Tag Archives: Leigh Anne

4 More Ways to #DiversifyAgentCarter

Last weekend ABC announced there would be a second season of Agent Carter, and Twitter lit up like a Christmas tree. Amidst the general jubilation, the devoted internet fan base reiterated what’s been its primary criticism of the show since its inception: a lack of character diversity. Author and activist Mikki Kendall got the party started:

The hashtag caught on like a house on fire, with fans offering up plenty of real-life examples whose inclusion would help make Agent Carter more historically accurate in terms of representation. Curious and inspired, I turned to the library collection for more information. Here are four more character concepts that would be historically accurate if they appeared in Agent Carter.

1. A Latinx* in uniform, civil or military.

In the companion book to his PBS miniseries,  Ray Suarez tells the stories of the many men and women of Latino descent who served their country during WWII. These include Rafaela Muniz Esquivel, a second lieutenant in the Nurse Army Corps, who worked in military hospitals both stateside and overseas**; then there was Guy Gabaldon, who earned the Silver Star and Navy Cross for his actions in the Battle of Saipan; he captured over 1,000 soldiers single-handedly, and because that wasn’t remarkable enough, Hollywood made a fictional version of his exploits. Macario Garcia, the first Mexican citizen to receive the Medal of Honor, helped take Paris back from the Germans and was at Utah Beach during the invasion of Normandy; he also earned a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. Eugene Calderon, a company clerk with the Tuskegee Airmen, joined the NYPD after the war, and Dr. Hector Garcia, who could have opted out of military service by virtue of his professional position, chose instead to serve both in the medical corps and as an infantryman. It is not inconceivable, then, that Peggy Carter could encounter soldiers, nurses, or other civil/military folks in uniform as part of her adventures.

Rafaela Esquivel (right) with colleague Adele Bensis, 1943. Photo obtained  from the University of Texas at Austin, which retains all rights. click through to visit source page.

Rafaela Esquivel (right) with colleague Adele Bensis, 1943. Photo obtained from the University of Texas at Austin, which retains all rights. click through to visit source page.

 

2. An African-American co-worker at the SSR.

Black Americans in World War II, by A. Russell Buchanan, devotes an entire chapter to the roles middle-class*** African American women played in American society. Because there were so many jobs to fill during wartime, opportunities and training programs for black women were abundant; these included “training as stenographers, bookkeepers… switchboard operators, and file clerks” (106), making it perfectly plausible that Peggy could meet, and strike up a friendship, with a co-worker of color. Black women also served their country as WACs and WAVES, and were well represented in both civilian and military nursing.

In 1942, Crisis magazine published a series of photographs called “The First Ladies of Colored America,” a tribute to the important work African American women were doing.  Buchanan’s description reveals just how diverse those roles and job opportunities were:

One started and directed a school for delinquent girls, and another headed a private school for Negro children. Some had successful business careers, often in partnership with their husbands.The business enterprises included a candymaking company in Alabama, an undertaking business in Louisiana, a publishing company in Pennsylvania, a fox farm in Alaska, and a chain of beauty colleges throughout the country. Some of the selectees held public office, a first for Negro women; one was a deputy collector of internal revenue in New York and another a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (105).

I don’t know about you, but I would love to see Peggy and a bookkeeper hiding from goons on a fox farm in Alaska, aided by a sympathetic entrepreneur with whom she thereafter forms a lifelong friendship.

Although Buchanan fails to cite names of specific people, a quick Google search remedies that, uncovering such fabulous women as Dorothy Height, Bernice Bowman, and Birdia Bush. You might also want to read up on the spy chops of Josephine Baker, the cryptology skills of Annie Briggs (whose story is included here), and the military service of Brenda L. Moore.

 

3. An Asian-American character who is not “the enemy.”

Although the Japanese-American experience during WWII should never be forgotten, it is not the only storyline available to a writer who wanted to give Peggy Carter an Asian-American friend or co-worker. Countless Chinese, Korean, Filipino/a, and Asian Indian-Americans played key roles during wartime. Shelley Sang-Hee Lee documents some of these in her book,  A New History of Asian America:

Between 1942 and 1943, Koreans in Hawaii purchased more than $239,000 worth of bonds, an enormous sum for such a small population, and Filipino Americans oversubscribed by nearly 100 percent above their $1 million goal of war-bond purchases. Chinese Americans formed patriotic organizations, such as the Chinese Young Women’s Society in Oakland in 1944, which provided a welcoming space for Chinese American servicemen passing through the area. Others put their unique skills and knowledge to use against the enemy. Korean Americans who knew Japanese worked as propaganda broadcasters in the Pacific front, agents for underground activities in Japanese-occupied parts of Asia, and for the U.S. government as teachers and translators of secret documents….Older and female volunteers were channeled into civilian support roles, such as working for the Red Cross and serving as emergency fire and air-raid wardens (225-26).

And, of course, like other people of color in wartime, many Asian Americans served their country in a military capacity.

Portrait of Anacieto Soriano, Sr. (at right) and unidentified friend wearing their 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment uniforms from World War II. Copyright © 2011 The Regents of The University of California. Click through for source page.

Portrait of Anacieto Soriano, Sr. (at right) and unidentified friend wearing their 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment uniforms from World War II. Copyright © 2011 The Regents of The University of California. Click through for source page.

With so many roles to choose from, the possibilities are endless. Who knows? Marvel could even give us someone from Agent May’s family tree. But whether they’d opt for a civilian, like actress Anna May Wong, or a military figure like those of the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team , they would be historically correct in presenting an Asian-American patriot.

4. A plucky newspaper guy…or gal.

You pretty much can’t have a comics-based story without an intrepid reporter in it somewhere. Sure, Peggy’s job is a secret, but being friends with a newsie could make for all kinds of dramatic tension, don’t you think?

There’s the businessman angle, as represented by black entrepreneur John Sengstacke, who published The Chicago Daily Defender for almost 60 years; wouldn’t you love to see him go toe-to-toe with Howard Stark? For a more boots-on-the-ground experience, there’s the examples of Alice Dunnigan and Ethel Payne; Dunnigan started writing for newspapers at age 13, and Payne’s career began with the publication of a journal she kept while hostessing in a military service club. See also journalist/poet Juan Antonio Corretjer, as well as the husband and wife team of Larry and Guyo Tajiri. Plenty of material there for a well-rounded character of color.

Obviously this is just the tip of the iceberg, but I think you get the idea. What about your family history? Could one of your relatives inspire a historically accurate Agent Carter character? Do you know something about history that I don’t (very likely!)? Share your stories and information in the comments section.

–Leigh Anne****

*Not familiar with this term? Click here for a good explanation. Suarez uses the term “Latino,” so I have retained that when referring to his work. Other terminology includes Latina and Latin@. If you’re not sure what somebody would like to be called, you can always ask.

**Many other Latinas served in WWII.  Suarez does not mention them.

***The role of working class women in WWII is fairly well-known. What most people don’t realize is that African Americans held white-collar positions, too.

****Always learning. Please call me out on any mistakes/mis-representations here.

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Cuts Like An Impossible Knife

Laurie Halse Anderson has made a name for herself by writing young adult fiction that tackles difficult topics like rape and eating disorders, to name just a few. Her no-punches-pulled explorations of tough issues have prompted various classroom bans and challenges, which–as challenges usually do–have only increased her popularity, not just among her target audience, but among adults who read YA fiction. Both sets of readers will find the same issue-driven, unflinching prose in Anderson’s latest novel, The Impossible Knife of Memory; what remains to be seen, however, is how her detractors will respond to her theme, which happens to be combat-related PTSD and its effects on not just veterans, but on their families.

Image via USA Today . Click through to read a Q&A with Anderson

Image obtained from USA Today – click through to read a Q&A with Anderson

Since 2001, over 300,000 veterans have been treated for PTSD at an official VA facility. A 2008 Rand report indicates that many more cases go unreported and/or untreated, due to either fear of stigma or access to adequate medical care, with a resulting cost to the U.S. of $6.2 billion. The Impossible Knife of Memory asks the reader to imagine the stories behind the data with one representative portrait of a father and daughter trying to escape their troubled past.

Andy and Hayley Kincain have just moved back to Andy’s hometown after five years of truck driving and homeschooling on the road. This is supposedly to give Hayley some semblance of a normal life, but the bored, bright teenager is not fitting in well with high school and its comparatively restrictive rules. Of course, it’s hard to concentrate in school when you’re constantly worrying about what’s going on at home, and whether you’ll be seeing normal dad, depressed dad, blackout dad, or flashback dad in any given moment. But Hayley’s just fine, thank you, and she doesn’t need teachers, guidance counselors, friends, or cute boys to help her deal. And yet, they keep trying anyway, much to Hayley’s exasperation.

Told mostly from Hayley’s point of view, but interwoven with haunting images from Andy’s trauma, Anderson has given us a well-crafted portrait of what happens when coping mechanisms no longer work, and things fall apart. The story’s greatest strength, however, is in showing how wounded people can become strong again without losing their dignity or compromising their essential selves, a long, slow process that Anderson skillfully spins out over a series of short, intense chapters. As a result, Hayley and Andy are initially hard to like, but worth getting to know, not only for themselves, but for the untold stories they represent.

“Problem novels” aren’t exactly fun to read, but they are important. They shine light on aspects of the human condition some people would rather keep in the dark. Considering the sacrifices so many men and women have made for their country, I’m grateful to Anderson for making this issue the latest focus of her clear-eyed literary spotlight.

–Leigh Anne

with gratitude to all who have served

 

 

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Read It, Loved It, Bought It

erasmus-books

It’s like this Erasmus guy knows me. My Amazon wishlist is larger than my book-buying budget, but thanks to the Library I can make better decisions about which books I want to own by checking them out first. Here are just a few of the many titles I’ve purchased after the “try before you buy” period.

Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh. Why would you buy a book when you can read the blog posts for free on the internet? hyperboleBecause some people are just so darned funny that you want to support their livelihood. Brosh’s blunt descriptions of her weird childhood, adult struggles with depression and the oddball dogs with whom she has shared her life, are required reading for anybody with a dark sense of humor and an affinity for awkward people (or a similar awkward past). Illustrated with colorful vignettes just a few steps up from stick figure art (that’s not a complaint), Brosh’s collection is the perfect addition to my home library, so that I can go back to its absurdity and humor whenever I like, and not just when I’m near a screen or a device. Maybe if I’m really lucky, she’ll publish another book…

yogaThe Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health, Linda Sparrowe. When I decided to try yoga, I was too embarrassed to actually go to a class and interact with other human beings. I had the mistaken notion that all yoginis were a size two and incredibly spiritually advanced, and since I was neither, I should probably practice at home until I was a lean, laid-back adept (or could fake it reasonably well). Of the flurry of library books I tried, Sparrowe’s was the first one I bought: its clear illustrations/instructions, use of modifications and otherwise sensible advice about both the physical and spiritual practice of yoga helped me calm down a little and focus on the learning process instead of the person next to me at the studio I eventually started attending. Thanks for helping me get over myself, Linda Sparrowe!

Happy Herbivore Abroad, Lindsay S. Nixon. It’s really important to take cookbooks for a test drive before you buy them. happyOtherwise you’re going to end up with a shelf full of books you’ll never use, which is neither cost-effective nor tasty. Nixon’s collection of plant-based recipes made the cut because it presents a global sampler of delicious meals that will suit adventurous palates, but not send you all over town hunting for expensive, exotic ingredients. Nixon also tells interesting stories about the places she’s visited, which makes this a fun book to sit down and read at length. This cookbook paid for itself when I shared the recipe for German lentil stew with my parents, who enjoyed it so much that they made it again when I came to visit, then sent me home with a huge container of it as a thank-you. Now, that’s what I call the circle of life.

TFIOSThe Fault in Our Stars, John Green. I know, I know. Truth be told, I actually resisted this book for quite some time, despite hearing great things about it in the media and from other readers, because I’m always a little leery of the book “everybody” is reading. As it turns out, “everybody” is reading the book for very good reasons, some of which include Swedish hip-hop, a rant about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the inescapable truth that the world is, indeed, not a wish-granting factory. You don’t get to choose whether or not you get your heart broken in this world, but you do get to choose the books that break your heart…and I choose this one, because I know that if it ever stops breaking my heart, I’ve probably lost some essential human quality that makes both love and empathy possible.

Your turn: do you use the Library to pre-shop for your permanent bookshelf? What titles have you checked out that made you say…

shutup

Leigh Anne
supporting the literary economy, one enjoyable read at a time

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Thick As A Brick

Nothing says “summer reading” to me like a giant doorstop of a book that requires two hands to read and a huge tote bag to carry. This may not be the reading experience you want to have, and I can’t say I blame you: those suckers can get pretty heavy, which is why I’m always happy to help people find less hefty alternatives in our e-book collection. Nobody should have to throw out their back or shoulder to enjoy a book!

But, under the correct circumstances–a warm (yet breezy) day, a comfy shady spot, a refreshing cold beverage nearby–curling up with one of those text-monsters sends a definite signal: I am not at all kidding around about reading this giant book here; think twice before dragging me away from it, because I am enjoying myself immensely. It’s an incredibly pleasurable, self-indulgent reading experience, the kind I think everyone should treat themselves to from time to time.

bigbooks

Image spotted at LetterMidst

However, if you’re going to do this, you have to make sure you pick the right book. There’s nothing worse than lugging what one book blogger calls “chunksters” all the way home only to find yourself flailing with disappointment by page three. No matter what you’re in the mood for, though, there’s bound to be a “thick as a brick” pick for you to while away a cool summer night with. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

ozeki A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki (422 pages). Ruth, an author suffering from writers’ block, finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox on the beach. The contents? The diary of a Japanese teen called Nao. Despite her conviction that suicide is the only answer to her problems, Nao is determined to write down the story of her grandmother, a Buddhist nun, before checking out permanently. Fascinated by Nao’s tale, Ruth drops her own project to solve the literary mystery that has magically landed in her lap. A lovely, layered tale with a fair share of heartbreak, but also equal parts wonder and joy.

NOS4A2, Joe Hill (692 pages). Beat the summer sun with Hill’s bone-chilling novel about the madman of Christmasland, and the Hillone woman who’s managed to outsmart him. Victoria escaped the clutches of the preternatural Charlie Manx as a teen, but evil always comes back, and this time Victoria’s son is in danger. Can she find her way back to Christmasland and save her boy before it’s too late? A page-turner with a number of wickedly clever “Wait, what???” surprises.

AdichieAmericanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (477 pages). Ifemelu does, and does not, want to go home to Nigeria. A scholarship to an American college has opened doors for her, and her blog about racism in America has earned her a fellowship at Princeton. Still, Ifemelu can’t forget the country–and the man–she left behind, even though returning to both will prove difficult. A sweeping novel that travels back and forth in time, explores life on three continents, and pulls no punches in its examination of race and culture.

 The Eye of the World , Robert Jordan (670 pages). If you’ve been meaning to try out the epic fantasy genre, the long, lazy days of summer jordanare the perfect time. Also, now that the Wheel of Time series is finally complete, you have no excuse not to dive in. There’s an evil power seeking to hasten the end of the world (isn’t there always?), and it falls to three unremarkable boys from a small backwater village to take up the hero’s mantle and try to save the day. Jordan’s saga, which rambles over fourteen volumes, begins with The Eye of the World, in which we meet our heroes, a mysterious priestess, the knight who is bound to her honor, and the big bad who just wants to break things. Good fun for anyone relishing an old-school tale of fantasy adventure.

krantzMistral’s Daughter, Judith Krantz (531 pages). This is not a romance novel to be tossed aside lightly. This is a romance novel meant to be heaved across the room with great force at anyone who makes fun of you for reading romance novels. Krantz’s tale spans three generations in the life of passionate painter Julien Mistral, and the three women who mean the most to him: Maggy (his lover), Teddy (his best beloved), and Fauve (his daughter). From the bohemian arts circles of Paris in the 1920s up to the ritzy glitz of New York in the 1980s, Krantz spins a tale of passion, fashion, exotic locales, heartbreak, jealousy, deceit, art, and haute couture. It’s a delicious romp through the social circles of the wealthy and talented, with just enough sex and scandal to keep you hooked until the end. A classic masterpiece to discover–or rediscover–on a steamy summer night (or three!).

The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout, eds. (676 pages). Non-fiction and literature lovers cathertake note: Jewell and Stout’s volume is a treasure trove of living history. Cather, who wanted to be judged by her work and not her personal life, specifically stated in her will that her letters were not to be published. The editors went ahead and produced the volume anyway–presumably with permission from Cather’s literary executor!–on the grounds that enough time had passed to soften any objections Cather might have had to the letters being exposed. Arranged chronologically, the correspondence includes missives from Cather’s years living in Pittsburgh, as well as the only known letter from Cather to her partner, Edith Lewis. There are no scandals or secrets here, but the letters are rich with details of Cather’s ordinary life, filled with joy and love of nature and travel, and, of course, many thoughts on writing.

What say you, constant readers? Will you be giving the chunksters some love this summer? Or do you prefer to put in your weight training time at the gym? What’s the biggest book you’ve ever hauled around just for the love of it?

–Leigh Anne

with apologies to Jethro Tull

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Curiosity/Satisfaction: Notes From A Reading Life

‘curiosity killed the cat.’ A very familiar proverb that seems to have been recorded only as far back as the early 1900s. Perhaps it derived somehow from the much older (late 16th century) care killed the cat, but there is no proof of this thus far.” — The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 4th ed.

I

I am a mediocre poet who lives in a city of very good poets, some of whom sit next to me at the reference desk on a regular basis.  Despite my inability to craft a suitable sonnet or a voluptuous villanelle, I find myself drawn again and again to the poetry section; if I cannot create this particular brand of magic, I can, at least, drown myself in it, hoping I will gain something from repeated dunks.  Gills, maybe.  A mermaid’s tail.

So, too, I devour David Orr’s Beautiful and Pointless.  It’s a guidebook for the uninitiated, everybody who fears that s/he’s just not cool enough for poetry.  Orr’s essays soothe me, make me snicker; who knew the New York Times‘s poetry critic could be so darned frank and funny?  I want to give this book to everyone who has ever felt they weren’t smart enough to read or write poetry, so we can tear down our misconceptions and misgivings together, start all over again.

“As everyone knows, all the best poets eat at Taco Bell,” Orr assures me. I smile, and believe him.

II

Vampires are sooooo ’97 (by which, of course, I mean 1897).  It is, however, hot, and a little fluffy fiction would not be amiss.   I pick up By Blood We Live and fall into a plush, posh, well-written collection of short stories culled from masters of the horror genre.  Neil Gaiman and Stephen King are here, and rightly so.  There are, however, many new-to-me authors, such as Barbara Roden, Nancy Holder, Carrie Vaughn.  Gleefully I scribble authors and titles into my to-read notebook, marveling at how one good short story anthology can lead to hours of further entertainment and discovery.

III

Because I’m usually reading multiple books at once, serendipitous moments frequently pop up.  I learn, for example, that both Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife and Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City contain tiger symbolism.  One is telegraphed, the other covert; both are delightful surprises.  It is, however, Obreht’s interweave of medicine and magic, nested as it is in a narrative reminiscent of those cunning Russian dolls-within-dolls, that keeps my attention.  As much as I pity Lethem’s tiger, I have far less sympathy for his wealthy, indolent characters, and I cannot wait a few hundred pages for their redemption, no matter how well-written and charming they are.

I parcel out Obreht’s novel slowly, in paragraphs, to make it last longer.  The delicious suspense is killing me, but I do not want this book to end.  I will probably stay up late to finish it the night before it is due, imagining the impatient toe-tapping of everyone else on the waiting list.  “Relax,” I want to tell them.  “It’s worth it.  You’ll love this.”  Like a mother reassuring her children that the long night’s sleep before Santa will, most assuredly, be worth it in the morning.

IV

My best friend and I are getting pedicures; I have never had one, so I’m a little embarrassed about my feet.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that they are the ugliest feet ever seen in North America, so to hide my embarrassment over what I’m convinced will be inevitable ridicule and banishment from the spa, I turn to the table next to me, grab a random book and hide behind it, mortified.

Said book turns out to be I Love Your Style by Amanda Brooks.  It’s a how-to-dress guide for those of us who could use a little help, fashion-wise, and  unlike other books in this oeuvre I’ve furtively glanced at, the author actually appears to be on my side.  Rather than foisting a list of dos and don’ts on the hapless reader, Brooks gently makes suggestions about how you can create your own signature look based on what makes you feel pretty.  My reservations about this whole girlie-girl thing lift somewhat.

As I flip through the pages, I read random tidbits to my more stylish friend, who listens indulgently.  “Look, minimalism is TOO a style,” I crow, pointing to pictures of the black-clad, no-nonsense Sofia Coppola.  An hour later, purple polish drying, I teeter home on flip-flops and verify that I can indeed check this book out of the library.  Haute couture, for the win.

V

Curiosity killed the cat; satisfaction, they say, brought that cat back.  However, I am still sifting through the murky backwaters of the internet–and kicking up heaps of dust in print resources–trying to find a derivation for this phrase that will satisfy the librarian part of my brain.  This chunk of grey matter insists, despite our brave new content-creation world, that there are still certain standards for what is true in any given situation.  A bunch of people on the web saying something is true does not necessarily make it so.

[And yet, I have, as of right now, nothing better to go on, and precious little time to devote to what is currently a matter of interest to me and me alone.  Then again, if somebody should call the reference department tomorrow and want to know “the truth” about the origin of this phrase, I would have a reason to go on.  Hint hint.]

On a grander scale, curiosity is what brings us to the written word, and satisfaction is what brings us back. We read for all sorts of reasons: to lose ourselves, to learn new things, to kill boredom or its variants, which include “time in airports” and “waiting in line at the coffee shop.”  We read to satiate our hunger to know, even if it kills us, the things we do not know.  We come back, again and again, because the only thing knowledge truly kills is ignorance, and the satisfaction we feel–learning the facts, exploring the new subject, discovering the unfamiliar genre–is more than enough to counterbalance any pain that takes place during the process.

What are you curious about today?  What brings you back to the library, again and again?

–Leigh Anne

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Gratitude

One of my wildly improbable long-term goals is to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Given that, up to now, I’ve only written plays, I have some work to do before I’ll be able to cross this one off my to-do list. However, I already have the important part down pat:  the thank-yous. After repeat observations of past winners, I’ve mentally composed an acceptance speech that properly acknowledges all the people who helped me succeed as a writer, yet remains short enough that I’m not politely forced offstage. Really, after hammering that out, finishing a brilliant screenplay itself should be a piece of cake.

John Kralik would probably approve of my priorities.  His own gratitude journey, as detailed in the book 365 Thank-Yous, describes how Kralik devoted a year to consciously giving thanks by writing one note every day to someone who had been influential to him.  Brought to such a pass by desperation rather than inspiration, Kralik stumbled upon the idea for the practice during a walk in the woods, and stuck with it despite business difficulties, financial problems, and relationship struggles.  Mindfully practicing gratitude didn’t magically transform Kralik’s life into a sunny vista of unicorns and rainbows, but, more often than not, writing and sending the notes re-opened long-closed lines of communication and opened up new opportunities and adventures for him, which convinced him to make some changes to his attitude and lifestyle.

Reading Kralik’s book has inspired some of the library staff to start a similar project and see what happens.  I’m looking forward to making a trip downtown to Weldin’s to treat myself to some pretty notecards, but I will probably also make a fair number of them by hand as well. I’m brushing up on the art of writing letters, and mentally making my list of people who have changed my life for the better; the list is already fairly long, and includes family, friends, teachers and — no surprise here — librarians.

Other library titles on the practice of gratitude include:

Serendipitously, while writing this, I received a thank you note in library mail from a co-worker.  That was really sweet, entirely unexpected, and definitely day-making!  What are you most thankful for right now?  How could you best express it?  Whose day could you brighten just by being there?

–Leigh Anne
thirty-eight years young today, appreciating every second

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Heroines

When I’m not dressed as a respectable, professional adult, I’m probably wearing jeans and a t-shirt. This comfortable de facto uniform minimizes the amount of time I have to spend actually thinking about clothes, freeing me up for longer sessions of crafting and baking. It’s also a great way to express my political opinions and pop culture preferences without holding forth at length like a tiresome windbag. When people see my shirts, they’ll know right away whether or not we’ll get along; this, too, is time-efficient and, therefore, pleasing. That may sound silly, but I like to use my time wisely and well.

On the other hand, some of my favorite t-shirts make excellent conversation-starters, and I’m okay with that! My obsession with Marie Curie, for example, and the companion tee with which I express it also show support for women and girls in the sciences. Sporting the Ada Lovelace look gives the same props to women in computer science. And my absolute favorite, the Mary Shelley tee, is a fashionable shout-out to the women of gothic fiction.

There are, however, so many women I admire who do not yet have their own t-shirt, which means I’m going to have to make my own until fashion catches up with my vision.  Here are a few of the many (in)famous women I admire who really should have their own clothing line.

Grace Hopper. The first woman to earn a PhD in mathematics from Yale, and a tenured professor at Vassar, Hopper proceeded to top herself by enlisting in the Navy immediately after Pearl Harbor. The ever-restless Hopper completed officer training and was assigned to the Harvard Computational Laboratory, where her gift for programming, excellent collaboration skills, and prankish sense of humor led to a string of professional successes. Thanks to Hopper we have COBOL and personal computers, so the least we could do is thank her with a spiffy tee, no?

Camille Claudel.  Often unfairly dismissed as the mad mistress of Auguste Rodin, Claudel was a gifted sculptor in her own right. The sensual nature of her work, however, was far more earthy and naturalistic than nineteenth-century French culture could bear, and only Rodin and her father supported her unique artistic vision. However, after a series of personal shocks and the unhappy end of her affair with Auguste, Claudel struggled on alone in poverty until finally her mother committed her to an asylum, where the misunderstood muse remained for thirty years. To the end of her life, however, Claudel remained true to herself and did not compromise her vision. A t-shirt is, perhaps, the very least we could do to honor such strength.

Coco Chanel.  Last, but certainly not least, on my list is the fashion designer closest to my heart.  Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel changed women’s clothing forever by rejecting the fussy, restrictive styles of her day and designing simple, elegant garments made from fabrics in which a person could actually move and breathe! Not content to dabble in clothing, Chanel also created hats, perfume and handbags, first for the friends and relatives of her lovers, and then, as her reputation spread, to Paris society at large.   Ashamed of her humble beginnings, Chanel remained mysterious and private to the end, and her habit of hanging out in graveyards and talking to the dead techincally qualifies her as a first lady of goth. What’s not to love?

Your turn:  whose t-shirt would you wear?  Would you make it yourself, or hire someone crafty to create it for you?

—Leigh Anne

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to Open Location on the Moon?

There’s something mysterious going on around here, and I think I’ve figured out what it is:  after using my Sherlockian powers of deductive reasoning, I can only conclude that the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is about to open its first extraterrestrial location…on the moon.

I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out:  there’s a new initiative afoot called CLP LYNCS, which stands for the Library in Your Neighborhood, Community, and School–catchy, no?  It’s a wonderful program designed to bring what the library has to offer directly to where you live, work, and play.  With presentations designed for children, teens, and adults, LYNCS can open up the library for you in a way you might never have imagined.  And if you sign up for their e-newsletter, you’ll be in the know about any new programs and services long before your friends and neighbors will.

And all of that is lovely!  But I think there’s more to this project than meets the eye.

You see, LYNCS can also stand for Lunar Yurt : New Carnegie Station.  And it just so happens that LYNCS is hosting a special event at the Pittsburgh Public Market on Friday, April 15th 2011.  Scheduled activities include a ribbon-cutting ceremony, drop-in storytelling, and a fun presentation called 30 Books in 30 Minutes, which is kind of like speed-dating for you and books: the library staff will give you a quick summary, and if you’re intrigued, you can check out the titles on the spot.  Call me crazy, but that much fun in such a great location clearly spells “library on the moon.”

There’s only one way to find out.  Make your way down to the Pittsburgh Public Market on April 15th–after you’ve finished your taxes, of course–to meet the LYNCS staff and get to the bottom of the quasi-lunar mystery that’s decidedly out of this world.

–Leigh Anne
whose only real worry about the library on the moon is the atmosphere…

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Of Stage, Page, and Other Doorways: Les Misérables

A friend who works at CLP East Liberty is rereading all of Victor Hugo’s novels this year. Her praise for Julie Rose’s 2008 translation of Les Misérables moved me to track down a copy, and it is a formidable translation indeed:  1300 pages, and thicker than bricks.

A book that size demands your complete attention. You can’t really read it comfortably at the dinner table, or on the bus (at least, not if the seat next to you is occupied).  Oh no:  the size and heft, as well as the small font that delivers the content, demand your undistracted gaze, from the first lines of the introduction to the final footnote.

On the bright side, walking around with 1300 pages of French literature tucked under your arm is, apparently, better than a firearm when it comes to warding off unwanted attention; I’m not sure if people worry I’ll hit them with it or start quoting from it, but either way, all but the most literarily obsessed give a wide berth when Julie Rose and I walk by.  Especially if my nose is buried in the text, and I’m not looking where I’m going.

Why reread a classic when there are so many new and exciting works of literature waiting to be devoured?  I’d like to be able to say that, like our intern Shannon, I have a penchant for serious books.  The truth of the matter, though, is that Hugo bored me to tears when I was fifteen, reading him for the first time in French class (sorry Madame Soubre – il n étais pas votre faute).  I didn’t fall in love with Les Misérables until my college chamber choir tackled excerpts from Boublil and Schönberg’s musical score ; one rehearsal of “The Confrontation” and I fled for the library to take another stab at what I had so clearly missed in the novel the first time.

Ideally, textual interpretations feed into each other.  Music can lead you to books, perhaps by way of a graphic novel detour.  While the experience of reading a text is very different from watching a film, say, or listening to an audiobook narrated by Orson Welles (mmmm), the ideas themselves do not change.  Though the packaging may alter to accommodate different learning styles, the substance of Hugo’s moral and philosophical inquiries remains constant.

And what grand concerns they are.  As Jean Valjean struggles to overcome his criminal past, he is confronted at every turn with issues that are as troubling to a twenty-first century American as they might have been to a nineteenth-century French citizen.  What is social justice?  Is the ultimate goal of law to punish or rehabilitate?  What can / should be done to ameliorate class warfare?  What do we mean when we speak of ethics, honor, patriotism, faith, love?  And, perhaps most importantly, is there an absolute morality, as represented by Inspector Javert?  Or can we be redeemed by grace and mercy, as embodied by the Bishop of Digne?

I suppose the Javerts of the literary world might take me to task for coming to the book in a roundabout fashion, instead of appreciating it for what it was from the start.  As for me, I prefer the idea that there are many doorways into a text, and that it is no insult to the great books if we are not ready for them just yet.  They will remain, quietly shining on the shelves in their greatness, waiting patiently for us to stumble across the path, or through the doorway, that will ultimately lead us to the eternal lessons they have to teach.

Leigh Anne
(who would like to thank her teachers for not giving up on her during her “sit in the back of the class reading Stephen King” phase)

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