An assortment of things to read as you sip your coffee, my dears.
Margaret Atwood on what ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ means in the age of Trump
From the New York Times: Margaret Atwood on What ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Means in the Age of Trump.
Back in 1984, the main premise seemed — even to me — fairly outrageous. Would I be able to persuade readers that the United States had suffered a coup that had transformed an erstwhile liberal democracy into a literal-minded theocratic dictatorship? In the book, the Constitution and Congress are no longer: The Republic of Gilead is built on a foundation of the 17th-century Puritan roots that have always lain beneath the modern-day America we thought we knew. [continue]
For the Edwardians, bookplates were as rebellious as modern day tattoos
From The Conversation: For the Edwardians, bookplates were as rebellious as modern day tattoos.
For countless young people, and even the odd deeply defiant older person, tattoos are the ultimate way to express your identity.
Go back just over 100 years, however, and revealing your personality to the world was a very different matter. Though tattoos and intimate piercings were had by people at all levels of society – even King Edward’s son, George V, was said to have had a tattoo during his time in the Royal Navy – the slightly more conservative Edwardians turned to something very different: bookplates.
The small decorative labels used to denote book ownership which date back to the 1500s, became hugely popular across the Western world at start of the 1900s, fading into obscurity just before World War I. But they offer a fascinating insight into the people who used them. [continue]
Trespassing in Christina’s World
From the New York Times: Trespassing in Christina’s World.
We pull up to the farmhouse to find a courtly white-haired man trimming the hedge with a set of clippers. “It’s him!” Dad whispers. He rolls down his window and leans out. “Hello, good sir!” The man seems a little nonplused. “I have a car full of young readers here who’d give anything to meet their favorite author. A word from you, and they’ll remember this moment for the rest of their lives.” What choice does the poor man have? Within a few minutes, the famously reclusive E.B. White is demonstrating to a cluster of little girls in bathing suits that when you crush pine needles between your fingers and hold it to your nose, the smell is as strong as patchouli. And Dad is right — we never will forget it.
My childhood was rife with moments like this. Dad was always going out on a limb, befriending people who didn’t necessarily seem to want new friends, trespassing on private property, pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior in quest of adventure. His philosophy was that you don’t need money or plans, only a willingness to be present in the moment and to go where inspiration takes you. If you don’t, you’ll miss the entire point of being alive. [continue].
How cool is this? From Atlas Obscura: Library Hand, the Fastidiously Neat Penmanship Style Made for Card Catalogs.
In September 1885, a bunch of librarians spent four days holed up in scenic Lake George, just over 200 miles north of New York City. In the presence of such library-world luminaries as Melvil Dewey—the well-organized chap whose Dewey Decimal System keeps shelves orderly to this day—they discussed a range of issues, from the significance of the term “bookworm” to the question of whether libraries ought to have a separate reference-room for ladies.
They then turned their attention to another crucial issue: handwriting. As libraries acquired more books, card catalogs needed to expand fast in order to keep track of them. Though the newly invented typewriter was beginning to take hold, it took time and effort to teach the art of “machine writing.” Librarians still had to handwrite their catalog cards. And this was causing problems.
“The trouble in handwriting,” said Mr. James Whitney, of the Boston Public Library, “is that there is apt to be too much flourishing.” [continue]
Of course you’ll want to read the rest of the article to learn about the solution they came up with, and see the photos of the results.
Meet ‘The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu’
From the Washington Post: Meet ‘The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu’.
In front of you, a mosque built of mud and clay that served as a center of learning in the Middle Ages. Here, scholars once gathered to discuss fine points of jurisprudence and philosophy. Poets set down their verses. Artisans created beautiful manuscripts, original works as well as copies of volumes from faraway times and places.
Now turn around and take in a different scene: a sandy square, where not long ago Islamist extremists meted out severe punishments for playing music and other crimes against Sharia law. Children kick a soccer ball, the dust flies. All around you is an economically depressed, psychologically traumatized city wondering whether it has a future. (…)
“The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu,” by Joshua Hammer, vividly captures the history and strangeness of this place in a fast-paced narrative that gets us behind today’s headlines of war and terror. This is part reportage and travelogue (there is a great deal of “setting off” in Land Cruisers, camels and small boats along the Niger River), part intellectual history, part geopolitical tract and part out-and-out thriller. [continue]
Combating book theft in medieval times
From medievalbooks.nl: Chain, Chest, Curse: Combating Book Theft in Medieval Times.
Considering these two practical theft-prevention techniques – chaining your books to something unmovable or putting them into a safe – the third seems kind of odd: to write a curse against book thieves inside the book. Your typical curse (or anathema) simply stated that the thief would be cursed, like this one in a book from an unidentified Church of St Caecilia: “Whoever takes this book or steals it or in some evil way removes it from the Church of St Caecilia, may he be damned and cursed forever, unless he returns it or atones for his act” (source and image). Some of these book curses really rub it in: “If anyone should steal it, let him know that on the Day of Judgement the most sainted martyr himself will be the accuser against him before the face of our Lord Jesus Christ” (source). [continue]
(Link found here on the Schneier on Security blog.)
In more innocent days, you could write about cocks and not be misunderstood
From The Guardian: In more innocent days, you could write about cocks and not be misunderstood.
The brave and resourceful small girl in Arthur Ransome’s 1930 classic, Swallows and Amazons, is called Titty. But not, we learn, in the new film version being made by the BBC. There she will be renamed Tatty, to avoid “too many sniggers”.
It’s not the first time this indignity has befallen Titty, who was named after the traditional English fairytale, Titty Mouse and Tatty Mouse, in a more innocent age. (According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the word “tits” only started being associated with breasts in about 1928.) She was rechristened Kitty when the story was televised by the BBC in 1963, though she re-emerged with her original name in the 1974 film adaptation, and in a later radio broadcast in 2012. [continue]
One wonders how many words have undergone a similar transformation. A few years ago The Beaver, a magazine about Canadian history, had to change its name. Remember? The NYT wrote about it: Web Filters Cause Name Change for a Magazine.
Can reading make you happier?
We know a man who seems limited in outlook and rigid in thought. A friend’s assesment of him included her guess at how he had come to be this way: “He hasn’t read enough novels.” I think of that often, and the conversation came to mind again while reading this article from the New Yorker: Can Reading Make You Happier?
Several years ago, I was given as a gift a remote session with a bibliotherapist at the London headquarters of the School of Life, which offers innovative courses to help people deal with the daily emotional challenges of existence. I have to admit that at first I didn’t really like the idea of being given a reading “prescription.” I’ve generally preferred to mimic Virginia Woolf’s passionate commitment to serendipity in my personal reading discoveries, delighting not only in the books themselves but in the randomly meaningful nature of how I came upon them (on the bus after a breakup, in a backpackers’ hostel in Damascus, or in the dark library stacks at graduate school, while browsing instead of studying). I’ve long been wary of the peculiar evangelism of certain readers: You must read this, they say, thrusting a book into your hands with a beatific gleam in their eyes, with no allowance for the fact that books mean different things to people—or different things to the same person—at various points in our lives. I loved John Updike’s stories about the Maples in my twenties, for example, and hate them in my thirties, and I’m not even exactly sure why.
But the session was a gift, and I found myself unexpectedly enjoying the initial questionnaire about my reading habits that the bibliotherapist, Ella Berthoud, sent me. Nobody had ever asked me these questions before, even though reading fiction is and always has been essential to my life. I love to gorge on books over long breaks—I’ll pack more books than clothes, I told Berthoud. I confided my dirty little secret, which is that I don’t like buying or owning books, and always prefer to get them from the library (which, as I am a writer, does not bring me very good book-sales karma). In response to the question “What is preoccupying you at the moment?,” I was surprised by what I wanted to confess: [continue]
I loved this article.
On a personal note, it was a work of fiction that helped me forgive the man who broke my heart many years ago.
What books have had a profound impact on you?