Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Secretary of Labor James Davis conceded in 1927 that even if the U.S. government placed the Army on the Canadian and Mexican borders, “we couldn’t stop them; if we had the Navy on the water-front we couldn’t stop them. Not even a Chinese wall, nine thousand miles in length and built over rivers and deserts and mountains and along the seashores, would seem to permit a permanent solution.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same, huh? Ninety years ago, people in the United States were worried about illegal immigrants and suggesting things like giant walls to keep them out (and already being told how that wouldn’t work). However, the thing that’s changed is that the immigrants in question at that time were Asian, and that almost never gets mentioned in U.S. history classes. Indeed, in all the ones I’ve ever taken, the only Asian people in America to ever be mentioned were Chinese immigrant workers on the Transcontinental Railroad, and that was only a brief couple of sentences.

The source of the above quotation, Erika Lee’s The Making of Asian America: A History begins to remedy that omission. It’s mostly focused on people of Asian ancestry in the United States, but there is also some coverage of Asian immigrants to Canada and Latin America (indeed, Asians came to Latin America almost as soon as Europeans did). It also covers a wide variety of Asians: people who came from China, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and their American descendants. (It did occur to me that large portions of the continent of Asia aren’t mentioned — I suppose the Asian part of Russia and the former Soviet Central Asian countries may not have been the source of much immigration to the Americas, but that’s a little harder to believe of areas as populous as Indonesia and Malaysia. And then there’s the Middle East, which is mostly on the same landmass but somehow not thought of as “Asian” in the U.S. — that would make a longer book on its own.)

Anyway, Lee covers the history of Asians coming to America and how badly they were often treated by those of European ancestry; it’s quite interesting to someone like me, who grew up when (East) Asians were called the “model minority,” to see how people opposed their presence a century earlier, and how it was assumed people of Asian descent couldn’t possibly assimilate into the mainstream cultures of countries of the Americas. And even if you know of the incarceration of Japanese Americans in camps during World War II, it’s most likely a complete surprise to hear that Latin American countries sent their residents and citizens of Japanese ancestry to the United States to go into the same kind of camps. These are the kind of things that shouldn’t be forgotten, on their own account and because the knowledge can really affect how people look at current events, particularly immigration to the U.S. from anywhere, and relations with between different countries.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Recently found on the new books shelf at the main location of the St. Petersburg Public Library: Ann Morgan's The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe, a chronicle of Morgan's time trying to read a written work from every country in the world and blog about it at A Year of Reading The World. (The original British publication title is Reading the World.) This is mostly not, as some people writing reviews at Goodreads expected, a discussion of the individual books she read. (Those seem to be what's on the weblog, for people in search of reviews of world books; myself, I generally prefer when a book by a blogger isn't just a reprint of what I could read online.)

What this book covers is the doing of the project and thoughts on the issues that came up. The idea to "read the world" was inspired by an Australian reader recommending a book in the comments of her previous blog, and Morgan's realization that her bookshelves were "a host of British and North American greats...apart from a dog-eared copy of Madame Bovary and a jumbled assortment of Freuds picked up during a student book-buying binge and barely touched since, there seemed to be nothing at all in translation." (Mine are hardly better, despite an interest in the history of all sorts of places -- almost all I've read seems to have been written by English speakers, mostly US and UK natives.) There's a lot of thought on why it's worthwhile to make the effort to branch out to works from different places, different cultures, different languages, even when it's intimidating to face settings so unfamiliar.

Then came all the pre-reading tasks, such as:

  • deciding what even counts as a country, which isn't always simple;
  • finding works from each of those countries, no matter how small (San Marino, just over 61 square kilometers/23.5 square miles in area, but only the fifth-smallest country according to Infoplease) or brand-new (South Sudan had been independent less than a year when her project started);
  • and finding them in English (or for Sao Tome and Principe, getting them translated specifically for this project).

These tasks lead into detailed considerations of the publishing industry around the world, the difficulty in getting things written down that originate in oral storytelling culture, and the official censorship of some governments. Once the reading part of the project starts, more things to think about arise: the culture shock of reading things that seem truly "foreign" to the reader's mind, the possible changes made when the translator is added to the author-reader connection, and the influence of technology on making written works available. I enjoyed the discussion of all these subjects, but I can understand why it might not be the right cup of tea for people who prefer just getting on with reading the stories.

The bibliography of the 196 works that Morgan read is included at the end of the book. I was pleased to see a couple I was already familiar with: Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (representing Mexico) and, for Latvia, With Dance Shoes in Siberian Snows by Sandra Kalniete, which I talked about in March 2010. I have already put in requests at the library for two more that sounded particularly interesting: An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie from Togo, and In the United States of Africa by Abdourahman Waberi from Djibouti. Obviously these are not extremely obscure, in that they have both been translated into English and are physically available somewhere in the Pinellas County Public Library Cooperative, but I'd never heard of either book or author. But I'm glad to have had them pointed out for me; it's weird how a longtime science fiction reader like me can let slide the works of people from cultures that really exist and may be as different from how I live as anything set thousands of years in the future.

I would be interested to hear more about Morgan's project before this one, A Year of Reading Women, but I can see where there would be a lot less background of the selection process to talk about in a book about that project, so I'll just have to content myself with reading through that site.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I would highly recommend When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning to anyone who cares about books, or about people in military service (and what kind of person are you if neither of those applies to you?). It covers a facet of daily lives of American service people in World War II that I had never heard of, despite having a degree in library science, and I easily imagine my grandfathers, both of whom served in WWII, reading Armed Services Edition books on Pacific islands. You don't often think about how people pass the everyday time away from home in a situation where everything has to be shipped to them (particularly at a time when the most advanced entertainment technology was the radio, and the broadcast with the best reception might be "Tokyo Rose" spewing propaganda). First libraries' "Victory Book Campaign" donated books, and then Armed Services Editions printed especially to be sent out to GIs, gave a lot of Americans (and even other countries' service people, when they were working with Americans) a leisure distraction and chance at relaxation or education, whether in a trench or on a ship or even in a prisoner of war camp. As one sailor said about their value, no matter how beat up, "To heave one in the garbage can is tantamount to striking your grandmother."

That in itself is an important enough subject to know about, and think about for service people now. There are multiple charities and campaigns devoted to getting reading material to US military stationed outside the country, such as:

However, the Armed Services Editions' millions of copies of 1322 different books also influenced peacetime publishing and reading. They spread the idea of paperbacks, which had been previously been rare in bookstores and more likely to be cheap afterthoughts in a drugstore. They made some books and authors famous; the ones mentioned in particular are F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, a commercial failure when it was first published, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. There's an interesting story about the political wrangling before the 1944 Presidential elections where opponents of incumbent President Franklin Roosevelt attempted to limit the political discussions that could be part of the ASE books and other material available to the military, and the uproar over censorship that followed. And at the end of the war, there were continued readers who hadn't been before the war, some of whom used the GI Bill subsidies to go to college when they never would have thought of that before the war (and were good enough students to be called "Damned Average Raisers" by their younger classmates). These "books that went to war" ended up influencing the social and economic climate of the United States for decades.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

When I first heard that a "reboot" of H. Beam Piper's book Little Fuzzy was coming out, my first thought was "Why?" I first read Piper's Fuzzy stories as a young teenager and have come back to them over and over. Yes, the human society they take place in reflects the early 1960s when Piper was writing -- women are nearly all secretaries and nearly everyone smokes. (You get used to that kind of thing when reading a lot of science fiction classics.) But I think characters such as sunstone miner Jack Holloway, and the beings he discovers on the planet Zarathustra and names "Fuzzies" are timeless. At least one review I read compared Holloway to an old West prospector, and I can see a lot of parallels between human exploitation of other planets in these books and colonial exploitation of places inhabited by people with less technology and different skin colors.

Piper himself wrote a second book (Fuzzy Sapiens, originally published as "The Other Human Race") and a third manuscript at the time of his death, which was eventually published in 1984 as Fuzzies and Other People. (All three are now available in one volume, The Complete Fuzzy.) However, before his manuscript was found, Ace Books had published two other authors' works on the Fuzzies: William Tuning's 1981 Fuzzy Bones and Ardath Mayhar's 1982 Golden Dream: A Fuzzy Odyssey. Both of those worked with what had been stated in the first two Piper books but not the third. And then there were two more sequels (which I haven't read yet) by Wolfgang Diehr: 2011's Fuzzy Ergo Sum and 2012's Caveat Fuzzy.

So there were 7 Fuzzy novels, though the timeline sort of divides in two after Fuzzy Sapiens. It seemed really pointless to start from the beginning again, and I didn't think I'd bother to read John Scalzi's 2011 Fuzzy Nation when I first heard of its existence. I hadn't read any of Scalzi's work before, so I didn't originally have an interest in seeing how yet another author would handle the story. This changed a bit after I read bits of Scalzi's blog, specifically entries that some of my Facebook friends linked to in discussions about sexism in science fiction. After that, I felt positively enough about Scalzi that I was willing to try Fuzzy Nation when I happened across it in a library.

It's pretty good. Not as good as Piper's, but I'm aware that I may be taking off mental points for just trying to tell a version of the Fuzzy discovery narrative that isn't Piper's. Still, there were times when I kept the book open against my chest so I could read it while web pages loaded, because I was just that interested in what was happening. I don't like Scalzi's version of Jack Holloway as much as Piper's, but I can see how he's a more complex character in some ways and some readers will prefer that. The basic events are the same; the company exploiting the planet Zara XXIII is still willing to do almost anything to keep the discovery of the Fuzzies from interfering with their profits, but I think the Fuzzies actually come off as more intelligent in Scalzi's version, at least if you're only comparing with Little Fuzzy and not the parts of the sequels that delve into the Fuzzies' points of view. Piper spends more time developing other people besides Holloway, and I prefer that kind of detail, but Scalzi's version is equally readable. I am reasonably pleased to be proved wrong in my original opinion that there was no benefit to this reboot; it was both entertaining and brought me back to the previous Fuzzy stories, a good thing itself.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Also, do you knit toy/stuffed animal type things? If so, can you send me a link to the design? I'm interested in getting some knit monsters for my daughter.


So, after some back-and-forth with my friend about what kind of monster exactly, I started searching online for patterns with pictures of the finished work available. Of the possibilities I submitted, Corvus picked one for Dracula that had been in The Knitter magazine (issue 50) but was more widely available in the 2013 book Knit Your Own Zombie: Over 1,000 Combinations to Rip 'n' Reassemble for Horrifying Results by Fiona Goble.

Goble has written numerous books of patterns for stuffed animals and people, such as Knitivity: Create Your Own Christmas Scene, Fleecie Dolls: 15 Adorable Toys for Children of All Ages, and even Knit Your Own Royal Wedding. I think this book will appeal to a somewhat different audience. What's really fun is that all the figures are knitted in pieces, and you can actually attach arms, legs, heads, etc. with Velcro and snaps instead of permanent sewing. Therefore, you can tear your zombies apart for stress relief, voodoo doll usage, or just to make new combinations. The patterns included are:

  • Classic Zombie -- dangling eye made from a bead, hole in his torso where little red guts can be visible or spill out, a little rat to nibble on him
  • Frankenstein's Monster -- hole in his neck for a nut and bolt
  • Zombie Cop -- blood-spattered uniform, one boot, truncheon made from a knit-covered drinking straw, even little handcuffs that can be made from two toggle rings and a short chain.
  • Zombie Fatale -- bandaged hand, chest pocket for removable heart, dress, hat, even little beads for painted toenails
  • Dracula -- I think the little white beads for fangs really make this pattern, but there's also the cape and the gentleman's cane
  • Zombie Chef -- leg with broken bone sticking out, little knit-over-cardboard cleaver and knife
  • Zombie Grave Digger -- more like a skeleton stitched on a dark gray body, with a rope and shovel accessories
  • Zombie Rock Star -- long hair, hole in the top of the head with removable brain
  • The Mummy -- technically this one is just a very long "bandage" to wrap around any of the figures to make it a mummy
  • There are also "zombie mashups" where elements from the different characters are combined to make additional characters, such as Village Idiot, Mother of the Bride, Biker Chick Zombie, and Yoga Zombie.
If you have done any knitting, these aren't very difficult. The work is small (US size 2 or 3 needles) but not complicated most of the time. (The bit I found hardest was the ragged edge of one of Dracula's pant legs -- knitting something that looks like it's going to come apart but won't involved a sequence of stitches that took me a couple of tries.) I found the instructions pretty easy to follow, and a lot of the supplies can be found in many crafters' leftover supply stashes. I had to buy the pale green yarn for the skin, but clothes and accessories were all done with yarn and beads I already had.

The finished Dracula dissatisfied me slightly because the face didn't look much like that on the photo in the book, but it's recognizably a vampire. What's most important, Corvus and his daughter both like it. While I have the book from the library, I'm making a Frankenstein's monster as well.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

My grandfather died a month and a half ago, at the end of May 2013, at the age of 95. He was a World War II veteran. It's incredible to think about all the things that happened during the span of his lifetime.

And then I read The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War by Richard Rubin. Over the decade or so before this book was published in 2013, Rubin managed to find remaining members of my grandfather's parents' generation, all over 100 years old, and interview them about their service in the military and government during World War I. For Americans, the First World War, at the time "The War to End All Wars," is usually overshadowed by the Second World War, since the U.S. was in WWII a longer time and had American territory directly attacked. The Last of the Doughboys does a very good job of bringing focus back to the earlier world war, fought during the earliest years of modern technology (for example, one of the interviewees recalls delivering belts of ammunition to machine gun emplacements -- using a mule-drawn wagon). It's amazing to get personal perspectives on everything from trench warfare to race relations a century ago from people who were there, and were old enough in 1917-8 to fight or work but still lived into the age of cellphones and the Internet. (Rubin notes that he would never have been able to track down as many living veterans as he did without Internet resources, particularly lists from a French government program started in the 1990s to honor Americans who served on French soil).

There's also a fair amount of non-interview historical material which is also very interesting, particularly the sampling of sheet music art and lyrics for patriotic songs of World War I (and some less patriotic ones from immediately before the war). The book also covers stories such as those of the "Yeomanettes," women who were able to serve as members of the Navy (though doing work on land) during the war, and the treatment of war veterans after the end of the war and particularly during the Depression. In short, it covers a lot of ground, but this does a good job of introducing current readers to times that should not be forgotten, and providing a tribute to the individual people who fought or worked behind the lines in this important juncture of history.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Charles Fishman's The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water is a book full of things that will make you say "Wow . . ." or "My God!" or whatever phrase you use as shorthand for "I can't believe that's the way things really are!" Unless you work in water systems, you will probably find out a lot of surprising things -- maybe even if you do. Because here in the USA, and I expect in most developed areas, we just don't think about our water supply. You turn on the water and out it comes. (When Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne knocked out our electricity here in Tampa for two days each, the water was still fine. Despite the warnings when a hurricane is expected that people should stock up on bottled water, it has rarely been needed.)

The Big Thirst shows how quickly, as history goes, we've stopped thinking about water, and how many problems that lack of thought can cause. In 2008, droughts caused Barcelona, Spain, sufficient water shortage that the city arranged to have supertankers full of water delivered to the city regularly. In the same year, the much smaller Orme, Tennessee, had to have fire trucks deliver its drinking (and bathing, and washing) water. Neither city is located in a desert, either. Las Vegas, Nevada, is in a desert, but 60,000 people move there annually anyway, never thinking about where the water they'll use comes from. Much of Australia has similar problems, particularly given the recent years of drought that have nearly shut down the Murray-Darling river system, which both southeastern cities and farmers rely on. On the other hand, most of India's largest cities only manage to pump water through their municipal systems for at most a couple of hours each day. Fishman talks to both the people in charge of some of these urban water systems throughout the world, and those who have to figure out workarounds or cope with not getting the water they need. It's a real wake-up call for people who have always had water available.