Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best Last Lines from Novels

There is something about the end of the year that renders us suckers for “best of” lists. Whether it is the best albums or the worst movies, the last week of December bombards us with these lists. It is compounded this year with the closure of the decade as well. Any “best of” list is wrought with subjectivity. (Un)fortunately, that won’t keep me from providing a “best of” of sorts. I like novels. So, I present my own highly subjective list of the best last lines in novels. I mined my memory and was greatly assisted with reminders from the American Book Review’s 100 Best Last Lines from Novels to come up with the following favorite last lines. What is your favorite last line?

(all novels mentioned are available at the Austin Public Library)

“So [said the doctor]. Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?”
-Philip Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint

“I’ll pray, and then I’ll sleep.”
-Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

“And however superciliously the highbrows carp, we the public in our heart of hearts all like a success story; so perhaps my ending is not so unsatisfactory after all.”
-W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge

“He wrote: So this is what everybody’s always talking about! Diablo! If only I’d known. The beauty! The beauty!”
-Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

“’Like a dog!’ he said, it was as if the shame of it must outlive him.”
-Franz Kafka, The Trial

“Columbus too thought he was a flop, probably, when they sent him back in chains. Which didn’t prove there was no America.
-Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March

“Everything we need that is not food or love is here in the tabloid racks. The tales of the supernatural and extraterrestrial. The miracle vitamins, the cures for cancer, the remedies for obesity. The cults of the famous and the dead.”
-Don DeLillo, White Noise

“It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.”
-Toni Morrison, Sula

“’Meet Mrs. Bundren,” he says.”
-William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying

“I was grateful to him for calling me back and reminding me where I belonged, in the clamorous, radiant, painfully beautiful kingdom of the living.”
-Francince Prose, Goldengrove

Going a bit further, the last page of The Great Gatsby is my favorite last page of all time. I won’t say it is my favorite novel, but that last page is incredible.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Non-Human Life Forms as Metaphors

Artists are a crafty lot. They tend to use symbols and metaphors to publicize their messages. Three works that have been swimming around in my mind that elucidate this idea are District 9, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and King Kong. A common thread running through each of these is an irrational, primal fear and how humanity predictably reacts when confronted by it. I invite you to watch or read each of these three works and think about what was going on in the United States or the world at the time of their release and see if you can guess which issue or issues may have inspired their creation. If you're stumped, I might suggest using one of our databases such as JSTOR or Academic Search Complete to help lead you in the right direction.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Read it and Weep with Laughter

The casually brilliant and funny Jonathan Tropper returns with the often side-splitting, mostly heartbreaking, This Is Where I Leave You , which is about a man’s inability to recover from heartbreak.

When asked how he could write such sad but funny books, Tropper replied, “It wouldn't occur to me to write it any other way. I don't do it with great consciousness. No matter what you're writing about--death, divorce--in every situation that involves more than one human being, there's going to be an element of comedy. Irony is everywhere.” (Publisher's Weekly interview June 1, 2009) Warner Brothers has acquired the rights to the book and Tropper will write the first draft.

Family Man by Elinor Lipman is another book that will make you smile over and over, but without the tears. In this sparkling comedy, gay Manhattan attorney Henry Archer gets the shock of his life when he realizes the receptionist he's just tipped is none other than his stepdaughter, whom he hasn't seen in 25 years. Before long, his stepdaughter is back in his life and Henry's got his hands full with her, his endlessly chatty ex-wife Denise, a new lover, and the countless others who wander in and out of his elegant Upper West Side brownstone. As always, the pleasure of a Lipman book is not so much the wispy plot, but the characters. But it's the first book I have read in a long time that has a happy ending.

For more book suggestions, see our Good Reads Humorous Books.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Nutcracker

Oh, yes, this is the time of the year when everybody talks about The Nutcracker, the wonderful ballet with music by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky that fascinates children and adults.

In 1816 E. T. A Hoffman wrote the book Nussknacker und Mausekönig or Nutcracker and the Mouse King. He was a prolific artist: writer, composer, caricaturist, and music critic. Hoffman was one of the most influential artists during Romanticism in Germany. His work not only inspired authors, but composers as well, as in the case of Jack Offebach, who wrote his composition Tales of Hoffman.

In 1891 Marious Petipa hired Tchaikovsky to write the music for the ballet inspired by Hoffman’s book. A year later, the first Nutcracker show was performed at the Russian Mariinsky Theatre. This ballet was performed in different cities around the world, and finally in the 1930s the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo performed it in New York. Little by little, this ballet started gaining popularity and could be now considered a Christmas tradition.
Austin Public Library has copies of the children's book by Hoffman, the music by Tchaikovsky, and videos with different performances of this ballet. Feel free to check those out and have a happy holiday!


*Picture taken from Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, University of Northern Iowa

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Shopping

So, you have four days until the big day, and you haven't done any shopping. You're off work, but don't really want to hit the big box stores, who does? Well, luckily you live in Austin. A wonderful town full of libraries with great books, museums, and crafters. Personally, I like a gift that isn't all plastic and cheap. I love something handcrafted or something made by someone who lives in the same town I do! Below are some handy links to folks who make things, some wonderful shops, and fabulous books and magazines on how to make that one of a kind, beautiful gift, available right here in the library. Hurry!

Denyse Schmidt Quilts: 30 Colorful Quilt and Patchwork Projects

Last-Minute Christmas Gifts: Crafting Quick and Crafty Presents for Everyone on Your List by Carol Taylor

Last-Minute Fabric Gifts: 30 Hand sew, Machine Sew & No Sew Projects by Cynthia Treen

Last-Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson

Last-Minute Patchwork & Quilted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson

Weekend Sewing: More Than 40 Projects and Ideas for Inspired Stitching by Heather Ross

American Craft


Cloth Paper Scissors

Creative Knitting

Fiber Arts


Memory Makers

Quilter's Newsletter


Shuttle Spindle & Dyepot


Austin Craft Mafia

Austin Handmade

Austin Independent Business Alliance

Events and calendars:
Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, an Austin favorite

Art of Texas events

Austin Convention and Visitor's Bureau

Blue Genie Art Bazaar

Museum gift shops:
Austin Children's Museum

Austin Museum of Art

Texas State History Museum

Austin Convention and Visitor's Bureau

Austin Independent Business Alliance

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hans Fallada

If you enjoy the anguished work of tormented authors, you might like German writer Hans Fallada (1893-1947). Perhaps no artist was more troubled. Before he was 20 he’d been run over by a cart, fought typhoid, become addicted to his medicine, killed his best friend in a duel, and, in the moments afterward, tried to kill himself. And he still had the Kaiser, the Depression, and the Nazis to look forward to.

Fallada’s novels are about average people grappling with being unexceptional. Some succumb, some accommodate, some triumph in small ways. Fallada loathed accommodating his Nazi censors, but triumphed after the war with Every Man Dies Alone, a work Primo Levi calls “The greatest book ever written about the German resistance to the Nazis.” In it, a bland husband and wife who have lost their soldier son risk everything to oppose the regime. Central to the story is the futility of the couple’s effort and the smallness of their deed compared to the monster they’re up against.

The English publication earlier this year of Every Man Dies Alone was a literary event, and two other of Fallada’s novels were republished to make a set. The library has all three. (A fourth, Wolf Among Wolves, will be published in January, 2010.)

If you’re into bleak, Fallada is your man.

Little Man, What Now?
Every Man Dies Alone
The Drinker

Every Man Dies Alone is a staff pick for 2009.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Chinua Achebe's first book since 1990

An oft overlooked titan of letters recently released his first book since 1990. Nigerian novelist and scholar, Chinua Achebe, rose to prominence with the 1958 publication of Things Fall Apart. Prior to this book, the western literary world’s engagement with Africa was that of a latent –and sometimes blatant—racist bent. Things Fall Apart changed that. Achebe’s characters struggled with the myriad scars left by colonialism’s rampant exploitation and watched traditional Nigerian society crumble. He did not shy from faults within traditional culture, but advocated strongly that Africans were not, nor ever were, savages. He rose to further prominence with his 1975 criticism of Joseph Conrad’s previously sacrosanct Heart of Darkness.

The New York Times profiled Mr. Achebe today and discussed his new book, The Education of a British-Protected Child. The Austin Public Library has ordered it and it should be arriving shortly.

In the meantime, the Austin Public Library owns numerous works by Chinua Achebe as well as books about Nigerian literature.

Things Fall Apart

Anthills of the Savannah

Girls at War

A Man of the People

Home and Exile

Bernth Lindfors’ Early Nigerian Literature

Wole Soyinka's The Open Sore of a Continent

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Careers for the Cool Kid

I have been trying to get my teenage daughter to think about possible future careers. The parent in me is always trying to steer her toward practical choices that will ensure her a comfortable life. The careers I come up with for her typically involve education and training. She always comes up with things that are not sure bets. Her choices often involve a great deal of luck and risk in order to attain success in the form of a steady income. Suffice it to say, everything I suggest to her sounds boring because fame, glamor, and wild amounts of money aren't readily involved. Another thing I've noticed that is absent from my career suggestions for her versus her career choices for herself is the coolness factor. At my wits end, I decided to run a search in our catalog in order to see what I might be able to dig up that would make us both happy. Fortunately for me, and for Austin in general, my colleagues at the Austin Public Library have anticipated my need. Below are listed a few titles to help point promising young minds overly concerned with coolness to a bright and stable future.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Who made the first snowman? Who first came up with the idea of placing snowballs on top of each other, and who decided they would use a carrot for a nose?

Humorist Bob Eckstein successfully argues for the cultural importance of the snowman in The History of the Snowman. Journeying backwards through time, Eckstein searches for the first snowman, moving from the present all the way back to the 14th century. Again and again, the snowman pops up in rare prints, paintings, early movies, advertising and, over the past century, in every art form imaginable. The book includes more than two hundred surprising pictures of snowfolk, both contemporary and historical, from Old Dutch to Charles Addams.

Some facts in the book:

  • There are no snowmen in the dry, cold Arctic where humidity is below 20% and the temperature below 10° F--both must be higher in order to pack snow.
  • The Association of Education Publishers has banned the use of the word "snowman" in textbooks because it is gender biased.
  • The Taliban banned snowman-making when it came to power in 1996.
  • Snowmen go way back. Even cavemen are thought to have made snowmen.
  • The Middle Ages were the snowman’s heyday.
  • Bottle-postcards from the 1920s show all the snowmen drunk. Later they were big in liquor ads.

And of course, the book has its own website.

Recent fiction featuring snowmen:

The Chocolate Snowman Murders
Lee Woodyard, who runs a chocolate store in a Michigan tourist town, is coordinating the local holiday art festival when the guest juror ends up dead.

The Night of the Wolf
Stories in this collection center on an impossible crime, especially in The Abominable Snowman, in which witnesses see a snowman come to life and stab a man to death.

Snow Blind
The snowman building contest turns into a double murder investigation after the frozen bodies of two policemen turn up inside two of the snowmen.

The Snowman’s Children
Moving, psychologically intense novel tells the story of an incident from one man's childhood in the 1970s, when a serial killer called The Snowman stalked the streets of suburban Detroit.

The Year of the Flood
Retelling of the 2003 novel Oryx and Crake shows how Glenn and Jimmy became Crake and the Snowman.

For more books that explore one, sometimes obscure, topic, see Good Read's One Word Wonders list.

*Postcard from the Smithsonian magazine.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Galileo’s telescope: the beginning of a new era

Four hundred years ago, Galileo designed his most wonderful creation: a telescope. At that time, there were already other telescopes invented by other scientists in Europe. The problem with those was that they could only magnify objects 4 times. Galileo’s telescope, on the other hand, was able to magnify things 20 times. This tool allowed Galileo to prove, to his misfortune and to our fortune, that the Copernican Theory that says that the planets rotate around the sun was correct.

If we think about it, it is amazing to see how such a small tool was used for these enormous discoveries. This telescope had only two lenses inside of a stick of wood; if compared to the elaborate ones scientists use nowadays, this is a minuscule instrument. It is with this telescope that Galileo could see Venus, the satellites of Jupiter, a supernova, and the moon. Less light pollution and perhaps better vision back then could have helped Galileo to see more with a rudimentary tool like this.

NASA is planning to launch the James Webb space telescope in 2013. This telescope will use wavelengths and infrared light to be able to see hidden objects in space. With its great mirror, Webb will be able to see 200 million years after the Big Bang. Compared to what happened 400 years ago, it is amazing to see how far science has gone, how many things we know and how many we will learn. I wish Galileo could be here.

Some websites for your enjoyment are:

If you feel like checking something out from the library, here are some suggestions:

** Picture taken from Encyclopædia Britannica Online

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Media Sensationalism

If you keep track of what's going on in the media, you know that Washington's Amanda Knox was convicted of murder in Italy just a couple of days ago. She will serve twenty-six years for the slaying death of her roommate. It was a hugely sensational news story that wrapped around the world for the last two years. Amanda Knox was judged in the court of public opinion on the way she behaved, the pictures of her found on the Internet and her strange mix of stories immediately after the murder. We may never know why or what happened, only the people who were there know, but media has created a story of great sensation.

In America, we are very familiar with the media and the people whose lives get thrust upon the television screens, newspapers and magazines. In turn, we, the average citizen, form our own opinions of those people. Chris Brown, Tiger Woods, Courtney Love, President Clinton, and Michael Jackson are just a few people who have been judged in the court of public opinion in recent time. Their stories have been splashed and vamped up with minutia of information.

I have listed below some items that are quite interesting to read. Read as much as you can, listen to as many people and opinions as you can, then form your own.

Private Death of Public Discourse

Connecting Social Problems and Popular Culture: Why Media is not the Answer

Peaches & Daddy: A Story of the Roaring Twenties, the Birth of Tabloid Media, and the Courtship that Captured the Heart and Imagination of the American Public

Michael Jackson: The Magic, the Madness, the Whole Story, 1958-2009

Media Message: What Film, Television, and Popular Music Teach us about Race, Class, Gender and Sexual Orientation

Importance of Being Famous: Behind the Scenes of the Celebrity-Industrial Complex

Read as many newspapers and magazines as you can here.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Fred Hampton

On this day, at around 4:45 in the morning, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) raided a building at 2337 W. Monroe St. where they shot and killed Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and Mark Clark, a Black Panther Party (BPP) member. The initial report of the raid claimed that as soon as the police started knocking they were attacked by a barrage of gunfire through the front door by the members of the BPP that were inside; however, further investigation into the deaths of Hampton and Clark revealed that the occupants of the building may have managed to shoot, if any, just one bullet. In fact, most sources on the subject definitively state that Hampton and Clark were murdered by the Chicago Police Department for their involvement in the BPP, although the FBI still refers to their murders as "alleged." Hampton never even left his bed that morning - he died in it - and there is strong evidence he was drugged the evening prior, allegedly by a William O'Neal, a Panther that had been arrested previously and released in return for informant services to the FBI and CPD. The officials who enacted the raid, killed the two men, and left six others injured, were acquitted of all crimes by an all white grand jury.

It has actually become somewhat common knowledge by now that the FBI deliberately set out to destroy the BPP in the 1960s and early 1970s. J. Edgar Hoover and other officials classified the group as nothing more than another criminal gang to contend with. Ultimately, though, it was state and local officials that lent a big hand in destroying the leadership of the BPP. Members and leaders that officials did not kill have been accused of crimes, often serious crimes, they insist they have not committed, such as former Party member Assata Shakur. Even today, the FBI is still offering a $1 million dollar reward for information leading to Shakur's arrest and capture for crimes she is adamant she did not and could not have committed.

One of the consequences of this targeting of the BPP and other members of the Civil Rights Movement, is that African-Americans have been repeatedly robbed of some of their best and brightest leaders. Fred Hampton was a well-known activist who started up food programs for low income kids and health care clinics in areas that desperately needed them, negotiated truces among Chicago inner city gangs, and brought together different minority groups coining the phrase "rainbow coalition." He was charismatic, intelligent, well-respected and well-liked. It was leaders like this that were deliberately targeted, and, as Dr. Quentin Young, put it, "the people who made it their business to kill the leaders of the black movement picked the right ones."

Many people have very strong opinions on this matter and I'll leave it up to you to form and/or strengthen your own. The library is the best place out there to do just that:

*Anything quoted in this article comes from the "Fred Hampton" entry in Contemporary Black Biography, volume 18, and was found using Biography Resource Center - an excellent source for comprehensive biographies and links to resources on a large number of well-known people.

Breaking the Cycle
*Requires an APL library card
Article from 1992 expressing outrage at Fred Hampton, Jr.'s (Fred Hampton's son) arrest during the riots that took place after the Rodney King verdict. Hampton, Jr. spent 9 years in prison for the arson conviction that came after this arrest. He maintains his innocence and details his other run-ins with law enforcement (including being wrongfully accused of murder) here.

Fed by Fear: The FBI's Crusade Against Fred Hampton and the Black Panters

Was Fred Hampton Executed?
*Requires an APL library card
Article from 1976 providing details of the raid and evidence that contradicts the police report.


Assata: An Autobiography

The Black Panthers: Photographs

Eyes on the Prize (documentary)

The Huey P. Newton Reader

The Murder of Fred Hampton (documentary)

Two Nations of Black America (documentary)

Up Against the Wall: Violence in the Making and Unmaking of the Black Panther Party

You Can't Kill Revolution: Black Panther Party, 1969 (CD - a recording of a speech made by Fred Hampton)

Black Panther Coloring Book
Very interesting; distributed by the FBI in the late 60s

FBI's files on Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton sound clip from UC Berkely

From COINTELPRO to the Shadow Government: As Fred Hampton, Jr. is Released from 9 Years of Prison, a Look Back at the Assassination of Fred Hampton (audio)

Power Anywhere Where There's People
Text of a Fred Hampton speech

Shoot it Out: The Death of Fred Hampton
Very thoroughly researched and detailed account of the December 4, 1969 raid

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

If you don't like the weather...wait a minute. It will change.

Our weather confounds me. I’ve lived in Texas my entire life, yet I remain baffled by how weather patterns fluctuate so rapidly. Sure, we have some constants, like triple digit summer days, but the rest of the year we’re faced with consistent inconsistencies. November can bring a freeze or a pair of shorts. So too can most non-summer months. Perhaps attempting to understand our weather is an exercise in futility. Must we simply grin and bear it?

Nope. Fortunately the library isn’t the place for giving up. The following books are great introductions to weather forecasting. They might not enable you to predict the weather, but they will provide a foundation and just maybe prompt a little slack for the local news meteorologist.

Authors of the Storm: Meteorologists and the Culture of Prediction

Man vs. Weather: How to be Your Own Weatherman

Meteorology Today: An Introduction to Weather, Climate, and the Environment

The Rough Guide to Weather

Storm Warning: The Origins of the Weather Forecast

Monday, November 30, 2009

Slow Media - Do you control your device or does your device control you?

I'm digitally disappointed. I tend to see the Internet and cell phones as simply more clutter in my life. I use them both sparingly. It turns out I'm not alone. I've stumbled upon a developing movement taking root even amongst people in their 20s and 30s. Just as the slow food movement tries to reconnect people to a more natural relationship with the food they eat, the slow media movement aims to reconnect humans to their intrinsic humanity by diminishing distractedness, multitasking, and fidgeting currently wrought by a myriad of technological devices and new media. They argue that the current trend of incessantly needing to update a Facebook or MySpace page, post a tweet, text message friends, and surf the Internet in general is having a detrimental effect on the quality of our lives. They want to slow things down a bit and not let technology and gadgets run riot throughout our society. Below, I've listed some titles owned by the Austin Public Library associated with the slow media movement as well as an exceptional blog on the subject.



In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed

Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It

The Myth of Multitasking: How Doing it All Gets Nothing Done

The Tyranny of Email: The Four-Thousand Year Journey to Your Inbox (on order)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Indian Flavors

President Obama had Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and 400 other guests for a state dinner last Tuesday. Most of the menu was vegetarian, with chutney and curry dishes. An Indian-inspired recipe for your Thanksgiving turkey leftovers, Turkey and Spinach Curry appeared in the New York Tmes on Wednesday. The Library has many Indian food cookbooks that should appeal to you all year round. When you search for cookbooks, type the name of the cuisine and cookery. For example: india and cookery.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Watson, come here! I want to see you!": “accidents” with a twist

Clothes, appliances, electronic devices, and pretty much everything we use have been invented with a purpose in mind: to solve a problem. Sometimes, however, accidents are the inspiration for some neat inventions that end up being fundamental in our everyday lives. Some well known “accidents” are the telephone, penicillin, TNT, Teflon, Velcro, and silly putty.

Some other mishaps that turned into something useful are:

Popsicles: invented in 1905 by Frank Epperson who was 11 years old at that time. He mixed soda water powder and water. He left this mixture, with the stirring stick in it, on his porch by accident overnight. The temperature dropped and the next day he had this frozen “ice cream” as a result. Later on, he started his Popsicle business.

Tea bags: around 1904, Thomas Sullivan, a coffee and tea seller, decided to stop sending samples of his products in big heavy cans and instead began using little silk bags to send tea to customers. People realized that these bags were easier to brew and the rest is history.

Scotchgard: during the 50’s some scientists were working with a substance called fluorochemicals used in aircraft. Some drops of this substance were spilled on one of the scientists shoes and later she noticed that the rest of the shoe was getting dirty except for the area with fluorochemicals. This is the beginning of this fabric protector that remains popular today.

All of these examples and more can be found in a juvenile book titled: Mistakes That Worked by Charlotte Fotlz Jones. If you want to read more books related to this topic, you can check the following titles out:

You might also want to visit the National inventors Hall of Fame

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Who Were the Wordy Shipmates?

When I finally read Wordy Shipmates, I discovered who Sarah Vowell was referring to –the second boat of Puritans who colonized Massachusetts, particularly John Winthrop, founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, feisty pre-feminist Anne Hutchinson, and the semi-crazed zealot, albeit tolerant, Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island.

Vowell, who is both patriotic and irreverent, said she wanted to show that the Puritans got one thing right: the leaders they chose were the best educated and the smartest. She also aims to explain how, as a nation, we've inherited the Puritans' notion that we are God's chosen people. She writes about the first Thanksgiving, and explains that Squanto helped the Puritans when he returned to America from England after being kidnapped because his entire family and village were dead from small pox, so he had nothing else to do.

I don’t remember much high school history, and read mostly fiction, so this book was perfect as an entertaining history lesson. And by the way, Sarah Vowel is coming to the Paramount in February.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Good Life

In the past few years, a number of books have been written about people leaving their current lives to pursue simpler, more self-sufficient lives in rural areas. These books are typically a mix of memoir and how-to and usually end up reflecting that living a "simpler" life is rewarding but not exactly simple. If the book market is any kind of gauge, it would seem that many people are interested in reading about this sort of transition. The authors of these books often find modern life alienating, unaffordable, and completely disconnected from nature, so I wonder if this is a popular sentiment of readers today. More likely, the popularity of these books is related to the rise in popularity of DIY projects and crafts coupled with a greater awareness among the general public of where their commodities come from and how those commodities are produced.

This type of book is anything but new. Many were written in the 1970s, a time in our country's history when a significant number of disillusioned people moved to farms and communes. But other than books like Thoreau's Walden, the earliest of these types of accounts that actually influenced the 1970s movement are Living the Good Life and Continuing the Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing (collected into one volume called The Good Life). The Nearings departed their New York City life during the Great Depression in 1932 and moved to a rural area in Vermont (and later Maine) where they began producing their own food, built their own shelter, and provided entirely for themselves on very little money. What was particularly remarkable about such a move is that the couple had no prior experience in any sort of self-sustaining activities. It's simply amazing, inspiring, and motivational to read their account. After reading about the Nearings, I've become addicted to memoirs and nonfiction accounts of stories similar to Helen and Scott's, like these:

The Backyard Homestead

Best Person Rural: Essays of a Sometime Farmer

Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl

Country Wisdom & Know-How: Everything You Need to Know to Live off the Land
This is an excellent comprehensive guide to country skills and knowledge published by Storey Publishing - an excellent publisher of quality country living and skills books, including one on making cider by Annie Proulx.

The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing's Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living

The Good Life of Helen K. Nearing
A biography of Helen Nearing

Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl

The Road Washes out in Spring: A Poet's Memoir of Living off the Grid

A Scott Nearing Reader: The Good Life in Bad Times
Scott Nearing was well-known for his writings on a number of social issues. Here is a collection of rare writings.

Siesta Lane: A Year Unplugged, or the Good Intentions of Ten People, Two Cats, One Old Dog, Eight Acres, One Telephone, Three Cars, and Twenty Miles to the Nearest Town

The Unlikely Lavender Queen

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Introducing Personal Picks!

We’ve all been there. You finish a much liked book and then wondered what to read next. Sometimes we stumble through the wilderness of reviews and sometimes we find another gem. We’d like to relieve some of the guesswork. The Austin Public Library is glad to announce a new service—Personal Picks. You provide as much (or as little) information that you would like about your reading interests, and we will recommend three titles we think you will enjoy. We’re not robots so it will take a couple of days, but only because we’re working hard to find great books for you. Happy reading!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Google Aftermath

I belong to a generation that still values its privacy. I divulge as little as I possibly can about my private life online. I don't feel comfortable with the idea of any entity, let alone a single entity, being able to sum me up by tracking my movements, purchases, bank accounts, investments, assets, or scanning my personal email messages sent to family and friends. For me, it's instinctively creepy. Perhaps this is why I have resisted using Google for anything other than finding web pages. A newly published book entitled, Googled: The End of the World as We Know It, illuminates both the power and secrecy associated with arguably the world's most far-reaching and influential public company. In it, the author posits what might happen to the vast mountain ranges of personal data Google has diligently collected about so many of us should the company be sold one day. For now, the company remains committed to the founders' idealistic principles. However, time and financial pressures have a habit of eroding even the fiercest resistance.

More Google related titles:
What Would Google Do?

Planet Google: One Company's Audacious Plan to Organize Everything We Know

The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture

The Google Story

Friday, November 13, 2009


Encyclopedia Britannica Online Reference Center defines font as "an assortment or set of type (alphanumeric characters used for printing), all of one coherent style." "What?" you may ask. Font is basically what you see everyday, all day , everywhere, in text format. You see it in books, newspapers, street signs, buildings, cars, airplanes, grocery stores, pharmacies, clothing, everywhere. Font is ubiquitous. It is simply the style of the way the text looks on the page, sign, whatever. There is bad font and there is good font. Good meaning that it is legible and easy on the eyes. Bad font is, yes, you guessed it, not easy to read. If you Google image "bad font" you'll see many examples of signs that do not display as the creator wanted, much to their dismay.

There are many font fans in the world, and there have been many articles and discussions on this very simple, yet historied, topic. As you can see in this recent NYT article, "Typography Fans Say Ikea Should Stick to Furniture," there are many people out there who have very strong feelings on font. Many of us, though, do not even notice the subtle differences. Those who do are hardcore fans, graphic designers, typographers and the like. Check out Typophile's blog and dive into that world of font and typography. Check out Typography, too. Mark Simonson's blog has a very interesting article and comparison of the fonts Helvetica and Arial. You'll never look at words the same way again.

You may also remember there was a film that came out a few years ago dedicated to the Swiss font Helvetica. You can read more about the film here, but basically it "looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which recently celebrated its 50th birthday in 2007) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives." If you can't get a hold of the movie, check out the book (not affiliated with the movie), which is labeled as an homage to the typeface Helvetica.

You can also check out some other books on the topic:
The Thames and Hudson Manual of Typography

Type: The Secret History of Letters by Simon Loxley

Typology Type Design from the Victorian Era to the Digital Age by Steven Heller

20th Century Type by Lewis Blackwell

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Today's Soldiers

Two new titles on the Good Read's 2009 Recommended Nonfiction list are about US soldiers fighting in the 21st century. The Good Soldiers is by Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter David Finkel who chronicled the 15 months the 2-16 Infantry Battalion spent in Baghdad as part of the "surge". Horse Soldiers is the dramatic account of a small band of Special Forces soldiers who secretly entered Afghanistan following 9/11 and rode to war on horses against the Taliban.

The Good Soldiers
David Finkel. 956.7044342 Fi

Horse Soldiers: the Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan
Doug Stanton. 958.1047 St

Monday, November 09, 2009

New Texas Books

New books about Texas treat familiar subjects - food, oil, music, and movies, but there is one surprise - an analysis of an over-the-top Christmas celebration in a Texas suburb.

The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes 338.2728092 Bu

The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter's 28-day Save-Your-Life Plan that Lowers Cholesterol and Burns Away the Pounds
613.25 Es

Growing Good Things to Eat in Texas: Profiles of Organic Farmers and Ranchers Across the State 381.4109764 Wa

Halliburton's Army: How a Well-connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War 956.704431 Ch

The History of Texas Music 780.9764 Ha

Mavericks: a Gallery of Texas Characters 920.076409 Fo

Reata: Legendary Texas Cuisine 641.59764 Mi

Remarkable Plants of Texas: Uncommon Accounts of Our Common Natives 581.6309764 Tu

State Fare: An Irreverent Guide to Texas Movies 791.4362764 Gr

Tinsel: A Search for America's Christmas Present 976.4556 St

Friday, November 06, 2009

I was raised on the Street

On November 10th Sesame Street will celebrate its 40th anniversary. I, like so many, was practically raised on Sesame Street. As a teenager and now as an adult, I have seen kids I cared for at a daycare, my nephew, and all of my young cousins get the same enjoyment out of the show that I once did. In my experience, a room full of children will instantly be quieted by tuning the TV to Sesame Street. While it once was argued that television could not be used as an educational tool, Sesame Street certainly proved that idea wrong and set the bar for future educational children's television shows.

Congratulations on 40 years, Sesame Street! I hope that for the benefit of children everywhere you have 40 more!

"A Stroll Among the Memories on Sesame Street"
NPR audio that takes a look back at the many years of Sesame Street

"Behind the Scenes of Sesame Street"
A really cool article that goes behind the scenes to the puppeteers of Sesame Street.

Sesame Street: Games
Online games you and your kids can play together on

Sesame Street: PBS Kids
Really fun site for kids!

Monsters Munch Lunch! A Story for Two to Share
(children's book)

Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street
New book (2009) chronicling Sesame Street's history

Sesame Street and the Reform of Children's Television

We All Sing with the Same Voice
(children's book)

The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers

A Celebration of Me, Grover

A Sesame Street Christmas

Songs from the Street: 35 Years of Music

Videos and DVDs
Bert & Ernie's Word Play

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street

Elmo and the Bookaneers

Follow That Bird
I was obsessed with this movie starring Big Bird when I was a kid and I recently re-watched it - I probably enjoyed it about as much as I did when I was 3!

Sesame Street, Old School, volume 1, 1969-1974

Sesame Street, Old School, volume 2, 1974-1979

Sesame Street Shows and Clips on
Watch clips and episodes here such as this Ray Charles clip. Or check out the clips on YouTube, like this Elmo and Mr. Noodle clip (Mr. Noodle was one of mine and my nephew's favorites when he was little!), or a clip of Feist's appearance on the show.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Young writers: 5 under 35

One problem with the publishing industry is once it finds a money maker, it tends to ride that horse to the exclusion of younger, fresher ones. We know Philip Roth is good. We know Margaret Atwood is good. But how do we find new writers when the bulk of publishing and its marketing arms primarily promote the established writers?

Fortunately, there are several online advocates of up-and-coming writers. One of those, The Complete Review, is a veritable treasure trove of world literature. On these shores, the National Book Award is doing its part to champion young writers. Their annual “5 Under 35” highlights five writers under the age of 35. This year’s selections are:

Ceridwen Dovey
Blood Kin

C.E. Morgan
All the Living

Lydia Peelle
Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing

Karen Russell
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

Josh Weil
The New Valley

Monday, November 02, 2009

Money Still Doesn't Grow On Trees

We live in a debt ridden, consumerist society. So much so, that our children are becoming wise to the pitfalls of instant gratification and seemingly easy credit. In fact, one of the most popular courses being taught on the campus of Wellesley College is ECON 223 a.k.a. Real Life 101. As one student puts it, "It may be stuff that people used to learn on the fly. That clearly hasn't worked out too well for the generation of grownups now losing their houses." I couldn't agree more. However, you don't have to send your child to a prestigious (and expensive) northeastern university to have him or her learn this same material. The Austin Public Library recently acquired for its collection a book entitled, Debt Information for Teens. In it, you will find chapters dedicated to the factors that determine interest rates, why having good credit is so important, the common problems with plastic, why making minimum monthly payments on out-standing credit card balances only make the credit card companies richer, predatory lending and payday loans, renting to own vs. no-interest financing, how to budget and save, signs of compulsive debting, as well as a directory of financial literacy resources. I've also listed a number of related items readily available for check out to help successive generations learn to avoid falling off a financial cliff.

Money Still Doesn't Grow on Trees: A Parent's Guide to Raising Financially Responsible Teenagers and Young Adults

Raising Financially Fit Kids

Teen Guide to Personal Financial Management

Friday, October 30, 2009

Arctic Freeze or Melt?

A recent report from the CU-Boulder's Snow and Ice Data Center concluded that the Arctic sea ice cover appears to have reached its minimum extent for the year, the third-lowest recorded since satellites began measuring sea ice extent in 1979. Most of the 2009 September Arctic sea ice is thin first- or second-year ice, rather than thicker, multi-year ice that used to dominate the region. The scientists warned that they are seeing "a downward trend that appears to be heading toward ice-free Arctic summers."

I really enjoy reading stories set in the Arctic and other cold climates. My all time favorite is Smilla's Sense of Snow (1993). Place a hold on one of these newer titles to learn more about and appreciate the Arctic region.

Arctic adventure stories

Arctic Drift by Clive Cussler
Unabridged CD

Freezing Point by Karen Dionne

Stephen Coonts' Deep Black: Arctic Gold

Terminal Freeze by Lincoln Child
Large Type
Unabridged CD

The Terror by Dan Simmons

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Horror movies that make you laugh now

Do you remember those horror movies you saw when you were a kid that gave you nightmares? Have you seen them since? If you haven’t, you should watch them, and you will discover that instead of being horrified like in the old times, you will laugh out loud.

Most of these movies are known as B-Movies, low budget films made mostly during the 50s and 60s. This is the era of mutants and all sorts of oversize creatures on the big screen: giant ants, lizards, and evil or extraterrestrial monsters. According to those studying what’s behind horror movies, these films represent the fear about the idea of an atomic bomb and communism, in other words, the Cold War in general. Movies during this era were also competing with television, and films were trying to offer a different and unique experience that would draw more people to the movie theater instead of staying in the comfort of their home watching TV. The B-Movies “category," however, covers all decades; for example, Evil Dead from the 80s is considered by some a B-Movie as well.

I know, your significant other might cringe when she/he sees you coming home with The Curse of Frankenstein, but hey, why not have a good laugh this Halloween with a movie that was supposed to scare you? Here are some titles Austin Public Library has for you to check out and watch while eating candy corn:

In case you want to read about horror movies, how to make them, or how they are related to culture, here are some ideas:

For more information about B-Movies in general, including horror films, you can visit:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New Central Library - Special Edition

The regular schedule for posting the APL BLOG is Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, including holidays. Today we have a special edition blog because this evening at the Manchaca Branch we begin to plan for the new Central Library.

We need your ideas for the new Central Library building. Please join in the discussion at one of the five input meetings with the design team. If you are curious about what the trends are, please check out a book or see the plans and designs for other new city libraries.

The New Downtown Library: Designing with Communities

Heart of the Community: The Libraries We Love: Treasured Libraries of the United States and Canada

The Thriving Library: Successful Strategies for Challenging Times

Place of Learning, Place of Dreams: A History of the Seattle Public Library

A Library Story: Building a New Central Library (youth book)

New Central Libraries

Darien Library

Minneapolis Central Library

Monday, October 26, 2009

2009 National Book Awards finalists

The National Book Awards announced its 2009 finalists earlier this month. This year’s finalists are an interesting bunch, notable for their topical diversity as well as their lack of big names. There was no room in the inn this year for literary giants such as Philip Roth and Lorrie Moore.

The winners will be announced in Manhattan Wednesday, November 18th. 193 publishers submitted 1,129 books divided among the following four categories.

Fiction (236 entries)
American Salvage (Bonnie Jo Campbell)

Let the Great World Spin (Colum McCann)

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
(Daniyal Mueenuddin)

Lark and Termite (Jayne Anne Phillips)

Far North
(Marcel Theroux)

Nonfiction (481 entries)
Following the Water: A Hydromancer’s Notebook (David M. Carroll)

Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species (Sean B Carroll)

Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City (Greg Grandin)

The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy - on order (Adrienne Mayor)

The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (T.J. Stiles)

Poetry (161 entries)
Versed (Rae Armantrout)

Or to Begin Again (Ann Lauterbach)

Speak Low (Carl Phillips)

Open Interval - on order (Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon)

Transcendental Studies - on order (Keith Waldrop)

Young People’s Literature (251 entries)
Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith (Deborah Heiligman)

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Phillip Hoose)

Stitches - on order (David Small)

Lips Touch: Three Times - on order (Laini Taylor)

Jumped (Rita Williams-Garcia)

Friday, October 23, 2009

What is human?

Wednesday night the Graphic Novels Book Club met to discuss The Surrogates volumes 1 and 2 by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele. It's been made into a movie currently out in theaters and stars Bruce Willis. I haven't seen the movie, but the books were very enjoyable and left me thinking about technological advances and their effects on society and humanity. The books take place in a future where most humans live vicariously through surrogates. Surrogate technology allows people to purchase a sort of android that they link up to from the safety and comfort of their homes and use to live life for them. Humans can feel everything the surrogate feels, so it truly seems as if you are living your life as another person. Living life through a perfect looking, super intelligent, physically strong surrogate that you can design yourself may sound ideal, but it definitely raises some good questions: Is part of humanity lost by living through machines? Is there "good" technology and "bad" technology? Where is the line between the two and who draws that line? What kind of world would it be if no one was ever living life as themselves?

In the technological world of today, it is not too hard to believe that one day we really could have something similar to surrogate technology. There already exist virtual worlds and games, such as Second Life and World of Warcraft, where players interact with one another and the virtual environment through avatars that are designed by the players themselves. It is estimated that somewhere between 20 and 30 million people spend more time involved in virtual activities than in real world activities, so it really isn't a stretch to say that someday many more millions may be spending most of their time in virtual worlds as well.

Finally, consider the androids developed by Hiroshi Ishiguro. They look like humans, fidget like humans, and can be used as doubles to be sent out into the world to do your bidding (read the full article here). Japan and South Korea have been developing androids for some time now and are really moving the technology along. While Ishiguro says it is unlikely that anyone could ever create an android that humans would mistake for human for more than several minutes, no one can say whether or not the further development of this technology would propel us into a world full of surrogates.

Explore the topic further with the library's excellent resources and these websites:

Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots

Journal Articles and Websites
"Android Science"
Article from Scientific American about Ishiguro's androids and his pursuit of android science.

*Requires an Austin Public Library card
Before our lives become virtual reality, we will have augmented reality in which computers will anticipate our needs and project information relevant to our needs as we interact with real world things. Our current realities will, therefore, be augmented by computers. Check out this demo and prepare to have your mind blown.

"Meet the Remote-Control Self"
Article about Ishiguro's android modeled after himself (see above picture). This is the one that is most similar to a surrogate as described in the graphic novel.

"Virtual Worlds - Past, Present and Future: New Directions in Social Computing"*
*Requires an Austin Public Library card
Comprehensive article outlining the history of vitual worlds, social implications of virtual world participation, and surveys of a number of Second Life users.