Friday, November 26, 2010

Lighten Up

And it is upon us. The ultimate Day After, Black Friday is the foot on the pedal that revs the engine of holiday shopping. There are a few ideas of where the term originated. Some people think it was traditionally the day when many retailers come out of the red part of their ledgers and into the positive end, the black side. While that may be true, the actual term "Black Friday" is said to have been coined in the mid-1970's by the Philadelphia police department in their chagrin of having to deal with jam-packed traffic and extremely crowded sidewalks on the 1st official Christmas shopping day after Thanksgiving (being from the greater Philadelphia area myself, I will choose to believe that origin as gospel).

It being a day of heavy and unrestrained shopping in retail stores (ie. many, many people in smallish, enclosed spaces), Black Friday has achieved a connotation of being a day filled with frustration, angst, and consternation. I'd like to encourage an alternative to venturing out into the merchandising blizzard out there: come to the library and get a holiday movie to watch with your family! We are open today and have a lot offer. The following is a list of my favorite holiday movies:

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
John Candy and Steve Martin offer up comedic genius in this odyssey to get home for the holidays.

A Christmas Story
"You'll shoot your eye out, kid!" One of the most quotable movies ever. Ever.

Grumpy Old Men

Another excellent comedic pairing, Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon act as best friends gone awry, upper Minnesota style.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947 version)
Doris Walker does not believe in Santa Claus, but her daughter Susan is not so sure herself. Very appropriate for Black Friday with the feud between Macy's and Gimble's.

It's a Wonderful Life

George Bailey realizes the impact he could have on other people's lives by seeing what life would be like without him. It's just not the holidays without watching this film.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Maybe I shouldn't admit to this, but Clark Griswold has long been a hero of mine. When I put Christmas lights out in front of and on my house for the first time this year, I will watch this movie for inspiration.

Which films do you like to watch around the holidays?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Upside of the Unavailable Book

Aimee Bender's latest novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, is no longer on the bestseller lists, but we still can't keep it on the shelves. All three copies are currently checked out. Which pleases me, as Bender is a wildly inventive and singular author deserving of readers' attention. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is about a girl with a gift and affliction: she can taste the feelings or emotions of the person who prepared her food, whether the ebullient family that runs a local restaurant or her put-on-a-happy-face but ultimately unhappy mother.

The downside of all three copies of the above checked out is, of course, that if you want to check it out today, you can't. (Though you can put it on hold.) But I'm going to argue that there's an upside to this. While you're waiting for her latest book, you can check out her EVEN BETTER FIRST BOOK, An Invisible Sign of My Own, which as I type is currently on the the shelf.

All the strengths of her latest novel are present in An Invisible Sign of My Own, published back in 2000 when Bender was 31: her masterful metaphors, her quirky but authentic characters, her singular use of language, and her magical realism grounded in a desire to illuminate the darker terrain of her characters' lives. The heroine of this book is a young woman with many gifts who, when her father becomes mysteriously ill, begins to abandon all at which she excels and denies herself all that brings her pleasure, with the exception of math: she is an inspired and unconventional math teacher. The book follows her struggles and growth as she deals with her compulsions (which include knocking on wood), tries to help an eight-year-old student whose mother is dying, and starts to fall for a socially maladroit science teacher. Although I enjoyed The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, and savored much of it, An Invisible Sign of My Own is ultimately the more satisfying book with a much stronger ending.

So, the next time the book everyone's reading is checked out, check out that author's previous books. Some of them might even be better than the one on the bestseller list! Just search for the author in our online catalog or ask for assistance at the public service desks.

Are there any authors on the current bestseller lists, fiction and nonfiction, whose earlier books you highly recommend? For example, John Grisham's latest novel is The Confession, but what is the best Grisham you've read? Which Vince Flynn thriller would you recommend to someone waiting for American Assassin?

Friday, November 19, 2010

"What do we count?"

I recently finished A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny, the fourth book in a wonderful mystery series featuring the wise and steadfast Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. This is a whodunit, revolving around murder, money and hidden motives, so I'll stop now to issue a SPOILER ALERT. Just a bit of a spoiler, though. I won't reveal who did, but rather who didn't do it.

Beyond the beautiful writing and well-crafted plot, what strikes a chord in me is a minor sub-plot that I believe is central to the book's spirit and also to my thoughts this season.

In this thread in the story, each morning and evening during his lakeside holiday, an old man makes his way down to the dock. "I come here to do my sums. It's a natural place for it." This character, Bert Finney, is a retired accountant, described as very old, and very ugly, with little to do in life except cater to his fabulously wealthy, and exceedingly unpleasant wife. Everyone around him, including his four embittered stepchildren, believe he spends his time counting money -- perhaps the money he'll inherit from his wife when she dies. But once the police tape is rolled up and the murderer unmasked, Finney explains his "sums" to a curious Inspector Gamache: "I count my blessings."

This is Finney's power as a red herring: it is so much easier for us to believe that a man in his unenviable position would be driven by greed, than to accept that he humbles himself in thanks daily. For his life, far from perfect, he is grateful.

Among my many blessings, I'm always grateful for a good read. I'm doubly pleased to find a bit of inspiration alongside the murder and mayhem of a good mystery. I recommend any of the Inspector Gamache series -- Louise Penny tells a fine tale. But this holiday, my pick is A Rule Against Murder.

"We're all blessed and we're all blighted, Chief Inspector," said Finney. "Every day each of us does our sums. The question is, what do we count?"

What blessing will you count?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Don't Be Shy

"HERE, take another one. Why not? One's not enough."

Who was this talking?

When I heard it, I imagined a babushka covered matriarch with a plate of hot cookies. But nope, it was me. I was singing my Readers' Services anthem while helping a patron find a John Grisham read-alike. Why take only one. It's the library. They're free. If you get home and don't like one, there should be another option right there.

I like to encourage going home with multiple books and multiple authors. The patron did take home several books by Steve Martini. I was happy she took more than one book but privately admonished myself for not introducing a more unique choice. Steve Martini is a baby boomer lawyer turned writer just like John.

This experience reminded me of a The New Yorker magazine list of 20 authors under 40. The article highlights these young talents one by one, provides a brief interview with each and a sample of their writing. None of the writers on the list would have been a great match for someone wanting a legal thriller but the library is a great place to take a chance on someone new.

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi

Adrian, Chris

Alarcon, Daniel

Bezmozigis, David

Bynum, Sarah

Ferris, Joshua

Foer, Jonathan Safran

Freudenberger, Nell

Galchan, Rivka



Meyer, Philipp

Morgan, C.E

Packer, ZZ

Friday, November 12, 2010

Take Cover

Working both at a library and a bookstore, I encounter many books everyday. One of my favorite aspects about being surrounded by books is enjoying cover art. You really shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but let's face it - the cover is generally the first impression you have of a book. Some publishers get that concept, many do not. A couple of my favorite book covers:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo cover is tastefully vibrant, and, in my opinion, really cool. While it took me a couple attempts to get into the book, the cover is really what lodged this novel into my head and wouldn't let me forget about it.

The Alienist cover is pretty simple, yet extremely compelling. "Who is this cloaked individual? Where is he going? What has he done?" These are the thoughts that jumped through my brain when I first saw this cover. I picked up the book to find out and wound up enjoying one of my favorite books ever.

My favorite cover of all-time, however, is pictured at the top of this post. Any guesses as to which book it is? (Hint, the author's name does not rhyme with "Chatterson".) It's the first book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien. My dad owned this edition, and I remember being mystified from an early age by the occult-looking markings around "The Eye". The first time I read the Lord of the Rings, it was using this edition. The writing, of course, turned out to be the Elven script of the dark language of Mordor that was engraved upon the One Ring. (Translated, it says:

"One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.")

I credit this book cover with developing a good amount of my reading tastes today, and I still find this book to be the most fascinating cover art I've ever clapped eyes upon. And you? What are some of your favorites?

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Change Will Do You Good

In January 2010 I resolved to stop thinking so much about food; specifically, to stop READING so much about food. I was spending quality time with cookbooks, cooking magazines, Eat Pray Love . . . you get the picture. Since reading about food tweaked my appetite, I was often combining the two “vices”. And then switching on The Food Network.

When all my pants became too tight, I decided to switch to books and magazines and TV about fitness and fashion. I started taking home issues of Shape and Women’s Fitness and Oxygen and Women’s Health from the library. I exploited a loophole by deciding it was all right to read the recipes in those magazines. I discovered there was a fitness channel – who knew?

Best of all, I found a world of great fashion guides on the fourth floor of the library. 646.34 became my favorite Dewey number! We’ve come a long way since Dress for Success and Color Me Beautiful helped women discover how to tie a floppy foulard tie and figure out whether they were a Summer or a Spring. (At that time I was told I was an Autumn and that my best colors were leaf mold and pond scum.)

Nina Garcia of Marie Claire magazine and Project Runway has written several great books on breaking out of a fashion rut and looking your best. Try The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own . Kim Johnson Gross, the founder of Chic Simple, has several great books out as well, her newest being What to Wear for the Rest of Your Life: Ageless Secrets of Style.

But fashion isn’t all about shopping. One of my top ten books for 2010 is The Thoughtful Dresser by Linda Grant. In the most accessible and erudite way, she looks at why every human culture for thousands of years has decorated the body in one way or another, what fashion and dress mean to her personally, and what fashion meant to a woman named Catherine Hill, who survived Auschwitz to bring couture first to Canada and then to Manhattan. It’s the Ph. D. version of Love, Loss and What I Wore , a lovely, brief biography in clothes by Ilene Beckerman.

I can't explain it, but reading about my interests seems to amplify the enjoyment of that preoccupation. There’s a kind of amplification or boost to the experience when you share your enthusiasm with someone else, even if it’s a writer you’ll never meet. And if you lose a few pounds because of that enthusiasm, that's just the silver lining.

You can wander up to the 4th floor and visit 646.34, or click here for a selection of new fashion, color and clothing books available at the library. Or if that doesn’t move you, tell me what hobby YOU like to read about in the comments!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

And I thought I had it bad....or, It isn't always about me

I complained about having no shoes until I met a man with no feet.

My Mom would use that old adage when I'd whine about not having this or that (and not just when I was a kid).

This holiday season concludes a year that has been fraught with fear and an especially sluggish economy. Many people remain out of work and/or their homes. Needless to say, there are countless Americans worse off than us.

Call me preachy if you insist. However I don't think it's too much to ask you to give during this last quarter of 2010--not just a check (if you have the $), or items you no longer want/need, but of your time. An hour, or two or three, is not an exorbitant amount in the span of a lifetime. And regardless of your own problems, you might just feel (at least a little) better afterwards.

I know what volunteer work has done for me. Over the years my own stints have included volunteering at a rehabilitation hospital and for an arts organization. I've found that old line--about getting back more than you give--to be true.

Not sure where to volunteer? Pick a cause. There's a multitude of good ones. Where do you think you could help the most? A hospital? A nursing home? A theater troupe? A soup kitchen? A shelter? A church? Or, drop off your used clothes and other items.

If you don't know where to begin, call the Reference desk at: 847-376-2841. Or, email us at:

If you want to do your own research, check our Web site, http://www.dppl.org/. Look for: How do I ... in the right-hand corner, click, and go to the bottom line--Volunteer at the library/in Des Plaines... One good cause in town is the Self-Help Closet & Food Pantry of Des Plaines at 600 E. Algonquin Road, phone: 847-375-1443.

For other ideas, you can peruse the Web. Other good links include:


You may not bump into a man, woman or child with no feet this holiday season, but there are plenty of people out there with no shoes. Or ones that are falling apart. Literally.

Posted by Reference Assistant Gwen LaCosse

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Listen While You...


Here at the library, there are a few ways to enjoy a good book even when you are on the move.

Choose an audiobook and your eyes and hands are free to move while someone else reads to you. Choose an ultra-portable audiobook format, like the 2 ounce Playaway or a downloadable audiobook, put onto your own MP3 player or iPod, and the rest of you is free to wander, too.

You can listen while you...

Stroll through your neighborhood with a favorite title, or step it up with Leslie Sansone's Walk Away the Pounds.

A fast-paced thriller can speed you through the miles.

Smaller than a deck of cards, a Playaway digital audiobook is a great way to listen to a book when you're on the go. Each Playaway unit already has a specific title pre-loaded onto it. You can pause your listening, change narration speeds, move back and forth through the chapters, and bookmark where you left off. It runs on one AAA battery, so it doesn't need to be charged. To see how easy it is to operate, run your cursor over the buttons on the picture of the Playaway above.

You can listen while you...

Travel in the company of a good book, without using up extra space in your carry-on. With French: The Complete Language Course, you can brush up on your francais on your flight to Paris.

Turn your commute into an opportunity for a relaxing read. Playaways feature a universal headphone jack -- simply plug in your MP3 or iPod adapter to listen through your car's speakers.

Just enter "playaway" as a keyword to browse our selection of Playaway titles.

If you are one of more than twenty million Americans who own an iPod or MP3 player, you can enjoy an audiobook on the go by downloading it from our virtual library: My Media Mall. Browse the online catalog, download some software, then download the title you want, and transfer it to your media player. Get started with a guided tour or visit us at the library for one of our My Media Mall Open Lab sessions to answer any questions you have about downloadable audiobooks.

You can listen while you...

Plant your perennial bulbs this fall to Nora Robert's Bed of Roses.

I love a good audiobook while I do dishes and laundry. It helps turn chore time into leisure time!

Listening to a great book can be enjoyable, educational, even inspirational -- and here at the library it's free and fully portable...

So you can listen while you...


...or sit back and relax in your favorite spot!

Where would you like to listen?