Friday, July 19, 2013

Hello again!

Hello Kiddosphere readers! If you're wondering why it's been such a long time between posts--now I can tell you. I was in Italy for two weeks! I had an amazing time, and I've heard that our programs, especially Under the Sea, Roaring Rockets, and the K-9 Police Unit, were overflowing with happy attendees!  We have three weeks left in our program, and many awesome programs to come.  Check out our website for more details.

Before I went away, I did two things: I wrote a post for ALSC's blog (ALSC is the Association for Library Services to Children) about my favorite picture book reads so far in 2013.  I also had the chance to try out our "freeze holds" option for the first time.  I had several books on my holds list that I was anxious to read, but I didn't want to lose my place in line!  Using the "freeze holds" option allows you to stay on the list--you just have to remember to unfreeze the holds once you are ready to receive holds.  I did this the day before I flew home, and wow! I didn't have any blockbusters on my list (such as the crime novel written by JK Rowling and published under a pseudonym--I saw that story on CNN International--what an incredible story!), so I now have many new books to read. (Gulp.)  More about those later.

I was so fascinated with Italy that I wanted to learn more about this amazing country, so I also requested a bunch of books on the country.  I was happy to discover that we have MANY books about Italy.  Italy is a rather young country--did you know that? It's only been a unified country since 1870 (there doesn't seem to be an official date of unification, since it took some time, and unification continued after World War I, when Italy gained control of areas formerly under the Austro-Hungarian Empire).  Before that, the area was divided into kingdoms/dukedoms/etc.  Finding a book about the totality of Italian history, pre and post unification, is not easy to find, so I'm looking forward to reading The Oxford History of Italy once it is returned.  It was published in 1997, and as far as I can tell, it seems to be the most recent and authoritative general history of Italy published in recent times.

It's much easier to find books written about specific cities or areas within Italy. Let's start with books about The Eternal City:

Rome was amazing and a bit overwhelming.  We were on a chartered tour for the week we hit the major cities of Italy, so we did the Vatican in the morning and the Colosseum in the afternoon. Well, as much as you can do those things in one day--we hit the highlights (our local tour guide told us that you really need three days to see the Vatican Museum properly).  Rome: A Cultural, Visual, And Personal History traces the political and cultural history of this incredible city.  Robert Hughes is a former art critic for Time magazine, so he knows his stuff.  This is not an objective look at Rome, for Hughes apparently has some criticism for modern day Rome (looks like he rails against the massive tourism that has overtaken the city, which I can understand--everywhere we went, we saw many, many large tour groups).

For a more personal and intimate look at modern day Rome, I intend to read Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, And the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World.  Anthony Doerr learned that he was the recipient of The Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which is one of the most sought after prizes from the Academy and includes a stipend and a writing studio in Rome for one year....on the day he and his wife came home with newborn twins!  With infant twins in tow, the family packed up and moved to Rome, which turned out to be the year of Pope John Paul II's passing.  The family visits the standard tourist sites, but also experience the daily life of Romans.

Visiting the Sistine Chapel is an unforgettable experience. After learning about Michelangelo's artwork at the Chapel and being treated to an insightful and passionate lecture from a local art historian on  David while in Venice, I cannot wait to learn more about this great artist.  Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling looks like it is a gripping and worthwhile read.

Venice. Oh, Venice. There really is no city like it.  I don't know if I would want to live there, but visiting it was an unforgettable experience!  Having drinks on the roof of our hotel while looking down on the Grand Canal, taking the obligatory gondola ride, and walking around the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square) and listening to the orchestras was incredible.  Venice: Pure City not only details the history of Venice, but also elaborates on the uses of gondolas, the rise and fall (and restoration) of Carnival (Mussolini banned it during his reign, and it wasn't until the 1970s when it was eventually restored), and other aspects of the Lion City.

A Thousand Days in Venice tells the larger than life tale of author Marlena de Blasi's sudden romance and marriage to a Venetian, and her struggles to adapt to her new city.  Don't know much about it, but it sounded irresistible!

Naturally, one of the best parts of Italy was the FOOD!  From my morning cappuccino (Italians ONLY drink cappuccino in the morning--you can get it served at any time in most cafes, but know that it will immediately mark you as a tourist! They also drink it at the bar, standing up--many places will charge extra if you sit outside.), to the mouthwatering numerous pasta dishes and refreshing gelato in the afternoon (here's a hint from our tour guide: always check the pistachio. If it's a brownish color, then you know that the gelateria uses natural ingredients; if it's bright green, then they use chemicals, and it won't be the best gelato), to after-dinner espresso/grappa/limencello (sip the grappa and limencello SLOWLY), I had the most fantastic meals. Oh, YUM.  How Italian Food Conquered the World will tell me more about this fabulous cuisine, and how Italian immigrants to the States created their own cuisine.

Italy Out of Hand: A Capricious Tour is not your standard guidebook; rather than give you descriptions and price/directions for hotels, restaurants, etc, Barbara Hodgson tells you about Italian customs and the history of important historical sites and towns.

I've heard that Sarah Dunant's historical fiction books set during the Italian Renaissance were exceptional, but for some reason, I've never read them. I'm super excited to read them, especially her latest, Blood and Beauty, which features the infamous and influential Borgia family.

In addition to these fine books, I'm impatiently anticipating my turn at reading these new books:

Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation's Treasures From the Nazis

Saving Italy details the rescue of Italy's priceless treasures during World War II. Already quite popular with our patrons!

The Light in the Ruins

Chris Bohjalian's The Sandcastle Girls is one of the most unforgettable novels I've read in recent years.  I cannot wait to read his latest, set in Florence during World War II.

On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, With Love and Pasta

While it's believed by many that Marco Polo, the great Venetian explorer, brought pasta to Italy from his Chinese explorations, Sicilians believe that they were cooking with pasta before Polo returned from China; many Spaniards believe that pasta was introduced to Europe via Arab domination of Spain.  Jen Lin-Liu explores the history of pasta and the unique ways different cultures cook pasta.

Tim Parks travels Italy through its extensive railway system, and notes how the country has changed during his lengthy residency.  Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails From Milan to Palermo is also a 2013 book, so this is a fresh look at the country.

Whoa! There are other books that I have my eye on, from books about Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Mussolini, and several books about Tuscany (we had a generous Tuscan dinner at a lovely restaurant/winery--wondrous countryside!) that I'd like to read, but this should satisfy me for now!

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