Thursday, January 26, 2012

Goodnight Gadgets Everywhere

“Goodnight iPad” by Ann Droyd came out just in time for the holiday season. I imagine it was a gift under many Christmas trees as it was under mine.  A fun book with great colorful illustrations and witty rhyming text, it parodies the children’s classic “Goodnight Moon” written by Margaret Wise Brown many years ago.

“Goodnight iPad” looks and feels very much like the children’s book it mimics except the large green room buzzes with iPads, Nooks, Angry Birds and screens of every type.  Father rabbit holds remotes in each hand while he lounges before a huge LCD Wi-Fi HDTV which extends across one entire wall. A warren of tiny rabbit children wear 3D glasses, text their Facebook friends and play video games at the same time.

All the while a mother rabbit rocks in a chair by the fire and sleepily watches the activity through her polarized spectacles.

“And the bings, bongs, and beeps.  Of e-mails and tweets. And a fed-up old woman. Who is trying to sleep.”

That’s it, she says. “Goodnight iPad. Goodnight remotes. And Netflix streams, Androids, apps, and glowing screens.” At the end of this story, she hushes her family off to bed, unhappily unplugged while she contentedly reads “Goodnight Moon” by flashlight to the cat.

Pulling the plug on technology might feel like amputation to most families today. When Australian mother Susan Maushart realized that her family was being torn apart by technology, she decided to pull all the plugs. “Torn apart” might be an exaggeration, of course, but dinnertime and family time with her three teenagers were constantly disrupted by text messaging, emails and Facebook updates. Ms. Maushart felt that technology had taken a toll on her family and so she finally said “no” to the iPhones, iPods, IMs and PCs. She herself slept with her iPhone and she knew that it was going to be a very difficult transition.  For six months she insisted that her family would have absolutely no access to screen entertainment or communication in their home.  This included computers, cellphones, PC gaming and television.

She began by rereading “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau, an account of his two-year experiment of solitude in the woods of Concord, Massachusetts and she ended by sharing her own story of survival, “The Winter of Our Disconnect: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (and a Mother Who Slept with Her iPhone) Pulled the Plug on Their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale”.  It is the sometimes humorous, always personal tale of her family’s journey “unplugged.”

Some of us have been there in the same place and we can understand the need to “unplug.”  You’ve seen us in restaurants sitting across from each other with our eyes glued to tiny screens or our ears tapped into miniature speakers. In a desire to be always connected, it seems we disconnect from each other instead.

In “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other”, Sherry Turkle suggests that we avoid human contact by engaging with simulations of the people we think we are connecting with. Instead of closeness, we use tools that only give us the impression we are connecting. We’ve all heard the stories about teenagers or colleagues who IM each other sitting in the same room.  There are hilarious times when I continue to talk to my husband on the cellphone as I walk into the house where we see each other face to face.

“Alone Together” is the third in a series of books by MIT professor, Ms. Turkle.  “Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit” and “Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet” are the first and second books.  Whether it is simply a sign of the times or a new world of alienation from reality, technology is here to stay and we need to learn to keep our human connections alive. Reading these books might give us the insight to keep ourselves and our families healthy in a future of technology.

Brian X. Chen is the author of “Always On: How the iPhone Unlocked the Anything – Anytime – Anywhere Future – and Locked Us In.”  Who would have imagined that a combination phone, music player and handheld computer could become the gadget that it has. It’s indispensable to many of us, of course, but the negative implication is that it is nearly impossible to disconnect.  Even more negative is what Chen implies is the sacrifice that we have made in this connection that has taken away our privacy and the role that Apple has played in it.

Nicholas Carr is the author of “The Big Switch” (2008) and the Atlantic Monthly essay, “Is Google Making Us Stupid.”  In 2010 he wrote "The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains”.  Humans have intellectually progressed through history accompanied by the marvels of technology.  Those amazing gadgets have included the alphabet and maps and such simple and complicated ones like the clock and printing press.  And now we have the Internet and computers and these new gadgets are shaping a new human history.

While “Goodnight iPad” was a gift for my husband Gerry, an iPad-addict himself, I definitely got the bigger kick out of it. As a children’s book-lover at heart, I delight in the multilayered illustrations and the not-so-subtle satire on every page. In our life of iPhones, Kindles, screens and keyboards it is welcome relief to turn the pages and discover something new on every one of them. Maybe someday, in fact, I’ll take its message to heart.

“Goodnight buzzing.  Goodnight beeps. Goodnight everybody who should be asleep. Goodnight pop stars.  Goodnight MacBook Air. Goodnight gadgets everywhere.”

If you need help searching for any of the books mentioned in this column, please call our Reference or Information desks (781-769-0200) or visit the library in person.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Sounds and Lights are Bright on Broadway

Charlotte Canelli is Library Director at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.
From the Library - The Lights and Sounds are Bright on Broadway by Charlotte Canelli I’ve loved Broadway musicals since my beloved Aunt Gladys brought me on a three-night excursion to New York for my 19th birthday. In typical “Aunt Gladys style”, she treated me to not one, not two, but three live performances.  I still remember each one vividly forty years later and I was simply enchanted by the lights and stars on Broadway.

Our first attendance during that weekend was the serious play, “Butterflies Are Free” which debuted on Broadway in 1969. In the play, which ran for 1128 performances, Don Baker (played by Keir Dullea) is a young blind man who falls in love with a free-spirited hippie (this WAS the era, after all).  At first, his over-protective mother doesn’t like it one bit.

I loved everything about it. The other young actors were Michael Glaser and Blythe Danner (Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom).  The play didn’t close at the Booth Theater until they had performed it 1128 times.

My second favorite event that night was being whisked by taxicab down the maze of New York streets to a late dinner at Mama Mia’s Italian restaurant.  It was famous at the time but it doesn’t seem to exist any longer. (One of my favorite cookbooks as a young bride was the then popular “Mama Mia Italian Cookbook: The Home Book of Italian Cooking” by Angela Catanzaro. It’s nearly impossible to find. )

But I digress.

The next day of my birthday trip we saw a matinee of the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.  I think I was most impressed by the size of the theater which seats nearly 6,000. In the early 1970s people still dressed magnificently for the theater and my second impression was of the glitz, glamour and furs around me. There was music and dancing and plenty of chorus-line kicks but no intimacy of the 500-seat theaters of Broadway.

Of course, my aunt wouldn’t have brought me to Broadway without introducing me to a musical on our last night in Manhattan.  “Man of La Mancha” starred Richard Kiley as both Don Quixote and Cervantes and had just moved off Broadway to the Eden Theater in early 1971. Kiley was the first to sing and record "The Impossible Dream", the hit song from the show and the 2,329 performances of the musical were performed in the original run in New York City.

Growing up in California, my experiences of live performance, particularly musicals, had been limited to those in my high school cafetorium (a blend of cafeteria/auditorium).  We sat on hard folding chairs surrounded by the lingering smells of institutional cuisine. Broadway was different altogether. When those velvet curtains at the Booth Theater on West 45th Street parted I was hooked forever on New York, New York.

Of course, everyone in my family knows I still love Broadway.

For Christmas, my youngest daughter and her fiancĂ© gave us tickets to see “Avenue Q” at the New World Stages Complex just off Broadway at 50th Street.  The musical ranks 21st as one of the longest running shows in Broadway’s history and stars the Muppet-like puppets animated and voiced by actors who are part of the stage-cast.

However, the resemblance to Sesame Street ends there – with the puppets.  The bawdy, rowdy and somewhat irreverent production of “Avenue Q” is not for the faint of heart.  I loved it, though, and the musical score was simply superb.  Most of the song titles aren’t even appropriate for a family publication such as this one except for a few, like the opening number “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?” (There is a high-school version of the musical, you should know, that censors the most offensive material.)

The trip to New York last week also included my musical gift to my husband, Gerry. It was three orchestra seat tickets to “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever”.  I already knew much of the score but I was enthralled with the smoke-and-mirror choreography and crooning voice of one of our favorite artists, Harry Connick, Jr.

As a young girl, I grew up listening to the original cast soundtracks. While we never saw the live performances, my mother was a huge fan of Broadway and there was always a record on our living room turntable.  We listened to “The Sound of Music”, the “Music Man”, “South Pacific” and a plethora of hit shows of the 50s and 60s. I think I listened to “Bye, Bye Birdie” so many times that the vinyl wore out.

Of course, you know you are addicted to musicals when you can’t wait to listen, and listen, and listen again.  A few friends and I spent a weekend in New York with our daughters when they were teens and went to see the Broadway revival of “Chicago”.   Navigating out of Manhattan, I diverted to a very busy Broadway Avenue, sending one of those teens into Tower Records to purchase the recording on CD.  We sang the sassy lyrics over and over, imitating Roxie Hart, on our way back home to New England.

Nothing cheers me up more than a happy memory of my first experience of a live performance or watching my favorite musicals on film. Soundtracks of original musicals and movie-renditions are available at public libraries. We abandoned vinyl records years ago but our CD collections grow every month.  Minuteman Library Network owns thousands of CDs of original cast recordings and movie soundtracks such as “Annie” and “Phantom of the Opera”, “Grease”, “Oliver” and “Godspell.”

You can find musical scores and recordings by name or simply use the keywords “original cast” or “soundtrack.”  If you need help searching for any of them, please call our Reference or Information desks (781-769-0200) or visit the library in person.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Gold and Greed - A Family Story

Shelby Warner is a Reference Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin. 

From the Morrill Memorial Library - Gold and Greed: A Family Story by Written and read by Shelby Warner

My great-great grandfather discovered gold in Georgia twenty years before the more famous discovery in California. Benjamin Parks, himself, tells of how he crossed the Chestatee River up in northeast Georgia and stubbed his toe on a rock which, when examined more closely, revealed a nugget of gold. 

Unfortunately for him, Benjamin did not own the land where the discovery was made. Even though he managed to obtain a 40 year lease from the pastor who owned it, he did not enjoy any of the riches which others were able to amass. Pastor Obar laughed at Benjamin when he asked for the lease, not believing it possible that gold was on the land. He was not laughing, when later, the area was invaded by people from all over the young country looking for wealth and riches. While in his nineties, Benjamin Parks recalled the scene in an article in the Atlanta Constitution, July 15, 1894: 

 "The news got abroad, and such excitement you never saw. It seemed within a few days as if the whole world must have heard of it, for men came from every state I had ever heard of. They came afoot, on horseback and in wagons, acting more like crazy men than anything else. All the way from where Dahlonega now stands to Nuckollsville [Auraria] there were men panning out of the branches and making holes in the hillsides." 

Obar and his family attempted to reclaim the land but the Parks claim held up in court. Benjamin eventually sold the rights to Senator John Calhoun who later became Vice President of the United States. The Calhoun Gold Mine became "one of the highest producing gold mines in the region.” 

This region of North Georgia was known as the Cherokee Nation and the people who lived there for centuries thought the gold belonged to them. The white men had other ideas and it wasn’t long before the Cherokees were forced onto “The Trail of Tears” and moved further West. Many accounts of their cruel treatment exist in books you can find in the library. To Benjamin’s credit, he was against the rulings that led to the displacement of the Indians. Legend has it that he loved a maiden who was daughter of a Cherokee chief. He even thought of marrying her, a match which he said the Indians would approve but "his family would not have accepted. Our children would have had no nation, so I did not marry her, but, dear me, how beautiful she was!" 

Later, would-be historians have debunked the story of Benjamin stubbing his toe. One such writer said the tale only exists because Benny persisted in telling it for 70 years. But, like many other tales which have grown up around the history of this country, it lives on in oral history and family memories. Some of these stories are embroidered around a grain of truth and others are figments of the imagination. On the other hand, a lot of them depend on the perspective of the person telling the story. How often we hear of the rewriting of history to fit the opinion and beliefs of the author. Textbooks used in a particular area of the country reflect the prejudices of the locals - often a very parochial view of what has actually taken place. Author Phillip Williams, in writing about my hometown of Madison, Georgia, states ..."its love of history is ever present, and that love has occasionally been at the expense of truth." He is alluding to the account of why Madison was not burned when Sherman’s troops marched to Savannah during the Civil War but that is another story for another day. 

There are many interesting books on the subject of writing history including "Historical Knowledge, Historical Error" by Allan Megill, "The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History" by Gordon S. Wood, "That’s Not in My American History Book" by Thomas Ayres, and on a more personal level, "Tell Me Your Story: How to Collect and Preserve the Life Stories of Your Family and Friends by Cynthia Hart and Lisa E. Samson. These books and others can be found at Morrill Memorial Library or through the Minuteman Library Network. 

We know legends which have existed for decades can suddenly be declared untrue but somehow they live on in the hearts of people who have a connection to them. My great-great grandfather’s story, along with pictures and documentation, lives on in the Gold Museum in Dahlonega, Georgia. I wear a pair of gold earrings purchased there and each time I put them on, I think of Benjamin and his story – legend or reality, who can be sure? 

Friday, January 6, 2012

A New Year of Reading Pleasures

Charlotte Canelli is the Library Director at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin each week. From the Library - A New Year of Reading Pleasures by Charlotte Canelli I’m sure that no one will be surprised that books are some of this librarian’s favorite gifts – both to receive and to give. As a young child and through my teenage years my mother surprised me each Christmas and birthday with a book. I remember unwrapping Johanna Spyri’s classic “Heidi” in 1960 with incredible joy.

 I eventually owned an entire bookshelf of hardcover Illustrated Junior Classics by Grosset and Dunlap. These included “The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew” and “Little Women” with a price of $6.95 on the inside cover. While the cost of books has skyrocketed in a half century, I can only imagine what an expense this was to my family at the time.

So it’s no wonder that these books remain some of my favorite gifts and that these books have always received a coveted place of honor on my bookshelves. And so books are always on my gift-giving list and this year was no different.

Our daughter, Jill, spent several years teaching children at various Audubon centers in New England and you might call her an “extreme animal softie”. She has also inherited her father’s love of birds. The “Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America” (2009) by Roger Tory Peterson was a perfect choice for Jill who currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Jill and Alyssa can spend their free time watching birds in their own backyard or in ours when they visit us in New England.

The librarian and curator of the Thoreau Institute at Walden Pond, Jeffrey Cramer, became a friend of mine after we served on the same executive board for a few years. When I first visited Jeff at his beautiful library in Lincoln, Massachusetts, I learned the correct pronunciation of Thoreau’s name (with the accent on the first syllable and rhyming with ‘furrow.’ Apparently, the Concord, Massachusetts schools drill this into students who live in the same town in which Thoreau did in the 19th century.)

My colleague, Jeff, is also an author and scholar of both Robert Frost and Henry David Thoreau. This year, then, a personally-autographed copy of Jeff Cramer’s latest book, “The Quotable Thoreau” was a perfect gift for our daughter-in-law Alyssa. The book is an annotated and exhaustive collection of Thoreau quotes from the most common, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately” to the more obscure, "I would exchange my immortality for a glass of small beer this hot weather”. Alyssa will have a complete range of quotations at her fingertips – from the witty to the profound – to add to her own writings in the years to come. I have a feeling she might remember that second quote someday in early summer in Hot’Lanta.

Our son Gerry, Jr. and our grandson, Colin like to fiddle with electric guitars. Both of them received an assortment of guitar and sheet music books. We have another practicing guitarist in our family, our soon-to-be son-in-law Pat and we gave him a very cool book called “The Dream Factory: Fender Custom Shop” by Tom Wheeler. Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Bruce Springsteen and others have all had one-of-a-kind guitars specially made by the Fender Custom Shop and this beautiful book illustrates them in full color. We caught Pat several times admiring his book rather than paying rapt attention to the other gifts being opened.

Our daughter, Ciara, is getting married this coming May and she loves to bake for her guitar-playing fiancĂ©, Pat, and the numerous friends that visit their Hoboken apartment. While her cute kitchen might be better described as a closet, she prepares amazing desserts in that compact space. We picked out the “Baker’s Field Guide to Chocolate Chips” and the “Baker’s Field Guide to Cupcakes” knowing that she will put both of them to good use.

Our daughter Beth, a newlywed and graduate student at Harvard, finds baking and cooking a welcome diversion from the stresses of academia. Her sometimes hilarious, always insightful posts on her personal blog include tips on such things as making English muffins, herbalicious ice cream and fresh gnocchi from scratch. Her energy both enthuses and amuses us and our gift of choice to her this Christmas was “Cake Pops: Tips, Tricks, and Recipes for More Than 40 Irresistible Mini Treats” by Bakerella. Included, of course, were a cake pop baker and a multitude of cake pop sticks so that she can pass some of these yummy treats off to her relatives.

This past summer our large family was lucky enough to stay together in a lovely rental home on the Cape that the owner, Carol Gordon, used to run as a working bed and breakfast. While cooking in her kitchen one morning, I discovered that she had written a book, “Sleep on It: Prepare Delicious Meals the Night Before That You Can Pop In the Oven the Next Day!” We gave copies of the book to all of our daughters and look forward to them using the recipes on family vacations in years to come.

Our son-in-law Rob is the one of the animal lovers in our family and he has been a penguin fan since childhood. What better book for him, then, than a personally-autographed copy of “The Great Penguin Rescue: 40,000 Penguins, a Devastating Oil Spill, and the Inspiring Story of the World's Largest Animal Rescue” written by my friend, Dyan DeNapoli.

I’ve suggested many books that I gave as gifts to members of my family this year. Of course, family members all have different interests and thankfully there are thousands of books published each year. If you think someone you know will like one of the books above you can be assured that all of them are owned by our library or one of the libraries in the Minuteman Library Network. If you need help searching for any of them, please call our Reference or Information desks (781-769-0200) or visit the library in person. Happy New Year!