Category Archives: Authors and Books
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
grincheaux (French, noun, masculine) also: grincheuse (French, noun, feminine) crank; crab; curmudgeon; grouch; grump; shrew; sourpuss.
As I was driving to work on a frigid day about a fortnight before Christmas, thinking less-than-charitable thoughts about my fellow humans (and possibly hissing through clenched teeth some unprintable epithets about the ones who were allegedly sharing the road with me) it occurred to me that I might be exemplifying many of the Grinch’s personality traits. NO, not those sweet, shiny Christmas morning ones, where The Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day and he carved the roast beast from the head chair at the Who’s Who In Whoville dinner table, with his new best friend Cindy Lou Who by his side; but those dark, slithering, vile things that were rampaging through his Grinchy heart and mind as he stomped around his cave on Christmas Eve, plotting mayhem against all those insufferably cheery Whos down in Whoville.
A little background, for those of you who have no idea what I’m yammering on about: the Grinch that I speak of is a furry green reclusive character created by Dr. Seuss (aka Ted Geisel) in his 1957 Christmas classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Side note: the name of the character may or may not have been inspired by the French word grincheaux, which loosely translates to “grouch” in American English (or “misery guts” in British parlance—you’re welcome) and has evolved into an unflattering term for someone who embodies an anti-holiday spirit or has a mean, greedy attitude (like Scrooge). The Grinch derives pleasure by destroying others’ happiness, and on Christmas Eve he hatches a diabolical plot to annihilate Christmas for the residents of Whoville. SPOILER ALERT: He drafts his little dog Max into service as a reindeer, fashions himself a jaunty tunic that echoes Santa’s traditional outfit (Grinch opts to go pantsless, but that is a conversation for another time) and descends from Mount Crumpit in his bootleg sleigh, into which he loads all the Whoville residents’ Christmas presents, decorations, and food.
His schadenfreude (pleasure derived from the misfortune of others) is short-lived, however; he is at first infuriated to hear all the Whos singing and celebrating anyway, even though he just totally stole all their stuff, right down to the last can of Who-Hash, but then he begins to twig to the possibility that maybe Christmas isn’t just about the boxes and bows:
“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
What if Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more?
The Grinch then experiences an epiphany (can you believe I made it this far into the blog without a pun? Neither can I! It’s a Christmas miracle!) and returns all the Whos’ purloined goods and joins them in their Christmas festivities.
So. Back to me cruising to work and thinking Grincheuse thoughts. If you are a sentient being (and since you’re reading this, presumably you are) then you may have noticed that it’s fairly common at this time of year to find oneself stomping around in one’s very own metaphorical Mount Crumpit cave of negative thoughts and emotional distress, feeling as isolated as the Grinch. Here’s my Christmas gift to you, Darling Reader: permission to turn loose a little. Let go of the reins of that sleigh full of pressures you put on yourself for the “perfect” holiday card photo/Christmas tree/present/six-course dinner/whatever. Because, as the Grinch learned that day, Christmas isn’t about the packages, boxes, or bags.
Opinions expressed in this blog are, as always, solely those of the author and in no way representative of the employees of WCPL or of their families, friends, or pets masquerading as reindeer. Further, the author wishes everyone a safe, joyous, stress-free holiday season and hopes to see you back here in 2017 for more exhilarating blog installments.
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
I can’t remember the exact date that a smart-mouthed, spiky-haired kid named Calvin and his very real stuffed tiger Hobbes entered my life. I’m reasonably certain that it was not November 18, 1985, as I was a smart-mouthed, big-haired high school sophomore (do the math, Darling Reader) who was more concerned with my reflection in the mirror than with reflection on love, art, theology, mortality, public education, paleontology, environmentalism, and the repercussive effects of human free will.
Calvin and Hobbes was conceived by American cartoonist Bill Watterson and made its syndicated debut on November 18, 1985, and ran until December 31, 1995. The strip follows the raucous antics and adventures of Calvin, a precocious six-year-old boy, and Hobbes, his quick-witted toy tiger. The pair was named for 16th-century French theologian John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes, a 17th-century English philosopher. Hobbes’ shifting duality is a defining theme of the strip: to Calvin, he is a live, anthropomorphic tiger; to all others (his parents, his archnemesis Susie Derkins, et. al.), he is an inanimate plush toy.
At the height of its popularity, Calvin and Hobbes was featured in more than 2,400 newspapers worldwide. As of 2010, reruns of the strip appeared in more than 50 countries and nearly 45 million copies of the compilation books of the strip had been sold. At the time of the strip’s creation, Watterson was employed in the advertising industry, and detested it, and began to devote increasing amounts of his spare time to cartooning. United Feature rejected Watterson’s fledgling strip, but Universal Press Syndicate took it on. Within a year of syndication, Calvin and Hobbes appeared in approximately 250 newspapers.
From the beginning, Watterson found himself at odds with the syndicate, primarily over the issue of merchandising. Watterson insisted that cartoon strips should stand on their own as a form of artistic expression, and he adamantly refused for the images of Calvin and Hobbes to be used in traditional items for marketing and promotion such as apparel, plush toys, action figures, and the like. Of course, the strip’s overwhelming popularity gave rise to the appearance of various counterfeit items such as window decals and t-shirts that often depicted crude humor, drug usage, alcohol consumption, and other themes that were not found in Watterson’s work. Watterson once wryly commented that he had “clearly miscalculated how popular it would be to show Calvin urinating on a Ford logo.” To that end, almost no legitimate Calvin and Hobbes merchandise exists outside of the book collections. The notable exceptions are two 16-month calendars that were produced from 1988-1990, and a textbook titled Teaching With Calvin and Hobbes, which has been described as the most difficult piece of official Calvin and Hobbes memorabilia to find. Only 8 libraries on the planet have a copy of the book.
Throughout the lifespan of Calvin and Hobbes’ syndication, Watterson took two extended sabbaticals from writing new strips, from May 1991 to February 1992, and from April to December 1994. In 1995, Watterson sent a letter via his syndicate to all newspaper editors whose papers had carried Calvin and Hobbes, informing them that he would cease to publish the strip. The final Calvin and Hobbes strip ran on December 31, 1995. It featured Calvin and Hobbes cavorting in a winter wonderland of freshly fallen snow and pondering the endless possibilities of the day and the year:
It’s a magical world, indeed, Dear Reader . . . let’s go exploring in it every opportunity we get.
Sources and Suggested Reading:
- The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book by Bill Watterson (J 741.5073 WAT)
- The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury by Bill Watterson (741.5 WAT)
- Peanuts, Pogo and Hobbes: A Newspaper Editor’s Journey Through the World of Comics by George Lockwood (070.92 LOC)
- Something Under the Bed is Drooling: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection by Bill Watterson (J 741.5973 WAT)
Viewpoints expressed in this blog belong solely to the author, and are in no way representative of the opinions of WCPL employees, their long-suffering parents, or their pet tigers.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
“When I wrote the first one in 1953, I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to who things happened. I wanted him to be a blunt instrument…when I was casting around for a name for my protagonist I thought by God (James Bond) is the dullest name I ever heard.”
—-Ian Fleming, The New Yorker, 21 April 1962
Ian Fleming, James Bond’s creator, was born on May 28, 1908 in London. His father was Member of Parliament representing Dundee Scotland, and was killed in WW I. The not yet world-famous Winston Churchill wrote his father’s obituary (that’s what I call connections). Fleming attended several schools, but never really excelled academically in any of them, but he always did well in athletics. He went to Eton College, and when that didn’t work out, he attended Sandhurst Military College, but he wasn’t interested in a military career either.
His frustrated mother decided to send him to a small school in the Tyrolian Mountains, where he improved his foreign language skills and also learned mountain climbing and skiing. He loved his schooling there. From Austria he went to Munich University to finish his education and take his Foreign Officer entrance exams. When he did not pass these exams, he became a journalist with Reuters. He enjoyed his time with Reuters honing his writing craft, and in 1933 he was sent to Moscow to cover a trial. Eventually he bowed to family pressure and became a banker and stock broker. He really didn’t enjoy that. Thankfully for him, and everyone who loves James Bond, his time in Russia paid off. He was asked by the Foreign Office to return to Moscow and write about a trade mission, but he was really sent there to spy.
He must have done well since his name was recommended for a new position, assistant to the director of naval intelligence. He became a lieutenant in the Special Branch of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and had some success with his ideas being implemented during World War II. After the war, he took a job with Kemsley News, which owned many newspapers in England. He was the foreign manager running the foreign correspondents but he was able to fulfill dream by taking two months off every year and live in Jamaica. Several years earlier, he had told friends he was going to move to Jamaica and write the best spy novel ever. And so he did. And continued to do so every year until his death
In April 1953, the first James Bond novel by Ian Fleming was published. He believed that Casino Royale would not be popular, but it was an instant success! Even the London Times gave it a rave review. James Bond was a character based on some of the commandos Fleming knew during his service with the Naval Intelligence division. The name James Bond was chosen because it was short, strong and found on the cover of one of Fleming’s bird books. James Bond was also the name of an American ornithologist, who had several books, one about the birds of the West Indies.
In 1964, after years of failing health, he died from a heart attack. As his legacy, he had written these twelve James Bond novels
- Casino Royale
- Live and Let Die
- Diamonds are Forever
- From Russia with Love
- Dr. No
- For your Eyes Only
- The Spy who loved me
- On her majesty’s secret service
- You only live twice
These last two were published posthumously
- The Man with the golden gun
- Octopussy and The Living Daylights (2 short stories)
Since Fleming’s death, several authors have been authorized to continue the James Bond series. John Gardner wrote fourteen novels. Raymond Benson wrote six novels, some novelizations and short stories. Each of these authors wrote one book: Kingsley Amis, Sebastian Faulks, Jeffrey Deaver, William Boyd and Anthony Horowitz.
Interesting things about James Bond from Film School Rejects’ study of the men who played Bond, their movies, and their highs and lows
- Bond’s number—007—was assigned by Fleming in reference to one of British naval intelligence’s key achievements of World War I—the breaking of the German diplomatic code. One of the German documents cracked and read by the British was the Zimmermann Telegram, which was coded 0075, and was one of the factors that led to the US entering the war.
- Even though he is considered the best James Bond by many, Connery was not the first choice. Fleming wanted David Niven to play bond, and a list of other actors were also considered.
- Lazenby was the youngest actor to play James Bond, stepping into the role at the age of 30. Moore took the role of Bond at 45; he was the oldest actor to start playing Bond.
- Moonraker was the studio’s answer to Star Wars, sending Bond into space to fight a master race with lasers.
- Tomorrow Never Dies was the first movie to have its entire production budget covered by product placement consideration fees.
- Timothy Dalton was offered the role of James Bond twice: once for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and again in the middle of Roger Moore’s tenure. He did not become Bond until 1987. He thought he was too young when first offered the role.
- Pierce Brosnan was also considered for the role twice. When Roger Moore left the franchise, Cubby Broccoli tapped Brosnan as the next James Bond. But Brosnan had just started Remington Steele, and was not released from his contract.
- The franchise decided to reboot the entire Bond series after Brosnan’s last film and Daniel Craig won the role. Although not the youngest actor to play James Bond, he is the only actor to have been born after the release of Dr. No.
- James Bond has a Facebook page @James Bond 007
Interesting webpages about James Bond:
- How many men have been considered to play James Bond?
- Official James bond site
- Commissioned sketch of what Ian Fleming thought Bond should look like
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
After a particularly nerve-shredding week that saw citizens foaming at the mouth over the divorce announcement of a high-profile celebrity couple, schools placed on lockout over bizarre and inexplicable clown sightings, and a media frenzy surrounding the alleged armed robbery of millions of dollars in jewelry from a woman who is famous merely for being famous (and saying and doing obnoxious things), I was desperate for some calm. (Fans of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” may insert a quote here from the delightful and unparalleled Daryl Dixon: “Am I the only one Zen around here? Good Lord!”) I needed some Zen and I needed it fast. How utterly fortuitous it is that I am employed in the Children’s Department of Williamson County Public Library, by which I was granted an unrestricted, all-access pass to some books about Alan Alexander Milne’s deceptively simple but actually quite wise “Silly Old Bear,” that delightful creature who has won the hearts of readers for more than nine decades, Winnie The Pooh.
Winnie the Pooh, aka Pooh Bear, first appeared as Edward Bear in a poem in A.A. Milne’s1924 children’s verse book When We Were Very Young. The first collection of stories about Pooh and his friends was Winnie-the-Pooh, published in October of 1926 and followed by The House at Pooh Corner in 1928. Milne named the character for a teddy bear owned by his son, Christopher Robin Milne, who was of course the inspiration for the character Christopher Robin. Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, and Tigger were also toys belonging to Christopher Robin Milne and were incorporated into A.A. Milne’s stories. Owl and Rabbit were created from Milne’s imagination, and Gopher was later added in the Disney theatrical adaptation. Some of Christopher Robin Milne’s original toys have been on display at the Main Branch of the New York Public Library in New York City.
Dear Reader, you’ll be thrilled to learn that after spending some time reminiscing with Pooh and his friends (and a delicious cup of black chai tea), I was able to regain my sense of Zen. While contemplating a second cup of tea, it occurred to me that Pooh is quite fond of snacks, and I think he would wholeheartedly encourage me to have another, and accompany it with a “smackerel” of something. If you recall, Pooh makes it a habit to eat a snack at around eleven in the morning. Seeing as how all the clocks in Pooh’s house “stopped at five minutes to eleven some weeks ago,” then pretty much any time of day or night can be considered Pooh’s snack time.
“Christopher Robin was at home by this time,
because it was the afternoon, and he was so glad
to see them that they stayed there until very nearly
tea-time, and then they had a Very Nearly Tea,
which is one you forget about afterwards, and
hurried on to Pooh Corner, so as to see Eeyore before
it was too late to have a Proper Tea with Owl.”
–“The House at Pooh Corner”
So as my tea was brewing, I pondered to myself (ok, I might have actually verbalized some of my random thoughts to my cat Blackie Lawless, who was hovering around hoping for a “smackerel” of something herself, and was more than willing to hedge her bets and pretend to listen to my idle musings, if it resulted in her getting some food) how fabulous it would be if we all—librarians, movie stars, Department of Motor Vehicles employees, politicians, pizza delivery guys, rappers, and plumbers—were to manifest more of Pooh’s characteristics in our own lives. For instance, Pooh is portrayed in Milne’s books as naïve and often a little slow on the uptake, but occasionally Pooh has a really clever idea, often sparked by urgency and fueled by common sense. Pooh showed remarkable initiative the time he used one of his honey pots, which he christened The Floating Bear, to navigate to Christopher Robin’s house during a flood, and then together they utilized Christopher Robin’s umbrella to rescue little Piglet from rising floodwaters. How glorious it would be if we all shared our umbrellas, so to speak, with friends and strangers alike.
Pooh is also an extremely social animal (see what I did there?) and also very loving toward his friends, who are really more family than friends, in my opinion. In Pooh’s own words, “It’s always useful to know where a friend-and-relation is, whether you want him or whether you don’t.” Although Pooh chooses to spend most of his time with Christopher Robin and Piglet, he habitually pays visits to Kanga and Roo, Rabbit, Tigger, Owl, and Eeyore. Pooh’s thoughtfulness and kindhearted nature compel him to go out of his way to be especially friendly to gloomy Eeyore, visiting him frequently and even building him a house (with Piglet’s help), despite getting lukewarm sentiments from Eeyore in return. How fabulous that would be, if we all followed Pooh’s example and put the needs of others ahead of our own from time to time, with disregard to personal gain.
Dear Reader, thanks for dropping by for another installment of my kid-lit-inspired mental meanderings. I believe that this charming, thought-provoking Silly Old Bear and his friends will continue to delight and inspire readers far beyond the century mark.
*All opinions and viewpoints advanced herein the above blog belong solely to the author and her cats: Blackie Lawless, Roxy Blue, Jack Bauer, and Pearl.
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
I have a confession to make. (Don’t get excited, it’s severely tame as far as confessions go.) I’ve never read Louisa May Alcott’s classic girl-coming-of-age story, Little Women. I haven’t seen any of the film adaptations, either. As you might expect, this makes writing a blog about it somewhat challenging . . .
Louisa May Alcott (herein referred to as LMA) was born on November 29, 1832, on her father’s 33rd birthday, in Germantown (which later became part of Philadelphia), Pennsylvania. She was the second of four daughters born to educator and transcendentalist Amos Bronson Alcott and social worker Abby May Alcott, and joined 20-month-old sister Anna Bronson Alcott. The births of Elizabeth Sewall Alcott in June 1835 and Abigail May Alcott in July1840 completed the Alcott clan. Readers will notice the many parallels between LMA’s family and that of the March Family in her most widely known publication, Little Women, which was published on September 30, 1868.
The Alcott Family moved to Boston in 1834, where LMA’s father established an experimental school and joined the ranks of the Transcendental Movement with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The majority of LMA’s education came from her strict, high-minded father Bronson Alcott, but she also received instruction from Thoreau, Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller, all of whom were family friends. In 1840, after several disappointing setbacks with the school, the Alcotts moved to a cottage on the river in Concord, Massachusetts. LMA has described this period of her life as idyllic, and it was in Concord that she first began writing poems and stories and keeping a journal. In 1843, the Alcotts and six other people moved to a communal farm called Fruitlands. A rigid lifestyle was maintained at this Utopian commune; members of the community did not eat meat, chicken, or fish, and they wore clothing made of rough linen spun from flax fibers, as they believed it was wrong to take the life of an animal for its hide or even to shear its coat (i.e., wool) or to use a product of slavery (cotton.) This grand experiment collapsed spectacularly, leaving Bronson bitterly disappointed and physically ill. LMA’s mother nursed him back to health, and with an inheritance from Abby’s family and financial help from Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Alcotts were able to purchase a homestead in Concord in April of 1845. Hillside, later called The Wayside, is the backdrop for Little Women, and the novel is a semi-autobiographical account of LMA’s childhood experiences with her three sisters: Anna, Elizabeth, and May.
The Alcott clan endured periods of extreme poverty, due in large measure to the idealistic and impractical nature of LMA’s father. Family was everything to LMA, so when she realized just how poor her family was, and how terribly her beloved mother suffered as a result, she decided to devote her life to supporting her family. LMA went to work at a very early age as a teacher, seamstress, governess, maid, and writer. As a coping mechanism to survive these pressures, writing became an emotional and creative outlet for LMA. Her first book, Flower Fables, was published when she was just seventeen years old. The stories that she wrote during her teenage years earned her very little money. Hospital Sketches, a collection of letters that LMA had written home during her stint as a nurse in the American Civil War, finally won her some critical acclaim, and the publication of Little Women in 1868 brought her fame that exceeded everything she had dreamed of, and freed her family from poverty forever.
In Little Women, LMA based her protagonist Jo March on herself, and nearly every character in the novel is paralleled to some extent on her family members and friends. Beth March’s death mirrors that of Lizzie Alcott from scarlet fever, and LMA’s love and admiration of her mother shines through the characterization of Marmee, the beloved matriarch of the March Family. Little Women (or, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy) was very well received, as readers and critics found it suitable for many age groups. It was said to be a “fresh, natural representation of daily life” in New England, and a reviewer at Eclectic magazine called it one of the very best books to reach the hearts of anyone from six to sixty. A second part to Little Women, titled Good Wives, was published in 1869, and afterward was published in a single volume. The next novel in the Little Women trilogy, Little Men: Life at Plumfield With Jo’s Boys, was published in 1871; the completion of the series was published in 1886 under the title Jo’s Boys and How They Turned Out.
LMA endured many health problems in her later years, and died of a stroke at age 55 in March 1888, just two days after the death of her father. Early biographers have attributed her poor health to mercury poisoning from the treatment she received for typhoid fever during her service as a nurse during the American Civil War. More recent analysis suggests that LMA may have suffered from an autoimmune disease such as lupus, and not acute mercury exposure. She is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, near her instructors, friends, and mentors Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau, on a hillside now known as “Author’s Ridge.” Her most famous creation, Little Women, has endured the test of time and is still widely read and enjoyed today.
*Opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are in no way reflective of WCPL employees or their siblings. Additionally, the author takes full responsibility for her intellectual sloth in not actually reading the book that she so arrogantly blogs about, and hereby honestly swears to do better next time.
Sources and suggested reading:
- Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs (J 92 ALC)
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (J F ALCOTT)
- Louisa May Alcott: Her Girlhood Diary by Cary Ryan (J 818.403 ALC)
- Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott by Yona Zeldis McDonough (J 92 ALCOTT)
By Sharon Reily, Reference Deaprtment
An accomplished young woman goes missing and is presumed murdered. Is her cheating husband the culprit or is she deviously punishing him for being unfaithful? After a massive search and media frenzy, she turns up alive. Sound like the premise of Gone Girl, right? Guess again. This actually happened to one of the world’s most beloved novelists!
The titles Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, And Then There Were None might seem a bit familiar as some of the best known mysteries by the queen of whodunits, Agatha Christie. September 15 marks the 126th anniversary of Agatha’s birth in 1890. During a career that thrived from 1920 until her death in 1976, she penned 66 detective novels, 14 short story collections, the world’s longest running play (The Mousetrap), and created the beloved fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. She also wrote romance novels under the pen name Mary Westmacott. Her intricately plotted tales of love, murder, greed, and jealousy have sold more than a billion copies, making her one of the most popular writers of all time.
But in 1926 Agatha, already an established writer, became the subject of a mystery herself – one that has never been solved. She simply vanished one wintery evening. She was found safe 11 days later, but with no memory or explanation of what had happened to her.
At 9:45 on the evening of December 3, 1926, 36-year-old Agatha Christie kissed her sleeping daughter Rosalind, and then drove away from Styles, her English estate. Her abandoned vehicle was found on a slope not far from her home with the hood up and lights on. There was no sign of Agatha, but her fur coat, driver’s license, and overnight bag were still in the car.
Her car had been left near “the Silent Pool,” a natural spring where several children reportedly had died. There was much speculation that she had drowned herself or had been murdered and a massive search ensued. The search for the author (whose recent novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, was already selling briskly) was at the time the largest manhunt in British history with over 1,000 officers and 15,000 volunteers on Agatha’s trail. A fleet of planes was employed – the first time they’d been used in England in a missing person’s case. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got in on the action, taking one of Agatha’s gloves to a famous medium. Dorothy L. Sayers, creator of the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series, examined the scene around the abandoned car. Their efforts turned up no clues.
By the end of the first week, Agatha’s disappearance was a national obsession, and was reported on the cover of the New York Times. Theories abounded. Some thought the disappearance was a publicity stunt to boost sales of her latest book, but it was already selling well before she vanished. Others thought she might have been injured in a car crash and wandered off suffering from amnesia. But the car showed no sign of an accident.
Some also suggested that Agatha was missing because of her husband’s affair. Her husband, Archie Christie, a former Royal Flying Corps pilot, didn’t hide his philandering ways from his wife. He was currently having an affair with Nancy Neele, a young friend of the couple, and Agatha’s car was found near a house where her husband was planning a rendezvous with Nancy. This suggested to some that Agatha was trying to thwart the affair, or even frame Archie and Nancy. Many even suspected Archie had killed Agatha.
On the 11th day of her disappearance, Agatha was recognized by a musician at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel, a luxury spa in Harrogate. She had registered there as “Theresa Neele” from Cape Town, curiously using the last name of her husband’s mistress. Later Agatha’s husband claimed that she was suffering from complete amnesia – she reportedly didn’t know him when he came to collect her at the hotel and she had also failed to recognize herself in newspaper photos during her stay there. Agatha, her family, and friends maintained a lifelong silence about the lost 11 days. So the mystery remained a mystery.
After the incident, Agatha resumed her prolific writing career, which continued with enormous acclaim for many decades. She also divorced Archie in 1928 and made a happier match with the renowned archaeologist Max Mallowan in 1930. They were married until her death.
In his 2006 book Agatha Christie: The Finished Portrait, Andrew Norman advanced a new theory that during her disappearance Agatha was experiencing a rare deluded condition called a “fugue state” — a psychogenic trance brought on by trauma or depression. The facts of her life in 1926 seem to back up his conclusions. Her mother passed away, and with immense sorrow Agatha spent a great deal of time alone clearing out the family home. This added strain to her marriage. She was also struggling to write her next novel. To top it off, Archie revealed he had fallen in love with a family friend, Nancy Neele.
Agatha completed her autobiography when she was 75, and one might assume this work would offer the definitive explanation of those 11 days in 1926. Wrong! Not one word about the disappearance is included. Still, Agatha offers some clues about her state of mind around the time of the incident that seem to bolster Andrew Norman’s theory. Of her time spent cleaning out her late mother’s house, she writes, “I began to get confused and muddled over things. I never felt hungry and ate less and less. Sometimes I would sit down, put my hands to my head, and try to remember what it was I was doing.” She later mentions her extreme loneliness and a sense that she was ill. She once started to write a check and could not remember her name. She also suffered a meltdown when her car wouldn’t start. Years later, she believed she had been suffering a nervous breakdown. Could Agatha have been offering an explanation of her odd disappearance, or was she covering up the fact that the incident was an elaborate hoax?
Almost 90 years later, the story of the missing author still sparks the imagination and has found its place in popular culture, a lot. While not touching on the disappearance, Agatha’s semiautobiographical novel Unfinished Portrait mirrors the disintegration of her first marriage to Archie at the time of the event. Dorothy L. Sayers, who failed to solve Agatha’s disappearance, used elements of it in her novel Unnatural Death. The disappearance was the subject of the 1979 film Agatha starring Vanessa Redgrave as the author and Timothy Dalton as Archie. There are also two new movies in the works about Agatha, one reportedly starring Emma Stone and the other Alicia Vikander. And of course, the Doctor Who episode “The Unicorn and the Wasp” offered a completely plausible explanation of Agatha’s disappearance involving a giant alien wasp (Series 4, Episode 7). It makes complete sense.
We’ll never know what really happened to Agatha Christie in December of 1926. The incident remains the greatest mystery in the life of one of our greatest mystery writers.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Very soon we will get a new Potter story. No one expected it and it has been long hoped for. We can now finally get more information on what happened to our favorite characters. Never again will we have to wonder what happened to Peter and Mrs. Tiggy-winkel…Wait, What?
For those of us born in the last century, our childhoods were gilded with the tales of Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin and Jemima Puddleduck. That number includes the parents, grandparents and great grandparents of today’s children. We’ve read the stories to our children who hear these tales, now in their second century, and fall in love the characters as we did. Most people will find a forgotten stuffed bunny with brown plastic eyes and a little blue Jacket hidden somewhere in their closets, attics or memories. Many of us have never heard a new story from her. There have been a few found works, some as late as 1973, but nothing since then. We’ve never known the anticipation of a new book from Beatrix Potter the way we desperately awaited the books about Harry Potter (including this year’s The Cursed Child). But that will change. In September of this year we will get the first new Beatrix Potter story in a generation. The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots is being released on September First to honor the 150th anniversary of her birth (her actual birthday is July 28th hence this particular post).
The Story of the New Story
We have this new gem thanks to the work of Jo Hanks and Quentin Blake. Ms. Hanks, who works for Penguin Random House Children’s Publishing, found a reference to a reference to the Tale of Kitty-in-Boots in an out of print biography of Beatrix Potter from the 1970s. The biography referred to a letter that Potter had sent to her publisher along with the manuscript for kitty in boots. She had sent the story, along with a sketch of the titular character and some layouts for the book to her publisher in 1914 and had meant to finish but kept getting interrupted. The interruptions, a lengthy illness and the First World War, were sufficient to keep Ms. Potter from returning to the work before her death in 1943. Ms. Hanks took what she had learned of this missing tale and scoured the Potter Archives at the Victoria and Albert Museum and found the story, in the form of handwritten school notebooks and a dummy book. Also included were a black and white sketch of the villain Mr. Tod, and a single color drawing of Kitty. The story was complete, but with only two sketches extant, a new illustrator was needed.
Finding an artist willing to take on the work of one of the most beloved children’s authors and illustrators is never going to be easy or quick. This is where Quentin Blake arrives. Blake is no stranger to working with iconic authors. His name may not be known by all, but if you’ve read a book by Roald Dahl, then you are familiar with his work. When presented with the 100 year old manuscript, Mr. Blake jumped at the chance to work on a story that “might have been waiting for [him].” He even went so far as to draw the unnamed owner of Kitty as an elderly Beatrix Potter.
The New Story
The story of Kitty-in-Boots revolves around, as Potter herself put it in the letter to her publisher, “a well-behaved prime black Kitty cat, who leads rather a double life”. Not content to laze and sleep as most cats do, this cat likes to dress as a country squire when no one is looking and go hunting. Without giving too much away Jo Hanks told the BBC that “The tale really is the best of Beatrix Potter. …It has double identities, colourful villains and a number of favourite characters from other tales.” Perhaps best of all is one more glimpse of Peter Rabbit, albeit a slower and portlier one.
The Woman We Never Knew
Beatrix Potter actually was the kind woman who wrote books about small animals that we all believe her to be, but she was also a great deal more. She was a child of privilege, the daughter of a lawyer and granddaughter of one of the wealthiest textile printers and members of parliament. Her cousins are the ancestors of the Duchess of Cambridge, meaning that Beatrix herself is related to the future King George VII.
She was also a well-regarded amateur scientist. After receiving encouragement to make her watercolors of fungi more technically correct, Beatrix began in depth study of mushrooms and other fungi. Due to the limited educational opportunities afforded women of her time, she was primarily self-taught. At one point she even submitted some theories to the director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, Sir William Thiselton-Dyer. Because of her gender and her status as an amateur Thiselton-Dyer rejected her ideas, as they disagreed with the accepted theories of the day. Beatrix was not to be put off lightly, however. After refining her theory with the encouragement of noted Kew Gardens Mycologist, George Massee, she finalized a paper to be presented to the Linnean Society of London. She could not present her work, “On the Germination of the Spores of the Agaricinea,” but Masse agreed to do so for her. Beatrix removed her paper from consideration because she noted a contaminated sample, and the work was never published. The paper is still reviewed as a respected work by today’s mycologists and her watercolors continue to be used for fungi identification.
On top of being an author and illustrator, and a respected amateur mycologist she was also a pioneering conservationist and business woman. She was very passionate about Herdwicke sheep and became a prize winning breeder. Her employees loved her because she was not afraid to try the latest methods and always hired the best personnel. The Business acumen that worked well on her farm also carried over into her writing. It was Beatrix who began the merchandising of her characters when she registered an idea for a plush peter rabbit with the patent office in 1903, making Peter the first licensed character.
Ms. Potter was a follower of Canton Hardwicke Rawnsley, the founder of the National Trust for Places of Historical Interest or Natural Beauty. She acted as a patron for the Girl Guides, the British version of the Girl Scouts. When she died, she left 15 farms and most of her total property to the National Trust. Because of this donation and her work in conservation of land, flora and fauna she is credited with preserving much of what is today’s Lake District National Park.
For More on Potter, her Characters and Studies see:
- The Complete Tales by Beatrix Potter (J E POT)
- Beatrix Potter’s Art by Anne Stevenson Hobbs (709.2 HOB)
- Beatrix Potter: Artist, Storyteller and Countrywoman by Judy Taylor (92 POT)
- At Home With Beatrix Potter: The Creator of Peter Rabbit by Susan Denyer (823.912 DEN)
- Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: the plants and places that inspired the classic children’s tales by Marta McDowell (823.912 MCD)
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Love a good mystery? Looking for a new author to read? Since May is Mystery Month, you’re in luck!
First off, I need to tell you about a great database we subscribe to: Books & Authors. B&A offers new ways to explore books, authors, genres and topics. This database makes exploration of genre fiction and essential non-fiction fun! You can also look through lists created by libraries under Expert Picks & Librarian Lists to find new mystery genres to read. One of the best features is looking up a book you just enjoyed and finding a list of similar books and finding new authors to read. And you can access this list at home, before you come to the library, or go on READS.
There are another two great websites to consider when looking for new authors. You might already know about Good Reads for looking up reviews. But did you know they have genre lists? You can browse through page after page of books, read the blurbs and make your lists. The second site we use often is Fantastic Fiction. This is a great website that gives you series information either with an author search or a title search about British and American authors.
If you’re looking for new mystery books, try Stop, You’re Killing Me. It’s a great website for mystery lovers. You can look for new mysteries by job (archaeologist, pathologist, farmer, antique dealer), by location or country, by historical time periods, by awards and by read-alikes. It’s almost a one-stop shopping/reading center!
Most people choose what mysteries to read based on the New York Times Book List or word of mouth. But there are many genres of mysteries and many places to find more titles to read. There are police procedurals, thrillers, legal thrillers, historical mysteries, gothic mysteries, paranormal mysteries, cozy mysteries, mysteries set in foreign countries and in futuristic settings.
Cozy mysteries can be addictive. These are usually a series about amateur sleuths and you don’t want to miss one. Some of the popular authors are Agatha Christie, Susan Wittig Albert, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and many more.
Gothic mysteries are usually set in a dark, spooky mansion or castle, with suspicious sounds and people. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen and Wuthering Heights may have been some of the first Gothic novels, but they certainly weren’t the last. Mary Stewart, Phillis A Whitney, Victoria Holt, Barbara Michaels and V. C. Andrews are preeminent in this genre. Diane Setterfield, M. J. Rose, John Harwood, Kristen Callahan are more contemporary authors of this genre.
If you get tired of mysteries in a current setting, try a historical mystery. There are so many series set in the middle ages. One of the best featured Father Cadfael, soldier and man of the world who became a monk. Most of the mysteries take place in the monastery or on the grounds. Another good series features Marcus Didius Falco, and is set in ancient Rome. One of the most popular was written by Arian Franklin, who unfortunately passed away several years ago. Her detective was a woman physician who lived under Henry II of England’s rule.
John Grisham made the legal thriller a genre. Everyone was pleased when he wrote a sequel to A Time to Kill. Other authors in this genre are Scott Turow and John Ellsworth and John Lescroart. And we can’t leave out Earl Stanley Gardner, who started it all with Perry Mason. He is credited with influencing many people to become lawyers.
International mysteries, which are set in foreign countries, are fun to read. You learn about other countries, how the police and justice system work and they are absorbing. Just about every country in the world has had at last one mystery set in it. The Scandinavian countries are very popular locations now, what with The Girl Who and Wallander series. Jo Nesbo is very popular, and Icelandic and Finnish stories are in the running as well. One of the continued favorites read is Donna Leon, which features Commissario Brunetti in Venice. And Louise Penny must be mentioned here again since her series takes place in the Toronto area.
One good example of a paranormal mystery series is the character of Aunt Dimity, a ghost who assists in solving mysteries. Barbara Hambly has a series with a physician in Victorian England seeking the assistance of a vampire. Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake would fit here, too; she’s a vampire slayer. Patricia Briggs has quite a following with her series featuring Mercy Thompson; Simon R. Green has his Tales of the Nightside. Charles Stross, Dan Simmons and Nora Roberts write mysteries with a more science fiction edge.
Police procedurals are mysteries are solved by police as they go about their daily duties, working with clues, putting them together, solving the crime and catching the bad guys. The detective novel is similar, but the crime solver has a few more liberties, and we learn more about their lives and sometimes loves and if you have an amateur detective, those are often considered cozy mysteries. . Louise Penny was won many awards for her police procedurals. They are also excellent to listen to. Other authors to consider are Carol O’Connor, Ed McBain, Michael Connelly, and Bill Pronzini.
Psychological suspense thrillers are the ones you can’t put down and keep you up at night. Remember Gone Girl? That was Gillian Flynn, who is a master of this genre. There are other authors too; S J Watson, Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train), Iris Johansen, Lisa Gardner, Jonathan Kellerman, Patricia Highsmith, Henry James, Dennis Lehane, Tana French, Mary Kubica and many, many more.
- http://bna.galegroup.com/bna/ (our Books and Authors database)
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Four hundred years ago, Shakespeare died on April 23. His impact on the world is uncountable. The world is ready to celebrate Shakespeare! The United Kingdom kicked it off in January with Shakespeare400. So many things are happening throughout the whole year! To find out what is happening throughout the world, check out Shakespeare Anniversary; they’re keeping a list of happenings worldwide, covering the whole year.
Recent (re)discoveries of the First Folios:
On 11 July 2008, a folio was recovered that had been stolen from Durham University, England, in 1998, after it was submitted for valuation at Folger Shakespeare Library, The folio’s value was estimated at up to £15 million. The book, once the property of the Bishop of Durham, was returned to the library, but it had been mutilated and was missing its cover and title page. The folio was returned to public display on 19 June 2010 after its twelve-year absence.
In November 2014, a previously unknown First Folio was found in a public library in Saint-Omer, Pas-de-Calais in France, where it had lain for 200 years. Confirmation of its authenticity came from Eric Rasmussen, of the University of Nevada, Reno, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Shakespeare. The only other known copy of a First Folio in France is in the National Library in Paris.
In April 2016 a new discovery was announced, a First Folio having been found in Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute, Scotland. It was authenticated by Professor Emma Smith of Oxford University. The Folio originally belonged to Isaac Reed.
The Folger Shakespeare Library is sending some of their precious First Folios touring around the country to celebrate Shakespeare’s life and work. Researchers believe that 750 or fewer copies of the First Folio were printed; 233 survive today, 82 of which are in the Folger collection. After Shakespeare dies, two of his friends published this book in 1623 (folio refers to the large size of paper, which was usually saved for more important documents like theology, history, and royal proclamations.) in 1623. These first Folios are books containing 36 Shakespeare plays. Some of these plays had not been published before, anywhere. Without this book, some of his plays would have been lost, possible forever. More locally, The Wonder of Will, from the Folger Shakespeare Library, has a list of where the First Folios will be in the United States. In Tennessee, a first Folio will be on view at The Parthenon from, Nov 10 2016 – Jan 8, 2017.
Since everybody knows about Shakespeare’s plays and some about his sonnets, I thought I would share some less known information about the Bard of Avon:
- By tradition, it is generally supposed that Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564, which is Saint George’s Day, the national day of England, and the same date as Shakespeare’s death in 1616 at the age of 52.
- Even though we know a great deal about Shakespeare, there is no evidence for what he did between 1585 and 1592, when he moved to London and began his writing career. Thus, there is no record of how his career began or how quickly he became famous.
- In Shakespeare’s time, theaters had no curtain and used little or no scenery. Playwrights described the setting within the text of the performance.
- Shakespeare’s works contain first-ever recordings of over 2,000 new English words, including critical, frugal, excellent, barefaced, assassination, and countless. The British journalist Bernard Levin put all the words into a handy list which you can find online.
- The full inventory of Shakespeare’s possessions, which would have listed his books and other historically important information, was probably sent to London and was probably destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.
- In his will, Shakespeare left his wife the second-best bed. Ann Cook, Professor Emerita at Vanderbilt in English, whose specialty is Shakespeare explains this. The second best bed was the one they had used. The best bed was always reserved for guests.
- Shakespeare is popular world-wide. According to Stephen Marche, author of How Shakespeare changed the World, Any night you could go to see a Shakespeare performance in any major city in the world and most of the minor ones, on every continent. By the 19th century, he was the most popular playwright in India and Japan.
- And yes, in 1890, Eugene Schieffelin, a New York pharmaceutical manager, imported 60 starlings into the United States. He wanted to introduce every bird mentioned in Shakespeare into the United States. The other birds he brought over did not have such a huge impact on the country. Starlings surely did! (also from How Shakespeare changed the World)
- Oddly enough, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (author of the famous classic The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha) died on April 22, 1616. In Barcelona this date is St. Jordi’s Day (St. George) and is celebrated throughout Catalonia. The legend goes that there was a dragon terrorizing the country but St. George came to the rescue and slew it. A rose tree rose up from the blood of the dragon. From that time on, men give women and women give men books. It’s one of the biggest days of sales for booksellers in Spain!
- Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles tells of this legend.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Percy Bysshe Shelley, perhaps one of the greatest poets of the English language, universally admired by students of literature, a revolutionary mind in literature and philosophy and college drop out. Okay, that is not entirely correct. He was actually expelled. Yes, expelled. That guy that you were required to study by your senior year English teacher and whom your Literature 201 professor went on about for days was actually expelled from Oxford. Now the Romantic poets were not exactly known for being good little boys and girls, and most of Byron’s poor behavior came in the form of romantic conquests and there was also the all too common descent into penury and debt that plagued them all at one time or another. But no, not Shelley. He had done something entirely unacceptable, something so scandalous it would cause his father to stop speaking to him (although in honesty, it was one of several occasions where his father refused to speak to him so take that as you will).
What was this heinous crime? What terrible transgression did he commit? He wrote a paper. Yes, just a paper. Well, technically it was a pamphlet. It was 13 pages on a topic that would be none too popular today either. The pamphlet was titled “The Necessity of Atheism” and its author was listed only as “Thro’ deficiency of proof, an atheist.” Shelley never did actually cop to writing it, but it is believed that he and a friend named Thomas Jefferson Hogg wrote and published it in small numbers in the late winter of 1811. They both had talked it up amongst their fellows at Oxford and made sure copies were disseminated far and wide, going as far as to mail them to the bishops, professors and heads of the college. This was probably a bit too much cheek for the Oxford Dons.
The pamphlet itself was actually very blasé. It can be summed up quickly as saying due to a lack of empirical evidence of G_d’s existence; it is safer to be an atheist. It is not the very strong argument of a died in the wool zealot, nor was it actually written very well. It was, however, enough to bring him before a disciplinary committee. Some believe that it was helped by another of Shelley’s publications from that year, a poem called “A Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things” that Shelley had published alone as a Gentleman of the University of Oxford, that made a great outcry against the Napoleonic Wars that were nearing an end at that time. Whatever the reason turned out to be, when Shelley refused to confirm or deny his authorship of either works he was expelled. Hogg met the same fate.
Shelley wrote to his father 3 days after the expulsion had taken place. He was convinced that his father would at least sympathize with him. He Wrote:
“I know too well that your feeling mind will sympathise too deeply in my misfortunes. I hope it will alleviate your sorrow to know that for myself I am perfectly indifferent to the late tyrannical violent proceedings of Oxford.”
Sir Timothy Shelley felt no sorrow for his son. His own copy of “The Necessity of Atheism” has the word “impious” scrawled across it. In fact, the Baronet went to see his son and in the presence of the aforementioned Hogg raved, cursed and cried at his son, finally insisting that Percy return home to be educate by teachers Sir Timothy would choose. This began a rift that would eventually keep the two from speaking to each other for years and damaged their relationship in ways that were never to be mended.
To many modern Americans, “The Necessity of Atheism” and “A Poetical Essay” are just a bit of youthful rebellion, common to people in their late teens. They would have been articles in your school’s underground newspaper twenty or forty years ago. Today they would be blog posts from online aliases or facebooks status updates. Your parents might not approve, but nothing that would warrant expulsion and being disowned. Shelley held to his beliefs and rarely compromised them. He never abandoned them wholly, but only modified them as his life brought him greater scope of experience.
In an ironic twist, these two pamphlets as well as Shelley’s letter to his father are all part of the collection of the Bodleian Library and are part of a travelling collection called Shelley’s Ghost. In fact a copy of “A Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things”, once thought lost to the world was added at some expense to the library’s collection as the 12 millionth items in 2006. The Bodleian is the much celebrated research library of Oxford University and the second largest repository in Britain. If you go to see it you can also take in the rather grand memorial to Shelley placed on Oxford’s campus, a place too noble to accept him in life and only too willing to lionize him, deservedly so, in death.