Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Laughter is the best medicine

I attended a rather interesting program at a public library a few towns over from me. The program was “Laughter Yoga.” I have heard about using laughing and breathing techniques for relieving stress, but I never actually did it. I learned that a doctor from India, Dr. Madan Kataria, developed Laughter Yoga as a wellbeing workout.

There were six of us in the program, plus the presenter. The presenter talked briefly about the premise of Laughter Yoga. Then, we got right to it. We began with a few laughter chants (“Ha Ha Ha, Hee Hee Hee, Ho Ho Ho”). Surprisingly, those simple chants turned into contagious laughter. Once we all settled down, we did more chants, more laughter, and so on. We were encouraged to make silly faces or movements to further our laughter. I laugh just thinking about my experience in this program. I did some more research on Laughter Yoga, and Dr. Kataria states that it is entirely possible to achieve the benefits from laughter just as much as when you are alone or in a group. So, I’m sitting here laughing. My dog is looking at me like I just got out of the loony bin, but it feels good. School, work, boyfriend problems, packing and moving are all stressful things in my life right now, but I’m laughing. All of my stress is on the back burner, even if it is just for a moment.

I highly suggest everyone take some time out during his or her days and laugh. You might feel like a weirdo at first, but it is very refreshing.

I think programs like these, which deviate from book groups, crafts, and other programs usually offered at a public library, are important for all patrons. Different programs offer a new and informative outlook for patrons. Librarians can also create booklists or pathfinders that relate to what is taught in a program, and reach out to their patrons. Reel them in with a fun program, and keep them coming back to the library for more information.

Here is Dr. Kataria's website about Laughter Yoga, and below is a video of Dr. Kataria explaining the premise of Laughter Yoga.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2006

335 pages

ISBN: 1-56512-499-5

Jacob Jankowski, an almost-graduate of Cornell Veterinary School during the Great Depression, loses his parents to a car accident. Overcome with grief, sadness, and a loss for what to do, Jacob walks out of his final exams, without answering a single question. He returns home, and stares up at the sign on his father’s Veterinary practice behind the house: E. Jankowski and Son: Doctors of Veterinary Medicine. He soon learns that the bank is taking his parents’ house and his father’s practice, since his father had been taking anything, including food, for payments. Not knowing what to do, Jacob starts walking. He walks until he comes across a slow-moving train, and he decides to jump it. He wants to get away, to wherever this train will take him.

This train belongs to The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a traveling circus. Jacob soon gets put on the staff as a worker, or a “roustabout,” setting up tents and shows, and feeding the animals. However, Uncle Al, the circus director, and August, the menagerie leader, find out about Jacob’s veterinary background. They promote him to the show’s Veterinarian. He takes a liking to Marlena, the star of the show who creates routines with the horses, and she takes a liking to him as well. Marlena, though, is married to August, who is described as a “paranoid schizophrenic.” At first glance, he is a charming, well-versed man. However, he controls Marlena, as well as the animals, with hostility and anger. After a while, Uncle Al acquires an elephant named Rosie for his show. Rosie is said to be a magnificent performer, yet August cannot seem to even command Rosie to walk off of the train. After witnessing several brutal attacks on Rosie from August, Jacob finds out that Rosie does not understand English, only Polish. Luckily, Jacob speaks Polish, and he teaches August several phrases of command, and Rosie soon becomes the star of the circus, and no longer endures the consistent attacks from August.

August soon discovers the romantic feelings between his wife and Jacob and goes on a tirade. He “redlights” (which means to kick someone off the moving train) several workers as revenge to Jacob, since the workers are Jacob’s friends. He beats the animals, and he even beats Marlena after Jacob intervenes during an argument. A few of the workers who were redlighted survive, and come back to “get even” with August. I will not divulge in how they “got even,” since I don’t want to ruin the ending for those who have not read this book.

This story is told through memories of Jacob Jankowski, who is now “90 or 93 years old.” He lives in a nursing home, next door to which a circus has come into town. A fellow resident of the nursing home begins to tell stories of carrying water for elephants when he was young man working in a circus. Jacob is upset by this, since there is no such thing as carrying water for elephants. He does not explain why he is upset, since he never tells anyone about his working for the circus. The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth is brought to life through Jacob’s memories. Gruen uses information she learned from circus museums and experts, which in my opinion, really added to the historical significance of the book. The cynical “90 or 93 year old” Jacob adds humor to the story. He reminds me of my grandfather, who constantly recounted his memories, whether he knew he was doing it or not. The romance between Marlena and Jacob adds another layer to the story. Marlena is seen as somewhat untouchable since she is with August, but Jacob does not let that stand in his way. Gruen does an exceptional job in describing her characters. I felt love for Jacob and Marlena, hope for Jacob’s friends who have nothing but the circus in their lives, disgust for August and Uncle Al, and despair for the defenseless animals. The true life, behind-the-scenes views of a circus drew me into this story, as I’m sure it will for other readers.

Déjà Dead by Kathy Reichs

Déjà Dead by Kathy Reichs
Scribner, 1997
411 pages
ISBN: 0-684-84117-7

Temperance “Tempe” Brennan, a forensic anthropologist in Montreal, Quebec, struggles with overcoming her instincts in this mystery novel by Kathy Reichs. Tempe is called to a crime scene near a burial site to determine if a body found is from an unearthed grave or if the body is a new homicide case for the Montreal Police. She soon realizes that this body is dismembered and stored in plastic bags; therefore, it is not simply an unearthed grave. As soon as she returns to the crime lab to investigate the dismembered body, she is overcome with a familiar feeling that she has dealt with similar cases in the past. She remembers the case of sixteen-year-old Cantale Trottier, who arrived at the crime lab almost one year ago, with her body parts stored in plastic bags. New victims begin showing up in the crime lab, which convinces Tempe that these murders are correlated. After being told by the detectives with whom she works that there is no substantial evidence to prove there is a serial killer on the loose, Tempe decides to take things into her own hands. She begins to gather evidence, follow potential suspects as well as her instincts, to not only prove that there is a killer on the loose, but also to prove herself to the detectives. Tempe soon puts her life, as well as her friend and daughter’s lives in danger, as the killer finds out she is “meddling” with his business.

There are a few twists and turns in the novel, as well as a light, budding romance between Tempe and one of the detectives, Andrew Ryan. Readers will connect themselves to Tempe, as she is a believable character. Tempe struggles with a divorce, a college-aged daughter who is thinking of quitting school to follow her boyfriend to Europe, trying to be a supportive best friend, and trying to prove herself to those who do not believe in her capabilities. She is also quite stubborn, and does not give up on anything until she finishes what she has set out to do.

Mystery lovers will enjoy this book as it displays several characteristics of the mystery genre, such as a fast-paced “whodunit” story line, a wide range of mood from dark to light with a bit of humor along the way, and rich description of the investigation of itself as well as the investigative team. Mystery lovers also tend to enjoy serial novels, and Déjà Dead is the first book in the Temperance Brennan series by Kathy Reichs.