Monthly Archives: April 2013

James Patterson Ad Defends Books, Bookstores & Libraries

Shared by  Shelf Awareness, April 22, 2013

James Patterson: ‘Who Will Save Our Books, Bookstores, Libraries?’

On the back cover of yesterday’s New York Times Book Review, author James Patterson took out a striking full-page ad that reads in part, “The Federal Government has stepped in to save banks, and the automobile industry, but where are they on the important subject of books? Or, if the answer is state and local government, where are they? Is any state doing anything? Why are there no impassioned editorials in influential newspapers or magazines? Who will save our books? Our libraries? Our bookstores?”

He also listed 38 titles ranging from All the President’s Men and To Kill a Mockingbird to A Fan’s Notes and Maus, saying, “If there are no bookstores, no libraries, no serious publishers with passionate, dedicated, idealistic editors, what will happen to our literature? Who will discover and mentor new writers? Who will publish our important books? What will happen if there are no more books like these?”


If the Joy is in the Prize, Writers Have Options

Be it jewel or toy, not the prize gives the joy, but the striving to win the prize.

Edward George Bulwer-Lytton’s words of wisdom offer sage counsel to the legions of Minnesota literary giants left in the shadows at the recent Minnesota Book Awards “gala.”  Still, in the likely event that is a misguided hopeful for whom writing is about winning, options abound.

Though a comprehensive review of nontraditional literary awards would be great a fun but futile pursuit, a few strike the fancy and give a sense of the possibilities.  Clearly there is no reason why every one of us should not be strutting our literary stuff sporting a laurel wreath.

** The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest award is arguably the best known of the “other” book awards (  honoring the worst possible first sentence of the worst of all possible novels.  The award was the “brainchild (or Rosemary’s baby)” of Professor Scott Rice who was presumably inspired by the immortal opening line “It was a dark and stormy night.”

The website explanation of the enigmatic name is this:    Sentenced to write a seminar paper on a minor Victorian novelist, he chose the man with the funny hyphenated name, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who was best known for perpetrating The Last Days of Pompeii, Eugene Aram, Rienzi, The Caxtons, The Coming Race, and – not least – Paul Clifford, whose famous opener has been plagiarized repeatedly by the cartoon beagle Snoopy.  No less impressively, Lytton coined phrases that have become common parlance in our language: “the pen is mightier than the sword,” “the great unwashed,” and “the almighty dollar.”

Winner of the 2012 BLFC, Cathy Bryant of Manchester, England, wowed the judges with her entry:  “As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.”  The BLFC honors similar bon mots in categories ranging from the Grand Panjandrum’s Special Award to Children’s Literature, Fantasy, Purple Prose and others.

Since its inception in 1982 the BLFC has been sponsored by the English Department at San Jose State University.  Sponsors magnanimously share winning sentences, runners up and dishonorable mentions on their delightful website.

** Then there’s the Lyttle Lytton Contest hosted by Adam Cadre, an American writer best known for his work in interactive fiction.  (  What sets the Lyttle-Lytton apart from its predecessor is the brevity requirement of first sentences.  As of 2012 the submission limit was 200 characters.

** The award for this year’s Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year goes to Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop – a “practical” guide to how to “clear your home and garden of goblins and banish them forever.”  Author, Reginald Bakeley’s manual of fairy-proof tips garnered the public vote to win the hearts of voters over competitors How Tea Cosies Changed the World and How to Sharpen Pencils.

Previous weirdly titled tomes include Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers, Highlights in the History of Concrete, Bombproof Your Horse and Cooking with Poo.  The first recipient of the Diagram Award went to Proceedings of the Second International Workshop of Nude Mice in 1978.

The Award is sponsored by the Diagram Group, an information and graphics company based in London, and The Bookseller, a British trade magazine for the publishing industry.  A book about the prize,  How to Avoid Huge Ships and Other Implausibly Titled Books, was published in 2008 by Aurum Press.

In truth, the intent of the award is serious.  Philip Stone, administrator of the Diagram Award, observes that, on the one hand, a weird title can catch the reader’s eye or frame of reference.  “Books such as A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time all owe a sizeable part of their huge successes to their odd monikers.”  Further, Stone says, “the fact that writers still passionately write such works and their publishers are still willing to invest in them is a marvelous thing that deserves to be celebrated.

* * For the past twenty years the Literary Review has sponsored its annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award to the writer who produces the worst description of a sex scene in a novel.  The award was originally established by Rhoda Koenig, a literary critic, and Auberon Waugh, then the magazine’s editor.

The official rationale for the Award is “to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it.  Recent awardees include Jonathan Littell, The Kindly Ones (2009), Rowan Somerville, The Shape of Her (2010), David Guterson, Ed King, (2011), and Infrared, by Nancy Huston (2012) The late John Updike won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2008 ceremony, after his novel The Widows of Eastwick garnered him a fourth consecutive nomination.

** The Shorty Awards fill an inevitable niche.  The Shorty goes to the year’s best producers of short (fewer than 140 characters) weird content on Twitter.  Entries may be submitted in 26 official categories, one of which is “author” (  The fifth annual Shorty Awards event was held April 8 – for the faithful, it’s streamed (

The list goes on….Award Options Overload set in at the Weird-ass Picture Book Awards, conferred on the producers of books whose “strangeness reaches new heights of art and storytelling.”   I began to ask myself essential questions about mission, sponsorship, finances, criteria, process, benefits and more….

For aspiring writers the moral is clear;  as Edward George Bulwer-Lytton himself might have written:    If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Visualizing Neighborhoods: A Hackathon for Good – May 25

For some Minneapolitans the forthcoming Neighborhoods, USA conference, scheduled to meet in the Mill City May 22-25 offers a grand opportunity to parade the city’s robust mix of healthy neighborhoods, lakes, parks, commercial areas, shopping opportunities and more.   For others, the harmonic convergence of NUSA with the Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial North America (FOSS4G) makes a unique opportunity to heard on the complementary energies of attendees who just happen to be in Minneapolis at the same time.

The response:  Visualizing Neighborhoods: a Hackathon for Good, sponsored by the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) and Open Twin Cities.  It’s a day-long event designed to gather neighborhood leaders, technologists, data visualizers, designers, artists, scientists, civil servants, and others interested in resources and techniques for using data to create vital neighborhoods. Focus is on data for research, analysis, mapping, outreach, engagement and communication.

The day-long (9:00-5:30) event is at the Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall.  Registration required – no registration fee.  Lunch will be available for registered attendees.

To register or to keep abreast of information and ideas as they develop, click on the event site:  The roster of attendees is lengthy, but planners advise those who may be interested to keep checking.





Welcome to the Digital Public Library of America!

As we wrap up National Library Week it’s important to herald the major announcement  of a significant resource, the Digital Public Library of America (  Though the DPLA clearly is not the first major digital library resource, planners are firm in their assertion that it is inherently unique:  “What distinguishes the Digital Public Library of America from these other efforts, however, is its aim to serve not as a database or portal or digital repository, but as a large-scale digital public library to preserve U.S. history and enhance the knowledge of the collective U.S. for current and future generations.”

Much was written about the new entry on the digital library scene; for some reason I particularly enjoyed a couple of reviews that I had time to peruse:

–       John Darndon offers a comprehensive history of the DPLA in a recent article in the New York Review of Books (

–       Pandodaily offers a slightly different take on the news (  There are countless others.

–       The NPR blog offers yet another view:

It is sad to note that the launch of the DPLA was totally eclipsed by the Boston Marathon catastrophe and the ensuing trauma that engulfed the city where the launch event was held.

Recalling that we started the week with the dread tax day, it seems right to note that this is a portal to libraries that are supported by and for the public.  Though the DPLA project did receive foundation support, most public depend on public support.   We are inclined to speak glibly of “free” libraries, the treasures of our public libraries are not free.  Since the birth of this nation we have recognized that libraries are and must remain a public good charged to assure that all American citizens have ready access to the tools essential to an informed electorate who are the deciders in a democracy.  The DPLA is just a handy tool that makes some of those resources more accessible to more people who would be free.

If you are among the many homebound and looking for hope as we struggle through the last blast of Winter of 2013, you may find escape, even hope, by checking out the beta version of the DPLA.  Consider that it will be Spring when you resurface – seriously.

Crafters give new life to discarded library cards!

Residents of Northeast Minneapolis are extraordinarily proud that the American Craft Council has chosen to establish its permanent home in the neighborhood, at the old Grainbelt Brewery at 1224 Marshall.  This week Northeast shares the treasure with the nation and beyond as the ACC hosts its major Midwest show featuring more than 200 of the country’s finest contemporary jewelry, clothing, furniture and home decor artists.  The Show is April 19-21 at St. Paul River Center

As it happens this is also National Library Week which is why I found great delight in exploring an armchair experience that blends crafts and libraries in wonderfully inventive ways.  The ACC’s Library Card Project left me smiling and in awe of the creativity of the crafters – suffice to say I got lost in learning about what creative minds and hands can do with a discarded library card.  The photos are great and the profiles of the crafters are equally enchanting.

Patricia Johnson is credited with having had the vision of the Library Card Project.  She is a paper crafter and community organizer in Carol Stream, Illinois.  Her idea was to “let new crafters know to step out of their comfort zone and try something on a different scale.”

Crafters did unleash their imaginations.  For example, Patti Millington of Kurtistown, HI, created a piece she calls Archive in which “the cards arranged are on a viewing device which, when rotated to align with a certain card, allow a person to look through the eye piece to see an image from the corresponding book across the gallery.  The book images are situated on a timeline encircling the gallery that indicates the era of the craft represented in the book described on the library card.”  Millington says that “the catalog cards with their Dewey Decimal numbers and handwritten notations spoke of our collective efforts to preserve the information and objects that mark our existence.  The information and dates on the cards were a perfect fit for an idea I’ve had for a piece recording fleeting human impressions on the history of time.”  Millington captures the essence of the project.

The only way to appreciate the Library Card Project is to spend time absorbing the visual images and reading the words of the crafters.  You’ll learn about the expanse of their creative imaginations – and find a beautiful new life for discarded library catalog cards.  Click on

You’ll also be inspired to drop in at the American Craft Council show in downtown St. Paul this weekend.  For complete information on hours, exhibitors and more go to



John James Audubon Would Enjoy a Stroll in His Namesake Park

Residents of the Audubon Park Neighborhood have lots going for them, including one of the city’s hilliest parks and one of the city’s best known neighborhood namesakes.  John James Audubon for whom the park and the neighborhood are named is a legend.

The roots of Audubon Park itself go back to 1910 when the Park Board arranged to close Pierce Street and purchased five acres of land for $5400 for the beginnings of today’s multi-purpose recreation area.  Within a few years the Park Board drained a shallow pool, closed Buchanan Street between the park and the Thomas Lowry School, and began to create a playground site.  The rest is history – some of the steepest hills were leveled a bit a shelter was built, and, by the end of the 1970’s, the current recreation center was dedicated.

The park is a fitting tribute to John James Audubon, 1785-1851, whose name is synonymous with ornithology and with his famed paintings of nature, more specifically, of his color-plate book entitled The Birds of America, 1827-1829.  It is said that Audubon actually identified as many as 25 species of birds in North America.

Born in Saint Dominique (Haiti) Audubon grew up in France, his father’s homeland. His early interest in wildlife, birds in generally, seems to have been spurred by his French stepmother.  In part to avoid the draft and in part as a result of his father’s prodding  Audubon explored many options before  left France to settle in Pennsylvania.  Always a nature lover, he began his study and depiction of American birds in the region where he lived.  A skilled taxidermist, Audubon conducted the first known bird-banding experiment in North America and created his own nature museum which some say was inspired by the museum of natural history created by Charles Willson Peale in Philadelphia.  Audubon also married Lucy Bakewell with whom he had two sons, both of whom continued in the family “business.”

When his businesses came on hard times, Audubon and his family moved to the Midwest, first to Genevieve, Missouri, the first European settlement west of the Mississippi, where he was in the shopping business.

Next he moved to Kentucky where he found that fishing and hunting helped to feed his family when the shipping business was slow.  It was there that he met and became friends with the Osage and Shawnee Indians.  Audubon was much impressed with the Native Americans about whom he wrote “Whenever I meet Indians, I feel the greatness of our Creator in all tis splendor, for there I see the man naked from His hand the yet free from acquired sorry.”

For some time Audubon and his family moved from place to place as President Jefferson’s embargo of British trade put a damper on the shopping business.  At one time Audubon worked as a naturalist and taxidermist in the Cincinnati museum, a position that must have fueled his passion or nature.

Times were so hard that at one time that in 1819 Audubon was actually jailed for bankruptcy.  Giving up on the business life Audubon moved on to explore his true love, the effort to depict America’s birds.  He traveled and lived off the land while Lucy supported the family as a tutor.

Everything changed in 1826 when Audubon’s influential friends convinced him to take his portfolio and sail to England to have his drawings engraved.  Though he was never well received in this country, Audubon was welcomed by the Brits with open arms.  He arrived in Liverpool in 1826 with his portfolio of 300 drawings in hand.  The money raised in England and Scotland was enough for him to begin publishing is Birds of America – 435 hand-colored, life-size prints of nearly 500 bird species, made from engraved copper plates, printed on sheets measuring 39×20 inches.  His dramatic bird portraits and descriptions of the American wilderness captured the spirit of the European Romantic Era.

His European success as a published artist allowed Audubon to settle with his family in New York City.  He continued to depict the birds of America and in 1838 traveled to the Western U.S. where he captured the completed his final work of mammals, a work that was largely coplted b his sons.

Audubon died at age 65, suffering by this time with senility that thwarted his wish to return to the U.S. West to capture more images.  He is buried in the Trinity Cemetery at 155th Street and Broadway in NYC.

There are numerous accounts of the life of Audubon.  After hise return to America in 1828 he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science in 1830.  He published Ornithological Biographies, a sequel to Birds of America.  He traveled widely, from Key West to Labrador and Newfoundland.  Many of his works depict what he saw and captured on these trips.   Unfortunately, poor health prevented his travels to the West Coast of the U.S. where he had hoped to record more Western species.

Minnesota lovers of books and birds are aware that the Athenaeum is the proud owner of an Audubon original, hand-colored edition of Birds of America.  The treasure is now housed at Minneapolis Central Library Special Collections where it is given the TLC becoming its heritage.   Because the engraving and the paper itself is so fragile, the volume is not available for viewing by the public.

Audubon’s work has been honored in countless ways – in books, with a U.S. postal stamp in the Great Americans series, and best known perhaps by the 1905 establishment of the National Audubon Society, named in his honor “to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds.”


Still, for residents of Northeast Minneapolis who slide on the steep hills in winter, cool off under the shade tress in summer and enjoy the birds year found, John James Audubon is best known for the beautiful park that honors his name.

Postville Raid – A Five Year Commemoration

Around 10:00 on a clear May morning in 2008, two black helicopters circled over Postville, Iowa, a torn of two square miles and fewer than 3,000 residents.  Then a line of S.U.V.’s drove past Postville’s main street and its worn brick storefronts.  More than 10 white buses with darkened windows and the words “Homeland Security” on their sides were on their way to the other side of town.  Postville’s four-man police force had no forewarning of what was about to happen.  Neither did the mayor.Maggie Jones, “Postville, Iowa, Is Up for Grabs,”  New York Times, July 15, 2012

Five years ago, on May 8, 2008, officials of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) conducted an immigration raid on workers and their families in the quiet torn of Postville, Iowa.  This was the largest single site immigration raid at the time in the history of this nation.  Though the horror of the raid may have faded from the headlines, the reality remains.  Those most involved in that tragic event want the nation to remember, to reconcile, and to take action on immigration reform.

The basics:  Officials raided Agriprocessors, the main producer of kosher meat in the U.S., handcuffed immigrants and bused them to the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo.  The raid involved I.C.E. officials and officers of other federal, state and local government agencies.  The majority of the detainees were charged with identity theft and sent to prisons across the country.  For five months they were incarcerated before being deported.  The town lost a large portion of its population.  Far worse, families were separated, children’s lives were permanently disrupted, a community grieved.

Community leaders, in particular members of the faith community, responded with alacrity and deep concern for the welfare of their neighbors.  Activists from around the nation gathered to protest the action of I.C.E. and to support the residents of Postville, especially the families torn apart by the actions of agents of the government.

Much has been written and recorded about the Postville Raid .  One readily accessible and helpful summary is the New York Times article by Maggie Jones cited above. (

The article offers a cogent synopsis of a tragic story that continues.  Another essential resource is the documentary film Abused ( which has been widely distributed and frequently viewed and discussed by local groups.

Those who best know the story are sponsoring a five-year commemoration of the Postville Raid on Friday, May 10, in Cedar Rapids.  The purpose is to remember the 389 people who were arrested on May 12, 2008, to reconcile with those who contributed to the injustices, and to advocate for the reform of immigration policies.  Planners have provided background and current information on the web.  The commemoration is organized by a broad coalition of victims and those involved in helping Postville cope with the aftermath of the Raid – individuals and family members who were immediately affected, church and synagogue representatives who ministered to the immigrants and their families, attorneys who saw and acted on the injustice, neighbors and concerned others from Postville and surrounding communities.

Visit to view a video that will remind you of the tragic day.  Fearing the return of I.C.E. agents hundreds of immigrants gathered at St. Bridgets Catholic Church in Postville for any word on their missing family members.

Planners of the  Postville Raid  commemoration invite other communities to take time to recall, reflect and continue the struggle for immigration reform.  For more information about resources for organizing community events contact Rockne Cole, rocknecole@gmail (319 358 1900).   In the Twin Cities area members of Jewish Community Action are making plans to bus Twin Citians to Postville for the commemoration.  For more information contact the Jewish Action Council. (651 632 2184)

Letter Carriers Reverse Their Role for National Food Drive May 11

“Erstwhile” is the adjective frequently used to modify the faithful mail carrier – “generous” is equally apt.  It’s the generous spirit of letter carriers that inspires the 21st annual National Food Drive set for Saturday, May 11 (aka Mother’s Day Eve and/or the Fishing Opener….)  On that day letter carriers, their family, friends and community partners, will walk the route – not to deliver the mail but to pick up donated food for local food shelves.

Consider that last year the National Food Drive netted 50 million pounds of non-perishable food nations!  Over the past two decades the grand total of donated goods standards at 12 billion pounds!

When asked by the letter carriers had taken on this awesome task, President Fredric Roland of the National Association of Letter Carriers explains that “as men and women who touch every neighborhood in America six days a week, letter carriers far too often see first-hand how poverty and hunger affect the customers we serve.”  Working with food shelf providers NALC chose the May date specifically because this is a time of year when people are NOT thinking about hunger in their neighborhoods.

Anyone who wants to get involved with the National Food Drive will find great promotional materials online – PSA’s, posters, history and other background information.






Let Your Imagination Hit the Road!

As the days lengthen, the gross snow melts and the temps rise – if briefly – vast numbers of Americans get the itch to get on the road again.  Even those of us who can’t afford the time or the gas, it’s a dream that wafts through the mind.

There’s a delightful read about the Romance of the Road, written by Ronald Primeau, and accessible online.  It’s the next best thing to being there.  Primeau writes about Americans’ romance with the open road, “places of exhilarating motion, speed, and solitude.”  The open road represents a new start, sometimes discovery, and at least a take-away experience about which the nomad can go home and sing or write.

Primeau tells us that the road trip may be an “epic quest,” a “pilgrimage”, a romance or a mere ritual.  Anything from the tale tellers of Canterbury to Jack Kerouac or Charles Kuralt.

Once again, librarian volunteer Ruthann Ovenshire is organizing an exhibit on the theme “Hit the Road” set to lure the traveler.  A wealth of books, DVDs and audiobooks drawn from the collection are now on open display at the Minneapolis Central Library.

A few titles will awaken the wanderlust in the most homebound reader, listener or viewer.  Let your mind take to the road by remembering some chestnuts:

  • Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip, by David Duncan and Ken Burns (audiobook and DVD)
  • Charles Kuralt’s On the Road.  (DVD)
  • Jack Kerouac’s classics, On the Road and Dharma Bums
  • William Faulkner’s The Reiver
  • Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
  • The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
  • Richard Paul Evans trilogy on walking roads: The Walk, Miles to Go, and The Road to Grace
  • Barbara Kingsolver’s, The Bean Trees
  • Cormac McCarthy, The Road       

Just as the road turns, revealing new vistas and unexplored horizons these print, audio and video treasures can expand the mind and what the wonder of wanderlust in the most sedentary reader/viewer/listener.  Consider an armchair road trip before mere tourists take to the roads .  The lure of the landscape and the fast lane cannoat be ignored.