Sunday, September 28, 2008

Missed the book festival 

From MarketWatch:
WASHINGTON, Sept 27, 2008 /PRNewswire-USNewswire via COMTEX/ -- More than 120,000 book lovers gathered today on the National Mall for the eighth annual National Book Festival, organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress and hosted by Mrs. Laura Bush. Festival-goers were entertained by their favorite authors, illustrators and poets as they celebrated creativity and imagination among the favorite standing-room-only pavilions including the Let's Read America; Pavilion of the States; Children; Teens & Children; Fiction & Mystery; History & Biography; Home & Family; and Poetry. This year the Library showcased its efforts to digitize rare documents and books, including a draft Declaration of Independence with handwritten edits by the Founding Fathers, and previewed the World Digital Library, set to debut in April 2009.

I missed the book festival. I was looking forward to it - Neil Gaiman, Paul Theroux, Katherine PAtterson, Even Alexander McCall Smith (whose books, the Ladies Number 1 Detective Agency, are set in Botswana, whence I recently returned) - getting books signed, meeting the authors. I'd put aside the books I wanted to bring to be signed. But it rained, and the day felt so yucky, that I ended up not going. I didn't want to waste the energy there, when I had a party I was going to that night where I needed to be attentive and stuff.

National Book Festival 2008 website is here.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Canadian Tech Support 

Since I feel like an honorary Canadian (having lived there, having inlaws who are Canadian citizens, having a brother who was born there, and visiting at least once a year), this amused me.

The Land Of Maple Leafed Savages
Tech Support | Ontario, Canada

Me: “Thank you for calling technical support. My name is ***, how can I help you?

Customer: *distinct southern accent* “Where am I calling?”

Me: “*** technical support. Are you having trouble with your internet, sir?”

Customer: “I know that. I mean, what part of the world?”

Me: “I’m in Canada, sir. Is there something I can help you with?”

Customer: “Canada?! You have internet up in Canada?”

Me, sarcastically: “Nope…just got radio, in fact I had to drive my dog sled into work. There was a horrible accident and I lost two dogs. It’s been a rough day.”

Customer: “Oh…well, I want technical support from a country who actually has it.” *click*

Supervisor monitoring calls: “You can’t be serious.”

Book title haiku 

Sorted books, artwork by Nina Katchadourian. Kind of like haiku.


More here: Sorted Books. Go see. They really are awesome. Funny and profound, usually both at once.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ruminating on literacy 

Literacy is, simply, the ability to read and write.

Functional literacy is the ability to read and writ well enough to function in one's society, for example: filling out job applications, being able to order food from a menu, or understanding a train schedule.

I don't know if there's a term for a higher level of literacy that I've been butting my head against. Higher sciences, the military, and 1334 speak. People do talk of scientific literacy and math literacy.

I wonder if literacy will become stratified like Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences. I wonder if we will think of ourselves as having multiple literacies. I hope not. It's the same skill. And it's just a means to an end - it's a way to acquire knowledge.

Literacy isn't a stopping point. Literacy is when you get dropped into an overwhelming world of books, websites, magazines, job descriptions, computer code, and IM speak, and someone says "go."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

stamp kittehs 

Jokes about kittens and stamp collections and the perils of the former upon the latter are no longer funny. They are horribly, horribly true.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


New kitten 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Print on demand 

I like this idea. I like this a million times more than I like the idea of ebooks.
Print-on-demand services have been available at universities before, but this is the first time a retail chain plans to make the technology available at their stores.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Why go to used book stores 

The used bookstore is not the kind of place you visit to find a specific book. It is where you shop because a good accident is likely to happen.
from this article.

Bookbinding envy 

Look at the rest of her gallery of handmade books here. This particular book is under the "Coptic bindings" link. The homepage of her bookbinding blog is here.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Teenage Angst 

Is Catcher in the Rye out of date?

Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson 


Fabrege eggs.

Thoughts on Back in Black, An A-List novel, by Zoey Dean. Produced by Alloy Entertainment.

If you removed the words that refer to specific brands of dresses, magazine titles, movie stars, or tech accessories, the book would be a third its actual length. I think the beginning of the book was so focused on catching the reader up to the events of the series that the plot didn't begin until half-way through.

The book reads in stops and starts. The description is keen and accurate. The scenes of the shiny rich are apt, and the descriptions of the "toys" like limos, private jets, PDAS, etc. are detailed. Even the descriptions of teenage emotions feel accurate. But the scenes don't really move into each other well. It reads like a TV script.

Still...if you can strip away the labels and the rhinestones, there are bits of truth here. The characters feel real to me, catty or athletic or obliviously rich or broke-but-won't-admit-it or scared. The layers in relationships between friends, the love, hate, love, hate between just two people, then six people, are so familiar to me - I remember this from high school, I remember hating it, and I still feel uncomfortable reading it. How you hate your friends even as you love them. How you overanalyze everything. How social stratification always occurs, even though it isn't always by wealth.

No matter who sponsors it, adolescence hurts.

And if books like this are the result of corporate intrusion into the book publishing industry? I don't really mind. It's all in the open. The free market provides. For more literary or discerning tastes, small presses will always exists. There will always be the blogs and pamphlets and zines and English PhDs to ensure the production and dissemination of all kinds of texts to all kinds of readers.

I'm kinda surprised how pleased I am by this book. I may need to read another.

Prizes from recent book sale 

I now have:

  • The winter, 2003, issue of The American Scholar, with Dana Gioia's "Nice to Meet You, Mr. Dickey," a brief essay about the author's chance encounter with James Dickey (whose novels I adore. I also bought an autographed book of his poetry while in Nashville last week. Happy!)
  • Brief Course in Plane and Spherical Trigonometry by Davis and Chambers. 1933. Not much has changed since then, except the style of teaching math has become more convoluted. I think I have a chance at actually learning and remembering trig with this. First page has the definitions of sine through cotangent. I'm not sure what to think about the 60 pages on spherical trig. Previously courses never enough touched on it.
  • Nicholson Baker's The Size of Thoughts. He wrote Double Fold, on libraries' emphasis on reducing amount of paper in favor of microfiche and digitalization. This book has essays on getting rid of paper card catalogs and on books as furniture (not furniture physically made of books, like books bolted together like lumber to make tables or shelves. These books are decoration on shelves, chosen to be decoration, to define the feel of a room, not for reading).
  • Lessig's Code and other laws of cyberspace.
  • T. Sundara Row's Geometric Exercises in Paper Folding. It seems like a Euclid's Elements kind of collection of proofs, all done with folding paper.

  • Used book sale 

    Used book fair! And walking distance from my house, too.

    I remembered reading about it while on some errands with my husband. Once errands were complete, I went right there while he went home and then out to an evening class. I got to the sale maybe half an hour after it started, on its first day. There were more people than I would have expected at 4:30 on a Friday, but then again I'm not much in on the used book circuit (yet). Many people were a few decades older than I, but many were my age or a little older, in their thirties. A handful of kids clustered around the dozen or so boxes of children's books.

    At least one man was a dealer or a scout. He had some kind of wireless handheld device, entering numbers and choosing books based on the readout. He had a pile of several dozen books that he was going to buy. He picked out one on Nazi doctors that I'd never seen, and I asked him if I could look at it and write down the title and author to track down on eBay. He agreed but cautiously, so I made sure I kept his book in plain sight and wrote quickly on a pad of Post-Its I was carrying. (I think the book will be relevant to my psychology of killing studies). He relaxed a bit when I put the book back on his stack and thanked him. He only briefly made eye contact and continued punching numbers into his wallet-sized handheld. I assumed he was entering ISBN numbers. I know there are wireless services that run ISBN numbers and return information on the price of used copies, first editions, and oddities that affect the price collectors might pay. He seemed so data focused, and he was buying so many books, that I'm sure he was a dealer or a scout for a dealer.

    Books were in cardboard boxes on card tables and in cardboard boxes on the linoleum floor. I pored over both levels, both sides of each aisle. I found a book by Slam but didn't buy it. I have all his books on how soldiers act in combat; his other books are about particular battles or particular wars. They're excellent, and the stories are detailed down to he level of the individual, but often I don't know the higher level history of the given conflict to benefit from or even really understand the story he tells in a particular book. So while i still get excited seeing his books, I don't have a need to collect them all. I almost picked up a college textbook on marketing. I did some marketing consulting while at Accenture, and I did a self-study, crash course in the subject and loved it. Marketing is a nice intersection of my interests in capitalism and psychology. But I decided the books there were outdated. I'll talk to my brother, who's getting his MBA from Tuck, what he recommends reading. Even if I have to buy a new textbook, I'll know it wil`l be worth reading. I am good at identifying the right people to vet particular types of books for me.

    I got a few prizes. I am pleased. I ended my journey through the labyrinth of books with a stack I could barely carry in one arm. I knew I couldn't take home that many - I only have so much space, and my husband only has so much patience with my "gentle madness" (Nicholas Basbanes's term for total obsession with books). So I cut my stack in half somehow and replaced the now-rejected books in their respective sections. I put back a book on the history of Google. I may return tomorrow. By the time I left, around 5, the crowd had thinned dramatically.

    I got a book on geometry that uses folded paper. I'm happy.

    Thursday, September 18, 2008

    The A-List 

    I've avoided this teen series like I've avoided most of its kind. Beautiful, rich, high schoolers with too much free time, too many drugs, too many high-strung emotions, and too many catty, meaningless plots. But the A-List is different. It is published by Alloy Media, a subsidiary of Alloy Marketing. The book is a vehicle designed to spread brand name awareness of clothing designers,cosmetics manufacturers, and fashion magazines.

    "Ooh, I read about what brands the (fictional) cool kids were using..."

    Obviously, I had to find myself a copy and read it. I've only just started. I'm being introduced to characters and back story (the book I have is from the middle of the series). I can't help but wonder how the author will squeeze the plot in between all the branding references.

    Mentally Ill in Collonial Williamsburg 

    Quest for a Cure: The Public Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia, 1773-1885. Shomer S. Zwelling.

    Quest for a Cure provides a short introduction to the history of sanitariums and mental health institutions in America. The book doesn't reference the chronology of medicine in Europe, but America was founded about the time that psychology was designated as its own field, separate from philosophy and biology. Zwelling documents the care of patients in America during the time of the Revolution through the mid-1800's. This hospital was intended to focus on curing mental illness; it was to provide short-term care for patients who would then return home rather than be institutionalized for life. Virginia doctors became more insistent on minimal physical restraints. They encouraged patients to interact with staff and each other, believing isolation to worsen disease, or at least not to cure it as other doctors believed. They accepted slaves as patients. In Virginia, the hospital, rather than the church, was sought as a cure for mental illness.

    After the Civil War, the mission of the hospital changed. For the first time, more women than men were diagnosed mentally ill. More importantly, mental health became an issue of fitness, as in survival of the fittest. Care focused on chronic cases, and the number of patients with acute illnesses declined. The hospital was again racially segregated. By 1884, the number of patients had dramatically increased, and the hospital was officially a long-term home rather than a cure.

    I was surprised by how modern the apparent views of the Virginia psychologists were.

    Even mild mental illness makes people uneasy today. I can understand how, before the discovery of bioelectricity, neurons, random sampling for experimentation, or mood stabilizing medication, how doctors would be flummoxed with how to deal with the mentally ill.

    The history of psychology, specifically the history of the treatment of the mentally ill, is a dark and violent story. I've read pieces of it, and it has all seemed consistently dark. This was a wonderful ray of light.

    Tuesday, September 16, 2008


    When I was in Botswana, we stayed for a while in Xaxaba, on the Okavango River delta. We traveled in powerboats or canoes through tall reeds and leaves that grew flat like water lilies. Some flowers made me think of lotuses. I saw many, many birds, mostly eagles of some sort. I saw too many hippos (how can you see too many hippos, you ask? There are too many hippos when you're in a boat in the same water as they, and one dives under with the intent of surfacing underneath, or through, your boat. Lucky for us, our guide saw that coming and got us out of the way. Seconds later, 2000 pounds of blubber burst through the water surface, displacing enough water to rock our boat and make me wonder if we'd tip). I saw reed frogs. I saw elephants and giraffes. I even saw lizards with beautiful colors.

    And we saw papyrus growing wild. The ancient Egyptians used papyrus as writing paper. Now I think they only use it to paint pictures of scenes from old Egypt to sell to tourists, but still I feel happy touching papyrus paper. Until Botswana, though, I'd never seen it growing wild. Here it is.

    Kill the Wabbit 

    At least one bookseller in China has from its store. Apparently some people see a link between the book and real life children committing suicide.

    Andy Riley's Book of Bunny Suicides: Little Fluffy Rabbits Who Just Don’t Want to Live Anymore is one of my favorite books. Some friends bought it for me (they assured me they weren't trying to hint anything by it). I immediately bought the Postcard book and started sending them to friends (I, too, was not trying to hint anything).

    The cartoons are usually one panel, depicting a bunny (or several bunnies) in the act of suicide or planning a suicide. One shows a bunny holding a boomerang. A grenade in taped to the boomerang, and he's holding the pin in his other paw. One shows a bunny with lit, smoky cigarettes stuck in every orifice: mouth, nose, ears, and butt. One shows two bunnies relaxing with drinks on beach towels as animals in the background march into a huge wooden ark. And so forth. The methods of suicide are unrealistic and therefore absolutely hilarious. And, of course, the bunnies are adorable.

    Of course the store, as a (presumably) private business has the right to decide what products to stock. Just as Walmart refuses to carry Cosmopolitan and Maxim, a bookstore can refuse to stock a book that is offensive, possibly dangerous, or that doesn't sell well. I'm still skeptical of a link between this book and child suicide. I'm also concerned by a potential chilling effect on selling books that touch on controversial subjects.

    For Gutenburg's sake, they're just bunnies!

    Monday, September 08, 2008

    That book is best which is well-respected 

    Since I started hanging around the Book House and reading way too much and book collecting, I have gotten more perceptive of the condition of my books. I notice the gradations between fine and near-fine ratings. I notice how carefully previous owners hand-cut pages of books to open them. I can tell what dirt I can remove with a pencil eraser and what will simply be spread around. I wrinkle my nose at foxing. The first thing I check is the printing history. I notice whether fore-edges are gilded or marbled. I feel the difference between linen and wood-pulp paper. Ex-libris identifiers, when there are no interesting marginalia in the book, annoy me. And library stickers, which make books near worthless to collectors, annoy the hell out of me.

    So I was annoyed last night, when I was flipping through a handful of books I used for my psych degree, to realize that my copy of S. L. A. Marshall's Battle At Best is ex-library. It's a reprint, published by Pocket Books, too. Effectively worthless. Except - the stamps say "Property of US Army" and US Army Military Institute Institute, 1967, Presented by [name]." The bar code is marked out, and the card pocket is empty.

    Good thing I'm not a normal collector. This little well-read Pocket book has been in a military library, well-loved, or at least well-respected.

    "...I was wholly dissatisfied with military history as we had read it up to that point, since it almost invariably led to a dead-end where guessing and romance took over. Always the 'fog of war' intervened at the most crucial time of the fighting and what happened thereafter had to be determined by guess and by God."

    Thomas Friedman needs to write a new book 

    ...now that the theory of McGlobalization has been disproven (see InsideHigherEd).
    “No two countries that both had McDonald’s had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald’s,” wrote Friedman in The Lexus and the Olive Tree (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux).

    Not that the fast-food chain itself had a soothing effect, of course. The argument was that international trade and modernization — and the processes of liberalization and democratization created in their wakes — would knit countries together in an international civil society that made war unnecessary. There would still be conflict. But it could be contained — made rational, and even profitable, like competition between Ronald and his competitors over at Burger King. (Thomas Friedman does not seem like a big reader of Kant, but his thinking here bears some passing resemblance to the philosopher’s “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Perspective,” an essay from 1784.)

    McDonald’s opened in Russia in 1990 — a milestone of perestroika, if ever there were one. And Georgia will celebrate the tenth anniversary of its first Micky D’s early next year, assuming anybody feels up for it. So much for Friedman’s theory.
    I've always liked the Golden Arches = modern peace sign idea. I'm a capitalist. When I was younger, I believed in anarcho-capitalism, that a world with completely free markets would need no government besides the invisible hand of the market to keep things running smoothly, productively, and *happily* for everyone. I read The Lexus and the Olive Tree when I was a freshman at Georgetown, a little before Y2K. I don't remember any professors requiring it in any of my classes, but it seemed like everyone I knew at the GU School of Foreign Service (and even the College and School of Business) had read it. Those who hadn't read it grokked the idea immediately and could fill in the supporting evidence themselves.

    I remember arguments in which people tried to factually disprove the theory. I remember one late-night web search to discover when or if the Faulkand Islands had a McDonalds. The questions of whether Argentina and Britain were at war or whether the war was justified weren't nearly as interesting.

    I remember eating fries at a new McDonalds outside the Pantheon in Rome with my college boyfriend. I remember my first exposure to written Chinese and Japanese was through paper placemats, traveling with my parents before I was 10 - McDonalds was one of the few places my parents knew my younger brother and I would definitely eat when we were traveling in east Asia.

    I have been lucky enough to visit several countries "pre" and "post" McDonalds, though I am more cognizant of the proliferation of Starbucks. I watched Hong Kong grow up and earn its own Starbucks, for instance. Returning from southern Africa, I craved the bland confidence of capitalism, greasy fries and a double cheeseburger. No matter the country, McDonalds has been safe, not because it was American but because it was economically familiar.

    Not anymore. Even complacent capitalists can kill each other. The world security I thought we could find in prosperity might not be there.
    Presumably it could be retooled ex post facto (“two countries with Pizza Huts have never had a thermonuclear conflict,” anyone?) but that really seems like cheating.
    Pizza Hut-ization doesn't have the same ring to it. And I hate pizza.

    Wednesday, September 03, 2008

    weak by fate but strong in will 

    ... Come, my friends,
    'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
    Push off, and sitting well in order smite
    The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
    To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
    Of all the western stars, until I die.
    It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
    It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
    And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
    Though much is taken, much abides; and though
    We are not now that strength which in the old days
    Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are,
    One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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