Read, Listen, Watch

Staff Picks and Suggestions

Swap Tree

In honor of Earth Day, I wanted to post something I learned about recently that’s meant to be environmentally conscious.  Yesterday, a friend told me about, a site where you can exchange products you have (like books, cds, and dvds) for others that you want.  It’s a massive trading website where you just have to pay shipping and handling costs.  While I’m a hoarder who likes holding on to things, I certainly appreciate SwapTree’s message of re-usability and bartering!  My friend also told me that for every trade made today, SwapTree will donate $1 to the Sierra Club.  (Though I couldn’t find anything corroborating that on their website.) I also think that taste is such a funny and personal issue, that it would be interesting to see what people are looking for (or looking to unload.)  It seems like their could be some airing of dirty laundry-from my cursory survey it seems like people are looking to pick up much ‘hipper’ items (and trade away Chicken Soup for the Soul and Kenny G!) Has anyone tried this before?  What do you think?

The Library at Night

I recently read a review of Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night in the LA Times. It sounds like an interesting read-I’ve heard of his With Borges, but haven’t yet read it. While The Library at Night sounds like a mix of memoir, general history and musings, the review got me thinking about the library as dramatic setting. One of my favorites is the rather creepy and ambiguous tale, The Ghost Writer by John Harwood. The scenes in the British Library stuck with me, and I wish I could visit it! (In the book, the Library is still part of the British Museum). When I finally visited the British Museum in 2005, I was disappointed. While their reading room is nice, it’s much smaller, and very different from the spooky Victorian locale detailed in The Ghost Writer. I’ll have to make a special visit to the British Library, the next time I’m in London. Have any of you visited there? And what are your favorite stories set in libraries? What do you like about them?

North and South

The North and South of my post title does not refer to the American Union-Confederate divide; but instead the division between the north and south of England. (Though they did have their own Civil War). This North and South is a nineteenth century novel by Elizabeth Gaskell. I read it last summer, in large part based on the recommendation of a friend, and I liked it. Once I learned that there was a 2004 miniseries version, I really wanted to watch it. I only just did, but am pleased to report that it’s fantastic! I was really impressed with the production values, and even the score is amazing. While North and South is a love story, I think it includes many other elements that make it much more engaging. The Hale family moves to fictional Milton, in the industrial north of England when clergyman patriarch Richard Hale has a crisis of conscience and abandons his parish post. In Milton, the cotton mill is king. One of my favorite things about North and South, is that you really get a full and complicated picture of industry and trade. The “masters” (as the mill owners are called), the workers (the “hands” in the novel), and the gentry class as embodied by the Hales, are often in conflict, but it’s hard not to see both the righteousness and the flaws in all of their divergent positions. It’s great to see a really detailed depiction of unionization and a worker’s strike. Watching it, I was thinking how I’d love to show it in a class on business ethics. When Margaret Hale narrates on the cotton mills, that “I believe I have seen hell, and it’s white, it’s snow-white,” I just got shivers down my spine. One of my reading pet peeves is dialect, which I find to be distracting. While I know that some authors are praised for their accurate and exemplary use of dialect, I nearly always find something condescending about it. (Even though I know that not everyone speaks alike). This is well rectified in the movie, as the actors covey the great differences in their speech, in a way that’s both subtle and immediately apparent. This particularly led me to find the Nicholas Higgins character far more admirable (and likable) in the movie than in the novel. I really cannot say enough good things about this miniseries-I thought the acting was very strong, and that Sandy Welch did a superb job of adapting the story. At four hours long, I still felt like I wanted to watch it again immediately!  

Sometimes (but not often enough) a book from class is a great read!

I (was forced to) read In Search Of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio by Phillpe Bourgois in on of my anthropology classes and now it’s one of my favorite books. The book provides detailed insight into the lives of crack dealers in East Harlem in the early 1990s. Bourgois studied the drug economy there for 3 years, moving his wife and new born into East Harlem. What he found is truly amazing- a society that has it’s own value system. Bourgois argues this has developed due to the plight of the poor who have been rejected from society. In search of respect, they create a new value system they are able to uphold. The detailed insight into the lives of those both overlooked and condemned by society is a perspective rarely seen. The book is a very humanizing element in discussion about drugs or the poor, for it showcases the daily lives and struggle of individuals one can easily identify with. It reveals that the drug economy is not an effective method of providing an income, but becomes a last ditch effort at survival for those unable to find employment. In Search of Respect has changed my perspective on society and the drug war. After reading this, it seems to me the people most hurt by both the drug economy and the war on drugs are already marginalized and never really had a fair shot at getting out of poverty. You can find In Search of Respect in Snell library, I recommend you give it a read!

jump start

Have you ever been so enthralled by a book that when you finished it, everything else seemed to pale in comparison? I have.  For the past two or three months I have started a few books and not finished a single one.  Normally, I am not so fickle when it comes to reading but I simply cannot get excited about any of my selections.  In late January, I finished an incendiary piece by Christopher Hitchens in which he presents a case against organized religion.  If you have read any of Mr. Hitchens’ work, you know that he might not always be right, but he sure brings his A game in a fight. (Hey, that rhymes!)  I tried to read a book by noted humorist John Hodgman, a piece of popular history about the 6 most historically signicant drinks (beer, wine, tea, coffee, liquor and soda).  I also cracked open some old favorites in hopes of sticking with a book, no luck.  Don’t get me wrong, none of these books were bad, or poorly written, I just couldn’t get interested in any of them.  I can’t take this much more.