Author Archives: WCPLtn
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
A brother and sister in the county recently decided to get their first library cards at WCPL. Let’s call them Jack and Jill for short. It is not known why they waited so long to get a card, but it turns out that Jill needs a rare and costly book that the library has on the shelf. Using the library for free (that’s right, free) saves Jill from having to buy the book with the equivalent of half her weekly grocery budget.
Soon Jack comes by the library to pick up Jill’s rare book as well the five movies his sister has reserved online from home. Since this is his first time in the library, Jack takes his own tour to see what’s here. He sees a huge collection of childrens’ books, and notices the Launchpads which could occupy his niece for hours. He browses shelves and shelves of entertainment DVDs, locating several older movies that are hard to find. Nearby is the large area holding an extensive fiction collection and Large Print books.
Jack thinks to himself, “Surely, there is more to the library than this,” and he is right. He sees the stairs and heads up to the second floor. Jack uses his card to access the public computers which offer the range of Microsoft Office software as well as photo editing and more. He discovers that there are nonfiction and documentary type DVDs on the second floor and locates two which ignite his interest.
Meanwhile, Jill is thinking about their family dinner party and texts Jack requesting two cookbooks, Rachel Ray’s Look + Cook, and The Best of America’s Test Kitchen Little did Jack know, but the Library has over 50 shelves of cookbooks upstairs, including one entire 27 foot long wall. He finds both books available, with the recipes Jack and Jill both love cooking.
Before leaving, Jack sees the Reference Desk and asks them a question regarding data for his business. Jack makes guitar pedals and wants to be sure he is speaking to every music place within 50 miles. He asks if there is a database that could help him. Jack gets back on the library computer and the librarian takes him through several databases available for library users. Most helpful is Reference USA, which lets him mine and correlate the very information he is seeking.
Jill texts again to remind Jack to schedule time for the winter family trip to Switzerland. This prompts Jack to think how he needs to learn more about his digital camera, while also brushing up on his French and German. To save time, he asks the librarians at the Reference Desk for help. They show him how to take advantage of the several eBook connections through the library, especially READS and R. B. Digital. With his new card, Jack is able to download on his ipad, David Pogue’s Digital Photography: The Missing Manual. The librarian also shows Jack the photography E-magazines available to check out free through the READS and Zinio electronic libraries. Jack downloads immediately Digital Photography from Zinio.
Jack tells the librarian, that if he ever worried the library would go out of business, he doesn’t now. “Are you as up-to-date on language learning? I need to refresh my French and German.” The Reference Desk librarian shows him the library learning site called Transparent Languages, and gets him into the German and French programs using Jack’s library card as the login.
On his way out, with books, DVDs, and electronic downloads in hand, Jack texts Jill, “There’s a lot here at the library. More than I realized. You say you like the newly designed card; I know you’ll like even more, using it. You’ve got to come check this out!”
By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
Can you believe we’re living in The Future? For decades, the year 2000 seemed impossibly far away. Folks imagined that, by now, we’d have robot teachers and colonies on Mars, and the end of all disease. Companies would add the number “2000” after model numbers to connote cutting-edge technology from the bright, distant horizon. Marty McFly’s 2015 was a land of flying cars, expanding pizza, and self-tying shoes. (And fax machines. Fax machines were everywhere.)
Some of those visions for the future were spot on; others now seem charmingly out-of-date; and we’re still waiting for many of the rest to be invented. But isn’t it fantastic how often we hear about inventions that were inspired by Science Fiction? If “[science] is magic that works,” as Kurt Vonnegut says in Cat’s Cradle, then Science Fiction is the root of much of that magic. Imagination becomes ideas, which in turn become experiments. Experiments lead to discoveries, then inventions, and ultimately to the commonplace wonders we take for granted: such as the submarine (Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), the cell phone (the direct descendent of the “communicator” from the original Star Trek series), and even nuclear power (H.G. Wells’ The World Set Free). 
Wait. A fiction writer born in the 1800s gave the world the idea for nuclear power? It’s true! Decades after its publication, a scientist named Leo Szilard “read [The World Set Free] and was immediately inspired to create what Wells had dreamed up” – for better or for worse.  And when a teenaged Robert H. Goddard read Wells’ The War of the Worlds, it set him on a path of “research [that] culminated with the Apollo program, and man’s landing on the moon.”  So there’s an undeniable link between the Science Fiction genre and humanity’s incredible achievements. Keep that in mind the next time your friends give you a hard time for being a sci-fi geek!
Another cool thing about the sci-fi genre is that it often combines elements of many other genres, as well. There’s sci-fi horror, sci-fi thriller, sci-fi mystery, sci-fi romance… You get it. So, without further ado, I’m going to leave you with a great list of Science Fiction authors (many of them you’ll find on our genre bookmarks in the library), titles of some of their works, and sometimes the additional genres that come into play. (For example, when you see “humor,” think of it as “sci-fi + humor,” and so on.)
- Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series (humor)
- A. American – Survivalist series (pulpy but fun)
- Charlie Jane Anders – All the Birds in the Sky
- Hiromu Arakawa – Fullmetal Alchemist (manga)
- Catherine Asaro – Quantum Rose
- Isaac Asimov – Foundation series; Galactic Empire series; Robot series
- Gertrude Barrows Bennett – Citadel of Fear (under pseudonym “Francis Stevens”)
- Alfred Bester – The Stars My Destination (cyberpunk); The Demolished Man
- Leigh Brackett – The Long Tomorrow
- Ray Bradbury – The Martian Chronicles; The Veldt (short story)
- Octavia E. Butler – Xenogenesis series
- Pat Cadigan – Synners (cyberpunk)
- Orson Scott Card – Ender’s Game series (YA)
- Margaret Cavendish – The Blazing World (published in 1666!)
- Becky Chambers – A Closed and Common Orbit
- C. L. Cherryh – Downbelow Station
- Arthur C. Clarke – 2001: A Space Odyssey (there are four books in the series); Childhood’s End
- Ernest Cline – Ready Player One; Armada
- Peter Clines – 14 (mystery, horror, paranormal); The Fold (thriller)
- Michael Crichton – Sphere (psychological thriller); Jurassic Park; Prey
- Philip K. Dick – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; Ubik; A Scanner Darkly (police procedural)
- William Gibson – Neuromancer (cyberpunk); The Difference Engine (written with Bruce Sterling) (steampunk); Virtual Light (dark humor, detective)
- Charlotte Perkins Gilman – Herland
- Joe Haldeman – The Forever War series; The Accidental Time Machine
- Frank Herbert – Dune saga
- Hugh Howey – Silo series (post-apocalyptic)
- Kameron Hurley – The Stars Are Legion
- Aldous Huxley – Brave New World; Ape and Essence
- P. D. James – Children of Men
- Nancy Kress – Beggars in Spain
- Larissa Lai – Salt Fish Girl
- Ursula K. Le Guin – Hainish Cycle; The Eye of the Heron; The Left Hand of Darkness
- Madeleine L’Engle – Kairos cycle (beginning with A Wrinkle in Time) (children’s, “science fantasy”)
- Cixin Liu – Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy (hard science fiction)
- Katherine MacLean – Pictures Don’t Lie (stories)
- Emily St. John Mandel – Station Eleven
- George R. R. Martin – Tuf Voyaging; the Wildcards universe
- Robert Masello – The Einstein Prophecy (historical fiction, mystery, thriller)
- Julian May – Pliocene Exile series (high fantasy)
- Anne McCaffrey – The Ship Who Sang
- Seanan McGuire – Parasitology Trilogy series (sociological, under pseudonym “Mira Grant”)
- Maureen F. McHugh – China Mountain Zhang
- Judith Merril – The Tomorrow People
- Elizabeth Moon – The Speed of Dark
- Larry Niven – Tales of Known Space series; Ringworld and the Fleet of Worlds series
- Alice Norton – The Time Traders (under pseudonym “Andre Norton”)
- Christopher Nuttall – The Oncoming Storm (military, space opera); The Royal Sorceress (steampunk, alternate history)
- Nnedi Okorafor – Who Fears Death
- Malka Older – Infomocracy
- George Orwell – 1984 (speculative, “social science fiction”)
- Frederik Pohl – The Coming of the Quantum Cats; the Heechee saga (space opera)
- Kim Stanley Robinson – Mars trilogy (literary)
- Joanna Russ – The Female Man (experimental and not what you think)
- Mary Doria Russell – The Sparrow
- Carl Sagan – Contact
John Scalzi – Redshirts; Old Man’s War series
- Alice Bradley Sheldon – Her Smoke Rose up Forever (stories, under pseudonym “James Tiptree, Jr.”)
- Mary Shelley – Frankenstein
- Dan Simmons – Ilium series (fantasy); Hyperion Cantos series (fantasy)
- Neal Stephenson – Cryptonomicon (historical fiction); Snow Crash (cyberpunk)
- Karin Tidbek – Amatka
- Jules Verne – Journey to the Center of the Earth (adventure)
- Thea von Harbou – Metropolis
- Kurt Vonnegut – Cat’s Cradle; Slaughterhouse Five; The Sirens of Titan (all conceptual/unconventional)
- Sabrina Vourvoulias – Ink
- David Weber – Honor Harrington series (military); The Apocalypse Troll
- Andy Weir – The Martian; Artemis
- H. G. Wells – The Time Machine; The Island of Doctor Moreau; The Invisible Man; The War of the Worlds
- Martha Wells – The Murderbot Diaries series (described as a fun read!)
- Connie Willis – To Say Nothing of the Dog (historical fiction, rom-com, humor, time travel)
That’s enough to get you started, right? Remember, if we don’t have a book at the Williamson County Public Library, we’ll try to locate it with Inter-Library Loan. Enjoy – and be inspired!
I sourced most of the woman authors and their works from this excellent list: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/50-sci-fi-must-reads-by-women
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Most of us remember seeing the poster, somewhere, at some time stating that “Uncle Sam Wants You….” Did you ever wonder why it is everywhere, and why this United States mascot is called Uncle Sam?? Prepare to be informed…
During the War of 1812, Sam Wilson (Marvel’s Falcon was aptly named), a meat packer in Troy, New York delivered meat for the soldiers fighting the battles of the war. There was a directive from the government that all supplies sent to the troops be stamped with the name and location of the supplier. He stamped the barrels with a U.S. which actually stood for United States. Sam was locally called Uncle Sam; when the barrels were delivered to the troops, soldiers from Troy knew Sam Wilson and called him Uncle Sam to other soldiers. Word spread and hearing the story, more and more soldiers began saying that the meat came from “Uncle Sam.” The soldiers began calling themselves Uncle Sam’s soldiers. By the end of the War of 1812, Uncle Sam was considered a new nickname for the United States.
The United States of America had also been called Columbia, shown as a classical Greek statue of a woman, sometimes holding a flag – dos the song “Columbia the Gem of the Ocean” ring any bells? The name Columbia was based on Columbus, since he discovered America (but maybe not the first discoverer any more…)
So now we know how the name Uncle Sam became associated with our armed forces. But what about the picture? We have to go back earlier than you might think. Thomas Nast was the first artist to create a picture of Uncle Sam. He’s the same artist who made Santa Claus into the character we see today. He created his image in the 1870s and 80s, and then continued to refine the image; he was the first artists to give Sam a white goatee, top hat and a suit of stars and stripes.
We’re probably all familiar with the poster Uncle Sam Wants You! Artist James Montgomery Flagg (truly, his last name is Flagg!) designed over 40 recruitment post for the United States as it entered World War I. Flagg was under a deadline; he didn’t have enough time to find a model for the poster. He looked in the mirror and used his own face for inspiration for Uncle Sam. He had a long face, with bushy white eyebrow and full beard. So he had the image he wanted for the poster. Flagg also had illustrations in “Photoplay,” “McClure’s Magazine,” “Colliers Weekly,” “Ladies Home Journal,” “Saturday Evening Post” and “Harper’s Weekly.”Now…, to find the message. He remembered seeing a poster of Lord Kitchener, the British Secretary of War, asking the British to “Join Your Country’s Army – Lord Kitchener Wants YOU.” Inspiration! He created the poster with the soon to be iconic image of Uncle Sam with the caption Uncle Sam Wants You To Join the Army. It was this image more than any other that set the appearance of Uncle Sam as the elderly man with white hair and a goatee wearing a white top hat with white stars on a blue band, a blue tail coat and red and white striped trousers, and his pointing finger. Flagg’s Uncle Sam first appearance is generally believed to be on the cover of the magazine Leslie’s Weekly, on July 6, 1916. Also on the cover was the title “What Are You Doing For Preparedness.” A poster of the image was also created, using the now famous phrase I wan You for the US Army. More than four million copies of this cover image were printed between 1917 and 1918. When Flagg was asked to update his famous image, he hired Indianan veteran Walter Botts as a model. Family lore has it that he was chosen because he had long arms, a long nose and extremely bushy eyebrows.
In 1961 the U.S. Congress recognized that Sam Wilson “Uncle Sam” as the progenitor of America’s national symbol. Wilson died in 1854, and is buried in Troy, New York, which rightly calls itself “The Home of Uncle Sam.”
by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
School’s back in session for Williamson County, and we’re looking forward to a great school year for our awesome teachers and students. But it’s been a summer to remember, thanks in part to WCPL’s Summer Reading Program! The theme was “Libraries Rock!” and you all – adults, teens, and kids alike – seemed to have a great time with it.
Nearly 70 adult patrons participated in the program, and they read almost 400 books among them! We gave out about 120 prizes, including lots of books (of course) and gift cards donated by beloved local shops and restaurants.*
This post focuses on a display aimed at our adult patrons, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to our amazing teens and kids. One teen reader alone devoured 104 books throughout the summer! (Do we have a future writer here?) And 2,300 children throughout the Williamson County Public Library system participated by reading, reviewing, and attending events. I’m so impressed, y’all. (The teens’ and children’s departments also handed out tons of prizes.)
Our main floor book display stayed up all summer. In keeping with the Summer Reading Program’s theme, we featured books about readers and rockers, libraries and lyrics, bookshelves and the blues and – well, you get the picture. If you didn’t have the chance to make it through all the intriguing titles, we’ve got the list right here for you to peruse at your leisure. After all, summer in Middle Tennessee really lasts through September, right?
Biography & Memoir
- Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink by Elvis Costello (B COSTELLO)
- Sing for Your Life: a story of race, music, and family by Daniel Bergner (B GREEN)
- The World’s Strongest Librarian: a memoir of Tourette’s, faith, strength, and the power of family by Joshua Hanagarne (B HANAGARNE)
- Waylon: tales of my outlaw dad by Terry Jennings (B JENNINGS)
- It’s a Long Story: my life by Willie Nelson (B NELSON)
- Stand up Straight and Sing! by Jessye Norman (B NORMAN)
- Soul Serenade: rhythm, blues & coming of age through vinyl by Rashod Ollison (B OLLISON)
- The Universal Tone by Carlos Santana (B SANTANA)
- Turn Around Bright Eyes: the rituals of love and karaoke by Rob Sheffield (B SHEFFIELD)
- More Room in a Broken Heart: the true adventures of Carly Simon by Stephen Davis (B SIMON)
- M Train by Patti Smith (B SMITH)
- Hank: the short life and long country road of Hank Williams by Mark Ribowsky (B WILLIAMS)
- The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom (F ALBOM)
- Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie (F ALE)
- A Pleasure to Burn: Fahrenheit 451 stories by Ray Bradbury (F BRA)
- People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (F BRO)
- Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon (F CHA)
- Tender: a novel by Mark Childress (F CHI)
- The Archivist by Martha Cooley (F COO)
- Last Train to Memphis by Elsa Cook (F COOK)
- Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell (F COW)
- Oh, Play That Thing by Roddy Doyle (F DOYLE)
- The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (F ECO)
- The Geographer’s Library by Jon Fasman (F FAS)
- The Camel Bookmobile by Marsha Hamilton (F HAM)
- The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos (F HIJ)
- High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (F HOR)
- Open Season by Linda Howard (F HOW)
- Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro (F ISH)
- The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (F KOSTOVA)
- White Tears by Hari Kunzru (F KUNZRU)
- The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai (F MAK)
- The Librarian and the Spy by Susan Mann (F MANN)
- Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann (F MAN)
- Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey (F MCCAFFREY)
- Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (F MCEWAN)
- Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay (F MCKINLAY)
- The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer (F MEL)
- The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (F NIF)
- The Song Is You by Arthur Phillips (F PHI)
- Never Mind the Pollacks by Neal Pollack (F POL)
- Accordion Crimes by Annie Proulx (F PRO)
- Vivaldi’s Virgins by Barbara Quick (F QUI)
- The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick (F QUICK)
- Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia (F RACCULIA)
- The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz (F RUI)
- The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (F SETTERFIELD)
- Rock Bottom by Michael Shilling (F SHI)
- Say Goodbye: the Laurie Moss story by Lewis Shiner (F SHI)
- The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler (F SWYLER)
- Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien (F THIEN)
- Music & Silence by Rose Tremain (F TRE)
- This Book Is Overdue!: how librarians and cybrarians can save us all by Marilyn Johnson (020 JOH)
- Letter to a future lover: marginalia, errata, secrets, inscriptions, and other ephemera found in libraries by Ander Monson (020.8 MON)
- The Vanished Library: a wonder of the ancient world by Luciano Canfora (026.932 CAN)
- Library: an unquiet history by Matthew Battles (027 BAT)
- At home with books: how booklovers live with and care for their libraries by Estelle Ellis (027.1 ELL)
- The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel (027.4 MAN)
- Part of Our Lives: a people’s history of the American public library by Wayne A. Wiegand (027.473 WIE)
- America’s Library: the story of the Library of Congress, 1800-2000 by James Conaway (027.573 CON)
- Running the Books: the adventures of an accidental prison librarian by Avi Steinberg (027.665092 STE)
- Books that Build Character: a guide to teaching your child moral values through stories by William Kilpatrick (028.5 KIL)
- The Books that Changed My Life: reflections by 100 authors, actors, musicians, and other remarkable people by Bethanne Patrick, ed. (028.9 BOO)
- The Little Guide to Your Well-read Life by Steve Leveen (028.9 LEV)
- Bibliotherapy: the girl’s guide to books for every phase of our lives by Nancy Peske and Beverly West (028.9 PES)
- Remarkable Reads: 34 writers and their adventures in reading by J. Peder Zane, ed. (028.9 REM)
- Unpacking My Library: writers and their books by Leah Price, ed. (028.9 UNP)
- Honky-tonk Gospel: the story of sin and salvation in country music by Gene Edward Veith and Thomas L. Wilmeth (261.5 VEI)
- Taboo Tunes: a history of banned bands & censored songs by Peter Blecha (303.376 BLE)
- Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: a history of the hip-hop generation by Jeff Chang (306.484249 CHA)
- Dewey: the small-town library cat who touched the world by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter (636.80929 MYR)
- Beethoven’s Hair by Russell Martin (780 MAR)
- And You Shall Know Us by the Trail of Our Vinyl: the Jewish past as told by the records we have loved and lost by Roger Bennett and Josh Kun (780.89924073 BEN)
- Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt (780.92 HAU)
- Waking the Spirit: a musician’s journey healing body, mind, and soul by Andrew Schulman (780.92 SCH)
- Beethoven’s Skull: dark, strange, and fascinating tales from the world of classical music and beyond by Tim Rayborn (780.922 RAY)
- Children of the Stone: the power of music in a hard land by Sandy Tolan (780.95695309051 TOL)
- Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me: what pop music rivalries reveal about the meaning of life by Steven Hyden (781.64 HYD)
- The Chitlin’ Circuit: and the road to rock ‘n’ roll by Preston Lauterbach (781.6408 LAU)
- Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: five years in New York that changed music forever by Will Hermes (781.6409747 HER)
- Pilgrimage to Dollywood: a country music road trip through Tennessee by Helen Morales (781.64209768 MOR)
- Higher Ground: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, and the rise and fall of American soul by Craig Werner (781.644 WER)
- The Book of Exodus: the making and meaning of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ album of the century by Vivien Goldman (781.646092 GOL)
- Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth by Kim Cooper and David Smay, ed. (781.66 BUB)
- Corn Flakes with John Lennon: and other tales from a rock ‘n’ roll life by Robert Hilburn (781.66092 HIL)
- Language of the Spirit: an introduction to classical music by Jan Swafford (781.68 SWA)
- Go down Moses: a celebration of the African-American spiritual by Richard Newman (782.25 NEW)
- Shake It Up: great American writing on rock and pop from Elvis to Jay Z by Jonathan Letham and Kevin Dettmar, ed. (782.4216 SHA)
- Dark Midnight When I Rise: the story of the Jubilee Singers, who introduced the world to the music of Black America by Andrew Ward (782.42162 WAR)
- Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: the story of pop music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé by Bob Stanley (782.4216309 STA)
- I Hate Myself and Want to Die: the 52 most depressing songs you’ve ever heard by Tom Reynolds (782.42164 REY)
- Hard Rain: a Dylan commentary by Tim Riley (782.42164 RIL)
- Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: the making of a masterpiece by Michael Streissguth (782.421642092 STR)
- Who Shot Ya?: an illustrated history of hip hop by Ernie Paniccioli (782.421649 PAN)
- Songs in the Rough: from “Heartbreak Hotel” to “Rhythm nation” : rock’s greatest songs in first-draft form by Steven Bishop, ed. (782.42166 BIS)
- The Beatles Lyrics: the stories behind the music, including the handwritten drafts of more than 100 classic Beatles songs by Hunter Davies, ed. (782.42166 DAV)
- Alice Cooper, Golf Monster: a rock ‘n’ roller’s 12 steps to becoming a golf addict by Alice Cooper (782.42166092 COO)
- Danny Boy: the beloved Irish ballad by Malachy McCourt (782.4309415 MACC)
- The Soloist: a lost dream, an unlikely friendship, and the redemptive power of music by Steve Lopez (787.2092 LOP)
- In the Stacks: short stories about libraries and librarians by Michael Cart, ed. (808.83 IN)
- Leonard Cohen: poems and songs by Leonard Cohen (811 COH)
* Many thanks to our local sponsors, who provided prizes for our adult summer reading program:
- Belvedere Commons of Franklin
- Landmark Booksellers
- Mellow Mushroom
- Pueblo Real
- McCreary’s Irish Pub
- Frist Art Museum
- Handy Hardware
- Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant
- Franklin Theatre
- Nashville Pet Products
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Good morning class, and welcome to Superhero 101. With the massive surge of movies, books, and television about and starring spandex clad gladiators from the last century we cannot help but look back to the origins of the archetypal superhero. Most modern comic book enthusiasts think of comics and their associated heroes as falling into the eras of The Gold, Silver, Bronze and Modern ages, with the superhero archetype we all think of (i.e. Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America) beginning in the Golden age. While I agree with the ages and their application in the history of comics, I believe the heroes go back so much farther. I would go even as far as to say that our older heroes are still as popular now as they were in their nascent era. So let us begin learning how the heroes of humanity’s past are the heroes of today’s children.
Okay, that’s what it would say at the top of the syllabus if there was a university crazy enough to give me carte blanche to design a course of my choosing. I’m not sure what department would end up with a course like that; history, literature, and anthropology all have good claims on the subject matter. (I’d probably choose anthropology.) I started to think about this back in 2005, when another set of books came out claiming to be the next Harry Potter. It was something to do with Mount Olympus in New York and some unfortunately named kid. Percy Jackson brought Greek mythology back to the American consciousness with a vengeance. I remarked to a coworker in the children’s department that it was like someone had mixed Dauliere’s mythology with comic books, and then I realized there was nothing to mix, that the original sequential pictures were drawn on the side of black-figure pottery. The more I thought about it, the further back I could push that genesis moment in drawn super heroes, back past Homer, beyond Gilgamesh, back to the paintings in Chauvet and Lascaux and the Löwenmensch. Those giant figures on cave walls and anthropomorphized animals showed a belief in a being better than an average human, a super man.
The real origin we can trace the ideas back is to the stories that have come down to us along with artistic renderings. Gilgamesh is probably the earliest recorded super hero. He was stronger and braver and more cunning than an average person. This was because he was two thirds god (yeah, I can’t make the math on that work either), but he wasn’t a god himself. Even the Old Testament refers to a race of giants like Goliath, that were the children of fallen angels and human women, but they were not very heroic. Yet still that was the de facto origin story for most of the Stone Age and Classical Age heroes, some combination of divine ancestors mixed with human to make for an invulnerable hero (Achilles), a super strong one (Heracles), or some mix of characteristics (Theseus, Perseus, Etc. ). There are even examples of plain guys with nothing but their physical prowess and sharp wits like Batman, oh, sorry , I mean Odysseus. The superhero of today would fit fine in ancient Greece and Rome if he just swapped his tights and alien parents for a toga or chiton and a more deified lineage.
The medieval world and its dominating monotheistic religions brought an end to all this human/deity philandering. Heroes now were men and women who were blessed by God like Robin Hood, Pwyll of Dyfed, and King Arthur or sorcerers of sketchy origin like Merlin. Real life heroes began to be magnified to supernatural proportions. Joan of Arc, El Cid, Roland, Boadicea, and Charlemagne all have fantastic elements woven into their stories. Off in the cold north of Europe the Vikings still had the demigod heroes of the early sagas, but even these saw a Christianization as people adopted the religion but didn’t want to give up their old fireside stories. Hero tales are not the sole property of the west in the middle ages. Sinbad the mariner was sailing the Arabian Sea while the brothers of the peach orchard, Guan Yu, Liu Pei, and Zhang Fei, were fighting to unite China.
Since the Medieval era, we have been going through our past for inspiration. There have been resurgences in interest over and over in the classical mythos as well as the Arthurian legends. Scholars debate the historicity of Troy and Camelot. Writers like Tennyson and Keats borrowed the themes for new works. It wasn’t until early last century that we began something new. Superman, Captain Marvel, Captain America and Wonder Woman each debuted and added new heroes to our mythology. This coincided with a rise in science fiction stories in the popular publishing world. Now we have science fiction retellings of the Odyssey, movies of Sinbad, video Games of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and graphic novels that tell the 4000 year old story of Gilgamesh and Troy. Children today are learning the same lessons as the kids of millennia past from the same characters. We have made our own heroes but we have built them on a timeless framework that goes back to the beginning of humanity and we have brought along a best of collection of the heroes of the past.
Sources and Suggested Reading:
- The History of Art by H. W. Janson (709 JAN)
- Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman by Marc Tyler Nobleman (J 741.5 NOB)
- D’aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri D’Aulaire (J 292 DAU)
- The Epic of Gilgamesh by Kent H. Dixon (892.1 DIX)
- The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell (201.3 CAM)
- Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guangzhong (895.13 LUO)
- The Song of Roland by Anonymous (YA 841.1 CHA)
by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
What Am I Going to Read Now?? We’ve all been there. After spending days – weeks –months! – devouring plotlines, falling in love with characters, forming a map of their world inside our heads, we all must reach The End. Closing a book after reading its last line can be bittersweet, to say the least. When you’ve exhausted your favorite author’s bibliography, pored through every volume of a series, or simply finished a Darn Good Book, you may find yourself in a Book Hangover.
That Darn Good Book can never – should never – be replaced in your heart. But you don’t have to suffer hopelessly through a Book Hangover. Assuage your pain by picking up another book. And not just any book: though millions of books are published each year, there are ways to increase your odds of finding love again. Friends, relatives, librarians, and critics can all be a great source of recommendations. And for the internet-connected book fiend, there’s another option: Readers’ Advisory Websites.
Despite the somewhat ominous phrasing (calling to mind the sternness of a Parental Advisory, or the anxiety of a Weather Advisory), a Readers’ Advisory Website (denoted here as “RAW”) can be a useful, entertaining tool. Essentially, a reader inputs preferences, and the RAW outputs suggestions. Those are the ones we’ll look at today. Review sites also fall under the umbrella of RAWs, so I’ll list some of those, too.
I had never used a Readers’ Advisory Website before researching them for this article, so I’m presenting them to you from a new user’s point of view. Here are my four picks.
Some RAWs are smarter than others. You don’t need a machine to tell you that you “might also enjoy” Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets if you liked Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. That’s accurate, but thoroughly unenlightening.
Best Results: Whichbook (https://www.whichbook.net/)
Perhaps the cleverest site I discovered is Whichbook. Its various search methods are fun to use and give spot-on results. Start by customizing your search with up to four criteria, adjustable on a sliding scale. (See screenshot.) You can also search by Character, Plot, and Setting; or get results by going to an author’s name, choosing a title, and clicking “Find similar books.”
The Whichbook team eschews bestseller lists in order to bring you curated selections you may not find elsewhere. All of their recommendations for me felt personally considered. I felt seen, known, loved – by a website!
Caveat: This site is based in the UK. I didn’t find some of the authors in our local library, but that’s what Inter-Library Loan requests are for.
Thorough Analysis: Allreaders (http://allreaders.com/)
Allreaders provides detailed reviews and a “specific, searchable breakdown of the plot, setting, character types, and style.” I enjoyed reading breakdowns of books I know. And I liked the layout of book recommendations “with storylines, themes & endings” similar to the book I searched for.
Allreaders’ Detailed Power Search (DPS) isn’t very pretty, but it gives so many options, some of them quite amusing. (Be sure you’re in the right genre first – here’s the link for Literature, and there are others.) I threw a lot of criteria into a search, requesting convoluted Plots & Themes, a unique Main Character, an elaborate Setting, and even a distinct Writing Style. DPS returned a long list of suggestions – some more intriguing than others. No suggestion matched every one of my crazy demands, of course. But if I were desperately seeking something new to read, I’d have fun browsing the results.
Easy Search: What Should I Read Next? (https://whatshouldireadnext.com)
If the minutiae of the first two search engines put you off, What Should I Read Next? may be the RAW for you. Simply type in an author or book you love. Results are tagged with keywords, so you can decide whether to follow up on the suggestions. You can click the keywords to find more books with the same tag. (One suggestion I got was tagged with “attempted assassination,” “cats,” and “time travel.” Now that’s a must-read!)
Fun Interface: Literature-Map (https://www.literature-map.com/)
Calling itself “The Tourist Map of Literature,” Literature-Map offers a unique visual approach. Enter your favorite writer’s name, and you’re rewarded with a clickable constellation of authors. “The closer two writers are,” claims Literature-Map, “the more likely someone will like both of them.” Searching for Jane Austen brought up a great variety of names to explore. I was impressed that David Sedaris, Harper Lee, and C. S. Lewis were among them, in addition to predictable results (Dickens, the Brontë sisters). Also included were Nicholas Sparks and Diana Gabaldon, so there’s truly a path for every taste.
Review Websites and Social Networks
Taking the time to browse review sites, you might stumble upon a fantastic book that otherwise lies outside of your field of vision. Here are some to check out.
- The Book Report Network (https://tbrnetwork.com/) comprises “six editorial websites … organized … by demographic and … interest.” Adults, young adults, teens, and kids all have their own specialized sites; reading groups and graphic novel fans are also provided for.
- Overbooked: The Next Chapter (http://overbooked.com/next-chapter/) looks at new releases, both eclectic and mainstream, to “encourage omnivorous reading.”
- With YourNextRead (http://www.yournextread.com/us/), you can “discover and share” by searching for recommendations, browsing user lists, and customizing your own book map. (Registration required for some features.)
- GoodReads (https://www.goodreads.com/) is a large social network of readers. Browse and create reviews and shelves (custom lists), add friends from Facebook, follow users with similar tastes, and even interact with authors who use the site. (Registration required for some features.)
That’s all from me. May your horizons broaden and your tastes refine. Have fun exploring! And check out the links below for even more RAWs not listed here.
Article Sources, and More RAW Suggestions