Sunday, May 31, 2009


I'm off for a couple of weeks on vacation (if you can call a red-eye flight to Florida with a 2-year-old boy a vacation). But have no fear! We've just put forty (40) new novels out on the shelf, so there is plenty of new reading material to tide you over through the first couple weeks of June.
Also, the sign-ups for the children's Summer Reading club begin this Saturday. The theme for this year is "Be Creative @ your library", and there will be lots of programs, crafts and parties for kids of all ages. If your child isn't reading on their own yet, don't worry - there is a read-to-me club for toddlers.
Next Sunday (June 7th) will be the sign-up day for the Teen Summer Reading program. Kids 13-19 can earn chances at some amazing prizes that have been donated by local merchants: movie passes, meals, electronics and more.
The summer promises to be a busy one, but Saturdays and Sundays are going to be 'slow' cruise ship days, so please come down and see us.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


If you like the movies of the Coen brothers - Fargo, Blood Simple, Burn After Reading - than have we a got a movie for you. Great acting, good dialogue, intertwining character threads and beautiful scenery.
In Bruges stars Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes. It starts off slowly, as a simple comedy, and this nice slow start gives you time to know the characters and care about them. Farrell and Gleeson are two hit men told to cool their heels in Bruges, Belgium after their last job goes tragically wrong. The older, more experienced Gleeson enjoys the sightseeing and history of this medieval city, but newbie Farrell chafes at being stuck in a hotel with nothing to do. All that changes when Farrell meets a beautiful blond working on a film shoot. Suddenly Bruges isn't so horrible a place after all.
It starts to turn a little darker as the details emerge of the bungled hit and you see some of Farrell's hair-trigger temper. But interspersed with the violence are some very funny lines (although perhaps you have to be European to understand the comedic value of Bruges as a location), and it's a treat to watch Farrell's performance. He is an Irish lout with no appreciation of culture, a violent thug, and a conscience-stricken nervous wreck all at the same time. Gleeson's character is a little less nuanced, because although you know he is a hired killer, you never see any examples of his work and he comes across as a thoroughly nice person (which I think most murders are not). Fiennes is wonderful as always.
There is also a great deal of swearing (one of the humorous lines in the movie refers to this), so if you are uncomfortable with strong language you will not like this film. But if you like your comedy dark, and you have a good ear for thick Irish accents, than I heartily recommend this movie.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Real Alaska

I know the tourists find us exotic and the landscape rugged, but as I drive through the tepid rain to Wal Mart, sipping my Starbucks latte, I don't really feel that I'm living the true Alaskan life. Yeah, there's eagles, seals and salmon - and the occasional whale - but it's not that much different from living in Washington. (BTW, as a UAF alumni, I don't think of Fairbanks as the real Alaska either, even though it's colder than anything).
The Aleutians, now.....that's Alaska. Completely remote, completely exposed to some of the harshest weather conditions you can imagine, strongly tied to the land and the subsistence way of life, and with a strong sense of community. All of these elements come across in our new book The Aleutian Islands of Alaska: living on the edge by Kenneth F. Wilson and Jeff Richardson. The book begins with a look at the early contact between the Russians and the Unangan (Aleut) people, who were decimated by disease and violent conflict. There's a very interesting chapter on the fight over the Aleutians during World War II and the effect that relocation had on the Native populations of the islands.
A significant portion of the book is spent going through the chain, island by island, and looking at the people who live there now. Village life, the economy, the efforts to preserve cultural traditions and identity, and the history of the settlements make for very interesting reading. One of the nicest features is the brief biographical sketches of some of the current residents of Akutan, Atka, Nikolski and Unalaska islands. You get a real sense of why the people in these communities - Native and newcomer alike - are so committed to their life on the edge of the world.
The photographs are what really make the book, since they do such an excellent job of portraying the natural beauty of the islands: the wildlife, the volcanoes, the kelly-green hills and the wild ocean swells. After looking at this book, I feel that I can't say I've really seen Alaska until I get to the Aleutians.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Got game?

The NBA is in the closing stages of the conference finals, with the Lakers and Nuggets duking it out in the west, and Orlando proving surprisingly strong against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. If you like basketball, you've been watching these games. If you really like basketball (and you're under 40), you've been reading The group of writers on this blog don't just analyze stats, they analyze style and break every move down into a mixture of poetry, mechanics and strategy.
They've also just released a book: The Macrophenomemal Pro Basketball Almanac: styles, stats and stars in today's game. In between microscopic analysis of some of the hottest players in the NBA today, the freedarko group (Bethlehem Shoals, Big Baby Belafonte, Brown Recluse, esq., Dr. Lawyer Indianchief and Silverbird5000) sprinkle in some other unusual perspectives on NBA players. Casting the career of Rasheed Wallace as a replay of the history of Western Philosophy is one such example.
Their writing is snarky, but their observations are acute and their criticism trenchant. In the featurette 'The 2000 NBA draft: a legacy of ruin and evil', they dismiss the first-round picks as ranging from "cancerous ball hogs to crumpled nonentities, personifications of boredom, criminals, and guys who were just plain bad at basketball". Ouch.
The illustrations of Big Baby Belafonte contribute to the overall feel of the book and in some cases (breaking down the facial expressions of Lamar Odom) they are a necessary compliment to the text. They're also really cool looking.
A must for hoops fans and anyone who wants to sound truly knowledgeable the next time they go to a sports bar.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Every once in a while you'll read an article in the news about a new species of tree frog or desert beetle that's been discovered, but generally speaking scientists have collected, cataloged and classified all the flora and fauna out there. But not too long ago there were entire forests, deserts and continents whose natural history was known only to the local inhabitants. There was so much potential for 'discovery' and sharing new-found knowledge among natural philosophers.
Some of this excitment and wonder has been recreated in Voyages of Discovery: a visual celebration of ten of the greatest natural history expeditions by Dr. Tony Rice.
He begins with Sir Hans Sloane's botanical collection from 1687-1689, during which time he was physician to the Governor of Jamaica (his live animal specimens did not survive the journey home to England). His collection of shells, eggs, insects and skeletons - along with the carefully pressed leaves and plants of Jamaica - formed the bulk of the British Museum when it was founded a few months after his death.
Rice also documents expeditions to Ceylon, Surinam, North America, Australia, the Amazon and the Pacific Rim that took place between 1672 and 1862. Each chapter is filled with the detailed drawings, maps, sketches and specimens that were brought back by the traveling scientists. One of the most beautiful collections in the book is from Surinam, and the background story is one of the most interesting.
Maria Sibylla Merian was 52 when she and her daughter set sail on a 2-month voyage to Surinam. Women did not often travel without male escorts in the 17th century, and few Europeans made the dangerous journey to South America. But in order to accurately depict the flora and fauna of this Dutch colony, Merian needed to see them alive and in situ. What makes Merian special is the delicacy and skill with which she recorded her natural specimens. Beautifully colored and intricately detailed, each plate is a work of art. Carl Linnaeus was so impressed with the accuracy of her work that he based part of his opus Systema Naturae solely on her observations.
This book is well-suited for artists, historians, and anyone with an interest in nature. The text is interesting and the artwork is inspiring.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


We have a beautiful new book that is both a love letter to trees and an introduction to the natural history of forests. Trees & Forests of America contains gorgeous photos of the varied forests of the United States, accompanied by an interesting text from the photographer Tim Palmer. He starts with an explanation of why he is so interested in trees, and their contribution to the health of our planet. He also takes a short look at the history of forests, and the way in which we have used the trees that surround us, as well as preserved them. The brief chapters on the ecology of trees and their life cycles are very interesting, and filled with all sorts of intriguing facts.
It's in the last two-thirds of the book, however, that Palmer really shows his affection for forests and shares his feelings with the reader. He does this through a selection of truly beautiful photos that cover the wide range of American forests in all seasons. From the muggy swamps and moss-covered tupelos of Florida to the red and gold maple forests of Vermont to snow-draped firs, sun-bleached pinyons, massive sequoias, Hawaiian palms and Sitka spruce. You can practically hear the birds calling from the branches, feel the cool relief from burning sun and smell the slow decay of the underbrush.
It's so easy to forget the wonder of forests, living amongst them as we do...Palmer's book is a perfect reminder of the natural beauty of this country.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Popular authors in audio

Some of our latest audiobooks are from authors who have proved very popular on our regular fiction shelves. With Derby weekends upon us, what better time to find an interesting story to listen to while fishing?
Thanks for the memories by Ceclia Ahern. Irish novelist Ahern made a name for herself with her very touching story P.S., I love you. The reviews for this latest effort have not been as good, but as a light summer read, this one should fit the bill.
Honolulu by Alan Brennert is a Michener-esque story of Hawaii at the beginning of the 20th century. Lavish, meticulous details flesh out this tale of a Korean mail-order bride who must fend for herself when her promised rich husband turns out to be a drunk plantation worker.
The Lost Quilter is the 14th entry in the hugely popular Elm Creek Quilts series. In 1859, escaped slave Joanna hides at the Elm Creek farm with her son until she is captured, leaving the Bergstrom family to care for the child. 150 years later, Sylvia Bergstrom Compson discovers a cache of letters and Joanna's heirloom quilt - the only clues to what happened to Joanna and her son.
Escape From Hell by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle is the sequel to Niven's acclaimed novel Inferno. Dead science fiction writer Allan Carpentier has escaped from the rings of Hell, but is determined to go back and rescue as many of his fellow damned as possible. Much like Dante's classic work, Carpentier's journey is peopled with famous names (perhaps a little more contemporary than those that appeared in the original 14th-century version).
So grab your herring, one of our new audiobooks, and your sunscreen (hooray!) and head out this weekend for a little Derby fishing!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I can't tell you the last time I yearned for a really good zombie novel, probably because I've never yearned for any zombie novel, regardless of quality. So I can't explain what made me pick up Breathers: a zombie's lament by S.G. Browne. But pick it up I did, and I zoomed through the book with interest.
Perhaps it was because Breathers reads like a Nick Hornby novel. Recently-dead Andy is forced to live in his parent's basement, is unable to get a job, and has to follow a governmental curfew for zombies. Reanimating after a horrible car crash that killed his wife (permanently), he is unable to speak and must communicate via a dry-erase board hanging from his neck. His mother has a hard time hiding her revulsion, while his father goes out of his way to verbally abuse Andy - and you thought your dad was mean when you moved back in.
Or perhaps it was because there is a lovely romance between Andy and Rita, a fellow member of his zombie support group. Those first meaningful glances and the accidental brushing of hands together is so sweet, even if Rita does eat fingernail polish for its flesh-preserving formaldehyde.
Or perhaps because it contains underlying threads of tolerance, civil disobedience and finding your purpose in life. Andy's campaign for zombie rights is admirable, and you feel ashamed of the behavior of other 'breathers' towards these poor zombies (for a while, at least). And boy, author Browne sure isn't a fan of frat boys.
But perhaps it was because Browne has written a nicely-flowing story with likable characters and an interesting plot; it's not The Fountainhead, but it's got a lot more going for it than your ordinary summer novel. It sure will put you off steak kabobs, tho...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Going somewhere?

Taking a road trip? A long one, perhaps cross-country? Well, grab one of our two hefty new audiobooks to keep your entertained along the way. Since listening to these is the equivalent of two-weeks' employment they should stand up to the longest of journeys.
Clocking in at 39 hours of listening pleasure(?), The Kindly Ones is the new novel from Jonathan Littell. This European novel (the author is American, but grew up in France) has been creating quite a bit of controversy. The fictional memoir of a Nazi SS official, this book relates the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust from his perspective. Although the book won two major French literary awards, reception in other countries - especially Germany - has been more mixed. The combination of cruel violence, incestuous love (between the protagonist and his sister), and his unrepentant adherence to Nazi ideology is a little too unsettling for some readers. Caveat emptor...
Our other massive audio tome is Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country. The two volumes combine for 40 hours (the book is a conglomeration of three separately-published novels). Winner of the 2008 National Book Award, this story is a fictional account of Florida sugarcane planter E.J. Watson. He is a murderer, a businessman, a liar, a pioneer and a force to be reckoned with at the beginning of the 20th century. Beginning the story with Watson's death at the hands of his vigilante neighbors, Matthiessen uses multiple narrators to tell the rise and fall of this brutal (and real-life) character.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


To me, terrarium-owners have always been like some kind of cool club that I want to join but can't get into. I can barely keep the hardiest of houseplants alive, so the idea of creating a delicate ecosphere of ferns, mosses and ivies on my tabletop seems out of reach. But our latest book The New Terrarium: creating beautiful displays for plants and nature by Tovah Martin has inspired me. She seems to speak to me when she writes "In the past, you might have been all 'brown thumbs' when it came to houseplants, but this is different". She holds out the promise that with a well-prepared container (potting soil, pebbles, charcoal and moss) and a little forethought (just how big are those fern seedlings going to grow?) I can create a self-contained, self-maintaining miniature garden. I just have to keep an eye on it to detect problems before they escalate (ah, there's the rub!).
She offers lots of suggestions for containers (my favorite is the covered cake plate), reminding the reader to think about the ability of light to penetrate the thickness of glass, the level of air circulation in the container, and drainage. As Martin points out, a terrarium doesn't have to be covered, and it can have drainage; you simply modify your watering schedule to accommodate your setup. Martin also has a helpful list of terrarium-friendly plants, as well as examples of what you don't want in your container (cacti being on the 'don't bother' list).
The photographs are what really sell the book, however. Photographer Kindra Clineff has filled the book with beautiful color photos of glass cases, cloches, dishes and glass display boxes stuffed with vibrant green plants. With Martin's flair for composition and design, this book manages to elevate the soggy, sweaty terrariums of the 1970's back into the realm of miniature Victorian art where they originated. Very inspiring...

Friday, May 15, 2009

The cleanest library in Alaska

Well, if there was a white-glove inspector who made the rounds of libraries, we would receive a 5-star rating this week. We had a little mishap with a fire extinguisher this weekend - the big chemical extinguisher in our book drop closet malfunctioned Sunday night. Think of shooting a 5-gallon bucket of yellow talcum powder out of a cannon, and that would pretty much sum up the effect. There was a layer of yellow monoammonium phosphate on everything, and we needed to clean it up before letting the public back into the building.
So for the last four days we have washed walls, vacuumed books, wiped and re-wiped chairs, tables, shelves, monitors, video cases, magazine racks and desks, washed the drapes and emptied everything out of the staff room (where the book drop closet is located).
We've gotten rid of boxes of date-due cards that are supposed to be stamped by machines that we haven't owned in 17 years. We've gotten rid of backup discs for Windows 98 operating systems. We've vacuumed up dust bunnies from 1983, and the Christmas cacti are a totally different color now that we've hosed off years of accumulated dust.
Unfortunately, I don't think most people will see any difference now that we are re-open. Most of our dust was hidden behind books, under cords and between shelves (which is why it had been left in peace for so many years). But rest assured your library is now way cleaner than your typical library...and you can smell the lemony freshness from all those darn Swifters.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Downer nonfiction

We have gotten some really good military history books in lately, and I'm always looking to connect our books up with someone who I think will enjoy them. We have one patron in particular who is very well-read on World War II history, and I have been suggesting our new titles to him, but to no avail. After my latest offer - A dawn like thunder : the true story of Torpedo Squadron Eight by Robert J. Mrazek - he finally confessed that he avoided 'downer' military history. I would have thought books about warfare are downers in general, but he said that some books are interesting without lingering on body counts, hopeless causes and strategic blunders that have murderous consequences (think 'Gallipoli'). His recommendation?
Ghost soldiers : the forgotten epic story of World War II's most dramatic mission by Hampton Sides. This book examines the Army's 6th Ranger Division, and their dramatic raid on the Cabanatuan prison camp in the Philippines.
If you don't mind your military history to be a little on the depressing side, however, we do have a new book for anyone with an interest in World War I. The Somme: the darkest hour on the Western Front is by Peter Hart, the director of the Imperial War Museum in London. As the oral historian for the museum, Hart collects the memories and stories of veterans and this book is peppered with eye-witness accounts. From Privates to Lieutenant Colonels, the voices in The Somme will give you a thorough feel for one of the worst battles in history. Definitely a downer, but fascinating nonetheless....

E-book update

In the first couple of weeks that our electronic books were made available, they were browsed over 2 dozen times! With subjects such as alternative medicine, health issues for seniors, American Indian history, world history and early American history, there is a wealth of information available for everyone. If you have any questions about our new ebooks, how to access them, or how to search them, please give us a call at 225-3331, or stop bey and we will run them through their paces.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Blowin' the dust off

We have a couple of CDs in the collection - one brand new, the other has been with us for a few months - that present an updated interpretation of classical music. Like any cover album, it's hard to say if it can stand up to the original versions.
Revolutionary features Cameron Carpenter on the organ: a digital organ, played within the hallowed confines of Trinity Church in New York City. That should give you a hint about the type of album this is. The liner note photos provide another, as Carpenter exudes more David Bowie than Johannes Bach in his appearance. Don't let that fool you, though. Carpenter is a Juilliard graduate who began performing organ works at the age of 11. The pieces he interprets on this album are all very beautiful, and in the case of the Bach compositions, listening to them performed on an organ in a lovely cathedral seems so fitting. (I will say, however, that the variations on a theme from Bizet's Carmen - track 10 - made me feel like I was at a Chicago Blackhawks game).
Wolfgang's Big Night Out is Brain Setzer's take on classical music. Remember Stray Cat Strut? Take that rocking, big-band sound and apply it to Wagner, Beethoven, Rossini and Mozart. Some of the interpretations are more successful than others, but if you weren't mortally offended by Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd doing The Barber of Seville, then you'll probably enjoy this album. My favorite track (of course) is For Lisa, a takeoff of Beethoven's Fur Elise, but all the selections are real toe-tappers. Setzer's guitar playing is great, and his backup orchestra gives the whole album a very well-rounded feel.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

All things in moderation

How's your knowledge of organic chemistry? A little rusty? Well, if you listen to the news on any regular basis, you might be feeling that you should have paid a little more attention to all those lectures about ketones, steroids, free radicals and polymers. Every day, another story rolls out about some deadly new compound that's been found in a pantry staple, or a life-saving chemical found in some obscure piece of produce (how many darn pomegranates can one person eat, anyway?). Who to believe...what does it mean...what changes are we supposed to be making? Can someone please just sit down and cut through all the statistics and medical studies and tell me how dangerous my dinner plate really is?
Why, yes, Dr. Joe Schwarcz does just that in his new book An Apple a Day: the myths, misconceptions, and truths about the foods we eat. Starting with naturally occurring substances in our food supply (both good and bad), Dr. Schwarcz goes through all the headline-grabbing nutritional information that science has unearthed lately. Omega-3 fats, oleic acid, lignans, flavonoids are the new wonder compounds that are supposed to reduce disease. But how well do they work, and how much do you have to eat to make a difference? Dr. Schwarcz points out that coffee is the most important antioxidant in our daily diet, not because coffee contains the highest level of these chemicals, but because we consume much more coffee than we do cranberries or dates.
He also looks at nutritional supplements, food dyes, sweeteners, preservatives and MSG. You can read about benzene in beverages, hormones in meat, antibiotic residues, bisphenol A in plastics, and PCBs in fish. He polishes the book off with a chapter that looks at so-called 'miracle foods' such as goji berries and green tea, the empty promise of DHEA and alkaline diets. An Apple a Day is full of interesting information, and will hopefully make your next trip to the grocery story a little less stressful (and perhaps a little less expensive....).

Saturday, May 2, 2009


There's no such thing as batting a thousand, even in libraries. We don't have time to read, watch, or listen to everything we acquire for the collection (not to mention the logistics of sending rejected materials back to the publisher: $$$). So we rely heavily on reviews. Usually these reviews are pretty reliable indicators of the quality and usefulness of the material, but sometimes they just flat miss the boat.
Field Guide to Tools: how to identify and use virtually every tool at the hardware store by John Kelsey. Seemed like a natural Ketchikan fit to me; we have lots of do-it-yourselfers here in town. Broken down into subject categories (garden, woodworking, carpentry, plumbing, automotive), the entries are then listed in alphabetical order. There's also a collection of color photographs that identify the different tools. So far, so good. The entries themselves leave a little to be desired, however. The one on coping saws is O.K. - it tells you how to tighten and angle the blade, and how to do sharp turns without breaking the blade. But the entry on scissors? Do I really need a 4-step explanation of how to make a scissor cut? ("Step 3. Close the handles together so the blades slice along the line."). Frankly, if you don't know how to use a pair of scissors, a 2-page written explanation is probably beyond your scope (attention, extraterrestrial visitors).
There are numerous entries like this: scrub brush, sawhorse, hose, nail, screwdriver ("Step 4. Push and turn the screwdriver handle. One direction will drive the screw, the other will remove it." We couldn't even get complicated enough to talk about lefty-loosey, righty-tighty?). These entries detract from the good information that is here in this book, and I wish Kelsey had left them out. So try and focus on things like sculptor's riffler (a special type of rasp), the correct way to use a wallpaper brush, and the safety advice for using a chop saw. This book is ultimately useful, but not all that I had hoped.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ha Ha

Everyone in town has been in a pretty good mood lately, what with the beautiful warm weather and the fleeting promise of a lovely summer. But sometimes you still need a good laugh to get you going. Just a short one, not too big of a commitment. A short story, perhaps....
Disquiet, please! more humor writing from The New Yorker is a new collection of some of the wittiest writers from the last 80 years. Editors David Remnick and Henry Finder have included some of the legends of that venerable magazine - James Thurber, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley - as well as some more modern satirists.
Jon Stewart has a funny piece about hosting the Emmy awards which illustrates perfectly the tired banter and predictable jokes that you associate with awards telecasts ("The envelope, please"). What makes it even funnier is that it was written before he hosted the 2008 Academy Awards (did he dust this manuscript off when he was preparing for the Oscars?).
Christopher Buckley wrote a short article in 2006 where the inimitable Jeeves is valeting for George W. Bush ("Jeeves and W."). Any comparisons between our former president and Bertie Wooster are purely intentional.
There is a sprinkling of David Sedaris, Andy Borowitz, Woody Allen, Steve Martin and Garrison Keillor, and the stories are both intelligent and funny. This book is wonderful reading for a short stint sitting in the sun. Super!