Friday, May 27, 2011

Old Glory

When I was in high school, I was lucky enough to play a drum in a fife and drum corps, an ensemble that was influenced by the American Revolution in uniform style and song selection. Every Memorial Day we would perform at a memorial service that would begin in the local cemetery and wind up in front of the Topton VFW. Nearby, there was a plaque flanked by two cannons that commemorated all of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and contained the phrase “They Saw a Need.” That memorial has resonated for me all these years because of the courage and commitment contained within those words. Generations of men and women serving in the armed forces have gone on before us exchanging their lives of tranquility for ones of extreme bodily risk in order to uphold their country’s ideals and beliefs, of which the Stars and Stripes are an enduring symbol. Every active or retired armed services member that we encounter today deserves our deepest thanks.

This stretch of the calendar is filled with holidays that heavily incorporate the American flag including not only Memorial Day and Flag Day, but our nation’s birthday, the 4th of July as well. It is a perfect time of the year to reflect on what exactly the Star-Spangled Banner means to all of us. Even with the recent significant breakthrough in the War on Terror, the world can be a dark place where hope can deteriorate quickly. It is therefore reaffirming to think on the ideals of freedom, equality, and justice that were the building blocks of our nation, and what they mean to us today.

This holiday weekend, thank a veteran or active armed services member and honor the memory of those we are no longer able to thank.

Have a super Memorial Day Weekend!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Very Realistic Fiction

I just read the novel, Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman. It's a poignant story that chronicles a love affair from its nascence to its end. The main character, Frank, is a seasoned gentleman who is instantly smittten with a younger woman, Aura. It's not just her youth and beauty that attract him but their shared Hispanic heritage and similar interests in writing, academics and travel. The reader learns immediately that something terrible happens to Aura, and the romance and marriage do not last very long. Readers of realistic fiction may feel they have read this book before with its tender descriptions of love, regret and grief, but this time they can not take comfort in make believe. This story is more true than not, and sadly this is Francisco Goldman's story.

Because this novel is autobiographical and written diary-like, I wonder what makes it a novel and not a memoir? There are many authors that have written of personal loss in a similar fashion and they are more often described as memoirs and nonfiction. Examples are Joan Didion's A Year of Magical Thinking, Joyce Carol Oates' A Widow's Story, Elizabeth McCracken's An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, Pure Lover, by David Plante and Buckley's Losing Mum and Pup.

I am fascinated by Goldman's story. Which parts are true? Which parts are contrived and why. At least its autobiographical basis was disclosed and I know to question. Early readers of James Frey's memoir A Million Little Pieces were just duped.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Free Ravinia Lawn Tickets to Classical Music Concerts

Summer is on its way, believe it or not, which means that the Ravinia concert season is almost here! As in the past, Ravinia has generously supplied local libraries with a limited number of tickets for library patrons. These are lawn tickets to classical music concerts (so no Jennifer Hudson or Robert Plant tickets), and a great opportunity to listen to first-rate classical performers in a beautiful setting.

Tickets will be available on a first come, first served basis on Saturday, June 11th from 9 to 10:30 a.m. on the 1st floor. Any tickets available after that will be distributed at the 3rd floor Readers' Services desk. The ticket limit is 2 tickets per person.

Want to know what concerts we have tickets we for? Stop by the Readers' Services desk on the 3rd floor to view a list of available concerts and pick up a Ravinia concert schedule. This year, Ravinia also generously supplied us with copies of Ravinia Preview magazine, which includes interviews with performers, as well as a full calendar of events.

The third floor is also where you'll find classical music CDs--and all other music CDs--to check out.

Finally, you can enjoy live classical music right here in Des Plaines this summer. On Sunday, July 17th, pianist Mark Damisch will be performing compositions by Copland, Barber, Dello Joio and Gershwin right here at the library, in Friends Room B/C at 2 p.m. Click here to register.

Happy listening and concert-going!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Check out a free, always available

If you have read the Plain Talk blog post from May 11, 2011, you now know that, later this year, Amazon Kindle users will be able to borrow e-books from their local libraries. As a fledgling Kindle user, this is exciting news to me. I can't wait to download the latest hot title onto it for free! A good friend of mine already borrows e-books and e-audiobooks from her library, to enjoy on her Nook and her smartphone. But digital bestsellers, like their paper counterparts, are popular library checkouts, so she often has to place a hold because the book she wants isn't yet available.

And so we wait... The question we share is...what do we read while we wait?

There is an option open to both of us: public domain e-books. Wikipedia states that "works are in the public domain if they are not covered by intellectual property rights at all, if the intellectual property rights have expired, and/or if the intellectual property rights are forfeited. Examples include the English language, the formula of Newtonian physics, the works of Shakespeare and Beethoven, and the patents on powered flight." Public domain e-books have been produced largely by volunteers for Project Gutenberg. Most were originally written before the current century, but the subjects available range from fiction to science and nature, humor to horror. There's something to interest any reader.

After a little bit of research on Amazon.com and about 2 minutes of downloading time, I now have free, unlimited access to The Call of the Wild by Jack London, Shakespeare's MacBeth, The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, and the complete works of Jane Austen, just to name a few.

My friend can log onto MyMediaMall and follow this link
to download free, always available, public domain e-books. And they don't expire or count against her checkout limits! She has downloaded The Scarlet Letter for her son's high school English assignment (it's a plus that the e-book won't rack up any late fines), and we both plan to acquire The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to augment our latest obsession: the BBC series Sherlock. Some great stories never die!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Navy SEALs in Fiction

For some reason this week I have had three separate people asking to help them find fiction featuring Navy SEALs. One was even looking for romance (books) with Navy SEALs and I was rather surprised to find we have some.

The SEALs are a special warfare group of the Navy. SEAL stands for SEa, Air and Land Team, meaning they can operate anywhere. They tend to be involved in secret or high-level operations. If they are intriguing, try reading one of these novels about them.

Richard Marcinko (a former SEAL) writes the Rogue Warrior series. The first book is Rogue Warrior.
Tom Clancy's books Rainbow Six and Without Remorse feature John Clark a former Navy SEAL.
Several of Patrick Robinson's books, such as To the Death feature Navy SEALs.
In James Rollins' Sigma Force novels, the character Sean McKnight is a former SEAL.
Brad Thor's series features former SEAL Scott Harvath. Also his Dark Fathom novel features Jack Kirkland former Navy SEAL.
Suzanne Brockman's Troubleshooters" and "Tall, Dark & Dangerous" are series of romance/action novels feature Navy SEALs.
Dee Henderson's romance Series Uncommon Heroes features Navy SEALs.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Lost in Translation

Language is one of the things we take most for granted in our daily lives. It is entirely essential to every social interaction we have. It is the medium by which we communicate, by which we are entertained, and often, by which we express ourselves creatively. It is also the verbal expression of the culture to which it belongs. For example, no word exists in Latin to describe the female friend of a man. Where "amicus" would describe the male friend of a man, the female form of that word ("amica") describes a mistress. In Spanish, the words for "to wait," "to hope," and "to expect," all go by the same name (esperar). While language and culture are not totally inseparable, they are intrinsically linked on a very basic level.

Given this sort of culture-specific nuance, I often wonder as I read a translated text, just what am I missing here? As I pour over the words, their literal meaning seems to bely an implication which I feel is lingering just beyond the boundaries of my understanding. This feeling is enhanced enormously by the fact that I have, on occasion, read the same text both in its original, and a translation--in these instances I can clearly perceive exactly when the meaning of a phrase or conversation has been altered in its new rendition, or even when the subtext of a given locution has been lost entirely. What a shame that these painstakingly crafted subtleties which might provide otherwise overlooked insight into a character or setting would be so unceremoniously cast off; orphaned by the neat little box into which all of the linguistic contrivances of a single culture fit.

Happily, though, many books are great enough that they are entirely worth reading despite the occasional inkling that some bit of the intended meaning has gone missing, and when a book is well-translated, you might circumvent such an event entirely--or at the very least, mostly.

These are some of my favorites;

Don Quixote (Miguel De Cervantes)

Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel García Márquez)

English Spanish

Like Water for Chocolate (Laura Esquivel)

English Spanish