Thursday, March 31, 2011

ramble: research books bought & read, January-March 2011

I love non-fiction. Thanks to (in spite of?) almost seven years of university education in the humanities, research is my sixth sense. And so, a very great portion of the books I read for pleasure are social histories, biographies, literary criticism, feminist essays, costume books, art histories... and on... and on. You file it in non-fiction and I'll pore over it. I also tend to count classic literature under my 'research' heading, as I read such books as much for the insight into historical periods they provide as for the stories they tell (though really you can't separate it like this, though that's a different post).

So I have decided it would be diverting to take note of all the research books I read and buy, month by month. This list is going to be a very wide-ranging one, as I'm always researching more than one thing at a time, and I'm interested in... everything, basically. I'm sure I'll use the knowledge for something someday, if only for uh, future blog posts.

Since I don't finish (or even get very far into) books I don't like, the 'books read' part of this undertaking is really a list of recommendations (the 'books bought' bit is pure adventure and may indeed end badly). If something really stands out to me, I might give it its own, fuller recommendation post someday.

Okay, let's do this. If nothing else, it'll be amusing for me, but I hope it might help others to find new titles on favourite subjects.

(I should have started this at the beginning of the year. Belated idea is belated. But I have a memory that works like a bear trap for inconsequential things, so I'm pretty confident I can reconstitute the past three months. I'm also going to include holiday gifts, just because.)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

inspiration: "Spleen (When the low heavy sky...)" by Charles Baudelaire


When the low heavy sky weighs like a lid
Upon the spirit aching for the light
And all the wide horizon’s line is hid
By a black day sadder than any night;

When the changed earth is but a dungeon dank
Where batlike Hope goes blindly fluttering
And, striking wall and roof and mouldered plank,
Bruises his tender head and timid wing;

When like grim prison bars stretch down the thin,
Straight, rigid pillars of the endless rain,
And the dumb throngs of infamous spiders spin
Their meshes in the caverns of the brain,

Suddenly, bells leap forth into the air,
Hurling a hideous uproar to the sky
As ’twere a band of homeless spirits who fare
Through the strange heavens, wailing stubbornly.

And hearses, without drum or instrument,
File slowly through my soul; crushed, sorrowful,
Weeps Hope, and Grief, fierce and omnipotent,
Plants his black banner on my drooping skull.

-- Charles Baudelaire, in The Flowers of Evil (1861; translated by Sir John Squire, 1908)
[via Wikisource here; read the whole work here]

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

ramble: the Wildest West, or 19th-century Deadwood in photographs

Deadwood's main street in 1876
The short-lived HBO show Deadwood is one of my favourite TV series. It's a western in the very best tradition of westerns: there are no black or white hats (just grey ones), bad things happen, good things rarely do, and people struggle to survive a harsh world (hey, that sounds just like real life!*).

In fact, the show's town and its rough-and-lovely characters are based on the real thing.

And, being a real thing in the post-camera era, there are photos--really amazing, fascinating photos.

Deadwood, South Dakota, was settled illegally in the 1870s, contrary to the American government's treaty with the Lakota people of the Black Hills. The town's population soared after the 1874 announcement that gold had been found in the hills.

Seth Bullock, sheriff and co-owner of the Deadwood hardware store
The Black Hills Gold Rush created a truly Wild West town, overflowing with all manner of shady characters, shady deals, shady operations, and far less glamour than we like to attribute to such outside-the-law's-reach situations.

The Gem Theater in 1878 (owner Al Swearengen sits in the buggy at the left)
Deadwood was a rough, tough place.

Sol Star, co-owner of the Deadwood hardwood store, and later, town mayor
Smallpox epidemics, organized and not-so-organized violence, mistreatment of women, racial minorities, and all other disadvantaged people, miserably hard labour, and devastating fires were all common facets of life in Deadwood.

The Deadwood stagecoach in 1889
Its inhabitants carved out their lives in the ways they deemed best, often at the expense of their neighbours.

Wild Bill Hickok, famed gunfighter, shot and killed in Deadwood in 1876
Eventually, Deadwood settled into a mining town, with a railroad and a somewhat steady pace. (The HBO series is set in rowdy 1876-77, before the situation had stabilized).

Parade in Deadwood in 1888, celebrating the completion of a section of the railroad
Today, it's an American National Historic Landmark. Its dusty origins remain vivid, though, with the help of photographs like these.

Calamity Jane, frontierswoman and resident of Deadwood from 1876-81
* And in Deadwood, as in our day, everyone swears all the time. (See this discussion of the deliberately anachronistic cussin'!)

Monument to Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood, 1891
- All from Wikimedia [link]

- Wikipedia [link (town) and link (TV show)]
Deadwood: Stories of the Black Hills, by showrunner David Milch (Bloomsbury, 2006). [Amazon link] A truly fabulous book with gorgeous photos and plenty of tales of both TV show and town.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

inspiration: "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" by John Keats


O what can ail thee, knight at arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing.

O what can ail thee, knight at arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel's granary is full,
And the harvest's done.

I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful, a fairy's child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look'd at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A fairy's song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
I love thee true.

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept, and sigh'd full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dream'd—Ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream'd
On the cold hill's side.

I saw pale kings, and princes too,
Pale warriors, death pale were they all;
They cried—"La belle dame sans merci
Hath thee in thrall!"

I saw their starv'd lips in the gloam
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here
On the cold hill's side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing.

-- John Keats (original version, 1819)
[via Wikisource here]