Image of the Week #31: Abercrombie & Fitch in the 1910s

The Wellesley News (03-20-1919) 01

What Is It

An advertisement from the Wellesley News, the student newspaper of Wellesley College, from the late 1910s. 


Why I Find It Interesting

There's not much to say here besides the fact that I didn't realize Abercrombie & Fitch was such an old company.  I assumed it was some company that emerged in the 1980s or something, but apparently it is much older than that.  The fact that they are catering to middle and upper-class white women though is not particularly surprising, given their history of race issues.


This submission is part of the Image of the Week series.  For access to all photos, which are open for reuse under a Creative Commons License, check out the full album on Flickr.


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Review: Intersex

Intersex Intersex by Thea Hillman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hillman's exploration of her own challenges and sense-making as an intersex person is an excellent work for anyone better trying to understand intersex. Filled with memoiric chapters, poetry, and other personal writing, the book crafts a nuanced understanding of the battles one faces when the dominant culture has denied you space and personhood.

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Review: Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on Their Decision Not To Have Kids

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on Their Decision Not To Have Kids Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on Their Decision Not To Have Kids by Meghan Daum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Daum edits this collection of sixteen writers as they discuss the topic of being childfree. I've talked before on this blog about my decision to be childfree and other books within this realm. I liked the diversity of takes in Daum's anthology. Some, I really connected with, others I felt were annoying, and some gave me new ways of thinking about being childfree. I appreciate this mix and it does include three males writing on the subject. Again, I would prefer some of these works to be more balanced because in part, I think the male's voice about being childfree is equally useful to be heard and contribute to the conversation. Regardless, I'm happy with the selections as they provide a diverse range of thinking about what it means to be childfree and how people happily live their lives.

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Short Story #395: The Half-wit of Zeenemuende by Josef Nesvadba

Title: The Half-wit of Zeenemuende 

Author:  Josef Nesvadba

Summary:

Book cover of Penguin World Omnibus of Science Fiction by Brian Aldiss
The story introduces us to Bruno, a boy believed to be a half-wit, but one born to a family that could hire a governess to care for him.  One night, the governess's house is struck by a bomb by the Allied bombers, which was strange because there were no other house struck and the house did not seem particularly strategic but the governess was killed.  A new teacher is hired to work with Bruno and he is told that the boy is excellent with numbers though largely difficult to engage with otherwise.  Shortly into his work, the teacher watches Bruno fighting a gang of younger kids when a nearby butcher throws him into the next yard.  That night the butcher's shop is also bombed.  The teacher was warned that Bruno has his own private study where he likes to go but doesn't like others to visit.  Inevitably, the teacher decides to visit this room. He finds Bruno involved in torturing a small animal and is overall suspecious about what he sees in the lab.  He leaves and goes to the father to try to explain what he anticipates and decides not to go home that night.  That night, the teacher watches a small ballistic leave Bruno's room and hit where he lives.  At this point, the teacher and the father go to the local commander, where it is explained that Bruno must have gotten hold of some of the plans that the father, an engineer, was working on for the military.  The Major is excited, believing that the boy has managed a breakthrough that no one else has and looks to use him for the war.  He goes to Bruno and demands he explains what happens and even threatens him, but the boy does nothing.  That night, the boy bombs the Town Hall where the Major is staying, but the Major happened to be in the barracks.  He heads right to Bruno's house and shoots him in the head because he would not cooperate.  It's at this point that a hail of missiles strike the town, killing everyone in the house.

Reflection

This story haunted me in some ways.  Bruno's story seemed to be a backdrop to the other things going on as the story is clearly set in World War II.  One passage that lingers is when we are told what happened to the teacher:  

"These words decided the elderly teacher's fate.  He had unwittingly stumbled on a secret - the nature of what was being produced in the underground factory.  And then, the engineer's son was now more valuable to the authorities than the man who had informed on him.  The teacher disappeared into a concentration camp.  That was what saved his life in the end."

That paragraph is just dropped into the story and we are meant to imagine how the concentration camp could be a saving grace as opposed to a death sentence.  Coupled with this is an interesting damning statement about the nature of the Germans warfare tactics made by the mother after she witnesses the Major kill her.  

Rating:  4 (out of 5 stars)

Source:  The Penguin World Omnibus of Science Fiction.  Edited by Brian Aldiss and Sam J. Lundall.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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Image of the Week #30: "The Passing of Race Prejudice"

The Wellesley News (03-20-1919)

What Is It

An article  from the Wellesley News, the student newspaper of Wellesley College, from the late 1910s. 


Why I Find It Interesting

I can appreciate the hope and sentiment of this piece, but a hundred years later and several genocides, apartheid, and other such atrocities make me think the author was a bit too generous in how long this process this would take.  It is interesting to see this sentiment so early in the 20th century though:  "The old idea that we must superimpose our Western civilization on the peoples of India and China is fast being defeated." However, it seems to me that the final line, "The power of a great emotion, and that emotion the love of God in Jesus Christ, can alone accomplish the miracle." gives away the game.  First, it calls upon a miracle, rather than people to do the hard work.  Second, by enshrining this goal of defusing racial prejudice (solely focused on the "East"--nevermind internally) in Christianity, it clearly ignores the religious differences intertwined in the many different cultures of the "East." 

This submission is part of the Image of the Week series.  For access to all photos, which are open for reuse under a Creative Commons License, check out the full album on Flickr.

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Review: Challenging Casanova: Beyond the Stereotype of the Promiscuous Young Male

Challenging Casanova: Beyond the Stereotype of the Promiscuous Young Male Challenging Casanova: Beyond the Stereotype of the Promiscuous Young Male by Andrew P. Smiler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Boys don't have to be "boys" but we sure want them to think so. Overall, I appreciate Smiler's effort to delegitimize male culture that emphasizes and trains men to be "Casanovas" (promiscuous and disregardful of women). He hits upon several points that correspond to my own experience while also leading down some roads I had not thought of. There are some places here he comes up short (e.g. he argues that the male as "player" only really began to be celebrated in the 1960s and beyond--but ignores characters like Costello who was a player regularly celebrated within the Abbott and Costello show).

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Review: Fables, Vol. 22: Farewell

Fables, Vol. 22: Farewell Fables, Vol. 22: Farewell by Bill Willingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh Bill Willingham--I know all things must end, but did you have to end Fables. For over a decade, it has been my favorite graphic novel series. Since I first read the firs trade, I have avidly followed the series, including the spin-off series (Jack of Fables, Literals, Fairest, Cinderella,), the book (Pete and Max), and even the crossovers (The Unwritten). You created an amazing universe that was both intimately known and perversely foreign and made me (and so many others) fall in love with your renderings of characters, places, and events. I know I am likely to re-read Fables several times over the span of my life, returning to a series that played with fiction in some many fantastic ways, I could teach a variety of different courses around the series. Thank you for this ending...but also, damn you!

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Short Story #394: The Tree by H. P. Lovecraft

Title: The Tree

Author:  H. P. Lovecraft

Summary:

Book cover to H. P. Lovecraft: The Complete Collection with Accompanying Facts from Red Skull Publishing
The story begins with identifying a strange olive tree and tomb that sits upon Mount Maenalus in Arcadia that seems strange.  The effect of this tree and tomb causes many people to avoid the place and rumor tells that it is a regularly visited by Pan.  The narrator then delves into its history.  It started with two sculptors, Kalos and Musides, who were known throughout for their amazing work and enduring friendship. Eventually, the Tyrant of Syracuse enlists both of them to create an inspiring statue for him.  Since the two were not competitive they relied upon one another to inform and shape their work.  However, Musides soon becomes depressed and it is revealed that his depression is because Kalos was ill.  Kalos's illness continues and Musides is continually distracted and tries to give comfort.  As he gets weaker, he requests to be brought to the olive grove to be left alone.  This is disheartening to Musides but he still helps in getting him there.  As his demise approaches, he requests that the twigs of the olive tree in this particular grove be planted near his head when he dies.  Musides does exactly that and also creates a beautiful statue alongside his grave.  With the tragedy passed, Musides returns to the sculpture for the Tyrant and focuses all of his emotions upon it.  A few years pass and a fully-fledged olive tree has grown out of the twigs.  He finishes the statue and requests for the Tyrant to come and take it.  However, the night before the arrival, a hard storm wreaks havoc and eventually destroyed the hall wherein Musides had worked, though it seems more like the strange olive tree growing out of Kalos's grave did most of the damage.  Musides had entirely disappeared.  With the statue destroyed, people leave and largely avoid the area from then on.

Reflection

It seems like this was an attempt at myth by Lovecraft.  It feels more like myth-making than horror.  Placing it in Greece and in ancient times certain helps as does the reference to Pan, but the structure of the story seems to be missing something--such as what drove the illness of Kalos and what happened to Musides.  It seems like he's trying to tell a story of the old days in the method of old folklore but it doesn't seem to carry through. 

Rating:  2 (out of 5 stars)

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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Image of the Week #29: The College Bookstore, 1910s edition

The Wellesley News (04-04-1918)

What Is It

An article from the Wellesley News, the student newspaper of Wellesley College, from the late 1910s. 


Why I Find It Interesting

A student lamenting about the costs of books in the college bookstore?  No way! 100 years later and we are still troubled by the exorbitant prices of the college bookstore.  Again, things change and yet they don't.  Interestingly, the bookstore also ran rental programs which is something else done now, though I'm not even sure they are at half-prices anymore.  It makes me think what will the commentary about bookstores 100 years from now. 


This submission is part of the Image of the Week series.  For access to all photos, which are open for reuse under a Creative Commons License, check out the full album on Flickr.

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June's Gratitude

June is a crazy month.  Work is busy and it was that way before I had to take nearly 3 weeks off to do courses for my PhD.  So it can get quite stressful and yet, I maintained my gratitude practice throughout the month, which helped center me at times as the stress ebbed and flowed.  


June's Thankful Blog Word Cloud
Taking time each day to acknowledge the big and small elements of my life has proved quite useful as a calming device and to lessen stress.  It helps me to situate the good and marvelous while de-emphasize that which is looming.  It can also turn that which is stressful into something positive.  For instance, I am clearly stressed with reading and course work during June but by pausing and reflecting on it, I am also thankful to be in a doctoral program where I have the opportunity (really, the luxury) to engage in intellectual acrobatics about the nature of higher education.  As my mind comes to that realization, it makes the stress of trying to get everything done for the class a bit less daunting.  

So I have been practicing daily gratitude for six months and weekly thank-you notes for about four months.  I don't know that I've seen much change (though I'm not necessarily looking for change, but just seeing if I register any difference) but I do find it brings me joy and helps me to keep life in perspective.  I'd like to think I can keep things in reasonable perspective, but I think we all believe that about ourselves (just like we're all above average), so helping to center myself in regards to the great things that are present in my life certainly helps.  

For those interesting in seeing what else I've been reflecting on when it comes to gratitude, here's a look:


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Review: 50 Digital Ideas You Really Need to Know

50 Digital Ideas You Really Need to Know 50 Digital Ideas You Really Need to Know by Tom Chatfield
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chatfield's book is a purely distilled text of the major ideas and elements of digital media one would need to know or might want a bit more clarity on. Chatfield lays out clear yet sufficiently complex ideas so that this feels less like a "Just for Dummies" book and more like an adult introduction. This works well because for neophyte and professional alike, there is apt to be plenty to learn (or just better contextualize). Again, one of those texts that should be an essential for any digital native or immigrant.

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Review: Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this letter from a father to his son, Coates tries to explain the different world of racism that exists today than when he was growing up. It's a complicated but well-worded communication that captures the nuances of the past and the present and what it means to be black in American. Coates draws out the challenges that he faced and how his son must face challenges that echo but are different from his and he wonders just what it means to be a second generation college-educated African American in a country where there is an African American president as well as numerous reports of indiscriminate violence upon blacks by people in positions of power. It is heart-wrenching, eloquent, and powerful--reading is a must for this one!

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Short Story #393: The Street by H. P. Lovecraft

Title: The Street

Author:  H. P. Lovecraft

Summary:

Book cover to H. P. Lovecraft: The Complete Collection with Accompanying Facts from Red Skull Publishing
The narrator explains that though we know living things to have souls, there is still some speculation about an inanimate object, but the story that follows is meant to raise that question further.  The narrator explains that there was a street that became the first home of settlers from Europe, where they set up their cabins and rallied to fight the Indians.  The story tells all about its flourishing developments and prospering as the United States became a more prosperous place.  From log-cabins to houses with a paved road and signs of modernity, the street becomes a place to admire  However, slowly new immigrants began to penetrate the street and these people brought with them strange tongues and traditions.  Their presence begins to bring down the value and importance of the street.  Worse, they begin to plot the overthrow of the country and wish to do harm to those who have made the country great.  On the eve of their assault, the street rebels and brings down all the houses with the men in them, leaving very few if any alive in them.


Reflection

And here where is where Lovecraft shows his true stripes as xenophobic bigot.  The tale seems focused largely on the spread of communism at the end, but is a crudely hidden rant about the "foreigner" and how they are going to undo the prestige and power of the Anglo-Saxon tradition.  

Rating:  1 (out of 5 stars)

Source:  I read this version  of a the complete works of H. P. Lovecraft from Red Skull Publishing (that's their book cover too).  However, you can find all of H. P. Lovecraft's work for free at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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Image of the Week #28: "The Woman of Today"

The Wellesley News (04-15-1920)

What Is It


An advertisement from the Wellesley News, the student newspaper of Wellesley College, from the late 1910s. 


Why I Find It Interesting

I'm curious if the image of the woman on the right is indeed the "The Dress of the Hour for the Woman of To-Day."  If so, I'm curious about what makes it the dress of the hour?  The image on the right is curious because showing a women in a dress ringing a bell invokes the message of the dress of the hour.  She's ringing the hourly bell in her new dress.  However, it also denotes a sense of freedom as her outfit also seems to evoke a revolutionary garb and the most famous bell, the liberty bell, being run.  The image captures both of these ideas while the ad also reports that the dress is "serviceable, practical, smartly tailored"-which hint at a freedom of movement for the modern woman. 

This submission is part of the Image of the Week series.  For access to all photos, which are open for reuse under a Creative Commons License, check out the full album on Flickr.

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My Most Recent Reads - June 2016

And June flew by in a whirlwind of classes, academic articles, commuting to UMASS Boston because that's what I do in June (catch up in my adventures in PhD land here), and other things going on.  I didn't get any physical books read (unless you combine the numerous articles I read for class), but between commuting, walking and cycling (running is out as I've injured my IT band), I got in a good amount of listening and some really great books to talk about today.  

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Word cloud of the blog post.Alexander delivers a brutal and systematic accounting of the ways in which US culture has continued to disenfranchise, alienate, and marginalize African Americans in the 20th and 21st century.  Though she starts with the exploration of slave and post-slave society, she traces a variety of policies, practices, and laws within criminal justice on the local, state, and federal level coupled with explorations of public policy, economic policy, business and employment practices, sociological findings, and many other disciplinary research to paint a vivid tapestry of the legal language of colorblindness in many perpetuates drastic proportional inequalities between whites and African Americans in particular but other minorities as well.  It's an eye-opening and excruciating look that can be hard to fully accept, especially for those that have never considered such things.  She provides some ideas about how to fix it but just being able to name it so fully is the needed start.  For anyone trying to understand the modern cultural landscape, racial politics, and what it means to try to succeed as an African-American in the US, this book is a must-read.

Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas by John Pollack

Pollack explores the power of and importance of analogies in our personal and professional communication.  It's a solid book to help one think about the ways we fall into traps around analogies and how we can construct substantial analogies to get our point across.  I appreciated Pollack's ability to provide many examples that help show both the power and problem with analogies as well as the factors that go into making strong analogies.  If you plan to do any work wherein you need to convince other people or provide guidance to others to understand an approach actions or ideas in particular ways, this book will provide you with a strong toolset to get it done.  

The Fireman by Joe Hill

Hill's new novel is a fun joyride into a post-apocalyptic world in which a new fungus has spread across the world.  Once infect, the person develops a golden rash, known as dragon scale, which eventually leads them to burst into flames.  Unsure about what to do with them, the government begins to quarantine and eventually kill them as they cause increasing hazards, setting entire areas of the country on fire.  Enter Harper, a smart, caring, and pregnant nurse who gets the dragon-scale and is unsure what to do.  Her husband believes he knows what best, let them both take a bullet to the head, but she wants to live for the child inside her.  Along the way to her decisions, she meets the Fireman, a man that seems to get along with his infection and a whole camp of people who also manage to survive despite being infected.  Overall, it's a fun novel and while I don't mean this in a diminutive or derivative way, this novel makes clear that Joe Hill is the offspring of Stephen King.  Abusive and dominant partner, New England setting (with a fixation on Maine), unforeseen (but foreseeable) betrayal, batshit-crazy preacher, eclectic folks throughout, and several other King hallmarks make their appearance in this book.  But Hill does well with it and takes up King's mantle in a way that shows he has the same skills as his father.  Additionally, I listened to the audiobook which was narrated by Kate Mulgrew, who was largely enjoyable with the plot and characters, but occasionally bungled local pronunciations.

So that's all I got for now.  See you next month with some new reads!

Monthly reads for 2016 (and you can always look at all of my books that I've read on GoodReads)

AUDIOBOOKS


  • But What If We're Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past by Chuck Klosterman
  • Leading the Learning Revolution: The Expert's Guide to Capitalizing on the Exploding Lifelong Education Market by Jeff Cobb
  • We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
  • The Knight of the Swords (Corum, #1) by Michael Moorcock
  • Maestro Mario: How Nintendo Transformed Videogame Music into an Art by Andrew Schartmann
  • The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture by Glen Weldon
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
  • Alexander
  • Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas by John Pollack
  • The Fireman by Joe Hill
  • The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
  • Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art by Virginia Heffernan
  • The Stormlight Archive Volume 1 : The Way of Kings (1 of 5) by Brandon Sanderson


GRAPHIC NOVELS


  • The Heiress and the Chauffeur, Vol. 1  by Keiko Ishihara
  • Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick
  • Extraordinary X-Men Vol. 1: X-Haven by Jeff Lemire


What about you, reader?  What book recommendations do you have for me?

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Review: Infinite Progress: How the Internet and Technology Will End Ignorance, Disease, Poverty, Hunger, and War

Infinite Progress: How the Internet and Technology Will End Ignorance, Disease, Poverty, Hunger, and War Infinite Progress: How the Internet and Technology Will End Ignorance, Disease, Poverty, Hunger, and War by Byron Reese
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's alieving to see a text that celebrates what technology has done and has the potential to do. I don't know if I find the entirety of Reese's writing to be possible as he bypasses and largely ignores the environmental issues that seem to impede our chances of attaining a nearly utopian future, but I applaud his argument in so far as it connected the dots in how technology can reasonable diminish a great deal of harms to human existence.

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Review: Redesigning America's Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success

Redesigning America's Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success Redesigning America's Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success by Thomas R. Bailey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to really like this book. There are some points to it that are valuable and think can help improve outcomes at community colleges. In particular, the way it considers choice design and providing clearer pathways for students I think is incredibly useful to consider. However, it flails when it talks about classroom design or even when it tries to accurately discuss the student populations. It says that including the part-time faculty is important and yet makes mention of them on less than eight pages in the entire book; the rest of the time, the authors focus on full-time faculty in their remarks. Most problematic is that it is simply too vague and simple. It defines success as graduation but never provides what is a meaningful completion rate to acquire, which is useful to consider when even the authors note that more than half the students are likely to stop because of financial limitations and at least three out of five students are responsible for someone (a child, an ailing parent, etc). I do think it's a relevant read for those who work in the realm of community college, but it has it is not necessarily a great book by any means.

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Short Story #392: The White Ship by H. P. Lovecraft

Title: The White Ship

Author:  H. P. Lovecraft

Summary:

Book cover to H. P. Lovecraft: The Complete Collection with Accompanying Facts from Red Skull Publishing
The nameless narrator talks about his legacy as a light-house operator and how his grandfather, his father, and he have been operating it over the years.  However, the ships are far and few in his day.  Yet, there is a white ship that regularly crossed the horizon every so often.  He also explains that he is lured to the ocean by its secrets and what it reveals to him.  One night, he sees the white ship and a bearded man on deck invites him upon the ship from afar.  The narrator doesn't take the offer initially, but eventually journeys out to the ship and together they follow a bird to magical and haunting lands until their settle at the Land of Sona-Nyl, a wondrous place where people are content.  But the narrator isn't content and wishes to seek out the land of Cathuria, where the gods live.  He insists on going there and the bearded man warns him increasingly that no one returns from such a place so one can never be sure just what awaits them.  They follow the bird again back out into the sea and travel for days before encountering signs that they are approaching Cathuria.  However, when they arrive where they believe it is, the ship is torn asunder and the bearded man explains to the narrator that he has abandoned Land of Sona-Nyl for a place that is exclusive to the gods and he cannot get there.  As the ship tears apart, the man finds himself in utter darkness, awakening to be back on the lighthouse, the same night he left, but the light has gone out and the white ship on the water has crashed.  The next day, he searches for ship remains and only finds a rare but dead bird.


Reflection

Many of these types of stories wherein the narrator takes a trip to the fantastic, remind me very much of Robert Howard (creator of Conan series) and the earlier writers of fantasy.  They provide these compelling and curious broad strokes about these fantasy worlds that are both simple and yet clearly indicate the author has craft a rich conception of the worlds that they are merely hinting at.  Lovecraft does this with his evil gods and horror stories, but I'm increasing fascinated with how he does this with his fantasy stories.  It makes me wonder of all the worlds he did create and how much more we could have gotten to explore them if he lived longer than a few decades.

Rating:  4 (out of 5 stars)

Source:  I read this version  of a the complete works of H. P. Lovecraft from Red Skull Publishing (that's their book cover too).  However, you can find all of H. P. Lovecraft's work for free at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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Image of the Week #27: Liberty Bonds

The Wellesley News (04-25-1918) 01

What Is It

An advertisement from the Wellesley News, the student newspaper of Wellesley College, from the late 1910s. 


Why I Find It Interesting

I'm regularly intrigued by the different strategies used for war bonds.  I remember seeing them a lot when I was reading comics of the 1940s as well as listening to old time radio.  The comic ads were different from the radio ads in how they appealed to the audience, and both of those are different from the liberty bond ads in the Wellesley News, which often make stronger moral appeals based upon the role of females (domestic roles, typically).  In this instance, using guilt and resourcefulness by claiming "You will NEVER be excused or forgiven for wasteful extravagance now.  SAVE and BUY LIBERTY BONDS.  Don't criticize--energize!".  The message also seems to play upon women's purity with the idea that they could be forever tarnished by a "wasteful extravagance."  


This submission is part of the Image of the Week series.  For access to all photos, which are open for reuse under a Creative Commons License, check out the full album on Flickr.

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Catching A Classic At the Cabot

I enjoy films and have had the opportunity to use it in several courses and even teach an adapting fiction into film class over the years.  I've also been a fan of movies and enjoy the experience deeply.  However, I most recently had one of the most magical experiences of watching a film.  

I certainly enjoy watching new films up on the big screen as opposed to at home but I don't got too often because the price is often not worth it and very few movies warrant it.  However, I find myself more and more wanting to watch older films on the big screen.  I get particularly excited when I discover that a local theater is playing a classic movie on their big screen because the opportunity to sit in a darkened theater and experience a film as it was originally conceived to be presented puts me in touch with a past that I will never really know.  

This is particularly true for older black and white film, before an age of television when the films could only be shown on the big screen.  There are interesting differences in the black and white films of the early 20th century as opposed to the modern film and it's always a lot of fun to watch and connect with that history of film.

Film poster for 1925 film, Varieté
Thus, when The Cabot, a local historical theater in Beverly, Massachusetts offered up the 1925 film, Varieté, I was excited to watch a silent black and white film on the big screen.  I knew nothing about the film.  I only knew I had a free Friday night and the show would be a good activity.  

However, this was no mere showing of the film.  The soundtrack for the film was to be provided by the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra (BSFO).  Yes, there is a silent film orchestra and they are absolutely fabulous!  The orchestra stems from a film-score course at Berklee wherein students find a silent film and over the course of the semester create a film score for it.  They do not listen to the original score but rather work hard to come up with a score that embodies what they see happen throughout the film and they did an amazing job, coming up with 90 minutes of music and sounds that perfectly captured the film's mood, actions, and themes.  

The film itself is a fascinating film in terms of its cinematography and aesthetics.  It follows the antics of an acrobat who leaves his wife for a newly acquired (literally) love, only to lose her to another acrobat and thus feels compelled to murder the other acrobat.  The plot is problematic to say the least as the violence towards and possession of women is problematic (e.g. he has no issue leaving his wife and child for a woman he essentially owns but has fault with her leaving him; she is raped by the second acrobat but somehow this encourages her to fall for him) feels beyond antiquated but outright barbaric.  Looking beyond that (as hard as it may be), the cinematography is quite impressive for a 90-year-old film.  The use of camera angle, the capturing of the acrobatics, and some of the inventive shots and pans were fascinating.  Equally, this film as much as Nosferatu and many other classic silent films captures the power of the silent film in the sense of how much it could convey with only a handful of title cards.

But the BSFO made the movie absolutely magical.  Its power was in its almost entire absence.  As I sat in my seat in the mezzanine seat (more on that later) and could not see them, it was often hard to remember that I was actually listening to live music in an old theater.  Their music for all ninety minutes of the film blended seamlessly with the film and added such a strong ambiance that throughout they felt as part of the natural landscape (soundscape?) of the film.  The only times I was drawn to their existence was when the audience would break out into applause at their work (not entirely sure when this happened but it might have been at the switching of conductors or clear pauses in their performance).  
A picture of the Cabot theater from the upper mezzanine level.
A picture of the Cabot theater from the upper mezzanine level.

Besides the amazing music, something else made the cinematic experience so transcendent and magical.  I opted to buy tickets in the upper mezzanine at The Cabot.  I've been to many events here but never when the mezzanine has been opened.  I opted for the mezzanine because I thought it would be cool but also, the upper mezzanine (think: partial nosebleed) was also cheaper (not by much).  But these were the perfect seats.  I still saw the film perfectly but I also felt enveloped in the theater in such a way as I rarely experienced before.  I love the new theaters with their comfortable, spacious and reclining seats.  But sitting in the mezzanine section with few others lost in a beautifully restored and visually-well constructed film with amazing live music--it was something I won't soon forget and wholly had not experienced until this point. 

The next time The Cabot does this, I will most definitely be there.  I hope to see you there too!



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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.