Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Year of the Tiger?

It's not the Year of the Tiger according to the Chinese Zodiac, but evidence shows otherwise. India's latest tiger census shows an increase in the numbers of the endangered big cat. The census counted at least 1,706 tigers in forests across the country, about 300 more than four years ago. And so far in 2011, five books have been published with tiger in the title, and they are not about the big cat.


The Tiger's Wife: a Novel by Téa Obreht

Drawing on the former Yugoslavia’s bloody history, Belgrade-born Obreht portrays two besieged doctors in a story where realism collides with myth, superstition with empirical fact, and allegory with history.

Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna Set in Southern India at the end of the nineteenth century, magnificent debut follows the fortunes of two childhood friends throughout their lives.

Montecore: the Silence of the Tiger by Jonas Khemiri Inventive, tricky tale that follows a Tunisian immigrant's rise from poor orphan to world-famous photographer is also an indictment of Swedish racism and nationalism.


Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua Memoir about parenting two girls to be over-achievers.

Tiger, Tiger: a Memoir by Margaux Fragaso Disturbing memoir of sexual abuse explores with unflinching honesty the ways in which pedophiles can manipulate their ways into the lives of children.

If you want to read about the real thing, check out The Tiger: a True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant, published in 2010.

Monday, March 28, 2011


On my coffee table sits the book Potato, by John Reader. In the disc player in my car is At Home, by Bill Bryson. I'm embarrassed to admit that the similarities of the two books escaped me until I was a third of the way into them. That's when I realized they are both microhistories (I didn't make up that word). They both start small by describing an overlooked, seemingly insignificant object, and then link that small thing to big events, so that the development of a pencil or of a house becomes a broad far-ranging cultural history.

I like that, and I must not be alone because quite a few books have been written on that pattern recently. (Mark Kurlansky has been particularly prolific.) The Library's APL Recommends has a Microhistories book list under Nonfiction and below are some of the titles (nothing cryptic here):

Friday, March 25, 2011

Quick & Easy

Most people in America are short on time. Everyone loves a home cooked meal, but how do you find time and/or motivation to get one on the table at the end of a crazy day at work? The only thing I want to do at the end of a long work day is sit on the couch, read or watch TV, and tune out the world for a bit. I actually love to cook, but when cooking becomes an obligation, I despise it. I also hate having to clean the kitchen every time I cook, which is all the more reason to pick up take out and toss it out with the garbage when finished.

I'm certain I'm not the only one who feels like this. Enjoying cooking prompts me to check out more than my fair share of cookbooks from the library and I often find myself flipping through them on the couch at the end of the day, pausing at a delicious sounding recipe, and thinking, "Who has this kind of time??" Spending over an hour on cooking and clean up combined is far too much for me and a number of cookbooks seem to be written from the vantage point that I have nothing better to do than slave my evening away. I finally found a (perhaps obvious) solution: quick and easy cookbooks. As many cookbooks as I've perused in my life, it's funny to me that it took me so long to pick one up. I'm sort of a foodie wannabe, so I guess I've stuck to the critically acclaimed and famous chef cookbooks, which don't a care a lick about my schedule.

Here are some of my favorite quick and easy cookbooks that you can find at the library. Just because it's quick and easy does not mean I want to skimp on flavor or freshness, so these are all cookbooks that keep taste in mind and minimize the not-so-healthy shortcuts that can be typical of these types of books:

(Hint: To find a complete list of quick and easy cookbooks in FindIt, the library catalog, type in "quick and easy cookery" and select Subject from the dropdown menu to the right of the search box.)

The 30-minute Vegan: Over 175 Quick, Delicious, and Healthy Recipes For Everyday Cooking
I'm not vegan, but there are some major health benefits to eating like one and I love, love, love this cookbook! This cookbook helped me figure out how to make cooking vegan a little simpler and a little quicker. They even have recipes for easy, green juices that I love to start my day off with. I'm excited about The 30-minute Vegan's Taste of the East, which came out last year and is currently on order for the library.

The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes From a Delicious Revolution
Alice Waters, the author of this title, is the co-founder of Chez Panisse, but that's no reason to be intimidated. These recipes are healthy, utilize fresh ingredients, and are super simple. Waters also includes lots of helpful hints useful to any cook.

Everyday Food: Fresh Flavor Fast: 250 Easy, Delicious Recipes For Any Time of Day
Martha Stewart and Co. are responsible for "Everyday Food". The recipes are delicious and simple and great for families. If you subscribe to the magazine, there isn't much here that will be new to you, but, if not, this is one of those books that you'll use time and again.

Mariel's Kitchen: Simple Ingredients For a Delicious and Satisfying Life
I've always had a little crush on Mariel Hemingway, but I promise that's not why I included her book here. Mariel lives a very healthy lifestyle and, after reading and enjoying Mariel Hemingway's Healthy Living From the Inside Out, I was thrilled she was putting out a cookbook so I could take a look at some of the food she enjoys eating. These recipes are healthy, flavorful, and, most importantly, easy!

Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express: 404 Inspired Seasonal Dishes You Can Make in 20 Minutes or Less
I have two of Bittman's other cookbooks, How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, which I refer to constantly. Although I've stumbled across a few recipes that just haven't turned out at all like he said they would, most of the time this book does not disappoint and the prep and cook time estimates are almost always accurate.

Vegan On the Cheap: Great Recipes and Simple Strategies That Save You Time and Money
The recipes I've tried in this book are easy and delicious and it has helped me enjoy some dishes and vegetables I never had before. The emphasis in this one is on cost, so all of the food costs are broken out for you, but it also works as a quick recipe book. So far, I haven't spent more than an hour on any one recipe.

Vegetarian Times: Fast and Easy: Great Foods You Can Make in Minutes
This is another one where if you receive "Vegetarian Times" at home or browse them at the library, you may not find much new here. But, for those of us that don't subscribe, this is a great little collection of their easier recipes.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Connect to Joni Mitchell with the Library

There are weeks when I have to rack my brain to think of a blog topic. And then there are weeks, like this one, where I have just been hit over the head with a topic I can’t avoid. But no, this isn’t about Charlie Sheen. In the last two weeks I have been suddenly and inexplicably been reminded of my love for Joni Mitchell. These reminders also serve as great tips on some of the library’s services available to you!

1) While watching The Kids are All Right, Annette Benning breaks into a haunting (in the context of the scene) rendition of Mitchell’s quintessential song "All I Want".
Library Connection: The soundtrack and DVD to The Kids are All Right can both be found in APL’s catalog, as well as Joni Mitchell’s album Blue, the original publication of "All I Want".

2) The trivia-of-the month in my monthly planner (published by Texas Amateur Athletic Federation) is as follows: “Remember Woodstock? The March 25, 1995 issue of Billboard magazine announced that Joni Mitchell, Canadian-born singer/songwriter, was to be the recipient of its Billboard Century Award for 1995.”
Library Connection: You can read the full text of this article through several of APL’s databases, including Academic Search Complete. You can also read a quick biography of her life in our database Biography in Context.

3) A friend of mine, who usually sings the praises of Led Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead, suddenly recommended Mitchell’s album Hejira and talked about a documentary he’d seen on her life.
Library Connection: Both the album Hejira and the documentary Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind can be found in our collection.

4) While listening to Seattle-based podcast, I learned about
Continuum Publishing's series 33 1/3 which tackles important albums one book at a time. Air-Raid's guest happened to be Sean Nelson, author of the book covering Mitchell's album Court and Spark.
Library Connection: Although APL doesn’t carry the item, I was able to easily obtain a copy through APL’s Interlibrary Loan program.

Thanks to the library’s resources and several happy accidents, I’ve learned all kinds of interesting facts about my favorite folk singer. If only I could unlearn that she named her cat Nietzsche.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Libya - Fiction

Libya-Fiction is the catalog subject heading for novels set in Libya. You would enter libya and fiction in the FindIt search box and then select subject in the drop down menu. And then you would find the 2007 award-winning title - In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar, a semi-autobiographical piece about growing up in Libya. It's a powerful, poignant tale that conveys the horrors that happen to anyone living under an oppressive regime. In this case, a young boy with a revolutionary father and an alcoholic mother is living in Libya under the dictatorship of Col. Qaddafi. The book is a condemnation of the evils that men do in the name of patriarchy and despotic revolutions.

Matar was 20 when two men arrived at the family home in Cairo. His father answered the door, and was never seen again. The men were probably from Egypt's secret police who then handed him over to Libya. Matar's father was a member of Libya's intellectual middle class, a successful businessman who, as a pro-democracy activist, had been forced to live in semi-permanent exile in Egypt. Matar's most recent book, Anatomy of a Disappearance, which the Library does not yet have, is about a father whose disappearance haunts his son.

Matar said recently in The Guardian that the " UN security council resolution is an extraordinary achievement. It is unrelenting in its commitment to saving lives, yet nuanced enough to take into account Libya's sensitivity to foreign intrusion - a result of its exceptionally brutal colonial experience under the Italians - and seems committed to Libyan sovereignty and political independence." (You can read The Guardian through the Library's subscription to Factiva.)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Immigration Prisons

We know a lot more about the rest of the world, including human rights abuses, with the intense and increasing globalization of media coverage. But we should also be aware of what is going on here that may need to be changed. Books at APL look at what can happen when for profit detentions centers are created for undocumented immigrants - in places such as Hutto and Port Isabel in Texas and throughout the country.

A Death in Texas: Profits, Poverty, and Immigration Converge (written by Tom Barry)

NPR's Fresh Air - Interview with Tom Barry

Between the Fences: Before Guantanamo, There was the Port Isabel Service Processing Center
American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons
Detained: Immigrations Laws and the Expanding I.N.S. Jail Complex

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Baseball Writing: Fiction not Boxscores

Spring training is underway, with half of the league in Arizona and the other half in Florida. March 31st serves as the season's opening day. Baseball journalism has provided some of the best sportswriting over the past century. Memorable moments on the diamond found their way into print and in newspapers across the country. Longform baseball journalism held lofty places in exalted national magazines. Over the past few years I have caught up on my baseball writing in preparation for the season. This year I have taken a different approach. Rather than peruse the limitless tomes of America's baseball writers, I have turned to fiction. Countless novelists have included America's pasttime in their work.

Some great fiction that features baseball (admittedly, some more prominently than others):

Don Delillo's Underworld

Philip Roth's The Great American Novel

W.P. Kinsella's The Iowa Baseball Confederacy

Michael Chabon's Summerland

Bernard Malamud's The Natural

Ring Lardner's Ring Around the Bases

Monday, March 14, 2011


By now everyone has to know that the English translation for tsunami is "harbor wave", but a tsunami isn't just one wave. The most dramatic video we're seeing out of Japan this week is of the crest of the first wave roaring over land, but a tsunami is a series of waves; it's a series of pulses of water. A dripping faucet creates the same conditions in your bathtub: the drop displaces the water it falls into, and the energy of that displacement lifts water in concentric circles moving out from where the drop falls. You see it when you toss a rock into a pond: a single rock triggers multiple ripples.

And the water coming ashore is not the water that was displaced at the site of the earthquake. 2-D depictions of how the mechanism works make it look like the sudden uplift of the ocean floor raised a bolus of water at that spot which then raced to shore. But what happens is that the shift transfers energy into the water above it, then the energy travels through the water; the water itself stays where it is. If you've ever swum out past the breakers and floated on the ocean swells behind them, you understand how the energy of the waves lifts and flows through you, but you and the water stay, pretty much, in the same place.

Austin Public Library's collection of books about tsunamis has swelled, as you can imagine, since the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami in Sumatra.

And give this blog post about earthquakes another read.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Natural Beauty

While it can be difficult to find unbiased information on the topic, the safety of cosmetics and personal care products has been called into question by many groups and researchers. The cosmetics industry is largely unregulated by the FDA, leaving it to regulate itself (see this webpage from the Federal Government's Office on Women's Health). Cosmetic companies do not need approval from any government agency to sell their products, meaning that none of the ingredients in these products are subject to review or testing by anyone other than the company that sells them. There is evidence out there that many of the fragrances and preservatives found in these products can cause cancer, hormonal disruptions, and other health issues (see this statement made to Congress by Jane Houlihan of the Environmental Working Group). The statement made by Mrs. Houlihan is followed by a very extensive bibliography and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics also has a "Science" section on its website with links to reports and research such as the President's Cancer Panel's 2008-2009 Annual Report suggesting that the number of chemicals we are exposed to in everday household items, such as cosmetics, are contributing to Americans' increased incidence of cancer. In an effort to help people purchase non-toxic, unharmful products, the Environmental Working Group has produced a Shopper's Guide to Safe Cosmetics that is easy to print out and take with you the next time you shop to help you make better informed decisions about your purchases. Also, try their Cosmetics Database where you can search for products you own at home and find out more about any known harmful substances in them.

Many beauty products can be made pretty simply and safely from your own home using all-natural ingredients. The library has a great selection of books filled with info on the hazards of cosmetics and recipes to make your own:

The Good Earth Bath, Beauty & Health Book

The Green Beauty Guide: Your Essential Resource to Organic and Natural Skin Care, Hair Care, Makeup, and Fragrances

The Herbal Home Spa: Naturally Refreshing Wraps, Rubs, Lotions, Masks, Oils, and Scrubs

Mary Lee's Natural Health & Beauty: Healthy Living With Essential Oils

Natural Beauty From the Garden: More Than 200 Do-It-Yourself Beauty Recipes and Garden Ideas

Natural Beauty: Pamper Yourself With Salon Secrets at Home

Organic Body Care Recipes: 175 Homemade Herbal Formulas for Glowing Skin & a Vibrant Self

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Brackets of Books!

March has arrived! For many Americans this means basketball, brackets, Madness and, according to Newsweek, roughly $1.7 million in lost worker productivity. But March is also the time for a lesser-known tournament. The online magazine, The Morning News, uses tournament fever to host their annual Tournament of Books.

The first round was yesterday and pitted Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom against Teddy Wayne’s Kapitoil. You may have noticed Jonathan Franzen’s presence on APL’s Hottest Authors list so it’s not too terribly surprising that he won the first round of competition. In today’s judging, Emma Donoghue’s Room eked out a victory over Marcy Dermansky’s Bad Marie.

What I like about this tournament, aside from giving me a warm-up for filling out my basketball bracket, is that it serves as a great introduction to some of last year’s best fiction. Each round the judges go over some of the highs and lows of each title, resulting in pretty excellent reviews. They’re offering discounts on the titles in the tournament but I’m happy to report that the library currently owns fifteen of the sixteen books in the tournament!

Yes, the first two rounds are already finished but not to worry! The tournament goes on all through the month of March with the championship round on April 1st! And your bosses would probably prefer you follow a tournament that doesn’t involve hours of streaming video. So happy reading! And don't forget, if none of this year's titles appeal to you, you can always use the library's awesome databases to find your next great read!

p.s. If I were to pick a bracket based solely on titles, I think we’d see The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake versus Super Sad True Love Story in the finals.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Graffiti in Argentina

Some grafitti is so uninspiring and unimaginative. It's not surprising it is considered a blemish on the urban landscape and is promptly painted over. However, some grafitti is as visually impressive and inventive as anything you will find in a gallery or museum. Such is also the case in as far away a place as Buenos Aires, Argentina. As with any vibrant big city, there exists a rich and pulsating graffiti scene. See for yourself in Graffiti Argentina. While you're there, look a little to the left to find Graffiti Brasil. Both titles will astonish you with colorful, inventive, and clever imagery.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Istanbul - the Old and the New

Istanbul is one of the most cosmoplitian and complex cities – the center of a country that is 98% Islamic yet increasingly famous for its watermelon martinis. Turkey's most cosmopolitan metropolis has more billionaires than any city other than New York, Moscow and London, and has streets lined with "Armani", "Gucci", "Vuitton" and "Dior". Istanbul is where the Islamic world meets the global order, serving as a bridge between Europe and Asia. I just finished reading my first book with its setting in Istanbul, The Museum of Innocence by Orahn Pamuk, and it's currently my "favorite" book. The ending, which you can only appreciate if you read the whole story, is so poignantt and beautiful, it takes your breath away. According to Pamuk, Istanbul's two identities grew from the division between the old (which is usually the local and the Islamic) and the new (generally the western and the secular). The old Istanbul, with its relics of the Ottoman Empire, can be a source of shame. In the Museum of Innocence, the obsessed lover of the beautiful but unattainable Fuson builds a museum to honor her and Istanbul. “While the West takes pride in itself, most of the rest of the world lives in shame,” the narrator explains. “But if the objects that bring us shame are displayed in a museum, they are immediately transformed into possessions in which to take pride.”

Other new books at APL set in Istanbul; most are set in the old Istanbul.

Oracle of Stamboul by Michael Lukas

Dervish House by Ian McDonald

The Sheen on the Silk by Anne Perry

The High City by Celilia Holland

The Bellini Card by Jason Goodwin

For a modern look at Istanbul, read about the internationally acclaimed visual Turkish artist Kurlug Ataman, who is having a temporary exhibit of 11 of his major works at Istanbul Modern, but it ends soon - March 6.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Texas Independence Day

Today marks the 175th anniversary of the Texas Declaration of Independence. In observance of the anniversary, the original Declaration of Independence is on display through April 21st at the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library.

My favorite book related to Texas Independence does not sing praises of Bowie, Crockett, and Travis. Nope. My preferred tome is Santa Anna's memoir. Yup. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna wrote a memoir titled The Eagle. It is a fascinating read, providing an alternative perspective of the assorted battles and politics of Texas' fight for indepedence. What makes it truly exceptional are Santa Anna's peripatetic adventures after his battles with Texas. Being somewhat myopic, my knowledge of Santa Anna's life ceased after surrendering to Sam Houston. I knew he survived, but never considered what he might have done with the rest of his life.

Turns out, he was everywhere. After a brief exile in the United States, Santa Anna led the Mexican Army against the French in Veracruz. He lost a leg courtesy of cannon fire and used a cork prosthesis for awhile, which was later captured by American troops when he led the Mexican Army in the Mexican-American War. After that humbling, he bounced between Cuba, Colombia, Jamaica, and Staten Island--where he struggled as a chewing gum importer--before returning to Mexico City some thirty years later.

I have never read a more boastful memoir and can't imagine an ego larger than Santa Anna's. His hubris makes The Eagle a hilarious and interesting read. You will be shocked by his explanation for surrendering to Sam Houston.