Tag Archives: Amy

Houdini vs. the Afterlife, or Not So Wild About Harry

In the 1920s, America had a brief but intense fling with spiritualism.

spiritualism, n.

3. The belief that the spirits of the dead can hold communication with the living, or make their presence known to them in some way, esp. through a ‘medium’; the system of doctrines or practices founded on this belief. Cf. spiritism n.

“spiritualism, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2015. Web. 13 December 2015.

What brought this on? Well, it was the winning combination of World War I and an influenza pandemic. Millions of people died in a relatively short time, and spiritualism gave their bereaved families some hope and comfort—if they could talk to their loved ones through a medium they weren’t really lost forever, right?

bookcover

The cover looks a little cheesy, but don’t let that put you off. It’s a fun book.

Eventually the phenomenon became so widespread that Scientific American decided to hold itself a little contest, with a $2,500 prize for the first medium who could convince a panel of judges that they were the real deal. The panel (which included the illustrious Houdini) debunked many a medium, but wasn’t quite sure what to do about a Boston woman named Mina Crandon, popularly known as “Margery.” The whole trippy story is explained in The Witch of Lime Street, by David Jaher.

Margery claimed to channel the spirit of her deceased brother Walter. Though her, Walter could ring bells in secured boxes, tip weighted scales, fling furniture about willy-nilly, and even alter the speed of a Victrola in another room. He also liked to compose and recite terrible poetry.

You call it death – this seeming endless sleep;

We call it birth – the soul at last set free.

‘Tis hampered not by time or space –

you weep.

Why weep at death. ‘Tis immortality (p. 274).

Pick up a copy of the book and you’ll find more bad poetry, inappropriate uses of body parts that I can’t mention in a polite blog, spirit fingerprints made from living dentists, the mysteries of teleplasm, and other delights—including the secrets of Margery’s tricks. It’s available in print, ebook, book on CD, and downloadable or streaming audio.

– Amy


For further clicking and reading:

 

 

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Darn it felt good to be a gangster.

Year of Fear

And it rhymes, too

Plain old George Kelly was doing quite well as a bootlegger and a bank robber until his wife Kathryn decided that they should pull off a string of kidnappings, make a boatload of money, and retire to Mexico.

Their first attempt ended poorly, when they kidnapped a gent whose family was unable to raise the ransom money (p.56). Oops. They decided to try again – but first, Kathryn decided that her husband’s image could stand a little improvement. So she bought him a machine gun and started spreading rumors about his prowess.

…she made her rounds of the local taverns and speakeasies, where she was constantly boasting about her husband, saying he could shoot walnuts off a fence line with his machine gun and write his name with it on the sides of barns (p. 46).

Basically, Machine Gun Kelly became Machine Gun Kelly because his wife wanted him to sound cooler. Sometimes history is awesome like that.

Anyway – their next target was millionaire Oklahoma oil tycoon Charles Urschel (no relation to the book’s author), whom they kidnapped from his swanky mansion on July 22, 1933 (p.75). Urschel was both the most cooperative and the sneakiest hostage ever – by the end of his stay with Kelly and his gang he had learned enough about the remote Texas farm where he was held hostage to lead the feds right to the door,  even though he was blindfolded the entire time.

Before long, he had enough details that he could draw the shack and the farm in his mind and identify and enumerate every animal that populated it. There were two chicken coops out back, a well with nasty, mineral-tasting water out front with a pulley that squeaked with a distinctive sound. There were four cows, three hogs, two pigs, a bull, and a mule (p. 87).

Kelly probably would have gotten away with the kidnapping if he had killed Urschel after collecting the ransom money (as his wife suggested) or if he had just chosen a stupider target. But he didn’t – so we get a months-long, multi-state investigation and pursuit that involves…

  • a bad dye job
  • one accidentally kidnapped sullen teenage girl
  • extremely embarrassing near-misses
  • Melvin Purvis (looking nothing like Christian Bale in Public Enemies, alas)
  • custom-built armored cars
  • deliberately mistaken identities
  • a brief cameo by Al Capone
  • missing codebooks
  • and tiny dogs.

Why don’t they teach this kind of stuff in high school history classes? It’s great!

The Year of Fear: Machine Gun Kelly and the Manhunt that Changed the Nation by Joe Urschel is a very fun and detailed book that’s available in print and book on CD.

– Amy E.

 

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Spizzerinctum!

I have a not-really-secret fondness for outdated teen romance novels – the older and cheesier, the better. My most recent find, dredged up with the help of NoveList, is Wedding in the Family by Rosumand du Jardin. Since I’m pretty sure that you’ve never heard of her either, here’s a little background information from Contemporary Authors.

Although author Rosamond du Jardin wrote several novels for adults, she was best known for her novels for teenagers, all of which have gone through numerous printings. Critics consistently praised her ability to write about the teenage years with humor and understanding. Most of her books have been published in other countries, including Japan, Italy, Holland, and Sweden.

Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2009. (accessed 08/24/15)

cover

Will darling Midge ever find true love? Well, probably.

In addition to her teen fiction, she wrote short stories for women’s magazines like Cosmopolitan, Red Book, and Good Housekeeping, and contributed to a variety of radio serials. She attended public school in Chicago, married a bookstore owner, had three children, “played gold and bridge, bowled, and liked to read and hew.” (Well, that’s what Contemporary Authors says. I’m hoping there are some typos in there.)

Anyway, let’s explore the world of Rosamund Du Jardin. It’s a magical place where all skillets are copper-clad, all curtains are crisp and white, no one worries about skin cancer, and young people are full of spizzerinctum.

The book starts off with a bang, with the wedding of Midge’s sister Tobey. Here’s what happens when Midge is introduced to best man Johnnie Randall, a southern charmer who apparently doesn’t care that Midge is only fifteen, while he’s like, at least 23. Reading it just makes you feel icky (page 48).

Randall

I think I need to take a shower now.

Don’t worry too much – with the help of her wise older sister, Midge realizes that Johnnie isn’t the man for her (whew), Learns A Valuable Lesson, and Grows Up A Little.

The morning before the wedding, the bridal party sets out to decorate the soon-to-be newlyweds’ car. But they have to find it first, because newlywed-car-hiding is apparently a thing in Midge’s hometown. Good thing they have spizzerinctum (page 70) and hamburgers to keep them going. (And yes, they find the car.)

Spizzerinctum! And check out the names - Suz, Brose, Jim, Denny, George, Sox, Midge, and Ellen!

Suz! Sox! Brose!

The wedding goes off perfectly (it’s super romantic, and we learn that All Good Boys Want To Get Married), but the book’s only half over. Fortunately, that’s just enough time to take a family vacation!

Midge and company set out for a month at the lake, where (surprise) Midge is confronted by two vastly different suitors. But after the aborted Johnnie Randall affair, has Midge finally learned her lesson about love?

Well, duh. Of course she has. This book was written in 1958, after all.

Overall, Wedding in the Family is an unintentionally amusing and fairly (but not painfully) monotonous read. If nothing else, it’s a great romp through the world of 1950s teenager cliches. You’ll see:

  • double dates
  • a soda fountain
  • fashion and hairstyles galore
  • repeated use of the word “golly”
  • punches thrown in defense of a lady
  • a lad with a lawn mowing business
  • an utterance of the phrase “ever so much”
  • a family vacation
  • summer romance
  • a distressing lack of telephones
  • excessive tanning
  • dishonestly bleached hair
  • a midsummer dance
  • and more!

Keep your ponytails high and bouncy,

– Amy

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Kumu Hina: a Place in the Middle

Please join us at the Main Library on Tuesday, June 16th at 7 PM for a special free screening of the award-winning documentary Kuma Hina: a Place in the Middle.

Kum Hina banner, used with permission.

Kumu Hina is a powerful feature documentary about the struggle to maintain Pacific Islander culture and values within the Westernized society of modern day Hawaiʻi. It is told through the lens of an extraordinary Native Hawaiian who is both a proud and confident māhū, or transgender woman, and an honored and respected kumu, or teacher, cultural practitioner, and community leader.

Imagine a world where a little boy can grow up to be the woman of his dreams, and a young girl can rise to become a leader among men. Welcome to Kumu Hina’s Hawai’i. During a momentous year in her life in modern Honolulu, Hina Wong-Kalu, a Native Hawaiian māhū, or transgender, teacher uses traditional culture to inspire a student to claim her place as leader of the school’s all-male hula troupe.

But despite her success as a teacher, Hina longs for love and a committed relationship. Will her marriage to a headstrong Tongan man fulfill her dreams? As Hina’s arduous journey unfolds, her Hawaiian roots and values give her the strength and wisdom to persevere, offering a new perspective on the true meaning of aloha.

ReelQ logoThis screening of Kumu Hina will be co-hosted by the Pittsburgh Lesbian and Gay Film Society. Come join us!

Can’t make it on Tuesday? You can still borrow Kumu Hina from our LGBTQ collection.

– Amy E.

(Kumu Hina logo, description, and trailer used with permission.)

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Like a Brick to the Head?

Scott Brick is a super-prolific audiobook narrator and a favorite among Main library staff. He’s narrated books by just about everyone – people like Steve BerryTerry Brooks, Harlan Coben, Philip K. Dick, John GrishamFrank Herbert, Jon Krakauer, Erik Larson, and Brad Meltzer, to name a few (really, that’s the short list).

Most of those authors fall into the category of Manly Adventure, which really isn’t my thing. But I do quite enjoy alarming and/or depressing nonfiction, and Scott Brick does that, too. Here are a few examples!

In Cold Blood

I never noticed the eyes at the top before and now I’m all creeped out.

In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote – Truman Capote set off the whole true-crime-genre thing with his account of the murder of the Clutter family of Holcomb, Kansas and the flight, capture, trial, and execution of their killers. Whenever I can’t decide what to listen to next, I just grab this one – it’s hypnotic, in an occasionally creepy way.

Dead Wake

Just by looking at the cover, you can tell that this won’t end well.

Dead Wake, by Erik Larson – I’ve just finished listening to this book, which is about the sinking of the Lusitania. It was really interesting: Winston Churchill attempted to drive an old admiral batty, a German submarine had a litter of puppies, Woodrow Wilson tried to get some, and more! You’ll even learn the fate of the One Hot Dude That Everyone Remembered – apparently he was having a great time on the old Lusitania, up until that whole torpedo thing.

The Devil in the White City

Conserving electricity obviously wasn’t a thing back then.

The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson – The book that every librarian is obliged to write about. It’s the story of the architect who designed the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and of the serial killer who stalked its grounds. You’ll probably end up fascinated by architecture. Or serial killers. Or both (I went with both).

Command and Control

Check out the print book for a handy diagram of a Titan II missile silo.

Command and Control, by Eric Schlosser – This super long audio book is a terrifying catalog of America’s near-misses with nuclear weapons accidents – everything from a dropped wrench that lead to a fuel tank explosion to the tale of a warhead (undetonated, obviously and thankfully) that’s still lost somewhere in North Carolina. It’s a great book for anyone who has fond memories of the Cold War (I rather miss the James Bond villians; they were better then) or who is just wondering what all the fuss was about.

All of the links above point to books on CD in our catalog, but you can also find tons of downloadable Bricky goodness in our OverDrive collection – a simple search for his name pulls up 171 titles!

– Amy

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I can’t believe I’m watching this again.

If I stumble across any of these movies I’ll inevitably end up watching the whole darn thing, whether I want to or not. Day wasted? Check. But somehow I don’t mind.

Andromeda StrainThe Andromeda Strain –  Somehow my parents thought that a Cold War era movie about biological terrors from outer space was suitable viewing for a child under ten – maybe that’s why I don’t trust monkeys or airlocks or lasers. This movie was on a lot when I was a kid, but it’s harder to come by nowadays. Fortunately, it’s available at your local library!

bookcover06Blazing Saddles – It’s my favorite movie, what else can I say? Lots, apparently. Every time I see Blazing Saddles (oooh, Blu-Ray version!) I invariably end up singing “The French Mistake” for the next week and a half. Warning: clip contains saucy language and slapstick violence. (Unfortunately, it ends before you get to see Hitler in a pie fight. I’m not kidding.)

Cradle 2 the GraveCradle 2 the Grave – Jet Li is entered into a convenient MMA tournament by Roseanne’s husband, people disguise themselves as exterminators to break into office buildings, an adorable moppet is kidnapped – and there’s also something about some black diamonds that can be used to power superweapons? And isn’t that the Chairman from Iron Chef America? If you need more reasons to watch (or not to watch), check out this scathing review from the Chicago Tribune.

Crank 2Crank 2: High Voltage – I don’t know the names of any characters that Jason Statham plays. It’s just, “You know that movie where Jason Statham has to keep running around or he’ll die? No, not that one, the other one.” This is the other one. It has a weird-but-memorable Godzilla battle in it, and other things that I probably shouldn’t mention in a library blog. Let’s just say that the TV version is usually heavily edited. (Note: research tells me that the character’s name is Chev Chelios. Huh.)

bookcover07Coming to America – If you need to show anyone what the 80s really looked like, just make them watch this movie (if you’re about my age, you’ll probably see your family’s living room furniture at some point). Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall play eight different characters between them (which is awesome) and James Earl Jones yells at people (which is also awesome).

bookcover08The Shawshank Redemption – Once when I was sick I kept falling asleep and waking up during different parts of a Shawshank Redemption marathon. It was one of the most confusing days of my life. If you want to sound all snooty, you can tell people that it’s based on the Stephen King novella “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” but don’t be surprised if nobody cares. Anyway, Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman? Can’t beat that.

bookcover09Transporter 3 – “No, this is the one where Jason Statham drives really fast. There’s a French guy, and there’s a woman who really needs to wash her face. No, not the spiky blond woman. I think that was Transporter 2.” Which leads us to the question: does it matter that all Jason Statham movies are pretty much the same? I say no. Not at all.

– Amy E., backing away from the remote

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Help OverDrive Help You!

Ah, the ebook – it can be your greatest friend or your worst enemy. One day you’re reading along merrily, the next you’re staring sadly at an unintelligible error message that just might possibly mean something in Sumerian. But you don’t speak Sumerian – so where do you turn when your ebooks turn on you?

truck

A shipment of new eBooks waiting to be checked in by our staff.

I always like to start with the OverDrive help pages, for three reasons: one, they’re detailed and always up to date; two, they’re super searchable; and three, I like to think that the people who make a product are the most likely to know how to fix it (this theory works equally well with ebooks, dryers, and nuclear weapons).

Anyway, to reach the OverDrive help pages all you have to do is click on the happy little question mark – it’s at the top of every page on our OverDrive site.

OverDrive banner

CLICK CLICK CLICK

That will take you to this general help page. There’s a lot of useful stuff there, including the “Recommend to Library” page – great if we’re missing a title from your favorite series – and a link to our email help form, down there at the bottom.

But if you’re like me (or it’s two in the morning and no one’s home at the library), you’ll want answers NOW. And if you want answers NOW, you should click on the first link, the one for “OverDrive Help.” Trust me here; I’ve been working with OverDrive since 2006. They gave me a frisbee once.

Help page

So many buttons, so little time.

And now you’re into the super searchable OverDrive database of awesomeness. The bar across the top has many fine drop down menus that link you to articles and videos about all of the formats that OverDrive offers (note: we don’t have all of them; we have ebooks, audiobooks, and video).

But if you still want answers NOW, just drop a couple of keywords into that old search box. Let’s pretend that I checked out a James Patterson book by mistake (I do not like James Patterson, but here I am promoting him anyway), and I want to return it early, instead of waiting three weeks for it to expire. So I’ll type “return” into the search box.

OverDrive help

You can even keep refreshing the page until you get a background picture that you like.

Just hit enter, and BOOM. Look at at that, the very first result is exactly what I need to get rid of that James Patterson book. Perfect!

Your time is up, Patterson.

Your time is up, Patterson.

That link will take you to an article that explains how to return OverDrive titles in lotsa different formats (EPUB, Kindle, MP3), and from lotsa different devices (Android phones, iPads, Kindles, nooks). So you’re pretty much covered, no matter what you’re doing.

You can even copy and paste your esoteric Sumerian error message into that handy search box, and OverDrive will explain it to you. Nice.

So remember, even if you don’t know what the heck is happening with your ebook, OverDrive probably does. Just give them a chance!

– Amy

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