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.