Tuesday, July 24, 2012
In centuries past Londoners fled the city in summer months to escape the plague. This year grumpy Londoners are fleeing to escape the chaos of the Olympics. Complaining is Londoners’ favorite pastime and the Olympics is supplying plenty of material. The crowds, the traffic disruptions, the security excesses – missiles on top of apartment buildings! – and worst, the abomination of a ban on food vendors selling the iconic British food, chips, because McDonalds has a monopoly on “french fries.” Even the weather, a reliable staple of London grumbling, is proving worse than usual. As I have learned from several Londoners recently, instead of enjoying the opportunity to host the premier international sports event with pride, they are leaving town for the duration.
I must admit as a former Londoner I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the Olympics myself. That was until I learned that the theme of the opening ceremony, Isle of Wonders, is inspired by English literature, specifically the pastoral literature of England’s rural past. Directed by Danny Boyle, the ceremony will begin with the ringing of a 27 ton bell inscribed with Caliban’s words from The Tempest: “Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises.” Twelve horses, three cows, two goats, ten chickens, ten ducks, nine geese, seventy sheep and three sheepdogs will participate in the spectacle. So now the noises we hear are the complaints of animal lovers afeard that the experience will cause undue stress to the animals. The entire ceremony has become a focus of complaint and controversy before it has even been staged, just another topic for London grumbling.
Reading all about it at The Guardian I was inspired to recall some of my favorite books and writers of rural England. The classic works of Thomas Hardy and George Eliot evoke English country life as it was in the 19th century, both a rural idyll and a place of hardship and tragedy. My own personal favorites are Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd and Eliot’s Adam Bede. The Guardian article mentions the poetry of John Clare and Edward Thomas as specific inspirations for the Olympic ceremony. Both can be read in any good English poetry anthology. Check the library shelves in Dewey Decimal number 821. John Clare is the subject of a recent novel short-listed for the Booker Prize, The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds. Set in rural Essex, it is based on the true story of Clare’s descent into madness and the time he spent in an experimental lunatic asylum. The author, also a poet, lyrically evokes the surrounding natural world that inspired Clare’s writing.
In a lighter vein, the classic comedy Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons is always a delight to return to. Set in the Sussex countryside in the 1930’s, the novel satirizes the doom and gloom genre of rural fiction epitomized by Wuthering Heights and a host of lesser imitators. Hilarity ensues when Flora Poste, a young London socialite, is orphaned and goes to live with her farming relatives, the eccentric Starkadder clan. Rachel Cusk delivers a more recent satire of the genre in The Country Life, winner of the Whitbread Prize. Here a modern Jane Eyre desiring to “exist in a state of no complexity whatever” leaves London for a job as a nanny on a Sussex farm. Needless to say her expectations prove far from the reality in this very funny novel. In non-fiction who can resist James Herriot’s books about a country vet based on his own experiences in the Yorkshire Dales. A less well-known book about contemporary rural life is David Kennard’s A Shepherd’s Watch, a memoir about life on a Devon farm with the author’s working sheepdogs.
For insight into just why Londoners might be curmudgeonly about the upcoming ceremonies check out this new book about the London character, Londoners: the Days and Nights of London Now by Craig Taylor. The subtitle says it all: “as told by those who love it, hate it, live it, left it, and long for it.” As one who left it and sometimes longs for it I shall be sitting in front of the television for the Olympic opening ceremony to see just how the director of Slumdog Millionaire interprets rural England for our times.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
In our library collection we have many folk and fairy tales in a variety of formats and languages, as well as fiction inspired by fairy tales, and books dissecting them. But, once again, the Web can do much to expand upon what is currently available. One site that I think is particular informative and beautiful is SurLaLune Fairytales. This facinating site features forty-nine annotated fairy tales, including their histories, similar tales across cultures, modern interpretations and over 1,500 illustrations by some of the greatest illustrators of the 19th and 20th centuries. You can also read over 1,600 folktales and fairy tales from around the world in more than forty full-text eBooks. These are organized by geographical area as well as under headings such as "Important Authors", "Critical Texts" and "Fiction and Poetry Collections". Sadly these don't seem to be downloadable to reading devices and must be read on the computer screen. Librarians and teachers should note that the site also provides story time resources. The SurLaLune Blog presents daily postings that discuss fairy tales in popular culture and academia and more.
For more articles, news events, reviews and pop culture tie-ins, I really recommend reading the British newspaper The Guardian which has not only one of the best book review sections of any newspaper on the web, but has a regular section on fairy tales. It makes me proud to be born English, it does.
Over the years, much has been written about fairy tales and how they reflect the human psyche. One of the most famous, and sometimes controversial, books is The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettleheim. Last year, I read a wonderful opinion piece in the New York Times by Valerie Gribben, a fourth year medical student, who rediscovered fairy tales as a way to cope with the stresses of work.
"Fairy tales are, at their core, heightened portrayals of human nature, revealing, as the glare of injury and illness does, the underbelly of mankind. Both fairy tales and medical charts chronicle the bizarre, the unfair, the tragic. And the terrifying things that go bump in the night are what doctors treat at 3 a.m. in emergency rooms."
It's a good job that I saved that, because it fits right in here.
It's a wise person that realizes that fairy tales should not be dismissed as a part of childhood, but still have a lot to tell us about ourselves and the world around us for as long as we live.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Pictures of the recent storm June 29, 2012 Derecho photo by Samuel Shea, shelf cloud from the developing derecho in Chicago on June 29, 2012 taken in Woodridge, a western suburb of Chicago. Image Credit: NWS Meteorologist Samuel Shea, and used here with his permission. To see a larger version of this picture, click here.
Radar graphics of the derecho as it rolled over Maryland, Washington DC, and Virginia. Click on these to view larger version.
The screenshots above were taken from radar gifs from the CIMSS Satelite Blog Derecho moving southeastward from the Midwest to the East Coast
. There are a number of graphics and animated gifs there that you can view to watch the storm develop and roll over us. Photos there are in the public domain, but all credit
goes to the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS), University of Wisconsin – Madison, USA.
For even more detailed images, see the graphics and videos of the June 29 storm at EarthSky
. You'll find another dramatic photo at the NASA Earth Observatory
, with a description of what a derecho is, and why this one was so powerful and devastating:
The storm was what meteorologists call a derecho. Deriving its name from the Spanish term for “straight ahead,” derecho storms generally blow in one direction. They do not swirl like tornadoes, but they can cause tornado-style damage. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that the wind gusts in the June 29 derecho rivaled those of an EF-1 tornado.
The June 29 derecho occurred along the boundary of two air masses. In the north, the air was stable and dry. In the south, the air was unstable and moist. And hot. The Capital Weather Gang reported that, before the derecho began, areas affected by the southern air mass were facing record-high temperatures—109 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) in Nashville, Tennessee, and Columbia, South Carolina; and 104 degrees (40 degrees Celsius) in Washington, DC. This hot, humid air provided fuel for the windstorm, which pulled the air skyward, then returned it in violent downdrafts.
Derechos have occurred before, and were actually given their name in the late nineteenth century. They occur most often in the Midwestern and Great Lakes regions of the United States, between May and July. To qualify as a derecho, a storm must cause damage over 240 miles (400 kilometers) and pack wind gusts of at least 58 miles (93 kilometers) per hour. The June 29 derecho damage extended over a much greater length, and the storm brought wind gusts of more than 90 miles (145 kilometers) per hour. The June 29 storm did not just qualify as a derecho. It was, according to the Capital Weather Gang, “one of the most destructive complexes of thunderstorms in memory.”
The NOAA-NWS-NCEP Storm Prediction Center web site has a Derecho Information page, including the July 1995 derechos, one of which leveled over five million trees in Minnesota. There is a lot of information on the Derecho Information page, including excellent graphics that demonstrate how a derecho works.
There are a number of weather related websites filled with useful information. One of my favorites is not one that follows the daily weather, but that follows cloud formations, The Cloud Appreciation Society, and particularly their Photo Gallery. They feature a photo of the month, and a place to submit your own photo. My favorite is just browsing through the photo slide shows. The photo collection comes from submissions from around the entire world.
These days the library collection includes the internet. If you need help finding information on the internet, be sure to ask your public librarian. We have lots of experience and training in how to look and especially important, where to look to find answers.
Wednesday, July 04, 2012
Having worked for Montgomery County Public Libraries for almost 20 years, I'm definitely a fan of libraries, books, and reading in general. A literary sampling for those seeking something different (summary is followed by where in the library you can find the book):
* "A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess. A vicious fifteen-year-old "droog" is the central character of this 1963 classic, whose stark terror was captured in Stanley Kubrick's magnificent film of the same title. In Anthony Burgess's nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends' social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex to "redeem" him the novel asks, "At what cost?" READING LIST
* "48 Laws of Power" by Robert Greene. Greene has created an heir to Machiavelli's Prince, espousing principles such as, everyone wants more power; emotions, including love, are detrimental; deceit and manipulation are life's paramount tools. Anyone striving for psychological health will be put off at the start, but the authors counter, saying "honesty is indeed a power strategy," and "genuinely innocent people may still be playing for power." Amoral or immoral, this compendium aims to guide those who embrace power as a ruthless game, and will entertain the rest. 303.3 GRE
* "The Trial" by Franz Kafka. Written in 1914, The Trial is one of the most important novels of the twentieth century: the terrifying tale of Josef K., a respectable bank officer who is suddenly and inexplicably arrested and must defend himself against a charge about which he can get no information. Whether read as an existential tale, a parable, or a prophecy of the excesses of modern bureaucracy wedded to the madness of totalitarianism, Kafka's nightmare has resonated with chilling truth for generations of readers. READING LIST
* "Why We get Fat - and What to Do About It" by Gary Taubes. An eye-opening, paradigm-shattering examination of what makes us fat. In theNew York Timesbest sellerGood Calories, Bad Calories,acclaimed science writer Gary Taubes argues that certain kinds of carbohydrates - not fats and not simply excess calories - have led to our current obesity epidemic. Now he brings that message to a wider, nonscientific audience in this exciting new book. Persuasively argued, straightforward, practical, and with fresh evidence for Taubes's claim,Why We Get Fatmakes his critical argument newly accessible. Taubes reveals the bad nutritional science of the last century-none more damaging than the "calories-in, calories-out; model of why we get fat-and the good science that has been ignored, especially regarding insulin's regulation of our fat tissue. He also answers key questions: Why are some people thin and others fat? What roles do exercise and genetics play in our weight? What foods should we eat or avoid? Concluding with an easy-to-follow diet,Why We Get Fatis an invaluable key to understanding an international epidemic and a guide to improving our own health. 613.712 TAU
More to come...Bon Appetit!
Montgomery County Public Libraries