Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Janet's Five Gift Ideas for December

Hanukkah Haiku by Harriet Ziefert (Blue Apple Books, $16.95)
Beautifully illustrated by Karla Gudeon, Hanukkah Haiku is a classic for all young children. One candle and one haiku poem is added on each page, ending with a fully lit menorah and the candle lighting blessings.

Gathering Sparks by Howard Schwartz (Roaring Brook Press, $16.99)
Perhaps the most touchingly simple explanation of tikkun olam (repair of the world) available to children. Award-winning illustrator Kristina Swarner adds to the poignancy of this book with her unworldly illuminations.

The Dalai Lama's Little Book of Inner Peace: The Essential Life and Teachings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama (Hampton Roads Publishing, $12.95)
A perfect small volume to carry and open to any page any minute of the day for inspiration and instruction.

Jewish Fathers: A Legacy of Love, photographs by Lloyd Wolf, interviews by Paula Wolfson (Jewish Lights Publishing, $30.00)
Autographed by the author, a wonderful present to any Jewish father or other. Filled with photographs to kvell over, this book celebrates the true meaning of mensch.

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure (Abrams, $29.95)
An oversized volume of Nikki McClure's beautiful prints with one word titles on each page. A gift for anyone who needs a moment of calm.

December 2010, Janet Elfant

Amy’s Five Children’s Books for Getting into the Spirit of Snow

The Snow Day by Komako Sakai (Arthur Levine, $16.99)
Not to be confused with Ezra Jack Keats’ Snowy Day (see below), this book tells a similar tale of a young child who spends a long and glorious snow day at home with her mom, waiting for the snowstorm to end so she can go outside and make snow dumplings and snow monsters. Best line in a children’s book: “Mama, we are all alone in the world,” and that sums up this quiet and beautifully illustrated book.

Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton (Houghton Mifflin, $16.00)
If you love Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne, you will also love Katy the snowplow, who’s finally given a chance to prove herself when the city is buried in snow. The story is simple, but the illustrations are loaded with details about machinery and map-like details of the city. Burton has a knack for bringing life and beauty to old-fashioned machines and a respect for a simple way of life.

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs (Dragonfly Books, $6.99)
What would happen if your snowman came to life? What would you feed him for dinner? Ice cubes, of course!

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
(Viking Press, $6.99 Board, $16.99 Hardcover)

This classic book tells the story of Peter, a young boy waking up to see his neighborhood transformed by the snow, and follows him on his explorations.

Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner
(Dial Books for Young Readers, $6.99 Board, $15.99 Hardcover)

This story imagines that when you go to bed, all the snowmen of the neighborhood get together for a party, drink ice-cold cocoa, have snowball fights and go sledding. It’s a big hit with the kiddos.

December 2010, Amy Vaccarello

Five Books That Made Maleka Want to Eat

Anyone that knows me knows that I love to eat. I also love to cook. I LOVE reading about eating, especially about foods from around the world. Some of my favorite scenes in novels/memoirs are of food preparation or feasts with all kinds of people attending. Here’s a list of books that have excellent eating scenes, all of which made me want to bust out some utensils as soon as I was done reading and enjoy a hearty meal.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (Penguin, $15.00)
I know, I know. This book has a lot of hype already. But I cannot deny the food scenes in Italy. The main character of Liz sitting in the middle of Italy eating fresh asparagus and eggs or chomping on the best pizza described on the planet is simply amazing.

Made From Scratch by Jenna Woginrich (Storey, $12.95)
Her combination of dark chocolate and awesome coffee and her descriptions of fresh pasta and homemade bread made my day.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (Mariner, $14.95)
Two words: Indian food.

Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel (Ten Speed Pr., $24.99)
This is simply a fantastic book. It presents photo shoots of families from all over the world posed with one week's worth of all the food and drink they consume. It is interesting to see the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables in most of the poorer families' households versus a huge amount of processed and junk foods in the richer households. I loved the photo spread of what people ate for breakfast all over the world. Savory noodles, yum!

Stealing Buddha's Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen (Penguin, $14.00)
Bich is like me - she likes reading about food too. Her memoir is packed with scenes from her childhood and adolescence where she sits cuddling a book and reading long passages about food in Little House on the Prairie, dreams about eating "American food" which involves mostly processed cheese product, and eats in the kitchen with her beloved grandmom who fries thin potatoes for her almost every afternoon and serves up traditional Vietnamese soups. I was craving both traditional Vietnamese dishes AND American junk food after reading this.

December 2010, Maleka Fruean

Erica’s Five Seasonal Book & Beverage Pairings

It’s cold, folks, and I am like a bear. I want to sleep and eat—not necessarily in that order—and there’s nothing quite like a good bedtime story to kick off my annual winter hibernation. I also like a nice glass of warm milk (preferably 80 or 100 proof) before I hunker down in my cave. But be warned, kiddies, this list, like many a trendy Philadelphia restaurant, is strictly BYOB.

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris (Little, Brown & Co., $16.99)
There is something very elf-like about Sedaris. Maybe it’s his wacky, little Seven Dwarves reading voice, or the elfin mischief suffusing his prose. So it seems only natural that he did time working as an elf named Crumpet at the SantaLand in Macy’s Herald Square, and that he spins one heck of a yarn about it.
Recommended pairing: Evan Williams Egg Nog, available at any fine state store—oh, I’m sorry, I meant Wine and Spirits Shoppe.

Apples I Have Eaten by Jonathan Gerken (Chronicle, $14.95)
Beautifully photographed apples appear whole, then halved, in each spread. Totally porn for apples—if apples were into that kind of thing.
Recommended pairing: Hot apple cider. High Point Café makes a mean one.

The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming by Lemony Snicket (McSweeney’s, $11.00)
It’s a latke, damn it, not a Christmas donut! Why do people insist on making it something that it’s not? Snicket reminds us that unfortunate events sometimes befall foodstuffs, too—not just the hapless Baudelaire orphans.
Recommended pairing: Egg nog latke—erm, latte. Your local Wawa makes decent egg nog, believe it or not. Pour some of this into your morning coffee then make that shushing sound like you have an espresso machine.

Awkward Family Photos by Mike Bender and Doug Chernack (Three Rivers Press, $15.00)
It’s not really polite to make fun of your own family during the holidays, so thankfully Awkward Family Photos lets you make fun of other peoples’. A gnarlier collection of feathered hair and tacky sweaters ne’er was seen.
Recommended pairing: Mulled wine. I don’t have a good recipe for this so I suggest asking a British person. She can also tell you what wassail means.

The Elements of Style, Illustrated, by William Strunk Jr., E.B. White, and Maria Kalman (Penguin, $16.00)
Kalman’s quirky watercolor illustrations transform this style manual into a charmingly surreal meditation on life. To quote White: “Your whole duty as a writer is to please and satisfy yourself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of one. Start sniffing the air, or glancing at the Trend Machine, and you are as good as dead, although you may make a nice living.” Advice not just for the writer, but for the human being.
Recommended pairing: Champagne, of course, liquid joy—the only way to weather a cold winter’s nap and spring into a new year.

December 2010, Erica David

Sunday, November 28, 2010

5 Sequels Nif is Excited About

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner (HarperCollins, $16.99). If you’ve read The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia, then you must find out what happened to Sophos. Personally, I’m on the edge of my seat for the next one after this, and anguished that Megan Whalen Turner takes so long to write them. Great for fantasy fans aged 10 to 110.

The God of the Hive by Laurie R. King (Random House $25.00), picks up right where The Language of Bees leaves off. Who IS the enemy pursuing Russell, Holmes, his son, and his young granddaughter, and when will they be safe? A satisfying conclusion.

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins, $16.99). A fourth and final Tiffany Aching book! My heart welled up with love again and again as I read it. Start with Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky and you too will be cheering for the young witch from The Chalk.

Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold (Simon & Schuster, $25.00). Fans of the Vorkosigan Saga have been chanting, “More Miles, more Miles, more Miles!” for nearly a decade! After several excursions into other new and fascinating worlds with wonderfully engaging characters, Bujold finally obliges.

Soon after the August paperback release of Scott Westerfeld’s wonderful steampunk YA novel Leviathan (Simon & Schuster, $9.99) comes Behemoth (Simon & Schuster, $18.99). I look forward to more of this alternate WWI with more dirigibles and more genetically engineered warships!

November 2010, Jennifer Woodfin

Friday, November 26, 2010

5 New Soft Items Janet Finds Impossible to Resist

Our merchandise has expanded to include a variety of plush toys, puppets, block sets, games, puzzles, and other beautifully crafted toys for babies and children. A few of my favorite items to hold include:

Red Dragon Puppet by Folkmanis ($21.99)
Silky, soft, brilliant red and gold with a face threatening but friendly. This dragon is simply aching for a hand inside to make it come alive.

Snowy Day Doll by Merrymakers ($14.00)
The most comforting first doll available, modeled after Ezra Jack Keats’ character Peter in The Snowy Day.

Classic Pooh Plush by Kids Preferred ($15.00)
Pooh and the rest as they appear in A. A. Milne's classic with luxurious fur.

Mini Finger Puppets by Folkmanis ($6.99-$7.99)
Owls, moose, bears, porcupines, and rabbits operated with the touch of a finger.

Musical Instrument Set by Kids Preferred ($25.00)
A quietly musical stuffed set in its own carrying bag. No headache-producing cymbals!

November 2010, Janet Elfant

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

5 Books That Stole Erica’s Innocence (And She Wants It Back)

This year marks the 16th anniversary of the release of the movie Pulp Fiction. I give Pulp Fiction the dubious honor of being THE MOVIE THAT STOLE MY CHILDHOOD. Before seeing it, I had only vague, shadowy imaginings of the concepts of drug overdose and male rape. Pulp Fiction exposed me to both amidst trenchant mirth and gleeful mayhem in harsh, glaring Technicolor. Here are five books that did something similar. Yeah, I’m a big girl now, but I don’t have to like it.

Flowers in the Attic/Petals on the Wind by V.C. Andrews (Simon Pulse, $10.99)
If V.C. Andrews were alive today I would totally shake her hand. Thanks for exposing me to incest. Thanks for making it eerily titillating in ways an 11 year-old can barely understand. Thanks for somehow making me believe that a brother and sister are meant to be together. Thanks for making me feel pervy all over again.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Vintage, $14.95)
People think Cormac McCarthy is brilliant. I think he sits at home thinking up new and horrific ways humans can kill and cannibalize each other. Father and son walk the road in a post-apocalyptic world gone all “Mad-Maxy” with roving bands of evil-doers, while trying to preserve their own humanity. Not only is this no country for old men, it’s apparently no country for my innocence—Cormac, you dark bastard.

John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins (WSP, $14.00)
What is it about little girls that makes them so damned evil? Strand them on a deserted island and the result is a hundred times more terrifying, gut-wrenching and erotically charged than Lord of the Flies. Oh, Robinson Crusoe, you think you had it tough. Just be glad you’re not a sailor by the name of John Dollar.

Beloved by Toni Morrison (Vintage, $15.00)
Holy heck, Toni Morrison! Did you have to do it? Did you have to use fiction as a means of bearing witness to atrocity and human suffering? Are you and Elie Wiesel engaged in some demented game of one-upmanship in which you try to outdo each other in portraying the horrors visited upon a people? How is it that a work for fiction can be so undeniably, irrevocably true?

Money by Martin Amis (Penguin, $15.00)
Wait, you mean you can write yourself into your own novel as, like, a character and then run into your own protagonist whom you have consequently named John Self? Which wall is this breaking, 4th, 5th, 6th? Be gentle with me, buddy. It’s my first time at metafiction and I hear the first time always hurts.

November 2010, Erica David

Monday, November 22, 2010

5 Kids' Books That Mo Likes to Recommend to Adults but that Kids Generally Like Too

Adults should generally read more kids' books.

Too Busy Marco by Roz Chast (Simon and Schuster, $16.99)
I know a lot of adults who need this book about how you have to go to bed when it is bedtime. So many people close to me stay up all night because they want to figure out how to save the world before they go to sleep. Marco's aspirations are much funnier though. Also Roz Chast is always a winner in my book.

Anh's Anger by Gail Silver, illustrated by Christiane Kromer
(Plum Blossom Books, $16.95)

It's okay to be angry. It's how you deal with being angry. This book proposes one way to deal with anger. Also it has beautiful illustrations.

We Are In a Book! by Mo Willems (Hyperion, $8.99)
Actually, to be honest I recommend pretty much every Mo Willems book to adults because they are funny and clever on so many levels. This one is best read out-loud. It's like a Droste picture. So much love for Mo Willems. Just read any of them when you need to laugh.

I Like You by Sandol Stoddard Warburg, illustrated by Jacqueline Chwast
(Houghton Mifflin, $6.95)

This book is sweet. Give it to a best friend or sweetie or someone you like.

17 Things i'm not allowed to do anymore by Jenny Offill & Nancy Carpenter (Random House, $15.99)
Sometimes it is fun to celebrate being bad. To get the full hilarity, you really have to look at the illustrations, but here is an excerpt: "I had an idea to do my George Washington report on beavers instead... I am not allowed to do reports on beavers anymore. I had an idea to dedicate my report to all beavers that ever lived... I am not allowed to dedicate my report to beavers anymore."

November 2010, Mo Speller

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jen’s 5 Birthday Books for the Store’s 5th Birthday!

Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson (Scholastic, $8.99)
The gift of a room of one’s own ... sort of.

Savvy by Ingrid Law (Penguin, $7.99)
The gift of figuring out one’s new gift.

Wringer by Jerry Spinelli (HarperCollins, $6.99)
The gift of facing dread ... and resisting.

Flora Segunda by Ysabeau Wilce (Houghton, $7.95)
The gift of unplanned opportunities to find one’s own way.

I Am Invited to a Party! by Mo Willems (HarperCollins, $8.99)
The gift of knowing parties.

November 2010, Jennifer Sheffield

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sheila's 5 Books for Turning 5!

These are all books I've discovered in the five years since the store opened and which capture why I love selling books: finding things I love and passing them along.

The Dreamhunter Duet by Elizabeth Knox (Dreamhunter and Dreamquake, Square Fish, $8.99 and $9.99)
Girls coming to grips with adolescence, dreams that can be caught and passed on like a virus, and an epic confrontation with villainy...what could be better? Why, a golem, of course!

Exit Music by Ian Rankin (Little, Brown, $7.99)
Rankin's flawed, legendary Detective Inspector John Rebus bows out after a 17-novel run in a gritty, gorgeous Edinburgh.

That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton (Hyperion is letting this one go out of print, but we'll try to keep the British edition around! Orchard Books, about $10.25)
Absolutely pitch-perfect depiction of an adventurer's relationship with her rabbit and her confrontation with the silly, naughty queen who wants to take him away, with playful, energetic illustrations. By the author of How to Train Your Dragon.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman (Plume, $16.00)
Openly riffing off of Harry Potter and Narnia, Grossman also borrows liberally from the hothouse world of Ivy League scholars and privileged, post-college Manhattanites figuring out how to grow up. Great entertainment.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (Mariner, $13.95)
A memoir in graphic form that belongs on the shelf next to Maus and Persepolis; Bechdel draws and writes a densely literary meditation on her father's closeted life and death and her own coming out.

November 2010, Sheila Avelin

Friday, October 29, 2010

Erica’s Five Adventures in Steampunk

Already you’re looking at me funny and I didn’t even do anything. I just said "steampunk" and you were all: huh? And I was all: you know, it’s kind of like a futuristic vision of the world based on a distinctly Victorian version of the future peopled with fantastical steam-powered machines, dirigibles called airships, people who fly them called aeronauts, bustles, monocles, goggles and other coggy, clockwork goodness inspired by the writings of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and authors of that ilk. You’re all: dude, you’re blowing my mind. Let’s go get an Orange Julius.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (Tor, $15.99)
While some version of Victorian England is often the setting for a steampunk adventure, it’s not a prerequisite. Boneshaker takes place in 19th century Seattle, in the midst of an alternative history where the Civil War still rages. The titular Boneshaker is an incredible drill engine which has destroyed Seattle proper, having released a poisonous gas that turns people into zombies. Zeke Wilkes enters the gas lands to clear his father’s name and it’s up to his resourceful mother Briar to track him down. Briar is definitely the clockwork heart of this fabulous, fantastical yarn which ticks toward conclusion at a rollicking pace.

Girl Genius Vol. 1: Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank by Phil and Kaja Foglio (Studio Foglio, $22.95)
The tagline says it all: a gaslamp fantasy with adventure, romance and mad science! I’m just gaga for mad science and Girl Genius doesn’t disappoint. It follows plucky heroine Agatha Clay, er, Heterodyne, a student at Transylvania Polynostic University, who, despite her dedication to the world of ingenious invention, can never actually get her inventions to work. All of that changes however, through a series of extraordinary events which reveal that Agatha may be a Spark, i.e., one with a special hereditary genius for mad science. This beautiful color edition graphic novel collects the first three issues of this ongoing comic turned web comic, which were originally published in black and white.

Soulless by Gail Carriger (Orbit, $7.99)
The first in what’s now the Parasol Protectorate series, Soulless features heroine Alexia Tarabotti who finds herself quite without a soul. Hellfire and damnation! I hate it when that happens. But don’t worry about Alexia, she’s got the perfect blend of grit and determination couched in impeccable manners to lead you through this frothy romp through a 19th century London peopled with vampires, preternaturals and other things that go bump in the gaslamp-lit night. Did I mention the ferociously dashing Lord Conall Maccon, Scottish werewolf? Insert sexy growl here.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1 by Alan Moore (Wildstorm, $14.99)
I want to be Alan Moore when I grow up. He’s given us Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell and a ton of other brilliant graphic novels and comics which haven’t been made into sh*tty movies. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was also made into a movie and its sh*tt*ness is debatable, but fortunately I’m talking about the graphic novel which isn’t sh*tty in the least. Six of England’s most brilliant champions, Alan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, Hawley Griffin, Dr. Henry Jekyll, Mr. Edward Hyde and Mina Murray (the former Mrs. Harker) are assembled by the mysterious Campion Bond to defeat a nefarious baddie bent on world domination. I love it when literary heroes team up like the Super Friends to kick some nefarious-criminal-mastermind-ass.

Android Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters (Quirk, $12.95)
The publishing kids these days are calling it a “mash-up” when you take a classic and add in some genre-bending element like fangers, werethings and zombie-doodles. I thought I was bored already, but then Android Karenina came along. I’ll be honest; I thought the original Anna Karenina was a total snooze-fest, so I’m all in favor of trying to spice it up by adding a few robots and airships. Plus there are pictures! Uh, maybe you would call them illustrations or plates. In fact there’s like a table of them. Faaaaaanncy! But seriously, though, this latest mash-up is jolly good steampunk fun, even while it explores class struggle and cultural politics through the lens of a robot servant class. It’s an improvement on the original for sure. Yeah, I said it. Strike me down, Tolstoy.

October 2010, Erica David

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Five Books Maleka Wants to Read (or Finish) This Fall

I start a lot of books and never finish them. It's not that I don't like them! It's just that there's laundry and book clubs and life. And then there are books that I never start but I keep staring at them in the store, petting them, waiting for the day to make them mine and devour the story whole. Okay, here's the list:

The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine (Anchor Books, $16.00)
Need. to. finish. this. Such a good beginning!

The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak (Viking, $25.95)
Also started but did not finish. I cannot wait to keep going. It's a love story with Rumi, y'all!

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, $8.99)
I love dystopias. No, seriously. One of my favorite books of all time is Brave New World! I can't wait to start this.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (Knopf, $24.95)
Hey, guys, I like to do things in bare feet! Also I want to start running again. I think this will give me inspiration.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Vintage Crime, $14.95)
I started this. I really wanted to love it so much that I wouldn't put it down for two days. But I just kind of liked it in a very medium sort of way. I want to finish though. I need to see why people love it!

October 2010, Maleka Fruean

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jen’s Five Books on the Power of the Written Word

Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin
(Houghton, $7.95)

When the city’s long-time invaders have outlawed all books and writing as the work of demons, how dangerous is it to live in a house with a secret library?

The Wild Girls by Pat Murphy
(Penguin, $7.99)

Sometimes the best way to make sense of your life -- or your life as you wish it to be -- is to start writing it down.

Extra Credit by Andrew Clements
(Simon & Schuster, $16.99)

A grudging extra credit international pen pal project turns into a surprising exploration of culture, gender, and writing.

Sahara Special by Esme Raji Codell
(HarperCollins, $5.99)

Does “special” have to mean “special education”? Or can a particular teacher turn it into something quite different?

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (HarperCollins, $8.99)
Take a small packet of letters, full of instructions and ideas, and open them one at a time...

October 2010, Jennifer Sheffield

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Kate’s Five Books That Changed the Way She Thinks About Society

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America by Barbara Ehrenreich (Holt Paperbacks, $14.00)

Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole by Benjamin Barber (Norton, $16.95)

The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler (Vintage Books, $16.00)

The Trouble With Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality by Walter Benn Michaels (Owl Books, $15.00)

Flat Broke With Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform by Sharon Hays (Oxford University Press, $19.95)

October 2010, Kate Musliner

Monday, October 25, 2010

Janet’s Five Books to Share with Your Daughter When the Time Is Right

Big Blue Marble Bookstore stocks a wonderful array of books dealing with physical and emotional maturation. Sharing the written word can often aid a mother's introductory fact-sharing regarding sexual development. You can leave books out to be pored over in private, which often leads to greater comfort and preparation. As your child gets older and privacy becomes more important, books can provide a sense of normalcy to the highs and lows of emotional swings and the equally shifting tides of friendships. Below are a few choices available at our store:

Cycle Savvy by Toni Weschler, MPH (HarperCollins, $14.95)

Body Drama by Nancy Amanda Redd (Penguin, $20.00)

Girls Against Girls by Bonnie Burton (Zest Books, $12.95)

Taking Care of Your "Girls" by Marisa C. Weiss, M.D. and Isabel Friedman (Three River Press, $15.95)

It's Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley (Candlewick Press, $12.99)

October 2010, Janet Elfant

Monday, October 18, 2010

Five Books About Earth That Prove Mo Has a Dirty Mind

Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in a Time of Climate Crisis by Vandana Shiva (South End Press, $15.00)

I love this book. Using India as a kind of case study, Shiva gives a brilliant critique of industrial agriculture and the failures of many forms of “development” to improve the lives of the poor or address climate change. She also explains how our current crisis also provides an opportunity to establish what she calls “Earth Democracy,” a truly democratic society that values the earth and the local independent farmer.

The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic America by Patricia Klindeinst (Random House, $18.00)
Klindeinst challenges the image of migrants and immigrants as “uprooted” through descriptions of several families and communities shape their adopted lands by farming and gardening.

Two Picture Books for Kids
Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals, Ilustrated by Ashley Wolf (Random House, $15.99)

What goes into compost?

[Editor's note: Compost Stew is also one of Jen's August Picks.]

Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin (Joanna Cotler Books, $16.99)
The inner thoughts and desires of a worm can be pretty hilarious.

A Picture Book for Grown-ups
A Field Guide to Sprawl by Dolores Hayden, with Photographs by Jim Wark (W.W. Norton, $22.95)

Aerial photos of landscapes that demonstrate our terrifying infrastructure, parking lots, and developments at their worst.

October 2010, Mo Speller

Friday, October 15, 2010

Poetic License Horoscope for Oct 15-21

Poetic License Horoscope Oct 15-21

Libra (Sept. 24-Oct. 21): Take yourself home early tonight, Libra. Light a candle for each bauble in your jewelry box heart—diamonds to costume—and drink hot cocoa amidst the conflagration. Happy birthday, again.

Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 22): Sally Draper’s one friend in the world is Glen, a football-playing misfit and fellow child of divorce. He listens to her talk about her dreams. Let’s pretend Betty isn’t about to separate them!

Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): You would travel all the way across town to root for a friend, even if she’s just singing karaoke. Pick your favorite song and join her. Bonus points if it’s “Don’t Stop Believin.”

Capricorn (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): The other day my wife and I waited in line for four hours to see The Roots and President Obama at the “Moving America Forward” rally. Both have themes of change and ask “Why do haters separate us like we Siamese?”

Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, /the world offers itself to your imagination, /calls to you like wild geese, harsh and exciting-/over and over announcing your place/in the family of things.”—Mary Oliver

Pisces (Feb. 20-March 20): In The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Rose, the main character, can taste the emotions of the people who’ve prepared the food she eats. She is usually 1. Very hungry. 2. Eating very processed foods for their factory anonymity. and 3. Envying her friend Eliza, whose sandwiches taste like happiness.

Aries (March 21-April 18): Volunteer to work in the upcoming election. It may not work, but it’s more fun than helplessness.

Taurus (April 19-May 18): When I first moved to Philadelphia, I worked with children from Fulton Elementary School. When the President spoke at that same school the other day, we ended up behind my favorite Fulton student. Out of a crowd of 18,000! It felt like a nod from the Universe.

Gemini (May 19-June 21): Take an extra walk today. The air smells like acorns and ozone. The fall flowers are bejeweling the place—blue salvia, fuchsia and purple aster, sunflower and dried hydrangea. Take a break from your headphones and listen to birds.

Cancer (June 22-July 23): A pal of mine included special pre-party suggestions in her party invite, to keep people from being too early and awkward. Somebody’s gotta arrive first, though, and those are your best friends.

Leo (July 24-Aug. 23): Enjoy this quote from Le Petit Prince: "To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world. . ."

Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 23): I had a dream that you were sitting around a table talking on the subject of “belonging.” Everyone in the group was saying things like “I don’t know how to make friends.” “I don’t know how to make connections.” and “I feel kind of extra.” You all bonded on having the exact same fears, then went out for drinks.

by Jane Cassady

Friday, October 08, 2010

Poetic License Horoscope for Oct 8-14

Libra (Sept. 24-Oct. 21): Oh, darling. You need a good, bossy wife, someone to keep the fridge full of nutrients, let you spend what you need to, make you sleep regularly, to check if you’re taking actual lunch breaks at work, which should preferably be spent reading.

Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 22): Parents whose children have achieved You Tube fame should leave well enough alone. I don’t need to see “Kittens Inspired By Kittens Girl Explains World War II” or “Deleted Scenes from Jessica’s Affirmation.” Let the kids go outside, already.

Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): Make yourself a mix called “Positive Expressions of Negative Emotions.” You may want to include “I Don’t Love Anyone” by Belle and Sebastian, which includes: “I met a man today/And he told me something pretty strange. There's always somebody saying something/He said, "The world was as soft as lace."

Capricorn (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): At the end of this week’s Mad Men, Dr. Faye has sold herself out for the good of Don’s company. She lays her head on his shoulder and “Welcome to my World” plays over the credits. Influence is real. Avoid snuggling up to handsome shapeshifters.

Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): I’m bothered by the Lifetime-ization of this season’s Project Runway—you can hardly tell its promos from Reviving Ophelia’s. Let’s leave aside the broken heroines and get back to the sewing, please.

Pisces (Feb. 20-March 20): Rumi wrote: “Each has to enter the nest made by the other imperfect bird.” Collect your twigs and ribbon, your delicate detritus, your molted feathers. Use your little mess to decorate someone’s heart.

Aries (March 21-April 18): It’s GBLT History Month! Celebrate by visiting “It Gets Better,” Dan Savage’s You Tube channel where LGBT grown-ups post videos encouraging our youth to hang in there. The wife and I are gonna make a video for it, just as soon as we clean the house.

Taurus (April 19-May 18): In the immortal words of Tracey Jordan: “I lost my mood ring and I don’t know how I feel about it.”

Gemini (May 19-June 21): I went and visited my childhood home last week. The latest owners had fixed it up so nice and cheerful. It was freshly painted and expanded, and they added more trees, a pond, and a carriage house—fancy! Seeing it that way made my soul feel refurbished.

Cancer (June 22-July 23): See how many versions of “I Can’t Stand the Rain” you can find/ I think you’ll discover that not only are you super fly, but you are, in fact, super duper fly.

Leo (July 24-Aug. 23): The radio edit of Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You” sounds really boring. While redubbers-of-80s-movies-for-TV may disagree, “Forget” is not a synonym for “Fuck.”

Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 23): I’m having trouble thinking up any slogans to put on a placard for my trip down to Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity”—I think maybe that’s because I am immoderate. Oh well, emotional lefties change the world all the time for the better.

by Jane Cassady

Friday, October 01, 2010

Poetic License Horoscope for Oct 1-7

Libra (Sept. 24-Oct. 21): Happy Birthday Month, Libra! Make 100 wishes, fill them out on laminated cards, and read them like the Tarot to strangers.

Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 22): Will Sally Draper actually get to go see the Beatles at Shea Stadium like her father promised, or will her ticket go to Don’s pretty new secretary? It’s really the only plot point that matters.

Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): Stand up to the sitcom bullies of your life, get back your lunch money, your heart, your publication credits; hold them like treasure in your fists, like weight.

Capricorn (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): Martin Seligman, founder of Positive Psychology, began his path to positivity by discovering that tortured dogs often do not take the chance to leap over a partition to freedom. This is called learned helplessness. Some of the dogs did leap, though. That’s you.

Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): Katy Perry said that being on Sesame Street was the best thing that ever happened to her in her life. Watch her chase Elmo around in the banned-from-Sesame-Street-video. Meditate on opposites.

Pisces (Feb. 20-March 20): Experiment with space like this: leave a crowded room full of noise and go walk around the block with someone you trust. See what you find. When you get back, the noise won’t matter.

Aries (March 21-April 18): In the debut issue of Apiary (a journal of Philadelphia poets), Laura Spagnoli wrote a gorgeous and funny poem about the PECO building, which includes the following: “We are 40 foot LED words/digital dolls, rainbow colorized/We are local time and temperature.”

Taurus (April 19-May 18): They used to only make tinsel for Christmas, but now there’s everything: heart tinsel, bat tinsel, Easter egg tinsel, etc. Build yourself a fortress of it.

Gemini (May 19-June 21): The world is your apple orchard. there’s no need to pay for the hayride, we can walk to the trees. Fill up your bushels and carry them, have sweetness ‘til January.

Cancer (June 22-July 23): A few years ago I was babysitting my nephew Kieran. Even though it was a FREEZING April morning at the edge of Lake Ontario, we went to the playground. His little nose got very runny and I didn’t have a tissue, so I pulled my sweatshirt sleeve over my hand and told him to blow, then folded over the operative cuff. I wish I were always that loving.

Leo (July 24-Aug. 23): In Jonathan Franzen’s book Freedom, there’s only one character who is not a jerk. She loves unconditionally and un-martyr-like. (SPOILER ALERT) She gets a songbird preserve named after her. That’s you.

Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 23): You were last seen lighting a match—was it to burn bridges or sit vigils? Either way, keep walking.

by Jane Cassady

Friday, September 24, 2010

Poetic License Horoscope for September 24-29

A Mini Tarot Reading

(Note: If you enjoy made-up advice and pop-culture mysticism, come visit me at the Mount Airy Village Fair this Sunday, September 26th! You can get a totally made up Tarot reading, make September Valentines, and peruse my brand new book of love poems, Adventures of A Lazy Polyamorist. XOXOXOX-Jane)

Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 23): Four of Cups-: Gloria Steinem said “Women have a terminal case of gratitude.” I recently switched my Gratitude Journal to a Happiness List. I felt like being so grateful made me disappear and get taken for granted. Dial back the thank you notes, but still notice what you’re given.

Libra (Sept. 24-Oct. 21): Force- A fancy lady is grasping the lion’s jaw. The lion looks kind of abashed. You are wearing infinity as hat—grasp the application process, your bank balance, your forgotten novel, any untamable thing.

Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 22): The Sun- Your egg has hatched, your community garden is exploding with tomatoes, and your tweets are retweeted to rival Rob Cordry’s. Like Lady Gaga bringing her asked-and-told soldiers onto the red carpet and into the news cycle, use your weird voice for good.

Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): Ten of Wands- If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it might be a good time to remember that gold is heavy. Delegate some of your riches; pass it on like coins along the road.

Capricorn (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): The Lovers- Your interloper might not be an arrow-wielding centaur, but nonetheless you need some element of hybridizing, some alchemy, even if it only means switching to half-decaf, making art in mixed media, or being a little two-faced.

Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): Five of Cups- Something you put a lot of stock in is starting to lose some of its meaning—that very well COULD be you in the spotlight, losing your religion. Be lost. Be a little at sea and see what floats by next.

Pisces (Feb. 20-March 20): Wheel of Fortune- I married a woman who is excellent at making paper boats. I would advise you to do the same. It doesn’t matter if you lose your crown or ascend to the seagulls; these temporary vessels keep you strangely grounded.

Aries (March 21-April 18): The Moon- Once, when I was 20 or so, I stayed up all night painting The Moon card for Joe Prisco, a boyfriend of questionable value. He dumped me that very weekend, but a least I had the painting.

Taurus (April 19-May 18): Five of Coins- In the words of LCD Soundsystem, “Drunk girls know that love is an astronaut. It comes back but it’s never the same.” Try again anyway.

Gemini (May 19-June 21): Nine of Wands- Choose nine things you can’t do anything about this week. Don’t do anything about them.

Cancer (June 22-July 23): Queen of Cups- According to heartthrob folk singer Peter Mulvey, “The trouble with shoes is they come untied. You might take a fall down the stairs. Then a poet might come along and say “Isn’t that just like life?” The trouble with poets is they see poetry everywhere.” Be like that.

Leo (July 24-Aug. 23): The Magician- Intuition isn’t just blindly letting your feelings make your decisions. It’s using the information already stored in your brain. Blink like Malcolm Gladwell, Leo, and trust your decisions.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Poetic License Horoscope for Sept 17-23

A Little Surly in Places

Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 23): My last trip to the ocean this summer was all about getting pummeled by waves, falling into the surf over and over, struggling to the left or right as the lifeguard whistled us to safety. It was sandy for my bathing suit and cleanse-y for my soul.

Libra (Sept. 24-Oct. 21): Channel your inner Steven Slater, who over the summer became a national hero when he quit his flight attendant job in a flourish of swears and beer. No need to quit, but do take a break from the corporate yolk of forced cheerfulness, before you get trapped in the air with it.

Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 22): A fake Buddhist guest speaker at church a few weeks ago suggested that the Gulf Oil Spill was a result of bad Karma that came from us not trying hard enough to stop the war. Didn’t she hear the dolphins picketing, the turtles quietly lighting themselves on fire? People are as careless with the word “Karma” as they are with the word “literally.”

Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): Can we dispatch a fleet of educators just to talk lovingly and instructively to children on the bus? Instead of telling them to shut up? That would be a good job for you.

Capricorn (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): Like a parent who finds the house too quiet now that his or her brood has gone back to school, take time to fold the laundry in silence. Read a book. Read seven. Watch inappropriate things on the television. Swear yourself silly.

Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): Things to do before you trade in your old phone: mourn your grandfather’s last number. Forward your talisman-texts to someone you trust. Appreciate the size of the buttons. Put your photos someplace safe.

Pisces (Feb. 20-March 20): Monday night I was walking in Love Park with my wife when a presidential motorcade happened by. The next morning I saw the Secret Service metal detecting kids on their way into school. It was like someone was noticing us. (But he never texts anymore…)

Aries (March 21-April 18): The absolute value of a number is its distance from zero on the number line. The absolute value of -7 is 7. The absolute value of work is its closeness to sincerity. I don’t know how to graph that.

Taurus (April 19-May 18): You get Mad Men this week! Don Draper realized that he may not be able to handle the new generation of women because they tend to speak more freely. At the same time, he realized they were pretty willing to give blow jobs. I guess the moral here is, let people speak.

Gemini (May 19-June 21): Last week on Project Runway, Mondo was dismayed to find himself paired with Michael C. until they actually started the project and he discovered that his partner was much more competent than groupthink dictated. Weren’t they ADORABLE snuggling at the end?

Cancer (June 22-July 23): This week, think about forbidden things. Tack up pictures of lost loves on your bulletin board. Go ahead and hate on some virtuous people. Covet covet covet! Think some beloved bands are overrated. The world probably won’t end.

Leo (July 24-Aug. 23): I am considering graduating myself from therapy for this reason: The lady suggested that I interrupt my wife’s job-hunting to talk about how unhappy her current job makes us.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Poetic License Horoscope for September 13-19

From the Last Day of Summer

Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 23): I’m writing this from a bench in the Wissahickon. In front of me, a family is applauding. Behind me, a child is playing “Yellow Submarine” on the violin. Congratulate yourself on a summer well spent.

Libra (Sept. 24-Oct. 21): (SPOILER ALERT?) Don Draper: "Somebody very important to me died. "Peggy: "Who?" Don: "The only person in the world who really knew me." Peggy: "That's not true." Don’s at his best when he’s with his gal pals, and so are you.

Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 22): Learn to identify birdsongs so that you can think of them as portents. The purple finch means “all is well.” The oriole means “Are you KIDDING me with how beautiful this is?” The blue jay means “You’re waking up at home.”

Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): Once you start birdwatching, you’ll realize how little detail you were seeing before. You’ll realize that what you thought were sparrows were actually chickadees, house finches, winter goldfinches, juncos, and sparrows. Start seeing the whole spectrum of birds.

Capricorn (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): A Capricorn pal asked me to write cooler predictions for her, but think of it as a Rorschach test—I could press a butterfly into the ink between the folded pages, but you could see absolutely anything.

Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): This month’s Glamour features an article called “How to Get Over the Guy You Can’t Get Over.” It is illustrated by a picture of a girl with a Polaroid in her polka dot undies. The advice goes from “Go Ahead and Wallow,” to “Move the Eff on Already.” To avoid whatever you need to get over, you won’t have to miss many parties.

Pisces (Feb. 20-March 20): Big lug Lane on Big Brother had this to say when housemate Britney won $10,000: "Damn it, she does not need 10 Gs. She's gonna use that for lipstick and leggings." Help yourself to as many alliterative luxuries as you can this week.

Aries (March 21-April 18): In Carolyn Parkhurst’s novel The Nobodies Album, the protagonist is a novelist in the process of rewriting the endings of all her books to try and fix her life. You don’t need rewritings, though, just sequels.

Taurus (April 19-May 18): Make a list of your summer accomplishments. Include tomatoes grown, currents fought, TV series watched in one sitting. Light the list on fire for one more set of S’mores.

Gemini (May 19-June 21): Go ahead and pray for the things you want. Your deity of choice will certainly accept your crumpled list. Don’t ask me how I know this.

Cancer (June 22-July 23): Anne Lamott said “Write like your parents are dead.” but that is too grisly for me. How about “Write like your in-laws aren’t on your Facebook.” (Confidential to Lawsons: LOVE YOU!)

Leo (July 24-Aug. 23): I have been meaning to learn the names of butterflies, but I’ve been putting it off. So I Googled “Butterfly identification” and saved some directories to the desktop. 1. I feel a little richer that way. 2. I think I saw a Mourning Cloak.

by Jane Cassady

Friday, September 03, 2010

Poetic License Horoscope Sept 3-9

Who Watches Giles?

Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 23): Write your ten birthday wishes out in sparkle-icing on a sheet cake. Learn to make frosting roses, it’s about time. Count your hopes in sugar petals. Avoid red food coloring, it’s bitter.

Libra (Sept. 24-Oct. 21): By way of alleviating stress, call up ten people you love and say nice things about them. Be emphatic. Your aches and pains will decrease.

Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 22): The motto of Harry’s Occult Shop over on South Street is “We aim to help.” You get the feeling that by “we” they don’t mean “We the guys behind the apothocary counter,” but more like “We and all the unseen forces of the universe.” Ask for that kind of help.

Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): This week, be like Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Be a Watcher to every wild force for goodness, every supernaturally strong slangy archetype. Don’t wish you were somewhere that’s else.

Capricorn (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): You are a calendar of how to make strawberry shortcake. On Monday, decide biscuits or sweet sponge cake. Tuesday, slice the strawberries, etc.

Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): How to have a lovely Baroque-pop catharsis: 1. Set up Google Chrome as your browser. 2. Close all other windows. 3. Go to www.thewildernessdowntown.com. 4. Type in your first address. 5. Search.

Pisces (Feb. 20-March 20): It might be difficult for Mad Men to make rock bottom look stylish. Luckily, you have no such worries. You are as fresh and bright as a new hat.

Aries (March 21-April 18): This week, a guru of mine very quickly became an un-guru when she made fun of a man who kept his dog on a very long leash. This is at least a failure of imagination.

Taurus (April 19-May 18): I forget the name of the artist who installed a tree branch over the gate at Dia:Beacon as a piece of art. Turning the branch upside-down fooled it into thinking it was alive and blooming one last time.

Gemini (May 19-June 21): Something I learned while napping to Radiolab: until very recently, like the 1970s, zoos were nothing but wire cages and concrete. Be like whoever it was who came up with naturalistic animal habitats—still a zoo, but still.

Cancer (June 22-July 23): In her poem “Other Prohibited Items,” Martha Greenfield lists items confiscated at airport security, including a sentimental wrench, rare rosewater, breast milk still warm. What should you travel with? What should you risk?

Leo (July 24-Aug. 23): Some ponderings about Gretchen from Project Runway: 1. Do you think she knows she’ll be edited this way? 2. She’s just saying out loud what our Monkey Mind is always yammering about. 3. How does one go on after having been yelled at by Tim Gunn?

by Jane Cassady

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Jen’s Top Ten Alphabets All Around

Animalia by Graeme Base (Penguin, $7.00)

Alphabet City by Stephen Johnson (Penguin, $6.99)

Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert (Sandpiper, $7.99 in paper; Harcourt, $6.99 or $11.99 as board books of different sizes)

Creature ABC by Andrew Zuckerman (Chronicle Books, $19.99)

Alphabet by Matthew Van Fleet (Simon & Schuster, $19.99)

Q is for Duck by Mary Etting (Houghton, $6.95)

I Spy: An Alphabet in Art, devised and selected by Lucy Micklethwait (HarperCollins, $10.99)

Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Alphabet Book by Muriel Feelings
(Penguin, $6.99)

Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals
(Random House, $15.99)

Alligators All Around by Maurice Sendak
(HarperCollins, $5.95 alone, $16.95 as part of the Nutshell Library)

August 2010, Jennifer Sheffield

Kate's Top Five Favorite Kids’ Chapter Books with Plucky Heroines

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
(Random House, $5.99)
One of the most well-loved heroines of all time, 12-year-old orphan Anne Shirley captures hearts with her stubborn optimism and indomitable spirit in the face of harsh life circumstances.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Spear
(Yearling Books, $6.99)
This book tells the story of Kit Tyler, a 16-year-old girl living in 17th century colonial America who is forced to take matters into her own hands to save herself and those she cares about from an unjust fate.

Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
(Trophy Press, $6.99)
14-year-old Catherine is the daughter of a knight in 12th century medieval England who is determined to marry her off against her will. But spunky Catherine has other ideas, and sets about foiling her father's plans at every turn.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
(Penguin Books, $5.99)
Life is one big adventure for Pippi Longstocking, a charmingly irreverent and outrageous heroine who takes her neighbors Tommy and Annika along for the ride on her crazy escapades.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
(HarperCollins, $6.99)
Ella of Frell was saddled with a terrible curse at birth: she must obey every order given to her. But that won't stop spirited Ella from setting out on an adventure to save a prince, his kingdom and herself in the process!

August 2010, Kate Musliner

Sheila’s Picks: On Beyond Heather Has Two Mommies! -- Picture books featuring LGBT themes or family members

1. Mini Mia and her Darling Uncle by Pija Lindenbaum

2. The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein

3 & 4. Mommy, Mama, and Me, and Daddy, Papa, and Me, two board books by Lesléa Newman

5. In Our Mother's House, by Patricia Polacco

6 & 7. King and King and King and King and Family by Linda de Haan

August 2010, Sheila Avelin

Monday, August 30, 2010

Five of Kasey's Favorite Poetry Collections

Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems by Mark Doty (Perennial, $15.99)
Mark Doty writes both memoirs and poetry, and consequently his memoirs are full of gorgeously poetic images, and his poems of moving narratives from his life. His partner's death from AIDS, finding new love later in life, relationships with dogs and with the natural world--these subjects, and many others, fill the pages of Fire to Fire and make reading it an unforgettable experience.

Otherwise: New and Selected Poems by Jane Kenyon (Graywolf, $16.00)
There are so many things I love about Jane Kenyon's poems: her quiet, plain-spoken voice; her powerful relationship with the plants in her garden, her cats, her New Hampshire town; her deeply emotional, mysterious, sometimes ambivalent spiritual life. This book, my favorite of hers, combines the best poems from her first four books, and is the perfect place to begin to explore her world.

After by Jane Hirshfield (Perennial, $14.99)
Jane Hirshfield has been one of my favorite poets for as long as I can remember, and I've read this collection, her most recent, over and over again, falling a little more in love with it each time. Hirshfield's subjects are love, longing, impermanence, the natural world; her poems are some of the most gorgeous and moving ones I know.

New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver (Beacon, $17.00)
Mary Oliver is a wonderful poet for everyone, but especially for people who are intimidated by poetry or feel that it's going to be too hard or obscure for them to enjoy. Oliver's work is full of depth and beauty, but it's also incredibly accessible and open. She writes largely about the grace and healing powers of the natural world.

The Kingdom of Ordinary Time by Marie Howe (Norton, $13.95)
Marie Howe is much like Mary Oliver in the sense that her work is wonderfully accessible, but her subject matter couldn't be more different. Her second (and also amazing) book, What the Living Do, is mostly about her beloved brother's death from AIDS; The Kingdom of Ordinary Time deals with the deaths of loved ones, too, but also with relationships, mothering, friendship, movies, and spiritual life. It reads both like a fabulous memoir and like the evocative, moving poetry it is.

August 2010, Kasey Jueds

Friday, August 27, 2010

Poetic License Horoscope for August 27-September 2

“Art is the center of the real world. Philadelphia is the center of the art world.”-various mosaics

Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 23): Happy birthday month, fellow Virgos, and thanks for being good sports about however I decide to self-soothe on any given week. Anyway! Number of years I’ve been going to clubs: 20! Amount that house music has changed: 0. Appreciate your patterns, your looped samples, the comfort of your constant beats.

Libra (Sept. 24-Oct. 21): Today my therapist gave me a note card that says this: “Don’t fight with yourself. Let yourself be wrong and sometimes stupid.” She knew it was the right advice when I started laughing my ass off.

Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 22): This is what the fortune cookie that came with my iced coffee says: “You will make many changes before settling satisfactorily.” It makes me a little antsy, but it might work for you.

Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): There’s a pop song stuck in my head. I just Googled it, it’s by La Roux. It goes “This time baby/I’ll be/bulletproof.” That is a silly but very appealing idea. Indulge it!

Capricorn (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): This month I’ve resolved to be less Allison and more Peggy. In case you don’t watch Mad Men, allow me to translate: let’s be less the brokenhearted secretary and more the arty copywriter in the midst of a consciousness-awakening.

Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): Have you ever been to The Blue Grotto in Philadelphia? Conceptual artist Randy Dalton wanted to give Philadelphia a blue ribbon for its arts contributions, so he made these beautiful environments of found objects bathed in varied blue lights. Give yourself a prize like that. Light up the color of swimming pools. Send the message to landing planes.

Pisces (Feb. 20-March 20): Draw a map of your childhood home. Be very specific—don’t forget the lilac bush, the sauce-stained sink, the rough wallpaper. Open the door and start redecorating, or at least wash the dishes.

Aries (March 21-April 18): The other day my wife and I were walking to the store when a drunk man started hollering at us, yelling comments about our asses and such. Usually I’d just scowl and walk away, but this time, it was very satisfying to swear back at him.

Taurus (April 19-May 18): According to The United States of Tara, we sometimes package our vulnerable parts and jettison them. Find and open all of these pretty little pathos-packages. Save the ribbons.

Gemini (May 19-June 21): In the words of Lucille Clifton, for my brother who’s leaving college soon: “may you/open your eyes to water/water waving forever/and may you in your innocence/sail through this to that.”

Cancer (June 22-July 23): I generally take advice from the poetry quotes in the church bulletin: "One day the sun admitted, I am just a shadow. I wish I could show you The Infinite Incandescence that has cast my brilliant image! I wish I could show you, When you are lonely or in darkness, The Astonishing Light Of your own Being!"-Hafiz

Leo (July 24-Aug. 23): Sometimes you can decide that you are quite edified enough, thank you very much, and that all you want to do after all these weeks of making beautiful things is to go home and see how things turn out with the Diamond Power of Veto on Big Brother. Your soul wants junk.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Janet’s Picks: What to Do with Your Toddler When It's Too Hot to Do Anything

Sandra Boynton has withstood the test of time for favorite toddler reads. Her animals are whimsical, colors tend toward the primary, and text remains simple and humorous. After twenty years, I still sometimes catch myself going to bed with the words, "Moo, Baa, LA LA LA", running through my head. So when the heat index again reaches 110 degrees, bring your toddler into our air-conditioning and take your time enjoying our collection. There is joy awaiting on the back cover of each board book. Eight covers of other Boynton books are displayed. Hear exclamations of which books are owned and at home, which were bought for a present, and which might be bought in the future. Below are a few old favorites, bath helps, and newer additions:

Moo, BAA, LA LA LA! (Little Simon Books, $5.99)

My Piggy Book (Little Simon Books, $16.95)
Ideal for car rides, My Piggy Book is a plush toy to cuddle complete with six padded pages and a snout that oinks.

Barnyard Bath (Workman Publishing, $7.95)
A perfect bath toy for getting through the dreaded shampoo. Your toddler can read away, turning pages as you scrub and rinse.

Philadelphia Chickens (Workman Publishing, $16.95)
Complete with a CD, pages of lyrics, musical scores, and dance steps, Philadelphia Chickens is one of a series of musicals that will delight all.

Big Box of Boynton (Workman Publishing, $18.95)
This set includes Barnyard Dance...Pajama Time...Oh My Oh My Dinosaurs! Sets make a perfect new baby gift.

August 2010, Janet Elfant

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mo’s Five Books That Relate to Cities and Ecology

(3 of which are about projects to make your home sustainable, and 2 of which are children’s books about urban gardens to inspire you)

Toolbox For Sustainable City Living by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew
(South End Press, $16.00)
This book gives detailed instruction on how to carry out various sustainability related home projects--from passive solar, to grey water recycling, to small turbines.

Dam Nation: Dispatches for the Water Underground edited by Cleo Woelfle-Erskine (Soft Skull Press, $19.95)
This book discusses in-depth the ecological devastation caused by dams and modern water systems and then gives detailed instructions on building grey water systems.

Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System by Mary Appelhof (Flowerfield Enterprises, $12.95)

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
(Little, Brown & Company, $16.99)
This book is based on the Highline in Manhattan, a garden made on old elevated railroad tracks. My favorite line is “The garden was especially curious about old, forgotten things.”

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart (Square Fish, $6.99)
A girl moves from the country to the city and brings her garden to the rooftop of a row-house and a smile to her Uncle’s face.

[Editor's note: The Curious Garden and The Gardener are also among Maleka's June picks.]

August 2010, Mo Speller

Monday, August 23, 2010

Erica’s Five Last Lines That Seal the Deal

Oh, you know you’ve done it. You open a book and flip right to the end. You read the last line first, you impatient, spoiler-loving son of a gun! I do it because I like an author who knows how to close. If you can nail the end, then at least I know you’re good for a beginning and a middle.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
(Harper Perennial, $14.99)
“Slowly, very slowly, like two unhurried compass needles, the feet turned towards the right; north, north-east, east, south-east, south, south-south-west; then paused, and, after a few seconds, turned as unhurriedly back towards the left. South-south west, south, south-east, east…”

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
(W. W. Norton, $13.95)
“And so farewell from your little droog. And to all others in this story profound shooms of lipmusic brrrrrr. And they can kiss my sharries. But you, O my brothers, remember sometimes thy little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal.”

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
(Riverhead Books, $15.00)
“He wrote that he couldn’t believe he had to wait for this so goddamn long. (Yabón was the one who suggested calling the wait something else. Yeah, like what? Maybe, she said, you could call it life.) He wrote: So this is what everybody’s always talking about. Diablo! If only I’d known. The beauty! The beauty!”

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
(Little Brown & Company, $6.99)
“If you want to know the truth, I don’t know what I think about it. I’m sorry I told so many people about it. About all I know is, I sort of miss everybody I told about. Even old Stradlater and Ackley for instance. I think I even miss that goddam Maurice. It’s funny. Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
(Harper Perennial, $14.99)
“Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes. She called in her soul to come and see.”

August 2010, Erica David

Friday, August 20, 2010

Poetic License Horoscope for August 20-26

Spending Warm Summer Days Indoors, Like the Smiths

Leo (July 24-Aug. 23): Once you pointed out that when the contestants on, say, The Next Food Network Star, are talking about how the camera makes them freeze up, they are, IN FACT talking to the camera, it kind of turned my world upside-down.

Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 23): Make no mistake: Sometimes we are all just Mad Men secretaries, crying in a Pond’s focus group about the fleetingness of the muse’s attention. Nothing to do but wash your face, smash a vase, and wait.

Libra (Sept. 24-Oct. 21): This week, inspired by the hack-bot that stole my email contacts, I am meditating on imperfection. Please take all implosions, sick days, and the way things are collapsing like an Inception cityscape as signs that the universe loves you and wants you to start fresh.

Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 22): Last weekend I went camping with my family. One of the highlights was sitting around reading with my little niece. She was reading an incredibly well-loved copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix. Love something/someone so much that the pages come out, the edges furl, the binding unglues, but the story is still legible.

Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): From Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: “It is pretty clear that the creator itself did not know when to stop. There is not one pink flower, or even fifty pink flowers, but hundreds…this creator looks suspiciously like someone who just might send support for your creative ventures.”

Capricorn (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): In The New York Regional Mormon Singles Dance, Elna Baker hilariously weighs the dilemmas which arise between her secular self and her Mormon self. In the end, though, she can’t see the moon without saying “Hi, God.”

Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): In Sloane Crosleys’ book I Was Told There’d Be Cake, she writes about working in the Museum of Natural History’s butterfly exhibit. Once, she didn’t check her coat well enough before clocking out—a tiny rare blue butterfly had ridden her lapel to freedom.

Pisces (Feb. 20-March 20): Feng Shui your life. Recycle you recyclables. Remove all old bosses, famous strangers, and nemeses from your email contacts. Return the stagnant Chi of unread library books.

Aries (March 21-April 18): Every time I watch The Real L Word, I think these three things: 1. This show is mostly about emptiness, and that’s okay. 2. I’m very grateful that my wife is accepted and loved as a member of my family. Shame on you, Tracy’s mom. 3. Natalie: run!

Taurus (April 19-May 18): One summer not too long ago, my friend Ty and I decided to fill plastic Easter eggs with various talismans: love notes, drawings, chess pieces, mini tarot cards, etc. We hid them all around the city of Syracuse, NY. Give random and unexpected gifts, preferably to strangers.

Gemini (May 19-June 21): My mom says that when she dreams about camping, it’s not the recreation, but the cooking. Try a new recipe for campfire eggs. Eat bacon out of a foil pan. Be flexible about what can be called coffee.

Cancer (June 22-July 23): Go to the stillest body of water you can find. Find some round, flat stones. Practice your skipping technique. Meditate on gravity, water, erosion.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Poetic License Horoscope, August 13 to August 20

Your Horoscopist Is Kind of an Emo Girl

(Thanks to Jake Lamanna, whose record collection this is.)

Leo (July 24-Aug. 23): This week is my wife’s birthday. I would like to give her all of her wishes: a comma in the bank balance, a job closer to home, time to rest. She’ll have to settle for Wednesday shows, cheesecake, and a nice long letter.

Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 23): Here’s some very practical advice: never go on the Facebook when you are feeling fragile. Everything you scroll past will look like a party you weren’t invited to. Worst of all, you’ll get comment-itis.

Libra (Sept. 24-Oct. 21): Look at all of the “Back to School” signs, all the emo commercials with mothers (always mothers) waving sadly at school busses. Take them as a sign that it’s time to purchase huge stacks of notebooks at discounted rates. I got my year’s worth, 10 for a dollar.

Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 22): All you can see are sunsets, the lavender tint in the sky, the filigree of light at the edges of the clouds. Go ahead and let this be the end of something. It’s the sun. It generally comes up again.

Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): “It’s too late to change your mind. You let loss be your guide.” say the Broken Bells. I guess it’s as good a guide as any, though.

Capricorn (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): You are like the Map Collection Room at the Philadelphia Free Library; hundreds of wide, flat drawers with every possible expanse and measurement. Find your longitude and latitude.

Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): I want to say once and for all that heartbreak is a terribly inefficient fuel for creativity. It burns up everything, bright and fast. It’s time find something more sustainable, if less sparky.

Pisces (Feb. 20-March 20): An old pal of mine posted a picture of his massive, hot, sexy record collection. Beneath that, another friend had sent a link to an episode of Hoarders. Decide what’s riches and what’s trash, before you get swallowed up.

Aries (March 21-April 18): The stars are taking requests this week, Aries. What would you like? Concert tickets? An opulent stroll through Longwood Gardens? An ill-advised dinner with an old flame? It’s up to you, and it’s all yours.

Taurus (April 19-May 18): Remember the episode of The Office where they’re all at the beach for some reason, and Pam does the firewalk? The adrenaline rush and burnt feet give her the courage to call out Jim in front of everybody for ignoring her. She kind of gives everyone the what for. Be like that.

Gemini (May 19-June 21): In her wonderful writing book Bird by Bird, Annie Lamott says “After a few days at the desk, telling the truth in an interesting way turns out to be as easy and pleasurable as bathing a cat.” But do it, no mater how much the truth wriggles and spits.

Cancer (June 22-July 23): You said my answering machine is a bad audience, but go ahead and tell it everything. I want to hear about the catch in your voice, the stitches in your chest, the wine under the bed. But I hope I have the phone on next time.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Quote: M.T. Anderson

Feed is a dramatic and disconcerting futuristic look at the pervasive effects of the media on our brains and on society, and I'm looking forward to discussing it at our September Young Adult Book Discussion (Thursday, September 23, 7pm). The following exhortation doesn't appear in the story; it's from an interview with the author in the back of the book:

    What would you say to kids today who are aware of being manipulated by the media? How can they avoid being sucked in?

    First of all, I know that going against the norm can be very isolating. When I was a teenager, I listened to really obscure music. In some ways that isolated me, because teens tend to watch and engage each other very, very harshly when it comes to questions of taste. In fact, I think musical taste among teenagers is often more about self-definition than it is about the actual music.
    Even so, I'm clearly in favor of trying to extend your knowledge into areas that are obscure and eccentric, as a way of exploring your self and your place in the world. Instead of responding to media messages by getting anxious -- thinking you need to get some piece of clothing that suddenly comes into fashion, or that you need to gain or lose weight or change your musculature in order to look like the romantic lead from some movie you've just seen -- start exploring all the peculiar corners of the world that are out there. Because that's the one thing the media does not encourage: a real sense of curiosity. Ultimately, in writing Feed, I wanted to say to kids who are already doubting what they see around them, "You already think in ways I'll never be capable of, and are dreaming things I can't conceive of. Keep it up. We're counting on you."

- M.T. Anderson, Feed, Reader's Guide

Friday, August 06, 2010

Poetic License Horoscope for August 6-12

Starring Arcade Fire, Dancing Sufis, and Don Draper

Leo (July 24-Aug. 23): This is your time to rest. Turn the volume down on your chattering spouse. Put aside all talk of revenue and email lists. Listen to the soft hum of fans, the murmur of televised baseball.

Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 23): You don’t have to be inspired every single minute. Relax. Reread old novels. Get caught up on your history. Take a nap in the blank spaces, you’ll be busy soon enough.

Libra (Sept. 24-Oct. 21): When I told one of my most favorite Libras that I was sad not to be at the National Poetry Slam this week, he told me he’d call my voice mail with disappointing poems so I’d feel less left out. It did make me feel better, but I still wish I was at Nationals.

Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 22): The Arcade Fire song “Keep the Car Running” is a wonderfully paranoid song about always being vigilant, but as I continue my decades-long struggle to learn the clutch, the song sounds to me like a struggle-and-determination anthem/pep talk. “It’s coming but when/is it coming/ keep the car running.”

Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): The House on the Rock, outside Madison, WI not only contains the most berserk collection of calliopes, musical machines, models ships, crazy-looking Santa Clauses and so much more, it is also a labyrinth you can’t easily leave if you get claustrophobic. Stay calm and avoid the Doll Carousel. Just trust me.

Capricorn (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): You’ve been collecting sea monsters, and why shouldn’t you? I thought of you last month when I was photographed next to a giant squid. As we learned in the movie Inception, the unconscious is hard to control, least of all yours.

Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): The other night while I was blissfully whoh-oh-ohing with thousands of fans at the Arcade Fire concert, I though of my Aquarius friend who’s visiting Istanbul right now, trying to get tickets to watch the Sufis dance, about how empathic experience helps keep life from becoming claustrophobic, just like having a well-travelled friend does.

Pisces (Feb. 20-March 20): In Nick Hornby’s book How to Be Good, the protagonist has the following epiphany: “The plain state of being human is dramatic enough for anyone; you don’t need to be a heroin addict or a performance poet to experience extremity. You just have to love someone.”

Aries (March 21-April 18): Last summer I worked at a summer camp. Every morning we had a singing and dancing time called Harambee (Swahili for “all together) during which no one was allowed to be shy. I thought this was unfair to introverts so I tried to add a meditation, quite unsuccessfully. But this week, be like those sing-alongs—belt it out, dance your heart out, never mind who might be laughing.

Taurus (April 19-May 18): It’s August, but on Mad Men, it’s Christmas. Mix yourself a holiday martini, pass an orange from chin to chin, engage in some secretarial role play. Walk around with you archetypal armload of gifts. Spare no expense.

Gemini (May 19-June 21): “Children wake up, hold your mistake up, before they turn the summer into dust.” says Arcade Fire. Mistakes can either disappear in the rearview or crack you open. Let’s confess and move onto the next thing, shall we?

Cancer (June 22-July 23): The beginning of this summer broiled my garden. The only flourishing things were the tenting spiders who seemed to be eating all the flowers. When the weather broke, though, everything started blooming again—now there are lobelias, red butterfly flowers, zinnias, and two Carefree Delight roses I can smell from inside.

-by Jane Cassady

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sheila's list of Five Mystery Series you might like if you like the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series (The Beekeeper's Apprentice, etc.)

Laurie R. King's other series, featuring detective Kate Martinelli and set in contemporary San Francisco.
sample books: A Grave Talent, With Child, To Play the Fool

Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series, set in London after WWI, with Maisie practicing at the intersection of early psychotherapy and forensics.
sample books: Maisie Dobbs, An Incomplete Revenge, Among the Mad

Rennie Airth's John Madden series, set in the English countryside and wonderfully written, featuring a Scotland Yard detective-turned-farmer and his physician wife in the run-up to WWII.
books in the series so far: River of Darkness, The Blood-Dimmed Tide, and The Dead of Winter

Dorothy Sayers' classic Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane books. This series is a masterpiece of Britain's Golden Age of detective fiction.
sample books: Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, Busman's Honeymoon. (And featuring Lord Peter but not Harriet: The Nine Tailors.)

Phil Rickman's Merrily Watkins books combine a lively mix of the occult and supernatural, the folklore of the English/Welsh border, and the trials of single motherhood in the Anglican clergy.
sample books: Midwinter of the Spirit, Lamp of the Wicked, To Dream of the Dead

July 2010, Sheila Avelin