France in My Pants

I wasn’t scheduled to post today, but I volunteered to do so on one condition: that I could call my post “France in My Pants.” Fortunately, our gracious editor accepted my terms, so here we are.

France in my pants, indeed.

Okay, there are pants in these books. But they aren’t my pants.

I must confess that this post isn’t really about pants, it’s about France in the late 1800s and the early days of forensics and murdering and stuff – so if you want to stop reading now, I won’t be offended. For those of you who’d like to carry on, away we go!

Eiffel's Tower

Oooh, shiny.

Eiffel’s Tower, by Jill Jonnes – Did you know that Gustav Eiffel had a swanky little apartment at the top of the Eiffel tower? He did! It was fully furnished with artwork, velvet fringed divans, and even a piano. (p. 152 and 237). And did you know that the tower had its own newspaper? It did! During the 1889 Paris Exposition, Le Figaro printed a daily special edition of their newspaper (Le Figaro de la Tour) in a tiny office on the tower’s second floor (p. 46).

This book is both a friendly romp through the history and construction of the tower and a nice general introduction to some of the Exposition’s famous visitors. Where else can you learn about the difficulties of constructing elevators that travel up and sideways at the same time? Where else can you learn about Annie Oakley’s living quarters and how Thomas Edison became an Italian count? Where else can you discover how the good people of Paris reacted to that most American of constructions, the Corn Palace? Spoiler: thumbs down (p. 125).

The tower itself was a parade of famous people – visitors included the Prince and Princess of Wales (who came even though Queen Victoria had called for a boycott of the fair), Isabella II of Spain, King George of Greece, not-yet Czar of Russia Nicholas II, and (almost) the Shah of Persia – his courage failed him on his first attempt to climb the tower, and he didn’t get far on his second visit before descending “as fast as his legs could carry him, and unassisted by any native dignity or borrowed decorum” (p. 187). Well, at least he tried.

Photographs scattered throughout the book show the early phases of the tower’s construction, which really puts the whole scale of the operation (and the Shah’s fears) into perspective.  Of course, there are the requisite images of the designers and engineers of the tower and the Exposition, but you’ll also come across a few spiffy interior shots of the exhibition halls and a charming picture of Buffalo Bill and some of his Native American employees enjoying a gondola ride in Venice (p. 278).

Note: If you’re only here for happy books, this would be a good place to stop reading.

The Killer of Little Sheperds

There’s a bloodstain on the cover, in case you couldn’t tell that this is a murdery book.

The Killer of Little Shepherds, by Douglas Starr – Catching serial killers is hard work, especially in the French countryside, especially in the late 1800s, especially when the local police departments don’t talk to each other, and especially when there are no standards for collecting and analyzing evidence. But you’ll see how science (yay, science!) overcomes all of these obstacles in this book, which tells the parallel stories of Joseph Vacher (our killer) and Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne (a pioneer in the field of forensic medicine).

Vacher was a soldier who didn’t take rejection well – he started his violent career by proposing to a young housemaid on their first date and shooting her in the face when she rejected him (p. 5). She survived; he went on to commit at least eleven murders – well, he confessed to eleven, though he was suspected of more than twenty-five (p. 148).

Lacassange,  a professor at the University of Lyon, worked with his students to compile a pocket-sized guide to pretty much every crime everywhere. His book became an indispensable tool for doctors and investigators – with its assistance, they could be sure of collecting evidence that would stand up in court (p. 45). He was also apparently the first person to use the rifling marks on a bullet to link it to a particular gun, way  back in 1888 (p.46)!

This book also contains many sensational newspaper illustrations of crime scene reenactments, scattered body parts, dramatic autopsies, handwriting samples, and a very discreet photograph of Vacher’s severed head. Something for everyone, really.

Little Demon in the City of Light

Look! It’s that shiny tower thingy again!

Little Demon in the City of Light, by Steven Livingston – Can a person be held accountable for a crime that they committed while hypnotized? That’s the underlying question in our final book, the story of the murder of Toussaint-Augustin Gouffe, a wealthy and swanky fellow done in by his intended mistress, Gabrielle Bompard.

At the time of the murder, Gabrielle was supposedly acting under the influence of her lover – con man, hypnotist, and all around creepy fellow Michel Eyraud (seriously – he was like, twenty years older than her. And while they were on the lam, he made her pose first as his son and then as his daughter).

The crime took place in Paris in 1889 (the year the Eiffel Tower opened), and Gouffe’s body was discovered in Lyon, where it was identified by Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne (the previously noted forensic medicine chap). See how nicely everything comes together? But alas, I’m still reading this one, so I’m afraid I don’t have many more details for you. So far, it’s fascinating stuff.

Like The Killer of Little Shepherds, this book also features a fun variety of illustrations and photographs. There are quite a few fancy mustaches, the bloody trunk that once contained Gouffe’s corpse, and a very tasteful picture of his remains (so don’t read this one on your lunch break).

- Amy, friend of pants, science, and history

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Explore the Unknown with Your Library Card

Since I was a kid I have looked to the library to indulge my curiosity for things that, well, let’s just say I might not want to ask about too loudly in polite company. The relative anonymity of the library’s nonfiction classification system is much better for exploring interests that you might be a little embarrassed about; you may be reading about continental philosophy, you might be reading about astrology, but unless somebody gets really nebby and takes a close look no one will ever know which one it really is.

The library in Richland Township was the first public place that I remember my mom allowing my older brother and me to be in without supervision. In those pre-Internet days, there wasn’t much trouble that a kid could get into in a small, suburban library in the time it took her to go to the Shop’ n’ Save, so during the summer we’d get dropped off for an hour or so. After a few visits, probably once I exhausted the library’s collection of Peanuts books, I decided to venture into the nonfiction section, and it was there that I somehow managed to stumble upon this:

Alien Encounters

Cover photo courtesy of Amazon.com.

For the uninitiated, this is Alien Encounters, part of the Mysteries of the Unknown series of books put out by Time-Life in the late ’80s and early ’90s. (Our collection of these is sparse because librarians, following good collection maintenance practices, have correctly weeded most of the copies from the collection.) These books are an encyclopedic reference to all kinds of paranormal activities, from alien abductions to psychic events to alchemy to straight up magic, supported by very clinical looking illustrations of aliens and monsters, and backed up by the kind of “Coincidence? Or…ALIENS?!” logic that has recently been taken to its logical extreme by the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens show. To a ten-year-old kid, finding these books on the shelf at the library in the company of history books, science books, and how-to books (and with embossed pleather covers no less) was like getting an official confirmation from the land of adults that those things that go bump in the night are in fact real, and are probably looking in your bedroom window every night. It was a rush! And although that building was demolished to make way for the lovely Northern Tier Library years ago, I can totally remember right where those books were on the shelf.

Of course, I never really believed in any of that stuff, and as I entered in to adolescence, I had plenty of other avenues of curiosity that I wanted to explore in the pages of books. (I can also remember exactly where on the magazine rack where you could find around that time the racy-by-early-90’s standards Rolling Stone with Janet Jackson on the cover.) And as my reading habits have evolved, and my to-read list has grown long enough that I probably won’t finish everything that I know I want to read in my lifetime, my reading about aliens, ghosts, Bigfoot, and anything else that may have appeared on an episode of the X Files has really dwindled down to none.

It had dwindled, that is, until a little over a year ago when the Library added digital magazines to our eCLP collection. Before Zinio launched publicly, staff had a chance to familiarize ourselves with the new collection. I quickly found some old favorites – Runner’s World, New York Review of Books, Bon Appetit, Saveur, Esquire — and while I was very excited about having digital access to these, I soon found that, like those Peanuts books when I was a kid, they soon felt a little stale. As I browsed the holdings, like young me wandering the nonfiction stacks, I stopped short when I came across this:

Courtesy of Zinio.

Suffice to say, I don’t make many paranormal discoveries these day, and this gave me a little taste of that excitement of reading “serious” writing about something that, while I really don’t believe in it (really!!), gives me a little thrill. In the spirit of sharing that discovery with you, I won’t go into detail about this. Let’s leave it at this — if the Weekly World News is like the New York Daily News of the world of the strange and paranormal publications, the Fortean Times is like the New Yorker for that world.

To read this awesome magazine, or any of the other hundreds of great, if less fantastical, magazines available through Zinio with your library card. But don’t blame me if you can’t sleep tonight!

-Dan, who, unlike Fox Mulder, believes that the truth is nowhere near as “out there” as he’d like it to be.

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The Odds are Stacked in Your Favor

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Have you ever wondered what’s in the library stacks? That mysterious part of the building that includes staff-only sections?  I’ll clear up the mystery for you – there are books. Some are tomes of historical value covering every topic under the sun. Some are volumes of the most obscure nature only of value to a dedicated researcher, but nevertheless important to save for a myriad of reasons.

Two and a half of the eleven floors are devoted to bound volumes of magazines, shelved by title. Three floors are open to the public; the 3rd stack aligns with the first floor (fiction, Teen, and a few subject collections), the 4th stack is the Mezzanine Level (nonfiction call numbers A – L), and the 5th stack aligns with the second floor (nonfiction call numbers M – R). The closed 8th stack aligns with the 3rd floor. That’s how high the ceilings are in here! Each volume is, in its own way, the culmination of the selective scrutiny of the librarians in charge of curating the collections.

One of the most important functions of the library is to be a repository of written documents representing the expanse of human knowledge and human endeavors for posterity. Each volume in the stacks not only represents an author’s expertise on a subject, but a publisher, a librarian as the collector, a cataloger to give it a unique call number, a staff of shelvers to keep them organized, a staff of building maintenance personnel to keep things tidy, IT personnel to let the collections become visible in online catalogs, library clerks to check out the circulating books, administrators to ensure continued funding and provide a vision for the future, and you, the public, who need to be able to access all of these books at whim.

Let’s hear it for preservation, access, and posterity!

Oh, and one more thing – legends have it that a judge has haunted the stacks since the early 1900s. He may or may not have left a note that may or may not keep on appearing on the ceiling. A note that says “sentio est hic” – Latin for “the judge is here.” Was that a draft I felt the last time I went to the stacks? Or was it The Judge?

-Joelle

*All photos of the stacks taken by Joelle Levitt Killebrew

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A Garden of Children.

“The days are long but the years are short”

Copyright Natalie DeRiso

What do you mean I start Kindergarten today? Didn’t you just have me?

This well-used saying can be found in parenting magazines, on blogs, and painted on wall hangings scattered all over Pinterest; and every parent knows why. In the middle of the day when children are crying and demanding attention; when the dirty and clean laundry piles have accidentally mixed together; when dishes are spilling out of the sink and it seems like there is no end in sight. There are moments when you can see the hours stretch out in front of you and can’t help but wonder if you will ever get caught up. Then, suddenly, you look down and are startled to realize that somewhere along the way a child has replaced your baby. Gone are the rolls of fat and coos of yesterday. Your baby is now all legs and elbows with her own opinions and likes and dislikes and you can’t help but wonder, “Where did the time go?”

Today my eldest child starts kindergarten. She has spent the last 5 years and 7 months with me, or being watched by my mom while I worked. This is the first time she will be away from home and in the care of others. Add to the equation a brand-new, two-month old baby sister and I am a little emotional about all of the life changes in our little family. I spent the summer avoiding the reality of the situation but last week, as I was reading an array of kindergarten themed picture books to my daughter, it finally dawned on me that we were no longer years or months away from it happening. Kindergarten was just a few short days. As I stared at the illustration of a little boy heading off to school, holding back tears and swallowing the lump in my throat, I tried in vain to figure out how 5 and a half years had disappeared right before my eyes.

Maybe tomorrow it will be a little easier.

my teacher is a monster

My Teacher is a Monster (No, I am not) by Peter Brown.

What is it like when you run into your mean teacher OUTSIDE of school? Robert is about to find out maybe his teacher isn’t so bad, after all.

planet kindergarten 2

Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt

Kindergarten: The final frontier. Kindergarten is a fun space mission for this astronaut!

countdown to kindergarten

Countdown to Kindergarten by Alison McGhee

What happens if you can’t tie your shoe? Will they still let you into kindergarten? (YES! They will!)

the pirate of kindergarten

The Pirate of Kindergarten by George Ella Lyon

Swashbuckling and high seas adventures can’t compare to kindergarten!

teacher

Teacher! Sharing, Helping, Caring by Patricia Hubbell

It can be scary to spend the whole day with a new adult, luckily teachers are awesome!

mom first day

Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten! by Hyewon Yum

Is this new kindergartener worried about his first day of school? No way…but guess who is? Mom!

-Natalie

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Historic

Lately I’ve found myself a little off the beaten path of what I usually read, and have been really enjoying some historical fiction. For some reason I haven’t ventured much into this genre, but I’ve been finding that one of my favorite things is being able to follow up on a novel and find out more about characters who actually existed. Here are a few titles that have crossed my path recently:

The Fortune Hunter, by Daisy Goodwin: I enjoyed Goodwin’s previous book a few years ago (The American Heiress), so I was excited to read her second novel. Like her first, this is a work of historical fiction, centering around the love affair of Charlotte Baird and Captain Bay Middleton and complicated by the charismatic Empress Elizabeth of Austria. I love historical fiction that’s based on real characters; all three existed and while the plot is fiction, there were enough details in this novel to make me curious about the real Empress Elizabeth (who apparently really did sleep with raw meat on her face!).

Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue: As one of the few people left who didn’t read Donoghue’s bestselling Room, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this novel. This may have worked in my favor, since I didn’t have any preconceived notions of what to expect. What I discovered were more compelling characters taken from history. In the summer of 1876, a San Francisco woman named Jenny Bonnet was murdered and a sensational court case followed, with a French burlesque dancer named Blanche as the primary witness. Aside from the gripping plot, I found the descriptions of 19th century life in the West to be just fascinating, and I especially loved that at the end of the novel Donoghue closes with an afterward about her research. (More on her research for this novel here, if you’re into that kind of thing).

Bittersweet, by  Colleen McCullough: I was a young teenager when I first read The Thorn Birds, and although I haven’t kept up with any of McCullough’s other books this one caught my eye. It’s no Thorn Birds (but what is??!), but still a fun read. It’s about four sisters– two sets of twins– in 1920’s Australia who are just setting off to start their lives away from their parents and become registered nurses. I’m still reading this one, but one thing I’m loving is commentary on women during this time period: in Australia women seemed to have much greater freedom (in terms of dress and general independence), but were still very much at the mercy of their husbands.

Reading anything good? Let us know in the comments!

-Irene

 

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Farewell, My Dear Friend

This past month has been very difficult. My husband and I lost our sweet old baby girl cat, Holly Golightly, on July 28. She was very old and I wrote about her for this blog just last year. She went very quickly (as the vet had once predicted) and naturally but still, you’re never really ever ready to say goodbye. You want just one more cuddle, one more purr.

Seventeen years of an established and familiar routine, daily care, and infinite love are gone forever. While we are very sad, we are also grateful that she was not ill so we did not have the angst of having to make a painful decision; in her own tough and sassy way, Holly Golightly made it for us.

Above all else, I learned that we are not alone in our sorrow and have found great solace with fellow pet lovers. The library is helping us out–as always–with this wonderful little book we have found to be invaluable for comfort and peace to any pet owner.

friend

Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet

by Gary Kowalski

Though penned by a Unitarian clergyman, this beautifully written book does not have an overtly religious tone. What it does offer is comfort and calm in a reassuring and understanding voice that I desperately needed to hear upon the passing of my beloved animal companion. He encourages ways to remember and memorialize your pet, acknowledgment of the cycles of life, and the very real pain we feel when a pet, a member of our family, dies.

Be sure to also check out next week’s display in the Reference Room on the second floor of Main Library for more resources on this topic.

~Maria A., still grieving but slowly healing

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Take Good Care

“I was kind of a sludgy mud-dweller… everything was really slooooow.” – Neko Case

nekocase

I’ve long admired the talented musician Neko Case, and when she came out last year in interviews as having dealt with major depression, I was deeply moved. What struck me most about these interviews was her honesty, humor, and utter nonchalance while speaking about the illness—depression is not often talked about this openly by public figures. And yet, according to the National Council for Behavioral Health, nearly 7% of the North American population experiences depression in any given year. I have been one of those people.

After attending a training entitled Mental Health First Aid a couple weeks ago I was reminded of the stigma and shame attached to mental and mood disorders—illnesses that people often have no more control over than say, epilepsy or diabetes. I’ve always been pretty hesitant to talk about my own experiences with dysthymia (chronic depression) for this very reason, but I’ve made it a goal of mine to be more open about it from now on. I think it’s important that other people feel they’re not alone, and also that they’re aware of resources for getting help. We all need a little help sometimes.

I’ve compiled a few helpful resources here for those dealing with a mental or mood disorder (with a focus on the under- or uninsured), or for the loved ones of those who are struggling.


 

re:solve Crisis Network: 1-888-7 YOU CAN (1-888-796-8226) — This 24-hour hotline is staffed by mental health professionals who can assist callers in avoiding a mental health crisis. They can also direct callers towards in-person care.

Allegheny County Mental Health Services:  Allegheny County Information, Referral and Emergency Services (IRES) (412) 350-4457 — This number is also answered 24 hours a day /7 days a week and puts you in contact with an Allegheny County staff member who can provide information, find someone to provide ongoing help, or help you arrange involuntary examination and treatment when needed.

Allegheny County Peer Support Warmline: 1-866-661-9276 — This hotline provides supportive listening, problem solving, resource sharing and peer support for mental health service users or anyone else 18 and older.

Anonymous Mental Health Screening for In/Active Members of the Military: This service is designed specifically for members of the armed forces. These free, self-administered, online screenings can help determine if behaviors related to mood or anxiety levels might be related to a mental health concern and/or indicate that a professional consultation could be helpful.

Birmingham Free Clinic: Basic primary care, blood pressure and blood glucose screening, smoking cessation, and physicals are provided. Mental health assessment and counseling by appointment only for existing patients. Provides free health care to uninsured Latino patients on Saturdays.

Mental Health America – Allegheny County: A comprehensive list of services available to residents of Allegheny County. The “Where to Call Guide” is especially helpful.

NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program: A free 12-week course for family caregivers of individuals with severe mental illnesses that discusses the clinical treatment of these illnesses and teaches the knowledge and skills that family members need to cope more effectively. NAMI De Familia a Familia, Contact Alby 412-244-3142 or Jorge 412-788-4582.

Pittsburgh Action Against Rape: PAAR offers English and Spanish language counseling for victims of sexual violence. Additional services offered include preventative education and mental health counseling for both adults and children. Offices are on the South Side at 81 S. 19th Street. Contact Teresa Otoya-McAdams 412-431-5665 or teresao@paar.net.

Psychology Clinic: Duquesne University has a free clinic that requires no insurance or personal documentation. There is no limit to the number of sessions a person can have. Family members are welcome. It does not have addiction and substance abuse services.


 

One good thing that has come out of my own (ongoing) experiences with depression—I’ve realized that mental and mood disorders can happen to almost anyone, and I need to give people the benefit of the doubt and be gentle when they’re having a hard time.

So be kind to your fellow travelers and take good care,

Tara

PS – Bonus resource: the Mental Health Channel has a series called The Inside Story that profiles people who “reveal their mental health diagnoses and their paths to overcome them.” It’s terrific!

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