Posted by: Kevin in Books
During lunch I was reading a book industry newsletter and came across this marvelous quote from Sarah McNally, a NYC bookshop owner:
“Never forget the wonks, and the weirdos, and the people who will be delighted by this book that they never could even have imagined could exist and they will find on your shelf.”
I love that. And it sums up my philosophy of library collections. Not every book on a shelf has to be popular. An individual book doesn’t take up that much space. So what if it doesn’t get checked out frequently? There’s always somebody who will want that book but just doesn’t know it yet. Keeping it on the shelf means keeping alive the possibility of that delightful moment when someone finds a book they didn’t know existed and realizes they can’t wait to start reading it.
It’s great that patrons can call the library and request books be put on hold for them, or ask for books online. But if that’s the only way they get books they’re depriving themselves of surprise. They’ll never know that moment.
That’s why we’ve got a book on the guys who embalmed Lenin and a novel about time travel in Ancient Egypt. That’s why we’ve got books with titles like Jack Ruby’s Kitchen Sink and The Pope’s Rhinoceros.
Come to the library and explore the shelves. Anything* might be waiting for you.
*Well, not literally anything. Not puff adders, for example.
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At the Central Library we’ve compiled a display of staff picks: books we find fascinating, absorbing, or just plain fun. So if you’ve been looking for something to read, consider (among other titles):
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth is an alternative history of the twentieth century (Lindbergh defeats Roosevelt in the 1940 election) that the NYT called “sinister, vivid, dreamlike, preposterous and, at the same time, creepily plausible.”
Gods, Graves and Scholars by C.W. Ceram is a high points history of archaeaology that covers all the spine-tingling moments of discovery: Carter’s first look into Tutankahmen’s tomb, Stephens stumbling upon Maya ruins, Champillion cracking the hieroglyphs, to name a few.
The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn’t Want You to Read. The title speaks for itself.
Tepper Isn’t Going Out by Calvin Trillin. A novel about an ordinary, albeit quirky New Yorker that The Christian Science Monitor called, “as delightful as finding a free spot in Times Square.”
The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. In 1973 Matthiessen accompanied a field biologist into the Himalayas in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the elusive snow leopard and to visit the Lama of the Shey Monastery. The Snow Leopard is “a magical book, a kind of lunar paradigm and map of the sacred” (The Nation).
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What do the words algebra, benzene, and cipher have in common? They’re all derived from Arabic. Who was the first scientist to posit that light was composed of particles? Newton? Think again. In the centuries after the collapse of the Roman Empire, when much of the knowledge of antiquity was lost to Western Europe, science and learning thrived in the Arab world, which not only preserved knowledge of the classical world but also made original breakthroughs in chemistry, physics, mathematics and astronomy.
The House of Wisdom is the story of this crucial chapter in world history. It’s one of the books provided to SPL by the NEH Muslim Journeys grant. On Thursday, May 30, at 7 pm in the Central Library, Tufts University professor Malik Mufti will lead a discussion of this fascinating book.
There are a number of copies in the network, so place your requests now.
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After last week, a lot of us could probably use a break from reality: a few minutes or a few hours of not thinking about the horrors of last week. I asked my colleagues what makes them laugh, cheers them up when they’re down, or just makes them forget their worries. Here are a few suggestions.
East Branch Director Marilyn suggests A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. I have to second that: Confederacy is one of the craziest, best-written pieces of inspired lunacy that I have ever read. To get a sense of the book and what it means to so many readers, check out the foreword by the writer who shepherded the manuscript of the novel to publication, Walker Percy.
Marilyn also recommends Cold Comfort Farm, a 1932 comic novel by English writer Stella Gibbons. She’s also partial to the 1995 film adaptation, starring Kate Beckinsale and Stephen Fry.
Cynthia, one of our teen librarians, told me her “go-to movies for comfort” are Beauty and the Beast, Knight and Day, The Princess Bride, and Whisper of the Heart.
Cynthia added, “I tend to re-read books over and over again, but some that always make me feel happy are Ella Enchanted, Chasing Redbird, and the Belgariad series.”
For my part, the funniest movies I’ve ever seen are Bowfinger and The Big Lebowski. As for books, it’s impossible for me to be in a bad mood when reading Carl Hiaasen’s comic Florida thrillers or Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels.
And there’s more comfort reading and viewing to come, so stay tuned…
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We’re all stunned and saddened by yesterday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon. The attacks were cruel and senseless. The only bright moment yesterday was when people ran towards the blasts to apply tourniquets or help people on to their feet.
It’s nice when it’s possible to be proud of human beings.
Actually helping others is one of the best things someone can do in a situation like this, not just for the inherent decency of doing so, but also because it reminds us we’re not helpless.
The Boston Globe has posted a list of ways people can help. Some people need places to stay. If you can offer someone shelter, please fill out this form. Donations are being collected for the Richards family: everything from money for medical expenses to help with housework.
And if you need a place to stay, go here.
News you need to know:
Copley Square is closed from Mass. Ave. to Clarendon and Huntington to Newbury.
The Green Line is running; Copley station remains closed
Bags will be searched on T.
Mass Pike Exit 22 is closed
Emerson & Berklee Colleges, Back Bay businesses closed.
The Celtics-Pacers game at TD Garden has been canceled.
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Reginald Bakeley’s Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop has won this year’s Diagram Prize for oddest book title, joining such illustrious tomes as Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers, Bombproof Your Horse (do-it-yourself seems to be a recurring theme) and Highlights in the History of Concrete.
The book’s U.S. editor, Clint Marsh, told the BBC, “Reginald and I take this as a clear sign that people have had enough of goblins in their chicken coops.”
We at SPL are very happy for Mr. Bakeley.
But in my opinion the all-time best title is still 2011′s winner, Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way.
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Posted by: Kevin in Films
Last year I wrote about Irish books for St. Patrick’s Day. This year, it’s Irish movies. The country’s contributions to film are much less well-known than its literary achievements, but almost as noteworthy. I consider films to be “Irish” if they meet at least two of three criteria: an Irish cast, an Irish director or screenwriter, based on an Irish literary work or on Irish historical events.
Neil Jordan is best known for his 1992 shocker The Crying Game. I however am forever grateful for his utterly charming, almost completely unknown 1991 coming-of-age tale The Miracle. Teenagers Jimmy and Rose (Lorraine Pilkington) are best friends in an Irish seaside town. They use their overactive imaginations to make up stories about people they see, exercising a “command of repartee extraordinary even for the Irish” (The Baltimore Sun). But Jimmy is diverted from a life of sidewalk fictionalizing when he find himself drawn to a beautiful, older American woman (Beverly D’Angelo) he’s never seen before. And when the circus comes to town, Rose decides to live out a story of her own.
Arguably there’s no story more Irish than that of going to America. Sarah and Johnny Sullivan and their daughters Christy and Ariel do just that (illegally) in Jim Sheridan’s engrossing, touching tale of starting over, In America. Sarah and Johnny are still grief-stricken over the death of their son Frankie. The watchful Christy and Ariel try to ease their parents’ pain as they also adjust to life in a new country and befriend a reclusive painter. Sheridan’s stellar directing and the cast’s understated acting give In America the strange beauty of a latter-day fairy tale.
Towards the end of his life one of the best directors took on one of the best short stories ever written. John Huston’s The Dead (1987) is every bit as powerful as Joyce’s masterpiece. Donal McCann’s performance as the emotionally repressed Gabriel Conroy is flawless. And Anjelica Huston is…Anjelica Huston (which is to say, magnificent). This story of a Dublin Christmas party replete with gaffes and missteps and verbal skirmishes will astound you with its perfection.
In 1974 the IRA bombed two Guilford pubs, killing four British soldiers and one civilian. The public outcry for justice placed the police under extreme pressure to find and arrest those responsible. The police soon had three men and one woman in custody. In 1975 the four were convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. However, they were all innocent. Their confessions had been coerced, and the police had suppressed evidence clearing those arrested of suspicion. It wasn’t until 1988 that the British public and judiciary began to suspect police wrongdoing. Daniel Day-Lewis plays Gerry Conlon, one of the “Guilford Four,” in Jim Sheridan’s In the Name of the Father. Emma Thompson provides a stellar performance as Conlon’s attorney, human rights lawyer Gareth Pierce. In the Name of the Father is a gripping, harrowing drama that will leave you emotionally exhausted.
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Posted by: Kevin in News
Our thanks to the mayor for recognizing the essential and ever-changing role libraries play in the life of this city:
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Do you want to learn Adobe Dreamweaver or Flash? Learn the basics of statistics? Get an electrician’s license? We’ve got a great new database for Somerville patrons who want or need to learn new skills. LearningExpress is a database of online tutorials and exams geared to the educational needs of children and teens and the vocational needs of adults. The tutorials and online courses cover school subjects ranging from elementary school reading to AP calculus. Computer software training includes learning the basics of Windows or the Mac OS, the Adobe family of programs, and runs the Microsoft gamut from basic spreadsheets (Excel) to intranet content management (SharePoint).
Anyone who needs to prepare for an occupational exam should check out LearningExpress: it’s got practice tests for the Civil Service exam, the Commercial Driver’s License test, the ASVAB, the plumber’s license and more.
LearningExpress also offers lessons on resume and business letter writing, job interviewing, managing your personal finances and GED prep.
Finally there’s a section for Spanish speakers that includes a guide to getting a green card, citizenship exam prep, and ESL lessons.
To get started with LearningExpress, click on the “Databases” link on the Minuteman catalog page. If you’re doing this from home you’ll be prompted for your library card number. Enter it and you’ll be taken to a page with an alphabetical list of databases. Go down to “L.” Then register to create a username and password. Then it’s off to school!
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Today we honor the memory of one of the greatest Americans ever, a man whose courage, wisdom, and determination changed this country forever. In the twelve years between his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and his murder at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Martin Luther King did more to advance racial justice than had been accomplished in the previous century since emancipation.
The finest work I know on King’s life and work is Taylor Branch’s three-volume America in the King Years. I particularly enjoyed the first volume, Parting the Waters, which is an absorbing account of King’s career up to the March on Washington as well as a fascinating examination of African-American society in the Jim Crow era.
If you’re not up to tackling Parting (it’s over a thousand pages), I highly recommend Harvard Sitkoff’s The Struggle for Black Equality. It’s fewer than 300 pages and compulsively readable. The chapter on the Montgomery Bus Boycott alone makes the book worth a trip to the library.
If you would rather watch than read, try Eyes on the Prize. This 1987 documentary on the Civil Rights Movement won a Peabody and 2 Emmys.
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