magenta: (Books)

“Loving Eleanor” by Susan Wittig Albert. (Gotten through ILL from the Washington County Library because Hennepin County doesn't own) In the 1920's, Lorena Hickok was a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune (This was before it merged with the Minneapolis Daily Star.) Women were not really accepted as reporters then; she was a pioneer in the field. While she was not openly lesbian – which would have been dangerous at the time – she lived with the same woman for eight years, in the penthouse of the luxurious Leamington Hotel. When her lover eloped with a man, she fled and ended up in New York, working for the Associated Press. In 1928 she was given the assignment to interview Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the then Democratic candidate for the Governor of New York. Thus began a friendship, a long term relationship that had to be completely hidden. Hick, she was known, interviewed Eleanor several times when FDR was Governor, and wrote a number of significant stories about her. They saw more and more of each other, and became lovers, writing to each other every day. Eleanor Roosevelt had not had a sexual relationship with her husband for some time; FDR had a number of affairs.

Hick followed Eleanor to Washington, and at times stayed in the White House. When their closeness alarmed FDR and the administration, Hick was given a job with the Federal Emergency Relief Administration; she was to travel around the country and investigate the depths of the Depression. Even for a woman who had grown up in poverty on the plains of North Dakota, what she found was horrifying. It enabled FERA to give aid where it was needed most, but the book she wrote was too upsetting to be published until many years later. Despite occasional vacation trips together, the First Lady was too recognizable for them to have any privacy. Eventually, they drifted apart, but remained friends until Eleanor's death. Hick had a successful career as a writer. The letters they wrote each other mostly survived, and were released to the public many years later, after both women's deaths. Other books have been written about both of them; this novelization by Albert, an accomplished writer, is cogent and moving, and I strongly recommend it, especially for anyone interested in lesbian history.

magenta: (Witch's Hat)
Just finished an excellent and interesting book: One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life by Mitch Horowitz. It's a history of the New Thought movement, from whence comes a lot of New Age thought, and everything from Christian Science to The Secret. The first seven chapters are an excellent history of a number of interlocking movements, including a number I was not familiar with, like Jewish Science, a rabbi's reaction to and interpretation of Christian Science. The last long chapter is entitled "Does it work?" and has an examination of under what circumstances positive thinking is useful, when it is not, and something of the ethics of this group of ideas. I recommend it to anyone interested in the whole idea of positive thinking or any related philosophies. The author doesn't refute anything so much as points out strengths and weaknesses and what is useful, and not, about these ideas.
magenta: (Books)
This Book is Overdue, how Librarians and Cybrarians can save us all. Marilyn Johnson, HarperCollins, 2010.

Covers the amazing changes that have taken place in libraries and the profession of librarian in the last few years. The change from card catalogs to computer catalogs, and the increasing use of online databases instead of reference books. The whole mess of the Patriot Act and the FBI’s attempts to invade privacy at libraries. The rise of radical librarians, and librarian blogs. The changes in libraries because of decreased funding and changes in public policy. The debates over preservation and discarding of materials And most of all, how we need librarians more than ever, despite, and because of the increasing use of computers. The author is obviously a heavy library user, both personally and professionally. Anyone who is in the library field will really appreciate this book, and probably recognize many of the topics. And library users need to know about the behind the desk information and anecdotes shared.

This review is telegraphic, because the book itself is indeed overdue, but I wanted to tell friends, and especially librarian friends, about it before I quick drop it in the returns slot so Hennepin County counts it as returned on Sunday, when it was due.
magenta: (Books)
Cheap, the high cost of discount culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell, 2009. Excellent book on how our economy has been changed by the rise of discount selling, from the first mass sellers like Woolworths to Walmart and dollar stores. Part sociology, part economics, part history, the author describes why our obsession with getting a bargain is threatening our health, environment, standard of living and the economy in general. Very well written, but it's a complicated subject. Not an easy read, but very worthwhile.

Reading it, I came up with this a couple of ideas. Most political economists are very out of date; Adam Smith and Marx and many others wrote in such a different world that many of their ideas aren't applicable any more. (She talks about this in the book.) However, in the fashion of Marx, it is no longer enough to seize the means of production. We need to seize the means of distribution, because that is where the enormous, exploitative profits are coming from now. Originally, the capitalist took raw materials and labor and produced a product to sell. Now the layers of transport, advertising, warehousing, and selling make up much of the cost of the product, and profit may have no relation to the original costs.

Available from Hennepin County Library. There is a waiting list.
magenta: (Books)
This was going to be "a day late but not a dollar short", but life happens, so it's two days late, because it came out two days ago.

I was blessed to acquire an ARC of Jay Lake's new book Green at Wiscon. Once all the laundry was done, I settled down to read it. It turned out to be one of those books you savor, not letting yourself read it too fast, because then it will be over, and you can never read it for the first time again.

This is an incredible book for a bunch of reasons. Jay, who I have met, is a large white man; he wrote in the first person the character of a small brown girl completely believably. Right there, I think this book deserves to be on the short list for the Tiptree. I have seldom read any book about a little girl growing to womanhood that felt so true. It's a difficult story, a tear-jerker for me a few places.

How do I review it without spoilers? The point of the book is the development of Green from the age of 3. She has lost everything she had at the beginning of her life, which admittedly wasn't much. She longs for what she has lost, because everything she has gained is not by her choice. Her fate is to be driven by other people's wants and needs. Much of the book is directed at her seizing control of her destiny, and by doing so, changing everything around her, and creating a new god in the process.

Yes, that's vague. But so much of this book is the unfolding, the revealing, of the main character, the girl who becomes Green. Don't look at the back cover or the inside flap. Just read it.
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American Transcendentalism, a history by Philip F. Gura. Hill & Wang 2007. 306 pages plus extensive footnotes, index. St Paul Public Library owns this.

A very extensive account, beginning with the teens of the 19th century, and following the movement until it dispersed in the 1880s and 90s. This book discusses many people connected with the movement, not just the well known ones like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Theodore Parker. It examines the roots of the movement in new translations of writings of other world religions as well as in the Higher Criticism, the examination of the Bible in light of historical, linguistic and other knowledge. Transcendentalism was, in many ways, an outgrowth of the American Unitarians. Therefore, this book also contains much material on the theology of the Unitarians of the time, and the conflicts within it, and with other denominations.

The controversies of the time included whether Jesus was divine or human, whether individual salvation was more important than the spiritual progress of the society, and whether God is "a personality or an organizing power in Nature." The Transcendentalists were very concerned with the nature of the divine, and especially with the idea of the divine dwelling within every human being, and often, within all of the natural world. Most of them were idealistic, and utopian communities like Brook Farm were the result.

The rise of the abolition movement and other social causes ultimately took energy and interest away from the more theological concerns of Transcendentalism, starting in the 1840s. Many of the leaders became more concerned with a corrupt and corrupting society than with the exact nature of the Divine. Nevertheless, it continued to have influence on religion and philosophy well into the 20th century

I found this book fascinating, but because it is dense and scholarly, it took me weeks to finish, reading a few pages at a time. It’s especially interesting that many of the conflicts described are still controversial. Many Pagan may find this book useful, since significant ideas in modern Neo-Paganism actually come into Western thought through the Transcendentalists. I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in the history of religion.


Mar. 19th, 2008 04:39 pm
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The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, "stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science" Viking, 2007.

Featured on the PBS show, "The Brain Fitness Program" and available if you give them money. I'm glad I got it from the library. It's an interesting book, but then, I find neuroanatomy interesting. It's about half history of research on the brain, and its adaptability, and half anecdotes. Early research resulted in a model that after childhood, the brain cannot adapt, change, compensate. This led to, for example stroke victims, not being given all the rehabilitative help they might have been able to use. Recovery from strokes and injuries is much more possible than originally thought, because the brain can re-route much more than seems possible. Some of the stories are quite amazing. The book is written at a first year college level; it assumes you know a little about anatomy, and don't mind learning more. Some of this re-routing can be applied to adapting as one ages, so the topic is of interest to anyone who is concerned about healthy aging.

But there is little about how to exercise the brain in this book, just that it can be done. There are references to the work of Merzenich, who designed a couple of programs, including the one PBS is s/e/l/l/i/n/g giving as a premium with a $365 donation. I’m a bit snarky because I think it's a marketing technique. The local PBS station has been showing "The Brain Fitness Program" show over and over, and really flogging it. I went online and researched it. The program would be of some use to some people in maintaining "brain fitness" as they age, or recovering a bit of their mental agility, I think. It would not help me, because a number of the components are based on sound, hearing rising or falling tones. I've never been able to distinguish tones, even in high school. I got a "B" instead of an "A" in Music Theory as a result. This sort of exercise would be as frustrating for me as a color distinguishing exercise to someone who is color blind. I think they have other programs, and I may look into them at some point. But rather than spend money on this program I'll just get harder crossword and puzzle books to keep my mind limber, and keep walking.
magenta: (Books)
Talking With My Mouth Full, crab cakes, bundt cakes and other kitchen stories, by Bonny Wolf (NPR food commentator). St. Martin’s Press, 2006, From the Minneapolis Public Library

A lovely collection of essays and recipes. The author grew up in Minnesota, and now lives in Washington, D.C, the opposite of my life. Perhaps that's one reason why I have such an attraction to this book. I haven’t copied all the recipes I want to, so I will have to get this book again. The chapter on bundt cakes alone is worth getting the book, a basic history of the cake pan, and a few recipes for it I hadn’t seen before.

This book has chapters on jello, the State Fair, oysters, shad, and latkes; no wonder I love this book.

And brining chicken – I’ll have to try that sometime (3/4 tsp salt per pound of chicken, sit in the fridge 24 hours, then rinse and dry thoroughly. Rub with lemon and garlic, and maybe herbs. Roast in vertical roaster, at 475, 15 minutes per pound.)

I need to go nibble something now.
magenta: (Books)
Virginia Woolf Writer's Workshop: Seven lessons to inspire great writing
By Danell Jones, Bantam, 2007

A novel idea, if you'll pardon the pun. Put together of book about writing by stringing together quotes from one of the great writers of the 20th century. Writers workshops didn't exist in Woolf’s day, so the author of this book has had to fill in a few blanks. Still, it works better than it sounds. Woolf is eminently quotable; she was a very conscious and conscientious writer. Everything said by her in the book comes with citations of when she said or wrote it. There are exercises at the end of each chapter that, of course, were not written by her, and she cannot provide Clarion-style criticism of your manuscript. Just as well, since Woolf was known for her biting wit. A short book, only a bit over 100 pages, but with lots of useful ideas and advice. Highly recommended.


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