Chad Comello

libraries, culture, typewriters

Tag: books (page 1 of 6)

Paper Only! No TVs

This sign is posted in the parking lot outside my work. Why “NO TV’s”? A while ago someone left an old TV next to what they thought was a dumpster for trash but is actually a dumpster for paper recycling. But only people who had seen the TV there before it got picked up will understand the odd specificity of the sign.

It’s still a great sign without that context, because paper is the far superior technology.

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

Today in audiobook opinions

“Is listening to an audiobook the same as reading?”

Neurologically, no, but it still counts as reading a book, and is often better than merely reading one.

“Portrait of the Voice in My Head”

Great profile of “golden-throated” audiobook narrator Grover Gardner and the booming audiobook industry:

Gardner’s advice to aspiring narrators is to take a digital recorder and a book, sit in a quiet room, and read aloud for an hour without stopping. “Then tell me if you still want to do it. The answer is often ‘no,’ ” he says. “If you had to break down all the components of what goes into quality audiobook narration, it’s staggering. All the things you’re juggling in your head, in the body, in your throat and your voice.

I never recognize audiobook narrators, but I always respect their art.

A skeptic’s “Glance at the Public Libraries” of 1928, from H.L. Mencken’s American Mercury

Watch out, world: we’ve got ourselves a 90-year-old hot take!

In the June 1928 issue of The American Mercury, a periodical edited by the famous journalist H.L. Mencken, there’s an article by Fletcher Pratt called “A Glance At The Public Libraries”. I stumbled upon the issue while processing material at the Frances Willard House Museum. It was there because of the article about Willard in the same issue, but the library article was what first caught my eye.

Pratt, a writer of science fiction and history, worked at Buffalo Public Library for a time and used that experience to write this sardonic, dismissive, sexist contrarian take on the public libraries of that time.

Why read it at all? First, as a historical artifact, it provides valuable context from a different era. Second, even though it’s almost 100 years old and, to modern minds, retrograde in its view of library workers and their work, I think it’s important to read contrarian perspectives on issues close to one’s heart and mind. Librarianship is my career and one I love, but that doesn’t mean I should ignore criticisms of it.

It’s also just plain funny, in a tongue-in-cheek, insult comic kind of way. Pratt goes Don Rickles on the profession in a way only someone familiar with it could pull off.

So let’s consider what Fletcher Pratt tells us about how public libraries have changed since 1928 and in what ways they remain the same, if at all. I recommend reading the whole thing to get the full experience. But let’s take a look at some of my favorite parts:

It begins:

Every public library in the United States now places restrictions on the use of fiction.

Librarians, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. Restricting fiction seems laughable now, given how popular and dominant it is in the book and library worlds.

American librarians, in fact, have become obsessed with the idea that the national literature will go to the dogs unless they persuade their customers to read something beside fiction. Indignant papers in the library journals and long discussions at librarians meetings are given over to the great question of how to keep the public from reading what it likes and how to induce it to read the moldering stacks of books it doesn’t care about.

That’s what I mean about funny.

Three classes of books—travel, biography and history—are held in orthodox library circles to be the best antidote to this depraved fondness for works of the imagination. To these the best shelves are given, for them the special bulletins are printed, and on them the lady attendant spends the best efforts of her cajolery to make her percentage of nonfiction circulation high.

A favorite device for increasing circulation painlessly is to require every reader who uses a reference book to fill out a slip for it.… Another potent scheme is to take books into the schools; a third is to offer vacation libraries of twenty-five or fifty books for the summer. Are they read? Who cares? It makes circulation, and circulation, in the librarian’s mind, is the summum bonum.

Here is where things get a little more familiar to us moderns. Circulation remains the summum bonum of the profession, however much local value and subject matter still factor into collection development. If a book doesn’t circulate, it won’t last long in a space-limited library.

Nothing is more curious to the outside observer than the typical librarians’ preoccupation with the infinitely little. Recently, for example, an angry controversy raged through the library world as to whether Radio or Wireless should be the heading under which books on the subject were classified. … In the library where the writer once worked hours of discussion at a staff meeting were given over to the absorbing question as to whether it was better to hold a book in the left hand and insert the charge slip with the right, or vice versa.

Book in left, charge slip in right. Wanna fight about it?

This tireless energy over trivialities argues that small minds are at work, and sure enough, there is a certain lack of intelligence among librarians. The reason is not far to see; intelligence follows the cornucopia, and library work is probably the worst paid of all intellectual vocations.

In our defense, tedious discussions about trivialities are hardly exclusive to libraries. But if you’re mad about Pratt asserting a lack of intelligence among librarians, you’re definitely not gonna like his reasoning:

Since girls first discovered that it could furnish them with pin-money while they waited for someone to love them, library work has been a prime favorite with the female of the species. It involves little labor, and that of a highly genteel character; it demands no great mental ability and it places the husband-hunter who enters it on public exhibition, where she can look over and be looked over by all the nubile males of the district under the most refined auspices.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest Pratt would not have fared well in the #MeToo era. Next he tackles library school:

In no case does the course extend beyond two years, and the pedagogues have had to drag in such subjects as the History and Philosophy of Printing to make it last that long. Before the schools got under way the libraries trained rather better staffs than they have now on a month’s lectures with practical experience. The truth is that there is very little to teach; any literate person can learn all there is to a library system in a few weeks. Consequently the library schools have to drill their future B.S.’s and M.A.’s in the beautifully vague principles of “library economy,” and to impress them with the importance of such details as inserting the charging slip with the right hand, or lettering the title on a thin book in the proper direction.

I’ll save the discussion about the pros and cons of library school for another post. But “beautifully vague principles” mixed with arcane details is pretty spot-on—and why I love libraries so much. He then tips his cap to Andrew Carnegie, patron saint of library buildings:

There are never enough branches to go round, but the head librarians, pushed from below by their staffs and from above by aldermen anxious for pork, do their best, and so new branches are added apace. The fund established by the obliging Mr. Carnegie makes it easy; all the city has to do is furnish the books; the Carnegie fund will put up the imitation Greek temple and even the funerary vegetation around it.

Finally, Pratt touts the Newark library as the “highest peak” of effectiveness, unlike that of its neighbor:

Right across the Hudson is the great New York Public, in any one of whose vaulted corridors Newark’s whole collection would be lost. The contrast of striking. In the New Jersey institution one watchman is at the door and a whole corps of eager assistants stand ready to help the visitor; in the marble monument to the Astors one may count a dozen policemen in neat horizon blue idling about to enforce the library rules, while one poor boy struggles vainly with requests for information.

DDC 450-499: A grossly unfair linguistic ellipses

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

This Is How We Dewey:

  • 450 Italian, Romanian & related languages
  • 460 Spanish, Portuguese, Galician
  • 470 Latin & Italic languages
  • 480 Classical & modern Greek languages
  • 490 Other languages

Here’s the deal: I started trying to find books in each of the above 10-spots but was having trouble finding 3 that weren’t straight up dictionaries or the usual dry if practical phrase books for each of the sections’ languages. And then I didn’t post on TMHTD for a while out of benign neglect, so then I decided, Why don’t I just lump all these disparate languages together into one post so I can catch up and offend people all over the world? The end.

So yeah, we’re hopping on a redeye to fly over all these beautiful countries and their beautiful, complicated, storied languages, but hey, look out the window! There’s Barcelona and Rome and Athens and whatever the capital of Romania is!

The Dew3:

Madre: Perilous Journeys With A Spanish Noun
By Elizabeth Bakewell
Dewey: 465
Random Sentence: “Uncultivated weeds reaching for the sky, taking over the one ground field with entropic gusto.”

Hide This Italian Book
Dewey: 458.3421
Random Sentence: “Stefania e una botte (Stefanie is a barrel).”

Carpe Diem: Put A Little Latin in Your Life
By Harry Mount
Dewey: 478.82
Random Sentence: “Tom Cruise is the little big man of the screen.”

DDC 440-449: Foux Du Fa French

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

This Is How We Dewey:

  • 440 Romance languages; French
  • 441 French writing system & phonology
  • 442 French etymology
  • 443 French dictionaries
  • 444 Not assigned or no longer used
  • 445 French grammar
  • 446 Not assigned or no longer used
  • 447 French language variations
  • 448 Standard French usage
  • 449 Provençal & Catalan

You thinking what I’m thinking? I hope so. Like it or not that’s what I think of when trying to speak fake French. That guttural huh huh huh is probably what the French hate the most about the French stereotype, though I don’t know any French people so I’m just gonna assume that’s true without confirming like a good cultured-enough American. #patriotism

I kid. I’d love to visit France one day, and if I do get that chance I’d likely bone up on the language beforehand using these books:

The Dew3:

Les Bons Mots: How to Amaze “tout Le Monde” With Everyday French
By Eugene Ehrlich
Dewey: 443.21
Random Sentence: “Ferme ta gueule! (shut your trap!)”

Say Chic: A Collection of French Words We Can’t Live Without
By Françoise Blanchard
Dewey: 448.2421
Random Sentence: “One suspects that the valiant Crusaders would not have been pleased.”

The Story of French
By Jean-Benoit Nadeau
Dewey: 440.9
Random Sentence: “Merchants in Sudbury still hesitate to put simple signs saying Bonjour on their doors.”

DDC 430-439: Polyglöts Ünite

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

This Is How We Dewey:

  • 430 Germanic languages; German
  • 431 German writing system & phonology
  • 432 German etymology
  • 433 German dictionaries
  • 434 Not assigned or no longer used
  • 435 German grammar
  • 436 Not assigned or no longer used
  • 437 German language variations
  • 438 Standard German usage
  • 439 Other Germanic languages

Based on the material available in this section, I’d venture to say that while Germanic languages aren’t the prettiest ones out there, they are often the most interesting. There’s the umlaut-loving Swedish, the melting-pot Afrikaans, the Tolkien-like Icelandic… I’ll never have enough time to learn them all, but were I to undergo a superhero origin story, I hope my heroic alter ego would be a polyglot.

The Dew3:

Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All Its Moods
By Michael Wex
Dewey: 439.1
Random Sentence: “Men, women, and children: they drink, they fight, and they screw.”

Swedish: A Complete Course for Beginners
By Vera Croghan
Dewey: 439.782421
Random Sentence: “Vad kostar tomaterna?”

Colloquial Afrikaans: The Complete Course for Beginners
By B.C. Donaldson
Dewey: 439.3682421
Random Sentence: “Ek het vanoggend brood gekoop.”

DDC 420-429: Nouns and Pronounce

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

This Is How We Dewey:

  • 420 English & Old English
  • 421 English writing system & phonology
  • 422 English etymology
  • 423 English dictionaries
  • 424 No longer used—formerly English thesauruses
  • 425 English grammar
  • 426 No longer used—formerly English prosodies
  • 427 English language variations
  • 428 Standard English usage
  • 429 Old English (Anglo-Saxon)

While I know a little Spanish, English is (obvs) my primary language. And what a weird language it is. I’m so glad I didn’t have to learn it later in life, because in some ways it makes no sense. Especially pronunciation: this well-known poem illustrates that well. But because it’s second nature to me, it’s hard to tell how English stacks up against other languages vis a vis difficulty in grammar and pronunciation, logical spelling, and poetic beauty. I certainly enjoy writing in English, though I often wish all those silent letters—like in its buddy French—could die. Isn’t tho much better, prettier, and more sensical than though? That superfluous ugh is just… Ugh….

The Dew3:

I Love It When You Talk Retro: Hoochie Coochie, Double Whammy, Drop A Dime, and the Forgotten Origins of American Speech
By Ralph Keyes
Dewey: 422
Random Sentence: “Rutabaga is funny. Potatoes aren’t.”

Death Sentences: How Clichés, Weasel Words, and Management-speak Are Strangling Public Language
By Don Watson
Dewey: 428
Random Sentence: “You are trapped in the language like a parrot in a cage.”

An Exaltation of Larks: The Ultimate Edition
By James Lipton
Dewey: 428.1
Random Sentence: “So, Mr. Safire, how about a phumpher of schwas?”

DDC 410-419: Linguistics alfredo

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

This Is How We Dewey:

  • 410 Linguistics
  • 411 Writing systems
  • 412 Etymology
  • 413 Dictionaries
  • 414 Phonology
  • 415 Structural systems (Grammar)
  • 416 No longer used—formerly Prosody (linguistics)
  • 417 Dialectology & historical linguistics
  • 418 Standard usage; Applied linguistics
  • 419 Verbal language not spoken or written

Regarding the post title: what did you expect? This is a section all about words! (Plus I love pasta.) But just look at this beautiful list of literary terms. I’ve heard of probably 10% of them, but I wish to know them all, to hug them tenderly and use them liberally in my own writing and speech. Any other word nerds out there? My logophilia is partly inherited (my late grandfather loved crosswords and learning languages throughout his life), but it’s also a learned love, facilitated by reading more and more things in increasingly diverse genres and forms.

I want to give a special shout-out to the first of the Dew3 picks: it’s pure punctuation porn for weirdos like me who could admire various punctuation marks all day. In fact, I now have plans for the weekend…

The Dew3:

Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks
By Keith Houston
Dewey: 411
Random Sentence: “Case closed ;)”

Is That A Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything
By David Bellos
Dewey: 418.02
Random Sentence: “For your aches / Carat cakes / Are the cure.”

Bastard Tongues: A Trailblazing Linguist Finds Clues to Our Common Humanity in the World’s Lowliest Languages
By Derek Bickerton
Dewey: 417.2
Random Sentence: “Wolf has taken daddy, gone, and eaten him.”

DDC 400-409: Learn ALL THE WORDS

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

This Is How We Dewey:

  • 400 Language
  • 401 Philosophy & theory
  • 402 Miscellany
  • 403 Dictionaries & encyclopedias
  • 404 Special topics
  • 405 Serial publications
  • 406 Organizations & management
  • 407 Education, research, related topics
  • 408 With respect to kinds of persons
  • 409 Geographical & persons treatment

Gotta admit this up front: I friggin’ love words. As an English major, a writer, a reader—pick the reason. I love them so much that I keep a list of cool words I’ve encountered that I want to remember. (*pushes up glasses\*) So I’m embarking on the 400s with great vim and ebullience. Though, curiously, I’ve thus far restrained myself from owning a physical dictionary, mostly because I can’t decide which version I should have. Plus, with the OED and Merriam-Webster adding new words every year, it would soon be out of date. And I gotta have ALL THE WORDS if I have a book of them. (Erin McKean’s TEDTalk on this topic is a great one if you’re interested. And who wouldn’t be?!)

Regardless, I’m pumped—nay, aflutter—to go through this section and see all the lexical gold we will find. Shall we?

The Dew3:

A Little Book of Language
By David Crystal
Dewey: 400
Random Sentence: “The Smiths will be in their clarence.”

The Way We Talk Now: Commentaries on Language and Culture From NPR’s “Fresh Air”
By Geoffrey Nunberg
Dewey: 400
Random Sentence: “They don’t hear a lot of resemblances to Angelina Jolie, either.”

The Infinite Gift: How Children Learn and Unlearn the Languages of the World
By Charles Yang
Dewey: 401.93
Random Sentence: “It would have been fun to know what Adam and Eve said to each other in Africa.”

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