Friday, August 11, 2017

Gutenberg's Fingerprint - Merilyn Simonds

Sub-title: Paper, pixels and the lasting impression of books

What a great read!  The author takes us through the publication process of a new book of her short stories with a letterpress printer, interwoven with the history of paper, print, ink and books.  I must have used over a dozen sticky notes to mark comments I wanted to re-visit.  Just going to record them here and go buy the book on Amazon!


 [On reading from paper vs screen] "Touching the thickness of paper and turning it leaves a kind of fingerprint in the mind, a marker of what has been read." p.36

What's a wayzgoose?  [The printer explains] "the proprietor of the print shop would throw a going-away goose dinner [for apprentice going out on his own]. After a while, any party for the printers at a print shop or a newspaper was called a wayzgoose." [One is held in April in Grimsby, Ontario].

"One of the most common ligatures, the ampersand (&), was originally made by joining "e" and "t" which spelled "et" Latin for "and."."

[A good Scrabble word] Then he inserts a small key into the quoin a word I've used often in Scrabble although I didn't know it meant "corner", from the French "coin".

[Discussion of using blood as an ink] "The Scottish Convenanters signed their call for a Presbyterian Scotland in their own blood, wearing red neckerchiefs as their insignia (the genesis of the term redneck, which originally meant a Scottish dissenter)."

[First paperback] "David Smyth patented his book sewing machine in 1879.  Perfect binding - gluing instead of stitching - was invented twenty years later, but it was rarely used until 1931, when Germany's Albatross Books introduced the first paperback."

On page 298 there is a whole list of futuristic ideas for enjoying books; from a service that tracks what you read and organizes those reads in different ways to one that maps all the locations you've read about in books.  Yes, yes!

There's even a candle that smells like a book on Amazon (p.327)!

In the end, there is a party to celebrate the publication of her book of short stories with all the people that were involved in its creation.

A wonderful read, highly recommended!

Published: 2017   Read: August 2017  Genre: Non-fiction

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Girl in the Red Coat - Kate Hamer

I thought I was going to like this book.  It's a story of a little girl in a red coat (reminiscent of Little Red Riding Hood) who is abducted and struggles in captivity to maintain her identify.  It's told in parallel with the story of her grieving mother who is attempting to go on living.  I liked the way the characters personalities evolved as time passed and cheered for the child as I felt sorrow for the Mom.  But the author got lazy and wrapped up the story in a few short pages at the end that read like she was in a rush to finish.

Published: 2016  Read: August 2017  Genre: Fiction

Monday, July 24, 2017

Into the Water - Paula Hawkins

I really enjoyed this author's previoius book, "The Girl on the Train".  This one disappoints.  A woman writing stories about the drownings of multiple women in a small town is herself found drowned.  A young girl who is the best friend of her daughter drowned only a short time before.  Are they suicides or murders?

The author tells the story in repeated first-person chapters from each characters point of view, the big picture not revealed until the end, like peeling an onion.  There was no satisfying resolution delivered.  Not recommended.

Published: 2017  Read: July 2017  Genre: Mystery

Hillbilly Elegy - J D Vance

Subtitle: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

I enjoyed this book.  It's a memoir of sorts, the author only in his mid-30's, about a family from Kentucky growing up poor in a factory town in Ohio.  What I liked was how it gave insight into the life of this group of people.  I was not aware that thousands of families had migrated north from the mountains of Appalachia after WWII for jobs in manufacturing, bringing their culture with them.  The author illustrates the beliefs and family dynamics that have contributed to the poverty and hopelessness in the population and makes claims that his experience is endemic in the white working class of America.

"...hillbillies learn from an early age to deal with uncomfortable truths by avoiding them, or by pretending better truths exist.  This tendency might make for psychological resilience, but it also make it hard for Appalachians to look at themselves honestly."

"We were conditioned to feel that we couldn't really depend on people."

He describes how these families were ill-prepared to survive when the factories closed, how the educated and wealthy abandoned towns, leaving behind those struggling in despair. (His takeaway from the book The Truly Disadvantaged by Julius Wilson).

He joined the Marines and there he discovered he had a "learned helplessness" - a belief that the choices he made had no effect on the outcomes in his life.  He'd grown up in a town with small expectations and a chaotic home life.  The Marines, he says, taught him learned willfulness.

As an adult, he left behind the fear and lack of safety and stability and became empowered to be a protector and care for those he loved.  Being "part of a family, that for all its quirks, loved me unconditionally" he realized was a great strength.

In describing his community he notes that there is a mistrust of some of the most obvious paths to upward mobility and that the cultural expectations of working-class white Americans have fallen to where they are the most pessimistic segment of the population about the future of their children.

He learns when interviewing for jobs after finishing Yale law school that success depends greatly on networking and comfort with the culture he aspired to join.  This social capital is "a measure of how much we learn through our friends, colleagues, and mentors."

In reflecting on his home and community he identifies a constant readiness to fight or flee from living with alcoholic or drug-using parents with multiple partners and the resulting high level of instability.

I think his story sheds light on how people get beaten down through loss of income and a perception of lack of opportunity and how this mindset is passed on to the next generation.

Published: 2016  Read: July 2017  Genre: Auto-biography