Monday News: Prison librarians, Junot Diaz, aesthetics of illness, and the Open Book
Cell Service: Inside the World of Prison Librarians – An interesting article on prison librarians that highlights, among other things, the profound importance of reading (and of having the opportunity to read). So much of how those incarcerated are treated relates to the longstanding philosophical battle between those who believe that prison should be purely punitive and those who believe it should be rehabilitative (guess which side the US is currently on). Reading, and in particular, having a library in prison speaks to normality and congregation, escapism and civic literacy.
Being allowed the pleasure of reading has been a privilege for prisoners for nearly as long as the idea of criminal detention itself. In the 1700s, religious tomes were handed out with hopes that wayward convicts would find spiritual guidance and correct their behaviors. In the 19th and 20th centuries, an increase in public libraries bled into penal institutions, and scholars advocated for “bibliotherapy,” or rehabilitation through literacy. Inmates devoured texts on psychology and law, increasing their self-awareness and sometimes antagonizing officials by challenging their sentences or their treatment within a facility.
Today, roughly 1.5 million Americans are incarcerated in federal or state facilities that offer varying degrees of access to literature, from a few shelves full of worn titles to sprawling legal and recreational selections. – Mental Floss
Why acclaimed novelist Junot Diaz decided to write a children’s book – Sometimes it feels like everyone wants to write whatever the current “it” genre is – in this case YA and kid lit. And while there are no bona fide “credentials” for writing fiction, talent, skill, and authenticity of voice are certainly helpful. And in the case of kid lit, I personally think it takes more, not less, of all those characteristics to find lasting success. And in Diaz’s case, it’s not so much that his godchildren asked him to write a book representing kids like them; it’s that Diaz – as a writer – has been writing about and around children throughout his career, so the extension seems less about marketing and more about artistic vision:
Though he’s never written a children’s book, working on “Islandborn” — which will also be published in Spanish — wasn’t exactly a huge stretch for Diaz.
“Throughout my art, I’ve been obsessed with the life of young people,” he said. His first story collection, “Drown” (1996), was a semiautobiographical glimpse into the coming-of-age of Yunior, a Dominican immigrant in New Jersey, trying to make sense of sex and race, abandonment and rebellion. . . .
“I always knew my neighborhood was a universe,” said Diaz. From the beginning, he envisioned creating an interrelated body of work: “I did want to work at the level of community.” – Boston Globe
Challenge: Bonus points for those who can spot the Romance connection in the article.
How Tuberculosis Symptoms Became Ideals of Beauty in the 19th Century – An article/review of a new book on the alignment of disease and standards of female beauty in the late 18th and early to mid-19th century, especially in England. Diseases that created a wasting effect (consumption, tuberculosis, pneumonia, etc.) were particularly implicated in what Day calls “consumptive chic” (which is also the title of her book). I know that women often drew blue veins on themselves to accentuate thinness and languorous malnourishment, such was the social appeal of illness. There is a great deal to unpack here, and I have no idea if Day’s book tackles all of the complex issues around class, race, power, patriarchy, and commerce (among others), but, hey, it’s only $14.74 on Kindle right now, which, for an academic volume, is not bad at all.
As [Furman University’s Carolyn] Day notes, “tuberculosis” only appeared in print in 1839. Instead names including phthisis, consumption, scrofula, hectic fever, and graveyard cough identified its emaciation and decline. Although tuberculosis was an epidemic across classes, and genders, it became associated with respectable women. Part of this was a belief in being born with an inclination to the disease, which could be triggered by too much dancing or mental exertion (hence its attachment to literary “genius” in men who died of it, like the poet John Keats). Only in the later 19th century would it be recognized as the contagious bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB).
“Sanitary reform, plus social concerns, combined to transform tuberculosis in the latter half of the 19th century from a condition presented as conferring beauty and intelligence into a biological evil that was the product of social conditions that could and should be changed and controlled,” Day writes.
For instance, the long trains of early 1800s neoclassical-style dresses, with high waists and diaphanous fabric that were not dissimilar from nightgowns worn by the dying, were later shortened when it was thought they might drag in these contagions from the street. – Hyperallergic
Unique Airbnb is a book lover’s dream come true – In so many ways this is a genius idea, although I hope it doesn’t result in a slew of new bookstores opened by people who spent a week playing shopkeeper at this Scottish Airbnb. Still, since this place opened in 2015, it appears to be a clear success for the LA screenwriter who owns the place – and more power to her! You can basically star in your own rom com, even if you don’t sell any books.
And please let us know if you’ve either gone to the Open Book or booked a vacate there.
The bookshop and its upstairs living quarters are booked through 2020.
Guests at the Open Book pay about $50 a night to work for free. They can change the window displays, business hours and even the prices. But with so many book shops and so few residents, visitors tend to read more than they sell – including words of wisdom from previous shopkeepers. – CBS News