Octavia E. Butler, 6/22/1947 - 2/25/2006

Author Elizabeth Bear reports in her journal that Octavia Butler passed away this weekend as the result of a stroke.

In 1995, Butler became the first science fiction writer ever to receive a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant." Her novel Parable of the Talents won the Nebula Award for best novel in 2000. She also received both a Nebula and a Hugo award for her novelette "Bloodchild," collected in Bloodchild, and Other Stories, and won a Hugo in 1984 for her story "Speech Sounds."

Enter Laughing

March is International Mirth Month a time to find humor in all things human – and otherwise. And since many of you listen to books on cd in your car, let’s start with Click & Clack, those NPR knuckleheads who host Car Talk. Their newest compilation is Maternal Combustion: Calls About Moms and Cars. Other Car Talk favorites are Born Not to Run and The Hatchback of Notre Dame.

If you haven’t heard the Sweet Potato Queen’s musing on marriage, diets, and panty hose, pull the car over and get The Sweet Potato Queens' Field Guide to Men or Sweet Potato Queens’ Wedding Planner/Divorce Guide.

The Play Ground

The Play Ground likes to sample all of Ann Arbor's cultural offerings so
The University of Michigan Museum of Art is one of our favorite haunts.The Museum will be closing in July to get ready for its expansion so hurry over to view the current, fabulous exhibit: Landscapes of Longing: Journeys through Memory and Place. With subjects as disparate as life along the highways of early modern Japan, the great stone temples of Cambodia’s ancient royal city of Angkor, scholars’ retreats among the soaring mountains of China, and a series of meditatively abstract seascapes by one of our great contemporary photographers. Try this good primer before you go: How to look at Japanese art by Stephen Addiss.

While You're Waiting...

...to see Ralph Fiennes in The Constant Gardener or David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, try Cronenberg's 2003 film Spider, starring Fiennes as a tormented and mentally imbalanced man who mutters through his memories and paranoid fantasies in Cronenberg's characteristically strange world.

...to see Good Night, and Good Luck., catch The Best of See it Now and The McCarthy Years, two parts of a new documentary series profiling Edward R. Murrow's life and groundbreaking journalism.

...to see Capote, read the book, watch the 1967 film, or see a few other reasons why Philip Seymour Hoffman deserves the Academy Award for best actor.

...to see Brokeback Mountain, check out 1971's The Last Picture Show for another example of screenwriter Larry McMurtry's deft handling of love and loss in rural western America.

Third book in trilogy is a good weekend read

Frank McCourt is the best-selling author and former teacher who skyrocketed to fame with "Angela's Ashes," followed by "'Tis." His third book, Teacher Man, is about his days teaching English in New York City, when he did creative things in the classroom such as urging young people to write down excuses for not having done their homework. The book, which I found witty and entertaining, ends with the author's decision to write "Angela's Ashes."

Samba no pé!

If you've ever been to Brazil you know it's that time again. Yup, that's right. It's time for the world's biggest party! Brazilian Carnival starts tomorrow. Can’t make it to Rio de Janeiro? Perhaps these sounds can take you there:

Compilations by Putumayo World Music: Acoustic Brazil and Brazilian Groove
Bossa Nova: Bebel Gilberto by Bebel Gilberto
Funk/rock: Cru by Seu Jorge, who starred in City of God
Classic collections: The Best of Caetano Veloso and The Best of Antonio Carlos Jobim

Have an interesting Carnival story? Post it here!

New Fiction Titles on the New York Times Bestseller List (2/19/06)

Four new titles jump on board. And for the first time Jay McInerney becomes a "Best Sellers" author. Hard to believe that Bright Lights, Big City, his debut novel and the one that made him famous, never made it.

At #4 is Gone by Lisa Gardner: an FBI agent searches for his ex-wife's kidnapper.

At #7 is Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn: a new Star Wars novel.

At #14 is Changing Faces by Kimberla Lawson Roby: the intertwining story of three women who have been friends since high school.

At #16* is The Good Life by Jay McInerney: his characters are older but still glamorous and decadent in this post-9/11 novel.

Superhuman Strength

Did you hear the recent story about the mother in Canada who fought off a polar bear to protect her 7-year old son? After reading about this incredible event, I now firmly believe that a mother would actually be able to lift a car to save her child.

The library has many items on the subjects of parenting and motherhood, including:
The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars
Supernanny: How to get the best from your children
Whatever, Mom: Hip mama's guide to raising a teenager
Confessions of Super Mom (Fiction)

The Happiest Toddler on the Block (DVD)
Child Development: The first two years (DVD)
The Baby Whisperer (DVD)

We also have plenty of materials about polar bears!

Webster's dictionary turns 200. What's next?

200 years ago this month Noah Webster published "A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language" to the horror of English language purists who were shocked by the Americanized spellings (such as "honor" instead of "honour"), the inclusion of new words American words, and the elimination of ancient British words such as "fishefy." But Webster's aim--to promote homegrown culture and reflect the language America was actually speaking--proved highly successful and today there are hundreds of dictionaries and books devoted to American English usage such as last year's Right, Wrong and Risky: A Dictionary of Today's American English Usage and Contemporary American Slang. There's also every manner of online dictionary, notably the collaborative wiki dictionary Wiktionary, an offshoot of Wikipedia. And that's just a start, since collabulary--a new word worth looking up, by the way--may alter the digital dictionary in ways Noah Webster could never have imagined.

E.L. Doctorow wins the 2006 PEN/Faulkner award

E. L. Doctorow has just been named the recipient of the 2006 PEN/Faulkner Award for his novel The March.

In his novel, Doctorow brings to savage life General William Tecumseh Sherman's devastating sweep through Georgia and the Carolinas in toward the end of the Civil War.

The PEN/Faulkner, founded in 1980, is the largest peer-juried prize for fiction writers. It has gone to such esteemed authors as Ann Patchett, Ha Jin, John Updike, and Michael Cunningham.

Finalists for the 2006 award are:

Karen Fisher for A Sudden Country
William Henry Lewis for I Got Somebody in Staunton
James Salter for Last Night
Bruce Wagner for The Chrysanthemum Palace

This is Mr. Doctorow's second PEN/Faulkner award. He won in 1990 for Billy Bathgate.

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