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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Stories

Looking for some holiday reading? USA Today recently published a list of novels for the season ("Christmas Novels Spread Holiday Cheer," Dec. 19, 2011). Holiday-themed stories are great last-minute gifts. Here are a few you can preview in our catalog:

The Nine Lives of Christmas by Sheila Roberts

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

His Mistress by Christmas by Victoria Alexander

Lost December by Richard Paul Evans

Hanukkah Lights: Stories of the Season from NPR’s Annual Holiday Specialby National Public Radio

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Personality Plus

Nancy Pearl, who the New York Times calls “the talk of librarian circles”, loves books with memorable characters. The librarian and author of the Book Lust series recently shared her favorite "7 Books With Personality" with National Public Radio. Here they are:

In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard

A World on Fire by Amanda Foreman

Blind Sight by Meg Howrey

The Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen

By George by Wesley Stace

Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner

Down the Mysterly River by Bill Willingham

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

2011’s Top Fiction at FCPL

As 2011 winds down, this is the season for lists and the Fairfax County Public Library is no exception. Below is a list of the top ten fiction books that library customers checked out this year, compiled by staff in our Collections and Acquisitions Department:

The Confession by John Grisham

Hell’s Corner by David Baldacci

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Steig Larson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larson

Sing you Home by Jodi Picoult

Toys by James Patterson & Neil McMahon

The Reversal by Michael Connelly

Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks

Port Mortuary by Patricia Cornwell

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Zoo Stories

With last week’s release of Betty White’s Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo and the upcoming film version of the memoir, We Bought a Zoo, starring Matt Damon, our nation’s menageries are in the news. USA Today recently interviewed White on her longtime relationship with the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens as a trustee, benefactor and volunteer ("For Betty White It's Still Happening at the Zoo" Nov. 29, 2011). She told writer Bob Minzesheimer that she once had a friend named Gita – an Asian elephant, “who liked to have her tongue slapped,” and she was happy to oblige her.

We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals that Changed Their Lives Forever by Benjamin Mee relates the trials and tribulations of attempting to restore a dilapidated zoo and the comfort the project brought when tragedy struck the family.

If zoos intrigue you, here are a few more books (and one eVideo) to enjoy:

Life at the Zoo: Behind the Scenes with the Animal Doctors by Philip T. Robinson

Zoo: the Modern Ark by Jake Page

Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives by Thomas French

Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo by Lawrence Anthony

The New Zoos by PBS (eVideo)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Jane Austen: A Suspicious Death?

A British crime novelist, Lindsey Ashford, suspects Jane Austen’s early death at 41 may have been due to arsenic poisoning, according to The Guardian ("Jane Austen Died From Arsenic Poisoning," Nov. 14, 2011). Several years ago Ashford moved to Chawton, where Austen once lived, and became interested in old volumes of her letters. In one, she recognized Austen complaining of skin discoloration that sounded like symptoms of arsenic poisoning. As a crime writer, she had researched poisons. Arsenic was widely available in Austen’s era, used to treat everything from rheumatism, which Austen complained of, to syphilis.

But, Ashford doesn’t rule out a more nefarious conclusion. "I don't think murder is out of the question," she said. "Having delved into her family background, there was a lot going on that has never been revealed and there could have been a motive for murder.”

An editor for the Cambridge edition of Jane Austen disagrees, reports The Guardian. "I doubt very much she would have been poisoned intentionally. I think it's very unlikely. But the possibility she had arsenic for rheumatism, say, is quite likely," she said. "It's certainly odd that she died quite so young. [But] in the absence of digging her up and finding out, which would not be appreciated, nobody knows what she died of."

If you would like to read more about Austen, here are a few good biographies:

Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World by Claire Harman

Becoming Jane Austen: A Life by Jon Spence

Searching for Jane Austen by Emily Auerbach

Jane Austen: A Penguin Life by Carol Shields

Jane Austen: A Life by David Nokes

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Best of 2011?

It’s only early November, but Publishers Weekly has released its list of the Best Books of 2011. It includes everything from Tina Fey’s Bossypants to great fiction from Ann Patchett and Jeffrey Eugenides, as well as biographies of Hemingway and Catherine the Great. Below is just a sampling. Let us know what you consider your best reading this year:

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Devil All the Time by David Ray Pollock

Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie

Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson

One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Irresistible Sherlock Holmes

The first new Sherlock Holmes novel authorized by Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate, The House of Silk, was released yesterday, writes USA Today. (Sherlock Holmes: Alive and Well, Nov. 1, 2011).
Penned by Anthony Horowitz, author of the popular Alex Rider books for teens and the public television series “Foyle’s War,” it is but one of several new Holmes-inspired books either just published or in the works.
When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes’ creator, died in 1930, he had written four novels and 56 stories and didn’t realize he was creating an industry.
My favorite Holmes-inspired mysteries are those by Laurie King. The first in the series is The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which introduces 18-year-old novice sleuth Mary Russell, who assists the retired Holmes in a new series of mysteries.

Here are a few others that feature the popular Victorian detective:

Sherlock Holmes: The American Years by Michael Kurland

Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killers by Dr. John H. Watson
by Lindsay Faye

Ghosts in Baker Street by Martin Greenberg

An Opened Grave: Sherlock Holmes Investigates His Ultimate Case by L. Frank James

Of course there is nothing like the original: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


All Hallows Eve is less than a week away and for those who like a good scare, BookList Online, a publishing trade journal and valuable tool for librarians, recently published a list of the 2011’s Top Ten Horror Books. Here is a sampling:

Dust by Joan Frances Turner

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

The Glass Demon by Helen Grant

Jane and the Damned by Janet Mullany

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reading: The Power to Heal

The library has just ordered the well-reviewed Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch. In this memoir the author, after the death of a sister, chooses to savor a book a day for a year. One critic writes that her book “reminds us of the most primal function of literature-to heal, to nurture and to connect us to our truest selves."

Sankovitch is not the first writer to discover the nurturing power of the written word. Here are a few more:

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi

The Year of Reading Proust: A Memoir in Real Time by Phyllis Rose

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, A History by Lewis Buzbee

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Zombie Phenomenon

It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but zombies seem to have invaded American culture. It began with preteen and teen boys, but now the zombie phenomenon seems to be everywhere. Of course, there is the popularity of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Also, authors such as Max Brooks have memorialized the creatures in tongue-in-cheek books such as The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, soon to be a movie with Brad Pitt. Brooks will discuss “10 Lessons for Surviving a Zombie Attack” on October 25 in the Board Auditorium at the Fairfax County Government Center. Seats are going fast. Sign up here.

A search of our catalog finds 119 items of zombie fiction listed. In addition to Brooks’ two books, here are a few more considered among the best:

Feed by Mira Grant

The Living Dead by John Joseph Adams

Monster Island by David Wellington

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (and sequels) by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Supremes

John Paul Stevens, who served on the U.S. Supreme Court for 35 years, has just published Five Chiefs, part memoir and part history of the chief justices of the United States. The 91-year-old Stevens was the third-longest-serving Supreme Court Justice when he retired in 2010.

The book’s appearance coincides with the first Monday in October, the Court’s traditional opening day each year. At 10 a.m. last Monday, the nine justices of the Court gathered to tackle decisions on the complex and controversial issues that will come before them this term. Stevens’ memoir is certainly not the first to offer a glimpse into the sometimes obscure workings of this influential body. If you want to learn a bit more about the nation’s highest court, try the books below. Many more are listed in our catalog. Just search “Supreme Court. United States.”

Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge’s View by Steven Breyer

The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice by Sandra Day O’Connor

My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir by Clarence Thomas

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin

The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court by Bob Woodward

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Canine Celebrities

Susan Orlean, a New Yorker writer, best known for The Orchid Thief, a non-fiction account of John LaRoche and his band of Seminoles that poached orchards in south Florida, has now written a biography of Rin-Tin-Tin and his many descendants. One reviewer (“Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend,” Christian Science Monitor, Sept. 27, 2011) wrote: the “unfurling narrative of Susan Orlean’s Rin Tin Tin, about the canine movie star, unleashes a cultural history of German shepherds and the changing role of dogs from farm workers to war heroes to pets; the evolution of the motion picture industry from silents to talkies to television; and an exploration of why some cultural icons continue to beguile. ” Place a hold on this unique bio.

While Orlean’s wide-ranging curiosity is a delight, I also wondered what other canines – famous or otherwise – have merited their own bios. Here are a few:

First Friends: American Presidents and Their Best Friends by Roy Rowan

Millie’s Book by Barbara Bush

Shaggy Muses: The Dogs Who Inspired Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Edith Wharton, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Bronte by Maureen B. Adams

Laika by Nick Abadzis (Young Adult)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Storm Reading

It’s a bit late, perhaps. But, since we endured both the remnants of hurricanes Irene and Lee in recent weeks, you may want to sample some great fiction and nonfiction devoted to stormy weather. During Irene, The Daily Beast published its list of the best "hurricane lit." Here are some you can curl up with during the next bout of bad weather.

Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938 by R.A. Scotti

The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger

Typhoon by Joseph Conrad

A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Halls of Ivy

“School is a near universal experience,” wrote Rachel Syme in National Public Radio’s “Monkey See” blog last week ("Books With Class: Autumn Books That Bring Back the School Daze," Sept. 10, 2011). She admits that we recall our days of study in many different ways, but whether our memories are fond or otherwise, many reflect on our classroom experiences during the early days of September. Syme recommends five novels that attempt to capture those complex times – sometimes innocent and sometimes not:

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Old School by Tobias Wolff

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Fiction and 9/11

The BBC recently asked an interesting question online: "Is There a Novel That Defines the 9/11 Decade?" (Aug. 27, 2011). Writer Alizeh Kohari mentions several works of fiction: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid; Incredibly Loud & Extremely Close by Jonathan Safran Foer; and Open City by Teju Cole, but concludes that a decade may not be long enough for a defining novel to emerge. After all, Tolstoy’s War and Peace appeared 50 years after Napoleon invaded Russia. According to Bowker’s Books in Print database, 164 works of fiction have appeared in the past 10 years that deal with the events of 9/11. Whether one of them will endure the test of time – or is still to be written -- may yet be determined.

The library’s catalog lists 40 novels with a 9/11 theme. Here are just a few:

My New American Life by Francine Prose

Falling Man by Don DeLillo

The Submission by Amy Waldman

The Writing on the Wall by Lynn Sharon Schwartz

The Whole World Over by Julia Glass

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

All Fairfax Reads: Little Princes

September is a day away and as All Fairfax Reads winds down, we’ve planned a series of programs for all those who have read (or plan to read) the 2011 selection, Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan.

Here is the line-up:

Expeditions to Nepal: Beyond Everest, Sept. 13, 7 p.m. Sherwood Regional Library. National Geographic adventurer Peter Athans describes his travels, archaeological discoveries and humanitarian work in Nepal. Sign up online or call 703-765-3645.

Little Princes Discussion, Sept. 14, 7 p.m. Reston Regional Library. Cosponsored by the Fairfax Library Foundation. No registration required.

Himalayan Religion and the Culture of Nepal, Sept. 15, 7 p.m. Kings Park Library. Georgetown Professor Benjamin Bogin talks about the religion and culture of Nepal. Sign up online beginning Sept. 1. Or call 703-978-5600.

Conor Grennan, Sept. 21, 7:30 p.m. Harris Theatre on the campus of George Mason University. The All Fairfax Reads author discusses his book. No registration required. Cosponsored by Fall for the Book.

Check out the All Fairfax Reads page on the library’s website for more info on the author, the book, discussion questions and additional reading, including the books

The Places In Between by Rory Stewart
Murder in the High Himalaya by Jonathan Green
Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

Pay It Forward by Catherine Hyde
The Sunflower by Richard Paul Evans
Arresting God in Kathmandu by Samrat Upadhyay

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

When the Earth Shakes

Well, it was a new experience for me and my colleagues at the Fairfax County Government Center when the floor under my feet began to shake. At first I thought it was some construction work on the floor below me. Then as I followed others out the building I considered an explosion. It wasn’t until we completely evacuated and started to browse Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, that I learned it was an earthquake. It certainly doesn’t compare to the devastation earthquakes have caused in other parts of the world, but for a native East Coaster it was definitely disorienting.

While there is much online about yesterday’s uncommon event, I was curious about the history of earthquakes in the Old Dominion and found a few websites to enlighten me. They include:

Earthquakes in Virginia

Virginia's Largest Earthquakes

Historic Earthquake - Giles County, VA 1897

Got a quake story? Feel free to share.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Choosing an E-Reader

In a recent New York Times “Personal Tech” column, writer Nick Bilton explored the reading experience on a variety of devices, ("Deciding on a Book and How to Read It," Aug. 10, 2011). Bilton chose one book, The Alienist by Caleb Carr, and read a chapter at a time on a Kindle, a Nook, both iterations of the iPad, an iPhone, an Android phone, an Android tablet, a laptop computer and even a paperback book! His conclusion: “I was torn between the Kindle and the iPad 2 . . . But if money is tight, go for print. My used paperback cost only $4.”

Whatever your choice – and e-readers do have some advantages – they can store a lot of reading material for that trip to the beach or flight across the country – the library offers an extensive collection of free downloadable eBooks and other e-formats through Overdrive and several other vendors.

For those new to e-reader technology, staff at several branches are offering one-on-one sessions or specific classes:

Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library offers ongoing personalized eBook/e-reader instruction with a trained staff member. Call 703-790-8088 to make an appointment.

Oakton Library will offer eBook/e-reader instruction on Sept. 15, 22 and 29 at 7:30 p.m. to help you learn about e-book/e-reader options and/or your e-reader. Call 703-242-4020 to make an appointment.

Reston Regional Library will offer "Discover EBooks" on Oct. 8 at 11 a.m. to celebrate a generous gift from the Friends of the Reston Regional Library to increase our eBook collection with a live demonstration on how to download eBooks.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Babar Turns 80

With the publication of Babar’s Celesteville Games, the endearing, yet sometimes controversial elephant turns 80. Few may know that the pachyderm had two creators. In a profile of Laurent de Brunhoff, son of Babar’s first creator Jean de Brunoff ("Down Memory Lane With Babar the Elephant," Aug. 8, 2011), USA Today writer Bob Minzesheimer chronicles the series that is still popular with young readers.

The newest book is 42nd in the series that began when Laurent de Brunhoff was five and his mother made up a story about an unnamed young elephant who was playing in the jungle when his mother was shot by hunters. When de Brunhoff and his younger brother told the story to their artist father the next day, he decided to illustrate it and the series was born. Histoire de Babar: Le Petit El├ęphant was published in 1931 and appeared in the U.S. two years later, Minzesheimer writes.

Jean de Brunhoff created five Babar books before he died of tuberculosis 1937. His son, Laurent, was only 13. He later attended the same art school as his father and became an abstract painter, but at 21 found himself drawing the elephant he had once loved.

While some praise the books, others have criticized them, especially those written during France’s colonial period. Toni Morrison, a Random House editor in the 1960s, criticized the depiction of natives in the 1949 book Babar’s Picnic. The author agreed to allow the publisher drop the book and let it go out-of-print. He admits to being embarrassed at some of his father’s early books, as well as his own, Minzesheimer says.

Times have changed, but the classic pachyderm seems to have endured. In Babar’s Celesteville the African elephant’s daughter, Flora, meets and marries an Indian elephant at some Olympic-style games with international animal athletes.

Want to read more about Babar? Here’s a few books to try:

The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant by Jean de Brunhoff

Bonjour Babar! The Six Unabridged Classics by the Creator of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff

Babar Comes to America by Laurent de Brunhoff

Babar’s Busy Year by Laurent de Brunoff

Should We Burn Babar? Essays on Children’s Literature and the Power of Stories by Herbert Kohl

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Barbara Kingsolver Wins Literary Peace Prize

Author Barbara Kingsolver will receive the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award, formerly known as the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Lifetime Achievement, on Nov. 13, reports the Associated Press ("Ohio Literature Award Renamed for Holbrooke," Aug. 2, 2011). The award was originally named for the 1995 Dayton peace accords on Bosnia held near the Ohio city and brokered by negotiator Richard Holbrooke. Holbrooke died in December 2010. The $10,000 prize is supported by corporations, schools, arts groups and private donors.

“I love that the organization is honoring this sort of higher value of literature to create empathy,” Kingsolver told the AP. “You can't bang anyone over the head with a stick and make peace; you only do so by convincing people that strangers' lives are valid and equal to their own; that's what literature does.”

Kingsolver, who now lives in southwestern Virginia, is the author of such bestselling novels as The Bean Trees (1988), Pigs in Heaven (1993) and The Poisonwood Bible (1998). Her nonfiction Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (2007) also topped bestseller lists.

Some other books by Kingsolver include:

The Lacuna (2009)

Small Wonder (2002)

Prodigal Summer (2000)

High Tide in Tuscon: Essays From Now or Never (1995)

Animal Dreams (1990)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

True Crime

With the recent publication of Jennifer Dugan’s Stolen Life, true crime books are in the news again. Dugan, who was kidnapped at the age of 11 and imprisoned for 18 years, has written an account of her experience that is receiving high praise for her refusal to be seen as a victim.

I admit (with a bit of guilt) to have been a true crime aficionado in my past. I have probably read most of Ann Rule’s books, as well as others, such as Joe McGinniss’ Fatal Vision about the murder conviction of Capt. Jeffrey MacDonald.

There are many theories as to why people read true crime. It has been theorized as self-indulgence – the need to know the whole story. (Plato wrote: “the virtuous man is content to dream what the wicked man really does.” Others suggest it teaches moral lessons and still others feel it helps maintain a society’s norms.

Whatever the reasons, here are some lesser-known titles that are considered the best of the genre:

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale

And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank by Steve Oney

The Poet and the Murderer by Mark Hofmann

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Strange Piece of Paradise by Terri Jentz

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Celebrity Memoirs

Flavorwire recently published a list of celebrity memoirs, pairing classics with similar contemporary tell-alls. ("Classic Celebrity Memoirs and Their Contemporary Counterparts," June 12, 2011). Some of the pairs include:

By Myself and Then Some by Lauren Bacall
Just Kids by Patti Smith

Out on a Limb by Shirley MacLaine
Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar

The Measure of a Man by Sidney Poitier
Life by Keith Richards

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Beach Bag Books has pulled together a great "Top Books to Read at the Beach" list for all tastes. There are recommendations for those who like serial mysteries, chick lit, tear jerkers, “smart reads” or 2011’s hottest. Here is a sampling in various categories:

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris (serial mystery)

Savannah Breeze by Mary Kay Andrews (chick lit)

Heat by Bill Buford (smart read)

Happiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston (tear jerker)

Bossypants by Tina Fey (2011 hottest)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Art of Reading

“Sometime late last year -- I don't remember when, exactly -- I noticed I was having trouble sitting down to read,” begins a 2009 essay by former Los Angeles Times book critic David L. Ulin, ("The Lost Act of Reading," Aug. 9, 2009). Ulin argued that “reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being.”

“Books,” he continued, “enlarge us by giving direct access to experiences not our own. In order for this to work, however, we need a certain type of silence, an ability to filter out the noise.” Ulin argued that in the age of blogs, Facebook and Twitter, the act of reading has become a distraction, an entertainment, rather than an act of concentration.

Ironically, his essay exploded across the Internet in blogs, Tweets and Facebook postings and he has now expanded it into a book, The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time.

There are those who question his thesis. In his review of Ulin’s book in the New York Times ("Our Unlettered Landscape," Nov. 26, 2010), Christopher R. Beha argued that Ulin might be preaching to the choir. While he agreed with much of what Ulin wrote, “There are too many books, and this is part of the problem. David Ulin’s intentions are beyond reproach, but his book is another distraction.”
Ulin is not the first to muse on the art of reading. Here are a few other titles you might want to try:

The Case for Books: Past, Present and Future by Robert Darnton

You’ve GOT to Read This Book! 55 People Tell the Story of the Book That Changed Their Life by Jack Canfield

Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel by Lisa Zunshine

Housekeeping vs. Dirt by Nick Hornby

Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the Worldby Nicholas Basbanes

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jersey Fiction

With the release of Smokin’ Seventeen yesterday Janet Evanovich continues the mystery series that has made a Trenton neighborhood called “The Burg” almost as famous as her heroine Stephanie Plum. Evanovich grew up in South River. N.J. and has kind words for her native state in a recent USA Today article, ("Janet Evanovich Sets Stephanie Plum Loose Again," June 21, 2011) . "Jersey's got everything — the Shore, bikinis, bulging muscles, the best and greasiest pizza," she said.

But Evanovich is not the first to find The Garden State a great backdrop for fiction. The library owns more than 300 novels that feature New Jerseyans. Here is just a sampling:

Caught by Harlan Coben

Goodbye Columbus by Philip Roth

Creepers by David Morrell

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Author Lilian Jackson Braun Dies

Lilian Jackson Braun, the bestselling author of “The Cat Who …” mystery series died Saturday in Landrum, S.C. She was 97. Braun retired from writing after publishing The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers in 2007.

She published her first book in the series The Cat Who Could Read Backwards in 1966, followed by The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern and The Cat Who Turned On and Off. She didn’t publish her next book until 1986 after she retired from a job with the Detroit Free Press. Her husband, Earl Bettinger, encouraged her to return to writing the series. She often referred to him in book dedications as “The Husband Who.”

The books follow Jim Qwilleran and his mystery solving Siamese cats Koko and Yum Yum. She made her lead character a male, she once said, so readers would not think her books were autobiographical.

In all, the prolific writer published 29 mysteries and two collections of short stories. Translated into 16 languages, her books made the New York Times bestseller list consecutively for 20 years beginning in 1990.

Whether you are new to Braun’s tales or want to revisit her cozy whodunits, try:

The Cat Who Blew the Whistle

The Cat Who Saw Red

The Cat Who Went Up the Creek

The Cat Who Smelled a Rat

The Cat Who Dropped a Bombshell

Do you need more background? check out The Cat Who Companion by Sharon Feaster.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Gone With the Wind Turns 75

Margaret Mitchell’s classic novel celebrated its 75th anniversary recently, reports USA Today (Classic Novel Gone With the Wind Turns 75, May 31, 2011). To commemorate the event, the paper writes that the Atlanta History Center is exhibiting four of the novel’s original manuscript chapters. One of the four is the last, which Mitchell wrote first, and has Scarlett’s famous line: “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

According to the USA Today article, Mitchell actually wrote the novel twice. It was originally titled Manuscript of the Old South and the name of the main character: Pansy rather than Scarlett.

The novel still attracts a following, including Facebook pages, Twitter postings and even a group of fans who call themselves “Windies.”

So, if you are looking for a good summer read, take a second, third or fourth look at this Civil War saga. While you are at it, you may want to sample the novels and non-fiction this 1942 bestseller spawned.

Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley

The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall

Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig

Margaret Mitchell and John Marsh: The Love Story Behind Gone With the Wind by Marianne Walker

Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind Letters 1936-1949 by Margaret Mitchell

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Books and “The Oprah Effect”

Oprah airs her last show today. Among her legacies is the readership she brought to more than 70 books during her long-running book club. According to USA Today ("How the 'Oprah Effect' Changed Publishing," May 24, 2011), one marketing professor estimates sales of “Oprah editions” totaled 55 million copies.

Here at the library, the holds list for Oprah’s books became so overwhelming in the mid-1990s that we and other libraries throughout the country arranged with Oprah’s staff and our vendors to order the monthly selection in advance, not even knowing the title.

While some didn’t embrace the emotional appeal of early selections, no one disputes the power of her recommendations. As an example, when she decided to move to the classics, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina topped the USA Today’s bestseller list in 2004.

It is also a testament to her influence that you can still find 161 listings under the subject heading “Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club Selections” in our catalog.

Jacquelyn Mitchard’s The Deep End of the Ocean was Oprah’s first book club selection on Sept. 17, 1994. Here are a few of the others:

White Oleander by Janet Fitch

Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Map of the World by Jane Hamilton

Paradise by Toni Morrison

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Better Book Titles

Many thanks to National Public Radio for introducing me to the website that attempts to redesign book covers to better reflect their content. It’s a great place for irreverent book lovers. The Great Gatsby becomes Drink Responsibly. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is renamed My Dad Is Cooler Than Your Dad. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre becomes The Good Ones Are Always Taken.

According to the May 12 NPR piece by Linton Weeks, the website is the brainchild of Dan Wilbur, a 24-year-old stand-up comic and former classics major at Bard College. “You should write what you know,” he told Weeks tongue-in-cheek.
In explaining the reason for the site, Wilbur writes: “This blog is for people who do not have thousands of hours to read book reviews or blurbs or first sentences. I will . . . give you the meat of the story in one condensed image. Now you can read the greatest literary works of all time in mere seconds!”

Wilbur also solicits alternative titles from readers. How about Albee’s “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf” as “The Worst Faculty Party of the Year”? Or, Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” as “Never Listen to Your Wife.”

The possibilities are endless. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Pain at the Pump

According to, prices at the pump in Virginia this week range from $3.59 for regular at a station in Westlake near Smith Mountain Lake to $4.49 in Oakton. The second steep rise in gas prices in the past several years has again fueled debate over U.S. energy policy. If you are interested in the topic, here is some good reading:

Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability by Daniel Sperling

Life Without Oil: Why We Must Shift to a New Energy Future by Steve Hallett

Light’s Out: Ten Myths About (And Real Solutions) to America’s Energy Crisisby Spencer Abraham

Renewable Energy: Opposing Viewpoints by Jacqueline Langwith

Power Hungry: The Myths of Green Energy by Robert Bryce

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

New Books on Osama Bin Laden

According to an Associated Press wire release reported in Salon, new books on the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden are already in the works.

In the meantime check out these books on the decade-long search for America’s Public Enemy No. 1 and the Navy SEALs that finally succeeded.

The Search for al-Qaeda: Its Leadership, Ideology and Future by Bruce Riedel

Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander’s Account of the Search for the World’s Most Wanted Man by Dalton Fury

Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? by Morgan Spurlock

SEALs: The U.S. Navy’s Elite Fighting Force by Mir Bahmanyar

One Perfect Op: An Insider’s Account of the Navy SEAL Special Warfare Teams by Dennis C. Chalker

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

“About Books” Debuts

Our moderated discussion took a brief vacation and returns this week with a new name: “About Books.” As a public library we have always been “about books” and thought the new title better reflected the posts that appear here each week.

The definition of the book is in transition so I decided to research the origin of the term. Until recently a “book” described “a written or printed work of fiction or non-fiction usually on sheets of paper fastened or bound together within covers.”

According to The Online Etymology Dictionary, the term “book” comes from the Old English “bok,” which in term derives from a Germanic root for “beech,” perhaps originating from the beech wood tablets that runes were inscribed on. Latin and Sanskrit have words for writing that are based on tree names, as well – “birch” and “ash” respectively -- according the above etymology dictionary.

If you studied ancient civilizations in grammar school, you’ll recall that when writing systems were first invented, anything from stone, clay, metal sheets, as well as tree bark could be written on. This evolved into the papyrus scrolls used by the Egyptians, then to the wax and wooden tablets that began to appear in the 3rd and 4th centuries. This codex form was more efficient because it could be written on both sides. Ultimately the codex became the familiar book of today.

So, it shouldn’t seem strange that books can now take on a new – electronic – form and be read on all types of devices – e-readers, tablets, even smart phones.
It is just another step in the evolution of the written word.

If you are interested in the history of books and writing, here are a few books to browse:

The Case for Books: Past, Present and Future by Robert Darnton

Patience and Fortitude: A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Culture by Nicholas Basbanes

Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles

A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Libraries and the E-Book Dilemma: Part II

When HarperCollins announced last month that it would limit the number of times e-books sold to libraries could be checked out, some in the library profession were outraged (see March 9 post below). A piece this week on National Public Radio (“The Future of Books in the E-Book Age,” April 4, 2011) offers a more nuanced approach to the controversy.

"The HarperCollins limit isn't going to stick," argues Christopher Platt, director of collections and circulation in at the New York Public Library. "It's going to develop into something new. And Harper, to its credit, is engaged with libraries to see what would work."

Platt, according to the NPR piece, offers one solution – a subscription model. Since libraries use intermediary vendors to buy their books, he believes libraries and vendors could develop subscription packages with publishers.

“So I'd buy a title with 1,000 uses, and then it's up to us and our readers whether those 1,000 uses get used simultaneously in the first few days or whether they get drawn out over time," Platt says. "And then if they do get used quickly, we'll buy more."

Another more visionary scenario is offered by Eli Neiburger, the director for IT and production at the Ann Arbor District library. He thinks libraries might want to deal directly with authors or the holder of the rights to e-books.

"The goal of the library is to obtain the ability to distribute content to its public. And if we can do that easier and more cheaply with the rights holder or the artist themselves and they make more money on it, then it may be heretical — but the future usually is," Neiburger says in the NPR piece.

Whatever the future of e-books offered by libraries, Roberta Stevens, president of the American Library Association, told NPR she would like to see more publishing companies involved in the discussion, since some do not even offer their titles to libraries.

"When we look at the future then we have to really think very seriously about what is our role — and how can we actually serve the millions and millions of people who use our public libraries everyday if we can't even get access to titles," says Stevens.

Friday, April 01, 2011

After The Last Dance

It’s down to the final four – Kentucky, Connecticut, Butler and our own downstate neighbor VCU. As March Madness spills into April for the final championship games, here’s some recommended reading on the sport. Writing in “The Daily Beast” Joshua Robinson offers his best picks for "Hoop Reads" once the Last Dance ends. A Sense of Where You Are: A Profile of Bill Bradley at Princeton by John McPhee and A Season on the Brink: A Year With Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers by John Feinstein top his list.

Here are some other books you might enjoy:

When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball by Seth Davis

Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four by John Feinstein

A Method to March Madness: An Insider’s Look at the Final Four by C.J. Jones

Cinderella: Inside the Rise of Mid-Major College Basketball by Michael Litos

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The 1980s: They’re Back!

A new book by journalist David Sirota, Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explains the World We Live in Now — Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything,
claims that the early decades of the 21st century mirror some of the less pleasant themes of a past era. Take Gordon Gekko’s famous mantra “Greed is good” in the 1987 film “Wall Street.” Not only did the movie spawn a sequel in 2010, but a real-life Gekko, Bernie Madoff, captured the headlines in 2009 when he was sentenced to 150 years in prison for operating what has been called the largest Ponzi scheme in the world.

In a USA Today review, writer Craig Wilson quotes Sirota: "Everything was big — really big. Big hair. Big defense budgets. Big tax cuts. Big shoulder pads. Big blockbuster movies. Big sports stars. The Big Gulp."

Recent cultural phenomena have their origins in the 80s, Sirota writes. “The Sopranos” is an updated “Goodfellas.” The reality show “American Idol” had its origins in “Star Search.” Apparently TNT is planning a remake of “Dallas.”

If you are curious about Sirota’s thesis, you can reserve a copy of Back to Our Future. Released on March 15, the library has it on order.

If you just want to enjoy fond memories of 80s icons such as Pac-man, the Rubik’s cube, “E.T.”, Ferris Bueller, MTV, Charles Barkley or the aviator jacket, here’s a few books to browse:

Eyewitness: The 1980s (eAudiobook)

Gen X TV: The Brady Bunch to Melrose Place by Rob Owen

Songs of the 80’s by Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation

Fashions of a Decade: The 1980s by Vicki Carnegy (reference: a few copies available for check-out)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Books for a Better Life

Last week, the Southern New York Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society announced the winners of its 15th annual Books for a Better Life Award.
The award is “dedicated to those books that best attest to self improvement.”

Lest you think self-help books are a phenomenon of the last few decades, Scottish author Samuel Smiles is credited with publishing the first true personal development book, titled appropriately “Self-Help,” in 1859. Its opening sentence "Heaven helps those who help themselves," was a variation of Benjamin Franklin’s famous maxim “God helps those who help themselves.”

The pioneer of the modern self-improvement movement, Dale Carnegie, published How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936. That book as well as others he penned went on to sell more than 10 million copies.

Seventy-five years later here is a sampling of the Books for a Better Life winners:

Brave Girl Eating by Harriet Brown (Childcare/Parenting)

Eaarth by Bill McKibben (Green)

Breaking Night by Liz Murray (Inspirational Memoir)

The New Good Life by John Robbins (Personal Finance)

Back to Life after a Heart Crisis by Marc Wallack, M.D. and Jamie Colby (Wellness)

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Libraries and the E-Book Dilemma

While e-books grow more popular, public libraries are concerned as publishers limit access to library copies of their books in electronic format, reports USA Today ("Libraries Launch Boycott in Battle Over E-Books," March 8, 2011).

The article discusses HarperCollins decision to require libraries to order a second copy of an e-book after it has been checked out 26 times. In an era when local governments are strapped for cash and cutting public library budgets, few librarians can afford this new model, writes USA Today reporter Bob Minzesheimer.

He quotes Marilyn Johnson, author of This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, published last year by HarperCollins. “Of course the librarians went crazy," she says "Think about it: 'I'm the 27th patron; I see that the book is in the catalog, and then suddenly it's not?' "

In response to the controversy, HarperCollins posted this message on its Library Love Fest blog to explain the new policy:

"Selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book eco-system, hurt the growing e-book channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors."

But, librarians disagree. “It's never pretty when a publisher decides they have to destroy books in order to save their business model," wrote one librarian on a Library Journal blog.

Two other major publishers, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan do not sell e-books to libraries at all. This means library customers can not check out a digital version of a Stephen King or Jonathan Frazen novel.

Here at the Fairfax County Public Library, our staff is still considering the workload and cost implications of the 26 check out limit, reports the head of our Collection and Acquisitions Department.

So, if you can’t find your favorite digital-format book in our catalog, this may be why. New format. New quandaries for libraries and their customers.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Read Across America Day

Today is the 12th annual “Read Across America Day,” sponsored by the National Education Association. Celebrated each March 2 on the birthday of Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel), it is designed to encourage children and adults across the U.S. to read together.

Yahoo! News offers a list of children’s books, both old and new that are great to share with kids ("Notable Children's Books, Then and Now," Feb. 28, 2011). It also asked members of the Yahoo! Contributor Network to write about their family's reading traditions. Bed time reading was the favorite time for one Mom ("Read Across America: Mom, Son Share ‘Good Night’ Books," Feb. 28, 2011).

So, if you have a little one in your house here are few suggestions from Yahoo! News readers for books to share:

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

Mr. Putter and Tabby Pick the Pears by Cynthia Rylant

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin

Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett

The Napping House by Audrey Wood

For many more recommendations from library staff visit I Like Picture Books on the library’s website.