Thursday, March 12, 2015

Is Every Museum A Good Museum?

Approximately what I remembered of the image.
OK, well I can't find the link. I thought that I saved it, but apparently I did not. That fact really does not change what I wanted to talk about tonight. As I was scanning my Facebook feed a little while ago I had come across an article which was interesting.

A town not too far away from where I live (Palmer... maybe Westfield, can't recall) is having an intriguing debate over some row houses. Some are calling these row houses drug-dealer infested eyesores. Others are saying 'Hey man, let's like dial it back a bit - these are historical'. The properties are one of those parcels of land of dubious ownership with no clear title. So even though these buildings have been slated for demolition a number of times the town couldn't actually do anything about it. Likewise those wanting to preserve the buildings can't legally access them to make repairs. So they are in Limbo.

I haven't visited the properties so I have no personal verification of their state of being. Would these particular buildings be worth saving? The proponents are saying that these are uniquely constructed. In addition they have had a unique history associated with the lives of workers in the late 19th century. The local historical commission had helped spare these buildings in the past in the hopes that the legal issues could be worked out.

So this whole debate got me thinking is every museum deserving of support just because it is a museum? It is quite possible that these houses are a blight. Criminal acts probably do spawn from there. As that parcel currently sits it certainly should be redeveloped once the proper ownership is hammered out. As a museum, yes they would have a valid academic value, but maybe a new convenience store generates some commerce? It is a valid community debate.

As a museum lover I fall into the pro-museum camp. These properties are rare. They are not being built anymore. Yes, I am sure that such architectural, engineering, societal data is stored somewhere. I do love my books but that does not equate to physically walking into the structure. They very easily could be incorporated into an educational course. Perhaps be a stop in a regional history tour. So while, no, this little row house museum is not going to draw like the Guggenheim, as a part of a larger whole it would have a place. Is that enough to outweigh other neighborhood needs?

When I was searching for the original news article I happened upon links directing to a larger debate is every house museum necessary? Apparently there are more house museums in the U.S. than McDonald's restaurants. That was an interesting article too. The debate rages. The nice thing is that we live in a society where we are arguing about having too many museums. I can live with that debate.

Here is the link to that Boston Globe article.

Row House Magazine, who knew?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Novel Bookstore

A rather humorous group of photos have been making the Reddit and Imgur scenes as of late. I can't say who is responsible or where this bookstore is located. The provenance of Internet meme material usually doesn't get figured out unless the meme hits the mainstream and money is involved somehow. However the moral of the story is intact - the photos are damn funny. If I were to run a bookstore I certainly would add a few sections like these.

If you haven't seen them yet then please look on... Hint. *Look at the card in each photo*

Got to love those short professional haircuts!

Those books never fall apart. They just get increasingly dogeared.

I find this amalgamation of books utterly brilliant!

I must say I've always wanted to wrestle a penguin too.

It is the thought that counts though!

It is all a fantastic adventure out there!
There are few more at the original Imgur link.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Still Here Folks

The view outside my window.
Greetings, friends, from the Great White Northeast where we've received 2 to 4 feet of snow in the last week and a half. I just wanted to pop in here and tell you all that I am indeed still active with this project. To put things succinctly my life has been rather crazy these last few months. I've moved twice in the last year much to the annoyance of my friends who feel that I move just to make them update their address books. On top of that have you ever had one of those deaths in your family that just sets all these dominoes falling in motion? Well, yeah, that has happened to me and now I find myself in a position I knew was a possibility but I wasn't quite prepared for it. Well that has made for quite a bit of behind the scenes scrambling.

All the chaos has subsided to a low simmer and now I find myself back where I can fire the blog and other projects back up. So we'll see where this leads and it is good to be back.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Day At The Odyssey

Western Massachusetts has many blessings to be grateful about. We have wonderful seasonal changes, scenic country roads and urban cultural centers. It isn't all bubblegum and lollipops all the time though. We have our share of blizzards, political intrigue and social crisis. However, there is one lovely oasis called The Odyssey Bookshop. This place is a local cultural icon and a wonderful place to visit. 

Mt. Holyoke
Nestled in the Village Commons of the bustling suburb of South Hadley the eldest of the Seven Sisters colleges Mt. Holyoke with its inviting garden of a campus sits across the green. A theater, small shops and restaurants of the commons dot the surroundings. From morning to night students, shoppers and idling travelers walk along the road and pathways. I've been here on many occasions and can personally vouch for what I have described. It is a destination where one could easily spend a memorable day. 

Love this!
To truly understand this bookstore one really must understand its symbiotic relationship with Mount Holyoke college. Back in the 60's what originally was a pharmacy which was a popular meeting point for students of the college eventually morphed into what would become The Odyssey Bookshop. The original owner Romeo Grenier decided to sell a selection of Penguin title books. This decision truly took off and five years later the college approached him to become a full-time bookseller. He took a courageous step and agreed and the rest was history. Like any 50 plus year old business it had its ups and downs. Two attempts by an arsonist to burn the place down. A relocation. This place lived up to its name.

The store itself is beautifully stocked with an impressive array of titles. They have both used and new books. Inside are two-levels to browse and enjoy to your heart's content. Not only do they sell books, but they have an impressive spread of art supplies and local flavor. They are hip with the times and E-tail their wares online.What I really love about this place is the feel you get when you walk in. It is an independent, family run bookstore. It is a place run by bibliophiles for bibliophiles. They run book signings. Authors come in and read. They really have every aspect tailored well.

And so a couple of days ago on a 90+ degree day. I took a spin down. I drove the route I knew quite well. I had been wanting to blog on some local booksellers and said to myself now is a great time to do it. I walked along the brick pathways. Thought on what I could add to my growing collection of history books. I strolled into the air-conditioned sanctuary. Inside I indulged my joy of running my finger along the spines and reading the titles. I may have even sniffed a tome or two. It was good for the soul. 

Handy guide!
In the end I added two to my personal library. Afterward I dined at one of the local eateries and perused my new bought books. As I will be making more of these visits I will most certainly let you know the decadent fun I have.

Enjoy a novel on the patio.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Sleep Over Fun!

Bring your sleeping bag!

Back in days of old remember the joy of sleeping in a place other than your own bed? Boy, I'll tell ya I do. I remember Summer camp out in the woods with the mosquitoes buzzing in my ears all night. At my friend's house with my buddy telling me how his little brother wet the bed I was sleeping in. After parties waking up behind the couch wondering where the bathroom was hiding. Those were good times. Nothing though will match what I am about to tell you now.

The American Museum of Natural History is having a sleepover! Can you imagine a night at the museum? That would be awesome! You and 149 other lucky people have that chance on August 1, 2014. Just pony up $375 and the night is yours! If I had seen this earlier I would have seriously considered this course of action. But.... the event is sold out. Bummers. This is their first time with adults. They have been hosting this night for children for years. I really hope that this works out and that it becomes a regular event for them.

Sleep under the whale!
Admit it! We're all kids inside. This is fun. I'm not sure if I would actually fall asleep though. I would be too busy wondering if the exhibits really did come to life after dark.

Here are some links!

From Their article.

Here is the official event link from the American Museum of Natural History!!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Apocryphal Star Wars

Now that I have your attention the topic of tonight's blog is canon and what it means to a galaxy far, far away. First, however, whenever issues of canon are discussed one must make the obligatory cannon joke. Here it is. This, my friends, is the best picture of a cannon I have ever seen in my life. Now that we have that out the way let us proceed.

They don't make them like they used to.
OK, you are all intelligent people out there. I know this because you are here reading my blog. Canon is the collection or list of sacred books accepted as genuine. Over the past thousand years or so the three major Abrahamic religions Judiasm, Christianity and Islam all had a grand old time sorting out all their philosophical laundry. What books do we keep? What books do we toss out? What do we do with mysticism? Who is allowed to do what, when can they do it and how do they do it? Why did they do all this? Because there was no Internet or Mass Communication. People in Alexandria had different ideas than those in Ravenna. With everyone running around thinking different ideas there had to be a codification of what was accepted. Internecine conflicts were threatening to rip these religions apart. They would later succumb to these pressures however their codification allowed them to survive these upheavals.

I am really not comparing George Lucas to The Holy Spirit... honest!

 Now what does all this have to do with Star Wars? Well, before we go there let me explain what canon means outside of theological discussions. More precisely, what does canon mean to your dedicated sci fi and fantasy geek. I have a little confession to make. I am one. I have participated in a nerd version of the Council of Trent. Yes, I on many a listserv and Usenet forum weighed in on the decision that the Tenchi Muyo OAV series was canon and not the TV series. (Though we liked Kiyone as a character so we let her in.) In the geek world be it Western comics or Japanese anime very serious discussions are hammered out on what is considered canon and what is not. The evolution of what is and is not considered canon in the Marvel universe is quite honestly a PhD level thesis. You think that the evolution of Christianity is convoluted - I laugh in your general direction. DC's famous Crisis on Infinite Earths is a classic read. Superman alone has gone from his Golden Age roots to Silver Age "Planet-Juggling" Superman to being broken into several Supermen on more than one occasion.

Yup, Supes used to be able to do this. Not anymore. :/
Now why did both the Abrahamic religions and modern geekdom require these massive expenditures of Felix Unger-like anal-retentive micro-managment? Because both collectives had writers running around willy-nilly producing texts that people read and accepted as truth. In both cases the controlling authorities could not reign in their talent or keep everything on track. Eventually situations arose where the Gnostics and Sufis would have equal standing to gripe with the Tenchi in Tokyo fanbase.

So what does all this fascinating discussion have to do with Star Wars? OK, the third Star Wars movie The Return of the Jedi chronologically is the last movie. You know, the battle of Endor, Darth Vader redeemed by Luke, Han and Leia live happily ever after, It's a Trap!, etc. Well, as people who love series do, when there is no 'official content' they make up their own. People wanted to know about Han's children, Luke's mastery of the Force and whatnot. Authors wrote actual books with the blessing Lucas and created the The Star Wars Expanded Universe. People read the Expanded Universe novels, played the games, bought the toys and it filled a void. The masses were happy. They had their closure... until... Franchise reboot! Mouse Wars is going to make three more movies set after Return of the Jedi. So what about all those novels which were given the status of canon by Lucas? Shunted into the Apocrypha.

Are Midi-chlorians canon or not now? I'm confused.
To put this into the terms that a non-geek can understand. Imagine that the Pope just said that the The Acts of the Apostles and all the Epistles and other non-gospel books of the New Testament were no longer canon because The Vatican just commissioned a new ending to the Bible and Disney was going to write it. You would sit there scratching your head saying quite logically that you can't turn canon on and off on a whim. Rather than try and set up the movies in the Star Wars universe understood by the more hardcore fans they swept it all clean like squatters on an oil field.

Modern storytelling and modern society in general is on this disturbing anarchic descent into madness. Wars have been fought over this stuff. I find this whole episode rather entertaining in a Cheshire Cat sort of way. It is just Star Wars and an argument over who owns the moral rights to a legacy: the creators, the writers or the population to whom the creators and writers are truly indebted to for their success. But it can be seen in terms so bizarre when shown how the system is supposed to work is actually applied. Canon is canon for a very good reason - to stop these destructive conflicts from ever arising. Lucas said they were canon. People were happy. The books and games were good - and still are. They've haven't lost anything truly. Perhaps in a hundred years or so when the novels of the Star Wars Expanded Universe are forgotten and locked away in dusty old Kindles people will rediscover these secret histories of Star Wars. Will they look to these books and bring up theories about Star Wars long forgotten? We shall see.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Charlemagne's Contribution to Literature

Complete with Holy Hand Grenade!
Hi there folks, been a little while. I've been a little busy and my computer has been a little anti-social as of late. Just a wonky power supply, nothing I can't handle.  Just need the time to install the part I ordered and fix it. While I'm at it I would just like to plug Newegg - awesome site. Anyhow, I am here at the lovely East Longmeadow, MA library for a spell and I am going to send one out for you.

What I wanted to touch upon today is something that I read. My latest strolls of leisure reading have taken me to the nefarious Dark Ages of Europe. Now in my previous blogs you know that this is a favorite haunt of mine. In particular I've been reading the biography of Charlemagne. As a historian, I know that this guy was pretty darn important for the formation of Europe. Non-historians out there may have heard of him, but really unless you've done some study he's just the guy with the really cool name. That's alright though, I'm the historian it is my job to know this stuff and get the yellow pie piece in Trivial Pursuit for you.

Without going into too much detail what Charlemagne basically did was give the collapsed, fragmented ruins of the Western Roman Empire a much needed shot of logistical administration. He pulled Pope Leo III's bacon out of the fire. Founded the Holy Roman Empire. Made strides in reforming the clergy and local magnates. Engaged in some very frank ;) diplomacy. Almost married Empress Irene of Byzantium (now that is a What If). At Aachen founded one of the first major cities since the heyday of Rome. And most importantly he lived long enough to do all this. He lived a life.

His strength, charisma, longevity and pious devotion allowed him to do all this. Although there is one thing that is often overlooked when discussions of Charlemagne emerge. Yes, he made an honest attempt at bringing the learned academics and philosophers together to rekindle Western civilization. That did create some sparks in the doldrums. However what is more important to me is that he acted to preserve many old classical texts.  From Charlemagne by Derek Wilson:
From A.D. 0 to A.D. 800 some 1,800 manuscripts and fragments survive. From the following 100 years we have more the 7,000.
That is a really big deal. The old manuscripts were very fragile constructions. Fires, mold, insects, neglect, re-purposing, vandalism all were very real threats to these old texts. It is a miracle that many have survived. Education during this time was restricted and not terribly necessary. Charlemagne, to many, was a barbarian king. To be completely honest this was true of many leaders of the day. Martial survival was the Maslow self-actualization of the day. No self-respecting Frank would be caught dead living the effete life of a Byzantine noble.

Charlemagne was lucky to have the scruples to recognize the importance of education. He did benefit from some education in his youth, but truly he was a man of war and not letters. The imprint of his respect for those who were educated was felt all through his reign and his attempt to create a civilized empire. Without Charlemagne to save these texts what would have been lost? Yes, the Renaissance had had many factors contributing to its flowering, but how important was the Carolingian Renaissance? How important were the existence of these texts in the monasteries and abbeys? The collection started by Ptolemy and which had been floating around the Roman world would they have been lost for good. It is a question.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A New Library Card!

Today I made a little impromptu visit to my new local library. I recently moved and I hadn't yet visited. Well, today I had some free time and I needed to visit the town hall. After paying my excise tax and updating my voter registration that taking a whole five minutes I found that I had some extra time. So I walked across the building to the library. Yes, the town hall and the library share the same building. How convenient is that?

Family Photo
Well, I am going to save my review of the East Longmeadow Public Library for another blog. (Soon, I promise. I do want to say however that I enjoyed my visit very much.) What I did do there was something that I really needed to do. I updated my library card. My last card was so faded and beaten the poor thing. Plus, last Fall I realized (on a very stressful day I might add) that the number of my card did not match the number in the computer. So as I was trying to use the network printer the number I was using to log in was not matching the number to check out a book. My twenty print requests sitting in a buffer limbo for an account that doesn't exist - never executed. A sad end. It was a matter of some misplaced zeroes. It was a bad day. Well, it has been retired.

So now I have a spiffy new card brimming with future possibilities. The procedure was a snap. Three tasks off my list in ten minutes - a good day. When I got home I decided to look through my old library cards and took a little group photo. I am fairly positive that I found the ones that I have. I thought that I had my first from Easthampton, but that doesn't appear to be the case. I do know that I had an earlier Holyoke card when I first went to school after my Mother and I moved to Holyoke and would have had a nice big 1983 on it. I also thought that I had one from Springfield, but after some thought that was not the case. I used my Holyoke card at Springfield before all the libraries linked up online then I used my Chicopee card afterwards. So many great memories with all of them.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

World Book Night

Today is a blogging day. We in the Northeast are deep in the icy reign of Winter Storm Pax. Wonderful name for a blizzard don't you think? Pax... Outside in the city it is the peace of the absence of cars on the roads and of people inside their houses. Personally as a transplant from rural suburb to the city, I have always loved the peace during a snowstorm. Ahh, but I digress today I wish to convey awareness of an event.

Mark this date on your calendars, April 23. Without checking can anyone tell me any special about that date? It is something germane to the mission statement of this blog. And no the current blog title does not count. I'll give you few minutes to think. I'll just sit here and wait... ... ... Anyone have a guess? If you would have said UNESCO creates World Book Day you would have gotten a cookie! I would have also accepted the anniversary of the deaths of William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes. For book lovers it is one of our days.

[Please note that in the UK World Book Day has since been moved to March 6. It is the first Thursday in March. It avoids clashes with the Easter holidays and St. George's Day.]

In Spain there is actually quite a bit of a celebration surrounding the death of Cervantes. To go into the life and works of either Cervantes or Shakespeare would take more than a mere paragraph.Cervantes lived an interesting life. In addition, his Don Quixote is considered the first European novel. That's big. In Spain they celebrate with a two-day long readathon of Don Quixote. The King of Spain also gives one deserving Hispanophone (didn't have to look that one up ^^) the Miguel de Cervantes Prize for lifelong achievement in contribution to Spanish literature.

However, I did say World Book Night. That is the next step in the evolution of April 23. With so much literary celebration going on about the world why not try to bring the gift of book reading to light and non-readers. That is the goal of World Book Night. It is a coming together of authors, book sellers, libraries and book lovers to put books into the hands of people who otherwise would have no real self-drive to do so. It is a concerted effort and it is growing.

I know that I am pretty much preaching to the choir when I speak on the benefits of book reading and literacy in general. It sparks greater levels of cognition, imagination and mental health. Book readers and more likely to participate socially. Being well-read certainly helps people become more employable. It is a win-win scenario.

The books that are chosen are good starter books. They are chosen to appeal to a wide-variety of ages and interests. Many people who don't read don't do it because they feel that books are overwhelming and time-consuming. It is not so much that they are disinterested. They are afraid. These books smooth over that trepidation. They show that books are objects of enjoyment, not fear. They show that reading books is not wasted time without benefit. It helps show that reading books is mental exercise with great benefit. Best thing is that these books are freely given.

[That's a lot of books! :) ]

This event began in the UK and Ireland in 2011. It has since spread to Europe and the Americas. While I am not yet a 'giver' in this event I wholeheartedly endorse this event. This is good.

Learn more. Here is a link to World Book Night - US. Check it out!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Turn: America's First Spy Ring

Dovetailing perfectly off of my last blog post AMC has added yet another fantastic series to its lineup. Just like the title says it is based off of the first rebel spy ring and set during the Revolutionary War in 1778. It is based off the book Washington's Spies by Alexander Rose. That book has been on my radar for some time and apparently I get to watch it before I read it. From what I can tell the series is set to premier on April 6, 2014. American historical spy thriller set as a drama without any schlocky nonsense. Yea, I'm a junky for this subject matter.

This is what I have been talking about when I said that there were so many stories just waiting to be told out there. I don't mind if they want to take the safe road and go with successful books. That is fine with me. Just go out and produce these series. I want more of this and less mindless reality TV or lowest common denominator sitcoms. Let's raise the level of pop-culture a little bit.

The nice thing about historical drama is that unless you are going for outright propaganda or desire to change history on an Orwellian level there really is only so much dramatic license which is acceptable. It is one thing to upset fanboys by not giving your superhero the correct canon origin story. It is another thing to rattle historians with too much deviation from fact. It can still be a good story on both those counts, but you lose claim to the mantle of accuracy and move the story into the genre of historical fiction. Despite people's biased and foggy memories it only happened one way. There is absolute truth.

Again, I must state these series being presented are as much educational as they are entertainment. Even if the actual historical accuracy is not perfect it still deposits the seeds of possible further study into those viewing. This is worthy of support. So I intend to watch this when it premiers.

Here is a link to the AMC page for Turn. It includes a trailer.