Friday, September 11, 2015

An Ode to the Encyclopedia

The Encyclopedia...

Nifty Endtable
Raise your hand if you've ever owned a set of encyclopedias. I have. I would have to say that they were an integral part of my rearing as a child. I may have mentioned this before but while I was growing up my parents had a little study with a bookshelf. Prominent amidst the bookshelf were my father's old sets of encyclopedias. They were late 60's Golden Key of Knowledge, Encyclopedia Britannica and few others. I loved reading them. Well, I liked looking at all the cool pictures. But still that time spent laid the foundation for my appreciation of knowledge.

Cool Lampstand
Over the years those encyclopedias became mine and I added a few more as I entered high school. They were my mother's investment in my future. I would say that was money well spent. I often referenced them while working on my myriad reports and term papers. I still have all of them too. After several moves in my life I lugged all of them around. I just don't have the heart to get rid of them. The knowledge now available at my fingertips online well surpasses that dated knowledge. Still though they represent snapshots of knowledge and the world as we understood it. To me they still have value. Even if right now they all happen to still be in boxes.

Letter Inbox
Other people, well they are less attached to these strange books that used to be needed before the days of Wikipedia and WebMD. The followers of the great god Kindle no longer have a need for all the pernicious space hoggers. So those that have not consigned their old World Books to the nearest landfill or biomass facility have re purposed theirs in unique ways.

I wonder what Pliny the Elder, author of the Naturalis Historia, would think of this new age of modern convenience. Those ancient texts really took a concerted effort to make. Heck people 2000 years ago there was no telephone let alone a hand held smartphone with more computing power than the Moon landings. He had to travel all across the Roman Empire collecting stories, visiting libraries doing his best to weigh between fact and fiction. All the while guarding against the hubris of Man which he didn't care too much for.
Historia Naturalis
"Such is the audacity of man, that he hath learned to counterfeit Nature, yea, and is so bold as to challenge her in her work."
Would he value this great repository of knowledge at his fingertips which he helped set in motion ages ago?

As for encyclopedias themselves they still exist. World Book 2016 is on sale at their site. So while the heyday of needing to have a set of encyclopedias at the house is for all intents and purposes is over the chance to buy a set is still available. That little bit of knowledge I find pleasing. 


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sometimes The Movie Is Better

Recently I have had the pleasure of reading a book which has been on my 'to read' for some time. My list is rather long and constantly being added to but on occasion I get to cross one off. The book that I read was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick which was published in 1968. That story later became the Ridley Scott directed 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner. The movie pretty much brought the cyberpunk genre to the masses.

Now in an effort to be transparent and open I will say that Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies of all time. The acting talents of Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young and Daryl Hannah combined with a fantastic Vangelis soundtrack just bring to life an utterly dystopian futuristic world. The aura of the movie is pure early 80s, but it is cross-thatched with a perfectly executed film noire aspect.

I was rather young when the movie came out so I learned of the book some time after the fact. Now it is quite understandable why people habitually say in general that the book is better than the movie. It usually is. A book has less time and pacing constraints. With that in hand books have more time to explore ideas and generate greater plot development. When it comes to Hollywood 'meddling' with perfectly good stories I am right up chastising with a finger of accusation. And I am justified when I do, but I am giving this one back.

In this case the screenplay developers knew what they were doing. I enjoyed reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. I knew exactly why P.K.D. set things up the way he did. The logical arguments he used in setting up the universe of the story were balanced. It all worked.

Unfortunately, in comparison the movie told the story better. The movie removed some of the more cumbersome elements of book. (For those in the know I'm referring to the elements of Mercerism, Buster Friendly and the rogue police station.) The movie also gave Rachel a better role and made Roy Batty a more ominous adversary for Deckard.

The book has its positives though. The book explained the situation completely. You understand the importance of animals. After I read the book I knew exactly what was going on and why. The book explains the importance of the Voight-Kampff test in a detailed light. But for pure story telling the movie focused. It focused on Deckard and the motivations as to why the replicants did what they did.

I must repeat. I enjoyed the book. The end of the book just seemed a bit rushed and confused which left me a little sour. The author went through considerable effort setting up the world and then bang Deckard offs the three remaining replicants in one scene then trots off into the desert. I wanted more.

The time difference between the book and movie is only fourteen years. I'm not going to factor that in. The science and culture of the book equates evenly enough to the book.

Although I will say that both the movie and book sinned in killing off Pris way too quickly.

For any fan of Blade Runner I would certainly recommend reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? if you want a fuller exploration into the story.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Clara Campoamor

My latest Net travels brings you this lovely young lady in the picture. Pintarest has become my distraction of late as I wait in line at the deli counter. When I saw this statue slide across the screen I was instantly smitten and pinned it. Now I had no idea who the statue was dedicated too. I read the name on the book and saw 'Clara Campoamor' as the title on the book. The name did not ring any bells. I was thinking maybe she's the young heroine of a Spanish fable that I hadn't discovered yet. Perhaps she was a feisty and precocious bookworm along the lines of a Nancy Drew.

Not even close, please forgive me, ardent feminists, for not picking up on the name or the date of 1931 earlier. 1930s Spain was a not a fun place to be, but if you were an author of that era you were there (see Ernest Hemingway). In truth Clara Campoamor was an influential Spanish suffragette who pushed the cause of equality in Spain. She was active in the Second Republic before its collapse and it was her influence on the writing of the new constitution in 1931 which led to language including the voting equality of women. Interesting note she was elected to the 1931 Constituent Assembly by a male-only vote. She was forced to flee to Switzerland during the Spanish Civil War after Franco seized control.

I tried to look for some information on the statue itself. There were many notes saying 'Hey, cool statue with a girl reading a book'. The information is a little sketchy but I did find out that it was recently dedicated in Seville in 2007 was created by Anna Jonsson. (I tried looking her up but no luck). After a little more digging with the help of Google Translate and Babelfish I was able to dig up a few more pictures of the statue and more importantly the dedication plate.

"Por su inigualable contribucion a la libertad de las mujeres la que fue su lucha forma parte del presente de nuestros derechos."

The statue is an interesting way to pay homage to Clara Campoamor. I mean the statue is innocence personified. The girl looks more akin to Lewis Carrol's Alice than any relation to a political figure from 1930's Spain. I'm not complaining. It got me curious and I went the extra few miles to find out what the whole statue was about. I'm glad that Spain made it through the fire and there exists a safe place for this girl to read about such women who came before her.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Joy of Bookshelving

I have stated in my recent blog posts that I have moved. Oh the joy of moving boxes around Massachusetts. You really ought to try it. Well, when you have lots of books like I do you have to move said books. That in itself is a chore worthy of anyone preparing for Olympic competition. And no, I will not hear such heathen suggestions as getting rid of my books. They are a burden of love.

To me, part of the joy of owning books is displaying them. Now I do not do that in a sense of intellectual snobbery or moral arrogance. I do it because they are beautiful creations and display a nobler side of human progress. They are meant to be displayed and put on bookshelves for friends to see.

Setting up a bookshelf is not just grabbing the books out of a box putting them up so that you can move to the next task of unpacking. No, it is an endeavor that should be savored. The first and foremost of the steps involved is the handling of the books. Many of those books I may not have opened in a long time. They are an invitation to diversion that takes a great deal of time in itself, but I do love those trips down memory lane.

I've performed this task several times in my life and each time the process has been more refined. There are several questions I am asking myself as I am taking the books out of their temporary homes. How do I want to group these? What general location on the shelf are they going to be placed? What books are going to be eye-level as people walk past? What do I want my bookshelf to show? What is the life story I want to tell? The bookshelf is a comment on me as I am creating it. I have acquired these books over years of living. I have books from high school and college. Books that I bought over the years and others that were gifts from loved ones. As I create my personal library I am weaving all those stories into a tapestry. 

I want others to see the relationships between the various groupings of books that I put together. When they look at the bookshelf they are seeing a reflection of myself. Choosing those books is not an easy process. This time around I was dealt with a space constraint. I have two main bookshelves and one overflow. It was a hard decision deciding which books got top billing. In some cases I felt that I was betraying a trust that I had established.

One of the hardest tasks is addressing the cacophony of various book sizes. My large hardcovers are on the very top and those are the easiest. Magazine collections go down on the bottom. The intermediate shelves are a tougher task. Our modern age of variety has books of every shape and size. Shaping those is like herding cats. So not only does one have the intended sections but also the wildly fluctuating sizes. Its a balance of logical organization and aesthetic pleasure.

This time around the process took me about a week. I am not quite done with it, but I am generally satisfied with it at present. I will perform a little refining as time passes on and inspiration hits. Now I don't mean this endeavor to be seen as an endeavor. What I am saying is to have some fun with the process. Arrange the books, add a little extra non-book flair. Tell the story of yourself through your bookshelf. 

(I tried to take a photo of mine but the lighting is absolutely horrible. Perhaps at a later time I'll post an image.)

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.