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A Visit to the La Jolla Athenaeum - a Reciprocal Library for Members

If you were not yet aware, the Mechanics’ Institute has reciprocal arrangements with other subscription libraries in the United States. If you're visiting one of the cities listed below, then you can visit the membership library there for up to 5 days (per year). You need only make arrangements through the Mechanics' Institute Membership Department before leaving for your trip. In January I made arrangements to visit the beautiful Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla, California.

The librarian, Kathi Peterson, gave my friends and me a tour. Located in a small building in La Jolla's downtown, the Athenaeum specializes in music and art, boasting a very impressive collection of vinyl phonograph records, sheet music, librettos, art and music books, DVDs, and music CDs. They also have a unique collection of "artists' books" - books of artwork by a given artist published in very limited editions. Kathi also showed us the classroom where they teach art classes to members. In addition to art classes, the Athenaeum hosts lectures on music, art, and art history. She and her staff actively participate in the curation of "The Murals of La Jolla" and provide guided walking tours of these murals as part of the Athenaeum's regularly scheduled activities.

In 1894 a small group of women formed a reading club that acquired a small building in 1898. By 1899 the group incorporated itself as "The Library Association of La Jolla" which then became the subscription library they have now. In 2016 the Athenaeum expanded to a second location in downtown San Diego near Coronado Island. Along with galleries, it includes classrooms and studios.

Although the library is not open on Mondays, the building opens for a free (to everyone) "mini-concert" most Monday afternoons. We took advantage of this during my visit to enjoy a jazz concert by pianist Mikan Zlatovich accompanied by Ben Wanicur on upright bass.

I very highly recommend that if you are traveling you take some time to visit one of these subscription libraries. They all have histories and stories as interesting as the Mechanics' Institute. They typically occupy beautiful buildings and carry eclectic collections.


City, State / Library name 

Boston, MA / The Boston Athenaeum

Brooklyn, NY / The Center for Fiction 

Charleston, SC / The Charleston Library Society

Cincinnati, OH / The Mercantile Library of Cincinnati

Johnsbury, VT / St. Johnsbury Athenaeum

La Jolla, CA / The Athenaeum Music and Arts Library

New Haven, CT / The Institute Library of New Haven

New York, NY / The New York Society Library

Newport, RI / Redwood Library and Athenaeum

Philadelphia, PA / The Athenaeum of Philadelphia

Portland, ME / Mechanics' Hall

Portsmouth, NH / The Portsmouth Athenaeum

Providence, RI / The Providence Athenaeum

Salem, MA / The Salem Athenaeum

Seattle, WA / Folio: The Seattle Athenaeum

St. Louis, MO / The St. Louis Mercantile Library i

Summerville, SC / Timrod Literary & Library Association

Tryon, NC / Lanier Library of North Carolina

Posted on Mar. 1, 2024 by Steven Dunlap

New and noteworthy -- the Moomins are here!

The Moomin books, that is.

Moomins are white, hippopotamus-like creatures that live in the snowy lands of the Moomin Valley. A creation of a Finnish writer, Tove Jansson, published originally in Swedish, these books have proven very popular with children (and adults) for decades. I first learned of these beloved books when I read a semi-autobiographical book by Stephen Johnson. In a deeply personal account of his troubles overcoming abuse and trauma, he wrote: "As a child, I loved Tove Jansson's Moomintroll books; more recently, as an adult, I've had the pleasure of returning to them and discovering how full of wisdom, compassion, and psychological insight they are." (From Stephen Johnson, How Shostakovich changed my mind, p. 81. 781.1 J630 

Finding these in English translation has proven a bit challenging, but we have some well-regarded adaptations in our collection now.

For a belated Christmas: Christmas comes to Moomin Valley

And in keeping with the season: Moomin and the Ice Festival

And others, such as:

Moomin and the Wishing Star 

Moomin and the Spring Surprise 

We also have a volume of the comic strips:

Moomin: the complete Tove Jansson comic strip 

And for very small children, a book that teaches numbers:

Moomin's Little Book of Numbers 

You can browse the Moomin books under the call number U Jansson in the Universal section on the 2nd floor (formerly called "Children's" we renamed this part of our collection because people of all ages can enjoy many of the books it contains, not just children).

Posted on Feb. 23, 2024 by Steven Dunlap

New Chess books January 2024

Attacking chess for club players: improve your skills to overpower your opponents / Herman Grooten. 794.12 G876 

Another generous gift from the estate of Jeremy Silman. In this book, Grooten presents techniques for experienced club players to enhance their game. He uses an analysis of middle game positions to explain advanced concepts (or rather, explain the greater complexities of concepts you already know). Grooten includes 106 exercises with additional analysis in the solutions. Not intended for beginners.

Studies for practical players: improving calculation and resourcefulness in the endgame / Mark Dvoretsky & Oleg Pervakov; foreword by Jan Timman. 794.124 D98s

Dvortetsky's books are a favorite with Mechanics Institute Chess players. This one, co-written with Oleg Pervakov, is his latest to come out in English translation. (Book 2 of this set, with the subtitle "improving important endgame concepts," is due out in February.) These studies allow players to practice the lessons taught in his previous books. 

Match for the World Chess Championship, Mikhail Botvinnik - David Bronstein, Moscow 1951 / Mikhail Botvinnik. 794.159 B75m

Botvinnik retained his world championship status by drawing Bronstein in this match. Behind at the end of the 22nd game, he won the 23rd, then with his draw in the 24th, he retained his title. In this now-out-of-print book, Botvinnik provides detailed commentary and analysis of his games. We are fortunate to have been given such a fine copy of this book. Thank you Kenneth Hills!   

Winning chess openings / Yasser Seirawan. 794.122 S46

Seirawan has received high praise from club members who feel that reading his books has resulted in a noticeable improvement in their games. Written for beginners, this book will help those trying to pick out an opening that best suits their style of play.

Mikhail Tal: the street-fighting years / Alexander Koblenz; translated from Russian by Alexei Zakharov. 794.15 T13ko

To say "street-fighting" regarding a chess champion is curious, but the title of this classic (first published in 1963) refers to Tal's early games. The book includes 77 of these games annotated by Koblenz, who served as Tal's long-term coach and second.  

Perpetual chess improvement: practical chess advice from world-class players and dedicated amateurs / Ben Johnson; forward by GM Ben Finegold. 794.1 J661

Perpetual Chess Podcast host, USCF Master Ben Johnson has compiled some of his favorite stories told by a wide variety of guests to his show. Along with advice on how to approach and study different aspects of the game including openings, endgames, tournament games, and speed chess, he also includes information on finding a chess coach and a like-minded chess community. Additionally, he also recommends the best ways to use the powerful chess study tools available today.

The world's most instructive amateur game book / Dan Heisman. 794.1 H473w

Here’s a book for the intermediate players. Heisman analyzes 30 games by intermediate players and offers guidance on improvement. The positions you find in this book will likely resemble the positions you will encounter in the under 1600 tier of a tournament. The study of the brilliant games of grandmasters of yesteryear is always helpful, but it’s also beneficial to learn from the mistakes of players at the same level as you.

Theoretical rook endgames / Sam Shankland; edited by Jeremy Hart. 794.124 S528

In January 2024, the Mechanics Institute had the good fortune to host one of our members, Sam Shankland, for a book signing and chess presentation. Sam is well known in the chess community and we had a strong turnout for the event. All copies of Sam's books sold out. That's not surprising given he has proven to be a brilliant teacher as shown on his DVD (also in the MI library) The Shankland Method. DVD 794.1 S528 


Posted on Feb. 14, 2024 by Steven Dunlap

New Chess books October-November 2023

Rolf Martens : the chess genius, maoist and rebel / Axel Smith, Fredrik Danelius, Calle Erlandsson. 794.1092 M377a    

Recently retired MI Chess Club Director John Donaldson wrote of this book in a recent Chess Room Newsletter:  "... a marvelous tribute to a man who marched to his own drummer. Rolf Martens (1942-2008) never became an international master much less a grandmaster, but he enjoys a mythic status in his native Sweden. … Big things were predicted for Martens but he chose to turn his back on competitive chess for most of the remainder of his life, preferring to concentrate his energies on political activism on the far left. … Martens did return to chess, but it was an opening analyst, not so much as a player. His ever-inventive mind came up with a number of new opening variations – not just new moves. … a beautiful hardcover book printed on good paper with many crisp colors and black and white photos that are some of the nicest to ever appear in a chess book. Highly Recommended."  


The king-hunt / John Nunn & William Cozens. 794.12 C88 1996    

One of the most popular chess books in our collection, we recently acquired an additional copy while we keep a spare in the basement. Nunn with updates from Cozens examine in great detail that situation we often encounter in the middle-game -- when our opponent's King, for whatever reason, has left the safe corner behind the row of pawns. 


Tactics time : 1001 chess tactics from the games of everyday chess players / by Tim Brennan and Anthea Carson. 794.1 B83

Brennan and Carson set out to write a chess book that shows positions from low-rated players' actual games in order to expose beginning students of the game to the kinds of positions that they will actually encounter in matches and tournaments. Although learning from the great, instructive games of times past has proven a highly effective way to teach the finer points of chess, most players starting out in competitive play will not find themselves paired with Grandmasters. For those of us in the lower depths of the Elo pool, the exercises in this book will do the most good for teaching us to recognize the kinds of patterns that occur in the games we're playing. 


Keep It Simple 1.d4 : A Solid and Straightforward Chess Opening Repertoire for White / Christof Sielecki. 794.122 S571

Sielecki explains variations that are straightforward and easy to remember, and require little or no maintenance. He has created a reliable set of opening lines for chess players of almost all levels. The major objective is to dominate Black from the opening, by simple means. You don't need to sacrifice anything or memorize long tactical lines. Ambitious players rated 1500 or higher will get great value out of studying this extremely accessible book. (Adapted from description on the web site). 


Grandmaster secrets : openings / Andrew Soltis ; caricatures by Rob Long. 794.122 S691g

Soltis has written numerous books for the chess beginner. This one employs the Socratic method with a fictitious GM, Noah Tall, teaching a fictitious student, Pat Sayre. Those who studied Soltis' 365 chess master lessons (794.1 S69t) will find his approach in this book very similar. 


The great chess writer and teacher Jeremy Silman died on September 21, 2023. We wish to express our gratitude to his estate for kindly donating these books from his personal collection to the Mechanics Institute Library


Maneuvering : the art of piece play / by Mark Dvoretsky. 794.12 D98

Dvoretsky focuses on the use of the knights and bishops in all phases of the game. The format has each chapter start with a set of exercises followed by a detailed analysis of each position in the solution. These explanations have far more detail than the usual ones found in most chess puzzles/combinations books. 


Coaching the chess stars / by Vladimir Tukmakov. 794.15 T916

Tukmakov has coached many rising stars in chess. He writes about the process of coaching his students to develop their own creativity. "I [Tukmakov] hope that an inside look at this kind of work will be of interest to both specialists and chess fans." (quoted from description in the Thinkers Publishing online store)


Winning the World Open : strategies for success at America's most prestigious open chess tournament / Joel Benjamin & Harold Scott. 794.157 B459

In 1973 legendary organizer Bill Goichberg created the model for what would become an iconic American chess tournament. The deal at the World Open was plain and simple: high entry fees, big prizes, and no frills. Joel Benjamin and Harold Scott have delved into the tournament's history, examined hundreds of games and conducted interviews with what they call the Heroes of the World Open, players that won the tournament on multiple occasions. (Description from publisher)


Strategic chess exercises : find the right way to outplay your opponent / Emmanuel Bricard ; translation Tony Kosten. 794.1 B849

I recall during one of the first chess classes I attended at the MI Chess Club, FM Paul Whitehead told us that after having watched thousands of games and annotated thousands more he has found that when one player has a plan and the other player doesn't, the player with a plan wins -- even if it's a bad plan! Have a plan first, then see about making it a good one. 


Once you decide it's time to learn how to make a better plan, consider this book. According to the publisher it serves as "a practical exercise manual with carefully selected and tested training positions that teach you how to develop the right plan… The level of difficulty of the exercises varies as this manual is intended for a wide range of club players. The majority of the exercises are middle-game positions, but additionally there is a large section of endgame tests as well."


Posted on Jan. 5, 2024 by Steven Dunlap

New and noteworthy - Masaleydaar : classic Indian spice blends (Cookbook)

Back in the 1980s, when I lived in New York City, you could find between 20 to 30 Indian Restaurants on this one block in Alphabet City (Southern Manhattan, East of Greenwich Village). A friend who taught himself Indian cooking explained to me that the reason these restaurants were so affordable (OK, cheap, I was a starving student back then) was that they all bought the spices in bulk for all of the restaurants (super-wholesale), then divided them up among themselves. Indian curries and sauces, he explained, use mostly the same spices, only in different combinations and proportions. I had always found that idea fascinating, as I could taste the difference between one restaurant's curry and another's. 

We are delighted to have a unique addition to our already large collection of cookbooks: Masaleydaar: classic Indian spice blends by Nandita Godbole. More than just a cookbook, you can read about the cultural history behind each region's cuisine, recipes for all different kinds of meals, and, of course, how to blend the spices. This cookbook is the only one in our collection that covers the fine details of how to blend Indian spices and how they differ region by region and dish by dish. 

That block of inexpensive Indian restaurants no longer exists, or at least not as I remember it from my time living in New York City. Oh well .

Posted on Nov. 17, 2023 by Steven Dunlap

Performances that changed my mind -- Mother Night

Nick Nolte in Mother Night (1996)

For many years,I had a poor opinion of Nick Nolte. (As an actor only. As a person, I could not say as I never met the guy). I did not watch Rich Man, Poor Man on television in the 70s. He appeared in some entertaining movies, but of the action/adventure kind that did not require much acting. Maybe other movies I did not see were better than 48 Hours (or Another 48 Hours) or that awful turkey Grace Quigley. Also, those of his movies I can most kindly describe as brainless shoot-'em-ups (which I never watched but was aware of) not only did nothing to improve my opinion of his acting but put me off watching almost anything with him in it. Almost. 

Then, one day in my friendly neighborhood video store -- back in the dinosaur days of VHS -- I saw the container for a movie version of Kurt Vonnegut's Mother Night.  My lifelong admiration for the writing of Kurt Vonnegut and my curiosity overcame my dismal opinion of Nolte's other work. 

I discovered later on that, like me, Nick Nolte also admires Vonnegut and his novels.  And watching this film made me change my mind entirely about his acting ability. I was wrong. I realized that he is one of the greatest actors of our time. I made the mistake of judging him on the basis of bad or mediocre movies he had to make in order to earn enough money -- both to make a living and to perform in productions like this one. 

In 1930s Germany, an American writer meets a rather unusual man in the Tiergarten (a famous public park in Berlin). He quickly discovers that the meeting did not happen by chance. This sends him down a rabbit hole of Second World War espionage, requiring him to act like a Nazi, talk like a Nazi, and fully integrate himself into the Nazi propaganda machine. This comes at a price, as he finds the person he pretended to be continues to haunt him long after the war. The film, as did the novel, confronts questions of identity, memory, justice, injustice, and the sacrifices people can make without even realizing what they lost until it's too late. "Be careful who you pretend to be. We often are who we pretend to be."

Many may find fault with the lack of a clear "message" and find themselves confused about the film’s meaning. But this ambiguity we now would call "a feature -- not a bug" as the lack of definitive answers remains true to the novel. Fans of the book will enjoy seeing its most comic parts acted out and with great actors such as Alan Arkin and Frankie Faison. John Goodman (who many know from Roseanne and scores of movies) stars as the U.S. Army intelligence officer, and we hear the voice of Henry Gibson as Adolf Eichman. We also get to see an early performance by Kirsten Dunst. If you watch carefully, you may spot Kurt Vonnegut, who appears as an extra in the background in a street scene. 

The Mechanics Institute Library has the novel Mother Night in print. (Fic Vonnegut)

And the DVD: Mother Night 2nd Floor DVDs. 

Posted on Nov. 1, 2023 by Steven Dunlap

New and noteworthy -- Bloody Business

Bloody Business: An anecdotal history of Scotland Yard  by H. Paul Jeffers. 363.2 J45

Fans of true crime and historical trivia will love this book. Why are British uniformed police called "Bobbies?" Why do the police at Scotland Yard call the main entrance "the back way?" Why is the elite department that deals with terrorism and the most difficult cases called "The Special Branch," and what was its original name? Why do they call the Police Department in London "The Metropolitan Police," and why did it not always have jurisdiction over "The City of London?"  You will find answers to all these questions and more in this book. 

Jeffers uses the literary style of nonfiction writing, laying out the facts of the cases the same way as one would see in a well-written short story. The numerous "little-known fun facts," come up incidentally in a compact and very readable anecdotal narrative. A very helpful index will guide you back to passages that describe people who come up again later on. (My favorite of all the stories has to be the one in which an ordinary burglar, mistaken for Jack the Ripper by an angry mob, negotiates while "on the run" with the police officer in foot pursuit of him that if the cop saves him from the mob, he'll confess and not give the police any trouble. Both men held up their end of that bargain.)

Facts unknown to me, before I read this book, include the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Arthur Conan Doyle, did some work as a "consulting detective" himself, although not with the neat and tidy results that his fictional character did (real life never does give us "neat and tidy" the way you see it on a page of fiction). Scotland Yard inspectors worked several actual cases that inspired a few of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and in a case of real-life imitating art, criminals in 1971 took their plan to rob a bank from a Sherlock Holmes story published in 1890. 

Although published in 1992, this book only recently entered our collection. This means the text predates some now widely familiar investigative tools, such as DNA testing and extensive electronic surveillance, to name a few. It is still quite eye-opening to read about the earlier technology that police had to use. Since the "CSI" television and similar movies have popularized modern forensic technology, this book allows you to (re)learn how police in earlier times had to find murderers without the high-tech gadgets (or low-tech ones, for that matter), and how the application of scientific methods to police work originated and evolved over time.  


Posted on Oct. 26, 2023 by Steven Dunlap

Hidden Gems -- Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the eighth dimension (DVD)

Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the eighth dimension

A friend who watched “Buckaroo Banzai” with me in the theater the week of its release in the Summer of 1984 described it as "the most sublimely ridiculous movie ever made." Many years later and after this movie has gained a cult following and we still hear it mentioned in interviews and see it included in various "best of…" lists, I still cannot find anything else said or written about it that can improve upon my friend's one-sentence summary/description. They set out to make a hilariously silly and ridiculous movie, and, wow, did they ever succeed. 

The production company hired some of the best comic actors of the 1980s: John Lithgow (the patriarch from the TV show Third Rock from the Sun), Christopher Lloyd (The time-traveling scientist from Back to the Future) and Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park and a frequent supporting character in Wes Anderson movies). In the title role, they cast an up to then little-known but very highly skilled actor named Peter Weller (a few years before he starred in RoboCop). It also stars Ellen Barkin and a stable of wonderful character actors -- the sort of actors you've seen a million times without knowing their names. 

A polymath -- Inventor, brain surgeon, and rock musician—named Buckaroo Banzai and his crime-fighting team, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, save Earth from evil alien invaders from the eighth dimension. Almost everything in the story happens for no apparent reason, so don't try to find one. The same goes for the various personal attributes of the characters. John Lithgow's performance as the alien invasion leader includes an inexplicably bad pseudo-Mussolini Italian accent. Why? Who cares? Why do they call one of the Hong Kong Cavaliers "Perfect Tommy?" Because he's perfect. Why do the "good guy" aliens look like Rastafarians when disguised as humans? Again, don't worry about it; just sit back and let the sublime ridiculousness wash over you like an absurdist, dadaist, farcical, sci-fi bath.  

(Remember to look for this DVD in the stacks under "A" for "Adventures." I first looked under "B" for "Buckaroo" and briefly thought it was lost). 

Posted on Oct. 23, 2023 by Steven Dunlap

Hidden Gems -- The Outlaw Josey Wales (DVD)

In the 70s, Hollywood started to produce a different kind of Western, one that attempted to show a more historically authentic picture of people and events on the American frontier. An outgrowth of the social and political changes of the 1960s, these movies sharply departed from the older cliches of  "good guys in white hats" or the Native peoples depicted as either mindlessly violent or "properly" subservient and, of course, the cavalry riding into the rescue. Some classic Westerns also referenced the "Lost Cause" view of the defeated Confederacy. But the Westerns of the 70s sought to show the conflicts as more complex, the white people as not always the "good guys," and the native peoples not as the violent, dangerous "savages," but more 3-dimensional characters, often intelligent, thoughtful individuals trying to cope with the onslaught of an alien, more technologically advanced civilization displacing them. 

Released in the mid-70s, The Outlaw Josey Wales stars Clint Eastwood as a Civil War partisan who first fights then evades the winners who write the history. With excellent dialog and characters, the film avoids the typical cliches of the Western genre, taking us into complex and challenging moral gray areas without hitting the audience over the head with simplistic answers. The symmetry of the movie's structure gives a kind of "framing" to the story. The film does include the Civil War and its aftermath. This addition has resulted in criticism that the movie is somewhat "pro-Confederacy." But the main character's story arc shows that different motivations existed to fight for the South without presenting another installment of the "lost cause" narrative. We do not need to replace one overly simplistic and inaccurate interpretation with another. 

It also stars Sondra Locke and Chief Dan George.

Posted on Oct. 17, 2023 by Steven Dunlap

New Chess books September 2023

The imagery of chess revisited.   794.1 I314

In 1954-55, The Julien Levy Gallery in New York City held an exhibition of chess-themed art by the most notable surrealists and Dada artists of the time, as well as many others who became famous artists later on. Andre Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Calder, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Isamu Noguchi, Yves Tanguy, and others contributed chess sets.  Dorothea Tanning, Arshile Gorky, David Hare, Man Ray, Matta, Robert Motherwell, and others produced pivotal chess-related paintings, sculptures, and photographic works. This book, published as a 50th anniversary retrospective, includes previously unpublished materials, such as Andre Breton and Nicolas Calas's wine-glass chess set and Alexander Calder's chess set made of found materials, and thirty-five of Calder's chess-related drawings. You can also read essays about the artwork and the music scores composed for the exhibition. -- Adapted in part from publisher description on 


 Mike Basman.  Chess openings  794.122 B315

A clear guide to the opening phase of the game for players just beginning to study the game. Not intended as a comprehensive work, this book takes the novice through the essential concepts of opening play and reviews the most common openings that lower-rated players and beginners will most likely encounter. 


Eduard Gufeld [and others]. Bobby Fischer: from chess genius to legend  794.1092 F52

Interest in Bobby Fischer, his life, and his games continues long after his death in 2008. In this compilation, several of his contemporaries contribute chapters about their experiences with Fischer and the games they played with him. 


Mark Taimanov. I was a victim of Bobby Fischer  794.15 T133i

Speaking of Bobby Fischer, his victory against Boris Spasky in the famous 1973 World Championship in Reykjavík caused an upheaval in the world of chess, up to that time dominated by Russian players. But, before this, after he won all his games against Mark Taimanov during the candidates tournament (the "playoffs" of the chess world championships), the government of the former Soviet Union had an upheaval of its own. Russian domination of chess played a part, albeit a small one, in the Cold War.  Accused by the Communist Party of losing the games intentionally as a counter-revolutionary act, they banned Taimanov from playing chess competitively. Fortunately, he was also a concert pianist and able to make a living that way until Fischer's victory over Spassky proved Taimanov's innocence. In this book, Taimanov provides annotations and commentary on all 6 of the games he lost to Fischer in that match in Vancouver, and his memories of Fischer since 1960. 


William R. Hartston.  How to cheat at chess: everything you always wanted to know about chess but were afraid to ask    794.1 H335

A classic compilation of chess humor from the mid-20th century. It is a short, whimsical book without much in the way of practical advice. 


Posted on Oct. 6, 2023 by Steven Dunlap