Flying Mammals, Insect Warrior, Friend

bat pic 1

The light is turning shades of blue and purple as the sun drops below the horizon. The air is cooling from a warm summer day.  Crickets are beginning their night time singing, and through the sky comes the faint whirring of bats. Swooping and gliding through the air, indulging in an early evening snack. Some of my fondest memories growing up in Wisconsin start on nights like this. Watching the bats and reveling in the idea that there are finally warriors to take on the thick clouds of mosquitos that crowd the Wisconsin sky. I loved anything that would eat bugs; mosquitos are the Wisconsin state bird, after all. I was always amazed at the way bats took to the sky; dropping out of slumber in an almost synchronized fashion, swooping gracefully and clearing the pests surrounding me.

I knew early on the benefit of the bats regarding personal pest control but had yet to learn all the ways in which bats help humankind. Yes it is wonderful to have a night time warrior friend to clear the bugs from around our heads, but what else do they accomplish? It is thought that these flying mammals contribute over 3 billion dollars annually to pest control for farmers all across the United States. They clear cropland in a frenzy of feeding, each bat consuming up to or more than their body weight in pesky bugs each night. This fundamental trait of bats reduces the amount of chemical pesticides used on cropland, creating a feedback loop that saves farmers money, keeps pesticides out of watersheds, and in turn lowers health and food costs to customers (us). Bats unintentionally help farmers in another major way — pollinating fruit. Do you enjoy a margarita or tequila from time to time? Well you can thank bats; without night time pollination agave would never produce the fruits needed for that icy cocktail. Don’t imbibe alcohol? How about eating mangos, bananas or avocados?  Bats to the rescue.  Bats are the only natural pollinator for these fruits. When fruit bats feed on night flowers, spreading pollen from plant to plant, they also clear the flower of any parasites that may harm it in the future. Double whammy!

bat pic 2

Small bat pollinating agave

Bats play another crucial role in plant life and biodiversity as the world’s most prolific seed transmitters. Bats regenerate forests around the world by dispersing seeds and spreading guano accounting for nearly 95% of the first plants that sprout out of a new forest floor. Having few predators, they often fly long distances at night covering large open spaces. All the while spreading some of the most nutritious feces of any living species; Johnny Appleseed has nothing on bats. So to reflect; bats fertilize and distribute seeds in those hard to reach places, bats pollinate difficult species of plants, bats are living breathing insecticide keeping in check those destructive and disease spreading insects. And these are just the actions that benefit growth. But what else are bats capable of?

Bats as bomber pilots? Sure, why not. Shortly after the attack at Pearl Harbor a dental surgeon named Dr. Lytle S. Adams came up with one crazy idea — utilize bats to plant and distribute hundreds of small incendiary bombs throughout Japan. Bats have an amazing ability to carry a large load in comparison to their size. Remember they eat their weight or more in bugs each and every night. Some species can carry almost three times their weight. Dr. Adams joined with thousands of other concerned Americans and sent his bat plan to the American Military and the top brass liked it. Once President Roosevelt signed off on the idea, Dr. Adams was directed to Army Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) along with several naturalist from the University of California who worked together to implement it. After an exhaustive search they realized that Mexican free-tailed bats had all the right stuff; they were numerous and powerful enough to carry the load, and they were easy to catch. The idea was simple; force the bats into hibernation, attach a clip from the small incendiary to the chest of the bats, put the bats into a cardboard contraption, fly them in a B-52 bomber releasing them at 5000ft., cardboard contraption breaks open, bats come out of hibernation in time while freefalling to roost under buildings eaves, then they would naturally chew off the clip holding the mini bombs. Once the clip was loose the bomb’s fuse would ignite and BOOM — off go hundreds of bombs strewn throughout the country in no particular order, creating chaos. Whew, that made me tired just typing it, but simple enough for the magical bats, right? Alas all did not go as planned. They had some trouble with the timing of hibernation; first they were coming out too late and splat, then they came out too early and created chaos at the test site. Then a careless act by a scientist released a number of bats with miniature incendiary devices attached, causing a hanger to be bombed and a general’s car to be lit aflame. Needless to say the 2 million dollar project was scrapped for a much more promising one, the Atomic Bomb.

Alright, so bats are amazing little flying mammals and there are a lot of bat species around the world, over 1,300 in fact. So they will be with us for a very long time, fulfilling their silent duty for centuries to come. Wrong. Or possibly wrong; it is our turn to help the bats. Some think that the Mexican free-tailed bat, those little bombers, may be dying off due to insecticide. Oh the irony. Then there is global climate change, an issue facing all living creatures in their own way, some being affected in ways that no one could have predicted. The bats are one such mammal. Humans have looked to alternative energy to slow the release of greenhouse gasses, one cause of global climate change. One piece of the greenhouse gas solution is wind farms, yet they are directly affecting bats. During bats migratory times in the fall, they seem to be attracted to the blades of wind turbines. Bats not only get caught in the blades themselves but as they come near to them the wind pressure change can crush their delicate little bodies in mid-air, stopping their hearts. Scientist have yet to figure out why they are more apt to be attracted to the turbines in the fall and have been working with the owners of wind farms. Together they have found that by furloughing the turbines a few hours around dusk for the month and a half that bats migrate, they can reduce the number of fatalities drastically. Unfortunately these are not the direst issues facing North American bats.

bat map

Map showing the spread of WNS

A more mystifying issue at hand is the rapid proliferation of a psychrophilic (cold loving) fungus called Pseudogymnoascus Destructans or White Nose Syndrome (WNS). WNS is thought to have come from Europe and East Asia, first appearing in the Northeast during the winter of 2006-2007. WNS has now spread throughout the east and in the last two years has been found in small pockets of Washington State. At this point scientist believe that over 5 million bats have succumbed to WNS. Bats that live in the colder regions tend to hibernate in humid cooler dwellings, a perfect environment for the fungus to survive. It can be spread by close contact of bats but can also live in the soil surrounding a cave. Bats are very social critters, huddling together during hibernation, especially the females. These attributes cause near-perfect conditions for a pandemic. WNS does not directly kill bats but can spread quickly, causing dehydration and an uncomfortable annoyance, waking the bats up from hibernation. Rising earlier than they should, the affected bats wander around disoriented and burn off crucial reserves needed to make it through the long hibernation. Unable to find food and relief from WNS, they become weaker and weaker until they perish. The fungus can also attack the delicate wing membranes of bats causing debilitating tears. It is thought that over 90%of the little brown bats in the North East Coast have died due to White Nose Syndrome in the last decade. And that is no good.

bat pic 3

A small brown bat inflicted with WNS

Scientists have yet to find a reliable way of combating WNS, but there have been several attempts in which they are slowing the disease’s progression. A plant that the bats have been helping throughout evolution may be the key to saving bats in the future. A group of scientist had been testing a natural bacterium, R. Rhodochrous, to see if they could elongate the shelf life of bananas for shipping. They planned on doing this by inhibiting fungal growth and thus extending ripening times. A grad student working on the banana project saw photos of the spread of WNS and had a winning idea: Try the bacteria on bats as well. The bacteria have been found in preliminary trials to feed off of the fungus, causing no negative effects on the bats themselves. They are now moving onto the next batch of studies to make sure that the bacteria will have no known side effects on the cave environs in which the bats live. Fingers crossed, little buddies!

At this point you may be asking yourself, what can I do? Similar to all ecological disasters popping up every day, this seems like a problem too big for each of us individually to make a difference. Oh but we can help our little bat friends. Bat detective is a website dedicated to an interesting world-wide citizen science project. They are asking people to join in by learning the different calls that bats make in your area. Then you can help scientist track bats around the world. Another great online resource is Bat Conservation International. The website is full of information. On it you can find other citizen science projects, places and safe ways to view bats, and plans on how to make bat houses as well as successfully getting bats to roost. Building and caring for a bat house is a tangible and meaningful way to help the local bat populations and helps keep them out of your attic. They can be the bug warriors in your backyard, create hours of entertainment, and be a wonderful learning tool for young and old alike. Or just learn about bats and teach others. Together we can build a band of bat warriors.

Humans and bats are intricately intertwined. Their future will directly affect ours just as their past has molded our present. Phil Richardson in Bats speaks to the evolution of fruit bats, which “branched off from primates, the group that contains monkeys, apes and humans. It is possible, therefore, that these bats are distantly related to us.”

 

Resources:

New to the Fontana system is a great video resource called Kanopy. With a library card you can access this video library of over 30,000 titles. Try Bats in the search bar and see what you can find!

Books in Fontana Regional Library on bats:

Bats of the United States and Canada

Bats by Phil Richardson

Books on the continuing extinction crisis we face:

The Sixth Extinction; an unnatural history by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Ends of the World; volcanic apocalypses, lethal oceans, and our quest to understand Earth’s past extinctions by Peter Brannen

Each of the blue links in this blog leads to another great online resource for learning all that you can about bats. It’s our turn to lend them a helping hand.

Bibliography:

Amos, Amy Mathews. “Bat Killings by Wind Energy Turbines Continue.” Scientific American, 7 June 2016, www.scientificamerican.com/article/bat-killings-by-wind-energy-turbines-continue/.

Jemison, Micaela. “Not Just the Birds and Bees – 6 Fast Facts About Pollinating Bats.” The National Wildlife Federation Blog, National Wildlife Federation, 18 June 2014, blog.nwf.org/2014/06/not-just-the-birds-and-bees-6-fast-facts-about-pollinating-bats/.

Mart Miller Special to the Reformer. “Researchers May Have Found Solution to White-Nose   Syndrome That’s Killing Bats.” The Brattleboro Reformer, Brattleboro Reformer, 1 Nov. 2016, www.reformer.com/stories/researchers-may-have-found-solution-to-white-nose-syndrome-thats-killing-bats,428973

Richardson, Phil. Bats. Firefly Books, 2011.

Broadband Connectivity on the Regional Level

By Guest Contributor Sarah Thompson, MPA

SarahT

Sarah Thompson is the Executive Director of the Southwestern Commission, and Administrator of the Mountain West Partnership.

-What is Region A and the Southwestern Commission?

The Southwestern Planning and Economic Development Commission was formed in 1965 by concurrent, joint resolution of the counties and municipalities within the seven westernmost counties of North Carolina (Cherokee, Graham, Clay, Swain, Macon, Jackson, and Haywood) [Swain, Macon, and Jackson are the 3 counties served by Fontana Regional Library]. It was within this same time period that COGs all across the state and U.S. were formed. Initially, the driving factor behind this movement was money.  Between 1965 and 1975, state legislatures and the US Congress created thousands of grant-in-aid programs totaling billions of dollars in funds available to local governments. Funds were appropriated for water and sewer systems, housing, solid waste, emergency medicine, juvenile delinquency, recreation, health care, law enforcement, economic development, job training, senior citizens services and a plethora of other purposes.

The Commission has three primary departments: Workforce Development, Area Agency on Aging, and Community and Economic Development. We are one of 16 Councils of Government in North Carolina. We are governed by the local governments in the region, and our board is comprised of county commissioners and town mayors and aldermen in our 7 county region.

[link to a library resource about the Southwestern Commission (aka Region A)]

-How and when did the Southwestern Commission become involved with broadband?

Through our work in economic development and community planning, it has become increasingly apparent that lack of high speed broadband is the number one deterrent to economic growth that our region now faces. Whereas in the mid-to-late 20th century, basic infrastructure such as roads and water/sewer were our primary needs for economic competiveness, in today’s information era, it is broadband. As we have historically been a regionally focused agency that works with local governments on infrastructure needs, we felt that we should be doing all that we can to improve and expand broadband service to the region.


-Why do you feel Broadband and Connectivity are important for our region?

The economic reality is changing for rural America. We’ve had three major industrial employers leave our region in the past five years alone. Although we still focus on attracting large employers, the majority of economic growth is trending in small businesses and entrepreneurs. Nearly all sectors of the economy rely on the internet- private business, education, health care, etc. Without adequate access to today’s technology, we will fall behind.

 

-What is happening in Region A regarding Broadband issues?

The Mountain West Partnership (gownc.org) is a new economic development partnership for the seven western counties and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The Southwestern Commission administers the partnership. The Mountain West Partnership Board of Directors directed Southwestern Commission staff to find a way to address the lack of broadband access in the region. Due to legislative barriers in our state laws that do not allow local governments to compete with private sector providers, increased access cannot be achieved fully by the public sector. The solution will have to be some form of public/private partnership model, in which the public sector is able to put some infrastructure funds on the table to incent private providers to provide service. Infrastructure is expensive, and because of our low population density, a private provider cannot see a reasonable return on investment if they pay for all of the infrastructure. Our local governments have fairly limited budgets, and many services to provide. Our hope is that in the near future, some state and federal subsidies will become available to rural areas such as ours, as was the case in the past with issues such as electrification and telephone service.


-What specifically is the Southwestern Commission doing, especially with regards to a consultant?

The Commission has contracted with ECC Technologies to conduct a broadband assessment of our region this fall. In this Phase I of our efforts, we hope to achieve a high response rate on the survey so as to aggregate the actual demand for service. Phase I also includes training for each county’s broadband committee on laws, policies, and solutions. Phase II, next year, will involve using the data collected in Phase I to begin negotiating with private providers for increased or improved service in the communities within our region. We realize that many communities have already surveyed the public on this issue, and all of the data from those surveys will be used in our study. However we encourage everyone to please take and share the survey under way now, as it is a very important step in this process.

Link to survey: http://mountainwest.baat-campaign.com/campaigns/master

For more information and resources on broadband in general and in our area, please see Fontana Regional Library’s Local Broadband webpage: http://fontanalib.libguides.com/broadband 

{Fontana Regional Library is concerned about Connectivity as part of our Long Range Plan}

Book recommendations from my cats. (Or, pictures of my cats.)

I adopted my kitty-girls from the Cashiers-Highlands Humane Society a little over a year ago in a two-for-the-price-of-one deal, although I hesitate to call them “mine” – it’s much more appropriate to call me “theirs.” There weren’t a whole lot of books at the shelter but they’ve been thoroughly immersed in the litter-ary life since moving in with me and have a few favorite books of their own now. I’ll let them tell you why.

Clementine

Clementine snark
World’s most perfect cat.

Of course I get listed first – I wouldn’t even have to point it out except that the black-and-white one would be oblivious otherwise. *rolls eyes*

My first favorite is I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo! by Jill Esbaum and Gus Gordon. This is the inspirational story of Nadine, a brilliant cow who saves the world, and also the lives of her two doltish friends who managed to get lost in the woods – and has some serious adventure to boot. (Think cliff-diving.) I Am Cow carries me through trying moments with the two dolts in my own life…

clementine is bored
I am cat, hear me-ow!

A Curious Collection of Cats by Betsy Franco is my other first favorite. It’s a book of concrete poems (colorfully illustrated by Michael Wertz) that are all about me. Of course, it would appear to be about several different cats – an entire collection of them – but the authors did that so lesser cats than me wouldn’t feel jealous. *yawns, stretches, flops onto back*

Clementine and faulkner
Clementine on Instagram…

Simon Tofield’s Simon’s Cat vs. the World is another inspirational read, except it’s different than Cow because it’s non-fiction. That Simon person wrote and illustrated an entire book about his creative, moderately intelligent feline roommate – he really knows how to show appreciation. *angrily cuts eyes at Emily* Of course, Simon’s cat has a lot to learn, and he’ll probably never reach my level of cat achievement, but at least he’s trying.

Clementine and binky
…versus Clementine in real life.

I’ll use my last free recommendation spot to recommend two books to the above-mentioned dolts in my life – How to be a Cat by Nikki McClure and How Do Dinosaurs Love Their Cats? from my favorite paragon of wisdom and instruction manuals, Jane Yolen. I thought about specifying who should read which book, but they both should read both books – for empathy and understanding.

Lola

Lola
Mom? You’re sleeping past sunrise – are you dead?

Yes! Thank you for asking! Mom always has a lot of books scattered around the house and I’ve managed to read a few. Of course I’d be delighted to share my favorites with you – sharing is caring!

Speaking of caring, I’d have to say my first pick is Jill Esbaum and Gus Gordon’s I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!, an adventure story with a hopeful message! This cow lady, Nadine, and her two sweet friends go on a forest adventure, and… well, I won’t spoil it but let’s just say Nadine is a bit self-important and is really, super glad her two friends are there, even though she can’t or won’t admit it. Friendship makes the world go ‘round! Is Clementine sick again? I think I hear puking.

death glare
Best friends 4-ever.

Another heartwarming friendship story (I just love friendship books!) is Baabwaa & Wooliam by David Elliott, with lifelike illustrations by Melissa Sweet. I won’t tell you the plot, but I do want to get to the point (SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!) of the story. Baabwaa and Wooliam are two sheep who befriend a wolf. Interspecies friendship, y’all. It’s doable, and it’s necessary, no matter what the popular narratives tell you. Think for yourself, and have some compassion! It ALL starts with compassion – even in the book. And I’m pretty sure this is a non-fiction book too, which just makes it even better. All you need is love! Are you sure Clementine’s okay?

Spiritual Lola
Spiritual kitty just wants to help.

Whew. I get a little worked up sometimes, which is why I find my next cat pick so useful: You Are a Lion! And Other Fun Yoga Poses by Taeeun Yoo. Mom and I do yoga almost every morning, and she finds the illustrations and analogies in this book to be helpful for her practice. I help her out by demonstrating the poses and their variations and by bringing back her attention when her mind starts to drift – for instance, if I see her attention start to wander, I’ll give her a good head-butt (or butt-butt) in the face to bring her back to the present moment. So this book is really more for her than for me, because I love her so much.

catify and lola
Lola has a thing for dudes with tattoos…

Finally: Treat by Mary Sullivan. This book holds, for me, what the writer Cheryl Strayed calls the power of “me too.” I read this, and I feel like I’m not alone in the world. Wow. Just wow.

That’s all for now, folks! Thanks for letting me share!

Bonus Cat: Jambavan

Jambavan and cat pick.JPG
Look at those ears, though! We all have a crush on this guy.

Clementine and Lola’s favorite paw-pal, Jambavan, has his own recommendation, pictured here. It’s not in NCCardinal’s catalog, because he read it before the library even knew it existed. His advice to you: do your own thing, as long as your own thing includes climbing trees.

 

Katrina, Ike, Harvey, Irma, Maria, Etc.

 

Note:  In addition to books available in the collections of Fontana Regional Library and the NC Cardinal consortium I used articles from databases in NC Live.

In recent weeks three category four or five hurricanes devastated multiple Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico,  the Gulf coast of Texas  and the whole state of Florida.  Remnants of Irma made their way into Western North Carolina toppling trees and damaging power lines and buildings.  Historic flooding are part of both hurricanes Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida.   NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) had already charted nine weather events in the United States this year that cost at least a billion dollars each before the two hurricanes landed on our shores. (1)  In this blog I am not concerned with the cause of these horrendous storms but why the cost of them goes up exponentially every time another one makes landfall in heavily populated areas.

hurricane

Having lived in both the Ohio  and Mississippi Valleys, I am familiar with the damage and loss of life caused by rivers rising out of their banks and strong winds generated by tornados.  The difference between  a hurricane and tornado and is the extent of the damage and the geographic size of the storms.   The latter can do serious damage to a limited area; a hurricane, on the other hand, can travel thousands of miles and can be as large as Irma, which was over 400 miles across,(2)  and its damage is the result of very  heavy winds (according to Saffir–Simpson hurricane scale,  a category 5 hurricane  can have sustained winds of 157 mph. Compare that  with a F5 tornado on the Fujita scale, which can have wind speeds up to 318 mph.) and torrential rain and storm surges that cause heavy flooding, especially near shorelines.  And, of course, widespread power outages. (3)

Catastrophic weather events have part of our country’s history for years.  Not only have hurricanes laid waste to states bordering the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, but the middle of the country has to deal with tornados and flooding from streams in the Missouri and Mississippi Valleys. Texas has had the misfortune of having to deal with all of the above.

There is no doubt these storms are growing in size and power whatever the reason.  And, because of the growing population living where hurricanes usually make landfall, the damage they do is putting a burden on federal, state, and local governments, and therefore on us, the taxpayers as well.   Damage from these storms not only affects residential neighborhoods but often industrial and business section of cities too.  Anyone who watched the television coverage of Harvey in Houston and felt the effects on their pocketbook of the gasoline pipeline being closed for a few days because of floods in Harris County, Texas, knows this for a fact.

The winds and rain from hurricanes can cost business and industry millions of dollars.  Two years ago five scientists published an article in the science journal Natural Hazards entitled “Vulnerability of an industrial corridor in Texas to  storm surge.”(4)  The area studied in this article was the Houston Ship Channel Industrial Corridor which is laden with storage tanks containing toxic materials that can be released in a serious flood.  True to their warning, Business Insider passed along an AP report on explosion and a fire at a Houston suburban chemical plant as a result of flooding from Hurricane Harvey.  An mile and half buffer was established around the Arkema plant and the approximately 5,000 people nearby were warned to evacuate. (5)  In its September issue Oil Spill Intelligence Report® reported three major oil spills and 20% of the nation’s oil refining was of offline as a result of 51 inches of rain pouring down on the greater Houston area. (6)

If you have lived in a residential area affected by a severe storm that toppled trees and power lines over a wide area, the resulting power outages for a majority of people whose homes were nearby is arduous.  I lived in one such city about twenty-four years ago when we were hit by an ice storm.  Our house was without electricity for five days.  Friends who lived two blocks to the west were deprived of power for three weeks because workers for the power company had to go into each back yard on their block to fix the problems. In the current era, utility companies use modern technology, such as weather radar, to predict where most outages will occur and mutual assistance from other utilities to help with power restoration. (7)

Local governments have implemented stricter building codes to mitigate structural damage that is the result of hurricane force winds.   These ordinances do help cut the cost of rebuilding.   What hasn’t happened, according what I have read, is building restrictions  in floodplains.  As hurricanes increase in size, the more moisture that comes from their clouds means more flooding.   Katrina, Ike, Harvey, and Irma are cases in point.  Eastern North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, southeastern Texas, and other places that are below or barely above sea level are targets for devastating flooding.  Hurricane season isn’t over for this year yet. We’ll see what the remainder of 2017 and next year’s season brings to those areas who are the most vulnerable.

(1) https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/events/US/1980-2017   According to NOAA, the estimated cost for these nine events is  $10 billion.

(2)According to Simon Winchester in his book, Pacific, Typhoon Tip in 1979 was  1380 miles wide.  Winchester, p. 246.

(3) A news report from Miami told of residents of a high rise apartment building camping in the their parking lot after they been eight days without power.   WLOS, September 20, 2017.

(4)Daniel W. Burleson, et al., “Vulnerability of an industrial corridor in Texas to  storm surge,”Natural Hazards (77): 1183-1203.  NC Live

(5) Frank Bajak, Reese Dunklin, and Emily Schmall, Associated Press, “Harvey ignites a second fire and explosion at Houston chemical plant,” Business Insider, September 2, 2014.

(6)Oil Spill Intelligence Report®, September 11, 2017, pp. 1-2. NC Live

(7)Jump, Peter and Janneke Bruce. Electric Perspectives; Washington28.3 (May/Jun 2003): 22-39. NC Live

For further reading:

Heidi Cullen, The Weather of the Future

Verne Huser,  The Rivers of Texas

Simon Winchester,  Pacific : silicon chips and surfboards, coral reefs and atom bombs, brutal dictators, fading empires, and the coming collision of the world’s superpowers

and the articles cited above.

It Gets Better

September can mean a lot of different things to different people: fall is here and the hills will be lit afire with changing leaves, the temperature outside cools to a comfortable level, kiddos go back to school, university is in session, life takes on a slower more regular schedule. September is also suicide awareness month. I am what people in the industry (yes there is a suicide industry) call a suicide loss survivor. I had never quite put label to my reality until I started researching for this post, but there it is: I am a loss survivor. Nearly ten years ago I split up with a man whom I had been with for several years. He had battled with depression and suicidal thoughts for the majority of his life. Soon after our split he decided to assert his last act of control and committed suicide. Needless to say, my world was rocked. Not only had I been learning to live without my partner, but all of a sudden I had to learn to live with all of the questions, guilt, and pain of what he had decided. It was suddenly and sharply real that I would never see or hear him again. Though we had not worked out as a couple, he was still the person at that time who knew me better than just about anyone else in my world, and he would no longer be in mine.

Most loss survivors go through the same feelings and emotions; disbelief, numbness, anger, guilt and a hole deep, deep down inside. When left behind after a suicide there are no answers, only speculation and that speculation is so deeply painful.  Loss survivors begin to question what they themselves have done wrong and it is common to hear of people close to the suicide victim taking their own lives not long after or being put on to suicide watch. I do not believe that many people with suicidal thoughts take this reality into consideration, especially when feelings of loneliness are intertwined in the person’s psyche. Susan Rose Blauner hits on this fact when she writes in her wonderful work on mental health and suicide survival, How I Stayed Alive When My Brain was Trying to Kill Me, “I wonder if they ever consider the fact that they are choosing to kill someone while wounding many others”.  I had never quite thought of Mark’s suicide in those terms but it rings true still today. Suicide is a violent act, and those who care for the person are being caught in the crossfire. Though they may not have a physical ailment, it can be mentally debilitating. One thing that loss survivors or suicide bystanders need to remember during the time of hurt, blame and loss is that everyone who attempts or succeeds at suicide is doing so for very personal reasons. This is their last act of control in a world that has spun out, it is their release of the pain and anguish that they have been dealing with, it is their decision. Blauner writes, “I think that when you don’t know what to do with your pain and are feeling unloved, suicide seems like a better choice than life.”  It is this escape from pain that drives most suicidal tendencies. It’s not that those who are suicidal don’t want to live; it’s just that they can’t deal with the pain any longer.

Fortunately there are many different resources available for people who need help, though we can as a society do much better in dealing with mental health crises. Whether you are feeling at the end of the line and ready to leave it all or are a suicide loss survivor here to pick up the shattered pieces left behind, know that there is help. The key is that you will have to want to get help and crucially, feel that you deserve help. Nationally there is the suicide helpline. It runs 7 days a week 24 hours a day and can be reached by phone at 1-800-273-8255 (talk)or online https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ .

It doesn’t matter what part you have to play in a mental health crisis, the people on the hotline are there to help.  Whether you are a concerned friend or family member, a suicide loss survivor or someone on the brink, they can lead you in the right direction off the edge. There are also several other web pages that have been started by suicide survivors that are a great resource for all involved to see that you are far from alone in what you find yourselves faced with: http://www.itgetsbetter.org is one of the more famous, started by Dan Savage (of the Savage Love column and podcast) and his partner as a response to the shockingly high rates of suicides amongst LGBTQ teenagers. It has resources and many different videos of people discussing their life and how at one point it all felt hopeless but that if you can hang on it will get better. Another  http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=urgent_crisis_suicide_prevention

is a page put out by the depression and bipolar alliance which is a little more scholarly in appearance and full of information. The last online source that I have for you (and please be aware that there are many many more available and I just personally found these to be comprehensive and useful) is http://www.lostallhope.com/ .  Lost All Hope is a web page that was created by suicide survivors and is a sort of crowd sourced platform, on which people share their story and support each other. There are also plenty of references to books and other sources. I found the chat space of this page to be very eye opening and a great safe space to find those who have been through similar situations.  Unfortunately the suicide horror is one that is shared by many others.

Here at the Jackson County Public Library we have partnered with Vaya Health to offer a mental health screening kiosk that is private and easy to use. It is located on the second floor next to the young adult section. The same mental health tool is offered online at http://www.vayamindful.org/ .  Please use whichever one feels more comfortable. Vaya Health manages public funds for mental health, substance use disorder and intellectual or developmental disability services in twenty-three North Carolina counties, including Jackson, Macon, and Swain. I tried the kiosk myself and found it easy and private. They ask a couple of demographics items at the beginning which are used solely for statistics purposes — a name is never attached or personal information of any kind. I did look through the privacy statement as well and Vaya Health was very explicit in the fact that they do not gather personal information, or sell any information to a third party. The demographic stats are solely for informational purposes to help Vaya Health better serve the community. It also must be noted that the information that the mental health screening does offer is not to be a replacement of a medical diagnosis. One of the best options that the kiosk offers is that they have the numbers and people to connect you with immediately to get the help that you need. If you do not feel comfortable with either of those local options you can call the Vaya Health directory line where they will connect you with mental health resources in Western North Carolina, 1-800-849-6127. You can use that number for yourself or for someone that you are concerned about in your life.

Just remember that asking for help does not make you weak, it does not make you broken past the point of no return. On the contrary, asking for help is one of the hardest things that we humans can do. I was lucky to have a large and loving support system, and for months I thought that I had myself under control. I am after all a Taurus and like a bull it’s hard for me to seek help of the personal kind. Then one day it just hit me. I was past the point of denial, of numb disregard.  I felt simply broken, lost. I didn’t know where to turn and I thought that I would never be able to let the pain leave. I believed in a way that I deserved to live with it. I could no longer stand it. A friend referred me to a lovely woman who was able to take me on at a sliding scale after I told her my circumstance. She was able to change my life and the trajectory that I was on. I never thought that I would benefit from such an arrangement and neither had Mark —  that is exactly why he never got help. I chose not to follow his footsteps.

Here are several books available in the Fontana Regional Library System:

How I stayed alive when my brain was trying to kill me by Blaunder, Susan

Why suicide?: answers to 200 of the most frequently asked questions about suicide, attempted suicide, and assisted suicide by Eric Marcus

Manic: a Memoir by Terri Cheney

Cracked not Broken: surviving and thriving after a suicide attempt  by Kevin Hines

Having fun isn’t hard when you have a library card

When I was a child, my favorite book was Chris van Allsburg’s The Polar Express. It was the book I used to figure out the ins and outs of the library business – I knew where it was supposed to be located on the shelf, and then I learned to look at the spine label for the author’s last name to find it even quicker. Sometimes it wouldn’t be there, and I finally figured out that maybe other people had checked it out. When I couldn’t find it, I was forced to break away from my comfort zone and explore other books. But my favorite thing was to beeline for the children’s corner, pull out The Polar Express, and sit in the chair by the corner window to get lost in the story.

As an adult, I can’t figure out for the life of me why I loved this book so much, except that I’ve always been drawn to imagery of cold, dark winter nights. (Cecilia Eckback’s Wolf Winter does cold dark winter nights well, too, FYI, although I wouldn’t recommend it for five-year-olds.)

polar express
Who wouldn’t want to be on that train?

I don’t remember exactly when I first got my own library card, but I think I was in third grade. In my mind’s eye I can see my shaky cursive scrawl on the back of the well-worn paper card, and I felt like such a grown-up carrying stacks of books nearly as tall as I was to the desk. Memory is a tricky thing, but I do vaguely remember the librarian setting limits on how many books I could check out at once. I still need limits today, believe me.

beverly cleary
ALL of the Beverly Cleary books, really.

As I got older and moved on to chapter books, I loved long series, a love which did not follow me to adulthood. I read all of the Ramona books, the Baby-Sitter’s Club, the Boxcar Children, Nancy Drewthe Sweet Valley Twins, Little House on the Prairieespecially Little House on the Prairie. I was a shy kid and spent a lot of time in my own head, for better or worse, and the books I liked to read were about little girls like me who I could identify with on some level. Some of my favorites were Judy Delton’s books about Kitty, a Catholic girl my age who made me feel a little less weird about growing up Catholic in rural Alabama. Luckily, we are becoming more aware and responsive to the need for diversity in children’s literature, so kids of all kinds of different backgrounds should be able to walk into a library and find books with main characters that they, too, can identify with.

We lived quite a ways out of town, so I would often take a bus or get a ride to the library after school until my mom got off work. I would sometimes work on homework. More often I would sit in the reading room and look at magazines, particularly Seventeen magazine, which I wasn’t supposed to be reading yet. (I’m sorry you have to find out this way, Mom and Dad. Love y’all.)

At some point in early adulthood I quit going to the library on a regular basis – I guess I got too busy with college and work and getting tattoos and important stuff like that. But when I moved to Franklin five years ago, one of the first things I did was get a library card and start using it. At the time, there was still a five item limit on new library card holders, and I would overwhelm myself trying to decide what I wanted to check out when. The Macon County Public Library felt like home and was at times a refuge when I really needed one. (Still is!)

staff picks
Staff picks at Hudson Library – we love all the books! (Well, almost.)

Having worked in various capacities for FRL for over three years, I’m happy to still be a library nerd. I love libraries. Public libraries, particularly the FRL libraries, provide a wide range of services to meet community needs. I used to regularly find myself in the computer lab at MCPL before I got a laptop, and it thrills me to no end that I could check out a telescope from the library. But to me, there’s still nothing quite as special as pulling a book off a shelf, curling up in a quiet corner, and reading the afternoon away. (In a library, though – or anywhere that’s not my house, where I tend to get distracted by cats and housework.)

I guess the point of all this is: September is Library Card Sign-Up Month, so if you don’t have a card, get one. You won’t regret it!

Truman vs. MacArthur

On June 25, 1950, the North Korean army streamed across the 38th parallel attacking the poorly equipped Republic of Korea (ROK) soldiers, driving them southward.  With the backing of the United Nations Security Council, President Harry S. Truman ordered General Douglas MacArthur to send  members of the 8th United States army, then on occupation duty in Japan,  to reinforce the South Korean troops in their fight against the Communists.

Truman was Franklin Roosevelt’s choice  to run with him as the Vice Presidential candidate in 1944.  At that time Truman was a senator representing Missouri, chairing a committee looking into waste in the war effort.  He served in World War I with the Missouri national guard.  After the war Truman was a businessman and a machine politician before being elected to the United States Senate in 1935. Roosevelt and Truman won the election, but Truman was only vice president for 81 days, when FDR had a stroke and died on April 12 1945.

Douglas MacArthur’s father  had served in the United States Army in the Civil War.   MacArthur  won an appointment to West Point.   After graduation, he was posted to the Philippines, where he won a Medal of Honor.  Before his service in World War II, he served in Europe in the Great War, he was superintendent of West Point, and  in 1930, he became Chief of Staff of the United States Army.  While he was in Washington, President Hoover assigned him to drive the Bonus Marchers out of Washington, D. C. in 1932.   MacArthur retired from the United States Army in 1937 and he was appointed military advisor to the Philippines’ Army.   After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, MacArthur was recalled to active duty and by the end of World War II, he had earned his fifth star.  When the United States occupied Japan at the end of the war, MacArthur was put in charge of the country.  He was still in that position when North Koreans invaded the south on June 24, 1950.

Because MacArthur was known as a loose cannon to politicians, it was suggested to the President he be specific in any orders he gave the general.   Truman already had  issues with the general, particularly when he entered the Republican Presidential primary in 1948 without resigning his commission. (1)  On the other hand, MacArthur had little respect for President Truman, whose only wartime experience was in World War I.   Also, MacArthur was virtually running occupied Japan without bothering to pass his actions through the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which were above him on the chain of command.

When fighting started on the Korean Peninsula in June 1950 and MacArthur was put in charge of American forces, it did take not long for the general to come into conflict with the JCS and civilians in the Defense and State Department, as well as the President, who was  the Commander in Chief.   The North Korean Army pushed ROK troops and elements of the 8th American army into a perimeter around Pusan in southeast Korea.   MacArthur suggested UN forces attack the Communists behind their lines with an amphibious landing at the west coast port city of Inchon.   Despite fears Inchon would be a failure, it was a success and UN forces counterattacked  from the Pusan perimeter and drove the Communists north toward the 38th Parallel.

Crossing that line was a political decision as well as military one.  On September 21, President Truman, in response to a reporter’s question, stated the decision as to whether or not to cross the 38th parallel was in the hands of the UN. (2)  Before the end of the month, the Chinese Communist government  warned that if the ROK and UN allies went north of  the 38th Parallel, the Chinese would enter the war.

Truman and the general had never met, so the president and his advisors thought it might be a good idea to have MacArthur brief Truman in person in either Hawaii or Wake Island.  The meeting took place on the seabound atoll in the middle of the Pacific  Ocean on October 15,  1950, with the general making no bones about being beckoned by Truman to a political conference when he had more important things to do. In the course of the meeting, Truman asked MacArthur whether or not he thought the Chinese would join the fight in Korea.  MacArthur downplayed this by saying he planned to withdraw American forces from Korea by Christmas.  A few weeks later, the Chinese joined the fray and ruined the general’s plan. (3)

The basic difference was between the president’s containment policy in Korea and MacArthur’s plans to expand the war (police action).  In December, the Joint Chiefs  sent a order to MacArthur reminding him that the security of the Eighth Army was paramount, because it was the only defense Japan had, and, if necessary it should  be withdrawn from Korea. Furious, the general made his feeling known:  He suggested blockading China, using naval bombardment to diminish the Chinese capacity to wage war, and to use the Chinese nationalist army in Korea.  Before the end of the year the President ordered MacArthur to pass any statements, speeches, etc. through the JCS for approval.

Throughout the winter and the early spring of 1951, MacArthur, ignoring Truman’s order, made statements either to the press, political leaders, or to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that made clear he wasn’t agreeing with his superiors as to policy on the Korean peninsula.  By April President Truman had had it with MacArthur’s efforts to join with Republican politicians and newspapers that opposed him. The last straw, according to Truman, was when the House Minority Leader, Joseph Martin of Massachusetts, read a letter  into the record from MacArthur in which he suggested turning the Chinese Nationalists loose on their rivals on the Chinese mainland.

After consulting with his advisers, Truman asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff for their opinions about MacArthur and what to do about him. The chairman, General Omar Bradley, determined that MacArthur was opposed to the policy Truman had set out, and as Commander in Chief, he had the right to relieve a general in whom he no longer had faith.  The other members of the JCS agreed with Bradley, MacArthur must go. (4)  The president’s  decision  was announced at a one AM news conference on April 11, 1951.  MacArthur was ordered to turn his commands over to General Matthew B. Ridgway.

The general and his family landed in the United States a few days after his firing.  He received a ticker tape parade in New York and addressed a joint session of Congress, where he finished his speech by quoting the old barrack room ballad, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”   A shortly after his appearance before the joint session, MacArthur spent three days testifying before a combined session of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees.  After MacArthur, the committees heard from Secretary of Defense Marshall, Secretary of State Acheson, and Chairman of Joint Chiefs Omar Bradley.   Marshall and Bradley’s testimony, some of it behind closed doors, painted a different picture to the Senators than MacArthur’s vis a vis the state of American armed forces and the Russians and Chinese. (5)

1952 was a presidential election – Republican Dwight Eisenhower beat Democrat Adlai Stevenson – Truman retired to Missouri and MacArthur faded away.

(1) Actually, MacArthur later denied he was an open candidate, but rather supporters in Wisconsin got themselves on the state’s ballots.  It turned out  after all Harold Stassen was the state’s real favorite son, because the general only received 11 votes on the first ballot at the Republican convention and 7 on the second to Stassen’s 157 and 149.  William Manchester,  American Caesar, p. 620.

(2) Transcription of HST Press Conference, 9/21/1950

(3) Manchester suggests  having two elderly men meet  for the first time at an atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, when both were travel weary (Truman was seven time zones away from Washington, MacArthur was three from Tokyo), was ludicrous.  American Caesar, p. 708.

(4) Brands, The General vs. the President, pp. 297-98.

(5) Brands, The General vs. the President, pp. 331-369.  These pages contain an excellent summary of the committees’ hearing.

For further reading:

Clay Blair.  The Forgotten War: American in Korea, 1950-1953.

H. W. Brands.  The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War.

David Halberstam.  The Coldest Winter:  America and the Korean War.

William Manchester.  American Caesar:  Douglas MacArthur, 1880-1964.

David McCullough.  Truman.

On Line:

Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, Volume 7, Korea

Foreign Relations of the United States, 1951, Volume 7, Prt. 1, China and Korea 

Truman Press Conferences, 1950-1951 

Books for Boys

Somewhere between 7 and 9 years old, I became a Reader.  And by Reader I mean someone who loves to read.  I’d been “reading” (deciphering the alphabet to produce words whose meaning I understood) since I was about 3, and by first grade I was the best reader in my class (just a small elementary school in a tiny rural community, but still – no brag, just fact).

But somewhere during or after second grade and before fifth grade, I really got into reading.  Why was that important?  Because when one loves to read, then one reads more.  When one reads more, one better develops vital language skills.  The more enjoyable reading is, the more one develops the information access skills that are critical to success in the twenty-first century.

And, perhaps alarmingly, boys are NOT turning into readers in the same numbers as girls.  This trend has been going on for at least a decade, and the causes are many:  popular tween and YA books focus more on the female audience by about 3 to 1; [YA titles are in a Golden Age, btw – perhaps more on that in another blog later…?]; boys are more likely to spend free time in video games than reading; and, finally, many educators don’t always know what’s “out there” for boys. Probably all true to some extent. While I can’t do much about most of those causes, I can share some titles that might help your young male to enjoy reading.  They made a difference for me anyway.

One of the books I came across in that important phase where I was developing as a reader was “Tarzan of the Apes.” Written about a century ago, it still has the excitement and adventure that is capable of hooking a reader.  Better yet, the author Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a lot of sequels.  One of the things that happened to me reading Tarzan what that the author had a YUGE vocabulary.  I was constantly going to my Mom to ask her what a word meant. (Tarzan’s mighty thews, for example:  A well-developed sinew or muscle: “sinews of steel, thews of iron” American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.)

Mom got tired of answering me, and directed me to take a dictionary with me whenever I sat down to read the book.  Whenever I did not know a word, I had to look it up in the dictionary.  This had two great side effects: 1) My vocabulary grew by leaps and bounds (albeit with many somewhat archaic usages, like “mighty thews”); 2) I learned to use a dictionary really well.  While today’s young reader might be more inclined to look an unknown word up on the internet than to use a print dictionary, the benefits would still accrue.

Another book or set of books that really worked for me was the “juvenile” series by Robert A. Heinlein.  I’ve written in an earlier blog about how a kindly librarian directed me towards this author, but his books are great if the tween/teen reader has any interest in space or science fiction.

So really, there are some great books available, and the Library has them.  Here is a list of books I remember liking immensely as a young growing male reader – they have different reading levels and certainly the rule about having to look any word up if you don’t know what it means will apply, but overall I believe they have some real value.

Tarzan series – Edgar Rice Burroughs – jungle adventure

Heinlein “juveniles” – Robert A. Heinlein – science fiction [list here]

The Scarlet Pimpernel – Baroness Orczy – adventure during the French Revolution; features a hero with a secret identity

The Three Musketeers –  Alexander Dumas – adventure during the French monarchy – swords and swashbuckling

The Call of the Wild – Jack London – animal (dog) adventure during the Alaska gold rush

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain

The Good Earth – Pearl S. Buck – historical rags to riches story in pre-industrial China

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood – Howard Pyle

Beat to Quarters (Capt. Horatio Hornblower) – C.S. Forester – adventure on the high seas during the Napoleonic era

Lost Horizon – James Hilton – Hidden realm (Shangri-La) in the Himalayas

Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle

Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe

Jungle Books – Rudyard Kipling – like Tarzan, boy raised by animals (Mowgli)

The Great Impersonation – E. Phillips Oppenheim – adventure/mystery set in the WWI era

King Solomon’s Mines – H. Rider Haggard – hidden kingdom in Africa

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne – Captain Nemo and his fantastic submarine the Nautilus

Rabbit Hill – Robert Lawson – animal adventure (rabbits)

Watership Down – Richard Adams – animal adventure (rabbits, but like no rabbits ever known)

Lad: A Dog – Albert Payson Terhune – animal adventure

The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien (and the prelude, The Hobbit)

If the boy is younger, you might want to read these aloud to him.  Most are suitable for 10 year olds and up.  Besides growing a reader and increasing vocabulary, there is a lot of history, folklore, and imagination to be gained.  Please let me know if any of these fit on your list of beloved books, and feel free to suggest some others!

[All titles are held by the NC Cardinal Library system which Fontana Regional Library belongs to – the links might be to just the first book if it is part of a series]

This is not an eclipse post.

Last night I was sitting at home reading as the sun faded away, and the droning of crickets outside the house gradually drowned out the sound of the words on the page in front of me.

This is the sound of a summer night – crickets raising heck outside, intermittent frog croaks from the pond, steady whirring of ceiling fans, the tumble of cat feet zipping from one end of the house to the other (oh wait, that’s every night). In Alabama, where I grew up, the crickets sing louder and for months longer than they do where I presently live in the steely shadow of the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment’s sharp edge. These friendly neighborhood sirens are my favorite part of summer – perhaps because they catapult me back into happy childhood memories, perhaps because I’ve grown grumpy toward heat and they signal cool nighttime hours ahead.

I wonder – will the crickets start their racket when the moon eclipses the sun on Monday?

eclipse
Does this really qualify as night?

Lately I’ve been hesitant to seek out answers to questions like that. Not knowing what to pay attention to sometimes forces me to pay attention to everything, which usually ends in wonder and joy. So I think – for me anyway, tucked away in a pocket of woods somewhere – the eclipse should be a joyful experience. I can’t help but have certain expectations of astonishment, but I tend to expect that out of any ordinary day, so nothing new there.

every day is earth day
Every day is Earth (and space) Day at Hudson Library!

After reading Annie Dillard’s essay “Total Eclipse,” I also expect to be at least a little weirded out. (Find it and other essays in anthologies here and here.)

There are going to be a whole lot of people here in Western North Carolina on Monday. I’ve heard predictions of mayhem – nothing new there either. Some of us locals aren’t too excited about the impending influx of bodies and vehicles, but I really hope we can recognize how lucky we are to live here, and be kind to each other. Aren’t we also lucky to live in a time when a total solar eclipse doesn’t portend doom and destruction any more than the relentless daily news cycle does? How cool is it that so many people in this state, this country, this world, are going to be staring up at the sky together in wonder and awe, and maybe a touch of primordial fear? The world needs more of that.

eclipse tips
Your friendly local library wants to help keep you informed.

We’re being told to prepare supply-wise as we would for an impending winter storm, so I have an apocalypse-worthy cache of toilet paper at the house, and my snowshoes are primed and ready to go. (Wait – what?) I can only focus on doing one thing right at a time, so today I’ll get food and, if I remember, toothpaste.

Don’t forget to stock up on library books!

faulkner
Words of inspiration from a favorite cheerful scribe, as quoted in Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir.

Board Games — a great antidote to boredom!

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August is National Anti-boredom Month. What better time to ponder the definitely un-boring world of board games, right?

First of all, I have to confess, I am a board-gamer. An avid one. My husband and I have a collection of over 400 board games (more broadly referred to as tabletop games), ranging from 10 Days in Asia to Euphoria to Starfarers of Catan to Le Havre. I have a stash of games at my desk at the library, just in case there’s time for a quick game during lunch. At home we play dice games such as Phase 10 Dice and Can’t Stop at meals (food doesn’t wreak havoc on dice the way it would on cards). I’ve attended the annual GenCon gaming convention in Indianapolis several times (the largest game con in the U.S., celebrating its 50th anniversary this month), which attracts over 60,000 gamers from all over the U.S. and beyond.

So when I encounter books and films that feature, or even mention, tabletop games of one sort or another, I definitely perk up. And there are a lot of them out there! Here are just a few.

chess

Chess is perhaps the most famous tabletop game of all time. It has been featured in many books and films, including that memorable scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when Harry, Hermione, and Ron battle for their lives in a game of Wizard Chess; Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Chessmen of Mars in which the chessmen are live people, each piece taken being a duel to the death; Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass in which the whole book takes place on a county-sized chessboard, and Alice is a pawn who must make her way across the board to become Queen; and many more. If you’d like to find more such books to read, I suggest browsing through this generous annotated listing of some of the best chess-related fiction. Then there are the chess movies, including Searching for Bobby FischerQueen to PlayThe Luzhin Defence, and Queen of Katwe, among many others. Here’s one of many lists of ten of the best chess-related films.

go

Go is another enduring classic (it’s around 4,000 years old!), often considered to be the world’s most difficult game to master, and one that frequently appears in literature. Hikaru No Go is a popular 23-volume manga (graphic novel) series centered on the game. The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata is an exquisite novelization of an actual Go match which took place over the course of six months in the 1930s. The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa revolves around the game. And let’s not forget A Beautiful Mind, in which Go is also featured.

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More modern board games have been featured in books and films as well. Scrabble is one example. The children’s novel The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman is heavily focused on a school Scrabble competition (and also involves some students who would really like to cheat!). In the 1992 film SneakersScrabble tiles are used to help crack a code. The children’s book Games: A Tale of Two Bullies, in which a pair of middle-school bullies are forced to play games together every day in order to learn how to get along with each other, features a plethora of games including Scrabble as well as BattleshipConnect 4, and more.

There are films that bring a game to life. A memorable entry in this group is the 1985 film Cluewhich not only features all the characters from the popular board game, but offers three different endings (if you saw it in a movie theater, you had no idea which ending you would get — I remember that well!). A more recent game-to-film effort is Battleship, not the most successful film of 2012, but an opportunity for lovers of the 2-player tabletop game to see it come to life.

bridge

Card games certainly come in for their share of attention. Who could forget the cards featured in Alice in Wonderland? Many a scene is played out over a card table in 19th century literature, such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813), in which characters flirt and court over whistloovingt-un (an early version of blackjack), and commerce (a forerunner of poker); and Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811), which includes cassino and piquet. In Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel Cranford (1851-53), the ladies of the village spend many hours at card tables playing cribbagepreferenceombre, or quadrille. As genteel women, card playing is one acceptable way for them to fill their days.

One of the most popular twentieth-century card games is bridge, which pops up in many novels. Two books that feature bridge particularly prominently are Agatha Christie’s Cards on the Table, in which a bridge game is the key plot element as Poirot analyzes the characters of the players through their bridge-playing styles; and Louis Sachar’s young adult novel The Cardturner, a delightful tale of a teen who is catapulted wholeheartedly into the game of bridge by his ancient (also rich and dying) uncle.

Not all games are real. There are, in fact, a plethora of imaginary games that appear in fiction. A good example is Vaccination, a complicated card game played by the Leary family in Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist (you can catch it in the film version as well). In the Star Wars series, the imaginary holographic board game Dejarik is played; particularly memorable to me is the scene from the ‘first’ Star Wars movie, now called Star Wars IV: A New Hope, in which Chewbacca and R2d2 play the game. M. T. Anderson’s The Game of Sunken Places is a children’s fantasy book in which the protagonists discover a game board (The Game of Sunken Places, of course) which triggers the game to begin in real life. They encounter all sorts of hazards and strange characters as they attempt to survive and thereby win the game.

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As if that wasn’t enough, some of those imaginary games in film and literature have inspired the creation of real-world games. For example, the film Jumanji (based on the picture book by Chris van Allsburg) revolves around a mysterious board game some children find in a park. The film spurred the creation of a children’s board game recreating (as much as possible) the fictional game. And William Sleator’s book Interstellar Pig, about a group of teens who become addicted to the imaginary game of that name, spawned the creation of a real Interstellar Pig game.

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There are many games that are based on books or movies. Lord of the Rings is a challenging cooperative board game based on the Tolkien books, in which each player is one of the hobbits, and everyone works together to try to destroy the ring before Sauron overcomes the ring-bearer (there are other games with Tolkien themes, but this one is the most true to the original story). Game of Thrones is an epic strategy/war game based on George R. R. Martin’s epic novel, where each player is vying for rule over the kingdom of Westeros. Eldritch Horror (formerly Arkham Horror) is a cooperative fantasy game based on the Cthulhu novels and stories by H.P. Lovecraft. Pillars of the Earth, involving the building of a great cathedral, and World Without End, tackling survival during the 100 Years War and the Black Plague, are board games based on Ken Follett historical fiction works (Pillars of the Earth and World Without End). Two of the Mystery Rummy card game series are based on famous fiction: Jekyll & Hyde, based on Robert Lewis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and Murders in the Rue Morgue, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story. The card game Bottle Imp is based on the Robert Lewis Stevenson short story. And the list goes on. The gaming website boardgamegeek (the place to go for information of any sort about board games) lists over 1800 games based on novels.

With so many interesting game-related books and movies, and so many great games, the biggest question is which to read, watch, or play first! Queen of Katwe is on my viewing list for this week. How about you?