Archive for Mercury Column

Laugh a Little, at the Library

By John Pecoraro, Assistant Director

Airplane!I hope you’ve been laughing, because April is National Humor Month. What better time to look at some of the funniest movies of all time.

What any one individual thinks is funny is a matter of personal opinion. There are many lists of the funniest films, but no two lists include the exact same titles. Comparing the all-time greatest comedy films as judged by the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com/list/ls000551766/) and the American Film Institute (www.afi.com/100Years/laughs.aspx), only five films appear among the top ten of both lists. They are:

Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” 1964, directed by Stanley Kubrick. This dark comedy satirizes Cold War fears of nuclear war. Air Force General Jack Ripper believing that the Soviets have used the fluoridation of drinking water to pollute Americans’ “precious bodily fluids,” orders bombers to deliver a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. The President of the United States (Peter Sellers), his advisers, and the Joint Chiefs are successful in recalling or assisting the Soviets in destroying all the bombers, but one. The Dr. Strangelove of the title (Peter Sellers again) is a former Nazi scientist who hasn’t quite resigned himself to the fact that he’s no longer working for der fuhrer.

Annie Hall,” 1977, directed by Woody Allen. In this romantic comedy, comedian Alvy Singer (Allen) falls in love with nightclub singer Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). Alvy’s insecurities sabotage the affair, unfortunately, driving Annie to Los Angeles with a new life and lover. Realizing that he may lose Annie forever, Alvy braves the LA freeways to recapture the only thing that ever mattered to him, true love.

Duck Soup,” 1933, directed by Leo McCarey. In this Marx Brothers classic, Groucho (Rufus T. Firefly) is president of small, bankrupt Freedonia, a country in dire need of financial assistance. Neighboring Sylvania, in an effort to annex Freedonia, sends in spies Chico (Chicolini) and Harpo (Pinky) to infiltrate the Freedonian government. In the process Chicolini is made Secretary of War. War is declared and a hilarious battle ensues. Classic comic sequences include the mirror scene in which Pinky dressed as Firefly pretends to be Firefly’s reflection in a missing mirror.

Blazing Saddles,” 1974, directed by Mel Brooks. Its 1874 and the railroad is coming through the town of Rock Ridge. Governor Le Petomane (Brooks) and Attorney General Hedley Lemarr (Harvey Gorman) scheme to drive the citizens of Rock Ridge away from their homes and drive down the price of land by hiring a black man, Bart (Cleavon Little), to be their sheriff. Facing a hostile reception, Bart teams up with recovering alcoholic gunslinger The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder) to save the town. If you’ve seen this movie, you’ll remember the campfire scene.

Airplane!,” 1980, directed by David and Jerry Zucker. In this parody of the disaster film genre, traumatized ex-combat pilot, Ted Striker (Robert Hays) nervously boards a Chicago to Los Angeles flight to win back his wartime girlfriend, flight attendant Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty). After contracting food poisoning from the fish served for dinner, both the pilot and co-pilot are incapacitated. It falls to Striker to fly the plane, assisted from the ground by his former commanding officer, Rex Kramer (Robert Stack), and an odd assortment of air traffic controllers.

In additional to the official list, here are a few of the titles that library staff consider to be among the funniest films of all time.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” 1975, directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones. The troupe of Monty Python’s Flying Circus take on the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

The Sandlot,” 1993, directed by David Mickey Evans. In 1962, Scotty Smalls learns to play baseball and much more in this coming of age story.

Groundhog Day,” 1993, directed by Harold Ramis. Weather man Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is stuck in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, reliving Groundhog Day over and over and over again.

Young Frankenstein,” 1974, directed by Mel Brooks. Frankenstein’s grandson, Frederick (Gene Wilder) inherits his family’s estate in Transylvania and resumes his grandfather’s experiments in reanimating dead tissue.

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Books That Sarah Made Me Read

By Rhonna Hargett, Adult Services Manager

The Thirteenth TaleAround my house, we call Sarah “the book pusher.” I have several friends who exchange recommendations, but Sarah takes it a step further. She starts with “You have to read this book.” I respond politely, putting it on my list of books I might get around to. But then she checks up on me. This would be annoying, except that she’s always right. Each and every one has turned out to be an amazing book that I can’t put down and lingers with me for weeks after I finish. You would think I would eventually learn to stop fighting the recommendation magic and maybe this article is a turning point to acceptance. Hopefully, you will be more open to the treasures than I have been as I share with you the books that Sarah made me read.

In The Fault in Our Stars John Green explores what life is like for a teen with cancer – both the good and the bad. Sixteen-year-old Hazel has been dealing with a terminal cancer diagnosis for three years and she’s depressed. Her doctor recommends Cancer Kid Support Group, where she meets Augustus. The two of them become fast friends and show us that, even in the midst of the pain and fear of cancer, there can be love, joy, and adventure.

Katherine Howe takes us back to 17th century Salem, Massachusetts in The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. While going through her grandmother’s things after her death in 1991, Connie Goodwin comes across a scrap of paper with the name “Deliverance Dane,” setting off a hunt into her family’s past. Alternating chapters go back and forth between Connie and Deliverance, a woman accused of witchcraft. Howe creates a gripping story, as well as an insightful look into the context of the lives of women during the witch-hunt period of American history.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles teaches us how to make the best of a bad situation. In Moscow in 1922, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is sentenced to house arrest. Fortunately, his current residence is the luxurious Metropol Hotel. Even after being moved to a more austere room, Rostov manages to find delight in expanding his social circle and appreciating the small pleasures in life.

In The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, Vida Winter is a world famous author, but has scattered inconsistent details about her life. Now that she is unwell, she agrees to finally reveal the truth. Winter reveals to her biographer, Margaret, an eerie narrative of mysterious sisters, a tragic fire, and disturbing specters.

I’m especially drawn to mysteries with great characters, and Louise Penny fits the bill with the Chief Inspector Gamache series, starting with Still Life. When Jane Neal, beloved retired teacher, is found dead in the woods on Thanksgiving Day, Armand Gamache is called to the scene. With a humble demeanor and excellent listening skills, he immerses himself in the small community to solve the crime. The complex characters and the insight into rural Québec make for an engaging story.

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild is a charming romance that doesn’t read like a romance. Annie McMorrow is 31, just lost her boyfriend, and is struggling to establish her career as a chef. When she picks up a dusty painting in a junk shop, her life and her apartment are turned upside down. Exploring both the intrigue of the art world and a passion for good food, Rothschild creates an absorbing novel that truly satisfies.

Even librarians get in a reading rut. We all get comfortable with our genres and rarely venture out. Fortunately, I have friends who keep my suggestion list full. If you ever need a suggestion, stop by the Reference Desk on the 2nd floor of the library and we will gladly help you out.

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YA Books About Mental Health That Get It Right

By Rachael Schmidtlein, Teen & Tween Services Coordinator

I Was HereLet me start off by explaining that I have a weird number of friends who are nurses and a disproportionate number of those nurses work in pediatrics. Recently, one of those nurses frustratingly ranted to me about how the number of suicides they handle by people between the ages of 11 and 18 has increased exponentially since she began her career four years ago.

Medical professionals have all sorts of statistics about the correlation between suicide rates and certain times of year and other contributing factors. The sad fact of the matter is that today’s teens are experiencing mental health issues in a world where encountering mental illness comes with a stigma. Thus, we have mentally ill teens who don’t know where to find the resources to help themselves. As a teen librarian (aka professional nerd who thinks teens are awesome), I want to help.

Luckily for us, Manhattan is a place where that stigma seems to be dissipating. In the 2015 Community Needs Assessment done by the City of Manhattan, Manhattanites rated availability to mental health care among the top needs in the city. The library administration took that statistic very seriously. Keep an eye out for future programming and events at the library that help support people in need of mental health care.

In the meantime, check out this list of Young Adult books that get it right:

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness is about the kids who aren’t the chosen ones. You know, the chosen ones: the kids at school who are at the heart of every paranormal, romantic, dystopian-esq happening. This book is not their story. The Rest of Us Just Live Here is the story of the other kids, the normal kids, who are just trying to graduate from high school, avoid their parents and kiss their high school crush before the indie kids blow up the school, again. Mr. Ness does a really good job of discussing dysfunctional families, mental illness and LGBTQ relationships with humor and wit.

Sarah Dessen won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults this year. When it comes to YA books about contemporary teen issues, her titles are a great place to start. Dessen’s Just Listen tackles the hard topics of mental illness and sexual assault. The main character, Annabel, is battling a sister with a dangerous eating disorder, a family in disarray, and a horrible secret. The story leads you along the ride that Annabel takes in order to reclaim her life and her voice. Her introspection makes the journey that readers take worth it.

In I Was Here by Gayle Forman, Cody is devastated when her best friend, Meg, commits suicide. While helping pack up Meg’s things in her college town, she begins to learn that there was a lot she didn’t know about her best friend. Still not believing that her friend would end her own life, Cody decides to dig deeper into what really happened. Her journey is painful and sad but ultimately redeeming. This story is very hard to read, but even more difficult to put down; definitely a read for more mature teens.

The term “mental health” encompasses a wide variety of issues and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is often overlooked as an insignificant disability. Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone tackles the difficulties of OCD head on. Samantha hides the constant stream of obsessive worries and dark thoughts beneath a perfect exterior of her popular but fake friends. A new friend offers a reprieve from the daily struggles of her disorder. The story maintains a good read while respectfully handling a mental illness that effects so many people.

If nonfiction is more your style, you should considering reading Out of Order: Young Adult Manual of Mental Illness and Recovery by Dale Carson. This title is comprehensive with a capitol “C” and full of personal accounts, advice and counseling options. You really can’t go wrong with this one.

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Dodge City at Its Wildest

By Marcia Allen, Technical Services and Collections Manager

Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American WestTom Clavin’s latest nonfiction book, Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterton, and the Wickedest Town in the American West, has appeal on multiple levels.  It’s a thrilling western, with all of the shootouts, heroes, and villains you’ll find in well-written fiction.  It’s also an almost unbelievable tale of actual historical events that helped shape the West.  And it’s a remarkable window on our Kansas heritage.

The story takes place in the 1870s.  For many years, the cattle drives from Texas had used Dodge City (among other Kansas towns) as a final stopping point for the herds.  After long hours on dusty trails, the newly paid cowboys were ready for a celebration that usually involved quite a bit of drinking and some unplanned gunplay.  And the building of the rail lines, with Dodge City as a connecting point between cattle herds and a shipping hub, spurred rapid growth.  Buffalo hunters also frequently visited the town, and they, too, took part in the celebrations. Fairly quickly, Dodge became a rough and violent town with several drinking establishments and a profitable trade in prostitution.   In fact, census records indicate that, at one time, there were nearly 50 prostitutes in a town with a population of only about 700.

It was also something of a magnet for criminals looking for quick money.  Characters like Dynamite Sam and Dirty Sock Jack were known for their unpredictable behavior, and it was up to the newly hired law enforcement to control such threats.  And that’s when Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson came into the picture.

Wyatt was drawn to Dodge City because a brother and a sister-in-law had already set up a successful brothel, a business that was not illegal as long as it was kept under control.  Wyatt was attracted by the salary and had some experience in law enforcement in Wichita.  Bat had had enough of buffalo hunting and skirmishes with Native Americans, and he’d nearly been killed in a saloon shootout that left him disabled for some time, so he needed a change in location.

Neither of the young men was particularly frightened by the new responsibilities.  In an early encounter with unruly cowboys ready to celebrate the end of the trail with guns blazing, Wyatt singled out the major troublemaker and punched him twice before the man could pull a gun.  The now-unconscious cowboy was an immediate deterrent for his friends.  Bat, too, had a lack of patience toward crime.  Upon learning that robber Robert Dirty Dave and his followers had been spotted near Dodge, Bat formed a posse and braved blizzard conditions to arrest them and send them to trial.  Bat also served as a partner in the Lone Star Dance Hall and Saloon, so he was making a decent living.

One the factors in the tremendous appeal of this book is author Clavin’s ability to tell a good story.   He not only alludes to events in Dodge, but he also supplies ample background.  We learn, for example, that the only woman buried on Boot Hill was a woman named Alice Chambers.  “Squirrel Tooth Alice,” as she was known, was a local prostitute who became famous when gusty winds pulled several dollars from her stockings.  Local tramps spent the next several hours looking for the dollars with little luck.  Given the high rates of sexual disease and physical abuse, most prostitutes died young, and Alice was no exception.  She suffered an early death due to undisclosed circumstances.

Another appealing factor is Clavin’s insistence on solid research.  When unsure about actual events, he advises readers that eyewitnesses reported events as he presents them.  Clavin is also unwilling to whitewash the lives of his characters.  He reminds us that both Wyatt and Bat made plenty of mistakes on their own, especially when he alludes to Wyatt’s criminal past.

Ultimately, you will be amazed at the colorful characters and events, both tragic and hilarious, who visited Dodge City in the late 1870s.  While other books and ample films have portrayed the West as it may have been, Clavin’s admirable history fleshes out a West that really was.

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The Modern Face of Feminism

By Vivienne Uccello, Public Relations Coordinator

How to Be a WomanAccording to author Rebecca Solnit, women have a long way to go before they are treated as equals to men.

In her book Men Explain Things to Me, Solnit cites alarming statistics about violence against women that back up her claim. One such fact, confirmed by the Center for Disease Control, Women’s Health USA, WebMD, and other reliable sources, is that murder is the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the United States today. This information shocked me and prompted me to investigate the topic of modern feminism.

Solnit’s book begins with a funny but frustratingly familiar anecdote about her experience at a social gathering in Aspen, Colorado. The male host of the party pulls Rebecca aside, asks her what she does for a living, then proceeds to educate her about a fascinating book he recently discovered. The book happens to be her own work, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West. But so convinced is he that a woman could not possibly have been the author that Rebecca’s friend has to interrupt him saying “That’s her book” five times before he will believe it.

The host is embarrassed when he learns he has been explaining something to the person who literally “wrote the book” on it. Rebecca leaves the party ready to dismiss the mistake, but instead she decides to delve a little deeper into the circumstances which created the all-too-familiar situation. Why was it so easy for the host to assume he knew more than she did? Why did she initially take the bait, reacting in a “typical female way” by failing to stand up for herself?

Solnit’s initial essay exploring those questions went viral in 2008, and is credited with inspiring the term “mansplaining.” She compiled several more essays about gender equality and released the collection as Men Explain Things to Me in 2014.

To continue my quest, I checked out How to Be a Woman by humorist Caitlin Moran. This was a lighter read and provided a bit of a break. Moran’s book is full of relatable stories and personal anecdotes which highlight some of the struggles women experience. She shared her memories honestly and with wit, and because of her openness, her book is likely to make you feel less alone in the world. I would not recommend it as a particularly “feminist text,” but it was insightful and personal, and I enjoyed the book.

Searching for another work which would embody feminist ideals, I picked up the classic Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan and my socks were knocked off.

Friedan wrote this groundbreaking work in 1963 and is credited for igniting a revolution. She called the typical expectations and roles assigned to women “soft prisons (which) destroyed the human identity.” She advocated for women to stand up, fight for their own sense of humanity and importance, and not be silenced.

Friedan went on to found the National Organization for Women. She was adamant that women should find their own voice through self-actualization and empowerment. She wrote “Men are not the enemy, but fellow victims. The real enemy is women’s denigration of themselves.” I recommend this book to anyone and everyone. It explores underlying issues still facing women and men today, such as personal fulfillment, career vs. family responsibilities, and identity.

If you have a young person in your life who may not be ready to take on the challenge of Feminine Mystique, a new book for young adult audiences has been flying off the shelves. Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World by Kelly Jensen is a compilation of works by forty-four different artists; each contributor shares ideas and stories in a scrapbook format. The works encourage teens to explore identity and cultural norms by challenging perspectives. I appreciated that the book offered many different views, even some which contradicted each other, thus further encouraging readers to think critically.

One important point I want to stress about feminism and Women’s History Month is that stories by and about women are not relevant only to women. Each work I read has relevance for humans trying to live on the planet together, and I encourage people of all backgrounds to read them.

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Good Reads for Young Naturalists and Outdoor Lovers

By Jennifer Bergen, Youth Services Manager

The Dog, RayEarly spring days of tree buds and hungry birds make me look for books that include the outdoors.  Here are some great new children’s books for nature lovers.

Applesauce Weather by award-winning poet Helen Frost is a gentle story made of poems that surround the reader like a soft fall breeze. Faith knows her Uncle Arthur will arrive when the first apple falls from the apple tree, but this year is different because Aunt Lucy is not there with him. Uncle Arthur seems to have lost his stories and his twinkle, but Faith is determined to help him find them both again.  Frost delicately shares this short story of family love and grief, of weather and trees and grass beneath your feet.  Applesauce Weather would be a perfect family read-aloud under a shady tree this spring.

For a page-turning adventure, try Linda Coggin’s The Dog, Ray.  When 12-year-old Daisy meets an unfortunate end, her soul is returned to earth for unfinished business. What makes things tricky is that she returns as a dog. As she makes new friends, she is adopted by a loving homeless boy who names her Ray and sticks with her through danger and uncertainty.  They travel many miles together, both searching for what they need, until Ray remembers less and less what she came for but fulfills her duty as a dog—to protect her family.

In Otherwise Known as Possum by Maria D. Laso, Possum Porter is a rough and tumble tomboy who soaks up country life with her best dog friend, Traveler, and her best human friend, Tully, by her side. But this story begins just after Momma has passed away, along with the new baby, leaving Possum at the mercy of the nosy Town Ladies who are apt to convince Daddy that “LizBetty” needs a proper education.  Shooting pecans from her slingshot while sitting under Momma’s tree, Possum notices, “The Town Ladies were back: It was them Traveler’d heard. They’d swooped onto the porch, all black wings and beady eyes like giant crows, beaks fixing to stick into our business. I considered taking a shot. After all, a crow is a crow, and I have dead-keen aim, on account of I am naturally gifted for such things.” Possum’s honest, rebellious voice is sure to strike a chord with many kids, as she navigates the social hierarchy of the one-room school house, loses friends, makes friends, and saves her daddy from a romance…with the teacher, no less!

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King is sort of a “boy and his dog” book, except that the critter Obe Devlin has found is not a dog. It is not a cat, possum, pig, or anything Obe has ever seen before. In fact, as Obe reached out to touch it for the first time, he felt it “was totally, unquestionably, certainly, worryingly not a dog.”  Obe is bullied by the kids in his neighborhood so he avoids them and instead spends time at Devlin Creek, pulling out the trash other people have dropped in. When he befriends the plastic-eating animal he names Marvin Gardens, Obe has even more reason to protect the Devlin land, and all of nature, from the pollution and urbanization threatening to take over.  Kids will find an unlikely heroic pair in Obe and Marvin.

Young scientists may also enjoy checking out the library’s Nature Discovery Pack, one of 20 backpacks kids can check out on various themes. The Nature pack includes books such as How Does a Seed Sprout, Nature Ranger, and Crinkleroot’s Guide to Giving Back to Nature. Each pack has media and activities, and this one comes with a Magic School Bus DVD, children’s binoculars and textured rubbing plates to create a nature art project.

Kids can join us during spring break this week for a Nature Storytime at 11:00 on Thursday, and ZooFari Tails Storytime at 10:00 on Friday.  Other events include kids’ yoga, CanTEEN, Chess Club and a free kids’ movie.  Check the library calendar for details.

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Judging Books by Their Covers

By Jared Richards, Adult Services Librarian

The De-TextbookThe cover is bright blue and neon yellow with a bright pink spine. That is how Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal caught my eye. On the back she describes the cover of a book as being extra credit. The contents of a book are really what matter, but a cool cover can help.

You should never judge a book by its cover, as the old adage goes. I believe this is a good rule of thumb when it comes to not judging or underestimating people based on their appearance, but I find that judging literal books by their covers is a perfectly acceptable practice. According to the International Publishers Association’s annual report for 2015-2016, there were 338,986 new titles published in the United States in 2015. If you were to read a book a week, it would take you over 6,500 years to read all of those books, and more than 900 years even if you read a book each day. When faced with those sorts of numbers, you need strategies for finding a good book. If anyone wants to judge you for judging covers, just let them know that designing covers is a legitimate career that would not exist if people didn’t care about book covers. So let’s take a look at some extra credit.

The De-Textbook from the writers of Cracked.com is a book that gives you the truth about the things you learned in school that were often wrong. The cover shows an illustrated profile of a human head broken into compartments, occupied by various things like: King Tut, Shakespeare, and giant birds. A cleaning crew is spread throughout compartments cleaning out the myths, which are being piped from the back of the head via a spigot. It gets the point of the book across quite well.

There are twenty-nine small figures in red tank-tops and black shorts, most with a basketball, aligned in five rows on the cover of Now You See It by Cathy N. Davidson. There is also a lone gorilla, a reference to the now famous experiment on inattentional blindness by Daniel Simons. The experiment involved a video in which participants were asked to focus on one specific thing, causing half of them to miss the gorilla walking through the middle of the scene. Davidson’s book is about rethinking education and business in the age of modern technology with a focus on attention studies and anecdotal evidence – an interesting idea with an intriguing cover.

Few covers have lived up to the title of a book more completely than the cover of Incredibly Decadent Desserts by Deb Wise. Imagine a single piece of the best chocolate pie you have ever had, piled high with whipped topping, and accompanied by a gold fork because it’s decadent. This cover sets the stage perfectly and whets the reader’s appetite for the rest of the book, which is filled with mouthwatering food photography and recipes, each tastier than the last.

The cover of The Butterflies of North American: Titian Peale’s Lost Manuscript shows one half of a butterfly. The other half is on the back of the book, which is bound in such a way that it can be opened completely, allowing the front and back covers to touch, creating a whole butterfly. This little touch shows the attention to detail put into this book, which collects the full color plates of notes and numerous butterflies and caterpillars illustrated by Peale, an artist and naturalist from the 1800s.

A woman in a red coat and ruby high heels, holding a red umbrella in the rain, and seeming to defy gravity as she hangs in mid-air doing the splits on a city street. That is on the cover of Dancers Among Us by Jordan Matter, a book inspired by watching his young son create an imaginary play world. It captures photographs of dancers in regular clothes, engaged in often mundane tasks, but expressing the joy and fantastical nature of a child’s imagination, through feats of athleticism.

This article has come to an end, but a picture is worth a thousand words, so come on down to the Manhattan Public Library and judge these covers for yourselves. As an added bonus, if you happen to judge covers based on their color, you’re in luck. This month we have a display devoted to books with green covers. A famous frog once said “It’s not easy being green,” but it is easy finding green books at the library.

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Irish Heritage Month

By John Pecoraro, Assistant Director

Irish America: Coming into CloverIf your ancestry is Irish, you share that fact with 39.6 million other Americans. Irish Americans make up about 12% of the population of the United States.  In Boston, they account for over 20% of the city’s population, and if you live in the Breezy Point section of Queens, New York, you share Irish ancestry with a whopping 54.3% of the population. Irish is the second largest ancestry group in the United States. German is number one.

So with such a large part of the U.S. population having Irish ancestry, it is proper to celebrate this shared heritage. In additional to celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, the entire month of March is Irish American Heritage Month.

You can read up on the Irish American experience at the public library. For example, let’s start with the basics, “1,001 Things Everyone Should Know about Irish American History,” by Edward O’Donnell. O’Donnell organizes his book around broad subjects such as culture, politics, religion, and sports. The list of things everyone should know tells the story of how Irish immigrants have played a central role in defining American character and identity.

The Irish in America,” edited by Michael Coffey, with text by Terry Golway is a magnificently illustrated book. Setting the stage by describing the misery of the potato famine, Golway presents stories about rogues, priests, politicians, poets, gangsters, nuns, ballplayers, union organizers, writers, and common working-stiffs that celebrate Irish achievement and success.

Maureen Dezell explores the unifying myths of what it is to be Irish American in her book, “Irish America: Coming into Clover, the Evolution of a People and a Culture.” More than an examination of a stereotype, Dezell’s book is a tribute to a people that was one of the building blocks of America.

In “The Irish Americans: a History,” author Jay Dolan highlights four dominant themes in the history of Irish Americans: politics, religion, labor, and nationalism. The author highlights the significance of the Church in the history of Irish Americans, and also examines the enormous influence that extreme poverty had on the lives of Irish immigrants.

The Famine Ships: the Irish Exodus to America,” by Edward Laxton, explores the agricultural disaster that sent over a million emigrants escaping the potato famine by sailing to America. Using family histories, the author tells the story of the courageous and determined people who crossed the Atlantic in leaky, overcrowded sailing ships to make new lives for themselves.

Frank McCourt was born in Brooklyn to Irish immigrant parents. The family moved back to Ireland during the Great depression. McCourt returned to the United States in 1949 at the age of 19. McCourt’s two biographies, “Angela’s Ashes,” and “Tis” tell the story of his impoverished upbringing in Brooklyn and Limerick, and his eventual return to America. “Angela’s Ashes,” won McCourt the Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

The most famous Irish American family is undoubtedly, the Kennedys. In his book, “The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings,” Thomas Maier examines the family as exemplars of the Irish Catholic experience. Beginning with Patrick Kennedy’s 1848 arrival in Boston, Maier delves into the deeper currents of the Kennedy saga, and the ways in which their immigrant background shaped their values.

Food is an integral part of culture and heritage. David Bowers provides an introduction to Irish cuisine in “Real Irish Food: 150 Classic Recipes from the Old Country.” No corned beef and cabbage here, Bowers gives readers a taste of real Irish food, such as moist brown soda bread, apple tarts, and rich stews. Included are recipes for Homemade Irish Sausages, Whiskey Chicken and Roast Goose with Applesauce, and a trinity of variations on mashed potatoes Boxty, Champ, and Colcannon.

For the literary-minded, there are an abundance of Irish American authors to choose from with titles available in paper or digital format. To name just a few in no particular order: Raymond Chandler, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, Eugene O’Neill, Flannery O’Connor, Margaret Mitchell, Alice McDermott, William Faulkner, and Ken Kesey.

You don’t have to be Irish American to celebrate Irish American Heritage Month, but there’s about a 1 in 8 chance that you are. Erin go Bragh!

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Reading the Oscars

By Rhonna Hargett, Adult Services Manager

ArrivalEvery year the buzz around the Oscars focuses on the gowns and the gossip, but this long-standing American tradition is really about telling stories. The 2017 Oscars offers the usual spectrum of brilliantly-told tales, with many of them based on books you can find at your library. Let’s start with the biggies, the nominees for best picture.

Arrival is based on a short story in Ted Chiang’s collection The Stories of Your Life and Others. In this thought-provoking short story, a linguist is asked to help communicate with alien lifeforms that have come to Earth. Her interactions with them expose her to a different way of looking at time, allowing her to remember the past and the future. Chiang forces readers to re-evaluate their assumptions of social constructs and see the world in a new way.

Fences, the play by August Wilson, has already won a Tony Award for Best Play and a Pulitzer Prize for drama. The story of an African-American family in Pittsburgh in the 1950s, Fences forces us to take a closer look at disappointed hopes and the legacy they can create. Troy, the head of the family, was a talented player in Negro League baseball in his younger years but is now a trash collector. His disappointed hopes affect his relationship with his sons.

Hidden Figures is based on the nonfiction book by Margo Lee Shetterly about the black women mathematicians who helped the United States move ahead in the space race. During World War 2, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics sought out talented individuals to support the work of their engineers. Due to the labor shortages, these African-American math teachers from the South were able to use their skills to become important contributors to history, even if no one knew about them.

Lion is based on the true story A Long Way from Home by Saroo Brierley. When he was four years old in India, he ended up on the wrong train and was separated from his brother. After wandering lost, he was eventually adopted by a couple in Australia. Even with the love he received from his parents, he was never able to forget his original family. In his late 20’s he was able to use Google Earth and the slight cues from his memory to finally locate his home.

In the foreign language film category, there’s a title that’s had its share of buzz even without a movie, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. A grumpy old man has his orderly world upended when a friendly family moves in next door and promptly runs over his mailbox. In this heartwarming tale, Ove thinks he is done with life, but his meddling neighbors, with their baked goods and sweet daughters, might be able to convince him otherwise.

With words that inspire costume design nominations, J.K. Rowling has come through again in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. A guide that no self-respecting wizard home would be seen without, Fantastic Beasts covers magical creatures, along with their habitats and habits. Although the filmmakers created a gripping story, keep in mind that the book is an encyclopedia. Rowling’s imagination and humor still shine through, even with the different format.

The film based on Ron Suskind’s book Life, Animated is nominated in the documentary category. Suskind’s son Owen is autistic, but he was able to communicate and his family could communicate with him using the songs and dialogue of Disney movies. This is a beautiful memoir of a family using stories to help a boy make sense of the world.

Pairing books with movies is an excellent way to experience more of the world and to go further into the story. When the glamour of the Oscars has faded away, you can continue to enjoy the delight of a good tale, and the library will be here to guide the way.

Posted in: Adult Services, For Adults, Mercury Column, News, Uncategorized, Young Adult Dept

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The House that Healed

By Marcia Allen, Technical Services and Collections Manager

Rise: How a House Built a FamilyNew to the library is a nonfiction book that speaks of unbelievable determination and courage.  Author Cara Brookins wrote the book to chronicle an experience she shared with her four children.  Rise: How a House Built a Family is an inspirational story that you won’t want to miss.

Brookins, the mother of three children, met and married a man who appeared to be an ideal partner.  He seemed to care deeply about her children, and the couple had another child sometime later.  But things began to go very badly.  Her husband scheduled and paid for a conference room for a presentation to which no one was invited.  He repeatedly threatened his wife with murder.  The children learned early to flee to their rooms and lock the doors to avoid irrational confrontations.  Fearing the increasingly frightening outbursts resulting from her husband’s schizophrenia and worried about her children’s safety, Cara filed for divorce.

The dissolution of her marriage left Cara with one troublesome problem: at some point soon, she and her children would have no place to live.  While the mother had a productive career, she didn’t have many resources and she also had a family for which to provide.  That’s when a seemingly impossible solution occurred to her.

Why not take out a small loan and begin building a house?  Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?  But her plans entailed much more thought.  She decided that she and the kids (ages 2-15) could do the actual building, if they had access to advice from building supply staff and if they studied YouTube videos that demonstrated techniques.

And so, the long process began.  She bought a small piece of land, and she and the kids began marking off rooms.  They ordered foundation materials and enlisted help from others.  This after-work and after-school project became a lasting commitment in which each had designated parts.  Their projected deadlines for completion were delayed by rainy weather, warping boards, defective plumbing and routine exhaustion, but they kept struggling to complete necessary steps.

And there were other unsettling setbacks.  Despite the finalization of the divorce, her husband continued to appear at the house the family would soon have to vacate and he would make eerie threats.  Several times, he stalked the family until the police were called.  A restraining order had little effect on his bizarre visits.

There were also other obstacles.  The youngest child, who was a two-year-old, had to be kept safe around the many dangers of the family’s construction zone.  The oldest son, a fifteen-year-old, lost his best friend in a car accident.  Cara had the pressures of her job that had to take precedence over the construction.

In fact, one of the lowest points occurred when Cara suffered a nasty puncture wound to her leg.  Shortly after that, she was struck by some falling lumber which left a serious gash over one eye.  Her son took her to the emergency room where the attending physician believed Cara to be the victim of domestic abuse.  When he told her his suspicions, she replied that she knew all about domestic abuse, but this instance certainly wasn’t such.

As the work continued, something remarkable began to happen.  Mom and kids, all pulling together, began to get past the abuse of earlier times.  In fact, they became quite independent.  Any time they stumbled upon a new home-building task, they did quick studies, and each developed special talents, whether that be putting up wall board, staining cabinetry or running water lines.  Perhaps the oldest son explained it best when he reflected that if you can build your own damn house, you can do anything.

Why read this book?  It’s a testament to individual fortitude you won’t want to miss.  Plus, the start-to-finish photographs of the project are unbelievable.   You’ll want to spend some time reading about this amazing mother and her equally determined children.

Posted in: Adult Services, For Adults, Mercury Column, News, Parents, Uncategorized

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