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Author Archive for Maeve Clark

HORRORSTÖR: A Novel by Grady Hendrix

by Maeve Clark on March 18th, 2015
HORRORSTÖR: A Novel by Grady Hendrix Cover Image

Last week as I was walking by the New Fiction books a colleague handed me, HORRORSTÖR by Grady Hendrix.  How fortuitous.  I was heading off to Chicago-landhorrorstor that weekend and would be making my inaugural visit to IKEA, and this title was the perfect primer, (in a twisted sort of way, that is).

Grady Hendrix’s book is a fast, very funny read.  HORRORSTÖR, takes place at ORSK: THE BETTER HOME FOR THE EVERYONE, an IKEA wannabe.   The book is cleverly designed with each chapter, at least initially, showcasing a named piece of furniture. The first, the BROOKA, is a very Scandinavian-like sofa, with clean lines and a description that screams IKEA.  “A sofa that’s everything you ever dreamed a sofa could be.  With memory-foam cushions and a high back that delivers the support your neck deserves, BROOKA is relaxing beginning to the end of your day.”.

horrostor1Something has gone amiss at ORSK, greatly amiss.  Every morning staff arrives to find furniture broken, glassware shattered and worse.  Three employees agree to work an overnight shift to try to discover what is happening during the nighttime hours.  As the night progresses, the pieces of furniture prefacing each chapter change.  We move from the sofa to bookshelves, to a dining room table to instruments of torture.  As the story unfolds we learn that this suburban Ohio ORSK store was built on the site of a prison, a prison of unspeakable horror.  While not the scariest of stories, HORROSTÖR, more than makes up for that weakness in the sleek design and packaging of the book.  Both fans and those who are not so keen on the IKEA experience will find HORRORSTÖR very entertaining.


Erin go Braugh

by Maeve Clark on March 17th, 2015

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! In searching out where the Irish and their descendents live in the United States I came across a good number of maps. The first I found was from an article in Forbes listing the cities in the United States with highest density of Irish.  Boston was the highest with 20.4%.  More fun facts about the Irish diaspora is that Irish-Americans are at least 5% of the popirish Nationals2ulation in most counties across the U.S., and 10% or more in most of New England, New York state, New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and other smaller counties across the country. At the other extreme, Miami is just 1% Irish.  What I really wanted was a map that would allow a user to click on a county and see what percentage of the population is of Irish ancestry. I got close with a map posted today by the US Census that showed Irish in the United States using figures from 2009 to 2013.   The Census map is pretty but it didn’t allow me to drill down as far as I wanted.

I found an interactive map, Measuring the U.S. Melting Pot, that offered me a means of comparing the ethnicity of various populations in the United States.  You can compare the number of Swedes to Norwegians in Minnesota, the number of Irish to Italians in New York City, the Irish to the Germans in Iowa.  Another map of interest is, Mapping the Emerald Isle: a geo-genealogy of cartogram irishIrish surnames, where you can search a a surname and find where folk of that name lived in  which Irish counties, both the Republic and the North,  according to the 1890 census.  I also found a cartogram, posted by Jerry Soloman from the University of Georgia,  of the percent ofIrish ancestry by county.  It still wasn’t interactive, but it was a fascinating map.  Cartograms distort the area of geographic features to reflect the values of an underlying variable, in the map to the  right, it shows the percentage of those claiming Irish descent.  The cartogram at the bottom shows shows those claiming Irish ancestry with an emphasis large urban areas. (I particularly like it because it kind of resembles a whale.)  And whether you can claim any Irish blood, most all of us live in a county were someone can. Sláinte!

cartogram irish whale




Folklore, old wives’ tales, sayings and adages – do the facts support them?

by Maeve Clark on January 20th, 2015

Are there truths behind the folklore, proverbs and phrases that many of us hear growing up?  You know what I mean, like the woolly or fuzzy bear caterpillar, and if its black stripes predict it will be a colder winter than most.  As for the woolly bear, it is not the best prognosticator of the severity of the winter.  The woolly bear’s coloring, at least according to a post on the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office’s website, depends upon a number of variables. “The woolly bear caterpillar’s coloring is based on how long caterpillar has been feeding, its age, and species.  The better the growing season is the bigger it will grow.  This results in narrower red-orange bands in its middle.  Thus, the width of the banding is an indicator of the current or past season’s growth rather than an indicator of the severity of the upcoming winter.  Also, the coloring indicates the age of the woolly bear caterpillar.”

NYT 1.26.1913Many of the adages have to do with predicting the weather or some type of weather-based observation.  An expression I heard for the first time over the holidays was a green Christmas makes a fat churchyard.  I poked around on the Internet to find out just what it meant and to see if I could trace it back in time.  The most common reading of the phrase is that cold weather brings about fewer deaths.  The reasoning behind this was that cold weather killed off the germs or stalled disease that was more rampant in warm weather.  Or perhaps it was in warmer weather more folk circulated and came into contact with each other, thus spreading disease.  Either way, the cold, they thought, kept germs at bay and people at home.  Well, it turns out that cold weather or warm weather didn’t really have that much to do with the death rate at the holidays.  In fact as far back as 1913 The New York Times ran a piece disputing these nugget of weather lore based on a report from medical officers in London where a warm winter had not made for more deaths but fewer. The farthest back I could trace the adage was as an Irish seanfhocal, Nollag, ghlas, reilig mheith.

The library has a number of books of phrases and sayings and even a title devoted just to weather folklore,  Weather wisdom : being an illustrated practical volume wherein is contained unique compilation and analysis of the facts and folklore of natural weather prediction  by Albert Lee.  Are there old wives’ tales or adages that you use, weather-based or not?  And if there are, do any of them hold true? Please feel free to share them.


Winter Weather Driving Help

by Maeve Clark on January 5th, 2015

Well, it finally happened – winIowa DOT snowplowter has arrived and with it snow and bone-chilling cold.  We are asked about where to find out about road conditions and the best source for state and interstate highways is the Iowa Department of Transportation, (Iowa DOT).  The Iowa DOT has a number of resources to make your trip as safe as possible.  If  you link to the Winter Weather Driving Help page you can find out how to connect to the 511 road conditions site.  The Iowa 511 site gives updates on current road conditions including a Track a Plow feature.  Track a Plow shows the deployment and locations of snowplows and what type of snow or ice retardant, liquid or solid, the plow is using, as well as the road conditions including any closures.

There is also an Iowa 511 On the Go option that lets users download a smartphone app for either the iPhone or Android devices.  The  Iowa 511 app provides statewide real-time traffic information for interstates, U.S. routes and state highways in Iowa. It does not include information for county roads or city streets. Other available information includes:
• A zoom-enabled map with traffic event icons that can be selected.
• Real-time updates on winter road conditions, traffic incidents, road work, construction, and road closures.
• Current traffic speeds and closed-circuit television (CCTV) traffic camera images in select cities (Ames, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Des Moines, Iowa City, Quad Cities, Sioux City, and Waterloo) and across the state.
• Electronic roadway sign messages.
• Highway rest area locations.

If you don’t have Internet access or a smartphone, you can still find out road condition information from the Iowa DOT by calling 511 or 800-288-1047.

Best Food Writing 2014

by Maeve Clark on December 29th, 2014
Best Food Writing 2014 Cover Image

Best Food Writing 2014, edited by Holly Hughes, is a delightful collection from food writers of all stripes; from chef-writers and food bloggers to food magazine and cookbook writers. Now in its 15th year, Best Food Writing continues to provide a tasty sample of the best in food writing found in print and online.   Divided into eight sections readers can sample from 50 pieces beginning with The Way We Eat Now and ending with Extreme Eating.

One of my favorite pieces is The Science of the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, the Managing Culinary Director of Serious Eats, where he writes the weekly Food Lab column.  Lopez-Alt’s selection comes from the Home Cooking section and lists 20 Cookie Facts which explain the science behind the recipe and why modifying ingredients and instructions can change the results.  He ends with his recipe for The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie.  I think it is definitely worth a try.

If you enjoy cooking and/or eating or reading about cooking or food, Best Food Writing 2014, (or earlier years in the series), might just be the perfect book for you.



Novelist Kent Haruf Dies at 71

by Maeve Clark on December 2nd, 2014

harufOne of my favorite novelists, Kent Haruf, died on Sunday at the age of 71. I first discovered Haruf’s lyrical writing when his wonderful 1999 work Plainsong was under consideration as the inaugural All Iowa Reads selection n 2003, Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, another excellent work, was selected as the first book for All Iowa Reads and with it setting in rural Minnesota it trumped Haruf’s Colorado high plains locale.  Plainsong was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1999.

Haruf was able to capture small town and rural life in his books.  His latest, Benediction, was published in 2013, and with Eventide completes the trilogy set in Holt, a fictional town on the high plains of Colorado.  If you haven’t read his novels and enjoy a strong sense of place, you will not be disappointed.

Morning Edition aired a tribute to Kent Haruf today. It included clips from an interview with Diane Rehm where he talked about moving to Iowa City in the winter of 1971 with hopes that he would be admitted into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the fall.  He received an MFA from the workshop in 1973.

And for those of you who have read and enjoyed his writing, Kent Haruf’s final novel, Our Souls At Night, is in the editing phase and is currently scheduled for a 2015 release.

Some Luck by Jane Smiley

by Maeve Clark on November 7th, 2014
Some Luck by Jane Smiley Cover Image

I admit it, I can’t get enough of Jane Smiley.  And thanks to a sales rep from Random House and the recent Iowa City Book Festival I was not only able to get a advance reading copy of Some Luck, Smiley’s latest novel, but I, with several hundred other avid readers,  was able to hear her read from it at the Englert Theatre. I have heard Smiley read before and she can weave a great story in person as well as in print and she did just that on the Sunday afternoon she stopped in Iowa City.  She clearly still loves Iowa, her home for many years while she studied in Iowa City and then taught at Iowa State.  In fact, she shared the story of  her vintage bag, she said it reminded her of Iowa and her sweater, which she knit herseJane Smileylf, from yarn made from soybeans, which she thought might just have been grown here too.

The focus of Some Luck, the first of a trilogy, is the Langdon family; their farm, their kin and their lives for the next 33 years.   And what a 33 years it is.  The book begins with Walter and Rosanna and their five month old son, Frank.  The novel explores their life on the farm outside the small town of Denby. It was a rural Iowa that many of us grew up hearing about from our parents and grandparents, a time when fields were plowed with draft horses, and hired men lived with the family, schools were one room and the students were the children of the nearby families. The pace of life had a rhythm and pattern.  But change comes and Smiley illuminates the change chapter by chapter, with each each chapter covering a year in the Langdon family.

If you have been waiting for another novel from this Pulitzer Prize winning novelist you will be thrilled to read Some Luck.   And as luck would have it, there are two more books to follow.




National Book Award Finalists Announced

by Maeve Clark on October 15th, 2014

nba_winner_medallionThe National Book Foundation announced the National Book Award Finalists this morning.  Our own Iowa City author, Marilynne Robinson, is on the shortlist for Lila, her third novel about the fictional Iowa town of Gilead.   The winners will be announced on November 19, you’d best get started now.

What Is the National Book Award? and

Who Are the Judges?

The National Book Awards were established in 1950 by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization. Each year, the Foundation selects a total of twenty Judges, including five in each of the four Award categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature. Historically, Judges are published writers who are known to be doing great work in their genre or field, and in some cases, are past NBA Finalists or Winners. As of 2013, judging panels will no longer be limited to writers, but now may also include other experts in the field such as literary critics, librarians, and booksellers. One of the five Judges on each panel is selected as the panel chair. This person acts as the voice of the panel and the liaison to the Foundation. The Foundation staff takes no part in the Judges’ deliberations, except to verify a submission’s eligibility.

Who Can Submit Books?

Each April, the Foundation sends the official National Book Awards guidelines and entry forms to the publishers in its master database.

In order to be eligible for the Award, a book must be written by an American citizen and published by an American publisher between December 1 of the previous year and November 30 of the current year. Self-published books are only eligible if the author/publisher publishes the work of other authors in addition to his own. Books published through services such as iUniverse are not eligible for the Award.

Each publisher must submit a completed entry form to the Foundation by May 15. They must then mail one copy of each entered book to the Foundation, as well as one copy to each of the five Judges in the appropriate category, by July 1. The entry fee is $135 per book.

How Are the Finalists Chosen?

Each panel reads all of the books submitted in their category over the course of the summer. This number typically ranges from 150 titles (Poetry) to upwards of 500 titles (Nonfiction). As of 2013, each panel will now compile a “longlist” of ten titles, to be announced in mid-September. They will then narrow down that list to five Finalists, to be announced in mid-October. They may arrive at these choices using whatever criteria they deem appropriate, as long as they do not conflict with the official Award guidelines.

The Finalists Announcement has taken place at various literary sites around the country, from William Faulkner’s front yard in Oxford, Mississippi (2005) to the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home in Savannah, Georgia (2010). In 2011, the Finalists Announcement was made on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s morning radio program “Think Out Loud,” and in 2012, the announcement was made on TV for the first time, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” This year the finalists were announced on NPR’s Morning Edition.

How Are the Winners Chosen?

No one, not even the Foundation staff, learns who the Winners are until the day of the National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner, which takes place in mid-November in New York City. That afternoon, over lunch, each panel collectively decides who the Winner in their category will be. Often, this decision has been made ahead of time, but occasionally the panel works to come to a consensus until the very last minute. The panel chair announces the Winner at the Ceremony that evening.

What Does the Award Entail?

The night before the Awards, each Finalist receives a prize of $1,000, a medal, and a citation from the panel at a private Medal Ceremony. Immediately following the Medal Ceremony, all twenty Finalists read from their nominated books at the Finalists Reading. The four Winners in Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature are announced the following evening at the National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner, where each Winner receives $10,000 and a bronze sculpture.

Then What?

Once an author has been a National Book Award Finalist or Winner, he or she becomes a permanent member of the National Book Foundation family. We do our best to keep in touch with both the authors and publishers, promote the authors’ new books and upcoming readings, and invite them to future National Book Award-related events. ( is much more than family trees

by Maeve Clark on October 14th, 2014

We recently helped a patron find information from a Kansas City City Directory.  And guess where we found it?  Give up? It was   (Before I go any farther let me remind you the library’s subscription to this very useful resource limits its use to only in the library and only at our database stations.)

I can see by that look on your face that you want to know what else you can find on There is so much more and you can find out just what is available under Quick Links:

quicklinks ancestry







City directories are found in the link, Schools, Directories & Church Histories which has a wealth of other listings too:














As you can see there is a tremendous amount of information available and we haven’t even narrowed it down to only city directories.  At times it feels like one has fallen into a rabbit hole with so many options and so very many possibilities.

At the very bottom of the above image is the link to the mother lode – the Card Catalog.  The options displayed under Card Catalog show the full breadth of

The Card Catalog uses facets, features on the left side of the screen that give users the options in filtering a search.  A search can be filtered by Collection, Location, Date and Language or a combination of any of the four.

As you can see can be used for many kinds of searches besides a genealogy inquiry.  Come visit us at the library, we can show you how to use  And if you still can’t find the answer to your question using, come and ask us. We are after all, trained reference librarians.

Off the Leash: A Year at the Dog Park by Matthew Gilbert

by Maeve Clark on August 29th, 2014
Off the Leash: A Year at the Dog Park by Matthew Gilbert Cover Image

I loved “Off the Leash: A Year at the Dog Park” by Matthew Gilbert.  As a former dog park person and now a neighborhood dog walker, I found myself relating to so much of what Gilbert describes in his book. Everyone knows all of the dogs’ names and we refer to owners as Jack’s mom or Nellie’s mom.  Eventually you get to know the other dog park peoples’ names and then their stories.  Gilbert’s book is his story of his first year with Toby and how Toby helps him come out of his relatively introverted shell. Toby makes him  make friendships with folks he would meet no where else but at the dog park.  Gilbert, a television critic for The Boston Globe, wasn’t even a dog person until he and his husband, Tom,  decided to get an absolutely gorgeous yellow Labrador puppy.  Gilbert worked at home and soon learned that a puppy needed exercise, a lot of exercise, so much exercise that walking on the sidewalks just wasn’t enough for a very energetic puppy.

Gilbert, (actually Toby), finds Armory Park and then the dogs and their human companions at the park.  At first he just lets Toby play and doesn’t interact with the others. But as anyone who goes to a dog park knows that if you come come to a park with a puppy others will be drawn to you like a magnet and want to talk.  And talk leads to learning everyone’s names and eventually their stories.  Gilbert aptly describes the dog park denizens, including an older gentleman, Saul,  who doesn’t have a dog anymore but loves dogs and tries so hard to connect with the dogs and their owners. One of the most poignant parts of “Off the Leash” is when Saul no longer comes to the park. Saul was in the early states of Alzheimer’s and had a minor car accident and had to move in with his brother. The dog park people track down Saul’s brother and find out that he needs more care than his brother can give and that he is moved to a retirement home.  There are other stories that tug at the heart. Stories of when a dog dies.  The dog park family rallies around the companion and brings food and tells stories and witnesses with the bereaved about the loss.

At other times “Off the Leash” is laugh out loud funny; dog people have stories to tell and if you are at a park, you have time to hear their stories.  You also learn who follows the rules, and who doesn’t, who joins in and who doesn’t, and how the dog park people use their dogs to express feelings they would never normally share with Nellie benchanyone else. Gilbert calls this sharing dog ventriloquism.

If  you have a dog or had a dog or want a dog, you will enjoy “Off the Leash”.  Your dog might too, Nellie did, I read numerous passages to her.  She did not pass judgment, she is a dog, I did, I am am a dog park person.