Category Archives: biblio

balm in Gilead?

Trump connected to the segment of the population that was prepared to believe that racism was realism, misogyny was locker-room talk, inconvenient facts were media myths, and viciousness was the new normal. Just as surely as he has redrawn the electoral map, he has radically altered the Overton window. No Presidential candidate before him had ever mocked a disabled reporter, or bragged about his penis size during a debate. What kept every other candidate before him from stooping to these tactics, presumably, was deference to social norms. But norms can be swept aside.

(Andrew Marantz, in New Yorker news blog)

I wrestle with the personal means to come to terms with the new sociocultural reality, and consider employing tools like Colin Woodard’s recent books (which deserve a careful rereading: American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America and American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good), and the prescient writings of Thomas Frank in The Baffler and in his Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, and George Packer’s The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. As so often before, Christopher Lydon’s Radio Open Source is helpful in reminding me to think more broadly about what’s in front of my nose.

I’m not sure that gnawing old bones of socio-political argybargy is good for the blood pressure, let alone the soul, though I can’t entirely ignore what comes at me via New Yorker and NYRB and various lefty blogs I follow. As an antidote, I’ve found it soothing to read Ursula Le Guin’s novellas and short stories (The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin and The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin), and I’ve just picked up the beloved Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter Miller Jr. –can you believe it first appeared in 1958???) for the fourth or fifth time.

I’ve also been deeply into Thomas Rid’s Rise of the Machines: A Cybernetic History, and via that engagement I’ve dipped into Gregory Bateson again, via Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology, a book I tried to read maybe 20 years ago but bounced off of, feeling discomfort with Bateson’s concept of epistemology (I basically didn’t grasp what he was talking about). This morning I ventured to the Auxiliary Library in the barn and quarried my copy of Bateson’s Naven and what did I find but

What has happened has been the growth of a new way of thinking about organization and disorganization. Today, data from a New Guinea tribe and the superficially very different data of psychiatry can be approached in terms of a single epistemology—a single body of questions.

We now have the beginnings of a general theory of process and change, adaptation and pathology; and, in terms of the general theory, we have to reexamine all that we thought we knew about organisms, societies, families, personal relationships, ecological systems, servo-mechanisms, and the like.

(Gregory Bateson, Preface to the second edition [1958] Of Naven)

“And the like” indeed. So: back once again to General Systems Theory, which beguiled me 45 or so years ago, abstractions high-flown enough to calm the yammer of daily helpings of News of Fresh Disasters.

As Adam Fish just put it:

What is needed are new modes of counter-hegemonic governance. Towards that goal I am going to do nothing. Social evolution is slow and silent not obvious and obnoxious. It is time for a break into scholarship and away from reactionary tabbing back and forth from The New York Times and Breitbart, The Guardian and Drudge.

v2.0 sent off to Blurb

Montparnasse56

I’ve been revising my cemeteries/graveyards book, yclept Remembered, and just sent it off to Blurb for a test print. It’s the first I’ve composed with InDesign (and yes, I DID finally solve the vexatious Adobe/Amazon snaggle, by getting my “subscription” via Adobe, a deal with Lucifer himself… but not without many calls to Customer Service and much grinding of back teeth). Remembered v2.0 can be downloaded (it’s a BIG file, a pdf of 150 pages) by any enthusiasts out there. I’m sure it will be further revised once I can see it in print, and in the light of future skulkings in graveyards.

A mind stridently blown, all in half an hour or so

Herewith a summary digest of one of those wonderfully cross-pollinating collisions, a bibliophile’s shaggy dog story, with musical flourishes:

I’ve been reading Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style, one of those books that far too few people know of, and that just about ANYbody’s life would be vastly enhanced by contact with (the original recommendation thanks to Kate, who has a nose for such books besides being herself a witty typographer), and I got to this passage:

Sizing and spacing type, like composing and performing music or applying paint to canvas, is largely concerned with intervals and differences. As the texture builds, precise relationships and very small discrepancies are easily perceived. Establishing the overall dimensions of the page is more a matter of limits and sums. In this realm, it is usually sufficient, and often it is better, if structural harmony is not so much enforced as implied. That is one of the reasons typographers tend to fall in love with books. The pages flex and turn; their proportions ebb and flow against the underlying form. But the harmony of that underlying form is no less important, and no less easy to perceive, than the harmony of the letterforms themselves.

This page is a piece of paper. It is also a visible and tangible proportion, silently sounding the thoroughbass of the book. On it lies the textblock, which must answer to the page, The two together – page and textblock – produce an antiphonal geometry. That geometry alone can bond the reader to the book. Or conversely, it can put the reader to sleep, or put the reader’s nerves on edge, or drive the reader away. (p. 145)

Now, I’m a sucker for musical analogies, so this piqued my interest. And then I turned the page, and here’s what most stridently blew my mind:
page proportions as musical intervals

The beauty and economy of this bridge between page layout and musical intervals gives me gooseflesh. “Stridently,” I thought. “Most stridently.”

The phrase “stridently blown” has been with me for 50-odd years, since I first read it in Manning Coles’ Drink to Yesterday. Turns out it’s not common parlance, at least as said parlance is reflected in what Google knows. I searched books.google.com and got these truncated passages:
Hambledon quotes
So I trekked out to the barn, where the auxiliary library reposes, and found my copy of Drink to Yesterday, and so completed the passage:

…the gaff has been stridently blown somehow. Does a gaff produce a strident note? Describe a gaff, with notes on at least three different methods of blowing it…

I won’t go on to describe what I found via Google search for the phrase “describe a gaff” but suffice it to say my knowledge has been stridently augmented.

I was led to wonder why shaggy dog, and so I discovered and [need I even say?] ordered via Amazon Eric Partridge’s The ‘Shaggy Dog’ Story: Its Origin, Development and Nature (with a few seemly examples) (1953). Should be here in a week or so.

And so it goes….

since mid-March

So we went to France in late March, and spent a few days in Paris on either end of a week in Brittany—our third annual Progress in those parts, with the usual eatings and wanderings (the Brittany parts mediated by our dear friends Rob and Barbara). I was able to spend several hours photographing in Père Lachaise and Montparnasse cemeteries, and that provoked another Blurb book project:

Remembered cover

The v1.0 version can be downloaded (it’s a BIG file) here via a right-click and Save As. When we got home it occurred to me to look more closely at graveyards in midcoast Maine, and I’ve been busy on that front ever since. Later this week I’m going to Lowell MA to spend a day with members of the Association for Gravestone Studies, an organization I’d previously known nothing of. It turns out that the first 25 issues of their annual publication Markings are available at archive.org, and the several articles I’ve read have been fascinating.

Another Blurb book project escaped my desktop, a narration of the collection of photos I’ve taken of meals enjoyed at Home Kitchen Cafe:

Order Up! cover

and that book is also available for download here.

And as if that wasn’t enough, I’ve also put together a v1.0 of a project I’ve been working on for about 35 years:

Who Was Joe Wilner? cover

I’m still working on the cover, but the book itself is available for download here.

These books were all produced with Lightroom’s Book module, which is a bit confining (a restricted set of page templates), so I’ve just completed a week-long workshop at the Maine Media Center in Adobe’s InDesign, a vastly powerful program that should make it possible to make much more elegant versions of the six existing Blurb books and a bunch of others that I have in mind to do. Should keep me busy….

Otlet

I read a lot of books, pinballing amongst genres and across disciplinary declevities as I please, and investigating some very odd (or at least infrequently-visited) corners of the print world. Mostly I don’t try to inflict my idiosyncratic tastes on others, but sometimes a book comes along that’s just too good not to make a fuss about. Today’s case in point:

Alex Wright’s Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age.

Paul Otlet is probably not a person you’ve encountered before (and if he’s already familiar to you, I’d like to know how), but he belongs in the same visionary realm as Melvil Dewey (of library cataloging and 3×5 card fame), Ted Nelson (who instantiated hypertext), Tim Berners-Lee (pater of the World Wide Web), Doug Engelbart (of Mother of All Demos fame), Vannevar Bush (Memex and As We May Think), JCR Licklider (Man-Computer Symbiosis, ARPA), and a clutch of others (Watson Davis, Patrick Geddes, Emanuel Goldberg, Otto Neurath, John Wilkins) who will probably also be new to you. These people are arguably the primary architects/engineers/makers of the electronic world we all inhabit. The book is especially commended to

  • anyone interested in the history of Information, and the precursors of the Web in particular
  • anyone engaged with European intellectual history, and/or with the world of the first 50 years of the 20th century

Other books I’ve read that I’d put into the same heap, and reread in light of Wright’s book:

George Dyson Darwin Among the Machines: The Evolution of Global Intelligence

James Gleick The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood

John Markoff What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry

Ted Nelson Possiplex: Movies, Intellect, Creative Control, My Computer Life and the Fight for Civilization: An Autobiography

Fred Turner From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism

David Weinberger Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder

I’m just starting Wright’s Glut: Mastering Information through the Ages, and hoping for More Of Same.

bibliophilia

I’m always pleased to turn a corner and discover something I’d known nothing about, another oddly-shaped puzzle piece that must fit in somewhere. Recent case-in-point: at my much-loved local indy bookstore I stumbled upon a book about books in Renaissance Venice, Alessandro Marzo Magno’s Bound in Venice: The Serene Republic and the Dawn of the Book and it begged to be taken home (visiting a good bookstore is for me akin to ‘going to look at a puppy’, about which my sister said “there’s no such thing as…”). Started reading it, and it’s delightful in several dimensions. For one thing, the translation from the Italian is spritely and you have the sense that the original must be especially well-written; and it’s stuffed with tempting asides. Here’s a description of the contents of a bookshop:

…prints, views of cities near and far, images of people that viewers would be unlikely ever to see first-hand; books in foreign or remote languages, but spoken by many visitors to the city, which as a melting pot is perhaps rivaled only by present-day New York. So here we have works in Armenian, a Bohemian bible, a text in the Glagolitic alphabet of medieval Croatia, another in Cyrillic, and, naturally, given that the Jewish ghetto in Venice, established in 1516, is the first in history, numerous volumes in Hebrew… (pg 17)

Well, ‘Glagolitic’ isn’t breakfast-table conversation out our way, or wasn’t until today. Good old Wikipedia is right there with everything I wanted to know and then some, and the facts are duly filed away against the day when the knowledge might come in handy in some as-yet-unforeseen way. And so it goes, day by day and book by book.

A clutch of probably-relevant books in my library

these are directly relevant to the project:

Identifying American Architecture: A Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms, 1600-1945 / John J. G. Blumenson
Big House, Little House, Back House Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England / Thomas C. Hubka
Discovering The Vernacular Landscape / John Brinckerhoff Jackson
A Field Guide to American Houses / Virginia McAlester
Field Guide to New England Barns and Farm Buildings (Library of New England) / Thomas Durant Visser

these have been with me for years, and I recognize them as broadly influential:

Shelter (1st Edition) / Lloyd Kahn
Shelter II / Lloyd Kahn
Modern Architecture and Design: An Alternative History / Bill Risebero
The Story of Western Architecture, 3rd Edition / Bill Risebero
Architecture Without Architects: A Short Introduction to Non-Pedigreed Architecture / Bernard Rudofsky
Looking Around: A Journey Through Architecture / Witold Rybczynski

looking for more stuff to read?

UPenn Library’s Online Books Page New Listings is forever pushing new stuff in our collective directions. Today’s harvest includes links to materials that I think of as fundamental to my own development and views of the world (imperfect and contradictory as they prove to be): CoEvolution Quarterly (1974-1984) and Whole Earth Review (1985-2003)

or you could go directly to Back Issues

and, since I’m rooting around in stuff from the past, a look at Whole Earth Software Review (1984) is interesting too.