Traveling the World…From Your Blanket Fort

Greetings, readers!  I don’t know about you, but as far as I am concerned, today’s weather is the perfect justification for just staying put with a stack of books.  Whether you have adopted the blanket fort, or whether you prefer the armchair, the choice, is of course, yours…

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Winter can be a rather isolating time, when we have to spend a good deal of time close to home…But if there is anything that being a reader teaches you, it’s that, quite often, books can bring you further than any other mode of physical transportation.  And not only do these adventures help pass the time, but they have proved psychological and physiological benefits, as well.

As reported by The Guardiana study at the New School for Social Research in New York, proved that reading literary fiction enhances the ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions, a crucial skill in navigating complex social relationships.  Moreover, according to some of the study leaders, “Literary fiction lets you go into a new environment and you have to find your own way”–a key tool necessary for anyone wishing to actually explore new cultures and places.

Things have recently got even more exciting, thanks to this TED Talk by Ann Morgan, a book blogger, who challenged herself to read a novel from every country in the world.  For those who haven’t experienced a TED talk before, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and is a global conference sponsored by the non-profit Sapling Foundation, with the slogan “Ideas Worth Spreading”.  TED conferences are currently held around the globe (and have been broadcast via the internet since 2006), with speakers given a maximum of 18 minutes to share their ideas, experiences, inventions, or theories.  They are generally fascinating, often innovative, and occasionally feature great literary ideas like this one.

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In her talk (which you can read here), Morgan explained that she believed herself to be well-read, but eventually realized that most of the books on her shelf were written by English-speaking authors from English-speaking countries.  Thus, her knowledge of the rest of the globe, its authors, and its people, was almost non-existent.  Thus, she set herself to read a book from every country on earth (though, admittedly, in translation).  Best of all, she made a map for the rest of us, with a book recommendation from each country…which you can check out in full here.  Just click on the little map pins for the title and a brief description of the book.

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There are some drawbacks to this map…Morgan chose to use the United Nations list of recognized nations, so there are no works, say, or native Hawaiian literature, or a distinction made between various African tribes who travel between nations.  Also, some of the books are obvious choices, like Ulysses for Ireland (which is great, but also a rather challenging choice…), but many of these books are lesser-read books by emerging authors, and featuring novel, often contentious themes that really help readers come to grips with the issues at work in the country in question.  Check out some of these selections that are currently available through the Library’s NOBLE network for examples, and start planning your armchair adventures today!

41DEQgiEiyL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Fortunes of Wangrin by Amadou Hampaté Bâ: This novel was Morgan’s selection for Mali, a country in North-Western Africa.  The narrative is set up as the account of a teacher-turned-civil servant named Wangrin, who works in Mali during the first half of the 20th century, when the country was under French rule.  Wangrin quickly learns to play his peers and colonial employers off against one another for his own ends, rising to prominence, until his ambition, personal faults, and enemies conspire to bring him low once more.  As much as this novel is a personal tale, it’s also a broad story about the evils of colonialism in Africa, and the impossible decisions it forces people to make.

2352361Lucy: A Novel by Jamaica Kincaid: This story focuses on the fortunes of a 19-year-old girl who leaves her home in the Caribbean West Indies to work as an au pair in the USA.  Thenovel looks at the rupture that relocation can cause in a life, and provides a fresh, feisty and at times alarming perspective on the land of the free and on British colonialism.  Even though Lucy took this job to both escape and renounce the stifling atmosphere of her country and her family, she finds that being a woman in any society places her in a position that she can never fully escape–so all she can do is to explore it.  Simple, beautiful, and unforgettable, this book has already been hailed by many as a classic of Caribbean literature.

3021959Montecore : The Silence of the Tiger by Jonas Hassen Khemiri: This selection from Sweden is particularly interesting, as it shows the country through the eyes of a Tunisian immigrant who spends his life trying it adapt to his new home.  Told through a series of correspondence between Jonas Khemiri and an old friend, Kadir, the book is a daring, powerful and often hilarious attempt to unfold the story of the struggle of Dads, Jonas’s estranged father, to make a life for himself in Scandinavia after he left Tunisia as a young man.

2395668The Blue Sky by Galsan Tschinag: This selection from Mongolia draws on Tschinag’s childhood to tell the coming of age story of a young shepherd boy in the Altai Mountains. On the face of it, he and his family are nomads, herding in the same way the Tuvans have for generations; yet, far away in the interior of Mongolia, change is afoot.  The influence of the Soviet Union is prompting seismic shifts in social interactions and culture that will change our young hero’s own life, and the life of his people, forever.

 

Enjoy your adventures, intrepid armchair travelers, and safe journeys to you all!

Introducing Hermitage Week: Stocking Your Blanket Fort

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When I was younger, the week after Christmas was officially the saddest time of the year.  I had spent months (and months) waiting for Santa, waiting to give my parents the handmade presents that I had wrapped using enough tape to ensure they were more secure than most government facilities.

And then it was all over.

But gradually, I realized that those days after Christmas could be kind of pleasant, too.  Without expectations or anticipation, there was finally time to settle down, appreciate and recover from all the business and social activities that the holidays brought with them, and, of course, read all the books.  Now that I am….taller (“older” implies that I have grown up in any appreciable way), I have come to treasure the days between Christmas and New Years.  After the hustle and bustle of the past few months, it’s lovely to take some time for quiet.  And for books.  After a discussion with the good Lady Pole, I have taken to calling this period The Hermitage Week, when it is socially acceptable to build a blanket fort and hide away in it, and indulge in all the lovely books that you have been putting off all year long, and those that you got as presents, or catching up on those films and tv shows that you keeping meaning to check out.

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You are never too old for a blanket fort.

And so, in the spirit of Hermitage Week, I thought we might begin to investigate some suggestions to sustain you through the next few days, and perhaps help you get ready for any Reading Resolutions that you are planning for the upcoming year.

First off, we present a few series which are indubitably long enough to sustain you through a week of reading, whether inside your blanket fort or otherwise.  These books have also, largely, proven the test of time and readership, so you can be assured that you will be in good literary company with these selections:

3653012Peter Diamond Investigations: Anyone looking for a detective story reminiscent of the Golden Age of mysteries (more on this genre later, but much like those of Dorothy L. Sayers, Ellery Queen, or some early Agatha Christie) should definitely add these books to their list.  Peter Diamond is a detective working in Bath, England, whose cases range from discovering lost manuscripts of Jane Austen to cults of murderous musicians, to covert drug smuggling rings and back again.  Unlike many mysteries out there right now, these books don’t focus on the gory details of the crime, or the sadistic nature of the criminal in question.  Nothing against those books, mind, but for those of us who like their detective novels with a bit more tea-and-sausage breaks, these books are an ideal choice.  Fans of the much beloved Inspector Morse will also find a great deal to enjoy here.  Though you can start anywhere in this series, Peter Diamond made his first appearance in The Last Detective in 1991, and is now on his 15th adventure (the quite enjoyable Down Among the Dead Men, published earlier this year.)

2045912Agent Pendergast: We’ve discussed this super-phenomenal series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child previously, but, just in case I wasn’t clear, I love Agent Pendergast.  These stories are a pitch-perfect blend of intellectual stuff: settings like the New York Museum of Natural History, and plots that involve lost Sherlock Holmes stories and antique cabinets of curiosities…and utterly over-the-top elements, like monsters in the subway or ancient curses.  Not to mention the fact that, at the center of these stories, is one of the most enigmatic, fiendishly clever, and wonderfully ruthless heroes at work today.  While this series doesn’t have to be read in order, it is so much more fun to watch these characters develop, evolve.  You can start at the very beginning, with Relic, or jump in with Cabinet of Curiositieswhich really launched Agent Pendergast as the series’ protagonist.

1986634Discworld: The world lost a huge talent when Terry Pratchett passed away earlier this year.  Not only was his imagination boundless and his wit razor-sharp, but his heart was the biggest part of his person and his works, especially evident in his later works, written after his diagnosis with a very rare form of Alzheimer’s Disease.  Even though his longest series is set on a flat disc balanced on the backs of four elephants which in turn stand on the back of a giant turtle known as Great A’Tuin, there is something so perfectly human about all his characters (which range from witches to vampires to kings to milkmaids) that it’s impossible not to become a part of this huge, mad, hysterically funny, irresistibly touching world.  Though this series began with The Color of Magic way back in 1983, you can enter Discworld anywhere (like with Carpe Jugulummy favorite of the series)…and I can guarantee that you won’t want to leave.

2934925Maiden Lane: Elizabeth Hoyt is one of the best historical romance writers at work today, and her Maiden Lane series, which take place in 1730’s London, are always sure-fire successes.  Set, quite literally, at the crossroads between the opulence of nobility and the filth and fear of the impoverished, these books not only give Hoyt the chance to put her considerable research work to good use,but also allows her to play with a number of tropes, insuring that each of her stories are unique, engaging, and thoroughly satisfying.  This is another series that doesn’t need to be read in order, but there are benefits for those who do begin with Wicked Intentions and carries on to the most recent release, Sweetest Scoundrel.  Overall, though, new readers won’t have any trouble falling into these super-steamy, intensely emotional romances within a very few pages.

So there you have it!  If anyone needs me, I’ll be over there building my blanket fort….

Saturdays @ the South: On Resolving to Read

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I miss Calvin & Hobbes… so much.

With the bulk of the holidays over and the ball getting ready to drop on another year gone by, thoughts inevitably turn towards resolutions. I tend to believe that the resolutions made accompanied by champagne on the 31st (or when you’re drunk from sleepiness as you fight to stay awake until midnight) tend not to be the ones that last. So with a little time left in the year, it might be time to start thinking about what you’d like to accomplish in 2016, if of course, you’re even into that sort of thing. For us bookish people, we tend to make reading resolutions.

I’ve made a couple of reading resolutions for 2016. The first, is to acquaint myself with YA fiction. This is a vast section of books with which I’m completely unfamiliar and I’d like to rectify it for two reasons: 1) as a librarian, I want to be able to recommend books to all of our great patrons, including those patrons interested in YA titles; 2) there is an enormous array of YA books in all genres and I’m certain that there are great books I know I’ll love just waiting to be discovered. I don’t want to deprive myself of a new and exciting reading experience. I’m also going to give a “Clean your Reader” challenge, inspired by Entomology of a Bookworm, a try. So many books on my Kindle get a little neglected when up against the physical books on my personal shelves and the library’s shelves. It’s time to give those books their fair shake! (Full disclosure: I’m probably going to borrow a few library books from Overdrive as part of the challenge, because part of the fun of a challenge is keeping things interesting.) Lastly, I resolve to let myself read for pleasure, which means if either of the first two challenges aren’t working for me I reserve the right to stop and read something else. Life’s too short not to enjoy reading!

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Bill Watterson is so wise.

 

For those of you who might be considering a resolution that involves reading in some form, there are plenty of options. For some, the resolution might be to pick up the habit of reading again. For others, it may be resolving to push the boundaries of what they typically read. For example, someone who consistently reads non-fiction might challenge themselves to read a story or someone who only reads hard-copy books might resolve to read an e-book or an audiobook. Fortunately, if you want to resolve to read but you’re having trouble coming up with a specific resolution that might be achievable for you, there are plenty of different places to turn. With that in mind, instead of recommending specific books this week, I’m going to offer you some ready-made challenges that you can adapt to your needs or just use as inspiration for your own personal reading resolutions:

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Goodreads Reading Challenge

This is the simplest of the challenges and the easiest to personalize. Enter how many books you want to read, mark them as read on the site as you go through the year and Goodreads will track your progress and let you know if you’re on target, ahead or behind in your goal. The caveat to this challenge is you must be a member of Goodreads. While Goodreads is free to use and I find it a great way to track book lists and see what my friends are reading, the site is owned by Amazon. I’m not here to render any opinion on Amazon, but this may be an issue for some, so I want to be upfront about who owns the site. The 2016 Reading Challenge hasn’t been activated on the site yet, but you can peruse what people did for the 2015 challenge, including the many groups that gathered on the site to chat about challenges, book ideas and offer support.

Five Great Books

Not a challenge per se, Public Radio International put together a list of “five great books you should think about reading in 2016.” So if you’re having trouble thinking about reading possibilities in the new year, you can use this list as it’s own challenge. I’m a fan of any list that includes a history of libraries and have already put a couple of these books on my to-read list for next year.

2016 Reading Challenge

PopSugar has put together their reading challenge for 2016. Rather than a specific set of titles or a set number of books to read, they’ve compiled a list of general book descriptions and you find the titles that best fit into those categories. A challenge like this is a great way to get out of your comfort zone a little but still hone in on books you think you’ll enjoy. They even have it in a printable format so you can post the list somewhere that will remind you to do it and track your progress.

#ReadHarder Challenge

For a more intense reading list, there is the ultimate book challenge put out by Book Riot: the Read Harder Challenge. This is similar to PopSugar’s list but designed to push reading boundaries and get people who love books to read out of their comfort zone, to expose themselves to viewpoints they might not have considered, but often still end up enjoying. Book Riot also offers a printable and tons of social media support including a group on Goodreads, a Twitter hashtag (#ReadHarder) and even an in-person book group (if, perchance, you’re reading our humble little blog in the NYC area…)

To keep things balanced, here’s a thoughtful counterpoint on not doing reading challenges, though, it its own way, this article can be construed as a challenge in and of itself.

As you think about what you will make of the coming year, dear readers, remember that everyone’s resolutions are different and personal. What works for others may not work for you so if nothing else, resolve to be kind to yourself. Should you choose to participate in an existing challenge or make up a challenge of your own, please know that here at the library, we’re always ready and willing to offer you suggestions to help you with your reading goals, no matter the time of year.

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Happy New Year!

 

“…The day breaks and the shadows flee away.”

Greville and DadFor years and years, this poem was ascribed to Fra Giovanni Giocondo (c.1435–1515–on the left), an Italian friar, architect, antiquary, archaeologist, and classical scholar.  However, in 1970, the British Library declared that it had “proved impossible” that Giocondo could have written this letter, and, instead, stated that it was written in 1930 “with Christmas Greetings” from Greville MacDonald (on the left with his dad), who was the son of novelist George MacDonald, a pioneer of fantasy literature.  Regardless of its origins, this letter seemed an ideal sentiment for this day, and comes with infinite good wishes to all of you, beloved patrons, today and always:

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There is nothing I can give you which you have not got; but there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take. No Heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it to-day. Take Heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace!

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see; and to see, we have only to look. Contessina I beseech you to look.

Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendour, woven of love, by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the Angel’s hand that brings it to you. Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, or a duty: believe me, that angel’s hand is there; the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing Presence. Our joys, too: be not content with them as joys, they too conceal diviner gifts.

Life is so full of meaning and of purpose, so full of beauty—beneath its covering—that you will find that earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage, then to claim it: that is all! But courage you have; and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country, home.

And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you; not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem, and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.

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Our Favorites: The Peabody Library’s Favorite Reads of 2015

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We’re moving our weekly wrap-up of our favorite reads of 2015 up a few days, since the holidays are looming large at the end of the week.  This week’s selection comes to you from the Main Library’s Circulation Desk…or, as I like to think of it, the All You Can Read Buffet.  We hope you find some new books on here to start your new year off in literary style!

2385584Half of a Yellow SunThe winner of this year’s Baileys “Best of the Best” award (handed out to one of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction is also one of our staff’s favorite reads of the yet.  Set during the Biafran War, Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel weaves an intricate tale of handful of lives that are shaped forever by their own decisions, and by the world events that bring them all together.  The Observer called this work “An immense achievement, Half of a Yellow Sun has a ramshackle freedom and exuberant ambition.”  Though at times tragic and difficult to read, this is a book that continues that is, at its heart, inspiring and impossible to forget.

3521491The Bellweather RhapsodyWe’ve mentioned this book before, but it is just too unique, too quirky, and too delightful a book not to mention again.  Kate Racculia, herself a child musician, has composed a brilliantly original and enthusiastic tale about a group of young musicians trapped in the decaying grandeur of a luxury hotel during a massive blizzard…at the same time, a possible murder mystery that has overtones of a crime committed over a decade earlier adds an energy and urgency to an already chaotic scene.  I missed a bus stop because of this book–and ended up being grateful, as the return trip gave me time to finish it, and revel in the pitch-perfect, twisted ending!

3131718Suckerpunch: *Guilty pleasure alert*…I love noir novels.  I am consistently blown away with the way that noir writers can capture a huge range of emotion in the shortest of sentences, and convey a world of meaning in a brief snippet of dialogue.  And Jeremy Brown is one talented writer.  This book, which is the opening of a trilogy, introduces Aaron “Woodshed” Wallace, a talented fighter and surprisingly good guy, who can’t seem to get out of his own way, and is still fighting in small-time bouts.  So when he’s offered the chance to fight a rising MMA superstar, he jumps at it.  But the night before the fight, he runs into an old acquaintance who gets him involved in an underground betting ring that might not just lose Wallace his fight, but the few people about whom he actually cares.  I enjoyed every moment of this outlandish, surprisingly funny, gritty, and superlatively well-written story, and was really thrilled to see Brown buck the noir convention and give us a hero who isn’t a misogynist, and a heroine who is admirably capable of taking care of herself.

213982714-18, Understanding the Great War: Many of you wonderful people know that your blog-writer-in-chief is in grad school, and studying the First World War, so it’s only natural that some of my school stuff appears on this list.  This book is one of the most accessible, sympathetic, and insightful book on the First World War that I’ve read in a while.  Though it mostly deals with the French history of the war, authors Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau and Annette Becker refuse to compare the First World War to the Second, or to any other historic event.  Their emphasis is on how truly significant this war was for those who lived through it, how alien a world it was for those who had to live through it, and how the legacy of the war changed the course of world history.  It’s a beautifully written and incredibly informative book that scholars and armchair historians alike can appreciate.

1940116The Burning of Bridget Cleary: One more non-fiction book for your delectation.  Linguistic historian Angela Bourke does a beautiful job bringing to life the story of Bridget Cleary, a fiery, defiant, and fascinating Irishwoman who was murdered by her husband in 1895.  What makes this story unique, however, was the fact that her husband, Michael, claimed that Bridget had been kidnapped by fairies, and he had actually killed the proxy that the fairies had left behind.  This case gives her the opportunity to explore the role of folklore, particularly in Irish culture, the history of the period, including British imperialism, the role of women, and the importance of historic archives.  And she does it all in an accessible, thoroughly engaging way.  I teach this book in my class, and it’s one of the few books my students actually enjoy reading, so I hope you do, too!

2260048Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell:  Arabella and Lady Pole both claim this book as their favorite read of 2015…which you may have been able to tell by our weekly proselytizing.  Set during the Napoleonic Wars, this book focuses on the two magicians who join forces to save England–but it is so much more.  It is a story about the things we do for those people, and those things, that we love, a tale about growing up, a sweet love story, and a brilliant epic full of magical action and intrigue.  It is entirely possible that this magical, imaginative, wholly delightful novel will also be among our favorite reads of 2016, because we can’t resist the need to read it again very soon.  Also, you should see the BBC adaptation, which is glorious.

And laughter is best medicine of all….

And while we’re on the subject of mental health and keeping sane during this time of year, let’s have a quick chat about laughter, shall we?

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Like cat’s purring, laughter itself is the manifestation of a physical state of being, is the body’s release valve, allowing for the pressure within the body, both good and bad.  But we’re mostly concerned here with the good, and the joyful, and the ridiculous.

This season is one of gathering-together, of socializing (forced or otherwise…), and of making new acquaintances.  And believe me, I know how stressful these kind of things can be.  The presence of food helps.  I have found some of my best holiday-party discussions have taken place over and around the quality of cheese being served.  But the injection of laughter is a guaranteed way to make things better.

As ever, there are scientific studies to back-up this claim.  It has been proved that laughter can bring people together by synchronizing the brains of speaker and listener, creating an empathetic bond.  Not only that, but laughter releases chemicals in the brain that can provide a sense of well-being and reduce tension.  It is also contagious.  The laughter of another person makes our bodies want to laugh, too.  It turns out that laughter is also an immunity booster, which is critically important when you’re shaking hands and rubbing elbows, particularly at a time when everyone has that unpleasant cough that’s going around.

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My favorite line from the study referenced above explains that everyone should be accountable to another person, and hold other people accountable for laughter: “It is important that people can check in with others from time-to-time, on ‘whether they have had moments of laughter’ or not.”

So this is me, checking in with you, beloved patrons, and making sure you’ve had your daily dose of laughter for the day.  If not, then go on and make yourself laugh.  You may sound like a creepy Bond villain for a few moments, but after that…see what happens.  And if you need a little more incentive, then have a look at the selection below for some suggestions to get you giggling.  And be sure to share that laughter with others.

It’s also been proven that laughter can reduce blood sugar.  So have some more pie while you’re at it!

3640186Mystery Science Theater 3000This may be my favorite TV show.  Like, ever-ever.  The premise, though outlandish, is pretty simple: an evil scientist, bent on world domination, sends a hapless everyman to a space station (known as the Satellite of Love), and forces him to watch bad movies in order to monitor his mind. Said Everyman (in this case, Joel Hodgson, the show’s creator and first writer), creates two robots from parts found on the satellite to keep him company.  Why?  Who cares?  The result is comedy genius as these three compatriots endure some of the worst films ever released.  Joel was replaced by Mike Nelson in the show’s fifth season, but this in no way detracted from the quality of the show–in fact, for many, it actually enhanced it.  I dare you to watch these films, and listen to the jokes told about them, and not giggle, just a little.  Best of all, this show was designed to air on prime time in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, which means it’s almost entirely safe for family viewing…making it the perfect way to distract family members and friends alike.  The NOBLE network has a bunch of different episodes of the show, too.  Check out the list here.

3137973The Gallery of Regrettable Food:  Ok, so this may hit too close to home for some this holiday season, but for those of us who at least have a pizza delivery place on speed-dial in case the worst should occur, James Lilek’s book will keep you in stitches.  Lilek began snarking on mid-century cookbooks when The Internet was just getting started, and hasn’t stopped yet  (any why would you, when you have such comedy gold as these photographs?  Particularly the photos of meat).  This book brings together some of his best work, in chapters with titles such as “Glop in a pot” and “Poultry for the glum”, which are guaranteed to give you a chortle or two, especially around the Dinner Party time of the year.

2716448Gavin and StaceySometimes, the funniest things are also the most profound, and this is never more true than in this BBC comedy about a young couple falling in love, their best friends, and the utter hilarity of real life.  Gavin and Stacey work for different branches of the same company, and, as a result, talk on the phone every day–but when they at last meet face-to-face, what began as a simple flirtation will become a relationship that will change both their lives–and the lives of their friends and family–forever.  This show manages to be both utterly hilarious and unforgettably emotional, often at the same time; though a bit more adult in terms of content and delivery, it is still a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.  Additionally, fans of late-late night television will recognize James Corden, who now hosts on CBS, in his first role (he also co-wrote this series).  Those in need of a real binge-watch can also check out Season Two and Three, as well!

2597561I Am America (And So Can You!)Harken back to a simpler time, when we could mock blowhards and bigots for the fools that they were.  Stephen Colbert’s first book, written in the voice of his Comedy Central persona on The Colbert Report is made even funnier by his over-the-top delivery and now-familiar bombast.  Like his show, this book is a series of utterly absurd opinions, unsupported declarations, and wacky conspiracies, all woven into a fictional biography that is so outlandish it can only be heard to be enjoyed properly.  The addition of special guests and special asides make this recording even better–and makes those Extra-Opinionated Holiday Guests just a little more bearable.

Homer to the rescue!

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Hey there, Homer.

I don’t know about you, Beloved Patrons, but this season can be lovely and happy and frolicksome..but it can also be pretty stressful, too.  For all the “most wonderful time of the year”-ness of it all, for many, there just comes a point where you need a little escape, and some respite from the muchness of it all.

Mercifully, for those of us who need a little moment of reflection, and a bit of an escape, the Almeida Theatre has put the entirety of its marathon reading of Homer’s The Odyssey online.  This is happiness.  In more ways than one.

1206190On Wednesday, one of our favorite guest bloggers discussed the beauty and the joy that can be found in poetry, and encouraged us all to face it without fear.  It also turns out that poetry has added health benefits outside of engaging our sense of wonder.  In the second century BC Greek physician named Soranus used poetry as a supplemental treatment for patients who were exhibiting symptoms of depression.  This was, in fact, one of the earliest known cases of Bibliotherapy, a topic we’ve touched on previously.  Today, doctors are once again prescribing books to patients with mild to moderate depression–naturally, this is no cure, but it has been proved as a helpful addition to professional therapy.  A beautiful article from The Guardian  observes how reading during troublesome times “makes you view the world through new eyes, and in doing so rediscover your own place in it”.

But The Odyssey has some added benefits.  According to several big, intimidating scientific studies like this one,  it has been proven that the rhythm of poetry, particularly hexameter verse, like The Odyssey, can significantly regulate our breathing and our heartbeat. This is the case whether a poem is read, or read to you–our remarkable brains thrive on rhythm, and poetry and music provide some of the best metronomes on earth.

Even more impressive are the benefits of having a book read to you.  Studies have observed how literature can improve blood flow to the brain, and increase the development of new brain cells–but it also improves our mental stamina, and our sense of empathy.  Even more interesting, hearing stories in a group not only improves our empathy with the storyteller (or reader), but with the rest of the group hearing the story.  And if there is one thing that can help during tough times, it’s knowing that you aren’t alone.

Also, when you watch the Odyssey, you get an unparalleled visual escape…you can see the London Eye and the Thames, walk down some bustling High Streets, join Bertie Carvel in a cab, and enjoy Ian McKellan wearing a lovely scarf.  To make things even better, the lovely people at the Almeida put the full list of their tweets from the day online, which are some of the funniest bits of literary analysis I have ever read:

And then, there’s the private saga of the squirrel who kept wandering into the control room…because squirrels love Homer.

So might I recommend a dose of reading–and been read to–this weekend to calm your Sunday?  I hope it brings you a little peace, a little comfort, and a little adventure today–and for as long as the lovely people at the Almeida keep these videos online.

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