Monday, January 31, 2011

QUICK REVIEW: Eiffel's Tower by Jill Jonnes

And the World's Fair Where Buffalo Bill Beguiled Paris, the Artists Quarreled, and Thomas Edison Became a Count

An enticing and engrossing snapshot of one of (if not the) most recognizable landmarks in the world.  Author Jonnes brings together all of the tidbits and urban legends you've heard - and several you haven't - to illustrate a vibrant moment in history. 

When Gustav Eiffel suggested to the committee for the Internationale Exposition that the centerpiece should be a large, iron, skeletal tower, more than a few were unconvinced.  Notably, many public figures insisted the  structure would be hideous.  A few even suggested it would change weather pattens, crush homes in the area and act as a giant magnet, pulling nails out of walls and collapsing whole blocks of the city.

Jonnes also highlights some of the personalities surrounding the 1889 fair.  Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and Annie Oakley played to sold out shows daily, and became highly respected in Parisian society.  Thomas Edison showcased his voice recording machines, while the entire fair was lit by his light bulbs.  A temperamental James Gordon Bennett Jr. launched the Paris Herald, a very successful English newspaper for expatriates (like himself) and visitors to the fair.  Van Gogh and Whistler struggled to be seen. Paris was a wonderland, it seems, with a revival of arts, culture, ideas and science.

Jonnes' carefully-researched book certainly makes one wish they could have see these wonders firsthand. 

Read more about the author and her book here:

Reviewer did not receive a review copy of this title.

Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics); Reprint edition (April 27, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0143117297
ISBN-13: 978-0143117292
Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    REVIEW: Unknown by Didier Van Cauwelaert

    Previously published as Out of My Head
    Translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti

    Without a number of artistic elements this would be nothing but a slapdash pulp action.  Fortunately, Van Cauwelaert brings pulp up several notches.   Plenty of action, a femme fatale and a sympathetic narrator make it pulpy.  But the writing is strong, confident and refined. 

    It's told from the first-person perspective of Martin Harris, famed botanist, awakes from a coma after a taxi accident.  According to the cab driver, he's been out for three days and she has been sitting with him, full of guilt.  She drives him home to his expensive flat, and they expect to never see each other again.  Harris is given a great shock, however, when he excitedly arrives at his front door, only to be met by someone else named Martin Harris and a wife who doesn't recognize him.  Angered and confused, he sets out to prove his identity and determine who is trying to erase him.  

    Because the story is told from Harris' point of view, we have of course a unreliable narrator, yet we believe him.  This is enhanced by a couple of things.  Firstly, Mark Polizzotti's translated preserves the lively cadence of the language, yet avoids flowery phrasing.  Secondly, the author mirrors the the style of writing with Harris' state of mind.  As he becomes more erratic, so does the narrative.  Settings jump around and conversations are truncated.  Thirdly, the details are rich but not overwhelming.  It was a small stroke of genius to make Harris a botanist rather than a retired cop or a physician.  His tangents into the world of botany are both cogent and humanizing. His observations become almost another character. 

    Kruger and Neeson on set

    The reveal is not nearly as fulfilling as the rest of the novel.  Still it is a very enjoyable read.  It has been made into a film, slated to release in February of 2011.  It stars Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn and Frank Langella.  It certainly has a pacing like Taken that should be a perfectly watchable movie.  I am curious to see how they integrate Harris' inner thoughts, however.  It also seems the film was shot in Berlin, but the book takes place in Paris.  It is unclear where the film is supposed to be set at this point.  Following its release, a film review will be posted at

    Many thanks to Meghan at Viking/Penguin for the review copy (movie tie-in edition). 

    In keeping with the theme of the book, it seems there is no listing for it on the Penguin/Viking site. ISBN - 9780143119012

    Thursday, January 13, 2011

    UPDATE: Geek the Library Shout Out

    The national Geek the Library campaign (which I have been fan of for some time now) heard about my article in Connect Savannah and gave me a little shout-out on their Facebook page today!

    Click to make larger

    And I truly do geek libraries.  And books.  And reading.  And writing. And...

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    ARTICLE: Geeks & Cowboys at the Live Oak Public Libraries

    Live Oak Public Libraries, serving Chatham, Effingham & Liberty Counties in GA is hosting its annual fundraising gala on Jan 21.  I used this opportunity to shed some light on the funding cuts and other troubles facing the library, as well as highlighting the Geek The Library Campaign and the amazing work LOPL does. 

    Jan 12, 2011 - Connect Savannah
    True grit: Live Oak Public Libraries host gala after banner year

    Sigmund Hudson, along with his wife Anne, have been volunteers with the Friends of the Library for several years. The support group helps with many projects including the semiannual large book sales.
    "We sort several thousand books into about 15 categories," he notes. "We work the sale itself, helping count books, check people out. We do the same at author book signings."
    The group also assists in the planning of the annual gala and mans the information tent at the Children's Book Festival. When asked why he chooses to give his time to the library he recalls his own childhood in Memphis.
    "As a young kid, we always lived within a bicycle ride of the branch. As a teenager, I would catch the city bus and make three stops: the five and dime store, the magic store and the branch library. It overlooked the Mississippi River and it was a quiet place in the very busy city. When we moved to Savannah, we bought a house near the Bull Street branch and my two sons continued the tradition of riding their bikes to the library."
    By the numbers
    They are not alone in their enthusiasm for the Live Oak Public Libraries. In FY10 (July 1, 2009 - June 30, 2010) their circulation was just under 2 million (up 19.5% from FY09) and their visits were up 4.5% to more than 1.5 million; that from a population of about 400,000 in Chatham, Effingham, and Liberty Counties.
    35,000 of them attended the Children's Book Festival on November 13, a special annual event with authors, illustrators, storytellers, crafts, food tents and more. In FY10 alone, there were 1761 children's events in 17 of the 18 branches, including the Summer Reading Program, weekly book readings, storytelling, art contests and game nights.
    One of the 12,811 children registered in the Summer Reading Program is Thomas Bordeaux, 8, a student at Charles Ellis. He goes to the library at least once a week.
    "Recently, I found some good books," he said, "called ‘Loud Boy', and I learned some new words, like ‘repel'." His favorites are comics and construction books.
    His mother, Nelle, says the unsung heroes are the librarians in the children's section. "They don't just read the books aloud," she explains. "They act, sing, bring them alive. They know many of the children by name and are masters at gently guiding them to new books."

    Return on Investment
    • About $34 of taxes from each citizen goes to library funding - comparable to one hardcover, new release book. The average library user checks out seven books a year.
    • Literacy has a dramatic impact on local demographics including crime, poverty and health.
    • Two-thirds of children who cannot read proficiently by 4th grade will be in jail or on welfare.
    • A Department of Justice report notes, "The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure." More than 70% of U.S. prison inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.
    • The low literacy level costs $73 million per year in terms of direct health care costs to America. A recent study by Pfizer estimated the cost to be higher.
    Clearly, a great library system is worth its weight in books. Any one of these statistics proves its value far beyond the price tag.
    Yet, Live Oak Public Libraries experienced a 2.8% drop in funding in FY10, and another 4.5% drop for FY11 budgets.
    Compared to similar libraries (same number of branches, similar demographic served), Live Oak Public Libraries receives an average of only two-thirds the amount of funding.
    At the same time, public demand for library use is up, not only for books, but for internet usage, job searches, and an ever-growing list of various media.
    Library Director Christian Kruse notes, "Our materials budget is smaller than it has been in the past. This is compounded by the fact that circulation continues to soar and there are now more formats to buy in than ever before. Aside from the traditional print versions: hardcover, paperback, magazine and large print, we are now asked about eBooks which come in a variety of formats also!" Not to mention mp3s downloads and DVDs.

    Geeks and Cowboys
    Live Oak Public Libraries was one of two pilot sites in the country chosen for the nationwide Geek the Library Campaign. Kruse says it is too early to know the full effect of the campaign, but, "On the whole, I think the campaign had a positive effect because people were talking about libraries. Whether there will be a longer-term effect that includes increased funding is yet to be seen."
    But what does the staff Geek? "Right now we all Geek Westerns!" He adds, "Some Geek Western Movies; some Geek Western novels; some Geek Western Art... Can you see a theme?" He's referring to the annual gala fundraiser for LOPL Foundation. This year's genre-based theme is "Wanted: Read or Alive. A Celebration of Westerns."
    In addition to a vast silent auction, an iPad raffle and Western style entertainment, there is an open bar, full dinner, desserts, and a prize for the best cowboy boots worn by a guest. A portion of the $100 ticket for the event on January 21 is, of course, tax-deductible.

    Other ways to help
    If you don't have the budget to attend a gala, there are still plenty of ways to give to the library. For just $25, you can "Adopt a Book." Dedicate a favorite novel to a friend or in memory of a relative. Attend one of the book sales, or donate gently used books for them to sell.
    When my husband and I got married, instead of giving our guests party favors, we made a donation to Live Oak Public Libraries, and asked our guests to bring gently used books. We were able to give three boxes of books to the library. You can also volunteer your time to anything from large annual events to helping catalog and sort in the circulation department.

    The sunny side
    It can seem daunting, but the staff of LOPL manages to not get mired down.
    Kruse says, "We - everyone at the library - have stories of why we come to work each and every day. Sometimes it's the simple things: helping someone find the book they want when all they know is the author's first name and that the cover was blue. Don't laugh, it happens all the time!
    "Other days it's about making a connection: a shy child doesn't like books because he's embarrassed with his reading skills until he's introduced to one of our reading dogs and reads to the dog a few times and completely connects to reading," he says.
    "And then, on those more rare occasions it's about transformation: helping someone with a resume and job leads only to later find out that your work enabled them to get that job," he says. "Or finding information on a disease that someone has just been diagnosed with and helping them educate themselves so that they are a little less scared of their new reality."

    Visit for more info about the gala and how to volunteer. Also check out and for further opportunities.

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    QUICK REVIEW: The Englishman Who Posted Himself...

    And Other Curious Objects
    By John Tingey

    A light biography of W. Reginald Bray, the undisputed Autograph King.  In Edwardian England, Bray decided to have a little fun with the postal service.  He mailed unusual objects (a turnip, coin, piece of seaweed, himself) to test the regulations of the Post.  Then he started testing the postman's ingenuity by writing the address is code, riddle or rhyme. 

    Sometimes he just tried to see how many postmarks he could get on one card before it was returned.  Eventually he began asking for autographs through the mail - first from various generals in the Boer War (often with just their photo and a vague regional place name).  With the rising popularity of films, he turned to collecting autographs from the stars on the screen.  His collection was massive and included Lawrence Olivier, Dorothy Lamour and hundreds of others.  
    This book brings together family photos, remembrances, images and clippings of the day.  

    While it seems, based on Bray's own meticulous records, that he sent out some 32,000 items, most of his collection was sold after his death.  With "mail art" now a much more popular and recognized form, some efforts have been made to locate and archive his works.  
    A great site to view is

    This book is terrific fun and a lovely little story of a man with a sense of humor and creativity.  Great book design and numerous illustrations.

    ISBN 9781568988726
    Publication date 11/15/2010
    6 x 9 inches (15.2 x 22.9 cm), Hardcover
    176 pages, 130 color illustrations, 16 b/w illustrations