Monday, December 29, 2008

I'm Just a Reader Whose Intentions Are Good

The Namesake
by Jhumpa Lahiri

Don't You Forget about Me
by Jancee Dunn

The End of Manners
by Francesca Marciano

Revolutionary Road
by Richard Yates

What Was Lost
by Catherine O'Flynn

The Mayor of Casterbridge
by Thomas Hardy

No, this is not a list of the best books I read in 2008.

It's much worse.

These are just a few of the books I meant to read in 2008 but didn't. A list of good intentions.

The sad thing is, it's not a list of books that I feel I should read, but books that I really want to read, but haven't. So what happened?!

Well, life happens. Sometimes other obligations come first. And also, as much as I love to read, I love other things as well, and a life in which all leisure time is spent reading wouldn't be a balanced life--not for me anyway.

That said, I wish I'd carved out more time to read in 2008. Not because I feel I should, but because of the pleasure it gives me. Reading is good for the soul--or it can be, if you choose books that feed it.

There will probably never be enough time to read all the books on my "to read" list, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Although Willa Cather is perhaps my favorite author, there are still a few Cather books I haven't read. I like knowing that they are waiting for me--the undiscovered Cather!--when I want them.

One of the books on my "to read" list has been there for years: The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. Hardy wrote one of my favorite books, Jude the Obscure, about a working class man who aspires to a life of the mind but finds his desire thwarted by England's class system, among other things. I want to read the Mayor of Casterbridge. I saw a television production of The Mayor of Casterbridge that whetted my appetite for the book. A copy of The Mayor of Casterbridge is calling out to me from my overstuffed bookcase. But I still haven't read it. Perhaps for one of the reasons mentioned above. Perhaps because I had a library book due that I felt I should read first. Perhaps because I wasn't in the mood for The Mayor at the precise moment I was selecting my next book to read. (The story, like much of Hardy's work, is bleak. It's about the ruin that occurs when a man, drunk and angry, auctions off his wife and daughter at a fair.) Whatever the reason, my man Hardy got pushed aside.

But no more! 2009 is the year The Mayor gets read!

It's never too late for books on your "to read" list. Is there a book you've meant to read for ages? Is it a book you feel you should read or that you really want to read but just haven't gotten around to? Let us know!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What does recursive mean, anyway?

More or less, it means "referring to itself". Recursive science fiction might mean a book like Bimbos of the Death Sun, a very tongue-in-cheek murder mystery set at a science fiction convention. Hey, don't look at me that way - Linda liked it too!

And then there are books about books, writing, bookselling, book collecting . . . and librarians generally are unable to resist them. Right now I'm reading The Magician's Book by Laura Miller. Begun as a Salon.com essay about her on-again, off-again love for The Chronicles of Narnia, she has expanded it into a fascinating book about reading and C. S. Lewis and British legends and the Welsh countryside and friendship and other topics guaranteed to keep me glued to it for the next few days.

Miller says she wanted to go to Narnia when she was nine so badly she felt she would actually die. Then she stumbled on "what everybody knew", that the Chronicles were Christian stories or allegories (she has several pages on what allegory really is and why Lewis loved it). She felt betrayed by this alternate meaning, when she had little interest in religion, and an overpowering delight in fauns and dryads.

I read the Chronicles when I was a few years older, and the Christian elements were more obvious to me. Mostly, I enjoyed them, though I still liked the fauns and dryads more. But as I grew older, and read the books again (and again), I loved exploring the double layer of meaning, and I knew that there were more layers of poetry and mythology and the War and England that I was missing. Lewis was an Oxford don, after all.

And that's what Miller's wonderful book does for me: explores all of the layers in the books, without ever forgetting the power of the story, the ordinary cleverness and kindness of the characters, and the beauty of the wild garden that is Narnia.

There are many wonderful "recursive" books in the library, and here are a few staff favorites:

The Child that Books Built: A Life in Reading by Francis Spufford
Why We Read What We Read by Lisa Adams
Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry

And here's the big list of what the library owns on that subject:

Books and Reading

Now, books about bookstores, that's a whole 'nother post!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Scrooge or Cratchit?

I passed a church the other day and its sign read: "Want to get rich quick? Count your blessings."

The subject of counting your blessings always reminds me of Charles Dickens' masterpiece, A Christmas Carol. A tale of two men - Bob Cratchit who counted his blessings as a lifestyle, and Ebenezer Scrooge who wouldn't count his blessings until he was visited by four formidable ghosts including one who revealed Scrooge's own death.

How many Cratchits and Scrooges do you know? I know many people who seem to have the same benefits in life: the same opportunity for love, the same financial security, the same good health. And yet, one is joyous and the other never passes up a chance to curse his luck. Poor Bob Cratchit lived in poverty and had a dying son, yet he was happy. Scrooge had some misfortune in his youth, and he squandered the rest of his life making the world (and himself) pay for it.

It is often said that Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol to bring attention to the plight of poor children. He himself had infamously spent time in a workhouse as a boy, like many of his characters. Perhaps that explains the exchange between the second ghost and Scrooge. The ghost opens his robe to reveal two children "wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable." "Spirit! are they yours?" Scrooge asks. "They are Man's," replies the Spirit.

Surely, this accounting we do of our blessings contemplates that we share some with those less fortunate. After all, as Dickens' reminds us, the poor are ours. If we don't take care of them, no one will. Still, I can't help but wonder if that's really what all this blessings business is about. Is it really just a matter of totaling up what you have and sharing it with someone who has less?

Maybe it's more than that. Maybe the blessings we count should include the pure joy of just being alive, and celebrating that fact. After all, even ole' Scrooge "knew how to keep Christmas well" after that little nocturnal visit and Tiny Tim observed "God Bless Us, Every One!"

Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Most blessed of New Years.

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Lorraine, my density has brought me to you."

Okay, excellent movie quotes aside (George McFly from Back to the Future for those who were unsure), I am here to make a public service announcement regarding your next book. Sometimes pure happenstance can make a book catch your eye that you may not have noticed otherwise, or it may seem like inescapable fate just plopped a book into your lap. Either way you look at it, a little effort to find a good book can reap huge rewards.

Most people might refer to the phenomenon of scanning over books, waiting for one to catch your eye as "browsing", which, in fact, it is. Just browsing in general, however, is eye-exhausting and time-consuming. A surefire way to dramatically increase your chances of finding an excellent book is to look in a place where most of the higher quality books have already been distilled from all the titles available out there. One such source is the New York Times list of the 100 Notable Books of 2008. As this list represents the best of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, it provides an excellent cross-section of what is out there. It is also single-handedly responsible for the addition of four titles to my personal upcoming reading schedule. The Notable Books list comes out by the beginning of December every year, just in time for banishing holiday ennui as well as aiding gift-seekers.

Another way to locate an excellent read is so simple that I almost hesitate to mention it. When you are at the library or shopping in a bookstore, pay attention to book covers. There actually are times when you can judge a book by its cover. Be open to images that grab your attention, as it may contain a captivating tale that you may have never heard about. Here is one cover that caught my attention, shadowy figures and unique titles get me every time. One has to be careful, however: a great cover may not lead to a fantastic story, but then again, it just might.

So whether you're feeling lucky or have prepared yourself to see what density - uh, destiny, I mean - has in store for you, go on out there and start looking for your next favorite book!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Absent Friends

by Roberta

I kept Patrick O'Brian's
New York Times obituary on my bulletin board for five years after his death in 2000. It seemed impossible to accept that there would never be another book in the Aubrey/Maturin series that began so thrillingly with Master and Commander. I feel like I know Captain "Lucky" Jack Aubrey and the Irish physician and spy Stephen Maturin. Oh, I could (and did) re-read the 20 books in the series, but never to have a new installment? There was no joy in Mudville that year.

In 2004, there was the surprise publication of an unfinished, and untitled Aubrey/Maturin novel, simply called 21. I read it very slowly, trying to make it last. Since it included the original hand-written manuscript, I read that too.

When Michael Crichton recently passed away, I felt a similar pang. No more of his signature blend of science and suspense, and then the doubtless entertaining film to follow. I thought his novels had fallen off a bit of late, my favorite being
Andromeda Strain, but I still read them. I'll never forget standing on a bridge with my teenage son a few years ago, watching an immense flock of tiny birds wheeling and diving over the river, and turning to each other with the same comment, "Prey." We had listened to the gripping audio version on a recent road trip.

I imagine that many readers felt the same dismay when Dorothy Dunnett died, or George MacDonald Fraser, or Tony Hillerman. It somehow seems worse when you have loved the characters through a long series like
The Lymond Chronicles or the Jim Chee mysteries.

Let me offer you hope amidst this melancholy editorial. I promise you, this year you will discover an author you have never read before, and they will go on to write a dozen novels that you will love. In 2008 I discovered Jim Butcher - lucky me! So tell me, what author do you miss that will never write again? Who did you recently discover?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Why is that book on a bestseller list? (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

People are always stopping by the Readers' Services desk and looking at the bestseller list displayed there. They will go straight down the list, putting holds on most of the titles, even when there is a lengthy waiting list for most of those books. James Patterson, Danielle Steel, Nicholas Sparks, John Grisham, Jeffery Deaver, Jonathan Kellerman, David Baldacci.. and so on. Have you noticed that just about every book written by these authors always appear on the bestseller lists, almost before the books hit the shelves? Why is that? And why do so many other (dare I say it?) more worthy books, never seem to appear on these lists? I guess it's true that sometimes life just isn't fair, but wouldn't it be nice if some other authors hit the list once in a while? Some books are more prominently displayed at bookstores than others and are granted reviews in local and national newspapers and magazines, while others are shuffled to the back of the store and never rate a review. A few select authors are blessed by Oprah and therefore quickly make the list, a recent example being The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. I wonder if that book would have been as popular if Oprah hadn't chosen it for her book club? (I've read it and while it's not bad, I don't think it's that great either.) Another example is Harlan Coben's The Woods, which came out about the same time as Tana French's book In the Woods. This was Tana's first book and I gave it higher marks than Harlan's book, but guess which one hit the bestseller lists?

So what do you think? What about those bestseller lists? Have you read any books lately that you think should have been on a bestseller list? And finally, have you read anything lately from one of those lists and said to yourself "how in the world did that one make the list?"!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

The Weather Outside is Frightful

But this book is so delightful...

With the first snowfall over the weekend, I got to thinking about reading. I always read a lot more in the winter. And the books I choose tend to be lighter and less serious. I read more thrillers and more fantasy and I choose fewer nonfiction and literary books. It isn't something that I consciously do, it just happens that way.

Sometimes a book can be like a mini vacation. I don't know if it is the laughter or the locale, but I always feel a little warmer when I read the hilarious south Florida thrillers by Carl Hiaasen, Dave Barry (yes that Dave Barry), and Tim Dorsey.

What do you like to read when the weather outside is frightful?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Giving Thanks For...

When economic woes are increasing and worrisome, it may seem hard to find things that we are thankful for. But much like Pollyanna, I like to find the good in everything. And so this year I am thankful to my Mom. She passed along her love of books to me and I am reminded of her every time I pick up a mystery. I am thankful for excellent friends, a supportive boyfriend, and fun co-workers. Potbelly's because they make delicious sandwiches and cookies. Our library's Teen Advisory Board because they are awesome. Squirrels just because. 30 Rock and How I Met Your Mother because they are the funniest shows on television.

And books! I'm thankful for The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, everything Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, the Wayside School books by Louis Sachar. One of the most amazing things about the library is I get access to all of these books by just having my library card. So even though money may be tight, books are free (as long as I return them on time).

Bob Blanchard wrote a post a couple of weeks ago asking what books have made a difference in your life. While giving thanks for particular books sounds similar, it is completely different. The books I am thankful for have not changed me or made me a better person. They are simply there for me when I need them. I know each time I pick them up I will be as thoroughly entertained and enchanted as I was the first time I read them. What in your life or on your bookshelf are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Skim or Whole?

Surprise! This is about reading, not milk preferences but the analogy generally works. Skimming for main thoughts and just getting the gist of material is similar to the no fat milk product - just the basic nutrients with none of the richness. Without consciously trying to diet, I have found myself a consummate skimmer.

I’m not proud of this, but I noticed this trait a few years ago. It doesn't matter if it's a book, a magazine, or an article on the Internet. Engaging in the material completely, wholly takes special effort. I brought up this weakness in conversation with a fellow baby boomer and he agreed. He just assumed his lack of concentration was due to his age and aging. Younger than him, I have flatly dismissed this excuse. I think it is something else. Perhaps, it is the quantity of items available to digest, to read, to engage, and the desire to absorb as much as possible and stay current. That’s what I’ve been blaming.

While skimming the Chicago Tribune one day, I caught an article by Leonard Pitts. He had the same lament. He wasn't reading deeply. Turns out there have been studies of this phenomenon in academic circles and the Internet is to blame, not aging brains or the multitude of words in print. The design of the Internet with its hyperlinks, search engines, pop-ups, and advertising is having an affect on how we read. Pitts references author Nicholas Carr, and his article for the Atlantic monthly, Is Google Making Us Stupid? Ironically, this is a complex article, to be read wholly, that discusses how the Internet not only provides information but shapes the process of thought. He adds interesting examples of how older technologies like the clock and the typewriter have also influenced cognitive function. I can't recount everything Nicholas Carr wrote but generally, he's afraid that if we lose deep reading, we may lose deep thinking.

Here's what I'm skimming at the moment.

National Book Foundation

A Case of Exploding Mangoes

The Witches of Eastwick


The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google

Monday, November 17, 2008

David McCullough: thanks for the history lesson

It's a good time to be a sponge.

On November 4, one of my U.S. senators, Barack Obama, blazed a trail into history. This biracial man -- part black, part white -- will be our 44th president as a result of his solid victory over GOP candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona. For Obama -- and our country -- this was no less than a monumental achievement. I am proud to bear witness. I am grateful to be an American living at a time when I can take all of this in, to absorb the historical significance to its utmost.

The Sunday before the presidential election, writer/historian David McCullough addressed a filled-to-the-brim house at symphony center in Chicago. McCullough was in town as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, to accept the 2008 Chicago Tribune Literary Prize for lifetime achievement.

McCullough spoke of Obama in an admiring, respectful tone, predicting the junior U.S. senator from Illinois would win in a landslide. "Oh, no," I thought, "Don't say that. You'll jinx him." I don't know that the final tally, in terms of both the Electoral College and the popular vote, could really be termed a landslide. However, the Obama victory margin was substantial, and the win, indeed, big -- in ever so many ways.

It was my first opportunity to hear McCullough in person. White-haired, tall and articulate, he was a towering presence. I also was surprised and impressed that he chose to forego the lectern, standing to face the audience from the stage. I was looking for inspiration, and McCullough delivered.

If, as McCullough said, history is a study of human nature, then he has been a more-than-apt pupil.

Even if you have never liked (or given much thought to) history, hearing David McCullough will convert you. I'd almost bet money on it. It strikes me that for McCullough, reading, writing, teaching, history, U.S. presidents -- and more -- must be inextricably linked. His excitement about history, about America, was infectious. His delivery was eloquent and thoughtful. Without a doubt, McCullough commands a vast range with respect to our nation's historical and literary landscape.

Noting, "We tend to characterize our presidents," McCullough imparted an array of fascinating tidbits (or, what some people may call factoids). For example, did you know:

-- President John Adams's first job was as a teacher
-- John Adams and his wife Abigail alone exchanged more than a thousand letters
-- John Adams read Cervantes over and over again
-- President Harry Truman read Latin for pleasure

These are but a small portion of the incredible fount of knowledge that is David McCullough.

If adults want youngsters to appreciate history, they must talk to children about it, take them to historic places, "Show them how much it means to you," McCullough advised. He also called for greater appreciation of the members of the teaching profession, not only in terms of pay, but of recognition. Parents should be talking to the instructors of their children, and not just at parent-teacher conferences. "We should be asking (teachers), 'What can we do to help you?'" Additionally, he advocated better training of our country's educators. "There is no more important group in society than our teachers."

McCullough covered a massive amount of ground. Unfortunately, I don't have the time or space here to present it all. Hopefully I have whetted your appetite to read one or more of his books, or to look up a bit of history. We don't all have the insight of a David McCullough. However, we don't have to. We can start to value history from wherever we are, right now.

In the space of a week, I had the opportunity to observe two remarkable Americans, one in person, and one on television. We can learn much from published authors David McCullough and Barack Obama.

I intend to be a human sponge for quite a while.

Posted by Gwen LaCosse

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Music Goes Into Your Ears

Remember the word "album"? In today's age of downloadable music, the album as an entity unto itself has become somewhat under-appreciated. I feel that while a single song by itself may be a smash hit, its lasting effect is often less than that of a great album. A certain Chicago radio station uses the following phrase as their slogan, "the soundtrack of our lives". My own soundtrack is not measured so much in individual great songs, but more in terrific albums.

First and foremost is Achtung Baby by U2. I remember sitting in the open side door of the family van in the late spring of 1993, my hands clutching a boom box and my ears riveted to the amazing intro of the album's first song, "Zoo Station". The Edge was eliciting sounds from his guitar that I never imagined. When Bono's electronically distorted voice followed with the beginning of the first verse "I'm ready, ready for laughing gas / I'm ready, I'm ready for what's next", I embarked on a journey of exploration that has landed Achtung Baby at the center of my musical universe today. From the grinding buzz saw chords that shimmer from the Edge's guitar in "the Fly" to the melodious yet melancholy tones of "One", this album is a poster child for contrast, a microcosm of everyday life. It is full of hurt, discovery, betrayal, and hope, among other themes.

Another good friend of mine is Led Zeppelin's "IV (Zoso)" This album was a constant companion during the endless summer hours spent mowing grass and other maintenance tasks at the 55-acre camp I worked at during the turn of the 21st century. From the deliberate ferocity of "Black Dog", during which the weed trimmer I'd be holding became my air guitar, to ending many of my days at that camp sitting alone on the Pennsylvania mountainside as the velvety acoustic strummings of "Going to California" faded into the sunset, this record spoke to me. "When the Levee Breaks" sparked my fascination for the blues and Chicago itself, foreshadowing my later move to the Windy City area.

The third album I'll mention as having an impact on my life is indeed a blues album: The Big Come Up by the Black Keys, though they are not from Chicago but from Akron, Ohio. I purchased this album late last spring and experienced the heady combination of the thrill of discovering a new great-sounding band with the satisfaction of money well-spent. The songs on this album bring to mind a lollipop dropped in gravel: earthy guitars accompanied by gritty vocals. Despite this, however, or possibly because of this, the album is beautiful in its simplicity and honesty. Whenever I listen to this album, I think of my vacation to Key West that I undertook soon after I bought this CD, and that, my friends, is a good thing. Passionate, heartfelt blues and palm tree memories are a terrific combination, especially during a Chicagoland winter. Unfortunately, our library does not have this specific album yet, but check our catalog soon, it's on order! In the meantime, you can check on the Black Keys' latest record: Attack and Release.

So, you've learned a few of the albums that have helped write my story. Dear readers, which albums have been part of your life's soundtrack?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Books That Make A Difference

When I was in library school, my favorite teacher asked our class, “What’s the one book that has made the most impact on your life?” The book that immediately came to mind was The Bible. But, thinking that choice would not be cool to a group of graduate students, the seemingly safe lie that feebly came out of my mouth was “Tom Sawyer.”

Just about every person has a book that has touched them deeply and made a difference in their lives. People of all ages and from all walks of life have their favorites. For example, in 2007 the Los Angeles Daily News asked basically the same question to its young readers. It elicited some very well-thought-out answers, including this one from an 8-year-old who liked Holes by Louis Sachar: “The things that I learned from the book is to never give up and always keep going no matter what happens.” The entire article can be found at http://www.dailynews.com/family/ci_5748869.

The library, as you might guess, has books about books that made a difference. Two books with identical titles, The Book that Changed My Life, include interviews with celebrated contemporary authors. Another, Books that Shaped Successful People, includes a wide variety of people. It’s interesting that presidents Thomas Jefferson and James K. Polk listed books about gardening as their number one choice. Humorist Dave Barry includes books by famous cartoonists and, no surprise, humorists, plus “Various dirty books I discovered when I was 13.”

What books have made a difference in your life?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Walking in the Shoes of Others through Literature: The Suburban Mosaic Book of the Year

"If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." That's Atticus Finch, talking to his young daughter, Scout, at the beginning of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

I love that quote. We live in a world in which people are quick to pass judgment on others, especially on people who are different. But through literature we can better understand others as well as ourselves: reading allows us to walk in the shoes of others and empathize with people whose lives and experiences differ greatly from our own.

For five years now, the Suburban Mosaic Book of the Year program has allowed readers to walk in the shoes of others including a teenager attempting to enter the United States illegally (Enrique’s Journey) and an Afghan boy who flees Afghanistan with his father in the 1970s but remains haunted by his friendship with the son of his father’s servant (The Kite Runner). Both books are past selections of the Suburban Mosaic Book of the Year program, a community reading program founded in 2004 to foster cultural understanding in the northwest suburbs through literature, book discussions and other programs. Like several other libraries and schools in the area, The Des Plaines Public Library is pleased to present several Suburban Mosaic programs, all of which occur in November, so there's still time to register!

Unlike other community reading programs, Suburban Mosaic selects five books, each at a different reading level, so community members of all ages can participate. The adult selection this year is Digging to America by Anne Tyler, which illuminates the experiences and friendship of two couples, one of which is Iranian-American. The library will host a discussion of Digging to America on Thursday, November 13th at 7:30 p.m.

On Saturday, November 15th at 1 p.m. is a teen book discussion for 7th through 12th graders on American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. This graphic novel, a National Book Award finalist, presents three interrelated stories about the problems of young Chinese-Americans trying to participate in popular culture.

We're also excited to present the animated film Persepolis on Sunday, November 16th at 2 p.m., which will be followed by a discussion. Based on the Suburban Mosaic book selection of the same name, Persepolis is the story of a precocious and outspoken young girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. The film won a Jury Prize and was nominated for the Golden Palm at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.

Do you have a young person in your life between 3rd and 5th grade? Register him or her for Story Explorers on Thursday, November 13th at 4 p.m., which will include the Suburban Mosaic selection The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin. If your young person is between kindergarten and 2nd grade, register your young person for Stories and More on Thursday, November 20th at 4 p.m. Stories and More will include the Mosaic selection The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson.

You can register for any of these events at: http://calendar.dppl.org/evanced/lib/eventcalendar.asp

For more information about Suburban Mosaic Book of the Year, go to: http://www.suburbanmosaicbooks.org

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Thanks, Des Plaines, For Speaking Up

Thanks, Des Plaines, for speaking up.

A librarian can tie pretty much any event back to the library. Arbor Day? Check out our hundreds of books on gardening. Coldest winter on record? Try a steamy romance to melt the frost.

But this Election Day, I just want to thank the people of Des Plaines for speaking up. I’m glad I work in a community that cares deeply about a lot of issues; from immigration to parking, from TIFs to year-round school. And judging by the lines for early voting at City Hall, you care about this election.

Thanks for watching the debates (or The Daily Show), for visiting voterinfonet.com, for putting a sign in your yard, for taking the time to answer pollster questions. Thanks for standing in line for an hour or more to vote. While I’m at it, thanks for putting the little notes in the DVDs when they won’t play properly for you, thanks for pointing out the loose wall outlet, thanks for telling us you loved the Lincoln-Douglas display.

Thank you all, for making your voice heard.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ghosts, Ghouls, Vampires and Witches. Oh My!

Do you love Halloween? Or do you find it daunting, dastardly, dangerous or downright demented? How about something in between? I guess I'm one of those in-between people because I love the pumpkins, candy, costumes and little kids trick-or-treating - notice I said little kids, not six-foot-tall teens banging on the door at 10 PM. I don't like the gory and gruesome side of the decorations or the mean spirited "tricks" of the holiday.

We live across the street from the "Haunted Yard" in Des Plaines. Every October the neighbors watch as the haunted yard expands to include a dining table of skeletons, a horse-drawn hearse, tombstones, coffins, the bride and groom from Beetlejuice, ghosts, witches and their cauldron, and a bloody selection of fake (at least we hope they're fake) body parts. Fog machines, torches, eerie music, motion sensitive devices, and live monsters are all in place on Halloween night. Last year we had over 300 kids stop by and yell "trick-or-treat" on their way over to the big display. Usually everyone behaves and has a super scary time, but I am always really glad once November 1st rolls around.

Just like the holiday, books related to monsters, ghosts and vampires, and Halloween in general are either terrifying and gory, or just slightly scary and maybe even cozy. Here are a few titles from our collections to help celebrate the holiday.

If you like your Halloween stories gory and gruesome:
The Awakening - Shannon Drake
The Mist - Stephen King
The Animal Hour - Andrew Klavan
The Relic - Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

If you like cute pumpkins and baking cupcakes with orange icing:
Trick or Treachery - Donald Bain and Jessica Fletcher
Wolf in Sheep's Clothing - Ann-Jeanette Campbell
Halloween Murder - Shelley Freydont
Trick or Treat Murder - Leslie Meier

And finally, one of my favorite quotes for the holiday:
"If you haven't found something strange during the day, it hasn't been much of a day."
John Archibald Wheeler (the physicist who coined the term "Black Hole.)

Linda Knorr - Readers' Services

Monday, October 27, 2008

What Mood Are You In?

"Now What Do I Read?"

Here at the Readers’ Services desk on the third floor, one of the most common questions from our patrons is what to read next. A patron will say she finished a book or a series that she loved, but what next? If only there was an author who wrote in the same general style… If only there was a way to find this information…

Well, fret no longer. You can always ask one of us or call us on the phone or you can go to NoveList Plus. This is a subscription database at Des Plaines Public Library which is available on our library’s homepage under “References.” Because NoveList is online, you can search it here in the library or at home from your computer.

So what is NoveList? It’s a website which “suggests” books. For example, I happen to love books by Michael Connelly but I’ve read practically all of them. When I want suggestions for books to read that are similar to Connelly’s, I go to NoveList and type in his name. After a thorough explanation of his books, there’s a button called “read-alikes”, library-lingo for similar books. In this case, NoveList suggests titles by Ian Rankin, James Ellroy, James Lee Burke and Harlan Coben to name a few.

You can also find information on award winners or book discussion guides or book reviews. If you’d like, you can even keep your own private list of books on NoveList if you choose to create an account. (It’s free). NoveList isn’t only for adults either – there’s information for all ages, and we even have a separate database called NoveList Plus K-8 which can be found in the online reference section too.

NoveList is not the only resource of this type. One of my other favorites is WHICHBOOK because it's not only informative, it's fun and well, goofy. It’s like a mood ring that tells you what to read next. This free website at http://www.whichbook.net/ lists a series of moods, qualities and characteristics you might find in a book, for example, happy, sad, optimistic, short, unpredictable, serious etc. You click on the qualities which describe your mood and WHICHBOOK suggests some titles. I chose “funny” and “down to earth” and received a list of book suggestions, starting with Cynthia Ozick’s Puttermesser Papers.

Of course, as far as the Readers’ Services staff is concerned, the best way to get a suggestion is to ask us. We are all book-crazy, and for that matter, movie and music-crazy too. Come up and visit us and we’ll guess your mood!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Discover Classical Music @Your Library OR Beethoven: The Original Master of Funk

Over the years, a number of people have told me: "I don't really like classical music, but I love ___________." (Insert name of composer or composition here.) When people say this, I often wonder if there are other classical compositions they might enjoy—they just haven't discovered them yet.
You don't need a Ph.D. in music theory or years of music lessons to experience the pleasures of Beethoven and Brahms, just a library card and a sense of curiosity!
But where to begin? Let's say you love Beethoven's 5th Symphony, but you're not sure what to try next. You can dive into the rest of his symphonies: we have the complete Beethoven symphonies performed by the magnificent Chicago Symphony Orchestra under conductor Sir Georg Solti, as well as the complete symphonies performed by the Berlin Philharmonic under conductor Claudio Abbado. My personal favorite is Symphony No. 3 (the "Eroica")--the first movement really soars--and we have, in addition to the CDs mentioned above, a recording of Leonard Bernstein with the New York Philharmonic that also contains a lecture by Bernstein, entitled "How a Great Symphony Was Written." (Bernstein was an enthusiastic teacher as well as a composer and conductor.)

Want to sample a variety of Beethoven's work? Check out Essential Beethoven: 24 of His Greatest Masterpieces. This compilation includes movements--or sections--of symphonies, piano sonatas, violin concertos, string quartets and more.

If you want to explore symphonies not only by Beethoven, but by other composers as well, a fun place to start is Discover the Symphony, which contains movements of symphonies by composers including Mozart, Schubert, Brahms and Stravinsky.

Or, let's say you really enjoy violin music and you want to sample several composers and performers. There's an excellent series called "Mad About . . ." which includes the CD Mad About Violins: The Greatest Stars, The Greatest Music. The CD contains movements from works by Beethoven, Paganini and Tchaikovsky among others, performed by some of the best violinists around—Anne-Sophie Mutter, Gidon Kremer and Shlomo Mintz. Some of the other titles in this series are Mad About Italian Opera, Mad About Romantic Piano and Mad About American Music. One quibble with the American Music title: it doesn't include anything by American original Charles Ives. However, we have many CDs featuring Ives, including The American Album, which includes his startling and inventive Variations on "America," arranged for orchestra by another American composer, William Schuman. Once you've heard it, you won't forget it!

These are just a few of the CDs in our classical collection. We have many, many other others, including Maurizio Pollini's performance of my all-time favorite classical composition, Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Opus 110. Although it was the second movement that first caught my attention—parts of it are as funky as anything Prince ever wrote—it's the third and fourth movements that keep drawing me back: there's an alternately thunderous and haunting, other-worldly quality to this music that makes me think that if we could hear the music of the spheres, it would sound like this.

Do you have a favorite piece of classical music? Do you have a favorite classical performer or composer? Is there music that you turn to for solace or inspiration?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Kinship on the Shelves

Have you noticed the machines in the aisles of the library emitting high-pitched beeps? Usually there is a person standing at the machine doing a dance of reaching and sliding with a book or dvd. This has all been in the name of RFID - Radio Frequency Identification. The use of this technology will translate into more efficient check out and check in of library materials.

One day while engaged in this workout of putting the RFID metallic stickers on the backs of books, I let my mind wander from the job at hand, and started paying attention to the titles and book jackets. Much to my amazement, there is a lot of kinship on the shelves.

I noticed many a title with a relationship word in the title. Hitler's Niece, American Wife , Fortunate Son, The Husband. So what’s up with all these? Do they have something in common? If you like one, will another prove to be appealing as well? Does the title describe the antagonist or protagonist? Which relationship noun is used most? Using the library catalog* searching the Des Plaines Library collection, I found “Wife” is used 150 times, “Husband” 39 , “Daughter” 180, “Son” 83, “Sister” 84, “Brother” 46, “Niece” 3, “Nephew” 2. When “Cousin” came up empty I decided to stop.

Now on my reading list is The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, a title that escaped me when it was a bestseller in 2002. It’s been made into a movie and is coming out in December. Also on my list is A Partisan's Daughter by Louis De Bernieres. Once upon a time, I read another book by the same author titled Corelli’s Mandolin and loved it. Lighter and sure to be delightful is The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith.

*Want to do the search yourself? We’ll be happy to show you the power search capability. Stop at the desk or give us a call at (847) 376-2840. Speaking of kinship on the shelves and RFID tagging, the photo up above features mother-daughter team Kathleen Barnes and Gail Bradley, both DPPL employees.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Do You Want to Know A Secret?

My Secret Love

Some of us were talking about the HBO comedy The Flight of the Conchords when a certain member of the administrative staff who shall remain nameless blurted out "I love Jemaine," one of the lead characters. Suddenly, like the waters of the mighty Des Plaines overflowing its banks, everyone started to confess their very real crushes on very fictitous people. Since we are going to create a Romance section on the third floor, and love is in the air, I thought I'd blog about my first secret love, oh-so-many-years-ago.

It was February 9, 1964 and I was watching television after Sunday dinner at my grandparents' home. "Ladies and Gentlemen," Ed Sullivan said, "The Beatles," and I've never been the same since. I had Beatles bookbags and Beatles boots and Beatles buttons and every known teen magazine with the Beatles on the cover. I started a Beatles club which met every Tuesday. I wrote a pledge of allegiance to them, and made my friends memorize it. When A Hard Day's Night came to the local theater, I saw it 13 times. Then I spent all my First Communion money on Beatles bubble gum trading cards and got in trouble with my mother. My punishment? - couldn't listen to my Beatles records for a day.

Who was my favorite Beatle?- what day was it? The heart of a young girl is fickle. I used to dream that I was married to Paul but as I got older John seemed more mysterious so I switched. Then, I dreamed I was married to John and Paul was my twin brother. For some reason Ringo was only a friend. Even today, almost 45 years after I first laid eyes on them, I still feel that the Beatles are the stuff of which dreams are made. So who am I to snicker at a certain member of the administration whose name begins with a "R" who loves Jemaine?

So, it's time to fess up. Who's your secret love? It can be a character in a book or a movie or a rock star or an author. And remember, dreams can come true. Sir Paul is available and was cited driving down Route 66 this summer!

See the Beatles on Ed Sullivan:

See all Beatles music at the library

See all Beatles books at the library

See all Beatles movies at the library

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It's the Economy

I was recently talking with a friend who's a big movie fan, and it went something like this:

I've been signed up with Netflix for the past few months. It's great. It's only $4.95 a month and your movies just come in the mail. You should sign up!

You know I work at a library, and I can get just about any movie I want there (and by the way so can you)?

But you have to choose from what the library has.

You'd have to search pretty hard to find a title through Netflix that we can't get through the library. I place holds on the titles I want, and they show up when they're available.

But you still have to pay, right?

Nope, it's free.

But with Netflix they come to my door, I'd still have to come to the library right?

Ok, You got me there. But is that really a bad thing?

Now I have nothing against Netflix. From what I hear it sounds like a great deal. But free is still less $4.95. And $4.95 a month adds up to nearly $60 a year. In this economy every little bit helps. It seems that when times get tougher the library get busier. It got me thinking about other ways the library saves me (and you) money.

I used to subscribe to 3 or 4 different magazines. Now I read them at the library or check them out. That probably saves me close to $100 a year. Most obviously, I don't need to buy books when I can check them out for free.

I can save money on going out to the movies when 1) The library shows movies, and 2) The library has great programs. Just this month we have offered two book discussions, several films, several programs on Abraham Lincoln and more. We occassionally have musical or dramatic performances as well. If you have kids there's a ton more. Check here for our event calendar.

It is so simple too. You can browse our catalog online from home, place holds and when they're here we'll give you a call or an email. That is no harder than ordering through Netflix

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Reference on the 3rd Floor?

While the fourth floor is your go-to spot for reference questions about taxes, history, population stats or whatever you need answered, the third floor also has our own reference materials. Ours are just a little bit more fun.

Behind the information desk are reference books about great reads for teens, guides to mysteries, historical fiction, and sci-fi, Videohound and Leonard Maltin film books to help you find that particular movie you're looking for, and so many more. Stop by the desk the next time you're searching for something to read. These books cannot be checked out, but you can pull up a comfy chair and leaf through the pages until a title catches your eye. Then we can find it in the catalog for you, and suggest other titles you might like as well!

My favorite reference book at the 3rd floor desk isn't a guide to any particular genre- it's What's Next: Books in a Series. This book lets you look up any author by last name- let's use Janet Evanovich because she's my favorite. Go to the E section, find Evanovich, and there you'll find all of the titles in each of the series she has written in the order that they go in. This book is really helpful for when you find a book you like on the shelf and you read on the back that it's the second in a trilogy. Wanna know what comes first and last? Ask to see the What's Next book!

What happens when you're at home and a series question arises? Never fear! Because What's Next is also conviently located online. From our website click on Great Reads, then scroll all the way down to Internet Sites for Fiction Lovers, then scroll all the way down to What's Next: A Searchable Database of Novels in Series. Just click on that, and when the site comes up just put in your author's last name (you don't need anything else) and click search. Your authors name will come up with a + sign next to it--click on the + to see the individual series and the titles.

The directions may sound slightly confusing at first but go check out the website and you'll understand what I'm describing. If you're having difficulty working the site, or want to know more about our 3rd floor reference books, just ask one of us for help! We'd be happy to show you.

Friday, October 3, 2008

"Natural" Selection by Roberta

Darwin thought of natural selection as akin to the way farmer's combine strains of grain to create a better crop, or breed sheep to achieve thicker fleeces. Library staff use the word selection when we talk about choosing books for the library's collection. Were you ever curious how we pick what is on the shelves?

Our collection development policy sets guidelines for everything the library owns. Ours is written with an eye to offering the community current, popular, reliable and easily accessible information and entertainment, is reviewed and updated by the library staff and Board of Trustees every two years, and covers books, magazines, music, movies, CD-ROMs and electronic resources.

I select fiction, science fiction and audiobooks (I love all three) for the adult collections, and my first step is usually reading reviews in magazines like Booklist, Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly, as well as the New York Times and Chicago Tribune book review sections. I also look at Audiofile, Locus (a great SF and fantasy magazine), and four different audiobook catalogs. Online, I visit Amazon's Forthcoming lists, LJ's Prepub Alert (a great preview of bestsellers about three to four months away), and Give 'Em What They Want, which looks at books featured on TV, made into movies, featured on Oprah, etc.

Some authors come to us automatically in enough quantity to fill our patron holds and have copies on the shelf for the passerby; these are the Grishams, Pattersons, and Evanoviches (I originally wrote Higgins Clarkses, but really looked funny). I try to order books at least six weeks before they are published, and whatever I order gets entered into the catalog right away, so you can place your hold before the book comes out.

Of course, we happily receive patron suggestions. If you can't find the new Bentley Little book in the catalog, or an audiobook of the latest Philippa Gregory, let us know! Call (847-376-2840), email (readers2@dppl.org), stop by the desk; we want to know what our patrons want. People tell me about books they heard about on C-Span, on the golf course or from their carpool partner.

Our "natural" selection process keeps our collection rich and varied, popular and individual, timely and classic. It's a fairly scientific process, but allows for happy accident too. Frankly, I think Darwin would be proud.

P. S. I'm really excited about Ender in Exile coming out! What books are you looking forward to? How did you hear about them?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hobby or Obsession?

There's a fine line between a hobby and an obsession.

Am I the only person who has ever started a small project and had it grow until it began to consume all of your time and space? For example, once upon a time my youngest sister invited me to a party where rubber stamps and other craft supplies were offered. We made some cute greeting cards and of course I bought a few supplies so that my sister could get free stuff. Then I decided to make Halloween cards, so I had to go to Michael's to buy more supplies, and then I discovered Archiver's in Niles and now I have enough stuff to open my own shop. However, I don't make that many cards because I have so many paper crafting supplies stashed in boxes that I can't find what I need to make a simple thank you note!

Knitting? Don't get me started. What began as an innocent project, to give me something to keep my hands busy while watching mindless television, has ballooned into bags full of yarn and rarely used "accessories" that looked so great in the store. My husband, sisters, nieces, and even the brother-in-laws know that they're going to get a scarf each year. (I tell them I don't care what they do with it, just take it!) Even my cat has a scarf. (It's just a little wider so that he can actually lay on it.)

Gardening? Okay, I really don't want to go there.

Hobbies and crafts are so popular that they are now covered in what I like to call "niche" mysteries. The titles below are just a small sample of the many mysteries available that feature hobbies, sometimes known as obsessions.

Corpus de Crossword - Nero Blanc (crossword puzzles)
Invitation to Murder - Elizabeth Bright (card-making)
Bound for Murder - Laura Childs (scrapbooking)
The Cracked Pot - Melissa Glazer (ceramics)
Death by Cashmere - Sally Goldenbaum (knitting)
The Unkindest Cut - Honor Hartman (bridge games)
Hooked on Murder - Betty Hechtman (crocheting)
Sinister Sudoku - Kaye Morgan (sudoku puzzles)
A Pour Way to Dye - Tim Myers (soapmaking)
At Wick's End - Tim Myers (candlemaking)
Stamped Out - Terri Thayer (rubber stamping)
Wild Goose Chase - Terri Thayer (quilting)
Weeding Out Trouble - Heather S. Webber (gardening)

So what's your obsessive hobby? And don't try to tell me you don't have at least one.

Linda Knorr - Readers' Services

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Banned Books Week Is Upon Us!

If you are headed to the Des Plaines Public Library this week, make sure to stop by the 3rd floor and check out the Books on Fire display celebrating Banned Books Week. As you may or may not know, Banned Books Week (September 27-October 4) is a celebration of the freedom of choice, and, more specifically, the freedom to read. It is a moment for people to remember that even though some books may be challenged for containing inappropriate material or having an alternative viewpoint, intellectual freedom is a basic right afforded to every American citizen.

Banned Books Week this year has come at an interesting time for me, as the two books I happen to be reading right now have connections to Banned Books Week. The first one is Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, a history of the westward expansion of the United States from a Native American viewpoint. Written using the actual words of various Native Americans whenever possible, it is a scathing account of the greed and prejudice of the United States government as it both made and flagrantly broke treaties with the various Indian tribes whenever it suited them. This book was removed from a school in Wild Rose, WI in the 1974 by a school administrator who condemned the book for being “slanted” and “un-American”. This particular instance was an example of the uproar that this book caused as it contained a viewpoint contrary to the popularized “history” of the American West.

The other book I’m currently reading is the Tommyknockers by Stephen King. It is about an evil that is being slowly unearthed in a central Maine forest, affecting the townspeople of Haven and bringing out village secrets that have long been hidden. In 2004, this particular novel was considered for removal (among other horror novels) from the Questa school library in Taos, NM, but the school board ultimately allowed it to remain in circulation. While it is not a tough stretch to imagine why a Stephen King novel may be considered objectionable material in some circles (Tommyknockers is no different, let me tell you), to remove it completely from consideration to any reader is infringing upon their intellectual freedom.

Chances are that someone, somewhere may have disagreed with the material that you are currently reading, but, as Ben Franklin said, “"If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed." No matter what you are reading, be happy not only that you can read it, but that you were able to choose to read it. Now, go, be Intellectually Free!

(photo by Simen Svale Skogsrud)

Monday, September 22, 2008

And My Vote for Greatest Living Short Story Writer Goes To . . .

Were it not for The Best American Short Stories anthology, I might never have discovered two of my all-time favorite short story writers: Amy Bloom and Tim Gautreaux. You may have heard of Bloom, whose novel, Away, was named one of the best books of 2007 by many publications, including the Chicago Tribune.

But long before Away was published, Bloom’s haunting short story, “Silver Water,” was selected for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories 1992,and I’ve been raving about her and The Best American Short Stories anthology ever since.

The BASS anthology is a fantastic way to discover new writers: you can dip into a writer’s work with a short story, which doesn’t require the time commitment of a novel, and then, if you like it, seek out his or her novels and short story collections. Sometimes an author, like Bloom, is so new to the literary scene when published in BASS that he or she hasn’t yet published a book, and you feel fortunate to have discovered the author so early in his or her career, later annoying friends and family after said author has received acclaim: See, what did I tell you? I TOLD you she was a great writer!! Do I have impeccable taste or what?!

How are stories selected for BASS? Every year, the series editor reads periodicals large and small to select what she considers the best 120 or so short stories published that year. Those stories are then passed along to that year’s guest editor, who reads them all and then selects approximately 20 for publication. Guest editors have included John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Jane Smiley, and Walter Mosley. The editor of BASS 2007 was Stephen King and the editor of BASS 2008, which we should be getting soon, is Salman Rushdie. I really like that the series has a new guest editor every year to keep it fresh, and that each editor writes an introduction, often offering his or her thoughts on the state of fiction and the short story, and elaborating on what they like about the stories they selected.

Also enlightening and often moving are the author comments about their stories at the back of the book. Bloom, a social worker for many years, writes of “Silver Water”: “The grief, love, and exhaustion of life with schizophrenics is so close to unbearable that I can only admire, and want to sing for, the afflicted and their families.” In her story, Bloom captures the pain of Violet, whose older sister, Rose, has been transformed by schizophrenia. Violet wants people to know of Rose “that who they saw was not all there was to see. That before the constant tinkling of commercials and fast-food jingles, there had been Puccini and Mozart and hymns so sweet and mighty, you expected Jesus to come down off his cross and clap. That before there was a mountain of Thorazined fat swaying down the halls in nylon maternity tops and sweatpants, there had been the prettiest girl in Arrandale Elementary School, the belle of Landmark Junior High. Maybe there were other pretty girls, but I didn’t see them. To me, Rose, my beautiful blond defender, my guide to Tampax and my mother’s moods, was perfect."

Another magnificent short story writer that I first read in BASS is Tim Gautreaux, who in my not so humble opinion, is perhaps our greatest living short story writer. Although he's had five stories published in BASS over the years, the story that I love most is “Welding with Children,” which appeared in BASS 1998, and like most Gautreaux stories, is set in rural Louisiana. The narrator is a welder whose daughters keep dropping off his grandkids so they can go out carousing. Tuesday was about typical, the story begins. My four daughters, not a one of them married, you understand, brought over the kids, one each, and explained to my wife how much fun she was going to have looking after them again. But Tuesday was her day to go out to the casino, so guess who got to tend the four babies.” The welder is torn between his resentment towards his daughters, whom he admits he didn’t always do right by when he was raising them, and his desire to improve the lives of his grandchildren, who desperately need a responsible adult in their lives. Part Mark Twain and part Flannery O'Connor, Gautreaux's stories often make me laugh out loud, but they also address questions in ways that linger--to me one of the signs of a great story.

"Welding with Children" was inspired, Gautreaux writes in BASS 1998, by a voice he heard at the store one day. “It was a middle-aged man talking to a friend he’d bumped into. He was complaining about his three grown daughters, who kept having babies out of wedlock and then bringing them over to his house for him and his wife to take care of. The old guy had a great voice, southern, smart, and full of humor. But it was full of hurt too. His blue-collar salary was being eaten up by Cokes and diapers, and his blue-collar heart was smashed flat by children who were running their lives like a drunk runs a truck with bald tires downhill in a rainstorm.”

If that story piques your interest, be sure to check out his short story collection, Welding with Children. Another great Gautreaux collection is Same Place, Same Things.

Do you have a favorite short story or short story writer? What writer are you always crowing about to your friends and family? Do you have a favorite source from which to learn about books and authors? Inquiring minds want to know!