Posts Tagged ‘reading’

A Beautiful Memory from the WPA

April 14, 2014 3 comments

File:WPA SC.jpg


Who was Nancy Blair? RT can tell you from his genealogy research, finding information on women before WWII is the veritable search for a needle in a haystack. The fine image of NB above, along with its accompanying information, gives the question a certain urgency: Nancy Blair was the state supervisor of South Carolina’s WPA Library Project. As such, she was involved in literacy efforts (aimed at improving one of those perennially underperforming statistics in the United States).

RT might call Nancy Blair an unsung hero. Here are a couple of links to more information and images concerning NB’s work: Blazing the Way and Library Project Pictures.

RT sends his heartfelt thanks to the New Deal‘s Work Progress Administration for enabling a noble soul to do noble work.


PhotoNancy Blair, state supervisor of the South Carolina WPA Library Project, inspecting a model of a bookmobile. Author: WPA, South Carolina. Source: South Carolina State Library, South Carolina Public Library History, 1930 – 1945 collection. WikiCmns; Public Domain.


Intelligence and Desire–“I’m Smart”

August 7, 2013 7 comments


πάντες ἄνθρωποι τοῦ εἰδέναι ὀρέγονται φύσει.

People in their deepest core desire knowledge.

–Aristotle, first line of the Metaphysics.


Epiphanies are a more motley experience than often supposed. They can come at any time of the day–say, 3 am in the morning while you’re fixing a Dagwood sandwich–and they can appear crisp, bright-eyed, and bushy-tailed (ready for a good day’s work) or bedraggled and apologetic (they didn’t make it across to the other side). Yes, sometimes the recipient must do some extra decoding to make the final connection(s).

So here is a epiphany RT received a couple of nights ago (he can’t even remember what he was reading at the time). The message? Intelligence doesn’t reflect any special accomplishment (and in this regard RT remembers that there’s a book out there that contains more than 500 proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem), but rather the desire to know.

In other words, Einstein was certainly intelligent, but it was his deep desire to understand, to go beyond the accepted theories of the time, that enabled him to achieve the fundamental insights that he did. Can the two–desire and achievement–really be separated?

And who doesn’t want to know? Everyone wants to know how the story turns out, and why. Intelligence manifests itself in so many ways–a child’s decision to climb a tree, the ability to tell a particular wine’s origins by sampling its bouquet, the ability to mimic someone’s mannerisms–that we tend to dismiss many indications of the mind’s activity as “normal” or “common.” So much the worse for us.

People alienated and outraged that their worth in the world has been overlooked or ridiculed–that is what we want to avoid. The answer? To get people to acknowledge, “I’m smart.”


And here is the connection that RT had to make: that the RT thread, “The Alphabet and Redefining Intelligence,” is one way of helping people to see themselves as fundamentally intelligent–in this case, by adopting an alphabet that is more truly phonetic and taught in a more logical way. A 6-year-old’s comment, “I like learning to read and write,” is what we’re aiming for. Teaching must first uncover the desire for knowledge, then proceed to teach the specifics.

The great majority of us are smarter than we realize.     RT


Photo: Bridge in Use During the Rainy Season (2008); Rutahsa Adventures. WikiCmns; CC 1.0 Generic.


Michael Dirda’s Classics for Pleasure–A Book Review

File:The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton frontispiece 1638 edition.jpg

The forest of books can present a stern face to adventurers: would-be learners and seekers after pleasure enter at their own peril, faced as they are with a vast array of material (especially after the introduction of the Internet)–some good, some appalling, some inappropriate, and some just boring. The reader’s quest is overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

Enter the book reviewer, a humble surveyor of the literary landscape, vanishing for weeks into the thickets and faint paths, following rumors and the maps of other surveyors. A rare beast this, and all the rarer if gifted at picking out the choicest specimens of the writer’s art. None, RT believes, is finer at the task than Michael Dirda, a book reviewer for the Washington Post for many years. And no book is better proof of this than Dirda’s latest collection of reviews, Classics for Pleasure .


When you’ve reviewed important books for years, what’s left for your discerning eye to report on? Dirda’s answer: more than you might think, if you’re willing to look in the right places. Here are some of the writers he recommends: Willa Cather (My Antonia), H. Rider Haggard (King Solomon’s Mines), Baruch Spinoza (Ethics), Philip K. Dick (The Man in the High Castle), and Ovid (The Metamorphoses). Notice how each of these authors exists in a contemporary psychological blind spot: Cather, a literary standard writing about a time and place that can seem far from our own; Haggard, a Victorian author and champion of the British Empire in Africa; Spinoza, a 17th-century philosopher whose thinking was modeled on geometric proofs; Dick, a science-fiction author, not of the cheerier variety; and Ovid, a Roman poet telling some of the Greek myths.

Not to say that these books don’t offer adventure, gorgeous prose (or poetry), intriguing characters, some of the finest stories from ancient storytellers, and so on.  What really sets this selection of authors apart is the windows they offer onto non-mainstream realities (and sometimes, onto those of our own realities we feel most uncomfortable with). The purpose? To broaden our experience and heal our hearts–and more than occasionally, to offer plain fun.

Now, suggesting books is rather like buying a wardrobe for someone you don’t know:  they may not like your choices. But at least you can offer a broad variety of styles and colors to choose from, and here Classics certainly doesn’t disappoint. You can also offer quality merchandise, and the titles and authors suggested here are by common consent some of the finest. And you can concentrate on fun–and here, Classics offers adventure stories, children’s books, and exotic plots and places. If you need escape, you’ll find it; if you want to inform yourself about important ideas, you can do that too.

RT will certainly be copying down some of Dirda’s suggestions for future reading; he hopes that some of his readers will follow suit. Bravo, Mr. Dirda!     RT


Book Cover: Frontispiece for the 1638 edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy; Author: Robert Burton. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

QuikScript Puzzle #1

April 19, 2013 3 comments


RT has blogged quite a bit about constructed alphabets for English, that is, alphabets that have been designed specifically for writing English. His preference? Quikscript, designed by Kingsley Read.

So, to take the process of advertising the script one step further, RT offers the Quikscript sample to the left, two phrases taken from a famous work. Readers are encouraged to transliterate the sample into the Roman alphabet.

Here is a link to the Wikipedia Quikscript alphabet chart. Readers are also encouraged to leave their transliterations in this post’s comments section. Good luck!   RT


Iain M. Banks: A Tribute

a heartfelt tribute… RT


ian banks

~post by Raul M. Chapa

I was completely bummed when I read the news last week; one of my favorite writers announced that he has an incurable form of cancer and has only a few months to live. Iain M. Banks’s science fiction books have lived on my shelves since I was young. His other novels written as Iain Banks have also lived on my shelves, in loving homage to a writer who has given me and the world so much. I am still in a state of shock, but perhaps now is the time to say a few words about how important his fiction is to me.

I came across Iain M. Banks’ science fiction right out of high school. Consider Phlebas was my summer read that year, and I remember that I read it over a weekend and told myself, “Wow, that was one hell of a fun…

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Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley, or Easy does it

April 14, 2013 1 comment


a great story, a fine book review…  RT

(reposted from book reviews forever)


Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley, or Easy does it.

Jargon and Poetry

April 11, 2013 1 comment

File:Denis Diderot plaque - 3 rue de lEstrapade, Paris 5.jpg


Jargon is one of those necessary and mysterious things: necessary because any group of people united by common interests will eventually evolve its own terminology for the interest(s) that has brought together its members, mysterious because the use of jargon prevents those outside the group from understanding what is being said. (And RT himself remembers being shut out of more than one football conversation.)

It’s no use blaming this or that group of jargonists for indulging in their special lingo; we are all guilty of creating and participating in jargon. Just consider the varieties: professional talk, sports talk, wine tasting descriptors, scientific terminology, and, last but not least, native languages used for private conversation.

RT offers two observations on the phenomenon:

1) Poetry. Poetry is the opposite of jargon. Whereas jargon is the creation of a group and signals membership in the group, poetry possesses a universality that opens its words to all speakers of a language. Poetry is all about accessibility; its beauty and clarity are two of its primary characteristics, and these encourage reading. Poets will use rare words and expressions on occasion, but the context almost always supplies the meaning, and the word adds to the richness of the language.

2) Duplicate/unnecessary terminology. RT presents the following symbol ¶  for consideration. Is it a pilcrow or a paragraph sign? It can also be called a paraph, alinea, or Blind P. And what exactly are its uses? Poetry intrudes itself here once again: we are leaving the realm of correctness and entering that of delight. We begin to talk about preferences among users–or even schools of use.

On the other hand, RT is pretty sure that when plain meaning is the chief consideration, the term used should be that one understood by the broadest possible audience: in this case, RT would recommend the use of the term  paragraph mark. But then, RT’s poetic, anti-jargon, instincts are showing themselves again. That isn’t to say, of course, that in the right place in the right line, he might not have recourse to the term alinea. It’s a beautiful word, after all.


What is worth bearing in mind through all this is the precision that jargon can confer on communication. There are times when it helps to distinguish between the hyphen and the hyphen-minus, the guillemet and the guillemot. And when jargon is correctly used and the text beautifully copy-edited, reading becomes that much more of a pleasure (as any hardened reader can tell you).



PhotographDenis Diderot plaque – 3 rue de lEstrapade, Paris. WikiCmns; CC 2.0 generic; author, Monceau from San Antonio.


The Great Library of Alexandria

April 9, 2013 7 comments


Libraries are nothing new. As we might imagine, book collecting goes back as far as the invention of writing; libraries (or at least private book collections) have been discovered dating to Sumerian times. The first great library were the Royal libraries of Assyria, and in particular, the royal collection of Assurbanipal. These libraries were destroyed during the sack of Nineveh in 612 B.C. (though many written tablets nonetheless survived).

After the invention of the alphabet (at the end of the 2nd milennium B.C.) and the widespread adoption of papyrus for writing manuscripts, by far the greatest collection of books (I should say scrolls) was housed in the Great Library at Alexandria. Other extensive libraries existed, but in the early years of the Roman Empire, the Great Library exceeded them all, at least in fame and prestige. For one thing, the goal of the library was to obtain a copy of every book written up until that time (dates will be discussed in a moment).

A single fact will help us understand the resources expended on writing during the Roman period: a sheet of papyrus can take up to 3 days to dry. When one includes the cultivation of the papyrus reeds and the assembly of the sheets (to say nothing of the effort of writing), we begin to understand how labor-intensive the production and use of scrolls were. Now, for another statistic: the Great Library may have contained more than 500,000 scrolls (which would amount to tens of thousands of literary works and documents).

The library was founded early in the 3rd century B.C. by King Ptolemy I; the date of its destruction, on the other hand, is uncertain; of the four candidate periods, RT suspects that Aurelian’s attack on Alexandria during the Crisis of the Third Century may have been the moment that the majority of the library’s collection was either destroyed or dispersed. If so, the library existed for more than five centuries.


Located in Alexandria’s Royal Quarter, the Great Library was a magnet for scholars, and, to support their work, it provided many services: a Peripatos walk, gardens, a room for shared dining, a reading room, meeting rooms and lecture halls. The library housed acquisitions and cataloging departments and employed copyists and translators to ensure that scrolls were in reasonable condition and available in Greek. The library sent representatives to the book fairs at Rhodes and Athens and, in spite of generous royal funding from Ptolemies, was not above seizing books from boats in the harbor. All of these activities were directed by a head librarian.

Scholars known to have used the library include Euclid, Archimedes, and St. Catherine.


The destruction of the Great Library was, needless to say, a terrible blow to scholarship. We like to think of ourselves as having advanced far beyond the knowledge of ancient times, but, scholars at the library very likely had access to works that their descendants today only know of by name–lost works of Sophocles, for instance. We can only hope that continued excavations and improvements in deciphering techniques will enable us to reclaim a significant fraction of the lost works.


ImageInscription regarding Tiberius Claudius Babillus of Rome, 56 CE; (This inscription confirms that the Library of Alexandria must have existed in some form in the first century AD.) Source: “Forschungen in Ephesos”, Vol. III, Vienna 1923, p.128. WikiCmns; Public Domain.


Inappropriate Crushes on two fictional men

March 5, 2013 1 comment


fiction can get intense…  RT

(reposted from A Gingers opinion)


Inappropriate Crushes on two fictional men.

The Reader (2)


beautiful image…  RT

(reposted from brisstreet)


The Reader (2).