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Friday, August 31, 2007

Micro Histories

You may not recognize the term, but you’ll definitely recognize the books when you encounter them. Micro histories are those non-fiction musings on the history of a particular thing. Here’s a few to try:

The Story of Salt by Mark Kurlansky

The Cloudspotter’s Guide: The Science, History and Culture of Clouds by Gavin Pretor-Pinney

One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw by Witold Rybczynski

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Blue: The History of a Color by Michel Pastoureau

Prayer: A History by Philip Zaleski, Carol Zaleski

Aspirin: The Remarkable Story of a Wonder Drug by Diarmuid Jeffreys

Check out more micro histories at Squidoo. And if you have a favorite, let us know.

You’re Invited

September 5 at 7:30 p.m.
Technology Book Club. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams. First selection for a new book discussion group at the George Mason Regional Library.

September 6 at 12:15 p.m.
Daytime Book Discussion Group at the Kingstowne Library. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck.

September 7, 12:30 PM - 2:30 p.m.
Knitting for Beginners at the Martha Washington Library. Bring your own supplies.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Billy Lee

The mulatto slave Billy Lee, Washington’s valet, butler and personal attendant, may have been one of Washington’s closest confidents according to a BookCast interview with Joseph Ellis author of His Excellency: George Washington posted on the Fairfax County Public Library’s Web site.

As described on the Mt. Vernon's Web site, his duties included taking care of Washington’s clothes, powdering and curling his wig, taking mail to the post office in Alexandria. Lee seems to have joined Washington’s estate in 1768.

During the Revolutionary War, Lee accompanied Washington and took care of his important papers. But, two crippling knee injuries prevented Lee from serving as Washington’s valet when he became president.

Lee asked Washington to bring his wife, Margaret Lee, to Mt. Vernon after the war, and Washington made the arrangements, but it is unclear if she did ever live on the estate.

Lee’s brother Frank, served as a butler in the Mt. Vernon Mansion House after Billy’s injuries. He was married to a cook named Lucy. The couple had at least three children.

In his will, Washington freed Billy, gave him food, clothing and a generous allowance at the time of $30 a year.

Save This Date:
September 27 at 7:30 p.m. Center for the Arts -- Fairfax campus of George Mason University. Joseph J. Ellis, author of the 2007 All Fairfax Reads selection, His Excellency: George Washington discusses his biography. Books will be available for sale and signing courtesy of Barnes & Noble - GMU. Free; first come first served; no registration required.

Other All Fairfax Reads Events:
September 10 at 7:30 p.m., Sherwood Regional Library. James Rees, executive director of Mount Vernon: George Washington’s Estate & Gardens, discusses his book, George Washington’s Leadership Lessons: What the Father of Our Country Can Teach Us About Effective Leadership and Character.

September 18 at 7 p.m., Kings Park Library. Patricia Brady discusses her book, Martha Washington: An American Life. Books for sale and signing,courtesy of Borders-Tysons Corner.

September 20 at 7:30 p.m. Reston Regional Library. Actor Brian Hilton portrays George Washington and describes his life from 1732-1760.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Vesuvius Day

On August 24 in A.D. 79, just short of two millennia ago, Mt. Vesuvius, an active volcano in southern Italy, destroyed the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum and other nearby towns. Based on accounts by Pliny the Younger to the Roman historian Tacitus, the eruption supposedly began around noon. The volcano began showering Pompeii with lapilli, small pieces of solidified lava. By the following morning, ash had buried Herculaneum, Oplontis and finally Pompeii.

Vesuvius is considered a stratovolcano with steep sides formed by repeated flows of various volcanic material. The eruption in A.D. 79 is now referred to as a Plinian eruption, because of Pliny’s detailed description of its nature. A Plinian eruption is characterized by pine-shaped clouds that form above the volcano’s crater and the variety of hazardous materials the volcano releases. In Herculaneum, four surges from the volcano covered the town with 75 feet of ash and volcanic material.

Excavation of Pompeii began in the mid-18th century, primarily to recover art objects for the private collection of Charles III. As the area changed hands between France and Italy, the excavations continued into the 21st century with a number of different archeologists. Today, 44 hectares (1 hectare equals 2.7 acres) of the 66 hectares of the urban area are uncovered; the other 22 hectares will remain buried to preserve their artifacts. (Pompeii: Its Discovery and Excavation)

For more on the A.D. 79 eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, see:

Ghosts of Vesuvius by Charles Pellegrino

Pompeii: A City Rediscovered (video)

The Lost World of Pompeii by Colin Amery

Pompeii: The Day a City Died by Robert Etienne

The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer Lytton (fiction)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

His Elective Majesty

As the first president of the new republic, Washington was definitely a pioneer, argues Joseph Ellis in His Excellency: George Washington. Even the pomp and circumstance that is so much a part of ceremonial Washington had to be invented.

No one even knew how to address the new leader. When Vice President John Adams suggested titles such as “His Elective Majesty” or “His Mightiness,” the U.S. Senate balked, finally deciding on the simpler “President” (p. 193).

Matters of social etiquette, such as how Washington would interact with the public, had to be determined. Apparently, many memoranda were exchanged. Alexander Hamilton pushed for a “pretty high tone” that stopped short of secluding Washington “like an Eastern Lama.”

The solution – weekly open houses called “levees” – which combined regal bows and courtesies with the drop-in social to appease both republican and more courtly sentiments in the new government.

Apparently, these choreographed affairs were quite scripted with rare impromptu moments. At one such event, Washington bent over to kiss the widow of Nathanael Greene on the cheek ― to the surprise of all.

The reticent Washington seemed to like these formal affairs, since his “gift of silence,” as Adams called it, required everyone around to fill the void with conversation.

Save This Date: September 27 at 7:30 p.m. Center for the Arts -- Fairfax campus of George Mason University. Joseph J. Ellis, author of the 2007 All Fairfax Reads selection, His Excellency: George Washington discusses his biography. Books will be available for sale and signing courtesy of Barnes & Noble - GMU. Free; first come first served; no registration required.

Note: Listen to a podcast interview with author Joseph Ellis posted on the library’s Web site.

Other All Fairfax Reads Events:
September 10 at 7:30 p.m., Sherwood Regional Library. James Rees, executive director of Mount Vernon: George Washington’s Estate & Gardens, discusses his book, George Washington’s Leadership Lessons: What the Father of Our Country Can Teach Us About Effective Leadership and Character.
September 18 at 7 p.m., Kings Park Library. Patricia Brady discusses her book, Martha Washington: An American Life. Books for sale and signing,courtesy of Borders-Tysons Corner.September 20 at 7:30 p.m. Reston Regional Library. Actor Brian Hilton portrays George Washington and describes his life from 1732-1760.

Friday, August 17, 2007

iPhone Literature

We knew it had to happen. The Associated Press reported that publisher HarperCollins announced on Wednesday that it has set up a special link that allows users to read excerpts of more than one dozen new releases, such as Ray Bradbury’s Now and Forever or Michael C. White’s Soul Catcher on their iPhones. Those who want to browse a book can view up to 10 pages of a book’s first two chapters. And of course, if the book is intriguing, you can check it out from your nearest library branch. Or, it may be available as an eBook or eAudiobook from the Fairfax County Public Library. All you need is your library card.

So does HarperCollins have it right? Are you going to be sampling best sellers on your mobile devices? Let us know.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis Lewis

Most local Fairfax County residents know of Washington’s step-granddaughter, Nelly Parke Custis Lewis, because of Woodlawn Plantation, her residence. Located near Mt. Vernon, it became her home after she married Washington’s nephew, Lawrence Lewis.

The library at Mt. Vernon has a collection of 270 of her letters. In the correspondence, she writes about social life, female education, and the health and well-being of her children. She expresses opinions on political figures and myths about George Washington. Before she married, she often acted as a hostess for Washington while he was president in Philadelphia and at Mt. Vernon. In one letter, she describes her adoptive grandfather. “He was a silent, thoughtful man. He spoke little generally; never of himself,” she wrote in 1833. I never heard him relate a single act of his life during the war. I have often seen him perfectly abstracted, his lips moving, but no sound was perceptible. I have sometimes made him laugh most heartily from sympathy with my joyous and extravagant spirits.”

For more on this presidential hostess, see Eleanor Parke Custis: An Inventory of Her Papers on the Mt. Vernon Web site.

If you are curious about Nelly Custis, as well as George Washington’s family life, the library’s Virginia Room, located on the third floor of the Fairfax City Regional Library, offers access to some rare books on the family:

Family Life of George Washington by Charles Moore (1926)

Mount Vernon: Its Children, Its Romances, Its Allied Families and Mansionsby Minnie Lowther (1930)

Save This Date:
September 27 at 7:30 p.m. Center for the Arts -- Fairfax campus of George Mason University. Joseph J. Ellis, author of the 2007 All Fairfax Reads selection, His Excellency: George Washington discusses his biography. Books will be available for sale and signing courtesy of Barnes & Noble - GMU. Free; first come first served; no registration required.

Other All Fairfax Reads Events:
September 10 at 7:30 p.m., Sherwood Regional Library. James Rees, executive director of Mount Vernon: George Washington’s Estate & Gardens, discusses his book, George Washington’s Leadership Lessons: What the Father of Our Country Can Teach Us About Effective Leadership and Character.

September 18 at 7 p.m., Kings Park Library. Patricia Brady discusses her book, Martha Washington: An American Life. Books for sale and signing,
courtesy of Borders-Tysons Corner.

September 20 at 7:30 p.m. Reston Regional Library. Actor Brian Hilton portrays George Washington and describes his life from 1732-1760.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Ludlum Identity

Jason Bourne isn’t the only one in search of his identity. Enthusiasts of books by Bourne’s creator, Robert Ludlum, are wondering who has authored some of the 12 books published under his name since his death in 2001, reports The Independent.

By the time of his death, Ludlum had been writing for more than three decades and sold 210 million books. Only J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, has sold more. His long-time agent Henry Morrison recalls that one day in the early 1990s when Ludlum began to have heart trouble, he said “'I don't want my name to disappear. I've spent 30 years writing books and building an audience.”

His estate seems to have honored his wishes. While some of his posthumous books have identified coauthors, such as Eric Van Lustbader, at least three are not identified at all. With the help of ghostwriters, Ludlum has achieved a degree of immortality.

If you want to see if Ludlum’s successors can match his originals, try these books:

Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Betrayal (2007)
The Bancroft Strategy (2006)
The Ambler Warning (2005)
Robert Ludlum’s The Moscow Vector (2005)
Robert Ludlum’s The Lazarus Vendetta (2004)
The Tristan Betrayal (2003)

Do you have a favorite Ludlum novel? Let us know.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Washington and Slavery

George Washington is considered one of the only politically prominent members of the Virginia aristocracy to free his slaves at his death. According to Joseph Ellis in His Excellency: George Washington, he had been struggling with the issue for 30 years and had been trying to figure out how to do it for the five years before he drew up his will. In his “Schedule of Property” in his will, he listed 317 slaves at Mt. Vernon. He owned 124 and leased 40 more. The rest were not his.

In his will, he wrote: “Upon the decease of my wife, it is my Will & desire that all the slaves which I hold in my own right, shall receive their freedom.”

His most famous slave was his valet, William "Billy" Lee, who was with him most of his life. In the will, he provided Lee with his freedom outright and gave him a small annuity for room and board.

For more on the history of slavery in the U.S., check out:

The Birth of Black America: The First African-Americans and the Pursuit of Freedom at Jamestown by Tim Hashaw

Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World
by David Davis

The Forgotten Fifth: African-Americans in the Age of Revolution
by Gary Nash

Slavery and the Making of America by James Horton

In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community and Protest Among Northern Free Blacks by James Horton

Friday, August 03, 2007

Emergency Reading

An article in the July 8, 2007 Oregonian explores the types of books people keep in their vehicles for emergencies. The author, Brian Doyle, decided to poll friends and strangers alike to discover what reading material they stash in their cars. A woman in London had books on Margaret Thatcher and rats. A friend in Canada had books about tractors and sake. Another reader had Baby’s First Catholic Bible and Salmon Fishing on the Yemen. As one might expect, overdue library books were among the most common books kept in cars and trunks.

So, what volumes to you carry in your car for reading emergencies? Let us know.

YOU’RE INVITEDAugust 4, 10 a.m. at the Martha Washington Library, 703-768-6700
Dimview. Support group for adults with vision loss. Adults.

August 7, 7 p.m. at the George Mason Regional Library, 703-256-3800
Downloading Books From the Internet. Learn about listening to books on MP3 players, iPods and your computer. Adults.

August 9, 7:30 p.m. at the Centreville Regional Library, 703-830-2223
Civil War Lecture. Author John Quarstein presents "The Peninsula Campaign of 1862" and signs books. Cosponsored by the Bull Run Civil War Round Table. Adults.

August 9, 7:30 p.m. at the Fairfax City Regional Library, 703-293-6227
FamilySearch Introduction. Using the genealogy databases and the Family History library catalog to search for your ancestors. Adults.