Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bookmarks, Not the Electronic Kind

Enter the word "bookmark" into a search engine and you will get lots of links to the noun and verb as related to computers, meaning: a list of favorite website addresses and the act of saving this list. Well, I'm all for such lists, but what about the other kind of bookmark, the original bookmark, the lovely paper or card stock gizmo that marks a reader's place in a book? I'm still not over loosing the book card pockets in library books since that is where I used to park my bookmark when I was reading the book, thank you very much. But book card pockets were phased out of book processing at most libraries when date due cards became obsolete due to the use of computerized receipts.

I have a small collection of bookmarks stashed here and there all over the house, wherever I might need one, next to reading hangouts and in my nightstand. Some are quite worn but I hold onto them as if they were old friends. They have been with me on many journeys through the world of words. I gathered some favorite bookmarks for the photo above. On the left in screaming neon orange and lime green, the Queen of Hearts shouts "READ ... or off with your head!", an American Library Association bookmark. How about the Garfield bookmark with this caption" Does your mother know you're reading this stuff?" I have some Paul Goble bookmarks perfectly preserved since the late 1970s, little slices of his Caldecott Award winning artwork depicting Native American legends. Longfellow gets quoted on a sweet Mary Engelbreit bookmark: "The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books."

I researched the history of bookmarks and learned they first came into use during the medieval period. Queen Elizabeth I was known to be a bookmark user. Bookmarkers, as they were also called, began to be mass produced in the 1860s, usually made of silk, ribbon or leather. The Victorians loved giving and getting bookmarks. Paper and card stock bookmarks became widely used by the end of the nineteenth century as book ownership became more commonplace. A Bookmark Collectors Virtual Convention is planned for February 2010. There is also a Flickr group for vintage bookmarks. I am encouraged that interest in bookmarks runs high.

Librarians love bookmarks for the opportunity they pose to plug books, reading lists or their library services. They are an inexpensive giveaway. Kids love making bookmarks. It's fun to design them yourself and there are lots of templates available online. Long live bookmarks and the books they dwell in!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Baking Cakes in Kigali

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin (Delacorte, 2009) : does the title catch your attention? For me it did, not even though I have to admit I was not familiar with Kigali, which come to find out, is the capitol city of Rwanda (central Africa). I'm always agog for books which have even the slightest tie-in to food, restaurants and/or bakeries. The cakes being baked in this gentle novel are lovingly created by a Tanzanian woman named Angel Tugaraza. She also has a few other things to do, as she and her husband, a university professor/consultant, are raising their five orphaned grandchildren. She grieves for the recent loss of her two adult children. But most often, whenever a cake customer knocks on her apartment door, Angel is delighted to stop whatever it is she is doing, put the kettle on for tea, and discuss the particulars of the event the cake is to be designed around.

These are no ordinary cakes. Each one is a well-frosted masterpiece, made to look like an aeroplane, microphone or flag. Drinking tea, listening and sometimes gently counseling her customers, Angel also juggles languages. Her Cake Order Form is available in four languages: Swahili, English, French and Kinyarwanda, of which Angel speaks only the first two. But the problems that lie beneath the surface of even this most innocent act of commerce are many. The Rwandan genocides, the AIDs epidemic, even the practice of female circumcision are gently interwoven into the narrative.

Angel Tugaraza could easily be mistaken as a sister of Precious Ramotswe of Botswana, the starring character of Alexander McCall Smith's Number One Ladies' Detective Agency series. Angel drinks her tea with cardamon added, whereas Precious drinks bush tea, but I'm sure they'd find much to talk about over their mugs of tea. Both are compassionate women of a certain age who have found they need thier waistbands to be more expansive. Both find self esteem through what some might call minor entrepreneurship, but readers know better. We see how even their smallest acts of kindness and compassion lend civility to modern madness. Cake crumbs, delighted giggles and chuckles likely to follow. Big women, big hearts, the milk of human kindness personified.

Authoress Gaile Parkin knows of what she writes; born in Zambia, she has worked in many African countries and counseled women and girls who survived genocide. Their stories are the inspirational basis for Baking Cakes in Kigali, her first novel. Here's hoping there are many more to come.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Books I Couldn't Put Down

Here are the best novels I've read lately: Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo, Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen, The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton and The Walking People by Mary Beth Keane.

Sworn to Silence (Minotaur, 2009) by Linda Castillo instantly intrigued me because its main character, Kate Burkholder is a Police Chief who was raised Amish, a great premise that made me want to know more about how she got from there to here. Kate still speaks Pennsylvania Dutch, but does not live by their credos. Two years ago she came back to her small hometown of Painters Mill, Ohio to accept the chief position. Now someone is torturing and killing young women, and there may be a connection to a criminal who figures darkly in Kate's own past. I'm currently reading this one so don't yet know how it turns out, but just give me every spare moment I can find today to get to that last page and hopefully I'll see justice for all. Castillo has had a number of suspense paperbacks published, but this hardback looks like her breakout title. I was glad to learn she is working on her next Kate Burkholder thriller.

I love books about hyphenated-American immigrant experiences. In Short Girls (Viking, 2009) by Bich Minh Nguyen, the focus is on the relationships between two Vietnamese-American sisters and their eccentric father. Van Luong is the studious older sister who became a lawyer, married a Chinese-American and moved into a McMansion, except the mansion is empty because her husband has left her, and her job is far from perfect. Yet she finds herself unable to tell anyone in her family that her world is falling apart. Her sister Linny, a caterer, is in a relationship with a married man. Yes, they are the "short girls" of the title, always measuring themselves against much taller Americans. When their father, a tiler and inventor of products for short people, summons them home to Grand Rapids, Michigan for his citizenship party, the sisters are forced to reconnect and reevaluate their lives as well as the myths their family has been raised on. Nguyen's first book was the well-received memoir, Buddha's Dinner (Viking, 2007).

If you enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale (Atria, 2006) by Diane Setterfield, try The Forgotten Garden (Atria, 2009) by Kate Morton. Both are door stopper whoppers with gothic elements, perfect for fall reading. We meet one of The Forgotten Garden's main characters on its first pages, a four year-old girl abandoned on a dock in Queensland, Australia. How did she get there? She doesn't even know her name. She carries a small white suitcase containing an exquisitely illustrated book of fairy tales. Much later in life, she begins to investigate the mystery of her origins. But not until after her death when her grand-daughter travels to England to take ownership of the cottage with an overgrown garden her grandmother has left her, does the whole story really begin to unfold. Long lasting fat novels of this sort give me a particular satisfaction; often they are enchanting and more substantial than most standard modern fare.

The Walking People (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009) by Mary Beth Keane starts in 1963, when teenagers Greta and Johanna Cahill leave their home in remote west Ireland, bound for America. With them is Michael Ward, a boy who walked away from his nomadic clan, the travelers or walking people. These characters do the usual things once they get to New York: they work, love, marry and raise families. They struggle and survive. Yet there is a secret buried deep within their lives that both divides and unites them. I found myself caring deeply for all who populate the pages of The Walking People. Keane's writing style is deceptively simple, straightforward and well-crafted, especially for a first novel.

All of these titles came to my by way of the Texas Library Association (TLA) Lariat Award task force assignment I accepted upon retirement. I can't believe this commitment started only four or five months ago. I feel like I've been reading much faster and more critically since I started on this journey. The novels above are only a handful of the 2009 titles being considered for the final Lariat Reading list. It will be very interesting to duke it out and vote for favorite titles when our group sits down for a marathon discussion and voting session at the 2010 TLA conference. Until then, back to reading!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

State Fair of Texas, 2009

Big Tex sends his regards!

Best Fried Food eaten: Fried Peaches and Cream (scrumptious!)

Fried Foods seen, believed but not eaten: Fried Butter, Deep Fried Latte, Fried PB & J.

Best Animal Show: Spirit of the Horse, featuring a demonstration of horse whispering.

Best way to relax during a long day at the fair: trying out the expensive massage chairs for sale.

For further info, see the official State Fair of Texas website.

Reason for my short post this week: I sprained my ankle when we got back to town and need to take it easy. Hopefully I'll feel up to writing a more substantial post next week.

photos: Texas Star Ferris Wheel, Big Tex 2009, Braggy Fried Food Sign - by KAO 9-29-09