Saturday, November 29, 2008

Deweying it by the numbers: 200s

When Melville Dewey set up his system, the world was a much different place. Not only were there no computers, microwaves or airplanes, there weren't even automobiles! The time was 1876 and the majority of Americans were Christian. So when Dewey set up his system, Christianity was the most important subject in the 200s: religion. Even today the United States is still 78% Christian. If you look at what Dewey believed to be the other important religions at the time he recognized: Greek and Roman Religion, Germanic religion (think Thor and Odin), Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Bahai, Zorastrianism, and a grab bag of Other Religions at 299 or misc.).

One book that I've read recently that encompasses all religions is Religious Literacy: what every American needs to know--and doesn't by Stephen Prothero. It proposes that religious studies should start in junior high and high school. To back this up he gives his students at the religion department at Boston University a test--one in which they resoundly fail. Most in this religious studies class can't name all four Gospels. The book itself is more of a clearly written history of religious literacy with a large glossary of religious terms at the end a la Cultural literacy : what every American needs to know by E.D. Hirsch, which my 11th grade English teacher used to test us every week on everything from Moby Dick to Ophelia. In fact, one school in California has a mandatory religion course that Prothero believes the rest of the country should model.

I really like the idea of both of these books, with lists of terms to memorize and learn from (hey I aced 11th grade!), although their has been criticism of this method of lists. Who decides what is on the list of what is religious or cultural literacy? And just because you know the names of the four gospels, does that mean you understand the meaning and context of them? One thing is for sure: I've got some studying to do.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Anathem: Soundtracks for books?!?!?

I've recently been reading Anathem by Neal Stephenson, an epic length 937 page book about a group of devout monks that study math and the heavens - in an alternate universe of course. I've spent so much time ruminating on the protaganist, Erasmas, and his quest to understand the universe, that I did a quick Google search about the book to enhance my understanding of the book. Its kind of a tough read. The book is divided into distinct sections so it feels like I have been reading wildly different books with the same characters. The first part has our monks in their monastary, studying and learning which includes some heady philosophical questions couched in quantum theory and cosmological study (not to say the book is not readable--just weighty at times--one reviewer called it "philosophy extreme sports"). The second part is this sort of bumbling humorous adventure; the third, an almost Jack London Arctic trek, the next a political tale about aliens... and well I'm not done with the book yet. And to my surprise Stephenson's website has a wealth of information, including a soundtrack to listen to as you read the book (downloadable here). I had never heard of a soundtrack to a book! The music is chanting, inspired by Eastern Buddhist and Western Monastical traditions.

I did some research and dug up other books that have soundtracks, that might help you get through that next book. I know I will probably need the soundtrack to finish this one. If you like this list, check out Amazon's "hear the soundtrack to your favorite book" list for more suggestions, or to find mixtape suggestions from authors check out the Book Notes Archive.

The Black Angel
John Connolly
The book itself includes a cd that has Kate Bush, Neko Case, and more.

The Book of Lies
Brad Meltzer
This soundtrack starts of with REM and Five for Fighting and ends with Mahler and Elgar. Very eclectic and can be found on Meltzer's website.

Omar Tyree (Urban Griot)
As you might expect, Omar Tyree's soundtrack is filled with with rap and r&b. It looks like the cd is no longer available, but you can check out the discography on

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Resource Spotlight: EBSCOhost

EBSCOhost is a powerful online collection of databases accessible at home using your library card. It offers 35 databases with some being in full text. The databases range from MasterFILE which has such popular magazines as Real Simple and Fortune in full text, to Academic Search Complete for use during those school projects when you need peer-reviewed journals. Other databases include health, history, legal, military, science and technology databases.
Included with the EBSCOhost database is a collection of photos for use with papers and school projects including flags, maps, historical places and more! It even has recent photos taken for newspapers available for your non-commercial use.

EBSCOhost recently revamped their look making magazines and journals easier to find as well as a visual search that helps you visually narrow your topic down from the generic to specific, making sure you find the right article for you to look at. EBSCOhost 2.0 also has the following new features:

  • A new simpler basic searching screen
  • The ability to preview an article or image by mouseover
  • New result list
  • New detail display
  • New search history capability
  • Enhanced personalization features
  • New organization of limiters and expanders
  • New search modes including SmartText
  • URLs that can be bookmarked

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Good Grounds For Books - November Meeting

This morning was the second meeting of the Woodland West Branch's Good Grounds For Books group. Our group members come from such different backgrounds (a former lawyer, a children's librarian, a retired Air Force pilot) that our selections are just as diverse as our lives. The atmosphere is very relaxed and inviting, and the free coffee and biscotti helps, too. Here are some of the titles and authors we shared:

Robyn suggested mystery author Donna Leon. Leon writes a series of novels featuring Venetian detective Guido Brunetti. Robyn described Leon's Venice, Italy as very atmospheric and sure to draw you in.

Jane, who is one of the most voracious readers I have ever met, brought us a wonderful list of titles that include Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich (suggested last month by Pete), Caribbean by James Michener, and Elements of Style by Wendy Wasserstein.

Pete and Laureen recently made a trip to Austin for the Texas Book Festival. Both came back with titles they had discovered at TBF. Pete shared a collection of humorous essays entitled The Customer Is Always Wrong, edited by Jeff Martin. In it, writers share their real-life experiences of, as Pete put it, "time served behind the counter" at various retail businesses. Laureen's TBF discovery was Hey Ranger 2 by Jim Burnett. Hey Ranger 2 is the second volume in a collection of humorous anecdotes that take place in various National Parks. Campers and non-campers alike should really enjoy this one. Laureen also suggested Caldecott Celebration: Seven Artists and Their Path to the Caldecott Medal. She especially recommends the story of how Robert McCloskey came to write Make Way For Ducklings.

Joyce recommended Shadow Diver's and Titanic's Last Secret: The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, both by Robert Kurson. The Diane Rehm show on NPR featured a great interview with Robert Kurson about Titanic's Last Secret and how and why the Titanic really sank.

Ron said he loves everything by David Baldacci because he doesn't load his books down with violence or bad language. He also recommended reading the non-fiction book The Apocalypse of Ahmadinejad by Mark Hitchcock to get a better understanding of Iran before reading Joel Rosenberg's novels.

I focused my selections mainly on graphic novels for teens. I read The Plain Janes and Janes In Love written by Cecil Castellucci and illustrated by Jim Rugg. This is a fully-engaging story about a girl who survives a terrorist-like attack and uses her horrible experience to form a group of local artists into the P.L.A.I.N. Janes. I also read Richard Matheson's short story collection Button, Button: Uncanny Stories. Matheson's stories are spare and eerily frightening without being gorey.