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 piccolospoleto.com.

'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 Vogue.com 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 wideanglelunches.com 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 piccolospoleto.com, the Visitors Center, and the Gaillard Box Office.