Saturday, July 26, 2014

Batman Day!

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of America’s favorite brooding hero DC Comics has declared today Batman Day for libraries across the country.

You may have already seen some Batman Day festivities on Wednesday when comic book stores were giving away a free issue of Detective Comics #27 (the first ever Batman comic) and four iconic Batman masks.

But it’s libraries’ turn to celebrate, and we invite everyone to come down to the public library to explore and express all things Batman (which might be more things than you imagine).

Created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger to capitalize on the company’s other great success, Superman, the Caped Crusader distinguished himself early on from other superheroes by his purely natural abilities, his detective’s logic, and his decidedly grim look.

None of this exactly arrived out of thin air however. While Batman may stand apart in comics, he has predecessors in film and literature, high and low brow. Zorro, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and Sherlock Holmes all share a family tree with Batman. Furthermore, they are all characters housed in the public library. Definitely read all the comic books you can get your hands on--the main branch has batbooks by Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, and Alan Moore--but walk a few shelves down at the library and see where Batman came from.

In fact, don’t limit yourself to fiction. At a conference this summer one current Batman writer explained that back issues of Scientific American provided great inspiration for bat gadgets. You’d be surprised how many places there are in the library for you to celebrate Batman day. Consider this a bat signal shining up from First and Franklin.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Packing Light: 9 lightweight novels that pack a punch

All weighing in at under 300 pages, these slender novels are no less powerful for their diminutive size and they fit perfectly in your carry-on luggage while keeping you pinned to the very edge of your airplane seat. Put up your tray table and put down Capital, Summer's "least read" monster, then grab a handful of these little guys hot off the new books shelf. 

Your Fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? by Dave Eggers

Mr. Eggers brought us the pretty darn long The Circle last year (which was great and you should read it too). This year I guess he just decided to go with a pretty darn long title.  Your Fathers, [etc.], written entirely in dialogue, is the humorous and suspenseful story of a man kidnapping people and holding them hostage on a decommissioned Naval base because he just wants to ask them some questions.  I read it on a weekend hiking trip so I can confidently recommend it as vacation-friendly.

The Scent of Pine by Lara Vapnyar

A Russian woman now living in the United States remembers  the Soviet summer camp of her youth as she embarks on a sudden and unexpected affair, and discovers how unreliable memory can be.
The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland

I had to read this in one sitting, pausing only to recommend it to a friend 2/3 of the way through. Lena, a lone transcriptionist with a large and reputable New York City newspaper, becomes obsessed with a story of a blind woman who apparently committed suicide by climbing into a lion's cage at the zoo. In her quest for the truth about this peculiar story she uncovers much more.

Chop Chop by Simon Wroe

Sharp, mordantly funny, and sometimes horrifying and gross, this witty story of one man's brief career in restaurants might make you think twice about going out to eat while on vacation.

The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham

I am going to get around to reading you, Snow Queen, I swear! Michael Cunningham, who brought us The Hours,
now brings us this gorgeous story that follows the divergent paths of the Meeks brothers as they each seek their own meaning in life. Highly recommended by a trusted source, and Goodreads, who seldom steers me wrong, described it as "beautiful and heartbreaking, comic and tragic". Sounds pretty good to me.

Next Life Might be Kinder by Howard Norman

In Next Life Might be Kinder, Sam Lattimore is a widower recalling his brief marriage to his wife, and her tragic murder and its aftermath, as he visits with her spirit on the beach in Halifax, Nova Scotia. You might want to grab the tissues for this tender and melancholy little romance.

Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia! and Vampires in the Lemon Grove, is out with a new novella that promises to be every bit as unsettling and entertaining as those were. Sleep Donation is another novel about sleep deprivation--the other being the terrific Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun--so maybe this is a trend forming. There are about a billion zombie stories out there so the literary market can probably handle a few more insomnia themed tales. This one is on my "to read soon" list, which never seems to get any shorter.

Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole

This one is also on my "to read soon" list. Cole's unnamed narrator returns to visit Lagos after 15 years abroad and rediscovers his hometown, and himself. Originally published in Nigeria in 2007, this novella is now available in the United States and just sounds really lovely.

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

For once I beat the New York Times review of books and read this before they reviewed it. All the Birds, Singing was originally published in the UK in 2013 and finally released in the US in 2014. Told in reverse, this book is riveting and eerie with a complicated central character. Jake Whyte lives an isolated life as a sheep herder and grapples daily with scars from her difficult past while a threatening predator attacks her flock at night.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Kids' Summer Reads

Finding the right book is not always easy.  It takes reading the "blurb" inside or on the back of the book, skimming a few pages, and trying a few chapters.  Once you find a book you like it's easier to find more.
Here are some great summer titles available at your library.  Find one that you can enjoy!

Treasure Hunters by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein.
Ready for adventure?  Some kids dream of having no parents around to make them do their chores or brush their teeth.  These kids are divers and sailors whose parents are missing. They really know how to find trouble.  Best of all there is a map leading to sunken treasure, too!

Lulu and the Dog from the Sea by Hilary McKay.
Lulu and her family have rented a summer house by the sea and Lulu's best friend comes with them for vacation.  The cottage isn't perfect and it sits right by the sea. One of the first people they meet is the cottage owner who warns them about "that dog" who runs free in the dunes.  Lulu discovers there is more to the dog than what the woman tells them, and more to the beach, including a little bit of danger.

Nick and Tesla's High Voltage Danger Lab by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith.
Our Summer Reading theme is "Fizz, Boom, Read!" and there are plenty of great science themed books at your Library.  Nick and Tesla are part of a series with science ideas, exciting characters and mysteries to solve. High Voltage Danger Lab includes electromagnets, burglar alarms and gadgets you can build yourself. Try one!

Gloria Rising by Ann Cameron
Have you ever had a teacher that you just couldn't please?  When Gloria meets astronaut Dr. Grace Street at the store she can't wait to share the news in a school report.  Her fourth-grade teacher challenges the truth of the story. Gloria is determined to prove her honesty while maintaining her character and learns a little about her teacher along the way.

Can you believe that summer is almost half over?  Sometimes long, summer days become boring and too quiet.  Here are two titles to spark your interest, and there are more at your Library!

The Kids' Summer Fun Book by Claire Gillmand and Sam Martin
Help fill your days with these topics:  On the Water, Out of Doors, Sports and Games, Crafts and Activities...just some of the fun things you can find inside to keep away boredom!

Oh, Yuck!  The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty by Joy Masoff
Nothing better on a hot day than to stay cool inside and share a gross-out with a friend.  This book has more than enough disgusting pics and articles, from acne to zits, and bats to worms.

Friday, June 27, 2014

13 Books I loved as a teenager

We hear a lot about YA, or young adult, literature these days, and it is constantly on my mind as of late with the frenzy of Summer Reading upon us. I have been asked for a lot of recommendations for teen readers over the past couple of weeks which has caused me to reflect on what books I immersed myself in as a teenager, way back before the recent  explosion in literature published with teenagers in mind. It is probably not too surprising to find out that your librarian was a library-loving teenager, always tucked into a corner somewhere with their nose shoved in a book.  It didn't take much to get me to sit still and read, in fact it probably required force to get me to do much of anything else.  I usually sought out stories with a rebellious spirit and a dark side.  If asked my favorite genre, I probably would have answered "horror" or just glared (teenagers!) but if asked for a list of my favorite books, this would have been it.

Yep, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.  I remember reading this moody American classic for the first time immediately after I bought it at Goodwill for a quarter and feeling like I had discovered some great secret.  The Bell Jar follows the unraveling of the brilliant and talented Esther Greenwood into insanity.  This haunting novel is especially perfect for teen girls and budding artists.
I had to read The Great Gatsby in a high school English class.  I didn't love everything we had to read in school--I'm not that kind of book lover.  In fact, I still hate The Scarlet Letter.  There, I said it.  Sorry, Hawthorne.  The Great Gatsby is a fantastic read for teens, especially for anyone fascinated by the roaring 20s.
With my up-all-night reading of The Joy Luck Club began my lifelong love of multi-generational family sagas.  I remember having many discussions with my mom over this novel we shared at an age when that didn't always come easy.  This book could be great for a teen who is having trouble seeing eye to eye with their parents, not that there are very many of those around...*ahem*.
I still list The Women's Room as one of my all time favorites.  Checked out from my high school's library, this is another novel that made me feel like I had discovered a secret world of really cool, super adult literature, and it probably influenced my adult taste in literary fiction more than anything else I've read. Young feminists will find a lot to love about this story of a woman's journey of self-discovery through marriage and children, divorce, and later-in-life college study and academia set in tumultuous mid-20th century America.
My mom gave me her much loved paperback copy of The Good Earth when I was about 12 or 13 and I read it twice.  I remember many tears.  Good for a teen who likes to have a good cry over a book now and then, The Good Earth is the story of a Chinese farmer, Wang Lung, and his family in agrarian China. 
20 years after this book's publication, ebola is back in the news in a really horrible way so it may or may not be a good time to recommend The Hot Zone but I'm all about honesty and this book was one of my most favorite favorite reads as a teenager.  I bought it at a drugstore on a family summer vacation to the mountains in 1994 because I was "really interested in viruses" at the time. The Hot Zone is the terrifying true story of a virus which is currently wreaking havoc in west Africa. 
Ending up in Richmond was extra cool for me as a hardcore teenage E. A. Poe fanatic.  I had memorized a good deal of "The Raven" and would quote it often, and I carried around the complete works in my backpack.  Poe is excellent for lovers of horror and tragic romance, and the short story is great for teens who don't take easily to hefty novels.
What began as an act of rebellion (because my mom wouldn't let me see the movie so I checked out the book at the library and made a point to read it in front of her) ended up as another book that will remain a favorite of mine forever.  A Clockwork Orange works a pretty cool message about redemption that teens will respond to into a story of a violent future taken over by criminals, and the Slavic slang used by the gangs made me want to study Russian, which I later did in college.
Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson's novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was another rebellious read from the Davenport (Iowa) Public Library.  At least, it felt like rebellion.  Depictions of alcohol and drug use abound in this raucous classic about a reporter on a long weekend road trip. 
It really doesn't get better than this dark short story by Franz Kafka about a man who awakens to find himself transformed into a giant beetle. Considering all the changes one goes through at that age, it isn't surprising that The Metamorphosis strikes a chord with many a teen.
Siddhartha, first published in 1922, tells the spiritual journey of a boy from the Indian subcontinent during the time of the Buddha. This novel is peaceful, elegant, and spiritual--great for contemplative teens. I read it between shifts at the restaurant where I worked for some much needed respite from the diners.
Written in 1962 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a powerful story of one day in life of a man imprisoned in a gulag (prison labor camp) in Soviet Russia. It's hard to be a teenager, which I suppose is why stories of terrible struggle are so popular with them.
The novel that defined the beat generation, On the Road was written by Jack Kerouac in 1957 and has been carried around by teenagers as a badge of cool ever since.  It usually needs little introduction and has inspired many a road trip across America. 

We would like to know, what sort of books did you discover as a teenager? Why did they speak to you?  

Happy Summer Reading!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Touring Richmond With Charles Dickens

Travel to London and you might muse to yourself that at any corner—around Bloomsbury, Clerkenwell, or Covent Garden—your footsteps and the footsteps of author Charles Dickens could overlap. But don’t travel to London, spend the weekend walking around Richmond, and the same might be true. On March 16, 1842 Charles Dickens took a coach from Washington, D.C. to Richmond, the southernmost point in his six-month tour of the United States. Dickens had just turned 30 and was already internationally renowned. He planned to follow-up his novel Barnaby Rudge with an American travelogue, published later that year as American Notes for General Circulation.

After arriving in Boston Dickens travelled to New York and from New York to Philadelphia, where he had his first brush with Richmond via the city’s adopted-son, Edgar Allan Poe. Poe, then 33 and an enormous admirer of Dickens’ work, sought him out to discuss American poetry as well’s as Poe’s publishing prospects in England. They had two long discussions at Dickens’ hotel, with Dickens promising to raise Poe’s profile in England once he returned. (Dickens eventually tried to do just that, but an anonymous review appeared in England in 1844 with lukewarm remarks about Poe, and when Poe assumed the author to be Dickens their relationship soured.)

Originally Dickens had intended to travel as far south as Charleston, but considering the increasing heat decided Richmond would be his first and last stop in the South, his one chance to view the system he was equally curious about and horrified by, slavery. On the ride from Washington Dickens observed, “In this district, as in all others where slavery sits brooding…there is an air of ruin and decay abroad, which is inseparable from the system.” A map of Dickens’ journey through the district between Washington and Richmond was included in the Richmond History Center’s RVA 50 exhibit, being one of 50 objects exemplifying the history of Richmond.

Dickens arrived at the Exchange hotel on 14th and Franklin, where a large dinner was held in his honor. Over the next two days Dickens visited every part of Richmond that interested him, and some parts that didn’t. He spent time at a tobacco factory and crossed the James to visit a plantation. He was fascinated by the site of the battle of Bloody Run (a marker for which now stands at 32nd and Broad) but slightly bored by the sessions taking place at the state capitol, where “orators were drowsily holding forth to the hot noon day.”

Early on Sunday Dickens left Richmond with a decidedly mixed opinion of the city. The natural beauty of the landscape impressed him, but it was a landscape stained by slavery. “The same decay and gloom that overhang the way by which it is approached, hover above the town of Richmond,” he wrote. “There are pretty villas and cheerful houses in its streets, and Nature smiles upon the country round; but jostling its handsome residences, like slavery itself going hand in hand with many lofty virtues, are deplorable tenements, fences unrepaired, walls crumbling into ruinous heaps.”

It is tempting to imagine what Dickens would make of Richmond now. The best way of bringing Dickens back to Richmond is perhaps to walk across town with one of his books, maybe even in his footsteps, stretching out in Chimborazo Park or Hollywood Cemetery, and, by reading the book, bringing it to life. The public library serves as the best departure point for a Dickens-accompanied tour of Richmond. His novels and the American Notes are in the first floor Fiction section of the Main library, which also holds many Dickens adaptations on DVD and audiobooks on CD. For anyone interested specifically in Dickens’ visit to Richmond look for Virginius Dabney’s Richmond: The Story of a City, the early 20th century book Charles Dickens in America, and the library’s collection of Dickens biographies.