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!)

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Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 196

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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.)

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.)

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 195

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Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 195: Banana.

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.)

Movie: Chicken People (2016)

chickenpeople_movieEvery now and then, the Superhero and I like to catch a movie at home, and last weekend was time for me to choose the title, and full kudos to Superhero for going along with this, as he’s never sure what exactly I’m going to select and he’s going to watch.

At first, I was veering towards a rather stern documentary on North Korea (a country with which I am fascinated at the moment), but seeing his expression when I mentioned that title, I thought that a different title might sit better. Scrolling through my movie list, I stumbled upon another documentary that was described as “charming and uplifting”, so that’s the one we watched. It was actually really good.

Called “Chicken People” and directed by Nicole Lucas Haimes, IMDb describes it thus:

Chicken People is a funny and uplifting look at the world of show chickens and the people who love them. Starting at the largest national poultry competition, likened to the Westminster Dog Show for chickens, Chicken People follows three top competitors over the course of a year as they grapple with life’s challenges while vying to win the next year’s crown. Both humorous and heartfelt, Chicken People is an unforgettable celebration of the human spirit.

And it was such a good film. It’s always fascinating, I think, to learn about other people who are very serious about their hobbies (regardless of what that hobby is), and as we watched these three people try their very best to get the “perfect” chicken to show at this big event, we really became wrapped up in the whole thing.

It would have been easy for another director to turn this into a mockumentary (a la Best in Show et al.), but the documentary was done with respect to these people – no one was mocked or made fun of, and you ended up feeling just so happy that you’d been allowed to follow them on their individual journeys to end up at the hugely important event in the U.S

I would never have learned about the characters or the world of the show chicken if not for this film, and I have no idea where I found the title, but if you’re interested in seeing people who adore doing their hobbies (and are pretty serious about it), then you’ll like this. Slightly off the beaten path, but well worth seeking out.

If you’re interested in any chicken-related reads:

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 195

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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.)

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.

Thunder and Lightning – Laura Redniss (2016)

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Lauren Redniss has finally completed Thunder and Lightning: Weather Past, Present and Future (2017), another book in her own style that makes it so hard to categorize. It’s a combination of art and science, of fact and passion, of words and graphics, so that in the end, it’s tough to put under one label: Scientific manga, perhaps (except it’s much more than that).

After my read of Redniss’ earlier work (Radioactive, a slightly more straightforward and controlled graphic representation of the Curie family’s lives), I know somewhat to expect with her work, so I wasn’t too surprised to see her rendering of scientific phenomena linked with weather and climate. I just haven’t really seen atmospheric science presented in such an innovative way. And actually, the book covers more than straight atmo sci… It’s a huge ranging book, and is similar to how someone would fall down into related Wikipedia rabbit holes if they had some time to spare. The topics are related, and yet ramble widely across the hemisphere, but it’s all interesting both in content and how it’s presented.)

(Sidenote: Redniss defines Weather as state of the atmosphere. Climate: prevailing weather patterns on a larger scale. FYI.)

Chapters are titled with fairly self-explanatory headings, some of which cover huge topics leaving you, as the reader, to wonder where you’ll travel in the next chapter. “Profit”, “Pleasure” and others are presented, along with “Cold”, “Rain” and the more obvious categorization. (The “Pleasure” chapter, incidentally, was a lovely topic to read about as it included the BBC shipping forecast which I remember hazily from my youth. I am not sure what exactly the forecast is saying, but it’s sounds lovely to hear if you’ve ever searched it out.)

So, this is non-fiction ramble through both the hard science and random facts linked with weather. In fact, I was never quite certain what I was going to be reading about when I turned the next page, which was in equal amounts both exciting and frustrating.

I think most people would learn something from this book, whether you are an expert or not, and so much of the information was new to me. For example, Redniss designed a new font just for this book called Qaneq LR, Qaneq being an Inuit word for snow. (Interestingly, Redniss also addressed the legend that more northern First People groups have loads of words for the different kind of snow that they experience. True or not, you decide.)

This ended up being a good read.