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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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Jul 31 2014

Museum of the Missing

by Hope L

mus2The introduction to Simon Houpt’s book Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft begins with the heartbreaking true story:

“It may be the most haunting work of art in the world.

It has no canvas, no oil paint, no artist’s signature.  Official appraisals would say it is worthless.  It is just a single carved wood frame, the color of burnished gold, hanging on an easel draped in heavy brown fabric.  Until one late winter night in 1990, that frame held The Concert, one of only thirty-six known works by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer.  Like so many of Vermeer’s paintings, The Concert is famously enigmatic.  It quietly imposes itself on the viewer, insisting on contemplation.  And here, in the Dutch Room on the second floor of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, a wide-backed chair upholstered in light green Victorian fabric sits in front of the easel, courteously placed there so that a visitor might pause to reflect on the painting’s luminous beauty and the many secrets it holds.

But in 1990, when two thieves ransacked the museum during the city’s post-St. Patrick’s Day inebriated haze, plucking the Vermeer and twelve other treasures, including three Rembrandts and a Govaert Flinck from this same room, the greatest secret of The Concert became its location.  Now, if you go to the Gardner, you will see a heartbreaking tableau:  that chair staring up at the empty frame, as if in eternal contemplation of the loss.”

As noted on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum website, the stolen works include: “Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633),  A Lady and Gentleman in Black (1633) and a Self Portrait (1634), an etching on paper; Vermeer’s The Concert (1658–1660); and Govaert Flinck’s Landscape with an Obelisk (1638); and a Chinese vase or Ku, all taken from the Dutch Room on the second floor. Also stolen from the second floor were five works on paper by the Impressionist artist Edgar Degas and a finial from the top of a pole support for a Napoleonic silk flag, both from the Short Gallery. Edouard Manet’s Chez Tortoni (1878–1880) was taken from the Blue Room on the first floor.”

Chez

The approximately $500 million worth of art stolen from the Gardner is still an open case, and there is a $5 million reward for information leading to the recovery of the 13 pieces. The FBI maintains a dedicated webpage on the case.

The latter portion of Houpt’s book contains the Gallery of Missing Art, an assortment of artwork that has been stolen with a brief paragraph on each piece.  And of course, the color pictures of the stolen art are amazing.

There were two security guards on duty that night in 1990 at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (they were unscathed). I’m so glad I wasn’t one of them–the thieves duped the guards by dressing up as city policemen, stating that they were there for a call.

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Jun 18 2014

Patsy

by Hope L

PatsyThe Wurlitzer All-Time Jukebox Hits lists Crazy as the #2 jukebox hit single. She would’ve been 82 this year. Her name was Virginia Patterson Hensley, aka Patsy Cline.

I once lip-synched the Patsy Cline song I Fall to Pieces at a convention, so I have  literary license to write about  Ms. Cline. Of course I remember Jessica Lange playing Patsy  in the 1985 film Sweet Dreams, but other than knowing that Cline died in a plane crash, I really didn’t know much about this 60’s icon of country music.  So I picked up Mark Bego’s I Fall to Pieces: The Music and the Life of Patsy Cline.

Many talented and ambitious people had hardscrabble beginnings and/or abuse growing up, and Patsy was no exception.  Now when I listen to her music, I have a whole new appreciation for the angst that can be heard in her singing of songs, my personal favorite being Turn the Cards Slowly.

Patsy Cline knew she would be a star, and at a young age she went about making it happen by singing everywhere and every chance she got, just for the experience: church, fairgrounds, restaurants, nightclubs.  At  age 15, “Ginny,” as she was known then, quit school to go to work to help support the family. Her first  paying  job: slaughtering chickens.

But Ginny found the time to nag her mother to take her around to Winchester, West Virginia’s small radio station and show off her singing skills to the likes of Joltin’ Jim McCoy–and eventually on to Nashville to try to get an audience with Wally Fowler, a big star of Southern Gospel with a regular radio show.

When I hear a song by Patsy, with its steel guitar intro, it brings me back to the days of country two-stepping and smoky barrooms of my  youth–fond memories, indeed.  Forgive me, young people–but they sure don’t  make music like this anymore. Click here to take a look at some of the items we have at DCPL.

 

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Mar 3 2014

Women’s History Month

by Joseph M

March is Women’s History Month, and the library is a great place to learn more about the countless contributions of women throughout the ages. In addition to a wide selection of biographical materials showcasing the lives of numerous notable women, DCPL has many titles appropriate to the theme. Among these are Celebrating women’s history : a women’s history month resource book, as well as one that I’m currently enjoying, The Great Women Superheroes.

Of course, there are many other ways to observe Women’s History Month. This morning when I was listening to WABE (the local NPR station) I heard a bit about Storycorps Atlanta, and how they are encouraging people to come and talk about the great women in their lives. Neat idea, right? How will you celebrate?

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Oct 11 2013

Bill Bryson

by Jesse M

Although the majority of my reading material tends to be fiction, I like to mix it up every once in a while with a good nonfiction book, and in today’s post I’ll talk about one of my go-to non-fiction authors, Bill Bryson.

Bryson writes on a number of topics, ranging from science, history, and etymology, but he is perhaps best known for his travel writing (he has actually been mentioned before on this blog in that context). Whatever his topic of choice, Bryson thoroughly explores the subject with his trademark wit and humor, using a writing style that is easy and pleasant to read (and listen to as well; he even narrates many of his own audiobooks!).

Interested readers can find the majority of Bryson’s output in the DCPL catalog, but if you’re new to his work, allow me to recommend some of my favorites:

A walk in the woods coverA Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering the Appalachian Trail describes his attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail, interspersed with discussions of matters relating to the trail’s history, and the surrounding sociology, ecology, trees, plants, animals and people. It is as much a book of personal discovery as it is an exploration of the Appalachian Trail, and it is hard to say which aspect of the book I enjoyed more.

In a sunburned country cover In a Sunburned Country, written in a similar style to A Walk in the Woods, details his travels by car and rail throughout Australia, with asides concerning the history, geography and ecology of the country, along with his wry impressions of the life, culture and amenities (or lack thereof) in each locality. This book has the distinction of being the funniest that I’ve read by him, which is saying something since all of his work is quite humorous.

A Short History of Nearly Everything coverA Short History of Nearly Everything deviates from the travel guide style of the previous two books, instead focusing on the history of scientific discovery and an exploration of the individuals who made the discoveries. In this fashion he covers a variety of topics including chemistry, geology, astronomy, and particle physics, moving through scientific history from the Big Bang to the discovery of quantum mechanics. The book has won multiple awards, claiming the Aventis prize in 2004 for best general science book and the Descartes Prize the following year for science communication.

At home coverAt Home: A Short History of Private Life is a history of domestic life told through a tour of Bryson’s Norfolk home, a former rectory in rural England. The book covers topics of the commerce, architecture, technology and geography that have shaped homes into what they are today, showing how each room has figured in the evolution of private life. Possibly my favorite of Bryson’s many works, this is a must read for anyone interested in the fascinating history of everyday things whose existence most of us take for granted. To get an idea of the breadth of what the book covers, take a look at the wikipedia page.

One Summer coverBryson has recently published a new book, titled One Summer: America, 1927, which examines the events and personalities of the summer of 1927, a momentous season that begins in May with Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight and ends with Babe Ruth hitting his then-record-setting 60th home run on the last day of September, amongst many other notable events. Bryson will actually be in Decatur this evening (Friday, October 11 2013, 7:00 pm—9:00 pm) at First Baptist Church Decatur as part of the Georgia Center for the Book’s Festival of Writers series to promote the new book. For more details visit this page.

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Oct 7 2013

The Atlanta Mary Mysteries

by Hope L

Truth really is stranger than fiction. That’s the main reason I enjoy reading non-fiction books.  In this post and the next, I will explore the strange stories of the two Marys.

I’m fascinated with true crime mysteries right here in our own metropolis, but none intrigue me more than the cases of the two Marys: Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old pencil factory worker who was found murdered in 1913, and Mary Shotwell Little, a 25-year-old C & S secretary who disappeared seemingly into thin air from Lenox Mall in 1965. Mary Shotwell Little vanished after eating dinner with a friend at the S & S Cafeteria at Lenox Mall.

Here are a few books from the Library’s collection about the Mary Phagan case. My next post will highlight some publications on the Mary Shotwell Little case.

And the Dead Shall Rise:  the Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank, by Steve Oney, is definitely the most thorough account of the Phagan/Frank crimes I’ve read.  If you don’t know about Mary Phagan:  The 13-year-old was found murdered in the pencil factory where she worked. Factory superintendent and part-owner Leo Frank was tried and convicted of the crime. His death sentence was later commuted by the governor to life in prison. Upon hearing this, an angry mob took Frank at gunpoint from the state prison at Milledgeville and brought him to Marietta where they hanged him. Frank was ultimately pardoned posthumously. The story became nationally famous because of the anti-Semitism involved, the founding of B’nai B’rith’s Anti-Defamation League, the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and the local newspaper sensationalism pitting the working class and child labor vs. Atlanta’s moneyed elite.

Murder in the Peach State – Infamous Murders from Georgia’s Past, by Bruce L. Jordan, starts with a chapter on Mary Phagan and Leo Frank. The book itself is dedicated to columnist Celestine Sibley, who was a court reporter for years covering the trials of Georgia’s most infamous murders.

The Murder of Little Mary Phagan, by Mary Phagan (great-niece and namesake of the Mary Phagan), tells the family’s side of the story and the grim nature of the crime. Another book about the story is The Leo Frank Case, by Leonard Dinnerstein.

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Aug 12 2013

Remembering Emmett

by Hope L

pic

Now, I don’t know if you know about Emmett Till, but you definitely should.

This time every year—but especially now with Trayvon Martin’s death and the trial of George Zimmerman—I think of Emmett. It is a sad time.

14-year-old Emmett Till was savagely murdered August 28, 1955, while visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi.

Death of Innocence—The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America by Mamie Till-Mobley and Christopher Benson, tells the story as only a mother could. I loved this woman’s courage.

Her son’s ‘crime’? Entering a small grocery store for sweets and supposedly whistling at a white woman, the wife of the proprietor.

Emmett’s mama insisted his casket be open at the Chicago funeral (in order to do so without the smell, a glass-covered casket was used) with thousands of people filing in to view the body. Photographers took pictures of her son—photos that appeared in a black newspaper and Jet magazine. The result was shock, horror, and—some say—the impetus for the civil rights movement.

“People had to face my son and realize just how twisted, how distorted, how terrifying race hatred could be. People had to consider all of that as they viewed Emmett’s body. The whole nation had to bear witness to this,” she said.

Heartbreaking as it is, Till-Mobley’s account of her son’s murder is a testament to her strength, vision and tenacity. And her words ring especially true today.

She writes, “If you look at Emmett’s century, you see that the men who lived important lives, significant lives, were truly gifted. They were blessed with good mothers, mothers who gave them exactly what they needed—unconditional love. That, and the freedom to express themselves, to fulfill their promise. In that way, these mothers helped their sons come to believe that there was nothing they couldn’t achieve. This was a gift I gave my own son—a boy of great potential.”

Sadly, potential never realized. As Mamie Till-Mobley said during the 1989 dedication of the Civil Rights Memorial (at the Southern Poverty Law Center Headquarters, Montgomery, Alabama):

“We cannot afford the luxury of self-pity. Our top priority now is to get on with the building process. My personal peace has come through helping boys and girls reach beyond the ordinary and strive for the extraordinary. We must teach our children to weather the hurricanes of life, pick up the pieces, and rebuild. We must impress upon our children that even when troubles rise to seven-point-one on life’s Richter scale, they must be anchored so deeply that, though they sway, they will not topple.”

The murder of her son pushed her into activism:  the NAACP  asked Till-Mobley to tour the country relating the details of her son’s life, death, and the 1955 trial that acquitted his murderers. (Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam confessed in Look magazine, reportedly earning $4,000 for their participation in the 1956 article.) In 1956 she graduated from Chicago’s Teacher’s College; in 1976 she obtained her master’s degree in administration at Loyola University Chicago.

Till-Mobley died in 2003 at age 81 during the writing of her book,  and although she sought justice for her son her entire life, no one has ever been convicted of the crime. The state of Mississippi had to exhume Emmett’s body in 2005 to reopen the case, and his casket now resides in the Smithsonian.

But perhaps Emmett and Mamie led the way for that other boy of color with a single mother, born six years after Emmett’s death:  Barry Obama.

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Aug 9 2013

Andrew Carnegie…our hero?

by Dea Anne M

Carnegie_Library_of_Moultrie“The man who dies rich dies disgraced.” This famous statement comes from Andrew Carnegie, the industrialist and steel baron who amassed a huge fortune and then spent the latter part of his life giving the majority of it away. Perhaps the best known of his philanthropies is Carnegie Hall, Manhattan’s famous concert venue which Carnegie paid to have built. Others include the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Mellon University and numerous museums. The most important of his projects, at least to those of us who love libraries, would be the Carnegie libraries. The image at right shows the Old Carnegie Library in Moultrie, GA.  Built in 1906, it is no longer in use as a library but is on the National Register of Historic Places. 1690 of these libraries were built in the United States alone and many more in other parts of the world. A huge proponent of self-improvement, Carnegie didn’t provide endowments for these libraries. Rather, he insisted that any community interested in building a library aided by Carnegie funds be willing to abide by certain requirements:

  • demonstrate the need for a public library;
  • provide the building site;
  • annually provide ten percent of the cost of the library’s construction to support its operation; and,
  • provide free service to all.

This last point created its contradictions. In the strictly segregated American South, for example, Carnegie funded separate libraries for African Americans in many communities. In any case, Carnegie rarely denied a request and many of these buildings, beautifully designed and executed, often became known as the most distinguished structures in their communities (check out some images here). The unique design of these buildings also featured an element brand new to libraries—self service stacks which encouraged patrons to browse and discover books, either on their on or with the guidance of library staff. Prior to this, patrons asked librarians to retrieve specific items from closed stacks.

carnegieAndrew Carnegie was a proponent of political egalitarianism and professed his support for labor unions. At the same time, he held his own workers to long hours at low pay and his reputation would be forever tarred by his actions during the Homestead Steel Strike.  In spite of these contradictions, I believe that Carnegie has to be recognized as a major figure in shaping the mission of the modern public library. NPR recently ran a very interesting piece on Carnegie’s legacy that is well worth checking out. It includes a very lively comments section as well. If you’d like to learn more about Andrew Carnegie’s life, DCPL carries (among other resources) two well-regarded biographies Carnegie by Peter Krass and Andrew Carnegie by David Nasaw.

Did you use your hometown’s library (or libraries) when you were growing up? Did your town ever have a Carnegie library? Speaking of hometown libraries don’t miss Joseph’s fun post from earlier this week!

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Jul 17 2013

Library infographics from the 1930s

by Jesse M

Circle of Classified KnowledgeThese days, infographics are all the rage (for instance, take a look at this one I posted about last year regarding the value of libraries and why it is so important to support them), but libraries have been making use of them to illustrate how the library works for decades.

Check out this gallery of a series of library education posters created under the supervision of librarian Ruby Ethel Cundith for Peabody Visuals Aids in the 1930s and 1940s. The posters were salvaged by Char Booth from a throw-away pile at her library school in 2003.

From card catalog to the book on the shelf
My favorites include the “Circle of Classified Knowledge”, which illustrates the myriad categories and sub-categories of the dewey decimal system, and the two posters detailing the information present on a card from a library catalog and how it can be used to find a book.

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Jun 28 2013

ShareReads: Anti-Summer Books

by Jimmy L

sharereads_intro_2013

I never understood the concept of a summer read. It’s supposed to be light, breezy, and fun, right? Well, I’ve always gone the exact opposite route. This summer, I decided to revisit Gitta Sereny’s books. A while ago I read her book Cries Unheard: Why Children Kill: The Story of Mary Bell. It was captivatingly dark; I was spellbound by Sereny’s journalistic prowess, and her writing was always clear and empathetic. If you don’t already know the story of Mary Bell, here it is in a nutshell:

Cries Unheard coverIn 1968: an eleven year old girl named Mary Bell killed two boys (ages 3 and 4). The courts tried her, found her guilty, put her in jail until she was in her 20’s. This book revisits her case years after she was released from jail and tries to figure out why she did it, what her life was like before she committed this crime, and whether she really understood the gravity of what she did at the time. I don’t want to give any of it away, but I was so engrossed that I wanted to read the whole thing in one sitting… I couldn’t only because it was so overwhelming: at times so depressing, at other times funny and even joyful. I had to take breathers because it was so intense.

The author does a good job of bringing out the various threads of the story. She’s compassionate and understanding, but also she makes it clear that none of this is an excuse for the crime itself. She makes the case that when a child commits a horrible crime like this, the court’s job is not only to say whether she was guilty of the crime or not, but also to ask why a child would do this? And to help the child psychologically with their problems.

This time around, I am reading her book Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth. It’s about Hitler’s architect and armaments minister. He was “one of the few defendants at the Nuremberg Trials to take responsibility for Nazi war crimes, even as he denied knowledge of the Holocaust.” Sereny is drawn to these dark corners of humanity, and yet she does not blindly accuse. She stares into evil and tries to understand every thread of how it came to be. Through hours of interviews and research, she has written a biography full of insight and compassion. I’m only a fraction of the way into this huge book, but I’m already enjoying it immensely.

Do you also have an unconventional take on what makes a good summer book? What’s your idea of a good summer read?

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