Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Flying High

Kite Flying Day was March 27. Kite-flying festivals have been common this month, from the Smithsonian Institution’s Kite Festival last Saturday on the Mall to the Indoor Kite Festival in a high school gym in Lincoln, Oregon. The Smithsonian festival –- in its 40th year -– featured a handmade kite contest, a “hot tricks” competition and a rokkaku kite battle in which contestants attempt to cut the strings of opponents’ kites.

Kites have an illustrious history, from Ben Franklin’s famous experiment with lightning to their use in the military (to carry messages, munitions and for observation). The kite was the precursor to the airplane, and in 1894, Australian aviation pioneer Lawrence Hargrave was lifted from the ground by four kites in his quest for aerial transportation. Nine years later, Samuel Franklin Cody crossed the English Channel on a vessel towed by kites.

Check out:

The Magnificent Book of Kites: explorations in design, construction, enjoyment & flight by Maxwell Eden.

The Great Kite Book by Norman Schmidt.

Making and Flying Stunt Kites and One-Liners by Wolfgang Schimmelpfennig.

The Big Book of Kites by Jim Rowlands.

Dynamite Kites: 30 Plans to Build and Fly by Jack Wiley.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Word Nerds

Comedian Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show,” admits he’ll do the USA Today crossword puzzle, but adds: “but I won’t feel good about myself.”

Stewart is one of the New York Times crossword puzzle enthusiasts -- along with Bill Clinton, Bob Dole and the Indigo Girls -- featured in “Wordplay,” a new film scheduled to be released this June. The movie was partly filmed at the 2005 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and Convention. This year’s tournament -- the 29th -- runs March 24-26 in Stamford, CT.

More than 64 million Americans are cruciverbalists -- people who enjoy an activity reputedly invented by journalist Arthur Wayne in 1913. In less than 100 years, crossword puzzles have become the most popular word game in the world.

They’ve even spawned two series of mystery novels. The Puzzle Lady series is written by Parnell Hall, and follows enigmatist (a crossword puzzle creator) Cora Felton as she solves murders across seven novels. Books in the series include “Last Puzzle and Testament,” “Puzzled to Death,” “With This Puzzle, I Thee Kill,” and the most recent, “Stalking the Puzzle Lady.”

Another series features enigmatist Belle Graham and her husband Rosco, a private investigator, as they solve crimes. The 11-book series includes “Corpus de Crossword,” “Anatomy of a Crossword,” “A Crossworder’s Delight,” and the latest, “Another Word for Murder.” The series is written under the nom de plume Nero Blanc by married cruciverbalists Cordelia Frances Biddle and Steve Zettler.

You might also be interested in the non-fiction books “Crossworld: One Man’s Journey Into America’s Crossword Obsession” by Marc Romano; “Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8): A Memoir of Love, Exile and Crosswords” by Sandy Balfour; and “Twelve Across” a romance novel by Barbara Delinsky.

Find other books in the library’s online catalog.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Last week marked the 26th anniversary of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s "10 Most Wanted List." The FBI debuted its gallery of most-wanted criminals in 1950 to publicize dangerous fugitives still at large.

According to infoplease.com, the names chosen for the list reflect changing crime trends through the decades. The early lists included bank robbers and car thieves. During the turbulent 1960s, the FBI’s top fugitives were charged with destruction of government property, sabotage and kidnapping. Today, the gallery includes terrorists.

Are you a fan of true crime novels? Truman Capote is credited with inventing the genre with “In Cold Blood” in 1965. However, 1920s muckraker Upton Sinclair published a fictionalized version of the notorious Sacco-Vanzetti case in 1928. Sacco and Vanetti were two anarchists accused of robbery and murder, and were executed in 1927. In “Boston: A Documentary Novel of the Sacco-Vanzetti Case,” Sinclair argued that it was politics rather than guilt that condemned them. A recently-discovered letter in Sinclair’s handwriting seems to confirm a theory that he learned otherwise. The lawyer for the two supposedly told Sinclair they had actually committed the crime. Still, Sinclair didn’t change the novel. When it’s fiction, do the facts have to be real? Check out:

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi.

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule. Also: Small Sacrifices: A True Story of Passion and Murder.

Fatal Vision by Joe McGinniss.

Blind Eye: How the Medical Establishment Let a Doctor Get Away With Murder by James B. Stewart

At Mother’s Request: A True Story of Money, Murder and Betrayal by Jonathan Coleman.

The Night Stalker by Philip Carlo.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Food for Thought

The Book Club Cookbook has been called “the definitive guide for preparing culinary masterpieces that perfectly complement the literary masterpieces your club is reading!” The book’s authors, Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp, will share recipes and tasty treats at 7 p.m. on March 28 at our George Mason Regional Library. To sign up for this free event, call 703-256-3800.

Gelman is a freelance food writer and a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Krupp is also an IACP member, as well as an avid cook. The two suggest delicious dishes to pair with novels enjoyed by book discussion groups. Refreshments will be prepared by staff.

The authors interviewed members in dozens of book groups across the country to gather their recipes. Their cookbook includes 100 favorite book selections and their accompanying recipes. To prepare for this event, check out some of the novels featured in this cookbook:

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (paired with honey cake).

The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger (swordfish kabobs).

Cane River by Lalita Tademy (peach cobbler).

The Hours by Michael Cunningham (crab casserole).

Sugar by Bernice McFadden (sweet potato pie).

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (mojitos).

Life of Pi by Yann Martel (tandoori shrimp).

What do you think of our kits for book clubs?

Friday, March 10, 2006

Minding your business

Fairfax County’s Economic Development Authority reports that 10 percent of Fairfax County residents are self-employed, and of the 29,000 county businesses with employees, approximately 4,100 are owned by women, 2,500 by Asians, 700 by Hispanics, and 400 by African Americans.

Gerald L. Gordon is EDA’s President and CEO. He talks about Fairfax County’s first-time business owners who are also new Americans. “The business-oriented literature of the library system is their first stop,” he says. “Those resources frequently provide the basic understanding of critical topics.”

Even if you’re not new to the culture, business books can give you valuable coaching from successful leaders. Check out:

The 7 Irrefutable Rules of Small Business by Steven S. Little.

Overpromise and Overdeliver by Rick Barrera.

Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling by Jane Hyun.

The Millionaire Real Estate Investor by Gary Keller, Dave Jenks, Jay Papasan.

When Generations Collide by Lynne C. Lancaster, David Stillman.

The Radical Leap: A Personal Lesson in Extreme Leadership by Steve Farber.

The Resilient Enterprise: Overcoming Vulnerability for Competitive Advantage by Yossi Sheffi.

Find other books in our online catalog.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A Doll Story

This week Barbie celebrates her 45th birthday. She debuted on March 9, 1959 and since then more than 800 million dolls have been sold. Barbie has been around so long she’s become a collector’s item. Mattel, the doll’s maker, estimates there are 100,000 collectors who may spend up to $1,000 a year. The original doll sold for $3.00 in 1959, but a boxed Barbie of that vintage went for $3,552.50 on eBay in 2004, according to Wikipedia.

Barbie, who has been everything from a paleontologist to a McDonald’s employee, is not loved by all. Some parents argue that her hour-glass proportions would be anorexic if scaled to full-size. Others believe that her various “careers” demonstrate that a woman can be anything she wants to be. What do you think?

If you would like to know more about Barbie’s history as a cultural icon, check out:

Barbie: Four Decades of Fashion, Fantasy and Fun by Marco Tosa.

Toy Wars: The Epic Struggles Between G.I.Joe, Barbie and the Companies That Make Them by G. Wayne Miller.

Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography by M.G. Lord.

Mondo Barbie by Lucinda Ebersole and Richard Peabody.

Adios, Barbie: Young Women Write About Body Image and Identity by Ophira Edut.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Behind the Curtain

Journalist Scott Simon said that ghostwriting is “as old as literature.” Today an estimated 40 percent of all published books (and 80 percent of all celebrity books) are ghostwritten.

Most readers can understand why actors, athletes, artists and activists hire someone to write their books; most celebs don’t have the skill to produce well-written autobiographies. But what’s in it for the ghostwriter?

For one thing, an A-lister’s memoir is easier for the writer to sell. For another thing, ghostwriting can take less time. “By using someone else's knowledge I can cut my research time for a book from months to days,” says prolific ghostwriter Andrew Crofts. There’s also the voyeur factor. Helen Brown claimed that ghostwriters do it “to see how the rich and famous live.”

March 1-7 is National Ghostwriters Week. Check out:

“Both Feet on the Ground” by David Beckham (and Tom Watt).

"Big Russ and Me” by Tim Russert (and Bill Novak).

Swan by Naomi Campbell (and Caroline Upcher).

It Takes a Village by Hillary Rodham Clinton (and Barbara Feinman).

The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump (and Tony Schwartz).

The Way Things Ought to Be by Rush Limbaugh (and John Fund).

The Beadstown Ladies’ Common-Sense Investment Guide by the Beardstown Ladies (and Leslie Whitaker).