Author Chang-Rae Lee admits that the first chapter of his book is based upon a tragic event in his father’s life — something so traumatic that his father had never disclosed it — until questioned by his then college-aged son.  The chapter features June Han, an 11-year-old orphaned refugee during the Korean War, desperately struggling to flee the approaching military with her younger siblings in tow.

The chapters often leave the reader hanging, wondering what happened, only to open the next one to discover a new character in a totally different time period. We are later introduced to Hector, a handsome American who enlists to fight in Korea, but then decides to remain after the war to work in an orphanage.  There, his life becomes entwined with June’s and also with Sylvie Tanner, the beautiful wife of the minister who runs the place.  But Sylvie’s story reveals her own scarred and tragic past.

We primarily see June thirty years later, now a successful New York antiques dealer who is dying of cancer, as she reunites with a reluctant Hector in a search for her long-lost son.  As the book spans three decades and several continents, The Surrendered is an epic saga, masterfully written with complex characterization, but also, according to Publisher’s Weekly, “a harrowing tale, bleak, haunting, often heartbreaking — and not to be missed.”

Falling in love in Paris – what could be better than that? How about falling in love in Paris with recipes! Elizabeth Bard lets us tag along in Lunch in Paris as she meets and falls in love with Gwendal, maintains a long-distance relationship (with frequent visits to France), and then at first reluctantly, then whole heartedly, becomes an ex-pat living in Paris.

As a student in London working on her PhD, Elizabeth is able to make frequent weekend trips to Paris to visit friends. Her travels quickly center around food – the sidewalk cafes, the shop with the best croissants, the tiny restaurants known only to the locals. When she begins dating Gwendal, she begins to view meals and eating like the French do – even the simplest meal should be created with care and attention, eaten slowly and enjoyed. She learns to shop like a Parisian, buying just enough food for each meal, going to the fishmonger, the butcher, the farmer’s market for fresh ingredients. Along the way she finds a doorway into the French culture and thought, while gaining new insights into her American heritage.

Bard writes with confidence and wit, unafraid to expose her American learning curve. She is enthusiastic about trying any dish, and an adventurer in the kitchen. Each chapter is wrapped around a meal (or the memory of a meal) that fits the current stage of her life and finishes with recipes for the food she’s written about. While the recipes are mostly French, she has rewritten them for Americans, with ingredients that are easy to find in the US. This a delightful, mouth-watering memoir will satisfy the cook, the foodie and the traveler in all of us.

The Bad Book Affair by Ian Sansom is a light, easy-read mystery is a novel choice for National Library Week.  There’s a lot of dialog (maybe too much at times) but since it takes place in Northern Ireland, I guess it’s reasonable to espect a bit of blarney or wit-repartee.  Enter Israel Armstrong, the primary character, now living in a converted chicken coop, and according to the first sentence is” possibly Ireland’s only English Jewish vegetarian mobile librarian.”

Israel is depressed; his girlfriend Gloria has just broken up with him, he’s about to turn 30, and he’s under suspicion in the disappearance of a local teenager.  Some consider him responsible because (horror of horrors) he lent the girl a book from the library’s special “Unshelved” collection.  Rather than be run out of town, he hops in the library van and does his own research, of sorts.  Israel, in his frumpy cords and rather slovenly ways, is a very unlikely detective, but much of the humor comes from this self-effacing characterization.  This is not classic literature, but book-lovers, especially, will find some good laughs.

You can save an absurd amount of money by bringing in your own lunch – either to work or school.

Some folks report saving $60 per week, which translates to $240 per month.

Other advantages:  It’s healthier, since you’re controlling the nutritional value.  Unless, of course, you like deep frying at home.

Faster, since there’s no drive time or anyone you have to worry about tipping

As a person who tends to pack things the general populace wouldn’t consume, a brown bag is the only option for choice.

Don’t forget the added benefit of brown bagging it — you have the remainder of your lunch hour to sleep off your own crafted super-sized portions.

“In tough times, a librarian is a terrible thing to waste.”

Here at the beginning of National Library Week, let’s pause a moment and think about libraries. What makes a library? Sure, the building is important, and the computers and systems in it, and the books and information it contains. But what really makes a library is the people – the behind-the-scenes people who order the books and process them so you can find them (it’s not elves or magic that does that, but real people); it’s the people at the desks who check out your books or sign you up for that library card; it’s the people putting books on the shelves and keeping the computers up and working (again, not elves or magic – real people); and it’s the librarians at the reference desk showing you where to find that book or digging up that obscure bit of information you need.

Marilyn Johnson has written a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek into the world of libraries – their diversity, their changing role, their struggles in This Book is Overdue! Johnson is not a librarian, just a long-time library user. Her wide-ranging topics – libraries in Second Life, libraries defending the First Amendment, libraries preserving the past, libraries embracing and leading technological innovations for the future – quickly explode any myths about a staid and passive profession. Yet libraries are facing hard economic times, just at the time when so many people need them and Johnson wants to make sure that we don’t let them and what they stand for disappear:

“In tight economic times, with libraries sliding farther and farther down the list of priorities, we risk the loss of their ideals, intelligence, and knowledge, not to mention their commitment to access for all –  librarians consider free access to information the foundation of the information revolution because they level the field. They enable those without money or education to read and learn the same things as the billionaire and the Ph.D.”

Don’t let your library disappear.

Sugar follows the story of Miguel Santos, a.k.a. Sugar, a Dominican pitcher from San Pedro De Macorís, struggling to make it to the big leagues and pull himself and his family out of poverty. Playing professionally at a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, Miguel finally gets his break at age 19 when he advances to the United States’ minor league system.

Miguel quickly finds that he’s not the only superstar at spring training; there are hundreds of highly talented prospects all trying to land spots on one of the team’s minor league affiliates. Despite this new level of competition, Miguel proves himself exceptional on the mound even here, and lands a spot with the Single-A affiliate in Bridgetown, Iowa – the Swing (actually Davenport, Iowa).

In Bridgetown, Miguel is assigned to a host family, the Higgins, an aging Christian couple who live in an isolated farmhouse. The Higgins are devout Swing fans, and every year they house a new young player from the team. They try to treat Miguel like part of the family, inviting him to dinners, bringing him to church, and even encouraging a tenuous friendship between Miguel and their teenage granddaughter Annie.

Miguel’s domination on the mound masks his underlying sense of isolation, until he injures himself during a routine play at first. While on the disabled list, Jorge – his one familiar connection to home in this strange new place – is cut from the team, having never fully regained his ability following off-season knee surgery.

The new vulnerability of Miguel’s injury, coupled with the loneliness of losing his closest friend, force Miguel to begin examining the world around him and his place within it. As his dream begins to fall apart, Miguel decides to leave baseball to follow another kind of American dream. His odyssey finally brings him to New York City, where he struggles to find community and make a new home for himself, like so many before him. –© Rotten Tomatoes

Parts of the movie were filmed in Davenport at John O’Donnell Stadium ( now Modern Woodman Park) in the summer of 2007 with the team at that time Swing of the Quad Cities. Many Quad Citians were in the movie as extras. All the extras were given T-shirts that said ‘Sugar Davenport Iowa Summer 2007’, plus they were paid. The movie first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in early 2008 were it was called one of the most critically acclaimed films at the festival. The premiere for the movie was held April 24, 2009 in Davenport at the Cinema 53.

An excellent little baseball movie that never got its due was Pastime.  Good luck finding it on any “best” lists.  Released in 1991, it is the story of an aging minor league pitcher named Roy Dean Bream seemingly holding on just for the love of the game or nowhere else to go.  Set in 1957, Bream is the only player halfway civil to a humble black rookie pitcher while the rest of the team addresses him as a pariah.

Either this little gem never got released or didn’t have any marketing budget.  Apparently some people other than myself enjoyed it…it won the audience award at Sundance and features cameos by Bob Feller, Duke Snider, Ernie Banks, Don Newcombe, Bill Mazeroski and Harmon Killebrew.

During the summer of 2006, my best friend and I drove to Cedar Rapids very early one morning to be extras in a baseball movie called The Final Season. The movie tells the true story of when Norway High School was about to be consolidated into the Benton Community School District, thus bringing an end to the school’s 19-state-title-winning baseball team. In order to squash public resistance, the beloved baseball coach is replaced by a young whippersnapper (played by Sean Astin) who the District hopes will lead the team to a losing final season. Now, I know you, the reader, probably have two questions in your head right now: 1. Did Sean Astin lead the Norway team to a victory?! You will have to check out the movie to find out. and 2. How does a person go about being an extra in an Iowa Baseball movie? Aha, I knew you would ask:

A Short Guide to Being an Extra in an Iowa Baseball Movie:

1. Listen to local radio stations. As soon as they announce an Extra Opportunity, immediately change all your plans for tomorrow. You are going to be in a movie!

2. Don’t worry  if you get lost on the way to the stadium. They will still have LOTS of donuts when you arrive.

3. Wear only solid colors. You may think that your Iowa Hawkeye T-shirt is totally appropriate for a crowd scene in 1990, but the producer only remembers people wearing plain colors and Nike Swooshes.

4. Make sure your best friend has a spare tank top in her purse in case you forget to follow rule #3.

5. Bring a library book  because the movie will not start filming until several hours after you got your donut (click here to see what I was reading that day).

6. Watch Sean Astin’s every move, and try to figure out exactly how many feet away he is standing.

7. Finally, you get to ACT!  Get your hands on a pom-pom prop as soon as possible.

8. Develop a strategy with the extras next to you. For example, during home-run scenes: hug one person, high-five two people behind you, and then punch the sky. Keep track of your actions for each scene so you can spot yourself in the movie later.

9. Forget to put on sunscreen. Thus, later in the evening when everyone is asking  about the sunburn on your forehead, you can answer “Oh yeah, I was in a baseball movie.”

10. After 10 hours of cheering and reading, decide it is time to grab your free Taco Bell coupon and leave. You are now a member of a very special group that includes, but is not limited to, all the people in the traffic jam at the end of The Field of Dreams.

Only the Ball Was White, inspired by Robert Peterson’s book published in 1970. This film was produced and directed by Ken Solarz in 1980. The film is a historical look at the Negro League, which existed because baseball was a segregated sport until 1947, when Branch Rickey brought Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The film basically covers the official formation of the Negro League in the early 1920s as well as an introduction to some of the more well-known players to rise up from the ranks of the Negro League including Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Roy Campanella.

For someone who knows nothing about the Negro Leagues, this film serves as a nice way to get an introduction to the subject. For more information about the Negro League, you should watch the made-for-cable Soul of the Game and the classic Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, you might be on your way to scratching the surface of Negro League Baseball.

If you want to read about the Negro League, the book Shades of Glory by Lawrence Hogan would be an excellent choice. This book was published by the National Geographic in association with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Baseball’s back which means summer can’t be far behind! While some say that baseball is no longer America’s favorite sport, it’s still an integral part of the American character. This week we’re going to celebrate a favorite combination  – baseball at the movies. Lynn gets us started with a smart and funny film set in the minor leagues.

My favorite baseball movie is Bull Durham. Like the Quad City River Bandits, the Durham Bulls is a minor league team, with a charming baseball park.

Much of the appeal of baseball games in Durham and Davenport, it seems to me, involves the picturesque setting, the promotions, gimmicks, and  tasty ballpark food.

I don’t know much about baseball, but a perfect summer evening to me, is walking from a downtown restaurant or piano bar to Modern Woodman Park. Taking in a game in the twilight, with the lights of  Centennial Bridge’s span in the background can’t be beat.

The Bull Durham stars,  Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and a very young Tim Robbins, were perfectly cast, as well as the rest of the ball players, coaches and managers.

Costner plays a thinking person’s athlete in a baseball film that drops names like Edith Piaf, Susan Sontag and Walt Whitman as readily as Joe DiMaggio and Ernie Banks.  Sarandon’s Annie Savoy is not only an English teacher, but a expert in baseball history and strategy in a movie that can be enjoyed on many levels.