Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Being Sensible about Jane

Charlotte Canelli is library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin this week.

Jane might be amazed.

Jane Austen died nearly two centuries ago. She was born in 1775, shortly before the Declaration of Independence was written in these far-away colonies. She was nearly 36 years old in 1811 when her first novel, “Sense and Sensibility”, was published. It was followed by “Pride and Prejudice" in 1813, “Mansfield Park” in 1814 and “Emma” in 1816.

Jane died in 1817 before “Northanger Abbey” and “Persuasion” were published. It is these six books that make up the collection of “Austen Scholarship.”

I wasn’t a teen but was in my mid-twenties when I discovered Jane Austen and read all of the six novels back-to-back. Today I know that I don’t have that kind of attention span. The only other one-author marathon I can think of was the summer I devoured Sue Grafton’s mysteries from A-G. I had to take a break at “H is for Homocide” and never quite picked up the pace again.

Jane Austen's books did sell well and she received favorable reviews during the few years that she was alive to see them published. The money she earned from them afforded her financial stability. However, I can’t believe that she would have dreamed that over two-centuries later that the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA.org) would have over 65 regional groups. Boston’s group is one of the most active. Annual general meetings of the JASNA groups have been held each year since 1979 and plans are underway for the 2012 meeting in New York with the theme “Sex, Money, and Power in Jane Austen’s Fiction”.

Yes, Jane might have been astounded.

In “Why Jane Austen?” published just last month, Rachel Brownstein has written part memoir, part explanation, and part history about Austen’s intrigue. In “A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter”, William Deresiewicz describes the lessons one can learn from reading them. He purports that they are not merely chick-lit. They are inspirational and insightful.

Readers crazy for Austen can read over seventy “spin-off” novels such as Maria Hamilton’s “Mr. Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman”, “The Perfect Bride of Mr. Darcy” by Mary Lydon Simonsen and “Jane Austen Ruined My Life” by Beth Patillo. Others are “Writing Jane Austen” and “The Jane Austen Book Club.” These books hope to quench the thirst for more Austen than the six books that she wrote.

Jane might be awestruck

Of course, if you’ve never read Jane, you’ll need to start with the first of her books and my personal favorite, “Sense and Sensibility.” It’s also my favorite Austen movie and we won’t argue here why I love the 1995 version with Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant. The first film adaptation of Austen’s book was in 1940 with the MGM production of Pride and Prejudice starring Laurence Olivier. BBCs television miniseries is arguably the best adaptation of her novels and millions of us have succumbed to Colin Firth’s charms.

And back to sensibility. I’ve written in my column before about how much I love to read annotated works. I prefer to read non-fiction and annotated works are a perfect blend for me. They include literary criticism, history, definitions and illustrations along with incredible works of literature.

David M. Shapard has published three volumes of annotated Jane Austen. He began with Pride and Prejudice in 2007, continued with Persuasion in 2010 and has just published Sense and Sensibility this year. “The Annotated Emma” will be published next year.

If you are curious as to what a pianoforte of the time looked like, you’ll find out in Shapard’s books which include about 100 black-and-white illustrations. Wondering how a country home might have been landscaped in the early 19th century in pastoral England? You’ll see several illustrations in the annotated works.

If you’d rather read just one book about Austen’s work, or perhaps take the Jane Austen Aptitude Test, then “The Bedside, Bathtub and Armchair Companion to Jane Austen” by Carol Adams, Kelly Gesch and Douglas Buchanan is the book for you. (Other BBA Companions include Shakespeare, Agatha Christie and Dickens.)

Perhaps Jane herself would love to come back to life to read “A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen” edited by Susannah Carson or “Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World” by Claire Harman.

Jane Austen died in 1817 just after her 41st birthday. Her brother arranged for her last two books to be published as a set. This was the first time his sister, Jane Austen, was actually identified as the author. All four of her first novels were authored, rather cryptically, ‘By a Lady.” These last two novels sold fairly well for several years. However, all of her books were out of print for the next twelve years until they were published as the collected works in 1933.

Jane Austen might be astonished. They have never been out of print since.

If you’d like to read Jane Austen or read about her books, be sure to visit the Morrill Memorial Library. For help with finding books, movies or audiobooks, call the Reference librarians (781-769-0200) or visit the Minuteman Library Catalog on our website, www.norwoodlibrary.org.

Monday, July 18, 2011

In a Tight Spot ... for Gardening

Jenna Hecker is the Technology/Reference Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

I am not the best candidate for a garden. I live on the second floor. I have no garden hose, and my backyard is paved over. The house where my apartment is located was built in 1875, and the lead paint that was used at that time is still present in any of the soil surrounding the house.

I felt like my desire for home-grown green beans was never going to overcome all of this adversity, until a friend suggested container gardening. Container gardening allows urban and lead-soil plagued New Englanders to grow food in small and unusual spaces. I decided to research container gardens before I began.

I checked out “Ortho’s All About Container Gardening” By Sally Roth and Pamela Pierce (635.96, Roth). The book gives step-by-step guidelines for new container gardeners, discussing which containers are best for different environments, and what to consider when you begin like portability, ease of watering, and protection from pests.

I chose several large, plastic pots and Tupperware tubs as my containers of choice, and got a friend to drill holes in the bottom for drainage. For a great guide on how to choose soil, put together a container, and choose plants for my garden, I swallowed my pride and grabbed “Container Gardening for Dummies” by Bill Marken. Typically, I won’t check out any book that I feel is insulting me with its title, but this “Dummies” book is well laid out, plainly written, and extremely informative when it comes to mixing soil, and choosing plants appropriate for containers.

I chose to plant a few varieties of tomatoes (For those of you who are curious: Ida Gold, Italian Grandmother’s Tomato, Roma Paste Tomato, Cherokee Purple, and Grandma Mary’s Paste), some small breeds of Japanese eggplant, green ‘provider’ bush beans, a variety of lettuces, alpine strawberries (a delicious, ever bearing, smaller variety of strawberries that are very prolific), sage, mint, a few varieties of basil.

To plan how to situate my pots on my fire escape – both for the best sun exposure and the least threat of tripping over them if there was a fire – I went to “The Patio Kitchen Garden,” by Daphne Ledward. Ledward’s book talks about the care and maintenance of specific container-grown vegetables.

With the help of the book and various gardening websites like davesgarden.com and thegardenhelper.com, I learned how to keep my strawberries from getting attacked by my cat, squirrels, and other furry and troublesome fire escape visitors.

I learned about companion planting from ghorganics.com, and co-located my marigolds and basil with my tomatoes to keep pesky insects away. Another resource that I found very useful for identifying garden pests and learning how to control them was “The Container Kitchen Garden,” by Anthony Atha. The book is a great all-around container gardening resource, bringing you from the planning stages of container gardening right through to the eating-and-enjoying piece. There are a number of great recipes based around plants that are typically grown in gardens in the back, as well as an index that describes interesting container based plants (like my alpine strawberries!), with a calendar explaining when to plant and pick them.

My garden is set up for function rather than aesthetics. There isn’t much space to walk around on my fire escape, and it’s not a particularly safe hang out spot. Many container gardeners, however, relish in the opportunity to create an aesthetically pleasing garden that is also moveable and therefore can change constantly.

“Contain Yourself,” by Kerstin Ouellet is a great guide to designing and planting floral containers. Oullette goes through ‘recipes’ for floral arrangements that work well together in containers, as well as which sorts of containers work best with which plants.

I don’t make my own containers. Gardening for me is about planting – I am just not artistic or handy. However, many people see container gardening as a way to combine a love of flowers and vegetables with a love of building and design. “Gardening with Containers” by George Carter is a great how-to guide for people interested in making their own garden containers, or designing containers using a variety of innovative and interesting materials. This book focuses on non-edible container gardening, but has amazing, creative project ideas for aesthetically pleasing and innovative container design.

Container gardening has become one of my most meditative, fulfilling, and delicious hobbies. My yield this summer has already been enough for salads, stir fries, and lots of healthy snacking. For more information on how you can start gardening in small spaces, head to the library to find the books I’ve mentioned, as well as many more!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Cookbook Reader

Charlotte Canelli is library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin this week.

I’ve written in the past how much I love my job and how rewarding it is to work with the public. In addition, I’ve told our readers how much pride I have to work in such a beautiful building in the Town of Norwood. I’ve shared stories about attending Literary Lunches with the 6th graders at the Coakley Middle School and reading to children in the public schools during Read Across America week each spring. I’ve written about programs that we give at the library including our frequent film series, author nights, book discussions, Scrabble and Music Sundays. One of the joys of my job is encouraging our staff to offer these rich and diverse programs to adults and children in Norwood. These are some of our “finest hours” at the library and it gives us great pride to fill the Children’s Room or the Simoni Community Room.

I’ve also shared with you that one of the best parts of my job is ordering books for the non-fiction collection. As a non-fiction reader myself, I love to find out which books are coming out in future months. I like to keep you informed and I write about these in our eNews updates and post them to our website so that you can request them early from the library.

And that’s exactly how I’ve become a cookbook reader. I’ve loved cooking since I was a young adult and I’ve relied on friends, relatives, magazines or newspapers for their suggestions. I’ve collected my own library of cookbooks, purchased on whims or given to me as gifts. But it was only when I began to choose them for our library that I decided to make sure that my choices have been good ones. It’s my job to read cookbooks. Someone has to do it and I love it.

That’s how I discovered the “Beat This! Cookbook” by Ann Hodgman with a foreword by Elizabeth Berg. Berg herself loves reading and writing fiction (“Range of Motion” and “Year of Pleasures” are two of her many books) but when she has asked by National Public Radio to recommend a book, Berg chose Hodgman’s book. On that recommendation, I decided to bring newly-published “Beat This!” on vacation last week.

Was I hooked! I was halfway through reading the book on our first night away. Hodgman was a way of describing her choice of recipe, her enjoyment of the finished product and her family history that is quite simply delicious. She adds some of her advice in large quotations throughout the book and even those are fun to re-read.

“Chili is further proof of my rule that every recipe is better if you add sausage or bacon.”

Or “It’s so much more fun to bite into something triangular than something rectangular.”

Or how about “I try not to feel too embarrassed about relying on a convenience food during a major national holiday.”

I had already brought ingredients to cook for my household for nearly the entire week so when I finished the book on the beach I didn’t quite get to make any of the recipes in Hodgman’s book. However, I will be trying some of Hodgman’s recipes soon. “Pure, Rich, Great Caramels” and “Strawberry Gelato” sounded yummy to me.

Another book I took along on vacation was “At Elizabeth David’s Table: Classic Recipes and Timeless Kitchen Wisdom.” It is wonderfully entertaining and enlightening. Renowned food writer Ruth Reichl wrote the preface to the book and she describes chef David’s personality in and out of the kitchen. Included in the cookbook are Elizabeth David’s (1913-1992) chatty introduction to each recipe and the instructions are written in a knowledgeable go-to-it style. Try “Stewed White Beans” or “Chicken Baked with Green Pepper and Cinnamon Butter.”

I brought “Ancient Grains for Modern Meals” by Maria Speck and “Jekka’s Herb Cookbook” by Jekka McVicar for inspiration. They aren’t quite as irresistible to read but they are wonderful cookbooks full of healthy, delicious recipes.

This summer my husband and I chose to rent a former B&B to house our large brood which included our grandson, our grown children, their spouses or partners and friends for our week at the Cape. As our son-in-law put it, there were an “obscene amount of bathrooms.” One of the other great features was a spacious gourmet kitchen fit for our family of foodies.

I discovered that the owner had written her own cookbook. Tucked on a shelf in the bright, sunny kitchen was “Sleep On It” by Carol Gordon. It is a collection of recipes meant to be made the night or day before so that the host or hostess (in this case, bed-and-breakfast owner) can sleep in until at least 6 a.m. In fact, the subtitle of Ms. Gordon’s book is “Prepare Delicious Meals the Night Before that You Can Pop in the Oven the Next Day!” We had fun reading that cookbook and trying some of the easy appetizer recipes on our hungry, sunwashed crowd.

One of the best values at your library in Norwood is expensive non-fiction books like cookbooks that you can borrow, browse and read bits and pieces without purchasing them. If you can’t resist having them in on your own bedside table or kitchen counter you can always find them at a bookstore. But we have a wonderful cookbook collection that grows larger each month and we love to share it with you. Be sure to visit the Morrill Memorial Library, call the Reference librarians (781-769-0200) or visit the Minuteman Library Catalog on our website, www.norwoodlibrary.org.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Born in the USA

Charlotte Canelli is library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

Although I have been known to have fun playing trivia games, I’m hardly an expert. Oh, I can hold my own in Arts and Literature categories and can guess and reason well in the areas of Geography and History. Science is mainly hit or miss and I’ve been known to perform dismally in entertainment. No, I can’t sing all the words to “Gilligan’s Island” because I barely remember all the characters.

Don’t get me started on my inadequacy in remembering the names of those Seven Dwarfs. Bashful and Doc don’t end in “y” and I always get stuck.

Sports. Well, sports trivia is simply not my area of expertise.

I do love books about trivia, though, especially history and politics. Luckily my career path has allowed me to work in a place where I am surrounded by books that contain facts. (I’ll admit that any of the twenty-four hours of my day will find me lost in Wikipedia or on the web while I follow a lead to a reference question or a column idea.)

And so this brings me to the 4th of July and this week’s column. Everyone knows that all United States presidents were born in this country. It is dictated by the Natural Born Citizen Clause in our Constitution.

But did you know that a United States president was born on the Fourth of July? If you did, then you’ll know that was Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States.

I actually learned that Coolidge was born on Independence Day in 1872 because for over several decades of summers my family has camped near the president’s birthplace in Coolidge State Park in Plymouth Junction, Vermont. This tiny town was the presidential “Summer White House” for several years and where he spent his birthday at that time. This was before the days when the Secret Service tightly buttoned-up the area around the president and before it became necessary for hundreds of agents to accompany the presidential family on its vacation. Believe me, Plymouth Junction couldn’t possibly hold that many agents and the press that accompany the current presidents on vacation.

The Coolidge Homestead itself is a very unassuming farmhouse built the year that Calvin was born in 1872. (Until 1992 President Coolidge’s surviving son, John, lived in Plymouth Junction and ran Plymouth Cheese -started by Calvin’s father in 1880 - before his death in 1998.)

I’ve known for years that two presidents died on the Fourth of July but did you know there was a third? John Adams, Thomas Jefferson breathed their last breaths on Independence Day in 1826. James Monroe died on July 4 only five years later in 1831.

You can read all these facts and more in “The Presidential Book of Lists, From Most to Least, Elected to Rejected, Worst to Cursed: Fascinating Facts about Our Chief Executives” by Ian Randal Strock.

Another tome over two inches thick is rich with trivia. It is the eighth edition of “Facts about the Presidents” and we learn in it that that President Coolidge’s son, Calvin Jr. was 16 when he died of blood poisoning he developed after not wearing socks while playing tennis. (A blister became infected and he died during his father’s campaign for reelection.)

If you get tired of reading about the men behind the highest office in the country, you might peruse the “Biographical Dictionary of First Ladies” where you will learn that James Monroe’s wife Elizabeth Monroe was very little known because before her death she ordered all of her papers burned. Monroe himself rarely mentioned Elizabeth in his official papers but protected her privacy.

Or that Thomas Jefferson’s first wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson died September 6, 1782. Jefferson mourned her throughout his life and never remarried.

Six of our presidents were widowers in office and others were actually bachelors for part of their time in office and presided with no official first lady. More presidential facts can be found in “The Big Book of American Trivia” by J. Stephen Lang. Great books for kids include “First Kids: The True Stories of All the Presidents’ Children” by Noah McCullough and “The Look-It-Up Book of Presidents” by Wyatt Blassingame.

My favorite all-time book about the presidents is “The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House” by James David Barber. From 1977 to 1995 Barber was a professor of political science at Duke University and became very well-known for his classifications of the presidents based on their family history and actions while in office. My own copy, the 2nd edition published in 1977, is held together with rubber bands.

When I first discovered this book during readings in a political science class, I poured over it and reread it many times. It is a highly readable and intriguing book in which Barber sorts all presidential performance into four types. The four personality types are dependent on five concepts – character, world view, style, power situation and climate of expectations.

Interestingly, the book includes Barber’s predictions on “presidential performance before Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush ever served.” The analysis ends with George H. Bush. The fourth and last edition of Barber’s book was published after his death in 2004 as one of the Longman Classics in Political Science.

For these and more titles about American presidents, political science, or simply facts and trivia please visit the Morrill Memorial Library, call the Reference librarians (781-769-0200) or visit the Minuteman Library Catalog on our website, www.norwoodlibrary.org.