Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rio Hamza

A river up to one hundred times wider than the Amazon has recently been discovered. How had no one stumbled upon it yet? How had astronauts not reported a massive serpentine river flowing across the earth?

Easy. The river is underground. It is two and a half miles beneath the Amazon and runs a similar course across South America. The research team, led by Valiya Hamza who lent his name to the river, used thermal analysis in 241 vacated Petrobras oil wells to discover the river. The results are preliminary and the discovery has not been truly authenticated, but all signs (at least the geothermal signs) point to a giant subterranean river flowing through South America.

After reading about Rio Hamza, I immediately thought about H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines. I remember some subterranean action in this classic adventure tale. My mind then jumped to a novel I read after seeing my dad reading it: Clive Cussler’s The Mediterranean Caper. I don’t remember much of the Caper, but I remember the intrepid hero Dirk Pitt traveling well beneath the water.

King Solomon’s Mines launched a genre dubbed Lost World fiction. Prominent works within the genre include: Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot, and Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island.

Inevitably, exploration will intensify. Science clarifies, but in its wake removes mystery and wonder. For now, we relish one of those rare moments where mystery trumps proof and we can simply imagine what it must be like on the Rio Hamza 14,000 feet below the Amazon.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Nothing New Under the Sun

I picked up John Kenneth Galbraith's The Great Crash the other day. I hoped it would convince me that we can recover from economic collapse, but after reading the book, I wasn't so much heartened that we've been through this and survived as I was disheartened that we've been through this and learned nothing.

We're repeating history. The economy collapsed in 2008 for the same reason it collapsed in 1929: people invested money they had borrowed on the strength of profits they had yet to earn. There are some differences in strategy--a credit default swap, for instance, is a recent invention; in the 20s there was no fake insurance against losses (aside from optimism)--but it's the same house of cards, and it toppled for the same reason: debtors were called to pay back loans they took out to buy into, but that were also "secured" by, the house of cards.

Incredibly, some of 1929's money changers recovered from the crash and lived on to wreak the current chaos. Galbraith, writing in 1954, faults companies whose names you'll recognize: Goldman Sachs, Lehman, Chase.

More books by Galbraith:

John Kenneth Galbraith: The Affluent Society and Other Writings
The Economics of Innocent Fraud
A Short History of Financial Euphoria
A Journey Through Economic Time

Friday, August 26, 2011


I just finished a great new novel by Esmeralda Santiago, titled Conquistadora. It is an epic that follows a young girl, Ana, through adulthood in which she pursues her ambitions from Spain to Puerto Rico in the mid-19th century. As a girl Ana dreams of Puerto Rico in which many of her ancestors lived and died including a distant male relative that traveled with Ponce de Leon, the famous conquistador. Her dreams finally become reality after she meets twin brothers Ramon and Inocente. She marries Ramon and convinces the brothers that in Puerto Rico lies their destiny. Once in Puerto Rico Ana deals with constant hardship and a bitter love triangle. Slavery and relations with slaves factor in heavily as the sugar plantation the twins and Ana become responsible for require signficant labor. Puerto Rico is almost it's own character in the book - the landscape is described in detail and the historical context is well-considered. While Ana is not the most likable main character, she is well-developed and complex. I highly recommend it; especially if you liked books such as The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende or One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

On Monday there's a free teleconference book club sponsored by the organization Las Comadres in which Esmeralda Santiago will be present! (See the links below.) Even if you haven't read the book, you might still want to tune in if you enjoyed her other work.


Almost a Woman
This is the first memoir I read by Santiago, though it is actually a follow-up to her first published memoir, and I just fell in love with Esmeralda, her family, and her writing style. Santiago recounts her young adulthood as a poor Puerto Rican immigrant living in New York City.

America's Dream
This is Santiago's first novel about a Puerto Rican woman and her many struggles.

The Turkish Lover
An account of Santiago's affair as a young woman with a Turkish filmmaker.

When I Was Puerto Rican
This is Santiago's first memoir which received much critical acclaim. It recounts Santiago's early years in Puerto Rico and her experiences after immigrating to New York.


PBS NewsHour Interview with Esmeralda Santiago on Conquistadora
A great interview with Santiago about her new novel. She thanks librarians at both the end of her book and in this interview for their help finding the research she needed to complete her book; a nice reminder that if you have questions regarding research, information, or most anything you should Ask a Librarian!

Reading With Las Comadres: Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago
I have already reigstered and I hope some of you will too and listen in during the teleconference. I love book clubs - I always get so much more out of a book by discussing it with others. Plus, I'm yet to attend a book club that includes a discussion with the author, so I'm really psyched about this!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


If you're like me, you're trying to be wise with your money and its spending power. Since there's not much of it flowing my way, I'm trying to be especially wise when it comes to lunch. I use to grab lunch at the deli across the street, but I've realized that the $7 it costs to buy lunch every day is adding up to be quite a bill. So, a co-worker and I are doing a little trade. I bring her eggs from my neighbor's chickens and she brings me a fabulous packed lunch. After a few weeks, we've gone back and forth about the cuteness of her packed lunches and have discovered the oh-so-lovely world of bento boxes!

According to the OED, bento means "a Japanese or Japanese-style packed lunch traditionally consisting of rice, vegetables, and Japanese specialities such as sashimi and teriyaki, and served in a lacquered or decorated wooden box." The Encyclopedia of Food and Culture offers a really nice history of the bento; saying that the bento goes back as far as 1600 in Japan. Obviously, you do not have to include the aforementioned rice and vegetables. Sandwiches cut into cute shapes, fruit flowers, and awe-worthy and adorable bottles of sauce are part of today's bento boxes. If you do a simple Google search for "bento" you'll come across hundreds of sites on the topic and retail sites for bento accessories.

Bentos are extremely popular with the stay-at-home-mom set these days. Especially moms with school-aged kids. If you have an extra twenty minutes in the morning, packing a bento for your kids is a cute option. Your kid may just be the most popular one come lunchtime. Or, if you don't have kids, there are all sorts of adults who bento it to work too. You could be the most popular one at work!

Check out these books and sites for help in getting started. It's not hard, it just looks intimidating.
Bento Love by Kentaro Kobayashi
Face Food by Christopher Salyers
Simple Menus for the Bento Box by Ellen Greaves
Yum-Yum Bento Box by Watanabe and Ogawa

Just Bento and Hapa Bento are some very nice websites dedicated to all things Bento.

(pictures from the Going-On Grownup blog)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Two Songs Two Singers

There are two songs that I only recently discovered. Both of these songs have been around for quite some time. Nonetheless, in my opinion, their power to enchant has not diminished with the passage of time. The title of one of the songs is, El Desierto (The Desert), which was written and is performed by an extremely charasmatic artist named Lhasa de Sela who is of Mexican and Lebanese descent . The other song is entitled, L'Appuntamento (The Appointment), which is performed by the equally mesmerizing Italian singer Ornella Vanoni. Neither of the two songs is sung in English. However, if you have ever suffered a romantic loss you will immediately understand the sentiment and pain both are trying to convey.

Lhasa de Sela:
La Llorona
The Living Road

Friday, August 19, 2011

West Memphis Three

The West Memphis Three have been released.

You may or may not be familiar with this story, if not, you should read up on them in our newspaper databases. If you go to Factiva for instance, and type in "West Memphis Three", you will get over 700 articles alone. I know that Memphis is a long drive from here, but this town of almost a quarter million people has been the focus of worldwide attention over the last seventeen years.

The West Memphis Three are three young men who were, wrongly in most opinion, imprisoned for the murder of three young boys in Memphis, Tennessee in 1993. There are books and movies on the WM3 (as they are known). Celebrities (including Henry Rollins, Natalie Manes, Johnny Depp, and Eddie Vedder), high powered attorneys, and regular people across the globe have offered their support, pledged donations and help, and voiced their concern for the seemingly corrupt judicial system in Tennessee.

I'm currently reading a book, not on this topic, but eerily similar, In the Woods by Tana French. It's a great book and supports my feeling that even though you think you know the whole story, you may not know the facts. You need to do the research. You need to read. You need to ask questions, and listen to the answers. In this day and age of media onslaught, we are led to believe that everything we see and hear is true. And most times, this cannot be further from the truth. I encourage you to investigate. I encourage you to question everything you hear. The library is a great place to start. We have many resources, including our fabulous databases, that can help you vet out the truth.

I know that we may go on and on about our databases. But I cannot express to you how much I love them. There is so much information out there that is available to you by just the click of a couple of buttons. And it's all FREE with your library card! How can you not use them? Call us and we'll help you.

In the meantime read up on the WM3, make up your opinion of the young men and talk to someone else about it.

Devil's knot : the true story of the West Memphis three
Leveritt, Mara.

Paradise lost: the child murders at Robin Hood Hills
Berlinger, Joe.

West Memphis Three website

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Hyperbolic Apocalyptic Post

We are in the midst of dozens of 100 degree days and plenty more ahead. Clouds have forgotten how to rain. Trees are drying out. Pipes are cracking. Someone showed me a video of a thirsty armadillo drinking from a water hose. That can't be normal.

Rain will come. Temperatures will fall. We will recover. For this post though, I'm fanning the hyperbole flame. Our fiery conditions brought to mind several great post-apocalyptic novels. Nothing like settling into a comfortable seat and reading about worlds falling apart.

David Moody's Autumn. The City

John Barnes' Daybreak Zero

Max Brooks' World War Z

Cormac McCarthy's The Road

Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood

Monday, August 15, 2011


The Great Oom: The Impropable Birth of Yoga in America is a history of yoga's early days in America. The spiritual discipline that is practiced now by more than 20 million Americans was once a fringe practice, its advocates treated as charlatans and, occasionally, criminals. Today the business of yoga has broadened to include novels, memoirs, hundreds of how-to-books, and magazines.


Enlightenment for Idiots: a Novel
In this fun introduction to yoga philosophy, 2008 debut novel follows a 29-year-old yoga teacher on a tumultuous journey to India and back again as she researches a guidebook on finding inner peace.

Tales from the Yoga Studio
Light, easy read about about an independent L.A. yoga studio and its core community of faithful clients.


Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses
Memoir about a young mother told through a variety of yoga poses.

Asanas: 608 Yoga Poses
Anatomy of Hatha Yoga
Light on Yoga
30 Essential Yoga Poes
Yoga Anatomy
The Yoga Bible
Yoga: the Iyengar Way
Yoga: the Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness

Full-text Yoga Magzines in Databases
Search for these in ejournal finder.
Yoga International
Yoga Journal
Yoga + Joyful Living
Yoga Studies
Yoga Therapy in Practice
Yoga World

Friday, August 12, 2011

Occupation: Revolutionary

"People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.”

When I was an undergradate at UT, I read a book that had a major influence on me, titled Assata: An Autobiography, from which the above quote is from. Shakur is a pretty controversial figure as she is on the FBI's Most Wanted list with a $1 million dollar reward for any information that leads to her arrest and capture. She joined the Black Panther Party (BPP) in 1970, but quickly became frustrated with what she perceived as a lack of a cohesive philosophy and turned to the more radical Black Liberation Army (BLA). Shakur was charged and acquitted of many crimes including burglary and murder in the early '70s. She was eventually convicted of murdering a New Jersey state trooper in 1977. Shakur was in a car with two other male BLA members at the time. It's unclear precisely what happened, but the state trooper and one of Shakur's companions was shot dead, the other male passenger fled the scene, and Shakur was shot twice wounding her in both arms and a shoulder. She was arrested on the scene, convicted and sentenced to life + 33 years in prison, and labeled a cop-killer by authorities. She served part of her sentence, but escaped from prison in 1979 and within a few years was granted political asylum in Cuba where she still resides.

While the BLA was a violent group and Shakur is unapologetic about their violent stance, Shakur felt violence was the only answer in the face of an FBI initiative, COINTELPRO, to "neutralize" political activists. She believed the progress made on African-American rights was insufficient and her numerous experiences with the justice system reinforced this attitude. In terms of the NJ state trooper case, she maintains her innocence. Shakur has stated that she and her two companions were cooperating and surrendering when the state trooper opened fire, and in court it was presented that the shots fired on Shakur could only have hit the way they did if she were holding her arms in the air. As to the supposed wrongful conviction, Shakur points to the racism of her prosecutors and an all-white jury that could not have sympathy for a black revolutionary. Further, by being labeled a "cop-killer", she claims to have been the target of horrific abuses by the authorities she came into contact with during her imprisonment.

It isn't just Assata Shakur's story that compelled me when I first read her book, but also her philosophy and stance on a number of issues. She, of course, discusses racism in great depth and often focuses on the self-hatred and negative perceptions African-Americans had of themselves during this time. Popular white attitudes pointed to African-Americans as being lazy, unattractive or even beast-like, and unintelligent; attitudes that were internalized by the African-American community. She also takes aim at the politicans of the day and calls out the institutionalization of racism and oppression. She writes beautifully and passionately about freedom and equality. She speaks to anyone who has ever felt oppressed, though she is clear that her fight is for the African-American people.

Though I read her autobiography years ago, it is a book I will never forget. I keep one of her poems on my wall and I often look to passages in her book for inspiration. I cannot say that my personal struggle is anywhere even close to hers or that of the African-American community, but I have been personally inspired by her and continue to share her messages with those that will listen. I am awed that in most of the biographical essays I have read about her it states her occupation as a "revolutionary". She certainly is.


Assata : An Autobiography

Autobiography as Activism: Three Black Women of the Sixties

Inadmissible Evidence: The Story of the African-American Trial Lawyer Who Defended the Black Liberation Army

Live Interview in Havana, Cuba (CD)

Assata's personal website

Assata Shakur and My Train of Thought
An interesting piece in which the author relates quotes from Assata Shakur's autobiography to the struggles of women today.

Biography in Context
This is a great database provided by Austin Public Library (you need your library card number to log on from home) for biographical information. The biographical details in this post are from articles I found in this database.

Common: A Song for Assata
Common wrote and performed this song, which became controversial when the rapper was invited to the White House in May of this year. Common did not perform this song at the White House, but NJ police and a number of Republicans expresssed outrage that the White House would invite someone that wrote a song glorifying a "cop-killer". Here's an article that discusses the reaction and here's an opinion piece regarding that reaction.

The Eyes of the Rainbow: An Assata Shakur Documentary
You can watch this for free online.

Prisoner in Paradise: An Interview With Assata Shakur

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Oxford Comma

Earlier this summer, a rumor erupted on Twitter that the Oxford comma had been dropped by none other than the Oxford University Press. The story took off and became so big that it had its own Associated Press story. But it wasn't exactly true. The instruction to do away with the comma, which follows the last word in a series, appeared not in the Oxford University Press style guide, but rather the guide issued for the University of Oxford Public Affairs office, and the guide had been online for several years.

The problem people have with the Oxford comma is that it puts a pause where some think one doesn't belong. The idea is that "I went to the market to get triple sec, limes and tequila" is better than "I went to the market to get triple sec, limes, and tequila." I, myself, like the Oxford comma.

The Oxford comma can come in really handy when you have a long list. An example of why it's needed was circulated on Twitter, and here's an amended version of its loss gone wrong: "Among those interviewed were Mr. Smith's two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall" -- turning Kristofferson and Duvall into the ex-wives of Mr. Smith.

The Chicago Manual of Style, which the Library has as an ebook, chooses the serial comma over the Oxford Comma. The CMS, as it's called, is a great resource for looking up grammar and usage rules. In addition to the complete full text of both the 16th and 15th editions of the Chicago Manual of Style, the site includes:

* tools, such as sample correspondence, proofreaders' marks, and manuscript preparation instructions
* Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guide for students, researchers, and writers
* Chicago Style Q&A, entertaining and informative answers to readers' questions

The Library has other databases that will help you find the right word and punctuate correctly.

Note: Vampire Weekend has a fun song titled "Oxford (Comma)" on their 2008 self-titled album.

Monday, August 08, 2011

27 Club

Unfortunately, the British singer Amy Winehouse (1983-2011) joined this club a few days ago. The 27 Club is the name used for those influential musicians that have died at the age of 27 years old. The list of artists that are part of the “club” has about 50 names but the most influential ones are:

  • Robert Johnson (1911-1938) – Blues Singer
  • Brian Jones (1942-1969) – Founder of Rolling Stones band
  • Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) – guitarist
  • Janis Joplin (1943-1970) – singer
  • Jim Morrison (1943-1971) – lead singer of “The Doors”
  • Kurt Cobain (1967-1994) – founder and lead singer of “Nirvana”

Their music continues inspiring others and entertaining generations even when, in most of the cases, they have been gone for decades.

If you want to learn more about them, here are some ways to do it:

  • Robert Johnson

  • Brian Jones

  • Jimi Hendrix

  • Janis Joplin

  • Jim Morrison

  • Kurt Cobain
  • Amy Winehouse
  • Books about the 27 Club and others

Friday, August 05, 2011


On the Library's Best Fiction of 2011 is an out-of-nowhere literary sensation. Before I Go to Sleep by British author S.J. Watson is about a woman struggling to reconstruct her identity after a mysterious accident leaves her with a memory that is erased every night. Back in 2008, S. J. Watson was a 30-something London audiologist and had just won a place in the inaugural class of a six-month novel-writing course at the Faber Academy, a mini-M.F.A. program run by the distinguished publishing house Faber & Faber. Three years later, he's an international sensation with a 37-country deal and a film project with Ridley Scott. Janet Maslin of the New York Times credits Watson with "the summer's single most suspenseful plot".

The second neuro-mystery on APL's list is Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante. Turn of Mind is the first novel from Alice LaPlante, an award-winning nonfiction writer. It's about a retired orthopedic surgeon with Alzheimer's who is implicated in the murder of her best friend. Told in the surgeon's own voice, fractured and eloquent, a picture emerges of the surprisingly intimate, complex alliance between the two life-long friends who were at times each other’s most formidable adversaries.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Chicago Black Sox

Cheating in sports is nothing new. I’d imagine Athenian heroes took payoffs to throw competitions. I hope those noble athletes competed purely for the pleasure of sport, but as plaudits and winnings grow so too does the willingness to take the fall, lose the race, or throw the match in exchange for big money.

Today marks the anniversary of one of America’s most memorable cheating sports moments: the Black Sox Scandal. The Chicago White Sox faced the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series. Due to the gambling payoff significantly outstripping their paychecks and the players’ resentment of team owner Charles Comiskey, eight White Sox players conspired to throw the World Series. The White Sox lost the series with the eight conspirators playing significantly worse than their talent suggested.

The conspirators were acquitted of all charges on August 2, 1921. Their baseball careers, however, remained ruined. On August 3, 1921 baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned all eight players from baseball for life and they have been remembered since as the Black Sox. Below are a few books recounting the Black Sox scandal.

Crooked: a History of Cheating in Sports

Burying the Black Sox: How Baseball's Cover-Up of the 1919 World Series Fix Almost Succeeded

Eight Men Out: the Black Sox and the 1919 World Series

Bernard Malamud’s The Natural draws heavily from the Black Sox Scandal.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Our Trees

Austin Energy cut down an old hackberry that was blocking access to a telephone pole on my back fence and gave me a Mexican Plum for my trouble (a nice five-gallon size, too). I planted it last fall, the time to plant trees, but without rain this spring and summer, it's struggling, and leaving the hose dripping at its base isn't doing the trick.

Trees are stressed in the parks, too, where the city's parks staff is grateful for all the help it can get doing maintenance work. If you'd like to volunteer, here are links:
A fellow librarian says her neighbors have poked holes in big plastic tubs, placed them at the bases of their trees, and filled them with water to get an economical continuous drip, and their trees are thriving. I'm going to try that, and I'm going to read some of the books on tree care that we have here at the library. Here's a list:
Without our trees, and without cool spring water bubbling up from the aquifers, Austin is a bit too weird.