Tuesday, October 30, 2012

New & Noteworthy Asian Fiction

"Author Amy Tan created her own subgenre of popular literature back in the late 1980s (sweeping, semi-autobiographical stories of family, loyalty and love set in various Asian times and cultures), beginning with The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God’s Wife. More recently, Lisa See has carried the torch with Snowflower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love," BookPage declared back in 2009.  Others authors such as Gail TsukiyamaSamuel Park, & Eugenia Kim have also followed in this tradition. Reading a novel by an Asian-American author is often an enjoyable way to immerse yourself in Asian cultures, but to get the full flavor of Asian culture, we recommend excursions into fiction by Asian authors, albeit in translation.  Inspired by this year's Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Mo Yan, here are some of the latest titles in the catalog from Asian authors!


The Bathing Women by Tie Ning

Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke


The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto


The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

South Korea

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin


Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil

Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga

The Artist of Disappearance: Three Novellas by Anita Desai

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Recommended Reads: Halloween

Looking for Halloween books for kids & teens?  Here are some of the latest additions to the catalog!

Picture Books

Frankenstein by Ludworst Bemonster

Just Say Boo! by Susan Hood

Vampirina Ballerina by Anne Marie Pace


Ralph Masiello's Halloween Drawing Book by Ralph Masiello

Malcolm at Midnight by W.H. Beck

Mean Ghouls by Stacia Deutsch

The Prairie Thief by Melissa Wiley

The Templeton Twins Have an Idea by Ellis Weiner

Grave Secrets by Annette Cascone and Gina Cascone

Young Adult 

The Infects by Sean Beaudoin

On the Day I Died: Stories From the Grave by Candace Fleming

Prom Nights from Hell by Meg Cabot ... [et al.]

Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron edited by Jonathan Strahan

Don't forget older titles such as: the Goosebumps series; the picture books You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Scary Tales to Read Together by Mary Ann Hoberman & Tell Me a Scary Story--But Not Too Scary! by Carl Reiner; & Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.  A search using the keywords "scary stories juvenile" should bring up some other likely contenders!

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Candy Season

Candy is a wide term.  There is hard candy, soft candy, chocolate candy, Easter candy, sugar free candy, and the list goes on.  I don't much like any candy that doesn't feature chocolate, but there are plenty of people out there who can't live without their sticks of sugar dust and marshmallows.  Candy is a sugary indulgence that we couldn't possibly live on, but that we can't seem to live without.  Some diet books even recommend  eating a few jelly beans to curb sugar cravings.  A recent challenge on the TV reality show Project Runway had the designers make clothes out of candy, proving that candy can be used to make works of art too.  The stores get their candy push of the year kicked off with the candy gorge of Halloween, followed all too closely by the candy buying rushes of Christmas, Valentine's Day and Easter.  It seems like we half of the year waiting for the next candy-filled holiday to be over.   

Candy has become such a staple of Halloween fun, that it is easy to forget that trick-or-treating for candy has only been in vogue in this country since the 1930s, although the roots of it go back to ancient times.  Wassailing, for example, a term usually heard around Christmas was a form of trick-or treating.  Wassailers sing carols in exchange for food or money.  Begging for soul cakes around All Souls' Day on November 1st was common in the middle ages.  Eventually this evolved into asking for candy door to door and these days candy companies make a killing (ha ha) around this time of year, with everyone stocking up on the latest Halloween offerings.  As someone who is big fan of anything that rots my teeth and expands my waistline, I decided to try to indulge my sweet tooth by looking at the plethora of books about candy available at the Albuquerque libraries.  There is everything from candy fiction, to books about the candy industry, to cookbooks on how to make your own candy.

Some candy books to satisfy your cravings:

Chocolate Wars: The 150 Year Rivalry Between the World's Greatest Chocolate Makers by Deborah Cadbury
This book combines the history of chocolate with the history of the chocolate industry.  This is one of the most interesting and informative books I have ever read. 

Candy and Me: A Love Story by Hilary Liftin
Lufin's memoir revolves around her love of candy and sugar (she is not partial to chocolate like I am).  Each chapter tells a story of her life through the candy she remembers it by. 

Dylan's Candy Bar: Unwrap Your Sweet Life by Dylan Lauren with Sheryl Berk
Lauren's candy store in New York City was the store where Project Runway contestants went shopping for supplies for their candy clothes challenge.  The photos in this book are colorful and show the specials she puts out for the holidays.

Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond
When Almond's favorite candy stopped being manufactured he decided to find out why and discovers the world of candy and chocolate production.  This book about how candy is made is also a wonderful homage to sweets and sugar addicts.

The Candy Bar Cookbook: Cooking with America's Favorite Candy by Alison Inches and Ric McKown
This book is the ultimate candy indulgence.  It also includes a recipe for cake made with leftover Halloween candy!

Also check out:

Candy Apple Dead by Sammi Carter for a mystery series about a candy shop

Sweet! The Delicious Story of Candy and How is Chocolate Made? are fun children's books about candy.

Candy! A Sweet Selection of Fun and Easy Recipes by Laura Dover Doran and The Ultimate Candy Book: More Than 700 Quick and Easy, Soft and Chewy, Hard and Crunchy Sweets and Treats by Bruce Weinstein for instructions and ideas for making your own candy.

The Candymakers by Wendy Mass, a juvenile fiction book about a group of kids who enter a candy making contest.

I hope this brings a little extra sweetness into your life!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cooking, New Mexico Style

Autumn in New Mexico.

Balloon-lofting cool mornings, warm days, spectacular sunsets, balmy evenings.

Harvest festivals, arts & crafts shows, fiestas -- each weekend ripe with possibilities, and the quandary of where to spend your time first.

Visitors from out of town, coming to enjoy New Mexico at its best.

Which means partying, and hosting, and cooking New Mexico style.

New Mexican cooking is a unique blend of Mexican, Native American, and European Spanish cuisine, with some gourmet bits added in from other cultures -- and even a bit of cowboy cooking. Many New Mexican dishes are quite simple but allow for a wide range of personalization. Even something so straightforward as a pot of posole, corn hominy, can have as many ways of being prepared, spiced, and presented as there are cooks making it.

One of the delightful things about cooking New Mexico style is that the basics are easy to grasp, but one can always learn new ways to improve upon or customize classic dishes. Or experiment with new dishes, guided by recipes collected from around New Mexico.

"New Mexico recipes" is a tag that has been developed and applied to books in the collection that feature, not surprisingly, recipes from around New Mexico. Searching on that term is a great way to explore the wide world that is New Mexican cooking. (An adventure guaranteed to make one hungry.) You'll be led to dozens of cookbooks containing hundreds of recipes -- more than enough to get you started if you have never cooked New Mexico-style before, or to help you explore new directions in your cooking.

To help you go even deeper into the wonderful world of New Mexican cooking, library staff have added community tags leading you to specific recipes. So, a search for biscochitos leads you to 19 books with biscochito recipes, green chile stew results in 20 hits, and you'll find at least 27 different ways to make posole.

Less commonly-known New Mexican foods are represented too. You'll find out how to make atole (corn meal mush, "New Mexican chicken soup"), how to prepare quelites (wild greens), different ways to spice calabacitas (squash), how piki bread is made, and how to use panocha flour.

If you are new to the region's cooking or wish to expand your repertoire, you can also try the "cooking with _______" tag phrase. This will lead you to resources that have not only recipes but also general discussions and techniques for cooking with distinctively New Mexican ingredients.

The chile pepper -- green and red, mild to fiery, reputedly addictive, very versatile -- is of course the most famous single ingredient in our cooking, and searching on cooking with chile, cooking with green chile, and cooking with red chile will lead you to many resources. But there are many other ingredients that go into New Mexico's cooking, and the "cooking with" tag prefix will help you learn how to use them. Here is a sampling:

cooking with black beans (18 books)
cooking with blue corn (11)
cooking with cactus (10)
cooking with goat cheese (12)
cooking with pinon nuts (10)
cooking with pinto beans (7)
cooking with squash blossoms (14)
cooking with tomatillos (18)

The cooking with ______ search also helps you find resources with guidelines for using the other types of peppers sometimes used in New Mexican cuisine, like jalapenos and ancho, pasilla, poblano, serrano, habanero, and bell peppers.

As we go into the "high cooking season", with holiday parties ahead, you might want to brush up on how to produce quesadillas and salsas for appetizers, and enchiladas and tamales for the masses.With cold weather coming you'll want a big batch of caldillo (green chile stew) available to warm your visitors, and tortillas to go with. You'll want to have empanadas, empanaditas, and biscochitos at hand, for nibbling and as visiting gifts. How could you start a day exploring New Mexico without huevos rancheros or that classic breakfast burrito?

And of course where would a holiday party in New Mexico be without a huge pot of posole on the stove, inviting everyone to scoop out a bowlful? Posole is just about the perfect party food -- you can feed lots of people cheaply, it just gets better the longer it simmers, and each person can customize each bowlful with different toppings. It is a tradition in many parts of New Mexico to eat posole on New Year's, for luck in the coming year and assurance that you won't go hungry, just as black-eyed peas are eaten in the South.

Here is just a partial list showing the variety of the recipe tags you can explore. If you are feeling adventurous, check out the "Related Searches - Additional Suggestions" list on the lefthand side of any of the link results, then look through it until you find a term you've never before encountered. That book is certain to lead to some delicious new New Mexican food experience.

arroz con pollo
blue corn bread
carne adovada
carne asada
chicos del horno
chile con queso
chile mayonnaise
chiles rellenos
chimayo cocktail
cooking with an horno
fried squash blossoms
fry bread
green chile cheeseburger
green chile chicken soup
green chile quiche
green chile sauce
green chile stew
native american recipes
new mexican hot chocolate
oven bread
piki bread
pinon brittle

pinon fudge
red chile risotto
red chile sauce
refried beans / refritos
santa fe lasagna
southwestern corn chowder
squash seed stew
trout with pinon

Tasty Chile Tidbits:

"Chili" or "Chile"? In some older cookbooks you might see references to "chili peppers". But it's official: in New Mexico, it's a chile pepper. "Chili" is reserved for the Tex-Mex dish with beans.

"Red or Green?" -- the Official State Question of New Mexico, heard at restaurants. The waitperson is asking if you want red chile sauce or green chile sauce with/over your entree. If you want red and green, the answer is "Christmas!"
It's the same seed. Some people will tell you that you plant different seeds to produce red or green chile plants. (And, if they are really pulling your leg, they will even say the seeds are the appropriate colors.) But a red pepper is simply a ripe green pepper. Similarly, a mild green pepper will dry into a mild red pepper - the drying process does not change the heat.

The pepper may be red or green, but the heat is in the yellow. In a hot chile pepper, the bulk of the heat-producing capsaicin is on the filets or veins inside the pod. The hotter the pepper, the bolder will be the yellow dots along those veins, and in the hottest chiles those dots will have combined into a yellow stripe. Stripping out the veins will remove quite a bit of the fire, but not all -- a hot pepper is still a hot pepper, particularly in the flesh of the upper third of the pod nearest the veins and seeds.

Smaller is usually hotter, but not always.  Generally speaking, a finger-slim pepper will pack more of a burn than something shaped like a bell pepper. But that old rule-of-thumb has been challenged by cross-breeding of pepper plants. Some other classic indications of heat in chile: angular rather than round "shoulders" on the pod, a sharp point or curl on the tail of the pod, and the head of the pod indented in around the stem. But the only sure way to test the heat of a green chile pepper is to "twist the head off" -- crack it open near the top third, and look at the veins for the distinctive yellow stripe. If it's very hot you can smell the heat as soon as it pops. If there is any lingering doubt, merely touch your tongue to the inside of the pod -- a hot pepper will immediately make itself known!

I need my chile fix! While chile is not technically addicting, people certainly habituate to it and develop cravings. The capsaicin in chile causes an endorphin release in many people, similar to the "high" some people get from exercising vigorously. New Mexicans living elsewhere deeply appreciate getting chile from home.

Bless You! Hot green chile produces a wide variety of reactions in people -- some folks sweat or turn red, while others cough, burp, hiccup, or sneeze. Some say hot chile makes their ears ring, while others claim that their ears pop "once for every 10 degrees". Regardless of the reaction, there is no question that chile can have a marked physiological effect on folks, adding to its reputation of being addicting.

"Hatch" chile is not a particular type, but peppers from the noted chile-raising region around Hatch, New Mexico. The town is home to the annual Hatch Chile Festival, celebrating their most famous product. While the majority of the commercial crops are grown in the southern half of the state, chile is grown statewide.

Chile peppers crossbreed very readily, and are affected by weather and soil conditions. Which means that new strains may arise, and "classic" strains are highly prized. Aficianados say they can taste the difference in chile raised from the same seed but in different fields -- making it the New Mexican analog to fine wines! Some of the Pueblos have distinctive strains of chile, the seeds carefully preserved and handed down; even some individual families have their own strain of chile. New strains are also purposely bred and developed for hardiness, disease/insect resistance, and flavor; the New Mexico State University in Las Cruces has been especially productive of new strains.

While much is made of heat in chile, New Mexicans typically prefer rich flavor over a simple burn. It's true that there are some "fire eaters" who seek out the hottest peppers, as a matter of pride (or are we nudging up against addiction again?) But most classic New Mexican dishes have a rich chile flavor with only a pleasant "burn" afterward.

Chile powders come in a variety of forms. The classic chile molido ("ground") is a rich dark red in color, and has a texture almost like coffee grounds -- just the dried pod is used to produce this. Pale red molido, on the orange side, usually indicates that the seeds were ground in as well for more heat (though it may also indicate that the powder is very old.) Chile caribe ("crushed") is a mix of bits of the dried pod and the seeds, similar to the "crushed red pepper" packets you find in pizza parlors. Over the last decade or so green chile molido and caribe have becoming increasingly common, allowing that distinctive flavor to easily be added to dishes; green chile powder can also be shaken over food as you would use other spices. The volatile oils in chile powders are affected by heat and light so cool dark storage is recommended, with freezer storage in a tight container the best of all.

Before freezing became a common way of storing roasted green chile, people often sun-dried green chile. It was either spread flat on trays or screens, or pods tied together by the stems were hung over clothelines, with cheesecloth around them to keep the insects off while they dried. Roasted green chile dried this way keeps well and has a sweet, smoky flavor -- this "chile jerky" is sometimes eaten like candy.

Kitchens in old New Mexico houses sometimes get remodeled, but there is one feature which is usually left undisturbed: the ristra hook in the kitchen ceiling. While ristras are often used as decorative symbols of New Mexico hospitality, hanging by front doors until they weather and fall apart, traditionally ristras once dried were stored in a loft or shed and brought into the home one at a time to be hung in the corner of the kitchen and plucked from as needed. (If you are buying a ristra for cooking, be sure to inquire if it has been sprayed in any way -- sometimes coatings are applied to decorative ristras to increase shine or add color.) Tin cones or discs were sometimes used on the strings of the hanging ristras to discourage rodents from creeping down the string -- New Mexico mice like chile too, especially the seeds!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Once Upon a Time: Reading Fairy Tales as an Adult

"If you want your children to be intelligent read them fairy tales.  If you want them to be more intelligent read them more fairy tales."
        --Albert Einstein

Lately it seems that fairy tales are coming back to make an appeal to grown-ups, as well as to children.  Disney has long been adapting fairy tales for animated movies and now other studios have gotten in on the action.  This past year saw not one, but two film adaptations of the fairy tale Snow White aimed toward a more adult audience.  (Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Hunstman.)  More fairy tales will be making their way to the movies in the next few years, some of them giving a darker look to fairy tales than the more lighthearted versions we watched as children.

I have loved fairy tales and folktales my whole life.  These days I take great delight in all the scholarly tomes written on fairy tales, as well as the stories retold for adults.  Even poets got in on the action in the 1960s, when Anne Sexton published Transformations, which featured poems she had written inspired by her daughter's book of fairy tales.    

It is fascinating to look at the history of fairy tales and how they have evolved over the world. For example, the story we in the west call Cinderella is a story that was told in China since at least the ninth century C.E. (which makes sense when you consider that impossibly little feet have been revered in China since ancient times.) The story we know as Beauty and the Beast which is considered a fairy tale today was originally written as a novel in 1740 by French author Madame Gabrielle de Villeneuve. The fairy tale we tell today was adapted from that novel and contains elements of the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche, and the Scandinavian story East of the Sun, West of the Moon. Folktales are being adapted to this day, and it is part of what makes them so much fun to read and retell, since you never know what version you may hear. Lots of versions have beautiful illustrations as well.

Reading fairy tales as both a child and an adult have made me appreciate them in different ways.  As a kid I loved the idea of having adventures and mythical creatures coming to life to grant wishes.  As an adult I love the metaphors I find in beloved classics and seeing the characters getting out of tough situations.  I am so glad there are so many authors out there who are retelling fairy tales in their own way!  Check out some of my favorites below:

Fairy tales to appreciate as an adult:

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales edited by Kate Bernheimer
There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Grimm's Grimmest retold and illustrated by Tracy Arah Dockray
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins by Emma Donoghue
Black Swan, White Raven edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

The study of fairy tales:

From Beast to Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers by Marina Warner
The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim
The Witch Must Die: How Fairy Tales Shape Our Lives by Sheldon Cashdan
Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales by Valerie Paradiz
Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Ten Moral Tales from the Forest by Catherine Orenstein

Fairy tales retold as YA books:

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
Ash by Malinda Lo
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
Faery Tales and Nightmares by Melissa Marr
Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold by Francesca Lia Block
Beastly by Alez Flinn

Fairy tales with beautiful illustrations:

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves: A Tale From the Brothers Grimm translated by Randall Jarrell
and illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert
The Girl Who Spun Gold by Virginia Hamilton and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon
Twelve Dancing Princesses by Marianna Mayer and illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft
The Arabian Nights retold by Margaret Soifer and Irwin Shapiro and illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren
The Lady and the Lion retold and illustrated by Laurel Long
The Weaving of A Dream: A Chinese Folktale retold and illustrated by Marilee Heyer

Fairy tale collections:

Favorite Folktales from Around the World edited by Jane Yolen
Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales From Around the World edited by Kathleen Ragan
When the Santos Talked: A Retablo of New Mexico Tales by Fray Angelico Chavez, drawings by Peter Hurd

Websites for the fairy tale lover:

This is my very favorite fairy tale site!  You can browse lists of fairy tales, including their histories, similar stories told around the world, and adaptations, both past and present.  You can also buy fairy tale themed products here.

Browse folktales and fables from around the world and read about the authors who made them popular.  Includes lesson plans for teachers and homeschoolers.

Check out the fables and tall tales told around the United States, including New Mexico folklore.  This is also one of the very best sites to search ghost stories -- something that might come in handy for your Halloween party!

Also, there's this list which has some very good reasons to keep the cycle of fairy tales moving by telling them to children.  Have fun discovering and may you live happily ever after!


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Science Corner: Astronomy Day

Today is Fall Astronomy Day! According to the Astronomical League, "Astronomy Day is a grass roots movement designed to share the joy of astronomy with the general population - 'Bringing Astronomy to the People'."  Why not take advantage of this nationally recognized event to bring a little astronomy into your life?  Here are some nifty ideas:

Schedule a visit to the Planetarium!

Get involved with the Albuquerque Astronomical Society!

Find materialss about astronomy in the library catalog!

Attend Leap into Science: Space Adventures (for ages 6-12) at Tony Hillerman Library!


Astronomy Day on the Astronomical Day website

Astronomy Day Fact Sheet

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Featured Author: P.G. Wodehouse

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, 1881-1975, is widely considered one of the greatest humorists in the English language. His droll wit and persistent wordplay developed into the distinctive style that has influenced several generations of writers and continues to delight millions of readers.

Writing daily throughout his long life, Wodehouse's prodigious output included magazine articles, plays, screenplays, poems, novels, short stories, and song lyrics. Even later in life, he set most of his stories in the "roaring twenties", that time between the wars when an affluent class split their time between city and country homes and often hosted one another for extended stays.

Wodehouse (pronounced "Woodhouse")  created many distinctive characters who are still popular today. But his most lasting character is likely the brilliant, punctilious, and sometimes conniving valet Reginald Jeeves, whose name has entered the language as a generic term for a 'gentleman's gentleman'. In eleven novels and numerous short stories Jeeves attends well-meaning, well-off and footloose Bertie Wooster through a series of comical adventures involving tyrannical aunts, lovelorn school chums, blustering politicians, outrageous wagers, mistaken identities, and farcical brushes with the law. The Jeeves and Wooster stories have been adapted many times for stage, screen, and television, most recently as a Granada Television series starring Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Wooster.

While Jeeves and Wooster are his famous duo (he is on record that he wanted them to have some of the flavor of Holmes and Watson), P.G. Wodehouse created many other memorable characters, some of whom were the subject of ongoing story lines and dozens of novels and short stories:

Rupert Psmith (who added the silent "P" to distinguish himself from all those other Smiths) is an Old-Etonian dandy who shares a series of adventures with his lifelong friend Mike Jackson, a cricketer whom Psmith sometimes accompanies on tour.

The Blandings Castle stories feature the eccentric Lord Emsworth (obsessed with his gardens and his prize-winning pig), his many sisters, and a memorable cast of relatives and servants.

Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge is a charming but rather unprincipled gent always working schemes to gain riches.

Mr. Mulliner holds court in his local pub, telling long and implausible stories about members of his family.

Uncle Fred is an older fellow with a talent for finding trouble.

Archie Moffam (pronounced "Moom") has a millionaire father and a new wife, but few funds.

The Drones Club stories involve the sometimes raucous adventures of the members of a social club populated by idle, rich young men.

Wodehouse also wrote stories about life in England's public schools (often involving cricket), and stories revolving around golf.

The worlds of the stories sometimes overlap (Bertie Wooster is a member of the Drones Club, and Psmith shows up at Blandings Castle) and all of them may be termed as being in a distinctly Wodehousian universe -- a gentle, humorous world of generally harmless ne'er-do-wells whose worst crimes are stealing a policeman's hat on a bet, and where much of the comedy is of the error variety.

If Wodehouse's plots are sometimes thin and his characters sometimes almost caricatures, it matters not. For Wodehouse excels in wordplay, delights in the possibilities inherent in the language, partners the reader with a wink. Wodehouse doesn't just play with the English language, he sports in it like a dolphin leaping through the waves. Where others employ cliches, Wodehouse co-opts them. He could create and employ several new similes not only per story but per page. Wodehouse fans argue as to their favorite similes and images:

"She had a penetrating sort of laugh. Rather like a train going into a tunnel."

“He had the look of one who had drunk the cup of life and found a dead beetle at the bottom.”

“A melancholy-looking man, he had the appearance of someone who had searched for the leak in life's gas pipe with a lighted candle.” 

“She looked away. Her attitude seemed to suggest that she had finished with him, and would be obliged if somebody would come and sweep him up.” 

"... the occasions when Aunt is calling Aunt like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps..."

"Some minds are like soup in a poor restaurant—better left unstirred.” 

Wodehouse's works are noted as a rich record of pre-WWII British slang, some of which he created himself. He also drew freely from American vernacular after his many visits to the States.

"I gave Motty the swift east-to-west."

“Intoxicated? The word did not express it by a mile. He was oiled, boiled, fried, plastered, whiffled, sozzled, and blotto.” 

"I thought everything was oo jah cum spiff between you and Biffie."

"The old lemon throbbed fiercely. I got an idea."

- "This is rummy, Jeeves!'
- "Yes, sir?"
- "Very rummy and dashed disturbing!"
("Rummy" was an especial favorite of Wodehouse's, used heavily in some of the stories.)

- “This club,” I said, “is the limit.”
- “It is the eel’s eyebrows,” agreed young Bingo. “I believe that old boy over by the window has been dead three days, but I don’t like to mention it to anyone.”

Besides the droll wordplay, it is the structure of Wodehouse's writings that makes them so involving. Much of his prose work has a rhythm and meter more often found in poetry, drawing the reader in outside of any content of the text. It is this structure, and the lyricism brought from Wodehouse's songwriting experience, that make his works particularly entertaining when read aloud; Jeeves and Wooster on audiobook make for delightful travel companions.

"In his bearing, as he hurried along the path that skirted the kitchen garden -- in the oily smirk beneath his repellent moustache, in the jaunty tilt of his snub nose, even in the terraced sweep of the brilliantined swamps of his corrugated hair -- there was the look of a man who is congratulating himself on a neat bit of work. Brains, reflected Percy Pilbeam -- that was what you needed in this life. Brains and the ability to seize your opportunity when it was offered to you." (Heavy Weather, chap. 12)

"After the thing was all over, when peril had ceased to loom and happy endings had been distributed in heaping handfuls and we were driving home with our hats on the side of our heads, having shaken the dust of Steeple Bumpleigh from our tyres, I confessed to Jeeves that there had been moments during the proceedings when Bertram Wooster, though no weakling, had come very near to despair." (Joy in the Morning, first sentence/paragraph)

While it was stated above that Wodehouse's characters sometimes approach caricature, that is not completely fair. It is more accurate to say that he consciously showed characters as archetypes, just as stereotypes are used in stock theater: the Juvenile Lead, the Heavy Father/Uncle/Aunt, the Love Interest, the Servant. As a playwright Wodehouse was very aware of the important role each character has in a story, and he casts each one to good effect. His satire is deft and quick, but never mean-spirited. And there is an inherent innocence and playfulness in all of the works, a winking recognition that he is presenting a delightfully daft view of a world that never quite existed.

Which is why, even though there may seem to be a wide gap of time, culture, and space, his stories -- set in a 1920s Britain (and, later, America) of public schools, cricket, evening dress, dinner parties, weekend parties, country estates, personal servants and gentlemen's clubs -- still resonate today. Like the best of Shakespeare's comedies, Wodehouse's best humor is timeless, commenting on the human condition in a way to which we can all relate.

Some Wodehouse highlights:
The World of Jeeves -- 34 short stories including "Jeeves Takes Charge" (the story where Jeeves and Wooster meet) and "Bertie Changes His Mind", a story told from Jeeves' viewpoint.
The Inimitable Jeeves -- Bertie - with the invaluable help of Jeeves - helps his friend Bingo Little out of a series of jams.
Leave it to Psmith -- A Psmith / Blandings Castle crossover, with classic country house hijinks revolving around a stolen necklace.
The Most of P.G. Wodehouse -- A sampler offering stories from Wodehouse's most popular series: Jeeves & Wooster, Drones Club, Mr. Mulliner, Ukridge, and Blandings Castle. Also includes some of his golf stories and the novel Quick Service.
For aficianados:
Jeeves: A Gentleman's Personal Gentleman -- A clever, funny "biography" of the world's most famous valet, including Jeeves solving a crime in concert with Hercule Poirot, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Father Brown!
Valet or Butler?
Jeeves, the quintessential "gentleman's personal gentleman",
is a valet (pronounced, in the British style, VAH-let),
a servant / companion attending to one gentleman at home
and while traveling. A butler is in charge of a household and all
of the servants in it, sometimes sharing duties with a housekeeper.

Valets are best known for seeing to the gentleman's
clothing but often also scheduled meals, took care of household expenses,
and made travel arrangements, seeing to these details
so "his" gentleman didn't have to. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Deep YA

In August I had the pleasure of attending the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Summer Conference.  The conference organizers gave attendees a fantastic line-up of speakers, but one in particular struck a chord with me. I had never heard of Ruta Sepetys before, and when a tall blond woman took the stage, I was curious what she would have to tell us. Sepetys is the author of Between Shades of Gray, a YA novel loosely based on the horrors that Lithuanians, including her own extended family, suffered at the hands of Stalin in the World War II era. As the author spoke of the terrible treatment these people received, being shipped off to labor camps in Siberia, I was a little embarrassed to realize that I knew nothing of this piece of history.  The Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia were essentially wiped off the world map for more than 50 years.

Sepetys’ novel follows fifteen-year-old Lina Vilkas, the daughter of Lithuanian intellectuals who are taken from their home and sent in cattle cars to a Siberian gulag.  Despite Lina and her family’s bleak circumstances, Sepetys imbues her character with tenacity, curiosity, and even hope.  Although it is a work of fiction written for young adults, this novel transcends age and genre, giving readers insight into an all-but-forgotten atrocity committed amidst the many horrors of World War II.

 Here are some other books about Lithuania and about this time period in the catalog:
The Lithuanians in America, 1651-1975: A Chronology & Fact Book 305.89192Budreckis
Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania 914.7 Estonia
Light One Candle: A Survivor's Tale from Lithuania to Jerusalem 940.5318Ganor
The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag after Stalin 947.0842Cohen
Goodbye Stalin: A True Story of Wars, Escapes and Reinventions Biography Thomas


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Comfort Reading or Reading Candy?: Re-Reading Mary Stewart

In September, author Mary Stewart celebrated her 96th birthday. Coincidentally, I reread one of her romantic suspense novels that had been a teenage favorite of mine. I was feeling the need for something light, with a happy ending: enter comfort reading (like comfort food, but without all the calories). So, I checked out Nine Coaches Waiting, and devoured it over the course of several lunch hours. While I enjoyed it, I must say that my memories of it are more substantial that the actual book. Clearly it appeals to a younger teen without anything like messy reality to intrude on a happy ever after. When I finished reading it, my main response was "What was she thinking? She barely knew the man!"

A short recap:
  • Girl meets boy when he almost runs over her with car.
  • Boy takes her to dinner, then dancing and gambling to make up for nearly running her over.
  • Boy kisses girl after a fit of jealousy when she is seen talking to a male friend.
  • Girl and boy dance together at a ball.
  • Engagement!

This recap neglects all the suspenseful aspects of the storyline, but I wouldn't want to ruin the part that might keep you guessing.

Even with optimistic calculations, girl and boy have spent less than 24 hours in each other's company before becoming engaged. Maybe the novel is simply a reflection of an earlier era, before cohabitation was more common than not. Maybe it was intended for a younger audience, before Young Adult was a genre. Whatever the reason, I have now firmly removed it from my "comfort reading" category into "candy": sweet, but not very filling.

What books or authors do you consider "comfort reading"?  What's your favorite "reading candy"?

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Noir Series

The magazine market for short fiction has steadily dried up over the last decade or so. Even established and popular authors have a hard time placing their short stories.

But most authors have lots of ideas for short stories, which ideas sometimes demand attention even when the author is working on a longer project.

To fill the gaps left by the waning magazine market, theme anthologies and anthology series have arisen. An editor will be inspired to put together a batch of stories on a theme, then put out a call to authors (usually folks known to that editor, or friends-of-friends) to submit stories.

Theme anthologies allow authors to get those great short story ideas out of their heads and into circulation, and they allow readers to experience works they otherwise likely would not have seen.

The Noir Series from Akashic Books, started in 2004, draws together stories not only by the noir theme -- dimly-lit, gritty, tense stories of crime and punishment -- but also by locale. Each anthology volume is set in a different city, with each story set in a distinct neighborhood or even a single street within that city, written by an author living in that city. (Or area -- some of the collections, like "Indian Country Noir", have a broader scope.) The stories in each collection are all new, original stories produced for the anthology, some of these collections bolstered by a "Classics" volume collecting the best from the past.

These collections offer a "dark tourism" approach to the locale featured, a grimy-underbelly look at some of the great cities of the world, presented by some of the greatest writers in the world.

Some of the writers featured in the Noir Series:

Lawrence Block
Joseph Bruchac
Dana Cameron
Lee Child
Michael Connelly
 John Dufresne
 Loren D. Estleman
 Jules Feiffer
 Janet Fitch
 Jim Fusilli
 Diana Gabaldon
 Barbara Hambly
 Dennis Lehane
 Laura Lippman
 Sujata Massey
 Stewart O'Nan
 George Pelecanos
 Scott Phillips
 Patricia Powell
 Luis Alberto Urrea

Books in the Noir Series - highlighted titles are linked to those in the ABCLS catalog. If there is a title below that we do not have, you may log in to suggest a purchase.


Beirut Noir (Lebanon)
Bogota Noir (Colombia)
Buffalo Noir
Dallas Noir
Helsinki Noir (Finland)
Jerusalem Noir
Lagos Noir (Nigeria)
Manila Noir (Philippines)
Prison Noir
Seoul Noir (Korea)
Singapore Noir
Tel Aviv Noir (Israel)