Thursday, November 21, 2019

Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder - by John Waters

John Waters was the keynote speaker at the Association of College and Research Libraries Conference at the Baltimore Convention Center in 2007. And I was there. As a dyed-in-the-wool Baltimoreon I was happy to visit my hometown and hear this native son giving us exceptional advice  on how to get more people to visit the library ("be nude").

In this collection of essays he reflects on his work over the last 50 years, and looks at his life today. I was glad to find five places where libraries were mentioned, although all were a bit unusual.

In "Bye, Bye Underground" in which he describes his "odorama" gimmick in the film Polyester using scratch and sniff cards he tells of 3M's inspriational "library of smells".

He recounts many of the strange things people have asked him to autograph, including a freshly used tampon, in "Overexposed". It is of course not unusual to ask an author to sign a book and he relates the story of a girl he scolded for "bending the paperback cover back far enough to break the spine when she asked for autograph on the title page". The fan snapped back at him "I bought the book, so I can do anything I want with it." Waters accepts this and paraphrases the young woman: "In other words, take your library-science bullshit and shove it, Mr. Know-It-All."

Few people would suggest that their ideal home would be in the Brutalist architecture style, but Waters' describes a house of horrors to rival the Addams Family's in "My Brutalist Dream House". The house does have a library, though which one would be able to enter a panic room
by pulling a faux spine of a book you grab like a handle and the whole shelf spins around. Once you saw the horrifying selection of fascist books displayed here in my satellite reading room, you'd feel anything but safe. Hitler at Home, Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler's Germany, Magda Goebbles: First Lady of the Third Reich, and Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families. We've got all the other monsters, too: Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Ronald Reagan, even On Democracy by Saddam Hussein.  
As this essay wraps up Waters fetishizes Brutalism as he fantasizes about his favorite coffee-table book This Brutal World by Peter Chadwick. "Damn" he says "that giant concrete mushroom sprouting rigidly from the top of the Geisel Library in San Diego (architect: William Pereira) is hot!"

I'd never heard about Betsy the finger-painting chimpanzee before reading "Betsy". This monkey artist, like Waters and me, hailed from Baltimore. Betsy had some fame in the 1950s, but it was short-lived. Likewise her boyfriend Dr. Thom (a relationship created by her managers) was unable to find success playing piano.
Dr. Watson tried to make him a star in his own right, buying him a piano and hoping to donate some of the recordings of his banging on the keys to the public library to be cataloged and placed alongside the the composers Beethoven, Bartók, and Brahms. The library politely declined. 
I do wonder which library was contacted. Enoch Pratt? Baltimore County Public?

Fans of Waters won't be surprised by his raunchy brand of humor. Those who don't like him, still won't like him, and those who don't know him will likely find out more than they bargained for.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Enough Said - the movie

Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) meets Marianne (Catherine Keener) and Albert (James Gandolfini) at a party. She becomes friends with Marianne, and begins dating Albert unaware that he is Marianne's ex-husband. Eva has heard Marianne bad-mouthing her ex on any number of occasions, and when she discovers that Marianne's ex is her new boyfriend, what she once found endearing about him, suddenly becomes annoying.

Albert works at a television and movie archive and has an uncanny ability to provide historic television lineup information for any day of the week.

Daughter of Fortune - by Isabel Allende

My summer vacation was spent in Chile and Argentina this year. I watched a total eclipse of the sun in the Elqui Valley of Chile, and visited a number of wineries in both countries. Valpariso was not far from where we stayed in Chile, and is the location of much of the action in Allende's book. The story centers on Eliza Sommers, ward of siblings Jeremy and Rose Sommers. Eliza is an adventurer and thus the novel takes the reader not only to nineteenth century Chile, but also to China, and to California during the gold rush.

Libraries play a role in several character's lives. Jacob Todd "a charismatic redhead with the most beautiful preacher's voice" who traveled to Chile from England on a bet uses the archives of the British Museum to research the the land, and discovers that
in 1810 Chile opened its doors to immigrants, who had come by the hundreds...The English quickly made fortunes as merchants and ships' outfitters... 
Todd also spent some time in the Sommers' private library trying to find out more about the Patagonia Indians, but gave up after making a "a few half-hearted sweeps through some heavy tomes" when he discovered that "it made little matter what he knew or didn't know since ignorance of the subject was universal".

The library is also a place of sanctuary at different times for Eliza and Jeremy. It also served as a place for Eliza to meet her clandestine lover.

Tao Chi'en, a Chinese doctor made use of the library of his mentor to learn the "two hundred twenty-two love positions" as well as the "countless ways of pleasing a woman". Additionally, he learned the necessary medical knowledge to make herbal medicines, and perform surgery.

This is a wonderful novel with just a touch of Allende's signature Magic Realism.