Thursday, February 20, 2014

How to Get Your Bookshelf in Shape

I've long run out of room on my red bookshelf, so I've begun sliding books into any available space. It's not too unsightly, but it's a sure sign that I need to get my bookshelf in shape. For anyone who has a lot of books, "reclaiming your bookshelf" seems to be an insurmountable task - at least at the outset. Where can we begin?
Image via

"Year of the Clean Person" columnist Julie Kerr has laid out a plan for those of us who want to make our bookshelves presentable again. It consists of 4 stages:

Stage 1: Make your list, grab your tools & put on music. Kerr asks that you start by making a list of how you wish to proceed in cleaning your bookshelf (take a "before" photo, "remove all books and whatnots from shelves," "dust," etc.) and what to do with books that you no longer want (leave them in a common area for people to pick up, donate them, etc.). Once you've made a list, gather tools that may include dust rags, a handheld vacuum cleaner, and furniture polish. Then, to make it feel like less of a chore, put on some good music or start up a favorite movie or television or web series.

Stage 2: Clean the shelves. This pretty straightforward step involves removing everything from the bookshelf and, as recommended by Kerr, grouping like things together in piles as a way to stay organized, e.g. books in one pile (or a row of piles), DVDs in another pile, nicknacks in their own pile, and so on. She suggests you "have a large box, bin, or trash bag on hand for stashing things you already know are going to get junked." Once the bookshelf is empty, pull it away from the wall and, from the top down, wipe it clean of dust, dirt, food crumbs, pet hair, confetti, glitter, or whatever.

Stage 3: Pare down your collection. I'll admit, this is the hardest part for me and I'm sure for many other people, too. But if you have no more room on your bookshelf, or if you're faced with the very real possibility of moving in the near future, you'll have to pull on your grown-up pants and get down to business. To make it easier, Kerr says "be on the lookout for textbooks, books given as gifts that you're keeping out of a sense of obligation or guilt, and anything given to you by someone with whom you used to share bodily fluids. Especially get rid of those - they're casting all manner of bad energy about your home."

Stage 4: Put everything back. "Before you do," says Kerr, "wipe down the books and whatever else you're keeping with a clean, dry rag. They will have dust on them! And you spent so much time tending to the bookshelf itself, so don't go mucking it up by putting dusty books on the clean shelves." As you put everything back on the bookshelf, you may wish to arrange your books differently, perhaps by author or genre or size or color. Kerr has included some helpful links that explain how to organize, arrange, and otherwise style your bookshelf.

For additional links on organizing and arranging your bookshelf, for suggestions on where to donate the books that you no longer want, and for lots of other useful information for those of us who want to "reclaim our bookshelves," see the latest installment of Julie Kerr's column at THIS LINK.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Steinbeck on Love

In the winter of 1958, John Steinbeck, revered author of such classics as Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, received a letter from his eldest son, Thom. 

John Steinbeck
Image via

In the letter, the son expressed to his father that he believed he had fallen in love. Steinbeck's written response to his son is full of tenderness and wisdom. Here is an excerpt:

"There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you - of kindness and consideration and respect - not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak, but the second can release in you strength and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn't know you had."

To read John Steinbeck's full letter of warm advice to his son, go to THIS LINK.

It's the Sweet, Simple Pleasures

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Carrie Brownstein Coming Out with Memoir

I've seen Sleater-Kinney only once. Around 2001, the Olympia, WA-based rock trio performed at a record store in my city. Since it was free, I figured I'd go. Because it was free, the place was nearly packed to the rafters, the crowd surging forward as Corin Tucker, Carrie Bownstein, and Janet Weiss walked onstage. It was a great show, and from my vantage point, I hugely enjoyed watching a certain cluster of girls standing shoulder-to-shoulder and staring openly, hungrily at Brownstein.
Carrie Brownstein.
Image via

These days, Carrie Brownstein is more famous for costarring, along with Fred Armisen, in the hit sketch-comedy television show Portlandia. Just as Season 4 of Portlandia is set to air later this month on the cable channel IFC, Brownstein revealed that she is working on a memoir. Talking to the music news website Stereogum, she admitted the process of writing a memoir is both "fascinating and weird," as I suppose it would be if you're only thirty-nine years old. "I think it always maintains a slightly surreal quality, and even a strange level of disconnect, because I'm not looking back on my life from the vantage point of old age. I mean, hopefully, I'm not at the end of my life," Browstein said in the interview. "I think part of it is just trying to assess what to write about and what feels important."

Elaborating further on writing the as-yet-untitled memoir, Brownstein said, "Our memories are very multidimensional and they're very colorful. And then you start to write about them and they immediately become flattened out because you have to tell the story. And everything that's grandiose and colorful in your memory becomes these little shacks on the page and you have to build the scaffolding with every sentence and paragraph. It is very daunting. You assume that it's going to get onto the page in the same magnificent way that it exists in your brain, and that's just not true. So I just find it incredibly arduous. But I'm getting through it." According to the New York Times, Brownstein's memoir will be published by Riverhead Books, which is a division of Penguin Group USA.

This memoir is hardly Brownstein's first writing effort. Wikipedia states: "Brownstein began a career as a writer before Sleater-Kinney broke up. She interviewed Eddie Vedder, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Karen O, and Cheryl Hines for The Believer magazine. Brownstein has also written a couple of music-related video game reviews for Slate. From November 2007 to May 2010, Brownstein wrote a blog for NPR Music called 'Monitor Mix'; she returned for a final blog post in October, thanking her blog readers and declaring the blog 'officially concluded.' In March 2009, Brownstein contracted to write a book to 'describe the dramatically changing dynamic between music fan and performer, from both the birth of the iPod and the death of the record store to the emergence of the 'you be the star' culture of American Idol and the ensuing dilution of rock mystique. The book, called The Sound of Where You Are, is to be published by Ecco/HarperCollins."

To read the Stereogum interview, in which Brownstein talks about her memoir and much more, go to THIS LINK. For more on the Season 4 premiere of Portlandia, go HERE. And since I mentioned Portlandia, I'll use that as an excuse to post a video from Season 2, Episode 9 of the show, in which The Smiths' guitarist Johnny Marr guest-starred. Not only is Marr a legendary musician, singer, and songwriter (and sex incarnate), but he's also a good sport with excellent comedic timing.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Beloved Cartoon Character Mistakes Library for Bar

One of my father's favorite cartoon characters was Mr. Magoo, who was made popular by a 1960s animated TV series. So while growing up, I, by pure default, watched many syndicated episodes featuring the notoriously nearsighted Magoo.
That's not the neighborhood pub, Mr. Magoo!
Image via

Short in stature, quick to anger, and brandishing a cane, the moneyed retiree was always quick to get into capers, mainly because of his comically bad eyesight.

Mr. Magoo's mistaking a branch of the public library for a local bar, as he does in a 1959 television commercial for the lager Stag Beer, is hardly atypical of his antics. But this, and Mr. Magoo's usual impatience with everyone around him, makes for a great laugh. You can watch the classic television commercial below.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

One Book, One Philadelphia

Waiting for a taxicab in front of Philadelphia's 30th Street train station, I looked up to admire the city's skyline. In the distance there was a tall building, atop of which was a scrolling electronic message board. The message that scrolled across the board and lit up the evening sky was, "One Book, One Philadelphia."
"Reading" is just one of many great murals in the city of Philadelphia.
Image via this link

I had just arrived in town for the ALA Midwinter Meeting. Soon, an available taxi pulled up. As I sat in the back of the cab, which swerved through city streets wet with newly fallen snow, I pondered the slogan: "One Book, One Philadelphia." I later learned that it's just one of many nationwide reading programs in which a city encourages all of its inhabitants to read the same book at the same time.

The first "One City, One Book" program got underway in Seattle, Washington, in 1998. The program was begun by Nancy Pearl, an American librarian who is so famous that she has her own action figure. In 1998, Pearl, who was then the deputy director of the Seattle Public Library, started the "If All Seattle Read the Same Book" project. It was a huge success. In fact, the project was so successful that other U.S. cities introduced similar projects of their own. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania's "One Book" program was founded in 2003 by the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Mayor's Office.

Every year since 2003, the Free Library and Mayor's Office have announced the pick for the "One Book, One Philadelphia" program. This year, the book all city residents are asked to read is The Yellow Birds: A Novel by Kevin Powers

This year's pick for "One Book, One Philadelphia."
 Image via simplygottahaveit/

According to the Free Library's website, The Yellow Birds "tells the story of a young solider struggling to find meaning in his harrowing experiences in Iraq, while suffering profound guilt over his friend and fellow soldier's death, as well as alienation from community and family upon his return home."

While the people of Philadelphia read The Yellow Birds, more than 100 events related to the book will be held throughout the city. These events will include panel discussions, film screenings, musical performances, and more. This year's program kicked off on January 22 with a special event featuring the book's author, Kevin Powers, who is also a veteran of the U.S. Army. The "One Book, One Philadelphia" program will conclude on March 19, 2014.

The purpose of "One Book, One Philadelphia," according to the Free Library's website, is to "promote reading, literacy, and libraries, and to encourage the greater Philadelphia area to come together through reading and discussing a single book." Discussing this year's book, the Free Library's President and Director Siobhan A. Reardon told, "The Yellow Birds is a gripping and thought-provoking novel about the grim reality of war and the struggles that so many of our young soldiers face upon their return home. It's truly a powerful choice, and I am excited for the important discussions that will be sparked."

To know more about the "One Book, One Philadelphia" program, go to THIS LINK.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Visit to the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

While in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to attend my first ALA Midwinter Meeting, I visited the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. Situated on the northern edge of the city, the historic site is managed by the National Park Service.
Photo taken by the author of this blog.

On a bracingly cold but sunny Friday afternoon, I arrived at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site and discovered that it's comprised of two adjoining houses. The house on the left is where Poe lived, along with his wife Virginia, who was ill with tuberculosis, and his mother-in-law Maria, who managed the household and took care of her sick daughter and often melancholy son-in-law. The Poes lived at the North 7th Street residence, located just north of Spring Garden Street, in the early 1840s. At the time, it was a predominantly Quaker suburb.
The front view of the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia.
Photo taken by the author of this blog.

I entered the historic site through the house on the right. Inside the house on the right are a welcome area, gift shop, screening room, reading room, and a handful of exhibits that feature few actual artifacts. The National Park Service employee who was seated at a desk just inside the entrance was incredibly friendly and seemed really glad to see me. Right away, I got the impression that the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site doesn't get many visitors. After warmly greeting me, the Park Service employee darted back to his desk to answer a phone call and I began to walk around, browsing the exhibits.
Just inside the front entrance is the welcome center and gift shop - and a friendly Park Service employee.
Photo taken by the author of this blog.

As I mentioned earlier, there are few actual artifacts on display at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. The exhibits are basically placards that explain the Poes' life in the residence and their life in Philadelphia at the time, and they also paint a biological portrait of Edgar Allan Poe as a man and as a struggling, often tormented writer. Much of what is on display are recent artistic interpretations of the likeness of Poe and assorted reproductions of photographs, pamphlets, and other materials. However, there is a rare 1843 printing of Poe's "The Tell Tale Heart," published in The Pioneer: A Literary and Critical Magazine, available for viewing. There were no restrictions on picture-taking.
The sort of exhibit you'll see at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site.
Photo taken by the author of this blog.

Shortly after I arrived, I and the two other visitors to the historic site were rounded up by the Park Service employee to watch a documentary about Poe in a small screening room. Produced many years ago, the documentary was brief and expertly narrated, giving wonderful insight into the creative, tortured genius responsible for such haunting poems as "The Raven" and "Annabel Lee" and classic short stories like "The Masque of the Red Death" and "The Pit and the Pendulum." Speaking of "The Raven" - perhaps Poe's most famous poem - the large black bird loomed everywhere throughout the premises, including in a statue outside of the building and atop a book display in the gift shop.
Just one of the ravens - this one in the gift shop - you'll spot at the historic site.
Photo taken by the author of this blog.

After the documentary on Poe ended, I and the other visitors were allowed to roam freely in the adjacent house on the left, where Poe actually lived with his ailing wife Virginia and industrious mother-in-law Maria. The house is three stories tall and has a cellar (where the public restrooms and water fountain are located), and each story is accessible via a shockingly narrow and steep stairwell.
A typical room inside the former Poe residence, in a decaying state and absent of furnishings.
Photo taken by the author of this blog.

None of the rooms in the house contain any original furnishings or decorations, just small signs or rectangular brown plaques explaining the activities that could've taken place in these rooms. The rooms, which are in various states of decrepitude, aren't completely barren, however. There are nicknacks scattered throughout, perhaps placed there by Park Service workers or by playful visitors to the historic site. For instance, I don't think this orange orangutang stuffed animal, which I spotted on one of the shelves in the rooms, belonged to any of the Poes or says much in particular about what life was like in the residence.
Which of the Poes had a fondness for orangutangs?
Photo taken by the author of this blog.

The tours of the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site are "self-guided," and as I said earlier, there are no restrictions on picture-taking. It's completely free to visit the site, which is open to the public Friday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. to noon and then from 1 to 5 p.m. (It is closed for one hour so that the Park Service employee gets a break for lunch.) No reservations are required beforehand for either individuals or families, but if you plan on seeing the historic site as part of a large group - perhaps as a class or as part of an organization - then you will need to make a reservation, which you can do online.
Plenty of enticing souvenirs on sale inside the gift shop.
Photo taken by the author of this blog.

The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site is a bit off the beaten path, especially if you're staying in the Center City area of Philadelphia, but it's totally worth a visit. It's easily accessible by bus or subway, but if you're new to Philadelphia and aren't feeling brave enough to tackle the public transit system, then take a cab to the historic site. I chose to walk there, which I don't recommend doing because some of the streets just south of the historic site are a bit sketchy and not really suitable for pedestrians. (Don't walk north along 6th Street!) Once there, you'll be welcomed by a National Park Service employee who is truly friendly and highly knowledgeable about Edgar Allan Poe and his peripatetic existence.
Photo taken by the author of this blog.

For more info on the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, click on THIS LINK.