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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Look Back at Some of Our Favorite Posts from 2015

About Books is on break this week. It’s a good time then to look back at some of our favorite posts from the past year. From Book Club Picks to Audiobook recommendations, from books of adventures to books of remembrance, About Books had a great year letting you know what Fairfax County Public Library staff was reading and recommending.

Happy New Year and happy reading in 2016!

- The Editors

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Move Over Buzzfeed, Hello Book Concierge: Make Your Own Best-Of-List

Book recommendations are tough business. Like the time I recommended The Luminaries to friends. (Still feel bad about that one, guys!) But that’s why I empathize with book reviewers this time of the year as they put forth their highly trumpeted “Best of the Year” lists. Yeah, I know. It’s hard to feel sorry for them. What a glamourous sounding job! But we expect a lot from these authoritative “Best of” lists and while we do discover great gems this way and experience validation when a book we loved lands on a Top Ten, truth is these lists can contain some clunkers, too. At its heart, reading is a truly personal experience. And what I like often isn’t what you like. So, how does one wade through the “Best of” lists to find something you are guaranteed to like? Especially in the Buzzfeed age of listicles?

I was pondering this question when I rediscovered NPR's Book Concierge. (By the way, has anyone noticed how NPR is killing it over on their website? Really innovative things going on there.) The Book Concierge is the perfect tool for book discovery. See their thoughtful, witty explanation here of how their “list fatigue” combined with a chance to work closely with the NPR NewsApp team gave birth to Concierge.

NPR's Book Concierge. Great way to find your next book.

A few moments in and it's clear that the site is a better reflection of how we actually discover new books than blindly following the same five or ten titles that pop up on all the end of year lists. It starts with 260 books that their staff and critics loved. From there you can browse by genre. Similar to how I don’t ask just anyone for book recommendations but instead ask friends or seek out reviewers who like to read the same types of books as I do. My colleague Rebecca found this great book with these filters on Book Concierge: Book Club Ideas + Rather Short + Realistic Fiction + Seriously Great Writing + Tales from Around the World. Which returned a book neither of us had heard. The Story of My Teeth by Valerie Luiselli. How did we miss this fantastic sounding title? It's not listed in any of the major Top Ten lists either so we wouldn't have found it that way. But we both immediately placed it on hold.

Moreover, Book Concierge is an answer to a digital-age dilemma - the problem with shopping for books online (or browsing an online library catalog) is that it’s really hard to duplicate the “discovery” process that happens from talking to librarians, bookstore staff and fellow readers inside a bricks-and-mortar place of books, where you can also browse displays of new titles and old favorites. Even Amazon just opened a bricks-and-mortar book store.  

NPR’s site might just have fixed that problem on its own, however. The engaging graphic display of all their top 260 book covers creates an opportunity to browse in a way you would in a store or library. And it casts a larger net of books than a Top Ten list, but far more appealingly and user friendly than either the Washington Post's Top 50 fiction or nonfiction books or the New York Times Top 100. Even though both of those are posted online, both of them are at their heart traditional print-first formats. There's no engagement similar to what Book Concierge offers.

With its genre-browsable refined searches and engaging visual presence, Book Concierge has enabled a new age of digital discovery for finding your next read. So, check it out – find new reads and create your own, best-for-you Top Ten list.

-Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Finally Getting Their 15 Minutes of Fame

“No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.” ― Aristotle

Living your life in the shadow of genius can’t be very easy under the best of circumstances. Add a touch of eccentricity and a smidgeon of egoism to that genius, and then things can become very complex. So, I give a cheer when I run across a book that champions those who stand just outside the limelight. Writers of historical fiction must agree. These five books move that spotlight over just a tad to shine on the family and friends of the famous.

Gaynor Arnold gives Dorothea “Dodo” Gibson a chance to tell her side of the story in Girl in a Blue Dress: A Novel Inspired by the Life and Marriage of Charles Dickens.  Long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, the novel portrays Gibson’s marriage to an adored but self-centered Victorian author. The once-loved wife, modeled after Catherine Dickens, was humiliatingly discarded once years of childbearing had taken their toll.

Hadley Richardson was swept off her feet at age 28 by the charismatic writer Ernest Hemingway.  The Paris Wife by Paula MacLain follows the Hemingways as they navigate the heady jazz and gin-infused atmosphere of 1920s expatriate Paris. As they rub shoulders with great names of the era, Hadley is challenged to keep her own identity while supporting his increasing fame. If you enjoyed this story, you might want to try Hemingway in Love: His Own Story by A. E. Hotchner.

Nancy Horan’s debut novel, Loving Frank, explores the life of a very different heroine from Hadley Richardson. Mamah Borthwick Cheney leaves her husband and children to flee to Europe with Frank Lloyd Wright. Since the renowned architect is also married, society is scandalized by the pair. Horan sensitively portrays the challenges Borthwick, a scholar, translator and feminist in her own right, faced as a mother, intellectual and partner to the talented but egotistical architect.

To be young, artistic, gifted and a member of the bohemian Bloomsbury Group, should be a wonderful thing. Vanessa Stephens, however, shared that distinction, with her troubled sister Virginia. Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar chronicles the loving, yet challenging relationship of painter Vanessa Bell and author Virginia Woolf in their early years. Steadfast and stable, Bell must look after her own personal and artistic growth while managing her sister’s obsessive loves and fragile mental health. 

Although an aviatrix and author in her own right, Ann Murrow is known to history primarily as the wife of Charles Lindbergh. She met the aviator just after his legendary solo crossing of the Atlantic and threw herself wholeheartedly into his love of flight. His unprecedented celebrity and cold, somewhat domineering nature became less bearable to Murrow with time, particularly after the kidnapping and murder of their first child. Her quest to find and establish her own identity is movingly portrayed in The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin.

-Rebecca Wolff, City of Fairfax Regional Library

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Gingerbread Tales

You’ve heard of the Gingerbread Boy and perhaps the Gingerbread Girl, but have you heard the story of the Gingerbread Cowboy or the Gingerbread Pirates? Your small friends are in for a calorie-free treat with these delicious books to warm winter nights. Ask for them at your local Fairfax County Public Library branch or stay put by the fire, and place a hold online via our website 24-7.

The Gingerbread Boy, Paul Galdone. Run! Run! Run! Catch me if you can!” This favorite rendition of the classic tale is charmingly illustrated by the author.

The Gingerbread Girl, Lisa Campbell Ernst. Watch out Mr. Fox, the Gingerbread Girl has learned a thing or two from her brother’s mistakes and insists on giving this tale a new twist.

The Gingerbread Girl Goes Animal Crackers, Lisa Campbell Ernst. When the Gingerbread Girl opens a box of animal crackers, the cookie craziness reaches new heights.

The Gingerbread Cowboy, Janet Squires. “Giddyup, giddyup, as fast as you can!” His tale may sound familiar, but Gingerbread Cowboy was born on a ranch. After running from a roadrunner and a band of javelinas, he tries to escape on the back of a coyote. 

The Gingerbread Pirates, Kristin Kladstrup. A boy and his mother make gingerbread pirates to leave for Santa. But Captain Cookie and his crew have other ideas when animated by Christmas magic.

Gingerbread Man Loose in the School and Gingerbread Man Looseon the Fire Truck, Laura Murray. Gingerbread Man was made by schoolchildren and wants to become part of the class. In the sequel, Gingerbread Man saves the day on a field trip to the fire station.
Gingerbread Baby and Gingerbread Friends, Jan Brett. Further variations on the tale are lavishly illustrated by popular author/illustrator Jan Brett. See extension activities, including a printable Gingerbread Baby board game, on her website.
The Gingerbread Mouse, Katy Braton. When her old home is destroyed, Mouse finds a cozy gingerbread house to move into within a much larger house. But will she get to keep her sweet home?
Children can extend the last story by making an easy “gingerbread house” like the one Mouse lived in. Stuff a brown paper lunch bag with crumpled paper and fold over the top to make a roof. Decorate the house with markers or collage items and top with cotton “snow”. 
-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Book Club Picks: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

What is your book club reading in recognition of National Underdog Day, which falls on the third Friday of December? Consider discussing Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, in which the author explores the phenomena of victorious underdogs and explains how they often come out ahead not by luck but by design. Often the underdog’s perceived weakness doubles as strength, and vice versa. In the title example, Goliath was hampered with heavy armor and weaponry, allowing nimble David to prevail. Gladwell goes on to explain why a disproportionate percentage of successful entrepreneurs have dyslexia and how early civil rights leaders utilized the prejudice of the majority to further their cause. One of his counter-intuitive discoveries is that top graduates of average colleges are more successful in their careers than middle-of-the-pack graduates of Ivy League colleges.  This last topic he covered at length in a speech at Google.

In "Part Three: The Limits of Power," Gladwell applies some of the earlier theories to larger historical phenomena, explaining why some wars are unwinnable even though one entity should have a clear advantage. During "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland, why were the Protestant majority, with strong British allies, unable to subdue the minority Catholics? How did the unsophisticated mountain dwellers of Le Chambon, France defy the Nazis and openly harbor hundreds of Jews during World War Two? For that matter, why was the great and powerful USA unable to win the war in Vietnam?

As Gladwell explains in David and Goliath, the powerful cannot subdue a populace by might alone. In order to prevail, the source of power must be perceived as legitimate. The group to be won over must perceive the ruling power as having recognized their interests. Gladwell writes, "...when the law is applied in the absence of legitimacy, it does not produce obedience. It produces the opposite. It leads to backlash." The corollaries in history and contemporary society are abundant.

Gladwell is more of a giant than an underdog in the publishing world; his international bestsellers are famous for spurring lively discussion. Other books by Gladwell that are popular with book clubs include Outliers: the Story of Success, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, and Blink: the Power of Thinking without Thinking. 
--Suzanne LaPierre, Kings Park Library

Monday, November 23, 2015

What We're Reading: Our Winter Picks

We're taking a break this week at About Books while we prepare to watch football, enjoy family visits and eat too much turkey over the holiday. But we're always grateful for all the great books we can access for free with our Fairfax County Public Library cards. Visit our What We're Reading: Winter 2015-2016 page to see some of the picks we're enjoying right now. Have a great Thanksgiving Day and see you all back in December.

-Ginger Hawkins (PH), Rebecca Molineaux (KP) & Rebecca Wolff (FX)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Thankful Picture Books

With pies to be baked, potatoes to be mashed, hand print turkeys and paper pilgrims to be taped up and travel plans to be negotiated, Thanksgiving hustle can drown out the quieter meaning of the holiday – the opportunity to reflect on gratitude. Carve out some time with a child to explore the subject of thankfulness with one of these picture books.

Thankful by Eileen Spinelli. Rhyming text celebrates community members who are thankful for the daily blessings of their work: “The waitress is thankful for comfortable shoes/ the local reporter for interesting news…”

Look and Be Grateful by Tomie DePaola. Gratitude as the practice of being present and appreciating small moments is the theme of this book, as a boy takes time to wonder at marvels from the sun to a ladybug.

Thank You and Good Night by Patrick McDonnell. The cartoonist of Mutts comic fame brings his amusing critter sketches to the service of this gentle bedtime story about three friends who end their first sleepover with thankful thoughts.

The Thankful Book by Todd Parr. Each page spread begins “I am thankful for…” and lists something serious or silly. This is a simple book for bringing awareness to the meaning of the word “thankful.”

Thank You, Bear by Greg Foley. Bear is excited when he finds an empty box and can’t wait to show Mouse. But naysayers dampen his enthusiasm- until Mouse appears and agrees that it’s just perfect.

Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson. Bear is lonely in his cave and wishes he could make dinner for his friends- but his cupboards are bare. Then his animal friends start showing up with food and soon a feast has been gathered.

Ten Thank-You Letters by Daniel Kirk. Pig is writing a thank you letter to Grandma when Rabbit stops by. Rabbit decides to write a few thank you letters too. But what will happen when Pig finds that Rabbit has used his last envelope and stamp?

Splat Says Thank You! by Rob Scotton. Splat the Cat sets out to cheer up his sick friend, Seymour, by presenting him with a friendship book of all the things Seymour has done that Splat appreciates.

The calm that settles as a picture book is opened and read aloud can be an oasis of peace amid holiday hoopla. And we can all be grateful for that.

-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Uncovering Voices from the Holocaust

An old family film tucked in a closet, love letters hidden in an office file, papers set aside in an abandoned suitcase – seemingly commonplace items. Yet these everyday mementos held the key to three lost narratives from the Holocaust. These discoveries allow us to share the hopes and dreams of the youngest inmates of the Terezin Concentration Camp, follow a young Viennese student desperate to join an old love in America and look back at a Jewish community a short time before the Nazi invasion of Poland.

The significance of these finds is striking when you consider how difficult it can be to discover information about many of those swept up in the Holocaust. While the Nazis generally kept meticulous records, the death registers of many camps, particularly in Eastern Europe, were often incomplete. Many victims of the Nazi regime, including prisoners of war, were executed and buried in anonymous, mass graves. Locating information about specific people can be challenging, as records span many countries, archives and languages. Even when records can be found, documents alone cannot convey a full understanding of an individual’s experience. Each of these three chance discoveries offers a unique and personal look into the heartbreaking events of the Holocaust.

I Never Saw Another Butterfly... Children's Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944

Fifteen thousand children under the age of 15 were sent to the Terezin ghetto during the Holocaust - only 100 survived. These are their drawings and poems, found many years later preserved in a suitcase. Terezin was a show ghetto set up by the Nazis in the Czech mountains. They would spruce up small portions of the ghetto to show off to the Red Cross and other international organizations to give the appearance of treating Jews humanely. Many famous intellectuals and even members of the German army who were found to have Jewish blood were sent to Terezin. Life in Terezin was much more gruesome than it appeared to outside visitors; there were regular transports to death camps, and it was never the intention of the Nazis to allow any of the residents to survive. However, given the number of artists and scholars living there, a certain amount of culture managed to flourish. The children had some limited access to art supplies and were taught by a famous artist (Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, who died in Birkenau). It is clear that the children who wrote these poems were forced to be wise beyond their years.

Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind

As a child, Sarah Wildman had always been struck by how wonderfully lucky her charismatic grandfather Karl had been to escape from Austria in 1938. With the four other members of his family, he was able to start a successful new life as a doctor in America. It was only after his death that she discovered a cache of letters, hidden in his office files, from relatives who had not been able to leave. In this heart-rending collection, she found a series of letters from the girlfriend of Karl’s youth, Valy Scheftel. In her passionate love letters which spanned from 1938 to late 1941, Valy speaks of her increasingly difficult situation and begs for Karl’s help leaving Nazi Germany. Wildman found it difficult to reconcile these desperate pleas with what she knew of her grandfather’s escape and early days in America. In an attempt to understand this chapter of her grandfather’s history, Wildman decides to try to discover why Valy was left behind and what ultimately happened to her. Her quest is movingly recounted in Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind.

Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film

Very similar to Sarah Wildman’s Paper Love, it is the discovery of a family artifact that propels Glenn Kurtz on a journey to discover the lost world of a vibrant, Jewish town in Poland. At once less personal and yet more heartbreaking than the letters that Wildman finds, Kurtz finds a home movie documenting the six week sightseeing vacation his grandparents took to Europe in 1938. Three minutes of the film survey the thriving Jewish village of Nasielsk, Poland – the elder Kurtz’s birthplace – a town that unbeknownst to all, will be decimated just a short time later in Hitler’s Nazi invasion and extermination efforts. In a town of 3,000 people, fewer than 100 will survive. At first the film is not viewable, “a hockey puck,” Kurtz says. He donated it to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which was able to restore it and post it on their website. Amazingly, Kurtz is contacted by a woman who saw the film on the website and believes the film captures her grandfather as a 13 year old. The book is the result of Kurtz’s efforts to track down the people in the film and illuminate a world even the survivors thought had been lost. See Kurtz’s website for a short video produced by the Holocaust Museum about his grandparents’ film.

-Rebecca Wolff, CE, Suzanne Summers LaPierre, KP & Ginger Hawkins, PH

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Advice on Writing and Life from Youth Authors at Fall for the Book

Three reasons I love Fall for the Book at George Mason University even more than the National Book Festival in Washington DC: ample free parking, a short drive and reduced crowds. It’s fantastically easy to meet award-winning authors and get books signed with hardly any wait. This was the first year I attended the children’s events. I was especially eager to see Kwame Alexander, author of The Crossover, a book about basketball-loving twins told in free verse. Alexander wrote it to show kids, particularly reluctant readers, that poetry can be cool. He demonstrated by reading passages aloud with a rap rhythm, evoking the beat of a basketball on the court.

The authors were generous with advice for aspiring writers. Alexander recommends the BIC (butt-in-chair) approach to pounding out pages, as well as cultivating support from other writers and always saying “yes” to opportunity. When approached about writing a book for middle schoolers, which he hadn’t considered yet – he said yes. When asked to submit a manuscript he hadn’t written yet – he said yes, and made it happen. The rest is history in the form of The Crossover, winner of the John Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Honor.

Katy Kelly, author of the Lucy Rose and Melonhead series for middle grade readers, had many tips for would-be writers. Think of something funny that happened and push it to an extreme: what if that mouse in the house had been a hundred mice? Be an eavesdropper: listen to what people say and how they say it. Take notes. Keep a journal. Write a page a day- in a year you’ll have a 365 page book! It is easier than ever to make your book a reality, Kelly pointed out: self-publish an eBook or print a paper edition using the Opus book machine at Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C.

Melissa Thomson, author of the Keena Ford series about the misadventures of a second-grader, agreed with the advice about keeping a journal and listening to the world around you. Working as a teacher helped Thomson understand the minds of seven and eight year olds. Keena, the name of a parent of one of her students, struck her as perfect for her character. Inspiration abounds in everyday life.

If you missed your chance to meet the authors, you can still get to know their characters- Keena, Lucy Rose, Melonhead and Filthy McNasty - at your local Fairfax County Public Library branch. Check out events for all ages at next year’s Fall for the Book.

-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Walk, Colum McCann and the Joy of Unexpected Discoveries

Does this ever happen to you? You discover someone or something new. Then you see that person or thing all over the place and wonder how you possibly could have missed it all this time? That happened to me recently with Colum McCann. I knew of him, but I hadn’t read him nor knew much about him. And then, bam! He was everywhere I turned.

I owe it all to a blockbuster dinosaur movie. Not exactly a straight line to McCann, but that’s how the best discoveries are made.

One of the movie previews was for the Robert Zemeckis film The Walk – the story of Phillipe Petit’s daring, mad 1974 tightrope walk between the Twin Towers. A few questions by curious children later, and we checked out the great Mordicai Gerstein picture book The Man Who Walked between the Towers. The picture book won the Caldecott medal in 2004. Fairfax County Public Library also owns the book in a kit format which contains the book and a CD audio recording of the book so readers can follow along. In this case, it is narrated by the author. The book also appears in this scholastic DVD along with other inspiring stories. Children who want to learn more about the fate of the World Trade towers and the September 11 Terrorist Attacks can check here.

And here we arrive at McCann. Under the catalog entry for Phillipe Petit was also McCann’s book Let the Great World Spin. Ah – that’s what the popular title from our book club display was about. While the book is about much more than just Petit’s walk, the event is an important backdrop to the story, sets in motion the events and is the glue that holds the disparate stories of the characters together. Some have called it a valentine to 1970’s New York City. McCann’s other books can be found here, including his latest work Thirteen Ways of Looking.

My favorite piece of McCann’s writing? It sounds odd, but it is his victim impact statement. By coincidence, I found the piece not long after reading Let the Great World Spin – see how he’s popping up everywhere? I’m signed up for the New York Times “What We’re Reading” weekly email, and this was one of the stories they featured. (It’s the kind of email you want in your inbox – insightful, funny and amazing stories from around the web that you might otherwise miss.) It’s McCann’s account of a wrenching episode – something that almost seems more likely to have happened in one of his novels than in real life. In June 2014, McCann witnessed a woman brutally assaulted on a busy New Haven street and stopped to help her. While rendering her aid, the attacker returns and beats McCann unconscious. McCann recently spoke at the sentencing trial of his attacker and delivered this statement. What a model of grace.

Not exactly where I would have predicted Jurassic World would lead me. But I’m thankful it did.

- Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Once Upon a Fearless Halloween…

Halloween is a time of fun, but it can also be scary for some children. Fortunately, Fairfax County Public Library offers many amusing picture books to help children learn about overcoming fear.

In I Used to Be Afraid by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, a  young girl tells us how she conquered her fears by discovering the positive side of things – such as the beauty in a spider’s web or the fun of making shadow puppets on the wall. Simple text and cut-out illustrations make the book appealing for younger children.

Poor Yeti sees frightening shadows on the wall when he turns out his bedroom light in Yeti, Turn out the Light! by Greg Long. But every time he turns the light on again, he finds it’s just another winsome forest friend who wants to cozy up under the covers.

The spunky little girl (who just might be a witch) is undaunted when she moves into a creepy old house inhabited by ghosts in Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara. She finds they make perfect curtains and tablecloths.

These next two classics can be a bit creepy until you reach the reassuring endings:

A little old lady goes for a walk in the woods and is followed by some strange things – empty shoes, a shirt, a hat… she keeps telling them she isn’t afraid. Then she comes up with a creative solution in The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams. (Make this book more interactive by inviting kids to act out the “scary” things - stomp their feet when the shoes go “clomp, clomp” and shrug their shoulders when the shirt goes “wiggle, wiggle,” etc.)

Included in Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss is the tale “What was I Scared of?” The furry protagonist is startled by a pair of spooky, pale green pants with nobody inside them - until he realizes the pants are just as frightened of him as he is of them!

As always, don’t be afraid to ask for more suggestions at your local library branch.

-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

It's Never Too Early For Etiquette

Sometimes parents ask for books on manners for their preschool or early grade school child. Fairfax County Public Library owns several picture books that deal with the simple rules of etiquette in memorable ways.

In Mind Your Monsters, by Catherine Bailey and illustrated by Orial Vidal, some monsters are taking over the town until the secret word is discovered (ages 4-8). If your child loves monsters, he’ll find Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins to be a hilarious treat worth re-reading (ages 4-8).

Boy, oh boy does Tea Rex by Molly Idle get across the consequences of bad party manners. Kids will laugh aloud as they take in the side-lined post-it note reminders (ages 4-8). For dinosaur lovers, you may want to check out some of Jane Yolen’s silly “How do Dinosaurs...” books that can be jumping off points for discussion on how to eat your food or go to sleep at night (ages 2 -5). Judy Sierra’s Suppose You Meet a Dinosaur: A First Book of Manners is equally entertaining (ages 4-8).

Bernette Ford and Sam Williams do an admirable job of showing how difficult yet rewarding is it for little children to control their temper in No More Hitting for Little Hamster! (ages 2-5).

These are just a sampling of what we have in picture books both silly and sweet that convey the value of good manners.
-Maggie Wrobel, Centreville Regional Library

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Book Club Picks: The History of Love

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss captured my attention with an unforgettable opening in the voice of the main character: "When they write my obituary. Tomorrow. Or the next day. It will say, LEO GURSKY IS SURVIVED BY AN APARTMENT FULL OF S**T.” 

To the casual observer, retired locksmith Leo Gursky is just another bedraggled old man shuffling through the streets of New York City. An immigrant from Poland, Leo feels so invisible that he resorts to dropping items in stores on purpose and even takes a job as a nude model for an art class in his efforts to be noticed.

No one can tell by looking at him that Leo once cultivated a profound love and wrote a great book or that he lost his finest creation and his entire family in the Holocaust. As a result of the domino chain of loss set in motion by the Holocaust, Leo is unable to contact his only son, a famous writer, and can only admire him from afar.

Elsewhere in the city, fourteen-year-old Alma is already no stranger to loss. Her father died young, causing her mother to drift away psychologically on the sea of her grief. Alma was named after a character in a book, also called The History of Love, which her father once gave to her mother. She begins to suspect that this character was based on a real person and embarks on a quest to find out. 

Leo and Alma’s stories begin to converge, leading them both to surprising discoveries.  Exquisitely written, The History of Love won many literary awards and was a finalist for the Orange Prize for Fiction. 

Book clubs may be interested in discussing the “story within a story" literary device employed in this novel. Other examples of the “nested narrative” or metafiction can be found in classics such as Don Quixote by Cervantes, Moby Dick by Melville, The Lord of The Rings by Tolkien and more recent books such as The Blind Assassin by Atwood and Fugitive Pieces by Michaels.

-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Celebrate Your Freedom to Read - Banned Books Week

Every year I create a “Celebrate Your Freedom to Read” display at the library for Banned Books Week, and every year I hear the same incredulous responses: “This book was banned? Why?” Many books we consider classics were at some point challenged and/or removed from public access. Content as seemingly innocuous as females in leadership roles (The Wizard of Oz) or talking animals (Winnie the Pooh) have been deemed offensive and occasionally resulted in popular books being withheld.

Libraries across the country see Banned Books Week as an opportunity to celebrate our commitment to providing free and open access to information. Public libraries strive to facilitate access to diverse viewpoints and ideas. Sometimes we are not beyond enticing reluctant readers to open a book by reminding them that we now have the privilege of choosing to read books which were once branded forbidden fruit.

My earliest memory of book censorship involves Maurice Sendak’s picture book In the Night Kitchen, which was challenged during my childhood, because the tyke in the story “falls out of his clothes” during his adventure. Hearing of this controversy made me want to check out the book; I was chagrinned to find that my local public library had “solved” the problem by painting diapers on the little boy, marring the Caldecott Honor illustrations.

While perusing lists of challenged books, I’m always freshly surprised to see so many personal favorites. I adored Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson as a tween because of the strong imaginative friendship between two main characters. The plot involves the death of a central character; this appears to be the content most often objected to. However, like many tween readers, I loved Paterson’s books precisely because the of “real life” problems that made the stories more realistic and meaningful.

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom maintains a list of the most frequently challenged books for each year. Visit the ALA website for the 2014 list of frequently challenged books, including the reasons usually cited for objecting to the content. There is also a list of the 100 most frequently challenged books by decade. See how many of your favorites – or not-so-favorites – made the lists! Banned Books Week runs from September 27 through October 3 this year. 

-Suzanne LaPierre, Kings Park Library

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Forgotten Classic: The Ginger Tree

Editor’s Note - The clash of cultures between East and West has been the subject of many award-winning novels, including last year’s winner of the prestigious Man Booker prize, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. Flanagan’s novel depicts the horrific experiences of prisoners tasked with building the Thai-Burma death railroad during the Second World War and the struggles of both prisoners and guards to make sense of those events later in life. Fans of the work may want to explore a gentler, kinder exploration of this theme in Oswald Wynd’s forgotten classic, The Ginger Tree. See the short-list for this year's Man Booker prize, announced last week, here. The winner will be named in October.

When the novel opens, Mary MacKenzie, a young Scottish girl, is aboard the ship SS Mooldera en route to China to marry a British foreign officer whom she barely knows. The world unfolds before her naïve eyes bit by bit. First she observes life on the ship with its panorama of human behaviors and opinions and later Peking, as she reaches her destination with husband-to-be waiting on the dock. As the months pass, she is left hollow and disillusioned by the social scene, her marriage and the birth of their first child. As the reality of her life sinks in, she sees that though her present situation has an exotic setting, the restrictions are just as real and numbing as the rigors of her Scottish upbringing.

One morning, when she and her infant daughter are on holiday away from her absent husband, she walks alone on a path above the sea. Coming into a clearing, her restlessness is suddenly stilled by the sight of a Japanese warrior in meditation at the edge of the cliff. The samurai and Mary's yearnings collide forcefully. Though her actions are deliberate, she doesn't contemplate the consequences of her passion. They are dire. Mary is expelled from China by her tyrannical husband, forcing her to leave her young daughter behind. Under the sponsorship of Kentaro, the Japanese warrior, she seeks a new life in Japan for herself.

The book is written in a format of letters and journal entries, depicting the life of Mary MacKenzie as she navigates the turbulent waters of being a woman, single mother and foreigner in a Far Eastern country in the early 1900s. Her adventures include tsunamis, social ostracism, business ventures, missionaries and activists and all play out with the ominous notes of World War I and II in the background. Above the clamor is the steady watchful eye of Kentaro, who keeps firm fingers on the pulse of her life, emerging from time to time like the mystery he is.

The novel is a love story first and foremost - love of a man and woman, love of country, love of tradition, love of independence. It is a lens of history through which we see fierce passion and a determination to persevere despite the resounding clash of cultures. Mary MacKenzie, with a low bow, gives us a poignant treatise of the heart.

-Lois Glick, Great Falls Library

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What We're Reading: Behind the Scenes with TE

If you haven't yet noticed, we have a special What We're Reading section for you this month, brought to you by our very talented TE staff members. "TE?” You ask. “What branch is this?” Our Technical Operations department, located in the Chantilly Regional Library building, does all of the behind-the-scenes work to get Fairfax County Public Library’s books on branch shelves.

Fairfax County Public Library has nearly 500,000 registered cardholders with a variety of interests and needs. Yet this small department does all the ordering, cataloging, labeling, packaging, interlibrary loans and shipping work for all 23 of our branches. They order, catalog and process all formats of materials: printed books, books on CD, eBooks, eAudiobooks, Large Print books and coordinate all of the databases available through the Library. From online SAT study guides to the latest best-seller, from children's boardbooks to the latest Folger edition of Shakespeare, they do it all. Thousands of new books pass through their the Tech Ops office each year. So who better to ask for popular book recommendations? These are the titles that have currently caught their attention.

Check out their favorites at What We're Reading: Fall 2015

-Ginger Hawkins, PH

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

10 Free Services with the Smartest Card in Your Wallet

What’s the smartest card in your wallet? Your library card, of course! All the cool kids know this. We may be biased, but if you don’t have a card, apply for one today.  Know someone who doesn't have a card?  Let them know a library card gives you access to more than just the checkout line.  It's also your ticket to all these fantastic free services.

Download an eBook. Then read it from your Kindle, your iPad or tablet, or your desktop. Find thousands of titles here and instructions here. Stumped? Read our post about eBooks here. Or call your local branch or come in for help. Bring your device! 

Read magazines online from home with Zinio. It's got the latest editions of publications from The Economist to U.S. Weekly. Click here and then scroll down to the bottom of the page for instructions and the login screen.

Suggest a title we should order. Can’t find a book you are looking for and think we should order it? We welcome your suggestions.

Can’t find what you are looking for? You may be able to borrow the item free of charge from another library system through our interlibrary loan service.

Make your commute more enjoyable. The library owns thousands of books on CD. Search for your favorite title and select the audiobook version or browse the shelves at your nearest branch. Being stuck in traffic never sounded so good! You can also download  eAudiobooks from home without even heading into a library branch. Transfer an eAudiobook to your smartphone and listen as you drive. Browse eAudiobook titles in our Overdrive catalog.

Place a book on hold. Ever make it to the library and forget the titles of all the books on your to-read list? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Next time, place a book on hold so you’ll never be without a read. If your home branch doesn’t have a copy of what you are looking for, we will transfer the item to your branch free of charge. Sign up for the Wowbrary newsletter, so you can receive free alerts about the library's newest additions.  It's a great way to put your name on the waiting list for the hottest best seller.

Help your child get ready to read. Our storytime programs help put your child on the path to a lifelong love of reading. Grow successful readers by logging on to our event calendar and select Event Type: Storytime to register your child in a program. Our Early Literacy Outreach page has tips  and great books lists to help you foster  your budding reader. Sign up for the Early Literacy Newsletter to get monthly updates on what’s new in picture books.

Study for a test. Our branches own multiple copies of study guides for college prep tests or AP exams. You can also access practice SAT, ACT and GRE tests online through Learning Express Library. Log on with your library card. Planning a career move? The database also contains occupational exam study guides as well, from Dental Assistant exams to Real Estate Broker exams.

Computer or printer problems at home? Use your library card to access one of the more than 400 internet stations available in Fairfax County Public Library branches.

Research your ancestors. The Virginia Room at the City of Fairfax Regional Library houses thousands of resources for your genealogical research needs. Many are available online, including Heritage Quest. And inside library branches you can get free access to

How do you use your library card? Let us know!

--Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library