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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 In terms of Aristotle’s (outdated) account of the generation of higher animals, for instance, the matter of the menstrual flow of the mother serves as the material cause, the specially disposed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.
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).
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.
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 HighlandPony 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.
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.
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…
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 consentissues 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.
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.
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.
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 canbring 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.
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.
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:
(Just a sampling from the Chapter Books part of the talk.)
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At the dawn of the 20th Century, thousands of immigrants are arriving in the promised land of New York City. Sarah has always dreamed of America, a land of freedom and possibility. From her small village she stares at a postcard of the Statue of Liberty and imagines the Lady beckoning to her. When Sarah and her mother finally journey across the Atlantic, though, tragedy strikes—and Sarah finds herself being sent back before she even sets foot in the country.
Yet just as Sarah is ushered onto the boat that will send her away from the land of her dreams, she makes a life or death decision. She daringly jumps off the back of the boat, and swims as hard as she can toward Liberty Island, and a new life.
Her leap of faith leads her to an unbelievable hiding place: the Statue of Liberty itself. Now Sarah must find a way to the mainland, while avoiding the night watchman and scavenging enough food food to survive. When a surprising ally helps bring her to Manhattan, Sarah finds herself facing new dangers and a life on her own. Will she ever find a true home in America?
From acclaimed author Robert Sharenow comes this heartfelt novel of resilience, hope, and discovering a family where you least expect it.
Robert was kind enough to swing by The Pageturn and answer some questions for us!
What inspired you to write this story? Do you know the story of how your ancestors came to America?
One of my great-grandfathers came to this country with very little money or possessions. But he was a button-hole maker and owned his own tailoring scissors. It amazes me that he was able to forge a life for himself in a brand new country with such meager beginnings. I was also fascinated by the fact that the first immigrant processed at Ellis Island was an Irish teenager named Annie Moore who was traveling with her siblings to meet her parents who were already in the U.S. I couldn’t imagine sending my own children on such a daring journey. And, of course, there is the Statue of Liberty itself, which has always loomed large as a powerful symbol of the positive promise of America around the world. The exact moment of inspiration came when I re-read Emma Lazarus’ poem about the statue that described her as “Mother of Exiles.” The idea of a motherless immigrant girl and the Statue of Liberty becoming like mother and child set the whole thing in motion.
What kind of research did you do for this novel?
I always read history books and novels set in the time period I’m writing about. But for this one, I was also able to walk the streets of Chinatown and the Lower East Side of New York and see many of the places described in the book. Of course, I also visited landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, but there are also lots of ordinary 19th century factory buildings and apartments that have changed very little too.
Would you have wanted to live in New York at the time Sarah lived? Why or why not?
I would be fascinated to experience life at that time, to see, touch and feel what it was like. It was a time of great hope and progress, but also of great struggle. Times were harder then. Scores of children lived in poverty and on the streets. There were brutal living and work conditions for poor people and much more overt and institutionalized prejudice than there is today. So, I definitely prefer our modern New York. The Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan gives you a wonderful sense of what every day life was like for new immigrants at that time. And it was not at all luxurious or easy.
Have you ever been to the Statue of Liberty? If so, do you remember the first time you visited?
Yes. I’ve been a couple of times. My parents took me when I was 7 years old and it is one of the fondest memories of my childhood. I remember being completely awed by her. I still get a feeling of wonder whenever I see the Statue of Liberty, even from afar. When I visited more recently during the writing of the book, I was amazed at the incredible variety of people from so many different countries, races and religions. The power and reach of the Statue’s symbolism has only grown since Sarah’s time.
Do you have a favorite neighborhood or place that Sarah visits in the novel?
I’ve always loved New York’s Chinatown. And it remains a very distinct and exciting neighborhood. You can walk the crowded sidewalks and not hear much English and feel like you are lost in a foreign country. The streets are alive with sights and smells of the food vendors and shops, and the signs are written in colorful Chinese characters. And, as described in the book, it’s very close to the Jewish Lower East Side and Little Italy, so you get a sense of just what a melting pot New York was and continues to be.
I was browsing through my online TBR fiction list earlier today looking for a book whose title I could not remember but I was pretty sure I had put it on my list. That’s what these kinds of lists are for right? So I wasn’t worried about not remembering the title, I’d recognize the book when I came to it I was sure. Well, as I was scrolling through the list I came upon a book I actually did read. Given that I had well over 200 items on this fiction list I was pretty pleased that I could take one off. I checked the box next to it and clicked “delete” and when the popup window came up to ask me if I really wanted to delete the item from the list I said “yes.” Except that is not what the popup window was asking me.
Turns out in my still cold medicine addled brain I had clicked on the button not to delete the book from my list, but to delete the entire list. And that popup wanted to know if I was sure I wanted to delete that list of 200+ items. And I clicked “yes.”
List gone. No take backs.
At first I couldn’t believe what I had actually done. Was the list really gone? I clicked to view a list of my lists. Yup, gone. Then I kind of wanted to cry. That list is where I save all the books I think sound really good when I am out and about on the internet reading blogs or other book news. I have no way of recreating this list.
I’ve been trying to comfort myself with things like “Well that’s one way to reduce your TBR pile!” And, “You were never actually going to be able to read all those books anyway.” But it’s not been working very well and pouting just feels so much better. When I told Bookman he immediately suggested I contact WorldCat and ask them if they can recover it from a backup tape or something. Bless my dear beloved for trying to be helpful and not laughing at me. I have no idea if WorldCat would help me out like that, but I am not going to bother to find out. It’s just a list of books and I figure the ones I really want to read will bubble up into my awareness again sometime. And if they don’t, well, I won’t miss them since I don’t remember what they were to begin with.
All the same, I made a new list to save fiction titles to. There is nothing on it. Yet.
Political economy is back on the centre stage of development studies. The ultimate test of its respectability is that the World Bank has realised that it is not possible to separate social and political issues such as corruption and democracy from other factors that influence the effectiveness of its investments, and started using the concept.
It predates the creation of “economics” as a discipline. Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus, James Mill, and a generation later Karl Marx and Friederich Engels, explored how groups or classes in society exploited each other or were exploited, and used their conclusions to create theories of change or growth.
Marx’s ideas were taken up in the 1950s by economists and sociologists of the left, such as Paul Baran (The Political Economy of Growth, 1957) and later Samir Amin (The Political Economy of the Twentieth Century, 2000) who linked it to theories of imperialism and neo-colonialism to interpret what was happening in newly independent African countries where nationalist political parties had taken power.
Marx and Engels in their early writings, and Marxist orthodoxy subsequently, espoused determinist theories in which development went through pre-determined stages – primitive forms of social organisation, feudalism, capitalism, and then socialism. But in their later writings Marx and Engels were much more open, and recognised that some pre-capitalist formations could survive, and that there was no single road to socialism. Class analysis, and exploration of the economic interests of powerful classes, and their uses of the technologies available to them, could inform a study of history, but not substitute for it.
That was how I interpreted what happened in Tanzania in the 1970s. The country was built around the economic interests of those involved, and the mistakes made, both inside Tanzania but also outside. It focussed on the choices made by those who controlled the Tanzanian state or negotiated “foreign aid” deals with Western governments—Issa Shivji’s bureaucratic bourgeoisie. These themes are still current today.
I am not alone. Michael Lofchie’s (A Political Economy of Tanzania, 2014) focuses on the difficult years of structural adjustment in the 1980s and 1990s). He argues how the salaried elite could personally benefit from an overvalued exchange rate. From 1979 on, under the influence of the charismatic President Julius Nyerere, Tanzania resisted the IMF and World Bank which urged it to devalue. But eventually, around the mid-1980s, they realised that they had the possibility of making even bigger financial gains if the country devalued and there were open markets, which would allow them to make money from trade or production. They were becoming a productive bourgeoisie.
Lofchie’s analysis can be contested. The benefits of the chaos that resulted from the extremely over-valued exchange rates of the 1980s were reaped by only a few. It is true that rapid growth followed from around 1990 to the present, but that is also due to the high price of gold on international markets and the rapid expansion of gold mining and tourism. There is still plenty of evidence of individuals making money illegitimately – corruption is ever present in the political discourse, and will continue to be so up till the Presidential elections due in October 2015.
A challenge for the ruling class in Tanzania, leaving the 1970’s, was would they be able to convert their economic strategies into meaningful growth and benefits for the population? By 2011 the challenge was even more acute, because very large reserves of gas had been discovered off the coast of Southern Tanzania, so money for investment would no longer be a binding constraint. But would those resources be used to create real assets which would create the prerequisites for rapid expansions in manufacturing, services and especially agriculture? Or would they be frittered away through imports of non-productive machinery and infrastructure (such as the non-existent electricity generators purchased through the Richmond Project in 2006 in which several leading members of the ruling political party were implicated)? Or end up in Swiss bank accounts? The jury is very much still out. To achieve the current ambition of a rapid transition to a middle income country will require much greater understanding of engineering, agricultural science, and much better contracts than have been recently achieved – and more proactive responses to the challenges of corruption. It will need to take its own political economy seriously.
Headline image credit: Tanzania – Mikumi by Marc Veraart. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.
Is Panem modeled after ruthless dictatorships of the past?
Is the harsh world of the Grimm's more than a reflection of the past?
Does children's literature, in books and movies, bring the past into the present?
Can childhood stories open the doors of the mind to the present -- and the future?
High Stakes of YA Dystopia.
In earlier eras, there were adult works of literature set in dystopian milieus... they includeThe Trial, Brave New World, Animal Farm, 1984, Childhood's End, The Quiet Ameriican, The Naked and the Dead, A Rumor of War, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Farenheit 451, All Quiet On the Western Front, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and many more.
To one degree or another, these books are classics. And like children's and young adult (YA) books of our current era, many were reinvented as theatre and movies.
Today, we seem to have a run of dystopian-centered books and films for young adults (YA). Many are in the form of a series and are followed by films -- also in series. The books, although some may be well written, do not pretend to be literature. Rather, the books, like the films, seem primarily designed to be popular and succeed in the marketplace.
Controversy has followed...most of the films are characterized by great violence; and they all seem to have teen age protagonists who are themselves commiting violence (usually for survival).
Crossover. I don't know if the term YA, and the definition (12-18 year olds) came from marketeers or librarians, or both. I do know that the lines have been blurred, with children and adults both crossing over into the realm of YA.
I doubt that there will be clear lines in the future. The finacial stakes are too high. YA books and movies are a multi -billion dollar business.
Personally, I don't care if adults read YA books. Hopefully, they do so with discernment.
I do care about the amount of over-the-top violence that children are subjected to in YA movies.
For any child, there is a huge difference in the impact found in the brief mention of Gretel pushing the murderous witch into the oven, when compared to the long, unrelenting, realistic, hardcore violence (supported by thunderous sound and music) of the Ring movies.
Hopefully, Alice In Wonderland, Winnie-the-Pooh, Snow White, HisDark Materials, Tales from the Brothers Grimm, and other classics -- themselves often fraught with danger, fear, and violent events -- will continue as the main source for bringing the past -- or the future -- into Children's minds.
Dystopia and the Grimms
The world of the Grimm's fairy tales is filled with fearful events, dark forests, curses by evil witches, and cruelty -- dystopia, but always relieved by magic, marvels, courage, beauty and happy endings...
"The unsparing savegry of stories like the Robber Bridegroom is a sharp reminder that fairy tales belong to the childhood of culture as much as the culture of childhood...they capture anxieties and fantasies that have deep roots in childhood experience"- Maria Tatar,The Grimm Reader: Classic Tales of the Brothers Grimm.
"It is worth noting that the lives of all people in the land of the Grimm's was in was in constant turmoil and change during the time that the Grimm's collected, wrote, and published their books." - Seth Lerer, Children's Literature, A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter.
The illustration from The Robber Bridegroom is by John B. Gruelle
"'Well, dear little children. How in the world did you get here? Just come right in, and you can stay with me. You will come to no harm in my house.' She took them by the hand and led them into her house...The old woman had only pretended to be kind." - Hansel and Gretel meet the Wicked Witch
"For children in their most impressionable years, there is in fantasy, the highest of stimulating and educational powers." -Arthur Rackham
Kaitlin Jenkin's has two blogs, She Speaks Bark and Pet Parent.Kaitlin has a background of working in many dog related jobs, including foster care and 7 years as a shelter worker. She has two adopted dogs (seen on the left), Bear and Scooter. She recently wrote an excellent and informative review of C.A. Wulff and A.A. Weddle's book for dog owners, Finding Fido. Here are excerpts...
"The thought of Bear or Scooter going missing, or being stolen is one that I don’t let my mind entertain. To say I’d be devastated doesn’t even begin to cover it, and I know you all feel the same about your pets! Would you know what to do if your pet suddenly went missing? Where to begin? What to do first?
Finding Fido is essentially a Pet Parent’s guide to preventing the loss of a pet, as well as a guide on exactly what steps to take should that awful moment ever happen to you. Authors C.A Wulffand A.A.Weddle are the administrators of the Lost & Found Ohio Pets service and they collaborated on this helpful guide in order to address the sad reality of so many lost pets in America....
If our pets were to become lost, it would be absolutely devastating. We may not even be able to think logically in order to act effectively to work towards their return. That’s why this book is great- it’s literally a step by step guide to finding your lost pet. Full of resources for Pet Parents to utilize, and all at the turn of a page.
... I think that Finding Fido is a great read for all Pet Parents and pet lovers. If you’re a first time Pet Parent or a long time, seasoned Pet Parent, there are tips and tricks in here that will be helpful to you! Everyone should read the sections entitled ‘Before You Lose A Pet‘" ...
Adults Continue to Cross the Borders of Imagination Into Y.A.
As part of a post that I wrote in our September blog about the trend of adults reading Y.A. books, I quoted journalist (Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe) Ruth Graham'sarticle in Slate with this headline: "Read whatever you want. But you should be embarrassed when what you're reading was written for children."
Graham's article provoked substantial controversy including a very thoughtful rebuttal, in Hairpin, by journalist and author(Save The Date ) Jen Doll: The Trouble With Reader-Shaming: A Y.A.Book List Here are excerpts from Jen Doll's rebuttal:
"The great debate over whether grownups should read young adult literature—and further, what the nature of reading should be—has come up again, thanks to a piece in Slate telling adults they should feel ashamed about reading books for kids...
"What the piece itself rails against—that Y.A. offers pat, easy or at the very least "satisfying" solutions aimed at kids and doesn’t make adults think—could be said for the very type of internet writing it embodies. Here, precisely, is how you should feel, it says. Here are the answers, tied up in a bow: You be embarrassed for wasting your time reading Y.A., because Y.A. is not for adults, and you should be reading something appropriate to your age. It is easy and not challenging. You should not be "substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature." This is an argument that speaks from a place of truth and rightness, or at least, intends to; there is little room for nuance.
Yet, nuance persists. There are many, many factors that go into what makes something complex, great, or "appropriate to one's age," and most of all this depends on who is reading it—not based in age, because age categorizations do not always match prescribed reading levels; just ask any kid sneaking illicit tomes off her parents' bookshelf because all "her" books have already been devoured—but based in who that person is, what they want, and what they bring to the table..."
Update: Jen Dollis now writing a column of YA book reviews for the venerable New York Times: "Y.A. Crossover". The Times they are a changing. Congratulations, Jen Doll.
The Photo is of Ms Doll. The two books pictured are from Ms Doll's Y.A. Book List.
KidLitosphere is the best source that I have found for locating children's literature blogs. KidLitosphere has helped many readers find their way to these pages. Here is an excerpt form their home page..."Some of the best books being published today are children’s and young adult titles, well-written and engaging books that capture the imagination. Many of us can enjoy them as adults, but more importantly, can pass along our appreciation for books to the next generation by helping parents, teachers, librarians and others to find wonderful books, promote lifelong reading, and present literacy ideas."
Geno is retiring. An 8 year old German Shepherd, Geno is highly regarded by the Kane County Sheriff's Office for his loyalty, courage and intelligence. Here are excerpts from his bio as posted by the Sheriff's Office:
"Geno has served with the KCSO since 2009. Deputy Bill Gatske, Geno’s handler, has served with the KCSO for 15 years and Geno will continue to live with Gatske and his family in retirement. Over his career, Geno has... performed numerous dignitary and presidential protective sweeps and participated in sweeps before games at Soldier Field in Chicago along with conducting countless explosivedetection searches, suspect apprehensions and missing person searches. Geno may be most remembered, though, for his appearances with local area children where he taught the value of policing and reinforced the fact that law enforcement officers exists to serve their community"...
The cost of replacing Gino with his special skills in explosives detection, tracking, missing person searches, and more is very expensive. Once again, Planet Dog Foundation is providing support for a service dog. They have come together with theSpirit of Blue Foundation to award the Kane County Sherrif’s Office a $12,500 grant to acquire and train a new explosives detection K9 to replace the very special Geno.
The Planet Dog Foundation has awarded over a million dollars in funding to support dogs helping people in need.
“We dogs are happy and help each other because love is the most important part of our lives. When you give love,” she said, “You bring out love in others. If we come to Planet Earth, and people spend time with us, there will be fewer lonely people and more happy people.” - Miss Merrie, Queen of the Dogs
“But Mole stood still a moment, held in thought. As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, but can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty in it, the beauty! Till that, too, fades away in its turn, and the dreamer bitterly accepts the hard, cold waking and all its penalties.” -- Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows Illustration by E.H. Shepherd
Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale at the Independent Publishers of New England Exhibits (IPNE)
If you are a New England librarian and headed to Boxborough, MA, for the NELAConvention (October19-21), we invite you to visit the Independent Publishers of New England (IPNE) exhibit where you will find Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale.
If you are a New England book lover and are headed to the Boston Book Festival (BFF) 0n October 25, we invite you to the Independent Publishers of New England (IPNE) exhibit where you will also find Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale.
Children's Literary Salon...New York Public Library
Saturday, November 1, 2014, 2PM, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, South Court Auditorium...Speaker: Howard Scherry...Hosted by Elizabeth Bird
Margaret Wise Brown & Antoine de Saint-Exupery: Parallels in Their Life, Comparison in Their Literature...free admission
The Past is Always Present
UPDATE: Y.A. Distopian Movies Keep Coming -- And Making Money...Variations and Reinterpretations of Books of the Past by Movies are Omnipresent ...
No one is safe...not family, nor friends, nor any of the good folks in Katniss' "hometown" -- District 12. Empire. Oppression, and teen warriors again prevail as the Hunger Games story of resistance and survival continues. Dystopia will mean box office dollars when this third episode (there will be one more) of the Hunger Games, Mockingjay-Part1, opens in theaters worldwide, starting on November 19 -- November 21 in the USA.
For some perspective on the Hunger Games series, take a look at this review from Salon by Andrew O'Hehir "Whose Revolution Is It It?"
"Much of the genius of the “Hunger Games” franchise lies in its portrayal of a dystopian future society that lacks any specific ideological character. Panem, the deep-future dictatorship that has apparently replaced present-day America after an unspecified combination of civil war, social meltdown and ecological catastrophe, has the semiotic appearance of fascism – white-helmeted storm troopers and barbed-wire walls – but is really more like an old-fashioned feudal society, concerned entirely with maintaining its internal order. In reviewing the first “Hunger Games” movie, I observed that the relentless media onslaught of the Information Age has been rolled back, in author Suzanne Collins’ fictional universe, to one TV network and one reality show. Politics has been stripped down too: There is nothing except Empire and Resistance."
The Hunger Games Films have thus far grossed over 1.5 billion dollars
The critics were generally hard on Divergent, but the Box office has been excellent - over 288 million dollars thus far - and two sequels will follow. Based on a very popular Y.A. series by Veronica Roth. Here is an excerpt from a review by Brad Keefe in ColumbusAlive.
... “Divergent” is an adaptation of a popular young adult fiction trilogy featuring a smart, underdog heroine who fights against a corrupt power system in a dystopian future.
If you haven’t read the books, you’ll see “Divergent” as a convoluted “Hunger Games” knock-off. If you have, you’ll find the production values and performances are solid. But the movie is still convoluted.
In the crumbling ruins of a near-future Chicago, a post-war society has established peace by creating five “factions” of the population based on character traits (brains, brawn, compassion, etc.). Teens are tested for their aptitude in these fields, but they can choose their own faction (as long as they don’t mind leaving their family).
It’s like society based on a high-school clique system, so it resonates with teens (along with themes of non-conformity). And our heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley) embodies that moment of 'what do I do with my life' confusion." ....................................
Earlier this Fall, we had The Maze Runner, another YA movie set in a YA Dystopia. In less than a month, the Maze Runner has grossed over 83 Million dollars.
Also based on a successful book series (by James Dasher), it was described by Ben Kienigsberg in the International New York Times as a "perfectly serviceable entry in the young-adult dystopian sweepstakes. It combines elements of “Lord of the Flies” with the Minotaur and Orpheus myths, but it plays as something closer to “The Hunger Games” experienced through a dissociative fog. Much suspense comes from wondering which favored Hollywood twist the movie will employ...." .............................
Even if one adjustedthe figures for inflation etc, I doubt if the combined monies made by the books of Anderson, Dodson, St. Exuprey, the Brothers Grimm et al could compare with the box office receipts of these Y.A. movies.
More violence arrives in time for Christmas. The Hobbit, Battle of the 5 Armies opens on December 17. Here is a link to the trailer: Battle
If you've had enough of YA Dystopian Violence there is good news for children's films...
Boxtrolls is doing well and the Tale of Princess Kaguya, from Ghibli Studios is coming. Advance reports on Princess Kaguya suggest another outstanding film from the studio that gave us Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away.
Building Blocks in the past...Minecraft today and tomorrow
In case you were unaware of the scope of Minecraft, here is the opening of the excellent and comprehensive article by Stuart Dredge in the Guardian. The article is entitled: Minecraft movie will be 'large-budget' but unlikely to arrive before 2017. The article also contains videos that will take you into the digital world of Minecraft.
"What is Minecraft? It’s a game, obviously: one that its developer Mojang has sold nearly 54m copies of across computers, consoles and mobile devices so far.
But Minecraft is also an educational tool in schools through the MinecraftEduinitiative, and the driver for Block by Block, a partnership with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme to get young people involved in planning public urban spaces, starting with a pilot in Kenya.
Minecraft is also one of YouTube’s most popular video categories – right up there with music – fuelling hugely popular channels..."
Amazon-Hachette Battle Continues with Authors United
Power, money, books, writers and control are all involved as this battlle continues...Here are excerpts from a New York Times article by David Streitfeld.
"Amazon is at war with Hachette, and it sometimes seems as if it has always been that way.
As a negotiating tool in the battle, which is over the price of e-books, Amazon is discouraging its customers from buying the publisher’s printed books. After six months of being largely cut off from what is by far the largest bookstore in the country, many Hachette writers are fearful and angry. So...they are trying a new tactic to get the ir work unshackled.
Authors United, a group of Hachette writers and their allies, is appealing directly to Amazon’s board. It is warning the board that the reputation of the retailer, and of the directors themselves, is at risk.
UPDATE...This battle has expanded to include many prominent writers who are not published by Hachette. David Streifeld continues his coverage in what has become a series in the New York Times. Here is an updated excerpt...
"Now, hundreds of other writers, including some of the world’s most distinguished, are joining the coalition. Few if any are published by Hachette. And they have goals far broader than freeing up the Hachette titles. They want the Justice Department to investigate Amazon for illegal monopoly tactics..."
The Hero of Color City
This film opened in early October to mediocre reviews,but very young kids seem to like it.You be the judge. Here is the trailer: Hero of Color City
Complimentary Holiday Dog Books for Therapy Reading Dogs…
Christmas is coming and Barking Planet Productions is sending complimentary reader copies of ourholiday book,Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, Volume 3 in the Planet of the Dogs series, to libraries and teachers participating in therapy reading dog programs and to therapy reading dogs owners and organizations.
To receive your copy, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, is an illustrated first chapter fantasy-adventure book for children 6-12 and dog lovers of all ages.
Long, long ago, there were no dogs on planet Earth. It was during that time that two of Santa’s reindeer went missing and there could be no Christmas.
Far out in space is the Planet of the Dogs. Dogs have always lived there in peace and happiness.
When the dogs learned that there would be no more Christmas, they came down to planet earth to challenge the King of the North, free the reindeer from the Ice Castle, and save Christmas for children everywhere.
To read sample chapters, visit: www.planetofthedogs.net.
Insights on Visual Storytelling
Lizzy Burns is a proilfic, outspoken, caring and engaging blogger (A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy )
She usually reviews YA booksand strongly supports those she likes. I'm interested in younger readers, however, I find her YA reviews to be insightful and very lively reading.
I have excerpted comments on her emotional response to the Y.A. book and movie, If I Stay, and her insights into visual storytelling...
"Here is the thing. I cried at the trailers for this film. I cried when I read the book. I knew all the plot points. There were no surprises. And yet...I cries through the whole film.
Because sometimes, it's not what happens. It's the emotional journey. And no matter how many times you go on that journey, it remains heart wrenching...
One thing I like about visual storytelling is it can show me things, reveal things, that I may not have picked up in the book. And yes, sometimes this is because of changes in the adaptation, but i t's often about staying true to the spirit of the book if not the text. So, for me, the movie made me understand more how Mia viewed her father leaving his band to pursue a job that was more stable as something he did because of her younger brother, Teddy -- never realizing it was also for her.
The movie is true to the book, but something happened at one point where I both feared and hoped that a change had been made and I said to myself, please please please even though there was no way, no way, and it was just like in the book BUT STILL MY FOOLISH HEART, IT HOPED...."
Here the link to her review/article of If I Stay. When she isn't blogging, Elizabeth Burns is the Youth Services Librarian for the New Jersey State Library Talking Book and Braille Center. Here is a link to her blog.
Nancy Houser has another excellent article that solves questions about feeding dogs and taking into account breed, age, health condition -- and she's not selling dog food, not pushing a brand. Here is an excerpt and a link:
"Dog diet is one of the most confusing aspects of taking care of your dog, a vital part of its care. Deciding on the correct dog diet and how to feed your dog is considered a highly complicated task.
Color names have been investigated in almost overwhelming detail, but it is not the etymology but usage that tends to “throw us off the scent.” One can have no quarrel with the statement that different communities will use a certain term differently, for the basis of comparison may be different (so Francis A. Wood, a great specialist in historical semantics). Wood cited the case of “smeared.” Some people associate “smeared” with “dirty” (hence “brown; black”), while others with “oily” (hence “shiny” and even “bright; yellow; white”). It is harder to agree that “in primitive times colors were not carefully distinguished,” because we don’t know what “primitive times” means. The centuries of Classical Greek, Old English, or some remote epoch from which we have no documents and about whose language habits we can judge only from those of modern “primitive peoples” studied by missionaries and anthropologists? Also, how “careful” should one be in distinguishing colors? The idea that some general notion like “smeared” can diverge and yield opposite meanings is fully acceptable. We are in trouble when a word displays seemingly incompatible meanings in the same language or in closely related languages.
Metaphors do not confuse us, and therefore we accept the idiom green years. We can also let greenhorns and our acquaintances who are still green behind the ears enjoy their youthful inexperience. Perhaps green in greencheese, the moon’s main ingredient in folklore, does mean “fresh,” as I have read, but I still feel some discomfort when an Icelandic saga mentions green meat, green fish, and green butter. In the sagas, green also means “safe, excellent” (and green roads in Old Germanic referred to good roads devoid of danger), so perhaps not fresh (unsalted?) meat, fish, and butter are meant but products of exceptional quality, something one can eat without fearing for one’s health?
Red yolk, occurring in Old Icelandic, also amazes me (in English, yolk has the root of yellow), and so does red gold, a collocation used in the epic poetry all over Europe. Does red mean “scintillating” here, or do we not know something about ancient minting? And how did red gold become a formula in several traditions? Some such phrases have been explained, but the explanations do not always sound fully convincing. In dealing with color names one cannot be too careful. Etymology is of little help here. For example, green has the same root as grow (thus, green is the color of vegetation) and cats have green eyes; yet we still don’t quite understand why jealousy, if we can trust Shakespeare, is a green-eyed monster. Likewise, red is, from an etymological point of view, the color of ore (as follows from Russian ruda “ore”; stress on the second syllable), but coins were not made from ore.
Brown is no less opaque than green or red. Older scholars traced brown to the root of burn (Old Engl. brinnan ~ birnan, Gothic brinnan, and so forth). Allegedly, that is why brown can refer to both dark and bright shades. But brown and burn are hardly related, and, even if they were, those who spoke Old English and Old Icelandic would not have been aware of the ancient root. As mentioned in Part 1 of this essay, brown horses or possibly shields of Germanic speakers seem to have impressed the Romance world so strongly that the word for “brown” made its way into the speech of the French, Italians, and others. In the Germanic languages, shields and occasionally helmets and swords were called brown (= “shining”). This sense returned from Romance to English, which has burnish from French and the verb to brown; both mean “to polish.” In some parts of the German-speaking world (predominantly in the south), braun “brown” means “violet”; Luther used it in this sense. In medieval German literature, compounds turned up that can be glossed as “scarlet-brown” and “black-brown.” Their second components must have emphasized their sheen.
In the past, several distinguished language historians thought, and some of their followers still think that brown “shining” and brown “violet” are homonyms, both etymologically distinct from brun (long u, as in Engl. woo) “brown.” Fortunately, there has been no agreement among them, and this explanation has not become dogma, but the idea that braun “violet” owes its existence to Latin prunum “plum” (hence Engl. prune) has gained wide acceptance. For example, it was endorsed by Elmar Seebold, the latest editor of Kluge’s German etymological dictionary, a deservedly authoritative source. According to the rule known as Occam’s razor, entities should not be multiplied (with regard to etymology, I discussed it briefly in the post on qualm). Jacob Grimm suggested that, in dealing with ancient homonyms, it is advisable to treat them as going back to the same root. Given the baffling variety of senses the main color names typically show, it is perhaps more prudent to stay with one basic word that branched off in many unpredictable ways.
What else has been recorded as brown? If the color brown had magical connotations, Germanic shields, swords, and horses may have inspired awe and fear rather than admiration. In the broad Slavic-Iranian belt, brown was a common epithet of stallions and deities. There it was obviously not borrowed from Germanic. In German baroque literature, the phrase braune Nacht “brown night” appeared, and poets began to speak about the brown shadows of night. This usage has been explained as a loan from Romance. Even if so, today we don’t think of night or shadows as brown (compare Byron’s clear obscure, an English version of Italian chiaroscuro).
During the Renaissance, brown competed with black as the color of mourning, especially with reference to mourning women. It suggested merging with the background, being somber, unattractive, inconspicuous. We note with surprise how many Ancient Greek names began with Phryn- “brown” (Phryniskos, Phrynion, and the like). They remind one of Jude the Obscure. Didn’t they originally refer to the insignificance or low status of the bearers? In Part 1, I wrote that the family name Brown ~ Braune needs an explanation but was reminded of Black, White, and Green. Black and White can also be accounted for in several ways. In the population of blonds, would “white” have become a distinguishing feature? To my mind, brown as an allusion to the color of the person’s hair does not look persuasive. How many Greeks had brown hair? If their rarity is the origin of the moniker, then what was so special about Germanic speakers with chestnut-colored hair?
Perhaps an especially revealing phrase is Dante’s sangue bruno “brown blood,” said about gore, that is, blood shed and clotted or simply clotted. English speakers had the word dreor “gore, flowing blood.” It is still alive as the root of the adjective dreary, originally “bloody, gory, grievous, sorrowful,” later “dismal, gloomy.” Homer called blood porphyros “purple” (or “crimson”?), but he also used this adjective when he described descending death. These bridges between “brown” and “red” will perhaps allow us to understand the strange predilection for brown waves (as in Beowulf), wine-colored sea (as in Homer), and the colors of the planet Saturn, which was called by the ancients black, brownish, and fiery. One thing can already be said now: in the history of the Indo-European languages, “brown” designated both a dark and a bright color. Our modern gloss “brown” does it less than full justice.
Question: Can anyone say why Hitler’s SA adopted brown shirts as its uniform? Did the color have any symbolic value?
To be continued.
Image credits: (1) Moon with an unhealthy greenish coating, modified from Michael K. Fairbanks’s photo. Image by Naive cynic, CC-BY-SA-3.0-MIGRATED; GFDL-WITH-DISCLAIMERS via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Illustration from The Innocence of Father Brown, public domain via Project Gutenberg Australia.
by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf.
We first read this absolute gem of a picture book last year during the CYBILs. Fell so utterly in love with it—the lot of us—that a library copy wouldn’t do; we had to have our own. Huck and Rilla were overjoyed when I pulled it out this morning. Sophie’s instant bond with a butternut squash is utterly believable, and not just because Huck formed a similar attachment once upon a time. “Bernice” becomes Sophie’s best friend and closest confidant, all through a bright and beautiful autumn. But as winter approaches, Bernice begins to get a bit squishy about the edges. Sophie’s parents make gentle attempts to convince Sophie it’s time to let her friend go, but since their suggestions involve treating the squash like, you know, a squash, Sophie’s having none of it. Her own solution is sweet and heartwarming, and it makes my kids sigh that contented sigh that means everything has come out exactly right.
In honor of the 40th anniversary of Austin City Limits, the longest running live music show on television, we spoke to author Tracey E. W. Laird, author of Austin City Limits: A History, about the challenges the show has faced, the ways that it has adapted to a rapidly changing music industry, and what makes ACL perennially appealing to viewers.
What is the biggest challenge that Austin City Limits (ACL) has faced over the years?
One of the show’s biggest challenges for the first 25 years was funding. In the ups and downs of the public broadcasting world, largely dependent on fundraising and philanthropy, Austin PBS affiliate KLRU could never be certain that the show’s current year would not be the last. This anxiety peaked during the mid-to-late 1990s with a change in structure for PBS program distribution. Stations that once received Austin City Limits as part of their basic subscription package suddenly had to pay extra for the show. To make matters worse, a PBS competitor, Sessions at W. 54th, launched around this time, with slicker production and full Sony underwriting (I still recall seeing Beck on that show, where his performance was interspersed with footage of him walking down the street, looking hip in an all-white suit). Ultimately, for reasons I talk about in the book, Sessions survived only 3 years. That whole crisis time — when Austin newspapers ran stories about whether or not Austin City Limits would endure — led to a major turning point when the people behind Austin City Limits made the radical decision to redefine its modus operandi.
How has ACL managed to transcend the many changes that have taken place in the way we listen to and discover music?
ACL producers made a conscious decision right around the 25th anniversary to operate differently, recognizing that changes in the television industry and in the way people engage with music demanded flexibility and openness to new ideas. The alternative was obsolescence. They very deliberately articulated the core vision and mission for the show in broad musical terms that crossed a wide range of genres. Sincerity and quality are characteristics that might apply equally to, say, Esperanza Spaulding and Brad Paisley, Grizzly Bear and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They also conceived ACL as a musical experience that includes the core television broadcast but expands outside it as well. Festival, venue, DVD, website, and so on, are all predicated on an outlook that is open to building on that core in new ways without diluting it.
How are the live performances on Austin City Limits different from other live performances?
That “live-ness” distinguishes ACL from other examples of televised musical performance. It goes back to the show’s beginnings. Its originators were motivated mainly by their own transcendent experiences seeing live music. Trying to capture that experience has been the central goal for Austin City Limits, despite any shifts in equipment, style, or genre. That differs from the central goal for most television productions, normally to produce a highly polished end result that fits the time constraints for commercial broadcasts. They require performers to repeat a song, sometimes multiple times, to allow the best possible camera angles and to tailor a song to fit time parameters shaped by commercial rather than artistic concerns. ACL, by contrast, lets its cameras and mics capture the music that has always been center. It is so unusual to see a televised performance unfolding according to the energy and communication between musicians and a live, interactive audience. It’s so simple, yet so rare.
What is your favorite ACL performance, and why?
If I had to pick one it would probably be Tom Waits in 1979 (Season 4). Most of all, it’s a fantastic performance, but it also represents an early turning point for Austin City Limits when it sloughed off any bounded, over-determined expectations for who might appear on its stage. It also shows how important the show’s PBS context is for its long and momentous history – no other media outlet in the United States would have aired an hour of Tom Waits. It is a treasure. But, then, over the years there are so many episodes about which I might say the same. Fats Domino is another one I will never forget. Oftentimes my favorite episode is the one I’ve just seen. I recently watched an episode with Raphael Saadiq that I had missed — they had it streaming on the “acltv” website — and I was excited about his music in a way that I wouldn’t have been if I had just heard a studio recording. I had a similar experience last year when I saw a DVD of a performance by Susan Tedeschi. This happens over and over again with Austin City Limits.
What’s one of your favorite behind-the-scenes stories about ACL?
I love the stories the crew tells about their work, like when sound engineer David Hough explained how they cover up the tally lights on the cameras so that performers never know which one is feeding into the master cut. A little trick like that helps insure that the performer stays focused on performing for the audience in the room. I also love to hear crew members talk about particular shows that stand out to them. To hear them talk underscores the very personal nature of musical performance; a performance that might leave me flat can deeply move someone else. Everyone there loves the work, so it’s a joy to listen to a staff member reflect. To return to Hough, for instance, when I interviewed him he went into a kind of reverie talking about his approach to mixing the sound for a given show. He’s a wizard – the end results sound good whether you listened through a mono TV speaker in 1976 (as in the first full season) or a digital 5.1 Dolby surround sound. He has been with the show that long, and listening to a wizard talk about his magic is fascinating. Many other crew members are equally inspirational to talk with. Outside that, there are well-traveled stories, the most famous of which describes how the electricity went off just as a performance (by Kris Kristofferson) was about to begin. 800 or so people filed down six flights of stairs and out the building via flashlights and cigarette lighters, amiably singing “London Homesick Blues” together. Anecdotes don’t get much better than that.
Featured image: Night view of Austin skyline and Lady Bird Lake as seen from Lou Neff Point. Photo by LoneStarMike. CC BY 3.0n via Wikimedia Commons.
Author of the book Night, Elie Wiesel, in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech stated, “I remember: it happened yesterday, or eternities ago.” This quote holds true for many who have survived terrible tragedies or traumatic events in their lives. Often, survivorship and healing after trauma are long and personalized journeys, individualized paths of learning how to live a meaningful life after surviving trauma or tragedy. Each person’s life trajectory is unique, and however painful that journey may be, hope, renewal, and healing are possible.
The young, frightened mother who huddled in the basement with her infant during a tornado as debris swirled around them; the young man who survived a tragic automobile accident in which friends did not survive; or the child who witnessed a terrifying shooting in her neighborhood – these are all examples of individuals who have survived traumatic events. To hurt emotionally after experiencing a tragedy simply means that you are human. To process the traumatic event, heal emotionally, and move forward in life may be difficult, but it is achievable. When disaster or trauma strike, the immediate impact and after-effects of the event can feel intensely frightening, anxiety-provoking, and often life-changing. Earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis — as well as bombings, shootings, genocide, sexual assaults, domestic violence, child abuse, and traffic accidents — these natural disasters and manmade traumatic events can invoke feelings of fear, anger, anxiety, and grief. Many times, victims and those around them feel a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, as they could not control the traumatic event nor did they have a way to prevent it from happening. They may blame themselves for the disaster or traumatic incident, even though they are not to blame. When feasible, victims and observers of trauma need to feel safe and protected immediately after the trauma occurs to help them regain a sense of safety after feeling so threatened in such a personal and direct sense.
Children, adolescents, and adults may all experience the impact of trauma. Some people may be easily startled after hearing the sound of cars backfiring or doors slamming. Others may have terrifying nightmares or immobilizing flashbacks of the traumatic events during the day, sometimes when it is least expected. Seeing images on television or online that remind victims of the trauma may be difficult for victims to view. Each person’s experience, and each person’s reaction to that experience is unique.
Immediately after a tragedy occurs, people may experience acute stress that is a temporary period of adjustment after surviving a trauma. If symptoms such as hypervigilance, flashbacks, and nightmares continue for a prolonged time period, they may be experiencing symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress. These traumatic events may alter the course of peoples’ lives and can be emotionally painful- but working toward feeling better after surviving a traumatic event is important. Traumatic life experiences can alter peoples’ lives and can be extremely emotionally painful. It is normal to feel emotional pain after something very frightening happens. Though it may take time, recovery is achievable. Everyone’s healing journey is unique, and is customized to his or her own circumstances including the impact the tragedy or traumatic event has on his or her life.
After trauma, some people may seek the comfort and support of friends or family members. Others may find solace in spirituality or their chosen faith. Some may benefit from meditation, yoga, exercise, or spending time in nature. For those creatively inclined, creative outlets such as storytelling, drama, music, art, or writing may be beneficial to themselves and other trauma survivors by releasing and sometimes, when desired, sharing their trauma related story to assist them and other survivors in moving forward toward healing and personal growth. Some may benefit from becoming advocates for other victims of trauma or may find meaning through efforts targeted at preventing future tragedies, disasters, or traumatic events from happening again in the future. Yet others may choose various therapeutic interventions with the help of a caring mental health professional.
Every person who has survived a disaster or traumatic event has a personal story of survivorship. And every person deserves the chance to process that story in his or her own unique way, in his or her own time. Healing from trauma is individualized as well, and each person finds what promotes healing for him or her. Sometimes a goal is to lessen, soften, or subdue traumatic memories so people can live today. Seeking solace, comfort, and sometimes professional help when needed after trauma can be beneficial- and can help people move forward toward a healthier, happier, meaningful life.