Into Vinyl?

The Best Musical Comedy Songs

For all of the book lovers out there who also happen to have an affinity for round, lovely, shiny things please stop by my new site UP Vinyl.  I spotlight things from my collection, post quick blurbs about cool records, and work on my want list.  I am also interested in interviewing record collectors (in person if possible or through e-mail most likely) who would like to be featured on the site.   If record albums make you smile come check out UP vinyl at www.upvinyl.com.  As you can tell by the relatively lifeless look of the broken bookshelf lately, most of my efforts are on the new site as well as my work/school/life type obligations.  I’m not giving up here, maybe just taking a break…

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School Reads

With the new semester comes a fresh crop of new reading material. In between research and reading I hope to be able to put some things up here. I have some interesting classes this semester, including a research seminar for my minor on early modern London, a reading seminar on US Women’s political culture, and a historiography reading class. Some books I’ll be tackling this semester include Cott’s The Grounding of Modern Feminism, Bucholz and Ward’s new book London: A Social and Cultural History, 1550-1750, A Pepys Anthology, Igger’s A Global History of Modern Historiography, and of course, a whole batch of others. This semester is my final one of strictly coursework so I hope it goes fast. In the springtime I will finish my minor as well as start getting into the heart of my thesis research. But in the meantime, I hope to share some good books along the way.

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Leaders of Men

When I am able to take a quick break from school reading (which is not as often as I hope) I find myself devouring musician biographies and renting as many band biopics as Netflix will allow.  Oddly obsessed as I am with Joy Division and similar post-punk assemblages, it is surprising I haven’t tracked down more media to indulge my obsession sooner.  It wasn’t until recently that I tracked down copies of Torn Apart: The Life of Ian Curtis and An Ideal for Living.  I started with Torn Apart first and after a few short days worth of reading time I’m already closing in on page 100.  If only the required reading for my history seminars came so easily!


 

Learning about the early life of Curtis and exploring memories of the early rehearsals and the shows of the fledgling Stiff Kittens -> Warsaw -> Joy Division, I began to wonder, why do I care about this stuff?  I asked this of myself not because I don’t care, but because I care so much.  Why do I feel I need to know this?  The undercurrent of my emotion eludes me.  Why do we care about another and their celebrity?  Obscurity?  Mystery?  Tragedy?  I’m not sure when loving the music was not enough, but I know for certain at one point I began noticing and caring more and more about the fine print on the album sleeves.  Not just for this band or this genre but for all music.  I started to wonder about the lives behind the sounds and the tragedy and triumph behind the stage door.  When does this urge to know take on a life larger than simple curiosity?  How do we satiate this desire when the well of information runs dry?  I’m not so sure.  In the meantime, all I can do is keep reading.  Stay tuned for a review of Torn Apart, in a few weeks. Until then…

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History and Fiction

1959: A Novel
By Thulani Davis
Grove Press, 2001

In my current history reading seminar we are focused on the southern United States. Tracing the time from Reconstruction to the present, my prof has taken some creative liberties in what types of sources we are dissecting. From dense, academic monographs on the Dixiecrat revolt to cultural histories on the Civil Rights movement, NASCAR and blues music, all the typical components of southern history are there. One interesting addition to the expected historiography, we have also been reading some great southern literature, viewing films, and listening to southern music. When I first read the syllabus and as the semester wears on I can’t help but wonder, what role does literature play in how we research, investigate, and think about history? What, if anything, can we learn from the characters of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Harper Lee that can guide us to an authentic understanding of southern history?

We recently read 1959 by Thulani Davis which explores a young girl’s coming of age amidst the hopes of school desegregation in the mid 20th century South. Set in Turner, Virginia, the book introduces us to Willie Tarrant, a young student living with her older brother and widowed father. 1959 is a crucial year in Turner; tensions are flaring over a possible school desegregation experiment, which is only exacerbated after a young black man is shot. The shooting galvanizes the adults in Willie’s community to take a stand against inequality and the status quo of “separate but equal.” As the community begins to awaken to civil rights, Willie is awakening to all of her budding teenage passions and going through deep inner conflicts wondering who her mother was, who she is, and who she is becoming. The book does a great job of building community tension while also exploring Willie’s coming of age. I certainly recommend this book for those interested in a fictionalized tale of civil rights as well as a young teen’s journey in the middle of greater struggles.

What I’m not sure I can speak to is what role this book truly plays in the larger historical sense. This book, in addition to the other novels I’ve read this semester, have strengthened my resolve to come to an understanding what role literature plays in understanding history. This is still a question I’m trying to figure out. What are the benefits and shortcomings of using literature in the study of history? What role does historical fiction play? Can we learn anything from novels to supplement authentic historical knowledge, or are they a type of authentic history in and of themselves? I think books like 1959 offer a great deal, but what true purpose they serve, I’m still trying to figure it out…

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Lost Revolutions

Lost Revolutions: The South in the 1950’s
by Pete Daniel
University of North Carolina Press, 2000

Lost Revolutions: The South in the 1950’s explores the southern United States and the possibilities for change that emerged after World War II.  While the region seemed ready for positive social, economic, and political transitions in the postwar years, author Pete Daniel argues that “lost opportunities littered the southern landscape” (page 3).  By examining the implications of agribusiness, scientific advances, segregation, racism, and popular culture, the author chronicles the issues and changes that characterized the south during this period.

The book is divided into three thematic sections.  The themes consider the impacts of agribusiness, the expression and dissemination of southern low culture, and the realities of civil rights.  While hopes of new support for farmers, the rise of rock and roll and stock car racing (NASCAR), and the beginnings of civil rights seemed to be the beginning of great changes, Daniel argues the reality was not always so optimistic.  The three-section model was a good choice for constructing the narrative as it allowed him to explore each theme in depth.

Section One shows how government agencies and New Deal programs supported large scale farming, the development and use of pesticides, and neglected the needs of small farmers, sharecroppers, and the general public.  The federal government designed farming programs and pushed for research on farming technology and chemicals to improve efficiency and decrease the labor need on large-scale farms.  Programs like the Soil Bank, which sought  to decrease commodity surpluses and stabilize wages actually only added to the detriment of small-scale farmers as larger farms were able to actually produce more (and sustain the surplus) thanks to new technology and pesticides.  Feeling bitter and helpless, farming families flocked to cities to find new jobs.  Mechanization only further exacerbated these problems.  What had once been hope for a successful future for rural southern farmers to prosper and become members of the consumers’ republic had since turned to uncertainty.

As disaffected rural southerners migrated into cities, Section Two shows there was an impetus for a wider distribution of southern culture.  “With the decline of rural life and the migration of blacks and whites to cities in the North and South, lowdown culture relocated and evolved” (page 93).  Music, dance, and racing culture provided a way for rural southerners to retain a part of their identity and to shed the rigid social strictures of urban life.  This period was defined by the rise of Sun Records, a growing radio and record store presence of African American blues artists, the cultural boom in areas like the Beale Street neighborhood of Memphis, and the early days of Elvis Presley.  It was also the beginning of NASCAR, as liquor trippers organized stock car races and began to legitimize their outlaw racing into a full-fledged sport.  Overall, Daniel is quite effective illustrating the importance of these elements of southern cultural expression.  It is especially important that popular culture was considered because during this time of lost revolutions in terms of civil rights, culture was a way for people to cross the color line and reject the legacies of white superiority and supremacy.

Throughout the book, Daniel injects the narrative with the Brown v. the Board of Education decision, culminating in the final section which finally tackles the significance of the decision, particularly the social and racial divisions it provoked.  One key aspect of the final section is what civil rights and the Brown decision meant for people of different classes within and among racial groups.  While the cultural revolutions of the southern region grew from low culture, white desperation over issues of racial equality and school integration stemmed from outspoken members of elite and middle class neighborhoods.  On the other side of the integration, groups like the NAACP grew from middle class black support.  Despite some positive campaigns for racial change, the fact that many southern politicians and local leaders were prominently privileged whites helps explain a lost chance for widespread support of full democracy for blacks to materialize.

Ultimately, Daniel’s thesis of possibility and unrealized transformation is interesting and convincing.  Despite changes after World War II, southern history shows the road to modernity was not always as successful and hopeful as it possibly could have been.  As a student of American history I found this book to be very interesting.  As a retired curator and public historian at the Smithsonian, Daniel clearly understood how to create a history book that is not only accessible to scholars and students of history, but also a general readership.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about this period in the American South.


 Daniel, Pete.  Lost Revolutions: The South in the 1950’s.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

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30 + 30 for Thirty

Reckless Records

Reckless Records in Chicago, IL. A slanted shot from my 30th birthday weekend in the Windy City.

The last few months have been filled with unpacking, settling into a new job, walking the quiet corners of this new small town, and starting a new program in school.  Also, almost one month ago to the day, I turned 30.  While some have exclaimed at what a cobweb I am becoming others have told me that the 30s are the best years of youth.  As I begin a new decade I hope to breathe fresh life into this beloved project.  30 + 30 for thirty will be the 2012 goal of my broken bookshelf.  From now until my next birthday I will share 30 books and 30 photos.  I will finish my stranded island top ten, post some reviews for school reads, and partake in some fun reading and fun photography.  Thanks for stopping by and stay tuned!

 

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Heavy Boxes – Moving With Books

Soon comes the time when I say goodbye to my time in the DC area.  When my husband and I arrived to Alexandria, VA in the spring of 2005 we had a small u-haul trailer filled with a few pieces of furniture, a few boxes of books and records, and a wide array of mismatching pots and pans, thrift store lamps, heaps of clothing, and boxes of photos, letters, and other keepsakes.  We came here because he had this great job opportunity in his field and I was in love (with him, not the place).  Tom went to work each day and I sat around feeling lonely.  We were newly married in a town we knew nobody, over a thousand miles from anyone who knew our names, or what movies we could recite word for word, or the color of our favorite sweaters.  As the months went by, being unemployed, I would set up our apartment, rearrange things all too often, take long walks with our dog, and watch ample amounts of Golden Girl marathons as I waited for my husband to get home from work.  Oh yes, I would also read.

Reading, since I’ve known how, has been a constant in my life.  To go along with that pass time, I have a strong tendency to collect and arrange things.  When I would get my allowance as child I would go to the B. Dalton bookstore in the mall or the Book World book shop in the town near my home and purchase R.L. Stine Fear Street books, Little House on the Prairie, or anything that had a weird sci-fi cover, be it comic, book, or magazine.  The size of my book collection has waxed and waned over the years.  Now is the time for a self-imposed waning period; time for an objective analysis of what to keep, what to give, what to donate, and what to sell.  I have six bookcases, filled to capacity, and an assortment of book stacks hiding around my apartment.  Each piece is a piece of me.  I know where each book came from.  I know the ones that were gifts.  I know the ones that were bookstore finds.  I know the ones that were hidden gems in dingy book shops and those from library book sales.  Each book is so wonderfully important it is difficult to think of losing just one.  But I must be strict!  If there is one thing my previous job taught me, its that moving copious amounts of books is not fun.  My collection is at its peak right now and I don’t wish to move mountains as we head to the Midwest.

To start weeding my collection I’ve instituted a personal guideline, as follows:

Items to definitely keep: Grandpa Dave’s history books, Grandpa Al’s Finnish books, any books relating to the U.P., copper mining, or Michigan history, and those books I am likely to need for my thesis research, my Hunter S. Thompson first editions and signed pieces, updated reference materials, biographies, music books, and all books by my most loved authors: Vonnegut, Huxley, Thompson, Marx, McCullough, Kuhn, Hawking, et al.

Items to give to friends: history books and library science books I think they could find useful, fiction I’m content to part with that they might enjoy.

Items to sell: history monographs or other graduate books that are of no immediate use to me, friends, or family.

Items to donate: those that don’t fit into the above categories and duplicates.

Basically, I’m looking at my books, one shelf at a time, and I’m making decisions.  I keep the books I love, those I think I’ll need, and those that are difficult to replace.  I’ll give books to friends if I don’t need them/love them but they possibly could need or love them.  I sell the items that are less loveable or not nearly as needed as others but still have inherent value.  I will donate those books that are good clean copies of fiction or non-fiction.  I will bring such donations to the local public library to help with their book sale and fundraising efforts.  As much as it pains me to whittle my collection, as if a piece of wood, I know I will be glad when it comes time to load the moving truck.  Moving 20 boxes sounds much better than moving 100.  Time has shown me that this precious collection of mine is fluid, changing and reshaping itself as I do the same.  I’m certain once we settle in to our new home it will grow again.  No matter what size my book collection is, be it 1 piece or 1,000, I know it will always be glorious.  My husband gently reminded me that once the book collection is weeded I will need to start the much more daunting task of weeding the LPs and 45s.  As for that, I’m not so sure.  I have a feeling we will run just short of time before any such project can be started.  As for now, onto book downsize project, phase 1!

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