podcast, Authors

Happy (Belated) Birthday to Agatha Christie

Hello Book Nerds!

Agatha Christie: Mistress of Mystery, Duchess of Death, Queen of….Surfing? That’s right. Discover the events that turned Christie not only into one of the world’s most popular mystery writers, but also one who knew how to hang ten on the waves of Hawaii.

Behind the Scenes

Soon after I started the podcast, I looked over a calendar full of author birthdays and I just knew I had to do an episode for Agatha Christie. She’s not my favorite author, but I do know if I need to grab something for a quick and fun escape, her books will never fail.

New Mailing Surprise!

Just one more quick thing before I unleash you on the podcast…I’ve added a little gift if you sign up for The Book Owl Podcast Newsletter. So, if you want to get more out of each episode AND get your hands on your very own Book Owl Coloring Pages, be sure to sign up today.

Okay, enjoy the episode!!!

As usual, clicking the image below will take you to the episode’s web page where you can listen right in your browser, or you can use the links just under the image to find plenty of other listening options. And remember, all these listening options are completely free!!

 

Listening links…

Links mentioned in this episode…

The (Rough) Transcript

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

So this episode is set to come out on the 17th of September, which oddly enough is National Cheeseburger Day. And that has nothing to do with books, so let’s go back a couple days to the 15th of September, which does have to do with books because it was the 130th birthday of Agatha Christie.

Even if you don’t read mysteries, you’ve probably heard of Agatha Christie. She wrote 66 full length detective novels, plus enough short stories to fill 14 collections. She’s known as the Duchess of Death, the Mistress of Mystery, and the Queen of Crime, but as you’ll soon find out, she maybe should have been given the title Queen of Hanging Ten.

But before we start, I’m just going to put in a quick request for you to either leave a review for the Book Owl Podcast on whatever app you’re listening in right now, or to head to Podchaser and leave a review, or to just share the show with a fellow book nerd. Any little bit can really make a difference. After all, if The Book Owl doesn’t get enough attention she starts plucking out her feathers. And no one wants a bald Book Owl, do they?

Also, as I’m recording this we’ve got wildfires raging not far from my home and the air is super smoky. So smoky the air quality has been listed as off the charts hazardous, so if my voice sounds a bit dry or cracky, that’s why.

Alright, onto Agatha. She was born to a fairly wealthy family in the English countryside in 1890. And while it sounds like she had a mostly happy childhood, ti was also a strange one. Her mom didn’t think Agatha should be allowed to read until she was at least eight years old. Agatha also two siblings who were about a decade older than her, but they’d been sent off to boarding school. And with her siblings away, plus being so much older than her, she was left home alone with only her parents and pets for company.

Like any lonely kid, Agatha spent the time making up imaginary friends and the precocious little Aggie thwarted her mom and taught herself to read by the time she was five. When Agatha was 11 her dad died after a bunch of financial setbacks basically did his health in. Agatha’s mom took the death hard and really clung to her youngest daughter and the two formed a really strong bond that would come to throw Agatha for a loop later in her life.

When she’s 12, Agatha finally gets to go to school. But after the freedom of her homeschooling, she finds the classroom structure too rigid and doesn’t do well. During this time she’s been making a few friends and they’ve been creating and performing little plays, so it’s thought maybe Agatha would do well in the theater. So despite the growing money worries, she’s sent to Paris at age 15 to train in voice work and piano. Well, turns out, no surprise since she’s grown up mostly alone, Agatha does not do well performing in front of people she doesn’t know and it’s not long before she abandons a career in the theater and heads back to England.

So Agatha is 18 when she writes her first short story. And it really sounds like an odd story full of the spiritualism which was popular at the time and dream sequences and explorations of madness. She also writes several other stories and sends them off for publication. They were all rejected. Don’t worry, Aggie, we’ve all been there.

During this time Agatha’s mom doesn’t have the strongest constitution and it’s advised she spend a winter in a dry climate. She and Agatha head off to Egypt, and its this trip that inspires her first novel which she titles Snow Upon the Desert. 

Yeah, like the short stories, the novel one was also rejected. She tried and tried, and even enlisted a family friend who was also a writer and who introduced her to his agent…who also rejected the novel. But he saw some potential and advised Agatha to write another book and see how it went.

Okay, meanwhile, Agatha is starting to break out of her shell a bit. She’s going to parties, she’s going dancing, she’s roller skating, and she’s meeting boys…many of whom propose marriage. But it’s Archibald Christie, who she meets at a dance near her home in 1912, who sweeps her off her feet. They’re engaged within three months but neither has the money to marry and set up a household so the engagement just kind of fixes for a while.

Then World War I breaks out. Archie’s an aviator with the Royal Flying Corps and he gets called up in August 1914. On his leave in December, the two decide there’s no time like the present and get married. And Agatha really doesn’t see much of her husband for the duration of the war. She instead spends her time volunteering at the Red Cross. It’s also during this period that  we start building on what will truly being influencing Agatha’s future writing. Because while at the Red Cross Agatha earns a qualification as an apothecary’s assistant and begins working in the dispensary…and learning about poisons.

It was during this time while Archie was away, that Agatha wrote her first novel featuring Hercule Poirot. And the persnickety little Belgian was inspired both by the Belgian refugees near where she was living, but also by the Belgians she treated at the Red Cross. And I kind fo wonder what those Belgians thought of the character if they ended up reading the book.

So it’s been quite a few years since Agatha had written anything. What stirred up the writing bug again? Part of it had to do with her love of detective stories by Wilkie Collins and Arthur Conan Doyle, but it mainly had to do with her sister betting her that she couldn’t write a convincing detective story.

Agatha won the bet. The Mysterious Affair at Styles not only got published, but was even lauded by the Pharmaceutical Journal for her accuracy with the poisons used in the book. And her pharmacy training really does pay off because over half of Agatha’s novels use poison as the murder weapon.

So Archie returns in 1918 and married life finally begins. They have their only child, Rosalind, in 1919, and Archie’s working in a low-paying financial job, while Agatha is writing. She published her first Tommy & Tuppence novel, then followed that up with another Hercule Poirot book. All within a couple years. The woman was on a roll!

Which meant it was time for her to go on tour. It wasn’t really a book tour, but more of a Look How Amazing The British Are Tour around the world. This was in 1922 and included stops all across the globe, including South Africa where she tried her hand at surfing. By the time she got to Hawaii, Agatha was able to pop up on hear board and, this really is the fun fact of the episode, she became the first British woman to do stand-up surfing. Go Aggie!

But all doesn’t stay so stellar for Agatha. In 1926, she gets two serious setbacks. First her mom dies, and this sends Agatha into a deep depression. Then she learns Archie has fallen in love with another woman. She files for divorce and one night she and Archie get in a big fight. Agatha takes off and just disappears. The next day her car is found near a quarry with her license and her clothes inside, but no Agatha.

By now Agatha Christie is a very big deal, the disappearance makes front page news on the New York Times, and something like 1000 police, 15000 volunteers, and even airplanes sent out to search for her. Even Arthur Conan Doyle got in on the act and took one of her gloves to a psychic to try to get some answers.

Well, ten days later a spa hotel employee recognizes Agatha who’s been staying there the whole time. She’s checked in under the name Teressa Neele. And Neele happened to be the last name of her husband’s mistress. Once discovered, she left and went to hide out at her sister’s and refused to talk about the situation to anyone, so no one to this day really knows why she did this.

People were fuming. They saw Agatha’s meltdown as a publicity stunt or as a way to frame her husband for murder. Agatha even tried to claim she had amnesia, but I think the use of the mistress’s name doesn’t really fit with that excuse. 

Well, finally almost 2 years later, the divorce goes through. Archie did not waste any time and married Ms. Neele a week later.

Understandably, Agatha gets frustrated with her life in the UK, so she takes the Orient Express to the Middle East. And what a fortuitous trip. She not only gets the inspiration for a certain book, but she also meets a couple of archaeologists who invite her to come back and dig with them. I guess that happened back then. So she goes back in 1930 and its on this return trip she meets Max Mallowan…an archaeologist 13 years younger than her. 

This was exactly what Agatha needed. She went with Max on digs and they traveled a lot, and this inspired more novels, many of which were set in the Middle East where Max was working. 

So just to wrap up Agatha’s story, during World War II she went to work in the pharmacy at University College London and it was here that one of the pharmacists suggested using thallium as a poison. In a book, not in real life…I hope. Anyway, this idea became a book called The Pale Horse and as a little twist, in 1977, a doctor who had read the book helped solve a murder by because he recognized the symptoms of thallium poisoning from the story.

Agatha died in 1976 of natural causes. In 1977, Hercule Poirot was the first fictional character to have his obituary in the paper…the New York Times.

Phew, that was a quite an episode. Of course there’s more to Agatha’s life and if you want to get a more in depth look into Agatha Christie’s world and her works, you can go to Agatha Christie dot com where you will find all kinds of goodies.

Okay, that’s it for Agatha.. Time for some writing news…

My historical fantasy novel Domna has been relaunched with a new cover. Of course this update doesn’t work very well for an audio bit of news, but the new cover is really eye-catching. Of course, I’ve got the link in the show notes if you’d like to take a look, and to celebrate the new look, I’ve got a 50% off sale going on the Complete Series – that’s all 6 books, plus some exclusive bonus stuff –  through the rest of the month…and that month is September 2020, in case anyone’s listening to this in the future.

As for podcast news, I don’t really have any other than I’ve got a couple of great episodes planned for October, so fun times ahead!

Alright everyone, that is it for The Book Owl Podcast! Thanks so much for listening, if you enjoyed this, tell a friend or leave a review, and I will hoot at you next time!

The book owl podcast is a production fo daisy dog media, copyright 2020, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod. Audio processing by Auphonic.com

 

Literacy

Happy World Literacy Day

Hello Book Nerds!

I know it’s not the Book Owl’s usual posting day, but I just wanted to share the excitement of World Literacy Day with you!

So what’s the day all about? Well, the fine folks over at Wikipedia have this to say…

“8 September was declared international literacy day by UNESCO on 26 October 1966 at 14th session of UNESCO’s General conference. It was celebrated for the first time in 1967. Its aim is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies.”

And since I (aka “The Book Owl”) love being able to read and think reading is one of the best pastimes EVER, I wanted to celebrate by sharing a couple podcast episodes in which I cover a little bit of literacy, the importance of being a reader, and the strange historical course of inventions that help keep people reading to this very day.

The first is Episode 3 in which the Book Owl delves into that age-old question, the quandary that has stumped philosophers and scientists for centuries, the issue I’m sure has been keeping you up at night….

Do dogs know how to read?

Spoiler alert…no, they don’t, but they can listen which is why our canine buddies are regularly invited into libraries to help build better readers. How does this work? Who came up with the idea? How can you get involved? Find out in Episode 3: Is That A Dog in the Library?!!

Note: I was still getting the hang of things with Episode 3, so the sound quality isn’t the best, but it’s still worth a listen.

Then we have Episode 8: The Story of Seeing Clearly in which I take a peek at the amazing combination of historical events that turned eyeglasses from a luxury item used only by the wealthy to a household commodity (and requisite accessory for many readers…including myself).

From imprisoned Venetians to curing syphilis, the history of eyeglasses is more intriguing than it might seem at first glance (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Those show links will take you to the episode’s listening page where you’ll also find links to the show’s transcript, in case you know, you wanted to actually read on World Literacy Day!

Enjoy!!!!

Having Fun, podcast

10 Silly Ways to Tell If You’re a Book Nerd (also, the Movie-to-Book Debate)

Hello Book Nerds!

We’re having some anniversary fun this time with a quick quiz to test how big of a book nerd you really are, and a top ten list that might be utter blasphemy to die hard book nerds…Ten Movies That Are Better Than the Books They Were Based On.

Plus…I’ve got a special announcement!

Behind the Scenes

There’s not much behind-the-scenes news for my tenth episode. I’ll explain this more in the episode, but reaching ten epodes is a fairly proud moment in the podcasting world.

After reaching this little milestone, I knew I wanted to have some fun and I figured it should involve some sort of top ten list.

Well, I did indeed have fun and I came up with not one, but TWO top ten lists. The first is a series of silly questions to determine how big of a book nerd you really are (and my answers).

Then I spread a little book nerd blasphemy by delving into Book Riot’s list of movies that are (supposedly) better than the books they were based on. Do I agree with Book Riot’s choices? Find out in this fun-filled, sometimes-emotionally-charged episode!!

One note: There were a lot of great responses to Episode 9!! I promised to share a few of those responses, but since I recorded Episode 10 before I released Episode 9, I won’t get around to sharing them until Episode 11.

Enjoy!!!

As usual, clicking the image below will take you to the episode’s web page where you can listen right in your browser, or you can use the links just under the image to find plenty of other listening options. And remember, all these listening options are completely free!!

 

Listening links…

Links mentioned…

Apple (iTunes)
Kobo
Barnes & Noble
Chirp
Audiobooks.com
Or just search for “Tammie Painter” on your favorite audiobook site

The (Rough) Transcript

(Note: The titles of books/movies below are affiliate links. If you click on them before doing any Amazon shopping, I get a teeny tiny commission. It costs you NOTHING extra and helps support this show…Thanks!!!)

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

And guess, what? We’ve made it to episode 10! I’m probably more excited about this than you because when I was learning about podcasting, the stats said most shows give up before they even reach ten episodes. So hey, I’ve beaten the odds.

Anyway, in this episode we’re just going to have a little fun with embracing our inner book nerd with a little personality quiz and a top ten list. 

But before we start, I have a special announcement: I have an audiobook! That’s right, if you just can’t get enough of my voice, you can now get more of it in fiction format. Okay, so this isn’t a full novel…I’m not that ambitious. It’s one of my short stories, A Case of Mamma’s Love, and it’s only about 20 minutes long, so I’ve priced it pretty low. The story took second place in a writing contest from the American PEN Women last year and it’s been published in an anthology by Overland Press, so you know, it’s proven its mettle. Anyway, it’s a quick tale of magical realism and I had fun putting on a southern accent to get into character. Of course, if you’re not into audiobooks, it’s also available as an ebook. Oh, and if you buy the audiobook from my online shop, you’ll get the ebook version for free. And as ever, I’ll have all the links you need in the show notes, if you’re interested in giving it a look…and a listen.

Okay, onto the episode.

Since it’s episode 10, I thought it was only appropriate we do something like a top ten list. And since we’re all crazy about books here, I’ve come up with my own Top Ten Ways to Determine if You or Someone You Know is a Book Nerd…you know, just in case you were wondering. Okay, if you want to keep score, get a pencil and scrap of paper handy because here we go.

So, the first way to determine if you’re a book nerd: you remember the title of the first book you ever read. Do you remember yours? Mine was Are You My Mother by Dr. Suess and I remember sitting in the dentist’s waiting room, picking up the book, and reading it out loud to my mom. I’m not even sure if she knew I knew how to read.

Two, you sometimes forget your real friends’ names and accidentally call them by the name of your favorite fictional characters. So far, I’ve managed not to do this, but I don’t have any real friends, so I guess that helps.

Three, you have trouble closing your suitcase at the end of vacation because you’ve bought so many books while on your trip. I am very guilty of this one. I’ve also mapped out the bookstores near where I’m staying when I travel. So yeah, I think I get double points for that one.

Four, you could map out your favorite bookstore or library from memory. Um, that’s a yes for me. I can picture the exact layouts of public libraries from my childhood, school libraries from my teens, and I can whip my way around the maze of Powell’s Books like a pro.

Five, you aren’t sure if that’s a wall or just a stack of books you’ve brought home from the library. Okay, I haven’t had this problem, but it sounds like something to aspire to.

Six, you have, for a few seconds at least, thought having more than one head would be wonderful because then you could read two books at once. I hadn’t thought this until I started writing this, but now that I think of it…where’s a mad scientist when you need one?

Seven, if there isn’t a book handy, you will read anything at hand that has words on it. Um, yep, that’s me, and I can highly recommend the backs of cereal boxes.

Eight, you’ve stopped reading just before a favorite character might die because you honestly think you’ll save that character’s life is you don’t read about his death. What? That doesn’t work? 

Nine, you have imagined a date night with a fictional character. For me, not so much in waking life, but I do think I’ve dreamed about hanging out with a fictional character. My poor brain.

Ten, you’re the person everyone hates when a book is made into a movie because you can’t help but comment on how the book is different…and by different, you mean better. Okay, I might not be that bad, but when the Red Wedding scene in Game of Thrones came out and shocked everyone, I was one of those people saying, “It’s been in the book for AGES, why are you surprised?!” Okay, maybe that makes me more of a book snob than book nerd, but I’ll take it.

 

So how did you do? Looks like I scored 7 out of 10, which I think puts me solidly into book nerd territory. And of course, I want to know what your scores are, so if you get a chance, drop me a line using the contact info in the show notes and I will share your results with the world in a future episode.

But the Top Ten’s aren’t quite done. That last book nerd requirement got me wondering about what movies are better than the books they were based on. And for this I turned to Book Riot. And that gang of book lovers came up with…

  1. I Am Legend by RICHARD MATHESON – I absolutely agree. I just recently read the novella and it was so, so, so boring. Skip the book, and head straight to the movie on this one. Plus, it’’s got Will Smith. And you can’t go wrong with Will Smith.
  2. Remains of the Day by KAZUO ISHIGURO – Definitely, and not just because I love both Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. The movie is engaging, the book, well, the book is so dry, you might end up with dehydration halfway through.
  3. Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien – I don’t agree with this one. I mean I love the movie, but the book lends a different perspective to and enhances the story in a way that shouldn’t be missed.
  4. The Princess Bride by William Goldman – What?! Okay, again, I could watch this movie every day for the rest of my life, but to say it’s better than the book? No, no, no, both are equally superb. And both feature rodents of unusual size. And don’t get me started on the rumors of them remaking that movie, because it’s just pure blasphemy. Okay, we better move on.
  5. The English Patient by MICHAEL ONDAATJE – Oh yeah, I agree with this one wholeheartedly. I liked the book. It’s got some lovely language in it, but OMG the ending? No, no, no!! I’m not going to spoil it, just in case you haven’t read it, but the movie ending is SO much better. Sorry, anyway, all the relationships are portrayed so much better in the movie than in the book. In the book there’s no chemistry and everyone just kind of seems to be in each other’s way. Okay, I’m getting a bit emotional here.
  6. Jaws by PETER BENCHLEY – Yeah, gotta agree on this one. I don’t think I’ve ever made it through the book, but the movie is a great bit of shark-y fun.
  7. Jurassic Park by MICHAEL CRICHTON – Oh, I hate to say this because I love Michael Crichton, but I gotta agree with this one. So a local theater had a showing of Jurassic Park a few years ago and I forgot how much I loved that movie and so I thought Oh, I should re-read the book. Mistake. The book is just long and really dull in places and just doesn’t have that punchy pace like the movie. Okay, now that I’ve insulted a dead guy…
  8. Forrest Gump by Winston Groom – Again, boring book, pretty good movie.
  9. Stand by Me by Stephen King – Most movies created from Stephen King books just seem to fall flat, they just don’t work. I mean the Shining and Misery were pretty good, but Stand by Me is an exception that just takes the cake. The short story is good, but you get so much more of a feel for the time period, and the emotions, and the characters in the movie.
  10. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding – Another one where I disagree. They’re both great!! The book is far more wicked than the movie, but I love both of them.

Any thoughts on that list?  Do you have a movie that has forced you to admit the show was better than the book? Come on, it’s okay, if you do. Even the strongest book nerds have their weak spots.

Alright my book-y friends, that is it for this anniversary episode. Have fun tallying your scores and don’t forget to let me know where your Book Nerd status stands after taking that test. You can use the link in the show notes to get in touch or just head to the book owl podcast dot com slash contact.

Okay, update time. As for the podcast, remember back in episode 2 or 3 when I said I was going to do episodes every other week, then eventually move to once a week. Well, I’ve decided the biweekly format works for me. It’s easy to stay on top of things without feeling like I’m chasing my tail. Wait, when did I grow a tail? Anyway, so the update, really isn’t an update, it’s just letting you know I’m sticking with putting out an episode every other week.

As for writing, this month I’m doing an intense rewrite of the second book in my Cassie Black series. I’m still toying with whether I want to put out book one this year or wait until next year, but I have decided to pretty much devote most of my time over the rest of this year, the Horrible 2020, to getting the trilogy done and ready for publication. That means scaling back on a few other writing and marketing tasks, but I’m at the point where I’m eager to see this series wrapped up and ready for the world. So, now that I’ve said that, I better get my nose to the grindstone…ow.

Okay, that’s it for me, thank you so much for listening, be sure to subscribe if you haven’t already, and don’t forget to check out my little audio story. Have a great rest of your week, and I will hoot at you next time when we’ll be going very international by heading to Ireland to learn about an American who was gaga for Asian books and who had a tiff with the British Museum.

That’s it. Thanks guys.

The book owl podcast is a production of daisy dog media, copyright 2020, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod.

***

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libraries, podcast

The Story of the Bookmobile: From Perambulators to Pack Animals

Hello Book Nerds!

It’s Episode 9 and while sweet tooths may think the ice cream truck is the best vehicle ever invented, we book nerds know they’re wrong because the Bookmobile can’t be beat.

In this episode we journey from the first traveling libraries all the way to clever ways people today are ensuring everyone gets a chance to fall in love with books.

Behind the Scenes

As mentioned in the episode, I’ve been a book nerd ever since I was a little kid and I LOVED it when the Bookmobile would pull up to my school.

But since Bookmobiles rarely trundle their way through the city these days, I hadn’t given them much thought until I started flipping through Jane Mount’s book for book nerds, Bibliophile.

In one section she shows off a few ways people around the world are getting their books beyond libraries and bookstores. That got the wheels turning in my brain and made me curious to learn how the Bookmobile started.

I discovered several things I never knew about my beloved Bookmobile and, if you’re a book nerd at heart, you’re going to love this episode.

Enjoy!!!

As usual, clicking the image below will take you to the episode’s web page where you can listen right in your browser, or you can use the links just under the image to find plenty of other listening options. And remember, all these listening options are completely free!!

 

Listening links…

Links mentioned…

Images…

I usually save images as bonuses for my newsletter subscribers, but since they’re getting something extra special this time around, I couldn’t resist sharing a few photos related to the episode.

Of course, if you’d like to join the flock and get regular bonus tidbits, be sure to sign up today to get the Book Owl in your inbox every other week.

bookmobile, portland oregon, multnomah county
This model was a little before my day, but here’s one of the old Multnomah County Bookmobiles. Image from the Multnomah County Library.

 

It’s the Biblioburro! And there’s Luis in the yellow shirt. Image from Wikipedia.

The (Rough) Transcript

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

It’s episode 9 and while people with a sweet tooth may think the ice cream truck is the best vehicle ever invented, us book nerds know they’re wrong. 

Before we start, a couple quick business matters. So first, right now, or as soon as you safely can, be sure to click that subscribe button in whatever podcast app you’re listening in, or if you’re watching this on YouTube, well there’s a subscribe button right under the video eagerly waiting for your click. It’s super simple and ensures you won’t miss a single episode. Plus, it makes me happy.

The second business-y matter would not only make me happy, but it could make you Book Owl famous (which is nothing like being truly famous, sorry). If you have a topic you’d like covered in the show, all you have to do is send me a message using the contact link you’ll find in the episode notes. So if there’s a bookstore, author, or book you’re curious about but you’re too lazy to do the research yourself, toss those quandaries my way and I’ll do the research for you. And I’ll mention you in the episode as a way to say thanks.

Okay, that’s enough business, because what do I see coming up the road? Yes! It’s the BookMobile. 

So at its heart, the Bookmobile is a way to bring library books to people who live where it’s hard to get to a library, such as rural areas, or to bring books to people who might have a tough time getting out, such as residents of senior homes. But as a kid I have fond memories of the Bookmobile trundling up to the school. 

Now, keep in mind, I grew up in Portland, Oregon, and no matter where you lived, you had easy access to one of the branches of the Multnomah County library system. But I guess the library wanted to spark kids’ interest in reading and so every now and then (never often enough in my opinion), the this big sort of acid green BookMobile truck would appear. And sometimes I was the only kid in there…and sometimes they’d have to ask me to leave so they could go on to their next stop. Seriously, I’ve always been a book nerd.

Anyway, the bookmobile goes by a gob of different names such as the traveling library, the book wagon, the book truck, the book auto service (which has to be the worst), and the library on wheels (which is now my favorite). And as we’ll see later, the bookmobile isn’t just limited to four-wheeled things with engines. Book nerds are out spreading their book nerd ways via donkey, camel, hand-wheeled cart, and more.

But how did this start? The short answer…I don’t know. Books and scrolls have been transported between libraries pretty much since libraries began, but these transfers were mainly to bring the items for scholarly study, not for sharing with the masses. However, I can imagine that as books became less expensive and easier to make, and as literacy rates increased, that there were probably people carrying around books to loan out to others.

Of course, that’s just my guess. The first system that was a sort of prototype bookmobile came about in 1839, when the American Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (which totally sounds like a creepy organization from a George Orwell story) created the American Library School which wasn’t actually a school, it was a set of fifty books that cost $20, which is about $580 in 2020 dollars. 

The set included books on history, biographies, a novel (yes, one novel), health, science, Christianity, travel memoirs, and more. These sets came in a wooden case and were intended for schools to have a set course curriculum that could be followed country wide, but they were also carted around the frontier lands as a traveling library. And if you ever make it to the Smithsonian Museums, you can see the only complete set in its original box.

But we have to wait until 1857 and we have to jump the pond over to England to find the next evidence of an early Bookmobile. This one had the perfectly British name of a Perambulating Library and it could be found perambulating a circuit through eight villages in Cumbria in northwestern England. The idea was sponsored by a philanthropist by the name of George Moore who, as would later be the mission of the modern Bookmobile, wanted to spread the written word to rural populations. And, based on other perambulating libraries around this time, I’m going to guess that George’s books were pulled by horse or some other cooperative four-legged animal, although he could have had people walking with them.

Okay, now we’re zipping back across the pond because in the early 1900s, we start to see the first true traveling libraries popping up in the U.S. 

One of the first was started by a librarian from Maryland named Mary Titcomb (insert childish joke of your choice). So her library wasn’t exactly a library. It was basically a box of books that were left at 23 public locations such as the post office or grocery stores for people to borrow from. Well, Mary realized this didn’t do much good for the people who didn’t come into to town regularly, so she arranged for a book wagon to take reading material directly to people’s homes. And I like to think that any fines were probably paid in apples for the horses who drew the wagon.

Of course, in the US most of our Bookmobiles now come around on four wheels instead of four legs. The first motor-powered bookmobile came about in 1920. Yet again, we have a librarian to thank for her ingenuity because Sarah Askew redesigned her Model T and started driving books around rural areas of New Jersey.

But our four-legged friends weren’t out of work yet. After the Depression, Roosevelt’s New Deal program, the WPA, began the Pack Horse Project. This ran from 1935 to 1943 and used pack animals to bring books and a few other necessities into the deepest parts of the mountains of Kentucky and the Appalachia area. Known as packhorse librarians, these folks were sometimes the only outside contact for the insular mountain residents.

But as we saw at the beginning, bookmobiles weren’t limited to bringing books to rural areas. In the 1960s, in the Bronx, an interracial team of librarians started the Library in Action program to bring books to kids of color who may not have had access to books or libraries otherwise.

Have I mentioned how cool the bookmobile program is??

Anyway, the Bookmobile programs reached their height in the US in the 1950s to 1970s, when there were well over 1000 vehicles bringing books to kids and adults. These days there’s only about 600 of them left. It’s not that people don’t still love the idea, but budget cuts, easy access to online resources, and environmental concerns are eating away at the bookmobile. However, there may be hope for our beloved BookTruck. New ones are being outfitted with solar powered batteries and hybrid engines. 

And hey, we still have a National Bookmobile Day every April, so maybe there’s still hope for the Bookmobile.

Or perhaps we need to think outside the four-wheeled box on this one because as I mentioned earlier, there are many ways people around the world are getting books to people. And for this next bit, I have to give thanks to Jane Mount’s book Bilibophile.

If you don’t want four wheels, maybe you prefer three. The Il Bibliomotocarro is a three-wheeled book truck driven by former schoolteacher Antonio La Cava. He fills it with books and drives 300 miles each week to bring reading material to kids in southern Italy. Or maybe you prefer to go back to our four-legged friends. Well, in Colombia there’s the Biblioburro that was started by another schoolteacher. Luis Soriano was feeling a bit down that his students didn’t have books at home, so now he and his two donkeys Alfa and Beta bring books to them. In Kenya and Mongolia, you can find camels doing the same thing…although they’re probably a bit grumpier about it. Or perhaps you just want to keep your feet on the ground and get your 10,000 steps in. Well, you can make like Martin Murillo, again of Colombia, who loves reading so much, he brings books to one and all with his La Carreta Literaria. And if you’re feet get tired, do as Martin does and stop to read the kids a story.

Okay, that’s it for the Bookmobile. 

And now I’m tossing it over to you. Do you have memories of the Bookmobile? Does your area still have bookmobiles? I want to hear from you, so be sure to use that contact info in the show notes to drop me a line. And who knows, if I need to fill up some audio space, I might just read your comment in a future episode. Oh, and those of you who are signed up for The Book Owl newsletter are going to get a link to some great images of historic bookmobiles from around the world, so be sure to keep an eye out for that.

Again, that’s it for the show, which means it’s time for updates. If you’re done, thanks so much for listening. If not, here we go.

I don’t really have any podcast news other than the next episode is number 10 and I’ve got something fun lined up for that one. As I mentioned in the newsletter and the blog last time, I’ve updated all the old episodes as best I could to improve the sound quality. They’re still not perfect, but they are better. 

As for writing. There’s a lot of news coming up in this realm of my creative life. From release dates, to audiobooks, to learning some new tricks, I could fill up a whole hour just covering it all. But instead of doing that, if you’re interested, I’m just going to encourage you to either follow my writing blog or to sign up for my writing newsletter (you’ll get a free story if you do), and surprise surprise those links are in the show notes.

Okay everyone, that is it for this episode. Keep on truckin’ with the Bookmobile and I will hoot at you next time.

The book owl podcast is a production fo daisy dog media, copyright 2020, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod.

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The History of Eyeglasses: What Venice, Monks, and Syphilis Have to Do with Seeing Clearly

Hello Book Nerds!

It’s Episode 8 and this time we’re taking a peek at the amazing combination of historical events that turned eyeglasses from a luxury item used only by the wealthy to a household commodity.

From imprisoned Venetians to curing syphilis, the history of eyeglasses is more intriguing than it might seem at first glance (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Quick Update

In the update portion of the episode I mention that I’ve reworked Episodes 2 & 3 to try to improve the sound quality. Well, I’m happy to say, that all previous episodes have now been updated.

Again, they’re still not perfect, but they are a bit better. I’ve just gotten a new, highly recommended microphone, so hopefully my sound quality issues will continue to fade away.

Thanks for sticking with me during this learning process!

Behind the Scenes

I’ve had the idea for this episode since the show started, and I honestly hadn’t planned for an episode on eyeglasses to match up to an episode whose number (on its side) looks like a pair of eyeglasses.

But that’s just another of the happenstance events that kept cropping up as I researched the story of eyewear.

I’d heard about the Venetian glassmakers from the writer Steven Johnson, and I recalled something about glasses and paper making from James Burke in his book The Day the Universe Changed.

But as the research continued, I couldn’t believe the way the dates from an Arabic text to the printing press fell into place one after the other, leading to glasses being such a common item. More than once it left me thinking, “Wow, that is a crazy bit of luck.”

Anyway, I hope you find the episode as fascinating as I did researching it. Enjoy!!!

As usual, clicking the image below will take you to the episode’s web page where you can listen, or you can use the links just under the image to find plenty of other listening options.

Listening links…

Links mentioned…

Images…

I usually save images as bonuses for my newsletter subscribers, but since they’re getting something extra special this time around, I thought I’d include photos with this post to help give you a better idea of a few things mentioned in Episode 8.

Of course, if you’d like to join the flock and get regular bonus tidbits, be sure to sign up today to get the Book Owl in your inbox every other week.

A stylish pair of an example of the first eyeglasses. (Image from the California Optometric Assoication)
Tommaso da Modena’s painting of Cardinal Hugh St. Cler wearing his spectacles. (Image from Wikipedia, public domain)
Stylin”!!! (Image from Wikipedia, public domain)

The (Rough) Transcript

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

It’s episode 8 and if you turn the number 8 on its side, what’s it look like? Okay, it kind of looks like a drunken snowman who’s toppled over, but it also resembles something that makes reading possible for about 65% of the population.

Before we jump into this episode I just want to remind you that if you have been enjoying the show, you can help keep the episodes coming in several inexpensive ways. Whether it’s buying the Book Owl a virtual cup of coffee or sending the owl a monthly snack, your support is very much appreciated. So, if you have an extra couple dollars or euros or pounds, please head over to thebookowlpodcast.com/support. And yes, that link will be in the show notes.

Alright let’s get a closer look at toppled over snowmen. No, wait, sorry. Take two. Let’s take a look at eyeglasses.

Okay, you’re probably thinking, “Wow, how boring and off topic can you get. Isn’t this show supposed to be about books.”

Well, okay, to look at them, glasses aren’t the most exciting things on the planet (although Elton John’s collection might be the exception), but glasses happened to coincide with a couple of other inventions to truly boost literacy and people’s love of the written word.

But the first glasses, kind of like Elton John’s, weren’t used for reading. It was all about style. See, the Emperor Nero, he liked to wear emerald lenses, and that’s emerald the actual gem, not emerald tinted. Anyway he wore these to gladiator fights because he believed they offered some sort of health benefit. And if the emperor did it, the masses soon followed, so Nero may have started the first optical wear fashion trend.

But that has nothing to do with reading.

The idea of using a curved lens to magnify things probably came about soon after glass was invented. I mean it doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to picture a glassmaker setting a piece of work down and noticing whatever was underneath looked bigger, right?

And back in the 2nd century Ptolemy was already writing about this very phenomenon, but it wouldn’t be put to much use until the Arab scholar Ibn al-Heitam in the 10th century first suggested that glass could be used to aid with visual problems as people aged. Unfortunately, he didn’t push this idea and it wasn’t until his book of optics was translated into Latin in the 1200s that the idea took hold.

Now this was back when monks would spend their entire days in scriptoriums copying books letter by letter, often very tiny letter by letter. If you’ve ever seen these manuscripts. So, once a monk reached a certain age, his vision would be fried and he could no longer do this work. When al-Heitam’s book of optics was translated, older monks quickly adopted the idea of using reading stones so they could continue to scribble away and feel useful. And when I say quickly I mean quickly because within only a few years of al-Heitam’s book being translated, people were already writing of using lenses “to read the smallest letters.”

But to start, as I said, these lenses weren’t true lenses, they were just reading stones. And these things were about an inch thick and maybe four inches in diameter and made of rock crystal and quartz that was curved on one side and flat on the other. You would then place flat side on a page and move along enlarging the words underneath as you read.

Meanwhile, right about this same time over on the islands that make up Venice, a renaissance of glassmaking was happening. And competition was fierce between the glassmakers to come up with the best techniques to make the best glass possible. That competition was so strong the guild masters kept their glassmakers, or cristalleri, basically as prisoners on the island they happened to work on. This kept the cristalleri from flouncing around on gondolas spilling trade secrets to the cristalleri on another island.

The rules were so strict that if a cristalleri left his island, he could face death. It was a bit over the top, but this forced isolation meant intense collaboration and their glassmaking skills skyrocketed.

This boon in glassmaking not only meant clearer glass, but also thinner glass that could be shaped more precisely. No source I could find knew who first took that better quality glass, stuck it into a wooden holder, and used it it help people see better, or exactly when but most sources are certain it happened in Italy. What we do know is that in 1306, Giordano of Pisa gave a sermon in which he’s quoted as saying, “It is not 20 years since there was found the art of making eyeglasses.”

And I’m going to guess that this probably happened near Venice because by the time this sermon was given there already were records on the books in which the Venice guilds regulated the sales of eyeglasses.

These glasses weren’t what we have today that fit neatly on your face. Instead, two lenses were set in two separate wooden frames. These frames were then attached at the base to kind of pivot so you could open them to fit the width of your eyes. Which is probably why we say a pair of glasses.

Anyway it’s a monk who was the subject of the first painting to show someone wearing these glasses. The painting dates from 1352 – I know, so many dates, sorry. The painting was done by Tommaso da Modena and it shows Cardinal Hugh St. Cler with a pair of these glasses balanced on his nose as he’s working away on a document.

And it’s kind of significant that we’ve got a cardinal in the painting. See, glasses weren’t cheap. There was no $49 special being offered at the Lenscrafters or anything. Glasses were a luxury item that signified wealth and power and were owned only by a few of the elite.

But, remember Giordano of Pisa? Well he had a colleague by the name of Friar Alessandro Della Spina who didn’t think this was fair. I mean, literacy rates were pretty low, but those who did read really needed to read even after they managed to live to the ripe old age of forty when many peoples’ eyes start getting wonky. Of course, mine have been wonky since I was three, but that’s a whole issue in itself.

Anyway Alessandro somehow dipped his hands in the lens making business and made pairs of glasses for whoever needed them. And Giordano, while delivering a good bit of marketing for his friend, also proved he was a bit snarky because he said, “Glasses were first made by someone who didn’t want to share. Spina made them and shared them with everyone with a willing and cheerful heart.” Good on you, Spina!

Glasses still weren’t owned by the masses, but they were being seen and used more frequently.

So this is all happening in the second half of the 1300s. That’s also right about the time when Europeans were figuring out how to make paper cheaper and more efficiently. Since books had been made with parchment or vellum, which was expensive and laborious to make, this paper making set up things perfectly for things to come. Because when the 1400s role around, our friend Johannes Gutenberg invents his printing press. Books and journals, which had all been hand copied before and were insanely expensive, suddenly dropped in price and became more plentiful.

People wanted that printed material. But they also wanted to be able to read it, and thanks to the eyeglass business loosening up, glasses were also more plentiful and soon became a household commodity.

I just love it when history things like this fall into place like that. I mean think about how amazing this blend of events is. You’ve got an Arabic book on optics being translated, monks latching on to the idea of being able to keep working into old age, the lockdown of glass makers forcing them to improve their craft, the invention of glasses, a more efficient way to make paper, and the printing press all coming together.

If any one of those things hadn’t happened, maybe the printing press would have needed longer to take off and maybe reading would have languished behind another couple hundred years, which might have delayed the Renaissance and other leaps in thinking. Who knows, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that only a couple decades after the printing press was first invented that the first eyeglasses shop opened up in Strasbourg….the city where the printing press was born.

So just to wrap up a couple more moments in glasses history, up to this point people knew lenses needed to be convex to do their trick, but no one really understood why. In 1604 Johannes Kepler – he’s the guy who figured out the planets travel in elliptical orbits – also figured out the different properties and uses of convex versus concave lenses, and about 20 years later in Spain someone figured out how to create different grades of lenses for different vision problems.

Of course through all this we’re still stuck with the pivoting style frames you’d have to balance on your nose or hold in front of your eyes. It would be the 1700s before glasses got arms and were held together by a bridge across the nose. Yeah, they didn’t exactly rush into that invention.

And now comes my favorite bit of glasses trivia… in the 1800s lenses were tinted green, not in honor of Emperor Nero’s fashion sense, but because they believed it cured syphilis. Who knows, maybe that’s why Nero wore his emerald lenses.

Okay, back to what this has to do with books. Some of you lucky listeners may not need glasses to read, but 75% of adults need some sort of vision correction and 65% of those wear reading glasses. We know that kids with undiagnosed vision issues are resistant to reading, lag behind in school, and may never learn to enjoy books. I personally wouldn’t be able to read anything but the largest of large print books without my glasses. So, in my opinion, glasses are a vital part of literacy and enjoying books and in being a life long reader.

And let me wrap up with a little public service announcement. If you have old eyeglasses sitting around in a drawer you can clear out that drawer by donating your glasses to several charities including Unite for Sight, Eyes of Hope, the Lions Club, and many others. Usually your optometrist will have a drop off box as will eyeglasses shops.

Okay everyone, that is it for the show. If you want to stick around for my update, that would be great, if not, thanks for listening and I will hoot at you next time!

As far as podcast news goes, along with episode 3 which I told you about last time, I have now updated episode 2 and tried to fix an issue I had with the volume level. The trouble I have is that some of these sound issues don’t come through on my audio software and are only apparent after the file is uploaded onto the podcast sites. So, it’s kind of a nightmare to hunt down these problems. Anyway, it’s still not perfect, but until I get motivated to completely re-record these first episodes, it’ll have to do.

In my writing world, I have finished the edits on both my short story I wrote in June and on the first book of my Cassie Black trilogy. I’ll be reading over the book this week for what I hope is the last time. I also have a bunch specials going on this month, including some half price deals on my box sets, so if you want to try out my work and save some money, I’ll have a link in the show notes that will direct you to a post where I’ve listed all my deals for the month.

Alright, that really is it. Thanks so much for listening and be sure to get your eyes checked!!

The book owl podcast is a production of daisy dog media, copyright 2020, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod.

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