Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Silent Spring - by Rachel Carson

If I believed in reincarnation, I would have good reason to think that I was Rachel Carson in a previous life. She died about six weeks before I was born which was, in fact, on the anniversary of her birth. Both of our births are celebrated today. I recently also learned that her iconic work, Silent Spring was originally published on the same day that my sister was born in 1962. Furthermore, Carson has ties both to my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland (where she studied at Johns Hopkins University and wrote about natural history and the Chesapeake Bay for the Baltimore Sun) and also to my adopted home state of Massachusetts where she worked at the Woods Hole Biological Laboratory. 

Carson wrote for the general public, not for the scientific community. My limited scientific education did not deter me from being able to access and discuss this work, and defend it to skeptics. Anyone who wants to know more about the consequences of the overuse of pesticides will find this work accessible.

When I was once asked to read from a book that changed my life I chose the Introduction to this work - "A Fable for tomorrow" - which describes a future in which there are no birds or insects. A future in which the landscape has been decimated by the use of insecticides. This book was integral to the banning of DDT and launched the modern environmental movement.

I know from my own research about Carson that this work was meticulously researched, and that she made good use of libraries while writing it. She names two librarians in particular in her Acknowlegements.

"Every writer of a book based on many diverse facts owes much to the skill and helpfulness of librarians. I owe such a debt to many, but especially Ida K. Johnston of the Department of the Interior Library and to Thelma Robinson of the Library of the National Institutes of Health".

Happy Birthday, Rachel!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Breakfast at Tiffany's - by Truman Capote

My husband, James, shares a birthday with Audrey Hepburn, and so we watched the movie based on this book earlier this month, about which James then wrote his own blog post. It was probably the third time we'd seen the film, but I had never read the book. The movie has a great library scene in which writer Paul Varjak (played by George Peppard) takes an uninitiated Holly Golightly (Hepburn) into the New York Public Library and shows her how to request a book. He requests a book from the closed stacks that he, himself authored, and then proceeds to inscribe it, much to the horror of the very stereotypical librarian on duty. What's more important though, is that after this first foray into the library Miss Golightly makes her way back there in order to do some research on South America. In the book Varjak is not so much an accomplished writer, and so has no published book to autograph at the NYPL. Furthermore, Golightly needs no initial guidance in the use of the library in order to find out what she needs. Varjak does, however, allow as how he did not immediately recognize the "girl who ran up the steps of the Forth-second Street public library...for Holly and libraries were not an easy association."

Monday, May 4, 2015

Yes Please - by Amy Poehler (the audiobook)

About a month after Christmas was over I found a copy of Poehler's audiobook "hidden" in a drawer in my living room. I asked my husband if he had put it there, and his response was "I wondered what I did with that." It was apparently intended to go in my stocking, but my absent-minded professor sometimes can't keep track of what he does with things. No matter, he and I listened to this together in the car mostly during trips back and forth to our daughter's boarding school (about 30 miles from our home). We wrapped it up yesterday while enjoying a ride on a beautiful spring day in our new-to-us car with the sunroof open.

This is a funny, and empowering book. Poehler tells of growing up in a Boston suburb; her college years; paying her dues working as a waitress while honing her comedic skills; her time on Saturday Night Live, and Parks & Recreation; and her insights into parenting. And, as if all this weren't enough to recommend it, in the final chapter (which Poehler recorded live at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater) the author explains a benefit to NOT having information at your fingertips (via cell phones) at all times. Back in the day when you had to go to the LIBRARY to do research, disturbing images would be part of a book or magazine and included "text" and more importantly "context". As an example she relates looking up the Boston Marathon bombing on her cell phone, and the first thing she saw was a photograph of a man who had had his legs blown off. She contrasts this with the image of the naked girl running from the napalm bombs in Vietnam in 1972 which at the time, one would have seen in print, as part of a news story.

This is the first audiobook I've written about in the four years that I've kept this blog. Well done, Amy.

There is plenty of librarian fun in Poehler's television series Parks & Recreation. Although she plays an evil librarian Megan Mullally as Tammy Swanson is so funny she is hard to hate.

Lagniappe 2:
Poehler's Facebook page Smart Girls is well worth "liking".