and the pursuit of happiness

I knew Maira Kalman's work from her having illustrated the classic writing handbook Elements of Style by Strunk and E.B. White of Charlotte's Web fame.  Her book And the Pursuit of Happiness is a graphic tribute to America, from coast to coast, from the halls of the federal government, through the lives and complexities of historical figures like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and neighborhoods in New York including a Brooklyn sewage plant that looks like a sculpture.  Her strategy of zooming in on the smallest details amidst big stories makes the book feel both epic and, somehow, very intimate.

Across from an image of the original patent on the safety pin (1849) is my favorite quote of the book:

"Everything is invented.  Language.  Childhood. Careers.  Relationships.  Religion.  Philosophy.  The future.  They are not there for the plucking.  They don't exist in some natural state.  They must be invented by people and that, of course, is a great thing." (p. 242)

Thank you Eti for the gift of this book!  It was the best read of April, and it carried me straight through to May in small, deliciously lovely bites.

Also-reads of this past few weeks of post-tenure-vacation:

  • Three Times Lucky by Turnage (middle grade mystery, a bit twee at moments, but suspenseful enough to be readable)
  • Best Shot in the West by McKissack/DuBurke (graphic novel history of Nat Love, African American cowboy)
  • Liar & Spy by Stead (outstanding middle-grades tale of the slow developing of an apartment-building friendship between a new kid who has just moved in and a mysterious kid with a spy club)

Public libraries and information history

Public libraries are a cornerstone of my professional and academic passions.  The kinds of questions I've asked have always been:  how did this come to be?  Not in myself, but in the world... how did libraries, particularly public libraries, come to be the the places they are?

I answered some of these questions for myself in my dissertation and subsequent publications for Library Quarterly, Book History, Libraries and the Cultural Record (a journal that has changed names so many times it makes your head spin... it's now Information & Culture), and in a handful of book chapters.

But there's always more to learn, and I recently came across a great syllabus by my colleague Greg Downey at UW Madison who teaches in Journalism as well as LIS

Here's a sampling of the readings from the week on Public Library Purposes:

  • F. B. Perkins, “How to make town libraries successful,” in United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Education, Public libraries in the United States of America: Their history, condition and management, 2 vols. (Washington, DC: US GPO, 1876), 419-430.
  • Sidney Ditzion, “The humanitarian idea” and “Conclusions” from Arsenals of a democratic culture: A social history of the American public library movement in New England and the Middle States from 1850-1900 (Chicago: ALA, 1947), 97-109, 190-193.
  • Michael H. Harris, “The purpose of the American library: A revisionist interpretation of history,” Library Journal (15 Sep 1973), 2509-2514.
  • Phyllis Dain, “Ambivalence and paradox: The social bonds of the public library,” Library Journal 100 (1975), 261-266.
  • Elaine Fain, “Manners and morals in the public library: A glance at some new history [with commentary by Michael Harris and Dee Garrison],” Journal of Library History 10:2 (1975), 99-116.

And another course from UNC's R. E. Berquist of readings on the public library:

Comedic Comedian Memoirs

Laughter may or may not be the best medicine, but it's what I craved over this past winter, especially during the holidays.  I had many January plane rides as well this year, and comedy is of the essence when trapped on a plane.  All of these have strong YA crossover appeal, and, I have to say, if you gave something like Moranthology to your 17-year-old niece, you'd probably be about the coolest aunt in existence.   Here's a sampling of what I read:

Girl Walks Into a Bar by Rachel Dratch
Part comedy and part memoir, this is about Rachel Dratch after the TV appearances dried up.  She bemoans the Hollywood looks machine, but she also goes about inventing a remarkably interesting and appealing life for herself.

Moranthology by Caitlin Moran
If you loved How to Be a Woman, then you want More Moran.  This is a collection of her essays, and her characteristically smart and cranky British humor is going full force here.

A Bad Idea I'm About to Do by Chris Gethard
Depression and mental illness are not laughing matters, but Gethard takes it upon himself to laugh at his own bad judgment over the years.  He turns the lens on his family and himself, owning some real problems that they have had but also showing how he grew through them, even when he did some really bad ideas.

People are Unappealing by Sara Barron
If you're ready to look back at your younger years as the delusional time they were, this snarky memoir might be for you.  From unrealistic dreams of theater success to an unsuccessful waitressing gig at Coyote Ugly in very little clothing, Barron showcases her own raw efforts to grow up.  This one has the least YA appeal, except for the terminally snarky, who will probably eat it up.