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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The End of a Decade

While there is some disagreement as to when the first decade of the 21st century ends (Jan. 1 2010 or Jan. 1 2011?), the media is already compiling lists of milestones. It seems appropriate, then, to look back on the accomplishments of the Fairfax County Public Library since 2000. Here are a few highlights:

2000 The Kingstowne Library opens at 6500 Landsdowne Centre, Alexandria, in the Landsdowne Shopping Center.

2001 Library’s e-newsletter FCPLease launches.

2004 Fairfax Library Foundation launches Amazon Wish List.

2005 Social networking with blogs, rss, wikis, and MySpace launches.

2006 More social networking with Flickr and podcasts launches.

2007 The Oakton Library opens at 10304 Lynnhaven Place in Oakton. This is the library's first Leadership Energy in Environmental Design (LEED) certified building.

More social networking with YouTube launch.

2008 The City of Fairfax Regional Library opens at 10360 North Street in Fairfax.

The Burke Centre Library opens at 5935 Freds Oak Road, Burke and becomes the library’s second Leadership Energy in Environmental Design (LEED) certified building.

More social networking with Facebook launch.

Catalog search inside library's MySpace and Facebook.

Launch of online registration for events.

Launch of online registration for meeting rooms.

Image available for free at

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter Solstice

There is a reason that ancient celebrations clustered around December 21 – the shortest day of the year. Early civilizations understood that the worst of winter was behind them and anticipated the days of longer sunlight to come.

The Norse celebrated Yule from December 21 until the end of January. Fathers and sons brought home large logs to burn to celebrate the sun’s return. There would be feasting until the logs burned out, sometimes as many as 12 days later.
They believed that each spark from the log represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the next year. The Germans honored the god Odin during their mid-winter holiday. They feared him because he supposedly made flights at night deciding who would prosper or die. Many stayed indoors to avoid his judgment.

In Rome, Saturnalia was celebrated near the winter solstice. It honored the god of agriculture and began the week before the solstice and continued for a month. Food and drink were plentiful; slaves became masters and peasants ran the city.

By the Middle Ages, Christianity had replaced the pagan religions.
On Christmas, people went to church, then celebrated in a carnival fashion similar to Mardi Gras. The poor went to the houses of the rich and demanded their best food and drink. If owners failed to comply, they were liable to suffer some mischief. (-- "An Ancient Holiday," The History Channel)

Even the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah has ties to the solstice. After the king of Syria conquered Judea in the 2nd century, he stole the menorah and rededicated the temple to a pagan god during the solstice. Judah the Maccabee led a band of rebels that retook Jerusalem. They restored the temple and lit the flame of the menorah. (

The image of Saturnus by Polidoro Caldara da Caravaggio (16th century) is in the public domain.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Nutcracker Suite

On Dec. 18, 1882, Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” ballet debuted at St. Petersburg’s Imperial Maryinsky Theatre. However, it wasn’t until 1940 that an abridged one-act version of the ballet was first performed in the U.S. by Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo at the 51st Street Theater in New York City.

Four years later, the San Francisco Ballet performed the first full-length “Nutcracker.” George Balanchine choreographed the version most familiar to the ballet’s fans today. It premiered in 1954, performed by the New York City Ballet.

The ballet is based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffman, “The Nutcracker and the King of Mice,” the tale of a German girl who dreams of a nutcracker prince and a battle with a mouse with seven heads. When it was first turned into a ballet, a revision of the story by Alexander Dumas became the basis for the piece.

If you can’t make it to one of the many local performances this season, the library has two film versions you can enjoy:

The Nutcracker.” Bolshoi Presents. DVD 792.84 N 2003

The Nutcracker.” Royal Ballet. VIDEO 702.8 N

For more on the history of the ballet, check out:

Nutcracker” Nation: How an Old World Ballet Became a Christmas Tradition by Jennifer Fisher. 702.84 F 2003

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How We Shop

It’s the annual countdown. Seasonal shopping seems to be part of our genes, despite those who decry holiday commercialism. A study to be published in The Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology even traces different shopping styles between the genders to our prehistoric ancestors, according to The London Telegraph ("Shopping Styles of Men and Women All Down to Evolution, Claim Scientists," Dec. 3, 2009). Basically, while women spent their days gathering food often with children, men were hunters who made specific plans about how to catch and kill their prey. This could explain why women can spend hours browsing in shops for the best items, while men tend to have specific objects in mind when they shop.

Whether you love or hate the seasonal visits to the mall, here are a few books to browse:

Debt-Proof the Holidays: How to Have an All-Cash Christmas by Mary Hunt

Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill

Buy-o-logy: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy by Martin Lindstrom

Chicken Soup for the Shopper’s Soul: Celebrating Bargains, Boutiques & the Perfect Pair of Shoes by Jack Canfield

Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Gift of a Suggestion

I may never have learned of the children’s book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever if a customer in a bookstore where I worked a number of years ago hadn’t recommended it. I enjoyed it even as an adult and wind up buying a few copies each year to give as Christmas gifts when friend’s children reach a certain age. It’s not earth-shattering, just sweet and funny. One of the best gifts we give fellow readers is the suggestion of a book we think they might like. Finding things in common with other people, whether its books or sports or politics, is part of what bonds us to one another. We may not have found the one universal tome that solves the world’s problems; that may be asking a bit much from a book. But if you’re a reader, finding a book that gives you a few hours of pleasant reading, perhaps even distracts you from problems for a bit, is a great gift.

See Your Book Reviews for recommendations by your fellow readers of specific titles in the library's collection.

Mary Mulrenan, Fairfax County Public Library

Friday, December 04, 2009

What Not to Read

Every year about this time, the “best of 2009” lists appear compiled by everyone from Publishers' Weekly to Erin Collazo Miller, a contributor to has a new twist on the phenomenon – the most disappointing books of the year. Here they are:

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

South of Broad by Pat Conroy

Nobody Move by Denis Johnson

1942 by Robert Conroy

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

. . . And What to Read

Obviously it is a matter of opinion, since The Lost Symbol was no. 1 on’s list of customer favorites. Miller does offer alternatives to her list of disappointments. Here’s what she preferred and recommended:

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

The Man With the Iron Heart by Harry Turtledove

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Tis the Season …

You’re invited to holiday open houses and other seasonal programming at Fairfax County Public Library. Listen to holiday stories or music, watch puppet shows, learn how to shop online, make a window cling and more. Visit December Holiday Events to see a list of the holiday offerings and to get details. Some programs require registration which you can do online or by calling any branch.

Need a gift for a book lover? Consider buying a book at the many holiday or ongoing book sales. Visit Book Sales for details.

Mary Mulrenan, Fairfax County Public Library

Photo provided by kirsche222 of stock xchng.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Books and Pilgrims

According to the Pilgrims brought very little with them on their journey to the New World but the necessities of life. From written accounts it’s known they had Holland cheese, dried beef, salt port, hard tack, wheat, peas, oil, butter, two dogs (for hunting) and possibly chickens or pigs. The written accounts also say, however, that “some passengers brought a good number of books …” According to the Pilgrim’s Hall Museum Web site the Pilgrims brought a few different versions of the Bible on the voyage including the Geneva Bible. The two most popular books in early Plymouth were John Dod's Exposition Upon the Ten Commandments, and their own pastor John Robinson's book Observations Divine and Moral.

Happy Thanksgiving all.

Mary Mulrenan, Fairfax County Public Library

The painting is The First Thanksgiving by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930) and is in the public domain for use.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What We’re Reading

If you are seeking reading recommendations, you may want to check out National Public Radio’s weekly What We're Reading blog. According to NPR, the weekly listing “brings you our book team's shortlist of new fiction and nonfiction releases, along with candid reactions from our reporters, critics and staff.” The Nov. 17-23 list includes Open by Andre Agassi, Under the Dome by Stephen King, Going Rogue by Sarah Palin, The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures by Nicolas Wade and Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith.

Closer to home, you can find Check It Out, a monthly list of eight staff favorites at your local library branch or visit the Staff Favorites page on the library’s Web site for the online version.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Community Dialogues

For those of you who have not yet participated in the community dialogues for the FY2011 budget process, you have three more chances. Additional sessions have been added for Wednesday, Dec. 2. Residents who aren’t able to attend a session are encouraged to submit comments and suggestions through the budget hotline at 703-324-9400 or the online form. The new meetings will be held Wednesday, Dec. 2, 7 to 9 p.m. at Hayfield Secondary School (7633 Telegraph Rd., Alexandria), Herndon High School (700 Bennett St., Herndon) and Lake Braddock Secondary School (9200 Burke Lake Rd., Burke). Registration is required to attend and seating is limited to 70 participants. Register online.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Money Matters

As we all look more carefully at how we spend scarce dollars these days, the library offers books on all aspects money management. Some of our new 2009 titles include:

365 Ways to Live Cheap: Your Everyday Guide to Saving Money
by Trent Hamm

Safe Money in Tough Times: Everything You Need to Know to Survive the Financial Crisis by Jonathan D. Pond

Miserly Moms: Living Well on Less in a Tough Economy by Jonni McCoy

Recession Proof Your Financial Life by Nancy Dunnan

Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties
by Beth Kobliner

The AARP Retirement Survival Guide: How to Make Good Financial Decisions in Good Times and Bad by Julie Jason

If you are looking for a reliable online resource, check out, a Web site sponsored by the U.S. Financial Literacy and Education Commission. It offers information and links for a variety of subjects such as budgeting and taxes, home ownership and planning for higher education, retirement and other life events.

Also, check out these upcoming library programs:

What's in Your Credit Report? Nov. 12, 11 a.m. Sherwood Regional Library
Review the information found in credit reports, how to use this report to guard against identity theft and how to dispute credit report errors. Presented by the Consumer Affairs Branch of the Fairfax County Department of Cable Communications and Consumer Protection. Adults.

Identity Theft. Nov. 16, 6:45 p.m. George Mason Regional Library Learn how to protect yourself from thieves who want to steal your information. Presented by Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Greater Washington/MMI. Refreshments. Adults.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Libraries Without Books?

Ever since the Web became an intimate part of the lives of many Americans, there has been debate over both the future of the book and the library as an institution that traditionally houses them. I was browsing the Web recently and came upon this article, ("The Future of Libraries: With or Without Books," CNN, Sept. 4, 2009).

“Books are being pushed aside for digital learning centers and gaming areas,” the article begins ‘Loud rooms’ that promote public discourse and group projects are taking over the bookish quiet. Hipster staffers who blog, chat on Twitter and care little about the Dewey Decimal System are edging out old-school librarians.”

The article goes on to offer a great summary of the exciting trends in library services across the globe and the challenges facing U.S. public libraries, which rely on scare taxpayer funds to exist. The U.S. institution may not be able to adapt as well to the technological advances that libraries in other countries are embracing.

Libraries, according to Jason M. Schultz, director of the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at the University of California at Berkeley Law School, have always had two purposes as “places where people can get free information; and they're community centers for civic debate.”

As one can imagine, there is no agreement among library professionals as to whether trends that embrace the digital world actually help or hinder libraries. "It's a source of tension in the field because, for some people, trying to re-brand can be perceived as a rejection of the [library] tradition and the values," says Linda C. Smith, president of the Association for Library and Information Science Education. "But for other people it's a redefinition and an expansion."

Younger librarians do seem to understand that change is in the air. One graduate student in library science says “Sure I love to read. I read all the time. I read physical books. But I don't have the strange emotional attachment that some people possess."

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

My Horoscope Says …

On November 1 the horoscope in The Washington Post for Scorpios said “Watching TV is easier than reading a book, but it doesn’t stay with you as long. You are like a book: not so many flashy images, but the impression you leave people with lingers.”

I don’t mind not being flashy, but the writer was certainly being a bit vague with that last line. People can leave a negative “impression” that lingers. But I am in agreement that TV is easier then reading; it doesn’t require as much of the brain, and because it’s a visual medium, you don’t need your imagination as much as you do with a book. Also, I think books deserve more credit than merely “lingering” with readers; it sounds so temporary. Books teach and inspire and motivate; they can truly change people, help people. I suppose TV can do that too, especially if you are one of the contestants in a reality TV program: learn to dance, lose weight, find your soul mate or become the next American idol. Alas, we must leave the comfort of the couch to do any of those via TV.

Friday, October 30, 2009

War of the Worlds – October 20, 1938

To celebrate Halloween seventy-one years ago, the “Mercury Theater of the Air” broadcast a radio adaptation of H.G. Wells War of the Worlds, the tale of a Martian invasion of the nation. Orson Welles narrated and directed the drama. Because the show ran without commercial breaks and the first part of the broadcast consisted of realistic radio news bulletins, some in the audience believed the invasion was real. The town of Grover’s Park, N.J., where the Martians supposedly landed, even erected a monument in 1998 to celebrate the fictional event.

On air radio announcers, such as Jack Parr at Cleveland’s WGAR, had trouble calming panicked listeners. To this day there are some conspiracy theorists who believe the broadcast was a psychological warfare experiment or broadcast to cover up UFO activity. Welles, who was catapulted to fame because of the broadcast, debunked those ideas.

If you want to learn more about the famous broadcast, Orson Welles, or H.G. Wells, try these books:

The Complete War of the Worlds: Mars Invasion of Earth From H.G. Wells to Orson Welles by Brian Holmsten

This Is Orson Welles by Orson Welles

War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

H.G. : The History of Mr. Wells by Michael Foot

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


You may embrace your birthday each year with grand parties and paper hats or you may dread its approach because it’s a reminder that there’s a limit to the number we get in a lifetime. One thing we can all celebrate is our lifespans, for Americans the average is 77.7 years. It’s a long life compared to other mammals: mice live an average of 2 years; rabbits about five years; deer live 10; cats and dogs live about 12 ; black bears live 19; and elephants live 40. (These are average lifespans, not how long the animals could live.)

If you’d like to try to beat the average lifespan, the library has more than 66 books you can consult. Here’s a sampling of titles:

Superhealth: 6 Simple Steps, 6 Easy Weeks, 1 Longer, healthier Life by Steven Pratt.

The Blue Zone: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest by Dan Buettner

The Longevity Bible: 8 Essential Strategies for Keeping Your Mind Sharp and Your Body Young by Gary W. Small

Dr. Perricone’s 7 Secrets to Beauty, Health and Longevity: The Miracle of Cellular Rejuvenation by Nicholas Perricone

Healthy at 100: the Scientifically Proven Secrets of the World’s Healthiest and Longest-Lived Peoples by John Robbins

Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You’re 80 and Beyond
By Chris Crowley

Ageless: Take Control of Your Age and Stay Youthful for Life by Edward l. Schneider

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Future of the Magazine

When I heard last week that Condé Nast would no longer publish Gourmet, I began to think more seriously about the fate of print magazines in general. Nast also counts Vogue, Wired, The New Yorker, GQ and Vanity Fair among its 25-plus publications. While newsstands seem to be rich with print magazines, I wondered what the landscape would look like in a few years. Former magazine staffer Jeff Jarvis weighed in on his Buzz Machine blog. According to Jarvis:

Packaging used to be a key value of magazines: the great editor selecting the interesting topics and good writers and cooking a meal out of it. But in the era of media unbundling, the magazine becomes an instant anachronism. Reading the New Yorker or Economist or Vanity Fair becomes an act of living nostalgia, at least for those who can remember them. For the next generation reading magazines and newspapers and buying albums is – haven’t we learned this yet? – an alien experience, a media oddity.
A more conservative blog, Rod Dreher’s CrunchyCon, is less happy about the demise of Gourmet. He encourages readers to subscribe or re-subscribe to favorite magazines to help them survive in print format. He concludes in his Oct. 6 post: “I have reclined in bed at the end of the day, and read stories from my laptop, and I have reclined in bed at the end of the day and read stories in conventional magazines. There's no comparison. I'm so old-school it hurts.”

Digital Magazines at the Library
For those who don’t mind reading magazine articles online, our library offers millions of articles for free in our periodical databases. If you want access to the complete text of articles in your favorite magazines all you have to do is access our Web site.

If you click on Databases and then Magazines, you will see more than 20 electronic magazine resources listed and that is just the tip of the iceberg. For general interest magazines your best bet is EBSCOhost General Reference Center Gold and MasterFILE Premier. For example, you can find the complete text of articles in issues of Time and Rolling Stone from 1990 forward or Parenting from 1997. There’s lesser-known and more specialized journals and newspapers as well. Explore online or stop by your nearest branch for a quick intro to our electronic periodical resources. All you need is a library card!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


There are many ways that library lovers can support the library, but one of the efforts that would go a long way to helping branches keep their shelves straightened is the Adopt-a-Shelf program. Businesses, organizations or individuals agree to come in to a branch on a regular basis and keep the shelved books in order. You can even select a certain shelf to “adopt” if you want to be well informed about the collection in a certain area such as biography, travel or finance. Here are the tasks involved with Adopt-A-Shelf:

read spine labels and reshelve books that are not in proper order;
shift books between shelves as necessary to assure easy access;
remove bookmarks, paper and litter from books and shelves;
identify books belonging to other branches, return them to the circulation desk for rerouting; and,
identify books requiring mending and places them in mending area with note attached.

Not all branches need adopt-a-shelf volunteers; to find out if your branch needs them, contact the volunteer coordinator at your branch.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Not for Kids Only

Today’s release of the intriguing film version of Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak reminded me that some picture books are for all ages. Published in 1963, the book has only 10 sentences. It tells the story of a boy named Max, who is punished for “making mischief” and sent to his room without his supper. There, Max imagines a wild forest and sea and sails to the Land of the Wild Things. He conquers these fearsome monsters and becomes their king. However, he soon becomes homesick and returns home where his supper is waiting.

It is Sendak’s memorable illustrations that have made the book a classic. Apparently the wild things originally were going to be horses until Sendak’s editor suggested a switch when she realized he couldn’t draw them. Instead, he used caricatures of his aunts and uncles which he remembered from their visits to his childhood home in Brooklyn.

Why does the book also appeal to adults? One critic believes the book makes “an entirely deliberate, and beautiful, use of the psychoanalytic story of anger.” In the book, The Art of Maurice Sendak, the author says that Where the Wild Things Are, as well as his two other books, In the Night Kitchen and Outside Over There form a trilogy on “how children master various feelings.”

Here’s a few more picture books that appeal to the kid in all of us:

The Stinky Cheese Man by Jon Scieszka

The Three Pigs by David Wiesner

Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Halloween Happenings at the Library

The library has plenty of Halloween activities for little ones, all ages and even one for dogs! For addresses or directions for the following programs visit the library’s Web site. Registration is required for most programs. Register online or call the host branch.

All ages

Dog Costume Parade, Oct. 31, 11 a.m. at Herndon Fortnightly. Trick or treat with your dog in a costume parade on the Town Green. Show off your dog in the silly tricks contest. Cosponsored by Bark ’N Bubbles and Council for the Arts of Herndon.

Pumpkin Friends, Oct. 21, 7 p.m. at Reston Regional Library. Celebrate Halloween with stories and activities. Costumes encouraged.

Age 12 and up
Midnight at Bunnyman Bridge, Oct. 13, 6:30 p.m. at Burke Centre Library. Storyteller Margaret Chatham will tell the chilling local legend of the Bunnyman murders and other creepy tales.

Age 8 and up
Seriously Scary Tales in the Night, Oct. 28, 7 p.m. at Reston Regional Library. Enjoy seriously scary stories. Costumes encouraged.

Age 6 to 12
Paint a Fun Halloween Figure, Oct. 17, 11 a.m. at Reston Regional Library. Presented by Clay Café Studios of Chantilly. Fired and glazed figurines will be returned to the library one week later. Cosponsored by the Friends of the Reston Regional Library.

Age 4 – 5 with adult
Halloween Happenings, Oct. 29 at 10:30 a.m. at Sherwood Regional Library. Stories and activities.

Age 3 – 6 with adult
Boo to You! Oct. 31, 10:30 a.m. at Pohick Regional Library. Halloween storytime and parade. Stories about Halloween followed by a parade through the library. Come dressed in your Halloween best.

Age 3 – 5 with adult
Slightly Scary Stories. Stories and activities, Oct. 22, 10:30 a.m. at City of Fairfax Regional Library.

Halloween Storytime, Oct. 28 at 10:30 a.m. at Kings Park Library. Come in your costume for Halloween stories and fun.

Scary – Not Very! Oct. 29, 11 a.m. at Oakton Library. Suspenseful stories and activities to celebrate the season. Come in costume if you’d like.

Age 2 – 5 with adult
Halloween on Parade, Oct. 19, 10:30 a.m. at Kingstowne Library. Wear your costume and come for Halloween stories and fun.

Monster Bash, Oct. 28, 10:30 a.m. at Dolley Madison Library. Come in costume for Halloween stories and activities.

Halloween Parade Oct. 29, 11 a.m. at Centreville Regional Library. Stories and activities. Children are encouraged to come in costume to parade around the library.

Birth to Five with Adult
Halloween Lunch Bunch, Oct. 30, noon at John Marshall Library. Bring your lunch and join us for Halloween stories. Costumes encouraged.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Slow Movement

Arianna Huffington has chosen In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed by Carl Honoré as the first selection in the Huffington Post Book Club. The author published the book in 2004 after catching himself rushing through the fairy tales he read to his kids. “My version of Snow White had just three dwarves in it. ‘What happened to Grumpy?’ my four-year-old son would ask,” Honoré explained on Arianna’s blog. When he found himself eyeing a book of one-minute fairy tales in a book store, he decided it was time to slow down.

In the past five years since his book was published, Honoré has seen the Slow Movement grow. Of course there is Slow Food. But according to the author there are now 120 Slow Cities in the world and Slow Travel is taking off. There is even a Slow Books Movement.

If you are interested in other books on slow living, try these:

Slow is Beautiful: New Visions of Community, Leisure and Joie de Vivre by Cecile Andrews

Don’t Hurry, Be Happy: 650 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy Life
by Ernie Zelinski

The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential – in Business and in Life by Leo Babauto

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Scot Turow Comes to Fairfax

Have you read A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines yet?

That’s The Big Read/All Fairfax Reads book selection for 2009. Whether or not you’ve read it yet, don’t miss Scott Turow this Friday, Oct. 9 in the Board Auditorium at the Fairfax County Government Center. He will present “Confessions of a Death Penalty Agnostic” as part of The Big Read/All Fairfax Reads. Turow, the best-selling author of many novels including Presumed Innocent and Ordinary Heroes, is also the author of Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer’s Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty. There’s no registration required for this event and books will be available for sale and signing. For more information visit the Web site. The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest.

“I always say that I don't criticize anybody's position on the death penalty because I've held all of them.” ~ Scott Turow

Friday, October 02, 2009

Tweeting at the Book Festival

There was a 10-day period last week when I was in seventh heaven. First there was Fall for the Book, a literary festival that the library cosponsors with George Mason University and many other organizations. Among the authors I got to see was one of my favorites E.L. Doctorow, best known for his novel Ragtime, which became a film and more recently a musical. The 78-year-old author was as playful with the audience as he is in his novels which always mix history and fiction in delightful ways. He read from his newest work, Homer and Langley, based in part on the legendary, reclusive Collyer brothers who as Doctorow explained “were aggregators like Google.” Today we would call them hoarders.

Then, last Saturday I took the Metro down to the Mall for Library of Congress' National Book Festival. Any bibliophile who has never visited the festival – in its ninth year and always on the last Saturday in September – is missing a real treat. Despite rain, the festival was packed. There was something for everyone from John Grisham and John Irving to Paula Deen, Judy Blume and Ken Burns.

Seeking shelter from the weather in the Library of Congress tent, I had an opportunity to experience the Festival’s Tweet-in, which reproduced a Tweet feed on a large monitor. There I learned that John Irving had just told the audience he never liked Hemingway and that Azar Nafisi was rousing those in her tent to fight the closing of book stores.

As I writer, I’ve always been skeptical that great things can be talked about in 140 characters, but the Tweet-In at the National Book Festival convinced me otherwise. Maybe there is room in the world for both old and new literary technologies!

Whatever you do, look out for Fall for the Book and the National Book Festival in the fall of 2010.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Treat Library Materials Gently

I was reading a borrowed book the other day when I encountered – make sure you’re sitting down for this, because book lovers will be outraged – dog-eared pages! A library customer had folded pages down to hold his or her place. Folding pages in a book is not good practice and deteriorates the book for the next user.

It struck me; however, that that was the first time in a long time that I had run across a dog-eared library book. It’s been a while since I’ve borrowed a book that someone had –egads! – written in. Most customers are very respectful of their library materials. So, thanks to all of you who treat your library materials so gently.

We do have volunteers by the way, who are able to help with some minor mending of books, but once a book becomes too worn, it needs to be removed from the collection and these days not every book can be replaced due to budget cuts.

Mary Mulrenan, Fairfax County Public Library

Friday, September 25, 2009

Edgar Allan Poe at 200

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to attend a panel discussion commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe as part of the Fall for the Book Festival. He was born in 1809, but you will be hard-pressed to find a consistent birth date, since as one of the panelists said “Poe was a piece of fiction himself.” He was well-known for embellishing and confusing his life story, telling friends and colleagues different versions.

Panelists included Louis Bayard, whose The Pale Blue Eye is a fictionalized account of Poe’s six-month stint at West Point and Daniel Stashower, whose The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Rogers and the Invention of Murder, explores the true crime that became the basis for one of Poe’s most famous stories. You can listen to interviews with both of them as part of the library’s BookCast series.

While one well-known contemporary writer has called Poe “the best of our bad writers,” Bayard and Stashower believe that whatever one thinks of his work, he is probably one of the most influential writers of the 19th century. He invented the detective story, contributed to the science fiction and horror genres and mastered the short story form.

Writers as varied as Stephen King, Vladimir Nabokov, Ray Bradbury and Jules Verne have all been influenced by Poe.

If you want to sample Poe again, try these short stories: “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Black Cat,” “The Gold-Bug” and his detective tale, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

Should you wish to join in the bicentennial celebration, you can attend a reenactment of his funeral and other events the weekend 0f October 9-11 up in Baltimore.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fall for the Book Events

If you’re a book lover, then you will enjoy the Fall for the Book Literary festival Sept. 21-26. To see the events sponsored by the library or being held at library branches visit library’s Web site. Here are some of the programs being offered this year:

Staged Reading of A Lesson Before Dying
September 25, 7:30 p.m., The Fairfax Theatre Project, 3955 Chain Bridge Road, Fairfax (near the Asian Bistro). This event is also part of the library’s The Big Read/All Fairfax Reads.

Open Mic Poetry Reading
September 25, 8:45 p.m.-11:30 p.m. at Brion's Grille in Fairfax.

Soul of a People: A Community Celebration of the WPA Federal Writers Project
September 26, starting at 12:30, City of Fairfax Regional Library

Memoirist Ralph Eubanks
September 22, 6:00 p.m. at City of Fairfax Regional Library

Mystery Novelist Emyl Jenkins at City of Fairfax Regional Library
September 23, 6:00 p.m.

Novelists Pam Jenoff and C.M. Mayo
September 26, 3:00 p.m. at Patrick Henry Library

The Fairfax Prize is sponsored by the Fairfax Library Foundation:
E.L. Doctorow
September 24, 7:30 p.m. at Mason Concert Hall

Since we’re talking about the exciting events being planned at the library for you this fall, mark Oct. 9 on your calendar for Scott Turow. Read more about that and other Big Read/All Fairfax Reads events here.

Mary Mulrenan, Fairfax County Public Library

Friday, September 18, 2009

Armchair Explorers

For those of you who enjoy true tales of adventure, I’ve got a great recommendation for you: The Lost City of Z: A Tale of a Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Gran. I checked it out over the Labor Day weekend and couldn’t put it down.

The book chronicles the expeditions of Percy Harrison Fawcett, an Amazon explorer who made seven expeditions to South America and the Amazon between 1906 and 1924. He was in search of evidence of an ancient civilization that he thought might rival Machu Picchu. His last expedition in 1925 ended with his disappearance. He, his son and a friend never returned and their remains were never found.

Fawcett was a bit of media star in the early 20th century and his disappearance sparked other expeditions to locate him – some of them ended in failure as well. He was a friend of Arthur Conan Doyle, who used Fawcett’s adventures and theory of a lost city as the basis for his novel, The Lost World.

Gran is a meticulous researcher and The Lost City of Z is much more than a biography of Fawcett. He tracks down 16th century accounts of the earliest visitors to the Amazon, Fawcett’s diaries and a great deal of fascinating information on Fawcett’s contemporaries, who were trekking into one of the last great unexplored areas of the world.

It is so great to find a rare gem like The Lost City of Z!

Pat, Fairfax County Public Library

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What Not to Read

I wish deciding what to read was simpler. With 175,000 books being published each year and only a small number of them getting most of the publicity, I wonder what treasures are published and disappear that I should have read. I add a few books to my list of “books I want to read” every week and that list gets longer and longer.

I feel guilty however, if a book comes highly recommended and yet languishes on my list while I read others that manage to call to me more forcefully. For example I have yet to read Three Cups of Tea or The Kite Runner, though they sit as one and two on my “list.” What’s called to me recently are books about animals such as Old Dogs are the Best Dogs by Gene Weingarten and Merle’s Door by Ted Kerasote. (Great books if you’re an animal lover.)

Every time I read a really good book that moves me in some way, I feel grateful I found it. I just wish I knew what not to read to have time for the rest.

Mary Mulrenan, Fairfax County Public Library

Friday, September 11, 2009


It has been eight years since the event that changed the lives of Americans forever. It seems appropriate that the day is known only as “9/11” because almost everyone alive will always remember where they were when terrorists hijacked four planes – flying two into the World Trade Center towers, one into the Pentagon and crashing the third in a Pennsylvania field.

A number of memorials have been designed or are being constructed to honor all who lost their lives in the attacks of September 11, 2009. In our area, the outdoor Pentagon Memorial opened a year ago in honor of the 184 killed in the building and on American Airlines Flight 77.

The memorial is built on 1.9 acres of land with a view of the crash site of Flight 77. It consists of 184 benches and each is inscribed with the name of one of the victims. A rectangular pool of light illuminates each bench from below. The benches face opposite directions, determined by whether the victim was in the Pentagon or on Flight 77.

The library owns almost 100 titles devoted to 9/11. One that might interest local readers is Firefight: Inside the Battle to Save the Pentagon on 9/11 by Patrick Creed and Rick Newman. You can hear the authors discuss the book on the library’s BookCast series:

“Memory is the diary that we all carry with us.” -- Oscar Wilde

Pat, Fairfax County Public Library

(Image courtesy of the Department of Defense)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Fiction vs. Nonfiction

My mother was an avid reader yet I don’t recall her buying a single book. She would borrow many books each week from the library, and she was a fast reader. She had so many scattered around the house, my brother once joked about doing an intervention and having to take away her library card. (He was only kidding of course.) She wouldn’t give a writer much of a chance though; if she didn’t like it in the first few pages that was it. She didn’t try to “plow through.” That’s why she needed so many books in order to ensure that at least one would hold her interest.

She only read fiction. She might read a James Patterson or Patricia Cornwell or Lillian Jackson Braun or even a Maeve Binchy. It didn’t have to be about murder or some other fiendish plot by evildoers, but it had to be a made-up story. Now I’m sorry I never asked her why.

I’m not as wedded to fiction as my mother. Some nonfiction stories such as Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer or The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger or Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen E. Ambrose are just as gripping as any fictional story. It’s one of the many great things about a library; you can try many different genres, and it doesn’t cost you a dime (unless you miss the due date).

Mary Mulrenan, Fairfax County Public Library

(Image courtesy

Friday, September 04, 2009

Labor Day

Whether you are taking one last journey to the beach or enjoying a three-day staycation closer to home, the end-of-summer ritual is here again. More than 100 years old, the first Labor Day celebration is believed to have been a parade of 10,000 workers on Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City, organized by Peter J. McGuire, a Carpenters and Joiners Union secretary. To celebrate in 2009, a recent U.S. Census Bureau press release offers some staggering statistics on what the U.S. labor force has become a century later.

● 155.1 million people 16 or over were in the U.S. labor force as of May 2009

● 7.7 million workers hold down more than one job;

● 10.4 million are self-employed;

● 5.7 million work at home;

● 77 percent of workers in private industry receive a paid vacation as one of their employment benefits;

● 7.2 million are teachers; 1.9 million are customer service representatives; 2.8 million are registered nurses; 293,000 are firefighters; and

● more than 158,000 are librarians!

So, don’t forget to thank a librarian this Labor Day holiday!

Pat, Fairfax County Public Library

(Image courtesy of Free Gifs and Animations)

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

So Long Summer

The end of summer has arrived. We’re cleaning sand out of our trunks … I meant the trunks of our cars … getting a last dip in the pool … and returning our “beach reading” books to our local branches to pick up those more serious tomes for the fall and winter. (Not me!)

Our Summer Reading Program also ends on Saturday, Sept. 5, so all our great, young readers (especially those procrastinators-in-training) should get their reading logs in this week so they can collect their coupon books and hundreds of dollars worth of free or discounted deals, including free ice cream.

What the end of summer will not mean to Fairfax County Public Library customers is a change of hours. Library staff has heard customers refer to our new hours as the “summer hours.” Unfortunately, at least as long as the recession continues, the new hours are here to stay. (M-W, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Thurs, Fri., 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sun. (regionals only are open) 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.)

Mary Mulrenan, Fairfax County Public Library

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Kennedys

Whatever your politics, the death of Edward Kennedy marks the end of an era. For those of a certain age, that Massachusetts clan is a part of our communal history. The accomplishments, tragedies and flaws of the Kennedys intrigued the American public and shelves are devoted to them in our library.  If you would like to learn more about Ted Kennedy here are few books to browse:

Ted Kennedy: The Dream That Never Died by Edward Klein

Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy by Peter Canellos

Edward M. Kennedy: A Biography by Adam Clymer

The Last Brother by Joe McGuinness

Also check out the library’s Web site at for a brief biography and links to Web sites about Senator Kennedy.

Pat, Fairfax County Public Library

(Photo is a derivative of the official Congressional portrait from PD-USGov-Congress.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Personal Property

I have heard people say they’ve been to places where they “didn’t have to lock the doors at night.” These seem to have occurred in small town America or in the 50s. I have never lived in an area or an era where I felt comfortable leaving the doors unlocked, and that’s sad for me.

Many people must feel safe at the library. Unfortunately, we do have our share of larcenies. Laptops, cell phones, wallets and bicycles have been stolen from our libraries. We all wish this were not true, that libraries could be bubbles of a bygone era or small town life where everyone knows everyone else. But for the most part, customers at libraries represent a microcosm of the community at large.

Bikes should be locked at libraries and personal property should not be left unattended. Just a public safety reminder to try to prevent someone from experiencing that awful feeling when you first realize that something of value has been stolen.

Mary Mulrenan, Fairfax County Public Library

(Image courtesy of the National Crime Prevention Council)

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Kindle Critic

Essayist Nicholas Baker takes on the Kindle in a recent New Yorker article ("A New Page: Can the Kindle Really Improve on the Book?" August 3, 2009). An avowed bibliophile, it’s probably no surprise that Baker was less than enthusiastic about Amazon’s e-book reader. Years ago he wrote an article lamenting the demise of the card catalog.

From the e-reader screen’s dark-gray type on a greenish-gray background (“This is what they are calling e-paper? This four-by-five window onto an overcast afternoon.”) to the automatic page turning (“I was trying to hurry the Kindle. You mustn’t hurry a Kindle.” ) Baker was definitely not impressed. He laments the lack of illustrations and even e-book titles. There’s no The World According to Garp or Catch-22 available for e-book readers, yet. He did concede, however, that the experience improved on Apple products such as the iPod Touch or iPhone.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of “reading” on my mp3 player. I download eAudiobooks from the library’s Web site. But, I haven’t made the jump to an e-book reader, yet.

(The Kindle image "has been (or is hereby) released into the public domain by its author, Tsgreer at the wikipedia project.")

Pat, Fairfax County Public Library

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

“Casey at the Bat”

Many of us library lovers were introduced to the wonder of books and libraries as youngsters. I don’t recall going to a storytime where I grew up in New Jersey. What I do remember is that feeling of excitement when I was picking out my new books. Another Curious George I hadn’t read! An alphabet animal book! Certainly there was a time when books were just about the pictures, the colors or about getting some quality time with Mom and Dad … but eventually, the words themselves took on more meaning.

I still remember my first encounter with “Casey at the Bat” though it must have been more than 30 years ago. It was part of a book that had all styles of writing in it from poems and stories to jokes, a something-for-everyone book. I borrowed it more than once, and it’s a book I wish I had bought. Perhaps the story of the Mudville Nine baseball team struck a cord for me because the ending surprised me. (I even named a cat Casey.)

Lots have changed in the intervening years, but not that feeling of excitement I can get from borrowing an armload of books from my local branch.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.

Mary Mulrenan, Fairfax County Public Library

(Photo by Jason Cutshaw, Fort Drum Public Affairs.)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Healers and Fiction

I just finished a wonderful, sprawling novel, Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. The surgeon-author has crafted a work that spans decades across multiple continents. It is the story of twins, Marion and Shiva Stone, whose Indian nun mother dies at their birth and physician father abandons them. Verghese, who admits he is a fan of another physician-novelist, W. Somerset Maugham, has created his own Of Human Bondage.

The author’s ability to evoke exotic settings in India and Ethiopia and create characters that resonate with readers made me wonder if there is something about the medical profession that produces great literature.

In addition to Maugham, a number of classic writers also studied medicine, including, Anton Chekhov, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, William Carlos Williams and John Keats.

According to Ethan Canin, a physician turned contemporary novelist, it is not just coincidence that doctors write good literature, "It's like being a soldier. You've seen great and terrible things."

Anyway, be sure to try Cutting for Stone. If you enjoy epic drama set in the far corners of the world, it’s a book for you.

Pat, Fairfax County Public Library

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It’s Time to Read A Lesson Before Dying

A Lesson Before Dying takes place in a small Cajun community in 1940s Louisiana, where a young black man is about to go to the electric chair for murder. When the man is convicted and sentenced to die, his grandmother begs the narrator in the story to teach her grandson to die like a man. The book has been described as offering a “powerful exploration of race, injustice and resistance.” It was a 1997 Oprah Book Club selection.

A Lesson Before Dying is also the 2009 selection for The Big Read/All Fairfax Reads, a community-wide reading program that this year brings together many readers from across the Commonwealth. This reading program is an initiative of The National Endowment of the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest.

The Big Read is designed to “revitalize the role of literature in American culture and bring the transformative power of literature into the lives of its citizens.”

I have definitely been transformed by books I’ve read, though, sadly, none of the diet books.

Visit the library catalog and place your hold on A Lesson Before Dying.

Mary Mulrenan, Fairfax County Public Library

Friday, August 07, 2009

Harry’s Good Deeds

Have all you adult Harry Potter fans made it to the film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? As someone who read all the books, it’s definitely a must, despite mixed reviews that claim the movie doesn’t quite match the book.

I haven’t enjoyed reading a fantasy series as much since I tackled J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings many decades ago. It’s probably not fair to compare the two but there is something engaging about a hero’s quest, whether it is to conquer the evil Voldemort or destroy a dangerous ring.

It seems appropriate that the lessons in the Harry Potter books are being put to good use. The Harry Potter Alliance “is dedicated to using the examples of Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore to spread love and fight the Dark Arts in the real world.” A recent article posted on CNN ("For Some Fans, Lessons of 'Potter' Carry Over Into the Real World," July 16, 2009) listed some of the alliance’s projects which include helping hundreds to register to vote last year and conducting a book drive for children around the world in which more than 13,000 books were collected and 4,000 went to youths in Rwanda.

Pat, Fairfax County Public Library

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Launch of Out-of-Print

Welcome to Out-of-Print the renamed Fairfax County Public Library online discussion. Staff will use this space to keep you informed of all things library, be it behind-the-scenes views, our thoughts on books and reading, upcoming programs, changes to service and more. Expect to see some guest bloggers as well. Whether you visit us regularly or just happened upon us while surfing the Web or conducting a library transaction online, we hope you will come back now and then and catch up.

Want to join library fans asking Ben and Jerry’s for a new library-themed flavor? Read about the petition. (Thank you to FCPLEASE reader Diane Royal of Reston for providing the link.)

Mary Mulrenan, Fairfax County Public Library

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

We need your help

The Fairfax Library moderated discussion (known as a blog in most circles) launched in October 2005. We have used the space to highlight both books and digital material in our collection on a wide variety of subjects as well as sharing author and book profiles, news of events and new services.

Many have visited us over the years, but we have never really polled you to find out what you like about our twice-weekly postings or what we might do differently. Now is the time to do it. For the month of July, this contributor will be taking a break, while we try to collect some thoughts from you.

Here’s what we would like to know:

1. Have you visited this space more than once?

2. What are you looking for in this space? Library events, services? Author profiles? Book and literary award news? Anything else?

3. What is the one thing we could do to make this space more appealing to you?

4. Do you visit other library blogs? If so, which ones?

Share your thoughts here. We’ll see you in August.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Books on Stage

Not long ago, Joan Didion’s memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, topped bestseller lists and was a favorite among book groups. It is an eloquent study of Didion’s year of grief following the sudden death of her husband and the terminal illness of her daughter Quintana. It seems an odd book to turn into theater, but local actress Helen Hedman has done just that at D.C.’s Studio Theatre, recreating a one-women show that featured Vanessa Redgrave in the 2007 New York version ("A Writer's Vivid Portrait of Grief -- Her Own," Washington Post, June 25, 2009).

Books live on for generations – not only in print, but in other art forms – whether theatre, film or even opera and dance. Here are some other books that made it to the stage:

The Color Purple by Alice Walker (Broadway Theatre, NY, 2005-2008)

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (Broadway Theatre, NY, Imperial Theatre, NY 1987 – 2003; Broadhurst Theatre, NY (revival) 2006-2008)

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (Hilton Theatre, NY 2007 – 2009)

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Cort Theatre, NY, 1990)

Native Son by Richard Wright (St. James Theatre, NY, 1941)

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (Madison Square Theatre, NY; Garden Theatre, NY; New Amsterdam Theatre, NY, six productions from 1887 – 1907).

Friday, June 26, 2009

Remembering Michael and Farrah

Popular icons have it tough, sometimes. That is certainly true of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett who both died yesterday – one suddenly and the other after a long, public battle with cancer. Many of us, who never met either, share their loss. If we marveled at “Thriller” and Jackson’s moonwalk or became addicted to “Charlie’s Angels” Michael and Farrah are part of our life experiences.

The Washington Post ("Michael Jackson, 'King of Pop,' Dies of Apparent Heart Attack in L.A.," June 26, 2009) perhaps summed up Jackson’s complex legacy best as “. . . two sides to the record: The tabloid caricature and the provocative, genre-changing musical genius that his fans will always treasure.” Even the book titles on Jackson in our library such as Michael Jackson: the Magic and the Madness or Michael Jackson: Unauthorized reflect the ups and downs of his life.

Farrah Fawcett is remembered for the one season on “Charlie’s Angels” that transformed her into a celebrity that could sell 10 million famous posters. She also shared more serious acting roles, such as the abused wife in the 1984 T.V. movie “The Burning Bed” with her audience. In recent years it has been her struggle with cancer and the devotion of long-time companion Ryan O’Neal that has made her story familiar to us.

Both Michael and Farrah will be remembered by many of us who they never knew. They will be missed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mistresses of the Thriller: Part I: Tess Gerritsen

A while ago, a post on, a social networking site for writers and readers of crime fiction, asked for readers’ favorite female thriller writers. Tess Gerritsen's name came up more than once.

Gerritsen, a Chinese-American writer well-known for her medical thrillers, received her M.D. from the University of California at San Francisco. She began writing while on maternity leave from her practice as an internist. Her first book, a romantic suspense novel, was published in 1987. It was followed by eight others in that genre.

Her first medical thriller, Harvest, was published in 1996. It made the New York Times Best Seller List. It has been followed by 10 popular novels, the latest is The Keepsake published in 2008. Her books have been published in 33 languages and 30 million copies have been sold worldwide.

Gerritsen lives in Maine with her husband, a retired physician. Interviewed in the Portland Press Herald in 2007, the author admitted that she writes her first drafts by hand – four pages a day – and then moves to a computer for the final editing.

She thanked a local library director for the idea for her book The Bone Garden (2007), a historical thriller, because he invited her to speak on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein a few years ago and during her research discovered that Shelley’s mother had died of childbed fever, spread by the doctors’ bad hygiene in hospitals at the time. She placed Oliver Wendell Holmes in the novel and read Nathaniel Hawthorne to get the cadence of the language.