Mooresville Public Library

Mooresville Public Library
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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

MPL Book Trailer Playlist: Humor

Our YouTube Channel (http://www.youtube.com/mpl46158) includes playlists for convenient viewing. One of our book trailer playlists features humorous books. The playlist is embedded below. Tickle your funny bone and read a few of these funny books.

To navigate through the playlist, click the arrows in the semi-circular areas located on the left and right sides of the box below.


MPL Book Trailer Playlist: Humor




Bill Buckley
MPL Indiana Room Librarian
billb@mooresville.lib.in.us

Monday, June 28, 2010

Book Damage and Personal Responsibility: A Cautionary Tale

Recently I was covering meal breaks at my library's circulation desk. Because of an off-site event at which several of our staff were in attendance, we were short-staffed, and I was momentarily the only employee at the desk. A patron approached with a damaged book from our adult collection. There was a substantial amount of crayon scribbling inside. When I indicated that the book would have to be replaced, the patron balked. She claimed the damage had been preexisting when she checked-out the book. That was impossible, I explained, since I had myself cataloged the book a month before (it was a brand new release), and since this patron had requested a hold be placed, I had entered the hold into our database and placed the book behind our circulation desk on our hold shelves. She was, therefore, the first and only patron to handle the book, and there was no such damage present when I cataloged and processed it. Well, she countered, the replacement cost ($26.95 plus a $10 processing fee) was just too expensive. I opened the book's front cover and pointed to the printed price on the inside flap, explaining that this was the library's cost to its supplier, and that the processing fee only partially covered the library's cost of processing and cataloging a replacement copy. She claimed she could buy a paperback copy much cheaper, but, as I noted, this hardcover had just been published, and a paperback edition would not be released for another six to twelve months. In any event, I observed, a paperback would scarcely be a satisfactory replacement for a hardcover.

By now, the patron was quite exasperated. Her final defensive parley contradicted her initial strategy: she said that her five-year-old child had not intended to damage the book by drawing inside it, and, by implication, she ought not be required to compensate the library for the damaged item. I was prepared to respond with a query--I could have kept this up all day, as deflating witness testimony during cross-examination was once a forte of mine--in which I was going to hypothetically posit that she would certainly expect compensation if I were to accidentally spill a cup of coffee on her purse sitting on the counter, regardless of intent, but I was denied the opportunity, as she abruptly left the library, taking the book with her. (I would have entered a note in the patron's computer record that she had admitted to her child's damaging the book, but she had left before I got her name, and, unfortunately, I didn't note the book's barcode so that I could subsequently look up this information. Fortunately, I am writing this nearly contemporaneous record of the event, which would be admissible in court under a hearsay exception, by the way.)

This reminded me of a comparable episode that occurred when I was in kindergarten. I had checked out a library book from school, and apparently deciding it needed artistic improvement, I scribbled throughout its pages in crayon. When my mother discovered my indiscretion, I was mortified; in fact, I refused to ever return to school, as I was certain I would be immediately incarcerated (or worse). I knew what it meant to be locked in a jail cell. I had accompanied my brother's cub scout troop on its field trip to the local police station, and the desk sergeant had locked the scouts up in a jail cell to give them a sense of the experience. My brother had refused--he smelled a trap--and, so, I, too, declined to enter the cell. We watched, horror-stricken, as the scouts were locked inside. They stayed there, too--for about five minutes. Then the police officer let them out. This left a vivid impression on my five-year-old memory, and so I cried and fussed that I couldn't go back to school and face imprisonment. Undaunted, my mother loaded me into the car, and we returned to the school, which had just let out its students about a half-hour beforehand. Leaving me in the car, my mother first met with my kindergarten teacher alone, and, then, she retrieved me and took me to meet my inquisitor. With considerable kindness and sensitivity in her voice, my teacher calmly explained that I would need to "work off" the book damage I had done by cleaning erasers and emptying waste baskets after school for a month. I was relieved--this seemed more than tolerable punishment--and so I began my sentence immediately. Four weeks later, when I had completed my "community service," my teacher reminded me that she hoped I had learned to accept personal responsibility for my actions.

The lesson took. When my son inadvertently spilled grape juice on a library book almost 30 years later, I was quick to offer payment to the library staff. It was $20 then, which would today be twice that, but I cheerfully paid, knowing that a just debt had been rectified.

At some point in the intervening half century, Americans, generally speaking, seem to have lost willingness to assume personal responsibility for their actions. Lawyers are often blamed for this, among other things--after all, don't attorneys defend criminals and "get them off on technicalities"? (an oversimplification at best, by the way)--but the tendency to disclaim accountability is much more culturally ingrained. Whatever its causes, failure to accept responsibility displays character deficiency that does not bode well for our society's future. Is it any wonder that people from my (and older) generations wax nostalgic for bygone days, when we knew the value of a dollar and were willing to put forth an honest day's work for an honest day's wage, and when we knew that, if we broke it, we bought it?

Admittedly, this column has little, if anything, to do with this blog's stated scope (readers' advisory), but it actually is an advisory of sorts. Call it a cautionary tale: when one checks out public goods, which, after all, are what public library books are, then one should be prepared to repay the public (through its library) if s/he destroys public property. To reprise my unasked question of the agitated patron: If it had been her $40 purse that had been ruined by my accidental, hypothetical coffee spill, wouldn't she have been quick to demand restitution? Wouldn't my offer to purchase a $3 replacement purse at Goodwill or the Salvation Army stores have met with immediate rejection and derision? "Everything depends upon whose bull is being gored," my father often observed. When it is public property at stake, everybody pays if nobody accepts personal accountability for its destruction. That means higher taxes, which, in this age of volatile "tea party" politics, is a greater perceived evil than communism was in my childhood.

If the patron returns with the damaged book while I'm working at circulation again, I'll suggest that her five-year-old clean erasers after school. It didn't hurt me any (cough! cough!), and it taught me something worthwhile. What's more, it has just occurred to me--during their private consultation, my mother and my teacher jointly concocted my punishment. My mother was determined that I learn to accept personal accountability for my behavior. Thanks, Mom.


Bill Buckley
MPL Indiana Room Librarian
billb@mooresville.lib.in.us


Sunday, June 27, 2010

MPL Book Trailer #54: Buster Keaton: Tempest in a Flat Hat, by Edward McPherson

We have another book trailer to share. This time we're featuring Buster Keaton: Tempest in a Flat Hat, by Edward McPherson.


Kids today don't know what they're missing if they have never seen a silent movie from one of the "big three" comedy geniuses of the early 20th century. There were, of course, many truly great silent movies, some of which were serious--such as King Vidor's The Crowd (1928), for example--but I can name three comedy silent pictures that deserve to be included on anybody's "best of movies" list: Harold Lloyd's The Freshman (1925), Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush (1925), and Buster Keaton's The General (1927). In the 1970s, when I was in college, a musician named Dennis James (see http://www.cas.sc.edu/film/james.html for more current information) travelled the Midwest playing pipe organ accompaniment to silent movies. He visited our campus several times each year and played fantastic original musical scores to tremendous silent films. I saw each of these comedies at Dennis James concerts, and they left indelible impressions. Each of these great comedians had his particular trademark style, but all shared expertise in slapstick and often life-and-limb-threatening stunts. This was particularly true of Harold Lloyd--watch Safety Last (1923) if you'd like an illustration--but Buster Keaton was also known for his dangerous on-camera antics (the falling house sequence in Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928), in which one entire side of a house falls on top of Keaton, is legendary). These three brilliant comedians wrote, directed, produced, and starred in many of their motion pictures. That's amazing talent by any measure.

Edward McPherson has produced a treasure-filled book that lovingly explores Keaton's film legacy. McPherson is able to use much preexisting biographical material to weave clear insights into Keaton's visionary ability to combine character development, drama, and heartfelt emotion with madcap zaniness. That's some feat--both Keaton's and McPherson's--since, for the film star, it was difficult, then as now, to make comedy more than passing fare "good for a few laughs," and, on the author's part, it takes writing and editing acumen to intertwine previously released information and make it fresh and interesting. But this book will not disappoint either the dedicated Keaton fan or the newcomer. There is much here to enjoy.

After reading the book, please, please visit your local public library or favorite home video vendor and check out as many of Buster Keaton's movies as you can find. (The same holds for Harold Lloyd's and Charlie Chaplin's motion pictures.) "A splendid time is guaranteed for all," if I may borrow lyrics from the Beatles (who were themselves quoting a circus poster) in Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite. You might also wish to read our previous blog about a biography featuring Harold Lloyd (and watch our accompanying book trailer). The silent movie days may have gone the way of the dinosaurs, but great films should continue to be enjoyed, and grand film stars should be fondly remembered.

Here's a YouTube video tribute to Buster Keaton, which includes some of his most memorable stunts, including the house-falling bit from Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928).




Bill Buckley
MPL Indiana Room Librarian
billb@mooresville.lib.in.us

Saturday, June 26, 2010

MPL Book Trailer #53: The New Doublespeak, by William Lutz

Our recent book trailer (embedded below) features The New Doublespeak: Why No One Knows What Anyone's Saying Anymore, by William Lutz.


Politicians' "spin doctors," whom we called "party handlers" (or worse) in my day, are masterful at doublespeak. So are advertising copywriters, used car salespersons, and lawyers. Having done two out of the four occupations (I'll let you guess which), I can say with some assurance that doublespeak is designed to obfuscate and misdirect. Lutz has spent a professional lifetime studying language use, and he carefully and clearly presents his thesis that doublespeak is deceptive, self-contradictory, misleading, and evasive. When the marshals of misinformation wish to distort facts, doublespeak muddies the waters of perception so that the average person (that's me and people we know) is subtly manipulated through the skillful use of intrinsically meaningless jargon to believe what the information communicators wish to convey. This is usually an emotionally-neutralized message, so that bad news doesn't sound so bad. For example, have you ever been "downsized," or has your job become an "optimized human resource allocation"? That seems less brutal than the truth, which is you lost your job and income security. What about war? Doesn't it sound cleaner and neater to say that the enemy were "decommissioned aggressor quantum" than dead soldiers? How can "smart bombs" accidentally kill civilians when they're so much more artificially intelligent than old-fashioned bombs? Pollution sounds positively pleasant when it becomes "regulated organic nutrients" instead of raw sewage. The list is extensive, and in another of Lutz's books, he provides a Thesaurus of doublespeak for easy reference.

One of the first doublespeak terms I heard in a business context was referring to "used cars," a phrase that had served the secondary automobile sales market for decades, as "preowned vehicles." "Used," after all, suggests that the quality has been exhausted from the goods; "preowned," on the other hand, implies that a previous owner acted as caretaker of the property someone else has purchased.

If you don't think doublespeak can powerfully influence attitudes, consider an experiment. Try reading to a small group of people the ordinary, straightforward meaning of a word or phrase and then use the doublespeak terminology. Ask your listeners to gauge their emotional response to each set. This has, of course, been done for years in psychology experiments across college campuses everywhere, and the results are fairly impressive.

But don't take my word for it. Read Lutz's book and see if doublespeak provides a preexisting cognitive perspective modification. If you find your attitude changing about this topic, then you will know what I mean.


Bill Buckley
MPL Indiana Room Librarian
billb@mooresville.lib.in.us



Thursday, June 24, 2010

MPL Book Trailer Playlists: History & Political Science

Here is another of our book trailer playlists from our YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/mpl46158). This one focuses upon history and political science books. If you point your mouse cursor at the embedded window below, you will see two semi-circles containing arrow keys appear on the left and right sides of the box. Use these to navigate between the videos comprising this playlist.

MPL Book Trailer Playlist: History & Political Science




Bill Buckley
MPL Indiana Room Librarian
billb@mooresville.lib.in.us

MPL Book Trailer #52: The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Sorrow is a withering emotion. It shrivels the life force and drains the spirit of purpose and function. What remains is an empty, decrepit shell, existing as a mocking shadow of a fulfilling, rich, and joyous life.

This is the state of being for Mary Lennox at the beginning of The Secret Garden, a novel written by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The book opens with Mary's family living in India during the height of the British Empire's colonial occupation. Mary is moody and distant, resentful that her parents exclude her from their adult diversions. She plummets further into confusion and despair when a cholera epidemic kills everyone in her household, except herself. After British officers discover her, she is sent back to Great Britain to live on an uncle's estate. The uncle, too, is consumed by grief, making a miserable existence for everyone. Mary finds the pervasive emptiness familiar territory. But her curiosity is sparked by this place; there are many intriguing mysteries to investigate. Who, for instance, is crying in the middle of the night down a long corridor of the manor house? When Mary meets Dickon, who is connected with the estate's domestic staff, she is fascinated by his apparent power to communicate with and charm animals. Then, Mary discovers a secret garden--which, like herself and her uncle, is emotionally barren and spiritually dead--and, suddenly, her desire to reclaim what she has lost is ignited.

Our book trailer for The Secret Garden appears below.



Anyone who has struggled to cope with crushing sadness and depression should have no difficulty relating to the story's characters, plot, and themes. This is a book advertised for readers "ages 9 and up," and it may truly be enjoyed by preteens, young adults, and adults alike. No matter how painful our lives' losses may be, happiness can be restored, once we open the gates into ourselves (i.e., our own personal "secret gardens") and allow others to share our experiences and affections. When one shares life with others, there is a mutual, symbiotic blossoming exemplified by the garden metaphor. The novel concludes with a resoundingly positive message, which may strike some as trite, but, for my money, is an uplifting literary pleasure. Call me a sap, but I like happy endings. As the novel shows, it is possible to have them in situations approaching real-life. That's Burnett's whole point. This is no fantasy fare; rather, it's a reminder that we can allow our "secret gardens" to wither and die, or we can tend them lovingly and create something beautiful. I like the latter possibility much better.

Bill Buckley
MPL Indiana Room Librarian
billb@mooresville.lib.in.us

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

MPL Book Trailer Playlists: Biographies

Here is another of our book trailer playlists from our YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/mpl46158). This one focuses upon biographies and autobiographies. If you point your mouse cursor at the embedded window below, you will see two semi-circles containing arrow keys appear on the left and right sides of the box. Use these to navigate between the videos comprising this playlist.

MPL Book Trailer Playlist: Biographies



Bill Buckley
MPL Indiana Room Librarian
billb@mooresville.lib.in.us

MPL Book Trailer #51: The Dinosaur Heresies, by Robert T. Bakker, Ph.D.

I spent the summer of 1991 excavating fossilized Maiosaurus remains from a dirt ridge near Choteau, Montana. The team for which I volunteered was digging out 15 to 20 foot long leg bones. I worked primarily on the femurs. The work was painstaking, as we removed surrounding dirt with toothbrush-like tools, but, slowly, the fossils were reclaimed from their 75 million year interment. Paleontologists in charge of the dig were confident that several specimens were situated beneath the soil at the site. I didn't get to see them all; unfortunately, my time with the team concluded after a few weeks.

It was exciting to see the Maiosaurus remains revealed after so many millennia underground. The find would provide invaluable information about this type of dinosaur, and it was nice to have played a very small part in the scientific process.

Like most kids, I've been fascinated by dinosaurs since early childhood. I remember learning in elementary school (and, by repetition, through high school biology) that dinosaurs, "terrible lizards" of the past, were cold-blooded, sluggish beasts living mostly in or near swamps. It came as something of a shock when, many years later, I first read The Dinosaur Heresies, by Robert T. Bakker, Ph.D. Our book trailer below gives a brief glimpse of this work:



Bakker is legendary in paleontology. (You may recall the character, "Dr. Robert Burke," based on Bakker, played by actor Thomas F. Duffy, who flees a snake and is eaten by a T-Rex in the 1997 motion picture The Lost World: Jurassic Park.) His warm-blooded dinosaur theories have caused considerable consternation among the defenders of orthodoxy. But Bakker's science is solid, and his interpretation of the evidence is compelling. Rather than engage in a protracted analysis of the book (as my colleagues regularly remind me that my long-winded writing proclivities are tiresome at best), I encourage you to find and read it for yourselves. Bakker writes engagingly and clearly explains his theses so that a layperson like myself can understand. His enthusiasm for his subject is delightful. You may or may not be persuaded by his ideas, but you will have an enormous amount of fun reading about them.

Bill Buckley
MPL Indiana Room Librarian
billb@mooresville.lib.in.us

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

MPL Book Trailers Playlist: Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Mooresville Public Library (Mooresville, Indiana) has a YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/mpl46158) on which we feature book trailers for various types of recommended reading. Embedded below is one of our book trailer playlists: Adventure, Science Fiction, and Fantasy. When you point your mouse cursor at the viewing box, you should see left and right arrows inside semi-circles appearing on the left and right sides of the viewing box. Click these arrows to move between the book trailers listed on this playlist. We hope you enjoy watching the videos and reading the books.




Bill Buckley
MPL Indiana Room Librarian
billb@mooresville.lib.in.us


Monday, June 21, 2010

MPL Book Trailer #50: Where the Lilies Bloom, by Bill & Vera Cleaver

Bill Cleaver and Vera Cleaver extensively researched the lifestyles of families living in the western North Carolina mountains, and this historical snapshot is well preserved in their book, Where the Lilies Bloom. The book was a nominee for the 1970 National Book Award for Children's Literature, and it was named one of ALA's Notable Children's Books of 1969. Targeted toward readers ages 9-12, Where the Lilies Bloom has been popular among older readers as well.

Our book trailer below summarizes the plot:



The motion picture adaptation was released in 1974. The movie is well worth seeing, but, typically, the book affords greater insights into the social and economic environments of those living on the boundaries of Appalachian poverty. The early 1970s saw a resurgence of interest in rural American life during tough economic times, particularly during the Great Depression, as television programs such as The Waltons demonstrated. (The creator of that series, Earl Hamner, Jr., was a screenplay writer for Where the Lilies Bloom.) The characters' fortitude in the face of extreme adversity, as well as their passionate desire to remain independent and self-sufficient, are themes that continue to resonate with American readers, and the Cleavers offer a realistic portrayal in the lives of these young adults and children forced to undertake the most challenging grown-up responsibilities. You will sympathize with these characters, and, ultimately, you will cheer their indomitable spirits as they struggle through hardships until the novel's end, when they discover new maturity and personal strengths in their quest to keep their family together.

Bill Buckley
MPL Indiana Room Librarian
billb@mooresville.lib.in.us

Sunday, June 20, 2010

MPL Book Trailer #49: Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, was first published in 1881. The target audience was preteen and early teenage boys, but adult readers enormously enjoyed the book as well. Stevenson's prose flows so easily, his descriptions leap from the page so effortlessly, and his characters are so vividly portrayed, that it is little wonder that this classic of late 19th century literature remains popular 129 years after its first public appearance.

Treasure Island is one of those novels that appears on every suggested reading list for late elementary and early middle school students. But, like so many "slow readers" who struggled to complete every book, I passed it by until adulthood. When I finally read it in my late twenties, I was captivated. I searched my local public library and found an edition with the original 1881 black-and-white illustrations, which provided a visual representation of certain passages. But it was the 1911 edition, published by Charles Scribner's Sons, which sent my imagination stampeding. The illustrations by N. C. Wyeth were phenomenally eye-catching. Each ideally captured a particular moment in Stevenson's story. The real treasure in Treasure Island was Stevenson's preeminent prose along with Wyeth's spectacular artwork.

Our book trailer below borrows the drawings from both the 1881 and 1911 editions of the book, for which we are eternally grateful.


Set in the middle 1700s, Treasure Island is the tale of pirates and the legitimate English navy struggling to acquire stolen loot hidden on a not-quite deserted island. Stevenson must have studied his naval history carefully, because the details he presents are authentic and credible. The novel gives realistic insights into life on the high seas during the 18th century, when pirates raided across the Atlantic, and the defenders of high seas justice, the British, were forced to expend considerable resources to check this criminal activity.

Of course, this story has been "pirated" repeatedly over the decades. All pirate fiction since Stevenson has been indelibly shaped by his expressive imagery, imaginative plot, and deft characterization. Modern youth have seen motion pictures such as Pirates of the Caribbean and thought the antics of its main characters to be exciting and even heroic. But they were not original; Stevenson is there at every turn. "Imitation is the sincerest of flattery," wrote Charles Caleb Colton (1780-1832). Stevenson, then, must be one of the world's most flattered writers.

Bill Buckley
MPL Indiana Room Librarian
billb@mooresville.lib.in.us


Saturday, June 19, 2010

MPL Book Trailer #48: The Daily Relaxer, by Matthew McKay & Patrick Fanning

Our book trailer featuring The Daily Relaxer: Relax Your Body, Calm Your Mind, & Refresh Your Spirit, by Matthew McKay & Patrick Fanning, is embedded below.


My father was fascinated by hippies. He particularly enjoyed the expressive language. His favorite hippie word was uptight; he thought it wonderfully descriptive and precise.

I've known many uptight people, including myself, who seem compulsively driven but who do not seem to know how to relax. Back in high school my brother said that sleeping and eating were enormous wastes of time. Much more productive uses could be found for time than these, he felt. Now in his mid-fifties, I'm sure he hasn't held this opinion for decades, but I'm sure he is overworked and stressed out. So am I, and so are you. Most people nowadays are pushed to exhaustion, not by compulsive behaviors, but by necessity. How many jobs do you have to work to make ends meet? I'm down to two now, but, then, I'm back in school again, so that counts as a third occupation. When was your last vacation? Mine was in 2001. Who can afford to miss a paycheck (if one's job lacks benefits, as so many do today) to take time off and go someplace fun? So we are all uptight and could use some relief.

Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning deliver valuable assistance to the uptight crowd with their book, The Daily Relaxer: Relax Your Body, Calm Your Mind, & Refresh Your Spirit. It is full of practical exercises to learn to relax and reduce anxieties. Some readers shy away from "new age" type books that are sometimes abstract, vague, and, frankly, unrealistic in Western society. You needn't escape to a mountain monastery to use this book; rather, it will easily fit your lifestyle. Awareness--of your body and your mental state, of surrounding circumstances, of emotional reactions--is key. It's simply about paying attention. Of course, that doesn't mean that it won't take some effort to learn to relax--like any honed skill, one must practice until it becomes habitual--but the rewards will be wondrous. You will feel better mentally and physically, and your enjoyment of the moment will be greater than you have ever known before.

Sound like too much trouble? Easier to pop a pill or down an alcoholic beverage to unwind? "You're too uptight," my father would have said. "There are better ways to relax." McKay and Fanning offer some excellent advice how to relax naturally. Give it a try. Your tension and stress are all you have to lose.

Bill Buckley
MPL Indiana Room Librarian
billb@mooresville.lib.in.us

Thursday, June 17, 2010

MPL Book Trailer #47: Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James Loewen

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, by James Loewen, is the subject of one of our book trailers on our YouTube channel, which you may watch below.


I first read Loewen's seminal work while in my late thirties. I had just discovered Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, 1492-Present, which had shaken the foundations of "feel good" history to which I had been repeatedly subjected throughout my primary and secondary education. Loewen's book shattered the remnants of that fallacious instruction from kindergarten through high school. Until college I had been taught several absolute "facts" about American history:

  • Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492.
  • Juan Ponce de Leon traversed what is now Florida in search of the Fountain of Youth.
  • While American plantation owners owned slaves in the Antebellum South, there was no racial prejudice or discrimination in the Northern United States.
  • Nineteenth century American industry created equal economic opportunity for all citizens and generated wealth that was enjoyed by the majority of U.S. families.
  • It was Manifest Destiny for European-descended settlers to conquer the American West.
  • All levels of American government were interested in promoting and protecting freedom, and elected officials acted in the best interests of the populace.
  • The most important aspects of American history always involved its military and political leaders (almost entirely white males) and big businesses owning transportation and exploiting natural resources.
  • History stopped after World War II, because the end of the school year prevented our studying recent events.
It was called "feel good" history because the United States we studied never did anything wrong or bad. America was "land of the free and home of the brave," defender of democracy throughout the world. You were expected to accept this unconditionally, and this was enforced by requiring endless memorization of minutiae about presidents, wars, and economic development. I had a good memory and could recite on exams and papers all of these details, and, so, I garnered high grades in history. This was fun and made me feel smart, so I kept performing as trained. Unfortunately, "feel good" history was dreadfully dull and inconsistent with current events reported in the news media, so much so that I decided to avoid further study of the subject in college. (I took only one American history course--economic history--which was quite a revelation.)

College, however, shattered the facade of much that I learned through high school, and so I was curious to learn in greater depth many subjects. During my twenties I explored different parts of world history and saw that "feel good" treatment through 12th grade had oversimplified and misinformed. But it wasn't until my 30-something days that I returned vigorously to U.S. history to uncover the truth hidden by the myths.


CBS Video Featuring James Loewen:  "Lies My Country Told Me"


Loewen and Zinn provided enormous insights into what I had been missing. Through skillful writing and brilliant erudition, they made their respective cases for unheard and ignored sides of our country's history. Did it make me feel bad about being an American? Absolutely not. In fact, I felt empowered by this "new" knowledge. History was like real-life, warts and all. It was much more interesting, and it afforded a much better perspective from which to evaluate current affairs as a U.S. citizen.

Why is "feel good" history taught in schools? If the "powers-that-be" wish citizens to grow up accepting the prevalent social, political, and economic conditions, then it is imperative to teach them not to question authority. If you're taught "your country, right (never wrong)," then you're less likely to criticize the government's actions or question disparities of wealth or civil rights.

Predictably, Loewen and Zinn have been vilified as radical reactionaries bent upon the destruction of decent American values. That is a standard "establishment" attack to maintain the status quo by squelching dissent. But in a land in which freedom of speech is much lauded as an American value (almost an American innovation), then surely there is room for voices that suggest there is more to U.S. history than the diluted "feel good" mythologies many of us were force-fed in the classroom. Truth empowers a citizenry to defend its rights against oppression. Give me courageous historians like James Loewen and Howard Zinn every day of the week, because their revelations will strengthen my resolve to protect our American values from those who would strip them away from those of us less politically or economically favored.

Bill Buckley
MPL Indiana Room Librarian
billb@mooresville.lib.in.us


Monday, June 14, 2010

MPL Book Trailer #46: Goodbye, Mr. Chips, by James Hilton

Goodbye, Mr. Chips, by James Hilton, which was first published in December, 1933 in the British Weekly, is a children's book, but I know many more readers who first enjoyed the novel as adults. I was well into my 20s when I first read about Mr. Chipping's long and distinguished teaching career at fictional Brookfield School. It was a charming and loving portrait of English boarding school education in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hilton obviously had a powerful affection for such institutions--his father was a headmaster, and young Jimmie was quite happy at the boarding school he attended--and this warmth overflows from his prose. Mr. Chips is a composite of his father's wisdom and sweetness, his own Latin master's discipline and idiosyncrasies, and all teachers' complete devotion to their charges, stated Edward Meeks in the foreword of one edition. Broadcaster and New Yorker columnist Alexander Woollcott called the book "the most profoundly moving story that has passed this way in several years." (Woollcott made this ringing endorsement of Hilton's novel on his CBS radio program, The Town Crier, which began in 1933.) High praise from Woollcott, who could be rather cutting in his literary critiques.

Our book trailer below gives a snapshot of the novel:


This is as good a time as any to nitpick. The book's published title is actually Good-Bye, Mr. Chips, which was the common hyphenated spelling of the word in the 1930s. Modern grammar warrants goodbye sans hyphen. If that bothers you, feel free to mentally insert the hyphen.

Hilton wrote Goodbye, Mr. Chips more quickly, with fewer revisions, than any of his other books, which was a good thing, too. He had a deadline to meet and needed the fifty pound payment his publisher would remit upon completion. But inspiration poured forth, and Hilton's most beloved book was the result. I dare anybody not to have tears welling up when s/he reaches the end of the story, or the middle, for that matter.

For 20 years I was a college professor. Goodbye, Mr. Chips, in both its book and motion picture incarnations, was truly an inspiration, as was the movie Dead Poets Society. The 1939 movie version of Chips is glorious. Robert Donat won the best actor Academy Award for his performance, defeating, among others, James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind. Many people felt that Stewart should have won, and his Oscar the following year for The Philadelphia Story was considered some small consolation. Gable was stupendous as Rhett Butler--if you've read Margaret Mitchell's novel, it's hard to imagine anyone else playing the role on the big screen--but Donat's performance was, in its own way, just as compelling and masterful. After reading the book, rent the movie, or watch it on Turner Classic Movies. The ending is just as moving as in the novel, and Greer Garson was, well, just wonderful--staggeringly beautiful and a tremendously capable actress.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips was arguably Hilton's finest novel. Considering the fine quality of his other masterpieces, that is quite an accomplishment.

Bill Buckley
Indiana Room Librarian
billb@mooresville.lib.in.us




Sunday, June 13, 2010

MPL Book Trailer #45: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is often characterized as a "coming of age" book about "loss of childhood innocence." That is true enough, so far as it goes. But, as is true with any great novel, there is so much more. Our book trailer below gives a taste of the book's scope.



Lee confronts thorny social issues of the mid-20th century Deep American South from a child's perspective. The narrator, a tomboy nicknamed Scout, presents innocent, and thereby objective, observations about the social stratification, racial bigotry, fear and resentment that pervade the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. She sees first-hand the lying, dishonest people who perpetrate an outrageous social injustice against a black man, Tom Robinson, and the community's willingness to ignore the indignities to perpetuate their racially and economically rigid social structures. But Scout and her brother, Jem, learn from their father, attorney Atticus Finch, about personal courage, honesty, and the fight for truth and justice. It can be a lonely fight, fraught with perils aplenty, but those who fight the good fight will find allies who separate themselves from the masses and stand up for what is right and true.

Lee's father was himself a lawyer, and it is instructive to learn that Lee herself also studied law. In the novel, Jem decides to follow his father's footsteps to fight injustices as an attorney. We know what type of lawyer Jem will become by the kind of person he is becoming as a child, influenced by the integrity and principles of Atticus. Lee must have seen many similar legal battles as a child, watching her father fight oppression and unfairness. Lee's epigraph at the beginning of the book reminds us that we are shaped by our childhood experiences, and good role models are essential for the development of decent, upstanding citizenry. Lee's epigraph reads:

"Lawyers, I suppose, were children once." Charles Lamb

This book has always held a special appeal to me. Like the author, I, too, had an attorney father who, along with my mother, taught me to be honest, to seek the truth, and to fight injustice. But you don't have to be a lawyer to understand the need for these virtues. Lee's book rings as true today as it will for centuries to come. Integrity, honesty, kindness, and friendship can banish ignorance, hatred, injustice, and fear. People can be drawn from the darkness into the presence of enlightened individuals to bask in the light of goodwill, tolerance, and fairness. Atticus was right; most people are nice, when you finally see them.

Bill Buckley
MPL Indiana Room Librarian
billb@mooresville.lib.in.us


Thursday, June 3, 2010

MPL Book Trailer #44: The Elephant Man: a Study in Human Dignity, by Ashley Montagu

Our YouTube book trailer below showcases The Elephant Man: a Study in Human Dignity, by Ashley Montagu, which includes The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences, by Sir Frederick Treves.



My first exposure to Joseph Carey Merrick (1862-1890) was in 1981, when I saw the motion picture The Elephant Man, starring Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft, and Sir John Gielgud, and directed by David Lynch. In the movie, the title character was named John Merrick, as he was also called in the book upon which the movie was partially based, The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences, by Sir Frederick Treves. After seeing the movie, I immediately sought out Treves' book and found it impossible to obtain. Fortunately, it was included in toto in The Elephant Man: a Study in Human Dignity, by Ashley Montagu, which was first published in 1971, and which was issued in a second edition in 1979.

The difference in names is a thorny matter. Treves exclusively refers to "the Elephant Man" as John Merrick throughout his work, and Montagu (1905-1999), who was a renowned anthropologist, was adamant in his book that John, not Joseph, was the correct first name. It is improbable that Treves would have made such a glaring error, given his extensive personal and professional relationship with Merrick while the latter lived at the Royal London Hospital. Perhaps Treves had a particular reason for changing Merrick's first name in his account. The coroner's inquest and other popular accounts about Merrick, as reported in local newspapers of the time, used the name Joseph, which Montagu considered to be erroneous. Montagu felt sufficiently confident to use the full name John Thomas Merrick and gave his birth year as 1864, but this, too, seems to be amiss.

One piece of evidence appears to conclusively resolve the matter. Among the items preserved in the Royal London Hospital Museum is a letter (see below) that Merrick handwrote to his friend, Miss Maturin, Merrick signed, "With much gratitude, I am yours truly, Joseph Merrick, London Hospital, Whitechapel" (emphasis added).



Despite this name discrepancy, both Treves' and Montagu's books are tremendously informative. Treves provides a deeply moving account of Merrick's life while living at the hospital. One must have a cold heart indeed not to be moved to tears as Treves relates Merrick's hardships, which he bore with saintly tolerance and nobility. Montagu adds his anthropological and sociological expertise by carefully examining Merrick's physical condition and its likely causes. Merrick was a truly amazing individual who rose far above his bodily restrictions to soar intellectually and spiritually with angels. If that sounds melodramatic, read Treves and Montagu for yourselves. Through Merrick they reaffirm the ability of the human spirit to rise above the worst adversities.

Merrick was born in Leicester, and he was publicly displayed, among many places, in a horrific freak exhibition at a theater (or music hall) called "The Gaiety Palace of Varieties" on the corner of Wharf and Gladstone Streets. By way of rectifying this past exploitation and abuse, in 2004 the Lord Mayor of Leicester unveiled a private commemorative plaque affixed to the structure. The plaque (below) was removed in 2008 pending redevelopment plans for the site.


Merrick proved that kindness, intelligence, and a truly noble spirit can overcome unimaginable squalor, crushing poverty, debasing profiteering, and staggeringly inhumane treatment. He remains a shining example to the world that, with the help of kind, decent people like Treves, goodness triumphs against the most abysmal evil.

Bill Buckley
MPL Indiana Room Librarian
billb@mooresville.lib.in.us

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

MPL Book Trailer #43: Draw With Pablo Picasso, by Ana Salvador

Who better than a famous artist to teach children ages 4-8 how to draw simple, enchanting pictures? This is the principle underlying the book Draw With Pablo Picasso, by Ana Salvador (Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2008). Our book trailer provides a sneak preview:



Pablo Picasso felt that there was an artist inside every child. The key, Picasso discovered, was to keep this child from being lost as s/he grew to adulthood. More to the point, Picasso thought that children, if encouraged to pursue their innate creativity, could produce interesting works of art without being trodden by overly restrictive, formalistic rules dictating how art "should" look. Obviously, there are forms and techniques one should learn if one wishes to fully explore the possibilities in artistic variation. Picasso himself learned to paint like the great masters. As a young artist, he observed, he could paint like Raphael; however, it took him most of his adult life to re-learn how to produce child-like art. "Child-like," in this context, means that a fundamental simplicity is achieved while creating intriguing images. Picasso wants artists to see things differently, from a fresh perspective, as children do.

This book valiantly strives to simplify difficult artistic concepts so that its intended audience (ages 4-8) will grasp Picasso's basic techniques of color and shape. First, the readers duplicate Picasso's drawings and then are encouraged to pursue their own creativity. It sounds unstructured, but it provides kids with a non-judgmental outlet to develop their awareness and attention to detail. Picasso would have especially liked the free-wheeling, creative aspects of the book.

Scholastic art instruction can crush a child's enthusiasm. I've seen it too many times in elementary schools. Some teachers must learn to encourage students to learn "the rules" without extinguishing their desire to create something unique (or at least special) as interpreted through their own eyes. No child should be told that his/her art is "wrong" or "bad" (words used to describe both my, my wife's, and my children's artwork in elementary and middle--junior high, for my wife and me--school).

Is the book successful in translating Picasso to such a young audience? Check it out (at your local public library), or order a copy from your favorite bookseller, and give it a whirl. For a book like this, there is only one way to know if it works: You have to sit down with a child and read it together, and then practice making art together.

Bill Buckley
MPL Indiana Room Librarian
billb@mooresville.lib.in.us