Wolf Hall Thursday, Jan 22 2015 

The BBC’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies looks great. The first episode aired last night to a huge audience. Here’s a taste:


According to the New Statesman it’s as good an adaptation as the Royal Shakespeare Company’s productions in 2014.

Photo credit: Hollywood Reporter

Photo credit: Hollywood Reporter.

Athenaeum members loved Mantel’s novels, we had multiple copies of both books. The Man Booker Prize blog has a thoughtful post on the translation of the books to television. And the internet is a-buzz with “storified” live tweets from last night’s episode and a very busy #WolfHall hashtag. U.S. audiences can see this on PBS Masterpiece beginning on April 5th.

A Celebration Of All Things Bookish Friday, Jan 9 2015 

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“The London library was Roland’s favourite place. It was shabby but civilised, alive with history but inhabited also by living poets and thinkers who could be found squatting on the slotted metal floors of the stacks, or arguing pleasantly at the turning of the stair.” A.S. Byatt

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To mark the publication of Haruki Murakami’s new novel, The Strange Library, this month’s Staff Picks celebrates libraries and all things bookish. The titles span a range of different genres including, fiction, mystery, non-fiction and biography. Featured are strange and fantastical libraries, Victorian libraries, a cemetery of forgotten books, a unique Parisian bookstore and much more besides.






The Strange Library – Haruki Murakami

Library of Babel – Jorge Luis Borges

People of the Book – Geraldine Brooks

Possession – A.S. Byatt

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History – Lewis Buzbee

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler – Italo Calvino

The Novel Bookstore – Laurence Cosse

Matilda – Roald Dahl

The Artist’s Library – Laura Damon-Moore and Erinn Batyhefer

The Name of the Rose -Umberto Eco

The Book Shop – Penelope Fitzgerald

The Republic of Imagination – Azar Nafisi

Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafisi

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer

Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan

The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

Biblio Craft – Jessica Pigza


Thanks to guest blogger Kirsty Dain, Circulation Extraordinaire


Where the Wild Things Are: Foraging for Fungi Monday, Dec 15 2014 

Mushrooms and Toadstools: How to Distinguish Easily the Differences between Edible and Poisonous Fungi, by Worthington G. Smith (London: 1879)

Mushrooms and Toadstools: How to Distinguish Easily the Differences between Edible and Poisonous Fungi, by Worthington G. Smith (London: 1879)

After years spent foraging in New England forests and a week of exploring the shelves and researching fungi in the collections at the library, Susan Heuck Allen, former Athenaeum board member and Visiting Scholar in the Department of Classics at Brown University, gave a talk before the Review Club enigmatically entitled, Where the Wild Things Are. Allen described her actual subject as Foraging for Fungi, a “personal romp through the history of the human experience with fungi.” Finding colorful plates and quotes from the Natural History Collection at the Athenaeum to elucidate the history of mycology, the study of mushrooms, Allen raved about Worthington Smith’s gorgeous 3 x 2’ fold-outs (above) as “pin ups” from the golden age of illustration.


Our Edible Toadstools and Mushrooms and How to Distinguish Them, by William H. Gibson (New York, 1895).

Our Edible Toadstools and Mushrooms and How to Distinguish Them, by William H. Gibson (New York, 1895).

Allen also shared the peculiar humor of mycophile William H. Gibson, Our Edible Toadstools and Mushrooms and How to Distinguish Them, by (New York, 1895). Gibson, a gifted artist and enthusiastic naturalist promoted edible mushrooms as a good food source, and along with the beautiful chromolithographic plates in his book, included recipes for preparing them. Of the Chanterelle, Gibson writes “peppery and pungent in the raw state; mild and sweet after cooking.”

In addition to her talk which focused on her experiences foraging, cooking and eating wild mushrooms, Allen exhibited various species which she had dried. To top off her multisensory extravaganza, Allen sautéed black trumpets, whose gamey fragrance permeated the Bound, and then served them with brie to share her passion for foraging and eating edible mushrooms with the delighted audience.

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While conducting her Athenaeum research, Allen noticed that many of the books were donated by the same member, Abby F. Taft. Following a professional interest in Excavating Women (her future book), Allen found that the spinster’s father had been, among other things, governor of RI and president of the Athenaeum. Allen ended her talk sitting in Governor Taft’s chair that was donated by his mycophilic daughter in 1933.



To make your own discoveries in the Special Collections consult the online catalog, peruse the card catalog at the library, or contact Kate Wodehouse, Collections Librarian, for additional information.

Here is the full text of the Bibliography on the Natural History Collection at the Athenaeum.

MINE!: Rhode Island Collectors at the ATH Thursday, Dec 11 2014 

The theme of the Rhode Island Center for the Book, Art of the Book Program, is ownership. Book ownership marks, by libraries and individual owners, tell a story about the provenance of each book. Marks of ownership may include inscriptions, bookplates, stamps, special bindings, or binding stamps and they can be used to determine the collections, libraries, and booksellers through which the book has passed. This exhibit will showcase books from Rhode Island collectors at the Athenaeum and illustrate the institutional stamps that have been used since the founding of the Providence Library Company in 1753. Curated by Collections Librarian, Kate Wodehouse, the exhibit will be available until January 11th 2015.

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There is a wonderful post at Melville House on the history of bookplates and especially note the examples from the Library of Congress.


Aunt Ted Monday, Dec 8 2014 

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Aunt Ted, born Mary Spink in 1877, was beloved to her nieces and nephews, and a great friend to the Athenaeum. She was a graduate of Wellesley College and a Latin scholar at Brown University. Upon the death of her father, she chose to leave her studies to work and care for her mother. Her journey to and from work led her past the Athenaeum daily and she often stopped in to check out books not only for herself but her nieces and nephews as well. She was devoted to them and to introducing them to the best children’s literature.

For years, Aunt Ted hosted a family Christmas Eve celebration in her home where she would, with two day’s rehearsal, direct the children in plays based on stories she found in the children’s collection of the Athenaeum. Naturally, the children of this family could expect books, books and more books as gifts from their dear aunt.

It is easy to see why, when she passed away in 1968, her grateful nieces and nephews dedicated a corner of the Children’s Library to honor the memory of such a special and loving woman. Today, Aunt Ted’s corner is used to house our series books as well as to showcase books of special interest. One of the missions of the Athenaeum’s Sayles Gorham Children’s Library is to preserve the spirit of her generosity and her love of children’s books and to share that spirit with all children who visit here.

Thanks to guest blogger, Lindsay Shaw, Children’s Librarian

Burroughs 100 Exhibit: A Visual Homage to “El Hombre Invisible” Tuesday, Nov 18 2014 

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 A primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author, William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) is considered “one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th century,” according to the 2003 Penguin Modern Classics edition of Junky. Burroughs wrote 18 novels and novellas, six collections of short stories and four collections of essays; his influence can be felt  not only in literature but in popular culture as well.


The exhibit is curated by Athenaeum member, John Chiafalo, with many items from his personal collection, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Burroughs birth in 1914.  Chiafalo donated two 1st American editions of Naked Lunch  after learning during Banned Books Week that this title was located in the Scruples closet at the Athenaeum until 1974. The exhibit will be in the Main Floor Exhibit Case until the end of the year.


The official website for Burroughs 100 is rich with features and events from around the world or if you’re interested Reality Studio hosts a William S. Burroughs community.


Clavis Campanalogia, or, A Key to the Art of Ringing (1788) Thursday, Nov 6 2014 

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A RISD graduate student recently requested Clavis Campanalogia, an 18th century treatise on the fine art of bell ringing, or more specifically “change ringing.” Originally invented by drunken youths, change ringing was to become a social craze in 17th century England.  The hand-colored engraving is tipped into the Athenaeum’s copy of Clavis Campanalogia and depicts 6 bell ringers engaged in the popular recreation.  The caption under the print reads, “The Blue Bells of Ireland goes well boys well, And the Clapper Strike on e’ry side ding dong Bell.”


Clavis Campanalogia, or, A Key to the Art of Ringing, by William Jones, John Reeves & Thomas Blakemore. London: Printed by William Browne & John Warren, 1788.

Campanology is the study of bells including the art of bell ringing, and typically refers to large bells hung in church towers.  Clavis Campanalogia depicts the technique of a specific form of bell ringing that is known as “change ringing.”  Change ringing is defined as the art of ringing a set of tuned church bells in a series of mathematical orders called “changes,” and each bell requires a single person to operated it, as depicted in the image above.  The sound produced by ringing multiple bells in rounds, one bell and one strike at a time utilizing strict orders of sequencing, produces an unconventional melody that is commonly associated with wedding peals.

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Discovered by Emily Winter, MFA candidate, Textiles, RISD : “I am looking at the patterns of movement and rule structures in change ringing, and using those to help me think through different methods of visualizing sequential movement and constrained systems in textiles.”

For additional information about change ringing read: Campanologomania, Cabinet Magazine, Spring 2014.

To make your own discoveries in the Special Collections consult the online catalog, peruse the card catalog at the library, or contact Kate Wodehouse, Collections Librarian, for additional information.








Flavors of India Friday, Sep 26 2014 

Flavors of India

Flavors of India


The latest installment of staff picks celebrates some classics of modern Indian fiction. It features some well-known authors such as Salman Rushdie and Amitav Ghosh alongside some lesser-known titles such as Freedom Song by Amit Chaudhuri and English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee. The selection brings to life some of India’s many landscapes and cultures and its rich social and political history, often through intimate portraits of family and community life.

You can explore the imaginary town of Malgudi and become acquainted with its colorful residents, including a venerable tiger named Raja, in three enchanting works by R. K. Narayan. You can travel to 1970s Bombay and follow the challenges faced by Gustad Noble, a devoted family man whose life begins to unravel as he becomes embroiled in the corruption of the Indira Gandhi years in Such a Long Journey. You can also be transported to the foothills of the Himalayas, and follow the lives of a retired judge and his granddaughter who become targets of Nepalese insurgents fighting for independence, in The Inheritance of Loss.

Alternatively, if you prefer something more surreal, learn of the misadventures of Alu, a young master weaver from a small Bengali village who is falsely accused of terrorism in The Circle of Reason.  Or travel from India to Spain with Moraes Zogoiby, the last surviving scion of a dynasty of Cochinese spice merchants and crime lords in Salman Rushdie’s family saga, The Moor’s Last Sigh.

There are many more titles besides. Each reveals something of the essence of India, past and present, and also something of the human experience. So whatever your tastes, dip in, try some Indian fiction today.

English, August: An Indian Story – Upamanyu Chatterjee

Freedom Song – Amit Chaudhuri

The House of Blue Mangoes – David Davidar

The Artist of Disappearance: Three Novellas – Anita Desai

The Inheritance of Loss – Kiran Desai

The Circle of Reason – Amitav Ghosh

The Hungry Tide – Amitav Ghosh

A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

Such a Long Journey – Rohinton Mistry

Malgudi Days – R. K. Narayan

The Printer of Malgudi – R. K. Narayan

A Tiger for Malgudi – R. K. Narayan

Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

The Moor’s Last Sigh – Salman Rushdie

Namaste to our Guest Blogger, Kirsty Dain, Circulation Assistant Extraordinaire.


The Arctic 1818 – 1909 Monday, Jun 2 2014 

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The Providence Athenaeum is planning to explore the Victorian fascination with the Arctic. Starting with the above display from our circulating collection.

Tomorrow night, June 3rd, Rhode Island College Professor Russell Potter will present “‘Travel by Pictorial Means': Victorian Virtualities of the Arctic Regions.” Potter, author of Arctic Spectacles: The Frozen North in Visual Culture 1818-1875, will illustrate some of the ways in which Victorian audiences encountered the perils of the Arctic, seeming to accompany polar explorers via a variety of visual and mechanical contrivances, among them the Panorama, the Diorama, the Moving Panorama, and the Magic Lantern. Original engravings, handbills, and advertisements of these shows will be accompanied by images from books and lantern slides of the period, including some from the Athenaeum’s collections. The talk will conclude with a visit to one of the last, and most ambitious of polar spectacles, Carl Hagenbeck’s Eismeer- Panorama of 1896, which featured live polar bears and seals, with predator and prey separated by deep ditches hidden from the spectators.


Our next foray will be on June 9th when The Wonder Show presents The Arctic Theatre Royal, a magic lantern show featuring images and text sourced from the Athenaeum’s Special Collections. During the 19th century, Arctic exploration captivated the public imagination. Images of unfamiliar icescapes pictured in panoramas and magic lantern shows dominated visual culture. The Arctic –and specifically finding a northwest passage through it– was a main subject of national interest in England at the time. One of the most successful voyages of this kind was head by Captain William Parry in 1819. This would be the first British naval expedition of the 19th century to winter in arctic conditions, and its activities and precautions became a model for future expeditions. Parry instituted musical and theatrical entertainments, school classes, meteorological and magnetic observations, and even a weekly newspaper, The North Georgia Gazette and Winter Chronicle. Plays were performed every fortnight with written reviews following each act.  The Wonder Show’s performance, The Arctic Theatre Royal, takes its name from Parry’s shipboard theater. In this newly written production, The Wonder Show will share original poetry and text from Parry’s voyage, utilizing a form of entertainment used to share early glimpses of the Arctic, a magic lantern show.  The content comes directly from the shipboard documents of 1819, including Parry’s journal and the North Georgia Gazette, which are both housed within the Athenaeum’s Travel and Exploration Collection.



Collections Librarian, Kate Wodehouse will be mounting an exhibit in the Philbrick Rare Book Room titled: A Peep at the Arctic: Visions of Polar Exploration, 1818-1909  available for viewing from June 15th to August 31st, but more on that later. For details on the events mentioned above check our June Programs page.

Staff Picks: Scandinavian Literature Wednesday, May 28 2014 

Great though they are, there is more to Scandinavian literature than murder mysteries!  This month’s staff picks celebrates some of Scandinavia’s best writing across a range of other genres.

The selection includes a variety of different kinds of fiction, from the great emotional depth and simple, economical prose of Per Petterson and Tarjei Vesaas to Arto Paasilinna’s tragi-comic stories of a journalist who sets off to explore Finland’s wildernesses with a hare as his sole companion and of a miller with a tendency to howl like a wolf at night and the trouble it causes.  There are also some classic examples of children’s literature that are much loved by adults as well from two of Scandinavia’s best-known writers, Astrid Lindgren (of Pippi Longstocking fame) and Tove Jansson (creator of the Moomins).  There is travel and adventure in Thor Heyerdahl’s extraordinary – and true – story of his attempt to cross the Pacific Ocean by raft and Franz Bengtsson’s fictional account of the expeditions and conquests of Red Orm, a Viking oarsman.  And there is autobiography in the first volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s extraordinary My Struggle, exploring in great detail and with astonishing honesty his life, feelings and relationships, focusing in this volume on his attempt at coming to terms with the death of his father.

     There is something from almost every section of the Athenaeum represented in the display so, whatever your tastes, there should be something here to interest you.  And if not, there’s always another murder mystery instead…

  • The Long Ships – Frans G. Bengtsson
  • To Siberia – Per Petterson
  • The Dreamers – Knut Hamsun
  • The Ice Palace – Tarjei Vesaas
  • Kon Tiki – Thor Heyerdahl
  • The Summer Book – Tove Jansson
  • Finn Family Moomintroll – Tove Jansson
  • My Struggle – Karl Ove Knausgaard
  • Independent People – Halldor Laxness
  • Ronia The Robber’s Daughter – Astrid Lindgren
  • The Tomten – Astrid Lindgren
  • The Howling Miller – Arto Paasilinna
  • The Year of the Hare – Arto Passilinna
  • Out Stealing Horses – Per Petterson

Thanks to our guest blogger, Kirsty Dain, Circulation Assistant. She and her family are spending the summer in Norway. Reading Scandinavian literature?

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