Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Enchantment of Snow

One of my favorite quotes about snow comes from J. B. Priestley. I think I first read it in a Green Tiger Press calendar, which was filled with vintage illustrations from children's books. Until last week, I never knew where the quotation first appeared. A recent snowfall made me remember the quotation, and thanks to the magic of the web, I was not only able to find the full quote, but was also able to purchase a copy of the book of essays in which it was originally published. As crabby as I can be about the inaccuracy of quotations on the web, this was the magic of the web at work. And so below, the paragraph which includes that original quotation about the enchantment of snow.

“The first fall of snow is not only an event but it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of world and wake up to find yourself in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment, then where is it to be found? The very stealth, the eerie quietness, of the thing makes it more magical. If all the snow fell at once in one shattering crash, awakening us in the middle of the night, the event would be robbed of its wonder. But it flutters down, soundlessly, hour after hour while we are asleep. Outside the closed curtains of the bedroom, a vast transformation scene is taking place, just as if a myriad elves and brownies were at work, and we turn and yawn and stretch and know nothing about it. And then, what an extraordinary change it is! It is as if the house you are in had been dropped down in another continent. Even the inside, which has not been touched, seems different, every room appearing smaller and cosier, just as if some power were trying to turn it into a woodcutter’s hut or a snug log-cabin. Outside, where the garden was yesterday, there is now a white and glistening level, and the village beyond is no longer your own familiar cluster of roofs but a village in an old German fairy-tale. You would not be surprised to learn that all the people there, the spectacled postmistress, the cobbler, the retired schoolmaster, and the rest, had suffered a change too and had become queer elvish beings, purveyors of invisible caps and magic shoes. You yourselves do not feel quite the same people you were yesterday. How could you when so much has been changed? There is a curious stir, a little shiver of excitement, troubling the house, not unlike the feeling there is abroad when a journey has to be made. The children, of course, are all excitement, but even the adults hang about and talk to one another longer than usual before settling down to the day’s work. Nobody can resist the windows. It is like being on board ship.”

From FIRST SNOW by J. B. Priestley as published in APES AND ANGELS: A BOOK OF ESSAYS (1928)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Gorey Google Doodle

Gosh, how can the Gorey Librarian not comment on today's Google Doodle featuring Edward Gorey, even if she has exceedingly mixed feelings about Google itself? The Gorey Librarian also made a resolution to spend less time on social media, thus deleting both her personal Facebook and Twitter accounts at the end of 2012. [Update: Nov. 2013, was back on Twitter by March, still off Facebook.] So here I am, in this very old-fashioned medium of the blog to encourage anyone who has not read a Gorey book to immediately go to your local public library and check one out!

The Gorey Librarian will be celebrating Edward's birthday in a quieter way, with former fellow cast mates who had the great pleasure and honor of being directed by Edward in his Cape Cod plays. Our biggest goal during any performance was to hear Edward laugh at something we had done with one of the puppets. See more here. I am told that this evening there will be a birthday cake and "also tea and maybe absinthe and/or sherry" at the birthday celebration.

I had not only the delight of working with Edward, but also had the privilege of living for many years with Jane Cujo Gorey, one of the many cats that lived with Edward. You can learn a little bit more about Jane here and here. She is also featured in my favorite Edward video on Youtube. And see a photo of Jane and Edward together here.

We miss Edward and we miss Jane, but it is such a joy to know that Edward's name is now circling the world via twitter and facebook, all thanks to a google doodle. I never thought I'd say this, but thanks Google!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Good Week to be a Reference Librarian

Some weeks it is still good to be a reference librarian. Last week was one of those weeks. It began with a box of Godiva chocolates delivered to me by an acquaintance of Mrs. Allen, a 103 year old woman who still calls the reference desk at least twice a day. The note with the box of chocolates began, "Lady, Jill." Mrs. Allen is the only person I know who calls me "Lady Jill." She also calls me her "Reference Life Line." The box of chocolates was just a thank you for the help the Reference Department gives her. I have found Italian phrases for her, and tracked down the names of towns in Italy she once visited, or restaurants in New York City that have long since closed at which she once ate. Mostly I remind her how to spell words, as she can no longer see to read her dictionary. In fact we had recently found an 800 number for her for Godiva chocolates, and we couldn't imagine why she needed that information, until the letter with the chocolates told us that she had called them to make sure the chocolates she had been given at Christmas were still safe to eat. They assured her they were.

For me Mrs. Allen is my link to the Ready Reference that used to be such a big part of our day at the Reference Desk prior to the invention of the Internet, but that now barely exists. It was such a sweet thing to have people call us with questions about spelling and grammar and congressional addresses or the time the sun would set on a particular day or when a tide would be high. Someone would need a recipe, and tell us we had saved their lives when we found the right cookbook on the shelf with the right recipe. It all seems sort of unbelievable now to those that have grown up searching the web for answers, no matter how wrong those answers might be.

The other joy of the week was when I got a comment on a library blog entry I had written in November, 2011. The blog was about a misattributed F. Scott Fitzgerald quote. It all stemmed from the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which was indeed originally a Fitzgerald short story, but the quotation circulating was neither Fitzgerald nor Brad Pitt, who had said the lines in the film. In any case, last week the message I got was this:

"hey thanks! I did an google search after reading that quote on Pintrest bc it didn't seem like Fitzgerald, and I ran across your article in my investigation!"

And so Google uncovers my old-fashioned reference research. Well done Google!

Friday, September 09, 2011


A Reference Librarian always knows what the patron really wants (and/or needs). An elderly gentleman came into the Reference Room wanting mortality rates for different decades. I pulled out historical statistics on population & the simple World Almanac list of longevity by year born. As I spoke to him he kept telling me that he had been born in the wrong era, and that he loved sailboats and he wanted to have been born in "the age of sail". He also told me his father was quite elderly when he had been born, and his father's brothers were all ten years older than his father. When he was a child he would listen to his uncles tell stories about the Civil War, and he again told me he felt he lived in the wrong age.

As he looked through the death statistics I pulled off the reference shelves two books: The Encyclopedia of Yacht Design by Lucia del Sol Knight and Art and the Seafarer; a historical survey of the arts and crafts of sailors and shipwrights edited by Hans Jürgen Hansen. I brought them over to him, put them down next to him as he poured through the  statistics, and said he might like to take a look at them. Sometime later I looked up and he was still turning the pages of the books on yachts and sea art. He stopped by as he left and said he would have to come back when he had more time to look at the Encyclopedia of Yacht Design. He was no longer talking about death or being born in the wrong age.

Thursday, September 08, 2011


On my chair when I arrived back from the long weekend was a piece of paper with the word "encaustic" written in my hand in big purple letters. This is what happens to reference librarians. They leave themselves notes, and then can't remember until days later why they left themselves the note. I now remember ... at the end of the day on Friday a woman had come in looking for information on encaustic painting. I had never heard of encaustic painting, I wanted to remember the word, I wrote it down, and by Monday it was as if I had never heard the word encaustic. Today I will order some books on enaustic painting.

And If I make my entries short enough, perhaps I can write more than one blog entry every three months!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Retronaut

So, I just noticed that the Retronaut has linked to my blog because I sent the Retronaut a scan of the pamphlet "Social Telegrams". So let me just say hello to anyone who has ended up on this page after visiting the Retronaut.  For those of you visiting for the first time my twitter feed is @jillerickson and one day I will write a classic novel featuring a character named Chester B. Ticklejamset. Chester got his name when I was in 5th grade, so this novel has been gestating for some time, but I'm sure any Retronaut will understand that things that age have certain miraculous properties.

My day job is reference librarian at a public library, but for many years I worked at a VERY Retronaut kind of place ... The Boston Athenaeum.

Want to hear my voice? I didn't win the Public Radio Host contest (mentioned below), but I do now have a monthly gig talking about books on our local NPR station WCAI.

And, as you can also see below, I've been reading Proust aloud for quite a long time now.

And perhaps tomorrow I will have time to write a bit about "A Gathering for A Scattering" which took place at the Edward Gorey House this past Saturday. Our cat Jane, formerly owned by EG, was at last returned to her original home.

Salutations to you all.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Proust on Warm Weather

"I remember the warm weather we were then having, when a drop of sweat would fall vertically, regularly, intermittently from the brow of the farm boys working in the sun, like the drip from a cistern, alternating with the fall of the ripe fruit coming away from the tree in the neighboring "close"; they have remained, still today, together with this mystery of a woman concealed, the most constant element in any love that is offered to me. I will break all my week's engagements to get to know a woman I have been told about but to whom I would not give a moment's thought, if it is a week when the weather is of this kind, and if I am to meet her at some isolated farmhouse. For all my knowing that weather and an assignation of this sort are not from her, they are the bait, familiar to me though it is, that I allow myself to take and which is enough to hook me. I know that in cold weather, in a town, I might have desired this woman, but without the accompaniment of any romantic feelings, without falling in love; the love is no less strong once, the circumstances being what they are, it has enslaved me; it is simply more melancholy, as our feelings for people become in life the more we perceive the increasingly small part they are playing and that the new love, which we would wish to be so enduring, and to be cut short at the same time as our life itself, will be the last."

Sodom and Gomorrah, translated by John Sturrock

And I know everyone obsesses about that madeleine, but I'd have to say that orangeade is featured far more often! So go find yourself a bottle of sparkling French orangeade and an isolated farm house and enjoy the heat.