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Summer Reading, A Last Look Back

At the end of July Ellen Rocco published the NCPR Summer Reading List! While of course summer, at this writing-hour, is something to look back on this list is simply a good read.  It gathers readers from around the North Country who suggest books old and new, fiction and nonfiction, books touching upon North Country topics and books touching upon global topics.  Certainly, most, if not all of these titles, grace the shelves of the SLU Libraries…even as we hurtle toward the start of the academic year, having a book in hand is a “no downside” thing…Ellen’s list is a very useful one looking forward to the fall…

Afternoon Reading in Bars

With a new issue of the FODYLL Bulletin in the works, time to renew our blogging efforts here at the FODYLL blog…and what better way to do that than making the case for reading at the bar.  Juan Vidal does, “My favorite place to read is in a dark bar mid-day.” Dark Bar Mid Day is a wonderful image, evocative, very much like the cover of James Crumley’s mystery The Right Madness.right_madness Come to think of it, Crumley’s work (we have several of his titles in ODY) is especially appropriate for consumption in a bar.Vidal’s short essay is a great little piece on reading…

Poems Work

In honor of national poetry month (and because it is a peaceful slowly unwinding Monday morning) I typed Poems Work into our SLU Libraries Encore search, and, my goodness, did I get back an interesting list of books. So interesting I did indeed feel motivated to blog out what poems work. Here is a baker’s dozen from this serendipitous phrase:


New Poetry

An annual April “National Poetry Month” post…a baker’s dozen of new collections of poems at the SLU Libraries:

May of these are found in the Browsing Collection on the shelves near our Paul and Anne Piskor Special Collections Reading Room…

National Poetry Month

mmoore2   April is National Poetry Month, and as winter finally winds down it is increasingly likely that one could venture out of the house in search of poetry.  I say “venture out” because while there is much verse downloadable (see the Poetry Foundation), our Special Collections is home to several significant poetry collections.  Noteworthy are The Frank P. Piskor Collection of Robert Frost, the Marianne Moore Collection (one of her manuscripts is pictured), the Rudyard Kipling Scrapbook, the display out in the reading room of Adirondack Poetry curated by SLU Senior Holly Brown, and the Frank P. Piskor Book Collection.

Venturing to our Frank and Anne Piskor Reading Room to read through the books or papers in these collections also means reading the real thing; that is, it means holding the poem as an artifact, as a discrete object, as a thing unique like the timber of a voice or handshake.  Dana Gioia has written eloquently on this experience, and along with the experience of a visit to the reading room one has the opportunity to understand the poem in a way unique from an e-version–there is truth in pursuit.  So if you have not been by the ODY Special Collections for a bit, April is the perfect month…

Who Uses Libraries

PI-library-typology-03-13-2014-00-01Our friends at the Pew Research Internet Life Project, in their ongoing attempt to create a mosaic of what the Internet is and who specifically is Internet-borne, have released a new study on who is using libraries in the United States, From Distant Admirers to Library Lovers–and Beyond. The study identifies and connects the who and why of people who frequent libraries–and comes up with some quite amusing categories for those who do (and do not) come through the front door. Foremost amongst library users:

Information Omnivores are more likely to seek and use information than other groups, are more likely to have and use technology; at the same time, they are strong users of public libraries, and think libraries have a vital role in their communities. However, they are not quite as active in their library use as Library Lovers, or nearly as likely to say the loss of the local library would have a major impact on them and their family.

One of the “surprise findings” of the study is that only a small portion of library users report suffering from “information overload,” and that many folks (such as the information omnivores) move back and forth between digital and print information sources “seamlessly” (to invoke that ugly word). Print and digital sources do not seem to preclude one another–this a point made by JCR Licklider back in the 1960′s when he was thinking about something that works very much like the Internet now (see “Man-Computer Symbiosis“), and is beautifully explicated by Eric Ormsby in his essay “The Battle of the Book” which was published in New Criterion back in 2001 (and, for members of the SLU Community, easily accessible through a quick search in Academic Search Complete). Ormbsy’s essay is a marvelous contemplation of readers and libraries, and as I mentioned the way in which the print and digital happily coexist, facilitate different work. Facilitate the work of poems, and with National Poetry Month at hand, work that needs to be done…

Sid Sondergard’s New Book

sidDr. Sid Sondergard has completed translating the fifth volume of Strange Tales from Liaozhai by Pu Songling.  Strange Tales are 18th century short stories where “readers will encounter supernatural creatures, natural disasters, magical aspects of Buddhist and Daoist spirituality and a wide range of Chinese folklore.” Dr. Sondergard’s many great insights into literature are exceeded only by his remarkable energy, and at a recent talk about his translations he shared how he became interested in working with Chinese language texts–

I was 48 when I decided it was time for me to learn Chinese.  I immersed myself in Chinese literature in translation, I memorized the radicals, I began learning individual characters, and I began copying them in the kind of calligraphy that would make a Chinese elementary school student giggle out of embarrassment for me.  Then I decided that I needed a project, a focus and anchor for my language study; I ran across references to Pu Songling’s weird stories, discovered that relatively few of the almost 500 stories had been translated into English, and realized that I’d found my project.
Strange Tales from Liaozhai—which wasn’t even published during Pu Songling’s lifetime—is the most beloved collection of short stories in Chinese literature, and has been the basis of hundreds of films, television shows, and other adaptations.
In addition to my English literature coursework, I’d been teaching courses on Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese film, and on two of the great Chinese epics—The 三国演义, or Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and the 水浒传, or The Outlaws of the Marsh.  My enthusiasm for the literature kept increasing, and I began applying for grants that took me to China with students to study the places and figures about whom we’d read with such excitement.  At the perfect time for me, St. Lawrence offered Mandarin language instruction for the first time, and I returned to the role of student for a year.
My practice with the calligraphy and memorization of vocabulary came in handy—I was able to zip through quizzes and absorb modern vocabulary terms along with the words and phrases I’d learned from classical Chinese workbooks that I’d been using for home instruction.  Up to that point, I’d been running on hubris pretty effectively.  And then came the day that I realized 我的耳不不不好极了.

To translate: I have a crap ear when it comes to processing the verbal language live.  The switch that had always been thrown when I’d studied languages before wasn’t clicking “on” this time.

The reality I had to accept as the complement of my becoming proficient in Pu Songling’s seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Chinese is that I would have a frustratingly difficult time (often, but not always) understanding people speaking with me conversationally in Mandarin.  I can make myself understood clearly enough whenever I speak (believe it or not, I starred in a hotel commercial when we were in Sichuan province in 2011—I was in a non-stop state of freakout until the camera stopped rolling since I had to improv the dialogue on the spot), and I can also write notes to people if they have any trouble with my “Beijing-r” accent.

Realia and Now

Objects worn with time and worn in their day are on display in the lower level of ODY:

both casesPennants, trophies, shovels and spades, briefcases, sweaters and more specifically beanies make up the display:

pennant-beanies The beanies are perhaps the “show stopper” given that it is a stretch that requires imagination to envision first year students (even on a day such as this snowy February morning where a woolen beanie might be useful) wearing them as they wander about.  A different scenario for fitting into the Laurentian landscape up to 1973 when the beanies finally went the way of the Studebaker, but one documented in the beanies themselves.  The display is a fun reminder of how an object can be a curiosity saved and a curiosity saved a way to make history as vivid as scarlet.  The wonder of having and handling the object that transports commonplace from sometime before 1973 to right now.  Therein lies one of the joys of the impulse to save, that half sense of “that’s what it must have been like…”

So on a next visit to ODY before to venture downstairs for the SLU realia, and also do pause at the main level display or recently acquired artist books…

Holiday Reading

green_xmass_ball2While at this writing Finals Week everyone in the SLU Community is far too busy with the reading at hand to be sampling the odd book, or the book oddly recommended, it will soon be holiday reading season. Still dazed perhaps from the considerable chill that late December weather has brought I’m turning to two intriguing book lists that late December Internet wandering brought to my attention. The first is The Best Food Books of 2013 compiled by Corby Kummer for Atlantic Magazine. The list includes suggestions such as Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way by Tanya Bastinich Manuali, The Book of Schmaltz: Love Song to a Forgotten Fat by Michael Ruhlman, and Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving by Kevin West. An absolutely appetizing range of books–the other suggestions really turns a page from food and is Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Reading List, Books of 2013. In keeping with EFF’s mission, this list includes titles like Coding Freedom by Gabriella Coleman, This Machine Kills Secrets by Andy Greenberg, and To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism by Evgeny Morozov. Important and challenging reading, but relevant to anyone who spends any time online.

Admittedly not all of this books grace the shelves of ODY or Launders, but once our short Christmas break is done they could be garnered via Interlibrary Loan, or perhaps found at one of our neighboring libraries in the North Country Library System. Safe travels and happy reading to all…

Gunnison Chapel

This Fall Semester 2013 notably began with the fire that damaged Gunnison Memorial Chapel, and destroyed the Chapel’s steeple.  I have a personal connection to the building, my wife Agnes and I were married in the Chapel, and given it is next to ODY it’s a building I’ve looked at almost every day for almost sixteen years.  It is what I turn to when I reflect.  When the fire occurred I wanted to write something, and using materials and photographs from our Special Collections and Vance University Archives I would like to submit this “wondering a’loud” essay to the FODYLL Blog, and the FODYLL community.  Hopefully this touches a chord with folks who have their own connection to Gunnison, a building that embodies much of what is central to our St. Lawrence Community, and to the North Country…