Monthly Archives: June 2011

Knuckler Delivers Striking Story

Knuckleball pitchers hold a special place in my heart.  The inherent quirkiness of their signature pitch seems to always rub off on the pitchers themselves.  They’re often characters in the most interesting sense of the term.  Anyone who can challenge Major League Baseball caliber hitters with a pitch that averages 60 MPH (the average MLB fastball clocks in at 91 MPH) has to be a little bit crazy.

I’ve written before about one of my favorite baseball books, Ball Four by knuckleball pitcher Jim Bouton.  Great book.  Really, the best MLB book, IMHO.  Now you can add Knuckler to the short list of excellent books that cover this most elusive of pitches.  Although not nearly the quirky character that Bouton was when he played, Tim Wakefield and co-author Tony Massorotti (a Boston Herald columnist) do a great job communicating the zany vicissitudes of surviving in the major leagues on what amounts to a gimmick pitch.  Wakefield’s uniqueness as a knuckleballer comes with the fact that he has no other real “out” pitch.  Many other knuckleballers in history possessed at least a decent secondary pitches, but with Tim it’s the flutter-ball or nothing!

Beyond the mechanics of baseball and pitching, Knuckler also explores the many good works Mr. Wakefield has done in the Boston and Melbourne, Florida areas where he makes his home.  A lot of professional athletes make a show of giving back, but Tim Wakefield makes a life of it.  So yes, read Knuckler if you’re even a little curious about this amazing pitch and how it works, but also read it for what you will learn about how one man can do so much with a second chance.  It’s these sorts of stories that make me a baseball fan, and I am confident they’ll have the same effect on you.

–Scott

P.S. If you like Ball Four and Knuckler, you may also want to check out the book about Tim Wakefield’s mentor, Phil Niekro, entitled Knuckle Balls.

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Orcs!

Fantasy novels are like pizza:  even when they’re bad, they’re still pretty good, and while the “toppings” may vary somewhat, you know what you’re getting when you choose one.  Now imagine you pick up a pizza expecting the same old thing, but then you are pleasantly surprised, as if someone had sneaked chunks of pineapple, or perhaps roasted red pepper, onto your pie.  That’s what reading Stan Nicholls’s First Blood trilogy is like.

Nicholls turns fantasy conventions on their ear by making orcs the good guys this time around.   Human beings have invaded the land of Maras-Dantia, ruining its natural resources and stripping the land of its magic, making it difficult for the elder races—such as orcs, merfolk and trolls—to survive. The humans have also brought their religious quarrels with them, and the constant fighting between the polytheistic Manis and the one-true-god Unis keeps the rest of Maras-Dantia’s citizens off-balance. Our hero, Stryke, and his warband, the Wolverines, grow weary of serving an evil queen and set off on a quest that could lead to complete orc freedom…or, possibly, death at the hands of dragonfire, religious fanatics, the aforementioned evil queen, or one of her equally deadly sisters.

Reversing the “good humans/bad orcs” trope allows Nicholls to make some fairly pointed commentary on colonialism, environmentalism, religious tolerance and the like.  However, you’ll be having so much fun reading the fast-paced, gripping battle scenes that you might not notice the political subtext right away. Stryke is a terrific protagonist, a dedicated warrior who looks after his troops and tries to do the right thing in a low-key, no-nonsense manner. The supporting characters, while less well-rounded, are also sympathetic and endearing, and include Coilla, Stryke’s feisty second-in-command, and Jup, a dwarf who complicates the novel’s racial themes by abandoning his own people and choosing to serve with the orcs. Jennesta, the evil queen, is pretty appalling, even for a villain, and some of her bloodier deeds might be difficult for the squeamish to read. The chapters, however, are both short and thrilling, so you can always let your eyes skim past the more disturbing elements and move on to the next rowdy ambush or dream sequence.

If the First Blood trilogy sounds like fun to you, you can read the collected omnibus volume, called Orcs, in either print or audio formats. And if you find it as thrilling as I did, you can move on to the first volume of the second Orcs trilogy, called Bad Blood.  After that, the sky’s the limit, especially when you have an entire team of dedicated librarians to recommend all the fantasy novels your little heart could ever desire.

 —Leigh Anne
proud supporter of both orc independence and Spak Brothers

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Girl detectives

I loved reading the Nancy Drew books when I was young, and used to daydream about stumbling onto some kind of crime and solving it.  It’s probably no surprise that as an adult I still like to read mysteries, particularly those that feature a plucky, if not fearless, woman who winds up in the midst of a criminal investigation.  A few of my favorites:

Size 12 Is Not Fat, by Meg Cabot: Heather Wells, a former pop star who now works as an assistant residence hall director at a university in New York, has a way of finding herself in the middle of trouble.  From the moment I starting reading the first in the series, I was immediately reminded of a modern-day Nancy Drew. Size 14 Is Not Fat Either and Big Boned are also part of the Heather Wells series. This would make perfect beach reading this summer, too. 

The Spellman Files, by Lisa Lutz: This is a slight twist on the Nancy Drew theme, since the Spellman family runs an actual detective agency.  A dysfunctional family of P.Is makes for some great reading, and Izzy Spellman, the novel’s heroine, is a character that you want to root for.  Also check out the other books in this series. 

Died in the Wool, by Mary Kruger: Frankly, cozy mysteries aren’t generally on my reading list, but as a knitter I was drawn to this one.  When Ari Evans discovers a body in her knitting store, she finds herself in the center of a murder investigation.  And yes, she uses her knitting knowledge to help solve the crime.  You can also check out the sequel to this, Knit Fast, Die Young.

Grave Sight, by Charlaine Harris: You might be familiar with Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books, but you might not know that she also writes another (recently concluded) series of mysteries as well.  Haper Connelly’s business is death: after being struck by lightning as a teenager, she now has the ability to locate dead bodies and relive their last moments.  Clients often hire her to find missing loved ones, or out of plain old curiosity, but Harper’s gift often leads her into the center of murder cases. When you get through this series, if you’re looking for still more Charlaine Harris you might try her Aurora Teagarden mystery series (featuring a librarian as the starring sleuth!). 

 -Irene

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Getting Started with Walter Braunfels

The millions dead and the countless lives ruined are enough reason to abhor the Nazis, but the suppression in the 1930s and 40s of music by certain composers adds even more to the long list of offenses.  In addition, critical tastes and trends also hurt the careers of composers considered old-fashioned.  So it’s heartening to hear the work of Walter Braunfels (1882-1954) being resurrected, albeit decades after the injustice and his death.  You can read about Braunfels’ story plus conductor Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony’s role in his revival in a recent New York Times article, a PSO blog, a Post-Gazette blog, and a Tribune Review concert preview.

In this blog post, though, I’m simply directing you to three recordings in the library’s collection where you can discover his music.

This fantastical opera based on a Aristophanes play was enormously popular in the 1920s and finally was revived in the 90s.  This release is part of the Entartete Musik series, a project on the Decca label to record and reawaken interest in music subdued by the Nazis.

This is the orchestral piece that Honeck excerpted to begin the PSO concerts of last weekend, the finale of their 2010-2011 season.  Hear the whole grand thing here.

Braunfels was born half-Jewish but Catholic in faith.  This sacred choral work was recorded by Manfred Honeck with a Swedish orchestra and choir.  Parts of it were performed in 2009 by the PSO.

Fans of Wagner, Mahler, Strauss, Korngold, and other German or Austrian post-romantic composers are especially encouraged to check these out.

– Tim

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A Slice from the Apple

Last Thursday’s sweltering heat radiated from the pavement and skyscrapers. We leaned into blasts of wind as we walked up The Bowery. I squinted against the head-on draft, touched my face and felt sand and grit. Clouds blackened the afternoon sky. My umbrella sat useless in my suitcase, many blocks away.

To avoid getting soaked, my husband and I stopped at a tea café on Rivington Street, on the lower east side of Manhattan. The menu offered 98 loose leaf teas. Though the Glee soundtrack was not my cup, the room was comfortably cool, the service friendly.

As clouds descended, we ordered hot tea (he), iced coffee (me), and a piece of vegan chocolate cake. The café occupied a small space a few feet below street level, the right height to watch after-work walkers step ankle deep into the gushing gutter.

The rain poured mercilessly outside. Inside, a table neighbor opened her library book, the same library book I brought with me on this little trip to the big apple. She was nearly finished reading Great House by Nicole Krauss. I was still on the first chapter. I waited until she paused for a sip of tea, then told her I had checked out a copy from the library too. What did she think of Great House? Had she read Krauss’s first novel, The History of Love? Did she love The History of Love as much as I did? Did Great House measure up?

The novel is divided into four sections, my fellow-reader explained, each narrated by a different character. She told me that part way through the second section she set the book aside for a few days, since she found the voice difficult. She expected that after finishing Great House she would recommend it, though The History of Love would remain one of her favorite books. “I’m definitely a fan of Krauss’s writing.”

I thanked her for sharing her reading experience. “You and I are alike,” she said. “I always want to ask people about what they’re reading, too.” She set her cup down and turned her attention back to Great House.

Outside, walkers closed umbrellas. The storm moved on.

—Julie

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now you’re cooking

We’ve certainly had our share of hot summer days lately, haven’t we?  This is the kind of weather that means two things:  farmer’s markets and farm shares (aka CSAs, Community Supported Agriculture).  And that means it’s time for all kinds of warm-weather food:

Salad as a MealSalad as a Meal: Healthy Main-Dish Salads for Every Season, by Patricia Wells:  I have two of this author’s other cookbooks, and she has wonderfully tasty, simple recipes.  …………………………………………………………………………………………………… …………………………………………………………………………………………………………… ……………………………………………………………………………………..

Cold SoupsCold Soups, by Linda Ziedrich: If you haven’t tried gazpacho yet, here’s your chance. Plus lots of other refreshing soup ideas! ……………………………………………………… …………………………………………………………………………………………………………… ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. ………………………………………………………………….

Garde MangerGarde Manger: The Art and Craft of the Cold Kitchen, by Culinary Institute of America Staff: Pronounced “gahrd mahn-ZHAY,” this is a French term for the cold pantry where cold buffet dishes are prepared and other cold foods are stored. But that’s just the tip of the ice sculpture (another item sometimes created in the garde manger). This book starts with salads and cold soups, and includes cured and smoked foods, sausage, terrines and pâtés, cheese, condiments and other hors d’oeuvres.

Recipes from an Italian SummerRecipes from an Italian Summer, by Joel Meyerowitz and Andy Sewell:  Not only does this cookbook have recipes for all kinds of summer food, but it also contains beautiful photographs of the Italian countryside, along with a guide to summer food festivals if you’re ready for a trip.  ………………………………………………….  ……………………………. …………………………………………………………………………………………………….

The Perfect ScoopThe Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments, by David Lebovitz:  A former pastry chef at Chez Panisse gives us standard and not-so-standard recipes for the most wonderful food on the planet.

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Happy eating!

-Kaarin

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Miscellanea

I’ll admit it – my attention span overheats at about 80 degrees.  I’ve abandoned my latest crochet project, I’m not quite ready to commit to a 700+page post-apocalyptic horror novel, and I don’t even think I can sustain a narrative long enough to write this blog post.  So instead, here is a random sampler of things that have made it onto my radar.


The Last Apprentice – Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney

Thomas Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son, and his Mam’s always been special, too.  That’s why he’s been apprenticed to the local Spook, whose job it is to hunt down and deal with dark creatures.  One day, Thomas might just be the best Spook the County’s ever seen… if he can survive his training.  This series is in the children’s and teen collections, but appeals to the same broad range of ages as Harry Potter.

Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer by Van Jensen

Soon after the original story ended, vampires moved into the area and killed Gepetto.  Of course, nobody believed Pinocchio, so he took vengeance into his own hands, and became a vampire slayer. You see, to drive a stake through their hearts, all he had to do was lie…

Cats Are Weird: And More Observations by Jeffrey Brown

If cat things are your thing, you will thoroughly enjoy this graphic novel.  Then you’ll probably pass it around to all your friends who also like cat things.  You might even discuss it the next time you all get together.  Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Thank You Notes: 40 Handmade Ways To Show You’re Grateful by Jan Kelly

Sometimes, the inventory at the local drugstore fails to perfectly express your gratitude.  Consider designing a custom “Merci Bucket,” or  a thoughtful “Thanks A Latte” coffee card holder.

Ready, Set, Walk! Challenge

Once again, I’m participating in the neighborhood summer walking challenge.  You may be too late to get a free pedometer, but there’s a weekly drawing for all walkers, and a grand prize is awarded to whoever logs the most steps.


If you’re similarly distracted by the heat, why not drop by the Summer Reading Extravaganza this Sunday?  We’ll have plenty of activities and performances through which you can wander, outside as well as in the library (in case you find yourself needing a few minutes with the air conditioner and a cool beverage).

-Denise

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