Category Archives: Hot Topics

Discover the World of Urban Fantasy

By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

“The Dresden Files” by Mika-Blackfield

Being a lover of memoir and “the classics” (think, “books you were forced to read in high school”), I’ve felt comfortable referring to those categories in previous blog posts. But when I saw the colorful genre bookmarks we have at the library – check them out on your next visit!–, I felt inspired to explore some authors I’ve never read before.

One genre I’m pretty unfamiliar with is Urban Fantasy, so I thought I’d start there, and every research trip begins with a visit to Wikipedia, doesn’t it (just don’t tell your teachers)? From there, I gathered these elements of the Urban Fantasy subgenre (1):

  • A primarily real-world, urban setting, in the past, present or future
  • Earthbound mythological creatures (sometimes)
  • Coexistence / conflict between humans and paranormal beings (some other times)
  • Often explores how city life changes after the discovery of magic
  • Does not rely primarily on a romantic plot (as distinct from Paranormal Romance subgenre)

This sounds like many of the bestsellers and blockbusters in the past couple of decades! So who are the storytellers behind this enduring pop culture phenomenon?

“Neil Gaiman’s American Gods Fan Art” by AnamikaB

Even I, in my ignorance, recognize the name Neil Gaiman halfway down the list on the bright yellow bookmark before me. His novel, American Gods, is a prime example of the genre. In it, Gaiman posits that “gods and mythological creatures exist because people believe in them.” (2) Therefore, in modern America, new gods – representing media, the internet, and the stock market, among others – have more authority than the old gods brought over by immigrants; and fantastical creatures hold commonplace occupations. But a mysterious man wishes to shake things up, and he needs the help of ex-con Shadow to rouse ancient powers. A strange, epic journey, with elements of horror, fantasy, and magical realism, this award-winning novel has an international fan base.

Neil Gaiman, and indeed the genre of Urban Fantasy, would not be where they are today without Terri Windling. She created the Bordertown universe, tales of which have been written by a multitude of authors. Bordertown is “a dystopian metropolis that lies along the border between “the Elflands” and “The World”.” (3) The tagline on some of the book covers reads, “Where Magic Meets Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which I find charming. As one reader puts it, “the aesthetic of Celtic punk rock, elf/human gang warfare, and glamorous urban decay absolutely succeeds. You can understand why this series inspired its own new wave/nerd subculture back in the eighties.” (4)

Mercy Thompson

Interestingly, 57% of writers in this genre are women. (1) Another such writer who caught my eye was Patricia Briggs, with her Mercy Thompson series. Mercy is a shapeshifting mechanic who was raised by werewolves. She interacts with vampires, gremlins, and other creatures of the night. Ignore the sexy artwork on the book covers: this is not a steamy series, but rather one with compelling dialogue and a strong, sensitive female lead. There are plenty of books in this series, starting with Moon Called.

I’d like to leave you with some more author recommendations, which is a hard thing to do as I haven’t actually read any of them. But thank goodness for those bookmarks, and for Goodreads.com, a great resource for book lists and reader reviews. Searching Goodreads by genre, I found that there are some Urban Fantasy authors whose books have been reviewed by community members hundreds of thousands of times! (Side note: If you find a reviewer whose taste matches your own, you can follow him/her on the site. It’s like having your own personal book critic who delivers tailored book recommendations.)

  • Charlaine HarrisSookie Stackhouse series (AKA the Southern Vampire Mysteries). These books are the source material for HBO’s True Blood.
  • Jim ButcherThe Dresden Files Harry Dresden is Chicago’s first and only wizard P.I. This series is the Urban Fantasy high standard for many reviewers.
  • Kelley ArmstrongDarkest Powers A genetically-engineered teenage necromancer’s powers are out of control: she raises the dead without even trying. On the run from her creators, she’s accompanied by a sorcerer, a werewolf, and a witch.
  • Seanan McGuireWayward Children Children who have gone through magical portals – like Wonderland’s rabbit hole, or Narnia’s wardrobe – find it hard to adjust to normal life once they return. Luckily, there’s a home just for them.
  • Kevin HearneThe Iron Druid Chronicles. The last of the druids runs a bookshop in Arizona, but that won’t throw an angry god off the trail of his magic sword. Celtic mythology meets vampires, werewolves, and Thor. Yes, this series definitely has a silly edge to it, but reviewers say it’s a lot of fun!
  • Holly BlackThe Poison Eaters and Other Stories. Elves, werewolves, vampires, faeries: whatever your creature obsession, there’s a short story for you in this YA/adult collection from the author of popular middle-grade series The Spiderwick Chronicles.
  • Terry BrooksWord & Void There’s been a long strike in a steel town, and it’s the hottest Fourth of July on record. Into this volatile atmosphere come a knight of the Word and a demonic servant of the Void, whose opposing goals are mysteriously linked by a teenage girl. The fate of humanity is to be decided amidst the fireworks that celebrate freedom.
  • Ilona AndrewsKate Daniels Magic feeds on technology, creating a chaotic backdrop for tales of a mercenary who lives in Atlanta, cleaning up paranormal problems.

I plan to broaden my literary horizons by adding a couple of these to my reading list. If I abandon my classics and only ever write about Urban Fantasy from now on, you’ll know what triggered it!


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Art

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The Space for True Reception: Why We Love Great Verse

By Allan Cross, Reference Department

Poetry isn’t the simplest thing to appreciate. At a passing glance, it may not have the same immediacy of film, music, and visual art. When placed alongside other forms of literature, a book of poems can struggle to match our latest bestsellers in accessibility. For all these reasons, some of us might dismiss poetry as a medium for high-minded wordsmiths, rather than a readership of less heady taste. But exceptional poetry has endured for millennia, and verse as a creative avenue stretches onward still. Why, then, do so many others read and derive worth from it today?

The convenient answer nowadays might be to quote Dead Poets Society. Mr. Keating, an English teacher played by the late Robin Williams, inspires his students (and unceasing scores of audiences) with his speech about why people read and write poetry. One of the film’s great strengths lies, of course, in its poetry readings. These, combined with well-chosen samples, bring forth the emotional meaning that fuels successful verse. The film serves as a great access point to poetry, emphasizing the importance of reading it aloud. When we readers encounter a given poem, we can better involve ourselves by audibly speaking the work. By doing so, we should enhance the piece with our individual voices, each one conducive in its own distinct way.

Testing this in light of three widely known poems seems a good place to begin. The trio we have selected consists of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” Rudyard Kipling’s “If–,” and Shel Silverstein’s verse children’s book The Giving Tree.

In the third stanza of “The Road Not Taken,” Frost writes:

And both that morning equally lay/

In leaves no step had trodden black./

Oh, I kept the first for another day!/

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,/

I doubted if I should ever come back.

Andrew Spacey, a commentator for Owlcation, points out that Frost’s work reflects on the many choices we make in life, and how we tend to regret those decisions after committing to them. It is also commonly read as a statement in support of individualism, and the promotion of opinions that contrast with majority views.

Below is an excerpt from Kipling’s “If—”:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;/

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;/

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/

And treat those two imposters just the same;/

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken/

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools/

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,/

And stoop and build them up with worn out tools:

 

The theme of Kipling’s work, which regards the importance of thought, but not to the point where it impedes action, seems like a stirring antidote to Frost. It acknowledges the significance and moral need for regret, but urges the reader not to allow past mistakes to obstruct the path to future growth.

The Giving Tree addresses similar concerns, as shown in some of its final lines:

“I am sorry,” sighed the tree./

I wish that I could give you something…/

But I have nothing left./

I am just an old stump./

I am sorry….”/

I don’t need very much now,” said the boy./

“just a quiet place to sit and rest.”/

I am very tired.”

Rivka Galchen, in her 2014 review for The New York Times, argues that there is an unavoidable dilemma in The Giving Tree, it being whether we read it as a statement on thoughtless acquisition or unreserved giving. The two characters, the boy and the tree, do what is most fundamental to their natures. It’s up to the reader to then decide how to feel about the situation, including the conclusion about whether it turns out morally right.

The takeaway from all of this, in spite of all the people who attempt to influence our points-of-view, is that we allow ourselves to read and study works on our unique terms. As mentioned earlier, it may prove worthwhile to read these pieces and others to ourselves (at the risk of seeming foolish), in order to bring out their inherent humanity. We should remember that reading can be, in its way, a roomy type of interpretation. There’s a mysterious element of poetry, one we cannot entirely rationalize and so must trail behind. Rather than strain for full understanding, this is the process we might instead come to accept.


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Easter: Season of Bunnies and Chickens… Wait, What?

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

Easter is a holiday that everyone knows is Christian, right? Or is it another pagan festival corrupted to fit the recruitment needs of the early church? Just like a paraphrase of the old Reese’s commercial, you got your pagan in my Christianity or vice versa.

Easter as the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus and the salvation of man is undeniably Christian. It’s not misplaced in the year like Christmas, to help offset the yule festivities, or made up to cover an existing harvest festival like Halloween, All-Saints Day, and All Souls Day. It does have the distinction of being part of the collection of last great moveable feasts along with its associated days of Lent (and for that matter, Mardi Gras). However, it is most certainly a Christian celebration of a Christian concept. There’s no pagan influence in how we celebrate Easter, right? The answer is not so cut and dry as we would like to think. There are three elements of the traditional American Easter celebrations that strike many people as odd. The profusion of rabbits, ducks and chickens is the big one. The inclusion of decorated eggs is another. Finally we have the name. The amazing inundation of pastel colors might be a fourth reason for some of us, but I’m afraid that is an unsolvable mystery.

Colored version of the ancient Mesopotamian eight-pointed star symbol of the goddess Ishtar (Inana/Inanna), representing the planet Venus as morning or evening star

There are a number of theories you will see on the internet or hear from people about the claim that the word Easter is a corruption of the name of the goddess Ishtar, a Mesopotamian goddess of love fertility and war. You’ll hear how there were eggs full of blood smashed on her alter, rabbits regarded as her sacred animals, and how the whole thing was a sacred ceremony celebrating her aspect of the goddess of spring fertility. Almost all of this is bunk. The animal that was most often associated with her is the lion and the only real time we find that big cat in Easter mythology is as a bit of a joke in a certain English candy companies commercials. While she did have a ceremony in the spring, it had little to nothing to do with eggs and mostly involved the equinox and a concept of sacred marriage which may have been anything from a ritual conjoining of the king and the high priestess to a city-state wide activity that resulted in a lot of births nine months later.

There may actually be a goddess who gave her name to Easter. Eostre is an Anglo Saxon goddess of fertility who has cognates with remarkably similar names throughout the Germanic pagan world. Most languages use their version of the word Pesach (פֶּסַח) which means Passover. Not surprisingly, the languages that use something similar to Easter are all in the Germanic family. In fact she may have been a version of the Norse goddess Freya.

Illustration of Ēostre by Jacques Reich, originally with the caption “Eástre… see the bunny?

The Easter Bunny may come by way of Eostre as well. What little we know of her and her various incarnations from around Europe tells us that the fecund little rabbit was one of her symbols. The version we have today probably stems from the Osterhase, an egg laying rabbit native to German vernal traditions dating back to the 1500s. According to the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung,

“A legend holds that a poor woman living in Germany decorated colorful eggs for her children to find in the garden. As soon as the hidden eggs were found by the children, a large hare was seen hopping away. The children thought the hare (Hase) left the eggs.”

There is no doubt that the legendary reproductive powers of the rabbits and hares have been linked to the fertility of spring, but I’m fairly certain the eggs came from somewhere else.

The egg association may have something stemming back to a pagan root. They can’t help but give one ideas about birth and renewal. However the practice of the Easter egg as we know it relates to the fact that for many years, eggs were on the list of foods forbidden to Lenten penitents. People would celebrate the return of eggs to their diet by giving them to each other as gifts. Decorating them began to become popular as well growing in to the modern dyed egg as well as the ornate Ukrainian eggs and even the priceless Faberge eggs.

It really doesn’t matter where the symbols come from. Many people will argue back and forth for centuries to come over the origins of every little word in every liturgy in every faith the world over if you let them. The important thing is to enjoy these festivities in the manner that pleases you best!

 


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Be an Online Ninja Part II: How Good is your Google Fu?

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

オンライン忍者であること二: ググルのスキルはどれくらい良いです

You walk through a misty glade. Pagoda are off to the right and torii gate are placed indiscriminately on your left. You approach a small pond, a figure sitting in a simple robe on a rock several feet off shore. He turns and as he does you see it is the rock turning, not the sensei. You also see the Mac book and the familiar coffee cup with a mermaid logo. He looks at you and with characteristic poor dubbing and origin-less wind sounds he waves two fingers at you and says, “How good is your google fu?”

Google (or any search engine) search skills are not something to be taken lightly. Most of us will never need to know how to code or even get into the more arcane formulary ends of Microsoft Excel. Searching for the information we want, or in many cases need, is a vastly more important skill. We’ve been through the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and the Industrial Age. This is considered the Information Age, and strength in this age of man is determined by your ability to access information and keep information secure. We’ve already discussed stealth and security in your ninja training, your defensive skills, now we will work on your fighting skills, your ability to strike fast and accurately when looking for what you need to know.

The white belt is phrasing. First, you don’t need to type a Google search as if it were a question . You are adding words to a search that will give you more responses but may not contribute useful information. Always keep your search terms as short as you can while including all the information you need to find. If you want to know “How do I prevent a heart attack?” Just search the words heart attack prevention.

To earn your yellow belt you need to know your Boolean operators. Boolean operators sound technical but this is really basic, I promise. Looking for Information on J.R.R. Tolkien is going to give you a lot of information. You only need information on his military service. You type in Tolkien and military your search terms limit the returned to just the sites that contain both of the terms Tolkien and military. Even better, you can use and not. We’ll use Professor Tolkien again. You decided that the paper on Tolkien’s military service was too narrow, so you decide to broaden the topic to include all of his life except The Hobbit. You can search Tolkien and not Hobbit. This way you get only sites that don’t include the diminutive people of Middle Earth. You can use the minus sign for a similar effect. Finally, you can use or. You want to go see where Tolkien grew up so you search for information on his birthplace and youth by searching for England or South Africa.  Now you have mastered the basic Boolean search.

What happens when you can’t just limit your search to a small number of simple words? Here is where you will learn the information needed to earn your orange and red belts.  You can get concise results for multiple terms by putting your search terms in quotation marks. Searching for information on the Jane Austen’s niece would give you information on Ms. Austen and her niece and nieces in general. Searching for Jane Austen’s Niece will only give you search results where those words occur together in that exact order. Now here is the best part. You can combine this with your earlier Boolean skills and search for instances where said niece commented on her aunt’s work by searching Jane Austen’s Niece” and “literary commentary. In this case you’ve taken a long string that could give you way too many options and limited it to a Boolean string, two specific phrases limited by the word “and”. For the record but, not, and or work just fine here too. There is also a way to search for a term you don’t know. Instead of adding something like and, this time you put in the term you know and add an asterik (*) as a wild card. This will bring up more options for you to browse.

The blue and brown belt level is one of finesse. It is finding the right results among your newly limited searches. If you have a search that brings up what looks like good results you must be wary. Look for the mark that says Ad, Paid, or Sponsored. These are clues to let you know that the sights you see, usually at the top of your results, are from services that have paid to be where they are. While not always, quite often the information or service they are providing will come with a cost.  The other thing to be on the lookout for is the Missing: word. This means that the result you are getting does not include one of the search terms you entered.

To attain your black belt in Google fu you must move beyond the realm of the search. You must extend your knowledge of Google to your widest limits. You can use google to translate foreign phrases or even entire websites. You can get currency exchange rates and split restaurant checks as well as calculate a tip. You can even view art from all over the world. These are just a minor selections of all the things you can do without leaving a Google site. Use your new found Google fu search skills to find all the great tricks Google can do.

You are now wise in the ways of Google but there are other ways available to you. Many of these other paths, such as Bing jitsu or Yahoo dö (we promise, we’re not advertising for Google, it’s just the search engine that most people use). The foundations of these arts lay in the same place as that of Google fu. Your Boolean strings and quotation mark limitations will be recognized with them as well and they may have their own special techniques too.


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NO BUNNIES, NO CHICKS FOR EASTER!!

By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

You’ve all seen the ads that spring up [ha, ha] this time of year marketing cuddly bunnies and brightly-dyed baby chicks as wonderful Easter gifts for your children. If you’re thinking about buying one, DON’T DO IT!! Amy Mott, president of the Clover Patch Sanctuary, a rabbit and small animal rescue organization right here in Franklin, says “You wouldn’t give your child a reindeer for Christmas. Why would you give him a bunny or duck or chick for Easter??” Amen.  If you succumb to their fluffy cuteness, you’ll basically ruin the life of a living, breathing creature to provide a brief diversion for your child. A huge percentage of bunnies, chicks and ducklings given as Easter gifts are abandoned as soon as the novelty wears off. What happens to these unfortunate animals next is not a pretty picture.

How did bunnies, hot pink chicks and ducklings become associated with Easter anyway? One theory emphasizes the Easter Bunny’s pagan roots, especially the rabbit’s connection to Eostra, goddess of the spring and fertility. Her symbol was the rabbit because of the animal’s high reproduction rate. But according to Catholic Online, the tradition of the Easter Bunny has distinctly Christian origins. The ancient Greeks thought rabbits could reproduce as virgins, a belief that persisted until early medieval times, when the rabbit became associated with the Virgin Mary. In medieval manuscripts, rabbit images served as allegorical illustrations of her virginity. It is likely that German Protestants invented the myth of the Easter Bunny for their children. Even in earliest folklore, the Easter Bunny came as a judge, hiding decorated eggs for well-behaved children.

No matter how the connection with Easter originated, rabbits, chicks and ducklings have not benefited from the association. The Easter holiday seems to bring out the bunny, chick and duckling lovers in people. They think such animals are perfect “starter pets” to teach children responsibility. So they make an impulse buy and their child goes wild with joy for a day. Reality soon sets in as it dawns on parents that these animals are not the “low maintenance” pets they’d imagined.

According to National Geographic, vets and insurance companies consider rabbits exotic pets, so medical care can be more expensive than for a cat or dog. Rabbits need a lot of exercise and shouldn’t be stuck away in a cage. This means they need to learn to use a litterbox. They’re also prey animals and generally don’t like to be picked up by humans, whom they view as predators. The result is that children who want to cuddle with their baby bunny can be frustrated when it doesn’t respond the way they expect and they quickly lose interest. Many parents don’t realize that rabbits can live more than 10 years, a commitment comparable to adopting a dog or cat. When that once-adorable baby bunny matures at between three and six months old, it can become aggressive and even destructive. Male rabbits will also spray urine if not neutered. Proper exercise, litterbox training, and spaying or neutering curb the problem for most rabbits. But many impulse buyers don’t expect and can’t commit to that level of responsibility, and they scramble to surrender the animals.

These babies deserve forever homes, not to be discarded.

Rabbits are the third most popular pet in America after cats and dogs, but according to the Humane Society of the United States, they’re also the third most abandoned – and euthanized. It’s unclear exactly how many rabbits originally sold as Easter pets are abandoned each year. But rescuers in shelters all over the country report a spike in calls after Easter from people trying to unload their unwanted bunnies. Clover Patch Sanctuary’s Amy Mott estimates that “80-90% of our adoptable rabbits were once Easter gifts to children. We can judge that fairly well by the timing that they came into rescue.” Many more rabbits – possibly thousands – are abandoned outdoors, a cruel death sentence for these domesticated animals possessing no survival skills or instincts.

Left: excellent Easter gift. Right: bad Easter gift.

Chicks and ducklings don’t fare any better. At Easter, fuzzy brightly colored chicks and ducklings can be too cute to resist. To achieve the brilliant hues displayed by some chicks, a dye is actually injected into the incubating egg. Other chicks are sprayed with a fine mist of dye immediately after hatching. Farmers, hatcheries and others who dye chicks claim the process is harmless, but animal rights workers say the experience is stressful for the birds. In addition to the trauma of being dyed, the bright colored feathers help make them seem more like disposable toys than living animals. Many states ban the practice of dyeing and selling chicks. In Tennessee, it is a Class C misdemeanor to “sell, offer for sale, barter or give away baby chickens, ducklings or goslings of any age, or rabbits under two (2) months of age, as pets, toys, premiums or novelties, if those fowl or rabbits have been colored, dyed, stained or otherwise had their natural color changed.”

I’m adorable now, but will you still love me when I’m grown?

But non-dyed chicks and ducklings are still sold as Easter gifts, and like bunnies, they are not ideal beginning pets for children. They can be quite messy. They are extremely fragile and can die from overhandling or being dropped, especially in the first few days before the child’s excitement wanes. Chicks and ducks may also present hazards for children. They can scratch and peck with sharp talons and beaks, but worse, they may spread the bacterial disease Salmonella, which can be especially dangerous to children and the elderly. When the birds preen, they spread the bacteria all over their feathers. So it’s best to avoid contact with them, or at least wash hands thoroughly immediately after touching.

Many people who buy adorable Easter chicks and ducklings have no capacity or intention of caring for adult fowl. Like bunnies, the unwanted birds are often handed over to shelters where they may face euthanasia if they’re not adopted. When abandoned outdoors, they have no experience foraging or avoiding predators. Easter ducklings, many of which are byproducts of the food trade, can swim, but unlike wild ducks, they can’t fly and are vulnerable to temperature changes and make easy targets for predators. One Florida farmer who offers to take unwanted Easter pets does not hide the fact that he will use them for food. He offers to keep them happy while they’re alive, but in the end, he says, “we’re all part of the food chain.”

There are plenty of great alternatives to giving live animals as Easter gifts. Consider:

Animal friendly Easter gifts

  • Plush rabbits or chicks
  • Chocolate bunnies and candy birds and eggs
  • Books and games about bunnies, chicks and ducklings
  • A visit to a reputable, educational petting zoo
  • A birdhouse or feeder to attract wild birds
  • Bunny, chick or duckling figurines
  • Make a gift in your child’s name to a rabbit or small animal rescue organization

I’ll let Amy Mott from Clover Patch Sanctuary have the final word on bunnies, chicks and ducklings as Easter gifts: “There is never a reason to give a child a live animal as a present for Easter or any other holiday and/or birthday. Animals are not ‘things’ or objects. The only way to put the breeders out of business is to stop buying from them. The chain has to stop. In this day and age of information and compassion it’s really time to get on the ball with ending the antiquated practice of gifting animals to children. They have to learn from adults that all creatures great and small are worthy and special in God’s eyes.” That really says it all.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I am NOT saying that rabbits and poultry cannot be great pets for the right people in appropriate situations. Rabbits make wonderful pets for owners who understand their needs and are committed to caring for them their entire lives. A list of helpful books you can borrow at WCPL on raising rabbits is attached to this article. Visit the House Rabbit Society’s website, rabbit.org, to learn more about rabbit care. We’ve got an excellent resource – Clover Patch Sanctuary – right here in Franklin for anyone seriously interested in adding a rabbit to their family. Check out their website!
Raising backyard chickens is increasingly popular, and the library has some great books on the proper care and housing of chickens and other poultry. Within Franklin’s city limits, it is suggested that homeowners keep no more than four to six hens (no roosters). Check Franklin city codes for rules on housing, noise levels, and cleanliness. Be sure to consult your neighborhood’s homeowners association regulations for other restrictions regarding keeping backyard chickens.
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The Symbols of Ireland

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations
In Moscow, Russia, 2012
by Кирилл Сергеев – wikimedia

This Irish feast has taken on a life of its own in countries around the world. On March 17, we are inundated with cartoons, clothing, even cards, embellished with images of the day: shamrocks, harps, elaborate crosses. Familiar as they may be now, what do they really have to do with St. Patrick’s Day?

Symbols provide a glimpse into the psyche of an artist – or an entire culture. Sometimes, patterns and figures evolve to express an idea. Other times, the meaning follows the motif. (For example, when previously pagan symbols take on Christian significance.) Just like language, a culture’s symbolism serves both as a time capsule and an evolving conveyance of modern ideals. Today, we’ll take a look at some common symbols associated with Ireland, and discover the meanings they carry.

 

St. Patrick
with a shamrock

Shamrocks and Four-Leaf Clovers

When you think “St. Patrick’s Day,” do you visualize a lucky four-leaf clover, or is it a shamrock? With its three leaves, the seamróg, or shamrock, is the true symbol of Ireland’s patron saint. Legend has it that Patrick used the plant to illustrate the concept of the Holy Trinity to pre-Christian Ireland. So, while you might want to wear a rare four-leaf clover to represent the “luck of the Irish,” only the tri-lobed seamróg represents St Patrick himself.

Of course, pre-Christian Irish art indicates that the island’s inhabitants already had a concept of “three-in-oneness.” But it’s still a nice legend, and a great example of how we can find new significance in existing symbolism.

 

Spirals and Knotwork

Trinity knot

triskelion

One ancient motif resembling the Trinity is the triskelion. Three arms spiral out from the center, with rotational symmetry. Spirals feature heavily in ancient Irish art, but there’s no way of knowing what the earliest artists wished to convey. Perhaps the spiral represented the course of heavenly bodies through the night sky.

detail from the Book of Kells

The triquetra, also known as a Trinity knot, is another indigenous emblem that found a Christian meaning. Its three distinct wings form an unbroken, never-ending whole. In one variation, a circle winds through the wings, further unifying the design. The triquetra is the simplest element of Celtic knotwork. Elaborate examples can be found in the famous illuminated manuscript known as the Book of Kells, and on decorative crosses in churchyards up and down Ireland.

 

The Celtic Cross

A beautiful design that looks as striking on a tattooed arm as on a headstone in a cemetery, the Celtic cross is composed of a traditional Christian cross with a circle around the intersecting lines. The stem and arms of the cross are often decorated with elaborate knotwork.

Legend attributes this cross to St. Patrick himself. According to the story, Patrick stamped the cross over a circle representing the pagan sun god, emphasizing the spiritual importance of the cross by associating it with the life-giving powers of the sun.

 

A golden Claddagh ring by Royalcladdagh – wikimedia

Claddagh Rings

A heart for love, a crown for loyalty, and two hands for friendship: these are the elements present in every Claddagh ring. They originated in the small fishing village of Claddagh in Galway, possibly earlier than 1700, and are now popular as wedding rings the world over. The hand on which the ring is worn, and whether it’s worn facing inward or out, can communicate the romantic status of the wearer to one in the know.

 

The Irish Tricolor

Ireland’s flag has three vertical bars, of green, white, and orange. The green represents the sovereign Republic of Ireland, traditionally a Catholic nation. The orange represents Northern Ireland, which is thought of as a Protestant land, and has been part of the United Kingdom since 1921. And the white field in between? Referring to the strife between his divided countrymen, Irish nationalist Thomas Francis Meagher explained, “The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce between Orange and Green and I trust that beneath its folds the hands of Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics may be clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood.”

It’s a concept that’s still relevant, as governments discuss what the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will look like in a post-Brexit UK.

 

The Maid of Erin

Guinness by swissbhoy – Flickr

The Harp

As a nation of poets, storytellers, musicians, and bards, Ireland has long been represented by a harp. Before the tricolor flag, a banner commonly used was a golden harp (sometimes with a winged woman, the Maid of Erin, carved into it) in the center of a green field.

The Irish government wanted to trademark the harp symbol – but Guinness, hallowed creator of Ireland’s most famous stout, had gotten to it first, back in 1876. That means you’ll always see Guinness’s harp facing one way, and the government’s harp facing the other.

 

Beer

Speaking of Guinness, why does alcohol feature so heavily in modern St Patrick’s Day celebrations? It has to do with the calendar. No matter when Easter falls, the Lenten fast is already underway by the time March 17 rolls around. Until the 1970s, pubs in Ireland were closed – by law – on the day. The festivities were quiet indeed.

Dog and men gathered in Patrick Sullivan’s Bar, c. 1963

But somewhere along the line, Irish-American Catholics wanted to celebrate their honorary patron saint while still remaining pious, and so the restrictions on food and alcohol came to be lifted for the day. Try to fit 40 days’ worth of revelry into 24 hours, and excess is the natural result! This Americanized aspect of the holiday made its way back to Ireland in the 1990s, largely as an effort to promote tourism.

If you choose to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in this way, you’ll need a ready toast. Raise your glass and say “Sláinte!” (pronounced something like “SLAWN-chə” to drink the health of your party.

Thanks for joining me on this cultural expedition! I hope you’ll enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations all the more, having these few fragments of knowledge. Slán go fóill! (Bye for now!)

Vintage St. Patrick’s Day postcard with the motto “Erin go bragh,”or “Ireland forever”


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Be an Online Ninja Part 1: Stealth

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

Being a ninja is synonymous with stealth. This lesson is all about online stealth.

In the last year or two, internet privacy has been in the news. Sites from credit report companies to the emails of our presidential candidates have been hit with online attacks. Our local governments and schools are regularly accosted for personal information. What can we do to protect ourselves? The average person is not going to receive the same volume of scrutiny from hackers as, for example, a candidate for senate, but you still want to make sure that you are protecting yourself as much as you can.  Browsing the internet in the most private manner possible is a good start. Now I’m not talking about taking your laptop into the broom closet, I’m specifically referring to the way you surf the net.

Virus protection and firewalls

This may seem like a basic bit of information, but you’d be amazed at how many people need to hear it. ALWAYS use your virus check software. NEVER turn off your firewall. Antivirus software keeps incoming cyber-attacks from disrupting your computers functioning. Without it you could be giving people access to anything from your browser history to your credit card information and even every key stroke you make. It is the active defense system for your computer. The firewall is the passive defense. Just as a real firewall keeps blazes from reaching parts of a building and burning through property, a computer firewall keeps people on the outside from getting into your info and burning through your bank account.

Your Browser’s Privacy Feature

Almost every browser out there, for mobile or desktop devices, has a privacy feature. It may be called something else, but if you look you should be able to find it fairly easily. While this is not the same as going online incognito, it does offer a certain amount of protection. Here are the basics for the most common browsers:

  • Internet Explorer: Here you’re looking for the In Private Browsing feature. It’s under the tools menu in the   drop downs on the menu bar, or you can access it by hitting Control + Shift + p. InPrivate Browsing keeps your computer from storing information like cookies, temporary Internet files, and history.
  • Firefox: In Firefox You can access the private browsing mode by clicking the hamburger button and then choosing the private icon that resembles a carnival mask. You can also use the same hot key combination as internet explorer. The Major difference with the Firefox protection is that it keeps sites from trying to track where you’ve been.
  • Chrome: From the more menu click new incognito window. Chrome refers to their privacy mode as incognito mode. It opens in a separate window so there is no mistake about whether it is on or not. Incognito mode does not save your browser history of cookies, but what you did can still be tracked by your network provider, be that your ISP, work or school.
  • Safari: When you open a new private browsing window from the file menu in the pull down bar of Safari, you are getting a fairly similar private browsing experience to the Chrome user. This hides your history from the people who use your computer but not from the provider of your internet service.

TOR Browsers and VPNs

For true internet privacy you need to be using a Virtual Private network (VPN), the TOR browser, or both. VPNs are a special private network used while on a public network. It allows communication from one source to another in a secure private manner. While private browsing features keep your computer from picking up information about what you do online, the TOR browser keeps everyone else from seeing it. This gives you the freedom to be online without leaving your IP footprints everywhere you go. Even using these in tandem, however, is not foolproof. Always make sure that you give out as little personal information as possible when going online.

The Throw Away Email

One final tool is the throw away email. This is an email you can set up with a company like gmail that allows you to create an email that does not have any of your actual personal information attached to it. With an email like this you can still sign up for those contests and newsletters that may pique your interests but might be a tool for spammers to get your information. The important part is making sure that when you set up the email you are using a service that does not ask for name, address or phone number. There are even services that will set you up with a temporary email, such as guerrilla mail.

The internet can make your everyday life great deal easier, but it can also make it easier for spammers and scammers to make your life miserable as well. Protect yourself according to your needs and never give them more information that you want them to have. Remember, the first weapon of the internet ninja is stealth.


Sources:

 

Authors to Explore During Black History Month

By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

The modern United States of America has the great honor of being home to myriad cultural groups. The inventions, discoveries, perspectives, and creativity of minority groups impact our nation the whole year through, and it’s personally edifying to reflect on the abundance of important ideas that come to us from so many different cultures. That’s why, during Black History Month each February, we take the time to officially celebrate, enjoy, and learn about the innumerable contributions that black men and women have made to American culture.

Naturally, Black authors write in every genre: from science-fiction to romance, from graphic novels to poetry. Although readers see the value in reading works from all facets of culture, they may not have come across some of these writers before. Today, we’ll take a winding journey through various genres, highlighting Black authors along the way.

Let’s start in the world of comic books and graphic novels. The timeless duo of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson has been reimagined in a comic book series written by Karl Bollers. Set in Harlem, New York, with African-American leads, Watson and Holmes treats the traditional sidekick as the leading man. While keeping elements of the classic story intact – Watson is a war veteran; Holmes specializes in usual cases – Bollers comes up with new dangers and adventures for the pair in a modern, urban setting.

Other writers to check out in this medium include Aaron McGruder (The Boondocks), Brandon Thomas (The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury), Brian Parker (You Can Rely on Platypi), David Gorden (Quincredible), Kyle Baker (Nat Turner), Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack, Jr (Best Shot in the West), and Ta-Nehisi Coates (Marvel’s Black Panther).

Speaking of Coates, who first made his name in journalism, his 2015 non-fiction book, Between the World and Me, is considered a must-read. It takes the form of “a letter to the author’s teenaged son about the feelings, symbolism, and realities associated with being black in the United States” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Between_the_World_and_Me).

Such a personal publication leads us to the genre of autobiography and memoir, which is a great way to get inside the heads of people with different experiences and perspectives. Much-loved television writer and producer Shonda Rhimes shares her journey from fear and detachment to self-acceptance and empowerment in Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. Another television personality with an entertaining memoir is Issa Rae, with The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl. In Black Man in a White Coat, Damon Tweedy, MD, explores the relationship between race and the medical world.  Elizabeth Alexander writes about family, creativity, and loss in The Light of the World. Other well-known authors in this genre include Frederick Douglass (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass), Solomon Northup (Twelve Years a Slave), Barack Obama (Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance), and Maya Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings).

Angelou is also beloved for her poetry, one example being “Still I Rise.” Merely scratching the surface of her fellow renowned Black poets, we find Rita Dove (“Exit”), Gwendolyn Brooks (“We Real Cool”), Langston Hughes (“Harlem”), Nikki Giovanni (“Walking down Park”), Jean Toomer (“Blue Meridian”), Lucille Clifton (“won’t you celebrate with me”), Tyehimba Jess (“Hagar in the Wilderness”), Melvin Dixon (“Heartbeats”), and Robert Hayden (“Middle Passage”).

Switching gears, let’s talk cookbooks: another great way to appreciate culture. No matter your tastes or skill level, you’re sure to find new recipes to add to your rotation with these selections. Edna Lewis’ classic The Taste of Country Cooking weaves stories with delicious recipes to create seasonal menus. Formerly an integral part of Paula Deen’s staff at Lady & Sons, Dora Charles has published her own cookbook, full of unexpected tips for maximum flavor, called A Real Southern Cook: In Her Savannah Kitchen. The Church Ladies’ Divine Desserts, by Brenda Rhodes Miller, gives you all the recipes you need for crowd-pleasing desserts, as well as wisdom and laughter from “the Church Ladies.” And celebrity chef Marvin Woods brings you “125 recipes for coastal Southern cooking with innovative style” in The New Low-Country Cooking.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a list some modern writers of fiction, along with a title selected from their work.

  1. LaShonda Katrice Barnett, Jam on the Vine
  2. Paul Beatty, The Sellout (satire)
  3. Chesya Burke, Let’s Play White (short stories)
  4. Octavia E. Butler, the Xenogenesis trilogy (sci-fi)
  5. Ernessa T. Carter, 32 Candles (humorous)
  6. Tananarive Due, Ghost Summer (short stories)
  7. Piper Huguley, the Home to Milford College series (inspirational romance)
  8. N. K. Jemisin, the Inheritance trilogy (fantasy)
  9. Beverly Jenkins, prolific author of historical and contemporary romance
  10. Sadeqa Johnson, Second House from the Corner
  11. Victor LaValle, The Ballad of Black Tom (horror)
  12. Terry McMillan, Waiting to Exhale
  13. Rebel Miller, the Kira’s Story series (futuristic romance)
  14. Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
  15. Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress (mystery)
  16. Z. Z. Packer, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere (short stories)
  17. Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Balm
  18. Delores Phillips, The Darkest Child
  19. Darryl Pinckney, High Cotton
  20. John Ridley, Everybody Smokes in Hell (noir)
  21. Alice Walker, The Color Purple
  22. Colson Whitehead, Zone One (zombie thriller)
  23. Jacqueline Woodson, Miracle’s Boys (young adult)

Of course, these authors are relevant all year long, not just during Black History Month. So, if many of these names are new to you, why not choose a few and add their works your reading list this year? And don’t forget, if we don’t have one of these titles in our catalogue, we can always submit an Interlibrary Loan (ILL) request to other libraries throughout the country.

Here are links to lists and reviews I found helpful (and interesting) in creating this blog post, where you can discover even more great writers. Happy Black History Month! Read the rest of this entry

Sequels, and Trilogies, and Series, Oh My!

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

Few pleasures compare to delving into a series of novels by an author you love. Writing a fiction series gives an author a chance to really flesh out a cast of characters, and to embellish a setting with such fine details that it becomes almost real. What a delight, to spend your rainy weekends or long road trips in these places that feel like a second home!

There’s a flip-side to this pleasure. It’s the frustration of picking up a promising novel, only to realize you have no idea what half the characters are talking about, or even who they are – and the author seems to think you should. That’s what happens when you pick up the sixth book in a series without realizing it.

Sometimes, the book’s cover art does not make clear that the book you’re about to read is part of a series. Other times, the “other titles in this series” list at the front of the book is incomplete, or even out of order. Why would publishers do this to us? Who shall be the savior of the sequel-seeker?

I can answer that second question for you. One of the resources you have access to, as a card-holding member of the Williamson County Public Library, is a database called eSequels.com. eSequels promises to keep current, accurate records of thousands of fiction series. Note: the collection seems to focus on general fiction, so most Young Adult series will not be included.

To access this amazing resource for free, click here. You need to be directed there from the WCPL website, so I’ll describe how to find it by searching our website, too. Starting at http://lib.williamson-tn.org, type eSequels into the gray search bar on the top right corner of the screen. Hit enter, or click the magnifying glass icon, to search. On the page that comes up, click Databases by Title, then click the shortcut to E-F (or just scroll down until you find it). Find the eSequels link, click on it, and use your library card number to log in where it says “Patron Barcode.” Once you get to eSequels.com in this way, bookmark the page so you don’t have to go through these steps every time.

Search Features on eSequels

Upon logging in to eSequels, you land on a page with links to various search features. As you will see, with multiple ways to search and browse, eSequels.com is the resource you never knew you needed – but won’t be able to live without!

If you’ve heard your friends talking about a particular author, but can’t remember which book comes first in the series, Search by Author to figure out where to start. By default, authors are listed alphabetically by their last names. You can choose to list them by first name instead.

 Search by Book Title brings up a list of every book in eSequels’ database. Let’s say you want to dive into author Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic worlds of sci-fi or fantasy. You know she has written a book called The Dispossessed, but you aren’t sure where it falls in the chronology. Finding The Dispossessed in Search by Book Title will bring up all the books in Le Guin’s Hainish series, and you will learn that the first book in that series is called Planet of Exile.

I find it interesting to Search by Character, because the database lists not just the main characters, but some important supporting characters, as well. So, if you want to start reading books featuring Sherlock Holmes, you will find that he’s not only a character in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original series, but that several authors over the years have used him as a character in their series, as well! You can also search for characters like Winston Churchill, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Oscar Wilde, all of whom appear in some capacity or another in the eSequels.com database. Just keep in mind that the characters are listed alphabetically by first name, not last.

Next, you can Search by Location. Whether you’re fascinated by Tampa or Tuscany, this is a great way to discover a series that takes place somewhere you’d like to spend a lot of time in.

 Search by Subject – really, it’s browsing – is a great way to find a new series to explore. Say you want to read a series on Celtic mythology, but you don’t know where to begin. The Celtic mythology page on eSequels lists 24 different authors who have written Celtic mythology series. Clicking on any of those author links will bring up a summary of each book, and tell you the correct reading order of the series.

Lastly, you can Search by Keyword. This can help you if all other searches have failed. Searching this way takes a little longer, the website warns; but you can enter up to two keywords or terms. The search will only return results that contain all the terms you enter. I tested this function by entering the terms “Prince Edward Island” and “orphan.” The search took me right to the page for L. M. Montgomery’s beloved Anne of Green Gables series.

Now that you know about these cool features, I hope you’re excited to start browsing on your own. But if you’d like some guidance on popular and classic series, keep reading to find a few random selections. When the series description appears in quotation marks, I have taken it from eSequels.com.


Emily of New Moon series by L. M. Montgomery (classic, all-ages)

This is one of my personal favorite series. Like Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon takes place on Montgomery’s native Prince Edward Island in Canada, with an intelligent, passionate heroine who grows from childhood to adulthood. But, as wonderful as Anne Shirley is, Emily Starr is a more three-dimensional character. The stories are deeper, more introspective, and more realistic, which makes sense when one considers that Montgomery identified more strongly with aspiring writer Emily than with Anne. The author explored some of her real emotions and experiences through the character of Emily Starr. Emily’s adventures are sometimes dark, sometimes joyous, sometimes funny – and sometimes all three – but they are always beautiful.

Dirk Gently series by Douglas Adams (sci-fi, humor, action)

“Dirk Gently is a “holistic” private eye, brilliant but rather seedy, who uses his psychic powers to find lost cats or to save the human race. Like the [Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] series, the “holistic” detective series is a blend of science fiction, humor, and action, entertainingly presenting some mind-boggling ideas.”

Jack Reacher series by Lee Child (action, thriller)

“Jack Reacher is the linchpin of a series of thrillers which are regarded by some critics as the best going today. Jack is a tall, 250-pound, taciturn, ex-U.S. Military Police Major, who can kill with his bare hands. He is a Robin Hood type with his share of problems, which he doesn’t brood about, being basically a rather cheerful fellow. These very exciting, action-filled novels, which take Reacher all around the U.S., are character-driven more than plot-driven with a protagonist who is basically likeable despite his lethal potential.”

Lady Emily series by Tasha Alexander (mystery, historical)

“Lady Emily Ashton is an unconventional Victorian widow. After her husband of six months, Philip, Viscount Ashton, big game hunter and classical antiques collector, dies on an African hunting expedition, she uncovers a number of Philip’s secrets, which lead her to the first of her adventures. Eventually Emily acquires a new husband, debonair British intelligence agent Colin Hargreaves, with whom she shares a series of romantic, suspenseful adventures in places as far afield as Constantinople.”

Myth series by Robert Asprin (fantasy, humor)

“Next to Thieves’ World, Asprin is best known for his fantasy series, Myth, which he started as a satire on what he regarded as the overblown and pretentious heroic fantasy series of the 1970s. … Although the series started as satire, it acquired a regular cast of characters, … and became more farcical than satirical. “Myth” has remained extremely popular, especially with young adult readers and fans of humorous fantasy novels laced with puns.”

The Mitford Years series by Jan Karon (cozy, Christian-themed)

“The series set in the fictional North Carolina mountain town of Mitford … has been a publishing phenomenon. Readers have really taken to their hearts Episcopal priest Father Tim Kavanaugh and his neighbors. Mitford, unlike many fictional hamlets, has no violence or illicit sex. Its characters are slightly eccentric but nice, mainly concerned with their relationship with God and Jesus. The main storyline concerns Father Tim’s realization of his loneliness, his adoption of a stray dog, and his relationship with [his neighbors].”

Pendergast series by Douglas Preston (supernatural thriller, mystery)

“The Pendergast books are a series of wild adventures which feature more than a dollop of horror and SF elements. Interesting villains, such as Pendergast’s brilliant but evil brother, Diogenes, populate the novels. Serial killers abound, along with mad scientists, and feisty women.”

Lost in translation? Not anymore! Learn a new language with Powerspeak!

By Jessica Dunkel, Reference Departmentpowerspeak-languages

We all have our own reasons to learn a new language: traveling and exploring new worlds, connecting with loved ones (or strangers) at home and in faraway places, exercising the untapped power of our brain, being able to watch foreign films without those pesky subtitles, and the list goes on. For some, learning a new language is not a luxury but a necessity for survival and connection in a new country. If your goal is fluency or simply mastering a sentence in Japanese for fun, Powerspeak Languages is a proven and powerful way to gain quick language proficiency.


What is it?

Powerspeak Languages is an online program that offers fluency through immersion. Rather than rote memorization or the dreaded flash card, Powerspeak uses pictures, audio, video, and interactive lessons and games for a deeper, more culturally authentic learning experience. Their aim is to transform you into a global citizen who truly understands the language in a cultural context.

Languages include: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean. English as a second language (ESL) is also available for Spanish and Mandarin speakers.


 

Other neat features:

Powerspeak allows you to choose how far you want to take your learning experience. You can begin with the regular activities and, if you want to take it to the next level, choose the More Practice feature to review what you’ve learned. The Dig Deeper feature helps you go above and beyond for maximum language proficiency.

Powerspeak combines both written material and audio samples to improve your reading and listening/speaking comprehension. For those of us who are visual learners, they also include photos of things like food, transportation, and places you’d actually encounter within the country.


 

Ok, that’s awesome. But is it free?

Of course! One of the barriers for all second language learners is the expense of classes and study materials. But through the library’s website, you can create your own online profile entirely for free! You can even create your own profile to keep track of your progress as you master your new language.


 

Why am I still reading this? I’ve got language learning to do!

And here’s how:

  1. Go to our Library’s homepage: http://lib.williamson-tn.org/
  2. To the left of the screen, click on eLibrary Digital and then Databases by Title
  3. Click on O – P and select Powerspeak Languages
  4. Your log-in will be your Williamson County Library card number
  5. Create an account and make sure to log in every time you use Powerspeak so it will keep track of your progress. (Click the “Returning User? Log in!” button on the top right hand of the home screen to log in after you’ve made your profile).

As always, please call 615-595-1243 with any questions.

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