Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Pianist

The movie The Pianist by Roman Polanski was amazing not only because of the way he tells the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish pianist during War World II, but also because of the music by Chopin played during this film. Of course I’ve heard Chopin many times but the way the Polish pianist Janusz Olejniczakm plays his music in this soundtrack is superb.

As we know, it is not easy to play Chopin.  The pianist Krystian Zimerman, one of the renowned interpreters of Chopin says: “Chopin’s music is overwhelmingly expression; he never writes one note too many.”  Another famous pianist, Ingrid Fliter says: “Chopin developed a new era in piano expression, he made the piano sing, and that’s one of the most important things when you start playing his music: to develop your own voice.”

But Chopin’s music is not only difficult to perform because of the sensitivity required by the pianist but also because he composed his music in a time when piano construction was different from today.Chopin’s favorite pianos were the ones made by a French company called Pleyel. Their sonority and tone were some of the reasons why he loved them so much. The way these instruments were designed also accommodated his small, delicate hands and they were capable of producing a strong sound, full of color and textures, even when Chopin didn’t have the physical strength due to a long battle against TB. “The most difficult pieces Chopin wrote are his mazurkas, they have almost a supernatural difficulty. This is the case when the modern instrument is next to impossible to use,” says the pianist Nikolai Demidenko.

Chopin, without a doubt, is one of the most brilliant pianists of all times, his music, revolutionary because of its musical structure, is full of powerful yet delicate sounds that make his compositions unique to this day.

The Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Poland has an amazing collection of all of Chopin’s works played on historical instruments and also a list of all his compositions  that you can enjoy anytime.

The February 2010 issue of the magazine BBC Music has a long and interesting article about Chopin that I used for this blog. Feel free to come to the Faulk Central Library to enjoy it. If you prefer to read books about Chopin here are some examples:

If you want to check out some CD’s, consider the following ones:
*Image from the Canadian Broadcasting Centre website (CBC)

    Monday, March 29, 2010

    Dave the Slave

    So far nothing saved digitally (see below) has lasted as long as information painted an eon ago onto the walls of caves, carved four millennia ago into the stones of tombs, printed five centuries ago across vellum and paper, or incised a hundred and fifty years ago in the wet clay of a newly made jar.

    If you’re interested in pottery, or if you watch Antiques Roadshow, you might have heard of Dave Drake, better known as Dave the Slave, who lived in western South Carolina where he turned fine stoneware in the 1800s. Leonard Todd came across Dave’s work in a museum and was astonished to learn that Dave had worked in Todd’s family's potteries. Todd’s ancestors owned Dave! The revelation led Todd to move back to his native South Carolina and reconstruct as much of Dave’s life as he could from the bits and pieces of information we have about the lives of slaves. The result is Carolina Clay: the Life and Legend of the Slave Potter Dave. It’s the biography of a man who made art in spite of crushing repression, and his connection to the author’s family.

    Dave wrote poetry on many of his pots which is remarkable because it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write. A literate slave was wise to pretend that he was not. Dave's writings testify to his value and renown as a potter, and, Todd hopes, prove that at least a few of Todd's ancestors treated slaves better than was custom.

    Click the link to place a hold on Carolina Clay through the library's catalog; check out the sites below for more information about Dave's pottery and the work done by other potters in western South Carolina and eastern Georgia; and watch for a future blog entry about the Federal Writer's Project, the depression-era government work program during which the slave narratives were collected, creating one of the sources from which Todd drew Dave's biography.

    Edgefield Pottery District
    Slave Narratives, Library of Congress

    Friday, March 26, 2010

    The Future of the Book

    Being a librarian, I am obviously interested in and concerned about the future of libraries and the book. As many have pointed out, the internet puts information at people’s fingertips and, to some, makes libraries, research and reference librarians, and books unnecessary or irrelevant. The rise of e-readers such as the Kindle, Nook, and now the iPad (not only a reader, but with a full color reader app) make many books downloadable at the click of a button and have led many to speculate the demise of the print book in favor of an all electronic book future.

    I find these scenarios disarming, to say the least. First, to presume that the internet is full of accurate, authoritative information, and that all of this information is accessible with the click of a button is naive at best. Anyone can create a webpage and make any sort of claims they choose - much of the info that you can find on the internet should at least be evaluated for its source. Additionally, a lot of information is not freely available online and may not be even 10 or more years from now. The amount of time, money, and human effort required to get all of the world’s info and books online (including huge archives, all city and state public records, rare and fragile books, etc) would be staggering. For this reason, I find it downright frightening that anyone would suggest, as has been suggested, that the internet will just turn into one big collective brain; you type in your question and it gives you an answer, with no need to look in more than one place. Who gets to decide the answer you see? Who has evaluated this answer for accuracy?

    E-readers could very well mean the end or near end of print books. The ease at which you can have books delivered straight to a reader would make it seem that going to the bookstore or a library is just too much effort. Firstly, the expense of these readers as well as the expense to download all of the books you want to read is prohibitive for a large number of people (and, despite dropping costs, may remain so). Many libraries have begun offering downloadable e-books to their patrons (APL hopes to offer this service in the future when the budget allows for it), which can take the cost of downloading books out of the equation, but it does not solve the larger problem of all of your books existing in electronic files that at any point could be deleted. Electronic information is erasable – it can be wiped out in just a series of clicks and typed commands. Are we really going to start recording our histories and achievements exclusively in a format that could potentially be wiped out so easily? Furthermore, the company that owns your e-reader could at any time delete whatever they like. Take, for example, the case of Amazon deleting downloaded copies of 1984 by George Orwell from Kindles without any prior warning (I’m sure the irony is not lost on you). What does it mean when a company can so easily delete content you paid for without your consent?

    To be sure, I am actually very excited about the future of libraries and the book. Information becoming more and more accessible and available is my personal dream come true and I’m really excited about newer devices such as the iPad that allow books to be read in full color (maybe comics and graphic novels can finally get into the downloadable market!). I think it is easiest to make blanket statements like “all information will be free one day” and “all books will be online” rather than consider how the reality may actually end up being some mixed up version of this. And, of course, there are many more issues that deserve consideration if you are really contemplating this issue: the Google Books settlement, few viable pricing models to ensure proper monetary incentive exists for people producing quality content, copyright issues, and the current state of both the library and publishing industries, just to name a few.

    I do have faith that people will continue to demand information that has been reviewed, tested, and debated. I believe librarians will remain the professionals that can help people navigate the increasingly complicated information world. And I, most firmly, believe that I will be able to hold print books in my hands for many years to come. What do you think?

    Read up on this issue online or via the great many books APL has on the subject.


    The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing our Culture

    Free: The Future of a Radical Price

    Googled: The End of the World as We Know It

    This Book is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All

    You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto


    The Darien Statements on the Library and Librarians

    Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask

    The Future of Libraries, With or Without Books

    The Future of Publishing (video)

    Have We Reached the End of Publishing as We Know It?

    Institute for the Future of the Book

    Interviews on the Future of Librarians

    Kindle, Nook and Other E-Readers to Take off in 2010

    Publishing: The Revolutionary Future

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    Springtime is here. Get in the boat!

    Now that Spring is officially here, I am itching to get in a canoe. I have canoed Town Lake a few times in the past year or so, but it has been a long time since I took a canoeing day trip or overnighter. I plan to do so this Spring. We are blessed with exceptional canoeing throughout Central Texas. Town Lake provides an excellent way to paddle for a couple of hours, but to get the real feel of a river, head out to one of our exceptional paddling rivers. The Austin Public Library has several books to get you started.

    Knack Canoeing for Everyone: a Step-by-Step Guide to Selecting the Gear, Learning the Strokes, and Planning Your Trip

    Canoeing: Outdoor Adventures

    Paddle Your Own Canoe

    Paddling the Guadalupe: Reflections from a Texas River

    Paddling the Wild Neches

    Goodbye to a River

    John Graves' classic account of his last trip down the Brazos before an impending dam project

    The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department runs a great site about Texas canoeing: Texas Paddling Trails

    Monday, March 22, 2010

    Vampires in Havana

    I can't believe they have remade Clash of the Titans. I originally saw it in a movie theatre when I was in middle school. Even at thirteen I thought it was campy. However, it went a long way in fulfilling my adventure prone, "All hail our glorious hero!", imagination.

    Then again, I can beilieve that this movie has been repackaged and recycled. The film and television industry in the U.S. has a long history of reinterpreting, or blatantly plagiarising movies and T.V. series that were originally released many, many years before or were popular in other countries. Films like Nine, City of Angels, and Point of No Return are just a few examples.

    Recently, a Cuban friend of mine suggested that I watch the animated film Vampires in Havana. She singled it out for its humor. I dutifully watched it and was amazed at the story parallels between it and the ultra popular Twilight franchise as well as the HBO television series True Blood. True to form, Vampires in Havana predates both Twilight and True Blood by 23 years.

    Nine = Federico Fellini's 8 1/2

    City of Angels = Wings of Desire

    Point of No Return = La Femme Nikita

    Friday, March 19, 2010

    Poetry's Rhythmn

    Nicholas Baker’s novel about poetry, The Anthologist, with its misfit hero losing his girlfriend and jeopardizing his literary career because he is unable to write an anthology introduction — actually does justice to poetry. This book is both humorously entertaining and enlightening. After reading The Anthologist, you will want to explore one of the many poets that Baker mentions, such as W.S Merwin, who has a book listed below. Baker feels that as infants we learn to talk with rhyme and then are forever drawn to it - we begin with Dr. Seuss' Hop On Pop and then later love Coldplay's rhymes. The poet/narrator actually writes free verse, but he hopes rhyme makes a come back in poetry. His likes to write poems that are about one nice thing that happened to him that day. In contrast, some of the new poetry collections below are responses to tragic events.

    New Poetry Books at APL

    Bicycles: Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni is a companion of sorts to Giovanni's 1997 breakthrough, Love Poems. In this collection, the poet explores the public and private nature of both love an loss -- her mother's death as well as the 2006 massacre at Virginia Tech, where Giovanni teaches.

    Endpoint and Other Poems is John Updike's final book of poems, who reportedly completed the manuscript just months before he died. His poem "Ex Basketball Player" has long been the most viewed poem on the Poetry Foundation site.

    Fire to Fire: New and Selected is the 2008 National Book Award winner by Mark Doty. The collection spans Doty's work from 1987 to the present, including the landmark 1993 release, My Alexandria.

    The Shadow of Sirius is a collection of luminous, often tender poems that focus on the profound power of memory and was called Merwin's "best in a decade".

    Slamming Open the Door by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno is about her daughter's murder. In 2003, an ex-boyfriend of Leidy Bonanno strangled her to death with a telephone cord. The murder and its aftermath are the subject of this collection of poems. David Kirby, in the New York Times, said of the collection, "The note of sorrow dominates the book, but it isn't a one-note book."

    Wednesday, March 17, 2010

    Ahhhhhhhhhh… coffee!!!

    Isn’t it wonderful to wake up in the morning to a fresh, warm and delicious cup of coffee? The only coffee I like is the kind I make at home. Sorry coffee stores! I haven’t found one with better coffee than my own. I guess this leaves me out of this new coffee culture in the US, where you spend half your day at a coffee shop: you meet there with your friends or colleagues, do research on your laptop, read your favorite book, meet for a book club, play on your phone or talk to somebody on your phone, and, in the middle of all that, drink coffee.

    Others drink it on the go and buy all the mugs, shirts and little memorabilia their favorite coffee shop has on sale. Some people even map the coffee shops of their favorite franchise when they travel to other countries to make sure they will have their coffee supply for the day or their much loved flavor handy. There are also coffee fans that will pay whatever for a fabulous cup of coffee, like in the case of the exotic and super expensive kopi luwak coffee which can be priced around $100 a cup. (I am not particularly interested in this coffee not only for its price but because of its process, yikes!)

    This coffee culture that started to spread through the United States during the 1970’s was inspired by the European coffeehouses that since the 18th century or earlier acted as social hubs where artists and intellectuals met for hours and developed new theories and ideas. Some examples are:

    Café Procope
    in Paris, which opened its doors in 1686 and was visited by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Sand among others.

    Café de Flore
    also in Paris, was founded in 1890. Some of its customers were Pablo Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Ernest Hemingway.

    Goethe, Liszt and Wagner are only some of the names of a long list of personalities hosted at Caffé Greco established in 1760 in Italy.

    Whether you like to brew your own coffee like me or you are part of the coffee culture, here are some titles related to this “nectar of the gods“ that might interest you:

    Sunday, March 14, 2010

    Dry Gardening with the City

    Is this beautiful spring weather luring you outside into your garden? Don't let the recent rains wash your memory clean of those painful watering bills of the summer of 2009! The drought may have been declared over officially, but summer in Texas is still, well, summer in Texas.

    The City of Austin is eager to help you splash less of Lake Travis on your yard this year. If you have an underground sprinkler system and use more than 25,000 gallons of water a month, you qualify for a free irrigation audit, which would otherwise cost you anywhere from $60-$100. After your audit, if you're inspired to become water stingy, you'll want to install some of the plants featured in the City of Austin's beautiful booklet Native and Adapted Landscape Plants: an Earthwise Guide for Central Texas. Boxes of the guide were delivered to all Austin Public Libraries, but call your branch before you go pick up your free copy; they go fast. (You can see the plant list from the guide online.)

    Let the city help you replace some of the water you won’t be sucking from the lake by catching rainwater in city-subsidized barrels, and use the city’s list of wet-and-dry-tolerant plants to create a rain garden so that the water that falls on your land trickles into the aquifer instead of racing down the street into the sewer. (The library also has these city-published booklets: Green Neighbor: Clean Creek Challenge and Green Neighbor: Green City Challenge, with more advice for living lightly on our watershed.)

    Take a look at the city’s environmental portal; it aggregates all of Austin’s programs, rebates, publications, demonstrations, lists, and tips. It'll keep you surfing for hours. And be sure to re-read this excellent blog on water conservation from another of your Austin Public librarians: Dig Holes.

    Have a drier and a cheaper summer.

    Friday, March 12, 2010

    Natural Pet Care

    I took my new cat to a new veterinarian a few months ago and both she and I had a terrible time. It's probably not too surprising that my poor little cat didn't have such a great time at the vet, but I did find it surprising that I had such a bad time. Mainly, I felt frustrated by a constant negotiation I had to have about the services and medicines I was willing to pay for. The vet insisted my cat needed various vaccinations and preventative medicines I've never in all my cat-owning years needed. The explanations offered when I questioned these things weren't reasoned or even particularly rational and she kept saying things like "because your cat will die". I am no veterinarian, but I am happy to report that, even though I did not take her up on her offer of a number of medicines and treatments, my cat is still alive.

    I had never had an experience like this at the vet and shortly after the experience, I began to worry that I was some kind of terrible person potentially allowing my cat to die. I turned to the library for help and started checking out some books on natural pet care and veterinary medicine. I found a real gem, Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats, that really helped me figure out how to make decisions on my cat's care. Just being a regular Joe, I was surprised at how much of her care I could take into my own hands and I was shocked to learn about a few standard, legal practices such as the use of euthanized cats and dogs, road kill, dead zoo animals, and other meats not suitable for human consumption in many major brand dog and cat foods. I'm slowly learning to make my cat her own food using ingredients I can find in my own kitchen, and I'm even more slowly figuring out how to get her to like it. Her health has noticeably improved and I did not have to spend hundreds of dollars to do it. Just one of the billion reasons, I'd never be able to live (economically, anyway) without the library!!

    Forgive me for the silly picture - I just couldn't resist using a lolcat. Never heard of a lolcat? Check out the Wikipedia article.


    ASPCA Complete Dog Care Manual

    Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats
    There is a newer edition of this book and it is on order for APL. Keep your eye on Findit and you should see it in the next few months; however, this edition is still quite good and informative.

    Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food

    The Humane Society of the United States Complete Guide to Cat Care

    The Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health

    Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life

    Vet Confidential: An Insider's Guide to Protecting Your Pet's Health

    Whole Health for Happy Cats: A Guide to Keeping Your Cat Naturally Healthy, Happy, and Well-Fed

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010

    The brilliance of Horton Foote

    Today's Austin Chronicle contains a great article about Wharton, Texas' own Horton Foote. Probably best known for his screenplay for To Kill a Mockingbird, he wrote some of the finest plays ever read or seen. Foote passed away last March, just missing his 93rd birthday by ten days. He was one of the preeminent dramatists of the twentieth-century and enjoyed a highly productive and critically acclaimed career that stretched over seven decades. His trophy case was full and includes Academy Awards in 1962 and 1983, the Pulitzer Prize in 1995, an Emmy in 1997, and the National Medal of Arts in 2000.

    Larry McMurtry contends that any writer produces his best stuff in middle age and then sadly watches his talent atrophy. McMurtry claims no writer, himself included, is capable of escaping this sad fate. Foote did. His initial work was good, yet the more he wrote, the better he got. His last work, The Orhpans' Home Cycle, was completed just before he passed and has been hailed as a masterpiece.

    The Austin Public Library owns numerous works either written by Horton Foote or ones in which he contributed screenplays.

    To Kill a Mockingbird

    Tender Mercies

    The Carpetbagger’s Children & The Actor (two plays)

    The Young Man from Atlanta

    4 New Plays

    Selected One-Act Plays of Horton Foote

    Farewell: a Memoir of a Texas Childhood

    Beginnings: a Memoir

    Horton Foote: a Literary Biography

    Tuesday, March 09, 2010

    Kiss of the Spider Woman

    Culture is very important to my parents. Without lecturing or torture, they somehow instilled in me a desire and appreciation for art. I remember accompanying my father to far away movie theaters tucked away in a hidden corner of some strip mall or winding our way through narrow pathways amongst palm trees toward a brightly light marquee all in an attempt to see an art film that had sparked his curiosity. I vividly remember all of the movies I saw with him as well as all the quirky and charming theaters we traveled to.

    One of the films I remember being most struck by was The Kiss of the Spider Woman. I was reminded of the film, which I haven't seen in over twenty years, while listening to a really remarkable interview with one of the film's primary actors, William Hurt. During the interview, William Hurt described his approach to acting and qualified what truly great acting is in an utterly inspiring and fascinating way. It made me want to make much more of an effort to watch great performances and not be distracted or romanced by clever, ironic dialog or special effects. Below I've listed some other films in which I believe William Hurt delivers a memorable performance, all of which are readily available for check out at the Austin Public Library.

    Altered states
    Body heat
    A history of violence

    Friday, March 05, 2010

    Help While Waiting for "The Help"

    Set in 1960s segregated Mississippi, The Help, which is about a group of black maids and the young white woman who records their stories, has continued to grow in popularity. The publisher has even postponed publishing the paperback until January 2011.

    The most recent APL holds report shows 227 holds for 68 copies of The Help, so while we do have plenty of copies, the demand is still greater. While waiting for your hold to become available, try another well-written novel about the segregated south.

    Bombingham by Anthony Grooms
    Walter Burke is a soldier in Vietnam who writes a letter to the parents of a fallen soldier explaining the circumstances of his death and recounts his childhood in the sixties. He lived in the hotbed of the civil rights movement in a neighborhood called Titusville near Birmingham, otherwise known as Bombingham.

    Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund
    Dynamic and instructive novel about the racial injustice, hatred, and horror of Birmingham, AL, circa 1963.

    Freshwater Road by Denise Nicholas
    Absorbing debut novel follows a young woman South to "trench Mississippi, gutbucket Mississippi" during the summer of 1964 to register blacks to vote.

    Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
    Story focuses on the Mississippi Delta in the year 1946/47, when returning veterans of WWII knew the world was changing, but their home community did not.

    Safe from the Neighbors by Steve Yarbrough
    Spellbinding narrative of marital betrayal written against a background James Meredith and the integration of Ole Miss.

    Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
    An absent father sends his 12-yeard old daughter to Savannah in the 1960s under the care of her never-before-seen Great Aunt Tootie, where a wide assortment of Southern women play a role in CeeCee's healing and coming to terms with her life.

    The Summer We Got Saved by Pat Cunningham Devoto
    The dawn of integration challenges the Southern small town conventions in Alabama and Tennessee during the 1960s in this thought-provoking novel.

    The Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
    Like The Help, Wench immerses readers in its characters’ complex emotional lives in this chronicle of the lives of four slave women who are their masters mistresses.

    Wednesday, March 03, 2010

    Rudolf Nureyev

    After talking about sea lions and jury duty, it’s time to talk a little about some ballet and one of its main exponents: Rudolf Nureyev.

    Nureyev is famous not only because of his amazing skills as a performer but also because the way he impacted the masculine roles in classical dance. Because of his abilities, he had more choreography than any other male dancer would have but he also believed that ballet could not exist or progress without choreography. He not only dedicated tremendous effort to perfect his technique as a dancer but he also put a lot of emphasis on what his roles needed to communicate to the public. By having a more important role in the performance, he revolutionized masculine roles in classical dance; male dancers previously were basically considered as supporting elements of the principal female dancer.

    Nowadays, it is common to see choreography with both classical and modern dance elements. Rudolf Nureyev was one of the first dancers who started crossing the line between different dancing styles. He actually made progress in the way this was seen by the experts in the dance world. He was hardly criticized at that time but his efforts succeeded, over time, in transforming and broadening the way dance was perceived by the performers and the public.

    If you want to see or learn more about Rudolf Nureyev, check our catalog. You will find videos with him performing and books about his life. Here are some examples:

    Nureyev: the life
    The real Nureyev
    Guiselle (DVD)
    The Sleeping Beauty (DVD)

    You can also check the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation website for lots of information about him and his art.

    Monday, March 01, 2010

    Jury Duty

    Late last year I was notified that early in 2010 I was to hold myself available for two months for jury duty at the federal courthouse in Austin. Every Friday evening in January and February I had to check with the court clerk to see if my panel were required to report the next week. We were called only once, and on a chilly Monday morning about 30 of us gathered on the steps of the courthouse on 8th street and waited to be let in. (Security was tight. If you have business at Austin’s federal courthouse, leave your Swiss army knife at home.)

    For two hours we prospective jurors sat around long tables in a large room drinking coffee and watching videos about jury service while the clerk of the court thumbed through our paperwork... and then it was over. There had been a mistrial. We were dismissed for the week and reminded to check in again next Friday. (It seemed to me that a mistrial would free up a courtroom or that they’d need new jurors for a fresh start, but it doesn't work that way.)

    While we were waiting the clerk said that none of us was likely to sit on a trial, and I wondered how she could predict that until it occurred to me that the court’s docket is probably published online and that I could read it myself and assess my likelihood of seeing the inside of a courtroom. Sure enough, the calendar is posted. In January and February only indictments and hearings on motions were scheduled. During my term no proceeding was planned that needed a jury (I know which those are from watching The People’s Court).

    So my duty was discharged while I drank coffee and read a library book (I brought Our Undemocratic Constitution by Sanford Levinson), for which I was paid $40 per diem and $9 mileage. But they also serve who only stand and wait.

    Here are some books about juries on the shelves of your Austin Public Library:

    The Runaway Jury, John Grisham
    American Juries: The Verdict, Neil Vidmar
    A Life and Death Decision: A Jury Weighs the Death Penalty,
    Scott E. Sundby
    In the Hands of the People: The Trial Jury's Origins, Triumphs, Troubles, and Future in American Democracy, William L. Dwyer
    Race in the Jury Box: Affirmative Action in Jury Selection,
    Hiroshi Fukarai
    Juror Number Eleven, Terry Devane