Spring!

Spring! I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to put away the boots and coats and get outside and into the garden! It’s been a winter of epic porportions so let’s move on immediately! Of course, spring in Iowa is famously fickle and might be a bit slow to really settle in. That’s the perfect time to curl up with one of these new books about gardening and flowers. Each is packed with practical information but are gorgeous enough to act as coffee table books. Enjoy!

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Mastering the Art of Vegetable Gardening by Matt Mattus. Prepare to encounter new varieties of common plant species, learn their history and benefits, and, most of all, identify fascinating new edibles to grow in your own gardens. This book offers a wealth of new and exciting opportunities, alongside beautiful photography, lore, insight, and humor that can only come from someone who has grown each vegetable himself and truly loves gardening.

Tulips by Jane Eastoe. Tulips have more than 3,000 variations and their diverse textures mean that they can work anywhere, from vases to garden plots, from romantic bouquets to wedding boutonnieres. From the raspberry swirl of Zurel and the petticoat-like frills of Weber’s Parrot, to the crystal rim of the Mascotte and the flaming petals of the Fabio tulip, you’ll discover a stunning range of specimens to grow, including historical and contemporary varieties.

The Pottery Gardener by Arthur Parkinson.The Emma Bridgewater factory is a thriving visitor attraction and a mecca for lovers of its iconic pottery; but tucked within is a walled garden bursting with nectar-rich, jazzy-toned flowers and hen houses of rare-breed chickens. With seasonal tips on container planting, plant profiles and helpful guides to keeping fowl and flower-arranging, The Pottery Gardener is sure to delight gardeners, hen fanciers and Emma Bridgewater fans alike.

Seasonal Flower Arranging by Ariella Chezar. This lavishly photographed book from renowned floral designer Ariella Chezar provides step-by-step instructions for 39 seasonal floral arrangements and projects that celebrate the splendor of flowers, the bounty of the changing seasons, and the wild beauty of nature in your home. There are arrangements for seasonal holidays, special occasions, or just everyday life featuring tulips, roses, peonies, dahlias, and other flowers that are easily found at farmers’ markets, local shops, or grown in your own backyard.

Dahlias by Naomi Slade. Blooming late summer to the first frost of autumn, this native of Mexico provides explosions of color in home gardens. The author unearths the dahlia from its Aztec origins and imparts practical, hands-on knowledge for growing and overwintering these tropical plants in wintry climes.

Peonies by Jane Eastoe celebrates the delicate palette, sumptuous beauty and sweet perfume of one of the world’s favorite flowers. This lavishly illustrated guide shows how easy it is to grow these bountiful blooms and fill your home with spectacular cut flowers. From the strikingly beautiful Claire de Lune to the frilly, petticoat-like Bowl of Cream, you’ll discover a splendid collection of classics, as well as the best modern varieties.

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check In

Hello!

How is your reading going this month? Have you found something great to read? If you’re still looking, you might want to consider a movie instead. Here are a few ideas.

Ben-Hur starring Charleston Huston set in ancient Rome at the birth of Christianity.

Schindler’s List with Liam Neeson tells the inspiring and heartbreaking story of what one person can do against unfathomable evil.

The Da Vinci Code starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou. Enjoy a lovely if fantastical scavenger hunt through some beautiful churches and archives.

The Handmaid’s Tale with Elisabeth Moss. A chilling look at a future ruled by a religion-based autocracy.

9/11 starring Charlie Sheen and The Looming Tower with Jeff Daniels, both of which examine the consequences of religious fanaticism and the attack on the United States.

Travel Talk – March

Hello Travel Fans!

This month we’re going to talk about movies, specifically the movies that feed your wanderlust. That’s a pretty broad category I think – it could be a movie set in a beautiful place that made you want to visit, or one about a journey that inspired you on your own trip. A movie can be great long after a favorite trip as well, reminding you of sights and walks from your own visit.

To help you get in the mood for travel, we’re going to be showing one of my favorite movies, “Enchanted April” at Fairmount (3000 Fairmount Street) on Tuesday, March 19 at 2pm. Four English ladies escape dreary late-winter England and rent a house in sunny Italy for the month of April. The women, who didn’t know each other before, come from all walks of life and travel to Italy for different reasons – to escape, to hide, to find themselves. There is a bit of intrigue, a little mystery, friendships that grow and blossom but most of all, there’s the gorgeous Italian countryside. A perfect antidote when you’re tired of winter whether you’re coming from England or Iowa!

Other favorites to consider would include Midnight in Paris which is well worth watching both before and after a trip to the City of Light. My Mother and I loved the PBS television series All Creatures Great and Small and included several magical days in the Yorkshire Dales (where the series is set) when we traveled to England. Any Downton Abbey fans out there? A trip to Highclere Castle is probably high on your travel list. Dazzled by the over-the-top wealth shown in Crazy Rich Asians? You might be dreaming of a trip to Singapore. In other words, inspiration is all around us.

Michelle has found inspiration in movies too:

Years ago, I fell in love with Paris partly due to Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless from 1960.  Starring Marshalltown, Iowa native Jean Seberg, this French New Wave crime drama mostly takes place in Paris.  One of the most iconic scenes takes place when Seberg sells New York Herald Tribune newspapers while strolling down the Champs Elysees. 

My other favorite travel film is surprisingly, Doctor Zhivago from 1965.  I fell in love with the movie years ago with its wintry scenes, emotional music, inspiring onion-domed buildings and the all over ambiance of Russia.  This movie, has in part, has inspired me to add Russia to my list of destinations to visit someday.

Now it’s your turn – what movie has sparked your travels?

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The simplistic description of this book is that it tells the story of the burning of the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986, a disaster that destroyed 400,000 books and damaged 700,000 more. But it is far more than that – The Library Book by Susan Orlean is about the joy of reading and learning, the magic and potential of libraries, the people that make sure libraries are open every day to everyone. It is a love letter to libraries everywhere.

The fire itself is fascinating. A perfect combination of fuel (the books) and oxygen (from the unique shelving system that allowed ample air circulation), the fire burned at up to 2000 degrees for seven hours. Most fires burn orange and red, but this fire achieved a chemical reaction known as a “stoichiometric condition” and burned clear, a phenomenon that most firemen never see and is usually only able to be produced under specific lab conditions.

The Library Book also delves into the history of the Los Angeles Public Library including its unique architecture, its growth which reflects Los Angeles itself growing from a raw, untamed outpost to a center of glamour and sophistication, and the colorful people it serves. I found that LAPL’s struggles are often universal to libraries everywhere – incorporating and embracing technology, serving diverse populations, maintaining a collection and, always, budget. Descriptions of many of their patrons and incidents rang very familiar with me, although I have to say I’ve never (and hope never to) run into a patron like the one on page 159!

Hopefully, if you’re reading the library blog, you’re a fan of libraries already and you’re predisposed to be interested in this book but I think  anyone would find this book interesting. Orlean is a masterful storyteller, weaving multiple storylines together, sprinkled with fun ancedotes and real life observations. One of her main thesis is that libraries are the repository of memory and the keeper of time. Not just historical, but personal, that the experience of walking into a library and being able to check out a book holds a certain joy no matter the building. Her stories about her childhood library and visiting it with her mother are poignant and heartfelt prove this belief beautifully and elevate the book far beyond a dry accounting of events.

Read it. You’ll love it.

 

Online Reading Challenge -March

Hello Challenge Readers!

It’s a new month and that means it’s a new theme for the Online Reading Challenge! Will the excitement ever end?

This month our theme is Religion.  Religion can be controversial, but it can also be fascinating. Religion has shaped cultures, history, art and philosophy. Religion influences all of our lives, whether we’re a devoted practitioner or not. You might take this month to read a book that describes a religion you’re unfamiliar with, or a historical perspective of one you are familiar with. Or read something fun and cozy – the choice is yours! You don’t have to choose a book that is strictly about religion (although you can if you want) but look for something where religion informs the story.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

One of my all-time favorite books is The Chosen by Chaim Potok. I grew up in a small, rural Iowa town where 90% of the population was Protestant. Even Catholics were “exotic” to my childish mind and Jewish people simply unknown. The Chosen opened my eyes and my imagination, not just to different religions (both Orthodox Hasidic and Modern Orthodox Jews are part of the story), but to a different world – 1940s Brooklyn, intellectual curiosity and dedicated faith. Beautifully written, this now classic story of two boys and their fathers is a don’t miss. Its universal themes of family, faith, love and loyalty will resonate with everyone.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver follows the harrowing story of an over-enthusiastic Evangelical Baptist missionary and his quest to convert (“save” in his opinion) the native people of Belgian Congo in 1959. Told from the point-of-view of his wife and four daughters, this polarizing book will cause you to question many entrenched beliefs. The storyline is gripping, bittersweet and can’t-put-down.

I thoroughly enjoyed Charles Lovett’s The Lost Book of the Grail, about a couple’s search for a lost treasure. The book juxtaposes the timelines of what actually happened at the English abbey to what Arthur and Bethany are discovering in the present. For fans of The DaVinci Code (which would also qualify for this month’s reading challenge) but with much less torture and bloodshed.

There are several classics worth picking up now if you haven’t yet such as Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin and The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

Prefer something light? Try the Mitford series by Jan Karon about a pastor in an idyllic country town. Other modern favorites include The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving or Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat.

Be sure to check out the book displays at each Davenport library building for lots more suggestions.

I’m planning to read A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell which is about a family of Jews escaping over the Alps to Italy in 1943. It promises to be a multi-faceted look at the Italian front during World War II.

Now it’s your turn – what will you be reading this March?

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – Wrap-Up

Hello Reading Fans!

We’ve finished up another month of the Reading Challenge. How did your month go reading-wise? Did you find something wonderful or was this an off month for you?

I read – and enjoyed – Delicious! by Ruth Reichl which follows the adventures of Billie Breslin. Billie has fled California and moved to New York City, taking a job as an assistant at the beloved food magazine Delicious. At first hesitant and lonely, she soon makes friends from among the colorful characters working at the magazine. They in turn introduce her to the hidden gems of food shops and markets that populate the neighborhood. Out from under the shadow of her sister, Billie begins to blossom and thrive.

However, all is not well at Delicious. One day the “suits” crunch the numbers and decide to shutter the magazine, leaving everyone out of a job except Billie, who agrees to stay on and answer any incoming correspondence for the next few months. Alone in the old mansion that served as the offices and kitchens for Delicious, Billie stumbles across a secret. A secret that might save the mansion and open new opportunities for herself.

Reichl was the last editor-in-chief of the now defunct Gourmet magazine and is a well-known food writer, including having published several critically acclaimed memoirs. Her writing about food and the rituals and joys of eating and sharing food are exquisite. I must have gained five pounds just reading her descriptions! Reichl’s ability to evoke not only the flavor of the food, but the ambiance of where and how it was created is astonishing. Food is shown as a form of love and fellowship, bringing people of diverse backgrounds together.

While I enjoyed Delicious! a lot, I felt that the characters weren’t always well-developed. In addition, there seemed to be an awful lot of mysteries – 6 or 7 at least – which made the book feel choppy. (And, quite frankly, her idea of how libraries work is bizarre!) However, the mysteries were intriguing and I wanted to keep reading to find out what happened! Instead read this book for its evocative descriptions of food and New York City neighborhoods.

How did your reading go this month? Did you find something wonderful? When I was pulling books for the displays this month I noticed that many food themed titles also had a lot to do with family and crossing cultural barriers. Food, good food prepared with care, has a way of uniting us. What did you discover this month’s?

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check-In

Hello Fellow Challengers!

How is the month of February going for you challenge-wise? There have certainly been plenty of snow days which invite lots of cozy reading and movie watching. Unfortunately, it also requires a fair amount of shoveling and scraping-off-the-car time too!

If you’d like some more suggestions for this month’s Food theme, how about trying a movie? There are some great ones!

Ratatouille – Rats in the kitchen is not appealing at all, but somehow Disney makes it adorable. Animated.

The Hundred-Foot Journey starring Helen Mirren. Can two very different restaurants learn to exist across from each other? And even learn from each other?

Chef starring Jon Favreau. A discouraged, out-of-work chef starts a food truck allowing him to regain his creative purpose as well as his estranged family.

Burnt starring Bradley Cooper. A chef who had it all then loses it because of his reckless lifestyle attempts a comeback. A great look at the chaotic professional kitchen.

Food, Inc – A hard look at the industrialization of our nation’s food supply and how it’s affecting farmers, consumer health, worker safety and our environment.

 

Travel Talk – Researching Your Trip

Hello Travel Fans! This month we’re tackling one of my favorite things about travel – planning your trip!

I admit, I’m pretty organized and enjoy the process of research (Hey, I’m a librarian! No surprise there!) and list making and exploring ideas. It’s akin to daydreaming, imagining all the possibilities. Of course, at some point reality takes over and you realize a sunrise hot-air balloon ride or a week at the Ritz is not going to happen. That’s when research comes to the rescue.

Before you get started, decide on a few basics. Know where you’re going (hopefully somewhere that you’re very excited to see), know what you’d like to do there (museums, historic sites, unique experiences) and what time of year you’re going. Have a rough idea of your budget (Ritz or hostel?). Are you going on your own (we’ll talk more about solo travel later this year), with family or friends or with a tour group?

OK. You’ve got a handle on the basics. Here are some resources.

Mango. If you’re going to a foreign country be sure to go to our Online Resources from our home page and navigate to Mango (listed here), an awesome language learning program that’s FREE! It’s simple and intuitive to use and will give you a strong grounding in the basics. It’s always smart to know a few common phrases. (You will need your Davenport Library card number to access Mango)  Michelle adds: After you create a profile, download the Mango app to take your language on the road!

The library. Yeah, you saw that one coming, didn’t you? We have lots of travel guidebooks at the library. While there is a ton of information online, there’s still something about leafing through a book, finding something that catches your eye, or for studying a map. If you can’t find the area you’re planning to visit, check at the desk and we’ll try to find something from another location.

Instagram. This might seem like an unusual place to research a trip, but I can personally vouch for it. Go on Instagram and do a search for your vacation spot and you’re likely to find several hashtags to follow. You can refine your search to special attractions too (#chicago #artinstituteofchicago #thebean). You’ll also probably find the local chamber of commerce or tourism board which are, of course, going to post lots of glamorous photos. For a more realistic look, dig a little deeper and look for people who actually live in the city or country you’re visiting (this will be easiest with big cities like New York or London) Before I went to Paris I started following accounts such as @paris.with.me@everydayparisian @lostncheeseland among many others. @davidlebovitz was especially helpful since he’s not afraid to show the nitty gritty as well as the beautiful all with dry wit. Accounts like these will give you a glimpse of the current weather, what people are wearing, ideas for what’s currently going on. And after your trip, they can be fond reminders of favorite memories.

More ideas from Michelle:

Flight trackers – A good way to find a reasonably priced ticket is to sign up for a flight tracking alert.  I have used Google flights with great success.  You type in your dates and location where you want to go and Google will email you when a fare decreases or increases in price.  With help from Google flights, I recently got a round trip to Europe for $513.00.  The decrease in fares are usually short-lived so you have to act fast.  

Email newsletters – Prior to your trip, sign up for travel newsletters that will provide tips and tricks on a specific region.  For European travel as an example, try EuroCheapo by Tom Meyers.  His newsletter covers relevant topics for a first time travelers and for those who are looking for more out of the way spots.  

Online Reading Challenge – February

Hello and Welcome Back Challenge Readers!

A new month means it’s time for a new topic for our Challenge and this month it’s : Food.

(Oh, this could be trouble. I feel like I’m putting on a few pounds just thinking about all the great descriptions of food….)

There is a veritable feast of choices (haha, see what I did there?) with this topic. Let’s get started with some suggestions.

If you’re interested in fiction try Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate where a woman’s emotions are infused into the food she prepares. Chocolat by Joanne Harris brings more magical, this time to the world of sweets. For something as light and sweet as angel food cake (more food jokes!), reach for Jeanne Ray’s Eat Cake, a delightful story about a woman saving the day with her baking. (Fun Fact: Ray is award-winning author Ann Patchet’s mother!) Like graphic novels? They you must read Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley which sets the standard for excellence in graphic novels.

For many years my number one, go-to, loved-by-everyone book recommendation was Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. It seems like everyone has read it by now but if you haven’t, you’re in for a real treat, by turns (very) funny, heartbreaking and bittersweet, it’s a joyful celebration of community brought together by a diner.

There are lots of food mysteries too including the Tea Shop mysteries by Laura Childs and the Hannah Swenson mysteries by Joanne Fluke.

For non-fiction there’s Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle where she and her family spend a year eating only what they can raise themselves or purchase from neighboring farmers. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell follows Powell as she sets out to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The Gourmet Cookie Book is a unique way to study history – it lists the single best cookie recipe from Gourmet magazine (now defunct) from 1941 to 2009. The recipes reflect things such as food shortages and rationing during World War II and the trend for new and exotic in later years. It’s fascinating!

And it seems like any memoir set in France (A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle) or Italy (Under the Tuscan Sun by Francis Mayes) is going to have large, lovely portions dedicated to the joy of eating.

Finally, the library has a huge selection of cookbooks from exotic coffee-table worthy tomes to practical, simple meal plans. You’ll find a wide range of ethnic and specialty topics, many with gorgeous, mouth-watering photography. (My Mom used to read cookbooks like a novel, reading and relishing each recipe whether she planned to attempt to make it or not.) If anyone should happen to read one of those lovely cookbooks and happen to drop off some homemade cookies or bread or cake to prove that they finished this month’s Challenge, well, that would just be a shame, wouldn’t it?

I’m not the cook that my Mother was (Although I’m quite accomplished at eating! ha) so I’m going to pass on the cookbooks. Instead I’m planning on reading Delicious by Ruth Reichl about a woman who takes over a food magazine just as it collapses. Reichl has written some award-winning memoirs (which would also be great for this month’s Challenge) with gorgeous titles such as Comfort Me with Apples, Garlic and Sapphires, Tender at the Bone and a new one coming out in April, Save Me the Plums. Oh gosh, I’m so hungry now….

What about you? What delicious book do you plan to read in February?