Friday, March 29, 2013

Please pardon our dust

Did you know that we have nearly 24,000 DVDs and 7,000 audiobooks on the library's 3rd floor alone? Don't even get me started on the number of books shelved there. If you have visited the 3rd floor in the past few days, you may have noticed that we are moving a lot of DVDs, audiobooks and books around.
And if you have visited the 3rd floor in the past few days, please pardon us for our temporary state of dishabille. All of the sweating, dusting, carting, (did I say sweating?) and general ruckus going on has a noble purpose. By rearranging some of our collections, we hope to enhance your library experience.

We are spreading the DVDs out to make them easier to look through and find. We also relocated CD audiobooks and Playaways to roomier digs in the last aisle of the Fiction section. That long stretch of audiobooks is a browser's dream! In the process, the books in Fiction have shifted some too, so your favorite authors may not be shelved where they were last week.

Once the dust has cleared, new signs will go up to help you find your way, but until then, please do not hesitate to ask the folks at the desk for assistance. We are there to help and there is nothing we enjoy more than connecting people to their next great book...or movie...or CD...you get the idea!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Artful Prankster

It hasn't felt very much like Spring lately in the Chicagoland area, but the calendar says it is, and in fact next Monday is a landmark Spring holiday--no, I'm not referring to Easter Monday. I mean April Fools' day! The prankster's tradition is a long one, going back more than 2,500 years in Persia, where the beginning of April marks the thirteenth day of the new year.

April Fools' traditions are many and varied around the world--for example, in Spain and Latin America pranks are generally done on December 28th instead of April 1st. In France, Italy, and Belgium the prankster's holiday is celebrated on April 1st as it is in other western countries, but the go-to prank is to tape a paper fish on the back of a friend, colleague, or family member. This traditions is know as "April Fish."

April Fools' day is one of my favorite holidays, and that's probably because I have a deep appreciation and admiration for the art of the prank. Good practical jokes are hard to get just right. If the joke doesn't go far enough, it's not funny...too far, and it's just mean. It's quite the fine line to walk, but it's totally worth it when everything goes right.

In honor of the day, I proffer to all you con-noisseurs, jokes-perts, and shenani-fans this list of the top 100 April Fools' Day hoaxes of all time, as well as the following list of books featuring some of the worlds' favorite fictional fools.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Chicago Heroine and "Shamefully Neglected Crusader:" Women's History Month

For many Chicagoans, the name Ida B Wells likely conjures up the public housing complex named after her: the Ida B Wells Homes, since demolished. But how many of us know who she was and what she accomplished? In the words of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cornel West: "She remains one of our most shamefully neglected crusaders" (The African-American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country).

Women's History Month serves to remind us of the contributions of heroines like Wells, who was a journalist, anti-lynching activist, and feminist who fought for the civil and economic rights of blacks, as well as for the rights of all women.

She was, among her many other accomplishments, a sort of Rosa Parks of the 1880s. As a black schoolteacher in Mississippi, she rode the train to work, and after she was forcibly removed from the train for refusing to move to the segregated car, she sued the railroad. Although she lost the suit on appeal, she wrote about it, which led to a career as a journalist and activist, during which she wrote about racist practices and women's rights. Following a series of articles on lynchings that she wrote, the newspaper of which she was part owner was destroyed, and she received death threats. This led her to move to Chicago, where she continued to write and crusade against lynchings and other injustices. She was a co-founder of the NAACP and founder of the Alpha Suffrage Club, possibly the first black women's suffrage organization.

On a local level, among many other good works, she attempted to stop the segregation of Chicago Public Schools and started the Negro Fellowship League, which offered lodging, a social center, and a reading room for black men who had migrated north.

She was fierce, outspoken, considered too radical by some of her fellow activists, and, unfortunately, died before she completed her autobiography, Crusade for Justice. In addition to several children's books about her, the library owns four biographies of this fascinating woman, the titles of which give you a sense of her personality:

Ida, A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign against Lynching

To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells

'They Say': Ida B. Wells and the Reconstruction of Race

To Keep the Waters Troubled: The Life of Ida B. Wells

You can pick up a biography of Wells on the 4th floor, where you'll find many other biographies of great women past and present. Not in a reading mood? Celebrate Women's History Month with a feature film or documentary on women ranging from Louisa May Alcott to Jane Goodall. Here's a list of selected DVDs.   

To learn about efforts to memorialize Wells with a monument in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood, click here.

The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.
                     Ida B. Wells

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pope Fiction

Pope Francis I
In honor of the inauguration of Pope Francis I today, it seems fitting to take stock of the tales inspired by the mystery and grandeur of the Holy See.

There's a little something for everyone in Vatican City.

I never really considered, beyond Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, what storytelling pulp the papacy might generate. But from the intrigue and danger surrounding the reign of Rodrigo Lanzol Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, to the intrigue and danger surrounding the reigns of our most recent pontiffs, two thousand plus years yield a lot of material.

Whether you prefer historical fiction or political thrillers, mysteries or romance, the papal fiction here at the Des Plaines Public Library appeals to a broad range of interests. Even speculative fiction dips it's toe into the, um, holy water (or maybe that's the Bernini Fountain).

Nearly every title listed is available in multiple formats: books, audiobooks, large print, e-books, and e-audiobooks.


Friday, March 15, 2013

The Risk and Truth of Ireland

As you may have read previously in this blog, my entire life I've clung desperately to entertained a mysterious love of the Emerald Isle. I was a one-man St. Patrick's Day Advent season every year of high school; I wore pins of the names of different Irish patriots every day (Patrick Pearse, Wolf Tone, etc). I focused on Irish history and literature in college: my senior independent study compared the effects of two invasions, Christianity and the Vikings, on Irish culture. I wear a shamrock necklace every day of my life. Needless to say, this time of year always brings me a sense of mini-euphoria somewhat akin to soft snowflakes on Christmas Eve.

At the same time, however, it also brings a question to the top of my mind: Why? What is it about Ireland and its people that creates such devotion in myself and many, many others? Often it can easily be traced back to celebrating one's own heritage. In my case, however, it was a few quotes from Irish authors that led me down a different path.

"Even a newspaperman, if you entice him into a cemetery at midnight, will believe in phantoms, for everyone is a visionary, if you scratch him deep enough. But the Celt, unlike any other, is a visionary without scratching.” William Butler Yeats

As a whole, the Irish love tradition. Living on the same land as their ancestors, driving on roads past 500 year-old castle ruins, a concerted effort to save their original Irish language: all contribute to a deep sense of place and identity that possesses the Irish. Much of this is transmitted to later generations through well-loved tales and the reels and ballads of its rich musical tradition. Perhaps the sense of their own history being kept alive so well contributes to the Celtic ability to stir the imagination.

"Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy."William Butler Yeats

There is also a pervasive melancholy in the Irish culture, possibly from the constant damp and overcast weather. A continual sense that things may not turn out for the best, and the calm acceptance of that fact, combined with a strong sense of history and identity, have definitely generated a heavyhearted and poignant tone to the works of Irish writers from James Joyce all the way to Seamus Heaney.

The melancholy view of life doesn't always look backwards to what has gone one before, however. Now, in modern-age Ireland, due to a series of economic downturns, there is also a sense of missed opportunities: what could have been.

“Over time, the ghosts of things that happened start to turn distant; once they've cut you a couple of million times, their edges blunt on your scar tissue, they wear thin. The ones that slice like razors forever are the ghosts of things that never got the chance to happen.” 
Tana French

So this St. Patrick's Day Weekend, take a moment and consider the saddened richness of the Irish heritage. Then, go live boldly (and read some Irish poetry)!

"There is risk and truth to yourselves and the world before you." ― Seamus Heaney

Photo of the Irish coast from travel.nationalgeographic.com

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Westeros is Coming!

Season three of Game of Thrones begins on March 31st. Aren't you excited? The magazines and internet are all abuzz with trailers and cast interviews! But the season premiere is still two and a half weeks away. While the wait for the next television season isn't quite the wait for the next book in the series, it can definitely feel like it for those of us waiting to see Joffrey's, um, shining face again.

  • Check out this list of similar titles from the library. You can also come to the 3rd floor desk and ask any one of us for suggestions!
  • Watch the first and second seasons!
  • Listen to the each of the seriesaudiobooks as read by Roy Dotrice, also known as the pyromancer from the television adaptation Game of Thrones on HBO. This could actually only take about 8 days, if you don’t mind listening to it night and day and never sleeping. However, that is not recommended.

Meanwhile, we're still waiting for the release of the sixth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series (from which Game of Thrones was adapted for television) by George R. R. Martin, The Winds of Winter. George R. R. Martin has estimated the release date as being some time in 2015... but it could be longer. There were six years between the fourth and fifth books. Here are some things that you could do between now and the release of The Winds of Winter
  • Walk from one end of the United States to another and back, stopping along the way to see national parks and roadside attractions, eat venison jerky, and replace your shoes about every 1000 miles. Then, when you finally get to read The Winds of Winter, you’ll really appreciate all the horrible weather those poor boys up on the wall have to go through.
  • Birth and raise a small child until about preschool age. This will eat up a significant portion of your time, and once your child is off at school, you will have plenty of alone time to read what is bound to be an enormous book. It’s win-win! And, if you decide to follow this suggestion, don’t let that toddler you’ve raised hear any of the audiobooks. These books are decidedly not kid-friendly.
  • Get a college degree! I suggest an English or History degree. This will best prepare you to read and over analyze every one of the 1,200 or so named characters in the entire Song of Ice and Fire series. By the time you’re through, you’ll know them better than they know themselves. Since so many of them are such awful, twisted people, hopefully this won’t addle your brain.
But of course, the easiest thing would be to just read all the books again.

Friday, March 8, 2013

"Do Ross and Rachel end up together or something?"

The title question came from my girlfriend, who was sort of half-watching the episode of Friends I was watching.

"Wait you haven't watched Friends?!" I was in utter disbelief. I naively assumed even if everyone my age had not seen the show they at least knew the biggest 'will-they, won't they' couple from it. Apparently not. 

So started a journey where we decided to watch all ten seasons of Friends in order. By the middle of the series, Carrie was hooked. She constantly complained it was predictable, but she laughed out loud more at Friends then any other comedy we have watched.

I asked her to describe her experience and she said "It was okay, but every character had exactly two jokes that were repeated over and over: Monica used to be fat and is obsessive about cleaning. Ross has effeminate qualities and is nerdy because of his profession. Joey is dumb and dates around a lot.
Phoebe has a rough background and says extremely quirky things. Nobody seems to like Chandler and he makes sarcastic jokes. Rachel...dates a lot and is sorta ditzy."

"Well I am impressed. That was surprisingly accurate." It is interesting to see how American television comedies have evolved continuously. My interest in watching Friends again stemmed from listening to Warren Littlefield's Top of the Rock: The Rise and Fall of Must-see TV.

Here are some great comedies you can check out from Des Plaines Public Library, along with some great books on the subject of television comedy:

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Who Is Josh Ritter?

At our April 2nd morning book discussion we are talking about Josh Ritter's book, Bright's Passage.
It's Ritter's first novel and I picked it prior to having read it. Josh Ritter is a wonderful folk singer and songwriter from Moscow, Idaho. I have been a fan of his songs for a long time. Like a lot of great folk singers, Ritter's songs tell stories that connect with the human heart. When the book came out and I saw who wrote it, I was intrigued. When I read the plot description, I was sold.

Bright's Passage is the story of Henry Bright, a young man from West Virginia who has just returned from the battlefields of WWI. During the war he discovers an angel who has been watching over him. Now home, the angel resides in his horse giving him advice. He marries his sweetheart and they conceive a child. His wife dies in childbirth and he must raise his boy on his own, with only the help of his horse/angel. Unfortunately the angel's advice is not great. They burn down their house and flee with just the baby, horse/angel and a goat to provide milk.

Whether this is a story of a man who encountered an angel or a man who left his wits on the battlefield, the story weaves back and forth from touching to darkly humorous in a way that only a folk song might.

If you'd like to read the book and partake in out discussion, we have copies at the Readers' Service Desk at the library.