50th anniversary of the moon landing

Fifty years ago, the relationship of people to the moon changed forever in a way our ancestors could scarcely have imagined.  For millennia, people all over the world had watched the moon, worshipped it, immortalised it in poetry and song, attributed all kinds of influences to it, and acquired scientific understanding of it.  On 21 July 1969, hours after landing their spacecraft on 20 July, two human beings actually walked on it.

This moment has become iconic, and it’s not hard to imagine the impact it must have had at the time.  Twenty per cent of the world’s population watched the ghostly glowing images of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong taking those “giant steps for mankind” (and this at a time when there was far less electronic imagery in people’s lives than there is now).  It was the subject of the BBC’s first ever all-night broadcast, and even fifty years later still boasts the fifth largest TV audience of all time.

Knowing that the mission of Apollo 11 was successful, it is hard to remember that at the time this success was far from taken for granted; President Nixon’s speech writer prepared a just-in-case address to be read if the two astronauts failed to get back safely to their craft and had to be abandoned to a lunar death.  In the event, the joy of the interplanetary phone call in which Nixon congratulated them as they stood on the moon was sustained by their safe return.

The cumbersome movements of the heavily-suited men on the moon’s surface was the culmination of the 15-year-old Space Race, one of the key battles of the Cold War – after the Soviet Union’s Yuri Gagarin became the first man to enter outer space in 1961, the USA was determined not to lose out on another extra-terrestrial “first”.

As always, our special Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library doesn’t disappoint, and has yielded a host of astronauts, cosmonauts, astronomers, space engineers and astrophysicists for this month’s display.  We can read Buzz Aldrin’s own descriptions of his moon walk in his evocatively titled “Magnificent Desolation”, in which he also writes movingly of the painful struggles of his life on earth.  We have some books produced (in English) in the Soviet Union – a 1962 edition of the memoirs of “Hero of the Soviet Union – Soviet Cosmonaut no. 1” Yuri Gagarin, and another from 1979 with the story of the Soviet side of the Space Race described in dramatic prose.

We have some fascinating biographies of some of the men and women whose scientific work helped pave the way for the moon landing  –  like Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, sometimes called “the greatest woman astronomer of all time”, and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1983, who was still a teenager when his formulation of the “Chandrasekhar Limit” led to the discovery of neutron stars and black holes.

Placing the moon landing within its context in the history of science, we have some wonderful books on the great minds who moved forward understanding of the universe in previous centuries – find Newton, Einstein, Corpenicus, Kepler, Galileo and Hawking in biographies that illuminate all their faces and phases.

Space exploration will continue to develop – and, despite having been walked on by mere mortals, the moon retains its mysterious beauty, and continues to inspire love songs.  That hazily-filmed moment in 1969 still haunts all those who witnessed it live, and still resonates with the sense of how tiny we are, and how great we can be.

Claudia, Kensington Central Library

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Victorian diaries in our Biography Collection

Our special Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library is home to many different kinds of biographical book, and that includes a large number of diaries.  These provide a very special kind of insight into a people’s lives.

Some diaries have become vital parts of the world’s heritage and have been read by millions, like those of Anne Frank and Samuel Pepys.  Some are the private jottings of ordinary people, whose experience of key moments in history have made them invaluable witnesses.  Others, kept by the famous, may have been written with at least one eye on posterity, or may have been intended to be private, and now afford a glimpse behind the public mask.

Diaries can mix records of hugely significant events and musings on enormous philosophical questions with the minutiae of everyday life – so the Pre-Rapahelite artists documented by William Michael Rossetti debate the meaning of art one minute and complain about faulty stovepipes, sore throats and toothache the next (many diaries reveal the chronic discomfort of life in earlier periods), and George Bernard Shaw meticulously records the prices of the train tickets, newspapers and ginger beer he purchased on the way to lecture engagements at which he speculated about the future of humanity.

This year’s Cityread London showcased the fictional London diary of a young Muslim woman in Sofia Khan is not Obliged by Ayisha Malik.  We wanted to plan an event to link our Biography Collection to this, and were also mindful of the fact that it was the bicentenary of Queen Victoria’s birth, down the road at Kensington Palace, on 24 May.  The idea of having a look at some of the diaries in our collection that were kept by diverse London residents and visitors during Victoria’s reign gave me a great opportunity to dip into some wonderful examples of one of my favourite kinds of biography, eventually selecting thirteen different voices to try to give some snapshots of London life between 1837 and 1901.

Given that most diaries in this period – and certainly most of those published – were kept by the well-to-do, it was a challenge to find the voices of those in more humble circumstances, but the diary of Hannah Cullwick gives a unique insight into the life of a domestic servant, and the struggles of the destitute were shockingly recorded by minister’s daughter Helen G. McKenny as she made philanthropic visits in the Old Street area.

I was fascinated to read about Keshub Chandra Sen’s visit to London to promote links between British and Indian social reformers, and to discover that Leo Tolstoy’s visit to a school in Chelsea as part of research into setting up schools for the peasant children on his Russian estate, left a legacy of 24 individual school boys’ accounts of a single day in 1861, on which they studied, played, fought, had boating accidents and acted as fences for stolen goods, amongst other things.

Local Kensington detail gave Marion Sambourne’s diaries an especial charm, and the fact that Malik’s Cityread book continues the genre of the humorous fictional diary which has given us Adrian Mole and Bridget Jones, allowed me to look at a Victorian fictional diary – Happy Thoughts by F. C. Burnand – which graced the pages of Punch 20 years before its more famous successor The Diary of a Nobody, (which Burnand edited), and which is still laugh-out-loud funny over 140 years later.  Of course, Queen Victoria herself was a prolific diarist, and extracts from her own writings revealed a remarkable juxtaposition of the stately and the intimately domestic.

The bulk of our Biography Collection dates from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (although of course it comes right up to date with some very recent publications, and our oldest book dates from the early seventeenth century), so this was also a good opportunity to look at some of the physical aspects of our Victorian books.  The late Victorians loved the glamorous glitz of gilding on their bindings, and many biographies of this period sport beautifully detailed medallion portraits of their subjects.

It’s always very evocative to look at the handwritten inscriptions, personal bookplates, school prize labels and typically ornate library stamps of this period – in the spine of one book I found part of a Victorian newspaper advert, and the wonders of the Internet allowed me to reconstruct the full text.

This unique collection contains a treasure trove of insights and knowledge, not only in the content of the books, but also in their physical fabric, which gives a fascinating sense of the Victorians who wrote, published, bound, decorated, inscribed, catalogued and kept them, preserving them in private and public libraries until they found their way to our collection, where we can enjoy them today.

Claudia, Kensington Central Library

May’s displays from the Biography Collection

Throughout the month of May we will have two displays of books from our special  Biography Collection.

To mark the bicentenary of Queen Victoria’s birth, just up the road at Kensington Palace, on May 24th 1819, we have a range of the many biographies of her in our collection. We have coffee table books beautifully illustrated with portraits, and detailed analyses of her relationship to the huge changes that took place during her reign – politically, socially, industrially and culturally.

Every aspect of her unique life has been documented by a biographer at one time or another, making use of the incredible resource of her copious diaries, so you can read about her role as a mother, her celebrated love affair with her husband Prince Albert, her childhood, her sense of humour, her leisure pursuits, her health, and her relationships with the politicians and statesmen of her day, as well as with her royal relations all over Europe.

Her six and a half decades on the throne spanned the transition from one world to another, and her qualities as an intelligent and curious woman make her a fascinating observer of her own life and times.

Our second display is on “Londoners’ Diaries”, and is linked to Cityread London, whose choice this year is Sofia Khan is not Obliged by Ayisha Malik, the funny and touching fictional diary of a young woman negotiating the Muslim dating scene in present day London.

There is something uniquely intimate and vivid about reading the private thoughts a diarist put on paper perhaps centuries ago, and we invite you to share the excitement of travelling back to the London of earlier eras through their observations. We’ve included some of the greatest diaries ever written, like those of Samuel Pepys and Virginia Woolf, as well as the diaries of less famous Londoners like the nineteenth century schoolboy John Pocock, and contemporary diaries whose writers celebrate different aspects of life in the capital – dog walking with Edward Stourton, ambling and observing with Tim Bradford.

We can learn how Londoners experienced huge historical moments through the immediacy of daily records, like Joan Wyndham hilariously juggling her love life during the Blitz, or Kate Parry Frye, a young Kensington woman pursuing her cause as a tenacious and passionate suffragrist. Come and meet your fellow Londoners of ages past – you never know, it might even inspire you to start keeping a diary of your own!

Claudia, Kensington Central Library

 

A world of writers from the Biography Collection

As we look forward to celebrating World Book Night on Tuesday 23 April, this month’s Biography Collection display at Kensington Central Library brings together biographies of great twentieth century writers in languages other than English. There are a couple of exceptions, such as Han Suyin who wrote in English but whose autobiographical works are considered some of the greatest records of modern Chinese history and Wole Soyinka whose Anglophone work is pivotal to African literature.

Including many winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, this is a parade of some of world literature’s greatest voices, some of whom waited many years to be translated into English. Some are household names, some less well known outside their own continents; all open worlds of artistic beauty and cultural insight, and their biographies allow us to follow the experiences of how great writers develop in very different cultures and environments.

In a departure from our usual displays, which include only books from our Biography Collection, we have this month included some of the fiction by these writers alongside their biographies and memoirs, in the hope readers will discover some less familiar gems.  From Chile’s Isabel Allende to Austria’s Stefan Zweig, including Finland’s Tove Jansson (better known as an artist, her exquisite short stories were not available in English until decades after she wrote them); India’s Rabindranath Tagore, Egypt’s Naguib Mahfouz, Japan’s Junichuro Tanizaki, Isaac Bashevis Singer who brought his native Yiddish from Poland to the US and became the custodian of a vanished culture and many, many more, discover a world of writers on our shelves.

Happy World Book night from us to you all, happy reading!

Claudia, Kensington Central Library

Brompton Graphic Novel Reading Group- The Bad doctor

Hello and welcome to the Brompton Library Graphic Novel Reading Group.

For the next session, Monday 8 April, 6:30pm, we will be discussing Doctor Ian Williams’ illustrated anecdotes of The Bad Doctor.

Cartoonist and Dr Ian Williams takes his stethoscope to Dr Iwan James, a rural GP in need of more than a little care himself. Incontinent old ladies, men with eagle tattoos, traumatised widowers, Iwan’s patients cause him both empathy and dismay, further complicated by his feelings for his practise partners: unrequited longing for Dr Lois Pritchard and frustration at the antics of Dr Robert Smith, who will use any means to make Iwan look bad in his presence. Iwan’s cycling trips with his friend and mentor, Arthur, provide some welcome relief for him.

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“The territory of doctor as patient has been visited before, but Dr. Williams’s iteration and its resolution are as subtle and thought provoking as the best of them, with the always worthwhile message that the roles into which humans sort themselves are as mutable as the rituals they accept and reject, and the calls for help they choose to hear or not.” -The New York Times

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“Replete with sometimes delicate, sometimes explicit observations about the foibles of human nature and the bureaucracy of healthcare, The Bad Doctor combines wickedly black humour with subtle characterisation that never fails to engage the audience’s empathy.” -Broken Frontier          

If you have any other suggestions for the reading list, then please let me know and we’ll try our best to accommodate. So far we have the following for consideration:

  • Casandra Darke
  • Cry Havoc
  • Full Metal Alchemist
  • Barakamon
  • Hellblaizer
  • V for Vendetta
  • Jaco the Galactic Patrolman
  • The Legend of Wonder Woman
  • The Flintstones Vol. 2: Bedrock Bedlam
  • Uncanny X-Force Vol. 1: Apocalypse Solution
  • My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1
  • The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

The reading group takes place on the second Monday evening of every month. There may be a pub quiz afterwards if you want to join in!

See you there! Bring snacks.

David Bushell
Library Customer Services Officer
Brompton Library

Inspirational female authors – International Women’s Day 2019

Happy International Women’s Day!

Today, 8 March, is a date to celebrate the social, economic, political and cultural achievements of women. It all began over a century ago and today it is observed all over the world. It is also a day to reflect on improving gender equality and for 2019 the theme is #BalanceforBetter.

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At Brompton library, we have been celebrating the literary achievement of women with a series of book reviews. Since International Women’s Day in 2018, I have been doing regular reviews of books by inspirational female authors. In total I have read eleven books by eleven amazing female writers. It is hard to pick a favourite because the books are all so different and written in different styles.

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I loved some of the books because of their subject matter or the worlds they created. There are the feminist dystopias of The Power, The Water Cure and Red Clocks which comment on gender equality in our own society. There is Helen Dunmore’s novel that explores how a female writer from the eighteenth century could be completely forgotten by history. Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood’s novels reimagine classic myths and fairy tales from a feminist perspective.

I found some of the books inspirational because of their authors. Such as Zadie Smith, who was published at a young age and has gone on to win many literary awards or Toni Morrison, who was the first African-American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. Then there is Malala Yousafzai, who almost lost her life standing up for women’s rights.

Because the books are from different eras, it made me reflect on the journey of women’s rights. Roxane Gay’s essays are a funny and insightful look into the struggles of being a modern feminist, whereas Emily Bronte, who had to publish Wuthering Heights under a male pseudonym, is a reminder of how far we’ve come.

I hope you have been as inspired as me by these great reads! And I’m sure you can think of many more inspirational female authors to add to this list.

 

 

Brompton Library Graphic Novel Reading Group

Hello and welcome to the Brompton Library Graphic Novel Reading Group mailing list!

For the next session, MONDAY 11 March, 6:30pm, we will be discussing Marjorie Liu’s contemporary fantasy adventure fable Monstress.

Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, Monstress tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both.

Monstress GN

“Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda take eastern and western comics storytelling traditions and styles, and create something wholly their own and remarkable: a beautifully told story of magic and fear, inhumanity and exploitation, of what it means to be human and the monsters we all carry inside us. Also, some of the best cats in comics. A delight.” – Neil Gaiman

“If you want big, beautiful, terrifying, violent magic, Monstress is your next favourite comic.” – Cosmopolitan

If you have any other suggestions for the reading list, then please let me know and we’ll try our best to accommodate. So far we have the following for consideration:

  • Casandra Drake
  • Cry Havoc
  • Full Metal Alchemist
  • Barakamon
  • Hellblaizer
  • V for Vendetta
  • Jaco the Galactic Patrolman
  • The Legend of Wonder Woman
  • The Flintstones Vol. 2: Bedrock Bedlam
  • Uncanny X-Force Vol. 1: Apocalypse Solution
  • My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1
  • Bad Doctor by Ian Williams
  • Out of Nothing by Dan Locke
  • The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

The reading group takes place on the second Monday evening of every month. There may be a pub quiz afterwards if you want to join in!

See you there! Bring snacks.

David Bushell
Library Customer Services Officer, Brompton Library

Author Caroline Lawrence at Brompton Library

On Wednesday 13 February, the first sunny day of the month, Brompton Library was host to an exciting event. Caroline Lawrence, author of successful series The Roman Mysteries, gave a brilliant two-hour workshop to 9 – 11 year-old pupils of local Earls Court School, St Barnabas and St Philip’s. The pupils were accompanied by Assistant Head Teacher, Nicola Challice.

The children learnt about what it is to be a writer and how to structure a story. This included ‘ninja description’, the ‘seven beats’ of plot and the ‘number shape system’.

The workshop culminated in working through the first chapters of Caroline’s forthcoming book, The Time-Travel Diaries, which will be published on 5 April. The children competed to see who could write the best blog about their experience. We think they all did brilliantly!

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Thank you so much to Caroline for such an interesting workshop. The Time-Travel Diaries is published on 5 April 2019. And thank you to St Barnabas and St Philip’s as well, the children were a credit to their school, remaining excited and involved throughout.

If you’re a local school and would like to take part in a similar event – please contact us at libraries@rbkc.gov.uk

Penny, Brompton Library

Loves of the Famous

In honour of Valentine’s Day, this month’s Biography Store display at Kensington Central Library is on the theme of Loves of the Famous.

Many couples have walked on the world stage as separate individuals in their own right – but what of the more intimate stories of the relationships between them?

How have the relationships between Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip, between Bill and Hilary Clinton or between Gilbert and George helped inform the work they do?

What was the experience of the partners inhabiting the shadows behind their more famous significant others – sometimes, as in the case of Alice B. Toklas, made the subject of the other’s art?

Then there are the private passions which became part of the mythology and iconography of some of the biggest Hollywood stars – Burton and Taylor, Bogart and Bacall, Hepburn and Tracy.

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Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor

Amongst the biographies of the famous which focus on all aspects of their private and public lives are those which concentrate on marriages, affairs and liaisons, sometimes official, sometimes clandestine, and show that the same passions and problems recur in all human love stories.

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Jackie and John F Kennedy

Some of the most intimate records of relationships are love letters by the famous – though sometimes famous for very different things than their romantic passions (who knew Ramsay Macdonald, the first Labour Prime Minister, was such a one for sweet nothings?

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Or that Albert Einstein called his first love “my little everything” and worried constantly that he might have upset her?)

Einstein

Henry the VIII could be pretty risqué and was not backwards in coming forwards in his letters to Anne Boleyn.

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Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII

Some of the love letters included are intensely private, and the writers would never have imagined they would be read by anyone other than the addressee.  Some have become famous as works of literature and historical testaments in their own right, like Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis”, his letter written to his former lover Lord Alfred Douglas from Reading Gaol, which shows that the intimate minutiae of feelings come before the retrospective resonance of socially significant moments.

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Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas

Some – like the correspondence between Abelard and Heloise in the 12th century – are classics of world literature, and prove that whatever the forms of expression used, human emotions are still very recognisable across the centuries.

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Wallis Simpson and Duke of Windsor (King Edward VIII)

One of my favourites is one of those many books in the Biography Store Collection which give an intriguing insight into previous times – it’s Royal Love Letters, a collection from 1911.  The publisher is none other than Mills and Boon, and it seems not only the content of their books but their presentation has definitely been spiced up in the last 108 years.  This is a decorous volume – although maybe the deep purple binding hints at the passionate content – and the illustrations are of various royal personages looking very correct, not a steamy clinch in sight.  A list of other available titles doesn’t quite set the pulse racing, and apparently Mills and Boon didn’t only produce romantic titles in the Edwardian era: “Rambles in the Black Forest” and “Nerves and the Nervous” were amongst its non-fiction offerings.

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Barack and Michelle Obama

We hope you enjoy our Valentine’s selection of the romances of some of our most celebrated figures.

Brompton Library Graphic Novel Reading Group

For the next session, MONDAY 11 February, 6:30pm, we will be discussing Craig Thompson’s romantic and philosophical epic BLANKETS.

Wrapped in the snowfall of a blustery Midwestern winter, Blankets is the tale of two brothers growing up in rural isolation, and of the budding romance between two young lovers. A tale of security and discovery, of playfulness and tragedy, of a fall from grace and the origins of faith, Blankets is a profound and utterly beautiful work.

blankets

‘Moving, tender, beautifully drawn, painfully honest and probably the most important graphic novel since Jimmy Corrigan.’  – Neil Gaiman

‘One of the greatest love stories ever written and surely the best ever drawn.’ – Joss Whedon 

If you have any other suggestions for the reading list, then please let me know and we’ll try our best to accommodate. So far we have the following for consideration:

  • Casandra Drake
  • Cry Havoc
  • Full Metal Alchemist
  • Sleepwalk
  • Barakamon
  • Hellblazer
  • V for Vendetta
  • Jaco the Galactic Patrolman
  • The Legend of Wonder Woman
  • The Flintstones Vol. 2: Bedrock Bedlam
  • Uncanny X-Force Vol. 1: Apocalypse Solution
  • My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1
  • Bad Doctor by Ian Williams
  • Out of Nothing by Dan Locke
  • The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
  • Monstress

The reading group takes place on the second Monday evening of every month. There may be a pub quiz afterwards if you want to join in!

See you there! Bring snacks.
David