I recently finished a collection of stories by the Swedish author Helene Tursten called An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good. The book contains five short stories about a the life of a very elderly matron, Maud, and how she deals with people who step into her sphere. These stories got my attention with their dark humor, mystery, and insight into how other cultures look at life (and murder) in a more raw and crude manner.
The first story, An Elderly Lady Has Accommodation Problems, introduces Maud in her apartment when a young art graduate. Jasmin is seeking to take over Maud’s apartment because of its roomier size and prettier view of the skyline. When Maud gets sense of the young lady becoming too friendly, things begin to change. After multiple visits to see Maud and her dwelling, Jasmin invites Maud to come look at her apartment decorated with phalluses in multiple shapes and sizes. Read on.
In An Elderly Lady on Her Travels, Maud visits Sardinia to unwind and take care of family. While there, she reminisces about various excursions to Cairo and the South Pole. In this one story you come to understand how Maud continues to be the one family member who takes care of others before herself. She even does so through many challenges, such as taking care of her mentally ill sister.
Other tales include a tale of Christmastime in Sweden with a twist of mystery when she hears loud voices next door and learns of an “accident” to her neighbor. Maud senses there is a bigger story behind the accident than what was told and is determined to get to the real truth.
You wake up in a house…Blackheath House to be specific, but knowledge of its name will come later. And you find yourself in a body you don’t recognize as your own.
There are three rules of Blackheath
Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered
at 11:00 p.m.
There are eight days, and eight
witnesses for you to inhabit.
We will only let you escape once you
tell us the name of the killer.
I adore a good mystery, it’s my favorite genre and this one takes the cake. It’s a different take on the traditional murder mystery; twisty, cunning and quite ingenious in my opinion. It is so complexly layered there may be times in the book, particularly through the beginning, you feel yourself bewildered and lost.
But hang on! Store each little scrap of information in the back of your mind and it all comes brilliantly together.
Recently and quite by chance, I came across mention of a book entitled Dining with the Famous and Infamous published in 2016 and authored by Fiona Ross. Now, whenever the opportunity arises to mix different things I enjoy into one experience, I typically leap with little thought. Since I consider myself a person with rather broad proclivities toward the gastronomic along with an inclination for the printed word, with this book involving both, I placed a reserve on it immediately. When it arrived, I was not disappointed.
The book contains five chapters that divide the diners into categories, with each person begin given a mere four or five pages each: artists, movie stars, musicians, writers, and “the nuts.” This is an outstanding format in that it allows the reader to jump from person to person based on his or her personal preferences. I admit that I began with the writers, with Evelyn Waugh first up to bat and being introduced with the following:
Cecil Beaton’s diaries famously record the death of Evelyn Waugh in 1966: “Evelyn Waugh is in his coffin. Died of snobbery.”
Well, a good laugh is an excellent way to begin any reading, really. And it continued on to C.S. Lewis:
He had unusual views about boiled eggs, though: when Roger Lancelyn Green offered Lewis a hard-boiled egg on the train from Oxford to Cambridge, he refused. “No, no, I musn’t!” insisted Lewis. “It’s supposed to be an aphrodisiac. Of course, it’s all right for you as a married man – but I have to be careful.”
While unshakably partial towards the writer, I must be honest that the anecdotes relating to movie stars and musicians were quite a bit spicier (and I refer not to the food), and I am fond of spice. From Liz Tylor’s love affairs with food (and men) to the whirlwind/tornado/tsunami that was the The Rolling Stones of the 1960s, the stories paint a picture of decadence that is apparently the status quo in the world of the halls of rock and the silver screen.
Ms. Ross would be remiss if recipes were omitted. Highlights include:
As a budding musician, I’ve been lucky to grow up in Louisville. Being influenced by the movement and history of this scene has created a solid foundation to explore my interests. It serves as a trusty anchor that reminds me to stay engaged with music culture. Thankfully, your local library likes to support this scene in a handful of ways, one of which is by carrying a whole bunch of CD’s produced by local artists!
As always, you can check these things out FOR FREE! I don’t have an exact count, but our local music catalog is around 600 items and is constantly growing. I haven’t heard all of them, but I’ve heard quite a few and I’m always impressed with it. Below are 5 albums from our catalog that I highly recommend – in no particular order.
This was released right before I noticed our local scene and they were a fan favorite of the community I found for their memorable performances. This chaotic, noodly, and ecstatically positive punk record has left a lasting impression on my musicianship and taste. These members have made music elsewhere in bands like Xerxes, August Moon, Whips/Chains, and Cereal Glyphs to name only a few. Also, listen to a Rhode Island band called Tiny Hawks for a reference on this style of Punk.
This band started in 1998, and though they have a couple of LP’s, this EP stands as my favorite release. The atmosphere they present in this is so pleasant and shimmery that it captures a comforting nostalgic quality. Stylistically, this is an “Indie Rock” band but their identity is unique with complex songwriting and an intriguing sonic palette. I find this somewhere between Sonic Youth’s Experimental or No Wave take on Indie Rock and the poppy dreaminess from someone like The Cocteau Twins.
This is the last release in a career that started in 1996. It was recorded live at Skull Alley and the energy that comes through is killer. This band helped define the “Louisville Sound” and Post-Rock in the 90’s with its dark aesthetic, mathy time signatures, avant-garde construction, and spoken word vocal performances. If you like Noise Rock and Post-Hardcore in bands like Shellac or SWANS, this refined and uniquely Louisville approach will come off as tasteful, elegant, and sublime.
If Shipping News helped define Louisville and Post-Rock, this album is the progenitor. This blurb won’t do justice like the books or documentaries about it, but this broke the rules of Rock music and its influence is seen around the world. If The Beatles wrote the blueprint for the “Rock Band”, Slint deconstructed that and put an existential memoir next to it. I can’t point to similar music other than Post-Rock bands to come after it, but if you are moved by something like Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, you’ll admire this reformation.
Though I might call this a “Punk” record for its explosive attitude, it bears little resemblance to many Emo/Hardcore conventions from someone like Mountain Asleep. This album is weird, angular, and discordant, all while being very catchy and dancey. I love the short songs, most being under 2 minutes and none reaching the 3-minute mark. Imagine the oddly sexy, dancey vibes of The Blood Brothers, the abrasion from Mindless Self Indulgence, and the stripped-down instrumentation from Pre.
“It is hard to have patience with people who say, ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn’t matter.”
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
In 1961, C. S. Lewis published A Grief Observed, a book about the death of his wife and his journey through his grief. Nearly sixty years later, people are still connecting with Lewis’ words. I read A Grief Observedlast January, a few years after losing a dear friend. Lewis affirmed my thoughts and feelings again and again and I wished that I had read it years before when I was in the midst of my grief. Death affects all of us. The loss of a loved one is at some point brought before us and yet still we often fumble in our interactions about grief and with the griever. I think Lewis says it best when he says:
“I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate if they do, and if they don’t.”
― C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
You can’t help but feel Lewis’ deep love and subsequent anguish at the loss of his wife. His words ring true as he describes the anguish, the emptiness, the anger and finally the desideratum surrounding a life partner taken too quick. Lewis puts words to an experience all face but few can articulate in quite a poignant manner. He writes:
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”
– C. S. Lewis,A Grief Observed
How often have those who have been in a period of loss felt that restlessness with a listlessness that makes it hard to be? You can’t really sit still because you need to move before you drown further in the sadness that has grabbed hold of all of you. If you are there and you need help facing life after death, I highly recommend A Grief Observed. I recommend it for anyone who wants to witness fierce love and loss and becoming who you will be without, all that you were before.
“Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.
But no, that is not quite accurate. There is one place where her absence comes locally home to me, and it is a place I can’t avoid. I mean my own body. It had such a different importance while it was the body of H.’s lover. Now it’s like an empty house.”
Rather than a collection of books, here’s a pair of books that enrich each other if read together!
Content Warning: contains depictions of animal abuse. (Yes, especially for Black Beauty. Wait, you don’t remember that? Read the unabridged version, they probably cut all the really harrowing bits to make it more palatable for kids.)
Let’s talk about the changing place of animals in society!
Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eatby Hal Herzog is built on the premise that animals that live in close association with humanity are framed by human cultures in terms of three broad categories: pets, vermin, and livestock. Different cultures might construct the categories along different lines, or even apply them to individuals rather than entire species, but the book nevertheless seeks to apply this theoretical framework to all of them in order to better understand the place of animals in the human world. Interesting topic, and the first of two books to bookend this discussion.
Complications and Guinea Pigs
While Herzog’s book is certainly valuable, there’s a lot of nuance in current and historical cultures that complicate things, and for that, let’s talk about the very strange ride guinea pigs have had. Today, in the continental USA, we see them as pets, a popular choice for the classroom, or children. Alternatively, they’re the proverbial lab animals, which isn’t quite the same as a pet or livestock, but isn’t vermin, despite the fact that the other major lab animal, rats, are definitely thought of as pests before pets outside an experimental setting. Guinea pigs as a species already occupy a complex place in our society, and it used to be even weirder.
Historically, and currently, in the cultures of the Andes which created the domestic guinea pig, the animal is a highly regarded food source, called cuy in Peru (cuyes, plural). Okay, so I might have to have to ease you into this if you didn’t know already. You know how there’s the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and Cattlemen’s Beef Association, dedicated to promoting the use of beef in American kitchens? It’s what’s for dinner. They’ve got beef recipes, and information, and function as a means for beef producers to communicate about the state of the industry, as well as make beef look as good as possible to the public. There’s a similar industry and promotional board in Peru, for guinea pigs, and they have a website, too: Cuy Peru. More than worth a click if you can read Spanish, and even if you can’t. Just brace yourself for whole roasted guinea pig, like we do chicken here. (Scroll almost to the bottom for recipes.) So, pet in one culture and livestock in another, simple, right? No. The guinea pig had a long breakout career in Europe as a status symbol, more akin to a fancy watch, designer purse, or car than a pet or even a purse dog.
At the time the Spanish brought guinea pigs back, European cultures had a very different relationship with animals than we do today, mostly because the framework of morality in general was very different. In this context, it didn’t matter whether animals could think and feel, because morality was about sin, and the God-given order. This is how there were pig trials in the middle ages – a killer pig was acting out of this order, and it was up to human ecclesiastical court systems to put it to rights. (If you’re wondering why a pig would kill someone, the answer is that they’re seriously omnivorous, and are absolutely capable of killing and eating people, especially if the person is unconscious or can’t get up under their own power at the time. That’s why it’s such a big deal in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy falls in the pig pen. At the time, I guess people would have known this. Modern audiences probably don’t have enough experience with farm animals to recognize the danger. Anyway, just go to your search engine of choice and look for “killed and eaten by pigs” for a nicely horrifying roundup of the recent cases.) Animals, in this framework, were there to be used by humanity as we saw fit. This led to a huge amount of horrible animal abuse, society-wide and often formalized. I’m not talking about bullfighting alone, either, more like bull-baiting, bear-baiting, rat-baiting, anything-baiting, organized fights between basically any animal that will fight, goose pulling, cock throwing, and fox tossing, just to list a few.
I chose the fox tossing example above, because this is the time period that saw the rise of the guinea pig in European culture. Arriving from South America with the silver galleons, guinea pigs acquired an association with this trade, and the power and wealth that came from it. Guinea pigs featured in portraits to underline elite status, and guinea pigs also played a starring role in still life paintings, whose purpose was often a visual treatise on the dominance of the expanding European trade empires. Here’s some weird European guinea pig art.
Britain and Horses
Eventually, though, there was a major shift in the calculus of European morality, a key part of which was an equally major re-evaluation of the way in which animals were treated. Beginning in the late 1600’s, and concluding in the mid 1800’s, new measures of morals emerged, focusing on the idea of avoiding doing harm and being compassionate. It was believed that compassion shown to animals mirrored a person’s capacity for compassion to their fellow human beings, and so kindness became a new standard of behavior. The series of prints by Hogarth, The Stages of Cruelty, presents a moral along these new lines, just as the idea began to get popular traction, and here’s a link to the Tate Museum’s online exhibit on the print series so you can examine it in further detail. In a nutshell, the inevitable end result of animal cruelty is that it becomes cruelty to humans, which ends in the murderer’s corpse getting dissected by surgeons in public, as was the practice at the time.
Protip: if you have to propagandize about morals, they’re new and need to be taught.
Although modern ideas of the right way to treat animals come from the Enlightenment and Victorian Sentimentalism, a much more similar place than the earlier medieval framework, there are some key differences. Emerging nationalism also played a vital role, and in the case of Britain, the way in which people should treat horses in particular became a defining cultural touchpoint that persists to this day. In case you were curious, here’s a retrospective on the Great Horsemeat Contamination Scandal of 2013. The book that in large part forged this identity was Black Beauty.
Black Beauty follows the life of the eponymous horse through a series of thoughtless and cruel masters, highlighting the way in which horses were used and abused, and advocating for better treatment by tugging at the readers’ heartstrings rather than laying out a rational argument, in contrast to Hogarth.
Ultimately, filtering down to us from Hogarth’s time, and Anna Sewell‘s, our own cultural sorting scheme for animals settles into the categories outlined by Hal Herzog in Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat. It has only been two and a half centuries, yet we take this understanding for granted.
Available in book, downloadable ebook and audiobook formats.
Here are some of my favorite comics read in 2019. They may or may not have been published this year. Also, a few have more than one volume and I have not designated a particular volume if I would recommend the whole series.
My picks are listed in alphabetical (rather than rank) order.
of these works can be checked out from LFPL. Each title has a “Check Our
Catalog” link that will take you to where you can view the location and status
of the specific item in our system.
After taking a look, if your selection is not available at the branch you wish to go to, you may have the item shipped there by placing a hold request (using the “Place Request” button on the right-hand side of the item’s catalog entry).
If you are interested in discussing these titles or other works of sequential art, please join LFPL’s Graphic Novel Discussion Group. Meetings are held at the Main Library on the second Monday of every month, starting at 7:00 PM.
The next meeting is Monday, January 13, 2019. In honor of Korean-American Day (held every year on January 13th), we will be taking a look at Korean-American Comic Creators.
For more information, contact Tony at (502) 574-1611.
This is the grand dame of the bookshelf, an early-ish edition of Etiquette by Emily Post. When it comes to the bookshelf collection, I don’t really care whether I get a first edition. But I do like my etiquette books to be from a range of dates, and this one, whose publication history to this point spanned almost the entire 1920’s, shows just how much American society was changing. Take a close look at that list of editions!
End pages and such are anything but boring. Read closely: the use of the word “edition” indicates that the book was altered and edited for the print run. If it was just being reprinted to meet explosive demand for the book, they would be labeled “printings” instead – as you can see after the publication of the New and Enlarged Edition in 1927. So, something was actually being changed in the content of the book, continuously, from July 1922 through November 1927. There are five editions in 1923 alone. I would hope that the core content of the book was ready for publication with its first edition, but this is a huge number of subsequent tweakings, and I would wager that they weren’t all simply fixing typos. Given that it’s an etiquette book, it looks like it’s being edited to keep up with the changing expectations of society.
Polite behavior is, as nearly every etiquette manual points out, a matter of being considerate and compassionate. That doesn’t change. What does change is whether you’re expected to know what an ice cream knife is for, and if visiting cards are necessary, or if you must be able to play bridge and golf in order to survive in business. These details can change very quickly.
We don’t use ice cream knives, and bridge is no longer so vital to building business and social connections. Dining has become steadily less and less formal, too. However, the fancier the occasion, the more it might conserve practices of a century ago. If you find yourself faced with the prospect of a twelve-course dinner, Emily Post has you covered.
This book from Katherine’s Bookshelf is, exactly as the title suggests, an encyclopedia of interior design… from 1947. Hmm. So, what were fashionable home interiors like in 1947? Let’s see:
Having flashbacks to grandma’s house yet? In 1947, Colonial is in. Nothing says 18th Century Colonial like a giant plaid sofa. Also: ashtrays, ashtrays everywhere. There’s an ashtray on every single table and end table in this picture. I like the rug though. I can definitely appreciate a nice hooked rug. It’s huge. All you need to make a hooked rug is a small crochet hook, some burlap, yarn, and time – lots and lots of time.
Basically, the entire book is exactly like this, which points up the problems with many interior decorating and home improvement books. If it’s incredibly fashionable, it’ll go out of fashion eventually. On-trend rapidly mutates into dated, exactly because it’s so evocative of the time period in which it was popular. Warm gray wall paint and white tile are headed that way very soon.
Another interesting aspect is that it’s fundamentally aspirational. Nobody buys a book on home improvement if their home is already improved. You don’t need advice for painting if you’ve already painted. Everything in this book is about how things should be, but aren’t yet. In the same sense that the styles shown within might be evocative of grandma’s house, few people in 1947 actually had houses that already looked like this. Like us, they made do with hand-me-down furniture and their walls were already painted. Not everyone was moving into new houses in Levittown. Some people had apartments, and some people had 1920s Cape Cod houses, or Victorian era townhomes, or shotgun houses. It’s important to read books like The American Woman’s Encyclopedia of Home Decorating to remind ourselves that the actual Mid-Century as it was actually lived in wasn’t entirely Mid-Century Modern. For every hilarious Uranium Red Fiestaware plate, there’s a whole lot of very bland porcelain teacups. Cultural memory is highly selective, filtering through only the most novel and iconic designs. The past as we remember it is not the past as it was lived.
This sounds like a pretty heavy book, in length and depth. It is the latter. But it is “simple” heavy in its depth. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be reading it. I have a great interest in Zen, but most books are beyond my ken. I am 55 years old, and I have endured a great amount of suffering, physically and emotionally (lesson 76). Thus, I often feel that I have a lot of the Buddha within me without learning terminology, sutras, and koans. I’ve learned a little of Zen and Taoism via other authors such as Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and Hanshan.
The author here, Shunmyo Masuno, breaks down 100 practices into small segments that are easy to digest and also, easy to put down and pick right back up without losing a beat. Because of chronic pain, my life has become a very cluttered existence. Both in the brain and all around me physically. So I saw this new book laying on a cart and with its sky blue cover, I was drawn it. And like a Satori, I realized that I need this book. And so I picked it up.
We are born with nothing. NOTHING! But along the way, we pick up attachment after attachment and we don’t realize the weight we are carrying within and without. And until they weight us down so much that we live in fear and anxiety, we are not mindful of how big a burden we carry with everything from ideas to cars and houses.
After reading half of this book, I realized that WOW, I KNOW all these lessons. And it is true that these lessons are simple to understand and if you have lived long enough, you may know them as well. So, for me, these lessons are a reminder to put to use what I already know. Be mindful of your life. Every second of it.
America, Louisville, and often your workplace are
full of anxiety. Learning to be calm has been helping me with all three. I tune
out the world and all its trivial news and problems. I now worry only about
what is in front of me. I cannot change the past, and can only change the
future by being calm and seeking within. The best way to calm yourself is to be
in Nature. Go take a hike. If you cannot hike, lay on a blanket in the park.
Stare at flowers. But you need to find
time alone and away from the cares of the world. Empty the Mind of all the woes
and worries that the world puts in it. Let go of attachments. But when you buy
something, treat it with love. Respect it.
This small book can help you on your journey to finding ENLIGHTENMENT. All the answers are within you. Seeking them outwardly is not the solution. I personally have trouble with ‘being positive.’ I usually hate people when they point this out. But after reading this book, I am trying hard to be POSITIVE without advertising it to anyone. Work hard to be happy in the moment. And BE IN THE MOMENT! Or as Ram Dass put it: BE HERE NOW. This book will make you think about how you spend/waste your time. And in the end, that is what life is.