“Do Blue Sheets Bring Babies? The Truth Behind Old Wives’ Tales,” by Thomas Craughwell, was a Gulliver’s used-book purchase I couldn’t resist. After a brief sampling, it joined the other mildly-intriguing and potentially amusing little books on my shelves that I salt away for future perusal. Craughwell’s book and I recently became better acquainted, and it performed well enough, amusing and sometimes edifying. For instance, I didn’t know that while mice don’t scare them per se, elephants, being near-sighted and their eyes forward-set, can be agitated by small creatures darting around their feet, as often happens in zoos or circuses, but rarely in the wild. Or how chicken soup has heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory properties.
Greg Hill’s Weekly Column
Cicero the Roman once wrote, “Old nature is by nature rather talkative,” and, being something of a chatterbox all my life, I better start apologizing to future listeners now. That’s why I read with particular interest an Economist article from last July titled “Why Men Interrupt.” It’s focus was “mansplaining,” a new term that Wickipedia describes as “a portmanteau of the words ‘man’ and ‘explaining’, coined around 2008-09 to describe a well-known social phenomenon commonly experienced by women, whereby man who describes some topic to a woman, habitually does so in a patronizing and condescending manner, perhaps unwittingly, and often despite having limited knowledge himself, because of the gender assumption and stereotype that a woman needs matters explained much more simply.”
Buddha once said, “Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care, for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” He was seconded by Raymond Chandler’s “The High Window,” in which hard-boiled detective Philip Marlowe encountered a “long-limbed, languorous type of showgirl blond.” “From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class,” Marlowe thought, but that was dispelled when she opened her mouth and said “don’t” instead of “doesn’t” improperly along with other grammatical misstatements. “Where’s your refinement?” Marlow wondered.
We’re lucky that our school district pays attention to its libraries, since that’s where students get grounded in navigating the immense world of information that they’ll deal with all their lives. Sadly, it’s not like that in many American cities, despite repeated studies showing that reading scores improve markedly when school libraries are enhanced in any way: more librarians, more books, even repainting the walls. The district’s Library Media Services Department (LMS) coordinates the purchasing of digital resources, training the school library staffs, and otherwise boosts the libraries’ performance.
The British writer Holbrook Jackson once said, “Your library is your portrait,” but he was only speaking of people who care enough about books to possess some. When it comes to book lovers, you can tell a lot about them by looking at their collections. This can be extended to the books they keep in their principal restroom, although these collections tend more towards diversion rather than deep tomes. For example, the Hill family bathroom currently contains a variety of small, distracting works, including the appropriate “Toilets of the World” and “The Garden Book,” both heavily-illustrated books smaller than five inches tall, as well as extracts from Ambrose Bierce’s “Devil’s Dictionary,” a collection of jokes titled “A Man Walks into a Bar,” and of course a Webster’s pocket dictionary.