Friday, June 26, 2015

Teen Book Review: The Swoop List: Give It Up

Give it Up
#1 Sanaa
The Swoop List Series
Stephanie Perry Moore

When Sanaa wakes up for another day of school, she just can’t seem to shake the feeling that the day is somehow…off. She makes it to school and she finds out exactly where here feelings of dread are coming from. She’s been added to the "swoop list" and everyone in school is pointing and staring at her. What is this list? Where did it come from? And why is Sanaa #1 on the list?

Stephanie Perry Moore is a popular African American writer who writes in the adult, teen, and juvenile fiction genres. She is well known for her captivating fiction series, and The Swoop List is no exception. Over the course of five fast-paced and engaging books, the author takes a look at the cruel side of high school, where rumors take flight and are taken as fact, whether they’re true or not. The series focuses on five girls from different backgrounds and social circles that suddenly have one very devastating thing in common: they are all on the "swoop list" that’s being circulated around school. Over the course of the books, we learn about each individual girl from the other girls' perspective, giving you a well-rounded view of their actions and feelings throughout the ordeal. Are all of the girls as innocent as they appear or are they hiding something?

The Swoop List series is a great read for any teenagers that are looking for a dose of reality in their fiction.

Pamela Jessie
Woodlawn Branch Library

Reading Program Aims to Bond Families through Books

Five Points West Library employee Candace Hardy shares a  story
with kids and their parents at Prime Time Family Reading Time.

In April and May, the Five Points West Regional Branch Library ran a series of programs called Prime Time Family Reading Time. At 6:00 p.m. we started with a light dinner for 25 families. After dinner, the group divided into preschool and elementary school groups for storytime. A storyteller and a scholar presented the stories and discussed them with the parents and children. The purpose of this program was to engage parents and children by discussing the stories and encouraging the families to take the example of sharing the stories home with them. This is also a way for the families to bond by reading and learning together. Hopefully, this program has encouraged the families to become active library users for years to come by showing them the resources the library has to offer.

Our next Prime Time Family Reading Time programs will be held in the fall, September 22-October 27, at 6:00 p.m. Please call the Youth Department (205) 226-4017 at the Five Points West Library for more information.

Lynn Carpenter
Five Points West Regional Branch Library

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Summer Reading Is Not Just for Children—Adults Get in on the Fun

Timothy Burkett finds a quiet place to read at the Central Library.
Timothy Burkett has been an avid reader all his life. Growing up in Birmingham, he attended George Washington Carver High School and won several city-wide awards for his science fair projects. When he participated in an Upward Bound program at Yale University, he found his niche as a playwright. When his life took a few unexpected turns, Burkett continued to feed his mind by reading. Today, at 65 years of age, he is participating in Summer Reading and making plans to Escape the Ordinary as a member of the adult reading club.

Since December 2014, Adult Summer Reading and BPL Eastern Region Coordinator, Sandi Lee, has been hard at work organizing outstanding programs for audiences. Along with her counterpart, Janine Langston, coordinator for youth services and the western region, the two have worked with other staff to provide more than 500 programs for summer reading participants. The goal of Summer Reading is to encourage individuals (especially children) to read for pleasure and to read often. Last year, participants collectively read more than 46,500 books. BPL is offering special programs and incentives through July to motivate patrons of all ages, from children to adults, to read what they enjoy. Once participants read the number of books in their set goal, they are eligible for rewards. Reading rewards range from admission tickets to the McWane Science Center and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame to scavenger hunt prizes from Red Mountain Park’s zip line.

Enjoying summer reading tailgate party is (left to right)
Janine Langston, Angela Fisher Hall, and Sandi Lee
“Summer Reading has something for everyone,” stated BPL Director Angela Fisher Hall. “With support from our summer reading sponsor, the Alabama Power Foundation, and other partner organizations, we are able to provide an experience for our citizens to encourage reading for enjoyment and enrichment. This is a time of year that we all look forward to and, most importantly, it is an opportunity to engage everyone in the joy of reading. We hope that more adults like Burkett will take advantage of the incentives we have in place to encourage participation.” Over the past five years, Burkett has read more than 100 books. His inspiration came from former Today Show host Dave Garroway who, according to some, read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica set.

The fun of reading is open to all and, by the way, Britannica is available online via the library’s website. Participants interested in Summer Reading can sign up at any BPL location or online at The online component is a new feature this summer where children, teens, and adults may record reading activities to their account and earn virtual badges, as well as other rewards for participating in library programs. Thousands of readers are expected to participate this summer. Magic shows, art classes, demonstrations with live animals, movies, talent shows, fitness fun, storytimes, and more will be offered at all BPL locations.

BPL Adult Statistics for Summer Reading 2014
Number of adults registered for summer reading: 1,135
Number of certificates awarded for 2014 to adults: 410
Number of books read in 2014 by adults: 5,845
Number of programs offered especially for adults in 2014: 100
Number of total attendees for all adult programs in 2014: 1,171

Make sure to follow BPL's Adult Summer Reading on Facebook!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Library's Historical Maps Highlighted Online

Herman Schoel’s 1888 Map of the City of Birmingham and Suburbs.

Birmingham Public Library's (BPL) historical maps were recently highlighted in Cartographic Perspectives: Journal of the North American Cartographic Information Society. The article, written by former BPL Director George Stewart, discusses the history of the library's map collection as well as current efforts underway to catalog, conserve, digitize, and make all the map images accessible to the public.

The entire article is available online.  Many of the maps are available for viewing in BPL's Digital Collections Database

Benedetto Bordon’s 1528 [Oval Map of the World].

Southern History Book of the Month: Their Blood Runs Cold: Adventures with Reptiles and Amphibians

Their Blood Runs Cold: Adventures with Reptiles and Amphibians
Whit Gibbons

Two recent close encounters with snakes at my home (though luckily not in my home) gave me the idea that it was time for some natural history in the Southern History Book of the Month selections. Now available in a new 30th Anniversary edition, Their Blood Runs Cold is a lively look at the world of reptiles and amphibians: frogs and toads, lizards, turtles, salamanders, alligators, and—of course—snakes, which tend to evoke stronger emotions in us than any other member of the reptile family. Gibbons is obviously fascinated with them and though he certainly encourages a healthy respect for snakes, he tries to discourage the response of dread and horror by recounting the way his own feelings about them developed:
The first snake I can remember was a green snake that lay outstretched on the largest limb of a redbud tree in Alabama. We smashed it many times. To death. Making sure. Taking no chances.

I don’t really think I cried that night, but I do remember that I didn’t feel right afterward. I distinctly remember that at five years old I did not feel good about killing my first snake.
Gibbons’ engaging chapter titles kept me turning page after page to learn about “How to Catch an Alligator in One Uneasy Lesson” or how “Turtles May Be Slow but They’re 200 Million Years Ahead of Us.” Of course, even readers who have no qualms about snakes may find themselves swallowing hard when Gibbons faces down a size extra-large bushmaster, one of the most dangerous venomous snakes on the planet. And when it comes to crawling around in blackberry thickets or along swampy river banks in search of mud turtles, frogs, toads, and cottonmouth moccasins, I am decidedly deaf to the call of the wild. But it’s fun to read about from the comfort of an armchair and may cause you to rethink some of your attitudes about all things not so warm and fuzzy.

For more on Whit Gibbons and the world of reptiles and amphibians:

Creepy Crawlers to Voracious Beasts: Their Blood Runs Cold
Amphibian vs. Reptile
Crazy Colored Reptiles and Amphibians on Pinterest

Don’t forget that it’s summer reading time at your library! Check the events calendar for programs like Backyard Heroes and Zoo to You—great ways to get a closer look at the animal world!

Mary Anne Ellis
Southern History Department
Central Library

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What’s Knitting Got to Do with the Library?

Coffee, Crafts and Conversation at Springville Road Regional Branch Library

Why do libraries offer programs? What do craft, computer, exercise, gardening, magic shows, and cooking classes have to do with books? The short answer can be found in the BPL Mission Statement: The mission of the Birmingham Public Library is to provide the highest quality library service to our citizens for life-long learning, cultural enrichment, and enjoyment.

In other words, libraries provide information to improve people’s lives. Sometimes we do this by offering programs that reflect local interests, current events, or national trends. These programs can be on anything that provides new experiences, entertains, enriches, and/or educates.

Storytime at Eastwood Branch Library
A broader answer might be that libraries build and strengthen the community. Libraries have become more about people, specifically bringing people of different backgrounds, races, ages, genders, socio-economic levels, and nationalities together in a neutral space to explore common interests. This leads to discussion and sharing between these diverse groups, which leads to understanding and friendship. Where else in the community can people who have nothing in common except shared interests meet to learn about them—at absolutely no cost to themselves? Everyone is welcome at the library as long as they follow the rules.

All of the information is free, true, and current. Libraries provide free Internet access (including Wi-Fi), as well as assistance with computer use. They are great places to meet your neighbors, find the answers to your questions, see what’s going on in your neighborhood, and learn about anything that interests you. Of course, we still offer books, DVDs, audiobooks, and magazines, most of which can be enjoyed in the library and/or borrowed at no cost. BPL’s website offers digital collections, free downloadable e-books and audiobooks, as well as access to subscription databases—all free with your library card. Libraries promote literacy, too, with summer reading incentive programs for all ages!

Cooking class with Tamar Adler, Eat Drink Read Write 2014
So check our event calendar or website, Facebook pages, or simply look around on your next visit to your local library. You will probably be surprised by all that is available—FREE. If you are a reader of any age, sign up to win prizes for something you already enjoy doing. If you’ve been thinking about growing a few backyard vegetables, pick up some books and find out when the next gardening group is meeting. If you have always wanted to learn how to tat, crochet, quilt, build birdhouses, or pour stepping stones, plan to come to one of the many crafting programs offered. If you want to meet new people, practice your computer skills, apply for a job, shop online, trace your family history, find out more about a medical diagnosis, read the latest magazines, or do research for your own book, the library has all you need to do all of that. Pick up a bestseller or newly released movie, join a discussion group on local topics, or even learn to knit. There’s something for everyone!

Kelly Laney
Springville Road Regional Branch Library

The Benefits of Exercising—More Than Just Losing Weight

A Crunk Fitness class at Railroad Park.
Photo credit: Lynsey Weatherspoon

There is more to exercise than just losing weight. Do you often feel tired, lack energy, stressed, having sleepless nights? Well, if so, I have the perfect solution for all of these symptoms: exercise!

The benefits of regular exercise are enormous and hard to ignore. It doesn’t matter the age or sex, we all can benefit from exercise and physical activities. The only drawback is getting permission from your doctor if you have chronic health issues or haven’t exercised for a long time.

Here are some quick and long lasting benefits of regular exercise:
  • As you start burning calories for fuel, you get an almost immediate mood boost.
  • Exercise and physical activity deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and help your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. 
  • Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep. Just don't exercise too close to bedtime, or you may be too energized to fall asleep.
  • Regular physical activity can leave you feeling energized and looking better, which may have a positive effect on your sex life.
  • One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. Working up a sweat can help manage physical and mental stress.
  • Regular physical activity boosts memory and ability to learn new things.

The city is equipped with various ventures to exercise:
  • Railroad Park offers free daily fitness classes
  • Various recreation centers offer free exercise classes
  • Birmingham is known for its various walking trails
  • YMCA
  • Personal trainers
  • Various work out facilities and programs

This list too, can go on and on. It doesn’t matter where you go; the benefits are just too good to pass up.

The Public Libraries in Jefferson County offer a wide range of exercise books, audiobooks, and DVDs for check out to help jump start or maintain a healthier lifestyle. 

Loretta Bitten
Powderly Branch Library

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Books That Celebrate the Dads in Our Lives

Father's Day was inaugurated in the United States in the early 20th century as a complement to Mother’s Day. The first observance of a Father’s Day was held on July 5, 1908, in Grafton, West Virginia, in the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South. Grace Golden Clayton was mourning the loss of her father who had died in December 1907 due to a mining disaster. The Monongah Mining Disaster killed 361 men, 250 of them fathers, leaving almost a thousand fatherless children. Clayton suggested to her pastor that he preach a sermon to honor all those fathers. Although heartfelt and moving as the idea was, the event was ultimately unsuccessful.

History credits Sonora Dodd as the driving force behind the creation of what we know as Father’s Day. At the time Dodd’s own father, William Jackson Smart, was a Civil War veteran and a single parent raising six children. After hearing a Mother’s Day sermon, she told her pastor that fathers should have a holiday and suggested June 5, her father’s birthday. Unfortunately the local pastors did not have enough time to prepare their sermons and the celebration was moved to the third Sunday of June.

Thanks to Sonora Dodd’s love and devotion, the first Father’s Day celebration was held in the Spokane, Washington, YMCA June 19, 1910.

Believe it or not, Americans resisted the idea of a Father’s Day holiday for a few decades. It was thought by many to be an attempt by merchants to replicate the success of Mother’s Day and was frequently attacked by newspapers. However, the merchants and Father’s Day Council, founded by the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers, remained strong and even incorporated the attacks into their advertisements. In 1972 President Richard Nixon signed a law declaring Father’s Day as an official and permanent U.S. holiday.

A father is someone who cares and provides for you. It is the man who helps to set the standards, the family values, and lives by example. Whether biological, adopted, or informally, if someone is a father figure to you, give him the recognition he deserves. Take today as an opportunity to say, "I love you."

Good read-alouds with Dad:
Because Your Daddy Loves You by Andrew Clements
Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too by Anna Dewdney
By the Side of the Road by Jules Feiffer
How To Cheer Up Dad by Fred Koehler
Froggy’s Day with Dad by Jonathan London
Me and My Dad by Alison Ritchie
Bippity Bop Barbershop by Natasha Tarpley
What Dads Can’t Do by Douglas Wood
When a Dad Says “I Love You” by Douglas Wood
Bigger Than Daddy by Harriet Ziefert

Carla Perkins
Avondale Regional Branch Library

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Registration Open For July 2015 Computer Classes

Registration is now open for staff and the public for the July 2015 Classes.  All classes are held in the Regional Library Computer Center (RLCC) of the Central (downtown) LibraryPRE-REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED FOR ALL CLASSES.

To register for a class: (Please note that registration does not necessarily guarantee you a spot in the class. You will receive an email confirming your registration for classes.  You may also call to confirm your registration).
  1. Complete name, address and phone information. PLEASE PRINT.
  2. Place a check mark in the check box next to the class(es) you would like to attend.
  3. Return the entire form to a staff person in the Public Computer Services department.
  4. You may also send an email to or use the online form to register.
July 2015 Classes

Monday, June 15, 2015

Get to Know the BPL Young Professionals Board Members: Dionne Clark

What is your full name, age, and occupation? 

My name is Dionne Clark, and I’m 34 years old. I am the Programs Director at Alabama Humanities Foundation.

Why did you get involved with the BPLYP?

I was interested in joining the BPLYP because I have a sincere appreciation for literacy education, and cultural and educational programming. The library has always been a vital aspect of my personal, academic and cultural growth.

Which is your favorite (or most frequented) library branch of the Birmingham Public Library system? 

I spend a lot of time at the Central Branch. My daughter loves the youth section (especially the animals), and I meet a small group of ladies there to run weekly.

Would you rather read on an e-reader or a book?

I really want an e-reader, but I still value a tangible text. I hope that my future e-reader will increase my reading, and allow me to easily access books wherever I go. I always purchase books that I find that I will refer to in the future, or plan to use for educational purposes.

What is your favorite website or form of social media.

Currently, my favorite website is; it’s a site dedicated to the socio-cultural, personal and professional growth of young, professional women. My favorite forms of social media are Twitter and Instagram.

What is your favorite place to eat in Birmingham? 

Besides my own kitchen, my favorite place to dine in Birmingham is toss up between Paramount and Zoe’s. Zoe’s has an amazing app for free “goodies” and you can always get a meal that is high in protein and has good carbs!

What book would you want to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island?

In addition to the Bible (in order to keep myself sane and grounded), I would definitely need Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

Where do you most want to travel, but have never been?

I really would like to travel to Ghana and South Africa.

Who are some of your favorite authors? 
My favorite authors include Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Ernest Hemingway, Iyanla Vanzant and Gabrielle Garcia-Marquez

What is your wish for the city of Birmingham? 

My wish for the city of Birmingham is to grow beyond its social, political and cultural borders. Birmingham is an amazing city, and has many natural attractions that make it appealing to both young professionals and families. I would love to see Birmingham invest in public transportation, the maintenance of it’s street and sanitation, cultural and educational spaces (cultural and historical museums), the local economy, and supporting its schools.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Great Outdoors Month

Midnight Hole

Did you know that June is Great Outdoors Month?  I didn’t know that until I read about it today.  It makes perfect sense for the month of June because it’s warm enough to get outdoors.  Therein lies the rub.  It’s so warm in Alabama, that it’s too hot for me to get outdoors.  I’m depending on you, the reading public, to get out there and enjoy the outdoors for me.  I have so much respect for people who go fishing, boating, hiking, etc., with an angry sun overhead.  They look up at the sky and say, “You will not defeat me sun!  I have water and copious amounts of sunscreen.”  For me, September and October are usually great for outdoor activities.  Right now, though, I am holding on to the air conditioning vent with two hands.  Love some A.C. 

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, “Hey, when you go into the great outdoors, what types of activities do you enjoy?”  I’m glad you asked.  I really enjoy the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Last year, I went to Chimney Rock State Park in August, but I usually go to Gatlinburg in September and hike a different waterfall trail.  Now, we probably could put “hike” in quotes because I’m selective about which trails I take.   If you have looked at any trail descriptions, “moderate” is my max and I'm paying close attention to the elevation change.  The scenery along these trails is absolutely amazing and people on the trails tend to be very friendly.  We encourage each other to forge ahead and ensure each other that a waterfall exists at the end of the trail.  It doesn’t help when you see signs along the way reading, “Be careful, people have died falling from this height,”  or something similar.  Not to mention the warnings about bears.

Mouse Creek Falls
Hickory Nut FallsToms Branch Falls

There are so many outdoor activities available here in Alabama.  I really should take advantage of the waterfall trails closer to home.  Be sure to take a look at some of these books and websites to get ideas of where you’d like to go.  Remember not to overdo it in the heat and stay properly hydrated.  Who's ready for an adventure?


Friday, June 12, 2015

Birmingham Reads Initiative Connects Libraries and Reading to Reducing City’s Violence

A new reading initiative launched by the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) system can shed light on ways to bring a community together to address violent crime. Birmingham Reads will provide citizens with free copies of the book Don’t Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America by David M. Kennedy. Designed as a program where books are distributed, read, and then returned to libraries to be passed on to other readers, Birmingham Reads gets underway on Monday, June 15, 2015. Citizens can ask for copies of the book at the circulation desks of the 19 libraries located in the city limits of Birmingham. Limited quantities are available. Birmingham Reads is an initiative launched to coincide with the city’s new Violence Reduction Plan unveiled on June 2 by Mayor William A. Bell and Police Chief A.C. Roper.

As a department of the city, library staff work to build collections and programs that reflect the immediate needs of Birmingham and its citizens. When new initiatives are launched throughout the city, library workers look at ways to connect programs and services already offered—such as computer training classes, online resources for business development, databases for genealogical research, and so much more. They also look for new, low-cost initiatives that provide an opportunity to build partnerships and to get involved in continuing to make Birmingham a model city for all.

When the Violence Reduction Plan was unveiled, Library Director Angela Fisher Hall was told that the book Don’t Shoot would be a resource used for planning purposes. “After receiving a call from the city’s Director of Public Information, April Odom, my staff and I took a close look at how the library could get involved,” Hall stated. “Our summer reading program theme for children, Every Hero Has A Story, and our ability to launch reading initiatives throughout the city, give us a platform for involvement in this undertaking.” As part of the summer reading program, several library locations will invite police officers and other first responders to speak with participants about their work. With an opportunity to meet these civil servants up close, library workers hope to build better communication and trust among these workers and the young people they serve in their communities. By making the book Don’t Shoot available to adult readers without requiring a library card for check out, BPL staff hope that it gives an expanded audience access to the book. At some time in late August, the library will work with other city departments to host a discussion of the book.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Summer Reading in Full Swing at Area Libraries

Two masked superheroes at the Smithfield Branch Library

Everyone can be a superhero at the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) and staff at all 19 library locations have been preparing for this time of the year since December. BPL’s commitment to outstanding summer reading experiences for children, teens, and adults is reflected in the many and varied offerings for all ages and interests. Participants can discover new books, make new friends, learn a new skill, and enjoy family-friendly programs by participating in themed reading celebrations including Every Hero Has a Story for children; Unmask! for teens; and Escape the Ordinary for adults.

The goal of summer reading is to encourage participants (especially children) to read for pleasure and to read often. BPL is offering special programs and incentives during June and July to motivate patrons of all ages, from children to adults, to read what they enjoy. Once participants read the number of books in their set goal, they are eligible for rewards. Reading rewards range from admission tickets to the McWane Science Center and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame to scavenger hunt prizes from Red Mountain Park’s zip line.

“Summer reading is a magical time that transforms all of our libraries—and staff,” stated BPL Director Angela Fisher Hall. “With support from our summer reading sponsor the Alabama Power Foundation and other partner organizations we are able to provide an experience for our citizens to encourage reading for enjoyment and enrichment. We are particularly excited that involvement in such a program over the summer months goes a long way in preparing students for the next school year. This is a time of the year that we all look forward to with much anticipation.”

Participants can sign up for summer reading at any BPL location or online at The online component is a new feature this summer where children, teens, and adults may record reading activities to their account and earn virtual badges, as well as other rewards for participating in library programs. Thousands of readers are expected to participate this summer. Magic shows, art classes, demonstrations with live animals, movies, talent shows, fitness fun, storytimes, and more will be offered at all BPL locations.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Audiobook Month and the Return of Travis McGee

June is the month in which we celebrate audiobooks. Why audiobooks? In this day of tablets, smart phones, etc., they not only let us try new authors and genres, but they also allow us to multitask while doing it. They are also a fun way to revisit old favorites. Speaking of old favorites, where, you ask, does Travis McGee fit into this scenario?

McGee is a fictional character from writer John D. Macdonald. He was featured in at least 21 novels. McGee earns his money by taking on lost property jobs. He only works when he’s low on cash. His residence is also non-traditional, he resides on a houseboat.

Travis McGee was my first introduction to audiobooks. I started listening on my commute to work. The character was instantly addictive. The books were available on cassette. I worked my way through all 21 books, from The Deep Blue Good-By (1964) to Lonely Silver Raid (1985). Like the author Walter Mosley, MacDonald used colors in the titles of his books. Unfortunately, MacDonald died in 1986. Over the years, I forgot about Travis and moved on to other favorites.

Recently in an unexpected move, Brilliance Audio released 18 of the novels on CD. Not only were they on CD, but they were also offered in the MP3 format, which means one CD instead of 16. I’m starting over. Join me and get reacquainted with John D. Macdonald’s most famous character. Reserve your copies today.

Lorraine Walker
Five Points West Regional Branch Library

Get Ready for the Zombie Apocalypse (or Any Other Disaster)!

Monday, June 15, 6:00-7:30 p.m.
Birmingham Public Library, 2100 Park Place
Story Castle, 2nd Floor

 Carly Reimann in the Zombies in the Library calendar.
Picture: Benjamin Wheal 
Source: The Advertise
Be the hero when disaster strikes! Nathan Moore has taught disaster preparedness to many Boy Scouts, and his entertaining but very practical workshop will get you ready to save the day when faced with a tornado, hurricane, or the attack of the walking dead. 

So come out to the Story Castle on the second floor of the Central Library on Monday, June 15, at 6:00 p.m., to learn valuable skills that could save your life or the life of your loved ones. For more information, call 226-3670 or e-mail

Nathan came up with this ingenious take on a serious topic, because, let's face it, zombies are hot...

To find out more about zombies and disaster preparedness, check out these resources at your library:

Disaster preparedness:


Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Book Review: Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932
Francine Prose

In Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 we spend pleasurable time with three French women as we read their memoirs, diaries, and letters telling tales of glory and terror in the famed artists colony of Montparnasse from the boozy parties of the '20s to the Gestapo’s torture rooms during the occupation. We also read the words of an American ex-patriate writer based on Henry Miller, obsessed with slights and sex, and of a sweet Hungarian photographer, an artist, based on the great Braisson. Pablo Picasso makes a strong cameo appearance, his sketch of a guillotine foreshadowing the horrors ahead.

The Chameleon Club, a left bank transvestite cabaret, is their hangout. Anyone who has spent serious time drinking at a drag club will find Prose’s depiction of the scene to be comfortably familiar. Yvonne, with values inspired by her pet lizard (thus the name), presides over the club singing sadly of her sailor who never returned, selling drinks and frisson to the Americans in the '20s, drinks and bigotry to the French in the '30s, and selling drinks and perversion to the Nazi gangsters.

The mystery of Lou Villar is the narrative thread that drives the novel. We know the basics of her stories right away. She was a cross-dressing lesbian athlete who performed in the Chameleon Club cabaret show and became a torturer for the Gestapo, and she is based on an actual female athlete who, with her girlfriend, appears in a famous Braisson photograph and goes on to torture French resistance fighters for the Gestapo. The author, Prose, has said that she considered writing her story as non-fiction, but thought the theme of how one becomes evil was best treated in a novel. The title of the books is also the title of the fictional photograph. Lesbian Couple at the Monocle is the name of Braisson’s picture.

The characters, our writers, diarists, and correspondents, all develop and evolve over the twenty years covered by the narrative, and clearly have new insights on those times as their writing is often looking back on a passage of their lives from the perspective of the 1990s. And they are indeed fascinating characters, but this book is primarily an up-close portrait of a tragic and world-changing aesthetic epoch.

David Blake
Fiction Department
Central Library

Roll It Again!

Here’s my latest in a continuing series of pieces on my favorite movies, the ones I watch again and again. Sometimes I think at six, seven times, I’ll probably never want to see a certain movie again, only to have it calling me two, three years down the line. This staying power is something I value more and more as the years go by and I find few repeat-watchers among the current crop of movies-or even among the vast storehouse of older ones. As always, I’ve put the estimated number of times I’ve seen the title at the end of each entry.

Diner (1982). A movie so good, it almost didn’t get released. Apparently, only a last-minute rave from Pauline Kael in the New Yorker saved this one from extinction and shamed the studio into actually releasing it. (Some zealot privately screened it for Kael.) This is director Barry Levinson’s love letter to his youth in Baltimore. The year is 1959. The Fifties are ending. Women are asking more of men. A group of young guys are stumbling from their adolescence to their early adulthood, not sure of exactly what stage they’re in. Sometimes they are neither fish nor fowl, sometimes they’re fish, sometimes fowl, sometimes fish-fowl—all this makes them interesting to watch. The dialogue is just right and resulted from improvisation or was actually improvised on set. The pain, embarrassment, humiliation, and sheer uncertainty of growing up is all there in vivid detail. But they’ve “still got the diner.” And I do, too. Around 10 times.

Five Easy Pieces (1970). Speaking of trying to grow up, this one is not so much a coming of age movie as a coming of rage one. One of the movies that made Jack Nicholson a household name, Five Easy Pieces concerns a young man who’s rejected his comfortable upper-middle class background (when you see it you’ll see why), trading it for blue collar life. He soon rejects that, too, and makes stabs at rejoining his cast-off family. Ultimately, that doesn’t work either, and Nicholson’s character finds himself alienated from an America that only offers emptiness, which only heightens his anger. There’s no port in a storm, there’s only storm. Nicholson is something to watch. You never know when he’s going to explode. Even his suppressed rage is dramatic. Karen Black as his albatross girlfriend is a marvel. Fannie Flagg is very effectively blank as a character who can’t do anything more than exist. Themes of America as a purposeless place and rebellion as futility results not in viewer despair but in the viewer getting fully engaged. About 4 times.

The African Queen (1951). Countless readers of this series will note that John Huston, director, ranks very high in my repeat-watch lists. I’ve covered The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Prizzi’s Honor before, and The African Queen is similarly bullet-proof for my needs. Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn star in (and appear in nearly every scene of) this story of a supply boat captain and spinster missionary in WW1 Africa. Two extremely rigid and extremely single adults are, through the extremis of war, brought together and must survive together. They tolerate each other, hate each other, almost die twice, and learn to love each other, realizing a better life despite their own natures. The unimprovable dialogue by James Agee, based on the C.S. Forester novel is one of the great strengths of this film. As Charlie (Bogart) would say, it’s a highly interestin’ song that sings. It’s a road movie where the river is the road, a romance, an adventure story, a war movie…forget all that, an uncategorizable film in the best possible sense, incorporating and transcending genres. The Belgian Congo does for this one what Mexico does for Sierra Madre, toughening it up, making it more realistic, making it such that the geography becomes a lead character. About 10 times.

Richard Grooms
Fiction/Government Documents Departments
Central Library

Monday, June 08, 2015

A Book Signing with Roe Bonner

Author Roe Bonner with a fan.
I really like being a librarian and my inspiration for becoming one was my love of books. Author signings, visits, and conferences are always exciting because I learn about authors and hear their stories. On May 26, the West End Branch Library had an author signing with former radio personality Roosevelt “Roe” Bonner. Roe was the DJ at WENN Radio, which was owned by A.G. Gaston, from 1978-1996. His book, Behind the Mic: The Rise and Fall of Personality Radio recounts his years as an employee at WENN.

During the book signing, Roe talked about famous people and musicians he met while working at WENN. He spoke so well and eloquently about his book that I wanted to read it immediately. Several people bought the book that day and he gave my co-worker and me a signed copy. When I took the book home that evening and put it in the living room, my mother asked what it was and I told her. I was cooking dinner when my mother started laughing. She was reading Roe's book and was enjoying it. We read a chapter together and laughed. Not everything in this book is humorous, but all the stories are interesting and some are quite insightful. Behind the Mic: The Rise and Fall of Personality Radio is not a long book, but it is a very informative and enjoyable read for adults.

Maya Jones
West End Branch Library

Friday, June 05, 2015

Confounded by the Census? Beyond the Basics of Genealogy Returns This Month

Norman Rockwell Census Taker
Norman Rockwell's The Census Taker
1940 CensusFirst taken in 1790, the U.S. census is probably a genealogist's most-used resource. Beginners and experts alike use the federal census as the starting point for their research. However, many people are still confounded by the U.S. census and are shocked when they discover:
  • 1940 is the most recent census available to the public. 
  • Nearly the entire 1890 census was destroyed by a fire. 
  • The census taker often misspelled your ancestor’s name. 
  • Other information (race, date of birth, age, additional/missing children, etc.) about your ancestor might be incorrect or vary widely from census to census. 
Beyond the Basics of Genealogy
Learn the ins and outs of the census, how it’s changed from year to year (and why it matters), and how to interpret your ancestors’ responses in our next Beyond the Basics of Genealogy workshop, Census and Sensibility: Using and Interpreting U.S. Census Records. This workshop will be held on Saturday, June 9th at 10 am in Arrington Auditorium of the Linn Henley building. Registration is requested, and you can register online, e-mail us at, or call us at 205-226-3365.

In addition to this workshop, we will have our Introduction to Genealogy classes. Introduction to Genealogy will be offered Tuesday, June 9th from 11:30 am-12:30 pm and again on Sunday, June 21st from 2:30-3:30 pm on the first floor of the Linn-Henley building in the Southern History department. The content is the same with each offering, and this class is offered throughout the year. No registration is required for this class, so come and bring a friend! If you have any questions, please contact us by phone at 205-226-3665 or e-mail us at

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Adult Summer Reading Program on Facebook

Adult Summer Reading Program 2015 (June 1-August 14)

We just want to remind everyone about the Adult Summer Reading Program 2015 (June 1- August 14th). We hope your plans include awesome books, pool time and summer fun!

Don’t let the kids have all the summer reading fun! Join Birmingham Public Library for our Adult Summer Reading Program on Facebook. Summer reading for adults means reading challenges, sharing your reads, finding book suggestions, making book recommendations, great prizes and book fun.
Adult Summer Reading Challenge:
Every Friday at 5:00 p.m.(see dates below), we will draw names from people who have commented on our post (posted Friday morning) and told us the name of a book they have read. You may read any book you like. You must read at least one book during the week to be eligible for each weekly drawing.
June 19 
June 26
July 10
July 17
July 24
Read as many books as you can during the summer because on August 7 and August 14, there will be grand prize winners from all of the entries turned in during the summer.
Social Media Portion of Adult Summer Reading Program:
Follow our Adult Summer Reading Program 2015 Board on Pinterest. If you don't have a Pinterest account, it's very easy to create one.  We will feature all types of book images, recommendations and other book fun on the board as well.
If you’re on social media, you can be in the drawing for special prizes: 1st follow ourAdult Summer Reading Program 2015 Board on Pinterest. Then share your favorite summer reading books, summer pictures, using the hashtag #BPLSummerReads on Twitter or Pinterest. Be creative, you might share a book recommendation, your “to be read" summer reading pile, summer reading selfie, etc. We look forward to seeing your pictures!

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