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New Titles: Week of April 2


Rebecca Kauffman The Gunners
Michael Nava Street people
Chuma Nwokolo The extinction of Menai
Tom Rachman The Italian teacher
Mark Sarvas Memento Park
Michael Farris Smith The fighter

Mystery, Suspense, Espionage & Intrigue
Alison Bruce Cambridge black
Teresa Dovalpage Death comes in through the kitchen
Elizabeth George The punishment she deserves
Antonia Hodgson A death at Fountains Abbey
Donna Leon The temptation of forgiveness
Jon Michelet The frozen woman

Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror
Lara Elena Donnelly Amberlough

Short Stories
Andrés Barba The right intention
Mallory Ortberg The merry spinster: tales of everyday horror
John Edgar Wideman American histories: stories

Comic Books, Graphic Novels & Comic Strips
Bruce Bassett & Ralph Edney Introducing relativity 530.11 B319
Johnnie Christmas Firebug 741.5 F523
Neil Gaiman American Gods: shadows 741.5 G14a
Nicole Hollander We ate Wonder Bread: a memoir of growing up on the west side of Chicago 741.5 H737
John Porcellino From Lone Mountain: King-Cat comics & stories 2003-2007 741.5 P833f

* * * * *


Arts, Architecture & Crafts
Francesca Chiorino Homes in Japan 728 C539
Paul Martineau Still life in photography 779.3 M385
Laurie Olin Be seated 721.8 O46
Colin Westerbeck & Joel Meyerowitz Bystander: a history of street photography 770.9 W526

Books, Reading, Publishing, Journalism, Library & Information Science
The Voynich manuscript 091 C625

Business & Economics
Jeffrey Pfeffer Dying for a paycheck: how modern management harms employee health & company performance--and what we can do about it 650.1 P524
Donald Sull & Kathleen M. Eisenhardt Simple rules: how to thrive in a complex world 650.1 S949

Robert Bellin Winning with the Dutch 794.122 B444
Alexander Kotov Grandmaster at work 794.12 K875
Paul Littlewood Chess tactics 794.12 L781
Rudolf Spielmann The art of sacrifice in chess 794.1 S75 2015

Computer Science
Safiya Umoja Noble Algorithms of oppression: how search engines reinforce racism 025.04 N747

Food & Drink
Polly Conner & Rachel Tiemeyer From freezer to table: 75+ simple, whole foods recipes for gathering, cooking & sharing 641.5 C752
Foolproof preserving: a guide to small batch jams, jellies, pickles, condiments & more 641.4 A512
Ina Garten Barefoot Contessa foolproof 641.555 G244f
Michael Greger The how not to die cookbook: 100+ recipes to help prevent & reverse disease 641.563 G818

Health & Medicine
Rana Awdish In shock: my journey from death to recovery & the redemptive power of hope 610.92 A966

Jeanne E. Abrams First ladies of the republic: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison & the creation of an iconic American role 973.09 A161
John Butman & Simon Targett New world, inc.: the making of America by England's merchant adventurers 970.01 B987
François-René de Chateaubriand Memoirs from beyond the grave: 1768-1800 944.04 C492
Never remember: Stalin's Gulags in Putin's Russia 947.084 G392
Amy Licence Red roses: Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort 942.04 L698
Viet Thanh Nguyen Nothing ever dies: Vietnam & the memory of war 959.7 N576

Languages & Linguistics
Bill Harvey Viceroys, vicars & vergers: British English for Americans 403 H341

The trustee's legal companion: a step-by-step guide to administering a living trust 346.052 L551

Literature & Writing
Bullets into bells: poets & citizens respond to gun violence 811.6 B936
Kim Shuck Rabbit Stories 813.6 S562
Women in the Literary Landscape: A Centennial Publication of the Women's National Book Association 810.9 W362

Performing Arts & Music
Michael Meylac Behind the scenes at the Ballets Russes: stories from a golden age 792.8 M614
Todd S. Purdum Something wonderful: Rodgers & Hammerstein's Broadway revolution 792.09 P985

Philosophy, Psychology & Religion
Evan Davis Post-truth: why we have reached peak bullshit & what we can do about it 177.3 D261
N.T. Wright Paul: a biography 225.92 P32n

Politics & Government
A.G. Hopkins American empire: a global history 325 H793
Andrew W. Kahrl Free the beaches: the story of Ned Coll & the battle for America's most exclusive shoreline 323.1 K129

Social Sciences & Current Events
Andrea Barnet Visionary women: how Rachel Carson, Jane Jacobs, Jane Goodall & Alice Waters changed our world305.4 B261v
Warren I. Cohen A nation like all others: a brief history of American foreign relations327.73 C678
Christian Davenport The space barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos & the quest to colonize the cosmos338.762 D247
T.J. English. The Corporation: an epic story of the Cuban American underworld364.1 E583
Steve Fraser. Class matters: the strange career of an American delusion305.5 F841
Sarah McBride Tomorrow will be different: love, loss & the fight for trans equality306.76 M119
Sir Ken Robinson & Lou Aronica You, your child & school: navigate your way to the best education371.19 R658
Jason Sokol The heavens might crack: the death & legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.323.092 S683
Robert Wald Sussman The myth of race: the troubling persistence of an unscientific idea 305.8 S964
Daniel Tudor Ask a North Korean: defectors talk about their lives inside the world's most secretive nation 362.87 T912
Jonathan Weisman (((Semitism))): being Jewish in America in the age of Trump 305.892 W428
Robert Wuthnow The left behind: decline & rage in rural America 305.562 W973
Bernice Yeung In a day's work: the fight to end sexual violence against America's most vulnerable workers 362.88 Y48

Sports & Games
Tim Moore The cyclist who went out in the cold: adventures riding the Iron Curtain 796.6 M821

* * * * *


Robert C. O'Brien ; illustrated by Zena Bernstein Mrs. Frisby & the rats of Nimh


* * * * *

André Aciman Call me by your name
Celeste Ng Little fires everywhere
Charles Todd The gate keeper
Amor Towles A gentleman in Moscow
Jeff VanderMeer Annihilation

Action & Adventure
Journey to the center of the earth

Portrait in black ; Madame X

Brassed off!
Broken English
Legally blonde 2: red, white & blonde
Lock, stock & two smoking barrels

Effie Gray
The great Gatsby
The impressionists
Les Misérables.

Foreign Language
The Count of Monte Cristo


Mystery, Suspense, Espionage & Intrigue
Evil under the sun
Panic room
Wallander Season 1

Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror
The invasion

Days of thrills & laughter 791.43 D275
Inside The Doors, 1967-1969 782.421 I591

Posted on Apr. 5, 2018 by Heather Terrell

New Titles for the Week of March 26


Michelle de Kretser The life to come
Uzodinma Iweala Speak no evil
Ian MacKenzie Feast days
Jonathan Miles Anatomy of a miracle: the true* story of a paralyzed veteran, a Mississippi convenience store, a Vatican investigation & the spectacular perils of grace: *a novel
Nafkote Tamirat The parking lot attendant
Luis Alberto Urrea The house of broken angels

Historical Fiction
M J Carter The Devil's feast
Rozsa Gaston Anne & Charles: passion & politics in late medieval France the story of Anne of Brittany's marriage to Charles VIII
Alan Hollinghurst The sparsholt affair

Mystery, Suspense, Espionage & Intrigue
Natasha Bell Exhibit Alexandra
Chris Bohjalian The flight attendant
Clive Cussler & Graham Brown The rising sea: a novel from the NUMA files
Paul Di Filippo The big get-even
Alexia Gordon Killing in C Sharp: a Gethsemane Brown mystery
Bruce Holbert Whiskey
Laura Lippman Sunburn
Susan Elia MacNeal The Paris spy: a Maggie Hope mystery
Sebastian Rotella Rip crew
Randy Wayne White Caribbean rim

Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror
Jim Butcher Proven guilty: a novel of the Dresden files

Short Stories
Joyce Carol Oates Beautiful days: stories
Christine Schutt Pure Hollywood & other stories

Comic Books, Graphic Novels & Comic Strips
Kerascoët Vehlmann Satania 741.5 V425

* * * * *


Arts, Architecture & Crafts
Charlotte Jansen Girl on girl: art & photography in the age of the female gaze 770.92 J351
Joel Meyerowitz Cézanne's objects: Joel Meyerowitz 779 M613c
Irving Penn Still life 779.35 P412
Justine Picardie & Susan Bright Erik Madigan Heck: old future 779.092 H448

Biography & Genealogy
Alexander Etkind Roads not taken: an intellectual biography of William C. Bullitt 92 B937
William Martin A prophet with honor: the Billy Graham story 92 G738m
Thomas Weber Becoming Hitler: the making of a Nazi 92 H676we

Isaak & Vladimir Linder Max Euwe: fifth world chess champion 794.159 E91

Computer Science
Claire L Evans Broad band: the untold story of the women who made the Internet 004.092 E924

Food & Drink
Laura King Instant pot: 2500 instant pot recipes cookbook 641.588 K521
Becky Selengut Good fish: 100 sustainable seafood recipes from the Pacific Coast 641.69 S464

Health & Medicine
Dudley Seth Danoff The ultimate guide to male sexual health: how to stay vital at any age 612.61 D188
Elinor Greenberg, PhD Borderline, narcissistic & schizoid adaptations: the pursuit of love, admiration & safety 616.89 G799
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD How to be yourself: quiet your inner critic & rise above social anxiety 616.8522 H498
Debby Herbenick Sex made easy: your awkward questions answered-- for better, smarter, amazing sex 613.96 H534
Earl Mindell, RPh, PhD Healing with hemp oil: a simple guide to using the powerful & proven health benefits of CBD 615.78 M663
Jeffrey Rado, MD & Philip G Janicak, MD Living with schizophrenia: a family guide to making a difference 616.8982 R131
Al Vernacchio For goodness sex: changing the way we talk to teens about sexuality, values & health 613.9 V529
Paul H Wender, MD & David A Tomb, MD ADHD: a guide to understanding symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment & changes over time in children, adolescents & adults 618.92 W469

Rania Abouzeid No turning back: life, loss & hope in wartime Syria 956.91 A156
Roy & Lesley Adkins Gibraltar: the greatest siege in British history 946.89 A236
Stephen G Bloom The audacity of Inez Burns 979.461 B655
Brian Castner Disappointment River: finding & losing the Northwest Passage 971.9 C353
Peter Englund The battle that shook Europe: Poltava & the birth of the Russian Empire 947.05 E588
David Gelernter America-lite: how imperial academia dismantled our culture (and ushered in the Obamacrats) 973.9 G316
Edward J Larson To the edges of the Earth: 1909, the race for the three poles & the climax of the age of exploration 919.8 L334
Derek Molyneux & Darren Kelly Those of us who must die: execution, exile & revival after the Easter Rising 941.5 M731
Marci Shore The Ukrainian night: an intimate history of revolution 947.7 S559

Literature & Writing
Tongo Eisen-Martin Heaven is all goodbyes 811.6 E361

Natural Sciences & Mathematics
Adam Becker What is real?: the unfinished quest for the meaning of quantum physics 530.12 B395

Philosophy, Psychology & Religion
Sands Hall Flunk, start: reclaiming my decade lost in Scientology 299.936 H174
Michael Massing Fatal discord: Erasmus, Luther & the fight for the Western mind 270.6 M418
Michel Meyer What is rhetoric? 190 M612
Frank Ostaseski The five invitations: discovering what death can teach us about living fully 294.34 O851
Nicholas Terpstra Religious refugees in the early modern world: an alternative history of the Reformation 270.6 T322
Peter Unger Empty ideas: a critique of analytic philosophy 110 U572
David Walsh, PhD Why do they act that way?: a survival guide to the adolescent brain, for you & your teen 155.5 W223
Tara Westover Educated: a memoir 270 W536

Politics & Government
Elaine Weiss The woman's hour: the great fight to win the vote 324.6 W429

Social Sciences & Current Events
Michele Lent Hirsch Invisible: how young women with serious health issues navigate work, relationships & the pressure to seem just fine 305.908 H669
Ryan Holiday Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker & the anatomy of intrigue 302.23 H732
Sherrilyn Ifill, Loretta Lynch, Bryan Stevenson & Anthony C Thompson A perilous path: talking race, inequality & the law 305.896 I234
Dinny McMahon China's great wall of debt: shadow banks, ghost cities, massive loans & the end of the Chinese miracle 336.3 M167
Frank Mort Capital affairs: London & the making of the permissive society 306.77 M887

Travel & Geography
Top 10 Montreal & Quebec City 917.14 E97t
Hungry for Paris: the ultimate guide to the city's 109 best restaurants 914.436 L799
Montreal & Quebec City 917.14 M623

* * * * *


Arjun Raj Gaind Death at the Durbar: the second Maharaja mystery

* * * * *


Susan Cain Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking CD 155.2 C135
Raj Patel & Jason W Moore A history of the world in seven cheap things: a guide to capitalism, nature & the future of the planet CD 303.44 P295
Shaun Walker The long hangover: Putin's new Russia & the ghosts of the past CD 947.086 W177

* * * * *


The hot chick
All the right moves
National Lampoon's Christmas vacation

Foreign Language
Quiet Chaos (Caos calmo) DVD Italian
Seasons (Les saisons) DVD French
We have a pope (Habemus papam) DVD Italian

She's beautiful when she's angry DVD 305.42 D695
Style wars DVD 782.421 S938
The decline of western civilization collection DVD 781.66 D295
How music & mathematics relate DVD 781 K964
Music & the brain DVD 781.11 P295
2014 World Series: Giants. BLU 796.357 W927
Flyin' cut sleeves DVD 791.43 F648

Alpha dog
The girl on a motorcycle
All the king's men
Beat street
Copying Beethoven
Crime & punishment
Darkest hour
Hilary & Jackie

* * * * *


Brahms Volodos plays Brahms.
Elliott Carter Late works

Jazz & Blues
Christian McBride Big Band Bringin' it

Beck Colors
Sharon Jones & the Dap-kings Soul of a woman

Posted on Mar. 27, 2018 by Heather Terrell

Mechanics' Institute Annual Report: 2017 Edition

The Mechanics' Institute Annual Report for 2017 is available online, or in print format at the service desks. Learn more about what Mechanics' Institute accomplished on your behalf in 2017, including...

  • Highlights about the library, chess room, and events department
  • An overview of the annual financial audit
  • A big thanks to all of our donors, with info on how you can help Mechanics' thrive for another 163 years (and beyond!)

Download the Annual Report here, or pick up a copy next time you're in MI's historic 57 Post Street building.

We hope to see you at one of our winter member events, the Bi-Annual Members' Meeting and/or the Holiday Gathering. Mechanics' Institute staff extends a hearty thanks to the Board of Trustees, our donors, and MI members for another great year!

Posted on Nov. 21, 2017 by Heather Terrell

Anatomy of a Display

Mechanics’ Institute members love our library displays. I know, because we get plenty of positive feedback on them, and quantitative analysis shows that a significant percentage of these materials get checked out every month. Members love to discover books, DVDS, and audiobooks that they may not otherwise have known about!

I consider it an art to curate the books on any library display. Some are structured around a consistent theme, such as fiction or staff picks. Some are produced on the fly when a revered writer passes away (recents included in memoriam for Kevin Starr, Derek Walcott, and currently on display, the works of Sam Shepard). Others are a bit more free form. In my two years managing the displays, I’ve become quite a bit more ~ Surrealist ~ in my methodology for producing these book exhibits. (Ceci n'est pas un  étalage.) So how does an idea begin to germinate? I’ll cite a couple of examples for some recent displays I’ve constructed.

The Human_3.0 Reading List, showing on the third floor through the end of August, is based entirely on a series of drawings by filmmaker-artist Cauleen Smith. I recently saw the work exhibited at Art Institute Chicago and immediately knew I’d craft a display around the reading list. In her series of 57 drawings, Smith uses watercolor over graphite on graph paper to propose a personal reading list of works that have changed her worldview, books that she feels are essential in understanding institutional power structures. In displaying the books on her list that are also on our shelves, I hope to inspire members to read works they may not have considered, as well as to think about their own essential reading lists – the books that have shaped them and the books they recommend to others.

Another recent display idea was triggered by my trill of joy upon finding out that a favorite writer won the Pulitzer for criticism. Theater and culture critic Hilton Als writes for The New Yorker, so his work appears primarily in magazines. I asked myself...

How do I craft an engaging display that celebrates his work? I can't just lay out a bunch of battered issues of The New Yorker! 

I looked to Als's articles for the answer. I included plays that he's reviewed, books he wrote the introductions for or edited, and the few books he's published. I also researched citations in Als's articles over the past year to locate materials he referred to, even if they weren't the direct subject of a piece. Coming at the question obliquely allowed me to include magazines, DVDs, and books. I also created a poster and a brochure listing the articles for which he won the Pulitzer (and indicating where they could be found). The brochures disappeared from the display almost as quickly as the books were checked out – two signals of a successful exhibit!

My favorite displays to design are the ones, like the examples above, that are pure flights of imagination. I like to build materials exhibits around a nugget of interest from a subject area or a member’s comment, a newsworthy topic, or in conjunction with a current art exhibit or a program the MI is hosting. I hope you enjoy our library displays as much as I enjoy researching and creating them!

Posted on Aug. 11, 2017 by Heather Terrell

Time, memory, and the pursuit of the perfect madeleine...

Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time (also known in English as Remembrance of Things Past) is a monumental, seven-volume novel that Edmund White calls, “the most respected novel of the twentieth century.” Whether you've been too intimidated to begin the novel, have already wrestled with Proust's dense prose, or know the joys of savoring his work, you’ll find something of value in reading it with an expert guide.

SFSU Professor of Comparative & World Literature Mark Calkins has led the Proust Seminar at Mechanics' Institute Library since 2001. In September 2017, the group will begin its sixth 3-year cycle, starting again with Swann's Way. Participants meet on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of the month from 5:30pm to 6:30pm at Mechanics’ Institute. Tuition is paid twice a year. Registration for this group is open to all, and Mechanics’ Institute members join at a reduced rate. Check our website for Fall semester registration details next week.

Wondering what veteran members of this group have to say?

"Mark leads our Proust Group with wit, empathy and erudition. He provides important background and insights as well as open-ended questions that lead to lively discussion. I can’t imagine a better way to read this great masterpiece. Mark is a truly remarkable guide and interpreter of Proust."

"I am just about to complete the full three year Proust seminar. Mark Calkins is an able leader and facilitator of provocative analysis and discussions that assist participants in gaining greater insights into this complex novel. It has been a most satisfying experience, and I heartily recommend it."

If you have questions about registration, contact Heather by email or at 415.857.6727; contact Dr. Calkins with questions about the group.

Posted on Jul. 7, 2017 by Heather Terrell

Literary Lures

Notwithstanding Trollope's focus on the "librarianess" and her dual qualities of "pretty" and "learned" as explicated in the Oxford English Dictionary (my favorite go-to for information, word history, and idle browsing), a librarian is "a keeper or custodian of the library," i.e., one "concerned with or employed about books" (vol. VII, p889). These days, a keeper of the library is employed about much more than just books, but it's an undeniably interesting facet of our work. Trust me; since I started working in libraries in 2008, my reading list has grown longer than two of me could get through in a lifetime!


Although our team of Mechanics' Institute Librarians do things like managing budgets; teaching classes; designing websites; configuring the online catalog and making sure books are findable and accurately described there; administering reading and writing groups; caring for the archives; organizing programs; developing partnerships with like-minded institutions; establishing contracts with third party providers of eBooks, databases, and more; and dabbling in graphic design with publications like the newsletter, program flyers, and bookmarks -- not an exhaustive list, BTW -- we librarians each manage and develop specified subject collections as well.


Because library materials are only one of the many things we concern ourselves with, it's always gratifying to be reminded that books still matter to our members, quite a bit, in fact. Yesterday at the reference desk, I was delighted to hear from a member who, upon returning his books, declared:


“I got so absorbed in this bait you put out that I lost track of the due date, but I’ll cheerfully pay the fine. That’s the best tradition of the library: librarians choosing books you wouldn’t normally know about!”


In this spirit, I offer you a few good books that our librarians have chosen for the collection which may have escaped your attention, but are well worth a read:


The Metabarons (2012)

This science fiction series of graphic novels chronicles the lives of five metabarons – a dynasty of perfect warriors – over the course of several generations, incorporating Greek tragedy, mythology, history, and science – if you like Frank Herbert’s Dune series, you’ll love:

The Metabarons: ultimate collection

Metabarons Genesis: Castaka

The Metabaron: The Techno-Admiral and the Anti-Baron


Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual (For a Sexist Workplace)  (2016)

This illustrated primer, ostensibly for women – covering everything from lactation in the workplace to negotiating a raise – is actually for everyone, including ways that each of us can be part of the solution rather than ignoring or unwittingly contributing to the problem. It's written in a funny, engaging voice, with plenty of quirkily drawn infographics, such as “May I Mansplain?” and “Is That Woman On Her Period?” It’s a fun read, but also an informational one that'll make you think about ways you can take a crack at the alive-and-well patriarchy.

[bonus round: If "patriarchy" is a meaningless buzzword to you after these many decades it's been in the lexicon, check out Germaine Greer's 2000 follow-up to The Female Eunuch, The Whole Woman, in which she exposes forms of discrimination and exploitation that continue to plague women, from the workplace to the kitchen, and from the supermarket to the bedroom. Then read a couple of books you probably have heard of -- Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist and Lindy West's Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman -- to dig into a contemporary, intersectional take on feminism, performing womanhood, and a lot of other thinky topics.]


Still Life with Oysters and Lemon (2002)

Not exactly memoir, not exactly essay, this book encompasses what I love best about the non-fiction of Mark Doty – it’s an extended meditation on art, the philosophy of representation, and the interplay of memory with life (and death). It’s an eminently quotable book, rife with description both lush and sparse. It’s also a quick read, a slim volume. If you’re looking for a poetic, wide-ranging work of meandering grandeur, give this book a try.


In the Heart of the Sea (2000)

Taryn tells me that she was ELECRTIFIED by Nathaniel Philbrick’s recounting of the true story of a Nantucket whaler that was rammed and sunk by an irate whale. "Sound familiar?" she aks. "Indeed it was the tale that inspired Herman Melville to pen Moby Dick. Spoiler alert – this tale is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach and be prepared to stop your life in order to read it cover to cover. Thar she blows!"


The Portable Frank (2011)

Joel says, "Jim Woodring’s amazing wordless comic tales of Frank are surreal and symbolic and bizarre and magical and unlike any comics you’ve likely read."


Hopefully, you'll check out a couple of these underappreciated gems and examine our displays and blog reviews for more great finds!

Posted on Jun. 7, 2017 by Heather Terrell

Pulitizer Prize-winner Hilton Als: Deep Cuts

Hilton Als is a highly acclaimed theatre, art, and culture critic for The New Yorker. In 1997, he was awarded first prize in both Magazine Critique/Review and Magazine Arts and Entertainment by the New York Association of Black Journalists. He won a Guggenheim for creative writing in 2000. In 2003, he was honored with the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. His book White Girls was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2014. This year, he adds a Pulitzer Prize to his distinguished list of awards.

The committee awards the Pulitzer to Als, “For bold and original reviews that strove to put stage dramas within a real-world cultural context, particularly the shifting landscape of gender, sexuality and race.”

Als is an exhibit curator and collaborator, a professor, and writer. His varied interests and areas of expertise lend themselves to an engaging display of materials, and since he’s one of my favorite writers, I thought I’d put something together for Mechanics’ Institute members to explore. The 3rd floor display highlights the work of Hilton Als. Publications in which his work appears will have a bookmark noting where to find it. The display also highlights his subject matter. You’ll find plays and art that he’s critiqued, music he’s reviewed, and other references that can be found in his work. I’m calling the display “Hilton Als Deep Cuts”; I’ve hunted down work that he’s referred to in the last 3 years in his work for The New Yorker – some of the references are explicit (he reviewed the play based on 2666 by Robert Bolano, so you’ll find the three-volume novel on the display) and some are obscure (he mentioned Black Macho in a review of Madlib’s 2014 album Piñata, so you’ll find Michelle Wallace’s book on the display as well).

In Memoriam for Edward Albee, Als has written: “Writing that gets under your skin, in your bones, will play in your head and memory like nothing else. While painting, photography, and movies can come at you with a very particular force—an in-your-face power that, when done correctly, unearths hitherto unexamined or marginalized feelings—dramatic literature lives in your ear, and, when it’s truly great, shapes how you shape words yourself.”

The same can be said of Als's writing; it gets under your skin, it lives in your ear. If this is the first you're hearing of him, definitely check out the display, check out his work, and who knows – you may end up loving it as much as I do.

Congratulations on a richly deserved Pulitzer Prize to the inimitable Hilton Als.


(image copyright: Brigitte Lacombe, source: The New Yorker staff photo)

Posted on Apr. 27, 2017 by Heather Terrell

Public Services Are Fundamental

Myles recently put together a stellar display of PBS DVDs in support of local publicly-funded television programming. I’d like to add my two cents in the battle for non-commercial arts and sciences as well. As much as I love its grown-up programming (very much), my deepest connection with PBS comes from my abiding admiration for the late, great Fred Rogers (1928 – 2003).

As a child growing up in the television age, I considered Mr. Rogers to be one of the family. His generosity, vivid imagination, and curiosity helped form my ideas about how to live and be in the world. To this day, when I am anxious about the state of the union or the universe, and when natural and man-made disasters strike, I remind myself of what Mr. Rogers’s mother told him: Look for the helpers. Not only does this practice ease my fears, it reminds me that I, too, can be one of the helpers.

Mr. Rogers Neighborhood is the kind of programming that PBS is famous for: “…free, evidence-based educational content…exploring topics like science, literacy, math, and the core social and emotional subjects that foster kindness, friendship, curiosity, and enthusiasm for learning.” (Fred Rogers Company, 3/17/2017) In celebration of the legacy of local public broadcasting in this country, and of the particular contributions of Mr. Rogers, I present a short list of a few materials in the Mechanics’ Institute’s collection that might inspire you, as they inspire me, to live simpler lives, and to engage with our neighbors in meaningful ways.

Mr. Rogers and Me is a documentary inspired by a conversation the filmmaker had with his real-life neighbor. During this conversation, Mr. Rogers told Benjamin Wagner, “I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.” In this film, Benjamin and Christofer Wagner undertake a quest to explore the meaning of this “deep and simple” ethos in interviews with those who knew Fred Rogers.

You Are Special: Words of Wisdom from America’s Most Beloved Neighbor isn’t really a self-help book, although it’s shelved with them, between The Philosophy of Childing: Unlocking Creativity, Curiosity, and Reason Through the Wisdom of Our Youngest and J.K. Rowling’s Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination. This compilation of Mr. Rogers’s signature sayings and thoughts is organized by themes and enriched by personal anecdotes – more in the style of Deep Thoughts than Deepak Chopra. A quick read or a book to keep on the bedside, this collection of thoughts will remind you of the direct simplicity of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, and maybe one or two of the quotes will help you on your journey. One of my favorites: “You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.” (p 160)

I’m Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers

M.I. has the audiobook version of this work. “It began as another newspaper assignment, a celebrity profile of the children’s television icon. But in Fred Rogers, Texas journalist Tim Madigan found more than a fascinating subject. From their first meeting in 1995, at Rogers’ invitation, the two became unlikely friends, a deep and abiding relationship that lasted until Rogers’ death in 2003. In that time, Madigan found Rogers to be much more than the calm and compassionate personality of television. He was a person of unique human greatness who embodied love, compassion and wisdom his every waking moment. He was the transcendent being who guided Madigan through periods of life-threatening depression and the tragic death of a sibling and helped him heal his difficult relationship with his father. I’m Proud of You reveals Fred Rogers as a person who deserves a place among history’s greatest people. It chronicles male friendship at its finest and most powerful.” (content courtesy of the publisher)

If Mr. Rogers Neighborhood made an impact on you in the 33 years it aired on PBS (1968 – 2001), check out some of these titles, relive the magic, and consider how you might be a bit more like Fred McFeely Rogers on a regular basis. Let’s make the most of this beautiful day. Won’t you be my neighbor?

Posted on Apr. 26, 2017 by Heather Terrell

A Few of Our Favorite Things (On the Blogosphere)

Ever wonder what Mechanics’ Institute staff consider required reading on the web? In our spare time, many of us enjoy not only books in all formats, but web-based writings as well. Here are just a few of our go-to blogs and websites:


Taryn, Strategic Partnerships Manager, Librarian

"I admit it, I am a calendar nerd. I’m obsessed with my schedule, I love jotting to-do lists, and I adore journaling. For a long time I tried to accomplish this with several online tools (one for scheduling, one for lists and one for journaling) but eventually I came to realize that the old way of doing things – using paper – was more effective. Apparently I am not alone. Try Googling 'paper planner' and you’ll be amazed by how many folks still use this analog style of time keeping. Philofaxy: for the love of Filofax is a blog aimed at obsessive/compulsive planners, especially those who love ring-bound planning systems, like FIlofax of Franklin Covey.  Other stationery crazed people will also enjoy the blog’s reviews of time keeping systems, customization hacks, free diary inserts, and the titillating photos of glossy leather binders, fountain pens and Japanese paper."

"The author of the Storyfix blog is Larry Brooks, a novelist and writing structure guru. We have two of his books on fiction writing process, Story Engineering and Story Physics, which are AMAZING; but his blog BLOWS THE MIND because it consistently reinforces the message of his books – that to write a gut wrenching, spirit lifting, gobsmacking story, an author must pay attention to its structure from concept to character to sequence and theme, and effectively marry that structure with a vision for how all the parts [will] come together to become a cohesive whole. The blog also provides timely publication news, storytelling advice from guest speakers, and case-studies, or writing examples, from Brooks’ coaching clients (with permission of course). Brooks masterfully explains what works and what doesn’t with each story sample and adeptly comes up with viable solutions. All in all, this is one of my favorite writing sources of all time!"


Cherilyn, Library Assistant
"In Subway Book Review, strangers riding the New York City subway are asked what they are reading. People from different walks of life and backgrounds are asked to not only talk about what they are reading, but to also give a snippet about who they are and why they are reading this particular book at this particular point in their life. The blog includes many interesting book recommendations, but even more interesting stories of peoples' lives."


Pam, Events Assistant

"I cannot tell a lie. My favorite website is James Lileks’ massive Institute of Official Cheer. Here, humorist James Lileks wages his very funny war against bad advertising and design – especially the bad, bad design of the 1970s.  For me, the funniest sections are:

This is my personal favorite because it’s not only funny, but develops into a believable, sometimes sad meditation on small-town life in the first part of the 20th century."


Joel, Librarian, Head of Technical Services

"50 Watts assembles collections of fantastic illustrations and designs from various books or pieces of ephemera. Will, the curator, is a complete bibliophile and gets his hands on some wonderfully obscure and gorgeous works. Sadly the blog has been on hiatus for almost a year, but it's still one of the best image-based blogs out there.

"We live in an amazing area for art and (if you ask me) some of the best art being made today is out in our streets. Street Art SF is a blog to which people submit pictures of murals, graffiti, stickers, and various other forms of art found around the streets of the Bay Area.

"Atlas Obscura, the blog for the amazing 'hidden wonders' website, posts articles highlighting overlooked places and curiosities, as well as interesting articles focused on forgotten aspects of history, culture, and geography. The library also has a copy of their excellent new book Atlas obscura : an explorer's guide to the world's hidden wonders."

Myles, Library Assistant

"My favorite blog is Digital Photography Review. They cover developments in imaging from cheap consumer electronics to equipment used in big-budget cinema. While gear news takes up the most of the content, it's also an excellent source for extraordinary photos of nature and breaking world events. If you're a shutterbug, be sure to check it out."


Lia, Cataloging & Metadata Librarian

"Firstly, I love Budget Bytes because I love to cook.  For me, cooking dinner is part of how I unwind at the end of the day – creating good food feels like a meditation to me.  I also love Budget Bytes because I like finding ways to feed myself and my partner healthily while saving money.  Beth, who runs the site, writes recipes that are easy to follow with plenty of photos at each stage of the cooking process.

"While I am nowhere near as frugal as the couple who runs Frugalwoods, I love reading about their great frugality ideas. Frugalwoods contains a wealth of financial and simple living advice.

"As someone who likes video games, I check Kotaku at least a few times a week for all the latest video game news, as well as a hilarious once a week highlight reel."


My own picks include Idlewords, Kottke, and Brain Pickings.

At Idlewords, you'll find a wealth of longform work on the web (a bit of a rarity), covering topics that I’m not necessarily passionate about, but am definitely interested in. It’s a nice weekend-reads kind of blog. Maciej Cegłowski writes pieces brimming with curiosity about a variety of topics – from the dysfunction of patent law, to dancing and eating steak (two different pieces) in Argentina. There’s a lot of travel in this blog, a lot of writing about food, and science, and books… it’s basically a smorgasbord of interesting thoughts.

In his eponymous blog, Jason Kottke maintains possibly the longest continuously-running blog on the web: founded in 1998! He describes this body of more than 26,000 posts like so: "Basically, it’s the world’s complete knowledge, relentlessly filtered through my particular worldview, with all the advantages and disadvantages that entails." And his particular worldview is pretty delightful, IMO. A few of my favorite things, from baseball to butter, show up on this site. Short reads, information visualizations galore, links out to interesting work, and longer meditations on a rainbow of topics -- I check in with this blog almost daily.

Maria Popova is the reigning queen of the bookworms! At Brain Pickings, she writes about all the books you wish you'd read, in what read more like topical essays than straight-faced book reviews. She moves lyrically, meditatively, and often provocatively, through many publications and cultural influences in discussing whichever book her piece is ostensibly about. I regularly add five more items to my reading list whenever I check a review of a single new (or old) book she's writing about. Bonus? She loves libraries, and links book titles to Worldcat instead of Amazon!

Whether you’re looking for timely topics, humor, art and photography, gaming news, writing advice, or a good long read – check out some of our favorite blogs and see what you think!

Posted on Feb. 10, 2017 by Heather Terrell

MI Library Programs: A Primer

Are you a new Mechanics’ Institute member? Been here for awhile, but would like to know more about what we offer? To get everyone up to speed on some of the library’s programming, here’s a non-exhaustive overview of some of our most popular services:

Discussion Groups meet on a regular basis: typically either bi-weekly, monthly, or quarterly. We currently host member-led book groups (World Literature, Catch-22), librarian-facilitated book groups (Brown Bag Mystery Readers, Virginia Woolf Readers, and the Book Riot Read Harder Book Group), and the Proust Group, run by Dr. Mark Calkins. We also host a TED Talks discussion group, held in the 4th floor meeting room on the second Tuesday of each month. With the exception of the Proust Group, all discussion groups are free and open to members of the Mechanics’ Institute, no pre-registration required. Discussion groups are frequented by members who like to talk about books and ideas as well as listening to what others have to say. I daresay that many lifelong friendships have been formed in some of our long-running discussion groups!

The library offers several classes and workshops each month, including monthly e-Materials downloads workshops, one-on-one technology office hours, a robust group of classes on financial literacy, and courses related to the library’s services, database offerings, and technology-focused topics – everything from email etiquette to building your blog. Look for future classes on using Goodreads, an orientation to the library’s website and online catalog, literary magazines (web and print) for writers, and encrypting your online life.

Writers’ Services include the member-led Indie Publishers Working Group, monthly Writer’s Lunches, and several workshop and critique groups that MI writers have formed over the years. We also host occasional groups such as the Teacherless Writing Group, a NaNoWriMo writing challenge group, and individual topical classes on craft. Litquake also offers weekend courses in our 4th floor board room on occasion, so be on the lookout for these workshops!

Weekly noon tours of the Mechanics’ Institute building are led by a rotating cast of librarians every Wednesday. Registration is not required, and the tour is free – members and the public meet on the 3rd floor of the library and spend 30 - 45 minutes walking the 1st through 5th floors of the building together, learning about MI's institutional history and current services. Evening tours are offered each quarter by Taryn Edwards, our resident MI history expert – slash librarian – slash partnerships manager! The evening tour is followed by a wine and cheese reception – a great way to get to know your fellow MI members, and learn more about this historic institution.

...and these are just the library's offerings! The Mechanics' Institute also has a vibrant events department and a thriving chess club. Check MI’s new quarterly newsletter for listings and articles, and refer to the web listings for complete details on all of our goings-on. If you have any questions about these or other services offered by the library, call the reference desk at 415.393.0102, or email me at

Posted on Jan. 27, 2017 by Heather Terrell