Thursday, July 28, 2011

ROOM and Greek Cheese

Sure, we would always like everything to be a completely perfect experience. We are always in search of our new favorites: possibly the next movie we watch, the next restaurant we visit, etc. But the reality is that perfection only comes along once in a great while. As we wait for the next perfect experience (vacation, DVD rental, etc.) we should appreciate the greatly positive experiences that come along at more of a regular rate.

For instance, my wife and I visited a Greek restaurant for New Year's Eve a few years ago. Our time there was far from perfect, mainly due to the waiter's stubborn refusal to bring more water to our table after delivering the saganaki (Opa!). But the food was terrific, the ambiance was incredible, and the tile-work in the washroom is what I envision as we currently plan our bathroom remodeling project. All of the positive parts came together to create a fantastic time.

Now as Bill Cosby would say, "I told you that to tell you this". I've recently read the book Room by Emma Donoghue for an upcoming book discussion, and while it wasn't perfect, it was certainly in the next neighborhood over. The first page of the book reveals that the book is narrated by a five year-old boy named Jack: Donoghue uses this young voice (successfully, I think) to soften the blow of the issues and themes she tackles. She also utilizes Jack's fresh perspective to raise questions about corners of our everyday world that we never thought twice about. I will eschew examples as I don't want to broadcast any parts of the book out of context (Amazon can do that).

I felt Donoghue could have used some clarification when waving her descriptive powers, and she also could have fleshed out a few of the supporting characters: some were hardly there. However, the pacing of the story, the characterization and pathos of the two main players (Jack and Ma), and the recurring themes of motherhood, language, isolation, and discovery were all on target. The sum of these pretty good parts created a solid, likable novel that I read in four sittings. Is it my favorite book? No. Is it in my top 15 novels? Probably. It certainly is worth its hype.

So what does Room have to do with Greek cheese? Well, nothing really, besides the fact that saganaki seems like the paragon of all experiences (flaming cheese!) until you succumb to the Saharan thirst that comes from ingesting this almost-divine food. There again, not perfect, but close. A key difference? It takes me only one sitting to eat saganaki.

How about you? Any thoughts on Room? Or saganaki?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Spotlight on Words

The language of the Readers' Services staff can sometimes get complicated. Ask us about a documentary film and how to find it, and we launch into a description of the Dewey Decimal System. But during a good part of our day we just talk in plain English about blockbuster movies like Die Hard or Public Enemies. Or we direct you to a magazine or a tabloid to find out which celebrities are in the limelight or who won an Oscar or a Tony award. After a few general questions, we can decipher a book title from a cryptic request as we use the library catalog or the online site Amazon.

Our training and natural curiosity won't stop at that though. You may be off to enjoy your findings but we'll be searching the nearest reference sources to better understand the etymology of the words we just spoke.

Amazon - Greek legends of 5th century BC describe strong, courageous women warriors of Asia Minor as Amazons.

Blockbuster - A word coined during WWll for a massive bomb capable of leveling a block.

Die Hard - This was the battle cry of William Inglis during the Napoleonic Wars imploring his troops to stick to the battle and not give up.

Limelight - In the early 19th century, the mineral lime was heated to incandescence to improve the lighting in gas lit theaters. The bright white light was directed on the actors for better visibility. (See photo)

Magazine - Borrowed from the Muslim word makhazins which describes a fortress like storage facility holding a collection of equipment. By the 17th century Europeans were using the word to describe any miscellaneous collection of things.

Oscar - The film award statue went unnamed until the 1930's when the Academy's librarian Margaret Herrick said it looked like her Uncle Oscar and the name stuck.

Public Enemy Number One- Used by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover in reference to John Dillinger. This phrase has come to represent any criminal whose crimes are particularly heinous and a threat to the public.

Tabloid - Coined by the pharmaceutical company Burroughs, Wellcome in 1884. Tabloids were specially formulated pills that were highly concentrated and easily swallowed. First used in a journalistic sense in 1900 by Alfred Harmsworth.

Tony - The award for excellence in Broadway theater was named after Antoinette Perry, an actress, director and founder of the American Theater Wing.

Check out these sources:
What's in a Name by Eugene Ehrich
Word Origins and How We Know Them by Anatoly Lieberman
Dictionary of Historical Allusions and Eponyms edited by Dorothy Auchter

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

There's More to the Cello than Yo-Yo Ma, Or, Introducing the Best 100 of Classical Music Series

Yo-Yo Ma is a brilliant cellist, wonderful ambassador for classical music, and has been characterized by Smithsonian Magazine as "the nicest guy in the classical music business." So why have I titled this post "There's More to the Cello than Yo-Yo Ma?"

Because great as he is, there are other wonderful cellists, and I'm a bit puzzled by people eager to attend the concerts of classical superstars like Ma and Itzhak Perlman but who have little curiosity about other cellists and violinists respectively. If you like Yo-Yo, you might enjoy other cellists as well.

Cello CDs purchased for the library in the last couple years include Zuill Bailey's recording of the Bach Cello Suites and a compilation called Best Cello 100. Even if you're not a classical music aficionado, you've probably heard the Prelude to Bach's Cello Suite No. 1, which has been used in an American Express commercial among many other commercials and movies. It's a stunning piece of music, and although I have a friend who insists that Janos Starker's recording of the cello suites is THE recording, I prefer Bailey's interpretations with his lighter touch, heightened dynamic contrasts and, at times, unusual phrasing. There's an improvisatory feeling to his performance of Cello Suite No. 1 that I prefer to Starker's. You can hear Zuill Bailey performing the 1st Cello Suite here, and Janos Starker's version of the first movement--the Prelude--here. Feel free to comment on which you prefer. Dissent is welcome!

We also own Pablo Casals' recording of the suite on the aforementioned Best Cello 100 CD. For someone looking to branch out from Yo-Yo Ma or for anyone who loves the cello, the Best Cello 100 is a great starting place. The compilation is a 6-CD set featuring 100 classics of the cello repertoire performed by acclaimed cellists including Starker, Mstislav Rostropovich, Jacqueline du Pré, and Truls Mørk.

Other titles in the Best 100 series that we own are:

Best 20th Century Classics 100
Best Baroque 100
Best Classics 100
Best Classics 100 Volume 2
Best Guitar 100
Best Romantic 100
Best Violin 100

Check them out today!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Stories from the Home Front

In Fort Hood housing, like all army housing, you get used to hearing through the walls... You learn too much. And you learn to move quietly through your own small domain. You also know when the men are gone. No more boots stomping above, no more football games turned up too high, and, best of all, no more front doors slamming before dawn as they trudge out for their early formation, sneakers on metal stairs, cars starting, shouts to the windows above to throw them down their gloves on cold desert mornings. Babies still cry, telephones ring, Saturday morning cartoons screech, but without the men, there is a sense of muted silence, a sense of muted life.

That is a snippet from You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon. This is a remarkable collection of short fiction from a debut author who draws on her own experiences as an army wife to bring life to her characters and truth to their stories. Centering on the relationships of military families coping with the deployment of husbands and fathers into harm's way in Iraq, each tale is simple but powerful and vividly real.

Eight interconnected stories
take the reader on a tour of the army base at Fort Hood, Texas through the eyes and the hearts of the husbands and wives who live there and struggle to hold it all together in spite of fear, public scrutiny, infidelity, and crushing loneliness. The briefest synopsis of this collection can be summed up by a sign, described by Fallon, at the gate as you exit Fort Hood. It counsels: "You've Survived the War, Now Survive the Homecoming."

Overall, the book is a fast, engaging read that brings the damages of war home by focusing not on politics but on people who live with it every day. It is accessible, poignant, and well worth reading.

Click here to see more books on this theme.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Crossing Over

I always find it interesting when someone who has achieved success in one field jumps to another and does it well. You know, when someone like Steve Martin or Kirk Douglas writes a novel and they actually do it really well. This seems to be coming up more and more often. I see that Nicole Richie has a novel out (I have no idea if it was good). I also remember checking out William Shatner's music CD (I did not care for it, but your mileage may vary).

Two new music CDs caught my attention this way. Hugh Laurie of House M. D. has a music CD. It is a New Orleans style blues album. He has also written several books.

And Jeff Bridges has a new country music CD this month.

I guess I expected these stars to have used their fame and name recognition to get published in other fields. But in most cases I have been pleasantly surprised by their skill.

The book I am reading currently is Gideon's War by Howard Gordon. One of our regulars at the library mentioned this book knowing that I like Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp spy thrillers. And this is a good page-turner. Howard Gordon was the producer of the hit TV show "24" and was also a writer for the X-Files. Gideon's War reads like "24", being fast-paced and following a short timeline formula (though in this case it is 48 hours, I guess 24 would have made too short of a book).

What do you think of famous people crossing over to other mediums?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Hometown Superhero

It appears to be simply an innocuous bystander--you see it on your way to work most days and occasionally you stop in for a visit. It is well-known by everyone in town but, sadly, well-used by few. It is a rare individual who knows the true essence of what it is: the purveyor of truth--the muse of childrens' dreams--the superhero on Main Street. If you have a problem, the odds are good that your local library has a solution.

Don't believe me? Here are three instances of the library saving me personally.

1. Last month my car broke down and I took it in to the shop to have it looked at. I brought it to the most honest, reliable mechanic I know. The diagnosis? A leaky radiator that was beyond patching. The price-tag? five-hundred dollars. Not likely on the budget of a college student. I told my mechanic to give me an hour to think about it, and headed straight to the 629's on the Reference Floor at the library. According to the Chilton's fix-it manual for my car, replacing the radiator was an easy operation, and there were diagrams to prove it. After buying an eighty dollar part from Auto-Zone and putting my car up on blocks, it took me an hour and a half to fix it.

Saved: $420.00 (That's nearly one-half the cost of a single class at Northeastern).

2. In March of 2008, I went to Costa Rica for a week. At the time, none of the roads outside of the capital city had been mapped by satellite, and we were staying in a remote mountain village. So, I headed to the library to check out a travel book. Lonely Planet's most recent guide to Costa Rica. It included a detailed map the area we were visiting, including the location of local restaurants, the village police station, the nearest hospital, and hotels organized by price-point. There were also meticulous directions on how to get from the Airport in San Jose to this particular village by rental car, and a note recommending visitors to rent an SUV, because a majority of mountain roads are not paved. Though we did rent an SUV, three-quarters of the way into our drive the rear driver's side wheel nearly fell off on the side of a mountain. This situation was nearly disastrous--who know what would have happened if we'd been driving an ill-equipped compact-car?

Saved: Potentially, my life.

3. A while back I asked my boyfriend to teach my how to play chess. (I wanted to be able to hob-knob with the intellectual aristocracy--in other words, I wanted to get my snob on). Yet, despite my best efforts, he kept winning no matter how many times we played. What self-respecting snob loses at chess? So, I checked out Chess for Dummies and now I'm unbeatable. While bragging rights might not seem like they'd be as valuable as $420.00 or my life, between two highly competitive people, they are essentially priceless.

Saved: My dignity.

Thank you, Library!