Wednesday, June 29, 2011

GRG Recap - Biographical Fiction

Our topic last night was biographical fiction, which are novels based on real people. This is another of my favorite types of novels to read because I love to see in what ways an author’s imagination will twist and bend perceived reality. I would consider alternate history, like Naomi Novik’s wonderful Temeraire series (the Napoleonic Wars fought with dragon air forces), to be offshoots of both biographical fiction and science fiction/fantasy.

Next month’s topic, or rather non-topic, is our biannual Salon Discussion! Please make a note on your calendars that our July meeting has been moved up one week to July 19th at 6:30pm. Bring any book (on any topic) you would like to share with the group! I am in the process of tallying the votes for our next six months of reading, so I should have an August selection of books ready to go when we meet on July 19th!

The World Before Her by Deborah Weisgall

A stunning novel about two women and two marriages -- George Eliot at the end of her life, and another woman a century later.

The year is 1880 and the setting is Venice. Marian Evans -- whose novels under the pen name George Eliot have placed her among the famed Englishwomen of her time -- has come to this enchanted city on her honeymoon. Newly married to John Cross, twenty years her junior, she hopes to put her guilt to rest. Marian lived, unmarried, with George Henry Lewes for twenty-five years, until his death. She took a tremendous risk and paid a high price for that illicit union, but she also achieved happiness and created art. Now she wants to love again. In this new marriage, in this romantic place, can this writer give herself the happy ending that she provided for Middlemarch’s Dorothea Brooke?

The parallel story of a sculptor named Caroline Spingold brings us to Venice one hundred years later, in 1980. Caroline’s powerful, wealthy older husband has brought her to the city against her will, to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary. Having spent a perfect childhood summer in Venice with her parents, before her father left her mother, Caroline had vowed never to return.

In alternating chapters linked by the themes of art, love, and marriage, The World Before Her tells of these two women -- and their surprising similarities. In a city where the canals reflect memory as much as light, they both confront desire and each assesses what she has and who she is. At the heart of this sumptuously and evocatively written novel lies the eternal dilemma of how to find love and sustain it, without losing one’s self.

The reader’s description of this novel, both the topics and format, brought to mind several other great reads! Loving Frank by Nancy Horan chronicles the long-term affair between renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the wife of one of his clients. Michael Cunningham’s The Hours (movie adaptation available) is formatted in a similar way to Weisgall’s novel, reflecting on the last days of Virginia Wolff while paralleling her tale with a contemporary plotline. This novel is beautifully written but does not contain any happily-ever-afters. Shopgirl (movie adaptation available), by comedian/actor/musician Steve Martin, explores the complexities of a modern relationship between Mirabelle, a lowly salesclerk at a department store glove counter, and Ray Porter, a wealthy businessman almost twice her age. In Tracy Chevalier’s first novel, The Virgin Blue, the New York Times best-selling author of Girl With a Pearl Earring (movie adaptation available) relates the parallel stories of a young girl involved in the Huguenot-Calvinist conflicts of the 16th century and a modern American woman unhappy with her transplanted life in southwestern France.

Speaking of George Eliot and Steve Martin in the same conversation also brought to mind Martin’s excellent movie adaptation of Eliot’s Silas Marner, A Simple Twist of Fate. This is not the only book-to-movie adaptation in which Martin has been involved. His film Roxanne was an adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac.

The Blood Countess by Andrei Codrescu

Andrei Codrescu, NPR commentator and journalist, has written a fascinating first novel based on the life of his real-life ancestor, Elizabeth Bathory, the legendary Blood Countess. Codrescu expertly weaves together two stories in this neo-gothic work: that of the 16th-century Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory, a beautiful and terrifying woman who bathes in the blood of virgin girls; and of her distant descendent, a contemporary journalist who must return to his native Hungary and come to terms with his bloody and disturbing past.

Drake Bathory-Kereshtur, a Hungarian-born journalist who has lived in the United States, returns to his native Hungary, only to be the target for recruitment among a patriotic group that wants to restore the glory--and the horror--of the Hungarian aristocracy. As a descendent of the Countess Elizabeth Bathory, he is heir to all that is wonderful and terrible about his country and his family's past. Codrescu brilliantly explores Drake's anguish, as he realizes the truth behind his gruesome family history. But more importantly, Codrescu also creates a convincing and historically accurate picture of a sadistic woman obsessed with youth, vigor, beauty, and blood – a woman with enough power to order the deaths of 650 virgins so that she could bathe in their blood.

The Blood Countess is a bizarre and compelling book about the horrors of the past, shown so effectively in the monstrous yet attractive personality of Elizabeth, and what pull these horrors have on those who live now.

Tilting at Windmills: A Novel of Cervantes and the Errant Knight by Julian Branston

In seventeenth-century Valladolid, Spain’s new capital, Miguel de Cervantes is busy writing episodes of his comic masterpiece, Don Quixote. His comedy is quickly making him the most popular author in the country, when three potential disasters strike: Cervantes discovers that there is a real Don Quixote, exactly like the character he thought he’d invented; a jealous poet’s plots involving one of the novel’s other characters make Cervantes a laughingstock; and Cervantes falls in love with a beautiful, widowed, but unavailable duchess. Many duels, misunderstandings, and betrayals later, Don Quixote himself comes to Cervantes’ rescue.

This sparkling tale of crazed knights, thwarted love, and literary rivalry is imbued with all of the spirit, verve, and humor of the classic novel to which it pays playful tribute. Tilting at Windmills is a dazzling evocation of Cervantes’ life and times, and a brilliant weave of fact, fiction, and farce.

Happy reading!


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

June is National Audiobook Month!

June is almost over but you still have time to celebrate National Audiobook Month! If you've never listened to an audiobook, now is a great time to check one out. Audiobooks are perfect for entertainment on a road trip or daily commutes, but you can also enjoy them while exercising, cooking, crafting, and relaxing at home. The possibilities are endless!

At EOL, audiobooks come in a few different forms. Not only can you
check out compact disc audiobooks, we have Playaways as well. Playaways are pre-loaded digital audiobook players -the audiobook is loaded onto a portable device, complete with earphones and battery.

Don't forget that you can now enjoy downloaded audiobooks on your computer, mp3 player, or smartphone from our growing downloadable collection! Also, you can stay informed of the latest and greatest audiobooks by signing up for our monthly audiobook newsletter here.

To celebrate National Audiobook Month I've asked Holley and Katie for a few of their favorite audiobooks and I have added some of my favorite listens as well.

Holley's Faves:

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov

Naked in Death by J.D. Robb

Sabriel by Garth Nix (YA title, narrated by Tim Curry!!!)

Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey & Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell (neither are for sensitive listeners)

Katie's Faves:

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (GREAT reader!)

The Song of Ice & Fire series by George R.R. Martin - start with Game of Thrones.

The Ramona books by Beverly Cleary - Katie says, "The stories are timeless and funny and Stockard Channing reads them and is more amazing than amazing! The voices she can do make this series great for any age REALLY!!!"

Amanda's Faves:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (YA title)

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (not for sensitive listeners!)

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

My Name is Memory by Anne Brashares

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters


Saturday, June 18, 2011

What is a Locavore?

Around this time of year, many Alabamians are starting to satisfy their cravings for the sweet taste of Chilton County peaches. But what about the fresh flavor of say. . . Shelby Co. tomatoes or Bibb Co. strawberries?

In today's increasingly connected world, we have grown apart from our food. You may be surprised to discover that your food has clocked more frequent flyer miles than you have! According to, "a typical carrot has to travel 1,838 miles to reach your dinner table." Locavores, or those who try to eat mostly local food, swear by a diet of fresh, seasonal food. Eating locally grown food will reinvigorate your dinner table with fresh, vibrant flavors while closing the gap between food production and the community.

We have created a display, as well as a brochure to take home, with locavore titles including cookbooks, how-to, memoirs, books on food politics, and DVDs including:

Clean Food by Terry Walters

The Locavore Way by Amy Cotler

In the Green Kitchen by Alice Waters

American Terroir by Rowan Jacobsen

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

The Pepper Place Market has been a Saturday morning staple of fresh-food lovers for over ten years now. Find other farmers markets, roadside stands, and U-Pick farm operators listed by county at the State of Alabama's Farmers Market Authority.

Have you ever seen a box of fresh veggies on your neighbors doorstep and wondered where it came from? CSA stands for Community-supported Agriculture and it works by letting you buy "shares" from a farm in exchange for produce or other food products. Grow Alabama is a multi-farm CSA offering locally grown vegetables, fruits and eggs delivered to your home, office, or to a central pick-up point near you. maintains a comprehensive CSA finder here.

Still hungry for locally grown food? Get involved! Birmingham has its own Slow Food Movement convivium, or chapter. The Slow Food Movement is a "global global, grassroots organization with supporters in 150 countries around the world who are linking the pleasure of good food with a commitment to their community and the environment." Visit Slow Food Birmingham to join and view upcoming events.

Locavore foodies in Alabama have documented their tasty journeys from farm to fork in these two blogs: Eating Alabama and Gulf Coast Local Food. Take a look and be inspired to start your own!

Visit us at the Reference Desk for a comprehensive list of locavore titles and websites! For more great food titles, sign up for our monthly Food & Cooking newsletter here!


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bad Art Night

It is almost time for one of the Library's most beloved, highly anticipated programs, Bad Art Night!

Each year during the Adult Summer Reading Program, we pull out the crayons, glue, pipe cleaners, stickers, paint, googley eyes, and more so that adults everywhere may get back in touch with their inner rapscallion!
Bring a friend and head on over to the Library's Community Meeting Room on Tuesday, June 14th at 6:30pm. There'll be some good eats and chilled wine to get the creativity flowing! If you've signed up for Adult Summer Reading, or you sign up at the program, you'll get another entry in the drawing for the Nook Color as well as being able to mark a square on your Bingo card, getting yourself one step closer to a BINGO and another entry in the drawing for the iPad 2 3G!

There will be four categories of creation available: painting, sculpture, collage, and mixed media. Participants will vote for the absolute worst work of art in each category and winners get a prize! One lucky winner will be awarded a prize for Worst Art of the Night! For more information, contact the Adult Dept at 205-445-1121!

Stay cool!
Images from the Museum of Bad Art (

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Genre Reading Group recap - sports writing

I loved, Loved, LOVED yesterday’s meeting about sports writing! We had THE best time AND one of our best discussions! Sports, in all of its many variations, frequently play such a big role in the average American life and this variety was well represented among GRG participants. We discussed cycling, golf, soccer, NASCAR, football game tailgating, running, horseracing, and a host of other topics that cropped up during the course of our meandering discussion!

June’s topic is biographical fiction: a novel based on true events and/or real people. I have a huge selection of them pulled for your perusal, but you are always welcome to research and select your own title and I am always happy to help should you want assistance in selecting a book. So, read what you pick and come tell us about it, plus get ideas from other readers! You owe it to yourself to join the most fun book group in town!

Don’t forget to sign up for the Adult Summer Reading program if you’ve not done so already. Our first program will be on Tuesday, June 14th at 6:30pm, Bad Art Night! The worst artist in each category wins a prize! We’re also giving away a Nook Classic, a Nook Color, and an iPad 2 3G at the end of the summer and the more frequently you participate, the better your chances of winning! Call 205-445-1121 for more information about GRG and our Adult Summer Reading program!

On to the list!

Positively False: The Real Story of How I Won the Tour de France by Floyd Landis with Loren Mooney
The series of events surrounding Floyd Landis's 2006 Tour de France was as improbable as anything in the history of sports: He showed up nine seconds late for the race's opening prologue, donned the leader's yellow jersey twelve days later, and lost his lead only to regain it in remarkable fashion just before the Tour's final stage into Paris. Winning the Tour should have been the culmination of a life's dream, but a mere three days later, Landis was accused of using banned performance-enhancing drugs. Released by his team and threatened with the removal of his Tour title, Landis went from winning the most prestigious race of his career to being unfairly labeled as a cheater, a liar, and a doper.

Positively False is at once a memoir and a powerful indictment of the unchecked governing bodies of cycling that have compromised theintegrity of the sport as a whole. From leaving the Mennonite community of his youth in order to pursue his passion for cycling, to riding alongside Lance Armstrong for three years -- with whom he shared the same work ethic and competitive desire -- Floyd Landis details the highs and lows of his career with unabashed honesty. It is this same honesty with which he will clear his name once and for all, as he lays bare the inner workings of the cycling world -- a place where athletes are subject to the antiquated science, flawed interpretive protocols, and draconian legal processes of the anti-doping agencies -- and finally lays to rest the scandal that threatened to destroy everything he's worked so hard to achieve....

Down the Fairway: The Golf Life and Play of Robert T. Jones, Jr. by Robert T. Jones, Jr. and O.B. Keeler
A classic memoir from Bobby Jones, the only person to ever win the Grand Slam, on life and golf.

The reader mentioned a couple of people Jones’ wrote about in the book who figured prominently in Jones’ career while he was in Birmingham but with which all of us were unfamiliar. Alexa Stirling, the “empress of golf” to Robert Trent Jones, Jr.’s “emperor” title, was RTJ, Jr.’s childhood golfing partner and dear friend. I could not find any extensive information on “the Birmingham Slugger,” Charlie Hall, outside of mentions in other books via Google Books, but he also mentored and guided the young golfing celebrity during the early days of his career.

Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town by Warren St. John
Clarkston, Georgia, was a typical Southern town until it was designated a refugee settlement center in the 1990s, becoming the first American home for scores of families in flight from the world’s war zones—from Liberia and Sudan to Iraq and Afghanistan. Suddenly Clarkston’s streets were filled with women wearing the hijab, the smells of cumin and curry, and kids of all colors playing soccer in any open space they could find. The town also became home to Luma Mufleh, an American-educated Jordanian woman who founded a youth soccer team to unify Clarkston’s refugee children and keep them off the streets. These kids named themselves the Fugees.

Set against the backdrop of an American town that without its consent had become a vast social experiment, Outcasts United follows a pivotal season in the life of the Fugees and their charismatic coach. Warren St. John documents the lives of a diverse group of young people as they miraculously coalesce into a band of brothers, while also drawing a fascinating portrait of a fading American town struggling to accommodate its new arrivals. At the center of the story is fiery Coach Luma, who relentlessly drives her players to success on the soccer field while holding together their lives—and the lives of their families—in the face of a series of daunting challenges.

This fast-paced chronicle of a single season is a complex and inspiring tale of a small town becoming a global community—and an account of the ingenious and complicated ways we create a home in a changing world.

Recently, all incoming fall freshmen at UAB were required to read this title.

One Helluva Ride: How NASCAR Swept the Nation by Liz Clarke
From its raw beginnings on Southern dirt tracks, NASCAR smacked of a slightly depraved spectacle, as if nothing but trouble could come from the unbridled locomotion of a V8 engine. By the time NASCAR roared into the twenty-first century, it had grown into a billion-dollar sports and marketing colossus, its races attended by hundreds of thousands of fans on any given weekend from mid-February through mid-November, watched on television by the second-largest viewing audience in sports, and bankrolled by the marketing largesse of the Fortune 500’s elite.

One Helluva Ride, a full-throttle account of the rise and reign of NASCAR nation, is award-winning motorsports reporter Liz Clarke’s chronicle of how stock car racing exploded from regional obsession to national phenomenon. In covering the sport for more than fifteen years, Clarke has developed a strong rapport with NASCAR’s drivers, team owners, and hard-core fans. Through her reporting and analysis, we get to know the public and private sides of NASCAR’s most iconic figures, including seven-time champion Richard Petty, who set the standard for treating fans with respect, and the late Dale Earnhardt, whose brazen, bullying tactics wreaked havoc on the track, but whose heart was as big as Daytona’s infield.

The sports world stopped in its tracks the day Earnhardt was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Some feared that NASCAR’s soul would die with him. But it has raced on, steered by visionary promoters, the all-controlling France family (who founded the sport), and, above all, the next generation of drivers to stir fans’ passions: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., son of the NASCAR legend and now, like his father before him, the circuit’s most popular driver; Jeff Gordon, the beloved but oft-maligned outsider, bred from the cradle to be NASCAR’s winningest modern champion; and Kasey Kahne, a reluctant heartthrob whose confidence derives entirely from an accelerator pedal. Clarke also brings us inside NASCAR’s most triumphant and tragic dynasties: the Pettys, the Earnhardts, and the Allisons–and reveals how faith, family, and a deep-seated love of their sport helps them cope with grief and loss.

Clarke shows NASCAR to be at a crossroads. In pursuit of a broader audience, NASCAR has severed its sponsorship ties to Big Tobacco, abandoned racetracks in small markets in favor of speedways near glitzy major cities, and welcomed Japan’s Toyota into a sport traditionally restricted to American-made sedans. As NASCAR races toward mass appeal, some suggest it is leaving its roots behind. To others, it is boldly extending its reach from the Southern workingman to every man, woman, and child in the world.

Whether you’re one of the die-hard NASCAR faithful or just a casual follower, nobody brings you closer to the sport and business of big-time stock car racing than Liz Clarke. This book, like the phenomenon it profiles, really is One Helluva Ride.

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Journey into the Heart of Fan Mania by Warren St. John
What is it about sports that turns otherwise sane people into raving lunatics? Why does winning compel people to tear down goal posts, and losing, to drown themselves in bad keg beer? In short, why do fans care?

In search of answers, Warren St. John seeks out the roving community of RVers who follow the Alabama Crimson Tide from game to game. A movable feast of Weber grills and Igloo coolers, these are hard-core football fans who arrive on Wednesday for Saturday’s game: The Reeses, who skipped their own daughter’s wedding because it coincided with a Bama game; Ray Pradat, the Episcopal minister who watches the games on a television beside his altar while performing weddings; and John Ed, the wheeling and dealing ticket scalper whose access to good seats gives him power on par with the governor. In no time at all, St. John buys an RV (a $5,500 beater named The Hawg) and joins the caravan for a full football season, chronicling the world of the extreme fan and learning that in the shadow of the stadium, it can all begin to seem strangely normal.

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer is not only a hilarious travel story, but a cultural anthropology of fans that goes a long way toward demystifying the universal urge to take sides and to win.

I was compelled to point out that the only two nouns I could think of with which we use the word “rabid” are “animal” and “fan.”

Personal Record: A Love Affair with Running by Rachel Toor

Rachel Toor was a bookish egghead who ran only to catch a bus. How such an unlikely athlete became a runner of ultramarathons is the story of Personal Record, an exhilarating meditation on the making, and the minutiae, of a runner’s life. The food, the clothes, the races, the injuries, and the watch are all essential to the runner, as readers discover here, and discover why.
A chronicle of Toor’s relationship with the sport of running, from her early incarnation as an Oreo-eating couch potato to her emergence as a hard-bodied marathoner, this book explores the sport of running, the community it brings into being, and the personal satisfaction of pursuing it to its limit. An homage to running, a literary take on how an activity can turn into a passion and how a passion can become a way of life, Toor’s book runs all the way from individual achievement—a personal record—to the world of friendship and community.

Man O’ War: A Legend Like Lightning by Dorothy Ours
His trainer said that managing him was like holding a tiger by the tail. His owner compared him to "chain lightning." His jockeys found their lives transformed by him, in triumphant and distressing ways. All of them became caught in a battle for honesty.

Born in 1917, Man o' War grew from a rebellious youngster into perhaps the greatest racehorse of all time. He set such astonishing speed records that The New York Times called him a "Speed Miracle." Often he won with so much energy in reserve that experts wondered how much faster he could have gone. Over the years, this and other mysteries would envelop the great Man o' War.

The truth remained problematic. Even as Man o' War---known as "Big Red"---came to power, attracting record crowds and rave publicity, the colorful sport of Thoroughbred racing struggled for integrity. His lone defeat, suffered a few weeks before gamblers fixed the 1919 World Series, spawned lasting rumors that he, too, had been the victim of a fix.

Tackling old beliefs with newly uncovered evidence, Man o' War: A Legend Like Lightning shows how human pressures collided with a natural phenomenon and brings new life to an American icon. The genuine courage of Man o' War, tribulations of his archrival, Sir Barton (America's first Triple Crown winner), and temptations of their Hall of Fame jockeys and trainers reveal a long-hidden tale of grace, disgrace, and elusive redemption.

What excellent works of sports journalism did we miss?

Happy reading!