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.

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

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 

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.

HST AND THE “POLICE ACTION” IN KOREA

On May 15, 2017, the Asheville Citizen-Times published an article about a Blue Ridge Honor Flight taking 90 veterans of World War II and the Korean War to Washington to see the memorials dedicated to those who had died in those wars.  The Korean War veterans were greeted at that memorial by members of the Republic of Korea armed forces, who presented them with medals for their service there.  It has been 64 years since the Korean War ended in a stalemate, with nothing resolved.  Rumors of war are once again being heard from both South and North Korea.

The Koreans live either in the Republic of South Korea on one hand or the  Democratic Peoples’ Republic of North Korea on the other, whose common boundary is the demarcation line from the Korean War that was agreed on in 1953.    For most of the first half of the twentieth  century Korea was a dependency of Japan. At the end World War II, the USSR  liberated the north from the Japanese and the United States freed the south.  Both agreed to divide the country at the 38th parallel, with the Russians occupying the north and the Americans the south.  The Americans and Russian pulled their troops out  of the country in 1948. That worked until June 1950.

In the south, an organization headed by Syngman Rhee gained control of the government.  The United States refused to give his military  heavy weapons because it was afraid Rhee was going to attack the North.  Also, the United States was cutting its defense spending, concentrating its armed forces in Europe, where the Russians dominated the eastern part of the continent and the Cold War was heating up. Meanwhile, with the backing of the Soviets and the Chinese, Kim Il Sung, grandfather of the current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, built up a strong army.  His military forces included Koreans who had fought in the Chinese Civil War on the side of the Communists.

Late in the spring of 1950, rumors were spreading in the south of an attack from the north.  The North Korean military, using a fake attack as an excuse to start a war, poured across the 38th parallel on the early morning of Saturday, June 25 , backed by Soviet made tanks and MIG fighter aircraft.   The closest American forces  were the 8th Army on occupation duty in Japan, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur.

As soon as word reached the United States of  the North Korean invasion,  President Truman’s administration went to the United Nation’s Security Council at the behest of Secretary of State, Dean Acheson . (1)  The Security Council met on the afternoon of June 25 and voted 9-0 to brand the North Korean action “a breach of the peace.”   That evening President Truman met with his security and military advisors to decide what steps to take next.  Gen. MacArthur was instructed to send transportation to Korea to evacuate Americans and get ammunition and other supplies to the ROK army as fast as possible. Thirdly, the 7th Fleet was to deploy at the Formosa Strait.  Two days later, on June 27, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling on member nations to support the ROK’s efforts to push back the North Koreans to the 38th parallel. (2)

The North Korean army drove the ROK army south and by the time American forces re-enforced  them, the Communists had the South Koreans and their allies hemmed in around Pusan in southeast Korea. Even as United States troops were fighting in Korea, President Truman refused to admit the country was at war.   He did, however, agree with a reporter who asked if the UN was fighting a “police action” against the North Koreans. (3)  To relieve the Pusan Perimeter, General MacArthur planned an amphibious  landing at Incheon on the west coast, near Seoul, behind the People’s Army lines.  American soldiers landed there on 4 September, 1950, totally  surprising the Communists.

After the Americans captured Incheon, the other UN forces broke out of the Pusan perimeter, driving the North Koreans north.  As the Communists got closer to the 38th parallel the question was, should the ROK troops and their  UN allies follow them?  The ROK army did not hesitate to go into  North Korea and UN forces followed them.  By the end of October as UN forces approached the Yalu River, the border between Manchuria  and North Korea, the Chinese Communists attacked in force.  Despite warnings from the Chinese they would enter the war if the ROK and UN forces crossed the 38th parallel, both MacArthur  and Truman were surprised at the the Chinese actions and the allied fighters suffered heavy casualties while retreating.

At first the Chinese troops made a difference driving the UN forces south across the 38 the parallel.  That is, until Matthew Ridgway  was given command of the 8th Army early in 1951.  ( His predecessor General Walton (‘Johnny’) Walker was killed in an accident on his way to the front in December 1950.)  By the time Ridgway reached Korea to take command, UN forces were back in South Korea and Seoul was back in Communist hands.   Ridgway re-organized the 8th army at the same time the Communists were having trouble supplying their troops, forcing them to fight with not enough food or clothes.   The North Korean/Chinese morale sunk and more and more soldiers surrendered to the UN forces.   Ridgway’s responsibilities were widened in April, when Douglas  MacArthur was relieved of his command by President Truman.*    He was promoted to a  full general (four stars),  took MacArthur’s place in Japan, and governed until the occupation ended in 1952.

After Ridgway took command of the 8th Army, UN forces forced the Communists back towards the 38th parallel and liberated Seoul again.  In the summer of 1951 both sides agreed to begin cease fire talks.  Unfortunately, the bickering lasted two years, as did the stalemate on the ground, before an agreement was signed in August 1953.  By that time Dwight David Eisenhower was President of the United States.

* – More about that aspect of the Korean War in my next blog.

(1) Cabell Phillips, The  Truman Presidency, p. 288.

(2) Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, Korea, Volume VII , Document 130 (https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1950v07/d130)

(3) H. W. Brands, The General and the President, p. 97

For further reading:

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

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

Max Hastings.  The Korean War.

Marguerite Higgins.  War in Korea.   online at:  https://ia800303.us.archive.org/35/items/warinkoreatherep011941mbp/warinkoreatherep011941mbp.pdf

William Manchester.  American Caesar

David McCullough.  Truman.

Cabell Phillips.  The  Truman Presidency

John Toland.  In Mortal Combat : Korea, 1950-1953.

 

 

Audiobooks I Have Managed To Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HST and the Cold War in the Far East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My next blog:  “HST and Korean War”

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

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

(3)Documents 1-24.

(4)Document  25

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

(6) Document 41

(7) Documents 45, 54

(8) Document 58

For further reading

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

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

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

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

David McCullough.  Truman.

Cabell Phillips.  The Truman Presidency.

Celebrating Audiobook Month

audiobook icon      June is Audiobook Month!

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

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

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

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

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

audiobook infographic

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

Audiobooks come in a variety of forms:

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

DSCF3900

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

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

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

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

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

Picture books!

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

They don’t get the guffaw.

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

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

Giraffe is not a chair
Yeah, right.

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

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

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

Escargot salad
Hold the salt, please!

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

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

“It Was Early” by Mary Oliver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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