Online magazine Vice calls Harold Bloom “the preeminent literary critic in the world.” It’s hard to argue with that. This writer, critic, professor, and staunch champion of classic literature is one-of-a-kind. My friend Lloyd loves him, and talked to me, in particular, about one of Bloom’s most popular works: The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages.
My only other exposure to Bloom, until recently, was his work Jesus and Yahweh : The Names Divine. Although the subject of that work was investigating what we really know about Jesus, the author spent some time expressing his love for the Old Testament, the Jewish Tanakh. (This was also my first exposure to the idea that Bathsheba could be the author of the Torah, the first five books of the bible. A bit more on this controversial idea here.)
Knowing he placed the Old Testament up there with Shakespeare (or is that other way around?), I was not surprised to see Bloom’s latest work staring at me from the library stacks. (Although I was excited.) The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible is the author’s celebration of “the sublime summit of literature in English.” Bloom also includes Shakespeare in this “sublime summit” for both the works of the Bard’s major phase and the KJB emerged during the same time period, 1604-1611.
Bloom reads passages from the KJB alongside those of the original Greek and Hebrew texts, as well as the Tyndale and Geneva Bibles, to illustrate how the KJB translators improved or diminished the text.
During the journey, we discover how Songs of Solomon inspired poetry and Shakespeare, how God’s voice changed from mocking to “threatening rhapsody” in Job; and we meet the strangest, but perhaps the most literary, Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.
Tyndale is the master translator in this picture, and his Bible and other works influenced the KJB translation:
The inexplicable wonder is that a rather undistinguished group of writers… brought forth a magnificence almost to rival Shakespeare’s. Without Tyndale as fountainhead, it could not have been done, but Tyndale’s powerfully rugged prose is very unlike the orchestration of the sentences of the KJB.”
Yes, orchestration. There is beauty here. Millions of people read the King James Bible for its religious dogma and spiritual inspiration, but Bloom says we should look at it a different way as well: as a masterpiece of English literature.
“In August 1973, three weeks past my seventeenth birthday, I packed my clothes in three hand-me-down Samsonite suitcases and left the only place I had ever called home.”
Anita Hill looks at the meaning of home in this series of stories that trace a journey from her family’s move to the “promised land” of Oklahoma to today’s sub-prime mortgage crisis. In Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race and Finding Home, Hill demonstrates how this search for a better place—a place to call home—has been stymied for far too long for many of our citizens by “institutional incentives that encourage separation.”
The search for home, of course, goes beyond the four walls—to the neighborhood, the community, and even the nation where we feel we belong. Our search begins with ourselves and our own family history:
When I began to explore my family history, I was in search of the perfect past. What I found were surprises and a messy, complicated reality that forced me to abandon the myths that filled my head about family, progress, and success.”
Hill discovers that the system established following slavery, to correct slavery’s depravities, had failed her ancestors. And yet, Hill’s ancestors “dared to imagine” a better place for themselves and their children.
This need for home runs deep in the American soul. From the first Euro-American settlers, to Abigail Adam’s arguments for women’s legal protections in their own homes, to commerce secretary Herbert Hoover’s Own Your Own Home campaign, to the twentieth century migration of blacks to the North, to George W. Bush’s Ownership Society, it is a need that has framed our national conversation.
Hill’s stories synthesize this history and conversation with personal reflections from herself and others, race and gender issues, government policies, and our enduring dreams for a better life.
After establishing the links among home, belonging, achievement and success, Hill calls for a new vision amidst the current housing crisis that has brought a great nation to its knees. This vision can take inspiration from the social networking communities that are being embraced, especially by younger citizens, as well as the story of President Obama, who’s “fervent search for home brought him to the presidency…”
The vision? “…not of movement, but one of place; not one of tolerance, but one of belonging; not just of rights, but also of community—a community of equals” Such a vision, Hill argues, could make an inclusive American Democracy where all of us feel at home.
This is a beautifully written, hopeful book.
It’s Friday afternoon. You’re just watching the clock tick, waiting to go home for the weekend. Sounds like it’s time for another Library YouTube Break. And a funny one, too!
The Colbert Report on Comedy Central never pulls any punches in the search for laughs and satirical commentary. Stephen Colbert and his writers are masters of political and cultural lampoonery. Earlier this week, the host interviewed Maurice Sendak, world-famous author and illustrator of such children’s books as Where the Wild Things Are and Chicken Soup With Rice.
It’s obvious Sendak’s in on the game, and he answers questions with a biting honesty that’s only accepted from people who have lived long enough on Planet Earth.
After you watch Part 1 below, be sure and check out part 2 on Hulu, where you’ll get Sendak’s unedited opinions on children’s book illustrators and e-books. Too, too hilarious.
Stumptown is like a really good television pilot for a private detective series. That’s not surprising, since author Greg Rucka is a fan of seventies-era detective shows like The Rockford Files and Magnum, P.I. The crime in Stumptown would fit nicely in one of these shows or in any time–the investigation into the disappearance of a young woman–but the players have been appropriately updated.
The wisecracking protagonist PI, Dex (short for Dexadrine) Parios, is a mess. She’s addicted to gambling, takes care of her mentally-challenged younger brother, and is apparently responsible for the demise of the top dog police detective’s marriage. Her friend Grey, who takes care of her brother when she’s out solving crimes, is smitten with Dex, and Dex is oblivious to this. (See, it’s like a pilot. You need to tune in next week if you want your questions answered.)
The Portland crime family behind the woman’s disappearance suffers from its own dysfunction, with a daughter and son who both hate and love their crime boss daddy, and ultimately just want his approval.
Matthew Southworth‘s art captures the grey, lush atmosphere of the Northwest and the gritty side of Portland, and he simply slays the finale, with flashlights illuminating the action on a dark night.
For me, Stumptown simply isn’t as good as Rucka’s Queen and Country series, but it works for what it is. If this really does turn into a series, it may call for further investigation.
By the way, Stumptown is a nickname for Portland, Oregon. Here’s why.
A friend nominated this video for a Library YouTube Break, and I have to say it’s a darn good one!
The staff at Type bookstore in Toronto spent tons of time moving, stacking, and animating the books for this delightful video. It’s a great promo for the bookstore with more than 2 million visits to the video on YouTube. Still, with all of the work and coordination involved, it looks more like a labor of love to me.
So, a round of applause for these Canadian bookies. Enjoy your YouTube break!
It was only a matter of time before Literary Kitty found a way to make I Can Has Cheezburger the Literary Site of the Week. Funny thing is, my Facebook friend Jay also found the site’s hilarious post featuring “16 classic novels reimagined with cat-centric titles and covers.”
We are having a hard time deciding which book jacket and title are our favorite, but we nominate Catlas Shrugged, The Girl with the Kitten Tattoo, and A Tale of Two Kitties for the grand prize. And surely Litter Box Five would get an honorable mention!
It’s a new year with new dreams and we hope all of our Okie Reads visitors have a great 2012. Don’t forget to have fun. And, please, don’t forget to share loads of love with any furry creatures in your life.
P.S. We can’t guarantee it, but we suspect even a dog-lover like Carrie Coppernoll might appreciate this! LOL
Oklahoma Almanac editor Connie Armstrong loves to read history books. This is not surprising since history was her major and she taught the subject at Redlands Community College. I actually saw her with a fiction book recently and almost fell out of my chair. But history is her first love. When I caught her reading Chris Matthews’s new book on our 35th president, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, I knew I wanted to ask my friend and colleague her thoughts on the work.
Q: There are a tremendous number of books about John Kennedy and his presidency, so I’m surprised Matthews subtitled the book “Elusive Hero.” What’s your take on that?
A: “Elusive Hero,” is a term used by Jackie Kennedy as she described her late husband to Life Magazine reporter Teddy White in late November 1963. She wanted the world to understand the man rather than the politician or war hero. During the interview, she described Jack Kennedy as a simple yet complex individual; someone just out of our grasp.
Q: I’ve caught Matthews’s show on MSNBC from time to time, and viewers can tell he has a great amount of respect for Kennedy. Was this book a love fest to the man?
A: Initially, I thought it would be love fest for Kennedy. Early in the book Matthews explains that as a young man he became enamored with Kennedy, although he grew up in a Republican household where Eisenhower was revered as a great leader. However, Matthew provides a well-balanced account of Kennedy’s personal life and political career. He does not ignore Kennedy’s failings or personal flaws.
Q: You’re a student of American History and know more than most of us about the machinations and personalities of Washington, D.C. What were some of the surprising things you learned from reading this book?
A: I’ve studied Kennedy for many years, and taught a college course on his assassination. I don’t think anything surprised me. The book reminded me that politics can be a blood sport. Kennedy took no prisoners when it came to winning campaigns. However, I do think many people may be surprised at the respect Kennedy had for Richard Nixon, and the friendship the two shared.
Q: The assassination of President Kennedy is a watershed moment, and many have identified it as the time we lost our innocence as a country. Does Matthews speculate about how different America might be had Kennedy not been killed?
A: No, Matthews does not look at a post-Kennedy America in a “what might have been” scenario. He does, however, look at the goals Kennedy pursued such as civil rights, NASA and America’s space program, the Peace Corps, and even the fall of the Berlin Wall that came to fruition in the years following the assassination.
Q: Does Matthews weigh in on the Warren Commission Report? Any smoking guns, like another shooter in the grassy knoll?
A: No. He does examine a question Kennedy put forth to Texas Governor John Connelly on the morning of November 22, 1963. Kennedy inquired why Fort Worth remained a Democratic stronghold, while Dallas had gone Republican.
(Note: Mathews talks about Connelly’s take on the difference between 1963 politics in Fort Worth and Dallas in this Hardball blog post.)
Q: What’s the lasting impression you take away from this book?
A: That Kennedy was a student of history since his childhood. His political policy decisions were based on his knowledge of history. I’m grateful for that. He understood appeasement, the growing threat of Communism, and yet understood what the Soviet Union had endured during World War II. If Richard Nixon had been president during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the outcome could have been devastating.
Q: Finally, do you think Kennedy could be a successful politician today?
Read an excerpt from the book online.
Anybody out there read this latest bio on Kennedy? Let us know what you think.
Santa brought my smart four-year-old grandniece a Rapunzel’s Tower for Christmas. She served me coffee in the tiny cups, breakfast on the tiny plates, and had me assist her as she painted the wallpaper with a magic brush and water, which revealed birds and other images amidst the tree branches. (We had a lot of fun.)
This gift is the latest in a series of toys and dolls she’s received that celebrate the world of princess fairy tales. For lack of a better term, she’s kinda princess-crazy. I found out that her cousins had even dressed her up as a princess on Christmas Eve. Goodness!
This morning, the princess craze came up during a meeting I had with fellow librarians and the fine folks at Sonic, America’s Drive-In. Adrienne and I from the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, Emily from the Metropolitan Library System, and Nancy and Becky with Sonic were discussing plans for the 2012 Statewide Summer Reading Program. (Sonic has been a corporate partner for the program since way back in 1998. They’re the best!) When Nancy mentioned that Sonic provides toys with an educational component in their Wacky Pack children’s meals, as opposed to the Ariels and Sleeping Beauties found in other restaurant kid meals, I said that was great, and I admitted that I was having a problem with the whole princess thing. Just what kind of message are we sending to our young girls, anyway?
Becky noted the recent marketing strategy of making more toys and products in pink—including fishing tackle boxes and camouflage clothing!—to attract girls and women. She also mentioned a YouTube video of a young girl commenting on gender marketing. (See below.)
Once our meeting was over, I headed down to my car, started the engine, and turned on the radio, which was tuned to KGOU, an NPR station. Right then, on the Dianne Rehm Show, a woman was talking about pink toys! (Really, you can’t make this kind of stuff up.) Turns out the guest was Peggy Orenstein, who has much to say about gender marketing and its possible impact on girls in her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. From the book description:
Pink and pretty or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences our daughters from infancy onward, telling them that how a girl looks matters more than who she is. Somewhere between the exhilarating rise of Girl Power in the 1990s and today, the pursuit of physical perfection has been recast as a source—the source—of female empowerment. And commercialization has spread the message faster and farther, reaching girls at ever-younger ages.”
You know when there are reality shows featuring toddlers in tiaras that there’s a problem. Still, like Orenstein, I tend to believe that girls will be girls, and boys will be boys. Why fight nature? But that doesn’t mean we need to harden the gender differences within our culture. More than anything, I think I share a belief with the author that children should be children. The author investigates her concerns like a master sleuth. More from the book description:
She visited Disneyland and the international toy fair, trolled American Girl Place and Pottery Barn Kids, and met beauty pageant parents with preschoolers tricked out like Vegas showgirls. She dissected the science, created an online avatar, and parsed the original fairy tales. The stakes turn out to be higher than she—or we—ever imagined: nothing less than the health, development, and futures of our girls.”
This is definitely a book I want to check out.
In another part of the forest, my smart eight-year-old grandnephew received a BB gun for Christmas. But that’s another story…
I adore my little niece and nephew. They are sweet, kind, intelligent children and they have loving parents who offer them unconditional love and who do a good job of teaching them right from wrong. It’s just that their “Great and Powerful Uncle Bill” (that’s how I sign my name in their gift books and greeting cards) tends to worry.
And before I leave you, here’s that YouTube video of young Riley ranting about pink toys.
The great astrophysicist Stephen Hawking warns us that contact with alien life may not be in our best interest. After all, human history shows all too well how indigenous peoples suffer at the hands of a more technologically-advanced society.
The laws of space and time suggest that such visitations are probably not in our future. Still, if we were to awake one morning to find mother ships overhead, I suspect that a nervous Earth might hear our visitors say something like the following. (Note: just replace “Indians” with “Earthlings”):
“The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and, in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed.”
—[Secton 14, Article 3, Northwest Ordinance of U.S. Congress, July 13, 1787
This quote introduces Chapter 5—“What’s mine is mine. What’s yours is mine!”—of Conscience: Breaching Social Amnesia by vehoae. In the author’s first book, she illustrates, through exhaustive research, how the perspectives and motivations of the European invaders and their progeny influenced the rhetoric, politics, and decision-making of the day regarding the continent’s Indian Nations.
Beyond the dishonest diplomacy practiced with the tribes, we are treated to the views and arguments of political and religious leaders as they sought a solution to the Indian problem. Such quotes and primary document details trace the discussions of extermination, assimilation and segregation of the tribes from early European settlement to the days of the Indian Boarding Schools.
It’s an uncomfortable history, of course. Reading about the worse angels of our nature (if I may twist the resurrected Lincoln quote) should make us feel uncomfortable. Seeing an unflattering side of American statesmen like Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson strikes at our patriotic heart.
We know this truth about our past, but some Americans would just like us to forget about it. But vehoae says, “No, look. This is what we did. Here is the proof.” Her appendix, exhibits, bibliography and end note citations take up a third of the book. (I wasn’t kidding about exhaustive research.)
While at the University of Oklahoma in the late 70s, I was lucky enough to have a class with Dr. Jerry Steffen, who warned us about condemning past generations. The future will laugh at us, and condemn us, too, he said. He reminded us to always consider past history in light of the times. This did not mean we should not pass judgements on cruelties of the past. It meant that by understanding the period of history, we could understand why such cruelties happened.
There is no advantage to ignoring our history, but there is much to gain by confronting painful truths. For what better way will we truly find the better angels of our nature?
Visit vehoae’s website to find out more about the author, her interests and her work.
Read an interview with the author, where she discusses her book and the writers that inspired her. Plus, she provides a host of research tips for non-fiction writers!
- 50% of all library users go on to buy books by an author they were first introduced to at the library;
- 20% of library users are “power patrons.” They visit the library at least once a week, borrow all types of media, and are active buyers of books and other media, including e-books;
- Power patrons are more likely to vote at a higher rate than other patrons; and,
- Power patrons are “influencers” who spread the word about books, visit both online and brick and mortar bookstores, and are more likely to purchase specific books they’ve borrowed from the library.
Why is this news important?
Here’s why: There’s a common myth out there, especially among some publishers, that every book sold to a library translates into “lost” sales to private citizens. I addressed this myth—showing how it was just wrong— way back in May of 2010 when a particular Hi & Lois cartoon made an odd connection between library use and shuttered book stores:
It would have been more accurate to show Lois ordering a book online and then passing a shuttered book store. Libraries and book stores co-exist just fine. It’s the Internet Age that is fundamentally changing the publishing and bookseller communities, and the economy, of course, is not helping.
And speaking of the economy, it’s true that public library usage goes up during tough times; but lack of a library certainly doesn’t mean that people with tight budgets can suddenly start buying books, newspapers and magazine subscriptions; or reconnect their home Internet service. And what about those folks struggling even during good times?
Benjamin Franklin knew how important access to books and ideas was to the young nation. Along with others, he founded the nation’s first subscription library, The Library Company of Philadelphia. His lending library lays claim to being the predecessor to today’s public library. The motto of The Library Company is the Latin “Communiter Bona profundere Deum est,” which translates as “To pour forth benefits for the common good is divine.” (Today, apparently, the “common good” means “socialism” in some circles, as this satirical blog post on the same Hi & Lois cartoon confronts.)
While some publishers may believe libraries cut into sales, most authors know how important libraries are to promoting their books, connecting them with readers, and ultimately driving their book sales.
Whatever form books take in the future, I’m betting that publishers and booksellers find a way to survive and thrive. And I’m betting that the library will be there to share that new wealth of literature, entertainment, and political and social commentary. For as the Patron Profiles study shows, it will not only be good for democracy, it will be good for the economy.