Duck Duck Book

33 – philosophy made simple
05.17.2006, 1:15 pm
Filed under: fiction

Philosophy made simple : a novel / Robert Hellenga.
New York : Little, Brown, 2006.
[MCL call number: FICTION HELLENGA; 12 copies, one hold]

Rudy Harrington is a widower with three independent, adult daughters. At the outset of the novel, he feels unsettled, and the small changes introduced by the natural course of his life are beginning to weigh on him some. He isn’t angry or depressed, he doesn’t have great fantasies that have been too long unsatisfied, but he is feeling low and slow. Somewhat impulsively, Rudy travels to Texas to investigate a business opportunity that has fallen in his lap — and soon enough he has sold his house and moved to rural Texas to become an avocado farmer.

In his new life, Rudy meets an elephant named Norma Jean (who paints pictures) and the Russian émigré who cares for her, begins in earnest to use and build the Spanish skills he acquired as a young man, constructs himself a suite of furniture, redecorates his house, and sincerely contemplates his relationships with his daughters.

Those of you who know me understood my affection for this book, I am sure, as soon as you read that one of the characters is an elephant. But there’s more to it than that — there is a kind of palpable tension between the regular-ness of Rudy’s story and the unusual beauty of the novel as a piece of writing. Philosophy Made Simple is well worth your time.

Rudy’s daughter Margot is featured in Hellenga’s first book, The Sixteen Pleasures (New York : Soho, c1994), the story of her journey to Florence to help dry out that city’s art treasures just after the 1966 flood — books, specifically; Margot is a book conservator. The Sixteen Pleasures is excellent, as are Hellenga’s other novels: The Fall of a Sparrow (New York : Scribner, c1998) and Blues Lessons (New York : Scribner, c2002).


33 – cities of the world
05.17.2006, 1:14 pm
Filed under: history & geography

Cities of the world : a history in maps / Peter Whitfield. 
Berkeley : University of California Press, c2005.
[MCL call number: 911 W595c 2005; two copies, one hold]
On the wall of the staff lunch room at my place of employment there is a large, framed map, a bird's-eye view of the city of Portland.  Looking at it, it is easy to imagine one's self standing at a vista high in the (then) rural West Hills on a clear day, gazing out to the east with the river and the city below, and Mt. Tabor, Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams in the distance.  The map, published in 1881, describes a very different city from our present metropolis, but there are many features besides the water and the mountains that remain recognizable to modern residents.

Whitield's book reproduces about 75 ancient, or merely old, maps of cities around the world — though sadly none are of Portland.  Each is accompanied by a page-long history of the city, presenting highlights of its urban development, cultural importance, and economic and political influence.  The maps are beautiful, and are well-complemented by Whitfield's essays.  Slightly more than half of the maps in the book are of European cities; slightly less than half represent cites of the other continents.  The maps are followed by a brief bibliography and an index.

33 – kalapuyans
05.17.2006, 1:13 pm
Filed under: history & geography

The Kalapuyans : a sourcebook on the Indians of the Willamette Valley / by Harold Mackey ; with a new afterward [sic.] from the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and an updated bibliography. 
Salem, Or. : Mission Mill Museum Association ; Grande Ronde, OR : The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, c2004.
979.5004 M157k 2004; two copies, no holds; one copy reference only at Central Library]

This slim volume reproduces primary source material on the history of the Kalapuya people, discusses archaeological evidence about their pre-historic past, and briefly touches on the cultural and political conditions under which the Kalapuya lived in the period beginning with their contact with white settlers (the early 1800s) through their removal to reservations (c1850s) and the first fifty years or so of reservation life. Mackey presents the book to readers, in his introduction, as a plug for the gap in material available to teachers who wish to fulfill Oregon's requirement that the grade school curriculum include material about the history of our state's native peoples.  The Kalapuyans is not written for elementary school students to read themselves; but could easily function as a sourcebook for teachers developing classroom materials.

Many original documents are reproduced in full, or quoted at length in The Kalapuyans, some of which are not published elsewhere.  I found the transcripts of the 1851 treaty negotiations at Champoeg to be especially interesting, because they show so clearly the racism and condescension of the U.S. representatives.  The U.S. negotiators make a lot of cloying references to "Your great father in Washington" and make many promises of the care with which this great father will tend to the needs of the Kalapuya people.  Since we know by now that this was all hogwash, it's bitter to read, and some of the exchanges are most poignant. 

The Kalapuyans includes very little discussion of the recent history of the Kalapuya or the other tribes and bands which now make up the various Oregon confederated tribes, though a new afterword fills a small part of this void. (Further details of the history of the Kalapuya people can be found on the webpages of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz and the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde.  Both tribes have excellent cultural resources available online, including maps, historic photographs, and information about current cultural activities.)

The first edition of The Kalapuyans was published in the 1970s:

The Kalapuyans : a sourcebook on the Indians of the Willamette Valley / by Harold Mackey. 
Salem, Or. : Mission Mill Museum Association, [1974]
[MCL call number: 970.1 M1553k; one copy, no holds; one copy reference only at Central Library]

I have not examined this earlier volume, but the bulk of its content appears to be the same (though it lacks the afterword mentioned above).

[thanks, Sara]