Blogs: Adults

I like towers, roofs and cliffs - anywhere where I can get a birds-eye view. One of the most memorable views I have had is from the top of the dome on Florence’s Duomo, or more properly, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. This dome is there because of one man, Filippo Brunelleschi.

Brunelleschi's Dome book jacketHaving an impressive cathedral was one way that Florence wanted to show its importance and power. In 1296 they started on a new cathedral that was going to have the largest dome in the world. In 1418 the cathedral was finished except for the dome. The problem was no one knew how to build it. With a diameter of 143 feet it was too large for conventional building techniques. A competition was announced to find a design that would work. Fillippo Brunelleschi was one finalist and Lorenzo Ghiberti was the other. Ghiberti had beaten Brunelleschi years before in the competition to design the Cathedral’s Baptistery doors. Since then they were fierce rivals. The difference was that Ghiberti now had a solid reputation and Brunelleschi didn’t. Brunelleschi’s design was for a dome that would be self supporting while it was being built, but he would not divulge the details since he did not trust others not to steal his ideas. In the end Brunelleschi’s design was chosen, but since this was his first big project, the more experienced Ghiberti was assigned as his partner on the project. This greatly frustrated Brunelleschi who saw this as a lack of faith in his abilities and because it was his design, he was doing most of the work directing the construction of the dome. He finally got rid of Ghiberti by falling ill at a criticalPippo the Fool book jacket step in the building and while Brunelleschi was home sick everyone realized that Ghiberti had no idea how to build the dome.

The Duomo’s dome is still the largest in the world and you can read the whole fascinating story of the dome’s design and construction in Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King.

There is also an excellent children’s picture book Pippo the Fool by Tracey Fern that tells the story of Pippo Brunelleschi and his dome.

When you get to Florence, don’t forget to climb the dome.


Book Jacket: Family Life by Akhil SharmaI had just checked out Family Life by Akhil Sharma and thought I’d read a few pages over coffee before moving on to baking my pumpkin pie. A few pages in, I knew I had to see it through to the end.

Family Life is the story of the Mishras, who arrive from Delhi to settle in Queens in pursuit of a better life for their sons Ajay and Birju. Birju has just been accepted into the prestigious Bronx High School of Science when tragedy strikes, leaving Birju brain damaged. The focus of Family Life quickly shifts from achieving success in a foreign culture, to simply caring for Birju.  Sharma’s novel is a story of being an outsider, but it’s also an extraordinarily perceptive story of being a family.    

Family life is an excruciatingly honest book.  It’s insightful, funny and messy.  It’s tragic and hard to pull away from. It’s a lot like family.

Romeo the wolf loved to play with dogs. When he first appeared at Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier Park, he reacted to dogs in a play bow--front paws flat on the ground, rear end up, and a mischievous tilt of the head.  Romeo was an Alexander Archipelago wolf, a rare subspecies of the gray wolf.  As Romeo gained doggy and human followers/friends, some people thought humans should be protected from Romeo, or vice versa, Romeo should be protected from humans. Writer and wildlife photographer Nick Jans recently wrote a moving yet scientific account of Romeo's interactions, and photographer John Hyde also published a stunning photo history. Both men and their dogs got to know Romeo intimately. Still, the question remains: Why did a wolf seek out dogs for play?

Sunny, a rescue dog of mysterious origins, appears in our My Librarian photo. The latest scientific thinking suggests that Sunny’s ancestors broke off from the gray wolf line of the Canidae family, with gray wolves and dogs diverging perhaps 300,000 years ago. The similarities and differences between the two animals is a rich subject. Nick Jans points out that while dogs and wolves at first glance look similar, the wolf has a straighter back and a stouter muzzle. Yet Sunny still howls at ambulances and odd cell phone ring tones, and would give anything to gulp down a raw, whole salmon.

To really understand what we know about what makes dogs, and sometimes wolves, tick, try some of Sunny's suggestions! She's got a non-fiction list written for the adult audience and some great novels and fun books about working dogs for elementary aged kids--although I would recommend both lists for everyone.

Our guest blogger is Memo. Memo works at the Central Library. Besides reading history and literature about Latinos, workers, and immigrants, he enjoys re-reading the great literary works of nineteenth and twentieth-century realist writers.

It has been years since I last worked as a day worker. I was never a fan of day labor. I hated the idea, in part, because of the work itself. Day work was temporary, backbreaking, low-wage, and dead-end. But what I found most distasteful was the poor treatment I sometimes received.

Before the End, After the Beginning book jacketWeeks after I read Dagoberto Gilb’s short story, “Cheap,” I found myself reflecting about my time as a day worker in California and Texas. Unable to answer questions that kept bringing me back to the time when I labored at the lower end of the service sector job market, I decided that it was time to check out Before the End, After the Beginning again, and re-read “Cheap.” I asked myself, 'What is it that brought me back to Gilb’s fictional world of immigrant day workers?' as I prepared to re-visit the short story, and continued to ask myself that question over and over as a re-read “Cheap.”

In one word: consciousness.

Carlos and Uriel—father and son characters employed by Luke’s Construction, the company the narrator uses to paint inside the house—are aware of who they are as workers hired for the day. They know that they don’t have much say in the hours they toil and in the wages Luke pays them. They don’t even express disaffection when Luke denies them their entitled noontime lunch hour. Instead, Carlos and Uriel stay silent while he tells them what they need to do for the day. They remain quiet, because they know that it is hopeless to protest. But once Luke departs to check another worksite, they consciously take control of the workday to regain their dignity.

I wasn’t happy or sad after I finished re-reading “Cheap,” even though some of the passages reminded me of my time as a day worker. At the same time, I felt sympathy and respect for Carlos and Uriel because of their tenacity. While both characters understood the limitations of day labor, their drive to finish the job in spite of the way Luke treated them said more about them than the job itself.

The Oversight book jacketIn the traditional sort of fantasy novel, the reader is shown a world where magic and blades rule the day.  Science and technology are not a major part of the world.  But as in the fairy tales and mythology from which fantasy borrows with heavy hand, as technology is discovered, magic and magical creatures are usually driven to the verge. (Although according to the urban fantasy subgenre, by the time the modern day rolls around magic has adapted just fine!). I just finished The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher which is an excellent example of this type of fantasy with an early modern time setting.

Once upon a time, The Oversight numbered in the hundreds and guarded the world from magic - the sort of magic that leaves the survivors wailing bewildered over their dead. Now there are only five left to guard against the dark things better unseen.  A girl is brought to them by a disreputable sort who wants to sell her.  Prone to screaming fits, she is thought mad but she also might be the start of rebuilding the Oversight. Or perhaps not.  This is a very fast-paced tale and obviously the start of a trilogy at a minimum. The world shown is gritty and grim. You can all but smell the stink of the gutters in the city and see the wild spaces in the countryside shrink as they are fettered by iron rails and canals that also bind the fey things and drive them to madness.  I couldn't put this book down and set aside everything else I had started to finish it. I'm going to snatch up book two the moment it's available.

P.S.  Rachel really called it on Ancillary Justice being a wonderful novel in her earlier blog entry.  I liked book two even better!

Azalea's family photoLast summer me and my sister visited the homeland and spent less than a week hanging out with our maternal grandparents. We had a steady routine: we'd wake up at 5 o'clock to roosters crowing, eat a healthy Ilocano breakfast, go outside and sit in the backyard, complain about the heat, eat and eat again, and fall asleep at 11 o'clock. There wasn't a lot to do in our grandpa'sbarangay, a kind of ancestral village in the middle of tobacco fields in northwestern Philippines.
One day we startAzalea's family photoed going through their dusty cabinets and we found things that no one in our family knew about. Azalea's family photoThere were all these pictures of my aunt's ex-boyfriends, my grandpa looking young and unforgivably handsome,  goofy American pictures of us from the '90s, and more. The best part were pictures of my lady relatives, posing and enjoying their clothes.  If you're a fan of vintage clothing you might enjoy some of these pictures from the ole family albums.
Check out this list for more vintage style inspiration!


If I used one word to describe the comic book Rat Queens by Kurtis Wiebe it would be "bawdy."  I might also say that it is my favorite comic of the year. And if you are looking for read alikes for Saga then I suggest to you that Rat Queens might be it.

Rat Queens are a mercenary warrior gang in the fantastical town of Palisade. They are sent off on a troll killing mission and mayhem ensues. Their tale had me rolling with laughter and horror-struck by the gore in the fight scenes. These queens can curse, joke, fight, and party with the best of them. Glad I was invited to this party. And now you are invited too!

Allan Karlsson is a self-taught explosives expert and a charming resident of a Swedish nursing home.  He has no use for politics nor religion, but will readily accept any reasonable invitation to a fine meal, provided there’s no dull chatter of communism or any other ism.   So how did he come to find himself suspected of murder and on the lam with a pair of known criminals, a hot dog vendor, and a runaway elephant? 

It’s simple really.  He climbed out of his window in pursuit of a good vodka.  It’s his 100th birthday after all and after decades spent blowing up bridges and haphazardly falling in and out of favor with world leaders such as Truman, Franco, Mao, and Stalin, doesn’t he deserve as much?

The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson is the perfect faux snow day book. Cuddle up with a quilt, a hot vodka toddy, and share some laughs with this wonderfully irreverent centenarian.

For other amusing titles to keep you entertained when the possibility of wintry weather interrupts your plans, check out this list.

According to the Washington Post, every year the federal government classifies millions of megabytes of information as secret. Sometimes this is necessary but a recent report by the government’s own Public Interest Declassification Board makes it clear that classification is used far too often and declassification takes far too long. Why does this matter? Because this is a democracy where open government and public access are necessary if we, the people, are to be informed and responsible citizens. With that in mind, what are our options if we suspect the government is withholding information we need to know?

The Freedom of Information ActFOIA logo

The official avenue to classified information is through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  This act allows anyone to request materials generated by the executive branch of government with certain exceptions. The nature of those exceptions has varied over time—some administrations are more lenient others more guarded in how vigorously secrets should be kept—but it still provides us with a means of accessing classified federal records. The legislation had also changed over time. One of the most important amendments to the FOIA is the Privacy Act of 1974 which provides individual citizens the right to know what information the federal government has collected about them personally. If you are interested in taking advantage of the FOIA, there is A Citizen’s Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 to Request Government Records.

Who Uses the Freedom of Information Act?

While anyone can use the FOIA, requests from certain kinds of groups are more common than others.  Journalists, academics, and government watchdog groups are the most frequent users. Of all those who utilize the FOIA, however, the National Security Archive makes  more requests than any other entity. Based at George Washington University, it is a private, non-profit organization that specializes in requesting and publishing official secrets and is the largest holder of federal records outside of the government itself. If you have any interest in American military, foreign, or intelligence policy, this is a site you really need to explore. Because it is a strong advocate for open government, the National Security Archive also provides its own detailed instructions designed to help those filing FOIA requests.

Alternatives to the Freedom of Information Act

There are sources operating without sanction that seek to expose government secrets. Some people consider these sources as heroic whistleblowers exposing government misdeeds while others think of such sources as criminals who endanger American security. For example, revelations coming from documents leaked by Edward Snowden have created a maelstrom of controversy over privacy both in the U.S. and abroad. Much has been written about Snowden but good places to start are The Guardian (the news outlet with whom Snowden initially worked) and an extensive interview in Wired.   Also significant is Wikileaks, a self-described non-profit organization dedicated to providing a secure outlet where anonymous sources can leak information. Historically, some leaks have proven invaluable such as Daniel Ellsberg exposing the Pentagon Papers and Mark Felt (AKA Deep Throat) who assisted reporters investigating the Watergate scandal. The challenge is telling the difference. What, if any, is the difference between a “good” leak and a “bad” leak?  What are the ethical ramifications of leaks? These are questions we must attempt to answer as a society if we are to fulfill our obligations as citizens in a democracy.

If you want to know more about government secrecy or using the Freedom of Information Act, don't hesitate to Ask a Librarian. We would love to help!


When I read Caitlin Moran's 2011 collection of laugh out loud-funny feminist essays, How to be a Woman, I found it  wildly inspiring and entertaining. If I was the Queen of the World, all women in their 20s would be required to read this book, which deals with subjects like the Brazilian wax, body image, abortion, porn and princesses with such wit and verve that I alternated between laughing hard and fist-pumping. I should warn you that she's a bit of an opinionated potty-mouth-- but I'm okay with that.

Her new book, How to Build a Girl, is clearly a pretty autobiographical novel about Joanna, a teenager growing up on a council estate (think "projects") in a small nowhere-town in England in the early 1990s. Her father is an unemployed alcoholic, her mother is clinically depressed, and Joanna spends a lot of time providing childcare for her younger siblings and worrying about money. Afraid her family will lose their government benefits, she decides to save the  family, get herself out of the trap her mother is stuck in, and invent herself anew-- by becoming a music journalist. She starts sending articles to music magazines, and then, miraculously, gets herself a job. And a lot of eyeliner. And a top hat. 

As the title suggests, this book is really about being young, deciding who you're going to be and making it happen. We all have to do it, but Joanna is brave and starts young, and she does it dramatically, making bigger mistakes. Towards the end, she is feeling her way towards considering her own needs and desires, as well as learning to be kind to other people. But in much of this book, she reminded me of one of the bad characters in a Jane Austen novel, if Jane Austen wrote graphic sex scenes and had an indie rock sensibility. If you like coming-of-age stories and books that make you laugh in an unseemly way when you read them in public, you should give How to Build a Girl a try.



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