Tuesday, December 29, 2009

In Praise of Letters

"We must make a religion of that last thing - endurance," Tennessee Williams wrote in a letter to his friend, Joseph Hazan. "Read the collected letters of D.H. Lawrence, the journal and letters of Katherine Mansfield, of Vincent van Gogh. How bitterly and relentlessly they fought their way through! Sensitive beyond endurance and yet enduring! . . . . They live, they aren't dead. That is the one ineluctable gift of the artist, to project himself beyond time and space through grasp and communion with eternal values. Even this may be a relative good, a makeshift. Canvas fades, languages are forgotten. But isn't there beauty in the fact of their passion, so much of which is replete with the purest compassion?"

The above is from The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams: Volume 1, which I was surprised and delighted to find on the library shelves. The book hadn't been checked out in two or three years, and so I feared it was missing. But there it was! I was grateful, but also slightly appalled on Tennessee's behalf that no one had checked out his letters in the last few years. This is a writer so fine that even his letters shimmer with poetry and light.

But how many of us seek out letters? I confess it's a format I sometimes overlook, in spite of my devotion to The Letters of Vincent van Gogh, which I was ridiculously pleased to learn was also a favorite of Tennessee Williams. Although I've read one of the Williams biographies, I didn't know--or had forgotten--that he was interested in van Gogh, and had even planned to write a play about him. But that's one of the pleasures of letters--intimate documents that illuminate the inner workings and passions of your heroes and others.

If you're a fan of van Gogh, check out The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. He was a gifted writer as well as a voracious reader, and after urging his brother to read Jane Eyre, writes: "I wish all people had what I am gradually beginning to acquire: the power to read a book in a short time without difficulty, and to keep a strong impression of it. In reading books, as in looking at pictures, one must admire what is beautiful with assurance--without doubt, without hesitation."

If you enjoy the letters of writers, check out The Habit of Being: Letters by Flannery O'Connor, whose dark sense of humor is evident throughout. Of her advance copies of her novel, Wise Blood, she wrote: "My nine copies have to go to a set of relatives who are waiting anxiously to condemn the book until they get a free copy."

Other collections of letters available at the library include those of Mozart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Truman Capote, Mark Twain and Jane Goodall.

Do you have a favorite collection of letters that you'd like to recommend? Here's your chance!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Waiting for the Animals to Speak

That's the Christmas activity I remember most clearly from my childhood. I'd read somewhere that at midnight on Christmas Eve, all animals could talk, in memory of their generosity to the baby Jesus in the stable so many years ago. I tried as hard as I could to stay awake until midnight. Mostly, I failed, and the dog was outside in her cozy house anyway, and the cats (I now surmise) wouldn't bother to talk to me even if they could.

My grown up traditions now include sleeping late, pumpkin cookies, Johnny Mathis, Christmas Eve pasta, reading the nativity story from Luke 2: 1-12, watching either Scrooged or The Seeker or both. When my son was little I bought him a new Christmas story every year (Eve Bunting, Barbara Robinson, Roddy Doyle and others) and we read them out loud together. Now I buy them for my nephews and niece, and tell them to open them on Christmas eve.

Some people sit down to a lavish breakfast with family, complete with mimosas, and some folks head out to the shelter to serve Christmas lunch to others. Many look forward to a holiday marathon of NCIS or Say Yes to the Dress. Rumor has it there are many sporting events televised as well. Quite a few of my friends observe the Jewish tradition of Chinese food and a movie (Holmes or Avatar?). We make phone calls and texts and update our Facebook status. We mull over the past year and resolve to be better people in 2010. Hopefully, we do all these things with people we love.

I would love to hear about your holiday traditions!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Best New Book I Read This Year

One thing I love about December are the "Best book of the year" lists. There are lists everywhere you look. From the National Book Award nominees to the New York Times Notable Books, to different blogs, websites and even Amazon's listmania. It seems everyone has an opinion. Every year I pour through the lists and place holds on the books that others think were great.

Last year everyone was talking about The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (Loved It!) and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Hated it). I wouldn't have read these and many other books if others hadn't shared them on their lists.

This year I have decided to name the best new book I read this year. Now I didn't have any specific criteria or methodology. I just thought to myself, what was the best book I read this year, and one book came to mind. There were probably others that I read earlier in the year that are equally worthy, but they fall victim to my poor memory.

And the Winner is: A Quiet Belief in Angels by R.J. Ellory.

I have not read anything else by him. He had me at the author bio, which starts, "Orphaned at the age of seven and sent to prison for poaching when he was seventeen, R. J. Ellory...

A Quiet Belief in Angels is a haunting suspense novel. It is beautifully written, but it has a lot of brutality. Be forewarned. It is about a serial killer in Georgia who targets young girls. But it also more than that. It is about how those tragedies effect the individuals and the community.

What about you, what was the best new book you've read in 2009?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Like Seinfeld's Label Maker

Today, December 18, is an official holiday in the great state of Colorado - it's National Regifting Day! Apparently everyone else in the country observes National Regifting Day on the Thursday before Christmas (you know, yesterday), but I believe it's a concept worthy of more than just a single day's consideration. The economic and environmental concerns we are currently facing grant legitimacy to this once-maligned practice. Regifting is an idea whose time has come!

According to Merriam-Webster*, to regift is "to give someone a gift that was previously received from someone else." So this Christmas, when I put a bow on those steak knives I received at my wedding nine years ago, I'll be a regifter.

The term was coined in 1995, on a Seinfeld episode* entitled The Label Maker:
(You can check it out for yourself...from the library!)

Elaine: Hey. Oh, is that a label maker?
Jerry: Yes it is. I got it as a gift, it's a Label Baby Junior.
Elaine: Love the Label Baby, baby. You know those things make great gifts, I just got one of those for Tim Whatley for Christmas.
Jerry: Tim Whatley?

Elaine: Yeah. Who sent you that one?
Jerry: One Tim Whatley!
Elaine: No, my Tim Whatley?
Jerry: The same, he sent it as a thank you for my Super Bowl tickets.
Elaine: I think this is the same one I gave him. He recycled this gift. He's a regifter! ...
... Jerry: Why'd you get him a gift anyway?
Elaine: Oh, he did some dental work for me and
he didn't charge me so I thought I'd get him a Christmas present.
Jerry: Yeah, well, if you're getting him anything for his birthday, I'm a large.

Back then, regifting seemed like a shabby and laughable practice, but it has since gained considerable popularity. Here at the library, it's an open and common practice at holiday parties. Online auctions, the economic downturn, and an expanded vision of recycling have all helped to put a positive spin on the regift phenomenon. Heck, even The Emily Post Institute now deems it to be within the standards of proper etiquette (in some instances). Of course there are websites dedicated to it. With the motto, Reduce, reuse, recycle...regift, nationalregiftingday.com promotes recycled gifts as thrifty, green, and socially acceptable. Rock out to Regifting for the Holidays by The Alice Project, and then check out ehow.com to learn how to throw a regifting party in 3 easy steps. On regiftable.com you can share your regifting stories, print regift tags, even send free (and paperless) e-cards. But if you just can't think of anyone who would want that soy candle from last year's office grab bag; or if giving of your time and talent is just more your style, you can create personalized gift certificates there too. A classy rendering of "this coupon good for one free back rub" might be just the thing to make your sweetheart smile without maxing out your credit card.

Beyond green and thrifty, and in the spirit of generosity, giving to others what has already been given to you has spiritual implications, as well. Helping someone else, be it a loved one or a stranger, has a ripple effect. As a for instance - on Monday NBC reported that a couple at a diner in Philadelphia paid for their own meal and then paid for a stranger's meal, too. They triggered an altruistic chain reaction that lasted 5 hours! Now here's my hook - each time someone new picked up the tab for another stranger, what was it but a regift?

Mixed with some random acts of kindness and a measure of the Golden Rule, I think the act of regifting can be the key to lifting your heart and nourishing your soul. When you truly give of yourself, you also give to yourself. In her book, 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life, Cami Walker maintains that giving to others improved her physical health, as well. Afflicted with MS and addicted to pain killers, Ms. Walker got an unusual prescription from a South African healer - give away something every day for 29 days. The gratitude and reciprocal generosity she learned from that exercise gave Cami Walker the strength to face her trials and reshape them into blessings. Her story has inspired others to take their own 29-day giving challenge, and the website 29gifts.org has given rise to quite a few not-for-profit organizations.

I admit it, though; the thought of book deals, websites and charitable enterprises intimidates me. It's a stretch from wrapping up that old wedding present. But a mindful and generative regift doesn't have to involve stirring up a grassroots movement. Regifting can be as simple as taking that smile a coworker gave you this morning and recycling it. Pass it on to the next person you meet. Happy Regifting Day!

*[regift. (2009). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved December 14, 2009, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/regift]
*[Seinfeld Episode no. 98 pc: 611, season 6, episode 11 Broadcast date: January 19, 1995]

Monday, December 14, 2009

What a gift.

Movers, shakers, quarrels, bankruptcies, intrigue.

I'm not writing of the latest bestseller but Crain's Chicago Business. I'm hooked on this weekly magazine. I had planned to detail my favorite sections but reconsidered after reading a column that suggested personal finance books to give your loved one this holiday season. Writing about Crain's during the holiday season is like receiving Elisabeth Leamy's Save Big: Cut Your Top 5 Costs and Save Thousands

So onto a hot gift idea. E-Readers. Electronic books. Amazon's Kindle, Barnes and Noble's Nook. And the Sony Reader. Are you giving one? Asking for one?

In November 2003, Internet Magazine reported that Barnes and Noble
discontinued an ebook product due to lack of interest. Now six years later, the concept seems to be taking hold with a lot of help from super marketer, technically savvy Amazon.com and their proprietary product, the Kindle. Word has it this product is easy to use, but it will cost you. Of course, all the devices cost money, and the companies that sell them know you will continue to buy from them to add content to the reader you purchased.

Wondering where the library fits into this discussion? A company called Overdrive markets an electronic book collection to libraries. The Des Plaines library has purchased this product, Overdrive's MyMediaMall, for you. Patrons can check out a download of an electronic book and use it on their own Sony Reader. At this time, these free downloadable ebooks only work on the Sony Reader, so it is your best bet if you want to borrow electronic books and not buy them.

What a gift!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Allowance

Many thanks to all who contributed to our food drive for the Des Plaines Self-help Closet and Pantry. I understand from the volunteers at the Pantry that their cupboards are finally full for the moment but don't let that stop you from making further donations. There's a warehouse space for the overflow!

This experience was fresh in my memory when I picked up Living a Life That Matters. The author Harold Kushner is one of my very favorite inspirational writers. He manages to communicate without preachiness and unlike many others who habitually habitate the best-seller lists, Kushner's words are thought-provoking.

Case in point, Kushner writes that we often have the feeling that we are supporting actors in other people's movies. Like the experience when we visit a dying friend in the hospital, we often aren't in the spotlight, yet we still somehow shape the plot.

Or sometimes we feel that we are playing a minor role because we haven't done something earth-shaking. We're not Bill Gates or Meryl Streep or President of the United States.

Surely, this is how George Bailey feels in It's a Wonderful Life. He tells Clarence, his guardian angel that he is a failure because he didn't do anything "big and important" in his life. Clarence responds that each man's life touches many others, and "... if he's not there, it leaves a hole."

Another Kushner, Lawrence explains the role of helping others in this way: "Each lifetime is the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle... (but) you do not have within yourself all the pieces to your puzzle. Everyone carries with them at least one and probably many pieces to someone else's puzzle. Sometimes they know it; sometimes they don't know it. And when you present your piece, with is worthless to you, to another, whether you know it or not, whether they know it or not, you are a messenger from the Most High."

This is certainly a beautiful way of considering acts of kindness, isn't it? Sometimes without even understanding the significance of what we are doing, we can give someone else a piece to their life's puzzle, and they can do the same for us.

I'll tell you why I was ruminating on this particular subject. Earlier this week, I was by the circulation desk when a woman and her young son asked me where the donation area was. They were carrying bags filled with groceries. The woman explained to my that this was her son's donation - he had put aside some allowance money and wanted to buy food for the poor with it. How about that puzzle piece?

And as I long as I've been quoting Rabbi Harold Kushner and Rabbi Lawrence Kushner in this blog, tonight is the first night in the Jewish Festival of Lights. Let me wish everyone a Happy Hannukah.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Reading Season

Snow is setting in and the holidays are drawing nearer (in fact, Hanukkah starts this Friday), so it's getting to be a time I like to call Reading Season. With the wintry mess outside, there is nothing I like more than tackling my reading list with gusto on my favorite spot on the living room couch. I've already managed to knock out two books on my list, though ironically I listened to one as an audiobook in my car, finishing the last of it as I traversed the polar weather outside.

It was American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham, which was bit dry and preachy at parts but ultimately accomplished what it set to do: explain why Andrew Jackson is on such a prominent member of our currency as the $20 bill. It turns out that while Jackson was not able to escape the racism of his age and is extremely culpable in the misery of thousands of Indians across the Southeastern United States in the 1830's, he was nothing if not a complex man full of extreme tenacity and deep convictions. Much of what we see in subsequent presidential administrations began with Andrew Jackson, including the use of veto power as a political weapon instead of just a Constitutional balancing tool and the belief that the President was directly responsible to the People of the United States instead of just another branch of government, not to mention the creation of the Democratic party itself. Jackson's new interpretation of the Presidency single-handedly transformed the office into the heart of the United States government. Now my only question is, why the heck is Ulysses S. Grant on the $50 bill?

In contrast, the second book was complete eiderdown for men: Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton. That being said, it meant a lot to me for two reasons: 1. it is one the last novels written by one of my favorite authors (it was found on his computer after he died) and 2. it's about pirates (and yes, it was about latitudes as well, in a manner of speaking). If someone would be looking for a well-researched historical novel of the late 17th-century Caribbean with a snappy plot, shallow-but-interesting characters, all combined with a heavy dose of unpredictability (think Errol Flynn's Captain Blood meets Scorsese's The Departed) and there you have it, a Treasure Island of the 21st century.

Next on my list is The Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. What's on deck for you?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Friends - Books - Holiday - Sale - Life is Good

Imagine great friends, good books, and a tree-mendous holiday sale all wrapped up in one big package. It's all happening here at the Des Plaines Public Library on Saturday, December 12th from 9:30 to 3:30 in the first floor meeting rooms.

If you've been to our sales before then you'll probably recognize some of the volunteers pictured below who help make our book sales so successful. The Friends are always looking for volunteers and membership is a bargain at $5 for an individual and $10 for a family. If you don't have time to volunteer, the Friends would love to have your gently used books for their sales. Money raised from the sales is used to fund some of the programming at the library, like the Canterbury Carolers who will be performing this Sunday, December 6th, at 2:00 PM, or the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band who presented a musical program in October, or the many programs for children offered at the library. Come join us for the holiday sale!

Posted by Linda Knorr - Readers' Advisor and Friend of the Library

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Coming Attractions January 2010


Robert Crais

Barbara Delinsky

Julie Garwood

W.E.B. Griffin

Jack Higgins

Tami Hoag

Jayne Ann Krentz

Douglas Preston

Ian Rankin


Friday, November 27, 2009

National Book Awards 2009

On Wednesday November 18, the winners of the 2009 National Book Awards were announced at a ceremony in New York City. This is the award's 60th anniversary year, and the books recognized have something to offer everyone.

The winning author in Fiction, for a novel centered around Philippe Petit's famous tightrope walk between the Twin Towers, was Irish-born Colum McCann. Other contributing authors add further international appeal, tracing their origins to Uganda and Pakistan. The Nonfiction category includes biographies of some of history's heavy-hitters, alongside works illuminating the natural world. Two Poetry finalists have already received multiple honors from the National Book Foundation. The Young People's Literature category had some surprises, as well. Three of its five finalists were nonfiction titles, including a graphic novel and the biography of little-known civil rights activist, Claudette Colvin.

I confess, I have yet to read any of these books. But just reading the list of finalists is like standing first in line at a literary smorgasbord. There's so much to choose from, I'm not sure where to begin. I believe I'll start with Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose. Little known points of history fascinate me. Peruse the titles below. Like I said, there's something here for everyone.

What would you read first?


Winner: Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin

Finalists: Bonnie Jo Campbell, American Salvage
Daniyal Mueenuddin, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
Jayne Ann Phillips, Lark and Termite
Marcel Theroux, Far North


Winner: T. J. Stiles, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

Finalists: David M. Carroll, Following the Water: A Hydromancer's Notebook
Sean B. Carroll, Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in Search of the Origins of Species
Greg Grandin, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City
Adrienne Mayor, The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy


Winner: Keith Waldrop, Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy

Finalists: Rae Armantrout, Versed
Ann Lauterbach, Or to Begin Again
Carl Phillips, Speak Low
Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Open Interval


Winner: Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Finalists: Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith
David Small, Stitches
Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times
Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped


Gore Vidal

Born October 3 1925, Gore Vidal is a playwright, novelist, essayist, journalist, screenwriter, actor, and political activist. His extensive body of work spans several artistic genres over sixty years, beginning with his first novel in 1946 and continuing to the present day. He has had a powerful impact on American writing.


Dave Eggers

This prolific author, editor, and philanthropist is well known for A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, The Wild Things - a novel based on Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, and Zeitoun. He has edited many publications and founded the independent publishing house, McSweeney's. He also co-founded 826 Valencia, a non-profit tutoring and writing center for children.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

To the Pantry!

It's hardly breaking news that the recession has left many in our community without the means to buy adequate food and clothing. The Des Plaines Self Help and Pantry is one of our precious local assets which responds to those in need. Fueled by the generosity of volunteers and contributions from the public, the Pantry is often the only way dinner makes it on the table or a kid joins the snowball fight armed with a suitable winter coat and mittens.

This holiday season, the staff at Readers' Services wants to lend a helping hand to those who lend a helping hand every season. We'd like to give the Pantry some extra help by super-collecting food and clothes starting Friday, November 27 and continuing for the next 10 days. I say super-collecting because the library collects these items for the Pantry all-year long, but we want to make a special effort now, before that infamous Chicago winter makes its presence known.

What They Really Need

The Pantry asks for gently-used winter clothing - coats, boots, hats and gloves for all shapes and sizes and ages.

For food, they ask for non-perishable items which have not expired. The most requested items are:

mac and cheese
canned fruit
canned vegetable
tuna/canned meat
canned tomatoes
spaghetti sauce
peanut butter
canned meals
pasta/rice side dish
pancake mix/syrup
coffee/tea/hot chocolate
drink mixes
dry/canned milk
baking supplies
baby food formula
paper products
cleaning supplies


Please bring your contributions to the library on the first and third floors. On Monday, December 7, the Readers' Services staff will load it up and take it over to the Pantry. As is typical of a bunch of writers, this will represent the only exercise we get all year so please be generous. The more trips we have to make, the better for our waistlines.

By the way, if you have any questions about the Pantry, you can go to their website at http://selfhelppantry.org/ or visit them at 600 E. Algonquin near the intersection of Algonquin and Wolf roads. They accept donations on Saturday mornings, Monday mornings and Tuesday mornings. In the meanwhile, please help us help them help the neediest members of our community.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How Do You Like Your Mysteries?

We have so many mysteries in our collection at DPPL that it's tough to figure out what to read next. Some people like cozies - books without graphic violence that often take place in small villages, with amateur sleuths who seem to solve crimes faster than the police. Many of these cozies involve cats --->
and of course, many involve dogs. (Maggie is not fond of dog mysteries, although she does enjoy Rita Mae Brown's Mrs. Murphy series as that cat is so much smarter than Tee Tucker the dog.)

Other readers enjoy "hard-boiled" or "noir" mysteries. These are dark, more graphically violent, and usually feature a tough detective. One of the "classic" hard-boiled writers is Raymond Chandler with his tough guy detective Philip Marlowe. Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin, and Sara Paretsky are just a few authors who write in the hard-boiled style today. (Yes, I count V. I. Warshawsky as hard-boiled. She's a tough investigator who frequently gets beat up and her Chicago settings are always dark and gritty, especially in the later books in the series.) For more dark and gritty Chicago settings try State Street and Their Kind of Town by Richard Whittingham.

Of course there's loads of mysteries that fall in between cozy and hard-boiled. Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series has plenty of violence, but it's tempered with lots of humor and crazy characters. (Did anyone count how many cars were destroyed in Finger Linkin' Fifteen?) Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon series is slightly darker than Evanovich, but not quite in the hard-boiled category. Other middle of the mix authors might include Ben Rehder's Texas game warden series and In the Woods by Tana French.

Then we have historicals - think Anne Perry, Elizabeth Peters and the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. These books take you to a special time and place in the past.

And don't forget British police procedurals - Peter Robinson, Elizabeth George, P. D. James, and Caroline Graham are just a few of the authors writing about modern police action in Britain.

There's something for everyone, including loads of sub-genres - pets, culinary cozies, knitting mysteries, tea-shop settings, quilting, candle-making, teddy bear collecting, and on and on it goes.

Stop by the 3rd floor Readers' Services desk for more mystery ideas and let us know about your favorite, or least favorite, mystery style. We want to have your comments!

Posted by Linda K. (and her cat Maggie)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Nick Hornby Tribute in High Fidelity Style

A few days ago I regretfully returned to the library the latest Nick Hornby book--unread.

Not because it doesn't interest me. Like High Fidelity, my favorite Hornby book, it's partly about relationships and music. This one features a woman and her music fanatic of a boyfriend, whose obsession with a Dylanesque songwriter who disappeared from the music world twenty years ago infects their relationship. The book is called Juliet, Naked, which is also the title of the missing songwriter's acoustic version of his greatest album.

Much as I'd like to start the book, I know I won't be able to get to it for a while. So in tribute to Nick Hornby, and one of my favorite Hornby characters, Rob, from High Fidelity, I've created a list of top five reasons I love Nick Hornby and his books. (High Fidelity begins with Rob's "desert-island, all-time, top five most memorable split-ups, in chronological order," and features many other top fives, often about music.)

1. The friendships in High Fidelity. Several years after reading the book, I still think this is one of the best depictions of friendship I've ever seen. Rob's affection for and sometimes frustration with his fellow geeks at the record store captures the rhythms of friendship, and their banter about music and more makes this a world I'd like to slip into and stay a while.

2. His books are incredibly funny but he also manages to address serious issues with more depth and honesty than some "serious" novelists. Case in point is How to be Good, which raises the question of how to be a good person when a formerly cynical newspaper columnist morphs into an excessively altruistic do-gooder, whose new lifestyle alienates his family.

3. DJ GoodNews. DJ GoodNews is the hilarious "healer"/crank whose appearance in How to Be Good leads to the newspaperman's conversion. DJ GoodNews preaches love and understanding but is apparently incapable of having a lasting relationship with anyone, including his sister, whom he swears at hysterically (in both senses of the word) before hanging up on her. As the narrator, Katie, says: "Who are these people that they want to save the world and yet they are incapable of forming proper relationships with anybody? As GoodNews so eloquently puts it, it's love this and love that, but of course it's so easy to love someone you don't know, whether it's George Clooney or Monkey. Staying civil to someone with whom you've ever shared Christmas turkey--now, there's a miracle."

4. His characters are flawed and realistically depicted, but there's a sweetness to many of them that shines through. Hornby's a clear-eyed but empathetic writer--a winning and smart combination.

5. He writes incredibly well about music and its meaning in people's lives. He has impeccable taste in music, too. How can you not love someone who admits to listening to Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen 1,500 times: "Just over once a week for twenty-five years, which sounds about right, if one takes into account the repeat plays in the first couple of years" (from Songbook).

Check out the novels of Nick Hornby today, or, if you've read them all, I highly recommend his American counterpart, Tom Perrotta.

And please chime in with your own top five lists related to books, CDs, or DVDs! (Or top three lists if you're overbooked!)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Indian Summer

With it being a beautiful Indian summer day, I found myself thinking about Native Americans. I noticed we've scheduled two book discussions that feature Native American interests. On December 1st we are discussing Louise Erdrich's The Plague of Doves. And on January 14th we are discussing the Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. If you'd like to attend a discussion sign up here.

I loved the book Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie. It was made into the move Smoke Signals. It is a well-written short story collection that centers around life on the Spokane Indian Reservation.

Another book that deals with attitudes towards Native Americans was Montana, 1948 by Larry Watson. It made a great discussion book. Here a Montana sheriff discovers that his war-hero brother has molested several Native American women, and the values of justice and family loyalty battle.

In the Shadow Catcher, Marianne Wiggins creates a fictional account of the life of photographer Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952). He famously photographed many Native Americans (you've probably seen a number of his photos without knowing it, like the one above) in their natural element portraying them as a proud and brave. But the photos were mostly staged and edited to create that image.

I have also enjoyed many of Barbara Kingsolver's books. What are some Native American themed books that you have liked?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Coming Attractions December 2009


Stephen Coonts

Dominick Dunne

Sue Grafton

Laurell K. Hamilton

Dean Koontz

Edward Rutherfurd

Friday, November 6, 2009


Already the stores are playing it..."It's a wonderful time of the year. Christmas is here. Christmas is here. Families together no matter the weather..." Well it's ALMOST that time of year. The time to reflect and rejoice. The previous Positively Ellinwood posting began the season with a description of this year's community Suburban Mosaic literature program on homelessness. Shortly it will be the holidays punctuated by family gatherings. Lots of time together... and while there is nothing wrong with watching the classic It's a Wonderful Life, it is a great time to embellish your viewing repertoire with documentary films that inspire. Real life captured as individuals and groups give, and receive.

Yellow Brick Road follows a group of extraordinary actors from the Drama Program of Long Island's ANCHOR Organization (Answering the Needs of Citizens with Handicaps through Organized Recreation) as they embark on a remarkable four-month-long journey to mount an exceptional and lavish stage performance of The Wizard of Oz.

400 New Jersey musicians and volunteers spread good cheer to the homeless, the sick and the disadvantaged in Rock and a Heart Place. The endeavor involves a year of planning and opportunities for artists to do what they love as well as brighten the lives of others.

The Collector of Bedford Street opens with a man walking his neighborhood asking for donations for charity. Some give and some don't as Larry Selman, a 60 year old man with mental disabilities, solicits weekly. In fact, he raises thousands of dollars a year for charity. When his life teeters on the edge of a crisis, his New York City community comes to his aid through a unique act of generosity.

Please inquire on the 3rd floor of the library for other inspiring titles:
Beyond Our Differences
Cats of Mirikitani
The Heart of Steel
Kicking It
Sister Helen

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Lives of the Homeless

"It is likely that you see a person experiencing homelessness almost every day, and yet, how much do you really know about what causes homelessness and the people who live through it?"

These are the words that greet me when I land on the Learn About Homelessness section of the Chicago Coalition for the Homelessness website. The organization continues:

"Homelessness is clouded by stereotypes, false assumptions, and untruths."

As I read this last sentence, I start to question my own possibly false assumptions about homelessness. I'm doing some background reading to prepare for the book discussion I'm leading on Thursday, November 12th at 7:30 p.m. The book is Breakfast at Sally's: One Homeless Man's Inspirational Journey by Richard LeMieux, which was selected as the book of the year for adults by the Suburban Mosaic organization, which the Des Plaines Public Library has been proud to participate in for several years now. Although I was pleased that Suburban Mosaic wants to illuminate the lives of the homeless, I wondered about the choice of Breakfast at Sally's. Specifically, the choice of a book written by a formerly homeless man who prior to becoming homeless owned his own business, "several luxury cars," three boats and more. Would it have been more appropriate, I wondered, to select a book by or about a "typical" homeless person.

Looking at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless website, I realized I really know very little about the homeless, and that perhaps there is no such thing as a "typical" homeless person.

Maybe that's why filmmaker Patrick Hennessey, producer and director of The Homeless Home Movie, chose to film five very different homeless people over the course of a year, from a 15-year-old runaway to a weathered Vietnam veteran, as well as a man who was bankrupted following his daughter's struggle against leukemia. It's a frequently poignant and complex look at homelessness that also portrays two very different advocates for the homeless: one who runs a traditional religious and charitable organization that offers temporary assistance, and one who has created a grassroots organization that organizes demonstrations and take-overs of HUD homes. Recommended by the National Coalition for the Homeless, you can view and discuss this provocative movie on Sunday, November 22nd at 1:30 p.m. Click here to register or call 847-376-2788.

Although the subtitle of Breakfast at Sally's is One Homeless Man's Inspirational Journey, the book is about more than just one man: it's also about the other homeless people LeMieux came to know and care about. In the introduction, LeMieux recalls being asked, as he was writing the book, what it was about. "Well, I'm not really sure. . . . Homeless people, I think. People I've met--interesting people. People living, laughing, crying, struggling--people dying." In short, it's about people whose circumstances may be different than our own, but whose humanity is not. Click here to register for the book discussion or call 847-376-2840. You can also register and pick up the book at the 3rd floor Readers' Services desk.

If you are interested in helping the homeless, PADS to HOPE "serves individuals in northwest suburban Cook County who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless." You can learn about PADS to HOPE including volunteer opportunities, how to make a donation etc. by clicking here.

If you are currently homeless, perhaps reading this at the library, click here to learn about the many services offered by the HOPE center, located in Palatine. Click here to view a list of PADS emergency shelters, which are located throughout the northwest suburban area.

To learn more about the Suburban Mosaic organization, which promotes cultural understanding through literature, book discussions, and other programming, visit the Suburban Mosaic website.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween, that's the Spirit!

A barren tree silhouetted against a harvest moon, crows cawing into the night wind, a wrought iron fence surrounding a field of leaning gravestones, forlorn and bereft of any earthly care.

This was the vision conjured up by the ghoul now rising in front of me after I had intentionally stepped on its activation pad at the Halloween costume store I visited recently. An insidious whisper seeped out from its mechanically jointed jaws, "Step forward into the Graveyard of the Damned, if you dare!" Giddy with excitement, I dragged my wife away from the wig section so that she too could stand before this rapture of Halloween Incarnate. Though her awe did not exactly match mine in this ghoulish vision (and her repulsion of the rotating-head automated zombie children display did not equal my enjoyment of the same), she and I laughed as we shared a terrific sense of the season.

Along with every conceivable foodstuff and beverage being flavored by some variant of pumpkin, it is the time of year to celebrate goblins and ghouls, witches and werewolves and other creatures that utter eldritch ululations into the night. I bask in the cold moonlight of this time of year for an apparently stupid reason: I love being scared.

There is more to it than that, however; I've always viewed being afraid as a means to an end. Why do we trade creepy stories around a snapping campfire, casting furtive glances back into the forest? Or why do we sit in crowded movie theaters at the complete mercy of the scary movie unfolding before us? We need to find out what happens! But the true beauty of the spooky story is encountering the shivers and frights along the way to get us in the right mindset to receive the revelation at the end. Fear holds us within the story and bathes us in a cold sweat to make sure we are paying attention, keeping us focused on the big reveal. The movie that encapsulates this facet of fear perfectly is one entitled Them (not the big ant movie, it's another one by the same title). But this is only half of the story of why I enjoy being spooked out of my wits.

Homo sapiens
as a species is often scared of what we do not understand, and we are cursed with a brain capable of imagining what we don't know. Werewolves, the Goat-Man, and Bigfoot were constant companions in my childhood, always a flick of the light switch away from jumping out at me. As I've grown up, my world view has refined and become more realistic. My conviction that there are entities and events that are still beyond human understanding has been tempered against proof and evidence. These tools of confirmation are the other source of prickles on the spine, or rather, the thrill of the chase. If something survives all the proof and evidence that can be laid against it, and still cannot be explained, it makes me wonder, "What else can be out there, beyond the realms of science?" A personal favorite TV show of mine, Ghost Hunters, is an archetype of this scientific approach. They explain away about 95% of what is reported, but what they catch on audio or video that cannot be explained .... Shiver City, my friends.

Being scared intentionally is not for everyone, but for those of you relish a good case of the heebie-jeebies, I tip my mug of cider to you. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. I say, "Awesome, what's playing?"