Monday, November 30, 2015

Dolores Hydock to Perform "A Christmas Memory," December 6

The Christmas season doesn’t really begin until you have experienced Birmingham storyteller Dolores Hydock’s incredible one-woman performance of "A Christmas Memory," Truman Capote's poignant reminiscence of his boyhood in rural Alabama. Dolores will perform this holiday classic on Sunday, December 6, at 2:30 p.m., in the Arrington Auditorium at the Central Library.

There is always a full house for this performance, so come early and enjoy refreshments.

Book Review: Captain Alatriste, the Adventures of Captain Alatriste

Captain Alatriste, the Adventures of Captain Alatriste
Arturo Perez-Reverte

If you enjoy adventure in exotic times and places, and writing that makes you smile with appreciation, Spanish author Arturo Perez-Reverte has written a series of books about a Castilian soldier in the heart of Spain’s worldwide empire in the Golden Age. Captain Aristide “was not the most honest and pious of men, but he was courageous.” Indeed, on one of the first pages of the book Perez-Reverte tells us what the story is to be about in one of his rolling sentences that can carry the reader far as well as the drive of the narrative:
… the story I am going to tell you must have taken place around sixteen hundred and twenty something. It is the adventure of two masked men and two Englishmen, which caused not a little talk at court, and in which the captain not only came close to losing the patched up hide he had managed to save in Flanders, and in battling Turkish and Barbary corsairs, but also made himself a pair of enemies who would harass him for the rest of his life.
The swordplay is sharply written, but it occupies a surprisingly small fraction of the story. We are treated to detailed description of life and places that still exist today in built form, but as they appeared and were lived in when Madrid was the capital of one of the largest, and richest, empires the world has ever known. The novel is often drenched in stoic remorse, as befits an older narrator reminiscing about the wonder and optimism of youth: “She (Spain) may still have been powerful, and feared by other nations, but she was touched by death in her soul.”

For anyone unfamiliar with how the history of Spain’s policies and actions directed the course of western history, Captain Alatriste will provide a compelling pathway back to old Madrid.

Enjoy your international armchair travels for free at the Birmingham Public Library.

Check it out.

David Blake
Fiction Department
Central Library

Friday, November 20, 2015

Southern History Book of the Month: "The Thanksgiving Visitor"

"The Thanksgiving Visitor"
Truman Capote

Truman Capote’s most famous short story is probably “A Christmas Memory,” but Buddy and his “friend” and cousin Miss Sook also appear in the story “The Thanksgiving Visitor,” in which Buddy has to contend with that childhood nightmare many of us know too well: the school bully.
Talk about mean! Odd Henderson was the meanest human creature in my experience.

And I’m speaking of a twelve-year-old boy, not some grownup who has had time to ripen a naturally evil disposition . . . he took after the rest of the Hendersons. The whole family . . . was a shiftless, surly bunch, every one of them ready to do you a bad turn; Odd wasn’t the worst of the lot, and brother, that is saying something.
My first contact with this story was when I was in elementary school and heard it read aloud. My sympathies were entirely with Buddy, and so I missed the way in which Capote expertly weaves into the text all the circumstances that keep Odd Henderson from being one-hundred-percent loathsome, such as his poverty, his father “who was a bootlegger and usually in jail,” his mother who is trying to keep the family provided for, and the way Odd can quiet his fussy younger brothers and sisters by singing to them. Yes, I missed all of this, and felt a cold shock when Miss Sook thinks the solution to the bullying is to invite Odd to Thanksgiving dinner. I seem to remember thinking at the time, “Is she crazy?” I heartily seconded Buddy’s resentment that one of his precious days away from school—and away from his tormentor—is going to be ruined by his friend’s well-intentioned meddling.

Part of me still feels that way. We’ve all heard the clichés about how many bullies are not entirely responsible for their behavior: that they’re in some way underprivileged, or haven’t been taught to behave properly, or they’re envious of their victim—the eye-rolling list goes on and on. But part of the genius of Capote is that this story is riveting in spite of the circumstances that seem to be clichés. There is the moment when Buddy sees a way to get the upper hand and humiliate Odd in front of the assembled Thanksgiving guests, but it doesn’t turn out the way he had expected, and Capote doesn’t make the mistake of granting Buddy some epiphany that would be unlikely in a child:
". . . Buddy, there is only one unpardonable sin: deliberate cruelty. All else can be forgiven. That, never. Do you understand me, Buddy?”

I did, dimly, and time has taught me that she was right. But at that moment I mainly comprehended that because my revenge had failed, my method must be wrong.
It’s been many years since I first heard “The Thanksgiving Visitor” and it still pleases me. Words like "sweet" and "heartwarming" may come to mind, but without the juvenile connotations; after all, some wines are sweet and heartwarming as well. Try this story as a mellow accompaniment for your turkey and dressing, and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

“The Thanksgiving Visitor” full-text online:

“10 Things You Might Not Have Known About Truman Capote”

Stop Bullying

Mary Anne Ellis
Southern History Department

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Birmingham City Council President Austin Observes STEM Technology Program at the Central Library

Standing l-r: Lance Simpson, Dr. Abidin Yildirim, and Johnathan 
Austin. Sitting are student participants Tamia Dunlap, left, and 
Tatyonna Cohill.

Touring the STEM technology program at the Central Library on November 17 brought home fond memories for Birmingham City Council President Johnathan Austin.

In the early 2000s, Austin and his father, Rev. Gerald Austin, ran a summer technology program called Stars Tech Camp. After observing and talking to the students who were making tracks for their electronic trains, Austin came away impressed.

“Our Stars Tech Camp was very similar to this—skill building, tech training, achieving results, and self-sufficiency,” Austin said. “We did exactly what you are doing here at the library—exposing kids to opportunities like this they may not otherwise get to do.”

Thanks to a $10,000 grant received in October from the Best Buy Foundation, the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) is planning to add new services in its STEM-focused afterschool program at the Central Library. The money will be used to purchase microcomputers, robotics kits, and an array of other technological tools to facilitate teaching engineering concepts in the weekly afterschool program.

Lance Simpson, teen librarian for the Birmingham Public Library, said the Best Buy grant will enable the Central Library to take its STEM technology program “to another level and enhance what we are doing. We will be able to show them how it is that they can take concepts of robotics and be prepared for future careers.”

Since the summer of 2015, the Central Library has been collaborating with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Engineering to provide a weekly STEM-focused technology-based afterschool program for teens. Simpson and grants writer Carrie Campbell joined with the School of Engineering's director of outreach, Dr. Abidin Yildirim, and community volunteer Keiah Shauku to write a grant seeking funds to expand the program’s offerings.

“Our partnership with UAB kicked off over the summer with a one-week STEM camp offered at the Central Library, and has continued on with a weekly afterschool program offered on Tuesdays,” Simpson said. “The funds from the grant will allow us to expand the program from our current curriculum to allow for more technology-driven classes, including teaching teens basic computer coding languages, and practical application of coding through robotics.”

During the school year, BPL's Central Library hosts 70 to 90 children and teens daily after school. Most of these students attend Phillips Academy, a Birmingham City Schools magnet K-8 school located near the library.

Austin said he hopes the public, businesses, and other politicians in Birmingham will support the STEM program in the Birmingham Public Library. “I continue to do everything I can to support our young people,” he said. “Everything we do now should be geared towards them. They are our future.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Book Review: Dispatches From Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta

Dispatches From Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta
Richard Grant

Richard Grant is an author with that instinct for travel and adventure that characterizes the English. One of his previous books, God’s Middle Finger, is about travelling the Sierra Madre in Mexico with all its attendant dangers due to corrupt police, bandits, narcotraficantes, and dangerous flora and fauna. This time, he and his girlfriend move from the cultured environs of New York City to the languid backwoods of the Mississippi Delta. Moving into a dilapidated farmhouse in tiny Pluto, Mississippi, they soon meet a cast of eccentric characters, among them a 90-year-old blues singer, a homicidal doctor, catfish farmers, a retired CIA agent/diplomat, and owners of tiny and obscure cafes, blues houses, and barbecue joints. Pluto, population unknown but very small, is in Holmes County, smack in the middle of nowhere, 90 miles or more from Greenwood, Vicksburg, and Jackson, Mississippi.

Moving to the Delta has its ups and downs, including lots of snakes and armadillos, frightening neighbors, clouds of mosquitoes, and Southern Gothic characters still yearning for the “good ole days” of the pre-civil rights era. Grant learns to hunt and drink (sometimes simultaneously), plant a garden, sing the blues and gets an eyeful of backwater Mississippi at the dawn of the 21st century. Small-town politics and murder, declining schools, farms that are becoming ever more commercialized and corporate owned, and a people struggling to maintain a genteel way of life while at the same time creating a sustainable society are all portrayed.

The best of Grant’s writing is an innate liking for people no matter who they are, and a viewpoint splashed with humor and compassion. Grant and his fiancée have personal issues, but their relationship grows. Writing and literature, travel, making new friends, a zest for the good things in life including Delta cooking, and a strong sense of joie de vivre all make for entertaining reading. It makes me want to visit Pluto and the region to sample some of the culture and the environment.

Jonathan Newman
Avondale Regional Branch Library

Friday, November 13, 2015

Painting @ UAB: The Students of Gary Chapman Exhibit to Kick Off Sunday, November 15

Gary Chapman has mentored and taught hundreds of students over 26 years as an art professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Some of his art students’ best work will be featured for the first time in an exhibit at the Birmingham Public Library. The special exhibit, Painting @ UAB: The Students of Gary Chapman, debuts in the Fourth Floor Gallery of the Central Library on November 15 and runs through December 31.

The public is invited to meet the artists at an opening reception on Sunday, November 15, from 2:30 until 5:00 p.m., in the Central Library’s Boardroom adjacent to the gallery. The reception is free of charge.

This exhibit will highlight the diverse work being created at UAB in the Painting Studio, under the guidance of Chapman. Chapman said the exhibit includes the work of 11 students, some current juniors and seniors, as well as past graduates who have moved on to professional careers.

While Chapman teaches a highly structured, somewhat traditional beginning painting class, he also works with each student individually through the intermediate and advanced levels, guiding each student’s individual research, exploration, and experimentation. The result is a dynamic group of young painters who have each found and developed their unique vision through paint.

“As a teacher, I allow students to find their own style and not try to emulate others,” Chapman said. “I believe each young artist must discover their own inner artist voice and allow it to reflect in their work.”

Young Leadership at Inglenook Library

(l-r) Quinton Moore, Jamaya Smith, Jakayla Pratt, Tarayonna Chambers

During Inglenook Library’s Young Leadership program—a reading program intended to cultivate leadership skills in children and give them a sense of empowerment and community by having a participant in the group read a book aloud, ask questions based on the book, and facilitate a craft—something amazing happened. A young lady read Taye Digg’s Chocolate Me and a discussion about being happy with one’s self and being emerged. The children gave testimonies in how they’ve struggled with self-acceptance and how they’ve come to be happy with their skin complexions and even imperfections albeit name calling and teasing. The discussion lasted for some time as children fed off of each other’s responses. One young lady was so excited that she said that she is going to convince her mother to bring her to the library every Monday, which is the day the program is held.

This program gives children a voice and a platform to discuss and target issues prevalent in their lives through books expressing the same issues, similar to what the library world calls bibliotherapy. Get ready for the next generation of healthy, confident, and strong leaders!

Karnecia Williams
Inglenook Branch Library

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Coloring for Adults Holiday Program

Join us for a Holiday Session of our popular Coloring For Adults Program.

Coloring is a relaxing and beneficial activity for adults. We supply coloring sheets, coloring supplies and light refreshments. Come by and have a fun evening!

Date: Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Time: 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Place: Birmingham Public Library, Storycastle in the Central Youth Department

Call 205-226-3680 for more information.

15 Reasons We’re Thankful for Books

As a librarian, to say I am thankful for books goes without saying. Be it hardback or paperback, audio CD or downloadable, there is nothing like a good book to sweep you off your feet. Recently, while conducting an online search of the word “Thanksgiving,” I came across an article that was simply too apropos not to share with my fellow book/library lovers.

"15 Reasons We're Thankful for Books"
by Ginni Chen
"The Reading Life"
Barnes &Noble

We’re all a little quirky on Turkey Day. Some of us are Tofurky enthusiasts, while others are devotees of deep-fried turducken. Some of us are Turkey Trot running champs and others live for football on the flat screen. Thanksgiving is one of the few traditional holidays that celebrates our diversity as a cultural melting pot, which basically means you can take the holiday and run with it however you like. Industrial Revolution–themed Friendsgiving? Go for it. Around the World in 80 Turkey Dishes potluck? Sure, why not!

However we choose to spend it, our Thanksgiving celebrations are all about the same thing—showing gratitude for what we have. Well, that and pie. So this Thursday, we’re letting our book nerd flag fly as we give thanks for all the literary gold in the world. Here are 15 reasons we’re thankful for books:
  1. Books keep you sane during your awful rush-hour commute.
  2. Books have saved you from going on countless bad dates. You’ve had many perfect evenings at home with a book.
  3. Books make soaking in the bathtub much more fun.
  4. Books don’t care if you can’t pronounce the big words in them or if you don’t finish them. Books don’t judge you for anything.
  5. Books have the remarkable power to put the rowdiest of children to sleep.
  6. Books have the remarkable power to put you to sleep, too, especially when you’re up late worrying if the turkey brine you used has gluten in it.
  7. Books teach you to empathize with people you’ve never met and help you tolerate the people you have, like your cousin’s boyfriend who is a DJ.
  8. Books remind us that sentences can have more than 140 characters, they don’t have to start with “OMG,” and they don’t always need to be accompanied by photos.
  9. Books make you smarter. I have no idea why. I think it’s something to do with pheromones in the paper?
  10. When you need to put the world on a time out, books are there for you.
  11. Books allow us to vicariously experience a range of gif-worthy emotions, from heartbreak to terror to despair to jealousy. All while maintaining our effortlessly cool, intellectual composure in public.
  12. Reading is one of the few things you can do in sweatpants on the couch that qualifies as “constructive.”
  13. Books show you that you are not alone in the world, even if all your relatives think you are and keep asking if you’ll ever get married.
  14. Books teach you that your parents, your teachers, and your friends aren’t right about everything, but then neither are you.
  15. Books teach you to think for yourself, so you can ponder things like, “pumpkin or pecan pie?”
Why are you thankful for books?

I’m thankful for the following books celebrating one of my favorite holidays: Thanksgiving. This season if you find yourself in need a book to share with a little one, relax. Rest assured that you do not need 15 reasons to try one of these 15 books.

Over the River: A Turkey’s Tale by Derek Anderson
Turkey Bowl by Phil Bildner
The Firefighters Thanksgiving by Maribeth Boelts
Corny Thanksgiving Jokes to Tickle Your Funny Bone by Linda Bozzo
Arthur’s Thanksgiving by Marc Brown
The Very First Thanksgiving Day by Rhonda Gowler Greene
I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie by Alison Jackson
I Spy Thanksgiving by Jean Marzollo
Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving by Eric Metaxas
Fancy Nancy: Our Thanksgiving Banquet by Jane O’Connor
Junie B Jones, First Grader: Turkeys We Have Loved by Barbara Park
‘Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving by Charles Schulz
Pardon That Turkey: How Thanksgiving Became a Holiday by Susan Sloate
Thanksgiving at the Tappletons by Eileen Spinelli

Carla Perkins
Avondale Regional Branch Library

BPL Databases—Finding Treasure in Plain Sight

Have you ever been walking along and suddenly looked down to find money on the ground in front of you? Remember that feeling of elation and happy surprise? Isn’t it wonderful to find something valuable that costs you nothing?

Want that feeling right now? Here’s just how to do that:

Go to

Look at the black bar across the top, find Databases, and left-click on the word one time.

The second line under Databases reads Database Quick Links. It has a drop-down menu. Left-click once on the down arrow.

This will open an entire world of free, accurate, and current information to you. You’ll see an alphabetical listing of almost 200 destinations. Some of these are digital collections of photos. Some are subscription databases that the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) pays for so you get them free. Some are websites that librarians have vetted for authentic, accurate, and current information. Most of them can be accessed from any Internet with your library card. A few can only be accessed in a public library, but ALL are free to library members. Why would you pay for something you can get free through your library?

Do you need to prepare for the ASVAB, ACT, SAT, or an occupational test? Drop down to LearningExpressLibrary. Need to learn about your computer operating system, or Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or Publisher? Go to the computer skills module under LearningExpressLibrary.

Did your child inform you late on Sunday evening that they have a research paper due on Monday morning? Drop down to History in Context, Literature Resource Center, Science in Context, or Opposing Viewpoints—or any of a dozen periodical indices like Academic Search Premier, InfoTrac, or General OneFile.

Did you receive a diagnosis from your doctor, but need more information on what it is, how it is treated, and how to live with it? Drop down to MedlinePlus.Gov, Health and Wellness Resource Center, or Health Source: Consumer Edition.

Are you thinking about starting a business, ending a marriage, or making a will? Drop down to Alabama Legal Forms to find a necessary form, access legal definitions, or find legal FAQs. If it’s starting a business, don’t forget to drop down to Business Plans Handbook for a sample business plan for you business, or to Mergent Online for industry and competition information.

Want to try your hand at investing? Drop down to the Financial Ratings Series Online database, Mergent Online, and Morningstar for all the information you need to research stocks, financial institutions, insurers, and mutual funds.

But wait a minute! Aren’t some of these websites expensive, or don’t you have to subscribe to them? Yes, they are, and yes, you do—but BPL has subscribed and paid for them for library members, so if you have a card in good standing, they’re free to you!

For more information about…well, just about anything…contact your local Birmingham Public Library, and definitely check out the website to see everything we have to offer.

Birmingham Public Library. Preserving the Past, Exploring the Future.

Kelly Laney
Springville Road Regional Branch Library

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Edward LaMonte to Visit BPL to Discuss Book on Former Birmingham Mayors Vann and Arrington, November 15

Join us at the Central Library on Sunday, November 15, at 3:00 p.m. for an author talk and book signing by Birmingham historian Edward LaMonte. LaMonte will speak and sign copies of his new book, Change and Continuity: The Administrations of David Vann and Richard Arrington, Jr.

In Change and Continuity LaMonte explores this critical time in Birmingham’s history and shares his personal insight as a friend and colleague of both Vann and Arrington. The mayoral administrations of David Vann and Richard Arrington Jr. spanned six terms, from 1975 to 1999. During those years Birmingham, Alabama, transitioned from a city dependent on heavy manufacturing, especially iron and to steel, to a city with a more varied economic base focused on finance and healthcare. The city grew physically and changed demographically as many whites left the city and Birmingham became a majority black community.

Copies of the book will be available for purchase for $15. Refreshments will be provided.

For more information contact Jim Baggett, 205-226-3631 or