Downs-Jones Library

An Academic Library on the campus of Huston-Tillotson University.


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Little Things: Short Stories

Don’t ever ask me what my favorite book is. It’s a catastrophe. My mouth opens, and what emerges is…not silence, but not words. It’s the verbal equivalent of those last few drops of milkshake you can’t quite get with the straw.

Can I offer my top ten favorites? Of the books I’ve read this month? Top ten science fiction books? Top fifteen? Favorite books of mine that you might like? Favorite new books? Can I include “fannish” novels, like The Year of Intelligent Tigers (a Doctor Who book, and suffering not at all for that)? Does The Lord of the Rings count as one title, and can I bundle The Hobbit with it? Is Mirable an anthology of interconnected short stories, or a novel? I can never pick just one all-time favorite.

But I can name my favorite short story, maybe the only short story I’ve ever read that makes me cry every time. It is a novella entitled “Fire Watch”, by science-fiction author Connie Willis. Both story and author have won just about every award they’ve ever been nominated for, and they are well-deserved.

“Fire Watch” is the first in a series of linked stories about the near future, where time travel has been discovered and deemed the province of historians, so that the study of history is a hands-on, immersive experience in Victorian Britain, or pre-Crusader Jerusalem, or, in “Fire Watch”, the London Blitz. The story follows a student sent back to the volunteer fire watch that kept St. Paul’s Cathedral from burning down despite the bombing it endured, to experience the reality of the past and to learn from it. What he learns – and his passionate defense of it – is so powerfully written it moves me to tears.

Short stories may sometimes be overlooked because they are bundled with others in anthologies and do not have their own volume, with their title and author’s name on the cover. Or they may be disregarded out of the belief that they do not have space to create a fully realized world or develop a character or work out an engaging plot. None of this is true. Short stories can tell an entire story in a few words, show you a moment that stands alone, terrify and provoke by implying much more than they say, and leave you wondering about the characters or the world long after the last word.

Short stories you can find on the Downs-Jones Library shelves:

  • Collected Stories of Charles W. Chesnutt (N PS 1292 .C6 A15 1992)
  • Common Bonds: Stories By and About Modern Texas Women (PS 558 .T4 C65 1990)
  • Invented Lives: Narratives of Black Women, 1860-1960 (N PS 647.A35 I58 1987)
  • In the Stacks: Short Stories about Libraries and Librarians (PN 6120.95 .L554 I52 2002)
  • Writers of the Future, Volume IX (PS 648 .F3 W75 1993)
  • Voice of the Turtle: American Indian Literature, 1900-1970 (PS 508 .I5 V64)

…and a few you can read online through our eBook collection:

Read “Fire Watch” in THE BEST OF CONNIE WILLIS: AWARD-WINNING STORIES collection with your Texshare Card or through Interlibrary Loan. Use your Texshare Card @ the following locations: https://www.worldcat.org/title/best-of-connie-willis-award-winning-stories/oclc/813930893&referer=brief_results OR Interlibrary Loan the book through the Downs-Jones Library! See ILL policy and procedures @ http://htu.edu/academics/library/interlibrary-loan-service


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All Quiet on the Western Front

First published in 1929, All Quiet on the Western Front is a classic anti-war novel written by the German author, Erich Maria Remarque. Remarque was a veteran of World War I and he utilized his experience during the war to serve as his inspiration for the book. The novel tells the story of the young German soldier, Paul Bäumer, chronicling his experiences before, during, and after the conflict. The experience of the soldiers in the trenches is presented with harsh and graphic detail. When not plagued by artillery shells and machine gun fire, the soldiers struggle to overcome the hardships of food shortages, rat infestations, and disease. Remarque portrays the war as not only mercilessly taking the actual lives of so many of the young men present on both sides, but also as devastating to the emotional lives of those fortunate enough to survive the conflict.

Published nearly 10 years after the conclusion of the war, the work provoked strong positive and negative reactions amongst its readers at the time.  In less than two years, the book sold more than 2.5 million copies and was translated into 22 languages. One of the early harsh critics of the book was Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party, which would later have it banned and burned as a degenerate work that cast a negative light on the German war effort.

All Quiet on the Western Front was adapted into an Oscar winning feature length film in 1930 by Lewis Milestone. In 1979, the book received another adaptation by director Delbert Mann, starring Richard Thomas and Ernest Borgnine.

1979 Version – AV DVD 198


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The Great Textbook Hunt of 2015

Is there a bigger racket in publishing than textbooks? They cost a ridiculous amount, they are updated regularly so professors often assign the newest (and most expensive) version, and they’re often required so you don’t have a choice about spending $100 on something you’re going to use for four or five months and then maybe never again.

Or do you?

It may be easiest just to buy that list of textbooks directly from the university bookstore, since they’re likely to be in stock and you can get all of them at once, right away, but if you’re willing to work at it, and start the hunt early, there are cheaper ways to get your textbooks for the semester. Students can buy textbooks used off Amazon, bid for them on eBay, trade or purchase them on Craigslist or other swap sites, or network with other students who took the same class last year and might be willing to sell their textbook if they still have it. Barnes & Noble also sells used textbooks, although their stock is often cross-listed on Amazon.

Renting textbooks is also an option – you pay less for the book, but you have to give it back at the end of the semester, and some vendors will fine you if the book is damaged when it gets back to them. Chegg is a popular textbook rental site. Big online sellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble also rent out textbooks. In a 2014 article, The U.S. News and World Report also recommended TextbookRush, Skyo, and eCampus.com. And there are dozens more: BookRenter, Textbooks.com, Campus Books, Bookbyte, Bigwords.com, Direct Textbooks, Textbook Recycling, and the person-to-person trading site Student Book Trades are only a few of the options available online for tracking down affordable textbooks.

Here at the library, we often encourage students to get TexShare cards (which give you access to other Texas academic, public, and medical libraries for free) or use the Interlibrary Loan service, which brings books, media, and journal articles directly to you through email and the postal service. Yes, we can get that book mailed to the library for you! But what about textbooks? It might seem that these services would be a great way to get a textbook for free, but this is actually not a good solution.

Most public libraries do not buy textbooks. They are in high demand, they are expensive, they are at a high risk for being stolen, and they do not stay current for long – in short, the same reasons you don’t want to buy a textbook outright. Libraries participating in TexShare or Interlibrary Loan may not have the title. If they do, they may choose to not lend it out. Also, checkout times for both services are limited: even if the textbook did come through, you would only have it for two to three weeks before needing to return it, even if your exam over those chemistry equations is a month away.

There’s also a way to get access to some textbooks without having to buy them, right here in the library. The Downs-Jones Library’s own textbook collection (course reserves) is limited. We too do not buy textbooks. Our textbook collection is stocked by generous professors who bring in their own copies of the required texts and allow us to lend them out to students on a restricted/reserved basis. These textbooks can only be used in the library for two hours at a time – the system starts adding fines when books come back late, and they set off the alarms if they go outside. And we often have only one copy at a time, so if it’s checked out, you’ll have to wait until your classmate brings the book back.

Wondering if the Downs-Jones Library has your textbook available? Check out this branch of the online catalog at http://voyager.htu.edu/vwebv/enterCourseReserve.do. Dropdown menus allow you to search by professor’s name, subject department, and class title to quickly determine whether the library can save you the need to buy a textbook, or cover for you until the book you just rented from TextbookRush arrives.


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Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things that Happened

The summer is passing by quickly and before you know it (and probably long before you wished for it), we will be well into the swing of the fall semester. Your free time will be taken up by studying, group projects and exams. Those books you read for fun this summer?  They seem like a distant memory. The thought of reading for pleasure, when you have so much school reading to do, does not sound appealing at all.

Allie Brosh is here to rescue you. She is the author of  the blog Hyperbole and a Half. If you haven’t seen it, check it out at  http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/. Unfortunately, it has a finite number of posts, which ended in 2013. Luckily, there is also a book entitled Hyperbole and a Half. (Technically it is Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things that Happened)

Warning:  Do not read this book in public. In fact, it is best to read it when you have the house to yourself. It will start with giggles and quiet chuckles, but eventually your fiancée will rush in from the next room where he has been watching TV to make sure you are okay. I was laughing so loudly and raucously that I started crying. I was laughing and crying at the same time and I couldn’t stop.  My fiancée  was Iooking at me in horror. I think he thought I was about to have a seizure and he was going to have to put a spoon in my mouth to keep me from swallowing my tongue. To save myself, I had to put the book down. Now, even though I have read it many times, when I pick it up, I start laughing again, even though I know what will happen.

It is easy to make dumb dogs and cake-eating kids funny. Allie does this wonderfully. But Allie can also make getting lost in the woods funny. She can make being a disturbingly creepy five-year-old funny. She can make depression funny, but also so real that those of us who have suffered it instantly recognize the truth in it. The wonderful thing about Allie is that while she is hilarious, she is also relatable. Her characters, while only barely recognizable as human beings graphically, have a wealth of expressions we recognize and she has feelings we have all felt. And you are lying if you say you have never felt this:

“IT’S HARD not pushing people and not throwing sand at them.”

Go read it, go read it now, despite all the reading you have to do for school. You can thank me later.


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Using Prezi

Somehow I don’t think PowerPoint is going away. It’s easy to use and straightforward, clicking from slide to slide in a straight line. It’s customizable to some degree, letting you change the colors and designs of slide backgrounds and the sizes and fonts of text, insert images (and sound, and video), and include transitions from one slide to another and animations within each slide.

Still, PowerPoint is only one step away from big sheets of paper on an easel, presented in sequence, or, at best, a storyboard. The next step onward has become Prezi – www.prezi.com – a popular web-based program that creates more dynamic and active presentations. Prezi is free to use, but users must sign up so that they can save their work. (More advanced services are offered for a fee.) It can be used online – conveniently accessible from almost any device – or downloaded for Windows. Currently, I see no option for downloading Prezi to a Mac.

What are the advantages of Prezi? Prezi is much prettier. It allows the presenter to zoom in on more detailed concepts and zoom back out again to show the bigger picture. Prezis can use the metaphor of a map to represent exploration of an idea, the ascent of a mountain to show progress towards a goal, or rotation across a clock face to show the evolution of a plan over time. They have dozens of templates available – you do not have to build a Prezi from scratch, I was greatly relieved to find. It’s less straightforward than PowerPoint, but more dynamic, and its themes are colorful and complex. If you’re presenting to a group, a Prezi is also more interesting to watch than a PowerPoint, and that will make your audience more likely to pay attention to and enjoy your presentation. The online version also saves your work automatically. Your online Prezi account means you’ll never leave your presentation at home by mistake, or be unable to download an attachment from an email.

The downsides? It’s harder to use, especially if you’ve been using PowerPoint for a while. It’s not intuitive at all. The first time I built a Prezi, I felt like nothing worked the way I thought it would. I couldn’t change the colors or settings, and while I eventually figured out how to include new ‘slides’ along the way, I got things wrong a remarkable fraction of the time and had to hit the undo button quite often. It wouldn’t let me put information in areas of the presentation that I wanted to use but couldn’t, because it didn’t recognize that part of the background image as something it could access. It wasn’t useable space. And because a Prezi can detour into more and more details on a subject, zooming in, it’s easy to keep adding deeper and deeper layers. (Luckily, the program kicks you out once you’ve reached a certain level, telling you that you can’t go any smaller.) But backing out of that zoom, or jumping back to a broader scale, can be disorienting.

Eventually, the advantages of Prezi outweigh the disadvantages. The cloud access alone makes it something I would recommend that students use – you could never lose a presentation again! It’s also collaborative – you can give other people access to the work in progress and they can work on it with you from another computer, perfect for a group. It’s much more interesting than PowerPoint, and the novelty value of it may earn your presentation some praise from classmates, professors, or employers tired of sitting through PowerPoints.

Take the chance to learn to use Prezi when you have time to experiment and don’t have a deadline to meet. Be patient with it. Accept that there are things it just can’t do, but be creative in finding out what those things are – Prezi can do more than you think! Look through the templates they have available and consider how you might use them. And lastly, remember that it’s out there. PowerPoint might still dominate the field of presenting, but it finally has a significant rival.


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The Guns of August

Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1963, Barbara W. Tuchman’s The Guns of August is a compelling work of popular fiction that provides a highly detailed account of the first few months of World War I. Tuchman begins with an examination of the major world leaders in the months leading up to the outbreak of conflict in Belgium and Serbia. These leaders, most commonly of the kingly variety, are characterized as thoroughly 19th century figures adorned with regal accoutrements and ceremonial sabres that are about to clash in a uniquely 20th century form of warfare. Within this violent collision of the old world and the new, Tuchman highlights the strategies, plans, events and personalities that shape and define not only the outcomes of the war, but whose impact was felt throughout the remainder of the century.

It is not without irony that the war that set the stage for the Second World War would eventually become eclipsed by its younger brother in much of society’s consciousness.   Despite lacking some of the Hollywood flashiness of World War II, the Great War was an epic drama of both human achievement and suffering that deserves more attention than it is commonly given.   While The Guns of August is not the best general introduction to the topic nor is it the most up-to-date scholarship on the period, it does provide a deeply human examination of a world on the precipice of one of the greatest horrors and tragedies it has ever known.

Call Number: D530 .T8


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Finding Things (Again) in the Library

I was crazy about cats as a kid (I still am), and someone once gave me a book of animal stories, thus combining two of my great loves. It contained several stories by veterinarian and author James Herriot. I remember “Only One Woof”, about a dog that never barked – except once, at the sight of a brother he hadn’t seen in years, and “The Christmas Kitten”, in which a stray cat who occasionally sneaks into an inn to sit by the fire brings in, one winter night, a gift to the innkeeper… Sometime later, I reread both stories, and many others, in All Creatures Great and Small, the first volume of Herriot’s memoirs about being a country veterinarian in pre- and post-World War II Yorkshire, England.

And then I moved on and read other things, discovered science fiction and fantasy, and more or less forgot about nonfiction.

Recently I rediscovered All Creatures Great and Small in the stacks of the Downs-Jones Library, and resolved to reread it and the two sequels also on the shelf, All Things Bright and Beautiful and All Things Wise and Wonderful. The titles are taken from a popular English hymn.

There is a reason these books have hung on and remained popular and well known for so long: Herriot is an engaging and cunning writer who shows us lifelike and memorable characters both human and animal. He is in turn funny, depicting the antics and foibles of the people he works with, his partners and coworkers and their clients, as well as the personalities of the animals they bring him or call him out to see, and heartbreaking, for Herriot shows the failures as well as the successes with sensitivity and vivid regret. He also conveys an inspiring and breathtaking love for the land he works in despite cold and discomfort, and the animals he works to heal even when filthy, tired, injured, and ridiculed. His love for his work shines through his writing: Herriot can make hours of middle-of-the-night hands-on midwifing of a cow seem rewarding. He mixes stories of working with large farm animals with tales that will be familiar to anyone who has a cat or dog or knows anyone who treats their pets like family.

It is in the details that the stories show their age, but I can’t help reading that as showing how far we’ve come. At the time, veterinary medicine was a poorly understood and largely experimental science, surrounded by mythologies and rural legends; even over the course of the stories, Herriot praises developments and advances in animal medicine, and I do wonder what he’d think of the technologies and medicines in use today. I suspect he’d be thrilled. A common theme throughout the books is miscommunication and lack of information as Herriot and his coworkers range across Yorkshire. Today, everyone has a cell phone in their pocket; it is well worth being reminded that very few people have enjoyed the privilege of constant contact. And his continuing battle with a string of automobiles in various states of disrepair makes me, for one, very grateful for modern safety standards.

Herriot’s memoirs were turned into a British television series, also called All Creatures Great and Small, and the books are still in print today. Because each book is a collection of short stories that more or less stand alone (although many characters recur and develop over time), they’re easy to read even when you think you’re too busy to read, great for reading on the bus or before bed. Herriot’s books are justly considered classics, and I do recommend reading them.

All Creatures Great and Small can be found in the Downs-Jones Library at SF 613 H44 A28 1973x; All Things Bright and Beautiful at SF 613 H44 A283 1975x; and All Things Wise and Wonderful at SF 613 H44 A285.

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