Category Archives: Articles

Upcoming Books Sales at LFPL

Friends of the Louisville Free Public Library maintains ongoing book sales on carts at every branch library. They also schedule weekend book sales throughout the year at certain branch libraries. Below is a list of the currently scheduled book sales.


Bargains galore at the branch book sales!

In addition to weekend book sales, all branches offer in-house
sales on library book carts during regular hours.


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Portland Branch Library
Saturday, June 1, times TBD

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Main Library 
Saturday, June 15, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
​Sunday, June 16, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm

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Western Branch Library 
Saturday, June 22, 10:00 am – 2:00 pm,
+ annual BLOCK PARTY!

Saturday, September 21, 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
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Southwest Branch Library
Sunday, July 14, 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm at Riverside, the Farnsley-Moremen Landing
7410 Moorman Road, 40272
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Jeffersontown Branch Library
September 1 – 30

Month long sales in the front lobby

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Shively Branch Library
Saturday, November 9, 10:00 am – 2:00 pm

Friends of the Louisville Free Public Library is a volunteer, non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization of local citizens whose primary interest is promoting the welfare and growth of LFPL.

If you would like more information, please click
here.

Big Ideas: Historical Narrative

It’s time for Big Ideas! Welcome to a mini-series-within-a-series on history and how it is made.

One way to think about history is as a story, a series of events that happened, and when. Get comfy, and settle in, because this post will explore the events of the Wars of the Roses, from the lead up through the aftermath – one of the most headache-inducingly complicated historical narratives I could think of. In the end, after the dust settles, and the Tudors take over, I’ll discuss the value of treating history this way, and what we can really learn from it.

Story Time (Skip to the Relationship Map if you Feel Your Eyes Glaze Over)

A long time ago in England (about 600 years ago), King Edward III had three sons (who survived to adulthood and are important to this story). His first son, Edward the Black Prince, had a son, who became King, Richard II. His second son, Lionel of Antwerp, went on to have kids, and that branch would be the House of York (White Rose). Edward III’s third son, John of Gaunt, had a son, who would depose Richard II, and become King Henry IV. Descendants of John of Gaunt are the House of Lancaster (Red Rose). John of Gaunt also had another son, by a mistress, and his name was John Beaufort, and he was legitimized later, so he could inherit and hold titles. So, for those keeping score at home, the new King, Henry IV, and John Beaufort are half brothers through their father.

Henry IV has a son who becomes king, Henry V, who marries Catherine of Valois. They have a son, who becomes king too: Henry VI. After Henry V dies, Catherine of Valois goes on to marry a second time, this time a wealthy Welsh landlord, Owen Tudor. This marriage produces another son, Edmund Tudor. Remember the half-brother of King Henry IV, John Beaufort? He had a daughter, Margaret Beaufort, and she marries Edmund Tudor.

Meanwhile, the latest King, Henry VI, marries Margaret of Anjou. He has increasing trouble keeping up with all his kingly duties, though, so she’s actually the one in charge of things, and he has two advisers, also. One of these advisers is the wealthy and influential descendant of Edward III’s second son Lionel of Antwerp, Richard of York. The other is another wealthy power-broker, Richard Neville, AKA Warwick the Kingmaker. Richard Neville married his daughter Anne Neville to Henry VI’s son and heir, Edward of Westminster. You hanging in there? Breathe into a paper bag if it gets too complicated and you need a break.

So, Richard of York and Margaret of Anjou basically hate each other, because he figures that the House of York descends from the second son of Edward III, and not the third, like the House of Lancaster, so by rights, he should be King instead. He gets Richard Neville’s support and fights with Margaret of Anjou and the House of Lancaster to get Henry VI deposed. In one of these battles, Edward of Westminster, the King’s heir, is killed. THEN Richard Neville has his daughter, the newly widowed Anne Neville, marry Richard of York’s youngest surviving son, also confusingly named Richard. He also marries off his oldest daughter, Isabel Neville, to Richard of York’s third surviving son, George. Then, Richard of York dies in battle, too. His oldest surviving son eventually wins the fight, and deposes and replaces (and, let’s face it, probably has murdered) poor Henry VI, who has been held hostage, rescued, and then re-captured, and ends his life in the Tower of London. Richard Neville switches sides, and mounts a rebellion with George against Edward IV. Richard Neville is killed in battle, Edward IV puts down the rebellion, and has his brother George drowned in a butt of wine for his backstabbing ways. Somehow, the new King Edward IV actually dies of natural causes, and has a son, the new King Edward V.

BUT WAIT, there’s more! It turns out that Richard of York’s youngest son Richard thinks that HE should be king, and has Edward IV’s marriage declared illegal, so that King Edward V is now illegitimate, and has him thrown in the Tower of London with his younger brother (they’re both just kids at this point). He’s declared King Richard III, and then the two “Princes in the Tower” just… disappear. (Again, probably murdered on the order of Richard III.) So… remember Edmund Tudor, from waaaaay back there? He had a son, who figures that he’s as close as anybody to being King, and comes back from France and defeats Richard III, who dies in battle, and, in the distant future, is discovered buried under a parking lot (confirmed by DNA testing in 2013). The End.

That was complicated and horrible, so here’s a relationship map, to help you figure out what happened:

A disgustingly complicated chart of all the major relationships of all the major players in the Wars of the Roses
This is like the seventh draft of this chart. I should’ve stuck with my original plan for this series to follow up rocket science with quantum mechanics. Ugh.

Fun fact: my history knowledge strong points are really East Asian and African history, not European, so I didn’t really know most of this until I researched this article. In fact, I picked this particular topic purely because I didn’t know much about it. We’re learning together! Yay! It really doesn’t help things that nearly every dude is named either Edward or Richard. At least the various Henrys are numbered. So that’s the story of the Wars of the Roses. But, in the end, after all that, what has changed? England has a different king. The family in charge is now these guys, not those guys. The Tudors would continue the foreign policy aims of trying to get back France, so that didn’t change. The social structure is the same. The economic structure is still the same too. It’s a story dramatic enough for a whole batch of Shakespeare plays, but is the series of events actually important enough to how the world turned out to remember in detail?

On one hand, you can argue that without the Wars of the Roses, there isn’t a Henry VIII to have a succession crisis and kickstart the Catholic vs Protestant divide that would dominate the politics of later England (and then the United Kingdom, and everything including the potato famine in Ireland, and even a really scary undertow of Brexit negotiations much later).

For want of a nail a horseshoe was lost

For want of a shoe, a horse was lost

For want of a horse, a rider was lost

For want of a rider, a battle was lost

For want of a battle, a kingdom was lost

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail

On the other hand, the horseshoe nail approach ads nothing to our understanding. Sure, it’s easy to say that future events come from events in the past, but that’s the very definition of what “past” even is: it’s the events that led here, so of course that’s what they do. There’s a lot of value in looking deeper, and asking more questions. If it wasn’t Henry VIII, would it have been someone else anyway, due to rules of succession and legitimacy being what they were? Could someone in a position of power have simply done the same thing, with their own pivotal decisions? Or, if you prefer, would the real reason be the way that English culture passed property on to children, and the critical role of religion in supporting this system? These questions are the core of historiography – the discipline of how history is written.

In a very literal sense, history is the practice of finding meaning in events of the past. History is writing about events of the past, but FOR the sake of the present and ultimately the future. Otherwise, why remember it? For everything you know about history, consider all that has been forgotten, or left unknown. History is what we choose to remember, and how we choose to remember it. As for historiography, narrative alone isn’t bad, and can be compelling. Remember, the narrative of the Wars of the Roses itself – with lots of spin, of course – was good enough for Shakespeare. Next time, we’ll dive into the dueling perspectives of historiography, and the question of whether it is pivotal decisions or socioeconomic forces that drive this narrative.

— Article by Katherine

Reading, Writing, and Reviewing, pt. 1

Really, how hard is it to knock out a book? It’s just a few hundred pages sitting there on your desk. But, hey, you’re a busy cat and you’ve got things to do!

Words on a page ought not to be daunting but sometimes it’s impossible to escape the guilt.  That story keeps haunting you, a ghost lingering in the back of your mind. If it’s good, it’s a welcome tug that will finally pull you back into graceful orbit over a magical world. And if the tale is terrible, well, then it’s like being back in high school with that burnt out teacher. You know the one, he or she took joy in watching you squirm when they asked a master’s thesis level question you had no chance of answering.

You know what sometimes can be worse? Having to write a review about a book, particularly one that may be underwhelming. This is especially true if you have settled into reading a particular sub-genre that you are a little bored with from jump. I mean, urban fantasy is a good ten years past it’s heyday in my mind. So it’s really on me because I wanted comfort. I selected the book using a loose familiarity with the author and a summary on the back of the paperback which teased a slightly new twist to well-worn genre tropes.

What work is this? Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire. I’m not even really going to describe it beyond the following:

“Verity Price is a tough young woman with a secret life protecting ‘cryptids’ (magical) beings from harm who has to take on the hot young zealot out to get them, only to end up teaming up with him to rescue a dragon from an evil cult. Sexy times and ballroom dancing ensue.”

Barring snappy banter here and there, that’s really it. Plus sequels.

Don’t get me wrong, McGuire is normally a great read (I like her other series, featuring the character October Daye) and moments really do shine in the book. There surely are people who must love the series because she keeps writing sequels.  So far, seven novels have been published and another one is scheduled for release in early 2019.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading it because, hey, maybe it’s just not for me. But what I’d like to focus on for the rest of this article (and other upcoming ones) is what to do when you find yourself in a corner such as I ended up. Where does that next book come from?

Usually you ask someone, right? If it’s someone who knows you and they have the right frame of mind, they can match something to you in no time. At the very least you will find out what they are reading. That gives you something to talk about the next time you see them if nothing else.

Maybe you are reading a magazine that gives reviews. Maybe you are watching TV and they interview an author about their latest work. Or maybe you go into store with books and just browse until something strikes your fancy.

These are the things that most people do but — commonly — there is one thing they do not do or do very rarely. What is that one thing? Ask your local librarian for a suggestion.

If you are unable to make it to a library branch, you can always use our online Ask a Librarian form. Short answers will be sent within 24 hours. Longer answers will be returned as soon as possible.

Or during the months of December 2018, January 2019, and February 2019, you can sign up for suggestions from a librarian as part of our Books & Brews 502. All you need to do is attend one of the scheduled events.

For more info on LFPL’s Adult Winter Reading Program, click here.

Article by Tony,Main Library

Dragons and Constructed Languages

The Dragon's Cave by Georg Janny, 1917

The Dragon’s Cave by Georg Janny, 1917

The earliest written work in any kind of the English language is Beowulf, which has a horrible, treasure-hoarding dragon in it. Because he was a philologist (expert and critic of written languages and language histories), and arguably the foremost scholar on Beowulf, J. R. R. Tolkien knew all about the dragon, and wrote a bunch of stories for his kids, which eventually mutated into a novel, The Hobbit. Beowulf‘s dragon is a creature of mindless animalistic greed and savagery, but Smaug, the dragon and central antagonist of The Hobbit, can talk. Imagine him voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. But if Bilbo Baggins can understand Smaug, and there isn’t any magic involved here, they share a common language, Fire-Drake and Hobbit. One of the reasons for J. R. R. Tolkien’s works’ staying power is that the world created for them is fully realized enough to bear up under questions like this. So, what language do Bilbo and Smaug share?

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth books, including The Hobbit, and all of the books in The Lord of the Rings, English is used as a stand-in for Westron, a hypothetical fictional language commonly spoken on Middle Earth. As a philologist, though, Tolkien created several full-fledged languages, and even language families and language histories (!!), to inhabit his fantasy universe. Elvish languages, such as Sindarin, are a language family, and have their own fictional history. In a very real way, The Lord of the Rings isn’t a fictional work with made-up languages in it, but rather Middle Earth’s fictional languages happen to be wrapped up in a pretty neat story.

The connection between dragons and artistic languages doesn’t stop there, however.

The main plot-line of the 2011 video game Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim revolves around dragons. Taking a step further still from Smaug’s command of Westron, not only do these dragons talk, but their language has the power to change reality. In this game, words spoken by someone who truly understands them become focused into a Thuum, or Shout, with different effects depending on the meaning of the words, from breathing fire, to knocking enemies backwards, to turning invisible, or revealing the presence of the undead. The acquisition of words in this language is pivotal to the gameplay in Skyrim. The developers of the game created Dovahzul as a complete artistic language to serve this purpose, and all of the dragons in the game speak the language as well. Over time, the language was expanded and fleshed out by the fanbase, and now Dovahzul is a full-fledged artistic language.

Brush up on your vocabulary and grammar here!

– Article by Katherine, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch 

(Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on LFPL’s Teen Blog)

Friends of the Library Book Sales

Book Sales at a Glance – 2018 Calendar
In addition to weekend Book Sales, all branches offer in-house
sales on library book carts during regular hours
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Book Sale, Shawnee Branch Library 
Sunday, September 9 & October 14, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
​2nd Sunday of every month
 

Drop by to check out some fantastic bargains in our wide selection of gently used books. Cash, credit or debit cards accepted. All proceeds benefit the Shawnee Friends of the Library.
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Book Sale, Main Library
​Saturday, September 15, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Sunday, September 16, 1:00 am – 4:00 pm
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Book Sale, Westport Branch Library
Saturday, September 15, 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
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Book Sale, Western Branch Library
Saturday, October 13, 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
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Heine Brothers is partnering with the Friends to collect gently used Children’s books. Drop off your books at any Heine Brothers’ cafe! Put them in the designated box or give them to the barista. Donated books will go to branch libraries, Little Free Libraries, new Habitat homes and other Friends’ projects. 
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High Concept and Low Concept

Sometimes, if you’re discussing books that you read, games that you play, shows that you watch, music you listen to – basically any media you consume – you need some specialized ideas and terms to help you describe and discuss it. “It was great” or “It was bad” or “I thought it was OK” are all very well and good, but it’s so much more satisfying if you can also talk about WHY you liked/disliked something. If you want to win arguments and impress your friends, remember your ABCs – Always Backup Criticism.

Have examples, of course, of things you like or don’t and why. But, sometimes, you need some special vocabulary and ideas in order to help you with your critique. That means it’s time to add another idea to your toolbox: high vs. low concept. This is all about how much concept a work of art contains, not how good the concept is. Think of it as a matter of the amount the concept itself contributes to the total content of the work.

Jane Austen’s novels are generally low concept. The idea of the novels – that people in various economic circumstances need to get paired up (or not paired up, or not paired up the way they thought) – is nowhere near as important to the books as the interactions between the characters, which is why people read them. Here’s an example pie chart, based on a very precise and academic guesstimate:

There’s also works that split it pretty much right down the middle, generating interest in equal parts from the idea that drives them, as well as the execution of the plot and characters:

On the far end of the scale, there’s also works that are high concept – that get their interest mostly from the ideas that drive them. I can think of no better example than 18 Days (an adaptation of the Mahabharata), which breaks down about like this:

The library has the concept art book, if you want a look at the idea, but, sadly, they didn’t get full funding for the series as it was originally conceived. Instead, you can watch it in a few different languages on the Graphic India YouTube channel. Still pretty awesome, though.

Whatever the level of concept in your media, now you have a new way to talk about the things you love: is it high conceptlow concept, or a balance of the two?

The Great American Read

On April 20, 2018, PBS released a list of America’s 100 best-loved novels, chosen in support of The Great American Read, a new PBS series that celebrates the joy of reading.

Check out the full list of America’s 100 favorite novels, which were selected through a demographically representative national survey conducted by YouGovThe books that were chosen span five centuries, from Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes to Ghost by Jason Reynolds. Authors from 15 different countries are represented, with genres ranging from beloved children’s classics such as Charlotte’s Web by

E.B. White to modern best-sellers such as Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.

The series began with a two-hour episode on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. Over the following months, PBS will count down the books from 100 to 1. Americans are encouraged to vote for “America’s Most Beloved Book,” and results will be released on October 23, 2018.

Remember that LFPL’s Summer Reading is beginning and that many of these books are age appropriate for children and teens. They would be great selections for kids to read or to have read to them. For more information about the Summer Reading program or the 2018 Cultural Pass, stop your local library branch or call our JustAsk line at (502) 574-1611.

 

It’s That Time: Ten Great Graphic Novels

Yes, yes, 2017 was another exceptional year for Graphic Novels in the Library!

So many great titles were put out that it was really hard to put this list together. After a while, I decided to not worry too much and just list some of my favorite comics read in the past year. Per tradition, these picks have been listed in alphabetical (rather than rank) order.

All of these works can be checked out from LFPL. Each title has a “Check Our Catalog” link that will take you to where you can view the location and status of the specific item in our system.

After taking a look, if your selection is not available at the branch you wish to go to, you may have the item shipped there by placing a hold request (using the button on the right hand side of the entry).

Black Panther, Book 1: A Nation Under Our Feet Black Panther, Book 1: A Nation Under Our Feet
By Coates, Ta-Nehisi
Illustrator Stelfreeze, Brian
Check Our Catalog 

A new era begins for the Black Panther! MacArthur Genius and National Book Award-winning writer T-Nehisi Coates (BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME) takes the helm, confronting T’Challa with a dramatic upheaval in Wakanda that will make leading the African nation tougher than ever before. When a superhuman terrorist group that calls itself The People sparks a violent uprising, the land famed for its …More

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
By Aguirre-Sacasa, Roberto
Illustrator Hack, Robert
Check Our Catalog 

On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, the young sorceress Sabrina Spellman finds herself at a crossroads, having to choose between an unearthly destiny and her mortal boyfriend, Harvey. But a foe from her family’s past has arrived in Greendale, Madame Satan, and she has her own deadly agenda. Archie Comics’ latest horror sensation starts here For TEEN+ readers.Compiles the first six…More

ALSO: You can read a staff review of this work by clicking here.
Clean Room, Volume 1: Immaculate Conception Clean Room, Volume 1: Immaculate Conception
By Simone, Gail
Check Our Catalog 

From the minds of superstar writer Gail Simone and gifted artist Jon Davis-Hunt comes CLEAN ROOM VOL. 1: IMMACULATE CONCEPTION–a new vision of horror that takes you inside the locked chambers of sex, science, celebrity, and the supernatural.Somewhere between the realms of self-help and religion lies the Honest World Foundation. Its creator started out as an obscure writer of disposable …More

The Fun Family The Fun Family
By Frisch, Benjamin
Check Our Catalog 

Beloved cartoonist Robert Fun has earned a devoted following for his circular daily comic strip, celebrating the wholesome American family by drawing inspiration from his real home life… but the Fun Family bears some dark secrets. As their idyllic world collapses and the kids are forced to pick up the pieces, will their family circle become a broken mirror, or a portal to a nightmare world? In …More

ALSO: You can read a staff review of this work by clicking here.
Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening
By Liu, Marjorie M.
Check Our Catalog 

Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.About the …More

Paper Girls, Volume 1 Paper Girls, Volume 1
By Chiang, Cliff K.
Check Our Catalog 

From Brian K. Vaughan, #1 New York Times bestselling writer of SAGA, and Cliff Chiang, legendary artist of WONDER WOMAN, comes the first volume of an all-new ongoing adventure.In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash-hit series about …More

Rebels: A Well-Regulated Militia Rebels: A Well-Regulated Militia
By Wood, Brian
Illustrator Mutti, Andrea
Check Our Catalog 

This is 1775. With the War for Independence playing out across the colonies, young Seth and Mercy Abbott find their new marriage tested at every turn as the demands of the frontlines and the home front collide. Not merely rehashing the tales of the most famous men of the time, Rebels details the epic story of the colonists, explorers and traders, wives and daughters, farmers and volunteer soldiers …More

Roughneck Roughneck
By Lemire, Jeff
Check Our Catalog 

From the New York Times bestselling author and award-winning creator ofEssex CountySecret PathDescender, and The Underwater Welder comes an all-original graphic novel about a brother and sister who must come together after years apart to face the disturbing history that has cursed their family.Derek Ouelette’s glory days are behind him. His hockey …More

Valerian: The Complete Collection Valerian: The Complete Collection
By Christin, Pierre
Check Our Catalog 

VALERIAN is a saga that every fan of Star Wars and Star Trek will identify with and love. Valerian and his beautiful, sharp-witten and sharp-tongued partner, Laureline, live adventures set against visually stunning backgrounds: complex architectural inventions, futuristic machines, otherworldly landscapes, and odd-looking aliens that are staples of artist Mezieres’s seemingly boundless visual …More

Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than a Man Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than a Man
By King, Tom
Illustrator Walta, Gabriel Hernandez
Check Our Catalog 

The Vision wants to be human, and what’s more human than family? So he heads back to the beginning, to the laboratory where Ultron created him and molded him into a weapon. The place where he first rebelled against his given destiny and imagined that he could be more -that he could be a man. There, he builds them. A wife, Virginia. Two teenage twins, Viv and Vin. They look like him. They have his …More

 

If you are interested in discussing these titles or other works of sequential art, please join LFPL’s Graphic Novel Discussion Group.

Meetings are held at the Main Library on the second Monday of every month, starting at 6:00 PM.

Upcoming meetings will take place on the following dates:

Formats Available:  Graphic Novel

Article by Tony, Main Library

Savour: Chocolate Tasting

“Never say savor when you only mean taste – one is a holding on the tongue and an intoxication and the other is cursory, a sampling, connoting reluctance to bask. Never say a thing you don’t mean.” 

Bryana Johnson (Poet)

Tasting chocolate is different from chocolate tasting.  If it seems as if I’m quibbling, I promise I am not.  What’s the difference you say?  One is a quick, almost involuntary, response to something you put in your mouth.  The other is a slow and purposeful exploration of the senses and the mind.  You can actually test this statement using chocolate.

In Chocolate: Indulge Your Inner Chocoholic there is a challenge to taste two pieces of the same dark chocolate at different speeds.  You are instructed to eat the first piece quickly.  Put it in your mouth, chew a few times and swallow.  Between the first and second tasting you should cleanse your palate with water.  The second piece of chocolate should be approached with slowness.  Hold it cupped in your hand and hold it close to your face.  Breathe in deeply and then put the chocolate in your mouth.  Let the piece of chocolate begin to melt in your mouth before you begin chewing.  You should be able to taste a difference between the slow and the fast.  For some people it will register as more sweetness when you go slowly, for other’s there will be hints of other flavors.  There is no right or wrong taste.  It is an individual experience.

 Where, When, What, Why and How

Before we talk chocolate tasting, there are some basic considerations and preparations.  I’ll begin with the setting.  Setting is important for many reasons.  Smells, sounds, and external stimuli all impact the process of tasting.  Choosing your location lets you control potential distractions like TV, computers or music.  Certain sounds and pitches can literally change the way you taste things.  Take a look at the article, “How Does Sound Affect The Ways We Experience Food and Drink?”

Choosing your setting also allows you to control smells like colognes, perfumes, lotions, hair products or even pleasant household smells!   Heavy smells of any kind can interfere with the olfactory portions of tasting.

Timing is everything, or in this case can make a big difference.  There is no set hour or day of the week, but you should pick a time that allows you to feel relaxed.  Feeling like you have to hurry is a distraction and will take some of the fun out of it.

After where and when, comes what.  What type of chocolate are you going to taste?  Are you sticking to one variety from different vendors?  Are you comparing and contrasting types of chocolate?  Or are you sampling different flavor varieties of one type of chocolate?  Think about why you want to do a tasting and choose accordingly.  Whichever you choose, try to limit yourself to 6 chocolates.  If you try to taste more than 6 per setting, your pleasant tasting may become a chore.  For a complete beginner I’d even suggest sticking to 3 or 4.

In addition to your chocolates of choice, you will need a palate cleanser.  This can be as simple as water, or it can include things like crackers and apple slices.  If you buy a block of chocolate, you might need a knife and cutting board.  If you are a lone taster, make sure you’ve gathered something in which to store your left over chocolate, presuming you have the self-control required to resist eating it all in one setting.  If you’re like me and may not remember details about each chocolate, you may want to have a pen and some paper handy to take notes.

This brings me to engaging your mind, as well as senses.  As you’ve read, there is already a bit of thought that goes into a chocolate tasting.  But beyond the questions of what, where, when, and why is how you approach chocolate tasting.  Although it is not inherently necessary to know anything about the chocolate chosen for a tasting, learning a little bit about your chocolate can enhance the experience.

For instance, if you’ve chosen to sample 3-4 dark chocolate varieties with 86% cacao, you might want to know a little bit about the origins, growing conditions and processing of your chocolate.  In this particular instance, many of these chocolates will have distinct overtones based on all three of those factors.  If you are comparing and contrasting dark (bittersweet and semi-sweet), milk, and white chocolate, you might want to know what traits define each type of chocolate.  The types of chocolate are determined by the amount of cacao, milk solids, and sugars they contain.  If you are a traveler, arm chair or frequent flier, you might be intrigued by the varieties of cacao and the regions in which they are grown.  There is no right or wrong way to approach what you want to learn about chocolate.  Like sense of taste, delving into the informational world of chocolate is an individual quest.

Now it’s time for the nitty-gritty.  Your five senses and your mind are all you need from here on out.

Sight:  This stage is known as presentation.  Upon unwrapping, your chocolate should have a smooth, glossy surface.  If dull, waxy or showing snowflake like marks it has either been the victim of poor tempering and/or bad storage habits.  Ideal storage places chocolate between 59 and 68 degrees in an airtight container.

Sound:  I like what Sandra Boyton wrote, “Good chocolate should have a lively, decisive break.  If it splinters, it is too dry.  If it breaks reluctantly, it is too waxy.  If it folds, something is definitely wrong.”  The snap good chocolate should make is part of the crystal structure formed during tempering.  Chocolate is a six-phase polymorphic crystal, which means it can take on 6 different crystalline structures, and how those little chocolate molecules group together is determined by the temperature of the chocolate when you pour it. Who knew science could be so tasty!

Smell:  Time for some orthonasal olfaction!  Place your piece of chocolate in the palm of your cupped hand, lean in and take a sniff.  Now put your other hand over it and make a chocolate cave.  I’m totally serious.  Okay, maybe not serious, but it is a real instruction.  Once you’ve created your chocolate cave, inhale deeply through your nose.  If you’re mind starts racing, that’s okay.  Thoughts, impressions and memories are the process of the brain trying to identify what it smells.  Is the scent ephemeral or pungent?  Is it here then gone, or does it stick around?  Is there more than one aroma?

Touch: This one involves your hands and you mouth.  During the process of breaking the piece of chocolate and sniffing it, what does it feel like and what is happening to it?  Is it melting?  If not, put it between your forefingers and thumb and hold it there for a few seconds.  Quality chocolate, with high cocoa content, will melt differently than the normal sticky mess that milk chocolate or inferior chocolate will make.  The secret is the combination of high cocoa and cocoa butter.  Many chocolates, milk and dark, will have fillers and/or emulsifiers instead of cocoa butter.  Cocoa butter not only slows the melty mess, but gives your chocolate a fantastic texture.  This brings me around to mouthfeel.  As Boynton says, “This somewhat upoetic expression means texture.  A good piece of chocolate should feel smooth and moist.  And the dark, which may not melt on your hand at all, should begin to melt once it’s setting on your tongue and your mouth closes around it.

A personal aside is, be mindful of what you eat in the hours before you do your tasting.  Anything too acidic or spicy may throw off your tasting groove.  Everyone is a little different, but I have discovered that my palate is deeply affected by the chemistry of my food.  Sticking with bland foods (think pasta with summer veggies), at least a couple hours before your tasting, will put you in the safe zone.

Taste: This last sense is both simple and complex.  Place the piece of chocolate in your mouth, but let it rest on your tongue.  Don’t chew it yet.  Try to let it begin melting on your tongue.  A flavor of some sort should become distinct as it begins to melt.  What descriptors come to mind?  Is it sweet, nutty or bitter?  Does it make you think of flowers?  How about spices?

If the chocolate isn’t melting and/or you’re not getting a distinct flavor, there are a few things you can try.  First bite into the chocolate, try not to chew.  And/or you can pinch your nose while it is melting and/or you are biting gently.  Once you perceive a sensation of some melting, release your nose and inhale through your nose.  This should deliver a flavor burst of some sort.  Your sense of smell is linked to your sense of taste in creating what we describe as flavor.  Without retronasal olfaction, you will not get a true sense of any flavor.

In Tasty:  The Art and Science of What We Eat, John McQuaid uses the metaphor of marriage to describe the relationship between taste and smell.  “Each partner has complementary strengths and weaknesses.  Their paths through the brain unite.”  And later in the same chapter, “Taste and smell blend so seamlessly in flavors that the different senses merge, becoming indistinguishable.  The brain even mixes them up.”

When we think about the “smell” of chocolate, we will often default to the idea of sweet, but that is actually the taste.  When we describe a taste we might say something is sharp or tangy, but those are actually descriptors derived from olfaction. Chocolate tasting should help convince you that taste and smell are an old married couple.

For more information on the marriage between your sense of smell and taste click on the picture below from the Monell Center Blog.

 

Parting  Thoughts

If you, like me, obsess over giving something the perfect description, you might want to consider the use of tasting wheels.  The two primary types are texture wheels and flavor/aroma wheels. Both of these are found in the book Chocolate: Indulge Your Inner Chocoholic; but they can also be found online.  Just make sure you specify chocolate before the terms TEXTURE WHEEL OR TASTING WHEEL.  There are so many things to taste and different wheels for each of them.

However and what ever you choose to taste, the experience will likely impact all your future flavor perceptions.  Our sense of smell, McQuaid explains, is hardwired to parts of the brain that “link the past and present.”  This connector is a part of the brain known as the insula, which ultimately helps translate the “body’s internal state and external circumstances.”  So have fun, make some memories, and build your flavor library.

Angel’s Reading List

In the last Savour post, Chocolate, En garde!,  I wrote about the learning process involved in preparing for a chocolate tasting program.  I challenged readers with a quiz; and promised answers.  Here are the answers:

CCN-51; Hawaii; Paso de la Amada, home to the Mokaya; cheese; fresh pears and oranges; clean palate; symbolized the human heart, torn from chest at the moment of sacrifice; money;  an agreement to certify cocoa’s “child labor free” status; froth hot chocolate.

“The secret of food lies in memory – of thinking and then knowing what the taste of cinnamon or steak is.”  Jerry Saltz

Article by Angel, Bon Air Branch

In Defense of Comics, pt. 5: Understanding Comics as a discussion tool

The biggest problem when discussing comics in an analytical way is determining just what they are. It is easier to talk about how they work than to come up with a solid definition, other than the old “I know a comic when I see it” one.  This is particularly true if you wish the definition to cover most (if not all) expressions of comics.

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, a classic work of the Comics Studies discipline, defined comics as:

“Juxtaposed pictoral and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.”

In one of the Graphic Novel Discussion Group‘s meetings, McCloud’s definition elicited respect on one level but was hard to defend in toto when combined with some of his other assertions. For instance, his general assertion that writing (the act of inscribing thought in physical space) is distinctly non-pictorial in nature seems hard to defend considering there is a whole species of design – graphic design – that considers writing as a pictorial element (a.k.a. typography). Even within the comics industry, the position of “letterer” has been a long established one and the style of each letterer is often a strong consideration for the development of a particular work’s look.

McCloud violates his own rejection of a single panel as comic (which is asserted on pages 20-21 of Understanding Comics) on page 98 in the third and fourth panels. Granted, he hedges in the next two panels by differentiating between captions and word balloons but I think that’s because the narration is supposed to be framing the picture rather than a part of the world of the picture.  However, it is the introduction of speech and that speech takes time to happen that creates the sequential effect according to McCloud.

His distinction that in-picture indication of sound introduces sound as a narrative element — and thus changes things — doesn’t seem to add up as traditional forms of comics are a species of visual art. How such a sound is conveyed is part of the storyteller’s visual style, most clearly seen in the crafting of sound effect (think of the shape of letters used when you are to hear lightning or a punch to the jaw). Speech or audible sound is still an aspect of the story supplied by the reader’s mind, prompted by the images on the page (be they words or sound effects).

[Cartoon by Bil Keane (copyright holder King Features Syndicate), Fair Use]

So with Family Circus, it is clear that the words are actually speech that takes place in the world of the comic. Really, Bil Keane‘s quotes below the panel are just him avoiding using a word bubble. Maybe this is for sound commercial reasons (designated space on the page), for reasons of composition (to preserve the close-up shot feeling of the panel), or simply for reasons of style.

Further, McCloud misses that there is essentially an unbound panel of text next to the panel with obvious borders that has a picture. (At least) two panels = sequence, no? Here the mind moves from one kind of visual element (pictures) to another (type) and creates a connection, right? This would also apply to the sixth panel on p. 98 (if you ignore that there is no “gutter” – or gap – between the picture and the box with text).

During the discussion, I personally foundered when trying to separate the art of comics from other arts that use sequential methods/techniques. It’s not that I can’t get behind the idea that they are all just parts of “Art” or human communication – a position vigorously defended by a particular participant – but it seems like that kind of flattens out what makes comics differ(ent). Because when I talk about Watchmen, for instance, I don’t think it would be germane to bring in references to the methods of dance or sculpture or broadcast radio.

Part of it to me is that comics are the product of a particular technology, printing. And, as Marshall McLuhan wrote, “the medium is the message.” (1964) Because comics are creatures of print, our eye works a certain way, time is controlled more by how we read than by some static rate of delivery (such as television or radio), and a certain set of senses (sight and touch) are more dominant than others (smell, taste, and hearing).

I was especially flummoxed when asked about animation. My instinct is to treat animated works differently than more realistic film, to include them directly with comics. But animation is film and any distinction there is really just my own (or a general cultural) bias. They work by static broadcast, by use of light that is projected rather than ambient, and incorporate sound directly rather than by visual approximation (sound effect words, sound motion lines, etc.).

And what you would call Building Stories by Chris Ware?  Is it an architectural comic?  A comic box set?  An elaborate game with intricate pictures? A piece of conceptual art?

These distinctions seem a little silly on the surface but they do matter for no other reason than that of marketing. Being able to determine what to call something often guides the producer towards a target audience (and vice versa). If Building Stories is a work of architecture then it will be sold to schools of architecture and design. If it is just a  comic then it will be sold at places where comics are sold. If it is a game then it will be sold at gaming shops. And if it is a work of conceptual art, there might be an installation at some fine art gallery.

But back to Understanding Comics and the discussion it engendered.  One of the participants in this discussion commented that he thought that McCloud was at his best when he was discussing the nuts and bolts of comic structure (e.g., explaining things such as conveyance of time via panels and the structuring of a story via panel placement) and also when explaining the artistic level of abstraction used to carry the story (e.g., highly detailed art for personal narratives versus pictographic expression for symbolic works). He thought that McCloud failed to really differentiate comics distinctly from visual art as a whole but that his presentation feels inspiring if one doesn’t dig too deeply, echoing an argument that Dylan Horrocks leveled at McCloud in his essay, “Inventing Comics.” (2001)

Horrocks feels that McCloud is writing more of a persuasion piece, which he deems a “polemic.” [As an aside, this feels like a mild misuse of the term as “polemic” tends to refer to a vigorous disputation of an argument rather than mounting a defense for – or presenting a supporting argument for – a position.] Further, that McCloud is trying to build a justification for comics as serious art, thereby uplifting the community of comic readers from their previous status as scruffy-looking nerf herders. Doing so comes by way of a definition (highlighted in red above) that excludes many other things that comics could be said to be without discussing why those exclusions make sense.

“Nation building,” as Horrocks calls this effort, seems kind of quaint nearly a quarter of century after the book’s first edition. In the intervening time, comics, comic nerds, and comic fans of all stripes have garnered the respect that McCloud was working towards. Comics are regular parts of academic studies and art galleries, and receive high-toned collections of previous works. Comic fans come from increasingly diverse backgrounds and feel no shame in hiding their passions. Comic industry insiders find that their work no longer traps them in the lower ends of the publishing industry.

And while I tend to like the basic idea, I also have felt the need to add a little meat to McCloud’s definition in this series of essays about comics by mentioning both cultural and historical factors that also have made comics what they are today. Even so, I feel like I am still very, very far off getting to just what makes a comic a comic. However, Understanding Comics did give our discussion a great starting place, and my sense of what is a comic was altered through that discussion. For that alone, I would recommend the book for anyone who wants to explore these questions.

Plus, it’s a fun read!


If you are interested in discussing these titles or other works of sequential art, please join LFPL’s Graphic Novel Discussion Group. Meetings are held at the Main Library on the second Monday of every month, starting at 6:00 PM.

At our next meeting (October 9th), we will be talking about Monster Comics!