Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Jonah, meet Casey

April is upon us, looming up like a wave about to break upon a steep New Jersey shoreline at high tide. Sure, it brings showers for May's flowers, but it also brings three exciting things. The first of which is my son Jonah's first birthday. I've spent the best year of my life getting to know this new and little person. I'm always searching for similar ways to connect with him that my dad connected with me. One of which I'll be able to use in the future is the recital of the poem Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer. I have fond memories of my dad reciting (performing would be a better word) the poem in its entirety at many a bedtime, and I feel confident I'll be able to pass along the love of this popular poem to my son in the same manner.

There's something about the stomach-tightening feeling of losing late in the game combined with the ecstatic hope that a ball can be somehow sent sailing over a wall that draws baseball fans together throughout the ages. Casey at the Bat has as much meaning today as it did when it was written in 1885; I submit to you the first two stanzas:

"The Outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -
We'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat."

If you don't know what happens next, or even if you do, I encourage you to read the rest of it. There are some days in life that you feel like you live in Mudville, others, not so much. Of course, Chicago baseball clubs being what they are, local fans are more likely to have Mudville days than not.

Oh, the other two things great about April? Why, the beginning of the baseball season and the fact it is National Poetry Month. Poetry is, as they say, "awesome"! Does anyone else have a poem that has touched their life? How about thoughts on the upcoming baseball season?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Ahead!

Back in January, when it was so cold and so snowy, Spring seemed sooo far away. Crazed gardener that I am I had to do something related to plants, so I signed up for the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener Program. While it was snowing outside we were inside learning about insects, plant diseases, proper use of pesticides, plant propagation, and of course the good stuff - planting and enjoying your own flowers, veggies and herbs. Soon, in between cleaning up my own garden, (and working here at the Readers' Services desk) I'll be volunteering at the plant help desk at Friendship Park Conservatory in Des Plaines. If you have never been to Friendship Park stop by and see what's growing in the neighborhood. There is a greenhouse, so things are growing all year, even when the weather is the above mentioned cold and snowy.

Catnip high? Or Master Gardener Cat?
The conversion to Daylight Savings Time and the warmer weather we've had this month are all great indicators that Spring is here. Crocus plants are in bloom and the tulip and daffodil foliage is several inches high. I can never wait to jump into the growing season so basil, garlic chives, and several other herbs are already started in pots on my basement workbench. (Luckily for me my husband has outgrown his do-it-yourself carpentry projects so the workbench is mine!)

We have many new gardening books currently on-order at the library to help you start your garden planning. Even if you only have a windowsill, balcony, patio, or a very small yard these books offer some new and different ideas for small space gardening. Put your reserves in now for these books which will soon be found in the "New Books" section on the 4th floor.

A Little Piece of Earth: How to Grow Your Own Food in Small Spaces
Maria Finn Dominguez 635.986 DOM

Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens
Barbara Pleasant 635.0484 PLE

Small-Plot, High Yield Gardening
Sal Gilbertie 635.0484 GIL

One Magic Square: the Easy, Organic Way to Grow Your Own Food on a 3-Foot Square
Lolo Houbein 635.0484 HOU

Successful Container Gardening
Joe Provey 635.986 PRO

And, because it's never too early to get your kids interested in gardening:

A Kid's Guide to Container Gardening
Stephanie Bearce J 635.986 BEA (this one will be located on the 2nd floor)

Get growing!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bozo's Circus, Des Plaines, and Lyric Opera--All in One Book!

The Black Sox Scandal

Bozo's Circus

The Chicago Literary Renaissance

Des Plaines

Lyric Opera

What do these five things have in common?

They're all entries in of one of the coolest books at the library, the Encyclopedia of Chicago. I had planned to include the Encyclopedia of Chicago in my post on Chicago theater, but I decided it deserved a tribute all its own.

An authoritative and engagingly written source on the history of Chicago, it also contains information on the surrounding suburbs, including a 523 word entry on Des Plaines. (Who knew that in the summers of the late 1800s and early 1900s, "the idyllic river setting enticed Chicagoans to board trains for Des Plaines to picnic or camp. As many as 8,000 people came in a day, disrupting the quiet community and annoying townspeople whose flower gardens were trampled by visitors.")

That entry, by Marilyn Elizabeth Perry, is just one of the 1,400 A to Z signed entries by journalists, historians and experts. Entries range from Hull House to Machine Politics to Steppenwolf Theatre to one of my favorite features, entries on all the neighborhoods, or community areas, of Chicago, such as Edgewater. (Although the emphasis is on the history of Chicago, the book is also a treasure trove of information on contemporary Chicago and its culture.)

Fun to thumb through as well as a great resource for students, it includes entries on subjects of national concern but with a Chicago slant, such as Environmental Regulation and Urban Renewal. Useful features include census data for counties, municipalities, and Chicago community areas, as well as a Biographical Dictionary at the end.

All of this is contained in one comprehensive but portable volume, complete with photographs, maps and tables. You can always find a copy on the shelf--we own a reference copy for in-library use. (Whenever you see the word REFERENCE in front of a book's call number, that means it's to be used in-library.) There's also a copy you can check out.

Finally, if it's 3 am and you're wondering just why the puppet Garfield Goose, of the Garfield Goose and Friends tv show, wore a crown on his head,* you can look it up in the free electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago, which you can access here, or via the library's guide to history and geography resources online, one of the library's many subject-specific guides to resources.

Although the library has many wonderful reference books, The Encyclopedia of Chicago is my favorite, and a fascinating book to simply browse. (I realize this makes me sound like a total geek. Does anyone else out there have favorite reference book?)

*Answer: Garfield Goose believed he was king of the United States. (The Encyclopedia of Chicago entry on Garfield Goose and Friends.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Joyce Carol Oates

I was unimpressed as she thanked her interviewer for the lovely introduction. Her demeanor timid and reserved, her voice soft. She was clad in an easy to wear, no fuss black suit. The same one worn by the program organizer and her cohort on stage. This was the award winning author, Joyce Carol Oates? I had made the effort on a day off of work to go downtown to hear the writer described as provocative, insightful, chilling, and first impressions screamed mediocre.

Joyce Carol Oates started the program by reading one of her short stories. No special intonations or sound effects. She was subdued, but I was soon captivated. The words alone were telling a story that didn't permit distraction. The setting came alive. The main character's inner most thoughts were revealed as worries about her housekeeping ran parallel to her worries about the two drug high intruders holding a knife and inquiring about a young daughter one flight up.

True to her chroniclers, Joyce Carol Oates is a talented storyteller. After reading the short story, the author answered questions with stories. Detailed vignettes about the influence of family, about her life, her interest in true crime and her desire to write outside the literary genre.

Joyce Carol Oates is a prolific writer and a professor of creative writing at Princeton. Novels, essays, poetry, nonfiction, young adult books created over many decades. With an oeuvre like hers, she doesn't need to impress with a dramatic voice or be concerned about what she wears.

Recent Titles

Dear Husband

Little Bird of Heaven

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tionscadal na hÉireann (Project Ireland)

Have you ever asked yourself, "Is there any connection between Liam Neeson and the city of Des Plaines?" Well, the Readers Services Department has. One such way they've come up with is the following sequence:

1. In 1993 Liam Neeson played the lead role in the play “Anna Christie” on Broadway.

2. Natasha Richardson also starred in Broadway's production of “Anna Christie”, where she met Liam for the first time. They were married in 1994.

3.Natasha Richardson starred with Christopher Walken in the 1990 film The Comfort of Strangers.

4. Christopher Walken played a supporting role in the 2002 picture Catch Me If You Can, which was directed by Steven Spielberg.

5. Steven Spielberg played a cameo role as the Cook County Assessor’s Office clerk in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers.

6. The Howard Johnson’s motel that was used as a location in The Blues Brothers was torn down as part of the re-construction plan of the Des Plaines Oasis on Interstate 90.

This and five other connections of Liam Neeson and the Chicago area (mostly Des Plaines) can be found on the 3rd floor on the poster "Six Degrees of Liam Neeson". This display itself is a part of a floor-wide program known as Project Ireland meant to celebrate Ireland and its influence on our lives today (by the way, "Tionscadal na hÉireann" means Project Ireland in the traditional Irish language).

What better place to celebrate the Irish culture of storytelling and music than in the fiction, film, and music departments at the library? There is a display that illuminates Irish music beyond the commonly known groups of the Clancy Brothers and U2, another depicting Irish travel DVDs and magazines, a display portraying Ireland as seen in cinema, and one exploring the crime fiction explosion that is currently happening on the Emerald Isle; all brought to you by members of the Readers Services Department. Whether you are Irish or not, come on in and enjoy the Wearin' of the Green with us this St. Patrick's season!

The following is a time-honored Irish blessing I'd like to extend to you, the reader:

"May love and laughter light your days,
and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours,
wherever you may roam."

Hopefully one of the places you'll roam is to the 3rd floor of the Des Plaines Public Library, where your friendly neighborhood Readers Services Department would be glad to see you!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spring Fever

The temperature hit 60 degrees today for the first time in months. Baseball teams have reported. That means spring is upon us. It really makes me want to get out of the building and be outdoors.

We don't get out much. But one way we do is when we deliver books to homebound patrons, as well as to nursing and retirement facilities. It just happened that our deliveries this month landed this week.

Many don't realize that the library delivers to residents who cannot make it to the library. This is one of the more rewarding parts of my library work. The patrons look forward to our visits. At some of the nursing homes they line up waiting for their bag of books, DVDs and music. They say it is like a care package. Some request their own books while others look forward to seeing what we choose for them. We return a month later to pick up their returns and to deliver their next library goody bag.

If you know someone whose personal or physical limitations make it difficult for them to get to the library, please contact us. We would love to serve them in this way.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Second City? Ha! Not When It Comes to Theater

Back in 2007, The New York Times declared the Chicago theater scene "the country's most vibrant dramatic capital after New York." Now, I'm sure the journalist meant well. But I've lived in both New York City and Chicago, I've attended shows in both cites, and I think the Times got it wrong, and not only because New York imports Chicago productions featuring Chicago actors, such as Steppenwolf Theatre's August: Osage County, which won the Pulitzer Prize and several Tony Awards.

Chicago theater ensembles like The Hypocrites and the crew at The Artistic Home may have small budgets and smaller performance spaces, but their talent, inventiveness, and honesty leave you feeling intensely alive, and also grateful, and not simply because the walls didn't explode from pressure and emotional heat.

From nationally known theater companies like Steppenwolf to exciting and explosive performances at The Artistic Home--the next Steppenwolf--Chicago offers a profusion of choices for theater lovers, and unlike New York, much of it is actually affordable.

To enhance your theater-going experience and to learn more about Chicago theater, check out these resources at the library.

A great starting place for fans of Chicago theater and novices alike is A Theater of Our Own: A History and a Memoir of 1,001 Nights in Chicago. As former theater critic for the Chicago Tribune, author Richard Christiansen had access to some of Chicago's most important theater figures, including John Malkovich and David Mamet, whose comments enliven this already lively history of Chicago theater from the 1830s to the current century. A couple of my favorite things: Claudia Cassidy's review of then unknown playwright Tennessee Williams's Glass Menagerie, which launched his career; and a picture of the "Steppenwolf Kids" in 1978, looking extremely young and endearingly geeky. And in plaid, too! Who knew John Malkovich could look cuddly?!

For a more glamorous look at Chicago's most famous theater export, check out photographer Victor Skrebneski's Steppenwolf: Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Twenty-Five Years of an Actor's Theatre. This glossy, coffee-table book contains portraits of Steppenwolf ensemble members by the legendary Skrebneski, as well as production shots and essays by writers including Kurt Vonnegut and Sam Shepard.

Second City: Backstage at the World's Greatest Comedy Theater also has star essayists including Dan Akroyd, Alan Arkin and Jim Belushi. Written by one of Second City's first directors, Sheldon Patinkin, this glossy but information-packed, oversized book is filled with quotes, interviews and anecdotes from Second City's many famous alumni and others. Appropriately, the book comes with two CDs featuring performances by alumni like John Belushi and Tina Fey. One of the best is "Football Comes to the University of Chicago."

The Oxford Companion to American Theatre is national rather than local in scope, but an essential A to Z dictionary with over 2,600 entries on everything from Arthur Miller to performance art to Chicago's own Victory Gardens Theater.

To see what's playing in Chicago, my favorite resource is Time Out Chicago, available online or in our magazine collection on the 3rd floor. This weekly magazine has a theater section with a complete list of Chicago area shows. Listings include ticket price, running time, and much appreciated public transportation information to the venues. Capsule reviews accompany many listings, and there are feature reviews and articles, too.

Finally, before you call a theater to purchase tickets, check out Seats Chicago: 120 Seating Plans to Chicago & Milwaukee Metro Area Theaters, Concert Halls and Sports Stadiums. With seating charts to many Chicago area venues, you can see just where your tickets are located before shelling out for seats so far to the side they might as well be at the bar next door.

Happy theater-going!