Books on Tap’s first virtual meeting of 2021 featured In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides. A non-fiction examination of the 1879-1881 voyage of the USS Jeannette to discover the northwest passage was a suitable match for our own mostly home-bound winter of 2021. The New York Herald editor, James Gordon Bennett, was looking to finance another sensational expedition after his paper sponsored the “rescue” of Dr. Livingstone (and selling many papers in the process). He tapped experienced polar captain George Washington DeLong to lead a team of 32 men in search of a warm current that would lead them to a green island at the top of the world. Pretty quickly the men were trapped in ice for two years, at which point the hull breached and the ship quickly sank. The men then faced a thousand mile trek to Siberia with few supplies and fewer hopes of rescue.
Sides packs lots of his research into this adventure tale, and much like the men of the Jeannette, we readers all bogged down at various points. It’s hard to make a marooned ship interesting, but then again we all made it though to the end compelled to find out what happened to our favorite characters, like Captain DeLong, engineer George Melville (yes, a relative of that other whale obsessed Melville) and James Ambler the ship’s doctor.
DeLong comes through as the hero of the story, preparing the ship and choosing men whom he could rely on and who in turn trusted him. An optimistic man by nature, he met each setback with determination and grit. He was matched in his optimism by his wife Emma, whose letters Sides used as a primary source. Much like Elizabeth Hamilton, wife of Alexander, Emma kept her husband’s legacy alive.
We discussed the bravery of the men, especially the rescuers who kept up their mission despite great risk to themselves. We also compared polar exploration to space exploration, both cold, inhospitable unknowns of vast differences.
Sides was smart to pick an obscure voyage since none of our readers knew how it would end. Despite long stretches where the men go nowhere, we kept reading to see who survived and how their logs and diaries were preserved. We talked about the luck and chance that both benefited the crew at points and doomed some of them at others. In all, we agreed it was a journey best experienced at home with a warm drink.
Books on Tap will meet again on February 4 via Zoom. For the link, please contact Krista Farrell (kfarrell at jmrl dot org). We’ll be reading Switched On by John Elder Robison, which the library owns in multiple formats.
Welcome to 2021! You may be juggling half a dozen New Year’s Resolutions already, but may I add one more to your list? Start learning a new language. Here’s why.
Why Learn a Language
There are so many reasons to pursue language learning. If you’re looking to sharpen intellectual skills, learning a language will help you improve your memory, as well as problem solving and critical thinking skills. If you’re seeking a new career or promotion, learning a second language is a highly desired skill. It will also get you ready for video conferencing calls with clients and colleagues who speak other languages. Learning another language now will prepare you for future travels, whether they be for business or for pleasure. Closer to home, it may surprise you, but the more you practice another language, the more words you will learn in your native tongue.
Learning a new language will also take you beyond book smarts; studies show that learning a new language boosts your ability to empathize with others. This is because being exposed to other languages can enhance your ability to parse out another person’s intentions, take another person’s perspective, and patiently work through ambiguity. In addition, every language has abstract concepts and notions that are very difficult to translate into another language. This is because those hard-to-translate words or phrases hold deep cultural meaning. Learning those words and phrases gives us a peek into another culture — those peeks add up and help contribute to greater empathy.
How to Get Started
JMRL offers two language learning programs: Rocket Languages and Transparent Language. Each platform operates in a different style and has its own strengths. Check out this short video to help you choose which program to try first.
In doing my deep-dive I learned a LOT about these two databases, and there are some nifty tips, tricks, and important caveats I wasn’t able to go over in this brief overview video. For example, what about each database’s ability to review the work you’ve completed? Which database has a better mobile experience? Which database is right for me if I want to learn English? What about KidSpeak, offered by Transparent Language? What about setting goals, earning points, leaderboards, forums, and the like? If you’d like any of those questions answered, or would like to learn more about a different aspect of either these databases, sign up for our upcoming zoom program. During the program, I’ll answer any questions you have, and offer more information that is tailored to your needs.
The Brown Baggers met virtually on December 17 for their annual holiday potluck, and to pitch and discuss titles for the upcoming June 2021-June 2022 season. Votes will be collected digitally through January 10, 2021. All previous title selections, as well as our next batch of books, once picked, can be seen here. Festivities were slightly hampered by the inability to share food and chat in person, but there was plenty of excitement in looking ahead. Enthusiasm is high for December 2021 (which will hopefully be held in person).
The Brown Baggers will meet again virtually on January 21 to discuss The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger, and will be joined by the author himself, a Charlottesville local. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details on how to participate via computer or phone.