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Friday, June 27, 2008

Best Summer Books

CNN recently polled 10 top-selling authors on their favorite books for summer reading including fast, one-day reads, as well as books to savor all summer. Here are some of their suggestions:

Janet Evanovich: The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly

Philippa Gregory: Dragonwyck by Anya Seton

James Patterson: Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge by Evan Connell

Elizabeth Gilbert: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

Sophie Kinsella: The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

Augusten Burroughs: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Do you have some great summer reading recommendations? Let us know.

Visit the new Burke Centre Library
If you are out in the Burke area Saturday morning, stop by the new Burke Centre Library at 5935 Freds Oak Road, just off the Fairfax County Parkway (Route 7100). A ribbon cutting ceremony will officially open the branch at 11 a.m. followed by a day of music and fun for the whole family.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

English Gardens

In the opening pages of The Uncommon Reader, the queen’s wayward dogs lead her out of the palace’s garden to the traveling City of Westminister bookmobile. The Queen’s dogs may have been romping in an English or “landscape garden,” a type of garden that has been common in Great Britain since the 18th century.

Prior to the 18th century, gardens in England were quite formal, complete with statues, fountains, etc., but as art and literature revolted against classicism, so did landscape design. The poet Alexander Pope is considered one of the originators of the modern English garden, which tended toward a more naturalistic or romantic look. Famous landscape garden designers of the era included Capability (Lancelot) Brown, Charles Bridgeman and William Kent.

For more on English gardens, browse these books:

The Garden Lover’s Guide to Britain by Patrick Taylor

The House and Garden Book of English Gardens by Peter Coats

Rosemary Verey’s English Country Gardens by Rosemary Verey

Capability Brown and the Eighteenth Century English Landscape by Roger Turner

Mark Your Calendars:

In September, look for a number of All Fairfax Reads events including:
The Features of an English GardenLearn more about the art of flower arranging and the features of an English garden with expert floral designer Bruce Nash at 7:30 on September 15 at Pohick Regional Library. Call 703-644-7333 beginning September 2 to register.

Don’t worry. We’ll reminder you closer to the date.

Gardeners – do you have an English or landscape garden in your yard? If so, share some tips.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Burke Centre Library Opens June 28

The new Burke Centre Library, a branch of the Fairfax County Public Library, will open to the public Saturday, June 28, 2008, after a ribbon cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. The new branch is located at 5935 Freds Oak Road in Burke. The 16,720-square-foot building will have a 75,000-item collection, 24 computer work stations and public meeting rooms.

"I'm very excited about the new library," says Braddock District Supervisor Sharon Bulova. Consistent with Burke Centre's motto, the library reflects 'nature and community in harmony.' It's going to be a true community center and an attractive new landmark."

More details of the opening are on our news release.

Check Out the Library on YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr and More
You can enjoy a reading of “Bad Dog, Marley,” learn how to use Express Checkout and enjoy the band at the Patrick Henry Library’s “Anti-Valentine Day’s Bash” on clips posted on the library’s YouTube channel.

Also, you can become a fan on the library’s Facebook page or visit us at MySpace with links to podcasts, blogs and more. Don’t forget to check out Flickr where you can see photos of the new Burke Centre construction in progress. And of course, you can subscribe to any of these through RSS feeds.

The Fairfax County Public Library is everywhere you are. See you there!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Royalty Around the World

While author Alan Bennett never specifically names the Queen in The Uncommon Reader, the main character bears an uncanny resemblance to the present head of the House of Windsor in Great Britain.

We began to wonder: what other countries are ruled by queens or other royalty? We found that apparently there are four dozen reigning monarchs in the world today. In addition to Great Britain, both Denmark and the Netherlands are ruled by queens.

Queen Margrethe II of Denmark was able to ascend to the throne in 1972 after the right of female succession was established about 20 years earlier. She is the Denmark’s first ruling queen since Margrethe I reigned in the late 14th and early 15th century.

Beatrix of the Netherlands became queen regnant in 1980 when her mother Queen Juliana abdicated in favor of her daughter. She has a son, Willem Alexander Claus, who is the first male heir to the throne since 1884.

In addition to these two ruling queens, there are a number of queen consorts who are married to ruling monarchs. Some of the others include Queen Paola of Belgium; Queen Rania of Jordon; Queen Silvia of Sweden; Queen Sirikit of Thailand; Queen Sofia of Spain; Queen Sonja of Norway; Queen ‘Masenate of Lesotho and Queen Sylvia of Buganda.

Want to know more about royal women — past and present — across the globe? You can browse these books:

The Warrior Queens by Antonia Fraser

Crowned in a Far Country: Portraits of Eight Royal Brides
by Princess Michael of Kent

100 Great Kings, Queens and Rulers of the World by John Canning

Toward the end of The Uncommon Reader, the Queen makes a fairly drastic decision about her reign and there is a debate in Great Britain today about the future of its monarchy. Do you think there is a role in the 21st century for symbolic kings and queens? Let us know.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Fearsome Friday

A few years back, the founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Ashville, N.C. estimated that $800 million or $900 million in business is lost on Friday the 13th because people will not fly or conduct other business. Some individuals in fact suffer panic attacks.

Friday the 13th’s reputation as an unlucky day actually derives from two separate fears. According to a National Geographic News article, fear of the number 13 is said to have originated from a Norse myth. Twelve gods were sitting down to a dinner party when the 13th and uninvited god, Loki, arrived. The mischievous Loki arranged for Holder, the god of darkness, to shoot Balder, the god of gladness and light, with a mistletoe-tipped arrow. Balder died and the Earth became dark.

From then on the number 13 has been associated with an unlucky day. Witches were believed to gather in groups of 12 in ancient Rome. We know that many skyscrapers don’t have a 13th floor and in Florence, Italy, houses between the numbers 12 and 14 are given an address of 12 ½.

As for Friday, in the Christian faith, it is the day Christ was crucified. Some scholars also believe it was the day Adam tempted Eve with the forbidden fruit and that Cain killed Abel on Friday the 13th. For more on this inauspicious day, see How Friday the 13th Works.

So how did you spend your Friday the 13th? Let us know.

Interested in superstitions? Browse these books:

Superstitions: 10,000 You Really Need by William Carroll

101 American Superstitions: Understanding Language and Culture Through Superstitions by Harry Collis

Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition by Stuart Vyse

The Illustrated Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion
by Sir James Frazer

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

About Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett, the author of The Uncommon Reader, which is the Fairfax County Public Library’s All Fairfax Reads selection, has a long and distinguished career in his native Great Britain. Now in his 70s, Alan Bennett began his writing career in his mid-20s. By day, he was an academic at Oxford, teaching medieval history and by night, he was writing comedy revues for London’s clubs.

His first success came with “Beyond the Fringe,” a comedy revue first seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which went on to the West End in London and finally to Broadway. It was the creation of two Oxford graduates: Bennett and Dudley Moore and two from Cambridge: Jonathan Miller and Peter Cook. The show paved the way for satiric American TV shows of the 60s and 70s, such as Rowen and Martin's Laugh-In, the Smothers Brothers and a little later, Saturday Night Live. And, of course, Monty Python's Flying Circus is also a descendant of the Fringe sketches.

Bennett went on to an acclaimed career as a playwright for stage, TV and film. Two of his plays, "The Madness of George III" and "The History Boys" were made into films. “The History Boys” earned six Tony Awards when it appeared on Broadway in 2006. His first novella, The Clothes They Stood Up In was as witty as The Uncommon Reader and was a “Today Show” book club selection.

For more by Bennett, browse these books:

Untold Stories (Memoir)

The Clothes They Stood Up In; and The Lady in the Van

The Laying On of Hands: Stories
Writing Home (Memoir)

British humor is said to use puns, nonsense, black humor, eccentricity, satire and sarcasm, self-deprecation, understatement and irony. Above all, it tends to be verbal.

Do you agree? Is American humor much different?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Get Ready for Summer Reading!

In just a week, the Fairfax County Public Library launches its 2008 Summer Reading Program “Master the Art of Reading.” Summer is the perfect time for kids (and grown-ups, as well) to read a good book, visit a library branch, attend free programs and take a peek at the Art in the Pages book sculptures found by library branch doors! Check for all the details June 13 on the library's Web site.

Visit the Library at “Celebrate Fairfax”
If you are planning to visit the Celebrate Fairfax Festival this weekend, make sure you stop by the library’s exhibit on Children’s Avenue for lots of fun activities, including a sneak peek at “Master the Art of Reading” and the opportunity to take your photo with Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Grant Woods’ dour American Gothic folks.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Reading: Pleasure, Duty or Both?*

A reader of last Tuesday’s moderated discussion disagrees with the Queen’s statement in The Uncommon Reader that "one reads for pleasure. It is not a public duty." The reader writes:

"Reading is indeed a pleasure — an escape to different or better times and places but I think it's also a duty. We have to take responsibility for the information we receive and read widely on various subjects…"

Reading is on the decline, according to a recent National Endowment for the Arts study released last November. The study found a correlation between the decline of reading and test scores and was a follow-up to a study done several years earlier that documented the decline of literary reading for pleasure.

If reading is indeed a duty, as well as a pleasure, how do we instill that sense of duty in a younger generation? Certainly public libraries and other educational institutions are grappling with this issue. Any thoughts? Let us know.

*Once a week, library staff will post an entry here on The Uncommon Reader, this year’s All Fairfax Reads selection. The project invites all residents of Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax to read and discuss the same book. Check our Web site for a book discussion guide and upcoming events as they are scheduled.