Blog Archives

Cozy Up To A Good Mystery – Agatha Christie Style

By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

It’s a chilly Sunday afternoon and the rest of your family is parked in front of the large screen watching a football game. You, however, are nestled into your favorite comfy chair in front of a glowing fireplace, steaming cup of tea in hand, a soft throw over your knees. You sigh happily as you open another installment of your favorite “Miss Marple” mystery series. This singular pleasure was brought to you courtesy of Agatha Christie, one of the creators and the chief purveyor of the mystery genre known as the “Cozy.” Forty-one years after her death in 1976, Agatha Christie is still one of the top-selling authors of all time, with novel sales in the billions. This September marks the 127th anniversary of Agatha’s birth. So in Agatha’s honor, we’ll look at this traditional mystery genre closely associated with her novels, and explore ways to find works by other authors that will appeal to Cozy fans.

The heroine of Charlaine Harris’ Aurora Teagarden series is a librarian.

Mystery fiction is divided into several major categories. Hard and Soft Boiled Mysteries generally feature a seasoned professional detective who often must contend with personal demons while investigating a crime. Procedurals offer blow-by-blow analysis of how a crime is solved, either by detailed detective legwork or scientific investigation. Thrillers and Suspense novels don’t always hinge on solving a crime or murder that occurs at the start of a novel, but instead focus on some ever-intensifying threat to the protagonist and feature lots of plot twists. There are also countless mystery sub-genres – Capers, Domestic, Historic, Noir, Romantic Suspense and True Crime, to name a few.

And then there are the Cozies. Sometimes called Traditional Mysteries, the Cozies are distinguished from the darker, grittier mystery genres by several crucial characteristics:

  • Instead of a hard-boiled detective, the Cozy crime solver is an amateur sleuth who is almost always a woman. Agatha’s Miss Marple is a prime example. The amateur sleuth usually has some other vocation – caterer, chef, cat fancier, bed and breakfast owner, or librarian.
  • In a Cozy, the setting is key!

    The setting of a Cozy mystery is critical and helps provide the novel its “cozy” character. It is often set in a small rural town or charming village, or in some cases a closed environment such as an isolated estate or even a train. The intimate nature of the setting allows most of the suspects to know each other. Bishop’s Lacey, the quintessential English village featured in Alan Bradley’s delightful Flavia de Luce series, and Cabot Cove, the location of Donald Bain’s “Murder, She Wrote” novels, both illustrate the perfect Cozy setting.

  • Cozies are lighter in tone than other mystery genres. They are considered “gentle” mysteries with little or no graphic violence or explicit sex. The murder almost always happens “off stage” and the victim is sometimes a less-than-sterling character who may have had it coming. Any sex occurs strictly “behind closed doors.” [Quick note: some current Cozies tend to be edgier than earlier examples of the genre.]
  • The amateur sleuth is not a police officer or forensics expert, but almost always has a friend or significant other who is one. Through this friend, our sleuth gains access to information, such as an autopsy report, not usually available to your average person.
  • The local law enforcement tends to underestimate and dismiss the amateur sleuth, allowing her to “casually overhear” key details at a crime scene.
  • Many Cozy Mysteries are parts of series.

    A Cozy usually features a “red herring” – a clue that steers the reader away from the actual criminal or suggests an inaccurate conclusion.

  • The victim and possibly some of the suspects are often known to the amateur sleuth. They could be old college friends or coworkers.
  • Cozies usually boast a cast of colorful, likeable, eccentric secondary characters who are often as important to the reader as the amateur sleuth.
  • Cozy mysteries are often written as parts of a series. Readers become emotionally involved with the amateur sleuth and other recurring characters and feel they’re “coming home” to a familiar place and old friends when they begin their next Cozy. There are MANY series to choose from, but a few notable ones include Agatha’s Miss Marple series, M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series, Nancy Atherton’s Aunt Dimity series, Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, and the previously mentioned Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley (my personal favorite).

    Two intrepid Siamese, Koko and Yum Yum, help their human solve crimes in the “Cat Who” series.

  • Cozies sometimes center around a hobby or theme – everything from cats and the culinary arts to knitting and holidays to tea shops and libraries. A link to a great list of Cozy mysteries arranged by theme is included in “Further Reading” at the end of this article.
  • The good guys usually win and the evil-doers get their comeuppance.

Once you’ve devoured all of Agatha’s Miss Marple mysteries, what’s next?  The list of possibilities is literally endless. To help narrow the field, check out three of Agatha’s contemporaries who helped establish and refine the Traditional Mystery formula and, along with Agatha, comprised the four great “Queens of Crime”:  Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), famous for her Lord Peter Wimsey series, Margery Allingham (1904-1966), known for her Albert Campion series and Ngaio Marsh (1895-1982), creator of the Inspector Roderick Alleyn series. WCPL has a good selection of works by each of these writers.

For contemporary Cozy novels, there’s no better place to look than the list of winners and finalists of the annual Agatha Awards winners. Since 1988, Malice Domestic, an organization celebrating the Traditional Mystery, has honored mysteries that best typify Agatha Christie’s works, defined as mysteries that contain no explicit sex, no excessive gore or gratuitous violence, and can’t be classified as “Hard-Boiled.” The 2015 and 2016 Agatha Awards winners and finalists are listed below with titles available at WCPL noted in bold. A link to the complete list of winners and finalists since the Awards’ inception in 1988 is included below under “Further Reading.”

2016

2015

If you’re already a fan of Cozies or just ready to try them, one thing is certain — you won’t run out of reading material any time soon. See below in for lists of works that will keep you reading for years to come. Enjoy…and stay Cozy!

Read the rest of this entry

Advertisements

THINKING ABOUT ADOPTING A CAT OR DOG?

By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

“Who rescued who?” This touching (although grammatically incorrect) sticker seems to be attached to every other car bumper in Williamson County. As the sticker makes clear, giving a home to a needy animal does not only benefit the animal. But a successful pet adoption that works for both the animal and the adopting family is a serious undertaking that deserves careful consideration and lots of planning and preparation. It’s an obligation that can last more than a decade. Not everyone is up to the task. If you’re in the market for a new pet, the list of adoptable critters is endless – you can adopt homeless turtles, cockatoos, rabbits, horses, even spiders! Since we’re in the middle of “puppy and kitty season,” when shelters are swamped with unwanted litters, let’s concentrate on the ins and outs of dog and cat adoption.

WHY ADOPT?

The Humane Society of the United States has compiled a list of the top reasons to adopt a pet:

  • Save a life. Each year 2.7 million adoptable dogs and cats are euthanized in the U.S. This number could be reduced if more people adopted pets instead of buying them.
  • Get a great animal. Shelters are full of wonderful, healthy animals, many of whom ended up there through no fault of their own.
  • It costs less. A purebred dog or cat purchased from a breeder can cost hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. The MUCH lower adoption fees often include the cost of spaying/neutering, first vaccinations, even microchipping.
  • You can fight puppy mills. If you buy a dog from a pet store, online seller or flea market, there’s a good chance it will come from a puppy mill. Puppy mills are breeding factories that put profit over animal welfare, and the animals often live in deplorable conditions. Puppies from the mills are often ill and have behavioral issues. By adopting a pet, you won’t be giving the puppy mills a dime.
  • Your house will thank you. Lots of rescue animals are already housetrained. Give your rugs a break!
  • Pets are good for you! Not only do animals give you unconditional love, but they have been shown to be psychologically, emotionally and physically beneficial to their companions. Caring for a pet can provide a sense of purpose and lessen feelings of loneliness.
  • Adopting helps more than one animal. Many shelters are overcrowded, and when you adopt one animal, you make room for others. Adoption fees allow shelters to offer better care for their animals.
  • You’ll change a homeless animal’s whole world and get a new best friend out of the deal!

Included in the “Resources” section at the end of this article is a list of books about people whose lives have been improved by adopting an animal. Have a box of Kleenex handy when you read them.

BEFORE YOU ADOPT:

Think hard and ask yourself a lot of questions before you make the decision to adopt a pet.

  • Why do you want a pet? As a travel companion? To cuddle with on the couch, go for strenuous runs and hikes, or something in between? Analyzing your reasons for adopting can help you determine what sort of pet to look for.
  • What kind of dog or cat do you want? High energy or mellow? Large or small? Long hair or short hair? Affectionate or more independent? Male or female? Puppy or senior? Once you’ve decided what type of dog or cat works best for you and your family, stick with the decision. Don’t fall for the first adorable puppy or kitten you meet.
  • Take your family’s feelings into consideration and make sure everyone is one board with bringing home a new pet.
  • Can you afford a pet? The cost of food, regular vaccinations, spaying or neutering, toys and other supplies adds up. A serious injury or illness can break the bank.
  • Do you have time to devote to a pet? Dogs, exotic birds, and cats need lots of daily interaction, but even “pocket pets” like mice and hamsters need supervised time outside their cages. If you work really long hours or travel a lot for work, adopting a pet might not be your best option.
  • Do you have enough physical stamina to take care of a pet? Cats like a lot of play time and dogs have to be walked. Some high energy dogs need more than an hour of exercise a day.
  • Are you honestly ready for the responsibility? Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer,” offers this clue: Look at your closet. Is it neat and organized? That may sound odd, but Millan says the state of the closet has always been a true test of a person’s ability to provide a pet with a structured life that has rules, boundaries and limitations. Yikes – good thing nobody checked my closets before I got my dog!
  • Are you prepared to handle some of the physical and emotional “baggage” that rescue pets can bring with them?

NEW PET PREP

So you’ve decided to adopt and you’ve found the right pet. There’s still a lot to do. The following should all be in place BEFORE you bring home your new pet.

  • Create a plan with your family to divide up the responsibility of caring for your new pet. Who is expected to do what and when?
  • Decide where your dog will stay during the day and where it will sleep at night.
  • Pet proof your house. Put cleaning products, poisonous plants and any foods toxic to cats or dogs out of reach. Tape electrical cords to baseboards. Put away any small items that could be choking hazards. You might want to roll up and put away expensive rugs until you determine your new pet’s level of housetraining.
  • Buy basic supplies. For a dog: high quality dog food, a crate of the appropriate size with a crate mat, food and water dishes, sturdy chew toys, a cozy bed, a collar with an ID tag including your cell number and address, a leash, dog shampoo, brush, and nail clippers. For a cat: High quality cat food, food and water dishes, litter box or boxes and cat litter, toys, a scratching post, cat shampoo, brush and nail clippers. Try to purchase the same kind of food the animal has been eating, and if you want to try a different brand, introduce it slowly by adding increasing amounts of the new food to the old food.
  • Have an appointment already scheduled with a veterinarian so you can have your new pet checked out as soon as you collect it.

BRINGING YOUR NEW PET HOME

First of all, be patient! Moving to a different home will be stressful for your new pet. It might take anywhere from six to twelve weeks for it to become fully adjusted to its environment. Here are some tips to make your new pet’s transition run smoothly:

  • Introduce family members and other pets in a controlled way. Try to do this in a calm, quiet manner.
  • NEVER leave a new dog unsupervised around children.
  • If you’ve adopted a dog, seriously consider using a crate, which will aid in house training and prevent destructive behavior. Feeding your dog in its crate and making sure the crate contains toys and a comfy mat may make it more appealing. WCPL has some good books that include tips on crate training.
  • Spend as much time with your new pet as possible.
  • A little exercise may make your new dog feel better. Check with your vet for your dog’s appropriate level of exercise and don’t overdo it.
  • Keep things quiet and calm for the first few days. Don’t let your new pet get too excited.
  • Realize that even if your new pet is already house trained, it may have a few accidents until it settles in.

REAP THE REWARDS

If you do your homework and follow through on the prep, planning, and day-to-day care of your new pet (with lots of love and patience tossed in), you will have an amazing addition to your family. I’m not ashamed to say that when I was a kid my two best friends were a dog and a cat. I can’t begin to describe all the ways these beautiful little creatures enriched my life. There are thousands of wonderful dogs and cats just like them out there who need great homes. Go rescue them!

NATIONAL AND LOCAL PET ORGANIZATIONS

The following sites offer general information about pet adoption.

Local Adoption Agencies and Organizations:

If you are interested in a specific breed of dog or cat, many shelters often have purebred animals available. In addition, almost every breed has its own rescue organization. Just Google the name of the breed and “rescue” (for example, “basset hound rescue”).

Read the rest of this entry

HOW MONSTERS ARE BORN

By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

There are a lot of scary things in the world, and I’m not talking about the upcoming election. Literature and films are loaded with frightening monstrosities, but I’ll focus on three “classic” creatures – vampires, zombies, and mummies – and examine the origins of these horrors that have terrified folks for centuries.

Vampires

bela_lugosi_as_dracula_75From Bela Lugosi to Gary Oldman and Robert Pattinson, everyone has a favorite movie bloodsucker. But the original vampires of legend weren’t as forlornly romantic as Oldman or as adorable as Pattinson. Ancient versions of the vampire weren’t thought to be humans returned from the grave, but were supernatural entities that didn’t take human form. There are many vampire variations around the world: an Egyptian vampire that was a demon summoned by sorcery, Asian vampires that attacked people and drained their life energy, the blood-drinking Wrathful Deities that appeared in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and many others.

Belief in vampires surged in the Middle Ages in Europe. Any unfortunate event that befell a person or village with no obvious cause, such as disease or crop failure, could be blamed on a vampire. Villagers combined their belief that something had cursed them with their fear of the dead, and concluded that the recently deceased might be responsible, returning from the grave with evil intent.

“The Vampyre,” the first fully realized vampire story, was written by John Polidori, personal physician to Lord Byron (the haughty Byron often belittled his young employee). In 1816, Percy Shelley and Mary Godwin joined Byron and Polidori at Byron’s villa on Lake Geneva. Byron suggested that his guests each write a ghost story. Mary’s tale became the novel Frankenstein. One theory is that Polidori, inspired by his resentment of Byron’s arrogant treatment, based his character Lord Ruthven, a charming aristocratic vampire, on the poet. But when Polidori’s story was published in 1819, it was credited to Byron. Polidori tried to prove his authorship, but was accused of misusing Byron’s name.

The most famous appearance of a vampire in literature was Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897. Like Polidori’s vampire, Dracula appeared as an aristocratic gentleman. It’s often assumed that Stoker’s Count Dracula was inspired by Vlad Dracula, a real-life prince cited as an influence for modern personifications of vampires. Known as Vlad the Impaler because of the gruesome method he used to kill his enemies, he is considered a national hero for the extreme measures he used to defend his Romanian principality in the 15th century. Historians have implied but never proved that Vlad drank the blood of his enemies.

interviewwithavampiremovieposteStoker’s novel was popular in the Victorian age, but it wasn’t until the 20th century film versions that it became iconic. The first adaptation of Stoker’s novel, the silent German film Nosferatu, was controversial because of its departures from Dracula – instead of being charming, Nosferatu was a vile character, and instead of drinking his victim’s blood to create new vampires, he spread rats and plague. The most influential adaptation of Stoker’s work was the 1931 film Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi. His performance inspired future actors who took the role and was a factor in making horror films a viable genre in the U.S. market. In the 1950s and 1960s, Christopher Lee played Dracula in a number of violent adaptations. Since then Count Dracula has been portrayed more times in film and TV than any other horror character. Now vampires are everywhere – in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels (depicted on TV in True Blood), the Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, the TV series The Strain and Being Human, and countless others.

Zombies

walking-dead-posterThose shambling creatures intent on devouring Rick Grimes and his dwindling band of survivors bear little resemblance to the earliest incarnation of the zombie. The word “zombi” originally didn’t refer to the familiar brain-eating monsters but instead to a West African deity. It later came to suggest the human force leaving the shell of a body, and ultimately a creature human in form but lacking self-awareness, intelligence, and a soul. The notion was imported to Haiti and elsewhere from Africa through the slave trade. In Haiti and the Caribbean, zombies are an element of the voodoo religion and believers take them seriously.

Haitian zombies were said to be people brought back from the dead (and sometimes controlled) through magical means by voodoo priests called bokors, often as an act of punishment. Zombies were supposedly used as slave labor on farms and sugarcane plantations, although none of these zombie-powered plantations was ever discovered. Westerners considered zombies fictional horror film characters until the 1980s when a scientist, Wade Davis, claimed in his book The Serpent and the Rainbow to have solved the mystery of the zombie. The work met much skepticism. Davis asserted that he found the actual powder used by the bokors to create zombies – a neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin that could bring on the appearance of death.

poster_-_white_zombie_01Early zombie films, most notably White Zombie in 1932 and I Walked with A Zombie in 1943, acknowledged the zombie’s voodoo roots. George Romero’s 1968 film The Night of the Living Dead introduced the current popular characterization of the zombie as a flesh-eating creature. Romero’s film established common themes in current zombie films – the zombie as a metaphor for societal unrest and alienation; unconventional protagonists (hello, Daryl Dixon); and humans reduced to “survivalist” mentality. Romero’s zombies attack in groups and can be killed with a blow to the head. Recent zombie films – 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, World War Z, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and of course, The Walking Dead – feature elements of Romero’s films and ignore the voodoo connection.

Mummies

mummyUnlike vampires and zombies, mummies are not based on myth or legend. They are actual human corpses, preserved by a special method of embalming. Mummies have been found all over the world. But in ancient Egypt the mummification process was honed to a fine art over centuries, with the best prepared and preserved specimens, including Tutankhamen and other pharaohs, dating from around 1560 to 1075 B.C. The technique worked so well that after 3,000 years, we can still tell what the deceased looked like in life.

The elaborate procedure, as much a religious ritual as a technical process, took at least 70 days. The basic method was to remove organs except the heart through a slit in the body’s side. The brain was removed through the nostrils with a hooked instrument. The organs were preserved in jars and placed inside the body. The body was covered in natron, a salt with drying properties. Once the body was dry, sunken areas were filled with linen, sawdust, and other materials to make it to look lifelike. The body was then wrapped in hundreds of yards of linen strips. Finally a shroud was secured to the body and it was buried in a tomb along with objects the person would need in the Afterlife. Throughout the entire process, rituals and prayers had to be performed precisely. Why expend so much time and effort to preserve a body? The Egyptians believed that the mummified body was the home for the soul or spirit, and if the body was destroyed, the spirit might be lost.

mummy_32How did a person so honored turn into the malevolent creature we know from films? Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt at the end of the 18th century sparked a European interest in ancient Egypt that was still strong in Victorian England, where public “unrollings” of mummies were held. In 1903, Bram Stoker published The Jewel of Seven Stars, the first novel featuring mummifies as supernatural antagonists. Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 fueled even more interest. Then came the famous Boris Karloff film, The Mummy. Released in 1932, it was based on the concept of “the pharaoh’s curse” (that anyone who disturbs a tomb would die) and featured the mummy Imhotep as an evil high priest. It set the stage for a slew of mummy films through the 1940s and 1950s.  Imhotep recently reappeared in the 1999 remake of The Mummy and its sequel, The Mummy Returns.

Early film depictions of vampires, zombies, and mummies may seem a little dated and not that terrifying compared to the ultraviolence common in today’s horror films. But that might change. In 2014, Universal Pictures announced it would be rebooting its library of “classic” horror films, bringing new life to standard horror characters. The first release in this effort, The Mummy starring Tom Cruise, is due to hit theaters in 2017.

Click here for a list of resources at WCPL for further reading and viewing. Read the rest of this entry

Gone Girl — A Puzzling Disappearance

By Sharon Reily, Reference Deaprtment

An accomplished young woman goes missing and is presumed murdered. Is her cheating husband the culprit or is she deviously punishing him for being unfaithful? After a massive search and media frenzy, she turns up alive. Sound like the premise of Gone Girl, right? Guess again. This actually happened to one of the world’s most beloved novelists!

The titles Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, And Then There Were None might seem a bit familiar as some of the best known mysteries by the queen of whodunits, Agatha Christie. September 15 marks the 126th anniversary of Agatha’s birth in 1890. During a career that thrived from 1920 until her death in 1976, she penned 66 detective novels, 14 short story collections, the world’s longest running play (The Mousetrap), and created the beloved fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. She also wrote romance novels under the pen name Mary Westmacott. Her intricately plotted tales of love, murder, greed, and jealousy have sold more than a billion copies, making her one of the most popular writers of all time.

agatha-in-1925-how-she-looked-near-the-time-of-the-disappearanceBut in 1926 Agatha, already an established writer, became the subject of a mystery herself – one that has never been solved. She simply vanished one wintery evening. She was found safe 11 days later, but with no memory or explanation of what had happened to her.

At 9:45 on the evening of December 3, 1926, 36-year-old Agatha Christie kissed her sleeping daughter Rosalind, and then drove away from Styles, her English estate. Her abandoned vehicle was found on a slope not far from her home with the hood up and lights on. There was no sign of Agatha, but her fur coat, driver’s license, and overnight bag were still in the car.

Her car had been left near “the Silent Pool,” a natural spring where several children reportedly had died. There was much speculation that she had drowned herself or had been murdered and a massive search ensued.  The search for the author (whose recent novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, was already selling briskly) was at the time the largest manhunt in British history with over 1,000 officers and 15,000 volunteers on Agatha’s trail. A fleet of planes was employed – the first time they’d been used in England in a missing person’s case. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got in on the action, taking one of Agatha’s gloves to a famous medium. Dorothy L. Sayers, creator of the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series, examined the scene around the abandoned car. Their efforts turned up no clues.

By the end of the first week, Agatha’s disappearance was a national obsession, and was reported on the cover of the New York Times. Theories abounded. Some thought the disappearance was a publicity stunt to boost sales of her latest book, but it was already selling well before she vanished. Others thought she might have been injured in a car crash and wandered off suffering from amnesia. But the car showed no sign of an accident.

Some also suggested that Agatha was missing because of her husband’s affair. Her husband, Archie Christie, a former Royal Flying Corps pilot, didn’t hide his philandering ways from his wife. He was currently having an affair with Nancy Neele, a young friend of the couple, and Agatha’s car was found near a house where her husband was planning a rendezvous with Nancy. This suggested to some that Agatha was trying to thwart the affair, or even frame Archie and Nancy. Many even suspected Archie had killed Agatha.

christie_at_hydroOn the 11th day of her disappearance, Agatha was recognized by a musician at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel, a luxury spa in Harrogate. She had registered there as “Theresa Neele” from Cape Town, curiously using the last name of her husband’s mistress. Later Agatha’s husband claimed that she was suffering from complete amnesia – she reportedly didn’t know him when he came to collect her at the hotel and she had also failed to recognize herself in newspaper photos during her stay there. Agatha, her family, and friends maintained a lifelong silence about the lost 11 days. So the mystery remained a mystery.

After the incident, Agatha resumed her prolific writing career, which continued with enormous acclaim for many decades. She also divorced Archie in 1928 and made a happier match with the renowned archaeologist Max Mallowan in 1930. They were married until her death.

In his 2006 book Agatha Christie: The Finished Portrait, Andrew Norman advanced a new theory that during her disappearance Agatha was experiencing a rare deluded condition called a “fugue state” — a psychogenic trance brought on by trauma or depression. The facts of her life in 1926 seem to back up his conclusions. Her mother passed away, and with immense sorrow Agatha spent a great deal of time alone clearing out the family home. This added strain to her marriage. She was also struggling to write her next novel. To top it off, Archie revealed he had fallen in love with a family friend, Nancy Neele.

Agatha completed her autobiography when she was 75, and one might assume this work would offer the definitive explanation of those 11 days in 1926. Wrong! Not one word about the disappearance is included. Still, Agatha offers some clues about her state of mind around the time of the incident that seem to bolster Andrew Norman’s theory. Of her time spent cleaning out her late mother’s house, she writes, “I began to get confused and muddled over things. I never felt hungry and ate less and less. Sometimes I would sit down, put my hands to my head, and try to remember what it was I was doing.” She later mentions her extreme loneliness and a sense that she was ill. She once started to write a check and could not remember her name. She also suffered a meltdown when her car wouldn’t start. Years later, she believed she had been suffering a nervous breakdown. Could Agatha have been offering an explanation of her odd disappearance, or was she covering up the fact that the incident was an elaborate hoax?

agatha_poster-page-001Almost 90 years later, the story of the missing author still sparks the imagination and has found its place in popular culture, a lot. While not touching on the disappearance, Agatha’s semiautobiographical novel Unfinished Portrait mirrors the disintegration of her first marriage to Archie at the time of the event. Dorothy L. Sayers, who failed to solve Agatha’s disappearance, used elements of it in her novel Unnatural Death. The disappearance was the subject of the 1979 film Agatha starring Vanessa Redgrave as the author and Timothy Dalton as Archie. There are also two new movies in the works about Agatha, one reportedly starring Emma Stone and the other Alicia Vikander. And of course, the Doctor Who episode “The Unicorn and the Wasp” offered a completely plausible explanation of Agatha’s disappearance involving a giant alien wasp (Series 4, Episode 7).  It makes complete sense.

We’ll never know what really happened to Agatha Christie in December of 1926. The incident remains the greatest mystery in the life of one of our greatest mystery writers.

Read the rest of this entry

What’s In a [Pen] Name?

By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

“Pseudonym” comes from the Greek pseudonymos, meaning “having a false name, under a false name,” and writers have used pseudonyms or pen names for centuries. Everybody knows that “Mark Twain” was the pen name for Samuel Clemens, and by now most readers have figured out that “Robert Galbraith” (The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm) is a pseudonym for Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling. But did you know that “J.K. Rowling” is also a pseudonym? Rowling’s real name is Joanne (no middle initial) Rowling! Why would an author choose to write under a different name? And just who are some of these writers who’ve pulled the literary wool over readers’ eyes with alternate identities?

To Conceal Gender

wuthering heights book cover

One of the most common reasons for writing under an assumed name is to conceal the author’s gender. Women writers simply weren’t always taken as seriously as their male counterparts, and some of the most celebrated authors of all times had to use masculine pen names to insure their works were given the same consideration as male writers, or even be published at all. Among the most famous are the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Charlotte published her works, including the classic Jane Eyre, under the male pen name “Currer Bell.” Emily used “Ellis Bell” for her masterpiece Wuthering Heights, while Anne wrote Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall as “Acton Bell.”

To Conceal Identity

warlock

Louisa May Alcott published her most famous work, Little Women, under her real name, but she began her career writing as “A.M. Barnard.” Mary Ann Evans began writing as “George Eliot” to distance herself from the female romance novelists of the Victorian era. She revealed her true identity after her novel Adam Bede was well-received, but continued using her pen name for her other works, including Middlemarch. Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa, is better known as “Isak Dinesen.” Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin is famous as “George Sand.” Women writers still use male or androgynous pen names. Science fiction novelist Alice Mary Norton wrote as “Andre Norton” to increase her marketability with her primarily male audience. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter publishers urged her to use initials instead of her real name Joanne for fear the target audience of young boys wouldn’t read something written by a woman. Jane Austen hid her identity but not her gender when she published Sense and Sensibility as “A Lady.”

To Switch Genres

mcbain book cover

Sometimes writers known for specific genres just want to try something different, which can be confusing and off-setting to their faithful readers. So they choose to use pen names. Mystery writer Agatha Christie also wrote romance novels as “Mary Westmacott.” Nora Roberts, mainly known for her romance novels, branched out into science fiction as “J.D. Robb.” Anne Rice, famous for her Vampire Chronicles, writes erotic fiction as “A.N. Roquelaure” and “Anne Rampling.” (For the record, her real name is Howard Allen O’Brien, so “Anne Rice” is also a pen name.)

J.K. Rowling wrote her adult mysteries The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm as “Robert Galbraith” to “publish without hype or expectation” and received unbiased reviews from critics without the preconceived notions her name carries. Novelist Evan Hunter (born Salvatore Albert Lombino) saw his most success writing crime fiction as “Ed McBain” (the 87th Precinct series). Hunter’s 2005 New York Times obituary explained that McBain and Hunter bylines were kept very separate “to avoid any confusion or shock that readers of Evan Hunter’s ‘serious’ books might feel when exposed to the ‘mayhem, bloodshed, and violence’ that were Ed McBain’s meat and drink.” Isaac Asimov, best known for his popular science and science fiction works, wrote a series of juvenile sci-fi novels as “Paul French.” Poet Cecil Day-Lewis published detective novels as “Nicholas Blake.”

To Avoid Saturating The Market

the regulators book cover

Early in Stephen King’s career, his publishers felt writers should be limited to putting out only one book a year. To get around this restriction, he created “Richard Bachman.” He came up with the name while on the phone with his publisher – he had a Richard Stark novel on his desk and a Bachman Turner Overdrive song was playing. King wrote four novels as Bachman but once his cover was blown, he declared Bachman dead of “cancer of the pseudonym.”

A more extreme example is provided by horror master Dean Koontz. Throughout the 1970s, Koontz published as many as eight books a year, and since his editors told him that writing in different genres under the same name was a bad idea, and risked serious overexposure, he chose some aliases: “Aaron Wolfe,” “Brian Coffey,” “David Axton,” “Deanna Dwyer,” “John Hill,” “K.R. Dwyer,” “Leigh Nichols,” “Anthony North,” “Owen West,” and “Richard Paige.” Koontz is suspected of using other names as well, but only admits to writing under these ten pen names.

To Separate A Writing Career From A “Day Job”5180sUOPy3L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Nevil Shute Norway published his novels, including A Town Like Alice and On the Beach, as “Nevil Shute” to protect his aeronautical engineering and business careers. Renowned Egyptologist Dr. Barbara Mertz is better known as “Elizabeth Peters,” writer of the bestselling Amelia Peabody mystery series. Sir Walter Scott wrote Waverly and other novels anonymously to protect his reputation as a poet. “Ann Landers” was a pen name created by the popular advice column’s original author, Ruth Crowley, who didn’t want it confused with another column she was writing about child care. Joe Klein, TIME magazine political columnist, wrote the novel Primary Colors, based on Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, as “Anonymous” and went to great lengths to protect his true identity.

As a Pen Name for a Group of WritersHardy-Boys

It turns out that some well-known writers never existed at all! The Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon was written instead by several ghostwriters. Likewise, the Nancy Drew and Dana Girls series were not the work of Carolyn Keene, who didn’t exist, but by different ghostwriters. Laura Lee Hope, credited with The Bobbsey Twins series, was also just a pseudonym for several ghostwriters.

 

No matter why a writer chooses to use a pseudonym, whether to mask gender, explore different genres, or maintain professional and personal privacy, key results are the unlocking of creativity, the freedom to write as one pleases, and the opportunity to have one’s work made available to readers. Without the use of pen names, some of literature’s greatest masterpieces (and works of popular fiction) might never have been written or published.

Read the rest of this entry

Collecting and Saving Seeds!

By Sharon Reily, Reference Departmentseed library

Late summer and autumn are not always the most beautiful and fruitful times for many of our plants. Our vegetable patches have stopped yielding and our flowers are faded and brown. But this is the perfect time to gather seeds you can use to start your gardens next year. Here are just a few benefits of collecting and saving seeds.

  • It’s fun!
  • It’s easy!
  • It’s economical! The price of a packet of seeds seems to increase every year. The seeds you collect from your garden are free.
  • You can share or exchange seeds with friends – a great inexpensive way to try new plants.
  • Your favorite plant may not be readily available at local nurseries, but if you save seeds you can continue to enjoy it in your garden year after year.
  • Many varieties of heirloom plants are lost over time. They actually become extinct! You can help preserve different heirloom plants by collecting, saving and replanting heirloom seeds.
  • By raising many generations of plants, you’ll be able to see how certain traits are passed on, and how you can select the qualities you want to bring out. Over time, you can even “customize” your plants to suit your backyard conditions and your tastes.
  • You can benefit your community. If you collect more vegetable seeds than you can use, which is likely, you can donate your surplus seeds to a community garden that gives free fruits and vegetables to needy families.

Collecting and saving seeds is an ancient tradition. For thousands of years, farmers collected and saved seeds to insure the next year’s harvest. They also studied the results of their plantings and then saved and sowed seeds from the best plants, fine-tuning the plants to meet their needs and match local growing environments. This selection led to a genetic diversity of crops adapted to many growing conditions and climates, and created a large base for our food supply.

While farmers and hobby gardeners collect and save seeds to plant and share, seed vaults or banks do just the opposite. From the beginnings of agriculture (possibly as early as 8000 B.C. in what is now Iraq), farmers understood their seeds needed protection from the weather and animals. Scientists have discovered evidence of seed banks in Iraq from as far back as 6750 B.C. Today, there are more than 1,500 seed banks around the world that hold a wide variety of seeds to preserve crop diversity and act as insurance against disease and natural and man-made disasters that might wipe out the world’s seed reserves. The best known is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, often called the “Doomsday Vault,” located in a remote frozen mountain in Norway. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a huge international project with the capacity to store 4.5 million varieties of crops for a maximum of 2.5 billion seeds. Currently, the Vault holds more than 860,000 samples, originating from almost every country in the world.

svalbard exteriorSvalbard Global Seed VaultSvalbard Global Seed Vault

Amid all the interest in preserving and sharing seeds, libraries around the country have started seed exchanges, and the Williamson County Public Library joined that movement in March of 2015. The first year of our seed exchange, we “checked out” (gave away) more than a thousand packets of flower, vegetable, fruit, and herb seeds. It was suggested – but not required – that those who participate in the program collect seeds from their gardens this fall and return a few of them to the Library in the spring so we can keep our seed exchange going. Go to WCPL Seed Exchange to find out how our seed exchange works and see a list of helpful resources on seed collecting.

If you want to learn more about harvesting your seeds, the Library is hosting a program on Collecting and Saving Seeds with UT/TSU Horticulture Extension Agent Amy Dismukes on Monday, August 31 at 1pm. Registration is required, but the program is FREE and open to anyone who is interested in attending. Just call 615-595-1243 or click here to register.


Article Sources:

The Love Affair of Percy Shelley and Mary Shelley

By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

Early on an English summer morning more than two centuries years ago, a young girl ran away with an obscure poet and the two fled to France. She was seventeen years old. He was twenty-two and left behind a pregnant wife and a child. Depending on how you look at it, this was either the beginning of a sordid affair or the very stuff of romance. Either way, there’s much more to the story. The young man, Percy Bysshe Shelley, was a literary genius and became a celebrated Romantic poet. His lover, Mary Godwin, wrote Frankenstein, one of the most famous novels of all time. Today’s date, July 28, marks the 201st anniversary of their elopement in 1814 and the beginning of their tumultuous life together.

Upbringings625px-RothwellMaryShelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley was born into an aristocratic family on September 4, 1792. Percy enjoyed a life of privilege and was sent to Eton College when he was twelve. After six years at Eton, where he became known for his anti-authoritarian views and began writing poetry and prose, he entered Oxford University in 1810. At Oxford he and a friend, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, influenced each other’s growing rejection of societal rules. Their collaboration on a pamphlet titled The Necessity of Atheism resulted in their expulsion from Oxford. Percy’s father, angered by his expulsion and refusal to renounce the pamphlet’s atheist ideas, cut him off financially until he came of age two years later. While living in poverty, Percy eloped with sixteen-year-old Harriet Westbrook.

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin’s childhood has elements of “Cinderella,” complete with a malevolent stepmother. Mary was the child of two renowned freethinkers – reformer and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women), and William Godwin, noted writer, philosopher, and atheist. Mary Wollstonecraft died days after Mary’s birth on August 30, 1797. William then married Mary Jane Clairmont, a widow with two young children. The new Mrs. Godwin favored her children over Mary and was jealous of William’s attention to her. She made life difficult for Mary and promoted her children’s education at the expense of Mary’s. Despite Mrs. Godwin’s efforts, Mary received an excellent education. She had access to her father’s library, listened to his discussions with other leading intellectuals, and immersed herself in her late mother’s writings. Due to clashes with her stepmother, Mary was sent to live with the Baxter family in Scotland. Here she finally found a loving family, and began to focus on her writing.

740px-Percy_Bysshe_Shelley_by_Alfred_Clint_cropThe Meeting

On a visit home in 1812, fifteen-year-old Mary met Percy Shelley, an admirer of her father. Percy visited the Godwin home often and became friendly with Mary, whom he recognized as an intellectual soulmate. Percy resented that his wife Harriet, preoccupied with one child and pregnant with another, no longer made him the center of attention.

The Elopement

In 1814, Mary and Percy met again, began spending time together, and fell in love. William Godwin forbade the relationship and Mary promised not to see Percy. But after Percy threatened to commit suicide, she agreed to flee to France with him. Mary’s stepsister, Jane Claire Clairmont, accompanied them. Mary’s stepmother followed in hot pursuit to try to stop the elopement. She caught up with the three at the French port of Calais, but couldn’t persuade them to return with her. When the two lovers ran out of money and returned to England, William Godwin wouldn’t see them, and didn’t speak to Mary for almost four years. Percy’s father, angered by his son’s abandonment of Harriet, cut off his allowance, and Percy had to spend months on the run to avoid creditors.

frank5Married Life…and the Birth of a Monster

The couple experienced ups and downs over the next few years. In 1815, Mary was devastated by the death of her premature infant. Their finances improved when Percy received money after his grandfather died. In early 1816, Mary gave birth to their second child, William. A few months later, the couple visited Lord Byron and Mary’s stepsister Jane Claire Clairmont (Byron’s lover at the time) in Switzerland. One rainy afternoon, Byron suggested that his guests each write a ghost story. Only nineteen-year-old Mary finished her story, which eventually became the novel Frankenstein. In Mary’s novel, scientist Victor Frankenstein animates a creature from dismembered corpses. The enormous gentle but hideous creature is rejected and abandoned by Frankenstein. As the creature fails to find the love and companionship it craves, it becomes violent and brutal. Published anonymously in 1818 with a preface by Percy, it became one of the most popular works of the Romantic period.

Good and Bad Times

Percy and Mary returned to England in 1816 to face back-to-back tragedies. Mary’s half-sister committed suicide and a few weeks later, Percy’s wife Harriet killed herself. Harriet’s death allowed Percy and Mary to wed. Percy’s efforts to gain custody of his two children with Harriet were blocked by her family’s claims that his poetry (especially free love and atheism promoted in the political epic Queen Mab) showed him to be an unfit parent. In March of 1818, the Shelleys settled in Italy, where Percy became part of an expatriate artistic community centered on Lord Byron. There Percy wrote some of his best work – Prometheus Unbound, “Ode to the West Wind,” “The Cloud, “To a Skylark,” and “Ode to Liberty.” Sadly, their two children, William and Clara, died a year apart, in 1818 and 1819. Mary gave birth to a son, Percy Florence, in November 1819.

By 1822, the Shelleys had settled on the Bay of San Terenzo in Italy. They were joined by Edward Williams and his wife, Jane. Percy, disappointed in his marriage, began a flirtation with Jane and wrote several poems to her. In June, Mary almost died after the miscarriage of her fifth child. In July, shortly before Percy’s thirtieth birthday, he and Edward Williams drowned when their boat sank in a storm.

Mary devoted herself to caring for Percy Florence, the only one of her five children to reach adulthood. She was also dedicated to maintaining her husband’s literary legacy. She collected and edited Percy’s poetry and wrote his biography. She continued to write the rest of her life, and was able to provide Percy Florence with an excellent education at Harrow and Cambridge University. Mary died of a brain tumor in February of 1851.

Read the rest of this entry

GARDENING BOOKS AT WCPL

By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

Feel Free to Browse!

In the 635 call number range you will find a great assortment of books on all aspects of gardening – from flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables to organic gardening, water features, roses and container gardening. Have fun browsing for the just the right book!


 

Good Basic Gardening Guides51lwbJmwU-L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

American Horticultural Society Gardening Manual (635 AME)

Square-Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew (635 BAR)

The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch (635 DAM)

How to be a Gardener by Alan Titchmarsh (635 TIT)

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening (635.0484 ROD)

The Southern Living Garden Book (635.9 SOU)


 

514c5x57xqL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Books for Tennessee Gardeners

Best Garden Plants for Tennessee by Sue Hamilton (635.0975 HAM)

50 Great Flowers for Tennessee by Judy Lowe (635.0975 LOW)

Tennessee & Kentucky Month-by-Month Gardening by Judy Lowe (635.09768 LOW)

Guide to Tennessee Vegetable Gardening by Walter Reeves (635.09768 REE)

Herbs, Fruits & Vegetables for Tennessee by James Fizzell (R 635.0975 FIZ)


Gardening Magazines

416297494_370

Country Gardens (PER COU)

Fine Gardening (PER FIN)

Organic Gardening (PER ORG)

THE BEES by Laline Paull

laline-paull-the-bees-UK-2014By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

On the outside, it’s just an unassuming wooden box. But inside are vast chambers with amber walls, elegant royal quarters, secret passageways, and a charming royal nursery. Ruling over this magnificent structure is a beautiful queen, whose fragrance insures the love and blind devotion of her followers. It sounds like a traditional fairytale, but The Bees is set in a beehive, and the characters are the 10,000 honeybees who call it home.

The heroine of this mesmerizing debut novel by Laline Paull is Flora 717, a worker bee whose job in sanitation makes her the lowest of the low in a very rigid caste society. Flora 717 and her sisters in sanitation are literally the “untouchables,” and their main duty is disposing of the bodies of dead bees from the hive’s morgue. But there’s something different about Flora – she’s big, dark, and ugly. She’s also strong, intelligent, brave, resourceful, and fiercely devoted to her hive and queen. As others begin to recognize these surprising traits, Flora 717 is allowed to move up through the ranks of bee society. As she gets access to levels most maintenance workers never see, readers gain insight into the workings of different parts of the hive, including the nursery and even the queen’s private chambers. Flora finally wins a place with the foragers, whose vital mission is to gather nectar and pollen. Paull’s stunning descriptions of how the foragers experience the outside world and interact with flowers are sometimes delightful and sometimes frightening.

Life for bees isn’t easy. In fact, it’s downright brutal. The world is a dangerous place full of “the Myriad” – all the creatures who threaten the hive. Humans are a major menace, with their encroaching developments and pesticides that kill plants, pests and bees alike. Even the benevolent beekeeper who loves his bees wreaks devastating and heartbreaking havoc when he collects honey. Mysterious diseases cause entire hives to collapse. Most horrifying of all is the way the bees treat each other in order to maintain their social system. As the hive faces one calamity after another, Flora’s drive to protect her home and sisters keeps her in peril.

Loyal Flora embodies the hive’s mantra – Accept, Obey, and Serve. But when she makes a shocking discovery about herself, she begins to question the hive’s strict laws and hierarchy. As a result, Flora takes action that could put her and the hive in grave danger.

The Bees succeeds on many levels. It’s a fascinating look at the “hive mentality” and the way a beehive functions. It’s a great tale of adventure and a suspenseful and sometimes terrifying story of the struggle to survive. There’s also comic relief provided by the foppish male drones. But most of all, it’s the exciting, inspiring and touching story of brave Flora 717. After reading The Bees I’ll never again look at a tiny honeybee or taste a teaspoon of honey without thinking of this endearing character and her sisters.

DON’T PANIC — GET THE FACTS ABOUT EBOLA

EbolainfographicBy Sharon Reily and Rebecca Tischler, Reference Department

It’s on the news every night and plastered all over the internet. We can’t turn on the TV without hearing about the thousands of people who have died of the Ebola virus in Africa, the man who died of the virus in Dallas, or the two nurses who became infected while treating him. After being bombarded with news about the Ebola virus, it’s easy to become anxious about how it might affect our lives. Making matters worse, the market is full of self-published books and articles about the virus that play on our fears, but offer little reliable information.

How afraid do we really need to be of the Ebola virus? Before you rush out to buy a Hazmat suit, find out the facts. There’s plenty of good information out there. Here are links to a few helpful resources:

  1. MedLine Plus is the National Institutes of Health’s website with articles produced by the National Library of Medicine. It offers numerous articles on the Ebola virus, and has several articles written for children, with additional information for parents and teachers. There is also a Spanish-language version of MedLine Plus.
  2. Health and Wellness Resource Center — This database offers access to carefully compiled and trusted medical reference materials, including nearly 400 health/medical journals, hundreds of pamphlets, health-related videos and articles from 2,200 general interest publications.
  3. World Health Organization — The WHO has a helpful fact sheet on the Ebola virus.
  4. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has compiled a list of information resources related to the outbreak.
  5. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website includes the organization’s latest efforts to prevent the spread of the virus in the United States:.
  6. For more local information, check out the Tennessee Department of Health website. The information on the site is also available in Spanish.

Here are some basic facts about the Ebola Virus that you should be aware of:

  • Flu is a bigger threat — Yes, there are vaccines and medicines for the flu, and there aren’t for Ebola. But Ebola is much rarer and harder to catch. Your chances of getting Ebola are almost zero unless you’ve traveled to a place where there’s an outbreak or you’ve been directly exposed to the bodily fluids of someone who has symptoms.
  • As with any illness or disease, it is always possible that a person who has been exposed to Ebola virus may choose to travel. If the individual has not developed symptoms they cannot transmit EVD to those around them. If the individual does have symptoms, they should seek immediate medical attention at the first sign they are feeling unwell. This may require either notifying the flight crew or ship crew or, upon arrival at a destination, seeking immediate medical attention. Travellers who show initial symptoms of EVD should be isolated to prevent further transmission. Although the risk to fellow travellers in such a situation is very low, contact tracing is recommended under these circumstances. While travellers should always be vigilant with regard to their health and those around them, the risk of infection for travellers is very low since person-to-person transmission results from direct contact with the body fluids or secretions of an infected patient.ebola-infographic
  • The virus doesn’t spread through air or by water.   You can’t get it just by breathing the same air.   The Ebola virus can only be passed through bodily fluids.  To infect you, the virus has to go into your body, such as an infected person sneezing in your face.  The most infectious are blood, stool, and vomit. Bodily fluids also include breast milk, urine, semen, tears, and saliva.  You can also get it from contaminated needles, sheets, soiled clothing, and other objects that have come into contact with infected bodily fluids.
  • People with Ebola can’t pass it along until they start to feel sick. It can take 2 to 21 days for symptoms to appear, but it usually happens in just over a week. The first signs — fever, muscle ache, headache, and a sore throat — can look like malaria, typhoid fever, and even the flu. Later symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, and bleeding inside the body and from the eyes, ears, nose, or mouth.
  • Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care.  The main debilitation of this virus is dehydration, and patients will be given oral rehydration with solutions containing electrolytes or intravenous fluids.  There is currently no specific treatment to cure the disease. Some patients will recover with the appropriate medical care.
  • People are infectious only as long as their blood and secretions contain the virus. For this reason, infected patients receive close monitoring from medical professionals and receive laboratory tests to ensure the virus is no longer circulating in their systems before they return home. When the medical professionals determine it is okay for the patient to return home, they are no longer infectious and cannot infect anyone else in their communities. Men who have recovered from the illness can still spread the virus to their partner through their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery. For this reason, it is important for men to avoid sexual intercourse for at least 7 weeks after recovery or to wear condoms if having sexual intercourse during 7 weeks after recovery. Likewise, women should not breast-feed during that time, in case it’s in their breast milk.
  • To help control further spread of the virus, people that are suspected or confirmed to have the disease should be isolated from other patients and treated by health workers using strict infection control precautions.
%d bloggers like this: