Tag Archives: History!

The Year Without A Summer?

So it’s June.  June 6th, to be precise.

And I am still wearing socks.

Even worse, I am wearing a sweater.

Because it seems that this year, dear patrons, summer is holding out on us.  Today’s temperature is hovering near records lows, and it’s a bit…well…murky.

Now, that’s not to say that a brilliant, seasonal summer is not on the horizon.  I’ve already got one sunburn this year, so it’s not like we’ve never seen the sun.  It’s not like we’re in a year without a summer…

…although that did happen….

The year of 1816 is known as “The Year Without A Summer“.  This was largely due to global climactic abnormalities both caused and exacerbated by the eruption of Mount Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa in what is today Indonesia.  The eruption remains one of the most powerful eruptions in recorded history, and the only VEI-7 event witnessed (that means it’s super-colossal big).  The ash from that explosion was trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, and spread around the globe, causing massive temperature drops (since sunlight could not penetrate the ash cover).  Since the Earth was already experiencing what is now know as the “Little Ice Age”, this means that temperatures that were already lower than average plummeted, causing continental-wide harvest failures, and what Historian John D. Post  has called the “the last great subsistence crisis in the Western world”.

From the New England Historical Society

We’re talking freezing temperatures here, snow in June (actually, on June 6th, according to historic records).  In the Berkshires, there was frost in August.  There were also wild temperature swings–areas of Pennsylvania recorded temperatures in the nineties in August, only to be below freezing three days later.  The result was widespread famine in Europe, especially in Ireland, north England, and Germany.

There were also a few not-so-horrific results of this summer.  Because of the pollution in their air reflecting the light, sunsets were said to be particularly spectacular during the three years that the effects of the Tambora were felt globally.  You can see these in the paintings by artist J.M.W. Turner, as seen below:

Chichester Canal circa 1828 by J.M.W. Turner via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The lack of oats to feed horses may have inspired the German inventor Karl Drais to research new ways of horseless transportation, which led to the invention of the velocipede, which was an early version of what we now know as the bicycle.

And because there was so much rain that summer, Percy Shelley and his wife Mary were forced to stay in doors during their holidays in Lake Geneva, which they spent with Lord Byron and Dr. Polidori.  That was the trip during which Mary Shelley first told the story that would become Frankenstein.

The comparative size of the Tambora eruption

Now, I’m not saying that you or I are going to use these chilly damp days (which are nothing compared to the Year Without A Summer, if we’re all being serious here for a second*) to invent a machine that will revolutionize human transport, or create a work of art that will redefine humanity.  But you might want to come into the Library and check out one of these books that focus on The Year Without A Summer.  You never know the effects it might have!

Tambora : the eruption that changed the worldThere are a number of books that look at Tambora and its effects, but Gillen D’Arcy Wood’s book looks at the eruption itself, and the global catastrophes it caused, but also brings the story forward,  utilizing modern climate science  to talk about manmade climate change in our own time.  Another quality selection is William Klingaman’s The year without summer : 1816 and the volcano that darkened the world and changed historywhich emphasizes the social, cultural, and political changes wrought by the effects of the Tambora eruption.

The poet and the vampyre : the curse of Byron and the birth of literature’s greatest monstersThough Frankenstein is probably the most well-known work to emerge from that infamous trip to Lake Geneva, it should not be forgotten that Byron’s physician-friend, John Polidori, also wrote what we generally assume to be the first vampire tale, called “The Vampyre”.  It was mostly a send-up of Byron, which whom Polidori was very, very miffed, but still.  Without Polidori, we;d never have Dracula.  In this weirdly wonderful book, Andrew McConnell Stott looks at the love affairs, literary rivalries, and the supernatural influences that combined and collided to bring Percy and Mary Shelley, Byron, and Polidori to Geneva, and the effects of their meeting on world literature to this very day.

To Charm a Naughty CountessJust to lighten the mood a bit…Theresa Romain’s novel is set during the summer of 1816, and features Michael, Duke of Wyverne, who is desperately trying to save his estate from financial ruin after another abysmal harvest.  The simplest course of action is to marry, but for someone as anxious and socially awkward as Michael, the prospect seems deem, until the widowed Countess of Stratton decides to take him under her wing.  This is an all around delightful romance, featuring a decidedly un-alpha hero and a heroine who defies all conventions, and comes highly recommended, regardless of its time-setting.

*And just for the record, this event is a meteorological/climatological phenomenon that has nothing to do with global warming.  Indeed, the process of global warming would begin in earnest about a decade after this summer with the escalation of the Industrial Revolution.  Just so we don’t get confused here.

The Green Carnation Book Prize

February 20, 1892, was the premiere for Oscar Wilde’s comedic play Lady Windermere’s FanIt’s a glorious, smart, subversive play that deals with gender assumption, class issues, love, trust, loyalty, and you should read it.  Or see it.  Or hear a recording of it (I really love this play, if you can’t tell…).

The play was an enormous success, but Oscar’s speech at the end (he was brought out on stage to be applauded, as well) may have actually been the most memorable part of the evening.  You can see a reproduction of it here, with Stephen Fry playing Oscar:

Anyways, for the premiere, Oscar arranged for one of the actors to wear a green carnation in his buttonhole.  He also gave carnations to his friends who would be attending, so that it would appear that a select number of audience members were in cahoots with the actors over the style.   Artist Graham Robertson was one of the people Wilde asked to wear the flower.  As the story goes, Robertson asked Wilde what the green carnation was supposed to mean.

“Nothing whatever,” Wilde replied, “but that is just what nobody will guess.”

The story is a good one, and definitely fits with Oscar’s love of gently mocking society at large for being ridiculous, but the truth was that there was a lot of meaning behind the green carnation.  Green was the symbol of Irish nationalism, and Oscar, an Irishman himself and a firm believer in the cause of Irish nationalism.  It was also the color of absinthe, a hallucinogenic drink that of which Oscar was particularly fond (you can still get it now, but it’s not a hallucinogen anymore…).  Finally, to Oscar, green was the color of artists–a green carnation is not natural.  You can’t grow them naturally.  They have to be created, with intention, and purpose.

Oscar Wilde was also a homosexual, and today, there are a lot of assumptions that the green carnation was a covert symbol of homosexuality.  It wasn’t–or, at least, it never seems to have been used as a symbol by Oscar himself to denote homosexuality (it was never referenced at his trials, and he himself never wrote a word about it, though he wrote about his carnations and the color green fairly often).  However, there were a number of people who mocked him (covertly and not-so-covertly), and stated that the green carnation was some kind of symbol of depravity.

Since that time, however, the green carnation has been adopted as a highly literary and rather esoteric reference to homosexuality, in deference to Wilde who, in many ways, defined what a homosexual man should look, act, and sound like.

Fast-forward to 2010, when author Paul Magrs, who also writes funny, charming, and very clever books, tweeted about the “scandalous lack of prizes for gay men” in the UK (<– Quoting the tweet there), and he and journalist Simon Savidge decided to set up just such a prize, they decided to name it The Green Carnation Prize. The Prize was originally awarded to the best fiction and memoirs by gay men.  In 2012 the prize opened its submission criteria to include all LGBT writers, in 2015 it widened its submission criteria even further including all ‘works of translation’.

Why is this important?  You might ask.
It’s important because human beings are herd animals.  We accept things are “right” when other people do them/think them/say them/wear them/eat them/sing them/dance with them/etc. first.  It’s why it’s so easy to do what everyone else is doing.  It’s why humans who do things alone, who are the first to say something or do something is such a momentous event.  Affirmation and validation and self-confidence are all wrapped up together in our cave-people brains.  And it’s really hard when you are a reader, to never read a book about people like you.  Whether the “people like you” have a certain skin color, speak a particularly language, practice a certain set of beliefs, looks a certain way, or loves a certain way, it’s enormously important to our self-understanding to know that there are other people “like us” somewhere in the world.

And, as tribal animals, who understand that taking care of our human tribe is as important as taking care of ourselves, we need to make sure that everyone can find a book in which they can find themselves, and feel like they belong.  It might not be a book that you yourself enjoy, or with which you identify–and that’s ok. We’ll find some.  Or we’ll write some.  Or maybe you’ll write them.  But the point is, the more we celebrate diversity in all its forms, the more diversity there will be.

So today, we bring you the Green Carnation Short List.  Where the books haven’t yet been released in the US, the WorldCat links are provided.  We can get these books for you, if you come in and ask!

The winner will be announced at Foyle’s Book Shop in London on May 22nd!

Courtesy of https://greencarnationprize.com/


“Now heaven be thanked, a few brave drops were ours.”

Today, dear readers, is the 100th anniversary of the official US entrance into the First World War.

I say official, because the US had been involved in the war from the very beginning, sending arms to both the Allies and the Central Powers, attempting to make diplomatic incursions that would end hostilities, and delivering food to refugees in Belgium and elsewhere.  Nevertheless, the American government was aware that a significant percentage of the voting public were immigrants–German immigrants, who still had strong ties to their homeland; Irish immigrants whose opinions about Britain were not high, especially after the failure of the Easter Rising in 1916; Scandinavian immigrants whose families had suffered as a result Russian imperial rule.  Though the war itself was far from America’s shores, it was very close to many Americans hearts.

In 1915, Woodrow Wilson’s campaign hinged on the fact that he hadn’t gotten the US involved in the war (in a very strict military sense).  But a combination of events in 1917 spelled the end of American “neutrality”, and launched the war that would change American engagement in the world forever.

The Russian Revolution, which began in March, had forced the Tzar Nicholas II to abdicate, and put a form of representative government in charge of the Russian Empire.  For Wilson, who had often publicly denounced monarchical rule in general, and the 300-year-old Romanov Dynasty in particular, having a representative government in place made it easier for the US to make overtures to Russia–also, his very very strong desire to ensure that the country didn’t fall into the hands of Socialists or Communists made him very eager to make as many overtures, offers of help, and assistance as possible.  Furthermore, the increasingly hostile practices of the German Navy, particularly its submarines, had, for some times, turned American favor against the German Army.  For the record, the sinking of the Lusitania was not the reason the US got involved in the war.  The Lusitania sank in 1915.  And people weren’t happy about it, but they weren’t willing to risk their children’s lives because of it.  Not by a long shot.

Finally, it was becoming clear, even by 1917, that the alliance between Imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary, the alliance that made up the Central Powers, were not doing well.  They were–and had been–considerably outnumbered, and the British blockade of German ports meant that people on the German home-front were beginning, quite literally, to starve.  American imports to Germany had dropped considerably over time, and the resultant increase in imports to the Allies (largely comprised of Great Britain, France, and Russia), had helped considerably in terms of feeding the troops.

In early 1917, Germany decided to resume all-out submarine warfare on every commercial ship headed toward Britain again (they had employed and revoked the policy several times over the course of the war).  They also sent what we now call “The Zimmerman Telegram” to Mexico, stating that if Mexico allied with Germany and declared war on the United States, Germany would help Mexico reclaim the land it had lost when Texas succeeded.  The German diplomat who allegedly sent the telegram, was Zimmerman.  There is still debate in some quarters as to whether the telegram was sent in good faith or if Germany, who knew its telegram lines were being monitored by the Allies, knowingly attempted to provoke the United States into declaring war in a rather badly judged act of hubris.

Either way, using the Zimmerman Telegram as proof of Germany’s claims on US territory, Woodrow Wilson went to Congress on April 4 and requested a declaration of war against Imperial Germany and its Allies.  On April 6, that declaration was formally made.

Though, as I noted, Germany would almost certainly have had to admit defeat regardless of the US intervention, the influx of some 1 million US soldiers and all their weaponry and, perhaps most importantly, all their food, certainly tipped the scales in the Allies favor.  The US Army was only involved in a few battles in 1918, since it took some considerable time to organize and train 1 million men….Americans, however, had been involved in the war via the French Legion, the Red Cross, the British Army, which permitted foreign pilots to enlist, and other organizations, from the war’s outset.

So while the war itself was perhaps not a watershed event for the US, the aftermath definitely was.  Woodrow Wilson (declared that he alone) was in charge of the Peace Treaty that ended with the Treaty of Versailles.  His policies (and phenomenal blunders), along with the fury of the British and French diplomats, who had lost land, their health, their children, and their fortunes, combined, essentially, to create the world that we have today.  The modern Middle East was created as a result of the Treaty of Versailles.  The Russian government (which did indeed become Socialist/Communist in the end of 1917) was barred from the Peace Talks, informally launching the Cold War that…from which we seem to have not yet escaped.  The US made huge loans to both the Allied and Central Powers during the war, and when the US went off the common gold standard after the war, it put each indebted nation even that much further in debt as a result, leading to the rise of America as a world power.

But, 100 years ago, that was all in the future.  100 years ago today, men and women were preparing to sail across the ocean to a land many had never before seen, to be part of a cause that was nebulous, at best.  And today, we remember them, and the legacy they left, not only to us, but to the world.

A young Alan Seeger

Alan Seeger, a midwesterner who had attended Harvard, had been serving with the French Foreign Legion years before the US involvement with the war.  In 1916, just before his death, he wrote a poem to commemorate his fallen comrades.  Lines from that poem are carved into the Memorial to American Volunteers, at Place des États-Unis, Paris (the artist used Seeger himself as a model for the soldier).  Today, we share a bit of that poem with you, as a way to commemorate what began today, and to ponder where it yet may lead.

The Memorial to American Volunteers

Ode in Memory of the American Volunteers Fallen for France

By Alan Seeger

O friends! I know not since that war began
From which no people nobly stands aloof
If in all moments we have given proof
Of virtues that were thought American.
I know not if in all things done and said
All has been well and good,
Or of each one of us can hold his head
As proudly as he should,
Or, from the pattern of those mighty dead
Whose shades our country venerates to-day,
If we ‘ve not somewhat fallen and somewhat gone astray,
But you to whom our land’s good name is dear,
If there be any here
Who wonder if her manhood be decreased,
Relaxed its sinews and its blood less red
Than that at Shiloh and Antietam shed,
Be proud of these, have joy in this at least,
And cry: Now heaven be praised
That in that hour that most imperilled her,
Menaced her liberty who foremost raised
Europe’s bright flag of freedom, some there were
Who, not unmindful of the antique debt,
Came back the generous path of Lafayette;
And when of a most formidable foe
She checked each onset, arduous to stem—
Foiled and frustrated them—
On those red fields where blow with furious blow
Was countered, whether the gigantic fray
Rolled by the Meuse or at the Bois Sabot,
Accents of ours were in the fierce mêlée;
And on those furthest rims of hallowed ground
Where the forlorn, the gallant charge expires,
When the slain bugler has long ceased to sound,
And on the tangled wires
The last wild rally staggers, crumbles, stops,
Withered beneath the shrapnel’s iron showers:—
Now heaven be thanked, we gave a few brave drops;
Now heaven be thanked, a few brave drops were ours.’
There, holding still, in frozen steadfastness,
Their bayonets toward the beckoning frontiers,
They lie—our comrades—lie among their peers,
Clad in the glory of fallen warriors,
Grim clustered under thorny trellises,
Dry, furthest foam upon disastrous shores,
Leaves that made last year beautiful, still strewn
Even as they fell, unchanged, beneath the changing moon;
And earth in her divine indifference
Rolls on, and many paltry things and mean
Prate to be heard and caper to be seen.
But they are silent, clam; their eloquence
Is that incomparable attitude;
No human presences their witness are,
But summer clouds and sunset crimson-hued,
And showers and night winds and the northern star
Nay, even our salutations seem profane,
Opposed to their Elysian quietude;
Our salutations calling from afar,
From our ignobler plane
And undistinction of our lesser parts:
Hail, brothers, and farewell; you are twice blest, brave hearts.
Double your glory is who perished thus,
For you have died for France and vindicated us.

International Women’s Day!

You may very well have heard that today, dear readers, is International Women’s Day, a day that seems to be grabbing a lot more headlines this year for a number of reasons, including the spectacular turnout on seven continents for the International Women’s March in January…but what exactly are we celebrating when we observe this day?

New York, 1908

Some sources cite the first ‘Women’s Day’ as taking place in 1908 when 15,000 women marched through the streets of New York in support of shorter hours, better pay and voting rights, but one year later, in 1909, the Socialist Party of America declared a National Women’s Day on Sunday, February 28–the day was specifically chosen to allow even working women to participate (and let’s just remember here that a Socialist party is not a Communist party, and the goals of one are by no means the goals of the other).  And one year after that, and the second International Conference of Working Women. which was held in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin of Germany suggested an International Women’s Day. The day, as she proposed, would be recognized in every country, to advocate for issues critical to all women.   The next International Women’s Day, in 1911, was recognized by nine countries.

In 1913, the Russian Socialist Party moved the celebration to March 8, the day on which it is still observed today.  During the First World War, women’s work in international pacifist organizations used this day to promote work across borders and above international hostilities to make life better for human people everywhere. Though they didn’t bring the war to an end (though not through lack of trying), in 1917, women in Russian went on strike with a message of “peace and bread”–and four days later, the Tzar abdicated, signaling an end to Russia’s involvement in the First World War.

Bread and Peace Strike, Petrograd, 1917

Though the UN officially recognized IWD in 1975, it hasn’t been a big thing for quite some time…..until, in 2011, President Barack Obama declared March ‘Women’s History Month’, and the nine countries around the world that first celebrated IWD developed national programs to promote education and opportunities for young women.  This year, IWD will be celebrated in the following countries: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia.

So what can you do to celebrate?  If you want to go big, pledge to support the equality of human life worldwide by sponsoring universal education and access to fundamental resources.  And then do something about it.  Teach a kid to read.  Donate to a local charity.  Tell a young person in your life, regardless of gender, that their contribution to the world is important.  Listen more.
And then, come into the Library and check out some books that have been selected from around the world for this year’s International Women’s Day!

From London’s Evening Standard:

The Handmaid’s TaleMargaret Atwood:
Set in the near future, Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel follows the story of Offred, a young handmaid to a powerful commander, who is a lynchpin in a totalitarian Christian theocracy which has overthrown the United States government. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. What unfolds is a story of female subjugation at the hands of a male dictatorship, and the desperate hope of a young woman who clings to the memories of her former life and identity. As unpleasant as it is brilliant, this cruel and bone-chilling story will stay with your for the rest of your life – not just because it’s terrifying, but because it’s terrifyingly possible. 

From Australia’s Reading Australia:

Lilian’s Story by Kate Grenville:
Lilian Singer was born in 1901, a time when the education of women was considered unnecessary, even dangerous. Intelligent, resilient, and with a burning desire for independence, Lilian rejects the life deemed “acceptable” by society. Instead, she becomes an eccentric – energetic, happy and true to herself. This story is all the more captivating for being inspired by the real-life Bea Miles, a familiar figure to Sydney-dwellers, who lived on the streets and recited Shakespeare in exchange for money.

From TheCultureTrip:

A Woman in the Crossfire : Diaries of the Syrian Revolution by Samar Yazbek
Samar Yazbek’s writing takes many different forms: novels, short stories, cultural criticism and scripts fill her résumé, and she has even been responsible for editing a feminist e-zine, entitled Women of Syria. What unites all of her writing is a deep-seated political and social awareness and engagement with contemporary issues, which she weaves throughout her work. Her most recent work A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution (2012) is a brutal account of her involvement in the protests against the Assad regime, before her eventual escape and exile to Paris. The book was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize, awarded yearly to an international writer who has been persecuted for their work.

In a survey by The Guardian on their readers’ favorite books by women:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book Americanah has moved me like no other in recent memory…It’s an honest book about race, identity and the constant longing and nostalgia one feels for this metaphorical place called home…Reading this has made me realise that some of the most powerful narratives in contemporary fiction have been written by young, highly educated female African writers, who are tired of the old clichés frequently bandied around about Africa. Ngozi Adichie is a new, powerful and incredibly talented voice; her novel Americanah is the expression of a different African tale, of a continent and its people that have many more magnetic stories to tell, as well as critiques to raise about the so-called enlightened West.”

From the Center for Southeast Asia Studies:

Soul survivors : stories of women and children in Cambodia by Carol Wagner
Soul Survivors gives voice to women and children in Cambodia who survived the genocide (1975 – 1979), when nearly two million people died from execution, starvation, or disease. Through their detailed personal stories, fourteen people reveal the brutality of Pol Pot’s regime, how they managed to survive, and what it took to rebuild their lives afterward. This new edition is updated and contains recent historical events and an epilog telling what happened to the survivors since the first edition was published in 2002. It also includes information about the two charitable humanitarian organizations (friendshipwithcambodia.org and artinabox.org) the author and photographer were inspired to create to help the poor in Cambodia.

From SugarStreetReview:

Women of Algiers in Their Apartment by Assia Djebar
The elder stateswoman of Francophone literature, Djebar is one of the most distinguished writers in the Arab world, although she herself comes from the Algeria’s significant Berber minority.   Djebar, whose real name is Fatima-Zohra Imalayène, has written about the role and repression of women in Algeria in many of her novels and says “Like so many other Algerian women authors, I write with a sense of urgency against misogyny and regression.” …A number of her novels have also been translated into English from the French, and all are more than deserving of your time. We particularly recommend Women of Algiers in Their Apartment, if you can rustle up a copy from somewhere.

From Msafropolitan:

Part of My Soul Went With Him by Winnie Mandela:
For insight into the life of one of the most revolutionary, African female figures of our times, this semi-autobiographical book is a must read. Winnie has achieved more for Africans, female and male; and for women, of all ethnicities, than others could dream of. Her life is one full of sacrifices, personal and political, and yet one gets the sense that if she were to choose, she would do it all over again. Through the collection of conversations, letters, supplementary speeches and anecdotes, it becomes clear exactly how much in debt we are to her.

In solidarity, readers.  Happy International Women’s Day!

Yours, With Love

And a very Happy Valentine’s Day, dear readers!  Whether you are the type of person who buys heart-shaped confetti and cuts out little silhouettes of cupids, or…not, I thought today would be an ideal one to share with you a little something I learned this weekend.

Did you know that February is InCoWriMo?

InCoWriMo stands for International Correspondence Writing Month, a month-long celebration of “vintage social media”, or letter-writing.  The goal, as stated on the InCoWriMo website, is to “Hand-write and mail/deliver one letter, card, note or postcard every day during the month of February.”  The goal of the project is to celebrate the beauty of hand-writing letters, and the wonderfully personal bonds that are built through the process of letter-writing.

Now, I only found out about InCoWriMo a few days ago when a friend of mine, who is a participant, told me about in (in a letter, as a matter of fact).  And I love it.  As a dedicated letter-writer myself, I find that sitting down and crafting a letter to someone is something that benefits us both.  In a communication-heavy world, we tend to say things quickly, more eager to get the information to another person.  But letter-writing gives you the time to think about how you want to say something, and why it is important to say something.  Also, I really like thinking about the person to whom I am writing–it makes me feel a lot closer to them than shooting off a text.

Unfortunately, I only learned about this great project halfway through the shortest month of the year, but that is no reason not to get started anyway.  And today, I would encourage you to send a letter to someone you love, as well.  The strict rules of InCoWriMo state that letters have to be hand-written, but I know that’s not easy for everyone.  So if you’d like to type, or dictate, or even sketch, we won’t tell.  And if you are looking for someone to whom to send a letter, InCoWriMo has also collected a list, which includes pen manufacturers, CEO’s, J.K. Rowling, and Michael Phelps, who are all eager to receive a letter from you.  So why not give it a try.  Today, of all days, is a good one to tell someone you think they’re worthy of a letter.  So is tomorrow, as a matter of fact.  As Heloise, a scholar, Abbess, and stellar letter-writer of the Middle Ages wrote to her love, Peter Abelard, “…what cannot letters inspire? They have souls; they can speak; they have in them all that force which expresses the transports of the heart; they have all the fire of our passions, they can raise them as much as if the persons themselves were present; they have all the tenderness and the delicacy of speech, and sometimes even a boldness of expression beyond it…We may write to each other; so innocent a pleasure is not denied us.”

And if you need some ideas, here are a few letters from history.   It’s become a little Free For All tradition to share famous love letters on this day, but this time around, I tried to stick to the informal, or the unconventional, to show that “love letters” can take any kind of form you might like or need:

Here is a cartoon written by E.C. Segar, the creator of Popeye to his wife, Myrtle, while he was traveling for business, entitled “Gee!!  I wish Myrt was here”:

This short, but perfectly-worded note from Mark Twain to his wife, Olivia Louise Langdon:

Letter via Blogs.Courant.com & Mark Twain House

The text of the letter: Livy Darling, I am grateful–grate-fuller than ever before–that you were born, & that your love is mine & our two lives woven & melded together!  –SLC (Samuel Longhorn Clemens)

And, finally, this birthday note from Johnny Cash to June Carter Cash on her 65th birthday, in 1994 (which was voted the greatest love letter of all time in a 2005 poll):



June 23 1994

Odense, Denmark.

Happy Birthday Princess,

We get old and get used to each other. We think alike. We read each others minds. We know what the other wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes take each other for granted.

But once in awhile, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met. You still fascinate and inspire me. You influence me for the better. You’re the object of my desire, the #1 Earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much.

Happy Birthday Princess.


The Wellcome Book Prize Longlist!

For those of you beloved patrons who live to read to learn, let me tell you about the Wellcome Book Prize.

Let me start by telling you a little bit about the Wellcome Collection.  Located right across the street from Euston Station in London, the Wellcome Collection is dedicated to uniting the fields of science, medicine, and the arts, declaring itself “The free destination for the incurably curious”.  The institute was originally funded by Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (pictured at right), a fascinating entrepreneur, born in Wisconsin in 1853, whose first business was peddling invisible ink (it was lemon juice).  He later went into pharmaceuticals, where he revolutionized medicine by developing medicine in tablet form, though he called them ‘Tabloids’.  Upon his death, Wellcome vested the entire share capital of his company in individual trustees, who were charged with spending the income to further human and animal health, and even left specifics in his will as to the building in which the collections were to be housed.  Today, the Wellcome Trust, which funds all this gloriousness, is now one of the world’s largest private biomedical charities.

Yay for Science! (From the Wellcome Collection)

I cannot recommend exploring the Wellcome Collection online to you enough.  Because of their dedication to education and engagement, a surprisingly vast amount of their exhibits have online components, and a good deal of their archives and library are digitized, making it possible to access their treasure trove of educational riches from the comfort of your living room (or local Library!).  Their exhibits range from the emotional and contemporary, such as videos and talks on military medicine, to the sublimely bizarre, like this gallery on curatives and quack medicine.  Throughout their work is a very firm dedication not only to education, but to sparking a love of learning in their visitors, and that work pays huge dividends.

I personally adore the Wellcome because of it’s 1) incredible library, which has allowed me to write my dissertation, it’s 2) stupendous archive, which is also helping me with The Dissertation, and 3) Their ridiculously welcoming, air-conditioned building (I don’t know if Sir Wellcome thought of central air, but if he did, I tip my proverbial hat to him).  There is a section of their library with chaise lounges and beanbags, for pity’s sake.  And the security guards encourage you to wander around and learn all you can–and don’t mind that you have a cold and look like you got hit by a truck. That, my friends, is an institution dedicated to learning.

And, as part of their outreach efforts, and in the hope of encouraging more quality and creative writing in the sciences, the Wellcome Trust also funds one of the largest book prizes around, providing 30,000 GBP (right now, about $37,500) to it chosen author.  As described on the Wellcome Book Prize site, all the books that are nominated have “a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness.”  While this dedication to science is wonderful, the Wellcome Prize also recognizes art, standing by its core principles by recognizing that such books “can cover many genres of writing – including crime, romance, popular science, sci-fi and history.”  Thus, their list includes both non-fiction and fiction, in order to celebrate those works that “add new meaning to what it means to be human.”

The 2016 Wellcome Book Prize design (courtesy of Notcot)

So here, without further ado, is the Wellcome Book Prize Longlist.  We hope you’ll find something to whet your reading appetite either here, or in the list of past winners.  The shortlist will be announced at the London Book Fair on March 14th, and the winner will be revealed at a ceremony at the Wellcome Collection on April 24th.  Because the Wellcome Prize’s descriptions of these books are so terrific, clicking on the book title or author will take you to the Wellcome page….there is a link to the Noble Listing for the books beside each entry.  As usual with overseas prizes, some of these books haven’t come to our shores as yet, but we’ll keep you updated when they do!

How to Survive a Plague by David France non-fiction  (NOBLE)
Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari non-fiction (NOBLE)
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi non-fiction (NOBLE)
Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal trans. Jessica Moore fiction Currently unavailable in the US
The Golden Age by Joan London fiction (NOBLE)
Cure by Jo Marchant non-fiction (NOBLE)
The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss fiction Currently Unavailable in the US
The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee non-fiction (NOBLE)
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry fiction US release date to be set soon
A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford  non-fiction US Release: September, 2017
Miss Jane by Brad Watson fiction (NOBLE)
I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong non-fiction (NOBLE)

Happy reading!

At the Movies: Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory in Lyon

Are you a film buff?  Do you come into the Library and make a beeline for the new DVDs?  If so, today is a day worth celebrating–it’s the anniversary of the first commercial film screening.

Auguste and Louis Lumière
Auguste and Louis Lumière

Film History actually goes back to the 1830s, as various European inventors worked on creating spinning disks with images inside them that, when spun, produced the illustion of action.  Thomas Edison demonstrated his “peepshow’ Kinetoscope in 1891, a machine that, essentially, worked like a flip-book.  A single viewer would peer through the viewer at the top and a reel of special film would be run through the machine to show an image.  But though the Kinetoscope was the model of the modern film projectors, it was limited at the time because only one person could use it at a time.  Two of the people who saw the machine when Edison brought it to Europe were Auguste Marie Louis Nicolas and Louis Jean Lumiere, who worked in their family’s photographic plate factory in Lyon, France.

A view of the Kinetoscope that shows the inner workings of the film through the machine
A view of the Kinetoscope that shows the inner workings of the film through the machine

When their father saw the Kinetoscope in 1894, he declared (as many proud parents have throughout history, I’m sure) that his sons could do better.  And so, they did.  By 1895, they had developed the Cinematographe, a machine that was considerably lighter than Edison’s ponderously heavy projector, used a good deal less film to project an image, and was capable of displaying images on a screen, thus enabling groups of people to watch the same film projection at the same time.  Though other inventors had shown ‘moving pictures’ to an audience before, their designs were clunky and immediately supplanted by the remarkable Cinematographe.

a918b7da6f806bdf22254eb9c04fa04fThe Lumiere Brothers debuted their invention at the Salon Indien du Grand Café in Paris on December 28, 1895.  In an evening of technological and cinematographic history, they screen ten films, each less than a minute long (each film was approximately 17 meters long).  The program consisted of films shot in and around Paris by the brothers themselves, though it is thought that they used Léon Bouly‘s cinématographe device, which was patented the previous year (just to show you how much inventors were focused on moving pictures at this point).  The order of the films screened were as follows (you can read more about each film in the link in the titles):

  1. La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon (literally, “the exit from the Lumière factory in Lyon”, or, under its more common English title, Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory), 46 seconds
  2. Le Jardinier (l’Arroseur Arrosé) (“The Gardener”, or “The Sprinkler Sprinkled”), 49 seconds
  3. Le Débarquement du Congrès de Photographie à Lyon (“the disembarkment of the Congress of Photographers in Lyon”), 48 seconds
  4. La Voltige (“Horse Trick Riders”), 46 seconds
  5. La Pêche aux poissons rouges (“fishing for goldfish”), 42 seconds
  6. Les Forgerons (“Blacksmiths”), 49 seconds
  7. Repas de bébé (“Baby’s Breakfast” (lit. “baby’s meal”)), 41 seconds
  8. Le Saut à la couverture (“Jumping Onto the Blanket”), 41 seconds
  9. La Places des Cordeliers à Lyon (“Cordeliers Square in Lyon”—a street scene), 44 seconds
  10. La Mer (Baignade en mer) (“the sea [bathing in the sea]”), 38 seconds

These films are also hailed as the first primitive documentaries, since they show real people going about their real lives–particularly the workers exiting the Lumiere factory–as well as the first comedies, since “The Gardener” is an early form of slapstick comedy.

largeThe effect their invention had on popular culture was immediate and enormous.  People flocked to see screenings across Europe as the Lumieres took their invention on tour.  The Lumieres opened theaters (which they called cinemas) in 1896 to show their work and sent crews of cameramen around the world to screen films and shoot new material.   New Orleans’ Vitascope Hall–the first cinema in the United States–opened that same year (admission was 10 cents), and The New York Times published its first film review in 1909.  However, neither brother believed that ‘cinema’ had a future, and decline to sell their camera or disseminate their technology, which didn’t earn them many friends.  Though they would go on to develop new kinds of photographic color plates that revolutionized photography, their involvement in film history was quite brief…but no less important for that.  hith-lumiere-brothers-poster-113493490-ab

So why not come into the Library today and check out some of our impressive DVD collection in honor of the Lumiere brothers?  Or, at the very least, to prove to them how remarkable their invention truly was?