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Genius, interrupted

   Thursday, February 14th, 2008 - by: Vickie Turcotte, Head of Technical Services

Once upon a time, I was a genius. Straight A’s, scholarships, cum laude and honor societies – the whole deal.

Now, I have children.

Even before they arrived, I began to doubt myself. I read too many books about babies and was amazed by what I didn’t know. (I’ll take a moment to note that my husband had no such qualms and was sure he knew all about babies.) The children arrived, two daughters in two years, and we learned together. I learned how to understand my little girls’ needs and my husband learned that knowing about babies was different from owning them.

The babies grew into school-age girls and here I became a genius again. I could help with all the homework and answer endless questions about the world around them. My head swelled with pride when I would overhear “Ask Mom – she’ll know,” spoken with complete confidence and trust that this would be so.

Then another baby arrived and I lost my genius status again. This baby was more challenging than the first two and I forgot everything I had learned. When she got to school age, she didn’t need any help with homework and so I couldn’t dazzle her with my brilliance. The older girls were still impressed with my ability to answer Jeopardy questions in the stress-free comfort of my living room, but they too had started to doubt my genius in the wider world. (I could tell by the sighs and eye-rolling that occurred whenever I shared my wisdom.)

Now they are 15, 13 and 9, and I doubt that I shall ever be a genius again. The world has changed so fast that my 20th century IQ is irrelevant and inadequate. Lucky for me, the publishing world has seen my pain and come through with books clearly written just for me (and maybe you, if you’re honest.)

Feeling less than smart? Try a book from the “For Dummies” series – MySpace for Dummies, Violin for Dummies, Irish History for Dummies, etc. They cover computers – Wikis… and eBay…; business – New Product Development… and Accounting… ; education – Athletic Scholarships… and Algebra… ; health Diabetes Cookbook… and Low Calorie Dieting… and a hundred other topics – Nostradamus…, Betting on Horse Racing…, Genealogy Online…, Golf’s Short Game… and my personal favorite Parenting for Dummies.

Feeling even less than dumb? We also have titles from the Complete Idiot’s Guide series – Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cigars, ...Going Back to College, …the Bible, …European History, …Middle East Conflict and one that makes me a little nervous, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Electrical Repair.

But perhaps you don’t feel like a dummy or an idiot. We have books for you, too. Try You, the Smart Patient : and insider’s guide for getting the best treatment (Roizen and Oz), Smart organizing : simple strategies for bringing order to your home (Sandra Felton), The Genius Engine : where memory, reason, passion, violence and creativity intersect in the human brain (Kathleen Stein), What Would MacGyver Do? : true stories of improvised genius in everyday life (Brendan Vaughan).

Finally, for those among us who have a special kind of genius that is bored with the details of ordinary life, we have just the book to help you channel your energies – 51 High-Tech Practical Jokes for the Evil Genius (Brad Graham).

All the titles mentioned above, and many more like them, are available to dummies, idiots, geniuses, and everyone in between, at the Chelmsford Public Library and MacKay Branch.

   Posted in Books, Column, Reading Room | No Comments »

What Book Changed Your Life?

   Monday, January 28th, 2008 - by: Brian Herzog, Head of Reference

It's a daunting question, but at some point in every librarian's career they are asked it: "Tell me, what book changed your life?" There is this supposition that in every avid reader's memory that one book stands out, exerting great influence and power over our life. But as many booklovers realize, asking us to choose one book from the myriad of books that have influenced us is like asking us to pick just one kind of cookie off of a holiday platter. There is no right or wrong answer to this daunting question. As diverse as our personalities are, so will be our list of life-changing books.

For each phase of our lives, we can identify influential books. It might be the first chapter book that we completed as a child (in my case, B is for Betsy by Carolyn Haywood), or the first time that the concept of good and evil rang true (A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle). For some it was in high school when the book seers got our pulse racing: On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. For others it was the fantasy and science fiction awakening in their lives: Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Watership Down by Richard Adams, Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein or Ursula LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness. For still others it was the classics that struck us: The Great Gatsby, Grapes of Wrath, The Call of the Wild, The Sun Also Rises, Ulysses, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights - and of course To Kill a Mockingbird - the 2008 One Book reading choice for Chelmsford.

Whether it is Fitzgerald or Steinbeck, London, Hemingway or Joyce, Austen or Bronte, or even Harper Lee, we want to hear about the books that have influenced your lives. Join us on Friday, February 1st for "A Taste of the South," the kick-off to Winterfest and to our 2nd One Book community reading project. Inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird the Chelmsford Public Library will host a community social with samplings of Southern-style food and drink, including wine and beer. Harrington Wine and Liquors will oversee the tastings, while area restaurants will provide the food.

Chelmsford One Book logoAnd in the midst of all that good food and drink we will provide time for good conversation too, (book-related, of course…). A quiet space will be set aside that evening for an intimate "book sharing" opportunity. What books have had a powerful impact on your thinking and on your life? What book do you remember best from your youth? What book do you re-read every year? Let us know! We will compile a community list to share. If you cannot attend the event, visit our online book suggestion form and you can share your thoughts with the community.

For more thoughts on books that have influenced lives, check out The Book that Changed My Life: Interviews with National Book Award Winners and Finalists, edited by Diane Osen or visit the National Book Foundation's website at http://www.nationalbook.org/btcmlbookopinions.html to view readers' life-changing book choices from across the country.

a taste of the south, one book, one book chelmsford, to kill a mocking bird, winterfest

   Posted in Books, Column, Events, One Book, Reading Room | No Comments »

That's Funny: Humorous Books on a Variety of Topics

   Thursday, October 25th, 2007 - by: Vickie Turcotte, Head of Technical Services

I don't know about you, but I could use a good laugh today. No matter where you get your news – newspaper, TV or Internet – not much of it is good (the Red Sox notwithstanding) and certainly not likely to make you laugh (though you can always try skipping the front page of the paper and going right to the funnies.) School is back in session and the kids have lost their senses of humor. Only Mother Nature is in a joking mood, and she finds it hysterical to send the mercury from one end of the thermometer to the other, often in the course of a single day. If you're in need of a chuckle like I am, the Library is here to help.

Start with a well known humorist or comedian: Dave Barry's history of the millennium (so far) (Dave Barry), Insanity defense : the complete prose (Woody Allen), There's nothing in this book that I meant to say (Paula Poundstone), Out of my mind (Andy Rooney), Real men don't apologize (Jim Belushi).

Find humor in the everyday: Way off the road : discovering the peculiar charms of small-town America (Bill Geist), 50 bosses worse than yours (Justin Racz), House of testosterone : one Mom's survival in a household of males (Sharon O'Donnell).

Perhaps you'd prefer some timely political humor: I am America (and so can you!) (Stephen Colbert), Unusually stupid politicians : Washington's weak in review (Kathryn & Ross Petras), Remarkable Millard Fillmore : the unbelievable life of a forgotten president (George Pendle).

If the relatives have you down, lighten up with some family humor: I [love] my in-laws : falling in love with his family, one passive-aggressive, over-indulgent, grandkid-craving, Streisand-loving, Bible-thumping in-law at a time (Dina K. Poch), Mom loves me best : and other lies you told your sister (Linda Sunshine), You never call! You never write! : a history of the Jewish mother (Joyce Antler).

Reconnect with a comic strip favorite (Garfield (Jim Davis), Calvin & Hobbes (Bill Watterson), Dilbert (Scott Adams)), or try some of the new comix in Attitude, v. 1, 2 & 3: new subversive…cartoonists. Take a look at the hilarious and odd Rejection collection : cartoons you never saw, and never will see, in the New Yorker (New Yorker).

Or try one of these funny takes on “regular” topics like self-improvement: Faking it : how to seem like a better person without actually improving yourself (Ethan Trex), Who moved my secret? : the ancient wisdom that tells you it's ok to be greedy (a parody) (Jim Gerard); sports: Andy Roddick beat me with a frying pan (Todd Gallagher); rock'n'roll: Mom, have you seen my leather pants? : the tale of a teen rock wannabe that almost was (Craig A. Williams); and the uncategorized: Ant farm : and other desperate situations (Simon Rich), 1001 things to do if you dare (Ben Masilow).

And these are just the books! We also have DVDs, videotapes and CDs of comedians and comedy films. So the next time you need a laugh, come by and see us, because there's definitely something funny about the library.

books, chelmsford library, funny, humor, humorous

   Posted in Books, Column | No Comments »

Summer Books for Eating, Thinking and Loving

   Monday, July 30th, 2007 - by: Becky Herrmann, Library Director

Betty or Veronica? Ginger or Mary Ann? These are the burning philosophical questions I chose to ask my husband on a recent vacation. Not Does God exist?, Are we really free?, or Do you believe in life after death? My queries are a little more basic than that. And apparently I am not alone.

I have been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s "Eat, Pray, Love" - a perfect summer book that is part travelogue, part memoir, part philosophy but mostly pure fun. This tale of one woman’s journey from Italy to India to Indonesia on a post-divorce self-help spree is told in an original voice and filled with self-deprecating humor and sensual memories of places, friends and sumptuous meals. But it is also a book that points out that no matter our situation - and no matter how smart we think we are - we are still mostly navel-watching. (Spoiler Alert: If you don’t click with Gilbert’s voice or sense of humor, the self-absorption in this book can be a little tiresome...)

But one truth that seems to bear out is that the only endlessly fascinating subject for most mere mortals is our love lives. Gilbert relates an example where a psychologist friend has been asked to counsel Cambodian boat refugees who have lived through war, strife and famine. When they sat down with the counselor to discuss their problems, guess what the majority wanted to talk about? Love triangles in the refugee camps! I believe it...

Taking a cue from Elizabeth Gilbert, summer is a great time to eat well, contemplate the meaning of life and fall in love. Here are a few books to recommend for each of those activities.

For eating, read: "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life" by Barbara Kingsolver for a look at how one family existed for a year on only home-grown and locally grown food. Enjoy "Julie and Julia" by blogger Julie Powell who for one year resolves to cook her way through 524 recipes in Julia Child’s tome "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" but not in a professional kitchen - in one tiny New York apartment. And don’t miss two light-hearted looks at food, Italy and love in "The Food of Love" by Anthony Capella and "Last Bite" by Nancy Verde Barr.

For contemplating the meaning of life, read: "Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith" by Anne Lamott, "Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time" by Greg Mortenson , "The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew: Three Women Search for Understanding" by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner and "Through the Narrow Gate: A Memoir of Spiritual Discovery" by Karen Armstrong. You might also want to listen to the National Public Radio feature "This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women" edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman - available both as a book and on CD. And lastly, if you think fiction will facilitate contemplation the best, try the Pulitzer-prize winning "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson, in which a Reverend in failing health writes a letter to his 7 year-old son meditating on fathers and children, on faith and on the flawed nature of man.

And if love is your subject (and you don’t insist on happy endings...) choose classics such as "Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy, "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte, "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte or "Gone With the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell. Historical fiction with a love theme could include: "Cold Mountain" by Charles Frazier, "March" by Geraldine Brooks and "Memoirs of a Geisha" by Arthur Golden. More contemporary love stories include "Little Children" by Tom Perrotta,, "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger, "History of Love" by Nicole Krauss and "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen. Happy summer reading!

   Posted in Books, Column, Reading Room | 1 Comment »

There's a book club for everyone

   Friday, March 16th, 2007 - by: Becky Herrmann, Library Director

One Book Chelmsford LogoOnce upon a time a book group sat in a semi-circle surrounding a fireplace. The book group leader inquired, "Well, what did you think of the book?" "I liked it," said one gentleman. "I liked it too," said the woman beside him. "What did you like about it?" the leader asked. "I liked the plot and the characters and the ending." "I did too," said another book group member.

And they all agreed that they liked the book. The End.

Not a very exciting story is it? But that is what a book group often can be like if everyone agrees. A good discussion needs strong opinions and the occasional disagreement. So, are you contrary, irascible, stubborn? Will your epitaph say, "I may not have always been right, but I was never wrong?" A book group may be just the niche you have been looking for.

As folks have been reading Richard Russo's Empire Falls - the community reading book chosen by Chelmsford voters last fall - they have been voicing their opinions.

And those opinions have been varied.

"I don't like the ending." "I thought it was hilarious." "I didn't think it was funny at all." "I felt hope at the end." "I thought the whole book was sad." "I loved the characters; they felt just like people I know." "I don't know anyone like the people in that book." "I don't get why this book won the Pulitzer Prize." "I can see why this book won the Pulitzer, the writing is great."

One of the hallmarks of a book worth reading is the reactions it gets from its readers. And those reactions do not all have to be positive. A few Chelmsford residents erroneously believe that they should not come to a book discussion if they didn't love the book. Don't make that mistake! And if you love the book, as so many do, we need you to come tell us why! We need to hear your thoughts. And our discussions promise to be lively and interesting if there is some controversy.

Book discussions will begin in April. They will be held at both the center library and at MacKay, the Senior Center, Chelmsford High School, the Town Offices, restaurants, coffee houses, and churches and at senior citizen housing. Click on the One Book logo at www.chelmsfordlibrary.org for more information or drop by the library and pick up a book discussion schedule.

If you haven't started reading Empire Falls yet, what are you waiting for? Books are available around town and in the library. Come and get your copy now!

   Posted in Books, Column, One Book, Programs, Reading Room | 2 Comments »

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