Wednesday, November 26, 2008

This Week in Reading November 23 - 29

It's Thanksgiving week. Many of us are thankful for the end of hot, dry days and the enjoyment of cool evenings where we can sit indoors in a comfortable sweater with a cup of hot chocolate or hot cider next to us while we read.

This week is also a week to catch up on some of the mistakes we've made as we approach the end of the year. While we will edit out all those old Russian calendar mistakes after the year is done, we must correct a glaring one we made two weeks ago. One of the old literary books we relied upon has shown itself wrong on several occasions and we learned that French-Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco was born this week instead. Sorry.

With time off from work, in between family to dos, catch a little bit of classic reading with Louisa May Alcott, Laurence Sterne, C. S. Lewis, or Jin Ba. You can go literary modern with James Agee, Nancy Mitford, Arundhati Roy, or Alberto Moravia. Classic fantasists are on the menu with Madeleine L'Engle, Nelson Slade Bond, L. Sprague de Camp, and science fiction's Frederick Pohl and Poul Anderson. Top it off with the poetry and art of William Blake or the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza.

This Week's Question: One the authors born this week created illuminated books. Who was it? And what are illuminated books?

Answer to Last Week's Question: Mary Ann Evans, the woman who wrote as George Eliot, was a woman in Victorian England when women were considered to be "silly" novel writers. She had planned to publish as Marion Evans. Contemporaneous with her, however, was a famous woman who became the wife of the British Prime Minster, himself a novelist, Benjamin Disraeli, and her name was Mary Anne Evans. Somehow the name George Eliot was decided on for the novel Adam Bede which secured its author a reputation as a great writer. Because an imposter, a man, claimed to be the successful novelist, Mary Ann Evans came out as the real George Eliot and Victorian society accepted her as she published several more great novels, albeit under the male name. Besides this, Evans refused Victorian ideas of piety and in fact lived unmarried, though as married, for over twenty years to a man who could not divorce his wife, who had several children by other men in their open marriage. After he died Evans finally did marry, but to an unstable man twenty years her junior. The last years of her life which will make good screen fodder, her changing impact on the literary world for women, are depicted in the recent novel The World Before Her by Deborah Weisgall.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Glendale Public Library's Oral History Collection Now Available!

(click on the photograph to view a larger version in a new window)

The Glendale Public Library is pleased to announce that its Oral History Collection is now available through the Library's website. The collection features both traditional one-on-one interviews (conducted by the Glendale Planning Department in the 1990s) and historical recordings of events sponsored by the Glendale Historical Society in the 1950s.

The recordings, in some cases being made available for the first time, can be listened to through the media player (Windows Media, Real, etc.) on any computer--at home, school, or even in the Glendale Public Library.

The image above is one of many found in the Special Collections Room in the Glendale Central Library. The Special Collections Room contains news clippings, books, maps, and other materials that cover the history of Glendale, neighboring cities, and California in general. The collection is particularly useful for local history and genealogy research projects.

Special Collections also houses the Cat Collection, one of the largest collections of feline-related materials in the world.The Special Collections Room is currently open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m and 1 to 3 p.m., and by appointment. Please call (818) 548-2037 for additional information.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

2008 National Book Awards

The National Book Awards were given out last night at an event in New York City hosted by actor / writer Eric Bogosian, and the winners for 2008 are:


"This multigenerational saga traces mixed-race bloodlines that American history has long refused fully to acknowledge. Blending biography, genealogy, and history, Gordon-Reed ... brings to life the family from which Sally Hemings (1773–1835) came and the family that she and Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) created. ... This is a masterpiece brimming with decades of dedicated research and dexterous writing." (Library Journal)


"a one-volume compilation of three previously released but revised and condensed novels based on the life of Edgar J. Watson, a 19th century ruthless cane farmer in Florida who was said to be a serial killer" (New York Times)


"In this long-awaited book, Doty ... combines new poems with the best of his previous volumes. His narrative style is expansive, filled with what has been described as a "lyric glitter" that creates radiance around the ordinary. Like a good storyteller, he sets the scene in spaces that might include cityscapes and country roads with romping dogs. Like Whitman, Doty is often elegiac and brazenly American in his topics. Frequently, his poems explore "a larger dark," the difficulty of being human in a world that doesn't glisten—unless you're willing to look for it." (Library Journal)

Young People's Literature

"In 1947, with her jovial stepfather Joe back from the war and family life returning to normal, teenage Evie, smitten by the handsome young ex-GI who seems to have a secret hold on Joe, finds herself caught in a complicated web of lies whose devastating outcome change her life and that of her family forever." (Book Summary)

The 2008 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters

Maxine Hong Kingston for her various works including Woman Warrior and The Fifth Book of Peace.

" with her Buddhist-inflected wisdom and at times humorous self-doubts, weaving their stories together with her own struggle to reorient herself after the fire, Maxine Hong Kingston is at times a kind of sprite, an almost weightless spirit, who guides others toward a better place, and at times a challenging teacher, who will not let us turn from the spectacle of a world so often at war. " (Book Summary of the Fifth Book of Peace.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

This Week in Reading November 16 - 22

One would imagine that this week gives us authors whose names any student of literature has heard of but whose works, except for a couple, one may not have gotten around to reading.

There are four Nobel prizewinners, France's Andre Gide (1947), Portugal's Jose Saramago (1998), South Africa's Nadine Gordimer (1991) and Sweden's Selma Lagerof (1909) who was the first woman to win it for literature. Nigerian Chinua Achebe and Canadian Margaret Atwood may yet win it, and though there was no such prize in his day, Voltaire certainly achieved that status. Other current writers with strong reputations include novelist Don deLillo and historian Shelby Foote.

Also on the list are several authors who will appeal to young adults and lovers of comics and graphic novels. There are some well known politicians, some poets, and quite a few names from television and entertainnment, as well.

Apart from the distanced works of the above literary names, two authors named George, on the other hand, have been encountered by many a high schooler. Algonquin Round Table member George S. Kauffman was the cowriter of the quintessential American comedies of the 1940s that have played on nearly every high school and amateur stage in the country and George Eliot wrote the novel, Silas Marner, which nearly every teen student has had to read for class.

This Week's Question: Once out of school, however, anyone with a taste for literature will find that the rest of the novels George Eliot wrote, Middlemarch, Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, are some of the finest novels ever written. Though everyone should know that George Eliot was the pen name for a woman who wanted her books to be taken seriously in the Victorian Era in which she lived, not everyone knows a) what that real name was, b) what other famous British personality had the same name nearly at the same time, and c) that the author's highly controversial real life would have made a great novel by itself but would have needed a more enlightened era in which a movie, or at least a cable or PBS miniseries about it would find a more receptive audience.

Answer to Last Week's Question: Literary critic Roland Barthes enigmatically described literature as "the question minus the answer." Out of context, that obviously tells us nothing, but in the context of his anti-tradition structuralism, it makes some sense. That is, if you believe in another of his quotes, "the death of the author is the birth of the reader." Leading others, such as Jacques Derrida, to the theories of deconstruction, Barthes felt that there was no neutral writing and that a text is not completed until the reader "recreates" it for himself. He differentiated between writerly text which causes the reader to actively give it new and presumably personal and immediate meaning, and readerly text which allows readers to accept whatever has been stored or displayed in the text in common sense ways. While libraries are depositories and deliverers of that commonly agreed upon literature, today's new electronic media actually allow textual interactivity in ways that will show how seemingly paradoxical and nonsensical critical theories such as Barthes' will make new sense. New works by new Shakespeares will come out of new media in new ways. We can all be Shakespeares for ourselves if we play with text enough by both reading and writing.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Califorina's New Poet Laureate

On November 14, 2008 Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California Arts Council appointed USC professor, novelist, poet, and essayist Carole Muske-Dukes as the new California Poet Laureate. During the next two years Muske-Dukes will promote poetry in the state. (Photo from USC Faculty webpages.)

She is the founder of the university's graduate program in literature and creative writing, and has reviewed books for both the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, as well as many articles. Among her novels is Channeling Mark Twain, and her book of poems entitled Sparrow was nominated for a National Book Award. Her book of essays called Married to the Ice Pick Killer: a poet in Hollywood was a bestseller and refers to her marriage to the deceased actor David Dukes. She has won many other awards and replaces poet Al Young as California Poet Laureate.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

This Week in Reading November 9 - 15

Some strong names pop up this week. The British Isles gave us two novelists, Scotland's prolific storywriter and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, and Ireland and England's Oliver Goldsmith, a playwright and novelist. There are two important Russians from the nineteenth century, playwright, novelist Ivan Turngenev and novelist, storywriter Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Naturalist German playwright, poet and novelist Gerhart Hauptman won one of the earliest Nobel prizes (1912) and later Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco won awards in France where he was the leading light of the Theatre of the Absurd.

Poets Anne Sexton, Vachel Lindsay, and Marianne Moore share the week with more recent literary names which include Kurt Vonnegut and Mexico's Carlos Fuentes. Many other names, from many other genres of writing, both fiction and nonfiction, make up the rest of the week's list, some literary, some not. Or is this being too traditional?

This Week's Question: What, after all, is literature? Why do we reward those who achieve it and give short shrift to those who do not aspire to it? Yet, why do some who do not aspire to it achieve it anyway? There are other things to read besides what is traditionally called literature. Or is there not? Can just anything written to be read be called literature? A literary critic born this week says simply "Literature is the question minus the answer." Who said it? And what the heck does that mean? Is what was said clear?

Answer to Last Week's Question: "Those who write clearly have readers; those who write obscurely have commentators." was said by Albert Camus. "I don't think it ever hurts the writer to sort of stand back now and then and look at his stuff as if he were reading it instead of writing it." was the advice of popular novelist James Jones and perhaps that's among the reasons he was popular.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Recent Tempting Titles - 900s

Click on any image or title link to place a hold via the online catalog. You can also now see a full list of the books librarians have ordered in the last two months by clicking on the Coming Soon button on the left of any library web page or as a tab on the catalog page. (Not all are in the online catalog yet, as these few selections are, but they're on the way.)

The nonfiction books of Tempting Titles are arranged by Dewey Decimal order, just the way they would be arranged on the New Book Shelves. Here are today's offerings:

900s - Geography, Travel, History

"This unprecedented book by one of Britain’s most admired historians describes the intellectual impact that the study and consideration of history has had in the Western world over the past 2,500 years. Treating the practice of history not as an isolated pursuit but as an aspect of human society and an essential part of the culture of Europe and America, John Burrow magnificently brings to life and explains the distinctive qualities found in the work of historians from the ancient Egyptians and Greeks to the present." (Publisher's description)

The Complete Travel Detective Bible: the consummate insider tells you what you need to know in an increasingly complex world! by Peter Greenberg

"This ultimate "physician’s desk reference" for travelers addresses the questions, anxieties, concerns, and desire for essential information that are common to seasoned and novice travelers alike." (Publisher's description)

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? : a swashbuckling tale of high adventures, questionable ethics, and professional hedonism by Thomas B. Kohnstamm

"The colorful adventures of a budding travel writer in Brazil. After pursuing an advanced degree in Latin American studies, Kohnstamm reluctantly took a position as a researcher at a large Wall Street firm. The restless author quickly tired of the corporate drudgery and, after some hesitation, accepted an assignment to update Lonely Planet's guidebook on Brazil. - Readers will relish the countless stories of the author's misadventures, but Kohnstamm brings more than just anecdotes: He offers a solid understanding of the mechanics of the travel-writing industry and a unique ability to illuminate that world to readers. Notable for its spirited prose and insightful exploration of the less-romantic side of travel writing." (Kirkus Reviews)

"Bouldrey teaches creative writing at Northwestern University, and his own writing here certainly qualifies as creative. There are real gems as he describes his family life, his fellow travelers down Corsica’s GR20, and his blue passport 'outing' him as an American. His style is chatty, humorous, and self-deprecating, which makes for an enjoyable read." (Library Journal)

In Arabian Nights: a caravan of Moroccan dreams by Tahir Shah [No image available]

"Shah delves into Moroccan society and culture; his experiences will make readers want to trace his footsteps abroad. Although comparisons to Frances Mayes's Under the Tuscan Sun and Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence are obvious, this account is unforgettable because of its author's innate storytelling abilities." (Library Journal)

"Back-to-the-land fantasies aren't new, but Hathaway gives theirs a modern twist by emphasizing 'terroir,' the idea that 'food is rooted in the land,' and of connecting 'the palate to the place.' Local-eating, slow-food activists will find much to chew on here." (Publisher Weekly)

Genealogy Online by Elizabeth Powell Crowe

"With years of experience online, Elizabeth Powell Crowe has become an authority on online genealogical research. She explains how to trace your family tree in an easy-to-understand way that anyone can follow." (AOL Genealogy Forum)

The Plot Against Pepys by James Long and Ben Long [No image available]

"Samuel Pepys is most famous for the diary he kept between 1660 and 1669, as well as his eyewitness accounts of the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London. As Secretary of the Admiralty, he played an important role in the development of the British navy. Yet in 1679, Pepys was imprisoned in the Tower of London on suspicion of treason, charged with being a secret Catholic and supporter of the Catholic Duke of York. [Authors] investigate the mystery behind this arrest." (Library Journal)

"Seasoned historian Dallas ... serves up exquisite slices of Parisian lore. Twelve Métro stops in the city of lights come blazing to life in this unusual tome. 'There are many histories of Paris,' the author writes, 'but they won't fit in a pocket or a traveling sack.' Instead he gives us 'little vignettes drawn from Paris's rich two-thousand year history.'" (Kirkus Reviews)

That Summer in Sicily by Marlena De Blasi

"In 1995, De Blasi and her Italian husband sought a place to stay in the Sicilian mountains and were directed to the Villa Donnafugata, a grand hunting lodge populated by widows, farmers and an imperious mistress: Tosca Brozzi. This book reads like a suspense novel complete with a surprise ending, and though Tosca's story is compelling, it's in De Blasi's telling of it that the true magic lies." (Publisher Weekly)

The Last Day: wrath, ruin, and reason in the great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 by Nicholas Shrady [No image available]

"Shrady takes a brief, brilliantly encapsulated look at the physical and spiritual damage wrought by a famous catastrophe. ... Shrady takes stock of a disaster second only to the destruction of Pompeii and pursues the city's gradual regeneration thanks to the tireless work of Portugal's secretary of state, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo. [who] attempted to silence the sermons of woe by the powerful Jesuit Gabriel Malagrida, among others, and encouraged scientifically minded thinkers to look into the earthquake's natural causes. Faced with the task of rebuilding, Carvalho embraced the Enlightenment's new spirit of urban planning, endorsing plans that reflected 'the kind of social and economic change that was necessary ...'"

"From British scholar Cotterell, a thoroughgoing history of China's ruling dynasties and their extraordinary achievements in architecture. Cotterell's work takes the traveler deep into the fascinating recesses of each dynasty." (Kirkus Reviews)

Basrayatha: the story of a city by Mohammed Khudayyir

"Basrayatha is a literary tribute by author Mohammed Khudayyir to the city of his birth, Basra, on the Shatt al-Arab waterway in southern Iraq. Just as a city’s inhabitants differ from outsiders through their knowledge of its streets as well as its stories, so Khudayyir distinguishes between the real city of Basra and Basrayatha, the imagined city he has created through stories, experiences, folklore, and insights." (International Publishers Market)

"What do Americans really know about the discovery of their continent? Visiting the sadly puny Plymouth Rock prompted this energetic, likable author to delve into the historic record and sniff out the real story behind America's creation myth, from one section of the country to the other." (Kirkus Reviews)

The Hudson: America’s river by Frances F. Dunwell

"Fifteen chapters trace the river's history, beginning with Henry Hudson's exploration and the Dutch who settled along its banks in the 17th century and moving on to the colonial wars between the English and the French and their Native American allies, the American Revolution, the Industrial age following the Civil War, and the 20th century, when the river was best known for its pollution. Dunwell also reveals how the river has inspired artists (the Hudson River school), writers (Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper), conservationists who worked to preserve the scenic vistas and historical sites, and environmentalists who worked to clean up the river." (Library Journal)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Author Passings

Two more authors of note, popular exemplars of opposite political views, passed away in the last week.

Oral history - radio and television interviewer Louis "Studs" Terkel died on Friday, October 31, 2008. He is most well known for Working: people talk about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do. Early works included Hard Times: an oral history of the Great Depression, and Division Street, America, as well as The Great Divide: second thoughts on the American dream. Later he compiled Coming of Age: the story of our century and the people who lived it, and a compilation of his best interviews in My American Century, which show his strong interest in the social issues that plagued and divided people. He told librarians and their friends, "The average American has an indigenous intelligence, a native wit. It's only a question of piquing that intelligence." Because of involvement in WPA theatre programs in the 1930s he was among authors and performers who were blacklisted for supposed Anti-American views during the McCarthy era of the early 1950s. He was 96.

Blockbuster suspense novelist and screenwriter Michael Crichton died on Tuesday, November 4, 2008 here in Los Angeles. He wrote to raise a little money for medical school and even before he became a doctor his books became huge hits because he knew how to maintain interest and supense. Appropriately, most of his "techno-thrillers" involve biololgical or scientific fears, but later ones exploited poltical, particularly conservative, fears and beliefs such as global warming. His early books include The Andromeda Strain, Terminal Man, Jurassic Park and many of his novels became movies, and in some cases, theme park rides. He directed as well, and wrote screenplays for movies, for example Westworld. He was only 66. (Picture from Gale Biography Resource Center.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

This Week in Reading November 2 - 8

Just so you know, there will be much to read in the future about this week in history because of the monumental event that has happened to America .There are two Nobel prizewinning authors this week: Albert Camus, the existentialist French novelist and poet Odysseus Elytis from Greece. Essayist Andre Malraux and historian Will Durant are known names. Besides those, it's novelists galore again with Margaret Mitchell and James Jones leading the pack of lesser knowns. Along with them -- born on a day which is often apropriately enough Election Day -- are the famous humorist Will Rogers and equally revered, but still living to see what happened this week, newscaster Walter Cronkite.

This Week's Question: Which of this week's authors said the following? "Those who write clearly have readers; those who write obscurely have commentators." Which one said this? "... I don't think it ever hurts the writer to sort of stand back now and then and look at his stuff as if he were reading it instead of writing it."

Answer to Last Week's Question: Napoleon Hill was a young reporter who was given the assignment to interview some successful men. Among the first he encountered was Andrew Carnegie who liked the concept so much he gave Hill letters of Introduction to the most successful people of the day. Hill spent years then learning and then distilling what he called the "Philosophy of Achievement" and later with Carnegie published home study courses called "The Law of Success." As part of that path he edited his own magazine entitled Hill's Golden Rule.

Emily Post was born into money and attended finishing school. After marriage difficulties she needed to write to support herself and turned to magazine article and story writing. After a while she wrote travel books with humor in them, and several novels (none of which the library has, sad to say.) Her ettiquette books, through she became the country's leading authority, grew out of a column she had written about the topic.

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