Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Eating Season

The NY Times Best Cookbooks of the Year

The above article just came out, and I defy you to read it and not get hungry. I love books, and cooking, and so, I love cookbooks. Or books about cooking, or food, or eating. Or books about writing cookbooks. I heard the author, Harold McGee, interviewed on Fresh Air, and bought his new book, Keys to Good Cooking, for the library. In it, he will explain why your brisket gets more tender the longer you cook it. 

I think this is because eating, and food, is so closely related to our upbringing, to our families, to how we feel about our selves, our bodies, our lives. Flavors can evoke strong memories, tied to powerful feelings. Sometimes we have strong attachment or aversion to a particular flavor--I know people who can't stand the tiniest bit of cilantro in a dish. When a company changes a formula, or discontinues a product, it can create an uproar amongst its consumers--anyone remember New Coke? Many people started stockpiling Postum when it was discontinued, and there are fan clubs for candies that are no longer made. (Please, someone, bring back the Choc-O-Lite!)

The "Holiday" Season used to start with Thanksgiving, but now it more or less kicks into gear with Halloween. I think of the period from Halloween through Valentine's Day, as the Eating Season. I'm sure this is no mistake--everyone eats, so it's in the interest of food producers to get us to associate  lots of kinds of food with as many holidays as possible. I'm not complaining, just stating a fact. I enjoy trying new ways of cooking old favorites--I do believe that the brined turkey won out in the moistness competition over the deep-fried turkey this year, although both were delicious. I do have a hankering for the Thanksgiving Cake.
Here are some of my favorite cooking/foodie books:

Tender at the Bone, by Ruth Reichl. She was the last editor of Gourmet magazine, and a former food critic for the New York Times. This is the first in her series of memoirs, and my favorite of the bunch.

My Life in France, by Julia Child. Re-issued after the movie Julie and Julia came out, this is the charming story of how Julia Child learned to cook, and co-wrote a cookbook, while living in France.

The Emperors of Chocolate, by Joel Glenn Brenner, tells the fascinating histories of the Mars and Hershey companies.There's a lot you don't know, and will like hearing about. Trust me.

For books with recipes, you can check out:

Dirty Sugar Cookies, by Ayun Halliday. She's a fun, funny writer, whether she takes on child rearing, or world travel. Here's her other books.

Anything by Madhur Jaffrey. She is a writer and actor, and while opinions vary, I find that her recipes come out well.  If you like Indian/Asian/vegetarian dishes, check it out.

Extending the Table: a World Community Cookbook, by Joetta Handrich Schlabach. This compilation of recipes was collected by Mennonites living all over the world. It includes poignant anecdotes of their experiences, and the recipes, while they may not be the most authentic you will ever find, are well tested and delicious, plus they are made from readily available ingredients.

Friday, November 12, 2010

E-book Readers, and their accoutrements

Now that you have turned off the outside tap, and are huddled inside watching the mums wither, you can feel bad about not having your holiday decorations up. I'm kidding--I am of the school that says that one should not flick a switch on a colored light until the last Day After Thanksgiving sandwich has been consumed.

I am not a traditionalist, however, when it comes to e-books. People ask me about e-books all the time, and more often than not, they preface it by apologizing. Please, stop it. I may be a librarian, but I do not worship at the altar of the printed word. These days, if I added up the time each day that I spend reading from a glowing screen, or listening to audio-books, it would far surpass the time I spend staring at a piece of paper.

Yes, I grew up with books, magazines, and two daily newspapers (morning and afternoon--really). When I went to Library School we learned how to type catalog cards, but after I graduated, I created a database that printed the information for me in card format--until a grant came along to buy an automated system. Goodbye, card catalog...

Many librarians love technology. We jump on the technology bandwagon too quickly sometimes--microfiche, anyone? Second Life? I wasted an afternoon a couple of years ago, listening to a Second Life enthusiast describing how we would all be running our libraries on Second Life any minute. I wonder what he's promoting now...

The first e-book reader I saw was a RocketBook--this was in 2000 or so. It was clunky, and being circulated in a public library. Oh, yes, in 2000. We were told that they would be replacing books any minute, and here we are in 2010, and still waiting to see which e-book reader will become the standard format. Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, iPad?

A lot of people I know receive them as gifts, so I expect to see more in a few months from now. If you are thinking of getting one, or if someone wants to give you one, the Upper Hudson Library System does have e-books that you can load onto your reader. Please go to this page to find out which readers you can use with our collection.

If you'd like to see what titles are available in digital format (audio and e-books, and yes, some video), go to this page. Come in to the library, if you like, and ask me about it. And don't apologize. You're reading. Reading is good. I approve.

PS If you think you know an e-book reader who would like a knitted cozy to protect the gadget, here's a link to a pattern for a knitted e-book reader.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Books You Hold Dear

This morning I was listening to Joe Donahue on WAMC talk to author Brock Clarke. In discussing Clarke's new book, Exley, they were saying that they have found that they don't fall in love with as many books as they did when they were children and teenagers. They agreed this was a function of getting older.

Sorry, fellows, I'm not sure I agree.  Yes, I remember getting passionate about The Catcher in the Rye, and The Bell Jar, and The Lord of the Rings. But I still fall in love with books. I don't think I fall in love with books any less, but I don't have the time to read and read and read that I had when I was younger. Now I only have time for reading marathons while on vacation, or on a few weekends here and there.

The books that I've gotten passionate about over the past few years are a pretty varied list: Candyfreak, by Steve Almond;  Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert; Operating Instructions, by Anne Lamott; A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel, and The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orleans. Notice anything? All non fiction. I do like fiction, too, but I don't read it as much as I used to. When I was a kid, I went through science fiction by the bucket load--Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Ursula LeGuin, and Orson Scott Card. I do still love, love, love, Terry Pratchett, who is like tiramisu, in book form.

Joe (I feel like I can call him Joe) and Mr. Clarke also said they were hesitant to re-read their beloved books from long ago, afraid that they wouldn't hold up. I am lucky to be able to talk to kids every day about the books that they read, and so I get to share the excitement that they feel when they start reading a book or author they are crazy about, without having to take the time to re-read the books myself. Thanks, kids!

Friday, September 24, 2010

That Nice Lady Writer...

The Huffington Post just reviewed a book by Elizabeth Brundage, an author from our area who visited our Tuesday Book Group last fall. The reviewer reveals that he's met Ms. Brundage, and wonders how a seemingly well adjusted person could write scenes of deep depravity and desperation.

Um...what? My first reaction was to say, this is sexism--why should a writer who is a mom be any different from anyone else? And I think that's part of what I object to, but I think that people also wonder how tightly wound Stephen King and Chuck Palahniuk are, too. However, it's not with quite the same "but she seems like such a nice lady" attitude.(For the record, you can bring Stephen King with you to my barbecue. You can leave Chuck at home, thanks. I like his books...but...I'm not sure he'd mix in well with the neighbors.)

 The reviewer clearly likes Brundage's book, A Stranger Like You, which is getting many good reviews. He says,      
               "A Stranger Like You could not be better written; it is a showcase of clever plotting,
memorable characters and dialogue that reads as if it were overheard."

Though later, when he interviews Brundage, he has to say,

                          "You write brilliant descriptions and sharp dialogue. I'm wishing you huge success. But
this kind of story -- how large an audience do you feel it can attract? Who wants this? Who is your reader?"

And once again, I thought, What? What does this reviewer read? Does he not realize that people have been gobbling up books and flocking to movies about blood sucking fiends? Reading and watching stories about zombies? Rooting for the serial killer Dexter? (If you've only seen the Showtime tv series, the original Dexter character in the books by Jeffry Lindsay is a lot more crazy.)

Isn't that why we read? To safely explore the outer boundaries of human experience and emotions? So fire up the tea kettle, tuck in your lap blanket, and bring on the depravity, I say! Thanks, Elizabeth Brundage!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Overheard in Your Library Today

Today I overheard a tutor working with a student. "Use the word 'creche' in a sentence," said the tutor. "It was bad when Mom creched into Grandma's car," said the student.

These two were working in our comfy chairs, but we also have a small study room available for this purpose. The first week that we we opened in our new location in Sept of 2009 we realized how useful this room was for our patrons. A young woman was studying in the room for hours one day, and returned the next day with a young man. It turned out they were studying for medical board exams. They had been driving to another library in Albany County, but were very happy to have a place where they could work together here in Brunswick. They have not been back--I hope that means they passed their boards.

We have a larger meeting room, too, which can be used by community groups, equipped with a projector, screen, etc. Guidelines for the use of this room can be found on our website.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Library Life

N.J. library patron overstays welcome; eats and reads well

The above is a story that librarians are sending to each other, about a man found camping out in N.J. library basement. The reporter takes a light-hearted approach to the story, as if the homeless man was fulfilling a dream, like a kid hiding away in a candy factory. Reading to his heart's content, and eating from the staff refrigerator, who could ask for anything more?

I can't imagine it that way. One of my friends who worked in a small public library described a similar situation to me. First, let's picture a typical basement: dimly lit, cobwebs, dusty supplies stored on sagging shelves, an old furnace. You are a librarian, going down to the basement after closing time, alone. You had heard a sound from upstairs, wondered if it was maybe a mousetrap going off.  Next to the furnace you see jars filled with murky liquid. From the shadows behind the furnace a man steps forward. He is painfully thin, hair unkempt, clothes torn and stained. Doesn't sound so cute and whimsical, told that way, does it?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Thanks, Mr. Baker

I like to watch old TV shows, like Columbo, Kojak, The Rockford Files. They take place in a world without computers, microwave ovens, GPS, and cable tv. The telephones have cords.

Don't get me wrong--I like gadgets. I have two kinds of rice cookers. (I am able to enjoy my old tv trips down Memory Lane through a streaming wi-fi connection.) But I am a cautious, reluctant adopter. I like to wait til the kinks are worked out. It might take years. I got a cell phone in 2004. I started turning it on in 2008.

So I would like to thank Nicholson Baker, for looking into the whole video game thing for me, in the August 2 edition of the New Yorker magazine. (The link takes you to a podcast of an interview with Baker, the article is not online. You can check out the magazine at the library. We have a lot of magazines you can check out: Cooking Light, People, Poetry, etc.)

I guess video games have been around for a while, but I kind of missed the boat on them, especially the home versions. I was around when video games were introduced in arcades, and I played Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Robotron. When the home consoles came out, I was busy with other things. Life went it's possible to get a four year college degree in video game design. I'm not really sure what to think about that. Should we have them in the library? Circulate them? What do you think?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Meets and Greets...

If you love writing, and you have a wad of dough burning a hole in your pocket, head over to the Berkshire WordFest this weekend. They have an AMAZING slate of authors who will be speaking, reading, signing and being interviewed. It's at Edith Wharton's home, the Mount, in Lenox, MA.

Looking ahead to another great festival, now in its 9th year, the Brattleboro (VT) Literary Festival will be held on October 1-3. New and established writers are featured; plus it's mostly free, from what I can tell; plus it's in Vermont, in October, so it'll be gawgeous.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In Remembrance

It is with great sorrow that we mourn the loss of Jayne Sullivan, a charter member of the Brunswick Community Library, a Friend of the Library, a library volunteer.

I met Jayne in 2005, when the Board of Trustees held an open house to welcome my tenure as the new director. She was wearing a knitted vest, very smart, and I asked if she had knitted it herself--she had, and we immediately bonded around our love of knitting. It was one of her many talents.

Through the years I also came to know Jayne as an avid reader--I think she checked out almost every  large print book we had, as soon as it came in. I loved hearing her stories about her travels, she had been to all fifty states, and much of the world. A few years ago she cruised on a small boat down the Amazon river.

On the last day of her life, Jayne drove her car to the library, from her apartment, and enjoyed a lunch of coq au vin with the Book and Movie group, as they discussed "Julie and Julia". She was 87 years old.

Virginia Woolf  had this to say about readers, on their way to heaven:

When the Day of Judgement dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards—their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble—the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, "Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading." 

Jayne, we were lucky to know you.  You are missed.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The E Book Reader--You Know You Want One

I have been watching the eBook Reader saga since the RocketBook days (late 90's). I have friends who love their Kindles/iPod Touch, etc., and couldn't live without them. I have friends who received them as gifts and haven't become fans yet.

Both the Kindle and the Sony eReader have popped up on sale, refurbished, for around $100. (They sell out fast.) The question is not whether you will ever own an eBook reader, but when. If you feel ready to make the plunge now, Wiley, a publishing house, has a handy comparison tool to help you select the right one for your needs. Find it here.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

You Would Think....

Do you use a phonebook anymore? No, it's much easier to look up the number of your local pizza shop online. But let's say you did a search for the name of your library. Let's say the name of your town is in the name of your library. Let's say that the name of your town is shared by many other towns, in other states.....

You would think that the area code would give you a clue to which library you are calling. You would think that a library user would look at the websites for these libraries to make sure that the library being called was the one in the right city, the right state. You would think that, wouldn't you?

And know what? You would be wrong.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fun with Statistics

The Institute of Museum and Library Sciences, a federal agency, released a report yesterday based on the Public Library Survey of 2008. The survey showed that "Public library visits and circulations per capita increased almost 20 percent between FY1999 and FY2008, while the number of public librarians per 25,000 people has remained virtually the same during that same period..." Read more about it here.

This is no surprise to librarians. We've been doing more with less for a long time, and it's only gotten worse in this recession. I realize others have it worse--hello, auto/manufacturing workers...but this is where I live.

The bright side is, hey, we're doing something right. More people are checking out library materials, more people are using computers at libraries, more people are attending programs at libraries. Yay! In some ways the Google, the Amazon, and the Netflix help people get the information, books and entertainment they are looking for without leaving home. But it's not everything that people want, it's not within every budget, and sometimes you just want to look at the cover before you hit the button to request or buy it. And, in case you didn't know, we've got downloadable audio and video available through the UHLS system website. Plus, it's just a fun, clean, well-lit place. This morning one of the knitters at the group that meets every Thursday said, "this hour and a half go by so quickly every week." If you don't believe me, check this out.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

You Wouldn't Have Thought...

There are many secrets in the library mother, bless her, visited my library for the first time last month. While here, she discovered something: she knew that Reader's Digest had a large-print edition, but not that books were available in large-print, too.

Oh, yeah, you betcha. Libraries do a brisk circulation in large-print books. You might want to think about large-print, even if you don't think you're ready for it yet. If you like to read in bed, at night, large print books will make that easier. (No, they won't be too heavy--large print books are printed on thinner paper, so they have more pages, but don't weigh much more than regular books.)

Here's another way to use a part of the library you didn't thing you were interested in: let's say you're interested in learning something new--how to crochet, or appreciate opera, or how to start birdwatching. Go to the children's section and look for a book on the subject of interest. Chances are, most of the information you are looking for is going to be in a book which is fun to read, and well illustrated, with less important, or extraneous information left out.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Librarians Are Sharing People

Librarians are the people who played well with others from the very start. We share our favorite things, invite you to take them home, use them, and bring them back for the next person. If we don't have what you are looking for on hand, we get it from somewhere else.

We also share links with each other. Here are two that came over the transom this morning:

If It Was My Home: Visualizing the BP Oil Disaster

You can feed in your city to see what area the spill would cover, then toggle the spill back and forth to the Gulf. Yowza.

A couple of summers ago we had a speaker in to discuss backyard birding. He left behind a handheld gadget which played various birdcalls on demand. The staff loved it and were sad when he came to collect it. So I was happy to see this site:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology Macaulay Library

It's got audio and video of birds, and other animals. I was able to find the junco, loon, and bullfrog, but, alas, not the Tasmanian Devil. I heard the sound of devils on a Radiolab podcast--here's a little video to give you an idea what they're like.

This fetching little creature is featured in Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasman Tiger. I love to travel, but due to the limits of time and money, I do more of it from my reading chair. Thanks to books like this one, I can really get around...

I started reading travel writing in college, when assigned Paul Theroux's The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia, and I haven't stopped since. I like it when the writer has a little bit of attitude--if you want to try some, I recommend The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific, Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World, and Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo. Check 'em out...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Knitting In Tune

I've just started Adrienne Martini's Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously. It's her account of knitting a Fair Isle Sweater by Alice Starmore, the famed knit designer. The beginning of the book is an abbreviated history of Fair Isle knitting, and some of the drama surrounding Alice Starmore--I don't want to spoil it for you, or get anything wrong, so go get a copy of the book.

The story is intriguing. It's also fascinating to me that people are so passionate about knitting. I heard about a yarn dealer a few years ago who had created a "Sock Kit of the Month Club". Each month her subscribers would receive a kit with yarn, and a sock pattern. She brought the paperwork to her bank and set up the payment schedules with them....except that the bank was suspicious. They could not imagine that people would pay for a monthly sock kit, and decided it must be a scam, or a front for illegal activity. They shut it down...much to the dismay of the dealer, and her avid knitting clients.

There's been a resurgent interest in knitting, and an unending spate of new sassy knitting books for the past 10-15 years. It's not surprising to me, because I'm passionate about knitting, and knitting books, too. There's a "not your grandmother's knitting" sensibility to this trend, as shown in the titles: The Stitch n' Bitch Knitter's Handbook, Chicks With Sticks, Knitting With Balls: A Hands-On Guide to Knitting for the Modern Man, Knitting Rules!, DomiKNITrix, etc. I don't know that there's quite the same phenomenon with other popular hobbies, like gardening, or cooking, or maybe there is, but not as much. I can think of a book on jam and jelly making, Blue Jelly: Love Lost and the Lessons of Canning, which has an offbeat sensibility directed towards a homey craft, but not too much else. (I loved that book, by the way. And strawberry-rhubarb jam...)

I have given up my stockpile of old Vogue Knitting magazines, and weeded out my old knitting books, which were starting to look a bit too 80's/giant hair and shoulder pads to be appealing anymore. But let's face it....making room on the bookshelf only means you get to buy new books! (Did I mention the Brunswick Library is having a book/bake/plant sale this Saturday, from 10-2? No?)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Joe McGinniss, author of Fatal Vision, The Big Horse, Never Enough, etc., has moved into the house next door to Sarah Palin and her family. He is currently writing an unauthorized biography of her.

Now she can see Joe McGinniss from her house. He rented the one next door to hers in Wasilla. His is the one on the left in the picture below.

He's not her biggest fan. He wrote an article in March 2009 for the now defunct magazine Portfolio on the failed natural gas pipeline project she touted during her term as governor. He bid almost $60,000 in a charity auction to have dinner with her, but lost.

Journalists write unauthorized biographies of public figures, whether they're happy about it, or not. Sometimes the bombshells they drop don't affect them, such as Albert Goldman's biographies of Elvis, and John Lennon, because the subjects are dead. I think that's a little neater--Kitty Kelley's books are about living people, including Oprah, and Nancy Reagan. People love to hear the insider stories....

I can't imagine what a writer would get from moving in next door. Seem's a bit much....

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Good Writing Lives Forever

In yesterday's New York Times, there was an article about Chaim Grade, a Yiddish writer who passed away in 1982. His widow had not allowed scholars to examine the papers that filled their small Bronx apartment. She died this month, and it is thought there may be many unpublished works by Grade waiting to be discovered in their home.
Grade had a good reputation while he was alive, but had been overshadowed by the Nobel Prize winning Isaac Bashevis Singer, the only Yiddish writer to be so honored. There were many great Yiddish writers in the past century, including I.L. Peretz, Sholem Aleichem, and Israel Joseph Singer (I.J. was I.B. Singer's older brother--their sister Esther Kreitman was also a writer, but we don't have any books by her in our system.)

There are other examples of writers who had posthumous revivals. In the late 90's there was a renewal of interest in Dawn Powell, a novelist who had died with virtually all of her work out of print. Zora Neale Hurston, was a writer from the Harlem Renaissance whose work had fallen into obscurity until an article by Alice Walker was written about her. (I recommend the audio version of her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, read by Ruby Dee.)  It helps to have a champion--John Kennedy Toole's champion was his mother, who brought the manuscript of his novel A Confederacy of Dunces to Walker Percy, who helped get it published. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1981, twelve years after Toole's death.

I like to think that these writers can still receive their accolades in the Great Beyond...or at least, that they had confidence that their work had merit, even though they never lived to hear it praised. So if you are a writer, and haven't been called by the Nobel Committee yet, take heart. You might be in the same company as Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, Franz Kafka, Jane Austen.....

Friday, May 14, 2010

Is Your Life an Open (Face)Book?

I was looking up email addresses for newspapers today, and happened upon a couple of articles about local officials who'd posted photos of themselves on Facebook, doing things which, well, let's just say that they'll probably not use these same photos in campaign literature. There were also quotes shown, which, well, you wouldn't repeat them to grandma. Not my grandma, at least.

Many people use the library computers to get online, and they do their Internet business--email, Facebook, personals ads, etc.--at the library. I remember when computers were introduced in public libraries, and there were fears of allowing people to do anything more than "serious" research. I knew of libraries that did not allow users to access email, or shopping websites. Of course, email was 90-95% of what people wanted to do...

To learn more about social networking sites, like Twitter and Facebook, go to the Troy Public Library. They are offering workshops on these two sites. Twitter will be the focus on Monday, the 17th, at 6:00; a Facebook workshop will be held the following night, at the same time. Call them at 274-7071 for more information. You never know when you might want to run for public office.

In the meantime here's a few links to articles on Facebook privacy:

Tell-All Generation Learns to Keep Things Offline

7 Things to Stop Doing Now on Facebook


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you...

Does your favorite author have a website? More often than not, the answer is yes. Authors spend a lot of time working alone, in quiet rooms, so they often welcome the opportunity to connect with their readers in a casual way. A website gives them a chance to keep their fanbase informed of upcoming releases, and publicize titles of earlier works they may know about. Also it can be one more creative outlet, or outlet for wackiness, like Dave Pilkey's Extra Crunchy Website o' Fun. (Dave is the author of the Captain Underpants books.)

Some author websites have a lot of the author's style in them, like, author of the Harry Potter series. Not surprisingly, it's a pretty slick website. For something a little more homey, check out, the home of Joanne Fluke, author of the Hannah Swensen mystery series, whose titles include The Cherry Cheesecake Murder, The Key Lime Pie Murder--you can see where this is going. There are recipes in each book, and more recipes on the website. (I haven't read any of the books, but I can recommend the recipe for the Black Forest Brownies in The Carrot Cake Murder.) Prolific writer falls somewhere between the two, and features freebies (send a SASE to get a free magnet) as well as links to interviews, a message board, etc.

If a book started as a blog, as many do these days, the website can contain additional material that didn't make it into the book. The Julie/Julia Project was the blog that became the best-selling book Julie and Julia : 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen : how one girl risked her marriage, her job, and her sanity to master the art of living, by Julie Powell, and then a movie, Julie and Julia, starring Meryl Streep in Oscar-worthy form. (Yes, I still think she should have won.) The blog's still up, with the comments removed. Other blogs remain active after the publication of their companion book, including The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin, and No-Impact Man, by Colin Beavan. The thriller and mystery writer J.K. Konrath has a site that features a lot of useful insights into self-publishing. I would read more of his books but I'm waiting til the nightmares I got from Afraid stop. How he can be so funny, and write such scary stuff, I dunno.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Reading Programs Are Everywhere

If you haven't noticed, summer's coming, and that means the libraries are getting ready for their Summer Reading Programs. The point is to keep kids reading while they're out of school, by offering incentives for meeting a self-set goal. Some libraries have developed programs for adults, too.

The public libraries aren't the only ones with reading programs--many stores, restaurants, sports teams, etc., have programs, too. I don't fault them for promoting reading, but they're working the cause in order to drum up business, develop their customer base at a young age, and make money.

This year the libraries in our system were invited to participate in a circus reading program. One of my cohort s objected to it on the grounds that the circus promotes animal cruelty. I've been to enough circuses myself to feel that I'd rather support the ones without animal acts. It's a tough enough life for the human performers--I toured the circus train when I was in college and the individual compartments for the clowns were less than six feet long. (Of course, when you see how many clowns can fit into a Volkswagen Beetle maybe that's spacious.)

I'm not a vegetarian.  But I think the days of wild animal shows are over...or should be.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Don't tell your kid he's smart....just give him a book...

Like New England weather, parenting trends change quickly, and drastically. I was born in the Spanking Era, which segued into the Free to Be You and Me Period, and started my own family in the Days of Wooden Toys, Slings, and Positive Reinforcement. It seemed like wherever we went, any kind of class or activity, someone was handing all the kids a Certificate of Participation, so no one was left out of the awards-getting. Praise, praise, praise. Was that the right thing to do?

An article in New York magazine, from 2007, by Po Bronson, entitled "How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise", says no. In short, the studies cited contend that telling kids they're smart meant that they didn't know how to handle failure when it came their way. Instead, the kids who'd been praised for their effort showed more persistence after they performed poorly. This makes sense--there is failure in real life. You don't get an award for showing up in real life.

You can't blame parents for wanting the best for their kids, and getting it wrong anyway. The path to Baby Einstein was paved with good intentions. I will tell you one thing to do, and I will guarantee that it will work, or at least, it will do no harm: Read. Read to your kid. Read with your kid. Give him a board book. Take him to the library and let him pick out a stack of picture books. Check out a book or magazine for yourself, and show her it's fun to read. We have books your kid can read to you, too.

Reading to your kid improves vocabulary, because they're exposed to more new words on the page than they'll hear in spoken conversation. Reading to your kid develops their listening skills. Reading to your kid should start early, as early as you can. Reading to your kid is fun, too. You can laugh together at Freddy the Pig, or Walter, The Farting Dog.

Don't be afraid of what your kid is reading. Kids like boogers, and slime. Reading Captain Underpants or a Gossip Girl novel is not an indicator that a child will fail to be a useful member of society. She's  in school, learning away, maybe she needs something easier to read for relaxation. And I often hear parents in the library saying "That book again? You've already read it twice! Pick out something else". Re-reading a book is okay--maybe it's comforting and relaxing to read it again, maybe the child will pick up on something in the book that he missed the first time.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Shocked, shocked and appalled

Man Dismayed to Find Library Books End Up in Trash

The link above is for a story that appeared in the Bucks County [PA] Courier Times. Read it and come back here.

I see a similar story every few years. A citizen, somewhere, is appalled to discover that his local library is throwing away books. Books in good condition, relatively can this be? (In this version, they were headed to recycling.)

The journalist, Peter Hall, does a good job showing both sides of the story. The library director interviewed explains why the library is taking this action and what alternatives they explored before they made the decision to recycle the books. No, it's not so simple to sell or give away the books, it's not even that simple to recycle them--we once had Boy Scouts slicing off the covers of discarded books with box cutters, and it made me a little uneasy.

 In the article, and in the comments section below it, librarians and library users hash out the issues. I think there are some very interesting questions raised in this discussion: what is the purpose of the library? To be a Citadel of Fine Literature? To be a Wi-Fi equipped-alternative to retail book stores? To preserve the culture? To change with the times, have more DVDs, fewer books?

Ideally, impossibly, what people want is a library that can be all things, for all people: that buys every new book/movie/CD/magazine published and keeps them forever; is open every day and every night; is staffed by volunteers (with Master's degrees), and heated by fairy dust.

The truth is, we work within our means. We make choices all the time about what we'll buy and what we'll weed, and it's never easy. Well, sometimes it's obvious: take a peek at  Awful Library Books

The concerned citizen in Bucks County was looking for a particular book, which the library had recently weeded. At the very end of the piece (spoiler alert) he actually finds the book in the dumpster. The author mentions that the title is available on for $.01. Once I wondered whether to discard a book that hadn't circulated for decades. I took it off the shelf. The next week, a person walked in, and asked for that book. I made an interlibrary loan request, and had it for her in 48 hours.

The reality is that the library has limited resources. It always has. We have to make the best choices we can, and there will always be people who aren't satisfied with the choices we make. If we didn't make anyone unhappy, ever, we wouldn't be doing our jobs well.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Expect the Unexpected

When I was a kid, one of the big thrills in the school library was the filmstrip collection. We couldn't take them home, but we could use them there. Thinking back, they were really less than exciting, but then there were only five channels on tv back then. I used to bring home, and read, a book a day.

Nowadays you can borrow not just books, but magazines, music, movies and audiobooks. You can download eBooks, audiobooks and movies from the Upper Hudson website from the comfort of your own home. We, and many of the libraries in our system, also have museum passes which you can check out. They usually offer free entrance for two adults and two children--we have them for MassMOCA, the Berkshire Museum, and the Schenectady Museum. Each of these is a great attraction for all ages. Here is a shot I took at MassMoca, which is the largest center for contemporary visual and performance arts in the United States.

We used the giant blobs like funhouse mirrors. Hey, art can be fun.

Because we believe in the Healing Power of Handiwork, we also circulate Knitting Kits, a handy bag with a pair of needles, a short instruction booklet and a ball of yarn. I worked at a library that circulated fishing poles. It was common once upon a time for libraries to circulate framed paintings and prints. I know of libraries that circulate jigsaw puzzles, board games, and computer games. And I've heard of libraries that circulate shaped cake tins--isn't that a great idea?

Our library moved into its new space last September--what new item would you like to see us circulate? 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Reduce, reuse, recycle...the library is way ahead of you...

Last night I watched most of "No Impact Man", a documentary about the Beavan family, who spent a year trying to reduce their carbon footprint to zero. (There's a book, too.) They tried to eat locally, buying only food that did not come in a disposable container; they got rid of their tv, refrigerator, etc., and eventually phased out all electricity. What's interesting is that they did this from a cramped ninth floor apartment in Manhattan. In some ways that may have made it an easier experiment--no need for a car, or a lawnmower--but in some ways tougher. Where do you hang your (handwashed) laundry? Where do you keep your worm composting bin? And just how do you live without toilet paper? (Hint.)

Of course, the library is a terrific resource in efficiency. For a truly modest investment, the whole community shares a vast collection of books, magazines, music and videos, plus the daily papers, and the use of computers, and Internet connectivity. You can't beat that. Whenever someone returns something and sadly tells me that it doesn't play, or that it's falling apart, I check to see how many times the item has circulated. Many of our movies go out 60 or 70 or 80 times. To see what kind of value you get from your library, try this handy calculator.

The library is also a resource to learn about the reduction of unnecessary consumption, and new ways to be thrifty. May I suggest "Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping", by Judith Levine, as an excellent starting point. To find more books, search the catalog for the subject heading Consumer Education. I suggest you sort the results by date--while some ideas may be timeless, it won't be useful to read a book on how to research the purchase of a car if the book was written before the Internet existed. And, of course, you can find loads of information on how to cook from scratch, start a garden, and recycle materials to make new things. You'll save money, learn something, and have fun.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Becoming a Librarian

So, Keith Richards, you want to be a librarian? (He says he does.) Here's the rules:

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his [or her] book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.
These rules were written by A.S. Ranganathan, librarian, and published in 1931. That's all you need. The rest, as they say, is commentary.

The coolest librarian I know is Nancy Pearl, the real life model for the Librarian Action Figure. She was the first to introduce the concept of a community-wide book read, which has since spread around the world.

Here's a photo of us together.

When the Librarian Action Figure came out, it was criticized for looking stereotypically "librarian". Nancy says that the original dress was only dowdy when it was re-created in plastic. I say she's info-science hot.

I have three of these. When we decorated a book cart in the Pimp My Bookcart contest run by the library comic strip Unshelved, it was made into a pirate ship, and a Librarian Action Figure was the captain. Aargh.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Does the Earth know it's Earth Day?

When I was a child I was a big fan of tv shows in which people had wild animal friends, living happily together: Flipper, Gentle Ben, and Elsa the Lioness. While this was long before reality tv, at the time I believed that this was an accurate representation of what life would be like if you committed to a life in khaki clothes.

Radiolab recently aired a show entitled Lucy , which tells the story of a family who raised a chimp from infancy, as an experiment, to see if one could be integrated into a human family. (Radiolab is an hourlong radio show that explores issues of popular science, in an inventive and humorous style.) That this has been tried before, and always fails, and can have tragic consequences, seems self-evident to us now. There was a recent book about a similar experiment, Nim Chimsky: the Chimp Who Would Be Human, and it is also a compelling story.

The show featured the writer Charles Siebert, who has written about Lucy and other human-ape encounters, in his book, The Wauchula Woods Accord: Towards a New Understanding of Animals. Lucy's story is a good example of why I like to read non-fiction--if it were a novel, I wouldn't buy it, I wouldn't believe it could really happen. Truth is so much stranger than fiction (another example: The Lost City of Z)

Our local public radio affiliate does not air Radiolab, but you can listen online, and download a new podcast every two weeks. I have learned of many interesting books from the show, and also new favorite musical artists, like Juana Molina. (This link will lead you to the one recording available in our system, she has many more...)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cooking the Books

I just recently discovered that one of my credit cards was awarding me points that I could use to buy books with. Well, you don't have to tell me twice. I immediately selected three titles, two of which are cookbooks.

Cookbooks are one of my favorite genres. I love trying new recipes, learning about food, and eating at home, especially with an appreciative guest at the table. I grew up in a traditional family, with a mom who poured her love into the food she placed before us. My dad, on the other hand, could not be trusted to operate a can opener properly. He was not one of the fathers who made his famous pancakes on the weekend, or who ruled the barbecue grill.  The invention of the microwave bacon holder rocked his world. He did have the more adventurous palate, however, and I have fond memories of the two of us going out and sampling exotic foods together.While they gave me a good grounding in tasty, healthy eating, neither parent taught me the finer points of cookery. I learned much of my kitchen craft from many well-loved, now-grimy cookbooks--my 20-something year old copy of The Moosewood Cookbook is probably composed of 50% actual food at this point.

These days, men and women are equally at home in the kitchen. I do see a generational difference when talking about cookbooks in the library--younger people like them to have lots of illustrations. Having grown up with the photo-free "Joy of Cooking", I don't see the need, but they probably did not grow up as I did, seeing food prepared from scratch on a daily basis.

I've even heard some people say we don't need cookbooks anymore, given the plethora of recipes available online. There are plenty out there, that's for sure, and it can be very helpful to consult YouTube in some situations--say, when rolling sushi for the first time.

I still favor traditional cookbooks for a few reasons (1) when I find a cookbook writer who is a good match for my tastes and skill level, I look forward to a books-worth of recipes to peruse and experiment with. I can think of three writers off the top of my head, who I feel like I know personally, whose trusted, knowledgeable voices keep me company in the kitchen: Lorna Sass, Nigella Lawson, and Madhur Jaffrey; (2) there are some great cookbooks that are plain fun to read, with witty asides, or intriguing anecdotes. Jewish Cooking in America gives me the history of my grandparents' generation, as they made their way in a new world. Extending the Table: a World Community Cookbook, includes many poignant culinary vignettes culled from the experiences of Mennonite travelers around the world. Blue Jelly: Love Lost and the Lessons of Canning, will tell you everything you need to know about making jelly, and cooking your way out of a rut in your life; and (3) there are some cookbooks that are enormously fun to read, but include recipes you'd never make, or even want to eat, such as White Trash Cooking, and Eat Me: the Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin. The first might come in handy if Elvis drops by, the second I can't describe, just read it for yourself, if you dare...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Books You Carry With You

I love books, their size, weight, smell. I love book covers, endpapers, dedication pages, versos. I love it when books have a little ribbon book mark attached to their binding--why don't they all have that? I love paperbacks, hard covers, audiobooks, and I would have one of every electronic reader if I could afford it, which is why I don't have any...yet....I love bookstores, new or used, brick or online, independent or chain.

There are specific books that I love so much I've read them more times than I care to admit, and I buy copies of them over and over to give as gifts. One of those is "Operating Instructions: a Journal of My Son's First Year", by Anne Lamott. She went on to be one of the regular columnists for the online magazine, for a section entitled "Mothers Who Think". I am a fan of her non-fiction, which I recommend you listen to, if you're into audiobooks. She reads them herself. When an author is also a gifted reader, it's a doubly exquisite experience. (If you don't believe in audiobooks yet, try something by Bill Bryson, or Frank McCourt, or listen to Eat, Pray, Love. Quick, quick, before the movie comes out.)

Recently one of my friends announced to our stitchery group that she would disown us as friends if we didn't read Mountains Beyond Mountains: the Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, by Tracy Kidder. I happened upon a copy a few days later at a book sale, but haven't read it yet. (Don't tell her.)

What about you? Do you pick up Pride and Prejudice every summer? Set sail with Master and Commander from time to time? Do you have a go-to book when you need a good laugh (Mapp and Lucia), or a good cry (the last two pages of Sounder)? Did you give all your friends The Color of Water? Tell everyone to try Bad Monkeys? Tell me....I'd like to know...

Friday, April 9, 2010

How-to how-to’s…

There’s a new genre of self-help–books with tips on everyday tasks that everyone used to know. I’m thinking of How to Sew a Button: and Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew, by Erin Bried. Some of you still possess this sort of knowledge, and will be surprised to hear that there are people who must be told that chicken stock is made with leftover chicken bones….just the other day I was making a shrimp marinade in the kitchen and heard “Gross! What’s wrong with those shrimp? Aren’t they supposed to be pink?” To which I replied, “Not when they’re raw. Have you been in this room of the house before? Do you know what it’s for?”
How to Sew a Button is for people like my young friend in the kitchen. The author, Erin Bried, lives in New York City, and we know this because in the foreword, we find this line: “It’s been so long since I’ve done my own laundry that I can no longer remember if you wash clothes in hot or cold.” For reference, she uses a cadre of grandmas. No offense, gents, but your grandma probably took care of your grandpa in a way you won’t be getting from the mail order bride of your dreams. They just don’t make housewives like they used to. My mom ironed Dad’s hankies into perfect little squares, and wore a dress to do it, too. These days she’s hoofing it to Vegas and buying rotisserie chicken to go…
The book covers most of adult life–there are chapters on Cooking, Gardening, Cleaning, Fitness, Budgeting, and Relationships, romantic and otherwise. It may sound mostly housekeeping related, but there are sections entitled How to Sing in Harmony, and How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep. Can any book cover this much ground thoroughly in any given area? Probably not. But it’s a fun read. Whether the people who need this information will know to look it up is another story. Some of it is clearly for entertainment purposes only–I offer a free darning egg from my collection to the first person to show me evidence that they’ve read and put to use the steps in “How to Darn a Wool Sock”.
I think Martha Stewart’s method for folding a fitted sheet beats the one in this book. Here’s a link to her website, with helpful photos. You just can’t beat the Martha….