A book I can read inside out and back again

Two things I usually do not like to read about: war and hot places. And yet I found myself picking up Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai everytime I walked past the New J Fiction shelf. I could tell by the description on the back of the book that the story was about a young girl living in South Vietnam right before the fall of Saigon, thus, it was about war in a hot place. Yet, the praise on the back cover also demanded that I “read it slowly to savor the delicious language” and cheer on “a protagonist so strong, so loving, and vivid [that fellow author] longed to hand her a wedge of freshly cut papaya.” I asked myself one question: Have I ever eaten a papaya? I don’t think so, but after reading this book I am convinced that papaya is now my favorite fruit, and that Inside Out & Back Again has my vote for the Newbery Award this year.

This story, told in verse, spends one year with ten-year-old Hà as her family undergoes the transition from their war-torn, unsettled home in South Vietnam to the the unknown and sometimes cruel world of being refugees in the United States. Ha’s environment is something I have never experienced, but her spirit and humor remind me of many of my kindred fictional friends from Ramona Quimby to Allie Finkle. Thus, she enabled me to live a piece of our world’s history that, until now, had really only been presented to me through dry history books or masculine, heated war literature.

Hà’s story in heartbreaking, but not without hope and smiles. An excerpt from Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai:

Quiet Decision

I help Mother
peel sweet potatoes
to stretch the rice.

I start to chop off
a potato’s end
as wide as
a thumbnail,
then decide
to slice off
only a sliver.

I am proud
of my ability
to save
until I see
in Mother’s
deep eyes.

You deserve to grow up
where you don’t worry about
saving half a bite
of sweet potato.

April 19

Writing a love letter to Katie Fforde and her book jackets

I have been wanting to read a book by Katie Fforde for a while now. Why?

A. Her book covers are so fresh & lovely
B. She is the cousin-in-law of one of my very favorite authors, Jasper Fforde.

Very good reasons, but not quite enough to jump to the top of my very long to-read list. Luckily, one of her books did the unthinkable and bypassed the list altogether! I found myself at work with no new US Weekly magazine to read for lunch and there was the pretty, hand-lettered cover of Love Letters staring up at me from an items-recently-returned book truck. After reading just a few pages I knew that I would spend my evening curled up on the front porch with this book.

Love Letters revolves around a bookish girl in her mid-twenties, Laura, who finds herself out of a job when her grandfatherly employer decides to retire and close their beloved bookshop. However, Laura has earned a bit of a reputation for her expert handling of authors at the shop’s popular book-signing events and she is quickly recruited to organize a country book festival. Of course nothing can be simple: the book festival’s sponsor will only supply the funds if Laura can guarantee the appearance of a certain reclusive, notoriously difficult, and incredibly handsome Irish author. So begins the delightful adventures of Laura as she travels across England and Ireland, staying in hip country estates and sleeping in wild authors’ beds. The whole story is very romantic, cozy and lovely–just like the book’s jacket design!

And speaking of the book design, I was super excited to find that the newest editions of Katie Fforde’s books provide information on the jacket’s designers, illustrator and calligrapher! (who are Head Design, Sophie Griotto and Jill Calder, respectively.) Kudos to you, St. Martin Press, for giving credit to the people responsible for me picking up Love Letters to begin with!

Living in a Terrarium World

Did you know about air plants?! Sounds kinda sci-fi, doesn’t it! Also known as an epiphyte, air plants get their nutrients from the surrounding air and thus do not need roots. Cool! They kind of remind me of a miniature, land-dwelling octopus or Thing from the Addams Family. Now here did I learn about these awesome plants? From Terrarium Craft: Create 50 Magical, Miniature Worlds by Amy Bryant Aiello, Kate Bryant, & Kate Baldwin!

I always thought that Terrariums were very difficult to upkeep and required intense calculations to maintain their delicate ecosystems, but Terrarium Craft has since convinced me that Terrariums are my new super laid-back, always stylish best friends. In fact, according to Amy, Kate & Kate, I don’t even have to put living plants in my terrariums if I don’t want to–I could use pretty sands, rocks, crystals, and dried flowers to make super lovely displays. However, they make even the plant terrariums seem easy by using moss balls, air plants, succulents and other easy care plants and arranging them with sweet figurines, geodes, books and costume jewelry to create little whimsical, fairytale-like scenes. I want to live in their terrariums, but, until I find a shrinking raygun, I will just check out Terrarium Craft from the library and make one of my own. It will totally have a geode and an air plant and will be based on that classic Ringo Starr hit, Octopus’s Garden.

Excuse me, you’ve got some Type on your Face

The Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin contains over 1.5 million pieces, and is the only museum dedicated to the preservation, study, production and printing of wood type. That in itself is pretty cool, but there is something even more amazing about this particular museum: a visitor can actually feel, hold, and USE most of the historic collection!

Typeface, a documentary by filmmaker Justine Nagan, takes the viewer into the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum and shows the difficulties surrounding the need of preserving tools that are both part of a dying craft and an increasingly popular artform, as well as the hardships facing museums and similar institutions in the current economic climate. This film really shines when it shows the relationships between the volunteers who are mostly divided into two categories: townsfolk retired from the former Hamilton factory and artists visiting from the big Midwestern cities. The artists are all eager students attempting to learn the endangered-of-being-lost skills of cutting wood type and maintaining letterpress machines, while also trying to use their time to produce pieces of art with the largest collection of wood type they may ever have access to. My absolute favorite part of the film is when one of the elderly, former Hamilton employees displays the artwork given to him over the years by the artists he has helped. Although he seems rather bewildered by the art at first, his brief descriptions of the pieces begin to reveal an increased understanding of the artist’s intentions. Typeface frequently aims to blur the lines between artists and craftsmen, while still highlighting the expertise they provide for the museum.

Unfortunately, the movie ends on a bit of a downer, but a quick visit to the website for the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum shows that things must be looking sunnier (for example, maybe you’ve see the new clothing line at Target made using Hamilton wood type). I know that, thanks to Typeface, I sure am planning a visit!

Geeky Craftsters Will Take Over the World.

The World of Geekcraft: Step-by-Step Instructions for 25 Super-Cool Craft Projects by Susan Beal and Jay B. Sauceda is one of my favorite new craftbooks. What really sets this book apart from the other zillion hip craft books on the shelf is the wide variety of crafts (it’s about time a craft book included fuse beads!) and the cool extras such as the craft designer’s own websites and inserted text explaining the stories behind the geekiness.

Have I made anything from this craftbook? Nope.
Have I still checked it out from the library multiple times? Yes.
And do I really really hope that someday I will make something from it? YES!

Here are a few of the things I wish to make:

•Coraline Mystery Sewing Box by Susan Beal
•Oregon Trail Cross-stitch by John Lohman
•Buffy Fuse Bead Portrait by Shayne Rioux

Super cool.

Some of my other favorite geeky craft books are the The Star Wars Craft Book by Bonnie Burton and The Muppets Big Book of Crafts by the Muppet Workshop

The Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town

The Kids are back in the Hall! Or at least they returned to the hall long enough to make a new 8 episode mini-series in 2008 called Death Comes to Town which is super duper funny and, of course, very Canadian.

It used to be impossible to go a day without seeing an episode of The Kids in the Hall, the Canadian Sketch Comedy show that originally aired on CBS and HBO from 1989 to 1995, and then appeared in constant reruns on Comedy Central and other cable channels. But it has been awhile since I have seen the gang altogether (comedians Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thomson) since they have all been off making other TV shows, voicing characters in Disney movies, and hosting reality shows in their home country, so I was thrilled to discover this new series sitting on our new DVD shelf.

Instead of The Kids in the Hall‘s usual short comedic sketches, Death Comes to Town is a murder mystery ala Agatha Christie meets Monty Python featuring a huge cast of characters/suspects all played by the five comedians. The story takes place in the small town of Shuckton, Ontario, when the town’s beloved mayor is killed in his home just after informing the town that they did not win the bid to host the 2028 Winter Olympics. One of the mayor’s old hockey prodigies, an recluse who hasn’t left his home in decades, decides to solve the mystery with help from the local news team and a bunch of quirky townspeople, all while a Demon repeatedly tries to kill him.

I highly recommend Death Comes to Town for all Kids in the Hall fans and for anyone who likes their humor both a little dark and very silly. And although fans may be sad not to see most of their favorite KITH characters, there is a brief cameo by the beloved Chicken Lady.

My Father said “Marry a Wally”

During my childhood, my father worked hard to educate my brother and me on all the classic family sitcoms of the 1960’s: The Andy Griffith Show, F Troop, Mr. Ed, My Three Sons, etc, but all of his references of the Cleaver family fell on ignorant ears until a fateful Father’s Day weekend when TVLand finally introduced reruns of Leave it to Beaver by airing a whole-weekend-long marathon. I was hooked after the first episode and even popped in a VHS tape to record as many episodes as I could (just in case TVLand decided to be cruel and revoke my Cleaver family privileges after the weekend marathon wrapped up. Luckily they did not, and I have had about 15 blissful years of Leave it to Beaver reruns.)

So I finally understood why my Dad always told me that he wanted me to marry “a Wally,” and I quite agreed for a long time (Tony Dow was super cute). Until I met my husband and realized that hanging out with “a Theodore” was a little bit more fun. I think my Dad is just content that I didn’t fall in love with “a Lumpy” or “an Eddie Haskall” (who, by the way, was the inspiration for the name of my brother’s high school punk band).

My father will be out of town this Father’s Day, but I’m going to have to rent some Leave it to Beaver DVDs (from the library, of course!) to celebrate in spirit. I think I will be starting with Season Three so I can watch a specific episode where the Beave loses a copy of Treasure Island and lives in fear of a visit from the LIBRARY COPS!

Great Philosophers who Failed at Love by Andrew Shaffer

Although Philosophy often intimidates me, I have to be honest, and say that I never have taken the Philosophers too seriously. This most likely stems from my Introduction to Philosophy course in college where my professor spoke constantly of driving his Porsche, ended every sentence with “and I have written a paper about that so see me after class if you would like a copy…” and did not appreciate my brilliant final essay that featured a conversation between myself and a Philosopher-like character who frequently declared “and I have written a paper about that so see me after class if you would like a copy.” (He apparently did take Philosophers, and himself, very seriously…)

So I was very excited when I discovered Great Philosophers who Failed at Love by local author, Andrew Shaffer–now whenever a Philosopher evilly asks me about Dualism just to see me squirm, I can just casually lean against a door frame and reply “Nevermind that, so how is your love life?” Because, judging by the love lives of the Philosophers included in Shaffer’s book, they won’t be able to resist changing the subject to their scandalous romantic escapades. Just how saucy are these philosophers? Here are a few examples:

♥ French Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau apparently enjoyed flashing.

♥ Ann Rand dedicated her masterpiece, Atlas Shrugged, to both her husband and her lover…but then had her lover’s name removed when she found out he was cheating on her (with a woman other than his wife).

♥ French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre liked to call himself a “literary Don Juan” and, at the age of 74, remarked to one of his lady friends that he was currently dating nine women (not counting his long-time lover, Sylvie Le Bon and her girlfriend, of course)!


Although all the tawdry details kept me turning the pages, it is Shaffer’s snarky comments that truly make this quick read absolutely delightful. And the text is printed in navy blue which was super neat and lovely to read.

I highly recommend Great Philosophers who Failed at Love as well Shaffer’s multiple other personalities found here: www.orderofstandrew.com
and here: www.evilreads.com
and here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-shaffer
and here: http://twitter.com/andrewtshaffer
and a few other places as well.

America the Beautiful: a Film by Darryl Roberts

At the beginning of his award-winning documentary, America the Beautiful, Darryl Roberts explains that he had once broken up with a wonderful woman because he had believed he would find someone more attractive than her. Later, when she was happily married to another, he realized his mistake and set-off to make this documentary about what it really means to be one of the beautiful people and how much the beauty industry influences our desires and opinions. Much of the film includes what has been seen before: the truth in image retouching, sex in advertising, too-thin models, etc, yet the film keeps the material engaging by presenting it from the viewpoint of a man who once felt responsible for making women feel unattractive, but is baffled to how and why.

The film’s most emotional scenes are those which follow a 12 year old girl as she is pulled into the world of modeling, treated like a queen, and then called fat and put of a job before she turns 16. We see her sexily strutting down the runway and attending lavish after-parties, crying when her mom won’t allow her to wear a push-up bra to school, treated harshly by her school’s principal who disapproves of the fashion industry, and sadly watch her fall into a depression as she loses her career and her confidence. The film is harsh on the fashion industry, and although I still plan to continue enjoying the newest issues of Vogue, Elle, & Glamour each month, I was surprised and horribly disappointed in the lack of sensitivity displayed from the magazine representatives during their interviews.

Overall, I would recommend this documentary to women and girls of all ages (and men and boys as well) as everyone can benefit from America the Beautiful‘s message that each person’s beauty should be celebrated.

Take a look at the Budget!

It is that time of year when newspapers and discussions of full of budgets, budgets, budgets! Want to look them over? Here are the links to the governmental recommended budgets currently being discussed and voted on by our elected representatives:

United States of America
Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2012

State of Iowa
Summary of FY2010 and FY2013 Budget and Governor’s Recommendations

Scott County of Iowa
Scott County, IA Budget & Financials for 2012

City of Davenport
City Administrator of Davenport’s Recommended Budget FY2012
Print copies available for viewing at all three Davenport Public Library Locations

Need contact information for your local governmental officials? Call, email or text the Davenport Public Library Reference Department:

Phone: (563)326-7832
Text: Start a text message with DPLKNOWS and send it to 66746.
Email: reference@davenportlibrary.com

or In-person: the reference desk is staffed during all library hours