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Will the real Valentine please stand up?

by Candice Smith on February 15th, 2014

Ah, Valentine’s Day. Cards and candies, hearts and love, gift anxiety and expensive dinners. Where do you come from?

There were, in fact, two Valentines who could be the St. Valentine. One was a priest in third century Rome who continued to perform marriages and engagements that the Pope had placed a ban on. The other was a man who was imprisoned for trying to help persecuted Christians, and while in prison he restored eyesight to the jailer’s daughter and they fell in love. On the day of his execution he sent her a message of farewell–a note from her Valentine. Both were executed on or around February 14. Neither of these men seem to have a whole lot to do with how we celebrate Valentine’s Day. What gives?

Like many holidays that we observe today, they are remnants or replacements of much older celebrations and observances. In this case, Valentine’s Day is kind of a PG-rated cover up of the Roman holiday Lupercalia, which was held for hundreds of years on February 15. It was a celebration of fertility that culminated in young men drawing the name of a young woman from an urn, and those two would be partnered for a lovers’ holiday (although at one time it appears to have been for a year!). Important offerings at this time were blood and milk, the red and white colors of which we still see in abundance on this day. In 469, Pope Gelasius set February 14 aside to honor Valentine and draw attention away from Lupercalia and its customs; how successful he really was is up for debate.

How do I know all this? Sure, you could Google it. I, however, went with the fascinating book Holiday Symbols and Customs, in our Reference collection. Lots of good info in there.

And, if you’re still reading, stop by the Reference Desk before 8:00 pm tonight, ask me a genuine reference question, and get some Valentine’s Day candy! Or, stop by to watch our movie tonight in Meeting Room A: Wil Wheaton’s Much Ado About Nothing and get some candy to mix in with your popcorn (you all do that at the theatre, right??).


A cold, snowy, Russian mystery

by Candice Smith on February 12th, 2014
A cold, snowy, Russian mystery Cover Image

No, I’m not talking about the Sochi Olympics. I’m talking about Donnie Eichar’s book Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident, which I recently finished. In fact, I finished it about 24 hours after checking it out…it was a very interesting, well-paced book that I didn’t want to put down until I knew what had happened.

This is a nonfiction book that investigates a decades-old mystery, one that I had never heard of and that is so remote and foreign to me (both in terms of locale and subject matter) that it actually imparted a sense of foreboding and discomfort. In late January of 1959, nine university students set out on a 160 mile hike in the Ural mountains, during their winter break. They were already highly accomplished hikers, and this hike was intended to give them the highest ranking in outdoorsmanship that would allow them to instruct others; their plans were meticulous, their route reviewed and approved by foresters, their bags and provisions adequately thought out.

They never returned. After missing the beginning of the semester, officials began to search for them. Their tent was found intact on a slope, with all their shoes, clothes and belongings neatly arranged inside, and food set out waiting to be eaten. Eventually their bodies were found within a mile of the tent but in different places, mostly barely clothed, with injuries ranging from a broken nose and scrapes to blunt force trauma to the head and chest. Several died from hypothermia. After autopsies and looking at the evidence, the case was closed with the determination that an “unknown compelling force” led to their deaths.

Donnie Eichar came across mention of the hikers in a random fashion, while researching something else, and their story simply would not let him go. The mystery of what might have happened to these healthy, incredibly bright and vivacious young people in the remote, snowy wilderness prompted Eichar to visit Russia twice; he not only interviews people who knew the hikers as well as those who investigated the incident, he also makes the long journey to where their lives ended. I will admit, what he finds there and afterwards is not an entirely tidy answer, and if he is right, it is an ironic and cruel one.

I highly recommend you read his book, and see for yourself.

Lightning Bolt

by Candice Smith on October 15th, 2013
Lightning Bolt Cover Image

First disclaimer: I am one billionty percent biased in this review.

Second disclaimer: I haven’t even listened to the entire recording that I’m recommending to you, but I already know that I love it.

I’ll admit that I am not the most adventurous when it comes to music. I listen to new stuff and buy things based on reviews or recommendations, but in general, I already know what I like, I stick with it, and occasionally add to the ‘I like’ category when I want. I’m not ashamed to admit this! Yes, all those Spiritualized CDs sound similar…and they do it really, really well, so I continue to buy and listen! Yes, some of the songs I listen to when I run are the exact same songs I listened to when I ran in high school…still good to run to! The music is more than something to listen to…it’s a pick-me-up, a warm blanket, a reliable friend.

And Pearl Jam is my bff. We’ve been constant companions for over 20 years now. I have run, literally, thousands of miles with PJ (now you know why I run so much). I’ve traveled to concerts and met great people because of PJ. I have postered my locker, clothed my abdomen, and stickered my car with symbols and pictures of PJ, proclaiming my devotion and gratitude to anyone who might see! I schemed to meet my husband-to-be because he reminded me of Eddie Vedder; he (my husband, that is) invited me to his dorm room to listen to Pearl Jam bootlegs, and here we are, 20 years later, in harmonious bliss!

There’s no real way to defend or explain why you like the music you like, and I don’t think you need to. You just enjoy it, and be happy that it exists. I have no musical talent at all, so my appreciation is simply as a listener. I like the music. I like the words. I like the songs. Solidly grounded in classic rock with a flash of punk, a bit of a diy ethic, strong morals and good storytelling. Is it corny to say that it’s part of my life? Maybe. But it’s more than just music…it’s the emotions, thoughts, moments and memories that go with it.

As I get ready to listen, I recognize this album as a gift. Sure, it’s one I bought myself, but with all that comes with it, it’s worth so much more than I paid.

Go on, give it a listen…and tell me, what’s on your turntable or playlist that you love?


by Candice Smith on September 28th, 2013
Saturday+Doughnuts=♥ Cover Image

One of my favorite things to do on Saturday mornings is to get up early and go for a run (“early” can be anywhere from 4-11 a.m., mainly dependent on the night before). I will often try to convince someone to go with me on their bike, and if I am successful, I will send that someone to Daylight Donuts, which I conveniently run past with two miles left to go.

Recently, my tastes have run classic (no cronut for me, thanks): blueberry or strawberry cake, or maybe a maple glazed. I seem to remember that, in the past, Daylight has made a strawberry cake doughnut with chocolate icing, but I’ve yet to see it again and I would really like to.

Other doughnut facts relevant to me:

Doughnuts of my childhood: We were a Donutland family, and I have fond memories of my father bringing home that brown and orange striped box, full of all those wonderful doughnut colors and smells…all for me??!! Erm, not exactly.

Sweetest doughnut memory: My grandfather explaining to me why they were called ‘doughnut holes.’ I was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, you know?

Best doughnut: Chicago, 4 a.m., hadn’t eaten in about 10 hours, had just spent two hours after a concert getting from Wrigley Field to downtown via train and walking…and there was wonderful Dunkin’ Donuts, and there was a wonderful woman taking a tray of wonderful cake doughnuts with vanilla icing and sprinkles (I love sprinkles!) right out of the oven. It was wonderful.

Doughnut fantasy: Me. A maple glazed, chocolate drizzled, toasted almond and coconut sprinkled doughnut. Half of it eaten straight up, half of it taken to Yotopia where I work some magic into the red velvet cake froyo.

Doughnuts are the kind of treat that I don’t want to make. They seem tricky, and I think they sometimes involve very hot oil.  However, for those of you who are so inclined, you can check out a doughnut cookbook or two and give it a go! It seems like something that, if you pull it off, has a bit of a ‘wow!’ factor and makes everyone really happy — like fancy cupcakes, but for breakfast!

And tell me–what’s your favorite doughnut?

What books are on your nightstand?

by Candice Smith on September 21st, 2013
What books are on your nightstand? Cover Image

Or, as in my case, on your kitchen table?

In many magazines, such as People or Vanity Fair, there is often a column where famous people are asked what they are reading. Sometimes their answers are something you might expect (Kyle Richards is reading the Fifty Shades trilogy, okay), sometimes they’re a little surprising (Trisha Yearwood read Team of Rivals? did she finish it?), and sometimes a little dubious (Leann Rimes reads?).

Let’s be honest, though…if I were randomly asked what book(s) I am reading right now, chances are I wouldn’t have a stellar, wow-inducing response. I’m often reading a mystery, or only halfway through a couple books, or slogging through something that is a couple years old and it might have a bit of dust on the cover. Right now, I’m reading The Bookman’s Tale. It’s good, I’m almost done. But, the picture below tells the real story: those books have been on my table for a few months, I haven’t opened at least one of them, and I’m not even showing you the books on my nightstand, or the books I have on my desk at work. So many books, so little time. And flat surfaces.

So, reader, what is on your nightstand or table??







The Riddle of the Labyrinth

by Candice Smith on September 16th, 2013
The Riddle of the Labyrinth Cover Image

Margalit Fox’s book is about the decipherment of the Linear B alphabet, and the language it recorded. It’s about the work that goes into things like determining if a written system is a syllabary or a pictographic one, and whether a language has inflections at the ends of its words or not. Doesn’t sound very exciting on the face of it, and I’ll admit that I–lover of history and archaeology–tend to get a bit glassy-eyed at the idea of linguistic anthropology. However, the subject of linguistics always reminds me of a little story that a professor of mine once told that aptly demonstrates the importance of understanding the nuts and bolts of how a language works. While documenting the native Mayan language of Quiche, she learned that you could not simply remove the equivalent of ‘to do’ from a sentence with an action, like we might in our own speech…the example she used was “Fanta be tobili ke” which means “Fanta is doing the cooking.” Compare this to “Fanta tobili ke” which meant “Fanta is cooking.” Literally.

This is serious stuff.

This book is also serious, and it is incredibly interesting. There were some parts that delved into the intricacies of grammar and language that were hard for me to follow, but overall it felt somewhat similar to a lot of the fiction books I enjoy reading. There is an ancient mystery that has been waiting years to be solved–a system of writing that bears little resemblance to other systems, and for which nobody knows what language it corresponds to. How do you even begin to decipher it, when you don’t know what the symbols represent, or what they sound like?? There are three very unique people involved in the story of Linear B, and their lives are full of adventure, struggle and, ultimately, a good dose of sadness. There is a lot of guesswork, detection, and puzzle solving that happens, and the end result is a bit surprising but satisfying. For a work about such a specific and detailed area of study, this book is a really quick read, and the people involved are quite deserving of the attention.

Lost by S.J. Bolton

by Candice Smith on August 16th, 2013

A great beach read!

Ms. Bolton has done it again, crafting an atmospheric thriller that is smart and has its share of suspense and a couple twists, without resorting to an incredulous out-of-the-blue ending. Lost is moody and dark, featuring a killer who is seemingly whisking young boys right from their homes or schools, leaving them days later somewhere near the Thames, with their throats cut and all their blood drained. Detectives are at a loss to find a link between them, social media is blowing the case out of control, and the killer is starting to taunt both the police and possible victims.

While I wouldn’t exactly call her books a series, this one does feature Detectives Lacey Flint and Mark Joesbury, who are in previous works of hers, and includes a cameo by psychotherapist Evi Oliver, who is also in a couple other books. They don’t feel like a series, though, because the characters are still being developed in every book, and the cases and mysteries being solved are so unique and original that every title of hers stands solidly on its own ground. Bolton’s books are a bit gritty and dark, the cases are modern, realistic and unsettling, and the characters flawed and sometimes struggling in ways that readers can relate. Real thrillers for real readers…I’m already looking forward to the next title!

Dan Brown’s Inferno

by Candice Smith on July 5th, 2013
Dan Brown’s Inferno Cover Image

Dan Brown’s new novel Inferno came out recently, and I’m not (too) embarrassed to admit that I was looking forward to reading it. It seemed like a good summer read, and I liked his previous novels well enough. So, it’s with a little disappointment that I have to say that this just didn’t quite do it for me. There is nothing really wrong with this book, it just didn’t seem to have the momentum that I’d come to expect. I think one reason for this might be that, this time around, Brown has concocted his own mysterious riddle to move the story along. Several of his previous books (The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol, Angels & Demons) had as their backbone an established conspiracy (Jesus’ bloodline, the Masons, the Illuminati) that Brown is able to draw upon and build the action around. Inferno has mystery and murder and good guys racing to uncover a secret to beat the bad guys, but it all seems a little less intricate.

Still, you’ll learn a lot about Dante and his life, about the environs of Florence, Italy and some art, and a bit about infectious diseases. If you like Brown’s previous books and the character of Robert Langdon, this book won’t disappoint. For the record, though, I figured out where the riddle was leading way before Langdon did.

The books you need, when you need them.

by Candice Smith on June 14th, 2013
The books you need, when you need them. Cover Image

Did you know that, if you’re bottle-feeding a kitten, you have to burp it? Or that you might need to perform a little magic maneuver with the wet end of a towel to coax said kitten into going potty? I didn’t either, but I do now.

I never thought I would need to know these things, but suddenly last week there was a 3-week-old kitten in my house, and he was very hungry. Of course, I was able to look things up online and find some quick help, but I still wanted a book. A lot of what I was finding was from forums, and while that was good and helpful, I also wanted information that wasn’t so anecdotal. Lucky for me, the Library has many books on kittens in general, and also this little gem: Hand Raising the Orphaned Kitten. Absolutely perfect.

This is just one of those instances where you need something that is very specific and maybe a little unusual, and the Library has that exact thing. Found a baby squirrel? No problem. Your old VW broke down? Fix it. Want to know if that weed your child ate in the backyard is bad for him? Get here quick (and maybe plant something that he can eat)!!

Yes, the Internet is easy and full of information. Sometimes, though, the information you need is important enough that you want a thorough, research-backed book by a knowledgeable author. When that’s the case, the chances are good that the Library will have just what you need.

And…does anyone have any good cat names?

Mystery! Science fiction!

by Candice Smith on May 11th, 2013
Mystery! Science fiction! Cover Image

I wanted to do a quick update on what I’ve been reading…I realized that the most recent titles I posted about were nonfiction, and I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about me suddenly having switched to the dark side. No, I’m still firmly rooted in the world of fiction, happily delving into some good ol’ fashioned pleasure reading (dedicated readers of nonfiction, please take no offense…I have nothing against it,  I’m just generally more of a murder and mystery type of gal. This says more about me than it does about nonfiction.).

I’m just a few chapters into Stuart MacBride’s Birthdays for the Dead, a gritty little tale of a serial killer who has abducted 12 young girls who are 12 years old. With each girl, he waits one year after the abduction, then starts sending the parents photographs that document the torture and eventual death of their child–one photo each year. Investigators are just beginning to find the bodies of some of the victims of the ‘Birthday Killer’ when a 13th girl goes missing. Even more harrowing is that one of the investigators, Det. Constable Ash Harrison, has a daughter who went missing years ago; he has already received five pictures from the Birthday Killer, but Harrison continues to tell people that she ran away so that he can stay on the case. Each time a body is found, his tension is palpable as he prays–begs–for it not to be his daughter. There’s a small amount of relief provided by the new forensic psychologist Harrison has been partnered with; Alice McDonald is young and has keen insight, but is also a bit neurotic and has some odd issues to deal with. Overall, though, this is a proper Scottish thriller, violent and a bit grimy, with some dark humor thrown in.

As for the science fiction, I’m not reading but watching…I’m a bit of a latecomer, but I’ve just gotten into the Dr. Who series that began in 2005. I know!! I’ve had many people tell me to watch it, and so now I am, and it’s far better than what I imagined. Having grown up in the 70s and 80s, watching a few episodes from the original series, I was totally hesitant to watch it again. Then I saw Torchwood (SO good!) and made the commitment. I’m only a couple episodes in, and am very happy I have more than 80 to go.