Friday, October 30, 2009

Super Freaky!

Statistically minded? Intrigued by patterns, numbers, and facts? Like to sprinkle peculiar trivia into your conversation? SuperFreakonomics and its predecessor Freakonomics will probably appeal to you.

I don't mean to trivialize it-- many of the topics taken on by economics professor Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, a former writer and editor for The New York Times Magazine are not trivial at all. Prostitution, emergency medicine, the effects of terrorism and global warming are only a few of the dozens of concepts scrutinized through an economic lens in SuperFreakonomics. Many of the conclusions drawn will surprise you, and the outlay of facts may sway your opinion about things you thought you already understood-- or just make you laugh. Events are translated from the anecdotal to the statistical, revealing surprising connections, causes and effects. Every study, statistic, and quote is backed up with sources in the "Notes" section of the book, for those who want some proof these guys aren't just blowing smoke.

The books are a lot of fun, filled with the breadth of information and perspective I always wish could be found in the newspaper. As a matter of fact, it now can be; the authors now have a weekly blog in the New York Times at

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A little night reading

Halloween is almost here, so I made a bibliography of the library's horror fiction. A bibliography is just a list, a printed guide to help people find things; the new horror bibliography is, obviously, a guide to the library's scary books.

The list includes chilling old favorites, like Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House and Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, but I also wanted to make sure the list included the latest offerings in the genre.

There are books that revisit the Frankenstein story, including Dean Koontz' grisly modern three-volume retelling (start with the first book), and Peter Ackroyd's The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein. Then there are the werewolf stories, like High Bloods by John Farris and Frostbite by David Wellington.

Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger, Thomas Tessier's Fog Heart, and Joe Hill's Heart Shaped Box are all ghost stories. Zombie by Joyce Carol Oats is a serial killer tale, as is Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. Then there are the books about the way society falls apart in an epidemic or after a disaster, like The Quake by Richard Laymon, or The Strain by Guillermo del Toro.

And then there are things that are a little harder to put into categories, Like Dust, by Charles Pellegrino, in which a shrieking scientist is devoured alive by a swarm of voracious mites. (Actually, I could probably put that into a category. I just wanted to write that sentence about the mites.)

If you're in the mood for some delightfully creepy fall reading, come on in to the library to get the whole list. Don't forget that we have horror movies on DVD, too.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Jihad For Love

The word "Jihad" in Arabic means "struggle," and in the DVD A Jihad For Love the struggle of gay, lesbian and transgendered Muslims might seem a daunting one indeed. This 2007 documentary, however, is less a film about sexual orientation than about Islam itself. It tells the story of how Islam is struggling to come to terms with a growing number of LGBT believers who insist on remaining true to their religion as well as living their lives as honestly and openly as they dare.

A Jihad For Love portrays the lives of gay, lesbian and transgender Muslims in nine countries, including South Africa, Iran, India, Turkey and Egypt. While a few of the film’s subjects live the closeted existences one might expect in these countries, a surprising number not only live openly, but also actively challenge their religious leaders in public debate on the question of Islam and homosexuality. Many of these leaders, unfortunately, seem all too antagonistic, no matter how finely their challengers parse relevant passages in the Koran.

And ultimately, that is the strength of A Jihad For Love. In the final analysis, it might not be what ancient religious texts have to say about same-sex love, but what today’s believers who make up the umma (or Muslim community) have to say, that really makes the difference and might bring about change and gradual acceptance. A Jihad For Love is a timely look at some brave souls searching for a way both to live within their culture, and to live with themselves: an admirable lesson for us all.

Click HERE to reserve "A Jihad For Love."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Unflinching, Grisly, Savage, Slaughter

Unflinching, grisly, savage, slaughter, gritty, combat, sieges, soldier's-eye-view, characters you care about, bloodbath, crossbows, swords, battle strategy and military adventure, historic details and realistic battle scenes.

I don't know about you, but when I see descriptive tags like these I want to get a copy of the book in my hands right away. For me a good blood and guts war novel makes for great reading on a cold, rainy Saturday afternoon.

I've been reading war fiction for many years and still find myself fascinated with this genre. I like the "you are there" feel of historical novels. I become a companion with the characters of the novel. And because I come to care so much about them, I have a huge investment in the story as it proceeds. Who will live, who will die, who will triumph, who will fall? Then there are the battle strategies, the descriptions of arms and armor used by the combatants and a full description of the battleground and its surrounding geography.

A good war novel inflames my desire to learn more about what really happened at the time and place represented in the novel. I will frequently check out companion nonfiction titles on the subject of my reading just to round out my learning. And, I have to have maps when I'm reading historical fiction. Maps are a must. If the book doesn't have a map, I find one.

With all that in mind, here are two novels to get you started if you've never read historical fiction -- war fiction -- before. Both authors have an impressive body of war novels and I wholeheartedly recommend any of them.

1. Steven Pressfield -- The Gates of Fire. This is an epic novel of the Battle of Thermopylae, one of the world's greatest battles for freedom. Here, in 480 B.C., on a narrow mountain pass 300 Spartans and their allies faced the massive forces of the Persian army. From the beginning, you know every one of the Spartans will die, but learning about Spartan culture, politics and the demands placed upon young men coming of age in Sparta is enlightening. When Spartan battle strategy is explained -- the phallanx, an interlocking line of shields, the use of the short sword and the spear and the absolute conviction that dying in battle is honorable -- it makes for compelling reading. King Leonidas and his countrymen come alive, as do the horrors of close quarter combat with an overwhelming enemy.

2. Bernard Cornwell -- Agincourt. "One of the most dramatic victories in British history, the battle of Agincourt--immortalized by Shakespeare in Henry V--pitted undermanned and overwhelmed English forces against a French army determined to keep their crown out of Henry's hands. Here Bernard Cornwell resurrects the legend of the battle and the "band of brothers" who fought it on October 25, 1415. An epic of redemption, Agincourt follows a commoner, a king, and a nation's entire army on an improbable mission to test the will of God and reclaim what is rightfully theirs. From the disasters at the siege of Harfleur to the horrors of the field of Agincourt, this exhilarating story of survival and slaughter is at once a brilliant work of history and a triumph of imagination." -- Amazon Review

Now, who wouldn't want to read that!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

4 Tips on Getting the Most out of Library2Go

Library2Go is a terrific service-- free audiobooks! If you're a dedicated Book on CD listener, and always wishing we had more in stock, it may be time to add digital audiobooks to your repertoire. Even if it seems a little bit intimidating, the rewards are great. In the past 2 weeks, Library2Go has added 23 new fiction books, including Nevada Barr's 13 1/2, Debbie Macomber's 92 Pacific Boulevard, and Linwood Barclay's Fear the Worst. For me, it's been extremely worthwhile to use Library2Go, although I did initially find it frustrating because many popular books have a holds list, so there's not usually instant gratification.

How did I overcome that? I learned to work with the Library2Go System. Here are my tips:

1. Store as many books as possible on your player. Many reasonably priced players these days have 1 or 2 gigabytes of storage, and you are allowed to have 6 books checked out at a time. The books will expire from your hard drive in 7 or 14 days, depending on the checkout period you select. Personally, I can't listen to that many books in that amount of time-- they used to expire before I could get to them. Then I realized: the books will not expire from my MP3 player once they are transferred. If you have enough memory on your player, check the book out as soon as it's available, download it, and listen at your leisure.

2. Keep adding to your holds list. You may have 6 books on hold at a time, meaning you are waiting in line for each of those books. Your account will always tell you what number you are in the queue. You will see ridiculously high numbers sometimes, which is why you need to keep your list full, so that you are always approaching the front of the line for at least a couple of items.

3. Use your wish list. Whenever you receive a notice that something is available to check out, check it out and download it. It will disappear from your holds list. Immediately go to your wish list and move one of the items to the hold list. The wish list does not have a limit of items; fill it whenever you browse, and use it to keep your holds list full to the brim.

4. Browse every couple of weeks. (At least if you're a fiction fan. Once a month or so is probably adequate to check for new nonfiction, they seem to expanding that side of the collection more slowly.) Use the advanced search option, select Fiction, (or Mystery, or Thriller, or Fantasy, or whatever you'd like to limit your results to,) and then choose "within the last 14 days" in the "Date added to site" field. I do this because I feel fairly sure I've exhausted the backlog of books I'm actually interested in; you may choose to browse more generally. Anything you're interested in goes into your "Wish List".

*Note: Instant gratification is possible. If you absolutely need something to listen to on the car trip you're taking later today, choose a genre and then mark off the "Only show titles with copies available" box at the bottom of the page. Chances are, the bestselling Dan Brown book you wanted won't be there; but you might find an intriguing new book or an old favorite which doesn't have a holds list, either because no one knows how wonderful it is, or because Library2Go is allowed to loan many multiple copies at once on that book's particular licensing agreement.

We have "How to" sheets available at the library to help you with the technical side of starting out with Library2Go, and you can always call us or stop by the reference desk with questions as well. Library2Go is terrific entertainment at an unbeatable price-- well worth the effort.

Are You a "FAN" of Newport Public Library

If you're reading this, I assume you are not only a fan of Newport Public Library, but you are a fan of our blog, Salmagundi. But that doesn't make you a "FAN" of the Library. To become a true "FAN" of the Library you need to join us on facebook.

We started our facebook page a few months ago and have accumulated over 225 fans since that time. Being a fan means that all of our blog entries and all of our program announcements are sent automatically to your facebook page. That means that everytime you open your facebook page you will be able to see what's going on at the Library. This should save you time and clicks on the internet and it's a lot of fun getting automatic notification when new things are happening at the Library.

If you don't already have a facebook account, you can register for a free account here.

So why not join us?

As an added treat today, I've embedded a YouTube video that pretty much explains why I love reading. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Best Book of 2009?

I know it's a little early, but in the final three months of 2009, I seriously doubt that I will find a better book than Simon Schama’s American Future: A History. Originally a companion to his BBC video series which aired just after the 2008 elections, American Future looks forward by looking back. Schama explores enduring themes of American culture: war, religion, the frontier, and the immigrant experience, with the curious intensity of an English academic and a stylish, if sometimes flamboyant, prose.

A slightly eccentric story, American Future never mentions the usual suspects in American history: the Founding Fathers or the Civil War, for example. Instead, Schama shows how relatively obscure names, places and events illuminate our uniquely American experience. And how that experience is constantly rejuvenated by an almost naive belief in our ability to start anew.

From four generations of a West Point family, to a timeless faith as practiced at an old-time church in the Appalachian Mountains, from one woman’s futile attempt to be heard at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, to a 19th century, one-armed explorer’s prescient warnings about the West and water, American Future explores the contours of American history from a perspective not often seen. Schama’s America might be discovered on roads less taken, but his America is recognizable, and perhaps made even more comprehensible because of his stirring journey.

I’d be curious to know what your favorite book for 2009 was: fiction, non-fiction, graphic. Leave a comment in the box below.

Click HERE to reserve American Future.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Reading" with my ears

I don't save audio books for road trips, I use them everyday, just around town.

I also like to listen to books I've already read. I find I discover things I didn't catch the first time through. Interesting turns of phrases, or passages previously skimmed come to life with a good reader.

Audio books are also a great way to try something new. New author, new genre, new subject that just doesn’t seem very lively on the printed page, all can be much more exciting when given a "real" voice.

Readers differ, and in the end some are better than others, or maybe just better to my ears. When you have favorite readers, it's like having an old friend sit with you and spend some time with a good book.

The Newport Public Library has a wonderful collection of audio books on CD waiting on the shelf, and a download service available called Library2Go, which provides direct access to downloadable audio books and videos. These audio books and videos are downloaded to a PC, and can be played directly from the PC, or on a variety of mobile audio devices (often called MP3 players).

Oh, and by the way, some listeners use audio books while they exercise or do housework – I wouldn’t know anything about that. - Jan

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I love Angela Lansbury

My dad watched Murder, She Wrote on television throughout my teen years. I didn't like the show very much, and had no particular interest in its star, the certainly well-preserved but not-terribly-cool Angela Lansbury. Well, I was wrong about a lot of things when I was a teenager, and this is one of them: Angela Lansbury is very cool.

Want an exhibit of Ms. Lansbury's extraordinary talent? Start by checking out The Court Jester, a ridiculously entertaining 1956 Danny Kaye comedy. Though she was a lovely blonde in 1956, Lansbury is not the leading lady of this film. Ever a character actress, she has a smaller role as the scheming and spoiled Princess Gwendoline.

Then, for a complete change of pace, turn to the riveting 1962 political thriller The Manchurian Candidate. Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Janet Leigh are ostensibly the stars of this twisty and surreal satire, but Angela Lansbury owns the film as Harvey's terrifying, megalomaniac mother. Lansbury is corrosive and brilliant; this may be my favorite film performance ever.

The British actress turns 84 this month. Why not celebrate by checking out one of her films?

(Incidentally -- if you have a favorite actor, you can find his films in the Newport Public Library's catalog by searching by Author.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Cannery Row's Renaissance Man

Ed Ricketts lived in a weathered wooden biology lab, stored with frogs, snakes, and sea creatures when he met John Steinbeck in 1930. They became close friends, sharing an interest in marine science, philosophy, and the colorful residents of Cannery Row.

Ricketts was the inspiration for many characters in Steinbeck’s writing: Doc in Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday, Dr. Phillips in the short story The Snake, Doc Burton in In Dubious Battle, Ed in Burning Bright, and Casey in The Grapes of Wrath.

A respected author himself, Ricketts wrote Between Pacific Tides, a pioneering study of intertidal ecology. It has been revised several times and is still in print. In 1940, the two friends went on a six-week expedition to the Gulf of California, and discovered 35 new marine species. Based on their travels, they wrote the Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research, which Steinbeck later rewrote as Log from the Sea of Cortez.

Ed Ricketts holds a special place in my heart. My late husband, Peter, was a marine biologist, and greatly admired Ricketts’ groundbreaking work. For several summers he sailed around Puget Sound with friends, talking science and philosophy. They called their journeys “Ed Ricketts Cruises.”

In honor of that spirit of inquiry and adventure, October’s Literary Flick will be the film, “Cannery Row.” It will be shown on Tuesday, October 13 at 6:30 p.m.

If you’d like to know more about Ed Ricketts, check out these titles:

Beyond the outer shores : the untold odyssey of Ed Ricketts, the pioneering ecologist who inspired John Steinbeck and Joseph Campbell by Eric Enno Tamm

Breaking through : essays, journals, and travelogues of Edward F. Ricketts by Ed Ricketts

With Steinbeck in the Sea of Cortez : a memoir of the Steinbeck/Ricketts expedition by Sparky Enea

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The case of the elegant detective

Dorothy L. Sayers was a true intellectual. She earned an MA from Oxford in 1920, a year when college degrees for women were very unusual. A linguist and a scholar of medieval literature, she translated Dante and The Song of Roland into English. She wrote poetry, plays, essays, and several thoughtful works of Christian scholarship.

She was also – this is my humble opinion – the greatest mystery novelist of all time.

Most of her crime novels star Lord Peter Wimsey, the younger son of a ducal family. His flawless Saville Row suits and Bertie Wooster-like chitchat conceal a brilliant crime-fighting mind. From 1923 to 1939, Lord Peter tracked murderers and deciphered clues through eleven novels and twenty-one short stories.

Although the mysteries solved by Lord Peter are fiendishly clever, it's the witty repartee that keeps me reading these books again and again. Take this sample of flirtation between Wimsey and a pretty woman:

"I'll have to get a decent frock, if there is such a thing in Wilvercombe."

"Well, get a wine-coloured one, then. I've always wanted to see you in wine-colour. It suits people with hon
ey-colored skin. (What an ugly word 'skin' is.) 'Blossoms of the honey-sweet and honey-colored menuphar' - I always have a quotation for everything - it saves original thinking."

"Port or sherry?"


"The frock -- port or sherry?"

"Claret," said Wimsey. "Chateau Margaux 1893 or thereabouts. I'm not particular about a year or two."

That's from Have His Carcasse, one of the funniest of Sayers' books. (And in case you're wondering, the "honey-colored menuphar" line comes from Oscar Wilde.) I reread them every few years, and recommend them all.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Upon Re-reading

I’m not one who regularly watches a movie more than once. Nor do I usually re-read a book. But I’m beginning to think I’ve been missing out on something.

After a gap of perhaps 5 years, I started re-reading the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian. And what an interesting experience it’s proving to be. During that first reading, I gulped down all 20 books in quick succession. Plot momentum and character development were prime motivators during that first marathon read. I just wanted to know what happened next.

Now, years later, and with the general outline of events already in my brain, I’m discovering subtleties of tone and voice that I’d never before appreciated. Like the second tasting of a fine wine, nuances of flavor and texture now appear.

For example, one scene I would have bet my life having occurred in the book was a particularly gruesome emergency brain surgery that took place aboard ship. I can see this scene as clear as crystal in my mind’s eye. Upon re-reading, I found that the actual scene never took place, only a re-telling of it after the fact. I’m not sure if I should chalk that up to my own vivid imagination or O’Brian’s equally vivid prose.

Another example is one character’s double-life as a spy, which, (now knowing he is one), becomes all the more rich and complex. Heretofore, I’d never colored the character’s action or dialogue with that knowledge. Now, this character’s every vague retort or absence from a scene or situation signifies his secret life, as well as his wish to protect friends and family from his liasons dangereuses.

So much for re-reading beloved favorites. Now, I’m thinking about books I started but never finished. Proust? Rand? Mysteries? Maybe I should give them a second chance as well. Where will it end? As they say: so many books, so little time.