Book review – Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson

Bats of the Republic: An Illuminated Novel by Zachary Thomas Dodson 

2015, Doubleday, 9780385539838

24724564It’s been a few weeks since I finished this book… and I still can’t decide if it was wonderful or awful.

Design-wise it is certainly lots of fun to read, with illustrations, pull out maps and a mysterious letter pasted tantalisingly into the back. The two (or 3, or is it 4?) narratives are each rendered in their own, distinct style with several characters presenting their stories. It gives an interactive feel to the reading experience.

However, I am still ambivalent about its merits as a story. I just can’t decide if that resolution is gobbledygook or genius.

Victorian travels in the Middle East

This is a beautiful gallery of photos from the Edinburgh city collections. They really appeal to the geek in me (and the image of Istanbul’s Blue Mosque brings back some happy memories). Thanks to Tales of one city for the link

Tales of One City

Fancy a trip back in time to the Middle East of the late 1800s? Our latest exhibition on Capital Collections is a stunning collection of early travel photographs capturing these exotic lands which were far beyond the imagination of the British public of the time.

Mosque of Sultan Ahmed Mosque of Sultan Ahmed, Istanbul

By the 1860s, British tour operators such as Cook’s Tours were offering package tours to the Middle East encompassing destinations such as Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, and Egypt. Wealthy gentlemen (including King Edward VII) embarked on these tours to learn about the ancient cultures, history, and religions of these mysterious faraway lands.

Parthenon, Athens Parthenon, Athens

As the tourist trade grew, photographers from all over Europe flocked here, keen to document this different world. Some set up studios to produce prints specifically for the tourist trade, much like a modern travel postcard, many of which can be seen in this collection.

View of the bridge in Istanbul View…

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Van Gogh – art and angst

Vincent Van Gogh, that glorious nutter, was born today in 1853. He died at the age of 37 after a short life filled with genius and despair.

Some years ago I read Martin Gayford’s book The Yellow HouseVan Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Provence. This excellent work uses old letters to reconstruct the few months Van Gogh spent living and working with Paul Gauguin in a house in Arles. I was left with the overriding feeling that Van Gogh wanted nothing more in life than to be loved and understood (I can so relate to that).

101407Vincent invited Gauguin to stay because he deeply admired his work and imagined he could learn much from the older man. In preparation for Gaugin’s arrival at the Yellow House, Vincent painted his iconic Sunflowers series just to decorate the walls of Gauguin’s room! But Van Gogh’s mental illness made him erratic and volatile and his dreams of founding a collaborative artistic commune with Gauguin rapidly fell apart.

The wonderful painting above was made during Van Gogh’s time at Saint-Paul Asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. I’ve visited this beautiful town a few times. It really is surrounded by those distinctive hills that Van Gogh reproduced so perfectly in his work.

I love these places – Arles and Saint-Rémy – but their beauty is tinged for me by thoughts of poor Vincent and his sufferings. I feel the same way about his wonderful, vibrant, disturbed and magnificent paintings.

Chilling MYSTERY in Outer Space!


Just because… I can   😉

Christmas Capercaillies at Leith Library – events this weekend!

Fun events with @auntyemily in Leith Library this weekend!

Edinburgh Library and Information Services Agency

Leith Library’s former Reader in Residence Emily Dodd is back for a week of Christmas capercaillie fun. Events include local primary school and nursery workshops, capercaillie crafts and a Can’t-Dance-Cameron public event.


Emily worked at Leith library 2.5 days a week between September 2012 to 2013 as the Scottish Book Trust Reader in Residence. She shared stories from the library on the Leith Library blog and using the Leith Library twitter account. The residency included 9 months in the library followed by 3 months funded to do her own thing. This funding enabled Emily to write her first picture book ‘Can’t-Dance-Cameron: A Scottish Capercaillie Story’.

Emily said:

“I loved working with Leith Library. They were doing so many brilliant things, it was a pleasure and privilege to share their work with a wider audience using social media. At the end of my residency I had funding to…

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RLS music recital – my visuals

Last Friday evening, after months of planning (and talking about it), we finally put on our recital:

Robert Louis Stevenson  The Story of His Life in Word and Song Narrated by Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith – Narrator Anna Poole QC – Soprano, script and fiddle James Mure QC – Baritone John Cameron – Piano Jane A Condie – Visuals

The idea for this recital, and the script, all came from Anna Poole – a trained singer as well as a QC. My job was to create a visual backdrop to the music. I decided that, for copyright reasons, I should gather images from as few places as possible. That way I could easily credit my sources. So, most of my images originated on two sites:

Although this made them easy to credit, it was a challenge locating the right pictures from such limited sources. garden of verses The old photographs come mainly from the Gallery section of the RLS Website and most of the colour illustrations are from the NLS Digital Gallery. The fun bit for me was making the images to illustrate songs based on A Child’s Garden of Verses. Via the RLS Website I found and downloaded a digital version of the work from 1895, illustrated by Charles Robinson (as pictured above). I located the poems we were using, cut and manipulated the illustrations and turned them into a usable format. It was time consuming work but so worth it. I love the way those pictures look on screen.

During her script research Anna discovered that, as well as writing books and poems, RLS dabbled with playing and composing music. Therefore, challenge number two was to locate sheet music for one of Stevenson’s compositions for Anna to play on the fiddle. After so many months I can’t even recall how I came across it, but eventually I learned of the Stevenson House Collection in Monterey, California. This building, formerly a hotel where Stevenson stayed while waiting for his beloved Fanny Osbourne’s divorce to be finalised, has been turned into a museum dedicated to RLS. Among their collections they hold pieces of music written in Stevenson’s own hand. aberlady links I made contact with the curator there, explained what we were doing, and managed to obtain both a copy of Stevenson’s original music (see above) and permission to use it in the recital. All they asked for was a mention – which I happily give again now:

Thank you to the Stevenson House Collection, Monterey for permission to use this sheet music

My final challenge was to create a presentation in keeping with the music, the occasion and the beautiful venue. I first put it together on PowerPoint, twiddling and tinkering over months to get the balance right. However, when I came back to it several weeks ago, as we prepared to actually stage the recital, I was disappointed by the overall look of the thing. It was flat.

So, having just purchased my gorgeous new MacBook Pro featuring Keynote presentation software, I set to work beautifying my visuals. The end result was just stunning! Keynote doesn’t just transition slides – it ushers them in and out with a wave of shimmering gold. My presentation became a thing of utter beauty. Sadly I was forced to export back to PowerPoint for practical purposes (the data-projector doesn’t talk to Macs).

However, I was happy and relieved to find that, though the golden wave was gone, most of the other Keynote additions remained. After some adjustment to sort out formatting issues, the presentation looked great. It was a huge improvement and I was very pleased. I really enjoyed setting up the animations and transitions, slowly fading stuff in and out. Avoiding jarring movements and sudden disappearances. Reading and re-reading the script to best fit the images with the text.

The slide below is my favourite for three reasons. Firstly, I just love these images: a beautiful view of Samoa and a coloured print of Robert Louis Stevenson looking rather dashing and buccaneerish. Next, it illustrates a poem called Envoy, about the way reading can transport you to another time or place – and I can obviously sympathise with that.

envoy - and death Finally, this slide also illustrates the part of the recital where we recount Stevenson’s sudden and tragically early death. I set the text, then the images to fade one by one as the narration went on – Stevenson himself fading last – to leave a blank screen. I feel that has quite a haunting effect.

As I said, we staged this recital last Friday – to a full house and rapturous applause – in Parliament Hall, Edinburgh. It lasted only an hour but it was a fabulous event. The singers and piano sounded glorious in the wonderful acoustics of the hall. Author, and honorary Advocate, Alexander McCall Smith made gently hilarious additions to the scrip and narrated in his lovely chocolatey voice. And I, couried in behind the grand piano, worked my slides and lapped up the ambiance.


After so much preparation it all seemed to be over too quickly – but I enjoyed every minute of it, and would probably like to do it all again next RLS Day… Maybe. A video version of the full slide show can be viewed here:

Edinburgh Photographic Society Exhibition

This is so very beautiful!

Tales of One City

A selection of work by members of the Edinburgh Photographic Society is currently on display in the Fine Art Library.


The society was formed 153 years ago and has been encouraging photography in Edinburgh ever since. It now meets at its own premises at 68 Great King Street, and the main meetings are on Wednesday evenings. If you are interested in photography or would like to find out more about the society, please visit their website.

The exhibition runs until 29th November.

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