Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cleaning out the book collection

I am one of those book lovers, that has books piled up all over the place, and though I have 13 book shelves of various sizes throughout the main part of the house, they seem to fill up with natural wonders, photos, child's ceramic creations and knick-knacks, though I try hard to keep the latter to a minimum. I was having a hard time finding the books I need for my research, so it was time for a major book review.

When I moved into my parents house, it already had a very substantial, mostly Latvian book collection. I have kept the major tomes shelf in tact - with the complete works of various Latvian authors, the 12 vol. folk song set, the 15 vol. folk tale set, and the Daugava publisher's series on Latvian history, where each volume weighs about 4 pounds. I combined our Latvian literature collections and put them down in the basement. (I know, I know, not the best place for books, but more about the basement later.) I kept upstairs the books I use - encyclopedias, dictionaries, those for teaching in Latvian school, current reading, etc. And over these 10 years they accumulated and got disorganized.

After New Years, I set up two big tables in my living-dining room and pulled out all the books I had in piles and on the shelves around the house and put them in piles - by categories including "never read" and "give-aways." Even as a book lover, I realize I don't need to keep everything. Especially my English language volumes I could say I will never read or reread this, and if I really need it, I can get it at a library. Even with my Latvian volumes, I definitely did not need to keep duplicates, and there were other books that would make more sense in the Latvian school or Garezers library. I am also thinking of moving overseas when I retire, and one way of thinking about what to keep or not to keep was to say, would I take this with me when I move. I wish I used that criteria more stringently, but at least it helped me get rid of some books. In the end I moved out 3 boxes of English books and 2 of Latvian.

I should not need to visit a books store in the near future, as I found plenty of books I have not read and want to read - both in English and Latvian. My nightstand is now full of options. I also keep books by my favorite people in my bedroom. My recent English language books are in a shelf with the potential to give away to friends, if they would like them. I always wanted to be able to point to a shelf for visiting kids that like to read and say "See if you can find something you like." So now I have a young adult and children's shelf. The rest is in categories - encyclopedias, dictionaries, books about Latvia and the Balts, Latvian publishing and literature, about Baltic communities in the diaspora, Baltic libraries, nature, folk designs, art, folklore, music, coffee table books, literature, book for teaching Latvian school, travel. I did a rough count and figure over 500 books in Latvian, a bit under 250 in English. Remember, most of the books in this blog I have listened to on tape that I just borrowed, and some of the books I actually checked out of a library, like a good librarian should.

And then there is the basement and boxes in corners of the house that have more books. I estimate at least 2000 down in the basement - the family Latvian literature and other book collection, my previous collections including a substantial science-fiction & fantasy collection in bags, and the remnants of the Latvian Studies Center collection, plus boxes that people have given me. I can't go anywhere before I haven't gone through all of that, so I have my work cut out for me, but seeing the results from getting the small upstairs collection in order, I have confidence that it can be done.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Patiess stāsts par Čingo Babu - Vizma Belševica (2007)

Patiess stāsts par Čingo Babu, Lileo Gliemezi un Jūras Karaļa bēdām. Ilustrējis Reinis Pētersons.

While cleaning and sorting piles of books I came across this delightful children's picture book by one of Latvia's most respected writers.  Čingo Baba is the biggest crybaby, so he is asked to come to the King of the Sea to heal the King's son, who needs human tears to heal. A large snail is sent to get Čingo, as he has a house on his back that can carry the kid into the deep sea. They meet various characters like Doctor Jellyfish, Commander Shark, Agent Crab, Sea Weed and more. Of course Čingo stops crying once the adventure begins. The illustrations are delightful and the moral of the story is not to cry over every little thing.

Belševica has chosen to write this as a play in rhyme (she is known for her poetry). As soon as I saw that it was a play, my first thought was, could we ever use this in Latvian school? Alas, the language is too complicated and it would take a lot of imagination to come up with a way of portraying the underwater world.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Children's World in Soviet Latvia by Irēna Bužinska (2008)

Part of an interesting mini book series Art-Myth-Document that is in both Latvian and English. So this one in Latvian is Padomju Latvijas bērnu pasaule. In 32 pages it talks about what it was like to be a child in Soviet Latvia with plenty of illustrations, like the socialist positivism in holiday cards. The book explains the three progressive organizations for children that raised them into socialist citizens - Octobrists, Pioneers, Komsomol. It includes sample writings and drawings by kids, toys for girls and boys. Then quite a few pages are devoted to the store Children's World/Bērnu pasaule and its unique window displays and the man who created them.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)

I did not finish listening to this New York Times bestseller. I just didn't like the feeling the book gave me, and after 5 CDs, didn't think I could take 6 more. This is not a professional book review, but my blog with mostly personal reactions to books and a reminder about books I have read or started to read and chosen not to finish, I can say things like this.

Nick Dunn is a laid off writer, who moves back to his home town in Missouri from New York City partially to take care of ailing parents, and opens a bar with his twin sister. Amy is his wife, who has lived in NYC all her life, so moving to Missouri is quite a cultural shock. She comes from a comfortably wealthy family, who made their money on Amazing Amy books, based on her. The story starts out on the day Amy disappears from her house, and it doesn't look good. Half of the story is told by Nick during these days after her disappearance, with thoughts of their past together. The other half is told by entries from Amy's diary that tell the story from her point of view, and give details from their courtship, life in NYC, losing jobs, moving to MO. Wonder if the cops ever find these diaries.

The book does give an intense inside look into a crumbling relationship. How two people coming from different backgrounds can fall in love, and the relationship really works for a while, but then through those differences and miscommunication, it starts falling apart. I can't say I became fond of either character, especially the more I learned about them. Some of my favorite parts were when the author described the culture clashes Amy experienced in Missouri. She was amazed that parking was for free. (Having grown up just outside NYC, I get it.) And the scene where she recycles all the plastic containers that people brought food in to their housewarming party and expected to get the containers back. Or the concept that people buy in bulk, because they have room to store stuff.

I am trying to figure out why this book felt so uncomfortable as I don't mind suspense in other books. There are uncomfortable moments in many books for me, but then something happens and it is over and I can enjoy the rest. In this book I started feeling uncomfortable early on and the feeling never left. As soon as we learn Amy has gone missing, we know something bad has happened to her. And her husband Nick reacts in ways that don't look good for him, so as the reader I started suspecting him as having killed his wife pretty early on. So it was very uncomfortable to spend lots of time with him, even if he didn't do it in the end. (I will have to find out, I guess.) And then to hear Amy's view of her life as she moves towards her own disastrous end. (And if she comes out fine in the end, good for her.) My personal prejudice is against people who don't do anything. And I did not see Amy doing much besides being a housewife. In very few cases do I think being a housewife is enough - back when one had to provide most of the food for the family and possibly clothes, and in modern times if you have a extraordinarily busy husband, whose life needs to be managed. Being a mother - yes that can be a full time job, but if you are just a housewife, you could be doing charity work or delve into hobbies - artistic or otherwise. I did not see Amy doing much after she lost her part-time job. In Missouri she helped Nick's ailing mother, but again, I did not see her finding things to do for herself. In today's online interconnected world, you can live anywhere and still participate in a rich cultural, even social life. Sorry for the rant.

OK, so I briefly went looking online for what happened in the end, and though I did not get a clear answer, there will be more twists and turns in the book. I do not mind suspenseful spy thrillers and sometimes mysteries, but I will not see movies like Fatal Attraction (which this book was compared to) or Silence of the Lambs. I can see others really enjoying the book, it was just not for me.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (2011)

Whew! Finally finished this lengthy biography, but well worth it. I had to stop in the middle and read some other books, as I could not take reading about Steve Jobs being such an asshole (term often used in the book). I definitely did not want Isaacson to write it any differently, I just couldn't take huge doses.

I started my computing life with Macs, as they were the first to be able to "speak" Latvian, and have always admired Apple products and ads, and so also Steve Jobs. I did not realize that he was born a month after I was, so it means that we grew up with the same cultural influences. I had read all the books he listed as early reading, and at the end he still reread the Autobiography of a Yogi every year. I have only reread it once, but it was one of the books that changed my perception of the world. We grew up around the same music, though I never got as into it as Jobs. Lots of similar cultural influences, even if he grew up on the west coast and I  was on the east coast. I could totally relate to him walking into board meetings with bare feet. I had a period during college, when I went either bare-foot or in boots. That was before stores had the "no shirts no shoes no service" signs. Unlike Jobs,  I did believe in washing. I also went through a vegetarian phase, though Jobs was a very picky vegan till the very need. And obviously I don't have anything near the intelligence or creativity of Jobs, but I can relate to it and admire the intersection of humanities and technology he was able to embody in his products. I use that intersection in my library work.

It was just fascinating to read how much this man and his teams at Apple and Pixar changed my world. I was a strong Mac user up until I started working at the university, where for networking purposes I just had to move into the PC world. My son was at the appropriate age that I went to see all the first Pixar movies. Though I myself have never owned an iPod, I observed the way my son just took to it instantaneously and had a much wider world of music open to him though this device. But to read how it and iTunes Store transformed the music industry is fascinating. I do not own an iPhone (but  in the book, the much maligned Android), but am on my second iPad. I feel like I am an amateur user of both, my son just laughs at me, but I get a whole lot about what Jobs talked about in how we use these tools - how we hold them, etc. I experienced an Apple Store only recently, when I had to have something fixed on my son's Mac and was impressed with the services offered, the layout, and was astonished how busy the store was in the middle of a weekday.

The book was everything a book about Jobs should be - full of details about him, his family (tastefully so), colleagues, and the development of each product. I don't feel the book sugar coated anything, which is just the way Jobs wanted it. Obviously Isaacson talked to hundreds of people and was able to be present at numerous official and unofficial occasions to give this detailed, many sided story of the man and his companies.

I am thankful for the presence of Jobs and his influence on my world. I am amazed by the patience of his wife Laurene, to support this amazing, but undeniably difficult man. I am glad that he could put a Zen-like simplicity and high quality in all of his products, but am sorry he could never find that Zen like calm within himself.

Murjāņu Kurmītis un viņa draugi - Valdis Rūmnieks (2011)

I don't know what it is about moles that kept popping up as main characters in the kids books I found interesting in Latvia, but here it is again. Rūmnieks is an author of numerous children's books and the book is wonderfully illustrated by Gundega Muzikante. I was asked to find books that had more substance than a typical picture book with only a sentence or two per page, but were still colorful and easy to read - for the Latvian camps in Three Rivers. This seemed to fit the bill - it is illustrated like a picture book - every page with full color illustrations, but it is 95 pages long and has an introductory section about the place Murjāņi and 10 tales follow.

 I have to express my frustration with some Latvian publishers - Zvaigzne ABC being one of the main offenders, for not indicating the year of publication in their books. Maybe they feel it gives their books a longer shelf life, but it is a huge disservice to anyone wanting to describe a book. I have started looking dates up in the catalog of the National Library of Latvia.

Skolas spoks - Inese Ķestere (2011)

The "School ghost" was the best young adult book in Latvian, that I came across this past summer. The 15 year old Kaspars has had to move in with his grandmother in a different city, because his parents are working in Ireland. (The effects on families of large parts of the population leaving to work outside of the country are yet to be seen.) I had a sense that the author really understood or remembered the struggle to fit in at school, not be bullied. It has been some months, but if I recall correctly, the main issue was bullying - an ongoing problem of childhood that is being addressed worldwide.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Kurmītis un bikses - Eduards Petiška (2011)

This was a delightful kids book by Czech writer Eduard Petiška and illustrated by Zdenek Miler. There is a whole series on adventures of the mole or "kurmitis." Looks like they originally came out in the 1960's and have been recently translated into Latvian. The problem is basic, the mole has found lots of objects, and needs some pants with pockets to put them in. He goes around to all the other creatures of the woods and asks for help. They promise to help him if he helps them. So we learn to help each other, about different animals, and the process of making a linen cloth from plant to finished pair of pants.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Nozagts oranžs divritenis - Mika Kaerenens (2011)

I knew I had read more books while I was in Latvia- the adult books I recorded, but I forgot about the kids books that I read to see if there is anything I thought was appropriate for our Latvian schools.

Nozagts oranžs divritenis just sounded like a good title - An orange bicycle has been stolen. It has been translated from Estonian, which also makes it interesting, as some of the names have been Latvianized, but other are Estonian in nature. This is a chapter book meant for older grade school kids, as the characters are all kids, trying to solve the mystery of the stolen bike. Not the greatest story, but better than the old stories of living out in the countryside. I like the map of Soup Village with funny street names. 

The author is actually a Finn, who has moved to Estonia to live. This book has been put on as a play. It would be interesting to see the script, but I am sure it is not in Latvian or English. Not that I am doing any more plays, but always thinking along those lines.