Saturday, June 16, 2007

Book Clouds

A few days ago, I wrote about two web sites I discovered for cataloging your books and sharing your "shelves" with the public. One of the interesting features of the sites is the "cloud" -- Shelfari has a tag cloud, and Library Thing has an author cloud. They generate lists based on your entries, and the more frequently something occurs, the bigger its name in the "cloud". It's a fascinating visual display of information about your personal library. I'm working on another post about reading, but I thought I'd share what currently appears in largest letters (meaning the most frequently appearing in my library) from my tag and author clouds.

The main tags in order, but not exhaustive are:

non-fiction, history, literature, fiction, classics, short stories, religion, Christianity, biography, American history, politics, theology, spiritual writing... and more. Now, this is a very incomplete list, because I've only added tags to a very small portion of the books that I've classified, but it's still fascinating to me as I look at which genres seem most conspicuous. There will be some shifting as I tag more, but this looks like a fairly accurate hierarchy of my interests.

The prominence of authors in my Library Thing catalog does take into consideration all the books I've added so far. There's still room for shifting as I add more, but so far it looks like a fairly accurate, albeit incomplete, representation of my favorite authors -- I must add that Charles Dickens is actually number one, but I haven't catalogued any Dickens books yet -- I own the Oxford Complete Dickens, a set of 23 hardcover volumes of everything Dickens published -- so be aware, Dickens' name will eventually be the largest in my author cloud. So far, however, the leaders are:

C. S. Lewis, Elizabeth Goudge, William Shakespeare, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Clifton Fadiman, Louis L'Amour, Marcel Proust, J. K. Rowling, Max Lucado, Alfred Hitchcock, J. R. R. Tolkein, David G. Hartwell (the editor of several short story collections I own), Robert Heinlein, Mary Norton, Ray Bradbury, Flannery O'Connor, Annie Dillard... and more.

I also have to add a few more disclaimers -- my favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, but since she wrote only the one book, her name will never appear large in my author cloud. Similarly, Flannery O'Connor, one of my biggest influences, will not appear as large as she actually is in importance. I own all her published work, but her early death precluded a very large body of writing. The clouds aren't perfect representations, but I just thought they were interesting enough to share, and hopefully you will find some author or subject here that is a favorite of yours, or perhaps a new author you might want to try. You can see my shelves at both websites by following the links.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Hats and Manners

Hats… there was a time, maybe 60, 70 years ago when men wore hats. Not baseball caps turned backwards, or slightly askew, but, at the very least, reasonably classy fedoras placed conservatively straight upon the head, or, in the case of sports, at a jaunty angle signaling a devil may care self-assurance. A hat wasn't merely an accessory; a man would no more go out in public without a hat in those days than he would without pants these days.

In many old pictures I’ve seen of busy city streets and sports events, in addition to the standard coats and ties, men were wearing hats. This was maybe in the 30s, 40s and 50s. Somewhere, or some time, along the way, there was a shift in values and dress. The extinction of the hat in society has been attributed to the failure of John F. Kennedy to wear a hat to his inauguration (in spite of the fact that the hatters' union had given him a brand new one the day before). It is said that a hatless president set the standard, but I suspect the fashion was ready to change anyway. This might have precluded – perhaps predicted – a shift in all values.

Men lose hats, and they grow hair – the Beatniks then the hippies become the new cultural symbol. The tidy suits and ties of the ballroom eventually give way to the bare feet and open shirts (or no shirts) of that quintessential 60s cultural event, Woodstock.

When I was in the Marine Corps, we were forbidden to wear the uniform outdoors without the appropriate cover (basically our name for a hat). Certainly the mere act of wearing a hat didn't make you able to fire your weapon with more accuracy or fight with any extra portion of strength, but it was an important symbol, a basic practice of etiquette -- or what we in the south might call manners. It showed respect for the uniform, for the Corps, and for ourselves. That is the essence of what the donning of a hat meant to a gentleman 60 or 70 years ago.

Nowadays it's in fashion for young men to wear a baseball cap turned around backwards -- not to mention their pants hanging halfway down their...uh, well, you know what I mean. That is symbolic, too, I believe, of a society that has become very self-centered, where manners don't matter much anymore. It's all about "me" and you better get used to it, like it or not. I have to admit, this annoys me.

I have a hat that I wear on occasion. It's a replica of the hat Indiana Jones wore in all his movies, but less sophisticated folks confuse it for a cowboy hat. It draws comments whenever I wear it, because wearing a hat is no longer part of belonging to polite society. It is, instead, a curiosity. When I’m accused of wearing a cowboy hat, I say, “It’s not for chasing cows! This is my action-adventure hat. It’s for wild romps through jungles, and for hanging from the landing gear of a plane at 10,000 feet.” It says – I am different. Perhaps I should try something really unusual – like wearing my hat… without pants. But I won't, because I still believe that wearing both appropriately is a matter of good manners. And to me, that's still important.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Lists of Wonder!

I love making lists – lists of words to learn (in English and Spanish), lists of books to read, lists of names of people from my past, list of just about everything. Lists are important, because they give a sort of order, and they help us to remember, and sometimes they even help us examine our random thoughts and analyze our unconscious resources. Here’s a list that I wrote in my journal a couple of years ago, and just reading over the list elicits so many feelings and thoughts. See how many, if any, you know and love:

dinosaurs, flying saucers, time travel, little green men, faeries, elves, munchkins, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Neverland, dragons, wizards, unicorns, flying pirate ships – the fairy tales of the brothers Graham, Hans Christian Andersen, Andrew Lang – folktales from people and cultures around the world – King Arthur,

Sherlock Holmes, Narnia, middle Earth, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the Bermuda triangle, Atlantis, Shangri-La – the mythologies of Greece, Rome, the Norse people – the religious visions of the Orient – the dreams of the philosophers – Gilgamesh, the Vedas, The Song of Hiawatha, angels and demons, ghosts and goblins, anthropomorphism, the wonders of art and architecture – all wonder!

Famous Monsters of Filmland, Ray Bradbury, Vincent Price, Ray Harryhausen, Forrest J. Ackerman,

comic books, Walt Disney, Looney Tunes, Popeye the Sailor Man, science fiction, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Stephen King, Peter Straub, A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, haunted houses, Bullwinkle and Rocky, Brigadoon, Somewhere in Time, Ben-Hur, Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits,

Lost in Space (one of my all-time favorites), Get Smart, My Favorite Martian, Gustav Holtz’s The Planets, superheroes, the Sunday funny papers, Pogo, Deputy Dawg, UFO, Starman, Back to the Future, Edgar Allan Poe, space music and New Age music – more to come, I’m sure…

Two Poems..."The Pond" and "Catharsis"

I don't consider myself a poet, but I love poetic language, so sometimes I play. Arranging and rearranging words and images and rhythms is, if not beneficial, at least a harmless pastime.

The Pond

In the thick summer air
a dragonfly dances,
his brilliant blue body
and wings lit
with the low morning sun,
while fat frogs sing
bass notes in three-quarter time,
the waltz of the pond.


We sat on the floor
in small groups
as sunlight poured
on our heads
from the skylight,
sharing our secret pain
with strangers,
carefully creating
new, acceptable selves.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

A "Big Silk Elephant"

One of the wonderful things about free-writing is that it's so revealing, just raw thought and emotion. This is a snippet from a much longer exercise. I'm presenting it here because it contains a singular thought -- a story maybe, or perhaps just a dream...actually just a sketch.

Free writing

He used to call the twilight of dusk a "big silk elephant", because it was gray and had big ears that could hear your thoughts, and it came up behind you and trampled over you, not hard and violent but soft, and it felt smooth on your skin like silk. He loved elephants and had a big poster of one from the circus taped to the door of his little bedroom, a room so tiny that it would probably just barely hold a real elephant. He said elephants were the most beautiful animals and you could look into their eyes and see right into their souls, could feel their stories and how sad they were because they had been taken away from the place they loved most and where they felt comfortable -- their home -- but now they were prisoners, one foot chained to a big cruel ugly stick driven into the ground by big dirty men with greasy hair and nicotine stained fingers. The twilight of dusk was like that too, sad-eyed and big and gray. One particular dusk he died and was carried out of his sadness on a big silk elephant.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Online Discovery...For Book Lovers

In another blog post I talk about my passion for books. If you are as fond of books as I am, then I think you may be interested in an online discovery I made recently.

How would you like to catalog your books? That's easy, you say, all you need to do is get some index cards, or make a spread sheet on the computer, or even do what I've done in the past and type them into a word processor file. No problem -- just time and patience. But what about fun? Is any of that really fun? Maybe you can keep the excitement going for the first one hundred and fifty books or so, but then that fantastic head of steam you'd built up condenses into moist drudgery.

How about a way to catalog your books, look for others who have the same books as you, and develop connections with other avid readers and book lovers? Sound like your cup of tea? Well, pull out the silver serving set and the fine china, because I'm going to tell you about a couple of web sites you won't want to miss.

The first site is called Library Thing. It's been around for a while, but I've just decided to create an account, which is very easy. All you have to do is select a user name and password to set up a free account. With a free account, you get to enjoy all the features of the site, including cataloging up to 200 of your books. If you want to catalog more, it costs $10.00 a year, or a one-time $25.00 payment for a lifetime membership. You can enter your books' ISBN numbers, titles, Library of Congress catalog numbers, and the search engine scans several databases, including, the Library of Congress, and over 60 international university libraries. If your book is in the database, you select it and add it to your library. For most books, an image is available, and if one is not, you can upload your own book images. It's a lot of fun to look at your book images or the libraries of other members. For all the information on how to join and use Library Thing, just go to

The other site is Shelfari. It's a newer site, and I've found lots of my books (particularly older ones) are not in the database. It searches also, but it doesn't have an option to enter your books or book images, which is a helpful feature of Library Thing. One feature that makes it very appealing is that it's free! The site owners have assured me they are looking at ways to add new features to the site where users can contribute info and book images. Members have their own profile page, and they can enter as much (or as little) information as they want. Members also have their own "shelves" where their books are displayed. Shelfari has a very user friendly social network. You can leave notes for other users and add friends, much like MySpace or Facebook. You can take a look at

By the way, if you're interested in looking at my shelves at either place, you can take a look at my LibraryThing libary at My Shelfari shelf is at If you decide to join, look me up and add me as a friend. See you at the library!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Back again...

That amazing philosopher packaged in the humble guise of baseball catcher, and later manager, Yogi Berra, was famous for his malapropisms. One of my favorites is, "It's deja vu all over again." Whenever I hear the phrase (with which I've titled this post) "back again", I'm given pause, like I am whenever I encounter one of Berra's Bloopers, because it seems to me that if you have returned somewhere, you are "back", and you are also there "again", so wouldn't it be sufficient to say, simply, "Back?" or "Again?" Now that I've clarified my awareness of the dubious doubling up of similar meanings to embrace a single event, I am now free to tell you, that's not what I meant.

No, indeed, I really mean, "back again!" Last week, my lower back was a little sore. I have a recurring problem which made a profound onset after a five-vehicle pile-up on July 12, 1993, in which we were unpleasantly engaged as vehicle number 2 -- a date which will live in infamy; at least it will in our household. It's nothing unusual for me to have back pain, and sometimes of debilitating severity. By last Friday I could barely get myself out of bed, and getting up was probably the most painful part of the process -- walking the second most painful, but not very far behind -- and doing anything else at all a very close third.

Friday I didn't go to work. Sunday I didn't go to church. Monday was, thankfully, a holiday. By Tuesday I felt better and went to work. As the day went on, I even seemed to feel better every hour. Wednesday I felt pretty good, until... and "untils" are important when it involves pain... about 30 minutes after my afternoon students left. I was sitting in my chair at my desk innocently reading the introduction in a paperback of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (my favorite Shakespearean play, by the way), and when I got up to go fetch my lunch from the refrigerator of a neighboring office, I began to hurt again. By the time my night class was over, I was miserable. Wednesday night -- pain! Even rolling over in the bed was excruciating. Thursday morning -- more pain! And that on the tail end of a very restless night. I went to work today, but I was in misery the whole time.

After I got home from work this evening, I went to bed and read for a while. I decided to get up and eat a little something so I could take my medications (for physical stuff, not mental, lest you should get a wrong impression...even though I could probably do with something for mental stuff at this point), and getting up was its most painful yet. I've been listening to some of my podcasts, checking e-mail and some blogs, and otherwise sitting here hurting like hades. I guess I'll make a Friday trip to the doctor (not that that usually helps) who will bless me by separating me from a portion of my filthy lucre (that's cash, for those of you of a non-Biblically literate persuasion). We'll see afterwards which hurts worse.