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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!
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