Tuesday, May 30, 2017

J. Edgar - the movie

I learned from reading The Card Catalog that former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover not only once worked in the Library of Congress, but that he applied what he learned there (from helping to organize the card catalog) in his work at the Bureau. I was even more interested though that he attempted to use his insider knowledge of this Great Library in order to impress at least one woman. In one early scene of the film "Edgar" (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) takes Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) on a date to the Library and demonstrates how speedily he can find a book using the wonderful cataloging system he helped to arrange. While he doesn't manage to win the lady's hand , he does convince her to become his private secretary. Together they created a special system of filing at his Bureau office that kept his private file, well, private. To this day no one knows what was in them. I was intrigued that he used a system originally intended to help people find things in order to create a system that did just the opposite.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Road to Little Dribbling - by Bill Bryson

My husband and I couldn't resist picking up Bill Bryson's latest work after so very much enjoying Notes from a Big Country and A Walk in the Woods. We weren't disappointed as we once again enjoyed some laugh-out-loud reading time together.

Following what he designates as "the Bryson Line" the author transected the United Kingdom from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, stopping at a variety of bergs in between, visiting tourist traps, and little known spots alike, he makes keen observations on the people and places along the way.
The Bryson Line

It is unclear whether or not he visited any libraries on this particular journey, however, he did write about things he had learned in libraries
  • Such as the fact that Dwight D. Eisenhower had a home called Telegraph Cottage on the edge of Wimbledon Common during World War II and
  • How the system of road numbering works in Britain in fact he was "surprised to learn that there is a system to British road numbering...it is not like systems elsewhere."
He also discussed libraries as part of an important part of a community
  • Even if the community never existed. Motopia "was a proposed model community based on the uniquely unexpected idea of banishing cars." Motopia, however, was to include "housing, shopping, offices, libraries, schools, and recreational space" with its inhabitants "getting from place to place on moving sidewalks or in taxi boats along lakes and a small network of canals".
  • He also points out that even when Britain was referred to "the Sick Man of Europe...there were flowerbeds in roundabouts, libraries, and post offices in every village, cottage hospitals in abundance, council housing for all who needed it" and wonders why "the richer Britain gets, the poorer it thinks itself"  
  • He notes that Canford Cliffs, while lacking many of the shops he remembered from his previous visit thirty years prior, still maintained "a lovely little library and a proper village center."
  • In a completely deserved dissing of Birmingham, which had announced "massive spending cuts" that would make two-thirds of city employees "redundant" Bryson points out that this move included halving the staffing levels at the new £189 million central library, as well as cutting its hours by 46%, among so many other things. Bryson' sarcasm about all of this is right on target
All of this is being done to save £338 million over four years. That sounds like an enormous sum, but in fact it is a saving of about £1.40 per week per citizen. I wonder what all those lucky people of Birmingham will do with that extra £1.40 flowing into their pockets every week.
American citizens would do well to pay attention. Tax cuts rarely mean that middle and working class people will benefit.

Bryson also uses libraries as metaphors, or simply uses them to make a point
  • He doesn't like it, for instance, "when a hotel puts some books in a bar and calls it The Library."
  • He remembered "the Natural History Museum as being almost empty of other visitors and very quiet, like a library" although, that aspect had changed for his recent visit. He does point out, however, that the whole country of England is quiet in comparison to the United States "like a big library".
  • He suggests that one way to "receive formal adulation" in the United States is by "paying for a hospital wing or a university library or something along those lines." The other way is to "single-handedly take out a German machine-gun nest while carrying a wounded buddy on your back at a place called Porkchop Hill or Cemetery Ridge..."  
This is an entertaining book, and would be a good choice for a vacation read.