Book (DK Eyewitness Series) – (1993)

As I’ve mentioned before (see here about cowboys and also a read about sports (but no blog post for that one)), I’ve become a big fan of the DK Eyewitness books over the past couple of years.

Although categorized as a kid and YA book, I’ve found that each book in this series is a super way to be introduced to a topic in a manageable manner. This is supported by the fact that each book has a fantastic graphic design approach to the subject, and actually, by the time I’ve finished reading one of these titles, I feel as though I have been wandering around a really well curated exhibition at a museum. I have always learned something new by the end, and it’s just been an overall interesting experience. So – yes. High praise for the book series.

This particular title jumped out at me when I was strolling past some library shelves, and I loved reading it just as I have loved reading the other titles. Called, very simply, “Book”, this edition covers the history of books, of writing, of language, and of any other topic that you can link with the history of the printed word, and it does so in a concise and graphically pleasing way that it was a pleasure to read and learn along the way.

Roman Tablet with Inscription

Because there were so many nuggets of knowledge in this title (just like the other titles), I ended up taking a few notes and so thought that this bullet format would do the job for this review.

  • When the Roman alphabet was first used, it originally wrote from right to left. It was only after a few years of usage that it was changed to the left to right format as we use nowadays in the various Western languages.
  • Each letter in most of the examples of Roman writing has been hand carved in stone, and each letter is designed to fit inside an invisible square or circle to help keep its uniformity and so each character stays the same size.
  • Romans used mathematical compasses (like you used in HS perhaps) to keep the circles all the same size, and sometimes, if you look closely at some Roman writing, you can spot the small hole in the center of the letter from when the stone carver use the point of the compass as a guide.
  • The majority of Roman writing is in capitals as they were easier to carve with the tools available. Each letter was drawn onto the stone surface with chalk, then gone over with paint and then the carver just followed these thick and thin lines to make the writing permanent.
  • In Arabic writing, the language was originally written without any consonants (leaving the reader to add the consonants him/herself when he/she read the writing). It was only later that vowels were added to the written language, and these were written as extra marks above or below each letter (e.g. small dots or dashes), You can see this in Hebrew and other similar languages. (I’d always been curious what these dots/dashes meant. Now I know…)
  • Early writing was written on papyrus (which was a watery reed like plant), or was written on parchment. Parchment is apparently made like this: the animal’s skin is first washed in clean water, then soaked in a solution of lime for up to ten days. Each side is then scraped to remove the hair and flesh remaining, and once that’s done, the skin gets soaked once again. It’s then stretched onto a wooden frame, and then each side is further scraped with a curved blade to remove any debris left over. One more scraping after the skin has dried removed any debris, and then you’re good to go. Thus, parchment was hard to produce, expensive to buy, and so only the wealthy would use it for their affairs. (Huh. Didn’t know that, although it makes perfect sense.)
  • With reference to fonts and similar: italics is called that because the forward slanting writing was designed to be similar to the writing that clerks in Italy would use for their documents. (Makes sense.)
  • Times Roman was given its name as it was developed for the London Times newspaper in 1932. (I imagine that Times New Roman was a more modern refinement of that.)
  • The type Gill Sans was designed by stone carver Eric Gill, and so it goes on. Fascinating (to me at least).

In the old days, as paper was very hard to get and expensive to have and to use, a lot of people didn’t have a lot of practice in writing and so it was hard for the writer in question to judge how much room to leave on the paper/papyrus/parchment for the writing that you had to do.

Thus, mistakes were made, and I adore this signature of Elizabeth I (below), as she has all these flourishes and curls around her sig but then accidentally runs out of space on the paper and has to add her “H” to the last bit above the line. (I love how it shows that even queens make mistakes. 🙂 )

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Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 197

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Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 197: Gourd.

Background Note: Cowboy is one of our cats who showed up out of the blue one snowy January day eight years ago. Since then, she has made us her Forever Home (which works with us). She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level) and she eats a lot.

All of these points are helpful with this project that I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

Thrift Store Bounty…

thriftstorebooksAs I’m of the many who enjoy prowling through thrift shops, I had an hour to spare last weekend, so off I went to one of our local (and biggest) ones. I went with the intention of looking for things to put on Cowboy’s head. Found several objects which will help with the project, and heavens to Betsy, if I didn’t also accidentally on purpose find some books which were looking for a new home.

(Well, I had to buy them, right? Don’t want to be rude…)

So, as can be seen in the photo above, here is what made it home with me:

  • The Iceman Cometh – Eugene O’Neill (play)
  • The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins (F)
  • The Soul of an Octopus – Sy Montgomery (nature NF)
  • Full Catastrophe Living – Jon Kabat-Zinn (NF on meditation etc.)

I’ve been itching to read a play lately. We went to a local playhouse to see a version of an Agatha Christie murder-mystery, and it was surprisingly good for a local am-dram, and so I ended up with the O’Neill. I read him during my classes in graduate school, so I’m curious to see if if the experience will be similar or whether it will be radically different. I’m a very different person now, so I’m interested to find out how or if this impacts the reading of this play.

The Girl on the Train – loved the movie, so am v interested in reading the book the film was based upon.

The Soul of an Octopus – I rather like octopi and have heard only good things about the nature writing of Montgomery.

And the Jon Kabat-Zinn book is just going to be a good reminder about living a principled life through a Buddhist perspective.

So, I have some good finds there, and am glad that I can add them to the TBR pile, ever-growing as it may be. It’s good to have choices!

This is What a Librarian Looks Like – Kyle Cassidy (2017)

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When I found this title on the New Releases shelf at our local library, I immediately picked it up as a great fit for me to peruse. It’s a smallish coffee table book with color photographic portraits of librarians from all over the country, taken when the photographer visited a couple of the ALA annual conferences, and although it seems a little lightweight in scope, this was a fun read. A book about people who love books and information – what’s not to like?

What’s not to like is that this book was full of spelling errors and typos which, considering that the topic is literacy and how to access information, was quite ironic when you think about it. (In fact, one of the misspelled words was actually “literacy”…Sigh.)

I can understand one or two errors. That can happen, but page after page of poor writing started to wear on my writer’s soul after a while. All of the mistakes could (and should) have been caught in a careful pre-printing proof, and this was a shame as I loved the book’s concept. Who wouldn’t want to learn more about librarians? 🙂 In the end, the errors ended up being rather distracting for me.

The author is primarily a professional photographer, so the actual photos were pretty good for the most part, although (and I promise I’m not being too picky here) if you are a prof photographer, there’s really very little excuse for some of the actual portraits that were included being out of focus (wrt depth of field). (Or – even more perplexing: why choose them to be in the book in the first place?)

Come on, buddy. You’re not trying to take photos of a herd of cheetahs running at top speed across the savannah in the middle of the night. These photo subjects are folks who probably agreed to have the photo taken between conference sessions in a hotel lobby with  a set of lights and a background, and most of the portrait subjects are either sitting down or standing still. It’s not rocket science, my friend. Why would you include photos that are not quite in focus in a book that revolves around your photographs? (And the depth of field issues are not for an arty creative reason. Or not that I could see.)

Additionally, the book concept was lovely, but was again weakened by the fact that underneath each photo of the various librarians was a short sentence about why libraries are important to the subject, and tbh, after the 23rd person underlining how important libraries are to the community in similar fashion, it was a little tedious.

What kept me going through the pages, though, was looking at the photos of the librarians from across the country, most of whom, both men and women, have a very creative individual fashion sense (which was just lovely). There were very few of the matching cardigan twin set type with pearls, and going by the photos, librarians seem to be a great group with a fun attitude to life.

(And, since it was a book about wonderful librarians, there was naturally a portrait of Nancy Pearl. 🙂 )

So, in the end, although I loved the book’s concept, I am pretty grateful that I used the library for this read. (Thank you, library!)

A Kim Jong Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, his Star Actress, and a Young Dictator’s Rise to Power – Paul Fischer (2015) (353 pp.)

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With North Korea* in the news in the U.S. for a variety of reasons (but all revolving around how our Orange Goblin is handling world affairs), I thought it would be a good time to read some NF about this hermit country and its quite strange history. Thus, I happened across this title at the library and dug right in.

First things first: this is not an academic textbook in any way. This threw me off at first, especially as it’s billed non-fiction, but despite this, as I read further and deeper into the book, I was able to throw off my academic lens (not without challenges), and engage with this text along the same lines as I would approach having a cup of coffee with the author at some point. It’s entirely his perspective, and with a significant lack of sources to back things up, should be viewed that way. It’s not a bad thing at all, but it did mean that I had to slightly lower my expectations of the read. It’s still good though, but like I mentioned, more of a conversation with the author than an academic treatise of any nature. (However, to be fair, the error is entirely mine, but it worked out well in the end. The author is pretty funny in places.)

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Credit: Reuters.

North Korea (and its opposite world, South Korea) were the same harmonious country at one point, but after invasions and the U.S. Korean War, the country was geopolitically divided more or less in half, and that’s when the comparisons veer way off the rails. South Korea was (and remains a country) based on a capitalistic/Western approach. North Korea, through the lineage of the Kim family, has sealed itself and its citizens off from the rest of the world in almost every way possible. The “why” is a bit complicated and can be reviewed through other sources, but the end result of this and how it impacts the citizenry is fascinating. It’s almost so bad that you think “huh. Is this real?” It’s like a really bad film in places, and this metaphor brings us nicely to the main theme of this book.

So, as is the wont of dictators all over the world, what’s good for the geese is not so good for the gander, and so, despite cutting its citizens off from the rest of the outside world, its dictator (current Kim Jong Un) still has access to all the goodies of the Western world.

This book follows the events that happened when a young dictator (actually the current Jong Un’s father named Kim Jong Il) comes into power through succession.

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Note about the names: In Korean (both North and South), the first name you read is typically that person’s last name/surname. So, for Kim Jong Il, Kim is the family last name and Jong Il is the equivalent of the person’s first name(s). Kim Jong Il is the father of Kim Jong Un, and so on. It was current dictator Kim Jong Un’s grandfather who founded the country after it had been invaded by Japan. (Yes. It is a big confusing.)

(According to the author, until the early twentieth century, Koreans traditionally did not use family (or surnames/last names). When Japan colonized the peninsular, it required Koreans to use a family last name, and so a vast majority of the Koreans saw a way to reinvent themselves and their families by choosing a last name associated with the country’s landed gentry. Thus, there are only about 270 last names shared among the 75M Koreans (e.g. Kim, Pak, Lee, Park, Shin).

The strangeness goes on, and it’s hard to buy that people do go along with it, but when you consider that the cost of NOT believing it is execution or lifetime sentences of very hard manual labor without ever seeing or hearing from your family again, I can see why few may doubt what they are told, and even fewer can question anything and survive. (if someone in your family does run afoul of the government, not only is that person punished, but so also are the parents of that person, and the children of that person…)

So – to the actual events that are covered in this particular read. The father of the current dictator was really into Western movies, and is thought to have had one of the largest private movie collections in the world. Dismayed at the low level of quality that North Korean film producers had been putting out, Kim Jong Il decided to kidnap one of then South Korea’s most famed producers along with his wife who was a famous movie star and who would appear in his movies. She was also a movie star in her right, so it was a little as though North Korea kidnapped Brangelina….

The rest of the book covers who these folks were, what happened when they were kidnapped, and whether they ever escape the DPRK. (Do they? You’ll have to read it to find out.)

It’s a fascinating read, and gets more bizarre as you read deeper into the book. However, at the same time, as I learned more and more about this closed society, I realized that however strange these events were, they were not as weird as the dictator’s own world, and when the penalty for not believing is death, then I couldn’t really blame people to toe the line.

And then, if you think about it, North Koreans had never ever heard a different story apart from the ones about their Great Leader, so why would they question anything? Nothing would support thinking otherwise.

Plus – in the people’s defense, there are really no other avenues for learning about the events of the world apart from via state-sponsored propaganda. Plus – the people are so poor and overworked that they just don’t have the equipment to learn any other way. For example, to buy a television can take a year or more of salary – and that’s if you can find one to buy. Most people have access to a newspaper (usually in a local business), but if it contained a picture of Kim Jong Il and as it was forbidden to fold or crease his image, the newspaper was usually framed on the wall of a local business for people to look at (but not touch).

This was a very intriguing read for me.

 

* North Korea actually calls itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (or DPRK) internally, but this name is not really recognized by countries outside of the country. (I think.)

The Lizard Cage – Karen Connelly (2005)

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It’s been a bit crazy at work this week, although, amazingly enough, we are almost halfway through the semester already. This new job keeps me busy, and busy equals happy for me. (Plus, I can’t quite believe that I actually hold this job sometimes as it’s that good!)

Apart from the being occupado at work, I’ve also been reading and writing in my spare time, and it’s finally reaching autumn temperatures around here more days than not, so what’s not to love?

There has been one tragic thing that occurred on campus last week, which was a troubled student shot and killed one of our campus police officers. Life on campus has been a little subdued for the last few days, unsurprisingly, and our thoughts are with the family of the fallen officer. It’s been a sad week.

Not to be insensitive or anything, life has been moving along despite this event, and I’ve finished up a great book called “The Lizard Cage” by Karen Connelly (2005), a novel that follows the life of a political prisoner who is being unjustly held in a horrible cell in Burma/Myanmar (depending on who you ask). It’s from the POV of the prisoner, and it details his day-by-day life in prison in solitary confinement (the cage of the title) and the people with whom he interacts.

It’s a great read, although the subject matter can be hard to take (prison rape, inhumane treatment, etc.). It’s actually written by an American woman who lived for two years on the border of Burma/Myanmar, and it’s quite amazing how she can lead the reader into the head of this political prisoner in a realistic manner. It’s clear that she has done her research with this.

Despite the harsh living conditions and inhumane treatment, the protagonist is a great example of human resilience, and there are some other patches of humanity that are allowed to shine through. Some of the other prisoners are not horrible people, there is a small boy orphan who lives at the prison as he has nowhere else to go, and there are a few others that come and go, but for the most part, it seemed to be a pretty dark place.

However, the prisoner in question (he who lives in the Lizard Cage) finds small things for which to be grateful – the lizards who climb down the walls from the outside skylight, the ant colony who travel through his space, and the one or two people who show him some small kindness in this unpleasant world.

However, Connelly has done a good job with making this a very readable book without glossing over the hardships of the characters. It’s a good balance and kudos should go to her.

I also read another book, but can’t remember what the title of that was to save my life. Unlike my typical slightly obsessive habit, I didn’t seem to write down the relevant details, but hey. Life goes on, my friends.

Then I started a NF read about Victorian times, but it was soooo badly written that I ended up not being to take it any more, so threw that one down. (It was a shame though, as the topic was perfect: the servants of Victoria? Yes please, but it was not to be.)

Now I’m enjoying a read of Kate Summerscale’s Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady. Victorian times? Check. Social history? Check. Uses some epistolary work? Check. Well written? Check, check, check. I’m enjoying it and am looking forward to reading some more of this over the weekend.

Hope life is good for you as well.

Well, hello, my lovelies…

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Hello (or Hullo to English people :-))! It’s me, back from the break.

First, let me apologize for the complete lack of posts. You’re right. I had the two weeks off to play and write and just be, and it was lovely, I must admit. However, such sloth does not encourage turning on the computer that much, so I tried to not be behind a screen quite so much in my free time. In my old position at work, I was in front of a computer screen all day every day, so I really enjoyed taking a break from things electronic (except, you know, TV, iPhone… but we won’t mention those.)

Now, it’s all action stations. I have started my new job with the College of Media and Communications, I’ve had a couple of classes teaching, and I’m getting my groove back in the classroom, and the new folks that I’m working with seem to be very smart, kind, and fun, so it’s all good. It’s definitely going to be a different world from the one that I’ve been in, and I’m very psyched about the change.

So what did I actually do during my two weeks off? Well, I must be honest and admit that there were plenty of naps, quite a bit of reading, and a lot of hanging around with the pets. They’re not used to me being home all day, so I probably ruined their schedules, but we did have fun with each other. Cowboy was particularly happy to be with me, her Spirit Animal. /jk/

I am interested in setting up a new study in our third bedroom, and so I’ve been researching that a bit. Lots of ideas so now I just need to narrow down what I’m looking for. It’s going to be a whole new room, involving getting rid of all the furniture in it currently (as it’s been a spare bedroom), so I trying to make sure that I’m fairly sure in what I want, design-wise.

The room has great light (four floor-to-ceiling windows), and I’m looking for a fairly modern/MCM vibe with the new pieces. Oh, and a drafting board desk thing. I’m wondering where one purchases these, but I do work at a university, so I’m thinking that there must be students who have forked out for a drafting desk, and then changed their majors, so hoping I can get one at a good price.

I’m looking for a surface that will be large enough for any projects that I do, and perhaps a jigsaw puzzle or two. (The current jigsaw set up right now is on the dining room table which (a) is frustrating because you have to live around a puzzle, and (b) I usually feel a bit rushed to complete the puzzle as the table is high-stakes real estate in our home. (Goofy, huh, but I really enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles and have decided that this room is my room, and if I want to do jigsaw puzzles in it, then it’s time to have a place that works with that. Woo. Go me.)

I also think that I will have work (e.g. grading etc.) to do when I am at home sometimes, so I’d like an area where I can leave a project in the place where it is, without having to dismantle everything. I’m pretty excited about it, but not going to rush it.

I decided that when I turned fifty (a few years back) that I was no longer going to make do with “almost right” with regard to what I like to buy. I would always buy whatever I needed (e.g. clothes, furniture etc.) from the sometimes-ratty selection in the Reduced Price area of the store or from thrift, and I do have some good bargains from that shopping technique, but I’d really like this room to be closer to “exactly what I want” this time around. So, I’m taking my time, researching everything, and when I have a stronger idea of what I’m looking for (which I’ll know when I see it), then I’ll bite the bullet and buy it.

So, what about reading, I hear you ask? Yes, I have been doing that, and feel rather behind the curve with blogging my titles etc. I’m contemplating doing a big round-up post, and then moving on from there, as there have been some great titles, so we’ll see..

So, expect a reading post in the next day or two, and then I think I’ll be back to business blog-wise.

So, how’s your world? It’s the end of summer (for some of us), and I, for one, am ridiculously excited about the upcoming cooler months. (Speaking of weather, my thoughts are with those who are in Southern Texas and dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Poor things.)

Chat soon.

 

Minaret – Leila Aboulela (2005)

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When I was scanning a few book blogs the other day, I came across Minaret (Leila Aboulela) and picked it up from the library a few days later. I was intrigued by the topic, it was fairly short (matches my current summer levels of concentration), and it fit in well with my current focus on reading more POC authors. So, I picked it up last weekend, and then finished it on Sunday evening. (Quick read indeed.)

Aboulela is a Sudanese author, and this fictional narrative traces the spiritual (and literal) journey of Najwa, a Sudanese woman whose family is caught up in a big corruption government scandal, leading to them living in forced exile in London.

It’s an interesting story, but for some reason, I wasn’t too taken with it. Was it the writing? (It’s written in a very simplistic manner, but I’m not sure why that was the case. The protagonist was not a simple person, and her life was not straight-forward. Perhaps the simple style is used as a foil to reflect the complexity of her life? Not sure.)

Anyway, few contractions, few complex sentence structures, and pretty bare-bones descriptions… Not usually a big fan of that style, but I kept reading… (The reviews were so awesome, I thought that I was missing something, and perhaps this would all clear up by the end of the book…)

As the reader follows Najwa’s journey, both geographical and otherwise, we learn that she is a middle-aged woman whose rather coddled lifestyle is changed overnight when she is forced to move to England in exile, and live a life of servanthood for the other Sudanese ex-pats who are more wealthy.

This come-down is hard to take at first (naturally), but as the book progresses, Najwa learns how to live this new life. It’s helped by her attraction to the Islamic faith, although she was secular whilst she was in Sudan.

As the book progresses, readers follow her as she becomes a more religious and more devout Muslim woman. Interestingly, she ends up by the close of the story as being much more religiously conservative than she was at the start of the book. I think other reviewers have loved this title as it shows a woman becoming more focused on becoming a strict Muslim, and perhaps this is more typically depicted as a male journey? Not sure, but a lot of great reviews were blurbed on the cover. However, I was not quite as taken for a number of reasons, really.

First, there were some obvious proofreading errors which someone should have caught before it went to print (e.g. repeated or missing words etc.). With so much electronic editing help that is available now, there are few excuses to let this go to print without revisions. It became annoying after a while and was a distraction from the plot. (The author also goes on and on and on about how much the protagonist loves Boney M’s music. OK. We get it. Sigh.)

Second, the protagonist has some strange relationships with people. At first, I put this down to her forced relocation and the new culture and general life disruption, but then, as the story progresses, she ends up falling in love (sort of) with a nineteen year old son of her boss’ family, a young man who is decades younger than she is and who is a lot more radicalized than she is. Of course, problems arise…

I don’t know. It all got a bit confusing with regard to who is who and how they fit into the structure, so that, at times, I just gave an impatient sigh and then checked with a heavy heart how many more pages until the end…

Add to that the fact that the novel plays with time, and you’ve got one lost reader.

So – it wasn’t that great a read for me in the end (in case you haven’t picked that up yet!). I think that some of the reviewers were tripping over themselves to like this book for politically correct reasons, because I ended up with quite a different opinion at the end.

So, just an OK read for me in the end. Meh.