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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I Quit!

New Year's Day is only two days away. Have you made your resolution yet? If you haven't, not only has the top resolutions usually attempted, but also has resources listed as an added help. One of my coworkers is going to learn how to knit and another is going to try to be nicer to people. I've decided to quit smoking (again). In addition to the myriad of health benefits quitting provides, I'll also be rid of the disgusting nature of smoking itself. The smell, the taste, the feel of a light coating of nicotine on the skin... Need further illustration? In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell wrote, "He put a cigarette in his mouth. Half the tobacco promptly fell out on to his tongue, a bitter dust which was difficult to spit out again." Granted, in the dystopian world of Oceania cigarettes aren't the only things guaranteed to turn your stomach, but the idea of a wad of tobacco lying on my tongue makes me shudder!

There's a grand description of smoking in another one of my favorite books, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. In this grueling realm of gulags, cigarettes are just as scarce as in Orwell's vision. Solzhenitsyn writes
He took from it a pinch of factory-cut tobacco, put it on Shukhov's palm, sized it up, and added a few wisps. Just enough for rolling one cigarette, not a scrap more.
Shukhov had newspaper of his own. He tore a bit off, rolled his cigarette, picked up a hot ember that had landed between the foreman's feet, took a long drag, another long drag, and felt a sort of dizziness all over his body, as though drink had gone to his head and his legs.
I am so looking forward to the absence of a sense of desperation that smoking brings! I'm relieved that I've never been so badly off that I've rolled a cigarette in newspaper, but I think that I might have tried it if I had needed to do so. (I told you they were disgusting, didn't I?)
Wish me luck with my nicotine patch, and good luck with your own resolutions! The Reference Staff of the Mississippi Library Commission hopes that you have a beautiful and prosperous 2010 filled with many, many, many trips to the library of your choice!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Me, I Want A Hula Hoop

Unlike my more organized co-workers, friends, and family, I haven't yet finished my Christmas shopping. In fact, I've barely started. I'd much rather be doing something else, anything else!, as opposed to shopping. In an attempt to forestall some anticipated anguish, I googled "Top Ten Christmas Gifts" to get some ideas. I ran across this list from squidoo, which seems to consist of 4 gaming systems, 2 video games, 2 fancy cameras, and 2 fake pets: a hamster named Mr. Squiggles and a dinosaur from Pleo. I must confess, the dinosaur, which uses AI among other technologies in order to "develop," gives me a small case of the heebie-jeebies! According to Amazon, "this amazing robotic marvel not only moves organically, explores its environment on its own, and interacts with you, but it also expresses emotions based on its life experiences." For some reason, I have a vision of little Dino walking in on me in the bathroom and being scarred for life. Be sure to check him out and let me know what you think!

Techy presents not being in my budget, I usually let my librarian roots come to the forefront when I give presents. Many a family member has received a shiny new book over the years. Amazon has a veritable slew of top book lists from which to choose: teens, people's choice, mysteries, etc... One of these is bound to have a book I can gift! History's top pick is The Lost City of Z, which details a failed expedition for El Dorado. Actually, I might have to read that one first myself. Mom? Dad? Are you reading this?

Really, for me, a lot of silliness is the only way to get through the pre-Christmas rush. If you'd like to join in on the glee, why not take a gander at some of these humorous holiday sites? There's one devoted to ugly Christmas sweaters, one to those who go overboard decorating, and this one is a compilation of bad gift ideas. My favorite gag gift? Why, the gift of nothing, of course!

And look! I still have six more shopping days! Plenty of time.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

This Week and MLC and MMA

This week two of my favorite Mississippi artists are being featured at two of my favorite places in Jackson. What luck! First, the Mississippi Library Commission has “Faulkner’s World” on display in the downstairs gallery. These pictures are beautifully displayed and offer a glimpse into the world that shaped Faulkner’s writing. Also, the Mississippi Library Commission has countless books on Faulkner, including the hard to find Faulkner’s County: Yoknapatawpha.

At the Mississippi Museum of Art, “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World” opens this Saturday. This exhibition displays original Henson puppets, drawings, and excerpts from an early film. The Mississippi Library Commission also has Jim Henson: The Art, The Magic, The Imagination. This book provides an excellent introduction into Mr. Henson’s work and has plenty of photos and stories for you Muppet fans. I grew up watching the Muppets. My three favorites are Ms. Piggy , Animal, and Fozzie Bear. Who’s yours?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

From the New Book Shelf.

As I was passing our New Book shelf a moment ago, a couple of books caught my eye. Then another. And another! And thus, a blog post was born. Check out these fancy new titles recently acquired by MLC:

Bet You Didn't Know: Hundreds of Intriguing Facts about Living in the USA by Cheryl Russell

This book of percentages is arranged by subject, so in case you're wondering what percentage of Americans are expecting an inheritance, you'd first look under Money to find out that the number is 14% and under Family to learn that 65% of adults live within a one-hour drive from their parents.

Food is Culture by Massimo Montanari

This essay-in-book-form explores such themes as the invention of cooking/cuisine, how taste is a product of society, and eating together. It's also an adorable size, and if any of you made reading goals this year (such as 52 books in 52 weeks), this is a good one to sneak in since it's only 140 pages.

The Late Plays of Tennessee Williams by William Prosser

Ever wondered about Williams' play In a Bar of a Tokyo Hotel? This book explains it, along with tons of other plays.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb

This charming book gives us a tidy history lesson for each day of the year. Did you know that today in 1781, the Bill of Rights was ratified? It was also the day in 1939 that Gone with the Wind premiered.

Annus Horribilis: Latin for Everyday Life by Mark Walker

Finally, tons of great information on the language I should've taken in high school. Did you know the following words are Latin? Agenda, circus, data, doctor, trivia, video. Gratia, Mark Walker!

The Shoelace Book: A Mathematical Guide to the Best (and Worst) Ways to Lace Your Shoes by Burkard Polster

The title says it all, doesn't it?

Come on in to check out these titles, or get your ILL on.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

That's Not Exactly What We Meant...

We've all heard the story about Chevrolet having trouble selling the Nova in South America. Nova, to the uninitiated, means "It doesn't go" in Spanish (165). Brand Failures: The Truth About the 100 Biggest Branding Mistakes of All Time illustrates countless incidents of company PR work gone wrong, but my absolute favorites are the language gaffes. Here are a few to start your day off with a chuckle:
  • Toyota was misinformed when they tried to sell their Fiera in Puerto Rico. Fiera actually means "ugly old woman" (165). Not exactly appealing to the 30 and under crowd. Que, no?
  • In Germany, Rolls-Royce attempted to entice buyers with their luxury auto Silver Mist. Unfortunately, Mist means "animal droppings" in German (165).
  • Think other products are immune? Take a look at Pepsi trying to break open the Taiwanese market. Their slogan "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" became "Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead" (163). I think I understand their misgivings.
  • Coors had a slightly different problem when they moved into Spain. It seems that their slogan "Turn it Loose" was transliterated into the remarkable warning "You will suffer from diarrhoea" (168).
  • Spain also had some mishaps with Frank Perdue's Chicken. Their original slogan "It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken" was misinterpreted to read "It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate" (169). Perhaps it was popular around Valentine's Day?
  • Last but not least, Parker Pens wanted to announce to Mexico that "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you." Excellent! This is what they actually said, "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant" (171). I suppose that is also good news.
Need more? Check out these mistranslations and article from

Haig, Matt. Brand Failures: The Truth About the 100 Biggest Branding Mistakes of All Time. Kogan Page, 2003.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Meebo Blinded Me With Science!

Earlier today we had a question about DNA. Do you remember high school biology? If not, pay close attention! DNA is an abbreviation for deoxyribonucleic acid. It is found in all cells and is shaped in the easily recognizable double-helix. The genetic information it contains controls "how the body and all its different parts grow, develop, function, and maintain themselves" (The Human Body Book). Each molecule of DNA is contained in a single chromosome and yet is thought to carry 100,000 genes.

Here's something I don't remember learning from Mrs. Balding: a single stretched-out strand of DNA measures about two inches. Put all of that together and just one of my cells holds 13 feet of DNA. That one cell contains all the information, or programming data, if you will, needed to make me human. Amazing, right?!

Need more? Go here or Also, be sure to check out what the people from the Human Genome Project are doing.

chromosome. (2005). In The American Heritage Science Dictionary. Retrieved from
DNA. (2005). In The American Heritage Science Dictionary. Retrieved from
DNA. (2009). In The Human Body Book: An Illustrated Guide to Its Structure, Function and Disorders. Retrieved from
DNA. (2008). In Philip's Encyclopedia 2008. Retrieved from

Really, Really Ugly.

In the New York Times Book Review this week, Joe Queenan's back page essay, "When Bad Covers Happen to Good Books," is about ugly book covers -- not necessarily that you can judge a book by its cover, but that an ugly cover can dissuade a reader from ever wanting to read a great book.

As Queenan examines his shelves -- which he organizes by read and unread -- he notices a trend: the books that are read are pretty; the unread books are hideous. He writes, "It all added up. Until now, I’d thought that I had set these books aside for so many years because they were too daunting or, in the case of Thomas Mann, too dull. Now I realized that what these books had in common was that they were ugly. Really, really ugly."

I wholeheartedly agree. I blame the fact that I have never gotten through Nabokov's Lolita on the fact that the copy I keep trying to read is a crusty one from the 70s. I actually own a cute paperback version, but the crusty one is annotated, and I feel I'm too dumb to make it through Lolita on my own. (I did manage to watch the movie, though.)

After I read the essay this morning, I went downstairs to the Mississippi collection to see what I could scare up. My friend Ann always raves about Walker Percy's Love In the Ruins, but after examining this copy, I feel certain Percy and I would part ways just a few pages in:

Is it just me, or does that lettering remind you of this?

Remember: three is a magic number.

I also found this particularly frightening copy of The Portable Faulkner. Listen, I'm not taking this thing anywhere:

First, let us discuss the scary faux-paint effect of the "FAULKNER," which, in a certain light, resembles blood, not paint (I'm thinking of the old cover of Helter Skelter, I think). Then there is the equally scary charcoal rendering of Faulkner's haunted, craggy face, looming out and judging you for not being able to understand The Sound and the Fury without Cliffs Notes. (Aside: there are four main sections to The Sound and the Fury; if you're really stuck, try reading the sections in reverse order. I promise you'll follow the story better.)

However, this volume has been well-loved and much checked out over the years, so maybe it's my 2009 eye judging this 1964 paperback. Perhaps in 1964 the lettering was edgy, the charcoal drawing artsy. Who knows? All I know is, the words within deserve better.

Queenan, Joe. "When Bad Covers Happen to Good Books." New York Times Book Review, 3 December 2009.

Friday, December 4, 2009

What's That?

Recently I discovered that some people actually listen during conversation. These crazies pay attention to the words you use to make sentences, and, what’s really frightening, they use the ideas that come from these sentences to determine your “character.” Boy, was I ever floored! I was always under the impression that conversation was mostly a game. Smile, nod, and say “that’s interesting” or “I’ve never really thought of it that way” and, if your friend plays nicely, they return the favor and follow suit. Well, now that I’ve discovered that conversation is more than just a chance to touch people in public, I’m going straight to the stacks to learn how to listen!
Luckily for me, I found everything I needed in John Selby’s Listening With Empathy: Creating Genuine Connections with Customers and Colleagues. I figure, if someone is going to teach me how to listen, they might as well teach me to be empathic at the same time, right?
After quickly scanning the index, I jumped straight to Chapter 10:“Listening with Calm Compassion.” Here Mr. Shelby offers this keen insight: “I’ve observed that most of us don’t seem to listen very well… because our attention is one step in the future, imagining our clever reply.”(161) OK, now that we know the problem, what’s the solution, Mr. Shelby? He suggests, “Just remember to hold half of your attention on your own breathing experience and present-moment physical presence in the room. Hold the other half of your attention on the words that the person is speaking and on taking in the person’s visual presence as well.” (33)Let me see if I’ve got this right: divide your attention, focus on your breath, focus on how you’re standing, and scrutinize the speaker’s looks. That’s it? I do that already. Now, let’s empathize!
Mr. Shelby explains that empathy is not a thought, but an action. He says, “rather than staying overly fixated on your own feelings and thoughts when you meet someone, to feel empathy you need to shift your focus of attention strongly toward the physical presence and experience of the other person.” I read this sentence twelve times and it still makes no sense. How can anyone draw focus away from themselves by imagining how another person feels when the very act of imagination forces them to think internally? And to think you can understand how a person feels by imagining their feelings is called projection, not empathy.
I guess what I discovered today is that I’m already a pretty good listener. I always smile when people are trying to tell me something. And, although I may not actually hear what they are saying, I’m always paying attention to how they look. For example, if someone looks unhappy because they can tell I’m not listening, I just offer them a bigger smile. See, now that’s paying attention!
Selby, John. Listening With Empathy: Creating Genuine Connections with Customers and Colleagues. Hampton Roads Publishing Company, 2007

Thursday, December 3, 2009

American Rhetoric

If you're a film lover, you'll probably want to take a look at this site I found while researching an information request a while ago.  American Rhetoric is the name of the site.  It's a large database containing historical and contemporary speeches on a variety of topics.  The question I worked on was of a political nature, and I spent most of my time searching speeches given by contemporary political figures. 

Once I was done with the question and had more time to really explore the site, I found another gem of a feature.  In addition to political speeches, American Rhetoric houses an impressive collection of speeches from films!  I'm not talking about only a few films.  The movie speech database contains over 200 speeches.  If it was an American film with a prominent speech, it's probably on this site.  The really cool part is that many of these speeches are presented with text, photos, and audio/video.  Go get caught up in the rhetoric!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Treats

A while back, we used to collect interesting names that we ran across in the U.S. Census. It's been a while since we've done so. We've decided to keep our Thanksgiving themed week running by offering you these Thanksgivingy names. Enjoy!

Thomas Turkey

Bertha Gobbler

Ham Mack

Emma Dressing

Olive Stuffing

Joe Pumpkin

Cranberry Wilkson

Anna Maize

Joe Apple Pie

Harry Feast

John Football

Walter Parade

Mayflower Day

Edna Thursday

Nina Abercrombie

Pinta Koon

Santa Maria Craig

Cato Wampum

William Pilgrim

Cicero Thanks

Bink Giving

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Nuggets.

Since it's Thanksgiving week, I was thinking of trying to find some Thanksgiving-related nuggets for your entertainment. I did some Googling (as you do) and thought that perhaps it would be easier if I could find a good Emily Dickinson poem about the occasion instead. However, this led me to try to ascertain if Thanksgiving was celebrated during Emily Dickinson's time, which means I ended up with Thanksgiving nuggets after all!

According to Diana Karter Appelbaum's Thanksgiving: An American Holiday, an American History, the date of the "first" Thanksgiving is debatable. 1621? 1623? 1630? All have been claimed to've been the first.

While the holiday has been celebrated since [see above], it was first declared a national holiday by George Washington in 1789. Before this, various days were declared "Thanksgiving" in order to either fast, pray, feast, or celebrate military victory. (Note: I sure am glad that whole "fasting" thing died out.) However, it must be noted that the south saw Thanksgiving as a Yankee holiday; eventually it changed its mind. (Note: thank goodness.)

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November to be Thanksgiving, but "a Thanksfiving proclaimed not in celebration of military victory but in gratitude for a 'year filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies'" (153). After this, Thanksgiving was celebrated by proclamation each year, but didn't become an official federal holiday until 1941.

Think the holidays have become too commercial? You can blame Franklin Roosevelt if you want. He's the one who had the big idea to move the holiday to the third Thursday in November instead of the last Thursday in November in order to allow for an extra week of Christmas shopping. This led to some folks calling the new date "Franksgiving" or "Democratic Thanksgiving" and the old date "Republican Thanksgiving."

During World War II, the Army promised that no soldier would eat canned turkey on Thanksgiving. . .and apparently they made good on their promise (although prisoners of war in Japan and Germany were sent canned turkeys via the Red Cross). Check out this guy enjoying his turkey leg:

So there you have it! Thanksgiving nuggets! (And in case you're wondering, there are plenty of Emily Dickinson poems that address Thanksgiving-esque themes.)

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Appelbaum, Diane Karter. Thanksgiving: An American Holiday, an American History. Facts on File, 1984.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What's in a Name?

With Thanksgiving only a week away, family is on everyone’s minds, and I’m no exception. It seems that nearly every project I’ve worked on over the past week can be linked to the subject of family in one way or another. A project I’ve been working on since my second day on staff here isn’t explicitly about family, but family is one of the aspects of the project I’ve found most interesting. I’m creating a finding aid of all the state legislators for Mississippi. Basically, this entails combing through old copies of Mississippi government documents and recording who served what counties when. Riveting stuff. One of the most interesting aspects of it all is trying to determine who’s related to whom. It’s not part of the my assignment, but it’s a little game I like to play. I’m not about to give you a detailed listing of related names, but no worries – I have another list of names for you.

Many of the names I’ve encountered during this project have initials instead of spelled out first names, which was, and still is, a fairly common practice. The full names for some of these initials remain abbreviated in every document I consult, but others are eventually spelled in at least some of the later documents. Here are a few of the interesting and unconventional first names I’ve found:

Electious (It’s catchy for a politician)
Greek Lent

Some of the names don’t seem so unusual at first glance. In fact, many of them wouldn’t be out of the ordinary as last names. Then, I remember that these were first names. I’m not sure I could fathom calling someone Bland, Flake, or Greek Lent on a daily basis. Initials definitely make a lot of sense when you think about it like that. I’m not done with this project, yet, so if I run into any more interesting names, I’ll be sure to pass them along.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Blog on Beauty

Like most everyone, I’d like to think my particular form of handsomeness has a sort of timeless appeal. I mean, has the tall, rebellious, bookish type ever been considered unattractive? I doubt it, but even I have to admit that a culture’s idea of beauty changes with the times. Let’s go to the stacks to see if we can find some examples of how the perception of beauty has changed over the years!

For obvious reasons, the first book I looked through was C. Willet and Phillis Cunnington’s The History of Underclothes. Willet and Cunnington study countless underwear advertisements to show how underwear shaped women (literally) to fit to the culture’s ideal body type. The most painful examples come from the 1830s, where a woman might “spend a quarter of an hour in lacing her stays as tight as possible, and is sometimes seen by her female friends pulling hard for some minutes, next pausing to breathe, then resuming the tasks with might and main, till after perhaps a third effort she at last succeeds and sits down covered with perspirations, then it is that the effect of stays is not only injurious to the shape but is calculated to produce the most serious consequences” (82). A smashed innards joke would be funny here if this weren’t true.

Up next is Elwood Watson and Darcy Martin’s “There She Is, Miss America”: The Politics of Sex, Beauty, and Race in America’s Most Famous Pageant. This book contains nine essays that explore how the Miss America Pageant embodies the idea of American beauty. This book is great because it explains how recent events shape the idea of beauty. Mary Anne Schofield’s article, “Miss America, Rosie the Riveter, and World War II” explores how women filled the role of being “useful” while remaining “beautiful.” She offers this awesome quote from Irene, a factory worker, in an interview with American Magazine: “When a girl lets her foreman know she can handle the job without his help, she might as well go home and stay there. I manage to get into trouble once or twice a day, just so the foreman can help me out. That makes him feel manly and superior—and friendly. Men want their women to be efficient--but not too efficient (56)”. Between you and me; I use this trick on Tracy all the time.

But what of the men you ask? It does seem like being beautiful is largely women’s work, but playing the part of an ideal man in America these days can be tough. When I need inspiration, I go directly to Margaret Mead’s Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World. In my favorite passage the author explains: “The plump man… with double chin, protruding buttocks, whom one has only to put in a bonnet to make him look like a woman, when put beside the equally plump woman will be seen not to have such ambiguous outlines after all; his masculinity is still indubitable when contrasted with the female of his own kind instead of with the male of another kind” (371). See, there’s hope for everyone!

Cunnington, Willett and Phillis Cunnington. The History of Underclothes. Faber and Faber, 1981.
Watson, Elwood and Darcy Martin (eds.). "There She Is, Miss America": The Politics of Sex, Beauty, and Race in America's Most Famous Pageant. Palegrave Macmillan, 2004.
Mead, Margaret. Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World. W Morrow, 1969.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Origins of the Poor, Poor Po'Boy.

Is there any food with a more mysterious name than the po'boy? Today, while reading an article in the New York Times about how New Orleans po'boys are disappearing (NOOOOO! SAVE THE PO'BOYS!), I discovered the origin of the sandwich's name.

First though, I'd already checked the Oxford English Dictionary for clues to the po'boy's meaning, and found this:

[< PO' adj. + BOY n.1 Compare POOR BOY n.]

More fully po' boy sandwich. A type of sandwich, originating in New Orleans, consisting of a hollowed-out French loaf variously filled with oysters, prawns, meat and gravy, etc. Cf. POOR BOY n.

Ok, sounds delicious. If you're not familiar with the OED, one of the more fascinating features is the Quotations portion of each entry (in both the print and the online resources). This lists the first time the word or phrase was used in print -- which, if you think about it, is kind of amazing. Think of the team of folks it takes to track this stuff down! Anyway, I was amused by the source of the po'boy's first printed form (and the rest of them for that matter):

1932 New Orleans Classified Telephone Directory 108/2 Po Boi Sandwich Shoppe Inc. 1951 N.Y. Herald Tribune 4 July 7/8 The beginning of the Po' Boy sandwich we credited to a sandwich shop in New Orleans. 1978 C. TRILLIN Alice, let's Eat 166 Three hours after we had arrived..I was settled under a tree, almost too full to finish my second hot-sausage po' boy. 1984 P. PRUDHOMME Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen x. 268, I think they're superb on sandwiches; we use them on our po boy sandwiches made with French bread and various fillings. 2003 Time Out N.Y. 3 Apr. 35/4 New Orleans raised chef Richard Pierce is serving po'boys and jambalaya at this new restaurant.

I am a big fan of the OED, and browse it for fun more often than you should know about. I have never seen a telephone directory used as a print source, but hey, it works.

This brings us to the article I read this afternoon. Allow me to quote at length from "Saving New Orleans Culture, One Sandwich at a Time":

That’s where Michael Mizell-Nelson, a University of New Orleans historian, came in.

Researching a violent 1929 streetcar strike, during which 1,100 members of the Amalgamated Association of Electric Street Railway Employees walked off their jobs, Dr. Mizell-Nelson confirmed how the sandwiches acquired their name and their form.

Similar sandwiches existed before the strike, Dr. Mizell-Nelson learned. And the term “poor boy” was already in use, applied to, among other groups, orphaned children.

But in 1929 a sandwich called the poor boy was something new. Fashioned to be wider, to accommodate generous and equitable slices from a loaf, the bread was first baked by John Gendusa at the request of the New Orleans restaurateurs Bennie and Clovis Martin. (Today, Jason Gendusa, great-grandson of the founder, still works the ovens at John Gendusa Bakery, playing a feisty David to the Goliath that is Leidenheimer.)

The Martins were onetime streetcar workers who, at the height of the strike, pledged to feed their former colleagues at their sandwich and coffee stand. “Whenever we saw one of the striking men coming,” Bennie Martin later recalled, “one of us would say, ‘Here comes another poor boy.’ ”

Over time, by way of various elisions, both vernacular and purposeful, po’ boy or po-boy became the widely accepted renderings of poor boy. In the process, as vowels and consonants were swallowed, the roots of the sandwich were, too.

Mystery solved! Now who's going to go get me a shrimp po'boy with a side of fries?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Hypochondriac's Nightmare

Lassa fever – ever heard of it? I hadn’t until I received a question Tuesday from a student wanting to know if we had any resources on the subject. A quick search of our catalog told me that we did, and that was all there was to that request. The student only wanted to know if we had any resources – she didn’t actually want to know anything about the disease. But I did.

I warily clicked my way over to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. I say warily because my imagination has a small (large) tendency to run away from me when it comes to matters of health. I wouldn’t exactly label myself a hypochondriac (but my fiancĂ© probably would), but maybe I do spend a little more time than most contemplating the status of my health. Maybe I even overreact sometimes. For example, the other day I developed a headache after work, a tiny one, mind you. My instinctual reaction: I scoured WebMD and concluded that I must have a brain tumor. Then the headache went away and realized it was just eyestrain and tension. That kind of overreaction doesn’t happen that often, though. Maybe once or twice a day. Even though I’m not a hypochondriac, how can I not think about getting sick when there is so much junk out there lurking in our grimy, unsanitary world, constantly conspiring to ambush my immune system?

Cue lassa fever, a West African virus discovered in 1969. It’s a disease with so many varied and non-specific symptoms that doctors often have trouble diagnosing it. Possible symptoms include fever, sore throat, chest pain, back pain, cough, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, conjunctivitis, facial swelling, hearing loss, tremors, and encephalitis.  The next time I think I have pink eye, I’ll make sure my doctor includes a test for lassa fever in my exam, just to be on the safe side. Blood pressure? Check. Iron levels? Check. Lassa fever? Check.

The good news about lassa fever is that it’s treatable, and it isn’t usually fatal. It’s treated with the antiviral drug Ribavirin, and only about 1% of the 100,000 to 300,000 people diagnosed yearly die from the disease. The most common way to contract it is from the excrement of the mastomys rodent (ewww) or through direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids (ewww). Did I mention that this virus has only been found in West African countries so far?

So, maybe I can rule out lassa fever – for now. But if your interest (or worry) has been aroused, you can poke around the CDC website as well as our resources to learn more about lassa fever and other diseases.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go take some more vitamins.  I think I may be getting a cold ... or pneumonia.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NYPL vs. Snopes: Round One

I was looking for an interesting nugget to share yesterday afternoon and ran across a tasty tidbit in The New York Public Library Desk Reference, Third Edition. According to them, "The interstate highway system requires that 1 mile in every 5 must be straight. These sections can be used as airstrips in time of war or other emergencies" (752). I envisioned something like a scene out of Red Dawn, with lots of paratroopers and explosions, and I-20 as a runway. Armageddon type stuff, you know? I decided I needed to know exactly when this peculiar plan would be put into practice, so I started trying to scrounge up a few more bites.

One of the very first things that appeared in my Google search was this entry from Snopes. Turns out, Snopes didn't agree with the Desk Reference. Awkward! Which to believe?! I'm a firm believer in checking out my sources, and a few clicks later, I ran into this article. It was written by Richard F. Weingroff, an employee of the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Infrastructure. Mr. Weingroff, it seems, is tired of trying to explain to the general public that the United States has never planned to convert its highways into landing strips. Poor guy! Not only has this story circulated on the Internet, it's also being published!

How do these urban legends get started?! I'm a little disappointed that I'll never get to camp out with Lea Thompson or Patrick Swayze while fighting the Russians, but completely satisfied with the way my search ended. By the way, the Mississippi Library Commission has several books on urban legends and their origins. Why not check them out?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Making Friends

A person once asked me if librarianship is lonely work. I had to say that it is not because we spend a great deal of time surrounded by books. I see all books as potential friends because each has its own ideas, voice, and character. Of course the best thing about having books as friends is that you choose when to start and end the conversation. This idea is interesting to me because I’ve recently realized how differently some people see the nature of friendship. Yesterday a companion (let’s call her Jill) and I were discussing a mutual friend of ours (Jack, of course). Jill was speaking of Jack rather critically and said she often found Jack “sarcastic, pretentious, and disingenuous.” I could not help but think, “but that’s what we like about him, right?”
The problem here is that Jill and I have two opposing views of friendship. Jill sees friendship as a tool for comfort. She needs her friends to confide in; to offer her advice and support. I see friendship in a somewhat different way. I see my friends as competitors who should push me to ensure I do not get lazy. If a friend of mine mentions an author or philosopher I’ve never heard of, I will feel deeply ashamed and embarrassed and immediately learn more about this unknown source. What’s great is that if you make friends with books they can provide both comfort and competition. The Mississippi Library Commission even has books that explore the nature of friendship.
One of my favorite books on friendship is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. This book is an excellent example of how society’s idea of friendship has changed. Carnegie first wrote this book in 1936 and we can see that era’s principles reflected in the chapter titles. Chapters on “Fundamental Techniques in Handling People” or “Six Ways to Make People Like You” accurately show how he saw friendship as a means to gain financial success. These titles may seem strange now (“handling people”?) but his book only reflects the time in which it was written.
Another interesting book on friendship is The Norton Book of Friendship edited by Eudora Welty and Ronald A. Sharp. This book contains poems, stories, and essays that explore the meaning and value of friendship. One of my favorite passages comes from Francis Bacon in his essay Of Friendship. Bacon sees friendship as primarily a tool for comfort: “For there is no man that imparteth his joys to his friend, but he joyeth the more, and no man that imparteth his griefs to his friend, but he grieveth the less” (88). Obviously, this statement goes against my definition of friendship but it is beautifully written. Welty and Sharp’s book is mostly positive and contains several examples of how friendship makes the human experience more pleasant.
Regardless of how you use friends, the nice thing is you can always find a new one at your local library.
Carnegie, Dale. How to Win Friends and Influence People. Simon and Schuster, 1981.
Sharp, Ronald and Eudora Welty (eds.) The Norton Book of Friendship. W.W. Norton & Company, 1991

Monday, November 2, 2009


This month offers the perfect opportunity for my MLC reference blog debut since November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and writing is a life lifelong passion of mine. If writing is one of your passions, too, or if you’ve always wanted to write, NaNoWriMo is the perfect time to dive in. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight November 30. This is supposed to be more of a personal challenge than anything else, but there are the rules from the official NaNoWriMo website:

- Write a 50,000 word novel between November 1 and November 30. And no – writing the same word repeated 50,000 times doesn’t count. Be original!

- You have to start from scratch. You can’t use any prose you wrote before November 1. You can, however, use material such as outlines, character sketches, plot notes, and research that you’ve previously compiled.

- Your finished work must be a novel – it has to be a lengthy work of fiction.

- Your novel must be the product of your own work – no writing teams allowed.

- Upload your novel to the NaNoWriMo website between November 25 and November 30 for word count validation.

And that’s all there is to it! If you submit your novel in time, and it meets the word count requirement, you’ll be considered a “winner,” and you’ll get an official web badge, a PDF winner’s certificate, and bragging rights. Oh yeah, and the best prize of all is that completed manuscript you’ve spent the last 30 days toiling over.

If all this sounds like fun to you, and you’re already bursting with ideas and motivation, hop to it! Channel your inner Faulkner, and let the words flow. If, on the other hand, you have no idea how to get this process started, keep reading. There are plenty of resources out there to help you crank out your novel. Help is on the way!

We have some great resources for all kinds of fiction writers here in our collection. For those writers who seek general advice and tips, have a look at The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing by Evan Marshall. Marshall outlines a 16-step program for turning your idea into a finished manuscript. You might also want to look at Novel Voices by Jennifer Levasseur, who gathers advice from several award-winning novelists on writing, editing, and getting published. There’s also Write Right!: Creative Writing Using Storytelling Techniques by Kendall F. Haven. I’ve heard it said that if you can speak or tell a story, you can write; Haven tells you how. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could try to sell your novel. R. Karl Largent offers some advice about this in his book How to Write and Sell Your Novel.

In addition to the titles I’ve just mentioned, we have several books tailored toward assisting writers with specific interests, including religious fiction, romances, mysteries, and science fiction.

Another great writer’s resource too valuable not to mention is the official NaNoWriMo website. This site has all kinds of goodies for writers. Be sure to check out the discussion forums for tips and strategies, helpful writing resources, and good old support and motivation from other NaNoWriMo writers.

So, there you go – NaNoWriMo in a nutshell. If you finish your novel by November 30, kudos! If you don’t, that’s cool, too. Maybe you’ll finish if you try again next year. Until then, don’t beat yourself up over it. December is NaNoFiMo – National Novel Finishing Month. And after you’re finished writing, you could take the next step and participate in NaNoEdMo – National Novel Editing Month, which takes place in March. You can polish your manuscript, and then who knows? You never know what could happen next.

It all starts with word number 1 out of 50,000.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Link It Up!

Here are a few links I've come across in the past few days and thought you might find interesting:

• Read a detailed analysis of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s finances!

• The first words to be transmitted across the prehistoric version of the internet were...LO? (It was supposed to be “LOGIN” but the system crashed.)

• I’ve been fascinated lately with, a collection of old photographs on varying subjects. Warning: if you have any real work to do, do not click this link! Shorpy will suck you in!

Meebo's Un-Drought

We're supposed to get a lot of rain today, with one estimate forecasting up to four inches in some places. It feels like it has been an exceptionally soggy fall here in Mississippi. One of our Meebo patrons must have been thinking along the same line because they asked this question last night: What is the opposite of a drought? (The patron specified that they did not want to use the word flood.)

I turned to our print thesauri first, but wasn't able to find anything. Then, I found an online thesaurus that listed some antonyms for words similar to drought (absence, famine, thirst, etc...) These were some of my favorite suggestions: abundance, surplus, plenty, monsoon, feast. I liked all of these as general antonyms for drought, but I was searching for something a bit more "meteorological" in nature. (I assumed our Meebo friend was, too.)

I checked out a few of our print weather encyclopedias, but again, without an actual word to look up, I was stuck. Turning back to the internet, I "did the Google," as my dad likes to say, and stumbled on this website. After bandying about the words monsoon, deluge, and flood, pluvial seemed to stick out as the most apt opposite for drought. Here's what the OED had to say:

A. adj. 1. a. Of or relating to rain; characterized by much rain, rainy.

B. n. 2 Geol. A pluvial period.

This quotation that was used to illustrate the word was the cincher:

1970 W. BRAY & D. TRUMP Dict. Archaeol. 184/1 Prolonged periods of high rainfall are called pluvials, and are marked by changes in lake levels and in flora and fauna.

Oh, dear. It's started raining again.

"pluvial." OED Online. Dec. 2008. Oxford University Press. 30 October 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Nugget Goldmine!

The tagline under the title of our blog is, “We post the interesting and kooky things we find while looking for the answers to reference questions.” Last week, I got a couple of questions that were pretty straightforward, but on the way to finding their answers, I learned a lot of other excellent (and definitely kooky) nuggets of information.

The original request was “When did Johnny Horton die?” The answer was November 5, 1960. However, get this: Johnny Horton was a country singer whose wife, Billie Jean, was the widow of Hank Williams. So Hank and Billie Jean got married October 18, 1952, and on January 1, 1953, Williams died. According to the super-reliable Wikipedia, Billie Jean posthumously divorced Williams, which is weird but very interesting. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of anyone getting posthumously divorced, although there was some question about the validity of their marriage, which was only settled in 1975! Williams’ first ex-wife, Audrey Sheppard, wanted to be known as The Official Widow of Hank Williams [and thus have the right to half his estate] and allegedly paid Billie Jean $30,000 to retain this title. So anyway, back to Johnny Horton: he apparently had premonitions that he would be killed by a drunk driver, and on November 5, 1960, this came true. In semi-related news, I also learned that Hank Williams had spina bifida, that he nicknamed Hank Williams, Jr. “Bocephus” after a ventriloquist dummy (!), and that Billie Jean Jones Eshlimar Williams Horton never remarried.

Someone wanted to know “How popular was the name Sawyer last year?” According to the Social Security Administration, Sawyer was ranked #225 in popularity in 2008. Their website lets you see the top 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, or 1000 names--this is fascinating! I might’ve gotten a little carried away, as I felt compelled to create this chart, which shows the first and 1000th most popular names for boys and girls, every ten years from 1880-2000, plus 2008.

Some other names you also need to know about: in 1880, Katherine ranked as the 994th most popular name...for a boy. In 1900, Gertrude ranked as the 997th most popular name...for a boy (Dorothy was #985). Elizabeth ranked #999 and #998 in 1960 and 1970, respectively...for a boy. Were these parents just trying to honor female family members by naming their sons these traditionally girly names, or were they just mean?

And finally, there was no request involved, but the awesome book Death Warmed Over: Funeral Food, Rituals, and Customs from Around the World did teach me about this primitive Balinese funeral tradition:

“After death, a kind of Chinese water torture is performed on the body; it is laid on a table, and stream of water slowly drips onto the body. Just below this setup, the family places a cradle filled with unhusked rice so that as the water runs off the body it drips directly onto the rice, along with any liquid leaching out of the body”(6). Oh, then the rice is cooked as usual, formed into the shape of a human, and eaten. Yum!

Rogak, Lisa. Death Warmed Over: Funeral Food, Rituals, and Customs from Around the World. Ten Speed Press, 2004.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fashion Question

Earlier today a meebo visitor asked "what type of tie should I wear with a red, white, and blue striped shirt." To answer this question I consulted Francois Chaille's masterwork The Book of Ties. Mr. Chaille explains that patterned shirts are difficult to coordinate but, "with such shirts it is often preferable to let a tie play the role of echoing colors and opposing patterns." So, obviously, the pattern should NOT be striped but rather a checked pattern, or in my opinion, a solid color (or something with subtle lines). While on the topic of colors; Mr. Chaille advises to follow "the tried and true method of emphasizing one of the colors in your jacket or shirt by repeating it in your tie." Good luck with the outfit and keep those fashion questions coming.

Chaille, Francois. The Book of Ties. New York: Flammarion, 1994. p. 147

Monday, October 19, 2009

I Am NOT A Luddite

Late last week, we received a new book entitled The Librarian's Book of Quotes. As I was flipping through it, this particular passage caught my eye:

I mourn the loss of the old card catalogs, not because I'm a luddite, but because the oaken trays of yesteryear offered the researcher an element of random utility and felicitous surprise through encounters with adjacent cards, information by chance that is different in kind from the computer's ramified but rigid order.

Annie Proulx, "On the Road to Prose" (93).

I remember the card catalogs, and libraries, of my youth with great fondness. I found it soothing to read such thoughtful words; however, I think that libraries have come a long way. Are there any things that you miss regarding the way libraries were while you were growing up? Or do you think that we're experiencing some great paces forward in the library world?

Eckstrand, Tatyana. The Librarian's Book of Quotes. Chicago : American Library Association, 2009.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Above Your Eyes Your Hair Hangs

One of our meebo patrons left a question for us this morning regarding the etymology of the hairstyling word bangs. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary states that the term is probably derived from the word bangtail, a word that was first noted in 1878 when used in reference to a certain style of horse's tail.

Not only does this popular hairstyle appear to be named after a large farm animal, the style itself has a somewhat steamy past. According the The Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History, 15th century clergy ruled that women who cut and curled their hair into bangs represented "a slide into mortal sin" (47). These poor men of the cloth thought that women who spent time fixing their bangs were consorting with the devil. Primpers!

By the way, do you remember this song from They Might Be Giants? It sure makes me feel a lot happier about bangs than horse tails and those fire-breathing monks!

Sherrow, Victoria. "Bangs." Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006.
"Bangs." Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. 10th ed. 1998.

Great Books for Young Readers!

Last week I was lucky enough to represent the Mississippi Library Commission at the State Fair. Every year MLC has a booth at the Trade Mart to tell visitors about our services and to pass out goodies. Telling people about Learn-A-Test was fun, no doubt, but the highlight of my experience had to be meeting so many young people who love their libraries and love to read. I had several young ladies tell me about the trials and tribulations facing Kirsten, Chrissa, and the other American Girls. It was so refreshing to see how animated these young readers became when talking about their favorite characters and I could not help but think about my first experiences with the joys of reading. I decided to describe a couple of my favorite books and invited Tracy and Brandie to share their favorite first books.

Here’s what Brandie had to say:
"The Fear Street series by R.L. Stine.
I’m not sure if the books in this series would classify as children’s books, but I read them as a child, and I loved them. Each novel tells a horror story that involves young adults or teens. I was addicted to the series because all the stories were so vivid and downright scary. It’s a great series for older kids, but some of the themes and descriptions within them may be a little too intense for younger children. This is from the same author responsible for the popular
Goosebumps series, which is aimed at a younger age group than the Fear Street audience.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar.
I ran across this book a few months ago while cleaning out my closet, and the stories inside still had me laughing aloud. This particular title is actually the first of a three-book series. It’s also the funniest of the three. The book is a collection of short stories about a school where weird, funny, and creepy occurrences are the norm. It’s a great book for kids of all ages."

Tracy, as you can imagine, loved books as a young lady. Here’s how she explains her favorite books as a young reader:

"I have to admit I read a LOT of Sweet Valley High books when I was a preteen, but I read a lot of other things, too. The ones that stick out in my memory are the following:

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. This 1979 Newbery Medal winner is about 16 strangers who are named as potential heirs in a man’s will. They’re told that one of them took the man’s life, and the person who figures it all out will win the estate. Lots of good characters, nothing naughty enough to arouse the suspicions of nosy parents, and a genuinely entertaining read. True confession time: I re-read this a few months ago and it was just as good!

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. What child doesn’t dream of running away from home, but gets stuck on the details of such things like food and shelter? In this novel, Claudia Kincaid and her little brother James run away with a plan: they head to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where they bathe in the fountain (and raid the bottom for coins people have thrown in) and sleep in the furniture exhibits. Not only is that an awesome runaway solution, but they become interested in a statue of an angel thought to be created by Michelangelo, which leads them to further adventures. I have a baby at home, but if he doesn’t like this book when he gets older, I am sending him away.

Even though I grew up in the 70s and 80s, for some reason I was fairly obsessed with the 50s. My entire perception of high school and dating came from reruns of "Father Knows Best" (Princess had a date with a different boy every day of the week!) and from the teenybopper novels of Beverly Cleary. My two favorites were Fifteen (Jane meets Stan, who eventually gives her his ID bracelet; swoon!)and Jean and Johnny (Jean is a nerd and Johnny is popular; this is a bad combo, but it turns out ok in the end). It goes unsaid that my actual dating experiences in high school were a bit different."

As for me, my favorite book growing up was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien. I read this book going home every day on the school bus. I remember being asked by one of the older students why I was reading outside of class. Talking owls, secret rosebushes, genetically mutated rats that swordfight? Are you kidding? I was completely hooked after this book.

Another one of my favorite books growing up was Sounder by William Armstrong. Sounder is a great book about a boy, his dog, and a stolen ham. It may not sound that exciting, but I think Sounder is a great book that shows the value of education and empathy. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

So that’s a short list of some of our most beloved books. We would love to hear from some of our readers’ favorite titles.
Happy reading!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Seabather's Eruption

A family member of a friend was recently told she had a condition that was, to all of us at least, a complete novelty. It turns out that she had developed a case of seabather's eruption. Is that not one of the most gorgeously descriptive afflictions ever? With the rest of the nation seemingly already down with the swine flu, I was almost happy to learn something medical that wasn't going to involve stuffy noses and hacking coughs.

A short dig led me to this entry from Merriam-Webster's Medical Desk Dictionary. Seabather's eruption is:

acute pruritic dermatitis that occurs on parts of the body covered by a bathing suit within 24 hours after exposure to seawater containing certain tiny coelenterate larvae (as of jellyfishes, sea anemones, or corals) and that is caused by nematocysts fired by the larvae caught in the mesh of the bathing suit or compressed between the bathing suit and the skin.

What does that mean, you ask? Let me translate the jargonese for you. Simply visualize this set-up:

You've been swimming in the ocean. Your skin starts to itch and swell, but only under your bathing suit, and only
some time after you've been out of the water. This is not a sudden onset of chicken pox. The symptoms' roots lie in the miniscule baby jellyfish and other tiny life forms with which you've been swimming. Those little demons zap your bathing suit and fill it full of their evil stingers. Ready for more? You can't shower them out of your suit: freshwater triggers the poisonous zappers. (Zappers is a medical term I picked up while learning about this minor health problem.) You can't let your suit dry while you're wearing it either. You know why, don't you? Correct! This will also magically release the zingers. (Zingers are similar to the horrid little jokes I like to crack as I torture my rapt audience with fun yet nuggetty knowledge.)

What's so fabulous is the simple solution. If you've been swimming in waters that are prone to this, such as the Florida Gulf Coast, simply change out of your suit after swimming and rinse yourself off with a solution of ¼ cup white vinegar to 1 1/2 cups water.

I suppose that I'm so accustomed to our tranquil Mississippi Gulf Coast that I never think of the little beasties within. I think I'm glad that beach season is over for the year so that I won't have to swim and think about them anytime soon. Let's make a pact. I'm going to forget all about this, and you won't remind me next year before I go on vacation.

Formichelli, Lindo Health Jun2007, Vol. 21 Issue 5, p84-86, 2p

Merriam-Webster's Medical Desk Dictionary, Revised Edition. Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 2005. Retrieved from

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Things on Where People Died...

We received a Meebo question in the wee hours of the morning (wee for me, anyway) that involves a question that we are asked nearly every day. Not only geneaologists, but other patrons as well, need to know where to go in Mississippi to get a copy of a death certificate. I'm so glad our early riser asked this question! So, listen up, people, this is what you need to do.

Vital Records at the Department of Health maintains the state's death certificates. They can be ordered by mail, on-line, phone, or in person. Just click on the link for contact information.

According to the Department of Archives and History, Mississippi did not begin keeping death certificates until 1912. For dates before this time, you may need to try other sources. Be sure to check out the impressive Winter Building and utilize their microfiche copies of the state's death records dating 1912-1943.

Need more Mississippi geneaology tips or information? Let us know!

Love in the Library

What could be more romantic than the fall season? The changing foliage invites us to take long walks through the park. The cool weather calls us outside to enjoy dinners on the patio. The football schedule demands we binge-eat greasy food and yell at the television. Yet, during this season of amore, some people still struggle to find a compatible mate. Well, if you find yourself in the loveless category, it’s time to get off the couch and let the Mississippi Library Commission help you get your groove back.

Some people may not think of the library as a place to find love, but we have plenty of resources that can help you unlock your inner Romeo or Juliet. First, we have Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving. Fromm is famous for his essays and books on Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche and if you know anything about those guys, you know they were all considered Doctors of Love. Here’s a short excerpt:

“Man is gifted with reason…this awareness of himself as a separate entity, the awareness of his own short life span, of the fact that without his will he is born and against his will he dies, that he will die before those whom he loves, or they before him, the awareness of his aloneness and separateness, of his helplessness before the forces of nature and of society, all this makes his separate, disunited existence an unbearable prison."

OK, so, maybe that was not the best example. Anyways, let’s take something lighter, like Merle Shain’s Some Men are More Perfect than Others: A Book about Men, and Hence, about Women and Love and Dreams. I’m sure Mr. Shain will provide a more positive attitude toward love:

“We say we marry for love in North America, but many a man thinks yelling, ‘Is dinner ready?’ is the same as saying ‘I love you.’ And lots of women who really want love and communication ask for a mink coat instead. There are libraries full of books about women who sold their souls for romance and got instead dishpan hands, and bars filled with men wondering why the more successful they become, the worse their marriages become as well.”

Well, uh, I’m sure it picks up after that. How about we try Kenneth S. Pope’s book On Love and Loving? Pope’s book was published in 1980, that magical year before Reaganomics and Gordon Gekko forever changed our idea of romantic love.

“The first stage of the love cycle is early courtship -- the pre-falling-in-love stage. In this stage, the lovers-to-be are on their best behavior. They size up each other as sources of direct gratification, asking themselves if the other can meet their needs for affection, nurturance, attention, or even limit-setting. They also assess each other as sources of indirect gratification, looking to see what can be admired in the other. Each measures his or her emotional and physiologic responses to the other but also finds himself or herself inexplicably drawn toward the other.”

Leave it to a therapist to take the fun out of a perfectly good “love cycle.”Maybe it’s best to take the subject of love away from the doctors and philosophers and allow those who are best equipped to describe this tricky emotion do their work. In Jean Garrigue’s book Love’s Aspects: The World’s Great Love Poems, poet W.B. Yeats offers this example of love’s endurance (I think) in his poem The Folly of Being Comforted:

One that is ever kind said yesterday:
‘Your well-beloved’s hair has threads of gray,
And little shadows come about her eyes;
Time can but make it easier to be wise
Though now it seems impossible, and so
All that you need is patience.’
Heart cries, ‘No,
I have not a crumb of comfort, not a grain.
Time can but make her beauty over again: Because of that great nobleness of hers
The fire that stirs about her , when she stirs,
Burns but more clearly. O she had not these ways
When all the wild summer was in her gaze.’

O heart! O heart! if she’d but turn her head,
You’d know the folly of being comforted.

Fromm, Erich. The Art of Loving. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1956. p. 8
Shain, Merle. Some Men are More Perfect Than Others: A Book About Men, and Hence about Women, and Love and Dreams. New York: Charterhouse Press, 1973. p. 63
Pope, Kenneth. On Love and Loving: Psychological Perspectives on the Nature and Experience of Romantic Love. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 1980. p. 121
Garrigue, Jean (Ed.) Love’s Aspects: The World’s Great Love Poems. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1975. p. 228

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dear Meebo Guest...

To Whomever Might've Asked Us a Question Earlier:

I might've accidentally deleted your question before I got a chance to read please, come back and ask again!


Accidental Deleter

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Who's that Lady?

This weekend I will be fortunate enough to travel to Washington, D.C. to represent the Mississippi Library Commission at the National Book Festival. I’ll get to tell people about all of the services we provide here at MLC and, I’m sure, meet some great people. This trip is especially exciting because I’m such a huge fan of history. I actually taught high school social studies for a couple of years and really enjoyed teaching young people about America’s incredible history. I remember telling one group of ninth graders that Abraham Lincoln was the first American president to pitch a perfect game in the World Series. Most of those little rascals were skeptical, but I think I tricked a few. Anyways, it seems that everyone knows something about former presidents, whether it’s real or made up by their teachers. Somehow though, our first ladies are often overlooked. I decided to check the stacks here at MLC and see if I could find some interesting information about our lovely first ladies.

The first book I checked out was The Presidents, First Ladies, and Vice Presidents: White House Biographies, 1789-2001 by Daniel Diller and Stephen Robertson. This book is useful, but because it covers so many topics, the information is pretty basic. I did learn, however, that Richard Nixon proposed to his future wife, Patricia, during their first date. Patricia was smart enough to demur that night, but she ended up marrying Tricky Dick two year later.

Robert Watson’s book, American First Ladies, is probably the most detailed resource we have on the subject. Watson’s book is much more detailed and even devotes some ink to discuss scandalous rumors that surround our past first ladies. My favorite rumor is that Florence Harding, wife of known philanderer Warren G. Harding, poisoned her husband. Watson explains that a book was published in 1930 that accuses Ms. Harding of murdering her husband. Although Watson argues that Harding’s death was more likely caused by his poor health and a severe case of food poisoning (tainted crab, gross), it’s always fun to speculate when a cheating husband turns up dead.

The last book I looked through was First Ladies Quotations Book by William O. Foss. This book features quotes from first ladies regarding everything from aging to welfare. Although every first lady is represented in the book, Abigail Adams consistently stands out as the most quotable. Here are a few of my favorites from Mrs. Adams. Abigail Adams on legs: “I think that a gentleman has no business to concern himself about the Legs of a lady.” On love: “Ever remember with the Tenderest Sentiments her who knows no earthly happiness equal to that of being tenderly loved by her dearest Friend.” And lastly, on being a wife: “No man ever prospered in the world without the consent and cooperation of his wife.” If you are interested in learning more about our first ladies, you should visit MLC and check out some of our excellent resources.

Diller, Daniel and Stephen L. Robertson. The Presidents, First Ladies, and Vice Presidents: White House Biographies, 1789-2001. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2001
Watson, Robert (Ed.) American First Ladies. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press Inc., 2002
Foss, William (Ed.) First Ladies Quotations Book. New York: Barricade Books Inc., 1999

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Smackdown: 99 cents vs. $1

Yesterday one of our faithful meebo patrons asked a question that had been plaguing him in his sleep: Why do so many stores in America use 99 cent pricing instead of rounding up to a dollar? I can see how this question could keep you awake, dear Meebo patron. I, myself, spend countless hours pondering similar questions in the middle of the night: Why are there 8 hot dogs in a package and 6 buns? Why do birds suddenly appear? Why does the dryer steal socks? These are all worthy of consideration, but this question has a certain depth that mine lack!

It seems that there are a few schools of thought regarding the mysterious missing penny. One relates to a newspaper feud and is explained in this synopsis culled from The Book of Strange Facts and Useless Information. Maybe so, maybe not.

The other involves classic marketing strategy. In my research, I've found it referred to as odd-number pricing, nine-ending prices, and even simply psychological pricing. Once upon a time, it seems that the capitalists of America formed a think tank and discovered that most people are drawn toward a price that ends in 99 cents, even when compared to another same item priced at only once cent more. According to a 2009 article in Advances in Consumer Research, "30% to 65% of all prices end in the digit nine." Wow! This article dates the occurrence back to at least the mid-1930s.

I knew that those big corporations were tricksy, but it's pretty amazing how they use our own minds against us! The lesson learned? Pay attention to the actual price!

Shih-Chieh Chuang, Chaang-Yung Kung, Yin-Hui Cheng, Shu-Li Yu. The Effects of Nine-ending Prices and the Need for Cognition in Price Cognition. Advances in Consumer Research - North American Conference Proceedings; 2009, Vol. 36, 973-974

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Benefits to Browsing

Although many people may not realize it, browsing your local library’s collection may be one of the best ways you can spend your free time. Some people may wonder how a quick glance at random information can benefit their everyday experience. I argue that a shallow understanding of many topics is an essential part of being a well-rounded shallow person. The beauty is, most other people are also shallow, so, armed with your broad new vocabulary, you can use meaningless words and phrases to appear more intelligent than you really are.

Here is an example of what I mean.

Say you are at Mississippi Museum of Art and you see an attractive person studying a certain work. If you’ve read any of Joann Prosyniuk’s Modern Arts Criticism you could say something like this: “No artist, of course, lives in a vacuum, in no context, beyond influence. O’Keeffe’s myth of her own life may have helped to sustain her, but it may also have inhibited her painting. What is really astonishing about it, though, is the extent to which, even after her death, the myth remains unexamined, and continues to serve as a basis for the discussion of O’Keeffe and her work in the scholarly and curatorial world.” What does this statement mean? Who knows? Certainly not you, but the chances are your new friend will not either and that’s the point. Some of you may say, “But what if the work was not by O’Keeffe?” So what! Just replace the name with whoever it is by and you’ll come out looking like a genius.

Let’s take another example.

What if you head downtown to Underground 119 to listen to some jazz? Without fail someone will say something innocuous like, “I really like this band." If you’ve read any of Michael Erlewine’s Music Guide to Jazz: The Experts Guide to the Best Jazz Recordings you could say something clever like “Sure this is good but nothing compares to Ken McIntyre’s recording of Stone Blues. This particular album has a lush, somewhat obscure sound that clearly paved the way for what we’re hearing tonight.” Did you just hear what you said? Words like “lush” and “obscure” have little or no relationship in that context. The point is you said it with conviction (using “clearly” always sells!) and with a look of sage understanding that should fool all of those within earshot.

Music and art are only two of the many subjects you can gain a superficial understanding of while browsing your local library. There are titles on architecture, philosophy, political theory and countless other complex subjects that deserve our limited appreciation. So turn off that episode of Bernie Mac (or, wait until it’s over) and go to the library to enjoy the enrichment of simplified learning! (Of course, in order to save yourself a great deal of embarrassment, you could also dig a little deeper and truly understand what it is you're talking about.)
Prosyniuk, Joann (Ed.) Modern Arts Criticism, Vol. 1. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, Inc., 1991
Erlewine, Michael (Ed.) All Music Guide to Jazz: The Experts' Guide to the Best Jazz Recordings, 2nd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Miller Freeman Books, 1996

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Even More on that Pie Girl Dinner.

A few weeks ago we had a question--and later, a blog post--about the practice of ladies jumping out of cakes. While Elisabeth found that animals (including ladies) have been popping out of cakes and pies for many years, what caught my attention was the interesting story about Stanford White, a New York City architect at the turn of the century, who orchestrated the infamous “Pie Girl Dinner.”

I had found a somewhat unreliable source online that said a picture of the girl popping out of the pie was on the front page of the New York Times in 1895. I searched the heck out of the New York Times archives (you can even limit to articles appearing on the front page), but to no avail. However, even though Elisabeth answered the question, I couldn’t let Stanford White and his Pie Girl Dinner go. I needed more!

We got Evelyn Nesbit and Stanford White: Love and Death in the Gilded Age by Michael Macdonald Mooney via interlibrary loan, and while the book is prone to exaggeration and wild adjective overuse, it does provide a reprint of the famous Pie Girl Dinner picture (only it was the New York Evening World, not the New York Times):

The author points out that the illustration adds clothes to the pie girl. Note the man with the knife on the right; that's Stanford White.

It also paints a portrait of the dinner, complete with a healthy dose of descriptors. (As an aside, there are no footnotes or endnotes that site the author's sources, so who knows if this is accurate, or merely the brainchild of Michael Macdonald Mooney.) Before the big pie girl finish, the meal was served by scantily clad models. Trust me when I say that Michael Macdonald Mooney must have elaborated a little:

“The room soon hung heavy with acrid smells--the combination of wines, too much food, a fog of cigarette smoke, the sweat of the men mingled with the streaming sweat of the girls that mixed with their powders and perfumes....Then a faint tingled of bells could be heard, and the procession reappeared once again in Indian file; but they were no longer wearing their sashes, no longer wearing anything at all except sleighbells attached to their ankles and castanets on their fingers. Every man was silent" (196-197).

Then there was a sexy dance, described IN DETAIL (really, Michael Macdonald Mooney, was that necessary?), which I will spare you because this is a family show, and then, after a lull, this:

“Then a whistle sounded and through the swinging doors a file of Roman slave girls reappeared, their bodies streaked with sweat [again with the sweat, Michael Macdonald Mooney!], bearing a huge trestle, six girls on each side of it. Upon the trestle was what appeared to be a monstrous pie, the crust a meringue of ermine white and the base surrounded by banks of red and blue flowers....They began to circle the pie and to sing to it, their voices now heavy with wine and passion and incipient catarrh" (197-198).

I must pause here to say that I had to look up catarrh, which means "inflammation of the mucus membranes of the respiratory tract." I'm no editor, but I really want a little red pencil with which to edit Michael Macdonald Mooney's text (although I would never do that to a library book!). Also, I enjoy that the pie is monstrous. MONSTROUS PIE! Anyway, the catarrh-laden ladies sang the "sing a song of sixpence" song to the monstrous pie, and stopped at the line "when the pie was opened....":

“And at the cue, the top of the pie rose up, and birds--doves, canaries, and nightingales--began to fly everywhere in the room....As the birds scattered a shining blond child rose from the center of the pie, making graceful weaving motions with her arms” (196-198).

I will spare you the description of the "blond child," who, by the way, was Susie Johnson, age 15 or so. According to Michael Macdonald Mooney, who at this point I do not exactly look to as a reliable source, Susie Johnson ran away from home, became a model, and later married, but "'her husband threw her off because he heard of the "Pie Dinner." She is buried in Potter's Field'" (198-199). Poor Susie. I feel for her. You would too if you read how Michael Macdonald Mooney described the poor thing, and let's not forget she was trapped under a layer of meringue with a bunch of probably freaked out doves, canaries, and nightingales.

Even if every tiny detail of the sweat-laden party scene wasn't 100% accurate, we still get a pretty good picture of what the Pie Girl Dinner was like. My perception of meringue has been altered forever.

Mooney, Michael Macdonald. Evelyn Nesbit and Stanford White: Love and Death in the Gilded Age. Morrow, 1976.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fingerprints: The Sequel

It seems our readers just can't get enough information on fingerprints! We recently received a meebo question that asked if fingerprints are an inherited trait.
Well, to answer this question I went straight to the Oxford Companion to the Body and found that fingerprints patterns are not determined by hereditary but rather by "complex, irregular stresses in the skin" that form during the first 13 weeks after conception. So, it seems, Mom and Dad are not to blame for your irregular fingerprint pattern. If you want to learn more about fingerprints, read Elisabeth's post by clicking the link blow.

Blakemore, Colin and Jennett, Sheila, eds. The Oxford Companion to the Body. Oxford University Press, 2001.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mississippi College Football: An Unbiased (Ahem!) List of MLC Resources.

The other day Jesse said he wanted to write a blog post about Mississippi's three Division I-A college football teams and the various resources we have here in our collection pertaining to the subject. I told him to go ahead, as I was sure he would be able to separate himself from whatever personal bias he has toward his alma mater, University of Southern Mississippi.

Turns out I was wrong. Have a look:

Inspired by the beautiful weather we are enjoying here in the great city of Jackson, I’ve decided to write a short blog post about the fall tradition of Mississippi college football. Few states enjoy a richer heritage in the sport than our Mississippi and the collection here at MLC reflects that passion. I hope this entry gives you a better idea of what types of books we have for the college football fan. By the way, some of our more clever readers may notice a subtle bias on my part when discussing Mississippi football. I can assure you that I went through great pains to remove any inflammatory language and I never mean to offend anyone.

By sheer volume, no one enjoys a more detailed description of their team’s past than those polo wearing, collar popping sissies from Ole Miss. We have books dedicated to Rebel legends such as John Vaught, Archie Manning, and Chucky Mullins. And if that’s not enough to turn your stomach, Colonel Reb fans can read Paige Cothren’s An Academy Called Pain or Walk Carefully Around the Dead to get their fill of Ole Miss lore.

For those cowbell ringing hillbillies in Starkville we have Greatest Moments in Mississippi State Football History (a short book indeed) and The Maroon Bulldogs: Mississippi State Football. The former title’s longest chapter is called “The Jackie Sherrill Era” which I found kind of funny. But one section written by Thomas Harding titled “Jackie Sherrill: Bulldog Savior” wins my award for most ironic title ever.

Surely the most popular book in our collection is John Cox’s wonderfully written book Rock Solid: Southern Miss Football. Mr. Cox’s prose is without flaw and he meets the challenge of placing some of the most exciting events in football history into print. Here is an example:

“USM’s final regular-season game of the year also took place at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Against the Memphis Tigers, the Golden Eagles completed their perfect Conference USA season with a 42-18 win, finishing the regular season at 8-3 overall” (234).

Wow: clear, concise, and at the same time, poetic. I mean, what could capture the spirit of college football better than a classic battle between Southern Miss and Memphis? I don’t know how Mr. Cox does it, but he certainly shows us all the power of the English language in this masterpiece.

Oh, Jesse. Good thing we cowbell ringing hillbillies have a sense of humor, huh?

Cox, John and Gregg Bennett. Rock Solid: Southern Miss Football. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ye Olde Beer Shoppe

Yesterday, one of our ever-curious Meebo patrons asked us to find out how much grain was used in the Middle Ages to make a cask of ale or beer. Well, dearest user, I may not have found the answer you seek per se, but I sure did learn a lot about beer.

This site provides some interesting medieval ale recipes as well as some historical facts and figures on ingredients. The author, using some intricate math, has figured that about 6.4 pounds of grain would be used for a gallon of ale.

This particular site has some good information on the history of beer and ale in general. Lastly, I thought that this site was a lot of fun. It provides information on brewing Medieval and Elizabethan ales and meads.

I hope this information helps you out, Meebo patron. And remember, if you brew some beer, you should always share with your local librarian!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Meebo Update from a Few Minutes Ago.

Dear Meebo Guest Who May or May Not Have Gotten the Last Part of Our Chat:

The name "Ku Klux Klan" comes from the Greek word for circle, kuklos. The change from a "c" to a "k" in klan was just, presumably, to keep the K theme going.

Hope this answers your question!


P.S. I found this in the Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present: From the Age of Segregation to the Twenty-first Century.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

AAARAAAGH!!!! Maybe?

We just received a meebo question asking what the infamous “rebel yell” might sound like. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, the rebel yell was basically a battle cry many confederate infantrymen used before they charged a federal position. Soldiers would yell to intimidate their opponents and relieve their fears. In his book, The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy, Bell Irvin Wiley describes the yell this way: “As it flourished on the field of combat, the Rebel yell was an unpremeditated, unrestrained and utterly informal 'hollering.' It had a mixture of fright, pent-up nervousness, exultation, hatred and a pinch of pure deviltry.” Also, Wiley argues that many confederate brigades had their own unique yells and calls. So don’t assume all rebels yelled the same! Wiley gives an example of one young Federal soldier’s experience during an attack: “One of the soldiers gave a whoop, which was followed by such a succession of whoops from his comrades as made the woods reverberate for miles around.”

Today, you can relive the glories of a confederate charge by enjoying Rebel Yell whiskey and screaming like a banshee at home.

Wiley, Bell Irvin. The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1943. p. 72-73

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What Do You Mean Pie? I Ordered Cake!

Welcome back to the Mississippi Library Commission's Information Theatre. Today's feature is Part Two of the fascinating Meebo epic, "Tell me all about women who jump out of cakes!"

Following up on the Queen Anne lead, we searched high and low for more details. About the closest that we were able to find were references to soltelties and entremets. These were involved dishes that incorporated mythical creatures, live animals, etc...

Cut forward several centuries in time to the late 1800's to visit our next mention of live things in food. It seems that an architect named Stanford White, along with various friends, held a now-notorious stag party which has since been dubbed the "Pie Girl Dinner." During the festivities, White and Co. arranged that a group of ladies burst from a large pie. (At least one source states that it was only one girl, a model named Susie Johnson, who jumped out of said pie.) In contrast to today's modern woman, Susie Johnson's life was ruined! (Just for jumping out of a pie--can you believe it?!)

(A sidenote: if you're not familiar with the absolutely fascinating life (and death) of Stanford White, check out his Wikipedia page.)

This seems to be the precursor to the now popular woman-in-a-cake routine. Does this completely answer your question, Meebo User?

Adamson, Melitta Weiss. Food in Medieval Times. Greenwood, 2004.

Craven, Wayne. Stanford White: Decorator in opulence and dealer in antiquities. Columbia University Press, 2005.

Gustaitis, Joseph. The Lady of the Tower. American History. June 1999, Vol. 34, Issue 2, p. 44.

Slater, David. The Fount of Inspiration. Winterthur Portfolio. Winter 2004, Vol. 39, Issue 44, p. 229-258.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Can I Get The Recipe For This Cake?

This morning we received one of our toughest meebo questions yet: Where (or how) did the practice of girls jumping out of cakes originate? The Reference Department put on their collective noggin caps and did some serious thinking. We finally remembered the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence which contains the line "4 and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie." The Mississippi Library Commission actually has a book called Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme, which describes the history of certain childhood rhymes. According to this book, "the notion of people jumping out of food dishes did not come along until the reign of Queen Anne."

How exciting! It seemed that we were definitely on the right track! Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion to the mystery of the miniature cake people.

Roberts, Chris. Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme. Thorndike Press, 2004.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Answering Life's Little Questions

One of my first activities upon my arrival at the Mississippi Library Commission was to complete a scavenger hunt. Tracy explained that the task was a fun way for new staff to become more familiar with the reference resources that reference staff use most often . Now that I’m finished with the task, I thought I would reflect on a few things with a blog posting.

First, not all information needed is available online. One of the biggest misconceptions about reference librarians is that we spend all day searching through Google. This is simply not true. Our collection at the Mississippi Library Commission has tons of information that is not readily available on the web. This is especially true with regards to information about Mississippi. Our collection has county cemetery records, tax revenue information, literacy ratings, and countless other bits of information about our great state. Here’s a couple of examples:

Question: How many deaths were investigated by the Mississippi State Crime Lab in 1991? How many autopsies were performed?

Answer: The state crime lab tested 12,400 cases in 1991 and 1,093 autopsies performed in the state.
Some good news did appear in this report: only 81 heads of cattle were reported stolen for the whole year in 1991. Not too shabby, Mississippi![1]

The next important lesson that I learned is that I can trust my supervisor. The questions were allegedly based on real questions received in the reference department, but when I began looking for the answers, I thought, no one will ever ask for this kind of information. Well, during my short stay here I have located information on municipal tax revenues, given advice on how to wear tie clips, given contact information for our state Tax Commissioners, and checked up on Patrick Swayze’s health status (repeatedly). The point is: a reference librarian has to be ready for any and all questions…just like Tracy said! Here is an example of a question we often get at the reference desk:

Question: Who is the owner/manager of Pee Wee’s Muffler and Brakes in Meridian?
Answer: Dewayne Massey is the owner of Pee Wee’s Muffler and Brakes in Meridian![2] By the way, I read a review of Pee Wee’s Muffler on Yahoo and the reviewer gave Pee Wee five stars for his excellent muffler work. Keep up the good work, Dewayne!

Lastly, I learned that Tracy’s idea of “fun” is pretty twisted. I mean, whoever thinks that looking through dusty copies of Mississippi phone directories is fun has some serious issues. Here’s an example of one cruel question she composed:

Question: My grandmother, Stella Smith, was born somewhere in Mississippi around 1890. Where was she during the 1920s and 30s?
Answer: Who knows? There has to be at least four thousand Stella Smiths born “around 1890”!

I think this last question shows Tracy’s true diabolical nature. But, in all seriousness, I did learn a great deal about our resources and that experience should make me a better reference librarian.

[1] Annual Report. Jackson, MS: The Department of Public Safety, 1991.
[2] Mississippi Business Directory. American Directory Publishing Co., 2009
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