12.31.2017

what i'm reading: what i haven't read and am not reading

Many of my co-workers keep colourful lists like this,
or use Goodreads or Shelfari to track their reading.
I prefer plain old text.
Like most avid readers, my to-read list contains far more titles than I could ever read in a lifetime, even if I did nothing but read. Although I add books at a considerably faster rate than I tick them off, I do still keep The List, and I consult it when I'm looking for my next book. I do this with movies, too.

I also read books not on my list, much more so now that I work in a library, and my reading tastes have broadened. But I don't keep a list of all the books I've read.

This really bothers me. It has bothered me for a very long time. But at no time did I ever start keeping a list of All The Books I Read, because... I didn't start it a long time ago, so it will always be incomplete, so there's no point in starting it, ever. I know this is not rational, I know it's part of All Or Nothing thinking, which I work at avoiding, but... I can't shake the belief.

In library work we are urged to "track our reading," because it's supposed to help us be better readers' advisors. I question whether this is true. Most library workers don't consult their own reading lists when helping customers find reading material. But whether or not this is a useful practice, I don't do it.

I do keep track of movies and series that I watch. I've done this since the late 90s, and for some reason the incompleteness of this list doesn't bother me.

So, here are some book lists, sub-lists of The List.

Three biographies I want to read
Jackie Robinson: A Biography -- Arnold Rampersad*
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder -- Caroline Fraser
Helen Keller: A Life -- Dorothy Herrmann

Three people I want to read biographies of but don't know which one to read
Muhammad Ali
Bob Dylan
Galileo

Five books that I want to read but am daunted by because they are so long
This is a stupid category for someone who has read The Power BrokerBleak House, and City on Fire. Nevertheless.
London: The Biography -- Peter Ackcroyd
Dickens -- Peter Ackcroyd*
Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 -- Edwin G. Burrows,‎ Mike Wallace**
Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919 -- Mike Wallace
Jackie Robinson: A Biography -- Arnold Rampersad*

Three books I didn't finish but am determined to get back to one day
At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 -- Taylor Branch (This is the third book in Branch's "America in the King Years," and an almost impenetrable read. But I read the first and second books, and half the third. Must finish.)
The Sherston Trilogy -- Siegfried Sassoon
Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 -- Tony Judt (also fits under previous category)

Six writers whose books keep appearing on my list but I haven't read yet (there are many more)
Frans De Waal
Carl Safina
Robert Sapolsky
Margaret Laurence
Colm Toibin
Helen Oyeyemi

Three topics I would like to read more about
Utopian communities
Confidence games, grifters, and hoaxes
Language -- acquisition by children, origins of, ASL, Esperanto...other stuff

Orwell still to read
A Clergyman's Daughter
Coming Up for Air
Collected Letters

Dickens still to read
The Pickwick Papers
The Old Curiosity Shop
Barnaby Rudge
The Mystery of Edwin Drood

The Shakespeare Project
In 2003, I decided to read or re-read all of Shakespeare's plays. I re-read all my favourites, then got totally bogged down. Here's a real test of All or Nothing. Even though I haven't read a Shakespeare play in more than a decade, the goal still nags me. I want to drop it! Can I???
Comedy of Errors
Love's Labour's Lost
Merry Wives of Windsor
Henry VI, Part I
Henry VI, Part II
Henry VI, Part III
King John
Pericles
Antony and Cleopatra
Coriolanus
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
Troilus and Cressida


----
* We own this in hardcover.
** We own this in hardcover and we acquired it by trading a box of used books for a new copy of this.

new year's un-resolutions

I don't do New Year's Resolutions, but I do enjoy using the revolution of our Earth around the Sun as an excuse to take stock in where I am and think about where I'm going.

This is not a Big Promise To Do Something; it's not even goal-setting. In my ongoing work to free myself from a strong tendency towards All Or Nothing, to not paint myself into a corner, to not create Rules which I then use to limit my experiences, I don't even set concrete goals.

My thinking takes the form of general precepts that I'm trying to remember.

When the weather is nice, spend more time outdoors.

Walk more.

Remember to make plans with friends sometimes.

Do a jigsaw puzzle now and again.

At work, take my full one-hour dinner break without doing union work.

Remember that it's all right to make mistakes.

Explore local history.

Stop multi-tasking.

Remember to blog instead of Facebook.

Read more.


12.26.2017

what i'm reading: rolling blackouts, graphic novel that asks many big questions

I see by the wmtc tag "graphic novels" that I intended to write about graphic books I read and enjoyed...and I see by the scant number of posts with that tag that I have not been doing so! The last wmtc post tagged for graphic novels is from four years ago, almost to the day.

In any event, I want to tell you about a graphic book I just finished and really enjoyed: Sarah Glidden's Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq.

In 2010, Glidden traveled with three friends who had journalism visas to the three countries in the book's title. Two of the three were part of a nonprofit, progressive media collective; the third was a former US Marine who served in the Iraq War, and was a childhood friend of one of the journalists.

Glidden doesn't merely report on what they found -- which would be interesting in itself. She stands outside the frame, as it were, and writes about their process and all its implications -- the ethics of their interviews, the industry constraints, the impossible dilemmas, the necessary compromises. The weighty responsibility of telling other people's stories, how stories are shaped into narratives, and how narratives influence our perception -- these questions are contemplated, explored, and challenged, as the inside view of how journalism happens is revealed to the reader. The question at the heart of Rolling Blackouts is "What is journalism?".

Dan, the ex-military friend on the trip, has a strange -- and often unwelcome -- perspective on the invasion of Iraq. From a privileged, middle-class background, with no family history of military service, he was an unusual enlistee. What's more, Dan insists that he was opposed to the invasion and actually protested against the war, but enlisted so he could improve the outcome. (Seriously?) He also insists that he has suffered no ill effects from his participation in the war, despite losing four friends. The journalists' attempts to mine and disrupt his odd perspective forms one of the recurring themes of the book.

But Rolling Blackouts is definitely not self-absorbed navel-gazing. We meet Kurdish Iraqis whose lives were improved by the removal of Saddam Hussein, and we meet Iraqi refugees living in Syria, whose lives, and the lives of their children, and generations to come, were destroyed by the US invasion. There is an Iraqi man who has been deported from the US, separated from his young family, because he was -- perhaps falsely -- accused of connections to terrorism. There's a young Iranian couple, both artists, on the brink of resettling in Seattle. There's a United Nations refugee administrator, an Iraqi taxi driver, a "fixer" who helps introduce the crew to potential interview subjects, and many other encounters. To each story, Glidden brings compassion and empathy, and an insistence on nuance in a world that is seldom black and white.

I really enjoyed Glidden's illustrations, soft watercolour snapshots of tiny moments in time, the kind that our memories are made of. The compassion and empathy with which Glidden approaches her subjects is evident in her lovely art. I also loved and appreciated the book's simple and extremely readable font. I wish more graphic book creators would think about the accessibility of their typeface choices. I understand that fonts are art, but when typeface impedes access, something has gone awry.

Rolling Blackouts is an ambitious book, aiming to do many things at once, and succeeding in all of them.

12.24.2017

i hate christmas 2017: the return of a wmtc tradition and then some

Last year, I took a break from my annual "i hate christmas" post. I don't remember the circumstances, but it was probably related to getting ready for our trip to Egypt. We lost Tala a few days later, but for better or worse, we were ignorant of that until the day before.

This year I revive the fine wmtc tradition and then some.

I did a stupid thing and it caused me to remember just how much I hate Christmas, like a sharp slap in the face: I went to the mall.

Yes, after all my years of not stepping foot in any store for any nonessential shopping during the holiday madness, I found myself in a gigantic mall, three days before Christmas, in the afternoon. My hair salon happens to be in the mall. I normally go there first thing in the morning and am well clear by the time it is the slightest bit busy. But I waited too long to make an appointment, and I can't wait until January... and thus I ended up in a mall, the Friday before a Monday Christmas, at 4:00 in the afternoon.

I took a cab to avoid the frustration of trying to find parking. So all I did was walk from the entrance to hair salon, sit through the crowded, noisy, Christmasy hair experience, then walk from the salon to the exit. That was enough. The mobs of people, walking apparently in slow motion, laden with packages, gawking at every window. Large groups of teens and 20-somethings, dressed like store-window mannequins, clearly there to be seen. (This is a thing!) Screaming children and exhausted parents of every description. Happy couples looking like they are out for a stroll. In the mall! Recreational shopping.

In our incredibly multicultural environment, I have to wonder how many of these families celebrate only the North American consumerist version of this winter holiday, and have no religious connection to it at all.

I personally will spend a lovely December 25 and 26 with my favourite people (one human, one canine), food, drink, movies, books, puzzles, and maybe a trip to the dog park. But damn, it is out there, and it is scary!

I'm not even going to explain why I hate Christmas so much. Writing this post, I took a trip down memory lane. It's all there, and it's more relevant than ever.

12.17.2017

listening to joni: #3: ladies of the canyon

Ladies of the Canyon, 1970

Original Front Cover
I put this album on for the first time in probably three decades, and I thought, ah, here's Joni.

Ladies of the Canyon, Joni's third album, is the first time we hear the seeds of the future Joni, the first glimpses of elements in her music which would become old friends.

It's the first time we hear her on piano. The first time she has arranged horns, strings, percussion, and background vocals. The first time we hear several of the themes she would explore in much more depth and beauty in the future: the conflict between art and commerce on "For Free," and the bleakness of bourgeoisie life on "The Arrangement".

On Ladies, we also hear the beginning of her distinctive guitar voice, more of the range of her actual voice -- and her peculiar and distinctive diction and phrasing.

I love piano in rock (Nicky Hopkins, Roy Bittan, Chris Stainton, Dr. John) and piano in blues (Pinetop Perkins, Professor Longhair, Memphis Slim), and then there's piano by Joni. Her piano makes my heart soar, makes me weep, strikes "every chord that you feel".

On this album, we hear some of the beginnings of her lyrical wordplay -- "She would wake in the morning without him, and look out through the pain," a play on window pane, or "You called me beautiful, you called your mother, she was very tan," setting up the word called and then changing its meaning. These are tiny examples, of course. In the future she'll evoke whole worlds with unexpected changes in lyrics.

Back Cover
So all this is happening today, for a fan retrospective, but in its time Ladies was much loved. I think it's been overshadowed by the masterpiece that came next.

This album ends with three of Joni's most famous songs: "Big Yellow Taxi," "Woodstock," and "The Circle Game". When Ladies came out in 1970, "Big Yellow Taxi" and "The Circle Game" were already well known, made famous by covers. "Woodstock" would soon be a hit for Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Now whole generations know BYT from newer covers and sampling.

It was strange hearing these three songs again. In BYT, I had forgotten the original lyric of the final stanza, the taxi of the title that "took away my old man". The more familiar lyric -- "a big yellow tractor pushed around my house, took away my land" -- was coined by Bob Dylan in a live show. Joni liked it and adopted it.

"Woodstock": I had forgotten how slow this original version is, how plaintive Joni sounds. Could that have been because she wasn't there -- the Woodstock concert event -- and so is imagining it from a more philosophical point of view? It's so easy to be cynical about the social revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s, to see it all as fashion, or posturing, or naivete. I get that -- because I've done it, too. I'm glad I shed that cynicism. Today, when I hear that plea for peace --  "I dreamed I saw the bomber jet planes riding shotgun in the sky, turning into butterflies above our nation" -- it just breaks my heart.

"Circle Game" is one of those songs that seems to have always existed and has never lost its meaning, like Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind". For me, the song is attached to a painful childhood memory, not in the sense of "this song brings back memories" -- but in a much deeper way. The song begins, and I am instantly in tears, before I even understand what I'm hearing. It's a trauma trigger. I have only one other song like that, an Aimee Mann tune that immediately puts me back to the shock and sadness of losing our dog Buster. Funny thing about music, and our consciousness.

I must have listened to this album a lot at some point. I used to think a line from "Blue Boy" -- "Sometimes in the evening he would read to her / Roll her in his arms and give his seed to her" -- was so melancholy and romantic, like something out of Wuthering Heights. It seems stilted now, maybe even creepy.

But overall, listening to this album has been like re-connecting with an old friend.

I couldn't find (or take) a decent pic of
the inside cover, but here's the idea.
Bad critic comment of the album

This album seems to have been universally loved. I can see why. It's accessible, there are a range of emotions, the stellar arrangements are new and fresh, and Joni's voice is developing beautifully. But of course, nothing is universal. The famous music critic Robert Christgau hated Joni's "vocal gymnastics" and found her wordplay on this album "laughably high school". He must have gone to some kinda high school!

The album cover

This is again a self-portrait, and a view -- on a skirt, or perhaps a quilt -- from her home in Laurel Canyon. I think the geese are from Canada. The house -- where Joni lived with Graham Nash, one of the great loves of her life -- was the inspiration for the "very very very fine house" of Crosby, Stills, and Nash fame.

Detail of inside cover.
One of the times I saw Joni in concert, we sat near a woman who was wearing a white denim jacket that she had embroidered with this cover art. It was amazing. I went to compliment her and chatted briefly with her and her friends. It was like the Community of We Love Joni.

Joni's notes on the cover art are here, and you can see all her paintings on her website.





Other musicians on this album

Teressa Adams, Cello
Milt Holland (a pioneer and a legend), Percussion
Paul Horn, Clarinet and Flute
Jim Horn, Baritone Sax (another legend)
Background vocals, "The Saskatoons" (i.e., multiple tracks of Joni) and "The Lookout Mountain Downstairs Choir" -- James Taylor, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash

12.15.2017

in which i achieve a career milestone

I am a Senior Librarian!

It's a position I have aspired to for quite a while. Although I love my current job as a youth librarian, I've been ready to move on for a while. I had several near-misses, but couldn't get over the top. Just as my colleagues and I were all convinced I was being discriminated against because of union activism, I placed first in a big competition, and ended up with my choice of several locations.

I chose the Children's Department of Central Library -- where I started as a Library Page and where I had my first Librarian job. During the past year, when I sometimes covered the information desk in that department, I remembered how much I enjoyed being there. I loved introducing all our newcomer families to the many resources we offer, loved finding tweens their next great read, loved being around children who are excited about books -- and the challenge of enticing children who aren't. It has its moments of insanity and frustration, of course, but what work doesn't. The great majority of the time, it's such a happy, positive place, a place that gives me energy.

All this and I get to keep my seven-minute commute.

Senior Librarian means being in charge of the day-to-day operations of a branch or department, being everyone's supervisor except the manager. My work with our union has really prepared me for the challenge.

I'm also happy to create an opening for one of our many talented members, hopefully someone who has a librarian degree but is not yet working as a librarian, someone who wants to work with youth. I've made no secret of the fact that I'm trying to get out of the way!







12.09.2017

why i write for rights and how you can too... redux #write4rights

Trying to compose my annual Write For Rights post, I thought I would recycle a good one from 2014... only to learn I had already recycled it in 2015! And here it is again -- slightly edited, with new cases linked below.

Tomorrow, December 10, is Human Rights Day. The date commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations on December 10, 1948, the first document of its kind.

Every year on December 10, Amnesty International holds a global letter-writing event: Write For Rights (in Canada). Thousands of people around the world write letters and sign petitions calling for action for victims of human rights abuses, and offering comfort and support to political prisoners.

Here are 10 reasons you should participate in Write For Rights.

1. It's easy. Amnesty makes it really easy to participate. Read, type, send.

2. You can do do it from any device. No meetings to attend, no schedule to keep. Just more of something you do all the time anyway: typing.

3. It's free. No need to donate money. The most this will cost you is postage.

4. You'll feel good about yourself. You know that warm buzz you get from helping other people? Get more of it.

5. You can choose how much to participate. Write one letter, write two letters, write three. Spend 10 minutes writing or spend an hour. (This year I am challenging myself to take one action for each of the 11 cases.)

6. You can choose what to focus on. Write about an issue in your own country. Write about an issue in your country of origin. Write for children, or for women, or for LGBT people, or for workers, or for environmental activists, or for another issue that you care about.

7. You're busting stereotypes. We supposedly live in a selfish age where all we care about is entertaining ourselves and consuming. Prove them wrong.

8. It works globally. Every fight against injustice begins with someone shining a light in a dark place. Be that light.

9. It works locally. When political prisoners are released, they often attest to the difference letters from strangers made in their lives -- how knowing they were not forgotten helped them survive.

10. You enjoy your own human rights every day. You can use them to help someone who can't.

Here are 10 more reasons. They're not cute and cheery. They are why we write.

For each, I have linked to the online action. If you go here, you will find links to more information and instructions for a more significant action.

1. Homophobic murder without consequences in Bangladesh.

2. Torture and a life sentence for a Facebook post critical of government policies in Chad.

3. Beatings and other violent harassment of a defender of evicted people in China.

4. Imprisoned for searching for her husband, who was "disappeared" for political opposition in Egypt.

5. Humiliated and prohibited from gender expression in Finland.

6. Arrested and jailed for defending human rights in Turkey.

7. Violence and threats against people who defend land and water from private development in Honduras.

8. Harassment and arrests of peaceful protesters in Israel/Occupied Palestine.

9. Intimidation and harassment for speaking out about murder by police in Jamaica.

10. Arrested and jailed for defending the rainforest [video] in Madagascar.

It doesn't take much time. It's not difficult to do. And it works.

Spend 15 minutes of your day writing a letter or two.

Write like a life depends on it.

Write for Rights in Canada

Write for Rights in the US

Write for Rights internationally.

Twitter: #Write4Rights

listening to joni: footnote #2

I decided to solve the problem of over-interpretation of lyrics in Reckless Daughter (described here) by putting down the book. I'll go back to it in the future. For now the listening project is more interesting and absorbing to me than reading the biography.

This means I'll review the two books on the nonfiction book group blog without having finished the second book. Don't tell anyone. Then I'll write new reviews for wmtc.

Next up: Ladies of the Canyon.

12.03.2017

listening to joni: footnote #1

Reading the biography Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell while doing this re-listening project is proving to be an obstacle.

In general I'm enjoying the book. I love learning more about the artist who created some of the most meaningful music in my life, and about the woman I have always considered a personal role model. I love the stories of how albums were recorded, and even how they were received. What I don't like -- and don't want -- is author David Yaffe's pronouncement of what a song is "about".

Art is always open to interpretation. In fact, art is not complete without interpretation. All art -- novels, film, theatre, visual arts, music -- is incomplete until the receiver (viewer, listener, reader, etc.) experiences it. And that experience is unique to us as individuals. I don't experience art exactly the same way you do, because we each bring our own unique experiences and consciousness to that art. Our interpretation may be conscious or subconscious. It may be intellectual or emotional or, likely, a combination of those. But it is unique to us.

I always say that if I really love a book, I will not see the movie, because I'm almost guaranteed to be disappointed. I want my own interpretation to live in my mind, and if I see the movie, I'll never be able to do that again. The filmmaker's interpretation will taint -- or at least supplant -- my own.

This is what's happening with Reckless Daughter. I don't want to know who or what these songs are "about," because they're not about one thing. I have been listening to and loving this music my whole life. I loved this music without knowing who "Willy" is (Stephen Stills) or which heroin addict in Joni's life inspired her to write "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire" (James Taylor). I'm currently listening to Ladies of the Canyon, so soon I'll be moving into music that means a great deal to me -- not one album, but many -- and I don't want someone else's interpretation mucking up my personal experience of this art.

I wish I could read the book with some kind of filter on.