Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Comics and Graphic Novels

Comics and Graphic NovelsWhen I think about comics, my earliest thoughts are warm childhood memories of reading the Garfield comic strips. There was something so laughable about that smart aleck cat, his put upon owner, Jon, and his always blissful dog, Odie. And who didn't love the friendship and adventures of Calvin and Hobbes? Of course, I also grew up with superhero comics, like Superman and Batman. It wasn't until I came to work at MCPL that I saw how comics, and now graphic novels, had grown into an amazing array of genres for kids, teens, and adults. It was so exciting and opened up a whole new way to enjoy stories with words and pictures!

Since history is a subject I'm always intrigued by, I was curious about how comics and graphic novels got started. So I had a look in our History in Context - U.S. resource where I found this great article from the St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture about this amazing melding of words and pictures. My guess was that comics started out in the newspapers and turns out I was correct. It was in the late 19th century when comic strips first started to appear in newspapers. Comic strips in the 1930s started to be put into comic books that focused on cartoon characters and, you guessed it, superheroes.

Eventually some comic books started to be marketed with the term graphic novels and the form developed from there. It was the publication in 1986 of the award winning Maus by Art Spiegelman, about his father's captivity and survival during the Holocaust, that really catapulted the genre of graphic novels into mainstream reading. It was the first most widely read graphic novel. Other graphic novels in the 1980s also became well known, like Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller and Watchman by Allan Moore and Dave Gibbons. As the increased interest in graphic novels grew, a specific type of Japanese comic art called manga was also included in the graphic novel category.

From there graphic novels have grown in popularity and into a wide variety of genres, including horror, Westerns, science fiction, mysteries, and memoirs. Some books for adults are getting in on the action and now have both a novel format and a graphic novel version, This includes one of my favorite series, Game of Thrones! Comic books and graphic novels are attracting critical buzz and have become an innovative way to tell engaging stories in the perfect blend of the visual and written word for kids, teens, and adults.

MoComCon January 21, 2017
So now that you are super excited to start checking out comic books and graphic novels, I have to share with you something that has been on my dream list for awhile and is about to become a reality! I have always wanted to attend a ComicCon and now I (and you!) have a chance come to one at our Silver Spring branch! We are thrilled to be holding our very first comic convention, MoComCon! It'll be a fabulous way to meet others who share your passion and also for those who are new to comic books and graphic novels. The event will include a variety of panels, workshops, programs, displays, exhibits, and cosplay — all free of charge. So save the date for January 21 from 12-4 PM (Inclement weather date February 4)!

Eager to find the engaging comic books and graphic novels you've been missing out on? Here are some ways to find the perfect comic book or graphic novel for you:

We invite you to discover new and exciting comics and graphic novels that you’ll enjoy today!


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What is Boxing Day?

19th century street scene on Boxing Day in England
Boxing Day by George Cruikshank 

As an immigrant to the U.S. from England, one of the most perplexing questions I’ve had to answer is “What is Boxing Day?” Growing up in England I never questioned why the day after Christmas, December 26, is a holiday too. It just is, in the way we take for granted the traditions we grow up with. I had some vague notion that it had to do with putting the empty boxes from Christmas gifts away in the attic, though we never actually did this ourselves. I also associated it with Dickens, and thought it probably originated in Victorian times. All I knew for sure is that it had nothing at all to do with the sport of boxing. So I had to do some research to come up with a satisfactory answer to Americans' questions. It turned out to be true that actual boxes are involved, but not in the way I thought.
Church alms box
Alms Box, All Saints Parish,
Moulton, Lincolnshire
attr. Richard Croft

The origin of the Boxing Day holiday goes back to early medieval times. Traditionally it was on December 26 that the alms boxes kept in churches to collect money for the poor were  opened and the contents distributed. The word “alms” has a very ancient history as I discovered by consulting the online Oxford English Dictionary. Originating with post-classical Latin and the Old English “aelmyssen” the word means “charitable relief given to the poor or needy usually in the form of money or food."

The probable reason December 26 was chosen for opening the alms boxes goes back even further in history. December 26 is the Feast Day of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, whose story is told in the Acts of the Apostles. He was appointed one of seven deacons chosen to distribute food to the poor. 

In one of the earliest literary references to Boxing Day, Samuel Pepys wrote in his famous diary on December 19, 1663:
"Thence by coach to my shoemaker’s and paid all there, and gave something to the boys’ box against Christmas."
In the early 18th century, Jonathan Swift grumbled about the amount of giving required of him:
“I shall be undone here with Christmas boxes. The rogues of the coffee-house have raised their tax, every one giving a crown, and I gave mine for shame, besides a great many half-crowns to great men’s porters.”
But according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first mention of Boxing Day in literature was indeed by Charles Dickens. In The Pickwick Papers we find the rather obscure reference: “no man ever talked in poetry ‘cept a beadle on boxin’ day.”

By Dickens’ time, December 26 had evolved from a day when only the church distributed alms to a day when the “wealth or rank possessing” gave boxes of leftover foods and money to their servants. Servants and other lowly workers were required to work on Christmas Day so Boxing Day became their own traditional holiday. This led inevitably to complaints by censorious Victorians about the lower orders drinking and carousing in an unseemly manner!

Fox hunters and their dogs
Saltersgate Farmers Boxing Day Hunt
attr. David Ward

Although the sport of boxing itself has nothing to do the day, other sports are traditional on Boxing Day. In the countryside there are annual fox hunting meets (often accompanied by animal rights protests) and horse racing, while armchair sportsmen watch soccer matches. The more adventurous participate in 
Dips, swimming in the cold sea, sometimes in fancy dress. Modern times have also seen the rise of the sport of shopping. Boxing Day is the busiest shopping day of the year in England, with mobs of shoppers stampeding into stores as Americans do on Black Friday. We can be glad that some Boxing Day traditions have fallen by the wayside, such as the medieval practice of horse bleeding described in this poem by Thomas Naogeorgus:

Then followeth Saint Stephens day, whereon doth every man
His horses jaunt and course abroad as swiftly as he can
Until they doe extreemely state, and than they let them blood,
For this being done upon this day, they say doth do them good
And keepes them from all maladies and sicknesse through the yeare.

A modern movement to return Boxing Day to the spirit of St. Stephen encourages charitable giving.

Here are some online resources to help in choosing a reputable charity from our Nonprofits & Charities guide:

  • Charity Watch - A list of top-rated charities that spend 75% or more of their donations on programs.
  • Charity Navigator - A star system rating of over 8,000 charities.
  • Giving Wisely - This resource from the Maryland Secretary of State includes a searchable database of charities.
  • Montgomery County Volunteer Center - This Montgomery County Government resource lists local charities and the types of donations they accept.

These books in the MCPL collection include information on Boxing Day:

Whichever tradition you follow, may you enjoy this holiday season!

 Rita T.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

You Mean I Have to Pick Just One?

What's your favorite book? You'd think it'd be easy for a librarian to answer that question. Not for me. A coworker once told me how she gets that "deer in the headlights" look whenever someone asks her what her favorite book is. The titles of dozens of books flash before her eyes as she futilely attempts to weigh the merits of each one and determine which is the best. Is it the book she couldn't put down? The one that made her think to the most? The one she reread 5 times? I understand her dilemma.

I posed the question to another coworker. She responded almost immediately, "Queen by Alex Haley." Another person I asked said it'd been easier to make a list of favorites for each of the genres she reads. Though after some equivocating, she settled on Little Women as her all-time favorite. Rather than attempt to pin down my own favorite book from the last 38 years of my reading life, I'll just mention a few I've enjoyed.

Book cover for Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett
I have long been a fan of science fiction and fantasy. One of the best fantasy series I've ever read are the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett (yes, he's a common favorite among librarians). These books have many of the standard fantasy tropes, like elves, dwarves, magic, and monsters, but they not our grandparents' fantasy books. They're full of satire and biting critique of politics, religion, and society. Imagine Mark Twain writing fantasy. Well, yes, Twain did write a fantasy book, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, but imagine him writing more. In Pratchett's book, Men at Arms, for instance, Captain Sam Vimes of the City Watch is ordered to recruit trolls, dwarves, werewolves, and even vampires into the all human City Watch to make the force more representatives of city's populace. It's all Vimes can do keep the dwarf and troll recruits from killing each other, never mind catch the rogue assassin terrorizing the city.

As I've gotten older, I've come to appreciate non-fiction more. I recently read Elon Musk: Inventing the Future. Elon Musk is the founder and owner of Solar City, a solar energy provider; SpaceX, a private rocket manufacturer and orbital transport firm; and Tesla Motors, a high performance electric car manufacturer. Musk is an amazing entrepreneur. He's made, lost, and remade a fortune, He's challenged established giants like Boeing and General Motors. He created a car company from scratch. When was the last time someone started a new car company?

I don't think I'd want to work for him though. One of his aides, feeling burnt out after too many 70 hour weeks, took some time off. Musk said he'd do the aide's work during that time. When the aide returned to work, Musk said he had found it easier to do his own work and the aide's, and promptly fired the person for being redundant. I wouldn't want a boss who was so efficient that he could happily do his own job AND mine too!

Do you have one favorite book? Or is the last really good book you've read your favorite? Maybe limiting the question to 1 favorite is cruel. When we recently ask staff from throughout MCPL to tell us their favorite read of 2016, some of them responded with a dozen titles!

Book covers for The Fifth Season, Jacksonland, One the Edge of Gone, and Truthwitch
MCPL Staff's Favorite Reads of 2016
If you looking to find a new favorite or expand your reading, you could try a reading challenge. Our 2016 Reading Challenge contained different categories that encouraged readers to explore new territory. The categories included books by a local author, books by an author of a different race, religion, or ethnicity from your own, and books in a genre you typically don't read. Check out our Reading Challenge 2016 Pinterest board to see what books folks have read for the challenge, complete with hashtags to designate each book's applicable category.

Whether you have a favorite read or just a good one, let us know in the comments what books you've enjoyed and why. We'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Hamilton: Founding Father and Broadway Star

Cover image of the book Alexander Hamilton by Ron ChernowWant to learn more about Alexander Hamilton and the mega-hit Broadway musical based on his life?  (You can watch it online through 11/18.) MCPL has the resources to get you started!

At 700+ pages, Ron Chernow’s compelling biography, Alexander Hamilton, was the inspiration behind Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical. Chernow brings to life Hamilton’s Dickensian childhood in the West Indies as an orphaned illegitimate child, as well as his early struggles and successes in New York as war with Britain foments. He describes Hamilton’s vital role in the Revolutionary War as General Washington’s Aide-de-Camp, and his combative interactions with Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams as they worked to build the fledgling nation. Chernow relays Hamilton’s evolving understanding of economic and political theory and how it shaped his decisions as America’s first Treasury Secretary—and later, the great tragedies that befall his life and lead to an early death in a duel with nemesis Aaron Burr.

Cover image of the book Alexander Hamilton the Outsider by Jean Fritz
While Chernow’s work is a tour-de-force, you may be interested in other biographies of Hamilton. MCPL’s collection also includes writings by Hamilton such as the Federalist Papers, a remarkable collection of 85 essays by Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison from 1788 that encouraged citizens to ratify the U.S. Constitution. For children and teens, MCPL holds several biographies, including award-winning author Jean Fritz’s Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider.

Want to know more about the genesis of the celebrated musical? As described on PBS, Lin-Manuel Miranda bought a copy of Chernow’s Hamilton in 2008 en route to his vacation. He immediately envisioned the possibility of a musical—and given Hamilton’s outsider status, outsized ambition and sense of honor—writing a hip hop score. Hamilton: The Revolution, co-written by Miranda, gives an insider’s view of the creative process, with essays, interviews, photos and lyrics. Miranda spent the next 6 years working on Hamilton, taking a full year to write the opening song, which he famously presented at the White House in 2009.

If you’re interested in the music score, MCPL holds copies of Hamilton: An American Musical. You can borrow the soundtrack through our Marina interlibrary loan service, or go to the label’s official page for lyrics and song excerpts. If Hamilton has piqued an interest in rap and hip-hop, listen to and download artists’ works such as Notorious B.I.G., DMX and Jay-Z on Freegal, MCPL’s free music download service. MCPL also has books on the history of rap and hip hop.

The national tour of Hamilton is scheduled to stop at the Kennedy Center in DC in June 2018 (!) For now, it continues its Broadway run, and opened in Chicago this past fall. If you happen to be in Manhattan, you can visit Hamilton's home, the Grange, and stop by his family’s burial sites at Trinity Church. The dueling ground where both Hamilton and his son were fatally shot is across the Hudson River in Weehawken, NJ.

Happy Hamilton-mania!