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.