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The Proper Way to Read a Book

By Lon Maxwell and Rebecca Tischler, Reference Department

Damaged Books

I blame my sister, it is completely her fault that I refuse to lend out books without making sure the other person understands that if it is not returned to me in the condition they borrowed it, they will buy me a brand new book. I’ve been reading, a lot, ever since a teacher told me to try actually reading the books instead of just looking at the pretty pretty pictures and making up a story.  I was hooked, and bought ridiculous numbers of books.  So of course, at times I was treated as a miniature lending library because of my “surplus.” I was very generous at first, especially to my sister, until she brought back one of my Harry Potter books SPLIT down the spine. SPLIT!! I repaired my poor book to the best of my abilities (I’m still waiting for it to fall apart again), and then my sister brought back another book that had WATER DAMAGE.  It’d been sitting in the RAIN! THE HORROR!!!

Needless to say, I was tired of being brought back books that I had to repair (it wasn’t just my sister, but as the little sister, I feel it is my duty to put as much blame on her as possible for my quirks).  Then I found out that someone who had been reading my copy of Pride and Prejudice until it was literally falling apart (who shall not be named), was buying themselves a brand new copy because they loved it sooo much they needed a copy of their own (after destroying mine).  So when they showed it to me, I gave them the book they had destroyed and told them that the new copy was now MINE!!! There may even have been evil laughter.  And glowing eyes… and the possibility that I grew three feet…. ANYWAY, suffice to say, that I now have rules about book lending and how others treat my books.  And then I realized, these are good ideas for ANYONE.  ALL books should be treated well.  So a co-worked and I have decided to share ideas for, HOW TO READ A BOOK!

Take it away LON!

This entertaining infographic designed by Michael Rogalsky for Quirk Books presents twelve yoga poses that combine the body simulation of yoga with the mental simulation of reading.

There are many suggestions on posture and physical attitude for reading properly, but I think they’re really just nonsense. Find the way you like to read at whatever moment you have. I have known people to hang upside down in chairs and read like that for hours. How you adjust your body is whatever suits you and your environment (I certainly wouldn’t recommend the upside down posture for, say, the bus). Maybe try book yoga.

This brings us to the book itself. For something made out of trees, books are remarkably fragile. You never want to bend a book cover back around the spine of a book. I’ve see many a paperback fall apart because someone felt it would be easier to read if they could view one page at a time. In hardbacks, this is impossible, but paperbacks are sufficiently pliable to be contorted this way. The problem is that the signatures (the individual sections of pages) are glued to the spine. When you bend the book past a certain degree the glue cracks and you can end up with chapter 27 floating free in the wind while you run after it.

When you want to mark a page, never dog ear the corner. Folding paper creates a point of weakness. Over time the corner will break off. Use a bookmark whenever possible, which means always. You don’t need one of those tasseled slips of laminated card from by the register at your favorite book store. Use whatever you have to hand. If you search your pockets wallet or purse you will most likely find a receipt from something. These make excellent improvised place holders. You will want to avoid things that may have food residue or adhesives on them as these can degrade the paper over time, so that gum wrapper is not the best idea.

Often you will find that you run across a section or passage of a book that you want to preserve or share. Writing and highlighting in books has two camps, those who shudder at the thought and those that think we who shudder need to take a deep breath more often. I hate running across a used book that I’ve been seeking for ages only to find the pages marked up by some prior bibliophile, and librarians will go apoplectic when they find it in the lending books. Personally, I endorse the use of sticky notes and flags, but only for temporary use. The preservation department of the Smithsonian Institute thinks differently. The notes and flags do leave behind an adhesive that will attract dirt and can contain chemicals harmful to the paper over time. If there is something that impresses you so much that you want to preserve, annotate or expound on it, then purchase a little journal to record the passage and your thoughts. You can even note the page in your book journal to return for later perusing.

Now for the big no-nos:

  1. Don’t read while you eat. Think about a bag of Cheetos and your favorite tome. Imagine how every page would end up with greasy orange fingerprints if you ate them while reading. I’m pretty sure that my wife would murder me and never feel a moments remorse if I got cool ranch powder on her first edition of Visions of Cody. The thing is, all food has these residues. They’re just not the color of orange highlighter.  Food residue contains acids and oils that damage paper as well as attract bugs that eat paper like roaches. Always eat lunch while reading? Your bookcase is full of enough food particulates and paper to make a cockroach buffet.
  2. Don’t read in the tub, regardless of whether the book is in the tub with you or not. Paper and water do not play well. That includes the humidity that steams up your mirrors.  The same goes for the beach with the added dangers of sand and salt, camping with its grime and weather, and boating with all of the above and an unsteady platform on which to place yourself. I know the joys of reading on the beach and while camping, so if you do decide to chance it, try to save it for those cheap mass market books you pick up at the pharmacy or grocery store.

After all this you may think that I’m some sort of book preservation fanatic, and you’d probably be right. I work in a library after all. However if you enjoy books, you most likely want to share that love with others. Give them the best possible book when you loan them out by avoiding simple damage. If you like these suggestions and want to learn more about preserving your collection as a whole, please see our printed material preservation article.

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Bizarre Inventions in History (even though they’re useful)

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

Since man learned that there were things in the natural world that he could bend and shape to make his life easier, inventors (however primitive they may have been at the start) have sought for new ways to make our lives easier. In some instances these inventions were stumbled across entirely by accident. Others, revolutionary at their time of inception, have become so common place that we rarely even remark on their origin. Yet these inventions and inventors have transfigured our daily life.

Think back to a time when early man began to use fire. Now we didn’t invent fire, it was most likely gathered naturally from lightning strikes and then kept burning in family shelters for up to centuries. Evidence of this can be found in a cave in China where a fire was kept burning for so long it left a bed of ashes twenty-two feet deep[i]. What they invented was a method to make fire on their own. Now, when you light your fire pit, gas oven or even just start your car, you don’t think about the amazingly complex reactions you’re continuing or their inventor. Similarly, many of the everyday inventions we use don’t even occur to us to be special.

Arguably the biggest impact on everyday life in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries comes in the form of the automobile. While steam trains predate the car, they were limited to the areas that their tracks ran leaving those outside the rail service stuck using the same method of transportation we’d been using for 5,000 years, the horse. Now a carriage comes along with nothing to pull it other than the torque provided by a new method of harnessing that fire our ancestors shepherded so carefully. It’s no wonder that some people thought the whole thing a ridiculous fad. Similarly, when we deigned to light our homes for thousands of years we burnt something: oil, wax, fat or natural gas. It is an amazing leap to move to light bulbs, something that just glowed with the application of electricity. The idea that you could just use these metal and glass contraptions that you hooked in to deadly electricity was considered quite dangerous, even by people who were used to lighting volatile natural gas in their lamps.

As you can see these inventions, along with vulcanized rubber, powered flight, assembly lines and telephones, made the turn of the nineteenth century a time when anybody could completely restructure our daily lives with the newest inventions. All of these things we take for granted were harebrained schemes and crazy pipedreams.

While many innovators have pushed the boundaries of our world with a will and determination, some have stumbled across ideas and devices completely by accident.  Things we’re all used to as models of modern engineering were originally flubs, failures and freak accidents.

Take the microwave for instance. Now you get home after a long day at work, too tired to cook and you throw some leftovers in a magic box for a minute or two and it comes out hot and ready to eat (well, except for the middle, that’s still ice cold).  You’d think some scientific genius would have brought this gift of intellect to us, but actually not so much. A man working with an especially strong magnetron to improve radar for the Raytheon Corporation noticed something odd. The gentleman in question was Percy Spencer, a self-taught grammar school dropout who worked hard enough and had enough natural brilliance to go from the paper mills of Maine to developing and producing radar equipment for M.I.T.’s Radiation Laboratory. He noticed that while working with the magnetron, the chocolate in his pocket melted. He wasn’t the first to see this, just the first to investigate why it happened. From this radar experiment he went on to try it on another food source, targeting a direct radar beam on the food produced a result, and now 70 years late countless households reenact his first experiments nightly when they microwaves bags of popcorn.[ii]

Matches were an accident as well. The lighter may seem newer, but it actually predates the match by three years. The new-fangled match was created when an English Pharmacist noticed a buildup of chemicals on his stirring stick. When he attempted to scrape off the offending chemicals, the stick ignited. That must have been a bit of a shock to Mr. Walker, the pharmacist in question. [iii]

By far my favorite happy accident was the Popsicle. Eleven year old Frank Epperson had been mixing a powdered fruit flavored beverage with a wooden stick. He left the drink out on a cold night and it froze. In the morning he warmed the glass and removed the ice block with its wooden stirring stick still frozen inside. By chance he took a lick of the ice and now children everywhere have one of their own to thank for one of the most famous frozen treats. [iv]

Even being at best absent minded, at worst lazy, can lead to one of the greatest inventions of all time. Dr. Alexander Fleming hadn’t cleaned his lab before leaving for his summer holidays. When he came back he found an untidy workspace that included some exposed petri dishes. Some had a strange mold on them that repelled the bacteria around it. After a little tinkering and some concerted mold culturing, Fleming was able to reproduce the accidental experiment, leading to the development of penicillin.[v]

Some inventions come into being like embryos, bearing a slight resemblance to the finished product. There are a great number of these out there that were crazy when they were first proposed, but are now gaining traction.

  • Yves Rossy may have finally perfected the Jet pack we’ve all been waiting for.
  • The Inter auto, a spool to spool map that moved as you drove was like a nascent GPS.
  • The Laryngophone, a means for speaking over telephone lines without use of your mouth has become the modern day throat mics of pilots.
  • Hugo Gernsback once decided to make a wearable pair of small cathode ray tubes to produce a 3D television experience. This concept is finally coming to fruition with google glass and all the VR headgear attachments you can buy for your smart phones.
  • Even the idea of the radio controlled lawn mower is reaching fruition. Who doesn’t want a remotely operated spinning blade moving across your yard? Roomba is readying a yard version of the famous vacuum for market.

The future may hold glorious new devices or more feasible innovations on weird ideas from the past. More unforeseen consequences may lead us to new discoveries. Something you see on the “as seen on TV” shelf may turn out to change the lives of every person on earth. You never know.


[i] The Cartoon History of the Universe Vols. 1-7 By Larry Gonick, 1990  902.07 GON

[ii] https://www.csmonitor.com/Technology/2012/1005/The-20-most-fascinating-accidental-inventions/Microwave-oven

[iii] http://www.historyofmatches.com/matches-history/who-invented-matches/

[iv] http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/frozen-history-the-story-of-the-popsicle

[v] http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/the-real-story-behind-the-worlds-first-antibiotic/

So, a Shark…Nado?… and Other Strange Phenomena

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

By now, anyone who has strayed into the modern miasma of pop culture is familiar with the concept of giant sharks dropped in L.A. by water spouts while has-been and never-will-be actors line up to kill or be killed. It’s ridiculous. It’s impossible. It’s ludicrous. It’s not as weird as some things found in nature.

One of the most common types of odd phenomenon is the optical illusion. Our atmosphere likes to play with light a great deal more than you might expect. Take for instance the green flash. This odd blink of green light just as the top ridge of the sun hits the horizon is rumored to bring good luck in love. In actuality it is the light of the sun’s journey through more atmosphere than any other time that absorbs the lower wavelengths of light, leaving green. It’s also visible right as the sun hits the horizon at dawn, but being diurnal creatures, most of us aren’t watching for it then. Other optical phenomenon, when light and water, ice or dust interact includes sun dogs (small sun like balls on either side of the sun), light pillars (a ray of light going straight up from the sun when it is near the horizon) and arcs or rings around the sun. The most impressive are, or can be, the fata morgana. The fata morgana is a mirage caused by the drastic temperature differences in the atmosphere causing something to appear to be floating in the sky. They can be as basic as a boat appearing to be above the surface of the water to as complex as the city in the clouds seen over Foshan China in October of 2015.

Frost Flowers, photographed by Mark Adams

The atmosphere can produce other bizarre things as well, in the form of weather phenomena. Frost flowers form on plants and frozen surfaces. They’re actually two separate phenomena. The ones that form in meadows are windblown frost crystals that accumulate into curling petal-like structures. The crystal structures at sea are formed from ice crystals freezing from the atmosphere creating long chains the stretch out similar to ferns or cacti.

Another amazing weather phenomenon is the Catatumbo Lightning. This is a raging lightning storm in Venezuela with an average of 280 strikes per hour, ten hours per day up to 260 days out of the year. The air and water currents make for a spectacular light show that has been going on for years. Although it pales in comparison with the Great Red Spot on Jupiter, a cyclonic storm that has been continually observed for over 300 years, and was probably seen earlier than that.

Tales of fish or frogs falling from the sky date back to Pliny the Elder in the first century. The predominant theory involves tornados or waterspouts picking up the animals and depositing them outside their natural habitat. There have been documented occurrences of everything from fish to frogs, to even jellyfish in England in 1864 and spiders in Australia in 2015 (no sharks though).

Natural climate activity does not have a monopoly on the unusual event front.  Animals have a few crazy occurrences of their own. Crop circles have been seen all over, but under the water? Seven foot diameter patterned circles popped up off the coast of Japan. The cause is a mating display by one species of puffer fish.

Pyrosoma

Also underwater are great tube-like things called pyrosomes. The structures look like jelly fish and can stretch up to 60 feet in length, but they are not actually a single organism. Each tube is composed of hundreds or thousands of individual organisms that are actually clones of one another. These zooids such water in through mouths on the outside of the tube and all expel the water thrught the center, creating a jet like propulsion.

The red crabs of Christmas Island also observe an insane mating display. Every year in late October or early November millions of crabs make a journey from the mountains to the sea shores to mate and release their eggs on the tide.  They cover the ground and cause roads to be closed. A month later a seething carpet of ant sized baby crabs return from the water and make their way back into the mountainous forests to mature.

When we think of something that is as plain as plain can be we often go to water as an example. However, water can elicit some strange effects while doing nothing out of the ordinary. At the confluence of the rivers Negro and Amazon you can see two separate rivers flow within the same banks, one brown and one black, for miles until they truly merge. In Alaska a similar situation occurs when glacial melt water encounters the sea. Both of these situations result from different particulates in the suspension of the particular body of water in question.  The Negro is a slow moving river with a lot of vegetation that steeps in the river like tea, while the faster Amazon carries a lot of sediment. The Glacial melt also meets the differently dense ocean carrying particulates the leave a clear line where one starts and the other stops. The most extreme examples of this are the underwater pools. Yes, SpongeBob was right, there are pools of water under the water but I don’t think anyone wants to take a dip here. High salinity and dissolved methane mean that almost anything that goes in this pool is not leaving.

In some cases, Mother Nature is trying to add insult to injury. Imagine frozen wastelands with explosive bubbles and volcanic lightning. Methane comes back here as bubbles are forming in arctic lakes. These dangerous little spheres are close to the surface too. All it takes is an ice axe, a lighter and an extreme lack of sense to create a fountain of fire for anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. The methane rises from the ground beneath the lakes and usually passes through into the atmosphere, but during the winter the bubbles can be trapped, waiting for a thaw or adventurous ice fisherman. If flaming ice wasn’t bad enough try volcanic lightning. Dirty thunderstorms, as they are called, occur when the particles in a volcanic eruption build up static electricity the discharge occurs with a bolt of lightning.  So you may be able to be struck by lightning while running away from lava and pyroclastic flow.

While not reaching the level of sharks dropping from the sky in danger, the natural world sure does have its share of weird and amazing phenomena.

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You’ve All Heard of Limericks, I’m Sure

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

Limericks can even be done for Math!

You’ve all heard of Limericks, I’m sure
Whether racy or actually pure
They’re funny old rhymes
From good old times
And the good ones are rarely demure

They all start in jolly old Britain
Whose poems were occasionally written
In lyrical styles
To bring forth some smiles
And the poets were instantly smitten

City of Limerick, Ireland

The name, it comes from good green Erin
The Maigue Poets used to declare in
the city, Limerick.
Those bards got a kick
from the poetry style used there in.

The transition to bawdier verse
(Or something ocassionally worse).
The decade was roaring
and not a bit boring,
still, reactions were quite terse.

Original Edward Lear Limerick

There once was a man, name of Lear
Who wrote them, though not very clear
His meanings were nonsense
With ridiculous contents
And his fame stretches from then to here

Some people delight to change form
From the meter and scheme as a norm
They sometimes depart
On whole, a la cart
But can do so in in whatever manner they choose and still leave it mildly humorous

So let us praise the limerick this way
On this, the Limerick’s Day
They bring joy and delight
And the length is just right
Except like now when I’m carried away!

As one last PS I must add
A very hard time I have had
To not use Nantucket
Or mention a bucket
But I know that would really be bad.

National Humor Month: Weird Library and Literary Facts

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

Once again the time has come for us to make you smile through the medium of the blogosphere. Last year we regaled you of the rather painstakingly concocted tale of St. Hilarius, to some fanfare. This year however, a different tack is needed. This year I am going to give you some of the most outrageous books and library facts imaginable. All will be true and factual. That’s what I deal in, you know facts. So hold on to your mouse for some of the great absurdities of literature and libraries.

Portrait of Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) by Anton Raphael Mengs

  1. Libraries have more cardholders than Visa.
  2. Libraries have more locations than McDonalds.
  3. Casanova, one of the greatest lovers in history, was a librarian.
  4. Ranganathan, an Indian Librarian and Mathematician, created five laws of library science (not to be confused with the three laws of robotics created by Isaac Asimov): 1) Books are for use. 2) Every reader his book. 3) Every book its reader. 4) Save the time of the user. 5) The library is a growing organism.
  5. King Æthelred, often known as the Unready, was also known as the librarian king, or Writðengel, because of his large collection of hand copied manuscripts.
  6. Before becoming a leader in the Chinese communist movement, Mao Tse Tung was a librarian at Beijing University.
  7. 331.892829225209712743090511 is the longest Dewey decimal number on record. It deals with labor relations in tractor manufacturing in Canada in 2001.
  8. The book How the World Began, written in 1962, is the work of the youngest published author ever, Dorothy Straight, who penned the book for her grandmother at age four.
  9. The first prose novel, The Tale of the Genji, was written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu 1000 years ago (approximately 1008 CE).
  10. William Shakespeare is credited with inventing more words than any other single person. Among his creations are: hurry, boredom, disgraceful, hostile, money’s worth, obscene, puke, perplex, on purpose, shooting star, and sneak.
  11. While in Tangiers, William S. Burroughs was known to put his cat, Ginger, into a child’s suit and insist he be served in cafes.
  12. The longest sentence in the book Les Miserables is 823 words long, and it still falls short of the current record holder. Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age(1964) by Bohumil Hrabal is a novel made up of a single sentence that goes on for 128 pages.
  13. In early drafts of Gone with the Wind, Scarlet O’Hara was named Pansy.
  14. Generations have grown up with the Arab street urchin Aladdin, but the original story from Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights begins, “Aladdin was a little Chinese boy.”
  15. The Land of Oz is named after a filing cabinet. L. Frank Baum had two; one was A-N the other O-Z.
  16. Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham using less than 50 different words on a dare from his editor. John Milton used more than 8,000 different words to write Paradise Lost.
  17. Orson Wells radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, of October 30, 1938, was so realistic that people actually believed there was an alien invasion occurring just outside the New York metropolitan area. Police attempted to break in the broadcast studio to end the show because of the number of distraught calls they were receiving.
  18. Lisbeth Slander, from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is based on Stieg Larsson’s idea of what Pippi Longstocking would be like as a grown up.
  19. A note from The Strand Magazine – September 1903

    Sherlock Holmes may have had the first real fandom. When Arthur Conan Doyle killed off the famous detective he had begun to tire of in His Last Bow, over 20,000 people canceled their subscription to The Strand Magazine. In his autobiography, Doyle writes, “They say that a man is never properly appreciated until he is dead, and the general protest against my summary execution of Holmes taught me how many and numerous were his friends. ‘You Brute!’ was the beginning of a letter which one lady sent me….”

  20. The first book bought on Amazon was called Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought.
  21. Bibliosmia is the enjoyment of the smell of old books.
  22. Agatha Christie disliked her creation Hercule Poirot, calling him “a detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep.”
  23. Evelyn Waugh’s first wife’s name was Evelyn. They were known as ‘He-Evelyn’ and ‘She-Evelyn’.
  24. Edgar Allen Poe, famous for his horror stories, actually invented the mystery genre and was one of the first to propose a solution to the cosmological problem known as Olbers’ Paradox.
  25. Stephen King was once arrested for vandalism when he went into a bookstore in Virginia and began signing copies of his book.
  26. Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge joined the army under the name Silas Tomkyn Cumberbatch.
  27. Noted diarist, Samuel Pepys, made the first recorded instance of an English person drinking tea on 25 September 1660.
  28. Mickey Spillane insisted that 50,000 copies of his book Kiss Me, Deadly be destroyed for a single typo. The comma was left off the title.
  29. Duran Duran: The First Four Years of the Fab Five(1984) was Neil Gaiman’s first published book.
  30. Owing to failing eyesight, James Joyce wrote much of his novel, Finnegan’s Wake, in crayon on pieces of cardboard.
  31. Portrait of Roald Dahl taken 20 April 1954 by Photographer Carl Van Vechten

    Roald Dahl was a taste tester for Cadbury’s Chocolate in his youth.

  32. Ian Fleming based many of the traits of James Bond on his friend and amiable rival, Roald Dahl. The two met while working for British Intelligence.
  33. J. R. R. Tolkien was once known to have dressed up as an axe-wielding Anglo-Saxon warrior and chased his neighbor as a jest.
  34. The Count of Monte Cristo has such a vivid and realistic description of Dantes’s incarceration due to the fact that Dumas drew upon his recollection of his own time in prison for breaking the appellation d’origine controlee laws (essentially selling counterfeit cheese).
  35. The Hogwarts houses names were originally written down on an air sickness bag because J. K. Rowling came up with them while on a plane.
  36. In 1871, Mark Twain held patents for a scrapbooking technique and for an elastic hook and eye strap for garments similar to those used on modern bras.
  37. Ernest Vincent Wright wrote his 50,000 word novel, Gadsby, without using the letter “e”. Georges Perec did the same thing in French with his novel, La Disparition, but it has the added quality of being translated into English, German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Russian, Turkish, Dutch, Romanian, Croatian and Japanese all without using the most common letter in their respective language.
  38. M6 Toll Junction T1 in the UK, those poor books

    In building the M6 Toll Road in the UK, some 2.5 million Mills & Boon (equivalent to the American Harlequin romances) novels were pulped and mixed into the tarmac to help the surface absorbency.

  39. While visiting a Harry Potter chat room J. K. Rowling was told to be quiet because she didn’t know enough about Harry Potter.
  40. The Alice who inspired Alice in Wonderland is not the same one who inspired Through the Looking Glass.

So that is the list of the craziest facts about books, authors and libraries I could find. (Okay, I also spend a fair amount of time writing fiction as well so I may have made up a few of these to add a little spice to the mix. Sorry, I can’t let the first of April go by without some fun). Were you able to figure out the crazy but true from the too good to be true? Here are the purposeful missteps:

  • King Æthelred was not known as the librarian king. His successor, Alfred the Great, was the first English king to author books.
  • Ian Fleming and Roald Dahl did have a friendly, gentleman’s rivalry during their time in the O.S.S. and Dahl was a war hero and lady’s man, but when asked about his inspiration, Fleming did not list his old chum Dahl.
  • Alexandre Dumas never served a day in jail for any crime, and chees was not added to the AoC laws until 1925.
  • Stephen King was once mistaken for a vandal in a bookstore in Alice Springs, Australia when he went in and began signing copies of his books, but the owner realized who he was long before the authorities were called.
  • Burroughs did have a cat named Ginger and got up to some amazing antics in Morocco, but putting Ginger in a suit was not one of them (that we know of).

Tolkien Reads Day

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

Every year on the Twenty-fifth of March the Tolkien Society holds a Tolkien Read Day. This is the day that marks the climactic moment in Professor Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. If you know enough to argue the vagaries of converting the Gondorion calendar or the Shire Reckoning into modern Gregorian calendars then you know enough about this already. The focus for this year for the Tolkien Society is “Poetry and Songs in Tolkien’s Fiction”. Although, this is a very interesting topic for many students and fans of Tolkien’s work, I think it lacks appeal to the general reader. You can get too focused on the minutia of the true devotee’s passion and miss a chance to spread something you love to other readers, young and old alike.

My own journey through Middle Earth started when I was five and my dad started reading me The Hobbit. He really had no idea what he was starting. I’ve spread my love of these books to friends and family over the years. They’ve given me an appreciation for Tolkien’s work as well as many of the things that inspired him. Now it’s my turn to share with all of you the great experience of the depths of Tolkiana but I’m going to break it down for each type of reader.

For Kids:

For those of you who loved the books since the start of the fourth age and now want to pass along your passion to the hobbit girls and elflings in your life as well as those of you who have just refused to grow up, there are some great options. The best is a small beautifully illustrated book of Bilbo’s Last Song. It is a separate work and fairly spoiler free. You may also be interested in the books based on stories that Tolkien wrote for his children. Roverandom and Mr. Bliss are delightful stories that a creative father used to amuse and comfort his children and Tolkien’s collected Letters from Father Christmas are a great seasonal treat. If your children are interested in more of the author himself, there is the Tolkien volume of the classic Who Was… series.  In my opinion, however, nothing can beat just sitting down and reading The Hobbit. It’s a great read for later elementary or middle school readers and also a great story for parents to read to (or with) their kids. Not much of a reading family? Take the unabridged audio on your next car trip. It’s fun, exciting and completely lacking in content that will make you grab at the volume knob.

So you liked the movies:

The movies, while they have their detractors, were good. You’re the person who went to see them because of the hype, but never read the books. The best suggestion for you is to read the books. Yeah, you think you know what happens, and you do have a good amount of general plot, but there is so much more you missed. There are iconic scenes, wonderful characters, and exposition you’ve never even heard of (unless it’s from hearing one of the true believers complaining). Many people, who’ve read the books, read them again and enjoy them just the same as the first time so please give them a try. If however you’re one of those headstrong trailblazers who won’t walk the same path twice there are hundreds of imitators. Many fall utterly short, but there are a few standouts. For younger readers there are the works of Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander. Older readers may appreciate Terry Brooks Shannara series, Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar Saga novels, Juliet Marillier’s Seven Waters trilogy, or Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive series.

“I’ve read The Lord of the Rings”:

Tolkien fans are quick to discriminate between what they consider themselves to be and fans of The Lord of the Rings. Liking The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and Return of the King is not fan boy or fan girl territory, not anymore. Neither is enjoying more of Tolkien’s writing. In the last several years the Tolkien Estate has released many of the Professor’s previously unavailable or unpublished works. It began with The Silmarillion in 1977. This is the history of Bilbo, Gandalf and Aragorn’s world. It’s almost like a Middle Earth Iliad/Bible, and it reads like it. The stories are great, but the language and phraseology can put some readers off. If you like it, Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle Earth will please you as well.  The same can be said for The Children of Hurin and the forthcoming Beren and Luthien, although I have found The Children of Hurin to be easier to read than some of the others. Conversely, you could look at the professor’s more scholarly works like his attempts at interpreting King Arthur and the Nibelung with The Fall of Arthur and The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun.  There are a few other titles like these that are more obscure, but this should keep you happy for a while.

The Tolkien Fanatic:

This isn’t for the people who memorized the Cirth runes or have a grammatically correct tattoo in Tengwar. It’s for the people who were in the last category and want to make the jump into true fandom. There are two camps here, the purists and the omnivores. For the purists we start with Karen Wynn Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle Earth. For visually oriented fans this is a must. It has maps, paths, climatology and floor plans. It’s mostly conjecture, but well researched conjecture.  Then we have the art books like Realms of Tolkien and Tolkien’s World which feature great artists’ rendition of scenes from Tolkien’s work, or better still The Art of the Lord of the Rings, which features Tolkien’s own drawings and water colors.

For the less discerning, or the more voracious, there are countless encyclopedias and guides, like J.E.A. Tyler’s Tolkien Companion, or books that interpret Tolkien and his works through any number of disciplines like politics with The Hobbit Party.

The must read for everybody here is The History of Middle Earth series. This is a twelve volume set of notes, back story, commentary and alternative takes on the stories you’ve come to love so far. These are not for the faint of heart; they are interesting, but the narrative repeats and is broken up.

The Tolkien Scholar:

This is the post doc of the Tolkien realm. These books are for people who hit fandom and come out the other side truly intellectually curious. You want to know where these books came from, who was the author and where are the roots of Middle Earth. The Story of Kulervo is the most recent item on the list and a work of Tolkien himself, but it is a fragment of a greater work, The Kalevala, the Finnish national epic. Much of Tolkien’s early inspiration came from here. Tolkien also did his own translation of Beowulf and wrote a commentary, The Monster and his Critics. Both are interesting and enlightening but the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf is interesting as well. The Prose and Poetic Eddas are fascinating and full of names you will recognize, from Thorin to Gandalf. For more on Tolkien the man you can see any of the wonderful biographies, but I especially recommend Tolkien and the Great War. The Inklings can give you a wonderful look into the friendship and collaboration of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and others.

Tolkien wrote, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” The same is true for delving into Tolkien’s writing. You may just nip round the corner or you may start a journey that lasts a lifetime.

Inauguration Day

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

barack_obamas_2013_inaugural_address_at_the_u-s-_capitolSoon we will have another quadrennial celebration of the changing hands of the highest office in the land.  The inauguration is about hope. Yes, hope. Regardless of your political beliefs, we watch the events of a new presidency with hope of one kind or another. We hope the new person won’t make the mistakes of the old. We hope that our opinions will now be considered and valued. We hope this guy doesn’t screw up. We hope four years go by quickly and uneventfully. They’re all hope, some positive, some negative, but hope all the same.

This new beginning means that we all have a moment to take some time, look at our present situation as a country and decide if we are where we want to be and what we need to do to get wherever that is. This has been the burden of 43 men on 57 separate occasions. They all stood on a platform in Washington D.C., put their hand on a bible and swore to…wait, none of those things are right. True, this is the image we see when we imagine the inauguration in our mind, but none of those things are actually required for the inaugural process.

Lyndon B. Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Dallas, Texas.

Lyndon B. Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Dallas, Texas.

Washington D.C.

First of all, the inauguration does not have to be in Washington D.C. George Washington was had his first inaugural in New York and his Second in Philadelphia. Adams was also inaugurated in Philly. Two presidents have taken the oath of office in hotels due to the death of the prior president. Two took the oath in their private residences for the same reason. The most recent extraordinary inauguration was that of Lyndon Johnson in 1963 on Air Force One in Dallas.

The Bible

The Swearing and the Bible are not dictated anywhere either and neither is the phrase, “So help me God”. Due to some religions prohibiting members from swearing to anything, the option to affirm the oath was built in to the ceremony. Two presidents are believed to have done so, Hoover and Pierce. We know that Pierce did for certain even though he was an Episcopalian and was not required to avoid swearing. Hoover was a Quaker and it was believed he had used affirm, but news real footage shows he said solemnly swear. The only other Quaker president was Richard Nixon, and he also chose to swear. Theodore Roosevelt did not swear on a bible, and John Quincy Adams and that rebel Franklin Pierce swore on books of law to signify they were swearing by the Constitution.  Finally, George Washington ad libbed the line “so help me god” and most presidents have followed suit. It is the proscribed thing to complete an oath for federal judiciary members, but there is nothing in the presidential oath that requires it.

The Inauguration Address

washingtons_inauguration_at_philadelphia_cph-3g12011

The second inauguration of George Washington as President of the United States took place in the Senate Chamber of Congress Hall in Philadelphia on March 4, 1793.

The shortest inauguration address on record was Washington’s second address at one hundred and thirty-five words.

                Fellow Citizens:

I am again called upon by the voice of my country to execute the functions of its Chief Magistrate. When the occasion proper for it shall arrive, I shall endeavor to express the high sense I entertain of this distinguished honor, and of the confidence which has been reposed in me by the people of united America.

Previous to the execution of any official act of the President the Constitution requires an oath of office. This oath I am now about to take, and in your presence: That if it shall be found during my administration of the Government I have in any instance violated willingly or knowingly the injunctions thereof, I may (besides incurring constitutional punishment) be subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony.

Not exactly, “Here we go again” but short sweet and to the point. Washington’s brevity seems to be a skill many politicians these days lack. William Henry Harrison should have followed Washington’s lead. His inaugural address was the longest so far and went on for 8445 words. Many people believe this lengthy speech, combined with the cool temperatures and cold wind contributed to the cold, then pneumonia, then pleurisy and eventual death of President Harrison. He died one month later and though he had the longest address, he had the shortest presidency.

The Twentieth of January

Franklin D. Roosevelt's First Inauguration

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inauguration

Weather was the original reason why most of the early presidents were inaugurated in March. Obviously those brought up from vice president to take the place of a deceased commander in chief weren’t given the option, but Washington Himself was inaugurated in April. The Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution changed the date to the Twentieth of January. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was both the last to be inaugurated in March and the first to do so in January. Regardless of the change in date, the warmest and coldest inaugurations have occurred in the January era. President Reagan had the warmest inauguration in 1981 at 55° and the coldest, 7°, for his second in 1985

The Oath

There have been a few issues with the oath over the years as well. Chief Justice Fuller accidentally replaced the word protect with maintain in regards to the constitution when administering the oath to Taft. Ironically, Taft did the same at Hoover’s inauguration when he, Taft, was chief justice. Chief Justice Stone replaced Harry Truman’s stand-alone middle initial with the name Shipp, one of Truman’s grandfathers’ last name, but Truman just rolled with it and said Harry S. Truman anyway. Finally Barak Obama waited for Justice Rogers to realize a gaff when he put faithfully in the wrong place when reciting the oath. Rogers moved the term but still had it wrong. Rogers and Obama completed the Oath properly in the Oval Office the next day.

All these little bits of trivia notwithstanding, we can observe this inauguration in which ever spirit we choose, be it happy, sad, skeptical or hopeful. However there will be people looking for mistakes or records, swearing or affirming and what the temperature was to add this fifty-eighth inaugural to the history books.

New Year Reading Challenge

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

presentation1Every 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.

  1. Try a book outside of your usual genres.book-1705946_960_720
  2. Read a book your mother would love.
  3. Read a book your mother would hate.
  4. Pick a color at random and read a book with that color cover.
  5. Find a book with a song title or lyric for a title.
  6. Choose a book to read with a friend.
  7. Read one that they choose.
  8. Re-read your favorite book from childhood.
  9. Read something with your family, with everyone taking a chapter in turn.
  10. Read something from an author that you’ve never heard of before.
  11. Read a book about your guilty pleasure, something you’d never admit to reading.
  12. Find an aisle in the library you’ve never gotten something from and choose a book from there.
  13. Get a book from the young adult section. You’ll be surprised how enjoyable they can be.
  14. Try a book that discusses your religious beliefs or lack thereof.
  15. Try one that discusses someone else’s.
  16. Find a book about or set in your favorite part of history.
  17. Read a collection of short stories or novellas from a single author.
  18. Read a book that is related to a movie or television show you enjoy.
  19. Read a literary journal i.e. The New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, etc.
  20. Pick a book from that journal and read that.
  21. Read a magazine from the month and year you were born, cover to cover.
  22. Read a book you read or were supposed to read in high school or university.
  23. Read a graphic novel. They’re not just comic books anymore.
  24. Read an eBook.
  25. Read a book based on the recommendation of a stranger.
  26. 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.

 


Rudyard Kipling: Extreme Traveler

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

225px-rudyard_kipling_portraitRudyard Kipling, the name brings up so many different connotations, depending on how old you are. If you’re an octogenarian you may have grown up on his adventure stories. Those of you who were children of the sixties, now in your sixties yourself, may remember him as another colonialist apologist whose inclusion in your curriculum was something to fight against. If you happen to be of the eighties then the strongest connection you may have is through the cub scouts where terms like akela and law of the pack proliferate. Finally, for grade school kids, he is the guy that wrote that movie they liked so much last year. So who is the real Kipling? He is all of these things and more, including a man who couldn’t stay in place until he was in his 40’s (which was especially impressive considering that travel during that time period was quite a long undertaking).

Kipling was named after a popular lake in Staffordshire, England where his parents had met and often visited, but he was a true child of empire. He was born at the end of December, 1865 in Bombay (now called Mumbai). His father, John Lockwood Kipling, was a teacher and later principal there before moving 900 miles north to head another school in Lahore. The elder Kipling was an artist of some renown, having contributed designs to the Victoria and Albert Museum and other well-known buildings of the time as well as illustrations for his son’s books. Rudyard’s mother Alice (nee MacDonald) ran her husband’s household and did her best to help advance his career, but she also wrote and published poems, was musical and sewed.

Young Ruddy spent his first five years in Bombay with his parents before he and his younger sister Trix, then three, were sent to live and go to school in England (big move #1). Kipling refers to this time very darkly and was unhappy. After it had been determined he was not educationally suited for Oxford he returned to India (actually, what is now Pakistan) to work for a newspaper in Lahore where his father was now head of a new Art School (big move #2). It was during his time with the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore that his stories became known to others. An open minded editor allowed for more creative freedom and thus Kipling published thirty-nine stories through his newspaper. In late 1887 he transferred to a sister newspaper, The Pioneer, in Allahabad where he would publish 41 more stories (big move #3). After a dispute with The Pioneer he was sacked and decided to return to England, via Asia and North America (big move #4, via the scenic route). He traveled to San Francisco via Rangoon, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan, and before traveling extensively through the United States and Canada.

Kipling's England: A map of England showing Kipling's homes.

Kipling’s England: A map of England showing Kipling’s homes.

Upon his return to Britain, he continued writing and had a nervous breakdown. After recovering, he acquired a new publishing agent, Wolcott Balestier. It was through Wolcott that he met Caroline, called Carrie, Balestier’s sister. While traveling (visiting South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and once again India), Kipling heard of Wolcott’s untimely death and proposed to Carrie by telegram. They were married in 1892.  For a while, the Kiplings lived in the United States (big move #5) and it was here that many of his most famous works were written; Captain’s Courageous, Gunga Din and the Jungle Book. It was also here that his two daughters were born and where the older, Josephine died. After several years in new England near his wife’s family, the couple decided to return to England (final big move #6, even though he moved again within England).

It was in England that John, known as Jack, was born. Kipling continued to write and publish, and two of his works form this period, including White Man’s Burden, provide a great deal of fodder for his critics. Nonetheless, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907, the first English language author to do so. He continued to travel (mostly to South Africa) and wrote Kim at this time as well.

Lt John Kipling.

Lt John Kipling.

Seven Years later a great tragedy befell the Kiplings. With the start of World War I, their eighteen year old son Jack wanted to enlist in the Navy and once refused, the army. He was kept from doing so by poor eyesight. Rudyard, ever the patriotic Briton, called in a favor and got his son posted to the Irish Guards as an officer. Sadly, like so many young men of that time he was killed in trenches, during the Battle of Loos. His body was not identified until 1992. The loss of Jack affected Kipling. His patriotism dimmed and he began to work with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the organization that maintains the overseas graves of British Commonwealth military personnel. He did continue to write for the next twenty years. He finally passed away January the Eighteenth, 1936.

In his time Kipling was considered a great writer and thinker, but his work has been up and down since then. Many literary scholars find his stance of imperialism to be, at best, an unfortunate relic of his time and place, and at worst, uncaring racial and regional superiority. Orwell admired his ability but decried his message. Many universities removed him from curriculum due to protests in the 1960s. In the field of children’s literature however he has remained, fairly consistently, well regarded. His Jungle Book and Just So Stories have been favorites for generations and have been adapted many times for film, stage and television. His work, the Jungle Book in particular provided a structure for the new junior division of Boy Scouts Kipling’s good friend Robert Baden Powell created in 1916. Laws of the pack, Akela and Baloo are terms familiar to many people who have gone through the cub programs in many countries. While he still carries a whiff of imperialist dogma around with him, many modern scholars choose to look at him as a window to a time outside of our experience.

Read the rest of this entry

London’s Burning!

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

I hear this and immediately think of Joe Strummer howling at the start of the Clash’s song of the same name. While that was about the smoke and exhaust of the metropolitan road systems and gridlock, three hundred and fifty years ago it meant something far different. From the second to the fifth of September, 1666, London did indeed burn. A huge swath of the old medieval city of London, north of the Thames, was nothing but ash.

Great_Fire_London

The great fire of 1666 was not a terrorist plot like the abortive attempt to destroy parliament from sixty some years before with Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder plot. It did not have anything to do with the English Civil War and the return of the monarchy six years prior with the coronation of Charles II. It didn’t even directly tie to the plague outbreak the year prior, although that did lend some contributing factors. No, while Great Britain in the 17th century was a tumultuous place, the fire began in a most mundane way. It started with a stray spark from a bakery oven.

Just after midnight on 2 September 1666, the bakery of Thomas Farriner caught fire. Farriner, baker to King Charles II, lived above the bakery with his three children and a servant. The Family was unable to get to the street but did manage to get into the next house through an upstairs window. The serving woman, terrified by the situation refused and became the first victim of the fire. By the end of the day on Sunday the fire had spread almost half way to the far city wall.

Samuel_Pepys

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys, the noted diarist, lived in the environs of the fire and was able to view it from a tower and from a boat on the river. As a senior official in the Navy Office he was called to the King and reported on what he saw.

“everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them onto lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another.”

His report led to the Duke of York, the future James II, and King Charles himself going to the Thames to view the situation. The King ordered all buildings adjacent to the burning to be torn down. The Duke of York offered the life guards to assist in fighting the blaze. It was, however, a bit too late. The fire itself had created a chimney effect. A vacuum existed from the air being heated and pulled up through the fire. This in turn caused more air to rush into the area of the fire close to the ground. Anyone familiar with the principles of a blast furnace will tell you that this is a great recipe for extreme heat. The temperature was so high (approximately 1700°C) that pottery actually melted. From a position across the river, Pepys noticed the “one entire arch of fire from this to the other side of the bridge, and in a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it”

Great_fire_of_london_mapOver the following days the fire spread until it was finally contained and on Tuesday and brought to an end the following day. Gunpowder was used for wholesale destruction of houses to create fire breaks. That and the dying down of what had been a very stiff east wind finally allowed for control and an extinguishing. The damage included the destruction of 13,500 houses, 87 parish churches, and 44 Company (guild) Halls and the final total was accessed at £10,000,000 (more than a billion pounds in today’s money) Only eight people were reported to have died but this number is heavily suspect because the temperatures reached would have melted steel and certainly would have cremated the remains of any of London’s poor unfortunate enough to not be reported missing.

Why the fire happened was an interesting thing. At first foreigners and papists were blamed. This was proven false, but the prejudice lasted for many years. Because the fire started on Pudding Lane and ended at Pye corner, many people suggested the fire was God’s punishment for the gluttony of the city. In actuality it was a combination of cheap buildings, poor design and planning, and poor management on the account of the Lord Mayor. Buildings in London were supposed to have been made of stone to prevent just such a thing. Stone was too costly and everyone went to wood as the next best choice. Also, in order to maximize available space, each successive floor was slightly larger than the ground level floor, jutting out over the street. The close proximity of such dwellings caused the fire to spread very rapidly. Finally, Lord Mayor Sir Thomas Bloodworth refused to act. Within an hour of the start he was called to Pudding Lane and asked to give the order to demolish surrounding houses to form a break. He declined initially and eventually left the scene, but not before declining the help of the Lifeguards and untruly telling representatives of the king demolitions were under way. That did not actually start until well into Monday.17thcenFirefighting

The Great Fire of London changed the face of London. The rebuilding was similar to the prior plan and avoided the radical changes suggested by some like John Evelyn, but there were still changes. Regulations to avoid fire were more strictly enforced and fire companies better trained. To this day you can still see the monuments, the Great Fire monument near the start and the Golden boy of Pye where it finally was brought to a halt.

 


You can learn more about the 1666 Great Fire of London at the library:

  • The Great Fire of London by Pam Robson (J 942.1 ROB)
  • Fire Cat by Pippa Goodhart (J E GOO)
  • By Permission of Heaven: The Story of the Great Fire of London by Adrian Tinniswood (942.1 TIN)
  • The Great Fire of London by Stephen Porter (942.1066 POR)
  • The Mammoth Book of How it Happened in Britain by Jon E. Lewis (eBook through TotalBoox)
  • In Ashes Lie by Marie Brennan (F BRE)
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