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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The “Right” Book for the Road

In a recent issue of The Journal of Higher Education, writer and poet Jay Parini mused on how to select the best books for a trip. He confesses that he begins to worry about books weeks before he plans to travel.

He prefers fiction on planes. For a five-hour flight across the country or over the Atlantic, Parini looks for short novels, novellas or a collection of short stories. One trick he discovered is to get about two-thirds through a book before a trip –- that’s when he thinks the narrative becomes gripping and can hold his attention during the hours in the air.

A while back, the library’s e-mail newsletter, FCPlease, reported on what books librarians packed on memorable vacations. Pat White-Williams, the manager of the Centreville Regional Library, likes to take along books that are related to the destination. She described a planned trip to New Jersey. “I felt I had to read the new Stephanie Plum novel [mystery writer Janet Evanovich’s sleuth]. . . Stephanie is a ‘Jersey Girl’ and I wanted to get the feel for that part of the state before I went there.”

“I love to read things that are set in places I’m visiting,” says Linda Schlekau, manager of the Dolley Madison Library. Preparing for a trip to London, Schlekau said, “I started reading Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography before we left and carried The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber on the plane. Matching the history, people and place names with the actual location adds to that ‘I’m really here!’ feeling.’”

Branch Coordinator Elizabeth Waller recalls: “As a young newly minted librarian off to Army Headquarters Library in Germany, I left the United States on a red-eye overnight flight, full of trepidation about the momentous life change that I was undertaking. As the plane lifted off, I opened the brand-new paperback I bought for the trip: The World According to Garp by John Irving. I finished the last page 10 hours later as we landed in Frankfurt, quite sure I had just had the literary experience of a lifetime. I often wonder what made that book so memorable: was it my journey into the unknown or the author’s inarguable gift for storytelling? Either way, I never see a copy of Garp without immediately returning to that dark airplane in the middle of nowhere.”

Have you had a similar epiphany? What are your favorite travelin’ books? Let us know.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Special Day for Dr. Seuss

Theodor Seuss Geisel’s birthday is fast becoming a national holiday, at least in library circles. Known as Dr. Seuss, the author of classic children’s books such as The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham was born on March 2, 1904 and died September 24, 1991. Each year the National Education Association declares his birthday "Read Across America Day" (referred to by some as “Read Dr. Seuss Day”).

There is a rumor that the legendary author got started on his journey to fame and fortune when Random House publisher Bennett Cerf bet Geisel that he couldn’t write a book with only 50 words. The story goes that the happy result was Green Eggs and Ham. Geisel went on to produce dozens more books that were eventually translated into numerous languages around the world.

As another generation is introduced to the famous rhymes of Dr. Seuss, check out the special activities below at Fairfax County Public Library branches. Remember that registration is required for all events, even though they’re presented free of charge.

George Mason Regional Library
Friday, March 2, 10:30 a.m.
Dr. Seuss on the Loose! Stories and activities. Age 3-5 with adult.

Saturday, March 3, 10:30 a.m.
Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss! Games, activities and a surprise guest! All ages.

John Marshall Library
Friday, March 2, 3:30 p.m.
Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss! Stories, a craft and a special surprise! All ages.

Lorton
Tuesday, March 6, 10:30 a.m.
Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss! Stories, activities and a birthday treat. Age 2-5 with adult.

Kings Park Library
Friday, March 2, Noon
Dr. Seuss' Lunch Bunnies. Bring your lunch and listen to Seussian stories. Birth-5 with adult.

Kingstowne Library
Friday, March 2, 10:30 a.m.
Happy Birthday, Cat in the Hat! Celebrate Dr. Seuss' birthday with stories and fun. Age 2-5 with adult.

Richard Byrd Library
Friday, March 2, 10:30 a.m.
Dr. Seuss' Birthday! Stories and activities. Age 2-5 with adult.

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Here are the answers to the February 16 quiz:1. b and c. George Washington’s teeth were made of elk teeth and lead, but not wood, as commonly reported.

2. b. Washington probably threw an object across the Rappahannock, rather than the Potomac, which is too wide.

3. b. George only hacked the cherry tree until it died and since his father had given him the hatchet, it is doubtful he had to confess his misdeed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

American Birkebeiner Race

Beginning February 22, more than 7,000 amateur cross-country skiers, 2,000 volunteers and 15,000 spectators will gather for three days in northern Wisconsin for the 34th annual American Birkebeiner Race. Competitors from 19 countries and 49 states will take part in the 51-kilometer (31.6 mile) cross-country race from Cable to Hayward, WI. There’s an additional 23K race and events and races for kids and teens.

The term "birkebeiner" was originally a pejorative term for a 13th-century rebel party in Norway. It referred to the fact that its members were so poor they wore birch bark shoes. The U.S. race is modeled after a Norwegian version that celebrates the Birkebeiner’s rescue of an heir to the Norwegian throne in 1206 during a dangerous trip through perilous mountains and forests.

If you won’t make it to the hills and dales of the Badger State, enjoy the sport vicariously in the comfort of your armchair. Check out:

Backcountry Skier by Jean Vives.

Cross-Country Skiing for Everyone by Jules Older.

The Essential Guide to Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing in the United States by Charles Cook.

Long-Distance: A Year of Living Strenuously by Bill McKibben.

Wilderness Skiing and Winter Camping by Chris Townsend.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Man, the Myth and His Holiday

Here in Virginia, it’s officially known as "George Washington's Day." Federal statute refers to it as "Washington's Birthday" and the retail world and many others commonly refer to it as "Presidents Day." In 1880, when it was established as the first federal holiday to honor an American citizen, it was celebrated on Washington’s birthday: February 22. (Washington was actually born on February 11, 1732 under the Julian calendar in effect at the time of his birth, but it was changed to February 22, when the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752.)

In 1971, thanks to the Uniform Holidays Act, the holiday was moved to the third Monday in February, and since Lincoln’s birthday (which was never a federal holiday, but honored in some states) fell on February 12, the push toward the “Presidents Day” moniker began. President Richard M. Nixon is even credited with issuing a proclamation calling the third Monday in February “Presidents Day,” but there seems to be evidence of only an executive order, which didn’t override federal statute. Officially, it remains “Washington’s Birthday” for the feds.

So how much do you really know about “The Father of Our Country”? Try this quiz and see.

1. George Washington’s teeth were made of:

A. Wood
B. Elk teeth
C. Lead

2. Washington threw an object across the:

A. Potomac
B. Rappahannock
C. Occoquan

3. Young George:

A. Cut down a cherry tree
B. Hacked at it until it died
C. Confessed to his father something he hadn’t done

Feel free to submit your answers. Check in on Tuesday to see if you’re right!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sam Spade’s Birthday

This week marks the 77th anniversary of the publication of Dashiell Hammett's mystery, The Maltese Falcon. Although it had been serialized in Black Mask Magazine in 1929, a version revised by Hammett was published by Alfred A. Knopf on February 14, 1930. Hammett, an ex- Pinkerton agent turned author, created fictional P.I. Sam Spade, who became a model for “hard-boiled” detectives that followed. And of course, Humphrey Bogart immortalized the sleuth in the 1941 film version of the novel.

Hammett published only five novels: Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key and The Thin Man, along with several collections of short stories, but left an imprint on the crime novel.

If you like Hammett’s style, check out:

The Moving Target by Ross MacDonald.

Hit Parade by Lawrence Block.

The Crimes of Jordan Wise by Bill Pronzini.

High Profile by Robert B. Parker.

Nicotine Kiss by Loren Estleman.

Do you have a favorite fictional P.I.? If so, let us know.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Jane Austen Returns

As Valentine’s Day nears, it seems appropriate that the works of Jane Austen are enjoying yet another revival. According to the London Telegraph, at least six films or TV shows based on the author’s works are to be released in the next year, including “Becoming Jane,” starring Ann Hathaway of “Princess Diaries” and “The Devil Wears Prada” fame. The film arrives next month and chronicles the young Jane’s romance with the Irish politician Thomas Langlois Lefroy. Some suggest Lefroy was the model for the infamous Mr. Darcy in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Penguin Books even believes there is a market for Austen’s witty 19th-century romances among the younger set. It plans to publish new editions of her six major works with covers that appeal to teens.

So, if it has been awhile since you picked up Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility or Emma, trek over to your nearest library branch to sample again Austen’s witty tales of love affairs gone astray.

And, if you would like to know more about Austen and her world, try these books:

Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades and Horrible Blunders by Josephine Ross

Voices From the World of Jane Austen by Malcolm Day

Flirting With Pride and Prejudice: Fresh Perspectives on the Original Chick-Lit Masterpiece by Jennifer Crusie

Searching for Jane Austen by Emily Auerbach

Jane Austen: A Penguin Life by Carol Shields

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Father of Science Fiction

Sometimes called “the father of science fiction,” Jules Verne, the author of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in Eighty Days, was born 179 years ago this week in Nantes, France. In his novels, Verne predicted submarines, flying machines, skyscrapers and space travel long before their time.

In one of his lesser-known books written in 1863, Paris in the 20th Century, his main character lives in a world of glass skyscrapers, rapid transit, gas-powered cars, calculators and a world-wide communications system, but cannot find happiness and comes to a bad end. His publisher thought the novel was too depressing, and Verne put the manuscript aside. Discovered by his great-grandson, it wasn’t published until 1994.

Verne, along with H.G. Wells and lesser-known writers such as Hugo Gernsback, invented a literary genre that has spawned such celluloid icons as Hal, Luke Skywalker, E.T., and more.

In fact Gernsback, who published science fiction magazines in the 1920s and 1930s, lent his name to the annual award for science fiction. Here are some recent winners of the Hugo Award:

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark.

Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Super Bowl Trivia

Super Bowl Sunday has become a de facto American holiday. When fans gather to watch the Colts and Bears face off for Super Bowl XLI on Feburary 4, they will be part of a potential audience of one billion in 230 countries. Annually, the Super Bowl is the nation’s highest-rated TV program and the most-watched single-day sporting event. It’s also the second-largest food consumption day after Thanksgiving, although there has been some concern expressed that the recent weather damage to avocados in California might make the traditional guacamole dip scarce.

Here are a few more bits of trivia:

● No Super Bowl has gone into overtime play.

● There has never been a shut out in a Super Bowl game.

● The Dallas Cowboys have had seven Super Bowl MVP players, despite winning only five Super Bowls.

● Billy Joel, Cirque du Soleil and Prince will all be performing this Sunday. For Joel, it’s actually his second Super Bowl appearance. He last sang the national anthem at Super Bowl XXIII in 1989.

For more on the Super Bowl phenomena and its players, check out:

Driving Home: My Unforgettable Super Bowl Run by Jerome Bettis.

The Making of the Super Bowl: The Inside Story of the World’s Greatest Sporting Event by Don Weiss.

The NFL Super Bowl Companion by John Wiebusch.

Taylor by Lawrence Taylor.

Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything by Charles Pierce.