Middle Child Day


(Edith Crawley of Downton Abbey, Lisa Simpson of the Simpsons, and Theo Huxtable of the Cosby Show)

In observance of Middle Child Day coming up on August 12, I’d like to take a moment and DEMAND YOUR ATTENTION.

Some of the most profoundly influential individuals of our time and of history have been middle children, including Princess Diana, Abraham Lincoln, Madonna, Ricky Gervais, Cleopatra, Anne Hathaway, Amy Adams (the fourth of seven, just like me!), Jennifer Lopez, Napoleon Bonaparte and Glenn Close. There are also several middle children characters we’ve come to love on TV: Alex Keaton on Family Ties, Malcolm of Malcolm in the Middle, and of course Lisa Simpson.  Perhaps we can all identify with the diamond sometimes desperately trying to be noticed in the rough.

Though middle-childness doesn’t end with childhood, it can’t hurt to start your Middle Child Day celebration with a couple of good picture books.

Squashed in the Middle by Elizabeth Winthrop and Pat Cummings is a picture book story of a girl named Daisy who figures out how to be heard despite being the middle child of a loving but busy and preoccupied family.

The Middle Child Blues by Kristyn Crow Rock out the blues with Lee in this picture book. He’s too short, too tall, too young, too old, and sorely lacking attention until he starts to sing and finds a massive audience of other middle children who share his pain.

When you’re ready to dig a bit deeper; to understand and to harness the power of the Middle, check out:

The Secret Power of Middle Children: How Middleborns Can Harness Their Unexpected and Remarkable Abilities by Catherine Salmon and Katrin Schumann.  This is a scientific look at what it means to be a middle child.  Naturally, I had assumed that the Middle Child Syndrome was a character sketch of individuals who have had to overcome some level of neglect and come out on the other side more perceptive and independent than their siblings.  In a chapter on The Myth of The Middle Child, this book points out that the media “portrays middleborns as unable to find their place in the world, shying away from the spotlight, bitter and resentful, underachievers, and loners (Salmon and Schumann 9).”

I have to disagree, as do the authors, who analyze several different cases and find that the freedom of not being in the spotlight can result in being able to find what one truly wants to do. The losing battle of fighting for attention can be exhausting, but it can result in some very creative methods for stealing the show. Consider a few biographies of famous middle children:

Happy Accidents by Jane Lynch. This autobiography on audiobook is read by the author, Jane Lynch. You may know her from Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, or Glee. She is one of my favorite comedians. Her story is not always funny, but it I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t her middle-child perspective on life that allows her to make light and inspiration of difficult situations that might crush a less resilient first or last-born.

The Life of Jane Austen by John Halperin.  Though siblings were certainly sorted differently in her time (Jane Austen’s gravestone identifies her as the youngest daughter, though she had a younger brother,) it seems to me that Jane Austen had an opinion about the Middle Child Syndrome.  Who better than Jane Austen’s Mary Bennett of Pride and Prejudice to illustrate the worst possible charicature of a middle child?  She’s sour and serious and nervously desperate for attention, caught in between her two graceful and wise older sisters, and her two twittering and flirtateous younger sisters. 

Lucy Briers as Mary Bennett

It seems fitting to me that several middleborn biographies are written by their siblings:

Life with My Sister Madonna by Christopher Ciccone tells the inside stories of the already larger than life Madonna, magnified to a blinding sparkle by her adoring little brother.

My Brother, Ernest Hemingway by Leicester Hemingway is also written by an adoring younger brother, who asserts that he knew his brother better than anyone.  Although he was sixteen years younger than Ernest, the author seems to have been a constant fly on the wall (or perhaps the side of the fishing boat or boxing ring.)

A happy Middle Child Day to you, whether you are one or love one. Let us all celebrate by making faces in the corner, trying to get a word in edge-wise, and patiently waiting for the perfect moment to blow the crowd away.

Miriam Lee is the Technical Services Assistant at Oliver Wolcott Library, who turned out okay, and would like to give a little shout-out to her friend’s daughter Maeda, who recently became a big sister and a very happy middle child.

The Lewis Carroll Gardens

There is something profound about the places in which writers find the peace and inspiration to create.  I remember a teacher once saying that some Renaissance painters used to keep jewels near their palates to freshen their eyes once in a while.  I like to think of the tea cups of cafes and perhaps the setting of the library serving the same purpose-  innocently inspiring new ideas every day.

I recently had the chance to visit the Lewis Carroll gardens when staying with friends at Sussex Square in Brighton, England, just around the corner from the apartment where the famous creator of Alice in Wonderland stayed.  A special key was needed to enter the garden, which was surrounded by dark hedges and a wrought iron fence.  My friends and I rushed in as the sun was setting and just as my camera battery ran out.  These two things frustrated me at first, but in fact made the garden visit all the more magical.  I darted through thick hedges, trying to keep my friend’s red coat in sight, as we searched for the famed Rabbit Hole.

The Rabbit Hole itself is a not actually the miles-deep hole that Alice fell down, but a quite horizontal brick tunnel that leads from the park to a terrace overlooking the sea.  You’re ushered out by a glance back at the bright white houses sharply rising over the crisply cultivated garden, down a corridor just long enough for six impossible thoughts, and through a small door.  I was told by a new friend, ironically I thought, that the terrace at the end of the tunnel, just outside of the garden, was not a safe place for a girl on her own.

Wanting to find an account of his stay in Brighton, I set out on a library search for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson,  the mathematician, cleryman and writer who would have preferred that we didn’t know he was Lewis Carroll.  There are quite a few accounts of his work, as well as biographies of his life that include some dark details:

Lewis Carroll- a Biography by Morten Norton Cohen is a probing look into the darker side of the author.  He kept a large collection of photographs of his young girl friends, and was likely in love with a young girl named Alice Liddell from the time she was about eight years old.  He loved creating puzzles and new formulas for solving logistical problems.  I had always thought that the odd little comments that Alice or the Mad Hatter made were satirical, but after digging a bit it seems to me that these were actually the author’s true voice, perhaps misunderstood for the better.

The Alice Behind Wonderland by Simon Winchester is a biography that just came out last year.  He focuses on Dodgson’s love for photography to give a fresh, modern, and honest perspective on Alice in Wonderland from the photos Dodgson took, as well as a biographical look at Alice Liddell- “the Real Alice.”

The annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass is the concorded Bible of Alice in Wonderland, with every odd, dark and creepy detail carefully numbered, with illustrations from the book compared with original drawings and plenty of scholarly analysis.  The cache of characters to consider is vast- the Cheshire Cat, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, the Queen…  You can see all of them on screen in two versions:

Alice in Wonderland(1951)                

This is the classic animated movie that gave us the iconic little blonde girl in a blue and white dress, the white rabbit and the cheshire cat.  In my mind this movie falls under the category of movies that everyone knows, whether they like it or not.  For example, our beloved Karen here at the library, though she claims to not be a fan of Alice in Wonderland, loves to say “Off with their heads!”- quoting the shamelessly irritable Queen.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)  A later, harsher, somewhat more psychadelic take on Wonderland (Underland.)  I saw this in 3D in the theater when it came out, and had alternately a turning stomach and furrowed eyebrows.  The tempo of Tim Burton’s style has always eluded me a bit.  Several times I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to laugh or be competely horrified.  In either case, I was certainly mesmerized, and very much impressed by the actors’ performances.  I have to say that I enjoyed the DVD at home much more than the 3D in the theater.  It’s clever and psychologically probes into the issues that created the Wonderland characters.

I have to conclude, after looking into the details of the life of the writer and considering a story that seems playful and innocent on the very surface, but could actually be incredibly dark, that Lewis Carroll himself might be the very character you would not want to meet in the dark corridor of the Rabbit Hole in Brighton.   At the same time, what if his relationship with Alice could have been a truly innocent friendship of silly words and fresh douses of logic applied to the rules of Victorian society?  It’s stunning to note how many references there are to Alice and the rabbit hole- from Tom Petty’s music video of “Don’t Come Around Here No More” to a documentary on quantum physics to the latest Stephen King novel (“11/22/63”).  According to our Ken Burns documentary on the National Parks, even Yellowstone was almost named Wonderland.  In all of these things, we get a little glimpse of the inspiration for the ideas that have sent so many of us floating down the Rabbit Hole.

Miriam Lee is the Technical Services Assistant at Oliver Wolcott Library, who always thinks six impossible things before breakfast.

‘ “Somehow,” said Alice, “it seems to fill my head with ideas — only I don’t know exactly what they are!”‘


She’s walking purposefully up the sidewalk carrying only a small purse, which matches her smart but flattering dress suit that she made last winter.  Her hair is shining neatly under a perfectly pinned hat.  She calls a friendly but cordial hello to a neighbor at the perfect volume, and the neighbor replies with a “and a good evening to you, Miss Lee.”  She’s home from a hard but rewarding day at work, heading to the simple white ceramic enamel of her small but efficient kitchen.  This is who I want to be when I grow up.  When I grow up to be a character in a movie in 1940, that is.

A colleague recommended the film Swing Shift (1984) when I mentioned my interest in the era of women newly taking the reigns in factories and offices.  Goldie Hawn is at her cutest as a military wife who rises to the patriotic call of duty to build bombers for the war effort.  The cast is fantastic (Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, Christine Lahti, and of course Kurt Russell to balance Goldie) and the movie is a very interesting glimpse into 1940, 1980s-style.

It seems to me that there is a distinct difference between women in movies of  the 1940s and women in movies about the 1940s.  To contrast, I borrowed a true 1940 movie from the OWL Box:

The More the Merrier. I brought this movie with me on my last visit to see my grandmother.  Grandma said, dryly, “This would have been hilarious back then” at a corny slapstick sketch of a man losing a coffee pot in the sleeve of his bathrobe and then spilling it into the tub.  I thought  perhaps she and I were on the same page then, looking into the past together.  But by the end of the movie I was as lost as if watching a foreign film, while Grandma seemed perfectly pleased, taking the “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” theme with her to the kitchen.

I have an impression that the women of that time were empowered and excited by the opportunity to build bombers and take on the war effort.  Factories saw an increase in production, and over 150,000 women signed up for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.  These are statistics though.  I love being able to study history through the true stories of real people.

Our Mothers’ War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II by Emily Yellin

This book is truly illuminating and reaches areas of history that most of us probably never came across in our text books, including chapters on Japanese-American women, African-American women, and even a chapter on The “Wrong Kind” of Women.

Cultural History of the United States Through the Decades: the 1940s by Michale V. Uschan is a simple history book intended for young readers, but I found it a very helpful place to start.  Though some of the more disturbing realities of history are neatened and clipped for the purposes of fifth grade reports, but it is informative and interesting all the same.  It even includes a section on “Forties Slang.”

On the Home Front: my mother’s story of everyday American Life

This is a series of very short stories by Mary Jo Clark, as told to her son.  They are told in such a way that I can easily picture the teller at her kitchen sink, not slowing down her daily work to dress up her stories-  just telling it like it is.  It’s amazing what history books can forget in countless chapters that a passing thought of someone who lived it can color in so vibrantly.  There are stories of lost children, sickness, marriage, death, and an almost constant search for a home.  No matter what the story, though, the endings seem almost flippantly wise- “That’s just the way it was back then.  Anyway, that’s how I met your father.”

The Women Who Wrote the War by Nancy Caldwell Sorel  This book is a collection of the incredible stories of women war correspondents during the second world war.  I find their stories and their unapologetically graceful way of telling them inspiring.

One chapter begins with this quote “At about 4 a.m. on June 6 my military friend rang to say, ‘Take the curlers out of your hair and get going,'” Mary Welsh wrote later.  “I had no curlers in my hair but I got going.”  There was no room for waste, especially not time to waste arguing with people about their attitudes or sexist comments.

I have to admit that some of the aspects of technology and modern comforts are for the best, and as much as I envy the slim figures, I’m glad to not be counting out ration points at the grocery store.  The more I learn, the prouder I am of my foremothers and the amazing feats they acheived.

 Miriam Lee is the Technical Services Assistant at Oliver Wolcott Library, and is currently shopping for a new hat and practicing her trans-Atlantic accent.

It’s Time to Meet the Muppets

It’s time to light the lights…

When the snow started falling a this past October, I decided to stage a private rebellion by popping in my favorite Christmas movie, weeks before my Scroogey friends even started complaining about carols and decorations in the stores.  A Muppet Christmas Carol, starring Gonzo the Great as Charles Dickens, Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchett, Michael Caine as Ebeneezer Scrooge, and countless Muppet vegetables and animals and monsters singing and hobbling around with the perfect balance of comedy and sentimentality only the Muppets can deliver.  I watched it twice before the power went out.

The Muppets have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  In fact the oldest possession I have is a very worn Miss Piggy doll-  the third of a series of Miss Piggy dolls that I carried around with such devotion that I believe the second one was lost to my Grandpa’s shovel when he thought it was something a farm cat had killed and dragged in the house.  Miss Piggy was my hero a decade before I could have enunciated a feminist position on a role model with a positive self-image who defends herself and her friends ferociously.  (Remember what she did to the cat-calling construction workers in The Muppets Take Manhattan?)

Muppet Show– We have Seasons 1, 2 and 3 of The Muppet Show here at the library-  a Muppet hosted variety show with special celebrity guests of just about everyone you could think of (and many you’ve probably forgotten all about.)  It is sensational, inspirational, celebrational, and most importantly, Muppetational.

I feel it’s fair to say that the Muppets helped raise many of us in my generation (I was born during Season 5 of The Muppet Show, just after The Muppet Movie came out.)  They worked hard going after their dreams, cared for each other in a world that often tried to take advantage of naive bears and frogs, and even in their success, they maintained their self-aware senses of humor and their salt-of-the-earth good characters.

Muppet Movie 1979-  This is the movie that begins with Kermit the Frog’s #1 song “The Rainbow Connection.”  He decides to take his bike and leave the swamp to become a star inHollywood.  Along the way he meets Fozzie, Miss Piggy and The Electric Mahem, and several other new Muppet friends.

In an odd way, the characters of the Muppets are almost more human than their actually human co-stars.  Perhaps it’s simply that they have been around, essentially unchanged, for forty years, making many of them some of the most recognizable faces around.  Perhaps we trust their integrity to a greater degree, having seen them back stage on the Muppet Show, arguing and working things out with special guest stars who have aged while their Muppet hosts have stayed the same.  We’ve seen them in a few flops over the years, and we’ve seen them recover.  The Muppets can even break character while telling a classic tale- something only the most famous of actors can get away with.

You’ll often find in interviews with actors and celebrities who have worked with the Muppets that the difficulty of working with the Muppets was not the same as in other movies where they may have had to work with CGI or trained animals.  Jason Segel said it was quite natural talking with Kermit, but disturbing to see him set aside, lifeless, while not working.  The Muppets are more than real to me.  This became very clear to me while watching a clip of Kermit on the Dr. Phil show.  At one point Dr. Phil’s wife leaned over and petted Kermit while he was talking.  I found this completely offensive, as Kermit is not a toy or an animal to me, but a cultural icon, on the level of Bob Dylan or Audrey Hepburn.  You don’t have to like them, but show the appropriate respect!

WIRED magazine has an article on the new Muppet movie- “The Muppets.”  I find it fitting that the first magazine with an opinion on the new movie is the technological computer magazine.   (“That’s because smart people like the Muppets.  You can quote me on that,” says Ann Marie White, director of Oliver Wolcott Library.)

From what I’ve seen in previews, “The Muppets” looks like it’s going to follow the classic Muppet Movie theme of making it in show-biz, with the Muppets playing themselves.  The sweet and lovely Amy Adams (of Enchanted) is almost certainly going to annoy Miss Piggy.  If you need to do further research, the music for the new movie was composed by Bret McKenzie of The Flight of the Conchords–  the story of two men who could be Muppets, trying to make it inNew York City.

Muppets Take Manhattan 1984  In this movie the Muppets take the show toNew York City.  Kermit meets a nice girl in a diner, (which is also where we meet Rizzo the Rat for the first time) making Miss Piggy incredibly jealous.  She is comforted by Joan Rivers with a make-over.

Muppet Christmas Carol 1992 This was Brian Henson’s (the oldest of Jim Henson’s five children) first movie after the passing of his father.  When Ebeneezer has his breakthrough after the third ghost, the Muppets follow him around the snowy streets ofLondon buying presents for the Cratchetts with bells and velvet dresses in full Victorian Christmas splendor, singing of love and the joy of giving.  These are the kind of friends who, when you do want to commit a  completely outrageous act of kindness or sing Christmas carols in October, they won’t even question the revolutionary change in character, but follow with all the support they can offer, singing along in forty-part harmony.

Muppet Treasure Island 1996- Tim Curry is brilliant as Long John Silver in this movie, made all the better by perfect Muppet casting:  Kermit the Frog as Captain Smallet, Miss Piggy as Bejamina Gunn, Gonzo and Rizzo and sidekicks for Jim Hawkins, and Statler and Waldorf sea and scene-sick on the front of the ship throughout.

Muppets From Space 1999        Wallpaper, gonzo, video

The Muppets of the 90s are the same age as the Muppets of the 70s, but they keep up with the issues of the times, and are always willing to take on new friends.  Several of the characters from the short-lived but wonderful Muppets Tonight show join the cast, including one of my new favorites, Pepe the Shrimp.

(“I am a King Prawn, okay?”)    Old and new friends join together to save Gonzo and Rizzo from scientific testing, and help Gonzo to understand that his friends love and accept him, no matter where he’s from or what he’s made of.

So at opening night this Wednesday, with my crew of three generations of Muppet fans,  it will be like watching old friends.  I do sincerely hope that The Muppets is a hit, but if it’s not, my friends the Muppets will still have their place in my heart.

Miriam Lee is the Technical Services Assistant at Oliver Wolcott Library.  According to a Facebook quiz, if she were a Muppet, she would be Miss Piggy.  Of course.

“Would you look at that-  we’re in a blog about the Muppets.”

“Well, it’s better than being stuck in a room with them!”  “Bwa haa ha ha!”


“At the quilting bee, one might have learned.. how to bring up babies, how to mend a cracked teapot, how to take out grease from brocade, how to reconcile absolute decrees with free will, how to make five yards of cloth answer the purpose of six, and how to put down the Democratic party.” -Harriet Beecher Stowe

When I was about 14, I spent $5 on a blue hooded sweatshirt in a thrift shop, and continued to love it to shreds all through high school and college.  Every time a new hole appeared, I saw it as an opportunity to add to the growing collage of bits of old socks and jeans that grew up the sleeves and around the pockets.  When I graduated college and thought I had to start trying harder to look like an adult, I decided to pass on the ratty sweatshirt, covered with about 80 patches at that time, to my youngest sister for her 16th birthday.  She wore it proudly, and as the years and more patches were added on, it carried bits of stories of which no single person knew all the details.  My college roommate gave me a piece of her mother’s old dress.  I added a piece of a pair of jeans I destroyed on an archeological dig in Greece.  My sister stitched in stories of her own.

A few weeks ago, she and I visited the Durham Fair in the pouring rain, which made our long stay in the quilting barn all the cozier.  The quilts were beautiful and tremendously impressive, but I made sure to check the tags for which were “professionally quilted.”  “Made by Machine.”  “Cheating!” I said to my sister.  We ventured on to the fair’s History Barn, where we stretched over the rope to study the details of an old farm kitchen, complete with a ‘window refrigerator’ and a cast iron ball from which to hang your yarn, keeping it clean and out of the claws of the housecat.  We moved on to the ancient washing machine and rolling dryers.  I remembered a few of my grandma’s horror stories of hair and fingers getting caught in the squeezing rollers, and decided that maybe technology isn’t so bad. 

The Quilts of Gee’s Bend–  I had the opportunity to visit an exhibit of the Quilts from Gee’s Bend in 2005 when they were on display in the Boston Museum of Art.  I was stunned and inspired by the beauty and creativity.  This book beautiful book tells the incredible stories of the quilts and the women who made them.  These are quilts made with the barest of tools and materials, often without even scissors, and yet vibrant works of art.

I was so inspired by the book of the Quilts of Gee’s Bend that I decided to try making a quilt by hand myself, since I know I’m going to need another blanket to get through the winter in Litchfield (and since I can never get my handheld sewing machine to work properly anyway.)

Grandma’s Best Full-Size Quilt Blocks: Pieces of the Past for Today’s Quilter–  In this book, historic patterns are freely shared, along with their meanings and stories, and some food for thought.  Some of it is quite moving.  There is a quote from a pioneer woman’s diary- “I made quilts as fast as I could to keep my family warm, and as pretty as I could to keep my heart from breaking.”   Flipping through quilting books with patterns from my grandmother’s time, her grandmother’s time, impeccable creations of very intricate detail, I feel a connection to women in history books that I haven’t before.  I start to wonder if I could learn to quilt neatly and beautifully, maybe even correctly, using the old patterns to honor their originators.

The Standard Book of Quilt Making by Marguerite Ickis- I am enjoying the luxury of a small pair of scissors and the quiet of my own apartment with no babies or hungry husbands around to disturb me while I work.  The pleasant surprise of the needle and thread effectively making the pieces stay together was enough for me, but when my sister came over for a crafting night, hauling her sewing machine into my apartment and unfolding strips of perfectly evenly stitched patches, matched to the millimeter in size, I realized I had a long way to go before winning any ribbons at the fair.  This book is a good primer for a struggling student.

Creative Quilting by Elsa Brown- I find crafts most intriguing not when they’re the most beautiful, but when they are the most creative-  especially taking things that would otherwise be thrown away and making them into something lovely and useful.  Somehow patches of fabric coming together to make a substantial difference in ones comfort when the temperature drops is profound to me.

Historic Quilts by Florence Peto- This is an interesting book on the stories and symbolism of historic quilts.  It offers specific insights into historical, regional and cultural symbolism in traditional quilt patterns.

Mini Quilts from Traditional Designs by Adele Corcoran and Caroline Wilkinson- Another vibrant book that makes it look so easy!  I’m drawn in to the accessibility of a “mini” quilting project, but these patterns are by no means lacking in detail.  (I’m not here to start a fight, but where did this idea that women aren’t good at math come from, when the complexity of the geometry and the precision of the patterns of these quilts is sometimes absolutely staggering!)

Nancy Crow– This is a beautiful book on the quilting artwork of Nancy Crow.  The work is bright and expressive, and the artists statements are truly moving.

The Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford will be having a special exhibit this winter called “Colts and Quilts: The Civil War Remembered,” which will include historic quilts.  The Atheneum is the oldest public art museum in the country.  The library owns an admission pass that is available to check out at the circulation desk.

Miriam Lee is the Technical Services Assistant at Oliver Wolcott Library.  She is stock-piling scraps of fabric like a squirrel, and has never been so excited for the cold weather to start!

Books and Readability

I have to admit that my re-introduction to Jane Austen really began with a celebrity crush.


Through this though, I found a new love for the sassy, smart and surprisingly hilarious Miss Austen.  Sometimes  on a walk down a gravelly trail at White Memorial, I suddenly find I’m Eliza Bennet; my jeans and grubby t-shirt become a spotless white and lacy empire waist dress, and I’m not walking for the 20 minutes of cardio, but for the loveliness of the wood, the cleansing of the mind and spirit and- oh! Who is that rustling through the brush?  Not a scavenging squirrel, but James McAvoy, or perhaps Colin Firth, or a cleaned up Paul Rudd, playing a devilish young man who will later turn out to have deep character behind his witty arrogance.

It turns out, once you are out of school and don’t have to cite the pages, there are several different ways to enjoy classic literature.  In the two hundred years since they were written, Jane Austen’s works have been reinterpreted, recorded, re-recorded, acted out, re-acted out, and reacted to many times, and in all of the different ways technology has offered, from the ball point pen to Blue Ray.

I can easily get caught up in an audiobook of Pride and Prejudice in the car- so much so that when I get to the grocery store or the bank, I try to craftily insert comments on someone’s “countenance” or “carriage” into the next available conversation.  This hasn’t won me any new friends just yet, but I’m sure if I keep referencing the authority on acquaintanceship, happy days are to come.  If you are inclined to join me, here is just a sample of the Austen-sible advice available to us here at the library.

History of England–  This is an entertaining and somewhat informative document written by Jane Austen at the age of 16.  The illustrations of various English figureheads were drawn by her sister, and you can enjoy the entire work in Jane Austen’s original handwriting.  You can practically hear them giggling as they dip their quills.

Pride and Prejudice–  With all due respect to the author, of course, the reader of this audiobook, Irene Suttcliffe, absolutely steals the show.  She even sniffs in character.  Jane and Elizabeth Bennett overcome the trials of growing up and coming into society with a rather dim and dramatic mother, dangerously wild younger sisters (two are dangerously flirtatous and the third dangerously pious,) and a series of callings and balls and walks from here to there that cause all sorts of trouble and miscommunication.

Pride and Prejudice–   Take this book along if you’d like to start up a conversation at the coffee shop about a book based on its cover.  Isn’t it lovely?

Sense and Sensibility– This book is the story of the Dashwood sisters, who have to leave their home to live in a small cottage at the passing of Mr. Dashwood, who left the estate to their brother.  Good and lousy characters are eventually found out, and everyone gets married and lives happily ever after.

Northanger Abbey–  Another tale on audiobook of the complexity of falling in love correctly, and overcoming bad timing and false assumptions.  Catherine, the daughter of a countryside minister, is invited to stay in Bath in high society.  She makes new friends of people and of Gothic novels.

Mansfield Park– Watch the classic story on DVD of Fanny, an insightful and spirited girl is sent to live with relatives.  Everyone learns a little about love and society.

Emma– One of Austen’s most popular stories, made into film with Gwyneth Paltrow as the quick-witted matchmaker, who gets caught in a love triangle or two of her own creation, and manages to handle almost everything with enviable grace.

Clueless– A silly 90s movie that becomes brilliant if you watch it directly after reading the original Emma.  The story is essentially the same, but set in glitzy Beverly Hills instead of the grassy estates of provincial England.

Becoming Jane– on DVD.  I have a friend from London who seems personally offended by Anne Hathaway’s British accent, but I think she’s perfect as Jane.  Not too tough, not too silly, not too proud, not too sensible.  This is the possibly-true story of her love affair with Tom Lefroy, played by James McAvoy.  The story is true enough to life to break your heart just a bit, mend it again, and leave you a little wiser in the end.

Jane Austen Book Club– This movie is the story of an eclectic book club that decides to read only Jane Austen, and continue meeting every month despite the trials of life and despite the fact that half of them don’t seem to like each other much.  In fact, if you’re like me, and maybe a bit bored by the supposed hilarity of men not liking Pride and Prejudice, you may not like many of the book club members very much.  There came a moment, though, when it seemed that each character was embodying some aspect of a Jane Austen protagonist, either in pretention or sappy sisterly love, or just a person trying to overcome the trials of loving and being a reasonable person at the same time.

Lost in Austen– A long but delightful film.  Imagine Briget Jones and Quantum Leap becoming one and jumping in to the beginning of Pride and Prejudice.  Amanda Price is a young woman in London who finds herself where Elizabeth Bennett should be.  A little time travel, a little meddling in the time-space continuum, and, as perhaps is the lesson with all of our Jane Austen experiences, the lesson that the technology and costumes may change, and even if the words change meaning over the years, our stories of love and loss are very much the same.

So, the next time you need to read something apropos by candlelight, consider the witty, poignant, amiable, and ever human, Miss Jane Austen.  (And if you’d rather listen to the audiobook or watch the movie, we won’t tell.)

Miriam Lee is the Technical Services Assistant at Oliver Wolcott Library.  She is very much enjoying her time here in the Colonies, spending afternoons practicing the harpsichord and dressing for tea.


Last Tuesday night, I brought a small package of kimchi to have with some noodles for dinner.  The smell that wafted through the library required some explanation on my part, and as my colleague tried to find something to prop the door open to let in some breathable air, I realized that I needed to do a little more justice by Korean cuisine, and share what I know about kimchi.  

Kimchi is, most commonly, a spicy dish made from fermented cabbage.  Most Koreans eat it with every meal, and almost all consider it one of the healthiest foods in the world.  Though sometimes quite stinky and not terribly visually appealing, it is amazing for your health, and invariably the first thing Koreans abroad will tell you they miss from home.  In fact it’s quite high on the list of things I miss. 

I lived in Korea for two years, teaching English as a foreign language.  I lived in a city called Jeonju, which is famous in Korea for its food.  It is the home city of a dish called BiBimBap.  (“Bap” is Korean for “rice,” so it’s probably the most common word on a Korean menu: Impress your friends the next time you’re out for bulgogi with “Bap, chuseyo!” (“rice, please!”)). 

There are a few brands of packaged kimchi that aren’t hard to find in grocery stores.  When I lived in Brooklyn, I was lucky enough to live just around the corner from a Korean deli that served up homemade, fresh kimchi.  I’ve always been a little worried that my ripe smelling grocery bag and I might get kicked off of the train if I tried to take it back to Connecticut with me.  Not liking the packaged options and not being willing to drive to Brooklyn to do my grocery shopping, I decided it was time to try my hand at making my own kimchi at home.  In searching for recipes, I came across several great books in our collection on Korean food and culture.

Oriental Gourmet by Khalid Aziz-  This cookbook spans several different Asian countries, offering detailed and specific instructions for several quite exotic dishes while not being overwhelming or too complicated.  It even has ChapJeh- chewy glass noodles with scallions and pork, essentially.  I know that I can’t hope to make it taste like the ladies in the Tae Bong school cafeteria did, but I can’t wait to try. 

Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition by Paul Pitchford is an extremely thorough guide to eating, including instructions on how many hours after eating what particular foods one should drink certain temperatures of liquids.  The kimchi recipe, though, is surprisingly short.

The Beauty of Korea by Jai-Sik Suh-  This book was designed to make you believe that Korea is the best country in the world.  This level of nationalism is not unusual in Korea.  Many things have been vigorously glossed over, but the photographs are stunning.

Korea: a Walk Through the Land of Miracles– by Simon Winchester-  (You may already love this author from one of his many other books: The Man Who Loved China, Alice Behind Wonderland, The Map That Changed the World.  This honest and captivating book was passed around the group of English teachers in Jeonju and considered the best book on Korea written in English.  Winchester follows the walking route that the first Europeans to set foot on the peninsula of Korea took in the 17th century.

Korea: its history and culture by Chris Wright – This book gives a simple and lovely overview of Korean culture and history.

Korea: travel guide– I would have loved to have had these colorful and easy-to-read maps and concise, yet intriguing descriptions of tourist attractions while I was there!  This guide book also has a very good section on tea and food, including  “ddok”- a sticky sweet rice cake. 

Kimchi and Calamari by Rose Kent-  This novel is on the Intermediate School’s summer reading list.  It’s the self-discovery story of a fourteen-year old Korean boy who was adopted by Italian parents.

Some of my favorite kimchi dishes are kimchi chigeh (essentially kimchi soup:  quite spicy, and usually includes both tofu and pork); kimchi chon, or pochimgeh, which is what some people call a kimchi pancake or kimchi pizza.  Kimchi is surprisingly versatile, once you get used to it.  I have to admit that I haven’t made it to a kimchi taco truck myself, but I have no doubt that it deserves all the press it’s been getting in New York.  I put some kimchi on a turkey sandwich once.  I couldn’t convince anyone else to take a bite, but I thought it was quite good!

Of all these culinary experiences, though, my favorite will always be the lunch time that my second graders taught me how to stop making a fool of myself with my chopsticks, and use a piece of kimchi to wrap around the rice and eat it in one delicious bite.  Try it!  And, as I was told before each meal, translated as “have a delicious,” Mashagetisoyo!

from Health.com : “Why to try it: Kimchi (or kimchee) is loaded with vitamins A, B, and C, but its biggest benefit may be in its “healthy bacteria” called lactobacilli, found in fermented foods like kimchi and yogurt. This good bacteria helps with digestion, plus it seems to help stop and even prevent yeast infections, according to a recent study. And more good news: Some studies show fermented cabbage has compounds that may prevent the growth of cancer.”

Miriam Lee is the Technical Services Assistant at Oliver Wolcott Library.  She is currently bashing a head of cabbage and a radish with a big stick and shopping for earthenware jars.

Enjoying the Apocalypse


     Enjoying the Apocalypse                            

Last summer a good friend of mine sent a group of us an email writing that she felt we should discuss and decide upon a plan for where to meet up if the end of the world were to come.  The responses that followed, which were mostly intended, I think, to lighten her mood, turned the plan of a drill into a game, testing our survival skills, and ending in camping under the stars.  I found the planning of bandage rationing and nuclear fallout shovelling genuinely exciting, and therefore gave some serious thought to whether this indicated a mental disturbance or if I had just always wanted to be a Girl Scout.  Or, worst of all, I was a Sci-Fi nerd.

I am a devoted fan of The End of the World as a theme in books and movies, and would list cheesy volcanic, asteroid, mega-tsunami films amongst my guiltiest pleasures.  (I have to say no thanks to Zombie movies-  love the empty streets and re-establishing of societal rules from behind the barricaded door, hate the gray skin tone and skull-sawing.  Ew.)  What I love is a catastrophe with a real scientific article or documentary with which to follow up and and add to my paranoia.  There are massive caldrons of magma, irritable tectonic plates, and an earth covered with oceans that can swallow massive populations without even noticing what they had done.  We can take some comfort in knowing that we’ll probably never see much worse than a temporary power outage.  At the same time, a certain kind of comfort can also be taken in knowing that the asteroid could be barrelling through space right now, obliterating every irritation of our daily lives.  So, relax and enjoy the story, and go to work in the morning knowing that there’s no real need to lose sleep over typos and late payments when the whole town could be covered in twelve feet of volcanic ash tomorrow.

Here at the library you can find everything you need to bring the thrill full circle-  watch an exciting two hours of the end of the world, then read up on how accurate the filmmakers’ science actually was.  If you’re really inspired, you can even pick up a few things to help you prepare.

Whether you consider it a break from or to reality, may I recommend a little of the End Times for your summer enjoyment.

Volcanic mass destruction?

The Road by Cormac McCarthy- This is not for the faint of heart, but as difficult as it is to read some gruesome parts, it is much harder to put the book down.  A man and his child are on foot, trying to get south to safety after an explosion (presumably the volcano underneath Yellowstone.)

The Book of Eli– a film from 2010 in which Denzel Washington and Mila Kunis battle evil and cannibalism in a dusty and brutal post-apocalyptic U.S.  There are also compelling questions of literature, religion and power.

Mass epidemic?

The Stand– Possibly one of Stephen King’s best, in this dark and lengthy novel approximately 90% of the world’s population gets wiped out by a strain of super-flu.


Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (read on audiobook by Emily Bauer, who truly makes you feel that you’re hearing the story in study hall.)  A slight change in gravity and tidal patterns sends the fifteen-year-old story teller’s life into upheaval.  I particularly enjoyed the detailed description of the asteroid hitting the Moon and the details of the craters becoming clear as it was pushed closer to Earth.

The Day After Tomorrow–  This movie is one of my personal favorites-  obtuse governments and massive tidal waves disrupting the social order, and of course the hero and heroine finding true love in the public library.

It seems to me that the best way to get through the apocalypse is a bit of creativity, positivity, a sense of humor, perhaps a little preparation.  It can’t hurt to know how to build a lean-to or store drinking water in a cactus, can it?  Consult Anyone Can Live Off the Land by James Ralph Johnson, a serious Boy Scout and marine who can tell you how to build a fire in the rain and cook up a high-protein meal from the forest floor.  Also pick up one of the Man Vs. Wild  DVD series of Bear Grylls– an English adventurer and writer who even knows which kind of shellfish to use as sunblock.

Now that you’re informed and prepared, perhaps you would enjoy having some of Weird Al Yankovic’s songs from his latest album, Alpocalypse, as you walk for months searching for (or perhaps avoiding) other survivors.  Or there is everyone’s favorite account of planetary destruction, The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  Unlikely and likeable heroes float and fly through space with an improbability drive and a point-of-view ray gun, battling bureaucracy and depression.  Classic.

Miriam Lee is the Technical Assistant to the Adult Services Librarian at OWL, and recommends being always prepared with a nail clipper, a can opener, waterproof matches, a towel, and of course, your library card.