Saturday, October 18, 2014

BLOGtober Fest: Edgar Allan Poe Edition

The "Old Stone House", home of the Poe Museum, is the oldest building in Richmond. While Poe is not known to have spent time in this building, he surely would have been aware of its existence.
Southern Literary Messenger (source: Wikipedia)
Who attended the University of Virginia but was kicked out for his gambling debts, resigned as a sergeant-major in the U.S. Army to write prose, then accepted a commission to the military academy at West Point only to get himself court-martialed and expelled? Why, Edgar Allan Poe of course! He has been described as “the Michelangelo of the macabre; the Haydn of horror; the Einstein of the ethereal; the Rembrandt of the repulsive; [and] the Tchaikovsky of Terror!”

Illustration from the Masque of the Red Death, 1919 (source: Wikipedia)
Poe spent much of his troubled youth in Richmond. Orphaned, Poe lived with his irascible stepfather John Allan—who it seemed Poe never got along with unless John forked over some money to pay for Poe’s perpetual debts. Also while living in river city, Poe became so distraught over the death of his friend’s mother that he took on an upstream “six-mile swim [in the] James River.” Some scholars believe that Poe was actually attempting to commit suicide by swimming against the James’ rapid current.

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (source: Wikipedia)
The master of horror fiction returned to Richmond many times as he traveled up and down the Eastern seaboard. It was in Richmond where Poe gained his first real literary job, as an editor at the Southern Literary Messenger. His job included writing, choosing stories, critiquing, and editing the prose of mid-19th century writers. Richmond was also the place where Poe met his first true love, Elmira Royster Shelton, though her father made Poe discontinue their engagement because he despised Poe’s devilish ways. Right before Poe’s death in 1849, Elmira and Poe rekindled their love—though it was alleged that her children also disapproved of the eccentric writer, and preferred if their mother kept her distance from him.

1849 "Annie" daguerreotype of Poe (source: Wikipedia)
In honor of Edgar Allan Poe, the Richmond Public Library will be hosting Poe to Go on Oct. 22 at 6 pm at the Belmont Branch. The event will be put on by the Poe Museum and is free to the public—though registration is recommended. There will be a mock trial that the public will have weigh in on in accordance to the beating heart in “The Tell-Tale Heart.” We will also play a short film that will showcase one of Poe’s more ghoulish tales. This event has been approved for teens & adults—so come out for night of horror & terror at the Belmont library, we will also be raffling off a hardback collection of Poe’s works at the event (the raffle is free!) so you won’t want to miss this ghastly event!

Thanks to guest blogger Gavin, Belmont Library

Friday, October 10, 2014

Teen Read Week: Teen '14 Author Celebration

Hello, my name is Natasha and I am the Young Adult Coordinator for RPL. I have been very fortunate to work with many local YA authors for some of our amazing teen services programs. This year I have been working closely with an author by the name of Madelyn Rosenberg. Madelyn took over the coordinating Teen 14 this year and together we've been planning away for this celebration.

One of the things we often hear is that kids don’t read. We’ve seen the studies. But we have a hard time believing them when we meet teen readers in the flesh. They’re smart, passionate, and engaged, and they’re Reason No. 1 that Virginia librarians and authors thought it was important to put on this event.  Words from Madelyn Rosenberg

A little history:

Teen ’13 started with RVA’s own A.B. Westrick and Meg Medina, who both had brand new books come out last year -- brand new award-winning books – though they didn't know that when they planned the event, which was a chance to get Virginia authors together with Virginia readers. The event was hugely successful. It generated a feeling of community in the very best sense of the word. There were warm fuzzies in abundance.

So we decided to do it all over again, with a fresh crop of authors, showing that Virginia grows readers and writers along with its apples, tobacco and peanuts. Some of the authors will repeat from last year. Most will be new, ready to talk about their latest books and ready to talk to lovers of teen literature at the Richmond Main Library.

Alexis O’Neil, an author and school-visit expert in California, is currently conducting a study on the effect meeting authors can have on school-age kids. Though her study is still in progress, she says it’s clear that a visit with an author can change attitudes and lives. At the least, she says, it encourages kids to revisit their own writing with fresh eyes.

But if  you’re looking for more reasons to come to Teen '14, try these:

- Kids like to see themselves in literature. A number of the authors have stories set in Virginia, so Teen ’14 also gives kids a chance to see different takes on their state.
- It encourages readers to Read Local.
- It brings attention to the programming efforts of local libraries.
- It supports one of Richmond’s local indy bookstores.
- It supports Richmond’s local indy writers.
- There will be door prizes.
- There will be music.
- There will be food.
- It’s free!

The Teen '14 Authors

Author: Kwame Alexander
THE CROSOVER is a coming-of-age verse novel about twin basketball-playing brothers whose devotion to their family and the pursuit of a championship is disrupted when one brother gets a girlfriend. 

Author: Gigi Amateau
Based on true events, COME AUGUST, COME FREEDOM illuminates a little known corner of American history as it honors the extraordinary will of one man.

Author: Vanessa Barger
In A WHISPERED DARKNESS, as the nights grow longer and the shadows take on substance in her new home, Claire Mallory will have to decide if she is strong enough to fight off the evil spirits, or let them claim her as one of their own.

Author: Cece Bell
Sudden hearing loss, an enormous hearing aid, an adorable crush, mysterious bathroom noises, and the quest for a True Friend—EL DEAFO totally needs her superpowers in this debut graphic novel by children's book author and illustrator Cece Bell

Author: Anne Blankman
In PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG it is 1931 Munich when the honorary niece of rising politician Adolf Hitler meets a fearless Jewish reporter who believes that her father was murdered by their closest family friends, members of the Nazi elite. 

Author: Martina Boone
Stuck with the ghosts of a generations-old feud and hunted by forces she cannot see, Barrie Watson must find a way to break free of the family legacy in COMPULSION.

Barrie Watson finds a new kind of prison at her aunt's South Carolina plantation instead--a prison guarded by an ancient spirit who long ago cursed one of the three founding families of Watson Island and gave the others magical gifts that became compulsions.

Author: Mary Crockett
Annabelle Manning is thrilled when her DREAM BOY walks into her chemistry class, until she learns that when dreams come true, so do nightmares.

Author: Jen Swann Downey
Twelve-year-old Dorothea Barnes can hold her own in any fake Renaissance Faire sword-fight, but she despairs of ever finding something more important to do with her sword. Then she stumbles into Petrarch's Library, the sprawling headquarters of a secret society of NINJA LIBRARIANS.

Author: L.M. Elliott
ACROSS A WAR-TOSSED SEA chronicles the challenges facing two London boys who escape Hitler's Blitz bombings, cross a U-boat infested Atlantic Ocean, and find refuge in Tidewater Virginia with the farming family of Patsy Ratcliff, the home-town girlfriend of Henry Forester of Under a War-torn Sky

Author: Alison Hart
Dogs plus history equals thrilling adventures in this series, which includes Darling: Mercy Dog of World War 1, and Murphy: Gold Rush Dog.

Author: Meg Medina
When Piddy Sanchez gets to her new high school, she's targeted by the school's most vicious bully, Yaqui Delgado. Whom can Piddy trust, and how can she stand her ground and survive?

Author: Erica Orloff
In Orloff’s IN DREAMS, Iris discovers her father is actually the god of dreams and her nightmares and dreams follow her into reality, with both frightening and romantic results.

Author: Madelyn Rosenberg
NANNY X is the story of a special agent nanny, her three young charges -- four, if you count the dog – a na├»ve mayor, and a slick mogul who cannot be trusted.

Author: Kat Spears
SWAY is an antihero comedy about what happens when high-school senior, Jesse Alderman, who claims to have no feelings, meets a few people who force him to feel all kinds of things.

Author: Tammar Stein
SPOILS is the story of the Kohn family who won the lottery only to lose what matters most. Their youngest daughter, Leni, must now fight to save her family. Romance, mystery and mysticism are woven in a satisfying tale. 

Author: Tiffany Trent
In THE TINKER KING, the follow-up to the award-winning novel THE UNNATURALISTS, Vespa Nyx and her friends must face the consequences of their actions in freeing New London from the chains of steampunk sorcery, but the price may be greater than any of them are willing to pay.

Our Teen '14 Celebration is October 16 from 6:00 -8:30 pm.
And for those crafty teens out there, join us on October 14 at 3 pm as we re-purpose old library books to make book lanterns. The books that are made will be placed on display for Teen '14.

We hope you’ll come!

Friday, October 03, 2014

Audio Files: The British Invasion

I read an article last week about the resurgence in podcasts, downloadable audio series whose listeners are “committed for 20 minutes” to stories and articles longer than those typically broadcast on the radio.  I laughed at the idea of 20 minutes, since I was four hours into a 12 and a half hour audio book, JoJo Moyes’s One Plus One, a commitment slightly more serious than 20 minutes. So far, it seems to be a more cheerful successor to her also excellent Me Before You. Jess, the single mother of a young daughter who is a math whiz and the stepmother of a teenage victim of bullying, embarks with her family on a road trip to Scotland with the help of a tech millionaire under investigation for insider trading. Several performers give lively voice to its various narrators, in enchanting English accents.

I just finished listening to The Silkworm, by John Galbraith (a. k. a. J. K. Rowling). My J. K. Rowling experience has been all-aural: I listened to every one of the Harry Potter books, entranced by Jim Dale’s narration. I also listened to Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, which was not particularly well-reviewed. I think if its critics had listened to it instead, they might have been more favorably inclined. As Harry Potter fans know, Rowling has a keen ear for class differences in speech, and British actor Tom Hollander brings out every delicious nuance in this intricate tale of hidden conflict in a small English town. Using the Galbraith pseudonym, Rowling ventured into crime fiction with The Cuckoo’s Calling, featuring unlikely hero Cormoran Strike. A veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Strike returned home minus a leg to try his hand as a private investigator, without much success. His luck changes when he is hired to investigate the apparent suicide of a glamorous model. Strike returns in The Silkworm, this time to solve the grisly murder of an eccentric novelist, whose last manuscript appears to reveal the dirty secrets of Britain’s biggest literary personalities. Rowling’s delicious skewering of the publishing world she knows so well is a cherry on top of a well-crafted whodunit. As in The Casual Vacancy, dialog is everything in both Cormoran Strike books, and how better to appreciate dialog than to listen to it?

My next audiobook is Irish, for a change of pace! Tana French’s The Secret Place, the latest installment of her "Dublin Murder Squad" series, is already on the bestseller lists. Although these dark crime thrillers, each featuring a different detective and a different crime, can be read independently, I think they are best appreciated in order.  Ireland’s changing economic circumstances unfold in the background, and the detectives are seen through each others’ eyes, their backstories revealed slowly. I jumped the queue and listened to Broken Harbor first, and then went back for the first three: In the Woods, The Likeness, and Faithful Place.  All are narrated by well-known Irish actors whose accents are as compelling as the stories they read.
Also on my audio horizon is The Long Way Home, the latest installment in Louise Penny’s series featuring (recently retired) Chief Inspector Gamache. Inspector Gamache is French Canadian, so there’s an accent to be enjoyed here, too, although the series’ award-winning narrator, Ralph Cosham, is English-born, not Quebecois.  A fun bit of trivia about Cosham and Penny: they have never met; nor has Penny ever listened to any of his recordings, for fear that they will influence her own idea of Gamache. And Cosham does not read the books before he records them, so he is as much in the dark as the story progresses as the Inspector and we are.  If Cosham won't read the book, I won’t read the flap!

Friday, September 26, 2014

What's your favorite banned book?

Today's recommended reads come from lists of banned and challenged books. For more information about banned and challenged books, please visit

Toni Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye, was challenged in a Fairbanks, Alaska high school in 1994 because it was a "controversial book; it contains a lot of very graphic descriptions and lots of disturbing language." Also challenged at West Chester, Pennsylvania schools as "most pornographic".
The Island Trees (NY) School District School Board removed Slaughterhouse-Five and eight other books in 1976 because they were “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and just plain filthy.”
Originally published in 1951 and still one of the most frequently challenged books, in 2001 The Catcher in the Rye was removed by a Dorchester District 2 school board member in Summerville, SC who believed it to be “a filthy, filthy book.”
In 2012, under threat of violating state law and losing state funding, the Tucson (AZ) Unified School District voted to cut its Mexican American Studies (MAS) program. “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and numerous other books affiliated with the MAS program were found in violation, removed from the curriculum, and stored in district storehouses.
In 2007 The Golden Compass was challenged by schools in Kentucky, Texas, and Wisconsin for "anti-religious" and "anti-Christian" messages.
In The Night Kitchen was first challenged in 1985 in a Wisconsin elementary school because of fears it would "desensitize children to nudity."
My personal favorite challenged book from my childhood? It's tough to choose just one. There's The Giver by Lois Lowry, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, The Witches and James and the Giant Peach, both by Roald Dahl, Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (written by a teenage girl!), A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein, and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark which was challenged in 1990 because it was "too scary".

You know what is really scary?


Banned Books Week reached a lot of folks here at RPL. Awareness was raised, censorship was discussed, and the freedom to read was celebrated. Even Mr. Taft here got into the action. It's not too late to stop by participating branches and play the trivia challenge.  You can win tickets to the Byrd Theatre! 

Friday, September 19, 2014

WANTED for Reading Dangerous Books!

Image created at
The outstanding offspring of Natasha the Artsy Librarian

This year National Banned Books Week is raising awareness about banned and challenged comics and graphic novels. Comic books and graphics novels are loved by people of all ages. Celebrate your freedom to read the week of September 21-27 at participating branches: Belmont, Ginter Park, Broad Rock, North Avenue and the main library. Enter the Banned Books Week Trivia Challenge for a chance to win two free Byrd Movie Theater tickets courtesy of the Byrd Theater, check out our creative displays of the most frequently challenged books, and pose with your favorite challenged book for a Wanted Poster Picture!

Pictured below are just of a few of the graphic novels and comics most frequently challenged: The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa, Maus by Art Spiegelman, Sandman by Neil Gaiman, The Watchmen by Alan Moore, Tank Girl by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Blankets by Craig Thompson, Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey, and Bone by Jeff Smith. For more information visit The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and The American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom.