Here’s an early version of a library book mobile.
Friday I saw a marvelous play adapted from Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Staged by the Oracle Theater, a cast of about a dozen actors brought the meat packing industry and Chicago slums to life. While The Jungle’s most known for exposing the terrors of the food industry, the book and the play both reveal how immigrants were swindled through bad real estate brokers and others trying to make a quick buck.
How on earth would you depict the slaughter of cows in a tiny theater? Or a big one for that matter. The Oracle did this with amazing creativity using large rolls of butcher paper, ink and woodblocks to imprint the cows before the audience. The paper also served as a screen to project the waves of Lake Michigan or a canvas for painting the bars of a prison.
The show offers much more than ingenious stagecraft. Every performer gave a compelling performance which featured lots of singing.
As if a good play isn’t enough, the price is outstanding. The play was free. The Oracle Theater models its finance on public radio where subscribers donate what they can on a monthly basis. If you can’t pay, that’s fine as The Oracle wants everyone to be able to see a good play.
I do hope they succeed and are around for years to come.
Tickets are available at publicaccesstheatre.org. Street parking is readily available.
I’d heard of rags to riches stories a.k.a. Horatio Alger stories, but I’d never actually read a book by Horation Alger — till now. I raced through Ragged Dick in two days, not just because it’s short, but because it’s funny. Alger reminds me of Dickens or Twain as he has jokes on every page.
Ragged Dick is a 14 year old orphan, a shoe shine boy who must sleep on the streets in a box of straw or old wagon if he can find one. He’s got wit and pluck and amuses and impresses his well-to-do customers. Time and again he shows his hilariously funny, honest, kind and brave. Yes, it’s a morality tale and the ending is happy, but it wasn’t as pat as I’d expected.
Dick doesn’t wind up as a millionaire by the stories end. He does start out in actual rags which he explains he would get rid of but since George Washington and Louis Napolean (sic) gave him those close he felt he couldn’t.
While Dick’s a good lad, he’s not an angel with a dirty face (though he does have a dirty face). The narrator and Dick tell us that he smokes cigars, goes to the Bowery Theater a lot, doesn’t save money and gambles. Yet he corrals his vices in due time.
Much of the story consists of Dick showing Frank, a country boy who’s uncle is busy with business all day around the streets of New York, where there’s a con artist around every corner. Frank and the uncle get Dick a new suit for the day and suddenly Dick’s treated with great respect wherever he goes (well, almost) and a lot of folks don’t recognize him. Through Frank we learn that Dick’s in a jam. Because he’s so good and diligent about getting business, he makes $3 a day. If he worked at a counting house or store he’d just get $3 a week. He doesn’t pursue other work because that would mean a short term loss. Also, these clerk jobs tend to go to boys from in tact families. The book then is more than just a series of funny adventures, it does show aspects of 19th century urban America.
Like Dickens Ragged Dick will appeal to readers of all ages.
Kafu Nagai’s Rivalry: A Geisha’s Tale presents a world that seems more realistic that Memoirs of a Geisha, which was the rage 10+ years ago. In Rivalry, Komayo is a former geisha. She left the profession when she married. Unfortunately, her husband dies. There’s no reason to stay in the countryside up north with rude in-laws for the rest of her life, so she returns to Tokyo and her geisha house.
One of her first “patrons” sees her and takes up with her. He’s just a little bit older than she is and spending time with him is far better than with the fat, bald, ill-mannered middle-aged customers. Life’s not so bad.
Then Komayo meets an attractive actor and they have a dalliance. Then they have another and another. Her first patron was going to buy Komayo’s contract. He proposes marriage and Komayo isn’t sure. The patron hears some gossip about Komayo and the actor so he buys the contract of a fleshy, jovial but uncouth geisha. So there! (Talk about biting off your nose to spite your face.)
Komayo’s life spirals and shame haunts her. At times the story meanders, but generally the realistic tone which describes geisha life (without getting as flowery as Arthur Golden sometimes did) makes for a pleasant read.
The ending seemed to pat and undeserved, but forgiveable.
Graeme Wood’s “Anthropology Inc.” for The Atlantic was a stimulating introduction to the practice of corporations like Coca Cola and Pernod Ricard USA to hire ReD, a research firm that specializes in field studies, to get qualitative data so they can understand consumers better. My former ad agency, DDB was doing this in the 1980s and I imagine its competitors were too. I’m not sure of the academic qualifications of all our researchers, but I found their presentations on topics like children’s opinions of their closets’ contents and conditions to be fascinating.
When Wood described the home party in the beginning of the article, I immediately wondered about the ethics. How would I feel about being studied at a party so that I might buy more Absolut vodka? How would the guests feel after reading this article? Not only were they studied, the party was then reported so there’s a double lens through which the party and drinking behavior was recorded. It’s both interesting and creepy.
I felt conflicted about the process. On the one hand, I love discovering new insights and would find this work fascinating. On the other, I value privacy and feel our world is getting more and more like the setting of the novel WE, a futuristic world where all rooms and buildings have windows for walls. I agree with the academics who point out that without a code of ethics research can be harmful. It can also be flawed as Heisenburg’s Uncertainty Principle tells us that when behavior is observed, it’s different.
ReD’s six hour long interviews sound like an endurance test, as well as a major imposition. Most participants will opt out of such a long interview so I wonder if the subjects who agree are representative. I would hope that those commissioning the research would take the results with a grain of salt.
The parts of the article that described Chinese group-orientation was half-right. Yes, Chinese person’s and other Asians’ circle of concern is wider than the stereotypical Westerner’s, but it isn’t all-encompassing. There’s a bright, sharp boundary. Most observers would note that Chinese people tend to think in terms of their in-group rather than their individual self. An “outsider” is not someone whose welfare is important, whereas though Western consumers may emphasize self, communal generosity or justice is a value. So the anthropologists who note this communal/individual dichotomy aren’t engaged in good scientific observation. Wood’s article would have been stronger had he mentioned this shortcoming. Since The Atlantic frequently features perceptive reporting on China, I’d expect its writers not to write from inside a silo.
I wish Wood had included some information answering the question of “To what extent do today’s cultural anthropologists exoticize their subjects?” There seems to be an inherent trap of dramatizing their findings or emphasizing the behaviors that seem different. A mixture of P.T. Barnham’s “Give the people, (e.g. client) what they want” and the practice of “orientalizing” behavior so the client feels they’ve paid for treasure rather than the expected. Wood was a bit guilty of hyping his article in this way as his examples of the Orthodox Jewish subject and the lesbian drinking party are more exotic than a mundane middle class family of four. While all groups should be studied, the way the findings are delivered should not be fashioned to dazzle or entertain the client. We all should be leery of how and what Madison Avenue presents to us. I think Wood should have been a bit more skeptical than he was.
An interesting read, “Anthropology, Inc.” calls attention to the business world’s growing use of social science to understand and market to consumers.
Getting to Know Your Patrons
“Getting to Know Your Patrons” provides methods and rationale for conducting field research or contextual research even in libraries with small staffs and limited resources. After reading about PhDs who conduct qualitative behavioral research, it was freeing to understand that doesn’t need the academic expertise ReD’s researchers have, to conduct a study that yields important insights.
Smaller libraries may think they must forego such significant work since they don’t have a dedicated staff that specializes in UX. That’s not the case. By organizing staff to do short observations and showing the sort of descriptions that are useful, this article prepared me to do my first contextual inquiry.
Schmidt, A. (2011, June 1). Getting to Know Your Patrons. Library Journal, Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2011/06/opinion/aaron-schmidt/getting-to-know-your-patrons-the-user-experience/
Wood, G. (2013, March). Anthropology Inc. The Atlantic, Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/03/anthropology-inc/309218/
Ernest Poole‘s The Harbor is tied for the most exciting book I’ve read this year (with The Count of Monte Cristo). Written in 1915, The Harbor tells the story of New York’s harbor from the late 19th century till WWI through the eyes of Bill, whose father has a lucrative business. The Harbor gripped me from page one when seven year old Bill shares how he hates the harbor. Though crude to a sheltered rich boy, this harbor is filled with sailing ships, exotic foreigners, spices, silks, and riches. Yeah, there’s plenty of spitting and cursing and the odd fist fight as Bill learns when he meets a Dickensian boy, Sam who’s something of a “harbor-urchin” leading a back of wildish boys who scare and fascinate Bill. He’s never the same after meeting Sam. The rich kids in their starched shirts with their gentle games lose whatever charm they had.
We follow Bill from his often adventurous childhood through college when he meets Joe Kramer, a worldly politically active man, whose family became destitute after his father unknowingly gave tainted medicine to children with small pox. Though the fault was with the drug company, Dr. Kramer and his family were driven out of town and had to move from town to town as rumors caught them. Joe is full of the straight dope. He sees through society’s shams and thinks most of college is a “tour through the graveyard.” Joe comes and goes always making Bill and his sister Sue question their views and life.
The Harbor has the tone of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, that vivid, robust tone from the turn of the century. Poole’s not as polemic or biased as Upton Sinclair (whom I do like). The middle class and upper class views are presented honestly. It was amazing and sad to see how work and life on the harbor got harder when sailing ships were replaced by bigger steel ships.
Poole was the first writer to get a Pulitzer Prize, which he got for his second novel, The Family. From what I’ve read The Harbor‘s the better book and the new prize wanted the author of The Harbor to get credit for the fine writing in that book.
I’ve got that joy of discovering a new favorite writer whose every book I want to read. I’ll get to The Family after I finish his Giants Gone about “the men who made Chicago,” which I’m getting from the library this morning.
When I picked this up at the library I didn’t catch the smaller type: Images of America. So I thought there would be more text about Chicago’s Gold Coast. Once I figured out the subject of this book I appreciated the wide selection of old photos of grand houses in this Chicago district. Images of America: Chicago’s Gold Coast upped my understanding of how the city looked in the late 19th century and beyond.
Here’s a few of the homes featured.