Books and Beyond
It’s 1905 in a small village in the Lake District of England, and author and illustrator Beatrix Potter has just purchased Hill Top Farm. But when she visits and begins making the farm her home, there is a mysterious death in the village. Can sensible Beatrix unravel the clues and get to the bottom of the matter? Albert has fictionalized the life of the famous author and given us a delightful series of cozy mysteries for adults. Animals talk (of course!) although not to humans, just to each other, and village mysteries are solved with everyone’s help. Jump in and enjoy yourself with The Tale of Hill Top Farm!
George Glenn, a shepherd in rural Ireland, has been murdered. His flock is determined to find out who did this evil deed, and bring the person to Justice. The sheep are hampered in this task by a limited knowledge of human behavior but have listened to George read romance novels to them over the years. This makes Othello, Melmoth, Miss Maple, Mopple the Whale and their flock-mates worldlier than the average sheep, but still quite puzzled by human ways. The spirited discussion on whether or not people have souls is by itself worth the read. One part mystery, one part philosophy, and certainly threaded with humor, this quirky first novel by German author Leonie Swann follows the clues to a satisfying end.
In this latest novel by Michael Chabon we meet Archy and Nat. They are co-owners of a vinyl record store along Telegraph Avenue, a commercial strip in a run-down part of Oakland, California. The two face bankruptcy with the impending arrival of a music megastore. Wives Gwen and Aviva have their own set of problems as practicing midwives dealing with snooty doctors and a lawsuit. Other characters barrel in and out of the novel. There’s Archy’s father, a former drug addict and 70’s kung fu movie star, and Titus, Archy’s illegitimate teenage son who shows up unexpectedly. Nat’s son Julie, a budding artist and gentle soul, loves Titus. Archy considers Cochise Jones, a minor musician, to be the real father in his life. Gwen is eight months pregnant with Archy’s child. A theme emerges of fathers and sons, intertwined with descriptions of food and jazz music and a vibrant neighborhood that moves to its own beat. Telegraph Avenue is an exuberant, character-driven story filled with colorful descriptions of culture and family, sure to keep you thinking long after you have turned the last page.
There are many websites and databases dedicated to historical photographs, but I recently found one I think is really neat. It's called retronaut. Retronaut is sort of a Pinterest for historical photos, and its archive focuses on unusual and weird moments in history and pop culture. For example, you've probably seen pictures of Winston Churchill; but have you ever seen him with in his bathing suit at the beach? Or how about Louis Armstrong playing his trumpet next to the Sphynx? Now that's what I'm talking about! You might think some of these pictures are Photoshopped, but they're really not. Give Retronaut a try if you want to see historical images you just might not find anywhere else.
Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present by Marina Abramović, Music Box Films, 2012.
I’ll begin this review by mentioning what it won’t address: I won’t talk about Marina Abramović’s long career of performance or about how she’s often referred to as “the grandmother of performance art;” I won’t discuss my reservations about the less savory aspects of her personality, such as the pathological need to be loved and her rather unabashed fascination with fame. I won’t raise her famous collaborations with her former partner, Ulay, nor will I frame her (as so many others do), as a simple provocateur, because to do so is to diminish the real importance of her work.
I won’t do this because the documentary does a far superior job of providing the necessary context. What I will discuss is the performance from which the documentary takes its name: The Artist Is Present, which was recently unveiled as part of a retrospective exhibition of Abramović’s work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is a deceptively simple, yet unexpectedly complex piece. On the surface, the premise of The Artist Is Present is absurdly simple: Abramović sits in the main exhibition gallery opposite an empty chair for all the museum’s opening hours (about eight hours per day), for the entire length of the exhibition, which runs a total of three months. Patrons of the museum can sit opposite her and look at her. People line up by the thousands, with many camping out overnight for the chance to sit in the chair across from her. There is no time limit: people can sit for as long as they’re able. Some sit for hours, others for only a few minutes. There are other guidelines: no one can speak to or touch Abramović – they can only look at her, and have her look at them. One participant says that Abramović slows down people’s minds, and in doing so, transforms them.
The second half of the documentary (which, to my mind, is the most interesting part of the film), shows Abramović struggling with the physical demands of sitting completely still, for hours each day and for months on end, yet still having the presence of mind to give her full, undivided attention to each of the thousands of people who came to sit before her. In the documentary, she says that attentiveness is one thing you can’t fake: “people know if you’re not paying attention,” she says at one point.
The reactions of the audience (all of whom are also participants) are equally fascinating. Some appear angry or intense; many others (an astonishing number, in fact) weep. “So many of the people carry around so much pain,” says Abramović at one point in the film. During the exhibition, there was actually a Tumblr page called Marina Abramović Made Me Cry, in which people who had very emotional reactions to the performance would discuss their experiences.
Even patrons who don’t sit opposite Abramović are shown staring from the boundaries of the room, often for long periods, at her and others as they search one another’s faces. As months pass, and the exhibit goes on, there is a real question whether Abramović’s body will tolerate the strain of sitting for so long and even MOMA’s curatorial staff and security guards begin to worry that she won’t be able to finish the performance. Says one curator: "The Artist Is Present is revolutionary precisely because it could fail.” And risk, as anyone will tell you, is central to any successful artistic endeavor. If the viewer is able to risk a bit themselves, they’ll find The Artist Is Present more than repays their attention.
Wrap up in this engaging memoir about a doctor whose passion to learn the best way to practice medicine has taken her on some interesting journeys. When Dr. Sweet takes a position with the last almshouse hospital, Laguna Honda, in San Francisco, it is just temporary and part-time so that she can pursue her dream of studying medieval medicine. However, she ends up staying for 20 years at this old hospital that was initially for very sick people that had nowhere else to go. She finds the “slow medicine” practice at the hospital intriguing. Her compassionate tales about patients and the staff that work at the hospital and what she learns from them are fascinating.
Along the way, she achieves her dream of studying the famous nun, Hildegard of Bingen, a healer and mystic of 12th century Germany. Hildegard practiced a “garden model” of medicine which looked upon the body as a garden to be tended as opposed to the modern medicine model which views the body as a machine to be fixed. This study and her experience at Laguna Honda would transform the way Dr. Sweet practices medicine.
Those interested in health care and practice of medicine or anyone just looking for a unique memoir will find this an enjoyable read.
From time to time, I’m sure all of us have wished for our own far away island where we could escape. If you’re looking for a virtual escape to some really, really remote places, Judith Schlansky’s book the Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty islands I have never set foot on and never will is just the answer. Schlansky profiles fifty of the most isolated pieces of land on Earth, discussing their historical, geographical and maritime significance (or lack thereof). Hand-drawn maps accompany each island’s entry adding to the mystique of the remote and uninhabited. A must-read for armchair travelers, map nerds or those planning a VERY adventurous vacation!
Yes, it's summer – but that doesn’t mean that learning should stop! Jefferson County Public Library has resources that make it easy to access the information you need to finish a degree or start a new career, namely the Learning Express Library database.
The database has loads of stuff to help elementary, middle and high school students as well as some guides for college students. For those working toward their GED, the site also has practice exams for writing, math, social studies and science portions of the test as well as online skill-building workshops. We’ve had a number of patrons use this here in Arvada lately and everyone seems to have the same response: this database is awesome!
But it also has a treasure trove for those of us not in school, too. That includes professional exam prep guides for a wide range of careers ranging from Air Traffic Controller to WorkKeys Preparation, including civil service exams for firefighters, police, security guards, nurses, plumbers and electricians. They also have general workplace and job searching skill workshops where you can fine-tune your resume, brush up on interviewing tips and learn better ways to search for jobs online.
Among the most requested resources available on Learning Express Library are the Praxis I and II study guides and practice tests for people going into the field of education. We’ve had several Arvada patrons ask for these in the last few weeks. Or if you simply want to become better at math, writing, science or reading there’s an entire section devoted to skill building for adults.
To access educational material, you’ll have to sign up for free by clicking the “login” button and then selecting “New Users Register Here.” Follow the steps to create the account and you’re ready to download all the materials you need.
Tim Hetherington was a photojournalist who died in 2011 while covering an uprising against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. His book Infidel is a poignant photographic look at a small battalion of US soldiers stationed in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. Tim Hetherington was a well-respected photographer because he used his lens to reveal the humanity of his subjects as well as the historical significance of the moment. The pictures are allowed to speak for themselves since they are the only thing you see until the back of the book, where there is commentary describing each picture. In addition, some of the soldiers write about their experiences themselves. The introduction is written by Sebastian Junger, the author of The Perfect Storm and War, among other books. Junger worked with Tim Hetherington on the documentary Restrepo, which looks at the same outpost in the Korengal Valley. Restrepo was the winner of the 2010 Sundance Best Documentary.
Book of Killowen is the newest installment in Erin Hart’s Nora Gavin/Cormac Maguire series of archaeological crime novels set in modern Ireland. She is a pathologist, he is an archaeologist and together they find themselves investigating cases built around bodies found in bogs of Ireland. Book of Killowen came out in March and offers up more than a few surprises, chiefly, the discovery of not one but two bodies in a bog, one ancient and one modern! If you like a good blend of history, archaeology and forensics, check out this series.
Haunted Ground (2003)
Lake of Sorrows (2004)
False Mermaid (2010)
Book of Killowen (2013)
Another great resource is the glossary she created to help readers learn how to pronounce things properly.