Libraries and Their Keepers, Reprise

As a companion piece to my current post on Paula S Jordan’s Wordshop (my brand new website :-) ) I am resurrecting here a post of mine from 2011. It was then written as a followup to a DarkCargo piece entitled Everyman’s Library comparing traditional books (older reading devices) to e-books.

Copyright by Paula S. Jordan, 2011-2015

I’d like to offer a thought or two on the places of enchantment and discovery where those ‘older reading devices’ were to be found, i.e.: ‘older libraries,’ and the Librarians who brought them to life.

My earliest memory of a library was of a single pleasant room attached to the general store in my grandmother’s tiny Louisiana town.  My brothers and I would climb the steps to the long-unpainted porch that served both establishments, say polite hellos to the chorus of old men wearing down the benches outside the store, and pull open the screen door at the end of the porch.

The room was no more than ten feet by twenty, with windows on the front and one side wall, Miss Duckworth’s small desk to the right of the door, and all remaining wall space filled with books.  In the center was a table where featured books were displayed, and where members of the summer reading club colored in a segment of a smiling bookworm for each book we read.

Miss Duckworth was a world-expanding experience for me, with her suggestions of such new friends as the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew, and the fabulous adventures they enjoyed.  When she discovered that I liked science fiction, she made sure that I found all the six or eight volumes with the space ships on their spines.  Later still it was biographies, maybe twenty in all, and I read all those as well.

She never had an assistant that I knew of. When she was ‘indisposed’ the door inside the battered screen was locked.  Her own pay, if she was paid, was surely very small.  What I regard, then, as the gift of her time, was pivotal for me.  Though other libraries have followed, with flashier technology and limitless collections of more serious and challenging fare, Miss Duckworth’s was the cornerstone of my reading life.

And I wonder, for all the convenience and variety of e-books dropping magically into our reading devices, isn’t something missing? And I’m thinking of something more than the bulk and heft of words resting physically in your hand. I am thinking of the absence of that other hand that put the book into yours.

New Words: Propitiation


“At two a.m. we passed Point Lazaro, one of the reputedly dangerous places of the world, like Cedros Passage, or like Cape Horn, where the weather is bad even when it is good elsewhere. There is a sense of relief when one is safely past these half-mythical places, for they are not only stormy but treacherous, and again the atavistic fear arises–the Scylla-Charybdis fear that made our ancestors people such places with monsters and enter them only after prayer and propitiation.”

The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck

the act of placating and overcoming distrust and animosity
syn: placation, conciliation
the act of atoning for sin or wrongdoing (especially appeasing a deity)
syn: expiation, atonement
ORIGIN: c.1395, from Late Latin propitiationem “an atonement,” from Latin propitiare “render favorable,” from propitius “favorable, gracious, kind,” from pro- “forward” + petere “go to.”

World Fantasy Con 2014

Copyright by Paula S. Jordan 2015

Art by Centennial Artist Virgil Finlay

Art by Centennial Artist Virgil Finlay

A great con, as the 40th World Fantasy Convention (held the 6th through 9th of last November in Washington DC ) certainly was, should be recognized here however belatedly.

Themed in honor of the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of World War I, the convention also paid tribute to the births in that same year of two notable talents in the field of fantasy: writer/filmmaker Robert Aickman and acclaimed artist Virgil Finlay.

Several convention offerings spoke directly to the centennial theme.

Michael Dirda, scholar and Pulitzer Prize–winning book critic for the Washington Post, presented a spritely discussion entitled Fantasy and the Great Age of Storytelling: mid-1800’s to World War I. His delighted audience scribbled down pages of new titles for their to-be-read lists,

In addition to examinations of the works of Messrs Aickman and Finlay, panel discussions on the period included Historical influences in Fantasy, Women’s Roles in Fantasy Fiction Changed by World War I, and Myths and Legends of World War I..

World Fantasy Award Nominees

World Fantasy Award Nominees

The primary business of the annual convention, the presentation of the 2014 World Fantasy Awards, got underway at the opening ceremonies as nominees in the various categories were welcomed and given their nominee pins. Life Achievement Honorees Ellen Datlow and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro were also introduced, as were the convention guests of honor: author Guy Gavriel Kay, artist Les Edwards, author and creator/editor of Whispers Magazine, Stuart David Schiff, very special guest Lail Finlay, daughter of Virgil Finlay, and Toastmaster author Mary Robinette Kowal. A nicely staged remembrance of World War I was presented during the ceremonies.

Other highlights of the con included An interview with Life Achievement Honoree Chelsea Quinn Yarbro [author of an astonishing 91 novels – horror (28 Saint-Germains), mystery, science Image3fiction, western and YA – plus 7 nonfiction books and 78 short stories, under 5 pseudonyms] … A lively discussion of R.A. Lafferty as an American Fantasist … A panel on Young, Middle-aged, and older writers – How Does Age Affect Writing … Comments from Julie Czerneda on the Ecology in World Building panel … The Cicerones, a film by Robert Aickman … and readings by Patricia  McKillip, Andy Duncan. and Carol Berg.

Sadly, I was unable to stay for the Sunday afternoon World Fantasy Awards Banquet. The winners, in case you haven’t seen them yet, can be found here.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro photo credit: Facebook

New Words:hornswoggle

(just because it actually is in the dictionary; I didn’t expect it to be…)

All the way to Genua there were people who’d been duped, fooled, swindled, and cheated by that face. The only thing he hadn’t done was hornswoggle, and that was only because he hadn’t found out how to.
Making Money by
Terry Pratchett

horn⋅swog⋅gle /’hɔ:n,swɔgl/
deprive of by deceit
syn: victimize, swindle, rook, goldbrick, nobble, diddle, bunco, defraud, scam, mulct, gyp, gip, short-change, con
ORIGIN: “to cheat,” 1829, probably a fanciful formation.


My bro and I attended the Academic Library Association of Ohio annual conference today.

There was cake!

It was a nice close out to my year-long career as a para-professional part time customer services librarian. I was asked to co-present a poster with a co-worker on the FIFA World Cup programming we did over the summer.


Our urban community college library showed the FIFA games on the large media screen during the World Cup.

Many of our students in the library are Somali and Ethiopian. They asked me several times in early June where we would be showing the games. Of course we would be showing the games, no question in their minds. Soccer is such a huge part of their lives that it just doesn’t compute that Americans don’t really care about the sport too much.

I brought that question to my co-worker, who also happens to be the only soccer fan in America, and she put together a lot of reference and instructional programming on Soccer as a portal question for library services, coordinated the Media Studio for the game broadcasts, and made a video.

I got the happy task of asking our students to write out the word for soccer in their home language. Many words are a variation on British “football”, of course, but the whole experience from the circulation desk was one of community building and giving ownership of the library to the students: making it their space. (video)

It took everyone on staff to make the programming happen, from the librarian who narrates the video above, to the evening media studio worker who would every day post the new stats and game times.

The conference was a great day, spending a little more time with my colleagues before moving on to the new job on Monday morning.

Vampires? In New England?

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

I always figured the only vampires in the US were in New Orleans, neatly interred — at least in daylight — between the pages of Ann Rice’s books.Gravestone

But not so.

There was a real live, er, undead one in Rhode Island, with a really eerie grave where no grass grows and the tomb stone “must be anchored down by a steel post.” Or so goes the story. Coins, shells, rocks, even printed prayers, have been left there as gifts for 19 year-old Mercy Lena Brown.

Mercy died in the deep winter of 1892 and her body was stored in an above-ground tomb until the ground thawed enough to bury her. When suspicions of Rock Cropvampires arose, Mercy’s body and those of her also recently deceased mother and sister were exhumed. The decayed condition of the other two bodies was enough to acquit them. But Mercy’s, having lain only two months in the freezing, above-ground tomb, was in perfect condition. It was reported, in fact, that she still had fresh blood in her veins. Proof positive that she was “feeding off the living.” So they cut out her heart and burned it on a stone.

In another instance, the body of a 50 year old man, buried around 1830 in Connecticut, was “completely rearranged” some time after death. The skeleton was beheaded, the ribs fractured, and the head laid on the chest with the thigh bones crossed beneath it as on a pirate flag.

And they weren’t the only ones. Rhode Island Folklorist Michael Bell has exhumed some 80 “questionable” burials, some from as early as the late 1700’s or as far west as Minnesota, but primarily in backwoods New England in the1800’s. He suspects there are many more.

Stone crypt at Chestnut Hill Cemetery, Exeter, RI, where Mercy's remains may have been kept in the winter of 1892.

Stone crypt, Chestnut Hill Cemetery, Exeter, RI, where Mercy’s remains may have been kept the winter of 1892.

But what raised such powerful suspicions among the good people of New England?

Turns out, the one linking factor among all the known disturbed burials is that they occurred around the time of virulent outbreaks of consumption (tuberculosis.)

People falling ill without explanation? Wasting away till death claimed them?

What would you think?.

P.S. It’s been suggested that one Bram Stoker, traveling in the United States with a theater company the same year as Mercy Lena Brown’s exhumation, may have taken note: Lena + Mercy = Lucy??? And a doctor attending at her exhumation as with Miss Brown’s?

P.P.S. H.P Lovecraft specifically mentions Mercy’s exhumation in “The Shunned House,” and includes a living character named Mercy.

Extensive analysis and commentary here:
The Great New England Vampire Panic, Smithsonian, October 2012

mystery of Rhode Island’s vampire revealed

Book or Treat Halloween Collection time!


Thanks to Wendy and Andrea whom (who?…) have both donated to the collection, the Book or Treat Halloween Collection is approaching massive.

We started this last year. We live in a very Trick-or-Treat neighborhood, very socioeconomically diverse (read: “inner city”). By 8 pm we’d given away over 200 books, and we had to shut down the house.

In other words, the kids love the books! Yes! You may have more than one!

Tho this is focused on kids, Wendy suggested that I incorporate a selection for the parents, too. Maybe next year!

Kat’s TBFinished pile

I finally compiled my TBR list. I’m hoping to get through these in the next year. I always find more to read on my kindle library too, but these are the ones I’ve been thinking about and I figure if I put them in a nice list I will remember to look at it and prioritize! I do own all of these books, so, realistically I should read them before buying yet another kindle book on sale. Just kidding. ;-) Also, I already started most of these. sigh. so this is more of a TBFinished pile!

My abbreviations are [HB] hardback, [PB] paperback, [K] Kindle

In no particular order:
~House of Bathory by Linda Lafferty [K]
~Ignition Point by Kate Corcino [K]—->this is my friend! read this! she’s good!
~Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Sea [PB]
~Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch [K] (kind of a re-read…turns out the audio book I listened to 4+ times was abridged! The horror!! But hey! Now I get to read this awesome book about the Gentlemen Bastards again for the first time.)
~Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch [K] (more Gentlemen Bastard adventures)
~Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss [K] (this is a re-read for when the new side story book comes out!)
~Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey [big fat PB]
~Icarus Rising by David N Pauly [PB]
~Wool by Hugh Howey (re-read 1-5, then read the rest, I think there are 8?)
~Great Gatbsy by F Scott Fitzgerald [K]
~PT Barnum by Kunhardt [HB]
~Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi [HB]
~The Doctor and the Dinosaurs by Mike Resnick

whew! wish me luck!

Tales from my Ursula K. Le Guin Bookshelf: The Earthsea Cycle Part II

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

smilings2When Ursula Le Guin revisited Earthsea some years after her completion of Tehanu, as she explains in her Foreword to Tales from Earthsea:

A mere glimpse at the place told me that things had been happening while I wasn’t looking. It was high time to go back find out what was going on now … [and also about] … things that had happened back then, before Ged and Tenar were born. A good deal about Earthsea, about wizards, about Roke Island, about dragons, had begun to puzzle me ….

Tales of EarthseaAnd so, as she put it, she went back, “to spend some time in the Archives of the Archipelago.” The five luminous stories that resulted shed a few bright rays on the people and the forces that unmade and remade and reoriented the world of Earthsea  during the 300 years before Ged. They are told in that quiet Le Guin voice that contains the raging of the storm. The calm that is the storm

“The Finder,” recounts the time after “Elfarran and Morred perished and the Isle of Soléa sank beneath the sea,” after further depredations from warlords and self-serving mages and wild dragons out of the west, after Erreth-Akbe’s Ring of Runes was broken. In that dark time the safest and most reliable magic rested with the “Women of the Hand,” long forgotten in Ged’s time, and with a Finder named Otter, a man who, with the women of the heavily-warded enclave on Roke, began to build the future.

“The Bones of the Earth” gives insight into the selfless strength and generosity of the true mage, and of the sorcerers who would teach the sorcerer who would teach Ged.

“Darkrose and Diamond” tells of the love between two gifted people and the trials they face in times when such gifts were both coveted and suspect.

“On the High Marsh,” from the “brief but eventful six years” when Ged was Archmage of Earthsea, tells the story of a child whose great powers were so harshly misunderstood and repressed that even on Roke he could not be mended, and of the one who went alone and on foot to find him in yet another place of ignorance to which he had run.

The final story, “Dragonfly,” occurring a few years after the end of Tehanu, introduces a powerful new character and provides a bridge, “a dragon bridge” as Le Guin says, between that book and the next one, the masterful novel The Other Wind.

Tales concludes with a 23-page “Description of Earthsea,” filled with details and explanations for much of the world of Le Guin’s creation. Close readers of her stories will revel in this. And for writers aspiring to Le Guin-quality fantasy, there are riches to be found in the Foreword: about “the way one does research into nonexistent history,” and the importance of stories that “have weight and make sense.” You’ll want to read it. Over and over again.

The Other Wind reaches back, nearly to the dawn of history, to identify and address the greatest wrong ever done by the mages The Other Windof Earthsea. This ancient miscalculation, a colossal failure of magic, comes to light through the heartbreak of a sorcerer named Alder, whose young wife calls to him from across the low wall between the living world and the realm the dead. What can be done to mend this vast error and make right the harm it has caused? And who has the power for the task? Tenar, Tehanu, the young king Arren, the former Archmage Ged, and Irian, a dragon who can take the shape of a woman, gather in the Immanent Grove on Roke, to try.

It was in reading the Tales From Earthsea this past week that I felt the whole of this long, patient story wash over me, the slow gathering together of whose parts Le Guin has pursued over these thirty-one years. It is a simple story, seen whole: a world of sometimes rough, sometimes marvelous beauty, populated by a people of rich imagination and great but often flawed intention, who insist on the superiority of their own limited vision over the deep-rooted wisdom and power of the natural world around them.

So, is there more of Earthsea’s story yet to come?

Le Guin tells us in the new Afterword provided in the 2012 edition of The Other Wind that, so far as she knows, “the story that [she] had to tell ends here.”  And yet, she says, she knows what Tehanu will do, and where Ged will go now.

For this series of posts there is definitely more: the science fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin. The Dispossessed, which many consider her masterwork, and my favorite, The Left Hand of Darkness, and Always Coming Home. And more? We shall see.