Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Getting Pinteresting...

Today is August 22nd, the birthday of novelists Annie Proulx and Kate Chopin. Your loyal blogger has distinct memories of reading both as assigned authors for summer reading back in middle and high school. Chopin has a very special place in the memory, in fact, as her novel The Awakening was the first book I remember forcing myself to finish... in fact, by the time ol' Edna decided to her long walk into the Gulf of Mexico, I was cheering for the waves. Like I said, a special memory, not a happy one.

The Gulf of Mexico, the true protagonist of The Awakening.

Assigned reading doesn't have to be that bad, and usually isn't. It's a great way to introduce us to literature that we'd never otherwise read. Your loyal blogger has much better memories of a middle-school reading list that included Anne of Green Gables (a book I'd have never read if not threatened with a test on it upon returning to classes), and really falling in love with it.

And seeing how Charleston County schools start back today... hopefully lots of kids have adopted that attitude!

Assigned reading doesn't have to stop just because we're no longer in school, either.  Book clubs are a favorite way to discover new literature (or at least share some refreshments with friends!). And while the Library Society doesn't have a book club, you can find out what your favourite librarians are reading at the moment. Just visit us on Pinterest!

It's still brand new, and not everyone has started posting, but we're working on it. We hope you'll follow us, check out our personal boards, and see if you can find some new favourites of your own! And unlike your loyal blogger The Awakening. there won't be a test on what you've read. Promise.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Yes. "Juliabilia" is a real word.

Your loyal blogger is not really much of one for the Food Network. There's something about watching people prepare food on television that I find deeply unsatisfying.  There's no smell... the sound of the cooking is usually hidden under the host's chatter... you never taste food... it's a form of sensory deprivation. And with increasing frequency - especially now that so many cable cooking shows are now about competitive cooking - there is no intent for the home viewer to ever recreate what is being made in front of their eyes. If there was some sort of Miller Test for this stuff, most of today's TV cooking would fail.

These comments could never be made, though, about the late, great Julia Child. Your loyal blogger has vivid memories of watching Julia (usually with Jacques Pepin alongside) cook many a meal on the local SCETV station. There were no snazzy visuals, no silly "fun" names for food (unless you find some inherent humor in French), no underlying gimmick... just an imposingly-sized woman cooking like a fiend, spilling, cutting, grabbing, sweating, wheezing, but creating: totally immersed with the experience of cooking. It was great television, and Mrs. Child was wildly compelling.

That's one of the reasons why your loyal blogger is so excited about this Wednesday's [now sold out] lecture at the Library Society, "I Remember Julia". The other reason is the speaker: Robert Dickson, the legendary proprietor of Robert's of Charleston. Dickson became a legend not just for his food, but for providing a unique dining experience, including singing for his guests. And the third reason is because there's going to be some great material shown in the presentation... Mr. Dickson was a personal acquaintance, and will be showing some of his own Juliabilia.

Your loyal blogger's been scanning in
Julia Child letters and notes all afternoon.
Best. Job. Ever.

There is a fourth reason your loyal blogger is excited to have a big Julia Child celebration at the CLS - when my now-fiancee and I were first dating, and she found out I was a librarian, she asked me to pick out "something she'd like". I loaned her my copy of Julia's My Life In France. She loved it, (and tolerated me)... and the rest is history. All I know its it's why I'm personally thankful for Mrs. Child and her work!

ALSO THIS WEEK: Angie LeClercq's Grand Tour of Gardens lecture is this Thursday at 6PM. 843.723.9912 to RSVP!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale/And he stoppeth one of three...

It's July 25th, the death day of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge is most famous for penning "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", an epic romantic poem most notable for the fact you can sing it's words to the tune of the "Gilligan's Island" theme. 

The poem's most enduring image, of course, is the albatross, the dead bird hanging about the neck of the accursed mariner.  The Library Society was all about live birds this week, as Jim Elliott of the Avian Conservation Center delivered a great lecture at the dedication of the James B. Lasley Ornithology Collection. This collection of hundreds of books on birds and birdwatching represents a major addition to the Library's natural history collection.

Jim Elliott with Aplomado falcon in the Main Reading Room

Jim discussing the Avian Conservation Center, and an entertaining owl

A close up of the Aplomado falcon. 

There's something strangely appropriate about an owl in a library...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

From the collections: watermelons for a Founding Father

Happy July 12th, the birthday of the Medal of Honor, poet Pablo Neruda, and the death day of Alexander Hamilton. 

Hamilton is remembered as many things: scholar, economist, and first Secretary of the Treasury, but rarely do we note that he's largely the reason Thomas Jefferson became President. Hamilton's meddling, in support of his friend Charles Coatesworth Pinckney, had severely weakened the Federalist Party and opened the door for Democratic-Republican victory. Remember, however, that at this time only the Presidency was up for election: the Vice President was just the guy who came in second place. So when there was a tie for votes between Jefferson and Aaron Burr, the House of Representatives had to decide which man would become President, and which Vice President. 

Hamilton and Jefferson were political enemies, but Hamilton and Burr were personal ones. After thirty-five rounds of voting, none of which gave Jefferson his needed majority to win, Hamilton threw his weight behind (and some led some complicated political machinations in support of) the Man from Monticello. Sometimes referred to as the "Revolution of 1800", this stunning defeat of the Federalists was significantly (if inadvertently) caused by Madison, the Federalists' greatest strategist.

In this 1802 letter to Pinckney (from the Library Society's manuscript collection), a dejected Hamilton reflects on life outside of politics, stating "A garden, as you know, is a very usual refuge of a disappointed politician" before He then asks Pinckney to send him some melon seeds from his Charleston plantation to start a crop at his new country house. Hamilton could never stand to be outside politics for long, though, and about two paragraphs after discussing melon farming, he begins to give his opinions on American expansion into the West. Within two years from the writing of this letter, the political and personal fight between Hamilton and Burr would culminate in the famous duel that killed him. (Though, on a happier note, it is the direct inspiration for today's blog post.)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Awk-ward ramblings

A brief bird story for July 3rd, the 168th anniversary of the death of the last Great Auk (pinguinus impennis). The Great Auk was like a giant puffin, about two-and-a-half feet in height and ten pounds or so in weight. With a range that spanned the North Atlantic from Newfoundland to Scandinavia to the south Atlantic coast of France, the Great Auk was given the double curse of being both tasty and covered in an exceptionally soft down.

Cover him in barbecue sauce, or use him like a pillow!

This led to many auks becoming pillows, or auk burgers, or even just used as fishing bait. By the late 18th century, the Auk was dying off. In a move of environmental protection the US Fish & Wildlife Service could only dream of, a 1775 statute in St. John's, Newfoundland allowed for the public flogging of those caught taking the eggs or feathers of the Great Auk.

Such radical environmentalism was not enough to save the bird: in the early 19th century, as more scientists and museums realized the bird was rapidly disappearing, they launched a struggle to secure specimens for their collections with a drive and intensity not unlike some parents' holiday bloodlust to secure a Tickle-Me-Elmo for their pleading progeny. 

Or Cabbage Patch Kids. Or Razor scooters. Or THIS memorable guy...

The last Great Auk in Britain was found on a tiny island off the Scottish coast in 1840.  Locals caught it, tied it up, then beat it to death shortly thereafter. [In their defence, they were convinced the bird was a witch.] The last known breeding pair of Great Auks were captured in the act of incubating an egg and effortlessly strangled in 1844, their bodies stuffed to be entered into a private collection.

Your loyal blogger hopes your love of birds leads you to not kill them. In fact, we hope it leads you to celebrate them, and there's no better way to do that than to join us at the Library Society on July 24th at 5PM for a reception welcoming the Lasley Ornithology Collection to the Library.

In mid-May, we received a unique library of almost 200 ornithology books from the collection of the late James Bernard Lasley. The Library Society and the Lasley family will host a reception to welcome this wonderful addition into our Natural History collection. Jim Elliott, founder and Executive Director of the Avian Conservation Center will speak, with a reception to follow. As always, call 843.723.9912 or email us at rsvp@charlestonlibrarysociety to reserve your spot at the event.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Happy Carolina Day!

Join us at Washington Park this morning at 10:30AM as we participate in the annual Carolina Day parade. The marching starts at 11, and ends about half-an-hour later at White Point Gardens. It's a cool and refreshing 91 degrees outside today, so hydrate well, wear your seersucker, and meet us under the big green flag!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Like a homecoming...

Well, dear readers, it looks like the blog wasnt the leading source of Library news last week! All you had to do was turn on your television or pick up your newspaper to see what was going on down here on King Street.

Thanks to a generous grant from MeadWestvaco and the Harold C. Schott Foundation, our incomparable archivist, Trisha Kometer, was able to locate a volume presumed missing for over two hundred years. This volume, "Dissertation on Parties", was part of the personal library of John Mackenzie, a planter and diplomat from Goose Creek. Mackenzie wished for his library to go to the newly-founded College of Charleston, but upon his passing in 1770, The College did not have the physical space to house the collection. It was turned over to the Library Society for temporary safekeeping, which worked well until a 1778 fire gutted the Library, presumably destroying the Mackenzie collection.

Fast forward about two hundred years: one of our librarians found a book in the vault with "J. Mackenzie" stamped across the back. She thought the name familiar, started investigating, and found the story about the collection. An inventory search was made, and all the rediscovered books were returned to The College.

One, however, escaped detection... until Trisha came along! "Dissertation On Parties" was found, The College contacted, and, as of last Thursday returned home to George Street right where Mr. Mackenzie wanted it so long ago.

Click here for the full story on the Mackenzie Project at the College of Charleston.

Click here to read coverage on the handover from the Washington Post.

Monday, April 23, 2012

In which we learn St. George's Day has nothing to do with grits...

Your loyal blogger wishes you a very, very happy St. George's Day! Amongst your rose-wearing, Jerusalem-singing, and dragon-slaying today, why not consider some ticket-buying? Today marks the 448th birthday of William Shakespeare, and to celebrate, the Library Society is hosting a big birthday party for the bard on this Thursday. The Charleston Renaissance Ensemble - Piccolo Spoleto favourites and the premiere Early Music group in the area - will be singing tunes from Shakespeare's time. And as a very, very special guest, bestselling author, sometimes actor, and perpetual raconteur Bernard Cornwell will be joining in, favouring us with dramatic readings from Shakespeare.

Tickets are $15, and children are allowed in for free.
Get them online here, by calling 1.888.718.4253, or at the front desk of the Library Society.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How you know a Wide Angle is great: the speaker's so interesting I didn't even talk about the food.

Your loyal blogger loves his job. Truly, madly, deeply loves his job. Being able to share our collections and events with our patrons and guests is too much fun.


When someone's got a job title as cool as "Chairman of Vibe", I've got to admit... I get a little jealous. And this Friday, that's just who's coming. Our Wide Angle Lunches are back for Series IV, and Robert Hicks kicks off the season. 

Hicks is the "Chairman of Vibe" for BB King's blues clubs, which sounds like the coolest job ever. [Even if that was just the fancy name for the guy who scrubs the plates, it would almost be worth it, just for the business cards...] He got there by being a major country and alt-rock music manager and publisher. In addition to that, he's a major collector of Southern and outsider art, and has been named one of Art & Antiques Top 100 Collectors in the US. And in addition to that, he's the chair of Tennessee's Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, the driving force behind the preservation of Franklin battlefield, and (yet another awesome title), 2005's "Tennesseean of the Year".

He lives in an 18th century log cabin.

Living in an18th Century Log Cabin is almost as
 cool as being this guy's Chairman of Vibe.

Oh, he also happens to be a New York Times bestselling novelist, the topic he'll be discussing at Friday's Wide Angle Lunch. Come join us at 12:30PM here at the Library for Hicks on "The Power of Fiction in Preserving History". Get your tix now through Showclix.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Yes, this is a Carolina Day post, two months early...

As some of our New England friends might know, today is Patriots' Day. Not to be confused with Patriot Day, which is September 11th, or Patriotes Day, the national holiday of Quebec, Patriots' Day occurs every third day in April and commemorates the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord. In Massachusetts, Maine, and (for some reason) Wisconsin, it's an official holiday.

I mention this because it's a good segue into mentioning South Carolina's own Revolutionary War holiday, Carolina Day. Celebrated on the 28th of June, Carolina Day marks the 1776 defeat of a British invasion force at the Battle of Sullivans Island. Today it's the day when all of Charleston's venerable cultural institutions meet at Washington Park and march down Meeting Street to the Battery for a wreath laying and some speechifying at the base of Sergeant Jasper's statue.

Carolina Day is also when all the venerable members of said institutions don their seersucker and turn Meeting Street into a river of blue-and-white pinstripes. This is, of course, done solely for participants own comfort, though it does seem to turn into a spectacle for the tourists. The important thing is this: make sure you're ready to march with the Library Society (the oldest and most venerable cultural institution in the South) by picking up your official Ben Silver Library Society tie.

Lest you think this is a bit early for your loyal blogger to be discussing June events, I promise that one of our patrons was in last Friday encouraging the writing of this post. In a good year, we might have about a dozen folks march with the Library in the parade. Said encouraging patron is not settling for anything less than fifty this year. Good for him: I know I'll be there.

And that golden hope brings me back to Patriots Day... our friends in Massachusetts have figured out a great way to boost the popularity of their Revolutionary parade: not only do the schools and government offices close; not only do the Sox play an early home game; but it's also the day the Boston Marathon is always held. And don't feel bad that their patriotic fete gets 25,000 attendants, while our Carolina Day struggles for a few hundred... unlike our Northern friends, we aren't all trying to finish the parade as quickly as possible!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Y, oh y...

March 22 - the birthday of Holy Roman Emperor Maxilimilian I, the Pentium processor, and the poet Billy Collins. Things are as busy as can be around the library today in preparation for Volodymyr Vynnytsky's piano concert here tonight (a few tickets still available!)... tables to be moved, seats to be placed, wine to be chilled, all that sort of stuff. As always, a big thanks to our Music Committee for their help, and a double thanks to Cowan Holdings, Ltd., for sponsoring the event. Volodymyr is such an impressive pianist... your loyal blogger can't wait!

Also upcoming... tomorrow is the first evening for our Sunshine Readers programme! The CofC Tri-Delts will host a fun children's story hour starting at 6:30 PM tomorrow here at the Library Society. Parents, grandparents, and babysitters are encouraged to bring their wee ones, three and up, to this exciting adventure in reading. Kids are encouraged to bring a pillow or stuffed bear, and come dressed in their jammies for this pre-bedtime event.

Parents... wearing your jammies is allowed, too. Just... use your best judgement.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hits, parades.

March 12! Birthday of the Girl Scouts, Jack Kerouac, and the anniversary of the start of the Williamite War in Ireland. Which reminds me, St. Patrick's Day falls on a Saturday this year... so remember, King Street will be closed for the Ancient Order of Hibernians parade sometime between 10-11AM. If you're looking to drive to the Library, you'll have to come before or after the festivities. Also, the Hibernians (the other Hibernians) have their parade up Broad Street starting at 11AM, so be mindful of that, too, if you're headed this way.

Another great reason to head this way this week: Unedited is back for Unedited: Musical Madness. Enjoy a night of drama, intrigue, and Broadway hits with Laura Ball, starting at 7PM this Thursday night Tickets are $15, and available by clicking here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Marching into March...

Don't forget, our March events calendar starts off with a great event, right from day one... on March 1st, St. David's Day, this Thursday, the Library Society will host author Caroline Alexander for an exciting and informative lecture and reception. Ms. Alexander will discuss her book The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer's Iliad and the Trojan War. 

Caroline Alexander studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, has a doctorate in classics from Columbia, and has authored pieces for The New Yorker and National Geographic and more in addition to her five non-fiction books. It should be a terrific evening! 

The event starts at 7PM, and tickets are $15. Get them at the front desk of the Library, by calling 1.888.718.4253, or by clicking here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"Lisa, I am familiar with the work of Pablo Neruda."

This morning's obits carried the news of the death of Barney Rosset, publisher, editor and founder of Grove Press. The only mention of Rosset your loyal blogger remembers getting in school was an aside from my constitutional law professor while discussing an obscenity case... "You know the same guy who imported this film [the banned I Am Curious (Yellow)] also published Lady Chatterley's Lover and Waiting For Godot. And I doubt any of you know what those are, so I'll move on."

Well, your loyal blogger knew all about them - one was dirty, and one was weird and French. (What else was there to know?) So I made a small mental note that there was a guy who spent his time importing and publishing this sort of stuff into an Eisenhower-era America. And growing up in an internet-era America, where it's an accepted fact that the First Amendment protects almost any sort of content imaginable... the thought that alternative presses had to fight major legal battles to publish the ramblings of Beat poets is just such an ungraspable concept.

And it wasn't just naughty films and books that Rosset championed - it was Malcolm X, Jack Kerouac, Camus, Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz... all in all, he published five Nobel Prize winners, and some of the most important political and literary figures of the 20th century. 

[Also, as for the Library Society and smutty books - we've long kept ours hidden, uncatalogued, in the Ross Room.]

Like it says at the top... shh...!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wrapping on a warm winter...

SEWE has come and gone, what little winter we've had is almost behind us, and spring is just around the corner here in Charleston. This, the last full week of February is sunny and in the seventies. A little sailing was even on the table for your loyal blogger this week, though he forwent the cruise to help out at the Century Club Tea here at the Library Society on Monday.

Also, if you're not familiar with the Century Club... it was organized in 1895 as the Woman's Reading Club to host discussions of cultural and political affairs. Early members included Louisa Poppenheim, one of the first Southern women to attend Vassar and a major figure in women's activism in Charleston. The Century Club survives to this day, hosting lectures, discussions, and similar intellectual events. Your loyal blogger's much expanded knowledge about about Environmentalism in Jordan and the Middle East after attending Monday's tea than I ever did before). 

According to one member, their 1895 founding makes them the oldest women's intellectual society in continuous operation on the East Coast. All I know for sure is they are as kind as they are interesting, and the Library Society was too happy to host them.

Until next time... watch for tourists, and enjoy this warm weather!

Friday, January 27, 2012


2012 has officially started here at the Library Society, as this week saw our big January kick off the (264th) Annual Meeting. As the Library becomes increasingly modern (we've got an iPad now, it must be true), it is more and more interesting to think about the world this institution was created in.

In 1748, Charleston would have been less than eighty years old, with a population well under 10,000. Altogether elsewhere... Adam Smith was delivering his first lectures in Edinburgh, which would attract the attention of David Hume and kick off the Scottish Enlightenment. The War of Austrian Succession ended with Prussia the rising star on the European stage. Leonhard Euler wrote the most important math textbook of the modern era; Montesquieu published The Spirit of the Laws and invented political sociology; and in a lonely English prison cell, John Cleland penned Fanny Hill, the English language's first er... "adult" novel.

It was, in many ways, a very modern world, and at the far edge of the English-speaking part of it, nineteen young men created a very modern institution. Pooling their resources to increase their access to knowledge and learning, and to promote that learning among future generations, the mission of the Library is as important now as it's ever been. It's a mission we're fully embracing in 2012, and your loyal blogger can't wait to share the manifold ways we're pursuing it in this new year.

It's going to be a great 2012!