Tag Archives: material culture

Paul Lukas’s Permanent Record Blog

I just got around to checking out Permanent Record, which is a blog written by Paul Lukas of UniWatch fame. Here is the address: http://www.permanentrecordproject.blogspot.com/.

As someone who is also fascinated by print culture ephemera, I think Permanent Record is fantastic! The blog’s description mentions writing about topics including “things left inside of old books,” which is a subject near to my heart. I sometimes intentionally leave a variety of paper objects in my books, including receipts (especially if I bought the book at a memorable bookstore), plane ticket stubs, business cards, cut-out New Yorker cartoons, and so on. That way, whenever I die (which is when I will get rid of my books, no sooner), some of my books will have interesting things in them for their new owners to discover.

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Thoughts on the New Site Photo

About a month ago, I changed the cover photograph (to appropriate the Facebook term) of this blog, but I didn’t provide an explanation for the photo, so I thought I would do so now. I decided that it was necessary to have a photo of books from my personal library rather than continuing to use the WordPress photo (which was nice but generic) that had been there since the blog’s beginning. I then decided that I wanted the photograph to be authentic–a picture of the books as they are on the shelf instead of a hand-picked collection of my favorites–and I also wanted it to be visually interesting, if not also aesthetically pleasing. These criteria soon led to the decision that, although I primarily read fiction and it is my favorite genre, the photograph would have to be of one of my nonfiction shelves because I tend to have multiple books by fiction writers (when I like an author, I often read more [if not all] of their work, and because I am a book-buying addict I acquire the books rather than getting them from a library), and I wanted the photo to include as many different authors as possible. The photograph that I chose does include multiple books by two authors, but this is better than a picture of, say, a shelf that solely consists of works by Samuel R. Delany or Philip Roth. I settled on a photograph of the second shelf of my “general nonfiction” section, which includes a selection of books that do a pretty good job of representing the values, subjects, and ideas that are most important to me.

Here is a bit about each book in the photograph:

A History of Modern Latin America–This is one of my old college textbooks. I keep it around mostly for sentimental reasons. If I ever need to look up the date of Peru’s independence, it would be easier to do so online than to flip through the book, but it is important to me to have my Latino heritage (I am half Puerto Rican) represented in my library.

Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver–I used this book in two chapters of my dissertation, and it was one of the books that gave me the idea for my dissertation, so it is very important to me even though there is a good chance that I might never read it again.

Boy and Going Solo by Roald Dahl–Dahl’s two memoirs are vivid, engaging reads, especially Going Solo, which tells of his experiences in the R.A.F. during World War II. It is one of the best adventure stories I have ever read.

Heavenly Breakfast, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, The Motion of Light in Water (original edition), and 1984 by Samuel R. Delany–Delany is my favorite author, and I have all of his books except for The American Shore (which is quite rare). They are split between three shelves: one in the fiction section, which is all Delany, one at my office that contains all of his literary criticism, and the shelf in the photo with his other nonfiction.

Having Our Say by Sarah and Elizabeth Delany–This is a memoir by two of Samuel R. Delany’s aunts. I bought and read it because of my love for his work, but the book is quite good in its own right.

Memoirs of a Beatnik by Diane Di Prima–This is one of my favorite memoirs because I love reading about late-1950s/early 1960s New York City. I was happy that a Penguin paperback with its instantly-recognizable orange-and-white design made it into the photograph.

Sex for One by Betty Dodson–This is an excellent book about the importance of masturbation and sexual fantasy. Perhaps it belongs in the “gender studies” section of my library, though I’ve had it in “general nonfiction” for a while.

Autobiographies by Frederick Douglass–Douglass is one of my favorite African American authors to teach, so it makes me happy that his book made it into the photograph, albeit just barely. This edition was published by the Library of America, whose books I love.

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Some Random Sunday Thoughts

As I sit in front of my computer on this lazy Sunday morning that has now meandered into the afternoon, these are three of the things I am thinking about while I procrastinate working on revisions to an essay:

I am glad that Manchester United finally converted a penalty kick after missing their last three, with Robin van Persie scoring against Liverpool earlier today. I haven’t watched the match yet (it was on at 6.30 a.m. this morning and I was out celebrating a friend’s birthday until 1.30, so I didn’t get up for it), and thus haven’t seen the apparently controversial foul that led to the penalty, but it is a huge relief that the kick was converted whether it was deserved or not.

One of my favorite activities is looking at someone’s books when I visit their home for the first time because it reminds me how beautiful books are as objects, and it also teaches me something about the person–it is a window into their mind’s life. I got to do this at the aforementioned birthday party last night. My friend’s library was too small for my liking (We are friends even though she is an ereader adherent. She’s even a librarian! She should know better!), but I judged it favorably nevertheless because her literary tastes are similar to mine (ha!), and it was clear that the books she did have were treasured objects.

Fall is my favorite season; I love the cooler temperatures and the way the light changes. There is nothing better than sitting on the couch reading and looking out the window at the turning leaves while smelling a hearty fall meal cooking. This evening I am going to make a pork-and-vegetable roast, which should provide some delicious aromas to accompany the reading I will do once I finish my writing for the day.

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Chess Again

In my previous post I wrote about having a chess dream last night, and how I love chess’s material culture. Then this afternoon I ran across an article on grantland.com by Dave McKenna about a recent chess cheating scandal in Virginia (here is the link: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/8362701/the-evolution-cheating-chess). First off, regarding the scandal, in which a player used a computer that was supposedly just for keeping score to access a program that fed him moves, there is no reason that amateur players who do not have some form of physical disability that makes it difficult/impossible for them to write by hand should be allowed to use electronic scorekeeping devices rather than paper scoresheets. Secondly, what an odd coincidence that grantland.com should happen to publish its first ever article about chess on a day that I was already thinking about the game. I’ve written here before about how every once in a while I will encounter a subject or personage several times within a very short period of time, and this feels like the same kind of thing going on. Weird.

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Missing Chess

I had a vivid dream about playing in a chess tournament last night. I haven’t played in a tournament in nearly two years, which was the last time I even played a game. My life is much too busy these days to go back to playing chess because of the all-encompassing nature of my professional life, as being an academic is a 24/7 kind of job. When I am reading for fun I can always put the book down, and when I am watching sports I can always turn the television off, but chess is a hobby that quickly becomes an obsession and also fights for one’s attention all the time.

However,  I do go through phases where I miss the game keenly. Sometimes I’ll find myself playing through a few moves in my head, but what I really miss is the material culture of the game. There is, of course, the rich print culture surrounding the game, which I am especially drawn to as a bibliophile. There is also the game equipment itself. I love being at a tournament and seeing the variety of sets, boards, and clocks in use. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, but it also serves as an archeological history of the chess community because well-made sets last for decades, and the basic equipment never changes, so it’s not necessary to buy replacements unless one is a collector like me. I still have my first chess clock, a basic BHB analog from the mid-1990s that is still in perfect working order. I have a digital clock now, too, that I use for tournaments, but it is merely functional rather than beautiful. I also love wooden sets, and have three sets of wooden pieces and one wooden board along with two high quality folding cardboard boards, which are much nicer than the more common vinyl roll-up boards. Wooden pieces make the game more regal; one can be losing terribly and be reminded by the wooden pieces that it is still a beautiful game. Likewise, a win with a cheap plastic set, though ultimately satisfying, feels a little tawdry, too.

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An Odd Typewriter: Mystery Solved!

Last month I wrote a post about an old typewriter that I found in a vintage shop which did not have a 1: https://danielshankcruz.com/2012/08/11/an-odd-typewriter/.

It looks like there is room for a 1, but it is not there. The lowercase L does double duty.

Yesterday I was talking with an older friend who learned to type on a similar model that also did not have a 1. She said that she was taught to use the lowercase L (l) in place of the 1. This makes sense in that the 1 and the l in Courier, the most common typewriter font, are virtually identical. Therefore, the basic mystery is solved.

But the omission of the 1 still does not make sense to me. There is room on the keyboard for a 1, and another symbol could be added to the keyboard via the shift function if this extra key was added. Excluding the 1 because the l was already there feels like efficiency for efficiency’s sake, not practicality’s sake. I wonder when this practice of excluding the 1 discontinued–was it with the advent of electric typewriters, or before? Had qwerty keyboards always excluded the 1, or was it some sort of mid-century “innovation”? Questions remain.

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Book Acquired Recently: Stephen Beachy’s Distortion

Beachy, Stephen. Distortion. Binghamton: Harrington Park, 2001.

I bought this book as a part of my recent obsession with Beachy’s fiction (see my entry for 28 August for more details about this). It just arrived today from the United Kingdom, which has more aesthetically pleasing mail than the U.S.A. does.

Note the pleasing brown color of the mailing envelope, which evokes the parcels of yore. It looks much better than the nasty yellow/manilla envelopes we have in the United States.

Even though the book shipped from the U.K., the shipping was the same price as all other books bought from independent sellers on amazon.com ($3.99).

The return address reads in part “Paperbackshop.co.uk, Horcott Industrial Estate, Fairford, Glos [I’m not sure what this abbreviation stands for, but wish I did], UK”

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UHF and the Loss of Cultural Memory

Last night for some reason I was thinking about Weird Al Yankovic’s 1989 film UHF (the film’s imdb.com page is here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098546/). It occurred to me that this film would completely baffle my students because they would have no idea what a UHF dial is, having grown up solely with remote-control televisions and cable (my college’s economic demographics are such that it is fair to assume that virtually all of my American students’ families could afford cable). The UHF dial was quickly becoming a thing of the past when the film was released; it is an ode to a dying cultural artifact. Now the film functions as a piece of historical documentation as well as entertainment.

On one hand, the idea that the UHF dial will be completely forgotten once my generation is dead seems insignificant. The variety of programming available on the UHF frequency is multiplied on cable (the film’s eponymous theme song’s assertion that “You can watch us all day, you can watch us all night, you can watch us any time that you please. You can sit around and stare at the picture tube ’til your brain turns into cottage cheese” is more true than ever), and the convenience of remote controls is wonderful. It is also quite possible that by the time I die televisions themselves will be a thing of the past because we will get all of our visual entertainment through computers. The technological progress since UHF‘s release is a good thing.

But on the other hand, the loss of any human knowledge should be mourned. (Nicholson Baker’s excellent novel The Mezzanine articulates this idea much more poignantly than I do here.) Our lives are enriched by understanding how far we’ve come, and when knowledge of the past disappears we are all poorer for it. It is especially scary when one realizes how quickly this knowledge can disappear. If we are not careful, it does so without any conversation, without any acknowledgment that it is occurring. We lose it before we realize it. I know about UHF dials, but it is not like I discuss them with others, so in a sense this knowledge was already dead because I was keeping it boxed up, but I am trying to resurrect it via this post.

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An Odd Typewriter

Yesterday I was at one of my favorite non-bookstore stores in Salt Lake City, the vintage shop Unhinged, when I came across a nifty green typewriter.

Where is the 1?

Upon taking a closer look, I discovered that, though it was completely intact, it didn’t have a 1. I have never seen a qwerty keyboard without all ten numerals on it before. (Incidentally, “qwerty” is one of 23 words with a q and no u that are legal in Scrabble, as is its plural, “qwertys.”)

This post is really just an excuse to use the word “qwerty.”

I suppose that the makers of the typewriter thought they were being efficient by saving space in their exclusion of a 1, since the sans serif “I” seems to match the font of the other numbers.

The “I” does double duty.

However, this would really mess up one’s typing technique. Instead of hitting the 1 in its usual place, one must hit an uppercase “I” instead. I bet that this model resulted in an abnormally high rate of typing errors, frustrating secretaries and students everywhere. But because I could just appreciate the typewriter as an object instead of having to use it, discovering its oddity made my night.

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Left Field Cards and Some Thoughts on Obsession

I just read an article by Paul Lukas (http://espn.go.com/blog/playbook/fandom/post/_/id/6053/the-coolest-baseball-cards-of-the-year) about Left Field Cards (http://www.leftfieldcards.com/index.html), an art project by Amelie Mancini that consists of quirky sets of baseball card-esque postcards. I love paper culture, and I love baseball, and I love the nostalgia evoked by baseball cards (I collected them avidly as a boy), so I absolutely love these cards! Their retro style is aesthetically pleasing, and I appreciate their hand-made quality. I also like that Mancini has depicted four Mets (Keith Hernandez, Dwight Gooden, Nolan Ryan, and Kevin Mitchell) in only thirty cards.

But what I especially love about Left Field Cards is the inspiration for the project. Mancini’s biographical statement reads in part that

“She moved to New York in 2006 and didn’t know what a curveball was until a couple of friends took her to Shea Stadium one evening of [sic–Mancini’s slight misuses of English make her story even more lovable] 2007. The Mets lost that night to the Phillies, but Amelie fell hard for America’s national pastime, becoming increasingly obsessed with the game and eventually making it one of the center themes of her work. Fascinated by baseball cards, she decided to print her own and started Left Field Cards in 2011.”

I am always drawn to stories of people’s obsessions, and I think that the tale of Mancini’s discovery of baseball is beautiful (Lukas’s article gives further details). For many years as a teenager and younger adult I was jealous of stories like hers, of people who just had a passion grip them completely and let it become Their Thing. I wanted the same kind of experience; I was obsessed with finding an obsession (Sorry! I couldn’t help myself.). It took me way too long to realize that I already had an obsession–books, both reading and collecting them. So now I worry about cultivating my obsession instead of acquiring one, but I still find stories of other people’s obsessions powerful. It feels like we are part of a club, that even if I know nothing about the subject of someone else’s obsession, I know a little something about them and how they feel. There is a sense of community that forms via these stories, and making connections to one another is one of the essential aspects of living a satisfying life.

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