Nature of Things

Scanlin, Tommye McClure. The Nature of Things: Essays of a Tapestry Weaver. Dahlonega, Georgia: University of North Georgia Press, 2020.

Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing.

I chose this book because I want more art and, by default, more artists in my life. I know absolutely nothing of weaving, how to or otherwise, so I suspect I read this differently than say, someone who makes his or her living by weaving tapestries. I read this simply as an admirer of a beautiful textile.
Scanlin calls her book a collection of essays, but I prefer to think of it as a memoir: the emergence of an extremely talented artist. Told mostly through the lens of photography and illustrations, Nature of Things explodes with color and creativity. Remove the visuals and the early narrative would probably not survive.
The final part of the book moves away from memoir and becomes a primer for learning the basics of weaving, complete with a glossary, clear diagrams, and a list of resources.

As an aside, I was surprised by how much I had in common with Scanlin. what inspired her in Nature of Things are the very same things that catch my attention: trees, crows, rocks, shadows, flowers, feathers, ferns, even the fine winding tendrils of vines.
Note: According to the back cover of Nature of Things, it has been on sale for well over a month now. I received my copy on October 29th, 2020.


Uncertain Grace

Salgado, Sebastiao. An Uncertain Grace. New York: Aperture Foundation, 1990.

Reason read: Natalie Merchant

Sebastiao Salgado is a fascinating artist. His photographs are works of art. And yet. Yet, there is so much humanity and culture within each frame that they move beyond artistic interpretation into a realm of awareness and education. In a word, they teach. The lessons are hard to digest and sometimes there is a vomiting of denial and revolt. For those that dare not look away there is inspiration and heartache.

In Migrations Salgado emphasized the light. In Uncertain Grace the subliminal emphasis is on the eyes of his subjects. Through these eyes one sees hope, pain, redemption and death. Supporting the imagery are thoughtful essays by Eduardo Galeano and Fred Ritchin.


Migrations

Salgado, Sebastiao. Migrations: Humanity in Transition. New York: Aperture, 2000.

Confessional: this is not on any challenge list. Less than a month ago I swore I would no longer stray from “the List” but here I am, reviewing something leisure.
Here’s why: it’s a photojournalistic account of humanity on the move. More pictures than words. I was inspired by an interview given by Natalie Merchant to look up Sebastiao Salgado’s work and I don’t regret it.I picked up two different books, the first being Migrations.

Migrations first hits you as a stark, sad and seemingly hopeless photo essay of human suffering brought on by starvation, natural disaster, religious persecution, and outright war. Scratching the surface, it is the story of people fleeing one situation straight into the arms of another. The faces are in turmoil. Fear casts a shadow over impoverished communities across Latin America, Asia and Africa. But, dear reader look closer. Amid the sick, the dying, the afraid. Look with open eyes. There is a glimmer of hope. See the sly shy smile of a child, the defiant stare of a proud mother, the hopeful grin of a gritty farmer. Salgado wants you to peer into these faces and see yourself looking back with strength and optimism. He stresses we are all one human race. Underneath it all, we all want the same things. I’m reminded of Shel Silverstein’s poem, “No Difference” for he said the very same thing.

Favorite line, “But while information is the most obvious bridge between cause and effect, it is not the only one” (p 10).


Art of Lee Miller

Haworth-Booth, Mark. The Art of Lee Miller. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.

Reason read browsed: I was fascinated by Lee Miller’s art after reading Lives of the Muse by Francine Prose.

Lee Miller was a beautiful woman. She spent a great deal of time in front of the camera, first as a model for her father and then as a muse for countless others. But it is Miller’s work behind the camera that is the most captivating. There is no doubt in my mind she was ahead of her time as photographer. She liked to take chances. This is especially apparent when she went to Germany to photo-journal the events of World War II. For a woman to be in the thick of it is one thing. Hundreds of women contributed to the war effort by being nurses and so forth. But for a woman to capture the haunting and often disturbing pictures that Miller did, it’s quite another. She oscillated between tongue-in-cheek and shocking. Her photography gently fanned over the ruins of burnt out buildings, horrific operations and ladies’ fashions. “Remington Silent” is one of my favorites if for nothing more than the subliminal message Miller sends. Her expose in Vogue (New York, 1945) screams absurdity as she compares German children to the burned bones of prisoners…
However, I feel this need to surprise has always been there (find the picture of the severed breast from a radical mastectomy to see what I mean). Even in her portraits Miller had the ability to send mixed messages.


Toronto

Charles Rawlings-Way and Natalie Karneef. Toronto: City Guide. Melbourne: Lonely Planet, 2007.

This travel guide of Toronto is mostly black and white; a no nonsense kind of guide. It doesn’t need to show off with lots of glossy photos and trivial details. Only eight pages are dedicated to artistic shots around town and, in fact, is the only section that isn’t all that informative. The contents of the guide are well organized into various activities. If you are in town on business and only have time for finding restaurants, page 91 is where you want to start. I appreciated the little blue boxes with extra tidbits of information. In the History section (p 38) you will find a box that talks about the ghosts that haunt the Elgin Theatre and Old City Hall. Sign me up! The only drawback to this guide is the map section. Instead of a fold-out map showing the entire city, the maps are page by page like an atlas. There is overlap between downtown north and downtown south so that you can make the necessary connections but it would have been easier to have the map all on one page. But, to be fair, with everyone having gps on their smartphones, I doubt a printed map really matters anymore.

Reason read: Natalie Merchant performing in Toronto in May 2015.

Book trivia: I really enjoyed the inclusion of the subway map. Very cool.

 


Citizen Soldiers

Ambrose, Stephen E. Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army From the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944 -May 7, 1945. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Stephen Ambrose has the uncanny ability to take you back in time. His words pick you up and carry you hook, line and sinker, back to June 7, 1944 and forward through the great and terrible World War II. However, Citizen Soldiers is not a dry account of strategic war maneuvers. It is not a blah blah blah play by play of how Germany’s armies moved along the western/eastern slope while the Allies pushed further north or south. Those things did happen but Citizen Solders is more than that. It’s as if you have been dropped in the middle of hand to hand skirmishes or have the ability to eavesdrop on Hitler’s frequent phone arguments with a subordinate. You get to know people, places and events as if you are talking to the soldiers themselves, dodging bullets in the snow-covered country side, and witnesses skirmishes first hand. For once, the photographs and maps included do not make the storytelling vivid, they only enhance the words.

The version I read included an afterword where Ambrose talks about the reactions he has received upon publishing Citizen Soldiers. To me, this afterword was humble and gracious and yet, had an air of protective authority.

Things that made me go hmmmm. Little reminders that WWI and WWII were not really that far off. For example,  “There [Stoob] discovered that he had been wounded in the same small French village as had his father in 1914 – also in the head and leg” (p 111). There were also moments of humor: “Cooper examined the wreckage in the train and was surprised to find that invaluable space had been taken up with women’s lingerie, lipstick, and perfume, instead of desperately needed ammunition and food. “The Germans apparently had done a good job of looting all the boutiques in Paris when they pulled out”” (p 112), and “In Paris the whores put away their English language phrase books and retrieved their German versions” (p 205).

Author fact: Stephen Ambrose was born in the month of January, hence the reading of this book at this time.

Book Trivia: Citizen Soldiers was a New York Times bestseller.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “World War II Nonfiction” (p 253).


My Nine Lives

Fleisher, Leon and Anne Midgette. My Nine Lives: a Memoir of Many Careers in Music. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

It took me a long time to get through this book. I would read five or six pages a day and never feel compelled to accomplish more. For me, it was definitely not a Cannot Put Down book. I found Fleisher long winded and didactic at times. Fleisher, for all his accomplishments, deserves to be wordy and authoritarian.  To be fair, I am not musically inclined. To make matters worse I know even less about the world of classically trained musicians. I think this put me at a disadvantage for enjoying the book. There was little to the story outside music. To be fair, this definitely would be an interesting read for musicians, especially pianists and composers.

As an aside: I think part of my problem with My Nine Lives was on a personal level. Fleisher doesn’t mince words or beat around the bush when describing his relationships with women. He had affairs and left marriages. He “traded up” as they say in the tabloids. Each woman seemed to be younger and prettier than the one before. Fleisher doesn’t make excuses for his actions and I respect that, but it definitely altered the way I read his story.


Bird Brains

Savage, Candace. Bird Brains: the Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies, and Jays. San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1997.

This over-sized, beautiful and bold book on birds is entertaining on a multitude of levels. You don’t have to be an avid birder to appreciate Bird Brains for its witty, informative text and drop dead gorgeous photography. The premise for Bird Brains is the intelligence of the crow family. The argument for how smart they are is illustrated in the bird’s ability to adapt to changing conditions, ingenious nesting techniques, strategic enticing of a mate, uncanny voice recognition of their young, social nature such as showing off and much, much more. I was intrigued to learn of corvid “societies.” These birds congregate in avian clans. For example, the Jackdaws live in society regardless of the season and participate in communal activities such as feeding and roosting.

Here are a few other things I learned from reading Bird Brains. The green jay is absolutely gorgeous. Nutcrackers belong to the Crow family, as do Jays such as blue, green and pinyon.

Favorite line, “Prevented by its own prejudices and taboos from asking the most interesting questions, science was left with the most boring of answers” (p 19).

Favorite photograph: the crow “facing off” (the author’s description not mine) with a bald eagle on page 73. The eagle looks as though he is asking, “Seriously? You wanna mess with me? Really?!” and the crow is responding, “bring it on!” (to the cheers of his less brave comrades).

One thing I have always loved about ravens and crows is that they are seen as ominous creatures through literature (think Edgar Allan Poe), art (The Wyeth family’s Wondrous Strange collection), and song (Fairport Convention’s “Crazy Man Michael”). The shiny black birds are the perfect emblem of Halloween.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Nature Writing” (p 174).


Bonobo: the Forgotten Ape

De Waal, Frans. Bonobo: the Forgotten Ape. Berkley: University of California Press, 1997.

Not to be snide or anything but how can you forget the ape when you didn’t know the ape? Everyone lumped Bonobo apes with Chimpanzees because they seemed more similar than different. They weren’t forgotten, just misunderstood. de Waal goes to great lengths to compare and contrast the distinctions between the two primates.

From the very beginning you learn that Bonobo apes are different from any other kind of primate with the description, “female-centered, egalitarian primate species that substitutes sex for aggression” (p 4). The sexuality of this species is very much celebrated and discussed. So much so that the sexuality of Bonobos is argued to be a window to the aspects of human sexuality. But sex is not the only discussion worth having about Bonobos. There is social life, a political life, a family life worth exploring. But, what makes Bonobo: the Forgotten Ape so appealing is its photography. Big, glossy “coffee-table book” pages illustrate the allure of these primates. Their facial expressions, family values and even their sexuality is on display in eight different photo essays.

Favorite quote: isn’t really a quote at all. It’s an illustration of the hands and feet of primates and man (p 27).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Our Primates, Ourselves” (p 180). Bonobo was forgotten in the index yet de Waal’s name wasn’t. Interesting.


Off the Tourist Trail

Off the Tourist Trail: 1, 000 Unexpected Travel Alternatives. New York: Dorsling Kindersley, 2009.

What a gorgeous, gorgeous book! The photography alone makes this book amazing. From the moment it arrived on my doorstep I couldn’t wait to start turning pages and ogle all the great pictures. The concept of Off the Tourist Trail is brilliant. A team of experts searched cheaper alternatives to the well-known, sometimes more expensive travel destinations around the world. The chapters are broken up by interest: historical, beaches, sports, and cultural to name a few. Every destination has a paragraph dedicated to practical information such as how to get there, places to stay and budget. The “Need to Know” paragraphs are filled with location, maximum height and average daytime temperatures. Probably the most interesting spin to all the information is the “Forget” section. Each comparison adds a build-up and letdown component for the better known destination. For example, in the “Architectural Marvels” chapter the ever-popular New York City is compared with with the lesser-traveled Chicago. New York’s letdown (architecturally) is the fact that its architecture is spread out over several miles and at times, difficult to view.  

An added bonus is the forward by Bill Bryson. I love the way he writes. The only drawback to Off the Tourist Trail is that it isn’t portable. Oversized and heavy, this is a book you can’t take in your carry-on. Do your research at home and save room in your bags for souvenirs.


Tracks Across America

dscn0495Fisher, Leonard Everett. Tracks Across America: The Story of the American Railroad 1825-1900 with photographs, maps, and drawings. New York: Holiday House, 1992.

My father-in-law has a love affair with trains. He can’t wait for me to move out of his house so he can set up his ultimate railroad village complete with snow covered trees and a ski loving community. I can’t say I blame him. There is a romance associated with the railroad whether it’s the real deal or in miniature.

I think Fisher’s title would have been only slightly more accurate if he had added the word quotations to “with photographs, maps, and drawings” because that’s all that was missing. In addition to an informative narrative and the before mentioned photos, maps, and drawings Fisher includes fitting quotes from Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Woodrow Wilson as well as song lyrics and poetry fitting of the railroad era. While Tracks Across America is a condensed version of the story of the American railroad Fisher makes an effort to include all aspects of the history including life before the railroads, the building period, the Civil War, Native American “resistance” (really hard to read), famous robberies and disasters, and progress with bigger and faster engines.

One of the best discoveries was learning the origin of the phrase “wrong side of the tracks.” You were on the wrong side if the wind blew the soot and dirt from the trains in your direction. It was considered in poor taste to have a church or home “on the wrong side” but my question is this, what happened when the wind changed direction?

Favorite quote: “…that rails were to a train what water was to a boat; and that if a bridge was necessary to take a train over a river, then that bridge had a perfect right to be there” (p 47). This was Abraham Lincoln’s argument during his 1856 trial defending the railroad against a steamboat’s claim of damage.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Riding the Rails: Railroad History” (p 200).


Scavenger Hunt Antics

If you attended my wedding you know two things about me. I have never been one for tradition (what? no cake?) and I like to play a game called Photo Scavenger Hunt. It’s simple. One camera. One list of things to take pictures of within a certain time frame. At the wedding every table got a camera and a challenge to take pics of various people and things (like the head chef in the kitchen). That way I didn’t get a bunch of butt pictures! This time the time frame was simply “while on vacation” and I cheated. I had two cameras.
But, that’s beside the point. Here’s the list:

From the Plane:

  • puffy white clouds (piece of cake)
  • the desert
  • a mountain, any mountain

Las Vegas:

  • View from the hotel
  • A live flamingo
  • some sign or plaque of Benjamin Siegel
  • an outdoor slot machine
  • a living statue
  • “money”

Long Beach:

  • view from the hotel
  • a brown pelican
  • the Pacific ocean/ some seaweed
  • Kisa’s great aunt
  • a cactus

San Diego:

  • view from the hotel
  • a palm tree
  • a gorilla
  • my cousin’s flowers
  • proof for Ruby I wore “the dress”
  • someone’s feet
  • a bow tie

Ontario:

  • View from hotel room
  • something related to the Closer
  • a sunset
  • someone in the pool
  • the elusive cousins

I got nearly all the pictures I wanted. Here’s the set. I didn’t find the outdoor slot machine (big surprise) and the gorillas at the San Diego zoo had gone in for the day. I forgot all about a bow tie. I found something Closer related on the first day which was huge because I never made it to L.A. Also, I found three different Chipotles so that was a nice bonus. I even got everyone together for the dreaded cousin picture. Grand total: 859 pics on one camera; 362 pictures on another… 87 on a seperate memory card. 1,308 pictures.


American Century

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Evans, Harold. The American Century. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.

Weighing in at over 700 pages, American Century is nothing short of gorgeous. Bold black and white photos stand out on nearly every page, while satiric comics adorn the others. I have always loved the Brown Brothers photo of the construction workers on the Woolworth Building and was pleasantly surprised to see its inclusion on page xvii. 

I liked learning that President Cleveland bought the “dirt” on an opponent and upon receiving the envelope burned it, unopened, on the spot. He also suffered from cancer of the mouth and had an entire artificial jaw.

“You feel small in the presence of dead men, and you don’t ask silly questions” (p 332).
Here’s the LibraryThing version of my review:
“Any history buff should have this sitting on his or her shelf (and have a shelf sturdy enough to support this 700+ book). Chock full of intriguing cartoons and mesmerizing photographs, American Century covers every aspect of U.S. history from 1889 to the mid 1990s. Well written with commentaries and first hand accounts, history comes alive. The people, the politics, the power, the pitiful downfalls. The 20th century is laid out and every historical moment of worth is described and detailed.”

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust and the chapter “American History: Fiction” (p 21). I have to explain that this isn’t fiction. Pearl referenced The American Century while talking about Ken Baker’s novels. Ken Baker helped Harold Evans with The American Century.