Hearty praise for Bill Bryson isn’t new to the Info Cafe blog (both Lynn and Ann have gushed about him in the past), but he is new to me! The audiobook of At Home: A Short History of Private Life, read by the author, was the first Bryson book I’ve read, and one of the most entertaining nonfiction books I’ve ever encountered on any subject. Part of the appeal comes from the irresistible subject matter: Bryson deals with the everyday, but elevates it beyond the mundane into something fascinating. The greater part of the book’s success is Bryson himself – dry wit that had me laughing and quoting passages to friends, great writing that’s both intelligent and accessible, and (crucially) excellent narration.

No matter what you’re interested in, there is something for you in At Home: architecture, cooking, engineering, etymology, inventing, transportation, medicine, sanitation and hygiene, social history, entertainment, a dash of politics, and mostly, British and American history. If history isn’t your thing, don’t be intimidated – though much of the book deals with historical matters, it never feels stuffy or boring (with the possible, arguable exception of a lengthy chapter on British architecture that suffers from a lack of the visual aids present in the printed book). The comforts we’re accustomed to – bright lights, running water, soap, sturdy clothing, efficient laundry, regular bathing, doctors who wash their hands, and a reasonable expectation that rats will NOT nest inside your mattress even as you sleep above them – these things are all shockingly new.

I particularly recommend this to anyone who’s a fan of historical novels, from Jane Austen through Diana Gabaldon; once you learn about the privy fixtures and habits of cleanliness in the pre-modern era, your reading of Emma will never be the same!

Super-duper seal of approval: after hearing a snippet while riding in my car, my book-phobic husband insisted on taking it off my hands to listen himself!

From classic literature to modern popular fiction, some works of phenomenal popularity just don’t resonate with every reader. When I tried to read Anna Karenina, it was a 2004 selection of Oprah’s Book Club. The title enjoyed a surge in popularity as people revisited a classic “considered by some to be the greatest novel ever written…tale of love and adultery set against the backdrop of high society in Moscow and Saint Petersburg” (quoted from the back cover blurb of the Main Library’s copy). I was not impressed. After a justly famous opening line, the book bored me to death and I set it aside after only a couple dozen pages. It was boring, it was stilted, it was old and it was stuffy: above all, it was long! Most editions finish somewhere between 850 and 950 pages. If you are like me, intrigued by the novel but unimpressed by it, you might like to read these novels instead.

What Happened to Anna K. by Irina Reyn: This steamy novel re-imagines the plot of Anna Karenina in modern Queens. Much like Tolstoy’s Anna, the titular Anna K. seeks an escape from her lifeless marriage in a reckless affair with a dashing young author. This brisk, enchanting novel compares favorably to the original at 244 pages.

 

Dinner With Anna Karenina by Gloria Goldreich: This tender novel of friendship examines the lives of 6 modern women as their book club reads Anna Karenina. As they discuss the classic, they make individual and group journeys toward improving their own lives.

 

Android Karenina by Ben H. Winters and Leo Tolstoy: In this embroidered version, Winters adds to and alters the original text of Anna Karenina to include cyborgs, space travel, and robots, adding a distinctive and imaginative twist to the story.

 

If you want to give Anna Karenina a go, place a hold on it at any of the three Davenport libraries. If the going gets tough, online reading guides may help you get more out of the text.

Iconic movies  about Los Angeles are:

L.A. Confidential, based on the book by James Ellroy. 1950’s Southern California in all it’s noir glory. Three cops are drawn into a complicated web of crime involving prostitutes and plastic surgery. Heavy hitters like Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe are fun to watch, even as the plot gets more and more challenging to follow.

The Playerbased on the book  by Michael Tolkin. In typical Robert Altman fashion, the film is jam-packed with movie actors playing themselves (over 65 of them). Part of the fun is spotting them as they pop up in the background. Tim Robbins is “the player”  – a movie executive who is in constant negotiations with screenwriters and actors.

L.A. Story, screenplay by Steve Martin. One of Sarah Jessica Parker’s breakthrough performances; she plays a bouncy, free-spirit named SanDeE*, who has a life-altering effect on weatherman Steve Martin. Like The Player, this is a satirical look at the L.A./Hollywood lifestyle, though more affectionate and celebratory.

Looking for a good mystery?  We’ve got you covered!

Besides having one of the best website names ever, Stop, You’re Killing Me! is the best place to go if you’re a fan of mystery, crime, suspense, thriller and spy novels. Indexing the works of over 3.500 authors, you’ll find lists of books set in specific locations, during historical time periods, by diversity (for instance, Native Americans or Gypsies or Disabled detectives), by job title (such as wedding planners or pet sitters) and genres (vampires anyone?) New titles are listed each month, including new Large Print and new Audio Books. And there are extensive lists of mystery book award nominees and winners.

This site is fairly minimal – no fancy graphics or distracting ads. Titles are linked to amazon.com for further information (and where you can find a picture of the book cover), but this is mostly a presentation of lists, brief descriptions and links. It’s up to you to uncover your next favorite mystery – and with these tools, it should be an open and shut case!

Here’s our next tip for help in finding your next great read!

EarlyWord is the place to go to keep up with the latest in book news – what’s moving up the bestseller lists, award nominees and winners, forthcoming books with buzz, what book is being made into a movie. The emphasis is on connecting libraries to the publishing world, so you’ll also find reports on books that are showing a lot of reserves at a cross-section of libraries across the country, but this blog is packed with interesting and helpful information for any book lover.

The co-founders of EarlyWord – Nora Rawlinson and Fred Ciporen – each have strong ties to both the publishing and library worlds, but the tone of this blog is far from stuffy or academic. There’s a lot of humor and opinions but no snobbishness. Frequent postings – often 2 to 3 a day – keep things lively and current. With the end of the year approaching there has been a lot of information on award winners and “best of the year” lists with links to reviews for the big winners.

There are also links galore to all things book-related – publisher catalogs, book awards of all kinds, lists of “best” books from various publications, best seller lists, coming soon and previews, movies based on books (both finished films and those in various stages of production) including links to trailers for these movies. The “Consumer Media, Book Coverage” section will point you to that book you heard about on NPR last night, or the author Jon Stewart talked to last week.

Count on EarlyWord to entertain and inform – and to steer you to some great new books.

Ever wonder how other readers find great books? What sources do they search, what fount of wisdom to they consult? Contrary to popular myth, librarians do not get to sit around all day and read (if only!!) We’re looking for our next great read, just like you. So we’re introducing a new series of blog posts that will help you find the books you want to read – books, magazines, blogs (other than our very own Info Cafe, of course) that will point you in the right direction. First up: a sure fire winner from everyone’s favorite famous librarian.

The third title in Nancy Pearl’s growing series of what to read (after Book Lust and More Book Lust) is the newly published Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds and Dreamers. Whether you’re a globe-trotting enthusiast or prefer to dream about other lands, Book Lust to Go will satisfy your wanderlust (Nancy owns up to being a determined non-traveler herself) Using the same format as her earlier books, topics are arranged in short, pithy chapters, with brief descriptions of recommended titles plus a few choice quotes to entice you into picking up a title. Subjects range from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, Texas to Tibet and include modes of transportation (hiking, walking, trains) and even a chapter cautioning on the hazards of travel (“It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time”) Coverage is idiosyncratic, covering countries, cities (Berlin, LasVegas), regions (Chesapeake Bay, Appalachia, Cornwall) and states (Ohio, Nebraska, Wyoming but sadly, no Iowa) There are some curious omissions but Nancy points out that many travel subjects and titles may have already been covered in her earlier books. You certainly won’t lack for interesting and exciting travel reading with just this book whether you’re planning your next adventure, or planning to sit comfortably by the fire and read about the adventures of others.

Nancy is a regular contributor NPR Morning Edition (usually airing on Fridays) where she always has interesting book recommendations. You can also follow her via her blog at NancyPearl.com where she has in-depth descriptions of her recommended titles, links to her NPR segments and access to the Book Lust Shop where you can buy her titles or a librarian action figure – and who doesn’t need one of those?

Watch for more Book Watch entries in the weeks to come!

The title of The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman is indicative of the book’s style. The cookbooks in question aren’t introduced until well into the story, and is just one of several plotlines. The book has been compared to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility but I get a Dicken’s vibe, myself. There is an abundance of characters; many of them quite eccentric. There is also a sense that, in this book and for these characters, morality is an actual consideration in how they conduct themselves and the choices they make.

Two sisters are contrasts in lifestyle and general philosophy. Jess, the younger sister, is a free spirit, environmentalist, and perennial student.  Emily is the CEO of a computer startup company (this being the late ’90’s and San Francisco).

Romantic tension abounds between Jess and her boss, the owner of a used and rare book store; they argue about everything –  books, authors and whether books should be collected and owned or shared (via the public library system!). The dialogue between these two is witty and erudite, but not pompous.

Book lovers, library users and patrons of book stores, will all find something in The Cookbook Collector to chew on.

Some of today’s most popular movies and television series started off as books.  Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris is a mystery starring Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic barmaid from Bon Temps, Louisiana.  The story takes place after vampires have made their existence known to the world and are beginning to be accepted into mainstream society in America.  One night at work, Sookie’s dream comes true and a vampire named Bill walks into the bar.  After rescuing Bill from a couple attempting to drain his blood, Sookie and the vampire embark on a romance and Sookie learns that there are many more interesting creatures in this world than she ever knew of before.  If you like vampire novels with a splash of romance and mystery, this book is for you.  It’s an entertaining bit of light reading that will force you to leave the comfy confines of your home and race back to the library for the sequel.

Following the success of this book and its sequels, HBO adapted it into a television series.  Starring Anna Paquin as Sookie, True Blood: The Complete First Season follows the events of Dead Until Dark.  The main storyline remains the same, with Sookie and the residents of Bon Temps trying to figure out who is murdering local women.  Not everything is exactly the same as the book:  characters who are minor in the novel are given their own important storylines (with Sookie’s brother Jason becoming addicted to vampire blood), and characters who don’t appear until later novels are transplanted into this first season and are given new personalities (like Tara and her new “don’t take any you-know-what” attitude).

Personally, I enjoyed the book much more than the TV series.  While the HBO series was spot-on concerning the main events of the novel, the changes that were made from what was originally in the book didn’t seem fitting to me.  However, the casting is excellent and most of the characters are exactly as I saw them in my head while reading the book.  My only other complaint is that I am a bit squeamish, and due to the graphic nature of the show, some of the scenes were a little hard to watch.  But overall, reading the bok and watching the show are both fun escapes from reality.

But enough about what I think.  Which did YOU enjoy more:  the book, or the DVD?

Are you on your way to a dinner party where you know people will be dropping the names of hot new authors? And you barely have time to skim the newspaper, let alone devour big, fat sagas the way you used to do?

Well, look no further than www.earlyword.com. It’ll give you quick reviews of popular and notorious books, movies based on books, books featured on Oprah, Comedy Central, etc.  It even forecasts “Major Titles on Sale in the Coming Week,” (no one can blame you for not reading what hasn’t even hit the shelves yet!)

A favorite of librarians, Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust reviews are featured prominently.

In the Book Group link, you’ll find information about authors available for book group discussions by phone.

Can’t remember the book everyone is suddenly talking about? You can quickly check the New York Times Bestsller lists.

*Motto of Newsweek’s book reviewer. “You love reading newsy nonfiction, but you just don’t have the time. We get it, and we’re here to help. Give us five minutes, and we’ll give you the whole book—the big ideas, the best bits, the buzziest details. And you’ll get hours of your life back…”

“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.