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Where kissing is concerned, there is an entire categorization of this most human of impulses that necessitates taking into account setting, relationship health and the emotional context in which the kiss occurs. A relationship’s condition might be predicted and its trajectory timeline plotted by observing and understanding how the couple kiss. For instance, viewed through the lens of a couple’s dynamic, a peck on the cheek can convey cold, hard rejection or simply signify that a loving couple are pressed for time.
A kiss communicates a myriad of meanings, its reception and perception can alter dramatically depending on the couple’s state of mind. A wife suffering from depression may interpret her husband’s kiss entirely differently should her symptoms be alleviated. Similarly, a jealous, insecure lover may receive his girlfriend’s kiss of greeting utterly at odds to how she intends it to be perceived.
So if the mind can translate the meaning of a kiss to fit with its reading of the world, what can a kiss between a couple tell us? Does this intimate act mark out territory and ownership, a hands-off-he’s-mine nod to those around? Perhaps an unspoken negotiation of power between a couple that covers a whole range of feelings and intentions; how does a kiss-and-make-up kiss differ from a flirtatious kiss or an apologetic one? What of a furtive kiss; an adulterous kiss; a hungry kiss; a brutal kiss? How does a first kiss distinguish itself from a final kiss? When the husband complains to his wife that after 15 years of marriage, “we don’t kiss like we used to”, is he yearning for the adolescent ‘snog’ of his youth?
Engulfed by techno culture, where every text message ends with a ‘X’, couples must carve out space in their busy schedules to merely glimpse one another over the edge of their laptops. There isn’t psychic space for such an old-fashioned concept as a simple kiss. In a time-impoverished, stress-burdened world, we need our kisses to communicate more. Kisses should be able to multi-task. It would be an extravagance in the 21st-century for a kiss not to mean anything.
And there’s the cultural context of kissing to consider. Do you go French, Latin or Eskimo? Add to this each family’s own customs, classifications and codes around how to kiss. For a couple, these differences necessitate accepting the way that your parents embraced may strike your new partner as odd, even perverse. For the northern lass whose family offer to ‘brew up’ instead of a warm embrace, the European preamble of two or three kisses at the breakfast table between her southern softie of a husband and his family, can seem baffling.
The context of a kiss between a couple correlates to the store of positive feeling they have between them; the amount of love in the bank of their relationship. Take 1: a kiss on the way out in the morning can be a reminder of the intimacy that has just been. Take 2: in an acrimonious coupling, this same gesture perhaps signposts a dash for freedom, a “thank God I don’t have to see you for 11 hours”. The kiss on the way back in through the front door can be a chance to reconnect after a day spent operating in different spheres or, less benignly, to assuage and disguise feelings of guilt at not wanting to be back at all.
While on the subject of lip-to-lip contact, the place where a kiss lands expresses meaning. The peck on the forehead may herald a relationship where one partner distances themselves as a parental figure. A forensic ritualized pattern of kisses destined for the cheeks carries a different message to the gentle nip on the earlobe. Lips, cheek, neck, it seems all receptors convey significance to both kisser and ‘kissee’ and could indicate relationship dynamics such as a conservative-rebellious pairing or a babes-in-the-wood coupling.
Like Emperor Tiberius, who banned kissing because he thought it helped spread fungal disease, Bert Bacarach asks, ‘What do you get when you kiss a guy? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia…’ Conceivably the nature of kissing and the unhygienic potential it carries is the ultimate symbol of trust between two lovers and raises the question of whether kissing is a prelude or an end in itself, ergo the long-suffering wife who doesn’t like kissing anymore “because I know what it’ll lead to…”
The twenty-first century has witnessed the proliferation of orthodontistry with its penchant for full mental braces. Modern mouths are habitually adorned with lip and tongue piercings as fetish wear or armour. Is this straying away from what a kiss means or a consideration of how modern mores can begin to create a new language around this oldest of greetings? There is an entire generation maturing whose first kiss was accompanied by the clashing of metal, casting a distinct shadow over their ideas around later couple intimacy.
Throughout history, from Judas to Marilyn Monroe, a kiss has communicated submission, domination, status, sexual desire, affection, friendship, betrayal, sealed a pact of peace or the giving of life. There is public kissing and private kissing. Kissing signposts good or bad manners. It is both a conscious and unconscious coded communication and can betray the instigator’s character; from the inhibited introvert to the narcissistic exhibitionist. The 16th-century theologian Erasmus described kissing as ‘a most attractive custom’. Rodin immortalized doomed, illicit lovers in his marble sculpture, and Chekhov wrote of the transformative power of a mistaken kiss. The history and meaning of the kiss evolves and shifts and yet remains steadfastly the same: a distinctly human, intimate and complex gesture, instantly recognizable despite its infinite variety of uses. I’ve a feeling Sam’s ‘You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss’ may never sound quite the same again.
Headline image credit: Conquered with a kiss, by .craig. CC-BY-NC-2.0 via Flickr.
For generations, American families have gathered together to read the cherished children’s book, Goodnight Moon, as part of their bedtime routine. Today, with Harper Collins Children’s Books, we are making the iconic title accessible to millions more families in a bilingual edition for the very first time.
Goodnight Moon/Buenas Noches, Luna is now available through the First Book Marketplace to educators and programs serving children from low-income families. Recognizing the growing need for greater diversity in children’s literature, HarperCollins is offering the book at the retail level as well.
The creation of the English-Spanish board book marks another important milestone in The Stories for All Project, our effort to increase the diversity in children’s books. The initiative is making classic children’s books and books featuring diverse characters, authors and illustrators more accessible to children in need, and, in the process, helping to demonstrate the growing market for culturally diverse books.
It so happened that at the end of this past summer I was out of town and responded to the questions and comments that had accumulated in August and September in twoposts. We have the adjectives biennial and biannual but no such Latinized luxury for the word month. Although I realized that in this case bimonthly would be misleading, I hoped that the context would disambiguate it. Let me assure our correspondents that my gleanings will keep appearing every last Wednesday until some unpredictable circumstance (for example, a sudden lack of queries: I can’t think of anything else) do us part. My bimonthly meant “gleanings for two months.”
Gaul, Walloon, Wallachian
Wallachian, Walloon, and Welsh share the same Germanic root, which means “foreign” (one can also see it in walnut, as well as in the family names Wallace, Welsh, and Walshe). The Anglo-Saxons called the Celts and the Romans foreigners. The element -wall in Cornwall is related to them. Gaulish is a Romanized form of the same adjective (compare ward and guard, Wilhelm and Guillaume). But one should not argue from etymological affinity to tribal or national identity. Calling some people foreigners does not say anything about their origin.
Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) has an entry for the word, and descriptions of the game abound, but the origin of the name remains undiscovered. My browsing has not yielded anything worth reporting. What little has been said on the subject in books on games can be found on the Internet in five minutes. The idea that hull goes back to the Old Engl. verb for “hide” (hellan ~ helian, in Modern English, rare and dialectal hele; compare German hehlen, hüllen, and their cognate -ceal in Engl. conceal, from Latin, via French) is, in my opinion, fanciful. Hull gull is known among American Indians, but in the absence of its native name nothing follows from this fact. The hully gully dance seems to have been called after the game. Some people have looked for its source in Africa, yet no facts bear out its African origin. In my experience, the nucleus of such reduplications (hugger-mugger and the like) is more often the second element; the first is then added to rhyme with it. This is especially true of the words whose first element begins with an h. Should some brave word sleuth decide to search for the etymology of hull gull, it may pay off to begin with gull. Perhaps some of our correspondents have ideas on this subject. If so, kindly don’t hide them.
My gratitude is due those who informed me about the origin of brown shirts in Germany. I knew most of what was said in the comments but can now state with certainty that brown had no symbolic value in the choice of that uniform. As regards the name of the hazel grouse, it indeed has a root with wide Indo-European connections. The remark on braun und blau (see the quotation from DeutschesWörterbuch adduced by Roland Schumann) should be considered, but in such binomials a descending scale is also possible: compare Engl. black and blue.
I am sure Michael Lamb is right. It did not occur to me to consult dictionaries. The OED explains that livid withanger means “pale with anger.” However, I still wonder whether anger, rather than fear, causes pallor. In those few cases in which I heard the phrase, the speakers always meant “suffused with red.” Apparently, I err in (good) company.
One as a pronoun
One is responsible for one’s mistakes. Is this a silly sentence? In at least one opinion, it is as silly as Johnis responsible for John’s mistakes. I am afraid I disagree. One, our correspondent points out, is not only an indefinite pronoun but also a noun, a circumstance ignored by grammarians. However, grammarians have always been aware of the nature of one. In the United States, grammar is seldom taught today (where some watered down elements of it remain, grammar has been replaced by the less offensive term structure; I cannot vouch for the rest of the English-speaking world), but those of us who did study this allegedly-devoid-of-fun subject at school have heard about the parts of speech (nouns, adjectives, verbs, and the rest). The division of the vocabulary into parts of speech is a minor catastrophe. For instance, adverbs often resemble a trashcan (what is not a noun or an adjective finds refuge there, and, to add to the confusion, nouns and adjectives in oblique cases tend to be “adverbialized”). Numerals fare even worse: we provide a list of them (one, two, three, etc.) and say: “This is your part of speech.” Is twice a numeral or an adverb? Twelve is a numeral, while dozen is a noun. Is threescore a numeral or a noun? Sixty is certainly a numeral. In the Old Germanic languages, the words for one, two, three, and four could be declined (as they still are in Icelandic) and belonged to the same classes as nouns; yet we call them numerals. All this is common knowledge. One is the worst offender, because, despite its meaning, in Old Germanic it had a plural form and sometimes meant “only.” Modern Engl. ones shows how natural that plural sounds, while once is a petrified genitive.
My next point concerns usage. John is responsible for John’s mistakes is unnecessary and even silly, because his, instead of John’s, would refer to the subject quite clearly. But one has no correlate, hence the trouble. One is responsible for his (her) mistakes is embarrassing, because one is neither a man nor a woman. Their is safe and politically correct, but one is singular, while their is plural. To be sure, those who say when a studentcomes, I never make themwait will find the correlation one/their unobjectionable, and let them enjoy their usage (“every man in his humor”). In addition to those variants, we can say either one is responsible for one’s mistakes (logical but perhaps inelegant) or rephrase the sentence (all of us areresponsible for our mistakes). “John” is doing better: he pays the price for his folly, just as “Mary” rues her missteps. While speaking English, one occasionally hits the wall, and there is no help for it.
I wrote my response before Michael Lamb’s comment appeared. There was no need for me to change anything in my text, and “at this point of time,” as so deplorably many people say and write, I invite our correspondents to read our “polemic” and express their opinion: come one, come all.
Disagreements over strategy, or a maid of all work: over
Some prepositions succeed in ousting all their competitors. Henry W. Fowler, the author of the immortal book ModernEnglish Usage, wrote with contempt about those who say as to, because they are too lazy to think of for, about, and their synonyms. I have a dim recollection that in one of my old posts I discussed over as an example of an evil invasive species. Recently, Walter Turner has sent me a list of such overdone phrases from the most respectable British and American newspapers. Some of them are offered below for the wise to be aware. “Egypt jails nine men over sex assaults”; “Moscow faces bank curbs over new public-sector projects” (= because of?in connection with?); “Journalists face jail over spy leaks”; “Cameron ambushes Labour over tax plans”; “Cameron criticized over plans to knight Tory reshuffle victims”; “X warns Y over boozy night out,” and many more. This virus, like all viruses, knows no borders. Take note and think it over.
I have something to say about the Indo-European names of fruits, the phrase in brown study, the origin of Viking, and about the ever-green subject of English spelling but will do so next Wednesday.
Image credits: (1) Hazel grouse. Naumann, Naturgeschichte der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band VI, Tafel 8 – Gera, 1897 digitale Bearbeitung : Peter v. Sengbusch. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Marx Super Circus Tent Side 2 Inside Detail 1. Photo by Ed Berg. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
From eighteenth century Gothic novels to contemporary popular culture, the tropes and sacred culture of Catholicism endure as themes in entertainment. OUP author Diana Walsh Pasulka sat down with The Conjuring (2013) screenwriters Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes to discuss their cinematic focus on “the Catholic Supernatural” and the enduring appeal of Catholic culture to moviegoers.
Diana Walsh Pasulka: Your recent movie The Conjuring was financially very successful and is the third highest grossing horror film about the supernatural, behind only The Exorcist (1973) and The Sixth Sense (1999). Each of these films engage Catholic themes, and more specifically, the supernatural. The Conjuring, of course, is based on the lives of Catholics Ed and Lorraine Warren. What is it about Catholic culture that you think resonates with audiences?
Carey Hayes: Catholic culture is global. It also has a long history that almost everyone in the West identifies with on some level. Medieval cathedrals, priests in black robes and white collars and nuns in habits, in many ways these visuals are like short hand or code, and audiences understand them. For example, take the movie, The Exorcist. When it is apparent in the movie that the little girl is possessed by evil, they call in the priest. The priest, with his identifiable clothing, his crucifix and holy water, is the representation, visually, of the antidote to evil. Of course it doesn’t hurt that authors and filmmakers have used these themes over and over again, and this adds to the recognizable effects. The more we see elements of Catholic culture used in visual culture this way, the more we understand what they mean.
Diana Walsh Pasulka: That’s interesting. The meaning of these tropes, then, can take on a second life, of sorts, in popular culture. Non-Catholic audiences might equate what they see about Catholicism in the movies, with Catholic-lived practice.
Chad Hayes: That could be the case, of course, but in our experience we’ve had only positive reinforcement from Catholics. When we promoted The Conjuring in San Francisco a Catholic priest approached me and said “Thank you for getting it right.” That one comment was one of the best compliments I’ve received about the movie. We were also interviewed for U.S. Catholic, and they were very positive.
Diana Walsh Pasulka: A few years ago, Carey, you coined the term “The Religious Supernatural” to differentiate what you were doing from other screenwriters who wrote movies about the supernatural. Why designate it “religious?”
Carey Hayes: I coined the term to identify a certain framework, and, I suppose, to suggest a history. Today there is a lot of focus in popular culture on the supernatural or the paranormal. It is almost all secular. In the past, the supernatural and paranormal occurred within a worldview that allowed for the supernatural but within a religious framework. People had tools like prayers to deal with the supernatural, which, you have to admit, is scary. We wanted, in our movies, to return to that. We thought that, in many ways, religion deals with the big questions, and the supernatural is usually a scary thing that interrupts daily life and causes people to think about the big questions. So, we wanted to pair the two, religion and the supernatural, and remind audiences that this is, ultimately, what scary movies are about: ultimate questions about life.
Diana Walsh Pasulka: Are you ever frightened by what you write about?
Chad Hayes: We’re not afraid when we write and produce movies about the supernatural. But our research frightens us!
Carey Hayes: Right! It is frightening because some of this is supposed to be true, or based on events that are true.
Diana Walsh Pasulka: I wondered about that. Part of the appeal of your movies, and other movies like it such as The Exorcist, is that they play on the ambiguity of fiction and non-fiction, or the realism of your subject. The Blair Witch Project (1999) is a great example of the play on realism. The movie was presented as recovered footage of an actual university student project. I was in Berkeley, California for the pre-release of that movie, and I couldn’t get tickets for three days because the lines outside of the theaters were so long. When I finally got to see the movie members of the audience were wondering, is this real? Of course, we knew that it wasn’t, but we were also intrigued that it was presented as real. That definitely contributed to its popularity. The marketing campaign for that movie was unique at the time, too, in that they emphasized the question of the potential realism of the movie.
Chad Hayes: We purposely look for stories that are based on true events. We do that for this very reason: because people can relate. They can Google the story and see that maybe its folklore, or its real, but it is out there and is an experience for other people. So that contributes, no doubt, to the scare factor.
Diana Walsh Pasulka: Do you think this also has something to do with the appeal of the Catholic aesthetic, like the use of real Catholic sacred objects — the sacramentals, the crucifix, and the robes of the priests?
Chad Hayes: Absolutely. Ed and Lorraine Warren are practicing Catholics. Ed has passed away, but Lorrain still attends a Catholic Mass almost every day. That part of The Conjuring is based on her real Catholic practice. We were in contact with Lorraine throughout the writing of the movie and we included the objects that she and Ed actually used, like the sacramentals, the blessed objects, and holy water. My Catholic friends tell me that most Catholics don’t use these objects in their daily lives, but then they aren’t exorcizing demons, are they?
Throughout history, some people have chosen to take huge risks. What can we learn from their experiences?
Extreme activities, such as polar exploration, deep-sea diving, mountaineering, space faring, and long-distance sailing, create extraordinary physical and psychological demands. The physical risks, such as freezing, drowning, suffocating or starving, are usually obvious. But the psychological pressures are what make extreme environments truly daunting.
The ability to deal with fear and anxiety is, of course, essential. But people in extremes may endure days or weeks of monotony between the moments of terror. Solo adventurers face loneliness and the risk of psychological breakdown, while those whose mission involves long-term confinement with a small group may experience stressful interpersonal conflict. All of that is on top of the physical hardships like sleep deprivation, pain, hunger, and squalor.
What can the rest of us learn from those hardy individuals who survive and thrive in extreme places? We believe there are many psychological lessons from hard places that can help us all in everyday life. They include the following.
Focus – the ability to pay attention to the right things and ignore all distractions, for as long as it takes – is a fundamental skill. Laser-like concentration is obviously essential during hazardous moves on a rock face or a spacewalk. Focus also helps when enduring prolonged hardship, such as on punishing polar treks. A good strategy for dealing with hardship is to focus tightly on the next bite-sized action rather than dwelling on the entire daunting mission.
The ability to focus attention is a much-underestimated skill in everyday life. It helps you get things done and tolerate discomfort. And it is rewarding: when someone is utterly absorbed in a demanding and stretching activity, they experience a satisfying psychological state called ‘flow’ (or being ‘in the zone’). A person in flow feels in control, forgets everyday anxieties, and tends to perform well at the task in hand. The good news is that we can all become better at focusing our attention. One scientifically-proven method is through the regular practice of meditation.
Focus helps when tackling difficult tasks, but you also need expertise – high levels of skills and knowledge – to perform those tasks well. Expertise underpins effective planning and preparation and enables informed and measured judgements about risks. In high-risk situations experts make more accurate decisions than novices, who may become paralysed with indecision or take rapid, panicky actions that make things worse.
Expertise also helps people in extreme environments to manage stress. Stress occurs when the demands on you exceed your actual or perceived capacity to cope. An effective way of reducing stress, in everyday life as well as extremes, is by increasing your ability to cope by developing high levels of skills and experience.
Developing expertise requires hard work and persistence. But it’s worth the investment – the dividends include better assessment of risk, better decision-making, and less vulnerability to stress.
Getting enough sleep is often difficult in extreme environments, where the physical demands can deprive people of sleep, disrupt their circadian rhythms, or both.
Bad sleep has a range of adverse effects on mental and physical wellbeing, including impairing alertness, judgment, memory, decision-making, and mood. Unsurprisingly, it makes people much more likely to have accidents.
Many of us are chronically sleep deprived in everyday life: we go to bed late, get up early, and experience low-quality sleep in between. Most of us would feel better if we slept more and slept better. So don’t feel guilty about spending more time in bed.
Experts in extreme environments often make use of tactical napping. Research has shown that napping is an effective way of alleviating the adverse consequences of bad sleep. It’s also enjoyable.
Be tolerant and tolerable.
Adventures in extreme environments often require small groups of people to be trapped together for months at a time. Even the best of friends can get on each other’s nerves under such circumstances. Social conflict can build rapidly over petty issues. Groups split apart, individuals are ostracised, and simmering tensions may even explode into violence.
When forming a team for an extreme mission, as much emphasis should be placed on team members’ interpersonal skills as on their specialist skills or physical capability. Research shows that team-building exercises – though often mocked – can be an effective way of enhancing teamwork.
Effective teams are alert to mounting tensions. Individuals keep the little annoyances in perspective and respect others’ need for privacy. To survive and thrive in demanding situations, people must learn to be tolerant and tolerable. The same is true in everyday life.
Extreme environments are dangerous places where people endure great hardship. They may suffer terrifying accidents or watch others die. Such experiences can be traumatic and, in some cases, cause long-term damage to mental health.
But this is by no means inevitable. Research has shown that many individuals emerge from extreme experiences with greater resilience and a better understanding of their own strengths. By coping with life-threatening situations, they become more self-confident and more appreciative of life.
Resilience is a common quality in everyday life. We tend to underestimate our own ability to cope with stress, and overestimate its adverse consequences. Some stress is good for us and we should not try to avoid it completely.
Featured image credit: Mount Everest, by tpsdave. Public Domain via Pixabay.
I must give a hearty “thank you” to Ian Darling for telling me about Teach Us to Sit Still by Tim Parks after I read The Miracle of Mindfulness. When you read a book like Thich Nhat Hahn’s on meditation and he is telling you how good it is and how it will change your life it is easy to dismiss it because of course this Buddhist monk is going to say that. To then read a book like Parks’s, a personal story that leads him kicking and screaming to meditation where he discovers that it really does work, it makes you pause and think.
Parks’s story begins when he was 51 and tired of suffering from severe pains and trips to the bathroom 5-6 times a night, something that he has been experiencing for years and keeps getting worse. Parks live and teaches in Verona, Italy and happened to have a good friend who is a top urologist in the country. His friend diagnosed him with prostatitis and referred him for tests and consults with top doctors. Through test after test and scan after scan, all the doctors said that if he weren’t having such pain they would say there was nothing wrong with him. The suggested treatment was an invasive and painful surgery that may or may not work, though all the doctors assured him it would. Parks rightly hesitated.
On a trip to India for a conference he decided to visit an Ayurvedic doctor on the spur of the moment. The doctor told him he could give him all kinds of herbs and recommend all sorts of expensive supplements but none of them would work and he would never be cured until he confronted the “profound contradiction” in his character. “There is a tussle in your mind,” the doctor told him. Parks left kicking himself for wasting his time. But he could not get over this idea of there being a tussle in his mind.
On the internet he discovered a place in California that treated men with problems like his. They had a book. Parks ordered the book. Basically, their theory was that his condition was muscle-related, that his body was so full of tension that the muscles around his prostate could not relax. Treatment was an hour of “paradoxical relaxation” and regular prostate massage. Parks decided even though he didn’t feel tense, he’d give the relaxation a go since he had nothing to lose.
“Paradoxical relaxation” is pretty much meditation done laying down. The paradox is that once you are comfortable, you are supposed to focus on an area of your body that feels tense but not try to relax it. Only by not relaxing the tension will the tension go away. And there was to be no verbalization, no talking to yourself in your head, just an empty mind and focus.
Parks was surprised when he quickly learned that the body he thought was not tense at all was nothing but tense. His first few efforts ended up giving him moments of increased pain. But he kept at it and after a few more tries had a moment when something let go and he felt a warm wave wash through him. He was so excited by this that he immediately ruined the moment. But he had made progress. Eventually he had pain-free hours during his day but he still had to get up frequently during the night.
He visited a Shiatsu massage specialist. The massages caused pain but also relieved pain. His masseuse eventually recommended Parks try Vipassana meditation. Parks was reluctant but realized that he had gone as far as he could with his paradoxical relaxation so he signed up for a weekend retreat.
In Vipassana meditation you begin by focusing your attention on feeling your breath move across the top of your lip, in and out. You aren’t supposed to think. You are supposed to sit completely still. Parks quickly discovers how very hard this is. Even with his paradoxical relaxation he had supreme difficulty not thinking, not verbalizing, now it was even harder. But there were exquisite moments when it would all come together and he would feel so calm, relaxed and completely free of pain. After two years and regular meditation, he found himself cured. He still had to get up during the night but only twice a night instead of 5-6 times.
Throughout the book he keeps going back and mulling over what the tussle in his mind could be, and he discovers there are a number of unresolved issues with his parents, especially his father, with his writing and his ambition. At one point he even decides he needed to give up writing entirely but when he told the leader of the retreat he was on when he came to this conclusion, the man just laughed at him and said he had it all wrong.
Eventually he figures it out. He realizes that holding on so tight to language, to words, the “I” that language asks us to create is the problem. Meditating helped him let that go, helped him get out of his head and into his body, gave him a sense of wholeness and calm and taught him that there is pleasure in letting the self disappear.
Of course everyone will have different reasons for meditating and derive different benefits, but Parks’s experience is encouraging and uplifting. He makes you believe that if he could do it, everyone reading his book certainly can do it too.
#WeNeedDiverseBooks is raising funds now on IndieGoGo to keep this movement going. Please consider donating.
I would love to know if this movement has already affected you in some way. Please comment below and feel free to do so anonymously if you like.
Writers, have you included diverse (POC, LGBTQ, disabled, religious, etc.) characters in your works-in-progress when you hadn't originally considered it?
Agents, editors, have you specifically looked for diverse writers because of raised awareness following this campaign? Have you suggested or supported writers to include diverse characters in a book when in the past you might not have addressed it?
Librarians and booksellers, have you been more aware of diverse books--recommending them to patrons/clients, creating displays, turning them out, etc.--than you were before?
Readers, have you been more inclined to read, buy, check-out books by diverse writers or about diverse characters?
Bloggers/reviewers, have you been more likely to review diverse books? More likely to be vocal about them, recommend them than before?
People who identify as being disabled, LGBTQ, of color, religious, do you feel more welcome, more seen, in the book community than before?
Whether the campaign has affected you or not, I'd be curious to hear your experience.
This is my third attempt at writing a review of Aprilly, by Jane Abbott. I’m not sure why writing about it is so daunting. It’s never going to be my favorite Jane Abbott book — there are structural issues, and a lot of what happens feels unearned. Also I found it hard to sympathize with the protagonist, and wished some of the other characters got more page time. But all of these things are things I’ve had time to think out. When I finished the book, I mostly just thought, “that was nice, but the romance was kind of creepy and unnecessary and Laughing Last was better.”
Anyway, I enjoyed it, but I doubt I’ll want to read it again. And if you want more information than that (you should) here’s a bit of a synopsis:
April Dangerfield is left penniless and homeless (I mean, approximately) after the death of her circus performer mother, and somehow ends up in a small town in Maine, where she finds a number of friends, including the usual crotchety spinster, and eventually acquires a family. And also a horse.
Jane Abbott falls flat for me sometimes, usually in the books everyone else seems to like best. I guess this is just one of those times.
November is going to be a busy month, with a new book plus appearances in Amherst, MA, Northampton, MA, & Brooklyn, NY. So let's get to it.
November 4th, 2014 will see the release of Elephant and Piggie's newest adventure, WAITING IS NOT EASY!
Gerald is careful. Piggie is not.Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald can.Gerald worries so that Piggie does not have
I am so incredibly excited that the final installment in Alex Bracken’s Darkest Mind series releases today. These books are special and dark and moving in a way I (Sooz) can’t even begin to describe.
Commence the gushing.
And the freaking out because I’ve been waiting a YEAR for this last book! And finally–finally–it’s here!
That’s right: In the Afterlight hits stores TODAY. And oh my gosh, if you haven’t seen the trailer for it, then prepare for CHILLS.
Wow, right? If you haven’t read the series yet (and you SHOULD), then you can learn a bit more about it below.
When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that’s killed most of America’s children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control.
Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones. When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. Now she’s on the run, desperate to find the one safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents. When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader.
But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living.
Ruby never asked for the abilities that almost cost her her life. Now she must call upon them on a daily basis, leading dangerous missions to bring down a corrupt government and breaking into the minds of her enemies. Other kids in the Children”s League call Ruby ‘Leader’, but she knows what she really is: a monster.
When Ruby is entrusted with an explosive secret, she must embark on her most dangerous mission yet: leaving the Children”s League behind. Crucial information about the disease that killed most of America”s children—and turned Ruby and the others who lived into feared and hated outcasts—has survived every attempt to destroy it. But the truth is only saved in one place: a flashdrive in the hands of Liam Stewart, the boy Ruby once believed was her future—and who now wouldn”t recognize her. As Ruby sets out across a desperate, lawless country to find Liam—and answers about the catastrophe that has ripped both her life and America apart—she is torn between old friends and the promise she made to serve the League. Ruby will do anything to protect the people she loves.
But what if winning the war means losing herself?
Ruby can’t look back. Fractured by an unbearable loss, she and the kids who survived the government’s attack on Los Angeles travel north to regroup. With them is a prisoner: Clancy Gray, son of the president, and one of the few people Ruby has encountered with abilities like hers. Only Ruby has any power over him, and just one slip could lead to Clancy wreaking havoc on their minds.
They are armed only with a volatile secret: proof of a government conspiracy to cover up the real cause of IAAN, the disease that has killed most of America’s children and left Ruby and others like her with powers the government will kill to keep contained. But internal strife may destroy their only chance to free the “rehabilitation camps” housing thousands of other Psi kids.
Meanwhile, reunited with Liam, the boy she would-and did-sacrifice everything for to keep alive, Ruby must face the painful repercussions of having tampered with his memories of her. She turns to Cole, his older brother, to provide the intense training she knows she will need to take down Gray and the government. But Cole has demons of his own, and one fatal mistake may be the spark that sets the world on fire.
To celebrate the release of In the Afterlight (and the completion of a whole series! GO ALEX!), we’re giving away a copy of the book. You can choose from any book in the series, actually, and we’ll pick a winner in a week! (This giveaway is open internationally!)
Alex lives in New York City where she writes like a fiend and lives in a charming apartment overflowing with books. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Darkest Minds and Never Fade. You can visit her online at her website, Tumblr, or Twitter.
People have enjoyed the horror genre for centuries, reveling in the spooky, toe-curling, hair-raising feelings this genre elicits — perfect for Halloween. Whether you’re trick-or-treating, attending a costume party, or staying home, we’ve put together a list of Oxford World’s Classics that will put you in the mood for this eerie night.
“The Vampyre”, a gothic horror that’s sure to push you to the edge of your seat, is considered the first to incorporate a vampire into fiction. And that’s just one of the many squeamish stories in store; from a bloodthirsty vampire to obsessive revenge, let the ghastly atmosphere overwhelm you with this collection of stories.
Follow the terrifying story of a young man whose descent into madness leads into a life as a serial murderer. In the second half of the novel, the murderer tells his side of the story, revealing his true madness. This psychologically unnerving novel will probably leave you sleepless. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Perhaps a story about an arranged marriage wouldn’t garner the usual horror fan’s interest. But after nearly (and unknowingly) being stabbed by her jealous stepmother, the protagonist escapes from the arrange marriage into the labyrinth of the passages underneath Sicilian castles. With Ann Radcliffe’s weaving of psychological terror in a gothic setting, this is a perfect book to lose yourself in while (perhaps accidentally) ignoring the trick-or-treaters at your door.
In a story highlighting the horrors that humans can wreak upon one another, Marlow (the narrator in the story) tells of his experience in Africa and of his witnessing Kurtz’s descent into power hunger and madness. The dark themes present throughout Heart of Darkness will sit at the forefront of your mind, an ever-present reminder that humans can be just as frightful as any monster.
The first story in this four-piece collection is the horrifying story that tells of a doctor conducting experiments that cause him to transform into a violent, murderous man. Is Hyde really a separate “being”? Or is he simply Jekyll unleashed from the confines of moral society…? This classic story is bound to find its way on the list, and with a number of other chilling short stories by Robert Louis Stevenson in this book, you can’t lose.
You’ll claw your way out of being buried alive in The Room in the Dragon Volant. Or you’ll go mad as a demon haunts you with the intent of destroying you psychologically in Green Tea. With supernatural creatures and nightmarish circumstances, this collection of five short stories will highlight any horror lover’s Halloween.
Headline image: Caw! Caw! Photo by Wayne Wilkinson. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.
The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) and its Codes of Practice entrench the legal basis for police powers in England and Wales. A thorough and practicable knowledge of PACE is essential to an understanding of policing – but how well do you know it?
Many have trouble bridging the distance between the often abstract terminology from PACE, its subsequent amendments, and legislative changes — including the Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011, the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, and the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 — and common, everyday scenarios facing police officers. Stop and search, detention and interviews, and other everyday procedures and requirements of policing may be lost. So let’s test your knowledge of PACE.
GraphicAudio has released their first graphic novel adaptation - and it's CEMETERY GIRL Book One: The Pretenders by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden. Double cool! I loved the original book, and the audio sample released by the publisher (see above) immediately sets the stage for the story's location and feel. Kudos to Emlyn McFarland, who plays the main character, Calexa, and to the sound designers and producers.
What an amazing play is Medea by Euripides. I read an edition from 2006 translated by the poet Michael Collier and the Greek scholar Georgia Machemer. Machemer also wrote a fantastic introduction. Of all the introductions to all the Greek plays I’ve read over the last several years, this one is hands down the best. What was so good about it? It provided context for the play without trotting out all the usual tired historical droning that usually makes its way into these kinds of introductions. The context provided was specific to this play itself and what was going on in Athens during the time it was produced, what the audience would have known and expected, how they would have probably reacted when their expectations were challenged, and what they would have known and how they would have felt about Euripides himself.
For instance, even though the songs Euripides wrote for his choruses were popular and sung all over town, the playwright and plays themselves often unsettled audiences. Euripides was schooled by the Sophists who were foreigners to Athens, had unnerving theories about the nature of things and could deftly argue either side of an issue. They stirred things up. Euripides didn’t let them down.
Medea opens with Medea’s nurse coming on stage. Today we would think nothing of this, but then, this was shocking. Not only was it a woman giving the opening monologue of the play but a servant who was an old slave of a “barbarian” princess. When you expect a highborn man or a god to walk out for the opening monologue, this move is quite astonishing and right off sets you reeling.
And then the play itself. A woman carries it and not just any woman. Medea is a priestess of Hecate, she has immense knowledge of the healing arts as well as potions that kill. She is from a foreign country. And she speaks throughout with the rhetorical skill of a man, scheming, tricking, deceiving to save her own honor instead of submitting to the will of her husband like a good and proper wife should. After seeing this play the men in the audience, and the audience would have been almost all men, would have been shaking in their sandals for fear of the power that a woman might wield. I could also hope that some of them left the theatre with a bit more respect for their wives but that might be hoping too much.
This play would have resonated with Athenians on a different level too. Athens had recently passed a law that said foreign-born wives could not be citizens nor could any of their offspring. This law effectively disinherited any children born from such a marriage. As a result, many men divorced their wives and married Greek ones instead. So when Jason leaves Medea for the daughter of King Creon, the men of Athens watching this play got an extra dose of discomfort.
There is an interesting note in the text of my edition of the play that says a good many scholars believe Euripides invented Medea killing her children, that prior to this play, the story did not include their deaths. So why did she have to kill them? Medea needed to destroy Jason for his betrayal and the best way to destroy him is to destroy his whole family. Thus Medea kills Jason’s new wife with poisoned gifts and Creon in rushing to her aid is also poisoned by he deadly robes. The children could not be left alive as heirs nor after killing the king and his daughter could Medea leave the children alive to likely be killed my an angry mob. So she does the deed. She almost couldn’t. Can you blame her? The gods do not punish her for killing her children because her act was honorable vengeance against a man who betrayed both her and the gods who had given him Medea to help him escape with the Golden Fleece.
Medea gets to exit in a golden sun chariot with the corpses of her children after she curses Jason. And we all known Jason dies a sad and ruined man, killed when his famous ship, the Argo, falls on his head while he is beneath it repairing its keel.
Medea, of course, has some marvelous speeches in this play. One of my favorite passages happens when she is talking to the chorus who are all women:
But I’ve been talking as if our lives
are the same. They’re not. You are Corinthians
with ancestral homes, childhood friends,
while I, stripped of that already,
am now even more exposed by Jason’s cruelties.
Remember how I came here, a war bride,
plundered from my country, an orphan?
Now who’s obligated to shelter me? Not you,
I know. As you watch my plans for justice unfold,
keep them secret, that’s all I ask. I’ve never felt
this threatened nor fearless: men win their battles
on the field but women are ruthless when the bed
becomes the battleground. We’ve lain
in our own blood before…and have survived.
In the face of Medea, Jason comes off sounding like a greedy, petulant boy whining about how Medea isn’t being reasonable in accepting the crumbs he is reluctantly offering so he looks like a good man and doesn’t feel guilty. Why he is so surprised that this powerful woman throws it all back in his face and calls him on his betrayal is the real surprise.
The sad thing though in the end, in spite of Medea triumphing over Jason and being carried away to Athens in a chariot of the sun (he’s a relative), she has lost everything too. She will have protection in Athens, but she has no home, no friends, no children. She wins by losing and that is the biggest tragedy of all.
As voting continues on the longlist for Place of the Year 2014, we decided to take a look at the past and present of each of the nominees. Check out the images in the slideshow to see, and make sure to vote for your Place of the Year below.
Mount Sinjar, then
Yazidis on Mount Sinjar in the 1920s. Photo by Sarrafian brothers of Beirut, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Mt Sinjar, now
Yazidis sought refuge from the threat of ISIS in the Sinjar mountains in 2014. Photo by Rachel Unkovic/International Rescue Committee, CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Map of the west coast of Africa, featuring Liberia, 1830. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Foreign aid has poured into Liberia and its neighboring countries as a result of the Ebola virus ravaging the area. Photo by DVIDSHUB, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.
Denver, Colorado in 1972. Photo by Bruce McAllister, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
After much debate, Colorado legalized marijuana in 2014. Photo by Kent Kanouse, CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr.
Gaza under British occupation after World War I. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
In 2014, tensions between Hamas and Israel erupted in Gaza. Photo by Boris Niehaus, CC-BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Scotland was made part of the United Kingdom by the Articles of Union in 1706, pictured here. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
The Scottish independence referendum held in September 2014 resulted in the country remaining part of the United Kingdom. Photo by eltpics, CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr.
A group of families in St. Louis protesting desegregation in the 1960s. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
The protests following the fatal shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri (part of St. Louis County) got the world’s attention. Photo by peoplesworld, CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr.
Brazilian soccer match, 1914. Photo by Daily Mirror, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Brazil hosted the World Cup in summer 2014. Photo by Danilo Borges/Portal da Copa, CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Sanatorium in Sochi, Russia in the early 20th century. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
The Olympic stadium in Sochi, Russia, where the winter games took place in 2014. Photo by Val 202, CC 2.0 via Flickr.
Kharkov, Ukraine in the 1980s. Photo by Л.П. Джепко, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
The disputed Crimean borders have led to rampant violence and destruction in Ukraine this year. Photo by Michael Kötter, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr.
The photographer of this image notes in the original posting on Flickr that the limestone karst depicted developed because of over-mining phosphate. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr.
If you have another ideas for what you think Place of the Year 2014 should be, please post it in the comments section. Keep following along with #POTY2014 until our announcement on 1 December to see which location will join previous winners.
With nearly 200 countries in the world, the vast number and variety of dishes is staggering, which goes to show just how diverse your food can get. Which countries’ foods do you enjoy the most? Is there a particular characteristic of your favorite food that can’t be found anywhere else in the world? Do you know how national dishes vary by region? Explore (just some) of the world’s different cuisines discussed in The Oxford Companion to Food, from Afghanistan to Yemen, with our interactive map below:
I wanted to give you a preview today of the cover for the next Print & Pattern book due for release soon, "Print & Pattern Geometric" will be published in the UK on January 12th 2015 and in the USA slightly later on February 3rd. Designers included in this new title include Wayne Hemingway, Lotta Jansdotter, Hvass & Hannibal and Villa Nova. Just over 100 designers have contributed some
I couple weeks ago while on vacation in western Pennsylvania, I had the pleasure of spending some time in the quaint, historic town of Bedford, PA. Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains, this lovely town is the perfect place for a stop off the famed “LINCOLN HIGHWAY” AKA Route 30. While in Bedford, I stopped in the local library and was thrilled to see how much thought, care and attention was given to the children’s section of the
Teen section of the library.
library. Not only did they have a separate room for kids, there was another room, artistically decorated, for teens. As a child, I was always spending time at my local library with it’s stiff-backed chairs and worn tables. This modern, comfortable and welcoming place would have made it so much more inviting, I would have had a hard time leaving!
Children’s section of the Bedford County Library
The next time you’re in western PA, stop by the town and maybe even visit the library. Support your own local libraries. Where would we writers…and readers be without their support? Three Cheers for Libraries!
And…three cheers for all the wonderful writers and bloggers who took part in my WHEELS OF CHANGE Blog Tour, which officially ends today. I really enjoyed being your guest and appreciate your helping me spread the word about the book. You helped make the launch a success, and for that I am truly grateful! If you’d like to check out the last stop on the tour, here it is: http://www.tmwallace.com
It’s been a while since I did a big fat Rillabooks post. The books are piling up! Literally and figuratively. When I want to blog about a book, I leave it out after we’ve read it. This means:
1) There are stacks of books on every flat surface of this house; and
2) We keep reading those books over and over, because they’re out where we can see them.
Which is fine, because I wouldn’t have had the urge to blog about the book in the first place if it weren’t in some way delightful.
Another thing that’s happening a lot lately is that Huck collects favorite picture books to read in his bed at night. I could probably skip writing about them and just post a picture of his headboard every morning. No stronger recommendation for a children’s book than being made part of a five-year-old’s hoard, is there?
But here, I’ll do a proper post. Kortney, consider this my thank-you note for that lovely write-up the other day.
Mix It Up by Hervé Tullet. Here’s a book that beckons a child in and invites him to touch and “mix” blobs of color on the page. Drag some red into the yellow blob, and when you turn the page, naturally you’ve got orange. What interested me is how completely Huck entered into the conceit, touching and swirling those painted spots on the page just as if he were playing an iPad game. “Like this?”—tentatively at first, touching the dot as instructed, and then turning the page and crowing in glee at the change. He engaged just as thoroughly as if it were an app, red + yellow magically turning to orange under his finger. This thrills me, I have to say—the willingness to enter into a game of make-believe with a book when so much in his world trains him to expect animations for every cause-and-effect. The book is full of fun, with dots of color skittering across the page as if alive. Gorgeously designed, too: big bold colors against clean white space. We also enjoyed Tullet’s Press Here which similarly invites interaction. At five, Huck seems to be exactly the right age for these books. We’ve read Mix It Up together several times but most often he carts it away to his bed to enjoy solo.
(You’ll want your watercolors handy after you read this book. Or do as we did and whip up a quick batch of play dough: 2 cups flour, 3/4 cup salt, 1 cup water [add slowly; you may not need all of it]. Knead until it isn’t sticky. I go sparingly on the water and leave a lot of loose flour in the mixing bowl for the kids to rub their hands in before I start handing out lumps of dough. Then, for each lump, a drop of food coloring. They love working it in, watching it marble its way through the blank dough. After the colors are well mixed, I like to add a tiny drop of lavender or cinnamon oil, or a bit of vanilla extract. The smells make them so happy! “I’m probably going to play with this for one or three hours,” Huck informed me when I got him set up the other day—after I’d remembered such a cheap and easy cure for listlessness existed in the world. Why do I forget about this for months at a time? A batch will last in the fridge for about a week. Rilla can measure and mix it by herself. Very handy when, say, an older sister is wrangling with Algebra 2 and needs mom’s attention for a while.)
Borreguita and the Coyote by Verna Aardema, illustrations by Petra Mathers—over and over and over again! Beloved by Rilla too (and all her older siblings before her). Utterly satisfying rendition of a Mexican folk tale in which a clever little sheep outwits, repeatedly, with comic effect, a coyote intent on eating her for dinner. Might I recommend reading this one while lying down so that all of you can stick your legs in the air when you get to the part about Borreguita “holding up” the mountain.
Creepy Castle by John S. Goodall. Out of print but if you can track one down you’re in luck. All six of my kids have loved this book to pieces. No! Not to pieces, fortunately! It’s got flaps inside, each spread flipping to become a new picture. An almost wordless book, which means the kids and I get to narrate the adventure as the two hero mice make their way through a seemingly deserted castle. There’s a sister fellow hiding in the bushes; he locks them in a scary room with a dragon guarding the stairs, but they climb out the window and splash into the moat. My littles especially like the moment when the villain gets his comeuppance at the end. I can’t count how many dozens of times I have read this little book. They never seem to get tired of it.
Another book back in circulation these days is Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime. (Sniffle: two-year-old Huck in that post.)
Meanwhile, I’m making my way through the leeeeennnngggggthy list of Cybils YA nominees and will have some to recommend in a post coming soonish.
From the narrow twisting streets of the old town centre to the shady docklands, Copenhagen Tales captures the essence of Copenhagen and its many faces. Through seventeen tales by some of the very best of Denmark’s writers past and present, we travel the length and breadth of the Danish capital examining famous sights from unique perspectives. A guide book usefully informs a new visitor to Copenhagen but these stories allow the reader to experience the city and its history from the inside. Translator Lotte Shankland is a Copenhagener by birth who has lived many years in England. In the videos below she discusses the collection, decribing the richness of Danish literature, as well as the Scandinavian noir genre.
Lotte Shankland on the greater significance of short stories within Denmark:
Lotte Shankland discusses her favourite short story, ‘Nightingale’, by Meir Goldschmidt:
From Hans Christian Andersen to Søren Kierkegaard, Denmark has been home to some of the finest writers in Europe. In the National Museum in Copenhagen you will find stories from as early as 1500 BC, covering myth and magic. A walk through the city will most likely involve an encounter with the emblematic statue of the Little Mermaid from Hans Christian Andersen’s famous tale. The Danes continue to tell great stories, as evidenced by the hugely popular Danish TV series The Killing and the Sweedish co-production The Bridge. Copenhagen Tales offers a way to understand the heart and soul of this diverse city, through the literature and art it has generated.
Featured image credit: Copenhagen, Denmark. Public Domain via Pixabay.
There is a quarrel inside me about fairies, and the form of literature their presence helps to define. I have never tried to see a fairy, or at least not since I was five years old. The interest of Casimiro Piccolo reveals how attitudes to folklore belong to their time: he was affected by the scientific inquiry into the paranormal which flourished – in highly intellectual circles – from the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth. But he also presents a test case, I feel, for the questions that hang around fairies and fairy tales in the twenty-first century. What is the point of them? What are the uses of such enchantments today? The absurdity of this form of magical belief (religious miracles are felt to be different, and not only by believers) creates a quarrel inside me, about the worth of this form of literature and entertainment I enjoy so much. In what way am I ‘away with the fairies’, too?
Suspicion now hangs around fairy tales because the kind of supernatural creatures and events they include belong to a belief system nobody subscribes to anymore. Even children, unless very small, are in on the secret that fairyland is a fantasy. In the past, however, allusions to fairies could be dangerous not because belief in them was scorned, but because they were feared: Kirk collected the beliefs of his flock in order to defend them against charges of heterodoxy or witchcraft, and, the same time as Kirk’s ethnographical activities, Charles Perrault published his crucially influential collection (l697), in which he pokes fun, with suave courtly wit, at the dangerousness of witches and witchcraft, ogres and talking animals. Perrault is slippery and ambiguous. His Cinderella is a tale of marvellously efficacious magic, but he ends with a moral: recommending his readers to find themselves well-placed godmothers. Not long before he was writing his fairy tales, France and other places in Europe had seen many people condemned to death on suspicion of using magic. The fairy tale emerges as entertainment in a proto-enlightenment move to show that there is nothing to fear.
The current state of fairy tale – whether metastasized in huge blockbuster films or refreshed and re-invigorated in the fiction of Robert Coover, Donald Barthelme, Margaret Atwood or, most recently, Helen Oyeyemi (Mr Fox, and, this year, Boy Snow Bird) does not invite, let alone compel, belief in its magic elements as from an audience of adepts or faithful. Contemporary readers and audiences, including children over the age of 6, are too savvy about special effects and plot lines and the science/magic overlap to accept supernatural causes behind Angelina Jolie’s soaring in Maleficent or the transmogrifications of the characters. Nor do they, nor do we need to suspend disbelief in the willed way Coleridge described.
Rather the ways of approaching the old material – Blue Beard, The Robber Bridegroom, Hansel & Gretel, Snow White and so on – opens up the stories to new meanings. The familiar narrative becomes the arena for raising questions; the story’s well known features provide a common language for thinking about families and love, childhood and marriage. Fairies and their realm allow thought experiments about alternative arrangements in this world. We are no longer looking for fairies at the bottom of the garden, but seeing through them to glimpse other things. As the little girl realises in The Servant’s Tale by Paula Fox, her grandmother through her stories ‘saw what others couldn’t see, that for her the meaning of one thing could also be the meaning of a greater thing.’ In the past, these other, greater things were most often promises – escape, revenge, recognition, glory – but the trend of fairy tales is turning darker, and many retellings no longer hold out such bright eyed hope.
Featured image credit: Sleeping Beauty, by Viktor M. Vasnetsov. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Like many this past week, our attention has been fixated on the media coverage of the Ebola outbreak: images of experts showing off the proper way to put on and take off protective gloves to avoid exposure to the virus; political pundits quarrelling over the appropriateness of travel restrictions; reassuring press conferences by the director of the Centers for Disease Control. It is an event that has received immediate and intense attention and generated compelling journalism, for sure, but does it really give us an emotional understanding of the impact of the event?
What is it like for a mother or a father to watch their child die and not to be able to touch them? What happens within a community that has experienced a major outbreak? Are people brought closer through a shared suffering or are the bonds that held the community together forever broken? There are infinite questions that we could ask of the human heart in the midst or the aftermath of such an event. Oral history with its emphasis on empathy is an effective method of asking these questions.
Hopefully the epidemic will be contained, but by the time it is, it is likely that the public’s appetite for more analysis on the outbreak will have been satiated. Journalists will be compelled to move onto the new topic of the day. Oral historians, however, can — and should — linger on this event.
For oral historians, who have increasingly worked in the aftermath of crisis over the past decade, the motivation to document is fueled by both a humanitarian impulse to respond to crisis and a scholar’s desire to inquire and understand. Times of widespread crisis have an elusive complexity which defies any attempt at meta-narrative. Aspiring to get at a comprehensive picture and the countless ways in which the epidemic is impacting so many seems unfeasible. For many researchers, the most profound way to begin is to try to appreciate how this crisis manifests itself for an individual, for a family, or for a community is oral history.
Doing oral history in West Africa in the aftermath of the epidemic will present unique challenges for interviewers. Navigating the emotional and political resonance of the Ebola outbreak will require caution, compassion, and courage, as well as flexibility in the application of oral history best practices. The outcome of this work, however, can offer insight into how the individual human heart and mind respond to the terror of an epidemic, and how an individual’s responses to fear and grief impact their communities.
The personal perspective oral history provides has so often been left out of our analysis of crisis. We are left with dry academic reports often composed by responding agencies trained to exclude emotion from their analysis. But without this emotion, without this individual perspective, we don’t understand crisis and the impact it has on those who are left to pick up the pieces of shattered lives and communities. Oral history provides a means for the people most affected by crisis or disaster to be recorded, archived, and shared, to put them, not the devastation, at the center of the story. It is an effort that often runs counter to our collective response to emergency and, for that reason alone, it offers meaningful and enduring outcomes.
Featured image: Hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, where the Ebola virus samples are tested. June 2014. By Leasmhar. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Organizing and organizations have largely been seen as spatial constructs. Organizing has been seen as the connecting of individuals and technologies through various mechanisms, whereas organizations have been construed as semi-stable entities circumscribed by boundaries that separate them from their external environments. The spatial view enables us to appreciate the difference between Microsoft and Apple, between Manchester United and Liverpool, between a family and a firm, and between the government of Iraq and the government of France, as they are made up of different actors, exhibit different patterns of actions, pursue different strategies, and relate to different external stakeholders.
A spatial view is a powerful one, mainly by enabling correspondence. By looking at the pattern of the way that Manchester United plays their matches during a certain period of time, the team can be distinguished from its rivals. It also enables analysis of how it plays differently from how it has played during earlier times, which again may be held up against the results of the matches. When a certain team formation appears successful, it becomes associated with the wins and ascribed the manager who implemented the formation. The manager is then seen as the person who had the ability to conceive and implement the formation, which confers particular qualities upon him. Those qualities prevail until the results begin to degrade, in which case alternative ways are found to explain the limitations of the formation, as well the manager’s abilities to make it work. In order for this way of making sense, a line of separation is drawn between the manager and the team in order to make for a correspondence that explains the variation in results over time. The overall picture becomes a mosaic numerous little pieces, neatly arranged, make up a plausible story of wins and defeats. Although the overall picture may change, the pieces remain small self-contained pieces.
When they are moved around to make another picture, the new formation is seen as different and distinct from the previous one. It is seen at a different instant, and the state in which it is seen as assumed to prevail as a sort of averaged out state for the duration of the period associated with that state. The change is the difference between the images. To see a changing thing at two different instants and making the inferences based on the differences between the instants is what the French philosopher Henry Bergson referred to as a series of immobilities. What is seen is a succession of images, where each image represents a static situation. A problem with such a view is that it is an incomplete rendering of what actually takes place, because it tells little or nothing about actual movement that takes place. As Bergson pointed out, what characterizes movement is precisely that it cannot be divided into imaginary stops, because it is indivisible. On the contrary, it leaves us with what Alfred North Whitehead called ‘simple location’. Simple location conveys an image of a process consisting of inert matter moved along in a series of mysterious jumps. We see that the mosaic has changed, but we know nothing about the process of changing it.
Yet, organizing is a vibrant process in which each instant plays a role. It is an infinitely complex world of encounters, instants and events, all taking place in time. To better understand how organizing works as a process, the very notion of time needs to be given its due attention. Unfortunately, although time and space have been seen as constituting an interwoven continuum in physics for nearly a century, in the social sciences they have been kept apart in a sort of Newtonian conception of the world. A process orientation to time, on the other hand, treats time as the very essences from which experience is made. Rather than being seen as a Newtonian inert framework against which movement is measured, time takes the role of mattering. Time matters, not just in the sense of being important, but by shaping the matter at hand, such as football players, teams, and leagues.
It is in the flow of time that organisations carve out their temporal existence. It is this ‘carving out’ that provides them with a temporal sense of where they come from and where that may be heading. The ‘carving out’ is done in a state of constant suspension between past and future, and is enacted at many instants. Streams of acts, decisions, emails, tweets, chats and many other types instants make up the temporal mosaic of the organization and contribute towards its becoming in time. Thus the formation of the football team is not a static entity, but a living process of instantiations as the match is played. In this view the formation does not make the acts, but the acts make the formation. Such a view does not deny formation as a spatial image. During a match a specific formation may be pursued. What it does, is explain the work of sustaining the formation. It explains how the formation, rather than just existing as an inert template, is given life. It confers temporal direction upon the formation and invites questions about its past and possible future, in the moment it is being played out.
Headline image credit: Stocks Reservoir, Forest of Bowland. Panoramic by MatthewSavage.Photography. CC-By-2.0 via Flickr.
If you recall, earlier this year my Kindle 2 began giving me trouble. I reset it to its factory settings and it behaved itself until about the end of August when the screen decided it was no longer going to work. So after four years together, it left me for what I hope will be a happier place in Digital Device Heaven.
I moved all my Kindle content over to Bookman’s old Kindle 1 and the two of us were getting along just fine. The Kindle 1 battery only held a charge for 5-6 days but that was fine. I planned on buying it a new battery once the current one was demanding to be charged every day or two. But apparently we were not getting along as well as I thought we were because two weeks ago Kindle 1 decided it would no longer do highlights or bookmarks. It told me my memory was full and I had to delete books. Wow, I didn’t realize I had that many, but ok, I deleted about 10 books. That should be enough.
So then I deleted all but 20 books. That definitely would be enough free space.
So then I thought, maybe it was the book I was reading. All the trouble had begun when I downloaded a book from the library Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz. Perhaps the whole highlighting trouble was just to do with some new DRM on library ebooks. So I opened Jane Austen’s Emma, a DRM-free Project Gutenberg book. And it still would not highlight. And when I tried to bookmark a page it said there was not enough memory.
Clearly it is the Kindle going kablooey. I cannot read on it if I cannot highlight. Though I have continued to read Being Wrong, which I am enjoying very much. However, it has been so long since I have read a book and not marked it up in some manner that it feels totally weird and I am having a hard time remembering things about the book. I briefly considered giving up reading it, but I don’t want to give it up. I have kept reading and when I am done with it, I won’t be able to really blog about it because I won’t be able to remember enough specifics.
Isn’t that interesting? Between college and blogging I had an entire decade in which I read books and didn’t mark them up and I was happy as a clam. Of course, ask me what I read during that decade and I would be hard pressed to come up with much. But then sometimes now at the end of the year when I look back on my books read there is one book I don’t recall reading. Of course I can read the blog post I wrote about it and it will come back, so that’s something. I find it somewhat amusing that I am reading a book called Being Wrong with a constant feeling of wrongness hovering around me.
With the Kindle 1 at death’s door, I was also having a hard debate with myself over whether to get another ereader. If it is only going to last for four or five years, is it really worth it? And if I did get another ereader, what would I get? I didn’t want another Kindle. Amazon has gotten too big and even nastier as a company. It’s kind of like the Walmart of the internet and I refuse to shop at Walmart which means I could not in good conscious buy anything from Amazon. I wouldn’t want a Nook. I don’t have anything against Barnes and Noble, but they are having such business problems with the Nook that with my luck I’d get one and next year they would no longer sell or support them.
I wasn’t going to get a new ereader then. I would just have to figure out how to manage my reading glasses on the bus and metro train and get used to carrying a book in my bag. I wasn’t happy about the prospect, but I was going to make it work.
Then Bookman told me I was being daft. You use the ereader five days a week and for those five days you spend more time reading on it than you do in paper books. You don’t want to mess around with reading glasses, especially in the winter. I’m going to get you a new Kindle. No! I said, not a Kindle. A Nook then? he asked. No not a Nook either. What then? I don’t know, I said. Well, you think about it, he said.
I thought about it. He was right that I do use the ereader a lot and I was dreading trying to juggle book and glasses and mittens and lenses fogging up or getting scratched and all that. I was still reluctant though. Bookman insisted again and told me if I didn’t decide he would just get me a Kindle. No Kindle. Amazon bad. Plus, I am clearly a Kindle killer. I’ve already killed two this year and did not want to make it a trifecta.
The only other alternative to Kindle and Nook is Kobo. I looked at the Kobo website. Maybe a Kobo Touch? Bookman ordered one before I had time to make up reasons why I shouldn’t have one. Kobo is in Canada. It took two weeks for it to get here. It arrived Friday. It’s so tiny. I need to find a cover for it to protect it in my bag. Since I won’t start carrying it until I am finished with Being Wrong on the Kindle, I have time to find a cover.
Yesterday I did all the setup stuff with it and added a couple of public domain books. I played around with it to figure out how to highlight and turn pages and get the various menus and how to make the font bigger so I can read without my glasses. The touch screen is nice, though in comparison with my iPad its responsiveness is frustratingly slow especially when trying to highlight something. But it is e-ink and at least I can highlight things!
I think Kobo and I will get along just fine. I’ll be finishing up the book on Kindle and it can join its Kindle 2 friend in Digital Device Heaven. Then Kobo and I can begin what I hope will be a long and beautiful friendship.
It would not have surprised me if this had won this year’s Man Booker Prize. My heart was supporting Richard Flanagan’s magnificent The Narrow Road To The Deep North but I had a feeling this was going to get the nod. In the end it didn’t win but it would have been a deserving winner […]