Monday, September 29

Wisconsin Public Radio

I drove to Chicago this weekend for Family Weekend at Loyola University. I listened to Wisconsin Public Radio most of the way out and all the way home. They had some great programs! I listened to two hours of To the Best of Our Knowledge, or TTBOOK. The first hour was entitled "Libraries."

"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

Everything Changes

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!

Book Picks:

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.

Tuesday, September 9

"Torture" in the Library

Working in the library today has been almost torturous. It's been aggravating and frustrating. The reason? I've run into an unusually high number of books I want to read, but I just can't check out any! more! books!

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

Trinities, Holy and Unholy

sex, drugs, and rock and roll (60's)

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)

A Random Walk through August's Books

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!

New post

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

Impotence of Proofreading

Sorry, I couldn't resist: this is great.

The Impotence of Proofreading

Cindy and Mom, this one's for you!

Soda or Pop?

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!