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Staff Picks/DVD Selections

Staff Picks: Found in Translation - Literature

Reading works that do not originate in our own culture can be enlightening as well as entertaining. This month’s staff selections span the gamut of everything from fiction, to memoir, to philosophy, and much more. The one thing all of these picks have in common? They weren’t originally written in English. Check out our collection of DVDs in a foreign language while you’re on the second floor, and get your fill of cross-cultural exchange.

Want to dip in your toe before you dive into this subject by considering the role of the translator? Check out Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman. The author makes a strong case for the cultural importance of the translator as a scholar and artist who should be held in great literary esteem. She says, “Translation always helps us to know, to see from a different angle, to attribute new value to what once may have been unfamiliar.” This book will give you a whole new appreciation of the translator’s work, and will be available on the staff picks shelf this month. Here are a few more of our staff’s favorite titles:

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson ; translated by Anne Born

This book is one of my favorite reads of 2013.  A haunting novel about a widower who moves to a remote cabin in Norway to live out his retirement years. A chance encounter with a neighbor revives memories of his 15th year when he spent the summer with his father in another cabin in the woods.  Beautifully told (and translated); the imagery evokes a stark yet beautiful country. - recommended by Diane

Phantoms on the Bookshelves by Jacques Bonnet ; translated by Sian Reynolds

Sian Reynolds is one of my favorite translators; she also translates Fred Vargas’s (highly recommended) mysteries. This book is a meditation on the ways that our personal libraries reveal our true natures. Is your library extensive or selective? Tightly-organized or a hodge-podge? Well-read or aspirational? This is a charming book about how we interact with the books on our shelves. – recommended by Heather

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (graphic novel) by Stieg Larsson ; adapted by Denise Mina

A two-pronged translation: language (Swedish to English) and format (novel to graphic format). Even if you've read the book and/or seen the movie, the gritty artwork and storytelling of this adaptation will allow you to explore the start of the Millennium trilogy anew. The second and third parts of the series are coming in 2013 and 2014. - recommended by Jeremy

Posted on Mar. 7, 2013 by Heather Terrell

Staff Picks: Science and Technology

Have you ever wanted to learn something about astrophysics?  Are you interested in the history (or future) of artificial intelligence?  The Mechanics' Institute staff members have chosen books to get your mental juices flowing.  Check out the 2nd floor display and satisfy your curiosity!

Sharon selected How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter by Sherwin Nuland.  This book is so comfortable in dealing with an uncomfortable subject matter that she deems it recommended reading before you even want to think about it!

Jeremy chose The Physics of Star Trek by Lawrence Maxwell Krauss.  Jeremy's a Trekkie and admits it!  But with NASA recently announcing that they're working on a warp drive that operates on the science similar to that which flings the Enterprise through space, maybe it's time to brush up on the theoretical physics that powers this popular sci-fi series.  Make it so!

Taryn recommends American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom.  A terribly sad expose of how much food Americans waste.  This will make you more cognizant of your own shopping and consuming habits.

Heather selected Computer Power and Human Reason by Joseph Weizenbaum.  Published in 1984, the author crafts a compelling argument that although artificial intelligence is an inevitable (and mostly good) technological development, only humans have the judgment to make the most important decisions.  This is a classic text on the proper role of technology.  (Bonus Fact: the author created ELIZA, the first natural language processing program whose applications had surprising results when human subjects began interacting with "her".)

Mechanics' Institute staff members have selected their favorite titles in science and tech, written in styles from confessional to conventional.  Whether you're a technology novice or an old hand, come see if there's something interesting to read on the 2nd floor!

If science isn't your game, the library staff has, as always, selected some interesting fiction for your consideration.

Posted on Jan. 31, 2013 by Heather Terrell

Staff Picks: Changes

In keeping with the age-old tradition to start anew each January, the Mechanics’ Institute staff has chosen books to spark your interest in developing a new hobby or habit this year.

Taryn chose Digital Photography Through the Year by Tom Ang (770 A581). This gorgeous book makes you want to try out the manual setting on that camera you received for Christmas. Along with a general narrative about "how to shoot better" given the lighting and weather constraints for each season, the author provides detailed notes on how he got each pictured photograph. Super helpful to learn "how he did it".

Taryn also recommends Wildlife Photography : On Safari with Your DSLR : Equipment, Techniques, Workflow by Uwe Skrzypczak (778.93 S629). Even if the only "wildlife" you see is your own cat or the hummingbird at your window, this book will help you take better photos of animals.  If you're off to Africa it will be especially helpful when planning what gear to bring.

Taryn also chose Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Photographers : the Ultimate Workshop by Martin Evening and Jeff Schewe (005.3 A641e). This book is for those who already have a working knowledge of photoshop and wish to take their skills to the next level. Detailed notes on how each picture was retouched are included as well as a full 26 hours of video (included DVD) on how the techniques discussed are employed.

Heather recommends Stargazing with a Telescope by Robin Scagell (522.2 S278). I got a Dobsonian reflector telescope for Christmas and as soon as the rain abates, I'll be up on my rooftop scrutinizing the moon's craters, various constellations, and whatever else I might find up there. To do this, I plan to check out a few good books on stargazing, Scagell's among them. Who knows, maybe next December 24th I'll see Santa himself up close & personal traversing the night sky!

Diane chose The Wall Street Journal: Guide to Starting Fresh by Karen Blumenthal (332.024 B658).  This is a great "how to" book if your New Year's resolution was to get your financial life in order.  The chapters give the reader specific steps to follow to find a financial advisor/lawyer/tax preparer, what to do if your are suddenly single, how to get and keep credit, how to decide if you should sell your house or stay in it, how to manage your money long-term, etc.  The appendix of "Helpful Websites" and the Glossary of commonly used financial terms are two of the best parts of the book.

Diane also recommends The Rough Guide to the IPad by Peter Buckley (005.432 I648b).  If you received an IPad for a Christmas gift, and discovered that this tech toy does not come with an instruction booklet, then this short, to-the-point book is what you are looking for!  The guide covers, for example, all of the basics including turning the unit on for the first time, setting up your email account on it, downloading TV shows and movies for those long plane trips, and accessing ebooks.  There are a lot of great tips and tricks sprinkled throughout the book and it makes getting acquainted with your IPad much more fun and educational.

As always, the staff has also selected plenty of fiction titles from our own reading lists. Haven’t decided on a new year’s resolution yet?  Looking for some fiction you’d never think to pick up otherwise? Come check out our Staff Picks display on the 2nd Floor and see if you discover a new interest.


Posted on Jan. 3, 2013 by Heather Terrell

Staff Picks - Graphic Novels

No matter what holidays you're observing this December, it's time to get festive! Joy! Celebration! Comics!


They’re not just for kids! If all you know about comics is what you find in the Sunday paper, it’s time to take another look. Graphic novels can be funny, heartbreaking, intense, and insightful. They are stories juxtaposed with art; graphic novels entertain and inform the reader!

This month’s fiction picks are all-new too: books that will elicit a laugh, make you smile, and remind you about what is worth celebrating in this season of celebrations.

Here are a few titles you’ll find on our display this month:

Graphic Novels

Jeremy recommends: Big Questions, or, Asomatognosia: Whose Hand Is It Anyway by Anders Brekhus Nilsen.

To me, Big Questions, or, Asomatognosia: Whose Hand Is It Anyway is opera meets graphic novel. What begins simply as birds chatting about food and philosophy eventually turns into a sprawling opus on power, fate, sensemaking, and death. Written over a decade, this book also offers a chance to watch an artist’s skills grow as the frames continue. Big Questions, or, Asomatognosia: Whose Hand Is It Anyway is BIG (literally and figuratively), but well worth the investment.

Jeremy also recommends: Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me by Sarah Leavitt.

In this heart-wrenching memoir, Sarah Leavitt recounts her personal experience of having a parent with Alzheimer’s. The graphic format does well to convey the fear, confusion, and anger both she and her mother go through during the early signs, the diagnosis, the tests, and the slow cognitive decline. Mixed into the sadness are anecdotes of her mother’s life and the moments they shared throughout it. The result is a beautiful story of life, love, and the struggle of dealing with a disease that changes us.

Heather recommends: Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore.

The Joker as philosopher? His big idea is that the only thing separating the average, well-adjusted Gotham citizen from the psychos in Arkham Asylum is a single, solitary, really bad day. And he intends to prove his point as only the Joker is capable of doing.


Taryn recommends: 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, Comprising All the Parts You Can Remember, Including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings, and 2 Genuine Dates by Walter Carruthers Sellar and Robert Julian Yeatman.

This is a tongue-in-cheek reworking of the history of England. The title says it all, but this is a MUST READ for anyone who vaguely remembers university.

Heather recommends: Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure by Emma Campbell Webster.

If you like to choose your own adventure books (who doesn't!) and enjoy Jane Austen (ditto!), you'll love this little dalliance amongst Jane's characters and their stories. Just don't get stuck in the attic with Fanny Price like I did!

Looking for an infusion of joy, a quick read during the holidays, or the discovery of a whole new genre? Come see what else is on the second floor in December!

Posted on Nov. 30, 2012 by Heather Terrell

Staff Picks: Your November Art Crush

Do you ever wonder what your librarians are reading? We thought so. That’s why the staff of the Mechanics’ Institute Library is choosing some of our favorite books from the stacks to display on the second floor.

This is a permanent display with a rotating collection of books. Each month we’ll choose some of our favorites, covering subjects from art to zoology and everything in between. We’ll also showcase some of our favorite fiction titles interspersed amongst the featured section. Come check out the display on the second floor to see November’s picks: Art.

Here’s a taste of what you’ll find on the display this month:


Matt recommends “Beer, Art, and Philosophy: a memoir” by Tom Marioni.
Marioni has been making conceptual art in the Bay Area since 1959. “The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends Is the Highest Form of Art” is one of his most famous pieces.

Matt also recommends “Everything Flowers” by Clare Rojas.
Rojas is a San Francisco-based painter who also performs folk music under the pseudonym Peggy Honeywell.

Sarah recommends “The Art Spirit” by Robert Henri.
Robert Henri’s notes, articles, fragments of letters, and talks to students, compiled by Margery Ryerson, focus on the concept and technique of picture making, the study of art generally, and on art appreciation. This edition includes an introduction by Forbes Watson and sixteen pictures by Robert Henri.



Bobbie recommends “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein.
If you love dogs (and maybe even if you don’t!), you’ll love this book told from Enzo the dog’s perspective. We follow Enzo’s life as he dotes on and supports his “master” Denny, as Denny goes through tough times in his family and profession. Be sure to have tissues handy!

Heather recommends “The Little Friend” by Donna Tartt.
Do you like a mystery that’s neatly wrapped-up at the end? Then DON’T read this book. It’s as complex, heartbreaking, lovely, and confusing as life itself.

Curiosity piqued? Come see what else is on the second floor. And always, always, feel free to ask us what we’re reading!

Posted on Nov. 8, 2012 by Heather Terrell