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.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Happy (Belated) Birthday, Ginter Park!

Pictured (probably): 
Margaret Williams, Margaret Worsham and Burgess Collins
Did you know that the Ginter Park Branch turned 50 this year? The doors were first opened in May of 1964. If you haven't seen it, check out the image of Ginter Park's grand opening preparations in Wednesday's Times-Dispatch. To celebrate this milestone just as we begin preparing for renovations scheduled to take place next year I'm sharing this list of 50 books published in 1964. Perhaps you would have found a few of these on the new books shelf. Some I've read, many I haven't, but I discovered quite a few to add to my to-read list. Any familiar favorites?

1. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (still creepy and gross after 50 years) by Roald Dahl

3. A Moveable Fest by Ernest Hemingway

4. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and other Pieces by James Thurber

5. Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr.

6. Harriett the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

7. Herzog by Saul Bellow

8. A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe

9. Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe

10. The Penultimate Truth by Phillip K. Dick

11. Why We Can't Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr.

12. Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban (Frances is still adorable after all these years)

13. A Nation of Immigrants by John F. Kennedy

14. The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Timothy Leary
15. Flowers for Hitler by Leonard Cohen

16. Apocalypse Postponed by Umberto Eco

17. The Face of Another by Kobo Abe

18. The Wind's Twelve Quarters by Ursula K. LeGuin

19. You Only Live Twice by Ian Fleming

20. The Wanderer by Fritz Leiber

21. The Phantom of Pine Hill (Nancy Drew #42) by Carolyn Keene

22. Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey

23. Colonialism and Neocolonialism by Jean-Paul Sartre

24. Nerve by Dick Francis

25. Ribsy by Beverly Cleary

26. The Fortunate Pilgrim by Mario Puzo

27. The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail by Wallace Stegner

28. Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt

29. Fiddler on the Roof by Joseph Stein

30. A Little Learning: the first volume of an autobiography by Evelyn Waugh

31. One Fat Englishman by Kingsley Amis

32. The Ravishing of Lol Stein by Marguerite Duras

33. Gantenbein by Max Frisch

34. The Duchess of Jermyn Street by Daphne Feilding

35. My Years at General Motors by Alfred P. Sloan

36. Hard to be a God by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (The Strugatsky brothers are a favorite of mine. Roadside Picnic is newly re-translated and highly recommended)

37. My Autobiography by Charles Chaplin

38. Shadow Of A Bull by Maia Wojciechowska

39. I Have a Horse of My Own by Charlotte Zolotow

40. This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart

41. The Character of Physical Law by Richard P. Feynman

42. The Nova Express by William S. Burroughs

43. Asterix and the Big Fight (Asterix, #7) by RenĂ© Goscinny

44. May I Bring a Friend by Beatrice Schenk De Regniers

45. Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown

46. Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats

47. The Raw and the Cooked by Claude Levi-Strauss

48. A Cellarful of Noise by Brian Epstein

49. Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung

50. An Area of Darkness by V.S. Naipaul

Friday, September 05, 2014

Food and Drink Reads: Hibernation Instinct Edition

I know it is still hot as blazes but leaves are falling all over town and you know Fall is in the air when the pumpkin ales start taking over local taps.
Speaking of taps, and ales, and fall produce...

The Complete Beer Course: Boot Camp for Beer Geeks

This book was sitting on my desk the other day and I can't tell you how stoked I was to see that the book fairy knows what I like. If you have been meaning to develop your palate to keep up with Richmond's habit of opening a new brewery every 10 days or so and be able to hobnob with the hopsnobs you'll want to crack open this text book and get to studying, er, tasting. The book is broken into 12 "classes" in which you will learn to appreciate all varieties of beer, from ales to pils to sours. This is a crash course in knowing what you are drinking and why. Bonus points for coverage, depth, and readability, but I have to take away points for repeated use of the word "mouthfeel". That is a gross word, food nerds.

Apples of Uncommon Character:123 heirlooms, modern classics & little-known wonders
Behold, the humble apple, red or green, oft-forgotten and unwanted brown bag lunch staple. But oh my there is so much more to know and love about this curious experiment in fruit, far beyond Johnny Appleseed, more than cider even! Have you ever been to an apple tasting? Me either, but I desperately want to now. I am a long time apple devotee but I had no idea there were so many varieties. Expect lively apple history, appetizing photographs with details about individual varieties, and even pairing and cooking tips in this book.
Pro-tip from this apple fan: Try making a grilled cheese sandwich with plenty of Gouda, caramelized onions, and slices of Honeycrisp apple on Billy Bread sometime. Add a little bacon if you need it. Then read this book while eating that sandwich. You'll thank me.

The B.T.C: Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from a Southern Revival

Truthfully, I like reading about Southern cooking and the idea of Southern food more than I actually enjoy cooking or eating it. If you feel the same way, or if you really like making biscuits and gravy and need a new recipe, then this is for us! The writing and the pictures are great and the recipes are actually interesting; some are twists on traditional Southern dishes and others less traditional. I'm totally sold on the curried cauliflower soup, southern yellow squash casserole, and tomato caper cream cheese!

I also might have hunker down with a series this fall. I tend to avoid books in a series because I hate waiting (flash back to the AGONIZING wait for the final book in the Maddaddam trilogy and the way I totally lost interest in the Strain trilogy by the time the second book came out) but the Southern Reach trilogy is about all published now so I can safely go ahead. My favorite quote from the mostly super positive reviews so far: "If the guys who wrote 'Lost' had brought H.P. Lovecraft into the room as a script doctor in the first season, the Southern Reach trilogy is what they would've come up with." Totally perfect because I also waited until Lost was over and done with before watching the whole series.  And how better to spend a blustery fall weekend than huddled under a blanket with a savory snack and an unsavory trilogy, and some apples? Lots and lots of apples. Or should I finally read Lev Grossman's Magician trilogy? If you've read either or both trilogies, what would you recommend? What series have let you down, left you hanging, or made you beg for a prequel?

Gotta love Fall!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Quick & Fun: Nonfiction for the Sunbathing Skeptic

Labor Day is here!  If you are going to the beach this weekend, keep in mind that nonfiction can make good beach-reading, too. Unlike the plot of the latest thriller, the lessons taught in these three recent books might outlast your vacation.

Virtual Unreality, by award-winning science journalist Charles Seife, author of Zero, Sun in a Bottle, and Proofiness (a personal favorite), looks at the dark side of the “ultimate information revolution” engendered by the internet and the proliferation of digital information. Internet imposters (“sock puppets”), scams, and hoaxes prey on the even the most sophisticated computer users.  eBooks, print on demand, and digital self-publishing swamp us with e-dross. (Check out Amazon’s 101-page list of “books” by Philip E. Parker.) Wikipedia, aggregation, and other “reporting” phenomena degrade the reliability of information and reinforce error. Filtered newsfeeds and “narrowcasting” by special interest blogs heighten our differences of opinion and validate extremism. Commercial interests use “gamification” and the pressure of social networks to shape our brains and our behavior to their advantage (Farmville players, he’s looking at you.)  There’s more, and Seife’s readable, amusing prose will entertain even as it makes you want to toss your iPhone into the surf.  He ends with a takeaway: “The Top Ten Dicta of the Internet Skeptic”, a practical list of caveats and reminders. My favorite: “Top Ten lists are just marketing gimmicks intended for suckers.”

David J. Hand, professor emeritus of mathematics at Imperial College in London and scientific adviser to a successful algorithmic hedge fund, translates his expertise into a common-sense guide to probability for the layman: The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day. That person who won the lottery three times?  The October, 1987 stock market crash?  Abraham Lincoln’s dream that he would be assassinated?  Completely explainable if you understand the “laws” of the Improbability Principle. The Law of Truly Large Numbers, the Law of the Probability Lever, and the Law of Selection respectively predict that such events will indeed occur, and occur more often than we expect.  Hand begins this enlightening and entertaining book by exploring the ideas of “chance”, “fate”, “randomness” and other expressions of the capriciousness of the universe. He follows with an easily graspable introduction to the sometimes counterintuitive mathematics of probability, and continues with chapters on the “laws” that together comprise the Improbabilty Principle. He discusses the way the human brain is wired to look for patterns where none exist and other biases that undermine our ability to acknowledge the principle and its laws. Examples abound, and by the time you finish the book, you will be seeing these laws in action everywhere you look. (A coincidence?) Like Seife, Hand leaves us with practical lessons on how a skeptic might use the principle to discern mistaken predictions, detect fraud and hyperbole, and distinguish what is meaningful from what is merely statistically significant.

Internet blogs are all about lists (see Seife) and things come in threes (see Hand), so of course I have a third recommendation: Think Like a Freak, by economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner, authors of the popular Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics.  If you read them, you will recognize their trademark approach to explaining riddles of human behavior:  data-driven, unconventional, often light-hearted, and sometimes controversial.  This time around, the “Freaks” endeavor to teach you the qualities and techniques that make their research so successful. In breezy chapters such as “The Three Hardest Words in the English Language” (hint: they’re not “I love you) and “What’s Your Problem”, they emphasize that scientific problem-solving requires first that you admit you don’t know the answer; and second, that you correctly define the question.  They also include a chapter on how to persuade people of the correctness of your answer (and how to guarantee they won’t listen to you at all) and a final one on knowing when to admit you’re barking up the wrong tree and should quit (my personal favorite!) All of this illustrated by fun stories told with a little bit of snark, many with surprising twists that I won’t give away here. (Why did the band Van Halen require that there be no brown M&M’s in their snack bowls?)

Happy Labor Day!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Falling into Fall: Upcoming books to pair with pumpkin and spice

The days may be getting shorter but my to-read list seems to stretch on forever*. I’m looking forward to mulled cider and wine, all things pumpkin-derived, and cool evenings on the balcony spent immersing myself in these soon to be new releases.  Being a book lover and working in a library means it kind of  feels like my birthday whenever the new books come in, so here is a list of my most anticipated new books of Fall 2014:

[*For those of you who don't know, which I would imagine is all of you, I am attempting to read 100 books this year. Why? Because goals. With 46 left to read and this late in the year it isn't looking good for me, but I've really enjoyed the challenge so far. I'll let you know in January how it ends.]

Wolf in White Van
John Darnielle
Isolated and disfigured game designer Sean Phillips orchestrates an elaborate text-based role-playing game known as "Trace Italian" with terrible consequences as the game plays out in real life. John Darnielle's mysterious and cosmically twisty debut novel, due out mid-September, should appeal to fans of Haruki Murakami and Alif the Unseen.
Station Eleven
Emily ST. John Mandel
Fans of Margaret Atwood, and those disappointed by California, should keep an eye out for the fourth novel from Emily St. John Mandel, also due out in September. Hours after an actor dies onstage during a production of King Lear the world begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time, Station Eleven is the suspenseful story of Hollywood actors at the end of the world.

The Bone Clocks
David Mitchell
If you were one of the many people celebrating the release of Haruki Murakami's latest (yeah guys, me too) then you probably already have your calendars marked for this one. Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell's upcoming metaphysical thriller is already long-listed for the Booker prize and you can expect to see it on the new books shelf in September.

Mermaids in Paradise
Lydia Millet
Lydia Millet's latest sounds like quite a ride.  Honeymooners Deb and Chip meet a marine biologist in the Caribbean who claims to have found mermaids. The couple teams up with others to save the mermaids from being turned into an amusement park attraction. Swamplandia! fans and readers of Jeffery Eugenides and Tom Rachman be on the lookout for this darkly funny new release in November.
Wittgenstein Jr
Lars Iyers
Lars Iyers returns with a "hilarious coming-of-age love story" set among a group of Cambridge undergrads determined to impress their existentially anguished professor dubbed "Wittgenstein, Jr." Fans of Muriel Barbery and Saul Bellow will be excited to get back to school with this in September.
Not That Kind of Girl
Lena Dunham
I'm sure you know of outspoken and witty Lena Dunham (Tiny Furniture, Girls) by now so you probably already know that her book is coming out at the end of September. Honest, smart, and funny, "these are stories about getting your butt touched by your boss, about friendship and dieting (kind of) and having two existential crises before the age of 20 [...]" and more. If you love Kelly Oxford's Everything is Perfect If You're a Liar you'll probably be into this.
10:04: A Novel
Ben Lerner
Fans of Jonathan Franzen will be happy to get their hands on this novel due out in September. (September is going to be a busy month for me.) In 10:04 a man is asked to help a friend conceive a child in a New York that is teetering on the brink of collapse, socially and environmentally.
Love Me Back
Merritt Tierce
I suppose I should label this post "Hotly Anticipated end-of-Summer Bummers." If you like to read cheerful books, my recommendations are probably not for you.This gritty debut novel by Merritt Tierce about a struggling and self-destructive single mother should interest fans of Chuck Palahniuk in September.

And now, for lovers of all things Fall, "my"** Apple Chai-der recipe:
[**I actually use store bought prepared Chai tea concentrate and mix it with Bold Rock Cider in a 1 to 1 ratio because I am efficient.***]

1 1/2 cups water
1 cup apple cider ("hard" or "soft". Virginia has a fine selection of both to choose from)
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon crystallized ginger
5 whole black peppercorns
2 green cardamom pods, crushed
2 English breakfast black tea bags

In a medium saucepan combine water, apple cider, cinnamon stick, ginger, peppercorns and cardamom. Heat over medium heat until just beginning to boil. Reduce heat; simmer gently for 5 minutes. Remove cider mixture from heat. Add tea bags; steep for 3 minutes then remove tea bags. Strain cider mixture; discard spices. Serve in mugs.

Makes 2 servings (2 cups total)