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?


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.


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!

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.

Saturdays @ the South: 2015 in Review


My original thoughts for this Saturday’s post was to do another
holiday-related post
. But then I thought it might be a bit too cliche and possibly stressful for our readers. As many of us are getting down to the wire for Christmas, having yet another holiday post might just be too much for some. But then I got a wonderful e-mail from the Boston Public Library talking about their top 10 borrowed books of 2015 and thought, why not do that and turn it into a fun infographic? It may still be a bit cliche, but at least it will be cliche with pictures!

So without further ado, I present the South Branch’s most borrowed books and DVDs of 2015:

Well, how did what you read this year compare? Are any of your favorites among the ten most circulated books and DVDs? If you want to find out more about what was popular at the South Branch this year, check out our newest Pinterest board which not only has the top books and DVDs listed above, but also has the top audiobooks, adult nonfiction and kids’ books from 2015 as well.

To those of you who celebrate it, Merry Christmas! I hope everyone, regardless of what they celebrate, is able to spend some time in the coming week with those who are dear to them. Until next week, dear readers, wishing you all good cheer!

Five Book Friday!

tumblr_mk9zvhZ7Df1rwwmnyo1_500These are festive times, Beloved Patrons…whether you observe Christmas, Hannukah, Pancha Ganapati, Yalda, or any of the myriad other celebrations taking place this month, we sincerely hope they are happy ones.

Me, personally?  I tend to get pretty excited about Hogswatch, which Terry Pratchett recorded in his Discworld novels (for those of you who haven’t yet read these glorious books, Hogswatch is a creepier version of Christmas, with a rather skeletal figure being pulled by a bunch of wild hogs.  The celebration of the festival began when a kind king was passing a cottage and heard 3 sisters weeping because they had nothing to eat. The king took pity and threw a bag of sausages at them…and knocked one out, but no one minded terribly).





Riot Most Uncouth:  I have to say, if there is one historical character that I would not have posited as the hero of detective novel, Lord Byron would have been very near the top of the list.  But Daniel Friedman (author of the award-winning Don’t Ever Get Old) seems to have embraced all the wild eccentricities of his larger-than-life protagonist, and concocted a mystery that has been earned a number of rave reviews.  The story itself is set in 1807, when Byron was a “student” at Trinity College, Cambridge (and by “student”, I mean drinking all day, seducing the wives of his professors, and parading around with his pet bear), and when no regular police force was in place to solve crimes.  So when a young woman is found murdered in a local boarding house, Byron decides to prove his limitless genius by solving the case.  Library Journal cheers, “This intricately plotted and well-researched historical series debut…blends sprightly dialog and compelling, well-drawn characters for a pleasurable read that is sure to enthrall English lit majors as well as readers who enjoy the Regency mysteries of Kate Ross and Rosemary Stevens.”

3680991Tall, Dark, and Wicked: The second book in Madeline Hunter’s Wicked Trilogy breaks with a number of traditions in historic romances–and honestly, seems to be all the better for it.  Her hero, though the son of a duke, is also a skilled prosecutor, who finds his whole life changed by the daughter of the man he is charged with sending to the gallows.  Her heroine is fiercely independent, surprisingly tall (yay!) and fiercely clever, particularly when she realizes that the one man she thought would fight to save her father’s life turns out to be the prosecutor in his case.  Their battle of wits is an impressive one, and, as Booklist gleefully notes, “Hunter’s effortlessly elegant writing exudes a wicked sense of wit, her characterization is superbly subtle, and the sexual chemistry she cooks up between her deliciously independent heroine and delightfully sexy hero is pure passion.”

3629936The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and IntrigueWith a title like that, there might not be much more to say about Piu Marie Eatwell’s historic true crime book–but we’ll certainly try.  In 1898, an elderly widow, Anna Maria Druce, publicly claimed that the merchant T. C. Druce, her late father-in-law, had actually been the ridiculously wealthy 5th Duke of Portland, and that he had faked his death.  She demanded that his tomb be opened to prove the reality of his identity.  Eatwell’s narrative touches not only on this bizarre case, but also the sensational newspapers of the time, that blew the story up into a national scandal, and takes us on a tour of the chillingly fascinating cemeteries of London, to probe the secrets of Druce and his family’s secrets.  This book is one of Library Journal’s Fall Picks, and they remark that it’s “Downton Abbey meets The Addams Family…a delightfully offbeat history of a bizarre Edwardian legal case that…reads like a Wilkie Collins gothic novel, but at times truth is stranger than fiction.”

3645078Blood Salt WaterDenise Mina’s fifth mystery featuring the fascinating DI Alex Morrow begins with a wealthy, fiery, and beautiful Spanish businesswoman who vanishes from her Glasgow home without a trace.  Assigned to the case, Morrow can’t help but be fascinated by the traces left behind of the complex Roxanna Fuentecilla.  But when she traces Fuentecilla to the sleepy seaside village of Helensburgh, she finds her case growing ever more complex.  With plenty of secrets hidden behind picturesque facades, bands of gangsters and bullies, Alex Morrow quickly realizes that this case is far bigger than one missing person–and that the chance to crack the case is quickly slipping away….The Washington Post tantalizingly said of this installment, “An atmospheric, chilling thriller…The power of Mina’s writing is such that she can transport readers from placidity to violent pandemonium in the space of a paragraph.”

3658389Drawing Blood: Underground journalist, artist, muse, and activist, Molly Crabapple had a front-row seat to the decadence and hubris of New York in 2008, and to the financial collapse that resulted, and uses her own experience as a springboard to capture snapshots of a changing world–from the Occupy Wall Street movement to Guantanamo Bay, from her own drawings to the mass movements that changed the world.  This is a book that is both personal and enormously significant, and offers a fascinating, and wonderfully unique perspective on the world around us all.  Booklist  hailed this work “Jaw dropping, awe inspiring, and not afraid to shock, Crabapple is a punk Joan Didion, a young Patti Smith with paint on her hands, a twenty-first century Sylvia Plath. There’s no one else like her; prepare to be blown away by both the words and pictures.”

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


It’s time again, Beloved Patrons, for another round of staff favorites for this year!  This week’s selection comes from The Man Upstairs Who Pays the Bills, who you can thank for keeping the lovely heat/air-conditioning running (and…you know…the lights, too):

One of his favorite authors is Don Brown, whose Navy Justice series, featuring Navy JAG lawyers, are quite the page turners.  You can also check out his Navy JAG series:

3662985DetainedAfter a father and son, both Lebanese nationals, are imprisoned for terrorism on purely false charges,  JAG Officer Matt Davis is left to defend them against powerful federal prosecutors, one of whom is his love, Emily Gardner.  This high-stakes adventure takes Davis from the shores of the US to Lebanon and to Cuba is a race against time to save two people caught up in an international conspiracy.


2216423The Runaway JuryJohn Grisham’s thriller is a classic that still has the power to grab your attention…At the center of a multimillion-dollar legal hurricane are twelve men and women who have been investigated, watched, manipulated, and harassed by high-priced lawyers and consultants who will stop at nothing to secure a verdict.  But only a handful of people know the truth: that this jury has a leader, and the verdict belongs to him.  He is known only as Juror #2. But he has a name, a past, and he has planned his every move with the help of a beautiful woman on the outside.


1186476The Firm: And fans of Grisham shouldn’t miss this other classic legal thriller: When Mitch McDeere signed on with Bendini, Lambert & Locke of Memphis, he thought that he and his beautiful wife, Abby, were on their way. The firm leased him a BMW, paid off his school loans, arranged a mortgage, and hired the McDeeres a decorator. Mitch should have remembered what his brother Ray–doing fifteen years in a Tennessee jail–already knew: You never get nothing for nothing. Now the FBI has the lowdown on Mitch’s firm and needs his help. Mitch is caught between a rock and a hard place, with no choice–if he wants to live.


2221922The Hunt for Red OctoberAnd you can’t miss Tom Clancy’s smash-hit Cold War thriller, and the book that introduced his beloved Jack Ryan….Somewhere under the Atlantic, a Soviet sub commander has just made a fateful decision: the Red October is heading west. The Americans want her. The Russians want her back. And the most incredible chase in history is on….Word on the street is that Clancy’s novel is so accurate that he was rumored to have been debriefed by the White House….

Enjoy, Beloved Patrons, and keep your eyes out for our next round of our favorite reads of 2015!

Don’t be a Metrophobe

After talking with our beloved Free for All chief writer and coordinator, it’s clear to me that, like many average readers, we Free for All bloggers are suffering from a serious case metrophobia: fear of poetry. I get the impression that many readers want to read poetry, but when I mention that I read poetry on occasion, they usually respond with something like, “Wow, you read that stuff? Good for you. It doesn’t make any sense to me,” or “Poetry is interesting, but I don’t know how to talk about it.”

poetryThe trouble is, poetry makes many people apprehensive. You hear the word “poetry,” and suddenly you’re 16 years old, and Poetry is that cute guy you want to ask out, but are just too afraid to approach. Poetry is the hipster in the corner with its own format, language and social cues, and it’s just not worth the effort of trying to fit in knowing you’ll only make a fool of yourself anyway. You see where I’m going here. Poetry makes metrophobes feel awkward, clumsy and unsure of themselves, enough so that they avoid it altogether.

Today, I’m here to tell you one thing: Get over it.’m not going to tell you that poetry will change your life because it probably won’t. But it will make you appreciate things in new ways. Like a painting or a photograph, a poem asks you to take a character, a moment, a feeling or an image, and look at it very closely from angles you might not expect. A poem often has an “aha” moment that will speak to you, or two juxtaposed images that will shock or surprise you. Poems pack an emotional punch, made all the more impressive by their word economy, and you will find yourself thinking about a good one for days, months or years after the first time you read it. Good poems can make you laugh, make you cry. They can comfort and soothe you. Sometimes a good poem is just there for you when you need it, to remind you of something important you didn’t realize you forgot.

So what I’m asking you to do today is to go on a date with poetry. And if you don’t get along with your first poet, try another one. Just like novels, books of poetry vary widely in style, theme and format. When you find the right poet, you’ll know, and you’ll thank me for setting you up on this blind date.

If you’ve been living life as a metrophobe, it’s time for some immersion therapy. To get you started, the following books are available in the library’s collection, and just waiting for you to check them out.

Felicity by Mary Oliver
In her latest book, Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver explores themes of nature, faith, love, and being present to the wonder of life. For those looking for a book of poetry that is both approachable and gracious, this is it. In this particularly beautiful verse from “The World I Live In,” Oliver uses elegant and seemingly simple language to talk about faith:

You wouldn’t believe what once or
twice I have seen. I’ll just
tell you this:

only if there are angels in your head will you
ever, possibly, see one.

And in the collection’s final poem, “A Voice from I Don’t Know Where,” she neatly ties together the whole of the book in a show of gratitude for the complexities and joys of life:

It must surely, then, be very happy down there
in your heart.
“Yes,” I said. “It is.”

If you’re just getting started with poetry, Mary Oliver is a wonderful place to begin. Her words will make you “very happy down there / in your heart.”

The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems
Even if you’re not a poetry reader, you’ve probably heard of New England poet Robert Frost. As part of a recent library discussion series, we discussed selections from this book which Professor Theoharis described like this: “Robert Frost’s poems are famous and loved for their wisdom and beauty.  Natural scenes, events, and people who live and work in the countryside of New England provide the topics on which the poems wax wise and lovely.  Although the tendency to read Frost sentimentally can probably not be checked, there is a darkness and comedy in his poems that often goes without comment.”

Transformations by Anne Sexton
If you enjoy fairy tale revisions, chances are you’ll love Anne Sexton’s darkly poetic takes on Grimm’s fairy tales. Dubbed by the Paris Review as a “caustic sequence of poems,” Transformations is one of the first books of poetry that ever captured my attention. As ever in Sexton’s poetry, these verses convey a discontent with 1950’s family life, and contrasting the oldness of the tales with similes from modern life, Sexton describes Snow White’s “eyes as wide as Orphan Annie” and a Cinderella who “slept on the sooty hearth each night / and walked around looking like Al Jolson.” These poems may not end with a “happily ever after,” but you’ll be glad you read them just the same.

I had some good ideas for a post today…

And then I found this recording of Neil Gaiman reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  And I realized I could never, ever, top that.  So here, for your listening pleasure, and as a salvation to your Monday (and Tuesday.  It’s grading period, sorry!), is Neil Gaiman reading A Christmas Carol, with unending gratitude to the New York Public Library for making this happen, and offering it to the Internets.

PS: Anyone else wondering if the good Mr. Gaiman borrowed his top hat from our Blog’s mascot, Theophilus?

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