Friday, December 26, 2014

BPL Closed December 24-26 for Christmas Holiday

All Birmingham Public Library locations will be closed Wednesday, December 24, through Friday, December 26, for the Christmas holiday. Warmest wishes for a happy, peaceful holiday from the Birmingham Public Library.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Springville Road Crafters to Begin Warm Up America Projects—A Modern Day Crafting Bee

Warm Up America is an organization that pairs America’s knitters and crocheters with people who need warm blankets or accessories during the cold months of the year.

The Coffee, Conversation and Crafts group at the Springville Road Library will be working together to crochet and knit caps, afghans, scarves, etc., for local charities to pass along to people in need.
We’ll begin by stitching 7” x 9” blocks, which we’ll then join to form complete afghans. There will be written patterns available, as well as instructions and templates. If you already crochet or knit, please join us! If you don’t know how, but would like to learn, we invite you to come and we’ll teach you. Hands on instruction will be provided free, as well as yarn, crochet hooks, and needles. If you have your own scraps and notions, you are welcome to bring them along, too. It’s a great way to use up scraps of yarn left over from previous projects, and making the blocks is excellent practice for the beginning crafter.

Our group of fun loving women (and men) meet every Monday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the meeting room at the Springville Road Library. We always have crafts to work on, coffee and snacks to enjoy, and lots of folks to chat with as you work or just visit. You don’t have to work on the featured craft, you can bring you own project or just sit back and enjoy the company.

 For more information, see the Springville Road Library Facebook page or call Kelly Laney at 226-4083.

Kelly Laney
Springville Road Library

Southern History Department's Book of the Month: Christmas With the Washingtons: Being a Special Account of Traditional Rites Observed in Virginia . . .

Christmas With the Washingtons:
Being a Special Account of Traditional Rites Observed in Virginia . . .
Olive Bailey, with drawings by Worth Bailey

Not many modern readers would associate George Washington with Christmas. If we think of Washington in winter, we’re more likely to remember the painting of the General praying in the snow at Valley Forge. But Olive Bailey’s delightful Christmas with the Washingtons gives us a look at the Christmas season of the late 18th century in America and how it would have been celebrated by the upper classes at such manors as Belvoir, Westover, and—of course—Mount Vernon.

Far from limiting herself to Washington the President and Founding Father, Bailey starts with young George and tracks him through various Christmases, explaining as much as the historical record allows of where and how he spent them. As a young man in 1751, Washington was on the deck of the ship Industry in the seas around the Barbadoes and his Christmas dinner consisted of “Irish goose which had be[en hung] for the purpose some Weeks.” Definitely not our idea of a dinner that would be cleared by the Health Department. Yet Washington survived this holiday offering, not to mention many another that would cause a modern nutritionist to exclaim in dismay.

As I read through this brief book (less than 50 pages) I had to wonder if the memory of the sufferings and deprivations of Valley Forge gave extra relish to some of the dishes Washington encountered later in his career. Our 21st century dietary habits are the impetus for many a New Year’s resolution to start a diet, but compared to the partygoers of the late 1700s, we are the rankest of amateurs in the field of excess. One has only to read the recipe for Martha Washington’s “Great Cake,” which begins with “Take 40 eggs & divide the whites from the yolks” and calls for “4 pounds of butter,” to have an attack of indigestion without eating a mouthful.

The Prayer at Valley Forge, Arnold Friberg 
But the book is not just about the food of the era. Bailey vividly describes the sights and sounds of the Christmas celebrations in progress: “Once again they heard the carefree, unrestrained sounds of Christmas—pistol shots (!), firecrackers, rousing song . . .” There are lists of toys, books, and other gifts for children, many of which had to be ordered from London. Think of the time that would pass between sending the order and actually receiving the items, and then compare that to our era of ordering online with next-day delivery.

I had never thought of George Washington as a “festive” person. Many of his portraits, especially in later life, are rather grim-looking, and Bailey does tell us that “as Washington grew older he took to writing letters on Christmas Day. Could it be his study was a quiet stronghold against the numerous loquacious guests?” Mount Vernon was apparently a pivot of social life in Virginia in those days, to the point where Washington lamented that it had become like a “ ‘well resorted tavern’! No wonder General and Mrs. Washington formed the habit of retiring to their apartments early—it was probably the only opportunity to talk of their own affairs.” But I did find that this book added some lively color to that segment of American history for me. And after reading some of the recipes in this book, no one need feel too guilty about indulging in a few seasonal treats. Happy Holidays!

Mary Anne Ellis
Southern History Department
Central Library

Birmingham's Best Bites Cookbook Signing at Primeaux Cheese & Vino at the Summit, December 22

Food Network Star finalist Martie Duncan, Arden Photography, and Chanda Temple will sign copies of the new Birmingham's Best Bites cookbook during a wine and cheese tasting event at Primeaux Cheese & Vino at the Summit on Monday, December 22, 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Primeaux is located next to Pottery Barn Kids.

Duncan says Monday's event is not only a good time to get a copy of the book, but to also learn about which wine and cheese pairings are ideal for those last-minute holiday gatherings. Paul and Deborah Primeaux, owners of the Primeaux and Dixie Fish Co., said they are excited about the book, Monday's event and supporting the library. Book proceeds benefit the library.

"We really are proud to be a part of the Birmingham restaurant community and anything that can do to bring attention to the quality of food purveyors in the city,'' says Paul Primeaux. "I think any great city has to have a great library.''

The book, which is a Birmingham Public Library fundraiser, can be found in the following locations: the downtown library's bookstore, the Fish Market's Southside location, Bromberg's in Mountain Brook and at the Summit, Little Savannah Restaurant and Bar on Clairmont Avenue, Ashley Mac's in Inverness on Valleydale Road, and Roberts Cuisine in Titusville. The books are $25.

The book features more than 80 recipes from more than 60 restaurants in the Birmingham area. Arden Ward Upton and Mo Davis took photos for every recipe. Temple, director of public relations for the Birmingham Public Library, contributed stories for the book.

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.

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.