Chad Comello

libraries, culture, typewriters

The Post

Ready Player One took my esteem for Spielberg down a notch, but The Post—made after Ready Player One but released before it—has elements of his best work, even if it doesn’t rise above the sum of its parts. Generally it’s standard Spielberg, with old-school liberal and institutionalist views on the press, akin to Lincoln in its reverence for American mythologies. But cinematically it’s much more robust and limber than a lot of his recent stuff, with closely observed moments like the shot of Bob Odenkirk’s reporter character typing at his desk as the Washington Post‘s printing press rumbles to life in a climactic moment. I think the lack of prep time did him good.

Also, I am 99% sure Tom Hanks did this movie because of all the typewriters. Working with Spielberg and Meryl Streep was merely a bonus.

Top 5 Lord of the Rings moments

It’s been 15 years since Lord of the Rings: Return of the King was released, prompting Filmspotting to dedicate an entire episode to the trilogy. And it’s been 10 years since I wrote my own appreciation of the films and the fond memories surrounding them. My feelings haven’t changed since then. In fact I have two more memories to add, both involving my wife.

Upon meeting we quickly discovered our mutual appreciation of the trilogy. Ipso facto, one of our first dates was a marathon viewing of all three films—extended editions of course. This happened amidst a blizzard so we went for snowy walks between films. Probably because of this foundational event, we ended up infusing LOTR into our wedding ceremony a few years later. We used “Concerning Hobbits” on repeat for the processional, then transitioned into the first part of “The Breaking of the Fellowship” (see below) for Jenny’s entrance.

Reader, I cried. Whether due to my beautiful bride or the music or the combination of both, it was a peak moment on the best day of my life.

So yeah, Lord of the Rings still means a lot to me. (Watching Lindsay Ellis dissect the tragedy of The Hobbit movies reinforced this all the more.) I have no idea what to expect from Amazon’s forthcoming TV series dedicated to Middle-earth, but it won’t affect my regard for the books or Peter Jackson’s original trilogy.

Top 5 Lord of the Rings moments

Picking just five moments out of 11.5 hours of film is a fool of a Took’s errand, but here are mine, in chronological order through the series.

“You shall not pass!” / “Fly, you fools!”

This scene has been memed to death, but that doesn’t negate the sheer power of Gandalf’s last stand in Moria. For someone who knew nothing of the trilogy when I saw The Fellowship of the Ring, this was a true gut punch.

“Forgive me, I did not see.”

Sean Bean, also a meme all-star and cinematic death champion, lends pathos and grace to the first true death in the fellowship. Boromir’s character arc might be the most interesting one in the first film.

“I wish the ring had never come to me.”

From the aforementioned “Breaking of the Fellowship” scene in which Frodo sets off with Samwise. The quote is originally from a scene in Moria with a vastly different tone, but it’s repurposed here to stunning effect. (See also: “Alas, that these evil days should be mine,” a quote by King Théoden in the books that didn’t make the movie but expresses a similar sentiment.)

Courage, Merry. Courage for our friends.”

Eowyn’s later “I am no man” line gets all the (deserved) love, but this moment sets that one up. The princess, eager to fight but finally aware of the gravity of battle, summons the strength for Merry and herself, who both fight for more than themselves.

“My friends, you bow to no one.”

This one made my “beautiful movie music moments” list for a reason. It’s the most triumphant of the several Return of the King endings, with Howard Shore’s main theme on full orchestral blast.

Scenes from an Evanston type-in

The Evanston Literary Festival graciously facilitated me hosting a type-in at the Bookends & Beginnings bookstore yesterday. I was there with my typewriters for about two and a half hours and had about 20-30 people sit down to type during that time.

It was a good mix of people old enough to be familiar with typewriters and young enough to know nothing about them. It was fun to get them started with the basics and then watch their inner lightbulbs grow brighter with every ding of the margin bell.

A collector stopped by and we talked repair and favorite machines. A college student was so enamored with the machines and typing experience that he talked of getting his own. A girl of about 7 or 8 sat down at the Skyriter and started in like she owned it; I learned her family had a typewriter at home so she was a well-practiced typist already!

I brought speed typing tests and writing prompts, but since most of the participants were so new to typewriters I figured it was best to keep things informal and low-pressure. Learning how to make an exclamation point and the number 1 were reward enough for most of them I think.

Overall I’m very happy about the turnout and enthusiasm. Besides selling a few typewriter books for the bookstore, it brought disparate people together in a shared public experience. I’d love to do it again, and find different ways to do public typing and meet more Typospherians in the area.

The bookstore had their own Remington Quiet-Riter, which they said hadn’t been working since they got it. I quickly realized the ribbon selector was set to stencil. The vibrator was still a little sluggish, but it typed fine:

Always interesting to see what people write when trying a typewriter for the first time:

One quiet and serious thirtysomething walked in, sat down, and started typing without a word. He was there for a while, pausing occasionally to ponder his next type. When he left I went over and snapped what he wrote:

Be the change; Just kidding!

Magazine mashups from Psychology Today, June 2016 (more here):

Songs over notes: in praise of The Okee Dokee Brothers

Had the pleasure of seeing The Okee Dokee Brothers in concert at Lincoln Hall. My little niece is a superfan of the folk duo, which is how I got turned onto them. And since they are a kid-centric act, I got to experience the glories of an 11 a.m. concert start time. I’d go to so many more concerts if they happened in the morning.

Though my exposure to children’s music is limited, none of what I have heard is as broadly appealing as The Okee Dokee Brothers. It’s just straight-up good roots, bluegrass, and folk music. Can You Canoe?, Saddle Up, and Through the Woods are all excellent albums for all ages. (They said their next album, out in October, will be all about winter—as if I needed another reason to love them!)

They also solved a problem I’d stumbled into ever since picking up the banjo and exploring bluegrass music. It’s going to sound like a backhanded compliment but I promise it’s just a plain compliment: the Okee Dokee Brothers don’t seem focused on being impressive.

They very well could be savants on the guitar and banjo, but unlike some artists they don’t waste time trying to prove how amazing instrumentalists they are through a fusillade of notes. A round of applause for those virtuosos—but I’m much more interested in being taken on a good musical storytelling journey.

The Okee Dokee Brothers demonstrated this (inadvertently) during their show, playfully hyping up their soloing abilities only to reveal some fairly pedestrian two-bar or one-note licks. Meanwhile, songs like “Through the Woods” and “Hillbilly Willy” and “Walking With Spring”, seemingly straightforward folk songs “for kids”, boast strong narrative arcs, clever lyrics, and beautiful musical craftsmanship. And all without punching listeners in the ear with a barrage of frailin’ and fingerpickin’.

In other words: Songs over notes. I know what you can do with all those notes, but what about what you can do with only some of them?

Do librarians read all day? Should we?

Librarians and library staff have been fighting the incorrect stereotype (among many others) that their jobs consist of reading all day long. And while I still have programs to plan, books to weed, research questions to respond to, and other things to worry about, I wonder if maybe, just maybe, we took a little time to read on the job and model the behavior we want to see, if we just might see our communities a little better for it.

— Abby Hargreaves, “Do librarians read all day? No, but they should”

I love the spirit behind this, especially for youth librarians seeking to model and encourage positive behavior. But since the whole premise of this article is that patrons assume we’re reading a lot anyway, are PDRs (public displays of reading) the best way to bust this particular myth?

If it were up to me, all librarians would be allowed to do some pleasure reading while on the clock. It directly relates to the essence of the job, even if it doesn’t specifically include readers advisory.

But to “model the behavior we want to see” would require us to read while on public service desks, and I think that’s bad customer service.

If we’re engrossed in or even skimming a book, they will think they are bothering us if they ask a question, which is another very common assumption I would love to destroy.

That said, if you can fit reading in with the other aforementioned responsibilities away from the desk, all the better! It’s a shame some managers would frown upon this. As if looking busy in your cubicle is the only metric for what constitutes good work. I find lunch breaks, pre-bedtime, and audiobooks during my commute enough for me to read 70-80 books per year, but your mileage and busyness may vary.

Perhaps a more structured “read-in” event would be another option: “Read With Your Librarian” or a kind of (not so) silent reading party. People reading in libraries is not a novel concept, but people of all ages intentionally reading their own books together with their neighbors is a photo-op waiting to happen.

What a Chad

I get the Word of the Day from Merriam-Webster, the OED, and Urban Dictionary in my RSS feed every day, which usually make for a lively bunch.

Well, today, May 8, 2018, Urban Dictionary’s Word of the Day is What A Chad:

A phrase describing a stereotypical young urban white male, typically single and in his 20s. This phrase is usually used to denote stereotypical “Chad” behavior which is ususally derogatory.

The misspelling of “usually” means you know it’s a legit Urban Dictionary entry.

Ain’t no road just like Lake Shore Drive

And there ain’t no road just like it
Anywhere I found
Running south on Lake Shore Drive heading into town
Just slippin’ on by on LSD, Friday night trouble bound

“Lake Shore Drive” by Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah

I’ve had occasion to drive into or through downtown Chicago several times recently, which is unusual. A few times it was for medical reasons, another for a conference in the Loop, and last Friday for a morning seminar at the University of Chicago.

Each time I do it I’m reminded of how beautiful Lake Shore Drive is.

If you’ve never been to Chicago: the city sits right next to Lake Michigan, and Lake Shore Drive runs north-south along the lakeshore. Except some museums, Navy Pier, Soldier Field, and one swanky skyscraper, it’s mostly beachfront and parks the whole way, so whichever direction you drive it (or bike or run it) will give you an amazing view of Chicago’s famous downtown architecture and the expansive lake at the same time.

On Friday I drove almost the whole stretch of the LSD, from the far north side to the far south side and back. Heading southbound, I think the scenic part of downtown begins at the Oak Street bend where the Drake Hotel sits. (Which to me always calls to mind the crucial Bible from the Drake Hotel in Mission: Impossible:  “They stamped it, didn’t they? Those damn Gideons.”)

And northbound from the University of Chicago it’s scenic pretty much the whole way. You can watch the skyscrapers get bigger and bigger until you’re almost among them.

I don’t know how many other cities have anything comparable to Lake Shore Drive, so I’m happy to have it.

The broken presidency

I love John Dickerson for the Slate Political Gabfest and his presidential history podcast, and now I love him for his recent cover story in The Atlantic about how the office of the presidency is broken and was so way before Trump:

His central thesis is something I’ve thought about for a while: that the job of being president has become too big and darn near impossible. Long gone are the days when the president could go hiking with John Muir for long stretches without an entourage (Theodore Roosevelt) or go on a golfing vacation during a natural catastrophe without getting excoriated for callousness (Eisenhower).

The unwritten job description has bloated so much that our collective expectations for the position have become absurdly high. Dickerson interviews lots of former White House staffers from recent administrations and captures a visceral sense of the ever-increasing workload and expectations they and their presidents had to deal with.

Though this problem has been growing since the latter 20th century, I noticed it acutely during Obama’s terms, which coincided with the emergence of social media as a new means of instant mass communication and the exacerbation of an already vacuous news cycle.

Here’s Dickinson on what Obama had to deal with immediately before and after the secret meetings about the operation to kill Osama bin Laden in the spring of 2011:

an education-policy speech; meetings with leaders from Denmark, Brazil, and Panama; meetings to avoid a government shutdown; a fund-raising dinner; a budget speech; a prayer breakfast; immigration-reform meetings; the announcement of a new national-security team; planning for his reelection campaign; and a military intervention in Libya.

Obama is a smart guy who is capable of compartmentalizing, but this is an insane workload. And that was just one week. Missing are all the speeches after mass shootings, campaigning, and other attendant trappings of the modern office.

And then came Trump:

The intensity of public feelings about President Trump makes it hard to measure him against the presidency. His breaks with tradition are so jarring, and the murmuration of tweets so thick, that debate about his behavior tends to be conducted on the plane of propriety and the president’s seeming disregard for it.

If Trump were a less divisive figure, we might view these lapses differently. We might consider that what looks like incompetence or impertinence on the part of the officeholder could also be evidence that the office itself is broken.

So far Trump has upended a lot of the assumptions we’ve laid on the office of the president. In some ways this has been bad and downright nefarious (*insert about 724 scandals here*), but in another way I think it could be a blessing in disguise.

The presidency needed to change. That would have been true even if Clinton had won. Now that we’re stuck with this new reality, I think it should compel us to rethink a lot of what we’ve come to expect from the presidency.

Maybe we shouldn’t expect the occupant of the presidency to help with hurricane relief if he’s just going to swoop in for a photo-op.

Maybe we shouldn’t expect the occupant of the presidency to have a fully formed position on every domestic and foreign issue.

Maybe we shouldn’t treat the occupant of the presidency like the country’s surrogate daddy or CEO who’s untouchable by the rule of law.

This does not excuse Trump’s inexcusable behavior, which is well documented on this blog. Instead, we can view it as the straw that finally broke the presidency’s back. We ought to take this opportunity to reset our expectations about the office.

Dickerson has some ideas on how to do that: among them a non-pliant Congress, a strong Cabinet, empowered White House staff, a patient news media, an understanding public, and a self-possessed president.

If that lists strikes you as unrealistic or even absurd, you’re half right. Things change whether we expect them to or not. Here’s hoping changes to the presidency come to good.

There’s always money in the Death Star

I don’t know who made this mashup of Arrested Development and Star Wars, but it captures the show’s tone so perfectly, and not only because Ron Howard himself provided the narration:

This might even make me want to see Solo: A Star Wars Story.

[*Ron Howard Arrested Development voice*] It won’t.

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