National Independent Retailer Month

by Eric Haggart

Eric Haggart

Eric Haggart is our guest contributor to this Shelf Life in the Mountains. Eric writes for the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber recently moved into a new location at 98 Hyatt Road, Franklin.

The month of July is National Independent Retailer Month, and a majority of our member businesses are just that, independent retailers. Being a member of the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce is more than just putting your business’ name in a guide book and on a website. Being a member of the Chamber puts you in a group of local businesses that are all striving towards the same goal: success! By becoming a member of the Franklin Chamber of Commerce, you join a vast pool of resources from which all of our members draw ideas, energy, and networking. The popular quote from Aristotle,  “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”, resonates in the membership of the Chamber. What goods or services one of our members may not offer, another might, and vice versa, allowing customers to keep their dollars local, energizing the local economy and putting more people to work.

Our searchable database of Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce members is here: FACC Member Businesses

Members are highlighted in our information area

The Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce is a non profit organization working to build a healthy economy, improve the area’s quality of life, promote the business interests of our members, and provide tools for your business’ success. One huge advantage to the Franklin Chamber of Commerce is that we’re also home to Franklin’s Welcome Center. Visitors and locals come in looking for information about things to do, places to shop, eat, and stay. Being a member of the Chamber gives you exposure that you won’t get trying to navigate a target audience with a much more involved advertising budget. The Chamber of Commerce also seeks out advertising in regional publications, giving readers a pathway to getting more information about Franklin, exposing them to our website, and driving more customers right to your door.

Tying all of these benefits together, our new facility has provided a more immersive experience for people coming to the area who are looking for restaurants, local shops, and activities. In addition to our “brick and mortar” location, the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce reaches out to interact with our members in many of the most popular social media platforms. A growing presence on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more, we interact with not only potential visitors, but also with our members who participate in these platforms as well. Sharing upcoming events, specials, dining, lodging, as well as giving our members spotlights and features, puts them in front of even larger audiences than ever before.

By joining other area independent retailers in the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce, you become part of a business community that thrives and succeeds as a whole. Our role in that process is to help facilitate interaction between local residents and visitors, by guiding them to our members to meet their needs. In so doing, the money that is spent locally helps to foster economic growth and prosperity for our members and their employees, which in turn, provides a successful environment for small businesses to thrive.

To request information about becoming a member of the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce, follow the link here – Membership Information & Benefits

Finally, the Fontana Regional Library has resources to support independent retailers, such as these 3 titles (and 495 more):

Managing your business to minimize disruption [electronic resource] : a guide for small businesses in North Carolina.

The great equalizer : how Main Street capitalism can create an economy for everyone / David M. Smick.

How to start your very first business / from the producers of Warren Buffett’s Secret Millionaire’s Club, with Julie Merberg and Sarah Parvis.

With access to the resources of NC Cardinal,  there are over 1200 more titles about this subject available in eBook and print.

Audiobooks I Have Managed To Love

I have a difficult time listening to audiobooks. Usually when I’m driving I listen to music, and when I’m doddering about the house pretending to clean I listen to podcasts. For some reason, audiobooks fail to hold my attention long enough for me to finish them. However, since I do spend a lot of time in the car, and I will never ever ever ever actually be able to sit down and read all of the books on my to-read list, I keep trying with the audiobooks. I have started many. Here are a few that I have actually finished.

One of the audiobooks I listened to on a recent road trip is Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. Stevenson is the founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, a non-profit organization that works to protect and defend of the rights of those who have been unfairly punished and abused by this country’s criminal justice system. Just Mercy weaves his own life story in with the story of EJI’s founding, successes, and a few failures. This book is not a light “read” by any means – in fact, it’s quite disturbing, even with hopeful moments and joys interspersed throughout. Stevenson does not gloss over any of the negative experiences he has had working in the courts, but he does end with some thoughtful observations about what like-minded people can do about the problems he presents in the book. Listening to the audiobook is especially riveting since it is read by the author himself, making all the stories that much more personal. I listened to it on a trip to Alabama (of all places) and it was like he was sitting in the passenger seat the whole time. The only possible downside to listening to this one on a road trip is that I found myself sobbing a few times while zipping down the interstate, which could be hazardous.

Another fascinating non-fiction listen is The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley, an encouraging exploration of our capacity to survive disaster. Ripley tells the stories of people who have lived through such disasters as the collapsing of the twin towers on September 11, stampedes in Mecca, and massive fires. Most interesting to me are her explanations of our physiological and neurological responses as we’re in the midst of chaos that could kill us. I came away from this listening experience with a little more confidence that, should I find myself in the midst of disaster, my body and animal brain may have the ability to get me out of it alive. (On a side note, if you’re interested in the body’s response to trauma, check out Bessel Van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. I’m in the middle of reading the book-with-pages version and it’s also fascinating, particularly Van der Kolk’s insights into the brain’s capacity to heal. I have a feeling I’ll be writing a blog about it in the near future.)

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Not really the Mr. Fox in question, but cute. Quite cute.

Veering from the non-fiction, one of the most delightful audiobooks I’ve listened to is Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox (Overdrive audiobook link here.) By delightful, I don’t mean lighthearted and fun – it’s Oyeyemi’s take on the Bluebeard folktale about a man who tends to murder his wives. The novel is written like a series of short stories about the same characters that jump back and forth in time, and one day I intend to sit down with the book and figure out how she was able to write such a complicated story in a seamless way that just really makes sense. In fact, I did have to finish this one with the book version since my e-audiobook automatically returned itself before I could finish listening – it reads just as well as it listens. (If you’re into the whole modern fairy tale thing, I also recommend Boy, Snow, Bird, Oyeyemi’s take on Snow White.)

Book Based on a Fairy Tale | 30 Books to Read For the 2016 Reading ...
I’m not gonna lie – I was initially drawn to this book by its cover.

I’ve been leaning heavily on podcasts and haven’t tried any audiobooks in recent weeks, but I have a couple more non-fiction titles on their way to me thanks to inter-library resource sharing. (Aren’t public libraries amazing and wonderful?) If you have any recommendations, please share them!

Three childhood books that changed my life

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I’ve always been a voracious reader (I started reading when I was 3), and what I read helped to shape my world. While I was in library school I took several courses dealing with children’s literature, and that spurred me to think about some of the books that most influenced me in my formative years. I’m sure the list is different for everyone, and it was difficult to narrow it down, but here is my top-three list: The Enchanted Castle (1907) by E. Nesbit, Freckles (1904) by Gene Stratton-Porter, and Daddy-Long-Legs (1912) by Jean Webster. I realize, writing this, that although I grew up in the 1960’s, my formative literature was definitely from an earlier era! That says more about my parents’ influence than anything else.

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I first read The Enchanted Castle when I was about seven years old. I had read lots of fairy tales, animal stories (especially Thornton Burgess’s books), Halloween stories about witches and such, as well as realistic fiction, but The Enchanted Castle was the first book I read that really blurred the lines between fantasy and reality to the point that I couldn’t tell where the lines were. I was fascinated by this, by the notion of alternate realities, the possibility that a fantasy could perhaps be real. To this day I can’t think of another book that, at least for me, did such an artful job of riding that edge.  E. Nesbit wrote many wonderful books, and I have enjoyed them all, but The Enchanted Castle still holds special magic for me.  Of course it made me want to read more fantasy, so I read other Nesbit books, Edward Eager’s Half Magic and Knight’s Castle , C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the rest of the Narnia chronicles, later Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series (still one of my all-time favorites, though those weren’t published until I was a teenager), Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and lots more. Hmm, all but Eager are British authors — they seem to have a special gift for fantasy.

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I was introduced to Freckles when I was ten or eleven, and have reread it many times, as well as all Gene Stratton-Porter’s other fiction. I was brought up to appreciate nature and the environment, but this book really drove home ideas about the need to revere Mother Nature’s majesty and bounty.  The story is painful in ways, because at the same time that it exalts the glories of nature, the main storyline is about logging old-growth swampland and destroying the very Mother Nature the book celebrates.  Porter was trying to get people to see what was happening before it was too late.

Freckles is a story about a young man (an orphan, by the way) who leaves the city for a job as guard of a large timber lease in dense Indiana swampland, the Limberlost. His conversion from fearful city boy to ardent lover of nature is assisted by a great cast of characters, including the memorable Bird Woman who goes all over the countryside photographing wildlife. Another of Stratton-Porters novels, A Girl of the Limberlost, is set in the same area, with some overlapping characters including the Bird Woman.

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Gene Stratton-Porter in her outdoor gear

Gene Stratton-Porter was a remarkable woman, a pioneer in conservation thought, who pursued her early career in writing, nature photography, and conservation largely in secret. She was the real-life “Bird Woman” of her novels, photographing birds, moths, and other wildlife at all hours, in incredibly difficult conditions, in order to preserve it and share it with the world. She only agreed to write novels so that her publisher would print her non-fiction nature books.  I was strongly influenced by both her and her writings to be a more ardent environmentalist and a woman who stands by her values (whether they are popular or not).

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The first time I read Daddy-Long-Legs I was about nine years old.  There were many orphan novels written in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries; I read and re-read lots of them, including Understood Betsy, Anne of Green Gables and its sequels, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Jane Eyre, Eight Cousins, and Rose in Bloom, among others. Daddy-Long-Legs stands out in my memory for several reasons. We meet Judy Abbott as a young adult of eighteen rather than a child. Unlike most orphan novels of the period, she has grown up entirely in an orphanage, never experiencing a traditional home setting. She leaves the orphanage for the first time in order to attend college.

The novel is told in the form of Judy’s letters to her benefactor (she calls him “Daddy-Long-Legs,” thus the book’s title), who is paying for her college education (at a time when women going to college was still out of the ordinary).  This was the first novel I read that was in letter form, and I was very taken by that writing style, and impressed by how well I was able to come to know the characters despite what seemed (to me) to be a difficult form of delivery.  It helped me to see how I too could write letters that went beyond delivering facts, to set a scene and bring my reader into my world in a more complete way. 

Judy was experiencing the world outside the orphanage for the first time, and I was enthralled by her fascination with everything around her and her joie-de-vivre, though at the same time appalled at all the things she had missed growing up. She had never seen paper money, never been on a train or in a car, never set foot inside a house, never known anything of what it meant to have a family. It made me realize more fully just how fortunate I was, and how much I had experienced that I took for granted. I think this novel, more than any other, made me realize how different each of our experiences is, how varied our opportunities are. It made me more actively appreciative of my own childhood, and helped me to value each person’s perspective on life.

So there you have my three book picks. What about you? What three childhood books most influenced your life?

 

Summer Music Memories

If you have ever been a listener to popular music, you’ve probably had the experience of “summer” music – when a song or an album becomes identified with the summer season.

It might be even be a particular summer – the summer just after high school graduation, or the summer you got your first full-time job, or the summer just after you met that significant other.

For whatever reason, music has always been a trigger for memory, probably exceeded only by the memory of particular fragrances.  But “summer music” has certainly played a part in many folks’ lives.

One of the biggest groups to perhaps epitomize the whole concept is The Beach Boys. Formed in 1961 in California, and composed of three brothers, their cousin, and a friend, their tight harmonies and infectious melodies alone would have earned them a spot in pop music history.  But it was their subject matter and lyrics that put them in possibly the top spot for summertime music.  Scoring thirty-six Top 40 hits, more than any other American band, their music has lived on for over 50 years.  Especially “summer” memories are found in “Surfer Girl;” “Fun, fun, fun;” “I get around;” ”Help me Rhonda;” “Sloop John B.;” “Good Vibrations;” and “Kokomo.”  All of these songs and more can be found on the music CD “Greatest Hits – 20 Good Vibrations” at the Fontana Regional Library.

Another song that resonates with many is the song “Cruel Summer” by the British female pop group Bananarama.  This song was originally released in the UK in 1983, but hit it big internationally in 1984 when it was included in the movie The Karate Kid. Other songs by the group have a definite summer feel: “Venus” and “Na Na Hey Hey,” for example, although the latter two were not original to the group; all 3 songs can be found on their Greatest Hits collection.

Jumping back to the late 50’s, “Summertime Blues” by Eddie Cochran captures the downside of being a teenager during the summer. Covered by many artists, from The Who to Alan Jackson to Jimi Hendrix, this song has been a perennial favorite; Eddie’s original version can be found on the album Absolutely the best of the 50s.

One with some personal memories for me is “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Crofts. Found on the album of the same name, the song paints a word picture of an idyllic summertime domestic world. Also on this album is the song “Hummingbird,” which has another summer memory link.

A much less idyllic but still compelling song is “Summer in the City” by The Lovin’ Spoonful from the mid-60s.  Contrasting daytime and nighttime (“at night it’s a different world”), the song incorporates the sound of car horns (a VW beetle, no less) and jackhammers. The library has the album Entertainment Weekly 1966 which includes this hit.

The group Chicago tells a story of a typical but ideal summer day in the song “Saturday in the Park.” Including lyrics about a man selling ice cream and the Fourth of July, many people have experienced the laid-back memories related in the song, which can be found on the album Chicago: Greatest Hits v. 1.

While some of the summer time hits referenced so far come from groups with many big hits, like Chicago and the Beach Boys, one of the less well-known songs comes from the group Mungo Jerry.  The group came from the UK, and this was their only US hit.  But it became one of the best-selling singles of all time, and while it was a “one hit wonder” you can still hear it played during the summer: “In the Summertime.” (And you can find it on this CD: Best of the 70s)

Another song that calls back some personal memories of summer for me is the DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince hit “Summertime.” Before Will Smith became a well-known actor, he and his friend Jeff Townes were a hip-hop duo.  This song was their biggest hit. It relates summer memories of the pair’s high school summers growing up in Philadelphia, and can be found on the New Millennium hip-hop party album.

Well, I think I probably just scratched the surface of summer music memories with these songs. I hope at least a few triggered some good thoughts for you – please let me know in the comments if you have your own favorites!

[P.S. The links will take you to a music video of the song or the library music CD so you can check them out!]

HST and the Cold War in the Far East

If Harry Truman had had his way he would have continued being a senator from Missouri instead of presiding over the Senate as Vice President of the United States.  One rainy afternoon on April 12 1945, while Truman was gathered with Democratic bigwigs in the Speaker of the House’s office for a drink and some gossip,  he received a message to call the White House as soon he could.  He made the call and was told told to get to the Executive Mansion as fast as possible.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died in Hot Springs, Georgia.  Harry Truman was now the President of the United States.  In a few minutes he had gone from the presiding officer of the United States Senate to Commander in Chief of American armed forces worldwide.

Truman would be president for the last four months of World War II.  He would be the one who made the decision to drop two atom bombs on Japan to bring the war to a sudden close.  To the west of Japan, the Korean peninsula, which had been under control of Japan, was liberated in the north by the Soviet Union and in south by the United States.  The Americans and the Russians agreed on the 38th parallel as the border between South Korea and North Korea.  Both countries withdrew their troops in 1948, the same year Harry Truman pulled a political upset and beat New York governor  Thomas Dewey in a close presidential election. The president wanted to get the United States off the war footing where it had been for the last nine years.  He thought it was time for federal government to spend money on the domestic front:  housing, schools, etc.  After his election, Truman submitted a budget that cut the military expenses by a lot.  Most of the defense dollars went to support the American military in Europe, where the Russians had gained control of Eastern Europe and closed the border between East and West Germany  (with British, French, and American sectors of occupancy).  By this time the Russians had successfully tested their own atom bomb, causing the men who advised the president on national security to pause and reflect the course the nation was taking with its foreign policy.

So soon after the close of World War II, the President of the United States did not have the security advisers the occupant of the White House does today.  The National Security Council was only three years old in 1950, and this period was before  the likes of Henry Kissinger,  Zbigniew Brzezinski, and other global security experts. The  United States and its western allies had won World War II along with the Soviet Union, who had taken  over Eastern Europe and as Winston Churchill had said famously in the speech had gave at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri on March 5, 1946:

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an ‘Iron Curtain’ has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia;...”(1)

Two years later, the Chinese Communists sent the Nationalists high tailing to Formosa, thereby winning the Chinese Civil War.

Even though the United States had been involved in the liberation of  South Korea from the Japanese, that part of Korea was not included in the nation’s defense plans.  At this point, the United States had it’s hands full governing Japan as part of its occupation duties, so President Truman and his Secretary of State Dean Acheson decided to leave South Korea to the United Nations, who wanted to hold elections across the entire country, both north or south.  The Communists in the north opposed this as they had in eastern Europe.   The chief executive of the Republic of Korea, Syngman Rhee, agreed with the UN, and threatened to invade the People’s Republic of Korea, so when the United States withdrew their troops from the south, they left the South Korean leader with limited arms for his army.   One volume of the  Foreign Relations of the United States for 1950(2) describes the status of the Republic of Korea (ROK) from the point of the United States Department of State in the six months prior to the start of the Korean War.

The correspondence between the United States Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Department of State personnel  revealed two problems causing dissension   between the two countries:  inflation in ROK and that nation’s movement  away from democratic processes. (3)   In April 1950, the focus changed markedly when Secretary Acheson received a communication from Korea describing the Korean Army ‘s victory over an estimated 600 North Korean trained guerrillas near the border. (4)

In a May issue of U. S. News and World Report, Senator Tom Connelly (D. Tex), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated that the United States would eventually abandon South Korea to the Communists.  The Secretary, Mr. Acheson, and others in the State Department fought back, denying that Connelly’s opinion was the policy of the United States government.   President Rhee told Ambassador John Muccio he resented the United States’ reluctance to supply his armed forces with surplus F-51 planes, particularly when the North Koreans were building their armed forces. (5)   Within weeks the American Embassy in Seoul sent recommendations for furnishing F-51s to the South Koreans. (6)

Throughout May 1950, Ambassador Muccio tried to get the Secretary and other top officials of the State Department to mention Korea in speeches and other communications with the press and invite people from other government departments to visit Korea when they were in the Far East. (7)

On June 23,  the State Department received a recommendation from the embassy to reduce personnel in KMAG (U.S. Military Advisory Group to the Republic of Korea) because the ROK Army was doing so well on its own. (8)  Early the next morning the North Korean  Army attacked across the 38th parallel.

My next blog:  “HST and Korean War”

(1) William Manchester and Paul Reid,  The Last Lion:  Defender of the Realm, p. 960.

(2) Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950: Korea, Documents 1-58 https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1950v07/comp1

(3)Documents 1-24.

(4)Document  25

(5) Documents 31- 33, 35-38.

(6) Document 41

(7) Documents 45, 54

(8) Document 58

For further reading

Clay Blair.  The Forgotten War:  America in Korea, 1950-1953.   Part I,  pages 3-59

Robert J. Dovonan.  Conflict and Crisis:  The Presidency of Harry Truman

Eric F. Goldman.  The Crucial Decade and After:  America, 1945-1960.

Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas.  The Wise Men:  Six Friends and the World They Made.

David McCullough.  Truman.

Cabell Phillips.  The Truman Presidency.

The Other Self-Help Section

The older I get, the less I know for sure. I’ve always prided myself on being a bookworm and looking to literature for all the answers, and the stacks of books at my house get pretty overwhelming sometimes. Being overwhelmed by my ever-growing reading list is a little counter-productive to my search for answers, so in recent years I’ve turned more and more to children’s books for their simple wisdom. Board books in particular are a favorite lately – you can gnaw on them as you read without doing too much damage to the book. How great is that?

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Grapes fill my heart with happiness, for real.

Monique Gray Smith’s My Heart Fills With Happiness is written from the perspective of a little girl going down the list of things that make her happy. Such as singing, dancing, and walking barefoot in the grass. Those things make me happy too, although my singing and dancing might not make those around me happy. The book invites the reader to dwell on the little joys in life, and the little joys amount to a lot of joy in the heart if you let them.

Keeping on the happiness theme, Ball by Mary Sullivan is a story about a day in the life of a dog whose greatest joy in life is chasing her ball. The book begins in a flurry of excited activity when her little human wakes up and plays ball with her while getting ready for school. When the little human leaves for school, our little dog is bereft. She spends a lot of time trying to play ball with the laundry basket, the cat, and the baby human. When she naps, she even dreams about playing ball. Now, you may wonder why this dog doesn’t get another hobby, perhaps one like writing, which is best done in the dark abyss of solitude. I wonder why too. That’s not the point – I can’t solve her problems for her. Anyway, eventually the little human gets home and, oh my gosh, so much joy and excitement. The moral of the story is, joy is best when shared, or something like that.

 

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Ball‘s dedication. *sobs*

Moving on to my current mood, I’m Grumpy by Jennifer and Matthew Holm is a book I should really read every morning with my second cup of coffee. Grumpy Cloud is woken up early by chirping birds; he loses his hat in a gust of wind; he drops his ice cream; he gets rained on. (Wait, what?) And yet, after all of those small tragedies happen, he says, “I’m just grumpy because,” leading me to be believe that the real problem is not his circumstances but how he relates to him. When his happy friend Sunny tries to cheer him up, he finally explodes in a torrent of rain and thunder, after which outburst no one wants to be around him. Is there anyone reading this who cannot identify with Grumpy Cloud? (Or Sunny Sun, for that matter?) The good news is, Grumpy Cloud’s moral conscience starts to nagging him, and he makes amends to the beings that he hurt, gaining a little humility and an attitude of gratitude in the process. Grumpy Cloud occupies a special place in a shadowy corner of my heart.

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Of course, some board books are more terrifying than inspiring.

And because I tend to find the best wisdom and advice in the poetry section, here’s a nugget of humility from Judith Viorst’s collection What Are You Glad About? What Are You Mad About? :

“Trying”

I only cheated a tiny bit.

I never thought you’d notice it.

And besides, I wanted so badly to be the winner.

And it’s true that I told a little white lie

When I said that I hadn’t eaten the pie.

But I was starving, and it was forever till dinner.

This toy that I shouldn’t have taken but did

Belonged, I admit, to a whole other kid.

But I’m hoping you won’t think I’m a terrible sinner.

I know what I shouldn’t. I know what I should.

And I’m trying my very best to be good.

I’m trying my very best – but I’m still a beginner.

Celebrating Audiobook Month

audiobook icon      June is Audiobook Month!

When I was a kid (back in the dark ages when recordings were 12-inch LP records), my brothers and I loved sick days. Not because we wanted to miss school, but because being home in bed was a chance to listen to our recordings of Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass read by the talented Australian actor Cyril Ritchard (here’s a brief excerpt). The recordings, four LPs each, captivated us, and to this day my ideas about Alice, the Duchess, and all the other Lewis Carroll characters are influenced by those recordings.

We also had a few other spoken recordings, such as Lionel Barrymore’s rendition of A Christmas Carol and Thornton Burgess reading from Old Mother West Wind. Later we acquired a wonderful recording of J. R. R. Tolkien reading passages from his books – the Elvish poetry is especially fascinating, though my favorite reading is “Riddles in the Darkfrom The Hobbit (when Bilbo first encounters Golum, deep underground). But these spoken recordings were relative rarities in our lives.

Today, audiobooks are plentiful, ranging from early children’s books such as The Cat in the Hat through a complete reading of The Bible. You can checkout an audiobook version of The Hobbit, James Patterson’s latest hit, or The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. And you can listen to non-fiction too, including books such as Temple Grandin’s The Autistic BrainJames Kaplan’s biography Sinatra: The Chairman, and Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror.

There are many reasons people choose audiobooks; some like to read while commuting, exercising, or doing housework or chores. Others simply find it more relaxing or they are able to focus better on the words. Those with vision issues or reading challenges often find audiobooks much more enjoyable than trying to read print books. And audiobooks are portable! You can listen at home, in the car, at the beach, while walking or jogging, or anywhere else you happen to be.

There are numerous educational benefits to book-listening as well. Studies have shown that children who listen to audiobooks show a 67% increase in motivation, a 52% increase in accuracy, and a 40% increase in recall compared to print reading alone. Comprehension goes up by a whopping 76%, which makes sense since 85% of what we learn comes via listening. Listening increases vocabulary, aids in learning pronunciation, improves reading speed, and allows children to experience books at a higher reading level than they can read themselves.

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So if you thought using audiobooks wasn’t ‘real’ reading, think again! Audiobooks have as much to offer as print books; they’re neither more nor less worthy of attention, just different.

Audiobooks come in a variety of forms:

  • Most libraries offer CD audiobooks. And don’t forget that in addition to your home library’s collection, your library card gives you access to all the FRL library collections PLUS all of the NC Cardinal consortium libraries.
  • Playaways offer preloaded books such as Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Lee Child’s One Shot, each single title on a small device you can slip in a pocket and take anywhere.
  • You can check out e-audiobooks from our library website, including e-Inc and OneClickdigital for all ages, and NC Kids for additional children’s books.
  • For teens, SYNC is offering different free e-audiobooks every week through the summer.

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a few of the Playaways (top left) and CD audiobooks available at Macon County Public Library

Children’s audiobooks come in several forms these days. In addition to standard CD audiobooks, our libraries offer book kits which include both a book and a corresponding CD audiobook recording as a single checkout. Some favorites are Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Sandra Boynton’s Frog Trouble and Rhinoceros Tap, and the classic MadelineAnother book-audio combination is Vox books, which have an audio recording built right into each book. Don’t Push the Button and Going Places are examples of this recently-introduced format. And as I already mentioned, there are several e-audiobook sources accessible from the library website.

Many audiobooks are narrated by a single person, while others have multiple readers for a more theatrical effect. I happen to love books read by their authors. Hearing an author reading his or her own words gets right to the source. And often there is an accent to add even more to the experience. Some author-readings that are rated particularly engaging are Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior.

But books read by others can be equally appealing. Some recent award-winning audiobooks are Paula Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train, Daniel Silva’s The English Spy, Kristen Hannah’s The Nightingale, and Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy.

If you haven’t tried an audiobook before, Audiobook Month is a great time to give this format a try. If you are already an audiobook lover, what are some of your favorites?

Outstanding Oddball Movies

Having received some good feedback when I shared some of my favorite re-watchable movies, I thought I might again share some favorite movies.

Now in my earlier movie blog, the movies I shared were pretty non-controversial.  It’s pretty easy to see that Casablanca is not only one of my favorites, but MANY people consider it a top-ranked film, if not the best film of all time.  It has been broadcast on US television more than any other film.

Not far behind that in repeated US broadcasts would be two other films from my list: The Wizard of Oz and It’s a Wonderful Life; and as for popularity, the original Star Wars trilogy just celebrated the 40th anniversary of its origin, seemingly gaining in popularity as it goes along.

Finally, even the most quirky of the films I submitted (Young Frankenstein) is found listed among the best comedies of all time.  So I clearly have my “likes” aligned pretty closely with popular and critical viewpoints, or so it would seem.

BUT…I have some other films I like, maybe even REALLY like, and they are not quite in the same league as the five movies I previously blogged about.  In fact, they are quirky, idiosyncratic, and somewhat “non-mainstream” – some might even say “oddball.”  

I’ll start with rolling out a film by a French director released 20 years ago-  The Fifth Element.  Director Luc Besson first envisioned the story when he was sixteen, and it took him 22 years to get it made. It tells the story of an ex-military special forces major in the 23rd century (played by Bruce Willis), who gets involved in saving Earth when a young woman (actress Milla Jovovich) literally falls into his life.  Bruce Willis’ character is a down on his luck but principled cab-driver, and when “Leeloo” drops into his flying taxi-cab, the fast-paced plot takes off.  It seems “Leeloo” is the “Fifth Element,” the keystone to a weapon which can defeat a recurring and otherwise unstoppable evil being. While the plot on one level seems to be fairly straightforward science fiction, the movie has been described as “over the top;” “unhinged;” “…fun and boasts some of the most sophisticated, witty production and costume design you could ever hope to see;” “may or may not be the worst movie ever made;” it’s also been called the “best summer blockbuster of all time.” I’ll just say I find it funny, interesting, and reflective of humanity being stranger than any aliens.

Another very quirky film I enjoy is Raising Arizona. While “The Fifth Element” is 20 years old this summer, this next film was released 30 years ago in 1987.  Directed, written and produced by the Coen brothers Joel and Ethan, it was a very creative attempt by the famous (infamous?) brothers to make a film as different as possible from their previous movie, “Blood Simple.” The film is, in my opinion, VERY funny.  It tells the story of a crook/cop marriage (Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter) running aground because of the couple’s strong desire to have children but inability to do so.  They hear of a local family having quintuplets, and decide to kidnap one for themselves.  From there it quickly becomes a madcap, screwball plot involving the crook husband’s criminal pals, the husband and wife’s increasingly strained relationship, and the involvement of a private investigator also known as “the Biker from the Apocalypse.” There is a scene beginning with the robbing of a convenience store that seems irresistibly funny, along with a later scene of a bank robbery that has been ranked as one of the best bank robberies ever filmed. Yet for all the offbeat characters, the movie is strangely heartwarming. It also has some good quotes – I’ll drop one for you: “My friends call me Lenny – but I got no friends.”

Another movie from the far side is a fantasy movie (no science involved, but instead “a kind of magic”) titled Highlander. This tells the story of Connor MacLeod, born in 1518 in Scotland. He is “killed” in 1536, but finds out he is an Immortal, a sub-race of otherwise normal humans who cannot die except by decapitation. The movie actually starts hundreds of years later, in the late 20th century.  It is the time of the Gathering, when the various surviving Immortals begin to hunt and kill each other in order to gain “The Prize” – a sort of superpower which could lead to the winner being the ruler of the world, although just what that means is fairly undefined.  Much of the movie showing Connor’s history comes in the form of flashbacks, featuring his allies (foremost Sean Connery as an Immortal Egyptian named (improbably) Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez) and his enemies, mainly the Kurgan, a very bad savage Immortal. Called “the greatest action film” and “no equal among sword-and-sorcery flicks,” I think there are at least three or more reasons why I like this movie: 1) Christopher Lambert as Connor MacLeod – his accent seems weird, but his facial expressions and acting makes you think at times this really is a 400+ year old character; 2) Clancy Brown as the Kurgan – his scene in the church is unnerving and convinces you this guy is an evil nutcase; 3) the soundtrack by Queen – the band wrote many of the songs specifically to match the mood of the scenes where they are played.  This movie inspired sequels, a fairly long-running television series, and a tagline you might recognize: “There can be only one.”

Another “weird” movie is The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the Eighth Dimension. Featuring the eponymous Dr. Banzai as a polymath physicist, neurosurgeon, test pilot and rock musician, it sort of comes across as a wired/manic/updated version of the pulp hero “Doc Savage.”  Like the Doc, Buckaroo has a team to help him in his adventures – the Hong Kong Cavaliers (vs. Doc’s Fabulous Five), and also like Doc Savage, Buckaroo finds himself saving the world from villains and monsters.  In the movie, Buckaroo invents a device that lets him travel through solid rock; and while testing it and simultaneously setting a land speed record with his jet car by going through a mountain, Buckaroo accidentally brings back a strange creature.  News of this reaches an alien (played by John Lithgow) who has been inside an asylum for the criminally insane – he escapes and one of the strangest plots then ensues.  Toss in a romantic angle (the long lost twin sister of Buckaroo’s deceased wife), another group of aliens at war with the evil ones, a new recruit for the Cavaliers, and the involvement of several of Buckaroo’s support groups (similar to Sherlock Holmes’s Baker Street Irregulars) and you have yourself one absurdist movie.  Why in the world did I like this?  Well, I am a bit of a fan of absurdist humor (such as Monty Python) and the weird but light-hearted story seemed to invite re-watching due to its complexities.  (Why is there a watermelon hooked up to strange devices in Buckaroo’s laboratory?  Is Rawhide (Buckaroo’s lieutenant) really dead? Why is the only female Cavalier in Tibet?)  The movie seems to be set up in a very detailed alternate reality, and there are constant references to this larger reality that are only mentioned and hinted at.  Two interesting facts: Buckaroo’s right hand man (Rawhide) is played by the same actor [Clancy Brown] who was the Highlander’s main antagonist, the Kurgan; also, there was a sequel set up for this movie that never happened – Buckaroo Banzai against the World Crime League. (I wish they’d done that one!)

Well, there you have some oddball movies that have found a spot in my heart.  Feel free to check one or more out if any stir your interest; they are all available through Fontana Regional Library or the NC Cardinal system.

Do any of them stir fond memories for you if you’ve seen them?  Or, like me, do you have your own list of “weird but good” films?  Share in the comments please!

Picture books!

Occasionally, I have to meet new people. Even more occasionally (thank goodness), I will meet a new person who, upon learning that I work at a library, will say some version of, “I like books – if they have pictures in them!” They will then look at me expectantly with an expression of inane smugness, waiting for a guffaw at their clever joke.

They don’t get the guffaw.

I actually do like books with pictures in them. One of the perks of working at a library is getting to see all the new books as they arrive, and new children’s books are the most exciting.

One of my favorite new books that came to us recently is I Am NOT A Chair! by Ross Burach. The story is about a giraffe named Giraffe who, on his first day in the jungle, keeps being mistaken by the other animals for a chair! Giraffe is not, in fact, a chair, but you’ll have to read the book yourself to see if he ever finds a voice to assert his place in the world.

Giraffe is not a chair
Yeah, right.

Now, if you’re a little over-analytic like I am, you might suppose that the other animals don’t recognize Giraffe for the giraffe that he is because the jungle is not his natural habitat. Luckily a quick online catalog search will turn up plenty of non-fiction books about giraffes to satisfy your need to be right. Libraries to the rescue!

Giraffe is a book
Oh my gosh. Look at that face.

Moving on, we have Escargot by Dashka Slater, a story about an arrogant a charming French snail on a mission to eat the salad at the end of the book, provided the salad meets Escargot’s distinguished culinary expectations. The plot moves along at a snail’s pace and is punctuated by solicitations for compliments from the self-obsessed self-confident title gastropod, but the character development and expressive illustrations will make it worth your time to read. I won’t entirely spoil the ending for you, but suffice it to say that Escargot’s gastronomic horizons are broadened.

Escargot salad
Hold the salt, please!

If Escargot whets your appetite, follow it up with one of the plentiful picture-laden cookbooks gracing our non-fiction shelves. Of particular interest might be Julia Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking Patricia Wells’ Salad As A Meal, which has just enough salad recipes to make you feel healthy while flipping through its pages. (Feel free to skip straight to the bread chapter, though, and don’t forget about the perennially hungry public servants at your friendly local library when you’re handing out free samples!)

And here, because a book of poetry is really just the same as a book with pictures, I will end with a poem.

“It Was Early” by Mary Oliver

It was early,
which has always been my hour
to begin looking
at the world

and of course,
even in the darkness,
to begin
listening into it,

especially
under the pines
where the owl lives
and sometimes calls out

as I walk by,
as he did
on this morning.
So many gifts!

What do they mean?
In the marshes
where the pink light
was just arriving

the mink
with his bristle tail
was stalking
the soft-eared mice,

and in the pines
the cones were heavy,
each one
ordained to open.

Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.

Little mink, let me watch you.
Little mice, run and run.
Dear pine cone, let me hold you
as you open.

Barbara Tuchman

Recently, when I was reorganizing my personal library, I noticed I had a number of books by the American writer Barbara  Wertheim Tuchman, including one I used in my last blog, The Zimmerman Telegram. Her topics ranged time wise and  geographically  from  ancient history  to the twentieth century and from the Far East to the Americas.  Like David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin, Ms Tuchman wrote history for the lay reader, not the academic.

Barbara Wertheim was born in New York, educated in a private school there and went to college at Radcliffe, a private women’s college in Massachusetts.  Two years after graduating from Radcliffe in 1933, she went to work for Nation Magazine, which  was published by her father.  She published her first book, The Lost British Policy: Britain and Spain Since 1700, in 1938.  Her  second book, Bible and Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour, came out in 1956.  In 1958, she delved into the United States’ involvement in World War I with The Zimmermann Telegram. Two years later  came  The Guns of August, her take on the opening months of the Great War and her first Pulitzer Prize.   After that,  in 1966, Tuchman investigated the world in the years leading up to World War I in  The Proud Tower.   Next, she used her experience in the Far East as background for her book about the American experience in China, Stilwell and the American Experience in China, centered around General Joseph Stilwell, who was the ranking American general in the China-Burma theater in World War II.  That book, published in 1971,  earned Tuchman  her second Pulitzer Prize.

Before her death in 1989, Tuchman wrote five more books.   Notes from China was her view of China during a six-week trip she took in 1972.   Nine years later, she published Practicing History, a combination of essays on the writing of history and reprints of articles she wrote in the 1930s and thereafter.

Tuchman’s book about 14th century Europe,  A Distant Mirror:  The Calamitous 14th Century,  concerned Enguerrand de Coucy, a french nobleman who lived through a turbulent time fraught with wars, disease, and a little Ice age.   Why do governments develop policies that go against their best interests?   This is the question Barbara Tuchman tries to  answer  in The March of Folly:  From Troy to Vietnam.   Her last book, The First Salute: A View of the American Revolutioncame in 1988, the year before she died from a stroke at the age of 77.  I’ll have more to say about this book and Stilwell and the American Experience in China below.

Tuchman’s interest in China stemmed from her stint as a volunteer researcher at the Institute of Pacific Relations immediately after graduation.  As such, she spent an extended period in the Far East, include a month in China in the mid-1930s.  Her book Stilwell and the American Experience in China, is not really a biography of General Joseph Stilwell, who spent most of his military career in that part of the world, but rather she uses Stilwell as symbol of the American experience in the country through the first half of the 20th century.

When Stilwell first arrived in China in 1911, it was a long way from being a modern country.  But rather, it was broken up into regions governed by warlords.  At the end of World War I, the Japanese took over German concessions in China  and gradually strengthened their hold on Chinese  territory.  Stilwell was in and out of China during the 1920s, during which Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the leader of the Chinese Revolution (Kuomintang) died, and his place  was taken as the leader of the Kuomintang by Chiang Kai-Shek.  “Vinegar Joe” was Stilwell’s nickname  he earned stationed at Fort Benning, where he had a reputation of not suffering fools gladly. By the end of the 1930’s Stilwell had been promoted to Colonel.  The Sino-Japanese War started in 1938, but Stilwell stayed in China until May 1939.  On his way home, Stilwell found he had been promoted to Brigadier General.

In World War II, Stilwell rose among the general officer ranks to become a four star general in command of the China-Burma-India theater.  He attended the Cairo Conference in 1943 along with  Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, representing the Free Chinese.  His first order of business was to open a road from China into Burma, which was under Japanese control and posing a threat to India.  But, as usual, Stilwell had a hard time getting individuals and allies he could work with.  He didn’t trust his allies (the Chinese and the British), and most of all, he didn’t get along with Chiang Kai-Shek.  He was recalled to the states in October 1944 and worked there until his death in 1946,

Tuchman addresses the American Revolution, partially in the The March of Folly and to a greater extent in The First Salute.   She doesn’t attempt to cover the whole war, instead sets the Revolutionary War in the conflict between Great Britain and Holland and France. The book opens on November 16, 1776, when an American ship, Andrew Doria, flying the flag of the Continental Congress from her mast,  sails into the harbor of St. Eustatius on  the Dutch West Indies, her cannon saluting Fort Orange. Then the fort returned the salute, making it the first time an American flag was recognized by a foreign power.   

When Winston Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty at the start of World War I, he found the Royal Navy  had changed very little since end of the 18th century, the period Barbara Tuchman writes about.  Tuchman finds a lot to criticize both the British government and its military leaders for.  Neither those who ruled nor those who commanded took the trouble to find  out about the geography of America or about cost or what it took to transport soldiers and/or materiel from Great Britain to there.  What they did realize was the importance of keeping control of the West Indies which was a depot for Dutch merchants to export critical supplies to the colonies.  Admiral George Rodney was given the task of capturing St. Eustatius.

Rodney, according Tuchman, was a class above his Royal Navy colleagues.  “Thinking outside the box” would be the modern phrase that would suit the admiral well.  However, when giving the assignment to keep the French fleet from reaching Yorktown and trapping Cornwallis and British army, he failed.  To find why, you will have to read the book.

Tuchman’s books:

The Lost British Policy: Britain and Spain Since 1700 (1938)*

Bible and the Sword (1956)

The Zimmermann Telegram  (1958)

The Guns of August (1960)

The Proud Tower  (1966)

Stilwell and the American Experience in China (1971)

Notes from China (1972)*

A Distant Mirror:  The Calamitous 14th Century (1978)

Practicing History (1981)

The March of Folly:  From Troy to Vietnam (1984)

The First Salute: A View of the American Revolution (1988)

  • – Not available in NC Cardinal