Monday, November 23, 2015

Browsings, by Michael Dirda

I consider myself the stereotypically well-read library employee. It’s what I do. But after spending a rainy weekend in front of the fire with Browsings, Michael Dirda’s latest essays about all things books, I feel humbled. I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t read most of the authors he recommends.

But I shouldn't be too hard on myself, because Dirda is a fan of late 19th and early 20th century genre fiction, especially mysteries, science fiction and para-normal fantasy. And his fandom borders on the fanatical, as he freely admits. His basement is filled with boxes of books. His attic: boxes of books. And he probably keeps countless more in storage units sprinkled around the Washington DC area. Scary, no?

Although, technically a book reviewer, Dirda doesn’t really consider himself a critic at all. "I’m a bookman, an appreciator, a cheerleader for the old, the neglected, the marginalized, and the forgotten. On sunny days, I call myself a literary journalist.”

His reading is eclectic to say the least. Fancy an early 20th century locked room mystery? How about Death From A Top Hat, a thriller by Clayton Rawson about the magician-detective, The Great Merlini. Lost-race novel more your thing? The Lost Continent, written by Cutcliffe Hyne and published in 1900, should be on your reading list. And if your tastes run to the classic English gentleman sleuth, Dornford Yates’ Perishable Goods from around 1930 might be more your cup of tea. Dirda is on a mission, a “personal crusade: to entice people to try unexpected books, old books, neglected books, genre books, upsetting books, downright strange books.”

Are you looking for something to read but not in the mood for another Patterson, Steele, or Jance? I guarantee you’ll find something unexpected, neglected, and probably out of print in Michael Dirda’s delightful new collection.

And then you can talk to Katie, Newport Library’s Interloan Librarian. Because I can also guarantee that you won’t find many of these titles on our shelves. But don’t let that stop you.

You can reserve Michael Dirda’s Browsings here.

And should you find something that tickles your fancy, you can order it with our Online ILL Form.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Feast Your Eyes

It’s that time of year when many of us share our favorite treats with friends and family, and Newport Public Library’s collection of cookbooks might expand your options. We feature an extensive variety of offerings along many dietary disciplines. Here are gems to be mined for those with the time to explore and ponder and, as always, staff are more than willing to help you find what you seek.

Then there are the periodicals where editors have sifted and sorted and rated some of the best seasonal treats for each month of the year to amuse and amaze. The most recent month’s publication is on display only; however, for these we allow five free copies which makes a reasonably structured recipe yours on demand.

Bumping around in back issues lately rewarded my curiosity. The November 2014 issue of Saveur surprised me with a recipe for Navy Bean Pie on p.18. Touted as a top fundraiser for the author’s Chicago church, the “silky custard like filling” recipe comes down from a best friend’s immigrant grandmother.

My own aunt sends me her copy of Cook’s Illustrated which I recommend for the science of cooking as well as the section “Quick Tips” in each edition. This magazine brought me up to speed on banana cream pie when it suggested slicing banana into orange juice to coat and prevent browning. Much better!

Cooking Light, December 2014, has us parboiling cut potatoes then roughly tossing them with a bit of olive oil for a slightly mashed surface prior to roasting for an extra crisp crust. Low fat and fun eating here.

My friend Judy shared her secret of roasting fruit for dessert toppings last summer and I see that Bon Appetit (January 2015) includes a roasted citrus with avocado salad for a more savory dish.

Rustic, elegant, and retro Thanksgiving menus are featured in Country Living (November 2014). The photos are enough to satisfy the ravenous, but add in the recipe for baked kale gratin and it’s time to get cooking.

My future includes snooping into Vegetarian Times magazine for tips on vegan main course options for this year’s Christmas dinner.

What better way to spend the increasingly wet and windy winter months than exploring our cookbook and magazine collection at Newport Public Library? Come feast your eyes.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Seven Types Of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman

How do I rave about a book without actually raving? How do I tell you that Elliot Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity is certainly the best book I’ve read this year? And possibly the best book I’ve read in many years. With literary parallels to the masterworks of Dickens, Tolstoy, and Thomas Mann, Perlman’s 600-plus page novel takes its time. Be prepared. It’s worth every minute.

Since being down-sized from his teaching job, 30-something Simon Heywood rarely leaves his Melbourne apartment, preferring a meal of cereal and Scotch and reading the Classics to dealing with modern life. His principled naiveté and an unhealthy obsession with ex-girlfriend Anna, whom he hasn’t seen in ten years, are catalysts to a life spiraling out of control. And Simon sinks to an all-time low when he kidnaps Anna’s young son, Sam.

Simon’s downfall is told from seven different points of view, from the people (including Simon), most affected by this foolish act of romantic desperation. Their own separate versions of what happened, their own weaknesses and prejudices, are given like testimony at Simon’s trial. And we readers must act as jury. Like any trial, there are extenuating circumstances, dramatic confessions, and piercing cross-examinations that inevitably lead to the truth.

Seven Types of Ambiguity was published way back in 2003. I don’t know how this bulky gem of a book has sat on our library’s shelves all this time without me knowing about it. And I’m eternally grateful to a Newport Library patron for putting this book into my hands. Thanks, Rose!

If you like intricate plotting, exquisitely beautiful prose, and an almost retro literary styling, like me, you’ll love Elliot Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity. And you can reserve it here.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Color your way to calm!

I remember when I was a kid, the thrill of opening a new box of crayons, smelling the fresh waxiness and admiring the bright colors.  Later as a teenager, I enjoyed using felt pens to color psychedelic Peter Max-style designs. Now adults are coloring with a passion; even my 86 year old mother has joined the frenzy!  When I heard that libraries were hosting adult coloring clubs, I thought, "Why not?"  So next week, will be the first meeting of our new Coastal Colorists Club.

The program will take place from 1:00 - 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 18.  We have a variety of coloring pages to choose from, and a supply of colored pencils.  If you are already into coloring and prefer your own tools, feel free to bring them.

 Once I started researching adult coloring books, I realized what a huge phenomenon they have become! They are being promoted as a means of reducing stress, and compared to meditation for their cognitive and mental health benefits.

I'm not making any promises, but I do hope those who come will enjoy themselves, feel relaxed, and possibly make new friends!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Zeroes: fun paranormal YA from Westerfeld, Lanagan, and Biancotti

Zeroes is a new young adult book by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti, which is very reminiscent of a fun but short-lived TV series I liked a lot—anyone see Misfits, the show about a group of teens unexpectedly given superpowers by a freak storm? If not, don’t worry, it’s still available free on—and, on a further tangent, it stars Iwan Rheon, now of Game of Thrones fame, playing a VERY different and interesting character.

Back to the book—Zeroes has six main characters with (you guessed it) superpowers. They don’t know why they have these powers: their best guess so far is that it has something to do with them all being born in the same year. Their powers are handy, but most have an unavoidable flip side. Each has a special nickname as part of the group.

Scam (Ethan): Some people hear voices that don’t belong to them in their heads. Scam’s “voice” isn’t just in his head—it comes out of his mouth, saying whatever it takes to get whatever Scam currently wants. Problem: it’s not big on taking the long-view or considering consequences.

Bellwether (Nate): He can see the energy that ties a group or a crowd together, and lead them where he wants them to go, making them think it was all their own idea. But what’s his end game? And how can his friends ever trust him?

Flicker (Riley): Blind since birth, she’s developed the ability to see through other people’s eyes. Her power seems to have the least amount of downside; maybe that’s why she comes across as the most ‘normal’ one.

Anonymous (Thibeau): Nice not to be noticed, to be able to sneak around and spy—or is it? Anonymous’ family abandoned him when he got sick at the hospital, because without his constant presence at home, they forgot his existence and moved his grandmother into his bedroom. Now he lives unnoticed in a luxury hotel—but even his friends can’t remember his name.

Mob (Kelsey): Like Bellwether, she can see and manipulate the energy of groups of people, but in more of a crowd-surfing way and less of a leadership way. If he’s a scientist, she’s an artist. But unfortunately, the crowd affects her back, sometimes filling her with fear or anger, and she can’t always resist.

Crash (Chizara): Her power comes with a hunger to destroy anything electrical, seemingly at the circuit level, and an ability to do it with the strength of her mind. She must stay far away from hospitals or prisons for fear of losing control and causing serious damage. The joy of crashing systems is like a drug which she must constantly resist, and she’s harangued by the constant buzz of modern life.

A really fun book, and presumably the opening of a series. Scam’s mouth leads him into the kind of serious trouble that involves guns and warehouses and large sums of dirty cash, and the others converge to rescue him, testing their bonds and strengthening their purpose as they go. Can’t wait for the next one.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Musical Misery Tour

No, this isn't about the Beatles, though Sir Paul and Ringo would have been great in cameo roles. This is about Les Misérables, a film in which police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) sings as he taunts and torments former convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman).  

We'll be showing Les Mis on Tuesday, November 10 at 6:30 p.m. as our monthly Literary Flick.  Based on Victor Hugo's 1862 novel, the film tells the story of Valjean, who is released after spending 19 years in prison. Unable to find shelter or work because of his status as an ex-convict, Valjean violates his parole, and assumes a new identity as Monsieur Madeleine. (He cleans up well!) In time he becomes a wealthy factory owner and mayor of a small town in France. He is always alert to the risk of being captured again by Javert, who is ruthless in hunting down law-breakers, believing they cannot change for the better. 

One of Valjean's factory workers, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), is fired by her foreman because she resisted his advances. Desperate to support her daughter, Cosette, she falls into prostitution. Valjean finds out what happened, and agrees to take care of Cosette when Fantine dies. When Cosette is grown, they are swept up in the political turmoil in Paris, which culminates in the Paris Uprising of 1832. 

The movie was nominated for eight Academy Awards, and won three: Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway), Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Achievement in Sound Mixing. It also won three Golden Globe Awards, for Best Picture, Best Actor (Hugh Jackman), and Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway).

Be sure to bring a hanky or two. It isn't called Les Misérables for nothing.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

The Aeronaut’s Windlass is the opening book of a new steampunk series by Jim Butcher, and I love it!

Butcher is well known for both The Dresden Files, a paranormal fantasy series about a modern-day wizard with a storefront business in Chicago, and The Codex Alera, a fantasy series about a boy who’s bullied and demeaned because he seems to have no magical ability. Both series were excellent, and The Dresden Files made it in a short-lived but enjoyable way to television.

Steampunk, the strange melding of Victoriana and a projection of steam and gear-based technology that never evolved (think clockwork man), is not a passion of mine.  Love the aesthetic but the fictional occurrences haven't tickled my fancy.  However, Jim Butcher. Enough said.
 A few interesting characters draw you in immediately—a dishonored but eminently honorable airship captain, a young etherealist who sadly seems half mad, a bossy rich girl trying to rebel against social expectations, and a sheltered young woman who wants nothing but to stay home and talk to cats. Next thing you know, you’re a hundred pages in and have barely bothered to breathe. A fascinating world opens before you, where the planet’s surface is a frightening wasteland, long abandoned, and humanity lives within towering spires, traveling from one to another in airships powered by ethereal energy. Each spire has its own economy and culture, and political rivalries arise within and between them.

But it’s about more than politics. Something terrible is coming up from the surface, hiding in the tunnels of Albion Spire. Why now? And who's behind it? Our heroes must find the answers to these questions, and quickly, if they want to survive.

Fans of epic fantasy and science fiction will enjoy The Aeronaut’s Windlass—perhaps fans of nautical books too, because of the descriptions of shipboard life and the battles between airships. Also, fans of talking cats. (If you think that’s too cutesy, don’t worry—these cats are sweet and furry, yes, but also red in tooth, claw, and mind, like good hunters should be.)
 Photo by Dennis Carr/Postal 67 via Flickr/creative commons