Erik Larson is one my favorite non-fiction writers, probably because he has written on a variety of subjects. Larson’s books first appeared in the early nineties, but the first to become a bestseller was Isaac’s Storm: a Man, a Time and the Deadliest Hurricane in History (1999). Larson followed that book with best sellers in 2003,2006, 2011, and 2015 After reading these books, I surmise Larson might agree with Robert Morgan’s statement, “Sinners make the best characters.” Sinners abound in these stories.
The Galveston hurricane of 1900 is the subject of his first bestseller, Isaac’s Storm. That storm killed thousands of people and cut off communication between Galveston Island and the mainland, despite Isaac Cline’s claim that the sea wall would protect the population and property from any storm. When Cuban meteorologists predicted a severe hurricane brewing in the Caribbean was going to follow a westerly passage, enter the Gulf of Mexico, and threaten the south coast of Texas, the West Indies office of the United States Weather Bureau in Havana downplayed the Cubans’ forecast. By the time Isaac Cline, in Galveston, realized what was happening and tried to warn his superiors in the Weather Bureau in Washington of the severity of the storm, it was too late.
Larson’s second bestseller, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, is set in Chicago in the last decade of the 19th century. The city has a successful bid to hold a world’s fair in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. The books focuses on two men: Daniel Burnham and Herman Webster Mudgett, better known by his alias H. H. Holmes. Burnham was one of America’s most famous architects, Holmes was to become America’s most famous serial killer . While Burnham was in charge of transforming Jackson Park on the south side of Chicago in the fairgrounds for the Columbian Exposition, as the world fair was officially called, Holmes was enticing young women to his building nearby and taking their lives. The “White City” was the name associated with architecture and landscaping of the Columbian Exposition and Holmes claimed the Devil was to blame for his killing people; ergo, the title. The way Larson weaves the two stories is the reason the book has been a best seller ever it was published.
Thunderstruck, Larson’s third bestseller in a row, combines the stories of Guglielmo Marconi, who invented the wireless radio, and a murderer who leads the British police in a chase that leads from England to Canada. On one hand the reader is introduced to Hawley Crippen, an American doctor practicing in London who suspected of murdering his wife; on the other, reader meets a young Italian inventor who is trying to win the race to successfully develop the wireless telegraph. Like in his previous book, Larson alternates between the two stories as the reader is trying to figure how he is going to bring them together. This book reads like a fiction thriller.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, the family of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, finds themselves living in the pre-war Nazi society. As Hitler’s political party ramps up its crusade against the Jewish population of Germany and Nazi thugs mistreat America citizens, Dodd gets concerned enough to cables back to the State Department in Washington reporting what he seeing. But his communications are all but ignored. To complicate things, his young adult daughter is carrying affairs with leaders in the Nazi party. As Dodd witnesses Germany moving closer to war, the United States government continues its isolationist policy. This book reminds me of William Shirer’s Berlin Diary.
During World War I, before the United State became involved, the British liner Lusitania left New York on 1 May 1915 bound for Liverpool. The German Empire had earlier issued a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare on ships carrying war supplies to the Allies. This meant that German submarines would torpedo these vessels without warning or without regard for the safety of civilians. Because of this, the German Embassy published ads in the New York papers warned civilians, especially Americans, not to travel on the liner because she was carrying munitions. UBoat 20 fired one torpedo without warning into the Lusitania, but there were two explosions, one following right after the other, and the big liner sunk in only 18 minutes taking nearly 1200 people with her. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, published this spring, is the story of that tragedy.
All the above listed books make good summer reading!
We watch movies for many reasons. To laugh and to cry, to be amazed and to see things blow up. Mainly we watch them to be entertained. But some films can do more than just entertain us. They can also educate us, and show us the world in new ways.
Documentary films have been around ever since the movie industry started. The process has been refined throughout the decades, and today some documentaries can see widespread theatrical release.
Documentaries differ from other nonfiction films, such as travelogues for instance, in that they inject some type of drama or opinion into them. And that is something important to remember. A documentary filmmaker is telling a story, even though the story is true, and they bring their own opinions and biases into the equation. It is good practice to do some research after (or perhaps even beforehand) to make sure you get the full story and relevant facts. To help with that I will not only link you to these docs in the library catalog, but also to any companion books and websites. Sometimes there will be a follow up or update available.
These lucky 13 documentaries come to you courtesy not just of me (and my wife) but also my wonderful coworkers here at the Macon County Public Library, Kristina and Erin. They recommended many of these, and it is through their efforts that many of these films have been shown at the library.
“Paper or plastic” is not something we hear so much any more. These days it is just plastic. But should it be? That is what Jeb Berrier, the subject of this film, sets out to discover by deciding to stop using plastic grocery bags. This decision is more profound than he thought it would be.
Coincidentally, I recently read a piece about plastic bags and what we know, and perhaps more importantly what we don’t know, about their effect on the environment.
In November of 2001 Andrew Bagby was murdered. His girlfriend was the chief suspect, but before she could be arrested she fled to Canada. While awaiting extradition it was revealed that she was pregnant with Bagby’s son. Bagby’s longtime friend, filmmaker Kurt Kuenne, decided to interview on film all of the friends and family members he could, so that this child (Zachary) would have something of his father while he grew up.
But Zachary never did grow up, as he was killed by his mother in a homicide/suicide. The film then became a documentary of the tragedy and a look at the (successful) efforts of Zachary’s grandparents to change the Canadian legal system so that something like this could not happen again. A powerful and moving story.
Street artist Banksy is famously famous now. In this film he tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a man obsessed with documenting his life. When Guetta meets up with his cousin, a street artist known as Invader, he turns he attention to this particular form of art, and begins doing some himself. The movie also features Shepard Fairey, who is well known for his iconic Barack Obama piece, amongst other things.
What is fascinating about this film is that in the end you are not quite sure how much is real and how much is a put on. Plus some people will watch this and see art within art within art, and others won’t think any of it is art at all. Like all great documentaries do, this movie inspires conversation. And no, you do not get to see Banksy’s face in it.
Chris Rock talks about hair. While that is probably a good enough description to get you interested, I will expand on it. What he does here is look at the world of African-American hairstyles, primarily those of women. And he does so through a variety of interviews (including an appearance by Maya Angelou). A great example of how a seemingly simple topic can be made into something more.
Let’s roll it back old school here. In the early 1970s a story surfaced about the two Edith Beale’s, aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (!), who were living in a run down old mansion. “Run down” is probably too gentle a phrase here. The place was overrun by fleas and raccoons and lacked most basic amenities. In the film we see the efforts made to help the mother and daughter renovate and save their residence. Quite a different look at what one might call “American aristocracy”.
The filmmakers did a follow up in 2006, The Beales of Grey Gardens, and that one is also on DVD. It is also the first documentary ever to be made into a Broadway musical, and it was also adapted into a 2009 TV movie for HBO.
Plants can also be art, as shown in this film about North Carolina’s own Pearl Fryar. Son of a sharecropper, Fryar took a liking to topiary, and taught himself how to do it. And by “taught himself” I mean he became an amazing artist at it. His garden is in Bishopville, South Carolina, and is free to visit. that being said, art like this deserves support, so if you do visit please leave a donation.
In 1974 Philippe Petit did something a little out of the ordinary. He walked on a high-wire between the Twin Towers in New York City. And he did it unauthorized, leading to his arrest. The doc has all the details, including a reenactment and interviews with some of the people involved.
World War II took a toll on many things, and one of those things was art. For years the Nazis collected and looted art from across Europe. This movie documents not just that but also the efforts of Allied forces to counter this, and looks at the actions, both good and bad, of art dealers all over the world. The recent feature film The Monuments Men loosely tells the same story.
Sticking with the war theme, Restrepo is a film about the Afghanistan War, as documented by two journalists (Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington) who were embedded with a platoon of the US Army. The title comes from the name of a combat medic in the platoon who is killed in action. This is not a light and happy film, as it shows what these soldiers went through over the course of a year fighting in one of the deadliest areas of that country. It is a meaningful film.
Sixto Rodriguez was a succesful American musician. Not familiar with his music? Maybe that is because his success came chiefly in South Africa. Two fans from Cape Town decided to find out what had happened to Rodriguez, whom they knew little about except his music, and the result is this wonderful film.
Minor spoiler alert here: they do find Rodriguez, who was not dead as was rumored. After the documentary was released, the singer found a little more fame (and sales) both in the US and abroad.
Would you mind if I broke protocol and got up on my soapbox, just for a moment? I feel that our penal system is flawed, notably in that prisoners are dehumanized. Inmates are not adequately prepared to rejoin society, and that along with social stigma contributes to our high recidivism rates.
So I was already predisposed to like this film, and it did not disappoint. The Shakespeare Behind Bars program has been running for 20 years now, and it does just what the title says: prisoners put on an annual Shakespearean play for family members and fellow inmates. The film documents one such performance.
It is a little startling realizing that some of the participants have done horrific crimes, and some are not going to see the outside of prison again. But the core theme, and one that the SBB group stands behind, is of the innate goodness in humanity. Even though that is hard to see at times. The website has updates on the performers featured in the movie.
Having spent much of my life in Florida, I am conversant with hurricanes. But Katrina was something different, which is what this film shows us. A mix of home video (including scenes from people trapped in an attic as flood waters rise), news footage, and more it is a compelling look at what the victims of the storm went through.
We get to see not only the weather itself but the lasting effects afterwards on people and places that maybe weren’t in the best shape before Mother Nature got nasty. It also features a killer soundtrack.
Now if you are like me, whenever you make a trip to the dump or the recycling center and someone has left something of theirs out for the taking, you at least glance at it. I don’t think I have ever taken any of that stuff home, but it is like wired in us to at least take a quick look at it. So it is not surprising to know that some people do more than look. But in this film we are not seeing people who scavenge for their survival or scour for recyclables. We see people who do it for…art?
The largest land fill in the world is in Brazil, near Rio de Janeiro, and this is where our story takes us. A group of catadores there have turned some of what they find into art. Prized and auctionable art. It is quite a film, but don’t just take my word for it. Just look at this list of awards it received.
Hopefully you will find some documentaries in this list that will teach, entertain, and maybe even inspire you. I have to go now. We have a new documentary on our DVR at home that needs watching. And please share your thoughts on these and recommend any good docs you know of in the comments below.
You can find a list of all the titles mentioned in the library catalog here:
Actually, let’s not. Doxxing is rude. Oh, what’s that? You have a question? Ah, of course! I need to explain what doxxing is. While I’m at it I may as well talk about some other Internet terminology. It helps to be prepared, because you never know when some sockpuppet’s viral meme will make you fall for clickbait.
Simply put, clickbait is when a website attempts to lure you into clicking on a link by giving it an incomplete or tantalizing headline. This is done by many sites, and for differing reasons. Sometimes a news site does so do to limited space for the headline. Often entertainment sites do it because getting you to click on their links helps them generate advertising revenue. And sometimes it is done just to catch your eye and try to get your attention.
Let’s make up some examples:
“Tom Cruise in trouble again”. Why is he in trouble? You’ll have to click the link to find out (and to possibly discover he isn’t really in trouble at all).
“15 foods you won’t believe are bad for you!” These sort of lists are everywhere, and about everything. And believe it or not, you probably will believe some of those foods are bad for you. Assuming you make it through the list, which probably requires multiple clicks and seeing tons of advertising.
“Oh, a doxxing we will go”. Seems familiar…our blog titles are often done so as to pique your interest. Did it work?
Clickbait is always going to be there, and like many things some is good, some is bad, and much is meaningless. If you are entertained by those endless lists of things, go ahead and click away. Experience will be your main method of determining if it is worth it. And keep in mind, many of the sites that do those lists are designed for mobile device use.
One more thing. You can hover your mouse over a link before clicking on it to (usually) see where the link leads. This can help you decide if you want to click on it or not.
To dox someone is to publish their personal information online, such as their home address, phone number, real name (if they are online anonymously), where they work, their social security number, or other things. It is generally done maliciously, often it retaliation for the victim posting something that the doxxer disagreed with.
Most of us think of a meme as an image with a humorous caption on it. But technically not only does a meme not require a caption but it doesn’t have to be an image at all. Videos and hashtags can also be considered memes.
A hashtag, denoted by the # sign, is way to label or tag something on the Internet to enable others to find it. For example if you wanted to talk about the show Downton Abbey online you might put #downtonabbey in your post, which would help other fans of the show find it. A hashtag that I like is #SupportYourLibrary. You can also rent Downton Abbey DVDs from the library, of course.
When some type of meme, usually a video clip, gains popularity on the Internet without any commercial backing or advertising, it is said to have gone viral. Sometimes these are just personal videos done for fun, and others may become newsworthy. Maybe we can make this one go viral. It was taken in my kitchen.
One dark and stormy night, as you crawl through the scary Internet, it happens! A box pops up telling you that your computer is at risk, and if you don’t purchase and download this particular security software then your surfing days might be over!
Scareware comes in two general varieties. One is advertising done is such a way as to “scare” you into purchasing a product. The product might be legitimate and effective, but the selling technique is distasteful. The other variety is an actual computer virus, aimed at getting your money by forcing you to buy the software (or else your computer does not work properly), or by using the virus to steal your information. In either case, my advice is to stay well away from them. Anytime you see any message like this do a search about it on the Internet and see what it is really about.
A shill is someone who is paid to spread certain information on the Internet. Since “being paid to talk to people on the Internet” isn’t usually a real job, shill is often used as a pejorative against those of differing opinions. For instance, if I were to say that there is no evidence linking autism to vaccines, someone might accuse me of being a shill for Big Pharma.
On Facebook you have to use your real name. But most websites allow you to use any name you wish. Hence the sockpuppet, a second account (or third, or fourth…) that someone uses to bolster their position or to avoid being identified. For instance a poster who has been banned from a site may try create a new account with a different name.
Now, I wish I could point you towards a book that has this information in it, but we don’t have one. Truth be told, Internet terminology changes so frequently that it doesn’t lend itself well to book format. So if you come across a term you are not familiar with, do a search for it and you should find plenty of good examples and explanations.
And don’t forget that many of the Fontana Regional libraries offer computer classes which can help you with not only terminology but many other things as well. Visit our website for class dates and times.
Most of my blogs in this series have been about non-fiction books, but occasionally I write about fiction, most often mysteries. I have lately discovered a mystery sub-genre that is set in 1920s or 1930s Great Britain and features lone female detectives. Two different examples of this genre are Rhys Bowen’s series of “Royal Spyness” novels and Jacqueline Winspear’s “Maisie Dobbs” series. The heroines in these two series come from opposite ends of the British social spectrum with one series featuring humor while the other is more serious. Joining these two authors, Ashley Weaver, a Louisiana librarian, has published Murder at the Brightwell, the first book in a new series in this type of mystery.
Bowen’s heroine, Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, the sister of the impoverished Duke of Atholl and Rannoch, a penniless Scottish family, is a second cousin to George V and is 34th in the line for the throne. Using her, the Rannoch family, and her friends, Bowen pokes fun at the British aristocracy. At the outset of the series, Georgiana moves into the family town house in London to get away from the Rannoch’s drafty Scottish castle and her sister-in-law, whom she detests. Through most of the series, Georgiana lives in London with no servants and little money, thanks to her father gambling away his fortune in the French Riviera casinos and then committing suicide, leaving Georgiana’s brother with expensive death duties to pay. On the other side of her family, Lady Georgiana’s mother is an actress, the daughter of a retired Cockney policeman. The series is populated with real people including King George V and Queen Mary, their eldest son David (who became Edward VIII) and the love of his life, Wallis Simpson. In fact, Queen Mary encourages Georgiana to spy on David and his inappropriate American lover. Her adventures include showing London to a German princess, whose knowledge of English comes from American gangster movies, helping her sister-in-law entertain a castle full of obnoxious guests, including the Prince of Wales’ favorite American, Wallis Simpson, representing the Royal Family at a wedding in Transylvania, retrieving a snuff box belonging to Queen Mary from a shady British earl, etc. In the latest episode, she accompanies her mother to Reno, Nevada to get a quickie divorce from her Texas millionaire step-father. Georgiana has a habit of showing up where murders are taking place, so not surprisingly, she becomes a suspect, especially when she is abroad.
Maisie Dobbs comes from a similar background to Georgiana’s mother. Maisie’s mother dies when Maisie is thirteen, so her father, a cockney costermonger, persuades one of his rich customers to take Maisie into service as a maid. When the lady of the house discovers Maisie reading in their library early one morning, she recognises her young servant has above average intelligence and decides to see to her education. Eventually Maisie is accepted into the women’s college at Oxford, but World War I interrupts her education. She enlists as a nurse and is sent to France, where she meets a doctor and falls in love. Tragedy strikes when their aide station is hit by an artillery shell, seriously injuring Maisie and the doctor. Returning to England, Maisie continues her education and then fulfills her ambition to be a private detective. Although the war is long since over, Maisie carries external and internal scars that influence her life and the cases she investigates. The series is full of characters, like Maisie, who have to deal with physical and psychological effects from their experiences in the war. Her assistant, Billy Beale, is one of these. The doctor she served with in the war is another. In the latest episode, Maisie finds herself in Gibraltar, on the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula, with the Spanish Civil War raging close by on the other side of the border. She is drawn into intrigue that puts her life in danger.
Set in England in the same time period as the other two series, Ashley Weaver’s Murder at the Brightwell falls between the satire of the “Spyness” novels and serious themes of the “Maisie Dobbs” stories. The main character, Amory Ame,s is a wealthy young woman married to a playboy who would rather travel the globe than stay home with his wife. Amory lets a former fiancee talk her into going to a ritzy hotel on England’s south coast to help talk his sister out of a bad marriage. Of course, murder rears its ugly head. Amory finds herself a suspect, but then her wandering husband shows up and they solve the case together. Amory will appear in the second book in the series, Death Wears a Mask, due to be published in October this year.
The Internet is a wonderful place. I can renew my library books, order a pizza, watch cat videos, and learn that the Earth is hollow, and we are living inside of it. Wait, what? Am I being serious? Yes and no. I am not telling you that the Earth is hollow, but that some people on the Internet say it is. Welcome to the world of conspiracy theories!
For those who don’t know, a conspiracy theory is the idea that some group of people (often the government) is hiding or concealing information for some nefarious purpose. For instance, did you know that the county used to store ghosts under the library? When the containment grid started to fail in 2005 the library was moved to a new building, and the ghosts are now stored in an undisclosed location. Full disclosure: none of that is true. I made it up on the spot as an example.
Now while those two CTs are kind of silly, many are not. And even ones that seem incredibly farfetched can have fervent believers. With that in mind, here is something you should know about us library people: we don’t care what you believe in. At least not in a professional sense. While I am at the reference desk I try not to have any politics, any religion, or any general opinions of any kind. If you want me to help you find information about the Battle of Stalingrad or about how the government dumped poison plastic snow on Atlanta, I will help you find info on both of those topics equally.
Moving on. I find conspiracy theories to be pretty interesting, even ones I do not think have merit. They are fun to read about. Did you know that no conspiracy theory has ever turned out to be true? Well, that does depend on how exactly you define what a conspiracy theory is. Actual conspiracies do happen, with Watergate as a good example. The key thing here is that the “theory” has to be out there before the “conspiracy” comes to light.
Another illustrative example is UFOs. They do exist in the literal sense, as in “unidentified flying object”. The question is are any of those UFOs actually alien space craft? The conspiracy theory part would then be the idea that they are spaceships, and that the government knows about them and is covering up their existence.
Some CTs have been around for some time, such as the moon landing being faked. (A little joke for you: Stanley Kubrick admitted to doing this, but he was such a committed filmmaker that he insisted that it be shot on location.)
Some are quite new, like the Jade Helm 15 exercise being a cover for a plot involving everything from FEMA to Navy SEALs to Walmart to a Chinese invasion.
Some are pretty straight forward, such as the Kennedy assassination being a CIA plot, while others are very complex and/or have many versions. This is particularly true for 9/11 conspiracy theories, which range from the idea that it was a government operation using controlled demolition all the way to there having been nuclear bombs placed under the towers when they where built, or death rays from satellites being the cause of destruction.
Whatever your interest in conspiracy theories might be, my advice is to do your research. Read books from both sides, and you can probably find some good debates online. A few years ago I had just read up on the claims about the moon landing, and one night at dinner my 15 year old, having watched a TV show about it, started asking questions. I was very glad that I had real answers at hand, like if Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, who took the picture?
So, here is a list of some library books that talk about the conspiracies and the events that created them. Now it may seem that these books seem to be more anti than pro conspiracy, but that is because many theories live more online than they do in books. Either way, you can start your way to enlightenment, or down the rabbit hole, here.
Room 237 DVD director, Rodney Ascher [This documentary shows several theories about hidden meanings in the movie The Shining, including one that says Kubrick left clues that he faked the moon landing in the film. Whether you find these theories credible or not they are certainly entertaining.]
A field guide to the atmosphere by Vincent J. Schaefer and John A. Day [Chemtrails are an interesting theory in that we can see them with our own eyes every day. This book will tell you how contrails are formed.]
Well, that should be enough for now. Let me leave you with two more things. First, if you are going to read or talk about conspiracy theories on the Internet then you should think about brushing up on your fallacies. That way you can recognize ones people use and be prepared when they accuse you of using them.
Second, here is a link to a piece talking about conspiracy theorists, and why people believe the things they do. It comes from a “none of this is true” viewpoint, but is still interesting for people who have differing viewpoints.
As always I appreciate your comments and feedback, and here is a list of all these titles in our library catalog:
With Mother’s Day this past Sunday and Father’s Day right around the corner (June 21 for those keeping track!), I thought I’d write a bit about celebrating parents.
It seems like plain, common sense that parents are important in a child’s life. Parents birth you, feed you, change your diapers, protect you… basically keep you alive until you’re able to do so yourself. Research shows, however, that parenting well is about so much more than that. While not biologically imperative, the warmth a mommy or daddy shows a child when treating a boo-boo has been shown to be crucial to a child’s social and emotional development. The relationships parents forge with their children have a lifelong impact on not just one’s future interpersonal relationships, but also on quality of life in general. Research indicates that levels of parental involvement are indicators for school performance and graduation rates, self-esteem & mental health, and substance abuse & violence.
“Parenting is probably the most important public health issue facing our society. It is the single largest variable implicated in childhood illnesses and accidents; teenage pregnancy and substance misuse; truancy, school disruption, and underachievement; child abuse; unemployability; juvenile crime; and mental illness.” – The Importance of parenting in child health; National Center for Biotechnology Information
Parents aren’t perfect- they’re just human, after all! But I think failing and making mistakes as a parent is not only unavoidable, it’s essential. Watching their role models make mistakes shows children that mistakes and failures happen- and it’s not the end of the world! Children are far more forgiving, understanding, and resilient than we give them credit for.
In any case, whether you’re a parent or just have one, celebrate parenthood! If you missed mother’s day, call your mom (they’re more forgiving than you think!) and don’t forget dad- it’s always a great time to appreciate parents.
As a note: My daughter and I love Anna Dewdney’s Llama Llama books! What are some of your favorite books about parents? -children, YA, or adult.
Shelby Foote was born in the Mississippi Delta in 1916. His family moved frequently, because of his father’s job, so he was raised in a number of southern cities. Eventually, Foote graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Then he served in the military during World War II. Before he wrote his narrative history of the Civil War, he was known as a novelist. The success of his novel, “Shiloh”, caused Random House publisher Bennett Cerf to ask Foote to write a short history of the Civil War to be published in conjunction with that conflict’s centennial. What Foote’s efforts resulted in was three volume history stretching to approximately 3000 pages, published over twenty years. In 1983 the paperback edition was published and then in 2005, Random House brought out a nine volume edition which added illustrations to the original text. A new edition of the trilogy, edited by Jon Meacham, who wrote a companion volume, American Homer: Reflections on Shelby Foote and His ClassicThe Civil War: A Narrative was published in 2011.
I had a nodding relation with Mr. Foote because he used the Main Library in Memphis where I worked. But more than that, I remember sitting in a room in the basement of Mitchell Hall on the campus of the University of Memphis listening to Shelby Foote discuss the American Civil War for two and a half hours with faculty and graduate students of the Department of History in the spring of 1990. This was before Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War aired on PBS, so Foote was known to history students as the author of the expansive three volume narrative history of that war, not as a television personality. As he later told Brian Lamb on C-Span’s Book TV, he hadn’t the realized the power of television until he was featured on Burn’s film. Like Lamb, Burns had come to Memphis to interview Foote in his home on East Parkway.
Although Foote admits he is a novelist, he argues the historian and the novelist are seeking the end: “the truth–not a different truth: the same truth–only they reach it, or try to reach it by different routes. Whether the event took place on a world now gone to dust, preserved by documents and evaluated by scholarship, or in the imagination, preserved by memory and distilled by the creative process, they both want to tell us how it was: to re-create it, by their separate methods, and make it live again in the world around them.” I quote this passage as another way of saying, if you need foot or endnotes to substantiate a quote or description of an action, The Civil War, a Narrative is not for you.
Foote’s narrative opens with Jefferson Davis’ farewell speech in the United State Senate. It ends with the death of the same man in New Orleans on December 6, 1889. In between, as only a novelist paint them, there portraits of military leaders on both sides as well glances of the civilian administrators who sometimes helped their military counterparts but often got in their way. Close to the end, Foote quotes Lincoln, on learned of his re-election said this, “What has occurred in in this case must ever recur in similar cases. Human nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have a weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good. Let us therefore study the incidents of this, as philosophy, to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.”
Foote lived to be eighty-eight. He died in 2005 and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis, where his grave is surrounded by the graves of soldiers who fought in the war he spent two decades writing about. Nathan Bedford Forrest, the great Confederate cavalry general lies next to him.
Spring is upon us and that means baseball! My earliest baseball memory is watching Mark Fidrych beat the Yankees on a tiny black and white tv, and I have been a fan ever since. Now back in those youthful days we would buy packs of baseball cards for a quarter, scrounge for any sort of something that could be used as a ball, and make our own homemade jerseys. To keep up with baseball you had to pore over the box scores in the morning paper and watch This Week in Baseball on the weekends. You might get to watch two games on television, the Saturday Game of the Week and Monday Night Baseball(Al Michaels and Howard Cosell!)
Nowadays I can get any baseball statistics I could ever want (and many I didn’t even know existed) with a few clicks of the mouse. I can watch multiple games every week. Indeed, for a fee to the cable gods I can watch any game I want. I can read countless blogs and opinion pieces, and I can get up-to-the-minute score and news updates on my Twitter feed. I can play in a wide variety of fantasy baseball leagues and I can shop on eBay for every type of baseball memorabilia imaginable.
So which way is better? The answer is neither. Nostalgia is potent, of course, but I work in a library and I know the power of knowledge. In that vein I offer to you a variety of baseball books, movies, and even ebooks for you to consider. There is nothing quite like hearing the crack of the ball on the bat, and while you can’t play baseball in the library you can at least get something to help you get through those long, long commercial breaks.
This one could well have fit into my previous blog about movies based on books, as many people will remember the Robert Redford movie more than the original book. A classic piece of baseball literature, the novel tells the story of Roy Hobbs, a supremely talented baseball phenom who is shot down, literally, by a femme fatale. Fifteen years later, his legend largely forgotten, he makes a comeback. Like the heroes of mythology he must overcome a series of obstacles in order to find that moment in the sun.
Perhaps the kings of baseball nostalgia are the Brooklyn Dodgers. Beloved by their borough, they broke many hearts when the team relocated to Los Angeles. In their New York heyday they often came up short in comparisons to the mighty Yankees, until that magical 1955 season when they finally won it all. Kahn’s book uses that year as its central focus, but goes behind just being a recap of the year. Besides setting the stage, he also tells us what happened to those fabled Boys of Summer as the years progressed. I always appreciate nonfiction that reads as smoothly as fiction does, and this is one of those books.
Now if one really wants to know the history of baseball than this series, done by Ken Burns, is your answer. Originally aired on PBS in 1994, the Emmy winning series covers baseball decade by decade, and is full of wonderful interviews of not just players by of fans as well. Newer or casual fans will be enchanted by the mystique of America’s Pastime, while even grizzled veteran fans will learn new things. There is also a companion book.
Since baseball is after all a game, albeit a game that had $9,000,000,000 in revenues in 2014, I thought I would include a kids book. Felix, an eleven year old originally from Cuba, knows his father was a famous ball player there. But eager to leave their past behind them his mother won’t tell him the details. When the opportunity presents itself Felix hides on the bus of a minor league baseball team and pretends to be a batboy. Why? Because the team has a Cuban player, and Felix hopes that from him he can learn something of his father. Well written and authentic, this book is aimed for grades 4-7, but will appeal to a wider range of readers as well.
There are plenty of good baseball movies, but my favorite remains Bull Durham. It has a great cast, and I like how it shows the flow of baseball. One player is on the way up, another is on the way down, and the fans are always there. I guess it is best described as a dramedy, but the baseball parts are very authentic. Also, not a children’s movie.
There are many great baseball biographies and memoirs out there. I chose this one because, well, the Yankees. Joe Torre managed them for 12 years, and each year they went to the playoffs and they won four World Series in that time. He managed other teams before and after that, and was also a heck of a player back in the day, but this book focuses on the era of his greatest successes, and gives you an inside look at one of the most storied franchises in all of sports. Oh, and Verducci is no slouch either, being one of todays premier baseball writers.
Ah, baseball cards. They no longer come with bubble gum, which is good since that low grade stuff did more harm than good. But baseball cards are still very collectible, even if the investment opportunities aren’t what they once were. Now, this book was published in 1985, so it is not much use as a current guide. It does have a big nostalgia factor, however. If you did ever collect cards back in the day it is fun to flip through and be reminded of some of those old cards. It is also fun to see their predictions about which of those 80s cards and players were going to be big.
Incidentally, I sold my collection to a friend in 1990. He turned around and traded all 12,000 of those cards to a dealer in exchange for two cards. They were two good cards.
ebooks, by lots of people
All of our libraries have plenty of baseball books, plus some baseball movies, but also keep in mind that we have baseball ebooks too, through the library’s e-iNC site. Just like with books you can search by author or title, or just do a search for baseball and see what strikes your reading fancy. If you need any help with our ebooks you can visit our help pageor call any of our libraries.
The libraries also have a wide variety of instructional materials, like this nice new one. Books on coaching, books on playing, books on softball, and books on rules and learning the game. They come in a variety of styles and age ranges, so we are sure to have something that fits your needs.
Okay then! This is just a sampling of the plethora of baseball materials you can get at the library. If you need help finding anything, or would like reading recommendations you can ask any of our helpful staff, or drop me a line in the comments below. Play ball!
All of the baseball titles mentioned in this blog can be found in our library catalog here:
If you are like me, you may feel like you do not read enough nonfiction. (Note: fellow blogger Stephen is not like me.) To help with that we are doing a Dewey Attack.
As most public libraries do, Fontana Regional Library uses the Dewey Decimal System to organize many of our books. More specifically, to organize nonfiction books. While novels and other works of fiction are arranged by author, nonfiction books are done so by subject.
Dewey gives every subject that exists its own number. These numbers range from 000 to 999, with usually a decimal point and more numbers after that. Combined with some other information, this creates the call number for the book, and the call number tells us on which shelf the book is at. Each range of 100 numbers (100-199, 500-599 etc) is a separate general category. So today we are going to choose a book from each general category.
The library has many books about Bigfoot and other cryptids. The thing that sets this one apart is that Loxton and Prothero take a very science based approach to their investigation of these beings. Prothero himself is a paleontologist. They focus on the evidence and not on the stories and myths. Whether you are a believer or not you will find their book a great read.
Unrelated, I won a spelling bee in 8th grade by spelling abominable.
Do you like secrets? Would you tell a stranger yours? That is exactly what happens in PostSecret. People share their most guarded secrets…via postcard. Anonymously sent to the PostSecret website, the book compiles many of the most stirring ones. Be warned, though. Some are inspirational but many are heart breaking.
Zeus and Odin, Thor and Apollo…are not in this book. Greek and Norse mythology is pretty well known to many of us. But what about the Egyptians? Their gods have stories that can rival any other pantheons. This book has a nice multiple angle approach, covering not only the mythology but the historical aspect as well. It has great pictures making it suitable for browsing but also has enough depth for true studying.
When I first moved to the Seattle area in 1991 the Green River killer was an ominous presence. I read a paperback at that time that detailed the case, and if I remember correctly even named the killer as a prime suspect. The book was a frustrating read since at the time Gary Ridgway, the killer, was unidentified and still a free man. Fortunately he was later caught and convicted, and Rule, one of the best true crime writers, fills us in on the details.
Your wrong! It says so right their! Anyone who spends much time on the Internet sees many spelling and grammatical errors, and also sees those who take it upon themselves to offer corrections. Mortal Syntax tackles this issue head on with humorous, and often unexpected, results.
In a story that is stranger than fiction, two Australians bought a lion from a department store(!) and when he grew too big set him free in Africa. A year later they came back, and you really have to see it to believe it.
I like beer, and since the 1990s I have been a bit of a beer snob, eschewing the big name brands for the locally produced craft beers. In recent years the craft brewing industry has become much more mainstream, and this book gives you that history. Drink up!
Whitehead, who wrote one of my favorite zombie books, here tackles poker, and more specifically the famous World Series of Poker. Originally tasked to do an article for a magazine, he ended up with a book. Witty, searing, and educational, this is a great read for you whether you have never gone astray betting on pocket jacks, or if you are a poker pro. Go Team Anhedonia!
I’ve always loved Greek mythology, and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are among the best examples. Did you know that the Iliad has basis in fact? There really was a Trojan War, and Alexander details how the truth and the stories are intertwined, and shows how the Iliad reflects war in all its glory…and horror.
I love to travel, although I don’t get to do it very much. One place that is on my list to visit is Chile, if for no other reason than my wife was born in Santiago. This book shows you some of the highlights of travelling to that country. The library has travel books for most anywhere you want to go, so before heading out check them out.
All of these books can be found in the library catalog here:
One week from the publication date of this blog will be the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. While Lincoln’s funeral train was tracing in reverse Lincoln’s trip from Illinois to Washington 1861, Jefferson Davis was hiding from federal troops trying to find him. Eighty years later, in 1945, three days from the anniversary of Lincoln’s death, Franklin Roosevelt’s heart gave out as the European war was coming to a close in Europe with western allies closing on Berlin from the southwest and the Russians from the east. The other part of World War II, being fought in the Pacific, against the Japanese, had a little over three months to go.
First, Lincoln and Davis! It was Good Friday, April 14, 1865. The Civil War was over! President Lincoln and his wife had planned an evening at the theatre; Laura Keene was performing in “Our American Cousin.” A little after 10:13, John Wilkes Booth sneaked into the president’s box and shot him point blank in the back of head. Lincoln lived a few hours before dying from his wound the next day while Booth led authorities on a twelve day chase before he died in a barn, set on fire by United State Army troops. A quick investigation proved Booth had not acted alone; his accomplices were rounded up, incarcerated awaiting trial, and for some eventual execution.
While in the north, Americans were mourning the death of Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis was fleeing south with a price on his head. From the time Ulysses S. Grant took overall command of the Federal forces in 1864, he decided to go after the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, with a goal to destroy it, rather than capture Richmond However, after the Battle of Five Forks, April 1, 1865, General Robert E. Lee told Davis Richmond would have to be evacuated and the president became a fugitive carrying what was left of the government’s gold. Davis started his journey by train to Danville, Virginia. After Lee surrendered, he went into North Carolina, where he hoped to meet up Gen. Joseph Johnston who was in command of another Confederate army. He stayed in Greensboro for a while, then moved to Charlotte, as long as it was safe. Finally, Davis went south to Georgia, where he was finally captured near Abbeville, after 38 days on the run.
Eight decades later, the United States was nearing the end of another war.¹ In the spring of 1945, the Allies were getting closer to the Japanese Home Islands. American bombers had bases, first in China then in the Caroline Islands, well within range of Japanese cities. Although the first bombing raid on Tokyo was that led by General James Doolittle in April 1942, launched from the aircraft carrier Hornet, bombing of the home islands didn’t resume until the fall of 1944 when the B-29 super fortresses performed strategic bombing raids against targets in the Japanese capital and other major cities in the Home Islands. Meanwhile, in the spring of 1945 the Allies were preparing to invade Japan itself. United States armed forces had invaded Iwo Jima, hopefully they would have learned something since the bloody invasion of the tiny Tarawa Atoll, that 3300 causalities in November 1943.
Iwo Jima was a volcanic hell with 23,000 Japanese dug in on Mount Suribachi. It took almost 24,000 American causalities to secure the island. Then the high casualty rate on Okinawa, an estimated 65,000 all types, prompted the Allies’ decision to use the A-Bomb rather than invade Japan. When Harry S. Truman succeeded FDR in April 1945, he knew nothing about this atomic weapon. After giving his consent, two bombs were used against Japan: the first on 6 August 1945, was dropped on Hiroshima; and the second on 9 August on Nagasaki. The devastation and fatalities caused by these two bombs led the Japanese to surrender on 15 August.
¹ In case you think there is no direct connection between the two wars, the American commander on Okinawa, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. was the son of a Confederate general and governor of Kentucky. Buckner was the highest ranking American general officer killed in action during World War II.