DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Apr 17 2015

The Crowning Touch

by Dea Anne M

There was a time in this country when adults, both men and women, were 44.105.26_view3 0003considered not completely dressed for certain situations unless he or she was wearing a hat. Certainly, shopping and working in the city was one of these situations (and, for women, gloves were also an absolute necessity). Even college students were expected to wear hats at schools in urban areas. Church definitely required the wearing of hats and there were even special “cocktail” hats for women to wear to evening parties. The regular wearing of hats became outmoded during the 1960′s and never really took hold again. For good or ill, unless a hat is part of a work uniform or the occasional accessory worn for fun, hats are simply not a significant part of our sartorial lives. Although I would never advocate for the dressreturn of stringent dress codes, I feel that maybe we lost an opportunity for bringing beauty into our lives when we abandoned hats. And I’m not alone in this opinion. As Dr. Linda Przybyszewski points out in her book The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish (a current favorite of mine!), a received piece of wisdom from the pre-sixties dress experts was that a hat worked to bring the eye of the observer up to a woman’s face–the true communicator of her unique personality and spirit. “A well-chosen hat can flatter any face,” says Dr. Przybyszewski, and this is true. If you look at vintage photographs, it’s astonishing how well hats of all styles can frame a woman’s (or a man’s) face.

So what has changed? My theory is that because hats–apart from ball caps–aren’t worn anymore on a regular basis, it’s difficult for many of us to wear one without feeling as though we are wearing a costume. Wearing a hat well, and in a confident manner, requires a certain “swagger.” For example, Cookie Lyon–the character that Taraji Henson plays on Fox TV’s Empire–has swagger to spare, and the hats that she wears come off as essential parts of her beautiful (and expensive!) ensembles rather than as cartoonish or awkward.

Of course, the place where hats can still rule the day is church–and nowhere crownsmore so than those churches that are traditionally and predominantly African-American. Hats are an indispensable part of the Sunday ensembles of many of the women who attend the churches. As Craig Marberry, one of the co-creators (along with Michael Cunningham) of Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats, writes in his introduction: “These captivating hats are not mere fashion accessories. Neither, despite their biblical roots, are they solely religious headgear. Church hats are a peculiar convergence of faith and fashion that keeps the Sabbath both holy and glamorous.” This book is well worth checking out for its wonderful black and white portraits of women in their hats. Each woman gives a short account of her own life in hats, and these stories are as engaging as the pictures. My favorites are elegant Ollie McDowell wearing her black portrait hat and beautiful Sandra Wright Wallington in her feather-trimmed and tiger-printed platter chapeau.

Are you interested in hats and their history? If so, check out The Hat: Trends and Traditions by Madeline Ginsburg. The book goes up only to the late 1980′s but it is an otherwise thorough history of the hat and its permutations–from the vintagehelmets and hair nets of Bronze Age Europe, to the extravagant, ornately trimmed bonnets and top hats of the early nineteenth century, to the elegant men’s trilby hat of the 1950′s. And for some really delicious looking women’s hats, look no further than Vintage Fashion Complete: Women’s Style in the Twentieth Century by Nicky Albrechtsen. This gorgeous, heavy volume, lavishly illustrated with color photographs, takes you through the decades of vintage from the 1920′s and beyond. The chapter on hats provides particularly stunning examples of the best of the milliner’s art. I particularly like the 60′s helmet made of bright green feathers that looks exactly like a Christmas tree and the 1930′s floral fantasies of Elsa Schiaparelli. Hat aficionado or no, this book is an absolute must for any lover of vintage fashion.

One of the most celebrated, and prolific, of American milliners was Sally Victor. Her pretty (sometimes wacky) hats were popular from the mid-1930′s through the late 1960′s. Here’s a link to the extensive collection of Sally Victor hats owned by the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For an example of her work, see the top of this post.

Do wear hats or wish you could? What is your hat style preference?

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Apr 13 2015

I Challenge You!

by Jencey G

Are you up for a challenge? Are you tired of reading the same types of books all the time and interested in a change? A reading challenge is a great way to do that. There are no prizes, but there are opportunities for you to try something different. Who is ready for something new or different?

Reading challenges, such as Pop Sugar, have tasks to help you pick books that you the reader would not ordinarily read. Since summer reading is coming up soon, this challenge would be a great way to keep track of books for the summer reading program at your local library. This year, Pop Sugar came out with a reading challenge that offers many opportunities for you to grow as a reader.  The challenge offers up tasks such as:

What book can you read in one sitting?

What is the first book that came out by your favorite author?

Read a book that has a number in the title.

Read a nonfiction book.

The Library has all kinds of resources to help you pick a great read.  Take a look at our Shelf Help page, DCPL on Pinterest, or use our online resource Novelist. For other reading challenges to participate in visit Goodreads or Book Riot. See how one of these challenges might fit into your summer reading!  You never know where a good book might take you!

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Apr 10 2015

Live Like You’re Dying

by Camille B

A few weeks ago I happened to walk through a spider’s web right outside my back door. Huge and beautifully spun, Anansi was sitting smack-dab in the middle. My son turned to me and said, “Mom, can you imagine how long it took that spider to build that web, and you destroyed it in like, what, two seconds?”

Well! As much as I didn’t care for the guilt trip, it really started me thinking hard about my own life, and how very much like a spider’s web it is–the fragility, and how it can all just disappear in the blink of an eye. We work so hard every day to pay our bills and put food on the table for our families–sometimes placing our own hopes and dreams on hold for everyone else, until one day, just like that web, our lives are swept away and we never get a chance to do any of the things we longed to do. If someone were to call you up right now and tell you that tomorrow would be your last day here on earth, what would be some of the things you’d most regret never doing? I mean, apart from spending more time with loved ones, etc., what would be the one thing you’ve always wanted to do and haven’t done yet?

We save and plan and keep dreaming dreams that we never try to make happen. We put off taking that trip, or signing up for that Spanish class, learning to play the guitar or taking salsa lessons. You know? Things that have nothing at all to do with New Year’s resolutions–we want to do them just because. For those of you who’ve already planted your flag on Mount Everest, run with the bulls in Spain, or appeared as a contestant on American Idol, kudos to you! For the rest of us, let’s say we start reviewing that old bucket list again. Take it out from under the mattress where you hid it three years ago. There you go, dust it off and begin, no further delays; that spider probably thought he had until tomorrow too.

Sometimes things appear more achievable when we think about them futuristically, when they’re way off and not right there in our faces–but in terms of next week or a month from now, not so much. Some of us have a little more courage than others and simply go ahead and do it, so we can check it off our list. But, for a lot of us, it might not be that easy. We might need a little nudge (okay, a great big shove) in the right direction. If that’s the case with you, why not start with something on your list that’s simple.

Like me, I’ve never been to a play (I know, horrified gasps everywhere), but it’s always been something on my “I’ll Do It Some Day” list. Going to a play is more than doable–and I need to just go ahead and get it off my list already, right? For you, it might be traveling. Maybe you’ve always wanted to take that special trip somewhere and don’t know where to start, or even which country you’d like to visit. The naturally spontaneous at heart use strategies like dart throwing to select their destinations. They find a map, throw a dart, and wherever it lands, Voila, that’s where they go! For the not-so-spontaneous, there are great books at DCPL that can give you some ideas. For example:

Italy’s Best Trips: 38 Amazing Road Trips, written and researched by Paula Hardy, Duncan Garwood & Robert Landon Italy

The Best Place to Be Today: 365 Things to Do & the Perfect Day to Do Them, compiled and edited by Sarah Baxter

World’s Best Travel Experiences: 400 Extraordinary Places, foreword by Andrew McCarthy, with recollections by Bill Bryson, Anna Quindlen, and more

1,000 Places to See Before You Die, by Patricia Schultz

When travels take you to foreign destinations or distant shores, you’ll want to at least be able to ask for a bottle of their fine wine in the native tongue. I’m just saying, why, you may need to brush up on your foreign language skills. The Library can provide you with helpful information in this area as well, from learning the very basic everyday language that will enable you to survive your trip without accidentally saying something to land you in jail, to material that will help you become a bit more fluent and sophisticated in your speech (should you have to meet with the Ambassador). In particular, you might want to try our online resources Mango or TeLL Me More.

And, if there is absolutely no way you’re getting on a plane, that’s still not a problem because there are other options closer to home to choose from:

Hiking Georgia: A Guide to the State’s Greatest Hiking Adventures, by Donald W. Pfitzer and Jimmy Jacobs, with photography by Polly Dean

60 Hikes within 60 miles: Atlanta including Marietta, Lawrenceville, and Peachtree City, by Randy and Pam Golden

Road Biking Georgia: A Guide to the Greatest Bicycle Rides in Georgia, by John T. Trussell

Your bucket list includes all the things you’d like to do before kicking the proverbial bucket–maybe a goal, dream or experience you’d like to fulfill before the sun sets on your life. They can range from the simplest of things, like taking a cooking class, donating blood or volunteering at a soup kitchen–to ones that border on the line of outrageous, like skinny dipping, crashing a wedding or covering your entire car with post-it notes. The sky is the limit.

What you put on your list might seem mundane to others, but don’t let that deter you. Or, it might seem over the top, silly or even outrageous to others. Go ahead and do it anyway–if it’s not hurting anyone (and you’re not committing a felony), go for it. And hey, you might even get a few raised eyebrows along the way from the people who thought they knew you oh-so-well, but that’s okay, too. You’re doing this for you.

Below, I’ve listed twenty things that came up on the bucket lists of different people across the globe. I wouldn’t mind trying some of them myself; others simply stirred my curiosity, as I’m sure they will yours. There is also a cool website bucketlist.net where you can view pages and pages of entries of what others put down as their number ones. Some of them will surprise you and, who knows, some may even inspire you and change your life.

  • Run a marathon (for fun)
  • Make a world map of all the places you’ve been
  • Publish a story, article or poem
  • Go to the top of the Eiffel Tower
  • Go on a road trip with friends
  • Attend a Masquerade Ball
  • See the Seven Wonders of the World
  • Party with the Black Eyed Peas
  • Eat a hot dog on Times Square, NYC
  • Visit the Anne Frank House
  • Take a cruise
  • Fly first class
  • Ride a double decker bus in London
  • Knit and donate 100 scarves to the homeless
  • Attend a Dancing with the Stars show
  • See the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve
  • Ride a horse
  • See all fifty states in the U.S.A.
  • Volunteer at a hospice
  • Plant a tree and watch it grow through every season


Apr 8 2015

National Stress Awareness Month

by Glenda

Stress-month-photo1April is National Stress Awareness Month. Stress is a natural part of life, but it can be harmful to your health. Long term stress can lead to illnesses and even increase your risk of developing serious health conditions like stroke and heart disease. Stress is natural, your Fight or Flight Response kicks in when a perceived threat approaches, your body releases stress hormones into the bloodstream. These hormones increase the heart rate, blood pressure and glucose levels. Although this is a good thing when you are avoiding a disaster like falling off a mountain, continuous releasing of stress hormones can lead to serious illnesses.

To relieve some of the stress in your life you may have to change the way you approach stress. If the stressor is out of your control, let it go and move on. Control your reaction to stressors. Relax, this will make you better able to handle stress. Take time out for yourself every day, even if it is only twenty minutes. Take time to exercise to relieve stress. Do whatever you do to unwind–for instance, read a book, spend time with friends, whatever makes you happy.

Source U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,  http://www.foh.hhs.gov/Calendar/april.html

For more information about stress and how to relieve stress, visit your local library and check out these books:

The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living by Amit Sood

10 Mindful Minutes: Giving Our Children–and Ourselves–the Social and Emotional Skills to Reduce Stress and Anxiety for Healthier, Happier Lives by Goldie Hawn with Wendy Holden

The 10-Step Stress Solution: Live More, Relax More, Reenergize by Neil Shah

The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson with Miriam Z. Klipper


Apr 6 2015

The Saddest Voice

by Hope L


When I was a gullible little girl of about 7 or 8, my three older brothers would tell me that there were hundreds of people singing background in those songs we were listening to, and that’s why they sounded that way. I smile today because I totally believed my brothers. Sure, an occasional backup singer was used, but in actuality it was Karen and Richard Carpenter singing all those great songs. The magic sound was created by her producer-brother Richard, who also helped to write many of the songs they sung.

And Karen Carpenter had the saddest voice ever. She would have been 65 this past March 2. When I listen to her songs, especially hits like Rainy Days and Mondays, Say Goodbye to Love, For All We Know, and Solitaire, I still marvel at her beautiful voice and the sadness it evokes.

Karen Carpenter was an outstanding singer, but few people know that she was also an exceptional drummer. And by all accounts, she had a kooky sense of humor and a host of friends, not to mention fans, whom she touched during her short life. (She died of heart failure at age 32 on February 4, 1983.) Her voice graced at least a dozen albums, and she, together with her brother Richard, won two Grammy Awards and earned millions of dollars during a time when their squeaky clean image was the antithesis of what was considered “cool” or even “popular music.”

According to The Carpenters: The Untold Story, an Authorized Biography by Ray Coleman, Karen was “hiding” by playing behind the drums while singing in the early days of the act. It then became apparent that her powerhouse voice demanded that she be the star on stage, front and center. (We have a few music CDs by the Carpenters at DCPL, including the album Singles 1969-1981.)

This YouTube clip shows Karen in a variety of early performances behind her drums.

Unfortunately, though, Karen Carpenter will be remembered first and foremost for her death and the introduction it gave the world to a disease called anorexia nervosa. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders, anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents. Other eating disorders include bulimia nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder (BED).

But  for me, when I hear the Carpenters’ music,  I think  iconic  70′s music–just begging for me to sing along.


Apr 3 2015

Are you a Robot?

by Dea Anne M

So I was engaged in a marathon laundry session over the weekend and, while dialing through the cycles, I was struck for the first time by the cycle listed as “normal.” Now I know perfectly well that this is supposed to mean something like “the laundry in this demands no special requirements,” but the part of my brain that regularly engages in the “What if?” game kicked in at that very moment. What if–I wondered–my washing machine was actually telling me about its mood or state of being? “Oh. Thanks for asking. I feel pretty normal today…you know… nothing new.” Then I started to imagine a different array of washer cycles and the ways that these personalities (so to speak) would express themselves. Here’s a sample:

Blasé cycle – “Hot water? Cold water? It doesn’t matter to me. I mean, like, whatever. It’s just clothes right?”

Anxious cycle – “Am I getting these clothes clean enough? Really? How can you tell? They aren’t getting clean enough and I’m going to get fired! My boss is going to show up any minute and fire me! Oh gosh, I’ve got to calm down. Maybe this bag of Oreos will help. Wait a minute…did I unplug the iron?”

Entitled Adult Brat cycle – “Excuse me? You want me to do what? That can’t possibly be in the job description. I mean, I graduated Brown.  With honors! What? You’re replacing me? Just wait till I call my lawyer! Also, my parents.”

Sullen Teen cycle – (indistinct mumbling) “What? (long sigh) I said what’s the big deal? You’re just going to wear the clothes again. (more sighing and indistinct mumbling) Can’t you just leave me alone?”

Angry Teen cycle – “You’re such a slave driver!  I have to do everything around here! Leave me alone!” (slams own door)

Of course, my washing machine can’t really communicate with me. Nor can any of my other appliances…thank goodness.FIRST And, despite the title of this post, when I bring up talking machines I’m not really talking about robots. According to Merriam-Webster, a robot is “a machine that can do the work of a person and that works automatically or is controlled by a computer.” So, strictly speaking, a robot would be something like the Roomba–the vacuuming sensation that spawned a plethora of YouTube videos featuring an animal (usually a cat) riding one. Of course some robots are quite a bit more intricate in design. If you’ve ever seen a robotics competition then you know how truly impressive some robots can be. Find out more about robots through DCPL by taking a look at FIRST Robots: Rack ‘N’ Roll: Behind the Design: 30 Profiles of Award-Winning Robot Designs by Vince Wilczynski and Stephanie Slezycki. Kids who are interested in robots will enjoy High Tech DIY Projects with Robotics by Maggie Murphy and How to Build a Prize-Winning Robot by Joel Chaffee.

blade runnerSometimes people use the words “robot” and “android” interchangeably, which is correct–although Webster’s does define an android as “a robot with a human appearance.” In literature and film, how closely an individual android resembles an actual human can vary. Thus, you have the “droids” C3-PO and R2-D2 in Star Wars IV, A New Hope, who are obviously not human, versus the “replicants” in Blade Runner who are nearly indistinguishable from the humans they attempt to pass among. Other films featuring robots or androids include:


The Day the Earth Stood Still

Alien and its sequel Aliens

Terminator 2: Judgment Day



Now we come to artificial intelligence, which Merriam-Webster defines as “an area of computer science that deals with giving machines the ability to seem like they have human intelligence” or “the power of a machine to copy intelligent human behavior.” Artificial intelligence takes a star turn most recently in the 2013 film from Spike Jonze, Her. Shy and lonely Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix) fall in love with a highly intelligent, talking operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) named Samantha. Both Theodore and Samantha grow in the relationship–and although Samantha eventually leaves, her departure is loving. Implied at the end of the film is Theodore’s new reality–that the experience of loving Samantha has given him the ability to open his heart to other human beings.

Contrast t2001he lively and compassionate Samantha with HAL 9000, otherwise known as “Hal” to the crew of the ill-fated spaceship Discovery One in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Who can forget the deadly certainty in Hal’s calm reply (voiced by Douglas Rain) to an increasingly desperate Dave Bowman’s (played by Kier Dullea) demand to “Open the pod bay doors, Hal.”? “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” HAL is responsible for several deaths in the film–and though one could argue that he acts through a sense of self-preservation, his ruthlessness is certainly chilling. Of course, Kubrick’s film is undeniably science fiction while Jonze’s is most emphatically not. (It’s a romantic comedy). Still, both films raise interesting questions regarding the influence that artificial intelligence can potentially have in the lives of human beings. If you’re interested in reading more about artificial intelligence, check out these offerings from DCPL:

How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed by Ray Kurzweilmost human

Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything by Stephen Baker

The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What it Means to Be Alive by Brian Christian

What do you think about artificial intelligence and its possibilities? What would your appliances say to you if they could?


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Apr 1 2015

George Plimpton and Sidd Finch

by Jimmy L

George Plimpton is well known for many reasons. He was a founding editor of the Paris Review and stayed on as editor until he died in 2003. He’s also known for his sports writing. Back in 1985, he was asked to write a Sports Illustrated article on April Fools’ jokes in sports for the magazine’s April 1st issue. Plimpton ended up writing his own elaborate April Fools’ joke about Sidd Finch, a 28-year-old aspiring monk who could throw a 168 MPH fastball. Mr. Finch was indeed fascinating. He dropped out of Harvard and went to Tibet. How did he learn to pitch so fast? Well, throwing rocks, meditating, and playing French Horn had something to do with it. You might be interested in the April 1, 2005 New York Times article “An Old Baseball April Fools’ Hoax.”

We have a sampling of items at DCPL by George Plimpton (including The Curious Case of Sidd Finch). Check out this link to our catalog. Enjoy!



Hello readers,

Have you ever wondered how famous writers, painters, musicians, sculptors, composers, scientists, filmmakers, poets, philosophers, or inventors actually go about the business of creating new art, ideas, books, concepts? As it turns out, there are as many ways to combat anxiety and to be productive as there are personalities. The main thing is to get the job done, and the majority of creative people rely on sometimes rigid routines in order to produce the desired quantity of work. Many creative people struggle with the act of creation, and I am well familiar with the art of procrastination and the anxiety that can surround the creative act. Each creative individual resolves his or her existential angst in a highly personal manner, and this book provides much insight (in minute detail) into this aspect of the creative process.

A truly fascinating book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, written by Mason Currey and published in 2013, is a compilation of descriptions of the work and life habits of 161 renowned individuals ranging from Jane Austen to Beethoven. A profile of more than three or four pages, and often much less, is devoted to each individual, and it would seem that channeling the compulsion to create requires for many not only devotion to art but also a dedication to rote habits. Details of eating habits, social activities, various idiosyncrasies, when, how, and where the artist worked, as well as routines involving physical exercise, are all explained in precise detail, many of which are amusing. For example, Thomas Wolfe, who measured 6’6″, would work standing up using the top of a refrigerator as his desk!

Each of these mini-biographies brings insight into the work and personalities of the likes of Franz Kafka, who struggled to find time to write between long shifts, with frequent overtime hours spent working in an insurance agency, and little privacy, as he shared a cramped apartment with numerous family members. His nightly writing rituals were preceded by ten minutes of exercise executed naked in front of an open window, followed by an hour-long, semi-solitary walk with a friend, such as Max Brodt, and dinner with his family…after all of which he would sit down to write at 10:30 or 11:00 p.m., working until well after midnight. The writing session would be followed by more physical exercise, followed by attempts to sleep, which were mostly thwarted by an overactive mind.

Some of the personalities in the book are quite eccentric, such as inventor Nikola Tesla, who worked regularly and compulsively from 10:30 each morning to 5:00 the following morning, and who had a variety of scripted rituals–such as taking his evening meals at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where he dined in solitaire. Prior to each meal, Tesla would require that he be supplied with 18 freshly-pressed linen napkins with which he would clean the already spotless tableware. When his meal would arrive, he would also compulsively, mentally calculate the cubic contents of each dish, a habit developed in childhood that he pursued until the end of his life.

A common trait to many of these biographies of prolific creators seems to be the practice of regular physical exercise as well as the embracing of a regular work schedule, for some diurnal and others nocturnal. While some of the creative people profiled in this book needed to work a salaried job in order to pay the bills, others had financial means allowing them to create their own schedules. Some, such as Thomas Mann or Anthony Trollope, could work as little as three hours a day on their creative work, while others, including Philip Roth, would regularly produce eight or more hours per day of work. Roth eventually divorced and realized that the single life was more suited to his personality and literary habits, as he no longer felt constrained to keep a spouse or partner company in the evenings.

The image of the artist as a hedonist and substance abuser (of which there are many in this book–Jean-Paul Sartre or Toulouse Lautrec come to mind) who awaits the visit of a muse in order to find the inspiration to work is, however, a rarity among these productive individuals. Patricia Highsmith was one of the few who absolutely required that writing be pleasurable and would work only when inspiration struck. Apparently, habit and routine are by consensus a better way to channel the muse than simply waiting for her to knock at the studio door.


Mar 20 2015

Devouring Downton

by Dea Anne M

Like many people (including some fellow bloggers), I have fallen under the spell of Downton Abbey, the PBS period drama. Through war and social upheavals; marriages, births and deaths; scandals and joys–I find the story of the Crawley family and the servants who work for them utterly irresistible. One aspect of the show I find particularly fascinating is the impeccable attention to detail that goes into the set designs and the costumes. Every aspect of the Crawley’s world seems rendered perfectly–including the routines of the household which, of course, feature many, many meals. I love watching scenes that take place at the many elaborate dinner parties as well as those of humbler meals shared by the servants. I think my favorite food-related sequences are the ones set in the Downton kitchens. I’m fascinated with the food that Mrs. Patmore and her staff prepare week after week, and I often wonder how everything appears so seamless. Well, this recent article in the New York Times makes it clear exactly how hard the show’s food stylist, the very talented Lisa Heathcote, works to guarantee the sleek appearance and historical accuracy of any scene involving food. Imagine cooking 60 chickens in one day! All in all, a very interesting article for of us Downton fans.

Can’t get enough of Downton Abbey? If so, you might want to explore these titles from DCPL.


If you’d like to delve into some of the cooking of Edwardian Britain (the series begins slightly after), consider Recipes From An Edwardian Country House by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, as well as The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines. Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book is charmingly written while the Baines book includes recipes for some very scrumptious looking dishes with cutesy names such as Tom Branson’s Colcannon and Lady Mary’s Crab yearCanapes. I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the recipes in either book, but they look like fun. You’ll find more recipes in A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes, which depicts life at Downton during the year 1924 and includes descriptions of family trips and festivities.

In the show, Cora Crawley, i.e. Lady Grantham, is an American heiress whose fortune is key toward allowing Downton Abbey to stay in the family. This story reflects the reality of many wealthy young American women during what’s known as The Gilded Age. They flocked to England to marry noblemen whose finances were in need of some shoring up–basically trading money for titles. Arguably, the most famous of these so called “Dollar Princesses” was Consuelo Vanderbilt who became the Duchess of Marlborough in 1895. Her marrymemoir, The Glitter and the Gold: The American Duchess–In her Own Words, originally published in 1953, has been reissued in paperback and promises to be a fascinating read.

You can read more of Cora’s story, and those of her sisters in this peculiar marriage market, in Gail MacColl’s and Carol Wallace’s book To Marry An English Lord. Gossipy and engaging, the book provides insight into the pleasures, and often pains, experienced by this unique group of women. And for the view from “downstairs,” don’t miss Minding the Manor: The Memoir of a 1930s English Kitchen Maid by Mollie Moran and Below Stairs by Margaret Powell, belowboth written by women who worked as kitchen maids in two of the great houses in the early twentieth century.

Of course, I can’t seem to make it through a single episode of Downton Abbey without sighing over some item of clothing worn by one of the show’s characters, and now that the action has moved into the 1920′s (one of my favorite fashion eras ever!) the pleasures are non-stop. If you, like me, love the show’s costuming and you plan to be in Asheville this spring, be sure to check out the more than 40 Downton costumes which will be on display at our country’s own stately home, the Biltmore Estate. It might be worth making a special trip just to see the scrumptious green silk dress that Lady Mary wore at Matthew’s first Downton dinner.

Do you like Downton Abbey? What aspect of the show pleases you most and do you have a favorite character?

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Terry Pratchett at the 2012 New York Comic Con - © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia CommonsThe world of fantasy literature lost one of its luminaries earlier this month when beloved author Terry Pratchett died at age 66 after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Pratchett was a prolific writer who was best known for his Discworld series, which spans 40 novels published over the course of more than 3 decades. He has also collaborated with other popular authors such as Neil Gaiman (Good Omens) and Stephen Baxter (The Long Earth series). The recipient of numerous honors and awards, Pratchett was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1998 and received a knighthood in 2009, in both cases for “services to literature.”

Given his prodigious output, readers unfamiliar with Pratchett’s work may wonder at the best place to start. This handy graphic might be useful in making that determination; it lists all of the Discworld novels, grouped by storyline and arranged chronologically, with the connections between individual novels mapped out. Personally, I’d suggest beginning with Small Gods; it is almost entirely stand-alone but provides a great introduction to the Discworld setting and Pratchett’s characteristically humorous and satirical style.

Pratchett’s wit and way with words have resulted in a plethora of notable quotations attributed to him, many of them originating as lines in his novels. The quote used in the title is from the book Going Postal, and I’d like to conclude this post with another from the book Reaper Man:

No one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away — until the clock he wound up winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence.

By that measure, Terry Pratchett will live on on our bookshelves forever.

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