Connecting Through Literature

One of the best ways to connect with others is to have something in common, and frequently it’s a common “favorite” like a book or a movie. It’s fun to talk about a favorite thing with someone who is equally enthusiastic!

A few weeks ago I visited my 12-year-old niece. She’s never too revealing about anything that happens in school – the conversation usually begins with “What are you learning about this week?” with the answer of “Oh, nothing…” But occasionally she’ll talk, as was the case on this visit. As I read over her shoulder, I asked about the story she was writing. It was a school project related to a book they were reading as a class. She handed it to me – “It’s about this millionaire who dies, and one of the people in his will will inherit everything…but he was murdered and it’s a mystery to find out who did it.” Uh, how did he know who killed him when he wrote his will? “I don’t know! We’re not finished the book yet!”

I was happy that she was happy reading. She’s a fantastic student at the top of her class, but she’s not as enthusiastic about reading as I was at that age. Fortunately, she has way more friends and more physical hobbies like dance and soccer. But something was nagging me about this book…it sounded familiar. Nah, it can’t be…

As a kid, I used to buy books stacks at a time when we could afford it. Of those hundreds, I eventually saved ones that I really liked and gave away the others. By adulthood, I had about 14 of my old books – not counting a shelf full of Robert Heinlein novels that straddle the “young adult” and “adult” fiction categories. I looked at my bookshelf, and found what sounded a lot like my niece’s book. After a quick call to confirm the title, it was the same book!

The Westing GameThe Westing Game by Ellen Raskin won the Newberry Medal in 1979, and I probably read it shortly thereafter — the same age my niece is now. As I paged through it, I couldn’t remember anything about it at all, but the fact that I still had it meant that I must have really liked it. The book isn’t just a mystery, but a “puzzle mystery” where the reader tries to solve it by finding various clues scattered throughout the novel. Consider it my early prep work for my future as a genealogist!

Finding that minor connection with my niece was nice, and it led me to wonder – how many of our present likes (or dislikes) are similar to those of our ancestors? My niece is now reading what is called a “modern classic” on the cover of the latest printing, which puts it into the realm of the old days when her old aunt was a kid. As a former English major, I have read and loved many classics that go back a lot further than 1979! My ancestors didn’t leave any records or diaries of the books they enjoyed, but maybe, just maybe, I re-discovered one of their favorites many years later.

Will your descendants know what your favorites were as a child or an adult? I didn’t even remember my own old favorite until I was reminded by a 12-year-old!


Is that a poem in your pocket?

Tomorrow is “Poem in Your Pocket Day” and Lisa has challenged bloggers to post their favorite poems. Here we go again…you know how hard it is for me to choose a favorite. I thought about using a Polish poet in honor of my Polish ancestors. One great Polish poet is the Nobel-prize winning Czesław Miłosz who wrote some beautiful and moving poetry. Another is Karol Wojtyła, otherwise known to the world as Pope John Paul II. He wrote poetry from an early age, and it is deeply inspiring and soul-filled. His 1939 poem, “Over This, Your White Grave”, is a haunting glimpse of his love for his deceased mother. To honor my Bavarian ancestors, I could have chosen a poet from the very same town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Joseph Maria Lutz, who even wrote a poem about his “hometown”. My own hometown of Philadelphia has had many notable poets that at least stayed a while to write some poetry, including Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman. But, the challenge of “Poem in Your Pocket Day” is to choose your all-time favorite poem. To quote the site noted above: “The idea is simple: select a poem you love during National Poetry Month then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends on April 17.” And that, without a doubt, is Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 30”. No need to carry it; it’s the only poem I know by heart. Let me share it with you:

Sonnet 30 by William Shakespeare

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

I summon up remembrance of things past,

I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,

And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste.

Then can I drown an eye unused to flow,

For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,

And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,

And moan th’ expense of many a vanished sight.

Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,

And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er

The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan,

Which I new pay as if not paid before.

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,

All losses are restored, and sorrows end.

National Library Week: A Tribute

This week is National Library Week, and librarian-blogger Lori Thornton of Smoky Mountain Family Historian has challenged bloggers to write a tribute this week.  But I can’t decide among my favorites – libraries were always important to me because I love books.  Here are some of my “favorite” libraries, whether legendary, fictional, or very real:

The Library I Wish We Could All See

If there is one library whose mere name fires up one’s imagination, it is The Library of Alexandria, also known as The Great Library.  Founded around 300 BC, supposedly by Demetrius, a student of Aristotle, the library aimed to hold copies of all of the manuscripts in the known world.  It may have come close to that goal since it is reported to have had nearly 750,000 scrolls in its collection.  Their acquisition methods were suspect, but successful.  The great mystery surrounding the Library is that scholars are not sure how or when it was destroyed.  It was most likely a series of fires and plunderings over the years,  including rampages by the likes of Julius Caesar and invading Muslim armies.  Its legacy was not its lost collection, but the very idea of a house of knowledge where anyone can come to learn new things.

The Library with a Collection That Made Me Giddy

I’ve been to many libraries, but the one that was the coolest is the British Library in London.  It wasn’t so much their vast collection, but the works they have on display in their museum.  There I was able to stand in front of many marvelous works including illuminated manuscripts, a Gutenberg Bible, a First Folio, and – my personal favorite – Leonardo da Vinci’s workbook.  Simply amazing!  Visitors to their website can turn some of these famous pages online.

The “First” Libary

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin started the first library in the United States?  Well, he may have, but it depends on who you talk to.  Since I’m from Philadelphia, we say that our own Ben Franklin (after moving here from Boston) began the first public lending library in 1731.  Called The Library Company of Philadelphia, members paid money to belong with the rationale that combined and shared resources could produce a far greater collection than any one man of moderate means.  In a time when few people could afford their own collection of books, Franklin and company came up with a brilliant idea.  Franklin’s library is still in existence today as a research library, and his idea inspired free public libraries all over.

My First Library

When I was a child, my local branch of the system of Philadelphia Free Libraries was hardly older than me.  It was built in 1969 in the up-and-coming Northeast section of the city.  I probably found it a few years later when I began to read at age 5.  This particular branch was small, but it was close to my house.  I haven’t researched this, but it may well be one of the only public buildings in the US that is named after a Roman Catholic saint.  Shortly after opening, the library was named the Katherine Drexel Branch in honor of the famous local heiress (1858-1955).  I mean really local – our neighborhood is ground that once belonged to the Drexel family.   Katherine gave up her life of comfort to found a religious order of sisters that cared primarily for African Americans and Native Americans in the poorest parts of the US.  Mother Katherine was canonized a saint in 2000.  I think she’d be as proud about having a public library named after her as she would be about any other buildings!

The Library That Helped Me Graduate

The Free Library of Philadelphia, to which my first library belonged, is “headquartered” in downtown Philadelphia at 19th and Vine Streets.  Throughout high school and college, if you really needed to do some serious research for term papers, this was the place to go! Outside of Washington, DC, you don’t usually see buildings built quite like this one.  Shouldn’t all libraries be this huge and imposing?  This particular site of the library was built in 1926, but the Free Library of Philadelphia was officially established at other quarters in 1891.

Free Library of Philadelphia

My Favorite Fictional Library

Who wouldn’t want to visit the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, an old library of precious but forgotten titles.  Only a select few know about this library and can read these “lost” books.  If you love books, you’ll want to read The Shadow of the Wind, a 2001 novel by Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

The One, The Only…The Genealogical Library

There may be many genealogical libraries, but The One that has an impact on every genealogist is the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.  I’ve never been there in person, but without their holdings and the ability to borrow the films at local family history centers, my genealogical research would have never taken off.  Thank you!

If you like books, chances are you’ve been to a few libraries in your lifetime as well.  Which libraries are your favorites?  Be sure to go hug a librarian this week for National Library Week!

Tag, I’m It – A Book Review Meme

This isn’t quite genealogy-related, but I love books so it’s fun anyway.  I’ve been tagged by The Virtual Dime Museum for a book meme.  Here are my answers…

What issues/topic interests you most–non-fiction, i.e,cooking, knitting, stitching, there are infinite topics that has nothing to do with novels?

The non-fiction topics that interest me the most and find their way to my bookshelves the most often are religion, history, and travel.  If a book contains all three of those topics rolled into one, it’s a must for me!  I also read a bit on health topics (alternative medicine), classic film, genealogy, and writing.

Would you like to review books concerning those?

I don’t actively seek out “book review” jobs, but I wouldn’t mind it, especially if I really enjoyed the book.  I like to talk about books I loved.  Reviews are a bit harder when you didn’t enjoy the book – unless you really hated it, then those are easy!

Would you like to be paid or do it as interest or hobby? Tell reasons for what ever you choose.

As someone who writes for fun and for money, I can tell you that it’s infinitely more fun to be paid for what you write.  A book review is actually harder than one would think, and since a lot of thought would have to go into it, I’d rather be paid.

Would you recommend those to your friends and how?

I do recommend books to my friends all the time, either in conversation or in email.  Most say, “Who has time to read?”  I actually wanted to begin a third blog that would deal mostly with books I’ve read and the topics they cover.  As I was reading about 2-5 books a month for a while, this seemed like it would be easy to do.  But, this blog has taken up a bit too much time – I’ve found I haven’t been reading as much, so starting another blog just doesn’t make sense right now.

If you have already done something like this, link it to your post.

I haven’t.

Now I’m supposed to “tag” ten other bloggers.  Lidian, just how many bloggers do you think I know? 😉  I think all of my blogging friends have already been tagged, so let’s just read all of their responses!

New Genealogy Magazine

Well, the news is finally public! Halvor Moorshead is starting a brand new genealogy magazine in addition to Family Chronicle and Internet Genealogy. The new magazine is entitled Discovering Family History and will hit the newsstands in April. But, you can view a free “preview” at the website and download a 56-page preview issue in PDF format. I have an article in the first issue (which is also in the free download) on genealogical societies. Although this new magazine is aimed at beginners, as most genealogists eventually discover – we’re always learning new things. Check out the preview issue and see if you’ll want to add another subscription to your mailbox.

Blogger Poem – An Ode to My Lack of Information and Time

Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi, has put out a blogging challenge this week to write a poem. Terry has taken challenges to a new level with this one! So, I’ve done my “homework” as Thomas calls it, and gave a meager attempt. But first, a confession…

I admit that I’m an English major with two degrees in “English”. I admit that I’m a writer, and I’ve even been paid on occasion to write. I admit that I’m a voracious reader because I love words (though both my writing and reading have taken a hit since starting this blog). I admit that I stole my blog’s name from the World’s Greatest Poet. But, Terry, here’s my ultimate confession: “I AIN’T NO POET!” So, please ignore that I have degrees and get paid to write sometimes, because no one will pay for this one!

My ancestors came from lands far away
Once in the US, they decided to stay
Leaving no trace of their origins, to my dismay
Now I’m trudging through history
Because their lives were a mystery
And genea-blogging now takes up my whole day!