Monday, December 19, 2011


Are you like me? Does your heart melt looking at all those warmly lit, slightly overexposed (so they glow) photos of holiday celebrations in the Martha Stewart books, and do you hate her for reminding you that you never enjoyed a holiday so perfectly arranged and never will? The woman did time for obstructing justice! Why do I long to spend Christmas with her??

Martha’s daughter didn’t profit (emotionally, anyway) from her mother’s homemaking (take a look at Alexis Stewart’s recent book, Whateverland; APL doesn't have it), so it should be obvious that it’s healthy to keep Martha at a distance—she directing teams of crafters in her snow-kissed Connecticut manse; I with my glue gun in Texas—yet I want just once to find myself sitting on a spindly Early American chair in a meticulously restored, candle-lit, antebellum New England home, Martha bending to offer me a perfectly made eggnog and a work-of-art sugar cookie painted flawlessly with royal icing.

I can’t explain it. I bet you can’t either.

There’s still time to create Martha’s fantasyland, if you can:

Martha Stewart’s Cookies
Martha Stewart’s New Pies and Tarts
Martha’s Entertaining
Martha’s Holiday Celebrations (DVD)
Martha’s Favorite Cookies (DVD)
Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook
Martha’s Homemade Holidays (DVD)

Authors' names:

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Elephant in the Room

As a Midwesterner and a graduate of an Iowa College, I think about Iowa more than the average Texas resident. Some of my favorite facts about Iowa:
  • It is the home of Marion Morrison (later known as John Wayne)
  • Iowa is the origin of the Red Delicious apple (you can read more about this factoid in Michael Pollan’s book Botany of Desire)
  • The Des Moines Register sponsors an annual bike ride across the state (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa a.k.a. RAGBRAI)
  • It is hilly and beautiful (not technically a fact)
  • Iowa is also important (to me alone) because it is the first state in which I cast my vote for President of the United States of America.
This last fact, which continues to bring me a warm fuzzy feeling, is also relevant because we are now a mere 18 days from an important event. The Iowa Caucus, partly because it is the first presidential caucus of the year, has taken on a huge amount of significance over the years. Stephen Bloom recently wrote an article for The Atlantic in which he claims, “whoever wins the Iowa Caucuses in January will very likely have a 50 percent chance of being elected president 11 months later.” Probably explains why the GOP candidates came out with their figurative guns blazing during last night’s debate in Sioux City.

Maybe, like many of us, you’re confused about why and how Iowa has become so important in elections. Guess what! Your local library can help you out. In addition to providing access to many newspapers in print and through our databases, we also have quite a few books on this topic precisely!

A few suggestions:
Primary politics : how presidential candidates have shaped the modern nominating system
by Kamarck, Elaine Ciulla.

Grassroots rules : how the Iowa Caucus helps elect American presidents
by Hull, Christopher C.

We will be heard : women's struggles for political power in the United States
by Freeman, Jo

Postville : a clash of cultures in heartland America
by Bloom, Stephen G. (Also the author of the Atlantic article reference above)

An Electronic Resource:
Iowa precinct caucuses [electronic resource] : the making of a media event 2nd ed.
by Winebrenner, Hugh, 1937-

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Jung's Red Book

The new movie, A Dangerous Method, examines the intense relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud who began as friends, but then over time fought bitterly over the fundamentals of psychology, psychiatry and role of the psychotherapist. Freud generally viewed the unconscious mind as a warehouse for repressed desires, and Jung viewed the psyche as an inherently more spiritual and fluid place. His central tenets — the existence of a collective unconscious and the power of archetypes — have seeped into New Age thinking while remaining more at the fringes of mainstream psychology. When Carl Jung embarked on an extended self-exploration , where he said he "switched off consciousness", the result was a large, illuminated volume called the The Red Book. The book tells the story of Jung trying to face down his own demons, as he loses his soul and then finds it again. In Jung's view a successful life was all about balance. If our lives erred too much in one direction, our unconscious would compensate for the inequality. The book was never published during Jung's lifetime, though a few friends and disciples were allowed to examine it in a Swiss bank vault. Apparently Jung felt it was too personal for publication and he did use some of the text in other published works. In 2009 Jung's heirs decided to publish a complete facsimile and translation and we have three copies at the library. It's a huge book, resembling a medieval manuscript, with Jung's handwritten text and drawings.

If you just need a beginner's introduction to Jung, check out The Essential Jung, introduced and compiled by Anthony Storr.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Opposed to movie remakes!

I love foreign films. To me it's wonderful to watch movies in their original language, and I don’t mind subtitles. Over the years, I’ve seen how there are so many new versions of foreign movies that were excellent but somebody thought that we needed to remake them. Ughhh! The only good reason for a remake I see is that you won’t have to deal with subtitles, which are a downer for some, but other than that I still wonder why they need to spend money on something already well done.

When writing this blog I forgot that there were also remakes of movies that are amazing classics in English. Same feeling here: don’t touch those classics!! Are directors wondering: how can I make an awesome movie better? Have you ever seen a remake that is better than the original? I will be waiting for the remake of “Lord of the Rings.” I know this is going to happen!

Something I learned about myself when writing this blog: I refused to watch remakes of foreign films (because of that I’ve been called a movieist!). But, I am a bit more relaxed when it comes to watching remakes of American films. How about you?
Want some ideas of original titles and remakes? Here you go:

Remakes of foreign films:
· The cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Original silent film released in 1920)
· The cabinet of Dr. Caligari (remake released in 2005)

· Infernal Affairs (original in Chinese)
· The Departed (by Martin Scorsese )

· Let the right one in (original film in Swedish)
· Let me in (remake by Cloë Moretz)

· Dîner de Cons (original film in French)
· Dinner for schmucks (remake by Jay Roach)

· Three men and a cradle (original in French)
· 3 men and a baby (Coming soon to APL)

· Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (original in Swedish)
· Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (remake on the movie theatre soon)

Remakes of movies originally in English:
· Straw Dogs (original movie from 1971)
· Straw Dogs (remake coming soon to APL)

· The women: it’s all about men! (Original film from 1939)
· The women (Remake directed by Diane English coming soon)

· The Rear Window (original movie from 1954)
· Disturbia (remake directed by Joe Medjuck)

· Nightmare on Elm Street (original movie from 1984)
· Nightmare on Elm Street (remake by Samuel Bayer)

· Last man on earth (original movie from 1959)
· Omega Man (Remake by Boris Sagal)
· I am Legend (Remake by Francis Lawrence)

· Clash of the Titans (original movie from 1981)
· Clash of the Titans (remake by Louis Leterrier)

Friday, December 09, 2011

Driving through the fog...

When I drove into work this morning I could not help but think of the movie The Mist.  Have you seen it?  It's about a thick fog that rolls into town and a bloodbath ensues.  It's about 10:30 and I can still see the fog outside.  I usually can see the river from our building, but not right now.  This is creepy.

And of course, all this creepiness is making me think of creepy movies and books.  You know the kind.  Not the ones with zombies and Frankensteins, but the ones with a silent monster...your imagination. 

A sampling of some creepiness:
Alfred Hitchcock - television series
Amityville Horror - book & movie
Misery - book & movie
Paranormal Activity - 1 & 2
The Shining - book & movie

Take a load off this weekend and relax with an intellectually stimulating thriller.  Then get back to decorating the tree with the kids.  Oooh, or perhaps do both at the same time...start a new holiday tradition.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

George Plimpton. Athlete.

George Plimpton fit much living into his life. The celebrated bon-vivant melded many professional and social lives, seemingly involved in everything and always conveying an air of cool nonchalance. He never seemed to be trying.

In 1953 he joined The Paris Review as its first editor and remained in that position until his passing in 2003. He fashioned the journal’s offices as the de facto literary salon of America, hosting memorable parties in between constructing some of the best literary journal issues of the twentieth century. He was a fireworks aficionado and held the ceremonial title of Fireworks Commissioner of New York City. He was a Harvard buddy and close friend of Robert Kennedy and wrestled Sirhan Sirhan to the ground after Robert Kennedy’s assassination. He made numerous film cameos, including a turn as an urbane psychologist in Good Will Hunting.

Outside of literary circles, George Plimpton was most known for his participatory journalistic exploits. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s he challenged numerous professional athletes and wrote about his humblings.

Out of My League is his account of pitching a pre-inning in the 1960 All Star game. He faced the National League lineup and intended to face the American League lineup as well but was replaced due to fatigue.

Paper Lion is probably Plimpton’s most famous book. He attended the Detroit Lions 1963 preseason training as a backup quarterback.

The Bogey Man is Plimpton’s tale of attempting to qualify for the PGA tour in the era of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

In Open Net Plimption recounts his time as a goalie with the Boston Bruins. He played briefly in a preseason game.

Among other exploits he fought three rounds with light heavyweight champion Archie Moore and lost a tennis match to Pancho Gonzales. Plimpton was most dismayed by his loss to Gonzales, since he considered himself an accomplished tennis player.

And he was friends with Truman Capote.

Nelson Aldrich wrote a great book about Plimpton: George, Being George

Monday, December 05, 2011

The Swerve

I'm reading one of those books that changes your life. It's called The Swerve, and it's the story of the re-discovery of Lucretius' On the Nature of Things (a book that changed all our lives). The Swerve is about a secretary to the Pope, who, when he finds himself suddenly unemployed when his corrupt boss is sent to jail, goes on the hunt for lost works of ancient philosophers, and in 1417 finds a copy of On the Nature of Things in a remote German monestary. Within a few years hand-made copies (the only kind there were at the time) are circulating in Europe, inspiring the thoughtful and riling the church.

On the Nature of Things describes Epicurean philosophy, which posits that the universe is made of atoms (yep--first century BCE) that join at random to create matter; that there is no overarching intelligence and no afterlife, so don't fear death, but enjoy what you have while you can. (Lest you find Epicureanism a rationale for selfishness, know that Epicures believed it wasn't possible to enjoy an immoderate life without relationships and charity).

Christianity, especially early Christians' desire to emulate the suffering of Christ, overwhelmed hedonistic Epicureanism--what could be more opposite?--and Lucretius' book disappeared for a thousand years, until it was discovered in that German monastery. (Ironic that monasteries were the first places scholars looked for subversive works. Monks took librarianship seriously.) When On the Nature of Things reappeared in the 1400s, riling the church meant risking being burned at the stake. Even so, people read it, talked about it, and the renaissance followed.

There's a little of the history of book making and of libraries in The Swerve, there's a little of the history of philosophy and art, and as enjoyable as I find that amalgam under any circumstances, it is made even better by the book's beautifully legible font, and when a book is easy to read, the ideas in it are more likely to endure, and The Swerve's author, Stephen Greenblatt, will explain that to you, too.

Authors' names:

Friday, December 02, 2011

It was a Dark and Stormy Night

Well, it’s morning and it’s not exactly stormy but it is super gloomy which is perhaps why I woke up thinking about Gothic novels.

Today I would like to encourage you to add a Gothic novel or two to your reading list. Now, I understand you may be wary of diving into a genre that took off in the late 18th Century, but let me remind you that the 1790s were a cRaZy time (lots of French Revolution-related beheadings). Today, you may have noticed an intense fascination in monsters. Zombies are everywhere, even inserted in Jane Austen novels. The Twilight Series, featuring both a werewolf and a vampire is hugely successful. The Sookie Stackhouse series has become a hit television program. But I say none of these hold a candle (candles are kind of ominous) to some of the classic Gothic novels.

Check this out. Matthew Lewis’ The Monk was published in 1796 and caused quite a stir. So much so that Lewis and his publisher were indicted and the novel was essentially banned. No, there are no vampires. But you know what the novel does have? Evil Monks, wicked nuns, cross-dressers, hidden identities, black magic, magic mirrors, romance, duels, secret tombs in secret tunnels, seduction, lasciviousness, murder, ghost stories, the Inquisition, and the Devil himself! This is neither irony or hyperbole on my part. This novel is dark, creepy, and gripping. It has the added benefit of sometimes being so over the top that it is comical which can be a nice break. And here’s a bonus: it’s at the library!

The Monk by Matthew Lewis

Some other titles that are full of their own dark twists and turns:
As you’re reading, keep in mind that the library also has a great set of Literary Databases that can provide extra context and intrigue!