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


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.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The old country

The Lonely Planet guides are one of our more popular series, and they seem to appeal to the adventuresome traveler looking for unusual destinations (Frommer's does not devote an entire guide to Tibet, while Lonely Planet does). In addition to their travel guides, they also do some lovely 'coffee-table' books - The Lonely Planet guide to the middle of nowhere and The cities book : a journey through the best cities in the world - that take a broader look at travel. Their newest offering actually focuses on a very traditional travel destination: Europe.
The Europe book : a journey through every country in the continent is edited by Laetitia Clapton. It's a beautiful book, full of colorful pictures, and it's very fun to leaf through. It is in no way, shape, or form a travel guide or a thorough overview of the countries of Europe. For instance the 'History in a nutshell' segment for Greece is just that - from the Bronze Age to the 2004 Olympics in under 250 words. You get a little map, a list of Essential Experiences (in Slovakia, take a torch-lit tour of Trencin Castle - bring your own pitchfork) and a description of the country's Top Festival (St. Patrick's Day in Ireland, of course.) Other snapshot gems include famous films and novels, quintessential fare, traditions, economic mainstays and opportunities for ecotourism. This is Lonely Planet, after all.
The nicest thing about this book is that it looks at every part of Europe, not just the headliners. You can learn a few quick facts about San Marino, Montenegro, Andorra, Moldova and Liechtenstein. You can get suggestions for continent-spanning journeys (The Grand Tour, the Orient Express, or a trip Behind the Iron Curtain). You can also get a real sense of the cultural diversity in an area that is often conglomerated into two letters: EU.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Some interesting new craft books for the summer:
Eco-craft: recycle, recraft, restyle by Susan Wasinger shows you how to use natural, found and recycled items to make interesting objets d'art for the home. The projects range from the complex - a chandelier made of baby food jars, wire and barrel hoops - to the quite simple: a small LED light in a bowl covered with glass beads to make a beautiful accent light. You can also make bowls of recycled paper, purses from coffee-bean bags, and a rag rug from old sweaters. The project that I find the most interesting (and looks the least like it was made from trash) is the Moorish screen. The filigree insert in the tri-fold frame is actually made from 6-pack rings that have been melted into layers! Very cool.
Pretty Little Potholders is the companion book to Pretty Little Pincushions. Quilted, embroidered, appliqued, decorated with lace, buttons and beads, the ideas in this book are all very fun and festive. These are all relatively easy to make (there's a nice chapter at the beginning of the book on the basics of basting, stitching and padding the potholders so that you don't burn the heck out of your hands using them). Perfect hostess, birthday and shower gifts for the chefs in your life.
Bag Bazaar: 25 stylish bags to sew in an afternoon, by Megan Avery, is for people who know how to sew. I don't, and I can see that it would take me considerably longer than an afternoon to create a bag using Avery's instructions. She gives you dimensions, rather than an actual pattern, and lists out the sewing directions without any photos (and very few illustrations). That being said, if you are comfortable with terms like 'seam allowance' 'fusible interface' and 'topstitching', then this is a great book of ideas and instructions for making a variety of bags, from a cosmetic bag to a wine tote to a diaper bag. Add your own fabulous fabrics and embellishments, and you will have some very stylish projects to fill up your closets.


I would like to apologize for my previous posting, which has apparently irritated Mother Nature and resulted in the abrupt cessation of our sunny summer.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


What a summer. I must have gotten a touch too much sun, because I have started looking around at my yard picturing it with an outdoor patio, a garden bench under the alder, and a large patch of multicolored petunias. In other words, I've been deluded into thinking that this summer is the normal course of events and that my garden should reflect the sunny climate. If you've also started feeling this way, check out our two new books on gardening and landscaping:
Backyards: a Sunset design guide is from the publisher of the popular home magazine Sunset, and it comes complete with a landscape design CD-Rom. Water features, play spaces, outdoor cooking areas, seating niches and pergolas are all laid out in beautiful color photos. This book is not really about the how-to; you won't get lumber dimensions for your pergola or a list of butterfly-friendly plants for your Secret Garden. What you will get is plenty of inspiration, ideas and hints for choosing the designs, materials and layout that works best for you and your family. You probably want to skip the section on outdoor beds (unless you like sleeping in rain gear), and who would want to install a shade canopy in this town? But the sections on garden art, petscaping and greenhouses are very helpful. This book is sure to get your design wheels spinning.
50 High-impact, Low-care Garden Plants: tough-but-beautiful plants anyone can grow is by Tracy DiSabato-Aust, a well-known garden designer who has appeared on Martha Stewart Radio. For each suggested plant variety, she gives general planting information, hints about what other plants go well with it, it's peak time of bloom, and advice on overwintering and pruning. Some of the plants - hostas, bleeding hearts and honeysuckle - do astoundingly well in our climate. The "drought-resistant" selections should probably be considered as a challenge plant here in Ketchikan. Indian Pink and Giant Coneflower may tolerate heat and humidity, but what are they going to do with 98% cloud cover and 5 inches of rain? But it doesn't matter! Because this summer is beautiful, and every summer after this is going to be beautiful, and next year - by golly - I'm gonna plant corn!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Books of faith

We have some new additions to the Religion section of the library, dealing with a variety of subtopics.
The Parent Adventure: preparing your children for a lifetime with God is by Rodney and Selma Wilson. The Wilsons suggest that people who would like to improve their parenting skills use the teachings of the Bible as their guide. Each chapter includes activities for the reader and discussion questions that are designed to reinforce the points that have just been covered, as well as prayers and relevant Bible verses.
Ultimate Journey: death and dying in the world's major religions is a collection of essays that look at the way death is viewed by Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Edited by Steven J. Rosen, this book is an interesting way to learn about other perspectives and to better understand the similarities - and differences - in how people of other faiths deal with the loss of loved ones and their own eventual mortality.
Jesus Wept: when faith & depression meet is by Barbara C. Crafton. An Episcopal priest, the Rev. Crafton examines the ways in which faith can help those who are suffering from depression. She also looks at circumstances in which faith and religion can actually impede a person's recovery from depression, and how to avoid seeing your sufferings as divine punishment. This is very helpful reading for anyone dealing with depression in their lives or the lives of loved ones.
A People's History of Christianity: the other side of the story is by Diana Butler Bass. She takes a broad look at Christianity and the way that it has changed over the centuries, responding to forces both inside and outside the church. Each section in this chronological view has chapters devoted to both Devotion - one's individual relationship with God - and to Ethics - how religion influences your relationship with society and other cultures. Accessible and enlightening, this book would interest readers of all denominations.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Do you Google?

I like Google. In fact, I like the whole Google package: the search engine, the email service (Gmail), the blog service (Blogger), the maps, the satellite images (Google Earth), the video sharing (YouTube) and the online photo album (Picasa). I'm sure there are plenty of anti-globalists, anti-monopolists, anti-Big Brotherists out there who will tell you I am selling my soul to the Devil to be relying so heavily on one organization, but hey. Did anyone gripe about Sears & Robuck 150 years ago when they pretty much owned catalog shopping?
Some features I have no use for - Google AdSense - and some don't seem to work very well - Google Docs - but overall their portfolio of FREE online services is pretty darn handy and relatively easy to use, even if you're not a computer science major. Our new book Googlepedia is an owner's manual to this suite of software, and it is an essential tool for anyone wanting to optimize their use of Google Groups, Calendar, Desktop, Chrome or mashups. Author Michael Miller walks you through all the possibilities, from creating advanced search strategies with Google's search engine to buying & selling with Google Base.
His explanations are very easy to follow, and there are lots of screen shots to guide you through the steps. He also gives you plenty of tips and suggestions for tweaking the Google services to your own preferences, including an entire chapter on creating applications using Google tools. Just like the software manuals for Windows and Microsoft Office, this book will help you maximize your effectiveness and streamline your activities.
Chances are, if there's something you want to do with your computer, Google has a free tool for doing it (and if you're feeling really experimental, try some of the Beta services on Google Labs - - which is where Google Maps, Scholar and iGoogle started out life). And to do it well, you need Miller's book.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Daylilies are one of the more popular plants in Ketchikan gardens - I have a couple clumps in my own yard - but I have always found them about as exciting as a patch of dandelions. After flipping through the pages of our latest book - The New Encyclopedia of Daylilies: more than 1700 outstanding selections by Ted Petit and John Peat - I realize that daylilies are an amazingly beautiful plant. Ketchikan just happens to be overrun with the plain vanilla version (golden yellow, straight-edged petals).
Ah, but the possibilities! Doubles, miniatures, ruffled, multipetaled, spider, eyed and patterned petals abound in a complete rainbow of colors. Forget the boring yellow, try some deep red, purple, or black. Or perhaps a "peach-pink flower with a burgundy-purple eyezone and a picotee edge above a green throat". The double flowers, especially the ones with ruffled petal edges, are truly stunning. Page after page of gorgeous photos and intricate flowers delight the eyes.
One of the major reasons for the popularity of daylilies is that they are pretty much effortless plants, and they do well in our local climate. However, the chapter on cultivation (planting, diseases and propagation) is still very interesting and helpful. In addition, the authors include a list of daylily suppliers in the back of the book (complete with websites), so that you can start expanding beyond the 'John Doe' plants so predominant in Ketchikan. (And as your exotic lily varieties grow and need dividing, I think they would make excellent gifts for your gardening friends).
This is a very beautiful and inspiring book, and it makes me itch to rip up my garden and start anew.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Class of 2010

Know someone who's graduating next spring? Or any time within the next 6 years? Then you should have them read our newest book You Majored in What? mapping your path from chaos to career by Katharine Brooks. Her overall message is a good one: don't let your college degree confine you to a box for the rest of your life. Speaking as someone who did a 180° from my original degree (zoology) to my current profession (librarian), I can tell you that a diploma can be considered a stepping-stone.
Brooks has some really good advice for people beginning their career paths, and she debunks some common myths: most people have a job directly related to their college major; your earning power depends entirely on your degree, not your skills or location; employers will only accept degrees directly related to their field. She urges readers to brainstorm careers of interest, to reflect back on their past successes and weaknesses, and to be more creative in describing their skills and education (no, not lie about what you can do, but be able to explain to an employer how your science degree makes you a good problem-solver, or how your English degree makes you a good communicator).
She also has advice about applying yourself at college - actually attending class is her #2 suggestion, and a darn good one - and using your extracurricular interests to hone your skills and experiences, and to serve as a base for networking.
There is a lot of motivation-speak in this book (which is irritating if you're over 40), and a lot of workbook exercises (which are overwhelming if you're under 18), but overall the information is helpful and very timely in this shifting economic climate. 'Be prepared' and 'be creative' are pretty good mottos to live by.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The American Game

The All-Star break is next week, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, and it's after this midpoint in the season that the pennant races really start to matter. While you're waiting for your team to either break out of it's slump or stretch out it's lead to a few more games, you can bone up on baseball trivia with our newest book.
Splitters, Squeezes, and Steals: the inside story of baseball's greatest techniques, strategies, and plays is by Derek Gentile. If you're not interested in reading an analytical, scholarly work on strategy or a rehash of every move made in a single game in 1957, don't worry. This is pretty light reading, coming off as more of a Sports Illustrated article than a glowing tribute by George Will. Lots of photos, stats, charts & graphs make this book a great choice for parents who want to introduce their kids to the long lineage of the game and their favorite players from their youth. If you're new to the game and want a good grounding in famous names, legendary plays and common tricks of the trade, this book is perfect.
And if you're a true baseball fan, the information in this book will be familiar (although, if you've already memorized all the stats in this book, you're a bit obsessive) but it does make a great conversation starter (did Goose Gossage or Rollie Fingers have the best mustache? Who was a better outfielder - Roberto Clemente or Willie Mays?). This is a nice summer book, and a glossy tribute to the American Game.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Jazz it up!

So we're just past the peak of daylight, and you still find yourself waking up at 4 am, and not being able to go to bed until 10:30 pm. What to do with all those hours? How about a little craft project to while away the time?
Stencil Me In, by Marthe Le Van, has lots of fun ideas for making your lampshades, mouse pads, placemats, windowsills and old t-shirts a little more interesting. Whether you stencil a decorative border around an entire room, or add a simple monogram to a wine glass, stencil designs are an easy way to make something ordinary look unique. Included in this book are 28 ready-to-use stencils so that you can replicate some of the ideas Le Van presents. It would help if you are already a little familiar with stencilling techniques, as the 'how-to' section in the front is a bit vague (for more detailed advice on how to stencil different surfaces and how to achieve different effects, I recommend The complete stenciling handbook by Sandra Buckingham). The finished projects look really fun, though, so this is a fabulous book for getting inspired.
Using a simple engraving tool, you can make your glassware more elegant, more personal, or more hip. Glass Engraving: 25 projects for the home, by Sonia Lucano, has ideas for flower vases, mirrors, photo frames, votives, even message stones! The templates are all in the back, and she gives you step-by-step instructions on how to apply designs directly onto a surface, how to shade a design, and how to lay out a repeating pattern. She does not, however, give you any instruction on how to use the engraving tool, so don't throw out the directions that come in the box when you purchase your engraver.
Crafting Fun: 101 things to make and do with kids, by Rae Grant, has the double benefit of creating beautiful things for your home and keeping your kids busy over the summer vacation. These are old-fashioned crafts (think pre-World War II), and the skill & interest level is for elementary school age. The crafts are also broken down seasonally, so that there is something in here for any time of the year. For summer crafts, you can make daisy chains, collect spiderwebs, make a beaded bookmark, sew a drawstring field bag, or make a seashell candle. Most of these crafts don't require much adult supervision - especially the simple paper crafts - but since the point is to do things together, even the most uncrafty adult can have fun with these ideas.

Friday, July 3, 2009

New frontiers in free time

Knitting is such a popular activity these days that there are dozens of new books coming out each month devoted to the subject. And, like cookbooks, after a while you start craving something really unique and original. There are only so many ways to roast a chicken, there are only so many ways to knit a pair of socks. (However, Socks à la carte : pick and choose patterns to knit socks your way by Jonelle Raffino has a great mix-and-match system for toes, bodies and cuffs that allows for hundreds of variations).
For some truly unusual ideas, check out our new book Pet Projects: the animal knits bible by Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne. There are patterns in here for pretty much any pet. Dog coats, cat cushions, horse blankets and fancy dog collars make up the bulk of the suggestions, but there are some really out-there ideas as well:
  • A plastic knit water lily for your koi pond
  • A hamster house (I wonder how that will smell after a couple of weeks)
  • A knitted wire bird feeder
  • A puppy sling
  • A tortoise hibernation tent
  • Rosettes for your prize-winning pets
  • A carrot blanket for your rabbit hutch.
My personal favorite - and incredibly timely, to boot - is the Anti-Firework Dog Balaclava, for those poor pooches who can't stand 4th of July. (The trick is to get them to wear it, I think)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Busy, busy, busy

If you've been down to the public library lately, you may have noticed that we're a little busy these days. This has become a normal state of affairs for us in the summer, but regardless of how many tourists are crowded in our lobby, how many kids are turning in Summer Reading Club booklets, how many cannery workers are using the Internet, and how many books are stacked up on our shelving carts, we will always have the time to answer any questions you might have about car repair, gardening or health information. We will always have time to offer suggestions for new novels to read, audiobooks to listen to, and music to groove out with.
Just how busy were we last month?
  • Three times as many people used the Internet in June (1,823), compared to December (598).
  • There was a 42% increase in people checking out novels (in the Children's Library, the increase was 295%).
  • 827 more DVDs got checked out in June than in December.
  • We had 385 parents and children come to Story Time (200 more than in December)
  • 2 ½ times as many Young Adult novels got checked out in June as in December.
  • Overall, our circulation in June was 62% higher than December.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Brush cat

This book might be about a bunch of guys living on the other side of the country, guys who say 'bawk' instead of 'bark', but the narrative fits Southeast Alaska just as well. Brush Cat: on trees, the wood economy, and the most dangerous job in America is about the loggers who supply us with the raw material for pencils, books, toilet paper, business cards, Chinese to-go boxes and IKEA assemble-it-yourself side tables.
Jack McEnany has lived in rural New Hampshire for twenty years, and he has compressed two decades of living around - and talking to - loggers into a really interesting book about the current state of small-scale timber operators. In fact, these operators are even smaller-scale than many Alaskan loggers.
The loggers in McEnany's book work one- or two-man operations clearing land for development, cleaning up after blowdown and working small private sales. These die-hards are adapting to changing timber supply, shifting demands due to changes in building technology, and public perceptions about the timber industry. They do so with a combination of determination, flexibility and 4-letter words.
If you're an old-timer in Southeast, then this book will spark quite a few memories. If you're new to Alaska, then this isn't a bad way to get a feel for an industry and a way of life that has been a major part of Ketchikan's history.