“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Illustration - Street Cars of DamascusDuring the summer months, many Brown Baggers travel for vacations near and far. Appropriate, then, that we gathered in our “little corner of the earth” to discuss Mark Twain’s travel classic, The Innocents Abroad. Because various group members were off jet-setting, we had a smaller group but a great discussion as always.

Opinions were split on our latest title. While a few readers loved the gentle pace and subtle humor, others found the style meandering and repetitive. We did note that originally, Twain had published Innocents in installments, so the serial nature necessitated including some expository details. All ranges of opinion — including the indifferent — agreed that it was not a book to be read for its thrilling plot. Those who enjoyed it most savored it slowly, as if they were traveling with Twain and his shipmates in real time.

Along with the pace of the book, we also discussed how different and how much slower travel was at the time of writing. This particular voyage took many months — a far cry from an transatlantic overnight flight today. The cutting descriptions of Americans abroad seemed to still ring true, though! While Twain’s depiction of his countrymen was tongue-in-cheek, some of us were amused to note the endurance of certain stereotypes. A little less clear was the level of sarcasm regarding his commentary on other cultures, often decidedly non-PC.

The Brown Baggers also discussed the title of the work. While we figured the “Innocents” were a Biblical allusion appropriate for a Holy Land journey, we also noted that this also highlighted the relatively naive worldview of the travelling Americans. Unfortunately, most of the editions that we read lacked the original illustrations, but the readers who did have them enjoyed them immensely and felt they contributed to the story.

Check out the University of Virginia’s wide range of Innocents Abroad resources, including the sales prospectus, selected illustrations, contemporary reviews and more.

The UVA site also has more information on other works by Mark Twain.

More fun resourcse are can be found on the official website of the Mark Twain House & Museum.

Join the Brown Baggers on Thursday, August 25 at noon to discuss Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.

Check out Tumblebooks With Your Kids for Stories, Puzzles and More

Written by Erica Younglove, Reference Librarian at Central Library


Tumblebooks is a database of electronic audio and animated books for kids. It also has puzzles, games, videos, and books in other languages (including French, Spanish, Chinese, and Russian). And, it’s a lot of fun!

Anyone with a JMRL library card can access Tumblebooks for free. Because the content is for youth, the link can be found on the JMRL databases page under “Kids & Teens.” The first page you arrive at after clicking the link gives you a menu of options to choose from. These options will also be at the top of every page for easy navigation.

The choices of “Story books” and “Chapter books” will take you to a list of books for each category. You will have the ability to sort the lists. Choosing “Language Learning” or “Non Fiction Books” will show you lists of those specific items. Information like reading level (Lexile, Grade, A/R) and book reviews are included.

When reading books you will have the choice of manual or auto page turning and the options to pause or mute the story. Some books restart when they reach the end. Some have images and associated video or animation (mostly the story books). Some have page navigation that allows you to jump around. Skipping ahead will sometimes make you miss animation, which may include important text. If books are available in more than one language, switching the language will be an option.


The “Videos” option takes you to a collection of educational videos from sources such as National Geographic. These videos are sometimes related to books and link to the books they are related to if that is the case.

The “Featured” button links to a selection of recommended books. They are separated by category. There are categories for books recommended by librarians, teachers, staff, and students.

Choosing “Puzzles & Games” takes you to a page with a selection of activities. These activities include: puzzles, word catch, memory game, match the sentence, spelling, and other games like crossword and word search. Most of the activities include fun and sometimes even helpful sound effects.

“Playlists” takes you to a page of featured playlists created by the site, including nonfiction and other language materials.

You can change the language of the page to Spanish or French. There is a search bar in the upper left corner of the page if you’d prefer to use that to navigate. Your search options are: keyword, titles, languages, author, publisher, illustrator, reading level, books with videos.

Click here to go to the JMRL databases page.

For Your Next Cookout

The Big Flavor Grill book cover.Summer is about halfway through. Have you dusted off your grill yet?

If you’re looking for some recipes or inspiration for your next cookout, try one of these books from JMRL:

The Big Flavor Grill by Chris Schlesinger – Move your grilling into the twenty-first century! Don’t waste your time marinating. Instead, spend your time building big, bold, vibrant flavors with almost no effort. Grilling masters Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby have replaced time-consuming brines, marinades, and basting sauces with quick and powerful pre-rubs and intense post-grilling flavor boosters to slap on your favorite meat, poultry, fish, seafood, and vegetables hot off the grill. Continue reading