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Book Review: The Last Picture Show

Wed, 04/02/2014 - 1:27pm
The Last Picture Show
Larry McMurtry

For many years now, in a real irregular way, I’ve been reading the books that my repeat-viewing movies are based on. As book-centered as I am, I’ve felt this is backwards, but what the hey, better late than never.

At its best, this reverse approach lets me “see the movie” in a more fleshed-out, deeper, richer way. You go from a skeleton to a body. It doesn’t always work like that but it did with The Last Picture Show, partly because McMurtry co-wrote the screenplay. Reading the novel made the movie expand. Watching the movie again, after I finished reading, made the novel contract.

The movie owes more to Italian Neorealism and British kitchen sink dramas than it does to American movie conventions. That fits the spirit of the book. In the book, the landscape is plain, even bleak. The story is anti-sentimental, anti-Romantic. It couldn’t be farther from moonlight-and-magnolias if it tried. It shows virtually no sign of trying anything. These are some of the reasons why it’s such an accomplished novel.

The scene is fifties Thalia, Texas, on the plains near the Oklahoma border. It’s a stand-in for Archer City, Texas, where McMurtry grew up. The main characters are Sonny, Duane, and Jacy, three teenagers near the end of high school, and several adults they’re connected to by family, romance, friendship or school. Duane dates Jacy, then Sonny does. Between these two, Sonny has an affair with Ruth Popper, who is forty and married to his gym coach. There’s a whole lot of sex going on in this town, but people seldom talk about it in public (this is much like the real Archer City in the early seventies, according to a film crew member). Tangled webs are woven and re-woven. The movie shocked some with its frank depiction of fluid sexual relations, although little actual sex was shown. But whereas the movie was R, the book is X. Some of the events in it concern livestock. This is Texas without varnish, after all.

Presiding over all the characters is Sam the Lion, a sort of father figure to Sonny and Duane, and owner of the town’s restaurant, pool hall and movie house. His death halfway through parallels the slow death of Thalia itself. You realize that the old-time string band who play at the annual Christmas party is an echo of the frontier past. What everybody really listens to is what’s on the radio. Also fading out is Victorian morality and the cattle industry. People are moving to bigger towns. Maybe the frenetic sex in this Boccaccio-on-the-Plains tale is part frustration with all this change. Nearly everyone here is testy and breaking the bonds of convention that defined small town Southern life. This is a good time to say it’s very funny, too.

In one scene, Sonny, Duane, and some boys get drunk and try to set up the town mental case with the town prostitute. It backfires and they dump the boy in front of Sam’s pool hall. Sam berates them: “Scaring an unfortunate creature like Billy when there ain’t no reason to scare him is just plain trashy behavior. I’ve seen a lifetime of it and I’m tired of putting up with it. You can just stay out of this pool hall and out of my picture show and café too.“ Sam is hardly a prude, but the boys have crossed a line. Sam is as contradictory as everybody else here. All the characters are wrestling with desire, lust, propriety, honor, and boredom, trying and usually failing to put them all into some workable order. Like his literary forebear Henry Miller, McMurtry sees sex as simply part of life. And like his spiritual descendent, British novelist/screenwriter Hanif Kureishi, McMurtry wisely leaves in all the dirty laundry, all the contradictions and schizo behavior. The result: these are people you know. It’s the struggle that counts, and drives the story, not any kind of resolution. There’s almost none of that.

Richard Grooms
Fiction Department
Central Library

Brilliant Blooms

Wed, 04/02/2014 - 12:49pm
Fresh flowers can brighten your day in your own home or by visiting any location where these spectacular beauties are on display. It's those breathtaking hues of color, varieties, and the choice to display one or one hundred and one that makes flowers as special as they are.

Just think for a moment, how flowers are shared in so many of our life events. Olympians receive them along with their medals when they stand proud and are recognized by their country. Brides include flowers in their weddings because they exude elegance and beauty. On September 17, 1983, the world witnessed Vanessa Williams receive the title as the first black Miss America along with flowers as a part of the celebration. And the great jazz singer, Billie Holiday, was known worldwide for wearing her signature "Gardenia" so beautifully in her hair.

It doesn’t seem to matter, whether flowers are given for a reason or no reason at all, they always bring the same joy. This spring, take the time to stroll through a park, attend a garden show, or even plan a trip and just lose yourself in these natural beauties.

To check out books on flowers, visit your local library or the JCLC catalog.

To get more information on gardens, events and shows, visit the websites below and others like these.

Biltmore Gardens and Grounds

Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Callaway Gardens

Jasmine Hill Gardens and Outdoor Museum

Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade

The Philadelphia Flower Show

Saundra Ross
North Avondale Library

Bards & Brews Poetry SLAM Hosted by Vestavia Hills Library in the Forrest, April 4

Tue, 04/01/2014 - 10:09am
A performer at March's Bards & Brews Haiku
Vestavia Hills Library in the Forrest will host the next Bards & Brews SLAM on Friday, April 4, 2014. Prizes are $200 for first place, $100 for second place. Music and signup from 6:30-7:00 p.m.; performances start at 7:00 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Must be 18 and up to attend and 21 to participate. Music and vocals by Patrick Summey. Beer tasting provided by Bell's Brewery. ID required. Refreshments will be served.

For more info, call 205-226-3670 or email

Fictional Heroes Battle Terrorism

Mon, 03/31/2014 - 11:13am
If you’re a fan of 24, the television show, you already know that Jack and Chloe will be coming back to Fox in May 2014.  I was thrilled when I learned the show was returning to television for a special season.  I enjoy “one man versus the enemy” thrillers and I enjoy reading books like that as well.  There are several series featuring heroes who are keeping America safe from terrorism.  If you enjoy 24, you may enjoy reading these as well.  Each title is the first in the series with a publisher description.

Power Down  by Ben Coes (Dewey Andreas)
A major North American hydroelectric dam is blown up and the largest off-shore oil field in this hemisphere is destroyed in a brutal, coordinated terrorist attack. When terrorists strike the Capitana platform off the coast of Colombia, crew chief Dewey Andreas, former Army Ranger and Delta, survives the attack, rescuing as many of his men as possible. While the intelligence and law enforcement agencies scramble to untangle these events and find the people responsible, an agent embedded into the highest levels of American society and business sets into play the second stage of these long-planned attacks. Meanwhile, Dewey Andreas is using all his long-dormant skills to fight his way off the platform, then out of Colombia and back to the U.S., following the trail of terrorists and operatives sent to stop him.

One Rough Man  by Brad Taylor (Pike Logan)
Commissioned at the highest level of the U.S. government, the fighting team known as Taskforce operates outside the law. Pike Logan was the most successful operator on the Taskforce until tragedy permanently altered his outlook on the world. Pike knows what the rest of the country might not want to admit: The real threat isn't from any nation, any government, any terrorist group. The real threat is one or two men, controlled by ideology, operating independently, in possession of a powerful weapon. Buried in a stack of intercepted chatter is evidence of two such men. The transcripts are scheduled for analysis in three months. The attack is mere days away. It is their bad luck that they're about to cross paths with Pike Logan. And Pike Logan has nothing left to lose.

Alpha  by Greg Rucka (Jad Bell)
For the visitors to Wilsonville, the largest theme park in the world, the day began with a smile. By the end, they wonder-will they be able to escape with their lives? Retired Delta Force operator, Master Sergeant Jonathan "Jad" Bell, is Wilsonville's lead undercover security officer. The threat begins with the announcement of a hidden dirty bomb, but quickly becomes something far, far worse. Trained since the age of seventeen to save innocent victims from impossible hostage situations, Jad scrambles to assess the threat and protect the visitors. He will come face to face with a villain whose training matches his in every way-and presents a threat Jad may not be able to stop.

American Assassin  by Vince Flynn (Mitch Rapp)
Two decades after the Cold War, Islamic terrorism is on the rise, and CIA Operations Director Thomas Stansfield forms a new group of clandestine operatives--men who do not exist--to meet this burgeoning threat abroad, before it reaches America's shores. Stansfield's protege, Irene Kennedy, finds the ideal candidate in the wake of the Pan Am Lockerbie terrorist attack. Among the thousands grieving the victims is Mitch Rapp, a gifted college athlete, who wants only one thing: retribution. Six months of intense training prepare him to devastate the enemy with brutal efficiency, leaving a trail of bodies from Istanbul and across Europe, to Beirut. But there, the American assassin will need every ounce of skill and cunning to survive the war-ravaged city and its deadly terrorist factions.

Librarians—We're Not Just For Shushing Anymore

Fri, 03/28/2014 - 7:44am
Not a BPL employee.I assisted a patron this week who was seeking information on writing a business plan. He has an MBA and a business he's owned for years, but wants to expand. He was thrilled with the Business Plans Handbook I showed him through the Database link on BPL's homepage. He also needed to find general industry and competitor information, so I showed him the Mergent Online database. One thing led to another and soon I was pointing out Alabama Legal Forms, LearningExpress Library, and the Chilton Automotive links. He was so pleased that I couldn't help saying, "And you thought all we did was read books all day long." He laughed a little, but said, "No, I thought you put up the books." Sigh. Unfortunately, both misconceptions are common. So what DOES your modern librarian do all day?

Well, we review and select materials for inclusion in the collection based on collection development policies, current trends, and community interest. We also plan programs to support the library's mission of lifelong learning, cultural enrichment, and enjoyment for children, teens, and adults. We contact speakers, arrange for supplies, facilities, and refreshments, and provide information to advertise and promote the programs. Sometimes we teach classes about using computers, e-readers, how to download library materials, searching the databases and diving the Deep Web, and some of us open the world of books to children through storytime. We moderate book clubs and other in-house programs, we attend training sessions to learn about new reference sources, and we assist patrons, whether it's by finding something new to read for pleasure or by finding the perfect source for a reference paper. We attend meetings of the local neighborhood associations to find out what our community concerns are and to let them know how the library is helping to address some of those concerns. We work desks where books are checked out and returned, and we get the books where they are needed, whether that's to a holdshelf or another library.

When a patron wants an item that's not at our library, we show them how to request it—and if it's not in our system, we assist with Interlibrary Loan Requests. Some of us are active in reaching out to the schools in the area to help support learning goals, and some of us do outreach with other professionals in Birmingham to find out what we can help do to make our city a better place to live and work. Some of us are in charge of staying on top of the latest technology to make sure the information our patrons want is always available and that we are well-represented in social media outlets to let the public know all that we offer. We attend in-house, county-wide, and city training on how to offer the best services, and go to in-state and national conferences and webcasts to share the best ideas with other library professionals. On any given day, the librarians and library assistants of our city can be found doing so many different tasks that there's not room to list them all.

Librarians are experts at reader's advisory.
 Have you read Oranges and Peaches by Darwin?One of the most important things we do is make sure that accurate information is available to everyone who needs it, regardless of race, nationality, residence, economic status, political preference, employment status, gender, or age. Everyone is welcome at the library and the librarians and library assistants are there to assist you find the information you want and need, whether it's in print or online. Did I mention the information and the help finding it is free?

And sometimes we even put up the books!

Kelly Laney
Springville Road Library

Haiku Contest Winners

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 5:25pm
The first Birmingham Public Library Haiku contest was a great success, with over fifty participants, spanning a wide range of ages and demographics.  The winning poems from both the adult and youth categories are posted below. First, second, and third prizes were awarded at the Sakura Festival at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens on March 22.  All winners received an anthology of haiku as well as cash prizes. The first place winner in each category was also given a year-membership in the Haiku Society of America.

A special "Thank you" to all the participants as well as to Terri French, coordinator of the Southeast Chapter of the Haiku Society of America.

Winners are listed in order from first to third place in each category.

Adult Winners:
pine thicket laced
with dogwood blossoms--
painter's poison

Virginia G
In a far field cranes
under a drape of rain bend
white wings, folding moon

From his sharp chisel
Marble metamorphoses
Softly, wings unfurl.

Youth Winners:
Paleness becomes green
Life opens its crusty eyes
Waking Up to spring

Longing for springtime
Small birds flying and chirping
Life is beautiful

Katana S.
I can’t halt time, so
I dig my heels in the earth
And let it flow past

Book Review: F This Test: Even More of the Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 10:04am
F This Test: Even More of the Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers
Richard Benson

Five Points West received a new book titled F This Test: Even More of the Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers by Richard Benson today. It's hilarious. It consists of totally wrong answers to college tests which actual students have given. Some were sincere, but some seemed to take it all in stride and decided to have a little fun with their answers. Here are some examples:

Which part of the Earth is directly below the crust?
The Filling.

Name a key theme in Madame Bovary.

Give brief summary of the plot of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Jekyll & Hyde find a briefcase, and it's very strange.

What factors led to Nancy's death in Oliver Twist?
Charles Dickens killed her.

What contributed to the collapse of the Bronze Age?

Describe a neutrino.
The opposite of an Oldtrino.

Define a supersaturated solution.
Water with extra water in it.

Give an example of a primary source. Explain why it is a primary source.
Tomato source because nearly everyone loves it.

What did an Ancient Egyptian embalmer do?
Embalmed ancient Egyptians.

And finally:
In politics, what does the term "impeachment" mean?
It's like imprisonment but with fruit.

If these examples have given you a chuckle, you might want to check out, F This Test, from the Five Points West Library.

Lorraine Walker
Five Points West Library

Haiku Contest Ends March 15

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 9:46am
Send those haiku in...
lest your words remain tight buds
never to blossom

Our Haiku Contest is no longer just on Twitter! Which is a good thing 'cause you've got only a few more days to submit those lyrical gems.

Poets may now send poems to (although tweets labeled #bplhaiku are still encouraged)!

Contestants still must register and agree to the terms at
The youth competition is open to poets ages 13-17, and the adult competition is open to poets 18+.

Any Alabama resident is encouraged to submit.

In conjunction with the Japan America Society of Alabama (JASA) and the Southeast Chapter of the Haiku Society of America (HSA) the contest is part of the annual Sakura Festival. The primary event of the Festival will take place at the Japanese Garden at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens on Saturday, March 22, 2014.

A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition. For more information, see
  • Must be an Alabama resident.
  • Contestants must submit a registration form.
  • To enter the adult competition, must be over 18.
  • To enter the youth competition, must be 13-17 (13 by the registration date).
  • Library staff and immediate family members are ineligible.
  • Haiku must follow the official Haiku Society of America definition as linked above.
  • Contest began on February 23rd and runs through March 15th.
  • A winner will be selected each week for the adult division and the youth division.
    Poems must be submitted by Saturday at 11:59 p.m. to be considered for that week. 
  • The winner in each division will be announced via the library Twitter @bpl early

    the following week.
  • Contestants may only win once.
To learn more about this beautiful and timeless poetical form, check out these books from the Birmingham Public Library:

Teen Tech Week: DIY@ your Library

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 8:56am

Teen Tech Week is when libraries make the time to showcase all of the great non-print resources and services that are available to teens and their families.  This year was celebrated with the “DIY @ your library” theme during YALSA’s Teen Tech Week which was March 9-15, 2014. The purpose was to demonstrate the value our library gives to the community by offering teens a space to extend learning beyond the classroom where they can explore, create and share content. From maker spaces, to coding classes to online knitting clubs, libraries can leverage the do-it-yourself theme to show how you can connect in meaningful ways with the teens in your community.  

In honor of Teen Tech Week the Central Youth Department decided to get a little crafty but, with a techie spin.  Teens converted old books into cases for their digital devices including Kindles, Nooks, iPads, and cell phones.  All it took was an old book, a little duct tape, and some elastic.  The teens were creative with no two cases looking alike.  



For more information on how to create your own case, you can visit this website:

Final Program in Remembering the Holocaust Series to Show Film Examining Path to Nazi Genocide, March 26

Sun, 03/23/2014 - 9:00am
The Birmingham Public Library is marking its ten-year partnership with the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center in presenting Remembering the Holocaust, presentations by Birmingham residents  sharing their experiences and perspectives. The programs are held every Wednesday in March at noon in the Arrington Auditorium of the Central Library and are free and open to the public.

Remembering the Holocaust - The Path to Nazi Genocide, a USHMM Film
March 26
This 38-minute film examines the Nazis' rise and consolidation of power in Germany. Using rare footage, the film explores their ideology, propaganda, and persecution of Jews and other victims. It also outlines the path by which the Nazis and their collaborators led a state to war and to the murder of millions of people. By providing a concise overview of the Holocaust and those involved, this resource is intended to provide reflection and discussion about the role of ordinary people, institutions, and nations between 1918 and 1945.

Learning to Type

Sat, 03/22/2014 - 3:42pm

Learning to type will take a lot of self-discipline and patience. It is important that you do not get frustrated. You need to view the process as a skill you are attempting to master. It takes practice to achieve good technique. It is also important that you establish the foundation of having the correct technique rather than speed. Speed and accuracy are results of establishing a good technique.

Tips for Typing
  • Memorize the letters by not looking at your hands while typing.
  • Good posture helps your form. Keep your feet flat on floor, hips touching the back of chair, back straight, and sit up tall.
  • Additionally, the way you position your arms, wrist, and fingers will help deter any discomfort from typing. Remember to keep your fingers curved, arms close to body, and wrists straight and not touching keyboard.
  • Strike the keys with the proper finger, and then return those fingers to home row keys.
Rhythm – You will eventually learn and develop a good rhythm. This will hopefully keep you from potential tension and anxiety, and it may even minimize mistakes. Instead of focusing on a “quick where is the next” letter approach, an even rhythm will allow you to focus on what to type. If you slow down to achieve an even rhythm, you will find that you actually speed up.

Errors – The acceptable number of typing errors is one error per minute, regardless of how fast you type. Of course, as a beginner, expect to have more. These numbers will lower as you learn to master keyboarding.WPM – This stands for “words per minute” typing rate. A word is considered to be on average of five keystrokes, including spaces. If you type 50 keystrokes per minute, your typing rate is 10 wpm.Note: A speed of 40 wpm is the basic minimum standard required by many employers and government positions. Effective typing speeds should be at least three to four times your handwriting speed.April 2014 Class RegistrationRegistration is now open for staff and the public for the April 2014 Regional Library Computer Center classes. All classes are held in the Regional Library Computer Center (RLCC) of the Central (downtown) LibraryPRE-REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED FOR ALL CLASSES.Other classes offered are:
  • Creating Labels and Envelopes in Word 2010 (Advanced)
  • Working with Images in Word 2010 (Advanced)
  • Removing Background Images in Word 2010 (Intermediate)
To register for classes, you may:
  • Visit the Computer Commons department at the Central Library and obtain a copy of the class schedule. Fill it out and return to a Computer Commons staff.
  • Register online through the RLCC website. Please allow 2 to 4 business days for registration confirmation.
Space is limited for each class, and registration does not guarantee you a space. If you register for a class, please make all efforts to attend. Repeated “no shows” could affect your registration eligibility for future classes. If you register for a class and cannot attend, call Public Computer Services at (205) 226-3680 or 226-3681 as soon as possible. Please pay close attention to the class times. No one will be admitted after 5 minutes past the time class is scheduled to start. Classes are provided by the Birmingham Public Library.

Top Teen Poets to Compete in Poetry Slam at the Birmingham Public Library on April 6

Sat, 03/22/2014 - 3:39pm

First place winner Eboni Wallace performs at WORD UP! 2013.
Watch other WORD UP! performances on BPL's YouTube channel.
Students from 13 high schools in Jefferson County will compete in a poetry slam on Sunday, April 6, at 3:00 p.m. in the Birmingham Public Library’s Arrington Auditorium. The event is free.

Known as WORD UP! 2014, the event allows teenagers to showcase their spoken word skills. This is the seventh year for the competition. Students in grades 9 through 12 write and perform an original work of poetry inspired by a theme selected by the WORD UP! planning committee. The WORD UP! 2014 theme is “community.” Earlier this year, participating high schools held preliminary contests at their schools. The schools' winners will face off on April 6.

On April 6, a panel of three judges will judge contestants on content and performance. The first place winner will receive $300, second place $200 and third place $150. The slam is sponsored by the Birmingham Public Library and Real Life Poets, a nonprofit creative writing organization based in Birmingham.

John Paul TaylorJohn Paul Taylor, co-founder and director of RLP, says WORD UP! gives students an opportunity to express themselves on a local level, which in turn, exposes them and their talents on a national level. “I’m so proud of them,’’ says Taylor. “I just returned from a San Francisco poetry conference. They were impressed with RLP and what we are doing in the community. We continue to put Birmingham on a national map.’’

In 2013, several past WORD UP! winners were part of a team of Birmingham-area students who went to Chicago to compete in the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Competition, the worldwide standard in spoken word poetry competitions for teens since 1998. It was the first time Birmingham had been represented. The team advanced to the semifinals, a feat almost unheard of for first-time teams.

The Birmingham team impressed the BNV sponsors so much that Birmingham was invited to compete in the BNV 2014 in Philadelphia, July 16 -20. The library and RLP will help sponsor a spoken word team to compete in this year’s BNV competition.

Eboni Wallace, a senior at Tarrant High School, says the poetry slam has been a life-changing experience for her. She’s won first place in WORD UP! for the past two years. She was also a member of Team #KnowDisclaimer. Tarrant High School teacher Beth Sanders says that WORD UP! has opened doors to opportunities for genuine expression for her as an educator and for her students.

Tarrant will be one of 13 high schools to compete on April 6. The other schools include: Birmingham’s Ramsay, Wenonah, and Woodlawn; Jefferson County’s Center Point, Clay-Chalkville, McAdory, Minor, and Shades Valley; Alabama School of Fine Arts; Hewitt-Trussville; Holy Family Cristo Rey; and Leeds.

Word UP! 2014 is made possible by grants from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. For more information, call 226-3670 or visit

NOTE: RLP hosts teen poetry workshops every Saturday at the downtown Birmingham library’s Story Castle from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. A teen poetry open mic is held every third Saturday at the Desert Island Supply Co. (DISCO) in Woodlawn, 5500 First Ave. North. For the teen open mic, doors open at 6:00 p.m. and performances are from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. An adult poetry workshop is held every first Tuesday in the Story Castle from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. All events are free.

Audiobooks Make the Holiday Road Bearable

Sat, 03/22/2014 - 8:07am

Spring break is coming up and many families will be hitting the road to visit relatives or go to the beach. Those long road trips can get on anybody’s nerves. Why not stop by the library and pick up an audio book to entertain everyone on the trip?

We have this year’s Newbery-winning book Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, which is a great family listen. The Newbery Medal award is given to the author of "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children" each year. This is a second win for this year's winner Kate DiCamillo. Jim Dale will keep the family thoroughly entertained with his skillful rendition of the Harry Potter series for those who have not read the books. Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to not Reading is a hilarious tale of the lengths to which a boy will go to not read a book that will leave the whole family laughing.

You can find these titles and many others on CDs or as downloadable audio books at your library, so check some out for those long road trips. They will make your drive as fun as the rest of your vacation.

Lynn Carpenter
Five Points West Library

Birmingham Public Library to Host Holocaust Lecture Series in March

Wed, 03/19/2014 - 9:49am
When the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center started in 2002, there were about 35 Holocaust survivors living in Birmingham. Today, there are about 16 in Birmingham. Just a few days ago, the oldest known-living Holocaust survivor died at the age of 110 in London.

The Birmingham Holocaust Education Center and the Birmingham Public Library realize the last-living Holocaust survivors are dying more and more every year, which is why they continue to keep survivors and their stories before the public. Every Wednesday in March at 12 p.m., the two groups will present a Holocaust lecture in the Arrington Auditorium of the Linn-Henley Research Library, 2100 Park Place. The lectures are free.

“We are doing what we can to preserve the history and the knowledge,’’ says Phyllis Weinstein, president of the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center. “Even people who feel like they know about the Holocaust can always learn something new.’’ (The Birmingham Holocaust Education Center is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to keeping the history and the lessons of the Holocaust alive.)

The lectures will be held on March 5, 12, 19, and 26. Survivors will speak on March 12 and 19.

Robert May. Camberg, Germany, 1932.  The March 5 speaker will be Shades Valley history teacher Amy McDonald, who’s received national recognition—the Robert I. Goldman Award for Excellence in Holocaust Education from the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous—for her Holocaust education program. She will share her deep commitment and reasons for teaching the Holocaust.

On March 12, Ann Mollengarden will host a discussion with her 88-year-old father, physician Robert May of Birmingham. They will discuss his experience in Nazi Germany. “Many people think of Holocaust survivors only in terms of Nazi ghettos and concentration camps. But a Holocaust survivor is anyone who experienced life under Nazi domination,’’ says Mollengarden, education vice president of the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center.

On March 19, Max Herzel, 83, will speak. He had at least 13 relatives to perish in concentration camps. He will share postcards, a diary he kept, and materials he’s never shared about his past. He escaped from Belgium when he was 10.

Max Herzel. Villards sur Boege, France, 1943.“We are really, right now, delving deeper into their stories. The two survivors will be revealing more personal stories,’’ says Mollengarden. “It’s vital that we document these experiences so that future generations can learn from these past experiences.’’

“This is the last generation that will be able to give first-hand accounts of their stories,’’ says Mollengarden. “You may not get another opportunity to ask those personal questions from the Holocaust survivors.’’

March 26 will feature the screening of the new, 38-minute film The Path to Nazi Genocide. Using rare footage, the film examines the Nazis’ rise and consolidation of power in Germany. It also explores the Nazis’ ideology, propaganda, and persecution of Jews and other victims.

This is the 10th year the center and the library have partnered on the series. Past events have included exhibits, display windows, and workshops. For more information about the center, please visit For more information about the library, visit

Empowerment Workshops for Women Scheduled at BPL During Women's History Month

Wed, 03/19/2014 - 9:44am
Eunice Elliott"Living the Dream 2014: Finding, Chasing and Gaining Your Bliss"
Pratt City Library, Saturday March 29, 2:30 p.m.

Alabama's 13 traffic reporter and motivational speaker Eunice Elliott will deliver inspiring words during “Living the Dream 2014: Finding, Chasing and Gaining Your Bliss.'' Women's History Month is about recognizing amazing women and their achievements. Eunice's messages of encouragement will push women and men to make their own history. Free and open to the public.

Marcus Lundy"Power in Heels" - A Business Empowerment Workshop for Women
Central Library, Arrington Auditorium, Friday, March 28, 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.

City Councilman Marcus Lundy and the nonprofit organization Operation HOPE will present "Power in Heels," a business empowerment workshop designed for female entrepreneurs and the working woman. Topics will focus on networking and dressing for the office. This workshop will offer tips on how to make a good first impression. Come to this event to meet experts to help you with personal branding and how it can open doors in business. The event is free and lunch will be served. For more information and to reserve your spot, contact Latanya Millhouse at 706-3671 or

Inglenook Neighborhood Association Wins the Community Health Innovation Award Grant

Tue, 03/18/2014 - 4:35pm
Carolyn Cauthen, president of Birmingham's Inglenook Neighborhood Association, and David VanWilliams, Inglenook Neighborhood Association Secretary (holding award check), partnered to create the Community Carpentry Project, which was awarded $25,000 in this year's Community Health Innovation Awards. VanWilliams is also Master Carpenter for their project, which aims to teach carpentry skills to individuals in a drug rehabilitation program. Photo and description courtesy of CCTS website.

Please join the Inglenook Library in congratulating the Inglenook Neighborhood Association for becoming one of five recipients of the Community Health Innovation Award Grants (CHIA), which is sponsored by One Great Community, the community outreach arm of the UAB Center for Clinical Transitional Science (CCTS).

In order to apply for this grant, neighborhood leaders had to identify a prominent need in the community and an innovative method to address it. As in many underserved communities, crime is a deterrent to positive growth and the Inglenook Neighborhood Association sought a solution that will ultimately reduce the crime rate while enhancing the aesthetics of the community. Resultantly, Carolyn Cauthen, Inglenook Neighborhood Association President, and David VanWilliams, Inglenook Neighborhood Association Secretary, founded a carpentry program, which is called Community Carpentry Project. (CCP), to provide opportunities to the at-risk/disadvantaged youth of the Birmingham area. In the six month program, students will be introduced to the fundamentals of carpentry and graduate to become a “Carpenter’s Helper,” or pursue an Apprenticeship Program to further education. Additionally, students will gain practical experience by working on dilapidated houses in the Inglenook Community.

The Inglenook Neighborhood Association is making a great impact in the Inglenook Community and has supported all of the endeavors of the Inglenook Library and other entities of the community. Make a difference where you are by checking out the books below for further reading.

It's Our World, Too!: Young People Who are Making a Difference by Phillip Hoose
The Board Member's Guide: Making a Difference on Your Board and in Your Community by Richard Adams
Making a Difference: The Changing the World Handbook by Ali Cronin
The Board Member's Book: Making a Difference in Voluntary Organizations by Brian O'Connell
Saving the World at Work: What Companies and Individuals Can Do to Go Beyond Making a Profit to Making a Difference by Tim Sanders

Karnecia Williams
Inglenook Library

Alabama Holocaust Commissioner Max Herzel Shares His Experience of Internment and Liberation, March 19

Mon, 03/17/2014 - 9:00am
The Birmingham Public Library is marking its ten-year partnership with the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center in presenting Remembering the Holocaust, presentations by Birmingham residents  sharing their experiences and perspectives. The programs are held every Wednesday in March at noon in the Arrington Auditorium of the Central Library and are free and open to the public.

Remembering the Holocaust - Holocaust Survivor Speaks
March 19
Max Herzel, a member of the BHEC and an Alabama Holocaust Commissioner, will speak of his experience, and show a film on the Power Point created by Ann Mollengarden, giving new facts and interesting aspects of his life from his escape from Germany at the age of ten, until his liberation five years later.

Remembering the Holocaust - The Path to Nazi Genocide, a USHMM Film
March 26
This 38-minute film examines the Nazis' rise and consolidation of power in Germany. Using rare footage, the film explores their ideology, propaganda, and persecution of Jews and other victims. It also outlines the path by which the Nazis and their collaborators led a state to war and to the murder of millions of people. By providing a concise overview of the Holocaust and those involved, this resource is intended to provide reflection and discussion about the role of ordinary people, institutions, and nations between 1918 and 1945.

The History of Haiku

Fri, 03/14/2014 - 12:06pm

wake up! wake up!
let’s be friends,
sleeping butterfly
- Matsuo Bashō

Corresponding with the Sakura Cherry Blossom Festival to be held at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, the Birmingham Public Library is celebrating the haiku with several events: the Haiku contest, Bards, Brews, and Haikus, and a Haiku workshop.

The history of the modern haiku dates back to the thirteenth century when poets would write rengas or “linked verse” together. “It became the fashion, after some hours of deep poetic concentration on their individual works, to relax by writing a humorous renga together,” notes William Higginson in The Haiku Handbook. The haiku eventually evolved into a being independent from these collaborations and stood alone with rules and structure that are still in debate today, but generally recognized, the criteria are as follows:

  • A kigo, or season reference is used. This word or phrase helps the reader identify the feeling associated with the season. There are a list of words haiku poets sometimes use called a saijiki.
  • A cutting word (kiru) is used to punctuate by making a pause between two juxtaposed images within the poem. 
  • Three unrhymed lines of seventeen syllables usually arranged five, seven, five. This is actively debated today due to the sounds available to the Japanese and English languages and how different in speed the syllables can be. 

Many modern haiku poets refuse to follow tradition and break all manner of rules - leaving out the nature reference and forgoing the seventeen sounds as above referenced.

The rhyme usually never matters in a haiku due to its ascetic nature. These small nuggets of verse are meant to be read and absorbed, mulled over, and not necessarily read aloud. Haikus are often seen as elemental poems, especially by Matsuo Bashō’s day when the rules had evolved to include the hushed dignity that we generally see during his generation’s verse. A revelation within the seventeen sounds occurs, a brief flash into the poet’s psyche about the world around them.

The haiku celebrates the animism of the world, and makes no move to use metaphor or the like, but transcribe the moment when the poet was inspired and what ephemeral voice spoke to him. In Haiku in English, Billy Collins describes it as follows: “A cherry tree in blossom and a dog barking in the distance may not seem to add up to much, but what such a haiku declares is that someone was present - actually there, living and breathing - at that particular intersection of sight and sound. In that sense, haiku not only convey the beauty of individually experienced moments, they are also powerful little assertions of the poet’s very existence.”

Late August -
I bring him the garden
in my skirt.
- Alexis Rotella

To learn more about this beautiful and timeless poetical form, please join in on all our events in regard to the haiku and check out these books from the Birmingham Public Library:

Rachel JoinerArts, Literature, SportsCentral Library

Book Review: Occult America: The Secret History Of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation

Thu, 03/13/2014 - 3:53pm
Occult America: The Secret History Of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation
Mitch Horowitz

First, let me get something out of the way. The words “occult” and “mysticism” aren’t synonymous with each other. Secondly, neither of these words describes even a large part of what this book covers. What words would be better? Religion? New Age? Psychology? Therapy? Metaphysics? Yes to all of those, and yes to occult and mysticism, too. That said, this is an unfailingly interesting, stimulating, hilarious and curious book, which covers in less than 300 pages most of the significant beliefs of this kind in American history and the vivid individuals and movements that are tied up with them. Horowitz has taken on a lot, but the book shows little sign of strain.

What is covered? The Burned-over district, the beginnings of Mormonism, Spiritualism, utopian communities, Freemasonry, Theosophy, Hoodoo, urban African-American alternative religions, Psychiana, UFO cults—even Norman Vincent Peale. (Peale? Well, the strain may show here). And that’s only a sampling.

Also, there’s Edgar Cayce. Do you need your conventional notions of history challenged? Horowitz relishes doing this: “If the New Age could be said to possess a starting point, it might be traced to the early autumn of 1923 in Selma, Alabama.” Yes, that’s what the book says. The author makes a convincing case for it. Could much of 20th Century Black American religious alternatives, such as the Nation of Islam and the Moorish Science Temple, have their roots in an 18th Century English instructional guide to manners and morals? Was Frederick Douglass influenced, if only temporarily, by hoodoo? Again, the cases are well-made.

It’s well-stocked with little-known, obscure and virtually unknown (at least to me, and I’m well-versed on this stuff, though not a scholar) historical bits. Franz Mesmer (of Mesmerism fame) tried to recruit George Washington to the cause. Washington politely praised Mesmer but did nothing. Mary Todd Lincoln dove headfirst into Spiritualism after the death of her son. That much is well-known. What isn’t is her husband’s attitude toward spooks. Abe was more circumspect. After listening to the spirit’s advice, he said the “celestials” didn’t seem to know how to run a military any better than mortals did. This should be filed under “Lincoln – Wit” rather than “Lincoln – Seeker.”

The Lincoln anecdote is one of many instances of comic relief, which is welcome in a book where more than a couple of personages take themselves too seriously In the Golden Dawn occult group in the Twenties, two members had an affair. The group advocated celibacy, but Lillian Geise and Paul Case defied the restraints. Things ended with Case fessing up to a less-than-chaste relationship with Geise: “The Hierophant and I were observed to exchange significant glances over the altar during the Mystic Repast.” You don’t come across camp like that very often.

A word of caution. Horowitz mentions, in passing, that the Beatles’ White Album and Let it Be contain raga-influenced melodies and lyrics. A howler like this, even though it only pertains to a subject the book doesn’t focus on, makes me somewhat more skeptical about the main course, however well-footnoted it is.

Still, you aren’t going to find a history of alternative religious beliefs in America this entertaining anywhere else. There’s plenty for the novice and there’s plenty that surprised and challenged me. I’m reminded of the saying: “There’s nowt sae queer as folk.” Dive in, the water’s strange.

Richard Grooms
Fiction Department
Central Library

Artist Shares Technique in Free Watercolor Workshop

Thu, 03/13/2014 - 8:48am
Free watercolor workshop led by Starr WeemsSunday, March 30, 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., Storycastle, Second Floor, Central LibraryRegistration required; call 226-3670.
Starry NightGaze at the paintings of Alabama artist Starr Weems and be transported to a dream-like world bathed in color and light. “I enjoy making art that represents the collision of reality and the fanciful world of dreams… Vibrant colors mingle and overlap, creating a magical feeling that reflects my thoughts on spirituality and the enjoyment of life,” says Weems.  She uses an unusual process which consists of layering drawing gum and transparent watercolor to build high-contrast images.
On Sunday, March 30, Weems will share her technique for creating her unique paintings at a free workshop at the Central Library of the Birmingham Public Library. The event will be held from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the storycastle on the second floor. Registration is required; call 226-3670.
An exhibit of her artwork, titled “Illuminations in Poured Color: Paintings by Starr Weems” will be on display until April 11, 2014 in the Fourth Floor Gallery of the Central Library
Weems has had shows at various locations including the Kentuck Museum in Northport, Alabama, Lowe Mill in Huntsville, Alabama and Huntsville Public Library's Atrium gallery. Her work has been featured in numerous publications and exhibits throughout the Southeast. She makes use of her M.Ed. from Auburn by teaching art and Spanish to the students of Ardmore High School. 
Visit her at or connect with her on Facebook at Starr Weems Fine Art.