February 2022 Leisure Learning

by Melissa Haas
published in Reading

Hello, word nerds and other lovers of language! Hopefully, by now, you are fully into your new writing schedule or project that will carry you through 2022. If not, if you are perhaps still trying some ideas out, just tell everyone you’re going through your experimental period and have a blast! After all, authentic emotion is the fount of artistic magic. 

As an aside, it is well known that all true creators need a rest and this month’s Leisure Learning selections feature everything from a nostalgia-inducing podcast to a Tolkien-inspired rock metal album. ‘Nough said. 

Go forth and replenish thy artistic well! 

Here is your February 2022 Leisure Learning List:

Hidden Details of the New York Library (25 mins, free on YouTube)

This is my family-friendly pick of the month. Architectural Digest has provided a short tour of this historic library, where viewers are invited to learn about facets that might otherwise escape one because of the sheer amount of wisdom contained within its walls. 

Learn the names of the legendary marble lions seated outside! 

Marvel at the murals depicting the history of the written word!

Show your children what old-school Google looked like, a la photos of a seemingly infinite card catalog! 

Of particular note is the trolley system that maneuvers throughout the library for book requests and the can’t miss collection of stuffed animals owned by Christopher Robin Milne, which were the inspiration for Winnie the Pooh and friends

Finally, it’s always fun to play “find the lion” throughout this brief documentary, as one will find several incarnations of the royal creatures representing this world-class institution.  

LeVar Burton Reads (iTunes, Stitcher, and most podcast forums) 

Did you grow up watching Reading Rainbow? I certainly did and with deeply nostalgic love, I can still hear the theme song in my head. LeVar Burton Reads is a podcast that has the former Reading Rainbow host converted to what feels like an adult version of the timeless PBS program. Mr. Burton himself picks out adult sci-fi and speculative fiction short stories that he would like to share and then reads them. 

That’s it. 

Good taste, great stories, a fantastic way to unwind, especially for 80s babies. 🦋 Take a look, it’s in a book…🌈 

Nightfall in Middle-Earth (album by Blind Guardian) 

What do you get when you cross Bohemian Rhapsody with J.R.R. Tolkien? The German metal album Nightfall in Middle-Earth. The disc, released in 1998, recounts text from the First Age of Middle-Earth, taken from Tolkien’s classic The Silmarillion

This was something I stumbled upon while stumbling upon something else, and I have to say, it was quite the find. There’s a Monty Python-esque sort of pathos that runs throughout the songs, largely from simply placing the subject matter in German-metal band format. 

Here is the title song, Nightfall, with lyrics. 

The Professor and the Madman (2 hr 4 min, found on most streaming services, incl. Kanopy, which many libraries subscribe to)

This is the impressive true story of how one of the world’s most respected books, The Oxford English Dictionary, was finished by two unbelievably dark horses. Sean Penn and Mel Gibson portray heartbreaking stories of genius for a work that is still the definitive source for the world we live in. 

This movie has everything: the depiction of a formidable autodidact, an imprisoned man redeemed through erudition, and a project that hasn’t been finished in over 20 years! Now, doesn’t something sound somewhat familiar there? 

The Tragedy of Macbeth (1 hr 45 mins, AppleTV+ and in theaters) 

This is Joel Coen’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand. Do I really need to say anything else? 

This adaptation is one of those things where, if you don’t have AppleTV+, it’s worth signing up for the free trial just for this. The film is elegiac in black and white. Moreover, the cinematography will have you thinking about how symbolism is used in a story, and how you can use some of the visual devices in your writing. 

Finally, there is a Cirque de Soleil-Esque contortionist who represents 1-3 figures, depending on the moment. An *excellent* use of time, life, and language. 

Tell us in the comments: Which of these Leisure Learning picks are you most excited to try?

Melissa Haas is the author and illustrator of Catula: The Misadventures of Dracula’s Cat and The Night Before Christmas (NOW WITH CATS), among other books. Follow Catula’s whereabouts on Instagram @CatulaTheCat or download a free coloring page at www.catulathebook.com.

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