Filed under dewey decimal project

Dewey Decimal Project: 832 BRE Saint Joan of the stockyards : a drama

After a couple rounds of writing about writing, I Cover of Saint Joan of the Stockyards by Bertolt Brechtdecided to go for some actual writing when I got to the 830s, “German and related literatures.” Spotting this book, I decided that a bit of Brecht would be  good refreshment.

It’s a bit of a “lost” play, one which never saw a theatrical production until after Brecht’s death (although it was presented as a radio drama in 1932). Here, Brecht took the story of Joan of Arc (a figure of some fascination to European writers in the 20s and 30s thanks to her canonization in 1920).

Here, Brecht takes Joan and puts her in a version of the Salvation Army in the midst of disputes between capital and labor in the Chicago stockyards of the 20s and 30s. While it falls into didacticism at times, it’s a great presentation, and I would love to see a production of this sometime.


Dewey Decimal Project: 820.93 GOL Sexual repression and victorian literature

After my disappointment reading Mamet, I decided to go in a direction that was bound not to disappoint because I would come at it with low expectations: An academic approach to some obscure corner of literary study. This is one of those books that I sometimes wonder how it got on the shelves and if they ever left the shelves before I picked it up. My rating on Goodreads is the only rating it has, although there are another eight mysterious figures who’ve added it to their books, some even marking it as “to-read” but none have it marked as “read” besides me. On Amazon, there are no reviews and only a generic cover image.

So I may be the only one to have read Mr Goldfarb’s work in recent memory. In it he makes an argument that the societal mores around sexuality didn’t prevent louche ideas from appearing in literary texts of the era. Of course, even so, things were still discreet and the discretion along with the academic writing make for a not that exciting read. 


Dewey Decimal Project: 814 MAM Writing in restaurants

I first heard of this book NewImagesometime in the late ’90s when I was, on occasion, literally writing in restaurants, sitting at Mitchell’s Diner at Clark and North with a ham and cheese omelet, a 5×8 spiral-bound notebook and a fine-point felt-tip pen. 

Mitchell’s is gone now, replaced by an Elly’s Pancake House which Google informs me is permanently closed and I no longer write long-hand, having realized that fetishization of process and tools meant that I was not really actually getting anything written. But Mamet’s book is still on the library shelves so I decided to pick it up and see what, exactly it has to say.

Overall, I found myself unexcited by the book. So much so that when I finally got around to writing this blog post about a year after reading the book, I have little memory of its contents. Even going through Goodreads reviews to refresh my memory does little for me. It’s strange that I have stronger memories of that omelet from more than twenty years ago than this book from last year.


Dewey Decimal Project: 808 DAG The lifespan of a fact

To initiate the 800s—literature—I picked this odd Image of the Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas ittle book. I first encountered it in excerpts during my MFA and I was curious to read the whole thing, both D’Agata’s essay and Fingal’s fact checking of it. There was some exaggeration in the conflict between the two as it was portrayed on the page, as revealed in this interview not to mention an assortment of odd synchronicities surrounding my reading of the book—I finished the book on my way to the funeral mass for a friend who died by suicide and I learned about the interview linked earlier in this sentence courtesy of an unrelated article I happened to read a few months after I finished the book.

Overall, it made for an interesting look into the process behind writing “facts” and whether something needs to be true in order to be True.

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Dewey Decimal Project: 791.092 JAY Jay’s journal of anomalies : conjurers, cheats, hustlers, hoaxsters, pranksters, jokesters, impostors, pretenders, sideshow showmen, armless calligraphers, mechanical marvels, popular entertainments

The 700s conclude with “Sports, Image of hardcover edition of Jay's Journal of Anomalies ames & entertainment.” I had thought perhaps I might read a book about chess or even sports but then I spotted Ricky Jay’s name on the shelves.

I have a vague notion that this might have been something that Jay mentioned in a Fresh Air interview, but even if I’d never heard of it, seeing the magician and actor’s name on the spine would be enough to catch my attention. I first became aware of Jay from his collaborations with David Mamet and he had that rare charisma that made his every moment on screen electric.

This volume is a reprint of all the issues of a quarterly journal that Jay published at the end of the twentieth century looking at historical hoaxes, sideshow acts and other oddities. I noticed that the original was printed by Patrick Reagh, a letterpress printer I knew back when he still had his shop in Burbank (he was active in the Los Angeles book arts community at the same time that I had started a typography magazine and provided the type for an ex-girlfriend’s art book). At a point in history where so many letterpress printers were using Vandercook presses to do production work, he still used them only for proofing, producing larger editions on his enormous Heidelberg press. (Pat, if you happen to self-Google yourself and turn up this page, hi!)

As for the book itself, it’s a journey into the weird and wonderful. Jay managed to put together an encyclopedic knowledge of these odd corners of history along with vintage illustrations which are reproduced here. Jay takes these anomalies apart as only an expert at magic and deceit can.


Dewey Decimal Project: 780.904 ROS The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century

I believe I heard about this book Cover of The Rest is Noisewhen it was first published and it was something that intrigued me. I had dabbled in listening to twentieth-century classical music in my twenties, but didn’t really start digging deeply until I began singing with the choir at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. The choir director at the time, Matt Walsh, programmed a lot of twentieth-century (and twenty-first-century as the millennium turned) music for the masses. It wasn’t necessarily great for the congregation—Poulenc’s choral motets aren’t really the sort of thing that the typical person in the pews is likely to sing along with, even if the music was available to them which it wasn’t—but for the choristers, it was amazing. Nothing really gets one into the heart of the harmony like singing choral music.

Ross, in this book, tends to focus on operatic music, beginning with Richard Strauss’s Salome whose 1906 Graz performance had in attendance a wide variety of contemporary composers from Puccini to Schoenberg to Alban Berg and the widow of Johann Strauss II. He follows the course of “classical” music (really, the term should apply to eighteenth-century music only, rather than the common appellation to anything performed with orchestral instruments and occasional voices) through the twentieth century and its eventual decline in the popular consciousness as first jazz then pop and rock took its place until it became the domain primarily of a small cultural elite. It was a bit surprising to read of American GIs arriving in Germany to find the elderly Richard Strauss and knowing who he was. Few living composers now would be able to claim such currency.

As a finite work, it leaves out a lot that readers might want to know more about. The first half of the century claims more than half the page count, with the fifties arriving roughly two-thirds of the way through the book, but the middle section, comparing the development of music in Stalin’s Russia, Roosevelt’s America and Hitler’s Germany was especially fascinating.


Dewey Decimal Project: 778.925 JAN How to photograph children

Picking something out of photography Cover of How to Photograph Childrenseemed a bit of a bore and I ended up going with this book as an option. Of course, since I’m over a year behind in these write ups, I don’t remember much of the book other than it was not notable in either positive or negative terms so I’m going to leave this entry in the series a little more than a picture of the book cover.

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Dewey Decimal Project: 760 GRE The Artists of Terezin

Nestled in the 760s, “Printmaking and Prints,” I found this book which talked about the background of the artists of Terezin as well as showing their work. Terezin was a former fortress city which the Nazis took over to use as a “model ghetto.” Living conditions were as awful as in other Jewish ghettos under Nazi rule, but there was a façade of respectability laid over the horror so the Nazis could claim that the Jews were being treated well for the benefit of foreign observers such as the International Red Cross.

Picture of bread being delivered in a horse-drawn hearse, but with a Jewish laborer pulling the hearse rather than a horse, drawn by Malvína Schálková

I knew a bit about Terezin from my novel research and this was a great opportunity to see the work created clandestinely by the Jewish artists who had been deported to Terezin. Like most Holocaust stories, it ends with tragedy—few of the artists survived to see the end of the war—but the work is beautiful and haunting.


Dewey Decimal Project: 759.054 RUB How to Read Impressionism: Ways of Looking

Growing up in Chicago, I’ve had tCover of How to Read Impressionismhe good fortune of easy access to what’s arguably the best collection of impressionist artwork in the work at the Art Institute (I remember visiting the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and realizing that they had fewer pieces than the Art Institute and many of the best pieces of the period were in Chicago rather than Paris). Perhaps as a consequence of this proximity to the work, I’ve always loved impressionist artwork even if I didn’t necessarily have a good understanding of the people and culture behind it.

In this book, James H. Rubin takes the standard approach of focusing on large reproductions of the artwork and adds a new twist in his presentation: rather than segregating the artworks by artist, he instead arranges the text around thematic aspects so we see multiple artists’ takes on similar subjects including work beyond the standard paintings that make up the popular consciousness of impressionism.


Dewey Decimal Project: 741.59 CHU Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere

Comics are covered in the DeweyCover of Why Comics Decimal system under “Graphic arts & decorative arts.” There was little chance that I would read anything else when I got to this part of the Dewey Decimals, but I had originally thought I’d read some collection of newspaper strips. With the wealth of options available, I ended up deciding to instead read some writing about comics and picked up Hilary Chute’s book.

Chute is a scholar of comics (something that is new and still uncommon) and she approaches the subject here on a series of topics beginning with “Why disaster?” before touching on such disparate topics as superheroes, suburbs, illness/disability and LGBT issues. Some of the artists were familiar to me (Chris Ware actually lives a few blocks away from me and I’ve seen him on occasion at our local indie bookstore. He’s much less geometric in person than I would have imagined). Others were new. A few of the books mentioned I ended up seeking out, in one case, with Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen, it was a bit of brilliant serendipity as I was working on a chapter in my current novel about the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing when I read this book and Nakazawa’s book was a great way to help visualize the settings and events that I was writing about.

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