03 December 2013

The Maine Readers' Choice Award Longlist is out!

I've made passing reference to the Maine Readers' Choice Award a couple of times... I'm a member of the 2014 Reading Committee.  Here's the skinny:

"The Maine Readers’ Choice Award, officially established in 2013 by the Maine State Library and the Maine Library Association, recognizes the best in adult  fiction published in the United States the previous year.  The aim of this award is to increase awareness and reading of literary fiction.  The Maine Readers’ Choice Award honors books that exhibit exceptional writing and a compelling story that encourages reading and conversation among individuals and in Maine’s communities."

Been wondering about the books under consideration for the 2014 Maine Readers' Choice Award?

Wonder no more!

25 November 2013

Overdue books - who gets my fine?

Most prolific library users I know have overdue fines.  Hey.... it happens.

I've even observed, or gotten caught up in, bizarre games of one-ups-man-ship about fines.
Photo courtesy: Elena Roussakis
Flickr Creative Commons

"I have, like, six dollars in fines right now."

"Six?  That's nothing!  I've got $22 in fines, and four books I just can't find."


I started this calendar year with a resolution not to incur ANY fines.  I held out for a few months, but like most people, my resolutions usually don't last all that long.  

I've probably paid $15-20 in fines over the last calendar year.  I console myself: well, I'm making a small contribution to the library with my fine money.  That's not such a bad thing, right?


18 November 2013

8 Reasons to Read 11/22/63

"The past is obdurate.  It doesn't want to be changed."  (p. 232)

ob-dur-ate [OB-duu-rit] adj. Stubborn; unyielding.

Alright, I know, I'm pandering to the 50th Anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, but first, I just HAD to read Stephen King's 11/22/63, and second, why NOT think and talk and write about it this week?

True confessions: I read it more than a year ago.  But it's one of those books I've wanted to let ferment.

There's a heap of reasons I liked 11/22/63, but here are my top 8 reasons:

04 November 2013

Help for the Haunted

John Searles Help for the Haunted.  Swing.... and a miss.
Help for the Haunted - swing and a miss.

I really wanted to love this book. I wanted a good scare.  I don’t know why.  I felt affinity for the girls (Rose & Sylvie – incidentally, two of my favorite female names).  They seem really lonely, and their experiences: the seemingly supernatural ones, as well as the "real" (spoiler alert) murder of their parents... just tragic.

THIS is how “into” this book I was:  I was reading in bed, about 50 pages from the end.  My husband comes home from his weekly Guys Night Out.  He starts talking with me, and I actually shushed him: “I’m almost done this book, and it’s really suspenseful!” He likes a gripping yarn too, so he let me be.

Disappointment.  But in hindsight, I feel like I should have seen it coming.

31 October 2013

The Hunger Games.... STORM CENTER style!

Sharon Rose Vaznis TOTALLY NAILS IT
as Effie Trinket!
The next Hunger Games movie is set to come out soon.  

But WCSH 6 beats 'em to the punch; they've gotten a good one in with this  

I work with such amazingly creative people.  And such good sports!

Prepare yourself for some serious promo awesomeness.

21 October 2013

Jill McCorkle, Life After Life

I tend to gravitate toward books with PLOT, and although there's nothing wrong with a great narrative - in fact there's a lot RIGHT about it - it's healthy for me to enjoy a character-driven novel.

Enter Jill McCorkle's Life After Life. Although I finished it more than a month ago, and I'm just writing about it now, I actually read it very quickly

Imagine a set of concentric circles, or a web.  Or maybe a whole bunch of Venn diagrams. With six main characters (and a supporting cast of a couple dozen), their lives are very much intertwined, even though they don't realize it.  

18 October 2013

Not just talking the talk, but walking the Useful Walk

I just passed my 2nd Anniversary of writing The Page Turner.  You know how I remember now?  I volunteered at the local library used book sale again!

Here's my VERY FIRST BLOG POST, about that book sale.

And I did shop the sale again... a little... not too much.  Maybe it was because I made the (pretty minimal) effort to walk to the library and back for my volunteer shift last night, rather than drive.  

I watched a Ted Talk this week featuring Jeff Speck.  Among the many interesting points in his talk, Speck, author of The Walkable City (haven't read it yet, but want to!), says, "We've talked a long time about diet and we know that diet impacts weight, and weight impacts health.  But we've only started talking about inactivity.  Inactivity, born of our [car-dependent] landscape.  Inactivity that comes from the fact that we live in a place where there's no longer any such thing as 'the useful walk.'  [This is what] is driving our weight up." (TedTalks, Oct 2013)

14 October 2013

Where is the middle ground of "Green"?

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I try to live lightly on the earth, minimizing my carbon footprint, and by extension that of my family.

Yes, I know, I'm kind of a zealot.  

I hassle my parents about not composting ("You're gonna do WHAT with the corncobs? And kitchen scraps? That's awful!!"  Sure, that's the very best way to end a family dinner, no?).  I hassle my son when he puts something that is recyclable into the trash bin instead of the recycling bin.  I'm the weirdo at work who, at an afternoon birthday cake, runs away from the styrofoam coffee cups; I bring my own mug.  I even pause when I think about ski season because despite the fact that I LOVE IT, it means a lot more driving to and from the local mountains, and the ski lifts and snowmaking machines use a lot of power, whereas the rest of the year our family tends to aspire toward non-fossil-fuel-consuming leisure activities.

There's always more that I could do.  There's always a way that I could make less trash.  But I still need to find some middle ground here, because I know I'm a little bit irritating.  So, two recent books are helping me find that balance.

Nathanael Johnson: All Natural: A Skeptic's Quest to Discover if the Natural Approach to Diet Childbirth, Healing, and the Environment Really Keeps Us Healthier and Happier


Amy Korst, The Zero-Waste Lifestyle: Live Well by Throwing Away Less

30 September 2013

The Dude and the Zen Master

The Dude Abides.

One September day, I read The Dude and the Zen Master in one sitting, about two hours, in the sun, in my back yard.  Seems like The Dude deserved the sunshine-y, high-quality treatment!

True confessions: I don't know much about Zen Buddhism, or even Buddhism in general. And this book isn't going to make you an expert either.  It might whet your appetite to know more, though, as it has for me.  What I do know seems to make excellent sense on how to be a decent human being.  How to live with yourself and others in a healthy way.

Little did I know that Jeff Bridges is a real perfectionist and pretty hard on himself.  I just always imagine him being just as "chill" as The Dude in The Big Lebowski.  Not so.  He worries a lot.  He worries about his performances as an actor, or as a public speaker.  Zen seems to help him escape some of this anxiety, that Zen is just "being" - just "showing up".  Kind of "don't sweat the small stuff."  I know that I can benefit being reminded of this!

24 September 2013

Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland

Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland
(accompanied by my "tools of the trade")
Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland is a magnificent novel, under consideration for both the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award. I am honored to read it as part of the "very-long" list of the Maine Readers' Choice Award.  I finished it more than a month ago, but I haven't been able to write about it, mainly because I want so much to do it justice.

As much as I insisted that I like a book that has a very compact time frame (in my post about The Dinner), I have to say that Lahiri can achieve the opposite - a book that spans an entire human lifetime. 

20 September 2013

The End of the Suburbs

What do you think of when you think of "Suburbs"?

A streetcar suburb
(image courtesy Paul Sableman, Flickr Creative Commons)

Or this?

(courtesy "MyBiggestFan" Flickr Creative Commons)

06 September 2013

The Dinner

Herman Koch's The Dinner is an ethically conflicted novel.

How far would you go to protect your child?  

How far into "we just want the best for our son"?

It actually makes me a little ill (indigestion?) to contemplate my reaction, my horror, if my son committed a senseless act of violence.... the source of the discord in The Dinner.

09 August 2013


It's rare for me to quit a book.  My dear husband notes this with a certain amount of awe and puzzlement.  I will hate and gripe my way through a book for weeks (or put it down for a year, only to pick it up again) out of a compulsion to finish.  Maybe it's guilt. Maybe it's that I want to give the author the benefit of the doubt.

But recently, I've become less patient.  I've become.... a quitter.

You may already know I own too many books.  Too many?  How is that possible?  

Because they are threatening to crush us.
This doesn't even account for all the books in the house.

I need to read my way down.

So I am hereby announcing that I have renounced two books: S. Shoenbaum's Shakespeare: His Life, His Language, His Theater, and Bill Bryson's The Lost Continent.

02 August 2013

A tasty spelling error

You'd think that the USA Today Books staff would be made up of absolute spelling fanatics.  They probably are.  Well, none of us are immune..... I received this in their weekly book newsletter:

30 July 2013

Inspired by TEDtalks

Have you discovered TED?  Experts in their field present their latest research, inventions, human behavior.  According to TED: "TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design -- three broad subject areas that are, collectively, shaping our future. And in fact, the event is broader still, showcasing ideas that matter in any discipline." (more herehttp://www.ted.com/pages/about)  It's like going to excellent university guest speaker events, right from your living room couch.  Every time I watch a TEDtalk I learn something new from people who are incredibly passionate about their field.

26 July 2013

Narrators without Names: not-so-good, better, awesome!

I've had three books underway, all at once, and this week I finished all three.  

All three books are in the first person, and in all three, the narrator goes unnamed.

First up: Matt Bell's In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods (aka I'm Unnaturally Fond of Prepositional Phrases).
Bell teaches writing at Northern Michigan University and several of his short stories have been anthologized.  This is his first novel, and I think it would have been MUCH better cut back to a short story, maybe a novella at most.

18 July 2013


I just came back from a most excellent family getaway to Montreal.  Just two overnights.... only enough to make me want to visit the city much more!  If you've heard the line that Montreal is a real "cosmopolitan" city, well, this girl says, it's all true.  It's a great place.  Lots of history, lots of business, a vibrant nightlife, student life..... we really can't wait to go back.

And of course, I haunted the bookstores,

12 July 2013


It's gotta be tough being Stephen King's kid.

I mean, you have the creepiest dad at school, everyone knows you have money, and now that you've taken up the family business of horror novel writing, the expectations must be practically unattainable.  Not to mention that Dear Ol' Dad is still cranking out books of his own!
Come on, Joe.  
Scare me more.

To be honest, I didn't know that Joe Hill was a King when I first heard about NOS4A2 (Nosferatu, pronounced "Nos-four-ah-too" like the silent-era German film).  In fact, I was about two-thirds of the way through the novel before a friend told me, "Oh yeah!  That book by Stephen King's son!"  Now THAT makes sense.

01 July 2013

I'm back!

Hey y'all... took a little bloggy sabbatical in June.  I'm back!

Things that happened:

School ended. I'm not a teacher, but it's amazing how busy the end of the school year can be simply as a parent of a school-age child!

17 May 2013


If they are this marvelous, I could get hooked on graphic novels.

From: habibibook.com
Habibi, or ﺣﺒﻴﺒﻲ  if you will.

I have had a lifelong interest in the culture and language of the Middle East.  In college I took a one-semester course on Islam, taught by a Catholic priest.  Fascinating class - and with all the politics and strife of the last decade+, I think it has enabled me to have more insight into what Islam is, and isn't.

10 May 2013

Don't Lick the Minivan

Things I Should Have Been Doing Yesterday:
1. Laundry
2. Cleaning
3. Going for a training run

Things I Did Instead
1 Drink coffee.
2. Read Leanne Shirtliffe's Don't Lick the Minivan
3. Howl with laughter

"Remember the show Survivor?  That's what parenting is like.  We need to outwit, outlast, and outnumber our kids." (p. 95)

"Parenting tip: Lazy parenting creates kids who are self-starters" (p. 117)

Amen, sister.

03 May 2013


There's nothing like having significant renovation work done to one's home to make you feel more than a little... revealed.

How appropriate that in the thick of home deconstruction / renovation, I should finish Sam Gosling's Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You.

Yesterday we removed our several-years-defunct masonry chimney, original to our circa-1950 house.  For the last 63 years, a feng shui master would have had nausea and vomiting upon entering because the dang chimney ran RIGHT UP THE CENTER.  And when I say "up the center," I don't mean snugged up against a wall, closet, or stairwell.  I'm talking right up the very middle of both our living room and the master bedroom (and considering the modesty of our home, I use "master" extremely loosely).  Like an ugly square pillar.  Like an 800 pound gorilla.  Like Jack's Beanstalk. 

26 April 2013

A first foray into fermenting food

I learn the coolest stuff from the "New Book Shelf" at the library. Because I pick up books that pique my fancy, but that I would likely never go on the hunt for.

A month or so ago I noticed The Complete Idiot's Guide to Fermenting Foods. Hmmm....

23 April 2013

Pat, Wil. Wil, Pat! Now we're all friends!

Let me tell you about this cool thing that happened!
Wil Whalen

My friend Wil Whalen writes DangerWilRobinson, a blog focusing on the local (Maine) music scene.

Pat Keane

My friend Pat Keane is my son's (extraordinarily patient) guitar teacher and is a mastering engineer par excellence.

Last year there was a moment of connection between the three of us (for the life of me, I can't remember the details, gentlemen... was it that Pat was finishing the mastering for a band that Wil was featuring?)

16 April 2013

Wesley McNair, The Words I Chose

Confession: This isn't a review as much as a jumbled mess of thoughts and feelings.

Reading Wesley McNair is surreal in the extreme for me. I am still processing.

Wesley McNair
He writes about people and places I know with aching frankness.  He writes about the abuse and sadness inflicted on him, in particular by his stepfather.

Even the photos are familiar.

Wesley's stepfather, Paul Joly, is my great-uncle.

02 April 2013

Library budget cuts are penny wise, pound foolish

The City of South Portland is proposing a $5,000 cut to the "collections" budget at the public library.

Now, I understand that it's not the only city department facing cuts, but the cost/benefit ratio of keeping our library current is HUGE.

South Portland is a great community because we pull together and benefit together as a community.  I don't have a swimming pool, but my son is learning to be a great swimmer because we have an indoor community pool.  We have wonderful parks, the rec center, athletic fields, a municipal golf course.  We share these because we've decided we'd rather own these as a community than close them off to all but the well-heeled members of a country club. 

28 March 2013

"Unnecessary" "Quotation" "Marks"


So it may or may not be "opening soon", guess we'll never know.

And just for bonus points, I like the "threader's" - it's that dreaded extra apostrophe again.

If you like this, you'll love the "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks

Whenever I see these extraneous quotation marks, all I can think of is the "Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink" sketch from Monty Python.

Know what I mean?  Know what I mean?

22 March 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

Ever have a book that you wish didn't end, because you love the characters so, so much?  This is The Silver Linings Playbook for me.

Once again, I crawled out from whatever rock I must live under, because I didn't know about this book until I watched the Oscars and discovered that it was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.  (True confessions, I don't read New York Times Book Review, and I'm thinkin' that I should.)

It's rare to read an "inner voice" written as convincingly as this.  I sort of forgot that I was reading.  But at the same time, you are reminded again and again that it's a quirky, not-quite-healthy mind.  (Now that I think about it, I think this would make a TERRIFIC audiobook.)

I like the "supporting" characters too.  I like his friends Danny and Ronny, his brother, Tiffany, but especially Cliff the therapist.  I like reading Pat's feelings for all these people. I even like reading about the people who are difficult in his life: Pat's father, Ronny's wife.)  And I LOVE the deep enthusiasm that nearly all the characters have for Philadelphia Eagles football - it's the real common ground in the story.

I'm looking forward to seeing the film, because I can't wait to see Jennifer Lawrence's performance as Tiffany.  She was kind of tongue-in-cheek smart-alecky leading up to the Oscars, because I think she saw herself as a long shot (frankly, I got confused and thought she had been nominated for her role in The Hunger Games, to which I was, like, what???).  I'm a little surprised that she was cast for Tiffany, because the books seems to depict Tiffany as a little older (I was thinking early 30s).  But the key is the character, and her acting, not her age.

The trailer makes me think that the movie diverges from the book.... quite a lot.  For example, we (the readers) don't know (until a few pages from the end) why Pat was in the hospital, because Pat himself can't remember why he was there.  He doesn't deny that there was a reason, but he genuinely can't remember it.  And I think that the denouement of that moment is important in the pacing of the book; I hope the film will do the same (although I doubt it, because they let the cat out of the bag in the trailer).

Many 20th & 21st-century works explore the experience of mental illness: The Bell Jar; One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; Girl, Interrupted.  Often, the "inner voice" of the mentally ill is angry and bitter (largely because the main character is being hospitalizing against his/her will, sometimes appropriately so, but other times not).  Pat is confused and bewildered by his loss of time, but Pat's inner voice is NOT depressed.  In fact, it's a cheerful, hopeful voice.  Pat has learned new ways of thinking during his time in the Bad Place (the hospital).  He wants to get better: "It's better to be kind than right" is a sentence he says to himself often.  He wants to be a nicer person.  He DOES see the silver lining in many things in life.  He makes a point of mentioning things that "depress" him, and he prefers to avoid them.  It's refreshing to read a character that is mentally ill but NOT in despair.  Because although those two states usually exist together, not always.  And I do believe that depending on the diagnosis and treatment, a person with mental illness can sometimes create new neural pathways and heal.

This is a book where I have my own movie of it in my mind, which is interesting, because Pat thinks of his own LIFE as a movie, which will naturally have a happy ending - reunited with his estranged wife.  But there are other happy endings, and other silver linings.  By the end, he is able to believe that.

I loved this.  I hope you will too.

Have you read it?  Seen the movie?  Do you like one better than the other?

18 March 2013

Game of Thrones: build a wall around your heart

Game of Thrones is HOT.

Kind of.  But winter is coming.

My husband's fantasy-fiction-loving friends practically worship this series.  I had to see what all the fuss was about.  Plus, once again, trying desperately to read the book before watching the movie (or in this case, television series).

I don't have HBO, so I haven't been in a huge hurry to read this. I'm patient, I can wait to borrow the DVD from the library.  Which is good, because I started it sometime last summer, I think.  But then a few weeks ago, with the release of Season Two's DVD nigh, I felt like I ought to try to conquer the Seven Kingdoms.

14 March 2013

Grammar correction! It can happen!

Remember when I slammed Irving for their weird Please Prepay in Advance sign?

Well, miracles can happen.

Saw this at my most recent gas-up at an Irving:

Someone, somewhere, saw the light.  Oh, and it wasn't as grimey and gross as the previous sign.  It's a nice touch.  (Note: Irving has excellent restrooms that are ALWAYS clean.  They deserve kudos for this!)

Onward, Grammarians!

06 March 2013

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

You thought Abe carried that axe around because of all the rail-splitting he did?  Think again.

22 February 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole, or Where I Wound Up

If you've used Google today, you know it's Edward Gorey's birthday.  The fancy illustration for today is wonderful.

Edward Gorey, the author of the world's very BEST alphabet primer, The Gashlycrumb Tinies. 

"A is for Amy who fell down the stairs
B is for Basil assaulted by bears."

You can read them all here: at Brainpickings.org

Or watch this charming animation.

How am I just finding this now?
(Image courtesy brainpickings.org)
My favorite is the letter N.  What a demise.
But here's the best part, at least for me. I had never found Brainpickings before, and now I have.... and I really like it.  Lots and lots of thoughts on the habit of reading and the art of writing. 

What did we do before we could find the answer to just about ANYTHING using a few keywords and a search engine?  Did we just remember everything?  Did we think and think and think and finally remember the song/film/band/author etc that we were trying to recall?

And so, with one swoop of a search, I find not just the item I wanted to see - the best, most morbid and delightful alphabet - but a whole website rich with content I can't wait to read!

15 February 2013

"No honey, there's death in it."

Last weekend, before the big Blizzard hit, I stopped at the library to pick up a few movies and books.  I chanced to overhear the following between a girl (age 9 or so) & her father who were browsing DVDs in the children's room:

Girl: "Can we get Bridge to Terebithia?"

Dad: "No, it has death in it."

11 February 2013

Longfellow Books falls victim to Nemo, Blizzard of 2013

"Water is no friend to a book."  Chris Bowe, Longfellow Books

During the blizzard this weekend, a window in the floor above the store blew open overnight.  The pipes froze and set the sprinkler system off.  Then all hell broke loose.

When I watch the video, I see the pain on Chris' face.  I can't know the extent of his pain, because these aren't just books he loves, this is his livelihood.  I know that I would have terrible grief for my books if we had a horrible incident at our home.


This absolutely breaks my heart.  It's one of my favorite haunts on a lunchtime walk.

I'm still a very loyal customer! 

Longfellow Books, Resurgam!

05 February 2013

America Aflame - Burned Out!

It's rare for a book to do me in, but I've been trounced.

Love books + Love NPR = Love book reviews on NPR. 

Which led me to read David Goldfield's America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation, an analysis of how Evangelical Christianity contributed to the run-up to the Civil War, but also how it impacted the Gold Rush, the treatment of Native Americans, expansion West, etc. 

Librarian Nancy Pearl's Picks for the Omnivorous Reader remarks, "political leaders sought a middle ground between an individual's rights and the need for national stability (we're still searching for the right balance today, it seems)."  And in the wake of the recent election, it seemed an especially fitting time to read about the impact of Christianity (or more to the point, religiosity) on American Politics.

How many hundreds (thousands?) of books have been written about the Civil War?  I admire an author that looks at the causes (and effects) of the Civil War in a new way.  And the very best history books,  IMHO, illuminate the past in a way that also reflects on aspects of our present.

Little did I know that the Northern anti-slavery movement existed hand-in-hand with anti-Catholicism; "the Beecher family [Harriet Beecher Stowe's] stood in the forefront of both the crusade against Catholics and the crusade against slavery" (p.26, emphasis mine).  As a Catholic, this hit home rather sharply.  Did heroes like the Grimké sisters, or William Lloyd Garrison, hate "my people"?  It does give me pause. 

It also reminds me that although Abolitionists fervently believed that OWNING other people is wrong, it didn't keep them from continuing to believe that some people were/are better than others.  Makes me think about bitterness toward some of today's immigrants or the not-so-thinly-veiled racism against our African-American president.

The social pain of our time has eerie echoes in the past. 
  • "The Republicans' [1856] campaign erased any line between religion and politics. Churches became party gathering places; ministers stumped for the party's candidates.... The ubiquity of religious rhetoric and imagery in the Republican campaign, however, further polarized an already divided Union" (p. 125). 
  • Urban violence was measurably on the rise, with death by firearms up significantly.  (p.136)
  • Economic woes of 1857-1858 increased the religiosity of the nation: "Social disorder created a sense of foreboding that drove... men to seek solace from God.  In an increasingly evangelical nation, the suspicion that an epic struggle loomed took firmer root during these dark months (winter of 1858), a sense that events were occurring that 'may bring together the hosts of evil in one concentrated effort to crush the nation.'" (p. 146). 
Any of this sound familiar?  Think about Mike Huckabee proclaiming that the Newtown tragedy is because of our national "sin problem." 

Or how about this charming characterization:
Northerners and southerners may have prayed to the same God and espoused similar evangelical Protestant principles, but slavery inspired vastly different professions of faith.... To one southern minister, the divide was simple.  Northerners were "atheists, infidels, communists, free-lovers, rationalists, Bible haters, anti-christian levelers, and anarchists."  Southerners, on the other hand, were [according to the same minister] "God-fearing and Christ-loving, conscientious people... that... have a zeal for God, and seek his glory and the good of man." (p. 173)
No, this WASN'T ripped from the pages of the 2012 Republican National Convention.  It's the sentiments of the late 1850s.

The scope of this book is enormous.  So much so that like I said above, America Aflame did me in.  It's only 533 pages (not counting endnotes) and beautifully written, but it's very detailed and a bit hard-going. 

And here's the real kicker.  I have it out on interlibrary loan, and I'm now past the maximum number of times that I can renew it.  I'm in serious violation of my New Year's Resolution.

But even halfway through, there's a lot to reflect upon.  This blog post barely scratches the surface of America Aflame.  In fact, maybe it's best that I stop here for now, in the early summer of 1863, a few weeks before Gettysburg.  There's plenty of story to tell beyond.

31 January 2013

Erik Larson's Devil in the White City

My blog is almost a two-for-one discount.

I'm thinking about about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair through two books.... Erik Larson's Devil in the White City, as well as my adventure rescuing Shepp's World's Fair Photographed.

Devil in the White City itself is "two-for-one;" it's about how the Fair was imagined, constructed, enjoyed, and destroyed.... AND about the psychopathic serial killer Henry Holmes.

Things that had their "firsts" at the World's Fair:
  • Kellogg's Shredded Wheat
  • Aunt Jemima pancake mix
  • Cracker Jack
  • Juicy Fruit gum
  • Pabst Blue Ribbon
  • the zipper
  • Extensive electric lighting (200,000 bulbs, illuminated by alternating current, instead of direct current)
  • Belly dancing in America
(By the way... that "snake charmer" song?
NOT an Arab/Persian song at all..... it was thought up on the spot by Sol Bloom, Director of the Fair Midway)

and ... 
  • the Ferris Wheel
The White City was enormously difficult to build.  It involved the greatest architects of late-19th century America.  One of the buildings, if it were still standing, would be the 3rd largest building in the world.... even today.  The World's Fair was otherworldly for visitors.  It was a triumph for Chicago, trying to prove that they were more than America's Slaughterhouse.  It buoyed the spirit of a nation on the verge of an economic depression (1894) and the massive strikes by newly-organized labor.

And then there was America's first serial killer.

In the madness of the booming city, sometimes people simply vanished without a trace, walking away from whatever life they wished to leave behind. So Chicago of 1893, filled with hundreds of thousands of visitors and temporary workers, was a perfect place to ensnare and kill - especially naive young women new to the life of the metropolis.  Herman Webster Mudgett (who used MANY aliases, but was best known as Henry Holmes) was handsome, charismatic, and entranced everyone he met .  He could convince workers not to be paid, creditors not to collect.  He married again and again, and his wives "disappeared."

He bought a lot close to Jackson Park and built his "castle" - part retail space, part apartment space, part office space, part hotel, and part death machine.  He designed every feature - bizarre hallways, gloomy rooms.... and soundproof iron vaults, windowless airtight chambers (piped with hidden gas jets), a dissecting lab, and a crematory kiln. Holmes purported to be a doctor and pharmacist, so residents and guests never questioned the pervasive smells of chloroform and acid.  At the time, cadavers for academic use were hard to come by, so his pals helped him dispose of bodies, for profit - four of which became articulated skeletons at Cook County Hospital Medical School.  Erik Larson's depiction of him is so frightening - Holmes began to plan their deaths... to happen months later.... the same day he met them.

Julia Conner and her daughter Pearl, Benjamin Pietzel and three of his children, Emeline Cigrand, Minnie Williams and her sister Anna.  And on and on. It took years and dozens of disappearances, for their families to begin to admit the unthinkable.  An unstoppable detective, Frank Geyer, searched dozens of cities, followed thousands of leads, and built the case against Holmes. 

Some estimates put the number of Holmes victims at as many as 200.  Chilling, indeed.

Erik Larson has a new book out; I'm very eager to read In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin.  Yikes.

Now 120 years in the past, the Chicago World's Fair really did leave its mark on America in small and large ways.

Elias Disney was one of thousands of workers who built the White City.  Although it burned to the ground in 1894, Elias told his little son Walt marvelous stories about it - how happy it made the people who visited.  Disney theme parks and The White City have a LOT in common in terms of architectural and landscape design, exhibits, and the goal of being "The Happiest Place on Earth."  Because for a brief shining moment, the White City WAS The Magic Kingdom.

Note: only a handful of the marvelous buildings of the Exposition still exist.  One particularly grand one is now the Museum of Science and Industry on the banks of Lake Michigan in Chicago.  And another is the "Maine State Building," which you can see today in Poland Springs!

25 January 2013

Rescuing a vintage book

I don't know how I went to school 90 miles from Chicago and yet never knew anything about the 1893 Columbian Exposition.  I first learned about it a few years ago watching the PBS specials Make No Little Plans and Chicago: City of the Century

But then something mysterious happened.  I was sorting through our attic storage area and discovered this:

Our home has been in my husband's family for more than 60 years.  And family lore is that one of his great-great-great aunts was an adventurous, independent soul, quite ahead of her time, really.  It's entirely likely that she attended the World's Fair and bought this book as a souvenir.  This is the "official photography" of the Fair (attendees had to buy a very expensive permit to take "Kodaks" of their own).  Hundreds of images. 

And now it is mine to treasure... and to rescue.  The years have not been kind.

Pretty - but disconnected.


Yikes.  It needs a book doctor. 

I'm hoping Carlson & Turner Antiquarian Books may be able to help me.

Why now?  Erik Larson's Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America has gripped my mind.  WOW.  I am reading way too late into the night.  Not only is the World's Fair very interesting to me, but there's a terrifying serial killer, systematically luring and killing naive young women.  He's a smooth operator.... the most frightening kind of killer.

But more on that later.  First Shepp's needs TLC.  Stat.