“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.
What happened? He’s dead. His face is gone. The plane looks like a crushed tin can. A short business trip turned into a coffin for him and stranded her in a rocky mountain wilderness. With an injured leg, bruises, and sprains, Allison Carpenter had to gather what she could to survive.
Somnublaze, an antidepressant developed by the Prexaline Company, had been facing some scrutiny for its questionable results. Ben, Allison’s fiancé, had been a chief executive of the company. Now he was dead, the plane wrecked, and Allison thought to be dead as well. Was the plane crash an accident or had someone wanted both Ben and Allison out of the way permanently? As Allison made her way down to a distant water hole, Ben’s words of warning came back to her, “if he thinks you’re on to him he will come after you. Be prepared to run.”
Maggie had been making bread when she got the news that the plane Allison was on had crashed in the Colorado mountains, her daughter presumed dead. Allison and Maggie hadn’t spoken in more than two years, but she wouldn’t accept that her daughter was dead. Distrusting others to find her daughter, Maggie decided that she was going to undertake a search.
Learning more about the company her daughter and Ben worked for, Maggie questions whether the plane crash was indeed an accident or meant to silence the two of them. She reaches out to possible contacts that might have some insight into what had happened, even making a stop at Prexaline to learn more. She won’t believe her daughter is dead. Maggie has let their estrangement go too long so she needed to find Allison and bring her home again.
The story plays out in alternating voices, Allison and Maggie, as author Jessica Barry takes us back through the past to the present. Allison isn’t a clean wholesome character, but she has a strength she’ll need to survive and reunite with her mother. Maggie hasn’t always made good choices either.
The story begins with action, is filled with suspense, rocky adventures, and enough mystery to keep you looking over your shoulder until the end. As this is Barry’s debut thriller novel, she sets the tone for what I hope to be more book releases in the future.
Rumor has it Freefall may be headed for the big screen.
Ladies and gentlemen…Taylor Swift. At 29 years old, Ms. Swift has just dropped her seventh full length album.
Taylor has been in the game a long time. She was signed with a subsidiary of RCA Records at the age of 14, and then switched record labels when she met Scott Borchetta, who was more confident in her marketability, starting the long relationship between Taylor Swift and Big Machine Records. Taylor hits the ground running with her first record in 2006, and over the course of six albums, becomes one of the most recognized and successful household names in all of American Pop and Country music. In 2019, Forbes recognizes Taylor Swift as the #1 highest paid celebrity, beating Kanye West, Cristiano Ronaldo, The Eagles, and Dr. Phil.
I’ve generally always been a fan of Swift, and it wasn’t until her 2017 album Reputation that made me question the legitimacy in her efforts. The singles — End Game, Look What You Made Me Do, and …Ready For It? — were uninspired and boring. The sounds seemed disingenuous, borrowing from any other radio hit from 2016-2017. The lyrics were obnoxious, shooing away haters or romancing over some handsome fellow – an approach she was known for, sure, but this time with an artificial and glaring chip on her shoulder. Taylor pushed a narrative that she is misunderstood and a force to be reckoned with, fabricating a dangerous or dark side of her image with a flat and unoriginal sound.
Coming from one of the most successful musicians in our time, this comes off as annoying and lazy. I hate to judge a book by its cover, but the album artwork is very telling. I’m sorry, but that haircut and outfit just isn’t working, and the newspaper font is cheap and cheesy.
I had hopped off the T Swift train, only to reminisce over hits like Picture To Burn, Mean, and We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.I was only mildly interested in the new album until news broke that she had left Big Machine Records for Republic Records. Apparently, some guy named Scooter Braun purchased Big Machine Records, transferring the rights of ALL of Taylor’s music overnight. Taylor accuses Scooter of bullying her in the past and thinks that Scooter purchased her catalog to continue to bully her. Taylor made a blog post about this but still no longer has ownership of her old music while Scooter holds it hostage. At Republic Records, she entered a new contract that grants her full ownership of her new music, so I was excited to see how this unfortunate and complex event would influence her new album.
The album art and title are already an improvement from her 2017 efforts. With a well-suited hairstyle, playful makeup, and dreamy backdrop, she invites us in for a very colorful experience. With a title like Lover, her heart seems to be in the right place… at least a little less preoccupied with the haters. She dropped four singles leading up to the release on August 23, 2019: Me!, You Need To Calm Down, The Archer, and Lover. Taylor brings a bold attitude to some of these tracks while leaving much to be desired on others. She continues this trend for the entirety of the album, creating an inconsistent product.
At 18 tracks and nearly 62 minutes of run time, the amount of fluff makes for a long-winded event. If the album was the best 10 tracks of the list, I’d call her a comeback queen. With both production and writing credits, nearly every inch of this record is with the help of Jack Antonoff, a member of fun. and Bleachers. If those names don’t ring a bell, I’m sure the song We Are Young will, a chart-topper from 2011-2012 (one that seemed to mark a critical shift in Pop songwriting). With that immense success, Jack has gone on to help the likes of Lorde, Lana Del Ray, Carly Rae Jepsen, and more.
Some are playful and tightly constructed, while others exhibit an honest and emotional Taylor. Me! tows the line between self-empowerment and self-obsession, but the confidence is refreshing and crystal-clear. She even brings in The Dixie Chicks for Soon You’ll Get Better for a real tear-jerker, letting more Country roots and honesty come through on Lover.
Cuts like The Man, Cornelia Street, False God, and Afterglow are lacking life. Much like her previous album, there is an abundance of unfounded drama and imitation in these tracks, reproducing conventions found in her contemporaries or trendy 80’s synth. You Need To Calm Down is still obsessed with the haters, and The Archer is out of place, forgettable, and lacks compelling lyrics.
Combined with predictable structures, these songs cannot escape their fate of sounding like a Target commercial or the playlist you might hear shopping at Forever 21. This album was released with FOUR DIFFERENT DELUXE EDITIONS, each with their own set of diary entries and photographs, and they were EVEN SPONSORED THROUGH TARGET. With that in mind, this album can sound like a Target commercial at times because…well…it is a Target commercial.
All in all, I’m happy that Taylor is back in the game. With this new record deal with optimistic implications, I’m excited to see what the future will bring. Perhaps this record is a stepping stone to an even brighter magnum opus in another couple of years. It takes time to come off a stressful event like the one spearheaded by Mr. Scooter, and this is an honorable next step as a more independent artist. Taylor Swift puts a little more shine in her swagger as the most successful artist this year with a well deserved seventh album.
Here is a link LFPL’s copy of the new CD, if you wish to put a reserve on it and have a listen for yourself.
Today is the officially recognized 573rd anniversary of the publication of the Hunminjeongeum (translated into English as The Correct Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People) by one of Korea’s greatest Joseon kings, Sejong. He is, in fact, often given the honorific of “the Great” (as in “Sejong the Great“). His book gave us the modern Korean alphabet, known as Hangul (sometimes spelled Hangeul).
Prior to the invention of Hangul, Koreans used the complex system of Classical Chinese characters, along with Hanja (certain Chinese characters that were assimilated into the Korean language). It was very complicated and only a small elite at any one time would master it. With the invention of Hangul, literacy was able to spread rapidly throughout the lower classes.
It’s usage eventually paved the way for both of the Koreas to be two of the most literate countries in the world. Literacy rates in North Korea are difficult to establish independently but the CIA World Factbook listed it as 100% as of 2015. That same year, South Korea’s rate was estimated to be approximately 99%.
The Hunminjeongeum has been listed as one of South Korea’s National Treasures since 1962 and on UNESCO‘s Memory of the World register since 1997. There is even a National Hangul Museum located in Seoul. So important to the Korean culture, Hangul Day is not only the recognized anniversary but is also a national holiday in South Korea!
The holiday is celebrated on January 15th in North Korea, where it is known as Chosongul Day. This is in order to commemorate an earlier announcement of the creation of Hangul (prior to its publication). The differences in the name of the holiday derive from what names the two countries use for Korea (“Hanguk” in the South and “Choson” in the North). In both cases, the name translates into English as “Korean script.”
Another interesting fact about Korea related to literacy is that the first known movable metal type occurred during the Koryo (or Goreyo) dynasty. The Sangjeong Gogeum Yemun (translated into English as The Prescribed Ritual Text of the Past and Present) was completed in 1250 C.E. Credit for this innovation is traditionally given to Choe Yun-ui (a civil minister for King Gojong), who invented the process in 1234 C.E.