Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The End of a Decade

While there is some disagreement as to when the first decade of the 21st century ends (Jan. 1 2010 or Jan. 1 2011?), the media is already compiling lists of milestones. It seems appropriate, then, to look back on the accomplishments of the Fairfax County Public Library since 2000. Here are a few highlights:

2000 The Kingstowne Library opens at 6500 Landsdowne Centre, Alexandria, in the Landsdowne Shopping Center.

2001 Library’s e-newsletter FCPLease launches.

2004 Fairfax Library Foundation launches Amazon Wish List.

2005 Social networking with blogs, rss, wikis, and MySpace launches.

2006 More social networking with Flickr and podcasts launches.

2007 The Oakton Library opens at 10304 Lynnhaven Place in Oakton. This is the library's first Leadership Energy in Environmental Design (LEED) certified building.

More social networking with YouTube launch.

2008 The City of Fairfax Regional Library opens at 10360 North Street in Fairfax.

The Burke Centre Library opens at 5935 Freds Oak Road, Burke and becomes the library’s second Leadership Energy in Environmental Design (LEED) certified building.

More social networking with Facebook launch.

Catalog search inside library's MySpace and Facebook.

Launch of online registration for events.

Launch of online registration for meeting rooms.

Image available for free at hubpages.com.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter Solstice

There is a reason that ancient celebrations clustered around December 21 – the shortest day of the year. Early civilizations understood that the worst of winter was behind them and anticipated the days of longer sunlight to come.

The Norse celebrated Yule from December 21 until the end of January. Fathers and sons brought home large logs to burn to celebrate the sun’s return. There would be feasting until the logs burned out, sometimes as many as 12 days later.
They believed that each spark from the log represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the next year. The Germans honored the god Odin during their mid-winter holiday. They feared him because he supposedly made flights at night deciding who would prosper or die. Many stayed indoors to avoid his judgment.

In Rome, Saturnalia was celebrated near the winter solstice. It honored the god of agriculture and began the week before the solstice and continued for a month. Food and drink were plentiful; slaves became masters and peasants ran the city.

By the Middle Ages, Christianity had replaced the pagan religions.
On Christmas, people went to church, then celebrated in a carnival fashion similar to Mardi Gras. The poor went to the houses of the rich and demanded their best food and drink. If owners failed to comply, they were liable to suffer some mischief. (-- "An Ancient Holiday," The History Channel)

Even the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah has ties to the solstice. After the king of Syria conquered Judea in the 2nd century, he stole the menorah and rededicated the temple to a pagan god during the solstice. Judah the Maccabee led a band of rebels that retook Jerusalem. They restored the temple and lit the flame of the menorah. (religioustolerance.org)

The image of Saturnus by Polidoro Caldara da Caravaggio (16th century) is in the public domain.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Nutcracker Suite

On Dec. 18, 1882, Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” ballet debuted at St. Petersburg’s Imperial Maryinsky Theatre. However, it wasn’t until 1940 that an abridged one-act version of the ballet was first performed in the U.S. by Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo at the 51st Street Theater in New York City.

Four years later, the San Francisco Ballet performed the first full-length “Nutcracker.” George Balanchine choreographed the version most familiar to the ballet’s fans today. It premiered in 1954, performed by the New York City Ballet.

The ballet is based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffman, “The Nutcracker and the King of Mice,” the tale of a German girl who dreams of a nutcracker prince and a battle with a mouse with seven heads. When it was first turned into a ballet, a revision of the story by Alexander Dumas became the basis for the piece.

If you can’t make it to one of the many local performances this season, the library has two film versions you can enjoy:

The Nutcracker.” Bolshoi Presents. DVD 792.84 N 2003

The Nutcracker.” Royal Ballet. VIDEO 702.8 N

For more on the history of the ballet, check out:

Nutcracker” Nation: How an Old World Ballet Became a Christmas Tradition by Jennifer Fisher. 702.84 F 2003

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How We Shop

It’s the annual countdown. Seasonal shopping seems to be part of our genes, despite those who decry holiday commercialism. A study to be published in The Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology even traces different shopping styles between the genders to our prehistoric ancestors, according to The London Telegraph ("Shopping Styles of Men and Women All Down to Evolution, Claim Scientists," Dec. 3, 2009). Basically, while women spent their days gathering food often with children, men were hunters who made specific plans about how to catch and kill their prey. This could explain why women can spend hours browsing in shops for the best items, while men tend to have specific objects in mind when they shop.

Whether you love or hate the seasonal visits to the mall, here are a few books to browse:

Debt-Proof the Holidays: How to Have an All-Cash Christmas by Mary Hunt

Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill

Buy-o-logy: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy by Martin Lindstrom

Chicken Soup for the Shopper’s Soul: Celebrating Bargains, Boutiques & the Perfect Pair of Shoes by Jack Canfield

Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Gift of a Suggestion

I may never have learned of the children’s book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever if a customer in a bookstore where I worked a number of years ago hadn’t recommended it. I enjoyed it even as an adult and wind up buying a few copies each year to give as Christmas gifts when friend’s children reach a certain age. It’s not earth-shattering, just sweet and funny. One of the best gifts we give fellow readers is the suggestion of a book we think they might like. Finding things in common with other people, whether its books or sports or politics, is part of what bonds us to one another. We may not have found the one universal tome that solves the world’s problems; that may be asking a bit much from a book. But if you’re a reader, finding a book that gives you a few hours of pleasant reading, perhaps even distracts you from problems for a bit, is a great gift.

See Your Book Reviews for recommendations by your fellow readers of specific titles in the library's collection.

Mary Mulrenan, Fairfax County Public Library

Friday, December 04, 2009

What Not to Read

Every year about this time, the “best of 2009” lists appear compiled by everyone from Publishers' Weekly to Amazon.com. Erin Collazo Miller, a contributor to About.com has a new twist on the phenomenon – the most disappointing books of the year. Here they are:

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

South of Broad by Pat Conroy

Nobody Move by Denis Johnson

1942 by Robert Conroy

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

. . . And What to Read

Obviously it is a matter of opinion, since The Lost Symbol was no. 1 on Amazon.com’s list of customer favorites. Miller does offer alternatives to her list of disappointments. Here’s what she preferred and recommended:

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

The Man With the Iron Heart by Harry Turtledove

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Tis the Season …

You’re invited to holiday open houses and other seasonal programming at Fairfax County Public Library. Listen to holiday stories or music, watch puppet shows, learn how to shop online, make a window cling and more. Visit December Holiday Events to see a list of the holiday offerings and to get details. Some programs require registration which you can do online or by calling any branch.

Need a gift for a book lover? Consider buying a book at the many holiday or ongoing book sales. Visit Book Sales for details.

Mary Mulrenan, Fairfax County Public Library

Photo provided by kirsche222 of stock xchng.