Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Librarian's Guide to Gift-Giving

Gift Giving
Many of you have completed or nearly completed your holiday shopping.  I wanted to get this information out sooner, but I was too busy adding items to my shopping cart.  I was clicking so fast that I’ve had to return some items BEFORE Christmas.  For those of you who are still Christmas shopping, here is my advice on holiday gift-giving.

Tip 1:  No toy stores.  Small children like a LOT of Christmas presents to open but that doesn’t mean they have to come from expensive toy stores.  They will quickly reach the age where they start requesting brand names.  In the meantime, you can get a ton of new stuff for them to play with at dollar stores and closeout stores.  Just make sure the toys are age-appropriate or you’ll be spending Christmas in the emergency room.

Tip 2:  Don’t buy gifts for people you don’t like.  This is your hard-earned money we’re talking about.  You don’t like [fill in the blank] 364 days of the year, so why are you buying him/her a Christmas present.  Merry Christmas will suffice.

Tip 3.  Set limits on gift-giving.  Dear Mr. & Mrs. Generosity, I know your third cousin’s family enjoys getting gifts from you every Christmas, but you’re not a bad person if you pare down your expenses and buy gifts for fewer people.  Many large families pull names and some only buy gifts for immediate family.  You may be closer to your third cousin than your siblings, but you understand what I mean.

Tip 4. Give love on Christmas Day.  Johnny Gill is right.  The season is about the birth of Jesus Christ, love, and all that good stuff.  Try this with your family.  Give out warm hugs, say Merry Christmas and I love you, then run when they find out you didn’t buy them anything!

Tip 5.  Don’t believe the media hype.  If your Christmas resembles anything like the elaborate celebrations in commercials, PLEASE invite me over.  Television tries to make us believe that the more we spend, the happier we’ll be.  Those folks are paid to look happy and that stuff is not real. 

I know what you’re thinking.  I’m Scrooge.  Bah! Humbug.   Have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!  

Friday, December 19, 2014

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Judy Garland, and Birmingham

1944 theatrical poster of Meet Me In St. Louis
As you read the title of this blog post, you may have exclaimed, “What does Birmingham have to do with the song, 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' and Judy Garland?” This song made its debut in the 1944 classic musical, Meet Me in St. Louis, which starred Judy Garland and contained several songs written by Birmingham native, Hugh Martin. The song, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas", went on to become a hit and a Christmas favorite. What you might not know is that the lyrics were changed as Judy Garland deemed them too sad.

The original lyrics were: 
"Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last, 
Next year we may all be living in the past. 
Have yourself a merry little Christmas, pop that champagne cork, 
Next year we will all be living in New York. 
No good times like the olden days, happen golden days of yore, 
Faithful friends who were dear to us, will be near to us no more." 

After a lot of convincing and realizing it was probably the only way his song would remain in the film, Hugh Martin changed the lyrics to what we all know and love. The changed lyrics were: 

"Have yourself a merry little Christmas, 
Let your heart be light 
From now on, 
Our troubles will be out of sight, 
Have yourself a merry little Christmas, 
Make the Yule-Tide gay, 
From now on, 
Our troubles will be miles away." 

Hugh Martin expands upon this story in his memoir, Hugh Martin: the Boy Next Door. Watch Judy Garland's performance of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" from Meet Me in St. Louis.
If you liked this Christmas story and its little known connection to Alabama, you have to check out Christmas Tales of Alabama by Kelly Kazek. This book tells of Helen Keller’s first Christmas, why Truman Capote wrote A Christmas Memory, history of white Christmases in Alabama, and many more delightful stories.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

BPL Closed December 18 for Inventory Day

All BPL locations will be closed Thursday, December 18, for Inventory Day. As part of our ongoing efforts to provide high-quality library services, it is important to devote a day to housekeeping projects. Some of the projects include shifting books to create more space on the shelves, discarding books that are too damaged to circulate, and reading the shelves to insure that the books are in order. These projects are done to better serve our patrons for the coming year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Battle of the Bulge

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge (also known as the Battle of the Ardennes). Fought December 16, 1944-January 16, 1945, this was the last significant German assault against the Allies in World War II.

Hitler’s plan had two objectives: to capture the port city of Antwerp, Belgium, and in doing so split in half General Dwight Eisenhower’s forces; and to destroy four Allied armies located between Bastogne, Brussels, and Antwerp.

Early in the morning of December 16, 1944, the Germans surprised the Allies in the fog, cold, and snow along a 75-mile front in the Ardennes Forest. The surge of German forces created the “bulge” in the front line as the three Allied divisions positioned there pulled back.

From December 17-22, the allies held back the Germans while reinforcements arrived. December 23 brought good weather, and the Allies began attacking by air. Some American troops were surrounded in the city of Bastogne until December 26 when it was relieved by General George Patton.

Fighting continued until the Germans began a withdrawal on January 8. The original front line was reconstructed by January 25. Hitler did not have the material, manpower, or resources to mount another large-scale attack. The Allies suffered casualties of approximately 80,000; the Germans’ losses were approximately 100,000.

See also:
American Memory, Library of Congress, Situation Maps
History Reference Center (BPL database)

Michelle Andrews
Government Documents Department
Central Branch

Deck the Halls...and Everything Else! Christmas with the Arts, Literature, & Sports Department

The countdown continues—only a few more days until the jolly man in red comes around. But guests will be popping in your home many times before the big day. (By guests I mean the human kind, not those spunky jingle-bell elves.). Does your home say “HoHoHo” or “Bah, Humbug”?

No one wants to be a Scrooge around the holidays. Check out these featured items in the Arts, Literature, & Sports Department so your home and everyone in it will be feeling the festivities.




Appliquilt for Christmas         



A short story collection by famous American and European authors         

A pocket-sized book of Christmas poems                

O Holy Night!: Masterworks of Christmas Poetry                 

Images of Christmas      
Calligraphy & illustrations; Includes prose, verse, scores         


Christmas Worship       

White Christmas: The Story of An American Song                 


Art selected from 40 paintings held by the Vatican and Italian State libraries

A Blue Dog Christmas  
Art by George Rodrigue

O Holy Night       
Poetry essays, scenic photos, and paintings of the Holy Land at the time of Christ's birth 

Bethany Mitchell
Arts, Literature, & Sports Department
Central Library

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

New Library Digital Collection Commemorates the 75th Anniversary of Gone with the Wind

This week marks the 75th anniversary of the premiere of David O. Selznik’s Gone with the Wind, a film that these many years later remains a mainstay in American popular culture. To commemorate the anniversary of the movie’s release, the Birmingham Public Library’s webmaster and the Department of Archives and Manuscripts created the digital collection Gone with the Wind and Back Again: Birmingham and an Indelible American Film. Made up of newspaper articles, an illustrated Gone with the Wind program, and letters from Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell to former Birmingham mayor George Ward, this collection highlights a number of connections between Gone with the Wind and the Magic City while also placing these documents and the film itself in their broader historical and cultural contexts.

The digital collection can be viewed at

Jim Baggett
Archives and Manuscripts Department
Central Library

Bad Girls Book Club

Bad Girls Book Club 2014
Wilmington, North Carolina

Every December, my sister-in-law sends her brother and me a year’s summary of her Bad Girls Book Club selections. Their choices have served me well in my reading, and sometimes they have chosen my recommendations as well. These women are serious readers, but perhaps not so “bad.” They are “bad” in the sense of “awesome” as they seek literary fiction and engage in in thoughtful, rigorous, and lively discussion. Being a “bad” boy, I would have to be a fly on the wall to actually attend. Knowing three of them well, I am certain that I am missing out on interesting discussions and fabulous food and libations.

Nonetheless, we can all partake of their excellent and inviting selections.

January: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

An almost 800-page Dickensonian tale of love, identity and art; beautifully written and hard to put down.

February: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Set in India and America and beginning in the 1960s, this is the unforgettable story of two brothers and a country torn apart by revolution.

March: The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers

Set in modern France, this is the story of Agnes Morel (who was found in a basket by an old farmer), the great cathedral of Chartres, and the many characters who weave together in the old town of Chartres. Agnes carries a mystery as she quietly goes about her tasks. What is it? [This was one of my recommendations to Suzanne and her book group and it proved to be a big hit. Visit here to read a previous blog piece wherein I reviewed this intriguing novel.]

April: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Historic fiction set in the 1900s in New York City. This is a love story set at a Coney Island freak show and at the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

May: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Set in a tiny village in England. After a tragic accident, a very successful young man becomes a quadriplegic. An ordinary girl from the village comes to care for him.

June/July: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Beginning in 1803, this is the story of two young girls in Charleston. One is an urban slave; the other is from a wealthy, aristocratic family.

August/September: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Set in 1987, the story of a 14-year-old girl and her relationship to an adored uncle who dies of a disease her mother can barely talk about.

October: We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride

Set in modern Los Vegas, a story about how even the smallest things we do have meaning.

November/December: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Set in the 1800s, this beautifully written novel includes history, botany, love, and magic.

To learn more about online and local book groups, visit here.

David Blake
Fiction Department
Central Library

Friday, December 12, 2014

Calling All Authors: Register Now for the 2015 Local Authors Expo

Registration has begun for the 2015 Local Authors Expo & Book Fair at the Birmingham Public Library. This annual event provides an opportunity for authors from the Birmingham area to meet the reading public, autograph books, and network with other writers. The Expo will be held at BPL's Central Library at 2100 Park Place, Birmingham, Alabama, on Saturday, February 7, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The event is free for the public, but registration is required for authors who wish to promote and autograph their books.

In addition to hosting up to 100 authors at this year's event, there will be presentations open to the general public: At 10:00 a.m., local author and attorney Keith Lee (The Marble and the Sculptor: From Law School to Law Practice) will speak about the legal aspects of publishing. At 1:00 p.m., UAB professor and author Marie A. Sutton (The A.G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham: A Civil Rights Landmark) will speak about writing on historical subjects.

So if you're a Birmingham author: Click Here to Register

The registration fee is $5. For an idea of what to expect, browse our photos of the 2013 Expo. For the general public to attend, no registration is required.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What's in a Logo?

I read an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal about the meaning of various movie production logos. Older companies have recognizable logos that have been around for years. Some are simple while others are complex. If the logo is confusing, moviegoers and investors might not understand the message the production company wants to express. When I see the Disney, MGM, or Lionsgate logos appear at the beginning of a movie, I think I am in for a visual treat.

I thought about the Birmingham Public Library logo. It is a simple design reminding us that books are a great source of information. The glowing flame of knowledge emerging from the book tells me I can find a variety of resources at the library.

The Birmingham Public Library provides great sources of information for the public. Free internet and computer access is critical in today’s society. Every day, patrons conduct online job searching, resume writing, and communicate with friends through e-mail services. Through HomeworkAlabama, Learning Express Library, and the Alabama Virtual Library, patrons can do research and get homework help. The library presents educational and cultural programs as well as provides gathering spaces for public meetings. The library is a quiet place for those who want to play chess, read a magazine, or listen to music through a media device. Finally, everyone can find books, audio/visual materials, e-books, and downloadable books for entertainment and research.

Teresa Ceravolo
Southside Library

Food Network Star Martie Duncan and Birmingham area chefs will host “Birmingham’s Best Bites’’ cookbook signing this Saturday

Primeaux Cheese & Vino's P Jack's Fresh Egg Sandwich
Arden Ward Upton and Mo Davis of Arden Photography
Food Network Star Martie Duncan and several popular Birmingham area chefs will be at the Birmingham Public Library on Saturday, Dec. 13 to sign copies of the new cookbook, Birmingham’s Best Bites: Favorite Recipes from Restaurants, Bars, & Food Trucks Around the Magic City from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The book, which features more than 80 recipes from more than 60 area restaurants, is $25.

Proceeds will benefit the library.

"This is a book that’s giving in so many ways. Not only is it creating funds for the library, but it’s bringing attention to our local restaurants," says Duncan.

"People who’ve never been to Birmingham, are buying the book. Now they want to come here."

The book's first edition was released in early October 2014 during a finale party for the library's Eat Drink Read Write Festival. Demand was so great, especially for the holidays, that a second printing was needed. Alagasco made the second printing possible. The cookbook is now available at the following

Some of people's favorite recipes are in the book like Hot and Hot's Tomato Salad, Ashley Mac’s Mac and Cheese, Dreamcakes Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Bourbon Caramel Glaze and many others. Chefs such as The Fish Market's George Sarris, Little Savannah’s Maureen Holt, The Gardens CafĂ© by Kathy G, Primeaux Cheese & Vino's Ric Trent and Chris Vizinna will sign books on Saturday. Refreshments will be served.

Little Savannah's Shrimp and Blue Grits with Bacon Vinaigrette
Arden Ward Upton and Mo Davis of Arden Photography
Duncan says that the book’s color photography, done by Arden Ward Upton and Mo Davis of Arden Photography, is so beautiful, that people will either want to make the recipe or make a reservation. "George Sarris says he’s selling his Cioppino, which is in the book, more than he ever has," Duncan says. Tamara Zeigler bought the book and made the Dreamcakes Brown Sugar Pound Cake for Thanksgiving. She says it was gone in three days. "It was delicious," she says. Says Vizinna: "People who've purchased the book and read it, have commented on the fantastic compilation of recipes from the local restaurants and chefs in the Birmingham area. Everyone's excited that the Birmingham library benefits from sales of the book."

Birmingham Public Relations Director Chanda Temple is a contributor to the book, which will be sold on Dec. 13 and will be available at the library's bookstore on the second floor.

Book Review: Ghosts: A Natural History: 500 Years Of Searching For Proof

Ghosts : A Natural History: 500 Years Of Searching For Proof
Roger Clarke

So: a history of ghost-hunting and ghost-investigation? I couldn’t wait. It had never been done before. Roger Clarke saw a hole. There were “lots of books about people seeing ghosts, but almost nothing about what ghosts might be.” Strangely, he states a few pages later that Ghosts isn’t “a book about whether ghosts exist or not.” Which the subtitle would seem to promise. But a few chapters on I didn’t mind so very much because Clarke had uncovered such an abundance of strange and absorbing information, was telling the history well and still managed to give me the creeps, not an easy balancing act, to say the very least.

How to convey an idea of such an embarrassment of riches? It’s an iceberg—let me give you an idea of the tip. Topics include the following. Why ghosts faded into the background in England (this book is mostly about England) when Catholicism was banned by King Henry. (By the way, ghosts are good at fading into the background.) How, in history, your religion, social status, education, and the century you were born in affected your take on ghosts. The surprising story of early Methodists and ghost-belief. Joseph Glanville, England’s Ghost Hunter General. Is it or is it not logical that ghosts have clothes? The long and impressive list of scientists who researched ghosts-William James, Alfred Russell Wallace, Edison, many more. The EEG machine and how it started off as a device to detect telepathy.

On odd occasions, Clarke gets so swept up he blunders, as when he states that the gothic novel was first developed “by gay men and asthmatic women” without offering any specifics, or stating that Emmanuel Swedenborg essentially “remained a Bible-reading Calvinist.” Bible-reading, certainly. Calvinist, ridiculous. Another flaw: this book is part of a new cost-cutting trend of printing photos directly onto rough instead of higher-quality paper, which results in poor resolution. This is a problem inasmuch as Clarke often refers to details in the pictures which sometimes don’t show up (or show up well) after transfer.

But there’s so much to praise here that I feel churlish saying such things. Where else am I going to learn that spiritualism and early socialism were closely connected? But it’s the chapter on Victorian seances and sex that is alone almost worth the price of admission. Clarke tells the story with admirable restraint, a restraint which only highlights the drama and humor of the proceedings. (Not only is the subject matter English, the style is, too.) For Clarke, the seances were all about sex, yet another way in which history’s most famous repressed society shoved down eros only to have it pop up in an unexpected place.  Clarke titles one of his chapters “On The Vulgarity Of Ghosts.” He’s clearly not kidding. The interesting thing is that the Victorians did not frame all this as sex, but as scientific exploration or metaphysical or religious seeking. I think some of them, at least were consciously excited by the shenanigans, but, mostly, there was a disconnect here, and a big one. Victorians had a lot of disconnects. That’s why they’re so fascinating. Clarke’s set pieces in this chapter are involving and often side-splitting. The things the mediums got up to before the skeptics debunked them were brilliant stage magic under another name. The most ingenious of them survived all skeptics, which convinced many that they had real supernatural powers. I’d like to know what they did; the tricks (and I think they were tricks) would turn out to be some of the most brilliant sleight-of-hand in history.

Religion, sex, vulgarity, shivers, hypocrisy, pratfalls, phonies unmasked—who could ask for anything more? Actually, you get quite a bit more in Ghosts. All this, and the afterlife too. Or something that passes for it.

Richard Grooms
Fiction Department
Central Library