Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Reading

I've always loved Halloween. One of the many advantages of being the oldest child is that as long as you're willing to supervise younger siblings, you're allowed to go trick-or-treating long past the age when you might reasonably be expected to give it up. (Though, nowadays it seems that great big hulking teenagers with, little pretense of a costume, turn up on one's doorstep with an open pillowcase in shameless expectation of treats. And I'm not going to argue with those big guys.)

When you have small children, trick-or-treating is going to take up most of the evening. But our family also had a tradition of holding a Halloween Read Aloud party. Everyone had to bring a short story appropriate to the season and read it aloud to the group. Sometimes this party consisted only of ourselves; sometimes it included our adult friends and their children. The only rule was that outright horror was prohibited in deference to those of tender years and Catholic Bibliophagist (who finds enough to scare her silly in real life without even trying).

I thought I would share some titles with you even though it's really too late for you to go out and find any of these in time for tonight.

"The Accountant" by Robert Sheckley, - A nice middle class family of wizards discovers that their 9 year old son Morton has bound himself to a more sinister profession. In the anthology Tomorrow's Children, ed. by Isaac Asimov.

"The Perfectionist" by Margaret St. Clair - Aunt Muriel was a tender hearted and generous old lady. Drawing was her new hobby -- but her model had to remain absolutely still. In Stories of Suspense, ed. by Mary E. MacEwen.

"Swept and Garnished" by Zenna Henderson - How wonderful to be free of the obsessive fears that used to haunt her! Then Tella discovered something even scarier. In Holding Wonder by Zenna Henderson.

Oh, dear! Time for me to leave. Fillius2 and I have a long trek to the dentist's office this morning. I'll try to finish after class tonight.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Oh, The Geekiness!

From "Great Moments in the History of Technical Services":

4362 B.C.
First evidence (from Scythia, modern day Crimea) of a four-wheeled book cart. Within two generations this design was adopted throughout Europe and Asia, replacing the more maneuverable, but much less stable two-wheeled book cart.

537 B.C.
The National Library of Babylon, finally switching to papyrus, ceases maintaining its clay tablet shelflist, but is unable to discard it for nostalgic reasons. Two years later, under seige by the Persians, the city finds a new use for the old tablets and manages to inflict severe losses on the beseiging army by pelting them from the ramparts with large quantities of shelflist tablets.

43 B.C.
First attested use of an ISBN (for the special collector's edition of Caesar's Gallic Wars with an introduction by Marc Anthony): IXIVVIIXVIIIVIIIVIVII.

427 A.D.
The Library at Alexandria decides to contract out its annual weeding project; Vandal hordes are the lowest bidder.

Click the link above and read more librarian geekiness, including an account of "St. Minutia, patron saint of catalogers."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Death Comes For The Librarian

In a cartoon appropriate to the season, Savage Chickens offers this nightmare for librarians.

Doug Savage is running a series of Halloween themed cartoons right now, so click on over and have a look. (I don't always "get" his cartoons, but the ones I do get are often very funny.)

For instance, check out this "Tolkien vs. Austen" cartoon.

Friday, October 26, 2007

No Books Have Been Burnt

People say that we don't have seasons in southern California, but that is untrue. We just shuffle them around a bit. Our brief winter is marked by a few confused deciduous trees who hastily change color after an overnight cold snap. Spring takes place while most of the country is having winter and sometimes includes an optional Rainy Season. Summer extends through most of the rest of the year usually climaxing with the Santa Ana Fire Season.

Catholic Bibliophagist has been keeping her windows tightly closed. Nevertheless, the very high winds forced dust and dirt through my doors and windows. The area we live in is growing rapidly, and all of the surrounding construction sites must have lost a good deal of their real estate, most of which seems to have ended up in my patio. The winds shook the house so hard one night that I was kept awake for several hours. The next morning I went out to buy milk. The winds were still buffeting us, the air was crystaline, the skies were blue, and a plume of smoke was rising in the east.

We are not near enough to any of the fires to be in actual danger (I think -- our new house is much closer to the mountains than any of our previous homes), but every morning the sunlight shining into my library has been the reddish light of late afternoon. The skies have been beige with dust and smoke; the mountains have been mostly invisible. We've been getting some ash, but not as much as some years according to my next door neighbor. It all depends on the direction of the wind, I suppose.

Earlier this week I was sitting in my library wondering which books, if any, I would grab if I ever had to evacuate. Some books are precious because of the words between their covers. But when you get right down to it, another copy would do just as well. No sense toting those.

Other books have an added sentimental value because of the history attached to them. My childhood copy of Little Women. My Latin-English missal which I've had since fourth grade. My copy of Declare which my daughter had autographed at a convention because she knows her mother is too shy to ask for autographs. And the slim one volume Lord of the Rings from Allen & Unwin (it's printed on bible paper) which is not only a beloved work, but was a terribly affirming gift from my parents when I was still in college, a symbol of their acceptance of who their daughter was.

When I first started writing this blog post, I thought I'd conclude by saying that I could leave even these behind because any of them, even in those particular editions, could be replaced. But then I got to thinking about what it might be like to actually live through an evacuation. What would I want to have at hand to read during a time of dislocation when I'd probably be without ready access to books and probably surrounded by the oppressive sounds of television and radio? I think I'd want books that provide comfort, stability, distraction.

  • My copy of A Short Breviary published by Liturgical Press in 1962.
  • My Oxford World Classic editions of Jane Austen's novels because Jane never lets you down. Though hardcover, they are small enough to slip into a pocket. (I used to take them to the hospital with me for post labor reading.)
  • For distraction, a short story collection -- because short is good when you're under stress. I have a 666 page anthology, The Most of P.G. Wodehouse, which ought to get me through any immediate crisis.
  • And if we're talking comfort books, I'd also grab that copy of Little Women and the one volume Lord of the Rings. (Alas, for the three volume Folio Society edition! Too bulky.)
But the one book I would definitely take, even if I took none of the others I've mentioned, is one I could never replace. It's a 25 page book written by my dad called "My Life in the Navy." My sister illustrated it with his own photographs and had it printed through Shutterfly. The language is a little halting in places because my Dad has had three strokes, but his characteristic voice shines through the text clearly, and the photos help his children picture the experiences which later shaped our family's life. I must admit, it's rather sobering to look at a photo of your dad (who looks scarcely out of his teens) posing in front of a wrecked fighter plane. He was in a mid-air collision but walked away without a scratch. Had things been a little different, I wouldn't be here writing this blog post.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Edible Book Festival

"For certain voracious readers, April 1 has become a red-letter day: It's the one time of the year when they get to eat books. They won't eat just any book, only those prepared especially for the occasion, known as the Edible Books Festival . . ." Blake Eskin, "Books to Chew On," NY Times, March 26, 2006.

I will never make the claim, "You heard it first, here at Catholic Bibliophagist!" because I am generally the last person to know about anything.

The International Edible Book Festival, was dreamed up by Judith A Hoffberg, a California librarian, during a Thanksgiving dinner in 1999. It is observed annually on April 1st which is not only an appropriate day for biblio-silliness, but also the birthday of the French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who wrote "The Physiology of Taste" in 1825.

Here are some pictures from the 2006 celebration held at Duke Univerity. Warning: some of these entries get rather pun-ish. (I think my favorites are "Flan of Green Gables" and "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss-shimi.")

Naturally, all of these edible books need the Dewey Decimeal (from the Seattle 2006 Festival) to keep them in order.

I will have to seek out a local observance of the Edible Book Festival in 2008. If I can't find one, perhaps we can hold one online here at Catholic Bibliophagist.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Earthquake! (1:53 AM)

But just a little one. According to the preliminaray report, it was a 4.2 magnitude located 3 miles north of Wrightwood, CA. (So I probably wouldn't have even felt it down here had I not been awake and blogging.)

Being a native Californian, I was under the the computer table within nanoseconds. And I scarcely had time to be glad that I'd bolted the bookcases to the walls before it was over.

Public Service Announcement: Catholic Bibliophagist urges her readers to hoard books responsibly! Get those bookcases properly bolted to the walls. She lived in a neighboring community during the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, so she knows what she is talking about!

At that time we did not have any of our bookcases properly bolted, but I had taken the precaution of placing all tall bookcases is a separate library room which was not also a bedroom. Let me repeat that: Never put tall bookcases where they could fall on you while you sleep! We lost several bookcases during that quake. The Billy bookcases from Ikea were pretty stable. But several other kinds either fell over or collapsed. One of them collapsed sort of sideways across the closed door of the library which blocked our entrance to the room for quite some time.

Our kids still remember that earthquake fondly because after Daddy checked for major damage and gas leaks, they all got to huddle in our bed and listen to him read aloud The Hobbit. (He thought it would provide a distraction and help them to calm down. He was right.)

We Wants One!

Okay, I don't really need these. I know perfectly well which books are where in my home library. But they appeal to the library geek in me. When you click the link, scroll down to the bottom of the page to read their suggestions on how to set up and label your library "so that your reading flourishes." La!

Monday, October 15, 2007

My Mind Is Going, Dave . . . I Can Feel It.

When I was young I could remember everything I'd ever read.

Even now I can recall a story in one of my early grade school readers about a king who set a seemingly impossible task: the fulfillment of his desire for a dessert that was both hot and cold. Naturally, a clever young boy solved the problem by inventing the first hot fudge sundae. (It wasn't much of a story, I suppose. But it made a deep impression on me -- probably because it was head and shoulders above the boring exploits of Dick and Jane.)

But with the passage of time and the increasing muliplicity of books under my belt, it's sometimes hard for me to recall whether or not I've already read a particular work. Yet once my eyes run over a page or so, connections in the brain start snapping and I know if I've read it before. And I don't just remember reading it, I recognize the look of the the page. (That's also the reason I don't need bookmarks; a page always looks different after it's been read. Almost as if it had become a different color.)

But now it's finally happened. Yesterday I read Tomorrow The Stars, a short story collection edited by Robert A. Heinlein. My copy has a bookplate in it with my maiden name, so I'm almost certain I bought this while I was in college. In those days I didn't own many books, so no book I bought ever went unread. But as I worked my way through the stories in this volume, I didn't recognize any of them. How could this be?

Then I got up to the ninth story in the collection, "Betelgeuse Bridge" by William Tenn. Within a page and a half I was certain I'd read it before. In fact, I'd remembered details about it that could not have been the result of a lucky predictive guess. (Towards the end of the collection I also found a second familiar story, "Misbegotten Missionary" by Isaac Asimov. But Asimov is so widely anthologized that I could easily have read it elsewhere.)

So what am I to think?

That I read only one story out of this collection which I bought at a time when I was an even more voracious reader than I am now?

That I forgot all of the stories except one?

I suppose this is the sensible hypothesis, but it scares me. One of my elderly relatives has Alzheimer's disease, which to me seems like a fate worse than death. And they say there are genetic factors involved. . .

I discussed this once with my daughter, Fillia, who brightly assured me that if I ever got Alzheimer's she'd keep me happy by sitting me in a chair with a book to read. "You could just read the same one over and over again, Mom." Somehow, that was not as comforting a prospect as she'd intended. Yes, I know that not every middle-aged memory lapse is a sign of creeping dementia. But so much of my mental landscape is made up of things I've read that it's disconcerting to have even the smallest pebbles of it evaporate.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I'm Not Dead Yet

I haven't posted here since October 2nd which, in the blogiverse, is probably equivalent to about an eon and a half. What can I say? Sometimes life happens. A lot of mine has taken place in hospitals or emergency rooms in the company of elderly relatives. And then we lost our phone service (and therefore email and Internet access) for a day and a half.

So while I catch up with things I am posting a link to Heros in Storytelling, Barbara Nicolosi's notes for a talk which she gave to the San Diego Christian Writers Guild. She surveys the contemporary audience's perception of and attitude towards heroes. She asks why we should care if there are no heroes. She talks about what a hero is -- and about what things are not heroic. Her field is movies, but I think her observations are applicable to the writing of any kind of fiction.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Good Advice

"Child! do not throw this book about;
Refrain from the unholy pleasure
Of cutting all the pictures out!
Preserve it as your chiefest treasure."
--Hilaire Belloc, Bad Child's Book of Beasts, dedication.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Unpacking My Life As a Quilter

Quilting is my other passion, and it's reflected in my library. Yesterday I was unpacking my collection of Quilter's Newsletter Magazine. I have issues going back to 1970. Though I've been fascinated by quilts ever since I was very young, I was not a subscriber in those days. In fact, I had never even heard of QNM.

I discovered the magazine in the early 1990s. At that time, in response to an unhappy family event, I took one of my earlier abortive attempts at quiltmaking out of my cedar chest and sewed it together. At about the same time I discovered an online quilting community, the Online Quilters, through Prodigy, an early Internet Service Provider. It was a heady experience not unlike my previous discovery of fantasy and science fiction fandom. Despite the strictures of an online environment, we Online Quilters used Prodigy's bulletin boards (and the US Postal Service) to swap quilt blocks and fabric squares; to place group orders for specialized tools; to give lessons and hold workshops; and to participate in co-operative projects such as group quilts and round robins.

Outsiders wondered how we could become such close friends of people we'd never met face to face. Actually, we did occasionally meet at quilt shows. We wore blue fabric stars (based on Prodigy's logo) to identify ourselves and held "show & tell" (a traditional quilt guild activity) in the parking lots outside the shows.

(Later, due to conflicts with Prodigy's restrictions on content and its erratic deletion of bulletin board messages, most of us migrated to GEnie where we merrily continued our online quilt life.)

A lot of my basic knowledge of quilting came originally from the Online Quilters, including the merits of Quilter's Newsletter.

The first issue of QNM was published in September, 1969. At that time there were few quilting books available, no quilt stores, and none of the specialized tools quilters now take for granted. One hundred per cent cotton was difficult to find having been replaced with polyester-cotton blends. It was the age of bonded double knits. (Shudder!) Bonnie Leman began publishing QNM just ahead of the explosion of renewed interest in quilting which began in the early '70s which has continued unabated to the present day.

I acquired most of my back issues in the mid '90s when my local quilt guilt decided to sell off its collection at the annual Trash 'n Treasures meeting.

And what a treasure it was! I managed to snag over ten year's worth. Paging through the early issues was a time-traveling journey back to a day when hand piecing was still dominant and templates did not include seam allowances. Rotary cutters had yet to be invented and it was still rather daring to assert that machine quilting could be a legitimate option. Wall hangings, (i.e. small quilts that are hung up for decoration) were looked down upon by a certain faction of quiltdom who felt that a quilt wasn't really a quilt unless it covered a bed.

Paging through my collection, I've watched the rise and fall of various techniques and styles of quiltmaking. (I recall at least two articles on how to make quilts from scraps of bonded polyester knit!) I've read early articles by people who are now big names in the field. Through the pages of QNM I've watched the quilting community grow from scattered, isolated people swapping copies of patterns published in the 1930s by newspapers like the Kansas City Star, to a large diverse group of individuals ranging from those who consider themselves to be mere crafters to those who see themselves as serious artists. And they are supported by an enormous industry selling fabrics and tools that were undreamed of in 1969.

And occasionally the world of the Online Quilters and the world of QNM intersected. In the April '91 issue, p. 37, is a picture of Diane Rode Schneck's quilt, "Ugly Tie Contest." She made it with fabrics from our annual Ugly Fabric Swap. I can see the fabric I contributed, right there! The peach colored one with the little black locomotives.

Thanks to the Internet (and a current subscription), I now have a fairly complete collection of Quilters Newsletter. But I'm still missing quite a few issues between 1969 and 1972. If anyone out there has some that need a loving home, let me know.