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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