By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Last year they asked me to make up a list for the New Year Reading Challenge. Apparently I did a good enough job that they’ve asked me to do it again. Last year I talked about all the benefits of reading. How it can help with empathy, stress, high blood pressure, and even reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease. These are all great and laudable reasons to read, but the main thing that I’d like to work on this year is fostering a love to read. According to a Gallup poll, between 1978 and 2014 the percentage of people in the United States that hadn’t picked up a book in a year or more close to tripled from 8% to 23% [i](and they even counted the audiobook listeners as readers). That it has tripled is bad enough, that it is nearing a full quarter of the population is startling.
The average number of books read per capita was 12 in 2015, but the voracious readers inflated that number a bit and the most common given response to a survey of readers when asked for the number of books they’d read in the last year was four[ii]. Four?… Four! How in the world am I supposed to make a book challenge list to attract the average person when they only read a book a season?
I realized that this blog is usually read by readers. We word hungry book people that push the average up to twelve books a year. This year I thought I’d make it both a little easier and a little harder. There are two less books this year, but the suggestions are more specific. If you can read two books a month, regardless of the themes below, great! But if you like to push yourself, try to keep up with the challenge and if you need help finding a book ask your local librarians for help. We’ve always got suggestions.
- It’s a new year, read something new. Pick a book that was published in the last 2 months.
- Renew your spirit for the New Year, read something that inspires you.
- It’s African American History Month. Read a book by an African American author.
- Read a book with a romantic theme or subplot, It doesn’t have to be a romance novel, just a little love will do.
- Award Season is wrapping up. Read a book that has won an award. 
- For Women’s History Month, read a book by a female author or with a female main character.
- Read a collection of poetry for national poetry month.
- Spring has arrived, read an article in a periodical about nature
- Free Comic Book Day is May 6th. Read a graphic novel, comic book or manga.
- Teacher Appreciation week is in May. Read a book that is required reading for school. 
- Get a book recommendation from a dad.
- Read a book about the outdoors, whether it’s a story, travel guide or field guide.
- July 4th celebrates independence, be free to read a book of your choice.
- Find a beach read, something fun and enjoyable, regardless of whether you are going to the beach.
- It’s hot in the south in august. Read something form a southern writer.
- Go back to school by reading a book you loved or were supposed to read in high school or college.
- Harvest time brings to mind great food, find a book about food or cooking that you might enjoy.
- Read a book that has been banned in September to celebrate Banned Books Week 9/29-10/6/18
- Read a book about something that scares you. It doesn’t have to be H.P. Lovecraft, just that you challenge your fears.
- Halloween means treats and sweets. Try a little brain candy. Read a book just for its entertainment value.
- Election season is close at hand. Read about the issues and the candidates.
- Find a book about someone, somewhere or something less fortunate to help you be thankful for what you have.
- Find a book that takes place in winter to match the weather outside.
- Add Jolabokaflod to your holiday calendar. Give books as gifts on December 24th and spend some time reading one.[iii]
-  Some links to great award sites are available here: http://www.bookspot.com/awards/
-  Here is a list of common Required reading books: https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/high-school-required-reading
- [i] https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/the-decline-of-the-american-book-lover/283222/
- [ii] https://www.irisreading.com/how-many-books-does-the-average-person-read/
- [iii] Jolabokaflod is the Icelandic tradition of giving books as presents on Christmas Eve and reading as a family for the rest of the night.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Every year countless people create lists of things they never actually intend to do. Well…that’s a bit unfair. They enter into these lists of resolutions for the New Year with all the hope and enthusiasm that a new beginning can impart. Realistically though, many of us can barely remember what we resolved to do by the time we get to May and have failed to follow through on those resolutions to any significant degree. So while we are thinking about what we want to lose, give up, start doing or ramp up let us all take a moment to try to add something fun to our list with a book challenge. (And yes, a book challenge is fun; this is a library’s blog for pity’s sake!)
Reading is a great deal more than a past time. Slipping into the world of a new book brings you so many benefits that this resolution may be on par with exercising more or quitting smoking. Reading exercises your mind, keeps it limber and increases the memory. A National Academy of Sciences study has shown that people who read regularly are two and a half times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease[i]. It has also been shown that reading literary fiction helps increase your ability to empathize with others[ii]. Who doesn’t need to improve their empathy skills? Some books can even lower blood pressure and reduce stress[iii] and help stave off symptoms of mild mental disorders[iv]. Also, you gain new knowledge. Think of all the things you can learn and combine this with the improved vocabulary and increased attention span readers develop. These are real benefits to other parts of your life. Go for it!
Take this list of suggestions and challenge yourself to read more, or step outside of your comfort genre. Here is a list of twenty-six challenges, one book for every two weeks.
- Try a book outside of your usual genres.
- Read a book your mother would love.
- Read a book your mother would hate.
- Pick a color at random and read a book with that color cover.
- Find a book with a song title or lyric for a title.
- Choose a book to read with a friend.
- Read one that they choose.
- Re-read your favorite book from childhood.
- Read something with your family, with everyone taking a chapter in turn.
- Read something from an author that you’ve never heard of before.
- Read a book about your guilty pleasure, something you’d never admit to reading.
- Find an aisle in the library you’ve never gotten something from and choose a book from there.
- Get a book from the young adult section. You’ll be surprised how enjoyable they can be.
- Try a book that discusses your religious beliefs or lack thereof.
- Try one that discusses someone else’s.
- Find a book about or set in your favorite part of history.
- Read a collection of short stories or novellas from a single author.
- Read a book that is related to a movie or television show you enjoy.
- Read a literary journal i.e. The New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, etc.
- Pick a book from that journal and read that.
- Read a magazine from the month and year you were born, cover to cover.
- Read a book you read or were supposed to read in high school or university.
- Read a graphic novel. They’re not just comic books anymore.
- Read an eBook.
- Read a book based on the recommendation of a stranger.
- Pick your favorite book that you’ve read from this list and read more about it. If it’s Fiction find a non-fiction book related to it. If it’s non-fiction find a fiction book that contains elements of it.
If you’re ambitious try them all, less so, pick and choose. Set your limit where you are comfortable and maybe this year, this will be a resolution you keep.
- [i] http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=117588&page=1
- [ii] Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind, David Comer Kidd, Emanuele Castano. Science 18 Oct 2013: Vol. 342, Issue 6156, pp. 377-380
- [iii] http://www.kumon.co.uk/blog/reading-reduces-stress-levels/
- [iv] http://articles.latimes.com/2013/feb/04/entertainment/la-et-jc-reading-mental-health-not-self-help-20130204
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
We all know that many thousands of people gather in Times Square in New York City each year on December 31 and millions watch and celebrate at home. But why? Why December 31? And when did the ball drop in New York City become the American celebration it is?
We have to go way back in history to find out why January 1 is the beginning of the year, at least to most of us. The Jewish calendar and the Chinese calendar don’t begin on January 1. Neither does the Islamic calendar. In ancient times, the new year started for most civilizations after the Spring Equinox. It wasn’t until the time of Julius Caesar that our modern calendar was established. The calendar had gotten badly out of sync with the sun. That’s what happens when the year is only 10 months long. Julius Caesar added two months to the calendar (July and August, for Julius and Augusts, respectively.) He also established January 1 as the beginning of the year. Most European countries used the Julian calendar until it was replaced by the Gregorian calendar in 1582, which we still use today. That caused a great deal of unrest and problems, but that is another story.
Pope Gregory XIII, who invented the Gregorian calendar, also kept January 1 as the beginning of the year. Throughout history, January 1 was celebrated riotously, sometimes to excess. So much excess that these celebrations were banned after the Protestant Revolution. It took a while for fun and joy to return. Most people probably had a quiet celebration at home. Make you wonder how Scrooge would have celebrated the New Year.
New York was a happening town in the 19th century, bustling with life and many, many people. Around the beginning of the century, people began getting together to celebrate and welcome in the New Year. It didn’t take long to organize special events. People began to gather at times Square to celebrate New Year’s in 1904. It didn’t take long for the most famous celebration in the United States to start. The first ball drop was in 1907. But it was nothing like we see now. It was made of iron and wood, covered in 25 watt light bulbs—it weighed 700 hundred pounds! Made by a young immigrant metalworker named Jacob Starr; Mr. Starr formed the company that for most of the 1900s provided the ball for each new year celebration. And lest we think the lighted glasses and blinking light hats revelers wear are new, people wore battery-powered glasses in 1908!
In 1920, the ball’s weight was reduced to only 400 pounds. That ball was in use up until 1955, when an aluminum ball was introduced, weighing much less. In 1980, red lights were added and a green lit stem, making the ball look like an apple—for the New York: The Big Apple campaign. In 1988, the white lights returned; in 1998, the last aluminum ball was lowered. But for the year 2000 celebration, everything changed. That’s when Waterford Crystal and Phillips Lighting created a new, snazzier and jazzier ball! In 2007, the 100th anniversary of the ball dropping, LED lights were added to the aluminum and crystal ball. There are now 2,688 triangles on the ball, with over 30,000 LED lights make the ball more spectacular and programmable. The lights are more like programmed Christmas lights you see now. As an added bonus, and a year-round tourist attraction, the ball stays in full public view at Times Square. It weighs over 10,000 pounds (that’s five tons!) and is twelve feet in diameter. It is lowered slowly (you wouldn’t want a 5 ton object to move fast) down a 77 foot tall poll at one minute to midnight on December 31. The whole crowd counts down the last ten seconds, then the horns and screams echo throughout the city, chaos ensues and a new year begins.
Across the United States a range of cities and towns hold their own versions of the ball drop. A variety of objects are lowered or raised during the last minute of the year. The objects are usually linked to an aspect of local history or industry. Examples of objects ‘dropped’ or raised in this way include a variety of live and modeled domestic and wild animals, fruit, vegetables and more…
- In Key West, Florida, a very large conch is dropped
- Miami drops “Big Orange”
- Atlanta drops a peach – not surprising
- In Indianapolis, they started dropping an Indy race car recently
- Westover, NC drops a three-foot tall wooden flea
- In Cincinnati, a flying pig is flown (not dropped)
- Bethlehem, PA drops a 100 pound lighted Peep (the company headquarters are there…)
- Memphis drops a guitar, Nashville used to, but now it’s a musical note
- Plymouth, WI drops a huge cheese wedge, and why not?
- Boise, ID drops a huge potato
- Raleigh, NC drops a giant acorn made of brass—it weighs 900 pounds
- And for a bit of fun, Stroudsburg, PA drops ping pong balls!