Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Humor for the Holidays

Four new books of humor can lift your spirits during the holiday season:

The 50 Funniest American Writers: an Anthology of Humor from Mark Twain to the Onion by Andy Borowtiz is a hand-picked collection of the best funny writing in America: David Sedaris, John Hughes, Nora Ephron, George Carlin and dozens of others guaranteed to make you laugh out loud. You can find Andy's humor on his blog.

I Found This Funny: My Favorite Pieces of Humor, and, Some That May Not be Funny at All
by Judd Apatow

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (and other concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Thank You Notes
by Jimmy Fallon

Sunday, November 27, 2011

El Eternauta

There once existed a comic strip that sought to speak truth to power in Argentina during a time in which the country was rapidly devolving into dictatorship. The story uses elements of science fiction as metaphors for the paranoia, fear, destruction, and brutality perpetrated by the military junta that came to displace a more democratic form of government. As the years wore on, the author of El Eternauta became less and less subtle in his critiques of the authoritarian rule that plagued his country. So much so that he was eventually forced into hiding only to be captured and executed as the price for his opposition.

Below are some titles available in the library's collection chronicling perhaps Argentina's darkest historical period that came to be know as the Dirty War.

The Disappeared
Departing at Dawn: A Novel of Argentina's Dirty War

You can also request copies of El Eternauta via Interlibrary Loan if you are curious.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Holiday Stress

So, are you just as stressed out as I am about the holidays? I have come to dislike the November-December holiday blitz. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy very much eating turkey on Thanksgiving and I enjoy very much opening presents on Christmas day, but I do not like the hustle and bustle of getting everything ready for those few hours of enjoyment on those two days. I wish that we can have Christmas after Thanksgiving. Have you noticed that almost every store or home had their Christmas decorations up at least a week before Thanksgiving. What is that about? I don't understand that logic. I can understand wanting to spread the holiday out as long as possible, but can we at least get the current holiday over with before we get to the next one?

Okay, enough of my ranting. I have a plan to de-stress. I like to craft. It makes me happy, and this is the perfect time of year to do so. I like to make presents for my family and friends. This year I am making felt toys for the little ones. I bought some fabulous fabric in New York City this fall and am making some scarves for the ladies in my life. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to make for the men, have any ideas? If I can't think of anything, I'll go local and shop for something perfect. Maybe, I'll tuck in a massage or pedicure for myself among all that crafting. How's that for de-stressing? What do you do to relax this time of year?

Here's a very short sampling of some great craft books available at the library, search "handicrafts", "crafts", "holiday craft", and any other good combination of keywords in our catalog to come up with more.
Martha Stewart's Handmade Holiday Crafts by the fabulous Martha Stewart
Complete Book of Home Crafts: Projects for Adventurous Beginners by Carine Tracanelli
Teeny-Tiny Mochimochi by Anna Hrachovec
Rediscovered Treasures by Ellen Dyrop

Want to do a little shopping, but want to avoid the big boxes? Check our directory databases, AtoZ and ReferenceUSA. Do a custom business search in either one, then do the following:
  • select Keyword... under Business Type,
  • select City under Geography,
  • select Number of Employees (or Employee Size) under Business Size
  • type "knitting" (or whatever else!) in the lookup box under Keyword
  • choose Austin under Texas in the city section
  • choose 1-4, 5-9, and 10-19 (the fewer the number, the smaller the business)
  • then click update count and view results (or search)
Voila! Chances are the list you get will be the smaller, locally owned businesses in town as opposed to those big box stores you're trying to avoid. Pretty cool, huh? Now, you can show all your friends what you've learned and perhaps earn a nice thank you/holiday gift in return.

Relax and enjoy the season.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


In September I wrote about the virtues of doing nothing. I am still enamored with doing nothing (or striving to do nothing), but sometimes something has to be done: like admiring clouds. Cloud-watching is the perfect non-activity and provides ample layers of engagement. You can wrestle with determining when a cloud crosses classification from an altocumulus to a cirrocumulus. You can catalogue the animals you see in the clouds. Or you can simply admire. Try it. Take a moment to look up. The world will soften. You will lighten.

Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of The Cloud Appreciation Society and devout cloud enthusiast, claims clouds can help us regain our youthful exuberance and wonder. He points out that children, full of wonder and exuberance, are constantly cloud-watching as the world is built for adults thus children are always looking up. As we grow our sightline evens out and often in adulthood our eyes tend to focus on the ground. So, take a look at these books and then look up.

The Cloudspotter’s Guide: the Science, History and Culture of Clouds (Gavin Pretor-Pinney)

The Invention of Clouds: How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies

Peterson First Guide to Clouds and Weather

In Pursuit of Clouds: Images and Metaphors

The Book of Clouds

If your interest in clouds grows beyond admiration, the nitty gritty can be found in numerous articles accessible through our databases. Academic Search Complete provides great articles for the cloud scholar. Apparently the water vapor in an average-sized cumulus cloud weighs the amount of eighty elephants. Thunder makes sense to me now.

Monday, November 21, 2011


You know that birds are the descendants of dinosaurs, right? That paleontologists have found fossils of dinosaurs with feathers, or protofeathers? A few scientists argue that birds and dinosaurs diverged early and developed separately, and so birds are not dino descendants, but that's not the consensus, and I'm glad of that. I prefer to think that I eat dinosaur a couple of times a week.

Glorified Dinosaurs
Feathered Dragons

So how are you going to cook your Thanksgiving dinosaur?

Thanksgiving 101
Home for the Holidays Cookbook
A Southern Thanksgiving

Or not:

Vegetarian Times Complete Thanksgiving Cookbook

Authors' names:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Where did you learn to drive? I took a correspondence course.

I’ve had Muppets on the brain recently. This recent brain activity is not due solely to the upcoming Muppet movie starring Jason Segel and Amy Adams (but really starring Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy), but also because of a recent reference question I received. In short, I was tasked with finding some materials that would entertain a seven-year old and two adults simultaneously. I can think of anyone that does this better than Jim Henson’s Muppets. As a kid, you see bright, silly characters bouncing around doing dances and it’s great. As an adult, you can appreciate lines like this:

You, you with the banjo, can you help me? I seem to have lost my sense of direction!
Kermit: Have you tried Hare Krishna?

Awesome! But most likely a bit over your tot's head. Plus, Dom DeLuise is Bernie and it just doesn’t get much better than that.

The Muppets comes to theaters starting November 23rd which feels like a long time to wait. You could take the Fozzie Bear approach and try hibernating until then OR you could come down to your local library and experience some Muppet awesomeness.

A sampling of what we have to offer:

Some surprises:

They do it all!

For fun:
Gizmodo’s interview in which the cast of the new movie discusses the importance of the puppets all being real instead of computer generated!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

eBooks are here!

If you haven't already noticed, there's a big banner on our website announcing the new downloadables. These "downloadables" are our eBook and eAudiobook collection. We signed a contract with Overdrive and now have several thousand items in the e-collection. Do you have a Kindle, iPad, Nook, or Sony eReader? You're in luck, you can download to all these devices and many more! To figure compatibility, look here and see what format you should download.

Need help in exploring this ebook adventure? Go to the help page first, if nothing there works, give us a call and we'll do our best to walk you through whatever you need. I find that reading through the FAQs is very helpful, myself.

Looking for books that are available? (Don't you hate it when you find a title only to discover that it's checked out?) Tick the "only available copies" in the quick search box on the downloadables homepage, near the top left corner.

Want to read public domain or Disney books? These do not count toward your three book limit. Read something while you wait for that hot, new bestseller to come back in. By the way, you can put that bestseller on hold; you have a limit of five.

eBooks and eAudiobooks can be checked out for seven or fourteen days. At the end of the checkout period the item will automatically be returned. You can return eBooks early, but not eAudiobooks. If you need instructions for returning items early, read this before you call us.

Don't see what you're looking for? Suggest a title be purchased using our "suggest a purchase" form. Chances are very high that we'll buy it.

Hope you enjoy our new service, it'll only get better.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Peeking into Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s world

Every once in a while, you are presented with a gift so big that it takes a while for your mind to compute its magnitude. You experience so many feelings at once that your spirit floats up to limbo, numb for a while. Well, that was me last week, and I am still day dreaming about what happened. The Benson Latin American Collection invited a small crowd (including yours truly) to a conversation about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, known also as Mexico’s Tenth Muse. In the invitation they said that they were showing a selection of her rare books and manuscripts. I was so excited!

Before I continue with my story, let me tell you about Sor Juana. She was born in Mexico in 1648. From an early age she displayed signs of an amazing intelligence. She learned to read at age three and started writing at age eight. She taught herself Latin, and Nahuatl, and read voraciously everything she could get her hands on. The Marquis of Mancera, viceroy in Mexico at that time, took her under his wing. Wanting to know how much the young Juana knew, she was fifteen at that time, the Marquis asked 40 scholars to test her orally on various topics ranging from theology to science. To their surprise, she responded correctly to all the questions and her reputation grew in the vice-royal court.

But let’s remember, we are talking about a woman in the seventeenth century with many things against her: she was illegitimate, her family wasn’t rich, she was very pretty (yes, this could be bad in those days) and finally, she was female. Because the only other option left to her was to get married and stop studying, Juana joined the convent of the Discalced Carmelite as a nun. Later she transferred to the Convent of the Order of St. Jerome. She wrote poems, essays, plays and papers, both secular and religious, which were mostly published in Spain. But Sor Juana's writings were dangerous. She criticized the hypocrisy of society, its double values and sexism. Many admired her, but also many hated her, and in 1694 she was forced to give up her desire for learning in a document which she signed in her own blood: I, the Worst of All.

And last week, there I was, in a small room in the Benson Latin American Collection, standing in front of that very same document, the one she signed with her blood more than three hundred years ago. I could only imagine what was going through her mind and soul while signing that document. A document that curators only let you peak at for a couple of minutes every 50 years or so, and a manuscript that made me feel grateful for my freedom and the opportunity I have had to learn what I want, whenever I want. What an inspiration Sor Juana is still for us today! I now have a good story for my grandkids to tell.

At Austin Public Library you can find:

I, the worst of all (DVD)
The divine Narcissus poems by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
Treasury of Mexican love poems, quotations & proverbs : in Spanish and English
A reader in Latina feminist theology: religion and justice

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fascination with Steve Jobs

I have watched all the interviews, read all the articles, and listened to most of the NPR reports on Steve Jobs. Why I am I so fascinated by him? Partly, it's trying to figure out how he became such a genius, a master at putting together ideas, art and technology. It's also seeing in him the usual human foibles, one example is the one I am experiencing, fascination with celebrities. I read that Jobs had a relationship with Joan Baez because she had been romantically involved with Bob Dylan, and Steve was a huge fan of Dylan's. His quest for perfection contributed to his success, but that is another human trait that can often wreak havoc.

But I am not yet ready to read the biography. There is something unsettling about reading intimate details of this immensely private man so soon after his death, especially about his last few months of illness. Friends who have read the book say it does not disappoint. It presents a man who has so many contradictions that your jaw drops, his charm and aggression, his eating disorders, his lack of hygiene, his abandonment of his first child just as he was placed for adoption. The library has lots of copies, but you will need to place a hold. Our new downloadable service doesn't have it yet, but you can download I, Steve, a 160-page collection of quotations by him.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Resources for Writers

La Princesse de Cleves presented a new information guide last month: Resources for Visual Artists. The visual artists guide provides all kinds of helpful information for painters, sculptors, and photographers. I'd like to introduce a companion guide: Resources for Writers. This guide provides resources to develop your writing craft, information to aid in connecting with the publishing industry, and opportunities to secure funding for your writing. There is also information about local writing groups as well as vital writers' advocacy organizations. The physical and digital resources featured within the guide are all free to check out or access digitally with your Austin Public Library card.

While writing has the floor, I'd like to suggest three great books about writing.

Milan Kundera's The Art of the Novel

James Wood's How Fiction Works

Annie Dillard's The Writing Life

Monday, November 07, 2011

Civil Disobedience

Occupy Wall Street is facing winter, and the weather in the northeast has been as extreme in its way as ours has been in Texas. It's a good bet winter will be deep at Zuccotti Park--it's already been early. Will the protesters persevere? Do they need to? Have they already changed the conversation? Because of them, are we talking about meeting the needs of the undercapitalized in a capitalist country?

Twenty years from now, will historians write about OWS in the same vein as the great civil uprisings of the 20th century--Vietnam war protests, civil rights marches, women's- and gays'-rights demonstrations? Remind yourself how powerful the OWS method has been:

Keep up with Occupy Austin

And here are puzzles! Author's names:

Thursday, November 03, 2011


Well, this is my last post for the Austin Public Library's blog. After almost 4 years as a librarian here at Austin Public Library, I am moving to Corvallis, Oregon to accept a librarian position I was recently offered. This is a huge move for me. Virtually all of my family lives in Texas and many of them are right here in Austin and have been for years. We moved to Austin when I was 10 years old and I've watched it grow from a small, quiet city to a big, bustling urban center (not without a bit of bitterness, though - I liked my small city). I grew up thinking Willie Nelson was the best country singer on the planet and didn't realize until I moved to North Carolina briefly for graduate school that not everyone felt that way. I'm going to pack up a moving van in about 2 weeks and drive 2200 miles to a new home in a strange new land. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't crazy nervous about how it will all work out, but I'm also giddy with the excitement. A new adventure and a new life are ahead!

I've loved writing for the blog and being a part of Austin Public Library. My colleagues, in particular, will be dearly missed. I may be biased, but I think Austin Public has some of the best reference librarians in the country and, if you don't believe me, you should utilize our Ask a Librarian service and find out.

I leave you all with a list of movies and TV shows that have some of my favorite goodbye scenes. Do you have a favorite I haven't listed here? (Please note that the YouTube clips provided may contain spoilers!)

Almost Famous
There's more than one good goodbye scene in this movie and here's a link to one of them.

Battlestar Galactica
Truth be told, I did not find the ending of this show to be all that satisfying. Overall, though, this television series is awesome. (YouTube clip)

"We'll always have Paris." or "Here's looking at you, kid." (YouTube clip)

Gone With the Wind
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." (YouTube clip)

Good Will Hunting
"Sorry, I had to go see about a girl." (YouTube clip)

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
"So long and thanks for all the fish!" (YouTube clip)

Lost in Translation
(YouTube clip)

The Muppets Take Manhattan
(YouTube clip)

The Office, Season 7
The episode "Goodbye, Michael" really choked me up. Come back, Steve Carell!

This one doesn't really have a goodbye scene, but I just love the way the last scene wraps up the movie and the song is just perfect. Please note that some of the material is explicit. (YouTube clip)

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
"Live long and prosper"

V For Vendetta
"He was Edmond Dantés... and he was my father. And my mother... my brother... my friend. He was you... and me. He was all of us." (YouTube clip)

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Who Am I?

Austin must be full of philosophers. Most of the 2011 philosophy books at APL are checked out. One just added to the Best 2011 Nonfiction list is Who Am I? And If So, How Many? A Philosophical Journey by Richard David Precht. The book is an entertaining tour of the biggest philosophical questions and their relevance to our daily life. The author draws on neuroscience, psychology, and history to elucidate the questions at the heart of human existence, such as, what is truth? does life have meaning? why should I be good? Another title on the entertaining side is Philosophy on Tap which examines 48 of the greatest philosophical conundrums and pairs each with an exceptional beer. If God exists, why are there bad beers?

All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age
Driving with Plato
The Four Purposes of Life
How Plato and Pythagoras Can Save Your Life: The Ancient Greek Prescription for Health and Happiness
I Watch, Therefore I Am: from Socrates to Sartre, the Great Mysteries of Life as Explained through Howdy Doody, Marcia Brady, Homer Simpson, Don Draper, and Other TV Icons
The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True
The Philosophy Book
Philosophy on Tap: Pint-Sized Puzzles for the Pub Philosopher
The Soul of the Greeks: An Inquiry
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

We also have created a Philosophy Information Guide to answer more of you philosophical musings.