Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Do not operate machinery under the influence of this book

I had to turn off Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. The audiobook was so exciting that I could barely concentrate on my driving. I pulled over to a safe place, and started the book playing again. Getting to my destination seemed less important than knowing what was going to happen next.

Unbroken: a World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption tells the true story of Louis Zamperini, the bombardier of a B-24 crew flying missions in the Pacific during World War II. In May of 1943, his plane went down and Louie, his pilot, and one other crewman endured a nearly two-thousand mile ordeal in an open raft on the Pacific. They staved off starvation, thirst, madness, sharks, and strafing from a Japanese plane. Eventually, the crewman died; on the forty-seventh day after the crash, Louie and his pilot drifted into the Marshall Islands and were taken prisoner by the Japanese.

Though it is a work of nonfiction, this book is extraordinarily suspenseful. Hillenbrand's descriptions of air battles are exhilarating; her insights into the relationship between prisoners and guards are thought-provoking. Zamperini's experiences were nothing short of amazing.

Perhaps because we are again a nation at war, stories like this one - of courage and defiance during wartime - are especially resonant. Click here to put a hold on the book; and if you choose the audiobook, remember to keep your eyes on the road.

Friday, March 25, 2011

On a quest for your heritage?

If you do genealogy research, you know that you need to support your data with documents. These can include birth, marriage, and death certificates, family Bibles, news clippings, and census records. Our library offers a free database of census records called HeritageQuest, and we’re teaching a class on how to use it on April 1.

HeritageQuest has census records dating from 1790 to 1930. With the exception of records from 1930, records can be searched by name, census year, and/or state. Sometimes it’s fun to look up famous people, and see what information is on their records. Here is a basic search for Abraham Lincoln, narrowed down to 1860 in Illinois.

The results are a photocopied scan of the original record, complete with handwriting styles of the period. Capital ‘L’ used to look a bit more like capital ‘S,’ back when Lincoln was listed as a Lawyer. You can see that he was 51 at the time of the census, his wife, Mary, was 35, and they had three sons, Robert, Willie, and Thomas. This snippet also shows that Abraham and Mary were born in Kentucky and their children in Illinois, their real estate was worth $5,000 and their personal estate was worth $12,000. Besides the family members, an 18 year old servant and a 14 year old boy lived in their home.

Each decade, the questions asked on the census are different. Sometimes the birthplace and language of an individual’s parents are filled in. This can be useful for finding information another generation back. Some years the census asked how many children a woman gave birth to, and how many children were living. Back when families were larger and mortality was higher, this was often a poignant statistic. Samples of each census survey are listed on the Census website.

Again, we are offering a class on using HeritageQuest for genealogy research on Friday, April 1, at 9 a.m. If you’d like to sign up for the class, call the library at 541-265-2153.

Running out of things to do on Spring Break?

Come to the library and find some great ideas!

Treasure Hunts! Treasure Hunts! Treasure Hunts
by Lenny Hort

Totally fun things to do with your dog

By Maxine Rock

The adventurous book of outdoor games: classic fun for daring boys and girls

By Scott Strother

Magic up your sleeve : amazing illusions, tricks, and science facts you'll never believe by Helaine Becker

Or look for books on these topics:


Sidewalk Chalk


Card Games

Kitchen Science for Kids

Fairy-tale Crafts

Rainy Day Activities

and whatever else you can imagine!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Moonstone

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins is a delightful Victorian novel, one of the first mystery novels ever written, involving the theft of an enormous yellow diamond. All signs point to the diamond's owner, eighteen-year-old Rachel Verinder, who seems to have then stolen it from herself and framed a servant girl, perhaps to pay off some shameful debt. Those who know Rachel insist that she could not possibly do anything so base, but even they can't deny that Rachel's behavior is suspicious.

Each of the book's sections has a different narrator: the trustworthy old servant, the poor cousin, the family lawyer, and so on. Each one brings his own point of view to the story. They are truthful, but biased; they contradict one another and disagree over the significance of the details - and like many Victorian novels, The Moonstone has a lot of details.

My favorite of The Moonstone's narrators is Miss Drusilla Clack. She is a deeply religious woman, devoted to good Christian works. She is also an insufferable, smug, meddling snoop. Her self-righteousness grates on everyone around her, and her narration is full of little tidbits like this:

"The true Christian never yields ... Glorious, glorious privilege! And how is it earned? Ah, my friends, you may spare yourselves useless inquiry! We are the only people who can earn it - for we are the only people who are always right."

Isn't that fabulous? If Miss Clack was a real person I would loathe her, but as a narrator I think she's divine.

This novel isn't perfect. From the modern perspective, it is certainly a little slow. Depictions of foreigners and moneylenders are not exactly brimming with cultural sensitivity. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book thoroughly. It's especially interesting after reading about the Road Hill case, as described in The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale, a true crime that was in all the papers, and that influenced Collins as he wrote The Moonstone.

Check out the book, or try this excellent audio version of the novel, read by the extremely talented James Langton.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Great science fiction for the younger crowd

Technology runs amok! An audacious invention oversteps its bounds. The scientist responsible for the catastrophe frantically scrambles to create a new invention to counteract his first invention. But at what cost?

That's the plot of ... well, lots of science fiction novels ... and most recently, Oh No! (Or How My science Project Destroyed The World), a picture book by Mac Barnett, gloriously illustrated by Dan Santat. Though it is designed to be read by small children, for the science fiction fan it is a pure delight. "Everything was going so well," muses our protagonist/mad scientist, of her fifth-grade science fair project, "until the rampage started." How many sci-fi characters have not thought the same thing? Later she muses, "I probably shouldn't have given it a superclaw." True.

Complete with handy blueprints on the end papers ("Dark matter containment grid,") Oh No! is my favorite kind of children's book: one that makes grownups laugh.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Prostitute's Ball by Stephen J. Cannell

Shane Scully is an LAPD detective, partnered up for the first time with dandy Sumner “Hitch” Hitchens. Hitch has two strikes against him already; two other detectives transferred out of the Special Homicide Division just to avoid working with him. Hitch is considered something of a sellout because he made millions in Hollywood off of the rights to the movie about his last big case. He drives a fancy car, wears Italian suits, and lives high up over the smog of LA in a house worth millions. He seems to be all style and no substance.

Scully’s a substance guy; tough, smart, a creative thinker. There’s nothing more important to him than his wife, his son, and the pursuit of justice. He wants a partner who shares his dedication to the job, not one who’s planning a pitch to MGM and schmoozing with the rich and famous. When Scully and Hitch catch a triple homicide that includes the shooting death of a movie executive as their very first case together, the partnership gets off to a rocky start.

The Prostitute's Ball is fast, fun, and fresh. The plot is a juicy blend of past and present murders and machinations, with ongoing tongue-in-cheek humor about turning the case into a movie.

Unfortunately, this is the last of ten Shane Scully books, due to the author’s death in 2010. Stephen J. Cannell was not only the author of the Shane Scully series but an accomplished TV producer and writer, involved in the making of well-known shows like The Rockford Files, The Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, 21 Jump Street, and Silk Stalkings among others. His skill at blending action and humor with crime and cops is put to good use here.

The Prostitute’s Ball can easily be read on its own, but for those of you interested in the whole series, here’s a list of the books in order:

1. The Tin Collectors
2. The Viking Funeral
3. Hollywood Tough
4. Vertical Coffin
5. Cold Hit
6. White Sister
7. Three Shirt Deal
8. On the Grind
9. The Pallbearers
10. The Prostitutes Ball

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why The West Rules - For Now

As an avid reader of history, I’ve found that most popular books on the topic are one of two types. In what I term, micro-history, the author takes us on an in-depth examination of a particular historical figure or specific time period. Then there is the macro-history book, in which the whole sweep of civilization or a long span of time is used to elucidate a particular thesis the author wishes to defend.

Why The West Rules - For Now, by Stanford history professor Ian Morris, is definitely in the macro-history camp. Beginning back in the farthest reaches of man’s time on this planet, Morris follows the competition of civilizations to try and explain why, since around 1500, the West seems to have jumped ahead of the East in socio-economic development. Rejecting both the determinist, “West-Is-Best-Because," as well as the relativist, “We’re-Just-Different” camps, Morris walks a fine line in the middle to figure out why the West created a more dynamic socio-economic system. Given that (a): this may no longer be the case, and (b): during previous eras, the East was significantly more developed, I think the whole argument might just be moot. Nevertheless, Morris does take us on an enjoyable ride through the past 30 thousand or so years of human history. Lightly touching down on only the most significant names, dates and battles, Morris reaches a none-too-startling, but, it seems, academically controversial conclusion.

According to Morris, humans only rev up their development engines out of necessity, or when compelled by some combination of greed, fear, and laziness. In other words, we only do things when forced. Combining research in archaeology, meteorology, anthropology, agricultural sciences and economics, Morris concludes that we’re currently ahead in the development race because at critical moments in our history, the West was confronted with disease, drought, and deprivation, i.e., dire problems to be solved. In this way, Morris’ work is similar to Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, another macro-history book that I would recommend.

Balancing academic rigor with a breezy, almost casual, writing style, and with reassuring references to popular culture just in case you find yourself overwhelmed by all that history, Why The West Rules - For Now, is a timely and enjoyable read as we sit on the cusp of perhaps another turning point in that great race between East and West.

And you can reserve it here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What's the elevation of your house?

Like almost everyone else who lives on the coast, I was awakened early on Friday morning by a concerned relative calling with the news of a tsunami warning. Like many, I was out of my house and on the way to a higher-elevation location by 6 a.m. And even though we didn't experience a terrible disaster, I still spent the day wondering: how big does a wave have to be to get to my property? How high above sea level is my house? All I knew was this: it's not as high as I'd like it to be.

Well, there's a convenient way to find out. This site gives you a zoomable topographic map of Lincoln County. Position the central + over any location, and the elevation and coordinates are immediately displayed below the map. The map is old, but the information seems to be accurate.

In the image to the right, you can see that the + is positioned over the Newport Library. Underneath, it says that the library is at 125 feet or 38 meters.

I know that there are other ways of getting this information: GPS units have it, and so does the downloadable program Google Earth. But this website gives instant information online from any computer.

Now I know that my house is at 46 feet: not quite as high as I'd like. Yeah, that's what I thought.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A World of Resources

Your library card gives you access to 400,000 items, from fiction to nonfiction, DVDs, magazines, and books on CD. We even have free downloadable audiobooks and eBooks, for all you device-users out there. You can freely borrow items from Newport, Toledo, Lincoln City, Waldport, Siletz, and the Oregon Coast Community College as well as from the libraries in Tillamook County up north. All you have to do is place a hold, and we’ll get the item to the pick-up library of your choice as soon as it’s available. Your small-town library is a lot bigger than it looks.

But once in a while, there’s something that you want which none of our member libraries have. Don’t give up.

Whether it’s the journal article you need to finish your thesis, the missing book in your favorite fantasy trilogy, the CD of that band you liked in high school, or the $300 text book that you only need for one chapter-- guess what? We can quite probably get it for you.

Ask us for an Interlibrary Loan form, or look under Services on our homepage, www.newportlibrary.org, to find an online form. We’ll submit a request to libraries across the United States who own the item. If they’re able and willing to loan us the item, they’ll send it over. Interlibrary Loan gives you access to 1.5 BILLION items, literally all the resources the world is willing to share.

Caveat: Because Interlibrary Loan is a special library service, there is a charge of $3.00 per item to help defray postage costs. Some libraries will not loan DVD’s, and some will not lend “new” items; they reserve these for their patrons only. We will still try to get these items for you, but there’s a higher chance that no one will agree to loan them. If we cannot borrow an item for you, there is no fee.

To see for yourself what’s available in the wider world of sharing libraries, go to www.worldcat.org and search for a topic close to your heart.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Angie, don't you weep

In Dennis Lehane's mystery Gone Baby Gone, private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro are reluctant to take on the search for four-year-old Amanda McCready, who disappeared from her mother's apartment three days ago. The case is just too potentially painful: they don't want to find Amanda after three days in the hands of a pedophile. They don't want to find her corpse. It's too hard.

But they do take the case, which leads them down strange pathways, to drug mules, prison mobsters, gangland power struggles and revenge murders. They find a lot of people who don't care about the health and happiness of one little girl.

Gone Baby Gone is a tearing good mystery, gritty, violent and suspenseful. Kenzie and Gennaro are a great team, equal partners in detection and in love. And the novel has an aching moral conundrum at its heart. What could Angie and Patrick have done differently? What if some mysteries are better off unsolved?

It was made into a good movie, too. Naturally, the film is different from the book. For one thing, the book’s many characters and plot twists would be confusing in a two-hour movie. Some things were trimmed, but the powerful conflict was kept intact.

But one of the things they left out is Angie Gennaro, and I can't figure out why. Oh, she's present: she's played by Michelle Monoghan. But in the book, Angie is an independent, complicated, smart woman. In the movie, Angie has very few lines. Scenes in which Angie defends herself have been edited so that someone else is defending her. Scenes in which Angie is angry have been changed into scenes in which Angie cries.

I don't understand it - why did the filmmakers think that eclipsing one of the book's most interesting characters would make a better movie?

Monday, March 7, 2011

What's become of Daniel Hecht?

Daniel Hecht has a distinctive and haunting body of work, including three Cree Black novels, two Mo Ford novels, and the stand-alone The Babel Effect. All six novels express an unusual sensitivity to the nuances of human thought and interaction. Paranormal elements such as ghosts and psychic abilities often run through his plots, but they are grounded by well-researched fields, situations, and settings. Hecht‘s interest in neuroscience is evident in all of his books; in Puppets, it manifests in an exploration of human behavioral conditioning. In Skull Session, it shows in the main character’s Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder causing uncontrollable verbal and physical tics. His themes often include an exploration of the interfaces between science and self, superstition and belief.

The Cree Black novels include City of Masks (2002), Land of Echoes (2004), and Bones of the Barbary Coast (2006). Cree Black is a parapsychologist who runs a paranormal research group in Seattle. In City of Masks, Cree is hired to investigate ghostly sightings in New Orleans by a family hoping to prove the insanity of one of its own members. In Land of Echoes, Cree travels to New Mexico to investigate the seeming possession of a Navajo boy. Bones of the Barbary Coast takes place in San Francisco, where strange bones have been unearthed a century after the Great Quake of 1906.

The two Mo Ford books include Skull Session and Puppets. Skull Session focuses on Paul Skoglund's efforts to understand his Tourette’s Syndrome and the mysterious violent attacks focused around the old family home where he’s staying. Mo Ford is a secondary character, a police investigator who becomes involved with the case. In Puppets, Ford becomes the protagonist, investigating a series of grotesque murders committed by a person or persons obsessed with the concept of control and manipulation. The theme of control is explored in a thought-provoking way through every relationship in the book.

The Babel Effect follows a husband and wife research team investigating the neurological causes of violence. When they realize that violence seems to spread like a disease, they start learning some strange truths that many would rather remain hidden.

Hecht hasn’t published since 2006, and his website and other sites are oddly silent on the topic. He’s an intriguing guy—check out his website at www.danielhecht.com. The FAQ page is more like a mini-interview, and he also has some interesting things to say about his experience writing each novel on the book description pages. The website doesn’t look like it’s been updated for a few years, with a broken contact interface and broken links. What’s become of Daniel Hecht? I don’t know, but I really hope he’s busy writing something new.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A queen in a fairy tale

There is a timeless faerie-world. It exists side-by-side with our own world, and sometimes denizens from that world visit ours, often to make mischief; for though they are lovely, their laws and customs are not ours. We know this, not just from such old tales as Tam Lin, but also from lots of urban fantasy novels, including Terri Windling's Borderland series, War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, and Changeling by Delia Sherman, in all of which modern urban dwellers encounter Sidhe magic. Except the Queen by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder is a charming addition to this tradition. The Queen of the Seelie Court once mated with a mortal man. Two beautiful, feckless fae sisters, Serana and Meteora, stumble upon this secret, and so the all-powerful Queen banishes them to American cities. They find themselves lost, bewildered, separated, stripped of magic, and trapped in the bodies of old ladies. Meteora and Serana - now known as Sophia and Mabel - quickly find that they do not like being old ladies.

Watching the fae princesses adjust to twenty-first century life is very entertaining. I loved their bewildered attempts to make sense of the world. They also send letters to one another that are loving and sorrowful and sometimes snippy. Very sisterly. (The letters get especially good once they stop using carrier pigeons and figure out the U.S. Postal Service.)

In fact, I so enjoyed Mabel and Sophia that I didn't really welcome the appearance of the actual plot. As so often happens in books like this, good and bad faeries are embroiling mortals in their struggles, and a Big Showdown is coming. That's fine, but the real joy and humor of this book comes from the two sisters.

I believe that Yolen and Snyder each took a sister; Serana and Meteora have different voices that I suppose come from having been written each by a different author. I also think that Yolen and Snyder had a lot of fun writing this book, and the result is a book that, while it doesn't exactly break new ground, is a lot of fun to read. If you like urban fantasy and good writing, take a look at Except the Queen.