Friday, July 21, 2017

Exercise to Build a Better You

by Selina Johnson, Wylam Branch Library 

We had a wonderful exercise session at Wylam Library on this past Wednesday. Workout Wednesday with Ms. Myra was not the typical high impact aerobics thrashing and pounding of your joints; instead, low impact chair exercises were introduced. Ms. Myra made the session appealing with calming music, simple instructions, and practical information about exercising and health. Working out has not been a priority for me as of late and I had never thought much about this type of exercise.

How much of a workout can you get from sitting in a chair, right? Well, after participating in this chair exercise session I came to respect it as a significant way to gain health benefits. I noticed an increase in my heart rate at about 10 minutes into the session. Also, many of the exercises worked the core muscles. Who doesn’t think that they need to trim down their midsection? Ms. Myra suggested adding barbells if you want to intensify the workout. So, if you are tied to a desk for an extended amount of time at work, you can get an effective workout from a chair.

Ms. Myra teaches participants at the Wylam Branch Library chair yoga to keep them active
and healthy

Exercise is one of the most important things you can do in order to build a better you for your health, but developing the discipline to maintain an exercise routine is never easy. The American Heart Association recommends that you get 30 minutes of physical activity each day which can be broken down into three 10 minute increments. Think about it. Taking the time to do 10 minutes of chair exercise, 10 minutes of climbing a set of stairs, and 10 minutes of walking at a brisk pace some time during the day can make a difference in heart health and well-being. It can be challenging to get exercise into your daily schedule but the key is to find things that are a good fit for you and match your abilities.

Participating in the chair exercise class has motivated me to implement some type of exercise into my day. Starting with small chunks of exercise will hopefully bring about the confidence needed to develop a regular workout routine. I can’t say that I always enjoy working out while in the moment, but after a workout I am focused, de-stressed, and energized. Here is to making your health a priority and to building a better you.

There’s Never Enough Time

by Maya Jones, West End Branch Library

I found myself thinking “I’m running out of time!” during a particularly hectic day at work. I know it’s a common problem whether you are working at work or home. Last week, I also found myself talking to a church member who happens to be a senior and she said, “When I was growing up we managed to work a job, do house work, and be active in church.” I started to wonder how they did it. I came to a conclusion that they must have had better time management and organizational skills. So, this week, I decided to focus on resources dealing with time management and organizing.

15 Secrets Successful People Know about Time Management: The Productivity Habits of 7 Billionaires by ,13 Olympic Athletes, 29 Straight-A Students, and 239 Entrepreneurs by Kevin Kruse
Getting It Together: How to Organize Your Space, Your Stuff, Your Time—and Your Life by Erin Falligant (Juvenile) American Girls Series
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo; translated from Japanese by Cathy Hirano
The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story by Marie Kondo
Organize Tomorrow Today: 8 Ways to Retrain Your Mind to Optimize Performance at Work and in Life by Dr. Jason Selk + Tom Bartow, with Matthew Rudy
Organized Enough: The Anti-Perfectionist's Guide to Getting—and Staying—Organized by Amanda Sullivan
Real Life Organizing: Clean and Clutter-Free in 15 Minutes a Day by Cassandra Aarssen

100 Ways to Simplify Your Life by Joyce Meyer
The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands by Lysa Terkeurst
Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte
What the Most Successful People Do before Breakfast: And Two Other Short Guides to Achieving More at Work and at Home by Laura Vanderkam

Evernote is able to keep and organize notes, speeches, photos, ideas, etc. What I like about the free basic account is that you can send your material directly to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and e-mail.

Remember the Milk is a neat website that will keep your “to do” list for work and personal tasks. Tasks can be sent to Gmail, e-mail, Google Calendar, Evernote, Alexa, Siri, Twitter, and Feeds. Reminders can be sent by e-mail, text, IM, Twitter, and mobile apps for Android, iOS, and BlackBerry 10. This is a free app.

Toggl has a free version of its software and helps you keep track of your time. The paid version helps you track billable hours.

Hopefully these resources will help you keep track of your time and help you stay organized. Then you can say, “I’ve got all the time in the world.”

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Resumes Made Easy at the Library

by David Ryan, Computer Commons

Getting a job is filled with so many frustrating steps. You need a resume, you have to fill out the application, and then there’s an interview. With all this work it almost seems like unpaid labor. The Birmingham Public Library can help lighten the load.

The resume may be the most confusing and difficult part of your job search because it generates so many questions. Do I include that high school lifeguard position on my resume? Do I use the functional, entry level, or chronological resume style? We can help you with these and many other questions. It doesn’t matter if you’re applying for a summer job at Dairy Queen, or a full-time position at Wachovia Bank, the place to begin building your resume is at your neighborhood library, or our website.

All the Birmingham Public Libraries have public PCs loaded with Microsoft Word. You may not know this, but Word has resume templates. If you’ve never used a template, be prepared for awesome. You are presented with a resume completed from top to bottom. All you have to do is write your name, career goals, work history, etc., on top of what’s on the screen. When you’re finished you have a resume ready to print out. How does one find this magical tool?

If you’re using one of the libraries’ public PCs, choose Word, click on File, then New. Notice all your document choices. You’ve got Food and Nutrition, Newsletters, Flyers and (sound of drum roll) Resumes and Cover Letters! Notice how some of the resumes are career specific. You can choose between a teacher’s resume, computer programmer’s, sales manager’s, and others. You’re even given multiple styles to choose from: functional, traditional, chronological, entry level. Just click on the resume that suits your needs, and then click on the download icon to the right. Once the resume is on the screen you simply replace the original information by typing in your information. Of course you can delete or add any fields to these templates. You can even pick the font style and letter size. This is a great, free, way to view different resume styles, and choose what you feel is best for the job you’re hoping to land.

All the Birmingham Public Libraries’ have several databases that will help with your resumes. Go to our website Notice the black horizontal line near the top of the page. Click on databases. Now you’ll be presented with a list of databases available at home, or in your local Birmingham Public Library location. Notice on the left side there’s a brownish rectangle entitled subject list. Scroll down to Resumes and CVs.

First on our database list is Career Cruising. This is actually a database designed to help you choose careers. I could spend an entire blog just talking about the functions available on this site, but let’s just focus on resumes for the moment.

Start by clicking on the find jobs tab. Next click on build my resume. This site does require a registration, but that consist only of you name, e-mail, login, and password. This is a totally different animal from Microsoft Word. This database offers a resume builder. You are asked questions, such as your career objectives, educational history, etc. By the time you’ve finished answering all their questions you have a completed resume! And this database also allows you to pick the font, style, and print.

Ferguson’s Career Guidance Center is a similar database. It has great information on every career under the sun. Ferguson’s even taps into the Bureau of Labor to give you industry hiring predictions. On the front page choose launch your career, below that choose resumes, cover letters and interviewing. On the next screen choose view and download resumes. You’ll find five resumes and CVs arranged by styles. Choose a style; within that style you’ll find five examples. Click download word doc. You’ll find yourself magically transported into Word. Click on enable editing and you’re ready to type over the existing resume to create your own sparkling resume with your name and information. Explore this database. I think you’ll find Ferguson’s is your one stop shop for career questions.

The next BPL database that offers a resume module is Learning Express Library. Go to the search box and type in resume. Now choose great resumes. At this point you will be asked to register. Like the other database they just need your name, email account, and a password. You’ll notice at the top of the page 2 a tab labeled tutorials. Click on great resumes. This tutorial presents you with something like a book or classroom presentation. At the end you are presented with several examples. If you open a Word session you can toggle back and forth between the examples and your own resume.

So, the next time you need a new resume, or need to update your old one, come the library, or visit us online. If you need information on which careers will be hot, come to the library. If you need to find information on how to ace that interview… well, you know what to do.

Jonah, the World’s First Superhero with Down Syndrome

by Lorraine Walker, Five Points West Regional Branch Library

At the end of March, Sesame Street introduced the world to Julia, the first autistic Muppet. Julia’s puppeteer is also mom to a son with autism. She said that it would have been wonderful for her son to have someone in the comic book world to identify with.

The same might be said for Lion Forge Comics’ newest creation, Superb. The comic launches in July and will feature the first superhero with Down syndrome. The National Down Syndrome Society (DNSS) was a full partner in bringing Jonah, the main hero, to life along with Lion Forge, whose slogan is ironically “Comics for Everyone.”

Everyone faces different challenges in life, but these shouldn’t preclude anyone from wanting to be a superhero. Lion Forge president Geoff Gerber said in a statement earlier in the month that Superb is the story of two young people faced with challenges who try to understand one another and what it means to be heroes.

The series is written by David F. Walker and Sheena C. Howard. They used NDSS to help create characters with life experiences that they personally didn’t have. Superb also features art from Ray-Anthony Height, Le Beau L. Underwood, and Veronica Gandini. I realize that the library does not stock comic books, but the topic is so important that we have no problem promoting reading in the fashion.

The cover image is wonderfully vibrant and makes great use of the comic book style to introduce these new characters. It will be interesting to follow the series and see what they come up with.

Registration Open for Free Computer Classes in August at Central Library

The Regional Library Computer Center's (RLCC) August 2017 class schedule is now available and registration is open to the public for the free courses. These classes along with their descriptions can be found on the BPL events calendar, and you may register online through the calendar or by calling the RLCC at 205-226-3680.

Please note that registration does not necessarily guarantee you a spot in the class. You will receive an e-mail confirming your registration for classes. You may also call to confirm your registration.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Gone Girl Read-Alikes

When a novel is as successful as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, particularly when the success results in a film adaptation, publishers take note and continue to provide readers with titles they feel are similar, hoping for the same success.  Although Gone Girl was published in 2012 and adapted to film in 2014, publishers are still releasing books marketed as “the next Gone Girl.”  If you fell in love with the book and/or the film, you should consider checking out the following titles.  Descriptions are from the publisher.

Final Girls
Final Girls  by Riley Sager (7/2017)
Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie-scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to--a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout's knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media's attempts, they never meet.  That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy's doorstep.

Behind Closed DoorsBehind Closed Doors  by B.A. Paris (8/2016)
Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace. He has looks and wealth; she has charm and elegance. He's a dedicated attorney who has never lost a case; she is a flawless homemaker, a masterful gardener and cook, and dotes on her disabled younger sister. You're hopelessly charmed by the ease and comfort of their home, by the graciousness of the dinner parties they throw. You'd like to get to know Grace better.  But it's difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are inseparable. Some might call this true love. Others might wonder why Grace never answers the phone. Or why she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn't work. How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim. Or why she never seems to take anything with her when she leaves the house, not even a pen. Or why there are such high-security metal shutters on all the downstairs windows. Some might wonder what's really going on once the dinner party is over, and the front door has closed.

The Woman in Cabin 10The Woman in Cabin 10  by Ruth Ware (7/2016)
Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea. At first, Lo's stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for--and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo's desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong...

All the Missing GirlsAll the Missing Girls  by Megan Miranda (6/2016)
It's been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared from Cooley Ridge without a trace. Back again to tie up loose ends and care for her ailing father, Nic is soon plunged into a shocking drama that reawakens Corinne's case and breaks open old wounds long since stitched.
The decade-old investigation focused on Nic, her brother Daniel, boyfriend Tyler, and Corinne's boyfriend Jackson. Since then, only Nic has left Cooley Ridge. Daniel and his wife, Laura, are expecting a baby; Jackson works at the town bar; and Tyler is dating Annaleise Carter, Nic's younger neighbor and the group's alibi the night Corinne disappeared. Then, within days of Nic's return, Annaleise goes missing.
Told backwards--Day 15 to Day 1--from the time Annaleise goes missing, Nic works to unravel the truth about her younger neighbor's disappearance, revealing shocking truths about her friends, her family, and what really happened to Corinne that night.

Neighborhood Meet and Greet August 3 at Central Library

Please join us at this "meet and greet" on Thursday, August 3, 6:30-8:00 p.m., at the Central Library to learn more about the exciting programs and technology services available at the Birmingham Public Library.

There will be food and music too! RSVP to confirm your attendance no later than July 31 by contacting Tiffanie Jeter at 205-226-3747 or

Friday, July 14, 2017

Book Review: In Search of Lost Time: Sodom and Gomorrah

by David Blake, Fiction Department Head, Central Library

In Search of Lost Time: Sodom and Gomorrah
Marcel Proust

Oscar Wilde and Marcel Proust were near contemporaries. Wilde was about a half generation older than Proust, but the precocious young Proust entered high society and the literary salons as a teen. Their social worlds overlapped and they had friends in common. Both Wilde and Proust made their first literary marks as exponents of John Ruskin. And, by the time Proust began writing In Search of Lost Time, Proust had seen Wilde, at the peak of his dizzying successes in British society, denounced, imprisoned, ruined, exiled and dead—a martyr to vehement homophobia. No wonder when Andre Gide challenged Proust on the circuitous way Proust was depicting homosexuality in his semi-autobiographical masterpiece, Proust replied, “One can write anything as long one does not write I.”

Proust associates Sodom with male homosexuality and Gomorrah with lesbian affairs. Baron Charlus, a wealthy, socially eminent aristocrat courts Morel, a beautiful, ambitious young musician, much as his heterosexual peers court pretty young actresses, with gifts and promises of future fame. Over time, as the Baron ages, his pursuit becomes grotesque. This affair is mirrored in the young Narrator’s/Marcel’s obsessive pursuit of the even younger Albertine, one of the gang of young girls we met in In Search of Lost Time: In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. The Narrator suspects that the object of his love is conducting secret lesbian trysts even as he tries to be more and more in control of her life and emotions.

Proust was subject to debilitating asthma, but suffered less in the fresh air of the coast. The action of Sodom and Gomorrah takes place on the coast of Normandy, mirroring a happy interlude in Proust’s life when he was young, exploring the coast of Brittany with the beautiful musician Reynaldo Hahn. In Sodom and Gomorrah the Narrator and Albertine explore the coast of Normandy sitting in the back of a motorcar he has hired, a novelty at the time. They attend the literary salons of Parisians summering in manor houses along the Normandy coast, the wealthy bourgeois and the aristocrats blending but understanding one another not at all.

It is said that the character of Albertine is based on Proust’s close relationship with his driver. Even as the reader unwinds Proust’s brilliant, lengthy sentences, one re-interprets the male-female relationship of the Narrator/Marcel with Albertine as male-male, Albertine/Albert, as it were, yet another layer of complexity.

One thing is quite clear, though. Proust regarded the life of the aging gay man with dread. As with the heterosexual demi-monde Proust depicts in many ways, the old and wealthy pursue the young and beautiful to their own ruin.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Free Resume Writing Workshop on July 14 at Central Library

A Central Library patron gets an individual jobs assessment from workshops presenter
Tina Thornton, a professional counselor and founder of Gem Kreations

What: Vocational Readiness workshop series
When: Every Friday in July, August, and September 2017
Time: 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Where: Central Library, Linn-Henley Research Library, Regional Library Computer Center, 4th floor
Details: The series consists of four workshops: (1) Vocational Introduction Readiness Workshop, (2) Resume Builder, (3) New Age Online Application Process, and (4) Interview Boot camp

Is your resume outdated and failing to make you stand out from other candidates? Whether a new graduate or a worker looking for a new job, make plans to take advantage of free Vocational Readiness workshops taking place every Friday at the Central Library through September. The next workshop is Friday, July 14. Click here for a complete list of dates and workshop descriptions.

Besides the improving your resume workshop, other classes focus on a free individual assessment of professional goals/skills to find best job fit, preparing for the job interview, and how to navigate the online job application process. The information is timely for both young graduates job hunting for the first time and adults re-entering the job market or contemplating a career change.

Birmingham Public Library Genealogy Workshop Schedule for Remainder of 2017

Wood-Fruitticher Grocery Company
Jefferson County Ala. Board of Equalization Appraisal Files, 1938-1977
Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections

The Birmingham Public Library’s Southern History Department has been busy this summer helping patrons across Jefferson County gain knowledge on how to research their family tree. Workshops have been held at the Central Library, Powderly Branch Library, Pratt City Branch Library, and Gardendale Library, with more on the way. Below is a list of the remaining genealogy workshops scheduled in 2017. Workshops are free of charge, but registration is requested. Click the links to register through the online event calendar, or contact the Southern History Department at 205-226-3665 or

Mind Your Own (Family) Business – Saturday, August 12, 10:00 a.m.
Did your ancestors own a pharmacy, furniture shop, or other business? Many genealogists know that their ancestors owned or started a business. This workshop will show you how to use city directories, government websites, newspapers, and other sources to learn more about the history of the family business or the company your ancestors worked for.

Family Tree DNA Services and Website – Saturday, September 9, 10:00 a.m.
Explore the offerings of Family Tree DNA, a company that offers hundreds of different DNA tests and that supports them with the most detailed website in the industry. – Saturday, September 23, 10:00 a.m.
Participants will be introduced to the Library Edition database in which you can research your family history as well as learn how to search this database to locate your ancestors.

Google Your Peeps – Saturday, October 28, 10:00 a.m.
What do you want to know about your ancestors? Everything. The Internet is a great tool for genealogy, but are you using it to its full potential? This workshop will teach you how to create a research template and look for details that will help you discover more about your ancestors using search engines, genealogy databases, and a few other, perhaps surprising websites.

For more information about BPL’s Southern History Department, go to or like its Facebook page at

Local Authors Expo and Book Fair Scheduled for August 19 at Central Library

The annual Local Authors Expo held at the Central Library will showcase Alabama authors, including many from the Birmingham area. This year's free event will be held on Saturday, August 19, 2017, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Authors will be on hand to discuss their work, sell and autograph books, and talk about their writing process. Two featured authors, Chandra Sparks Splond (10:30 a.m.) and Nia Mya Reese (1:00 p.m.), will discuss their writing and the publishing process. To learn more about these authors and the expo, visit the Local Authors Expo page.

This event is free and open to the public. Drop by and visit your favorite author, learn more about local authors, and get tips for publishing your work.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Google Insights and Analytics Seminar Scheduled for July 20 at Central Library

What: Using Google to Grow Your Business seminar series
When: Thursday July 20, 2017 – "Google Insights and Analytics"
Thursday August 17, 2017 – "Getting Started with Social Media and Email Marketing"
Time: 12:00-1:30 p.m.
Where: Central Library, Linn-Henley Research Library, Regional Library Computer Center, 4th floor
Details: Free but registration is required

The Central Library will host a series of seminars for small business owners titled Using Google to Grow Your Business. Each seminar will cover a different topic related to Google applications that can be used by small business owners to improve their online performance. The remaining seminars in the series are "Google Insights and Analytics" and "Getting Started with Social Media and Email Marketing." All sessions will be held from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. in the Central Library's Regional Library Computer Center, located on the 4th floor of the Linn-Henley Research Building. The seminar series is sponsored by the City of Birmingham’s Office of Economic Development and Zeekee, a local digital marketing agency. The program presenters will be Zeekee’s marketing and IT specialists.

The seminars are free and open to the public, but registration is required. To register, please contact Andy Mayo in the City of Birmingham’s Office of Economic Development by phone at 205-254-2774 or by email at

Zeekee started in 2003 as a small business and has since grown into a full-fledged internet marketing agency with services that include website development, graphic design, internet marketing and website support. They have developed and supported over 2,000 websites and countless campaigns for their clients in all industries from local startups to international Fortune 500 companies. Zeekee has offices in Birmingham and Fairhope, AL.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Watercolor with Asian Flair: Caroline Wang Art Exhibit, July 7-August 28, 2017

Birmingham Botanical Gardens by Caroline Wang

What: Watercolor with Asian Flair: Caroline Wang Art Exhibit
When: July 7-August 28 during library hours
Where: Central Library, Fourth Floor Gallery
Details: Opening reception held July 8, 2:00-5:00 p.m., Fourth Floor Gallery. Free and open to the public.

"Caroline Wang is a watercolor artist and a retired NASA engineer and researcher. She grew up in Taiwan, and grew up again (culturally) in the United States. She has passion for art as well as science. Having a love for both disciplines, she studied art at the University of Minnesota and received a Master's degree in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin."(artist's website)

Watercolor with Asian Flair assembles original watercolors of landscapes that Wang has encountered during her travels in the United States, the Far East, and Europe. Her watercolor paintings employ Asian brush strokes while retaining a Western visual perspective.

Wang has won numerous awards at state and regional art contests. Another collection of Caroline’s work, Wild Lives in Color, is currently on exhibit at the Decatur Carnegie Visual Art Center from June 27 to August 5.

A fashion designer as well, Wang uses her watercolor designs for VIDA scarves. She was one of the featured designers at the Alabama Fashion Alliance Fashion Show. Her other passions include violin, tennis, and public speaking. She has given many speeches to organizations and schools as a member of Toastmasters International. Through her artwork and speeches, Wang conveys one message: follow your passion and explore all the possibilities.

Thunder Gate by Caroline Wang

Book Review: Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka

by Richard Grooms, Librarian, Fiction Department, Central Library

Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka
John Gimlette

It’s a pleasure to read a travel writer who’s firing on all thrusters. Travel is one of my favorite genres. I’ve read close to 200 titles. After a while, you get jaded, lower your expectations. Along comes Gimlette to restore your faith, let you see why you fell in love with the category in the first place. He’s at the top of his field. Part of his strength is his preparation. He spent three months in Sri Lanka but spent two years preparing for it. So by the time he got there he seems like an old hand. But he still retains a newcomer’s sense of awe and adventure.

Sri Lanka is an island nation just below the southern tip of India. About the size of Ireland, it’s been inhabited for over 18,000 years. 2,000 years ago a mysterious people built magnificent structures there, one so large and sophisticated it rivalled some of the great pyramids of Egypt. This was the Ruwanweliseya Dagoba, one of many dagobas (no, not Yoda’s planet, but probably the inspiration for it) found throughout the jungles of Sri Lanka. They are bell-shaped and house sacred Buddhist relics. To Gimlette, they rise out of the jungle “fresh from outer space.” Like the dagobas, the country is full of the unexpected, such as the moment when the author, exploring another jungle ruin, finds himself under “enormous eaves with several thousand fruit bats, who give a collective squeal of disgust.” Or when he’s poking around the caves of the ancient royal heir Kasyapa. Kasyapa swore a vow of chastity and asceticism, but nevertheless commissioned artists to fill the caves with portraits of half-naked celestial nymphs.

That’s the jungle. But Sri Lanka also has Colombo, the capitol and biggest city. It’s a city that defies anticipation. What you’d expect to find in the center, such as forts and government buildings, are on the rim. And what you’d imagine would be on the rim-a giant lake-is in the center. Elephants are driven around in trucks. Men chop logs in the middle of the street. “Anti-aircraft guns wear little quilted jackets.” A gypsy’s monkey wears the clothes of an Englishman. It’s a city, says Gimlette, that Carroll’s Alice would’ve loved.

As magical as Sri Lanka can be, it is still recovering from the civil war, the longest in Asian history, which lasted from 1983-2009. It seems like everywhere Gimlette looks there are bullet holes. The author well explains the causes of the war-the hatred between the two biggest groups, the Tamils and the Sinhalese-but I still can only half understand how that much hatred ever took root and expressed itself in what was one of the most stupefyingly vicious wars in human history. To be fair, most Sri Lankans can’t much grasp it either. The accounts of the war in the book are thoroughly shocking, to say the absolute least. As if it wasn’t enough, Sri Lanka was hit by tsunami waves in 2004. It was a day of extremes. “The planet itself vibrated by a centimetre.” Witnesses reported seeing the ocean empty as a desert, empty because all the water had been bulked up into a giant wave. By the end of it, about 55,000 had died. Sri Lanka is still reeling from that, too.

But Sri Lanka isn’t just a collection of tragedies. By and large, it does still really seem to live up to now-deceased resident Arthur C. Clarke’s statement that it contains more than anyplace on earth the most attractive ruins, beaches and landscapes. And the most charming people. Tell me, where else in the world do so many people live in treehouses? Gimlette visits a rural area where most everyone goes to the trees every night. Why? To avoid the elephants, of course. That’s when they like to trample through their pathways, and some villages, like the one the author visits, lie right in a pathway. As an added precaution, a local sings “elephant-scaring songs” to keep the pachyderms away. The songs inspire other tree-dwellers to join the singing, and soon “the whole paddy was singing along.” You could see little fires up in the trees where tree-dwellers were living. The songs seem to work, too.

Elephant Complex is full of marvelous events like this. You need them to offset the accounts of the civil war. The elephant pathways that crisscross the interior of the country are little understood and are believed to be ancient. Elephants will not use them for years, and then mysteriously start down them again. To Gimlette they are a metaphor for the complex folkways of Sri Lankans that can never be fully known, not even to Sri Lankans. And yet, despite the war, the mistrust and the plethora of social ills, to Gimlette, Sri Lanka is today “an educated, democratic and essentially humane society.” I could go on highlighting the contradictions unearthed in this book, the marvels and the arresting beauty. But I wouldn’t want to tell too much for fear that you might read this review and feel you can skip the book. You really wouldn’t want to fail to read it. I’ve only given a glimpse of this stunning country. I now want to go there some day. That’s one for Gimlette. Until then, this will make an excellent substitute. That’s another.

Popular Posts