Welcome to the Wonderful World of Podcasts

Podcaster logoLate last year I noticed a new question cropping up at the library: “Can I listen to ‘Serial’ on your computers?” For those who haven’t heard of “Serial,” it’s a podcast that began last October and became a cultural phenomenon, gaining millions of listeners.

For those who aren’t sure what a podcast is, here’s an explanation from dictionary.com: “a digital audio or video file or recording, usually part of a themed series, that can be downloaded from a website to a media player or computer.”

No matter what your interest, someone’s created a podcast about it. I conducted a brief survey amongst my family and friends that yielded recommendations for dozens of titles and brought me a renewed appreciation for the diversity of my acquaintances. The list included humor, history, true crime, memoirs, relationships, dharma talks, cooking, music, literature, finance and several other topics.

Here are a few other things to know:

How much do podcasts cost and where does one find them?
Most podcasts are free, and there are many places to find them. Some of the more popular browsing sites are: iTunes (you need an account), NPR, Podcast Alley, and my favorite discovery – Stitcher.
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New DVD List: Life Itself & More

life itself

Here is a new DVD list highlighting various titles in fiction and nonfiction recently added to the library’s collection.

life itselfLife Itself
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Playing last year at the Ragtag, this documentary film by acclaimed director Steve James (“Hoop Dreams“) and executive producers Martin Scorsese and Steven Zaillian recounts the inspiring and entertaining life of world-renowned film critic and social commentator Roger Ebert – a story that is by turns personal, funny, painful and transcendent.

game of thrones season 4Game of Thrones
Season 4
Website / Reviews
As season four begins, encouraged by the Red Wedding slaughter in the Riverlands that wiped out many of their Stark nemeses, the Lannisters’ hold on the Iron Throne remains intact. But can they survive their own egos as well as new and ongoing threats from the south, north and east?
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A Smart-aleck Sleuth in Ancient Rome

Book cover for The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis(Review of the Marcus Didius Falco Mysteries, by Lindsey Davis)

If you grieve (as I do) at the end of a good mystery series, when the last mesmerizing page of the last book is turned, do I have a series for you! The Marcus Didius Falco Mysteries—a total of 20 novels, each a hefty 350-or-so pages—will delay that sad moment and keep you vastly entertained, possibly for the next decade.

Author Lindsey Davis has set her epic in first century AD Rome, where Falco, an informer (read “private detective”), plies his dangerous and not-very-lucrative trade. Falco is an enlightened rogue, occasionally employed by the Emperor Vespasian for cases no one else will take. One of the appeals of this series is Falco’s dry wit as he narrates his many adventures, both professional and personal (he also has an active love life and a large, drama-prone family.)

Book cover for Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey DavisAnother treat is the astounding amount of historically accurate detail crammed into every paragraph. You’ll read about Roman street vendor food (awful), the view from Falco’s seventh-floor Avantine tenement room (spectacular), first century urban firefighting (with fiber mats and brute strength), Roman bathing (with steam and olive oil) and countless other realities of daily Roman life. The effect is like time travel, or the most entertaining history course ever.
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The Epigenetics Revolution: Free MU Life Sciences & Society Symposium

Book cover for The Epigenetics RevolutionBiology is not necessarily destiny. The quickly evolving field of epigenetics is the branch of science that studies the regulation of genes and other genetic material, and recent research is raising many questions about nature versus nurture when it comes to disease and human behavior. (Very) simply stated, environmental factors – like stress, toxins and childhood trauma – can determine whether or not certain things programmed into a person’s genetic code get turned “on” or off. And extreme stress experienced by an individual can be so strong as to affect not only their genes but also the genes of their children.

A number of science writers in the last few years have published books trying to explain this complicated new field to the lay reader. One such book that terrified me personally is Annie Murphy Paul’s “Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives.” As a mother of young children, the fact that I could have been screwing them up in a number of unrealized ways while they were in the womb is unsettling to say the least. But this book raises important concerns about how we think about pregnancy and support expecting mothers and calls into question commonly held assumptions about which aspects of our health are biologically determined and which are influenced by environmental factors.

Paul is just one of the speakers at this year’s MU Life Sciences & Society Symposium, “The Epigenetics Revolution: Nature, Nurture and What Lies Ahead,” being held March 13-15. The event is free and open to the public, but advance registration is required. The symposium will explore what epigenetics means, discuss how epigenetic effects work and explore examples of how the environment can affect genetic expression in infants, children and adults. Several speakers will focus on the implications of epigenetics for human health and medicine, including the causes and treatments of diseases such as autism and cancer. See the full line-up of speakers and topics at the symposium’s website.
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Better Know a Genre: Cozy Mysteries

Stack of books by Thomas Galvez via Flickr

It has been a while since I have helped readers to Better Know a Genre. What have I been doing instead of writing? Hibernating. But I’m back, and there are still a few weeks left until spring, so let us take these last days of winter to focus on the genre known as “cozy mysteries.”

Imagine the television show “Murder She Wrote” as a book. (Wait! You don’t have to imagine it.) Cozy mysteries, like all whodunits, begin with a crime. The crime usually takes place in a small town. Although the stories can contain murders or sexual activity, these are not explicitly described. There are not graphic depictions of violent crime. It is not usually the examination of forensic evidence from the crime scene that leads to the arrest of the perpetrator. Instead, there is a focus on solving the puzzle using knowledge of the town and its inhabitants.

The crime is often solved by a female amateur detective. The women tend to have a job that puts them into contact with the community, such as a teacher, author, librarian (hi!) or caterer. She might also have a hobby that serves as one of the themes of the book or series. Cooking and crafting are popular examples, and sometimes the books even contain recipes or patterns. She herself does not often work in law enforcement but will likely have unofficial help from someone on the police force. She is likable and engaging, not like the unfriendly Sherlock Holmes or the hard-drinking Philip Marlowe.

Also, cats. Lots of cats.

Check out some of these popular cozy mystery series from our collection!

Book cover for Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne FlukeCulinary cozies:

Tea Shop Mystery series, by Laura Child
Goldy Bear Mystery series, by Diane Mott Davidson
Hannah Swenson Mystery series, by Joanne Fluke
Faith Fairchild Mystery series, by Katherine Hall Page
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Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The March 2015 List

Library Reads LogoThe list of books publishing this month that librarians across the country love is nearly all fiction. And the one work of nonfiction — by the accomplished Erik Larson, author of the bestsellers “The Devil in the White City” and “In the Garden of Beasts” — is narrative nonfiction, its propulsive storytelling making it read much like a novel. Still, the selections are wide-ranging in terms of topic and appeal, with everything from the character-driven follow-up to the extremely popular “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” to a new steampunk fantasy spin-off from the writer of the Parasol Protectorate series. Here’s this month’s LibraryReads list.

Book cover for The Love Song of Miss Queenie HennessyThe Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy” by Rachel Joyce

“Miss Queenie Hennessy, who we met in Joyce’s first book, is in a hospice ruminating over her abundant life experiences. I loved the poignant passages and wise words peppered throughout. Readers of ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ will enjoy this book. There’s no fast-paced plot or exciting twists — it’s just a simple, sweet story of a life well-lived.” - Andrienne Cruz, Azusa City Library, Azusa, CA

Book cover for Dead Wake by Erik LarsonDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania” by Erik Larson

“In cinematic terms, this dramatic page-turner is Das Boot meets Titanic. Larson has a wonderful way of creating a very readable, accessible story of a time, place and event. We get three sides of the global story — the U-boat commander, British Admiralty and President Wilson — but what really elevates this book are the affecting stories of individual crew and passengers.” - Robert Schnell, Queens Library, Jamaica, NY 
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