Tag Archives: History!

A (Belated) Poem for the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice

Everyone Sang, by Siegfried Sassoon

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on—on—and out of sight.

Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away … O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.

(November 11, 1918)

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy August to all of you, beloved patrons!

I think it’s very safe to say that we are in the midst of the “Dog Days of Summer”, that period of hot, sultry weather that are frankly, perfect for little else but finding a good book to read and trying to move as little as possible.  But what does the phrase actually mean?

According to National Geographic, Greeks and Romans of ancient times coined the phrase, “dog days”to refer to the period of time when Sirius, the dog star, appeared to rise just before the sun, in late July. They referred to these days as the hottest time of the year, a period that could bring fever, or even catastrophe.  In ancient Egyptian culture, the star we know as Sirius was associated with the Egyptian god Osiris, the god of life, death, fertility, and rebirth, and Sopdet, the embodiment of the star, who is pictured as a goddess who is pictured with a five-pointed star above her head (see left).  Star-gazers noted that Sirius rose just before the sun each year immediately prior to the annual flooding of the Nile River.  Although the floods had the potential to bring destruction, they also encouraged new soil and new life.  The Egyptian new year was celebrated with a festival known as The Coming of Sopdet.

So if you have a view of the night sky where you are, beloved patrons, have a look up and see if you can spot Sirius.  The image at the top of this post provides a map to help you.  Either way, you can celebrate a time of rejuvenation with a new book!  Here are just a few of the titles that have spread out on our shelves to savor the air conditioning–and to meet you!

The Seas: Samantha Hunt is a writer with one powerful imagination, and in this slim volume, she weaves one heck of a tale that blends myth, romance, and grim reality in a way that will leave you spellbound.  Moored in a coastal fishing town so far north that the highways only run south, the unnamed narrator of this tale is a misfit, and the subject of cruel local gossip. Her father, a sailor, walked into the ocean eleven years earlier and never returned, leaving his wife and daughter to keep a forlorn vigil. Surrounded by water and beckoned by the sea, she clings to what her father once told her: that she is a mermaid.  True to myth, she finds herself in hard love with a land-bound man, an Iraq War veteran thirteen years her senior.The mesmerizing, fevered coming-of-age tale that follows will land her in jail. Her otherworldly escape will become the stuff of legend.  This is an inventive, creative, and startling insightful work that has critics and fellow writers dazzled.  The Chicago Review of Books put it well in its review when it noted, “It’s hard to imagine that a book so brief could tackle the Iraq war, grief over the loss of a parent, the longing for freedom, an enthrallment with the ocean, loneliness, sexual awakening, faith, and etymology, all in less than 200 pages, but Samantha Hunt has done it, and done it well.”

Jar of Hearts: Those of you looking for a twisty, turny thriller to pass the summer days should look no further than Jennifer Hillier’s latest page-turner.  When she was sixteen years old, Angela Wong—one of the most popular girls in school—disappeared without a trace. Nobody ever suspected that her best friend, Georgina Shaw, now an executive and rising star at her Seattle pharmaceutical company, was involved in any way.  Certainly not Kaiser Brody, who was close with both girls back in high school.  Now, fourteen years later, Kaiser, a detective with Seattle PD, unearths a fresh–and shocking–lead: Angela was a victim of serial killer Calvin James.  But Calvin James was also Georgina’s first love .  And as a result, Geo knew what happened to Angela and told no one. For fourteen years, she carried the secret of Angela’s death, until the day Geo was arrested and sent to prison.  While everyone thinks they finally know the truth, there are dark secrets buried deep. And when new bodies begin to turn up, killed in the exact same manner as Angela Wong, it seems the past and present are about to collide in terrible ways.  Hillier is known for her surprising, emotional plots, and this book promises to show her talents off to their very best advantage.  Publisher’s Weekly praised it as “Engrossing…there’s no denying her page-turner’s grab-you-by-the-throat power.”

BelleweatherSusanna Kearsley has earned a devoted following for her stirring historical fiction, and this book offers readers the chance to explore a house with a legend of romance and tragedy, all stemming back to the summer of 1759, when the American colonies were embroiled in the Seven Years War (also known, not very accurately, as the French and Indian War).  In this complex and dangerous time, a young French Canadian lieutenant is captured and billeted with a Long Island family, an unwilling and unwelcome guest. As he begins to pitch in with the never-ending household tasks and farm chores, Jean-Philippe de Sabran finds himself drawn to the daughter of the house. Slowly, Lydia Wilde comes to lean on Jean-Philippe until their lives become inextricably intertwined. Legend has it that the forbidden love between Jean-Philippe and Lydia ended tragically, but centuries later, the clues they left behind slowly unveil the true story.  Kearsley apparently based this novel on her own family history, and Library Journal rewarded her efforts with a starred review,  saying in part,  “Rich characterizations and vivid historical flavor will keep readers enthralled in both past and present story lines. Highly recommended for Kearsley’s many admirers and fans of romantic dual-time historical fiction.”

Northland: A 4,000 Mile Journey Along America’s Forgotten Border: The United States’ northern border is the world’s longest international boundary, yet it’s a rarely discussed, and seldom explored area, but to the tens of millions who live and work near the line, the region even has its own name: the northland.  Travel writer Porter Fox spent three years exploring 4,000 miles of the border between Maine and Washington, traveling by canoe, freighter, car, and foot.  This book is the record of his journey, the history he learned on his trek, and the people he encountered on the way.  Setting out from the easternmost point in the mainland United States, Fox follows explorer Samuel de Champlain’s adventures across the Northeast; recounts the rise and fall of the timber, iron, and rail industries; crosses the Great Lakes on a freighter; tracks America’s fur traders through the Boundary Waters; and traces the forty-ninth parallel from Minnesota to the Pacific Ocean.   A marvelous, thoughtful work that explores the economy, ecology, people, politics, and history of the United States, Canada, and all those who have had dealing therein.  Kirkus Reviews gave this book a starred review, hailing, “Richly populated with fascinating northlanders, Native Americans, and many border patrol agents, this is highly entertaining and informative travel literature.”

The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies: From such illustrious titles do fascinating books emerge!  Dawn Raffel’s book tells the story of a sideshow presenter, the titular Dr. Couney, who discovered that he could use incubators (and very careful medical care) to save the lives of babies who were born prematurely.   How this turn-of-the-twentieth-century émigré became the savior to families with premature infants, known then as “weaklings”–while ignoring the scorn of the medical establishment and fighting the climate of eugenics–is a wonderfully intriguing and woefully under-explored story.  Raffel emphasized that Dr. Couney, for all his opportunistic entrepreneurial gusto, and the skeletons in his personal closet, genuinely cared for the well-being of his tiny patients, and whose work and insight continues to offer hope to families around the world.  As Publisher’s Weekly notes, “With colorful descriptions of the carnival world and the medical marvels of early neonatalogy, Raffel makes a fascinating case for this unusual pioneer’s rightful place in medical history.” 

Until next week, beloved patrons, Happy Reading!

The Year Without A Summer?

On this warm day, we bring you a post that ran last year, dealing with the treacherous nature of summer weather and how bad it could really be.  We hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane!

…It seems 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.

Five Book Friday!

As many fans of the film franchise Star Wars will know, today is a linguistically significant day–so don’t be surprised if someone comes up to you with the greeting “May the Fourth be with you!”

According to CNN:

As legend has it, and according to the origin story recognized by Lucasfilm, the phrase was first used on May 4, 1979, the day Margaret Thatcher took office as UK Prime Minister. The Conservative Party reportedly placed an ad in the London Evening News that read, “May the Fourth Be With You, Maggie. Congratulations.”

Via TVNZ

With social media, the line has grown in popularity and prevalence, so for those fans out there, May The Fourth Be With You.

There are plenty of other fun days to observe in May, too!  Check out a few of the more quirky and entertaining national days to celebrate soon:

May 5: Free Comic Book Day! For more information, check out the Free Comic Book Day website, and follow the #FreeComicBookDay!

May 6: National Lemonade Day: Started in 2007, this is a day aimed at teaching young people how to start, own and operate their very own business via a lemonade stand.  For more information, check out lemonadeday.org!

May 12: National Miniature Golf Day: Tee up, and learn more about other devotees of everyone’s real favorite sport via #NationalMiniGolfDay.

May 21: National American Red Cross Founder’s Day: Marking the the anniversary of the American Red Cross, which was founded in 1881 by Clara Barton.

May 25: National Tap Dance Day: Honoring the birthday of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, this is a perfect day to get your dancing shoes polished and ready to go!

And, as we all know, there is no day that is not perfect for finding a new book to savor!  Here are just a few of the stellar titles that have paraded onto our shelves this past week:

America is Not the Heart: Elaine Castillo’s debut, a multi-generational epic, has been featured and praised in magazine and on websites across the country, and hailed not only for its insight and honest, but for its humor, as well.  When Hero De Vera arrives in America–haunted by the political upheaval in the Philippines and disowned by her parents–she has already well experienced at rebuilding her life from scratch.  Now, she is starting anew once again, living in her uncle’s home in the Bay Area.  Her uncle’s younger wife knows enough about the might and secrecy of the De Vera family to keep her head down. But their daughter–the first American-born daughter in the family–can’t resist asking Hero about her damaged hands.  The tale that is revealed is a sprawling and soulful one about three generations of women in one family struggling to balance the promise of the American dream and the unshakeable grip of history.  Kirkus Reviews gave Castillo’s work a starred review, and offered a beautiful analysis of her book, saying in part: “Castillo is a vivid writer, and she has a real voice: vernacular and fluid, with a take-no-prisoners edge. At the same time, she complicates her narrative by breaking out of it in a variety of places—both by deftly incorporating languages such as Tagalog and Ilocano and through the use of flashback or backstory . . . Beautifully written, emotionally complex, and deeply moving, Castillo’s novel reminds us both that stories may be all we have to save us and also that this may never be enough.”

Losing the Nobel PrizeWhat would it have been like to be an eyewitness to the Big Bang? In 2014, astronomers wielding BICEP2, the most powerful cosmology telescope ever made, revealed that they’d glimpsed the spark that ignited the Big Bang. Millions around the world tuned in to the announcement broadcast live from Harvard University, immediately igniting rumors of an imminent Nobel Prize. But had these cosmologists truly read the cosmic prologue or, swept up in Nobel dreams, had they been deceived by a galactic mirage?  In this fascinating book, Brian Keating, inventor of the BICEP (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) launches readers on a thrill ride through the high-stakes, ruthless world of modern science, discussing the development of mind-boggling technology and the hope for bigger, better, and more awe-inspiring discoveries.  He also argues that the Nobel Prize, instead of advancing scientific progress, may actually hamper it, encouraging speed and greed while punishing collaboration and bold innovation, and offers clear-sighting ideas for how to fix this process, as well.  Science and technology writers have penned splendid reviews of Keating’s book, praising his prose as well as his acumen.  Among them was ScienceNews, who noted how the book “dissects the error-prone humanity of science, but cuts the ugly details with beauty… Charming and clever, Losing the Nobel Prize bounces between clear explanations of nitty-gritty science, accounts of personal relationships and historical lessons.”

First Person: Man-Booker-Prize winning author Richard Flanagan is known for bending the rules of reality in his fiction, and this book, about a ghost writer and a conman is a stunning example of that talent.  Kif Kehlmann, a young, penniless writer, is rung in the middle of the night by the notorious con man and corporate criminal, Siegfried Heidl. About to go to trial for defrauding the banks of $700 million, Heidl offers Kehlmann the job of ghost writing his memoir. He has six weeks to write the book, for which he’ll be paid $10,000. But as the writing gets under way, Kehlmann begins to fear that he is being corrupted by Heidl. As the deadline draws closer, he becomes ever more unsure if he is ghost writing a memoir, or if Heidl is rewriting him–his life, his future. Everything that was certain grows uncertain as he begins to wonder: Who is Siegfried Heidl–and who is Kif Kehlmann?  As time runs out, as Kehlmann’s world feels it is hurtling toward a catharsis, one question looms above all others: What is the truth?  Twisted, unsettling, and delightfully creative, Flanagan’s newest release received as starred review from Booklist,who called it “An acerbic exploration of how the contemporary world came to be defined by lies, deceit, and obfuscation . . . Full of hilarious asides, this sonorous, blackly comic novel offers searing insight into our times.”

Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution: Here in Massachusetts, we often learn about the Industrial Revolution in terms of mills, looms, and Lowell.   Priya Satia’s thoroughly researched and rich history offers a different take on this seminal moment in human history by arguing that  war and Britain’s prosperous gun trade was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution and the state’s imperial expansion.  She opens with the story of a scandal: Samuel Galton of Birmingham, one of Britain’s most prominent gunmakers, has been condemned by his fellow Quakers, who argue that his profession violates the society’s pacifist principles. In his fervent self-defense, Galton argues that the state’s heavy reliance on industry for all of its war needs means that every member of the British industrial economy is implicated in Britain’s near-constant state of war.   From there, Satia considers the role and effect of firearms in the construction of western hegemony, challenging not only out thinking about the past, but its effect on our present and future, as well.  Booklist praised this work for (among other things) its “Tremendous scholarship. . . . Satia’s detailed and fresh look at the Industrial Revolution has appeal and relevance grounded in and reaching beyond history and social science to illuminate the complexity of present-day gun-control debates.”

The Great Stain: Witnessing American SlaveryNoel Rae’s work looks at slavery from the angle of contemporary, first-hand accounts of the practice, and its effects on enslaved people and those who enslaved them, creating a book that is difficult at times to read, but vitally necessary precisely because of the intimacy.  From the travel journals of sixteenth-century Spanish settlers who offered religious instruction and “protection” in exchange for farm labor, to the diaries of poetess Phillis Wheatley; from Frederick Law Olmsted’s book about traveling through the “cotton states,” to the accounts by enslaved peoples themselves, including Solomon Northrup and Mary Reynolds, this is a book that is eye-opening in its scope and research, and painfully prevalent even today.  David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, provided a blurb for this book, noting that “In the historical discussion, we often talk about the institution of slavery. We examine the debate over the legal question concerning slavery and its expansion in the United States, its role in the origin and conduct of the Civil War, but works such as The Great Stain bring us back to the human level, allowing us to hear what the institution meant for an individual.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–Happy Reading!

Welcoming the Spring

“Walpurgis Night, when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad – when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel…It took all my philosophy, all the religion I had been taught, all my courage, not to collapse in a paroxysm of fright.”

(Bram Stoker, Dracula’s Guest)

It’s an auspicious time, beloved patrons, especially for those who delight in dark stories, things that go bump (or worse) in the night, and those who believe in the power of the unseen.  Let’s take a look at some of the feasts and holidays being celebrated over the course of this week, and some of the reading you can do to learn more!

Walpurgisnacht

Image result for walpurgaOn the night before the first of May, people in European countries including the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, and Estonia observe Walpurgisnacht, which is the eve before the Feast of Saint Walpurga (pictured at left), an 8th century British abbess who traveled to what is now Germany as a missionary.  Walgpurga was renowned for her medical abilities, and her abbey in Germany was considered “a center of culture” where people came to learn as well as to seek aid and spiritual guidance.  Following her death in 777, and subsequent  canonization, people prayed to Saint Walpurga to repel the effects of witchcraft on their bodies and their possessions.  On May 1, 870, her relics were relocated to Eichstätt, a town in the Bavarian area of Germany, and local stories note that miraculous cures were reported as her remains traveled along the route.  Over time, the evening before Walpurga’s feast day on May 1 was seen as the night when all the evil in the world had free reign–a time that ended with Walpurga’s Day.

That is why, when Jonathan Harker travels through Hungary to Romania in the opening chapters of Dracula, he sees bonfires burning, and is told to fear the things he may encounter in the darkness during his journey.  For more information on Dracula, and Bram Stoker’s study of the paranormal, the occult, and the superstitions that made up his classic novel–and plenty of other fascinating historical facts, too, check out Jim Steinmeyer’s Who Was Dracula?:  Bram Stoker’s Trail of Blood.

Beltane
Image result for BELTANE
Via North Edinburgh News, Credit: Jon Kendrew

In Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, the feast of Beltane (traditionally observed on or around May 1) marked the beginning of summer and was when cattle were driven out to the summer pastures. Rituals were performed to protect the cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth.  Bonfires were lit to protect both the cattle and people from predators–both the animal and the supernatural kind.  Traditionally, all household fires would be extinguished, before being re-lit with sparks and flames from a Beltane fire, so that the house would also be protected, as well. There were also any number of rituals performed to keep the the aos sí, or the fairy folk, happy; from leaving out bowls of milk for them to sip on, to offering sacrifices and presents at fairy forts (areas that were believed to be inhabited by the aos sí, identified by natural oddities like a circle of rocks, trees, or a hill).

Angela Bourke’s The Burning of Bridget Cleary, a Free-For-All favorite, is a sensational historical account of the superstitions and folklore of nineteenth century Ireland.  It also tales the story of Bridget Cleary, the last women to be burned to death on the supposition that she was possessed by fairies.  The case is a fascinating one, that highlights the shifting ways of life in Ireland that was unsettling the population and individual families, as well.  For those looking for fiction, Hannah Kent’s The Good People offers a similar insightful look into the power of superstition and stories on Irish women.  This novel is based on a true account of the death of a child in Ireland in the 1820’s–again, fairy possession was believed to be the cause of the child’s affliction.  Kent’s story is an unsettling, troublingly honest look at life in a rural community, the pain of loss, and the damage of distrust that blends real historical detail with modern day empathy to make for an unforgettable story.

May Day
Image result for may day maypole
Via The Independent UK

In much of the northern hemisphere, May 1 is known as May Day, a traditional spring holiday when winter is officially banished and the promise of a long growing season is welcomed.  Originally a pagan holiday to celebrate the change of seasons, May Day became a secular celebration that was observed by dancing around a May pole.  Nevertheless, plenty of rituals still exist around this day that harken back to the superstitions and supernatural powers of old.  May Day was associated with fears of butter stealing. Cows were safe-guarded by attaching flowers around their heads;  sometimes red ribbons or bits of rowan were tied to their tails. This was believed to offer them protection from the malign glance of those with the evil eye. The churn was especially vulnerable at this time so often similar items or iron objects were placed underneath it.  Similarly, crowns of flowers were woven for children to keep them safe, and flowers were laid on doorsteps to keep the evil eye from falling on one’s house.

The Arrival of Missives

A wonderful book that captures the promise and mystery of May Day is Aliya Whiteley’sThe Arrival of Missives (available through the Boston Public Library). In the aftermath of the Great War, Shirley Fearn dreams of challenging the conventions of rural England, where life is as predictable as the changing of the seasons.  As the village prepares for the annual May Day celebrations, where a new queen will be crowned and the future will be reborn again, Shirley encounters Mr. Tiller, a scarred war veteran, whose arrival in her life will change her world as profoundly as spring changes the world around her.  This dreamy, surprising little story is a perfect read for a lazy spring afternoon.

 

So, happy spring, dear readers, no matter how you chose to celebrate it!

Five Book Friday!

And check out today’s Google Doodle, which celebrates our namesake, George Peabody!

Today is the 151st anniversary of Peabody receiving the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the two highest civilian awards in the United States, given to a persons “who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.”

Peabody’s impact has certainly been long-lasting.  Born into a poor family in South Danvers (what is now Peabody),  George Peabody knew need and hunger growing up, and was only able to attend a few years of schooling.  As a result, he was notoriously thrifty as an adult (both in his private life and with his employees), but was also a dedicated philanthropist.  He established the banking firm of “George Peabody & Company”, which evolved, eventually into the firm  JPMorgan Chase.  The fortune he made from that endeavor provided the capital which he used to make his enormous and lasting donations.

In the UK, Peabody established the Peabody Trust, which is still among London’s largest affordable-housing associations.  Here in the United States, Peabody largely focused on providing funds for public education.  In 1852, he donated $217,000 to establish the Peabody Institute in his home town (that’s us!), and four years later, he donated $100,000 to the Peabody Institute in Danvers (they of the stunning building near the duck pond in Danvers).  In today’s currency, those donations are the equivalent (approximately) of $6.8 million and $2.85 million.  Ten years later, he donated the funds to build Georgetown’s public library (hello, Georgetown friends!) in honor of his mother.  He also established the Peabody Academy of Science in Salem, Massachusetts, which we know today as the Peabody Essex Museum.

Peabody also donated $3.5 million to establish the Peabody Education Fund in 1867 to provide educational funds for the children of the south following the Civil War (in today’s currency, that $3.5 million would be approximately $56,455,000).  The city of Baltimore, where Peabody enjoyed his first financial success, also benefited: The Peabody Institute in Baltimore (today known as the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University,) is the oldest conservatory in the U.S.   Today’s Google Doodle was actually created by students at George Peabody Elementary School in San Francisco, California, another site of George Peabody’s remarkable legacy.

So what better way to honor our namesake than with a selection of some of the book that have scurried onto our shelves this week, and are eager to make your acquaintance!

 

Happiness:  Aminatta Forna’s newest novel has been compared by some to The Remains of the Day, but her London-based novel is a wholly original tale that highlights the small moments and intimate connections that make us who we are.  A fox on a bridge causes two pedestrians to collide―Jean, an American studying the habits of urban foxes, and Attila, a Ghanaian psychiatrist there to deliver a keynote speech.  Attila has arrived in London with two tasks: to deliver a keynote speech on trauma, as he has done many times before; and to contact the daughter of friends, his “niece” who hasn’t called home in a while. The daughter, Ama, has been swept up in an immigration crackdown, and now her young son Tano is missing.  When Attila runs into Jean again, she mobilizes the network of rubbish men she uses as volunteer fox spotters. Security guards, hotel doormen, traffic wardens―mainly West African immigrants who work the myriad streets of London―come together to help. As the search for Tano continues, a deepening friendship between Attila and Jean unfolds, leading Attila to reconsider his own concepts about trauma, and the connections to the world around him.  This is a book that deals with difficult issues with dignity and grace, and weaves a tale that earned a starred review from Booklist, who explained, “The overarching message tucked into Scottish and Sierra Leonian writer Forna’s quietly resonant novel is this: Every living thing is the net sum of its history, and we carry the weight of our past on our shoulders…Forna’s novel is ultimately a mesmerizing tale studded with exquisite writing.”

Green SunThose of you loving the ’80’s nostalgia that is seeping into tv and literature lately will love this newest release from fan-favorite Kent Anderson.  It’s 1983 in Oakland, California, and Officer Hanson, a Vietnam veteran, has abandoned academia for the life-and-death clarity of police work, a way to live with the demons that followed him home from the war.  But Hanson knows that justice requires more than simply enforcing the penal code.  He believes in becoming a part of the community he serves–which is why, unlike most officers, he chooses to live in the same town where he works. This strategy serves him well…to a point. He forges a precarious friendship with Felix Maxwell, the drug king of East Oakland, based on their shared sense of fairness and honor. He falls in love with Libya the moment he sees her, a confident and outspoken black woman. He is befriended by Weegee, a streetwise eleven-year-old who is primed to become a dope dealer.  Every day, every shift, tests a cop’s boundaries between the man he wants to be and the officer of the law he’s required to be.  At last an off-duty shooting forces Hanson to finally face who he is, and which side of the law he belongs on.  Anderson has the ability to tell a difficult story with compassion, and this tale is no less gripping for its fundamental humanity.  NPR agrees, noting in its review Green Sun succeeds on so many levels, it’s hard to keep count. . . . Hanson is a fascinating and memorable character, but the real star of Green Sun is Anderson’s writing. . . . Anderson is adept at finding a terrible kind of beauty in the worst circumstances, which makes Green Sun difficult to put down even when it’s emotionally painful to keep reading. Above all, it’s a stunning meditation on power, violence and the intractability of pain, which Anderson seems to understand all too well.”

The Chalk Man: Another ’80’s nostalgia novel here, but C.J. Tudor’s debut is a taut psychological thriller that has, apparently, kept a number of respected authors awake with its chilling premise.  In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same. In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he’s put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank –until one of them turns up dead.  That’s when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.  Full of flash-backs, twists, and revelations about its characters that will linger long after the final page, this is a book that Kirkus noted  will speak to fans “of the kids of Stand by Me and even IT…[the] first-person narration alternates between past and present, taking full advantage of chapter-ending cliffhangers. A swift, cleverly plotted debut novel that ably captures the insular, slightly sinister feel of a small village. Children of the 1980’s will enjoy the nostalgia.”

The Return of Marco Polo’s World: War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-First CenturyIn the late thirteenth century, Marco Polo began a decades-long trek from Venice to China. The strength of that Silk Road—the trade route between Europe and Asia—was a foundation of Kublai Khan’s sprawling empire. Now, in the early twenty-first century, the Chinese regime has proposed a land-and-maritime Silk Road that duplicates exactly the route Marco Polo traveled.  In opening of this enlightening anthology, an essay recently released by the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, Robert D. Kaplan lays out a blueprint of the world’s changing power politics that recalls the geo-politics late thirteenth century.  Drawing on decades of firsthand experience as a foreign correspondent and military embed for The Atlantic, as well as encounters with preeminent realist thinkers, the essays in this book offer timely and insightful commentary on the role of the United States in the world that considers both where we’ve been, and some suggestions as we move forward.  Kirkus Reviews gave this collection a starred review, calling it a “Thoughtful, unsettling, but not apocalyptic analyses of world affairs flow steadily off the presses, and this is a superior example. . . . Presented with enough verve and insight to tempt readers to set it aside to reread in a few years.”

The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South:   In 1990, Levon Brooks was arrested for the mrape and murder of a three-year-old girl in rural Mississippi.  Two years later, Kennedy Brewer was arrested and accused of killing his girlfriend’s three-year-old daughter.  Both men waited two to three years in prison before their trial, and together, they spent a combined thirty years in prison before finally being exonerated in 2008. Meanwhile, the real killer remained free.  In this haunting work of investigative non-fiction, Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington recount the story of how the criminal justice system allowed two innocent men to be convicted of these crimes, and how two men, Dr. Steven Hayne and Dr. Michael West, built successful careers on the back of that structure. For nearly two decades, Hayne, a medical examiner, performed the vast majority of Mississippi’s autopsies, while his friend Dr. West, a local dentist, pitched himself as a forensic jack-of-all-trades. Together they became the go-to experts for prosecutors and helped put countless Mississippians in prison. But then some of those convictions began to fall apart.  This is a book about justice, and how the courts and Mississippi’s death investigation system–a relic of the Jim Crow era–failed to deliver it for its citizens. The authors argue that bad forensics, structural racism, and institutional failures are at fault, raising sobering questions about our ability and willingness to address these crucial issues. Publisher’s Weekly gave this troubling, fascinating work a starred review, calling it “A clear and shocking portrait of the structural failings of the U.S. criminal justice system… This eminently readable book builds a hard-to-ignore case for comprehensive criminal justice reform.”

 

Until next week,  beloved patrons: Happy Reading!

International Women’s Day!

Today we revisit a post from last year that look at the history of International Women’s 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!