Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Baseball Through Biographies

baseball field with players
Washington Nationals Opening Day 2017
Devoted baseball fans know to count down to Pitchers and Catchers report day every February. This marks the start of spring training and the beginning of the end to a long winter without baseball. However, I usually start wishing for the return of baseball by late November (the World Series usually ends in late October or early November). Of course, for many others, thoughts don’t turn to baseball until after opening day.

Regardless of your level of baseball interest, how can the library support your love for America’s pastime? Well, baseball has long been a subject for fiction and nonfiction alike, but here are a few great selections from recent years.

Pedro cover showing Pedro Martinez pointing at the sky Pitchers are, by default, at the center of the action on the baseball field, and some draw significant attention with their off the field action as well. Pedro by Pedro Martinez and Michael Silverman is the memoir of the colorful Hall of Fame pitcher who retired in 2009 after 18 seasons in the majors with teams including the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals), Boston Red Sox, and New York Mets. In the book, Pedro discusses his quest to overcome the negative perceptions caused by his small stature and become a dominating pitcher, as well as his historic run with the Boston Red Sox to end their 85 season World Series drought.

Phenomenon cover showing Ankiel looking at the camera Of course, most pitchers don't have Martinez's record-breaking career. Rick Ankiel debuted as a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2000, but was never able to pitch successfully at the major league level. After struggling unsuccessfully against a condition known as the yips, he left baseball only to later return as an outfielder and play seven major league seasons for a variety of teams, including the Washington Nationals (2011 & 2012). Ankiel's new book, The Phenomenon, written with Tim Brown, tells the story of the condition that derailed his original career plans and the process he went through to overcome these challenges.

The streak cover showing gehrig at top and ripken at bottom For those interested in local players, Cal Ripken, Jr. will be one of the subjects of the forthcoming The Streak: Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken Jr., and Baseball's Most Historic Record by John Eisenberg. Rather than being a biography, the book explores the environment of baseball in the early and late twentieth century. New York Yankee Gehrig's streak of playing 2,130 consecutive games stood from 1939, when Gehrig took himself out of the lineup due to playing difficulties caused by his not-yet-diagnosed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)—now commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease. The record stood until 1995 when it was broken by the Orioles' Cal Ripken, Jr. whose streak ended at 2,632 consecutive games.

42 cover showing actor playing Jackie Robinson standing on baseball field Prefer to watch instead? Check out the 2013 movie 42 (PG-13) about Jackie Robinson's major league breakthrough. The movie shows that Robinson's role as the first black player in the majors was anything but accidental. Robinson's life both in and out of baseball has also been the subject of numerous biographies for readers of all ages.

Happy reading!


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Oh No, Gotta Mow. Again.

Lawn mower and half cut lawn.Ah summer. The sun, the pool, the beach. And the noise of a small engine turning a blade at 3,000 revolutions per minute. Yes, it's time to mow the lawn again.

Who decided to surround most suburban houses with a small, or not so small, grassy field? Depending on who you ask, the human cultivation of lawns began thousands of years ago or just a few hundred. Some cite humanity's longstanding desire for a clear field of vision in order to spot predators as a primal motivation to cultivating artificial, low cut meadows. Others point to the clearing of land around castles in medieval Britain and France to prevent attackers from approaching fortifications unobserved. Others note the village commons, a shared cleared space for the grazing of everyone's livestock.

Whatever the ancient history of lawns might be, the rise of the lawn as a symbol of American suburbia is dated to the late 1940s with the building of the first Levittown development on Long Island. The suburb was the first American suburb to come with lawns. Neighborhood newsletters emphasized the importance of keeping one's lawn neat and trim (lawn shaming?) and included lawn care tips. According to a recent Freakonomics podcast episode, nearly 2% of land in America is some type of lawn. That's more than the 1.3% of the country that's paved.

Book cover: Lawn Gone!
These days, a perfectly manicured lawn is not always met with universal acclaim. Concerns about water shortages, pesticides, noise pollution, and other environmental impacts have many rethinking the lawn as a suburban staple. A few years ago, for instance, Montgomery County became the first large municipality to ban cosmetic pesticides from use on most lawns. Native plants, more trees, gardens, and clover are all being proposed as greener alternatives to the traditional turf lawn. The University of Maryland Extension program, part of the agriculture department, has a page suggesting alternatives to a conventional lawn.

Of course MCPL has a number of resources about lawns and landscaping to help keep your property splendid. There are standard lawn care books, such as Lawns: 1-2-3: Expert Advice from the Home Depot, as well as eco-friendly titles such as Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard.

If you've got questions about your greenery, MCPL can help. From April through September, master gardeners from the Montgomery County Cooperative Extension are available at branches throughout the county to answer your questions about your garden, lawns, and landscaping. This service is free and no registration is required.

Whether you love lawns or loath them, MCPL is here to help you make your garden, yard, and life a little greener.

Mark S.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

SafeTrack Is Back

Mark a Plan for SafetrackSafeTrack is returning to Montgomery County. SafeTrack is WMATA's accelerated maintenance and repair plan to improve the Metrorail system's safety and reliability. WMATA will be working on a Red Line portion of the system from Saturday, June 17 through Sunday, June 25, 2017.
WMATA anticipates that trains will run at "near normal" service times on other portions of the Red Line.

The County's Department of Transportation offers bus, MARC train, and parking options for residents during this surge.

MCPL library card holders will find the following telecommuting resources in our branches -
The following resources are available online to MCPL card holders -
Get your library card today to enjoy these and many other MCPL resources and services.

View or download a list of services for telecommuters as a PDF.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Summer Read and Learn 2017 - Build a Better World

Build a Better World - Children's Gameboard image
Are you ready for Summer Read and Learn 2017? We are ready to build a better world (our theme this year) and hope you are too! It's a summer challenge of fun. We're celebrating books and learning.

Kids and teens, you can sign up online or at your local branch anytime between June 10 and September 10. You'll have until September 10 to finish the program and pick up earned prizes.

The program offers kids exciting read and learn activities. They can earn online badges and prizes (while supplies last) or raffle entries as they complete each track. Complete all the tracks in their age group and they complete the program. They can keep track of their progress online and earn up to seven online badges!

Teens, you have an great opportunity to tell us what books you've enjoyed reading and why! You can earn an online badge for every book review you write. Write three book reviews and you complete the program! Come to your local branch to pick up your prize, while supplies last.

A Book That Shaped Me logo - Library of Congress - Letters about Literature
Music, science, storytellers, animals that walk the earth, and those that swim! These are a few of the stellar kids' programs we have this summer. Rising 5th and 6th graders can also take part in a summer writing contest called A Book That Shaped Me. Participants write a one-page letter to his or her local librarian about a book (fiction or nonfiction) that has had a personal impact on his or her life. The contest is sponsored by the Library of Congress National Book Festival. Entry submission form and letter must be turned into any MCPL branch by Wednesday, June 28. Top winners will be honored at the Library of Congress National Book Festival on September 2 and earn prizes.

There are many engaging teen programs as well! Be sure to come to our Teens Talk Books events on July 20 and August 17 at the Rockville Memorial branch. Teens will gather for engaging book discussions. Snacks will be provided. See the Teens Talk Books box on the right of the Teensite page for more information.

2017 Reading Challenge image
Adults, teens, and children can join our popular 2017 Reading Challenge! Or, as I like, to call it, Read Like a Librarian! We read a lot, as you can imagine. Sign up online and join the program. Read a book from each of the twelve different categories listed.  Complete the program online and be entered into a raffle to earn prizes!

Kids and teens with fines on their library cards should make sure to take part in our Great Fines Read Off that goes on all year long! It is very popular. Kids and teens ages 17 years or younger can earn a “Library Buck” for every half-hour they read in the library. If you read to another young person in the library, you can both receive credit for your time! You can register at any branch and may read any type of material such as books, graphic novels, magazines, e-books, e-magazines, and websites.

What Do I Check Out Next? Image of people at cafe reading
Not sure what to read this summer? We've got thrilling and diverse booklists of reading suggestions for kids and teens by grade that will be mirrors and windows into many cultures for your children! Looking for more suggestions? Try our Kids and Teens pages. Adults can find book suggestions on our Readers' Cafe pages. Need more help finding books? Just fill out our What Do I Check Out Next? online form and we'll email suggestions just for you. Of course, you can always ask any of our friendly librarians in person at your local branch. We're always happy to help you find the right books for you or your children!

Ready to build a better world? Sign up starting June 10 for an amazing summer of reading and learning fun! Summer Read and Learn 2017 - It's for everyone!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Taciturn Tales - The Art of the Short Story

Did you know that an average novel has 80,000 words in it? That's a lot of words. Don't get me wrong, I'm a librarian, I like to read, but sometimes I need a break. That's when I turn to short stories. Short stories have traditionally been defined as stories that can be read in one sitting. Nowadays the definition of a short story is a bit more formal. Short stories are usually no shorter than 1,000 words and no longer than 20,000. If you're really in a hurry, there's a subgenre of short stories called, I kid you not, short short stories. Such micro stories are also sometimes referred to as flash fiction.

Of course short stories are more than just stories that are...short. They have their own style, rhythm, and pace. Sometimes, for instance, short stories will start in the middle of the action, rather than building up to it with an explanation of the setting, characters, etc. The conclusions of short stories can be more abrupt than what one finds in a novel.

Book cover for Tales of Terror by Edgar Allan PoeEarly predecessors of modern short stories include works as diverse as One Thousand and One Nights (or Arabian Nights) and traditional fairy tales such as those collected and published by Charles Perrault. The modern short story really came into its own during the 19th century. Washington Irving and Edgar Allen Poe, as well as the Brothers Grimm, wrote or compiled short stories during the first half of the 1800s. The second half of the 19th century saw short story collections from authors such as Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, and many more.

The short story form has flourished since then. There are so many well regarded contemporary short story authors, I won't even attempt to name them. I'll let the experts guide you.  A good starting place is The Best American Short Stories series, an annual publication that collects the best short stories in American literature from well known and emerging authors. The latest edition, 2016 is edited by Pulitzer Prize winning Dominican American author Junot Diaz. There's also the O'Henry Prize Stories. This annual publication compiles the best 20 short stories selected from thousands published in literary magazines.

Book cover for The Water Museum by Luis Alberto Urrea
Short stories can be found in other ways too. For example, there are collections of stories by individual authors. Dear Life, The Water Museum, and Sea Lovers are examples of such collections, by Alice Munro, Luis Alberto Urrea, and Valerie Martin respectively.  You can find such collections by searching the name of an author and adding the phrase short stories. I tried this with Stephen King, for instance, and found both his latest collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams and his earlier short story works.

There are also themed short story collections. I did a search of science fiction and short stories, for instance, and found a large number of print and ebook collections, including Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation and Women Destroy Science Fiction!, a collection of short stories from Lightspeed magazine, all written by women. You can use this technique to find other themed short story collections, such as mystery or horror collections. We also have short story collections in other languages, such as SpanishChinese, and Vietnamese.

Of course short stories aren't just for adults. MCPL offers short story collections for children and for teens. Kids may enjoy reading fairy tales from the villains' perspective in Troll's Eye View: a Book of Villainous Tales. Remember those short short stories? Busy teens might find time for a tale or two in Sudden Flash Youth: 65 Short Short Stories.

I suppose it would be wrong for a post about short stories to be too long, so I'll wrap up here. If you've been inspired to find a short tale or two, we can help you find some you'll love. Talk to one of our friendly folks at the information desk of any MCPL branch or try our What Do I Check Out Next? service, which provides online, personalized reading suggestions.