Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What is Your Favorite Book?

Picture of a doe facing the camera.
I got that "deer in the headlights" look.
A customer asked me that question recently while I was helping her at the Information Desk. You might think it would be easy for a librarian to answer, but I dread this question. I sat looking at her for quite a few seconds like a deer caught in the headlights while I briefly considered (and dismissed as not being a “favorite”) all the titles scrolling across my mind. What criteria should I use—best writing? best characters? best plot? most thought provoking? something I would want to read again?  My customer finally told me to “forget it” since I probably started looking panicked as my eyes glazed over. Or because it was obvious that I couldn’t look things up in the catalog for her and think about that question at the same time.

Every book I read at just the right time becomes a favorite. At least, until I read the next one at just the right time. Favorite, for me, does not necessarily mean I want to read it again. There are not many books that I re-read because I usually find myself skipping paragraphs—even pages—since I already know the details. The most notable exceptions to this are the Harry Potter series (I used to re-read all the books every time a new one was published. Yes, my social life was lacking in those years.) and anything in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. (There are a LOT of Discworld books. Use this guide for suggestions on how to tackle them.) Another exception is Code Name Verity by ElizabethWein —a book that completely changes your perceptions of the first half as you read the second half. I want to read it again so I can fully appreciate just how well the author sets up the details to deliver the gut-wrenching jolt in the second half. 
cover image of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowlingcover image of Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

My customer’s question had me thinking long after she left the library. I read so many booksand listen to so many audiobooks in so many different genres that I have a hard time remembering what I have read let alone sorting them into favorites. I thought that maybe I should decide on a few favorites so that I have an answer (or six) ready the next time someone asks.

I took a brief survey of my colleagues to find out what their favorite books are. Everyone had to hesitate for a few moments before answering. One person, like me, said that she has "favorites of the year or of the moment" that seem to be replaced with new favorites the more she reads. Here are some staff favorites from my branch:

What are your favorites?
Tina R

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Burning of Washington

This summer marks the bicentenary of the burning of the White House by British troops on August 24, 1814.  I must say I never learned about this episode in history lessons at my British school, but when I moved to the Washington area people often teased me about it when they heard my accent.  While the reasons for the War of 1812 seem obscure today, the humiliation of the successful attack on the nation’s capital apparently still stings.  

The war of 1812 began with a series of naval battles before moving inland.  After defeating American forces at the Battle of Bladensburg the British surged into Washington unopposed.  President Madison and his wife Dolley fled the capital with just a couple of hours to spare.  Dolley carried with her the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, saving it from the flames.  Their departure was so hasty that they left the table in the White House dining room set for dinner.  The British officers made themselves at home and enjoyed the meal intended for the President’s family before setting fire to the building.  But President Madison was able to return to Washington just a few days later as the British returned to their ships and sailed to Baltimore. 

Americans much prefer to remember the successful defense of Baltimore at Fort McHenry in September, a victory that inspired Francis Scott Key to write The Star-Spangled Banner.  By the close of 1814 the war concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on Christmas Eve.  The British were glad to be rid of the American distraction so they could focus on their main enemy, Napoleon.  Our British history lessons may have neglected the burning of Washington, but we certainly learnt about the great victory over Napoleon!  The decisive Battle of Waterloo was fought six months later on June 18, 1815, just 50 miles from Ghent.

Learn more about the War of 1812 and the burning of Washington with these resources:
A number of local communities plan commemorative events:
There is an interesting Montgomery County connection to the events of 1814.  The tiny town of Brookeville became capital city for a day when President Madison sought shelter there.  Read an account of Brookeville’s brief brush with history at The Dabbler and check out the town’s planned celebrations.

Rita T.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Looking for a book?

Are you looking for a book? 
to take to the beach?

for a rainy day?
for your bookclub?
just to read?
to recommend?
for a gift?

Visit the MCPL Readers' Cafe.

Notice the tabs along the top of the page, they look like this only larger:

Here are the names and links from the above row of tabs that will help you find a book that is just right: 

Readers' Café  |  Literature Research  |  We Recommend  | Librarian's Choice  | Book Newsletters  |  For Book Clubs  |  Booklists  |  News

Readers' Café
Offers lists of the new books MCPL has on order, bestsellers and award winning titles, and a variety of other updates, information and options for readers.  It also features the MCPL Shout Out Blog.

Literature Research
Offers a wealth of electronic resources for readers:
Literature Resource CenterLiterature Resource Center provides criticism and biographies from journals and reference books.
Gale Virtual Reference Library logoLiterature from the Gale Virtual Reference Library - E-books about literature and authors, including biographies and criticism.  Includes Twayne's Author Series and Scribner Writers Series.
NoveList logoNoveList Plus - Find fiction by series, plot, setting, and read-alikes. Also book discussion guides, booklists and award winners, booktalks, and other articles. Covers fiction and nonfiction for all ages.
Books and Authors logoBooks & Authors is a book discovery and readers' advisory website, with read-alikes and suggestions, award lists, series lists, author information, reviews, and reader rating.  Includes advice on "What Do I Read Next?"
Find book reviews icon
MCPL offers many periodicals in full-text online, including the New York Times Book Review.  Find book reviews in periodicals by using General OneFile or MasterFile Premier.  Find book reviews in newspapers through National Newspapers Premier.  For more, see our Articles Guide.
Be sure to check out NoveList Plus which is a fabulous tool for identifying potential good reads.

We Recommend
Offers selections of books on a variety of topics selected by MCPL librarians.

Librarian's Choice
Every month MCPL librarians review a book we recommend.

Book Newsletters 
Offers a list of book related newsletters you can read online or subscribe to via RSS or email.

For Book Clubs
Offers a selection of titles popular with book clubs, selected by MCPL librarians, with review and discussion guides, plus general advice for bookclubs.

Offers a variety of booklists, multicultural giving you access to books and authors from around the world, and If You Liked ... lists, for both authors and genres.

Offers recent items of books and authors news, plus recently awarded book prizes.

Nell M.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Going to Visit

Car loaded with luggage and excited relatives approaches!
Caldecott Honor 1986
Two Children gazing at mountain in evening
Caldecott Honor 1983
When I was growing up, 'Going to visit' various relatives was our summer vacation. Car trips, sleeping in someone else's bed, eating at a Aunt's table were part of it.

Cynthia Rylant always plucked that chord for me, both with "The Relatives Came", the 1986 Caldecott Honor and her 1983 Caldecott Honor picture book "When I Was Young in the Mountains".

We grow up, make new relatives, travel new ways and now I find myself in need of information. I'll be travelling to places where nary a relative waits for me. No borrowed bed or family table are available.


DK Eyewitness Travel
Of course, you may visit your nearest branch and peruse the 900s. 917.5924 will yield guidebooks to Walt Disney World; 914 and 915 are a little less specific; all kinds of destinations in Europe and Asia will tempt you. But what if you don't want to drive over to a branch? What if (horrors!) the travel guide you need is checked out and not available?

Enter the Gale Virtual Reference Library!

We have travel books available online from DK and the Rough Guides.
While all the titles can be read online, the travel guide you want can also be downloaded to your home computer section-by-section and then saved to (transferred to) your mobile device. Use the USB cable or email to transfer it to your device, depending on which one you have.

[A bit clumsy? Maybe. But I saved $23 compared to buying the paperback version of a 'Rough Guide'; it's easier to carry and I can just delete it when my trip is over.]

For you mobile computing users, remember than many travel information providers now have FREE apps you can run on your smartphone or tablet to provide maps, reservation services, links to local business information and help for travelers. Depending on your platform you may want an app from Trip It, Google Translate (works with text AND speech!), Gate Guru or Travel Smart.

Bon Voyage!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

For Your Viewing Pleasure....

Dog days of summer are upon us, not to mention incredibly bad weather!  The rains pour down each afternoon, with lightning and crazy wind!!

Sometimes it seems as if it might just be better to sit tight in the house, and wait for things to improve.  If you’re looking for an indoor pastime, or something entertaining to bring down to the beach or lake house with you, here’s an idea -

MCPL has begun purchasing popular television series on DVD.  These are fairly recent additions to our collection, although we have had PBS series like Upstairs, DownstairsI, Claudius, and Poirot mysteries for years.

Now we have added popular HBO, Showtime and Netflix series, which can be borrowed from your local branch.  Most of them are packaged as a full season of 4 to 6 DVDs in the container, so you need to plan on some serious TV watching to get them all in during the one week borrowing period. Some of our hot titles are:

orange is the new black
Orange is the New Black is an original series developed by Netflix for straight to web broadcasting.  Based on the memoir by Piper Kerman about her year in a women’s prison, the series is a mix of black humor and drama. The show follows Piper’s story when a crime she committed in her youthful past sends her to a women's prison.  There she trades her comfortable New York lifestyle for one of unexpected camaraderie and conflict in an eccentric group of fellow inmates.   A dozen Emmy Award nominations went to this acclaimed comedy drama series including Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Writing and Outstanding Lead Actress for star Taylor Schilling.

BorgiasBorgias from Showtime is a lush, beautifully filmed and well-acted adaptation of the story of the Renaissance Pope Alexander and his family.  Starring Jeremy Irons as the Borgia pope, the three season series follows the family from the day Rodrigo Borgia maneuvers his way into the papacy, through the many intrigues, wars, marriages, and sexual escapades of his family.  Violent and explicit, this is not family fare, but if you love historical costume dramas (and the costumes are spectacular!), you’ll love this one.

House of Cards is another Netflix original series, this time a political drama (a subject dear to the hearts of all Washingtonians).  Adapted from the BBC production of the same name, which is also available through MCPL, this series is set in present-day Washington, D.C.   House of Cards is the story of the cunning and vindictive Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, a Democrat from South Carolina's 5th congressional district and House majority whip.  After being passed over for appointment as Secretary of State, Frank , along with this equally manipulative wife, Claire, initiates an elaborate plan to seek vengeance on those he feels have wronged him.  Fun fact -  House of Cards is filmed in Maryland, and has even used the Maryland House of Delegates chamber in Annapolis as a set.

AMC wrapped up the critically acclaimed series Breaking Bad last year,
breaking bad
 but you can immerse yourself in the dark, dark world of Walter White by borrowing the 5 seasons from MCPL.   Walter, a high school chemistry teacher, falls into the world of big time meth production and dealing as a way to provide for his family after a Stage III lung cancer diagnosis.  The show has been praised as one of the best television series of all time, and Bryan Cranston, starring as Walter, has been lauded by people as varied as George R R Martin and Sir Anthony Hopkins.  At times funny, at times heartrending  and at times horrifying , the show is violent, brutal and totally engrossing.

For a lighter theme than the previous titles, try the BBC series Call the Midwife.   A moving, intimate, funny, and true-to-life look at the colorful stories of midwifery and families in East London in the '50s, Call the Midwife follows young Jenny Lee as she begins her service at Nonnatus House, a nursing convent that provides medical care to  people  in the deprived Poplar district of London.  The show’s  characters are the nuns and the young nurses who provide service, as well as the eccentric residents of the district.  The show was praised for its sharp blend of prime-time period charm and hard-hitting social commentary, especially concerning women’s issues in the 1950s.

Other televisions series available through MCPL include titles such as Game of Thrones, Dexter, Weeds, Orphan Black, Walking Dead, and more.  Check with your local library for help locating and borrowing series that you are interested in seeing.  Happy viewing and don't forget the popcorn!.