Inaugural Buzz

Transitions of power have always had the capacity to fascinate us, and today’s inauguration is no exception.  Washington D.C. is expecting an influx of 4 to 5 million people trying to get close to the action, and many more of us (including in the Central Library’s own Microsoft Auditorium) will be watching the ceremony on live TV.

 We’ve come a long way since George Washington relinquished his presidency to John Adams in 1797, our first presidential power transition.  President Obama will use the same Bible that Lincoln used for his swearing in (the first president since Lincoln to do so).  Lincoln is, of course, a great source of inspiration for Obama.  They share a gift for oratory; the book Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural by Ronald C White is worth reading to get a sense of the range and greatness of the earlier president.  To get a sense of our new president, you need look no further than his two books, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, and The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream

This inauguration will also be unusual in that it will feature an inaugural poem, by Elizabeth Alexander.  President Clinton also had an inaugural poem, On the Pulse of Morning, written by Maya Angelou.  The venerable Robert Frost wrote a poem for Kennedy’s inauguration, but was prevented by the weather from reading it; instead he recited his “The Gift Outright” from memory, and some feel it was the perfect choice.  Our library has the official program of Kennedy’s inauguration– check it out!     
The internet is a great source of inaugural miscellania.  You can read the inaugural addresses of the presidents, or check out the YouTube video, called “39 Words That Make a President“, which shows (in 10 minutes) every president since Franklin Roosevelt taking the oath of office?  There’s also an official video from the U.S. Senate called “So Help Me God.”  How about inaugural history and trivia?  Lots of that at this site, and at this one.

The presidency is also a compelling subject for fiction. Shelley’s Heart by Charles Mc Carry, is a political thriller which tells the tale of a president who finds out just before his inauguration that his aides may have taken illegal measures to assure his victory.  In Andrew Greeley’s lively The Bishop in the West Wing, the title character, Bishop Blackie Ryan, is called in to help the president get rid of the poltergeists which are plaguing the White House shortly after his inauguration.  If you like parody, you can’t do any better than Christopher Buckley, who has turned his keen eye on the CIA, the Supreme Court, and of course the presidency, in The White House Mess.  Thomas Tucker’s first task on his inaugural day is to get Ronald Reagan to actually leave the White House, and it only gets more zany from there.  Also, insider Margaret Truman (president Harry Truman’s daughter) wrote a series of very popular mystery novels set in Washington D.C. and involving the highest levels of government, as well as a book on White House pets.

Banned Book-of-the-Month Club presents: Soul On Ice, by Eldridge Cleaver

It begins like a spy movie. Late one night in the autumn of 1975, a group of school board members on Long Island New York asked the janitor to let them into the library, where they began rifling through the card catalog looking for titles from a leaflet in their hand. The flyer was produced by a group called “Parents of New York United,” and cited 33 titles that the group deemed objectionable for various reasons.

soul-on-ice-book-cover1The school board found 11 titles from the list in the library’s collection, and soon they had succeeded (against the librarian’s and superintendant’s objections ) in having all the titles removed from the collection, on grounds that they were “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and just plain filthy.” One of the banned books, cited on the handout as being objectionable because it “equates Malcolm X, considered by many to be a traitor to this country, with the founding fathers of our country,” was Soul on Ice, by Eldridge Cleaver.

One of the Black Power movement’s most distinctive voices during the sixties, Cleaver turned to writing in prison as a way of understanding who he was and what he had done with his life. As Cleaver writes,

After I returned to prison, I took a long look at myself and, for the first time in my life, admitted that I was wrong, that I had gone astray — astray not so much from the white man’s law as from being human, civilized — for I could not approve the act of rape. Even thought I had some insight into my own motivations, I did not feel justified. I lost my self-respect. My pride as a man dissolved and my whole fragile moral structure seemed to collapse, completely shattered. That is why I started to write. To save myself.

The result was Soul on Ice, a book that is by turns searing confessional memoir, incendiary polemic, and thoughtful meditation on the state of race in America. The book continues to provoke and inform today, as both an original view into the Civil Rights era and the Black Power movement, and a stirring cry against racism in all its guises and forms.

As for the Long Island banning, students in the Middle and High schools sued the school district in a case that wound up in the U.S. Supreme Court (Board of Education v. Pico). By a narrow margin, the students won the decision, and after seven years off the shelves, the books were restored to the collection.

Staff Favorites: Non-Fiction Thrills.

The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks by Susan Casey

“The killing took place at dawn and as usual it was a decapitation, accomplished by a single vicious swipe.” Thus begins this intriguing look at the great white sharks that congregate every fallat the Farallon Islands, just 27 miles from San Francisco. Two biologists and a handful of interns monitor the action in “shark alley,” trying to understand these fearsome, elusive animals. The islands themselves have a fascinating, almost piratical, history. Chock full of adrenaline-pumping stories, and scientific information, this is a terrific book for armchair adventurers and California surfers. Complete with color photographs.

                       ~ Beth D.

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James Swanson. Continue reading “Staff Favorites: Non-Fiction Thrills.”

The Haunted Northwest

Over the years, reference staff dealt with questions about ghost stories, preferably authentic, in the greater Seattle area. Some of the haunted locations which patrons wanted to research included the Manresa Castle in Port Townsend, the Martha Washington School for Girls which is now a park, the Pike Place Market, and the Harvard Exit theatre among others. More recently, interest has been expressed in Thornewood Castle in Lakewood, otherwise known as Rose Red, the mansion featured in Stephen King’s miniseries.

One of our older sources included Kathryn Robinson’s article in the Oct. 28-Nov. 3 1987 Seattle Weekly entitled “Seattle Spirits: Visits to the Northwest’s Favorite Haunting Grounds” which featured her search for Colonel Isaac A. Ebey’s ghost, said to walk along the rim of Perego’s Bluff on Whidbey Island.

More recently, three Northwest titles on the paranormal have been published.

Jeff Dwyer’s Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Seattle and Puget Sound is a travel guide for those seeking encounters with apparitions. Dwyer gives detailed information about haunted destinations. Apparently if Manresa Castle is one of the most haunted buildings in America, room 306 is the one you should book. Dwyer also includes Lakewood’s Thornewood Castle. This huge mansion with ornate  English Tudor and Gothic architectural features, many gables, seven-hundred-year-old windows, and parapets make a perfect setting for ghosts. The original owners, Chester and Anna Thorne are said to appear frequently to guests and Continue reading “The Haunted Northwest”

Mishima’s Sword

Mishima’s Sword: Travels in Search of a Samurai Legend  by Christopher Ross.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I lived in a southern city in China called Guangzhou. At that time Guangzhou was more vibrant than ever.  People were pouring into this so-called Window of the South Wind city to look for opportunity. Many success stories were made…

Today when I think of the time I lived in Guangzhou, my deepest memories for the great city were not the many magnificent things that happened there. The images that often flash back to my memory about Guangzhou now are, surprisingly, the times that I was engrossed in reading Japanese literature in a small and simple apartment…

From Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji to Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country, The Izu Dancer, Thousand Cranes, and The Old Capital to Yukio Mishima’s Spring Snow…  I was immersed in the beauty of Japanese literature and fully enjoyed the world I was put in by the great authors. I was especially fond of Spring Snow. Just like Mishima believed that “most Japanese literature came from the tender-soul or feminine tradition, represented by peace, the beauty of elegance, and refinement,” Spring Snow led me to ponder this exact same belief.

Among modern Japanese authors of his time, Yukio Mishima was the most Continue reading “Mishima’s Sword”