Category: Nonfiction

Wilson Collection honors the best of African American Literature

By , January 26, 2015
Letter from Birmingham City Jail

One of the 8 serigraph prints, created by Faith Ringgold for Letters from Birmingham City Jail

“When you learn, teach. When you get, give. As for me, I shall not be moved.”
- Our Grandmothers, Maya Angelou

As we just celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and are about to celebrate African American History month (in February), I thought that it was a perfect time to honor both with some of the best work by African American authors and artists from the Wilson Collection.

As I mentioned in a previous post about the Limited Edition Collection, the club began including work by African American authors and artists in 1983. Beginning with Nobel Prize winner, Derek Walcott, the Limited Edition Club published Poems of the Caribbean. A poet and playwright, Walcott is better known for the 1990 poem, Omeros. Walcott is a winner of many literary awards, including an Obie Award in 1971, for the play Dream on Monkey Mountain.

Jacob Lawrence, artist 

Also published in 1983 by the LEC, Hiroshima is a book by Pulitzer-Prize winning author, John Hersey. The LEC version includes a poem and signature by Kentucky (Kentucky-Tennessee Border) native, Robert Penn Warren. The book is a detailed account of Hiroshima from 6 survivors, after the atomic bombs were dropped in August, 1945.

A cover photo for Time magazine done in 1970, by artist Jacob Lawrence. (Photo courtesy of - Society of Publication Designers)

A cover photo of Jesse Jackson for Time magazine. Created by artist, Jacob Lawrence, in 1970. (Photo courtesy of – Society of Publication Designers)

In order to provide the adequate detail that the story calls for, artist Jacob Lawrence was chosen to create the 8, multi-color silk screens for the book. Lawrence’s achievements range from studying at the Harlem Art Workshop for 6 years, obtaining Rosenwald Fellowships for 3 successive years and a Guggenheim in 1946.

That same year, he also painted a cover for Fortune magazine. In 1970, he did a cover portrait of Jesse Jackson for Time magazine.

Lawrence is also known for several one-man exhibitions, the first one starting at the Harlem YMCA in 1938, and eventually had many traveling exhibits of art. In his later years (around the time when he created the art for Hiroshima), Lawrence was a professor of art at several institutions including Pratt Institute and the University of Washington in Seattle.

Lawrence’s feelings toward John Hersey’s book were beautifully translated into illustrations – “I read and reread Hiroshima several times. And I began to see the extent of the devastation in the twisted and mutilated bodies of humans, birds, fishes, and all the other animals and living things that inherit our Earth. The flora and fauna and the land that were at one time alive were now seared, mangled, deformed, and devoid of life. And I thought, what have we accomplished over these many centuries?”

Other great authors of the 20th century (that are included in the LEC) include Margaret Walker (For My People), Maya Angelou (Our Grandmothers), Langston Hughes (Sunrise is Coming After While), and Zora Neale Hurston (Bookmarks in the Pages of Life).

Margaret Walker

The year that the LEC published Margaret Walker’s For My People marked the 50th anniversary of its original publication (originally published in 1942). Though it was Walker’s first published work, she’d been writing for years. Walker attributes her inspiration for writing to her parents, starting from around the age of 11 or 12 when her father gave her a datebook as a Christmas present.

Maya Angelou

And Maya Angelou…where do I begin? Well known for many more reasons than being an award-winning author; Maya Angelou was also a dancer, actress, singer, activist and professor. She was the first poet since Robert Frost to make an inaugural recitation at a Presidential inauguration, reciting “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Clinton’s inauguration.

Maya took her acting, literary, and dance talents around the world, always ensuring that her son, Guy, was in good hands. She became involved with social causes as well, serving as the Northern Coordinator of the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference). When she worked for a school in Accra, Ghana, she wrote for periodicals there, and in Egypt.

Upon her return back to the States, Angelou began publishing the first volume of her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (a book that is also on many school’s banned and challenged lists). Our Grandmothers, Angelou’s favorite poem from the book of poetry I Shall Not Be Moved, was chosen by her for the Limited Edition Collection. Though a short poem, Our Grandmothers is every bit as strong as her autobiographies and her books of poetry.

First Edition of Maya Angelou's Music, Deep Rivers in My Soul

First Edition of Maya Angelou’s Music, Deep Rivers in My Soul. This book was published specially for the members of the Limited Edition Club.

Another treasure by Angelou published by the Limited Edition Club is Music, Deep Rivers in My Soul. It is a treasure not only for its content, but also because it is a first edition book that was written specifically for the members of the LEC. This is a first for the LEC to publish a first edition book. It was published in 2003, with color etchings by artist Dean Mitchell (chosen by Angelou) and an original jazz composition by Wynton Marsalis. Truly unique, indeed.

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes’ biographer described him in these words: “to many readers of African descent he is their poet laureate, the beloved author of poems steeped in the richness of African-American culture. To many readers who love verse and are also committed to the ideal of social and political justice, he is among the most eloquent of American Poets. For still other admirers he is, above all, the author of poems of often touching lyric beauty beyond issues such as race and justice.”

Hughes was revolutionary in his work, whether it be poetry, play-writing, activist work, or a novel. He was one of the earliest pioneers of the writing form, jazz poetry. He was also a leader of the Harlem Renaissance.

Hughes passed away in 1967, many years prior to the LEC’s publication of Sunrise is Coming After While. The LEC received help from Maya Angelou in selecting the poems for the volume. The artist chosen to illustrate the publication was Phoebe Beasley, the only artist whose work has been chosen twice for the Presidential Seal.

Zora Neale Hurston

There are not too many artists out there with an annual festival in their honor, but Zora Neale Hurston has one. In Eatonville, Florida, a town made famous thanks to Hurston’s numerous fictional stories. The year before the LEC published her collection of stories (2000), the festival drew about 85,000 enthusiasts (a small town that’s not too far from Orlando).

It almost goes without saying that she was and is still a popular author. Like Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston was well known for being a prominent writer during the Harlem Renaissance, and for writing Their Eyes Were Watching God. She has influenced many contemporary authors such as Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Ralph Ellison. The collection of stories chosen for the Limited Edition Collection range from tragic to laugh-out-loud, from the time of slavery to the Harlem Renaissance.

Betye Saar, one of America’s most important artists, illustrated the book with six multi-colored serigraphs. The paper that Saar chose is handmade of cotton and cinnamon, and the afterword was also written by her.


Martin Luther King, Jr.

One of the publications recently published by the LEC, Letter from Birmingham City Jail is an open letter that was written by Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 16, 1963, after his arrest during the Birmingham Campaign. While in jail, King received a newspaper that was smuggled in. It contained a statement from 8 white Alabama clergymen going against King’s methods, and he proceeded to write a response on the same newspaper.

King believed in the power of nonviolent resistance, and defended the strategy strongly in the letter stating that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws.

In honor of all of these notable authors, artists, and activists, the Wilson Collection currently has the following books (and a few news articles) on display:

  • Poems of the Caribbean by Derek Walcott. Published by the LEC in 1983.

Poems of the Caribbean

  • Hiroshima by John Hersey. Illustrated by artist, Jacob Lawrence. Published by the LEC in 1983.

Hiroshima          Hiroshima

  • For My People by Margaret Walker. Published by the LEC in 1992.

For My People          For My People

  • Our Grandmothers by Maya Angelou. Published by the LEC in 1994.

Our Grandmothers          Our Grandmothers

  • Sunrise is Coming After While by Langston Hughes. Published by the LEC in 1998.

Sunrise is Coming After While          Sunrise is Coming After While

  • Bookmarks in the Pages of Life by Zora Neale Hurston. Published by the LEC in 2001.

Bookmarks in the Pages of Life          Bookmarks in the Pages of Life


  • Music, Deep Rivers in My Soul by Maya Angelou. First Edition Published in 2003.

Music, Deep Rivers in My Soul          Music, Deep Rivers in my Soul

  • Letter from Birmingham City Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr. Published by the LEC in 2008.

MLK_3          MLK_2

All of these books and several old news articles are currently on display in the Wilson Room, on the 3rd floor of the Main Downtown Library (next to the Fine Arts area). They will remain on display throughout the month of February. The Wilson Room is open to all visitors during regular Library hours.

If you are interested in viewing more books from the Wilson Collection, you can make an appointment by calling either (615) 880-2356 or (615) 880-2363, or simply respond to this blog post.

Stay tuned for more from the Wilson Collection!

Book review: Living with Books

By , January 22, 2015

Living with Books

By Alan Powers


Books! We love them, we can’t live without them and this decorating book will show you fabulous and innovative ways to display them in your home!

Alan Powers’ Living with Books features page after page of rooms filled with character and personality and clever arrangements of books.

Living with Books offers decorating ideas for home libraries, home offices, kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms and my favorite chapter hallways and odd spaces. You’ll learn how to use books to add warmth and color to your home as well as how to use books as art.

The author also provides information about the care and maintenance of books and DIY instructions on how to build six different styles of bookshelves.

If you enjoy Living with Books you might also want to take a look at House Beautiful Decorating with Books by Marie Proeller Hueston and At Home with Books: How Booklovers Live with and Care for Their Libraries by Estelle Ellis.


You’ll never look at your books the same way again………

- Karen

Book List: The 2015 Reading Challenge

By , January 17, 2015

2015 Reading Challenge


Since New Year’s is all about making resolutions, I think one of the best resolutions a reader can make is to diversify what they read throughout the year.

That being said, POPSUGAR has created a 2015 Reading Challenge, check out their post and see the POPSUGAR list. They even offer a handy printable version, which you can hang up on your desk or near your favorite reading spot to keep track of the books that you have already read.

Here are a few highlights of the list, plus a few suggestions (from my list) about what to read for them:

A book with more than 500 pages -

Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson

Words of Radiance

The second book in the Stormlight Archives, Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson, doubles this page count! I’m really hoping to getting around to reading it this year, before the third one comes out.













A book your mom loves -

The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory

The Other Boleyn Girl

My mom is a huge fan of historical fiction, so for this one, I’ve picked The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. I know this is one of her favorites!














A book that made you cry -

Imajica, by Clive Barker


Clive Barker has always had such beautiful imagery in his works, and Imajica has several moments throughout that usually have me reaching for a tissue or three.













A memoir -

As You Wish, by Cary Elwes

As You Wish

I think this counts, right? It’s one of my favorite movies of all time, and Cary Elwes sits down to tell us behind-the-scenes stories you haven’t heard before in As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.













A book with antonyms in the title -

Memory and Dream, by Charles de Lint

Memory and Dream

Trying to figure out what to read for this one was a bit of a tough choice, but I’ve been putting off reading Charles de Lint for a while. For this one, I’m going with Memory and Dream. Don’t worry! There are a ton of possibilities for this challenge.



Check Out the List

If you want to find a more complete list of my suggestions, check out the list on the library website here: 2015 Reading Challenge

Tennessee History Through Maps

By , January 12, 2015


Map of Tennessee 1854

Tennessee, 1854

As a new year begins, I tend to find myself reflecting back on the previous year. What did I do? Where did I go? Who did I meet? So I thought this would be the PERFECT time to look back on a larger scale, way larger – try a few hundred years larger! How about the whole history of the state of Tennessee?? Ok, well maybe not that large – but it is definitely worth looking back to see how we got to where we are, how we have changed, and maybe even envision a new future (our “resolutions” if you will).

The Special Collections Division has so many wonderful resources that talk about Tennessee’s history but the Ann Harwell Wells Tennessee Map Collection gives a unique perspective on the evolution of the state. The collection contains 146 antique Tennessee maps, some published as early as 1584. In these maps, Tennessee changes from a frontier land to a territory to the state we know today. This is one of the most comprehensive collections of Tennessee maps in existence and can be a great resource for anyone interested in Tennessee history.

Map of Tennessee

The State of Tennessee, Mathew Carey, 1814

Let’s start with Mathew Carey’s Map of Tennessee from 1814. Although this particular map was printed 200 years ago, it is a revised version of an earlier map and represents Tennessee before statehood in 1796. One of the most interesting characteristics of this map is the Indian boundary line that runs across the middle of the state. Early English settlement stopped at the Appalachian Mountains. It wasn’t until after the American Revolution that many frontiersmen ventured over those mountains and began settling in the Tennessee Territory. You can see some of the American settlements highlighted in East Tennessee.

Map of Tennessee

A Map of Tennassee Government Formerly Part of North Carolina, From the Latest Surveys 1795

B. Tanner’s Map of Tennessee also gives extraordinary detail about the settlement of the Tennessee Territory. This map is based on a survey taken in 1795, the year before Tennessee gained statehood. The Indian Territory line is still visible as the dotted line through the middle of the state but this map gives the viewer a clear picture of where settlements flourished. Try to find Nashville and note how most of the settlements are along major waterways – Nashville and Clarksville on the Cumberland River and Knoxville along the Holston River. With few roads and other trails, rivers were the easiest way to travel in the 1700s. They were also important avenues for transferring goods – whether that meant the raw materials produced in Tennessee or the refined products brought in from other states.

Map of Tennessee

Tennessee, 1889

Over the next 100 years, Tennessee expanded its boundaries all the way to the Mississippi, as you can see in this 1889 map. The Cherokee Indians were relocated as part of Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policy in 1838 and Americans expanded into the whole state. New cities popped up including Memphis and Chattanooga. These cities continued to be along waterways for ease of transportation. Henry Ford wouldn’t invent the Model T Ford (which made car ownership possible for the common man) until 1908. This was also a time of war in Tennessee. Our state was the last to secede from the Union and the first to return at the end of the Civil War. Tennessee waterways were important avenues into the South during this war, which made Tennessee a frequent battleground.

The physical landscape of Tennessee hasn’t changed much since 1889 but our state continues to feel the impact of the decisions of these early settlers. Just 5 years ago, the decision to settle on riverbanks caused millions of dollars of damage when those rivers broke their banks and flooded many Tennessee cities. Our past  – whether personal or collective – is a part of us, whether we like it or not. But a new year brings new opportunities and new ways to examine the past.

If you are interested in learning more about the Wells Collection, there will be an exhibit of selected maps on display from January 22 through January 29 in the Nashville Room. And, as always, these collections are open to the public during regular library hours.

Happy 2015!!



Christmas Tradition from Nashville’s Past

By , December 26, 2014

CentennialNativity001The Nativity scene at Centennial Park is a favorite Christmas memory for many Nashvillians.  I’m sorry I never got to see it.  The display began in 1953, a gift to the city of Nashville from the founder of Harveys Department Store, Fred Harvey, Sr.


According to articles in the Nashville Banner, Harvey got the idea for the display while on a tour of Europe a few years before.  He saw a permanent Nativity scene in a village in the Bavarian Alps and thought “how beautiful a larger replica of the scene would look on the mall beside the Parthenon in our own Centennial Park.”


Centennial Park Nativity Scene – December 3, 1956

The Centennial Park Nativity Scene was a popular sight in Nashville for about 15 years, attracting a hometown crowd as well as visitors from around the country.  The original cost was $150,000 for the sculptures created by Italian sculptor Guido Rebeccini.  There were a total of 123 figures (45 people and 78 animals), and the space covered by the display was 280 ft. wide and 75 ft. deep.  The amount invested by the Harvey family by 1967 was said to be close to $250,000.

Centennial Park Nativity Scene, Nashville Banner Archives December 5, 1955

Centennial Park Nativity Scene – December 5, 1955

Sadly, before the Christmas season of 1968, many of the figures were badly damaged in storage.  Fred Harvey, Jr. announced that the Nativity scene would not be installed that year and it was sold soon after to an advertising firm in Cincinnati, Ohio.

A crowd enjoys the Centennial Park Nativity Scene  December 3, 1956.

A crowd enjoys the Centennial Park Nativity Scene, 
December 3, 1956.

All photos courtesy of the Nashville Banner Archives, Special Collections Divison, Nashville Public Library.



Books to Get Your House in Shape in 2015

By , December 25, 2014

As we get ready to start a new year what better way to get your house into shape than with the Home Repair Almanac by Edward R. Lipinski, a season by season guide for maintaining your home.

If the thought of home maintenance scares the bejeebers out of you, never fear the library has books for that……How Your House Works: A Visual Guide to Understanding & Maintaining Your Homeby Charlie Wing is filled with hundreds of simple drawings illustrating the basics of how things work in your home. Chapters on Plumbing, Wiring, Heating, Cooling, Air Quality, Appliances, Windows & Doors and Foundation & Frame discuss the basics of how it all works along with handy tips to try before calling a service person. This book is easy to understand and is a great place to start if you have any questions about home maintenance. How Your House Works is a must read for any home owner.

You’ve seen them on the shelves at Home Depot now you can check them out for free from the library: The Ultimate Guide: Home Repair and Improvement by Creative Homeowner will give you tips about “money-saving projects and simple ways to go green.” The Reader’s Digest New Fix-It-Yourself Manual shows you “how to repair, clean and maintain anything and everything in and around your home.” The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Home Repair and Maintenance Illustrated by David Tenenbaum offers step-by step instructions for common repairs to the interior and exterior of your home. And Popular Mechanics Complete Home How-To by Albert Jackson claims to be “the most comprehensive and up-to-date DIY guide ever published.” The book features chapters on Organization, Decorating, Repairs & Improvements, Home Security, Infestation, Rot & Damp, Insulation &Ventilation, Electricity, Plumbing, Heating, Working Outdoors and Tools & Skills.


These books provide a little something for everyone, to get your New Year off to a good start!







Arion Press – Behind the Books

By , December 22, 2014
Several Books from the Library's Collection of Arion Press Books

Several Books from the Library’s Collection of Arion Press Books including: The Maltese Falcon, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Big Sleep.

“Genius…is the capacity to see ten things where the ordinary man sees one.”
- Ezra Pound


If you read last month’s post, you will not be surprised that this month’s topic is about the history and workings of the Arion Press, another limited edition book club included in the Wilson Collection.

I will try to keep this month’s post short…well, at least shorter than last months. In addition to the discussion of Arion Press, I’ve had a request to include more Christmas Cards from the Limited Edition Club. You can find those at the bottom of the page as well.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (the 70′s and in San Francisco, actually)….

There existed a unique, fine-press limited edition book club known as Arion Press. Founded by Andrew Hoyem in 1974, he was the last remaining descendant from the Grabhorn Press.

The Press started in a city well known for its book making and fine printing – San Francisco. It produces all of its own books (crafted primarily by hand).  Most people might think, “don’t all book publishers produce their own books?” Well actually, that’s not always the case. For example, the Limited Editions Collection outsourced many of the book-making steps, especially in the 70′s when Mr. Shiff took over the club.

But Arion Press is involved in every step of the process – the selection of the author, artist, editing, designing, printing, and binding. Some of the equipment used at the Press today came from Hoyem’s previous partnership with Robert Grabhorn (Grabhorn-Hoyem). They used Types that were acquired from John Henry Nash (another influential figure in the publishing business) when he retired. When Robert Grabhorn passed away in 1973, Hoyem began his next adventure by renaming the Grabhorn-Hoyem Partnership to Arion Press.

Similar to George Macy with the LEC, Hoyem has always been an avid fan of reading. His artistic interests including his own work of poetry are self-attributed to his college experience at Pomona College in California. This is where he experienced his first brush with printing as well. It was recommended to him by Pomona’s choral director, to look up a famous printer in Los Angeles because his work seemed like something Hoyem would be interested in.

One of the 100 wood engravings by Barry Moser, for Herman Melville's Moby Dick

One of the 100 wood engravings by Barry Moser, for Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

Hoyem’s story after college is an interesting one, including his service in the Navy where he read all the poetry he could get his hands on (mostly poets similar to Ezra Pound and the Beat poets). But to avoid centering this post on Arion Press’ creator, I’ll simply recommend that if you’d like to read more about Andrew Hoyem, see the article in Biblio magazine.

So the Arion Press…as mentioned, Hoyem started the limited-edition books company in 1974. Publication began in 1975. The name Arion came from the Greek poet who was saved from the sea by a dolphin. The explanation for why that name was chosen is also included on page 34 in the Biblio article; in short, the dolphin is a mascot for fine printing.

Though famous for its artistry, attention to detail, and many other accolades, Arion has remained a small, self-sustaining business that has never been subsidized by grants. As for its success, Hoyem proudly attributes many of the Press’ success to its staff. And many of the staff members have been there for years, and a few have their own printing businesses on the side.

Two years after Arion first began publishing, Hoyem and his staff began production of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Other early publications by Arion are Hoyem’s own book, Picture Poems, Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, and the first Arion Press livre d’artiste (books illustrated with original prints by well known artists) - A Travel Book by Fred Martin.

The books listed above are included in the Wilson Collection. There are several other unique books from the collection, currently on display in the Wilson Room (East Reading room on the 3rd floor):

  • The Temple of Flora - edited by Glenn Todd and Nancy Dine. Includes poetry by several notable writers including E.E. Cummings, Frank O’Hara, Ezra Pound, and William Carlos Williams (and Andrew Hoyem of course) (1984).

    The Temple of Flora edited by Glenn Todd and Nancy Dine

    The Temple of Flora edited by Glenn Todd and Nancy Dine

  • Birds of the Pacific Slope - 156 bird portraits by Andrew Jackson Grayson (with his notes), biography by Lois Stone (1986).

    156 bird portraits by Andrew Jackson Grayson with a companion volume

    156 bird portraits by Andrew Jackson Grayson with a companion volume, Grayson’s ornithological notes and a biography of Grayson by Lois Stone

  • Invisible Cities - by Italo Calvino, new intro by William Weaver and 12 drawings by Wayne Thiebaud (1999)

    Photo from Arion Press' website, the drawings for Invisible Cities are printed on clear plastic with different ink colors. The images are only revealed when the transparent sheet is turned back onto the preceding page.

    Photo from Arion Press’ website, the drawings for Invisible Cities are printed on clear plastic with different ink colors. The images are only revealed when the transparent sheet is turned back onto the preceding page.

  • Wiley Godot - illustrated by William T. Wiley; original play was Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

    Godot - an imaginary staging by William T. Wiley of Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

    Godot – an imaginary staging by William T. Wiley of Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Unlike the Limited Editions Collection, the Wilson Collection does not have the full collection of Arion Press books. Though I’m unsure how many books Arion Press has published to date (99 plus), the Wilson Collection includes quite a few from the collection (roughly 91).

We still regularly receive books from the Press, the most recent being Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. The next upcoming book is What the End is For, a selection of 55 poems by Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur Fellowship-winning poet, Jorie Graham.

And now a few of the LEC Christmas Cards, for your viewing pleasure…

Christmas Card from the LEC     Christmas Card from the LECLEC Christmas Card    Christmas Card from the LEC     LEC Christmas Card     LEC Christmas Card

Want to see these books, or would you like to view more works from the Wilson Collection? The Wilson Collection is housed on the 3rd floor of the Main Downtown Library, next to the Fine Arts section. It’s open to all Library visitors during regular Library hours. To make an appointment to view the books, you can call either (615) 880-2356 or (615) 880-2363.

Book review: The Simpsons Family history

By , December 19, 2014


The Simpsons family history: a celebration of television’s favorite family

The holidays are upon us and that means sharing this festive time with people you normally would not spend time with outside of a funeral home. Well, embrace the family spirit by taking a stroll down memory lane with a family we first met on the Tracy Ullman show 25 years ago. Yes, the long awaited Simpsons family history: a celebration of television’s favorite family can now be shared.

Did you know that Marge and Homer first met as children at Camp-See-A-Tree?

Did you know that Homer’s mother was a free-spirit that had to abandon him to avoid the feds? And that Mr. Burns is involved?!?!?!?

Did you know that while mired in sibling jealousy Bart tried to mail baby Lisa away?

These facts and many others are revealed in The Simpsons Family History.

Do yourself a favor and make sure you have a copy of this instant classic sitting prominently on the coffee table when the relatives arrive. The resulting Simpson discussions may be quite revealing…. Of course he relates to Moe! Gather the family around the internet and take one of hundreds, “Which Simpson are you?’ quizzes available. A holiday tradition is born.

“…and that is how you win an opium war”  -  Mr. Burns



Book review: Deep

By , December 12, 2014

Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves
by James Nestor

In 2011, Journalist James Nestor was covering a freediving competition in Greece, when his editor at Outside Magazine called to check  in.  Nestor told him “freediving is like being in space, but it’s in water; like flying but you’re diving.  It’s the most…the worst…the best…the bloodiest.”  Nestor wrote his article without ever attempting a freedive himself.  But he soon began a journey all over the world speaking with people who freedive not only as a competitive sport, but as a way of life, a way to study and research creatures of the ocean and our negative effects upon them, and also as a means of meditation.

So what is freediving?  If you are a scuba diver, imagine leaving your oxygen tank behind, and diving down to depths of 100 feet below the surface.  If you think it impossible to survive, you are wrong.  Humans have been freediving for thousands of years, but freediving as a competitive sport is fairly new, and incredibly controversial.  In November of 2013, Nicholas Mevoli, a thirty-two year-old athlete from Brooklyn died shortly after completing a 236-foot no-fins dive.

After he covers the competition in Greece, Nestor goes to Japan to meet  an ancient culture of Japanese diving women called the Ama who gather sea urchins to sell to sushi restaurants.  He spends time on the French island of Reunion with  conservationist Fabrice Schnoller and Belgian freediver Fred Buyle to investigate the island’s man-eating shark problem.  (Spoiler – boats had been dumping loads of trash outside the port entrance, attracting bull sharks to the area…)  Nestor studies with some of the freediving greats (Eric Pinion, Hanli Prinsloo) so he can ultimately freedive with spermwhales off the northeast coast of Sri Lanka.  These are just a few of the experiences Nestor shares in his riveting, fascinating, and completely engrossing book.

Deep is my top pick for nonfiction book of 2014.  I rarely want to re-read a book immediately after I finish it, but that’s just what I did.  There are many freediving videos on youtube, but if you take the time to watch just one, it should be the 2010 short film of French freediver Guillaume Nery called Free Fall which I’ll share below.


Discovering The War of the Rebellion: The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies

By , December 8, 2014
Train station in foreground with Tennessee capitol building in background, 1864

Nashville, 1864. From Library of Congress.


Chances are, the Civil War Battle of Nashville was omitted from your high school history books. Maybe you never knew that a large battle was fought here, involving two major armies and hundreds of thousands of men. Or perhaps you’re familiar with the battle and have read several general works, but crave more detail. With the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Nashville approaching on Dec. 15-16, now is a good time to explore an essential Civil War resource.


The War of the Rebellion: The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, more commonly known as the Official Records or even more simply, the “OR” is a treasure trove of detail. First published in 1880, this multi-volume set contains thousands of battle reports, orders, and accounts of activities of both Union and Confederate armies, from all geographic areas.


Civil War buffs can get a “boots on the ground” perspective of the action straight from the commanders’ pens. Local historians can learn more about a skirmish that took place for control of a nearby railroad bridge, or guerrilla activity in the countryside.  Genealogists can learn about great-grandpa’s regiment – or on rare occasions, even find him mentioned by name!

The ORs are also available online and are keyword searchable. Although their online format makes access convenient, it can also be problematic when a search provides an enormous quantity of matches that are difficult to sort through. Using the hard copy books, with their indices, can at times be a more efficient way to find the information that you seek.


Organization of the Official Records

Let’s break it down into its main method of arrangement.

♦ Series

♦ Volumes

♦ Parts


Spines of books showing Series labels

There are four “Series” to the OR’s.

Series I. Military Operations (which contains the largest quantity of material)

Series II. Prisoners of War

Series III. Miscellaneous Union correspondence

Series IV. Miscellaneous Confederate correspondence


After identifying the Series, you locate the Volume. Note that Volumes sometimes may be broken down into subsequent “Parts.” Think of a “Part” as literally being a part of a Volume that was simply too big to be bound together in one giant book.


Spines of books showing numbered Parts of a Volume


So, with this basic orientation, let’s work through an example.


Step 1 – Consult “General Index”

Index to the Official Records book

Begin by consulting the “General Index” – the last book in the entire set. Say I want to learn more about Samuel J. Churchill. The reference in the index is: “I, 45.”


This is referring to Series I, Volume 45.


Step 2 – Consult back-of-the-book index in each Part of the Volume of interest

Knowing that there may be multiple Parts to a Volume, check all indices in the back of the book for all Parts.

In the case of Series I, Volume 45, there are two Parts. This means I’m going to check the index in two separate books.

In the index of Part I, I find an entry for an otherwise unidentified “Churchill.” This might be of interest, and should be pursued, but for the sake of my example, I’m only going to investigate direct mentions of Samuel J. Churchill. There is an entry for him in Part I, directing me to page 492.




I’ll also want to check the Part II index, because there may be references to him there as well. In this instance, there is not an entry for him in Part II, so that makes our job simple.

Let’s check out that reference to him in Part I.


Step 3 – Follow the reference given in the back-of-the-book index to the appropriate page.

Let’s go to page 492 in Part I.

Here, we find an account of Corpl. Samuel J. Churchill’s heroic actions at the Battle of Nashville:



Corpl. Samuel J. Churchill… commanding one gun detachment [of Battery G, 2nd Illinois Light Artillery] is highly commended for distinguished bravery displayed on the first day. At a time when two of the enemy’s batteries opened upon his guns, compelling for a short time the men of his detachment to seek the protection of the ground, this young soldier stood manfully up to his work, and for some minutes worked his gun alone.


With further research in other sources, we might soon learn that Churchill was later awarded the Medal of Honor in 1897. This report in the OR provided key evidence, and was instrumental in his receiving the award.



The ORs are an essential source for any type of detailed Civil War research. Convenient indices provide a step-by-step process to obtain detailed information on individuals, officers, regiments, battles, and even small skirmishes at tiny crossroads villages.

Further Sources:

Two smaller works can provide assistance in using the ORs:

A User’s Guide to the Official Recordsby Alan C. and Barbara A. Aimone provides a solid overview of how the published OR’s came about, how to use them, and a large bibliography.

Lawrence M. Jarratt has made it easier for all Tennesseans to know more about their particular community in the Civil War. Although compiled in 1986, long before the internet and keyword searching, his A Complete County by County Guide to Civil War Battles, Actions, Engagements, Skirmishes, Affairs, Reconaissances, Expeditions, Scouts and Camps in Tennessee makes it possible for one to easily find accounts in the Official Records about actions in particular locales.

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