Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Holidays!

We'll I'm going to kickback & enjoy the holidays over the few weeks. But I'll be back next year for our Saturday, January 5 book discussion of Special Topics in Calamity Physics.

Meanwhile, here's a fun rendition of one of my favorite holiday tunes. Wishing you safe & happy holidays & many good reads in the new year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The New Yorker: "Twilight of the Books"

For those of us who read for pleasure, there's a grim article in The New Yorker magazine titled Twilight of the Books. It analyzes the statistics on our national reading habits.
More alarming are indications that Americans are losing not just the will to read but even the ability. According to the Department of Education, between 1992 and 2003 the average adult’s skill in reading prose slipped one point on a five-hundred-point scale, and the proportion who were proficient—capable of such tasks as “comparing viewpoints in two editorials”—declined from fifteen per cent to thirteen. [Scary! I would of thought at least 20% of the population could do this.]
It also explores how our brains process written versus oral language.
Whereas literates can rotate concepts in their minds abstractly, orals embed their thoughts in stories. According to Ong, the best way to preserve ideas in the absence of writing is to “think memorable thoughts,” whose zing insures their transmission. In an oral culture, cliché and stereotype are valued, as accumulations of wisdom, and analysis is frowned upon, for putting those accumulations at risk. [Does this remind you of Orwell's 1984?]
It also wonders how a primarily oral/visual culture will differ from a literate one.
It can be amusing to read a magazine whose principles you despise, but it is almost unbearable to watch such a television show. And so, in a culture of secondary orality, we may be less likely to spend time with ideas we disagree with. Self-doubt, therefore, becomes less likely. In fact, doubt of any kind is rarer....A comparison of two video reports, on the other hand, is cumbersome. Forced to choose between conflicting stories on television, the viewer falls back on hunches, or on what he believed before he started watching. [Sounds an awful lot like "truthiness" to me: "truth that comes from the gut, not books."]
The article is a little dry and scholarly, not at all hysterical, but even so, it was hard for me to tap down a rising sense of panic as I read it. Still it's fascinating and well worth your time, providing much food for thought to those who are still literate.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Patrons' Picks & Pans

If you're curious about the books your fellow patrons are reading and what they think about them, check out the Patrons' Picks & Pans newsletter. Published bi-weekly, it's a random selection of book reviews written by patrons who participated in last summer's adult reading program. It's fun to see the variety of interests, opinions and tastes amongst library patrons--sort of like reading the Inquiring Reporter column in the San Leandro Times. (The first page I turn to every week.)

Also, check out all the other newsletters the library offers on the BookLetters page. There are newsletters for most every type of reader as well as for those who like watching DVDs. And you can get the newsletters delivered direct to your email address when you subscribe.

HINT: These newsletters are great way to find out what new stuff the library will be receiving. Then you can put an early hold on your favorite titles/authors and be among the first to check them out once they come in.

So sign up! The newsletters are free and the library does not share your email with any other organization. It's a great way to keep up with all the new materials and events at the San Leandro Library.'s Best Books of 2007

The book editors of have posted their Book Awards of 2007. I like their selection criteria:
To make our list, a book has to keep us up late and be the first thing we reach for when we open our eyes in the morning. These are the books we thought about on the way to work and rushed through our dinner dates to get back to at night, the books we blocked out whole weekends to read and propped up next to our bowls of breakfast cereal. However beautiful an author's prose or important his or her subject matter, it doesn't go on our list unless we sigh every time we close the cover and just can't wait to open it again.
Salon also has a seasonal guide to the Look Books of 2007, offering insightful annotations that help explain what makes these picture books so stare-worthy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Writer's Almanac

One of my daily pleasures is opening up my email and reading a poem that Garrison Keillor has sent me. I subscribe to an email newsletter called Writer's Almanac, which is also a the name of a 5 minute radio program produced by Keillor and National Public Radio (NPR). If you listen to KQED-FM at 9:00 a.m. weekdays you might have heard Keillor reading, in his soothing, distinctive voice, a poem for Writer's Almanac.

Keillor does not select pretentious, difficult, academic poems for Writer's Almanac . He prefers those that have "Stickiness, memorability.... You hear it and a day later some of it is still there in the brainpan." These poems tell story or create a picture and are very accessible. Even people who say they hate poetry will find many to like (or even love) on Writers Almanac. Here's one of my favorties:

by Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

If you go to The Writer's Almanac website, you can both read and listen to the poems. You can also subscribe to the email newsletter (which contains some literary history as well as a poem) by clicking on the "Newsletter" button.

If you get hooked on the poems, you may also want to check out the two book collections of Writer's Almanac poems that Keillor has put together. The library carries both: Good Poems and Good Poems for Hard Times.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Video Promotions for Books

Some publishers are creating short YouTube videos to promote new books. The two below are for the Douglas Coupland's, The Gum Thief. They're about a minute long and very funny, if a tad bitter. You can find more videos for this title on YouTube. These two were my particular favorites.

I also liked a disturbing, controversial 7 minute video promoting The Shock Doctrine, a book about political persuasion. It was directed by Alfonso Cuaron who also directed the excellent 2006 film Children of Men. It's a very provocative video, but very graphic. View at your own discretion.

Best Covers 2007

The Book Design Review blog has chosen its best book covers for 2007. Vote for your favorite. There are so many I like, that I haven't been able to select a favorite.

The Book Daddy blog, usually more focused on industry news and book content, has decided to branch out a bit and posted its four favorite covers in its November 20 post. All interesting, beautiful choices.

So in the spirit of posting favorite 2007 covers, I'll post a few of mine not featured in the other two blogs:

This book has absolutely mesmerizing high-resolution photos of animals photographed on a white backdrop. What I like about the cover is how the stark white & black contrasts with the rounded outline and soft fur of the panther cub. I also like how the cub seems to be heading toward the edge of the book, leading you to explore the photos inside.

This cover makes me smile. We have several copies in the library and my eye is always drawn to it. Besides being eye-catching, I also think it's clever depiction of the book's premise. The Greek gods, in a millennial-long decline since being usurped by Christianity, are now just trying to eke out a living in modern day London when, once again, their selfish, debauched antics create difficulties for us mere mortals. The book is getting decent reviews, most saying it's a fun, if lightweight read.

Understated wit and black humor. What's not to love?

This is my brain on Mozart. Don't try to find this cover in local bookstores; this is the U.K. cover. Unfortunately, the U.S. cover is dull. It looks more like my brain on muzak.

I like how the designer cropped this iconic image. To me, it is more provocative than using a picture of Charlie Brown and it avoids being cliched or overly nostalgic.

So those are some of my personal favs. If you have any, email me! You can browse more bookcovers on the Covers blog.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Time to pick the summer(!) books

The city is starting to compile the Summer 2008 activities brochure, and my deadline to provide them with the Reader's Roundtable book selection is mid-January.

So, if you can spare a moment during this busy holiday season, please mull over what books you might like to read next summer when the sun's shining and the beach beckons. Perhaps when you're out gift shopping, you'll run across something that appeals. Or while browsing the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2007 you'll find a book blurb that provokes your curiousity. (Just remember the books need to be available in paperback by April 2008.)

Then email me with your book suggestions and/or bring them to our January 3 discussion.


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Movie: Atonement

The movie version of Ian McEwan's novel Atonement starts tomorrow, December 7. I've read some good to great reviews of the movie and the trailer looks intriguing. All the reviewers says it's a splendid looking film, so if nothing else it'll be a feast for your eyes.

I've not read the book yet, so I may try to fit that in before going to see the film. If you do see the film, let me know what you think.

Friday, November 30, 2007

NYTimes: Top Ten of 2007

The New York Times Book Review has announced its top 10 books for 2007. Luckily, one of the few fiction books I read for pleasure this year is on the list: Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. I didn't read it for bragging rights, but since I have the opportunity...why not? I also happened to think that it was a terrific book--especially for those that experienced the boom/bust cycle of the 90's first hand.

BTW: Notice how the page edges in the NY Times illustration are inscribed with the article's headline? This graphic technique seemed a little familiar to me. Then I remembered that Martha Stewart Magazine did something similar in its "Good Things" section earlier this year.

Although the techniques are alike, I love how different they are in execution. The NYTimes version is brainy and hurried looking, while the Martha Stewart version is pretty and so meticulously crafted. Good examples, I think, of how graphics can reinforce a publication's editorial voice.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

In Memoriam: Mary Rea

Today I learned that Mary Rea, one of the first and most loyal members of the Readers Roundtable, passed away last week on Thanksgiving Day. Her unique insights and sly humor will be sadly missed.

Her obituary was printed on Tuesday, November 27 in The Daily Review, and her online guest book will remain up until December 27.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

NYTimes: 100 Notable Books of the Year

The New York Times has published its list of 100 Notable Books of 2007 on its website. (The print version will be included in the Holiday Book Issue of December 3, 2007.) This is another good gift guide for book lovers. I also use it to help me find titles for our Reader's Roundtable book discussions.

Gift guide for library (& book) lovers

Do you have someone on your Christmas gift list who loves books and libraries? Or looking for some goodies to add to your own Santa wishlist? Here's a handy list of websites that sell book and library-related gifts sure to delight any bookworm.

Gift Guide for Library Lovers

This purse was made from a book cover. You can find this purse and others like it on

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Newsweek: Books aren't dead

Steven Levy (one of my favorite technology writers) has written a superb cover article in this week’s Newsweek. Ostensibly, it’s about Amazon’s new e-book device the Kindle, but mostly it’s about how book authors, book readers and the book format itself are evolving in this digital age.

It’s an easy, but provocative read, filled with fun facts and fascinating information about books and reading. For me, it was a totally ludic reading** experience.

The Future of Reading

"Technology," computer pioneer Alan Kay once said, "is anything that was invented after you were born." So it's not surprising, when making mental lists of the most whiz-bangy technological creations in our lives, that we may overlook an object that is superbly designed, wickedly functional, infinitely useful and beloved more passionately than any gadget in a Best Buy: the book. It is a more reliable storage device than a hard disk drive, and it sports a killer user interface. (No instruction manual or "For Dummies" guide needed.) And, it is instant-on and requires no batteries. Many people think it is so perfect an invention that it can't be improved upon, and react with indignation at any implication to the contrary.

"The book," says Jeff Bezos, 43, the CEO of Internet commerce giant, "just turns out to be an incredible device." (Link to full article.)
** In 1988 Victor Nell coined the term “ludic reading” for the “trance-like state that heavy readers enter when consuming books for pleasure.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

NYTimes: Publishers Woo Book Groups

According to this New York Times article (11/19/07), publishers are realizing the marketing potential of book clubs.
Publishers Seek to Mine book Circles

In early June, at Book Club Expo, a gathering of reading group members and book lovers, the author Khaled Hosseini opened the first session with heartfelt thanks to the attendees.

“He said that ‘The Kite Runner’ wasn’t being read until book groups got hold of it,” recalled Ann Kent, who put together the event, which was held in San Jose, Calif. “He acknowledged their power in putting his book on the best-seller list and keeping it on the best-seller list. It was pretty profound.”

Profound or not, the message had resonance. Increasingly, authors and publishers are tipping their hats to the power of 8 or 10 or 12 women (and usually they are women) sitting around a dining room table, dissecting their particular book of the month, then spreading the word to their friends. (Link to full article.)

NOTE: Below I've listed two of the web resources mentioned in the article in case you want to check them out. When I get the chance, I'll also add them to the blog's list of book links.

AuthorBuzz is a marketing service that puts authors directly in touch with readers, reading groups, booksellers and librarians allowing them to offer excerpts, phone chats or visits with reading groups, material for newsletters, info about contests and freebies, mentions of new reviews — anything and everything authors want to buzz directly to the people who buy, read and sell their books.
Sign up for any of the email book clubs and every day you'll get a 5-minute sample from a book. By the end of the week, you'll have read 2-3 chapters. If it's a book you've just gotta finish, visit the library or your favorite bookstore and pick up a copy. Have fun.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Maltese Falcon Returns

As you may recall, one of the original falcon statues used in the movie The Maltese Falcon was stolen from the San Francisco restaurant John's Grill earlier this year. Well, according to an article on, the falcon, albeit a new & improved version, has returned to its roost.
Maltese Falcon rules roost at John's Grill

The bird is back and it's bigger than ever.

Nine months after someone snatched a replica of the Maltese Falcon from its perch on the second floor of San Francisco landmark John's Grill, owner John Konstin and 90 bird and mystery lovers welcomed a new replica of the fowl made famous by Dashiell Hammett's 1930 novel and Humphrey Bogart's 1941 film noir classic.

"The falcon's going back upstairs, but this time it's going to be bolted down, locked in its case with security cameras, the whole thing," said Konstin, who kept a nervous eye on the new bird throughout the Friday afternoon unveiling. (Link to full article.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

National Book Award Winners

The 2007 National Book Award Winners were announced today, November 15. The winning titles with publisher descriptions are listed below. Click on any title to see if it's available at the library.

I've not read any of these books yet, but have read quite a number of terrific reviews about the fiction winner Tree of Smoke. Maybe a good read for the Roundtable once it comes out in paperback.

Fiction Winner
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

This is the story of Skip Sands—spy-in-training, engaged in Psychological Operations against the Vietcong—and the disasters that befall him thanks to his famous uncle, a war hero known in intelligence circles simply as the Colonel. This is also the story of the Houston brothers, Bill and James, young men who drift out of the Arizona desert into a war in which the line between disinformation and delusion has blurred away. In its vision of human folly, and its gritty, sympathetic portraits of men and women desperate for an end to their loneliness, whether in sex or death or by the grace of God, this is a story like nothing in our literature.

** According to an article, Denis Johnson is a resident playwright for the San Francisco theater group Campo Santo.

Non-Fiction Winner
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner
For the last sixty years, the CIA has managed to maintain a formidable reputation in spite of its terrible record, burying its blunders in top-secret archives. Its mission was to know the world. When it did not succeed, it set out to change the world. Its failures have handed us, in the words of President Eisenhower, “a legacy of ashes.”

Now Pulitzer Prize–winning author Tim Weiner offers the first definitive history of the CIA—and everything is on the record. LEGACY OF ASHES is based on more than 50,000 documents, primarily from the archives of the CIA itself, and hundreds of interviews with CIA veterans, including ten Directors of Central Intelligence. It takes the CIA from its creation after World War II, through its battles in the cold war and the war on terror, to its near-collapse after 9/ll.

Poetry Winner
Time and Materials by Robert Hass
(On Order. You can place a hold.)
The poems in Robert Hass's new collection—his first to appear in a decade—are grounded in the beauty and energy of the physical world, and in the bafflement of the present moment in American culture. This work is breathtakingly immediate, stylistically varied, redemptive, and wise.

His familiar landscapes are here—San Francisco, the Northern California coast, the Sierra high country—in addition to some of his oft-explored themes: art; the natural world; the nature of desire; the violence of history; the power and limits of language; and, as in his other books, domestic life and the conversation between men and women. New themes emerge as well, perhaps: the essence of memory and of time.

** According to an article, Robert Hass is a U.C. Berkeley professor and served as a U.S. poet laureate. On a personal note, Hass has written some of my all-time favorite poems. Here's one I love for it's humor and emotional punch:
Forty Something
She says to him, musing, 'If you ever leave me, and marry a younger woman and have another baby, I'll put a knife in your heart.' They are in bed, so she climbs onto his chest, and looks directly down into his eyes. 'You understand? Your heart.'

Young People's Literature Winner
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (On Order. You can place a hold.)

In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by acclaimed artist Ellen Forney, that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

The March book is in

Copies of The Thirteenth Tale, the book for the March 2008 book discussion, have arrived. Now, the Main Library is stocked with all three books for the January to March meetings. You can register for any or all of these meetings at the Information/Reference Desk. It's only $10 per meeting and you'll get a free copy of the book.

Jan '08 - Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Feb '08 - Philadelphia Fire
Mar '08 - Thirteenth Tale

Friday, November 9, 2007

NYTimes Article: Gaelic Slang

Today's New York Times (11/9) has a swell (sóúil) article about American slang words that evolved out of Irish Gaelic.
Humdinger of a Project: Tracing Slang to Ireland

Growing up Irish in Queens and on Long Island, Daniel Cassidy was nicknamed Glom.

“I used to ask my mother, ‘Why Glom?’ and she’d say, ‘Because you’re always grabbing, always taking things,’” he said, imitating his mother’s accent and limited patience, shaped by a lifetime in Irish neighborhoods in New York City.

It was not exactly an etymological explanation, and Mr. Cassidy’s curiosity about the working-class Irish vernacular he grew up with kept growing. Some years back, leafing through a pocket Gaelic dictionary, he began looking for phonetic equivalents of the terms, which English dictionaries described as having “unknown origin.”

“Glom” seemed to come from the Irish word “glam,” meaning to grab or to snatch.
Link to article.

Flash Fiction

The book blog titled "The story as one-liner" in today's Guardian newspaper talks about a literary form that's new to me: Flash Fiction. It's basically a very, very short story of 2,000 words or less...sometimes much, much less. Here's a example pulled from the article.
Untitled by Ernest Hemingway
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
Flash fiction is nothing new, but in this age of distraction, it's becoming more popular. What differentiates it from poetry or even a joke isn't always clear to me:
My Father by Mike Topp
My father was a snowman.
He got depressed and blew his brains out with a hair dryer.
Obviously, it takes some skill to write effective Flash Fiction. If you want to learn more about it, checkout the Wikipedia entry, which also has several links to websites and articles.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

February Discussion Book

After being on backorder for several weeks, the book for the February discussion, Philadephia Fire, has finally arrived. You can pick up a copy at the Main Library's reference desk if you want to read ahead.

I also ordered the March book, The Thirteenth Tale. That should be in by next week.

I'll also bring both titles to the January meeting as usual.


Friday, November 2, 2007

Book Discussion: Slaughterhouse-Five

Readers Roundtable will be meeting tomorrow, Saturday November 3 at 2:00 p.m. to discuss Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughter-House Five.

Elizabeth has been doing a bit of research on the firebombing of Dresden and kindly forwarded me this message with some fascinating weblinks.
Kurt Vonnegut may be the best known writer to survive the firebombing of Dresden, but as you would expect, he is not the only one.

For the last year or so, I have been working my way through the diaries of Victor Klemperer, who escaped deportation by the Nazis and survived the firebombing of Dresden (rather, he survived because of the firebombing of Dresden).

I am only as far as the summer of 1943 in my reading of the diaries, but here’s a link to an article in Der Spiegel which excerpts from his diary.

About the time I started rereading Slaughterhouse Five, I found an online gallery of old photos and drawings of pre-war Dresden, but I failed to bookmark the page, and now I can’t find it again. I wanted to get some mental picture of the city that looked like “Oz” to Vonnegut. I’ll keep looking, and if I find it, I’ll send you the link.


PS: During the Hitler years, in addition to his diaries, Victor Klemperer produce a study of the language of the Third Reich and how the National Socialists changed the German language, redefining old words and creating new ones for propaganda purposes (similar to “Newspeak” in 1984).

Thursday, October 25, 2007


What literary character scared you the most? polled its customers to find out who they thought were the scariest characters in literature. Nineteen Eight-Four's Big Brother was voted the scariest while author Stephen King has the distinction of having two of his characters make the top ten. Check to see if your favorite monster is on the list.

BTW: As an adolescent, Dracula scared me the most. As an adult though, Big Brother is definitely my worst nightmare.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Anne Enright, Essayist

Today's New York Times book blog Papercuts mentions that Anne Enright, winner of the 2007 Booker Prize, is a frequent essayist for the London Review of Books.

Her current column (as of 10/18) is about her obsession with the McCann missing child case. The opening paragraph alone is very compelling and discusses in some detail the risks of sedating a child.
It is very difficult to kill a child by giving it sedatives, even if killing it is what you might want to do. I asked a doctor about this, one who is also a mother. It was a casual, not a professional conversation, but like every other parent in the Western world, she had thought the whole business through. (Link to full column.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Winner of Booker Prize 2007 Announced

Anne Enright wins Man Booker Prize for Fiction

LONDON (AP) -- Irish writer Anne Enright won the Man Booker fiction prize Tuesday for "The Gathering," an uncompromising portrait of a troubled family.

She is the second Irish writer to win the prize in the past three years, after John Banville's "The Sea" in 2005.

Enright had been considered a long-shot to take Britain's most prestigious, and contentious, literary trophy. The award, which carries a prize of $100,000, was bestowed during a ceremony at London's medieval Guildhall. Link to full article.

Link to Man Booker website.

Link to San Leandro Library catalog record of The Gathering in case you want to check out the book or put a hold on it.

Photo: Andy Rain/European Pressphoto Agency

Kite Runner Author Weighs In

Today's SFGate has an interview with author Khaled Hosseini about the delay of film version of his book The Kite Runner.
Kite Runner author supports late release to protect young actors

Jose resident Khaled Hosseini has led multiple professional lives: medical doctor, international bestselling novelist, envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and, now, Hollywood consultant and spokesperson.

On Monday at a press junket in San Francisco, the 43-year-old author said he commends Paramount Vantage for postponing the release of "The Kite Runner," the film adaptation of his bestselling novel, in order to protect three adolescent Afghan actors who appear in the movie. (Link to article.)

Thanks for the tip Linda.

The Machine is Us/ing

While this video, The Machine is Us/ing, isn't directly book related, I thought it worth posting. It's a clever, provocative summary of how digital technology is not only changing how we share information, but how we live our lives.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Shakespeare Tube Map

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) has devised an ingenious map that shows the relationships between Shakespeare's characters. And to make it super easy to use, they based the design on London's iconic tube map.
The lines include lovers (red), mothers (pink), fathers and daughters (green), villains (light blue), heroes (dark blue), strong and difficult women (turquoise), warriors (black) and fools (orange). Interesting intersections include Henry V who meets on the warrior and hero line, and Lady Macbeth on the strong and difficult women and warrior line. (Quote from the British Theatre Guide.)

You can buy copies of the map at the Royal Shakespeare Company's online shop as well as totes, coffee mugs, tea towels, etc. with the map printed right on them. What a great Christmas gift for the Shakespearean scholar in your life!

Thanks to the BookDaddy blog for this item.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

National Book Award Finalists Annuonced

The finalists for the 2007 National Book Award were announced today. The only nominated title I've read is Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, which I loved for its cynical humor and slightly spooky, but spot on narrative voice. In fact, I was going to suggest it for our Summer or Fall 2008 reading list since it should be out in paperback by then.

Christopher Hitchen's book God is Not Great is one of the non-fiction nominees, which is sure to provoke controversy and garner some publicity for the awards.

Finally, according to a librarian at UCLA, "...there are some California writers on the list of 2007 National Book Award finalists and special medal recipients.
Robert Hass, ex-Poet Laureate of the United States, nominated for Time and Materials
Arnold Rampersad, Stanford professor, honored for his biography of Ralph Ellison
Kathleen Duey, YA author of Skin Hunger: A Resurrection of Magic, Book One
And of course we count Joan Didion as a Californian!"

Release of "The Kite Runner" Delayed

As discussed in last Saturday's Readers Roundtable, the release date of the movie The Kite Runner has been moved to December. Apparently, the family of the boy who stars in the film and lives in Kabul is afraid that fellow Afghans will be offended by a rape scene and retaliate against him. It's widely believed in Afghan culture that such things should not be shared in a public forum.

The New York Times ran an article on this situation, as did the San Jose Mercury News which included interviews with members of our local Afghan community.

Thanks Ron sharing this news with the Roundtable.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Movie Trailer: Atonement

The movie version of Ian McEwan's novel Atonement is scheduled to be in limited release December 7. Judging from the preview, the movie looks like a beautiful, but tragic romance. Here's a preview with fairly good picture resolution from YouTube. BTW: Early reviews are excellent.

Patrons' Picks & Pans

The library has launched a new online newsletter called Patrons' Picks & Pans. It's a random selection of book comments from patrons who participated in this past summer's adult reading program. It's a kick seeing what your fellow patrons are reading and what they think about what they're reading, so check it out.

Patrons' Picks & Pans:

BTW: there are hundreds of comments to share, so we'll be publishing the newsletter once or twice a month. Sign up for email delivery so you don't miss a single issue!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

NYTimes: Stephen King on the Short Story

These days my reading time is limited and frequently interrupted, so I have trouble remembering who's who and what's what when I'm reading a novel. As a result, I've come to prefer reading essays and short stories.

And every Fall I've reason to rejoice because Harper Perennial releases new editions of its "The Best of American" series. This is a terrific series and it has a number of different titles. My favorites are the The Best of American Crime Reporting and The Best of American Mystery Stories (while The Best of American Travel Writing and The Best American Science Writing jostle for third place). However, all the titles usually contain good to excellent pieces, and I try to get through most of them before the next set of comes out the following Fall.

This year Stephen King is the editor for The Best of American Short Stories 2007, and I'm eager to read the stories he's selected. While the Lit Police may sneer at a bestselling author of horror novels editing the 2007 collection, I'm betting that King can be trusted to pick stories that are literary page-turners: i.e. They're fun to read and good for you too.

Anyway, in The Sunday New York Times Book Review King talks about his year of reading American short stories.

Published: September 30, 2007
Why do so many short stories feel show-offy, written for editors and teachers rather than for readers?

The American short story is alive and well.

Do you like the sound of that? Me too. I only wish it were actually true. The art form is still alive — that I can testify to. As editor of “The Best American Short Stories 2007,” I read hundreds of them, and a great many were good stories. Some were very good. And some seemed to touch greatness. But “well”? That’s a different story. Link to article.


The paper that lines the front and back covers of a book are called endpapers. Today, they are mostly left blank, but they were once festooned with patterns or illustrated with pictures. There's now a website that has a gallery of charming endpapers from childrens books. Take a look.

The end paper above is from A House of Pomegranates,
Written by Oscar Wilde Illustrated by Ben Kutcher 1925

Thanks to for item.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Next Book Discussion: The Road

Just a reminder that we'll be meeting this Saturday, October 6 at 2 p.m. to talk about Cormac McCarthy's book The Road.

Below are some websites about the book in case you want to do any preliminary research.

Oprah's Book Club
Oprah chose The Road for her book club several months back (transforming the book into an instant bestseller). Besides analyses, background information, and discussion, Oprah's website also features her television interview with the publicity shy author, Cormac McCarthy.

New York Times
Janet Maslin's book review says, "The Road would be pure misery if not for its stunning, savage beauty."

Author William Kennedy wryly observes in his review that, "McCarthy has said that death is the major issue in the world and that writers who don’t address it are not serious. Death reaches very near totality in this novel."

Image: Viktor Koen, New York Times.

Washington Post
Ron Charles' review points out that, "The fear of dying, so prevalent in McCarthy's previous novels, is balanced here by the fear of surviving.


Malcom Jones book review says, "...
the question that the novel implicitly poses—how much can you subtract from human existence before it ceases to be human?—takes on heartbreaking force."

SF Chronicle
In his review, librarian David Hellman interprets McCarthy's message as " the end, we have only what we can hold onto right now, in this place and at this moment."

For more in depth literary analyses, search on these two databases: Novelist and Literature Resource Center. You can find them on library's Online Resources webpage. (You'll need you library's barcode number to access them.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Kelly, another librarian here at SLPL, forwarded me this item about DailyLit (see below). She said that she now begins her mornings by reading a brief installment from Dracula (my all-time favorite horror novel). WelI, I guess that's one way to wake up your brain and get your blood pumping.


"DailyLit sends books in installments via e-mail. DailyLit currently offers over 400 classic public domain titles that can be subscribed to and read in their entirety for free." Includes some in French, Italian, and Spanish. Search, or browse by title, author, or category. The entry for each work includes a preview of the first installment and the number of installments (such as 675 for "War and Peace" and 149 for "Pride and Prejudice").

Annotation from Librarians' Index to the Internet,

BTW: Kelly said that each daily installment is about a 5 minute read.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Movie: No Country For Old Men

The Coen Brothers, the directing duo that brought you the movies Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou (among many others), have made Cormac McCarthy's novel No Country For Old Men into a movie. It's being released on November 21. I've not read the book, but the NYTimes blog Papercuts calls it "McCarthy's Murder Ballad," so it's a safe bet this movie will have its share of violence and gore. Still, I'll probably be in line the opening weekend. I'm a huge fan of the Coen Brothers writing and directing, the cast looks great, and the trailer leaves me wanting to see more. Hope it delivers!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Why Women Read More Fiction Than Men

The same recent AP/Ispsos poll that found that the typical American read only four books last year, also reported that men accounted for only 20 percent of the fiction market.

In an essay called Why Women Read More Fiction Than Men, Eric Weiner, a National Correspondent for NPR, examines what's know as the "fiction gap" and offers up some interesting, if speculative theories as to why it exists.
Why Women Read More Fiction Than Men, September 5, 2007 · A couple of years ago, British author Ian McEwan conducted an admittedly unscientific experiment. He and his son waded into the lunch-time crowds at a London park and began handing out free books. Within a few minutes, they had given away 30 novels.

Nearly all of the takers were women, who were "eager and grateful" for the freebies while the men "frowned in suspicion, or distaste." The inevitable conclusion, wrote McEwan in The Guardian newspaper: "When women stop reading, the novel will be dead."Link to article.

Man Booker Prize: Short List Announced

The short list for the Man Booker Prize was announced last week.

The six titles shortlisted are:

  • Darkmans by Nicola Barker (Fourth Estate)
  • The Gathering by Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape)
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton)
  • Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (John Murray)
  • On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape)
  • Animal’s People by Indra Sinha (Simon & Schuster)
For the full story, here's the link:

The above titles that are underlined, link directly to our library catalog. You can click on them to see if they're checked in. If they're checked out, you can put them on hold.

I've put in an order for two of the books: The Gathering and Mister Pip. With any luck, they'll be added to the collection within the next month or so.

And as best I can tell, the other two titles, Darkmans and Animal's People have not been published in the U.S.A. yet.

Books We'll Be Reading Next Year

At the last Reader's Roundtable meeting we selected the books we'll be reading for the February to May 2008 meetings. It's quite a diverse list this time around, but it seems to strike a nice balance between serious and light reading. Anyway, it's always an adventure to discover new books. The chosen titles are listed below along with a brief description.

Philadelphia Fire: A Novel by John Edgar Wideman

In 1985 the police bombing of a West Philadelphia row house owned by the back-to-nature, Afrocentric cult known as Move killed eleven people and started a fire that destroyed sixty other houses. Inspired by this incident, this novel follows Cudjoe, a writer and exile who returns to the neighborhood a decade later to search for the lone survivor of the fire, a young boy who was seen running from the flames.
Saturday, February 2

The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel by Diane Setterfield
Author Vida Winter is old, ailing and ready to reveal the truth about the violent and tragic past she has kept secret. Calling on Margaret Lea, a young biographer troubled by her own painful history, Vida mesmerizes her with a life of gothic strangeness, and together, they learn to confront the ghosts that have haunted them.
Saturday, March 1

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Half of a Yellow Sun re-creates Biafra’s struggle to establish an independent republic in Nigeria in the 1960s, by following the lives of three characters swept up in the turbulence. Thirteen-year-old Ugwu is employed as a houseboy for a university professor full of revolutionary zeal. Olanna is the professor’s beautiful mistress. And Richard is a shy young Englishman captivated by Olanna’s twin sister. As Nigerian troops advance and the three run for their lives, their ideals and loyalties are severely tested.
Saturday, April 5

Timothy, or Notes of an Abject Reptile by Verlyn Klinkenborg
Timothy, the world’s most famous, most studied tortoise, once lived in the garden of eighteenth-century curate Gilbert White. Here, he speaks out on his life in the garden, his nine-day adventure outside the gate, his observations of the curious habits and habitations of humans, and the natural world around him. Wry and wise, unexpectedly moving and enchanting at every–careful–turn, Timothy surprises and delights.
Saturday, May 3

Saturday, September 1, 2007

DVDs: Great Writers

The library is currently acquiring two DVD series featuring documentaries on literary luminaries. One series is called Great Writers with DVD's featuring writers such as Joseph Conrad, Truman Capote, Salman Rushdie, and others.

The other series is called Great Women Writers. Currently, we have DVDs on Jane Austen, The Bronte Sisters, and Emily Bronte.

You'll find the DVDs in the Biography section under the author's last name. They can be checked out individually for two weeks. Each DVD is about 45 minutes long and contains biographical information, commentary, archival documents, and interviews.

I find documentaries like this helpful for several reasons. First, they are an easy way to bone up on authors I'm unfamiliar with and get a handle on their major themes. Two, I'm fascinated to see tangible proof of their existence: where they lived, the type of people they knew, and the ephemera they produced. Finally, if I can see an interview with a writer or hear his or her voice, it sometimes another level of appreciation for me.

If you're interested in watching these DVD's, they are being ordered and cataloged on an ongoing basis, so keep checking the catalog for the latest additions or ask for them at the Information Desk.

NYTimes: A Space for Us

In the New York Times Sunday Book Review, 9/2/07, there's an amusing essay called "A Space for Us," by novelist Pagan Kennedy. In it she reflects on the how the relationship between author and reader is becoming more interactive in the age of online networking sites such as MySpace.
But for authors and readers, MySpace offers something entirely new: a forum where we can finally meet and get to know one another — or even collaborate in literary games. For instance, soon after the novelist Matt Haig put up a MySpace profile to promote his book “The Dead Fathers Club,” he received a message that would make any writer’s heart thump. Someone wanted to “friend” him, and that someone was none other than ... William Shakespeare. Shakespeare “sent a message telling me how much he enjoyed my work,” Haig explained to me (via MySpace mail). “I returned the compliment and told him ‘King Lear’ was pretty good, too, and that I’m sure he has a solid career ahead of him.”
Link to full article.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Books as Objects

It seems to me that sculpting books into art is a somewhat newish trend in the art world. Given some people's reverence for "the book," this trend would seem almost sacrilegious. However, there are so many old, unwanted, worn, dirty books going into landfills, that to me this use of books seems like a creative, if provocative solution to dealing with the piles of paper an information society produces.

Check out the book sculptures below and see what you think.

Jonathan Callan is a British artist whose work as been featured recently on the Rag and Bone blog. The color and form of some pieces are very organic, reminding me of tree rings. Other pieces are more surrealistic. The piece below suggests to me some of the more difficult books we've read in Readers Roundtable.

You can see more of Callan's work on London's Houldworth Gallery website.

Jim Rosenau is a Berkeley artist who describes his work as "funny and functional art made from vintage books." To appreciate the wit of his pieces, look closely at the titles of the books and consider how they relate to each other as well as to any other objects he incorporates into the sculpture.

Finally, Brian Dettmer cuts the book cover so it frames the contents of the book. Then he painstakingly sculpts down through the pages inside (without actually cutting out the pages) to reveal the various pictures and text contained within.

Check out his work at the Aron Packer Gallery website. He also works with maps and cassette tapes. I love the name of his show: Altered States (explorations in media modification).

Thanks Reference Librarian Pam for turning me on to Rosenau's and Dettmer's works.

Book Talk: Black Artists in Oakland

Arcadia Publishing has a very nice set of local history books. This particular title, Black Artists in Oakland, was just published in July, and it's on order here at the library. Here's the description:
Oakland's famous and vibrant arts heritage is known throughout the country, but many people are unaware of the extent of this city's contribution to the national stage in terms of music, dance, visual arts, and literature. Black Artists in Oakland celebrates this amazing story over the past half century through vintage images, from the early days of Slim Jenkinss nightclub to the changing styles of Esthers Orbit Room and the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts. More than 200 photographs lift the curtain on many inspiring artistsmasters in their chosen aesthetic and neighbors to the community. Among the artists highlighted in these pages are Ruth Beckford, Raymond Saunders, Alice Walker, and E. W. Wainwright
Books , Inc. in Alameda will be hosting a talk and signing with the book's authors on Friday, September 7 at 7:30. I think it'll be a fascinating hour of local culture and history, and maybe I'll see you there.
Jerry Thompson and Duane Deterville at Books Inc. in Alameda

Time: Friday, September 7, 2007 7:30 PM
Location: Books Inc. in Alameda, 1344 Park Street, Alameda, 510-522-2226
Jerry Thompson and Duane Deterville authors of Black Artists in Oakland will discuss Oakland’s famous and vibrant arts heritage is known throughout the country, but many people are unaware of the extent of this city’s contribution to the national stage in terms of music, dance, visual arts and literature. Black Artists in Oakland celebrates this amazing story over the past half century.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

If you like going to author book talks, you may want to visit and subscribe to It's an easy to use website that tells you which authors are currently speaking in your area. You can also use this site to contact authors who you want to speak at your organization or event. Find out more in the About Us section of the website.

I subscribed to their newsletter and they sent me this email notice today:
Greetings from! This week we introduced a new section of the site devoted to stories of authors' misadventures on the road:

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

How many books did you read last year?

I'd guess considerably more than the average American. Here's the new AP poll on America's reading habits.
Here's the story on CNN's web site:
And the poll from AP/Ipsos:

Thanks Kelly!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Article about Uyghur People of Western China

Elizabeth forwarded this link to an article about the Uyghur people, which she mentioned in our Heaven Lake book discussion. It's a fascinating, but sad article. It doesn't sound like the Uyghur are living the happy, nomadic existence that Vincent witnessed.
"In Heaven Lake, the Uyghur people of western China figure prominently.

This is a link to an article by Ted Rall that I ready recently. He's basically a political cartoonist, but he has taken a particular interest in Central Asia, and has traveled there quite a bit."

- Elizabeth Kallquist

Movie Trailer: The Kite Runner

The movie version of The Kite Runner is scheduled for a November 2 release. Here's the preview.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Another Library Blog

The Williamsburg Regional Library in Virgina has very nice blog of librarian-authored book reviews called Blogging for Books. The reviews are well-written, insightful, and fun to read. If you find a reviewer whose literary tastes are similar to yours, you can click on their name at the end of the review to get a list of other reviews they've written.

So, if you like to browsing for books, check it out.
Blogging for Books
Read a new review every day, Monday through Friday! The staff of the in Virginia bring you short reviews of books, movies, and more!
A different staff member picks favorite reviews for each different week.

Thanks for the tip Kelly!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Book Suggestions

I've just been given a 9/18 deadline for selecting the Spring 2008 booklist for Readers Roundtable. So, please email me with any books suggestions you have or bring them to our next Readers Roundtable meeting on September 6. We'll be selecting 4 books for the months February to May.

I've received a few suggestions so far. One person proposed that we read more African-American authors. Good idea! Does anyone have any favorite titles/authors they'd like to recommend? I'd think it'd be interesting to read something by a contemporary African-American author on current day issues. But whatever title/s the group picks is fine by me. There's lots to choose from. I'll also bring some suggestions to the next meeting.

Here's a list of other books (in no particular order) I've gotten so far from Roundtable members and librarians. Please review. We can discuss them at the next meeting.
  • The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai This book about India won the 2006 Man Booker Prize and the National Critics Circle Award.
  • Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. Taryn, a Reference Librarian, just gave this an intriguing write up in "Staff Recommendations."
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Anne Dillard. A meditation on nature that won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize and as since become a modern classic.
  • Carmelo by Sandra Cisneros. Apparently a good, sprawling read on the Mexican immigrant experience in 20th century America.
  • Timothy, or Notes on an Abject Reptile by Verlyn Klinkenborg. An unusual book that was enthusiastically recommended to me by several people and the critics also loved it...and its only 200 pages.
  • Half of the Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This book was a finalist for several prizes and won the Orange Prize for Fiction. The person who recommended it liked it for its well-drawn characters and history of West Africa. I'd like to read it for these reasons and because I've read so few books about Africa actually written by Africans.
So, look these over and see what interests you, and feel free to suggest more titles.


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

News: "Austen on YouTube"

For those who enjoy Jane Austen movies, Linda forwarded me a New York Times article on a new trend that might tickle your fancy:
Austen on YouTube
Published: July 29, 2007

"A look at a few clever YouTube videos that capture Jane Austen in a
contemporary way."
If you don't have time to read the article, below are two of the YouTube videos mentioned in the article that I thought were good, silly fun. Each video is roughly 4 minutes long and consists of Jane Austen movies outtakes edited to current pop music hits. The editing is done by amateurs so it's a tad rough, but the enthusiasm shines though and the song choices are amusingly apt.

"Jane Austen Ladies 'Maneater'"

"Regency Men Bringing Sexy Back"

Man Booker Prize for Fiction

Linda alerted me that the longlist for England's Man Booker Prize for Fiction was just announced yesterday.
"The longlist of 13 books, the ‘Man Booker Dozen’, was chosen from 110 entries; 92 were submitted for the prize and 18 were called in by the judges....The 2007 shortlist will be announced on Thursday 6th September at a press conference at Man Group’s London office. The winner will be announced on Tuesday 16th October at an awards ceremony at Guildhall, London. (Link to full article.)"
Let me know if there's any on the list that you've read and liked. I only recognize two titles on the list: On Chesil Beach and The Reluctant Fundamentalist--neither of which I've read yet.

You may also want to check out the Man Booker Prize for Fiction online magazine called Perspective. It features author interviews and news as well as a debate section where readers can hold interactive debates.