Duck Duck Book

66 – my time annihilator
12.4.2010, 2:38 pm
Filed under: generalities, zines

My time annihilator : a brief history of 1930’s science fiction fanzines / [by Christopher U.].
Glendale, KY : [s.n.], 2008.
[MCL call number: ZINE 070.572 U 2008; six copies, no holds]

When people investigate zines today and try to assign ancestors, antecedents, or roots to them, the two places they generally look to are the punk rock fanzines of the 1970s, and the science fiction and fantasy fanzines of the 1930s.  These are not the only places to find zine history, not the only past traditions that have affected today’s zine creators and readers, but it is true that the connections are strong. (Though of course there is no doubt that many latter-day zine creators have done their work without ever hearing of, or realizing they had any ties to either either punk or sci fi fanzine creators.)

And it’s easy to see why a devoted zine creator or reader might be interested in exploring the long-gone world of early science fiction zines in particular.  Fandom of any sort creates an inherently intriguing sort of subculture — the very practice of fandom is a celebration of deeply connecting to a specific world, and showing off, sharing, and expanding on that world with other fans.  There is something compelling about this intensity of focus.  Perhaps the most magnetic aspect for latter-day zinesters, though, is the simple notion that there were people making zines 80 years ago, people without access to photocopiers, who’d never seen an issue of Beer Frame or Duplex Planet or Doris.  We might be able to just barely imagine life in the 1930s, but adding an understanding of a long-gone subculture into that picture is difficult.  Learning about antique zines begins to do the trick.

Christopher U. reports that he stumbled on a copy of The Fanzine Index at his local library.  It piqued his interest, and he eventually tracked down an archive of early 20th century science fiction fanzines and examined them too.  My Time Annihilator reports on and discusses this endeavor.

After a brief introduction explaining how he came across the trove of old zines, Christopher takes readers through a brief, helpful history of sci fi fanzinedom, covering matters both philosophical and practical.  He discusses the social context that inspired 1930s and 40s sci fi zine creation; outlines typical fanzine formats, binding, and graphic design strategies; and explains some of the technical details of printing and distribution methods zinesters used.  This is followed by a selection of excerpts from some of the fanzines he examined.

The explanatory parts are clear, interesting, and even show the potential to be of practical use for anyone who might want to use the methodology of zines of old.  But overall, Christopher’s take is a little jaundiced — and perhaps rightly so.  He sums up his experience reading through the zine archive in a section titled “Let down. . .”:

“. . . i found that actually reading these fanzines was massively boring.  i really don’t know anything about obscure 40’s science fiction and the zines were so full of inside jokes and nerd jargon that not much of it made sense anyway.   words like ‘gods, demons and beer’ were inexplicably written as ‘ghods, dhemons, and bheer.’ . . . after thinking about it, there really isn’t that much difference between the science fictions [sic] fanzines of the early 20th century and the punk zines of the 90’s.  our zines deal with obscure bands, rambling stories about fests, tons of inside jokes and typographic slang (e.g. ‘have a crucial youth cruew sesh and get a riot grrrl ‘zine from the distro’).  unless you happen to be steeped in modern punk culture, you would probably get as much out of the most recent MAXIMUMROCKANDROLL as i do out of ‘le zombie’ #59.  which isn’t much.”

Still, you’re pretty likely to be charmed by old timey sci fi zinedom, if you look at the choice excerpts Christopher provides.  My favorites are:

  • A flowchart which takes science fiction plots from the opening word “Earth” through through a variety of grim finales like “so they kill us (The End),” and “which turns them into disgusting lumps (The End).”
  • The cover of FemiZine number 11, from 1949, featuring a drawing of a group of women in a protest march with signs like “No new names for FemiZine” and “Down with Distaff.”  It may be that I find this interesting mostly because there is no way to grasp the context, but it’s also true that the drawing is very cute — I particularly like the three ladies in front, who are all wearing heels and nice coats.
  • A collection of post card zines, called “news cards,” typewritten with incredibly brief newsbites announcing new publications, travel plans, and in one example from 1943: “We humbly announce final issue.  Paucity of worthwhile news forbids weekly publication; my imminent induction also a factor.”

* * *

Additional analysis of zine history and culture can be found in Amy Spencer’s DIY: The Rise of Lo-fi Culture (London ; New York : Marion Boyars, 2005), which I reviewed in Duck Duck Book number 30 and found interesting but flawed; and in Frederic Wertham’s The World of Fanzines: A Special Form of Communication (Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press [1973]).  Comics lovers among you may recognize Wertham’s name — he is most famous for his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent, which inspired the Comics Code.  But his work on early fanzines is pretty interesting, and has lots of facsimiles to illustrate it.


57 – edward r. murrow
11.3.2008, 7:30 pm
Filed under: generalities, history & geography

Edward R. Murrow and the birth of broadcast journalism / Bob Edwards.
New York : John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004.
[MCL call number: B-Mu968e 2004; 4 copies, no holds;
also in audio format at CD- B-Mu968e; five copies, no holds]

In 1937, when Edward Murrow first arrived in London to assume his new post as the European Director for CBS, he tried to join the American Foreign Correspondents Association. They refused his application — after all, they were journalists, and everyone in 1937 knew that radio had nothing to do with journalism. Of course if they had a crystal ball, they would likely have rushed to recruit Ed Murrow, who was soon to be radio’s first news star, the man who brought the European war home to American living rooms, live and out loud. (In fact, in 1944, the Foreign Correspondents Association went beyond recruiting and made Murrow their president.)

Bob Edwards’s biography of Murrow focuses largely on Murrow’s professional life, his effect on journalism, and his work as an innovator in both radio and television broadcasting. Murrow is the person, Edwards argues, who created radio news. In those few years between 1937 and 1944, Murrow had led radio news away from a limited venue for 15-minute headline broadcasts to a complex medium of live interviews with powerful people, first-person reporting on current events, and synchronized news and commentary roundups from correspondents in several cities simultaneously.

It is interesting to consider this in light of more recent developments in journalism. In the 1960s and 70s, the “underground press” movement spawned hundreds of independent, low-budget newspapers that published stories and commentary — stories that would never have seen print in the mainstream daily newspapers or on network television. In the 1990s, new software allowed anyone with a computer and an internet connection to publish weblogs on any topic and entirely without editorial or publishing oversight. Each of these two new phenomena carved out space that wasn’t present before, and regardless of the direct impact blogs or the underground press have had on corporate journalism, that space still exists. And, both bloggers and journalists of the underground press have inspired real scorn among their fellows in the mainstream media world — they’re not real journalists, they don’t follow professional standards, they shouldn’t be allowed press credentials, and similar complaints.

The book satisfies on other levels too, though Edwards’s description of Murrow’s personal life, family history, and other private details are terse. These features are provided in service to the story of Murrow the professional man. For example, Edwards explains that when Murrow was fresh out of college, he worked as president of the National Student Federation of America (NSFA), and then assistant to the director of the Institute of International Education (IIE). Stories of this part of Murrow’s career help to explain his overall commitment to his values, and his unwillingness to compromise except under specific, strategic conditions.

For example, while at the NSFA, Murrow recruited historically black colleges to membership in the organization, and held a racially integrated convention in Atlanta. When he worked for the IIE, Murrow started an exchange program that brought American college students Soviet Moscow for summer courses, and coordinated a relocation project that matched German scholars displaced by Nazi politics with American universities willing to hire them as professors and researchers. These are interesting stories, but their job in Edwards’s book is not merely to educate and entertain. They show that Murrow was a man who strove to create opportunities to make his work as an educator also do service to his political and ethical ideals. These are the qualities, Edwards argues, that made Murrow a great journalist, and that gave him the tools to shape an emerging medium.

Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism has a modest index and a short bibliography. The book itself is quite short, and very readable. It might make a nice companion on a trip, or a good choice to read on a quiet afternoon alone. I read it on my commute to work, on the bus, where it sped my journey, diverted me from the flow of conversation around me, and, on one occasion, even made me almost miss my stop.

addendum to number 34
06.29.2006, 5:13 pm
Filed under: generalities, websites

Dear readers,
I am pleased to announce that I have completed a new booklist — one made with
my Multnomah County Library hat on:

Surprising histories : how small things have changed the world.
Portland, Ore. : Multnomah County Library, 28 June 2006.

Surprising Histories recommends books about objects.  One of my coworkers, who loves this particular genre of nonfiction, calls them “biographies of nouns.”

Each book takes the case of an object (or sometimes several related objects), examines its evolution, discovery, and/or invention, and discusses why it is important to human culture.  Long-term readers of Duck Duck Book may remember my fascination with this kind of literature from number 23, when I reviewed Tammy Horn’s Bees in America (Lexington, Ky. : University Press of Kentucky, c2005).

Most of the books included in Surprising Histories are of relatively recent publication and should be available through your local library, even if you are not so lucky as to live here in the Rose City.

N.b.: Multnomah County Library has many other fabulous booklists on its webpage,
in sections devoted to books for adults, for teens, for kids, and books for babies.

32 – new georgia encyclopedia
04.24.2006, 5:32 pm
Filed under: generalities, history & geography, websites

The new Georgia encyclopedia / A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the Office of the Governor, the University of Georgia Press, and the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, 2004-2006.

Here you will find scores of articles on subjects relating to the history, culture, life, politics, geography, government, and economics of the state of Georgia, and about the South more generally.  Topics are diverse, from chenille bedspreads to the Nuclear Threat Initiative to time capsules

The New Georgia Encyclopedia's clear and richly illustrated articles are arranged (not exactly encyclopedically, but in a hierarchical fashion) on the left hand side of the page, and are easily browsable.  But the site has some other nice features as well — if you type some terms into the search box, for example, the Encyclopedia will suggest topics that might be what you want, while you type.  The Encyclopedia has are quick-reference sections detailing facts about the state of Georgia, popular destinations in the state, and features that the editors want especially to highlight.  There are also several indices.

Really, there is more in here than you might think, especially if you are looking for information about American History, folkways, or any subject that relates to the South.  I highly recommend that you spend a few minutes leafing through the Encyclopedia, if only just for amusement purposes.  

The New Georgia Encyclopedia has a selection of rss feeds to alert truly committed readers of new articles.

24 – making stuff
09.7.2005, 12:02 am
Filed under: generalities, zines

Making stuff and doing things : a collection of DIY guides to just about everything / compiled and edited by Kyle Bravo, with major assistance from Jenny LeBlanc.
Portland, OR : Microcosm Pub., 2005.
[MCL does not have this book. I’m not really sure where it would be on the shelf if it were in the library’s collection — maybe somewhere in 001, Knowledge, or at 643.7, Renovation, improvement, remodeling (a subset of Home economics and family living, in the Technology section)?]

This is, just as the title indicates, a book chock full of instructions. How-tos are reprinted in facsimile from dozens of zines, including helpful illustrations and amusing side comments. The book is divided into topical sections covering activism, self-education, self-publishing, fun, arts & crafts, clothing, “creative troublemaking” (stencils, wheatpasting, and puppets), outdoorsy stuff, gardening, food & drink, travel, health & body, pet care, recycling, repairs, household stuff, and transportation. At the end is a section of pieces on the philosophy of DIY, a list of author contact information, and a very competent index.

Some of my favorites are: I made my own soymilk (p. 119), unstink your socks (p. 69), typewriter ribbons (p. 174), the DIY punk rock cat diet (p. 173), tips for staying fit on the road (p. 122), and how to do basic electrical wiring (p. 205).

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]

6 – web search garage
12.12.2004, 12:04 am
Filed under: generalities

Web search garage / Tara Calishain.
Upper Saddle River, N.J. : Prentice Hall PTR, c2005.
[MCL call number: 025.04 C154w 2005; six copies, one hold]

As a librarian I spend a lot of time searching for things — in books, magazines, articles, indexes, reference works, government documents, computerized databases, in rooms, on shelves, and also on the internet. I am good at it, but one of the things that makes me good at it is that I am always trying to get better. This book is making me better.

Web Search Garage is written for the everyday researcher (that is, for you, me, your mom, and the person you sat next to on the bus this morning), and it is well organized, thoughtful, practical, and easy to use. If you are interested in becoming a better web searcher, in fact if you’re interested in searching the web at all for any thing or any purpose, I demand that you read this book!

Calishain begins with a discussion of what search engines are and how they work. What’s the difference between a full-text search engine and a subject index? Why would you use one and not the other, and how do you find them? Are there online tools that you can use to make searching full text and subject search engines easier?

The second section of the book is a series of chapters explaining Calishain’s ten principles of web searching — these are basically strategies that you might employ for different kinds of searches. This is incredibly helpful. Calishain explains some general theories of searching and then applies them to the context of looking for stuff on the web — read it and you will be better and finding things on the web and also in other places! The remaining sections discuss searching for particular kinds of things — news, jobs, local information, images, genealogy, medical information, and more.

The book has an index, and the table of contents is detailed enough to use as a kind of subject index as well.