Tuesday, October 31, 2006


‘Tis the season to explore a genre loved by many -– horror fiction. Stephen King has just published his newest opus, Lisey’s Story. Other masters include Peter Straub, Thomas Harris and Robert McCammon. If you want to check out some recommendations from Fairfax County Public Library staff, browse their list of horror picks. Another source for good horror reading is the Bram Stoker Awards, presented by the Horror Writers of America each year. Creepers by David Morrell and Dread in the Beast by Charlee Jacob tied for first place last year.

Horror has its roots in the demons and vampires that populated the folklore of ancient Babylonia, India, China and Japan, but modern horror dates from the gothic tales of the late 18th and early 19th century. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker’s Dracula are among the best known. Other pioneers of horror fiction include H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Alan Poe.

Of course, you may be asking yourself: what’s the difference between a horror novel, and a thriller? The key ingredient is the presence of the supernatural. So for example, although Thomas Harris’ book about a debonair cannibal in The Silence of the Lambs is horrifying, there’s arguably no supernatural force involved in the story. On the other hand, Black House, which Peter Straub coauthored with Stephen King, has shape-shifters and an alternate universe in addition to the horror of cannibalism.

Inquiring minds want to know: which of your favorite authors have kept you up at night with the light on?

Friday, October 27, 2006

And Now For Something Totally Different

Today marks the 67th birthday of the comic English actor and writer John Cleese, whose work has delighted a new generation with the success of the recent musical "Spamalot."

“Spamalot” is based on the 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," which in turn was based on the popular 1969-74 TV series, "Monty Python's Flying Circus." Cleese, who got his start writing for a Cambridge University Footlights Club revue called “Cambridge Circus,” moved on to the The David Frost Show and That Was the Week That Was, as well British radio and TV shows before “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” achieved international attention.

He is most remembered for two sketches in that series. In the “dead parrot” sketch Cleese tries to return his defective parrot to the pet store where he bought it. The other sketch, “Ministry of Silly Walks,” made great use of Cleese’s gawky appearance. The show changed TV comedy, as evidenced by the term "pythonesque," now found in the dictionary. It refers to something that is “fast-paced, surreal, and following stream-of-consciousness.”

Cleese went on to more TV success with "Fawlty Towers," as well as the Monty Python films. He wrote, produced and appeared in "A Fish Called Wanda" in 1988 and more recently appeared in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" as "Nearly Headless Nick."

Check out:

Cleese Encounters by Jonathan Margolis.

The Pythons Autobiography by The Pythons.

Monty Python Speaks! by David Morgan.

The First 28 Years of Monty Python by Kim Johnson.

The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus by Graham Chapman.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Criminal Profiling

TV aficionados who enjoy “Criminal Minds” and the various “CSI” shows can learn more about criminal profiling at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, October 24th at the Kings Park Library when author and former FBI Behavioral Science Unit Chief Roger Depue discusses his book, Between Good and Evil: A Master Profiler’s Hunt for Society’s Most Violent Predators.

Also known as offender profiling or psychological profiling, the technique dates from the Middle Ages when inquisitors attempted to profile heretics. (Offender Profiling -- Wikipedia). In the 1800s, criminology first began to emerge as a science and several practitioners attempted to develop theories of psychological profiling.

Famous profilers include Thomas Bond, who attempted to profile Jack the Ripper in London in the late 1800s; Walter C. Langer, who was asked to profile Adolf Hitler in 1943; James A. Brussel, who helped develop a profile of the “mad bomber” who terrorized New York city in the 1940s and 1950s; and three FBI Behavioral Science Unit profilers, Howard Teten, Robert Ressler and John Douglas.

For more on criminal profiling, see:

The Mind of Adolf Hitler: The Secret Wartime Report by Walter Langer.

I Have Lived in the Monster by Robert Ressler and Thomas Schachtman.

The Cases That Haunt Us: From Jack the Ripper to JonBenet Ramsey by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker.

Profilers: Leading Investigators Take You Inside the Criminial Mind, edited by John H. Campbell and Don DeNevi.

The Mad, the Bad, and the Innocent: The Criminal Mind on Trial by Barbara Kirwin.

Friday, October 20, 2006

United Nations Week

On Tuesday, October 24, the United Nations celebrates its 61st anniversary. The organization’s charter was ratified in 1945 by China, France, the United Kingdom, the United States and 47 other countries.

The U.N. was not the first attempt at international cooperation. Early efforts developed around sharing technology. The International Telegraph Union was formed in 1865 and the Universal Postal Union was established in 1874. Both are now U.N. agencies. The immediate forerunner to the U.N. was the League of Nations, created in the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I. The League of Nations was disbanded after it failed to prevent World War II.

Franklin D. Roosevelt first used the term “United Nations” in 1942 when 26 nations signed a "Declaration of United Nations," pledging to continue the fight against the Axis powers during World War II. (Actually, he may have borrowed the phrase from Lord Byron’s poem, "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage".) In the 1950s, the U.N. was referred to as the U.N.O., the United Nations Organization, but over time “Organization” was dropped from its formal title.

Today, there are 192 U.N. member states. While the U.N. usually makes the news for its peace-keeping role, a number of U.N. agencies are involved in humanitarian assistance and international development. These include the World Health Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, while separate agencies, are also affiliated with the U.N.

You’re invited to a special program in honor of United Nations Week (October 20–27). A panel of experts will discuss Working Together Towards Peace, Security & Human Rights on Sunday, October 22 at 2 p.m. at the Sherwood Regional Library. This event is free but seating is limited; please call 703-765-3645 to sign up.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Nobel Reading

Last week, the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, Sweden awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature to Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk. While Pamuk is not a household name, the Fairfax County Public Library has seven of his books that you can check out, including My Name Is Red and Snow. In announcing the award, the Academy praised Pamuk, “who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.”

The awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature has sometimes been controversial in part due to Alfred Nobel’s direction that it must be awarded to “the most outstanding work of an idealistic tendency.” Since 1901, 101 writers have received the award. Recipients include Rudyard Kipling (1907), William Butler Yeats (1923), George Bernard Shaw (1925), William Faulkner (1949), Sir Winston Churchill (1953), Ernest Hemingway (1954), John Steinbeck (1962), Saul Bellow (1976) and Toni Morrison (1993).

To sample the work of lesser-known honorees, check out:

Final Poems by Rabindranath Tagore. (1913 Nobel laureate)
Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset. (1928 Nobel laureate)
Independent People by Halldór Laxness. (1955 Nobel laureate)
Strong Wind by Miguel Ángel Asturias. (1967 Nobel laureate)
The Trolley by Claude Simon. (1985 Nobel laureate)
The Tale of the Unknown Island by José Saramago. (1998 Nobel laureate)

Thursday, October 12, 2006


It’s a variation of triskaidekaphobia, “fear of the number 13,” but in English-speaking nations around the world, “paraskevidekatriaphobia,” or fear of Friday the 13th, is widespread. In Spain and Greece, however, it is Tuesday, the 13th that is unlucky.

According to www.HowStuffWorks.com, the most common origins of the fear of Friday the 13th have Christian roots. There were 13 at Jesus’ last supper. Judas, who betrayed Jesus, was the last to arrive. Also, the crucifixion occurred on a Friday.

However, there are also non-religious roots to today’s superstition. Public hangings in Great Britain were associated with Friday and 13. They conventionally occurred on Fridays and there were supposedly 13 steps to the gallows.

In addition, sailors refused to ship out on a Friday, and there is a legend that, in the 1800s, the British actually built a ship and called it the H.M.S. Friday. The crew was selected on a Friday. It set sail on a Friday and its skipper supposedly was named James Friday. Authorities wanted to disprove the superstition. Unfortunately, folklore has it that the ship disappeared on its maiden voyage.

While some honor the superstition, others flaunt it. Daniel Handler, author of the popular Lemony Snicket children’s book, is releasing the 13th book in his series, titled "The End," today –- Friday the 13!

In a 2000 survey conducted by American Demographics, only 13 percent of all respondents said they were superstitious about Friday the 13th, but 30 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds expressed the fear. (They came of age during the nine installments of the “Friday the 13th” series of horror films -- coincidence?)

Think you aren’t superstitious? Here’s a test. If you could choose, would you get married, start a new job or close on a house on Friday the 13th? Let us know.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Skateboarder Birthday

Champion skateboarder Bob Burnquist turns 30 this week. Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he began skateboarding when he was 11 and turned pro at 14. Now he earns in the mid-six figures and lives on 12 acres of land in California. His backyard is filled with the wooden ramps competitive skateboarders crave.

Burnquist is a vegetarian. In fact, the organic-grocery chain, Whole Foods, is one of his sponsors. The skateboarder believes eating well helps him heal better from various bumps and bruises (“It Has Been Quite a Trip,” Los Angeles Times, August 6, 2006).

Burnquist is only one of five athletes who have competed in all 12 X Games, the ESPN-sponsored Olympics of extreme sports that began in 1993. Known for his creativity, in March, Burnquist displayed his expertise at the edge of the Grand Canyon for broadcast later on the Discovery Channel. Check out?

Thrasher Presents How to Build Skateboard Ramps: Halfpipes, Boxes, Bowls and More by Kevin Thatcher and Rick Blackhart

Skateboarding Is Not a Crime: Fifty Years of Street Culture by James Davis.

Have Board Will Travel: The Definitive History of Skate, Board and Snow by Jamie Brisick.

Catching Air: The Excitement and Daring of Individual Action Sports by Bill Gutman.

Concrete Wave: The History of Skateboarding by Michael Brooke.

Got a favorite extreme athlete? Let us know.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Jezebel is a performer's dream. She listens. She pays attention. She never heckles, criticizes, or stomps out in disgust. OK, she might scratch, sniff, or lick her forearm, but what can you expect from a dog?

Jezebel is certified by Therapy Dogs International, and she's trained to listen quietly while kids read books out loud to her. She will offer her services to readers ages 6-12 on Wednesday, October 18 at 6 p.m. at the Herndon Fortnightly Library.

"Oftentimes, young children are reluctant to read out loud if they think they'll be criticized or corrected," explains Sarah Lyons, the branch's Children's Librarian. Therapy dogs are trained to offer a warm, non-judgmental ear to struggling readers. Research shows that regularly reading aloud helps children improve reading comprehension, which can lead to greater academic success. Therapy dogs help facilitate that process.

"Children and dogs bond over a shared story," the TDI Web site explains. "Children's confidence and reading skills grow in a relaxed environment. It's that simple."

You can sign up your child to read to Jezebel by calling 703-437-8855. If your family already has an attentive four-legged companion, you can try having your kids read to their furry friend for 10 or 15 minutes a day. Good read-aloud books include:

"Second Grade Ape" by Daniel Pinkwater.

"The Stories Julian Tells" by Ann Cameron.

"Frog and Toad Together" by Arnold Lobel.

"Ricky Ricotta's Giant Robot: An Adventure Novel" by Dav Pilkey.

"Annabel the Actress, Starring in 'Hound of the Barkervilles'" by Ellen Conford.

Find other books to read out loud in the library’s online catalog.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Reading Groups: Beyond Jane Austen

October is National Reading Group Month. Book clubs have become so popular and come in so many shapes and sizes that the Library Journal recently devoted an entire article to the phenomenon (The Book Club Exploded, July 1, 2006). Groups these days often read and discuss not just a book, but focus on a genre or the entire work of one author -- or even a book plus its movie adaptation. The days of just tea and Jane Austen are long gone!

If you’ve been wanting to join a book discussion group, now’s your chance: the Fairfax County Public Library offers a number of book discussions for a wide variety of ages and interests.

We also offer kits with 10 copies of the same book and a discussion guide. Adult book club kits range from Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency to Isabelle Allende’s House of Spirits. If your group is searching for additional books to discuss, check out Booklists for Adults or the Readers’ pages on the library’s Web site for award winners, book discussion guides and a variety of resources for selecting a good book to discuss.

If you’re already in a book group, let us know what you’re reading and how you approach the art of selecting new books.