Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Protest Singer

Folk legend Pete Seeger's birhday is Monday, May 3. He and Woody Guthrie travelled America in the 1940s, bolstering labor movements and civil rights protests with song as they blended activism and folk music. In 1942, Seeger joined the Army, where he continued to play and sing, performing for the other soldiers. In 1948, he started a group called The Weavers. In line with Seeger’s political ideals, the group wove a mix of vocals and music with social and political commentary. Unfortunately, by the time the group was becoming popular, the political climate of America had soured. McCarthyism held the country in a firm grasp of fear, and the Weavers were soon banned. Seeger was among the first to write songs questioning the Vietnam war. The Smothers Brothers show shattered the 17-year TV blacklist against Seeger, insisting that he perform "Waist Deep In The Big Muddy," a song inspired by a photo of American soldiers slogging through a river in the Mekong Delta. He stood beside Paul Robeson when he was attacked by the Klan at Peekskill and marched with Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery. Five years before Greenpeace was founded, Pete launched his own environmental campaign on the Hudson. To mark the awe-inspiring 91st birthday of Pete, have a sing along, read his biography, listen to a cd, green the world, or join a protest.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cell phones and Poetry

Last week, while I was sitting in the train, waiting to depart, I wondered about what could be a good topic to write about in my next blog. Suddenly I remembered that April is Poetry Month and started thinking about poetry books, authors, and other related topics that might interest you. My thoughts, however, were abruptly interrupted by a person’s loud conversation on her cell phone, and another, and another. Then I decided to combine the two elements that I had in my mind, cell phones and poetry, and here is the result:

Bridal Shower
by George Bilgere

Perhaps, in a distant café,
four or five people are talking
with the four or five people
who are chatting on their cell phones this morning
in my favorite café.

And perhaps someone there,
someone like me, is watching them as they frown,
or smile, or shrug
at their invisible friends or lovers,
jabbing the air for emphasis.

And, like me, he misses the old days,
when talking to yourself
meant you were crazy,
back when being crazy was a big deal,
not just an acronym
or something you could take a pill for.

I liked it
when people who were talking to themselves
might actually have been talking to God
or an angel.
You respected people like that.

You didn't want to kill them,
as I want to kill the woman at the next table
with the little blue light on her ear
who has been telling the emptiness in front of her
about her daughter's bridal shower
in astonishing detail
for the past thirty minutes.

O person like me,
phoneless in your distant café,
I wish we could meet to discuss this,
and perhaps you would help me
murder this woman on her cell phone,

after which we could have a cup of coffee,
maybe a bagel, and talk to each other,
face to face.

Poem reprinted with author’s permission.

Below are some books that would help us get along:
And if you like this poem, here is a book by the same author:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Screenplays at APL

Are you an aspiring screenwriter? Austin is the place to be--well, one of the places to be--to see movies and attend movie-making seminars. We are a festival city indeed: there are the Austin Film Festival, AGLIFF, and FantasticFest in the fall, and SXSW in the spring.

At any time of year, Austin Public Library can augment your screenwriting education; there's no better way to learn to write a script than to study scripts, and APL has quite a few. Search the library's catalog for 'shooting script' to find The Dark Knight, Nurse Betty, Adaptation, Sideways, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and more. And at that same spot on the shelf (791.43), you'll find screenplays (as opposed to shooting scripts) as well as books on how to write them. The library owns a copy of the book pictured here, the screenplay (about a screenwriter!) of the 1950 thriller, In A Lonely Place, which you can also get from us on DVD.

APL has the whole package: screenplays, instruction on writing them, and the finished product: movies!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Federal Writer's Project

In 1935, at the height of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt proposed a federal program, the Works Project Administration (WPA), to employ people on relief. Critics called the WPA communist, anti-American, a government make-work boondoggle, but because of it, Central Texas has a series of flood-control reservoirs on the Colorado, a survey of Texas folk art at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and Deep Eddy pool (to mention only a few of just the Texas WPA projects).*

One of the programs under the WPA was the Federal Writers' Project which employed writers to collect and compile histories and stories of people across the country. John Cheever, Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, John Steinbeck, and Studs Terkel are a few of the writers who earned about $100 a month working for the WPA. They produced American Life Histories, the Slave Narratives (both at the Library of Congress), and the American Guide Series: guidebooks to the states that are still popular with tourists.

The Austin History Center is currently exibiting memorabilia and collections from Austin's experience of the 1930s and 40s called Relief, Recovery, & Progress: The Great Depression and the New Deal in Austin. While you're downtown to see it, stop next door at the library and check out the books of the authors listed above and see works from the Federal Writers' Project that the library owns, and have us order the ones we don't own through interlibrary loan.

And while you're surfing, re-read a previous blog entry, a book report on Leonard Todd's biography of the slave potter Dave, written with the help of the Writers' Project's Slave Narratives at the Library of Congress (links above).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Volcanoes and Ash Oh My!

Our world continues to shrink. We communicate instantaneously. Trade knows no border. I know global soccer scores as they happen. In this hyperworld, not much surprises us. We feel as if we've mastered nature. Yet, occasionally something happens that makes us feel small again, makes the world seem incomprehensively large, and leaves us in awe. One of those moments happened last week when an Icelandic volcano erupted. The subsequent cloud of ash spread throughout Europe, grounding planes and stranding thousands of travelers. European airspace opened this morning after almost a week of closure. Estimated airline losses have reached almost $1.7 billion.

The situation has left me with a childlike misunderstanding: a volcano more than 1500 miles from mainland Europe almost shut down the continent. That is something awesome to consider.

In my younger days I made a ketchup volcano for an elementary school science fair. Perhaps that laid the ground work of intrigue. Either way, this very real volcano has me curious. I look forward to perusing the following books.

Furnace of Creation, Cradle of Destruction: a Journey to the Birthplace of Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis

Volcanoes: Eruptions and other Volcanic Hazards

Worlds on Fire: Volcanoes on the Earth, Moon, Mars, Venus and Io

Krakatoa: the Day the World Exploded, August 27, 1883


Monday, April 19, 2010

Walking the Trails

This causeway once carried the Rutland Railroad over portions of Vermont's largest lake,
Lake Champlain
. Public Domain photograph.

Now that spring has sprung, I like to get out and walk around. Summer is going to be here before you know it and I want to enjoy the trails and wonderful weather before it's gone! I recently read a NYT article about the High Line in New York City. It looks like a wonderful re-engineering of something that is no longer used for what it was created. There's another organization, Rails to Trails, that does the same thing across the country. Check out this list of trails in other parts of the world. And, of course, our beloved Austin has some great trails to traverse, look over the trail directory and maps and enjoy the trails near you!

The library has a wonderful collection of books and maps on hiking and getting outdoors, check some out before you head out.

100 classic hikes in Texas : Panhandle Plains, Pineywoods, Gulf Coast, South Texas Plains, Hill Country, Big Bend Country, prairies & lakes by Dan Klepper

60 hikes within 60 miles, San Antonio & Austin, including the hill country by Tom Taylor

Big Bend National Park, Texas, USA: Trails illustrated map by National Geographic Maps (you can check this out!)

Every town needs a trail : Lady Bird Johnson's quiet legacy : the city it shaped and the people it inspires by Jen Ohlson

Friday, April 16, 2010

Kiss of the Wolf (in Italian)

In John Irving’s twelfth novel, Last Night at Twisted River, a father and son carry a misspelled Italian surname – Baciagalupo. Literally, the name means "kiss of the wolf," from "bacio" (kiss) and "lupo" (wolf). This name is repeated over and over in the novel, and is finally used for the name of a restaurant. I thought John Irving had just made the name up entirely, but then I came across “Bacigalupi" as the author of the 2009 science fiction novel, The WindUp Girl, which was just added to the Library’s list of Best Recent Science Fiction and Fantasy. It was a fun moment, when two random experiences intersected.

Anyway, here are reviews of these two books:

Last Night at Twisted River
Dominic Baciagalupo, a cook for a logging community, and his son Daniel are co-protagonists in a story about manhood, family, love, friendship, and a lot of Italian cooking. The novel moves slowly back and forth in time. At times, it may move a bit too slow with all the detail, but Irving is a master at connecting the details and characters to create a book with a deep message. The first section of the book is set in the 1950s in the far north of New Hampshire. In the last half of the book the son, now grown-up and an author, struggles with the tragedies of his life - both accidental and avoidable - and with writing novels, striking a balance between the autobiographical and the imagined.

The Windup Girl
Paola Bacigalupi has been compared to William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and China Miéville. In this near future thriller, calories are the greatest commodity, and corporations control the world’s seed stock. Bacigalupi has created a compelling, if bleak, society in which corruption, betrayal, and despair are commonplace, and more positive behavior and emotions such as hope and love are regarded with great suspicion. The windup girl of the title is a "New Person," a genetically modified girl brewed up from scratch by the Japanese as a toy. But her DNA is not so compromised that she doesn't still yearn to be human. The complex plot revolving around her, a future Thai kingdom, and many other complex characters require a great deal of commitment from readers.

Tomorrow is the last day of National Library week, so visit your neighborhood branch or come to Faulk Central for the
New Fiction Confab.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Spark of Light on a Spotless Mind

There is a quotation by Pablo Picasso that says “Everything you can imagine is real,” and if we think about it carefully, it is true. Most of the books we read and the music we listen to was inspired by a little piece of reality. Have you ever wondered, what did inspire an author to write a book or an artist to create this masterpiece? What factual bit of information made this writer jump in his/her chair and start sketching the frame for his/her next novel?

What inspired a good book is not always known but in some cases, when writers tell us the source of their idea, the story they tell us is equally or more fantastic than their work itself. Such is the case of the book “Of Love and Other Demonsby Gabriel García Márquez. In the preface of this book he tells an amazing story about a convent in Cartagena, Colombia that was going to be transformed into a five star hotel. The tombs of those whom 200 years ago were considered important people were still there and were being exhumed. When they opened one of the graves, they found the skull of a young girl with a splendid head of hair that measured 22 meters long. García Márquez was very young at that time and was a witness to this event which he was covering as a journalist. At that moment he knew he would be writing a book based on this story sooner or later.

Sometimes, the beginning of a book can be as simple as a stewardess asking you “Beef or pasta?” That’s what happened to Andrew Rimas and then he wrote the book: "Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World." Or like in the case of Russell Banks who wrote his novel “Continental Drift after reading a newspaper clipping about refugees from Haiti arriving on the shores of Florida. In some other cases, authors have found their inspiration in their personal interest like in "Halide’s Gift" a novel by Frances Kazan written because its author’s fascination with a particular time in history: when the Islamic and Ottoman Empires were about to collapse and a woman named Halide played an important role during this chaotic time.

Inspiration is an elusive friend: sometimes it will show its face in every corner, but it could also hide for months at a time, leaving without notice which could be an author’s or artist's nightmare. In the meantime, let’s sit back and enjoy a reflection of reality in the books we read.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bamberger Ranch

Need another reason to let your St. Augustine parch this summer? Check out Bamberger Ranch Preserve, a land reclamation project/working ranch in Johnson City.

Ever eat Church's fried chicken? David Bamberger got rich selling it to you, and then bought the scrubbiest, most over-grazed tract of land he could find in Texas and began to turn back the clock. He replaced thirsty cedar with native grasses and watched as water pooled in dry gullies and dead springs bubbled back to life. And as the water came back, so did birds and other animals, and the deer got fatter (and tastier!), and now people who thought Mr. Bamberger was crazy (he had a hard time convincing his realtor that he really did want the worst possible acreage) are coming to him for advice.

You can see the ranch yourself if you call and ask for a tour. And after you've read this post, re-read APL's other recent water-conservation blog entries, Dig Holes and Dry Gardening with the City.

Here are links to David Bamberger's book about his ranch, Water from Stone: The Story of Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve, and other books on water conservation on the shelves of your Austin Public Library:

Heart of Dryness: How the Last Bushmen Can Help Us Endure the Coming Age of Permanent Drought, James G. Workman

Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What to Do About It,
Robert Jerome Glennon

Rain Gardens: Managing Water Sustainably in the Garden and Designed Landscape, Nigel Dunnett

Friday, April 09, 2010

James Tiptree, Jr.

I just finished an excellent biography, James Tiptree, Jr.: A Life of Alice Sheldon. Sheldon was a science fiction author who only started publishing stories in the genre while in her 50s during the late 1960s. She wrote under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr. and for a little over 10 years of her sci-fi writing career no one realized she was a woman, including her own agent. Tiptree corresponded by mail with writers such as Phillip K. Dick and Ursula Le Guin, both of whom admired his work, and his stories received much critical praise. In his letters Tiptree used Sheldon's own autobiography as his own. In 1977 when Sheldon's mother died Tiptree wrote of it in several letters. This led many to deduce that Mary Hastings Bradley was in fact Tiptree's mother and, considering Bradley only had one child - a daughter, it revealed Sheldon's true gender. Sheldon's career dwindled after the revelation and she eventually killed herself along with her husband in 1987 in what was a sort of mutual "suicide".

Sheldon's struggle with gender and sexuality were central to her life and her stories. As a young woman in the 1930s, Sheldon found her options (largely, marriage) limiting. She questioned her sexuality and felt a strong attraction to women that she never really pursued due to social taboo. She certainly addressed issues in her stories that no woman could have written about during that time and been taken seriously. It was only under her male pseudonym that Alice could write freely and receive the praise and respect her writing deserved. Sheldon later said of the identity revelation in an interview, "A woman writing of the joy and terror of furious combat, or of the lust to torture and kill, or of the violent forms of evil--isn't taken quite seriously.... I think that for all of us the sense of being in contact with something that has the potential to do--or maybe (wow!) has done--real evil, gives a little thrill to reading. Some people seem to have projected that onto Tiptree. Maybe I did a little too. So to write on as a toothless tiger was shaming."*

*The quote in this article comes from Biography Resource Center, which you can access from home with your library card. This resource far outshines Wikipedia because the articles are written by respected authorities on the individual and come complete with excellent bibliographies.

Crown of Stars

James Tiptree, Jr.: A Life of Alice Sheldon

Out of the Everywhere and Other Extraordinary Visions

Up the Walls of the World

The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: 60th Anniversary Anthology
Includes "Women Men Don't See", one of Tiptree's more famous stories

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Iconic Buildings in the Mideast

What is an iconic building? When I first saw the term, I immediately thought of Greek columns – Doric, Corinthian, and Ionic. But iconic of course refers to icon, as in being famous, or being a symbol for a culture or time. The term icon originally referred to a religious painting, but nowadays it can be applied to everything from individuals to gadgets to buildings. Iconic status should only be conferred after a building has been built and shown to symbolize something to a wide audience, but often new buildings are called iconic. Iconic buildings we all know are the Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower, and Sydney Opera House. Now with global capitalism, very tall skyscrapers or culturally unique buildings are popping up all over, especially in the Mideast. For example, Burj Khalaifa in Dubai which is AT THE MOMENT the tallest building in the world at 2,717 feet high, more than a thousand feet taller than the Empire State Building. A New Yorker article says the residential building “has a magnetism that is lacking in almost every other super-tall building of our time.” There are even taller buildings planned in the Mideast. The Nakheel Tower in Dubai will be more that 200 floors and 3,281 feet high. A recent NYT article describes the new design by Jean Nouvel for the National Museum of Qatar that captures the Bedouin culture, which may one day be considered iconic.

APL has a fairly recent book to help you understand what an iconic building is.: The Iconic Building . With a mixture of wit, irreverence and sympathy, leading architecture critic Charles Jencks surveys the recent history of the iconic building and then focuses on ten key examples.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Bomba Estereo

I've been listening to a group from Colombia lately that is full of all the energy, fervor, passion, and promise of youth. Their name is Bomba Estereo (watch the live video performance of their song, Feelin'). They were recently in town as part of the SXSW music festival. Sadly, I discovered them after the fact but I imagine the show was a lively and festive dance party as their music implies. Another recent attendee was Chocquibtown. They are another group from Colombia garnering critical praise and are equally as vibrant as their compatriots. Yet another more established sublime Colombian group that has visited Austin in the past is Sidestepper. Look for acquisitions from all three bands to appear in our collection for checkout very shortly. Until then, I've listed another group from Colombia that I count as one of my favorite latin pop artists to tide you over.

La Pipa de la Paz
El Dorado

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Mayor's Book Club Opening Reception: Monday, April 5th, 5:00pm

The 2010 Mayor’s Book Club selection is Amigoland by local writer, Oscar Casares. Amigoland is a funny and touching story of an old man confined to a nursing home. He longs to flee the nursing home and chase a family tale into Mexico. To do so, he must convince his younger brother to act as his accomplice. The Austin Public Library, in conjunction with the Mayor’s office and UT’s Humanities Institute, has planned numerous public events occurring throughout April.

The opening reception is Monday, April 5th at 5:00pm at the Mexican American Cultural Center. Oscar Casares and Mayor Leffingwell will attend. This informal event will be a wonderful opportunity to mingle and chat with other readers, Mr. Casares, and Mayor Leffingwell.

For a full list of events, check out the Mayor’s Book Club site.

Have a great weekend and we’ll see you at the MACC.