Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Public Library

The Public Library

Adult Photojournalism
"The very existence of libraries offers the best evidence that
we may yet have hope for the future of Mankind."
One of the very things I am sure that unite all my readers is
that you will heartily agree with T. S. Eliot (above). Betcha we're
all big fans of public libraries. Some of us have fond memories of
those precious places where our abilities and imaginations were
nurtured. Many of us proudly and appreciatively initiated our own
children into this no-passport-needed world. I'd be lost without
library access. I imagine many of you would be also.
Robert Dawson's The Public Library (in which I discovered the
above quote) is the beautiful result of an 18 year labor of love.
Dawson, who grew up during the Vietnam War, a time when our nation was
deeply divided, developed a keen interest in the elements that help
unite our nation. One of his inspirations was a book, Court House,
that the civic importance of county courthouses.
Dawson photographed hundreds of libraries in forty-seven
states. They range from amazing examples of art and architecture to
humbler one room collections and the buses that bring reading
materials to isolated communities. There is even the dollhouse sized
first Little Free Library with its honor system instructions to "Take
a book. Return a book." In the pages of his book you'll see:
*the first tax supported public library in Peterborough, New Hampshire
(to which I, myself, have made a pilgrimage);
*a futuristic Texas library located in "the most violent zone in the
world outside of declared war zones;"
*the castle like first Carnagie library, located in a Pennsylvania
steel town that once, in addition to books, included a gym, a theater,
and a swimming pool;
*the grand, mythology inspired entrance to Brooklyn's Central Library;
*and so many other amazing buildings.
The libraries and information about them would be treasure
enough. But, like patches in a crazy quilt, they are sewn together by
essays about the necessity, worth, and (sadly) endangerment of our
public library system. Libraries do so much for so many people.
Beyond the lending of books, periodicals, and audiovisual materials,
they provide services like community meeting spaces, literacy,
tutoring, and computer instruction. For many people they are the only
access to the Internet. For homeless people they provide daytime
shelter from the elements (as in the current winter weather) and from
those who would mug them for their meager belongings.
One of the essays asks us to imagine a country without
libraries. I'm sure it's one we wouldn't want to dwell in. Well even
as more and more people need a wider range of services, library
funding is being cut, often drastically. There are moves to privatize
and charge, which would put them out of the reach of people who need
them the most. Today all who love our libraries must FIGHT to
maintain and expand what is maybe the only remaining institution
(public schools being funded by property taxes) that is a beacon of
hope for equality in access to knowledge.
On a personal note, I'm enjoying the continuing snow and my son's
February vacation. I have a part in Orono Community Theater's
production of Jungle Book and look forward to rehearsals.
A great big shout out to all professionals and fellow volunteers who
keep these beacons of hope we call public libraries alive.
Julia Emily Hathaway



Sent from my iPod

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Vanishing Acts

Vanishing Acts

Adult mystery
In my hierarchy of reading matter, most adult mysteries don't
fare much better than the bodice rippers I hate, abhor, loathe,
detest... Notable exceptions are the legal based works of Jodi
Picoult. Katie and I are big time fans of hers. So when I wanted a
fun book to curl up with I borrowed Katie's copy of Vanishing Acts.
Delia, a search and rescue professional who works with her
trained bloodhound to locate missing people, is about to marry the
high school boyfriend who is the father of her young daughter. Other
than a few confusing fragments of memories, her life seems right on
track. That is until police officers arrive to arrest her beloved
father, Andrew, as a fugitive of justice in connection with a decades
old kidnapping. Sure that he's innocent, Delia is shocked when he
won't deny the charge, even more shocked to learn that she was the
kidnapped child.
Eric, Delia's fiancée, becomes Andrew's lawyer. Unable to prove
that Andrew did not commit the crime, he must establish that his
client sensed his child to be in so much danger from her mother that
he had no recourse other than to flee with her. It turns out that
Andrew's still alive ex wife, Elise, had a big time problem with the
bottle. This hits pretty close to home for Eric, a recovering
alcoholic.
The intricate story is told in turn by the various adult main
characters. You alternately see the perspectives of Delia, Andrew,
Eric, Fitz, a journalist friend of Delia and Eric who wishes he was
the one marrying Delia, and Elise who has the bittersweet experience
of being reunited with the adult daughter she last saw as a blankie
toting preschooler. Even as you become familiar with the complexities
of their lives, Andrew's trial looms larger. You know at the end of
the book the verdict will be delivered.
What I like best about Vanishing Acts is that quality that, in
my opinion, lifts all Picoult's books above the run of the mill adult
mystery. Her characters are not good or bad guys. Andrew kidnaps his
child to rescue her. Elise is both victim and dangerously negligent
parent. Concise, a drug dealer Andrew meets in prison, is conducting
illegal activities to set money aside so his very young son will grow
up with an option other than being jumped into a gang.
Delia, whose beloved daughter, Sophie is close to her age when
she ceased being Bethany and was taken thousands of miles from home,
embodies conflicting perspectives. She knows she would flee with
Sophie to protect her from danger. She also knows that if Sophie was
taken from her she would go to the ends of the earth to get her back.
So here's the bottom line. If you want a complex read with a
gripping plot and believable characters and none of the gratuitous sex
and violence that mar so much of adult literature, check out Vanishing
Acts or any of Jodi Pucoult's fine novels. They're sort of like Lay's
potato chips. You won't be able to read just one.
On a personal note, I hope my readers had a great Valentine's Day. I
surely did. Eugene gave me a beautiful bouquet of flowers two days
early. Then on Valentine's Day, returning from an overnight snow
plowing shift,
he surprised me with a box of chocolates and a really cute card. My
son was to home. Amber and Brian paid a surprise visit. And Joey cat
was the epitome of feline affection.
A great big shout out goes out to all our blizzard battlers who clear
our streets and other public spaces and then have to find somewhere to
put all that snow.
Julia Emily Hathaway


Sent from my iPod

My Near Death Adventures

My Near Death Adventures

Juvenile fiction
On Monday mornings the Bangor Daily News carries a really
interesting and lively column by Wayne E. Reilly concerning items of
newspaper coverage a century ago. I was delighted to see that this
Monday's column was about the effect of a snow dearth on industries
including lumbering. Talk about serendipity! I'd just finished a
most excellent and amusing juvenile novel set in an over century ago
logging camp: Alison DeCamp's My Near Death Adventures.
In 1895, DeCamp's 11-year-old narrator, Stanley, a young man who
takes everything he hears amusingly litterally, is in for a few
surprises. First there is a mysterious envelope that has his mother
looking quite worried. Then his visiting "evil" grandmother informs
him that the father he has always assumed dead is indeed alive...God
only knows where. Finally one day his grandmother hands him a satchel
and tells him to pack his stuff. His uncle is coming the next morning
to take them to a lumber camp where his mother and grandmother can
cook, money having become quite scarce.
A long sleigh ride later Stanley is in a world unlike one he has
ever seen being greeted by his slightly older, much detested cousin,
Geri. She always gets him in trouble. And she aims on becoming a
doctor even though everyone knows that isn't girls' work.
For some reason Stanley's mother and grandmother are dead set
against him handling the tools of the trade like axes. In fact he has
to help in the kitchen wearing a flowered apron. Then there's the
matter of his mom. Some of the woman-deprived men are trying to court
her including one rumored to be a cold blooded killer. His
grandmother is ecstatic. What better place for Alice to find the good
man she needs? She and Stanley are not on the same page there. He
has hope that the father he has just learned is alive (who has grown
to heroic proportions in his mind) will join them. If this doesn't
happen, though, he, Stanley can grow up fast and take his place. No
other males need apply!
One element that adds to the authenticity and humor of the book
is the plethora of period ads and newspaper clippings scattered
through the pages. DeCamp's great grandmother Cora kept the scrapbook
of them that inspired her to write the book which is in fact a
dramatization of her family history.
I'm going to agree with Stanley. There is a picture of Cora, on
whom the grandmother is modeled, at the back. She is one scary lady!
On a personal note, in Penobscot County, Maine we have had anything
but a dearth of snow. Blizzard after blizzard after blizzard have
gifted us with more inches than I am tall. The next round is due
anytime now. YOWZA!
A great big shout out goes out all scrapbook keepers and diarists who
create, often without knowing they are doing so, the primary sources
that will inspire and enhance the work of future writers. I've been
keeping journals since 1979. My latest one has newspaper coverage of
our very snowy winter glued in with my words. I can see researchers
and writers of the future considering these volumes a real treasure
trove.
Julia Emily Hathaway



Sent from my iPod

Monday, February 9, 2015

Packaging Girlhood

Packaging Girlhood

Back when it first came out I read Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel
Brown's Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers'
Schemes. My daughters were sixteen and thirteen. A family friend who
spent lots of time with us was eleven. Although I did not review it
because I was in between freelancing for a newspaper and writing my
own blog I wrote my reaction on the inside cover. I felt relieved and
vindicated. I'd come up with many of the ideas the authors discuss
and locked horns with other parents who saw no harm in the way
products are marketed to girls or felt like there's nothing we can do
to change things. I ended this piece with, "I've always been far more
than a girly girl. I want my daughters to know they are too."
The very same year my older daughter saw the book and asked me
read it to her. She is a very bright, perceptive young woman who was
able to relate to the book from the marketed to perspective. She told
me a lot I would never have figured out on my own. I don't think
either of us could see shopping the same way after that experience.
With my daughters grown and no grandbabies in sight I picked the
book up for a third read, hoping society would be changing in the way
of it becoming obsolete. No such luck. It's sadly just as relevant
as it was hot off the press. It is still a must read for parents,
teachers, and all who care about liberating our unique and complex
girls from the one dimensional stereotypes our capitalist/consumer
society seduces them to conform to.
The authors wrote Packaging Girlhood not as college professors
(their day jobs), but as mothers and women. Society was telling them
that we live in an age of girl power where our daughters are
encouraged to be their true selves and discover their talents. When
they tested this premise, however, combining observations with surveys
and background research, they found it to be far from true. From pre
school to high school girls are offered a very limited range of
"choices" (focussed around consumerism and sexuality) and the illusion
that they are actively choosing.
In chapters focussing on what girls wear, what they watch, what
they listen to, what they read, and what they do for fun Lamb and
Brown depict an eerily hollow set of images. Our littlest, clad in
pink, are little angels and cuties being taught the roles of princess
(rescued by someone else), shopper/consumer, and homemaker/
caretaker. Very early on, though, edginess in the form of precocious
sexuality begins to slip in (think Toddlers In Tiaras). By the time
our daughters hit middle school they are unabashedly being exploited
as hotties, taught to think of sexuality as a way of luring the all
important male gaze rather than an authentic source of pleasure,
confidence, and identity. Only if they go "too far" they become the
"skanks" and "sluts" against whom the "good girls" are juxtaposed. In
this whole tangled mess one strand is amazingly consistent: whichever
identity they select, girls gotta buy a lot of outfits, accessories,
and other accoutrements to pull it off.
All is not lost, however. As Lamb and Brown remind us, we have
very special and crucial roles in our daughters lives. If we explore
together with them, ask the right questions, and really listen we can
help them grow up with much healthier identities and attitudes than
those pimped by Madison Avenue. Throughout the book and especially in
the last chapter are helpful suggestions for starting these all
important conversations.
Quite fortuitously, while I was reading the book a Valentines
Day catelog from a jewelery firm arrived in the mail. The only
difference seems to be that where girls are supposed to nag moms into
buying pretty things women are supposed to seduce men into doing so.
All the pictures show a every-hair-in-place she looking adoringly at
the allowed to be rumpled he gazing back at her, thinking, tonight's
the night. Don't women buy anything for men? In a perfect parallel
the charms through which adult women are supposed to express ourselves
are as relentlessly limited as those for girls described in the book.
We're crazy about bling and hearts, especially if diamonds are somehow
involved. We adore cute baby animals. Some of us want to be moms.
On a personal note, I auditioned for the Jungle Book which will be put
on this spring by Orono Community Theater. The very ungirly girl role
I really want is Kaa the snake.
A great big shout out goes out to all moms, teachers, and other
mentors working to give girls a much more authentic version of
girlhood and to everyone who will celebrate Valentines Day in
inclusive, non commercial, and creative ways--especially those who
remember that treating those around you with kindness and dignity all
year around is much more important than whipping the old credit card
out once a year.
Julia Emily Hathaway



Sent from my iPod

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Skink No Surrender

Skink No Surrender

YA fiction
Carl Hiaasen has written for adults and children. When I saw
that his first YA novel was in print my curiosity was more than
piqued. Skink No Surrender is quite the wild ride, a story that
should please adventure loving youngsters between the worlds of
chapter book and adult wing.
It's not like Richard's cousin, Malley, hasn't run away before.
She's taken off to protest being punished or just out of boredom. But
Richard feels that things are dangerously different this time. Malley
has gone off with someone she met over the Internet, someone who has
stolen the identity of a dead soldier. Richard is frantically trying
to tract her down, accompanied by Skink, a one eyed former governor he
just met, an eccentric man who meets out justice in a very unique when
he sees someone littering or stealing turtle eggs.
Richard's mom is not crazy about this arrangement. If her son
has not returned safely in 72 hours she's going to pull an Amber alert
on him. But Richard is more concerned that time is running out in a
far more serious way. What if he and Skink get there too late and
Malley is badly injured or worse?
On a personal note, this part of Maine is engulfed in yet another
storm. Library will be closed tomorrow. My husband is working crazy
hours. Joey cat continues to recover. I got out long enough to go to
a fine lunch pizza party.
My wonderful son Adam turned 18 Thursday.
A great big shout goes out to my husband and all the others who
grapple with the storm to make life safer for the rest of us. And a
humungous shout out to my Adam of whom I could not be more proud.
Julia Emily Hathaway


Sent from my iPod

Monday, February 2, 2015

American Pictures

American Pictures

Photojournalism
I have a slightly battered autographed copy of Jacob Holdt's
American Pictures. In the eighties, during my first (failed) attempt
to get a PhD, the author presented a show of the pictures the book was
based on at UMaine. Quite impressed, I talked to him and bought the
book. It was fairly soon after it was published.
It's three decades later. Another in a series of blizzards hit
Penobscot County. I wanted to do something special on the snow day.
I decided to reread this book and see how much had changed for better
or worse. Joey cat was only too happy to cuddle on my lap as I read
and contemplated.
Holdt arrived in America a century after another Denmark born
consciousness raising photographer, Jacob Riis. He spent six years
hitchhiking around the United States, staying with the rich and the
poor, collecting their stories, and taking pictures. He returned to
Denmark with 15,000. In those days before digital cameras people had
to pay for film, flash, and developing. This was quite an investment,
especially for someone with no steady source of income. A slide show
he created with the pictures and showed first at his father's church
became very much in demand. A publisher asked Holdt to turn it into a
book.
The pictures are the core of the book. They cover the full
gamut of human experience and are not for the faint of heart. (Some
might be put off by scenes involving nudity, intimacy, and drug
shooting. I was deeply troubled by pictures like the ones showing
children with rat bites and a mother gazing into the coffin of her
four-year-old.). The man doesn't pull any punches. Alongside the
grimness, though, there are photos of great tenderness and beauty like
one in which a grandmother hugs her grandbaby.
Reading the narrative is sort of like gold mining. There are a
number of times it gets rambling and hard to follow. And some folks
might find Holdt's lifestyle during the six years offputting. But
gems of real insight bordering on precognition keep popping up. His
big observations are spot on...
...sadly even today. Here are just a few things that are as
true, if not more so:
He talked at great length about the gap between the rich and the
poor. These days it's even wider with much of the middle class
slipping into the precariousness of the very poor.
You know the welfare cheating Governor LePage is so obsessed
with eliminating? He had something to say about that. "Cruelty to
those stigmatized mothers originates in politicians' hysterical
speeches about 'welfare loafers,' speeches designed to distract
attention from the way these same politicians hand out billions in
welfare to billionaires for oil depletion, agribusiness subsidies
etc. They create a climate in which the poor have to run the gauntlet
of elaborate, lengthy investigation and follow-up harassment to get
their few crumbs."
When Holdt was taking the pictures desegregation laws were being
enforced with some segments of the white population resisting quite
vehemently and, in some cases, violently. These days separate but
unequal is enforced by economics rather than brute force. White
flight leaves inner cities quite impoverished. In Maine schools are
funded primarily by property tax. No wonder the biggest predictor of
a school's standardized testing is the income level of the parents..
In this review I am not challenging you to read one particular
book. I would like you to take the challenge I gave myself. Read a
book of social analysis written a few decades ago and ask what has
stayed the same and what has changed for better or worse. I think it
will be an eye opening experience for you as it was for me.
On a personal note, Sunday in church I learned of the unexpected death
of my good friend Andy Frace. He was being treated for cancer, but
people thought he was getting better. He was a gifted educator who
ran the RSU 26 alternate high school. He got to know his students at
a very deep level and could not rest if any of them had difficulties
he didn't have the solution to. He was also a charasmatic person with
a dry sense of humor who drew people to him. He will be very much
missed.
My heart goes out to Andy's beloved wife, Pam, his other family
members, and his friends, colleagues, and students.
Julia Emily Hathaway



Sent from my iPod

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Harvest For Hope

Harvest For Hope

Sunday right before adult Sunday school my chum Kathy gave me a
book: Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating by Jane Goodall
which she had received from her daughter. It was perfect timing. The
weekend edition of the Bangor Daily News was informing Penobscot
County residents that a history making blizzard was on the way, due to
arrive Tuesday. My husband had me call for a heating oil delivery
Monday. I was ready. A warm home, food, a contented lap cat, an
informative and inspiring book to focus on. Mother Nature could bring
it. I was so ready.
When I woke up this morning my husband was out plowing. He
called on the phone to say that our son and I would have to shovel the
porch every hour if we didn't want the volume of snow to pin the door
shut, cutting off access to the outside. The snow on the ground was
up to my knees. No end in sight. I was only too happy to settle into
my favorite reading chair with coffee and the book. Joey cat was only
to convert me into his mattress.
Harvest for Hope was published in 2005. Sadly the message it
conveys is exponentially more urgent a decade later. To a large
extent, right sized farming has given way to big ag with a focus on
short term profits over enivonmental and human health and
sustainability. We, the other species we share the Earth with, and
our planet itself are in dire danger...
...unless we rise up to change things.
Harvest of hope is a wonderful combination of professional
expertise and personal passion. Goodall has researched for decades.
She knows what she's talking about. But she hasn't forgotten how to
relate to people who don't have the benefit of her background. In the
first chapters of the book she looks at how our current methods of
procuring and consuming food have evolved. In the following ones with
pretty scary titles like Animal Factories: Farms of Misery and
Ravaging the Oceans and Seas she shows what we're up against. Big Ag
is pretty formidable, particularly when they have government on a
leash. "All this and more makes grim reading, and while I was working
on this book I had nightmares as I learned more and more about the
unethical conduct of some of the largest multinational corporations."
Fortunately Goodall doesn't think we've gone too far. Yet. In
chapters like Taking Back Our Food she spells out many steps we can
take to fight the monied forces against us. As a school committee
vice chair I found At Home and At School: Feeding Our Children truly
inspirational. The last sentences constitute a clarion call to
action. "...So let us join hands. Let us speak out for the voiceless
and the poor. Let us assert our rights, as citizens of free
democracies, to take back into our hands the production of our food.
Let us, together, sow seeds for a better harvest--a harvest for hope."
We owe ourselves, our children, our fellow sentient beings, and
the fragile, precious planet we dwell on nothing less.
Harvest for Hope is an excellent book club selection as my book
club will learn in September. I plan to host at Orono Community
Garden and feature organic veggies for snacks for what should be a
memorable evening.
On a personal note, I have awhile to go before I learn about grad
school. Joey cat had to have surgery last week but he is mending
beautifully and seems to be feeling so much better. I think he is
really enjoying this day of companionship. The history making storm
is definitely living up (or is it down) to its potential.
Great big shouts go out to Joey's vet, Dr. Julie Keene, whom I
privately call the cat whisperer; my Methodist angels--Kathy, Janet,
Alma, and Charlene--who never fail to encourage and inspire me; and
the gazillions of people experiencing the blizzard with me.
Julia Emily Hathaway


Sent from my iPod