December 29th 2009
Hey everyone!  It's not too late to learn something new before the end of the year! Tomorrow (December 30th) at 11:00 a.m., you're invited to the East Branch Library (115 Broadway) for a presentation about the rainforest by The Creature Teachers.  8-10 rainforest animals - including a scarlet macaw, a toucan, a kinkajou, a red-eyed tree frog (like the little fellow at left), a giant toad, a boa constrictor, a tarantula, and a coatimundi - will be the teaching tools in this overview of... Read Post
December 22nd 2009
A: a mermahuataur Makes perfect sense when you think about it, doesn't it? If you'd like to see a bigger, easier to read, interactive version of this handy diagram, click here. If you'd like to read about imaginary beasts, try one of these books: The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges with Margarita Guerrero Fairies and Magical Creatures by Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda Questionable Creatures: a Bestiary by Pauline Baynes Mythical Birds & Beasts from Many Lands by... Read Post
December 18th 2009
G. K. Chesterton is one of my favorite authors, although I'm not greatly interested in either of the things for which he's best known: his Father Brown mysteries and his writings on Catholicism.  What I like are the bits and pieces found in his short story collections (The Club of Queer Trades, Tales of the Long Bow, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, etc.) and his occasional novel (The Man Who Was Thursday.)  Chesterton is full of odd and appealing ideas, and his writing... Read Post
December 15th 2009
The bicentennial of the birth year of America's first great horror writer is coming to an end.  Since he was born here, the anniversary has been the cause of some reflection in the Boston area.  The writer's relationship with his birthplace was not a cordial one: he considered the city provincial and scorned its writers as "the word-compounders and quibble concoctors of Frogpondium." He also heartily disliked the work of the New England Transcendentalists. But this year Boston decided to bury... Read Post
December 12th 2009
A little over a week ago, my colleague Ellen wrote a post recommending Dorling Kindersley Visual Guides. And rightly so: they're lavishly beautiful books. But if you read them you can see the text is a little--how shall I put this?--top-heavy with facts and a little lacking in personality. Contrast Dorling Kindersely's Animal with Thomas Morton's 1632 work The New English Canaan, a description of the flora and fauna (and natives and colonists) of New England in the first third of the... Read Post
December 7th 2009
Today marks the sixty-eighth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States' entry into World War II. It shocked the nation--and the world (even Japanese diplomats were surprised by the attack). And by pushing us into the Second World War, it spelled the end of an America that thought it could stay untouched by the rest of the world. If you're interested in learning more about this momentous event and its aftermath, we have numerous books on the subject, from the classic At... Read Post
December 3rd 2009
Have you looked at any of DK Publishing's Definitive Visual Guides? They're a series of well-organized, easy-to-use books that are both absorbing and beautiful. It's awfully hard to choose a favorite, but if you backed me into a corner I might have to go with Animal. Two large introductory sections are filled with information on evolution, classification, anatomy, life cycles, and habitats, but the biggest section of the book is devoted to descriptions of animals. Creatures are grouped into... Read Post
December 1st 2009
December 3, 1586: According to some sources, Sir Thomas Harriot introduces the potato to England on this date--because if there's one thing Northern Europe doesn't have enough of, it's root vegetables. December 11, 1919: Deciding that monuments to tapeworms or mosquitoes would just be kind of gross, the citizens of Enterprise, Alabama dedicate a monument to the boll weevil. December 16, 1773: The Boston Tea Party.  Disgruntled colonists dump 340 crates of tea into Boston Harbor to protest... Read Post
November 24th 2009
As Thanksgiving approaches, one's thoughts turn naturally to cranberries and mastodons.  No?  If not, maybe you should consider making The Legend of the Cranberry a part of your holiday tradition.  Ellin Greene's beautiful retelling of a Delaware Indian legend offers an interesting origin story for the cranberry.  It goes all the way back to the time when the People understood the language of the animals, and the Great Spirit created the elephant-like Yah-qua-whee to be the People's helpers... Read Post
November 21st 2009
One of my favorite sub-genres of fiction is one I call "Books about Books:" novels in which books, reading and writing are important elements of the plots or themes.  The grandfather of them all is, of course, Don Quijote, Miguel de Cervantes' 1605 novel about a country gentlemen who goes mad after reading dozens of novels about knights-errant, and rides off into the Spanish countryside to battle nonexistent foes.  At the opposite end of the spectrum--chronologically, stylistically, and... Read Post
November 16th 2009
Have you ever felt bereft upon realizing that you've read every last book by one of your favorite authors?  Let NoveList come to your rescue!  NoveList is an online tool that lets you use a favorite author or title as a template to locate other books you might like.  You can click on the "Author Read-alike" link to find authors whose books are similar to the novels your favorite author writes.  You can also look up a favorite book by title and then click on the "Find Similar Books" link in the... Read Post
November 11th 2009
Maybe you don't  personally know any veterans or actively deployed soldiers. But you do know that military service is hard, and often lonely and dangerous--and you want to do something to help. You have some options thanks to Soldiers' Angels. The organization began in 2003 when the mother of a soldier deployed to Iraq told her many soldiers in his unit were getting nothing from home: no cookies, letters, books--nothing. She decided to do something about that. 6 years later Soldiers' Angels... Read Post
November 9th 2009
Do you ever worry that certain of your favorite books and authors are disappearing - that young readers of today simply do not want them anymore?  I do, and though I risk sounding like a cranky old librarian by saying so, I’m more concerned than ever when I read about school libraries dumping their entire book collections.  If film adaptations are anything to go by then Shakespeare and Jane Austen seem to be as popular as ever, and I’m glad of that.  But the works of some other classic... Read Post
November 5th 2009
In Britain, today is Guy Fawkes Day, which commemorates the discovery and prevention of an attempt by Guy Fawkes (1570-1606) (pictured left) and other co-conspirators to blow up the House of Lords on November 5, 1605, when King James I was scheduled to address both the Lords and Commons (the conspirators had filled the cellars of the House of Lords with firewood and gunpowder some days before). Fawkes and his associates belonged to a group of Catholic extremists who wanted to overthrow the... Read Post
November 1st 2009
November 2, 1947: Howard Hughes' plywood airplane, the "Spruce Goose," flies for the first and only time. It only flew one mile, but it was still an improvement over contemporary flights: it left on time and didn't overshoot its destination. November 6, 1862:  Direct telegraph line established between New York and San Francisco.  San Franciscans are surprised to learn that being told "how they do it in New York" is somehow even more annoying when it's in Morse Code. November 14, 1832: The... Read Post