A Day in the Life: Local History Librarian

Last weekend the Northwest History Room celebrated its 37th anniversary. For those who are well acquainted with our local history department, this longevity comes as no surprise. The uninitiated, on the other hand, may be wondering what we’ve been doing with ourselves all this time. In order to giver you a clearer picture, I thought I’d take you through a day in my life as a local history librarian:

Picture of jar with image of the Everett courthouse on lid.Early in the day I received a call from a woman who had acquired a little porcelain jar. On the lid was a lovely painting of the 1897-8 Everett courthouse building, and on the bottom was an inscription related to ‘B. W. Fargo.’ My caller was interested to find out whatever she could about the building pictured, and if possible, her jar. I asked her if she could send me a photograph of the jar and told her I would see what I could find out.

Black and white photograph of courthouseMy first stop was to check our resource files. Our department keeps files of clippings and other documents in a row of file cabinets, but we also keep a large digital file of scanned documents and photos, as well as typed histories of people and places. These files serve as an excellent shortcut when we’re looking into notable people and places in the area, because a lot of the work has already been done in the past. Here I was able to find the exact dates of the courthouse, as well as some historic photographs to send the caller.

Photograph of the ruins of the courthouseThis particular courthouse was designed and built in 1897 by architect A. F. Heide at the corner of Wetmore and Pacific. It was operational until 1909, when it was ravaged by a fire. County operations moved into an adjacent annex while Heide oversaw restoration work. Little more than load-bearing walls were able to be salvaged, so a new Mission-style facade was constructed and opened in 1911.

Photograph of Polk City DirectoriesNext up was figuring out who or what ‘B. W. Fargo’ referred to. For this I turned to our collection of Polk City Directories. Polks, as we call them, are similar to today’s phone books, except they lacked phone numbers in the earlier years and generally gave more information out about the businesses and individuals listed. You can often use Polks to find out a person’s occupation, spouse’s name, address, and sometimes even annual salary. When looking up a business you can find out the address, owner, and type of business.

Scan of Polk directory pageBy looking in the Polks, I discovered that Bert W. Fargo and Elizabeth Goerig owned and operated a business at 1809 Hewitt Avenue (blocks from the courthouse) called Fargo B W & Co. This business was concerned with selling crockery, art goods, furniture, and other domestic products. According to our Polks, the company operated under that name from roughly 1901 to 1905.  While there are no records in our collection from this business, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to assume that this company either produced or commissioned souvenir ceramics of the courthouse and possibly other Everett landmarks. From the dates in our Polks, we may be able to date the jar between 1901-1905.

I was able to find all of this information out using our resources in about two hours. We frequently do the same for visitors looking into the history of their families or buildings that they’re curious about. That’s just a small portion of the work that we do as local history specialists. If you’d like to learn more about our work, or if you have a local history question related to the Everett/Snohomish County area, please feel free to get in touch.

Meet a Children’s Book Author: Jennifer L. Holm

ideal-bookshelfWelcome to the first in a series of blog posts I’ve created to introduce you to various children’s book authors. There are a lot of great ones out there and it’s worth knowing about them. Who knows, you may find yourself reading some really great (children’s) literature.

I recently had a chance to meet some children’s book authors at the Children’s Literature Conference held at Western Washington University in Bellingham. It was a pleasure to meet Jennifer L. Holm that day. Here’s a little about her for your edification:

jenniholmJennifer was born in California and lived for a short time on Whidbey Island. She spent most of her growing up years in Audobon, Pennsylvania. Constantly reading as a child, her favorite author was Lloyd Alexander. She was a broadcast producer at an advertising agency in New York City before she took up writing and quickly received three Newbery Honor Awards for historical fiction novels. Holm currently lives in California with her husband and two young children where she loves to write in her slippers and pajamas while her children are at school.

index (10)Holm started writing with a series about Boston Jane. Sixteen-year-old Jane Peck has ventured to the unknown wilds of the Northwest to wed her childhood idol, William Baldt. But her impeccable training at Miss Hepplewhite’s Young Ladies Academy in Philadelphia is hardly preparation for the colorful characters and crude life that she finds in the Washington Territory. Having to rely upon her wits in the wild, Jane must determine for herself whether she is truly proper Miss Jane Peck of Philadelphia, faultless young lady and fiance, or Boston Jane, as the Chinook dub her, fearless and loyal woman of the frontier.

index (23)Our Only May Amelia is based upon Holm’s great-aunt Alice Amelia Holm’s diary. She was a Finnish-American girl born on the Nasel River in Washington state during the nineteenth century. Mae Amelia is the only girl in a family with seven brothers and has many great adventures. You certainly will enjoy this book set in Washington state. In fact, the city of Lacey, Washington recently used this novel as their “Everyone Reads” choice.

index (24)Holm recommended that you learn from her mistake and write a novel about your mother’s side of the family before you focus on your father’s side, as she did in Mae Amelia. Thus came the inspiration for Penny from Heaven. It’s 1953 and eleven year old Penny dreams of a summer of ice cream, swimming, and baseball. But nothing is that simple for Penny. She can’t go swimming because her mother is afraid that she’ll catch polio at the pool. This is a shinning story about the everyday and the extraordinary, about a time in America’s history when being Italian meant you were the enemy. But mostly, it’s a story about family. This is a book my mother-in-law would enjoy! You may also.

index (25)Turtle in Paradise, another Newbery honor book, is inspired by stories of Holm’s great-grandmother who immigrated to Key West at the turn of the last century. It’s 1935 and Turtle heads off to Key West Florida to live with relatives that she’s never met. It’s hot and strange, with wild jungle peeping out between houses, ragtag boy cousins, and secret treasure. Before she knows what’s happening, Turtle finds herself coming out of her shell (!) and the world opens up in unexpected ways.

It would be easy to typecast Holm as a historical fiction writer since she has written this slew of great historic fiction novels. But WAIT! There’s more! She has broken any expectations that hold her to that single genre with her two graphic novel series.

Growing up with four brothers, Holm’s family devoured comic books. She, however, was bothered by the representation (of lack thereof) of girls and women in these stories and decided to do something about it. Babymouse was born, introducing a likeable character who is strong-willed, risk-taking, funny, and impulsive. Her brother, Matt Holm, is the illustrator of these pink-tinted comics that cause readers to read one after another.

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The Holm siblings also collaborate on Squish, a baseball-capped amoeba who leaves readers chuckling while also learning a few science related ideas. Holm creates mice and amoebas (as well as people) that captivate young readers in these graphic novel series.

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Stay tuned for her upcoming middle grade novel coming out later this year, The Fourteenth Goldfish, where she and Grandpa Melvin explore the wonders of science and raise big questions about family and friendship, life and death.

You can find most of Jennifer L. Holm’s books here at the Everett Public Library. Come on down and borrow a few!

Movie’s Better IX: Rebecca

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rebecca book“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again… I came upon it suddenly; the approach masked by the unnatural growth of a vast shrub that spread in all directions… There was Manderley, our Manderley, secretive and silent as it had always been, the gray stone shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and terrace. Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, nor the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand.”

Opening lines from a much-beloved text & instant classic when it was released in 1938, Daphne du Maurier‘s Rebecca is a favorite of many and considered one of the finer Gothic romances. But this was Alfred Hitchcock’s second du Maurier adaptation in a row.

Hitchcock had just cranked out Jamaica Inn to disappointing effect, even though it featured the powerhouse actor Charles Laughton, of whom he had famously said “You can’t direct a Laughton picture. The best you can hope for is to referee.” The reason this is forgettable, though still worth seeing (even his flops are fun), is that Hitch was busy shopping himself to Hollywood. Tired of a crumbling British film industry, he wanted to work at a major studio with all the modern tools at hand. The only one of those who’d hire him was the famously fussy perfectionist David O Selznick. So 1939 sees Hitchcock fulfilling his contract with this quickie.

affiche-rebecca-hitchcockSelznick green lights Rebecca, but rejects Hitchcock’s adaptation outright, preferring more of a straight adaptation, and a long battle begins where Hitchcock is forced to rewrite the screenplay and learn how to shoot and produce in a more modern studio style. Selznick was exacting. Selznick and Hitchcock would butt heads.

Trouble was, Selznick was busy with exactly adapting a little picture called Gone with the Wind. So, the rascal Hitchcock decides to merge his style (setting up each shot exactingly, shooting with one camera, moving on) with the studios’ (shooting “master shot” style, with several cameras, getting different angles and distance of framing, then sorting it out in the editing room later). Our favorite director gets to play with alternate takes and different outcomes to elements in the story. In other words, rather than shooting one scene from several cameras, he shoots one scene different ways several times. Selznick’s too busy pouring all of his efforts into his reputation-making adaptation across the lot to notice.

The end result? When it premiered, Frank Nugent of the New York Times enthused that Hitchcock’s “famous ‘touch’ seems to have developed into a firm, enveloping grasp of Daphne du Maurier’s popular novel.” Later on, Donald Spoto said that Hitchcock worked closely with the screenwriters to “fashion a script with breadth and nuance, with wit and universality beyond the straightforwardness of du Maurier’s plot.” Better than? You be the judge.

The Evergreen Branch Library screens and discusses our latest installment in the Dial H for Hitchcock series, Rebecca, this Wednesday at 1:30. At 6:30 we repeat the screening.

Book Awards with a Twist

Gold Trophy

Many, many book awards are given out every year, but here are three unique awards you might want to add to your bookmarks.

On the whole, U.S. citizens have very little awareness of non-English language literature; for this reason alone the Best Translated Book Award deserves your attention. The award is offered through the website Three Percent and they recently announced the longlist for the 2014 award. Over the next few weeks they’ll be posting arguments for why each longlisted contender should win. The shortlist will be announced April 15th and the award on April 28th.

EPL currently owns 13 of the 25 BTBA contenders.

Another award that rewards a daily check on the action is the Tournament of Books, now in its tenth year. As described on their About page, “The ToB is an annual springtime event… where 16 or so of the previous year’s best works of fiction enter a March Madness-style battle royale. At the end of the month, the winner of the Tournament is blessed with the Rooster, our prize named after David Sedaris’s brother (because why not).”  This year’s tourney is now in the quarterfinals, but even if you’re late joining in, you can still revisit each bout in the links on the sidebar. In addition to the renowned individual judges who preside over each match, you’ll find great color commentary from the event hosts and a fan base commentariat that engages in lively extended discussions of the books.

EPL currently owns 14 of the 17 ToB contenders.

And finally, a new award is in the works to redress the wrongs of book awards given 50 years ago. The website Bookslut has come up with the Daphnes, and is currently reevaluating books published in 1963. They announced their shortlist last month (here’s the L.A. Times coverage of the announcement). The award categories include fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and children’s literature.

EPL currently owns 5 of the 7 Daphne fiction finalists.

One thing all these awards do is remind us that taste is subjective and each of these contenders will be considered the winner in some readers’ eyes; check the lists or follow the action and maybe you’ll discover a new (or new to you) favorite author or book.

You Really Like Me

Popularity can bring many things: sitting with the cool kids during lunch, strangers recognizing you on the street, a crushing sense of hollowness when you realize how little you have actually accomplished that is worthwhile (o.k. that last one is just bitter wish fulfilment on my part). In the world of audiobooks, where sales and the number of titles have been doubling recently, popularity has produced an interesting phenomenon: an increase in the number of celebrity readers. Whether this is a fad or a new trend is hard to know, but there is no reason listeners can’t take advantage of the situation. Here are a few recent narrators and titles that just might be of interest.

Colin Firth reads The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

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This classic novel depicts a tempestuous love triangle that plays out amid the backdrop of a war-ravaged London. It is considered to be one of Greene’s finest works and has twice been adapted as a film. In addition, it cannot be denied that narrator Colin Firth has an authentic English accent.  Also, many listeners may get a kick out of having Mr. Darcy, by way of Pride and Prejudice or Bridget Jones’s Diary, read to them for a time.

Claire Danes reads The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

HandmaidsTale1Can’t get enough of Homeland? Are you still bummed about the tragic cancellation of My So-Called Life? If so you might want to listen to Claire Danes narrate Margret Atwood’s tale of a theocratic dystopia in the not too distant future. The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of Offred, the Handmaid of the title, who must cope with, and eventually rebel against, a society that is determined to subordinate every aspect of women’s lives to a strict faith-based hierarchy.

Diane Keaton reads Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

slouching-towards-bethlehemIf you aren’t familiar with this superb collection of essays, now is the time to do so. Most of the works are deft and searing exposés of Didion’s experiences in counter-culture California during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Each one captures a sense of the dreamy idealism and inevitable decay that the era produced. And who better than the star of Manhattan, to read ‘Goodbye to All That’ a brilliant, insightful and bittersweet essay that perfectly captures the feeling of those who have turned their back on ‘The City’.

Meryl Streep reads The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

testamentofmaryThis controversial and popular novel is the story of Mary, yes that Mary, after the crucifixion of Jesus. If you are going to have someone narrate for this theological figure, you better have star power. This audiobook does not disappoint. It hardly needs to be said, but Meryl Streep has been nominated for a gazillion Oscars, o.k. eighteen, and is more than up to the task.

David Morrissey reads Autobiography by Morrissey

morrisseyNow is your chance to hear from the horse’s mouth just how ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’, ‘Meat is Murder’ and of course ‘Vicar in a Tutu’ came to grace the music scene. To emphasize the, no doubt, humble and self-deprecating tone of this work, who better to narrate than actor David Morrissey who recently portrayed the brutal and megalomaniacal Governor in seasons three and four of The Walking Dead.

Wil Wheaton reads Redshirts by John Scalzi

redshirtsTalk about a perfect convergence of text and reader. Wil Wheaton, who counts among his many accomplishments a four season tour on Star Trek: The Next Generation, narrates this story of Andrew Dahl who starts to notice that low ranking officers on away missions from his starship are dropping like flies. Strangely the ship’s captain and chief science officer always come back unscathed. Coincidence? I think not.

So does popularity breed contempt? Perhaps… but it most certainly produces a lot of great audiobooks for us to listen to.

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

a long way downMy co-worker Leslie recently wrote a post about books that are going to be made into movies. Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down is one of them. He’s also the author of About a Boy and High Fidelity. Hey, both of those are movies too.

It all starts on New Year’s Eve when four very different people climb onto a roof to commit suicide. Suicide is a solitary job. You want to be left alone with your thoughts, which is ironic since your thoughts are what make you want to commit suicide. Group suicide is for Jim Jones and those Heaven’s Gates people. .

Martin is a washed up talk show host (think Good Morning America but British) who spent time in prison for having sex with a 15-year-old girl. His career is dead. He’s now the host of a local TV station that is viewed by maybe 30 people. His ex-wife won’t let him see his daughters. He doesn’t want to see them either because he feels like a washed-up loser. He decides he’s done with his life and climbs on top of a roof that’s known for jumpers when he’s interrupted by a fellow would-be jumper.

Jess is a mess. Not even a hot mess because being a hot mess implies you were something grand and slightly astonishing at one point and now there’s nothing left but a glimmer of that. Jess’s dad is an education minister (for some reason I see a preacher in a church throwing literature books at people) and she finds ways of embarrassing him and her mother on a daily basis. Her older sister Jen went missing. Jen didn’t leave a note or any clues as to where she went. Jess’s parents thinks Jen is dead and they go about their lives as if this is common knowledge and they rarely say her name. Jess is wonderfully foul-mouthed, hopped up on drugs and Bacardi Breezers and still chasing after the boy who dumped her. He is the reason why she wants to jump off a building.

JJ is an American musician whose band was starting to get a following when they decided to call it quits. He had a girlfriend, a promising music career and then nothing. The music came to a grinding halt, his girlfriend left him and then he and his best friend parted ways. He’d gone from touring cities with his band to being a pizza delivery boy and decided he’d kill himself on New Year’s Eve.

Maureen is in her 50’s and has a severely handicapped son. She’s sheltered and lonely and shy. As much as she loves her son Matty, she can’t do it anymore. She can’t stand to see the days, weeks, months, and years stretch out in front of her, caring for her child who is a vegetable. She decides to climb to the top of a building and jump.

All four of them find themselves at a loss up on the roof. Nobody wants to be the first jumper, let alone commit the act in front of strangers. They start to talk. Not the kind of “Someone Saved My Life tonight” kind of talk. More like “Why are you jumping?.” And each of them try to out-do one another: “My story’s worse than yours.”

The four of them climb down from the roof and go for a drink. They make a pact that if they still feel like killing themselves in 6 weeks’ time they will go through with it.

Little by little they worm their way into each other’s lives-sometimes not in a good way. Jess is a foul-mouthed brat who says anything that comes to mind. If she doesn’t like you, she’ll let you know. And then some. She’s the character I love. And hate. Martin is still a jerk that goes between knowing he’s a loser and thinking he’s still TV royalty. Maureen is terrified of the world and has never been on a proper vacation. JJ is living in the past, getting embarrassed and delighted when people recognize him from “that band.” What do you call a musician without a girlfriend? Homeless.

What drew me in deeper into this novel was the fact that Martin, Jess, JJ, and Maureen weren’t trying to save each other’s lives by putting suicide on hold. It was more of “Let’s go get a drink or nine, play ‘My life sucks more than yours ever could,’ and see what happens tomorrow.” Not once does this book get preachy or anti-suicide.

Suicide is an uncomfortable topic whether it’s talked about or not. A Long Way Down smashes that uneasiness and says it with honesty: people think about killing themselves. The thought bubbles up and most times it goes away. In the end, Martin, Jess, JJ, and Maureen don’t become best friends and vacation in Maui. But they do go through something that connects them.

Nick Hornby is a hilarious writer and he deals with a subject that makes a lot of people cringe. Since I like books about people who are (or seem) more messed up than me this was the perfect book. 

I haven’t gone looking for a roof to jump off in three days.

Getting Graphic

We’re heading steadily through March, and I have to say I’m a wee bit proud of myself for continuing to work through my only New Years resolution this year. If you’re a regular reader, you may recall my self-imposed reading challenge which was designed to stretch my mind and read outside of my comfort zone.

Here’s a quick rundown of my 2014 Reading Resolutions:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel (see below)
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

You’ll kindly overlook the fact that I’m skipping around on my list. Sure, it would have been more organized to tackle these in list order, but it turns out I can’t quite ignore that little voice inside my head that still wants to rebel against prescribed reading–even if I am the person who came up with the guidelines! The only way to drown out the voices is to read what I’m in the mood to read. And this month I decided to get graphic.

I’ve always gotten a bit lost trying to read graphic novels. My brain can’t stop looking around at all the images, and comparing and contrasting what I see with what my brain is trying to imagine on its own. Rogue brain. Be silent!

PrestoEnough of my neuroses. Let’s talk about Bandette. Presto! is the first book in the Bandette series by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover. Bandette is a teenage thief who calls Paris home. I like to refer to her as a modern-day Nancy Drew meets Robin Hood meets Sherlock Holmes. She always dons her costume, complete with cape and mask, before venturing out to clean up the streets, thwarting the criminal underworld as well as the local police inspector, Belgique. She has a weakness for first editions–her personal library is split between the books she’s purchased with her own money and books she has “liberated,” also known as stolen. And her skills as a thief are only matched by her quick wit and unique sense of humor. Bandette may not take the world so seriously, but is that due to her age or her occupation? Take this line, for example. She’s in the thick of battle and still manages to quip:

Hush, Matadori! The air is already thick with bullets. Do not overcrowd it with drama as well.

Presto! combines the first five issues of the Monkeybrain comic book series Bandette. And while I hadn’t read them until I happened upon this tome in our Young Adult graphic novel collection, I am hesitant to read any more until the next bound volume is published. For one thing, it will build anticipation. It will also allow me to work on other reading challenges in my list. And honestly, reading them bound together with all the little extras in the back (including author interviews and a behind-the-scenes look at the process of writing, drawing, and coloring the comic) is in and of itself a beautiful thing I’d miss out on.

When I started reading Presto!, which can be easily consumed in an afternoon, I knew I would need to take notes on my reading experience for the blog. Here are my reactions, perceptions, and ideas that I recorded during my introduction to Bandette. You can click on each image to make it larger and easier to read.

Notes1 Notes2

Since it’s past my deadline (Bandette wouldn’t follow any but her own deadlines!) I’ll let my handwritten notes above speak for me. You can also take my husband’s word for it, as he devoured Presto! the night I brought it home to read and nagged me about it until I had time to read it myself. I even purchased my own copy, knowing I will re-read it in the future.

Overall I’ve come out of this third reading challenge with a better appreciation for the illustrated novel and a definite plan for Halloween. I’ve also got what I would call a new literary best friend. Bandette, I can’t wait until we meet again in volume two.