Duck Duck Book

20 – lost rivers of london
06.26.2005, 12:03 am
Filed under: science

The lost rivers of London : a study of their effects upon London and Londoners and the effects of London and Londoners upon them / N. J. Barton.
London : Phoenix House, 1962.
[Multnomah County Library does not have this book; but its call number might begin with 551.4830942 — Rivers and streams, London]

This is a general-interest book on the topic of London’s lesser rivers and waterways — by lesser I mean smaller than the River Thames, and more likely to behave when put into a pipe. The rivers discussed in the book have more or less disappeared, and you won’t see them if you take a casual stroll around their former neighborhoods. Some are in sewers, some are in aboveground pipes, some have had their courses diverted, and some have dried up by having their water stolen upstream. It’s no surprise that there used to be lots of rivers in what is now London — it is a flat-ish place in a wet country surrounding the mouth of a major river. Water has to go somewhere, and even if it all predictably goes into the River Thames, it does have to get to the River Thames. It’s also not surprising that most of these watercourses are now buried or destroyed, since it has been a pretty major city for a thousand years. But I have to say, before I was introduced to this book it never really occurred to me to consider where all that water, and all those rivers, might have gone, in London or in any other city.

Barton acknowledges in his introduction that other writers have detailed various scientific, cultural, and public health aspects of the history of London’s rivers, but explains that he aims to provide a broader perspective. The book is awfully readable, for all its technical detail and historical miscellanea, and it is beautifully illustrated.

The contents give attention to the different watercourses separately, and then go on to discuss lost rivers that may be mythical, rivers in the context of civic development and infrastructure, industrial and recreational uses of the rivers, and finally, public health. The book has an index, and two lovely appendices: one a list of maps, and the other a bibliography of materials discussing the rivers. There is also a fold-out map showing the likely original courses of these lost waterways superimposed on a map of modern London.

You Portlanders might be interested to note that we also have many lost rivers and streams. Some of our most exciting small waterways and are still in evidence – Johnson, Tryon, and Crystal Springs Creeks, for example — but many many others have been buried in culverts or diverted. Unfortunately, I have found no narrative examination of the history Portland’s humbler waterways. Perhaps one needs to be written.

Metro (the Portland area’s regional government) has published a large map showing disappeared rivers and streams (Disappearing streams, [Portland, Or.] : Metro, [2001?]), but it doesn’t come with much explanation, and the scale is so broad that it’s a little hard to read.

n.b., The Lost Rivers of London was reprinted in a revised edition of the same title that is still in print (Historical Publications, 1992). I haven’t looked at the revised edition, and I don’t know if it includes the nice fold-out map.


20 – northwest trees
06.26.2005, 12:02 am
Filed under: science

Northwest trees / text by Stephen F. Arno ; art by Ramona P. Hammerly.
Seattle : Mountaineers, c1977.
[MCL call number: 582 A751n; nine copies, ?? holds; one copy reference only at Central Library]

This is (obviously) a reference book to our local trees. It covers a broader area than the last tree book I reviewed, Trees of Greater Portland, by Phyllis C. Reynolds and Elizabeth F. Dimon (Portland, Or. : Timber Press, c1993, reviewed in booklist number 16), and focuses on native species.

The book begins with a “generalized view” of the Pacific Northwest, a sort of map of our region’s ecosystems with common native trees of each area represented (for example, on the north side of the mouth of the Columbia river are willows, black cottonwood, and shore pine). Then there’s a brief introduction, a key for identifying our native trees (with pictures as well as descriptions of the differences between each species), and a brief chapter discussing each major species of tree.

The chapters are beautifully illustrated with line drawings showing each tree in its native environment, details of leaves, seedpods, cones, and branching patterns, and sometimes with illustrations of the animals you’re likely to see in the tree, or of other plants that grow nearby. Each tree chapter has information on the growth habit, life cycle, and environment of the tree, as well as miscellaneous natural history, tree lore, and other bits and pieces. This is a practical book, one to take with you when you’re in the woods or anywhere where you’d like to learn more about the native trees around you, but it’s also just interesting reading about our region.

Northwest Trees has an index of common tree names at the end of the text.

20 – word on the street
06.26.2005, 12:01 am
Filed under: literature, websites

The word on the street : how ordinary Scots in bygone days found out what was happening.
National Library of Scotland, 2004.

A delightful web-based exhibition of broadsides, a sort of poster that was one of the major media for disseminating public information in European (and also American) cities during the 18th and early 19th centuries.  Technological advances made printing fairly inexpensive by the early 1700s, literacy was on the rise, and because people like to know what’s going on, broadsides became a popular method for getting your word out.  In general, 18th century broadsides are are pretty low-brow, since they were supposed to be read by regular people who might see them on the street.  Many are satirical, and some offer some pretty pissed-off political and social commentary.  International politics, public morals, the goings-on of people in power, lurid murders, and great tragedies such as shipwrecks are examples of the subjects broadside publishers covered.

The Word on the Street has brief sections on the history of broadsides, on their illustration and distribution, and an index and search tool that allows you to browse by title and subject, and to search for words or by date.  The site also includes a nice bibliography of both paper and web-based resources on broadsides, both in Scotland and generally.

You may remember that I reviewed a book on this subject in booklist number 13.  Those of you who are fascinated by this subject might like to examine it too.

19 – addendum to number 5
06.9.2005, 12:04 am
Filed under: history & geography

In booklist number 5 I reviewed a big heavy reference book called the Encyclopedia of Chicago, edited by James R. Grossman (Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2004).  The Chicago Historical Society has made the material in the book available on its webpage — as far as I can tell the entire text is reproduced in the website, and there are many interactive features that are only available there.  It’s certainly worth a looksee if you’re interested in Chicago history, culture, politics, infrastructure, or daily life. 

The Chicago Historical Society has a number of other online projects that present digitized and purpose-created electronic resources on various topics in Chicago history — the great fire, teenager culture in the city, and Haymarket are some that jumped out at me.  The index to these resources is online.

19 – the earth, my butt
06.9.2005, 12:03 am
Filed under: fiction

The earth, my butt, and other big, round things / Carolyn Mackler.
Cambridge, MA : Candlewick Press, 2003.
[MCL call number: y MACKLER; 27 copies, one hold]

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things was recommended to me by a teenaged library volunteer a year or so ago, and last week I finally got around to reading it. It’s about Virginia Shreves, who is fifteen years old and has what she describes in the first few pages as a “larger-than-average body.” Virginia’s mother, father, sister, and brother are all thin, handsome, athletic high achievers, and Virginia feels like she’s in the wrong family. Her best friend has moved to the other side of the country, her teen-psychologist mother and businessman father don’t pay her much attention when they’re not worrying obliquely about her weight, and generally things are at a steady low in her life.

When one of Virginia’s perfect family members does something very un-perfect and everyone has to deal with it, she begins to see her life a little more clearly, and the meat of the story is about what this does for her. The book is honest, compelling, and easy to read. The pain Virginia deals with about her body, other people’s ideas about it, and her own understanding of what it takes to be comfortable with herself is clear and sometimes very difficult to read, but overall her story is refreshing. Virginia’s actions and ideas are not always in line with what readers might imagine for her, which makes clear what a realistically drawn character she is. And, when push comes to shove, she makes decisions, takes responsibility, and solves problems — thus providing great relief to readers like me who find her sympathetic.

But more importantly, The Earth, My Butt is a satisfying story. I read the whole book in one burst and didn’t want to take breaks even for dinner (!), I was that interested in the characters and the story.

19 – radio on
06.9.2005, 12:02 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

Radio on : a listener's diary / Sarah Vowell.
New York : St. Martin's Press, c1997.
[MCL call number: 791.4475 V974r; eight copies, 13 holds]

Radio On is Vowell's diary from a year (1994) of listening to the radio every day. Perhaps it's because I've heard (and enjoyed listening to) Vowell on the radio so much, but reading the book I'm finding myself with her voice inside my head, forcing me to slow down as my eyes scan over the pages, slow down and listen to what she has to say.

You may know Vowell as the voice of Violet in the film The Incredibles. Or you may be familiar with her radio commentary, often featured on This American Life. I've heard many people complain that she has an annoying too-femme voice, too bad she doesn't sound as smart as she is, and I've always wondered what stupid planet those people were from. Sarah Vowell sounds like Sarah Vowell, and reminds me how rare that is every time I hear her.

In Radio On, Vowell is cranky and a little bit obsessive, opinionated, sometimes crass, and happy to celebrate what she loves in ways that are unique to her perspective. Kurt Cobain's death, politics and the phenomenon of conservative talk radio, the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building, the problem of trying to find a station with music you can actually listen to, the inanity of National Public Radio, and bits of Vowell's life as a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and of her past as a college radio dj all feature in the narrative. I'm working my way through the book slowly, trying to listen as I read, and enjoying how very much Vowell is herself when she writes, just as she is when she speaks. It is very much a pleasure so far.

(And also, it's hard not to be both respectful and jealous of someone who thinks of a neato idea for a project — "oh, I'll listen to the radio for a year and write down what I think about it" — and then makes the neato idea into an actual product that is available for other people to use and enjoy and learn from, and that no doubt helps pay the rent. Check out some of Vowell's other books if you want to really hold her in awe about this.)

19 – women are still
06.9.2005, 12:01 am
Filed under: articles

Women are still a closed book to men : research shows men mainly read works by other men / David Smith.
The Observer, 29 May 2005.

A terse little article reporting the results of a study of mens’ and womens’ reading habits.  The main conclusion is in the subtitle, but it’s an interesting read even just to see some of the British sensibility about the subject. 

And, in promotion of honesty I’ll report that the piece resonated with me because I’ve been having a crisis of confidence about the gender balance of authors in this list (as of number 18, and by my count that relies on the suspect method of my being able to discern gender based on peoples’ names, the statistics are as follows: 24 items written by women, 39 by men, 5 by men and women working together, and 5 items whose authors are of unknown gender).  This is not my only booklist-content-related anxiety, but merely the one that relates to this article.  Sigh.