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Ear hats! #shaddow #artsy #fall #hatweather #mamamadeit #preschoolers #sahm

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I’ll Drink to That

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Betty Halbreich is a (the?) personal shopper at a major downtown New York City department store. She has helped countless people, mostly (all?) wealthy, some famous, choose clothes. But she doesn’t just pick out clothes to drape over bodies, she gets to know the client so she can help finish or create the person. She knows that clothes, especially beautiful clothes, aren’t just for decoration, they’re for helping complete the picture. They help put on the outside what is on the inside. She helps the person help the clothes bring the beauty out.

It’s fairly easy to tell from the book and other reviews/blurbs/marketing materials that the publisher tried to sell this book as a name-dropper. Who has Betty worked with? What were they like? GOSSIP! The marketing makes it okay not to care about the author of the book, but to use her instead as a vehicle for voyeurism. But that not only misses the point, it didn’t work. Betty is a fascinating woman. She grew up wealthy in Chicago in the early twentieth century, then married money that made her family’s money look small. She tells of her privileged childhood, her early marriage, its collapse, motherhood, her later years, and draws a roadmap of her career. It’s autobiography and it’s a great read.

But more than that, Betty’s autobiography is about the clothes. The book reminds me a lot of Eric Clapton’s autobiography, which I read several years ago. In reading Clapton’s book it was easy to tell that his editors wanted him to give the reader the juicy, personal bits of his life. They knew there were a lot of readers who wanted to hear about the social and personal aspects of his sometimes tawdry past: the women, drugs, crimes, and other things. It’s clear that Clapton knew these were important and wanted to include them, but as little as possible, and only where they explained or supported the story he really wanted to tell: The music.

He wrote about the women where they inspired, improved, or disrupted the music. The same was true of the drugs. These may be the things of fascinating checkout-line gossip magazines, but they were not the highlights of his story as he saw it. In reading the book, it seems throughout as though the first draft contained only brief mentions of the stuff of tabloids while being ninety-eight percent music. The editors came in and made him put those details in for their own sake and not just as supporting details to the bigger story of music.

That’s the first thing I thought when I read “I’ll Drink to That.” She mentions frequently the impressive social circles she ran in, the men she dated, the things she did, and other relevant details that make her ever more fascinating, but it always, always comes back to the clothes. The dresses, shoes, blouses, purses, and hats are her music. They are the thread that ties together this whole narrative, what it’s obviously really all about. Every man and event is told as part of her sartorial story: What she wore when she went where, with whom, and when.

Betty makes it clear throughout that clothes are not frivolous or mere vanity (though they can be), but are so much more. This could be seen as an attempt to validate her own career, to suggest that because clothes are not shallow, neither must she be, but that’s not how it works out. She recognizes the significance of the clothes first, and acknowledges her role in helping them work for her customers next.  The clothes are first; she’s fortunate to get to play a role in their function. She’s not just a saleswoman, she’s very skilled middleman between the wardrobe and the woman, and she appreciates that.  Her passion for her work, both for the clothes and the clients, make her a someone whose story I want to keep reading.

I loved the book and hope to read some of her other writing soon.

American Savage

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Dan Savage published “American Savage” in 2013, so a great deal has already been written about it. While I’d like to think I have something unique or valuable to add to the conversation about the book and the topics Savage digs into, I’m not sure enough that I do. So, I’ve chosen instead to find a few other reviewers who have something worthwhile to say, say it better than me, beat me to the punch, or some combination of the above.

“American Savage: On Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics” by Dan Savage. Chandler Burr at the Washington Post  “Beneath its often caustic wit, “American Savage” is on a healing mission. It’s about unification.”

A brief review by Adam Carlson at Entertainment Weekly.  “Chapters on gun control, health care, and sex education are over-stuffed with old facts and understuffed with new ideas; they illustrate hypocrisy without examining it. But Savage’s essays on fatherhood, cheating, and the subset of Americans, in American Savage, who still think sexuality is a choice are powerful messages for both the head and the heart”

“The Waning Power of Dan Savage” by Daniel D’Addario. While still generally positive, this review is much more critical than the other two listed here: “The book’s most explicitly political writing is its weakest. While Savage has a gift for marshalling facts and trends in service of an argument about human sexuality, he seems at sea writing about electoral politics, like a pundit whose decibel level stands in for finesse. “

Worth Reading or Visiting

“Literacy Privilege: How I learned to check mine instead of making fun of people’s grammar on the Internet” by Painting the Grey Area. This is definitely worth a read. The writer speaks very clearly about the need to stop policing others’ grammar on the internet, pointing to issues of privilege and ignorant assumptions. Her points are all valid and worthwhile and I’ve mentioned this post before  in a similar discussion about the merits and pitfalls of grammar use and abuse. Much of the editing/proofreading work I do, however, is academic, and this does require the sort of language that is undeniably of a privileged sort; this is what is suitable for its audience. It’s not fair, and it may be changing, today’s academic writing has to be a more “elite” (if that’s the right word) English.

“The Riddle of Rape-by-Deception and the Myth of Sexual Autonomy” By Jed Rubenfeld, Yale Law Review. Professor Rubenfeld argues that rape-by-deception is inadequate and that sexual autonomy is a myth that should not be used as the foundation for defining rape, then argues that self-possession is a better foundation for legally defining rape while still admitting that this conception also has its limitations. He includes history and background on the concepts behind rape (including “traditional” notions of women’s “purity” and other ideas) to thoroughly explain his ideas.

“Survey Suggests Politicians Overstate Public’s Desire for Vocational View of Higher Education” from Inside Higher Ed.  “But an even larger majority – 89 percent — agreed that “college should be where students learn the ability to think critically by studying a rich curriculum that includes history, art and literature, government, economics and philosophy.” And two-thirds supported the idea that colleges should play a significant role in teaching young people to be more socially concerned and responsible.”

Worth Reading or Visiting

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Barack Obama delivered this year’s State of the Union address this week

Lynn Sillipigni Connaway, Timothy J. Dickey, Marie L. Radford. “If it is too inconvenient I’m not going after it:” Convenience as a critical factor in information-seeking behaviors. Library & Information Science Research, Volume 33, Issue 3, July 2011, Pages 179–190 It’s what I think most teachers and librarians suspect: If information is not convenient to access and consume, it is ignored. From the abstract: “…convenience is a factor for making choices in a variety of situations, including both academic information seeking and everyday-life information seeking, although it plays different roles in different situations… This holds true across all demographic categories,” not just students and “millenials.” [paywall]

“What Drives Success?” Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, from New York Times. In the same way that her publisher generated publicity for her most successful book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy and her husband have published an essay that illustrates the basic points of their upcoming and predictably controversial new book.  “It turns out that for all their diversity, the strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success. The first is a superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite — insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.” I’m excited to read this book, despite the fact that this essay and much of Battle Hymn read as lectures by a woman desperate for approval and validation and who knows she’s right and can’t stand that others don’t understand her.

“Confessions of a Tiger Couple” from the New York Times. Jennifer Szalai spent a few days with Chua and Rubenfeld and wrote a brief article about their dynamic as a couple. The article restates some of their past as it was explained in “Battle Hymn” but is an interesting read. ““The Triple Package” conveys a message familiar from self-help books: Adopt these values and you too can take control of your life. But you have only to step outside of Yale’s campus to see that the world doesn’t operate according to the same principles of effort and reward. For most Americans, especially now, striving and insecurity are likely to be rewarded with more striving and insecurity; you can do everything right and still have little to show for it. Kicking away that ladder will sound like a fantasy when you’re clinging to it for dear life.”

{DISCUSS: I’m interested to hear some feedback and analysis of the first two combined: People are more likely to abandon information searches if the search gets difficult, and Chua two most recent books argue that this would be a lack of discipline and follow-through that is contributing to the downfall of individuals, cultural groups, and countries. What’s the more complex or useful and productive analysis of this?}

“2014 State of the Union Address” by Barack Obama, posted from  “Here are the results of your efforts:  The lowest unemployment rate in over five years.  A rebounding housing market.  A manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s.  More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world – the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years.  Our deficits – cut by more than half.  And for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is.”

Worth Reading or Visiting

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US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts

US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts

“So You Want to Be a Judge” from MN Bench & Bar. Written by a judge, this begins with a list of the great things you can do on the bench, but, in keeping with the caution the article opens with, goes on to articulate some of the reasons not to be a judge. “The image most have of a judge is overwhelmingly positive: stately, respected, wise, thoughtful, and powerful. To be sure, there are many reasons why you should at least consider becoming a judge—but there are also considerations that may give you pause.”

“Hand Quilting for Beginners” by QuiltCrafts (YouTube video). This is a good introduction to quilting by hand. Decent videography and clear instructions plus a few repetitions of the process with clear narrative make this a good tutorial. The first seven minutes or so go over basic quilting techniques and show off (encourage the viewer to buy) some quilting products, such as an automatic needle threader and a lightweight lamp that hangs from the quilter’s neck like hideous but practical jewelry.

“MyColortopia” by Glidden Paint. This site lets you upload pictures of a room you want to paint and try out colors in the space.  It generally works well, but it’s frustrating that you’re only allowed to try five colors at a time or have to start over. It takes a little while to figure out, but is worth the effort. Users can also upload “inspiration” pictures and the site finds the colors in the picture that match their paint selection. This could be a good resources for the public library reference librarian with a patron looking for home decorating information.

“Why Personalized Internet Ads are Kind of Creepy” by Tania Lombrozo from NPR. “The data-mining tools that glean our interests and choose our ads don’t fit into the complex flow of information we’ve spent our lives charting and mastering. We don’t have a map that tells us how a particular bit of information made it from Point A to Point B, nor the social context that gives us insight into why.” Source amnesia (not remembering where we got our information from) is nothing new, but it’s what makes personalized ads so creepy.

“Why Bother Knitting a Scarf?” from Treehugger. Katherine Martinko explains some of the reasons she picked up knitting after a yearlong hiatus, including an interest in the “slow clothes” movement, independence, pride in the product, supporting local business, and other things. This could be interesting reading for a library (such as the one where I did my practicum) that offers knitting classes for the community. Why bother with knitting or the class? Here are some good reasons!

Worth Reading or Visiting

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Sherlock Holmes Statue

Who Owns Sherlock Holmes?

“How the Humanities Compute in the Classroom” from The Chronicle of Higher Education. A few schools are creating “digital humanities” programs that bring together computer skills such as programming, database creation and management, and new and emerging technologies with traditional studies of the classics. This is an opportunity I wish I’d had. Short list of resources for teaching digital humanities follows the article.

“Quantifying the Continued Relevance of America’s Public Libraries” from Library Journal. A Pew Research Center study asked a very small sampling of Americans about how much they and their communities use and value their public libraries. The response was overwhelming: A great deal, on both counts. The author of this article says that this information needs to get into the hands and minds of policy and budget makers. He’s right. My only qualm with this article is that the Pew survey only asked 6,224 people, which doesn’t seem like nearly enough.

“Who Owns Sherlock Holmes?” from The Economist. A federal judge issued a ruling earlier this week reinforcing that Sherlock Holmes … remains part of the public domain.” All but ten of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories were published before 1923, and all but those ten are in public domain. The remaining ten remain the property of the Doyle estate and those wishing to use those stories must pay the estate. Economist article gives a good summary of the facts of the case and current and past/relevant copyright issues.

“What Happens to all the Salt We Dump on the Roads?” from Smithsonian Magazine. I grew up in northern Iowa, went to grad school near Cleveland, and live in the Twin Cities (Minnesota), and every year our roads are salted more than an order of McDonald’s fries, so I’ve wondered about this for a long time. Consequences can include saltiness of drinking water (though because it takes so much, this is quite rare), decreased water flow, desert conditions in runoff areas, and increased roadkill when deer and other animals lick the salt off the sides of the roads.