Tag Archives: reading

Bathtub Scholar

Ever notice how our facination with hobbies tends to move and circulate? You take up a new hobby and spend loads of time exploring whatever new  thing you’re interested in, but then you circle back around to something you knew from before. Something that used to take up your Sunday evenings. Something you and your oldest friends have in common because that’s what bound you up all that long ago. With me the thing that I come back to always seems to be digesting books.

Newer distractions took up most of last year, but since Christmas I’m back to an old habit – reading. Last year I knit a dozen hats, made dinner almost every night, started to play the ukulele, tried to learn computer programming language, painted, and hung around in a park. This year, my hands have been full of paper including that of Simon Schama’s “Landscape and Memory” which is a curious recounting of man’s history with the natural landscape.

His argument seems to be that we need to understand how much of our consciousness is based in the landscape around us and that we need to interact with the land in order to understand our culture. Beyond something to anchor ourselves, the landscape makes us who we are. He starts in the forests of Poland recounting the various tribes and villages that used to run wild – and manage the wild – in the woods. Then it was on to the discussion of the great English oak and the tree’s impact of what it means to “be English”. But the forest’s natural state is doomed to the greed of man, just as it is in in America and in Germany, and the book chronicles all those who have tried to possess and control it. I’ve only finished the chapter on the woods, but will be spending a good bit of tub time with the other subjects to come including stone and, fittingly, water.

Reading in the water.

Going to read about the water in the water.

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Summer, according to my phone.

Recently, I was asked what thing about people bothered me the most – as in, did I have an irrational fear of the elderly or an instant dislike of people who perpetually told you the gritty details of their health problems. It was one of those things that you can only talk about with close friends, but we all have ‘peves’ with each other and it makes for pretty good fun to identify the minimally terrible and often hilarious things about your friends that you so enjoy.

One of the things we didn’t bring up was over-use of cell phones that seems to have become socially acceptable. It’s a practice of mine that I don’t use my phone when I’m talking to, sitting with, or generally in the same area as someone I know. Right next to hand written letters, I think people sharing time with each other is one of the greatest things about friendship and family. These days, so many conversations between two or more humans is perpetually stopped or distracted by looks into pockets or screen-based chats. Hopefully this is a trend that will die out as we realize how rude we are being to each other. Not trying to sound like a bossy old lady, but one can only hope.

In the meantime, I must admit that I remain undecided about the addition of phone cameras into our lives. While I’m certainly no professional, I have appreciated photography since I was given access to my dad’s old 35mm Cannon with detachable lenses when I was eight or maybe twelve. Seeing the working mechanisms of a little dark place that made printed copies of things that otherwise exist only in memory made me want to take pictures, study photographer’s styles and techniques, and generally appreciate thoughtful and interesting documentation of the world.

Perhaps mistakenly, I often don’t carry a camera these days because I can rely on my phone to take snapshots. This brings me back round to the over-use issue and, like I said, I actually don’t know where I stand on this. Yesterday, I purposefully didn’t bring a camera or my phone to the release of a hand full of Harbor Seals that I had helped care for as a volunteer at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Center. This was the annual volunteer-led release where the people who have helped feed and clean and grow and heal get to carry cages down to the water and release now-healthy seals. The beach is usually cluttered with friends and family and yesterday was no exception. The dry beach where we were was pretty shallow and everyone was standing as close as they could almost piled on top of each other. Amidst the crowded bodies, all arm were up and out; everyone was ready with their phone cameras.

What I’m afraid of is that this sort of photography removes us from the moments we are experiencing. There’s no zoom on those things, after all, so we must push our way to the front and sometimes get so close that we loose the perspective of a regular camera man – one where you take the whole scene into account, where the background matters too.

On the way home, I looked though the things I had photographed this summer and found another layer to the argument – I had not remembered several of the events documented with a quick snap, or should I say finger press, of the camera phone. For this, spy-camera-sized and instantly obtainable photo ability, I guess I’ll have to say I’m glad. But I still think we should put phones down more often and really look around, listen to each other, and try to remember the events of our lives. Here are a few that, thanks to having the phone,  I’ll remember from this summer.

My first 'swim' in BC waters. Can you believe it took so long?

My first ‘swim’ in BC waters. Can you believe it took so long?

Weird things downtown.

Weird things downtown.

That afternoon we went to a neat forest on the riverside with some good friends.

That afternoon we went to a neat forest on the riverside with some good friends.

Neon.

Neon.

Wine and sunshine.

Wine and sunshine.

Cute street scenes.

Cute street scenes.

Tomatoes!

Tomatoes!

Jorts!

Jorts!

A day at the pool in Stanley Park.

A day at the pool in Stanley Park.

Visits to a muddy border.

Visits to a muddy border.

A picnic at Green College.

A picnic at Green College.

A paperweight at the Vancouver archives embellished with the humor of an antiquarian.

A paperweight at the Vancouver archives embellished with the humor of an antiquarian.

Finding this map of what Coal Harbor was going to look like once.

Finding this map of what Coal Harbor was going to look like once.

The plan I made for my Green Streets garden.

The plan I made for my Green Streets garden.

The walkway into the Anthropology museum.

Appreciating the walkway into the Anthropology museum.

Finding a view of the fireworks form our bedroom window.

Finding a view of the fireworks form our bedroom window.

Meeting this guy.

Meeting this guy.

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Bathtub Scholar – “A Universal History of the Destruction of Books”

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“The Universal History of the Destruction of Books” by F. Baez is, simply, as sad as it sounds like it’s going to be. Written more like an encyclopedia than a typical pop history title, the author takes us painfully through the years listing instances of fear mongering, political maneuvering, back stabbing, deceit, religious tyranny, unfortunate accidents, and plain human foolishness that makes up the history of the lost written word.

Each instance is given but a cold retelling of events; the author’s lack of emotion in some instances reads like a coping mechanism developed after researching such a dark subject.

What have I’ve learned so far?

Mostly that humans seem to have always lacked recognition and respect for what should be preserved. A change in leadership? Everything from ‘before’ into the flames, if you please. New technology? Well, let’s just copy a few things over and throw out all that other old stuff. Or use them to light the laps (yes, this was the sad fate of many thousands of books).

Perhaps more interesting is the observed power of the written word that seems to permeate every culture, time, religion and political force–the book as a weapon. Since it’s inception, thee written word has been punished with more severity than a common criminal for its association with the ability to change us more than some of our leaders have thought acceptable. The fear is evident in the many instances of fiery ends that our books have faced and I’ve only read through the part on Early Christians.

I’ve been interested by the desire among humans to eat books in order to consume their knowledge that Baez lists. Sometimes done to protect a book, often in history this was seen as way to ‘ingest’ the knowledge contained within in a spiritual way.

Also interesting to read about are the major burnings outside the most commonly known ones (like the Library of Alexandria) including a massive effort to contain Christianity during its juvenile years. Sects like Euchites (proclaimers that the Devil could not be looked upon so harshly since he was, after all, a son of God)  and the Adamites (who wanted humans to return to their original, nude state) threatened to change the shape of the Church so their priests, and perhaps more importantly, their texts were burned.

Amidst the terrible accounts of, say, finding a catalogue of a long-ago-destroyed Ancient Greek library that details hundreds of titles we have simply never seen but now know to have once existed, there are also stories of great courage and beauty. My favorite so far is a story from a Swiss monastery where, in 926, one of the women had a terrible vision and buried the books from the library. A day later an attack came and the library was burned. The woman, Wiborda, lay mutilated and dying on the place where the books were buried. The first woman formally canonized Wiborda is the patron saint of bibliophiles.

I’ll end by quoting a deacon from Spain who was noted as shouting the following as he and his texts came before the flames: “The fire with which you threaten sacred letters will burn you in an act of justice!” As I read more (and save this book safely on my shelf… hopefully) I will certainly be looking for some possibly literal consequences of his curse.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bathtub Scholar: Natural Navigation

Five or so years ago I decided to dedicate my reading life to two areas: books I’d be happy to remember years on (you know, the classics, poetry, works written by people living under an oppressive government, &c.) and to the pursuit of learning new things. This second tenant, I’ve found, is best attained in the tub. Quiet and undisturbed, this is my favorite place for scholarly endeavors. It might have something to do with my curiosity’s relationship to water; I’m more likely to check out non-fiction when it’s raining out, I’ve read more books having to do with the sea than almost any other subject, and I like to do my learning while submerged.

Right now I’m reading Tristan Gooley’s “The Natural Navigator: A Watchful Explorer’s Guide to a Nearly Forgotten Skill.” The idea is that with the development of  navigational tools (and I don’t just mean SatNavs, this started ages ago with the precursors to sextants and compasses) people have lost their ability to “read” the land and sea. I’m just at the  introductory chapters, but reading about a ship’s captain that saved his boat by waking suddenly in the night because he could feel the difference in the play of the water denoting a nearby reef and the details of “primitive” people who could find their way through snow that stretched to all horizons has my interest. It seem to be mostly about awareness.

Right now, on the sidewalk nearby my apartment, there are probably ten people walking around. It’s safe to say that at least four, maybe even six of them, are looking at or talking on a phone. Several of the others are probably busy thinking about a conversation with their boss earlier today or what they are going to get at the grocery store. I’m willing to bet that none of them are smelling for the stench of seaweed denoting a low tide (the sun’s effect on seaweed is quick so if you smell it, I learned, you’re probably near a beach at low tide) or remembering the slope of the hill so they will know how to get back. Granted, most of them probably live around here so none of that matters, but the idea with this book is that you can train yourself to pick up on these kinds of things so you can quickly orientate yourself in an area you don’t know.

Already the other day I observed a mossy tree and noticed that all the greenery was growing on one side. Sure enough, it was the side that faces North.  This is because moss is most happy when it’s away from the sun so it doesn’t usually reach around to the warmer side of it’s home. Didn’t know that until I read it the other day but now I’m noticing the pattern on trees and rocks all around.

There’s also information on reading star patterns and, my favorite, the sea so I’ll update this post after I learn more. I just need to get back to the tub…

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