Chad Comello

Librarian, cinephile, et al

Author: Chad (page 1 of 53)

Aly Raisman’s remarks to abuser Larry Nassar: ‘You are nothing’

Former Olympic gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman spoke at the trial of USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who’s accused of abusing scores of young gymnasts over decades. Her remarks areÂ đŸ”„đŸ”„đŸ”„:

I am here to face you, Larry, so you can I see I have regained my strength, that I am no longer a victim. I am a survivor. I am no longer that little girl you met in Australia, where you first began grooming and manipulating. As for your letter yesterday, you are pathetic to think that anyone would have sympathy for you. You think this is hard for you? Imagine how all of us feel.

She goes on to recount precisely how Nassar abused her and so many other young athletes, and how the system of complicity around him enabled it to go on for so long.

I shouldn’t be surprised Raisman was so poised and confident; she’s a three-time Olympic gold medalist in a sport that seems to me to be one of the mentally toughest. But she was far from the mat here, and I applaud her and the many other young women who have come forward to share their stories.

Pinery Boys: Songs and Songcatching in the Lumberjack Era

Got Pinery Boys: Songs and Songcatching in the Lumberjack Era as an unexpected Christmas gift from my dad. Given our shared appreciation for and history in the Northwoods of Wisconsin (though not in lumberjacking or songcatching unfortunately), this was a delightful read. It’s partly a reprint of Franz Rickaby’s 1926 collection Ballads and Songs of the Shanty-Boy and partly essays about Rickaby himself, folk songs of the lumberjack era in the late 19th and early 20th century Upper Midwest, and the tradition of capturing that folklore. Over 60 songs are included, with introductory notes, full lyrics, and even music notations.

The editors’ sources and bibliography were fun to explore for related books and albums of regional folk songs. Favorites include Northwoods Songs and Folksongs of Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937–1946. (I’m also eager to track down Finnish American Songs and Tunes, from Mines, Lumber Camps, and Workers’ Halls and, just for kicks, the albums Down Home Dairyland by James Leary and A Finnish American Christmas by Koivun Kaiku.)

What was really fun to read was Rickaby’s original introductory text. People don’t write like this anymore:

Meanwhile, the shanty-boy came into his own. Up and down and across the country he roamed—here today, there tomorrow; chopping, skidding, rolling, hauling, driving great logs that the snarling saws might be fed. The free life called him, the thunder of falling majesties intoxicated him. Amid this stately presence, along these avenues of “endless upward reaches,” he rudely trampled the whiteness of the earth. His axe bit deep as it shouted, and his saw-blade sang in the brittle air. The soft aroma of the woods at peace sharpened to an acrid redolence, acute, insistent—the cry of wounded pine. The great crests trembled, tottered, and thundered to the earth in a blinding swirl of needles and snow-dust, and the sun and sky at last looked in. The conqueror shouted as the proud tops came crashing down, though the places made vacant and bare meant nothing to him. Long hours of hard labor, simple fare, and primitive accommodations hardened him; the constant presence of danger rendered him resourceful, self-reliant, agile. It was as if the physical strength and bold vitality, the regal aloofness of the fallen giants, flowed in full tide into him and he thus came to know neither weariness nor fear. Neither Life nor Death was his master. He loved, hated, worked, played, earned, spent, fought, and sang—and even in his singing was a law unto himself.

And yet, Rickaby acknowledges the excesses of the Lumberjack Era:

The lumber industry still moves on. In the East, the North, the South, and the far West the trees still fall; for men must still have lumber, even more than ever. But it is now a cold and calculated process, with careful emphasis on selection, salvage, and by-product. The riot of wasteful harvest is no more: the unexpected vision of impending want, of imminent ugly barrenness, has quenched the thrill of destruction. The nation, having allowed the candle to be burned at both ends, tardily awakes to the necessity of conservation, a sort of cold gray “morning after.” Such a morning has its good and holy uses; but whatever forms of exultation may finally come of it, it must be noted that song is not one of its immediate possessions.

He marks the turn of the century, once the lumber business was industrialized along with everything else, as the turning point for lumberjack songs as well:

It was evident that some grim chance was taking place, killing the song in the hearts of workers, not only in the forests, but abroad in the world as well. Instead of singing, they read or talked or plotted; or if they did sing, the song was no longer of themselves. The complexion of the shanty crews changed. Where once had been the free-moving wit, the clear ringing voice of the Irishman, the Scotsman, the French-Canadian, there appeared in greater numbers the stolid Indian, the quiet, slow-moving, more purposeful Scandinavian.

Rickaby identifies three traits most common to “bona-fide singers of shanty-song”:

  1. “Intense application to the matter at hand”, meaning they were very focused on singing, sometimes even closing their eyes;
  2. A willingness to sing;
  3. A habit of dropping to a speaking voice on the last words of a song, sometimes “talking” the entire last line to indicate the song is finished.

Besides those commonalities, every rendition of every song could be slightly different depending on who sang it and how he made it his own. I look forward to trying to make some of these old folk songs my own too.

For when you want to live again

A half-deaf star with promise,
next always to the one who grew into a supernova
and left to shine brightly,
shrinks and stares at the cold abyss.
Then the supernova returns with its light,
to its small town in the universe.

A eucatastrophe to save a life,
For when you want to live again.

Good tidings it brings to its kin,
and salvation,
calling riches into being
for the sake of old times.

How it all comes together in the end:
The machinations of love embodied by
Mary, Christmas.
It’s a cacophonous love
that drafts through the doors,
with jubilation and release,
understanding and aid.
A jolly band on parade:
wine flowing,
voices singing,
bells ringing,
coins clinking,
and lovers bringing
peace and wholeness, like you’ve been given wings
for a first-class trip
home again.

Man’s Search for Responsibility

Finally got around to reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. In one part he talks about a hypothetical “Statue of Responsibility”:

Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.

Clever, I thought when I read it. But when I was researching Frankl after reading the book, I learned the Statue of Responsibility is (becoming) a real thing:

I like how it flips Liberty’s arm motif. There isn’t a permanent site for it yet, but I hope it comes together.

Some other quotes from the book I enjoyed:

  • “For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.”
  • “Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now.”
  • “Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”
  • Prisoners looking at sunset: “How beautiful the world could be.”
  • “Self-actualization is possible only possible as a side effect of self-transcendence.”

Mark Twain on the ‘glory-beaming banjo’

Courtesy of the Steve Martin-narrated documentary Give Me The Banjo about “America’s Instrument”, here’s Mark Twain on the banjo:

The piano may do for love-sick girls who lace themselves to skeletons, and lunch on chalk, pickles and slate pencils. But give me the banjo. … When you want genuine music—music that will come right home to you like a bad quarter, suffuse your system like strychnine whisky, go right through you like Brandreth’s pills, ramify your whole constitution like the measles, and break out on your hide like the pin-feather pimples on a picked goose,—when you want all this, just smash your piano, and invoke the glory-beaming banjo!

Also by Twain:

A gentleman is someone who knows how to play the banjo and doesn’t.

There’s a reason Mark Twain is quoted so often; it’s because he’s so damn quotable.

Since getting a banjo for my birthday I’ve been on the lookout for banjo-related movies and such. I watched Bela Fleck’s documentary How to Write a Banjo Concerto, and then just this week discovered Give Me The Banjo at my library. What else is good?

Potent quotes noted in 2017

A few years ago I started logging the interesting or inspiring quotes I come upon in my reading and watching. I thought it would be fun to post the ones I captured in 2017, which taken together tell part of the ongoing story going on in my head and heart. What story do they tell, I wonder:


“Learning weighs nothing. Lessons you can carry with you.” – Rachel Seiffert, A Boy in Winter

“Read more than you write, live more than you read.” – Junot Diaz

“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” – Mary Oliver

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” – attributed to Dwight Eisenhower

“All wisdom ends in paradox.” – Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

“The blessing is outside of your comfort zone.” – Running store guy, via Ashley Hicks

“Knowing that we have to die, we ought to live to be prepared to die well, and then, let death come when it may.” – Andrew Jackson

“It is preferable to take people as they are, rather than as they really are.” – Lord Chesterfield

“To look for something beautiful is its own reward. A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” – The Lost City of Z

“Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent. Build a tangled bank.” – Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From

Favorite Books of 2017

Goodreads tells me I read one less book this year than last. Though always tempted to read ever more and more, I’ve become less concerned about hitting arbitrary reading quotas, so I’m able to better enjoy the books I do read. Here are the 2017 books I enjoyed the most, with links to reviews I wrote when I read them:

  1. Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper (review)

  2. Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler (review)

  3. High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic by Glenn Frankel

  4. Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

  5. The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World by Damon Krukowski (review)

  6. Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks (review)

  7. How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs (review)

  8. Movies are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings by Josh Larsen (review)

  9. The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek by Howard Markel (review)

  10. The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse (review)


Honorable mentions:

The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures by the Library of Congress

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

The Book Thieves: The Nazi Looting of Europe’s Libraries by Anders Rydell (review)

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul

Rainy Lake House: Twilight of Empire on the Northern Frontier by Theodore Catton

#SheToo: Favorite Films of 2017

The overarching theme of the year in film, to me, was Wonder Women. Not only was the Wonder Woman film good, but in a year when badly behaving men dominated the news, I’m grateful there were so many richly drawn female protagonists who ran the gamut of strong, vulnerable, funny, and complicated, and who made their movies better.

I mean, just consider Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird, Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman, Elizabeth Olsen in Wind River, Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water, Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project, Jenny Slate in Landline, Haley Lu Richardson in Columbus, Jennifer Lawrence in mother!, Meryl Streep in The Post, Jessica Chastain in Molly’s Game, Cynthia Nixon in A Quiet Passion, Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Margot Robbie in I, Tonya, and Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, to name a few.

As with the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, I hope #MeToo and the new Time’s Up campaign in Hollywood lead to positive change in cinema. (I just realized all the aforementioned actresses are white…) The world benefits from different kinds of stories being told in fresh ways by people who in a different time wouldn’t be able to tell them. More power—and funding!—to those people.

So many films from this year have stayed in my mind. Ranking them felt as arbitrary and borderline sadistic as ranking works of art actually is. I almost took the coward’s way out and listed them alphabetically. But in a bid for clarity and uniformity with my previous best-of lists, here are my favorite films from 2017:

1. The Florida Project

No joke: Brooklynn Prince for Best Actress. Her very real chops as a 6-year-old allowed Tangerine director Sean Baker to wrangle from her a well-rounded, film-carrying performance as Moonee, a wily, incorrigible kid tromping around unsupervised in a low-income motel community. The fragmentary, mosaic-like narrative structure might have dragged a bit here and there, but it also created images that pay off later in the film, like Moonee in the bath. Very well done, with an ending that slams like a motel room door.


2. A Ghost Story

“Casey Affleck in a bedsheet” is technically what most of the movie consists of, but that ain’t the half of it. Focus too much on that and you’ll miss a beautifully shot, melancholic, slyly funny, and mercifully concise meditation on the slipperiness of time and memory. How mesmerizing it is to follow a ghost that is unstuck in time. Pairs well with Richard McGuire’s graphic novel Here.


3. Coco

It’s become a cliche to laud the technical advances in film animation, especially from Pixar. But damn: this is a resplendent piece of work, and one that elicited a rare theater-cry from me. With music, family, memory, and a young boy playing a stringed instrument at the center, this makes a great companion to 2016 favorite Kubo and the Two Strings. The soundtrack is available on Hoopla for free with your library card.


4. The Lego Batman Movie

Holy Joke Density, Batman! Like The Lego Movie, every moment is packed with something: action, humor, meta-humor, color, or heart. How is it that an animated superhero movie accomplishes this way better than most human ones? I suppose I should be annoyed by another [Insert Brand Name Here] Cinematic Universe, but I’ll revisit this one any day. After all, friends are family you can choose.


5. Get Out

I don’t like watching horror films, so I was planning on skipping this until the universal acclaim compelled me otherwise. So glad I did because there’s a lot more going on than cheap scares. Speaking of scary: if this is writer-director Jordan Peele’s debut work, what does he have in store for the future?


6. Columbus (review)

Another debut, from film essayist Kogonada, this gorgeous film calls enough attention to its subjects—the modernist architecture of Columbus, IN, and the two sudden companions who take it in—to captivate viewers, but keeps enough distance to inspire pursuit. That’s usually a good formula for great cinema. Bonus points for the library references.


7. Wonder Woman (review)

The only movie I saw twice in theaters this year. What I found powerful about the now iconic No Man’s Land sequence, beyond the single-minded drive and badassery Diana shows in battle, was how it was the culmination of a day’s worth of her being told No over and over again, and choosing to ignore it each time. No, you can’t dress like that. No, you can’t go to the front. No, you can’t brandish your sword. No, you can’t enter this men’s-only room, or that other men’s-only room. No, you can’t stop to help people on the way to the front. No, you can’t go into No Man’s Land. Nevertheless, she persisted.


8. Dunkirk

In a film that’s so short and efficient (by Christopher Nolan standards), Nolan still captures the full scope of war: from the smallest stories of individual soldiers trying to survive and do their duty to the haunting grandness of thousands of soldiers trapped on a beach awaiting their doom. The interweaving timelines from the air, land, and sea might confound at first, but a second viewing confirms they fit snugly together, and build dramatically towards (78-year spoiler alert) the successful evacuation, or Miracle On Sand as I’m calling it.


9. Obit (review)

An eloquent, observant, and superbly crafted documentary by Vanessa Gould on the New York Times obituary writers and the people they cover. It’s the rare instance of the writing process being just as interesting as the writing itself. Now how about a documentary just on Jeff Roth and the Morgue (pictured above)?


10. California Typewriter (review)

Doug Nichol, a commercial and music video cinematographer, finds lots of lovingly framed images and scenes in this documentary about the “People’s Machine” and the people who love them. Between talking heads of famous typers and a reading of the Typewriter Insurgency Manifesto, Nichol’s best decision was picking a subject that is already damn photogenic.


Just missed the cut: I, Tonya, Wind River, mother!, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, A Quiet Passion, The Shape of Water, and Lady Bird

I also liked: The Big Sick, Landline, Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming, I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Haven’t seen yet: The Post, Phantom Thread, The Square

2017 in review

NYE2017-windows

This is the view from my New Year’s Eve. Since I can count the number of degrees it is outside on one hand, I decided to stay in this morning to look back at my 2017 calendar and remember the notable events, trips, and people that made up my year. In chronological order:

  1. The Packers beating the Giants and the Cowboys in the playoffs.

  2. Going down to Florida for my cousin’s funeral was the definition of bittersweet: horrible reason for being there, but good opportunity to see family we don’t see very often.

  3. Sold two typewriters for more than I bought them for. It’s a seller’s market out there.

  4. Went to Ann Arbor, MI, for the first time for a baby shower and hung out with far flung friends.

  5. Starting a two-person book club with my friend Josh, where we get together to eat and discuss the book, along with politics, religion, and everything under the sun. I call them our “save the world” sessions because we sort through the miasma of current events and decide on the proper way to fix them. If only D.C. would listen in!

  6. Bar trivia with Jenny and her cousins. Weren’t close to winning, but reminded me I should do bar trivia more.

  7. Had neighbors over for dinner, which reminded me we should have neighbors over for dinner more.

  8. Saw my grandma the day before she died. Though by that time she was unresponsive, the timing was fortuitous.

  9. Long weekend trip to the Twin Cities to visit friends. Hung out with their awesome kids and gallivanted around town.

  10. Hosted a marriage proposal in our apartment by people who used to live in it.

  11. Saw Sandra McCracken at The Union with Jenny, three of my favorite things.

  12. Got quoted in Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, then hosted a discussion about the book at a local potluck.

  13. Went to Durham, NC, for a wedding and loved it.

  14. Continued playing ultimate frisbee Sunday afternoons when I was able, and loving the feeling of a perfectly thrown touchdown.

  15. Got to facilitate two dozen very cute interviews between 3rd graders for a local history project at my library.

  16. Saw the Cubs lose to the Brewers at Wrigley Field on a cold and rainy day. Highlights within that include seeing two of Jenny’s cousins there, and Nick Offerman walking directly past us after singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.

  17. Went to my first local ward meeting, in a post-election effort to become more civically engaged.

  18. Had a quick and haphazard solo recording session of some of my songs. Won’t be able to use most of it, but it reminded me of the agony and ecstasy of recording.

  19. Took several quick trips to Jenny’s family cottage in Michigan, including over Independence Day weekend.

  20. Celebrated two years of marriage to my bride, who supports my weird hobbies and makes me want to be a better person.

  21. Went to ALA 2017 in Chicago. Seeing the Librarian of Congress was a highlight.

  22. Called or hung out with several friends, new and old, to catch up and get to know each other, all of which I appreciate.

  23. Drove to Toronto for a family wedding. The 8-hour drive wasn’t so great, but being there for the first time was.

  24. Convened with family in Cape May, NJ, for a reunion of sorts, then caravanned to Elkins, WV, for grandma’s memorial service. Saw lots of extended family for the first time and got to hang with my cousins’ kids, who grow too fast.

  25. Played golf for the first time in at least 15 years in Elkins the morning of the memorial. Grateful for my cousin’s husband’s caddying and encouragement the whole rushed 9. Sank one sweet putt and had one great approach shot, otherwise: A for effort.

  26. My sister visited to see Billy Joel at Wrigley Field. We were planning to just listen from outside the ballpark as I did years ago with a friend for Paul McCartney, but on a whim we checked the box office for tickets and decided to jump on them as an early birthday present to me. Awesome show.

  27. Saw The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, California Typewriter, and Columbus at the Music Box.

  28. Hosted several friends and family overnight on our pullout couch-bed, having each of them leave a note in our guest book.

  29. Went to college homecoming for the first time since graduating, and got an alumni discount on a t-shirt as a reward.

  30. Got an advance copy of Tom Hanks’ typewriter book, which I reviewed, then photographed with one of my typers, which got on the news. Then got a letter from the man himself.

  31. Met up with friends in Asheville, NC, which was gorgeous and fun.

  32. Wrote a post a day for #Novemblog2017 instead of trying and failing to write a novel I wouldn’t enjoy doing anyway. Some favorites: This is my alarm clock, Want to Read (∞): on becoming a good reader, Google Past, and In praise of wedding reception air drumming.

  33. Got invited to a Friendsgiving and tried to build a gingerbread house with a kid who was super stoked about it.

  34. Welcomed long-awaited nephew Olin Charles into the world, and began taking pictures of him immediately.

  35. Got some books, a Merriam-Webster t-shirt, a banjo capo, and other fun little things for Christmas.

  36. Encountered lots of great books, movies, and music, and wrote more entries in Cool Civil War Names and Refer Madness.

2017: Not Bad!

Cmd + Ctrl: towards smarter searching and dumber devices

Let me echo Austin Kleon’s ode to the search box:

Maybe it’s not so much the command prompt I’m nostalgic for, but the days when the computer wouldn’t do anything without me — I had to explicitly tell the computer what I wanted to do, and if I didn’t tell it, it would just sit there, patiently, with a dumb look on its face.

I really miss how computers used to be “dumb” in this way. The primary computer in my life — my “smartphone” — is too smart. It used to constantly push things on me — push notifications — letting me know about all sorts of stuff it thought I wanted to know about, and it continued doing this until I had the good sense to turn them all off. It’s dumber now, and much better.

Besides text messages and Snapchat pictures of my new nephew, I don’t get notifications on my phone and haven’t for a long time. I can’t imagine how people with news or social media apps subject themselves to the onslaught of Fresh Hell in their pockets all day.

In Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, Cory Doctorow writes about the need to be protected from computers as they burrow further into our lives and bodies:

I want to be sure that it is designed to take orders from its user, and to hide nothing.

Take orders and hide nothing. Command and control. Pull rather than push. Make Computers Dumb Again.

Relatedly, at Mashable, “Stop reading what Facebook tells you to read” calls for consumers to break out of Facebook’s detention center walled garden and use a web browser to find things:

By choosing to be a reader of websites whose voices and ideas you’re fundamentally interested in and care about, you’re taking control. And by doing that, you’ll chip away at the incentive publishers have to create headlines and stories weaponized for the purpose of sharing on social media. You’ll be stripping away at the motivation for websites everywhere (including this one) to make dumb hollow mindgarbage. At the same time, you’ll increase the incentive for these websites to be (if nothing else) more consistent and less desperate for your attention.

See also: Just don’t look.

Here’s to smarter searching and clicking by everyone in 2018.

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