Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A book geek moment

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A gentler time

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

Saturday, August 22, 2009


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

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Family Man

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

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


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

Saturday, August 15, 2009


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

Friday, August 14, 2009

New music

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

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New fantasy

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

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

That's not my West

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

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Arts, arts, arts

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