Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Helping Children Establish Good School Habits

School is back in session and children are adjusting to the hustle and bustle of school. Waking up early, doing homework, participating in extracurricular activities in addition to maintaining household chores and other ritualistic tasks can leave children exhausted and unmotivated; however, if managed properly, children will not only be prepared to complete the ever growing list of tasks, but will also have the zeal to complete them. Time management and organizational skills are crucial in juggling multiple tasks and if taught, children can learn how to effectively apply them throughout their lives. Below is a list of books available throughout the library system that will teach parents, caregivers, teachers, and even children themselves how to manage time and multiple tasks both effectively and efficiently while maintaining happiness. Happy Reading!

The Learning Habit: A Groundbreaking Approach to Homework and Parenting That Helps Our Children Succeed in School and Life by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, Rebecca Jackson, Robert Pressman

Raising Happiness:10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents  by Christine Carter

Smart But Scattered: The Revolutionary "Executive Skills" Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare

Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings by Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD

School Made Easier: A Kid's Guide to Study Strategies and Anxiety-Busting Tools by Wendy L. Moss, PhD

Get Organized Without Losing It by Janet S. Fox

A Kid's Guide to Managing Time: A Children's Book about Using Time Efficiently and Effectively by Joy Wilt

Organize & Create Discipline by Justin Klosky

Karnecia Williams
Inglenook Branch Library

Matthew Mayes’ Layers of Meaning Series Going Home August 29

Hurry to the Central Library’s Fourth Floor Gallery by September 4 to view—or purchase!—intricate acrylic paintings bold in color, texture, and depth.

It’s your last chance to experience The Layers of Meaning: Paintings by Matthew Mayes, a showcase of work by popular local artist Matthew Mayes. The art gallery has been a success for Mayes, with many clients bringing home his kaleidoscopic pieces for their living rooms and businesses.

Mayes considers his vibrant array of paintings to be a study of color perception, definition, and composition.

“The viewer’s reality is based on how my artwork makes them feel,” Mayes said about his work. “Art should awaken your senses and test your boundaries between perception and reality. Either way, you are never wrong with what YOU see in art and how art makes YOU feel.”

Awaken your senses to Mayes’ colorful world and see what his artwork says to you.


Matthew Mayes

Born in Florence, Alabama, Matthew Mayes is a self-taught artist with over 12 years’ experience as a professional. He currently resides in Birmingham, Alabama, with his partner Brian and their son Noah.

Matthew began painting as a child after watching The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross. He had experienced a number of stints with hospitalization and home schooling due to illness and needed an outlet for his creativity. Art was his answer and savior.

Concerning the process of creating art, Matthew states, “I allow natural ability combined with a trained eye to create. Without both, my art could not exist."

Matthew’s exhibits have appeared at popular local events like the Birmingham Art Crawl as well as out-of-state, from Michigan to Arizona and beyond. You can find his work featured at all I.O Metro locations.

Bethany Mitchell
Arts, Literature and Sports Department
Central Library

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Uku-Lending at Birmingham Public Library

Thanks to a generous donation of five ukuleles and their cases from Fretted Instruments of Homewood, the Avondale Library Youth Department is now circulating (lending) ukuleles! The ukulele has been described as a “hip” inexpensive instrument that is very easy to learn to play. While there are libraries in Alabama that host a ukulele club, Avondale is one of the first, if not the first, Alabama library that lends the instrument to their patrons; we are pioneers. In addition to being fun, recent research shows that playing a musical instrument improves concentration, memory, and focus—a benefit for all ages. If you would like more information on how you too can become part of the “Uku-Lending” craze, visit the Avondale Library today.

Carla Perkins
Avondale Regional Branch Library

Laughing through the Summer (or End of Summer) Blues

Laughter is the best medicine.

The oldest documented joke dates back to 1900 BCE. A Sumarian proverb a bit lost in translation, it still bares much resemblance to today's low-brow humor. Babylonians even had Yo Momma  jokes. Clearly, the need to giggle and tease is nothing new. Wordplay, irony, and sarcasm are found even in the Bible.

Comedic plays were common even in ancient Greece and comic books as we know them date back to the 19th century.

If you want to learn about the history of humor. We've got you covered.
A history of American graphic humor by William Murrell
Stop me if you've heard this : a history and philosophy of jokes by Jim Holt.
American humor : a study of the national character by Constance Rourke

If you're just in the mood for a laugh,  we've got that too. From records and writings of Jeff Foxworthy, Richard Pryor, Tina Fey, and George Carlin to National Lampoon, Peanuts, and Foxtrot, we have items to help you laugh away the summer (or end of summer) haze.

DVDs of stand up comics
Books on CD

Funny Reads
Humorous Fiction
Joke books

Allie Graham
Central Library
Arts, Literature, Sports

Monday, August 24, 2015

Five Points West Library's Fall Family Programming to Focus on Parent-Child Interaction

Fun with Play-Doh at 1-2-3 Play with Me, Five Points West Library, 2014

September will be here soon and so will our programs for children and families. On Thursday mornings beginning September 3 at 10:00 a.m., we will have our children's storytime programs. This program is for parents, children, and preschoolers, as well as day cares.

Our 1-2-3 Play with Me program will run this fall every Tuesday, September 8-October 6. This program is for children from birth to three years old accompanied by parents. This program has toys, blocks, books, songs, and art activities for children, and special visitors will be on hand to answer questions you may have about raising your child.

Beginning Tuesday, September 27, we will begin our Prime Time Family Reading Time program for families at 6:00 p.m. This is a special six-week program for families with children ranging from age three to 10. A light dinner is served and then the fun begins with storytellers, discussions, and crafts. Families must preregister for this program at the Five Points West Library or call us at 226-4017.

Several other BPL locations also offer 1-2-3 Play With Me programs.

Visit Birmingham365 for a list of more Five Points West Library and BPL systermwide programs.

Lynn Carpenter
Five Points West Regional Branch Library

Time Travel and Genealogy: A Match Made in Time

Back to FutureThe ability to travel through time has always fascinated people. Countless books, movies, and TV shows delight us with the stories of time travelers and their adventures, and I have to admit that if a plot involves time travel that I am more than likely to give a book, movie, or TV show a try. Here is one favorite from each of those categories:
  • Books: The Time Machine by H.G. Wells is a perennial classic time travel book that first introduced to the concept of a time machine, which is a vehicle that allows us to travel through time. 
  • TV: Doctor Who is a British sci-fi series that has been running since 1963 and features the Doctor and his companions as they travel through time. 
  • Movies: Back to the Future is a trilogy of movies that involves time travel to the Old West, 1950s, 1980s, and the year 2015 (the future). The year 2015 has arrived, and some of the future depicted in this movie is reality. However, I still do not own a hover board. 
However, these fictitious characters are not real people and will always make it seem somewhat imaginary. What it you could travel through time and meet your own ancestors? What was life like from your great grandmother or your great great great (insert as many greats as needed) grandfather who fought in the American Revolution? If you have asked that question, you should attend What Time is It?: Putting Your Ancestors in Historical Context, which is part of our Beyond the Basics of Genealogy workshop series. In this workshop, you will travel through time with your ancestors to find what their lives may have been like and discover untapped sources. Locate contemporaries of your ancestor to determine what people and events defined their time. Plot creative timelines that can open new research possibilities, solve mysteries, and bring your ancestors to life!

Beyond the Basics of Genealogy: What Time Is It? Putting Your Ancestors in Historical Context will be held on August 29, 10:00 a.m., at the Central Library/Arrington Auditorium. Workshops  are free of charge, but registration is requested. To register, contact the Southern History Department of the Birmingham Public Library at 205-226-3665 or e-mail us at The workshop will be held in the Arrington Auditorium (4th floor) of the Linn-Henley building.

Laura Gentry
Southern History Department
Birmingham Public Library

Friday, August 21, 2015

Book Review: Mr. Mercedes

Mr. Mercedes
Stephen King

It’s 2009. The economy’s tanked. In a nameless Midwestern city, job-seeking hopefuls are lined up outside the annual City Center job fair when a madman plows into the crowd with a stolen Mercedes Benz. Eight are killed, and dozens maimed by the time the death-car’s taillights vanish in the early morning fog. When the police find the vehicle hours later, it’s abandoned in a parking lot, and wiped clean of prints. As a final, creepy touch, the killer also left the clown mask he was wearing during the massacre on the driver’s seat. No one is ever caught.

Exactly one year after the massacre, newly retired detective Bill Hodges receives a letter from Mr. Mercedes, taunting him for being unable to crack the case. Given a new sense of purpose, Hodges sets to work trying to catch him. Covering points of view for both the killer and the detective, Mr. Mercedes chronicles the cat and mouse game they play that could result in yet another attack of unthinkable horror.

What can I say? No one can craft a story like King can, nor can they capture the feel of an era and use it to such maximum effect. A modern-day tribute to the detective genre, Mr. Mercedes combines good old-fashioned noir with creepiness, out-right horror, and that off-the-wall prose that King’s fans know and love him for. And while I can’t quite hail the ending as particularly strong or original, it certainly is one heck of a ride getting there! Recommended for fans of David Fincher's serial killer film, Seven.

Liz Winn
Microforms/Gov Docs
Central Library 

Springville Road Library Computer Lab to Close for Renovations, August 24-September 7

Springville Road Regional Branch Library will remain open, but our computer lab will be closed on Monday, August 24, and will reopen on Tuesday, September 8. The good news is that we’re getting a new floor for the computer lab; the bad news is that in order to do so we must close the lab to install it. There will still be three computers in the Youth Department and two in the Adult Department. We also have a 15-minute Express computer to insure quick access if all you need to do is check your e-mail.

Kelly Laney
Springville Road Regional Branch Library

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Southern History Book of the Month: Forth to the Mighty Conflict: Alabama and World War II

Forth to the Mighty Conflict: Alabama and World War II
Allen Cronenberg

This month marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Forth to the Mighty Conflict is an in-depth look at the role of Alabamians in the war which, according to Cronenberg, began as an essay that grew into a book:
Initially, it was conceived as an extended essay to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Alabama’s role in World War II . . . As the project matured, however, it became clear that the subject of Alabama’s role in World War II deserved more than a brief essay.
More, indeed. As I read through the table of contents, I was amazed at how many topics the author was able to cover about Alabamians in the war and how the war affected this state. Sample chapters include a look at Alabama’s military training facilities, prisoner of war camps such as the one in Aliceville, how the war affected the state’s industrial output, and Alabamians in the European and the Pacific campaigns. Any one of these chapters could have been the subject of a full-length book, yet Mighty Conflict is less than 200 pages long. It could easily be read in a day or two, but it is also a book that invites browsing. I had to smile a little over the passage reporting that "the single greatest complaint from POWs was Alabama’s climate, the humidity of which was even more debilitating than the heat."

How well we know. But this was one of only a few humorous moments in the book for me: other incidents like the story of Bert Bank, Tuscaloosa native and survivor of the Bataan Death March, are hideous examples of man’s inhumanity to man:
To supplement their meager allowances of rice and pig weed soup, the desperate prisoners ate dogs, cats, lizards, frogs, and virtually any other animal that had the misfortune of falling into their grasp . . . Bert Bank was one of the lucky ones. Death liberated nearly 300 Alabama prisoners from their ordeals.
Or there’s the story of Henry “Red” Irwin of Adamsville, who was on a mission over Tokyo when things went horribly wrong:  ". . . a phosphorous bomb . . . accidentally detonated inside the plane. Sergeant Irwin picked up the burning explosive and, although seriously injured and nearly blinded by the blast, managed to toss the device from the plane."

Irwin was badly burned and required numerous operations and skin grafts, but survived—and received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

World War II had what Cronenberg described as a “globalizing and educating effect on Alabamians,” as hundreds of men and women traveled around the nation and the world; in many ways it was another chorus of a song from the previous World War: “How Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree)?” The exposure to other cultures and the educational opportunities available through the GI Bill brought about sweeping changes to the state, yet there were other forces at work that would not reach their full expression until the 1960s: "Increased opportunities in higher education had the most dramatic impact on black Alabamians. By 1950 there had been a 90 percent increase in the number of African Americans in the state with at least one year of college education."

Any survey of war’s effects on a population is certain to include stories of horror and heroism, and Forth to the Mighty Conflict has its share of both, but I think what I will carry away from this book is the memory of how many Alabamians worked and served well and honorably in that conflict.
For more on this topic:

World War II ended in 'wild reign of joy' at Birmingham V-J Day street party

Birmingham Rewound: This Month in History, August 1945

Mary Anne Ellis
Southern History Department
Central Library

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Big Range of CDs at the Library

I’ve selected a spectrum of music CDs from Central Library’s Arts, Literature and Sports Department. These are ones I’ve checked out and/or own myself. Some I own because I was so impressed by the checkout experience. The library has a wide selection and that’s helped to broaden my horizons. If you want to explore America’s music or be a xenophile, the library’s a very good place to start.

Bali / recorded in Bali by David Lewiston, 1989Nonesuch was the first U.S. label that made world music records for the average listener, not just the specialist. This one, recorded in the '80s by David Lewiston, who did more than anyone to make Indonesian music accessible, is a very good modern recording with excellent performances from a good range of the island’s traditional music. There’s no faster music in the world than Balinese music (if you want a contrast, there’s nothing slower than dream-paced Javanese music). Like much traditional Indonesian music, Balinese music features tuned gong ensembles, which sound like nothing else on earth. To Western ears, the sounds on this record are otherworldly, timeless, and mysterious. But they can also be quite vigorous.

Buffalo Skinners / Woody Guthrie, 1999
This CD is part of a box set Smithsonian/Folkways issued that sums up the definitive work Guthrie and the label did together in the 1940s. When I started on this review, I couldn’t remember what a buffalo skinner was, but I was struck by "Go Tell Aunt Rhody," a bedtime song my grandmother sang to me when I was a child. Of course, Woody can’t do it as well as her, but I shouldn’t have expected the moon. It’s a rich take nonetheless. Listening to Guthrie is to connect with a now-vanished America of dust-ruined farms, hobos, rail riders, and the 19th century folk tradition and before. He does deliver the moon in places here.

Chinese Traditional and Contemporary Music / Wu Man & Ensemble, 1996
No, this isn’t the music you hear in your local Chinese restaurant. Nothing bland, cheesy, or background here. Wu Man, who’s appeared in Birmingham before, is one of the masters of the pipa, a plucked Chinese lute. Another instrument played here by the Ensemble is the erhu, a fiddle that you may have heard in Chinese movies when the director wanted to suggest loneliness, loss, or regret. There’s also the zheng, a zither and ancestor to the Japanese koto. Also: various reeds, including one with a kazoo-like sound. A good intro to the thousands-years-old Chinese tradition.

Four Last Songs, Six Orchestral Songs / Richard Strauss, 1983I first heard one of the Four while watching the opening credits of the movie Wild At Heart. I knew I had to hear it again and own it, so struck was I by the sound. Later I heard David Bowie’s a big fan of these songs. They’re all here and sung by Jessye Norman, and you’re not going to get a better performance than the one by her. These opulent, late-Romantic pieces for voice and orchestra are evocative in the sense that you can never get to the bottom of them. Listen and know what it is to be fully engaged in this world with its longing, sorrow and wonder and at the same time utterly leave that world. Engagement and transcendence—a potent combination.

Eine Alpensinfonie / Richard Strauss, 1989
The first time I heard this piece I fell asleep and dreamed I was in the high mountains. It works well when you’re awake, too. Feeling like you’re there is part of the point, of course, in this Alp symphony. Like the last Strauss entry, this record will transport you to another world, a world your imagination and desire will be able to create. It’s fairly easy to write about this, but it’s very hard for a composer to initiate that process. Strauss could do that and the Cleveland Orchestra is more than up to the challenge.

Symphonien nos. 35-41 / Mozart, 1995
Mozart’s late symphonies are pinnacles of Western art and the last two, 40 and 41, stand tallest among them. Each of these works suggests whole worlds, with dance, tragedy, foreboding, joy, and transcendence at play. Fearless exploration was what Mozart was doing in these compositions and they point directly to the Romantic era. I’ve been listening to these symphonies since high school and I know I’ll never tire of them; always hear new things in them. Bohm and the Berliners' take on them is top-level music.

Goldberg Variations / Bach, 2000
Glenn Gould is the most famous interpreter of these solo piano pieces, but I think Rosalyn Tureck is equally good. I have a friend who was lucky to get to attend a seminar under Tureck and he agrees with the assessment of one critic that she was the High Priestess of Bach. I have no issue with that title. In her hands these lithe pieces shine with a haunting radiance. Bach was at his stately and universal best in the Goldberg Variations and, as Bach offered up everything he wrote to the Almighty, you can easily hear that this is music worthy of God. More to my needs, it’s music that never fails to make me feel like there is something worth living for.

Gagaku: Ancient Japanese Court and Dance Music / The Imperial Court, [1994?]
Gagaku is the oldest form of Japanese classical music and it has older roots in China. Like so many things the Japanese have adopted from China, it has become quintessentially Japanese. Originally it was formal imperial court music, but Japan no longer has anything like that kind of court. Instead of mostly suggesting the eternality of the court, it now mostly suggests to me the eternal itself, worlds beyond our world, not surprising when you learn that gagaku is associated with Buddhism. If you want to leave this world behind without actually dying, listening to gagaku is a good way of doing it.

Creation’s Journey: Native American Music / presented by the National Museum of the American Indian, 1999
This one’s here partly because it’s so hard to find good American Indian music on CD. Too much is New Age or some watered-down dreck and that’s a shame considering that the real stuff should be a valued part of every American’s heritage. The problem is one of access. This is the best intro I’ve ever heard. It has a good cross section of music, with many tribes and regions in evidence. Solid, fine performances abound and there’s not a weak track on it. It was a lot for the museum to take on, but they did it on one CD as well as anyone could’ve reasonably hoped for.

West Meets East: The Historic Shankar / Menuhin Sessions, 1999
Back in the sixties, before there was even the term "world music," Ravi Shankar, India’s premier sitar player, and Western classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin started recording these pieces. They bridged the two classical worlds and thus made a good way into India’s art heritage for those who might otherwise find it inaccessible. Unlike so many fusion attempts, it actually works because it doesn’t do any dumbing-down or homogenizing.

Rain Dogs / Tom Waits, 1985
According to Tom Waits, rain dogs are dogs that’ve been through a big rain and have lost their scent and are therefore left rootless and wandering. The subjects of these tunes are their human equivalent. This record was made after Waits jettisoned his fifties beatnik musical style and adopted Kurt Weill and Harry Partch as guiding lights. It made his music more original and interesting and quirky. There’s Tom himself on the cover, washed up onto the arms of some understanding woman.

Richard Grooms
Fiction/Government Documents Departments
Central Library

Monday, August 17, 2015

In It for the Long Haul: Running with a Cause

Four million dollars, and then some.

That’s how much the Mercedes Marathon has raised in support for local Birmingham charities.

A daddy’s promise to his ill little boy generated the creation of this race. You get through this surgery, and I’ll run a marathon for you, Paul Sotherland had said. The proposal: a heart-pounding 26.2 mile run if his son with Down syndrome pushed through a critical open-heart surgery. His son proved his endurance, and so did Paul. Inspired, the Mercedes Marathon took root and bloomed into the marathon for Birmingham.

Registration is now open for the 15th Anniversary Mercedes Marathon race weekend on February 12-14, 2016. Events include a superhero 5K, kids’ run, kids’ marathon, Mercedes marathon, Mercedes half-marathon, Mercedes marathon 5-person relay, and a health and fitness expo. Even better, events benefit the children at The Bell Center for Early Intervention Program , as well as other local charities.

If you’re more movie marathon than Boston marathon, don’t sweat it. (Yet.) The Regions Superhero 5K is a family friendly race that couch potatoes can walk or jog without growing sprouts from the effort. (But you will need to get off the couch…) This 3.1 mile course is open to all ages, and dressing as superheroes to help raise money is encouraged. Go, Batman, go!

Hopeful runners are already training in readiness for this huge racing weekend. While February 2016 may seem eons away, training for a marathon—which has a time limit of six hours—is not something to push to the bottom of the list. The Mercedes marathon is a qualifying race for the Boston marathon, after all.

Here’s a taste of reading material from the Arts/Literature/Sports department to motivate those feet, pump you up mile after mile, or simply intrigue you to try something you thought you never could do.


Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself

Running Ransom Road: Confronting the Past, One Marathon at a Time

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen


Boston: A Century of Running

Kings of the Road: How Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Alberto Salazar Made Running Go Boom

Michael Johnson: Sprinter Deluxe


Running Doc’s Guide to Healthy Running: How to Fix Injuries, Stay Active, and Run Pain-Free

Kara Goucher’s Running for Women: From First Steps to Marathons

Chi Marathon: The Breakthrough Natural Running Program for a Pain-free Half Marathon and Marathon


Off Course: Inside the Mad, Muddy World of Obstacle Course Racing

The Barefoot Running Book: The Art and Science of Barefoot and Minimalist Shoe Running

The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running

For more information, visit the official Mercedes Marathon website. For a list of local races, from 5Ks to marathons, check out the Birmingham Track Club’s online calendar.

Bethany Mitchell
Arts/Literature/Sports Department
Central Library

Friday, August 14, 2015

Registration Open For September 2015 Classes

Registration is now open for staff and the public for the September 2015 Classes.  During this month, we include our popular computer classes, as well as a variety of personal development classes.  All classes are held in the Regional Library Computer Center (RLCC) of the Central (downtown) LibraryPRE-REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED FOR ALL CLASSES.

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.

To register for any class, please email us at or call 205-226-3681.   You may also download and print a pdf copy of the September 2015 Class Schedule to bring to a Computer Commons staff member on your next library visit.  Please note that the September 2015 Class Schedule pdf can be sent to us as an email attachment.

September 2015 Classes Image

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Book Review: Positive

David Wellington

The latest novel by David Wellington is an improvement over his earlier efforts in the horror genre—13 Bullets or the earlier zombie apocalypse Monster trilogy (Monster Island, Monster Nation, and Monster Planet). Always a quick, fun, and scary read, Wellington’s latest is both longer and the main characters somewhat better developed.

Positive begins in New York City following a zombie virus that infected approximately 99% of the population. New York is relatively safe after 20 years of zombie extermination by the army and civilians, but the population is less than 5,000 in Manhattan. Finn and his best friend Ike are involved in searching for food, and through a series of events, it is revealed that one is possibly infected. The virus has a 20-year incubation period, and people who have it are branded with a huge plus sign on their right hand and sent to a government internment camp in Ohio. Finn is unlucky enough to have his government ride destroyed and has to begin working his way across country, which involves avoiding zombies, cannibals, slavers or road pirates, and an army that doesn’t take kindly to “positives,” as they are known. Along the way, he runs with looters (unwillingly and to rescue others) and begins a long-term feud with the leader of a looter gang that is the overall thread in the story. The book covers his travels through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

Positive contains some hints of Stephen King's The Stand and Robert McCammon's Swan Song, as well as The Road Warrior. All in all, a fun read for zombie and post-apocalyptic fiction fans.

Jonathan Newman
Avondale Regional Branch Library

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Dog Days of Summer

Dog Days of Summer

I can't believe school has already started.  It is soooo hot and the idea of recess or walking home from school makes me start sweating.  My elementary and high school didn't have air conditioning (they do now), so we would get out early on days with very high temperatures.  Of course, we didn't start school until late August, which we still thought was too early.  A friend of mine recently moved here and he asked me if this heat and humidity are normal for Birmingham.  I told him that we always have hot summers, but this is the hottest I can remember in a long time.  We are truly in the dog days of summer.  

What does the expression "dog days of summer" mean and where did it come from?  According to the book Common Phrases and Where They Come From, "the Romans called them canicula res dies, which translates into 'the dog days,' or the hottest days of the summer.  According to Roman beliefs, Sirius, the dog star of Roman astrology and the biggest star in the sky for a period of eight weeks (from about July 3 to August 11), rose daily with the sun.  Along with the sun, Sirius shone brightly throughout 'the dog days.'  So the intense heat during this period was ascribed not only to the heat of the sun but to the intense brightness of the dog star as well."

For our sake, I hope the Romans are right about the dates.  With orange ozone alerts and daily heat advisories, we can definitely use a break from the heat.  If you would like to learn more about the origin of common words and phrases, drop by your local, air-conditioned library to check out some books on the topic.  Really, Sirius, enough is enough with this heat!  I'm really serious about that.  See what I did there?  Stay cool.

Happy Birthday, Hitchcock!

“I'm a writer and, therefore, automatically a suspicious character.”
– Sir Alfred Hitchcock

August 13 marks the birthday of Sir Alfred Hitchcock. The acclaimed “Master of Suspense” directed more than 50 feature films and pioneered the suspense and psychological thriller genres. Hitchcock’s first American film, Rebecca, won an Academy Award for Best Picture, and classics such as Rear Window, Psycho, North by Northwest, and Vertigo earned him the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award. His unique style and macabre sense of fun, typified by cameo appearances in his own films and his television program Alfred Hitchcock Presents, made him a cultural icon.

Avondale Regional Branch Library will be celebrating the big day in style with a mini-marathon of Hitchcock classics from noon to 5:00 p.m. on August 13. Join us for thrills, chills, and birthday cake! We also have a great selection of Hitchcock DVDs available for checkout.

Read more about Hitchcock’s life and legacy:
Alfred Hitchcock : A Life in Darkness and Light
Alfred Hitchcock : Architect of Anxiety 1899-1980
Alfred Hitchcock : Filming Our Fears
The Hitchcock Romance: Love and Irony in Hitchcock's Films
The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder
Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies

Ellen Griffin Shade
Avondale Regional Branch Library

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Book Review: Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal

Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal
Michael Mewshaw

Once, a British aristocrat asked Gore Vidal to which social class he belonged. He grinned toothily, and immediately replied, “The very highest. I’m a third generation celebrity. My grandfather, my father and I have each appeared on the cover of Time magazine!” Vidal’s celebrity, and wealth, was well-earned. His literary output was vast and remains widely admired: novels, plays, screenplays for film and TV, and essays. If one knew nothing but what one learned from reading Vidal, one would know quite a lot indeed. And his readers came to know him well, not only from his writing, but from his hundreds of television appearances. He once quipped, “Never pass up an opportunity to have sex or appear on television.”

Author of Sympathy for the Devil, Michael Mewshaw, is a working writer who became friends with Vidal in 1979 when he interviewed him in Rome, where Vidal and his longtime companion Howard Austin lived for several decades. Mewshaw has written hundreds of magazine articles, many of them about Vidal, for various publications. Scion of a political family, Vidal valued loyalty, and Mewshaw was a loyal friend. He never misquoted Vidal in print. Vidal had a horror of being misquoted; he polished his quips assiduously.

Now that Vidal is dead, Mewshaw reveals the man he knew. The haughty self-possessed public wit in a navy blazer and gray slacks we knew was Vidal’s greatest creation, and that persona was maintained at ruinous personal cost to him and to Austin, who managed his complicated and difficult life and career. By the mid 1970s when Mewshaw and Vidal first met, the vain Vidal’s figure was becoming fleshy. Howard was barely managing Vidal’s intake of food and alcohol. Vidal had often remarked, and written, about his friend Tennessee Williams’ self-destructive dependency on drink and pills, but Vidal was already drinking heavily by then, and his drinking was nearly out of control for most of the rest of his life. Nearly, because every day, without regard for the lateness of his hours or the amount of booze he consumed, Vidal pulled himself together every morning and wrote. The afternoons were given over to the young Italian men he paid for sex, never the same one twice. He was an obsessive hypochondriac and for decades spoke of his eminent death. Nonetheless, his literary achievements, even in the last half of his career, would be remarkable for three healthy writers.

Gore Vidal wrote two autobiographies, Palimpsest and Point by Point Navigation, as well as Snapshots in History’s Glare, a memoir told through historical photographs of him, his family, and the many famous people who were part of his life (the Roosevelts, the Kennedys, Amelia Earhart, Tennessee Williams, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Truman Capote, Princess Margaret, Johnny Carson, and on and on). He once wrote, “Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.” Through Mewshaw’s Sympathy for the Devil we learn that is not true. He was a warm, loving, and generous friend, but this book should not serve as an introduction to Vidal. Read Vidal first, then read Sympathy for the Devil. Vidal’s public persona and his writing were his great achievements. He was a master, perhaps, the master, of American English writing. As Mewshaw writes, “Vidal’s sentences have the snap of a dominatrix’s whip.”

David Blake
Fiction  Department
Central Library

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Summer TV Shows with a Book Tie-In

Wayward Pines, starring Matt Dillon, is adapted from a mystery/science fiction
trilogy by author 
Blake Crouch. 

I really enjoy movies that have a book or graphic novel tie-in, but then so do a lot of people. That’s why I decided to focus on television shows that have a book or graphic novel tie-in. TV shows are very accessible since many people have either local television channels, cable television, Netflix, or Hulu. This summer, while you are watching your favorite TV shows, visit Birmingham Public Library's website to access the catalog and reserve the book, e-book, or audiobook copy of the tie-in. I hope the rest of your summer will be filled with comedy, drama, fantasy, mystery, romance, non-fiction, and science fiction. Perhaps the following shows and their tie-ins will get you started.

Aquarius (NBC, 13-part series, and renewed for a second season) This series is loosely based on historical events in 1967 Los Angeles. David Duchovny stars as LAPD detective Sam Hodiak who is investigating the disappearance of a young woman named Emma. Emma, as it turns out, is staying with infamous Charles Manson and his family. If you want a nonfiction read about Charles Manson after watching this series, try the classic Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry available in book form or audiobook on CD.

The Last Ship (TNT, 13-part series, and renewed for a second season) Post-apocalyptic series in which a global pandemic has killed over 80% of the world’s population. The crew of the USS Nathan James is trying to find a cure. This series is based on a book with the same name by author William Brinkley.

Poldark (PBS Masterpiece Theater, Alabama Public Television) After fighting for the British in the American Revolution, Ross Poldark returns home to Cornwall to find his father dead, his fiancĂ©e married to his cousin, and his finances in ruin. If you’ve been following this series on Masterpiece Theater, you may want to check out the series of twelve books written by Winston Graham. This is the second BBC adaptation of Poldark; if you are interested in the books and both BBC series adaptations, filmed in 2015 and 1975, see what is available here.

Powers (PlayStation Network, 10-part series, and renewed for a second season) Based on the Powers graphic novels by Brian Michael Bendis, people with superhuman abilities are called “Powers” and live among normal humans. Once a well-known Power superstar, Detective Christian Walker’s powers have been taken from him and he now investigates crimes, committed by Powers, with his partner Deena Pilgrim.

Rizzoli & Isles (TNT, 13-part series, and renewed for a seventh season) For all of you who have watched the TV series, don’t forget that author Tess Gerritsen has written eleven Rizzoli & Isles novels. When you want more of the detective and medical examiner duo, please remember to check out these books.

TUT (Spike TV, three-part miniseries) This miniseries is a historical drama based on the life of Egyptian king Tutankhamun. I enjoyed this series but felt it was not as historically accurate as it could have been. This series can still be viewed on Spike TVs website. If you are interested in nonfiction, try these books about King Tutankhamun.

Wayward Pines (FOX, 10-part series) U.S. Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke, played by Matt Dillon, is stuck in small town Wayward Pines and can’t get out. There’s no communication with the outside world and trying to escape will get one executed. Wayward Pines is based on a trilogy of books: Pines, Wayward, and The Last Town by Blake Crouch.

Whispers (ABC, 13-part series) Childhood accidents that could appear random are investigated. The children involved in these “accidents” all claim to be communicating with an imaginary friend who gives rewards for playing games. Whisper is based on Ray Bradbury’s short story “Zero Hour” from The Illustrated Man. Also, reserve a copy of the book Chocky by John Wyndham if you are interested in the idea of childhood imaginary friends who can influence children for good or evil.

ZOO (CBS, 13-part series) I’ve been watching this series and it’s only on the fourth episode. So far, I’m really enjoying it and looking forward to upcoming episodes. Scientist Jackson Oz is concerned about the strange behavior being exhibited by animals around the world. He becomes part of an unofficial investigative team secretly funded by the French government. Zoo is based on a book with the same title written by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge. It’s also available as a graphic novel, audiobook on CD, and downloadable e-book and audiobook.

I hope you enjoy reading the books that inspired these television series. Enjoy the rest of your summer.

Maya Jones
West End Branch Library

Bards & Brews 8/7 Open Mic at Central

Bards & Brews Open Mic • August 7th  •  6:30-9pm
Central Library
2100 Park Place
Birmingham, AL 35223

Beer donated by Blue Pants Brewing • MC Voice Porter • Music by DanI 6:30-7
18+ to attend  • 21+ to drink •  ID required  Light Refreshments

Sign-up to perform begins at 6:30

Monday, August 03, 2015

Children's Book Review: Mockingbird (Ages 10 and Up)

Kathryn Erskine

The world can be a confusing place for a kid who's about to start middle school, especially when they have Asperger syndrome. Caitlin has trouble understanding people in social situations. Many of us take it for granted when we effortlessly glean meaning from sarcasm, body language, and facial expressions. Despite her high intelligence and artistic talent, Caitlin has to rely on her big brother, Devon, to translate the people around her. He’s patient, kind, and gives great advice. When he’s killed in a school shooting, Caitlin doesn’t know where to turn to make sense of why this would happen. Why would a kid shoot her brother for no reason at all? How can she navigate the world around her when her only friend and confidante is absent?

From Caitlin’s first-person perspective, readers are present for the aftermath of a tragedy and the search for closure from Caitlin’s unique point of view. With all the hubbub surrounding the release of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, I couldn’t help but contribute a book review for a children’s title inspired (loosely) by To Kill a Mockingbird. Caitlin and Devon’s favorite movie is To Kill a Mockingbird, and I thought I detected a few plot points corresponding to the story of Atticus, Scout, and Boo Radley. This book is poignant, funny, and enlightening. It’s a great way for kids and adults to submerge themselves in the mind of someone who views the world in a different way. I would recommend it for young and old, though I think the tragic subject matter and Caitlin’s sophisticated vocabulary would make this title challenging for kids younger than fourth grade. It’s a great reminder that the quirky kid on the bus or the eccentric man next door might have a vast intelligence and simply have an unconventional way of interpreting the world around them.

Mollie McFarland
Springville Road Regional Branch Library

Inglenook Branch Library Ends Summer Reading with a BANG!

Inglenook Branch Library’s superhero-themed summer reading program Every Hero Has a Story started with a POW! and ended with a BANG! Over 500 children, teens, and adults attended the 33 programs that the library hosted and the attendance is sure to rise for ensuing summer reading programs. Diverse programs, from Wii games to paint splattering, were provided for every age and interest. Reading interest for children skyrocketed when the Inglenook Neighborhood Association donated a Nextbook 7" Tablet for 3rd through 8th graders to be entered into a drawing to win each time they read 10 books.

Karnecia Williams
Inglenook Branch Library

National Watermelon Day

Every year on August 3, National Watermelon Day is celebrated in the United States. Watermelon is a vine-like flowering plant with a special kind of fruit referred to by botanists as a pepo, a berry which has many seeds, a thick rind and fleshy center. For many people (myself included), the watermelon is a favorite summertime snack that just happens to be 92% water and filled with yummy history and fun facts.

Although the Kalahari Desert of South Africa is believed to be the origin of the watermelon, it is the Egyptians who are credited with the first harvest. According to hieroglyphics found on walls in many ancient Egyptian buildings, the first watermelon harvest occurred nearly 5,000 years ago. Hieroglyphics also show watermelons being placed in the burial tombs of royalty as means of nourishment in the afterlife—talk about food fit for a king. Thanks to the merchant ships along the Mediterranean Sea, watermelons quickly spread throughout other countries. By the 10th century, the fruit had found its way to China, which is now the world’s largest producer of watermelon. By the 13th century, watermelon had spread through the remainder of Europe and the rest is history. Today watermelon exists in over 1200 varieties in 96 countries worldwide. You can find red, pink, white, and yellow melons in various shapes and sizes.

How to choose a ripe melon:
  1. Look the watermelon over. You are looking for a firm, symmetrical watermelon that is free from bruises, cuts, or dents.
  2. Lift it up. The watermelon should be heavy for its size; most of the weight is water.
  3. Turn it over. The underside of the watermelon should have a creamy yellow spot from where it sat on the ground and ripened in the sun.

Although National Watermelon Day is not recognized as a true national holiday, which literally requires an act of Congress, it is a fun day to celebrate by eating a slice and reading a book.

Some good watermelon reads:
Watermelon Day by Kathi Appelt
The Berenstain Bears and the Missing Watermelon Money by Stan Berenstain
The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli

Carla Perkins
Avondale Regional Branch Library

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