Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Vacation Reading

While on vacation in a warm and sunny part of the world, I've been reading this….

Lizard by Japanese author, Banana Yoshimoto--
a collection of six short stories

....in the company of this visitor.

I picked up Lizard (the book) at the New York City outpost of Kinokuniya, the Japanese bookstore on Sixth Avenue, across from Bryant Park.  Yoshimoto’s work is compelling; these simply written stories with haunting subjects, such as the desirability of forgetting, linger in the mind of this reader.

More to come soon on this inviting bookstore, but in the meantime, a very Happy New Year to the readers of Stacked-NYC, or as I learned to say while visiting the store:

Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

10 Cheers for Librarians!

A Guest Post from Eljay

One of the graceful lions that keeps watch
over the New York Public Library in Manhattan.
On Thursday, Dec. 8, the "I Love a Librarian" awards were presented to the ten national winners before an admiring audience of bibliophiles at the Times Center in Manhattan. (I blogged briefly about the contest here.)

Chosen from over 1700 recommendations, the winners ranged from high school and community college librarians to specialists in business skills and learning disabilities. Each of the gracious acceptance speeches acknowledged the essential support of colleagues and family.

Guest speaker Caroline Kennedy praised the contribution of librarians to the public school reading programs she actively supports while Vartan Gregorian, the affable and scholarly former NY Public Library president and now head of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, quoted Andrew Carnegie's reference to libraries as "bridges to the past" and "instruments of civilization".

The Carnegie library in Clyde, Ohio.

 As a reminder of Carnegie's benefactions, photos of many of the original libraries he funded were shown on a giant screen, including several in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut as well as Ohio, South Carolina and California.

 In these tenuous times for public funding, it was heartening to learn that 77 million Americans now own a card offering all the transforming gifts of a public library.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What to Serve with Risotto?

This question suddenly became very important today as I procrastinated on the completion of several writing projects. The easiest answers would come from a Google search, but I thought a quick check of the bookshelves was also worth a try.  Which led, of course, to more delay, as I renewed acquaintance with an old favorite: The Settlement Cook Book.

This classic cookbook by Mrs. Simon Kander (nee Lizzie Black)—with the now politically incorrect subtitle--“The Way to a Man’s Heart” has been around since 1901. The copy on my shelf is a 1987 facsimile edition, but in my mother’s kitchen, there is a battered edition that probably dates back to the 1940s or 1950s, held together with tape and bearing the stains of much use. I remember looking through it as a little girl, fascinated by the recipes for such treats as Oysters A La Poulette--basically 30 oysters, eggs and cream--or Frog Legs a la Newburg. Mrs. Kander notes that “Frog legs are nice dipped in egg and cracker crumbs and fried a golden brown in hot fat.”  She also tells how to prepare lemonade for 150 people—you’ll need five dozen lemons and six pounds of sugar—and how to make rhubarb water, a recipe curiously devoid of proportions for the main ingredients: rhubarb, sugar and water.

The cover I remember from childhood. I found the subtitle
(or sur-title, in this case) vaguely mysterious,  invoking notions of
romance and domesticity that still lay far in the future.

The book provides lots of guidance in sections such as “General Rules for Custard”—It curdles if cooked a minute too long—and contains not one but two recipes for cucumber jelly. As I recall, my mother’s edition included instructions on how to skin and prepare a squirrel. 

As I started leafing through the book again today I thought at first that Mrs. Kander was the anti-Martha Stewart.  Our family copy of the book had a photo of Mrs. Kander (somewhat younger than the one below), hair neatly--if unglamorously--coiffed looking benign and reassuring, as if to say “You’ll do fine. Just follow the rules and stick to the basics.”

Mrs. Kander in later years.

But Mrs. Kander did care about presentation and did not limit herself to recipes. Readers are also instructed how to set a table, wash dishes, build a fire, and dust a room. Historian Angela Fritz describes Mrs. Kander as one who “taught the art of preparing food that was acceptable to the eye as well as the palate.”

A recipe for Water Lily Salad--a case in point.

The cookbook originated at The Settlement House in Milwaukee at the turn of the last century, where new immigrants (many of whom were German-Jews) learned skills intended to help ease their adjustment to life in the United States. Mrs. Kander served as President and chief fundraiser of the Settlement House. She devised the idea of the cookbook to both help immigrants use at home what they had learned in cooking class and to raise funds for the organization. Advertisements in the back of the book paid for its publication. The first edition sold out within a year and by the end of 1901 a profit of $500 had been realized.

You can learn more about Mrs. Kander (who was also a social reformer, despite her traditional views of a woman's role in the home) and The Settlement Cookbook in this article by Ms. Fritz.  A digital version of the cookbook is available here

End note: Regarding the risotto, although I will not clean and bone the fish myself as Mrs. Kander instructs, I’ve decided on salmon.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day

Or take your inner child.  Independent bookstores in more than 45 states are participating in this event created by writer Jenny Milchman to "expose future generations to the unique pleasures [bookstores] offer”.  

Local participants* include The Strand Bookstore, 828 Broadway, New York, NY; The Voracious Reader, 1997 Palmer Avenue, in Larchmont, NY; Symposia Bookstore, 570 Washington Street, Hoboken, NJ; and Watchung Booksellers, 54 Fairfield Street, Montclair, New Jersey.  More information on the event and a map showing additional participating stores can be found here.

* You may wish to call for more information in advance, as not all store websites include information about this celebration.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The President Goes Shopping

Amidst all the exhortations to go shopping at the megastores for big ticket electronics, here’s a story that made me feel good.

Friday, November 18, 2011

On the importance of libraries

A few weeks ago I visited the People’s Library in Zuccotti Park, the once and perhaps future headquarters of the Occupy Wall Street movement in NYC. I was impressed by how well organized the library was and that it included a children’s section. To me the existence of the library serves as evidence of the need every thinking person has for the ideas, comfort, and diversion provided by books, regardless of their circumstances.

On Wednesday the city cleared the park and took away the books. But this movement’s commitment to a library persists and yesterday the library went mobile, as group members wheeled shopping carts filled with books through lower Manhattan and intermittently set up offerings for protestors. For more on The People’s Library, supporters of the group, and photos from yesterday’s Day of Action,visit the"official" library blog. Laura, a librarian-in-training, who blogs at wmtc, offers another perspective and more detail on the philosophy behind the library here.  William Scott, an associate professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh who spent his sabbatical working in the library, describes his experience in this issue of The Nation. (Thanks to CA for bringing the article to my attention.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pop Quiz!

Quite a while ago I happened on a blog post by Robert Armitage of the New York Public Library. Mr. Armitage writes evocative, highly readable posts on the NYPL blog about writers, libraries, films, New York City and the fate of the paper-and-cardboard books in the age of e-readers. 

He also publishes the occasional quiz, one of which served as my introduction to his work. The “Reader, I married him” literary quiz is not only a fun way to test yourself—see how many of these quotations you can identify—but is also likely to bring back memories of works you’ve read or enjoyed, as well as those you’d like to pick up at your next visit to the library.  Mr. Armitage also challenges readers with a “He Said/She Said” literary quiz (see if you can identify whether the author is male or female) and for film buffs, the “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” quiz!

Extra Credit: Can you name the play, the role, and the actor?

Note: My scores on Mr. Armitage’s quizzes were, respectively, a humbling 13 out of 25 correct responses on the ID-the-literary-work quiz and a more satisfactory 12 out of 15 answers correct on the gender quiz!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

“…in the winter of my great down-and-outness…”

(Virtual Libraries – Part II: Library of America)

So the first-person narrator establishes the tone of Tomorrow, the haunting short story by Eugene O’Neill that originally appeared in Seven Arts magazine in 1917. The story describes a week or so in the lives of a group of men, heavy drinkers who are barely getting by, and who find solace in small moments of camaraderie and fantasies of the future.

Were it not for the Library of America (LOA), chances are I wouldn’t have come across Tomorrow. You may know the LOA as the nonprofit publisher and bookseller of distinctive-looking volumes*  of famous works by American writers including   James Agee, William Faulkner, and Edith Wharton, to name just a few. But they’re also the source of a free Story of the Week, a subscription service that introduces readers to short stories, essays, and poems, drawn from the publisher’s collections.

Eugene O'Neill, author of Tomorrow

Not long ago the link to Tomorrow arrived in my mailbox with a well-written introduction that explained that although O’Neill intended the work to be the first in a series of stories about these characters, this was the only one published. From the introduction:
Fans of O’Neill’s plays—and especially of The Iceman Cometh—will recognize several of the characters and themes in the story, some of which is autobiographical.  
Although the ending of Tomorrow won’t surprise you, it’s well worth reading for a demonstration of O’Neill’s talent as a writer of narrative and the flashes of hope and tenderness that persist against a background of desolation. You can read Tomorrow here, and find a list and links to more than 70 other free texts by well-known authors as well as those whose reputations may no longer shine as brightly as they once did. Go here for a free subscription to the Story of the Week.

Edith Wharton and...

...Ambrose Bierce, two of the many authors
to be found in the LOA collections.

The LOA web site also offers access to on-line exhibits through their Authors in Depth feature. I recently viewed one on the centennial celebration of Isaac Bashevis Singer, which presents a range of interesting artifacts from the life of this Yiddish (Polish-born) writer and introduced me to the works of his novelist brother, Israel Joshua Singer. (Interestingly, Israel Singer was originally considered the better writer. Moreover, it was only after his death that I.B. Singer became widely admired in the United States, eventually winning the Nobel Prize.)

* LOA books are distributed by the Penguin group and often feature a photo of the author against a black background and a horizontal red, white and blue stripe.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Happy Ending…

For now. St. Mark’s Bookshop, which was in danger of closing owing to their inability to pay rent to landlord Cooper Union, has been issued a reprieve. A rent reduction from $20,000 a month to about $17,500, and forgiveness of back rent due, will allow the store to stay open.

Here's the official word on the status of the bookshop:
St. Mark's Bookshop and The Cooper Union have reached an agreement which reduces our rent. This would not have been possible without the overwhelming support of our community. Over 44,000 people signed the petition to "Save St. Mark's Bookshop". We sincerely appreciate the efforts made by so many on our behalf. We especially want to thank Frances Goldin and Joyce Ravitch of the Cooper Square Committee, and Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough president.

Long Live Books and Readers! (11.07.11)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Rare View of the Supreme Court Library

A Guest Post from Eljay

If, when in Washington,  you attend a session of the U.S. Supreme Court (hearings are open to the public), you might see one of the Justices sending an aide to get relevant material from the Library upstairs. It was not always this convenient, as my LL (law librarian) friend and I learned on a recent tour.

In the first years (the Jay and early Marshall courts), the Justices had to use their own books or borrow from colleagues until, in 1812, they were given access to the U.S. Congress collection. Twenty years later, an Act of Congress created a Law Library for both Congress and the Court, with the Chief Justice able to suggest acquisitions.

Fast forward 100 years to 1932 when the eminent architect Cass Gilbert was commissioned to design a new Court Building with its own library. Although the Depression argued against lavish expenditure, the resourceful Gilbert managed to design and oversee construction of a building that is now one of D.C.’s prime attractions.

The United States Supreme Court at Dusk
(photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cass Gilbert, the architect of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gilbert's other work includes two beautiful landmark buildings in New York City: the Woolworth
building (the world's tallest building for over a decade) and the U.S. Customs House.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Library itself features a handsome oak-paneled Reading Room with a painted ceiling and, at the entry, carved profiles of Greek and Roman law-givers – Justinian, Solon, Modestinus and Draco (we had to look them up). A barrel-vaulted Special Library room, designed to hold rare volumes, now houses the Technical Services Division charged with microfilming and digitalizing materials. Another room holds bound copies of every case ever heard by the Court.
Among the Library’s many decorative elements are carved 16th century printers’ marks and five sculpted figures symbolizing Science, Law and Industry (these are male) and Arts and Knowledge (female). While pondering that, we were given a glimpse of the building’s  beautiful twin marble winding staircases and, on the top floor, what is whimsically called “the highest court in the land” – a basketball court for the staff.

Our impressive journey ended with the thought that this unique library is there to enable our third branch of government to better fulfill the promise inscribed on the building’s facade, “Equal Justice Under Law”.

Note: The U.S. Congress, with its own vast library of over 3,000,000 volumes, covers foreign as well as U.S. jurisdictions, and is open to the public. Further note: when you visit the Supreme Court building, take time to look into the bookshop; gavel pencils are a favorite.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Wikipedia Loves Libraries, But…

 Do librarians love Wikipedia?  As part of the online encyclopedia’s “Wikipedia Loves Libraries” campaign, a “wiki-coordinated program of…editathons” are being held at libraries and archives in a number of North American cities throughout October.

In Manhattan, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has scheduled “Wikipedia! The Musical!” for Saturday, October 22 at noon. Described in the New York Times as “an event meant to improve Wikipedia’s musical-theater-related entries using the library’s special collections,” volunteer editors will have access to the library’s vast accumulation of information on the industry. 

As far as librarians are concerned, the response to Wikipedia seems mixed at best. The ease with which anyone can change entries and the reliability of claims made in the text are just two of the concerns raised on many forums. One New Jersey librarian has expressed a qualified acceptance of Wikipedia, calling it a “backup” resource from which one can start researching a subject, but one that she doesn’t “trust...100 percent.” What do you think? 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Virtual Libraries – Part 1

Like most people who spend a lot of time on-line, I have strong opinions about what I find.  Vicious gossip sites and forums for unfounded political attacks? Bad. Information on recycling days? Good. Restaurant reviews for the new Thai place up the street? Excellent. Free access to thousands of books in the public domain? Incredible.

While I’ve known about Project Gutenberg for a while, I’ve spent very little time on the site until recently.  Now just one of an ever-growing number of sites that serve as a portal to works in the public domain, Project Gutenberg was one of the first. Founded in 1971 by Michael Hart, then a student at the University of Illinois, the site now offers 36,000 free downloadable ebooks.  

Hart came up with the idea of making works in the public domain available on a wide-scale basis and started by entering the text of the Declaration of Independence on the University’s mainframe computer. (To read more about Hart, who died recently, see the New York Times obituary or the one on the Project Gutenberg site.) For the next 17 years Hart worked largely on his own, typing in the text from more than 300 books. At that point, he started recruiting volunteers to add to the Project’s holdings. Today, most of the books on Project Gutenberg are scanned from printed copies and proofread by volunteers. Interested in helping? Go here to learn more. 

Johann Gutenberg (c.1398-1468), the namesake of Project Gutenberg,
known as the inventor of movable type, a development that changed the
history of publishing forever. 

You can view a copy of the Gutenberg bible, the book most famously associated with Johann Gutenberg, at this site maintained by the British Library. 

What’s it like to browse through a digital library? It’s less colorful and requires a little more patience than strolling through the stacks at your local bricks-and-mortar library or bookstore. And it’s probably best-suited to those with an interest in older works (dating back about 100 years*)-- but some booklovers will find it well worthwhile. Look up Lewis Carroll, for example, and you’ll find not only Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in English, French and German, but some lesser-known works by Carroll such as the Hunting of the Snark, a nonsense poem (subtitled An Agony in Eight Fits) that borrows some of the language that first appeared in The Jabberwocky.

Among those titles most recently added to the Project Gutenberg collection are:

Judith Shakespeare, Her Love Affairs and other Adventures by William Black (published circa 1890), a fictionalized biography of William Shakespeare’s daughter, which begins,

“It was a fair, clear, and shining morning, in the sweet May-time of the
year, when a young English damsel went forth from the town of
Stratford-upon-Avon to walk in the fields. As she passed along by the
Guild Chapel and the Grammar School, this one and the other that met her
gave her a kindly greeting; for nearly every one knew her, and she was a
favorite; and she returned those salutations with a frankness which
betokened rather the self-possession of a young woman than the timidity
of a girl. Indeed, she was no longer in the first sensitive dawn of

From Judith Shakespeare, Her Loves and Other Adventures. Based on the (perhaps not completely reliable) information that is available about Judith's life, she was not destined for a happy ending, outliving both her philandering husband and her children.

Those with an interest in how India was viewed by a Dubliner when Great Britain still ruled the country, might want to try Life in an Indian Outpost by Gordon Casserly (the author of The Jungle Girl, also available on Project Gutenberg), published circa 1914. The book reads like an adventure story (though one imagines it may well reflect an uncomfortable imperialist view) and begins,

“Against the blue sky to the north lay a dark blur that, as our troop
train ran on through the level plains of Eastern Bengal, rose ever
higher and took shape--the distant line of the Himalayas.

Unfortunately, the book’s 30-some illustrations are not included, but the list of captions is and we are left to imagine the depictions of  the author’s “Bachelor Establishment” and “A kneeling elephant.”

Most of the books on Project Gutenberg are published in English and U.S. copyright laws apply. A note on the site reminds users:
 Our ebooks are free in the United States because their copyright has expired. They may not be free of copyright in other countries. Readers outside of the United States must check the copyright laws of their countries before downloading or redistributing our ebooks.

For more general information on Project Gutenberg, visit their FAQ page

For links to other family-friendly sites (including at least one that features children’s fiction from around the world) where you can access free books on-line, visit this page from About.Com

 * The time at which a work enters the public domain varies widely, depending on what year the work was published, where it was published, and the date of the author’s death, among many other considerations. This site at Cornell University offers more detailed information.