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1. Seconds

I don’t remember where I heard about Bryan O’Malley’s newest graphic novel Seconds, but I immediately put myself on the library hold queue for it. You may recognize O’Malley as the creator of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series or maybe you might just know that the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is based on one of those novels (I learned from the movie that I should have vegan superpowers but I must be doing something wrong because I’m still waiting for them). I’ve not read the graphic novel series, have you? And if so, should I?

But back to Seconds. It is about Katie, a successful chef who runs a hip restaurant called Seconds. She is in the midst of trying to strike out on her own with a brand new restaurant but the building is in such bad shape renovations are taking forever and costing a lot of money. Katie lives in a tiny room above Seconds in order to save money. One evening, there is an accident in the kitchen and a young waitress whom Katie has been trying to make friends with is badly burned. In her room, Katie is presented with a chance to change things. A notebook appears in which she it to write what she wants to change and then eat the little mushroom that was left beside it.

Now I know what you are probably thinking about that mushroom! I thought it too. But it isn’t that sort of mushroom. What it does is erase the accident. It never happened. Katie is happy and relieved and wishes she had more mushrooms because there is so much she would change if she could. And then she discovers the mushrooms are growing beneath the floorboard of a not frequently used storage closet behind the kitchen. She helps herself to quite a few of them, a dozen. And every time something happens that she doesn’t like, she can change it. Her new restaurant, her old boyfriend, friends, she changes them all sometimes more than once. She begins to get confused about what has and hasn’t happened.

She learns from Hazel, the waitress and now her friend who burned her arms that began this whole thing, that Seconds has a house spirit. The house spirit’s name is Lis and she makes an appearance in Katie’s room demanding she give back all those mushrooms, Lis’s mushrooms. But Katie refuses. Things get bad. Really bad.

The story is good, well told. The art is good too. They combine to make an enjoyable reading experience. I liked that Katie is a successful woman and this is her story. She is not drawn as tall and gorgeous, impossibly skinny and extremely well endowed. Nope, Katie is normal. Kind of short even with sort of crazy hair. I also enjoyed mulling over all the ways “seconds” can be applied in the story. From food so good you want seconds to second chances to how a life can change in seconds.

I don’t read graphic novels very often, not because I don’t enjoy them. I think I am just very picky about them. They have to meet some kind of worthiness test that I can’t even begin to articulate. But Seconds passed the test. I’m glad it did because it’s a good read.


Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Reviews Tagged: Bryan O'Malley

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2. Welcoming We Give Books to the First Book Family

We can’t keep it a secret any longer!

iStock_000024504532LargeAs of today, We Give Books has a new home at First Book. The online platform, which features nearly 300 digitally-optimized children’s books, enables anyone with access to the Internet to put books in WGB-FB-logothe hands of kids in need, simply by reading online.

This generous gift to First Book comes from The Pearson Foundation along with $1.3M in cash to support We Give Books and help First Book deliver new online programs and services to our growing network of 140,000 classrooms and community organizations serving children in need.

You can get involved too!

Children, parents, caretakers and educators can visit www.wegivebooks.org and select books to read together. Reading on the site also triggers donations of new books to programs and classrooms serving children in need. Launched just four years ago, We Give Books has helped deliver more than 3.25 million books to children around the world.

We could not be more thankful to the Pearson Foundation or more thrilled for We Give Books to join the First Book family, helping us provide even more critical reading opportunities to young people across the United States and around the world.

Learn more about We Give Books joining First Book here. Then check out We Give Books and start reading today.

The post Welcoming We Give Books to the First Book Family appeared first on First Book Blog.

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3. Place of the Year 2014: behind the longlist

Voting for the 2014 Atlas Place of the Year is now underway. However, you still be curious about the nominees. What makes them so special? Each year, we put the spotlight on the top locations in the world that make us go, “wow”. For good or for bad, this year’s longlist is quite the round-up.

Just hover over the place-markers on the map to learn a bit more about this year’s nominations.

Make sure to vote for your Place of the Year below. If you have another Place of the Year that you would like to nominate, we’d love to know about it in the comments section. Follow along with #POTY2014 until our announcement on 1 December.What do you think Place of the Year 2014 should be?


Image Credits: Ferguson: “Cops Kill Kids”. Photo by Shawn Semmler. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr. Liberia: Ebola Virus Particles. Photo by NIAID. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr. Ukraine: Euromaiden in Kiev 2014-02-19 10-22. Photo by Amakuha. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Colorado: Grow House 105. Photo by Coleen Whitfield. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr. Nauru: In front of the Menen. Photo by Sean Kelleher. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr. Sochi: Olympic Park Flags (2). Photo by american_rugbler. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr. Mount Sinjar: Sinjar Karst. Photo by Cpl. Dean Davis. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons. Gaza: The home of the Kware family after it was bombed by the military. Photo by B’Tselem. CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Scotland: Vandalised no thanks sign. Photo by kay roxby. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr. Brazil: World Cup stuff, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (15). Photo by Jorge in Brazil. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

Heading image: Old Globe by Petar Milošević. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The post Place of the Year 2014: behind the longlist appeared first on OUPblog.

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4. Dante’s Inferno and the Non-Fiction Writer: by Terry Jennings

I am pleased to bring you a post from a writer friend TERRY JENNINGS, whose specialty is CHILDREN’S NON FICTION.  here’s Terry:

If Dante had been a non-fiction writer, in the Divine Comedy he would have put a circle in hell for writers whose overriding vice is Pride of Research. I never read the Divine Comedy but I did read Dan Brown’s Inferno and I know Dante liked those little circles where you would burn for eternity to expiate your sins. So if at any time there is a writer’s confessional, I would have to own up to that vicious sin—researching so much and having such pride in my cool factoids and data that sometimes I forget that the research should play a supporting role, not be all consuming like the fires of hell. And the part that makes this whole thing vicious is that along with pride can come a bit of arrogance and infallibility. I’ve done all this research and I know all there is to know, right? Recently, during the editing of my fact-based picture book, Sounds of the Savana (Arbordale, 2015), fate (or my sweet editor, whichever you choose) knocked me off my high horse.

Normally, my problem is not to include every tidbit and morsel in a manuscript. That is a sin I have worked hard to overcome. I figure I have slaved to get those lovely little gems and I have to put them somewhere. They have to be of use. I try dropping them into cocktail conversation. For instance, “Did you know that vervet monkeys have different kinds of vocalizations for different predators?” Or “Did you know spiny mice slough off their skin if a predator catches them? All that nasty owl will get is a piece of skin—and the mouse’s skin regrows by the next day. Imagine that!” I eat up that kind of stuff, but it makes people around me fall asleep.

Since I can’t use them socially, I want to include all my new knowledge in my manuscript. After many rejections, however, I have learned to listen to the wise and include only what works organically in the story, what drives the story forward. I have had to, sadly, leave a lot of wonderful information behind, condemning it to that nether world of unused facts. At first it was hard, but working with Arbordale has eased the pain. They have back matter in each book. A place where I can display many of my beloved nuggets. And if there’s not enough room in the back matter, they have a website with lots more information and activities. And when I remembered my own website could be a third bucket into which I could drop the remaining morsels, I danced a jig.

Now that I have the perfect place for all my darlings, the stories flow more easily. They can be even more engaging. I don’t have to explain that sound waves are deflected by temperature differences in Sounds. All I have to do is have a lioness roar on one side of the lake and the wildebeest hear her as if she were right next to them. Then . . . in the back matter or the website, I can put all sorts of amazing stuff about how the layer of cool temperature over a warm lake can deflect the sound wave so that it travels farther than when the temperature is uniform. I can let them know that in a 60 mile circle around Mount St. Helens, no one heard the eruption. They saw it like a silent movie—all because of the temperature difference between the roiling volcano and the layer of cool 8:32-in-the-morning atmosphere above it.

Pride of Research can also lead to avoidance.  There is many a time when I’m almost ready to let the book go but I talk myself into just a bit more research so I don’t have to let my baby out into the world so everyone will say it’s ugly. Or the writing’s going bad and I dive headlong into a new strand of investigation so I don’t have to face my shortcomings.
With Pride of Research also comes a certain arrogance. Admit it. I know you’re out there. Just like me. We check and triple check every fact and have three page bibliographies for an 800 word piece. It doesn’t have to be overt self-importance. It can just be that cozy warm feeling that we’ve done your job well. We always try to do our job well. Carolyn Yoder (editor at Calkins Creek, an imprint for historical children’s books) would be proud.

IMG_7974

That, however, is exactly how my pride of research came tumbling down around me.
“So, the illustrator wants to know what kind of owl would eat a spiny mouse?”
My sweet editor at Arbordale sent shivers of shame down my spine. In Sounds of the Savanna, “sound” shows up through predator and prey interactions. Since predators silently sneak, swoop, snatch, and stalk and prey squeak, squeal, heeaw, kerchew—actually make sound—when caught or almost caught, I foolishly concentrated on the prey. Every stalked critter, big and small was thoroughly researched. Its demeanor, its diet, its vocalizations, how it takes care of its offspring and of course, which animals preyed on it were minutely scrutinized. And it goes without saying I already knew they lived on the Savanna because that was my first criterion for choosing the species. But the predators? I had given them nary a thought. The research on the spiny mouse said owls eat them and that was good enough for me. Without much thought I could write that the owl swoops on silent wings with deadly talons—beautiful, although generic, tags—and that was sufficient. Was it arrogance or just plain forgetfulness? I know better. When I wrote my book about the recovery after Mount St. Helens’ eruption, I had tons of lists of the trees and animals that lived on the mountain and approximately when the species returned. I can’t believe I didn’t check on the spiny mouse’s predator. Turns out the Verreaux or Milky Eagle Owl loves spiny mice. And it didn’t take me too long to find it. Phew!

If that had been all, I might have come out with my dignity bruised, but still extant. But not long after the owl came the question about the vervet monkeys and their predator. Vervet monkeys have a vocalization for snakes. What snakes? All I could find was boas. My idea of a boa is huge. Vervet monkeys, not so big. I suggested they avoid the conundrum altogether by having the snake hidden in the grass. But by now I was absolutely distraught. Really? Two unidentified predator species? How could I? I checked to make sure there were no more hanging in the breeze and it turns out there weren’t. The other predators were well known dudes like leopards and lions, animals an illustrator can draw without getting down to differentiating between species.

I have been chastened, however. I promise to never let my pride of research make me blind to the shortcomings of my manuscript ever again. I will continue to do my job well, even better than I have because as non-fiction or fact-based fiction writers for children we are passing that information on to kids, and perhaps some day some one will take our book and use it as fodder to his or her pride of research.

Bio:

Terry Jennings began writing in 1999. Her first piece “Moving Over to the Passenger’s Side,” about teaching her fifteen-year-old to drive was published by The Washington Post. She has written a few other articles for them and Long Island News Day, as well as Ranger Rick, and a family humor column in my local newspaper, The Reston Connection.

She also writes educational text for the Smithsonian Science Education Center and other educational outlets. Gopher to the Rescue! A Volcano Recovery Story (Sylvan Dell, 2012) was named Outstanding Science Trade Book by the National Science Teachers’ Association and the Children’s Book Council. Her other book, The Women’s Liberation Movement: 1960-1990 (Mason Crest, 2013) was named to the Amelia Bloomer Project’s recommended feminist literature for women birth to 18. Sounds of the Savanna, a book about sound as told through predator/prey interactions in the African savanna is on its way with Arbordale Publishers. It’s due out fall of 2015. Terry is currently working on a historical novel about the Cuban Revolution (1959-1961) loosely based on my childhood along with a couple of other picture books–one on Magnetism and one on Erosion.   IMG_0003

Contact her at:

website: Terrycjennings.com
science blog for kids: kcswildfacts.com


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5. Traveling Bennies

One of the small pleasures I treat myself to is visiting the book stores of every town I visit in my travels if possible.  I figure I’m ‘working’, right?   I was able to visit two on the Outer Banks NC last weekend while visiting and saying goodbye to summer.

One is the sweetest tiny bookstore in Buxton NC…lower part of Outer Banks, very near the Hatteras Light House Point we love so much… good fishing normally and the best beaches! (skunked this year….)  Buxton book store2 (2)

and the second I revisited was the Corolla Light Bookstore in the northern part of the Outer Banks.  (Do visit the Sanderling Resort and Spa if ever near there!)

Corolla Light Book Store

They are so adorably old fashioned..and yet very modern and up to date too.  Just a pleasure all around and remind me how LUCKY I am to love reading as I do and have children’s books be my livelihood !  Work, Work, Work, …..


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6. Read-a-thon Wrap Up and Stuff

I was tricked! Bookman and I were in bed reading last night and he began getting drowsy, decided he’d had enough. He keeps the time on the clock covered up because sometimes during the night he has insomnia issues and staring at the clock only makes it worse. When Bookman called it quits I wasn’t really tired but I figured it must be getting late, or late for us at any rate. So he turned off his light and snuggled under the blankets and closed his eyes. I kept going. When I reached the end of the chapter I still wasn’t that tired, but Bookman looked so comfortable snuggled in that I thought is would be nice to be done. So I turned off my light and burrowed into the blankets. I asked Bookman what time it was, he tried to avoid answering me, but I insisted. I thought surely it’s 9:30, or 9:45, but Bookman says sheepishly, 9:15. What!?! I could still be reading, I thought it was later. Well, it’s too late now, he said, you’re snuggled under the blankets, you can’t get back up and read more. You didn’t have to turn off your light. But — I started to protest. But he was right, I didn’t have to turn off my light. I guess I was done.

So, in the end I read a total of 277 pages. Bookman read about 100 Kindle pages. We are going to round it up and make a $40 donation to FirstBook. It was a fun day. I finally read Medea, and in one sitting too which is ideal for plays. And I am almost done with the Tim Parks book, Teach Us To Sit Still. Bookman read, I forget the title but it is Terry Goodkind, the second book in the Legend of the Seeker series.

Net year I will make more of an effort to start on time and to not let Bookman’s cute snuggled up self lure me into turning off the light! Having a short book and a longer book to read worked out really well. I will have to remember that for next time. The food and drink set up was perfect. As was the break for exercise and the occasional breaks for laundry.

And thanks to the cheerleaders who dropped by. Very much appreciated. We’ll see what I am doing when the spring read-a-thin roles around, perhaps at that one I will volunteer as a cheerleader.

I’ve got a bunch of finished books to write about in the coming days. You all can look forward to posts about Medea, Famous Ghost Stories, a graphic novel called Seconds and What Makes This Book So Great.

It is a gorgeous fall day outside and I am going to head out into it. I’m going to try watering my blueberries with diluted vinegar. It just might work. It is also time to clean up and bring in my ceramic froggy birdbath and fountain. There are other garden things to do too. It will be nice to be up and moving around after so much sitting yesterday. Away I go!


Filed under: Books, Read-a-thon

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7. Sunday morning

I’m up early, hanging with the three youngest. Huck’s tummy is a bit off today. He climbed into bed with us before dawn and slept snuggled against me in a way that hardly ever happens anymore; he’s getting so big and busy. He was restless, and after a while I reached for my phone and read mail with his arm flung half across my face. It’s not that I ever want my kids to be sick—honestly, I’ve dealt with enough childhood illness for three lifetimes—but there’s something very sweet in the moment, when you’re cuddled up with a heavy-limbed child who just wants to curl into you as close as possible. My baby will be six in a few months (the mind boggles) and these moments don’t happen very often anymore. I enjoyed this one, while it lasted. Then suddenly he clapped a hand over his mouth, ran to the bathroom, and threw up into the tub.

I’m just impressed that he made it that far.

He’s getting the Gatorade treatment now, watching cartoons. (A few sips of Gatorade every ten minutes for an hour, a trick gleaned from the Dr. Sears Baby Book* a million years ago.) I brought my laptop out to the couch to be near him and am trying not to listen to the squeakings of Curious George. At least it’s not Caillou.

*ETA: Scott has chimed in to say he thinks it was The Portable Pediatrician, not Dr. Sears. We gave ‘em both away ages ago, so I can’t check. I’m sure he’s right—he’s been the one handling the timing of this absolutely tried-and-true method for, yikes, almost 20 years now.

***

I’m still getting requests for those notes I promised to share from my habits talk way back in August (gulp). I’ve realized I’ll have to post them in notes fashion, for sure, because writing up the talk essay-style makes it all seem too formal, too authoritative. The idea of coming across as authoritative about parenting gives me the willies—it’s far too subjective and individual an endeavor for me to ever feel comfortable making pronouncements about the ‘right’ or ‘best’ way to do things. All I can do is say ‘here’s what’s worked great for us’—after the fact, you know, speaking from personal experience, same as I do with homeschooling. There’s a reason my whole Tidal Homeschooling thing is a description, not a method.

So maybe I can just take my habits-and-behavior talk notes and spit them out just like that, as notes, not, you know, entire sentences. Sentences are hard. They need verbs. I’m okay with past-tense verbs (did, tried, practiced, worked, laughed)—it’s the imperative ones that spook me, the kind with the implied “you.”

***

For my memories file: Several times over the past couple of weeks, after the boys were in bed, while Scott watched S.H.I.E.L.D. or a movie with Bean and Rose, Rilla and I sat on my bed with our art journals and listened to The BFG on audiobook. Colored pencils and markers all over the quilt. (Imprudent but comfy.) Natasha Richardson doing a bang-up job with the voices.

There you go, a bit of parenting advice I can pronounce in the imperative: Do that. It was delightful and you should totally try it. :)

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8. …which leads to books!

Remember how I said cleaning leads to writing? Yep, I’ve been busy. And I’m still busy, because I’m not exactly done. But I thought you’d be interested in an update and some recent releases, along with the coming attractions …

First, you can get these now:

LOVE PROOF is now out in audio! I love the narration Maria Hunter Welles did for it. And I didn’t announce it at the time (see above, been busy), but there are also audio editions of THE GOOD LIE, DOGGIRL, and REPLAY. I know. It’s a lot. Take your pick and listen away!

Also, I have a new short story collection out. It’s called A FEW STRANGE MATTERS, and it is. A little odd. But sometimes my mind needs a break from longer works like novels, and when I let my mind wander, it wanders. The collection has some contemporary, some science fiction, a little fantasy, some paranormal, and a couple of strange stories from the teen world. You might have read a few of them here and there, but I guarantee there are some you’ve never seen. Possibly because I wrote them under a pen name that none of you knew about. So take a look–I’ll be interested in hearing what you all think!

Now, for the coming attractions:

YES, PARALLELOGRAM 4 WILL BE OUT THIS FALL. That’s all I can say, because I have made the mistake before of giving you a pub date which turns out not to be true. But I promise you will feel satisfied and fulfilled when you read this final book in the series. I’m still working very hard to pull all the pieces together. Thank you for your questions (“When? WHEN??”) and your patience. I hate waiting, too. I get it. It’ll be along very soon.

And to make you even happier about all the time I’ve been hiding out, I’ll also have ANOTHER NEW BOOK for you by December, I believe. It’s fantasy, it’s epic, and it involves a girl warrior. Yessssss …

That’s my report for now. I have to go back to writing. I owe you all some books.

Happy Fall! ~Robin

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9. Linguistic necromancy: a guide for the uninitiated

It’s fairly common knowledge that languages, like people, have families. English, for instance, is a member of the Germanic family, with sister languages including Dutch, German, and the Scandinavian languages. Germanic, in turn, is a branch of a larger family, Indo-European, whose other members include the Romance languages (French, Italian, Spanish, and more), Russian, Greek, and Persian.

Being part of a family of course means that you share a common ancestor. For the Romance languages, that mother language is Latin; with the spread and then fall of the Roman empire, Latin split into a number of distinct daughter languages. But what did the Germanic mother language look like? Here there’s a problem, because, although we know that language must have existed, we don’t have any direct record of it.

The earliest Old English written texts date from the 7th century AD, and the earliest Germanic text of any length is a 4th-century translation of the Bible into Gothic, a now-extinct Germanic language. Though impressively old, this text still dates from long after the breakup of the Germanic mother language into its daughters.

How does one go about recovering the features of a language that is dead and gone, and which has left no records of itself in spoken or written form? This is the subject matter of linguistic necromancy – or linguistic reconstruction, as it is more conventionally known.

The enterprise, dubbed “darkest of the dark arts” and “the only means to conjure up the ghosts of vanished centuries” in the epigraph to a chapter of Campbell’s historical linguistics textbook, really got off the ground in the 1900s due to a development of a toolkit of techniques known as the comparative method.

Crucial to the comparative method was a revolutionary empirical finding: the regularity of sound change. Though it has wide-reaching implications, the basic finding is simple to grasp. In a nutshell: it’s sounds that change, not words, and when they change, all words which include those sounds are affected.

Detail of a page from the Codex Argenteus. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Detail of a page from the Codex Argenteus. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Let’s take an example. Lots of English words beginning with a p sound have a German counterpart that begins with pf. Here are some of them:

  • English path: German Pfad
  • English pepper: German Pfeffer
  • English pipe: German Pfeife
  • English pan: German Pfanne
  • English post: German Pfoste

If the forms of words simply changed at random, these systematic correspondences would be a miraculous coincidence. However, in the light of the regularity of sound change they make perfect sense. Specifically, at some point in the early history of German, the language sounded a lot more like (Old) English. But then the sound p underwent a change to pf at the beginning of words, and all words starting with p were affected.

There’s much more to be said about the regularity of sound change, since it underlies pretty much everything we know about language family groupings. (If you’re interested in finding out more, Guy Deutscher’s book The Unfolding of Language provides an accessible summary.) But for now let’s concentrate on its implications for necromantic purposes, which are immense.

If we want to invoke the words and sounds of a long-dead language like the mother language Proto-Germanic (the ‘proto-’ indicates that the language is reconstructed, rather than directly evidenced in texts), we just need to figure out what changes have happened to the sounds of the daughter languages, and to peel them back one by one like the layers of an onion. Eventually we’ll reach a point where all the daughter languages sound the same; and voilà, we’ve conjured up a proto-language.

There’s more to living languages than just sounds and words though. Living languages have syntax: a structure, a skeleton. By contrast, reconstructed protolanguages tend to look more like ghosts: hauntingly amorphous clouds of words and sounds. There are practical reasons why the reconstruction of proto-syntax has lagged behind. One is simply that our understanding of syntax, in general, has come a long way since the work of the reconstruction pioneers in the 19th century.

Another is that there is nothing quite like the regularity of syntactic change in syntax: how can we tell which syntactic structures correspond to each other across languages? These problems have led some to be sceptical about the possibility of syntactic reconstruction, or at any rate about its fruitfulness. Nevertheless, progress is being made. To take one example, English is a language that doesn’t like to leave out the subject of a sentence. We say “He speaks Swahili” or “It is raining”, not “Speaks Swahili” or “Is raining”. Though most of the modern Germanic languages behave the same, many other languages, like Italian and Japanese, have no such requirement; speakers can include or omit the subject of the sentence as the fancy takes them. Was Proto-Germanic like English, or like Italian or Japanese, in this respect? Doing a bit of necromancy based on the earliest Germanic written records suggests that Proto-Germanic was, like the latter, quite happy to omit the subject, at least under certain circumstances.Of course the issue is more complex than that – Italian and Japanese themselves differ with regard to the circumstances under which subjects can be omitted.

Slowly but surely, though, historical linguists are starting to add skeletons to the reanimated spectres of proto-languages.

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10. Efficient causation: Our debt to Aristotle and Hume

Causation is now commonly supposed to involve a succession that instantiates some lawlike regularity. This understanding of causality has a history that includes various interrelated conceptions of efficient causation that date from ancient Greek philosophy and that extend to discussions of causation in contemporary metaphysics and philosophy of science. Yet the fact that we now often speak only of causation, as opposed to efficient causation, serves to highlight the distance of our thought on this issue from its ancient origins. In particular, Aristotle (384-322 BCE) introduced four different kinds of “cause” (aitia): material, formal, efficient, and final. We can illustrate this distinction in terms of the generation of living organisms, which for Aristotle was a particularly important case of natural causation. In terms of Aristotle’s (outdated) account of the generation of higher animals, for instance, the matter of the menstrual flow of the mother serves as the material cause, the specially disposed matter from which the organism is formed, whereas the father (working through his semen) is the efficient cause that actually produces the effect. In contrast, the formal cause is the internal principle that drives the growth of the fetus, and the final cause is the healthy adult animal, the end point toward which the natural process of growth is directed.

Aristotle_by_Raphael
Aristotle, by Raphael Sanzio. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

From a contemporary perspective, it would seem that in this case only the contribution of the father (or perhaps his act of procreation) is a “true” cause. Somewhere along the road that leads from Aristotle to our own time, material, formal and final aitiai were lost, leaving behind only something like efficient aitiai to serve as the central element in our causal explanations. One reason for this transformation is that the historical journey from Aristotle to us passes by way of David Hume (1711-1776). For it is Hume who wrote: “[A]ll causes are of the same kind, and that in particular there is no foundation for that distinction, which we sometimes make betwixt efficient causes, and formal, and material … and final causes” (Treatise of Human Nature, I.iii.14). The one type of cause that remains in Hume serves to explain the producing of the effect, and thus is most similar to Aristotle’s efficient cause. And so, for the most part, it is today.

However, there is a further feature of Hume’s account of causation that has profoundly shaped our current conversation regarding causation. I have in mind his claim that the interrelated notions of cause, force and power are reducible to more basic non-causal notions. In Hume’s case, the causal notions (or our beliefs concerning such notions) are to be understood in terms of the constant conjunction of objects or events, on the one hand, and the mental expectation that an effect will follow from its cause, on the other. This specific account differs from more recent attempts to reduce causality to, for instance, regularity or counterfactual/probabilistic dependence. Hume himself arguably focused more on our beliefs concerning causation (thus the parenthetical above) than, as is more common today, directly on the metaphysical nature of causal relations. Nonetheless, these attempts remain “Humean” insofar as they are guided by the assumption that an analysis of causation must reduce it to non-causal terms. This is reflected, for instance, in the version of “Humean supervenience” in the work of the late David Lewis. According to Lewis’s own guarded statement of this view: “The world has its laws of nature, its chances and causal relationships; and yet — perhaps! — all there is to the world is its point-by-point distribution of local qualitative character” (On the Plurality of Worlds, 14).

David_Hume
Portrait of David Hume, by Allan Ramsey (1766). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Admittedly, Lewis’s particular version of Humean supervenience has some distinctively non-Humean elements. Specifically — and notoriously — Lewis has offered a counterfactural analysis of causation that invokes “modal realism,” that is, the thesis that the actual world is just one of a plurality of concrete possible worlds that are spatio-temporally discontinuous. One can imagine that Hume would have said of this thesis what he said of Malebranche’s occasionalist conclusion that God is the only true cause, namely: “We are got into fairy land, long ere we have reached the last steps of our theory; and there we have no reason to trust our common methods of argument, or to think that our usual analogies and probabilities have any authority” (Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, §VII.1). Yet the basic Humean thesis in Lewis remains, namely, that causal relations must be understood in terms of something more basic.

And it is at this point that Aristotle re-enters the contemporary conversation. For there has been a broadly Aristotelian move recently to re-introduce powers, along with capacities, dispositions, tendencies and propensities, at the ground level, as metaphysically basic features of the world. The new slogan is: “Out with Hume, in with Aristotle.” (I borrow the slogan from Troy Cross’s online review of Powers and Capacities in Philosophy: The New Aristotelianism.) Whereas for contemporary Humeans causal powers are to be understood in terms of regularities or non-causal dependencies, proponents of the new Aristotelian metaphysics of powers insist that regularities and dependencies must be understood rather in terms of causal powers.

Should we be Humean or Aristotelian with respect to the question of whether causal powers are basic or reducible features of the world? Obviously I cannot offer any decisive answer to this question here. But the very fact that the question remains relevant indicates the extent of our historical and philosophical debt to Aristotle and Hume.

Headline image: Face to face. Photo by Eugenio. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Flickr

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11. Almost missed this! Ivy and Bean

It's still October 18th!  So we can still celebrate those friends-to-the-end, Ivy and Bean.
Check out all the fun here.

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12. Zac’s Destiny entered for an award!

Zac’s Destiny, my Sword & Sorcery fantasy, has been entered into an award for Kindle books! I would be eternally grateful if any of you could offer your votes? Thanks so much if you can.

No need to sign in or give any details. Just click on the number of stars you think my book deserves to vote!

Click here to vote.

Cover with quote

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13. Some of the language is a little old fashioned, but I still want to read them all!

I'm beginning to wonder if my perfect job isn't the job for me. Don’t get me wrong I love every minute of it, but it hardly pays the bills. It’s my own fault. I spend more time reading than cataloguing but how can I resist when so many beautiful books pass through my hands.  I somehow have to limit the number I read, after all I am supposed to be listing them for sale, not keeping them for my own pleasure.



In How to Read a Novel (Profile Books, 2006), John Sutherland, suggests one trick for intelligent book browsing: turn to page 69 and read it. If you like what you read there, read the whole book. Sutherland in fact credits Marshall McLuhan, guru-author of Guttenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographical Man (University of Toronto Press, 1962) as the originator of this test.


With that in mind, I've picked eight random paragraphs from page 69 of eight books recently catalogued. I've no idea what to expect, but here goes; 

Compton Mackenzie The stairs that kept going down; Have you ever had a nightmare when you were being chased through a dark passage by something or somebody, and when your knees kept getting more and more jellified? If you have you will know what William and Winifred were feeling like when they made their way back along the dark bricked passage, trying to run on tip toes and trying not even to breathe too loudly. And this was not a nightmare from which they would wake up, frightened of course, but still in the safety of their own beds. This was real, horribly, hopelessly, hauntingly real.


Capt. W. E. Johns  Biggles in the cruise of the Condor; They strolled a few yards farther on, and suddenly Biggles paused in his stride and nudged Smyth in the ribs. Just beyond the jail was an open yard filled with wooden cases and several piles of dried palm fronds, which were evidently used as packing for the stacks of adobe bricks that stood at the far end of the yard. Biggles eyed it reflectively, and then, followed by Smythe, crossed over to it. A flimsy fence with a gate, which they quickly ascertained was locked, separated the yard from the road. He turned as a car pulled up a short distance away and a man alighted, lit a cigarette, and then disappeared into a private house. Biggles strolled idly towards the car, his eyes running over it swiftly. It was a Ford, and he noted the spare tin of petrol fastened to the running-board. 

They stared up into the trees, amazed to see green leaves waving above them. Then they turned their heads and saw one another. In a flash they remembered everything. “Couldn’t think where I was,” said Jack, and sat up. “Oh, Kiki, it’s you on my middle, is it? Do get off. Here, have some sunflower seeds and keep quiet, or you’ll wake the girls.” He put his hand in his pocket and took out some of the flat seeds that Kiki loved. She flew up to the bough above, cracking two in her beak. The boys began to talk quietly, so as not to disturb the girls, who were still sleeping peacefully.








Patricia Leitch Highland Pony Trek; “To be quite frank with you,” the Colonel said, “I’d rather see my land barred to everyone. It’s high time this maniac was caught and brought to justice. Been going on for a year now. A sheep here and a sheep there. All the time suspicion growing, innocent men being accused and ill feeling all round.”













Pat Smythe The Three Jays on holiday: From Avignon to the University town of Aix en Provence, the children gamely fought a losing battle against going to sleep. Darcy covered the last lap of the journey in record time, as he wanted to see a flying friend of his who lived in Aix and perhaps get him to have dinner with them. Jane, was encouraging his use of a few French words, in fact the four of them had a competition as to who could make the most French sounding sentence. 










Angela Brazil Three terms at Uplands: Time wore away, and at last came the eventful day when the two male members of the family started for the north. Claire, having waved a farewell to their taxi from the gate, returned to the house feeling decidedly flat. There seemed nothing particular to do. Her own packing was finished. She wandered about during the morning, and after dinner she decided to go and say good-bye to Honor Marshall, a girl who lived in a road near. She found her friend seated in a summer-house in the garden, and began to expatiate upon her own prospects at Uplands. 

Susan Price Ghost dance; The wind had dropped and it was a silent land she skimmed over, but with her shaman’s training she heard every sound there was: the hiss of her skies on the snow, the whining of the wind in the trees and the sharp knock of one branch against another, the sudden scream of a fox. She moved always towards the south, which she knew from the stars. Once, when the stars were covered, she asked the way of a blue fox, calling out, “Elder sister – which way to the city, the Czar’s city in the South?”

Frances Cowen The secret of Grange Farm; Now for the quarry. She stood in the road taking her bearings. It lay, she remembered, due east from the farm but only about ten minutes’ walk through the fields. In fact the quarry was on their land, and, in the old forgotten days, when Napoleon had threatened our shores, the owners of the farm had made quite an income out of it. Nicky had taken her there and helped her down to the old workings, chipped off part of the chalk, and shown her the fossils embedded in it.  She decided to by-pass the farm, and to cross the fields, and so down to the cup-like valley which formed the quarry. Presently she found it so dark that she had to use her torch to find the little track she only just remembered, but, even as she did so, a faint flow showed in the sky as the moon rose slowly beyond scudding clouds.

So there you have it, some of the language is a little old fashioned, but I still want to read them all! How about you, if you’re not convinced, why not try a similar experiment, I would love to hear how you get on…


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Just before I go – do you remember the Lottie Holiday Adventure StoryWriting Competition as featured on my blog in August?  Four-year-old  Evie from Perth, Western Australia wrote a quirky and adventurous tale about the discovery of a T-Rex dinosaur bone. The story was selected ahead of other entrants from countries including the USA, UK, Australia and UAE, and wins Evie a selection of ten books from the Lottie Pinterest folder ‘Great Books for Girls’ (that boys can read too!), in addition to exclusive new Lottie products before they hit the shelves.  Well done Evie!




One last thing, while I was looking around the Internet for clues about how others decide on their next read I came across this little pearl of wisdom written by Nancy Pearl (sorry I couldn’t resist the pun!) – “One of my strongest beliefs is that no one should ever finish a book they’re not enjoying. Reading should be a joy. So, you can all apply my Rule of Fifty to your reading list. Give a book fifty pages if you’re under fifty years old. If you don’t like it, give it away, return it, whatever and then read something else. If you’re over fifty, subtract your age from 100 and that’s how many pages you should read …"
You know what that means, right? When you turn one hundred, you can judge a book by its cover.


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14. Is American higher education in crisis?

American higher education is at a crossroads. The cost of a college education has made people question the benefits of receiving one. To better understand the issues surrounding the supposed crisis, we asked Goldie Blumenstyk, author of American Higher Education in Crisis: What Everyone Needs to Know, to comment on some of the most hot button topics today.

A discussion on the rising cost of higher education.

What does the future of higher education look like?

Are the salaries of university presidents and coaches too high?

A look into the accountability movement in higher education today.

Featured image credit: Grads with diplomas by Saint Louis University Plus Memorial Library. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

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15. Dewey’s Read-a-Thon!

It’s read-a-thon day! It’s been a long time since I’ve participated and I am very excited. Bookman wanted to play too but he has to work today. Nonetheless, he’ll be reading when he’s home. We have decided to donate .10 cents for every page we read to FirstBook. We are not late night people so I don’t expect we will be making it to the wee hours, but we will keep going as long as we can and read as many pages as we can.

I have no plans on what I will read other than Euripides’ play Medea. The rest, well, we’ll just see where it goes. The weather is forecast for a partly sunny crisp fall day, perfect reading weather. There are cats for my lap, coffee and pumpkin muffins. It’s going to be a good day!

My plan is to make regular updates at the bottom of this post for the first part of the day and then I’ll start a new post for the second part of the day. That will hopefully keep feed readers and email boxes from being spammed every time I post an update. My start time is 7 a.m. so here we go…


Filed under: Books

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16. Illuminating the drama of DNA: creating a stage for inquiry

Many bioethical challenges surround the promise of genomic technology and the power of genomic information — providing a rich context for critically exploring underlying bioethical traditions and foundations, as well as the practice of multidisciplinary advisory committees and collaborations. Controversial issues abound that call into question the core values and assumptions inherent in bioethics analysis and thus necessitates interprofessional inquiry. Consequently, the teaching of genomics and contemporary bioethics provides an opportunity to re-examine our disciplines’ underpinnings by casting light on the implications of genomics with novel approaches to address thorny issues — such as determining whether, what, to whom, when, and how genomic information, including “incidental” findings, should be discovered and disclosed to individuals and their families, and whose voice matters in making these determinations particularly when children are involved.

One creative approach we developed is narrative genomics using drama with provocative characters and dialogue as an interdisciplinary pedagogical approach to bring to life the diverse voices, varied contexts, and complex processes that encompass the nascent field of genomics as it evolves from research to clinical practice. This creative educational technique focuses on inherent challenges currently posed by the comprehensive interrogation and analysis of DNA through sequencing the human genome with next generation technologies and illuminates bioethical issues, providing a stage to reflect on the controversies together, and temper the sometimes contentious debates that ensue.

As a bioethics teaching method, narrative genomics highlights the breadth of individuals affected by next-gen technologies — the conversations among professionals and families — bringing to life the spectrum of emotions and challenges that envelope genomics. Recent controversies over genomic sequencing in children and consent issues have brought fundamental ethical theses to the stage to be re-examined, further fueling our belief in drama as an interdisciplinary pedagogical approach to explore how society evaluates, processes, and shares genomic information that may implicate future generations. With a mutual interest in enhancing dialogue and understanding about the multi-faceted implications raised by generating and sharing vast amounts of genomic information, and with diverse backgrounds in bioethics, policy, psychology, genetics, law, health humanities, and neuroscience, we have been collaboratively weaving dramatic narratives to enhance the bioethics educational experience within varied professional contexts and a wide range of academic levels to foster interprofessionalism.

1024px-A-DNA,_B-DNA_and_Z-DNA
From left to right, the structures of A-, B-, and Z-DNA by Zephyris (Richard Wheeler). CC-BY-SA-3.0 from Wikimedia Commons.

Dramatizations of fictionalized individual, familial, and professional relationships that surround the ethical landscape of genomics create the potential to stimulate bioethical reflection and new perceptions amongst “actors” and the audience, sparking the moral imagination through the lens of others. By casting light on all “the storytellers” and the complexity of implications inherent with this powerful technology, dramatic narratives create vivid scenarios through which to imagine the challenges faced on the genomic path ahead, critique the application of bioethical traditions in context, and re-imagine alternative paradigms.

Building upon the legacy of using case vignettes as a clinical teaching modality, and inspired by “readers’ theater”, “narrative medicine,” and “narrative ethics” as approaches that helped us expand the analyses to implications of genomic technologies, our experience suggests similar value for bioethics education within the translational research and public policy domain. While drama has often been utilized in academic and medical settings to facilitate empathy and spotlight ethical and legal controversies such as end-of-life issues and health law, to date there appears to be few dramatizations focusing on next-generation sequencing (NGS) in genomic research and medicine.

We initially collaborated on the creation of a short vignette play in the context of genomic research and the informed consent process that was performed at the NHGRI-ELSI Congress by a geneticist, genetic counselor, bioethicists, and other conference attendees. The response by “actors” and audience fueled us to write many more plays of varying lengths on different ethical and genomic issues, as well as to explore the dialogues of existing theater with genetic and genomic themes — all to be presented and reflected upon by interdisciplinary professionals in the bioethics and genomics community at professional society meetings and academic medical institutions nationally and internationally.

Because narrative genomics is a pedagogical approach intended to facilitate discourse, as well as provide reflection on the interrelatedness of the cross-disciplinary issues posed, we ground our genomic plays in current scholarship and ensure that it is accurate scientifically as well as provide extensive references and pose focused bioethics questions which can complement and enhance the classroom experience.

In a similar vein, bioethical controversies can also be brought to life with this approach where bioethics reaching incorporates dramatizations and excerpts from existing theatrical narratives, whether to highlight bioethics issues thematically, or to illuminate the historical path to the genomics revolution and other medical innovations from an ethical perspective.

Varying iterations of these dramatic narratives have been experienced (read, enacted, witnessed) by bioethicists, policy makers, geneticists, genetic counselors, other healthcare professionals, basic scientists, bioethicists, lawyers, patient advocates, and students to enhance insight and facilitate interdisciplinary and interprofessional dialogue.

Dramatizations embedded in genomic narratives illuminate the human dimensions and complexity of interactions among family members, medical professionals, and others in the scientific community. By facilitating discourse and raising more questions than answers on difficult issues, narrative genomics links the promise and concerns of next-gen technologies with a creative bioethics pedagogical approach for learning from one another.

Heading image: Andrzej Joachimiak and colleagues at Argonne’s Midwest Center for Structural Genomics deposited the consortium’s 1,000th protein structure into the Protein Data Bank. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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17. Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

When Raina was little, she begged her parents for a sister. She thought a sister would be the best thing the world.

And then she got one.

Fast forward a decade, when Raina, her siblings, and her mother take a road trip from San Francisco to Colorado for a family reunion. Headphones help Raina tune out her family's bickering and blathering. But when she blocks out the world, Raina runs the risk of missing important things happening around her. Road trips can bring out both the best and worst in people. Things along the way remind Raina of previous events, and the flashbacks add to the story, rather than distract from it, as they are woven in at just the right time for just the right duration, true flashes. Were this a TV movie or an episode of a family dramedy series, one would compliment the tight script, the comedic timing, and the heartwarming moments and memories shared. The fact that this book was inspired by Raina's real life makes it even sweeter and more poignant.

Sisters is a follow-up to Raina's fantastic graphic novel Smile, which chronicled her sixth-grade dental drama. The two books can be read independently, if you'd like - and if you like one, you'll certainly like the other. Such is the case with all of Raina's graphic novels, which showcase her knack for telling stories readers can truly relate to as well as her signature style. Fans of For Better or Worse will definitely like her character's expressive faces and her realistic storylines.

Sisters is written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier, with lettering by John Green and color by Braden Lamb.

Related posts at Bildungsroman
Interview: Raina Telgemeier
Review: The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels
Review: Drama by Raina Telgemeier
What Makes You Smile?

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18. Photos from my SCBWI talk on middle-grade and chapter books

Photo by Roxyanne Young, used with permission

The talented Roxyanne Young took these photos of my talk on Middle-Grade and Chapter Books at SCBWI-San Diego last weekend and kindly gave me permission to use them. My school visit/speaker page needs a massive updating and I’m so grateful to have some recent images to include.

Apparently I talk with my hands a lot? What’s funniest to me is that this Boston Bay slide was onscreen for barely a minute. That’s an awful lot of glasses-waving going on there.

Photo by Roxyanne Young, used with permission

Photo by Roxyanne Young, used with permission

Photo by Roxyanne Young, used with permission

Photo by Roxyanne Young, used with permission

The rest of my slides were all about other people’s books—my favorite things to talk about, as you know. Here’s a taste:

Melissa Wiley SCBWI presentation slide 09 Melissa Wiley SCBWI presentation slide 10

Melissa Wiley SCBWI presentation slide 12

Melissa Wiley SCBWI presentation slide 15

(Just a sampling from the Chapter Books part of the talk.)

 

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19. Recently Received

Type Plus by Unit Editions

This week’s book picks include entries from Unit Editions, Princeton Architectural Press and Ridinghouse. See all the books and images after the jump.

 

Type Plus by Unit Editions

 

Type Plus
Edited by Adrian Shaughnessy and Tony Brook / Published by Unit Editions
320 Pages / Paperback

Type Plus investigates the practice of combining typography with images to increase effectiveness, potency and visual impact. Today, graphic designers use type in partnership with graphic elements in ways that turbo charge meaning and impact.

By focusing on a host of contemporary practitioners from around the world, Type Plus creates a picture of a new dynamism in typographic expression. The era of type as a passive, semi-invisible holder of meaning is long gone.Book includes interviews with Non-Format, TwoPoints.Net and Erik Brandt.
Available at Unit Editions

 

 

Abbott Miller Design and Content

Abbott Miller Design and Content

Abbott Miller: Design and Content
By Abbott Miller, Rick Poynor and Ellen Lupton / Published by Princeton Architectural Press
272 Pages / 8.6″x10.9″

Abbott Miller: Design and Content is the first monograph on the award-winning graphic designer known for his innovative work at Pentagram, where as a partner he leads a team designing books, magazines, catalogs, identities, exhibitions, and editorial projects, creating work that is often concerned with the cultural role of design and the public life of the written word. Collaborating with performers, curators, artists, photographers, writers, publishers, corporations, and institutions, Miller has created a unique practice that alternates between the printed page and the physical space of exhibitions. In his work as an editor and writer he pioneered the concept of designer-as-author, both roles he assumes for this beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated edition. Miller presents his work as a catalog of design strategies, emerging from the unique circumstances of form and content. Four categories: Books, Exhibitions, Magazines, and Identity provide insight into Miller’s influences and working process while showcasing his best designs.

Available at Amazon, PA Press and your local book shop.

 

Infographic Designers' Sketchbooks

Infographic Designers' Sketchbooks

Infographic Designers' Sketchbooks

Infographic Designers’ Sketchbooks
By Steven Heller and Rick Landers / Published by Princeton Architectural Press
351 Pages / 9.3″x12.1″

Infographic Designers Sketchbooks, more than fifty of the world s leading graphic designers and illustrators open up their private sketchbooks to offer a rare glimpse of their creative processes. Emphasizing idea-generating methods, from doodles and drawings to three-dimensional and digital mock-ups, this revelatory collection is the first to go inside designers studios to reveal the art and craft behind infographic design.

Available at Amazon, PA Press and your local book shop.

 

Abstract Vaudeville

Abstract Vaudeville

 

Abstract Vaudeville: The Work of Rose English
By Guy Brett / Designed by Sarah Schrauwen / Published by Ridinghouse
432 Pages

This comprehensive monograph documents Rose English’s 40-year career to date, including legendary ephemeral, site-specific performances and large-scale spectaculars.

Accompanying many rare archival photographs and performance scripts, a major essay by Guy Brett surveys the artist’s work and life alongside a collection of interviews with some of English’s collaborators.

Available at Cornerhouse and your local book shop.

 

Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we use personally and believe will add value to our readers.

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Also worth viewing…
2013 Book Gift Guide
Recently Received Books: Sept
Recently Received Books: May

Follow us on RSSInstagramPinterestWanelo,

——————–

 

Thanks to this week's Sponsor // RetroSupply Co.: A library of vintage inspired design resources for Photoshop and Illustrator.






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20. The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

Hilary Mantel’s newest book, a collection of short stories titled The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, has been getting quite a bit of press. It seems many people have decided to take offense at the titular story in which an IRA assassin tricks a woman into letting him into her apartment which has a perfect view, and perfect shot of the back of a hospital through which Thatcher will shortly be exiting. The woman at first is alarmed but ends up being sympathetic and helps the man by showing him an escape route through which he might be able to get away without capture. The story ends just before the gun is fired.

It’s a pretty good story. We are left wondering whether the assassination was successful. Well, we know it wasn’t, don’t we? Mantel isn’t out to rewrite history. So the shot was missed for some reason. We are left to wonder at the aftermath, left feeling sympathetic for the IRA man who fully expects to get caught but shows the utmost concern for the woman whose apartment he took over. And the woman? She’s middle-aged, single, tidy, reliable, caught in the habits of her daily life and not one to rock the boat. But this man gives her a chance to break free from the ordinary without much risk and she takes it. You can read the story yourself if you haven’t already.

Unfortunately all the talk about the one story has overshadowed the rest of the book. Most of these stories are complete stories with beginnings, middles and ends, no brief slice of life stuff that just goes for mood or effect, things happen in these stories. Whether it is an English woman living in Dubai with her husband for his job who inadvertently finds herself being courted by another man or a husband caught kissing a neighbor in the kitchen by his wife the shock of which actually causes his wife to die from an unknown heart defect, the stories feel complete.

Then there is the story “Comma” about two young girls, about twelve. The one who narrates, Kitty, lives in a solid, middle-class household. Her friend, Mary Joplin, who lives just across the street, is from a family of dubious status. But Kitty is friends with Mary and the pair slip away from the parental gaze to go wandering through the surrounding neighborhood. Mary discovers the house of a rich family across a field. At this house they have something that should be a baby but there is something wrong with it. Our narrator and Mary sneak over and spy to try and figure out what the adults refuse to talk about. And while we think the story is about this baby it is really about the relationship between our narrator and Mary and then finally on Mary’s low-class status and how that ultimately affects her life. We catch a glimpse of the two in middle age, Kitty recognizing Mary on the street one day:

It passed through my mind, you’d need to have known her well to have known her now, you’d need to have put in the hours with her, watching her sideways. Her skin seemed swagged, loose, and there was nothing much to read in Mary’s eyes. I expected, perhaps, a pause, a hyphen, a space where a question might follow . . . Is that you Kitty? She stooped over her buggy, settled her laundry with a pat, as if to reassure it. Then she turned back to me and gave me a bare acknowledgement: a single nod, a full stop.

Or the story “Winter Break” in which a husband and wife on a winter holiday, riding through the night in a taxi to their distant hotel are disturbed when the car hits something. The driver bundles it up in a tarp and puts it in the trunk. The couple think it is a goat which they have seen running around everywhere. But they discover something else when they reach their destination.

These stories are about normal people in their everyday lives. Husbands and wives, friends, coworkers, getting on as best they can, scared, alone, confused, making mistakes, trying to figure things out. The most exotic person is a writer in the story “How Shall I Know You?” who is invited by a book group to visit and give a talk. And while the story seems to be all about the writer, like “Comma” it ends up being about something else. Something bigger, that lifts it up from the ordinary to the extraordinary, if not for the characters in the story, at least for the reader who gets to see the big picture.

I’ve only ever read Mantel’s Cromwell books so I was expecting some interesting narrative stylings in the stories. But they are all pretty straightforward. I was not disappointed by that because I don’t need stylistic dazzling in my short stories; they aren’t long enough for me to get used to something unusual and by the time I’d get my bearings I’m afraid the story would be over and I’d be wondering what just happened. This is not to say that Mantel’s style is plain. She uses various structural elements that we are all familiar with: flash backs, foreshadowing, story breaks that indicate the passage of time. What I really liked about many of these stories is that often they were about something other than I initially thought they were about. And those moments in the story when I realized there was something else going on were very pleasurable.

So don’t be put off from this collection by all the press and all the controversy over the titular story. These stories are good reading.


Filed under: Books, Reviews, Short Stories Tagged: Hilary Mantel

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21. Courtney Sheinmel's Website



I'm super happy to reveal the new look of Courtney Sheinmel's website! Courtney is the author of My So-Called Family, Positively, Sincerely, All the Things You Are, and the Stella Batts series. Courtney's forthcoming young adult novel Edgewater, called a "YA Grey Gardens," will be available in 2015.

Please visit http://www.courtneysheinmel.com

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22. What is African American religion?

Scholars have written a lot about the difficulties in the study of religion generally. Those difficulties become even messier when we use the words black or African American to describe religion. The adjectives bear the burden of a difficult history that colors the way religion is practiced and understood in the United States. They register the horror of slavery and the terror of Jim Crow as well as the richly textured experiences of a captured people, for whom sorrow stands alongside joy. It is in this context, one characterized by the ever-present need to account for one’s presence in the world in the face of the dehumanizing practice of white supremacy, that African American religion takes on such significance.

To be clear, African American religious life is not reducible to those wounds. That life contains within it avenues for solace and comfort in God, answers to questions about who we take ourselves to be and about our relation to the mysteries of the universe; moreover, meaning is found, for some, in submission to God, in obedience to creed and dogma, and in ritual practice. Here evil is accounted for. And hope, at least for some, assured. In short, African American religious life is as rich and as complicated as the religious life of other groups in the United States, but African American religion emerges in the encounter between faith, in all of its complexity, and white supremacy.

I take it that if the phrase African American religion is to have any descriptive usefulness at all, it must signify something more than African Americans who are religious. African Americans practice a number of different religions. There are black people who are Buddhist, Jehovah Witness, Mormon, and Baha’i. But the fact that African Americans practice these traditions does not lead us to describe them as black Buddhism or black Mormonism. African American religion singles out something more substantive than that.

The adjective refers instead to a racial context within which religious meanings have been produced and reproduced. The history of slavery and racial discrimination in the United States birthed particular religious formations among African Americans. African Americans converted to Christianity, for example, in the context of slavery. Many left predominantly white denominations to form their own in pursuit of a sense of self- determination. Some embraced a distinctive interpretation of Islam to make sense of their condition in the United States. Given that history, we can reasonably describe certain variants of Christianity and Islam as African American and mean something beyond the rather uninteresting claim that black individuals belong to these different religious traditions.

Austin Gospel Choir, by Mississippi Snopes. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.
Austin Gospel Choir, by Mississippi Snopes. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.

The adjective black or African American works as a marker of difference: as a way of signifying a tradition of struggle against white supremacist practices and a cultural repertoire that reflects that unique journey. The phrase calls up a particular history and culture in our efforts to understand the religious practices of a particular people. When I use the phrase, African American religion, then, I am not referring to something that can be defined substantively apart from varied practices; rather, my aim is to orient you in a particular way to the material under consideration, to call attention to a sociopolitical history, and to single out the workings of the human imagination and spirit under particular conditions.

When Howard Thurman, the great 20th century black theologian, declared that the slave dared to redeem the religion profaned in his midst, he offered a particular understanding of black Christianity: that this expression of Christianity was not the idolatrous embrace of Christian doctrine which justified the superiority of white people and the subordination of black people. Instead, black Christianity embraced the liberating power of Jesus’s example: his sense that all, no matter their station in life, were children of God. Thurman sought to orient the reader to a specific inflection of Christianity in the hands of those who lived as slaves. That difference made a difference. We need only listen to the spirituals, give attention to the way African Americans interpreted the Gospel, and to how they invoked Jesus in their lives.

We cannot deny that African American religious life has developed, for much of its history, under captured conditions. Slaves had to forge lives amid the brutal reality of their condition and imagine possibilities beyond their status as slaves. Religion offered a powerful resource in their efforts. They imagined possibilities beyond anything their circumstances suggested. As religious bricoleurs, they created, as did their children and children’s children, on the level of religious consciousness and that creativity gave African American religion its distinctive hue and timber.

African Americans drew on the cultural knowledge, however fleeting, of their African past. They selected what they found compelling and rejected what they found unacceptable in the traditions of white slaveholders. In some cases, they reached for traditions outside of the United States altogether. They took the bits and pieces of their complicated lives and created distinctive expressions of the general order of existence that anchored their efforts to live amid the pressing nastiness of life. They created what we call African American religion.

Headline image credit: Candles, by Markus Grossalber, CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.

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23. Book Recommendation: The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours

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Biljana Likic

So you’re writing that sweeping historical novel full of war and political intrigue, and you maybe need some inspiration. Where better to turn than to history books? Only problem is that they can be a bit dry, and at times the forced impartiality (“I must present this as facts uncoloured by my opinion!”) can make the prose frustratingly ambiguous. Then there’s the whole “history is written by the victor” thing. The phrase reveals the difficulties readers face when approaching historical writing. Not to mention, it’s practically impossible to write about a historical event in a completely detached way without it sounding like a recipe.

Honestly, it makes me glad I write fiction. The pressure of writing a history book is terrifying. What sources you include, and where you include them, and why…no matter how you organize them, there will always be an expert disagreeing with you.

Enter Gregory of Tours. He was a 6th century bishop of (you guessed it) Tours, France, and is our best contemporary source of the Merovingian dynasty in modern-day France and Germany. He wrote history, but it’s only in very recent times that we started giving him more credit as an actual historian. Why did it take so long? You only need to take a gander at all the wild stuff he says in his most famous work, The History of the Franks.

Here’s the deal. Remember the whole “no such thing as no bias” spiel? This is very apparent in Gregory. A lot of people read the Histories assuming they’re a moralistic work about how those who aren’t Catholic will suffer the demons of hell, and those that are will be saved in heaven. To be fair, it’s not a hard conclusion to reach. There’s one story of a priest conspiring against his superior, and as alleged punishment from God, on the morning the priest is getting ready to betray him, this happens: “He went off to the lavatory and while he was occupied in emptying his bowels he lost his soul instead.”

Lost his soul on the can. He quite literally shit himself to death. There are fewer effective ways to teach someone a lesson about going against a saintly authority.

But then, in another story, Queen Deuteria is afraid that her husband might “desire and take advantage of” their maturing daughter so she puts her in a cart drawn by untamed bulls and the daughter crashes into a river and dies. And this happens in like three sentences with no moral. No ceremony, no “The shadow of sin is cast upon the loveless mother!”, no “Don’t lust after your own daughter or else your wife might kill her (and also, sin)!”, only a few nearly parenthetical phrases, perhaps just to explain what happened to the daughter when the King later takes a new wife and refuses to take Deuteria back. I wonder why he’d do that.

So you have this one priest’s story taking up a few sizable, memorable paragraphs about him conspiring against his bishop, and then you have this other one of a horrific filicide told in a measly three sentences. That’s the fascinating thing about this work. It’s a bunch of to-the-point recitations of facts mixed together with wildly moralistic tales where common sicknesses and coincidences are explains away as God’s doing. In some sections it even reads like fantasy. It’s as full of people having prophetic dreams and being warned about the dangers ahead as it is of short side notes about a perfectly Christian king being poisoned just because…well…he was king, and he was poisoned.

But the reason the Histories are so valuable today, aside from being a long and spectacular feat of story-telling, is because there really is a genuinely massive amount of historical information within them. Every so often you’ll find entire letters Gregory directly transcribed so he could give us the primary source rather than rephrasing an event in his own words. Some of these letters survive in different forms and can be used to cross-reference events in the book. Others only survive through his writing. There is a ton of specificity about the Church, and especially about the history of the bishopric of Tours. There’s stuff in there about the actual daily lives of people living in the 6th century, their traditions, habits, and gossip, written by a person living in the 6th century. That is absolutely invaluable.

Not to mention a freaking amazing read. Merovingian kings and queens meant business. The backstabbing, the stealing of territory, copious amounts of regicide, broken alliances, queens abandoning their husbands for other kings because others were manlier and held more promise as conquerors… These people were ruthless. Contrast that with the general thread of what it means to be a good Christian weaving through the work, and you’ve got some damn awesome dichotomies going on.

So move this baby up your to-read list. Not only is it full of events that actually happened, making it an excellent book to read for personal research, but it’s also a great literary window into the workings of 6th century Continental Europe.

biljana new picBiljana Likic is working on her fantasy WIPs and has just started her MA in Medieval Studies, from which she can’t wait to graduate so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can follow her on Twitter.

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24. A Halloween horror story : What was it? Part 3

We’re getting ready for Halloween this month by reading the classic horror stories that set the stage for the creepy movies and books we love today. Check in every Friday this October as we tell Fitz-James O’Brien’s tale of an unusual entity in What Was It?, a story from the spine-tingling collection of works in Horror Stories: Classic Tales from Hoffmann to Hodgson, edited by Darryl Jones. Last we left off the narrator was headed to bed after a night of opium and philosophical conversation with Dr. Hammond, a friend and fellow boarded at the supposed haunted house where they are staying.

We parted, and each sought his respective chamber. I undressed quickly and got into bed, taking with me, according to my usual custom, a book, over which I generally read myself to sleep. I opened the volume as soon as I had laid my head upon the pillow, and instantly flung it to the other side of the room. It was Goudon’s ‘History of Monsters,’—a curious French work, which I had lately imported from Paris, but which, in the state of mind I had then reached, was anything but an agreeable companion. I resolved to go to sleep at once; so, turning down my gas until nothing but a little blue point of light glimmered on the top of the tube, I composed myself to rest.

The room was in total darkness. The atom of gas that still remained alight did not illuminate a distance of three inches round the burner. I desperately drew my arm across my eyes, as if to shut out even the darkness, and tried to think of nothing. It was in vain. The confounded themes touched on by Hammond in the garden kept obtruding themselves on my brain. I battled against them. I erected ramparts of would-be blankness of intellect to keep them out. They still crowded upon me. While I was lying still as a corpse, hoping that by a perfect physical inaction I should hasten mental repose, an awful incident occurred. A Something dropped, as it seemed, from the ceiling, plumb upon my chest, and the next instant I felt two bony hands encircling my throat, endeavoring to choke me.

I am no coward, and am possessed of considerable physical strength. The suddenness of the attack, instead of stunning me, strung every nerve to its highest tension. My body acted from instinct, before my brain had time to realize the terrors of my position. In an instant I wound two muscular arms around the creature, and squeezed it, with all the strength of despair, against my chest. In a few seconds the bony hands that had fastened on my throat loosened their hold, and I was free to breathe once more. Then commenced a struggle of awful intensity. Immersed in the most profound darkness, totally ignorant of the nature of the Thing by which I was so suddenly attacked, finding my grasp slipping every moment, by reason, it seemed to me, of the entire nakedness of my assailant, bitten with sharp teeth in the shoulder, neck, and chest, having every moment to protect my throat against a pair of sinewy, agile hands, which my utmost efforts could not confine,—these were a combination of circumstances to combat which required all the strength, skill, and courage that I possessed.

At last, after a silent, deadly, exhausting struggle, I got my assailant under by a series of incredible efforts of strength. Once pinned, with my knee on what I made out to be its chest, I knew that I was victor. I rested for a moment to breathe. I heard the creature beneath me panting in the darkness, and felt the violent throbbing of a heart. It was apparently as exhausted as I was; that was one comfort. At this moment I remembered that I usually placed under my pillow, before going to bed, a large yellow silk pocket-handkerchief. I felt for it instantly; it was there. In a few seconds more I had, after a fashion, pinioned the creature’s arms.

I now felt tolerably secure. There was nothing more to be done but to turn on the gas, and, having first seen what my midnight assailant was like, arouse the household. I will confess to being actuated by a certain pride in not giving the alarm before; I wished to make the capture alone and unaided.

Never losing my hold for an instant, I slipped from the bed to the floor, dragging my captive with me. I had but a few steps to make to reach the gas-burner; these I made with the greatest caution, holding the creature in a grip like a vice. At last I got within arm’s-length of the tiny speck of blue light which told me where the gas-burner lay. Quick as lightning I released my grasp with one hand and let on the full flood of light. Then I turned to look at my captive.

I cannot even attempt to give any definition of my sensations the instant after I turned on the gas. I suppose I must have shrieked with terror, for in less than a minute afterward my room was crowded with the inmates of the house. I shudder now as I think of that awful moment. I saw nothing! Yes; I had one arm firmly clasped round a breathing, panting, corporeal shape, my other hand gripped with all its strength a throat as warm, and apparently fleshly, as my own; and yet, with this living substance in my grasp, with its body pressed against my own, and all in the bright glare of a large jet of gas, I absolutely beheld nothing! Not even an outline,—a vapor!

I do not, even at this hour, realize the situation in which I found myself. I cannot recall the astounding incident thoroughly. Imagination in vain tries to compass the awful paradox.

It breathed. I felt its warm breath upon my cheek. It struggled fiercely. It had hands. They clutched me. Its skin was smooth, like my own. There it lay, pressed close up against me, solid as stone,—and yet utterly invisible!

I wonder that I did not faint or go mad on the instant. Some wonderful instinct must have sustained me; for, absolutely, in place of loosening my hold on the terrible Enigma, I seemed to gain an additional strength in my moment of horror, and tightened my grasp with such wonderful force that I felt the creature shivering with agony.

Just then Hammond entered my room at the head of the household. As soon as he beheld my face—which, I suppose, must have been an awful sight to look at—he hastened forward, crying, ‘Great heaven, Harry! what has happened?’

‘Hammond! Hammond!’ I cried, ‘come here. O, this is awful!

I have been attacked in bed by something or other, which I have hold of; but I can’t see it,—I can’t see it!’

Hammond, doubtless struck by the unfeigned horror expressed in my countenance, made one or two steps forward with an anxious yet puzzled expression. A very audible titter burst from the remainder of my visitors. This suppressed laughter made me furious. To laugh at a human being in my position! It was the worst species of cruelty. Now, I can understand why the appearance of a man struggling violently, as it would seem, with an airy nothing, and calling for assistance against a vision, should have appeared ludicrous. Then, so great was my rage against the mocking crowd that had I the power I would have stricken them dead where they stood.

‘Hammond! Hammond!’ I cried again, despairingly, ‘for God’s sake come to me. I can hold the—the thing but a short while longer. It is overpowering me. Help me! Help me!’

‘Harry,’ whispered Hammond, approaching me, ‘you have been smoking too much opium.’

‘I swear to you, Hammond, that this is no vision,’ I answered, in the same low tone. ‘Don’t you see how it shakes my whole frame with its struggles? If you don’t believe me, convince yourself. Feel it,— touch it.’

Hammond advanced and laid his hand in the spot I indicated. A wild cry of horror burst from him. He had felt it! In a moment he had discovered somewhere in my room a long piece of cord, and was the next instant winding it and knotting it about the body of the unseen being that I clasped in my arms.

‘Harry,’ he said, in a hoarse, agitated voice, for, though he preserved his presence of mind, he was deeply moved, ‘Harry, it’s all safe now. You may let go, old fellow, if you’re tired. The Thing can’t move.’

I was utterly exhausted, and I gladly loosed my hold.

Check back next Friday, 24 October to find out what happens next. Missed a part of the story? Catch up with part 1 and part 2.

Headline image credit: Green Scream by Matt Coughlin, CC 2.0 via Flickr.

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25. What will it take to reduce infections in the hospital?

The outbreak of Ebola, in Africa and in the United States, is a stark reminder of the clear and present danger that infection represents in all our lives, and we need reminding. Despite all of our medical advances, more familiar infections still take tens of thousands of American lives each year – and too often these deaths are avoidable.

Hospital infections kill 75,000 Americans a year — more than twice the number of people who die in car crashes. Most people know that motor vehicle deaths could be drastically reduced. What’s not as widely appreciated is that the far greater number of hospital infections could be reduced by up to 70%.

Changes that would reduce infections are evidence-based and scientific, supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For example, the campaign against hospital-acquired urinary tract infection — one of the most common hospital infections in the world — seeks to minimize the use of internal, Foley catheters, a major vector of infection. Nurses who have always relied on Foleys to deal with patients who have urinary incontinence are told to use straight catheters intermittently instead, which increases their workload. Surgeons who are accustomed to placing Foley catheters in their patients for several days after an operation are told to remove the catheter shortly after surgery – or not to use one at all. Similar approaches can be used to reduce other common infections. If we know what needs to be done to lower the rate of hospital infections, why have the many attempts to do so fallen so woefully short?

Our research shows that a major reason is the unwillingness of some nurses and physicians to support the desired new behaviors. We have found that opposition to hospitals’ infection prevention initiatives comes from the three groups we call Active Resisters, Organizational Constipators, and Timeservers. While we know these types of individuals exist in hospitals since we have seen them in action, we suspect they can also be found in all types of organizations.

Active resisters refuse to abide by and sometimes campaign against an initiative’s proposed changes. Some active resisters refuse to change a practice they have used for years because they fear it might have a negative impact on their patients’ health. Others resist because they doubt the scientific validity of a change, or because the change is inconvenient. For others it’s simply a matter of ego, as in, “Don’t tell me what to do.” Some ignore the evidence. Many initiatives to prevent urinary tract infection ask nurses to remind physicians when it’s time to remove an indwelling catheter, but many nurses are unwilling to confront physicians – and many physicians are unwilling to be so confronted.

Organizational constipators present a different set of challenges. Most are mid- to upper-level staff members who have nothing against an infection prevention initiative per se but simply enjoy exercising their power. Sometimes they refuse to permit underlings to help with an initiative. Sometimes they simply do nothing, allowing memos and emails to pile up without taking action. While we have met some physicians in this category, we have seen, unfortunately, a surprising number of nursing leaders employ this approach.

Timeservers do the least possible in any circumstance. That applies to every aspect of their work, including preventing infection. A timeserver surgeon may neglect to wash her hands before examining a patient, not because she opposes that key infection prevention requirement but because it’s just easier that way. A timeserver nurse may “forget” to conduct “sedation vacations” for patients who are on mechanical breathing machines to assess if the patient can be weaned from the ventilator sooner for the simple reason that sedated patients are less work.

Hospital corridor. © Spotmatik via iStock.
Hospital corridor. © Spotmatik via iStock.

We have learned that different overcoming these human-related barriers to improvement requires different styles of engagement.

To win support among the active resisters, we recommend employing data both liberally and strategically. Doctors are trained to respond to facts, and a graph that shows a high rate of infection department can help sway them. Sharing research from respected journals describing proven methods of preventing infection can also help overcome concerns. Nurse resisters are similarly impressed by such data, but we find that they are also likely to be convinced by appeals to their concern for their patients’ welfare – a description, for example, of the discomfort the Foley causes their patients.

Organizational constipators and timeservers are more difficult to win over, largely because their negative behavior is an incidental result of their normal operating style. Managers sometimes try to work around the organizational constipators and assign an authority figure to harass the timeservers, but their success is limited. Efforts to fire them can sometimes be difficult.

Hospitals’ administrative and medical leaders often play an important role in successful infection prevention initiatives by emphasizing their approval in their staff encounters, by occasionally attending an infection prevention planning session, and by making adherence to the goals of the initiative a factor in employee performance reviews. Some innovative leaders also give out physician or nurse champion-of-the-year awards that serve the dual purpose of rewarding the healthcare workers who have been helpful in a successful initiative while encouraging others by showing that they, too, could someday receive similar recognition. It may help to include potential obstructors in planning for an infection prevention campaign; the critics help spot weaknesses and are also inclined to go easy on the campaign once it gets underway.

But the leadership of a successful infection prevention project can also come from lower down in a hospital’s hierarchy, with or without the active support of the senior executives. We found the key to a positive result is a culture of excellence, when the hospital staff is fully devoted to patient-centered, high-quality care. Healthcare workers in such hospitals endeavor to treat each patient as a family member. In such institutions, a dedicated nurse can ignite an infection prevention initiative, and the staff’s all-but-universal commitment to patient safety can win over even the timeservers. The closer the nation’s hospitals approach that state of grace, the greater the success they will have in their efforts to lower infection rates.

Preventing infection is a team sport. Cooperation — among doctors, nurses, microbiologists, public health officials, patients, and families — will be required to control the spread of Ebola. Such cooperation is required to prevent more mundane infections as well.

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