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Of Men and Women | Book Review

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Pearl S. Buck

Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) was a bestselling author of fiction and nonfiction, celebrated particularly for the ground-breaking depictions of rural life in China. He best work The Good Earth which is a trilogy, received the Pulitzer Prize in 1931, and in 1938 she received the Nobel Prize in Literature for her body of work, making her the first American woman to do so. She spent most of her life in China (Zhenjiang) because her parents were Presbyterian missionaries. She was educated in the U.S. at Randolph-Macon Women’s College, then returned to China, married John Lossing Buck and moved to Nanking.

Her novels dealt with the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the changes in the East post-WWII, and rural China. In 1934 Buck left China to be near her daughter who was mentally ill and hospitalized in New Jersey. In her later years Buck started engaging in philanthropic projects. Because there were practices rendering mixed-raced children unadoptable—in particular, orphans from the war—she founded Welcome House in 1949, the first international, interracial adoption agency in the United States. She died in 1973 from lung cancer in Vermont. The Chinese government objected to Buck’s portrayal of the country’s rural poverty, and in 1972, banned Buck from returning to China.

front cover buckOf Men and Women is a series of essays that Pearl S. Buck wrote and published in 1941 where she examined the differences in relationships between men and women in China versus the United States. She writes:

“Very early, therefore, I perceived that women together led a life of their own”

“In China the home was not what it is in our country, a thing apart from men’s lives except when they return to it for food and sleep. The real life of the nation went on in the home.”

She explores the set-up of the Chinese household that would often include “three-four generations under connecting roofs” versus the American lifestyle where only the nuclear family would be found living under the same roof. Children would then grow up not knowing just one household leader/alpha, but have a multi-generational experience.

She then turns her attention to the different ways women were educated in the East versus the West. In China “women handed down to women a vast lore of history, custom, ritual, and practical knowledge which educated them and made them a part of the great national whole.”

Buck asks in this series of essays one essential question:

“Why do so many American women seem not happy in being women when they have the freedom to make what they will of themselves? And why do women and men not enjoy each other more in my country?”

Although Buck emphasises that despite everything she prefers the American way over any other, and thinks the progress done in the West is one to strive for, she noted that American women, while educated, free, and supported, were still viewed as a separate entity from men, and there was still a miscommunication between the two. Buck examines how relationships between men and women are different in every country, and it’s that difference that makes it a nation of its own. She writes that a traveler should examine how in every country men and women feel towards each other or “the reality of that country has escaped him.”

“For no human being was created to be solitary, and when it is cut off by doubt and distrust and lack of understanding from the other to whom instinctively it turns, whom nature has created for it, then strange stops and blocks and ills are inescapable.”

In the epilogue Buck writes that it has been thirty years since she wrote this book (in preparation for a newer edition back in 1971). She writes that the China she spoke of “is no more…how changed! Communism rules, and Communism has totally altered the relationship between Chinese men and women.”

Thus, I would urge the reader to remember, when reading this collection, that these essays were written in 1941, reprinted with an added epilogue in 1971, and then reprinted now in 2017 for this brand new edition. In the interim, China, and America have changed drastically.

The collection includes a brief biographical note and several images taken from Pearl S. Buck’s archive.

Many thanks to Open Road Integrated Media for sending me this work for review. This electronic edition will be published on June 27, and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon. Open Road Integrated Media focuses on publishing ebook editions of older works of literature and nonfiction.

*The biographical note at the top is a paraphrasing of the biographical note in the text.

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This is What a Librarian Looks Like | Book Review

“‘What do we need libraries for? We’ve got the Internet now!’ FACEPALM” – Cory Doctorow

“Wherever you are in America, there is a librarian fighting to get YOU something”

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This book will be published on May 16, 2017 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

Last week I recommended five non-fiction books on libraries which were mostly academic and history-focused.

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Front Cover

This book is not a history book but a celebration of libraries, and librarians, accomplished by a collaboration between photographers, librarians, publishers, and authors. By comparison to last week’s recommendations, this book is much more accessible. Kyle Cassidy published a photo essay on Slate in 2014 called “This is What A Librarian Looks Like,” a montage of portraits and a tribute to librarians. The essay had success and spread widely through social media. Cassidy expanded this project into what is now the new-coming book This Is What a Librarian Looks Like: A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to Information.

The book has three components:

  1. Brief essays on the history of the American Library
  2. Photographs of contemporary American Librarians
  3. Essays by writers, journalists, and commentators including Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, Nancy Pearl, Cory Doctorow, Jeff VanderMeer, and others who discuss what the library means to them now, and what memories they have of the library from their childhood and/or youth.

The three sections are woven beautifully combining the history, interviews, and photographs according to historical periods and American geographical regions. Cassidy opens with an introduction to this book on the ideal of the library by discussing the Library of Alexandria. He writes:

“What made the Library of Alexandria great wasn’t just the collection of books, but rather, its intellectual raison d’être: the insatiable pursuit, creation, and dissemination of knowledge as a force to drive civilization.”

While discussing the leap across the digital divide and community service provided by librarians, this book urges readers not to look away while the Government is taking funds away from libraries. One such initiative is called Send Librarians to Congress, where the goal is to put a copy of this book in the hands of each member of Congress before Federal funding for libraries is eliminated as proposed in the “Skinny Budget” from President Trump. Cassidy writes:

“libraries in America today are at a crossroads, facing dangers not unlike those of the Great Library [of Alexandria] as well as an evolving technology that has the power either to make libraries exponentially more valuable or to erode their foundation if we are not careful.”

lcThe book then focuses a chapter on America’s First Lending Library: The Lending Company of Philadelphia which was opened in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin. The second history-based chapter is on artifacts and tablets interviewing Sumerologist Steve Tinney at the Tablet Room at the University of Pennsylvania, who focuses on the tablets similar to those which got us the Epic of Gilgamesh (British Museum) and Cuneiform writing.

Cassidy then turns his attention to individual library histories like the chapter “The Little Library That Tried” on M.N. Spear Memorial Library in Shutesbury, Massachusetts and “History you can Hold” focusing on the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library. There are also insights to libraries collecting non-texts like the Franklin Public Library which collects ‘The American Girl’ dolls instead. The book closes with “Archiving the Past” at University libraries in Texas and Iowa with a conversation between Cassidy and George R.R. Martin.

I really enjoyed this book with all its components, however, as a reader and librarian I was much more interested in the essays written by authors and the history parts. I wish they were longer. Some author interviews were only a paragraph long. For 220 images of librarians to fit in this large book, expect a coffee-table-style  book.  I understand the political undertones, specifically the one I mentioned above, where this book aims to put a face to the community of librarians in America for Congress, but as a physical codex, the book will become immediately dated because of the abundance of contemporary photographs. On the other hand, the same component makes it somewhat unique to preserving the ‘here and now.’ I would urge the reader to look at this book first and foremost as an art/photography book, where the histories and author essays are the supplements for the images, not the other way around as is usually the case. Nonetheless, the book advertises itself as a celebration of libraries and librarians, and in that respect, it has succeeded.

In terms of librarians photographed, this book is America-centric. Though the librarians are multicultural and diverse, the workplaces of the librarians photographed are mostly in the United States covering an array of public libraries, special collections, school libraries, and academic libraries. The authors interviewed are American, Canadian, and British. Overall this book focuses on the Western experience of the library.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in libraries, photography, and who has enjoyed blogs/books like Humans of New York which focus on individuals with an excerpt on what they do, and what they enjoy. I especially recommend this book to Congress.

Many thanks to Hachette Books, Black Dog & Leventhal for sending me a copy of this book for an early review.

I will leave you now with this excellent quotation on the importance of librarians taken from the introduction to the book :

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Travels with Charley | Review and Notes

“When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch…I fear the disease is incurable.”

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Front Cover of Edition I read

Have you ever thought “I love Steinbeck! I wish I could hang out with him!” If you have, then: READ. THIS. BOOK. This journal/travelogue work is John Steinbeck’s account of his travels across the United States in the 1960s, with his dog Charley, in a trailer that he names the Rocinante (after Don Quixote’s horse). He describes what he sees, records interactions with different people he meets on the way, and this book is filled with reflective notes on what he thought of certain situation and how they relate to other instances in life or giving his opinion on his immediate reaction. There are a few literary references, and there instances of simple humour (i.e. getting stopped at the Canadian border for “dog reasons”).

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Steinbeck and Charley

I kept thinking that if anyone other than Steinbeck wrote the same travelogue it wouldn’t be that interesting. Although it’s not as high of a thrill as later written travelogues which are now quite popular, this book is interesting BECAUSE it’s Steinbeck. It seems a lot more relaxed than reading Krakauer’s Into The Wild for instance, or Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys travel literature, travelogues, journals/diaries, and those who love Steinbeck and his work because in the end it just feels like you’re hanging out with him and his dog. Interestingly enough, in 2014 Bill Steigerwald dedicated a lot of time to “exposing” Steinbeck as a fraud for this book and labelled this travelogue as a “fictionalized non-fiction” in his book Dogging Steinbeck. He elaborates on his issues with Steinbeck’s work in his blog.

 

Regardless, I enjoyed Steinbeck’s work and I thought I would share with you some of my favourite lines:

We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us (page 4)

I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation—a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something (page 10)

It was like starting to write a novel. When I face the desolate impossibility of writing fie hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. then gradually I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate and I eliminate the possibility of ever finishing (page 23)

Humans had perhaps a million years to get used to fire as a thing and as an idea. Between the time a man got his fingers burned on a lighting-struck tree until another man carried some inside a cave and found it kept him warm, maybe a hundred thousand years, and from there to the blast furnaces of Detroit – how long?…for man has to have feelings and then words before he can come close to thought and, in the past at least, that has taken a long time (page 32)

I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found (page 70)

Edition of book I read is the Bantam Pathfinder Edition and Viking Press, 1961.

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5 Non-Fiction Books About Libraries

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  1. Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles

IMG_20170413_104645In this book Battles covers the history of the library, giving an overview, starting with Alexandria and working his way to present times. This is a great starting point to get a general history of the library and readership. Battles takes into account Chinese and Middle-Eastern approaches to librarianship in history though it is mostly Euro-centric, particularly in the sections discussing the Medieval period and the Renaissance. I would highly recommend this book  as an introduction to the long history of libraries. To go from Antiquity to Present time in only 222 pages is a lot to cover so he doesn’t go into too much detail. Very pleasant.

  1. Apostles of Culture by Dee Garrison

imagesThis book covers the history of the American Public Library System since its conception post-American Civil War until present times– which for this publication is 1979, missing a rather large portion of the technological advances in the digital revolution. Its main focus is expository from an objective standpoint though it dives into the ideals and theoretical beginnings of the library and contrasts them with what the library eventually has done/become over time. It focuses on the transcendentalist ideals and key figures such as Melvil Dewey, and Andrew Carnegie and their role in the transformation of the library from a private institution to a public one. In addition the book explores the role of the librarian both from a gender studies perspectives exploring the collision between men and women in the field, the feminization of the field as well as the librarian’s role moving from imposing censorship to advocating for freedom of information. This book focuses on the public library as we know it today as it was begun by the United States in the mid-1800s.

  1. Part of Our Lives by Wayne A. Wiegand

51buX+n-NnL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This book covers the history of the American Public Library as well, like Garrison’s book, but it’s published in 2015 so it incorporates newer concepts and does a much more detailed job. What makes Part of Our Lives different from Apostles of Culture is that it uses many anecdotes. Wiegand interviewed many people who had experienced the library and uses the anecdotes to draw conclusions on American Public Library history. It’s not as history-heavy as Garrison’s book, but the anecdotes bring history to life. Wiegand wrote a lot on librarianship history. He also wrote a book focusing on Lewis Sinclair’s library mentioned in Main Street and looks at four small town libraries and argues that although people claim the library to be the pillar of democratic culture of an entire country, libraries actually cater to each individual town locally, and each individual community. Wiegand contextualizes the library within specific communities and shows how they specifically adhere to local rules that are negotiable and adaptable rather than broad and nation-wide. He published that book in 2011 and it’s titled Main Street Public Library.

  1. The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

IMG_20170413_104654IMG_20170413_105347More famously known for A History of Reading, Manguel focuses on readership histories and reading patterns in a lot of his published works. In this one he focuses on library history, but more on the library as an idea. For instance he examines how the library exists in our society as order, as space, as power, as shadow, as mind, as imagination, or identity (among others). It’s an easy and pleasant read. Unlike Dee Garrison’s book this is not as academic heavy. Manguel takes into account non-Western libraries and explores readership practices in other parts of the world as well. It’s more inclusive than books 1-3 mentioned above.

  1. The Library Book (2012)IMG_20170413_104638

This is a tiny book and contains 23 essays written by different authors. Each author discusses in a brief non-fiction essay what books as print culture or the library as space means to them on a personal level. They contextualize the library into their history as they were growing into the authors they became today. Authors include Lionel Shriver, Stephen Fry, Zadie Smith, Kate Mosse, China Miéville, Caitlin Moran, and Tom Holland, among others. Its main goal as the foreword suggests is to celebrate libraries. This is an easy read, it’s pleasant, and it’s the least academic form the five listed.

BONUS: Essay by Neil Gaiman (the first in The View from the Cheap Seats) Called “Why our future depends on libraries, reading, and daydreaming.”

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March Wrap-up

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In the month of March I read all the books below (the first at the bottom and the latest at the top). I also read Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services by Carol Kuhlthau but I won’t count it because it was for class and filled with statistics and graphs. The month ended with me reading 456/722 pages (63%) of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, and two short stories from Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation edited and translated by Ken Liu. Those last two will be incorporated in next month’s wrap-up because I have not finished them yet. Though Rothfuss did occupy 1/4 of my time this month so I should acknowledge that in this brief introduction. I foresee a 5 star rating and since I will definitely continue with the series I may do a spotlight on the Kingkiller Chronicles and novella in a separate post.

The Last Interview: Ray Bradbury; interviews by Sam Weller

ray bradbuyThis series of interviews captures the spirit of Bradbury. All the interviews took place between 2010-2012 and they are all conducted by Sam Weller. I didn’t really like the interviewer as much and sometimes I felt like his block quotes were larger than Bradbury’s. I was more interested in what Bradbury had to say. I wish there was a transcript in there of some of his lectures in his later years. I would also recommend watching a YouTube video of his lecture so you know his tone in his later years, otherwise he (Bradbury) comes across as very self-centered, but if you understand his tone it’s really sweet. I think if I read these before watching him I would have thought he was very full of himself, but having done it the other way around I just smiled and appreciated his words. He also speaks so highly of libraries which is easy to love:

“I graduated from the library when I was twenty-eight years old. So that’s why I’m here tonight–because I believe in libraries. They’re more important than universities. They’re more important than colleges. Libraries are the center of our lives” (42).

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Bradbury’s works and wants to know more about his personal life, and the ways in which he got inspired to write Fahrenheit 451, and Something Wicked this Way Comes, as those two works are the most discussed in these interviews. It’s a very quick read and pleasant.

DA: A Journal of the Printing Arts. Number 77. (Fall/Winter 2015)

34657437I received this from one of my favourite grad-school professors who taught me about rare books, readerships, and bookbinding. To celebrate fifty years of being a Press a series of Canadian printers have written several articles within this codex encompassing the history of Coach House Press. This press is closely affiliated with the University of Toronto and has printed several library catalogues for the UofT library system throughout the years, as well as launching famous authors with beautiful editions of their books like the recent award winning Andre Alexis’s Fifteen Dogs. This book covers the Press’s history and its adoption of newer media and ways of printing as well as exploring prominent figures in its history like Alfred H. Howard and his contribution to the city of Toronto by means of his manuscript collection. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in small printing press histories, Toronto-specific history, or this history of printing arts

At the Speed of Light – NewCon Novella by Simon Morden

dm atsplThis novella was sent to me by EarlyReviewers from LibraryThing in exchange for an honest: review.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

It’s a good story about parallel universes and it’s exciting. I didn’t like the whole “I was on a path to fulfill my potential as a genius but then my wife got pregnant and everything went to hell.” How many times more will I have to encounter this story line? Also this book was very obviously written for the big screen. It reads like the DaVinci Code and the sentences are short and choppy which makes me very frustrated. It was exciting though, and I’d watch the movie, but as a book it was lacking.

The Martian by Andy Weir

martianMark Watney is a botanist astronaut who has gone on an expedition to Mars with a team. Due to unforeseen events the ship had to leave as the team thought he was dead and he is ultimately left alone behind on Mars. The novel follows Watney’s struggle to survive on Mars and communicate with NASA and his team as well as all the various teams on Earth making great efforts to bring him home. I understand that since the film came out the plot is no surprise to anyone and I am perhaps a little late to the party. What I found endearing about this novel was that despite the science-heavy space exploration vocabulary it was a combination of Robinson Crusoe in Space, and the renewal of faith in humanity. Reading about so many people around the world working together to bring one person home was so satisfying and rewarding. In addition, reading about one person being so isolated for so long explores dark corners of the human condition. I wish Weir would have focused more on this. I would have appreciated a chapter from Watney’s perspective on what he was thinking on a daily basis, what the loneliness felt like, what he was experiencing. A break from all the action and science and business for a moment of reflection and spirituality would have added more depth to both Watney and the novel. It’s a little difficult to remember that Watney is away from Earth for 2.5 years, and completely alone on Mars for 565 days (or a year and a half) because the novel focuses only on the actions taken rather than the intense reflective moments that would break the human spirit in such a situation. From time to time I had a hard time believing Watney was hired by NASA for this expedition in the first place because of his attitude. Maybe it’s just me, but I think NASA would make exceptions for only Nobel-prize winning physicists with attitudes but not for botanists with attitude. Even Watney refers to himself as a ‘dorky botanist’ who is not that great compared to anyone else on the team. I believed that people would fight to get him back, I didn’t believe NASA would have sent him in space in the first place because of his attitude. Why would you send a person on a team in an enclosed space for years if he has a hard time getting along with people and following instructions? I definitely wanted to get to know Watney more. His character was not that well flushed out and I’m a little tired of the ‘genius with an attitude’ plotline. The one missing chapter adding depth to his character would have made this books so much better. For once in a long time I can say: the movie was better. Damon added more depth to Watney than Weir did. Sorry, but…it is what it is.

Spinster by Kate Bolick

spinstaKate Bolick can write well and she is intelligent. There are many literary references, and an outline of five great women who have inspired her in her life including three of my favourite female authors: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edith Wharton, and two people I learned about for the first time: Neith Boyce and Maeve Brennan. What bothered me was how much of a memoir/autobiography it was. It read like a Carrie Bradshaw rant about herself. I kept thinking that maybe if I cared more about who this author was then this memoir and reading journey would have been more inspiring. I read this at the same time as John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley and the whole time I was hyper-aware that her content is by far more interesting and well-researched, but I didn’t care about her biographical parts as much as I did about Steinbeck. I also wanted this book to be what it promised: a book covering the history and cultural analysis of the spinster. I wanted to know about perception, barriers, how to break them…I wanted to feel inspired. There were several parts when she was discussing biographies of authors that I did feel somewhat inspired, but then it would slowly vanish in the background as Bolick started talking about her life again….the men she dates, the things she does on a daily basis. Lastly, and perhaps this is somewhat shallow but it REALLY bothered me, was that she writes many times about how ugly she was, and how “not like other girls” she was in terms of looks and how she was not desirable. Just google her…or flip the book over. She literally looks like a model for any beauty product. She’s white, tall, thin, beautiful hair……it honestly felt like she was mocking the reader and was fishing for compliments. So if you expect the book to be about what it means to be a spinster, or a social history of it, you will NOT find it here. This book is exclusively about Kate Bolick and 5 authors who were women and who inspired her, and then she tells you why in her life particularly these women were important.

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

traveslxHave you ever thought “I love Steinbeck! I wish I could hang out with him!” If you have, then: READ. THIS. BOOK. This journal/travelogue work is John Steinbeck’s account of his travels across the United States in the 1960s, with his dog Charley, in a trailer that he names ‘The Rocinante’ (after Don Quixote’s horse). He describes what he sees, records interactions with different people he meets on the way, and this book is filled with reflective notes on what he thought of certain situation and how they relate to other instances in life or giving his opinion on his immediate reaction. There are a few literary references, and instances of simple humour (i.e. getting stopped at the Canadian border for “dog reasons”). I kept thinking that if anyone other than Steinbeck wrote the same travelogue it wouldn’t be that interesting. It’s interesting BECAUSE it’s Steinbeck. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys travel literature, travelogues, journals/diaries, and those who love Steinbeck and his work because in the end it just feels like you’re hanging out with him and his dog.