Collection Conundrums (CBR9 #61)

 

collectionsI am preparing to interview for a new position at work, and it will be a change of pace for me from one type of museum work (education) to another (collections). The work shares many attributes, but there are definitely some skills and terminology that I haven’t used day to day in about 7 years that I needed to brush up on, which led me back to my books from graduate school, this one in particular.

Museums, and their running, is a web of crazy. There isn’t a better way to describe it to people on the outside. You’d think everything would be orderly and put together, but there is never enough time, never enough staff, and certainly never enough resources. The department that I am trying to get into? It has 3 people taking care of tens of thousands of objects of all manner. A large component of the work is going back and fixing mistakes and oversights of the past and attempting to get things into one understandable system, best we can.

Which leads me to this book, it is all about what the typical problems of the past are, and ways in which to fix them and prevent them moving forward. It was perfect for my needs, but less than satisfactory in its presentation. While I know most problems stem from two basic points (lack of clear documentation being foremost), it did not prevent the book, at a relatively short 150 pages from being very repetitive and a slog to get through. Which, is as I remember it from my last go around.

This book is useful for us in the field, but of no interest or use to those of you outside of it.

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March: Book One (CBR9 #60)

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I have long loved Representative Lewis since studying about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and their role in the sit-ins, freedom rides, and the 1963 March on Washington. While the March on Washington is most remembered today as the location of Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have a Dream speech, earlier that day in his role as National Chairman of SNCC John Lewis spoke, giving an inflammatory speech that nearly had other speakers pulling out of the March.

When I heard last year that Representative Lewis had collaborated on a series of graphic novels recounting his time with SNCC through to Selma I put them on my to read list. The world angers me more often than not these days, so I thought now would be social justice through nonviolence.

What I wasn’t expecting was to fall in love with both the artistry of Nate Powell and the young John Lewis. Representative Lewis started his life wanting to be a preacher, ministering to his flock of chickens. Mr. Lewis had a love of school and learning, and eventually those pursuits put him in the orbit of the SCLC and Dr. King.

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This first book chronicles those early stories, placed against the backdrop of President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, through the initial sit ins Lewis participated in and helped organize. Then as now Representative Lewis was a man on a mission, and I am looking forward to reading the next two volumes to follow his story in his own words in this highly accessible telling.

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This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

A Night to Surrender (CBR9 #59)

Following A Farewell to Arms, a trip to Romancelandia was in order.

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Historical Romance was up next in my rotation, so off to Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove I went. In the first book in the series we are introduced not only to the seaside locale, but to its resident mistress in charge. Susanna Finch has everything set up just so, she has created a safe haven for women and a schedule to keep them happy and mentally engaged. Unfortunately for her, Victor Bramwell, the new Earl of Rycliff blasts his way (literally) into her life, and with some interference from her father, will be staying very much underfoot for the next month. All the worse, she is terribly attracted to him from the moment go.

This is a Tessa Dare book, and she writes charming, whimsical stories with characters that have great emotional chemistry. She also writes great side characters, even if she is a bit clumsy in introducing the next couple in her series (the chapter with Minerva and Colin stood out in the worst possible way). There was by far much less quirk than in the Castles Ever After books, which is a blessing, and more historical accuracy – as much as Dare is ever accurate. Dare does wacky like no one else, and like my other foray into the realms of Spindle Cove, was all-in with these wacky people (refreshingly not young) and their shenanigans. Where else am I likely to read about a pet lamb named Dinner?

It was silly, funny, and sexy, which is what I am looking for when I pick up a Tessa Dare book. The rest of the story had some pep in its step, and once the introduction of Spindle Cove itself was out of the way the narrative takes off and never really slows down. This book struck me as a more refined and more expertly executed version of One Dance with a Duke, another series introducer. It is in some ways burdened with world creation, but once that work is done Dare plays with two characters that are in equal measure true to their historical contexts, but also struggling with issues of gender roles and pride. It was all quite well done, and didn’t shy away from delivering very good sex scenes. All in all, you should all pack your bags for Spindle Cove, it is quite restorative.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it as we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

If Our Bodies Could Talk (CBR9 #58)

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While my work is in history, I love to read science non-fiction. I bounce around from Mary Roach books and other things in a similar vein, and about half of my podcast listening is science based as well. When reviews of James Hamblin’s If Our Bodies Could Talk started sliding in at Cannonball Read I thought it sounded up my alley. Somewhere along the way, I discovered that Hamblin did his own audio and added that to my queue list at the library.

In If Our Bodies Could Talk Hamblin does well what I thought Jessica Bennett did not (or rather, that she didn’t attempt), he takes a basic question and answer format and expands it to discuss the larger implications. This makes perfect sense as Hamblin explains that he left medical school to become a writer (landing at The Atlantic) because he couldn’t reconcile being asked to memorize and regurgitate facts that he would be able to easily access in his professional career. Add to that not being taught to look at problems holistically, and attack medicine as a failure somewhere in the body’s systems and the need for such an approach and you have the root of his video series for The Atlantic and eventually this book.

With that beginning point, the vast majority of the questions that are asked in the book are answered with social, political, and economic ramifications as the end result. Hamblin doesn’t shy away from talking about how broken our healthcare and medical systems are and how care is often profits driven (the story that sticks with me on this one is oral hydration versus saline IVs). He also approaches his topics and the public’s general state of misinformation kindly and deploys well-placed humor to break up what might otherwise be monotonous.

I enjoyed listening to this book, and took away a great deal from it (do not just blindly take multivitamins: look at what you need specifically because you can accidentally poison yourself), and was able to look at topics more broadly than I had before (our food production is literally breaking the planet).

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

Feminist Fight Club (CBR9 #57)

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I feel like I should have so much more to say about this book, having read it while the Weinstein scandal broke wide and the world seems to be reeling from what decades of systematic (and systemic) harassment and sexism create. I recognized myself and my friends in Jessica Bennett and her original Fight Club, I see the value in the techniques and tricks she encapsulated in this book, and I’m encouraged to see so much of what she writes backed up by hard scientific evidence.

However, I am just so exhausted by all of it.

This book is meant to be practicably useful: flip to a section, find the particular problem you are experiencing and read suggestions for how to combat the toxic masculinity and misogyny that surrounds you. What it is not however, after the first section, is a book that is likely meant to be read straight through. Which is what I attempted to do. While the world continued to burn down around us.

I know I’m sounding a bit dramatic and full of hyperbole, but I am feeling that way. I also brought my own particular needs to reading this book. I work in a nearly 100% lady environment, so the sexism I see is more often internalized misogyny – good news is that this book does cover that angle.

The book is full of all kinds of practical tips and explanations about how these scenarios pop up so that you know you aren’t alone or aren’t crazy for seeing them in the world around you. The title says “manual for a sexist workplace” but really, it is a manual for a sexist world. You will experience some of these behaviors no matter who you are or where you work, or where you shop, eat, or visit. The part of the conceit of the book that I liked best is that it offering varying ways of responding. Bennett isn’t telling us that every solution will work each time; nor that every solution is right every time. She instead offers a scale of ways to react.

A small word of caution though, this book often equates being a woman with your reproductive parts. It definitely made me raise an eyebrow on occasion, as it leaves out so many of our sisters in arms.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we want (with a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

A Farewell to Arms (CBR9 #56)

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A few weeks ago, I put out a plea on my Facebook page – I had overlooked choosing a book for this year’s Banned Book Week. While emmalita sang the praises of This One Summer a book I already had on my to read list (which I did read that week), another friend gamely suggested that I read A Farewell to Arms since he was reading it as well. I checked out the audio offerings, and decided to give it a go since John Slattery narrated it and I’ve been meaning to read Hemingway this year anyway (I had For Whom the Bell Tolls already in this year’s to read list).

Friends, I did not enjoy this reading experience one single bit. Not even John Slattery’s voice could bring the characters to life on the page. It became more of a trial than anything else, and finally I just turned the speed up to be done with it and listened while doing chores around the house.

The only previous Hemingway I read was The Old Man and the Sea and I remember having the same feeling reading that book nearly twenty years ago that I do with this one: boredom. I will say right now that I am probably an outlier in this opinion, and Cannonball Read’s own bonnie wrote a review for Cannonball Read 5 giving it 3 stars and laying out the things Hemingway does well in his craft that kept her engaged. Unfortunately, those same things left me cold. Where Hemingway’s quick, short sentences which fit perfectly the topic of war, and the bursts of action captured by the style made bonnie feel connected to the setting, it instead placed artificial distance between me as the reader and Hemingway’s characters.

I have struggled for years to describe why first person present tense narration in literary fiction often fails to engage me. I think I finally found my answer in my review of A Room of One’s Own last month. I did not “hear” the voice of Hemingway’s protagonist Frederic Henry, instead I was listening to him rattle off the activities of his life (not entirely dissimilar to Sookie Stackhouse narrating her own life – I know, harsh).  It almost always falls into tell not show, or at least that’s my experience with Adult fiction. YA does it better, because those authors are generally more comfortable making their narrators story tellers as opposed to fact spewers.

I also know I’m reading this 85 years too late, as the context implied for Hemingway’s  contemporary readers is not as readily accessible for his modern readers. I know the general history of the Great War, but I don’t know and understand the details the way a contemporary reader would have. Even though this book laregely did not work for me, I can understand why it was Hemingway’s first major success.

 

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it however we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

 

Once Upon a Rose (CBR9 #55)

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One sometimes needs a palate cleanser. If that one is me, that is almost always a Romance novel. I am one of the millions of people who read, enjoy, and think about the genre, its tropes, and look forward to the reliability of a happy ending. (With the exception of a few descriptors I am amazingly average Romance reader.)

The world around us is falling apart quicker than we can patch the cracks. Sometimes we need to refuel with a guarantee.

I finished this book almost a week ago and have sat on the review. Why? Well, as I was finishing it up the New York Times, the paper of record, decided that the best idea it had was to let an octogenarian – who has a real strange way of showing “appreciation” for the genre – do a roundup of the Season’s Romance offerings. Emmalita has already covered much of that debacle (as did Book Riot’s Amanda Diehl in a piece you should read), and bless her for it, because I was tempted to nope right out of the article when I realized the first book he mentioned, Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I, was published in 2000. Yes you read that right, a book published 17 years ago lead off the seasonal roundup (look, I really liked that book even with THE ISSUE, but you have got to be kidding me with this).

But I did keep reading, and becoming more and more infuriated by the second class citizen nature of Gottlieb’s article, which showed his great misunderstanding of the state of the genre, and diminished the phenomenal work done by so many. I thought I would have a few things to say to Mr. Gottlieb in my review of the perfectly adequate but not earth shattering Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand, and then move on. BUT THEN I SAW THAT THE NEW YORK TIMES DOUBLED DOWN ON GOTTLIEB’S ARTICLE WITH THEIR RESPONSE FROM THE BOOKS DESK. This time Radhika Jones gets to be dismissive to the Romance reader, pointing out quite clearly for us that a critic has a different role than a fan. Well, color me shocked that the expectation of and reaction to complaints about the choices made by Gottlieb, who Jones calls “a voracious reader of contemporary romance”, as he time after time diminished the agency of women and suppressed the writing of modern authors by instead flaunting half arsed praise on authors a half century dead.  A truly voracious reader of contemporary romance would be familiar with the feminist writing happening, of the brilliance of Courtney Milan, and dare not step to tell me that E.L. James is “no better or worse a writer than most of her compeers”. Are you kidding me? Salman Rushdie and I apparently agree, and I want Mr. Gottlieb to bow at the altar of Lisa Kleypas and say that with a straight fucking face. Hell, one of my most enjoyable reading experiences of the year was a duology written specifically to prove that the idea James was after could actually be well written.

What does all of this have to do with Florand’s book other than the happenstance of being read by me at the same time? Everything. Florand is one of a pack of contemporary Romance writers who is playing with tropes, deconstructing classic story structure, and not being afraid to be light and frothy. She is also doing this while writing well crafted and fully fleshed out characters in evocative settings with more emotional landscape than sexytimes (by the way Mr. Gottlieb, I may prefer to read my smut, but that’s not the reason why I’m reading this genre).

I’ve rated this book 3.5 stars because it does commit one of my least favorite Romancelandia crimes: instalove (seriously, it’s about 30 hours and it read as too fast. All I’m asking for is a few days here, c’mon), but I will be returning to the land of Florand very soon: if only for the pun of giving the rose growing family the last name of Rosier.