Wednesday, December 7, 2011

La vieille garde dans les Carolines

December 7th: the anniversary of the death of Marshal Ney. Ney was Napoleon's saviour at Eylau, the heroic commander of the French rear guard during the retreat from Russia, and a man who had five horses shot out from under him during Waterloo.

Unless, of course, it isn't the anniversary of the death of Marshal Ney. One of your loyal blogger's favourite Southern legends contends that Ney was not executed by firing squad in Paris on December 7, 1815, but instead faked his death, and, with the help of his Freemason brothers, successfully fled France for America.

In this version of the story, the supposedly "dead" Ney arrived in Charleston late in December of 1815, and lived here clandestinely until 1819. After being spotted by French agents in Charleston, the Masons again were forced smuggle him away. He moved around the Carolinas -Georgetown, Columbia, Brownsville- before eventually settling near Salisbury, North Carolina (today about an hour's drive north of Charlotte).

So Marshal of France Michel Ney, the man who took Madgeburg and trapped the Austrians at Elchingen, lived a quiet life in small-town central North Carolina as Peter Stuart Ney, schoolteacher. Neighbors and pupils left accounts of a man who matched the Marshall's description, down to matching scars; spoke perfect French; and was all too happy to draw richly detailed maps or share vivid stories from Napoleon's campaigns. Peter Ney died quietly, far from Paris, late in 1846. Those who were around him attested he claimed to be the Marshall with his final words.

True or not, it's a fantastic piece of regional folklore. And what's absolutely true is that while the Library's events calendar is almost dead and gone for 2011, it will have another life in the coming year! The last Wide Angle Lunch and the final concert of the year take will take place tomorrow. Our last Backgammon Night of the year is next Tuesday... but we're working on the Annual Meeting cards right now... it's been a great 2011, but we can't wait for all that's in store in 2012!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Desperately seeking stuffing...

Well, dear readers, it's that time again. The ginkgo trees are starting their annual transformation from deep verdant green to a resplendent gold. Our "Welcome, Fall" flag (featuring Snoopy the beagle!) is waving in front of the library. Your loyal blogger is on half-rations to better prepare himself for Thursday's turkey-and-stuffing induced food coma...

It's a wonderful time of the year, and the Library Society wishes a happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. We will be closed as of tomorrow, Wednesday the 23rd, and will remain closed through the weekend. Normal hours resume Monday the 28th.

[We'll hit the ground running when we get back, too... Wide Angle Lunch with Tara FitzGerald will be on December the 1st, and our Parade Party and Unedited: Bluegrass Christmas will be the 4th! Get your tickets now...]

Also, as a service to you: your loyal blogger does not want to leave you without something to read for the four days the Library will be closed. So, if you've never seen it before, take some time to visit Book-a-Minute Classics.

If you're unfamiliar with the site, Book-a-Minute classics extracts the Western canon to their quintessence, usually in hilarious fashion. I'll leave you with just a few examples:

The Sun Also Rises-
Stock Hemmingway Narrator:
It was in Europe after the war. We were depressed. We drank a lot. We were still depressed.
The end.

The Crucible-
Reverend Parris:
Abigail Williams, you and your friends are in trouble, unless you can shift the blame to someone else.
Abigail Williams:She did it! He did it! They did it! Everybody but us did it!
Judge Danforth:Ah, now we are getting somewhere.
(Everybody gets hanged, which just goes to show how evil McCarthyism is.)
The end.

And to finish, your loyal blogger's favourite novel:

The Great Gatsby-
Daisy, I made all this money for you, because I love you.
I cannot reciprocate, because I represent the American Dream.
Now I must die, because I also represent the American Dream.
(Gatsby DIES.)
I hate New Yorkers.
The end.

Enjoy the site, and enjoy your break! We'll see you at the Library next week.
The end.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The rush before the rush...

Strolling up King Street today, dear readers, your loyal blogger heard it. He knew it was coming, but today was the day. Through the crisp air came the rhythmic ringing of the Salvation Army bell, from the ringer and the little red kettle in front of Charleston Place hotel: the first sound that's always sure to signal the holiday season in my mind.

Of course, the big-box stores have been hanging tinsel and blaring Adult Contemporary Christmas music for a few weeks now, but I've been more-or-less successful at tuning that out. But the Salvation Army bell tells me that it really is time for people other than Sam Walton and Charles J. Kmart to be thinking about Christmas presents. (Good thing for your loyal blogger that I got most of my Christmas shopping done in the late summer.)

Still, we are not letting thoughts of sugarplum fairies invade our thoughts here at the Library (though we've got all sorts of great CLS gifts you might like to consder!), or at least not yet. Look at the list of events we've got before Thanksgiving rolls around: Amanda Foreman is lecturing tonight, there's a Bourbon Tasting on Wednesday, Wes Jackson's lecturing on sustainable agriculture on Thursday evening, Edward Ball is speaking at Friday's Wide Angle Lunch, and then on Saturday and Sunday we host our annual Fall Book Sale. (As always check out our upcoming events here.)

So give yourself (and your mind!) an early present - come to a library event this week!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Gotta get down on Friday (with Turgenev and Beethoven).

Friday, October 28th... it's St. Jude's Day, the anniversary of the Revolutionary War's Battle of White Plains (we lost), and the birthdays of English actor Matt Smith (the eleventh Doctor Who) and of 19th century Russian Realist author Ivan Turgenev.

Turgenev, most famous for his novel Fathers and Sons, stood apart from the rest of the 19th century Russian literary community because of his liberal beliefs. Turgenev rejected the religious fixations of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, though he maintained an oft-strained friendship with Tolstoy. He became a major influence on Henry James and Joseph Conrad, and remains one of the most revered figures in the impressive pantheon of Russian literature.

And if Russian literature is your thing, you're in luck... 'cause we're a library and we have a ton of it. And if Russian literature is not your thing... well we've got hundreds of thousands of other books, and magazines, and movies, and more.

More, like great events! So if you feel like spending a little personal time with another great light of European culture, get your tickets now for Beethoven: His Women and His Music with music by Chamber Music Charleston and starring Clarence Felder (Actors Theatre of South Carolina) as the great German pianist. The performance is Thursday, November 3rd, at 7PM. Get your tickets now by calling 1.888.718.4253, or by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Notes from the middle of Fall events season

I suppose almost two months of hiatus should tell you a little something about how busy things have been here at the Charleston Library Society. So there's no time like the present (doubly so because this particular present is Pat Conroy's birthday!) to offer my apologies, sit down at the keyboard, and crank out another post.

Since September, the Library's events calendar has been in full swing. Unedited's second and Wide Angle's third series have started off as smashing successes. Beatles Bach & Beer was even more fun this year, with special thanks to Westbrook Brewing for providing two excellent kegs, and to the Bachstars and Ward Williams for providing some excellent tunes. The first two Wide Angle lectures, featuring historian Mark Smith and poet Susan Kinsolving were equally stellar. Other than that things have been fairly quiet... just some small events like hosting country music icon Marshall Chapman, New York Times bestseller Dorothea Benton Frank, kicking off our great new Discussion Group, and little things like that. Like I said, fairly quiet.

All that activity is not slowing down anytime soon, either. Tonight will bring us Mary Boykin Chesnut's Long Lost Civil War Photo Album, which is teetering right on the happy edge of being totally sold-out. Next week we will host actor Clarence Felder and Chamber Music Charleston for the concert/musical theater event Beethoven: His Women and His Music, the show's first appearance back in the States since touring internationally. Then our Speakers Series lights up: Simon Winchester will be here November 8th, and Amanda Foreman on November 14th. Both are bestselling authors and really, consider getting your tickets now... these are going to be big events.

Also in November, we'll have everybody's favourite event: it's Book Sale time again! Join us Saturday the 19th and Sunday the 20th for great bargains on books of all types. It's a great way to get a head start on holiday gift buying, or to just find something stimulating for yourself.

[Please note, though, that while we love when you donate your used books to us, we can no longer take paperbacks due to space and processing constraints. Many thanks.]

So that's a quick look back and a quick heads up... don't forget that more information on all upcoming events can be found at our website, and tickets for most events can be purchased by phone at 1.888.718.4253.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Electric light orchestra... and speaker series, and classes...

After last week's blog post recapping all the hurricanes the Library Society has weathered in our 263 years here on the Carolina coast, your loyal blogger got to thinking about (and reading about!) storms. Hurricanes like Irene or Hugo or Gracie, come to mind of course. But what about other types storms? Storms that don't even originate on Earth?

September the 1st is a red-letter day in the history of solar storms - giant shockwaves of charged particles ejected from the Sun. These storms interact with Earth's magnetosphere, confusing navigation systems, damaging satellites, sending whales and dolphins off course, and inducing current in electrical wires that can overwhelm power grids. And the worst-ever solar storm in recorded history took place on September 1st 1859.

The Solar Storm of 1859, also called the Carrington Event, traveled from the Sun to the Earth in about 18 hours (normally a trip of four days), and when it hit, it hit big. Aurora borealis were visible as far south as the Caribbean islands. In the middle latitudes, midnight looked as bright as dawn. And the planet's only major electrical grid - the telegraph system - went haywire. Machines shocked their operators, telegraph wires sparked, the paper in the machines caught fire, unplugged telegraphs started spontaneously working... for about three days, the primary communication method of the Victorian era was rendered inoperable.

But you're ready for something just as electrifying that doesn't shut down the global communication network, get ready for fall events at the CLS!

Looking for great speakers? Novelist Dorothea Benton Frank, historians Simon Winchester and Amanda Foreman, and a great schedule of Wide Angle Lunch lecturers will give you plenty of enlightening entertainment. Music will be back better than ever, with the return of Unedited (starting with the Gala on September 16th) and an all new Chamber Music Series. Great programming for the wee 'uns is also on tap: Will Cleveland will have an event featuring his Yo, Millard Fillmore on the 11th of this month, and children's French classes will start soon with the "Petite Ecole". And of course, there are classes and seminars and parties and book signings and all those other events we put on (probably 'cause we librarians hate to be alone in the evenings...)

Check them all out on the website here... and take note of the ticketed events... they're are going quick!

Friday, August 26, 2011

This is the story of a hurricane...

As I begin to write this sentence, the rain has just begun to fall... slightly sideways. The Library Society will be closed at noon today, but like the sign on the door says: we've been through Gaston, Charley, Floyd, Hugo, Bob, David, Gracie, Cindy, Hazel, Able, and the hurricanes of 1911, 1893, 1885, 1874, 1854, and 1825... we're only closing 'cause we feel like it!

We return to a regular schedule tomorrow, so come down to the Library and read up a storm!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Staying cool (and hopefully dry)...

In this age of lolcats, First World Problems, and rickrolling, many people have at least a passing familiarity of the concept of memes. Memes are concepts or behaviours that spread throughout a culture through contact between individuals. Whether or not memes are the key transmitters of societal values and social concepts in the way frequently described by their defenders remains controversial: what is not controversial is the fact that the internet has been a petri dish for the blasted things.

But memes have existed long before the interwebs, and they spread not just in space but in time. Here I'm thinking of a very local meme - the "cool week in August". This phrase describes the idea, held by many in and around Charleston, that we get a customary reprieve from the heat for a couple of days before the summer is over. With the 90 degree range out of sight all last week, and highs in the mid-80s this week, the idea of the "cool week" has been a topic of conversation here at the Library.

One patron recalled it being a favourite theme of Ashley Cooper's newspaper columns come summertime, and as much as your loyal blogger enjoys poking through old Doing the Charlestons, it didn't take much work to find a much older point of reference. The Department of Health Report in the 1914 Charleston City Year Book laments that "the proverbial 'Cool week in August' failed to materialize."

So here's proof that a century ago, the idea of August's "cool week" was already a fixed concept here in the Lowcountry, and already an old concept at that. It remains to be determined if last week was our cool week - it was certainly more pleasant outside than it's been for most of the summer. It does certainly look like this will be our wet week. [And of course, we're keeping an eye on Irene.]

Other things to keep your eye on: our Fall events season is almost here. We'll be closed Friday-Monday Labor Day weekend, but then we jump into events with both feet. Thursday the 8th we'll host a book signing with the Coastal Conservation League; the 9th marks the return of the Poetry Society; Will Cleveland will be here signing Yo, Millard Fillmore on the 11th; Lifelong Learning with Nan Morrison starts back the 13th; Dorothea Benton Frank is here on the 14th; Unedited concerts return on the 16th; and to round things off, Marshall Chapman will be here on the 29th.

As always, get full details on all our programs on the Upcoming Events page... and get ready for an events season that won't cool down!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Shameless Plug Alert

In case you missed it this weekend: the Library Society was featured on on nationally-distributed basic cable not once but twice. C-SPAN's BookTV aired Robert Rosen's discussion of Confederate Charleston, hosted here back in June, and a Treasures from the Vaults segment that discusses the Society and looks at a few items from our collections. A big thanks to all the folks at CSPAN, who were awesome throughout the whole filming process A double share of thanks to the warmhearted film editor who ran the Library's web address at the bottom of the screen when your loyal blogger mentioned how we happily accept donations for the restoration of old manuscripts.

Anyhow, if you missed it on TV, here it is on the interwebs- enjoy!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Let's go guys! National TV! Everybody's mama's watching!

"If you gaze into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you", or at least that's what I learned reading the Nietzsche Family Circus; here at the Library Society we are all staring into the abyss that is the fall events calendar. Of course it's a fun, educational, enjoyable abyss, but here in the quiet of summer it looks daunting indeed.

Of course, most of the dauntingness is just the chair-moving... thirty-or-so events, averaging around 90-120 attendees... and pretty soon you're moving over 3,500 chairs. Which wouldn't be so bad, but your loyal blogger almost died moving one credenza yesterday. On a related note, the Library Society now has a lovely credenza sitting right inside the back door. Riiight inside the back door.

Anyhow, back to fall events. Nan Morrison will be back teaching Shakespeare (The Roman plays this time, yay!); Unedited returns, and will be joined by an all new Chamber Music Series; Wide Angle Lunches III; special events with Marshall Chapman, the CCL, the Poetry Society, a new non-fiction book club... it's going to be another great events season, and we'll keep you posted on each and every upcoming programme.

One final (kind of last minute) update: look for the Robert Rosen's Library Society lecture on Confederate Charleston to air on CSPAN's BookTV at 5:30PM this Saturday and 11:15AM this Sunday. Also, some of our treasures from the vaults on C-SPAN's BookTV channel this Sunday at 12PM.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Spellcheck recognizes "Servian", but not "McDonalds". That's kind of nice, actually.

It's July 18th! Today is the 2,401st anniversary of the Battle of Allia, between Republican Rome and the Gaulish Senones. The Senones accused some Roman diplomats of a serious violation of international law, and demanded they be turned over to face justice. Long story short, the Romans refused and the Senones' army took to the field. A few miles north of the city they met the Roman army - a militia composed of Greek-style phalanxes with the weakest auxiliaries on both flanks - and promptly obliterated it. Rome was sacked, and the Senones stuck around until the plague struck (likely a consequence of too many unburied Roman bodies lying around).

The battle is notable because it was the last time Rome would be sacked for 800 years. The Romans built the Servian Wall (you can see a bit of it if you're ever in the McDonalds in Termini Station); they changed the relationship between social class and military status (no more putting all the nobles on the front line to get slaughtered first); and they abandoned the rigid phalanx for the famous testudo formation (the flexibility of which was a key to eventual Roman military dominance in the Mediterranean world). In many ways, the defeat at Allia built the foundations of Roman success for centuries to come.

In much the same way as those ancient Romans, the Library Society has regrouped and reevaluated our strategy after the evening events of the past few weeks. The conclusion we've reached: if y'all are going to keep coming out in droves, we're gonna have to start charging for summer lectures!

Though we knew the speakers would be good, we figured the hot weather, scant advertising, and traditional lack of summer programming would keep event attendance down. How wrong we've been. Last week's great Bastille Day event with Alan Hoffman brought in about 120 people. Your loyal blogger very much enjoyed his conversations with the dear folks at the Alliance Francaise who were responsible for the wine and snacks... "I know we had 19 RSVP's yesterday... we're up to 60 today"... "'I'm pretty sure we're going to break 100.', 'Yes ma'am, we're at 115'"... you get the picture.

Our thanks to everyone who has come out and made our summer events so successful. Unless we're lucky enough to have a guest speaker fall in our laps, we should be done with lectures for a little while. Pub Quiz night is this Thursday... bring $5 and some friends for beer, snacks, and a lot of nerdy fun!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summertime hours = the living is now 8.75% easier.

  Over 130 people in attendance for two events, one quite hastily announced, in one week, in the middle of summer. Last week's event schedule was a pleasant revelation of just how many folks are willing to come out for lectures and events in the face of torrid temperatures and hellish humidity. Many thanks to everyone who came out to the great events with Robert Rosen and Charlie Geer.

  Though, to be fair, those events were air conditioned. Attendance for last week's Carolina Day parade was not so... robust. Your loyal blogger says if our noble forefathers could fight off the Redcoats in 93 degree weather, we can put on striped suits and walk down Meeting Street. 

  And if you disagree, General Moultrie would be disappointed in you.

  Oh well. As long as we're discussing Library events and our Revolutionary-era predecessors, it's a good time to mention our Bastille Day Lecture next week. Alan Hoffman, president of the Massachusetts Lafayette Society, will discuss the work he's recently translated, Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825. This work was the diary of Auguste Levasseur, Lafayette's secretary, and recounts the major general's trip around the young American republic (including his time here in Charleston). Things start here in the Main Reading Room at 7PM, Thursday July 14th. There's no charge for the event, though we do ask you RSVP by emailing us or giving us a call (843.723.9912). A light reception will follow the lecture.

  Also, new summertime hours start this week! Monday-Thursday remains the same (9:30-5:30), while Friday gets trimmed down to "Saturday Size", (9:30-2:00), enabling our staff to get home in time for dinner for once.

  Finally, we're having a dry-run, get-the-kinks-out, first go at a trivia night this Thursday at 7PM. Cover is $5, beer & snacks are provided, and there'll be a little prize for the winning team. Get some folks together- groups of 2-5 might be best - and join us for a little beer and brainteasing! If you'd like more info, fire us an email.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

And, of course, Henry's is still there.

  Summertime is ostensibly the slow season here at the Library Society. A time to rest (a little) and plan (a lot) for a full fall schedule of events. Your loyal blogger was engaged in just such a planning meeting yesterday afternoon when I came upon Robert Molloy's 1947 book, Charleston: A Gracious Heritage. Disguised as a history text, but essentially a travel essay, Molloy's work is an interesting glimpse at Charleston in the immediate postwar years. Like most Charleston travelogues, there is frequently complaining about how much the city has changed, and how she stands to be ruined forever by the horrors of modernity.
  Because complaining about changes in Charleston is one of the (many) things that never changes in Charleston. And while there are plenty of little things in A Gracious Heritage that might merit comment, I'll share just one - change we can all be happy about. Because after last week's post praising the city's wonderful restaurant scene, this passage popped out:
  "Nowadays Charleston is not so well prepared for restaurant diners... The cooking in... the Francis Marion was good but not outstanding... There are two good seafood restaurants, the one called Henri's [sic], alongside the Market hall, and the Oyster Bay, on King Street just about Calhoun. The Villa Margherita, once famous for its cookery and the steepness of its prices, is now in the care of the United Seaman's Service, and the luncheon I had there was not notable... Though more natives than formerly now go out occasionally to dinner, the citizens don't make a practice of dining out."

  Thank heavens some things have changed, right?

UPCOMING EVENTS: I might have said summer was the slow season, but only in comparison to spring and fall! Carolina Day is, of course, on the 28th. Join us in the parade, or be square. Also, Thursday, June 30th, we'll have author Charlie Geer here at the Library talking about his three years living in Andalusia, Spain. Charlie's wife, Concha Munoz, will perform a little flamenco dancing as a festive cap to the event. 7PM, totally free. Also, a Bastille Day lecture and a few other summer surprises are in the events pipeline, so be on the lookout for some heat-beating activities here at the CLS!

Monday, June 6, 2011

On the other hand, Husk is a forty second walk from our back door...

It's funny how quickly one can discard a longstanding routine and become comfortable in a new one. Most of you are likely familiar with how pleasant the Piccolo Spoleto Literary Festival is - three straight days of interesting speakers here at the Library Society, culminating with a big literary soiree Saturday afternoon. What you might not know is how expeditiously the Library staff transitions to the two hour long lunch break we get on LitFest days. Extra time to go out and have a long lunch here in one of the best cities in the nation for dining out? Yes, please.

Of course, your loyal blogger will live without the supersized lunch break. In fact, I'll probably live a little longer... so it goes.

This year's Festival was the most successful to date, with hundreds of attendees enjoying fine presentations by Bunny Hoest, Jay Parini, Ed Wilson, Alfred Malabre, Joshua Kendall, and Pat Conroy. Each of the speakers was wonderful in their own way: Bunny Hoest explaining all the hidden reference jokes in The Lockhorns, Jay Parini's explication/apology concerning the omission of The Great Gatsby in his 113 most important American books; Pat Conroy signing books for two straight hours.

And with that, it's summertime at the Library! Event season is officially over 'till fall. [Of course that doesn't mean we're getting too calm around here... Carolina Day is coming up soon, we're hosting a special Bastille Day event next month. Plus there's planning for all sorts of cool new fall events. And maybe a few summer surprises too.]

So stop by, check out the Literary Festival display (we've got some great rare books out... GWTW, To Kill A Mockingbird, the Porgo manuscript), and feel free to drop off a snack for your loyal blogger. He's hard pressed to make it all the way to Hominy Grill and back in a mere sixty minutes.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It's Literary Festival Eve Eve!

Once again, it's Piccolo Spoleto Literary Festival time here at the Library Society! While we're used to hosting some pretty impressive speakers for this thing - Anne Rivers Siddons, Bret Lott, Sue Monk Kidd, Jack Hitt, and John McCardell, to name a very few - the 2011 Festival might be the first time we'll have an author here at the CLS in the same week as they've been reviewed in The New York Times Book Review.

Joshua C. Kendall, freelance journalist and author of The Man Who Made Lists, will be discussing his brand-new The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster's Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture. Your loyal blogger couldn't be more excited for this lecture, for Mr. Kendall's new book goes someplace Webster's biographies have rarely dared: he calls out Webster for being a jerk.

Pugnacious and penurious, Webster had little trouble offending friends or making enemies. He was a follower of Rousseau, and used his Dictionary and the "Blue Backed Speller" - really, he used every outlet he could- to promote a jingoistic American nationalism for the new republic. He despised Southerners. He rewrote the Bible to take out the naughty bits. 

He badmouthed Shakespeare on grammar issues.

But for all the bad things... Noah Webster was brilliant at the things he's famous for. The "Blue Backed Speller" taught generations of young Americans to read. His cutting-edge Dictionary did (eventually) succeed moulding "American english" to its strictures. He started the first daily newspaper in New York. He even founded Amherst College (alma mater of president Calvin Coolidge, librarian Melvil Dewey, frozen-food inventor Clarence Birdseye, and that guy who writes Get Fuzzy).

Pictured: Amherst College, second from right

In short, Noah Webster was a very interesting, very colourful guy, and this Saturday's LitFest lecture with Joshua Kendall should be equally entertaining. If you haven't got your tickets for it yet, get 'em here, or call 866.811.4111. And don't forget the rest of the schedule - Lockhorns cartoonist Bunny Hoest, author Jay Parini, WSJ theatre critic Ed Wilson, WSJ economics editor Alfred Malabre, and author/raconteur Pat Conroy.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hey, who turned out the lights?

  Silence in the library. Some days it feels like a rarity- especially when we've hosted, by my count, just over twenty five events here in the past two months. But today, we've had silence in abundance. We've been joined by three patrons, four tourists, and the soft hum of forced air flowing through the ducts.

  Utter, crushing, silence.

  But not for long. One week from tomorrow is the start of the Piccolo Spoleto Literary Festival. We'll welcome six great speakers here for some terrific daytime discussions of their work. Thursday the 2nd, we'll have cartoonist Bunny Hoest and author Jay Parini; Friday the 3rd, theatre critic Ed Wilson and economic writer Alfred Malabre; and wrapping things up on Saturday the 4th, journalist and author Joshua Kendall and author and raconteur Pat Conroy. Tickets for each speaker are $16 with the exception of Pat, which is $51 (though that one's a reception and fundraiser, so no mumbling about the price increase). Tickets are going quickly, so get yours today at

'Cause there's nothing worse than Silence in the library...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Let us now praise fellow institutions, and their father that begat them"

If you'll forgive your loyal blogger, I'd like to plug for a sister institution for a few paragraphs. Earlier this year, I purchased The Charleston Museum's for the first time in years, and I've become reacquainted with just how much I love the place. And one of my favourite parts is that, while there are great travelling exhibits, and the Kidstory children's exhibit is pretty new, the vast majority of things haven't changed one bit since I was a wee lad.

[A caveat: your loyal blogger is too young to remember the "Old Museum". I am, however, plenty old enough to have heard how much better the Cannon Street facility was, from dozens and dozens and dozens of people. No worries - this being Charleston, I hold dogmatically to the principle anything that is no longer with us was infinitely superior to whatever we currently have, amen.]

Foremost amongst things I love that haven't changed since I was a wee lad: the hundreds of taxidermied creatures that make up the Natural History collection. Therein are owls and eagles and sandpipers, shot and stuffed back in the colonial era by pioneering naturalists like Audubon and Catesby and Michaux. To walk through the collection is to see a snapshot of natural history at an extremely important time, it's 18th and 19th century transformation from an amateur hobby to a professional science. It really couldn't be more interesting.

And - back to endorsing the terrific institution that gives me a paycheck - the Museum's Natural History collection dovetails beautifully with lots of written material in the collection of the Library Society, like Catesby's Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands, or personal gifts from Andre Michaux to the society, like our Persian Manuscript. All together, they paint a great picture of colonial Charleston on the edge of Western civilization, an outpost for science in the Age of Enlightenment. Very, very cool.

Catesby, from our collection.
This ivory billed woodpecker is extinct,. 
but if you wanna see him, the Museum's got a stuffed one...

[And with that rewritten ending replacing the maudlin and mopey "we-killed-the-Carolina-Parakeet" ending I originally typed... I killed the good transition to the things I'm about to stump for... oh well, here goes anyway.]

Two great Library series are nearing extinction (for a few months, at least), and you should be here to see them off!

First, UNEDITED's final concert of the season, Unchambered Melody, A Warmup for Spoleto, is tomorrow night at 7PM. Tickets are $15, and are still available (though going quick). Call us at 723-9912 if you're interested in an awesome night of chamber music... with a twist!

Secondly, WIDE ANGLE LUNCHES will have its final talk of its second series this Friday at 12:15PM. We will welcome Alexandra Mack, editor of and former managing editor of Interview, to discuss her experiences in the world of high fashion. (Also, Black Bean, Co. will be providing lunches, so you can stuff your face while discussing fashion modeling... so it goes.) Get tickets at or by calling 1 888 71 TICKETS. And while this is the end, it's not forever - both series will be back and bigger than ever this Fall!

If the title's too obscure, you're not reading enough James Agee. Or possibly Ben Sira...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Allons enfants de la Patrie, vous pouvez acheter vos billets...

It's May 10th, the 284th birthday of Anne Robert Jacques Turgot! If you don't know Turgot, he very briefly the French Minister of Finance in the 1770s. He tried to repair the French treasury, destroy restrictions on trade, abolish illiberal privileges of the upper class, end discrimination against French protestants, and argued against French intervention in the American Revolution not just on financial grounds, but in opposition to America's slave holding. As you might imagine, he had a lot of enemies, and was soon fired with most of his proposals dismissed by the French aristocracy.

Though as we all know, that aristocracy was dismissed by the people barely decade later...

Just as French (but much more popular), Le Creuset has donated a cast-iron pot to be raffled at this Friday's Wide Angle Lunch! The lunch (sponsored by terrific new local bookstore Heirloom Book Company) will feature Matt and Ted Lee, two Charleston chefs now living up North and spreading the gospel of Southern foodways in publications like Food & Wine, GQ, and the New York Times. Tickets for the event are going very quickly, so if you'd like to be a part of this most appetizing Wide Angle (and have a shot at the pot), get yours now.

Coming up soon: the final Unedited concert of the season is next week, and promises "chamber music with a twist". Tickets are $15... get yours now. Also, the last Wide Angle Lunch of the series is next Friday, with Alexandra Mack sharing stories from her time with Vogue magazine. Finally, the Piccolo Spoleto Literary Festival is right around the corner... tickets are available at, the Visitors Center, and the Gaillard Box Office.

Friday, April 29, 2011

After April

A month without the blog! Porca miseria. If you haven't been around the society since the last post, you've missed out. We averaged an event every 2.3 days here this April... I think we've put more mileage on the tables in the research room in the past few weeks than I've put on my car.

Of course, we've had a lot of fun doing it. Poetry society, book sale, two film screenings, an amazing Unedited concert, a St. George's Day soiree, and a little event series called the Wide Angle Lunches, which manage to pack the house - in the middle of the day - week after week. Oh, and we even managed to make it onto the cover of the Mercury this month (check it out here if you missed it). So we're kind of a big deal.

Since I've brought up the Wide Angle Lunches (there are still three left... get your tickets now), I'd like to mention one thing about them that is easily overlooked: they come with terrific displays. Our incomparable archivist, Trish Kometer, has managed to find things in our vaults to tie in with every talk, and fill our display cases with them. Some weeks it's been quite the feat (like when the lunch topic was the Sudan), but she has come through unfailingly with the most unique and interesting items. This week involved rice, so local works from the 18th through the 21st century are on exhibit. This includes the Library's original manuscript of John Drayton's 1803 A View of South Carolina, with his original illustrations. Very cool.

Take advantage of the displays, quickly, though: they're only around until the the next Wide Angle Lunch. Like some manuscript mandala, they are gone almost as soon as they are constructed. Consider it another advantage to visiting the Library Society frequently!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

So long, salle de bain...

Once upon a time Frank Gilbreth, writing as Lord Ashley Cooper, joked about how many Charlestonians it takes to change a lightbulb: "five: one to unscrew the bulb, two to mix drinks, and two to weep bitter tears because the beautiful old bulb is being replaced by something new."

So if the following news prompts any lamentations, let your loyal blogger know- I'm willing to make the G&T's... 

Tomorrow is the first day of renovations to the Main Building's lavatories. After a near-century of use, the "cloakroom where nothing has changed save towels" (yes, someone once wrote a poem about our loo) will be updated and upgraded. Side-float commodes that use twenty gallons per flush, Coolidge-era faucets that either scald or freeze, and those tiny seats that are little more than a pair of thigh pads are all on their way out. New flooring, new cabinets, and new fixtures will soon be here.

Charleston might "guard her buildings, customs, and laws", but I doubt many will protest our small concession to modernity. And if they do, let them be stuck with the thigh-pad toilet seats for the next century.

UPCOMING EVENTS: Wide Angle Lunches start next Thursday with Julie Flavell's When London Was Capital of America. Lunches from the Black Bean Co. are served at 12:15, the talk starts at 12:30, and is over by 1:30. Schedule yourself an intellectual break in the middle of your workday! Get your tickets now at or by calling 1-888-71-TICKETS.

ALSO: The Unedited concert series continues with Unedited: Prologue and Politics - The Civil War Volume I. 7PM, Wednesday, April 6th. Get your tickets here

LATER NEXT MONTH: More Wide Angle Lunches- like Jack McCray, Ron Atkinson, and Jonathan Green... Jazz! African politics! Gullah art! Lunches from Black Bean Co.! Also, Poetry Society on the 8th, Rod Heller talking Civil War history on the 14th, Independent Lens Film Series, LiNK film screening, and Spring Book Sale are all next month... it's going to get busy, so make sure to check our Upcoming Events page frequently.

AND ONE FINAL THING: Happy birthday to poet Billy Collins (who you might have seen here at the Library this winter for the PSSC's 90th Anniversary gala). Collins, our national Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003, is a very spry 70 today. I'll leave you with links to two of his poems- "On Turning Ten", where he reflects on a slightly earlier birthday, and "Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes", which is beautifully, brilliantly, about deciphering (and disrobing) the belle of Amherst.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Darling Buds of March

Your loyal blogger will soon be shipping up to Boston for a little vacation, and according to the NOAA, the temperature will dip into the 20s, with lots of rain. Arg. I love that dirty water, but I'd prefer it in the Charles River instead of falling from the sky.

But for now, yours truly is here in beautiful downtown Charleston, where the Ashley and the Cooper Rivers meet to form a cliche. Temperatures are in the mid 60's - last week it stayed in the 70's- and it's as sunny as can be. Camellias are in bloom, the Bradford pears are visually stunning (though repellent to the nose), and our ginkgo trees have just the slightest hint of green at the branch tips. It's been a very pleasant very early spring.

I'm still holding out for the azaleas, though.

If you're ready for more floral festivity, join us this Thursday night at 6PM for The Constant Garden: Two Thousand Years of Botanical Art, presented by artist and lecturer Jennie Summerall. This event, co-sponsored by the Coastal Conservation League, will examine the connections between humans and the natural world as expressed in art. Examples from Roman frescoes, to medieval tapestry, to contemporary works, will be shown in slideshow accompanying the talk. Light refreshments will be served, and there is a five-dollar suggested donation for this event.

ALSO THIS WEEK: Poetry Society of South Carolina Meeting, Friday at 7PM. Guest poet Donald Platt will speak.

AND DON'T FORGET: Wide Angle Lunches are back! The series kicks off March 31, but tickets are available now through Get 'em today, they're going quick!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"76, 77, 78, hello darling, 80, 81..."

Happy St. David's Day, loyal readers!  The Welsh National Day, the first of March is a time for the wearing of leeks; the cooking of cawl (a traditional soup); and the kickoff of the eisteddfod season- festivals where Welsh speakers get together to swap poetry containing too many ll's and y's.

A reminder about a cultural celebration of a different sort: Unedited: South of Broad(way) is this Thursday night at 7PM.  Details and tickets here.  It's going to be Sondheimtacular: the guest artists are all actual Broadway performers, and there are a lot of them... prepare for some stack-shaking vocals.  $15, and parking is free next door at the SCE&G lot.

Welsh soldiers on St. David's Day, WWII.
Little did the wehrmacht know they would be fighting 
boys capable of eating three-foot-long raw leeks...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Notes complied while celebrating Canadian Flag Day/Susan B. Anthony's birthday:

1. This Thursday, Rod Heller will be at the CLS discussing his new book, Democracy's Lawyer: Felix Grundy of the Old Southwest. Grundy was a Senator, a US Attorney General, a land speculator, a mentor to James K. Polk, and an archetype of the rugged 19th Century American frontier politician. The event is co-sponsored by the Charleston School of Law, it's free. SCE&G has kindly offered us free parking in their adjoining lot, so you have no reason not to be here.

2. Ticket sales are progressing nicely for March 3rd's Unedited concert. Get 'em here. It's going to be Broadway, and it's gonna be good. Actually, since they're not letting your loyal blogger sing "I Feel Pretty" (no matter how much I beg), it should be very good indeed. Free parking at SCE&G for that one, too.

3. James K. Polk was the only Speaker of the House to be elected President. He tried to buy Cuba from Spain for 2.5 billion dollars (in modern currency). And once upon a time, he had kidney stones removed while awake, with nothing to dull the pain but a little brandy. That's awesome.

4. Wide Angle Lunches return at the end of next month. That's awesome too.

5. We've had to put out the "Parking Lot Full" sign many multiple times today... remember, Tuesday at the Library includes Toddler Tuesday in the mornings, French classes in the afternoon, Lifelong Learning Classes in the evening, and the weekly cleaning crew visit wedged in there somewhere. Yogi Berra famously said "nobody goes there anymore 'cause it's too crowded". The CLS isn't that bad on Tuesdays, but our parking lot is. Just a friendly heads up.

6. We're getting dimmer switches for the chandeliers in the Main Reading Room. In related news, we're starting a donation fund to purchase Barry White albums.

7. One last James K. Polk fact: he's buried on the grounds of the Tennessee Capitol Building. And If you ever find yourself stuck in Nashville, wandering down Charlotte Avenue at 1AM, sick and miserable: climb up the Victory Park hill, pass Polk's tomb, climb up the Capitol steps, and look out across the city at night. The whole world seems to stretch forever in a vast knotwork of lights trailing down to the Cumberland River. Everything is at once beautiful and silent and magical, and pretty much everything that New Year's night down on Printers Alley isn't.

Trust your loyal blogger on that one... he knows.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A little bit taller, y'all

The Library Society hosts a lot of programs.  In the Fall of 2010, for example, we offered over fifty extracurriculars.  So far in 2011, the story is the same.  Let's take a two-week period from last Friday (January 21) to next Friday (February 4): the Poetry Society brought in Billy Collins; the 263rd Annual Meeting of the Society was held; the Charleston Symphony Orchestra is playing a concert tonite; and a week from tomorrow we'll have our first Unedited concert of the new year.  That's well over 500 plus folks in the Library Society after hours amongst those four events alone, more than enough hustle and bustle to make up for the quiet library-like moments around here.

But we know there's going to be a big crowd for these events.  When you're hosting literary rock stars like Billy Collins, you put out all the chairs.  [Every last one you can find- thanks Gibbes Museum!]  When something is a 260 year old tradition, you expect strong attendance (free wine and passed hors d'oeuvres help).  We can rest easy knowing programs like these are going to be well-attended.

It's the smaller events, the events without a "built-in audience", that we worries about (and email about, and advertise, and talk about, etc.).  So it's always nice when such a program takes off successfully, and our new "Grecian Architecture in Charleston" has been just like that.  This Lifelong Learning Series class, hosted by Peg Eastman and Christopher Liberatos (who made the cover of the latest Charleston Mercury), starts next Tuesday and runs for three weeks.  This time last week it had approximately zero people enrolled.  Today, we registered half a dozen new students.  Spots are still open: $150 for members, $200 for non.  Call us at 723.9912 to sign up, or for more information.

Also, one week from Thursday: Unedited: Chanteuse, Chocolate and Champagne.  Sopranos Margaret Kelly Cook and Laura Ball will be cranking out the chansons françaises.  $15.  It's a great early Valentine's present, and ticket sales are clipping along.  Get yours online here, or call us at 843.723.9912.

Or you could buy her some Valentine's basketball shoes.
Make sure to have a divorce lawyer, too.

Friday, January 21, 2011

It was also the Army's name for certain nuclear bombs... don't know if that's insulting or not.

  Friday, January 21st.  Your loyal blogger almost wrote in celebration of the 198th birthday of pathfinder of the West, Republican presidential candidate, and fellow College of Charleston alumnus John C. Fremont (who, for the record, led a thoroughly amazing life). Instead, I'll briefly celebrate an inanimate object: the bassoon.

  Subject to all forms of jokes and insults, there are some admitted quirks to the instrument.  For one, the bassoon is big.  A performer has to strap it to the chair or the floor or to their person just to hold it.  A cheap one costs as much as a good used car, and a nice new one as much as a small BMW.  Fingering is incredibly complicated, there is a huge variety of playing styles and methods, reeds need to be custom-cut, and there are two significantly different systems of construction.  And once upon a time in the 1960s, the father of erectile dysfunction medicine- a Knight Grand Cross of the British Empire, famous for once demonstrating the positive effects of his chemical treatments by dropping his drawers in the middle of a urological conference- tried to turn the instrument electric.  It didn't take.

  It's a frequently mocked, maligned, and altogether under-appreciated instrument.  Which is quite sad, really; think of all the great places where the sound of a bassoon just works.  The creepy opening solo in Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.  The bassoons (and contrabassoons!) in Beethoven's 9th.  The stiff-but-smooth, so-very-Edwardian baritone running throughout the works of Elgar.  Nothing but bassoons.  Blast it, imagine some other instrument as grandfather in Peter and the Wolf (I'm lookin' at you, cello- knock it off).  The bassoon is a wonderful instrument.

  Happily for your loyal blogger, we're gonna have a bassoon here at the Library Society next week.  Yuriy Bekker, concertmaster, alongside seven other CSO principal musicians, will perform Schubert's Octet in F Major next Wednesday, January 26th, at 7PM.  Tickets for the event, Time Machine: Schubert in Vienna will be available at the door starting at 6PM.  $15 ($10 for students).  Check out for more details.

And to get you in the mood: some bassoonists playing Lady Gaga!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


A new year; a new web look, and an exciting new slew of upcoming programmes and events to share!  For the 263rd consecutive year, January's most exciting news is, of course, the Annual Meeting of the Charleston Library Society.  5PM, Tuesday the 25th.  Gordon Rhea will be our guest speaker, and will guest speak on "Marketing Disunion: How the Fire Eaters Persuaded the South to Secede".  As always, ham biscuits, teeny-tiny cream puff pastries, and general merriment will follow the meeting and lecture.

Activities between now and the Annual Meeting: next Tuesday, 01/11/11, we've got a pair of events with local author Brian Hicks.  Mr. Hicks' newest book, Toward the Setting Sun: John Ross, The Cherokees, and the Trail of Tears, has been well reviewed by Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, and called both "important" and "a pleasure to read" by historian Nathaniel Philbrick.  Not too shabby.  He'll be discussing and signing it, twice, here in the Library.

First, at 12:30, Brian will be here for a bring-your-own-brown-bag-lunch book signing.  It is free and open to all.  Later that evening he'll return for a Lecture and Reception (Starts at 6PM, tickets $5).  Copies of Toward the Setting Sun will be for sale at both events ($26).

Other news: an exhibition of original silhouettes from Clay Rice's The Lonely Shadow is on display in the Main Reading Room through the end of the month.  January is the time to sign up for Lifelong Learning Series classes, which start February 1.  Nan's back, teaching the Histories of Shakespeare; and Peg Eastman and Christopher Liberatos will do a three-session course on Grecian Architecture in Charleston.  Also, the Poetry Society will be holding their 90th anniversary meeting here on the 21st with special guest Billy Collins (the PSSC reports tickets for the event as quite sold out, as well they should be, and a big "congratulations" to them on this happy anniversary.)  Finally, we're gonna be closed on the 17th.

 A man who crossed a bridge but refused to use one... if you were this awesome, they'd give you a federal holiday too.