Archive for December, 2008

Thriller for Christmas

Posted December 30, 2008 By Jandy

Michael Jackson’s Thriller is not normally associated with Christmas. But check out what the staff of the National Library of Australia did at their Christmas party this year:

Uneven Odds

Posted December 27, 2008 By Jandy

“Our opponent is an alien spaceship packed with atomic bombs,” I said. “We have a protractor.”

From Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Growth, Change, and Racism

Posted December 26, 2008 By Jandy

A personal reading challenge I had for myself this year was to read 200 books. I reached the goal (and will surpass it slightly). It’s interesting that book #200 is Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow.

Many years ago I saw the movie and was impressed, but forgot specifics, only retaining the general impression. So I came to the book with no memory of actual story line except for the injustice of racism.

Ragtime is set in the New York City area in the early 1900’s. At this time the railroad was transportation king. Henry Ford was just starting the first mass production lines for automobilies. Pierpont Morgan was the richest man in America if not the world. Europe was moving closer to the conflicts that sparked World War I. Henry Houdini toured the world with his escape acts and illusions.

The story of Coalhouse Walker Jr. is the hardest hitting, in your face part of this novel. It’s a story of bigotry, racism, independence, and revolution. This Negro’s stance of what he will accept as redress is firm. His car was vandalized by a group of white men who cornered him. He won’t accept anything less than having his automobile returned to its pristine condition. By the time the car is returned, he knows what will be the consequences of his actions. He is prepared to accept that as long as he can get his followers away free.

But there are other, less obvious layers to this novel. Those layers help make this into a novel that is becoming a classic. There is another story of bigotry with the Jewish man Tateh and his young daughter. After he leaves the Jewish slums of New York and becomes successful in movies he changes his name and affiliation. He knows as a European royal he will be accepted in a way a Jewish man wouldn’t.

The story line that struck me the most is how the culture was changing and how people were accepting those changes. To me, that is the major idea in this novel. America was changing due to the constant influx of immigrants and industrialization. Father (no other name is ever given) is the person who portrays the effects of the changes. Within in few years he moves from the stalwart, explorer family man to a man who isn’t quite sure of his place in the world.

In the last 100 years we have seen so many changes in the world, industry, and culture that we now expect them constantly. Change isn’t easy, but that’s what we have to live with. In the early 1900’s cultural change was still very slow because it was new. Since the Civil War things were the way they had always been, at least to men like Father.

What point am I trying to make? I’m really not sure. This book has been rolling around in my head in the days since I finished it.

Humankind doesn’t change that much. We still find ways to hate as well as love. We always seem to have an “us versus them” mentality with some group or another. Change will always be disturbing. Perhaps Ragtime is only a snapshot of man’s recurring sins. Perhaps, though, it will help some of us see ourselves and our prejudices. Perhaps someone will understand that change continues. Then the novel has succeeded in its message.

Libraries Are Great Places

Posted December 15, 2008 By Jandy

This was on MSNBC:

I use my local public library all the time. Recently I learned the materials budget has been cut about 60% for 2009. I guess I’d better start buying more used books from the Friends of the Library bookstore to help supplement that budget shortage.

Food Memories

Posted December 14, 2008 By Jandy

In my home, one big Christmas tradition is Cookie Day. It’s a multi-generational baking fest. It has to have my mother’s home made vegetable soup simmering on the stove to offset the sugar from the cookies. We tend to not invite younger children until they are at least 11 or 12. It’s hard to bake a dozen batches of cookies with younger children underfoot. By 11 or 12 they can start helping. We have a great time and go home with a wide variety of cookies to share with others. This year it was last Sunday.

What does this have to do with reading? I just finished Hallelujah! The Welcome Table by Maya Angelou. This book is full of her friends, family, and food memories. Although none are holiday related all these memories include food.

That started me remembering. Most of my memories also include food (unless it’s trauma, like sewing my finger in the sewing machine). That’s how we’re wired – food is important in our lives. Do you go out for dinner on a first date or just meet for coffee? When someone dies, family and friends bring food. Think back – how many of your memories include food? I bet a lot.

Top Ten of Everything of 2008

Posted December 9, 2008 By Jandy

Time Magazine has released lists of the Top Ten of Everything of 2008. The links include the 10 best fiction books and the 10 best non-fiction books. But the list includes the 10 best political gaffes, the 10 most under reported news stories, museum exhibits, open mic moments, etc. It’s lots of fun.

Time’s Top Ten of Everything of 2008

Why I Have Mt. Bookpile

Posted December 1, 2008 By Jandy

After moving this past month I wondered why Mt. Bookpile never has a chance to shrink. I found my answer in this quotation Cornelia Funke uses at the beginning of Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke:

Hark, the footsteps of the night
Fade in silence long.
Quiet chirps my reading light
Like a cricket’s song.

Books inviting us to read
On the bookshelves stand
Piers for bridges that will lead
Into fairyland.

by Rainer Maria Rilke, “Vigils III,” from Sacrifice to the Lares

Mostly Shelved

Posted December 1, 2008 By Jandy

This past weekend I was finally able to finish the move-in painting on the baseboards. Bookshelves are all in place (except one for Mt. Bookpile). I’ve been able to shelve all my read books that I’ve uncovered. Mt. Bookpile still needs finishing unpacking and shelved.

The organization librarian attacked again. While reshelving I changed my organization system, mixing together groups I used to keep separate. After my brother unpacked his storage, I gained 3 bookcases. How nice not to stack books on top because I ran out of shelf room. There’s even room for growth if/as I reduce Mt. Bookpile.

Cool – I can relax and read some more again.

Now I still need to find one or two missing boxes. I want to find my “In Death” hardbacks. Mom wants to borrow one and I can’t find them yet.