Bunnies of Dooooooom!


It is time.

The annual Easter horror is once again upon us, in the form of bizarrely proportioned lapinesque beings with an inexplicable habit of distributing the colorfully painted unhatched offspring of hapless chickens to all and sundry.

Easter Bunny

The giant bunnies mark their prey with fancy hats.

As all five or six of the regular readers of this blog already know, I have my own way of dealing with Easter and the baleful bunnies of spring: The Annual Telling of the Story. It goes a little something like this:

Once upon a time, when I was a small child, my parents bought a gigantic inflatable Easter Bunny. It was about 6 feet tall, and just as Easter Bunnyish as can be. My father blew up the monstrous thing (I am assured that it was a difficult process, which is some small consolation, I suppose, for what follows), and stuck it in a coat closet for safe keeping, so that it would be a surprise.

Oh, how right he was about the surprise.

Imagine that you are a small child. You have visions of sweet little bunnies and candy in your head, and you’re happily hunting all over the house for Easter eggs. It is a fun day, a beautiful day, and you are wearing your Easter best with at least some semblance of grace (for a change). You expect nothing.

Then you open the closet door, and IT comes out.

It is GIGANTIC — as tall as your father (taller!) — and it smells like plastic. It fairly explodes out of the closet. You try to get away in your utter shock, but you are unable to escape — the scary, smelly plastic thing has tackled you.

A young girl poses with the

This kid knows *exactly* what I’m talking about.

All of your worst childhood fears about monsters in closets are in that moment proved entirely reasonable and right. They are real, and they will jump out at you when you least suspect it. Screaming seems to be an appropriate response to reality at the moment, so screaming is exactly what you do.

And your parents…laugh. They can hardly help themselves.

Because it is hilarious. I mean, it really is.

Every Easter, I remember the day paranoia became a reasonable position to take. The monsters in the closet are real, and they will get you, and it will be comedy gold.


Freakin’ BUNNIES, man.

Thanks, Mom and Dad! Happy Easter! :)


Photo credits for the two black and white images above:
1. The Library of Virginia
2. Johnson, Francis P. A young girl poses with the “easter bunny”. 1953. Black & white photoprint, 5 x 4 in. Florida Memory (State Library and Archives of Florida)

Content in this post has appeared in previous Easter retellings, beginning in 2014. Hey, it’s my blog — I can do that if I want to!

Posted in Questionable Parenting, random stuff, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown…

…especially when said head belongs to a lonely gorilla the size of a building who can’t seem to catch a break.

[There will be some spoilers for Kong: Skull Island (2017) here. If you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want the details, well…um…go away, then, right? If you want a short recommendation, I say: go see it! It’s more fun than you might expect, and it does some interesting things!]

Continue reading

Posted in Habitrail Critic, review | Tagged , , , , ,

[Review] The Chicago Guide to Fact-Checking

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I would develop short lessons about appropriate responses to information in the context of both general research skills instruction and specific kinds of library information literacy instruction. I’ve been collecting books and links and other resources as I think about it, and the most recent book I’ve read on the subject so far is Brooke Borel’s The Chicago Guide to Fact-Checking (University of Chicago Press, 2016). I freely admit (as a loud and proud CMS16 fangirl) that I came for the “Chicago,” but I definitely stayed for the content.



The Chicago Guide to Fact-Checking offers seven chapters, the content of the first six of which can be roughly broken down into two categories: an overview of the relevant concepts and procedures and more specific information addressing actual practice. The final chapter is a practice task, followed by appendices that provide an answer to the practice task and a set of useful resources. It’s short (174 pages, including the index and references), but that’s mostly an indication of the efficiency and clarity of Borel’s presentation rather than a sign of any limitations in its content.

The book is peppered throughout with little “Think Like a Fact-Checker” exercises that invite the reader to practice the skills described in the text. These short exercises are a nice touch — they give the reader the opportunity to take on the job of fact-checking in reasonable developmental steps. If I were teaching an introductory journalism course or training students to work on a university publication, Borel’s invitation to the reader to “think like a fact-checker” would be central to my agenda for the course.

This is a book very well suited, in fact, for introductory journalism students. Borel’s account of the work of fact-checkers is presented through specific examples of how that work is done for publication purposes, and includes quite a lot of basic procedural information for someone in or seeking to enter the journalism game. This isn’t a theoretical exploration of journalistic norms — it’s a how-to guide based on the expertise of someone in the business, and reflects both practical and professional norms for the job.

Obviously I am not a journalism instructor — I’m a philosopher who wants to be a librarian. For my purposes (teaching undergraduates in either introductory philosophy classes or library instruction sessions), much of the inside-baseball material about journalistic practice isn’t especially useful, although I think consumers of news media would definitely benefit from becoming more familiar with how journalists and editors do their jobs. The method encoded in Borel’s account of practice is, however, potentially quite useful indeed regardless of audience. Her careful descriptions of how to check different kinds of facts and how to handle different kinds of sourcing are invaluable for anyone trying to develop a basic awareness of how and where to find relevant and reliable information. I especially appreciate her treatment of the distinction between primary and secondary sources and the accompanying information about how to evaluate the credibility of items in both categories. I might not find occasion to assign the entire book, but I would certainly find reason to cite it and to point students toward reading certain pieces of it.

So, short take: Borel does the signal service of providing a brief, clear, useful guide on the subject from a journalist’s point of view, and along the way opens a window into both good research practice and the tricky business of journalism itself. Even if you’re not a journalist, it’s a book worth having around.

Posted in Library Business, review | Tagged , , , , , ,

Lost and Found Poetry



Today’s entry in the ongoing business of cataloging the Wood’s House collection is a bit of poetic whimsy and class consciousness, discovered unexpectedly lurking in an aged copy of a 1938 World Syndicate edition of Joseph Devlin’s A Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms. Devlin’s useful work has been in print in one form or another for a very long time; it’s still easy to find the mass market paperback edition from 1984 in used bookstores, in libraries, and  through online vendors. It appears to have been printed by World Syndicate in a few different forms through the late 1930s and early 1940s, including a leather-bound edition and more than one cloth-covered hardback. Some editions of the book from this time period included “5000 words most commonly mispronounced.”

This particular book — hardback, cloth-covered rather than leather, with a sewn binding — was distributed by The Delehanty Institute of 115 East 15th St. in New York City (or so a stamp on the title page claims). Its subtitle indicates that it is “an indispensable aid to anyone who writes or speaks the English language,” but the 5000 commonly mispronounced words do not appear here. Aside from the Delehanty Institute stamp, there are no other markings in the text, and while the pages have yellowed a bit and the whole thing’s more than a little musty, the book is in reasonably good shape.

There are two things that make this otherwise unremarkable little word-book into a minor curiosity: its distributor and a little paper hitchhiker found inside of the front cover.

The Distributor

The Delehanty Institute (founded by Michael J. Delehanty — he opened his first civil service school around 1915) was for a time one of the premier civil service academies in New York. Its many branches across the city and beyond provided educational opportunities for firefighters, police, and other civil servants as well as supporting a high school in Queens named for the founder. Under Mr. Delehanty’s leadership, the institute  “[flourished] to a point where it once was estimated that 90 per cent of all the city’s policemen and 80 per cent of its firemen were graduates of his school.”  Delehanty’s approach favored “knowledgable” policing and service (by contrast to the usual approaches, which tended to emphasize brawn over brains), and in that context, the distribution of Devlin’s book by the Institute seems a natural choice, particularly given the ways in which elocution and vocabulary improvement have often been treated as contributors to class mobility. I strongly suspect that it’s not an accident that Delehanty was apparently distributing Devlin’s book around the time Edith Skinner created and promoted the Mid-Atlantic Accent so familiar to viewers of US films from the 1940s through the 1960s.

The Hitchhiker

Inside the front cover, there’s a slip of paper with a little magic in progress on it.


On a sheet from a notepad from the Presbyterian Ministers’ Fund (“The Clergy’s Life Insurance Specialist”), some handwritten text reads (roughly):

A moment of life

An instant of life, an instant of non-life

Throb, pulsating

Burst of energy [?]

Then silence of life

On the reverse side of the sheet, there’s more — what looks like the very beginning of a poem draft and a planned outline for more:


Leaving aside any consideration of the aesthetic merits of the poetic offering in progress here, there’s something compelling about the snapshot of a life represented by its presence in the flyleaf of a synonym/antonym collection. It hints at the possibility of a story (imagined out of whole cloth, because there’s no reliable way to know who wrote these words): the tale of a passionate minister (or minister’s spouse) with a love for words, taking time out of an afternoon of pastoral obligation to scribble thoughts as they came on a promotional notepad, carefully collecting words from the book to bring an energetic vision to life. The poetry here (involving rather a lot of “throbbing” and whatnot) doesn’t seem to live in the staid and respectable language of a Presbyterian sermon (although religious language, too, can throb and pulsate and leap and dance). Still, it suggests something lively under plain black covers, as if the book itself wished to assemble its more exciting words into something bright and suggestive.


Posted in Adventures in Collection Management, aesthetics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Footnotes and Letters


The Wood’s House collection, as I’ve said before, is made up mostly of odds and ends; it’s a sort of Island of Misfit Books, including everything from ragged paperback novels to cookbooks and old editions of Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. Among the better-kept misfits is a very nice cloth-bound 1976 edition of noted historian Page Smith‘s A New Age Now Begins: A People’s History of the American Revolution, in two large volumes, complete with the original dust jackets. While the book is clearly the product of considerable scholarly effort, it is not particularly scholarly in style — its voice leans toward the polemic. There are no footnotes, a choice the author defends in a Bibliographical Note at the end of volume 2; Smith is especially annoyed with “didactic” footnotes that have become “a sort of cumbersome vehicle, full of scholarly impedimenta, which is dragged along with the text and from which the author pulls forth for display endless exhibits of his erudition, fending off critics with frequent asides designed to demonstrate his knowledge of the field, and making snide comments about rival historians” (Smith, 1976, p. 1833).

While some reviewers found it entertaining, at least one found Smith’s turn toward narrative and away from the didactic unimpressive. According to Forrest McDonald (published in the Autumn 1976 issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review),

One might sum this up merely by saying this is the worst book I have ever reviewed, which is true enough. But one cannot let it go at that. The book contains some potent and persuasive narrative, and plays upon highly fashionable prejudices, and thus there is a likelihood that it might be taken seriously. Indeed, in some quarters it already has been; it was an April Book-of-the-Month Club selection. One must therefore be more explicit in repudiating it. Had such a work appeared anonymously in an underground newspaper, no one would have a right to be offended, but for it to appear under the imprint of a respectable publisher and a reputable historian is nothing less than prostitution.

The Supreme Court has defined an obscene book as one that is offensive to ordinary standards of decency and contains no redeeming social value. By that criterion, A New Age Now Begins is on a par with the movies of Linda Lovelace.

McDonald, of course, begins his review with the bald assertion that “in the fuzzspeak idiom of our time, ‘people’s’ is a code word signifying an ideological position somewhere between that of Ralph Nader and that of Chairman Mao,” so it is possible that there are some ideological concerns coloring his reception of the text.* Ideology aside, however, the reviewer rightly points out a rather appalling number of errors of fact in the book — “The train of factual inaccuracies gets going midway through the first paragraph, when we are told that William and Mary were ‘monarchs of the German principality of Orange’ (p. 1),” and it only goes downhill from there.

What makes this particular edition of volume 2 of Smith’s book interesting to me, though, is something it contains that is unrelated to its content.


Inside of the front cover, I found two old letters and a postcard. The postcard is a simple pro forma acknowledgement of a church visit, sent by a pastor at the pictured Lutheran establishment to  Mr. Wood in 1978. It is clipped to two letters to Mr. Wood from a woman living in a nearby town, both neatly marked by the recipient to indicate when they’d been received and when he’d posted responses in the early months of 1979.

Facing the title page, I also found a hand-written draft  of a letter from  December 1979. The pages of the letter are all dated and neatly numbered, as is the title page of the book itself (received in 1976). It’s not clear whether the letter itself is actually complete; there is no signature, and there seems to be content missing between what’s said at the bottom of page 4 and  the sheet marked 5″ (an alternate page 5?).


It’s difficult to know quite what to do with these stowaways on the Island of Misfit Books. The people who wrote the letters are dead, and there is no reason to believe that their descendants would need or want to collect these particular bits of familial flotsam and jetsam. The two received letters are the sort of friendly correspondence  — mostly reporting tiny slices of the author’s life, basically small talk in text between old friends or fellow members of a congregation —  that might now be taken care of with a perfunctory email or text message. The unsent letter/draft is oddly poignant, but not something Mr. Wood’s surviving children would want to keep; he’s writing to a woman named Helen through what appears to be a pen pal exchange (he had apparently been separated from his wife for for some time when he wrote it). It’s an awkward getting-to-know-you letter, the kind of thing that I suspect most people find it difficult to write and even more difficult to send (see, for example, most dating site profiles).

The placement of the letters in the book seems, in a way, anomalous. I find myself wondering how a man who so meticulously indicated when he received and responded to his letters, a man who dated the books he received and made careful notes on them, came to leave correspondence in a book. The received letters were so neatly opened on the ends that I didn’t notice at first that they’d been opened. The book is in excellent condition, although it has obviously been read. I’m not surprised he didn’t send that tidy, awkward draft of a letter to Helen. I am, however, curious about why he kept it, and why he left it in this book. Perhaps he was interrupted, and never came back to the book. Perhaps someone else found the letters and stuck them in the book in the process of cleaning out the house, back when the university first took it over. There’s no obvious answer, although there are a number of entirely plausible and mundane possibilities.

There’s even less historical or archival value in these random letters than might be found in the “obscene” book in which they were left. Like Smith’s rejected footnotes, they are vehicles for information (personal rather than scholarly impedimenta) that have been dragged along with a text. The story of the world in 1978-1979 has been told without them. Yet it’s hard to ignore the sense of having a precious window into moments in someone’s life — not the world-shaking moments, but the small and entirely usual moments in which a person, however awkwardly, took the time to put pen or pencil to paper and reach out to someone else.

* McDonald was well known as a conservative historian, so this is perhaps a bit of an understatement on my part.

Posted in Adventures in Collection Management, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , ,

Fraktur-ed Fairy Tales

In a recent blog post, Harvard philosophy librarian Eric Johnson-DeBaufre tells the story of how Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche took over her brother Friedrich’s literary and philosophical legacy and remade it toward her own (proto-Nazi, German Nationalist, anti-semitic) ends. One of the most fascinating things in the tale told in Johnson-DeBaufre’s post is the way in which even the typface of a book could be (and in fact was) a part of promoting claims about national identity and establishing the nationalist bona fides of its author. Elisabeth didn’t just edit her brother’s work and re-frame it — she reprinted it, republishing material that had already been printed in Antiqua in iconically German Fraktur.

As I read the post, it occurred to me that not only had I seen a Fraktur edition of Nietzsche’s work, I actually owned one. When my employer’s library did a round of weeding many years ago (not long after I was hired), one of the books removed from the collection was a weird little orphan: volume 8 of the 11-volume 1922 Alfred Kröner Verlag (Leipzig) edition of Nietzsche’s complete works (as originally put together by Elisabeth with publisher C.G. Naumann), in sad shape but still readable.


The text wears its Fraktur proudly for what is, I think, meant to be a cheaper “pocket” edition (the cover boards are thin, stiffened paper, and the binding is glued rather than stitched), a style pioneered by Alfred Kröner that is apparently the precursor of the paperback publishing format.


The book has taken a beating over the years, although when it was removed from the library’s collection more than a decade ago, it hadn’t been checked out for a very, very long time; my current employer hasn’t had a robust German program for years, and recently eliminated all non-English languages other than Spanish from the curriculum. A penciled note beside the table of contents indicates that this book sold (or was listed to be sold) for about 90 cents in 1969; it’s not clear whether that note indicates when and from whom the library purchased it.


The full note on the left margin reads: “Lang + Lit (Lockhard) German Bookstore 2-24-69,” followed by the price. There are also two OCNs (one crossed out), a DDC call number (crossed out) and the LOC call number written in pen and pencil on various bits of the page not pictured here.

The contents of Volume VIII include an introduction to the volume (contextualizing its content relative to the rest of Nietzsche’s work, the usual thing one expects), a version of Beyond Good and Evil, a version of On The Genealogy of Morals, and “From the Nachlass,” some further material “On Peoples and Fatherlands” from 1886. There is also an afterword written by Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche in which she very briefly discusses the history of the two main texts, their connection to other items in the nachlass, and some editorial notes on the material as assembled.

There is something about the odd combination of aims here — Nietzsche’s original agenda vs. Elisabeth’s packaging and promotion of her brother’s work, all set in the context of AKV’s broader goal to make important works materially accessible to people who might not otherwise be able to afford to read them — that seems worth exploring further.

UPDATE: Because I couldn’t leave well enough alone, I wrote a little more about this typeface business — check it out!

Posted in Adventures in Collection Management, Library Business, Philosophy, random stuff | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Finding Comfort in the Need for Roots

I suspect that this is the second time (and perhaps not the last) in my working life as an adult when it will be my job to put on my game face, stiffen the ol’ upper lip, and go help other people process a big change in their world. I am no better prepared for it now than I was the last time.

I, too, am looking for comfort and help to process the change in the world. It is not the end of the world. Not yet, anyway. Nonetheless, it is a change, and I have to find a way to deal with it, just like everyone else. For me, finding a way to deal with it today (like so many days) involves turning to books.

A long while back, I ran a Women in Philosophy and Religion seminar in which we narrowed our focus to three authors: Simone de Beauvoir, Simone Weil, and Hannah Arendt. The choice was deliberate. I wanted students to see (a little bit, anyway) what these women saw in Europe, in humankind, and in themselves. It was, I think, a pretty good class, and the various texts worked very well together (especially Arendt and Weil). Sadly, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t get students here to enroll in a class like that now, but I wish I could.

I wish I could just sit down with them and read Weil’s The Need for Roots. It’s not an easy book, and there is much in it that one ought to question, but I think it is a timely book just the same. I want to read it next to The Origins of Totalitarianism again, and compare Arendt’s and Weil’s diagnoses of the conditions of their time, which might shed some small light on how we got where we are now. Note that I’m not suggesting some facile, oversimplified comparison of Trump to Hitler. No, what I’m interested in is the people (all of us), not The Man, and I think these women give us a humane and humbling (and sometimes a bit frightening) way to think about that and about what might be done.

Discourses, Up Close

A tiny little bit of the Loeb Classical Library edition of the first two volumes of the Discourses of Epictetus.

I also want to sit down with Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. I wish I could show my students the subtle differences in their Stoicism, the ways in which their respective positions in the world might change how they understand what they’re doing. I’m currently reading Beyond Good and Evil with a class, and I wish we were far enough along and deeply enough acquainted with Nietzsche to see both the warning and the hope in a book like that.

One finds comfort where one can.

Posted in Ginger's Narcissistic One-Body Book Club, Philosophy, Rant and Ramble, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments