Monthly Archives: February 2021

Ultima Thule by Davis McCombs

From the Yale Series of Younger Poets, Ultima Thule is a lovely and worthy read penned by Kentuckian Davis McCombs, especially recommended now during African-American History Month.

The hero of the first sequence of poems is the enslaved Stephen Bishop, the early explorer and cartographer of Mammoth Cave. A trusted guide, indeed the master of an underground world, his skill meant he was relied upon completely by educated, wealthy, powerful, white men and women who visited the Cave in its early years as a tourist attraction, yet Bishop was always aware of his station as property of another. The imagined voice McCombs summons in these beautiful, quietly musical, unrhymed sonnets allows us to appreciate the man as more than what was recognized in his own time. Here he is philosopher and naturalist, observer, entertainer, lover…a complete human denied that recognition of his humanity during his lifetime, his voice unheard by the world that benefited from his talents. The credit for his exploits and his fame was co-opted by his master, the Doctor.

Click here to read more about Stephen Bishop.

In the second and third cycle, McCombs pivots to verse inspired by his own life, including his own time spent as a ranger at Mammoth Cave. No less lyrical, these poems are deeply rooted in the importance of place. The natural beauty of the Commonwealth pours from the pages and invites city-dwellers, confined by routine, a pandemic, and winter storms to plan our own small explorations.

Here’s a taste:

Stephen Bishop’s Grave

“It took four summers here for me to realize

the cave looped back under the Old Guide

Cemetery, that what was mortal floated

in a crust of brittle sandstone or leaked

into the darkest rivers and was caving still.

I went that drizzling night to stand

where the paper-trail he left had vanished:

woodsmoke, mist, a mossed-over name.

I knew enough by then to know that he,

of all people, would prefer the company of rain

to my own, but I went anyway, thinking

of my pale inventions, and stood a long time,

vigilant for his shadow in my own,

his voice as it differed from the wind.”

– Review by Scott, Main Library

Katherine’s Bookshelf – Standard Mathematical Tables

Welcome back! Although I have the occasional novel, and a focus on non-fiction, I have a particular weakness for really old and hilariously dated textbooks. Today’s special guest star isn’t outdated in terms of its content – like all math textbooks, the math itself is still perfectly good – it’s outdated in terms of its actual function. The very existence of such a book is made obsolete by digital calculators. Let’s explore!

A big blue and gold old book, stuffed with tables for use with your slide rule.
This is the good stuff, right here.

Behold! This is Standard Mathematical Tables, 16th Edition. It’s about two and a half inches thick, printed on thin thin paper, and it’s crammed with exactly what it says in the title – tables. It was for a high school or college student, as a vital companion for a slide rule. Before there were pocket calculators or calculator apps on the phone in your pocket, there were slide rules. Here’s a nifty video on what a slide rule is, and how to use one (at least for the simple stuff).

What a slide rule is, and how to use it.

Nifty, right? So, to make things faster, you might need a big fat reference book of various functions, worked out to several places, hopefully beyond whatever precision you need. Ultimately, this lovely book is all of the things – in text – that your phone can do in less time than it takes to turn a single page. This particular copy is actually in very nice condition, and I really like seeing all the neat and tidy tables inside. It’s a masterpiece of organization and precision.

A big fat table of trigonometric functions to five places.
Trigonometric functions to five places. Squee!

Standard Mathematical Tables must have been pretty miserable to proof read, though, and check that all of these were actually correct. It went through sixteen different editions, too! I have no idea what they were adding, correcting, or updating, but I hope it was worth it.

A big fat table of integrals.
This is how you know you’re going to have a real good time.

When I saw this book for cheap one day, I decided to get it and keep it partially out of respect for the immense effort and expertise that went into making it, but mostly out of amazement for the forgotten calculating technology it represents. After a certain amount of time, this book stopped being merely out of date, and became a piece of history in its own right. But, at least, if I ever get a slide rule, I’ll be prepared.

A wildly obsolete calculating tool like Standard Mathematical Tables won’t be found in the library’s collection, although our Friends of the Library book sales might offer up some unique finds if you are willing to hunt for them. The story of Standard Mathematical Tables and its technological eclipse is a reminder that a non-fiction book is sometimes much more than a means of serving up facts.

— Article by Katherine, Shawnee

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Four friends living in an upscale retirement village who solve cold cases for fun are put to work when the village developer turns up dead. If it sounds a bit like The Golden Girls meets Miss Marple that’s because  it is, but in the best way.

Elizabeth is a retired intelligence agent, bored and desperate to keep her mind sharp. Ibrahim is a retired therapist who keeps his old client files close at hand. Joyce is a retired nurse who is struggling to rebuild a relationship with her highly successful and driven daughter. Ron is a former labor organizer and rabble rouser whose stay at the posh retirement home is paid for by his famous boxer son. Four friends with little in common on the surface except for an interest in murder and solving cold cases.

Their group used to have a fifth member named Penny, a retired police officer. Penny is now in a coma, but her old files have kept the group busy as they try to solve cold cases. When the greatly disliked developer of their little village is found dead with a mysterious picture by his side, the friends get to work, teaming up with a pair of police officers who are charmingly mismatched and amused by this quartet.

What makes this book so delightful is not the mystery, though this is a fun “whodunit” that will keep you guessing until the end. Rather, Osman has done a wonderful job of developing each character and giving us a glimpse of their life before they ended up in Cooper’s Chase, luxury retirement village. They are not elderly tropes, or caricatures of senior citizens, but rather fully developed humans who, as senior citizens, are often overlooked and ignored. Osman lets us know that’s shame because this crew has quite a bit to offer. The story is witty and fun and I found myself deeply attached to the folks at Cooper’s Chase. Lucky for me this is to become a series.

If you like mysteries in the vein of Louise Penny, Agatha Christie, or Robert Galbraith, give this one a try.

– Review by Jenny, Middletown Branch

Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics

Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics by Dolly Parton and Robert

From her Imagination Library program to her recent donation of a million dollars for COVID research, Dolly Parton’s fame is more than just her music. She is a song writer, business woman and philanthropist with a whole lot of charisma. Her book Dolly Parton, Songteller is everything a fan could hope for and more, complete with photographs, song lyrics and stories that will have you reminiscing about family and community and how we become who we are.

The book dives into her professional relationship with Porter Wagoner. It includes anecdotes about Dolly and some of Country music’s top performers but mostly it’s about Dolly. It’s about her work ethic and talent. It’s about the people who helped her along the way and about her foundation, her family.

Her songs tell her story. Songs like Coat of Many Colors and My Tennessee Mountain Home tell the story of her childhood. Songs like Jolene and Tomorrow is Forever are about her marriage to Carl Dean. Some of her songs are just from her imagination but some tell us about her love of butterflies and eagles.

It’s hard to choose between the book and the audio book. Listen to the audio book and Dolly Parton will sing to you and tell you about her life with an accent straight from the hills of Tennessee. If a song didn’t make a lot of money, Dolly might tell you it “didn’t set the woods on fire” and that left her “poor as Job’s turkey”. Check out the book and you will be delighted with full page, never before seen photos of Dolly and her family, copies of original lyrics, photos of outfits, concert fliers.

Dolly may already be a legend, but she is far from done. Heartstrings, her Netflix show is producing new episodes based on her songs, she is releasing songs every year and won a Grammy in 2020 for a collaboration with For King and Country on the song “God Only Knows”, Dolly’s 11th Grammy win. Dollywood, her park, welcomes three million guests each year and her Imagination Library has given out over 130 million books to children across the world. She celebrated her 75th birthday on January 19th and doesn’t show any signs of stopping. Is she the new Betty White? It’s possible.

Pair this book with She Come by it Natural by Sarah Smarsh and check out Dolly’s music at the library.

– Review by Catherine, Main Library