Hard-boiled and Noir Fiction and Film

Travelling through fetid alleyways in the pouring rain, through thronging cities like beating hearts, and darkened rooms echoing gunshots and last breaths, the fiction and film of the hard-boiled and noir genres bring readers and viewers along for vivid, engrossing, sensual experiences that earlier mysteries neglected in favor of purely intellectual exercises.

Often used interchangeably, the terms noir and hard-boiled actually refer to different kinds of works. While hard-boiled stories tend to deal with detectives confronting violence and organized crime, detectives who all the while comment on both the events transpiring as well as their own experiencing of those events (think Dashiell Hammet’s Maltese Falcon or Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep), noir tends to deal with more atmospheric adventures wherein the protagonist is more often a victim or a criminal (think James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, or the works of David Goodis, upon whose stories the films The Fugitive and Tirez Sur le Pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player) are based). Although noir finds its origins variously in French and American sources, the heart of the hard-boiled story is purely American.

The heyday of American examples of the genres was undoubtedly the 30s, 40s and 50s; nevertheless, modern adaptations both in fiction and film abound. The films of the Coen brothers often draw heavily on the tradition of both noir and hard-boiled stories from America’s past. Perhaps one of the most interesting adaptations of the genres, however, comes not from the US, but rather from the north of Europe in the form of Scandinavian noir.

Scandinavian noir owes much to the traditions discussed above. However, as prime examples of the genre show, there are subtle differences; the writing is often sparse, sharp, simple and realistic and the plots often carry heavy moralistic undertones. Progenitors of the genre include Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, whose Martin Beck series of novels depict a tumultuous Sweden of the 1960s, bent on revolution and social upheaval. Perhaps more well known examples include Henning Mankell's Wallender series, and Stieg Larsson's internationally best-selling Millenium series, the first of which, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been adapted for the big screen twice in the course of just two years. Clearly the fascination with unsolved murder and illicit dealings is alive, well, and spreading around the globe!

Faculty: It’s Not Too Late to Submit Your Course Reserves for the Fall 2016 Semester!

stack-of-booksThe sun may be sweltering now, but before you know it the temperature will be dropping, the autumn equinox will have come and gone, and the Fall Semester will be in full swing!

Why not help your students access course materials through MSEL’s Reserve Services? We can help you place physical books, electronic articles, ebooks, DVDs, and more on reserve! The recommended deadline was August 5th, but it’s not too late to submit your course reserves list to us. All you have to do is submit your syllabus now and we’ll get to work configuring access!

Do your students need access to an e-article on the chlorophyll catabolites in fall leaves?Should they be reading about traditional autumn holidays around the world, such as the history of Halloween, the medieval English Running of the Bulls in November, or the Irish feast of autumn? Maybe you want them to analyze a popular film that takes place in autumn? Will your assignments require reading about the economy in September of 2002? Whatever the media, whatever the title, we can help you track down your items and make them easily available to your students.

email-marketingCheck out the Reserve Services webpage for more information on how to submit requests for reserves and more.

Feel free to email us your syllabus and any other questions or concerns. We’re happy to help!

 

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Stars of Science Fiction and Fantasy

It's always the right season to read science fiction or fantasy. Here are two important writers whose work you might want to explore.

Kurt Vonnegut in 1972

Kurt Vonnegut in 1972

Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut was an American author who made unforgettable contributions to literature (there are more than 70 dissertations related to his work). The library has quite a few books about him and his work, including correspondence, interviews, and criticism and interpretation. From his New York Times obituary, we also learn that he suffered from depression and was a pessimist, as many of his writings reflect.

What do we have about this author that is not a book? How about a "non-musical recording" -- this is a recording (yes, a vinyl record) of Vonnegut reading Slaughterhouse Five, which he wrote in 1969 (and which the library has in other formats).

There is also a musical recording of the music by Bach that was part of the soundtrack to the 2004 film adaptation of Slaughterhouse Five. You can also hear Vonnegut's reflections about the movie My Life As a Dog.

Other sources of information about Kurt Vonnegut include

In addition, there are 6 references to him in Philosopher’s Index, and 24 in the ATLA Religion Database. There are even 4 in General Science Full-text, in which we discover that the character of Dr. Felix Hoenikker in Cat’s Cradle was inspired by Dr. Irving Langmuir (Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1932).

Read about Harrison Bergeron; you will never be the same (online right here, only about 3 pages). It's also in print in Welcome to the Monkey House or in Novels and Stories, 1950-1962.

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Neal Stephenson in 2008

Neal Stephenson in 2008

Neal Stephenson

The subject headings alone on this guy’s books are fascinating (here are more books), and remember that when you click on any of these, you get a list of all of our other library items that are about that topic:

From his biography in Literature Resource Center, we find that his first novel, entitled The Big U, sounds like a fun read: “[the story] revolves around the American Megaversity, a huge, modern university, funded by a radioactive waste dump… The satirical book [is] loaded with student pranks reminiscent of those in the 1978 film National Lampoon's Animal House…”

I'm a few chapters into Reamde (which we have online and in print), but may abandon it in favor of SevenEves, about which I've heard nothing but rave reviews.

Who is your favorite sci fi and/or fantasy author?

 

The Arc of a Curious Career: Wallace Stevens in Print

For most readers of classroom anthologies, Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) equals a jar on a hill, a 13-point blackbird or a snow-man. And those are all delicious poems in the signature Stevens key—poems that vibrate at the juncture of the familiar and the wild, poems that swerve between complexity and simplicity. We might expect that their composer reached this pitch of artistic dexterity after many years of treacherous experimentation. We might expect to find, behind the feats on display in our modern anthologies, lots of bad juvenilia. But in this case, we’d be wrong—or almost.

Stevens had an unusual career for a poet. Trained as a lawyer, he spent most of his working life in the offices of insurance companies; he published few poems until he was in his 30s, and was most productive in his 50s and 60s. (His first book, Harmonium, came out in 1923; his second, Ideas of Order, came out in 1935, and as a trade edition in 1936). Like other modernist poets, Stevens did not at first receive a warm popular reception. But he gradually accrued a host of honors; in the year of his death, he won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his Collected Poems.

One way to understand the curious arc of Stevens’ career is to look at the trail of books he left in his wake. This is exactly what several undergraduates did a couple of years ago, exploring and elucidating Hopkins’ archive of printed material by and about Stevens.

Gabrielle Barr looked at the representation of Stevens in an anthology of magazine verse from 1921—yikes! He was outranked by a bunch of poets you’ve probably never heard of, at least according to the hand-written annotations in this copy. Books like this make it very clear that literary careers are made, not born.

Stevens was appreciated by other artists even before he received much popular acclaim—a state of affairs that is reflected in limited edition, fine-press books like the illustrated Cummington Press version of Esthétique du Mal. Ting Chang noted how this publication exemplifies its publisher’s ideas about Stevens’ fans: it is very definitely aimed at “a certain kind of literary readership.”

What about that popular acclaim, as embodied by the Collected Poems? Taylor Colvin observed that Stevens’ elevation to poetic sainthood is signaled by the portrait on the book’s dust jacket—a black and white photograph that “projects an air of nostalgia.” It’s a visual expression of his literary apotheosis.

And his posthumous reputation? Well, it probably doesn’t get any better than an exhibition at the Huntington Library, as Mary Katherine Atkins discovered while examining the catalog for the exhibition. Artifacts that serve as emblems of Stevens’ career—his manuscripts in particular—are carefully reproduced in the catalog.

By the way: Stevens’ juvenilia (judge for yourself its merits) does exist in The Harvard Advocate and other collections of college verse. You can see our other Stevens material here!

Wine: a Library Collection Taste Test

Wine - red, white, rose, sparkling -- so many choices -- so much fun. However, there is a serious and academic side to wine and wine making as demonstrated in a new addition to our journal collection, Journal of Wine Economics. This is a peer reviewed publication that the American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE) publishes twice a year. The library subscribes to the electronic version of the journal, which is indexed in EconLit.

This leads to the question: what else does the library have that relates to wine? Just as there are many varieties of wine to sample, the MSE Library has a larger inventory of wine-related material than you might expect. For example, if you are interested in the history of wine making, try Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture. Then search Catalyst (the catalog) with the phrases or words “red wine,” “white wine,” or viticulture to find other intriguing possibilities. Wine also has its legal side; search “law AND wine” to find titles that go back to a proclamation by Queen Elizabeth in 1618 that set the price of wine.

Poetry anyone? A quick search of the Columbia Granger's World of Poetry with the word "wine" produces a long list of poems such as "The Wine is Bright" by Nathaniel Hawthorne. If the poems are not copyrighted, the full text is available.

For wine in music there is the song "Kisses Sweeter than Wine" that is available through the American Song database. If fiction is your preference, curl up with the book, Bread, Wine & Angels by Anna P. Zurzolo. And of course, there is the movie Sideways, a comedy set in California wine country. Not only do we have the movie, we also have the screenplay and the shooting script. So please taste test our collections and enjoy!

Have an Epic Summer!

odysseusGuest Blogger: Rebecca Fang, Class of 2019

A little bored this summer? Maybe you should read some epics to liven things up!

Homer's Odyssey shows that epic heroes can have epic flaws that get them in trouble. Then there's Virgil's Aeneid, which seems to be a love story but has a surprising ending!

Ovid's Metamorphoses explains the origins of many things we see in real life, even the presence of spiders! In Dante's Vita Nuova and Inferno, Dante expresses his love for Beatrice, who eventually leads him to heaven.

Boccaccio's Decameron includes a comical set of stories and Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra shows the power that Cleopatra can have over Mark Antony.

Milton's Paradise Lost is an extension of the biblical story of Adam and Eve. You might be surprised; many readers pity Satan after reading this text! All these epics are available at the Johns Hopkins libraries! Follow the links above to get them.

And be sure to check out the video below. Happy reading!

Ancient Egypt: The Birthplace of Flip-Flops

flip-flop4

Fiber sandal featuring a sewn-edge and plaited detailing. Photograph by A. 't Hooft. Courtesy of the British Museum (BM EA 4451), London.

Ah, flip-flops. Those beloved shoes people have come to wear year-round. This sandal obsession has even sprouted a day of recognition: “National Flip Flop Day” on June 21st. These shoes are worn for every occasion; from hiking to weddings, to the office and even public speaking events (Combat Flip Flops CEO speaks at TEDx). Shoe designers have added heels, blinged them out, and dessert enthusiasts are making them out of Rice Krispies Treats. Yum! 

There’s no hard evidence proving exactly where the flip-flop originated, but the general consensus is that they were made famous by the ancient Egyptians. The term “flip-flop” was popularized in late 20th-century western culture, named for the sound the sandal when it slaps the bottom of the heel while walking.   The Egyptian sandal dates as far back as 4,000 years (Middle Kingdom), but it’s possible thong footwear originated earlier during the Unification Period, i.e. Early Dynastic Period, c.a. 3,100 BC, when Upper and Lower Egypt merged.

egyptian flip flop

Sewn sandal from the tomb of Tutankhamun with linen cover. Photograph by André J. Veldmeijer. Courtesy of the Ministry of Antiquities/Egyptian Museum Authorities.

The ancient Egyptians were astonishing craftspeople who perfected flip-flop design. Some were plainly practical, while others were totally glam; it all depended upon one’s social class. The average sandal was perhaps constructed of Halfa grass (Desmostachya bipinnata), papyrus or palm leaves, weaved similar to how baskets were coiled, far from the modern rubber, foam and plastic flip-flops.

Contrary to mainstream media and Hollywood movies, or Katy Perry’s Dark Horse video, the average Egyptian walked barefoot, including royal officials. Sandals weren’t worn indoors, at least, until the Late Dynasty. But when the pharaohs did step out, they left quite an impression.

kingtut sandal

Marquetry veneer sandal from the tomb of Tutankhamun. André J. Veldmeijer. Courtesy of the Ministry of Antiquities/Egyptian Museum Authorities.

An ah-mazing pair of flip-flops was discovered in the tomb of King Tutankhamun; pictured here is a purplish, marquetry veneer sandal from the tomb of Tutankhamun.Egyptologist and American University in Cairo (AUC) Professor Salima Ikram says, “With some of Tutankhamun’s shoes, they used bits of gold, birch bark, bone and maybe even glass inlays to decorate and create luxurious and glamorous footwear.” Today, we’d see this kind of haute couture sandal in high-end department stores like Bergdorf Goodman or Harrod’s. Yes, King Tut had some pretty cool stuff, even a dagger made from a meteorite.

flip-flop3

Artistic interpretation of Tutankhamun's open shoes. The original can be seen at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. Drawing by Mikko H. Kriek.

Historians and archaeologists analyze flip-flops to learn about ancient social life. For example, they've found religious symbolism on footwear. How one used a flip-flop might express deference to authority, that is, if it was removed in the presence of royalty or an official. It’s humbling to realize that aside from adding rubberized material, modern society really hasn’t improved much upon the flip-flop. Retailers are still capitalizing on this ancient innovation, and we’re still enjoying them! [Photo: Sewn sandals from “Tutankhamun's Footwear: Studies of Ancient Egyptian Footwear,” Veldmeijer, A. J., (Havertown: Sidestone Press, 2012), 48.

 

For more information about ancient Egyptian thong footwear:

  • Read or listen to audio files provided by JHU Sheridan Libraries:

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The Dog Days of Summer

Is this Baltimore summer hot enough for you? You might say we have hit the heart of the "dog days" of summer. You might also wonder where the heck that phrase comes from! It turns out, the origin of the "dog days" of summer is far older and far more interesting than you might have thought.

Although the phrase sounds as if it could have come out of the American 50s, it turns out people referred to July and August as the "dog days" of summer as far back as Ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt. The Romans connected the heat of summer with Sirius, known as the "Dog Star" as it is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, or "Big Dog." During the conjunction of Sirius and the sun, the two stars are aligned as seen from earth. The twenty days before and after this conjunction are officially known as the "dog days" of summer and generally translate to the time-frame of July 3 to August 11. However, various interpretations exist and the "dog days" can mean generally any time from July through August (as people from Bawlmer well know, these can be the hottest days of the year!)

During the dog days of summer in Baltimore, there are many escapes from the heat and humidity. Visit the George Peabody Library (nicely air-conditioned!), the Homewood Museum or the Evergreen Museum and Library. Stay in and watch a good movie. Or read a good book! If you're brave enough to venture out into the heat, Baltimore offers a plethora of warm weather wonders. Check out Shakespeare in the Meadow with productions of both Much Ado about Nothing and Measure for Measure. Head down to Little Italy and watch a movie under the stars. Cool off with a swim in the Hopkins pool. Catch a ballgame. Or, take your dog for a walk (or a swim!) Just remember to bring along some water for your four-legged friend!

To Read, or What to Read

What is it about summer and reading? The 2 words seem to go together everywhere you look. I guess the assumption is that people have scads of free time in the summer, although this is certainly not true of library staff!

Still, most of us like to read during the summer, even if it's only the proverbial "beach book." The New York Times asked 8 popular writers what they would take to the beach. Their answers range from Euripides to the gruesome true-crime story of Jeffrey MacDonald; from James Joyce to Cyndi Lauper.

Your tastes might lie somewhere in between those extremes! But there is no doubt that reading on a hot summer afternoon, either beneath a shady tree, on the beach, or in the shelter of air conditioning, is a relaxing and enjoyable activity.

What to choose? Did you know the online catalog can actually help? Many works of fiction are cataloged with Library of Congress Subject Headings (we call them LCSH). Pick a general topic, add the word "Fiction" to a subject search, and voilà! Here are some examples:

This search works for almost any topic you can think of (cats, trials, or vampires). And it works for geographic areas too. Want to read about California, Spain, China or Russia? I could go on all day!

Personally, I use book reviews as a primary source for finding new, or not-so-new, works of fiction to read. The New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and the London Review of Books are my favorites. Although I have to confess that I much prefer reading the paper copy! (BTW, these particular publications are also essential for keeping up with scholarship in your field).

In the library, you can also browse the McNaughton book shelves on M Level, or browse down on D Level where we keep all works of fiction. Our growing collection of e-books also includes works of fiction. So whether you like turning pages or scrolling down screens, there are plenty of reading opportunities for all that free time on your hands!

Libraries Through the Ages–Part II

The first post in this series gave some general information about what a library is--we will now explore the early history of libraries. The earliest libraries we know about appeared in Mesopotamia about 5,000 years ago. According to an article in The Journal of Library History, many scholars consider the library at Ebla in northern Syria to be the world's oldest library. These libraries held thousands of clay tablets inscribed with a stylus in a technique known as cuneiform. The tablets recorded business transactions, scientific knowledge and even myths such as The Epic of Gilgamesh. They were usually sorted in baskets or shelves according to their content. Scholars today can study these tablets from their desktop via the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative.

Moving forward many centuries, we find libraries that house scrolls written in ink on papyrus and parchment rather than inscriptions on clay tablets. Papyrus was lightweight, inexpensive, and grew well in the Nile River Delta. Moving from clay to papyrus helped spur a great increase in writing, and thus, the need for libraries to house and arrange them. The most famous library of the classical world was the Library of Alexandria, founded in Egypt by the Ptolemies in the 3rd century BCE. Demetrius of Phaleron supervised the arrangement of the library which attempted to collect all Greek literature and arrange it systematically. While we don't have thousands of papyrus scrolls at the Eisenhower Library, we do have several excellent histories of the Alexandrian Library. The modern version of this library, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, opened in 2002 and attempts to recapture the spirit of the original while moving forward into the digital age. In addition to providing access to millions of books, the new library serves as a backup site for the Internet Archive.

Making our way into the middle ages, we see another shift in the format of the written word: scrolls were replaced by the codex. Since the printing press was still a long way off, these books still needed to be copied by hand. European monasteries such as Monte Cassino began creating libraries of scriptures, commentaries, and philosophy, and employing their monks as scribes in their scriptoria. Don't get the idea that a monk could just show his library card and check out a book--they were all chained to the shelf or lectern! While sacred works and classics predominated in medieval Europe, secular works such as the Roman de la Rose were also being copied and distributed widely.

Stay tuned for the final installment in this series when we will cover the great university and national libraries of today and speculate on the future of libraries.