Category: Nonfiction

March can be MADDENING!

By , March 24, 2015

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland“In like a lion, out like a lamb” and somewhere in between, we have “MADNESS”. These are a few idioms and phrases commonly associated with the weather-confused month of March. If you are a college basketball fan, the phrase “March Madness” means one of the best times of the year. It can also be one of the most disappointing times of year, if say, your team is the one that went to the National Championship two years in a row, and lost both years. But I digress. Instead, I shall use this time to highlight the most “maddening” books from the Wilson Collection.

When I use the term “maddening,” I am using it in a broad sense. This means book endings with a twist, bizarre or complicated plots, or the actual word “mad” is used in the title. Sound good? Okay, let’s get started…

Of the many books included in the Wilson Collection, there are many classics, poems, fairy tales, plays (Shakespeare galore!), and plenty of duplicates. It is a book-lovers dream. Of these books, there are many stories that are rare and unheard of as well as bizarre beyond belief. A few of these “bizarre” stories are mentioned here, along with a few you might recognize.

Starting with a classic…

“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”
Author: Lewis Carroll
Published by the LEC: 1932
Originally Published: 1865

What makes it “mad”: Well the mad-hatter, of course! Perhaps the craziest of all depictions of the Mad Hatter was arguably played by Johnny Depp. It was as if he was born to play that role. But Johnny Depp is not the only reason why this “literary nonsense” story is slightly crazy and quirky. Everyone knows the tale - it follows the story of a young girl, Alice, who falls through a rabbit hole while in the forest. This rabbit hole is unlike any other however, and sends her to another bizarre world full of anthropomorphic creatures and other interesting individuals. The story only gets “curiouser and curiouser” after Alice encounters many diverting characters, such as a caterpillar that is smoking a Hooka, a creepily-grinning cat, a queen obsessed with decapitation, and of course, an eternally-drinking-tea Hatter (what’s a hatter?). If this story doesn’t sound crazy to you, then maybe you should write a book; I’m sure you could tell a great story.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland may be a story that stretches the imagination, but it was a popular story when it was first told and published (especially loved by children), and remains to be popular to this day.

Fun fact about the LEC copy: The illustrations are the original drawings by John Tenniel (from the original publication), re-engraved on wood by Bruno Rollitz. It is also signed by the original “Alice” who inspired the story.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland          Alice's Adventures in Wonderland          Alice's Adventures in Wonderland     

“An American Tragedy”
Author: Theodore Dreiser
Published by the LEC: 1954
Originally Published: 1925

What makes it “mad”: “An American Tragedy” is a much different story compared to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, addressing a different sort of “madness.” The crime-fiction classic by American author, Theodore Dreiser, follows the life of Clyde Griffiths throughout his many jobs, relationships, short-comings, and his eventual unfortunate fate. This is merely a broad definition of a tragic and complicated story that is based on a real crime that occurred in 1906. Coming from a lower-class family, Griffiths is an ambitious but ill-educated and immature young man. He also lacks a strong will. This weakness lands him in several unfortunate situations. When he began working as a bellhop at a top-notch Kansas City hotel, the influence of his coworkers led him down an unhealthy path, including the use of drugs. This was only the beginning of Clyde’s tragic story; the end occurs as a result of the relationship he has with two very different women. A tragic and sad story, yes, but also a story that will drive you crazy.

An American Tragedy          An American Tragedy          An American Tragedy

“The Picture of Dorian Gray
Author: Oscar Wilde
Published by the LEC: 1957
Originally Published: 1891

What makes it “mad”: A story addressing the consequences of vanity, Oscar Wilde’s only novel upset many people when it was first published in the July 1890 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. The story of a man who sold his soul to keep his beauty presented a new definition of moral ambiguity to the readers. Prior to its publication in the magazine, the editors believed the story was too indecent and they deleted 500 words without Wilde’s knowledge. When it was published again in book form, Wilde edited it – revising and expanding upon the original. Despite which version is read, the story still follows an inevitable path of self-destruction. Immoral? Yes. Twisted? Definitely. Stretches the mind to another realm that humanity should not go? Yep. Then deranged? Yes, I’d say so.

The Picture of Dorian Gray          The Picture of Dorian Gray         The Picture of Dorian Gray

“Far from the Madding Crowds”
Author: Thomas Hardy
Published by the LEC: 1958
Originally Published: 1874

What makes it “mad”: For starters and for obvious reasons, the word “mad” is in the title. But there’s so much more about this story that is both enjoyable and maddening at the same time. Different than any other complicated plot that is discussed here, the element that provides the twist in this story is love. The heroine of the tale, Bathsheba Everdene, encounters three men of differing circumstances, over a long period of time. The first is Gabriel Oak, a young shepherd that works for her (more than once), and is six years older than her. The second man, William Boldwood, is a wealthy farmer that is much older than her. And lastly, there is the soldier, Sergeant Francis “Frank” Troy. Without giving away the ending to this intriguing story, I will say that it is similar to other classic love stories such as Pride and Prejudice or Wuthering HeightsIt is frustrating, heartbreaking, and beautiful (which explains the madness), but ends exactly as it should.

Fun Fact: There will be a movie adaption of this book coming out in May, starring Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba, Michael Sheen as William Boldwood, Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak, and Tom Sturridge as Sergeant Troy.  

Far From the Madding Crowds          ???????????????????????????????

“The Maltese Falcon”
Author: Dashiell Hammett
Published by Arion Press: 1983
Originally Published: 1930

What makes it “mad”: Everyone knows this story, right? Well if you don’t, you are about to. Does the name Sam Spade ring a bell? No, I am not referring to one of the detective’s names in the long-time running CBS show (no longer running), Without a Trace. Coincidence that she’s a detective, I don’t think so. The famous Sam Spade from Hammett’s story is a clever and somewhat cold-feeling private detective. At the beginning of the story, Spade has an associate by the name of Miles Archer. Both detectives are hired by a lady by the name of Wonderly to find her sister who seems to a have run off. This false story is only the beginning as Spade’s partner is soon killed, and he is left to solve the case alone. Nothing is as it seems in this story, but that does not stop Spade. Considered to be one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century, The Maltese Falcon has inspired many mystery stories since.

The Maltese Falcon          The Maltese Falcon          The Maltese Falcon

Wanna come check these books out? They are all housed in the Wilson Room (East Reading Room), on the 3rd floor of the Main Downtown Library (next to the Fine Arts area). The Wilson Room is open to all visitors during regular Library hours. If you are interested in viewing more books from the Wilson Collection personally, you can make an appointment by calling either (615) 880-2356 or (615) 880-2363, or simply respond to this blog post.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for next month’s post featuring some of the Wilson Collection’s best poetry!


Book review: Dead Wake

By , March 24, 2015

Dead Wake
By Erik Larson

Every couple of years Erik Larson puts out a new book and my excited first thought is usually “Oooo, what’s the topic?” which is then followed by “Aww, man, I don’t want to read about that.” Sigh. And yet…when I buck up the courage and actually start reading, he always pulls me in (with the exception of Thunderstruck…which I thought would NEVER end). He’s written about Nazis (In the Garden of Beasts), hurricanes (Isaac’s Stormmy favorite), and serial killers (The Devil in the White City). Not the most funnest of topics, but there is something about Erik Larson that makes me love his books – even when I know they aren’t going to end well.

For one, Larson has a journalistic style that makes his stories incredibly readable. They are almost like novels. Also, Larson takes a couple of years to do very in-depth research on his topic of choice. Quotes in the books come from actual letters. Facts and timetables come from history books. Nothing is made up. All of it is true and all of it happened. Larson chooses to dig into history to find the stories that took place, instead of trying to make up what he thinks occurred.

His latest project involves the final voyage of the Lusitania. Again, when I found out I was not initially excited because I saw how Titanic ended, and I knew that this ship was on a similar course. As I read, I was divided between screaming at the people to get off the boat as they boarded in New York City and reading on in fascination at the backstories of the famous guests and talented Captain Turner. I was also intrigued by the history of the German U-boat commander who actually fired the fateful shot.

Even though this event occurred 100 years ago, I still found myself hoping that the Lusitania would make it to Liverpool this time. Maybe the fog would hold just enough or the torpedo would malfunction and everyone traveling aboard the luxury liner would make their lunch plans. SPOILER ALERT: but alack and alas, the torpedo runs true and the big ship is sunk forever and ever.

I did not want to put this book down. Maybe it was like seeing a car crash on the interstate; you just can’t look away. I wanted to know who were the lucky few who made it out alive. I wanted to know how the rest of the world reacted. We will never know how the events surrounding World War I might have changed if the Lusitania had instead made it safely into port.

History buffs, Erik Larson fans, and people just looking for a good book – this one’s for you.

Happy reading…

:) Amanda


Cracking Codes: DIY Morse Code Jewelry

By , March 21, 2015

Spy Hunters Find Clews in Secret CodesImages, symbols, codes, and ciphers have been used to communicate information secretly for thousands of years.  The June 1938 issue of Popular Science includes several examples in the article, “Spy Hunters Find Clews in Secret Codes.”  There’s a transposition wheel in which music notes replace letters and even a stitched version of Morse code, for instance.

In our Nashville Reads story, Between Shades of Gray, the main character, Lina, includes information about her location in artwork that she passes along in hopes of reaching her father, as she and her family are being deported to work camps in Siberia. Our Nashville Reads program, Codes, Ciphers, & Secret Messages, will explore how codes, hidden messages, and ciphers have been used in history while kids crack codes and create their own secret messages.

Make Morse code jewelry with the Special Collections Division at Bordeaux on March 26 from 2:00-3:00pm or at Bellevue on April 15 from 4:00-5:00pm. Can’t make it out to a branch? Participate in the city-wide read from the comfort of your own home with this simple tutorial on making a Morse code necklace or bracelet.



  1. Choose 3 different colors of beads.
  2. Use the Morse Code Translator to create the letters in your name using 2 of the colors. Color #1 will represent the dots and Color #2 will represent the dashes.
  3. Insert a bead of Color #3 in between each letter. This color will serve as a space.
  4. String the beads to create a necklace or bracelet and VOILA!

Morse Code Picture Tutorial


Book(s) review: Clutter

By , March 20, 2015

How many books have promised to unclutter your life?

Free you from the restrictions of consumerism?

Elevate you to another level of consciousness by breaking the bonds of useless stuff holding you down?

These books offer both the blessing of salvation while at the same time adding to the problem itself, another book cluttering up our lives.

In the past month I have had various “salvation from stuff” conversations with women I admire and respect. One touts “life changing magic,” another espouses the religion of “just seven” things…The thing is, they are both right. Each of us can find inspiration in books that come across our paths at just the right time. I have always believed this to be true with fiction. More and more I find this also to be true with non-fiction titles.

So, be it The life-changing magic of tidying up : the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing by Marie Kondo, 7 : an experimental mutiny against excess by lifestyle blogger Jen Hatmaker, or any of the 74 titles on Simplicity in the Nashville Public Library, embrace the one that speaks to you. I’ll continue rely on my 1995 copy of Simple Abundance: a daybook in comfort and joy close by….as soon as I can find it.


Book review: Girl in a Band

By , March 15, 2015

Girl in a Band by Kim GordonGirl in a Band
by Kim Gordon

Depending on the amount of amplification, a guitar can cut a listener to the quick, or it can bludgeon them into submission. That’s why they call them axes. Holding one is like holding a weapon. For thirty years, Kim Gordon wielded her bass axe as a founding member of the band Sonic Youth. The band’s noise-infused rock gave Gordon ample opportunity to pummel her audience and carve a space for herself in the pantheon of American punk rock, but her arsenal isn’t limited to music.

Gordon is also an accomplished visual artist, having exhibited works around the world, and 1993 she co-founded the fashion label X-Girl. In 2015 she adds the title of author to her list of credits with the memoir Girl in a Band.

The book begins with endings: first with Gordon’s marriage to fellow Sonic Youth member Thurston Moore and, as a result, her band. Being in a band with your spouse, touring the world in various cramped vans and buses, seems like a recipe for disaster, but somehow Gordon and Moore made it work. Until it didn’t.

Like her singing, Gordon’s voice on the page goes from menacing growl in one sentence to whisper quiet in the next. The breakup of her marriage colors her memories of her family history, her brother’s struggle with mental illness, and her work with Sonic Youth. There are tabloid details if you want them, but Gordon’s book reads more like purging than exploitation.


Book review: Paper Pups: 35 Dogs to Copy, Cut and Fold

By , March 12, 2015

Paper Pups: 35 Dogs to Copy, Cut and Fold

By Hiroshi Hayakawa


If you have been trying to think of things to do with the kids during spring break then you may want to take a look at Paper Pups!

Paper Pups will teach you how to make 35 different dog breeds out of paper.  The projects in this book are made using two Japanese paper craft techniques; origami (paper folding) and kirigami (paper cutting).  No adhesives are used to make the pups; interlocking joints allow them to be free standing.

The steps for making the pups are all the same photocopy the template and then follow the directions for cutting, folding and shaping your paper. The projects are grouped into four skill levels: very easy, easy, intermediate and advanced and the How to Use This Book chapter will teach you everything you need to know to get started.  The projects in Paper Pups are geared more towards older kids and teens.

Author, Hiroshi Hayakawa did a fabulous job of capturing the essence of the various breeds making the dogs look very lifelike. My favorite paper pups are the energetic Weimaraner, the mighty English Bulldog and the amazing Chinese Crested!

Also featured are templates for dog accessories like collars, Best in Show ribbons, a fire hydrant and even a dog house for your paper pup!


These dogs are so doggone cute you’ll want to make them all!



- Karen



Paul LaPrad: Civil Rights Activist

By , March 9, 2015

Line of PicketersThe Civil Rights Movement is often presented as a battle for equality that pitted all blacks against all whites. And, from afar, this is true. But, in Nashville and throughout the country, there were students of other races and backgrounds that believed in equality and fought right alongside African Americans. These students were subjected to the same kinds of physical abuse that other protesters faced but they continued to fight for this cause. The Civil Rights Movement is not just African American history, it is the history of our nation and the ways we come together to fight against oppression.

Paul LaPrad, for example, was a white student from Indiana that attended Fisk University during the Sit-Ins. He chose to spend a year at a predominantly African American school to surround himself with people that were different from him in order to better understand how to work with individuals from varying backgrounds. Since he was new to the area, all of LaPrad’s friends were from Fisk, and therefore, African American. While this caused no problems on campus, LaPrad remembers being frustrated that he could not go out in the city with his friends.

“…If I did choose to go Downtown and go to a movie, or go to dinner or something, I couldn’t do it with my friends from school. And you know, to me, that was a bunch of malarkey.”

LaPrad on floor after being beaten

Paul LaPrad, on the floor, is beaten by onlookers. Photo courtesy of The Tennessean, February 28, 1960.

As a member of the Church of Brethren, LaPrad believed in peace above all else, which drew him to the teachings of non-violence and he began attending James Lawson’s classes. On February 27, 1960, LaPrad joined other activists at the lunch counter in McClellan’s store. While there, he was pulled off of his stool, beaten, and eventually arrested for participating in the protest. Of the 70-80 students that were arrested that day for sitting-in at lunch counters throughout the city, 10 were white.  LaPrad and the other white participants were housed separately from the others since the jails were still segregated. Even after this experience, LaPrad continued to believe in the principles of non-violence and the goals of the movement.

The lessons of the Civil Rights Movement – equality, non-violence, respect – are still relevant today. As Paul LaPrad says, “It’s just important that we consider people as people. And I think, again, back to the Sit-Ins, there were certainly some people, white people who were very much against what we were doing. There were some who were somewhat open. There were some who were definitely open to what we were trying to do. And, as I stated earlier, that phenomenon of various grades of thinking exists within all communities. That’s not just a Black/White thing.”


You can access an oral history with Paul LaPrad as well as many other interviews with Civil Rights activists in the Civil Rights Oral History Collection at the Special Collections Department of the Nashville Public Library. You can also visit the Civil Rights Room to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement in Nashville.

- Amber

Book review: If You Liked…

By , March 2, 2015

This post is straight recommendations, no commentary.  You’ll just have to trust me!

If you liked The Goldfinch, try Unbecoming, by Rebecca Scherm:










If you like big sprawling books about families and friendships and class issues, like Middlesex or The Fortress of Solitudetry A Dual Inheritance, by Joanna Hershon:

A Dual Inheritance









If you liked the memoirs The Glass Castle or This Boy’s Life, try With or Without You, by Domenica Ruta:

With or Without You









If you liked Olive Kitteridge, try Florence Gordon, by Brian Morton:

Florence Gordon

There’s No Time Like Snow Time

By , February 27, 2015
Capitol Feb 6 1979

February 6, 1979

As we experienced the icy weather of the last week, Megan (guest blogger) and I decided to dig up some memories of Nashville snowstorms of the past.  The following images and captions come from the Nashville Banner Archives in the Special Collections Division at the Main Library.





Horse Feb 21 1929

The heaviest fall of snow in more than ten years transformed Nashville overnight into a city of white. This attractive picture was taken in Centennial park early Thursday morning, Feb. 21, and with old Dobbin and the sleigh, it brings back memories of long ago.





Girls Snowball Jan 16 1948Choice target of students’ snowballs yesterday was Dr. Robert C. Provine, president of Ward-Belmont School.
(January 17, 1948)







Skiiers Jan 27 1963
Skiers enjoy the snow.
(January 27, 1963)








Snow Dino Jan 20 1978
Becky and John Mills (from left), Benny Pully and Rob Hatchett construct a prehistoric-type snow creature at 154 Brenda Lane – a lifesize dinosaur.
(January 20, 1978)






Silhouette Jan 24 1979

Solitary Sledding:
Holding his inner tube, William Hall prepares for another run down a snowy slope in Shelby Park.
(January 24, 1979)










Sledding Ashwood Ave Jan 19 1984Slick Snickers:
Kids have fun sledding down Ashwood Avenue.
(January 20, 1984)










Did you take any great shots of this year’s winter weather? Share your pictures with us on social media!

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And if you want to know more about Nashville’s past, make a visit to our Special Collections Division and explore the Nashville Banner on microfilm.

Book review: The Wedding Dress: The 50 Designs that Changed the Course of Bridal Fashion

By , February 26, 2015

The Wedding Dress: The 50 Designs that Changed the Course of Bridal Fashion

By Eleanor Thompson


In 1840, when 21 year old Queen Victoria selected white as the color of her wedding dress no one could have predicted that she would set a trend for white wedding gowns that would last for nearly two centuries. Even today, white is still the number one choice for brides in western cultures.

Eleanor Thompson’s new book The Wedding Dress: The 50 Designs that Changed the Couse of Bridal Fashion is so much fun to read, you will not want to put it down. From Queen Victoria to Catherine Middleton, everyone’s wedding dress that you would imagine is in this book. From Jackie Kennedy and Princess Diana to Dita Von Teese’s purple Scarlet O’Hara inspired wedding dress, along with a multitude of stunning wedding dresses you will be excited to see for the first time.

Each chapter features a full page color photograph of the wedding dress, information about the bride, dress designer and a detailed sketch of the gown that allows you to see its silhouette and all of the intricate details of the design.

The Wedding Dress is a must read for anyone who loves fashion, don’t miss it, this book is marvelous.



- Karen


P.S.  If you love looking at weddings dresses as much as I do, you may want to take a peek at the blog created by the Victoria and Albert Museum for their exhibition entitled Wedding Dresses 1775-2014 the postings are fascinating!




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