Tuesday, December 16
Monday, December 15
day slips by.
WEAKNESS AND DOUBT
Weakness and doubt
the fungal orders,
which admire pallors,
rusts, grey talcums,
the whole palette
of dusts and powders
of the rot kingdom
and do not share
our kind's disgust
interplay of doubt
as a robut
sort of business;
the way we
they love hollowing.
There could be nutrients
to the shallow soil
Think of the
dark and bitter
and peasant loaves.
Think of licorices.
the tales of how
Indians put fishes
under corn plants.
Next time hope
relinquishes a form,
think about that.
Tuesday, November 25
Isn't it interesting that in all these past years, few of us have said, "I'm thankful for my 401K balance"? So let's skip right past that downward trending balance and move on to 2008's "I'm Thankful For" list!
I'm Thankful For:
E. B. White
The list of authors I'm thankful for could be a year's worth of posts, but today I'm thinking about E. B. White, one of my writing heroes, who wrote for children and adults with equal style. Here's the quote that brought him to mind today:
If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. It it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.He wrote Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little, updated Strunk's Elements of Style (it became Strunk and White's), and was the most important contributor to the The New Yorker magazine at the height of its influence.
The Usual Suspects
And I'm thankful for the usual things we muse on at Thanksgiving: Bach, Mozart, mitochondria, mashed potatoes, the Internet, da Vinci, color, sunlight, shelter, bed, sleep, naps, cheap gas, no low back pain, stuffing, apricots, olives, walnuts, squash, green beans, Brussels sprouts, Great Art, Great Literature, Great Music, newspapers, Keillor, Shelf Check, books, libraries, librarians, and people to talk to about all of the above. I'm thankful I'm still above ground. I'm thankful I don't have to make an exhaustive list of things I'm thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!
Tuesday, November 11
Today I heard a recording by an artist I love, who I haven't listened to in years. Long-dormant ideas about what I'd like my life to be like are emerging. New channels are opening.
We're post-election, and the sudden absence of Vital! Daily! News! about! the! Campaign!, and the beginning of the Obama transition, add to this feeling of expectancy and waiting. Calm stories about puppies and presidential visits fill the news. This Monday the Viking win was the lead story at the Star Trib. After all those angsty days, it's nice to take a breath. Yes, we still have a national economic meltdown. Yes, I'm still in my own personal economic meltdown. But it's nice to take a break once in a while. Our worries and hand-wringing don't change anything.
It is a cloudy November morning. The light filtered through the clouds is calm. My silent house is calm. Now it's off to work, re-entering the world, and so the moment passes.
* * *
It must be hard to write a calm book. I can't think of many. One writes, after all, to share one's passion. So let's go with "grounded," a deeper calm in the author's voice.
Goldberg, Natalie. Long Quiet Highway; Waking Up in America.
The story of Goldberg's spiritual and intellectual development as she studies Zen Buddhism and begins to write. A book I have loved and returned to many times over the years since it came out.
Tarrant, John. The Light Inside the Dark; Zen, Soul, and the Spiritual Life.
Tarrant is a Zen teacher and a Jungian therapist. Now you're talkin' my language. Grounded times two. A challenging read, this book will support the reader through dark times and point him toward deep joy in the dailiness of life. Not sappy or easy-cheesy.
Lightman, Alan. Einstein's Dreams.
Lightman starts with a brief imagined excursion into the mind of Einstein, tired after another exhausting night of dreams about time. He then unfolds chapter after chapter of intellectually and metaphysically challenging vignettes, playing with time in "Einstein's dreams." One reviewer wrote "It passes some of the tests of classic work: it provokes immediate rereading and a description of it cannot replace the experience of reading it. It's tantalizingly short but lives long in the memory."
Hass, Robert, and Stephen Mitchell. Into the Garden; A Wedding Anthology; Poetry and prose on Love and Marriage.
This collection draws from Native American, old Chinese, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Sufi, and Zen sources, as well as traditional European love poetry and contemporary poets and essayists. It entirely avoids the sappy, presenting words of deep love, exhilaration, and thoughts of a long future for better or worse. It is a reminder of the joy of love, while remaining deeply grounded in the realities of everyday life.
These books, with a little more action, also come to mind:
Strength to Your Sword Arm
If You Want to Write
I'm in love with Lorna Landvik, who writes sweet, funny books filled with the unexpected losses and hard-fought victories of very real lives. She really "gets it." Three of my favorites:
Patty Jane's House of Curl
Tall Pine Polka
Oh My Stars
Wednesday, November 5
I am giddy over this election. I cried when I cast my ballot. I cried when Obama was declared president-elect. I cried during McCain's speech and during Obama's speech. I was thrilled for my son E, who was at Grant Park with that beautiful and ecstatic crowd.
I've turned into a church lady over Obama. My belief in God is shaky, but I pray every day for his safety and that of his family.
I'm so proud of the new generation that has stepped up in style to become whole-heartedly politically involved. Thank you so very much.
To my Republican friends and family: rest easy in the thought that the Dems do not have a congressional super-majority. We'll have to work together to get things done, in what I dearly hope will be a less polarized and bipartisan environment.
Earlier this year (9/25/08) I posted a review of "The Black Swan," Nassim Taleb's book about unexpected events, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, that completely reset all our assumptions. I remember when many predicted a permanent Republican majority, and empire on which the sun would never set. Since then, events such as the 9/11 attacks, the Iraq war, and our financial debacle changed our world in ways we never anticipated.
I am happy about the political change that has swept our country, but even if you are not, I hope the thought of Black Swan events can give you hope for our future, particularly our economic future. For better or worse, whether we like it or not, unexpected events (as well as planned-for and worked-for events) continue to re-shape our lives.
This is one of the unexpected benefits of aging: my perspective has changed from pessimism to optimism as I have seen so many difficult situations change for the better. Yes, I'm sometimes Future Shocked, and I'm not a Pollyanna: I fiercely protect my right to cynicism.
Here are some of the changes I've experienced:
I was in on the beginning of the Internet (was married to an Internet pioneer). The Internet, as "Wired" magazine predicted, has changed every significant institution in our lives. A Black Swan event!
I used to work on large-scale software development on huge mainframe computers -- a field that no longer exists.
I'm in on revolutionary change in librarianship, change that has shifted our focus from our bread-and-butter reference work (superseded by Google and Wikipedia), to social software and computer access. (The books survive!) The field is changing and shrinking.
My son's diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome came at a time when schools, doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists, and families were almost completely ignorant about it. For long years he and a cohort of similar kids were misunderstood, punished, and placed in school settings that were exactly wrong for them. They were the leading edge of a phenomenon no one understood. The changes here were both an increase in incidence of the AS, and in our understanding of it. For J and for many other kids, the diagnosis came as a relief, and it changed everything.
Now a new political coalition has been forged around a remarkable man, a man for this moment. Whatever does or does not happen from here, we have been witness to a pivotal moment in history.
Saturday, November 1
Or maybe just a click, a quick read, and a laugh.
Selections From H.P. Lovecraft's Brief Tenure as a Whitman's Sampler Copywriter
By Luke Burns
White Chocolate Truffle
What black arts could have stripped this chocolate of its natural hue? The horror of the unearthly, corpselike pallor of this truffle's complexion is only offset by its fiendish deliciousness.
Chocolate Cherry Cordial
You must not think me mad when I tell you what I found below the thin shell of chocolate used to disguise this bonbon's true face. Yes! Hidden beneath its rich exterior is a hideously moist cherry cordial! What deranged architect could have engineered this non-Euclidean aberration? I dare not speculate.
For your pleasure, may I present MayBow's Book Arts Jargonator! I found this gem on BibliOdyssey, about which I have written before (October 4, 2008, BibliOdyssey).
Click on the picture for an enlarged view. It's similar to the Business Buzz-speak generators and Shakespearean Insult Generators, but for book lovers.
For instance, would you like your work to be described as post-monkish errata? Or a mechanically umlauted mutton-thumper? I thought not. I prefer erotically gilded incunabula, if given a choice.
Print 3 copies, cut out the circles, and put them together with one of those little pointy brass things, for hours of fun.
Thursday, October 9
I wrote this on October 9, but forgot to post it. I continued picking fresh raspberries until the middle of October!
On October 9, I am still picking fresh raspberries and harvesting tomatoes. Remember when we used to have frost in September?
I'm also endlessly painting doors (screen door insert, storm door insert.) Muntins. That's what I've been painting. Muntins.
I'm not a tidy painter but I have adopted the motto "Progress, not perfection." It's better to have a primed and painted door than one with peeling paint. I'll get out the razor and the Goof Off and clean up when I'm done.
By the time I get home the day is cooling fast, and I worry that it's getting too cold for painting. So I slap some paint on and when I get cold and the light is fading I quit until another day. The E.N.D.L.E.S.S. P.R.O.J.E.C.T. . .
The trouble with beginning any deferred home maintenance (or cleaning) is that you suddenly see all the other projects that need attention. Sometimes I could do without a new clarity of vision.
It is part of a Literature Site called Gnooks, which has an author recommendation engine too. You type in the names of three authors you like. I typed in Garrison Keillor, Lorna Landvik, and Elizabeth George, and it recommended Jon Hassler. A good recommendation, except I've already read all his books!
Gnooks in turn is part of Gnod, an AI project developed by Marek Gibney. Here's what Gibney says about Gnod:
Gnod is my experiment in the field of artificial intelligence. Its a self-adapting system, living on this server and 'talking' to everyone who comes along. Gnods intention is to learn about the outer world and to learn 'understanding' its visitors. This enables gnod to share all its wisdom with you in an intuitive and efficient way. You might call it a search-engine to find things you don't know about.
Gnod has recommendation engines for music, books, movies, and people.
(Note: I cross-posted this to Sub 2.0.)
Wednesday, October 8
I'm working in a room with 90 other (quiet, pleasant) people, scoring reading comprehension and writing tests which are required for graduation from State "X." It's a crowd of word people, ranging from introverted to extremely introverted. People really do look at their shoes when you say hello. I feel right at home!
I can't think of the last time I worked in a job that was so intensely focused. We work individually on writing samples we pull up on our computers. We're, apparently, the sort of folks who are easily sucked in by the screen. We arrive on time, get right to work, and keep at it. It's not draconian--we certainly can chat, or get up and walk around, or get coffee, but there tends to be more coffee-getting than chatting.
There are six rooms of about 90 people working on this project, so breaks are necessarily scheduled. Our room breaks from 10:00 to 10:15, lunches from 11:30-12:00, and breaks again from 2:00-2:15.
We get caught up in the writing samples and have to be told, "It's break time!" Then 90 people burst out of the room (in a quiet, orderly fashion, naturally) and line up at the coffee urn, the bathroom, the microwave. The walkers scurry outside and scatter in every direction. The break room fills up from the corners in; people prefer to take a single tables along the wall for quieter reading. Newspapers and novels come out; people make phone calls; there is quiet conversation. At 10:14, 11:59, and 2:14, the ants scurry home to Room 3 and the next group of ants bursts out of the next room to walk, get coffee, file into the bathroom, and read.
Most of us choose to start at 7:30, so at 4:00 there is a mass departure. This one is equally polite but more hurried: half of us form a line a block long as we wait to make a left turn onto a busy street, and all of us would prefer to be at the head, rather than the tail, of the line. Nevertheless, as we wend toward the one parking lot exit, people scrupulously take turns merging from several aisles and calm order is preserved.
People bring candy to share and anything chocolate is gone by lunchtime.
It's a congenial group of ants and I enjoy their company.
Saturday, October 4
I remember years ago when the Internet was new (and I'm talking Gopher and alt- groups), you almost felt you could put your arms around it and keep up. Now I find thriving web sites and blogs that I CAN'T BELIEVE I DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT, and BibliOdyssey is a prime example.
BibliOdyssey is an ongoing e-exhibition of long-forgotten imagery, now surfacing on the Internet as libraries, museums, and other institutions digitize their collections, collected and published by the author PK. The range and variety of images is absolutely amazing, from familiar architectural, anatomical and botanical drawings, alchemical and occult engravings, creepy things that are supposed to be creepy, drawing styles that creep me out even though they aren't intended to, to darling whimsical drawings of children at play, the Nepal horse book, and on and on. RUN DO NOT WALK (OK, CLICK RIGHT NOW) to this site. Give yourself some time.
It gets better -- BibliOdyssey, The Book! is now available.
BibliOdyssey: Amazing Archival Images from the Internet, by PK
Here is blogger and author peacay's description of the book:
The book (like the site) covers a very wide spectrum of styles, time periods and subject matter. You can expect everything from astronomy to zoology and from Art Nouveau to the Renaissance, in something reminiscent of what I call a multi-post (except on steroids and growth hormone and with better grooming habits and no noisy computer fan in the background). I like to think that the trajectory of the book aims somewhere roughly between our internet users' penchant for a concentrated package of beguiling ephemera and as an introductory overview of the cultural wealth accessible from web archives for luddites. [redacted marketspeak:
My library doesn't have this ordered yet (or at least not available in the online catalog), and if yours doesn't, you can go to a bookstore and browse the book.
Color junkie alert!
Dale Chihuly : 365 days / [editor, Margaret L. Kaplan]. is FUN! Dale Chihuly, celebrated glass artist, makes play visible with his colorful, kinetic art. The book is composed with a brief quote or description of Chihuly and his works across from a full page photo.
Lovers of word play -- note the Lakawana Ichibana installation!
The mosaic is by SleepingBear on Flickr.
Tuesday, September 30
Monday, September 29
"Libraries" included Maryanne Wolfe, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University, and author of "Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain" who talked about the decline of "deep reading" today. If you love to read, you will love her description of what happens during what she calls "deep reading."
Science fiction and fantasy author Ursula Le Guin reiterated her thoughts on reading, which recently appeared in an essay in Harper's Magazine called "Notes on the Alleged Decline in Reading."
Geraldine Brooks, author of People of the Book, recounted some of the amazing history of the Sarajevo Haggadah.
Alberto Manguel has a personal library of some thirty thousand volumes. Manguel talks about his library and his latest book, "The Library at Night." His other books on reading are "A Reading Diary" and "A History of Reading."
In hour two, "The Horror, The Horror," Andrew Davidson, author of Gargoyle, read from the opening of his novel, a harrowing description of a burn victim's suffering that is definitely not for the squeamish or faint of heart. In fact, I had stopped reading it but started again after hearing the interview. It's good.
This hour also featured Kelly Link, who writes teen/young adult horror (Pretty Monsters), Richard Hand, author of "Terror on the Air!: Horror Radio in America, 1931 - 1952." and Glenn Kay, author of "Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide," with audio clips from radio shows and zombie movies.
What a great lineup! If you click through to the web site you can listen to the interviews, see a listing of the CDs and books featured, and go to authors' web sites.
Next I listened to University of the Air, which on this day was a chatty program with John DeMain comparing recordings of the same piece conducted by two different conductors, with a lot of cheery backstage anecdotes on the roles of the conductor and orchestra in creating a sound.
Finally, a fantastic program on "Simply Folk" featuring songs about Fall. The selections were wonderful. Unfortunately, they don't have it available online for listening, but here's the playlist.
Thursday, September 25
Every September for the last 14 years I have had children starting school or preschool. This year, to celebrate my freedom from the school schedule, I took a long-desired trip to Hawk Ridge in Duluth to see the Hawk migration. The conditions were perfect that day: it had rained for two days and was now sunny, so all the hawks that sat out the rain were ready to move on. It was warm enough to create thermals for soaring, the wind was from the west, and it was the peak of Broad-wing hawk migration season. We saw so many hawks! It was absolutely amazing, and if we hadn't been properly amazed, the howls of exuberance and joyous disbelief from the young staff spotters would have clued us in that this was an amazing day. In just one hour, more than 21,000 hawks flew over! (Compare to a total of 35,277 total observed so far this September --about 64% of the month's total flew over in that hour.)
Broad-wings fly high, so we would look through our binoculars to see little pepper specks, which eventually grew to be the size of grains of rice. They came across in "kettles," groups of hawks streaming across the sky, then stopping for a while in large circular whirls that looked like boiling water or, as Mom put it, "it looks like World War II up there!"
I talked to two of the staffers, explaining that this was my first visit to Hawk Ridge, and asking how this compared to a "normal" day. The first response was, "You can never come back! It will never be better than this, or anything like this!" The second response was, "Come back in October, when different hawks migrate. There are fewer, but they fly lower, so it's a different experience."
Mom and I talked about other extraordinary natural wonders we've seen. Both of us remember with awe a tree covered in migrating Monarch butterflies in Elmore, Minnesota. The tree seemed covered in living moving leaves. Absolutely amazing, and beyond my words to describe.
The other great experience of natural beauty, for both of us though on different occasions, was seeing the Northern Lights in particular glory. I still remember that I experienced this great wonder on August 3, 1972. I was a camp counselor, and we woke the kids up to see the lights. My cabin and I dragged our sleeping bags outside and stayed up for hours watching, long after the rest of the camp had gone to bed. As with the Monarchs and the hawks, they were beautiful, but it wasn't so much that they were green and blue and pink moving sheets of color. It was their abundance, their glory, and the fact that we were mere witnesses to an awe-inspiring phenomenon not arranged for our pleasure. These were spiritual experiences.
Mom and I drove home, dazed with pleasure, to the news that the stock market was collapsing.
Everything changes, nothing stays. My lovely children growing up, not needing my daily presence in September. My new geographical freedom, the fleeting incredible glory of the day on Hawk Ridge, the apparently fleeting glory of Wall Street. The ramifications of some of these changes will play out over years and decades, in ways we can't imagine now.
May you live in interesting times!
The black swan : the impact of the highly improbable (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)
Taleb is concerned with black swans, i.e., unpredictable and improbable events that have great impact. Among the examples of these he cites are the rapid spread of the Internet and the 9/11 attacks. People endeavor to explain black swans after they occur, but they cannot do so in advance. Despite the crucial effects of these events, economists and other supposed experts in prediction fail to allow for them; indeed, their theories often deny their possibility. Because of this failure, Taleb maintains that much business forecasting is useless. —David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., OH Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
And his sarcasm is highly entertaining!
1491 : new revelations of the Americas before Columbus (Charles C. Mann)
The arrival of Europeans was the quintessential Black Swan event to the native Americans. Disease, probably carried by the pigs the Spanish brought with them, decimated the population. Some estimate that as much as 95% of the population was wiped out.
"Mann shows how a new generation of researchers equipped with novel scientific techniques have come to previously unheard-of conclusions about the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans: In 1491 there were probably more people living in the Americas than in Europe. Certain cities -- such as Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital -- were greater in population than any European city. Tenochtitlan, unlike any capital in Europe at that time, had running water, beautiful botanical gardens, and immaculately clean streets. The earliest cities in the Western Hemisphere were thriving before the Egyptians built the great pyramids. Native Americans transformed their land so completely that Europeans arrived in a hemisphere already massively "landscaped" by human beings. Pre-Columbian Indians in Mexico developed corn by a breeding process that the journal Science recently described as "man's first, and perhaps the greatest, feat of genetic engineering."--From publisher description.
Friday, September 12
Tuesday, September 9
We're coming up on Banned Books week, when libraries make displays of banned books. When I saw the stacks of books being readied for display, I thought they had been pulled for a "classics" or "Great Reads" display! Here are a few (formerly) banned books:
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera)
Catcher in the Rye (J. D. Salinger)
To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee Harper)
Beloved (Toni Morrison)
A Separate Peace (John Knowles)
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)
Diary of a Young Girl (Annd Frank)
Enough of that; you get the idea -- lots of books for me to lust after, but I already have 37 books checked out. Four of them are due today and I'm going to keep at least two of those because I really want to read them.
Another display, about 10 feet away from me, is "Books about Books." I want to take at least five of those home.
In large families, I've heard, the slogan is "eat it to protect it," because food won't be there when you come around for it later. If you want it, or might want it, eat it now. That's my philosophy with library books. If you see it, check it out, because otherwise who knows when you'll get back to it?
While walking around the library with patrons, I've also seen three books that want to leap into my hands, all of which I've long intended to read. Though the "intend to read" list is approaching infinity, as I've said before.
One of the books I know I will succumb to because it is directly in front of me when I look up from my desk. It's the last in its row, so I can see the cover. I'm gonna break, I'm gonna crumble, I'm gonna check it out. Resistance is futile. It's like being in a cloud of buzzing bees or a crowd of toddlers -- too much commotion! I have to put my head down take a deep breath, and ignore those persistent thrills of "Take me take me/I want you I want you." And people say the library is dull.
It is probably more notable to say that today I found a book I didn't want to check out. It was a book lamenting the demise of reading, and the blurb was short on information and long on alarm. But I wavered--it might be interesting to check it out to see what his arguments are . . . maybe I should read it . . .
BTW, twice in the last few days I've seen lists of great or important or hot authors, almost none of whom I recognized. Truly, it's hard to keep up.
Sunday, September 7
a shoeshine, a clean windshield, and a full tank of gasoline (Firesign Theater, 70's)
sweet rejectamina, museum of the misunderstood, beauty out of season
(Faith Sullivan, descriptions of objects in second-hand stores, 90's)
money, fuel, guns (video game, 00's)
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (God, 0000's)
Due Dates: the advantage of library books!
This is the message I hate to see on my library account: "Due in 2 days. Waiting list. No renewals." Here are some of the books I've skimmed, examined, and even read this August:
Inuksuit; silent messengers of the arctic (Norman Hallendy, 2000, 0 requests). This is another of my serial obsessions. Here are some online pics of inuksuit, the stacked rock cairns of the arctic. They fascinate me. And hey, I did read quite a bit of the text. And I looked at ALL the pictures. I'm not the only one fascinated by inuksuit:
"Inuksuit have definitely struck a chord in Canada. In both the North and the South, they have become icons used to sell telephone and financial services, beer and sugared drinks. The figure adorns ball caps, sweatshirts, and coffee mugs, and is much sought after as an objet d'art."
Remember the cliche about "Eskimos" having seven words for snow? Now I've read that's unfounded word legend, but based on the list of words for caribou, I have to think they have multiple words for snow.
"When I asked a wise old hunter the name for caribou . . . I was greeted with the question: 'Which name? Is it the name of a bull, a fully-grown bull, a bull yearling, a cow, a pregnant cow, a cow with fawn, a cow with no fawn or antlers, a fawn, a fawn shedding its hair, a yearling having just left its mother, a male whose antlers are beginning to grow, a male whose antlers have not yet emerged, a caribou of late summer when there is skin on its antlers, one in early fall when it sheds the skin on its antlers, or perhaps one in late fall when its antlers have the reddish cast of blood?'"
The Art of Racing in the Rain (Garth Stein, 2008, 123 requests) Dream, dogs, and determination! A charming book that occupies a place somewhere in the "uplifting but not cheesy" section; one read-alike that comes to mind is Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. It's a moving, humane story of a family's struggles, told through the eyes of their dignified, philosophical dog Enzo. Dennis, Enzo's human, marries Eve and they have a baby girl. Dennis is a race car driver with big potential who's trying to make it into the racing circuit and still be a loving, present parent. Then Eve gets sick and everything starts falling apart.
This is a book to read when you need to stand up and cheer for someone with the quiet grit and determination to gut it out through the longest, most difficult set of circumstances. Dennis dreams big dreams and won't let them go. Enzo watches Denny apply the art of racing in the rain--balance, anticipation, patience, and the extension of the self into oneness with the car, the track, the world -- to the attainment of his dreams.
Garth Stein avoids cheap sentiment by using Enzo's philosophical, funny, doggy point of view and Dennis's dogged nature. I have never been interested in car racing, and I like cats, not dogs, but I loved this book. How's this for good writing: Mr. Stein has taken this reader inside a dog's mind, and I am convinced that now I understand dogs in a whole new way.
This book currently has 123 requests at Hennepin County Library, so it's got good buzz. Put in your hold request soon!
Peace, the biography of a symbol (Ken Kolsbun, 2008, 0 requests) Traces the beginning of the peace symbol, the story of the man who created it, and how it became a symbol understood and used around the world. Lots of good pictures from the '60's and 70's (Kent State, protests, hippie fashion) reproductions of trippy psychedelic posters, peace-symbol art, and more. An interesting story of peace, hope, and graphic design, and the place of art in dreams, activism, and resistance.
Library Mascot Cage Match; an Unshelved collection (Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum, 005, 0 requests) For library geeks and those who love them, tales of life at the Mallville Library. Based on the popular internet cartoon Unshelved. ROTFL.
The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (Louise Erdrich), 2001, 0 requests) Oh, such a writer, such a teller of tales. How does she know so much about the human condition; how can she know so much and still write with such love? In this book, Father Damien is indeed making his last report on the ambiguous miracles at Little No Horse, a remote Ojibwe reservation. The tale spins out fantastically with plot twists and turns, a little magic, a little miracle, a lot of loss and heartache, the power of music, and the complexities of human beings.
Go ahead, just read everything Louise Erdrich ever wrote. Her non-fiction Books and Islands in Indian Country is a marvel, one of my favorite books.
Here's a little "why do we read what we read" note: if I love Louise Erdrich's writing so much, why am I only getting around to this 2001 book in 2008? 1) someone I don't like praised it highly. Silly but true. 2) the suffering of the Ojibwe people in her book is based in fact. I expect a tough read because I forget the grace and wholeness of her writing. 3) As time elapsed, it got pushed lower and lower on the to-read list.
The Open Door (Elizabeth Maguire, 2008, no requests)
(SB, Skimmed book.) An adequate book, the story of Constance Fenimore Woolson, her friendship with Henry James, and her artistic struggles. Based on the real-life Constance Fenimore Woolson, one of the most widely read American novelists of the nineteenth century, and grand-niece of James Fenimore Cooper. It didn't seem luminous to me, as the blurb proclaimed, and I didn't find anything that hasn't already been said, and better, about women artists and writers. (A Room of One's Own.) It's possible that by skimming I lost the opportunity to see the worth of the book. Still, I'm easy, and countless times I've started to skim and ended up reading a book cover to cover, caught by a well-turned phrase or an interesting development. That didn't happen here.
Traffic; Why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us) (Tom Vanderbilt, 2008, 120 requests) (SB-Skimmed Book) I would probably enjoy skimming this more slowly but I don't feel a need to read the whole book. Good, research-based information about our driving behavior.
The Bush Tragedy (Jacob Weisberg, 2008, 16 requests) Weisberg assumes the Bush presidency is a failed presidency. He's not interested in proving it, but in how exploring W's complex relationships, particularly with his parents, and his personal history and characteristics, led to his downfall. An evenhanded and compassionate analysis of George W. Bush, the man and the president.
New Moon (Twilight Saga, Book 2; 140 Requests) and Breaking Dawn (Twilight Saga, Book 4, final; 474 requests) (Stephenie Meyer)
I surprised myself by loving Twilight (Twilight Saga, Book 1; published in 2005 and has 499 requests!), Stephenie Meyer's huge teen fiction hit. It's boy meets girl with a clever twist: the perfect, unattainable boy is a vampire! Meyer created the world where this could happen, one just like our own with divorced parents, awkward, self-conscious teens, the cafeteria rules (who sits where), and the classic girl-drives-beater, boy-drives-hot-car trauma.
As fate and requests lists would have it, I haven't read Book 3, Eclipse, but I don't think it would have made a difference. I found New Moon and Breaking Dawn completely uncompelling. They moved too much into the world of vampires, and a protracted power struggle between "our" vampires and dangerous intruders. PUH-lease. If I want battles with vampires and werewolves, I'll watch Jarrett play video games. Once she moved out of the normal-with-a-twist, fish-out-of-water scenario, the whole series went collapsed like a souffle. (While the books got bigger and bigger.)
Thanks! If you read this far, I'm grateful!
Hey -- I posted something new today. But since I created it and saved it as a draft on August 30, it has now posted with that date. So scroll down a little and see it. I was getting messages that I might not be able to save it as a draft (today) so I just posted the whole darn thing. It's too long and I will edit. But by then you will have read it. So maybe I won't bother.
Time and permanence are fluid constructs here!
Friday, September 5
I'm at work and the book I want to talk about is at home. For now, here's some random eye candy from Oranges and Peaches, from a post on "Strange Maps": the distribution of usage of "Pop," "Soda," and other terms for fizzy beverages. (Click on map to see larger version.)
BTW, the current post (9/02/08) on Oranges and Peaches has "word nerd" resources!
Saturday, August 30
Pierre Bayard's "How to talk about books you haven't read" is a delight. At first I thought the book was a hilarious spoof, but I became persuaded that though hilarious it's not a spoof: his words ring true. Bayard, a lecturer at the University of Paris VIII and a psychoanalyst, is very clever and very funny.
Reading the "classics" would already take more years than we have, and more books are pumped out every month, as every book lover knows to her joy and despair. Bayard describes three cultural canons about reading: the obligation to read (one must!), the obligation to read thoroughly, and the agreement that one must read a book thoroughly to discuss it well.
He finds, rather, that a close reading of a book can hinder, not help, one's understanding of it; that skimming the book for highlights, listening to other people talk about the book, and reading reviews and discussions often serve admirably.
"The result of this repressive system of obligations and prohibitions has been to generate a widespread hypocrisy on the subject of books that we actually have read. . . Among specialists, mendacity is the rule, and we tend to lie in proportion to the significance of the book under consideration."
Bayard uses a shorthand code when he refers to books.
UB book unknown to me
SB book I have skimmed
HB book I have heard about
FB book I have forgotten
++ extremely positive opinion
+ positive opinion
- negative opinion
-- extremely negative opinion
Is a book which you have read and forgotten still a book you have read? Bayard writes,
"Even as I read, I start to forget what I have read, and this process is unavoidable."
This is where the book really pulled me in. I'm an avid reader, but the more books I read the more easily I forget. Why do we book lovers then strive to read more, to spend our reading time on "good books?" Why to we read lists of the classics, the 1000 Books to Read Before You Die? What are we so afraid we'll miss? What loss or lack is we don't read, read, read? So many books, so little time, indeed.
When I was in library school, I started to read outside my habitual genres and topics. I wanted to be ready for any reader's question about books. I soon saw that was impossible, but I found new topics of interest, new books to add to my "someday" list. That was when I started to read the New York Times best-seller books. Just so I'd know if someone asked. Has anyone asked? Only a few times. But that didn't stop me. I wanted more, more, more. I browsed the internet for book review and book recommendation sites. I subscribed to Powell's newsletter. More books! More books! I quickly found I couldn't read them all, but I still requested more books than any human could read. Now I planned to "examine" them. Read the first chapter, a random section from the center, and the last chapter. It's become like the Sorcerer's Apprentice, a flood of books.
Ask people about their all-time favorite book. If they can pick one, it is usually one from childhood, or early reading years. When we hadn't read so many books, each one had a more profound impact. If we took a breath between books, and lived with it for a while, it stayed with us. Now we swim in information and entertainment. It's a commodity. Something else to acquire and consume, almost indiscriminately. If we forget what we read, why read?
Most of the book choices I make now are based on reviews. I read so many new books now, or old ones that have been called to mind by something else I've read, or a list of don't miss classics. I used to browse. Remember browsing? Not many people browse anymore. I used to pick out a lot of books that turned out to be just average. The great ones stood out more.
Now I read more really good books in a month than I used to in a year, more well-written and cogent non-fiction, more award-winning fiction. I feel lucky that this is so; that reviews can at least point me in an interesting direction. I close the cover of another great book, relishing what I've just read. What a standout! This will stay with me. But I forget. I've always said that if books were men, I'd have a hundred children. I just can't say no. But there's a downside to this voracity. There's always another encounter and another.
I realize that people still read books now and some people actually love them, but in 1946 in the village our feelings about books . . . went beyond love. It was as if we didn't know where we ended and books began. Books were our weather, our environment, our clothing. We didn't simply read books; we became them.
Anatole Broyard, When Kafka Was the Rage. Vintage Press, 1977.
I love this quotation from Broyard, though I can't help but notice that he is speaking of a time in his youth, 30 years past. We open our hearts more to books when we are young. Now we have lived into the answers of so many questions we used to have.
It might be true, then, that the more we read, the more we forget. Montaigne was a forgetful reader, and Bayard (yes, I'm back at "How to talk about books . . . ") quotes from Montaigne's Essays, "And if I am a man of some reading, I am a man of no retentiveness." Further, Montaigne writes,
"I leaf through books. I do not study them. What I retain of them is something I no longer recognize as anyone else's. It is only the material from which my judgment has profited, and the thoughts and ideas with which it has become imbued: the author, the place, the words, and other circumstances, I immediately forget."
In fact recent research on memory has shown just that: we do not accurately recall the source of our ideas and opinions. The opinion formed may remain, but the memory of the source drops away. So dreams, articles from the New York Times, someone's blog, talk radio, textbooks, movies, and more, all contribute to our opinions and ideas, and over time, all come to be weighed equally as sources of truth.
I read that somewhere. I can't just now remember where, but I think it was a good source. [Found it: Robert Burton, On being certain: believing you are right even when you’re not.)
The House of Paper (Carlos Maria Dominguez) is a parable (103 small pages) about the same remembering and forgetting, Brauer, a book-lover and book-collector, acquires so many books that his skimpy cataloging is overwhelmed with the sheer volume of his volumes. He can no longer find anything; can no longer trace sources of ideas and opinions. In despair and madness, he builds a house of his books; hires someone to lay them in cement like bricks and lives in this bleak house until one day his fury mounts and he hammers gaping holes into the house. He regrets this and hires the mason again to repair the house, but it can't be fixed, and eventually all that is left are a few scattered remains of books on a cold windy beach.
The story is narrated by man trying to put the story together some years later, and he talks to one of Brauer's neighbors, Delgado, who also collects books. Delgado says, "To build up a library is to create a life. It's never just a random collection of books. . . they seem to constitute a collection, but I would say that's an illusion. We pursue some topics, and at the end of a certain length of time we find ourselves defining worlds, or if you prefer, we are tracing the steps of a journey, the advantage being that we can conserve its traces. . .we start with a reference to a book we don't have, then when we have acquired that one, it leads us on to another.
The most famous example of this pursuit is in 84 Charing Cross Road. Helene Hanff begins a project of self-education with a book by Arthur Quiller-Couch. When she comes to a reference to a book (idea, opinion, author) she doesn't know, she writes to the bookstore at 84 Charing Cross Road in London to order the sometimes-obscure texts. At the time she wrote the book the transatlantic correspondence, and the self-education project, had lasted 25 years.
Elisabeth Ellington (A year of reading : a month-by-month guide to classics and crowd-pleasers for you and your book group ) calls this "serial obsession." You are intrigued by a subject and pursue it avidly -- "and then the fancy passes by, and nothing shall remain (A. E. Housman)." Some of the things I have been serially addicted to reading about are Byzantine mosaics, Belle Epoque New York, graphic design, survival stories, seasons, Brenda Ueland, the Sages of Chelm, fools, tricksters, Art Nouveau, mixed-media artists, Prague, the Vatican Archives, and folk art.
Then there are the perennial obsessions that start as hot infatuations but continue over time. For me, and many of my ilk, this includes books about books, reading, writing, authors, libraries and librarians, manuscripts, publishing, paper, book plates, book collectors: everything book and print related (hence the title of this blog, Paper Baubles). (A year of reading was thus a double hit: a book about seasonal reading. ) Asperger's and autism, gardening, color, and phenology -- there's more to the list but you get the point. I find a happy glow spreading through me just contemplating this list. These are lists of some of my great pleasures.
And that brings us back around to answer the question, why do we read? And read so much? And feel the pressure of so many books, so little time? It's not difficult really. We did I even ask? We read to make new friends, enter new worlds, and experience both new and familiar pleasures.
Sunday, August 24
There was a solemn air of worship. People conducted themselves with decorum and respect. We were participating in a funeral, and the twisted wreckage of the bridge was the graveyard. It was difficult to see the ruins even from the Stone Arch Bridge, and people did crane to see, but not "rubbernecking." They were bearing witness to a tragedy.
You will see in some of the photos how low the river is. The water level was lowered to aid recovery efforts.
It was a beautiful sunny day, as are many funerals and cemetery visits. The sun relaxed and warmed us. A lot of people started on the bridge and then walked around to Gold Medal Park, Mill City Ruins, and the Guthrie, enjoying the river and the beautiful day. Death, especially random and senseless death, reminds us to be grateful to be living. At the top of the gentle green hill in Gold Medal Park, reached by a path spiraling to the top, was the the spontaneous memorial to those who died when the bridge collapsed, filled with flowers, pictures, signs, and notes.
Wednesday, August 20
The Beloit Mindset List is composed annually to help college faculty and staff understand the mindset of college frosh. This year's list includes:
WWW has never meant World Wide Wrestling.
Girls wearing head scarves have always been part of the high school fashion scene.
Gas stations have never fixed flats, but most serve cappuccino.
Friday, August 8
The Order of Things; an archaeology of the human sciences
I wrote earlier about David Weinberger's "Everything Is Miscellaneous." He praised Michel Foucault's The Order of Things; an archaeology of the human sciences," so I decided to read it.
Here's a random sample from the book:
IV. Duplicated Representation
However, the property of signs most fundamental to the Classical episteme has not yet been mentioned. Indeed, the very fact that the sign can be more or less probable, more or less distant from what it signifies, that it can be either natural or arbitrary, without its nature or its value as a sign being affected--all this shows clearly enough that the relation of the sign to its content is not guaranteed by the order of things in themselves. The relation of the sign to the signified now resides in a space in which there is no longer any intermediary figure to connect them . . .
You get the idea. It's more or less understandable, kind of, but now realize this is one of the more lucid passages and multiply it to get 387 pages.
As the punchline of the old joke goes, "Up in the hills where my people come from we speak of little else!"
The Siege, by Clara Claiborne Park, is one of a series of books I've been reading for a book list on autism and Asperger's syndrome. The Morton Grove Public Library hosts the Fiction-L book lists (fiction Reader's Advisory) and they have a great list on Autism and Asperger's in Fiction, compiled by the subscribers of the Fiction_L mailing list.
However, when I was looking for anything I could read about autism/Asperger's Syndrome, it was memoir that really helped me cope and understand. (My oldest son has Asperger's Syndrome, and though he's come a long way, it was a hard slog for a long time.) I found a treasure trove of such memoirs in the downtown Minneapolis Library and am working my way through them. Or maybe I'm not.
"The Siege," written in 1967, is one of the earliest popular works on autism told from the family's point of view. (As opposed to works by professionals about children in institutions.)
I read the first 70 pages and found it entirely too evocative of those painful early years. I wasn't as ready to revisit it as I thought I was. I'd like to return to it, but for now I've put it aside.
Thursday, August 7
I tremendously enjoyed the beautifully written "Soul Thief," almost to the end. And though I'm unhappy with the ending, Baxter's writing is so enjoyable I recommend "Soul Thief" anyway.
Here is a book with a blank and tender hero, a book of mirrors, doubles, identity theft, of voiceless people finding voice and others silencing themselves. We are introduced to Nathaniel Mason, drifting through grad school in the early 1970s. (Baxter nails his descriptions of the 70's.) Nathaniel meets Theresa on the way to a party, and she introduces him to Jerome Coolberg. Soon he hears his distinctive life history parroted back to him as Jerome's. Then books and clothing begin to disappear from his apartment and migrate to Jerome. The identity violations climax in a final brutal incident.
The second half of the book opens years later. Nathaniel is a contentedly married man with two teenage sons. From out of the blue, he gets a phone call from Coolberg, asking for a meeting.
The ending has a twist I can't reveal, but I was disappointed. I read book reviews, as I did after "Divisadero," to see what others thought. The New York Times reviewer didn't mind, but the Powell's Books reviewer says, "it saddens me to report that the climax is a hackneyed bit of metafictional whimsy, which more or less sinks the novel."
In reading "Divisadero" and again with "Soul Thief," I assumed the fault was mine, that I wasn't a sophisticated enough reader to "get it." I have enough confidence to say "I didn't like this book/ending," but not enough confidence to think that fault is not solely mine. I wonder when that confidence occurs.
Here are the two reviews I read:
New York Times Review
Powell's Books Review-a-Day
Wednesday, August 6
So, back to reading!
I've been reading "better" books, and fewer mysteries and thrillers, and enjoying them greatly. Mostly. I just finished Michael Ondaatje's "Divisadero," and found it a slog. The characters in the contemporary part of the book seemed wooden and two-dimensional. I got to page 153 before I felt a jolt of interest in the book. The last third of the book is devoted to the story of Segunda, a French writer whose history Anna is studying, and that was the section that felt most solid and real.
I read several reviews of Divisadero, trying to find out what others saw that I did not. This one was helpful:
From Bookmarks Magazine (cited on Amazon.com)
How do we account for the critics' varied reactions to Michael Ondaatje's latest novel? Is it "a beautifully crafted tale" (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) or a "strangely broken-back beast of a novel" (Seattle Times)? Critics uniformly praised Ondaatje's graceful language and poetic imagery, but agreed on little else. Some applauded the nonlinear plot structure, while others found the constantly shifting times, places, and narrators confusing. Characters were pronounced both well-drawn individuals and flat, indistinguishable stereotypes. Several critics lamented the sudden, unexpected shift to Segura's life story, which left the previous plot unresolved. Readers should note that the critics who enjoyed Divisadero the most were those who approached it as a work of art rather than a conventional novel.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
Here's my final answer: the time and place shifts were handled well, and I noted several lyrical passages, but it was the flatness of the characters and the storytelling, except for the historical look at the writer Segura, that made reading a chore.
Here's a plot summary from "What Do I Read Next?"
At age 16, Anna lives on a farm in Petaluma, California, with her father, an orphan named Claire, also 16, and a hired hand named Coop. The three young people are as close as siblings; however, their bond is broken when violence erupts on the farm. Anna runs away, and Coop uses his card playing skills to make a living playing poker. The novel traces the adult lives of the trio as they cope with the abrupt and violent end to their "family." Claire becomes an investigator for a public defender, Coop continues to play poker, and Anna becomes intrigued by the life and work of French author Lucien Segura, in whose house she resides. As the novel shifts focus to the life of Segura at the turn of the century, Anna finds remarkable similarities between his life and her own.
Monday, August 4
"You may be interested to know that we will be breaking it into three eBooks (with some updating for the dramatic changes we foresaw in our economy but that are taking place at a more rapid rate) and the eBooks will be published our forthcoming Middle Class library site. Our policy proposals will be ready soon, too."
The Website: Middle-Class Lifeboat.com
Thursday, July 31
Minnesota 150 : the people, places, and things that shape our state / Kate Roberts.
This book includes the usual suspects plus some surprises. The Minnesota Historical Society received 2,760 nominations for a sesquecentennial list of 150 topics, and narrowed the list down to this 150. SPAM, Jesse Ventura, the Mayo Clinic, Charles Lindbergh, and Itasca State Park may not surprise, but did you expect Gratia Alta Countryman, Seymour Cray, Fanny Brin, Burma Shave, and the Socialist Opera House?
Le, Nam. The Boat.
A short story collection so strong it embarasses all your dreams of writing. Don't bother, Nam Le has it covered. His settings and characters include a young Vietnamese writer in Iowa, high school students in Australia, a ship of Vietnamese refugees adrift on the sea, Hiroshima just before the bomb, an aging artist in New York preparing to meet his daughter for the first time, an American tourist on an ill-timed visit to Tehran, and a moment of truth for a 14-year-old assassin in Columbia.
Holm, Bill. Prairie Days.
Finding this book was a real serendipity. I'm not sure what moved me to take it from the shelf, but it turns out to be a book I read long ago, and have looked for unsuccessfully for years. I thought the book I was looking for was written by Garrison Keillor; turns out it was by the other tall humorist, writer, and singer from Minnesota: Bill Holm.
Holm's essays are beautifully illustrated with black and white photos of old churches, prairie fields, a hymnbook swollen with water damage. The book was originally released as "The Music of Failure," about which I have written here before. (September 5, 2007)
Middle-Class Lifeboat; careers and life choices for navigating a changing economy, by Paul & Sarah Edwards.
I've checked this out twice, but didn't get to spend much time with it either time.This time it got lost in the painting and entertaining which took up most of July.
"Middle-Class Lifeboat" identifies over 50 careers the authors feel are financially secure, many of which you can do from home. Here's one option that caught my eye: Disease Management. With diabetes and other long-term chronic illnesses on the rise, jobs have emerged to work with patients "proactively managing a chronic medical condition that brings together physicians and support services to assist patients in taking better care of themselves." The job-holders duties range from direct patient contact, ordering supplies, providing education about the disease, to running groups, keeping in contact with physicians, nurses, family, and neighbors, or daily monitoring of statistics (e.g. blood sugar for diabetics.)
For each career, the Edwards provide an "Economic Reality Fit." Is the work/product necessary or discretionary? Can it be replaced by technology? Can it be sent offshore? What is the status of the industry?
They also list "Personal Reality Fit" factors such as start-up costs, overhead, potential earnings, flexible hours, overall stress, and ease of bartering, give a "Durability Rating," list likely transferable skills, give suggestions on what to charge, the best ways to market the skill/product, and give tips for getting started.
Finally, they list associations, books, and web sites to turn to for more information.
The career information forms the bulk of the book. In addition there are ideas about financial planning, simplifying, moving to a place with a lower cost of living, and staying "financially afloat whether the economy is up or down."
I'm going to check this out again. I'm definitely not done with it.
Wednesday, July 30
Prepping and painting the living room, dining room, and kitchen grabbed all my attention for a while, and then I enjoyed a 10 day visit from Marius, our foreign exchange student from two years ago, which included a weekend in Duluth and a visit from his parents. And that was the month!
Here's what I read in July:
Ha Jin. Waiting. I was disappointed.
Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice. My first Austen novel, though I've seen the movies! This was an annotated edition for teens, and it defined obscure words and outdated concepts, which slowed me down in the past. Very helpful and just the nudge I needed. This is part of the "DK Illustrated Classics" series.
Donna Tartt. The Secret History. Deliciously creepy! An elite group of students in a New England school get in trouble when they experiment with Dionysian rituals, but their solution lands them in trouble that haunts them all their lives.
Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis. A graphic novel about growing up in Iran as Satrapi ages from six to fourteen, during which time the Shah was overthrown, the Islamic Revolution triumphed, and the war in Iraq battered Tehran.
Shannon Hale. Austenland: a novel. Very funny take on Austen and her fans. For Jane Hayes, no man can compare to Mr. Darcy, and it's ruining her love life. Her great-aunt sends her to the expensive Austen Land resort, where women act out their Austen fantasies, hoping it will help her get over Mr. Darcy. The story unfolds in echoes of several Austen tales. If you like Austen, you'll enjoy this!
Monette, Sarah. The Bone Key. More good creepy fun! A series of short stories about a man who attracts the supernatural. Very well written.
Jennifer Lee Carrell. Interred with their bones. The search for a missing Shakespearean play, with the standard elements: clues in dusty books and archives; codes and double meanings, the race against another group also looking for the play. This one's stroke of originality lies in setting part of the search in the desert Southwest. This is at least the second "Missing Shakespeare play" book I've read this year, but I still enjoy them.
Lee Child. Nothing to Lose. I've been a Reacher fan for years, but the series is getting stale.
Tuesday, July 8
I had a wonderful 4th of July. Dear Sons and Dear Ex were out of town, and I declared my independence from chores and housework, and read all day long. Oh, bliss, oh joy!
It was the most perfect day imaginable: warm and sunny, low humidity, a breeze ruffling the leaves; the sounds of cheerful extended clans gathering next door and across the alley, the smell of barbecue. A day straight out of e. e. cummings:
i thank You God for this most amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of tees
and a blue true dream of sky, and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
Digression #1: I went in search of another e e cummings poem, which was in itself a digression, and searched through a paper file of clippings and cartoons I've saved, stuffed full of New Yorker cartoons, many from my high school years. It was a three minute flip through a lifetime of good laughs, layered backwards through time. I hope that when it's time for my life to flash before my eyes it will include some of these cartoons.
Digression #2: The poem I was looking for was on a greeting card I'd received many years ago. I looked through a notebook stuffed with poems, started in junior high; through the clippings file, which also dates back to junior high, and a brief glance through a set of monthly files that I used a lot when the kids were little, with pictures and activities sorted by month. My point, and I do have one, is this: how much nicer it would have been if those assorted lifetime collections of good stuff were dumped in one big data folder, and tagged.
I just finished reading David Weinberger's "Everything is Miscellaneous; the power of the new digital disorder. " He describes "three orders of order." The first order is the physical arrangement of things. The Bettman Archive, a collection of historic photos, is a vast first-order organization: a collection of actual objects, arranged in an order to facilitate finding. The photos, stored in a cool underground vault, are arranged by collection, in the order in which the Bettman acquired other smaller collections over time. Within collections the photos are often arranged chronologically. Other examples of first order collections are silverware in drawers, books on shelves, and clippings in file folders. The enormity of the Bettman Archive means that finding a given photo, or a photo with certain characteristics ("a civil war soldier eating a meal outdoors,") is incredibly difficult and nigh unto impossible. (Note: some of the Bettman photos are now available online.)
The card catalog in the Bettman Archive is a second order of order. Information about the objects is stored separately from the objects themselves. This is a great improvement, but still insufficient. Not all the photos are cataloged; some are in yellowing ledgers waiting to be cataloged. Even the items cataloged do not contain all the information one would wish: to find a civil war soldier eating a meal outdoors, one could could eliminate thousands of photos not cataloged with the subject "civil war," but one would have to look through thousands of civil war photos in hopes of finding a soldier eating a meal outdoors. And there might be some great photos that aren't cataloged at all, or don't include "civil war" as a catalog subject.
Enter the third order of order. If the photos were digitally scanned, they could be tagged with as many key words as desired. Current library catalogs are based on a model of scarce digital storage space, and before that, the size of a 3x5 card limited entries. Now we have all the room we want, and the next generation of card catalogs will reflect this, probably in a combination of professionally selected subject and keyword settings, and tags and reviews contributed by readers/patrons/customers.
The photo we're looking for might be tagged with Civil War, soldier, mess tent, eating, outdoor meals, the type of camera used for the photo, the photographer's name, the date, the name of the original collection and any subsequent collections it was part of. Oh, and the name, rank, and regiment of the soldier and his home state. And the state in which the picture was taken. Lots of room for everything! Corbis, the Bettman's parent company, has a digital photo archive, a third-order organizational method.
So we should be able to go to Corbis and find that Civil War soldier. Weinberger did, but I couldn't duplicate his search. I looked for about five minutes without success. We're still not in that perfect digital world!
For examples of tagging, if you aren't familiar with this, see Flickr.com or click to my links on del.icio.us.
This is what Weinberger means by "everything is miscellaneous" -- this uncoupling of data from second-order systems, the creating of multiple "leaves" heaped on the floor, accessible in any order the end user wishes to sort them or use them.
His book is a great introduction to new ways information is shared and used. Three key points: * Information is most valuable when it is thrown into a big digital "pile" to be filtered and organized by users themselves.
* Instead of relying on experts, groups of passionate users are inventing their own ways of discovering what they know and want.
* Smart companies do not treat information as an asset to be guarded, but let it loose to be "mashed up," gaining market awareness and customer loyalty.
When I went to library school, I was thrilled to be able to take a class called, "The Organization of Knowledge," and then bitterly disappointed when it wasn't a description of varieties of ways to organize knowledge, and how those organizational schemes affect how we view "reality." Instead it was a course in cataloging, a "how to" to put materials into organizational cubbyholes with the Library of Congress or Dewey Decimal system.
Weinberger provides a lot of anecdotal description of the ways knowledge has been organized, which book geeks, library geeks, and info geeks will enjoy. You know who you are.
Back to the Fourth of July
I intended to blog about Fareed Zakaria's The Post-American World on July 4th, thought it would be very fitting, but it was too lovely to even think of hanging around a computer, so we'll have to settle for a Post-July-4th blog about The Post-American World.
I've been hearing predictions of the demise of America's greatness for as long as I can remember. Not only in the sense that many of us have whenever our party or our candidate is not in power, that we're headed in the wrong direction, but a deeper fear of financial ruin, joblessness, lawlessness, powerlessness; the comparisons to the Roman Empire are legion (excuse the pun.) I've had those fears myself. During the financial crises in the 80's (the only near-term example of a time in which the "misery index" of joblessness and inflation surpassed our current deep financial woes), businesses all around my neighborhood were closing. Britain seemed to be circling the drain, with strikes and financial chaos.
And anyone who has watched the fantastic growth (not without social and environmental costs) in China, or in India or southeast Asia, has felt the tremors rocking our assumptions that we are the best, period.
Zakaria says, "I began to notice things that a short time ago were unimaginable. The richest man in the world lives in Mexico City. The tallest building in the world is in Taipei, and Dubai is building a taller building. . . The largest factory in the world is in China. The largest refinery is in India. I was in Las Vegas one day and thought, At least we have this. It turns out we don't. The largest casino hotel in the world now is the Venetian in Macao, and Macao just overtook Las Vegas with the largest gambling revenues in the world. Shopping, America's greatest leisure time activity? The last time I was in Beijing they showed me the largest mall in the world, which has since been eclipsed by another Chinese mall. It turns out the top ten malls in the world are all outside the United States. Just three years ago almost every category I gave you would have been topped by America. The change is fast and has only just begun."
Zakaria foresees a world in which power and economic strength are more widely shared. His key message is that these changes are not about the decline of the United States but "the rise of the rest." He envisions the United States playing a key role in a world of negotiations and strategy -- a role only we can play, based on our military and economic strength. The book is a great read; Zakaria is a journalist, not just a policy wonk, and the book hurtles along on a wave of enthusiastic optimism about our future.