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