Transcript / LoLT: Celebrating Crustmas and Two New Books — 15 December 2023

Transcript / LoLT: Celebrating Crustmas and Two New Books — 15 December 2023

Friday, 15 December, 2023

This is a transcription of ‘Celebrating Crustmas and Two New Books — 15 december 2023’


[cheerful music]

Melissa: Coming up, a holiday book that might inspire you to sing.

David: A science book for people who don’t read science books.

Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.

David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.

Melissa: I love Christmas music so much. We’ve been cultivating our Spotify playlist for years, and it’s now almost 15 hours of music. We’ve got the classics like Marshmallow World by Dean Martin and All I Want for Christmas is You. You know, I lost Whamageddon on December 1. I was riding the tram, and it was snowing, and about four songs into the playlist, I got Whammed. It was great!

Melissa: In case anyone is wondering, my three favorite Christmas songs right now are Blame it on Christmas by Shea Diamond, It Snowed by Meaghan Smith, and Think of Christmas by Anne-Marie. Treat yourself to these cheery songs! I’ll put links in the show notes.

Melissa: All of this brings me to a book! A merry book! It’s called This Is Christmas, Song by Song: The Stories Behind 100 Holiday Hits by Annie Zaleski.

Melissa: She is a music writing powerhouse. She wrote an excellent book about Duran Duran’s album Rio for the 33 1/3 book series. She’s also written biographies of Lady Gaga and Pink.

Melissa: Her Christmas book is a delight. It tells the stories behind 100 Christmas songs in chronological order, starting with 1942’s White Christmas by Bing Crosby, which, by the way, is the best-selling single of all time. And ending with Taylor Swift’s 2019 song Christmas Tree Farm. In between are the stories of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, Jingle Bell Rock, Snow Miser and Heat Miser, and so many more.

Melissa: One of the details that stuck with me is how many of these snowy songs were recorded when it was swelteringly hot outside, including Darlene Love’s Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) and Mel Torme’s The Christmas Song [DAVE chestnuts roasting…]. In August of 1981, rock star Billy Squier went into a New York studio to record Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You. Along with him were members of King Crimson, Meat Loaf, Sweet, and the Knack. According to the lore, they were QUOTE ‘feted with a Christmas-style turkey dinner and spirits to create the appropriate atmosphere of good cheer.’

Melissa: The book is filled with insider details like that, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s This Is Christmas, Song by Song: The Stories Behind 100 Holiday Hits by Annie Zaleski.

David: As I said at the top, I’m going to tell you about a science book that I think will appeal to people who don’t read science books. So, first, I need to tell you about the Bathysphere.

David: The Bathysphere was a one-of-a-kind vehicle — a custom ride — built in the 1920s. It was built to explore the deep sea. Before the Bathysphere, no one had ever gone deep into the ocean. It’s dark. And the crushing pressure is a big problem beyond a few hundred feet.

David: But an American naturalist wanted to see what was down there. His name was William Beebe. He enlisted a young engineer, Otis Barton, and together, they made the Bathysphere.

David: It was a hollow sphere — with three windows, and a new-fangled fancy telephone line. It was a little over four and a half feet in diameter — or about a meter and a half. It was a heavy boy. It weighed over two tons. In June of 1930, they put themselves in the sphere — crammed in there together — attached the Bathysphere to a steel cable and the steel cable to a ship — and dropped themselves into the deep, blue sea.

David: It was incredibly dangerous — if that cable broke, they would have had a bad, bad time of it — and very exciting, I imagine. But. Beebe put a light up to the window and described what he saw through the telephone. On the other end of the phone, up on the ship, was a woman who took notes. Her name was Gloria Hollister. And that’s how Beebe, Barton, and Hollister became the first people to document the creatures in the deep sea.

David: And now let me tell you about this book! My book is called The Bathysphere Book: Effects of the Luminous Ocean Depths by Brad Fox. This is an unusual science book. It feels like a book that might have been written for a world designed by Wes Anderson.

David: First, it’s a beautiful book. There are watercolors, prints of deep-sea fish, and photographs of journal covers and old tugboats. The Globe and Mail said that this was one of the most beautiful books-as-objects of the year.

David: The writing is lovely. It’s a joy to read. Here’s a short paragraph from the book. The author is talking about the field station that the divers had in Bermuda. He writes:

[Beebe] kept a pair of binoculars at the field station, still a rarity at that time. When newcomers arrived, he instructed them to point the binoculars at the moon. Their reaction to the sight told him all he needed to know. Only inarticulate amazement signaled a worthwhile character. Anything less meant the visitor’s life was but a pointless march toward death.

David: It’s also a science book that tells you about the scientist’s love life, and the success — or lack thereof — of his marriage. We learn about what happened to everybody once they finished this remarkable achievement. It’s an exploration of life 100 years ago. It’s a book about the fleeting nature of fame and achievement. It’s a celebration of curiosity.

David: The Washington Post called it one of their 10 best books of the year. It’s The Bathysphere Book: Effects of the Luminous Ocean Depths by Brad Fox.

David: And now our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]

Melissa: I think it’s pretty clear from our shows that I really enjoy eating. One of my favorite parts of travel is trying local dishes and eating foods that are new to me. But if I were going to list my favorite foods, toast would be very close to the top. Depending on the day, it could be number one.

Melissa: So a few years ago, we decided to have a toast extravaganza on Christmas morning and call it Crustmas. We got really good Czech rye bread and a loaf of white toasting bread and a bunch of spreads: Irish butter, cream cheese, paté, peanut butter, honey, blueberry jam, and strawberry jam. Plus some cold cuts and cheese. It was like a charcuterie platter with extras. And while I was setting the table, Dave had a genius idea: He got an extension cord, plugged in the toaster, and put it right on the table next to our plates so we could make fresh toast without even getting out of our chairs. The whole thing was a fantastic experience, so we’re doing Crustmas again this year.

Melissa: And we discovered a food vlogger on YouTube that might help us take Crustmas to the next level. Let me tell you about Beryl Shereshewsky.

Melissa: She lives in New York City and has worked in media for more than a decade for big names like Martha Stewart, ABC, CNN, and Great Big Story. She launched her YouTube channel in 2020, and it’s devoted to enjoying food from around the world.

Melissa: She invites people to share the favorite foods from their culture, then she cooks the recipes. But she’s not a chef, and her show is not a cooking show. Instead, it’s all about curiosity, empathy, and joy. Yes, she shows the ingredients that go into a dish, and there are shots of her chopping and stirring, but the majority of the screen time is devoted to Beryl eating the dish and sharing what that experience is like. She’s really good at describing how the food tastes, AND how it makes her feel. [DAVE] Another really sweet aspect of the videos is that they star people from around the world. She includes a short video message from each of the people who recommend a recipe. It’s really magical to see their faces and hear their voices explaining what a particular dish means to them. It makes the world feel enormous and small at the same time.

Melissa: Previous episodes of her show have explored chickpea dishes, what people eat for breakfast, how the world drinks black tea, sandwiches, what Chinese people order in American Chinese restaurants. That kind of thing. There are more than 200 videos to enjoy. She also did one on what people from five countries eat on Christmas. I’ll link to that in show notes.

Melissa: But relevant to our interests is a series she did on toast. When she hit 100,000 subscribers on YouTube, Beryl asked her audience for how they toast in their country. Meaning, when you raise a glass to celebrate something, what do you do? But people thought she meant toast, like, hot, crispy bread. And they sent her stories about the toast they like to eat. She was so charmed by that wholesome mistake, she decided to make a video about international toasts. It featured toast from Singapore, India, the UK, Austria, and Canada. That was in 2021. She’s now made 10 videos in the toast series, the last of which she posted just two weeks ago. I love a 2-year project devoted to toast.

Melissa: She is one of my favorite people making stuff on the internet these days because she’s kind, curious, and she loves to eat. We also recently learned that she also loves board games so she’s definitely our kind of person. And I think you’ll like her, too.

Melissa: Visit for more on the books we talked about today and on Beryl and her international eating adventures.

David: Thanks for joining us on the library of last time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent bookstore to lose some time yourself.

Melissa: Stay curious. We’ll talk to you soon.

[cheerful music]


Top image courtesy of Beryl Shereshewsky.

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