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Archive for October, 2010

Two Good Reads for a Cloudy Weekend

I seem to get my best reading done when at home on the couch fighting off a virus. I enjoyed both of these:

The Nobodies Album, by Carolyn Parkhurst

57170935.JPGThis novel (by the author of The Dogs of Babel) has a lot going on in it. The narrator , Octavia Frost, is a successful novelist with an estranged rock star son, Milo. Decades ago, her husband and daughter both died while the family was on vacation.

While in New York City turning in her latest manuscript, she reads a news crawl in Times Square: her son has been accused of murdering his girlfriend. She drops everything to begin investigating, online and in person, the murder, the girlfriend, and the last five years of her son’s life.

images.jpgThis sounds formulaic, but the characters are anything but stock. Adding another element to the story, the murder story alternates with chapters from Olivia’s manuscript. Each of these chapters is a revision of the last chapter of one of her earlier books. In lesser hands, this could be distracting and disjointed, but each of the chapters, while worlds and centuries apart in subject matter, deals with the loss of a child. Octavia is trying to re-write her place in her books, while also hoping for a revision of the rift between Milo and herself. The mystery of the murder keeps the story moving; the question of how to re-write your own life makes it resonate long after the last page.

Take One Candle Light a Room, by Susan Straight

73242368.JPGStraight writes about an insular group of black families who migrated from Louisiana to Riverside. They left to escape prejudice in general, and specifically to get their daughters away from a white serial rapist who had begun to work his way, unchecked, through the families’ daughters.

The narrator is a descendent of this family, Fantine Antoine. She’s probably the least connected of any of her siblings; she’s a travel writer, single, with no kids. Her contemporaries have stayed close and raised their families in the original settlement. One of her friends became an addict, and died on the streets under unknown circumstances.

susan_straight.jpgFantine, or FX, as she’s known in her writing, is home for a brief visit. She’s visited by her godson Victor, a gifted writer whom she coached for his SATs. He takes off in an Escalade with a pair of friends with criminal records, and a few hours later, she hears on the news that someone in a car matching that description has shot and killed a local boy in an argument. FX joins her father on a cross-country trip to try to find and rescue Victor before it’s too late. And did I mention that Hurricane Katrina is approaching landfall as they arrive in Louisiana?

But this novel is much more than a suspenseful road trip story, though it has suspense to burn. Along the way, FX unlocks family secrets going back decades, centuries. The characters are unique, the plot is compelling, and along the way the reader learns about everything from sugar cane to a valid reason for putting bacon on a gunshot wound. It’s a multi-layered, satisfying read.

author photos, from top: Marion Ettlinger, Don Chavkin

Kaffir Boy Author to Speak at Cal Poly

Image © Life Magazine

Image © Life Magazine

Mark Mathabane to speak to SLO Community

  • When: Thursday, October 21, 2010, 7pm
  • Where: Cal Poly Spanos Theater
  • Cost: Free to all students; All others: donations accepted

Challenged in SLO — may be banned

Just a few weeks after last month’s celebration of Banned Books Week, a book by South African author Mark Mathabane, Kaffir Boy, was challenged by local parents.

The book, Kaffir Boy: An Autobiography — The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa, is listed as the 39th most-challenged book by the American Library Association.

A 1990 best-seller, the book chronicles Mathabane’s escape from South Africa to the United States and his coming of age in a country overwhelming in its immensity, luxuriousness, poverty, and despair.


SLO School board to consider banning

Within the next week, the San Luis Obispo School Board will be considering how to respond to this challenge. Meanwhile, School Board member Kathryn Rogers has been able to coordinate a visit by Mathabane, at Cal Poly’s Spanos Theatre next Thursday, October 21, at 7 pm.

Event is free to students

Support by the Kennedy Library, the College of Liberal Arts, the Division of Student Affairs, and many others has made it possible to offer admission at no charge to students (Cal Poly, Cuesta, High School, or others). Adult admission will be open with donations accepted. A flyer is attached and you are welcome to use it to help spread the word.

Please join us

We encourage you to come and to share with your friends or neighbors this unusual opportunity for our community to explore together the important issues of censorship and education in a very local context.

Want to do more?

Would you like to help spread the word? You can download the flyer, tell your friends on facebook, or (if it’s not checked out) borrow a copy from Kennedy LIbrary.



  • SLO High School
  • SLO High School Newspaper
  • Kathryn Eisendrath Rogers, SLCUSD Board Member
  • Robert E. Kennedy Library
  • Cal Poly College of Liberal Arts
  • Cal Poly Division of Student Affairs
  • Cal Poly English Department
  • Cal Poly Graphic Communication Department
  • Cal Poly Multicultural Center

The Paws that Refreshes: Cal Poly Cat Program at Kennedy Library Atrium


Relax, unwind, chill out and pet some cats.

A couple times a year we invite the Cal Poly Cat Program to the library. Relaxing while petting these shelter cats is a great way to take a break during a busy school year. This fall’s event was held on Thursday, October 7th from 11 to 1pm.

Photos from the event

Check out the flickr page!

Want to get involved?


If you love animals and are looking for ways to give back to Cal Poly and the SLO County community, volunteering at the Cal Poly Cat Program might be just what you are looking for.

Talk to Edie — she’ll be at the event — to learn more about available volunteer opportunities.

LibRAT Fall Tours 2010


Jump-start your Fall Quarter!

Come to a LibRAT-led Library Tour Thursdays in October.

  • Meet in the 1st floor main lobby near the stairs
  • Two tours per day: choose between 11:15 am AND 5:15 pm
  • October 7, 14, 21, and 28
  • No Sign-Up Necessary

What’s a LibRAT?

We like to think of them as an elite group! This is a limited number of students, typically sophomores, who train with our librarians and reference staff to understand how to do research using library resources and services. LibRATs can then use their skills and knowledge to help their fellow students understand how to find the resources needed for papers and projects.


» Learn more about our LibRATs and our LibRAT program

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, by David Sedaris

79573052.JPGThis one was a mixed bag for me. I’m a big Sedaris fan — I saw him at Cal Poly years ago, and still remember how my face hurt after laughing non-stop for 90 minutes. And after chortling through the first chapter, The Cat and the Baboon, I thought I was in for big laughs all the way through. But a few of these (The Motherless Bear, The Crow and the Lamb) seemed gratuitously creepy to me, and soured me a bit on the book.img-david-sedaris_1504517226.jpg

Sedaris fans will want to check it out, though — but tread cautiously if you’re considering giving it to someone as a gift, especially if the recipient is a softie about animals.

From NPR,  Here’s Sedaris reading “The Mouse and the Snake.”

author photo: Interview

My Hollywood by Mona Simpson

54975090.JPGThis novel tells the story of a group of mothers: a composer with a husband who’s a comedy writer for TV, a stay-at-home mom, and Lola, a mother from the Philippines who has taken work as a nanny in LA to pay for her daughters’ medical school education back home. Simpson eloquently describes what each of them gains and loses by holding onto (or letting go of) their own work and the chance to be a presence in their children’s lives. If this sounds like an indictment of the American marital division of labor, it isn’t; Simpson doesn’t come up with any answers or blame. She may be silently asking a question, though: should we all have children? Claire isn’t presented with someone without maternal feeling, but her commitment to her music makes her think she shouldn’t. Her future husband asks her:

“Does Yo-Yo Ma have kids?”

schillinger-articleinline.jpg“Two,” I said. “But he also has a wife.”

“Madame Ma, c’est moi.” He had an odd brightness I’d heard all my life. You can be both! my mother had said. But my mother was mentally ill.

He was not. I believed him, a trumpet promise. Some Bach came into my fingers. Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor. The haunting Prelude. I had to sit on my hand.

That eventing, our first date, we had a conversation about who would do what.

As Ron Charles points out in his video review, Lola, the composer’s nanny, is as fully developed a character as Claire is. She, too, has abdicated being present in her children’s lives, not for an artistic endeavor, but to raise other people’s children, while financing her children’s education. Her commitment to her charges surpasses that of their own parents, and possibly even her commitment to her own children.

This book is haunting, and while it asks serious questions about what it means to be a parent, it has humor, too. I think anyone who’s ever thought about what we give up to have children would find it a consuming read.

Banned Books Week


See the display. Read the list. Stop by the library to see our Banned Book display on the 2nd Floor

See the display. Read the list.
Stop by the library to see our Banned Book display on the 2nd Floor
Top 100 Banned Books
Banned Books web page

Want to do something just a little wicked?

“Celebrate the Freedom to Read” this year by reading a book from the American Library Association’s (ALA) Banned Book List.

Every year, across the country, books are challenged in schools and libraries for their “inappropriate” content.

Banning books is a challenge to your First Amendment rights and takes away an individual’s right to choose material that is appropriate for yourself or your family.

Taking a stand against censorship

Celebrating Banned Books Week shows the importance of taking a stand against censorship and honors the free exchange of ideas, speech and expression.

“We brag about living in an open society but here is a list of 100 well known titles that people have sought to keep from out fellow citizens.”
— Michael Miller, Dean of Library Services