“There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights…”

Dracula1stToday is the 118th anniversary of the publication of Dracula, Bram Stoker’s masterpiece (even if it went under-appreciated for years after his death).

I would argue that one of the more under-appreciated books of the late 19th-century is Dracula.  Not overlooked, mind you–the book was published in 1897 and hasn’t been out of print since. And not unknown. Anyone who’s seen Sesame Street knows about Count Von Count–did you ever notice his fangs? Ever had Count Chocula cereal? Worn those awful wax teeth at Halloween? My point exactly. But how many people know about the man behind all those fangs and capes? Or the man who dreamt him up in the first place…?

The man himself: Bram Stoker
The man himself: Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker was born in Dublin on November 8, 1847, and spent a good deal of his early childhood confined to his bed with a “mysterious disorder of the blood” (cue menacing laughter). During this time, his mother read him folktales of Ireland, as well as the more popular Gothic authors of the time.

Following his study at Trinity College in Dublin (studying mathematics, surprisingly), Stoker became assistant to Henry Irving, a man he had come to idolize in spite of (or perhaps because of) his over-the-top, flamboyant, demanding personality. Irving, along with being one of the greatest actors of his age, was also, apparently, a bit of a slave driver. He sucked the blood from all those who worked for him…you might say. He was also known for walking around London wearing a long black cloak. He was also tall, with high cheekbones, a large, broad forehead and a hooked nose, and wore his hair swept back off his head. Noticing a similarity here?  It appears that even Irving recognized the similarities between himself and Stoker’s fictional count, but apparently, he found it a kind of bizarre compliment.

Henry Irving, dressed for a staged reading of 'Dracula' shortly after its publication.
Henry Irving, dressed for a staged reading of ‘Dracula’ shortly after its publication.

The book was supposed to be a play. A five act play that Stoker wrote one summer while staying at Whitby. He had done research on Transylvania at the British Library and spent months collecting local stories, superstitions and sea tales from residents of Whitby and from the Captains of the hundreds of ships that sailed into the harbor. When Irving rejected the play, Stoker turned it into a book and…the rest, as they say….was history.

I love Dracula. Unabashedly adore it. From an historian’s point of view, it is one of those books that absolutely defines its era:  Dracula was published at a time when the English feared that the the global influence of the British Empire was declining, and falling prey to foreign influences and vices, just like the Count menaces the stalwart crew who pledge to hunt him down.  As Dracula himself notes, Vampires are created at the end of empires.  Later, Van Helsing himself notes, “Let me tell you, he is known everywhere that men have been…He have follow the wake of the berserker Icelander, the devil-begotten Hun, the Slav, the Saxon, the Magyar.” What could be more terrifying for a British public already aware of the impending end of their Dynasty?

Technology abounds. Dr. Seward records his diary on phonograph cylinders. Mina used shorthand and later a typewriter. They utilize the telegraph and railroads constantly. This is no mythical reality into which these characters are plunked. They are living in the here and now. And yet, a mere few hundred pages later, they are donning garlic and brandishing crosses and taking on all the powers of superstition and heathenism that their century has unequivocally rejected. The book is not so much about the triumph of technology as it is about the fragility of that technology to protect its characters.

And then there is the Count. Seriously, in all the Bela Lugosi nonsense, no one ever gives Stoker enough credit for creating a truly appealing villain. He’s repulsive (the dude has hairy palms. Come on, that’s gross) and at the same time is one of the most compelling and vital characters in the whole book.  All the other characters travel on compulsion: Harker goes to Transylvania for work, Mina goes because Jonathan is ill, Van Helsing is ‘compelled’ by his work to go back and forth from Amsterdam.  But the Count travels because he wants to.

And he also wants revenge. It’s never specifically mentioned in the book, but it has been postulated that the reason Stoker has Dracula goes for everyone’s female companion is because his wife (the real Dracula’s wife, mind) committed suicide thinking that the Turks had taken the Castle and her husband.  Stoker blended fact and fiction to create a man who acts with the strength of history behind him, and the power of myth around him.

Bran Castle in Romania: the inspiration for the Count's castle
Bran Castle in Romania: the inspiration for the Count’s castle

And then there’s Mina.  Seriously, no one ever gives Mina enough credit.  There are piles of papers that discuss Stoker’s use of women in the book and how the concept of ‘The New Woman’ of the late-19th-century is punished through this work, while women in traditional roles are saved. And certainly, in some senses this is true.  Lucy, who has three suitors, a disposable income and generally lax morals, is killed quite gruesomely. And Mina, despite her run-in with the Count, survives to marry and have a child. But is it really that simple?

Stoker’s mother was a feminist, and I tend to think some of that wore off in this book. Mina, if you actually look at her, is one feisty little lady. She goes running around in bare feet across town to save her friend, she travels to Hungary alone to help her fiance, and  insists on being a full-fledged member of the Fearless Vampire Hunting Party. If anything, Mina is threatened most by the hidebound men around her who insist on maintaining her innocence and refuse to let her in. But it is Mina who finds a way into the Count’s mind, and who listens to his thoughts, giving her friends the chance to catch him.  It is she who returns to Romania to find his lair, and, by the end of the book, while the boys are running around with machetes, she’s the one with the gun.

Quite simply, there is no other book like Dracula, and nothing that can quite compare to it.  Come find out yourself by checking out a copy today, and look for more recommendations this Thursday in our If/Then post!

 

You Can Borrow that at the Library?

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Photo Credit: Disc Golf Association

You may not realize it, but public libraries often have what we refer to as “special” collections. Although best known for books, public libraries have been known to offer items as varied as vegetable seeds, cake pans, microscopes, musical instruments, and sewing machines!

Here in Peabody, we just added a new special collection and wanted our Free for All readers to be the first to know about it. For those of you looking to try out a new sport this summer, thanks to the generous players at Discs over Amesbury, the library has Disc Golf Kits available for you to borrow. Each kit includes three discs: a putter, mid-range and driver. Also included in the kits are directions to Peabody’s Scouting Woods Disc Golf Course, a map of the course itself, and a list of the basic rules of the game. You can borrow the kits for one week at a time.

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Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disc_golf

So what is disc golf you ask? In the beginning, many of our librarians were asking the exact same thing. A combination of golf and Frisbee, in disc golf players use golf discs (similar to Frisbees) and try to get them into a disc pole hole. Pictured here, disc pole holes are baskets mounted on poles and surrounded by chains. Like golf, you want a low score as the goal is to get the disc into the basket with the fewest throws.

Relatively new to the city, the Scouting Woods Disc Golf Course is located at 100 Summit Street. The course is open free to the public, but you do need to bring your own discs. That’s where the library comes in! To borrow discs, just visit any of the three Peabody Libraries, and you can check out a Disc Golf Kit with your library card. If you don’t already have a library card, you can register for one for free, and we’ll have you on your way to Scouting Woods in no time. We hope you enjoy our new special collection!

Want to learn more about disc golf? Check out these helpful resources:

Scouting Woods DGC

Amesbury Pines Disc Golf

Disc Golf United Course Locator

DG Course Review

Disc Golf Association (DGA)

Professional Disc Golf Association

At the Movies: Poltergeist

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Picture it: the year is 1992, and your Blog Fairy Princess here is still a very over-imaginative eight-year-old who takes everything way too literally (so nothing much has changed….anyways…).  One dark and stormy night, Poltergeist comes on TV in celebration of the film’s tenth anniversary.  I knew my mom liked the movie, even finding parts of it funny, so I figured I’d sit back and enjoy.

And then I didn’t sleep for weeks.  WEEKS.

Looking back, my mother was right.  It is a good movie, and there are plenty of moments that are funny–intentionally or otherwise.  Granted, some of those moments are because CGI was in its infancy, so some of the special effects need to be taken with an generous helping of salt, but this is a movie that isn’t afraid to take itself lightly at times.  That scene when the ghosts slide the helmeted kid across the kitchen floor for no apparent reason is still among my favorite parts of the whole film.  And those moments make the dramatic action that much more impactful.

Because the truth is that there are some parts of this film still stand up as genuinely shuddersome, even today.  TV static, for those of us who remember non-digital TVs, was annoying, yes, but there was also something thoroughly unsettling about that unrelenting shushing sound.  The essential premise behind the movie, not just the burial ground, but the reason the ghosts needed the children specifically for their nefarious plot, is remarkably creative, especially for a horror movie, which usually relies on loud music stings and jump-takes to cover up their shallow storyline .  And that clown doll.  Goodness gracious me, that clown doll…..

And now, since we live in the age of the remake, we have Poltergeist the repeat.  The film hasn’t been getting the best of reviews, mostly because the original did what it did so well that there seems very little, overall, to do better; not to mention the fact that digital TVs just aren’t scary.  But it has allowed some of the film junkies at the library to reminisce a bit about the books and movies that kept us up at night.

We’ve seen a number of supernatural horror films cross the circulation desk, from classics like The Uninvited or The Amityville Horrorto newer, but still thoroughly shiver-inducing stuff like The Others, Oculusor The Sixth Sense (though I think living on earth may have spoiled the novelty of this particular film for you).  But what about the good old-fashioned ghost story?  So here is a brief list of some of the best paranormal/supernatural/generally creeptastic  novels on our shelves for your perusal.  Make sure to leave the lights on

…and be sure to turn off the TV.

…I mean, you never know, right?
3553458The Supernatural Enhancements: It took about eight pages for this book to become one of my favorites of all time.  Wildly creative, not only in its plot, but in its story-telling, this book has also become a quick favorite among the rest of our library staff, as well.  A, a youngish European man, inherits a house from an uncle he never met, but, eager for a chance of pace, moves to Point Bless, Virginia along with his enigmatic friend Niamh, who is mute, but far from silent.  As the two begin to explore the odd house, and the legacy of A’s family, all of whom were changed and broken by living there, this story just continues to grow creepier and more intense.  Told through letters, transcriptions, and descriptions from the video surveillance cameras Niamh sets up around the house, the reader is never quite sure what is going on, but simply can’t stop flipping the pages in order to discover what happens next.  This works perfectly in this story because seeing the ghosts always ruin something in the story–when the reader is forced to imagine what A and Niamh are experiencing, it’s infinitely more scary.  Though there are some odd twists and turns at the book’s end, this is a story I cannot recommend too highly, and can only hope that Edgar Cantero comes out with a new book soon!

3136591Those Across the River: I felt about this book much the same way as I did about Poltergeist itself–the premise is superb and the build-up is wonderfully creepy, but the climax and eventual falling action feel just a little flat in comparison.  This is purely due to my own reading preferences, however, and should not detract you from trying this book for yourself.  Christopher Buehlman is a wonderfully gifted author, who can tell a gripping story that is as beautiful as it is unsettling.  This is another inherited house story, but this time our hero is First World War veteran Frank Nichols and his beloved who have run away from her husband and moved to his family estate deep in rural Georgia, where Frank plans to write a history of the house, and the horrific slave uprising that took place there.  Full of strange, hostile characters, the town itself is haunted by legends and the fear of an ancient curse that Frank learns has far more to do with this family than he dreamt.

3177315The Haunting of Maddie Claire: Simone St. James’ debut novel won a number of awards and accolades, and while it’s not difficult to appreciate the artistry in her work, this is also a fascinating story that captures the shattered disbelief of post-First World War Britain beautifully.  Sarah Piper is trying to make her way in London following the death of her parents in the Influenza Epidemic.  Poor and desperately lonely, she still isn’t convinced that her new assignment from the temp agency is fitting–she is expected to take notes of a ghost hunt.  But when she and her two employers, who both carry deep scars from their time in the trenches, arrive at the haunted barn, they find a much darker force–and a much deeper mystery–than they ever imagined.  St. James’ prose is somewhat stark, which makes it sound perfectly authentic both to her no-nonsense heroine and to the bleak times in which these characters are living, and the story of Maddie Claire is so heartbreaking and so real that readers will find it incredibly easy to suspend disbelief and following this chilling story to the very end.

2430237The Devil You Know: This some lighter fare for those of us who are starting to think about hiding under the bed for a little while.  Mike Carey is probably best known as a graphic novelist, but his series of five novels featuring the freelance exorcist Felix Castor deserves more attention.  In Castor’s debut, he is just trying to make ends meet, and agrees to take an assignment in a small London museum that seems to have some paranormal trouble.  But when Castor begins to investigate, he realizes that the spirit at work here may be the biggest and baddest that he’s ever faced.  Carey brings a fun noir-ish feel to these books, and his imagination in creating supernatural powers is impressive, but these books are much more complex and emotionally powerful than your typical urban fantasy.  Felix’s powers have had plenty of negative effects on those he loves, and he is always followed by the shadows he has cast, making his work that much more dangerous, and his cases that much more compelling.

So there is our first list of spooky stories to keep you up at night.  Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments, or mention them to your friendly circulation staff at your next visit!

Welcome to Saturdays at the South!

Welcome to Saturdays @ the South! Every Saturday, we’ll be posting about books and programs that are popular at the Library’s South Branch (78 Lynn St.) and other literature, movie and library-related musings that strike our fancy. I hope you’ll join us each week and discover something new!

To start things off, I thought it would be appropriate to recognize Memorial Day. It’s a little early this year for those who use it as a benchmark for gardening, but regardless of the date it lands on, it never hurts to recognize those who have sacrificed a great deal to help defend others. There are some amazing new books out there that recognize war efforts and sacrifices, both traditional and unusual. Here are 5 nonfiction picks on the new shelf at the South Branch right now:
3618114Roosevelt and Stalin  by Susan Butler: Butler takes a look at the unusual partnership and uneasy friendship that arose in WWII when these two leaders worked together against a common enemy and shaped their visions for a postwar future that were surprisingly similar.

 

3588586Patton at the Battle of the Bulge: How the General’s Tanks Turned the Tide at Bastogne by Leo Barron: Barron engages readers retelling the crucial battle that could have just as easily turned the tide for the Nazis as it did for the US Army. Had Patton not reached Bastogne in time, the US 101st Airborne could have been defeated. This book details Patton’s charge into Belgium and the forces that worked together to make this battle a turning point for the Allies.

35817302A Cool and Lonely Courage: The Untold Story of Sister Spies inOccupied France by Susan Ottaway: Originally published in Britain, this bok peels back the layers of how two sisters, Jackqueline and Eileen Nearne worked undercover as agents for the Special Operations Executive during WWII and sent crucial intelligence to the Allies during their time in Nazi-occupied France. While one escaped capture, the other was arrested, tortured and sent to a concentration camp. Ottaway tells the sisters’ long-overdue story of courage and patriotism during wartime.

3517382Liar Temptress Soldier Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott: Few war stories are more engaging that those told about spies, but when the spies are women during a time when women were routinely underestimated, a story becomes that much more engaging. Abbott describes four women, each of whom has her own story of espionage from dressing as a man and fighting in battle to infiltrating the White House, their tales are bound to engage even those who aren’t Civil War buffs

3517385Double Agent: The First Hero of World War II and how the FBI Outwitted and Destroyed a Nazi Spy Ring by Peter Duffy: Duffy tells, for the first time, the story of a German-American who infiltrated New York’s Nazi underground just before WWII began. Called “the most successful counterespionage operation in US history” this is the story of the man who spearheaded that mission and was the first double-agent in FBI history.

 

Bonus fiction pick!

3539736Delicious by Ruth Reichl (printed book is available here and ebook here): On its surface, this book is about food. A young ingénue leaves college to join the crew of the renowned food magazine “Delicious!” She talks about how luck she feels to be in a place that takes food so seriously, only to find herself somewhat adrift when the magazine unexpectedly shutters. This is only the backdrop, however, and the story that unfolds has a great deal to do with WWII history and the sacrifices those on the home front made to support their troops overseas. Yes, the story has the expected dashes of romance, a tragic heroine back story and uses the ugly duckling trope a bit heavy-handedly, but the unexpected and delightful forays into the creative ways those who weren’t fighting adapted to their new lives and the touching notes about how they dealt with the inevitable loss that comes with war makes this a story well worth reading.

Happy Birthday, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle!

PIC BY PAUL GROVER AT CHRISTIE'S IN LONDON ON MAY 19TH THE LOST ARCHIVE OF SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE WILL BE UP FOR SALE WHICH HAVE NEVER BEFORE BEEN SEEN IN PUBLIC THE ARCHIVE IN CLUDES OVER 3000 ITEMS 80% ON WHICH HAVE NEVER BEEN PUBLISHED THE COLLECTION IS EXPECTED TO FETCH IN THE REGION OF 2 MILLION pounds PIC SHOWS A PHOTOGRAPHE OF SIR CONAN A FEW YEARS BEFORE HIS DEATH PIC PAUL GROVER

Today, May 22, is the 156th birthday of Scottish physician and author Arthur Conan Doyle.  Though he is now revered as the creator of “the world’s first consulting detective”, the one and only Sherlock Holmes, Doyle himself would have wanted you to know so much more about him.  For instance, he was a historian, publishing an impressive account of the Boer War in 1900, and a history of the British army on the Western Front during the First World War.  It was because of these writings that he was knighted in 1902 (not for the publication of The Hound of the Baskervilles, as many at the time thought).

He was also an avid (if not terribly gifted) athlete, and played on a cricket team with Sir J.M. Barrie, Rudyard Kipling, and A.A. Milne, among other literary celebrities.  The team was called the “Allahakbarries”, which Barrie thought meant “Heaven Help Us” in Arabic.  The team refused to practice on an opposing team’s pitch before a match because, as Barrie said, “It can only give them confidence.”  The team never won a match, which is a polite way to say they were really, genuinely bad, but they apparently played with great enthusiasm, which has to count for something, right?

Speaking of his acquaintances, Doyle was quite the connected late-Victorian gentleman.  He and Barrie had a long-standing friendship, and even penned a light opera together called “Annie Jane, or the Good Conduct Prize”.  The show was a complete financial failure when it debuted in 1893, but that didn’t stop Barrie from writing a delightful, darkly funny Holmes pastiche entitled “The Adventure of the Two Collaborators”.  You can read the full story in its absurd, surreal entirety here.   He was also acquainted with Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula…though it seems that Doyle was not too impressed with the great Count.  In “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire”, Holmes tells Watson, “Rubbish, Watson, rubbish! What have we to do with walking corpses who can only be held in their grave by stakes driven through their hearts? It’s pure lunacy.”

Doyle was also something of a detective in his own right.  Perhaps the most famous case in which Doyle involved himself was that of Oscar Slater, who had been falsely convicted of murder in  1909.  Doyle, convinced of Slater’s innocence, publicly advocated for his release so adamantly that Slater actually smuggled letters out of prison to Doyle, who employed what he called the “Sherlock Method” to re-evaluate the evidence and re-interview witnesses, ultimately leading to Slater’s release in 1927.  You can read more about the case here.

So, in tribute to the all-around intriguing man who was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, we include here a reading list for those looking to know more about Doyle, and the generations of writers his work has inspired.  Come into the library and check some out today!

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Arthur Conan Doyle : a life in letters: Probably one of the best ways to get to know Doyle is through his own words, and this annotated volume of nearly ever letter he ever wrote is fascinating, and surprisingly engaging.  Here you can meet Doyle as a student, as a struggling doctor, a family man, and as a world renowned author dealing with the weight of his own fame.

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The Lost World: Michael Critchon owes every ounce of credit for his work to Doyle, who first came up with the idea of a remote island populated by ferocious dinosaurs.  Doyle’s Professor Challenger stories are pulse-pounding, thrillingly imaginative science fiction stories that haven’t lost any of their fun over the years.  Though the public may remember Sherlock Holmes, Doyle himself loved Professor Challenger, and even dressed up as him for press photos.

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The Baker Street Letters: Not long after Sherlock Holmes first graced the pages of The Strand magazine, fans were writing letters to the nonexistent address 221B Baker Street.  Michael Robertson’s novel begins when brothers Nigel and Reggie Heath open a law office at the famous address.  When an eight-year-old girl writes to Sherlock Holmes in a desperate attempt to clear her father’s name, the hapless Nigel decides to take on the case, leaving an inconveniently dead body on the floor of his office, and forcing his brother and his part-time girlfriend to follow him to Los Angeles, where even further intrigue awaits.  The follow-up novel, The Brothers of Baker Street, brings the Heath brothers back to investigate the murder of two tourists in London in a case complicated by the descendant of one Professor Moriarty.  These books are delightfully clever and insightful tales that stand on their own, but will delight fans of the Holmes cannon who will recognize numerous inside jokes and references in the midst of this mystery.

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The Patient’s Eyes : The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes: David Pirie’s series takes as its inspiration the relationship between Doyle and his mentor, the remarkably observant Dr. Joseph Bell, the man who would become the model for Sherlock Holmes himself.  In Pirie’s work, the young Doyle finds himself involved in the case of a young woman who is troubled by the phantom image of a solitary cyclist who disappears whenever he is followed.  Though Doyle doubts the seriousness of the case, Bell recognizes in the woman’s tale a far more sinister plot.  Fans of historical mysteries will love the gritty, realistic details in this story, and fans of Doyle’s detective will recognize a good deal of Holmes’ methods in Bell’s investigations.  The two other books in this trilogy, The Night Calls and The Dark Water continue to develop this uncanny relationship and hint to the development of Holmes in Doyle’s imagination.

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Moriarty: Anthony Horowitz is one among a number of authors to develop the character of Holmes’ arch-nemesis, the nefarious genius Professor James Moriarty.  In this particular adventure, Moriarty survives the Falls of Reichenbach only to find his criminal empire threatened by a potential rival.  Desperate and under attack, the Professor finds himself in an uneasy alliance with a Pinkerton Detective, and a disciple of Holmes’ from Scotland Yard.  Readers unfamiliar with Moriarty’s role in the Holmes stories will have no trouble falling into this story and its marvelous historic details, and those who know the Professor only through Holmes’ descriptions will delight in the way that Horowitz expands and develops the character into a three-dimensional and thoroughly engaging anti-hero.  Horowitz also penned The House of Silk, the only Holmes’ pastiche to be sanctioned by Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate.

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The Final Solution : A Story of Detection: Though Michael Chabon never mentions Holmes by name, the mystery featuring an elderly bee-keeper on the Sussex Downs will immediately recall the great detective in retirement to Holmes devotees.  But you don’t need to know much about Holmes to appreciate the genius of Chabon’s bittersweet exploration of growing old, coping with loss, and making new friends, as young German boy, fleeing the horrors of World War II, arrives in England, and meets an old and weary man who used to be a famous detective…

Eat all the food and avoid the ghosts….A Pac-Man themed If/Then

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Though there appears to be a bit of debate on the actual birthday of the classic video game, Pac-Man (Google says May 21, Wikipedia says May 22), we here at the library will be celebrating it on May 21, mostly because it is my mom’s birthday, as well, and she is the reigning champion of Pac-Man, at least in our family.  (Happy Birthday, Momma!)

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Pac-Man was one of the most popular arcade games of the 1980’s, having amassed some $2.5 billion in quarters alone by the late 1990’s.  It remains one of the most well-recognized brands in the world, and has a place both in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.  Not bad for a game inspired by a pizza dinner.  Developer Toru Iwatani stated in interviews that he designed the classic little yellow hero of Pac-Man after being inspired by a pizza that was missing a slice.  The name of the game is actually a riff on a Japanese slang phrase, ‘paku-paku’, which is meant to imitate the sound of lips smacking.

The fuzzy little monsters (or ‘ghosts’, to purists) who wander the mazes of the game were each designed with their own unique personalities and habits, which was intended to make game-play a little more entertaining.  Though US arcade machines give their names as ‘Blinky’, ‘Pinky, ‘Inky’, and ‘Clyde’, (for the Red, Pink, Blue, and Orange fuzzies respectively), Iwatani’s original names for them were (as translated from Japanese) ‘Chaser’, ‘Ambusher’, ‘Fickle’, and ‘Stupid’….Poor little Orange Guy…..

ghosts Pac-man

And, just to make sure you got your full dose of random trivia facts for the day, the first person to achieve the maximum possible score on Pac-Man was Billy Mitchell, of Hollywood, Florida, on July 3, 1990, after a play time of approximately six hours.

Though it received something of a lukewarm reception in Japan, the game was a smash-hit in the United States, and retains its popularity in to this day.  In fact, in the trailer for the upcoming film Pixel, you’ll see a big, lovely little paku-paku making his way through the city.  Additionally, following this link will take you to the Google Doodle honoring Pac-Man‘s 30th birthday, where you can actually play the game (which is where my Mom hones her formidable skills).

So, without further ado….If you like Pac-Man (or video games in general), Then be sure to check out:

3081149Ready Player One: Though set in a bleak not-too-distant future, Ernest Clive’s smash-hit novel is a sweet, nostalgic love song to the 80’s, particularly its video games.  Hero Wade Watts escapes his impoverished, despondent world by disappearing inside OASIS,  a virtual reality universe where people meet, learn, earn money, and remain constantly on the hunt for the elusive fortune supposedly hidden within the game by James Halliday for those clever enough to find the keys.  An exciting, romantic, and utterly original book, even though who aren’t old enough to remember the legwarmers and teased hair of the 80’s will still have heaps of fun reading this book.  Fans also might be interested to know that Steven Spielberg (who is mentioned in the book) is planning to bring Ready Player One to the big screen soon.

Reamde: 3103751Neil Stephenson’s first book after an eight year hiatus was well worth the worth for fans of his edgy, genre-bending stories.  In this story, aging, reclusive billionaire Richard Forthrast has apparently created a virtual paradise inside the world of his cyberworld, known as T’Rain.  But when a fortune hunter accidentally triggers a war inside the system, the lines between reality fantasy blur–with frighteningly real consequences.  The beauty of Stephenson’s work is that it is accessible even to those among us who aren’t as familiar with computers or with role-playing games.  Instead, he deals with issues of identity and power that take this book from a cyber-thriller into something much grander and complex.

2389580Only You Can Save Mankind: Because no book list should be complete without a little Terry Pratchett thrown in.  This debut of his Johnny Maxwell trilogy is a sensational adventure story for kids, but Pratchett’s arch humor and wonderful insight make this a fun read for adults, as well.  When young Johnny Maxwell receives a pirate copy of a strange computer game from his friend Warbler, he thinks it’s only a bit of fun–until the games characters surrender to Johnny, making him the ruler of their cyber realm.  It might seem like a mere flight of fancy, until Johnny realizes that every other copy of the game is changing based on his own actions.  Pratchett contrasts the fantastic world of “Only You Can Save Mankind” with the coverage of the First Gulf War on Johnny’s TV, adding a fascinating comparison to the battles on the computer screen.

2029633Tron: Another in our line-up of 1980’s tributes.  Tron was first inspired by director Steven Lisberger’s love of the game Pong, and was originally intended to be an animated film.  Eventually, however, it turned into a ground-breaking live-action/computer-animation blend film about a computer programmer who is transported into his computer’s mainframe and must not only find his way out, but destroy his nemesis back in the real world at the same time.  Though it received only moderate box office success, the original Tron became a classic for its innovative production values, and also because all the youngin’s who learned about it through the Disney sequel seem to think the 80’s were delightful and quaint.  Those of us who harbor an ongoing horror of blue-eyeshadow and Aqua-net hairspray may beg to differ…

3198101Death Match: This is a bit of a long-shot, but since computers feature so prominently in this book, and because it’s received pretty high reviews from the library staff, we’re including this one here.  Though perhaps better known for his collaborations with Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child is quite an author in his own right, and this thriller in particular is an excellent example.  The tech-saavy match-making company knwon as Eden has built its reputation on bringing finding each person’s perfect match–and, in rare occasions, their computer programs locate two people who are 100% compatible.  But when these ‘supercouples’ begin dying in what looks to be double suicides, Eden’s founder realizes that more than his company’s reputation is at risk.  Though its pace is lightning-quick and the twists and turns are plentiful, Child also manages to weave in some pretty interesting ideas about the nature of human intellect and emotions, and the power we give to the machines we create.

We hope you enjoy this week’s IF/THEN selection.  Please let us know if there are other books you would recommend, too!

(Re-) Considering the Card Catalog…

One of my favorite displays at the Main Library is just past the circulation desk, set up on our former card catalog cabinet, not only because I have a long-standing adoration for card catalogs in general, but because our cabinet is always a source of fascinating books and ideas.

Our beloved assistance reference librarian, Alison, is responsible for dreaming up the theme for these displays and stocking those tiny little shelves, and here, she shares her thoughts on her current display, which you can explore by paying us a visit, or checking out the links in this post

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Civil Rights in 2015

Inspired by the recent protests in Baltimore, Maryland, our current front book display is centered on the theme of “Civil Rights: Then and Now.” In order for any society to progress, it must remember and reflect upon its past to refrain from repeating its mistakes. Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior’s words exemplify the display’s meaning: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

American Race Riots through History

One of the first known racially motivated riots in the United States occurred in Washington D.C. in 1835, thirty years before slavery was abolished. Jefferson Morley chronicles this riot and its effects in his book Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835. As the novel explains, after a 19-year-old slave came into his mistress’s room with an axe and was consequentially imprisoned, a crowd of white men angrily mobbed around the jail where he was contained. Next, in fear of a slave rebellion due to the growing abolition movement, whites stormed the city and destroyed a well-known free black man’s popular restaurant – the first restaurant to open in Washington D.C. These riots quickly escalated and black schools and homes went down in flames. Morley constantly reminds readers of how history books have skewed perception of American history in regards to race, such as the disregard for our national anthem’s author’s favor towards slavery. He begs the question, are we as Americans afraid to discuss how slavery impacted, and continues to impact, our society?

Free blacks were beginning to outnumber slaves in 1830s Washington, but the slave trade was still booming.
Free blacks were beginning to outnumber slaves in 1830s Washington, but the slave trade was still booming.

Next we look at Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 occurred after a black man was accused of assaulting a white woman. Thousands of white residents rampaged through the black section of the racially segregated town: they looted stores, burnt homes and hospitals, and killed black men and women. The National Guard was sent in, and began arresting blacks rather than the white rioters. The number of blacks that died is estimated to be anywhere between 25 and 300, and 20 whites were killed. These riots lay hidden for decades, only coming to light in the past fifteen years. Check out Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and its Legacy by James S. Hirsch and The Burning: Massacre, Destruction and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Tim Madigan to learn more about this forgotten riot.

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Fast forward to 1991 in Los Angeles, CA. A black man named Rodney King was beaten by police officers after a high-speed chase. Despite video evidence of using excessive force, the four white officers were acquitted in April 1992 and riots erupted in the city: over 50 people died, more than 2,000 people were injured, and upwards of 1,000 buildings destroyed. Almost ten thousand National Guard troops were dispatched to restore order, and Rodney King himself pleaded publicly for peace, asking “Can we all get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids?” The riots and looting ended after five days. The case was re-opened, and in August 1993, a U.S. District Court Judge sentenced two of the officers to 30 months in prison, and King was awarded $3.8 million of the $56 million he pursued in a civil lawsuit against the LAPD.  Featured books include Official Negligence: How Rodney King and the Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD by Lou Cannon and A Gathering of Heroes: Reflections on Rage and Responsibility.

Civil Rights & Racism Today

Other books on display look at famous leaders of the civil rights movement, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, and Rosa Parks, and some focus on their legacies today. Malcolm X’s autobiography is available for checkout, as well as a Martin Luther King biography, King: A Biography by David Levering Lewis. Donnie Williams’s The Thunder of Angels: The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the People who Broke the Back of Jim Crow offers a look at those who helped desegregate Montgomery, Alabama, the violence and abuse suffered on city busses, and Martin Luther King’s court trial. Author David L. Chapell discusses the struggle for civil rights after King’s assassination in his novel Waking from the Dream: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Many of the books on display serve as a reminder of the reality of racial tensions and inequalities that still exist in the United States today. For example, Charles Barkley, a former NBA MVP and current sports announcer, uses the cheeky title Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man? to draw readers towards his book that features interviews with well-known Americans such as Bill Clinton and Morgan Freeman about race.

Touching on another taboo American subject, A Hundred Little Hitlers by Elinor Langer examines the Nazi-inpsired racist movement in the United States, examining the 1988 brutal murder of Mulugeta Seraw, an Ethiopian immigrant who was murdered by the East Side White Pride skinhead group in Portland, Oregon. Finally, we have Sons of Mississippi: A Story of Race and its Legacy by Paul Hendrickson.

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In 1962, a photo appeared in Life magazine featuring seven smiling white sheriffs out to stop integration at the University of Mississippi, and one of the men is swinging a billy club. Hendrickson speaks to the two remaining men from the photograph and their grandsons, tracing the progression of Mississippi racism through three generations. The novel exemplifies how deeply rooted racial problems are in the South and offers insight into the ignorance still held by many. But moreover, he inspires hope through his evidence of changing times.

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass