Duck Duck Book

49 – bookhunter
09.17.2007, 12:04 am
Filed under: comix, fiction

Bookhunter [comic book] / Jason Shiga.
[Portland, OR] : Sparkplug Comic Books, 2007
[Multnomah County Library does not yet have this book, but it has been ordered and should have the call number GN SHIGA; eight copies, one hold]

Imagine that crimes against the library were taken more seriously than they currently are, and you might picture a world in which a crack team of special agents guards the physical and institutional integrity of the Oakland Public Library. In Jason Shiga’s Bookhunter, the library’s police force fills this role amply and well. After an introductory story of a short encounter with a censor (who has stolen all eight copies of The China Lobby in America), Bookhunter follows Agents Bay, Walker, and Finch as they track down an accomplished and slippery rare book thief who has switched out the library’s priceless Caxton bible for a fake.

Bookhunter makes a few erroneous technical assertions that may annoy librarians and other bookish people, but on the whole the world of the library is faithfully articulated in the story, and especially in Shiga’s realistic-cartoon-y drawing style. An early scene follows Agent Bay as he wanders the public and private areas of the Oakland’s Main Library, pondering the methods used by the Caxton thief. The twelve pages of Bay’s quiet library tour are perhaps the most beautiful in the entire book — the circulation desk, the periodicals room, a microfiche reader, the massive 1970s-era catalog in its cardfile, the reading room, the restrooms, the bookmobile; and everywhere patrons, seemingly endless bookstacks, and the gracious spaces that make up the large public rooms of the main library.

The story is action-adventure at its best — the thrill of the chase, the grind of nuts-and-bolts police work, and lovingly related details of setting, personality, and plot make Bookhunter worthy of the attention of comics lovers, library lovers, and undoubtedly many other folk as well.

[thanks, Kristian]


49 – afrikan alphabets
09.17.2007, 12:03 am
Filed under: language

Afrikan alphabets : the story of writing in Afrika / Saki Mafundikwa.
West New York, N.J. : Mark Batty , 2007.
[MCL call number: 411 M187a 2007; two copies, no holds]

People in the West do not think of Africans, particularly those whose cultures are rooted south of the Sahara Desert, as people who have much history of written expression.  Surely if and when African people write they use the languages, or at least the writing systems, of Europe?  Um, not always.  And if you don’t believe me or you’re just interested to see the proof, Saki Mafundikwa’s Afrikan Alphabets should open your eyes. 

Mafundikwa begins with a congenial introduction in which he relates his experience with African writing systems and their use (he is a respected graphic designer and typographer).  Next are four chapters devoted to different alphabetic topics: non-alphabetical information storage systems — pictographs, mnemonic devices, symbolic art objects, symbol writing — are examined in their role as roots of African writing systems, and then historic alphabets, alphabets of the Diaspora, and contemporary African alphabets are illustrated and described. 

Throughout the book alphabets, symbols, characters, and letters are shown in use in literature, on signs, on handcrafted objects, and in artwork as well as in chart form.  The book is highly visual in character and even if you’re not ready to read through the text, there is lots to learn from the illustrations.  The body of the text is followed by an annotated bibliography, a glossary of linguistic and typographical terms, and a basic index.

49 – rain gardens
09.17.2007, 12:02 am
Filed under: technology

Rain gardens : managing water sustainably in the garden and designed landscape / Nigel Dunnett and Andy Clayden.
Portland, Or. : Timber Press, 2007.
[MCL call number: 635.95 D923r 2007; eight copies, seven holds]

Here in the maritime Northwest, it rains a lot, for most of the year.  For cities, this causes a lot of problems for water and sewer authorities, for rivers and streams, and of course for wildlife, and eventually for people — because most of the land is paved over with streets and won’t absorb water.  In Portland (and no doubt in other cities and towns in the region), there has been a huge push in the last few years to promote on-site stormwater management — this sounds boring as hell, but in fact what it usually means is turning downspouts into waterfalls and turning gutters into gardens.  This is good for the natural water system (yay!), but it’s also often beautiful, educational, and fun (more yay!).

Cities in other parts of the world have similar stormwater management concerns, of course, and Rain Gardens is a kind of text book for residential, neighborhood, and municipal management of stormwater with rain gardens and other similar systems suitable for temperate climates.  Many topics are addressed — water cycles, the effect of paved surfaces on natural water filtration, the effect of planted surfaces on stormwater, and more.  The only serious complaint I have about the book is that it focuses almost exclusively on commercial and institutional rainwater management projects — in schools, housing complexes, office parks, municipal buildings, and public parks.  Too little attention is paid to stormwater management solutions for small buildings (like houses), and small projects that can be designed and built by amateurs.

However, Rain Gardens is still a practical work.  Case studies of successful rain garden projects are sprinkled throughout the text — including one describing Sutcliffe Park  (pages 126-127), in London’s Borough of Greenwhich, which was redeveloped in 2004 to decrease flood danger in the area, and included the “daylighting” of the once-buried River Quaggy.  A quarter of the book is taken up with a detailed discussion of rain garden design, and the last chapter contains a detailed chart of useful plants.  Rain Gardens is liberally illustrated with photographs and diagrams showing design principles and real-life examples from around northern Europe and North America (including Portland!).  There is a weak index at the back, not useful for much, and a brief and helpful bibliography.

 * * *

Some of you may be reminded, by my mention of the River Quaggy and its ressurection from an underground pipe, of N. J. Barton’s The Lost Rivers of London (Phoenix House, 1962, and Historical Publications, 1992; reviewed in Duck Duck Book number 20), Christopher Fowler’s The Water Room (reviewed in number 44), and Richard Trench and Ellis Hillman’s London Under London (reviewed in number 45).

49 – london theatre
09.17.2007, 12:01 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

London theatre : from the Globe to the National / James Roose-Evans.
Oxford : Phaidon, 1977.
[MCL call number: 792.09421 R781L; one copy, no holds]

It is difficult to imagine a city that is more about the theater than London.  At least for those of us steeped in the Western tradition (especially the English language one), there is no place that has a longer history of performance, playwriting, dramatic instruction, and also of censorship.  But there is so much written about the history of London theater; where do you begin?  Interested laypersons would do well to consult James Roose-Evans’ concise and readable history covering the four hundred years from the founding of The Theatre in 1576 to the opening of the new home of the National Theatre in 1976.

Roose-Evans takes readers step by step through the highlights of the art and business of London’s theater world, focusing on institutions, influential actors and managers, theater patrons, audiences, and the political context in which theaters, playwrights, audiences, and actors functioned.  Some of the stories that make up this narrative are particularly evocative of the oddities of the English character — for example, in 1809 John Philip Kemble opened the new Theatre Royal, Covent Garden (the old one had been destroyed in a fire).  In order to help pay the costs of the new building, prices were raised by about ten percent.  On opening night and for more than two months every performance was disrupted by riotous audiences chanting, singing, talking back to the stage, and waving signs and banners demanding a return of the old prices.  After each evening’s performance was finished, rioters would wend their way through the streets to Kemble’s house, where they whooped it up into the wee hours.  Kemble finally relented and lowered prices, and business returned to normal. 

London Theatre contains many such colorful stories, but it will also give readers a good grounding for the scope of the complex history of public performance and the theater in this most theatrical of cities.  The text is followed by a useful biography and an almost completely useless index (if you’re looking for a particular topic, start with the table of contents instead; it is reasonably descriptive and helpful).