In case you missed it: the Mercantile Library

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The Winter issue of the Ohioana Quarterly focused on our good friend, the Mercantile Library in Cincinnati.

This library is one of the gems in the crown of the Queen City. It was established in 1835, according to the feature story written by Ohioana board member Bryan Loar. Its founders were merchants and clerks, hence the name. These young men of the city, who could expect a prosperous future for themselves as well as Cincinnati, placed a premium on learning and so created a place and an opportunity.

Can you imagine what a haven the library must have been from the rush and press of business in 1835? Cincinnati was hardly a backwater since it was a significant river port on the Ohio, with trade and a thriving meat-packing industry sending out salted pork all over the country. And can you imagine the despair over not one but TWO fires it endured, the first in 1845 and the second in 1869? Fortunately, most of the volumes were saved in both instances. And in 1904, the Mercantile Library found a home it has stayed in ever since.

The building is, of course, lovely. It has plenty of natural light, comfortable chairs, wood book shelves and cabinets, and works of art both venerable and modern. And it has kept up with the times. There are 80,000 books in the collection and membership has grown from the original 45 to the current 2,500. There are discussion groups, literary and other events, and even e-books.

As Bryan says in the article, “The Mercantile Library continues to support personal improvement and the exploration of contemporary ideas through an adaptive and open space, a notable collection, inspiring art, and extraordinary programs.”

Happy Spring!

It’s here! Spring is here! On Monday, did you run outside and beat on the ground with a stick to tell the earth to wake up? And some daffodils were blooming on Monday. Did you pick one and eat it?

No? *Whew!* Good move! They’re not edible! Although someone at Ohioana did indeed eat one and nothing bad happened. It was planted on top of a mound of vanilla ice cream and hot fudge sauce (a Blooming Sundae — get it?) and she ate the bits you are supposed to eat as well.

But you needn’t feel slighted — there are plenty of other flowers to add to salads, soups, or main dishes.

In Edible Flowers: A Global History by Constance L. Kirker and former Ohio University professor Mary Newman, you can easily learn what to eat and why (Mary will be at the Ohioana Book Festival on April 8, by the way).

This nifty little book provides a history a edible plants from all over the world. It also provides a unique history of the world since plants found useful or delightful in one country are imported to other countries for propagation and use.

The book also makes the reader re-think the concept of a “flower,” which most of us consider to be a beautiful, fragrant, but perhaps useless thing. After all, what is an artichoke but the flowering part of the plant. We eat them. And the preferred part of the broccoli in North America is the stuff at the top, although some people reject the buds for the stem.

Authors Kirker and Newman always advice caution, reminding the reader that even plants considered medicinal can be bad for you if over-used. Even too much of a good thing will make you sick.

So when you’re at the garden center later this spring, you’re ready to check out with your cart full of flats of marigolds and nasturtiums, and the clerk asks you if you need some help getting them out to your car, you can say, “No thanks. I’ll just eat them here!”

Good Luck and Bad Luck

March is a month when we remember fate and destiny. Or the lack of fate and destiny. Sometimes, things just happen.

March 15 is famous for being the Ides of March, or the middle of the month. It’s the day that Julius Caesar was assassinated by members of his senate. It’s memorable to the English-speaking world because of William Shakespeare’s play. So it’s because of a writer that we remember this particular assassination and feel the chill in our own bones as we look at the calendar.

Likewise, March is the month of St. Patrick’s Day. But before you go slinging about the phrase “the luck of the Irish” like it’s something to celebrate, realize the phrase is ironic. The Irish were considered an unlucky group of people because of the poverty they faced in the old country and the prejudice they faced in the new.

Luck also reminds us at Ohioana about two sons of our state: Eddie Rickenbacker (good luck) and George Armstrong Custer (the other kind).

In our collection, we have Rickenbacker’s own memoirs of his service during the Great War, Fighting the Flying Circus, which was published in 1919 by the Frederick A. Stokes Company. The book includes a handsome portrait of Colonel Rickenbacker in the front as well as a glossary of terms unfamiliar to the reading public at the time, including “joystick” and “zoom.” A biography in our collection is titled Rickenbacker’s Luck, and was written by Finis Farr and published by Houghton Mifflin in 1979. Rickenbacker was never injured in combat, and not seriously in a childhood attempt to fly a bicycle off of the roof of the family garage. So that’s good luck right there.

Neither luck nor heroism are associated with Custer. He’s regarded, rightly or wrongly, as a vainglorious fool with emphasis on the “vain” part. The 1970 film, Little Big Man probably has a lot to do with that perception. The general was portrayed as a complete creep (at best) by actor Richard Mulligan. The truth, as always, is somewhere else, a concept investigated by Nathaniel Philbrick in The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull and the Battle of Little Bighorn. In the end, the only place left for Custer to find another way forward is in the land of alternate history, like the novel Custer’s Luck by Robert Skimin and William E. Moody, published by Herodias in 2000. Yes, the victor of Little Bighorn was elected president in 1880.

Strange days indeed. Be careful out there today, March 15, OK?

 

Happy International Women’s Day!

Pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? Nothing worthwhile happens overnight and change takes time — and work. Lots and lots of work.

In politics, Ohio can make a proud claim: Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927) was the first woman to run for president of the United States. There’s some discussion about the legitimacy of her bid for office: Woodhull was under the age of 35 and of course women couldn’t vote so how could her bid for office be legitimate? Ooof. And some aspects of her personal life could be termed disorderly …  but when has that stopped members of the opposite sex from running for office?

Anyway.

Ohioana is sending love today to all of the women who write. Thank you today to Connie Schultz who writes about politics and who moderates a lively Facebook community. Thank you to Gloria Steinem, native of Toledo. Thank you Toni Morrison, for your amazing work. Toni Morrison won the Ohioana Book Award for Sula, and her mother, Mrs. George Wofford, accepted the award on Ms. Morrison’s behalf at the luncheon in 1975. Ms. Morrison also sent Ohioana a note in 1999, thanking us for honoring her:

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Ohio to be a gift to any writer’s imagination is high praise indeed. May we continue to serve as an inspiration.

 

The New Kid in Town

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It’s so exciting to have a new bookstore in town! Gramercy Books in Columbus suburb city Bexley opened its doors just about six weeks ago.

What? Aren’t independent bookstores dead? Didn’t they get buried in the rise of the big box stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders? Yes and no. Borders, of course, is gone. And you can buy books at the grocery or drug stores (nothing new there). What about online retailers like Amazon? And what about the rise of the e-book?

True story: independent bookstores began returning after the Great Recession of 2008, which seems to defy explanation and logic. Per the American Booksellers Association, 2009 was the year when independent bookstores experienced a resurgence in numbers and popularity.

Turns out people like stores that specialize in books. Don’t you make sure to visit bookstores when you travel? Of course you do.

Columbus is part of the trend, which is gloriously reassuring. We’ve got craft beer, vibrant arts scenes in different parts of the city, tech innovation – and an indy bookstore!

What makes the whole thing even more special is that store owner Linda Kass is also a novelist. Her book, Tasa’s Song, about music, survival, and World War II, has been the source of musical inspiration. If you visit her website to learn more about her book, you can hear original music composed by Charles Wetherbee of the Carpe Diem String Quartet.

Book stores inspire as well. There’s nothing like the experience of stepping into a well-stocked space and meeting a new book, sure to be your new best friend.

Congratulations to Linda Kass! We look forward to many visits and many purchases!