The Making of Home – Judith Flanders (2014)

book455

I’m always really curious about the social history of places and times: how did people live then? Under what conditions? What did they do each day, and what did their houses look like?

With that said, it’s little wonder that I really enjoyed a recent read of historian Judith Flanders’ work called The Making of Home: The 500-Year Story of How our Houses Became our Homes which covers exactly that topic, huge as it is.

Flanders is a social historian with several titles to her credit, including Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain (see review here), The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed (see review here), and one or two in the TBR pile (The Invention of Murder and The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London). Obviously, I enjoy her writing and what she has to say…

The idea that “home” is a special place, a separate place, a place where we can be our true selves, is too obvious to us today that we barely pause to think about it. But… “home” is a relatively new concept.

As usual, this book is so chock-full of interesting (to me) points, I ended up with a bullet list of curious facts, so hopefully, that will work for you.

  • The concept of having a “chairman/woman” on a committee or in a company stems from the fact that early in history, furniture was really expensive and out of reach for many families. If they did have enough disposable income to buy something, they might only have the cash to buy one chair (instead of a set).* Thus, if you review early paintings of domestic settings (such as in the seventeenth century), you may notice that a family may only have one chair in the room. As this was typically the father’s or husband’s place (since he was considered the most important person in the group), he got to sit in the chair. Thus, the chairman. 🙂
  • Bedding was a huge chunk of a family’s budget when starting out. For a family in the 18th century, there are records that show they paid more than a quarter of their total household income for bedding and furniture, so it was a huge investment for the average family.
  • Beds usually only had flour sacks of hay (or straw) as the mattress, and families sometimes put up to five flour sacks of hay on top of each other to give more padding. (I’m wondering if this is where the origin of the Princess and the Pea fairy tale came from…)
  • Families were all up on the latest household fashions. For example, pendulum clocks were invented in 1657. Two decades after that, almost no Dutch families owned a similar clock. Four decades after its invention, nine out of ten families owned one. And thus the world turns…
  • In 1727 in Bath, it was quite common for a middle class family to own a table, cooking pots, and a mirror, but curiously, the great majority of these same households didn’t own a cup or even knives and forks.
  • For middle class pioneer families in the US during this same time, they lagged behind their British counterparts in terms of household goods: it was very common for pioneer families out west to live in a similar fashion to the lifestyle of English families one century earlier. (Couldn’t exactly go shopping very often and didn’t have much disposable income.)
  • The history of cups and saucers: When tea was first imported to UK, the Chinese style of tea-cup with no handle was fine for how the tea was served (lukewarm). However, when the Brits started to like their tea really hot (as now), the previously handle-free cups were unsuitable and thus, handles were added to the cup. When Brits started adding milk to the tea, there was a need for a bigger cup, and when sugar came into the pic, tea drinkers needed a small spoon to put the sugar into the drink, so thus teaspoons. Teaspoons led to saucers, as a place to rest your spoon whilst you drank your tea. Huh.
  • In the Middle Ages, guests were expected to bring their own knives and forks (instead of the hosting family providing them). They were considered as personal items. Knives were originally round-ended, and thus one could not spear your food to eat it. Instead, forks were developed to spear your food once you’d cut it with your knife. Most middle class people just ate with a knife and a spoon which they would bring with them when they traveled.
  • The British Navy refused to accept use of forks until 1897.
  • Seventeenth century England houses commonly only had one fireplace in one room, and heat was seen as a luxury more than a necessity. (What were they thinking? Have you been to England in December and January? Brrrr.)

And there’s so much more, that if this type of social history whets your whistle, I think that you’ll like Flanders and her work. Plus – the bibliography is lengthy and I added quite a few new titles to my ever-expanding TBR list.

Anyway, thoroughly enjoyed this read, and now I’m very grateful for central heating. 🙂

* When Superhero and I were young marrieds, we only had enough money to buy a dining room table. (We didn’t have enough to buy the matching chairs, so for quite a few months, we only had two non-matching dining table director’s chairs.) The next Christmas, we saved up and got the matching set. Baby steps, amirite?

Added for reference:

If you like this sort of book, here are some other domestic/social history books that I’ve read in case you’re looking to add to the ol’ TBR pile. (Obvs, I like Flanders!):

Advertisements

Incoming Books….

New_books_dec2017

So, Christmas has come and gone. New Year’s has come and gone. Time off almost come and gone. What has been quite steady is the reading habit and, along with that, the buying-of-books habit (although curtailed a bit last year).

Here are some of the new titles which have slipped by the goalie in the last month or so. Top to bottom are as follows:

  • We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation – Jeff Chang (NF)
  • Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press – James McGrath Morris (NF)
  • Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic – Sam Quinones (NF)
  • Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity – David Allen (NF)
  • Fashion: The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute (NF)

The majority of these were bought on our recent trip to Santa Fe because (a) they are interesting titles, and (b) I wanted to support the indie bookshop there. (Check out Collected Works in Santa Fe if you’re there. Great place.)

And so: what am I reading? None of these titles. :-}

A biography of Queen Elizabeth II (a curiosity piqued by watching Season Two of The Crown, naturellement.)

The Best of… 2017 Edition

end-of-the-year-reflection

As December comes to a close, it’s a nice end-of-year tradition for me to review my reading for the past year, and just see how it panned out. There’s no number goals or similar, but I do likes to see how I’ve spent my reading time over the last twelve months, just out of curiosity.

(Note: like a lot of other bloggers have noted, these titles weren’t necessarily published in 2017; they were just read by me in the last twelve months.)

First, a huge thank you to everyone who drops and reads my blog, whether you are a one-off reader or a regular. I appreciate your time and comments!

Picture1

To the numbers:

  • Total # books read: 58 (about right for the average year the past few years)
  • Total DNF’s: 2
  • Total fiction: 31 (51.2%)
  • Total non-fiction: 21 (44.2%).
  • Total Pages: 15,542
  • Format of books (e-books vs. tree books): 3 e-books, 55 tree books.

Years Published:

  • Oldest title: 1897
  • Nineteenth century: 1
  • Twentieth century: 28
  • Twenty-first century: 27

TBR Progress:

  • Off the TBR: 28 (48.2%)

New books in:

  • Bought new/new-to-me:  16 books bought (compared with 27 TBR read (i.e. out of house)

Demographics:

  • Male vs. female/other identified authors: 26 male authors, 32 female/other
  • POC author or POC-related topic: 13 (23%)

Fiction: 29

  • Novels: 26
  • Plays/Drama: 1
  • Graphic Novel: 1
  • Short stories: 2

Top Five Fiction:

  • Lantana Lane – Eleanor Dark (1986)
    • Australian novel set in small community in outback.
  • Beloved – Toni Morrison (1987)
    • Second in trilogy, but also works as stand-alone. New York city life of troubled African-American couple set in mid-century.
  • Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel (2014)
    • Rollocking good dystopian read about (American) life after an explained/ unexpected epidemic
  • Ceremony – Leslie Silko Marmon (1977)
    • Series of interlinked stories set in First Nations community during modern times.
  • The Lizard Cage – Karen Connelly (2005)
    • Fictional retelling of political prisoner living hard existence in world of corrections in Burma/Myanmar.

Non-Fiction: 26

  • Most read about topic: history (especially social history), social justice, travel

Top Five Non-Fiction:

  • Dreams from my Father – Barack Obama (1995)
    • Autobiography from our former U.S. President. Reads like fiction when compared with our reality with the Orange Goblin. 😦
  • Medical Apartheid – Harriet A. Washington (2007)
    • Hard-hitting investigative/historical journalism closely reviewing the troubled past of how the U.S. medical establishment has treated African-Americans over the past century or so. Fascinating and disturbing.
  • Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life – Sally Bedell Smith (2017)
    • No blog post, but trust me, this is a good read, however you may feel about the possible future King of England.
  • 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)
    • A very weird and very true tale about how a young North Korean dictator kidnapping a foreign filmmaker and his movie star wife to force him to improve the quality of the North Korean film industry. Fascinating and keeps you reading.
  • At the Broken Places: A Mother and Trans-Son – Mary Collins and Donald Collins (2017)
    • A dual POV from a mother and her trans-son’s gender transition. Fascinating because the mother is so unsupportive and doesn’t seem to understand why the adult child should choose to do this “to her”. Really, people?

Movie of the Year:

  • Chicken People (2016)
    • Absolutely charming documentary about the world of competitive chicken showing in the U.S. It’s a real thing, and this was just lovely (even if you’re not into chickens that much). Over the course of one year, follows a small group of amateur (?) chicken breeders and how they progress in the competitive season.

Goals for next year? I am keeping it very open and laid back as I enter my first semester teaching college for the Spring, and with my new job responsibilities. Whatever numbers I read, they are less important than the quality of reading.

Here’s to a happy new year for all!

 

Texas Quilts, Texas Women – Suzanne Yabsley (1986)

thumbnail_file

Abstractions of battles and hardships or colorful events and personalities of the past are rendered on the quilt’s surface, but its real meaning is the spirit of the maker.

Prowling the library shelves one Saturday, I happened to come across some local history/ fabric art titles, and this volume jumped out and in my hands. After it sitting in the pile for a few days, its turn for reading finally came, and this was a good one.

Now, I’m not a person who quilts. I am not really a sewing person, but I enjoy cross-stitch and knitted during the teenaged years, and I adore looking at fabric arts. Combine “fabric arts” with pioneer Texas history, and we were off to the races.

As the title pretty much confirms, this was about Texas history combined with the history of women and quilts, and it was really fascinating.

Living in an area with its own history of the early pioneers, I frequently see reminders of early pioneer life: the land surrounding our city still resembles the same view that pioneers must have had when they first arrived on the South Plains, and there are several historical markers and a large university-related museum which focus on these early years with an emphasis on how the early (white) ranchers lived in dugouts and other wooden structures through the years, and much of our regional population here are descended from pioneer families.

(Our city wasn’t incorporated until the 1920’s, but there were plenty of First People who nomadically passed through this area, naturally, but the actual formal formation of the city came later. It’s rather a contentious history, I’m afraid.)

So – to the book itself. I ended up making a list of notes as I read through, and so that’s what you guys are getting. Hope that works. J

  • If you’ve ever seen a cowboy film that has the actual details historically correct, you may have seen cowboys on horses with a bedroll tucked behind them to the back of the saddle. That bedroll is called a “suggan”, and was usually a heavy hand-made quilt made from old wool pants, jeans or khaki pants (usually part of the trouser leg as that received the least wear). (Also included “tailor squares”, but not sure what they are. Anyone?)
  • Suggans were usually very rugged construction, and usually the cloth pieces are sewn around the edges (similar to a traditional quilt), but suggans have one big stitch (with the threads not cut off) in the middle of each square. This was a quick way to finish the quilt, and to make sure that it could withstand cowboy life on the prairie. (Strangely enough, I saw exactly one of these in a TV interview later on that same day, and squealed as I could now recognize it as a suggan. It’s the little things.)
  • Quilts rather slid from public popularity during the American equivalent of Victorian times, but when WWI occurred, quilt-making came back to the fore with the campaign slogan: Save the Blankets for the Boys Over There (1917). In 1918, WWI was still going on, but now the U.S. was deeply involved, and so the government used most of the country’s wood supply for commercial use, and instituted “Heatless Mondays”. (This makes me wonder if Paul McCartney’s vegetarian campaign slogan of “Meatless Mondays” was influenced by this saying…)

wwI_propaganda_1

  • Texas had its first female governor in the 1930’s: Miriam A. (“Ma”) Ferguson. (Hmm. Going to have to look at this. I thought that there had only been Ann Richards, but it seems there is another contender. Good.)
  • According to the author, quilt-making is both an individual art and a group project, depending on where one is in the process. These are the steps:
    • Step One: Making the top of the quilt. Usually an individual project involving selecting the fabric and creating whatever design s/he wants to sew with the fabric pieces.
    • Step Two: Place both the (now-finished) quilt top piece on top of the filling (batting?) and the bottom sheet, and then put the quilt into the quilting frame. (Usually a large wooden frame that holds the layers of the quilt together so that the edges can be sewn shut and the pieces joined.

quilt_frame

  • This frame quilt (see above image) was large in size, and since most of the early pioneer homes were rather small (think Little House on the Prairie), the quilt frames were on a pulley system so that the quilt-in-progress could be lifted up to the ceiling to get it out of the way for day-to-day life. It was also a popular social occasion in rural areas (as you can see from the happy expressions of the people in the photo above). 🙂 I’m kidding.
  • Quilting bees are small groups than quilting groups which are smaller groups than quilting guild(s). Huh. (I’m guessing, but I think the bee reference is to do with the idea of bees being very busy? Not sure. Just made that up just now.)
  • Other cultures have quilting as well: the African-American culture has a quilting tradition, Mexico (and remember that Texas is really close to Mexico geographically so there was lots of inter-cultural influences) had colchas bordados (or embroidered blankets), and the Navajo made quilts using vertical stands as opposed to the horizontal ones.
  • Britches quilts were made out of the unused parts of trousers when the seat of the trousers got too worn to wear. Recycle, repurpose, reuse. 🙂

 

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. 🙂 )

Sig_Eliz1

 

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!

October 2017 Reading Review…

october

October, one of my favorite months of the year, actually ended up being pretty busy with both teaching and writing this year. That’s not a criticism by any means, but just an observation of life on campus now.

The weather is getting to be more and more autumnal, although the temperatures are still a little zany: We had almost snow yesterday morning, but it’s forecast to be close to 90 this Friday, so dressing is all in layers to cope with the wide temperature spread. (I call it ski jackets and shorts weather, as you’ll probably need the cold protection in the morning and the shorts for the hot weather in the afternoon.)

The semester is more than halfway done now – about six weeks left, I think – and I think my students have been doing very well for the most part. They’re certainly enjoyable to teach (from my perspective), so it’s still fun.

To the October reading:

The best read by far was the very strange recounting of the North Korean kidnapping of a South Korean film director and his movie star wife. It’s an insane story, but riveting at the same time. Highly recommended for certain.

The others were mostly ok. I really enjoyed the Summerscale book about a Victorian wife who is caught having an affair. The librarian book and the Atwood read were ok. (More broccoli books really, although I had high hopes for the photo-heavy book.)

The Virago O’Brien was confusing and dry as anything (despite it being billed a romantic story), but that’s one of the gambles you run with the Virago imprint. Some are really really good, and some are not. 🙂

So, November is up next. Three weeks until Thanksgiving, six weeks until Finals, and then time for a break. Yahoo!

 

 

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

book456

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.)

book455

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.)

Korea_world_map

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.

north_korea_people

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.)

Thunder and Lightning – Laura Redniss (2016)

book414

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.