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