Duck Duck Book

13 – librarian of basra
02.17.2005, 12:04 am
Filed under: comix, generalities

The librarian of Basra : a true story from Iraq / written & illustrated by Jeanette Winter.
Orlando, Fla. : Harcourt, Inc., c2005.
[MCL call number: j020.92 B167w 2005; 18 copies, no holds]

The Librarian of Basra is a beautifully illustrated children’s picture book, which tells the story of a very brave librarian. The book explains that although the people of Basra used to come to the library to read and discuss writing, science, the arts, and many other subjects; lately they have begun to talk only of war. Everyone is very worried, and they feel that war is inevitable. Alia Muhammad Baker, the librarian, is worried too; but she is worried about the books in the library. She does not want them to be destroyed in the fighting that everyone thinks will come. Alia takes matters into her own hands when the municipal authorities will not help her, and with the help of her friends and neighbors she saves 30,000 books from being bombed, burned, or looted. A true story.

Another children’s book tells the story of Alia Muhmmad Baker and the Basra library, but with more detail, for slightly older children, and in graphic novel (comics) format:

Alia’s mission : saving the books of Iraq : inspired by a true story [comic book] / Mark Alan Stamaty.
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, distributed by Random House, 2004.
[MCL call number: j020.92 B167s 2004; 20 copies, no holds]


13 – home comforts
02.17.2005, 12:03 am
Filed under: technology

Home comforts : the art and science of keeping house / Cheryl Mendelson ; illustrations by Harry Bates.
New York : Scribner, c1999.
[MCL call number: 640 M537h 1999; 13 copies, one hold]

Here is the bible-type book that will answer your every house-keeping information need. Mendelson grew up in a farming community, where she was raised to be a rural wife, mother, and homemaker. Instead she moved to the city and became a lawyer; but, as she explains in her introduction, the biggest secret of her early adult life was that she also kept house, and enjoyed it. Home Comforts is the nearly 900 page result of years of research and writing on the hows, whys, and wherefores of the home arts. It covers everything from dust mites to appliance warranties to silver polishing.

There are many great house-keeping manuals, but the best of them are so old as to be useless for many a modern household quandary. Mendelson explains that when she was frustrated by the vagueness of garment care labels (what’s the difference between “dry clean” and “dry clean only”?), she looked up the federal regulations that restrict what they can say. And then she thought, wow, you shouldn’t have to be a lawyer to understand the care label in a shirt. So she wrote this book.

The arrangement of the text is easily understandable — there are seven major chapters, Food, Cloth, Cleanliness, Daily Life (including caring for objects such as photographs, books, etc.), Sleep (everything about the bed and the bedroom), Safe Shelter (safety), and Formalities (legal stuff, including contracts, understanding documents, and more). Each chapter covers an array of general topics, which are further divided into specific topics. So, for example, the Cleanliness chapter has a section on Bathrooms, which is divided into various topics, including “cleaning and disinfecting in the bathroom,” “porcelain enamel tubs and sinks,” “nonslip treads in tubs,” and so on.

There are helpful illustrations throughout; and as one might expect from an author who is also a lawyer, Mendelson provides detailed source citations and explanations of where one might turn for further information, in the end notes and in her detailed annotated bibliography (which is labeled “Acknowledgments and Sources”). The bibliography is followed by a list of helpful agencies and organizations, and the book ends with an excellent index.

[thanks, Carl]

13 – uncommon fruits
02.17.2005, 12:02 am
Filed under: technology

Uncommon fruits for every garden / by Lee Reich ; illustrations by Vicki Herzfeld Arlein.
Portland, Or. : Timber Press, 2004.
[MCL call number: 634 R347uf 2004; six copies, no holds]

Uncommon Fruits is like a collection of fruit biographies, with information for gardeners, fruit-eaters, and everyone who is curious about foods they’ve never tasted. Some of the fruits profiled in the book are familiar to us, though we may not have ever eaten them — mulberry, gooseberry, persimmon, Asian pear — and others are truly rare and unheard of in the United States — che, medlar, raisin tree fruit, jujube. The thing they all share is a willingness to thrive in New York state, where Reich lives, and where he grows all the fruits in the book.

Each fruit included the text is described in general terms, with a short history of its cultivation, and some discussion of how it has been used as a food, when, and by whom. Reich provides some cultural information, with advice on the climates in which each fruit will happily grow, fertilization and plant care, pruning, and varieties or cultivars that are tasty or hardy or disease resistant. Reich’s prose is pleasing, and the fruit stories are very interesting. He includes several appendixes, on horticultural language, pollination, siting and planting, pruning, propagation, and mail order sources for plants and seeds. There is a index as well.

Uncommon Fruits is a revised, expanded version of Reich’s earlier book on the subject, which is now out of print:

Uncommon fruits worthy of attention : a gardener’s guide / by Lee Reich ; illustrations by Vicki Herzfeld Arlein.
Reading, Mass. : Addison-Wesley, c1991.
[MCL call number: 634 R347u; one copy, no holds]

The earlier book is just as useful and interesting, though it doesn’t include as many different fruits, and I would encourage you to read it if it is the only version available to you.

13 – history of street literature
02.17.2005, 12:01 am
Filed under: literature

The history of street literature; the story of broadside ballads, chapbooks, proclamations, news-sheets, election bills, tracts, pamphlets, cocks, catchpennies, and other ephemera / Leslie Shepard.
Detroit : Singing Tree Press, [1973].
also: Newton Abbot : David and Charles, 1973.
[MCL call number: 820.9 S547h; two copies, no holds]

I read this book many many years ago, and my memory for text is poor, so I cannot give you a lot of detail about its contents.  But I can report very much enjoying the story that is told in the course of recounting this bit of literary history.  Shepard argues in the first chapter (which I have read recently!) that literary historians have rudely ignored all but the most elite literature in their tendency to focus on books.  In the first 400 years after the European revolution in printing, only wealthy people were able to afford books, but lots of people read or were read to.  It’s just that what they read were posters, broadsheets, chapbooks, and other inexpensive works.  The History of Street Literature attempts to tell the story of this bit of England’s cultural legacy (for Shepard focuses on the history of street literature in England, with some attention to the rest of Britain).  And on the way repeats a lot of scandal, gossip, political dissent, and folklore, with nice black and white reproductions of broadsides, chapbooks, and the like to illustrate.

12 – la perdida
02.14.2005, 12:04 am
Filed under: comix, fiction

La perdida [comic book series] / by Jessica Abel.
Seattle, WA : Fantagraphics Books, 2001- .
[MCL does not have this series.]

La Perdida is a comic book series about Carla Olivares, a young woman of Mexican heritage who moves to Mexico City, pretty much on a whim, to learn Spanish and immerse herself in the culture she feels she’s missed out on her whole life.

Carla arrives in Mexico City as a guest of an ex-lover who is a trust fund layabout. They don’t get along, she finds his upper class ex-pat friends insufferable, and she greatly overstays her welcome in his apartment. She makes friends of her own, gets a job, moves out, and tries to settle herself into her own social scene. But her new friends may be sketchier than she realized, and a bit of an underworld drama soon begins to unfold.

I’ve only read through issue number four (issue five is due to be released this month, according to the publisher’s website), so I don’t know the end or nuthin, but I can tell you that La Perdida is part woman-finds-herself story, part thriller, and part travelogue. I bought the first four issues all at once and the rest of my life just had to stay on hold while I read them straight through in one sitting.

Another nice thing about La Perdida is that as Carla learns Spanish and begins to speak it as her everyday language, the conversations in the text begin to be primarily in Spanish, usually with English translations at the bottom of each frame (with a lot of humor). This is good for readers who are English speakers learning Spanish.

Abel has a special short piece on her webpage — “Xochimilco” takes place in the middle of page 32 in La Perdida book one, and originally ran in the LA Weekly.

12 – the pencil
02.14.2005, 12:03 am
Filed under: technology

The pencil : a history of design and circumstance / by Henry Petroski.
New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 2003, c1989.
[MCL call number: 674.88 P497p 2003; two copies, one hold]

The Pencil is a startlingly captivating examination of the history of one of the most taken-for-granted basic tools of literate cultures. In clear prose, Petroski discusses writing instruments that were used (in Europe) before the invention of the modern pencil, examines the changes in technology and the availability of raw materials that were the engine behind making pencils widely and cheaply available through much of the world, and discusses pencil manufacturers, pencil users, and more. He also includes an entire chapter about pencil sharpening and pencil sharpeners.

The Pencil is appended with a historical piece from the Koh-I-Noor company about how pencils are made, and a brief essay on collecting pencils. There is a bibliography and an excellent index, and I can heartily recommend the entire 434 worthy pages. Did you know, for example, that in the 1930s there was a pencil manufacturing plant in Moscow called the Sacco and Venzetti Pencil Factory, or that Henry David Thoreau’s family were pencil manufacturers, and he himself one of their most able engineers?

Petroski has written many other books that look interesting (though I’ve not read them), including one about book shelving (The Book on the Bookshelf, reviewed by Jessamyn West), and several others about inventions, engineering, and design.

12 – the lemonade stand
02.14.2005, 12:02 am
Filed under: technology

The lemonade stand : exploring the unfamiliar by building large-scale models / Maurice Mitchell.
Powys, Wales : The Centre for Alternative Technology, c1998.
[MCL call number: 690.837 M682L 1998; one copy, no holds]

For the casual reader (that is, the reader who leafs through and looks at the pictures instead of actually reading), this book seems to be inaccurately titled. Much of the content discusses different building materials and methods, sorted in a very logical way into the “wet” (masonry et al.) and “dry” (carpentry) trades. The specific examples shown are “models” (though large enough to be perfectly useful buildings) that were built as part of a course given by the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales. Want to know about traditional or vernacular solutions for roofing with earth? Or what you might do to make a masonry arch in a part of the world where there is no wood to be had for form-making? This book will give you an introduction, and show you photographs and a few plans and drawings that help explain different concepts.

The Lemonade Stand seems long on exposition and a bit short on the truly practical, but nonetheless it is a useful guide to the many many different building materials that are cheap and easily available in different parts of the world, and to how you might get started in thinking about where and how to use them. The text is followed by an annotated bibliography, a glossary, and an index.

Here’s a tangent that you may or may not find interesting: The Lemonade Stand reminds me quite a lot of a wonderful guide to practical, cheap building that my mother has — Manual del arquitecto descalzo : cómo construir casas y otros edificios, by Johan van Lengen. (México : Editorial Concepto, 1982, 1980). But Manual del arquitecto descalzo has two qualities that make it less practical for me: one is that it is written for the tropical regions of the Americas and doesn’t help much if you’re daydreaming about building something in Oregon, and the second is that it is written in Spanish and has not been translated (though the book really is intended for regular people, has nice glossary, and is richly illustrated, so you don’t need very fluent Spanish to be able to understand it).