Buried Treasure in the Vertical Files

Back in the Genealogy section we have a set of file cabinets that are called Vertical Files in Librarian-speak. Vertical files used to be a staple of every library. It was where the Reference Librarian would file newspaper or magazine clippings for quick reference. There may have been a file on what gifts to give on a particular wedding anniversary (paper for first, silver for twenty-fifth, etc.) a file on labor statistics, or a file about a particular event like a tornado. Nowadays, much of that information is available at a click of a mouse on the internet or one of our online databases.

Larry Adkins - Bubble Blowing ChampThere’s one thing, however, that isn’t available on the internet and that’s the information found in our Martinsville & Morgan County files. This stuff is fascinating! Local newspaper clippings from decades past cover not only the big events, but all of the weird and wonderful little stories as well. For example, did you know that 11 year old Larry Adkins of Martinsville was the state Bubble Gum Blowing Champion in 1947? He received $100 and a new bike for his efforts. I wonder where Larry is now? By my calculations he should be about 72 years old. You can read the full story of Larry’s triumph in the “Unusual Features” file.

Even better, did you know Mr. Kleen was from Martinsville? His real name is Ernest Bemis, by the way. The accompanying article only talks about his boxing and professional wrestling career, but he’s the spitting image of Mr. Clean of cleaning fame. The question is, who came first? Mr. Kleen or Mr. Clean? Did he style himself after a recognizable product logo, or did the Proctor & Gamble folks use him as their model? According to P&G, Mr. Clean was introduced in 1958 and ‘while many models have portrayed him for us, we [P&G] don’t have a record of their names.’ This photo of Ernest Bemis was published in 1969, eleven years after the introduction of the iconic advertising figure, but our Mr. Kleen had been a professional wrestler since 1952 after winning the Mr. Indiana physique contest and a successful four year career as a professional boxer. The most impressive part of this article? It gives Mr. Kleen’s statistics - arms-22″, neck 22.5″, chest 56.5″ and able to clean-and-jerk 715 pounds among other accomplishments. You can read more about Mr. Kleen in the ‘Personalities’ file.

There are tons of gems in the vertical file - the horse who suffocated when he became stuck in the window of the car, the man who patented a device to watch drive-in movies in the daytime and the silent film star who became a Morgan County housewife. I invite you to come and spend a day with the wild and wonderful history found here, if you dare.

Add commentFebruary 19th, 2008

Librarian Humor from YouTube

Monday Morning Update! Captain Kirk Fighting Giant Lizards!

Librarian Occupational Outlook video circa 1946 (may only be funny to library workers)

No Cookies in Library - Sesame Street featuring Cookie Monster

Corny Library Musical Number

Librarian defends the Dewey Decimal System

Library Workout Video

Conan the Librarian (caution! gratuitous violence!)

Ninja Librarian (more gratuitous violence)

There’s more, but some have four letter words or simply aren’t fit for the all-ages audience I try to aim for, so you’ll just have to go to YouTube and search for yourself.

Add commentFebruary 9th, 2008

Miscellaneous Musings

Kindred by Octavia E. ButlerHappy 100 to me!

I just added Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth to my LibraryThing catalog and saw that it was my one hundredth book! Happy meaningless milestone to me! Kindred by Octavia E. Butler was the very first book I listed back in May of 2006. By my calculations that is about 5 books per month which is far too slow to read everything that I want to. (I do recommend that you check out Octavia E. Butler - she’s a fascinating author.)

The Pillars of the Earth Book Discussion

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken FollettI’m not going to review POTE here because we will be discussing it at the Main Library on February 19th at 7 p.m., but I will say this: Wow. I remember reading it shortly after it first came out wayyy back in 1980 or so and recommending it to all my friends. I still think it’s terrific and will still recommend it. I haven’t always warmed up to Oprah’s book club picks, but this book has it all - romance, action, intrigue and a dash of history and architecture. There’s still time to read it before the book discussion and I have extra copies set aside for anyone who wants to participate - come the upstairs check-out desk and ask for one.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

One of the reasons that Follett’s work is so remarkable is because it has very broad appeal - I’ve known men and women, young and old who all think it’s a great book. Also, not every book can stand the test of time but Pillars does and will still be as breathtaking in another twenty-eight years as it is today. I think I’ve mentioned before that your reading tastesJitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins vary with your mood, but they can also vary according to your stages in life. A good example for me is Tom Robbins, who is most famous for his cult classic Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Twenty years ago or so, I devoured everything Robbins wrote with Jitterbug Perfume topping my list as my all-time favorite book. I thought his writing was terribly profound and deep. When I read his work today, I still marvel at his mastery of metaphors, sleight of hand similes and trippy, loopy, tap-dancing prose. But I don’t think he’s profound anymore, just a little addled from too many illegal substances in his youth.

Add commentFebruary 5th, 2008

Library Humor

Comics.com - Speed Bump

Add commentFebruary 1st, 2008

What’s the fuss about “The Golden Compass”?

The Golden Compass - Phillip PullmanWhenever I hear about a controversial book my first thought is: “Oh! I need to read that one.” So when the media started making a fuss about Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, I naturally put my name on the holds list. (Apparently, there are others out there that have the same impulse because I had to wait several weeks before I received my copy. ) Just in case you haven’t heard, the Catholic League (which is a organization who “Fights anti-Catholicism and is the US’s largest Catholic civil rights organization”) asked people to boycott the movie version of the book because is “bait” to get children to read Pullman’s books which they feel are anti-Catholic and anti-religious.

So far, I’ve only read The Golden Compass. The Amber Spyglass and The Subtle Knife make up the remainder of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy . I found Compass to be a wildly imaginative tale full of fast paced action and adventure. The plot is simple - Lyra Belacqua and her daemon, Pantalaimon, set out on an adventure to save her friend Roger who was taken by the mysterious, child-stealing Gobblers and to return the golden compass to her Uncle Asriel in the frozen north. It is full of the elements that children love to read about: Lyra is alone in the world and must outwit the evildoers; she finds she has special powers to read the truth-telling golden compass; some adults are good and help her but they can only do so much, others are evil or simply stupid; good and evil are pretty clearly defined; and finally, who can resist talking animals? These elements are nothing new and if you think of many classic children’s books you will find they occur over and over again - orphaned Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden, Harry Potter, books by Roald Dahl or Edith Nesbitt all have some or all of those elements.

I found any religious references to be very subtle, and I’m not sure the average child would equate the Magisterium in the book with the Catholic Church. In fact, I’m not even sure I would have linked it if not for the objections of the Catholic League. The Magisterium comes across more as an authority figure or a menacing government entity that doesn’t really affect every day people, much like the Empire in Star Wars. I found a very thoughtful article in the The Boston Globe written by Catholic theologian Donna Freitas that presents an opposing viewpoint. She feels that the Catholic League’s intrepretation of Pullman’s books is a sad misreading and goes on to say:

These books are deeply theological, and deeply Christian in their theology. The universe of “His Dark Materials” is permeated by a God in love with creation, who watches out for the meekest of all beings - the poor, the marginalized, and the lost. It is a God who yearns to be loved through our respect for the body, the earth, and through our lives in the here and now.The book’s concept of God, in fact, is what makes Pullman’s work so threatening. His trilogy is not filled with attacks on Christianity, but with attacks on authorities who claim access to one true interpretation of a religion.

Bottom line? The Golden Compass in an engrossing, imaginative story with some possibly controversial elements that older elementary school students and young teens will likely enjoy. Parents, it’s up to you to decide if you want them reading it or not, but my advice is to read it yourself first and make an informed decision - don’t let anyone else decide for you. Every child is different and every family has its own values and beliefs and this book may or may not be a good fit. Personally, I can’t wait to finish the series, but first I have to finish reading Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth for the February 19th book discussion.

Add commentJanuary 24th, 2008

Book Reviews - The River Wife, Bridge of Sighs and World Without End

I actually managed to get some reading done over the holidays, and so I’ll write one review containing three mini-reviews in the order that I finished them instead of an entry for each one. This order also happens to be my least favorite to most favorite.

The River Wife by Jonis Agee

Synopsis - The River Wife tells of Hedie Rails Ducharme, a new bride during the depression in the tiny Mississippi river town of Jacques Landing who struggles to understand her husband’s mysterious nocturnal outings. To pass the time, she reads the journals of the women who came before her and learns how their lives are all linked through One-Armed Jacques Ducharme, a notorious river pirate. The women include: The first wife, gentle Annie Lark who barely survived the infamous New Madrid earthquake of 1812; Omah, a free woman of color who is just as tough and smart as Jacques; Jacques’ second wife Laura, a conniving gold digger; and Little Maddie, Laura and Jacques’ daughter.
My thoughts: The things I liked about this book are: 1) The story-within-a-story aspect of the old journals. 2) The history surrounding the New Madrid earthquake and frontier life from a woman’s point of view. The things I didn’t like about the book are legion, so I’ll try to keep it to the most important things: 1) The sections that were supposed to be journal entries were written in the third person, so it wasn’t like reading a diary at all which leads to… 2) The transitions between segments were so abrupt (actually nonexistent) that I frequently couldn’t figure out who was speaking or what time period we were in. 3) I know this is supposed to be a historical novel and that women back then didn’t enjoy the same rights as today, but every woman in that book was victimized by a man at some time. Along with that, there is a terrible double standard - men are allowed to have affairs but women who do so much as look longingly at another are either cast out or murdered. Which leads to 4) It is very violent.

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

Synopsis: 60 year old Louis C. Lynch was born and raised in Thomaston, New York, and loves it with uncritical devotion. He looks back on his life as he and his wife of forty years, Sarah, prepare for a once in a lifetime trip to Italy to visit his old friend Bobby Marconi who is now a famous painter who calls himself Robert Noonan. This book is a careful character study of Lou, Sarah and Bobby, their growth, their secrets and their relationships with each other and their families. As with many of Russo’s books, the town is almost as important of a character as the people who live there.
My thoughts: A slow-paced, enjoyable book that makes you feel like you know and love these people by the time you are done. It’s a hard novel to describe because it is so character-driven with not a lot of plot, but basically if you like coming-of-age stories and stories of families you will like this book. I listened to it on CD (27 hours worth!), and Arthur Morey is an effective narrator, but there were some slow spots in the book that I found myself daydreaming through.

World Without End by Ken Follett

Synopsis: It’s the 14th century in Kingsbridge, England and there are rotten dealings going on at the cathedral. This medieval soap opera has underhanded dealings, mysterious secrets, power struggles, love triangles, murder and plucky characters who always manage to prevail by using their wits and tenacity. The story centers around Merthin, a brilliant builder; his love Caris, healer and daughter of a wool merchant; Caris’ cousin, the conniving Prior Godwyn; Sir Ralph, Merthin’s brutish brother; and Gwenda, a clever serf. Will Godwyn thwart Merthin’s building plans? Will Gwenda marry her true love? Will Ralph’s lust go unchecked? Read this book and find out!
My thoughts: Ken Follett usually writes thrilling action/suspense novels based on historical facts but this book is a little different. It has the same fascinating historical accuracy, but it is more of a sweeping saga with a vast cast of characters yet still a real page turner. It follows Follett’s earlier work, The Pillars of the Earth, but it is set two hundred years later so you don’t need to read Pillars to have a clear understanding. Overall, I really, really enjoyed it, but I had one problem with this book and that is with Follett’s puerile sex fantasies. I’m no prude normally and don’t mind sex in my books, but there were a couple of scenes in this book that I found truly distasteful. They both involved the character of Gwenda who is technically not raped, but rather the only way out of an untenable situation is to have sex with a man she finds completely loathsome or is terrified of. I’m not objecting to the situations, but Follett chose to write that she enjoyed it once she got going. What!?!?! I’m sure that’s what every rapist tells himself - “She really wants me” or “You might be saying ‘no’ but I know you really want it.” Next time, Ken, grow up and leave these violent fantasies behind and quit spoiling an otherwise terrific book.

Add commentJanuary 7th, 2008

The Appeal of Books

Most people know that they like a certain type of book, but have you ever thought about why you like the types of books that you do? For most people, it is related to what librarians call “appeal factors”. These are some the traditional appeal factors that you can determine from the subject heading of the book:

  • Genre: Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction, Fantasy…
  • Location: New York City, London, Japan…
  • Time Period: Civil War, Medieval, present day…
  • Character: Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes, the Amish…

Some non-traditional appeal factors that are harder to quantify are:

  • Pacing: A fast-paced book races along a gallop to its breathless conclusion - Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code is a good example of a fast paced book, as is anything by Clive Cussler. A slow paced book moves along leisurely and may feel more reflective or introspective - think of Ian McEwan’s Atonement, or The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards. Of course, pacing can also be mixed or uneven.
  • Drive: A plot-driven book is full of action - what is going on is more important than who is doing it. The characters may be one dimensional or stereotypes in plot-driven books. Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind books are a good example. Character-driven on the other hand, spends more time getting to know the people and they are complex and hard to categorize as either a good or bad, a hero or a villain. By the end of the book, you really feel like you know them and you empathize with them. Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs is a classic example of this. A third option is dialog-driven where the characters spend most of their time talking - think of anything by Jane Austen. Yet another option is imagery-driven. Does the author paint pictures with his words? Can you visualize the scene to the last detail? Annie Proulx and Michael Ondaatje both excel at imagery.
  • Storyline: Is the story internal and psychological, or external and physical? Is it about ideas or about action?
  • Red Flags: This is actually an anti-appeal factor, but it’s just as important. Some people can’t stand to read about violence or sex. Others don’t like foul language or treating religion with disrespect. Regardless of what trips your trigger, it can completely spoil an otherwise good story, so it is good to know what your limits are.

At this point you may be saying “So what? Why should I care about appeal factors?” Simply because they can help you find a book that you will enjoy reading. Let’s face it, life is too short to spend it struggling through books you don’ t enjoy and if you spend just a little time reflecting on the books you love, you may come to some conclusions about your own reading tastes.

Once you understand the various appeal factors, you will begin to understand the code words that book reviewers use and it will help you pick out books that you might like. Look for the button in our catalog beneath a title to find out more about a book.

When I’m looking for something to read and don’t really have anything in mind, I try to think of a book that I really enjoyed and figure out what it is about that particular book that I loved. Here’s an example: I really loved Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. In many ways, it is a Cinderella-like story of a poor, beautiful girl who elevated herself and that plot is the main thing that interested me. The characters are pretty clear cut - Chiyo, Mameha and the Chairman are all heroes, Mrs. Nitta and Hatsumomo are the villains. The pacing is moderate - neither fast nor slow, and there is little internal reflection - it is mainly the actions of and the interactions between characters that I enjoyed. The Japanese setting and the world of the geisha is exotic and I really enjoyed the historical details, but it doesn’t inspire me to read other books about Japan specifically. Luckily for me, there are a lot of books that are similar to Memoirs of a Geisha that don’t look like it on the surface. There are classic rags to riches tales - Jane Eyre or Vanity Fair. Tracy Chevalier’s Girl With a Pearl Earring has a very similar feel of a poor girl rising above circumstance. It even has a historical flavor though it is set in the Netherlands. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini is another book rich in historical detail that involves women overcoming their circumstances.

I do want to clarify that your reading tastes may vary with your mood and that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula to finding new books and authors you might like. Sometimes you may want a light read that does nothing more than entertain you but another day you want something that makes you think or feel. It’s like your taste in food - sometimes you want a turkey dinner with all the trimmings and sometimes all you need is chocolate cake. As always, we’re here to help you find the right book, whatever your mood.

4 commentsDecember 22nd, 2007

What is Morgan County reading?

I talk a lot about what I read and it made me curious about what everyone else is reading so I made our computer produce a list of the most checked out adult books at the Main Library for 2007. Have you read some of these books? If so, write a short review - plot synopsis (without giving it away) and your thoughts - and post it to the comments.

Top 10 Fiction

  1. 6th target by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro.
  2. Stalemate by Iris Johansen. The 6th Target - James Patterson
  3. Dear John by Nicholas Sparks.
  4. Sisters by Danielle Steel.
  5. Plum lovin’ by Janet Evanovich.
  6. H.R.H. by Danielle Steel.
  7. Lean mean thirteen by Janet Evanovich.
  8. True believer by Nicholas Sparks.
  9. The edge of winter by Luanne Rice.
  10. Two little girls in blue by Mary Higgins Clark.

Top 10 Non-Fiction

  1. The innocent man by John Grisham.The Innocent Man - John Grisham
  2. Marley and me : love, life, and drywall repair with the world’s worst dog by John Grogan.
  3. Natural cures “they” don’t want you to know about by Kevin Trudeau.
  4. The South Beach diet : the delicious, doctor-designed, foolproof plan for fast and healthy weight loss by Arthur Agatston.
  5. Guinness world records.
  6. Antique trader antiques & collectibles
  7. A man named Dave : a story of triumph and forgiveness by Dave Pelzer.
  8. Ripley’s believe it or not! by Mary Packard and the Editors of Ripley Entertainment Inc.
  9. Classic 30-minute meals : the all-occasion cookbook by Rachael Ray.
  10. Cook once eat twice : slow cooker recipes.

3 commentsDecember 17th, 2007

Local Government Reform and Your Library

The Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform released their report yesterday about how to streamline local government and and hopefully save taxpayers some money. You can read all 27 recommendations here, but I’ll summarize the library portions.

Recommendation #18: Reorganize library systems by county and provide permanent library service for all citizens. There are many areas throughout our state where library services are unavailable even though there are 239 individual library systems. The Commission recommends that these systems consolidate into 92 county systems that provide service to everyone. What this means for us in Morgan County is that the Morgan County Public Library and the Mooresville Public Library would combine to form one system. (The logistics of this boggles my mind, but I’m trying to keep my opinions to myself for now and just present the facts. )

Recommendation#19: Require that the budgets and bonds of library and all other special districts be approved by the fiscal body of the municipal or county government containing the greatest proportion of assessed value in the unit seeking approval. Basically, this means the County Council would be the body that approves our budgets instead of the Department of Local Government & Finance.

Recommendation #20: Strengthen the current joint purchasing infrastructure for libraries. The State Library and the Indiana Cooperative Library Services Authority (INCOLSA) already do many things to help libraries save money. This recommendation is for them to do more.

We need to remember that these are only recommendations at this point. If you feel strongly about any of them, you need to let your elected officials know. Here’s some shortcuts:
E-mail Ralph Foley.
E-mail Richard Bray.

Update: You can also write directly to the Commission on Local Government Reform at lgreform@iu.edu.

Add commentDecember 12th, 2007

Eye-catchers

I love browsing our bookshelves and the breadth of our collection is truly staggering. I also really enjoy shelf reading (that’s librarian-speak for straightening the books and making sure they’re in order) because I can familiarize myself with what we have; just in case someone ever asks me “Do you have a book on the history of locks and keys?” (And yes, of course we do.)

There’s another reason I love shelf reading - I always find something that delights me and sometimes makes me laugh out loud. Sometimes it’s for the wrong reasons - like the home decorating book from 1972 that has managed to stay hidden on the shelves. Groovy, man! Sometimes books grab my attention for the sheer inventiveness or audacity of the author. Even though I haven’t read all of these, here are a few of my all time favorite eye-catching titles from the non-fiction section:

Knitting with Dog Hair book coverKnitting with dog hair : a woof-to-warp guide to making hats, sweaters, mittens, and much more by Kendall Crolius and Anne Black Montgomery. [746.92 CRO] This tongue in cheek book made me laugh until I cried. On one hand, it’s a serious work that really does explain how to harvest, process and then knit with pet hair (mostly dog), but on the other hand, the authors have marvelous senses of humor and don’t take themselves too seriously . I’m an animal lover and own an elderly dalmatian and a pair of very spoiled cats. It seems I always wear their fur, but it’s not intentional but the author’s illustration of a cat fur pillbox hat made me slightly uncomfortable because it bears a striking resemblance to how I wake up every morning with Pushkin curled up behind my head on the pillow.

Kill It and Grill It book coverKill It and Grill It by Ted and Shemane Nugent. [641.691 NUG] TED NUGENT?!? Are you kidding me? Mr. Cat Scratch Fever has a cookbook?!?! Yes indeed, it is that Ted Nugent and he’s just as wild on the pages of a cookbook as he is on a concert stage. Vegetarians, steer clear of this book - Ted is an avowed carnivore and hunter and really revels in his caveman ways. He spends many pages discussing his hunts and his life philosophy (”Go hunting, breathe deep, feel the air, take the Spirit inside and kill a critter.”) and not so many pages of actual recipes, but hey, he’s Ted Nugent.

An Exaltation of Larks book coverAn Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton. [428.1 LIP] What a poetic title! This classic book is a collection of collective nouns - things like “a gaggle of geese’ for example, but it goes much deeper: ‘a flush of plumbers’ or ‘an impiety of atheists’. I didn’t see an entry for a collective group of bloggers. May I suggest a blather of bloggers? Or perhaps a blah-blah?

Lunkers Love Nightcrawlers book coverLunkers Love Nightcrawlers by the Editors of Fishing Facts Magazine. [799.12 NEW] I’m a recent convert to the joys of fishing and I have never, ever, EVER read a book on the subject, but Lunkers Lover Nightcrawlers makes me want to, if only to discover what the heck a lunker is.

Know of any more great titles? Let me know what they are, maybe we can make this a regular feature.

Add commentDecember 10th, 2007

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