“All good poets of the past, almost without exception, were at least bilingual if not trilingual.” —Helen Vendler http://t.co/8xbpDgHAYm
— The Paris Review (@parisreview) December 3, 2013
Country girl, Denise Lovette comes to the big city hoping to work for her uncle. His dressmaking business is struggling as the competition from the shining, novel department store The Paradise has captured his old customers. Despite her uncle’s disappointment, Denise takes a job at the only store hiring, The Paradise. Soon she’s in her element, an elegant women’s department headed by Miss Audrey with new colleagues, some friendly and others envious and vengeful. What keeps Denise going is the world of fashion and commerce. She’s a natural marketer. Ideas on boosting sales come to her in torrents.
The Paradise is owned by John Moray, a widower who’s courting Katherine, a wealthy, spoiled banker’s daughter. Moray’s wife died under suspicious circumstances, known only to an equally suspicious character who lurks in the corners of The Paradise noting secrets in his little black book. Moray and Katherine’s rocky relationship is further disrupted by Denise, whose beauty, loyalty, innocence and sales acumen are mighty attractive.
I highly recommend this series, which you can watch on PBS.org till December 17th. It’ll tide you over till the January premiere of Downton Abbey‘s 5th season. I’m caught up in the store and the complexities of the era. The series begins in 1875 or so and shows the excitement of new businesses popping up along with new opportunities for women in the work world. It also shows the downside, how dedicated craftsmen must fit to survive. It’s a Darwinian competition draped in silk and lace.
I plan to read Emil Zola’s The Ladies’ Paradise as soon as I get back to the states. Evidently, the BBC’s adaptation whitewashes some of the real problems, economic and social, for workers at this time. Since I’m an Upton Sinclair fan, I’ll probably enjoy the darker novel.
My final project for my Hyperlinked Libraries course.
I’ve been delighted with Scoop.it since I learned about it last semester. Scoop.it, a digital curation tool, not only is useful in school libraries, but I argue should be used in public libraries as it capitalizes on librarian’s skill and aligns well with a public library’s mission. I chose to imagine I was working at my hometown’s library.
To see the Issuu version, click here.
“A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. On a cold, rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen, instead. A human with a brain and a heart and a desire to be uplifted, rather than a customer with a credit card and an inchoate “need” for “stuff.” A mall—the shops—are places where your money makes the wealthy wealthier.
[Chandler] wrote as if pain hurt and life mattered.
The New Yorker.
I just love Raymond Chandler and can’t believe I didn’t read his novels till this year. The High Window has Philip Marlowe working for a nasty, rich, cold-hearted widow whose ex-husband’s rare gold coin has been stolen. The story starts simply enough, but soon the body count piles up. First a rookie detective who was following Marlowe is killed. Next an expert Marlowe spoke with, then a third body appears. All are connected to Marlowe, though not closely.
The best thing about Chandler’s writing is the prose. His style is one of a kind. Here are some examples:
“I have a damn fool of a son,” she said. “But I’m very fond of him. About a year ago he made an idiotic marriage, without my consent. This was foolish of him because he is quite incapable of earning a living and he has no money except what I give him, and I am not generous with money. The lady he chose, or who chose him, was a night club singer. Her name, appropriately enough, was Linda Conquest. They have lived her in this house. We didn’t quarrel because I don’t allow people to quarrel with me in my house, but there has not been good feeling between us. I have paid their expenses, given each of them a car, made the lady a sufficient but not gaudy allowance for clothes and so on. No doubt she found life rather dull. No doubt she found my son dull. I find him dull myself. At any rate she moved out, very abruptly, a week or so ago, without leaving a forwarding address or saying goodbye.” (p.12)
He held an empty smeared glass in his hand. It looked as if somebody had been keeping goldfish in it. He was a lanky man with carroty short hair growing down to a point on his forehead. He had a long narrow head packed with shabby cunning. Greenish eyes stared under orange eyebrows. His ears were large and might have flapped in a high wind. He had a long nose that would be into things. The whole face was a trained face, a face that would know how to keep a secret, a face that held the effortlessness of composure of a corpse in the morgue. (p. 76)
Each sentence is flawless.
I decided to use my freedom of choice to see what articles I’d find on my own. The title “Damn the Recession, Full Speed Ahead” by Rush Miller, University of Pittsburgh, had power, which grabbed me. Must we really resort to begging to get what we need for our users? That seems to be the attitude of too many long time librarians I’ve seen. Throughout the article, Miller is bold and dynamic, refreshingly so.
Miller describes his early career as an academic librarian when administrators haled the library as the “heart of the university” in the 1970s and 80s. However he points out that all though faculty and administrators did praise and value the libraries, and while the libraries had healthier budgets than they do now, they actually never got the cut of the budget that they should have gotten (which he contends was 5% rather than the average 2.75% of 1977). Later libraries received more as technologies developed, but proportionately they’ve gotten a smaller allocation(1.5% today).
As libraries face a paradigm shift and feel the need to champion their relevancy like never before Miller offers a bold, well argued call to action. I was struck by his use of a quote by Duane Webster, “Promoting past success or defending status quo is a recipe of disaster.” In fact Miller goes further saying:
Claiming value is not nearly enough. While certainly libraries in some form will survive as long as universities do, the real issue and challenge is to keep libraries relevant to the learning and researching enterprise. The danger is that without major transformational change libraries will be come less and less relevant. . . change or progress in academic libraries cannot continue to be incremental, but must become transformative. We can no longer expect to have “new” services and roles funded with increase to our budgets or even external funding from grants, but we must reinvent ourselves and create the resources essential to our new mission from within those resources available to us in the past.
I did cringe when Miller discusses how libraries need to think like businesses. I have a problem with idealizing business as if businesses didn’t fail, didn’t waste lots of money, didn’t endanger people. He described how by outsourcing cataloging his library went from a staff of 70 to one of 29. While I don’t plan on working in cataloging, such cuts send chills through my spine. I do want to have a career in this shrinking field. Whole departmental libraries have closed as did their special collection of colonial American documents. While I support digitizing historical artifacts, I hope there’s still some way for researchers and history buffs to have access to actual rare books and historic documents. (One promising note was that there are more jobs in digital curation.) University of Pittsburgh has undertaken over a 100 digitization projects and are pioneering digital publishing, which is a trend that’s sure to be true of other sizable libraries. One project I perused was their exhaustive photo collection of every inch of Chartres Cathedral.Another exciting change is their on-demand book printing machine and their journal publishing services that is open to scholars and writers around the world.
He asserts that the reduction in reference queries, virtual and in person is due to a faster Google-like search system, but he offered no quantitative or qualitative back up.
The university renovated the library’s coffee shop. Now it has big screen TVs showing the news and they hold lunchtime concerts on Fridays. Popular books are on hand and available for patrons to take out. It’s the most popular cafe on campus.
Rush believes that ebooks will push out print books faster than people think. Here I have my doubts. I use both formats and prefer paper books. I see both used on trains and around town. It’s easy to give books as gifts and an ebook certificate, just isn’t the same. I wonder about the environmental impact of mining rare earth metals, the conditions of factory workers making electronics (though I can’t or don’t go electronics-free) and the consumption of energy for all our devices.
Bold and unflinching, Miller is very comfortable with change and states that libraries must have “articulate leadership with vision and a proclivity to change as a way of life. Effective library management today is change management; effective leadership is visionary leadership.” On the one hand, I’m encouraged by his spirit, but on the other, I don’t want too much change too fast. Still learning how one academic librarian is leading change made for a lively read.
Miller, R. (2012). Damn the Recession, Full Speed Ahead. Journal of Library Administration, 52(1), 3-17.
Jillian Lauren‘s memoir, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem takes readers from the world of starving artists/escorts in New York to the palace and yachts of Brunei. A fascinating, witty read, Some Girls chronicles Lauren’s life through the before, during and after of her time as a party girl/concubine for Prince Robin (that’s his English name).
Lauren candidly shares her feelings and background with objectivity admitting when she’s conned herself vis-a-vis her family, birth mother, drinking, neuroses, boyfriends, jobs and time in the surreal world of royals in Brunei. Smart and funny, the book is more than a tell all though it doesn’t shy away from relating the seamy side of the machinations and competition between the girls from America, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore as they vie for a handsome Prince, who’s married (with 2 wives), cold, manipulative and far from charming.
FYI – It all starts with an offer of $20,000 for two weeks of partying, smiling and pleasing.
Thanks to whoever left this book in the teachers’ book collection.
It’s the birthday of humorist, actor, and drama critic Robert Benchley (1889) (books by this author), born in Worcester, Massachusetts. He became managing editor of Vanity Fair in 1919, and that was where he met Dorothy Parker and Robert Sherwood. The three of them would go to lunch together at the Algonquin Hotel and complain about their jobs, and those sessions formed the core of what would become the Algonquin Round Table. He was only with Vanity Fair briefly, because Parker was fired in January 1920, and he and Sherwood resigned in protest. He was hired by Life magazine a few months later, and worked as a drama critic for about nine years. He was also a regular contributor to The New Yorker during that time, and in 1921, he published his first essay collection, Of All Things!
Benchley also wrote and acted in several short films from the late 1920s onward, usually humorous monologues. Through the 1930s and into the ’40s, he gradually moved away from writing, becoming more and more interested in films, but all his work carried the same thread of the self-deprecating and mildly inept intellectual. By 1943, he had given up writing. And in 1945, he died of cirrhosis of the liver. He once said, “I know I’m drinking myself to a slow death, but then I’m in no hurry.” And: “It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.”
I found Shannon Hale‘s novel Austenland on the new books shelf at the library. Since I’m an unabashed Jane Austen fan, though one who’s never read any fan fiction or other spin offs, I thought Austenland would be a fun, summer read.
Premise: Jane Haynes, a single 30-something graphic artist living in New York has is obsessed with Jane Austen novels. An elderly aunt dies and bequeaths Jane a three week stay at Pemberley Park, where everyone lives in the style of Regency England.
Hmmm, could be fun.
Well, Jane first can’t decide if she should go. Her fretting about this non-problem annoyed me. Of course, readers know she’s going or there’s no story.
Jane arrives in the house and meets the other characters, moderns who adopt early 19th century personas and clothes. As you’d expect they resemble Austen’s characters: the uptight Darcy, the cads, the matchmaking middle aged women. Here though we’re also given some pathetic characters like Miss Charming, a 50-ish heavy guest who adopts the personal of a 20 year old. Many come to Pemberley Park for a three week dose of wish fulfillment.
Throughout the story Jane questions her Austen-complex. Mentally, she complains of the boredom of the lifestyle. She bugged me as she was just a four star White Whiner. It’s hard to push through a story when the heroine is bored or questioning why she’s on a vacation. It’s easy enough to extricate oneself from a resort. Pemberley Park is not Alcatraz.
The plot was predictable; the prose, almost witty. The only non-Austen touch was that Jane has a dalliance with a gardener, who would have been invisible in an Austen novel, where the bad men weren’t servants.
Hale’s writing style is chatty and banal. I think she must read chic lit novels exclusively. While it’s hard to be as good as Austen, I think the best route is to avoid emulation and shoot for originality.
I see that the film opens August 16th. I’d wait for Netflix, rather than buying a ticket, though there’s plenty of better good versions of Austen’s oeuvre with dashing actors like Colin Firth, Matthew Macfayden, Rupert Penry-Jones, and Richard Armitage, that it’s hard to imagine that Austenland offers a better experience.
I’m reading the absorbing Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard by English professor and Shakespeare expert, Laura Bates. Bates grew up in a poor neighborhood with plenty of crime and troubles. After getting her doctorate, she begins teaching in an Indiana prison a few days a week. Her employer, University of Indiana offered courses to prisoners. After awhile she convinces the prison to allow her to teach in prisoners in solitary confinement. Her school’s not on board so she does this for free.
Bates describes the details of the high security section of the prison, all the thick double doors she has to go through and all the perils she must avoid. The heart of the book is her engagement with the convicted murders she works with. Their insights and engagement with the plays are a far cry from what you’d expect from men imprisoned for life. Bates’s book also relates the men’s narratives – how they got where they are. It’s an absorbing read. I’d love to see Steppenwolf or the Chicago Shakespeare Theater dramatize it.