Toronto, Mon Amour

I grew up in Seattle, and am used to hearing out-of-towners who visit the downtown library raving about our breathtaking city (and libraries). Well now I know how they feel. I just returned from my third visit to Toronto, where I was speaking at a library conference, and have been boring everyone silly with effusions of praise for this great city, the fifth most populous in North America and one of the most culturally diverse cities in the image-of-toronto-reference-libraryworld. The city has great arts and theatre, and a hot clubbing scene, a terrific public market with amazing variety of foods (and the most cheese I’ve seen in one place outside of Paris), a gorgeous main library that anchors a tremendous library system with 99 branches, and even their own space needle, a mere three times the height of ours.

image-of-icy-toronto-courtesy-of-grant-macdonaldBut what I like best is what a wonderful walking city Toronto is, with great long streets that stretch for miles through a terrific succession of ethnic neighborhoods, from Greektown to Little Italy, Portugal Village to Cabbagetown, Koreatown to Yorkville. That such a vast city maintains its human scale is partly thanks to the influence of urban thinker Jane Jacobs, best known for her The Death and Life of Great American Cities, who helped keep Toronto from making the common missteps of modernizing cities, such as bisecting themselves with huge freeways. I’ve been there during a heat wave, a chilly autumn, and a cold snap, and I just couldn’t keep from walking for miles and miles.

Readers interested in getting a taste of Toronto’s rich history have plenty of great fiction to choose from, from Michael Ondaatje’s story of a seeker in Continue reading “Toronto, Mon Amour”

A shed of one’s own

My husband and I have decided we need separate rooms. For more than a decade, we’ve shared a home “office” that hasn’t worked well for either of us. There’s no room for flat files for him, nor is there the quiet retreat I crave for writing. I look longingly at our friend John’s backyard music studio and our neighbor’s tiny garage-turned-dance studio. I find myself eyeing our garden shed and our son’s long-abandoned tree house with an “I wonder if …” sense of hope. Serendipitously, this was all on my mind when I stumbled across Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways by Debra Prinzing in a Library display.

I am now convinced that I need a shed of my own, and I’ll take any of the Continue reading “A shed of one’s own”

Getting started with downloadable books – Overdrive’s Adobe format

Welcome the wonderful world of digital books. Watch this video to learn how to use our Overdrive collection. You’ll be able to download books right to your computer. No driving around to get the books you want. As with any new technology, sometimes there can be a few glitches the first few times you use it. So if you have any questions, just give us a call at 206-386-4636. We’ll help you figure it out.


Staff Favorites: Three ‘book group’ books

A Death in the Family by James Agee
Other writers describe this book as a near-perfect work of art. The prose is poetic and musical, and the characterizations are so true to life that you feel you are part of the family, insular and innocent in a small Tennessee town in 1915. With incredible insight into the inner workings of the very heart and soul of these characters, Agee evokes his own experience as a child whose father died suddenly in an automobile accident, and the subsequent impact on his mother and other relatives. ~ Beth, Broadview

The Ha-Ha by Dave King
Howard has lived an isolated existence ever since he suffered a disfiguring head wound in Vietnam. Mentally, he’s as acute as ever, but due to his injury he cannot talk, read or write. Even insignificant encounters are agonizing, so Howard has become an emotional recluse. Then his former high school sweetheart goes into rehab and asks Howard to look after her nine-year-old son. Howard is forced out of his routine and the shell of his isolation is cracked. You won’t want to miss getting to know the characters in this quiet, healing novel about the miracle of love. ~ Rosemary, Greenwood

Old Filth by Jane Gardam
Anglophiles everywhere, meet your new literary grand dame! Don’t be put off by the odd title: Filth, or “Failed in London, Try Hong Kong,” is the moniker given to Sir Edward Feathers, a Raj orphan and renowned judge who leaves China to retire in rural Dorset. Old Filth’s life is sent into a tailspin when his wife dies and the past comes back to haunt and ultimately save him. If you enjoy the psychological fiction of Iris Murdoch and appreciate dry, British humor, then Gardam is for you.   ~  Misha, Fiction

More for book groups: One of our favorite blogs is Booklist magazine’s Book Group Buzz, with its regular “Good Books for Book Groups” feature. Misha, a librarian in the Fiction Department at Seattle Public Library, is a regular columnist there, as is Nick DiMartino from the University Bookstore in Seattle. For more suggestions on books that are good for group discussions, see SPL’s  book group page and open the “Recommended Books for Discussion” PDF. Or perhaps you’d like to chime in right here, right now with something YOUR book group has read and enjoyed recently!

Music at the Library

We have a lot of programs here at The Seattle Public Library. Browse through our Calendar of Events and you’ll find very few days where there is not some kind of program happening either at the Central branch or in the many neighborhood branches. I would like to highlight three of our free, ongoing programs that are quite exceptional. They are the Seattle Opera Preview, the Ladies Musical Club concerts, and the Medieval Women’s Choir Preview.

The Seattle Opera previews are a long-standing series at the library. They opera_singerare presented by Seattle Opera Education Department staff and they are very informative and, well, fun! Each opera is thoroughly discussed and put in historical, societal, and musical context with recorded examples and visual aids. The next preview on Feb. 19 at noon at the Central Library should be particularly interesting as it will be on Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Schoenberg’s Erwartung, two 20th-century operas receiving their premiere Seattle Opera productions this season.

piano_keysThe Ladies Musical Club has been presenting concerts regularly at the Central Library for literally decades. They occur at 12:10 on the second Wednesday of every month in the auditorium. Classical music of all kinds is presented in a wonderfully intimate setting. At any given concert you could hear art songs, chamber music, solo piano, or selections from grand opera and operetta…or maybe all of the above! Come check it out!

The last series at the Central Library that I want to highlight is the Medieval Women’s Choir Preview. Having begun this past fall, it is one of our newest series and one of my personal favorites. The choir’s director is Margriet margriet_tindemansTindemans, a world-renowned player of early stringed instruments as well as a scholar of the Middle Ages. She and several members of the choir present selections from their upcoming concerts. The previews include some discussion of the pieces, providing some context which is always fascinating, but the hour-long presentations are primarily devoted to performances of medieval music. And, I have to say, acoustically, the auditorium is exceptionally well-suited to this style of music. The sound is truly glorious! The next preview for this group is Tuesday, Feb. 17 at noon. Don’t miss it!

~Bob T.