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.