Animal Magnetism: My Life with Creatures Great and Small
by Rita Mae Brown (813.54 BRO Main)
Reviewed by Jeanne
Rita Mae Brown has said that she likes animals better than people, and in these pages it’s easy to see why after reading this book. Inside these pages there’s a whole host of memorable horses, dogs, cats, birds, foxes and—of course—her favorite feline co-author, Sneaky Pie. Each relationship is unique, just as is each animal. Some loved selflessly, some strictly on their own terms, but all taught lessons about life which Ms. Brown recalls in a non-saccharine way.
So it’s only natural that this book, while a biography of sorts, is built around the people and animals that have had the most influence in her life rather than a linear progression. The result is a series of vignettes that move back and forth in time, highlighting events and emotions. Some are moving, some are amusing, some are thought-provoking and a couple are real thigh-slappers. All are told with the sureness of a Southern storyteller who makes you feel as if you’re with a good friend, swapping stories around a fire. She also offers a few tart observations, and passes on some life precepts, such as PopPop’s admonition: “If anyone mistreats your hound, never speak to them again. If they hurt a hound, bide your time but hurt them back.”
Reading this book is more like looking at photos in an album: rather succinct portraits of this dog, that cat or that human and the role he or she played in her life. Actual photographs are included but I would have enjoyed more. The book’s structure lends itself to browsing; it’s so easy to just open the book at any point and read awhile.
Keenly observed and felt but never maudlin, this book will bring a smile of recognition, a chuckle, and a renewed appreciation of the animals (and the people) in our lives.
I'm going to be very traditional and choose "A Christmas Carol" as a favorite film for the holidays, though "It's A Wonderful Life" and "Amahl and the Night Visitors" are also contenders.
My choice of the particular film versions "A Christmas Carol" may be a little different, though. I love “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.” I remember first seeing it as a very small child; I probably remember it from the first time it aired (no, I am not going to tell you the year.) I don’t know why this particular version appealed to me so much. Part of it may have been seeing a funny character whom I already knew and loved (Mr. Magoo was right up there with Top Cat and Beany and Cecil) doing something so different and serious. I know the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be scared me more than a little. I also liked the catchy music. "Ringle, ringle, coins as they jingle. . . "
Sorry, I told you earlier that I can't sing.
I was utterly delighted this year when a DVD copy of this show was added to our collection. I’ve already watched I once so far, and may view it once or twice more as I address Christmas cards, just to get into the mood.
My other favorite version is the one with George C. Scott as Scrooge. It’s better-rounded than many. The tendency is to cut out large parts of the story to focus on Tiny Tim and Scrooge. This one looks more at Scrooge’s life as a whole: we see the devotion between Ebenezer and his sister, his failed romance with Belle, and – most importantly—the social conditions of the time. The Crachitts aren’t the only ones in need, and Scrooge’s limited outlook isn’t confined to mistreating one employee. It’s his entire life that needs re-evaluating, from his relationship to his dead sister’s son to his view of himself as a clever, practical man who should be respected, not realizing that others see him in an entirely different light.
Although he didn’t physically resemble Ebenezer, Scott managed to make that role his own. The most difficult part of the story is to have a Scrooge who is both believably hard and grasping and believably transformed. The supporting cast was also unusually fine. Edward Woodward is a very robust Ghost of Christmas Present, just as one would expect from “The Equalizer.” He and Scott have a great rapport, and their scenes together almost steal the movie. David Warner is another excellent piece of casting. He gives Bob Crachitt a lot of depth. Crachitt is usually such a colorless character, a total doormat. In this version, we see him as a stronger character, willing to endure dreadful working conditions in order to feed his family. The Crachitts are a devoted couple, still very much in love. Mrs. Crachitt (Susannah York) isn’t the shrew she is in some versions though she still has a bit of a sharp tongue. Instead, she’s a woman who loves her husband and resents the way his employer treats this good man.
Finally, there is Ebenezer’s nephew, a character often overlooked in filmed versions. He’s a sprightly, good-natured fellow, very much like his mother. He shares a name with one of my favorite cats, so I noticed every time Fred was mentioned which was fairly often.
So warm up the DVD/VCR player, make some hot chocolate and gather the family around for a trip back to Victorian London. I would join you, but I’m still working on my Christmas cards from 2005.
Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol DVD MR. Main
A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott Video 1944 Family or Video 6169 Family, both Main
Even though I can’t carry a tune in a bucket and people who love me will find excuses to leave if I try to sing, I do love to hear Christmas music. Occasionally I’ll hear a new tune I like, but mostly I favor old standards. I have to say that TV commercials have introduced me to some songs that I might not have heard otherwise, and I’ve used Main’s music CD collection to listen to some of them without being sponsored by a major department store. I recommend Christmas Belles, which offers ten turns by wonderful female singers: “Santa Baby” by Earth Kitt, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Connie Francis, “Silver Bells” by Brenda Lee and other numbers by Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Loretta Lynn, Dinah Washington and The Andrews Sisters.
Another favorite CD is Christmas on the Mountain by Sheila Kay Adams & Jim Taylor. Sheila is a seventh generation ballad singer from Sodom, NC who plays a fine banjo and sings with a distinct mountain rhythm. Her husband, Jim, plays the hammered dulcimer. For some reason, a hammered dulcimer always sounds like snow to me: bright, crisp and shining. This particular CD includes two shape-note hymns, “Sherburne” and “Star in the East.” I wasn’t (and still am not) very familiar with this style, but I think these two songs are beautifully done. Surprisingly, another of my favorite selections on this CD is “Away in a Manger.” I say it’s surprising because this is a song I’ve heard over and over by so many artists that it’s not one I usually look forward to hearings. Shelia reinvents the song for me and makes me appreciate it all over again.
Sheila is also a wonderful storyteller. The last selection is one of her Christmas memories, when her beloved Grandfather told her the legend about the animals talking at Jesus’ birth. The story is a warm and gentle reminder of the special bond between children and grandparents, especially at Christmas.
I’m very picky about the books I read. An author has to capture my attention from the start or I’m not going to finish that book. My favorite Christmas book has to be John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas. I could see all those things happening! I laughed out loud, which I don’t do very often with a book. I own my own copy of it now. This is actually the only John Grisham book I’ve ever read.
If you’ve skipped Skipping Christmas, you can rectify that now! Both Main and Avoca have copies in adult fiction (F GRI), plus copies on CD (CD F GRI. Main also has a large print copy (SSB F GRI) and a cassette copy (CASSETTE F GRI. The movie “Christmas with the Kranks” is loosely based on the book; Main and Avoca both have DVD copies.
Christmas books. . . there are so many! Some of my favorites are children’s books, so I’ll try to stick just to those and limit it to three.
"Cat on the Doverfell" is a Norwegian folktale and is often included in anthologies of Scandinavian folktales. I first heard it as a child when my mother read it to me, and then had to read it over and over again. There was a scary component in the dreadful trolls who terrorized the Doverfell every Christmas Eve, but relief and humor in the way they got their comeuppance at the hands—or paws—of the big white bear. Even better is the little twist at the end that gives the story its name and this column its title.
I was delighted as an adult to find that one of my favorite illustrators, Tomie de Paola, had done a picture book version, though the title is Cat on the Dovrefell, should you look it up. The text varies just a little from what I remembered but de Paola’s warm and beautiful illustrations make up for that.
Morris’s Disappearing Bag is by Rosemary Wells, another author/illustrator whose work I adore. She’s best known for her “Max and Ruby” books. Morris’ older brother and sisters are having a wonderful time playing with each other’s presents on Christmas but no one wants to play with Morris’ present, a teddy bear. Then Morris finds a gift everybody else has overlooked. . . . This is a delightful tale, especially for the youngest sibling.
Merry Christmas, Thomas! by A. Vesey is a story to which I could relate, and not just because the characters are cats. Thomas is very excited about Christmas and watches all these mysterious packages arrive. He’s hoping for a bicycle. Then Thomas finds a lot of presents hidden in a closet. . . maybe if he just takes one tiny peek. . . There are so many good things about this book, but one feature that I especially liked was that in Thomas’ family, Santa only brings small gifts for the stockings. Thomas’ parents are the ones responsible for large presents and Thomas was responsible to them for his actions.
Cat on the Dovrefell illustrated by Tomie de Paola J 398.21 KJE Main
Morris’s Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells E WEL Main & Avoca
Tired of the same old Christmas Carol Story? Looking for a way to lighten up the stressful Christmas holidays? Then check out “Scrooged” starring Bill Murray and Karen Allen, directed by Richard Donner. Frank Cross (Bill Murray) is a TV executive trying to secure his position with his company by producing the most epic Christmas Carol TV movie ever. Fate and his old (dead) mentor Lew Hayward (played by John Forsythe) have different plans, however. Lew informs Frank that he will be visited by three ghosts in order to save him from his current path of doom. Thinking that the whole episode is brought on by bad vodka, Frank puts the incident out of his mind and turns his attention to his television production and his new rival Brice Cummings (John Glover). Unfortunately for Frank it wasn’t bad vodka and he is quickly and hilariously visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past (David Johansen) who takes him on a trip through memory lane. Here is where the audience is introduced to Frank’s love interest, Claire Phillips (played by Karen Allen). It also gives us a glimpse at the cheerless Christmas of Frank’s childhood. Despite some of the more somber moments each look at Frank’s life is peppered with witty one-liners and funny situations. The next ghost is the Ghost of Christmas Present brilliantly portrayed by Carol Kane. Present’s preferred method of reaching Frank is a little physical violence: “Sometimes you have to SLAP them in the face, just to get their attention.” The give and take between Murray and Kane are some of the funniest moments in the movie. It’s filled with lots of physical comedy and great dialogue. In between ghostly visits, Frank tries to reconnect with Claire, keep his job and produce his movie. Finally, Frank is visited by a very scary Ghost of Christmas Future where he realized he needs to change his attitude much like the legendary Ebenezer. This movie is laugh out loud funny and has come hilarious performance from Bill murray, Robert Mitchum, John Glover, Bobcat Goldthwait and Carol Kane. If you’re looking for a new holiday movie tradition, check out “Scrooged”!
It was a tradition in my family years ago that every Christmas morning my family and my cousins family would all have breakfast at my grandparents. This was a huge, ridiculous breakfast... grits, bacon, eggs, cheese grits, gravy, ham, biscuits, tomatoes, grapefruit, cheese grits, grits, sausage, cheese grits, garlic-cheese grits, toast, yes! Well, we did like grits, I guess. At one of these breakfasts in my semi-adult years my cousin Cathy made her appearance accompanied by her fiancé Ted. Ted was from New Jersey, and I think we were all pretty jazzed up about this, the idea of having someone from a strange, exotic land like New Jersey marry into our southern family. I imagine many of us at that time had never met anyone from New Jersey. Of course, we all struggled to find a way to converse with this foreigner, rather than just stare at him with our mouths hanging open. Cousin Cathy's sister Madeline took the lead as we bunched up to load our plates. "Ted, do you like grits?" she asked. "Ahhh," he replied blissfully as he took a deep breath. "I can smell a grit a mile away."
So, many years prior to the grits comment the day arrived and we all gathered at Granmamma and Grandaddy's for breakfast. I would guess I was maybe ten years old. The temperature that day was not frigid. Hovering somewhere in the low forties is my guess. Snow was not predicted, but as we were eating breakfast, Lo! The snow began to fall. I, my mother being the woman that she was, was kinda dressed up. This never suited me, but that day I had been bent to my mother's will.
My grandparent's yard had a small hill. And they had a sled. So even though I was dressed up (we're talking dressed up in a dress, likely with bare legs, or at least bare knees), my mother let me go with my cousins Tommy and Joe and play on the hill with the sled.
Due to the much above freezing temperatures, the snowy hill soon became a sloppy, muddy mess, but this did not deter us. We kept at it until the runners of the sled lodged in the mud and would not move. It was one of the best times I ever had.
I think all of us have favorite things about Christmas that bring wonderful memories. I love the music and songs. “O Christmas Tree,” simple as it, is will always be one of my favorites. To hear that song, magically takes me back to when I was a child. We had brought home a real Christmas tree and finished decorating it and settled in for a comfortable evening with the family. Then, all of a sudden, we noticed that we were not alone. We had been invaded by hundreds of baby praying mantises! The tree was home to a nest of the little fellows, and they hatched when warmed up in our living room.
One of our staff, Jim P., remembers Christmas in 1969. He was a very young soldier in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Their troop consisted of youngsters, the oldest being 24 and the youngest being 17. They were a long way from home. They had been shot at all week. One of them came up with the idea of having a Christmas tree. There were no plants around there that looked anything like a Christmas tree, so they decided to make one. Twigs, bits of uniforms, aluminum cans, all went into building their tree. They decorated it with buttons, pins, anything and everything they could find. He said it was the strangest looking “tree” he had ever seen, and most would have called it ugly but he still has a picture of that Christmas tree, and remembers it more than any other.
The Library has both music and musical scores of Christmas music. O Christmas Tree is included on these:
CD HIT Main New age Christmas: a tribute to Mannheim Steamroller
786.2172 Main The Definitive Christmas collection
J783.65 SIL Main Silent night : a Christmas carol sampler
CD JFRO HANGING BAG Main Frosty's sleigh ride party 24 songs & stories.
CD J COU HANGING BAG - 2 CDs Main Christmas is for kids!
CD J CHI HANGING BAG - 1 CD Main Christmas with the Chipmunks by Alvin, Simon & Theodore with David Seville.
When I was ten years old, my family moved to Germany for three years. That first Christmas in a faraway country was like a fairy tale in so many ways. The Christmas Fair at Frankfurt, the toys in the windows of the little German shops, the beautiful hand blown tree ornaments, and the luscious pasties all added joy to a holiday for a very homesick child. One memory of that first German Christmas will always be with me—the music of “Silent Night” sounding in a small German church, and my first experience of hearing the song sung in German. All of us have heard the story that in 1818 the organ in a small Austrian church was broken. The priest Joseph Mohr took the words to a carol he had written in 1816 to his friend Franz Gruber and asked him to create guitar music for the carol so the children would have a song to sing for the Christmas Eve service. Thus came about the legend of one of the most poignant of our Christmas songs. Actually, the organ probably was not broken, and Mohr may have just wanted a new carol for the children, but no one can deny the absolute beauty of the gentle carol about Jesus’ birth. Did you know “Silent Night” has been translated into 44 languages and is often sung a cappella? Or that the song was sung simultaneously in English and German by troops during the Christmas truce of 1914? Just imagine being on that terrible battlefield and hearing the sweet sounds of this beloved song drifting out of the trenches. John McCutcheon did a haunting musical presentation of this incident and has a children’s book and CD called Christmas in the Trenches (CD J MCC Avoca) telling more about what happened that cold, frosty night. It reminds us that even in the worst circumstances, the spirit of Christmas lives in all of us.
May each of you have a warm, happy holiday season. Enjoy the music of the season, and remember our service personnel serving in the military all around the world.
Note: “Christmas in the Trenches” is also included on the albums "Water From Another Time" and "Live at Wolf Trap" (both CD MCC Main). Several years later, Garth Brooks recorded a song about the same incident.
"Wearing Reindeer Antlers is NOT one of MY favorite things." ~Melon
Everyone has a personal checklist of things that “make” the holiday season. For some, it may be making gingerbread or latkas or the Christmas pageant; for others, it may be ice skating or football games or “The Nutcracker” ballet; still others will think of the Santa Train or the Christmas parade or eggnog. Check out the bookblog every day or so for some of “Our Favorite Things” in books, videos or music!
How observant are you? In one study, a man in a gorilla suit walked past a group of students while other activities were taking place and only half the students even noticed him. Would you have been one of the ones who was oblivious, or one of the ones who was interrupting everybody saying, "What the heck is that gorilla doing over there?"
Joe Navarro was a special agent and supervisor for the FBI for twenty-five years. His area of expertise is non-verbal communication, or “body language.” His book, What Every BODY Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed Reading People (153.69 NAV Main), is your guide to becoming savvier than those around you.
In his book Mr. Navarro explains the nuances of body language. His theory is that people lie best through the face: it's the other body parts that will give the game away, the twitch of a hand, shifting weight from one leg to another or a change in posture. Through study of this book you can become an astute observer, both of people and your surroundings. You can learn to tell when people are comfortable or why they aren’t. If they’re nervous, is it because they are lying or hiding something? He describes how people employ their facial expressions to conceal emotion but how their arms and legs might betray their real feelings. You’ll learn how to read not just people's faces, but all of their body movements, whether they are jumping for joy, touching their necks or massaging their faces to comfort themselves, or crossing their arms or holding something on their laps to distance themselves from a situation.
Being savvy about body language can assist you both professionally and personally. Learn to know when the boss is really pleased with you, and when he is thinking about giving you the ax. This book could help you to better understand what it is that your family members are or are not saying to you. Are you in business, in sales? Learn to watch for the signs that the deal may be going south, and where the sticking points in the negotiation are. Whether the other guys will tell you or not, you may be able to figure it out for yourself once you've read this book.
Don't be the last one in the group to notice the gorilla passing by. Read "What Every BODY Is Saying."
There are some wonderful cookbooks out there and I'm happy to say our library has quite a number of them. Currently, I'm in a desperate search for some recipes for the holidays. I thought I had it all figured out when I learned that there are some new food restrictions for some family members, others have had all the turkey and ham they want to see until next Thanksgiving, and my plan to go out to eat has a slight flaw: there really aren't too many places open on Christmas Day.
This means I need to find something to cook. Something easy. Something foolproof, although it has been said there is nothing foolproof from a sufficiently talented fool. The kitchen is one of the many places where I over-qualify.
Here are some interesting and possibly holiday saving books:
Wanda E. Brunstetter’s Amish Friends Cookbook Volume 2 by Wanda E. Brunstetter (641.566 BRU Main)
Along with Beverly Lewis and Cindy Woodsmall, Brunstetter is arguably one of the best known authors of Amish fiction. To give Englishers a real taste of Amish foods, Brunstetter has gathered more than 200 recipes from Amish friends across the country. The layout is clean and uncluttered, making it very easy to use this as a real cookbook. Interspersed among the recipes are lovely color photos, some home remedies, and bits of information about the various Amish communities and their customs.
The Cracker Kitchen by Janis Owens (641.5975 OWE Main and Avoca)
There’s a full review of this one elsewhere on the blog but the recipes sounded really good and like something we might actually eat. (Well, not the ‘possum or rattlesnake but Ms. Owens wasn’t keen on those herself.) She helpfully divided her book up by season, two of which are Winter and Football. That covers the interests of most of the family so there should be some very appropriate recipes. I had a very good time reading it because of all the humor, which might improve the cook if not the cooking.
The Cook Book: A Collection of Recipes (641.5 COO Main & Avoca)
This is an absolutely delicious collection of recipes courtesy of the legendary cooks of the Avoca Friends of the Library! I’ve been lucky enough to join them for their luncheons on occasion. (Pause here while I sigh with happiness.) These ladies have dishes for every occasion and taste. I’m partial to spinach, and there is wonderful recipe that is cooked slowly in a crock pot, meaning that it can be made up early and free the rest of the day for other pursuits, such as double-checking the local restaurants to see if one has decided to stay open on Christmas. (By the way, copies of the cookbook are still available for purchase at the Avoca Branch Library. They make great gifts!)
But after all, recipes can only do so much. The last time I cooked, the entire family suddenly developed a taste for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Who would have guessed they didn’t like stir-fried turnips and creamed cabbage? Not me, obviously.