Friday, July 30, 2010


I recently re-read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll and it helped me remember how in love with this fairy tale I was as a child. The idea of slipping off into a world that you could freely explore where nothing was as it seemed very much appealed to my young imagination. As evidenced by the numerous book and movie adaptations and spin-offs, it obviously appeals to many people. I think a few things contribute to its appeal: the novelty of the nonsense world Carroll created, seeing everything from the unique child-like perspective of Alice herself, and an element of horror always in the background and sometimes center stage. But there's more to it than that. A poet W.H. Auden said of Alice:

" of the most important and powerful characters is not a person but the English language. Alice, who had hitherto supposed that words were passive objects, discovers that they have a life and will of their own. When she tries to remember poems she has learned, new lines come into her head unbidden and, when she thinks she knows what a word means, it turns out to mean something else."

I couldn't agree more. Carroll's nonsense verse and plays on words are one of the reasons I have re-read this book several times!

You can indulge your love of all things Alice at the library. We have the originals, the adaptations, and the spin-offs. Here's a sampling:


Alice I Have Been: A Novel
Alice Lidell, who Alice in Alice in Wonderland is based on, is the protagonist in this well-reviewed novel.

The Alice in Wonderland Cookbook: A Culinary Diversion

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
Carroll's original two books about Alice and Wonderland - this edition includes the original illustrations by John Tenniel.

The Annotated Alice
Includes both Alice and Looking Glass w/ Tenniel's illustrations and annotations by Martin Gardner, an expert on Carroll and Alice.

The Looking Glass Wars
Great YA and up spin-off on Wonderland - this is the first in a trilogy that includes Seeing Redd and ArchEnemy. If you like these books, you might also try the graphic novels based on them, Hatter M.

The Mystery of Lewis Carroll: Discovering the Whimsical, Thoughtful and Sometimes Lonely Man who Created Alice in Wonderland


TV mini-series spin-off with a grown-up Alice revisiting a changed Wonderland. Kathy Bates stars as the Queen of Hearts.

Alice in Wonderland
Spin-off directed by Tim Burton starring Johnny Depp

Alice in Wonderland
Walt Disney's animated adaptation

Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland
1933 adaptation featuring Cary Grant, W. C. Fields, and others

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ah!! Bel Canto!

On Sunday afternoons, my grandpa will close the door of his room, lie down in bed, and listen to the opera radio show. I grew up listening to this type of music (some snoring included in the background.) It was very simple; no one told me I had to like it or taught me about the most relevant exponents of it or its history. I just learned to love it because of him.

It is when I started reading more about it that the topic gets more complicated but not less interesting. I learned that Singspiel, semi-opera, operetta and opera comique are some of the different types of operas. Each one defined by the plot and the combination of spoken dialogue, music, or dancing roles. I learned also that Jacopo Peri, an Italian composer and singer, is the author of Dafne, known as the first work considered an opera, played around the year 1597. Claudio Monteverdi, another Italian composer is also considered one of the pioneers of this type of music, and his opera titled L’Orfeo that was first played in 1607 is still performed nowadays.

Despite the fact that this music style is more than 500 years old, opera is still popular today. Francesco Cavalli, Rossini, Bellini, Verdi and Donizetti, are some of the most important exponents of this genre that I am sure you’ve heard about. Arias like “La donna è mobile,” “Nessum dorma, ” and “O sole mio” are now pretty much everywhere, from TV ads to music boxes. During the 90s José Carreras, Luciano Pavarotti, and Plácido Domingo captured the attention of millions with their famous tours and concerts around the world. Currently, bands with different music styles, like East Village Opera Company does interesting covers of famous arias that you might enjoy.

Some books about the topic you could check out are:

Monday, July 26, 2010


These days wine is made all over the world, but 34 years ago fine wine was presumed to come only from France. And then, on a spring day, somebody held a little contest in a Paris hotel...

In 1976, as part of the French celebration of the U.S. bicentennial, Stephen Spurrier, the British owner of a Paris wine shop, conceived an event he thought would pique interest in French wines and maybe prove them superior once and for all: a blind taste test. France v. California. Bring on the snobs, er... wine tasters.

Guess who took first place. It is a competition so famous (if you're French, infamous) oenophiles commemorate it as the "Judgment of Paris". At first the French ignored the results, then they waved them away as subjective and statistically insignificant, then they insisted that French wines age better. So 30 years later the tasting was restaged, the old bottles dusted off, the judges back for another try. Guess who won again.

Why Hollywood took so long to turn this Cinderella story into a movie I do not know, but now there are two. Unless you're an Alan Rickman fan, don't bother with the first film, Bottle Shock (2009). Instead, bide your time watching Sideways (2005), and cross your fingers that the second movie about the taste test, Judgment of Paris, due out this year, tells the story with the piquancy it deserves.

The winning cabernet is for sale online, and the chardonnay was just auctioned to raise money for Haiti. If you can't spend $2000 on wine, enjoy this sour grape: in 2006 Forbes judged the chardonnay past its prime. (Have a look at both bottles on exhibit at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian.)

Books to sip wine by:

Judgment of Paris by George Taber
Academie du Vin Complete Wine Course by Stephen Spurrier
Wine Appreciation by Richard Vine
The Pocket Wine Book
by Hugh Johnson

* pronounced ee-no-FEEL-ya

Friday, July 23, 2010

Mad Men

The cult TV hit Mad Men enters its 4th season this Sunday night. The Library has a book coming soon for the show’s many devoted viewers - Mad Men Unbuttoned: A Romp through 1960s America by Natasha Vargas-Cooper.

The author is an enthusiastic fan of Mad Men (she operates a
Web site with the same name as the book). She uses the show, about advertising executives in the 1960s, as sort of a portal into the decade, which was the golden age of Madison Avenue - a time when chain-smoking was in, gender equality was out, and the talk was as smooth as the three martinis at lunch. She discusses some real-life advertising giants (Ogilvy, Burnett, Daniels), talks about social mores (particularly sex), and discusses early 60s books, movies and music. But as one TV critic said, "No matter how many iconic shots there are of Don Draper taking a drink or having a smoke, or how the wardrobe looks or who made the office furniture, there's only one overriding theme in Mad Men: identity."(

If you haven’t watched the show, or need to catch-up, the Austin Public Library owns season one, two, and three. If you would like read novels of that era, try a book off one of the following lists:

Recommended Reads:

Bullet Park by John Cheever
The Learners by Chip Kidd
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson
On Chesil Beach by Ian McKewan
Rabbit, Run by John Updike
Revolutionary Road Richard Yates
When All is Said and Done by Robert Hill

Books the characters have been seen reading on the series:

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone
Exodus by Leon Uris
The Group by Mary McCarthy
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Lady Chatterly’s Lover by DH Lawrence
Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Are you prone to peek??

 I cannot understand the why or the philosophy behind peeking at the end of a book you are reading. I guess I am what you would call a “linear reader,” which simply means that I read a book from beginning to end; I don’t read the beginning of the next chapter, or skip pages, or read the beginning of the last chapter or the last sentence of the book. Nope! I just love the idea of being surprised by the end of the book. I like seeing how the plot evolves and changes and how the writer takes you to unexpected places or situations. I like to see the process as it happens while you read the book in its original order. But, if we are talking about poetry books, magazines or newspapers, well, I am all over the place - not “linear” at all! Some people read their newspapers or magazines back to front and others only read certain sections of them. Some others peek depending on the genre: romance, yes, but never mysteries.

The more I talk to people about the way they read, the more I learn about all the interesting things they do. A friend told me that he knows his favorite author often has a character in his books that has a great heart, great personality and is just a very good, nice person. But this is the person that often gets killed at the end. So, my friend stops one or two chapters before the ending and creates his own where the nice character continues alive and well. Interesting don’t you think??

Rereading is another thing I don’t ever consider, but people often do. They have a selection of books that they reread every couple of years or so, and in some cases, they even mark sentences or phrases with different colors, one for each year, so they can see what was important to them at a certain point in time.

At the end, no matter what you do, just enjoy your reading!! If you are looking for something to read during this summer, don't forget about our Good Reads page with tons of good information and ideas on what to read next. Have fun!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mountain Music

I tremble to say so in Texas, but I don't care much for country music. Of course I like Willie and the Dixie Chicks, and I like a couple of the really big hits like "Stand by Your Man" and "Crazy" and... um... that might be it. I'm a Yankee.

So imagine my surprise in 2000 when, after seeing the Coen brothers' old-timey country-music fest O Brother, Where Art Thou?, I found myself driving straight to Waterloo Records to buy the soundtrack.

The album's popularity also surprised Dr. Ralph Stanley, the 70-year-old musician featured on O Brother. He and his brother Carter had had some success after World War II as the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys--they'd had some flush times and made records for a national audience--but they'd never hit it really big like Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Even I had heard of Flatt and Scruggs, but until O Brother, I had never heard of Ralph and Carter Stanley.

Dr. Stanley has written a wonderful book (with Eddie Dean) about being a kid in Appalachia and learning music handed down through generations; about writing songs in the car speeding down a dark road to a play date, arguing with promoters, dealing with troublesome band members, finding musicians whose talents blend into the sound he wants, and what happened to his career when Elvis sang "Blue Moon of Kentucky". He talks about losing loved ones and staying true to the old-time music and winning a Grammy at age 70 for his rendition of "O Death" in O Brother.

Man of Constant Sorrow: The Life and Times of a Music Legend recounts 82 years of writing and playing mountain music, but you don't have to be a fan of the music to admire the book. Dr. Stanley would understand, I think. After all, he doesn't care much for rock and roll.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Alarm Bells

I’m reading a fantastic yet utterly frightening book right now called Eaarth by Bill McKibben. McKibben was one of the first to write a book about climate change geared toward a general audience, called The End of Nature, and he has written several books since, Eaarth being his most recent. The book is titled Eaarth because this is the new name McKibben has assigned to the new planet on which we live – one where natural resources are becoming scarcer, the climate is changing surprisingly rapidly, and the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher (392 ppm) than the level deemed safe for humanity by scientists (350 ppm; see this webpage for more information). He informs us that we have altered our old planet in so dramatic a way that many of the rules that once applied to it no longer do. To further exacerbate this, our country, at least, but really the entire planet has been pursuing growth and planning for growth continuously. Considering we do not live on the old planet we used to, we will not have the resources, such as oil and water, to sustain growth. In fact, there is much evidence that we soon will not have the natural resources to support ourselves at current capacity.

McKibben spends the end of the book trying to work out how we might live on this new planet we’ve created through global warming and exhaustion of resources. Largely, it’s a sort of get local, do it yourself message. He doesn’t believe there is anything we can do to get back to our old planet, but he does believe that we can exist on the new planet if we start learning to produce things for ourselves. For example, if I’m capable of producing my own food, then the poor yield on wheat and/or the lack of any fish in the ocean for fisheries to catch and provide to my supermarket won’t affect me as much. McKibben calls for governments and people to rid themselves of an expansionist, global point of view and get back to basics. Bigger is not better. In fact, bigger is ruining our chances at surviving on this so-called Eaarth.

It would be easy for me to get in far more detail here as the book makes many interesting points and is heavily researched with excellent notes. But I’ll leave it to you to pursue along with all of the other great resources we have to help connect you with the information you need!


Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability

State of the World 2009: Into a Warming World: A WorldWatch Institute Report on Progress Toward a Sustainable Society

Founded and lead by Bill McKibben is "an international campaign that's building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis - the solutions that science and justice demand. Our mission is to inspire the world to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis — to create a new sense of urgency and of possibility for our planet."

Artic is Melting Even in Winter

Bill McKibben discusses Eaarth (a podcast)

Climate Changing ‘Faster, Stronger, Sooner’

Climate Warming Means Food Shortages, Study Warns

The End of Car Culture*
*Requires an APL card to access from home

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


It might cheer Sandra Bullock, who recently divorced a cad, to know that it could have been worse. She might have married a man like Andrew Robinson Stoney (1747-1810) who duped one of the smartest, richest, most beautiful women in the world into marrying him, then spent her fortune, ransacked her estates, alienated her children, held her prisoner, cheated with any woman who would have him (and raped some who would not), and beat and starved her until she ran for her life. The marriage was the subject of a play (School for Scandal), and a novel (Barry Lyndon), and the divorce kept British courts busy for years (Bleak House). Dissolving the Bowes-Stoney union in 1789 changed laws that had governed marriage in Britain since 1536, the year Henry VIII chopped off Anne Boleyn’s head.

Wendy Moore has written a page turner about the scandal: Wedlock: The True Story of the Disastrous Marriage and Remarkable Divorce of Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore. It's history; it's gossip; and in spite of passages of savage abuse, it's a lot of fun. It's Pride and Prejudice II: The Revenge of Wickham.

(If you'd like to read a transcript of the trial, ask for it through interlibrary loan.)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Jovita Gonzalez

A very large part of what makes Texas interesting to me is its proximity to Mexico. Even in the state's capital, it is very easy to see, touch, and taste the influence of Mexican culture. I walk around town with a feeling that this isn't quite the U.S. and it isn't quite Mexico. This sentiment is exponentially magnified the closer one gets to the border. So much so, that many of the border towns, albeit divided geographically, exist as one culturally, economically, and metaphysically. Almost 80 years ago, Jovita Gonzalez chronicled this interconnectedness in her master's thesis, Life Along the Border: A Landmark Tejana Thesis. Read it, and gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for what makes this part of Texas distinctive and special.

Fiction written by Jovita Gonzalez:
Caballero: A Historical Novel
Dew on the Thorn
The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

Friday, July 09, 2010

Contemporary Culture Humor

Creative people of all types use the Library: authors researching historical facts, artists looking for photographs, or musicians looking for unique recordings. I recently helped a local stand-up comedian look for authors similar to David Sedaris, an author who writes about himself, his family, and contemporary culture with sardonic wit and incisive social critiques. Books by such authors do not share the same subject heading, so a list was created for Good Reads titled Contemporary Culture Humor. The title is a little awkward, but it describes the content.

The newest book on the list is Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut by Rob Sheffield. Rob Sheffield has been a music journalist for more than twenty years. He is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, where he writes about music, TV, and pop culture. He is the author of the national bestseller Love is a Mix Tape, a memoir of love and music. Chuck Klosterman, another author on the list, said this about Rob's newest book:

A handful of rock writers can explain what they think about music, and lots of rock writers can explain what they feel about music. What makes Rob Sheffield different is that he nderstands how those feelings are generated. He can turn those abstract emotions into concrete thoughts. It doesn't happen often, but sometimes the smartest guy in the room is also the funniest guy in the room...and the nicest guy...and the tallest guy...and the most vocal Chaka Khan fan.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Don’t kill them!! They are good!!!

They might not look very pretty and they might be eating the leaves of some of your flowers and crops, but before you grab that pesticide, please double check if they are actually beneficial insects that can help in your yard.

Some beneficial insects are lucky because they already look quite cute, like in the case of butterflies and ladybugs. So even when people don’t know how good they are in their gardens, they are less prone to kill them. Others like the Assassin Bug, damsel bugs, and minute pirate bugs are pretty much out of luck since their appearance usually scares anyone, they are not as well known as the mantis and the bees, and they also look like the insect that spreads the Chagas disease.

I always connect the word “nematode” with “human parasite,” but something I’ve learned recently is that there are beneficial nematodes too. They live in your garden soil and eat the larva of some of the insects that are considered the worst pests. So, next time I dig in my yard, I will make sure I don’t kill those either.

How do you know what is good and what is not?? Well, Austin Public Library can help you with that. We have some titles that can guide you through like:

The Grow Green program of City of Austin also has some information on beneficial insects and you might want to visit the Association of Natural Bio control Producers as well.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy Fourth!

Your library is closed today to celebrate American independence, but your card number will still get you into our online databases where you can commemorate the fourth by reading American history, or biographies of the founders, or trace your ancestors back to the Mayflower with the help of the geneaology databases, or scan magazine articles about the day, or any day... or any thing, what the heck? You're on holiday! Read whatever you want!

Here's a fun web site from Uncle Sam that answers every question you've ever asked about the Fourth of July. Here's Sam again with the Declaration of Independence with zoomable photos of the original, and here's Snopes on the fates of its signers.

Notice I did not link to a web site listing the ingredients in hot dogs. You're welcome.

Friday, July 02, 2010

"I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired."

If I had stopped with my public school education, my impression of the Civil Rights Movement would be that it was largely led and coordinated by males, particularly Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I know now, however, that African-American women had a huge influence on and played an essential role in the Movement. There are a number of women that stand out, such as Septima Clark and Ella Baker, but a particularly fascinating and influential woman that I read about in college is Fannie Lou Hamer.

Hamer was born in 1917 and lived all of her life in the Mississippi Delta, a particularly harsh place for African-Americans to live during this time period due to widespread poverty and white racism and oppression. She was the daughter of sharecroppers and starting at a very young age helped her family by picking cotton. Hamer lived in extreme poverty most of her life, had a limited education, and experienced first hand many of the hardships that were suffered by African-Americans in the Delta.

But it wasn't until about middle age that Hamer became active in the Civil Rights Movement. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) held a meeting at a church near her home in 1962. It wasn't until this time that she knew that African-Americans had the right to vote. She vowed to get registered and began encouraging others to do the same. Like a good majority of African-Americans trying to get registered to vote, she faced significant obstacles including a test (obscure questions from the Mississippi Constitution, which she failed twice), poll taxes, and harassment by city and state officials and white citizens.

Hamer became a field secretary with SNCC organizing voter registration drives and developing programs to help economically disadvantaged African Americans. Due to her role and activism she faced beatings, a particularly brutal one after being imprisoned for entering a whites-only bus station restaurant to eat, continuous threats and ridicule, and even a bombing. Despite it all, Hamer persisted and was one of the founding members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) in 1964 created to challenge Mississippi's all-white delegation to the Democratic National Convention. It was here at the DNC that Hamer made a famous televised speech in which she asks, "Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we are threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings?" This speech is at least partly responsible for the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that made it illegal to deny any U.S. citizen the right to vote. (Listen to the speech or read the transcript.)

Hamer remained politically active until her death in 1977 and helped found a number of cooperatives including the Freedom Farm Cooperative, "a project through which 5,000 people came to grow their own food and collectively own 680 acres of land." Her achievements and activism are no doubt remarkable, but it was also Hamer herself - a female, uneducated, middle aged, sharecropper - that breaks the mold when we consider the persistent view of the Civil Rights Movement as having been lead by male, articulate, educated, religious and/or student leaders. In fact, it is precisely her position as none of those things that made her the effective, beloved activist she was.

There are many amazing memoirs and biographies out there about female African American civil rights workers and activists. Come down to the library and pick one up (or place a hold!), or browse the links below to learn more about Fannie Lou Hamer.

All quotes come from the biographical essays that may be accessed via APL's Biography Resource Center database w/ your library card number.


Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody
A famous memoir about Moody's life growing up poor and Black in Mississippi. In her college years she became active in SNCC and CORE (Congress of Racial Equality).

Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision

For Freedom's Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer

Freedom's Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970

From the Mississippi Delta: A Memoir
by Endesha Ida Mae Holland
A story of a woman also from the Mississippi Delta and active in SNCC after her younger years were spent in and out of prison and prostitution.

Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir
by Dorothy Height
Height was a well-known activist and president of the National Council of Negro Women.

Ready From Within: Septima Clark and the Civil Rights Movement by Septima Clark
Clark seems relatively unknown to most, but she was a key person in the Civil Rights Movement believing education was essential to political empowerment. She founded numerous "citizenship schools" in which African Americans were taught literacy and organized to get them registered to vote - a concept that spread throughout the U.S. and is considered responsible for getting thousands of African Americans registered.

This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer was known for her singing of gospel music at rallies, protests, and marches. It was common to hear a lot of gospel music at events like this, but it has been remarked that Hamer had a particular gift for bringing people together in song: according to Julian Bond, "She sang. She led freedom songs. She didn't have a perfect voice, but she could make you want to sing, make you want to join with her."

Singing Go Tell It On the Mountain

Singing Wade in the Water

Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs


An Oral History With Fannie Lou Hamer

Includes the audio file and complete transcript

Fannie Lou Hamer on the roots of her activism