Friday, June 29, 2007

Local teens create computer art and compete for cool prizes

The computer lab at the Birmingham Public Library will be the vortex of creative energy this July. Local teens are attending free classes at the Library to learn to create computer art for submission to a contest sponsored by the city of Hitachi, Japan and the Hitachi Corporation. Hitachi is Birmingham’s sister city in Japan. The classes will be taught by an art student from UAB over the course of four Saturdays in July. We look forward to seeing what these teens will create.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Stephen King’s trunk novel sees the light of day after 34 years

blaze book cover
Any Stephen King fans out there who yearn to read something new of his from the time before he was a household name? Well, put down your well-worn copies of Carrie and The Stand and reserve King’s new book Blaze, written in 1973 and just published under his Richard Bachman pseudonym.
Blaze is a part of King’s “trunk novels” (novels written early in a writer’s career that are deemed unpublishable), the others being Rage (1977), The Long Walk (1979), Roadwork (1981) and The Running Man (1982).

Bachman’s Thinner was published in 1984 and The Regulators in 1996, on the same day that King’s Desperation arrived in bookstores. But as early as 1985 the cat was out of the bag when a clerk at a bookstore noted the similarities in writing styles and pulled a Hardy Boys sleuthing at the Library of Congress. Bachman died in 1985 from “cancer of the pseudonym.”

And for all you cynics out there who think that King would publish his grocery list if he could make a profit, please note that all proceeds of Blaze will go to the Haven Foundation, a charity that supports free-lance artists who have suffered disabling injuries or illnesses.

regulators book coverFor the record, my own personal favorite Bachman book is The Regulators, a spooky tale of an evil creature who manifests itself through a TV-loving 6-year-old autistic boy named Seth, turning a sunny suburban street into a bloodbath. Turn off those TVs, kiddos!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Book review: A Thousand Splendid Suns

thousand splended suns book cover"Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.”

There is a reason that Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns is garnering so much praise, and that is because it is a remarkable story. The book spans 30 years of Afghan history, beginning in the 1970’s with the Soviet invasion, through the successful Mujahideen resistance and the Afghan civil war, and ending with the rise and fall of the Taliban.

The story is about two women who are worlds apart in terms of social status, education and self-worth. Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy businessman who lives in isolation in a countryside shack with her bitter mother; Laila is the beautiful golden-haired daughter of a teacher who expects to marry her childhood sweetheart and continue her education. The chapters are titled with their names as their stories evolve and their lives fatefully intersect one day in Kabul when tragedy strikes Laila’s sheltered existence.

In their male-dominated society, various male friends, relatives and husbands figure greatly in Mariam and Laila’s lives. The men range from idealistic to protective to cruel. There is Tariq, Laila’s childhood friend and protector, who lost a leg to a landmine but kept his goodwill; and Laila’s father, a teacher before the communist invasion, whose main concerns are Laila's safety and education. Mariam’s husband Rasheed is a calculating, selfish man who gets great satisfaction enforcing Sharia law on his defeated wife, and who goes to great lengths to get a son to replace the one he lost.

Hosseini has written a story about an unlikely friendship. In a time and place when women have few rights and few ways out of their suffocating lives, one woman is brave enough for the greatest sacrifice. Hosseini has written a book filled with heartbreaking scenes you may not want to remember, but his Mariam is a woman you won’t easily forget.


The Official Khaled Hosseini Website

Read an excerpt from the novel about Mariam's first trip as a new bride to the city of Kabul

Hosseini discusses A Thousand Splendid Suns

Birmingham Public Library Selected to Represent Nation’s Libraries in Washington

The Birmingham Public Library was selected—as one of twenty libraries nationwide—to demonstrate its community services to members of Congress on June 26 in Washington, D.C.

Along with the New York Public Library, the Georgia Public Library System, and other libraries and advocacy groups, BPL will play an essential role in Library Day on the Hill, a day of campaigning to U.S. Congressional Representatives on Capitol Hill. As part of the American Library Association’s (ALA) 2007 annual conference in Washington this month, Library Day on the Hill will bring librarians and library supporters together to encourage members of Congress to provide for public, academic, school , and research libraries nationwide.

BPL was chosen to represent public libraries by demonstrating its outstanding public service offerings: access to collections through technologies like downloadable audio books and educational software, programs that encourage young people to sign up for library cards, and free computer classes offered at the Central and branch libraries.

Rochelle Sides-Renda, Coordinator of the Springville Road Regional Library, is one of three librarians who will represent BPL in Washington next week. She considers being chosen by ALA to represent the nation’s libraries an impressive achievement. "The Birmingham Public Library joins nineteen other libraries on Capitol Hill to demonstrate the impact of libraries on their communities, their states, and the nation," said Sides-Renda. “BPL is a leader in providing new types of services to people who use the library to find assistance with homework, job searching, and computers as well as to find their favorite books.”

ALA’s annual conference will be held June 21-26 in Washington D.C. and will feature speakers such as Ken Burns, Garrison Keillor, David Baldacci, and Bill Bradley.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Instant Messaging available for genealogy questions

IM icons and screen name BPLgenealogy
Genealogists now have a new way to communicate with librarians at the Birmingham Public Library. With the library’s new Instant Messenger reference service, you may chat online with librarians for help with short, factual questions concerning family history or advice on what to do next in your genealogical research. The IM ready reference service is a cross between a telephone call and an e-mail. Similar to a phone call, your IM conversation will be in real-time and you will know someone is at the other end of the line. Resembling an e-mail, it will allow you to put your thoughts in writing, which comes in handy for keeping a record of your work or for displaying the proper spelling of personal and place names.
Instant messaging is available Monday through Friday between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m.
Additional information is on the web at
(originally posted 5/1/07)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Shatterer of Worlds

In the last three years at least a dozen new biographies of Albert Einstein have crossed my desk. This is only natural considering that 2005 was the century anniversary of his ‘miracle year’ when he published the three critical papers that would make up the theory of relativity. In the same time frame I’ve seen only half a dozen biographies of J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb. I suppose less attention is natural. Einstein was the avuncular eccentric who discovered relativity, escaped the Nazis and warned President Roosevelt of the impending birth of nuclear weapons. (In fact, it was Einstein’s prescient letters to President Roosevelt that led to the creation of America’s nuclear program.)
On the other hand, J. Robert Oppenheimer was the genius tasked with countering this threat to the free world, and transforming a theory into fact. He succeeded spectacularly overseeing the construction of the world’s first atom bomb in just two years. This success earned him the sobriquet ‘father of the atom bomb.’ But after the war, Oppenheimer took a path different from the government and the military and found himself publicly tried and labeled a traitor.
Oppenheimer seemed born with a protean intellect. At the age of 11 he became the youngest member of New York Mineralogical Society and he regularly presented papers to this august group. He graduated from Harvard summa cum laude in just three years. He then completed graduate work at both Cambridge and University of Göettingen in Germany. In 1927 he returned to the United States after earning a doctorate for his thesis on quantum theory. Those close to ‘Oppi’ describe a man with a tireless, almost frightening, intellect. He settled and taught in Berkeley while also teaching at Cal Tech. In addition to teaching at two universities in a relatively new field he continued to make major contributions to the field of physics. At the age of 30 he acquired his eighth language: Sanskrit.
His students revered him to the point of following him from Berkeley to Pasadena, retaking his highly demanding classes and even mimicking his mannerisms. But there was a decidedly asocial, ivory tower side, to Oppenheimer. Some found him less than patient with his intellectual inferiors, and he took absolutely no interest in the world outside of academia. This ennui with the political world was shredded in the 1930’s by the depression, the Nazi Party and his first true love, Jean Tatlock. This last event was to have far reaching consequences for Jean Tatlock was a member of the Communist Party. With the coming of the war, and Einstein’s warning letters, Oppenheimer was asked to not only investigate the feasibility of an atomic weapon, but to also create one. His association with the Communist Party and Communist causes was deemed unimportant. He was placed in charge of the huge Manhattan Project. As one of his colleagues would later explain, “many physicists were drawn into this work by fate and destiny rather than enthusiasm.” However, there’s no indication that Oppenheimer lacked enthusiasm. In fact, physicist Hans Bethe stated that “Los Alamos might have succeeded without him, but certainly only with much greater strain, less enthusiasm, and less speed. He was a leader. He brought out the best in all of us.” When the test bomb ‘Fat Man’ was successfully exploded at Alamogordo, Oppenheimer seemed disturbed and famously quoted the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita: "I am become death, the Shatterer of Worlds." Yet when asked about dropping the new bomb on Japan, he unhesitatingly endorsed its use. He would later bitterly regret this decision. From 1947-1953 he would spend most of his energy attempting to stem the spread of nuclear weapons in general and the hydrogen bomb in particular.
This sudden stroke of conscience was considered a ‘character defect’ by many in government, and coupled with his earlier affiliation of Communism, doomed him. He was publicly charged with spying for the Soviet Union. There was an investigation by the FBI and a public hearing before Congress. Eventually, he was officially cleared of all charges, but the security clearance so important to his life’s work was revoked and the charge of nuclear espionage would forever follow him.
The Birmingham Public Library has over 70 books and DVDs on Einstein, Oppenheimer and other nuclear physicists. And no I didn’t read them all. Instead, I read several biographical sketches in our database Biography Resource Center +The Complete Marquis Who's Who. Check it out. It doesn’t list only scientists. You can find biographies of politicians, athletes, performers, just about anyone.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Movie review: Ofelia in Wonderland

pan's labyrinth dvd coverA long time ago, in the underground realm, where there are no lies or pain, there lived a Princess who dreamed of the human world. She dreamed of blue skies, soft breeze, and sunshine. One day, eluding her keepers, the Princess escaped. Once outside, the brightness blinded her and erased every trace of the past from her memory. She forgot who she was and where she came from. Her body suffered cold, sickness, and pain. Eventually, she died. However, her father, the King, always knew that the Princess' soul would return, perhaps in another body, in another place, at another time. And he would wait for her, until he drew his last breath, until the world stopped turning...

Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) arrive at their new home in the Spanish countryside. It is 1944 and Ofelia’s new stepfather is an army captain in Franco’s fascist regime. Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez) and his small army of men have set up camp to drive the remaining Resistance fighters from the hills.

Ofelia is a bright girl who is knowledgeable in the ways of fairy tales. Her mother is for the most part understanding about her flights of fancy, knowing this is Ofelia’s way of handling the death of her father and their new less-than-ideal living arrangements. Truth is, her stepfather cares not for her or her mother, but only for the son he is sure Carmen is carrying.

Upon her arrival, a stick insect follows Ofelia with more attention than a bug should. That night she is visited by the bug that turns into a fairy at her coaxing, and soon she finds herself being led to a labyrinth and her first of many meetings with a faun who has been waiting on her return for a long, long time.

The classic number in fairy tales is three, and so it is in this one. Ofelia must complete three tasks before the moon is full in order to claim her rightful place at her parents’ side in the Underworld. Before that time, though, there will be much violence, betrayal, death and disobedience, and choices that no eleven-year-old girl should ever have to make.

Pan’s Labyrinth (El Labertino del Fauno) is a perfect example of fairy tales and violence co-existing. Would the works of Mother Goose or the Brothers Grimm have left such a lasting impression if it weren’t for the abused and neglected stepchildren and orphans trapped in their stories and our empathy for them?

Parents be warned: Pan's Labyrinth is actually a fairy tale for adults. The movie is rated R for its graphic violence. Not to mention the character called Pale Man, the creepiest child-eating creature I've ever had the displeasure of watching, who is sure to be the star of my nightmares for some time to come.


Director Guillermo del Toro received 22 minutes of applause for Pan's Labyrinth at the Cannes Film Festival. See for yourself how his other movies stack up.

The Official Website for Pan's Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth trailer

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Stealing Your Life

For the last thirty years, Frank Abagnale has been a law-abiding citizen. Yet his unlawful past, Catch Me if You Can Coverrecounted in his memoir that was later made into the film named "Catch Me If You Can," gives him an insiders understanding of how crooks operate.

This knowledge has led to a career as a consultant for the FBI and many large financial institutions in preventing frauds and scams. He is amazed at how easy identity theft is for the potential criminal. Abagnale refers to it as "a crook's dream come true."

In Abagnale's latest book, "Stealing Your Life," he gives readers an inside look at the various types of identity theft and how to reduce the likelihood Stealing Your Life Coverof it.

Considering the increasing number of identity theft victims in the U.S., protecting yourself using techniques like those described in Stealing Your Life are practically essential. Stealing Your Life is available for check out in book, audio CD, and Overdrive download formats.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Downtown library closed this weekend

The Central branch of the Birmingham Public Library will close for City Stages at 5 p.m. this Friday, June 15 and reopen Monday morning at 9 a.m. All other BPL branches will be open during their normally scheduled hours.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Children's book review: A very "peasing" book

little pea book coverThis review will be short and sweet, just like the wonderful book Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. The premise of Little Pea flips the old “children won’t eat their peas” parental complaint on its head. Here you have a family of peas whose littlest pea is bemoaning the fact that he’s required to eat five pieces of candy before he can eat his dessert: spinach.

Little pea stalls as long as he can:
"Five pieces?" he whined.
"Five pieces," they chimed.
He proceeds to express his distaste with “yuck,” “blech” and even the old Bronx cheer. But he’s a trooper and manages to force down the candy and everyone is relieved to know that they lived “hap-pea-ly ever after."

A charming book that turns a childhood enemy into an ally in the food wars.

Take a sneak peak inside Little Pea, courtesy of AmazonOnlineReader

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Book Review: Alabama Moon

Moon Blake is the ten-year old narrator of a touching yet spirited tale of wilderness survival. Believe me, this kid’s a real survivor!

Can you imagine living on your own at ten years old? Well, that’s exactly what Moon does. Early in the tale, we learn that Moon Blake and his father live together in the Alabama woods to avoid the government. Moon discovers that his father has been affected by past negative experiences with the government and has avoided society as a result. He teaches Moon to be completely independent, live off the land and be free. Moon and his father live in isolation. Then, life changes drastically for Moon. He must learn to cope with the death of his father which results from an injury. We also discover that his mother died when he was very young. Of course, coping with the loneliness is very difficult for Moon. He takes a small box of valuables left to him by his father and begins his bold journey to the wilds of Alaska. His father has told him that he will be able to find other individuals in Alaska who also hate the government and live off the land.

The forest sounds and coldness of night surrounds him like a damp fog. However, Moon does know about wilderness survival. He can build a fire, hunt for food, prepare traps, and even make his own clothes. Moon confidently informs us that he can fight someone three times his size! Later in the book, Moon is on the run from the law. Here is where the real adventure begins! He soon finds himself in the Pinson Boy’s Home but manages to escape along with some other boys. Moon matures and begins questioning his father’s life decisions and his past. He discovers the meaning of friendship, love and loyalty during his many adventures.

Alabama Moon is a story for all ages. You will cheer Moon on as he overcomes many obstacles. He is a loyal, determined and courageous young man, as well as a truly memorable character. If you would like to find out what happens to Moon, read this book! You too will have a wonderful adventure!


Watt Key Home Page

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Andy Offutt Irwin coming to BPL

Andy Offutt Irwin
Andy Offutt Irwin, nationally acclaimed singer-songwriter, comedian, thespian and storyteller is coming to BPL June 11-June 14. Check our calendar of events for more information.

Some people have inner-kids.
Andy Offutt Irwin
has an outer-kid.
With a manic Silly Putty voice,
astonishing mouth noises,
and hilarious stories,
he is equal parts mischievous school boy
and the Marx Brothers,
peppered with a touch of the Southern balladeer.
Andy is one vibrantly odd bird,
with feathers that tease, tickle
and tug at the heart –
And a whopper of a personality,
which barely fits in most rooms.
People are drawn to him
like magnets to a refrigerator.
And inside,
it's all Mountain Dew and Jolt Cola.

Cultural Alliance of Greater Birmingham

Staff and Board at Press Conference
Since we at the Birmingham Public Library and the Jefferson County Library Cooperative are fortunate enough to receive funding for programs and events throughout the year from The Cultural Alliance of Greater Birmingham, the BPL and JCLC staff attended the Cultural Allliance's press conference this morning to show our support. The press conference highlighted the economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences in Jefferson County, Alabama.

To read more about the economic impact, read the article published today by The Birmingham News.

To see photos of the event, click here.

Baseball loses a fan

mark harris

Mark Harris, author of Bang the Drum Slowly, died on May 30 from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease. Born Mark Harris Finkelstein, Harris admitted that he was always at the center of his novels, whether he was disguised as a baseball player, poet or professor.

Bang the Drum Slowly is Harris’ most famous novel, but many may not know that this is just one novel in a tetralogy that follows Henry Wiggins through his adventures as a big league baseball player. The series begins with The Southpaw (1953) and follows with Bang the Drum Slowly (1956), A Ticket for Seamstitch (1957) and It Looked Like For Ever (1979). Sports Illustrated included Bang the Drum Slowly in its top 100 sports books of all time.

Bang the Drum Slowly was made into a movie in 1973. Starring Michael Moriarty as Henry Wiggins and Robert De Niro as Bruce Pearson, it was nominated for an Academy Award and won De Niro a New York Film Critics Circle Award for best supporting actor. Harris wrote the screenplay.

Harris wrote bildungsromans, novels in which a young character's journey through life leads to spiritual and moral maturity. This is true of his Henry Wiggins books, and also true of his equally compelling but lesser-known other novels.


To learn more about Mark Harris' life and bibliography, search the Biography Resource Center (library card is required)

If you are interested in a book not listed in our catalog, you may be able to borrow it through Interlibrary Loan

Some additional books about spring's favorite sport

Ditch Google??

Yes, you have read it. I am seriously considering ditching Google and going for a more sophisticated search engine. Not to say that I am going to totally stop using Google but I have found another search engine that has impressed my socks off. This time last week I would have never given a thought to abandoning my old friend Google but times are ‘achanging and even with technology we have to be subject to some change.

What has prompted me to make such drastic measures? Or a better question would be what search engine has enticed me with their offerings that they bring. The answer is:

Since last week has changed dramatically. It is better known as Ask3D this week. Don’t try to use that as your URL. The URL has remain the same. 3D does not mean that you need red and blue glasses to view it. The 3D stands for the three dimensions of searching—query expression, investigating results, and digging deeply into content. Before you had to visit three different pages or websites to search all dimensions. Now it is all available on one page for your viewing pleasure.

To read the rest of this article visit our new blog created for information from and about the Regional Library Computer Center: Birmingham Public Library-JCLC.

Friday, June 01, 2007

DVD review: Helen Mirren rules

the queen dvd cover"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown"
~ Henry IV, Part II

I’ve always admired the British stiff upper lip, until I watched The Queen and realized how the the upper lip thing could be taken to extremes. The Queen takes place in the week following Diana’s death in 1997.

Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren) and her family are vacationing at Balmoral Castle when her secretary tells her that Diana has been in an accident. The queen, Philip (James Cromwell), the Queen Mum and Charles gather around the TV, some of them incensed that Diana is at it again. She was supposed to be in London, Phillip rages. The queen waves him aside with “Well, you know how she is.”

When they learn of her death their thoughts immediately turn to the boys and how to best comfort and protect them. After all, Diana was stripped of HRH title and is no longer an official member of the Royal Family. The Spencers are in charge of her funeral. What’s it to do with them?

And so begins a long week of missteps, misspeak and mistakes.

The Queen becomes a steady loop of Us vs. Them. The Royal Family vs. The Public. Tony Blair vs. the Royal Family. Tradition vs. Modernity. As the royals ride out the circus and wait for it to die down in a day or two, or maybe next week at the latest, the public gets angrier as the days pass without a word or appearance from the monarchy. Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) tries to make the royals see that Diana was not just another family member but was the “People’s Princess.”

The smile Blair wears at the beginning of the film quickly turns to a frown then a grimace as the week wears on, until finally even he loses it. “Will someone please save these people from themselves?” Blair fears the growing mob even as the queen and Philip lament that their tea is growing cold.

I admire the balance of this movie. I anticipated it biasingly blasting the monarchy, but that didn’t happen. Blair shows common sense when he scathingly reminds his cynical staff of the queen’s reputation for leading Great Britian with dignity all these years without a blemish on her record. The queen is hurt when she finally does return to Kensington Palace and reads the angry notes left by the public for whom she has sacrificed her life. Their vicious tone wounds her.

There are two sides to every story, so goes the saying. The world mourned a woman they didn’t know, a woman they placed on a pedestal who didn’t deserve to be there anymore than we do because of our human frailties and faults. The royals welcomed Diana into their family, yet Diana did damage to the monarchy that they are still recovering from to this day.

The masses turned to the Queen for comfort; the queen turned to tradition for comfort. In the end, aren’t they equally at fault?


Helen Mirren won an Oscar for Best Actress for her role as the queen. Search the JCLC catalog for more movies by Mirren, James Cromwell and director Stephen Frears.

Want to learn more about the Royal Family?

The House of Windsor
Queen Elizabeth II
Prince Philip
Prince Charles
Diana, Princess of Wales
Prince William
Prince Harry

The Queen trailer

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