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Total Eclipse of the Sun

As a child and teenager growing up in 1960s California, I should have witnessed a handful of eclipses of the sun. I don’t remember much about them, though. I have a vague memory of watching the sun disappear while viewing it through a pinhole box as a teenager.

Through the wonder of the Internet, specifically timeanddate dot com, I recently researched the eclipses of the 60s and learned quite a bit about them.

Searching the timeanddate website, by both location and date, I located all five partial and total solar eclipses that were visible in the Northern California sky in the 60s –1960, 1962, 1963, 1967 and 1969. Most of them, with the exception of 1969, were quite skimpy and wimpy. In fact, the 1962 eclipse was visible only minutes before sundown when it slipped below the Pacific Ocean horizon and disappeared. It was apparently the 1969 annular partial solar eclipse that I watched on a Thursday, September 12 around noon. It was a school day in my senior year of high school.

Like some of you, I’m guessing, I haven’t thought much about eclipses since. In fact, the phrase “total eclipse of the sun” is more memorable as the lyrics of one of my favorite musicals, Little Shop of Horrors. You must remember Seymour singing about the weird little plant, Audrey II that he bought for $1.95. As it grows, however, Audrey II changes into a very hungry, very large, very strange plant after darkness descended during the mysterious moments of an eclipse.

This year, the rumble of Eclipse Fever started months before The Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017. Libraries across the country were offered free, safe eclipse glasses in conjunction with an outreach program initiated by the Space Science Institute and NASA. Over two million free glasses were shipped to libraries nationwide.

We had no idea in advance that our original shipment of 100 glasses would fly out of the library within days. Using gift funds donated to the library for programming purposes, we researched the safest glasses and ordered 100 more. And 100 more after that. Our last glasses were distributed between 8:55 and 9:05 am the Wednesday morning nearly one week before the big event.

I was as amazed as everyone else that August day. I stood in the parking lot behind the library as we lent our glasses to curious patrons and we took long looks ourselves. It is an astounding phenomenon to witness an eclipse, even if it was only a partial one for us. The day dimmed slightly, turning a strange yellow color, and the air was perceptibly cooler. It was, simply put, a Great American event.

James Fenimore Cooper (of Last of the Mohicans and Cooperstown, NY fame) witnessed a total eclipse of the sun on June 16, 1806. He was so deeply affected that he believed for the rest of his life that it was a turning point for him. He had been expelled from Yale College in 1805 for instigating a college prank – blowing up another student’s door. He arrived home in Cooperstown and endured his father’s intense criticism and disfavor. Two months later he joined the American Navy.

Years later, Cooper detailed the events of the day in Eclipse, a short manuscript that was only discovered after his death in 1851. His daughter had it published in 1869. Cooper wrote that his memories “of the great event … are as vivid as if they had occurred but yesterday.” Each of the assembled friends and family to the Cooper family’s home was provided with a colored glass with which to view the spectacle.

Interestingly, the villagers in Cooperstown, New York awaited the eclipse with excitement – much as we did in 2017. Cooper wrote this in 1938 in Eclipse when he was about 49 years old: “I shall only say that I have passed a varied and eventful life, that it has been my fortune to see earth, heavens, ocean, and man in most of their aspects; but never have I beheld any spectacle which so plainly manifested the majesty of the Creator, or so forcible taught the lesson of humility to man as a total eclipse of the sun.”

In Eclipse by Duncan Steel (2001), the author includes the words from a diary of Mary Avery White of Boylston, MA. She wrote that “the stars twinkled at noonday.” Steel has an entire chapter on the American Eclipses of 1780 and 1806. In both of those solar eclipses, the whole of New England was affected.

Tyler Nordgren writes in Sun Moon Earth (2016) that a total solar eclipse in 1979 viewed in western Washington State was anticipated and celebrated by “gathered throngs.” That night, Walter Cronkite told his nightly news audience that the next total solar eclipse would not “touch the continental United States this century.” There would not be, in fact, a total solar eclipse that would be seen by so many until 2017.

Several authors wrote about solar eclipses just in time for the Great American Eclipse of 2017. The Shadow of the Moon by Anthony Aveni; Eclipse – Journey to the Dark Side of the Moon by Frank Close; and total Solar Eclipse 2017 by Marc Nussbaum are three of them. Several were written for children: What Happens During an Eclipse by Baby Professor and When the Sun Goes Dark by Eric Freeberg. Another book for children, Eclipses by Martha E. H. Rustad has just been published.

In the epilogue of Mask of the Sun (2017), lunar scientist and author John Dvorak writes that “nowhere else in the solar system is it possible to stand on a solid surface and see a total solar eclipse except on planet Earth.” We are lucky creatures. However, he tells us that total solar eclipses will end some day for earthlings because the Moon is receding away from the Earth due to the tides of our oceans. Someday our Moon will simply be too small to completely cover the sun.

On January 25, 1925 a New York Times reporter witnessed a total solar eclipse of the day before. He wrote that “the great lesson of the eclipse to the masses of those who saw it is that one little unusual phenomenon in the skies makes us realize how closely akin we all are in this common planetary boat out on an ethereal sea that has no visible shore.”

New Englanders will be witness to something closer to a total eclipse in January 2024. The best of it will be seen from Texas to Canada with Massachusetts on the edge of totality. Now is the time to begin ordering your eclipse glasses and reading about the mystery, lore and science of the wonderful and unique experience of a total eclipse of the sun.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the October 5, 2017 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Margaret Atwood’s Prisons

The most common of library problems is requesting one thing and getting something else by mistake. Recently there’s been a recurring issue with patrons finding themselves in possession of a mediocre film adaptation from 1990 rather than a recent hit show. The Handmaid’s Tale is in the public eye at the moment, becoming a successful series on Hulu this year and winning eight Emmys, including those for best drama, best actress, best supporting actress, best writer, and best director. With a prominent career stretching back over fifty years, Margaret Atwood is one of Canada’s best and most-recognized authors. She has won the Man Booker Prize for the best novel published in the British Commonwealth (The Blind Assassin, 2000) and has been shortlisted for four other novels. She has earned the Canadian Governor’s General Prize for Poetry (The Circle Game, 1966) and Fiction (The Handmaid’s Tale, 1985) and has been a finalist on seven other occasions. In addition to accolades in literary society, Atwood is also a major figure in modern science fiction (or speculative fiction, as she prefers to call it) and fantasy, winning the Arthur C. Clarke Award for The Handmaid’s Tale, which was also nominated for the Nebula award in the US, and receiving accolades for Oryx and Crake (2003), The Penelopiad (2005), and The Heart Goes Last (2015).

The Handmaid’s Tale is one of those rare events in film and television that matches or maybe even improves upon the original book. The story envisions a near future where birth rates have fallen dramatically and an extremist religious group takes control of America, forcing fertile women into service for the families of the group’s leaders. Elizabeth Moss portrays one of these women, Ofglen, who has been taken from her husband and daughter and made into a “handmaid” under the threat of torture, expected to provide a child for her master and his barren wife. Atwood and the showrunners explore both the fear and paranoia of the handmaids, who are always under observation, and the bitterness and resentment of the wives, who support this conditional adultery but want the children for themselves.

Both the book and the television show respond to contemporary trends in American (and Canadian) politics that threaten women’s rights to their own bodies. The “Republic of Gilead” takes this to a totalitarian extreme, making it illegal for women to read or write, or to move about the streets of the Boston suburbs unescorted. This imprisonment and imposition of power is central to several of Atwood’s other works as well. Alias Grace (1996) arrives on television in November and looks to the past rather than the future for its titular prisoner. Grace Marks was an Irish immigrant who became a house servant and was then convicted of the murder of her employer in the 1840s. The fictionalized account of her life as told to a psychologist interviewing her reflects on the constraints and pressures that she felt as a working class woman with no legal recourse to protect her from either abuse or poverty.

Two other recent books by Atwood also focus on prisons and the choices people make over the course of their lives that voluntarily limit their options. The Heart Goes Last follows a couple who trade their personal privacy and freedom of movement for the safety and security of a prison compound. An odd romance begins to tear their relationship apart as their constrained lives start to wear on them. Hag-Seed (2017), Atwood’s newest novel, approaches these ideas from the direction of a modern crime story. A failed theater director begins teaching classes at a remote prison and sees his new actors as a means to revenge on those who forced him from the stage. The twist is that the play he is producing as well as the book itself are both modern adaptations of Shakespeare’s The Tempest about the wizard Prospero in exile on a remote island. This is part of a series of books planned by Random House to adapt Shakespearean stories into modern novels of different genres, including Anne Tyler, reimagining The Taming of the Shrew in Vinegar Girl, as well as forthcoming books by Tracy Chevalier, Gillian Flynn, and Jo Nesbø, who will take on Othello, Hamlet, and Macbeth.

Despite the grim nature of some of these descriptions, The Handmaid’s Tale series is an excellent example of how hope and even some humor can be found in even the most desperate situations. Despite the setting of each book, Atwood takes an unflinching look at some of the worst aspects of modern life and then creates characters that can adapt and persist in the face of adversity. As her protagonist Ofglen repeats at her darkest moments, nolite te bastardes carborundorum (“don’t let the bastards grind you down”).

As a refreshing conclusion, Atwood has also recently published the Wandering Wenda series of children’s books about the adventures of a woman and her woodchuck companion and Angel Catbird, a tongue-in-cheek graphic novel featuring a superhero scientist who is part feline and part owl. All of Atwood’s books are available through the library and The Handmaid’s Tale should be out on DVD in the spring.

Jeff Hartman is the Senior Circulation Assistant, Paging Supervisor, and Graphics Designer at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read Jeff’s column in the September 28th issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Reserve October and November Best Sellers and Sneak Peeks

Want to get a preview of some of the new releases coming out next month?

2017 October Fiction

Download or view the October Fiction and October Non-Fiction lists to see if anything interests you. Click on the links for the complete list with titles (in blue) linked to the Minuteman Library catalog.  Log into your account and place a reserve. You may also pick up a complete list in the library and ask librarians to request them for you.

levis-smart-jacket

Smart Phone, Smart Watch… Smart Clothing?

It may seem like science fiction, but Google and Levis have teamed up to create a jacket, controlled with motion, that allows cyclists and drivers to use their phones with having them in hand.

 

From the article:

“Over a year after Google showed off its “connected” jean jacket designed for bike commuters at last year’s Google I/O developer conference, the company today is unveiling the final product, which goes on sale on Wednesday for $350. Designed in partnership with Levi’s, the new smart jacket takes advantage of technology from Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group (ATAP), which involves weaving multi-touch sensors into clothing.

At Google I/O, the companies demonstrated how a bike commuter could instead touch their jacket’s cuff and use gestures to control various functions that they would otherwise have needed to pull out their phone for – like handling calls and messages, adjusting the volume, or navigating with Google Maps, for instance.

In today’s announcement, Google says the new Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket will allow its wearers to do things like stopping or starting their music, getting directions, or reading incoming text messages just by swiping or tapping on the jacket’s sleeve.”

 

Interested? Read the article here.

Surviving the Crazy Time

While I became officially divorced just ten months into the 21st century, I received the news that my marriage was over at the end of the 20th. I faced Y2K and The Millennium as a divorcee. The implications of the end of the world as we knew it, and the promises of a new start, were both frightening and unfamiliar.

I’d had my suspicions about a possible breakup for several years before that summer in 1999, but I was still blindsided when it ended. And while I was not shocked when my ex-husband began dating (and eventually married) one of my then-closest friends, it was a staggering conclusion.

I had married somewhat young just before my 21st birthday. We were well into our 27th year as a couple and had achieved college degrees, witnessed the births of three daughters, and had moved many times around the country and the world. We had nearly three decades under our shared marital belt.
I hadn’t ever seriously thought about the reality of being single again. In fact, a few years later, when I checked off a box on some various form declaring myself as “single,” I shook my head in quizzical disbelief. “Wow, that’s weird,” I thought.

Those messy, topsy-turvy years are now well beyond me and I happily celebrate my tenth anniversary of remarriage this month. I hopefully am on my way to another 27 or more years of marriage. That said, when a newly-published book about surviving divorce appeared on the “new non-fiction” shelves, it caught my fancy. Sometimes I just need to validate that crazy time in my life and at the same time look for ways to help others survive it.

Mid-Life Ex-Wife by Stella Grey was one such book on the New Books shelf this summer. The version we have in Norwood is actually the American edition of a book by British author; it was originally published in a column format in the Guardian, the UK daily paper. The name Stella Grey is a pseudonym, of course, and the real author began to write for the Family page of the Guardian in 2014. Eighteen months of columns were published as a book in England titled The Heartfix. In May 2016, the American version was published as Mid-Life Ex-Wife.

The woman behind the Stella Grey name began her journey when her husband asked for a divorce. He was, simply, in love with someone else. They had no children and Stella was left dumbfounded and alone. In the first paragraphs of the book she writes that the sudden and unexpected news was “rather like that scene in Alien, in which John Hurt is sitting contentedly eating spaghetti … and then the infant monster burst out of his chest, leaving everybody [sitting with him] shocked and splattered.”

If this description brings a smile to your face, a nod to your head, or a tear to your eye, so will Stella Grey’s book. It’s shocking, funny, witty, cringe worthy (at times) and maddening. She documents her wild ride through the jolting and twisting of life after divorce.

Stella Grey was just 50 at the time and she wasn’t writing herself off. Yet.
I laughed and cried along with Stella’s whose experiences were unfortunately so familiar. Who thinks they will endure a first date again? Or a blind date? Or a bad date? Certainly not Stella! Or me.

Stella writes “When somebody announces that they’re leaving you, it’s a physical shock. It starts in your brain and reverberates through your bones.” The good news, though, is that it is, in fact, treatable and not terminal. Stella Grey wrote eighteen months of posts – a quest to find love again, one that naturally included her journey through dating and singlehood. Stella then met Edward and eventually shared her news about starting fresh, half of a new couple, over a year ago.

In the first few months of my separation, and eventual divorce, I consulted my library and read many books such as The Healthy Divorce and Helping Your Kids Cope, but very few practical and honest books about starting over.

But then I found Crazy Time – Surviving Divorce and Building a New Life by Abigail Trafford. Reading it, I realized that the roller coaster ride was a natural process. There were guffaws of laughter, sighs of relief, and sudden realizations that sunk me in my chair. Amid the “aha” moments, there was fear and grief. Amid the tears, there was hope and optimism.

Trafford first wrote Crazy Time in 1982, the second edition followed in 1992, and the third in 2014. It was the 1992 edition that I read. One reviewer on Amazon wrote “Who told {Abigail Trafford] all this information about me?” That the beauty of this book. It is your reality, your roller-coaster, and your survival that Trafford writes about. I gave copies of the book to my friends who were facing that same “crazy time,” of divorce.

Today, of course, there are more-recent self-help books about divorce – of building a new life, learning to date again (Internet and otherwise), surviving financially, and all the other sociological and psychological aspects. These titles include The Optimist’s Guide to Divorce by Suzanne Riss and Jill Sockwell (2016), A Judge’s Guide to Divorce – Uncommon Advice from the Bench by Roderic Duncan (2007), and Divorce – Think Financially, Not Emotionally by Jeffrey A. Landers (2015).

I don’t want to ignore books written specifically for men who are going through a divorce. Sam Buser and Glenn Sternes wrote The Guys-Only Guide to Getting over Divorce in 2009 and Sam Margulies wrote A Man’s Guide to a Civilized Divorce, published in 2004.

Margaret Atwood wrote “A divorce is like an amputation. You survive it but there’s less of you.” It’s learning to navigate the world before and the world after with fear, humor, courage and joy that can be made easier by the experiences of others.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the September 21, 2017 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

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