Chad Comello

libraries, culture, typewriters

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Bookception

I’m in the middle of David McCullough’s Truman, a 1,000-page biography (not including the end-matter). Given its girth I figured I’d have to take a break at some point. Sure enough, page 500 rolls around and I get a notification that Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is finally ready for me at the library. So I start that one and immediately love it.

Then I remember I have two forthcoming books I need to review for Booklist with fast-approaching deadlines. So now I’m in a book while reading another book, which itself is a break from another book.

In other words: Bookception.

BWAAAAAAAMMMMMMMMMM

Grant me a Roosevelt biopic

The Oscar winner has Teddy Roosevelt and Ulysses S. Grant biopics lined up, and scholars are using everything from 'Hamilton' to toxic masculinity to make their pitches to the actor.

Why didn’t anyone tell me there are Ulysses Grant and Theodore Roosevelt biopics in the works from Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese? And that Leonardo DiCaprio is attached to star in both of them?

The Hollywood Reporter asked a bunch of historians whether Leo should play Grant or Roosevelt. Looking at their pictures above I’d say he could pull off either. My preference is that he plays Roosevelt and Jared Harris plays Grant as he did in Spielberg’s Lincoln.

More important to me, though, is what kind of biopic they will be. Will they be like Lincoln, beautifully made, regal, and safe but not comprehensive, focused on a specific moment instead of the full life? Will they be like J. Edgar—or a Scorsese’s The Aviator for that matter—which tried to pack in decades of history and aging makeup, to the detriment of a cohesive and compelling portrait?

Or will they be something else entirely? I hope so. Love me some Lincoln, but Grant was no Lincoln. He deserves a director willing to go dark and gritty and avoid the hagiography that has recently started to envelope Grant.

Scorsese doing Roosevelt is growing on me though. Being a New Yorker himself will help him capture the fiery aspect of TR’s spirit, which has some modern resonance.

I’m gonna watch the hell out of these projects regardless.

Psychedelics and the glow of truth

Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, one of my favorite narrative nonfiction books, tells the story of four common plants and the human impulses they satisfy: the apple (sweetness), the tulip (beauty), marijuana (intoxication), and the potato (control).

His new book is How to Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics. Probably because I’ve never done psychedelics (or even smoked pot), I was eager to learn about them from a reputable and investigative source with an open mind. Pollan explores the history of psychedelics, how they were used in clinical trials in the 1950s before Timothy Leary and the damned dirty hippies ruined them for everyone (my words), and how modern science is discovering their powerful affects on the brain and mental health.

He also explores them firsthand, in two supervised experiences with LSD. He writes:

I’m struck by the fact there was nothing supernatural about my heightened perceptions that afternoon, nothing that I needed an idea of magic or a divinity to explain. No, all it took was another perceptual slant on the same old reality, a lens or mode of consciousness that invented nothing but merely (merely!) italicized the prose of ordinary experience, disclosing the wonder that is always there in a garden or wood, hidden in plain sight… Nature does in fact teem with subjectivities — call them spirits if you like — other than our own; it is only the human ego, with its imagined monopoly on subjectivity, that keeps us from recognizing them all, our kith and kin.

That division between the ego, the rest of human consciousness, and nature is fascinating, and something we so easily forget is constructed rather than inherent. Pollan writes how, basically, babies are tripping all the time, because their brains haven’t developed to the point of knowing the difference between the ego and the rest of existence. All is one with them, as their minds are constantly open and learning, without the well-worn neural pathways and rigid thinking of adult brains.

Sounds like hippy-dippy pabulum? You’re right. As Pollan writes about the power of ineffability in psychedelic experiences, that’s the point:

Psychedelic experiences are notoriously hard to render in words; to try is necessarily to do violence to what has been seen and felt, which is in some fundamental way pre- or post-linguistic or, as students of mysticism say, ineffable. Emotions arrive in all their newborn nakedness, unprotected from the harsh light of scrutiny and, especially, the pitiless glare of irony. Platitudes that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Hallmark card glow with the force of revealed truth.

“Italicizing the prose of ordinary experience” and “glow with the force of revealed truth” or revelation are beautiful, vivid metaphors, and metaphors are all we really have when describing the ineffable. Just read the Old Testament for proof.

I’m still not planning on doing psychedelics—books and movies are still my go-to mind-expanding drugs—but I’m grateful for Pollan’s work on deepening our understanding of them.

Ram McCartney

Rob Sheffield’s Dreaming the Beatles (highly recommended) has a great Paul McCartney quote on his own solo work:

I hear some of them and think, blimey, you should finish that one someday, son.

I don’t think that applies to his more recent ones, which I really like: 2005’s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, 2007’s Memory Almost Full, and 2012’s jazz standards cover album Kisses on the Bottom.

I also like his first two solo records, 1970’s McCartney and 1971’s Ram. But I also think, in the spirit of Better The Beatles and Paul’s own above quote, that they could be improved. Basically by becoming one album.

Here’s what my version of Ram McCartney would look like:

  1. The Lovely Linda
  2. That Would Be Something
  3. Every Night
  4. Junk
  5. Man We Was Lonely
  6. Teddy Boy
  7. Maybe I’m Amazed
  8. Too Many People
  9. Ram On
  10. Dear Boy
  11. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
  12. Heart of the Country
  13. Eat at Home

Gone are all the instrumental or noise songs, and the ones that simply annoy me like “Kreen Akrore” and “Monkberry Moon Delight”. The result is a much tighter, cohesive album that shows off McCartney’s renowned talent without the self-indulgent piffle of these early solo works.

You’re welcome.

Why pause? Life’s magical moments right in front of you

Magazine mashups from Money, June 2017. More here.

Know Wonder

I’m sad I missed the TEDx event this year at my alma mater, especially because of its great theme and logo:

tedxncc-knowwonder-concpet-final.jpg

Asleep at the win

cubs-win

This is the story of how I didn’t see the Cubs win the World Series.

I married into Cubs fandom, so I wasn’t emotionally invested in their 2016 World Series run. Still, like everyone in Chicagoland, I followed them throughout those playoffs and every game of the World Series.

Until the bottom of the ninth of Game 7. Cleveland had tied it at 6 before the rain delay hit. It was late, I was so tired, and had no idea how long the rain delay would last. I’m out, I told my wife. Let me know if they win.

Part of me didn’t want to stay up for an unknown time only to watch the Cubs squander this golden opportunity. At that moment, momentum was against them but toward me getting some sleep.

So I did. I actually fell sleep too. Then about 45 minutes later my wife barged into the bedroom: “They won! They won! They won!” Yaaayyyy, I said groggily. I was happy about it. Of course I was: how could anyone except Cleveland fans not be? I came out to watch the celebrations, but soon returned to bed.

I watched the highlights the next day, but never got a full sense of what the 10th inning was like in real time until I watched it on the full-game DVD. It was fun to see the full context around Almora’s crucial tag-up and Rizzo’s ecstatic arrival on third, and how close Edwards Jr. was to clinching it.

The winning out is always fun to watch, but the aftermath reinforced how much less satisfying away wins are to watch in any sport. Though the Cubs fans in the crowd roared mightily after the final out, I wish I could have heard a packed Wrigley Field explode at that same moment. I think I would have stayed up for that.

How to pay your library back

Refer Madness spotlights strange, intriguing, or otherwise noteworthy stories from the library information desk.

A regular came to the desk with the George Carlin Commemorative Collection DVD she was returning.

“Before I return this,” she said, “I’d like to know how much it was for the library to buy because you bought it based on my request but I didn’t like it, so I’d like to pay the library back.”

Well, that was a first.

I reassured her that she didn’t owe the library anything, that we’d be keeping the item regardless, and that someone else will gain enjoyment from it. The library gets a lot of purchase suggestions, most of which we buy. The rare item that we don’t buy is either too expensive, too esoteric, or otherwise not in keeping with our collection policy.

Nevertheless, she persisted. Even if it wasn’t for that item, she wanted to compensate the library in some way. So I thought of some ways she (and everyone) could do so.

How to pay your library back

1. Use it.

Check things out, early and often. Books, movies, music, magazines, WiFi hotspots, ebooks, whatever your library provides. If fines are keeping you away, ask nicely to have them reduced. Seriously, this might work. (Or just bite the bullet and pay them: see #5.)

2. Get your friends and family to use it.

There’s no better publicity than word-of-mouth. Each of your kids should have their own card. Just watch out for the fines…

3. Make suggestions.

Your library doesn’t have an item or service you think they should? Ask them to get it. Think they should go fine-free or set up automatic renewals? Tell them many libraries are doing it. Comments and suggestions from local cardholders are powerful, especially en masse.

4. Volunteer.

Newly retired? In library school looking for work experience? Odds are your library has something for you to do. Volunteers often get hired because of that proverbial foot in the door.

5. Donate.

Your gently used books and tax-deductible donations are always welcome. You’ll get the money back in the improvements the library can make with it. Donate enough and you might get a meeting room named after you.

Typing it forward

I heard from a neighbor friend that an older gentleman in our community was having trouble with his new typewriter. His advancing dementia made using his computer difficult, so his family got him a Royal Scriptor II from Office Depot to allow him to still write messages.

Let alone that electronic typewriters are not my thing, that the Scriptor was $300 was damn near offensive to me. I told my friend I’d be happy to help diagnose the problem, but also that I’d be just as happy to donate one of my typewriters. This would allow them to get their money back, avoid plugs and cables, and type on something that was made when people knew how to make typewriters.

My Royal Futura 800 seemed like a good option. I was considering selling it, but since I got it for free I thought it would be better to pay it forward. Like Andy’s toys in Toy Story, I think typewriters just want to be used. All the better by someone who will appreciate that use.

OED can you see?

A used books and records store in my town just moved even closer to my place. Today I stopped by and saw a two-volume Oxford English Dictionary Compact Edition. It comes in a case and with its own magnifying glass, because they weren’t kidding when they called it compact:

I exercised enough self-control to pass on it, but one day…

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