Fun at Foster's blog

Novelties: “In the Kingdom of Ice,” by Hampton Sides

While the world of fiction is full of intricate stories that showcase the human spirit and the lengths to which we will go in pursuit of greatness, some of the most impressive tales are ones that actually did happen. Good non-fiction authors can help us realize that history is full of accounts of courage, resourcefulness, survival, and determination that rival—or even serve as inspiration for—our greatest works of fiction. This month Novelties will feature its first non-fiction titles, and we will hit the ground running by looking at a topic that lends itself to some amazing stories of discovery and sacrifice: 19th-century Arctic exploration.

Hampton Sides’ newest release In the Kingdom of Ice (2014) is an account of the voyage of the USS Jeannette, which in 1879 carried George Washington DeLong—a naval officer and explorer—and his crew on an expedition to the North Pole. Sides recounts how DeLong’s efforts were funded by the owner of the New York Herald, James Gordon Bennett, a man hungry to make headlines with such a sensational achievement. At the time, knowledge of the North Pole was limited, and a successful expedition would shed light on one of the few remaining dark places on the globe. Unfortunately, DeLong’s Jeannette became trapped in ice, ultimately succumbing to the elements and forcing the crew to abandon ship. What followed was a struggle to reach safety in the frozen north, with no shortage of threats as immediate as polar bears and freezing temperatures and as insidious as starvation and madness. While it would be years before the public knew for sure what happened to DeLong and his crew, his journal provides insights which Sides incorporates into his own compelling narrative, bringing to life a story that might easily have been lost forever.
Shifting subjects a bit, we have In the Heart of the Sea (2000) by Nathaniel Philbrick. Still set on the open ocean, this title tells the story of the Essex, a whaling ship that set out from Nantucket in 1820. It would be fifteen months before the remaining members of her crew were discovered and the truth of what happened was revealed. The Essex suffered serious damage while being attacked by an aggressive sperm whale, forcing the crew onto lifeboats where they drifted desperately towards the coast of South America—some 3,000 miles away. Philbrick incorporates primary sources and personal experience with the sea into a bleak but oddly lyrical narrative in which he explores the physical and psychological trauma of the survivors, who were forced to cannibalize their shipmates as their ordeal dragged on over several months. During the 19th century the wreck of the Essex loomed heavily in the public consciousness, and served as inspiration for Melville as he wrote Moby-Dick. Extensively researched and full of exquisite detail, In the Heart of the Sea is a great pick for anyone looking for a gateway into non-fiction, and is currently being made into a film directed by Ron Howard, to be released in 2015.
Finally, we return to the Arctic with The Ice Master (2000) by Jennifer Niven. In this book, Niven recounts the details of a 1913 Canadian expedition led by anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who abandoned his crew when their ship, the Karluk, became stuck in ice. Those left behind were short on experience and wound up relying heavily on their captain, Robert Bartlett, who led them from the Karluk’s wreck and subsequently traveled roughly 700 miles—mostly on foot—in an attempt to reach civilization and arrange a rescue. Those who stayed behind, some seriously injured, had no choice but to wait for Bartlett’s return and try to eke out an existence as supplies ran short and tensions ran high. Niven’s comprehensive research incorporates diary entries, news articles, and individual accounts to paint a picture not only of the immediate difficulties the crew faced—which included starvation, disease, exposure, and more—but of the ways in which various personalities rubbed against each other and led to social strife among those left standing. Though the narrative drags at points, The Ice Master winds up delivering a striking tale of suspense, heroism, and perseverance.

In the Kingdom of Ice, In the Heart of the Sea, and The Ice Master are all available to borrow at E.P. Foster Library, with some additional copies available at our other branches. Check out NoveList Plus in the Reading Suggestions section of our eLibrary if you’re looking for more non-fiction on this topic, or to browse for something entirely different. And remember, if the copy you’re after is checked out you can put in a request for it in person, over the phone, or online through the Ventura County Library catalog.


Explored by Ronald Martin.

The Autumn Equinox and the Harvest Season

This week we observed the official start of fall. The changes may not be as dramatic as they are in other parts of the country, but even here in sunny Southern California we do experience changes in seasons.
The indications are more subtle. Our days may still be hot but they are shorter and the nights tend to be cool. Grasses dry out, plants go to seed, and we start to get ready for the traditional festivals of the season.
A few fruits, like blackberries, are just starting to ripen, and squash and pumpkins are starting to show up in some of the local fields in preparation for Halloween and Thanksgiving.

If you are curious about autumn or the Autumn Equinox and harvest traditions, E.P. Foster Library has materials to enlighten and entertain you.


Resident Photographer Aleta A. Rodriguez

"Mortal Engines," Part One of the "Predator Cities Quartet," by Philip Reeve

The world is in ruins, ravaged more than a thousand years ago by an event remembered as the “Sixty Minute War” and the great geological upheavals that the war unleashed. Through centuries of cataclysmic earthquakes, volcanoes, and other disasters, humanity’s dwindling nomadic populations discovered new means of survival, constructing massive “Traction Cities,” immense vehicles that carried the peoples, memories, and traditions of shattered nations. So begins the age of “Municipal Darwinism,” a continuous war over scarce resources where larger cities hunt down and consume the smaller towns which, in turn, follow closely the tracks of large cities so that they may make use of their leavings.

After a thousand years, the system of Municipal Darwinism—the backbone of modern society—seems on the verge of collapse. Prey has grown thinner for a now desperate city of London, and her Lord Mayor must take the city out of the relative safety of the old British Isles and into the Hunting Grounds, where she will compete with other, still larger cities for survival.

Deeper mysteries, conspiracies, and betrayals unfold and Tom, a young third-apprentice in London’s Guild of Historians, is thrust from his relative safety and obscurity into a war for the survival of London and for the world.

Young-adult readers of science fiction and especially fans of steampunk literature will enjoy the unique world of Mortal Engines. All four titles are available at Foster library or at any Ventura County library by request.

Housing Rights Workshop @ Foster

On October 1, 2014, there will be a Housing Rights Workshop for landlords and tenants held at E.P. Foster Library

Presented by the Housing Rights Center, this workshop will focus on issues relating to rent, repairs, evictions, and disability rights.

This event is free and open to the public, and starts at 6 p.m. in the Topping Room. Stop by to learn more about your rights!

CSUCI Weekend @ Foster

On Saturday, September 27, and Sunday, September 28, E.P. Foster Library will be hosting a weekend of events in cooperation with CSU Channel Islands.

On Saturday at 10 a.m. students will offer help with applying for college, and at 2 p.m. professors will be reading from their work.

On Sunday at 1 p.m. there will be a talk on the native flora of the Santa Monica Mountains by Professor Steven Norris.

Call or stop by the library for more information on these and our other upcoming events. We hope to see you there!

David's Dish: Spotted Dick

The Ploughman's Lunch and the Miser's Feast: Authentic Pub Food, Restaurant Fare, and Home Cooking from Small Towns, Big Cities, and Country Villages across the British Isles by Brian Yarvin is a proper traditional foods cookbook of Great Britain.

The thought of a full English breakfast makes me long for Dorset in South West England again. But alas, I am here in Southern California, but this lovely cookbook is available, so I headed for the kitchen and whipped up some British grub. The choice was difficult. Would the dish be savory or sweet? My savory choice was Welsh Rarebit, the sweet choice was Spotted Dick. Time would permit the creation of only one of these treats. I fancied sweet so I went with the Spotted Dick! The Spotted Dick recipe was appealing for the following reasons: simplicity, a colorful name, and I had most of the ingredients on hand. One ingredient—beef suet—would be a challenge to procure, but the recipe had an alternative ingredient—shortening—so I chose the alternative.
In addition to the Spotted Dick I planned to go whole hog and make my own custard from scratch—no Bird’s custard powder for this bold Englishman! Just to backtrack and clarify the recipe's name and what it is, the English tend to have strange names for foods, “Spotted Dick” being one of them. Spotted Dick is a raisin pudding that's steamed and usually drenched in custard. I know that wasn't much of a clarification of the recipe's name; you'll have to do your own research on that. Getting down to business, the pudding mixture was a snap and the custard sauce was a breeze, but steaming the pudding for two hours and being ever vigilant so that the pan didn't run dry was a bit of a pain! The end result was fine, and the custard sauce improved it to excellent. I dare say the Queen would approve. Knighthood, perhaps?

*****David's Dish


Check out the book at Foster Library, or put it on hold—we will send it to you. If there are any cookbooks in Foster Library's collection that you would like me to try out, please leave the title on our Facebook page and I'll get cooking!

Coming in October: Los Padres National Forest Events!

In October, E.P. Foster Library will be hosting a series of events relating to Los Padres National Forest. Come by to learn about this great local treasure!

The events will be on the Saturdays of October 4, October 11, and October 25. Each event will be held in the Topping Room and will have a special presenter and focus.

You can call or drop by the library for additional information on these or any of our other events. We're lucky to be in such a beautiful part of the state, so come learn how you can get out there and enjoy it!

The Chumash Maritime Culture @ Foster

On Wednesday, September 24, E.P. Foster Library will present a talk by Alan Salazar of the Chumash Maritime Association.

"The Chumash Maritime Culture, Past, Present, and Future" will focus on the seafaring tools used by the Chumash of the Santa Barbara coast and Channel Islands regions.

The talk begins at 6 p.m. in the Topping Room. We hope to see you there!

Read Me a Story & More @ Foster

E.P. Foster Library will be hosting an early literacy workshop on Tuesday, September 23.

Read Me a Story & More is an event for parents and caregivers of children ages 0-5 years old, and will provide information on the literacy skills children need to be reading-ready.

Registration is required for this event, so contact the library for more information. The workshop is for adults only, and starts at 6 p.m. in the Topping Room.

Font to Film: “Catch-22”

In last month’s Font to Film we talked about authors who bring a personal perspective to their subject matter in order to produce a work which asks important questions or defies expectations. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, first published in 1961, does both. Rich with satire and social commentary on the nature of war and authority, it is widely regarded as a classic that maintains its relevance today. While many would argue that war is nothing to laugh about, Heller and authors like him have successfully used dark humor to spotlight the cognitive and moral dissonance that results from being in a situation that is deadly serious while simultaneously appearing to be completely absurd.

Catch-22 focuses on Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces bombardier serving in World War II. From the start it is made apparent that a central element of Yossarian’s character is his instinct for self-preservation; he harbors a firm belief that the people around him—both the German forces and his own commanding officers—are trying to kill him, and thus does everything he can think of to avoid flying combat missions. His attempts are largely thwarted by the existence of a military regulation known as “Catch-22,” which states, among other things, that Yossarian cannot request to be grounded due to insanity because such a request would be the act of a sane man. Heller’s portrayals of Yossarian’s commanding officers offer a grimly cynical take on the chain of command, and he likewise uses war profiteer Milo Minderbinder to showcase the naked greed and ruthlessness of unchained, unregulated capitalism. Throughout the chronologically-scattered narrative more details of Yossarian’s situation are revealed, and through him we witness the sheer horror of war as it is visited upon civilian populations and military personnel alike, including Yossarian’s close friends.
The 1970 film version of Catch-22 was directed by Mike Nichols and stars Alan Arkin along with a surprising number of familiar faces, including Art Garfunkel, Jon Voight, Bob Newhart, and Martin Sheen. The film condenses the plot a bit, eliminating some elements and simplifying others but managing to maintain the book’s tone and thematic concerns. Jokes better suited for the page than the screen are replaced with more visual gags, and certain auditory motifs—for instance, the drone of aircraft engines—are used to great effect. The film also reminds us that the strengths of the medium should not be underestimated; the actors all give compelling performances, and several scenes feature gruesome effects which really drive home the war’s terrible cost in a visceral way. While the novel received both positive and negative reviews upon its release, the movie was largely eclipsed by other war films released at the time, including another dark comedy, MASH (1970). Both the book and the movie have enjoyed great success in subsequent years, however; Nichols’ version has a reputation as a cult hit, and Heller’s original is seen as one of the most important war books of our time.

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 can be found at E.P. Foster Library in both the adult and young adult fiction collections. Mike Nichols’ film version is also at Foster, and in addition can be accessed via our new database Hoopla Digital. The film is available for streaming or downloading to those with a Ventura County Library card who have created a Hoopla account; see the staff at any of our branches or call for information on setting up an account. And as always, if the version you’re looking for is not on the shelf you can request that a copy be sent to your local branch over the phone or online through our catalog.


Formulated by Ronald Martin.

Syndicate content