Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Little old lady got mutilated late last night

Werewolves, zombies, berserker warriors - these are a few of my favorite things. According to a new nonfiction book, tales of werewolves, zombies, and berserkergangers all owe their persistence to humanity’s age-old terror of rabies.

Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus describes the disease - how it affects the animals and people who are so unfortunate as to become infected.  Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy show that rabies has always been, throughout civilization, a terrifying public health risk - and in much of the world it still is. It infects many mammals, from donkeys to squirrels to dogs, bats, and people, and kills nearly 100 percent of those who exhibit symptoms.

Famously, in killing its victims it also transforms them into something else - the shy fox into an aggressive attacker; the trusted pet into a foaming killer; the civilized man into a barking, convulsing half-beast.

Robert Carlyle in 28 Weeks Later.
It is the horror of this that has spurred centuries of folklore: infected people, bloody-jawed and mad-eyed, struggling against an inexorable transformation that will cause them to attack and kill those they love. Zombies. Werewolves. Interestingly, while rabies is now vanishingly uncommon in the United States, tales of killers who spread madness with a bite are more popular than ever before.

The authors spend a chapter on the dramatic labors of Louis Pasteur, a scientist who had (among other things) previously developed a vaccine for anthrax. That’s a bacterial disease, a microbe that Pasteur could see though his microscope. In attempting to develop a vaccine for rabies, he was unknowingly battling an organism he did not understand - a virus, too small to be visible. Attempting to isolate the rabies microbe, he accidentally discovered Streptococcus pneumoniae, which causes pneumonia - a worthy accomplishment, but a confusing distraction in Pasteur’s attempt to cure rabies. That he did succeed in creating a vaccine for a disease he didn’t understand and couldn’t see is an impressive feat of scientific genius.

In all, Rabid is an interesting book for anyone who enjoys the history of medicine, or anyone who likes stories of inexorable blood-maddened rage-beasts. If you (like me) fit in that Venn diagram, check out Rabid.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Wild and crazy juggler comes to Literacy Park!

The amazing jugglemaniac Rhys Thomas performs in Literacy Park this Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. All children and families are invited to attend this great show.

Rhys Thomas is an amazing entertainer and perfect for our summer reading programs. He makes us laugh with his comedy and timing, he amazes us with his awesome juggling and he teaches us through his passion for learning and promotion of reading. Rhys has a large following in Newport so folks need to get to their library early to get a good seat.

The Jugglemania website has more information about Thomas and his shows.  For more information about his performance or other summer reading presentations, just ask me.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Best teen novel?

I read a lot of fiction written for the young adult market, even though I am neither a young adult nor the parent of one. Why not? Some of the most fresh and creative novels I’ve read lately have been YA books.

That’s why I’m keen on the new poll that NPR Books is running right now. What is the best-ever teen novel? They polled readers on their favorites, narrowed it down to 100 choices, and are putting that slate of 100 to the vote.

You can vote for ten, which is good, because narrowing it down to fewer than that would be very hard. I love some of the books on there:

  • Cory Doctorow’s brilliantly subversive Little Brother, about kids who find ways to assert their freedom in the tyrannical aftermath of a terrorist attack. 
  • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, about a smart girl who longs to prove to her boyfriend’s smart friends that she’s worthy of joining their boys-only secret society. She succeeds - sort of, with unintended consequences. 
  •  Feed by M.T. Anderson, a genuinely frightening book about a dystopian society where everyone has entertainment and advertising constantly streamed into their brains. 
  •  I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier, another truly scary book - I’m not even going to tell you what it’s about, because I don’t want to spoil the surprise. If you haven’t read it, read it. 
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by the great Douglas Adams.  I literally fell off my bed laughing the first time I read it. 
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, one of the many controversial books on the list, a story about the trauma a girl suffers at the hands of a high school classmate, and how she copes.  
  •  The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, about a future society in which all teenagers get plastic surgery that makes them beautiful, but also compliant and obedient, is science fiction at its most exhilarating. 

And lots more! Best of all, the list is packed with fascinating-looking stuff that I haven’t read. NPR's listeners thought the books on this list were the best of the best, so I’ve taken notes for my to-read list.

 If you enjoy YA fiction, click here to see the list and vote. The results will be announced in a few weeks.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Unreal (and ultimately, tragic) Life of Sergey Nabokov

It wasn’t until the third edition of his acclaimed autobiography, Speak, Memory, that novelist Vladimir Nabokov bothered to mention his younger brother, Sergey.  And even that mention was grudging. "For various reasons” he wrote, “I find it inordinately hard to speak about my other brother.”

Where Vladimir was good looking, charming and talented almost from birth, Sergey was shy, flamboyantly gay with a terrible stutter. After the Russian Revolution took away the family title and wealth, Vladimir emigrated to America, where he taught at university and wrote such masterpieces as Pale Fire and Lolita.

Sergey chose a different path. He moved to Paris in the 1920’s and through his relationship with artist Jean Cocteau, travelled in circles that included Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and Igor Stravinsky. In Paris, Sergey fell in love with an Austrian aristocrat and the two of them settled down to what they both hoped would be a quiet life in the family Schloss.

Then all hell broke loose with the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939.

American novelist Paul Russell captures the brave, if naïve, Sergey’s life in a fictionalized autobiography, The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov. Relying on the barest of literary asides, oblique mentions in scholarly articles and coded references in other biographies, Russell pieces together the younger Nabokov’s mostly unrecorded, and certainly unheralded, life. With almost Nabokovian (Vladimir, that is) fluency and style, Russell describes Nabokov’s early life as the son of a wealthy Russian aristocrat, through his university days at Cambridge, the heady pre-war life of a social gadfly in Paris, up to the final chilling knock by the Gestapo upon his Berlin apartment door. Shortly thereafter, Nabokov would perish in a concentration camp, a lavender triangle on his striped prison pajamas.

Even though it’s only July, The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov just might be my favorite book of 2012. And you can reserve it here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Book Bingo is Back!

Book Bingo is something we played at the library's summer reading programs for many years, but by 2008 we had so many children attending that we could no longer fit inside the library’s McEntee meeting room. When Newport's Rotary Club built Literacy Park, we had room for all the children but I couldn’t figure out how to play bingo in the outdoor amphitheater. Fortunately, I don’t work alone and my esteemed colleague, Jan Eastman, figured out how to make it work. So, finally, we are back in the Book Bingo business!

Book Bingo is played using the covers of children’s books instead of numbers in the columns headed R E A D S. The books were selected to go with our summer theme, "Dream Big, READ!".  When a child has a bingo, they get to select a book from among the many that have been donated to the library throughout the year.

Join us at 1:00 p.m. this Wednesday in Literacy Park for this year's edition of Book Bingo.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

We’ve all heard stories of people leaving their bodies during near-death experiences, but the departure is usually brief, consisting of a ceiling-level view of one’s own surgery. In Afterwards, Rosamund Lupton takes this concept and runs with it, imagining the aftermath of a terrible fire at an elementary school in which a teenager and her mother receive life-threatening injuries.

Grace awakens in the hospital and sees her body lying on the bed, head swathed in bandages, life support machines beeping away. She can’t affect the world around her, only observe it, and she soon finds her daughter Jenny in the same condition. The two of them become watchers: observing their family’s grief and refusal to give up hope, observing the efforts of the police to discover who or what really caused the fire. Their dialogue is often light, in counterpoint to the emotionally fraught situation and the violent memories aroused by reconstructing the fire. The movement of the book is not only toward the solution of the mystery of the fire, but toward the resolution of the two lives in this temporary purgatory.

Tearjerker factor: extremely high. The family has a little boy, and his grief and confusion are hard to bear. Frankly, I don’t usually enjoy reading family dramas for just that reason. I picked this one up for the suspense, and the family drama turned out to be not a secondary plot but an equally strong thread. I’m not sure I would read it again, because it’s so heart-wrenching, but it sure made for a crazy, stay-up-til-2 a.m. page-turner of a novel. And Afterwards is extremely well-written, just the right telling details revealing so much about the characters and the families involved. British author Lupton also wrote the award-winning mystery Sister.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Frances, starting now

At the beginning of Alys, Always by Harriet Lane, Frances Thorpe shares an odd, tense moment of intimacy with a stranger. There has been a car accident, and Frances speaks to a woman trapped inside an overturned vehicle. The woman, Alys Kyte, dies. When Frances meets with Alys’s husband and children, she tells them that Alys’s last words were “Tell them I love them.”

It’s a lie. Alys never said anything like that. So why does Frances claim she did? Is it an impulsive attempt to make them feel better? Or does Frances have another motive, one that’s less kind?

 Alys, Always is a British novel of manners that at first seems to be about a nice young woman meeting a lovely family under unusual circumstances.  Soon you notice, though, that it absolutely reeks of class jealousy, covetousness, and manipulation.

Frances is a lowly copyeditor at a beleaguered literary magazine, with embarrassing parents and a gray London flat, who longs for a more beautiful life - the kind that money can buy. At Alys’s funeral, Frances checks out the Kyte house and notices the rugs, the china, the “bathroom with a rolltop bath, a snatched impression of an airing cupboard luxuriously stashed with fat, white towels.”

In her world, novelists are regarded as celebrities. Alys was the wife of a Booker Award-winning author and screenwriter, and her upper-class gentility shines even as she’s dying in a crushed car.

What can Frances possibly do with that brief connection? It’s hard to imagine; but the sly and industrious Frances knows how to make the most of her chances. She is not a good person, but she's so smart and so remorseless in going after what she knows she deserves, you have to admire her nerve.

Pick up Alys, Always, for an entertaining read about one very ambitious character.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Tap-dancing saxophonist comes to Newport!

An act new to our summer reading program comes to town this week. Michael Conly is Mr. Shoehorn, a tap-dancing saxophonist who will dance and make music in Literacy Park at 1:00 p.m Wednesday. All children and families are invited to attend this free program.

Mr. Shoehorn uses his feet as percussion instruments. A Buskerfest reviewer wrote of his show, “Of particular interest was a percussion and saxophone artist named Shoehorn. This one-man show somehow digitally converted his tap dancing into keyboard solos or drum beats and combined it with masterfully played saxophone as well as more traditional percussion to create a masterpiece of live musical entertainment. The beats this guy was able to generate with nothing more than his two feet were incredible."

To see more about the Mr. Shoe Horn, check out his website or watch his video.

The Sheltering Desert

The year is 1939 and two apolitical German geologists doing fieldwork in Southwest Africa have decided they want no part of the war that their homeland is inflicting on the rest of the world. They hurriedly pack their rusty old truck with camping gear, canned food and their loyal mutt, Otto, and head off into the inhospitable Namib Desert.

Twenty years later, one of those men, Henno Martin, recounted their 3-year struggle to survive. The Sheltering Desert is an understated gem of a book, a diamond in the rough.

An English language version was not published until 1970, and the translation is not the most polished. But in some ways, the oddly-rendered English adds to the book’s charm. More importantly, the two men’s naïve enthusiasm and audacious pluck shine through.

 The men quickly realize that day-to-day survival requires most of their waking hours. They spend whole days tracking, shooting and then chasing down the wounded animals. After the kill, the pair must often trek miles back to where they started, carrying a heavy carcass. Time in their makeshift camp is spent fetching water, skinning and preparing meat, and collecting a few scrubby plants they use to supplement their mostly animal-based diet. They enjoy what little free time they have in the evenings watching ants, hearing radio broadcasts of the news or discussing the outside world’s descent to insanity while listening to classical music.

Eventually, acute illness of one of the men forces them to return to civilization and they spend the remainder of the war in a British internment camp. But their extraordinary time living in the Namib makes for riveting reading. The book includes black and white photos the pair took during their adventure.

Sixty years later, an anonymous fan of The Sheltering Desert followed in their footsteps and published beautiful color photographs of the area on a blog, One Stoned Cow. The site makes a wonderful companion to an equally wonderful book.

You can reserve The Sheltering Desert here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins

I’m a bit of a grammar snob—“Don’t say ain’t or your mother will faint” can definitely be applied to me. So when I started reading Ace Atkin's new mystery The Lost Ones I nearly put it right back down. There are ‘ain’t’s everywhere, and not only within the dialogue!

BUT—I’m really glad I stuck with it.

The Lost Ones tells the story of Quinn Colson, a small-town Texas sheriff not too long back from 10 years as an Army Ranger. (It’s the second book—the first one is The Ranger. Read them in order if you can, but I stumbled on The Lost Ones by accident, not knowing it was #2, and it stood up fine.)

Colson lives and works in the same small town where he grew up, helping his mother raise his no-good sister’s kid and trying to keep a corrupt town councilman from running roughshod over the populace. It seems like plenty to deal with just as it is, but then things get more complicated. The no-good sister comes home, three weeks sober and asking for her umpteenth chance. Not only does she want back into to her little boy’s life, she wants to talk about the past, a dark place Colson isn’t willing to visit. On the sheriffing side, a child who was brought to the emergency room after ‘falling out of a grocery cart’ dies, prompting a heartbreaking investigation that ultimately riles up a Mexican drug syndicate and brings in the Feds.

Colson’s loyalty to family, to friends, to fellow soldiers, and to the law are all tested in the course of the book. The Lost Ones is a strong, well-written story, evoking small-town Texas and characters whose voices will stay you. They surely stayed with me. By the end, a little bit of Texas slang even started sneaking into my speech, but trust me, it ain’t gonna last.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Did you ever wonder why we had to run for shelter?

I like nonfiction books about really terrible things. I don’t know why, but I find it interesting to vicariously experience nightmarish suffering from a safe distance, through the pages of a well-researched book.

A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres is one of these. Subtitled The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown, it tells the inside story of The People’s Temple Full Gospel Church, founded by a charismatic preacher named James Jones in the mid-1950s.

When I opened this book, I knew only what everyone knows (or thinks they know) about Jonestown: it was a religious cult whose members first moved to Guyana and then, in 1978, drank cyanide together. Nearly a thousand people died, over 200 of them children.

Scheeres uses 50,000 pages of letters, journals and other documents found in Jonestown and recently released by the F.B.I. in an attempt to understand the people who belonged to the People’s Temple. Why did they follow Jones? What did they hope to find in the jungles of South America? She succeeds in helping the reader get to know them: the angry young black man who wanted to fight injustice; the elderly woman who grew up in Jim Crow Alabama, who believed Jones was a savior; the working-class man trapped by his wife’s devotion to Jones; the rebellious boy desperate to escape.

Originally, it seems the People’s Temple was a very attractive church, preaching kindness and empathy. Jones taught a gospel of racial and sexual equality, and reached out to both white and black parishioners at a time when most churches were deeply segregated. Christians who believed in social justice might well find the People’s Temple appealing.

But over the years, it evolved. Jones began to teach his followers that they were hated and feared, even going so far as to fake attacks and assassination attempts. He also began to systematically drug people, and to punish those who seemed inclined to question his authority. And that was just the beginning.

The story is chilling and heartbreaking, especially since it’s accompanied by smiling photographs of those who died. It doesn’t answer all the questions surrounding Jonestown - I don’t think any book could satisfactorily do that. It does explore the inexorably-escalating horror with compassion, and details the little-known stories of those who survived.

A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown is a work of great empathy for people caught in a terrifying trap. It is awful and fascinating.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The future, two (totally different) ways

I read two brand new science fiction novels recently. They were so completely different from each other that it’s amazing they’re both members of the same genre of fiction. They were both good, too.

The first was After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, the newest book by award-winner Nancy Kress. The novel presents look at a post-catastrophe near-future, in which most humans have been wiped off the earth. The few people who remain are genetically damaged, and they live imprisoned in a sort of zoo enclosure. (Who runs the zoo? Good question.)

Alternate chapters describe the world as the cataclysm approaches, in the story of a young mother watching helpless to do anything but observe. With pitiless symmetry, the two plot streams - future and present - come together.

For a very different look at the future of humankind, see John Scalzi’s Redshirts, an unabashedly goofy comedy about low-ranking crewmen on a spaceship, who wonder why they and their friends keep getting killed in such stupid ways. The answer to that question will lead them into an exploration of science fiction cliche, a strange realm indeed.

Redshirts explores some interesting themes, like how to live a meaningful life when death is obviously random, unknowable, and inevitable - but it never strays far from absurdity. It’s science fiction engineered to make you laugh - how many authors are writing that, these days?

I don’t know of any other genre that embraces such wide variety - the bleakness of After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall’s onrushing holocaust, and the cheerful irreverence of Redshirts’ metafictional entertainment. I recommend them both, for different moods.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Logging in to Library2Go

As many of you know, we moved our catalog to a new system in mid-May. One of the effects of this move is that logging in to Library2Go has changed. If you have not yet created a new PIN with our new catalog, you will need to do that before logging in to Library2Go. You can call us and ask us to create your PIN, or do it yourself. Either way, have an 8-15 character code in mind (with at least one number and one letter).

To create your PIN:

  • Go to the Oceanbooks catalog at http://encore.oceanbooks.org
  • Click on the Login link in the upper right corner
  • Enter your name (first or last will work) and barcode from the back of your library card
  • Click on the Submit button
  • You will be prompted to create a new PIN

Once your PIN is created in the Oceanbooks catalog, you can log in to Library2Go. The new network is listed as Ocean Books in Library2Go.

If you are notified that a hold is ready to download but you can’t find it in Library2Go within 72 hours from when the email was sent, get in touch with our library. We can work with you to get your hold and your place in the waiting list restored.

Here come the puppets!

Newport Library's Dream Big, READ! summer reading program features the very popular performers from Dragon Theater Puppets for this week’s fun at 1:00 p.m. Wednesday, July 11.  All children and families are invited to the free program held in Literacy Park. 

Jason Ropp and his company of puppets are a staple of our summer reading shows.  This year they are once again performing an original show written specifically for libraries, Rocket Hamster’s Dreamy Space Odyssey.  Jason is a very talented performer who writes the scripts, makes all his puppets and performs all the roles.  If folks have young visitors in town, this is a great show to bring them to.

To see more about the puppets, check out their website,  To see a promo for one of their shows, you can watch this video on YouTube, 

You can look here to see a full schedule of the library's summer programs.