Today is usually not on the calendar. Only once every four years do we get this additional day in February. What do you do with your “extra” day? Do you envy or feel sorry for those born on February 29th?
In honor of Leap Day, I’ve located books in the collection with the word “leap” in the title. Here are some of the more interesting choices I found:
Leap Year [DVD] – Popular movie about a woman who goes to Ireland to ask her boyfriend to marry her, but gets distracted along the way.
Little Leap Forward: A Boy in Beijing by Guo Yue and Clare Farrow – Children’s book about life in communist China, told from the point of view of an 8-year-old boy who dreams of freedom while flying kites.
I like a book that grabs me with a really riveting opening. I’m not the most patient fellow, so an author needs to make a good first impression in those opening pages, or I might pull the ripcord and jump to something else. Re-reading Andre Norton’s Witch Worldbrought this notion rushing back to me. It’s got one of the best opening scenes of any fantasy or sci-fi book I’ve ever read. Sucks you right in.
Allow me to elaborate. Witch World tells the story of Simon Tregarth, a desperate, war-haunted man hunted by assassins and forced to choose escape by the most desperate of measures, the Siege Perilous. In passing through it the person incurs its judgment and travels to another place worthy of his or her character and standing. Tregarth gets the Witch World, but in the moments leading up to that fateful passage Norton paints a vivid picture of her lead character’s desperation. Hunted to the ends of the earth and now cornered, Tregarth’s character and bearing remain noble and engaging. When he makes that passage to the next world you simply must read on to see what happens next.
Here are three other titles with dynamic openings:
A Game Of Thrones /George R.R. Martin — A looming winter that threatens to envelop the world? A macabre massacre? Killer wights? Martin lets you know right away that this will not be elves singing in sylvan glades.
Imajica / Clive Barker — The mysterious Mr. Chant prowls the damp, dark streets of London well past dark in search of a very special assassin. What he finds is more than he ever bargained for.
Now it’s your turn. Care to share a book title that ropes the reader in and leaves him or her unable to put it down?
After you stop laughing, you might ask yourself just how on earth I managed that. In the case of The Phantom Lover, it’s simple: I don’t speak or read Chinese. The movie I should have been looking for was a 1937 film called Song at Midnight, but since I used the Mandarin title, Yè bàn gē shēng, in my WorldCat keyword search, and then didn’t realize there was more than one movie using that title, I accidentally requested the wrong one. What makes this doubly hilarious is that Song at Midnight is, itself, an adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera, and The Phantom Lover is one of two remakes of Song at Midnight. Layers upon layers of textual goodness to unpack! However, with its lavish sets and costumes, lovely singing, and Romeo and Juliet allusions, The Phantom Lover is so wonderful that I’m hard-pressed to see how Song at Midnight can compare.
Another blunder that led to an interesting cinematic experience was mistaking George Cukor’s Camille for Gregory Mackenzie’s Camille. Instead of a swanky retelling of a Dumas novel, I accidentally subjected myself to 90 minutes of Sienna Miller playing an undead newlywed. It wasn’t a horrible film, but it was definitely bizarre, and a little unsettling. After all, if your husband doesn’t fall in love with you until after you’re a slowly rotting corpse, your relationship has issues that probably can’t be satisfactorily resolved in a 90-minute movie. If only I had read the descriptive essay from the book before I checked out the wrong film! On the bright side, David Carradine’s supporting role as a sad, philosophical cowboy made the movie a little more pleasant to watch, if still a bit puzzling. (Multi-colored horses? Really?)
On the even brighter side, getting my hands on the right movies most of the time has been a snap thanks to the wonderful staff in the Film and Audio Department and a number of libraries elsewhere in the country who graciously sent me their films via interlibrary loan. Not every library can buy every item its patrons want, for a variety of reasons, so it’s great that so many libraries are willing to share their collections, often for no charge. Talk about the kindness of strangers! And the ability to request interlibrary loans through the Carnegie Library is available to everybody with an Allegheny County library card, so don’t be shy about putting in those requests.
One incredible film that came via ILL was Karel Kachyňa’s Ucho [The Ear], a psychological nerve-bender about Ludvik, a minor Communist party official, and Anna, his grumpy wife. The couple spends most of their tenth anniversary arguing with each other about whether or not the Communist party has bugged their house, as well as whether or not the authorities are on their way over to arrest Ludvik. Beautifully demonstrating the principle that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you, Ludvik and Anna scramble around their house setting documents on fire, hunting for hidden microphones, and hiding precious objects in their son’s school bag, all the while taking verbal potshots at each other a la Edward Albee. Just when the tension is about to become unbearable, the conflict is resolved in a “happy” ending. And if you want to know what I mean by that, you’ll definitely have to request the film yourself, or–if you don’t mind being stapled to your computer or small-screen gadget–watch it on YouTube.
Here’s a list of the (correct!) films I watched in this round of the “1,001 Movies” project:
This brings my total movie-watching count up to a neat 220, and I’m still having a wonderful time, especially with this round’s wealth of classic films. I’m a little in love with Gregory Peck and not ashamed to admit it, either. I do wonder, however, when real life concerns and the cumulative lack of sleep are going to catch up with me. I suppose I’ll just have to burn that bridge when I get to it.
With all due respect to CBS and you-know-who’s top ten lists.
That is one of the more frequently asked questions I am asked, or a variation thereof. It might be “What’s the most popular?” or maybe “What has gone out the most?” It’s kind of intriguing so I decided to see if I could find out. We have a tool that lets us mine the staff side of the catalog, the pages that aren’t web-based and intuitive to use. It has the business-like name of Create List, and we use it pretty frequently to check collections, locations of materials, copies of titles and things like material codes (book, microfilm, DVD) and publisher information. It’s our inventory control software.
On its surface what I wanted to find sounds straightforward – find the books (nonfiction) with the most circulations in the library. With Create List, that search is reduced to two lines of a controlled vocabulary search-string that looks like this:
ITEM LOCATION starts with “xros” AND
ITEM TOT CHKOUT greater than “10”
The xros locations cover the 3 floors with circulating non-fiction (except parts of the music collection) and I felt 10 total checkouts was a safe starting point to keep the search time short. You might know them as 2nd floor, the mezzanine, and 3rd floor.
Now, here’s the caveat. As old as our collection is – there are titles going back to before 1900 – for the purposes of the online catalog, the oldest records date from September, 2002. This is electronic inventory sleight-of- hand; the arbitrary point in time when we migrated catalog records to the online system. Doesn’t matter when a book was originally published, its digital record was created in 2002. So, what I have is a listing of the most circulated nonfiction titles using September 2002 as the circulation starting point of the whole collection. I don’t have, or at least don’t have access to, any of the paper records that might have been saved with the retro information prior to 2002 . In reverse order (total checkouts in parentheses) the top 10 most circulated nonfiction titles are:
Now that I know this, I can’t decide how I feel about it. Did I / did you expect it to be more . . . classical or literary, and is that expectation really a euphemism for what we wanted the list to be, what it would say about the collective us? Even if I don’t particularly like Fitzgerald or Milton, don’t the rest of you?
Have you seen Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris? In it, the main character (a writer) visits present-day Paris with his fiancee, and while roaming about the city at night suddenly finds himself in 1920s-era Paris and meets up with all of his heros of that time period: Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Dali, and Picasso all figure prominently. It’s the type of movie that you can’t watch without thinking about a time that you’d like to visit. Paris in the 1920’s? Yes, please! But another, more recent, time and place combination that I’m also intrigued by is New York City in the 1970s. New York hadn’t yet turned into the high-rent, glossy city that it is now; in fact, the city was in bad enough shape that it inspired this infamous headline. Artists, writers, and musicians were still able to afford to live in the city, and came from all over to do so. These are three books that I think really capture the energy of the time:
Just Kids, by Patti Smith: This short memoir tells the story of Patti Smith’s relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. It is at heart a love story, but Smith’s memory includes so many little details of New York at that time that it feels as much like a love story about the city as it does about her relationship. Like Wolcott, Smith was part of a circle of rising luminaries in the art and music world, and she writes intimately about her relationship with Mapplethorpe and the other rising stars in New York at the time.
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain: This book is one of the best oral histories out there, piecing together the memories of lots of different people to tell the story of punk’s heyday. It covers cities from Detroit to London, but New York is, of course, one of the main locales, and the one that I think of when I think of this book.
Where would you like to visit, if you could pick a time and place to travel? I think San Francisco in the 1950’s and 1960’s would be another place on my list, and I wouldn’t mind a trip to England in the late 18th century to visit with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth either. I’d love to hear about those times and places that intrigue everyone else!
On Valentine’s Day, I went to a taping of the inspiring radio show From the Top, where young classical musicians perform with and are interviewed by pianist Christopher O’Riley. Amidst all the talented string players and pianists, I was thrilled to see a teenager who played the euphonium. If you’re not familiar with the euphonium, perhaps picture a tuba that’s been slightly shrunk or just look at the photo below. Soundwise, it has a deep, mellow tone but is more facile than a tuba.
The young euphoniumist, Grant Jameson from Dublin, Ohio, performed a stunning number titled “Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms.” It began with a sentimental theme and then went through a series of showy variations. According to our almost 600 page book, Guide to the Euphonium Repertoire: The Euphonium Source Book, Jameson chose his piece well. The book states that “Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms” is “arguably the most played and popular theme and variations ever written for the euphonium.” (p. 51)
The variations on the traditional theme were originally composed by Simone Mantia (1873-1951) who played euphonium with such highly regarded ensembles as the New York Philharmonic, Victor Herbert’s Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera House Orchestra, and, perhaps most significant to brass players, in John Philip Sousa’s band from 1896-1904.
I’m not sure exactly whose arrangement Jameson and O’Riley performed because a great number of arrangements for different accompanying instruments have been made since Mantia’s time. In the Guide to the Euphonium Repertoire book, though, every different arrangement includes statements such as “This work demonstrates all of the technical, melodic, and range possibilities of the euphonium. It is a must study for the serious euphonium student.” (p. 52) or it “…will certainly test out one’s dexterity and technique.” (p. 104)
This past weekend I took a break from my movie marathon and went to see Frankly Scarlett, a new Pittsburgh comedy troupe whose side-splitting mix of skits, improv games, short video clips, and musical interludes was more than worth the price of admission. Satirical scenes about dating, pregnancy, and catty female behavior were mixed in with good-natured jabs at homeschooling, vegetarianism, pop culture, and other topics for a solid hour of hilarity. I’m actually still giggling over some of the jokes, and hoping that they will not only have another show soon, but also make a t-shirt I can buy and wear proudly.
A little catalog sleuthing turned up a great book called Funny Women: American Comediennes 1860-1985, which contains brief biographies of some of the most amusing women you might never have heard of, including May Irwin, Trixie Friganza, Sally Marr, and Jean Carroll. I slapped my forehead when I saw how many greats had somehow slipped my mind, famous names like Lily Tomlin(!), Imogene Coca(!!), Martha Raye(!!!), and, of course, Carol Burnett (!!!!!). The book also has chapters called “Funny Women of Radio” (which reminded me that I’d completely forgotten about the hilarious Gracie Allen) and “Writers and Directors,” which pays tribute to women who were as witty with the pen as in person (including Selma Diamond, for whom Night Court was just one in a series of comedic achievements). Between this book and the world wide web, you can get a gold mine of information on some of the most snickerworthy sisters to strut the stage. And if you’re looking for more, well, we have a few more resources up our sleeves here at the library.
So is it that there aren’t a lot of women in comedy, or just that we don’t know much about some of them, and take for granted the ones we do know? Who do you personally find hilarious, and did I mention her? Why do you suppose more women aren’t drawn to comedy as a pursuit? And, most importantly, who’s coming with me to the next Frankly Scarlett show?
Radio waves from North Korea are penetrating your body!
It’s true! And scores of other countries are in on the act. State and privately operated radio transmitters are sending out special radio signals designed to travel vast distances, across oceans and between continents. Thankfully these waves are only floating out there for the enjoyment of listeners worldwide. So take off the tinfoil helmets and relax.
I am talking about shortwave radio, also called world band radio, and it is a very engaging pastime.
It may be difficult now to imagine, but before the Internet, we were fairly limited in our sources of information on current events. You had your major media outlets on TV and radio and newspapers, and that was more or less it. For news junkies and people interested in other cultures and music, shortwave radio was a fantastic source. I can remember my brother and I sprawled out all over the floor with our G.I. Joes while my Pap would tune into the international BBC broadcast on his shortwave set. I will never forget the BBC’s announcers’ formulaic delivery, heavy with grave formality. It was soon forgotten as my Pap would set the dial to stations in South or Central America for a program of his beloved salsa. His love of Latin music overcame his staunch anti-communism when it came to music broadcasts from leftist regimes. Meanwhile, Cobra Commander would suffer the indignity of being gunned down to the beat of a fiery rumba.
Of course, a random encounter with a book in the stacks reintroduced me to shortwave. The Shortwave Listening Guidebook is a great primer for understanding how it all works. Even I could understand the technical parts.
Why bother with radio? We all have the Internet right at our fingertips, endless news and entertainment. But radio has a certain romantic, guerrilla quality that is appealing to me. In reality, most people on the earth don’t have easy access to the Internet, and most people don’t have smart phones. Not the workers at Foxconn, certainly. So shortwave and radio in general represents a medium of news and information with a real global reach. And radio is different kind of experience. The Internet is a whole big thing; you sit there before the altar and click click click. The radio is simply tuned in and goes on, leaving you free to work on something else. Basic no-frills shortwave radios can be very inexpensive and of course, the programs are free. And Google doesn’t know when you tune in or what you are listening to. Don’t want to bother with the radio? A great deal of these international broadcasts can be found streaming online, anyway.
I have been listening to shortwave on a tiny, cheap, hand held receiver for a few weeks. It is great fun to slowly spin the dial, pausing to hear snippets of Spanish, Italian, Russian, Romanian, etc… So far I have had the most luck tuning in to programs from China. The propaganda element has been lamentably absent. I haven’t learned anything about Mao or Marx or so much as a peep on collectivization. In all seriousness, China Radio International is waging a global charm offensive, broadcasting in 60 different languages while shortwave programming from Europe and the U.S. has been declining. Last week on one of their cultural programs, I learned about Uighur singing. Consider me charmed. I still can’t get over the neat-o factor of the whole thing, working in my basement while a tiny plastic box powered by two AA batteries lets me listen in on the world. Awesome. And all from finding a book in the stacks I wasn’t looking for.
But now I’m frightened. I have
Got to present myself, smile at
Them all and fall silent,
Hugging my lace shawl.
She who was I, in her black agate
Necklace–till the valley of God’s anger
Bring us together, I’d rather
She kept out of my way…
Are the last days close upon us?
Your lessons I have forgotten,
Sloganwriters, false prophets,
You haven’t forgotten me.
As in the past the future is maturing,
So the past is rotting in the future–
A terrible carnival of dead leaves.
–“Poem Without a Hero” by Anna Akhmatova
translated by D.M. Thomas
Among the greatest Russian poets, Anna Akhmatova‘s work and fascinating biography during Russia’s tumultuous twentieth century should be irresistible to any poetry or history fan. Her poetry, biography, and Russian history are inextricably linked. She lived through an era that included the Russian and Bolshevik Revolutions, civil war, both World Wars, the Stalinist regime, and the imprisonment and executions of millions of her people. Her most famous works, the long poems “Requiem” and “Poem Without a Hero,”are perfect examples of this melding of art, life, and history.
Image from St. Petersburg: Anna Akhmatova Museum by Flickr user quinn.anya
After early critical and popular success, Akhmatova began to feel the pressure of unfolding political events. When hundreds of thousands of people fled the turmoil of the revolutions and wars, Akhmatova insisted on remaining in her country despite the dangers. Her loyalty and outspokenness led to her status as a poet of the Russian people.
Ironically, Akhmatova’s work was criticized for being too personal. As Max Hayward writes in his introduction to the poet’s selected works, Andrei Zhdanov, who was director of the Soviet Union’s cultural policy and one of Stalin’s lieutenants responsible for thousands of executions and arrests during the Great Terror, imposed a period of censorship of Akhmatova’s work. In 1946, he wrote:
Akhmatova’s subject matter is utterly individualistic… A nun or a whore–or rather both a nun and a whore who combines harlotry with prayer… Akhmatova’s poetry is utterly remote from the people… What can there be in common between this poetry and the interests of our people and State?
This and an earlier proclamation effectively silenced the poet for two decades. She and other writers lived in such fear of persecution that they would burn written drafts of their poems, memorizing their own and others’ to preserve the art in case of its creator’s arrest and execution. Akhmatova’s first husband was executed for treason. Her son was imprisoned for years. Like hundreds of others, Akhmatova waited outside the prison daily hoping to hear news or pass warm clothing to her loved one. In spite of the oppression and despair she and her country suffered, she found a way to express her experience. The poem “Requiem” begins with the prose segment:
In the fearful years of the Yezhov terror I spent seventeen months in prison queues in Leningrad. One day somebody ‘identified’ me. Beside me, in the queue, there was a woman with blue lips. She had, of course, never heard of me; but she suddenly came out of that trance so common to us all and whispered in my ear (everybody spoke in whispers there): ‘Can you describe this?’ And I said: ‘Yes, I can.” And then something like the shadow of a smile crossed what had once been her face.
In clear negation of her alleged irrelevance, Akhmatova read to a crowd of three thousand people in Moscow in 1944. They honored her with a standing ovation. (Hayward writes that Stalin responded, “Who organized this standing ovation?”) When she died in 1966, after receiving international awards and an honorary degree from Oxford University, thousands of people attended memorials in two cities.
Reading poetry in translation is a different animal from reading poems in their own languages. Poetry’s subtlety of language, attention to sound, syllable and rhyme, and concern with idiom and connotation can elude rendering to another language. The poet Jane Kenyon discussed her opinion after translating Akhmatova’s work:
That’s why I say translation is a necessary evil. Either you sacrifice the sound patterns in order to keep the images intact or you sacrifice the images in order to keep the sound intact… and of the two the one I would be most reluctant to lose is the integrity of the images. The images in a good poem come from a deep place, and they give the poem a sense of cohesion. Almost everything else can be tinkered with, but if that is tinkered with, the whole work flies apart. Again and again I saw translations of these poems that had no respect for their psychic wholeness. The translators might have been fairly clever at their rhymes, but it was word games, not poetry. I came to believe in the absolute value of the image when I was working on these poems by Akhmatova.
Admirers and critics praise the musicality of Akhmatova’s work. Whether or not you understand Russian, you can hear the music of her work in her native language in this recording of the poet.
More than anything, Anna Akhmatova’s life and work speak to the power of art. Like any true masterpiece, her poetry transcends time, culture–even language. As her beloved city’s name changed from St. Petersburg to Petrograd to Leningrad and back to St. Petersburg, wars raged and waned around her, and regimes and leaders rose and fell, Akhmatova’s poems remain transcendent. Far from being personal grievances of a single woman, her poetry speaks to the ability of one person’s story to express a nation’s spirit, and to demonstrate the humanity that remains in the face of devastation and enormous challenge.
Image from St. Petersburg: Anna Akhmatova Museum by Flickr user quinn.anya
As a librarian and a mom, I bring home oodles of material for my kids, ages 9 and 6. Far and away, their very favorite movies are written, animated, and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli (pronounced jiburi or jee blee). Studio Ghibli is an anime studio founded in Japan in 1985. The Walt Disney Company has distribution rights to almost all of Ghibli’s output internationally. I think this is good, because Disney helps get these great films out to the rest of the world, and luckily for us, Studio Ghibli has demanded a policy of no cuts or edits in the licensing their films abroad.
Lest you think that these movies are just for kids, let me put your mind at rest. Like other great works of art, these movies transcend age limits. If you haven’t seen them, I urge you to RUN AND GET THEM! RIGHT NOW!
There are other Miyazaki films, but these are our favorites:
Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi) (2003/2001) has won many awards, including an Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003. It is a film about growing as a person, overcoming fear, helping others who need you, and spirits. It has one of the best witches I have ever encountered and a huge baby. I have only seen it in the English dubbed version. I’ve heard that there are some subtleties that are lost in translation, but if so, it doesn’t seem to diminish the movie one iota. ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro) (1988) is about two sisters who move into a new house. They are befriended by benign forest spirits. The cast of the dubbed version includes Dakota and Elle Fanning as the little girls. One of my favorite parts is when the cat-bus says the little girl’s name “Mei.” …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Howl’s Moving Castle (Hauru no ugoku shiro) (2005/2006) is based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones. A young woman is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch. She encounters Howl, a wizard, and a fire demon Calcifer who moves Howl’s castle around. There is a mysterious connection between the two. Billy Crystal is so great as the voice of Calcifer. …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Ponyo (Gake no ue no Ponyo) (2009/2010) is about a magical little fish girl who wants to be human. Environmental issues and the human impact on the earth are important themes to this feature. The all-star cast of the English dubbed version includes Tina Fey as the mother of the boy who saves Ponyo and feeds her ham, and Betty White as one of the old women. I get so mad at the mother in this film! She is so self-centered.
The Music, Film and Audio Department has a large selection of anime. Our catalog does a good job of including the age rating for each. I still recommend watching them first before showing them to your kids.
Here are some websites that might help you navigate the world of anime: