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Talking It Out

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  — Hamlet, Act I, Scene V.

We live in amazing times. Scientists are working on bio-luminescent plants that could replace light bulbs. We’re inches away from the long-promised flying car. And we have successfully cloned a human embryo.

Even here at the Library, we’re offering some pretty futuristic stuff. For instance, did you know you can remotely beam books to your Kindle e-reader? (It’s like a Star Trek transporter for library books). And starting June 1, we’ll be offering 3D printing technology that lets you ‘print’ a model of an object you create. But how can we process all these fast and fabulous changes? Who can we talk to about this brave new world?

Each other, of course.

The Library is starting a Science and Math Discussion Group — kind of like our book groups, but without the book. Instead of discussing plot and character, we’ll be hashing out scientific discoveries and developments. No prior knowledge of a topic is necessary. Come to learn something new, or share what you know, or deepen your understanding through discussion. Because the world is changing fast, and we’re all in this together.

Science and Math Discussion Group meets the third Tuesday of every month, at 7 p.m., upstairs at the Library. Our first meeting is this Tuesday, May 21. We’ll be talking about the Higgs boson.

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The Inventor’s Daughter

As your resident patent librarian, I had planned to write today about the changes to patent law that went into effect on Saturday, March 16. While the rest of us were busy decorating shamrock cookies for Saint Patrick’s Day, inventors and patent professionals were bracing themselves for an enormous shift in the American intellectual property landscape: our switch from a first-to-invent country to a first-to-file country.

What does this mean? To put it briefly, as of March 16, it no longer matters if you invented something before your competitor did. All that matters now is who filed their patent application the fastest.

Of course this is not as simple as it sounds,  so if you have questions  let me direct you to a recording of a recent library presentation by IP attorneys Judy Mohr and Evan Boetticher. They kindly allowed us to record them and to post their presentation slides online.  Just click here, look for the “What’s New” box and click the link that says ‘Applying for a Patent.’

As interesting as these patent changes are, I’d rather write today about something totally unrelated that has been bothering me ever since I noticed it.


Again, to put it briefly: there are too many daughters in our library — specifically in the fiction section.  These surplus daughters are not studying at the tables or running around in the stacks. They are sitting quietly on the shelves, on the spines of our books. These daughters are trapped in the titles.

In our fiction collection, we have 39 books that use the word ‘son’ in the title. But the girls outstrip the boys nearly 3-1, with 109 daughter titles in adult fiction alone.

Whose daughters are they? Take your pick of professions. We have magician’s daughters, baker’s daughters,  butcher’s daughters, abortionist’s daughters, tailor’s daughters, and professor’s daughters. We have the female offspring of  samurai, fortune tellers, bonesetters, bootleggers immigrants and presidents. We have the Tsarina’s daughter.  We even have Cleopatra’s daughter.

There is a similar title disparity in wives (82) vs. husbands (25).

What gives? Why are the women of our literary landscape so often defined by the professions of their husbands or (frequently) their fathers? I call upon the future novelists of America to think of another way to title their books, if only because we’ll soon run out of professions for these women to be descended from or married to. I’m not sure I’m ready for The Project Manager’s Daughter or The Vice President of Marketing’s Daughter, but at this rate that’s where we’re headed.

Now, go file those provisional patent applications.

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A Pickly Problem

I had been disappointed for years in my inability to find a deli or a grocery store that sold something comparable to my favorite pickle:  the “new” pickle, (as opposed to the tangier, softer “old” pickle), from Zingerman’s deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Crispy and vibrant green, and only lightly salty, the Zingerman’s “new” pickle was as coveted as the sandwich it came with.

Back in California, I found myself  pickle-deprived. Sure, there are plenty of tasty pickles around, but I couldn’t find the ones I craved. After years of fruitless questing, this year I finally had an epiphany — I don’t need to purchase this pickle at a store. I can make them myself! And so I did.  And they were delicious. This recipe is closest to what I eventually did, which replicated almost exactly the friendly flavor and crispy bite of my missing pickle.

Looks good, right?

Once I had the first taste of success, I was hooked, and I have the library’s cookbook collection to thank for helping me continue my pickling adventure.  Pickling is surprisingly easy and totally worth the time. In our collection, we have instructions for pickling and preserving everything from artichokes to lemons to zucchini.  Now that local gardens are overflowing with bounty, perhaps it’s time to think about picking up some mason jars, pickling spices, and a little bit of kitchen courage. Give it a shot! (But do follow the sterilization directions contained in the books.)

Here are some recommended titles. A librarian will always be happy to help you find a few more. Happy pickling.


The joy of pickling : 250 flavor-packed recipes for vegetables and more from garden or market / Linda Ziedrich ; foreword by Chuck Williams.

The pickled pantry / Andrea Chesman ; illustrations by Lisa Congdon

Pickles to relish / by Beverly Ellen Schoonmaker Alfeld ; foreword by Ron Couch ; photography by Jim Smith


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The Bard

April 23 is William Shakespeare’s birthday (and also his death day, coincidentally).  A one-name celebrity on par with Madonna and Oprah, no other English-language writer has so thoroughly engaged our imaginations or provided us with such enduring stories.  (Actually, this might be a fun point to debate, but out of respect for the bard’s birthday will save the arguments for another time.)

Whether you mean to be or not, you’re surely familiar with Shakespeare. Perhaps you read his plays in school or saw a live Shakespeare production.  Or maybe you’re a Shakespeare fan and don’t even know it. The musical Kiss Me Kate, and the movie/TV show 10 Things I Hate About You? Those are both adaptations of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Or how about the musical West Side Story, which is a take on the tragedy Romeo and Juliet? Shakespeare shows up just as frequently in modern fiction; Jane Smiley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Thousand Acres, for instance, puts Shakespeare’s King Lear on an American farm.

But whether you’re an avowed or accidental fan of Shakespeare, there’s no better way to experience his magic than to speak his words yourself. That’s why we host Read Along Shakespeare each month at the Library. At 7 pm, on the first Monday, you can come play a part (or three) in one of Shakespeare’s plays. From the tragedies to the comedies, come unleash your inner dramatist and see why Shakespeare’s words have endured for so long. No costumes required.

Upcoming dates for Read Along Shakespeare

Monday, May 7, 7 p.m. King Lear (the second half).

Monday, June 4, 7 p.m. The Tempest

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John Updike, 1932-2009

I felt when John Updike died the way many people felt with Steve Jobs died − stung by the loss of someone I’d never met.

Updike was powerfully influential for me as a reader and as a person. I discovered him in high school, when I had full access to the books on my parents’ shelves. Reading the Rabbit series, Couples, Marry Me, and his short stories, I felt like I’d been given a key to the secret and sordid life of grown-ups.

Updike famously seduces his readers through detail; he has said that he considers accurately describing the world to be part of his duty as a writer. And his relentless, unexpected, sometimes brutally acute vision for the minute bits of experience lends authority to his stories. The world in Updike’s books sometimes seemed more lifelike than the world around me. And Updike’s world was a heady, seductive, and extremely messed-up place, which I fully expected to enter one day.

Eventually, after plowing through all the tattered paperbacks on my home shelves, I moved on to other authors. But I read with different eyes. Updike had changed what I expected from a novel. Having feasted on a steady diet of Updike, I expected writing to both transport me and to show me something new about my here-and-now. I expected to question my morals, to sympathize with the bad guy, to see the beauty in an ugly argument and the ugliness in a spring day. I wanted to be uncomfortable when I read, but also exhilarated. I suspected that, after learning about the world from such a keen-eyed teacher, I would be a harder person to fool. (This, of course, did not turn out to be the case.)

Most of the Updike I read dealt in some way with the war between the sexes — and particularly with the various betrayals, big and small, involved in a marriage. Now that I am almost two decades older and married myself, I find I am wary of re-reading his work. Perhaps I feel I’ve drained it of all the significance it will ever have for me. Or maybe I’m afraid to see my world through his eyes. Nevertheless, when NPR this weekend re-aired some old interviews in honor of what would have been his 80th birthday, I felt like I was hearing the voice of an old teacher — just one whom I’d never met.

Publishers are re-releasing some of Updike’s work this year. We’ll make sure the Library is fully stocked. In the meantime, here are some of my personal don’t-miss titles, in case you’d like to take a chance and see the world Updike’s way.

The famous ‘Rabbit’ series: Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit is Rich; and Rabbit at Rest

The Maples Stories. Updike traces the rise and fall of a marriage. (Also found in Too Far to Go.)

The Centaur. Mythology and family life and high school, powerfully mixed together.

The Fresh Air interviews that started me thinking.

U and I by Nicholson Baker. My Updike obsession is mild compared with some people’s.


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