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The Magician's Book--A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia by Laura Miller

Book cover of The Magician's BookThe Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia by Laura Miller


When she was in grade school, Laura’s teacher gave her a book and said, “I think you’ll like this one”. The book was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Reading it began a lifelong love of the Narnia series of C.S. Lewis that has still not left her in adulthood. Indeed, who would not want to be part of Lewis’ creation, where animals talk, magic thrives and the world has yet to be discovered? Unlike the extensively detailed adventures in Lord of the Rings, there is more imagination and less detail in Narnia. This makes it more appealing to younger readers, and perhaps lays the groundwork for those readers to enjoy Tolkien’s work at an older age.


There were two things I particularly liked about this book. The first was that the author glossed over the nature of Lewis’s religious beliefs, which were quite strong. Much has been written about C.S. Lewis’ piety, and it was not the intention of this book to delve into that subject. The second was the real focus on the author’s love for this series, and of many other people’s reactions as well. Lewis intended that these books would draw young readers to Christianity, but if that was the intention then this fact was lost on the author. She was far more drawn to the people, to the magic and to the wonder of this marvelous fantasy land than to the allegory that Lewis had envisioned himself. This is, I think, the correct attitude to have in any work dealing with the land of Narnia. This is the type of love that classics are made of: wanting to become part of the author’s world, to be engaged by what he wrote but not necessarily what he intended to write about. The author makes an important point as part of the book when she goes back to see where C.S. Lewis grew up, and tried to find the landscapes that might have inspired Lewis’ creation. Despite visiting the same countryside, the author could not see where he might have drawn from life to create Narnia’s geography. That’s okay, however—Narnia existed in the mind of the creator, and that’s really all we need to know.


I read this book because I had recently read “Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” to my 11-year-old daughter. I also had a deep love for the series as a child—I even played Aslan in my 3rd grade play (the other kids wanted me to be the witch, but the teacher vetoed that idea). This book reawakened my love for Narnia. I realize now that I might have done my daughter an injustice by pointing out some of the things that Lewis wanted to say about moral attitudes and beliefs. The important thing, as the author points out, is to enjoy the story. It is really up to the reader to draw what they want from it regardless of who the author is. As Stephen King once pointed out, “It is the story, not he who told it”. The fact that these stories have persisted as favorites over the decades certainly indicates that we can all gain something from them—even if they aren’t what the author had originally intended.

Posted by Bill Bowman on May 21, 2011 | Comments: 0 |

The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

“The mind is the forerunner of all experience.”

  • The Buddha

Cover of Byron Katie BookCD, Your Inner AwakeningFor one deeply depressed, agoraphobic woman with the unusual name of Byron Katie, four simple questions (posed to her stressful thoughts) have made all the difference. They are:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it's true?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

She contends that these straightforward questions can transform your approach to almost any seemingly unworkable situation. The San José Public Library audio book, Your Inner Awakening (a 6-CD set) by Byron Katie allows you to sit in on her fascinating method of self-inquiry -- one that has subsequently benefited both her and many people throughout the world.


Take a page from Socrates and further your quest for self-knowledge with the library's wealth of audio books! Its easier than you think: all nonfiction titles can be requested and sent to any branch, simply with your library card and PIN.

The Tie That Binds, by Kent Haruf

Book cover of The Tie That BindsSet in fictional Holt, Colorado, The Tie That Binds is an evenly paced narrative that chronicles the difficult frontier life of 80 year old Edith Goodnaugh. Haruf is masterful in his manner of painting characters and their surroundings: Roy Goodnaugh (Edith's 'hickory stick' husband), daughter Edith, son Lyman, neighbor Sandy, and their 19th century plains existence. Rough, hard, and sparse yet heart-warming, uplifting, Haruf is a wonderful storyteller.

To Read or to Listen? That is the Question.

I recently had a conversation with a colleague in which we agreed that movies based on books, no matter how good, are virtually never as good as the book itself. However, I've become a big fan of audiobooks, and I believe that many audiobooks are as good or even better that the print version of the book. Listening to books instead of reading them has obvious benefits for people who have a vision impairment or who want to enjoy a book while driving, walking, or exercising. But beyond that, some books seem especially cut out for the audio format because there are multiple narrators, each of whom can be supplied with a distinct voice. A well-read (acted?) audiobook can add intonation, accents, and other elements that enrich the story. Case in point: The Help by Kathryn Stockett.


Cover of The Help audiobookSet in the early 60s during the civil rights era in Jackson, Mississippi, the book is told through the viewpoints of two black maids and a young white woman who wishes to write a chronicle of the maids' stories. Listening to the book, I find it hard to imagine that I could enjoy it any more in print format (although, with the book's bestseller status, the print version is doing just fine, thank you). Another book I found particularly suited to audio format is The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger -- again, because the book is told from the standpoint of more than one narrator. San José Public Library has an increasing number of audio options available to customers. In addition to books on CD, you can download audiobooks with your library card via Overdrive, MyiLibrary, and NetLibrary. I was able to download The Help from Overdrive with no waiting, and transferred it to my iPod. I'm looking forward to the movie scheduled for release in August... but I doubt it will be as good as the (audio)book!

"Fairy Tail" New Graphic Novel for Teens

"Cute girl wizard Lucy wants to join the Fairy Tail, a club for the most powerful wizards. But instead, her ambitions land her in the clutches of a gang of unsavory pirates led by a devious magician. Her only hope is Natsu, a strange boy she happens to meet on her travels. Natsu’s not your typical hero–he gets motion sickness, eats like a pig, and his best friend is a talking cat. With friends like this, is Lucy better off with her enemies?" from Random House, Inc.


More annotation... "Small-town wizard Lucy would love to join Fairy Tail, a guild for powerful wizards, but instead finds herself teaming up with Natsu, a crazy fire wizard whose best friend is a talking, flying cat named Happy" from Baker and Taylor


Check out this newly ordered Graphic Novel series Fairy Tail. This series is on order but currently available to request to pick up at your local San José Public Library. You do need to have a current library card with valid pin number. If you haven't got one, make sure to apply for one.


Book cover of Fairy Tail volume 1Book cover of Fairy Tail volume 6Book cover of Fairy Tail volume 2Book cover of Fairy Tail volume 4Book cover of Fairy Tail volume 3 Book cover of Fairy Tail volume 1


Read review online from School Journal, Lucy is a wizard who's looking to join the Fairy Tail Guild, which is famous for its members' out-of-control antics. When she meets Natsu, she never imagines that he's really Salamander of Fairy Tail. He spends much of his time as an ordinary guy who suffers from severe motion sickness in trains, boats, and even horse-drawn carriages. But when he taps into his magical abilities, he turns into an awesome fighter who uses fire to vanquish his enemies. By the end of the first volume, Lucy has joined the guild as well as Natsu and his flying cat as a team member. In the second volume, the team steals a magical book from the evil Duke Everlue and joins forces with Erza Scarlet to fight a guild that plans to use death-curse magic. Lucy and Natsu are the central figures in a large cast of characters, many of whom have unique abilities. Readers never see Erza's special skills in action, but it's clear that they involve lots of blood. The beings summoned by Lucy from the celestial spirit world are often temperamental and sometimes politically incorrect. The humor is often jaw-droppingly funny, meaning that the characters' jaws drop so low and so often that they look like something out of a Tex Avery cartoon. The illustrations are lively and keep the stories moving briskly. Each volume is filled with magic and humor and ends with a suspenseful cliff-hanger that will draw readers into the rest of the series.-Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library.


Publisher Weekly states Mashima (Rave Master ) is back with a brand new series about the juvenile delinquents of wizardry and magic, set in a mythical world of small towns, steam engines and horse-drawn carts, where magic is mainstream, young wizards follow glossy magazines that profile popular wizard guilds and everyone has hidden magical abilities. Fire-eating wizard Natsu initiates young and sexy Lucy, a celestial wizard, into his oddball guild, Fairy Tail. Soon we meet the womanizing Loke; the ice wizard Gray Fullbuster, who is often found wandering around in just his boxers; and the heavy-drinking Cana, who is never far from a barrel of wine. It's goofy fun and playful troublemaking—minus any sort of criminal element. Mashima sets a careful balance between showing the Fairy Tail wizards' troublemaking mentality while still establishing that the heart of each wizard is the heart of a hero. With a violence that harks back to the Looney Tunes where all combatants suffer heavy blows but always come out alive, albeit with some scratches, the story is more akin to Bugs Bunny than Harry Potter. But fans of both will be pleasantly entertained. The first two volumes of this series are being released simultaneously.

In Atmospheric Salem, Massachusetts...

Book cover of The House of The Seven GablesI recently visited Salem, Massachusetts. At the actual House of the Seven Gables of Nathaniel Hawthorne fame I learned that this very old house (1668) which had belonged to the author's cousin,;was rebuilt/remodeled (c1910) to reflect the reality of the novel. Thus on the very interesting tour our guide directed us to ascend the "secret staircase" to the attic, which the guide said is the "oldest original living space" in North America. There, indentured servants and slaves had lived. The guide also recommended the novel, but pointed out that it is difficult to get through the beginning pages as Hawthorne "was being paid by the word!" I enjoy Hawthorne's short stories, since most have dark or supernatural elements, so I put the novel on my reading list. In the same compound is the house where Hawthorne was actually born in Salem, moved several blocks to the current location--yes, it is supposed to be haunted--and a very nice gift shop. In the gift shop I saw, besides numerous editions of House of the Seven Gables, other books of interest. One recent fiction title which relates to Salem is The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, a descendant of some of Salem's accused witches, one of whom survived and one of whom did not. Not featured in the gift shop but from a more recent time in Salem are two books by Brunonia Barry, The Lace Reader (c2008), which has been popular with Book Clubs for its special plot surprise and The Map of True Places (c2010) which is above all a love story.

Life in "Interesting Times"

Book cover for The Corpse Walker. “May you live in interesting times” is said to be an old curse, and this book brings that idea to life. Horrifying, repellent, and yet fascinating, The Corpse Walker is one of the more troubling books you are likely to read. Journalist Liao Yiwu has traveled China for a number of years, interviewing survivors of that country’s tumultuous 20th century. There are tales of sickening brutality, inspiring courage, unbelievable tyranny, steadfast loyalty, and these elements often occur in the same tale, sometimes even from the same person, in this hellish portrayal of life under Communism. Those with an interest in history and foreign cultures will also be absorbed by the stories of changing times and peculiar (to a Westerner) vocations, such as the corpse walkers of the title. When an individual passed away far from home, the corpse walkers would tie the dead body to themselves and literally walk the body, as if it were a life-size marionette, back home, to create the illusion that the dearly departed was merely taking one last stroll back to say farewell to friends and family. Discover just how alien another human culture can seem through this disturbing but engrossing read.

Back in History -- Wish You Were There Then?

Cover of I Wish I'd Been There, 2Cover of I Wish I'd Been There, 1

I Wish I'd Been There..

Have you ever wanted to go back in time and be present at an important occasion in history? “What historical period or incident would you like to have witnessed – and why?“ was the question Byron Hollinshead, president of American Historical Publications put to a number of historians.


These questions are answered in two collections of readable essays describing and commenting on historical events. The first volume covers American history from the Cahokian period, AD 1030 to Lyndon Johnson’s confrontation with George Wallace. The second volume explores topics in European history from the death of Alexander the Great to the German surrender to Montgomery at Luneburg Heath, 1945.


If you’re interested in reading more, each essay has a list of suggestions for further reading.

Notable Nonfiction – How To Invest Using Options Trading


Do you want to make a lot of money in stocks while minimizing your risk of losing money?


Piles of U.S. paper money in different denominationsOf course, we all do, but the smartest investors actually do this!


What is their secret? They trade stocks by using options instead of simply buying and selling stocks. Options trading lets you hedge your risks and leverage your investments.


You may have heard of options trading but have no idea how to do it. For basics on options trading, there are some free online tutorials at sites such as The Options Institute or YouTube, as in this video "Intro to Options" ► ►


But the most extensive help for both options trading beginners and veterans can be found in the best books on this subject, books that you can get through San José Public Library.


Some consensus best books for options trading beginners are:



The library also provides you access to recommended books for options trading veterans:



If you are interested in other books on options trading, you can browse the Library Catalog for the subject Options (Finance).


And please send in your comments if you have your own favorite options books or you would like me to add companies to the stock ticker above.


Happy trades to you!

Around the World Without Flying?

Cover of Grounded by Seth StevensonWith summer vacation quickly approaching and travel plans getting made my curiosity was piqued by the premise of Seth Stevenson’s book Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World. This electronic book available through Overdrive, tracks his effort to travel around the world without ever stepping foot on an airplane. The means by which he accomplishes this feat is both ingenious and amusing. The author a freelance travel writer provides humorous descriptions about all he encounters while philosophizing about how traveling should not just be about the destination but how you get there.


Check out other articles written by Seth Stevenson through our EBSCO host database. 

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