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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Jackson, MS: Former Den Of Iniquity!

Well, go on down to Jackson; go ahead and wreck your health.
Go play your hand you big-talkin' man, make a big fool of yourself,
You're goin' to Jackson; go comb your hair!
Honey, I'm gonna snowball Jackson.
See if I care.
Do you remember Jackson? (Cheerful, isn't it?) Johnny Cash and June Carter won a Grammy in 1968 for the song in the Best Country and Western Performance category ( My "other person" declared last weekend that the song was about Jackson, MS (which I wasn't going to deny) and that the references to gambling in the song were based in fact. I don't know about you, but I grew up in Mississippi. I even read The Help. As a  state, we can be a touch on the conservative side, so a hotbed of gambling activity in Jackson, MS? Especially pre-1991? Hmph, I doubt it. I set out this morning to prove him wrong.

It's funny how it can be disappointing to be wrong and yet fascinated by the information at the same time! The twenty-first amendment, ratified in 1933, put an end to federal prohibition ( but the official ban on alcohol in Mississippi went on. And on. And on. Prohibition lasted longer in Mississippi than in any other state, not being officially over until 1966 ( Bootlegging and associated illegal activity thrived on Mississippi's Gulf Coast, in the Delta, and in Jackson. According to Living Blues, "Some bootleggers even advertised in the newspaper and ran radio ads." Subtle. A myriad of blues clubs, dives, juke joints, and gambling casinos sprouted on the east side of the Pearl River, right across from good old Jackson ( The area itself sounds like heaven and hell rolled into one delicious blues harmony. Musical greats like Elmore James, Little Richard, Etta James, Percy Mayfield and Roy Milton performed here. Milton, a groundbreaker in R&B, was shot in the face in 1948 while breaking up a fight at one of the clubs. That's one rough joint!

The activity filtered into the cities, too. I don't remember reading about this sort of thing in The Help!

The Jackson Country Club was playing host to a reception following the annual Carnival Ball that night. Around 7:00 P.M., sheriff's deputies raided the party. The Clarion-Ledger reported the next morning that "bottles by the hundreds, including champagne and the best of French wines were found. Deputies battered in the door while hundreds of men in evening dress and ladies wrapped in fur coats stood in a hallway nearby" (Nash 212-213.)
I'm seriously thinking about checking the microfilm to see if an enterprising reporter snapped a picture. That would be gold.

Barretta, Scott. "The Jackson Blues" Living Blues 35.2 & 3: 46+. Print.
Nash, Jere and Andy Taggart. Mississippi Politics: The Struggle For Power, 1976-2006. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2006. Print.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Holidays From The MLC Reference Staff (And Friends)!

We get a lot of genealogy questions here at MLC, and we often use and Heritage Quest (along with our print sources) to assist our patrons.

Confession: we use these sources to amuse ourselves as well.
From various U.S., England, and Australian Censuses, 1860-1930, here is the Reference department's list of holiday-related names. These are all actual names of actual people:
Santa Claus

Elf Nelson

Toy Popwell

Mary Nativity Tambourine

Tree McFatridge

Wreath Spicer

Feliz Navidad

Joe Apple Pie

Frosty Jones

Chestnut Brown

Myrrh Hamilton

Turkey Crisp

Candy Cane

Betsy Reindeer

Happy holidays, everyone!

This post originally appeared 12/19/07. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas FAQ

Have you ever wondered how some of our favorite Christmas traditions came to be? Christmas is only eight days (eight!) away, so what better time is there to explore some holiday customs? MLC has several fantastic sources for finding more information about holidays and their origins, and I decided to look at Holiday Symbols and Customs by Helene Henderson. She’s compiled information about Christmas and just about any other holiday you could think of. For now, we’ll just focus on Christmas.

What’s the deal with candy canes at Christmas, and why in the world would anyone want to hang them on a tree?
Similar in shape to a shepherd’s staff, the candy canes that are often hung on Christmas trees today were once a symbol of the shepherds who went to Bethlehem to see Jesus after his birth.

Did Hallmark invent Christmas cards?
The first printed Christmas card was produced in England in 1843. It sold for a shilling and looked like a post card. In the 1880s, cards became folders with four, eight, or more pages. It was also during this period that cards also began to get fancier, with elaborate decorations like lace. I’m don’t think they had the singing cards back then. Hmm, maybe Hallmark did invent those …

What do decorated trees have to do with Christmas?
There’s a legend that at the moment of Jesus’s birth, rivers flowed with wine, and trees blossomed in ice and snow. The Christmas tree, which “blossoms” with light and ornaments may have been a symbolic representation of this. Christmas trees didn’t really become a popular Christmas custom until the 19th century, though it came to America from Germany in the early 18th century.

You mean I can get warm stockings AND treats?
A popular Christmas tradition is to hang stockings over the fireplace so that Santa can fill them with goodies. This custom can be traced back to a folk legend in which three daughters decided to help their father get out of poverty by selling themselves into prostitution. Legend has it that a wealthy guy named Nicholas visited them on three successive nights, and each time he tossed a ball of gold through an open window into their house, which landed in the stockings the girls had hung by the fire to dry. By supposedly doing this, Nicholas saved the girls from a life of sin.

The Truth about Santa Claus
The original Santa Claus was Nicholas, a legendary saint who was bishop of Turkey in the 4th Century. He was a gift-giver, but he definitely wasn’t a push-over. He brought switches and rods for children who misbehaved. In many countries, this legendary character arrived on December 6th each year to hand out presents and punishments.

The Christian story of St. Nicholas spread to Europe, where there were already a host of similar mythic figures. In the Germanic religion, the chief god, Woden (or Odin), rode an eight-legged white horse, and the Dutch Sinter Klaas wore bishop’s robes and rode a white horse. In some parts of Europe, it is the Christ Child rather than St. Nicholas who delivers gifts. This distinction was instituted by Martin Luther as part of an effort to remove the last traces of paganism from the Christian church. As a side note, this is also where the name Kriss Kringle originates. In other northern European countries, St. Nicholas evolved and was integrated with ancient gods to become a spirit of winter rather than a Christian saint.

In Russia, Babuska (the Grandmother) is a legendary figure known for bringing gifts at Christmas. According to legend, this old woman deliberately misdirected the Three Wise Men when they stopped to ask directions on their way to Bethlehem. She later repented and tried to make amends by going around the world on Christmas Eve distributing gifts to good children.

Have you ever heard of Father Christmas? He’s an English folk figure who for centuries personified the Christmas season. Father Christmas didn’t hand out gifts. Instead, he represented the mirth, generosity, and abundance associated with Christmas. He usually appeared as a large, robust fellow wearing a red or green robe with fur trim and a crown of holly, ivy, or mistletoe. Remember the Ghost of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol? He’s a good example. During the 19th century, the American version of Santa Claus began to gain popularity in England, and his identity slowly merged with that of Father Christmas. Before long, Santa had all but erased the figure of Father Christmas, who retained his name, but whose image and activities more closely resembled those of Santa.

The American Santa Claus is actually a combination of three figures: 1)English Father Christmas; 2)German St. Nicholas; and 3) Dutch Sinter Klaus. Two events helped transform these three figures into the modern popular image of Santa Claus: the publication of Clement Moore’s poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” in December 1823, and the appearance of Thomas Nasts illustrations of Santa Claus based on Moore’s poem.

Are there other holiday traditions that you’d like to know more about? If so, we have a wealth of resources here at your disposal for you to explore. Or if you can’t make to our building, call us up, shoot us an email, or send us a Meebo message, and we’ll be happy to explore them for you!

Source:  Henderson, Helene. Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. Detroit: Ominigraphics, 2009

Meebo Questions

Last night a Meebo patron asked two great questions. First, the patron needed to know how to properly clean a wooden cutting board. I discovered that although wooden cutting boards are very pretty, they’re a handful to maintain. If you don't properly treat the wood, bacteria can find its way into the cutting board and multiply. There are, thankfully, many ways to prevent this. One of the best articles I found is from Here’s the article.

The second question is about dog training and cleaning up the inevitable “accidents” that occur. First, I looked through Kathy Diamond Davis’s Responsible Dog Ownership to learn how to clean up after the dog. Ms. Davis stresses the importance of thoroughly cleaning the spot where the accident occurs. If one does not take this precaution, the dog will continue to relieve him/herself at that spot. Ms. Davis suggests you must use white vinegar to clean the spot. She claims the scent from white vinegar will discourage the dog from using that spot again. Also, Ms. Davis advises to NEVER use ammonia because it will encourage the dog to return to that spot. You should also use soap or disinfectant if the mess has been there for a while.

Lastly, Ms. Davis says to use encouragement rather than punishment while training your dog. Encourge the dog for going in the proper places. Never punish the dog for a mistake. The most important part is to keep the dog on a solid routine so the animal knows his/her “potty time.” If you need more information, here is an excellent article from Best Friend Animal Society.

MLC provides many excellent dog ownership books for check out. Also, please remember if you ever need help remembering your “potty time” or anything else, you can call, email, or Meebo your friends at MLC.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Books for Prisoners

Today, while we were enjoying our annual holiday meal, a Meebo patron asked if there is an organization that takes donated books for prisoners. I called the Mississippi Department of Corrections to see if they knew of any such organization. The representative said that each facility has their own set of guidelines when receiving books. The best thing our patron could do, I was told, is to contact the warden of the facility they want to receive the books. Click here for a list of all correctional facilities in Mississippi.

Also, if you would like for someone from the reference staff to contact a particular facility, let us know. We'll be happy to oblige!

Phone: 601-432-4492
Fax: 601-432-4478
Toll Free: 1-877-KWIK-REF (1-877-594-5733)

Thanks for the question!

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Cheapskate's Christmas

For cheapskates, the Christmas season can be a very difficult time. We’re constantly attacked by commercials that show the euphoria of “giving.” We’re harassed outside of grocery stores by those guilt inducing Salvation Army bellringers. What makes Christmas so difficult is that you can forget birthdays and ignore baby showers, but Christmas is a national event; it’s everywhere. That’s why I’ve decided to start early this year and construct a strong argument that justifies my frugality.

Now, the hard part about constructing this argument was that I wanted to avoid sentimentality and find something original. I didn’t want to say, “I don’t buy gifts because that’s not the real ‘reason for the season.’” That’s a lazy argument. Also, I didn’t want to get all “Marxy” on people. I’d rather not be labeled a communist, but also, no one wants to hear about how Christmas represents the futile struggle of the proletariat to enjoy the material comfort of the bourgeois. That argument is so 1900. I wanted to find something new, something, I don’t know, modern. Luckily, I had time to search the stacks here at MLC to find my new argument.

The most useful book I found was Stanley Lebergott’s Pursuing Happiness: American Consumers in the Twentieth Century. Lebergott’s book explores how consumption has become a barometer by which people judge their happiness. There are chapters that look at how advertising influences consumer spending. There are essays on the unequal income gap in America. These are all good arguments but the last chapter is golden, “More Goods: The Twentieth Century.” This chapter centers on the idea that people’s appetite for new goods can never be satisfied. Lebergott quotes Samuel Johnson as saying, “We desire, we pursue, we obtain, we are satiated; we desire something else, and begin a new pursuit.” The basic argument is: regardless of how much you have you will always want more.

So, voila, here’s my argument this year: why buy gifts when the recipient will only come up with something new to want? And, yes, mom and dad, you can take this argument as your own. I’m sure your children will completely understand when, on Christmas morning, you explain that Santa didn’t visit because he wanted to save them the trouble of coming up with something else to want. You’ll save money and your children will be grateful for the lesson.

Lebergott, Stanley. Pursuing Happiness: American Consumers in the Twentieth Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chicken-Thief Bride, Meet the Egg Penguin.

This morning I was doing some hunting in the 1930s New York Times on microfilm.(If this doesn’t sound like fun to you, there’s a good chance you’re not a librarian.) While microfilm often makes me dizzy, the discomfort is tempered by all the articles I find amusing. Like these!

From March 2, 1937:
Pastor Sues for Divorce; Says Bride ‘Made Faces’

“Evansville, Ind., Mar. 1.—The Rev. James P. Sandefur, 22, filed suit today for a divorce against his wife, June, 19, charging that she made faces while he preached at the Primitive Baptist Church, and that she went to sleep during services.

The minister’s complaint also charged his wife with taking a quantity of his property, including three pairs of pants and nine chickens.”

Do you believe in reincarnation? If so, please start calling me June Sandefur. I feel strongly that she and I are kindred spirits. She had me at “made faces,” but the chickens sent me over the edge.

I had read an article in the November 22 New Yorker about the legendarily horrendous food served in the White House during FDR’s administration -- heavy on the brains and kidneys, friends -- and was interested to read more about a dish they referenced from the NYT called Turkey Supreme. I found it in the December 1, 1935 paper in an article called Variety for the Buffet:

“Turkey, it has been observed, goes well at buffet suppers. Hot, in a steaming pile, as a salad or cold, the romantic and festive import of turkey attracts all Americans. There may be, for the larger parties, both hot and cold servings. Turkey Supreme is considered ‘the ultimate in flavor.’ It is made of one-and-a-half cups of cold diced turkey, half a cup of chopped pecans, half a pint of whipping cream, a three-quarter cup of crushed pineapple and a cup of mayonnaise. Placed in a tray, the whole is then frozen for about three hours.”

There is so much to remark upon here that my head is spinning! Steaming pile! Romantic, attractive turkey! And then, of course, the actual recipe. I am thinking about having a buffet dinner party next spring. I will hide the pizzas from the Pizza Shack in my oven and wait until I see every face in the house recoil with disgust when they scoop up some frozen, mayonnaise- and pineapple-laden turkey onto their plates before I shout APRIL FOOL'S! and serve the pizzas instead.

The article goes on to describe several fanciful ways to serve deviled eggs, such as making them into white whales, or my favorite, the popular Egg Penguin:

“Penguins made of eggs perhaps eclipse the white whales. The upright egg penguins are supplied with ripe olive heads, matching black wings, bits of carrot for yellow bills and feet. They are grouped on a white slope in an unmistakable copy of a scene from Little America. Here is something new and festive for the buffet table at home.”

Now perhaps if June Sandeful had tried some Turkey Supreme and Egg Penguins, her husband would’ve forgiven her for falling asleep!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Late Fees at Jackson/Hinds

Yesterday a meebo patron asked if Jackson/Hinds Library System offered an "amnesty day" where patrons can bring in overdue books without receiving a fine. Elisabeth spoke to Carolyn McCallum, Executive Director of Jackson/Hinds Library System, and was told the "amnesty day" is not offered.
Thanks to thank both Mrs. McCallum and Elisabeth for solving this question!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gobble! Gobble!

The Mississippi Library Commission will be closed Thursday, November 25 and Friday, November 26 for the Thanksgiving holiday. We will be busy doing more of this:

We will reopen Monday, November 29. Have a fantastic Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is almost here. To celebrate Turkey Day, the reference staff decided to offer our deepest thoughts about the joys of Thanksgiving. Tracy kicks it off with this sweet, funny, and deeply creepy Thanksgiving story:

My mother has always been crafty, by which I mean “handy with a needle and thread,” although she is crafty in the other sense of the word, too. When I was in the first grade, she made me a pilgrim costume: black dress, white apron, and a jaunty pilgrim bonnet. Making the costume was not the problem. The problem was that I had to wear it to school.

Let’s think back: what did you wear to your elementary school’s Thanksgiving dress-up day? Oh yes, that’s right: there’s no such thing.

I was the only person wearing a pilgrim costume. The teachers thought this was delightful and made me stand not only in front of my own class and let the other kids ask me questions about being a pilgrim—I didn’t know the answers since THIS WAS NOT A PERFORMANCE ART PIECE—but in front of all the other classes in the school and let THEM ask me questions. “What is your name?” Good question. “What did you eat on the Mayflower?” Can’t help you. “How long was your journey?” Longish. Pretty long. “Did you make friends with the Indians?” Umm, probably?

Unlike the clown costume my mom made me wear for ten years (it was very blousy), after the first grade trauma, I never had to wear the costume again. A few years ago Mom sent me a Thanksgiving card. When I opened it, a Polaroid photo of me in the costume fell out. I can tell it was taken before school because I’m not yet crying. She signed it: “I’m sorry. Love, Mom”

Brandie keeps the Thanksgiving cheer coming by discussing her refusal to sidestep the big day in favor of Christmas. Here’s her story:

Thanksgiving is only a few days away, but you almost wouldn’t know it. With Christmas music already on the radio, Christmas-themed ads on t.v., and “Black Friday” sales already underway, it seems like people have been all too eager to skip right over Turkey Day. I love Christmas as much as the next person, but I’m sorry – I have to draw the line somewhere. “After Thanksgiving Sales” BEFORE Thanksgiving? That’s just wrong.

Despite the accelerated Christmas fervor, everyone knows that the Christmas season doesn’t officially start until the Big Man himself has made his official debut for the year, and that happens in front of the Macy’s at Herald Square in New York City. Watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, listening to the commentary on the floats and balloons, and nibbling on samples from our ensuing dinner feast has been an unofficial tradition in my parents’ house for years. And until the Jolly Guy in Red rolls onto my t.v. screen on Thanksgiving morning, I refuse to play into society’s attempts to sweep Thanksgiving under the rug in favor of an extended Christmas season.

You’re preaching to the choir, Brandie. I’ll take food over gifts any day of the week. Elisabeth finishes off our Thanksgiving post by offering the menu from her first Thanksgiving away from home:

I was seventeen when I spent my first Thanksgiving away from home. I was living in a small town in southern Germany and was lucky enough to be one of four English-speaking exchange students sponsored by the local Rotary group. Our collective group of host parents and sponsors wanted to make sure that we weren’t getting too homesick at the beginning of the holidays so, bless their hearts, they decided to make sure that we had a traditional Thanksgiving feast. In my memory, this is what was served:
Hähnchen – Roasted chicken
Kartoffelknödeln – Potato dumplings
Spargel – Asparagus
Kompott – Stewed fruit
Semmeln – Rolls
Bier – Well, that translates easily enough!

I remember that our amusement over our delicious traditional meal far outweighed any lingering disappointment and went a long way towards dissipating any lingering homesickness. Frohe Erntedankfest!

Well, I don’t have a Thanksgiving story, so I’ll just mention the two things I’m most thankful for. First, I’m thankful that I have so many wonderful friends, family, and coworkers in my life. Secondly, I’m thankful for the fact that over the last four years I’ve maintained an average body weight of 185 lbs. and kept my BMI at an appropriate level. It’s took a lot of hard work, but I look as trim and handsome today as I did when I was 25; it’s truly a Thanksgiving miracle.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Albania! Albania! You Border On The Adriatic...

Yesterday, my sister mentioned that it was a holiday in Albania. You might be wondering what that has to do with the price of beans, or anything else slightly relevant, but I really enjoy thinking about holidays, even those in which I don't get to participate!

{Side note} Yes, the sister has become quite the world traveler and has spent the last several months soaking up Albanian life and culture. She's been having a fabulous time over in the Balkans. Aside from occasional oddities, which I admit sound strange to my purely Western ears, Albania also has some remarkable offerings. Between the startling discoveries of sworn virgins and ongoing blood feuds, the country also boasts the town of Butrint. This ancient city is on UNESCO's World Heritage List and, for you literati, yes--Virgil mentioned it in the Aeneid ( Mother Theresa was an Albanian and Ismail Kadare was the winner of the inaugural Man Booker International Prize. One last plug? Lonely Planet named Albania as their number one country to visit in 2011. I mean, you wouldn't want to miss this, would you?
Or this?

{End Side Note}

It turns out that Albanians, whose country is 70% Muslim, were celebrating Eid ul Adha (Festival of Sacrifice.) This is one of the most important holy days of the year for Muslims. "It is a serious occasion, symbolizing the submission of each individual Muslim, and the renewal of total commitment to Allah" (credoreference.) For those of you who remember your Bible, this holy festival commemorates when Ibrahim (Abraham) was willing to sacrifice his son. I was always completely flabbergasted that Abraham was willing to do that, and this celebration underscores the pure devotion he showed to following God's will. Thankfully, a ram appeared and with God's instructions, Abraham killed it instead. Now, Muslims sacrifice a sheep (or other appropriate animal) which is called a qurban in remembrance of this act ( Interestingly, the meat is then apportioned into thirds, with part going to the family, part going to friends, and part going to the poor ( It would sure help the homeless shelters out if we all gave them 1/3 of our turkeys next week!
I hope you had an Eid Saeed (Happy Eid!) and be sure not to get mixed up in any blood feuds.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Price of Tea in China.

Earlier today a meebo patron asked where they could find pricing information on various objects. Sadly, I was unable to help them right away, but I’ve since found Grey House Publishing’s Value of a Dollar. This reference book has all sorts of prices available for different goods. It also contains average salaries for different careers and shows how much money folks spent on different products. Value of a Dollar would be a great resource for anyone who is interested in consumer patterns or price influxes in different products. Here are a few examples of some interesting figures!

In 1932 you could get a gallon of Cod Liver Oil for $1.79. (214)

In 1903 you could’ve enjoyed a whole gallon of White Line Whiskey of only $3.50. (55)

In 1968 ten cartridges of Gillette razors cost a measly $0.99. (399)

In 1981 the 1.3 cu ft GE Spacemaster microwave oven cost $689.99. (460)

So doesn’t it feel great to know that while prices will rise and fall you can always get quality help from MLC for free?

Derks, Scott and Elizabeth Derks, Tony Smith. The Value of a Dollar: Prices and Incomes in the United States. Amenia, NY:Grey House Publishing,2009.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Importance Of Being A Dude

This blog post originally appeared 7/24/2008.

While perusing the pages of The New York Public Library Desk Reference, 3rd Edition, I looked at the bottom of the page containing common crossword puzzle words and saw the following fabulous fact:
The word dude was coined by Oscar Wilde and his friends. It is a combination of the words duds and attitude.
Oscar is the original dude. He had an immeasurable amount of style; this photo from 1882 captures him in his favorite coat. Talk about strutting his stuff! Tres chic!

Oscar was dude-a-rific not only for concocting new words, but also for his ready wit. Here are a few Wilde quotes to get you through the day:

The good ended happily and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.

A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.

I can resist everything except temptation.

A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.

Appearance blinds, whereas words reveal.

Definitely not a dude who would ever misplace his car!

The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Ed. Elizabeth Knowles. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Friday, November 5, 2010

You the Man!

Not long ago I called a friend of mine to ask him if he considered himself a man. Of course he has the necessary anatomy but, I’m thinking here about the idea of a man rather than biology. What constitutes a “man” today? What phases does a person pass through before he’s considered a “man”? These types of questions. Unfortunately, this friend, like most of my friends (and my parents), refuses to answer my phone calls. So I took to the stacks to see if I could find out what makes the “modern man” a man.

The best book I found was Robert Bly’s Iron John: A Book About Men. Bly spends some time discussing the evolution of the modern man but he’s mostly concerned with helping dilemma of the “soft male” of the 1990s. Bly explains:

“In the seventies I began to see all over the country a phenomenon that we might call the 'soft male.' Sometimes even today when I look out at an audience, perhaps half the young males are what I’d call soft. They’re lovely, valuable people--I like them--they’re not interested in harming the earth or starting wars. There’s a gentle attitude toward life in their whole being and style of living.” (2-3)

Bly goes on to explain that he’s noticed a deep sadness to these men. Mr. Bly argues today’s men have been raised (neutered?) by overbearing women who’ve denied their sons access to their inner-Wildman. I won’t ruin the ending, but if you’re a man, and want the mysteries of life revealed to you, come in to MLC and check out Bly’s book.

As for the original question: what makes a man? I guess I’ll go back to my personal oracle of manhood: Doctor Heathcliff Huxtable. In all my years of watching the Cosby Show I’ve never questioned that Dr. Huxtable was manhood personified.

Bly, Robert. Iron John: A Book About Men. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

There's Only One "S" In Saving

OK, y'all. It appears that for my entire life I have been suffering from the misconception that there is such a thing as Daylight Savings Time. Well, that just isn't so. The correct name for the devilment that occurs yet again this weekend is Daylight Saving Time--no extra "s." While you try to remember where you put the directions on how to change the clock on your car radio, let me fill you in on a few other DST nuggets.
  • You remember Benjamin Franklin? Funny hair, glasses, one of the founding fathers of our country, invented things? Franklin penned an article that proposed “earlier opening and closing of shops to save the cost of lighting" while he was the American minister to France (Columbia).
  • Every spring and fall I try to remember when the big dates are. Every spring and every fall I can't remember without asking at least 20 other people who, guess what!, can't remember either. Here it is:

          I'm sure we could come up with an easy mnemonic to remember this... Tracy suggests starting with "The first Sunday of November is the day I can't remember." A gold star to whomever can find a good rhyme line for March!
  • If you venture forth to western Europe, you'll probably find that Daylight Saving Time starts the last Sunday of March and ends the last Sunday of October (Britannica). I am at a loss to explain why we can come up with standard time zones, but not a standard for saving time.
  • Daylight saving time was first attempted in modern times as a cost-saving method during war. The Germans, British, and Americans, among others, adopted this practice during WWI.
  • Americans also used Daylight Saving Time during WWII and the energy crisis of 1973-74, with many cities and states keeping a version of DST at other times while the rest of the country was not. All states except Arizona and Hawaii now follow the federal standard for DST (Columbia).
By the way, I haven't changed my car radio's clock for years. I gleefully ride about with reckless abandon for eight months of the year with the wrong time. I sure am glad I can't get a ticket for that! You try to be a bit more careful with time than me, and don't forget:

Spring Forward! Fall Back!

And you'll be fine!

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2009. Credo Reference. Web. 03 November 2010.
"daylight saving time." The Columbia Encyclopedia. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008. Credo Reference. Web. 03 November 2010.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Look BOTH Ways Before Crossing The Street

This blog post originally appeared 6/26/2008.

A few days ago I was researching Winston Churchill for a patron. The patron wanted to know about a car accident in which the Prime Minister had been involved. The answer was relatively easy to find and led to an oodle of interesting facts about this great man.

  • Churchill was unable to locate the house of a friend in New York. After fruitlessly searching for the house for an hour on one side of the street, he attempted to cross the road to look on the other side. Unfortunately, he looked right and not left! (This is, of course, is what one does in England.) He was hit by a car going about 30 MPH and was in the hospital for more than a week.
  • After this accident, a doctor prescribed "the use of alcoholic spirits at meal time...the minimum requirement to be 250 cc." (That's about one cup for all of us non-doctor types.)
  • When Theodore Roosevelt met Churchill in 1900, he said "I saw the Englishman, Winston Churchill...he is not an attractive fellow."
  • His full name was Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill.
  • He made a lecture tour of the United States with Mark Twain.
  • He was on the cover of Time magazine eight times.
  • He became an honorary U.S. citizen in 1963. (He watched this via satellite from London.)
  • He was awarded Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953.
  • When asked if he had any criticisms about the United States, Churchill replied "...toilet paper too thin, newspapers too fat."
  • He was Prime Minister twice.
Who knew?!
Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2008.
Historic World Leaders. Gale Research, 1994.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Listerine - It Can Save Your Life

Well, maybe not save it, but it can dramatically improve the quality of it, according to a 1931 advertisement.  The ad is a narrative of the story of poor Miss Nickerson, a rich, beautiful New York heiress doomed to a life of loneliness because she unknowingly suffered from halitosis.  If only she’d had Listerine.  Her life could have been so different.  There’s an important lesson to be learned here, readers – always rinse!

This is an example of just one of the many ads I found while weeding a while back.  Not all the advertisements were as dramatic as the one mentioned above, but I found plenty of personal favorites.  Here are just a few:

Indestructible Dolls
When I was a little kid, I never had to experience the horror of having a sadistic older sibling maim one of my treasured Barbies (I was the oldest, but that’s beside the point), but there are probably more than a few little girls who did have to endure that.  If only they’d been alive in 1902.  Then they would have been able to order a Minerva Indestructible Doll Head from the Sears Roebuck catalog.  Imported from Germany, these gems combined the durability of sheet metal with the “beauty of bisque”.  It’s lightweight, washable, and will not chip.  It’s also covered with “pure, wholesome paint”.  What little girl wouldn’t want to cuddle up next to that?

Join the Sears Roebuck Chapter of the Hair Club
Today, we’re constantly bombarded by advertisements for products that promise to enhance our looks or bodies in some way or another.  Apparently, this was also the case back in 1902.  Long before the advent of the Hair Club for Men (and for Women) for the follicle-challenged, there were “hair switches”, early 20th-century versions of weaves, extensions, wigs, and toupees. 

Change Your Body – No Surgery Required!
If one didn’t like the shape of her body, there was a way to change that, too.  You couldn’t walk into a surgeon’s office and request implants, but you could order a hip pad or bustle from the Sears Roebuck catalog.  When used in conjunction with a corset, bustles and hip pads gave women a curvier figure by “filling them out” in areas where they might be…lacking.  The corset shrunk the waistline and the bustle exaggerated the look by creating a flared look right below the smallest area of the woman’s waist.  

It Can Cure Everything!
One of the best sections of the Sears catalog is the one devoted to health products.  You can find a cure for everything there – mostly because nearly all the medicines claim to cure everything.  Take Dr. Hammond’s Nerve and Brain pills for example.  Though the box has “nerve and brain pills” emblazoned across it, the ad claims that the pills, “a boon for weak men,” can cure any disease for which they are intended.  Here’s the catch – the pills are “intended” for just about every ailment under the sun, including but not limited to:  low spirits; lifelessness (Lifelessness?  Really?  I wonder what the success rate was on that one); sense of goneness or emptiness of the stomach in the morning (I’m pretty sure that a good breakfast could cure that one, but I digress…); rumbling sensations in the bowels, with heat and nipping pain occasionally; short breath on exertion; cold feet; and constant feeling of dread.

Then there’s the electric belt.  That’s right – an electric belt. 

Like the nerve pills, it was supposed to be a cure-all, capable of fixing whatever was wrong with the sufferer, no matter what it was.  Cost:  $18.00.  How much is that in today’s money?  $418.68!  It sounds like a lot, but can you really put a cost on your health?

The bath cabinet falls into the miracle cure category, too.  What’s a bath cabinet, you may ask?  This is a bath cabinet:

Bathers sat enclosed in these personal saunas, while their bodies received a rejuvenating steam treatment.  According to the ad, “a five-minute bath in a Brown cabinet starts the millions of skin pores at work expelling the dirt, impurities, and poisons from the system”.  And it could all be had at just $5.25.  That’s 1902 dollars, of course.  Today, that would be roughly $122.12.  It’s not cheap, but it still seems like a pretty good deal, considering how healthy the device is supposed to keep you.

Though a great number of the products were designed to cure everything, there were a select few with narrowly tailored purposes.  There were cures for opium and morphine “habits”, and then there were Dr. Rose’s Obesity Powders.  And of course there were the beauty aids, such as this one: 

"Ladies, you can be beautiful."  When I first found this ad, I was certain that this was supposed to be some kind of dressing that you prepared and applied to your face.  After actually reading the ad, I’m not so sure: 

Arsenical solutions have utterly failed, and until a recent discovery by a French physician and chemist, the internal administration of arsenic has been attended with more or less danger ... All danger is averted in these complexion wafers, prepared by our experienced chemist, and the remedy taken in the manner directed on each box is absolutely inocuous, while the peculiar virtues of the remedy remain unimpaired and in tact.

I’m not 100% certain, but I think that means people were supposed to eat these things!  The concoction was supposed to give a woman a smooth, flawless complexion and was “harmless when used in accordance with our directions.”  So, follow the directions exactly, and get beautiful; don’t follow the directions exactly, and get dead.  Got it.  They were pretty cheap, too.  For the low, low price of 35 cents, you could risk poisoning yourself with a box of 50 wafers.  They also offered a box of 100 for 67 cents.  That’s $8.14 and $15.58, respectively, in today’s money.  If that wasn’t enough, you could go all out and get a dozen 50-count boxes for $3.30 ($76.76) and a dozen 100-count boxes for $6.00 ($139.56).  And the best thing about it?  If the wafers failed to make a woman beautiful, they would still be a good way to deal with rodents and other pests.

The Value of a Dollar: Prices and Incomes in the United States, 1860-2009. 4th Ed. New York: Grey House Publishing, 2009.

Atwan, Robert, et al. Edsels, Luckies, and Frigidaires: Advertising the American Way.  New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1979.

Sears, Roebuck and Company. The 1902 Edition of the Sears Roebuck Catalogue.  New York: Bounty Books, 1969.

Friday, October 29, 2010

An Irish-American Halloween!

This weekend thousands of children will dress up and walk door-to-door begging homeowners for candy. Halloween seems more popular than ever, and even though I’m not a big fan, I am curious to find out how all of these traditions started. I was lucky enough to find Lesley Pratt Bannatyne’s Halloween: An American Holiday, and American History. Now, before our Wiccan patrons get bent out of shape, Bannatyne is not arguing Americans invented Halloween. Instead, she’s showing how the holiday evolved in America. Her book spends little time discussing Halloween’s medieval roots, opting to focus more on how Americans have celebrated the holiday. Here are a few of my questions and the answers I was able to find:

How did the pumpkin become a popular Halloween symbol?

Bannatyne argues that once upon a time “Irish villagers” made lanterns from turnip or beet roots. Bannatyne claims, “When the Irish immigrants arrived in America, they delighted in the size and carving potential of the native pumpkin. The fat orange harvest vegetable was quickly substituted for the turnip, and the carved-out, snaggle-toothed Halloween jack-o’-lantern was born.” (78)

Why do we tolerate begging on Halloween?

While Bannatyne cannot fully explain why we allow our children to become panhandlers during Halloween, she does offer this interesting description:
The custom of begging for food from house to house on Halloween came from the old Catholic soul-cake custom. Once charitable in nature, “souling” took a popular turn as it evolved over the years. Irish Halloween begging always involved a masquerade and some sort of good-natured bribe, but who did the begging and what they were after varied from region to region.” (66)

What were weird ways people conjured spirits in Early America?

Bannatyne explains some interesting ways people tried to predict their futures:
While the men were out sounding their horns and drinking strong ale on Halloween night, young Irish women gathered and summoned up the realm of the spirit. Their concerns were similar to all who seek out the future: Would they be healthy or ill? Would they have a life of wealth or poverty? Most important of all, whom would they marry? (71).

“Cabbage and kale, unlikely magical tools that they may seem, were assumed by the Irish to possess great fortune-telling power. The foods were plentiful throughout the British Isles, and young people pulled up kale plants to judge the nature of their future spouses from the taste, the shape, and amount of dirt clinging to the root. The divination worked best if the kale was stolen; it was most telling if practiced on Halloween.” (72)

Overall, Bannatyne offers an excellent study of Halloween and a better understanding of how ethnic groups like the Irish influenced how Americans celebrate Halloween.

Bannatyne, Lesley Pratt. Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 1998.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Peanuts, Popcorn, Free Test Prep!

Psst...hey you need help with tests in nursing, fire-fighting, law enforcement, passing the GED, improving your SAT scores or many other areas of interest? If so, then take the time to access Learn-a-Test which has been provided by the Mississippi Library Commission in public libraries since 2003.

Besides practice tests for ACT, AP, CLEP, CUNY, PSAT, SAT, THEA, TOEFL, and TOEIC, Learn-a-Test also has tutorials on Business Writing (grammar, vocabulary, etc), interview skills, and resumes as well as prep for the U.S. Citizenship exam!

To register click here. Then click on Register under New User. At the Registration screen, enter a Username. Your local public library patron barcode number may be used or create your own username. Enter a password of your choice. Password must be at least six (6) characters long. Enter your password again to verify typing. If desired, enter your email address. An email address is not required to register for Learn-a-Test but does allow the system to send you your password if you do not remember what you chose. When finished, click Register.

If you have any questions about Learn-a-Test (or want to tell us all about your experience), email us at or give us a call at 877-KWIK-REF. happy testing!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wish Me Luck! (Let Me Tell You How)

This blog post originally appeared 6/6/2008.

The Reference Department just received a book that I personally believe to be one of the best ever written. The Encyclopedia of Superstitions references traditions and customs common in popular culture (like saying "bless you" to someone who has sneezed) while also giving a nod to some more, shall we say, farfetched beliefs.

•As long as at least one acorn lies on one of your home's windowsills, the house will not be struck by lightning.

•To avoid bad luck, do not wash blankets in months whose names do not contain the letter "r" (May, June, July, and August.)

•Do not pick dandelions! This will cause you to wet your bed!

•You will have bad luck for two years if a strange cat kills your pet canary.

•The best days to cut your fingernails are Monday (brings wealth) and Tuesday (brings health).

•You are about to receive a letter if you sneeze on a Wednesday.

•To get rid of a wart, rub it on a man who has fathered a child out of wedlock without letting him know what you are doing.

•It is lucky to meet a left-handed person, except on Tuesday. This is very unlucky.

Oh! My left foot is itching! Instead of scratching it, I'll just knock on wood.


Webster, Richard. The Encyclopedia of Superstitions. Llewellyn Publications, 2008.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Beware The Bathwater!

I suppose I'm feeling exceptionally ghoulish today--perhaps it's because Halloween is only a few days away?--but I have murderers on the brain. Funnily enough, while looking for something completely different, I discovered that while you can search for people by name, nationality, etc... in one of our databases called Biography Resource Center, you can also search by occupation. And guess what one of the occupations is? Of course, of course! Murderer! (Imagine filling out a job application with that as a listing: Well, from 1992-1997, I was a waitress, but then from 1997-2000, it was strictly killing.)

Naturally, I found some other oddities that I thought might be fun to share:
  • Shoko Asahara and his cult followers were the ones who set off sarin nerve gas in a Japanese subway in 1995. It killed twelve and injured thousands. In my opinion, the most bizarre part? Asahara and his sheep believed that he could "teach levitation and telepathy" and that if you were to imbibe of his bathwater one would come closer to total enlightenment (Shoko Asahara). I'm sure I would come closer to something if I were to go around drinking other people's bathwater. Enlightenment? Perhaps not.
  • Why is it that I'm always the last to know these things? Did you know that the hit TV show and the movie The Fugitive were based on a real-life case? The real Sam Sheppard was retried after ten years of imprisonment, found not guilty, and set free. His son later brought a civil suit against the state of Ohio, citing wrongful imprisonment, but lost (Sam Sheppard).
  • Margie Velma Barfield (have I ever mentioned the bully from middle school whose name was Velma?) was known as the Death Row Grandma and had a penchant for poison. It seems that she added some rat poison to several people's refreshments. She managed to put ant poison in her mother's Coca-Cola and a fiancée's beer and, while working as a private nurse, rat poison into a patient's early morning vittles (Margie Velma Barfield). Scrumptious, and definitely one of my favorites: rat poison mixed with beer certainly enhances that hoppy flavor!
  • Last but not least, one of the contestants for ickiest murderess ever is Elizabeth Bathory. Her entry reads simply thus: Killed 610 servant girls; believed human blood baths essential to retaining youth.
Yes, I definitely recommend that you NOT drink the bathwater!

"Elizabeth Bathory." Almanac of Famous People. Gale, 2007. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 25 Oct. 2010.
"Margie Velma Barfield." World of Criminal Justice. Gale, 2002. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 25 Oct. 2010.
"Sam Sheppard." World of Criminal Justice. Gale, 2002. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 25 Oct. 2010.
"Shoko Asahara." Biography Resource Center. Detroit: Gale, 2004. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 25 Oct. 2010.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Knock Knock...

This blog post originally appeared 5/30/2008.

While browsing some new reference books, my coworker came across a great entry in an encyclopedia about the Great Depression: the fads of the 1930's! Times might have been hard, but read on to find out how struggling Americans spent all that free time.

1.Eating contests: including pies, EGGS, clams, oysters, spaghetti, and hot dogs

2.Rock-a-thons: rock continuously in rocking chairs without falling asleep!

3.Marathon Dancing: dance the longest total time to win a prize

4.Kissathons: stay lip-to-lip for the longest amount of time

5.Tree and flagpole sitters: began in the 20's but carried over; attempt to remain on top of pole for weeks, even months; partner on the ground collected money from spectators

6.Bike races: designed for setting records for the longest continuous time on a bike; usually took 6 days

7.Rollerskating derby: 4,000 mile roller skating race; also usually took 6 days

8.Chain letters: scratch off first person's nameon the list, send that person a dime, and mail out 5 more copies of letter; if it remained unbroken, original sender stood to amass a fortune in dimes

9.Goldfish swallowing: began when a Harvard freshman swallowed a live goldfish on a dare, Boston reporters showed up, and the news coverage resulted in college students repeating the stunt on their own campuses (one MIT student swallowed 42 in a row!)

10.Knock-knock jokes:

[Set Up] Knock knock.

[Response] Who's there?

[Teaser] Dwayne

[Response] Dwayne who?

[Punch line] Dwayne the bathtub, I'm drowning!

It's good to know that in the midst of all the struggles of the Depression and the threat of a second World War, Americans still found the energy to be silly and creative.

Young, William H. and Nancy K. Young. The Great Depression in America: A Cultural Encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

You Are Entering A Dimension of Sight, Sound, And Math

The other day, Tracy and I became completely sidetracked from our discussion about how to tackle our next reference request. Neither one of us could determine the proper subject/verb agreement for a sentence using a phrase containing a percentage. I turned to the Credo Reference database for answers. (By the way, did you know that if you're a Mississippi resident, you have access to this awesome database for free through MAGNOLIA? Be sure to go check out what's available here!) Credo definitely came through:
Percent can take a singular or a plural verb, depending on the intended focus. Thus both Eighty percent of the legislators are going to vote against the bill or Eighty percent of the legislature is set to vote the bill down are possible, but in the second sentence, the group of legislators is considered as a singular body, not as a number of individuals. The word percent without a following prepositional phrase may take either a singular or plural verb; both are acceptable.
I love vague grammar that allows me to be footloose and fancy-free in determining verb endings. It makes me feel downright decadent!

In a completely unrelated math question, my neighbor, who, funnily enough, is also a reference librarian, and I were watching an old Twilight Zone episode called A Game of Pool last night. (It stars Jack Klugman before he was in The Odd Couple or Quincy M.E.--definitely worth checking out!) About five minutes into the episode, one of the men mentioned that he bought his pool cue for $600 sometime before he "died" in 1959. You just can't throw that kind of thing out into a room of reference librarians and not expect some feedback! We all know about how things used to cost less back in the dark ages and that the value of "x" amount of money in the 1950s would be a vastly different number today. Neighbor Reference Librarian and I both immediately determined that The Value of a Dollar needed to be consulted.

According to this old reference standby, this formula needed to be used:
$1 in 1955 equaled $7.75 in 2007.

2007 was "the most recent year with reliable comparisons" according to The Value of a Dollar. Plug in your numbers and presto!
$600 in 1955 equaled $4,650 in 2007.

Now that is one snazzy pool stick! Now, I wonder what percent of Rod Serling fans own pool cues and what ratio of them own pool sticks worth over, say, $1,000.... Too much?
"percent." The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. Credo Reference. Web. 14 October 2010.
Derks, Scott. The Value of a Dollar. Amenia, NY: Grey House Publishing. 2009. Print.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bored Much?

This blog post originally appeared 5/23/2008.

If you ever find yourself wondering what you're going to read next, never fear, we have your next reading list: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. This is a quirky book full of works of critical acclaim as well as cult classics. The more than one hundred international critics that compiled this book recommend everything from The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan to Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

Here are a few more examples to further whet your literary appetite:

Pre-1700: Oroonoko; or, The Royal Slave by Aphra Behn

1700's: The Female Quixote; or, The Adventures of Arabella by Charlotte Lennox

1800's: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

1900's: The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

2000's: White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Each book entry includes short bibliographical information, a brief synopsis, and related artwork, if possible. This book is part of the reference collection at the Mississippi Library Commission. You may search our online catalog here.

We also invite you to check out the following article from the New York Times, which inspired this blog post:
Volumes to Go Before You Die by William Grimes.

Happy Reading!


Boxall, Peter. 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

Monday, October 11, 2010

Oh, Mother, Look--A Lady Angel.

Elisabeth found this awesome ad while looking through some microfilm last week. I wish the quality were better, but that’s just because I’ve become spoiled by the 21st century. But could the 21st century bring us this?

Only in a John Waters movie!

The text is smallish, so here are the highlights:

Return Sensational Match
You Must See Horror Face
Tonight at 8:30 PM
City Auditorium – Jackson, MS
Out of This World Comes the Only One Alive


The Lady Angel, Only One Alive

I’m going to have to do some research and come back with a longer post about the Lady Angel, but a quick search revealed this photo is available on eBay:

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Little (Third Person) Perspective.

If there’s one thing I truly love about media personalities it’s their ability to effortlessly go third person. Take our good friend Rick Sanchez for example. When asked if he would consider working for CNN again, Mr. Sanchez said, “absolutely. CNN is a wonderful, wonderful organization. CNN didn’t screw up. Rick Sanchez screwed up.” This response made me wonder why some people refer to themselves in the third person. Luckily, Jesse Kelley had time to search MAGNOLIA and find an article that offers some perspective.

Dorthe Berntsen and David C. Rubin’s article “Emotion and Vantage Point in Autobiographical Memory” looks into why certain perspectives are used when reliving certain memories. Here’s an example: let’s say you’ve been asked to remember your most severe punishment. Now, when you have this memory, do you see yourself being punished as an outsider or do you remember the punishment as it happened? Without question I see the punishment from a third person perspective. I can see me jumping around while my mother chased me brandishing a belt. What’s reassuring is that this is typical. Berntsen and Rubin state “findings from other studies also suggest that individuals with more severe reactions in response to traumatic events tend to have more observer perspective associated with their memories of those events” (1196). Basically, remembering unpleasant events in the third person perspective helps the victim create distance from the event.

So, when we see Rick Sanchez speaking about himself in the third person it’s not because he’s a narcissistic jerk. Well, maybe he is, but what he’s mostly doing is describing a third person perspective memory. What I’m saying is Rick Sanchez feels bad about what Rick Sanchez did and to distance himself from his actions, he’s blaming Rick Sanchez. It’s that simple.

Berntsen, Dorthe, and David C. Rubin. 2006. "Emotion and vantage point in autobiographical". Cognition & Emotion. 20 (8): 1193-1215.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Uncle Sam Wants You (To Get In The Water!)

A few weeks ago, I had to search through the microfilm for an article about a US transport ship that had hit a mine back in 1942. While I had to spend a little more time than usual trying to find the article, it was well worth it in the end. At first, there was some confusion as to when the ship actually sank. It turns out that although the ship went down towards the end of October, it was not released in the media until six weeks later. That's a far cry from our instant news of today, and yet, there were still journalists "embedded" with the troops.

The 22,000 ton ocean liner hit a friendly mine and started sinking quickly. The captain of the ship managed to run it aground on a coral reef (!) and proceeded to evacuate the ship in a most orderly fashion. All of the soldiers had been sent to quarters, and there they waited, playing music and passing the time, until their sections were called. Then they joined the throngs that were doing this:

Have I ever mentioned my extreme fear of heights? I'm not sure I could have climbed down the side of this ship! It seems that several of the soldiers had a bit of trouble getting off the big boat, too.
The rescue boat that carried the writer to the ship's side found one young soldier clambering down a rope that was fifteen feet short of the water. He was very calm. He held to the rope with his two hands and looked down at us.
"Jump," our coxswain shouted.
"I can't swim," retorted the soldier.
"Jump, we'll catch you," we all shouted.
"Well, I don't know," the soldier mused. "I can't swim."
A stream of profanity was directed at him, but he swung there gently, listening us out, apparently too polite to interrupt. Then he said:
"Well, all right, but I can't swim a stroke." Then he began to count.
"One," he said; "two, three," and paused.
"Well, here goes," he shouted, counting, "four, five, six, and one for good measure."
When he got to "nine," he let go and hit just off our bow. He sank like a stone. We waited, boat hook ready for him to come up. It seemed he never would come up, but finally he broke water and we hauled him on board. Then we found out he had jumped with a fully loaded cartridge belt around his waist and had just plummeted on down. When he revived, spluttering, he protested: "I told you fellows I couldn't swim." (Troops, NYT)
I wonder what he was going to do with that fully loaded cartridge belt in the ocean. Perhaps it was his special fully loaded cartridge belt?

What could have been a total disaster resulting in large loss of life transpired with only two deaths. Or wait, was it three? Or maybe four... Initial reports (from 1942) said that as many as four or five men died, but looking at information from after the war points to only two men out of over five thousand that died ( What a beautiful miracle to come out of this:
Wolfert, Ira. "Troops on Lost Ship Sing During Rescue." New York Times. 16 Dec. 1942: A1. Print.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Banned Books Week in the Time of Cholera.

For my turn at Banned Books Week, I could take the easy way out and say that Go Ask Alice is my favorite banned book, since I wrote about it a few months ago. And while I read it and read it and re-read it some more growing up, the fact that the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez have been challenged is more upsetting to me. Sure, Alice’s “diary” contains sex and drugs (I can’t remember if rock and roll is involved), but those are elements that parents might object to. But Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, my all-time favorite book? I object!

Love in the Time of Cholera opens with the best first line of a novel ever (I dismiss you, Ishmael): “The scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” Who could resist that? A parent in Montgomery County, MD who said it “should be removed from all county schools because it contained ‘perverse sexual acts’” (65), that’s who. The plot concerns the unrequited love of Florentino Aziza for Fermina Daza, and his devotion to her over the span of his entire life. More than that, however, is the absolutely gorgeous language. For example, there is this:

To him she seemed so beautiful, so seductive, so different from ordinary people, that he could not understand why no one was as disturbed as he by the clicking of her heels on the paving stones, why no one else's heart was wild with the breeze stirred by the sighs of her veils, why everyone did not go mad with the movements of her braid, the flight of her hands, the gold of her laughter. He had not missed a single one of her gestures, not one of the indications of her character, but he did not dare approach her for fear of destroying the spell.

It’s a very dense, somewhat difficult book that requires a mature reader to understand it—this factor alone should discourage the parent of a younger child from worrying that the child will be warped by reading it, as you have to understand it to keep reading. However, it is much easier to follow than One Hundred Years of Solitude, for which Garcia Marquez won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1982; I had to make a family tree and keep it in the front of my copy while I was reading in order to keep everyone straight. I am glad I did, though, because had I given up, I would’ve missed the part where Remedios the Beauty floats up to heaven—just one of the amazing moments of magic realism where something extraordinary is handled as the ordinary. One Hundred Years of Solitude has also been challenged on the claims that the book “was ‘garbage being passed off as literature’” (65).

Flipping through Robert P. Doyle’s Banned Books (which other staff members have referenced this week as well), there are tons of other fantastic books that I love that have been challenged: Native Son, The Catcher in the Rye, Brideshead Revisited, Song of Solomon, The Sun Also Rises, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Spoon River Anthology, Where the Sidewalk Ends, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gilly Hopkins, the Harry Potter series, Madonna’s Sex (I’m kidding!), The Headless Cupid, and My Darling, My Hamburger.

Librarians want to bring awareness to book challenges during Banned Books Week because we feel that information ought to be available to whoever seeks it. It is a parent’s responsibility to decide what is or isn’t appropriate for their child, and seeking to remove a book from a school or public library punishes the whole community.

Now it’s your turn: what’s your favorite banned book?

Doyle, Robert P. Banned Books. ALA, 2007.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Are You There God? It's Me, Elisabeth.

Welcome back to our ongoing celebration of intellectual freedom during this year's Banned Book Week! Way back when, when I was in fifth or sixth grade, I read Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. I remember loving the book and identifying closely with the main character, but have since forgotten much about it. The book centers on the titular six-grader, her confusion about God (Her father is Jewish, her mother is Catholic.), and her clique's fascination with their developing bodies. (I ended up reading a few synopses of the book to refresh my memory. I'm not telling how long it's been since I was in middle school, but this book was published in 1970! No, it hasn't been that long!) Since 1970, Are You There, God? It's Me Margaret has been challenged, and in some cases removed, from libraries in Alabama, Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

It turns out that I had forgotten most of the plot surrounding the religious issues. I do, however, remember many of the interactions between Margaret and her friends-their exclusive club, The Four Preteen Sensations; buying a first bra; waiting to see if menstruation would ever begin-and I wonder if it's because my life, along with so many other pre-teen girls was so similar. No, I didn't have to wear belted sanitary pads, and no, I didn't come from a household where more than one religious background was present. I was just an ordinary girl trying to get through those awkward years that everyone goes through. Judy Blume's willingness to delve into the minds, lifestyles, and culture of tweens and teens, and the ease in which she does it, is the crux of the appeal of not only this, but so many of her books.

So, why have librarians in twelve states had to deal with challenges over a book that is beloved by millions of pre-teen girls? According to Banned Books by Robert P. Doyle, complainants have described it as "sexually offensive and amoral", being "built around just two themes: sex and anti-Christian behavior", and "profane, immoral, and offensive" (26). I was fortunate enough to hear Judy Blume speak in a webinar entitled Defending the Right to Read a few days ago. When she spoke about censorship, she bemoaned the fact that instead of using books as conversation starters on hot button issues, many adults are afraid that when children read, they will commit every off-base act printed in black and white. This quote is from her website:
I believe that censorship grows out of fear, and because fear is contagious, some parents are easily swayed. Book banning satisfies their need to feel in control of their children's lives. This fear is often disguised as moral outrage. They want to believe that if their children don't read about it, their children won't know about it. And if they don't know about it, it won't happen.
This book, like many, many others, formed a seminal part of my years growing up. I'd like to send out a bif "thank you" to the librarian who recommended it. Also, I know you're dying to know: does the Mississippi Library Commission own a copy of Are You There, God? It's Me Margaret? You betcha--in English and Spanish!

Doyle, Robert P. Banned Books. American Library Association, 2007. Print.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

1984 in 1981.

This semester we have an intern, Jennifer, who is working in the Library Services division. Because I am all about inclusion, I asked Jennifer to write a short blog post about her favorite banned book while she was here yesterday. Here's what she wrote:

George Orwell's 1984 was challenged in 1981 by Jackson County, Florida, because it was "pro-commmunist and contained explicit sexual matter" (p. 69).

The book, published in 1949, is set in a future anti-utopian world. The main character Winston Smith has to watch his every action and word to not anger Big Brother in the totalitarian society. Everyone dreads Room 101, since all who enter never come back out. The place is surrounded by screens and microphones in order for Big Brother to watch and listen to everyone. The news media, NEWSPEAK, is part of Big Brother and influences people to not think for themselves. Winston tries his best to avoid being caught by the Thought Police; however, he commits thoughtcrime and is forced in to Room 101.

I read the book in eleventh grade, and honestly, I barely remember the sexually explicit content. Orwell's themes are so strong, the book continuously has you thinking about them rather than focusing on the sexual matter. And believe me, the furthur you read, the more the beginning makes sense, but in the end you are still thinking of the themes and how they relate to current day matters. Also, throughout the book, you may think of "what-ifs" for your society. With that being said, if you suffer from paranoia, I don't recommend this book.

I do not believe the book is pro-communist, but more of a warning to watch out for social organizations (not necessarily a type of government) seeking to gain full control. Also, with NEWSPEAK, Orwell gives warning to not believe everything you see and hear in the media.

So if you're wondering if Winston is able to escape Room 101, head to your local library and check this book out.

Doyle, Robert P. Banned Books: 2000 Resource Book. Chicago: American Library Association, 2000.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Banned Books from My Childhood

As I contemplated which book I should write about in recognition of Banned Books Week, I realized I needed a little help. Enter the Banned Books Resource Guide by Robert P. Doyle. I consulted the 2007 edition of the guide, which lists 1,724 books that have been challenged and/or removed from libraries at some point. As I browsed the extensive list, I ran across some authors who were childhood favorites of mine, including R.L. Stine and Louis Sachar. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of these two before, but their books were wildly popular when I was in elementary and middle school back in the early and mid-1990s. I’d never looked at the banned book list before, and I was surprised to find them there. I’d read them as a child, and I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to ban them. But as I spent more time thinking about them and familiarizing myself with their plots again, I could see how some parents might have problems with their kids reading them.

Let me tell you a little about the books. Two of the banned books are Louis Sachar’s Sideways Stories from Wayside School and its sequel Wayside School is Falling Down. There’s a third book, Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, but it didn’t make the list. The books are a collection of short stories about the students, a school that was accidentally built sideways, with one classroom on each floor so that the school ends up being 30 stories high.  The stories in the books are laugh-out-loud funny, and many feature students dealing with supernatural situations or other weird scenarios. According to the Banned Books Resource Guide, Sideways Stories was challenged in Arizona in 1992 for showing the dark side of religion through the occult, the Devil, and Satanism. I don’t remember there being any mentions of Satan in the book, but there is a teacher who turns her students into apples, if that counts. Wayside School, the sequel, was removed from a list of suggested readings for an elementary reading program in Wisconsin in 1995 because the book contains passages condoning destruction of school property, disgraceful manners, disrespectful representation of professionals, improper English, and promotion of peer pressure.

The reasons for challenging Sachar’s books seem like a reach, but I can’t say that about R.L. Stine’s books. Stine’s books, most notably those from his very popular "Fear Street" and "Goosebumps" series, are horror/thriller novels. While the "Goosebumps" books often feature pre-teens in supernatural or fantasy situations, the "Fear Street" books feature older teens and usually revolve around murder mysteries. Books from both series have been challenged several times. The "Goosebumps" series was challenged throughout the 1990s for featuring: satanic symbolism, disturbing scenes and dialogue, satanic gestures, descriptions of dogs as menacing and attacking, spells or chants, violence, vandalism, graphic description of an ugly mask, demonic possession, promoting mischief, reference to Satan and his goals, a disturbing scene describing a death, a scene that tells of a child disappearing from a birthday party, graphic content, and references to the occult.  It was also challenged because "children under the age of 12 may not be able to handle the frightening content of the books."

The "Fear Street" books had a tendency to get gory, so I guess it really shouldn’t be a surprise that some parents might take issue with them, especially if younger kids got a hold of them. There’s a reason that Stine has been regarded as the “Stephen King of children’s literature.” They often include vivid descriptions of murders and/or murder scenes. Some of them are real chillers. Interestingly, though, the challenges to the series aren't necessarily because of the violence.  While several "Fear Street" titles were challenged at an elementary school library in Arkansas because they include graphic descriptions of boys intimidating and killing girls, one book was removed from a Georgia middle school library in 2003 because the book "deals with complex issues teenagers confront."

The fact that some adults have issues with these books hasn’t stopped kids and young adults from reading them. Sachar and Stine were popular with kids when I was younger, and they’re still popular with kids today. Some of the action may be intense, and I can see the logic behind some of the challenges, especially where Stine is concerned.  "Goosebumps" is meant for middle-schoolers, so the argument could be made that the idea of a controlling, talking dummy in Night of the Living Dummy might be a little scary for younger kids.  And while "Fear Street" seems advanced for the elementary set in both tone and topic, some of the kids may be mature enough to handle reading about psychotic ghosts and serial killer cheerleaders.  But the individual parents should make the decision about what’s appropriate for their kids. It doesn’t seem fair that one person or group can make that decision for everyone.

Doyle, Robert P. Banned Books: 2007 Resource Book, American Library Association, 2007.
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