by Candice Smith on August 2nd, 2014
Summer is usually a time where I go through many books, at a fairly quick pace, because I’m doing other things that go well with reading…lying on a beach, relaxing in the air conditioning, sitting on a bench downtown having a cold drink–you get the idea. It’s the time of year where I can be reading several books at once; a book I read on my lunch break, a book by my bedside, one in the beachbag, one in my purse. This summer is no different, except that I didn’t finish most of the books I started. I have no good excuse. I promise that I WILL go back and finish them.
The one book I did read in its entirety is Laura McHugh’s The Weight of Blood. This book has two mysteries confronting main character Lucy–the disappearance of her mother when Lucy was just a baby, and the very recent murder and dismembering of her friend. The book is richly atmospheric, with a slightly dark and menacing flavor to it; it’s set in small town Missouri, an area that is only hours away from us geographically, but manages to seem worlds away in how life is lived there. Small town, long memories, big secrets. The characters are unique and in some cases a bit odd, and are well-drawn and feel somewhat familiar to anyone who’s lived in a small or close-knit community. Without giving away too much, the book also has at its center a very modern and urban-feeling crime, in marked to contrast to its setting, which makes seem even more sinister by way of encroachment.
In full disclosure, the books I didn’t finish (yet):
A Dark and Twisted Tide by S.J. Bolton (I came so close to finishing this!)
I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman (beachbook–waiting to go back to the beach)
Love You More by Lisa Gardner (about halfway done)
A Song For the Dying by Stuart MacBride (didn’t even crack it open)
by Candice Smith on May 10th, 2014
About a year ago, a patron came to the Reference Desk and asked me to help him find a picture of Curtis Bridge. “Who’s Curtis Bridge?” I asked. As it turns out, it’s not a who, but a what. A bridge! A bridge that gave its name to the road on either side of it, which was the road that this man’s family home was located on. His mother had just sold the home, and he was back in town to move her to another state to live near him and his wife, and he wanted to find a picture of the bridge to take with him as a reminder of where he’d grown up, of where his parents had both grown up.
“Where is it located?” I asked him. Nowhere. It doesn’t exist anymore. He didn’t even know what it looked like, but his mother remembered it, and he remembered his parents talking about it when he was growing up. About driving across it. About walking on it. About cars crashing on it and off of it. About people fishing from it. Now it’s gone. He’d always wondered about it, growing up on a road named after a bridge, when there is no bridge. He wanted a picture of the thing that represented that wonder, and of what created those memories for his parents.
We did find a picture that night, and he left a happy patron and was sure his mother would love it. Question answered, right? For him, yes. For me, no. I was hooked on finding out whatever I could about Curtis Bridge. An old highway (in the early 1900s, really just a dirt track), a river, towns on either side of the river, and a bridge that links them…that’s the story of growing community in early 20th century Iowa. Now the bridge and highway (and a town!) are gone–although there are remnants!–and that’s the start of an odd fascination.
One of the tools I discovered while researching Curtis Bridge is a magnificent thing called the Johnson County Property Information Viewer. Look up an address or area, and you can see aerial photographs of it from different years. A very cool resource that you can use to visualize lots of things….what your neighborhood looked like in years past, the growth of roads into different areas, the changing structure of downtown, or how a bridge was there and then not there.
If anyone has their own pictures of Curtis Bridge, or the area around there, we’d love to have you bring them in to our next Scanning Day at the Library; we’re focusing specifically on photos of Iowa City and Johnson County, and we want to add them to our Digital History Project website. Got old photos of the area? Bring ’em in! May 28, 5-8 pm, Meeting Room A.
by Candice Smith on May 6th, 2014
Cinco de Mayo has come and gone, but don’t worry, there is still reason to celebrate this week…today is National Teacher Day! The National Education Association urges folks to take the time to thank a teacher today, and I think it’s a great idea! Of course, I might be a little biased due to the fact that I am married to a teacher, but I am also wise enough to recognize that I wouldn’t be here today, with a great job and an active mind, if I hadn’t had the support of dedicated teachers through all my years of schooling (or, as my Mother is fond of saying, my many, many years of schooling). This is something to be thankful for.
I think it’s especially important now, when there is so much talk about what is wrong with the education system, and long lists of ‘schools in need of assistance,’ to remember what our individual teachers do. They put in a great deal of effort to provide students with life skills and reasoning capabilities, and they prepare their students to go out into the world. It can be a stressful and very time-consuming job, but teachers keep teaching because they find value in it, and because they care.
I think many people who go into teaching do it because they had a teacher who made a great impact in their life. Maybe there is a teacher in your past who made a difference, or maybe your child has a teacher right now who does their job really well…thank them if you can!
If you want to take a look at what some of our teachers are doing in their classrooms to make a difference, check out American Teacher: Heroes In the Classroom. It’s a beautiful book, and very inspiring.
by Candice Smith on April 4th, 2014
There’s really not a whole lot to say about this little book, it speaks for itself. It’s a tiny morsel of complete happiness, wrapped up in a flurry of pictures of ridiculously cute kittens doing kittenish things. Kittens sleeping, kittens learning to walk, kittens eating, kittens playing. Several different breeds are showcased, including Russian Blues, Toygers, Persians and Munchkins (Munchkins?? I know, I didn’t even know there was such thing as a Munchkin cat, but now I need three or four).
Personally, I’m not one of those people who sees cute little kids and feels the pangs of motherhood, but this book made my ovaries ache. If you’re a total cat mama or papa, you’ll want this book. If you’ve got kids that love cats, they’ll enjoy this book. If you’re thinking about taking that plunge into cat-ownership and want to be pushed right off that cliff into the deep end, you should take a look at this book.
You’re not going to learn a whole lot from this book, but you’ll have a few moments of pure bliss and appreciation of the amazingly cute things that can exist in this world, and that is more than worth the ten minutes it would take you to leaf through its pages.
by Candice Smith on March 19th, 2014
In the March 15 issue of Library Journal, Library Science assistant professor Michael Stephens questions whether libraries should be replacing librarians with technology experts who have excellent customer service and instructional skills. This puts me of two minds. One is that we should acknowledge that technology is a big part of the lives of our patrons, and the Library can and should help people learn to use various resources and devices, thereby continuing our mission to educate and promote lifelong learning while at the same time making the Library itself a valuable resource to the community. The change is already here–everyone seems to have a tablet, a phone, and a computer of some sort, and they read their books, talk to their friends, even conduct their business on them–and the Library simply needs to move further towards meeting the needs that arise. The other thought I have is that I don’t want to move entirely away from the things that you might normally associate a ‘Librarian’ with, and if you replace those people with tech-savvy geniuses and helpers, what might you lose? Just last night ICPL had it’s first BYOBook bookclub at the Sanctuary Pub, where a group of people, most of whom had never met before, gathered to talk about a book they enjoyed reading. It was great. It felt refreshing and kind of retro, probably because I do spend a great deal of time at work either on a computer or helping someone with a computer. That ‘tech’ side of me would not have made as good of a host as the ‘at the desk’ or ‘in the stacks’ side of me.
For sure, there is a middle ground. Stephens goes on to state that libraries might begin to hire specialized people who may not be trained librarians, while continuing to hire some librarians who work with programming and projects. But people still ask ‘do we need librarians?’ Do we want them? Do you?
Readers–what do you think? Who do you want to see at your library?
by Candice Smith on March 14th, 2014
Tonight someone called the Reference Desk to find out what the weather was in a particular place, on a particular day. We sometimes get calls related to weather, people wanting to know how much precipitation occurred during that month that seemed to have endless rain, or just how windy it was on what they remember as the windiest day ever…the website I like to use for information like this is Wunderground. It gives current weather, and loads of other information besides, including historical and averages. It’s pretty interesting, and depending on what city you are looking for data about, their records go back a ways. So, I now know that the high temp on the day I was born was 36, but the average for that day is 44, and the record high is 87 (in 1897)!
Next time you want to find out what’s up with the weather, anywhere, give it a try!
by Candice Smith on March 6th, 2014
So, this past Tuesday, I found myself wanting to discuss a good book and have a nice beer. That happens to me often on Tuesdays…wait, what did you say? You too??!!
Well, you’re in luck! Get ready for B.Y.O.Book, the Library’s new books in bars book club. One Tuesday during each of the next three months we’re going to meet in a local bar, discuss some literature, maybe have a drink and meet some like-minded readers. First on the agenda is Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. It’s a long book, I know, but by now a lot of you might have already read it; if not, stop by the Reference Desk and grab a copy. Then, meet us on Tuesday, March 18 at 7 p.m. at the Sanctuary Pub.
To get started, here’s the blog I did about the book on January 15, 2010.
by Candice Smith on March 4th, 2014
The beginning of Lent is near, and those who participate in this ritual of going without are preparing to give up something that is meaningful in some way. I know many people are inspired by this event; Christians and those holding other beliefs use this time to remind themselves of those who have less, to inspire deeper thought about possessions and luxuries and what things are important, and to offer up penitence in some way. I grew up in a Catholic home, and participated in Lent for many years…I believe I usually gave up chocolate or allowance, some very tangible thing that made a small impact in my life.
While the things that people choose to give up vary widely, I suspect that for a number of people it will be caffeine and/or coffee. It may seem trivial, but going without this chemical can have many effects; many are so used to having it in regular quantities every day, and to suddenly stop can bring on withdrawal symptoms, general crankiness, and maybe even a feeling of sadness at not having that ‘cup of comfort.’ It may or may not go deeper than that in terms of what going without might teach you, but I’m not here to judge. I’m here to offer a dispensation, of sorts…
Coffee With Jesus is a nice little compilation of the online comic of the same name. A little humor, a little iconic art, and more than a little thought go into each strip. It avoids heavy lessons in favor of quick but lingering suggestions…hey, think about this a bit. Reflect. And yes, Jesus is a main character here, but he is quite modern in view while at the same time being the old-school, accepting of everyone kind of guy. There’s no offense meant here, whatever your belief (or non-belief, in fact) is. And this little book just might help you find a different jolt of energy and comfort for the time being.
by Candice Smith on February 15th, 2014
Ah, Valentine’s Day. Cards and candies, hearts and love, gift anxiety and expensive dinners. Where do you come from?
There were, in fact, two Valentines who could be the St. Valentine. One was a priest in third century Rome who continued to perform marriages and engagements that the Pope had placed a ban on. The other was a man who was imprisoned for trying to help persecuted Christians, and while in prison he restored eyesight to the jailer’s daughter and they fell in love. On the day of his execution he sent her a message of farewell–a note from her Valentine. Both were executed on or around February 14. Neither of these men seem to have a whole lot to do with how we celebrate Valentine’s Day. What gives?
Like many holidays that we observe today, they are remnants or replacements of much older celebrations and observances. In this case, Valentine’s Day is kind of a PG-rated cover up of the Roman holiday Lupercalia, which was held for hundreds of years on February 15. It was a celebration of fertility that culminated in young men drawing the name of a young woman from an urn, and those two would be partnered for a lovers’ holiday (although at one time it appears to have been for a year!). Important offerings at this time were blood and milk, the red and white colors of which we still see in abundance on this day. In 469, Pope Gelasius set February 14 aside to honor Valentine and draw attention away from Lupercalia and its customs; how successful he really was is up for debate.
How do I know all this? Sure, you could Google it. I, however, went with the fascinating book Holiday Symbols and Customs, in our Reference collection. Lots of good info in there.
And, if you’re still reading, stop by the Reference Desk before 8:00 pm tonight, ask me a genuine reference question, and get some Valentine’s Day candy! Or, stop by to watch our movie tonight in Meeting Room A: Wil Wheaton’s Much Ado About Nothing and get some candy to mix in with your popcorn (you all do that at the theatre, right??).
by Candice Smith on February 12th, 2014
No, I’m not talking about the Sochi Olympics. I’m talking about Donnie Eichar’s book Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident, which I recently finished. In fact, I finished it about 24 hours after checking it out…it was a very interesting, well-paced book that I didn’t want to put down until I knew what had happened.
This is a nonfiction book that investigates a decades-old mystery, one that I had never heard of and that is so remote and foreign to me (both in terms of locale and subject matter) that it actually imparted a sense of foreboding and discomfort. In late January of 1959, nine university students set out on a 160 mile hike in the Ural mountains, during their winter break. They were already highly accomplished hikers, and this hike was intended to give them the highest ranking in outdoorsmanship that would allow them to instruct others; their plans were meticulous, their route reviewed and approved by foresters, their bags and provisions adequately thought out.
They never returned. After missing the beginning of the semester, officials began to search for them. Their tent was found intact on a slope, with all their shoes, clothes and belongings neatly arranged inside, and food set out waiting to be eaten. Eventually their bodies were found within a mile of the tent but in different places, mostly barely clothed, with injuries ranging from a broken nose and scrapes to blunt force trauma to the head and chest. Several died from hypothermia. After autopsies and looking at the evidence, the case was closed with the determination that an “unknown compelling force” led to their deaths.
Donnie Eichar came across mention of the hikers in a random fashion, while researching something else, and their story simply would not let him go. The mystery of what might have happened to these healthy, incredibly bright and vivacious young people in the remote, snowy wilderness prompted Eichar to visit Russia twice; he not only interviews people who knew the hikers as well as those who investigated the incident, he also makes the long journey to where their lives ended. I will admit, what he finds there and afterwards is not an entirely tidy answer, and if he is right, it is an ironic and cruel one.
I highly recommend you read his book, and see for yourself.