Growing up, I had a morning routine. I’d fix a bowl of cereal, pour myself a glass of juice and open up the Globe to the comics. My early favorites included Garfield and Mother Goose and Grimm – the punchlines didn’t change much, but Odie falling off the table was funny every time. As I got older, I preferred the family humor of FoxTrot and For Better or Worse. I even eventually began to appreciate the adult political takes found in Doonesbury and Bloom County/Outland.
I didn’t get the daily paper after I went away to college, but the late 90s and early 2000s brought with them the birth of w
ebcomics. Unconstrained by the need to fill three or four little black and white boxes in a daily paper, by the need to appeal to everyone, or to be family friendly, dozens of artists and authors began to produce comedy and compelling stories online.
One of the earliest and, to date, most successful comics has been Penny Arcade, written by Jerry Holkins and illustrated by Mike Krahulik. Dedicated to videogame culture and filled with a dedicated irreverence, the comic has grown since its debut in 1998 to attract 3.5 million weekly readers and hosts a yearly game convention. Penny Arcade stuck to the basic format of the newspaper comic strip, but succeeded with writing and art that attracted a niche audience and did it well.
A similar pattern can be seen in xkcd, a comic that mainly relies on stick figure art, but focuses on the intersection of science and pop culture. Randall Munroe, a roboticist and computer programmer at NASA, started drawing xkcd in his spare time and it expanded to become a full time job. He continues to write new comics three times a week, but in addition to the traditional “boxes with words and pictures” approach, he also uses his programming skills to create interactive games on his site and has expanded several ideas to book length projects. Thing Explainer (2015) offers explanations of complicated scientific ideas using only the thousand most common words in English and What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (2014) is just what it sounds like.
On the social sciences end of the spectrum, Kate Beaton takes vignettes from medieval Europe to modern Canada and transforms them into hilarious but educational little slices of history. One of my favorites on both fronts is about Australian Gen. Sir John Monash. I’d never heard of Monash before, but the comic shows him responding to a critical British officer during the first World War saying, “Yes, let’s look at what you’ve been doing so far. Ah, I see, some losing here, some dying in the trenches over here.” Now I want to know more! Beaton does most of her work online, but Hark! A Vagrant! and two other collections of her comics are available in book form at the library. She’s also written a couple of children’s books and is currently producing a graphic novel, Ducks, about her time working in the tar sands of Alberta.
Other webcomics are more focused on long, slice of life storytelling and provide years of narrative and character development. Two that I’ve read for a long time are Octopus Pie by Meredith Gran and Questionable Content by Jeph Jacques. Both feature art and language that could never appear in a newspaper, but the lives of the twenty-somethings in the comics are all the more compelling because their relationships and conflicts seem more honest and open. Questionable Content is particularly notable for dealing frankly with depression, substance abuse, and LGBT relationships. And there are also funny, cake-eating robots, all in full color, five days a week.
Science fiction and fantasy make for popular subjects for long-running webcomics as well. Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell features some of the best artwork online and an exciting, funny, and touching Harry Potter-esque story about a young girl attending a mysterious school that blends advanced technology and magic. Homestuck by Andrew Hussie stands out as the comic that makes the most of its online format, including interactive storytelling, music, and even short films. The convoluted narrative follows a group of teenage friends who get sucked into a video game world and face time travel paradoxes and aliens threatening the Earth.
All of these comics have some element of humor in them, but have some other hook to really pull you in – whether that’s a focus on a subject that interests you or a long, ongoing story. Some, though, are more inspired by classics like Krazy Kat or The Far Side where the joke is everything. Dinosaur Comics by Ryan North takes this to an extreme by featuring the same art for every strip, but different dialog between dinosaurs that exchange quips about language, pop culture, and social expectations. Dorothy Gambrell’s Cat and Girl follows the title characters around their bizarre bohemian existence while they ask questions like: what’s the meaning of life? why is poverty so intractable? how did I get this flamethrower? and what should I have for breakfast?
Whether you want a short chapter of a long story every day, or just a quick laugh first thing in the morning, webcomics are a fun online option. I started with just one or two, recommended by more traditional authors, but quickly followed links to a list of more than a dozen pages that I visit at least once a week. Search for these titles online or try out the print collections for many of them here at the library!
Jeff Hartman is the Senior Circulation Assistant, Paging Supervisor, and Graphics Designer at the Morrill Memorial Library.
Growing up, my family was not a puzzling one; to clarify, we did not do jigsaw puzzles. Of course, we had small puzzle toys for our family of four children when we were young but I don’t remember doing jigsaw puzzles with my family or friends as a young child or teen.
I think I must have first fallen in love with jigsaws when my children were babies – when I had very short or very long stretches of time on my hands between their naps or after their bedtimes. We lived in Ireland at the time and the toy shops in Cork and Dublin were filled with wonderful European puzzles of rich scenes and thousands of pieces and they captivated me.
My puzzling bug hit hard over the next few decades and for the past thirty-five years, with few interruptions, there has usually been a jigsaw puzzle set up in my home. I’ve always received jigsaw puzzles as gifts from my families and friends who are aware of my hobby. Everyone who visits can rely on spending time with me chatting over a puzzle because Gerry and I always have a puzzle in the works on our family room coffee table. It sits on a spinning puzzle board with a removable acrylic cover that protects it from a grandchild’s tiny hands, spills from drinking glasses, and crumbs of cheese and crackers. We have an entire closet shelf devoted to jigsaw puzzles that we think we might do again or ones that lie in wait to be unwrapped and the box’s contents spilled. Or sometimes, we simply save the horribly challenging ones to share with friends whose lives we want to make difficult.
The history of the jigsaw puzzle is a relatively recent one; it’s only three hundred years old. In Anne Williams book, The Jigsaw Puzzle – Piecing Together a History (2004), she writes that jigsaw puzzles were first created in the mid-1700s as an educational tool for children. Ms. Williams is an economics professor at Bates College in Maine but is also a puzzle collector and puzzle historian.
Berkshire Puzzles, a company in Northampton, Massachusetts (they create handcrafted wooden puzzles) also attributes the first puzzles to cartographer John Spilsbury. Spilsbury created these learning tools by cutting up a wooden map of Great Britain with a jigsaw so that children could learn their geography. (Today, Spilsbury is also an online company that uses the cartographer’s name to offer puzzles of every type for sale.)
In the early 1900s, the jigsaw puzzle craze found its way from Europe and across the Atlantic to Salem, Massachusetts. That is where Parker Brothers began creating puzzles for the wealthy adult population who loved working puzzles, most often pictures of landscape and famous art. Game maker Milton Bradley soon joined the fun and during the Great Depression puzzles took off when they were first manufactured and mass-produced using die cuts and cardboard instead of the traditional wood and jigsaw machinery. They had become affordable to the common family.
The Consolidated Paper Company in Somerville, Massachusetts produced weekly Perfect Picture Puzzles for middle and lower class families. In Master Pieces: The Art History of Jigsaw Puzzles by Chris McCann (1999), the author refers to the Great Depression puzzling craze in the 1930s as the Great Puzzle Panic. Jigsaw puzzles, pieced by a multitude of American families, created the perfect, cheap family entertainment during a difficult time. And, back in the box, the puzzle could be taken out again and again. A radio and a puzzle made up the family together time.
Puzzles are now created by so many companies you can search for hours on the internet for both the companies that sell them and companies that make them. My favorite puzzlemaker is Eric Dowdle Folkart Puzzles and one reason is that the company will send you a new puzzle if you are missing a piece. All Dowdle puzzles are wonderfully artistic and depict scenes from across the USA and the world. The majority of Dowdle puzzles are 500 and 1000 pieces and are moderately difficult to complete. Other great puzzle companies are Ravensburger and Heye in Germany and White Mountain Puzzles and Master Pieces in the United States. The Puzzle Warehouse online store carries puzzles made by 80 manufacturers.
1000-piece puzzles are a perfect size to work on at the dining room table, a folding card table, or some larger coffee tables. The Puzzle Warehouse boasts that Ravensburger currently has the record of making the largest puzzle – at 32,256 pieces it measures 17 by 6 feet when completed. Their 32,000-piece puzzle of New York City will set you back about $300 or about a penny each piece.
Wooden puzzles are still crafted by companies like Berkshire Puzzle in New Hampshire and others. You can have your own puzzle made by companies who will take your high resolution photographs and make them into puzzles of various sizes. Jigsaws are made two-sided or three-dimensional. A traditionalist, I still like my puzzles flat, one-sided, and with no particular mystery to its construction.
So, what does this have to do with your library here in Norwood?
This past winter, we added a wonderful spinning puzzle board that sits in a corner on the second floor. Not only do we have dozens of puzzles to lend (once we find out all the pieces are intact), but we have an ongoing puzzle for patrons to complete. We have received donations of puzzles and purchased some for the library. We’ve even had a puzzle-share with the Morse Institute (the public library in neighboring Natick.)
Do people really come to the library to work on jigsaw puzzles? You bet they do. Sometimes visitors to the puzzle table complete a 1000-piece puzzle in a single day. Puzzlers come for different reasons – to get out of the house, to meet friends after work, to spend a few moments in quiet solitude, or to exercise their brains. It is becoming commonly believed that jigsaw puzzle-making may help to offset the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia. They also come for different seasons – to enjoy the cozy warmth or the cool air conditioning on the library’s second floor.
Stop by the library and work on our current ongoing puzzle or browse our collection of jigsaw puzzles to check out. It’s always something new at the library!
Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the June 30, 2016 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.
“Laissez les bon temps rouler!”
Or, if your Cajun is a little rusty, “let the good times roll!” This phrase captures the joie de vivre, or joy of living, carefree attitude characterizing the culture of New Orleans. Known as Nollins or Nawlins, NOLA, The Crescent City, The Big Easy, The City that Care Forgot, and Mardi Gras City, New Orleans is truly unique.
I had the great pleasure of visiting NOLA this past spring. Whether your interest lies with cuisine, music, history, folklore, nature, art and architecture, or vice, there is something for everyone in New Orleans. The number of attractions and pastimes is almost overwhelming; I spent a week in New Orleans and only saw a fraction of what the city has to offer. Luckily, NOLA is such a popular tourist destination that there are lots of guidebooks and websites to help you plan your trip.
Firstly, I advise that you prepare yourself for a culture shock. The culture of NOLA is a very far cry from our New England Puritan roots. Massachusetts was settled by English colonists, while Louisiana was largely settled by the French and Spanish. New Orleans has historically had its own unique Creole dialect, and even as recent as 50 years ago, there were lifelong residents who exclusively spoke French. In addition, New Orleans is influenced by Southern hospitality culture and the slower pace of life necessitated by a hot climate.
The daily rhythm of the city was a shock to this New Englander: the middle of the day is so hot that few people venture outside until the sun starts to set, and then the city comes alive. NOLA is known for its vibrant nightlife, and as a result, many businesses are open late and do not even open until 10:00 am or later. Mind you, I was visiting in May, and while the weather was sunny, in the 80s, and quite humid, I was assured by every native local I met that New Orleans was actually cool and pleasant compared to the temperatures and humidity levels of August and September. As a Northerner, I advise visiting in early- or mid-spring.
As I said, there are many resources available for tourists, but I’ll discuss the guidebooks I found most helpful. I’m not the sort of traveler who likes to account for every minute of time in a rigid itinerary, but rather I identify some things I’d like to see and do at some point, and let the journey take me from there; I didn’t start looking at guidebooks until a week before departure, and didn’t plan in earnest until I was at the airport. Even so, I had a full and rewarding trip.
I recommend “New Orleans: a Lonely Planet City Guide” as a general guide. It offers detailed maps of sections of the city with points of interest, and is a good way to help get your bearings and learn about the city in broad strokes. I used it daily to plot my route. “Discovering Vintage New Orleans” by Bonnye E. Stuart was hands down the book I found most valuable for finding unique attractions, including the Beauregard-Keyes House and the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum in the French Quarter, the Southern Food & Beverage Museum and Museum of the American Cocktail in Central City, Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and Commander’s Palace restaurant in the Garden District, and the Camellia Grill in Audubon.
Another great resource for finding out-of-the way attractions is “New Orleans: The Underground Guide” by Michael Patrick Welch with Brian Boyles. While this book does cover sites in the more touristy areas of the city, it is perfect for the traveler who wants to get out into other neighborhoods and live like a local.
If you know you want to focus your visit around music or food, pick up copies of “Hear Dat New Orleans” and “Eat Dat New Orleans.” Two words for music fans to remember: Frenchman Street. I heard five different genres of music in a single evening, and only paid a cover charge to see Kermit Ruffins, a jazz musician being hailed as the new Louis Armstrong. Speaking of jazz, I didn’t actually like jazz before my trip. New Orleans taught me there are many varieties of jazz, and the music is alive and growing. If you’re not a jazz fan, give it a try in New Orleans: you just might be surprised.
No matter what you decide to do in NOLA, there are a few practicalities to keep in mind. NOLA hosts many festivals year round, and can be fantastic free, authentic New Orleans entertainment. Be aware that there are a high number of muggings in NOLA, so plan accordingly. Don’t pay for anything in NOLA without looking for coupons online first – there are TONS.
Also, you can’t visit NOLA without being conscious of Hurricane Katrina. The city was forever changed by that disaster, and tensions still run high around Katrina and the aftermath. Many buildings were never rebuilt or repaired, and outside of the French Quarter, vacant buildings (including vacant skyscrapers and malls) are a common sight.
There’s no way I can capture in a single article the vibrant spirit and unique mixing of cultures of New Orleans and its people. Regardless of which name you call it, the city is a truly special, indomitable place.
Liz Reed is an Adult and Information Services Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Liz’s column in the August 4, 2016 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.
Reserve Best Sellers and Sneak Peeks of Books Being Published in August and September
Download or view August Fiction and August Non-Fiction. Click on the links for the complete list with titles (in blue) linked to the Minuteman Library catalog. You may also pick up a complete list in the library and ask librarians to request them for you.
When I wrote several columns about birds in 2011 and 2013, I shared the many new books that you’ll find in our library’s collection. (For anyone hoping to read a past column, you can find all of our nearly 400 columns archived online or organized annually in spiral books that are available from our adult services librarians.)
I wrote about my experiences as a non-birding wife; that is, one who is married to a man who stops conversations, meals, and eyes-on-the-road to stare at, point out, or listen to birds. I used to find it particularly annoying when I was interrupted. Gerry would excitedly stop everything to exclaim about the long lines of black cormorants on the electrical wires. When he spied the trail of a circling hawk spotting an unfortunate prey, all other words and thoughts went out the window.
Lately, though, I don’t mind those interruptions so much. I’ve softened over time to the world of birds. In fact, one of Gerry’s and my favorite dawn or dusk pastimes is watching the Blue Herons soar above with fish to feed their young when we are spending our weekends near the water of Buzzard’s Bay. Two pair of eyes are now keenly inspecting the sky and tree lines. My ears are finally fine-tuned to the Eastern Towhee’s “drink your tea-e-e-e-e” or the osprey’s high-pitched whistle above the treetops.
On weekends we sit in our breakfast room on the south coast and admire the birds feeding winter through spring. I’m not sure which of the seasons is my favorite time to birdwatch. Winter is spectacular when the male cardinal stands out shockingly against the white snow. Summer is whimsical when robins lay eggs in a nest in the far-left tree in our front yard. We smile when we spy baby birds just weeks later. What a sight it is to watch a round of twenty robins scurry around the lawn after a rain, searching for every last bite of worm they can swallow.
While I’d love to actually study bird identification or songs, I’ve got many other hobbies that take up my time. I made it my New Year’s resolution several years ago to learn more about birds and I try to read small parts of the many birding books we have in our home.
Several new books that bird lovers will enjoy have been published just within the past few months. One is The Genius of Birds (April 2016) by science and nature writer, Jill Ackerman. Ackerman believes that birds are extremely intelligent and she gives many examples of this in her book. Bird brain has traditionally been a term used to describe someone who is thought to be stupid. However, a bird’s brain is certainly not the smallest we can find and it might, in fact, be packed with more neurons than anyone ever realized. They might, Ackerman writes, have huge brains compared to their body mass.
Ackerman doesn’t just hypothetically suppose this to be true; she journeyed the globe backing up her writing. From Australia to islands in the West Indies and then along Louisiana south coast, Ackerman puts to rest the myth of the bird brain. Ackerman has written many articles for National Geographic and Scientific American, in addition to other books. She is an award-winning investigator of the worlds of biology and nature.
We’ve all read about the fantastic flights of the honeybee – up to 8 miles to find pollen – and the return to the hive to tell their fellow bees where they’ve been. Birds have tales to tell, as well. Think of the bird song and how birds of each species must remember each in order to recognize who is near them. Crows and pigeons are incredibly impressive birds who find their way home or act as engineers, using tools to solve problems.
My family had an African parrot as a family pet about 20 years ago. This parrot played hide and seek with the cat. He teased me incessantly by repeating my admonitions at the cat. He eventually terrorized us because we were no longer paying him the attention he felt he deserved. I often felt that Oz (he was bright green) was the real king of the household. He was, no doubt, a genius in his own right, manipulating and playing with us.
Also published in April of this year, One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives by Bernd Heinrich is one about the meeting of the minds – birds and human. Heinrich has written prolifically about the relationships of birds with humankind. The Mind of the Raven is an exquisite introspective of the world’ largest crow, the raven. Heinrich has been birdwatching since he was a child. He studied crows in the woods of his Maine cabin and from his home near the University of Vermont where he taught biology until he retired. He wrote about his relationship with a great horned owl in One Man’s Owl (1987) and has authored many books about nature, including A Year in the Maine Woods, Summer World, Winter World, and the Snoring Bird.
In his latest book, Heinrich writes of his observations of both individual bird behaviors and what birds do when they are together with others of their species. For months at a time, he lives in a cabin deep in the Maine woods and spends his life journaling throughout the year. His book is a memoir of those annotations from his unique vantage point – through his windows, from his porch, and in the surrounding woods and meadows.
If you love birds, or you want to know more about them, there are a plethora of books in your local library. In addition, there are audiobooks and bird song books that can help you learn even more. Call the library for help finding any item you’d like to check out.
Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the July 28, 2016 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.