Monday, July 04, 2016

Birmingham Public Library Closed July 4


All Birmingham Public Library locations will be closed Monday, July 4, in observance of Independence Day. The Birmingham Public Library wishes everyone a safe and fun 4th of July!

Friday, July 01, 2016

BPL Seeking Public Input to Help Better Serve Library Patrons in Birmingham

The Birmingham Public Library is in the process of developing a new strategic plan to help its 19 library locations better serve the citizens of Birmingham. This very important document establishes priorities for our library system and guides the provision of programs and services.

Citizen input is very important to this process. Please take a few moments to provide your thoughts and feedback by completing the short survey found at the following link below:

http://vantageassociates.com/BPL/SvyForm.asp

Book Drive to Replenish Little Free Libraries in Birmingham Set for July 2 at Central Library


The Birmingham Public Library (BPL)’s downtown location is hosting a book drive on Saturday, July 2, to help replenish The Little Free Libraries located in community parks across the City of Birmingham.

You can donate new and gently used books for kids ages 3 to 16 this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the lobby of the Central Library. The book drive is being offered in partnership by GPS Educational Services, which distributes The Little Free Libraries, along with the BPL and the City of Birmingham.

The book drive is designed to help GPS Educational Services achieve its goal of improving literacy by providing new books for youth, said Carnelle Howell, director of community partnerships for GPS Educational Services. It is taking place in the middle of GPS Educational Services’ 100-day campaign to distribute books across Birmingham, and as BPL’s 19 libraries throughout the city host over 500 activities as part of its 2016 Summer Reading program.

GPS Education Services has books in The Little Free Library locations in Maclin Park in Collegeville, Crestwood Park, Central Park, and Cooper Green Park, Howell said. “We go in communities and schools throughout Birmingham teaching kids the importance of reading,” he said.

For more information on GPS Educational Services, go to www.gpsedservices.com or contact Howell at (205) 203-8789 or e-mail chowell@gpsedservices.com.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Who Uses Microfilm Anyway?

As you read that title, you may be asking yourself these questions: “What is microfilm?” Or, “The library still has microfilm as I haven’t used that since I was in elementary school?"

Microfilm
A reel of microfilm

Microfilm is the most popular type of microforms. It is created as a camera takes a picture of an item, reduces the size of the image, and it is printed on film. This film is considered a preservation standard, and it will last 500 years. Birmingham Public Library (BPL) has an amazing Microforms collection totaling 700,000 items, and you might be thinking that no one uses this obsolete medium anymore. Patrons use on average over 700 items a month, and this is the only way patrons can access older editions of local newspapers. The Microforms and Government Documents staff created an obituary index to help patrons located the obituary of a deceased ancestor, as most of the Birmingham newspapers are not indexed until the 1970s. Each month, they add new entries, and it is an ongoing project. BPL’s obituary index averages over 9,000 hits a month.


Digital Microfilm Scanner
New Viewscan III Digital Microfilm Scanner

Over time with high use, our equipment used to read and print microforms has become worn out, and we applied for a major grant from the Alabama Public Library Service that administers Alabama’s allocation of federal money received through the Library and Science and Technology Act. With the grant money, we purchased three Viewscan III digital microfilm scanners. The image quality is unparalleled, and you can touch up images to make them even better. Besides printing, you can save your images to a flash drive in the following formats (JPEG, PDF, TIFF, and PNG). The answer to the question about who uses microfilm is our patrons. Come and try the new digital microfilm scanners out today!

Laura Gentry
Southern History Department
Central Branch

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

New Urban Fiction

Urban Fiction has become one of the most requested genres at the library.  Raw, gritty, urban stories featuring tough African American characters trying to survive by any means necessary.  The novels are like hip-hop songs in prose form.  If you can’t wait to get your hands on the latest titles, here’s a sample of new summer releases.  Descriptions are from the publisher.

I Can Touch the Bottom
I Can Touch the Bottom  by Michel Moore 
When he is released on parole, Stackz wants nothing more than to mind his own business and rebuild his empire. However, when he is forced to kill again, he links up with Ava, an eyewitness to the scene unfolding before the slaughter of her sister's boyfriend. Having one major thing in common murder the pair becomes inseparable, hoping love can conquer all. Their belief that they can live a happily-ever-after existence is soon shattered when his victim's crew wants the ultimate revenge:  They want Stackz's life, and they'll take Ava's as well if she gets in the way.


The Cartel 6: The Demise
The Cartel 6: The Demise  by Ashley & JaQuavis 
Las Vegas. A city built on obscene wealth and corrupt deals, cunning entrepreneurs, and the ruthless mob. The Cartel's plan to open a casino will rake in cash, but comes with great sacrifice. The stakes have never been this high, and rules of the game have never been this hard to manipulate. And when one dead girl, one scorned wife, and one hole in the desert launch a chain of catastrophic events, The Cartel is sent on a downward spiral as they battle the Arabian mob and fight traitors within their circle. Will the Cartel prevail...or fall victim to the city's black cloud? And if there's one rule in the town of Vegas, it's that when the dust settles, there can only be one winner.

Carl Weber's Kingpins: Oklahoma City
Carl Weber’s Kingpins: Oklahoma City  by Clifford Johnson
The Kingpins of Oklahoma City, one from the north side and one from the south side, push pounds of weed, gallons of PCP, and kilos of cocaine through the corridors of the OKC, using very different methods to keep their people in line. King is the leader of the north side crew. Along with his protégé, Tippi, he runs his crew with deadly force. Each member knows there is no room for error when it comes to getting money on the north side. Flamboyant, the leader of the south side crew, is the opposite. His crew is tight out of loyalty, not fear.  Everything goes awry when Flamboyant’s woman, Shayla, becomes torn between her current man and the one who used to rule her universe—King.

Power Couple
Beyoncé and Jay-Z; Brad and Angelina; and Kanye and Kim. Though “power couple” is a fairly new term, there is nothing new about the world’s fascination with famous pairings. Curiosities about coupled super achievers date back as far as Cleopatra and Marc Anthony. Now, celebrity chef Cori Brown and her former NFL star husband Maverick join the pantheon of power couples in this steamy contemporary romance from bestselling author Allison Hobbs. When Cori, a media darling, finds herself embroiled in sex scandal, her loyal fans and the tabloids viciously turn on her. Even her pro football player husband isn’t safe, and Maverick finds himself being dragged through the mud along with her.

Powderly Library Proud to House Bloody Sunday Commemorative Painting

DNA Ingrained by Steven R. Skipper

The Powderly Branch Library is very proud to have a limited edition print of Steven R. Skipper's DNA Ingrained displayed in its meeting room. Skipper visited the Powderly Library on October 16, 2015, to donate the framed print. The painting includes scenes of the attack on civil rights marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and it also pays tribute to other heroes in the civil rights movement.

After the movie Selma was nominated for an Academy Award, Skipper did some research and discovered that there was no art work honoring the marchers on Bloody Sunday. With this in mind, he wanted to pay honor to the marchers, and thus the painting was created. The title of the painting means “the DNA of our ancestors is ingrained in the concrete on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.” This is a beautiful painting with a deep, historical meaning.

Hugh Hardy
Powderly Branch Library

Recognize and Prevent Heat Exhaustion/Stroke with These Tips


Summer is upon us all again. As we all have just experienced the summer solstice and the beginning of summer’s heat, a few tips and warning signs to keep in mind when out in the sun.

From the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when the body suffers from extreme heat, damage may occur to the brain or other vital organs. Individuals who are more susceptible to heat are the elderly, youth (0-4 years old), those who are overweight, those who have a fever, those who are dehydrated, those who have heart disease, those who have mental illness, those who have poor circulation, those who have sunburn, and those who use prescription drugs or alcohol.

Illnesses that are related to heat are the following:
Heatstroke: a life-threatening illness in which body temperature may rise above 106° F in minutes; symptoms include dry skin; rapid, strong pulse; and dizziness.

Heat exhaustion: an illness that can precede heatstroke; symptoms include heavy sweating, rapid breathing, and a fast, weak pulse.

Heat cramps: muscle pains or spasms that happen during heavy exercise.

Heat rash: skin irritation from excessive sweating.

What you should do when these happen:

If you exhibit the following symptoms:
  • Heavy sweating
  • Weakness
  • Cold, pale, and clammy skin
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting
You are exhibiting the signs of heat exhaustion.

Then you should do the following:
  • Move to a cooler location
  • Lie down and loosen your clothing
  • Apply cool, wet cloths to as much of your body as possible
  • Sip water
If you have vomited and it continues, seek medical attention immediately.

If you exhibit the following symptoms:
  • High body temperature (above 103° F)*
  • 104° F taken rectally is the most accurate.
  • Hot, red, dry or moist skin
  • Rapid and strong pulse
  • Possible unconsciousness
You are exhibiting signs of heat stroke.

Then you should do the following:
  • Call 911 immediately – THIS IS A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.
  • Move the person to a cooler environment
  • Reduce the person’s body temperature with cool cloths or even a bath
  • Do NOT give fluids

Hopefully, none of us will experience these illnesses, but if you do, you know what to do now.

For more information on medically-related information, please consult Birmingham Public Library’s health-related databases at http://www.bplonline.org/virtual/databases/default.aspx?p=2&q=13#db or visit your local branch.

Samuel Rumore
Springville Road Regional Branch Library

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Birmingham Public Library Storytellers Entertaining Hundreds of Children This Summer

Fontaine Alison and Candice Hardy perform in Take Me Out to the Game

Storytellers play a vital role at the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) throughout the year, spreading the joy of reading to thousands of kids at schools, churches, and in many of the 19 libraries across the city. They are very active at many of BPL’s 500-plus summer reading programs this year.

On June 21 at the Wylam Branch Library during a program called Take Me Out to the Game, Five Points West Regional Branch Library storytellers Candice Hardy and Fontaine Alison entertained kids from Faith Chapel Christian Center summer camp as they told the story of an alligator who wanted to join fellow animals in a game of baseball. With Alison holding an "alligator" and campers playing the role of animals such as a skunk and parrot, Hardy recited a tale of a baseball game like no other, soliciting laughs.

At Southside Branch Library on June 3 and June 17 respectively, Avondale storyteller Cassandra Scott (Ms. Cas) generated laughter from toddlers attending a program called On Your Mark, Get Set…Whee, while Eve Parker (Mrs. Eve) shared her version of wacky tales that have made her popular in a presentation called On Your Mark, Get Set…Wacky!

Ms. Cas entertaining children with On Your Mark, Get Set...Whee

BPL Northern region storyteller Myra Gentry entertained kids at the Pratt City Branch Library on Tuesday, June 28, at a program called Ready, Set, Read and Laugh. Meanwhile, Marie Nash, the storyteller for the North Avondale Branch Library, provides storytime for the North Avondale and Kingston communities, reading to kids at area schools, churches, and daycares, said branch manager Saundra Ross.

Hardy, a full-time storyteller and library assistant at the Five Points West Regional Branch Library since 2011, said she gets a joy out of sharing stories with kids in Birmingham. Besides participating in various summer reading programs, Hardy will be busy over the next few weeks entertaining kids at the following activities: Family Movie Night at the Five Points West Library on June 28, and July 12 and 26; a Family Night program on July 19; In the Zone Five Points West on June 28 and July 12, In the Zone Wylam on July 5, In the Zone Smithfield on July 6, and In the Zone West End on July 7.

All programs provided (free of charge) are 30-45 minutes long outside the movie night, and include interactive stories and songs for all ages. “These interactive storytimes were designed to create overall crowd participation and to encourage leisure readers,” Hardy said. “We love what we do here at Five Points West.”

Here is a listing of remaining storytime programs for kids taking place for the remainder of BPL Summer Reading. See the full schedule online at http://www.bplonline.org/calendar/:

Avondale Regional Branch Library
Time for Tales – Thursday mornings through July 14 at 9:30 a.m.; 24-hour advance registration required. Preschool storytime with stories, songs and fun. Groups welcome.

Tot Time with Mrs. Eve – Monday mornings at 10:30 a.m.; 24-hour advance registration required. Storytime designed for 2-4 year olds with a parent or caregiver; no groups. Includes stories, songs, and crafts.

On Your Mark, Get Set…Wacky – June 29 at 2:00 p.m.;  24-hour advance registration required. An action-packed afternoon of wacky stories and fun with Mrs. Eve doing the telling.

On Your Mark, Get Set…Whee! – July 6 at 2:00 p.m.; 24-hour advance registration required. Join Ms. Cas for a delightful, super, spectacular, fantastic, astonishing, awesome-filled afternoon of adventure, stories, and fun.

Family Nights – held every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.; 24-hour advance registration required. July 5 is a talent show, July 12 a final party.

Central Library
Action Storytime – July 11 at 10:00 a.m. Action-packed storytime that exercises minds and bodies for the summer.

East Lake Library
Elephant and Piggy Adventures – June 30, 10:00 a.m. Come see your favorite characters from Mo Willems’ beloved series. Gerald and Piggie are sure to tickle your funny bone with silliness galore.

Five Points West Regional Branch Library
In the Zone – July 12 at 10:00 a.m. Get your head “In the Zone” for these exciting sports stories.

North Birmingham Regional Branch Library
Minions of Reasons to Read – July 7 at 10:30 a.m. The life of a Minion. The North Birmingham storytellers have the scoop on one particular minion that you need to meet. Bananas, stories, bananas, music, bananas, fun? Hoopla!

Powderly Branch Library
In the Zone – July 18 at 10:00 a.m. Get your head “In the Zone” for these exciting sports stories.

Smithfield Branch Library
In the Zone – July 6 at 10:00 a.m. Get your head “In the Zone” for these exciting sports stories.

Springville Road Regional Branch Library
If You ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don’t – June 29 at 10:00 a.m. Never make the mistake of bringing an alligator for show and tell at your school. Join us for an alligator-themed storytime complete with stories, songs, and crafts.

West End Branch Library
In the Zone – July 7 at 11:00 a.m. Get your head “In the Zone” for these exciting sports stories.

Wylam Branch Library
In the Zone – July 5 at 10:00 a.m. Get your head “In the Zone” for these exciting sports stories.

Southern History Book of the Month: House Detective: A Guide to Researching Birmingham Buildings

House Detective: A Guide to Researching Birmingham Buildings
Ann McCorquodale Burkhardt
Edited by Alice Meriwether Bowsher

So you’ve bought a historic house—or one you think is historic. It’s old. It has interesting architecture. It’s chock-full of “vintage” details and the neighbors talk about the people who used to live there, all the way back to your great-grandparents’ time. You decide you want to find out more about the history of your house or possibly obtain a historical plaque or marker for it. But how do you start? With House Detective!

For such a small book (less than 60 pages), House Detective is full of information about how to research your home’s history and is one of the Southern History Department’s most frequently-consulted sources. It began as a brief work assignment for Burkhardt:
. . . Go downtown, look through the holdings of the library, the courthouse, and City Hall, and determine which records would be useful in researching Birmingham buildings and neighborhoods. Then-BHS [Birmingham Historical Society] Executive Director Alice Bowsher envisioned a two-to-three page summary of my findings. What in fact resulted was this book.
House Detective works well as what I like to call a “browse” book. After you read the introductory material, you can skip around and read the chapters out of order, then zero in on the ones that seem most pertinent to your research. You may or may not be interested in some of the recommended sources, and others may look like they have just what you need. Ask yourself some questions about what you’re trying to find out or prove or accomplish. Figure out how much time you want to spend. It may take more time than you planned, but you could discover some wonderful details in the process.

Some of the information sources covered in the book include probate court records, property tax records, the special collections of the Birmingham Public Library, and City Council records. Here’s an example of a mechanic’s lien from the Property sources chapter:
If you are so lucky to find a mechanic’s lien on your property, the record could be a gold mine, as it can provide a construction date for the house and a detailed inventory of items purchased for it.

Example: A 1914 lien claimed on the property of Mr. B______ by Bynum Hardward Co. listed over 50 items purchased for his new apartment building, a few of which were:

29 windows 30x30 11/1check
2 pr . Sliding Door Astragals
4 Mirror Doors
8 Sash/1 light Florentine glass
Details like these can flesh out your research and give you a better picture of the original structure and appearance of your house, which may have undergone some changes over the years.

There is also a long list of resources available in our Birmingham Public Library collections. These include (but are not limited to) the old Birmingham City Directories in the Southern History Department, the Board of Equalization Records in the Archives Department, old newspaper records in the Microforms room, as well as various periodicals and books—such as House Detective, which is available at some of the municipal libraries of Jefferson County as well. Since this book was first published in 1988, some of the library departments have slightly different names now, but any member of our staff will be glad to help you find the area you need. If you’re curious about the history of your house, stop in for a look at House Detective.

And don’t miss the upcoming presentation from our Archives Department:
Every House Has a History: Researching Birmingham Area Houses, Buildings, and Churches

For more information on Birmingham area house and building research:
Jefferson County Historical Commission: The Historic Marker Program

Birmingham Historical Society

A Guide to Architectural Styles featuring Birmingham Homes

Landscape of Transformations: architecture and Birmingham, Alabama

Mary Anne Ellis
Southern History Department
Central Library

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Tickets Still Available at All Birmingham Public Library Locations for Free June 24 Teen Tailgate Party for Ages 11-17


The Birmingham Public Library (BPL) is excited to host Score Big with the Cotchery Foundation, a summer reading tailgate party at the Central Library.

Jerricho Cotchery, a graduate of Phillips High School in Birmingham and veteran NFL receiver, has teamed up with BPL to host yet another amazing series of events promoting the 2016 BPL Summer Reading program. Qualified "Get In The Game, Read” participants age 11-17 will have the opportunity to attend a free teen tailgate party at the Central Library on Friday, June 24, 2016, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Teens can pick up free tickets in advance at any of Birmingham’s 19 library locations.

Cotchery, who turned 34 on June 16, will speak at the Five Points West Regional Branch Library at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, June 24. Since being drafted into the NFL in 2004, Cotchery has played with the New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, and most recently with the Carolina Panthers, who appeared in the 2016 Super Bowl. His 200 career receptions and 15 games with 100-plus receiving yards broke two school records at North Carolina State previously held by NFL receiver Torry Holt.

Series Review: The Sunday Philosophy Club

The Sunday Philosophy Club Series
Alexander McCall Smith

Isabel Dalhousie is a piece of work, a happy, complex, intelligent, and amusing piece of work, the narrator and protagonist of Alexander McCall Smith’s ten book (and counting) series, The Sunday Philosophy Club. As with McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series (see this recent blog piece) we are in contemporary, bourgeois Edinburgh, but, in this case, on the south side of town, near the university, and it takes place entirely from one person’s point of view: Isabel’s.

Isabel Dalhousie is the editor of the Journal of Applied Ethics. She’s a philosopher and most of the internal dialog of these books is Isabel’s internal debate about right action in her daily life, applied ethics. She struggles with temptation to fall short of her standards, particularly the temptation to shade the truth or to wish ill of other people. The Sunday Philosophy Club is a gentle satire of high-minded Edinburgh and its vaunted intellectual traditions.

Isabel is generous and has a reputation for helping people. She has a fine home, an income that is more than sufficient, a housekeeper, the caustic Grace, and many friends. People know that, if asked, Isabel will help them untangle their problems, so we are unexpectedly drawn into fascinating corners of Scottish life and geography as she hunts the truth. She is aided by her finely honed sense of other people’s emotions and honesty. In addition to Grace, the cast of continuing characters includes her aptly named niece Cat, Cat’s troubled young assistant Eddie, and one of Cat’s ex-boyfriends, Jamie, a professional bassoonist for whom Isabel harbors a secret love.

The Sunday Philosophy Club series is, at heart, about human happiness. If one earnestly applied the best thoughts of the ages to one’s personal decisions and interactions with other people, would not happiness be likely to follow? In the case of Isabel Dalhousie and her happy readers, the answer is yes.

If you have never read McCall Smith, this is a great place to start. I blended my experience with audio and traditional reading. Even if you are into reading and not so much into listening, sample the audio for a priceless narration and be prepared to hear yourself laugh out loud. Snippets and individual titles can fare well as stand-alones, but the best way to enjoy this is to read (or listen, or both) to these titles in order.

Enjoy and laugh!

The Sunday Philosophy Club Series
1. The Sunday Philosophy Club
2. Friends, Lovers, Chocolate
3. The Right Attitude to Rain
4. The Careful Use of Compliments
5. The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday
6. The Lost Art of Gratitude
7. The Charming Quirks of Others
8. The Forgotten Affairs of Youth
9. The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds
10. The Novel Habits of Happiness

David Blake
Fiction Department
Central Library

UAB’s Regions Institute for Financial Education to Offer Money Matters Workshop Series at Central Library on First Wednesdays Beginning July 6, 2016


It’s never too late to start building a better understanding of your personal finances and begin developing a plan for the future. To assist you in this endeavor, the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) is partnering with the staff of the Regions Institute for Financial Education at UAB to offer a series of Money Matters workshops at the Central Library on the first Wednesday of each month from July 2016 to May 2017. Please join us on the dates below to take part in discussions about a variety of money management issues and learn ways to achieve your economic goals.

When: First Wednesday of the month
Time: 12:00-1:00 p.m.
Place: Central Library/Linn-Henley Research Building/Richard Arrington Auditorium

Date/Workshop
7/6/2016 – Income, Savings, and Assets
8/3/2016 – Your Spending, Your Savings, Your Future
9/7/2016 – Risk and Protection
10/5/2016 – Family Money Skills
11/2/2016 – What Every Woman Should Know About Money
12/7/2016 – Protecting Yourself Against Targeted Fraud
1/4/2017 – Dealing With Debt
2/1/2017 – Where to Invest Your College Money
3/1/2017 – Your Credit Report
4/5/2017 – Saving Through Tax Refunds
5/3/2017 – Five Keys to Investing Success

For more information about the workshop series and other financial literacy resources available at BPL, please contact Jim Murray of the Central Library’s Business, Science and Technology Department by e-mail at jmurray@bham.lib.al.us or by calling 205-226-3691.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Book Review: Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life
Steve Martin

This one came to me by an odd route. I’m not a typical Steve Martin fan. Though I adore his seventies stand-up and SNL appearances, I’ve deliberately missed most of his movie career (there are some winning exceptions) and don’t get his New Yorker humor pieces (though I have to admit I don’t respond to most written New Yorker humor). But it may have been Martin’s connection that prompted the magazine to run an excerpt from Born Standing Up, Martin’s memoir of his slow road to comedy success. That I did like. Nine years later (I told you this was circuitous) I bought a cheap copy of the book and quickly started reading it. It far exceeded my expectations. Soon I was marking favorite lines and making margin notes. I was mesmerized. There wasn’t a wasted sentence.

Though Steve Martin has been a big success for four decades, it took him fourteen years to get there. He sacrificed a lot for stand-up-college, close family connections, community of almost any sort. There are many things here that surprised me about Martin. Because I knew almost nothing about his early life, I unconsciously assumed it was like…well, I don’t know what, but not what it turned out to be. His parents were from Waco, Texas, his mom a strict Baptist and the whole family was emotionally blocked and terrible at communicating. Martin threw himself into learning magic tricks, spent as much time away from home as possible, and left for good the moment he made enough money to squeak by. For a while he dated fellow actor Stormie Sherk, who would become in another incarnation the well-known Christian author Stormie O’Martian. He had a chance encounter with Diane Arbus, also before she was famous. A huge break happened when he got a job writing for the Smothers Brothers. But the network soon cancelled their highly popular show because it was too controversial and Martin was once again out of the mainstream. He spent many more years doing stand-up again, fairly content if not exactly happy because relative poverty allowed him to explore, innovate, and experiment. He mixed up all the skills he had—acting, comedy, writing, juggling, magic tricks and so in ways that often confounded audiences. It took him forever, he says, to realize that he’d get nowhere if he wasn’t original. But even originality wasn’t a ticket to financial security. He was plagued with recurring panic attacks, felt he had no great showbiz skills because he couldn’t sing or dance. But, like Andy Kaufman, Martin was, in the late sixties and early seventies, way ahead of his time, so much so even he wasn’t quite aware of it. (Martin himself doesn’t say he was ahead of his time: this is a modest book, modestly written). Also like Kaufman, Martin made fun of what he saw as showbiz norms such as slickness, shallowness, smarminess, and even competence. Like Kaufman, this was lost on much, if not most, of his public. He promised himself that he’d quit if he hadn’t made it by age 30.

Throughout the accounts of alienation and struggle there is sharp, well-detailed writing and a type of Martin humor new to me—often restrained, literary, but not pristine. And still funny, very funny. Martin on the fifties: “Eddie, I discerned, was living with a woman not his wife, the 1955 equivalent of devil worship.” As for the sixties, “… we were now living in the Age of Aquarius, an age when, at least astrologically, the world would be taken over by macramé.” Every so often, Martin drops us a reminder of why he left home in the first place. While dating Mitzi Trumbo, daughter of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, he discovers that he’s “never been in a house where conversations were held during dinner.” The life of the artist was often difficult, but at least it was alive.

It’s interesting that the man who’s made such a career playing crass and shameless characters has produced a book that is so carefully written, so unsentimental, so unself-congratulatory. It’s almost an anti-star book when you compare it to the run of the mill How I Made It accounts. The only place where I detect Martin doing something close to bragging is when he reminds us how The Jerk was universally panned upon release but has since won critical favor. Taking him up on the dare, I watched it for the first time and found it largely mediocre. But it does have a few brilliant scenes.

So why did he give up the biggest stand-up career in history? In addition to the severe limits it put on his family and social life, there were other good reasons. Because he was exhausted. Because he couldn’t do anything subtle in front of 25,000 people. Because his public expected the old bits and he wanted to innovate instead. And, finally, he discovered that you hunt for fame, then you find it, then it hunts you.

Richard Grooms
Fiction Department
Central Library