2015 in Books

I keep track of my most of my reading with the Goodreads app. Searching the app for titles and marking them “read,” “reading now,” and “to-read” is one of the ways I fill the time on my commute, aside from reading. The app should have another category, “abandoned,” for books that are started but not finished.

Some people think it’s terrible to not finish a book, as if they’re not “real” readers if they don’t read everything from cover to cover. Please. So many books, so little time. I abandoned two this year. One by choice, the other by circumstance.

2015 in books in no particular order (and not including the books I forgot to add to Goodreads, and whose titles are now forgotten):

The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers. Gillian Tett. The introduction was the most interesting part; Tett describes her background in anthropology, which gave her insights into how people develop certain blindnesses. The elephant silo in the room she never mentions: Our political parties.

Getting to Yes: Negotiating an Agreement without Giving In. Roger Fisher. Read this 20 years ago and it was time to read it again. Aside from the gender stereotyping, which felt anachronistic, book remains relevant. Biggest takeaway: Know the other side’s perspective, and you’ll have a stronger argument. Some of the book’s negotiating strategies are not going to be very effective if the other side is not willing to play along according to the formula.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory, 2nd Edition. Michael Miller. See my post, Simple Gifts, for thoughts about music theory. I like this book better than the music theory MOOC I took with Coursera this year. According to Goodreads’ metrics, this was the least popular book on my 2015 shelf, with only 6 other people reading it.

Hacking the Academy: New Approaches to Scholarship and Teaching from Digital Humanities. Dan Cohen. A classic text on just what the title says.

Bel Canto. Ann Patchett. This book reminds us that terrorists are humans, too. However, the book ultimately simplifies terrorism in an almost quaint way. Her terrorists are not the kind of terrorists we’re dealing with these days.

Outlander. Diana Gabaldon. I’m one of the last people on earth to read this book, to enter the amazing world created by Gabaldon. Too bad it’s incredibly homophobic. No plans to read more into this series. According to Goodreads’ metrics, Outlander was the most popular book in the short stack of things I read: 457,998 others read it in 2015. No surprise there.

The Night Circus. Erin Morgenstern. Here’s a world I loved being immersed in. Creative, if far-fetched, premise. Intriguing characters. Sorry to have it end. According to Goodreads’ metrics, The Night Circus was the second most popular book in the short stack of things I read: 366,304 others read it in 2015.

The Story of America: Essays on Origins. Jill Lepore. The essays in this book are morsels of intelligence, wit, literature, history–all in an American context. How could anyone not like this book?

Average page length of books read (according to Goodreads): 386 pages. Longest book: Outlander.

ABANDONED
American Gods. Neil Gaiman. I didn’t check this one out of the library on my iPad. Rather, I bought it, since I knew I would never finish before maxing out the renewals. It’s just easier to have it on the iPad. I dug this book until about 3/4 of the way through, when they’re in the House on the Rock in Wisconsin. The book began to feel like it needed to end already, just like House on the Rock, only more so. Like The Adventures of Hucklebury Finn, it turns episodic and the narrative collapses.

Lucky Us. Amy Bloom. Randomly checked this one out of the library. It has an MFA-writing program feel to it, if you know what that means. However, the characters were fully drawn and crazy enough to keep me going. Unfortunately, it came due before I could finish, and expired from my iPad. I have not had motivation to check it out again. There’s always another New Yorker to finish reading, first.

OTHER READS and LISTENS
Read lots of the New Yorker, New York Times, and a magazine about swimming. My main book purchases this year, however, were for ukulele and guitar instruction. Coffee Break French, a podcast, was a main attraction for the first six months of the year. I also completed Music Theory, a Coursera MOOC.

 

“Simple Gifts” in the Key of F

Elder Burch, author of the Shaker Hymn, "Simple Gifts," looks like Lurch from the Addam's Family.
Elder Burch, author of the Shaker Hymn, “Simple Gifts,” looks like Lurch from the Addam’s Family.

Music theory class was sprung upon me as an adjunct to piano lessons, when I was in sixth grade. I resisted it. Wasn’t it enough that I could zip through the major and minor scales, up and down the keyboard? I had other, more pressing problems: Math class. What to wear. My hair. I shut my ears and my mind to music theory, and ultimately quit piano lessons.

Behind me are the math classes taught by people who never struggled with a math problem. I’ve finally found a good hairstylist. And now that I’m taking ukulele lessons, I realize that music theory is the key to expanding my playing ability. Fortunately, I have an amazing teacher, Paul Hemmings, who digs music theory. And in between lessons, I employ my new-found knowledge about scales to arrange some songs I like, such as “Simple Gifts.”

“Simple Gifts,” a traditional Shaker hymn, is an earworm. For some reason it doesn’t bother me as much as other earworms, such as Dionne Warwick’s version of “I Say a Little Prayer” (The moment I wake up, before I put on my make up) or The Bangle’s “Manic Monday” or “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong,” by B.J. Thomas. I know you are glad you don’t have access to my head, with its cabaret of battling earworms.

Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle. Video Game Box. "Five Things - 1.12.14" Timid Futures.
Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle. Video Game Box. Image from “Five Things – 1.12.14,” Timid Futures.

Perhaps “Simple Gifts” is different because it’s so clean. The song was written by Shaker elder Joseph Brackett, in 1848, when James Polk was president, the California Gold Rush occurred, and the first women’s rights convention occurred in Seneca Falls, NY.

What would Elder Brackett think of his song being used as background music in the 1982 Colecovision video game “Smurf: Rescue in Gargemels Castle”? Elsewhere in popular culture, part of it was used as the opening theme music for the show CBS Reports. The Ingalls Family sang it on Little House on the Prairie (cue the Little House theme song earworm). Jodie Foster sang it in 1973 on the TV show Kung Fu. Find more details about its history at Wikipedia.

Below is my arrangement of “Simple Gifts” for the ukulele. I think it’s more pleasant than the Colecovision version, which is an earworm with graphics:

Simple Gifts
Shaker Hymn
Joseph Bracket (1848)
Arr. Elizabeth Cornell

Key of F
F                          Am                  F            Am
Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free

F      C7               Gm     F        C7           Gm       C7
Tis   the  gift to come  down  where we ought to be

F                             Am                       F             Am
And when we find ourselves in the place just right

F        C7             Am      F(high)
Twill  be   in the valley   of love  and delight.

F(high)    Am     F                    Bb
When       true     simplicity is  gained

F                      C                     Gm        C
To bow and to bend we will   not be    ashamed.

F                      Am         F
To turn, turn, will be our delight

C7        Gm       F
Till by turning, turning we   come out      right.

 

Louis Untermeyer’s Poetic Engagement of the Popularization of Einstein’s Relativity Theory: Abstract

Louis Untermeyer
Louis Untermeyer

Abstract of paper to be published this summer, in The South Central Review.

Following the confirmation of Einstein’s theory of relativity in 1919, the mainstream and avant-garde press erupted with news about the theory, offering

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein

commentary that ranged from clear-sighted explanations to cartoons and jokes. Though critics have recognized the impact of the theory on modernist literature, few have attended to the mediating factor of these mainstream public narratives and their engagement by modernist writers. Among the most creative responses to relativity theory during this period is Louis Untermeyer’s understudied collection of parodic poetry, Rhyme and Relativity: An Anthology of Poetry Apostrophising the Theories of Einstein. Published in 1921, the same year as Einstein’s widely covered trip to the United States, it appeared in Vanity Fair and the little magazine, Broom. Written in the style of well-known poets, such as Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell, each of the work’s eighteen poems takes some aspect of relativity theory as its subject. This paper offers a close reading of “Einstein Among the Coffee-Cups,” which is a parody of (mainly) T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” This paper reveals how Untermeyer’s sophisticated and versatile use of relativity theory, popular culture, and modern poetic form shaped both the content and structure of Rhyme and Relativity, resulting in a humorous, but serious, response to modernist poets and popular culture.

Albert Einstein, Aliens, William Faulkner, and Chickens: Conference Paper Abstract

Image from Jalopnik.com, “Meet Camilla”

“Einstein and an Alien: Faulkner’s Tools for Building a Better Chicken House”

Abstract for workshop/paper I will give at the 2015 Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, in Oxford, MS.

Einstein and aliens: In the early 1920s, these subjects had no place in a southern literary landscape usually populated by plantations and antebellum nostalgia. That’s probably why a couple of William Faulkner’s friends, Julius Weis Friend and Albert Goldstein, editors of the New Orleans-based little magazine, the Double Dealer, published a short story entitled “The Rider through Relativity.” Written by Herman George Scheffauer, it appeared in that magazine’s March 1921, issue. With an alien as one of the protagonists and clear references to Einstein’s relativity theory, this story suited the editors’ aims for their publication, which in the influential cultural critic H. L. Mencken’s words, “doesn’t give a damn for the old gods.” And as U.S. newspaper and magazine editors often reminded their readers at the time, Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity challenged the old god Newton, his laws of motion, and claims about the nature of gravity, time and space.

“The Rider through Relativity” is a part of the lively and imaginative discourse about Einstein and relativity theory that appeared in the mainstream and avant-garde press beginning in late 1919, following confirmation of the theory by British astronomers. Scheffauer’s short story uses the alien and literature’s more traditional activity of suicide to demonstrate relativity theory’s claim that linear time is a powerful illusion by imagining a reality where that illusion has been dispelled and, therefore, nothing can ever be lost to the past.

This paper argues that Scheffauer’s story, the national conversation about Einstein, the theory’s notions about time that appeared in the American press, and the theory’s basic concept about the nature of time, all play an important, if subtle, role in Faulkner’s faceted approach to time in The Sound and the Fury. This paper focuses on Quentin’s section (the second section of the novel) to explore Faulkner’s consideration of how the experience of linear time may be especially oppressive during periods of loss. In doing so, he implicitly considers the challenges and possibilities relativity theory posed to the human perception of time and the meaning of personal loss.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Abstract

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Improving Your Messages to the Community

Abstract for workshop/paper I will give at the 2015 SIGUCCS Conference, in St. Petersburg, FL.

Whether it’s an outage, scheduled maintenance or an announcement about a new technology resource, the pressure is on you to create effective and readable messages.

Henry David Thoreau once said that he had received no more than one or two letters in his life that were worth the postage. thoreauTo be sure, most of your communications don’t require postage and won’t be cherished forever. But they should be worth the time it takes to read them.

University faculty, staff, and students are bombarded with hundreds of messages every day, from multiple sources. They appreciate it when your communications are organized, concise, and readable.

In this session, you’ll learn ways to improve written content for emails, blogs, and other communication channels. We’ll concentrate on how to cut the flab from your writing and strategies for organizing information. We’ll also cover how to choose the best words for promoting your organization’s resources and services.

Elizabeth Cornell is the IT Communications Specialist at Fordham University. Before that, she was post-doctoral fellow with the English Department at Fordham, where she taught composition and literature.