E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, as well as a number of brilliant, beautiful essays and letters, once received a letter from a reader asking for White’s opinion on what he saw as the bleak future of the human race. This is White’s reply, which means as much today as it did back in 1973:
North Brooklin, Maine
30 March 1973
Dear Mr. Nadeau:
As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.
Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.
Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.
(Signed, ‘E. B. White’)
You can find more of his letters in this collection.
This may come as a surprise to our beloved readers, but the Peabody Library’s blog is not the only blog out there with interesting content. Long before I started having an absolute blast writing the Saturdays at the South section and peppering all of you with my quirky recommendations, I was (and still am) a longtime blog reader. There are some truly talented people out there churning out fantastic content. We’ve mentioned Book Riot a few times here on the website along with Quirk Books which also puts out fascinating book content, but there’s so much more out there than just amazing book blogs. (OK, I hyperventilated a bit writing that last sentence, but it’s true, nonetheless.)
The internet is a fascinating place to learn and pick up new skills, if you know where to look. Pretty much anyone can start writing a blog, but it takes commitment, significant effort and a level of expertise (both in the blogger’s topic of choice and in Web Things like “search engine optimization” and social media) in order to make a high-quality and successful blog. Bloggers have tested the waters for years, writing about their particular areas of expertise and have found fans, community, in some cases a steady paycheck, and an increasing amount of book deals for those who have that elusive combination of faithful followers and quality content.
An early success story was Ree Drummond, aka the Pioneer Woman. She’s parlayed her blogging success to a highly rated food network show and several book deals, the newest of which has already spent several weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. I’ll be perfectly honest and say that I’m not a huge Drummond fan, but the clear organization and the visual appeal of her books is undeniable, as is her popularity. You can find her newest book: Dinnertime and some of her previous publications here at the South.
Food52 has had a busy year this year. Begun by bloggers Amanda and Merrill, they initially set out to create a community of people who love food and love cooking by providing a space to share recipes, tips and tricks. What they created was a beautiful website that is as combination of resources, recipes and, as of 2013 an online store. These bloggers have created an empire based on their principles of good, homemade food. As a home cook, I’ve found this website to be invaluable and made many recipes from their repertoire, with very successful results. Plus the pictures on the blog are stunning, so I’m never at a loss for inspiration there. Naturally, I was thrilled when I saw that they published a book, Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes that will Change the Way You Cook and what a book it is! The stunning photo arrays with clear instructions and tastes for every palate. It’s not always easy to channel the same image and energy from a blog onto the page, but this book has done so wonderfully.
Not all bloggers start writing on web pages. Michelle Phan is a self-taught makeup artist who started vlogging (video blogging) during the early days of YouTube by posting makeup tutorials. Before long, she had millions of views on her tutorial and became the most subscribed-to woman on YouTube. Currently, her channel has more than 8 million subscribers and over 1 billion total views and she has managed to carve out a style niche for herself on her own website. This is the type of Cinderella story publishers love and Phan’s first book: Make Up: Your Guide to Beauty, Style and Success Online and Off was published last fall. It’s a very twenty-first century book with advice on digital dos and don’ts, job-hunting tips and, of course, style tips. While I would have expected a video blogger’s book to be considerably more image heavy, the book is accessibly well-written and anyone who’s followed Phan’s career will likely find these tips both enjoyable and helpful to read.
Tom Cox made a name for himself (or perhaps more specifically, for his cats) by microblogging on Twitter and became successful writing about his sad cat (@mysadcat), his smug cat (@mysmugcat) and his angry cat (@myswearycat). The result of his unique blend of morose humor, silliness and cats (which we all know the Internet loves) ended up offering material for several books, plus his own website which, naturally features more information about his cats and general wildlife info about his native England. Here at the South, we have The Good, The Bad and the Furry ready for your perusal and laughter.
The Kitchn is a division of Apartment Therapy, and uses the term “online magazine” instead of blog. While it was started by two people, the website is now run by an editorial staff that churns out about 20 articles daily on their website. The content involved recipes, how-to instructional videos and articles, plus tips on keeping a kitchen well-stocked and organized, no matter the size. I started following The Kitchn shortly after I found Food52 and haven’t been disappointed. The resulting cookbook, The Kitchn: Recipes, Kitchens & Tips to Inspire Your Cooking that came out this year has won a James Beard Award and is as beautiful and helpful as their website.
This month, Food52 came out with a baking cookbook that I pretty much have fallen in love with. They had me at scones, but they kept me with just about every other recipe that kept me turning the pages like a it was a suspense thriller. Not only are the pictures completely mouthwatering, but the book is filled with helpful tips (I FINALLY have a good cake-flour substitute) plus encouraging notes about making recipes your own. This book is the epitome of unintimidating, with a manageable number of simple recipes, but a good enough variety to have something for every palate. When I brought the book home, I had to fight the urge to curl up in bed with it that night so I could come as close as humanly possible to literally having sweet dreams. The book stayed safely tucked with my other library books that night (i.e. NOT in my bed), but I can guarantee that my oven will be earning it’s keep during the loan duration.
Till next week, dear readers, I encourage you to venture out into the World Wide Web and discover a new blog (or several) on a topic you enjoy, comforted by the knowledge that your readership here at this blog, is enormously appreciated.
Today in The Library began when we couldn’t turn the computers on. Circulation and Reference Staff alike looked at each other in bewilderment, and began wringing hands and chanting ancient chants in the hopes of dispelling the curse of Friday the 13th.
Then we realized that the main power switch had been flipped off. So we flipped it on and got back to work.
Which got me to wondering…why is it that we fear Friday the 13th so much? Fans of The DaVinci Codeit’s the day that the Knights Templar were put to death by Philip IV of France, but it doesn’t look like anyone figured that out until the 20th century…others say it’s because Jesus was crucified on a Friday the 13th, but since they were using a different calendar at the time, I’m not quite sure how that idea works…some say it’s an old Italian belief, and another theory holds that a 1907 novel called Friday the Thirteenth by a gentleman named Thomas Lawson reinforced the idea for a new generation (the story is about a banker who takes advantage of the superstitious day to start a panic).
Ultimately, this seems to be One Of Those Things that we believe without good reason, but that our belief, ultimately, makes self-fulfilling…see the last book on today’s list for more of this sort of thing. Better yet, come in and check out all of these books today. It’s a fact that visiting the Library on a Friday the 13th dispels all bad luck. At least it is now….
Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Any time Stephen King gets a new book, I will always put it at the top of my list. This collection of short stories is a bit of a mix of vintage and new stories, with “Ur” at the top of my list. Back in the day when Kindles were The New Thing that everyone was poking with a bit of trepidation, Stephen King wrote a story “for Kindle only” story (which was really quite novel at the time) about a man who received a pink Kindle, with some pretty interesting extra features….this story has been “extensively re-written”, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what precisely that means…
War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel that Stunned the Nation: Alexander Hamilton is enjoying quite the renaissance, especially with the release of the new hip-hop musical Hamilton (if you haven’t heard it, go listen right now. We’ll wait.). John Sedgewick is the many-times-great grandson of Theodore Sedgewick, who was speaker of the house in 1804, and the recipient of Hamilton’s one of Hamilton’s final letters. While this gives Sedgewick a personal stake in things, which is good, it also makes him a smidgen biased against Burr, which might not make for the most accurate of histories, but it makes for some very, very good reading (while you’re listening to Hamilton!)
Quicksand: Steve Toltz’s first book, A Fraction of the Whole, was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and that same mad-cap humor and profound insight is on display in this new release, which features a failed cop and failing writer, Liam, who is basing his newest work on his best friend, Aldo’s spectacular failures in reclaiming his lost love. Peter Carey, a two-time Man Booker Winner whose word is love and law, says of this book: “The energy, the hairpin turns, the narrative crashes, the stomach churning ascents and trashed taboos: what a joy to surrender oneself to a writer of such prodigious talent.” And that’s good enough for me.
Numero Zero: I have to be honest, having grown up with The Name of the Rose andFoucault’s Pendulum, when I first heard that this book was a political thriller, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. However, it would appear that Eco brings the same intellectual depth and creativity to this genre that he brings to any other. Set in 1992, this story features an editor at a gossip rag who uncovers a plot generations in the making, that sheds new light on a lifetime of political scandals–and puts everyone who knows the truth in very grave danger. Booklist calls it a “brainy, funny, neatly lacerating thriller…. Eco’s caustically clever, darkly hilarious, dagger-quick tale of lies, crimes, and collusions condemns the shameless corruption and greed undermining journalism and governments everywhere. A satisfyingly scathing indictment brightened by resolute love.”
Science of the Magical: From the Holy Grail to Love Potions to Superpower: A patron referred to Matt Kaplan’s newest book as “a armchair guide to the supernatural”, which seems like a wonderfully appropriate description. A respected science journalist, who last wrote on monsters, Kaplan explores the rituals, myths, fables and legends that have made their way into our lexicon of beliefs, and what powers they can–and do–hold over us. Library Journal raves, “Absorbing and intellectually stimulating, this book is a joy to read and is highly recommended.”
Orchards and dark-green fields; on – on – and out of sight.
Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away … O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.
(“Everyone Sang”, Siegfried Sassoon, 1918)
As a historian of the First World War, today is a pretty big day in the Calendar of Days Worth Remembering. Though we in the US use the day to thank living veterans of wars, it also important, I think, to realize why we have a holiday today at all…
The First World War changed life for nearly everyone, in some way. Soldiers from India and Africa were brought to Europe, encountering their colonial leaders face-to-face for the first time; revolutions overturned centuries-old governments. Humanity got penicillin, plastic surgery, the wristwatch, the passport, and the spork (no seriously. The American Army developed it as a way of saving metal). The landscape of Europe remains scarred in some places with the remnants of trenches that stretched across the entire continent, from the edge of the North Sea in Belgium to the very edge of neutral Switzerland.
That’s one of those facts that people like to throw around. It’s a big, sprawling fact that doesn’t begin to tell you what it was like to live in those trenches. Side-by-side with other human bodies, who didn’t bathe, or change any article of their clothing for weeks. Who had to sleep in caves carved into the sides of those trenches, and, as a result, were always tired. Who often only had canned food and crackers to eat, because the cooking posts were behind the lines. Cooks would strap these huge barrel-like things filled with soup or oatmeal onto their backs and walked them up to the men…and snipers took special pride in shooting the barrel, so that when the cooks arrived in the trenches, the barrel was empty.
Similarly, we’ve all heard about the enormous casualty figures from the First World War…the horrifically short-sighted battle plans, the endlessly repetitive attacks that never obtained their objectives…But what we can’t reclaim just how big the whole thing was…To say that the were 54 combatant nations were involved, that war was fought in Asia, in Europe, in the Middle East, in Africa, in the sky, on and beneath the sea still doesn’t convey the sheer number of people who fought, who nursed, who made munitions, who provided care, and who protested the war on moral or political grounds. Telling you about the size or scope of a battle can’t convey what it was like to be in the middle of that utter, total chaos of a battle. We can’t imagine what it was like to be that scared. We physically cannot imagine the noise of it, especially on that last day.
Official communications had gone out the day before, so all officers, and most of the men knew that the war was going to officially end at 11am on the 11th of November in 1918. As a result, more shells were fired that morning than had been fired for the entire month previously. Casualty numbers were higher on November 11 than they had been for three months.
And then…the war was over.
But for those at home, the losses that had been endured were endless. Some 17 million people had died. In France, that amounted to roughly one man a minute. In England, the government officially banned the wearing of mourning clothes, out of fear that home front morale would collapse at the sight of so much loss. And even though church bells rang out in nearly every combatant nation, it couldn’t drown out those memories.
Even today, there are reminders of that war. Memorials abound in the combatant nations, and dot the farmlands of France and Belgium. There are nine villages in France that literally ceased to exist during the war because they were so heavily bombed–but they remain on maps and in ordinance surveys as a way to commemorate their memory. The ground still yields unexploded shells and grenades that have to be collected and defused by specially-trained volunteers. In Belgium, the Last Post is played every evening at the Menin Gate, where some 3 million Allied soldiers passed during the course of the war.
So, even while we’re thanking our veterans today, it’s worth taking a moment and remembering the day the world literally came to a stop–and for just a moment, was silent.
If you’d like to learn some more about the First World War, stop by the library, and check out:
The Greatest Day in History: Nicholas Best has compiled the recollections of some of the war’s more noteworthy participants from November 11, 1918. Among the voices in this book are Agatha Christie, Harry Truman, Marlene Dietrich, Douglas MacArthur, Virginia Woolf, Winston Churchill, and Mahatma Gandhi. It not only gives the reader an idea of just how many lives were shaped by the war, and profoundly changed by its ending, but just how varied a war it was, in terms of experience and reaction.
Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World: All of Margaret MacMillan’s books on the First World War are expertly researched and beautifully engaging, but this particular book does a sensational job at showing just how makeshift the process of crafting the Treaty of Versailles truly war. The strong personalities that sought to bring an end to the war, from Woodrow Wilson to George Clemenceau to Lawrence of Arabia are all here, and each of their voices can be heard throughout the text, making a tale of diplomatic history into something fascinating and vital.
The Guns of August: Barbara Tuchman was one ofhte first female historians to intervene into the history of the First World War…and history was infinitely the better for it. Her book, detailing the opening weeks of the First World War, is one of the most accessible, personal, and sympathetic works of military history you can find, and it really challenges a lot of the over-simplified explanations for the outbreak of war that we are taught in school.
World War One: The African Front: Edward Paice is one of those rare historians who can tell completely factual story that reads like fiction. Granted, a lot of the story of the First World War in Africa seems too fantastic to be believed, so he is perfectly suited to write this story. For those who already know about the Western Front, or want to explore other, less discussed aspects of this war, this book is the perfect place to begin.
A young boy leads a mule to a water pump in the middle of a sun-parched desert. He gazes out over the utter wilderness, and sees a single man riding towards him, a dusty hat casting a long shadow over his face. The man appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, in a world where no visitor is ever greeted without suspicion. As the boy looks, a Spanish guitar begins to play a simple tune, accompanied by the gentle sighing of some violins. Without a word being said, the viewer knows that, while this place is a dangerous one, it is also redeemable. As the violins ascend to a major chord, we also realize that this man is not the villain of the piece–but he is in danger. The moaning of some pipes picks up a familiar warbling tune….
It’s incredibly how much the score of a film can tell us, without a single word being said, or a single look exchanged. But it takes a pretty remarkable composer to make the world of a film so tangible, and so unforgettable.
Today, though, is a day to celebrate one of those rare and wonderful composers, as the magnificent Ennio Morricone, celebrates his 87th birthday.
Morricone’s career is, in many ways, a history of modern film-making itself. He began, though, as a musical prodigy in trumpet, completing a four-year course of study in six months (at the age of 12). After nearly a decade as a classical composer, he began scoring radio plays, and eventually television dramas and comedies. Apparently, it all came easily to him–in a later interview with The New York Times, director Barry Levinson, who worked with Morricone on Bugsy and Disclosure, said “He doesn’t have a piano in his studio, I always thought that with composers, you sit at the piano, and you try to find the melody. There’s no such thing with Morricone. He hears a melody, and he writes it down. He hears the orchestration completely done.”
It was the advent of the ‘Spaghetti Western’, however, that raised Morricone to international fame. These films were relatively cheap to make, but scored enormous box-office success, because they played on myths of the American West, and the glory of the indomitable everyman hero. By far and away, the best known of these films is A Fistful of Dollars, staring Clint Eastwood, and directed by Serio Leone.
Because Leone and Morricone were school friends, Morricone was invited to score A Fistful of Dollars…and the rest was history. He went on to score the rest of the Dollars trilogy, as well as numerous other films, including The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, producing arguably the most familiar musical theme in cinema:
The soundtrack itself is kind of bizarre when heard out of context…the blend of mouth organ, Fender guitars, and chanting were as jarring for audiences in 1966 as they are today. But it works for the film, cluing the audience in to the tough, blackly comic nature of the protagonists, and offering a strident, relentless beat to set the film’s tone.
From Westerns, Morricone moved into other genres, from political dramas to horror flicks, before being asked to score John Huston’s epic film The Bible, which brought him to Hollywood.
We’d be here all day if I tried to list all the films for which Morricone has provided the score, but I can guarantee you that you have heard his music (outside of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, of course) in films as diverse as Lolita and The Legend of 1900to Mission to Mars and Bulworth. So, in honor of Ennio Morricone’s 87th birthday, why not come into the library and check out the music that has made films great. With nearly 500 scores from which to chose, I can guarantee you that you’ll find something to your liking. In order to save time, though, here are a few favorites for your consideration:
The Mission: Morricone’s second Oscar nomination came for his score for this utterly profound, stunning beautiful film about the Spanish colonization of South America in the 18th century. Check out a scene (featuring the most lovely oboe solo ever) here, which also features members of the Waunana tribe, who used the film as a way to protect and promote their indigenous language. The blending of European hymns with their tribal chants can be heard here. Though the subject matter may seem remote, this a wonderfully human film that features what is generally recognized as one of the most impactful scores in film history–AFI even listed it as one of the greatest scores of all time. But my Grandfather said it should be first. So we’re listing it first.
The Untouchables: Brian De Palma’s depiction of the larger-than-life Al Capone (also played by DeNiro) and his persecution by Elliot Ness and his titular Untouchables has all the hallmarks of a classic gangster film–with the addition of a sensation score (check out the main theme for the film here). This score, which includes period-specific pieces by Duke Ellington, earned Morricone another Oscar nomination in 1987.
Cinema Paradiso: If we really want to talk about unforgettable film scores, let’s talk about Cinema Paradiso, a film in which a successful film director, Salvatore, recalls the relationships that shaped his life–with a film projectionist in his home town named Alfredo, and with the films that they watched together. The final scene of this movie, when Salvatore realizes that Alfredo spent his whole life collecting the magical, human moments of films that the local priest demanded cut out, is backed up by the simplest, and loveliest of themes, composed by Morricone and his son Andrea…just watch it. Seriously, I’m not crying. You’re crying.
Finally, for those looking to revel in Morricone’s orchestrations by themselves, you simply can’t do better than this recording by Yo-Yo Ma, featuring some of Morricone’s most well known and beautiful pieces.
I hope you remember back in August, when we covered the live reading of The Iliadthat took place between the British Library and the Almeida Theatre in London. It was, as I said at the time, by far and away the greatest-super-colossal-fantastic days I can remember, and proof positive that people telling people stories is still one of the most powerful forces in the world.
Indeed, because the event was live-streamed and covered by Twitter, the reading became a worldwide phenomenon–I even understand some of you lovely patrons were able to watch parts of it! For those who missed it, here is the link to all 16 hours of readings. As mentioned, one of the most memorable moments was when and Marco Brondon read his passage out loud on the bus from the British Museum to the Almeida Theatre in order to ensure that the marathon would not flag.
Well, thanks to the enormous acclaim and overwhelming success of The Iliad, and no doubt because of my near-hysterical promotion of it to anyone who will listen, the good people at the Almeida are upping the proverbial ante….
That’s right, beloved patrons. In honor of the end of The Greek Season, the Almeida is planning a marathon reading of The Odyssey, another epic poem attributed to the poet/poets known as Homer, and the second oldest extant piece of literature in the ‘Western’ canon.
Now, at 12,110 lines, The Odyssey is noticeably shorter than The Iliad (which is 15,693 lines, for those of you who need to know these things), which should, logistically speaking, make this piece somewhat easier to manage, right?
Scoff, scoff. The good people at the Almeida are never ones to take the easy route–a statement as factual as it is now literal. Because this performance is going to be an actual Odyssey, performed at five as-yet-undisclosed locations throughout the city of London. Listeners in the City will have the opportunity to listen to readers for up to 90 minutes at a single site, and there apparently are plans to read on public transport, and even the Thames.
When will all this wonderfulness take place? November 12, 2015, 9am BT (4AM EST).
For those of you would like to get into the spirit of things beforehand, here are some ideas to get in you in the mood for a day of high-stakes adventures, startling adventures, and sweet homecomings. And a Cyclops or two. It’s just no fun otherwise.
The Odyssey: Perhaps a bit of an obvious first choice, but there is no better way to get into the Odyssey than by traveling along with Odysseus and his beleaguered crew who suffer the wrath of Poseidon in their desperate attempt to return home. It stands to reason that, since the Almeida used Robert Fagles’ translation of The Iliad, it’s a pretty fair bet they’ll be using his translation of The Odyssey as well. Truth be told, it’s a very accessible translation that sounds simply wonderful when performed aloud–but don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself!
The Odyssey: Against all odds, this 3.5 hour adaptation of Homer’s epic (co-produced by the Hallmark Channel, who would have thought?) is actually quite good, overall. With excellent performances, and special effects that are pretty impressive for turn-of-the-century television broadcast, this is a highly entertaining way to get introduced to Odysseus’ tale for those who don’t have the 12+ hours it is estimated to take to get through the print version.
Torn from Troy: Patrick Bowman’s YA spin on The Odyssey stars Alexi, a fifteen-year-old Trojan boy who is made Odyssey’s slave following the conclusion of the Trojan War. The trilogy of Alexei’s journey may parallel the events of The Odyssey, but this is by no means a simple re-telling. As an outsider, and a conquered slave, Alexei’s view of Odysseus, and his analysis of his actions, are very different from Homer’s narrative, and Alexei’s personal story adds a very human dimension to this sweeping adventure story. These books are a fun read no matter what your age, especially because they allow so many most characters in the story to come forward and tell their own stories and journeys.
The Penelopiad: And for those of you who are a little tired of all the men unable to find their way home and seemingly unconcerned about their lack of punctuality, Margaret Atwood presents a cycle of stories about Odyssey’s wife Penelope, who appears here as a much more complicated figure than any of us ever expected. Inspired by the “hanging of the maids” reference in the original text of The Odyssey, Atwood set out to reimagine Penelope’s world, her birth and childhood, as well as the events that took place after her marriage and during the timespan of The Odyssey. The result is a woman who is strong and enigmatic, proud and secretive and, overall, utterly compelling, as is everything that Margaret Atwood writes.
Be sure to check back for more news regarding this performance, and see you on Thursday for the live-streaming of The Odyssey!
"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass