Thursday, February 24, 2011

“Fiction is the Truth Inside the Lie.”

Here at the library, we run across many photos of authors. They are in the New York Times Book Review and in the Book Page publication that we get every month at the 3rd floor Readers Services desk (they're free - come and have one). However, the most probable location of an author picture is at the back of the book you are reading.

Why am I discussing pictures of authors? No reason, really. I just enjoy immersing myself in the storytelling aspect of novels, and having an actual picture of an author in my head could help me engage in the book further. Its almost like I could picture the author actually creating the words right there in front of me, or possibly even reading them aloud.

When I was 13, I read my first horror novel: Pet Semetary. I don't know what frightened me more, the harrowing story of resurrection-gone-wrong or the picture of Stephen King (pictured above) on the back of the book. To be fair, I feel that Mr. King can spin a mean story, when he gets around to it. He is also responsible for the quote entitling this post.

Photos of authors also make impressions on me even if I haven't ever read anything by them. For instance, Terry Goodkind (pictured right) seems to take himself pretty seriously. Is he really that confident in his writing or is it merely a juxtaposition to the sly wit he could inject into his writing style? Either way, I'm intrigued.

How about you? Are there any authors whose pictures have proved irresistible or repellent to your reading tastes?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Medicine for the Soul

...that's the inscription over the door of the Library at Thebes - established 1250 B.C.

Soul medicine is something we could all use a little bit more of, and the libraries that can provide it have been valued by civilized communities for more than 3,000 years. Yet, in this time of governmental budget crises, we seem to be in real danger of losing access to it.

Libraries and library systems throughout Illinois, and beyond, have faced significant budget cuts on local, state, and federal levels. Just this week, U. S. Representative Scott Garrett (R - NJ) introduced
Amendment #35 to the Continuing Resolution to the FY2011 budget, which would have eliminated "all funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services, including funding for the Library Services and Technology Act, the primary source of federal dollars to libraries." The American Library Association and concerned library supporters across the nation helped defeat the amendment.

Concern over the fate of libraries has inspired impassioned appeals from the ranks of the bestsellers, as well.

"A library within a community stands as a testimonial to its values, its belief in universal access to literature and knowledge." Scott Turow, bestselling author of Innocent and Presumed Innocent, and the president of the Authors' Guild, recently wrote that in his article, Let-Them-Eat-Cake Attitude Threatens to Destroy a Network of Public Assets, published February 15, in The Huffington Post.

Please, click on the title of the article and read it for yourself. His eloquence stands best on it's own merit.

In that vein, here are more powerful words in support of libraries:

The richest person in the world - in fact all the riches in the world - couldn't provide you with anything like the endless, incredible loot available at your local library.
~Malcolm Forbes

And even should the cloud of barbarism a
nd despotism again obscure the science and libraries of Europe, this country remains to preserve and restore light and liberty to them. ~Thomas Jefferson

There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration. ~Andrew Carnegie

Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The on
ly entrance requirement is interest. ~Lady Bird Johnson

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

LOUDER than a Bomb

I can't wait to buy the film Louder Than a Bomb for the library.

I just saw this documentary on the big screen. In the same genre as Spellbound,Wordplay, and Triviatown, this film focuses on a competition. In this case, a Chicago based high school poetry slam. I feel self-conscious even trying to craft a description of the movie after hearing the words of these young people who created works of art with their minds and their voices.

No review can prepare you for the feeling of awe inspired by these young people. They are so talented and they work so hard. Strings of words and feelings, sometimes performed at breakneck speeds, sometimes performed with comic timing, sometimes solo, sometimes in unison, stories of family, stories of experience, stories in metaphor.

I'd like to say the film itself is nothing compared to the teens' work but that may be a simplistic view. The filmmakers let us get to know the individual stories of a few of the most talented individuals and their teams. Clearly their stories are edited with finesse based on the empathy they elicit from the viewer( especially this viewer).

The Young Chicago Authors group organizes the competition, "a safe and judgment free outlet where kids from all over the city can share stories and break stereotypes, challenging themselves and their audience,” as decribed by author and LTAB co-founder and artistic director Kevin Coval. “For three minutes at a time the students speak about their lives, but for the other eighty-seven minutes, they are listening to the lives and stories and dreams of others.”

The good thing is you don't have to wait to see the film. The competition is coming up and it is open to the public. Click here for the full schedule.

Unfortunately, no date yet for the release on DVD. In the meantime, try these other docs showcasing competitions and contests.

Mad Hot Ballroom
Pucker Up The Fine Art of Whistling

Friday, February 11, 2011

Coming Attractions March 2011

Click on the title or the book cover to reserve your copy now.

Minding Frankie
Maeve Binchy

Live Wire
Harlan Coben

The Jungle
Clive Cussler & Jack Du Brul

Align CenterSilent Mercy
Linda Fairstein

Night Road
Kristin Hannah

When the Thrill is Gone
Walter Mosley

James Patterson

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Why Is There a Question Mark Next to Frederick Douglass's Birth Date?

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass, one of the great minds of the 19th century, was never sure of the date on which he was born. Nor was he sure of the year. His birth year of 1818 is followed by a question mark in the World Book Encyclopedia, as well as in the American Civil War Reference Library and other reference sources.

What was it like to go through life without knowing the most basic facts about yourself? Incomprehensible to us today, this was common amongst slaves, who were denied education--state laws made it illegal to educate slaves--and forbidden to read and write. As The American Civil War Reference Library says, in its entry on Frederick Douglass: "Most slave owners tried to prevent their slaves from learning much about themselves or the world around them. They believed that educated slaves would be more likely to become dissatisfied with their lives. For this reason, Douglass received no information about his birth. 'By far the larger part of slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs,' [Douglass] explained, 'and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant.'"

In spite of living in an unjust society marked by brutal and inhumane oppression, Douglass learned to read, which marked the beginning of his march toward freedom. He went on to become a great leader in the fight to end slavery, aided immensely by his eloquence as a writer and public speaker.

Given Douglass's accomplishments, it makes sense that Negro History Week, which began in 1925, was celebrated in February to include the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Its aim was to highlight the contributions of African-Americans' to our lives.

It has since evolved into African-American History Month, this year's theme of which is African-Americans and the Civil War, to honor "the efforts of people of African descent to destroy slavery and inaugurate universal freedom in the United States" (Library of Congress).

A wonderful and moving film on this subject is Glory, starring Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and Matthew Broderick. Based on the heroism of the first black regiment of the Civil War, the Glory DVD also includes a documentary about the regiment narrated by Morgan Freeman.

Also worth checking out: The Slaves' War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves by historian and former NPR commentator Andrew Ward. Praised by Publishers Weekly as "a groundbreaking history, the Civil War is recounted from the previously silent victims that it most directly affected: the slaves themselves. Through hundreds of interviews, diaries, letters and memoirs, Ward offers an entirely new perspective of the war."

If you want to learn more about the remarkable Frederick Douglass, a good starting place is Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings, part of the Library of Black America series. Also worth checking out is Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. This is the first of Douglass's three autobiographies, and it is available on CD as well as in book format.

We have many other titles on African-Americans and the Civil War, as well as masterworks of fiction by authors including James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Ernest Gaines and ZZ Packer. Take one of them home to celebrate African-American History Month, take comfort in the knowledge that all of us are free to educate ourselves at the library, and take inspiration from this Frederick Douglass quotation, no less relevant today than in the 19th century: "Without struggle there can be no progress."

Friday, February 4, 2011

Stranded without a book

What do you do if you are stranded without a book? My power went out during the blizzard and I was struck by that dread of "What do I do now?" Then I remembered I'd downloaded a library ebook onto my smartphone. Technology to the rescue! Of course I only had an hour of battery life left, but it helped. (The library's downloadable media catalog is here).

It reminded me of when I got stuck in an elevator. After more than a half hour the fire department came and had to pry the doors open and hoist me out. It felt like hours. I kept thinking if only I had a book, time would have flown by. I almost always have a book with me. I think about it every time I step on an elevator. And when everyone was saying, get ready for the blizzard, fill your gas tank and have blankets in your car, I made sure I carried a book in my bag, (actually two). I feel like I can get through anything if I have a book to keep me occupied and distracted.

Now I might be a bit more paranoid than most. But I am curious what do people do when stuck without a book. What steps do you make to not be caught without one? Or am I the only one?

(Thanks to Brian Malow, the science comedian and photographer Tara Fredette for use of the image above)