Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn

I read this book for my philosophy of history class, and while it was not exactly a pleasurable experience, it has drastically affected the way that I think about science. I have always pictured science as this monolith that moves forward in a constant state of progress. Kuhn introduced me to the idea that science is governed by paradigm shifts that fundamentally change the way scientists understand their discipline. Science changes as anomalies are discovered which the old way of doing science cannot account for. Scientists then switch to new a new paradigm that can account for the anomaly. Since science develops in this manner, it is not necessarily linearly progressing. This explanation is overly-simplified, but it shows the wide difference between what I use to believe and how I think about this topic now.

Evolution and natural selection are two examples of paradigm shifts that have radically altered the way science is done.

Monday, December 12, 2011

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England by Brock Clarke

This might be one of the best book titles ever. Based on that and all the reviews on the cover that said it was "witty" and "absurdly hilarious," I was expecting that it would make me laugh. It didn't, not even once. It makes me wonder if all those literary critics decided that it would be a fun idea to try to collectively trick people into getting a book. Or if they just did not bother to read it and wrote reviews off of what they thought the book would be like. Or, much more likely, I just didn't get it. It's not like it would be the first time that happened. Regardless, it is still a great title.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

Sijie writes a fictionalized account of two boys sent to the country to be "reeducated" during China's Cultural Revolution. They end up in possession of several illegal foreign novels, which become crucial to their mission to educate the Little Seamstress. It's a good read, and I'd rather not give any more of the plot away.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

I wrote this post at the end of April, but I never got around to taking this admittedly simple picture.

Since I am going to be moving soon, I am slowly going through my books and trying to read the ones that ended up stacked in the back of the closet so I can decide whether to keep or donate them. I remember finding this book while attempting to organize the massive mess in my sorority's un-air conditioned storage room a few summers ago (mistake on multiple levels). I promptly stuck it on my bookcase and then packed it into boxes on more than one occasion during my CBU time.

The book was ok. Ehrenreich raises some good issues, but she also tends toward hyperbole at some points. It was interesting, and a nice break from Civil War ladies.

Final decision: donating it to the Goodwill Bookstore.

Chomsky for Beginners by David Cogswell

I wrote a paper about Noam Chomsky for my philosophy of history class. I had no idea where to start so I thought back to the friendly introduction to Derrida that I received last fall and decided to look for a comic book. I really love these writers and illustrators for giving the philosophically disinclined an easy entrance into some really deep topics.

Brida: A Novel by Paulo Coelho

""Magic is a bridge," he said at last, "a bridge that allows you to walk from the visible world over into the invisible world, and to learn the lessons of both those worlds."
"And how do I learn to cross that bridge?"
"By discovering your own way of crossing it. Everyone has their own way.""

My way is going into lovely and deep woods and making myself feel small in the best possible way.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Cloudsplitter: A Novel by Russell Banks

I read this book last June so the details are getting a little fuzzy, but I will say that it was one of the best historical fiction books I have read. The author does a remarkable job of giving you a sense of what it might have been like to be living in the antebellum Adirondacks and Kansas. It's roughly the size of a dictionary, but I would recommend it nonetheless.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Funny thing is

that this summer seems to have slipped away from me. What with moving, working 3 jobs, getting married and not to mention adjusting to the loss of the Oxford comma, I have yet to put up a single book I read this summer (or the rest of the ones from last semester for that matter). I would like to swear that I will get around to it, but you never know.

Although to leave you on a pseudo-cliffhanger, I will say that the most interesting book I have been reading has been one by a man from Djibouti (Djiboutian?).

Monday, May 23, 2011

Blue books by lots and lots of people

I spent the last two semesters reading many hundreds of essays (no exaggeration) written in blue books. It is how I earn my keep as a grad student. Occasionally I read some true gems...like the one person who was convinced that MLK helped Emancipation era freedmen gain their civil rights. The top of the books say USE YOUR IMAGINATION, but really, you shouldn't.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Grimm's Fairy Tales by J.L.C. & W.C. Grimm

I suppose it was not completely accurate to include this book in the picture for How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read since I was actually reading it at the time. Some of the stories in this collection were ones I knew well, like Hansel and Gretel, but most were ones that I had never encountered. The last one in the book, Peter the Goatherd, was freakishly similar to Rip Van Winkle. Also, there were a disproportionate number of stories about cats.

Now I feel like I need to go find some Hans Christian Anderson.

The City and the City by China Miéville

I missed political science fiction! I took a self-imposed hiatus from it after my junior year class of the same name, but it felt good to return to an old favorite genre.

It took awhile to get into this book, but when I did it became impossible to put down. The premise is that there are two city-states that exist in the same physical location. The citizens of each city cannot interact or acknowledge citizens of the other without "breaching," which leads to uncertain but serious consequences. So when a murder occurs that involved the crossing of these murky international borders, it causes a slew of unforseen consequences for the dectives involved. Obviously, Miéville takes this idea to an extreme, but how many times have you walked around Memphis and "unseen" what is going on around you? How many cities exist inside of this one?

Diaries and letters from Civil War era West Tennessee by Nannie, Rebecca, Amanda, Belle, Jessie, Sarah, Mattie, and others

One reason I have not been posting as many books this semester is because I haven't been reading as many. Instead, I spent a couple of months on a primary document binge. Sometimes the handwriting could not be deciphered even with the aid of a magnifying glass. Oftentimes I would catch myself day dreaming after a few hours of reading. And then every once in a while I would stumble upon something unexpected. Like the girl who told her friend that she was sorry to hear that she was getting fleshier. Or the girl who "embraced Mother Earth" while trying to play a game of ball (in mixed company). Basically, although research can be truly horrendous at times, it generally leaves me with the feeling that the people of the past weren't all that different. Hopefully my paper about elite women's transcendence of wartime inconvenience came across coherently.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

So it's been awhile...

Without going into too much detail, the past month has been rather trying. I'm muddling through ok with the help of some great family and friends and infrequent trips to the bar. I'll go back to posting soon. I just, well, life can be tough.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Selected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Modern Declaration

I, having loved ever since I was a child a few things, never
having wavered
In these affections; never through shyness in the houses of the
rich or in the presence of clergymen having denied these
Never when worked upon by cynics like chiropractors having
grunted or clicked a vertebra to the discredit of these loves;
Never when anxious to land a job having diminished them by
a conniving smile; or when befuddled by drink
Jeered at them through heartache or lazily fondled the fingers
of their alert enemies; declare

That I shall love you always.
No matter what party is in power;
No matter what temporarily expedient combination of allied
interests wins the war;
Shall love you always.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

OBIT: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People who Led Extraordinary Lives by Jim Sheeler

This one was an odd choice for me. The only reason I picked it up was because I was out of town and needed something to read before I could fall asleep. I found this book on the bookshelf in the guestroom and picked it up since it is divided into seven page chapters (perfect for pre-sleep). Sheeler had a good concept, but it was a bit too sentimental for me.

Thanks to Amanda, my future-sister-in-law, for the loan.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States, 1944-1954 by Piero Gleijeses

I find it incredibly depressing to read about the CIA's involvement in Guatemala. Talk about disheartening. It is like watching a bad spy movie.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Women and the Nicaraguan Revolution by Tomas Borge

Borge's speech explains the Sandanista's views about women in Marxist terms. This slim volume was published in the United States in 1982.

A History of the Cuban Revolution by Aviva Chomsky

I was majorly impressed with this book. Chomsky manages to accomplish a truly remarkable feat, a balanced historical account of the Cuban Revolution through 2010. She explains events from the U.S.-centric view that I am familiar with and then addressed how Cuban historians present the subject. The historiography is vastly different depending on which country's historians you are reading. I thoroughly enjoyed it; I hope the other books that come out of this publisher's Viewpoints series are equally well done.

Key West...90 miles from Cuba. To put that in perspective, Cuba is closer to the United States than Memphis is to Nashville.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I am getting very far behind on this project that is meant to be my stress reliever. Somewhere in between the reading, writing, and wedding planning, taking photographs has slipped away. My list of books that I have read that are awaiting pictures is getting incredibly long; hopefully, I will be able to take a breather over spring break and catch up.

Also, I have read three books about women in the Civil War--anybody got any brilliant photo ideas?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Museums and Community: Ideas, Issues and Challenges by Elizabeth Crooke

I read this book for my class which is also titled Museums and Communities. Not terribly exciting actually.

From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods by Martha Howell & Walter Prevenier

I think the title tells you all you need to know; it's an introduction to historical methods. Basically, the authors talk about all the pieces needed for a historical work to be a valuable and reliable addition to the literature.

I guess this is as good of a time as any to say that I will not be posting nearly as frequently for the next couple of months. Instead of reading as much history this semester, I will be writing history. Frankly, the thought of doing this research seminar fills me with a throbbing sense of anxiety, but at least I anticipate that I will learn a heck of a lot. It's a trade off really.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History by Michel Rolph-Trouillot

Rolph-Trouillot writes about the ways in which power is asserted to silence parts of history. Sometimes the process is intentional, but oftentimes it is not. Which version of a story gets told? What is ignored? What might be lost forever because the sources were not deemed important enough to save?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Suspect Relations: Sex, Race, and Resistance in Colonial North Carolina by Kirsten Fischer

Fischer writes about the ways in which sexual activity shaped the boundaries of race in the 18th century. She discusses white, Native American, servant, and slave women and the sexual realities they faced. These sexual relationships were imbued with double standards, and were important in determining acceptable racial behavior as well. It was well written, easy to read, and had some very blunt examples. It is also the last history book I am reading this semester.

I read this book back in December and just realized that I never posted it. The smiley face, which appeared in a salad bowl after all the greens were gone, is because I was happy that I was going to get to spend the next month reading some fiction.

The Story of Enschede and Memphis by William R. Herstein

While looking for a different book in the museum library this morning, I spotted this small text. I love Memphis history, especially the history that has not been widely written and debated (I'm talking about you, Civil War and Yellow Fever epidemic). Evidently, after World War II Memphis "adopted" the city of Enschede, Netherlands, because of the cotton trading connection between the cities. Students made cigar boxes full of school supplies and citizens donated clothing and money and shipped them to Enschede via New York. When a new hotel was opened in Enschede in 1950, it was named Memphis-hotel and originally flew the flags of the Kingdom of Holland, the United States, and the City of Memphis. Who knew?

For some more stories about Memphis' colorful past, check out the Memphis Moments that were writen by staff members at the Pink Palace.

Big Blonde and Other Stories by Dorothy Parker

From July through December, this little text was my "waiting" book. Several years ago, Penguin released classics in small, incredible portable books and called them Penguin 60s in honor of their 60th anniversary. This book resided in my purse and was only read when the line at the bank was moving slowly or I was waiting for someone to arrive while at a restaurant. I have only ever found a couple of these books in used book stores, but I always keep an eye out for them. If you spot any, please let me know. Or even better, buy it, and I will pay you back the 25-50 cents it cost you.

See how small and convenient this book is? It hardly took up any prime purse real estate.

Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School by Adam Ruben (PhD!)

A-freaking-MAZING. This book made me laugh out loud with its clever diagrams and painfully true assessments of life as a grad student. After a semester of grad school, things are starting to feel less overwhelming, but there are some aspects of it that I do not think I will ever consider pleasant. I am glad that I have the opportunity to do what I am doing; I am also glad that I am learning to laugh about it (when I don't feel like throwing a book out a window or yelling at undergrads whom fail to grasp the finer points of plagiarism). This picture is of the GA office in which I spend many hours a week.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert

I got several odd looks from family members while reading this book. I think it was the spontaneous bouts of laughter.

How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard

I will be honest; this book confused me. Bayard did encourage me to think about reading in a new way by suggesting that the act of reading is not a seamless process, but rather one that contains contradictions and gradations. He also notes that books are not binary and do not exist for individuals as either read or unread (sounding like Derrida to anyone else?). The idea that not you should not read books but should instead talk about books that you have not read in order to be able to be creative and tell your own story is an interesting concept, but I am not sure that I agree. Basically, I am puzzled at what I should take away from this book or if I should have read it at all given that I contradicted the title.

And no, I have not read any of the books in the picture. To take a suggestion from Bayard, I am not ashamed to admit it.

Side note: I get a kick out of checking the back cover of books to see their classification. Incidentally, this book is classified as Popular Culture/Literary Studies (although I am redesignating it philosophy). For some reason, I find the fact that someone sits down and gives books identifying labels fascinating. I am adding that to my mental list of job possibilities: book classifier. So in that spirit of classification and tidy categories, I have tagged all of my previous entries. Looks like fiction was last year's winner followed closely by history (shocker).