Ah, the good old days of vacation reading....

I remember winter break as if it were only yesterday. Actually, it technically ended day before yesterday. For me, it ended after Jan. 1, when I had to start cranking out my paper for the ALISE conference.

Here's some of what I read in those now bygone days...

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
An old man, now in a nursing home, flashes back to his younger days when he ran away and became a circus vet, met the love of his life, and witnessed a gruesome murder. This is a good read, page-turning, and heartbreaking in places but ultimately hopeful. Hopeful because we don't have to give up dignity, even if our circumstances seem wretched.

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

You can see why women's self-help gurus of today might want to trace their origins back to this vaunted little tome. A couple of quotes:

On honesty: "I find that I am shedding hypocrisy in human relationships. What a rest that will be! The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere." (p. 32)

"We are all, in the last analysis, alone. And this basic state of solitude is not something we have any choice about." (p. 41)

"The sunrise shell [a perfect, matched pairing] has the eternal validity of all beautiful and fleeting things." (p. 76)

On unstoppable change:
"Intermittency--an impossible lesson for humans beings to learn. How can one learn to live through the ebb-tides of one's existence? How can one learn to take the trough of the wave?" (p. 109)

I don't know, but as we do survive it, I'm hopeful that there must be some way that we can learn to take it.

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

I am a lazy Francophile. I love French stuff, French language, movies, food, when I happen to come across it, but I rarely seek it out deliberately. This book was an exception, and it was a pleasure to read. Mayle immerses the reader in the practical side of life in Provence, which is to say that there is much about FOOD. I love food, love eating it, love reading about it, and I swear just thinking about that delicious food in Provence made everything I ate this holiday season taste better. It certainly inspired me to get back to my favorite everyday creative activity: cooking. No special quotes to keep from this one, just a lovely lilting read.

Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins

I skimmed the above book at rapid-fire pace today, and here's what I came away with:

Jenkins is all about how multiple forms of media allow consumers to become participants. He wrote chapters on the group that tried to sleuth out how each season of Survivor would end by analyzing the footage frame-by-frame, the American Idol participatory phenomenon, and the Matrix with its "transmedia storytelling" through 3 movies, games, and websites. Jenkins writes: "Transmedia storytelling is the art of world making." And I think of all those fantasy novelists who have always been involved with world making, but their worlds were specific to the medium of print. Except when there were also role playing games... "Transmedia storytelling" is an interesting idea, and one I imagine I'll be mulling over for awhile.

Finally, he has a chapter on Harry Potter, which I know I'll be assigning to my students for next fall, because it's all about children as writers, not just readers. In the chapter "Why Heather Can't Write" (a play on the old Why Johnny Can't Read), Jenkins details the creation of a fake newspaper for Hogwarts by a homeschooled middle-schooler in Mississippi which then became a major hub of fan fiction, or stories written by fans to extend the world of the book or books. Harry Potter "fan fic" has been written for and by readers of all ages on many different websites. Heather had an edge as a site for kids because her goals were essentially educational, to get children like herself deeply involved with reading and writing. And then Warner Bros. and Scholastic attacked, which went badly; 1,500 people signed a petition to get them to leave her site alone. The corporate media withdrew, realizing they were attacking the heart of their own fan base. Jenkins also gets into the right-wing reactions to Harry Potter in this chapter, but that part of the story was less exciting (and more familiar) to me than the part that emphasized children as producers of media.

I'd recommend this to anybody engaged in thinking about media or storytelling, especially those who want a clear overview of the academic debates that preceded his approach.

Sherman Alexie, Circadian Rhythms

(nothing so fun as catching typos like "Alexia" for "Alexie" in posts that are months old... long-time GSLISers will know why I made the error....)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
What they're saying is true, this is a beautiful book. From the scene where Junior's new friend Gordy tells him that books and learning should give him a "metaphorical boner" to the scene where his mom rejects the gift of a pow-wow dancing outfit from the white man Ted (not that Ted fully understands that his hand-outs are being scoffed at, but all the folks on the res do), this book is outstanding. Alexie shows the frustration of being the only "Indian" at his high school besides the mascot. There's a section from this that I'll be reading to my storytelling classes this spring to spark discussions about cultural ownership.

Two quotes, both relevant to storytelling in different ways:
"So Coach and I sat awake all night.
We told each other many stories.
But I never repeat those stories.
That night belongs to just me and my coach." (p. 149)

"'It looks more like Sioux to me,' my mother said. 'Maybe Oglala. Maybe, I'm not an expert. Your anthropologist wasn't much of an expert, either. He got this way wrong.'
We all just sat there in silence as Ted mulled that over.
Then he packed his outfit back into the suitcase, hurried over to his waiting car, and sped away.
For about two minutes, we all sat quiet. Who knew what to say? And then my mother started laughing.
And that set us all off.
Two thousand Indians laughed at the same time." (p. 165-166)

Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream by Jennifer Ackerman

Do any of you have trouble sleeping like I do? Here's an interesting quote from this book, which is a very accessible synthesis of much recent research regarding our human bodies:
"In other cultures, such as the !Kung of Botswana, the Efe of the Congo, or the Gebusi of New Guinea, any one at all might be awake now [in the middle of the night]. In traditional, non-Western societies, social activity and frequent interruptions are often embedded in a night's sleep, say Carol Worthman, an anthropologist at Emory University. When Worthman conducted the first study of sleep patterns across a wide variety of traditional cultures, she discovered that the Western model of a habitual bedtime and a single spell of solitary sleep is rare indeed." (p. 176)

On p. 177, she talks about an historical study that found that in medieval Western societies, sleep often came in 2 sessions, "first sleep" and "second" or "morning sleep." Then Ackerman describes a contemporary study where subjects lived for one month in light conditions like those of a medieval winter in northern Europe, darkness from 6pm to 8am. "...[E]ventually, then fell into a pattern of two distinct periods, sleeping for four hours, from 8pm to midnight, awakening from REM sleep and staying awake for a couple of hours in quiet, 'nonanxious' rest, then falling back asleep at 2am for another four hours, until waking at 6am to start the day." (p. 177)

It's reassuring to someone who has frequent bouts of insomnia that come on about 4 hours after I've gone to sleep to read that I may be more normal than not.

Great Reading, Not-So-Great Holidays

This is not the place to complain, but the holidays could have been better this year. Fortunately, I devoted much of my time to the escapist reading of these great books:

Rita Gelman, Tales of a Female Nomad

Not the best written book in the world, in that there's not a strong narrative binding her wanderings together, but I was in the mood to read about someone else's wandering and it was perfect for that. Gelman has built a life around moving from place to place while also making deep attachments while she's in a place. Her tricks for gaining entree include wearing the local dress and cooking with the groups of women, wherever groups of women are cooking. The author is made of iron, which I envy, but when all's said and done I'd rather be an armchair traveler. She takes us to Mexico, Nicaragua in the '80s, Bali for 8 years, New Zealand, and on various trips back to the states as she maintains ties to her own family even as she builds deep relationships elsewhere. I respect her ability to notice when she is getting too comfortable and move herself on to more experiences. I hope I can do the same in my own way, with my own learning.

Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

This, on the other hand, is one of the best written books of the year. Junior is a bright kid stuck at a reservation school until he decides to transfer to the white high school, where the only other American Indian is the mascott. Never too reverent, this is a fresh take on identity politics. Highlights include the metaphorical boner over learning and the refusal of Junior's mom to take part in billionaire white-guy Ted's "generous" gift of Junior's recently deceased grandmother's pow wow dancing outfit. Just go read it already.

Pope, Eliz., The Perilous Gard

In this book, the fairies aren't little people, they're pagans and druids who took to dwelling under the earth when Christianity conquered England. They're not precisely human, however, and it takes all that our heroine Kate Sutton can muster to save her beloved from their All Hallow's Eve rite of human sacrifice.

Amy Saltzman, Downshifting
If I ever write career advice nonfiction, remind me not to include so much about the '80s that the book is hopelessly dated even a decade later. The premise is interesting: you don't have to leave your career to achieve balance, you just have to learn to set limits. However, I found the examples of corporate execs who downshifted to academia to be laughable... they're certainly not at the U of I. Most of the book consists of stories of individuals who have adjusted their careers in various ways to achieve balance in their lives. Worth browsing through, but not thorough reading.

Giving up one of many possible paths

I went and saw The Golden Compass on the big screen this week. It was fun, but I echo the comments of others who told me it would be pretty disorienting without the book. I really enjoy the villification of religion, simply because it's such a refreshing change of pace from fantasies where the good is implicitly God.

But the point of mentioning Pullman was actually to segue to multiple universes... if I could be all the researchers I want to be, if I could follow every passion, then I would certainly devote some time to trying to scare up the existence and contents of libraries that were in reform schools for kids in the 19th century. The 1876 report Public Libraries in the U.S. has some great leads in this regard. And I found these books....

--Schlossmann, Steven L., Love and the American Delinquent: The Theory and Practice of "Progressive" Juvenile Justice, 1825-1920
--Clapp, Elizabeth J., Mothers of all Children: Women Reformers and the Rise of Juvenile Courts in Progressive Era America
--Brenzel, Barbara, Daughters of the State: A Social Portrait of the First Reform School for Girls in North America, 1856-1905

If I could be all things, I'd pursue this. But for now I'm officially letting this possible project drop and instead pursuing other things. Like my presentation/article on the unspoken influence of women serving children in the devleopment of professional librarianship, 1876-1900. Did you know they were the first to systematically use national surveys to ascertain the state of library practices? I know, geeky but scintillating stuff.

An interesting book of children's writings, which I'm going to hold on to for the moment:
--Dulberger, Judith A., "Mother Donit fore the Best:" Correspondence of a Nineteenth-Century Orphan Asylum
but it Has No Index!!! Ack! I'm throwing a Lack-of-Index fit right now!!!!!