Monday, November 29, 2010

Recommended escapist read: Star Island

by Carl Hiaasen
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This book definitely pokes fun at the extreme nature of celebrity culture today. 22-year-old Cherry Pye is a fading pop star and former child actor of a Nickelodeon TV show. She is about to release her second comeback album and go on a tour, despite her drug/alcohol problems (which her mother insists on calling "gastritis") and the fact that she can't sing at all. Her team of handlers employs a look-alike, Ann DeLuisa, who they call on to distract the paparazzi so that they can transport Cherry to rehab/the hospital anonymously. Cherry Pye is dating a young actor, also very into drug scene, who is working on the latest Tarantino movie and lives on Star Island. When Cherry's bodyguard quits, he is replaced by Chemo, a tall, cold man with severely damaged skin and one good arm. In place of a second arm is a concealed weed wacker which he uses to intimidate people. Paparazzo Claude "Bang" Abbott wants to have a photograph session with Cherry, believing not only that she is on her way to destroying herself but also that her post-death status will be comparable to that of Marilyn Monroe. After discovering that Cherry's family has duped the paparazzi with the lookalike, Abbott kidnaps Ann in an attempt to negotiate for time with the celebrity herself. Hiaasen also intertwines a plotline involving a man named Skink who lives in the Florida swamps. He involves Ann in one of his cons and subsequently becomes the person she calls for help when she is kidnapped.

Anyone who even occasionally reads People or US Weekly should be able to catch all of Hiaasen's name-dropping. If you are fed up as it is with celebrity stories, then you probably do not want to read this fictionalized account. But if you are in the mood for something slightly wacky that is unforgiving in its portrayal of celebrity life, I recommend you read Star Island.  Although the book lagged a bit after Ann's kidnapping and I expected more from the ending, overall I still found the book to be entertaining.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Charles Schulz

Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz was born on November 26, 1922. His comic strip, "Peanuts" (which Schulz originally called "Li'l Folks"), continues to run in syndication, and TV specials written by Shulz featuring the Peanuts gang have become a big part of many people's holiday-viewing rituals (It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving; A Charlie Brown Christmas, etc.). Schulz died February 12, 2000, the night before his final strip appeared in Sunday papers February 13, 2000, announcing his retirement. For as long as I can remember I've looked forward to reading the Sunday "Peanuts" strip; even now, the reprinted strips are the first ones I go to read in the paper.

In honor of Schulz's birthday, I thought I'd highlight the excellent book Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis. When I read this book several years ago I couldn't put it down. Actual comic strips from the "Peanuts" run are included throughout the book, which really highlights how much of Schulz's life he included in the strips-- from his childhood and his own family. If you are a fan of the "Peanuts" comic strip I think you will become engrossed in this book, especially if you know little about its creator's life.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Frances Hodgson Burnett

Author Frances Hodgson Burnett was born November 24, 1849, in Manchester, England. She immigrated to the United States with her family in 1865, living near Knoxville, Tennessee. To help with her family's finances Frances started to submit stories to women's magazines, which lead to her publishing children's books, novels, and even plays.

In honor of her birthday, here are some materials in our collection you may want to check out. For the books, the years in parenthesis denote the original publication date.

The Secret Garden (1911)
Norton Critical Edition:
PB CLASSIC BURNETT (other versions also located in JUV FICTION BURNETT)
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The Secret Garden is one of my favorite books. Mary Lennox, a spoiled, bratty girl, is sent to live at her reclusive uncle's Yorkshire estate in England after her parents die of cholera in India. Mary is transformed into an independent, active girl through her time spent out in nature in the gardens and develops close friendships with Martha, Dickon, and her cousin Colin.

We have two movie adaptations at the library. I love the 1993 movie adaptation, starring Kate Mabley and Maggie Smith:

The Secret Garden (1993)
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The Secret Garden (1975 TV adaptation)
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Other books by Frances Hodgson Burnett:

Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886)
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A Little Princess (1905)
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The Lost Prince (1915)
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Sara Crewe: Or, What Happened at Miss Minchin's (1888)
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Frances Hodgson Burnett: Beyond the Secret Garden
by Angelica Shirley Carpenter
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Monday, November 22, 2010

Recommended read: Welcome to Utopia

Welcome to Utopia: Notes from a Small Town
by Karen Valby
976.4 VAL
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I picked this book off the shelf because I remember reading Valby's original article "Welcome to Utopia" in an issue of Entertainment Weekly. Utopia, Texas, is a small ranching town that has only recently been exposed to pop culture through the Internet and endless cable stations. In the book Valby focuses on four people: a retired general store owner, Ralph; a waitress and mom of three sons serving overseas, Kathy; a twenty-something planning on leaving Utopia, Colter; and a teenage girl, one of the few black people in town, who dreams of moving to Austin after graduation to pursue a music career, Kelli. Every other chapter Valby writes about a specific institution in town, such as the Pico Gas Station, Post Office, and Waresville Cemetery. These short chapters provide vivid snapshots of Utopia by sharing stories and memories of Utopians.

In her writing Valby allows the townspeople to retain their voices so the reader gets a better picture of what life in Utopia means to them. If you read this book I think you'll become attached to the people Valby interviews; I found myself very invested in learning about Colter and Kelli especially. Colter often makes the long drive out of town to see the newest movies, buys unique clothing items for his wardrobe off eBay and thrift shops, and keeps insisting he will move away to go to school, but hasn't followed through on that change yet. Kelli and her family (her father is black and mother is white) provide an interesting point of view on the town, as they are in many ways considered to be outsiders, even though Kelli's mother and grandparents grew up in Utopia.

Each morning the coffee drinkers (including Ralph) meet at the store to talk; as Valby's interviews take place at the end of George W. Bush's term in office and during the 2008 election, politics is one of the topics on their minds. Several townspeople make no excuses for their prejudices and opinions, including one man, Milton, who votes Republican for the first time in his life instead of voting for Barack Obama because Obama is black.

Throughout the book Valby writes about how the Utopians give her a hard time about living in New York City and ask her how she could stand the smell, the rude people, etc. The assumptions they have about big city life are probably comparable to how people in more metropolitan areas view living in a small town. After you read Welcome to Utopia maybe some of your assumptions about small town life will be challenged just like my assumptions were.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Geek Chic: Vintage robots and tin toys

 Robots are a geeky obsession of mine.  Perhaps it's the result of watching too many episodes of the Jetsons as a kid, but robots have a fun retro appeal to me.  I have a small collection of robot tin toy reproductions, which started when I spotted the super cool Schyllling reproduction of Robot Lilliput at a toy store.  Many of the original toy robots were manufactured in Japan before World War II.  Below are photos from my robot and tin toy collection: 

This Robot Lilliput who is thought to be first ever robot toy in existence.  The original was manufactured in the mid-to-late 1930s.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Gifts for People You Don't Like, Part 2: Christmas from the Heart

Christmas from the Heart: All Through the House
Better Homes and Gardens.
Call Number: 745.59412 CHR 1996
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Appreciating this book requires a certain aesthetic that just doesn't appeal to a grouchy, minimalist like myself.   I lead an existence that doesn't require tea cozies, tissue box covers, dolls, or napkin rings.  But whimsical people who have a fondness for Mary Engelbreitian quaintness, or people with seasonally themed tableware, most likely will find many projects to their liking in this book.   That being said, I find some of the ornamentation in the book to be on the outrageously lavish.  Do you really need to decorate every square inch of your house for the holidays?

Anyway, below are some of the stranger highlights from the book:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Amazon's Best of 2010

As we approach the end of the year, we'll see more and more best of 2010 lists. One I find especially valuable is Amazon's best of the year. I'll extol its virtues with a list of my own:

1) There are 100 titles, which allows for quite a bit of variety.

2) I like to see if I have read any of them (no), so I can see if I'm more in-the-know than I thought (no).

3) Decide, then, which ones I would like to read. Amazon does a good job of giving you a lot of information up front about titles. Not only the synopsis, but reviews from professionals and customers, author information, and some books you're able to "look inside."

4) Compare the customers' ratings and how they align with the editors' choices. I have found that customers are harsher. Controversy can be good.

5) Ideas for holiday gift giving. There's something for everyone.

Check our catalog before you buy. We might have what you're looking for.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gifts for people you don't like, part 1: Glorious Christmas Crafts

Glorious Christmas Crafts: A Treasury of Wonderful Creation of the Holiday by Anna Hobbs
Call Number: 745.5951 GLO
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Though I can barely operate a hot glue gun without risking hospitalization, I come from a long line of crafty and handy people.  So naturally, a lot of the gifts I've received over the years have been homemade and, on occasion, terrible.  Some examples include:  sweatshirts "jazzed" up by use of glitter pens and bedazzlers,  a reindeer doorstop made out a sock and a soda liter filled with beans, several draft snakes, and not one, but two bat houses.  But hey, it's the thought that counts and as an adult, I appreciate these gifts in their odd glory, granted I haven't saved too many of them.

Glorious Christmas Crafts has some cute Christmas craft ideas for non-grinchy people who posses the talent and the will.  But since I can barely handle the task of wrapping the gifts I buy, I don't really care about those projects.  Instead, I'm highlighting some of the more head-scratching gift ideas and decorations in the book.  They are sure to make memorable if not appreciated holiday presents:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bigfoot Books

I'm a big fan of Graham Roumieu's wonderfully deranged and hilarious Bigfoot memoirs, which show Bigfoot's every day life as a celebrity that very few people ever see.  If you've ever wondered how Bigfoot really feels about Chewbacca, Snuffleupagus, or people who litter (hint: he wants to smash them all), these books are a must read.  Roumieu's Bigfoot is lonely, violent, occasionally profane, and grammarians will gasp at his prose.  I imagine Bigfoot's voice sounds very similar to the Cookie Monster's.  These books are probably best read indoors and away from public areas, as you may receive strange looks from laughing too hard otherwise.  Lest you need anymore incentive to read the book, the author is kinda cute too.  Below are the three titles in the series:

Call no.: 741.5 ROU
In Me Own Words: The Autobiography of Bigfoot
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Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir (2005). 
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Bigfoot: I Not Dead (2008).
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Other titles on everyone favorite Sasquatch:

Ape-Men: Fact or Fiction? (2006).
Call Number: 001.944 APE
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Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend by Joshua Blu Buhs (2009).
Call Number: 001.944 BUH
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