Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Winter of My Discontent

Librarian April Cushing is head of Adult and Information Services at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column published in the March 5, 2015 issue of the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

If you were to pick one title to sum up this much-maligned season, Hugo’s “Les Miserables” might come to mind. Or maybe “The Winter of Our Discontent.” I was pretty sure Shakespeare first penned those immortal words but to be sure, I did what any good Reference Librarian would do: I googled it. So begins the tragedy “Richard III”: “Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this sun of York.” I wondered if the future sovereign had survived a tough winter himself back in 1471 before “snow events” become commonplace, so I read on. It seems Will was waxing more metaphorical than meteorological.

Richard, I discovered, opens the play not by grousing about the weather but by celebrating an upturn in his familys fortunes. His brother Edward IV (they are sons of the Duke of York) had seized the English crown from Henry VI and the Lancastrian house. So what Richard was actually saying was something like “the oppression of our family, which made life like a long winter, has turned into a summery sweetness now that my brother is king.” In other words, life is good. Who knew? Okay, Shakespeare scholars, history buffs, and anyone who actually read the first scene of “Richard III—or paid attention in class—but besides them? If youd like to be counted among this learned group, check out the Norwood Librarys copy of “The Tragedy of Richard the Third: with the Landing of Earl Richmond and the Battle at Bosworth Field.”

Four centuries later, John Steinbeck borrowed Shakespeare’s words for the title of his last novel, which won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. Reading about the Hawley family from Long Island, where I grew up, got me wondering when I’d last tackled Steinbeck. I think it was ninth grade when we were assigned “The Pearl,” which we appreciated primarily for its brevity. Or maybe it was “Of Mice and Men” with Lenny and George. If you saw Julie Harris and James Dean in “East of Eden” but never got around to reading the book, both are there for the asking at the library, along with Steinbecks other classics.

But getting back to the opening of “Richard III.” If Shakespeare could put a positive spin on those lines, I figured I should be able to find a silver lining in this interminable season myself. So rather than harp on hellish commutes, endless shoveling, ice dams, frozen pipes, and the fact that my little pup can now easily escape the fenced-in backyard by scampering over the snowbanks, I tried taking a page out of the bards book.

I managed to come up with three good things that happened this winter:

1) Hula Hooping

After the kids had hulaed their little hearts out with Kat during school vacation week, I took a break from tax form duty at the Reference Desk and snuck into the Simoni room, determined to relearn the technique I’d lost. Much frenzied hip thrusting and a helpful hint later (pretend youre John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”), I was so excited when I finally succeeded. I was sore for the next several days but when the instructor mentioned that 10 minutes of hooping is equivalent to running a 10-minute mile, I was sold. Tip: The bigger the hoop, the better—that is, easier. If you, too, are looking for an excuse to avoid the treadmill, channel your inner Travolta and give it a whirl.

2) Beyond “Breaking Bad”

TV series today are like snowflakes—too numerous to count and no two the same. Just because you love “Downton Abbey” doesnt mean you cant indulge in other televised pleasures as well. Whether you follow the former Mrs. Soprano as trauma queen “Nurse Jackie”—the addict you either love or hate—the power-crazed couple Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in “House of Cards,” Claire Danes taking on terrorism a bit too close to home in “Homeland,” handsome Jon Hamm in flashback to the fifties “Mad Men,” lovable Amy Poehler in “Parks and Rec,” women behind bars in “Orange is the New Black,” the fast-paced on- and off-screen action in “Newsroom,” or the post-apocalyptic edge-of-your-seat suspense in “The Walking Dead,” there’s something for everyone. Not to mention all the series I haven’t even gotten to yet. Fellow non-NetFlixers can check out these and dozens more riveting dramas, including your favorite old TV shows, at the library. They’re downright addictive.

3) Food, Glorious Food

Nothing says winter like the tantalizing whiff of wood smoke. While Pandora raged, we pretended we’d lost power and cooked over an open fire, much like the Pilgrims might have done—if they'd had the benefit of a Tuscan grill. A low metal tray with a notched frame to support an adjustable rack, a Tuscan grill is a nifty little gadget designed to fit inside your fireplace. It’s perfect for pizza. Almost anything you find in the fridge is fair game for toppings: tomatoes, olives, onions, mushrooms, peppers, fresh basil, pepperoni.. Did someone say cheese? FYI, Tuscan grilling is also the ideal activity for the pyro at heart. In addition to “Mario Batali Italian Grill” and my personal favorite, “License to Grill,” the library has a wealth of mouthwatering recipes for grilling, both inside and out. If you want to give Tuscan grilling a go, “Michael Chiarellos Live Fire” is a must-read. He devotes an entire chapter to “Pizzas on the Grill” and states unequivocally, “the hearth is the most romantic place to cook, no question.” I couldn't agree more.

We may be under winters thrall for a few more weeks, but as Shakespeare well knew, “glorious summer” is not merely a season but a mindset. Despite the fact that Norwood was slammed with almost 90 inches of snowfall in February, I like to think it’s always sunny in the library.