by Heidi Lauritzen on May 15th, 2015
The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin is a fictionalized account of Mary, mother of Jesus, in her old age. This well-reviewed novella was published in 2012 and shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. I did not read it at the time, but recently checked out the audio version read by Meryl Streep. It is a fantastic reading, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys listening to books on disc.
Toibin’s novella has Mary being coaxed by the disciples to share the story of her son’s rise in popularity and power, and then his crucifixion. The disciples have a larger message they want to impart to the world and facts that do not fit that message are conveniently ignored; Mary’s memories are those of a mother who has no agenda other than to raise and love her son. The clash between the two purposes creates impatience in the disciples and anger in Mary.
Meryl Streep brilliantly expresses the confusion, anger and grief Mary feels as she watches the sacrifice of her son’s life and the manipulation of the story in the years that followed. Streep delivers Mary’s short and clipped sentences, and bits of sarcasm directed at the disciples, in a way that is fitting to a woman who has little time left to tell her side of the story to an unsympathetic audience. Streep captures the weariness of the old Mary, still trying to make sense of what happened.
This story is not the Mary in popularly-known Christian theology. But if you are open to a different interpretation of her, Meryl Streep brings to life an intelligent, strong, flawed and believable Mary whose grief at the loss of her son is inconsolable.
by Heidi Lauritzen on March 25th, 2015
Although there’s only one week left to browse the Travel Resources display on the second floor, staff at the Reference Desk can always help you find materials to plan your next happy escape.
The display kiosk has a few representative titles, usually specific to a country or city, from the various guidebook series we carry such as Rough Guides, Frommer’s, Eyewitness, and Fodors. But when you are not sure where you want to go, there are many general works that can provide some inspiration. At the moment, the display has books on traveling with children, the best beaches, literary landmarks, adventure travel, and the fun of finding back roads to reach your destination.
An intriguing title that I had to take home is 100 Places You Will Never Visit: The World’s Most Secret Locations by Daniel Smith. Each place is described in just a few pages, often with drawings, maps or a photo or two. There are businesses (Google Data Center, Coca-Cola recipe vault), military sites (Guantanamo Bay Detention Center; Korean Demilitarized Zone), and other interesting places such as Air Force One, Vatican Secret Archives, Swiss Fort Knox and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Even though you will probably never go to any of these locations, it is interesting to know a little bit more about them.
Once you have picked out a place to go—one that is not in a top-secret, off-limits location—staff can help you find materials about your destination. Our collections of architecture, history, cooking, art, and landscape gardening books and DVDs are great supplements to the factual information in the guidebooks.
by Heidi Lauritzen on March 10th, 2015
Maeve Binchy, beloved Irish novelist who died in 2012, got her writing start as a reporter and columnist for The Irish Times. Maeve’s Times: In Her Own Words is a selection of her columns and stories that appeared in The Irish Times over five decades. These brief essays are as heartwarming and funny as her novels, but also contain serious commentary about the world around her. She reminds me of the American political writer Molly Ivins (who also died too young).
Binchy served as the “Women’s Editor” at The Irish Times in Dublin from 1968-1973; she was then transferred to London where she worked as a reporter and columnist. She resigned her staff position in the 1980′s but continued as a regular contributor to the newspaper.
Her reprinted columns are divided into groups by decade, and chart many societal changes you will recognize from the sixties to 2011. She observed and recorded everyday life, from conversations at the bus stop and in the neighborhood to giving the commoner take on national politics and the royal family. She was self-deprecating about her appearance and social skills, which just makes her easier to relate to and trust. And as is the case in her novels, the relationships among people are her best subject.
If you have enjoyed Maeve Binchy’s novels, I predict you will like this book too. But if her fiction was not quite your cup of tea, I encourage you to give her nonfiction writing a try. It is informative, observant and often funny–and always enjoyable.
by Heidi Lauritzen on January 30th, 2015
I long have been a fan of author Charles Todd’s mystery series featuring the character Ian Rutledge. A Fine Summer’s Day is the just-published, perfectly-presented prequel to the sixteen novels in the series. It is a satisfying detective story in its own right, but what’s best is learning some of the back stories of the series’ characters.
If you are already a fan too, I think you will thoroughly enjoy this installment. It takes place just as England is mobilizing to enter World War I. Rutledge is a detective at Scotland Yard and is courting Jean, the young woman who we know will break their engagement upon Rutledge’s return from the war. Many other familiar characters whom we have come to know are introduced here as well.
Why do I like the series so much? Ian Rutledge is an honorable and intelligent man who is haunted by the horror of the war. How he solves mysteries while trying to regain some emotional stability in his life are complimentary and compelling themes. His Scotland Yard assignments take him all around England–and sometimes to Scotland–and the places and historical settings come to life.
When I recommend the series to readers, I always suggest that they read them in order. While there is enough background information repeated in each novel to make them understandable if you don’t read them in order, the character development does flow from book to book and you see the natural progression of the characters’ lives. Now I will suggest that readers begin with this book.
A couple more notes about the series’ characters: you don’t get much here about Hamish MacLeod–which makes sense because he becomes part of Ian Rutledge’s life only when Rutledge enters the war. And there’s a tantalizing reference to Simon Brandon, a name you will recognize if you read the Bess Crawford mysteries, by the same author. I wonder if we can look forward to a merging of their stories sometime soon?
by Heidi Lauritzen on January 15th, 2015
Mural, the 1943 painting by Jackson Pollock, has been much in the news over the last couple of years as it made its journey from the UI Museum of Art to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the remarkable conservation work done there, and then back to Iowa where currently it is exhibited at the Sioux City Art Museum. “Jackson Pollock’s Mural: The Transitional Moment” by Yvonne Szafran and others is a fascinating look at the painting’s history and the conservation work that was completed in 2014.
The painting was commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim and was first exhibited in her home. She donated Mural to the University of Iowa in 1948, although it did not arrive in Iowa until 1951. The painting is now acclaimed as a masterpiece of American mid-century modernism.
After a brief history of the painting and the artist, the book goes into detail about the conservation process. The painting had dulled over the years, mostly due to a coating of varnish in the 1970s, the technique in use at the time to protect paintings. The meticulous effort to remove the varnish is described in words and and photographs; artists who paint will get more out of the detail than I did, but I was happy to skim the technical bits and focus on the illustrations. Cross sections of the paint on the canvas illuminate Pollock’s technique as well as show the varnish that is not original.
The painting is very large–roughly 8 feet by 20 feet–and the photographs of the conservation staff working on the painting give one a sense of the huge effort the project required. There are before-and-after fold-out pages showing the complete painting.
ICPL was fortunate to host author Yvonne Szafran, Senior Conservator of Paintings at the J. Paul Getty Museum, on October 21, 2014 for a lecture on the painting and its conservation. You can stream a recording of that talk from our website.
Mural will be at the Sioux City Art Center until April 1, 2015. It then is destined for exhibitions in Europe, before it returns home to a new UI Museum of Art building. “Jackson Pollock’s Mural” has made me much more appreciative of this locally owned treasure. I can’t wait to see the real thing again.
by Heidi Lauritzen on December 24th, 2014
You can track Santa’s progress to North America by checking out NORAD’s Santa Tracker. To find out where Santa is right now, go to noradsanta.org.
NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) has been tracking Santa’s journey since 1955. There’s a wonderful interview from NPR with the adult children of Col. Harry Shoup of the Continental Air Defense Command (now called NORAD), who took the first call from a child who had dialed a misprinted phone number to talk to Santa.
If you go to noradsanta.org, you will see a 3D presentation of Santa and his sleigh flying over the countryside below. If you do not have a very fast internet connection, you can make an easy switch to a 2D presentation, which shows the places he has already been and where Santa is headed next. As I write this, Santa is over western Africa…..and only hours away from Iowa.
by Heidi Lauritzen on October 6th, 2014
While working at the Reference Desk last week, I got a question from a couple of young students. More than anything I wanted to give a simple answer that would signal to them that the Library is easy to use. But no such luck, because the question—Where are your books on prairie plants?—resulted in two places to look.
The Dewey Decimal Classification scheme, used in many public libraries, provides a framework for grouping materials together by subject. More than 100 years old, the scheme has been resilient and adaptable. But sometimes it conspires to keep similar things apart, if the approach to the subject matter differs. I think the best illustration for this is the 500s and 600s. The 500s are “Pure Science” and the 600s are “Technology,” sometimes referred to as “applied science”.
The Dewey Decimal classification numbers in the 530s are about physics, with electricity at 537. But if you are interested in wiring your house, you would look at applied physics in 621.31924.
In the 580s you find books about the natural history and identification of plants; and in the 600s, you find the books about gardening and cooking with plants.
In the classification number 590, you find books about animals—their history and biology. But look in the 600s to find books about animals in the subject areas of farming, cooking, and keeping animals as pets.
Doing a subject search in the catalog will help you identify all the places you can look for what you need. If you do a subject search for “parrots”, the catalog will send you to 598.71 for “Parrots of the World: An Identification Guide” and also to 636.6865 for books on training and caring for a pet parrot. If you do a subject search for “prairie plants,” as I did for the students last week, the catalog will direct you to 581.744 for “An Illustrated Guide to Iowa Prairie Plants” and also to 635.95 for “A Practical Guide to Prairie Reconstruction”.
Browsing an area of the collection that you know is one way of finding what you need, but there may be similar items of interest in other areas. We hope that you will check with staff at the Reference Desk whenever you have a question about where to find a subject that interests you. Chances are there is more than one place to look, and we can help you find them all.
by Heidi Lauritzen on September 18th, 2014
Until recently, the first thing that came to mind when Sir Walter Scott was mentioned is that he is one of the authors in my Game of Authors card deck. When I heard about the exciting upcoming programs on Scott and his Waverley novels, though, I knew I had to read at least one of the novels, and I’m very glad I did.
Waverley; or, ‘Tis Sixty Years Since was published anonymously in 1814 to great acclaim; for the next thirteen years Scott continued publishing novels which were known as “by the author of Waverley” and he only officially claimed authorship of them in 1827. Some of Scott’s better-known titles today are Rob Roy, Ivanhoe, and the long poem The Lady of the Lake.
Waverley often is called the first historical novel, and is about a young Englishman–Edward Waverley–who is posted to Scotland, and whose loyalties become torn between his English origins and the Scottish Highland clans in the Jacobite rising of 1745. Scott is a terrific story-teller, bringing to life characters from all levels of 18th century society and painting beautiful pictures in my mind of the Highland lochs, stones and mountains. I was prepared for the long, descriptive sentences but surprised—happily—by Scott’s dry sense of humor; I found myself smiling often as I read. Reading Waverley now, as modern-day Scotland is voting on whether to separate from the United Kingdom, reinforces just how old and complex this quest for independence is.
Scott was a contemporary of Jane Austen and she had this to say about Scott and Waverley: “Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. – It is not fair. – He has Fame & Profit enough as a Poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths. – I do not like him, & do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it – but fear I must…” I should have taken Austen’s word for it a long time ago. And I will definitely read more of the Waverley novels.
Don’t miss learning more about Sir Walter Scott and the Waverley novels at ICPL’s program at noon on Friday, September 19th, and on October 5 at the Iowa City Book Festival.
by Heidi Lauritzen on August 5th, 2014
I recently enjoyed two new books on England’s Bloomsbury Group. So much has been written by and about this group of writers, painters, and thinkers, it seems a bit surprising that a new angle could be found. But these two books are a delight, and if you enjoy gardening, cooking, or English history, check them out.
Virginia Woolf’s Garden: The Story of the Garden at Monk’s House is written by Caroline Zoob; she and her husband lived as tenants in this National Trust property for more than ten years, nurturing the gardens and taking care of the house. The photographs are by Caroline Arber, and they beautifully present the gardens, paths, and orchard on the property, as well as some interior shots of the house where the Woolfs lived for many years. (I lingered especially over the the pictures of Leonard’s and Virginia’s writing tables.) Mixed in with these current photos are archival pictures of the Woolfs and their guests in the gardens. The text describes the extensive work that the Woolfs (primarily Leonard) did to create garden rooms, develop the orchard, and grow food for their table–which was often shared with guests.
The Bloomsbury Cookbook: Recipes for Life, Love and Art by Jans Ondaatje Rolls is a little more story and a little less recipes, but that’s ok. The book nicely summarizes the chronology and personalities of the Bloomsbury Group through anecdotes and the recipes of its members (and their cooks). You will find the Woolfs here, and Vanessa and Clive Bell, and Lydia Lopokova Keynes, Dora Carrington, and Lytton Strachey, to name just a few. Some of the recipes are more atmospheric than utilitarian (where would I find a calf’s brain?) but some of the vague measurements have been updated and there is a chart at the back that provides temperature conversions from centigrade to Fahrenheit, and imperial measurements to metric. The many illustrations, most of which are paintings by members of the Group, are another highlight of the book.
by Heidi Lauritzen on July 15th, 2014
Any new books at the Library? There’s a quick answer for that, on the front page of the catalog. Once a week–usually on Tuesday–the list of materials just added to the Library collections is updated. Not all sections will have something every week, but most do and sometimes the lists are quite long. Just click on the “New Materials Lists” link to get started.
The New Materials Lists page is easy to search and browse: it first is divided into Adult, Teen and Children’s collections, with more sub-categories listed below those headings. If you like Adult Fiction, you can limit your browsing to just Mysteries or just Large Print books. If Nonfiction is your first choice, the list is separated by the Dewey Decimal classification numbers: 100/200/300 and so on. I routinely check the 900s and Biography, because I like reading about history and travel. And then I check the DVD TV section, because I’m hooked on a number of British TV series. And then it’s on to the Mysteries…
Most formats are represented, including DVDs, music compact discs, books on disc, and eBooks and eAudio. The display of the book cover (or DVD cover, or CD cover) beside the title is helpful, and there’s a direct link to the regular catalog entry where you can place a hold if you wish.
The majority of the items on the list are newly-published, but you will also see other things new to our collection even if they were published several years ago.
It’s a great way to browse our virtual New shelves. Check back once a week!