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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Chapter Sixty-Four, in which Books are donated

Mad About Books Donates 400 Books
Bookstore contributes to Ottawa Rotary Book Drive

30 November 2005 (Oglesby, Illinois) – What do the less fortunate children of our community have to look forward to this holiday season? Books!

As part of the annual Ottawa Festival of Lights Parade, the Ottawa Sunrise Rotary Club sponsors a float which collects from generous spectators toys, books and donations for less fortunate children ages 0-12. In an effort to help one of the Rotary International projects, fighting illiteracy, Mad About Books offered to match the number of books collected at this year’s parade. Since turnout was light, apparently due to the blustery weather, and only 184 books were donated, Mad About Books is bettering their initial offer to help cover some of the shortfall, with a contribution of 400 books.

“We think it’s important for every child to read,” says bookstore owner Sharon-Fay Hill, “because literacy is the first step toward a life of success.”

Eldon Leemhuis of the Ottawa Sunrise Rotary Club emphasizes, “if we get the books in the hands of children whose parents are having trouble making ends meet, we are helping the education process of those who need it most.”

Mad About Books, located on Walnut Street in Oglesby, sells used, as well as rare and collectible, books. Since opening in June 2005, they have made donations to the Oglesby Public Library, LaSalle Veterans Home, LaSalle Healthcare Center, Salvation Army in LaSalle, and Shelter Care Ministries in Rockford. The books collected by the Ottawa Sunrise Rotary Club will be given to the Ottawa Salvation Army office to distribute with their Christmas food baskets.

“We believe giving in our community is the right thing to do,” says bookstore owner Jeff Hill. “And books make great gifts.”

Mad About Books will make a formal presentation of books to the Ottawa Sunrise Rotary Club on Friday 2 December at 7:15am at Ottawa Community Hospital.

For more information about the Ottawa Sunrise Rotary Club, email leemhuis@theramp.net
For more information about Mad About Books, email info@madaboutbooksonline.com.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Chapter Sixty-Three, in which the Slaves of Golconda are introduced

Coleridge divides readers into four kinds. The first three he believes are to varying degrees lazy, casual, and inattentive. "The fourth," he says, "is like the slaves in the diamond mines of Golconda, who, casting aside all that is worthless, retain only pure gems."

Over the past few months Your Bibliothecary has become acquainted with many thoughtful and articulate readers who regularly share their insights on their own blogs. Each is after one thing in their reading, and have a compulsion to pursue it. Nearly every day one can find reactions to a literary classic, a new release, a modern romance, a poem, a pop-up book--the variety is endless. We thought it might be interesting to gather these readers who toil without recompense in search of the crystalline truth, and all mine the same book at the same time.

The first book on the agenda is Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Each person will be reading this over the next few weeks and collecting thoughts. On Sunday 18 December each person will post their reactions to this book on their own blog, in their own personal style. Discussion may ensue.

This event is open to anyone who wants to participate. Registration is not necessary; simply read the book and blog about it on the designated day. And if your reading is not as the sand in the hour-glass, or the sponge, or the jelly-bag, then you may truly join the eminent ranks of the Slaves of Golconda.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Chapter Sixty-Two, in which We mark Thanksgiving

"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner, rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labors."

Today we mark a holiday that is not political, and yet has a distinctly American flavor, second only to Independence Day; not religious, and yet, as the name indicates, often features prayers of thanks; and not invented, like Mother's Day, though the day was arbitrarily set long after the event it was meant to commemorate.

Football and parades being attached to this day only recently, the main observance of the holiday is the meal, a re-creation and remembrance of the first harvest in 1621 at Plymouth Colony, as noted in the above quote by Edward Winslow (first colonial groom and future governor); and therein lies the beauty of the holiday.

Though President Lincoln officially established the last Thursday of November as a national day to give thanks, the basis of the day has one element that is a standard feature of many religious celebrations. Harvest festivals are traditional in cultures throughout the world. For Christians in particular, thank offerings abound in the Bible, and the communal meal is the first noticeable feature of early Jewish-Christian worship, a supper party of fellowship, which usually took place in the homes of followers. Besides the passover Seder feast, a meal offering of thanks to God which antedated Moses, Jesus often participated in communal meal sharing with publicans and harlots, a bringing-together of diverse peoples just as the colonists and native Americans of this country would do many hundreds years later.

When you sit to Thanksgiving dinner today, take a moment to reflect on the sacredness of the meal. No special class of person is required to perform the rites of blessing or feeding. No special place is required. The holiday is truly one of fellowship. When you pass the potatoes or turkey, you are testifying to a community, not by words or faith, but by deed.

Thanksgiving conjures images of Pilgrims, football, and harried days of shopping madness. Behind it all, whether we are aware or not, we carry on the tradition of the communal share-meal. In secular form we all rejoice together.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Chapter Sixty-One, in which Knowledge is truly shared

And now, back to the subject of Google.

If you have just tuned in, Chapter Forty-Six offered a rousing defense, embellished with gratuitous sex and violence, of Google's plans to digitize books. The thoughts of Your Bibliothecary then were on one's enhanced abilities to search and find information one is looking for.

While casually browsing Anirvan's Bookfinder Journal, we followed some binary breadcrumbs and arrived at a discussion of metadata by David Weinberger. What is metadata? Basically, it refers to the way we organize information such as books. Read the entire article if you are interested, but it matters little to our point here.

With only a passing mention, and a brief follow-up at the end, Weinberger notes what we now believe could be the most important benefit of a complete digitization of all books. If this is not in Google's plans, it needs to be.

Imagine Google has digitized a book Tiresias has written about farm implements. A student in Estonia searches for some keywords, and he is sent to the relevant snippet from Tiresias' book. As we understand the program now, the student will also find a link to be able to purchase Tiresias' book if he needs more information from it.

Let's say he acquires this book, and finds it lacking some important information, information the student from Estonia possesses, but which Tiresias had been unable to obtain in his own research. The way the wheel spins now, the student from Estonia will write and publish his own book with more thorough information. Or perhaps he will contact Tiresias, who will then be able to publish a revised edition with the updated information. But what if the student was able to add comments and annotations to the complete digital text?

How amazing would it be for us to publish Chapter Sixty-One and then return to it four weeks later to find it has been fully annotated and duly expanded by everyone with an interest in the subject and access to the Internet?

This is how we see a true sharing of information. This is what Weinberger suggests is the cause of publisher's fears over Google's plan. The process needs refinement far beyond the simple "post and comment" routine of blogs, and perhaps the technology is not yet even available. But by this, everyone with knowledge on a subject can participate in the exchange of information, and the growth of knowledge will be at the speed of the digital age.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Chapter Sixty, in which We find Ourselves in the digital Renaissance

What do Erasmus, Bacon, Jonson, Milton, and Locke have in common with Sylvia, Julie, Ella, Stefanie, and Your Bibliothecary?

The Renaissance provided the backdrop for the height of popularity of what is known as the commonplace book. The times had seen a sudden flood of information, and commonplace books became one means of organizing and remembering items of personal significance. Wikipedia broadly defines commonplace books as "essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas."

The term was originally one of rhetoric, signifying a passage that could be generally applied in the locus communis, or the common place. By using these books to record items of particular interest, readers became the center of their own books, what Barbara M. Benedict, in Making the Modern Reader: Cultural Mediation in Early Modern Literary Anthologies, calls "the locus of meaning from which the collected texts differ." For the average reader who recorded their thoughts and criticisms with each passage, these books became a social skill as well as a personal pleasure. And though many modern researchers pay them scant attention, such commonplace books are printed guides to the cultures of their times.

The 2001 exhibition Commonplace Books: Manuscripts and Printed Books from Antiquity to the Twentieth Century, at the Beinecke Library at Yale University featured the collections of Seneca, Saint Bernard de Clairvaux, John Locke, Edward Gibbon, and W.H. Auden among many others. But, in Bell's Common Place Book, for the Pocket: Form'd generally upon the Principles Recommended and Practiced by Mr. Locke (London: 1770), John Bell noted that a commonplace book

...is not solely for the Divine, the Lawyer, the Poet, Philosopher, or Historian. . . . It is for the use and emolument of the man of business as well as of letters; for men of fashion and fortune as well as of study; for the Traveller, the Trader, and in short for all those who would form a system of useful and agreeable knowledge, in a manner peculiar to themselves, while they are following their accustomed pursuits, either of profit or pleasure.

Dougj provides a fine explanation of commonplace books, and how to make and use one, in One and Two parts. His site also gives one a good sense of how a commonplace book was normally organized, with each entry indexed by heading for easy reference. He cites Robert Darnton ("Extraordinary Commonplaces," The New York Review of Books, December 21, 2000), who said that, for compilers of commonplace books, reading and writing were inseperable acts in an effort to make sense of things. In other words, keeping a commonplace book was a way of damming up the stream of experience and swimming in it, another necessary act of devotion.

Darnton goes on to say that "commonplacing as a practice probably began in the twelfth century and remained widespread among the Victorians. It disappeared long before the advent of the sound bite." Perhaps he hasn't visited any of the blogs Your Bibliothecary noted at the start. What more is there to blogging than copying a pithy passage under an appropriate heading and adding observations made in the course of daily life?

The allure of the weblog today is the same as the allure of Bell's blank manuscript books that offered a person the opportunity to participate in printed culture, both as writers and readers of their own identity. His quote, too, would fit well in any blog's "ABOUT" category. Thus we come to know ourselves and one another with each blog entry, posting, or chapter--literal entries into the thoughts and feelings of the person who wrote them.

We embrace the digital age and call it our own, but the roots are firmly planted in the Renaissance, and we find ourselves now still coming to understand the universe and our place in it by means no different than people did then.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Chapter Fifty-Nine, in which We learn to dam the Stream

In Pipefuls (which I have just finished enjoying), Christopher Morley quotes his own John Mistletoe on the passing of time, the flow of one's experiences like a river: "The urgent necessity is to dam the stream here and there so we can go swimming in it."

I can think of two quite pleasurable ways of damming this stream: reading and writing.

Reading (unless you are Evelyn Wood) causes us to absorb words one by one. An experience being described usually takes more time than the actual experience itself--think of the description of a fistfight in any western novel--and with possible intrusions of feelings, reactions, or other viewpoints, events that might pass as quickly as a day in the life of Leopold Bloom can take 1076 pages to recount. Reading allows one to savor a story, and slip deep inside a character, in a way a two-hour film can not.

Writing forces one to slow down even more. To write about an event, one must reflect upon it, think for a while, try to come to the essence of the thing so that words, once set on paper, will convey that experience as fully as possible. In a way, writing about an event causes us to relive it, even rescue it and preserve it, safe from the raging flow of time.

Dam the stream: Read and Write!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Chapter Fifty-Eight, in which Leander desires Erato

Leander is not the type of man who talks about his feelings, so Your Bibliothecary must talk about them for him.

For all you first-time Readers, Leander and Erato are two of our dearest friends. Both are writers, and we have all shared many a literary experience together. They have previously appeared in Chapter Fifty-Two as two of the four unknown contest judges. They also share a famous, on-again/off-again romance--on because Erato can behave with knee-buckling appeal when she wants to, and off because she often wants to with more than one man. Morals and analysis aside, they are a fine couple when together.

Many years before meeting Erato, Leander saw a film that he considered brilliant. The name doesn't matter--what matters is his appreciation of the performance of the leading actress. So moved, he even went on to write a biography on the character from the film.

Fast forward, if you will, to last weekend: Leander and Erato find time to rent a movie. Leander suggests that film that touched him so, and to his surprise Erato had never seen it. Well, she has to see it. (Remember, Ladies, often one of the only ways a man will share his feelings with you is through his appreciation of a film, book, or work of art.)

Leander recounted all this at lunch the other day, in what seemed like fewer than ten words. We have, not so much embellished it--he embellished it with an abundance of detail concerning the rest of their weekend together--but edited and translated it, so the meaning will become clearer. He captioned this snapshot of one part of their weekend by saying that the actress in the film seemed to him just like Erato.

We can tell you there is some resemblance in appearance between said actress and said lover. And having seen the film, we can affirm that the actress displays some mannerisms and ways of bearing that are similar to Erato's, likely even more to one who knows her as Leander does. The film, he said, inspired quite a night.

This all brought us to thinking about why Leander is so drawn to Erato. Even when he is angry with her, he still desires her. Indeed, he excuses all her faults just to have as much of her as she will allow. Though we know Erato's charms to be powerful, there must be another reason, something deeper, a feeling that Leander won't discuss.

Is it possible that many years before meeting Erato, the actress in the film made a strong, searing impression on Leander? And is it possible that when he finally did meet Erato, she reminded him of the actress, though completely subconsciously? Is it possible that Erato fit perfectly into the impression left upon Leander by the actress, and that is what makes him so drawn to her? Was Leander somehow conditioned to want Erato to the exclusion of others?

Are all the hopes and desires of our mature years really only shadows of our younger years, attempts to fill the emptiness of our past?

Monday, November 7, 2005

Chapter Fifty-Seven, in which the Book Catalogue Fairy visits

Ella L. recently shared her excitement over a book catalogue, and I went ahead and ordered the same. Today your Bibliothecary was also visited by the Book Catalogue Fairy: two catalogues and a magazine in the post box. Let's find out what's inside.

"A Common Reader" is as Ella advertised, exclamatory! There is offered Bibliotopia which has garnered the SMB endorsement. The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer is "highly recommended" as an "absorbing guide to both the concept and the content of classical education," something which has been all but forgotten in the curriculum of today. Paul Woodruff writes about rediscovering the virtue of Reverence. And from Magic Beach by Crockett Johnson, our favorite of those special descriptions that so appeal to Ella:
In the chambers of the literary imagination, no truth is more telling than the revelation that every word is an act of faith, and every tale a suspension of disbelief. Stories will worlds into being, and in the words that make them we discover the dimensions of our hearts and minds.

The second catalogue we received was that of Edward R. Hamilton, the venerable mail-order bookseller. Here the prices are a bit more reasonable, and the best feature is the flat shipping rate, regardless of how many books one orders. A quick glance through the pages, and we have already marked to buy Frontier Skills: The Tactics and Weapons That Won the American West by William C. Davis; The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution by Linda R. Monk; and The Write Stuff: Collector's Guide to Inkwells, Fountain Pens, and Desk Accessories by Ray and Bevy Jaegers. Other notably alluring books are on Steichen, Vermeer, and science fiction art. And if we are ultimately unable to acquire all these titles, we still read of them and imagine our personal collection enriched by their inclusion.

Finally, the new issue of Fine Books and Collections magazine arrived, full of articles to stir the passions of any book collector. Perhaps in another chapter your Bibliothecary will comment further on some of the contents if we can ever escape the enchantment of the advertisement on the inside front cover for The History of the Library in Western Civilization by Konstantinos Sp. Staikos.

Sunday, November 6, 2005

We interrupt this Blog...

...for an announcement from the Emergency Broadcast System. This is NOT a test.

Callisto brought the news to our attention this morning. In brief, a school principal will suspend any students who maintain a personal blog. Read the complete article (and a more extensive one) and then take action.

We can not allow this to go without a response. McHugh needs to let parents decided what is right for their children. In this country liberty takes precedence over security. Does his decision show respect for parents? Does his decision show respect for children? No, no, it is all about making himself feel good: "If this protects one child from being near-abducted or harassed or preyed upon, I make no apologies for this stance." He ought to quit acting like God and start TEACHING, if he wants children to learn about civility, courtesy, and respect.

Use the school feedback form here as well as follow the links for further contact information to send letters or telephone. Ask for answers. This encroachment on their liberty is an encroachment on yours as well.

Sam Adams would have tarred and feathered the good Revered.

Friday, November 4, 2005

Chapter Fifty-Six, in which a Writer's Life is examined

Today, dear two readers, you will be treated to another insight into the life of our good writer friend Tiresias.

It has been said that writing is a solitary pursuit. Yet deep inside every writer is the need to communicate something to another, and most writers need some measure of feedback to maintain the focus and drive necessary to complete a good piece of writing, whether a concise essay about Exactitude or an epic novel about recapturing lost time.

In Judy Reeves' book A Writer's Book of Days, she offers a prescription for maintaining this drive:
By integrating regular writing-practice sessions into your life, notebooks will get filled, stories will be written, or poems or whatever surprising forms your writing takes. Your writing will improve and so will the quality of your life. That irresistible urge that brought you to the page in the first place will be fulfilled. The longing stilled. Even if you continue to need a day job to support yourself--and most of us will--your spirit will be glad.

Tiresias has his own version of this bit of wisdom, in the form of a motto: Inspiration is the reward of daily practice. He does not sit back and wait for fickle Inspiration to hit him over the head and drag him to his desk to write. He goes to his desk and writes every day, another necessary act of devotion, and soon enough Inspiration is lured to his side, begging to be his. Good, bad, or otherwise, he says the important thing is to get words on paper once a day, every day.

For those mere mortals who write, there lurk demons more disruptive than Inspiration and her indifference. Reeves notes that "many who want to be writers--who are in their hearts, writers--have followed the same beaten path that doesn't come to a dead end so much as it peters out." Often this fade-out is the result of dark thoughts that lurk in the solitary mind, that say "You're wasting your time" or "That isn't any good" or "What makes you think anyone is ever going to want to read some silly elf story?"

Recently Tiresias confessed to us that even he has suffered from a lack of regular constructive feedback. When one is so pressed for time that one can barely carve out twenty minutes to devote to one's own writing, how can one find time to read, critique, and help with the work of another writer? Tiresias believes the efforts he puts into helping another writer help himself as well, because he learns from it, and often he can objectively spot some defect in another's writing that he will subjectively overlook in his own. Daily practice is much easier done when someone else is expecting it from you.

The subtitle of Reeves' book is "A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life." I believe Tiresias when he says every writer can benefit from such a thing, whether person or book or amulet. He told us that someone has recently appeared to him, an angel from the great Bookstore in the sky, who shares his passion for writing, who yearns for inspiration, who wants to give as much as receive. His excitement is evident in his broad smile, the lightness in his step, the eagerness with which he says, "I can't wait to see what she has written today!" His mind romps. He is more than ready to reclaim the title of writer that has languished beneath a layer of dust for several years.

Tiresias has found his Spirited Companion and Lively Muse. We should all, one bright day, be so lucky.

Chapter Fifty-Five, in which recent Acquisitions are listed

Your Bibliothecary loves books, and especially books about books. Reading about every facet of a book, from its creation to its construction, from its history to its future, serves to increase our appreciation of books themselves, as objects, as communication tools, and as entertainment. Today, in the great tradition of riffing off another's blog (as well as a healthy dose of oneupsmanship), we are pleased to present our most recent book acquisitions. Eventually some will be discussed, some will be given away, and some will be sold (if you name the right price), so stay tuned.

Here, then, without further ado:

Fowler's Modern English Usage
Nancy Pearl--Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason
Jack Matthews--Booking in the Heartland
Vicente Blasco Ibanez--A Novelist's Tour of the World
Mortimer J. Adler--How to Read a Book: The Art of Getting a Liberal Education
Bonnie Friedman--Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life
Gail Sher--One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers
M.H. Abrams--A Glossary of Literary Terms
Judy Reeves--A Writer's Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life
Julia Cameron--The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

So we will begin this week's book giveaway by asking a question, and the avid reader who can answer correctly will win one of the books listed above, but which one will be a surprise.

Who is the following quote attributed to?
I have sometimes dreamt ... that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards--their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble--the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, "Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading."

Tiebreaker goes to the one who can also name the books in which that quote can be found. Post your answers as a comment and bon chance.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Chapter Fifty-Four, in which a Feature of Poetry debuts

Your Bibliothecary travels far and wide, and memory does not serve him well. He recalls somewhere a poem to begin each month, but knows not where or to whom to give credit for this chapter.

And so in remembrance of that blog and blogger, and in appreciation of verse, we offer a poem as a sort of ritual, another necessary act of devotion.

Thomas Hardy was a brilliant novelist whose Wessex novels are full of a strong sense of setting, a multitude of carefully and fully drawn characters, and moving moods of melancholy. If you have not done so, we urge our two readers to pick up Tess of the D'Urbervilles, or The Trumpet-Major, or Far From the Madding Crowd, or Jude the Obscure and lose yourself in an amazing story.

His fiction, however, was not well-received. Hardy did not take criticism easily, and finally he gave up the novel form completely, and turned to poetry. Many critics today argue that he is a better poet than novelist. Here is a sample of his voluminous output.

The Letter's Triumph

(A Fancy)

Yes: I perceive it's to your Love
You are bent on sending me. That this is so
Your words and phrases prove!

And now I am folded, and start to go,
Where you, my writer, have no leave to come:
My entry none will know!

And I shall catch her eye, and dumb
She'll keep, should my unnoised arrival be
Hoped for, or troublesome.

My face she'll notice readily:
And, whether she care to meet you, or care not,
She will perforce meet me;

Take me to closet or garden-plot
And, blushing or pouting, bend her eyes quite near,
Moved much, or never a jot.

And while you wait in hope and fear,
Far from her cheeks and lips, snug I shall stay
In close communion there,

And hear her heart-beats, things she may say,
As near her naked fingers, sleeve, or glove
I lie--ha-ha!--all day.

Chapter Fifty-Three, in which Names have been changed

Revision comprises a large chunk of a writer's experience. Often what we begin with is not what we end with. Shakespeare, for example, constantly reworked his plays, to improve them for his audience.

A close associate of your Bibliothecary, a writer we shall call Tiresias, doesn't like to slow down for speed bumps. When he has a character, he needs a name, and he picks one: Penelope. Now as Penelope develops, Tiresias may discover different qualities about her that he didn't know existed in the beginning. One hundred pages later he comes to the conclusion that Penelope would be better named Persephone.

Tiresias is regularly active in an amazing writer's group in which your Bibliothecary had the pleasure of participating several times. I cannot recall how many times he would come to a meeting and begin reading about a character, only to have someone stop him mid-sentence to ask, "Wait--who is Persephone?" And casually Tiresias would say, "Oh, she used to be Penelope, but she changed her name."

Tiresias is not one for writing out a detailed synopsis and outline for a novel before he begins writing. This results in more time needed for revision, but also allows him greater freedom of discovery. One thing he does usually begin with, though, is a concept of where the novel will end. And so the same principle applies to your Bibliothecary's humble blog.

After the revealing Chapter Fifty, your Bibliothecary decided it was time to rename the blog to better reflect what it was all about. After all, did anyone really know where "Beggars of Azure" came from? So, the old blog title will one day find new life in another form, and the new blog title comes directly from Morley, the man who set the standard for appreciation of all things literary.