Shorter days make me nostalgic for the winter evenings I sat on a low stool, my back warm in front of a fire that my mother built with logs my father stacked all summer. We’d decorate the tree after Thanksgiving with multicolored lights, salt dough angels and crocheted snowflakes.
The further I move away from childhood, the more I crave holiday rituals, to commemorate the traditions I grew up with while creating new ones to carry forth with the younger generation. Gingerbread houses, cookie baking, plaid pajamas.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed and preemptively exhausted even, trying to be so intentional and thoughtful about the holidays. When I start to feel that way, I turn to my favorite resources. The Little Library Year by Kate Young, Celebrate by Pippa Middleton, and Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year by Beth Kempton. I let the order and grace within the pages remind me to slow down, to savor, enjoy and let it be cozy. I let the words, photos and ideas inspire me.
The Little Library Year: Recipes and Reading to Suit Each Season by Kate Young | book
Celebrate: A Year of Festivities for Families and Friends by Pippa Middleton | book
Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year: A Little Book of Festive Joy by Beth Kempton | book
Wouldn’t it be fun to entice reindeer with a mixture of oats and glitter on the garden path? Or to schedule a holiday movie night? Or plan a menu inspired by books? There’s no one way to celebrate. Beth Kempton suggests making a list of what you actually enjoy about the holidays and prioritizing those things.
My favorite tradition of the past few years has been to wake before everyone else, sneak downstairs in my slippers, sip a peppermint mocha and read my way into Christmas morning.
By Associate Librarian – Readers’ Advisory Specialist Debbie
The Yiddish Book Center “Stories of Exile Reading Group” continues this Fall and Winter, offering readers a unique opportunity to delve into the rich literary heritage of Yiddish literature!
Our next reading group selection is The Glatstein Chronicles by Jacob Glatstein, translated by Maier Deshell and Norbert Guterman, a Yiddish Book Center 2023 Great Jewish Books Club pick. Mark your calendars for Monday, December 4th at 7pm, to discuss this remarkable work. Joining us as co-host is the esteemed Naomi Brenner, OSU Associate professor at the Melton Center for Jewish Studies.
The Glatstein Chronicles by Jacob Glatstein | Book
“In 1934, with World War II on the horizon, Jacob Glatstein (1896-1971) traveled from his home in America to his native Poland to visit his dying mother. One of the foremost Yiddish poets of the day, he used his journey as the basis for two autobiographical novellas–TheGlatsteinChronicles–in which he intertwines childhood memories with observations of growing anti-Semitism in Europe.” –from the publisher
In case you missed our last reading group discussion in October, we explored In the Land of the Postscript by Chava Rosenfarb. Ms. Rosenfarb, a survivor of Bergen Belsen who later emigrated to Canada, crafted a collection of powerful short stories that delve into the lives of survivors in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Her work is a moving tribute to resilience, courage, and the human spirit’s capacity to endure even in the darkest of times.
We invite you to join us for our upcoming discussion of The Glatstein Chronicles in December. Whether you’re a seasoned Yiddish literature enthusiast or just curious to explore these captivating narratives, our reading group provides a welcoming space for all!
All living things adapt to the onset of winter.1Birds tend to migrate.2 Foxes, hares, bison and plenty of other animals grow thicker, denser coats, often in cooler, more winter-camouflaged colors. Humans bundle up in thick winter coats and gloves and complain about having to preheat their cars in the morning. Some creatures like bears, however, hibernate.
I must admit, I’ve always envied bears a little bit. Who doesn’t want to spend the entire winter asleep in a nice cozy den, warm and unconcerned about the world outside, especially when the alternative is having to brave the cold and the snow and bad drivers to get to work? Hibernation begins to sound great right about then. Humans, alas, do not hibernate,3 but perhaps that’s for the best! It turns out that hibernation, for bears and most other hibernators, is not as lovely as one might imagine.
Before we can jump into the fascinating world of hibernation, we must first know a little more about it. Hibernation is loosely defined as “the condition or period of an animal or plant spending the winter in a dormant state.”4 I note loosely here because the definition has expanded with time.5 Though you might think that the chill of winter is one of the defining features of hibernation, it is actually the lack of food and not the cold itself that forces animals to hide away through the freezing months. The cold does have an impact on this, however, as lower temperatures require a higher metabolic output for animals. If you cannot find or hide enough food to maintain your body heat through the winter, hibernation is a good alternative.
This simplicity does not, however, mean that hibernation is easy. The simple act of not moving for long periods of time comes with its own problems, the most severe of which is muscle wasting and loss of bone mass.6 This trade-off explains why hibernation is an alternative means of surviving the winter and not the norm. Even related species may have different tactics for surviving the winter. Ground squirrels, for example, tend to hibernate, where tree squirrels do not. Even the act of hibernation itself is highly variable, with every hibernating animal having different tricks to get by.
Usually when people think of hibernation, they think of bears. Hilariously, though, the fact that bears hibernate at all is sort of strange! Bears are the only large mammals to hibernate. Unlike small hibernators, who have a hard time maintaining enough mass to keep their body temperature high enough when the temperature drops, bears should be able to be awake through the winter just fine. However, their diet, made mostly of berries, grain, fish and insects, with less than five percent of their food coming from hunted or scavenged meat, prevents them from finding adequate food through the winter. Instead, they, along with a few other mammals like groundhogs,7 have to rely on getting enough food in the fall to have the fat stores to get through winter. Once huddled down into their den, bears will remain almost completely still, only moving every few days to roll over.8
You would think that their body temperature would drop significantly from the lack of movement, but they manage to maintain a high, stable body temperature. They also manage to maintain the integrity of their bones and muscles, combating the other downside of hibernation in ways that scientists haven’t quite figured out yet. We know that they combat bone loss by turning off the genes that break down their bones over the winter and then turning them back on in the spring, but exactly how bears manage that is as yet unknown. While bears might be internally impressive through their hibernation, this activity and intrigue is all but invisible on the outside. None of the externally visible life functions other than breathing are obvious during this time. During hibernation, bears do not digest, urinate or defecate, instead plugging their gut with fibrous plants,9 which can have, ah… interesting results in the spring.
While bears might be fascinating (and fun to watch during Fat Bear Week at Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska), they aren’t the only interesting hibernators. Arctic ground squirrels are perhaps the most scientifically impressive. They are the largest North American ground squirrel species and they hibernate for up to eight months of the year,10 and can survive some pretty terrifying temperatures, and do so by supercooling their bodies to below freezing (about 2 degrees Celsius) for up to three weeks at a time without dying.11 Scientists know they manage to supercool12 themselves, because when blood samples are taken from arctic ground squirrels and exposed to freezing temperatures, the blood alone freezes perfectly normally. Even more interestingly, when Arctic ground squirrels do periodically emerge from torpor, they seem to be asleep but when scientists have studied the squirrels, they found that in torpor, there is no evidence of REM sleep until a day after reaching normal body temperatures. Imagine a sleep so deep that you can’t even call it sleeping!
Another ground squirrel, the thirteen striped ground squirrel, also has an impressive superpower while hibernating. They have acquired a special type of bacteria that allows them to engage in urea nitrogen recycling. What this means is that this bacterium breaks down urine and allows the squirrel access to the nitrogen in it, which is then utilized for maintaining muscles’ mass, essentially using the urine as muscle-maintaining fodder. Using this trick, they emerge in the spring with the same muscle mass as they had in the fall.
As amazing and varied as hibernation is in the animal kingdom, it is perhaps more interesting to look into what we humans are doing with all of this information that we’re gleaning from our fellow creatures. Hibernation, and other adaptations that animals use to survive the winter, are helping scientists figure out all sorts of things, including ways to improve human health, and possibly enable us to travel to other planets. …Well, at least in theory. There is some hope that, since we’re animals, too, that with enough study, hibernation and other animal adaptations, can be adapted for humanity. Learning from hibernating bears how to hold off bone loss can help older humans maintain stronger bones. Knowing how to cool people without damaging their cells can aid in certain surgeries. Hibernation itself might allow us to heal better after strokes or other major medical events, or even to travel to Mars without decimating the bodies of astronauts. We just have to figure out how to apply all of this to human biology.
…Perhaps someday, eh?
While humans cannot yet enjoy the wonders of sleeping through the winter (or at least being unconscious through the winter), we can enjoy a slew of lovely books to help us survive it. I recommend the following.
1Assuming, of course, that they live somewhere where winter happens.
2About 75% of North American birds do so.
3I spent quite some time trying to find out if humans could possibly hibernate and the scientific community is divided on the topic. Some people say because humans come from warmer climates, we would never have needed to hibernate and thus do not have any of the adaptations for it. Others say that we did have hibernating ancestors, and that there are even bones of ancient humanoids showing evidence that they did hibernate. Whatever the truth, we don’t hibernate now.
5Originally, hibernating creatures were limited to those that had a significantly lower body temperature and heart rate during hibernation. This excluded bears and all reptiles, as bears maintain a high temperature and reptiles cannot control their temperatures. As scientists learned more about animal behavior, however, the definition had to be adapted, and two other terms were also added. Reptiles that hibernate technically go into brumation, and creatures hibernating over the summer are aestivating.
6Without activity, the body stops being able to maintain muscle and bone very well. This is one of the issues facing astronauts if they live in space for too long.
Earlier this month the library hosted award-winning poet Rikki Santer for a reading from her new poetry collection, Resurrection Letter: Leonora, Her Tarot, and Me. Her new work is a rich homage to the vision and joy of surrealist painter, Leonora Carrington.
I was familiar with the name Leonora Carrington and knew that she was a writer and artist, popular in occult circles. But I didn’t know any specifics about what she wrote, the art she made, or the time period in which she lived and worked. I didn’t know she was part of the expat crowd that left France during World War II, that she loved, lived, and painted alongside fellow surrealist Max Ernst, and that she was best friends with artist Remedios Varo.
When I read that Santer’s presentation would “follow Leonora through sequined tunnels, sister moons, gothic mansions, and the shaman’s cloak of the Tarot,” I was curious to know more.
I took that curiosity straight to the library catalog.
Leonora in the Morning Light by Michaela Carter | book
Much to my delight, I discovered two historical fiction novels, Leonora in the Morning Light and Alchemy of a Blackbird, both featuring Carrington in a prominent role, which I eagerly put on reserve. Historical fiction often includes a bibliography section that provides an excellent way to discover additional resources. When something piques your interest, reading biographical fiction or historical fiction can be a great place to start.
I’ve since read and would recommend both novels. Leonora in the Morning Light is perhaps too long by about fifty pages, but it’s lyrical, well-researched, and captivating. I tend to like first-person narratives, so the characters in novels written in third-person, like this one is, often feel distant to me. While still engaging, Carrington reads slightly distant here. By the end you feel like you know her but also that there is much more to know.
It was interesting to read the novels in the particular order that I did because while Leonora in the Morning Light, which I read first, is set primarily in France during wartime, Alchemy of a Blackbird devotes a good bit of time to the years she and Remedios Varo spent in Mexico. Reading the latter, I got the sense that during Carrington’s time in Mexico she came more fully into herself as a person and an artist.
Delving into the world of Leonora Carrington has made my fall feel absolutely enchanted. I can’t wait to learn more.
Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art by Susan L. Aberth | book
The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington by Leonora Carrington | book
With holidays and family gatherings right around the corner, let Bexley Public Library be your place to discover family history and preserve your memories – for free! We have special genealogy programming this October in honor of Family History Month, and we invite you to explore the tools in our Memory Lab.
September is National Preparedness Month — a time to prepare for natural and man-made disasters and emergencies. As a library user*, this PSA gets me thinking of all the thrilling apocalypse-type plot lines and thought-provoking stories on our shelves. But Hannah, you say, very real water, fire, and wind cause devastation every day. Where’s the entertainment in that?! Well, without making light of very real situations, think of these books and movies like you would visiting a haunted house or riding a roller coaster. A part of you is scared, and in my case screaming regret, while another part of you knows this is a manageable way to experience hardship and fear in a safe environment. Studies have even shown natural disaster films might teach us to take climate emergencies more seriously while providing tips for how to act in similar circumstances. Plus, it’s cathartic and rewarding to root for a protagonist as they seek shelter and find hope.
Now set your solar flashlight out to charge as we dive into my disaster book and movie recommendations.
September is an important month for Tolkien fans. On the 2nd, his loyal readers celebrate the 50th anniversary of the famed author’s death, both mourning the loss of the greatest fantasy writer to ever live and taking the opportunity to honor the greatest fantasy world to ever exist. Twenty days later, on the 22nd, Tolkien lovers observe the fictional birthdays of two of Tolkien’s central characters: Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins, a day known as Hobbit Day.
Welcome to another Book Spotlight! Today’s feature, Aug 9–Fog, will appeal to those who gravitate toward literary realism.
Literary realism: a literary movement that represents reality by portraying mundane, everyday experiences as they are in real life. (Master Class)
All the books currently checked out on my library card contain the subject “everyday life”, books by Tove Jansson, Virginia Woolf, Kathryn Scanlan. These books highlight the beauty of the day-to-day, the minutiae of real life. This results in leisurely paced narratives that focus on character rather than plot; nothing much happens; characters talk about the weather, daily routines and what they’ll watch later on TV.
August 10 is Bexley Day, the day Bexley was established as an incorporated village with its first charter in 1908. For the second year, the Bexley Public Library, in partnership with the Bexley Historical Society, are celebrating Bexley’s birthday with an honorary program and cake. This year, Historical Society Trustee, Larry Helman, will present on how the community developed over time. Join us for the event at 7 PM on Thursday, August 10 in the library auditorium. It will also be an opportunity to learn about a new effort to mark and recognize those houses of 100+ years in age.
In late 2015, several news outlets, including USA Today, announced scientists had determined that if housecats were larger, they would kill and eat their human companions. A nice, snappy headline, but strictly speaking not true. The actual study1 does not say that our beloved kitties are just waiting for their moment to strike. It just says that personality-wise, a cat is a cat, whether they’re hunting the laser you point for them or stalking prey across the African Savannah. This was probably obvious to anyone who has seen photos of jaguars, tigers or pumas sitting in cardboard boxes. Or this lion sitting in a wheelbarrow. I should acknowledge here that I am not an ailurophile (a lover of cats). I have dogs. However, August 8th is International Cat Day, and we here at the library do not want to make our individual cat overlords unhappy by not acknowledging it.