By Judy Woodward

Every week, the reference librarians at the Roseville Library answer hundreds of questions from the public. Here are a couple of the more interesting queries they have received lately:

Q. It seems like most of your book clubs are for fiction readers. Do you have any reading groups that are more fact-based? I’m an engineer.

A. Your timing is perfect. The Roseville Library has recently started a new book club in collaboration with the Bell Museum. The Stories and Science Book Club will next meet Thursday, March 19, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. to discuss “The Feather Thief,” an unusually entertaining, true-life ornithological mystery by Kirk W. Johnson. The discussion will be led by Sushma Reddy, the Bell Museum’s new bird curator, in support of the Museum’s Audubon Animated exhibit, which opened in January.

You can find more information about other non-fiction book clubs at the library on our website, including the Roseville Library History Book Club.

Q: We’ve been hearing the word “quarantine” in the news a lot lately. Where does that word come from?

A. The idea of isolating potential disease-carriers has been around a long time. During the time of the Black Plague in the 14th century, the city of Dubrovnik (which was then part of a commercial empire controlled by the city-state of Venice) issued a decree that ships arriving from plague-ridden regions would have to wait in port a fixed number of days before they could land their goods. Other cities in Europe followed Dubrovnik’s example and the number of days was eventually fixed at 40 or “quaranta” in Italian. The resulting period or “quarantina” is now known as “quarantine” in English.

Why did they choose 40 days? Explanations differ, but some point to the Biblical significance of the number 40 in the deeply religious Middle Ages; as Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness and Moses spent 40 years there. In addition, communities had an accurate, firsthand sense of the length of 40 days because of their annual observance of Lent.

Modern quarantines can be shorter or longer than 40 days. Until the recent coronavirus outbreak, they haven’t been much used in the United States in recent history at the federal level. In 2014, however, some states and localities imposed quarantine regulations in response to the Ebola epidemic of West Africa. ( and other online resources.)

Q. Where does the expression “gaslighting” come from?

A. We think of gaslighting as what happens when someone tries to manipulate another person or group, leading the victims to doubt their own beliefs and/or understanding of a situation. People talk about being gaslighted by their employers, their associates or even sometimes their political leaders.

But the original “gaslighter” was played by a very suave and seductive French-American actor named Charles Boyer. Fans of old-time movies may remember him in the 1944 classic MGM costume drama “Gaslight” where he did his nefarious best to drive his beautiful young wife crazy by surreptitiously raising and lowering the gas jets illuminating their elegant 1890s home. Ultimately the idea was to have the wife committed for insanity and to abscond with her jewels.

Those who would like to investigate the origins of gaslighting, as well as watch a radiant Ingrid Bergman struggling to hold on to her sanity, are invited to check out a DVD of “Gaslight” from the library. An added pleasure of the film is the opportunity to see an 18-year-old Angela Lansbury in her very first role. A far cry from her later performances as an elderly mystery writer-detective and more, Lansbury plays an impertinent chambermaid who conspires with the evil husband, Boyer. (Library Resources.)

Judy Woodward, who lives in St. Anthony Park, is a reference librarian at the Roseville Library, 2180 N. Hamline Ave.

Leave a Reply