new generation. The best cut: Mannish Boy.
King of the Delta Blues Singers by Robert Johnson. If you've ever wondered what the difference is between Delta blues and Chicago blues, pop this disc on listen to these recordings from the 1930's. Roots music from a blues legend.
Higher Ground by Barbara Streisand. This album, inspired by a moving experience at the funeral of Bill Clinton's mother, is filled with deeply spiritual songs. Nondenominational and all-encompassing, this disc has uplifting music for all.
Lust for Life by Iggy Pop. This is probably the most commercially successful of all his albums, and while it's nowhere near as edgy as his work with the Stooges (the band, not the 3 comedians), it's still got a sharpness to it.
Sangoma by Miriam Makeba. The woman who earned the sobriquet "Mama Afrika" for her outspoken criticism of apartheid demonstrates the rich, mellow voice that launched her recording career. This is a beautiful collection of traditional African songs.
Earl Scruggs with family & friends: live at the Ryman. This 2007 concert was recorded when Scruggs was 83. His pace may have slowed down a bit - for him - but he is still a master of the banjo and a musical force to be reckoned with.
3 Feet High and Rising by De La Soul. This 1989 album created a whimsical, fun sound that introduced hip-hop to a more mainstream audience, but the lyrics were clever enough to earn the respect of the hip-hop and rap community.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Better late than never

In a perfect world, I would be able to unveil our new books, movies and music at a particularly symbolic moment: a new biography on the 100th anniversary of the subject's birthday, a documentary about the Irish on St. Patrick's Day, or a CD of Sousa marches on July 4th. Unfortunately, due to the vagaries of suppliers and shippers, things don't always arrive in time. Here's a few examples:
Celebrate the 42nd day after Inauguration with Fellow Citizens: the Penguin book of U.S. Presidential inaugural addresses. Editors Robert Remini and Terry Golway present text and commentary of these important moments in our history. Warning: Polk, Taft and Benjamin Harrison were all a bit long-winded.
It has been 4 weeks since the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that killed rock n' roll legends Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper. The poor Bopper always gets third billing - probably because he doesn't have his own biopic yet (there is one in the works). So crank up the volume on our new CD: Hellooo Baby! the best of the Big Bopper.
The 81st annual Academy Awards were a mere 9 days ago. Take a journey through the glamourous past of one of Hollywood's major studios with You Must Remember This: the Warner Bros. story. Richard Schickel and George Perry have penned a love letter to the studio that brought you Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Bette Davis, Doris Day, Audrey Hepburn, Marlon Brando and James Dean. Sadly, they spend too much attention on WB's latest blockbusters and gloss over the studio's true heyday (an 8-page photo spread for the Batman movies, 6 pages for Casablanca).