MORRILL MEMORIAL LIBRARY

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Author Archives:Alli Palmgren

Anna Karenina book cover

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Review by Samuel Simas
Anna Karenina is worth every single one of its several hundred pages. A devastating inquiry into love, godlessness, and agricultural Russian life through the eyes of the aristocracy. One of the most well-crafted tales I’ve read.

Piano Keys

Player Piano

Alice cleans up when people move, or leave, or need to cut the clutter of their never-organized closets. And she finds, between the discarded lamps, yellow curtains, creaking bed frames, rusted bicycles, and cracked tile floors, the remnants of family holidays, birthdays, and many, many, abandoned pianos.

Most people don’t come into the possession of pianos by chance. Some don’t even come into the possession of pianos on purpose. They’re hard to move, to sell, to learn to play if one didn’t have the luck of being born a child prodigy. Pianos are not for the faint of heart. After seeing a few upright and baby grand pianos passed me by, not even my second-floor apartment would stop me from shouting an emphatic, “Yes!” when Alice asked if I wanted an old out-of-tune spinet piano–a perfectly apartment-sized piano.

“Alright,” she said, “but you’re going to have to move it.”

I had a mover on the phone that night. The next day he arrived with his tape to measure the walls and staircase and doorways. He left, letting me know that he’d be back in a week with a team of movers and the spinet piano in his truck.

During the days before the four movers shimmied the piano up the narrow staircase of my building, I amused myself with the potential for entertaining people with the piano skills I had yet to acquire. I imagined Jay Gatsby styled parties in the summer with swanky people (I would also need to meet some swanky people) sipping boxed-wine and taking turns playing Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” or a New Year’s Eve spent singing “Auld Lang Syne.” I hoped people would stroll by the building on sunny days, hear melodies drifting out of the windows, and stop to listen. But, as I had yet to learn the difference between one key and another, I had a long way to go.

After the movers wiped the sweat from their foreheads and rolled their dolly back into the moving van, I admired the cobwebs and sheen of dust over the maple wood. I cleaned the keys, the legs, the Baldwin logo, and then sat on the bench. I jabbed randomly at the white keys and then the black ones, trying to piece together a coherent melody. A mouse, running away from a cat across the keys, would have sounded better than my awkward playing. And, with each note, I shrunk with guilt and embarrassment, knowing that my neighbors could hear (and probably were already digging through their drawers for ear-plugs), and that the fleeting dreams I had of entertaining would be just that, dreams.

The next day, I went to work at the Morrill Memorial Library, and my co-workers asked me about the piano. How did the move go? Can you play? Yes, it went well. No, I can’t play, I responded. Patty asked me: Well, are you going to learn? Irene played light piano jazz from her computer while we tapped at our keyboards as motivation. I weighed the enormous task of teaching myself piano while working and juggling the torrential downpour of schoolwork from my graduate studies. Maybe I would, I thought, and I had the entire library at my fingertips to help me.

During my break, I clicked through the catalog looking for books on playing piano. It didn’t take long for me to find books like “Piano” by Gillian Shepheard and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Playing Piano” (which I desperately needed). I requested them and waited a day or two, keeping myself preoccupied with the books I plucked from the 786s in the Morrill’s stacks.

Books propped on the piano, I am not creeping through the scales and the tones and the notes of the keyboard. I have stumbled from “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to “Auld Lang Syne,” but still haven’t reached “Piano Man.” The progress has been slow, but with the library’s resources, I’m sure I might one day be able to entertain at my apartment. Maybe not a swanky party like in The Great Gastby. Maybe just a cookout. And, maybe, someone will walk by the apartment, hear the music, and think, “Well, it’s not that bad.”

Samuel Simas is the technology assistant at the Morrill Memorial library; he is a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. Read Samuel’s column in the May 5th issue of the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

Calligraphy

A Writing Life

I started writing newspaper columns in 2001 when I was a librarian at the Peterborough Town Library in New Hampshire. All four professional librarians on staff there shared the writing task and I was assigned every third week of the month. I joyfully wrote about children’s books and programs that we offered to the youth of Peterborough. Sometimes, I volunteered for an additional week because it was the part of my job that I loved best.

In January 2009, shortly after I came to Norwood as library director, I asked the Norwood Bulletin if I could write a weekly column. They were happy to oblige and the From the Library column began. Within a few months, I realized I was burning out quickly by writing every week, especially when I was too busy to write but still had a deadline to meet.

And so, Morrill Memorial librarians: April Cushing, Marie Lydon, Margot Sullivan, Tina Blood and Shelby Warner agreed to produce 1000 words or less once or twice a year. Their topics, style and humor kept our From the Library column varied and lively. A year later, others on staff joined in.

In the past seven years, 30 of us on staff – librarians, library assistants, and Simmons College interns – have contributed to the From the Library weekly column, never missing a deadline. Jean Todesca, Diane Phillips, Norma Logan and Bonnie Wyler and others have all covered areas of librarianship, including reading and library services, and have enlightened all of our readers.

In the fall of 2014 when I began a yearlong graduate certificate which required five master’s courses in public administration. I realized I would only be able to write twice a month at the most. I rearranged the rotation and some of our newer staff agreed to write at least four or five times a year – Liz Reed, Allison Palmgren, Nancy Ling and Kate Tigue. I hope you’ve enjoyed their point of view, their humor, and their knowledge. Recently, two of our newest staff members, Technology Assistant Sam Simas and Senior Circulation Assistant Jeff Hartman were added to the rotation. The staff of our library has collectively written over 375 columns. At a conservative estimate, we’ve written about 300,000 words or 3 or 4 novels!

You can imagine we were quite proud when the Massachusetts Library Association awarded our library the 2015 Public Relations award in the News/Journalism category.

What I’ve learning since writing columns for the past fifteen years is that writing takes discipline, deadlines and continual attention. I’ve listened to published authors speak on the subject of writing and they all have one thing in common: to produce writing you need to set aside a time and stick to it. You need to write every day. That was a habit I had to learn when I wrote weekly. I found that as soon as I finished one column, I was thinking of the next. I jotted down notes, collected book titles or articles, and spent a few minutes each day organizing my thoughts about the upcoming column.

The problem now that I don’t write as regularly is that I find myself a bit brain-dead. I often give in to the habit of procrastination. It’s becoming harder and harder to write a column simply because I am not actually writing or thinking about it on a daily basis. I used keep a list of column ideas and I gathered information all week in a skeleton “idea” document. I’ve conveniently given up the habit as my deadlines become farther and farther apart.

I’ve heard many authors speak and they almost always suggest that a writer set aside a part of his/her day to write. Although most of us working full time don’t think we have that luxury, I’ve always been amazed by writers of non-fiction, surgeon Atul Gawande or pediatrician Perri Klass and a multitude of college professors who manage to write book after book. It seems they must set a part of their day aside and discipline themselves to write.

Stephen King states that he writes 2,000 words a day, “and only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.” In his book “On Writing” (2000), he advises that “you have three months [to write the] first draft of a book. Even a long [book] – should take no more” than the length of a season.

In 1924, twenty-two year old Arnold Samuelson spent a year with writer Ernest Hemingway hoping to learn how to become a better writer. He documented that journey in “With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba” which was discovered and published after Samuelson’s death in 1981. Hemingway, Samuelson wrote, advised him that rewriting is the key and it should be done every day. Hemingway professed that he rewrote “A Farewell to Arms” 50 times. “The better you write, the harder it is because every story has to be better than the last one.”

E.B. White wrote that “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word to paper.” When Haruki Murakami is writing a novel, he rises every day at 4 am and writes for 5 to 6 hours. And keeps to that routine every single day.

In “The Writing Life” (1989), Annie Dillard write with brutal honesty about a somewhat love/hate relationship she has with writing. In one of her essays she wrote that “a work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state … you must visit it every day. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room.”

There are a multitude of books in our library about writing, including those by Stephen King, Annie Dillard, and Arnold Samuelson. Check the library catalog and contact a librarian for help in finding them.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the April 21, 2016 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Czech Teymology

Etymologist by Night

The library building may be open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, but being a librarian involves a set of skills that aren’t always easy to switch off. When I’m not being a librarian in the workplace, I find that I’m most often engaged as an etymologist for friends and family. In other words, I’m the go-to person when someone wants to know the history of a word beyond the simple definition. Luckily for them, I find etymology, or the history of words, fascinating.

There are a lot of interesting books and resources about the history of words, phrases, and their uses. Stay with me, I know dictionaries aren’t everyone’s idea of a good time, but there’s some fascinating, occasionally sordid and often amusing, history behind the things we say. The Oxford English Dictionary, for instance, is arguably the unshakable bastion propping up the English language, the last word on all English definitions. The OED has been around forever, right? And is the product of the most learned, scholarly minds in academia? No, and…qualified yes. In fact, the OED project began in 1857 and took seventy years to complete, included the contributions of tens of thousands of people, and organized the English language into 414,825 precise definitions (there are over 615,000 word forms now by the way, with new words added every year). However, one of the largest contributors never joined the team of professors at Oxford University, despite numerous invitations to do so, choosing instead to submit all his entries by mail. Lo and behold, this man, important contributor to our literary history, was clinically insane, a murderer, locked up in England’s harshest asylum for criminal lunatics. The whole tale is spun out in Simon Winchester’s “The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.” Want to know more? Winchester delves deeper into the brilliant minds that crafted the OED, offering little known anecdotes (who knew “marzipan” would be so difficult to define?) and interesting bits of knowledge in his book, “The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary.”

My favorite on-the-go quick reference for etymology is a website called the Online Etymology Dictionary, found by visiting www.etymonline.com. These folks really do their research, and their word histories are legitimate enough to be quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary. The Online Etymology Dictionary is an optimal way to satisfy your curiosity on a whim, and also to settle friendly arguments about word usage (I’m not the only person who has these arguments, right?)

While the Online Etymology Dictionary covers many, many words, you’re not as likely to find the history of phrases catalogued. Why in the world to we say “it’s raining cats and dogs” during a heavy rain? To learn more about the etymology of idioms and other phrases, try “Common Phrases and Where They Come From” by Myron Korach. Spoiler: “let her rip” does not mean what you think it means.

Speaking of cats and dogs, there are an awful lot of words and phrases in English relating to animals. If this piques the interest of all you animal lovers, check out “Dog Days and Dandelions: A Lively Guide to the Animal Meanings Behind Everyday Words” by Martha Barnette, or “Six Words You Never Knew Had Something to Do with Pigs, and Other Fascinating Facts About the English Language” by Katherine Barber.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, you might be interested in a couple more etymological honorable mentions. “Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words: a Writer’s Guide to Getting it Right” by Bill Bryson is a solid fixture for word-nerds, and is a witty work Bryson fans won’t want to miss; this was actually his first book. “Word Mysteries & Histories, From Quiche to Humble Pie” by Robert Claiborne is also worth a look, plus there are illustrations.

So, why care about etymology? If you’ve read this far, then I probably don’t need to convince you of the importance and fun of learning for learning’s sake. In addition, being able to whip out interesting facts about word histories will impress your smart friends, and earn you laughs at parties. Priorities, people. If you want a hand finding these or other books, just ask a librarian. Or, feel free to browse the 423 call number section on the Mezzanine level of the library.

Liz Reed is an Adult and Information Services Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Liz’s column in the April 14, 2016 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

women history

Coming to Light

As a mother raising two teenage girls, I find myself thinking about role models quite a bit. These days who do our girls have to admire? I’m grateful for the fact that strong women are out there inventing technologies, running companies, and changing the world. While there are still fences to be climbed and boundaries to be pushed, my daughters’ generation has a growing confidence that they can do anything they put their minds to.

For years females were overlooked in our history books. The good news is authors are now rectifying that discrepancy and filling in the gaps. Women who were overlooked in the past are coming to light. For example, did you know about a woman named Rosalind Franklin whose research was instrumental in the discovery of the structure of DNA? When James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins’ work was published in 1953 however, Franklin did not become a household name. Only now is her story being revealed.

Or perhaps you’ve heard of “The Girl Paul Revere” recently? Sybil Ludington was a courageous young girl who outdid Paul Revere during the American Revolution, riding 40 miles to warn her father’s troops that British had begun burning Danbury, CT. She rode from 9 pm until dawn, at one point defending herself with her father’s musket against the enemy. The good news is Sybil Ludington’s Midnight Ride by Marsha Amstel presents this heroine to young readers. Likewise a movie entitled Sybil Ludington: The Female Paul Review was produced by Kicks Flicks to honor her heroic actions as well.

Lately I’ve been reading books about other woman who were under the radar historically. The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story by Lily Koppel is a non-fiction book that takes a fascinating look into the lives of the wives who were behind NASA’s spacemen. As the jacket flap describes, these women “formed the Astronaut Wives Club, providing one another with support and friendship, coffee, and cocktails.” Until now their lives were often glossed over by the media. Being married to a NASA hero was not all that it was cracked up to be. Reporters invaded their lives. The wives felt like they were under an unspoken contract to make everything at home look as perfect as Camelot. Real strength was required to maneuver their families through the day to day upheavals, including the roving eyes of some of their husbands, or sudden accidents or losses.

In terms of historical fiction, I’ve also discovered a few unsung heroes of late. Many of Susan Vreeland’s books intrigue me. Vreeland is known for her in-depth historical research and for telling a story through an oft overlooked character’s point of view. Clara and Mr Tiffany is one of these stories. Vreeland weaves the story of Clara Driscoll, an amazing woman living in the Gilded Age who, as it turns out, was the designer of nearly all the iconic leaded-glass lamps for Tiffany Studios.

Remember the dragonfly and daffodil patterns in those gorgeous Tiffany lamps? Those were Driscoll’s designs. Without the recent revelation of Driscoll’s letters to her family, Vreeland would never have been able to tell this tale. Like many women of that age, ultimately Clara Driscoll had to choose between having love in her life or a career as Tiffany’s prized glass designer.

Another author who creates fictional stories revolving around lesser known historical women is Jennifer Chiaverini. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the seamstress, Elizabeth Keckley, in Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker. The character of Keckley is based on Mrs. Lincoln’s real life dressmaker who fashioned dresses for Washington DC’s elite. As a designer, “Keckley supported the First Lady through years of war, political strife, and devastating personal losses, even as she endured heartbreaking tragedies of her own.” While Chiaverini filled in the historical gaps with story, she researched Keckley’s life thoroughly, using the dressmaker’s own memoir entitled Behind the Scenes (1868).

Certainly all of these revelations give me hope that the tides are changing, that my daughters won’t have to hunt far and wide to find the stories of women who have played vital roles in history. Actually, my ultimate hope is that they will become the very women whom history will remember, women in the forefront instead of the background. An ideal wish? Perhaps! But we mothers like to dream.


Nancy Ling is an Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read the published version of Nancy Ling’s column in the March 31, 2016 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

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