Weird Science

I have very little background in science.  I am, however, curious about the world.  Most of my questions arise as I’m doing simple, everyday tasks.  I wonder how air neutralizers work as I spray air freshener in a musty room.  I question why hair turns gray as we age when I look in the mirror.  I’m curious how batteries were invented—and why are the batteries at my house always dead?

Several years ago, I stumbled across the book Packing for Mars: the Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach.  Mary Roach is a science writer who is very upfront about the fact that she is not a scientist.  I loved how she addresses questions about how things work, why things are developed, and  how they are studied.  Her explanations are clear easy to understand.  She is willing to ask those “dumb” questions that we all have, like “What happens if an astronaut is sick while wearing a spacesuit?”  I find her books insightful and hilarious.

One of my favorite aspects of her research is that she is hands-on.  She backs everything up with plenty of research from science journals and scholarly articles. Ms. Roach actually goes to visit labs, training grounds, and other areas that are off-limits to most people.  Her interviews with scientists, researchers, businesses, and politicians are candid and she is willing to ask the uncomfortable questions.  She asked Jim Lovell, the Apollo 13 astronaut, if the dandruff and dead skin cells that shed, but have nowhere to go during space flight made it feel like a “snow globe” inside the space capsule.

She observes and often participates in testing and experiments.  In her latest book, Grunt: the Curious Science of Humans at War, she describes smelling the World War II nonlethal malodorant “Who me?” in great detail, giving detailed accounts of not only the physical outcome, but also her thoughts and emotions as she smelled the stink bomb.

If you have a curious mind, like to laugh, and don’t mind a few squeamish descriptions here and there, give Mary Roach’s books a try.

Jennifer Bekker
North Branch Library
gruntbonk gulp my-planet packing-for-marsspookstiff

In The Weeds, 8.10.16: A Square By Any Other Name…

….is still called a “square”. There are 254 counties in Texas and, much like the state itself, their squares represent the varied cultural and architectural influences of over 300 years of Spanish/Mexican, European and early American settlement. We have a volume in our Texas Collection that offers a very detailed and “in the weeds” analysis of them entitled “The Courthouse Square in Texas” by Robert E Veselka.

Denton’s Square falls under the “Shelbyville-related” plan. That is to say, it has a square lot in the center of a grid with nomenclature based on a system developed in 1968 by E.T. Price in his study of courthouse squares from Pennsylvania to Texas and named after a prototype in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Here you can see that plan juxtaposed with others:


Denton shares similarities with Archer City, Brownwood, Cleburne, and Jacksboro in that they all feature a symmetrical arrangement of smaller partial blocks on the periphery. Here is a Sanborn Map of Denton from 1926:



Shelbyville squares and their variants are the most prevalent in Texas and can be found in 157 counties, or 61% of the total. This style was first adopted in the northeast corner of the state in Clarksville and San Augustine and were familiar to settlers from the eastern United States with their simple grids and focus on the courthouse.

There are three other major influences on the square design in Texas: Spanish/Mexican, German and Railroad. Briefly, in the Hispanic tradition, town squares allowed for a plaza that was not to include any building with nearby locations for the Catholic Church, a military plaza and a courthouse. A quarter of Texas’ squares are based on this influence and naturally include such towns as San Antonio de Bexar, Gonzalez, Goliad, Refugio, etc. Here is a map of San Antonio de Bexar from 1896 showing the Military and Main Plazas:




The many thousands of German immigrants in the mid-to-late 19th Century to the Hill Country left their mark as well. Both New Braunfels and Fredericksburg have central squares for public use without buildings and in some ways resemble Anglo design otherwise.


Finally, the importance of the railroad in settling and development of vast areas of Texas meant that their planners had no little influence in how towns were laid out. In some instances, the railroad “split” the town with the court house very near the tracks:rr005

If you’ve made it this far in our little trip around Texas court house squares, thanks for joining us. We won’t think you are “square” for peeking around these court house areas on your next trip through Texas.

Written by Chuck Voellinger, Emily Fowler Special Collections Dept. Questions or comments can be directed to

Ali bomaye’

One of the strongest memories I have of my father is watching with him, Muhammad Ali defeat Leon Spinks in 1978 to become the first three-time heavyweight champion in boxing. My father wasn’t a fan of Ali, but he didn’t dislike the man either. Rather, Ali’s grace both in and out of the ring captivated my father and many others including my eight year old self. I set out to learn everything I could about this athlete and through my research ended up becoming a big fan of boxing in my teens.

With the passing of this American legend this month, I know that for many younger than myself, Ali isn’t someone they witnessed live. Rather, they have heard only tales from older family members who witnessed Ali’s boxing career. To learn more about this remarkable man’s life, there are a few media sources the library offers.


Michael Mann’s “Ali” focuses on a ten year period in Ali’s life. It features two Academy Award nominated performances from Will Smith as the title character and Jon Voight as broadcaster, Howard Cosell. It’s a good primer for anyone not familiar with Ali’s life.

When we were Kings

However, those looking to see the personality that mesmerized so many Americans should look to the Academy Award winning documentary, “When We Were Kings.” The film focuses on the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” fight between Ali and George Foreman held in Zaire. The fight itself is a memorable event but this documentary shows you everything that led up to it and the many colorful characters involved. Many thought Foreman would kill Ali. But, in the end, it was Ali bomaye’ that was being chanted.

Greatest Fight

Finally, while so much is made of Ali’s life in the ring. His faith and conviction outside the ring are what made him such a memorable and polarizing figure. “Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight” is a 2013 HBO film that focuses on the Supreme Court decision following Ali’s appeal of his conviction in 1967 for refusing to report for induction into the United States military forces during the Vietnam War.  Ali is seen only in news footage. However, his presence looms large as do the personalities that make up the Supreme Court.  It’s a fascinating look not just at an important part of Ali’s life, but the inner workings of the Supreme Court and their decision making. Given the court’s current makeup, such a film is educational not only about the memorable Muhammad Ali, but of our judicial system as well.

Jess Edward Turner
South Branch Library

Need a Good Book?

Summer Reading Club has started off with a bang at the Denton Public Library.  Everyone is ready to enjoy the summer with some great books.

One question that keeps coming up every summer is “Can you recommend a good book?”  I wanted to share some tips on finding great reading materials for all ages that I frequently use when helping at the reference desk or looking for my next book.

First, start with something you like.  Think about some books you have liked in the past.  What are some common themes with those books?  Why did you like them so much?

Next, think about specific aspects of those books you are drawn to.  Were they serious or funny?  Did they fit into a particular genre: romance, science fiction, historical, mystery, etc?  Do you prefer non-fiction and biographies?  Do you relate better to certain types of characters?  Do you like long epics or short stories?

Once you have identified a few key things that you are looking for in a book, try one of these great tools to help you find the perfect book:

Novelist Select is available online for all Denton Public Library cardholders as well as on all library computers and catalogs in each of the three branches for anyone who visits the library.  This is my go-to book recommendation tool.  You can search by title, author, subject, or keyword.  Pre-made lists are available for all ages on popular and timely topics.  It also offers robust advanced search capabilities such as books by grade level, author’s nationality, number of pages, award winner, and more. is a popular book recommendation site with members submitting book reviews, creating suggested reading lists, and sharing their love of reading with the social media aspect of the site.  Recommendations are available for youth and adult materials of all types and topics.

Amazon’s Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought feature lets you see titles that others have also selected when purchasing a particular title.  It is easy to jump from title to title and get caught in an endless string of recommendations.  Simply search for a book you liked and scroll down to see other titles that shoppers have also selected to go with that title.

Your Next Read shares recommendations based on recommendations, recommendations and Your Next Read user recommendations.  Recommendations are presented in a bubble map, allowing you to visually move from recommendation to recommendation.  There is a separate tab for searching children’s materials.  Preselected lists are also available for easy browsability.

Of course one of the best resources to help you find a great book is the library staff.  Head over to the reference desk at any of our branches.  We are ready to help you connect with your next favorite book.  We’ll ask you some questions about your reading interests and come up with some great recommendations.

Enjoy your summer and keep reading!

Jennifer Bekker, North Branch Manager

In The Weeds 4.06.16: Fist Fights, Snakebites and Polygamy

We have a collection of 19th and early 20th Century newspaper articles and gleanings about Denton people and events from in and outside the county. They make for fun reading and an opportunity to re-evaluate how we think people lived and behaved in an era we tend to think was so different. There is quite a bit about the sadder side of life such as crimes, deaths, and health issues (“If it bleeds, it leads” is the news axiom). We won’t go into those but, rather, focus on some humor and more lighthearted events. And it was fun to come up with tags for this blog post…

From the Denton County News, Sept. 29, 1898, p.8, c.3:

“BITTEN BY A COPPERHEAD. W. H. Durham, who is employed in Long, Williams & Co’s grocery store, was bitten on a finger last week by a copperhead last Thursday night while engaged in picking up some articles in a dark corner of the store. He immediately drank a quart of whiskey, but the bite was so poisonous that the whole arm swelled considerably. At last accounts, Mr. Durham was improving and is now considered out of danger.” –We think the cure might be worse than than the cause.

From the Legal Tender, Dec.2, 1897, p.1:

“The Green Valley School is progressing fine, and the Algebra class say they can work any thing by the X.Y.Z.”

From the Denton County News, Oct 29th, 1896, p.5, c.1:

“PONDER ITEMS. Ponder, Oct 25. There was quite an interesting wolf chase experienced in Denton creek bottom last Saturday, one being killed by Mr. M. W. Hedrick; also a wild goose and three squirrels.” –A real “wild goose chase”.

From Denton County News, March 2, 1899, p.4,c.3:

“AGAIN IN TROUBLE. Rev. Logan, who conducted a series of services at the Advent Church in this city a year or so ago and who ran away with a young lady of this city is in trouble again, having been arrested in Fort Worth last week charged with having too many wives.”

From the Dallas Weekly Herald, June 6, 1874, p.1:

The editor of the Denton Review takes a whole column of space to tell his readers that he got thrown from a horse and didn’t get killed.” – Ouch! That’s going to sting.

From the Denton County News, Sept. 24, 1896, p.8, c.4:

“Mr. M.D. Saunders, of Fort Worth, has located in Denton and opened a bicycle store in the brick building in the rear of the Masonic building.” –Bicycles. Denton loved them then and loves them now.

From the Denton County News, Sept. 21, 1893, p.3, c.2:

” W.R. Staples and Arthur Smith, living near Stony, had a rough and tumble fight on the farmer’s place Monday which resulted in a number of bruises for each. Mr. Staples came to town and had a physician extract two of his fingers from his own wrist which he had grafted there by rapping Smith too rudely on the mug.” – That must’ve been some punch. How does one graft one’s own fingers to the same wrist?!

From the Denton County News, Jan 31, 1895, p.2,c.2:

“At the residence of Mrs. Stark of Roanoke, can be found a little black bird that can talk as plain as any body in the county.”

Written by Chuck Voellinger, Emily Fowler Library.


In The Weeds 2.11.16 Ray Peterson

This might be a good subject for Denton-centric Trivia Night at a local pub. While doing research in the Denton Record-Chronicle about someone completely unrelated, I happened upon this front page story from 1961. By that time, Ray Peterson had several hits on the pop music charts including two in the Top 10 and was heading home to his family and birthplace in Denton for a belated Christmas reunion. He was born here on April 23, 1939 but apparently didn’t spend very much time in town, growing up in San Antonio. He had contracted polio as a child and, during his stay in the hospital in The Alamo City, sang for his fellow patients and thus began his musical career. The article states that his family lived on Panhandle Street and had recently moved back to his mother’s native Denton. By that time, however, he was performing at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas and touring the country.

Here he is looking rather Bobby Darin-ish:


So, the question is, why isn’t he better known in town? It’s true he really never lived here other than maybe his first couple years but, in that way, he resembles Sly Stone. Could it be the lack of local press? Searching the DR-C, I only find the article above and some Top 10 lists from the early 1960s mentioning him. Sly Stone went on to greater fame so maybe that prompted us to call him our own when he really barely is, as well.

One of his greatest hits was a morbid, schmalzy thing called “Tell Laura I Love Her” which recounts a doomed teenage romance involving stock car racing (really) and a $1000.00 prize. Here it is. There was quite a market for this genre of songs in the late-50s, early ’60s known as “teenage tragedy songs”, “death discs”, and my personal favorite,“splatter platters”. Elvis Presley covered one of his songs in the late 1960s, The Wonder of You, doing Ray the courtesy of asking him in advance if that would be OK. One thing no one could ever say about The King was that he wasn’t a gentleman. Elvis probably didn’t have to do this because Ray didn’t write the song nor did he likely own the rights to it but  professional courtesy was extended and they became friends.

Mr. Peterson eventually became a Baptist minister in the 1970s while also appearing on the oldies circuit. He was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and died in Memphis in 2005.

Written by Chuck Voellinger, Emily Fowler Library.




“Organizational health” and “page-turner” in the same sentence. Really.

When Patrick Lencioni was a boy, his father came home from work in the evenings and lamented all the dysfunction where he worked. Young Patrick listened. Really listened.

Interesting inspiration for Lencioni; decades later he is a best-selling author who The Wall Street Journal calls one of the most sought-after business speakers in America. He also is the founder of The Table Group, a consulting firm. And the currency behind all of his success is organizational health.

If you are not in management, you might think organizational health is as tasty as unsalted crackers. Not so, when Lencioni delivers a buffet of what he calls “leadership fables.” Lencioni creates fictional characters and tells how they prevail over organizational challenges. The most complex workplace issues inevitably are solved with a recipe of compassion, empathy and a lot of common sense.

The challenges that make up Lencioni’s settings are so common in the workplace that the stories will resonate with almost everyone. I read his Silos, Politics and Turf Wars on a flight from Dallas to Boston, cover to cover. I guess most of my fellow passengers thought I resembled a bobbing-head doll, because I was nodding in agreement in every chapter.

Management and business lessons often double as life lessons, because relationships are at the heart of every organization, including families, teams, and book discussion groups … you name it. In fact, I wrote a blog just a couple of years ago explaining how Lencioni’s Three Signs of a Miserable Job (which actually is a leadership fable about engaging employees in the organization’s mission) perfectly applied to Little League practice with a dozen 8- and 9-year-olds.

Take Lencioni for a test drive. Chances are, you will discover that the most daunting difficulties in your organization are surprisingly simple to navigate when the focus is on the outcome. The Denton Public Library includes six of Lencioni’s books in its collection. Find out how a successful, semi-retired entrepreneur found himself working in a small pizza joint among Colorado ski slopes … and turned the organization around. These are great stories, fun reads, and relevant:

Randy Simmans – North Branch Library