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

August 2014

Aug 29 2014

Emma Mills Nutt Day!

by Glenda

emmanuttOn September 1, 2014, we celebrate Emma Mills Nutt as the first female telephone operator.  On September 1, 1878, Emma began working for the Boston Telephone Dispatch Company. Her career lasted thirty-three years. Prior to hiring Emma, the telephone dispatch had young men as telephone operators, and some customers felt the men did not have the proper attitude and patience for live telephone contact. Customers had positive responses to Emma’s soothing voice and her patience. Soon all of the men were replaced by women.

Emma was hired by Alexander Graham Bell, most recognized as the inventor of the first practical telephone. She changed jobs from the local telegraph office. Emma’s salary was $10.00 per month for a 54-hour work week. It is said that Emma could remember every number in the telephone directory of the New England Telephone Company. It was not all that easy for a woman to become an operator. The woman needed to be unmarried and between the ages of seventeen and twenty-six. A woman had to look proper and have arms long enough to reach the top of the tall telephone switchboard. Many books have been published about the history of the telephone. Click here to see some items you may want to check out at DCPL.

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Aug 25 2014

The Know Nothing vs. Alex

by Hope L

Alex1Remember a while back when I said I was a Know-It-All?

Well, when I’m watching Jeopardy (with your host, A-LEX TRE-bek!) and the Final Jeopardy question is U.S.  Presidents, I arrogantly jump for joy.  You see, I pride myself on knowing a lot about the presidents.

I was perusing the stacks of DCPL the other day, and a title leapt out at me: So You Think You Know the Presidents? Fascinating Facts About Our Chief Executives.  I had to read it just to confirm (yet again) that I do indeed know a lot about the presidents.  The Know-It-All in action!

Well, it turns out I don’t know all that much about the presidents.  Truly.  Sure, I can name them all, in order.  I can usually tell you who is what number, as in Grover Cleveland was number 22 and 24.  But when I began reading this fascinating book (yes, I know I say that about every book I blog about!) I was dumbstruck.

Like, take this about Theodore Roosevelt:

“…He was campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on October 14, 1912, when a saloonkeeper named John Schrank shot him.  The bullet lodged in his chest after penetrating his steel eyeglass case and passing through a thick (50 pages) single-folded copy of the speech he was carrying in his jacket.  Roosevelt concluded that since he wasn’t coughing up blood, the bullet had not completely penetrated the chest wall to his lung, and so declined suggestions he go to the hospital immediately.  Instead, he delivered his scheduled speech with blood seeping onto his shirt.  He spoke for 90 minutes.”

I mean, can you imagine?!  First of all, it’s a very good thing he wore eyeglasses and that he wrote a very wordy, 50-page speech!  And second, can you imagine this happening today?  Why, the Secret Service would have a cow.

Many of the tasty tidbits in this tome had me wanting to dial up Alex Trebek and ask, “Did you know that…,” because, SURELY, even the sage of game-show fame does not know THAT.

Imagine the smirk on my face as I ask Alex why Abraham Lincoln decided to grow a beard:

Alex: “Hmmm … well, Hope, I’m not sure …because it made him look older?

Hope: “WRONG!  No, of course it was because eleven-year-old Grace Bedell wrote him a letter suggesting that he do so!  The letter was written on October 15, 1860, just before the 1860 election.  He had NEVER worn a beard before!”

Alex (mouth agape, eyebrows raised):  “Um … really?”

Of course, for casual readers, this volume might not be up your alley, but for your real Know-It-All’s like yours truly, it’s a treasure trove of trivia that is fascinating and curious, some of it almost strange.

Hope: “Alex, betcha’ don’t know the only president to have officially reported a UFO sighting…”

Alex: “Hmmm … well, Hope, I’m not sure… “

Hope: “JIMMY CARTER!  (in Leary, GA, in 1969, seven years before he became president and two years before he became governor of  Georgia).”

Alex (smiling, eyebrows raised): “Um … really?”

Oh, and btw y’all:  The former president who later ran for office as a member of the Know Nothing Party?

“Who is Millard Fillmore.”  I’m calling Alex…

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Aug 22 2014

Exploring a Lost Art

by Dea Anne M

In 1960, the average woman at Cornell University owned 2.9 pairs of pants. That .9 is really worrying me. Where did the rest of the pants go and, more important, what was left? Were the side seams missing to such an extent that the pants flapped wildly around the poor woman’s legs providing neither warmth nor coverage? Did the pants lack a waistband altogether so that she had to use duct tape to attach them to her skin?

Now I know perfectly well that this .9 is probably the statistical result of some of those women owning 1 pair of pants, some owning 2, and some owning a full complement of 3. Yet the possibility of a .9 pair of pants affects me in a way similar to the way learning as a child that “the average American family” had 2.5 children affected me. Where, I wondered, was my half-sibling? And by “half-sibling” I didn’t envision a child who shared only one parent with me. No. I imagined a literal half-child who was bisected down the middle and wearing half a shirt, half a pair of pants, and one shoe.  She or he was a potentially tragic creature–one that my parents had to be hiding somewhere, but where? Certainly not anywhere in our house–a Central Florida ranch model that had no basement, much less anything resembling an attic. Was there a place in the country for all those .5 children that the average American family kept producing–some haven where each child was allowed ice cream every day and the pet of his or her choice? Childhood poses many such odd questions…or maybe my brain was just a weird place to be.

That 2.9 pants statistic comes from an entertaining new book The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish by Linda Przybyszewski. Przybyszewski is a professor in the History Department at the University of Notre Dame. Among the courses she teaches is A Nation of Slobs, which introduces students to “the art, ethics and losteconomics of dress in Modern America.” According to the book, American women were considered some of the best dressed in the world up through the earlier half of the twentieth century. Since then, we’ve experienced the explosive growth of the garment industry and its subsequent globalization–as well as the impact of far-reaching movements for social change and an increasingly youth-oriented culture. All of these have altered the way we think about attire and its importance. As far as women and their pants go, the book posits that prior to the late 1960’s women simply didn’t have that many occasions to wear them. Trousers were considered “proper” for women when engaged in sports, for at home wear or when in the county or suburbs. The ubiquity of pants in women’s wardrobes today can be traced to the advent of the mini-skirt (introduced by British designer Mary Quant in 1964) and the subsequent (mostly female-led) backlash against such a revealing garment.  Throughout, Przybyszewski argues her points tartly and often humorously–and whether you agree with her or not, the book itself is well worth reading. In fact, I’ve already read it twice!

Dr. Przybyszewski attributes the former wide acceptance of certain standards of women’s dress to a couple of things (and these standards didn’t necessarily embrace an adherence to luxury but rather ideas of appropriateness and artistic harmony). One was that, until fairly recently, American consumers didn’t have the sort of access to low-priced, mass-produced garments that we do today. Instead, the average woman either sewed her own clothes or shopped very carefully for the highest quality garments that she could afford. In fact, it’s surprising how very few clothes were considered necessary to be well dressed.  For work, some experts ruled that 5 outfits were enough and some declared 2 or 3 ample with clever changes of accessories. That’s difficult for many of us these days to consider desirable…or even possible. Though I do love the idea of a well-edited wardrobe and the so-called “capsule wardrobe” really appeals to me.

In any case, I want to upgrade my own clothing and in service to that goal I’m slowly teaching myself to sew. I don’t expect to save money this way. My main focus is on learning to create garments that fit well in colors that flatter me. Most of us who shop for clothes will eventually feel frustrated with the poor fit of so many off-the-rack garments and, as for color, there isn’t always a good choice available. Fortunately, DCPL has plenty of resources to help me in my sewing adventure. If you share my aspirations, these resources could help you too.

Here are a few of the titles that I’ve found helpful:

Sewing Solutions: Tips and Advice for the Savvy Sewist by Nicole Vasbinder

200 Sewing Tips, Techniques and Trade Secrets by Lorna Knight

Sewing In a Straight Line: Quick and Crafty Projects You Can Make by Simply Sewing Straight by Brett Bara

And here are three titles that will be of special interest to those of us who are interested in creating clothing:

The Complete Photo Guide to Clothing Construction by Christine Haynes is technique-based and beautifully illustrated. I’m not ready yet for pleats or contour darts, but when I am, this is the book I will turn to.

Skirt-A-Day Sewing: Create 28 Skirts for a Unique Look Every Day by Nicole Smith provides instruction for making exactly what the title promises. These skirts are adorable and could keep you happily, and beautifully, clothed for some time.

If you’ve already been sewing for a while, How To Use, Adapt, and Design Sewing Patterns by Lee Hollahan will show you how to alter paper patterns for an absolutely perfect fit and personal detail.

I’m still very much a beginner to sewing but I’m happy to say that I’m enjoying the process of learning. Who knows, maybe some day soon you’ll see me wearing a beautiful garment that I made with my own hands!

To go, briefly, back to The Lost Art of Dress, the author frequently mentions Elizabeth Hawes, a clothing designer who was active professionally from the mid-1920’s through 1940.  As a political activist and a champion of gender equality, Hawes was very much ahead of her time. She had plenty of provocative and interesting things to say about clothing and the fashion industry. She was also, in my opinion, a brilliant designer who created some of the most original and beautiful hawesclothes I’ve ever seen (with some of the most interesting names). The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art has an online archive of its collection where you can view the work of many designers, including Elizabeth Hawes. Check out the amazing evening gown called It Is My own Invention (see photo, right) as an example of her talent (and click here for a larger picture).

Do you sew? Do you enjoy making your own clothes? Guys, you may be feeling left out of this post, but I would love to hear from any men out there who already sew or are interested in learning.

 

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gate with arch

Hello readers,

Any publication about introverts or introversion usually catches my eye and my interest. While perusing The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Dembling, I began to wonder about introverted fictional characters. Books and films abound with them and, it is no wonder, many authors and artists are introverted.

What qualities (positive) characterize introverts and introversion? While the forefathers of psychology and pop psychology tend to couch their descriptions in pejorative terms, it has been reassessed that at least 50% of all humans are introverted. And, luckily for us, the great Carl Gustav Jung also thought highly of introverts. Much of his work was devoted to the inner worlds of imagination and intuition–skills that delight many introverts. 50% of the population is indeed a high percentage in a Darwinian equation in which only the most fit survive. There must be something highly important about the introvert personality with regards to human adaptation to have such a strong presence within the general population. While American culture glorifies the active, risk-taking, impulsive, highly social and (from an introvert’s perspective) short-fused, superficial, and attention-deficit oriented individual, a sense of balance seems to require a very different personality type to keep the group going.

extrovert-introvert

Introverts are slower, more thoughtful and careful planners, more detail-oriented, and less socially inclined. Introvert brains process information differently, using more areas of the brain to assess information. High sensitivity (see Elaine Aron’s site about HSPs–Highly Sensitive Persons) also often is a characteristic of introversion. Introverts often need to be alone, to reflect, to digest observations. In ancient times, the wealthy and powerful surrounded themselves with sages and advisers. The introvert is just the woman or man for that job. While not seeking out the limelight, the introvert tends to seek truth, knowledge, or justice. The bottom line is that all personality types are valuable and necessary for our collective survival and wellbeing as humans.

Perhaps taking a closer look at fictional characters contributes to our ability to perceive the value of “the other half.”

MyersBriggsTypes

While searching online, I found a fun and interesting tumblr site MBTI-in-Fiction in which numerous fictional characters are analyzed along the lines of the Myers-Briggs personality profile system. Just for fun, take the free online 16 Personalities quiz (not an official Myers-Briggs test), and compare your personality type with those of your favorite fictional characters.

individuationIn the Myers-Briggs personality evaluation system, the various letters stand for key personality traits. I represents introvert, while E stands for extrovert, N for intuitive, T for thinking, J for judging, F for feeling, P for perceiving, S for sensing, etc. Various traits have different levels of dominance in each personality type, which is a combination of four traits, inspired by the Jungian theory of individuation.

Some of my favorite introverted film characters include warm-hearted dreamer AmelieAmelie Poulain, from the 2001 French film Amelie, “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain,” directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and Tim Burton’s Edward, of Edward Scissorhands  (1990).  The contrast in personalities and creativity of the various characters in both films highlight the challenges of these two very lovable characters.

edward-scissorhandsWhether your own temperament is characterized by a dominant introvert or extrovert, I think we can all learn to better know and appreciate ourselves and one another by enjoying works of literature or film, helping to make our human community more balanced and our inner lives richer.

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Aug 12 2014

Tiny Space, Big Life

by Dea Anne M

Many years ago–My grandfather has built a playhouse for the grandchildren to use when they come to visit. To say that I’m enchanted would be an understatement.  The charm of a space just my size is almost too much to take in. I begin to make plans to run away and live in the playhouse.

A number of years ago–A friend is visiting me in my new place. This friend happens to be a big guy, standing well over six feet, and he seems fidgety as we sit on my sofa and chat. Suddenly, he leaps up and cries, “This place is like a dollhouse! I’ve gotta’ get out of here!” As I close the door, I look around at my tiny apartment and smile.  I have a sense–which will prove itself over time–that this petite pad will be my favorite of many rental abodes.

Not so many years ago–I’m visiting the town of Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard and I’m thrilled with the collection of “gingerbread cottages” surrounding the central pavilion of what became, through the 1880’s and beyond, a wildly popular site for Methodist camp meetings. These wee “Carpenter’s Gothic” style houses are painted in all the colors of a Crayola box, boast miniature balconies and front porches, and look exactly like the fairy tale houses of my childhood dreams.

I’ve never lost my fascination with scaled-down living spaces. Boat interiors, travel trailers, treehouses, cabins–I find them all thoroughly charming, especially when scrupulously organized. Indeed, small houses are something of an enthusiasm and dedicated choice for people who want to scale back, live more simply and spend less money. A woman I’ve known for years told me recently that she was planning on buying a house from the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, which offers ready-made houses to place on foundations or on wheels as well as a variety of house plans. Make no mistake, these houses are truly tiny. Yet small as they are, the Tumbleweed houses are appealing, as are those on offer from other companies such as Four Lights and Brevard Tiny House. Clever built-ins, sleeping and storage lofts, and comparatively spacious kitchens make these homes appear quite livable. Tumbleweed’s smallest rolling model, The Elm, measures a mere 117 square feet. A quick check of apartments available in Decatur shows studios averaging 550 square feet. Perhaps the smallest of these houses would be best for just one person, or maybe as a vacation home used primarily for sleeping and preparing food. Of course, the question of whether a space like this is right for you comes down to not how much room you really need, but how much “stuff” you have.

Another memory–We are going out for the evening and we stop to pick up a woman who is new to our group. She shows us into the room she rents in a communal house–architecturally distinguished and in need of repairs, as are so many houses in this college town. Kay’s room is enormous, with a soaring ceiling and a real fireplace. For me though, the most striking feature of the room is how it’s furnished. Wedged tight into a corner, is a twin bed, without a headboard, flanked by a folding metal chair on which sits an unshaded lamp. The rest of the space is taken up by rolling metal clothes racks. Each rack is crammed with clothing–dresses, blouses, skirts, coats of all cuts, colors, and styles. There are fur stoles, feather boas, kimonos, and even more exotic garments. There are shoes, arrayed like battalions, beneath each rack. It’s eye-boggling and, as so often happens when I’m startled, I can think of nothing remotely intelligent to say.

“Wow,” I finally stammer. “You sure have a lot of clothes.”

“I do.” Kay says. She assures me that all these clothes represent years of work spent scouting the country for thrift-shop treasures and vintage finds. “People offer to buy clothes from me all the time,” she tells me. Kay gives me a wistful smile.  “But I could never part with a single thing. I think of each garment as a special friend.”

And maybe that’s all the space we need–enough for our friends.

Are you interested in exploring smaller and/or alternative living spaces? If so, check out these offerings from DCPL.little

A Little House of My Own: 47 Grand Designs for 47 Tiny Houses by Les Walker includes a lavishly illustrated chapter on my beloved Martha’s Vineyard cottages. Here, also you’ll find the “refugee shacks” built to house people after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, a Caribbean “chattel house,” and numerous vacation homes, artist studios and the like. All in all, an intriguing collection.

If you dream of a small place at the lake or ocean or a tiny cabin in the woods, be sure to check out Homes homesfrom Home: Inventive Small Spaces from Chic Shacks to Cabins and Caravans by Vinny Lee. My favorite is the Vintage Beach Hut but you’ll find plenty of inspiration and fun in abodes like The Tin House and the amazing Italian Island Cave. There are even houses made out of metal shipping containers!

A lot of us had a treehouse when we were kids, or had a friend who did, but have you ever considered an adult treehouse? Check out The Treehouse Book by Peter and Judy Nelson with David Larkin. Most of treehousethese structures aren’t living quarters as such but tend to function mainly as work or recreational spaces, or as alternative sleeping spaces in good weather. A stunning exception is the multi-level treehouse built by William Scott Scurlock. During the 1990’s, Scurlock robbed more than 15 banks in the Northwest before his suicide in 1996. Something of a dreamer, Scurlock’s treehouse was apparently his pet project and he lived in it off and on while he added to it year after year. For a treehouse, the structure is downright palatial and includes picture windows, a sundeck with shower, and functioning plumbing.

To many of us, the epitome of mobile compact living is the Airstream trailer. Airstream Living by Bruce Littlefield and Simon Brown will fill you in on the history and lore of this classic of American design. Sometime in the 1920’s, airstreamWally Bynum invented a prototype of the Airstream simply because he was a man who loved camping–and he had a wife who refused to camp without access to a proper kitchen. Bynum continued to fine tune his design through the years. In 1936 (following the introduction of the alloy “Duraluminum”), he introduced the Airstream Clipper and a legend was launched. The rest of this beautifully photographed book introduces you to a wide variety of Airstreams and their happy owners. Some of the trailers function as bases for parties–either slumber or cocktail. Some are beautifully decorated (often in retro styles) living spaces. There is an Airstream restaurant/bar, a sound studio, and even an Airstream motel! Money magazine included the Airstream in its list of “99 Things That, Yes, Americans Make the Best,” and with its sleek design and cozy yet efficient interiors, it’s easy to see why.

Do you long for a simpler, smaller space? Maybe you want a home you can travel in. What is your small space dream?

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Aug 8 2014

The First Day of School

by Glenda

readytoreadHooray, hooray, the first day of school

The library’s quiet and barely full

Hooray, hooray, the first day of school

The children’s area is clean and the shelves are completely full

Hooray, hooray, the first day of school

No children’s programs today, and the café area is not even full

Hooray, hooray, the first day of school

No one’s looking for Margaret McNamara’s The First Day of School

Don’t say it, don’t say it

Hooray, hooray, the first day of school

Because

It is very lonesome when the kids are in school

And

I’m lonely, when do the kids get out of school?

–by an exhausted children’s librarian after a great, busy, fun-filled summer

Here are a few other first-day-of-school books:

Ham and Pickles: The First Day of School by Nicole Rubel

First Day of School: All About Shapes and Sizes by Kirsten Hall

Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come by Nancy Carlson

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes

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Aug 6 2014

On Books and Covers

by Joseph M

girl with the dragon tattoo cover

They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but sometimes an eye-catching graphic provides the impetus to pick up a book that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. If you’ve ever wondered who comes up with the ideas for those covers, you may be interested in a recent New York Times article profiling Peter Mendelsund, associate art director for the publishing house Alfred A. Knopf. You may recognize his work on this cover of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Although he has designed literally hundreds of book covers over the course of his career, the one that gave him the most trouble was for his own first book. Read more by clicking here.

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Billy Joel biography coverI grew up listening to the music of Billy Joel. My family would sing classics like “Piano Man” and “The Longest Time” on car trips and jam out to “We Didn’t Start The Fire” and “The Downeaster Alexa” when they came on the radio. To this day he remains one of my favorite musicians to sing along with.

I’m not alone in my appreciation of Bill Joel. On July 22nd, the Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, named Billy Joel as the next recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The Gershwin Prize for Popular Song is an award given to a composer or performer for lifetime contributions to popular music. Previous recipients include such notable names as Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Sir Paul McCartney, and Carole King.

Billington explains the selection of Billy Joel as the next award winner:

“Billy Joel is a storyteller of the highest order. There is an intimacy to his songwriting that bridges the gap between the listener and the worlds he shares through music. When you listen to a Billy Joel song, you know about the people and the place and what happened there. And while there may be pain, despair and loss, there is ultimately a resilience to it that makes you want to go to these places again and again.

Importantly, as with any good storyteller, the recognition experienced in a Billy Joel song is not simply because these are songs we have heard so many times, but because we see something of ourselves in them.”

Reacting to news of the announcement, Joel said, “The great composer, George Gershwin, has been a personal inspiration to me throughout my career. And the Library’s decision to include me among those songwriters who have been past recipients is a milestone for me.”

Joel has reached a number of impressive milestones throughout his 50 years in the entertainment industry; he is the sixth top-selling artist of all time and the third top-selling solo artist of all time, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, and is also the winner of six Grammy Awards.

If you want to see what all the fuss is about, DCPL has a plethora of Billy Joel related material available in our catalog. For those interested in learning more about the man behind the music, check out this biography of him by author Hank Bordowitz.

Popular music has changed a lot over the past few decades, with rock music in particular experiencing various permutations and divisions. We have alternative rock, indie rock, southern rock, surf rock, soft rock, hard rock, classic rock…the list goes on. But no matter what varieties the modern scene has morphed into, the music of Bill Joel is still rock and roll to me.

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