Thursday, August 21, 2014

Books About Birds from the University of Texas Press

When I was in library school at the University of Texas, one of my classes toured the University of Texas Press. It had recently retooled, if I remember correctly, incorporating new automated technology. I remember huge metal plates for printing pages. It was the late 1970s, so I am sure much has changed since, but I was impressed. I did not at the time have the foresight to realize that many years later I would be reading many books published there.

Several years ago I read The Robin by Roland H. Wauer, which is in the Corrie Herring Hooks series of natural history books from the University of Texas Press. At the time, I noticed that there were other books to add to my to-read list. Now I am finally moving a few titles to my books-I've-read list.

The first I read this month was The Cardinal by June Osborne with photographs by Barbara Garland. Osborne describes the seasonal life of the easy-to-identify redbird, starting with January and progressing through the year. In the process, she tells how the species has flourished, much like the robin, as Americans altered the environment. Once the species was a southern bird but now it inhabits much of the U.S. and parts of Canada year round. This is after cardinals were threatened in the late 19th century by people trapping them for the caged bird trade. Luckily legislation in southern states and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 saved them.

While 19th century Americans people caged cardinals for their beauty, they caged the mostly drab northern mockingbird for its song. According to Robin W. Doughty in her The Mockingbird, the master mimic has benefited from human migration as much as the cardinal. The northern mockingbird was also once a southern bird but now is found across much of the United States and has been found in Canada. It is the only member of its genus in the United States; there are 7 to 9 other species (depending on how you define the species) in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. My Texas friends will enjoy this book as much of the described field work was in that state.

I have started reading Return of the Whooping Crane, which is also by Robin W. Doughty and published at the press. I had intended to describe it here, but it is a longer book and deserves much more attention. Look for a review in an upcoming post.

As I get more serious about birding, I may be turning to more titles from the University of Texas Press. Some are a couple decades old and apparently out of print, but they are provide good basic descriptions, insightful history, and colorful photos. They may still in many library collections.

Osborne, June. The Cardinal. University of Texas Press, 1992. 108p. ISBN 0292711476.

Doughty, Robin W. The Mockingbird. University of Texas Press, 1988. 80p. ISBN 0292750994.


Monday, August 18, 2014

I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories - from the Stacks by Gina Sheridan

I see and hear some strange things working at a public library. So does Gina Sheridan, as she tells us in I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories - from the Stacks. I was once asked for "actual true photos from future space colonies." Similarly, Sheridan has been asked for an actual autobiography by a dragon. I denied an odd request to load strange software on public computers from a man who would not reveal his name because he was fleeing his evil mother. Sheridan was approached by a self-revealing undercover cop who seems to have told her so she would not tell others. I could probably recall a few more strange stories, but I could never match Sheridan. She has far more stories to tell.

The trick with telling library stories is confidentiality. As librarians, we have an obligation to respect our clients' right to privacy. Adhered to strictly, we could tell no stories at all, but it seems that we need to tell some stories. We need others to help us understand what we have said and done so we can do better or to tell us we did okay. We sometimes need to prepare our colleagues for encounters they may have. We also need to describe the nature of our work for the benefit of the profession. What better way than through true stories - with identifying details removed.

Most of Sheridan's stories will never be pinned on specific library users, as she recounts little other than dialogue in many cases. The exception is the stories in the chapter "598.2 Rare Birds," which focuses on one unique woman, whom a few people at one of Sheridan's former libraries may identify. Sheridan told Cuckoo Carol that she would be in her book, and Carol did not object.

At first glance, I Work at a Public Library seems mere entertainment, but I think it could be used in classes and workshops for librarians learning how to cope with the hazards of public service. It would be interesting to hear students and veterans describe how they would have handled these strange situations.

It warms my heart to find Sheridan included an index. So few books have indexes these days.

If there is ever a Librarians' Old Folks Home, copies of I Work at a Public Library should be stocked in the check-it-out-yourself library to prompt the old librarians to tell their stories. I'm sure they saw and heard some pretty strange things at their libraries.

Sheridan, Gina. I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories - from the Stacks. Adams Media, 2014. 157p. ISBN 9781440576249.

Friday, August 15, 2014

My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

These were my questions before I listened to My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead, read by Kate Reading:

Would I find a book about a woman's relationship to a single book interesting?

How much of Middlemarch by George Eliot would I remember?

Despite reading several strong reviews and hearing another on National Public Radio, I wondered if My Life in Middlemarch could retain my interest through eight audio discs. The topic seemed rather narrow. I need not have worried. The subject matter as presented is broader than it first appears. I would estimate Mead's book is 45 percent about George Eliot, 35 percent about the characters and events in Middlemarch, and 20 percent about Mead herself. Of course, it is all tied together in such a way that any one paragraph or even sentence could be about all three. The story keeps turning and evolving so that specific topics are fresh. I never wavered in my desire to keep listening.

It has been a long time since I read Middlemarch - obviously before I started a spreadsheet of my reading in 1990 (unless I somehow neglected to enter the book). I also saw the 1994 BBC miniseries twenty years ago. I only remember Patrick Malahide in the role of the cold Reverend Edward Casaubon. Until I looked up the credits, I could not name any others from the cast, though I now see numerous actors that I recognize. Thinking that I remembered little, I wondered whether discussion about the characters would make any sense to me. Again, I need not have worried. Mead introduces the characters through descriptions that stimulate memory. (I don't know how it would be for someone who has no knowledge of Middlemarch.) I remembered much more than I would have thought.

The surprise for me was that the book is about George Eliot more than anything else. At least, that is what I take from My Life in Middlemarch. I think it serves as an entertaining introduction to the 19th century author's life, coming from a scholarly admirer, tempered but still passionate in admiration. I now want to read or listen again to the novels of Eliot. I only see Silas Marner on my spreadsheet. That does not seem right. Surely I have read more. It has been too long.

Mead, Rebecca. My Life in Middlemarch. Crown Publishers, 2014. 293p. ISBN 9780307984760.

Audiobook: Blackstone Audio, 2014. 8 compact discs. ISBN 9781482973532.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Something Out There: Stories by Nadine Gordimer

The late author Nadine Gordimer was thorn in the side of the apartheid government of South Africa for decades. It banned three of her novels about the daily lives of people on both sides of the color bar from publication. Known and respected internationally, however, she was difficult to silence. The world read Gordimer, and she was award a Nobel Prize for Literature.

During the apartheid years, Gordimer produced a constant stream of short stories. Among the best was "Something Out There," a 1980s tale of a Johannesburg suburb living with the knowledge that a wild animal is stalking its pets and raiding its gardens at night. Is it a big cat or some sort of ape? A boy takes a picture of something in a tree that may be the long-toothed creature. everyone is nervous, including a cell of rebels planning an operation against the government. At 86 pages, the tension-filled "Something Out There" could almost be called a novella and may take a couple of sittings to read.

In contrast, most of the other stories in her collection Something Out There: Stories are short and quickly read. Not all are set in South Africa, but most are. Collectively, they paint a stark picture of the cities, townships, and outback of the country that was boycotted by so many individuals and other countries during the 1970s and 1980s. The stories give readers born in the 1980s and later a look at the world before the fall of the Berlin Wall, breakup of the Soviet Union, and release from prison of Nelson Mandela.

Gordimer, Nadine. Something Out There: Stories. Viking, 1984. 203p. ISBN 0670656607.

Monday, August 11, 2014

My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business: A Memoir by Dick Van Dyke

About half way through listening to My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke, I wondered what would come next. I was pretty sure that I had seen Van Dyke in something after the original Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Poppins, but I could not say what. I thought reading about years of his not being in the public eye might be interesting. To my surprise I learned that he has always been a busy showbiz man. I have no idea why the word "Out" is in the title of his book. He seemed to always have a new entertainment project.

Being a Boomer who watched a lot of television in the 1960s and very little after that, I naturally enjoyed the first part of the book the most. Van Dyke tells about growing up in Danville, Illinois, working odd jobs (he was a terrible shoe salesman), and heading to California to comically lip-sync popular songs in night clubs. Getting a radio show in Atlanta led to getting another in New Orleans where he was noticed and then hired by CBS who had no idea what to do with him. As I heard on the audiobook, it all works out splendidly after a few morning wake up shows and lots of car problems.

Van Dyke reads his own book, but it sounds more like he is just telling us what he's been up to. Early on he promises "no dirt" and keeps that promise by 21st century standards. He does, however, bring up topics that would have been edited out if he had written in the 1960s. He is lighthearted even when being frank. He is a good storyteller, and fans will enjoy hearing details of the productions of his famous shows and about his crossing paths with many of his colleagues in later life. My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business was a good companion to a lot of weekend gardening.

Van Dyke, Dick. My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business: A Memoir. Crown Archetype, 2011. 278p. ISBN 9780307592231.

audiobook: Books on Tape, 2011. 6 CDs. ISBN 9780307914323.

Friday, August 08, 2014

The Mayflower Compact by Jamie Kallio

On Wednesday, I reviewed Written in Bone by Sally M. Walker, a book for youth about the Jamestown and St. Mary's colonies. I had ancestors in both. Let's move north along the Atlantic Coast to Plymouth Colony today, where I had some other ancestors. Jamie Kallio, a librarian who used to work with us at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library and now works for the Orland Park Public Library has written The Mayflower Compact, a volume in the Foundations of Our Nation series for ABDO Publishing Company.

Jamie, who has long expressed a love of history, introduces the subject of American democracy in this book aimed at 3rd through 6th grade readers. She sets the stage by telling about the Pilgrims sailing across the Atlantic and how they arrived in America hundreds of miles away from their destination of the Virginia Colony. Recognizing that they were not keeping to the charter that they had been given by the Crown by remaining in what became New England, the Pilgrims and the Strangers wrote the Mayflower Compact in 1620, creating the first representative government in North America.

The title seems a bit narrower than the actual content of the book, as Jamie also tells us about life in the Plymouth Colony and adds an account of the war with the Wamponoag in 1674-1676. She notes that the Mayflower Compact was terminated by the incorporation of the Plymouth Colony into the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691. Jamie includes a timeline, a glossary, and questions for student research. The Mayflower Compact is a useful primer for elementary students or even for adults looking for the basic facts in an understandable context.

Jamie is continuing to write nonfiction for children. I look forward to seeing her just published books about Virginia and Alabama, as well as another about the immigration station on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.

Kallio, Jamie. The Mayflower Compact. ABDO Publishing Company, 2013. 48p. ISBN 9781617837111.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker

Laura in the Youth Services Department at Thomas Ford Memorial Library grew up in Maryland. When I mentioned that I took a trip to St. Mary's County in Maryland to do some family history research, she suggested that I read Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker. A day or two later in the lunch room, Uma, head of the Youth Services Department, saw that I was reading a Sally M. Walker book. She said that Walker is a well-known author of nonfiction for youth and that our library usually buys her books. A lot of hands touched the book before it landed in my hands, for which I am grateful.

Reading Written in Bone is much like watching an episode of Nova on our local PBS station. Walker shows in pictures and explains through text the work and findings of forensic archaeologists uncovering burial sites in two of our country's original English colonies. Her reporting is on the spot down in the dirt. You can almost feel the Chesapeake heat and humidity as the archaeologists brush the soil from the bones of individuals who died in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Better yet, you get to witness how they examine evidence to learn how the early settlers lived and died.

Looking at our library's catalog of books, I see that Walker has written books at various grade levels. I am attracted to two titles similar to Written Bone. Frozen Secrets recounts Antarctic exploration, and Secrets of a Civil War Submarine uncovers another a bit of American history. I am glad to be a big kid set loose in the children's book collection.

Walker, Sally M. Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland. Carolrhoda Books, 2009. 144p. ISBN 9780822571353.