the witch of lime street

The Witch of Lime Street book jacketThe Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher (Crown Publishers, 2015)

The 1920s may elicit feelings of nostalgic glamour, but it was a time of emotional desperation for a country recovering from the enormous losses World War I. It’s no wonder that people turned to the paranormal in an effort to reconnect with loved ones and scientists dedicated their studies to proving the occult true.

Jaher’s story centers on one of these unusual collaborations between psychics and scientists. The magazine Scientific American was offering a cash reward to the first medium who a panel of experts deemed authentic in their ability to connect to those on the other side. It is here in our story that two famous men enter – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini. Doyle believed in the paranormal and in particular the power of one woman, known as Margery. Houdini, however, knew a con artist when he saw one; as an illusionist, he saw what others were too distracted to notice. Houdini sat on the magazine’s panel entrusted with proving – or debunking – psychic ability. Margery needed to convince Houdini that it was the spirit of her departed brother Walter who was coming forward in séances.

In case you want to find out for yourself if she succeeds, I’ll leave you to read the over 400 page story. It’s mildly entertaining; who doesn’t love a good séance with the Handcuff King. The Scientific American competition must be well-documented because the entire book is focused on this one event in paranormal history. However, if you (like me) are not well-rooted in early twentieth century American culture, Jaher’s re-telling of this moment in time may feel detached. I would have preferred less detail about *every* séance Margery performed and more background on the social history of a country that suddenly found its people desperate for a new religion. Context regarding women’s place in this society would have made Margery feel real; she seems as lifeless as her dead brother.

As an aside, an examination of our scientific understanding of anatomy in the 1920s may also have kept me more focused on the crux of the story. There are *so* many references to Margery’s vagina and what she may have possibly stored there as instruments to aid in deception during paranormal practice. You simply can’t end a paragraph with “Margery’s vagina might be a storage place for spirit hands and fake teleplasm,” and give the reader no details. And later, “Was the medium in the hypnotic state…when she packed artificial hands into her vagina?” It’s as though all these learned men think women have a built-in handbag. It isn’t until page 359 that we get one of them admitting that the others are “Comically ignorant…of the physiology of the female subject – and the true proportions of any woman’s vagina.” Thank god they weren’t all idiots.

Jaher’s book is ok. It’s likely a favorite among fans of the paranormal who are well-read in the practices and history of the occult. If you are new to this period in American history and the subject of psychic ability in general, the text can be overwhelmingly nuanced without providing any general backdrop for the events played out on its pages.

Please note: I received a free copy of this book from LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

entwined: sisters and secrets in the silent world of artist judith scott

Entwinted: Sisters and Secrets in the Silent World of Artist Judith Scott by Joyce Wallace Scott (Beacon Press, 2016).

Outsider Art has become a rather vague term to describe any artist outside the mainstream art world. It’s further complicated by the surge in galleries and museums selling work by these artists who are unaware of the sociopolitical economic landscape of the art world. Many scholars have returned to Jean Dubuffet’s original definition of Art Brut, Outsider’s predecessor, with a focus on the marginalized and institutionalized. It is here, in Raw Art, that Judith Scott is a creative genius.

I first learned about Judy when I saw this photo.

I was a textile major in graduate school and in this image I saw an artist who understood the emotive quality of fibers. Like Judy, threads are silent storytellers that contain memory, both literal and figurative. Though Judy could not hear or speak she could see and feel, recognizing that fibers can be shaped into bodies of comfort and sculptures of joy.

Entwined is Joyce’s story, Judy’s twin. Among her many accomplishments Joyce is a poet, evident in her lyrical narrative about helping Judy, and herself, ultimately find that joy. This only happened much later in life, after Judy survived a lifetime of violence due to neglect and unknowing. Born at a time when no one understood (or seemingly cared to understand) (dis)ability like Down’s Syndrome or deafness or learning (dis)abilities, Judy was institutionalized. This harmed Judy, but also Joyce who struggled to live independently of her twin.

As an adult, Joyce was determined to find a different way for Judy to move through life. She moved Judy to California and daily brought her to Creative Growth, a studio space for adults with various (dis)abilities. For two years, Judy rarely participated. When fiber artist Sylvia Seventy visited the studio, Judy recognized the material that would give her voice.

Judy worked doggedly on hundreds of sculptures during the final years of her life, a process in which Joyce and her family were able to participate. Her book is both an important account for understanding Judy’s work and a remarkable memoir about family and (dis)ability. Though Judy, who died in 2005, is the internationally acclaimed artist who introduced Outsider Art to the American public, we have Joyce to thank for this. Through dogged determination and blind faith Joyce reunited with her twin and then shared her with us. We are all forever changed.

Please note: I received a free copy of this book from LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

the cauliflower by nicola barker

The Cauliflower by Nicola Barker

Sri Ramakrishna is a guru, perhaps godly and wise or maybe just desperate and crazy. Hriday, the guru’s caretaker, seems to think the latter but insists his uncle is the former – convincing the reader this story is really worth listening to.

I’m not so certain. Barker’s new novel has multiple narrators and shifts randomly through the latter years of the nineteenth century. I was reminded a little bit of Salman Rushdie, probably for the Indian context and a little less for the stylistic devices.

I wasn’t bored reading about the life of Sri Ramakrishna and his devotees, but I won’t say I was entertained either. I slipped in and out of focus, which is partially my own fault as a poor reader, but I’ll argue Barker’s constant switch of time, place, and prose to poetry left me unable to immerse. If I hadn’t been reading it for LibraryThing, I may not have finished. That’s rare for me, but I wasn’t emotionally invested in any character or plot to care.

Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it. But I’d rather just read a biography of Sri Ramakrishna and keep the fiction for something else.

I received a free advanced reader’s copy of this book from LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

the library at mount char

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 2.22.37 PM

This is Scott Hawkins first novel and he’s likely to become a popular author for fantasy readers. To be honest, I’ve read very little in this genre, or science fiction, but was curious about the story. Carolyn is a Librarian – but not the human kind. With training from Father she is now super-human in her abilities and has forgotten most of her childhood schoolgirl days. But now Father is missing and only one Librarian can replace him. Is Carolyn ready?

A word of warning, Amazon has this listed under Horror, Dark Fantasy and there is good reason for that. This isn’t reading for squeamish. Unimaginable violence occurs from the very first chapter. There was enough bloodletting and death that I wasn’t sure I would continue, yet I was completely hooked. I really wanted to know how it would all end. If you can stomach the (literal) char-broiling, stabbing, and eye-gouging, you might just be pleasantly surprised by the finesse in Hawkin’s writing to tell a twisted story.

Please note: I received a free copy of this book from LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

resource list from dance faculty interviews

For the past year I have been working on a research project to understand the information needs of dance faculty in higher education, thanks in part to a research grant from the ALAO Research and Publications Committee and the support of two librarians, Alan Green at The Ohio State University and Sara MacDonald at The University of the Arts.

The academic discipline of dance has a relatively short history. Dance was first accepted in higher education through an association with physical education. Eventually the discipline became aligned with the arts, particularly music and theatre. Given the brief history of dance as an academic endeavor, there is a corresponding lack of information about dancers and their research needs. In the past thirty years, dance departments have moved away from being tangential to developing into independent, research-based programs. Academic libraries must support the performance, research, and pedagogy of these programs.

Dance is a multidisciplinary and multicultural practice. I interviewed twelve dance faculty members from three universities. While not able to be generalized, interview data from this diverse group of practitioners will provide a glimpse into the research behaviors of dance scholars in higher education. Their information needs and library use are not widely known, particularly in regard to issues of access to historical materials and new technology preferences.

The only formal study into the information needs of dancers is a 1996 master’s thesis by Kent State University student Dawn M. Grattino. She surveyed 70 dance professionals living in Ohio about their information-seeking habits and library use. Providing an updated data set on dancers’ use of the Internet and other technology will be paramount to my investigation. Additionally, there are few research projects about the information needs of performing artists in general. Joe Clark, head of the Performing Arts Library at Kent State University, recently investigated the format preferences (print vs. electronic) of performing arts students. His research provides a foundation for my own analysis of dance faculty information needs.

I hope this research will be of value to librarians as they determine collection development practices and user services for their particular dance and performing arts programs. Because many librarians charged with liaison responsibilities to dance departments do not have backgrounds in dance (like myself), the results of the research will enable them to keep current on dancers’ information needs and desired services.

At this point, I have finished the interview transcriptions and I wanted to share a resource list. These are sources – organizations, journals, websites, and tools – that were mentioned by at least one dance faculty. It’s a preliminary glimpse into the research practices of this diverse group and a quick way for other dance librarians to check their collections and knowledge-base.

Clark, Joe C. “Format Preferences of Performing Arts Students.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 39 (2013): 297-307.

Grattino, Dawn M. A Survey of the Information-Seeking Practices of Dance Professionals in Ohio. MLS thesis. Kent State University, 1996.

 

organizations

American Dance Festival

particularly Dancing in the Light

Congress on Research in Dance

publishes Dance Research Journal

Danspace Project

International Council of Kinetography Laban

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive

Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies

and the work of Irmgard Bartenieff

Movement Research

publishes Performance Journal

National Association of Schools of Dance

National Dance Education Organization

publishes two journals: Journal of Dance Education and  Dance Education in Practice (new this spring)

New York Live Arts and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company

Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association

 publishes The Journal of Popular Culture and The Journal of American Culture

side note: This is the best conference I’ve ever attended!

Society of Dance History Scholars

publishes Conversations Across the Field of Dance Studies and a monograph series Studies in Dance History

Society for Dance Research

publishes Dance Research 

 

other journals and publications/productions

Are We Here Yet? Damaged Goods, Meg Stuart

ArtForum

Contact Quarterly

Currents

journal from the Body-Mind Centering Association and the work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen

Dance Chronicle

Dance on Its Own Terms: Histories and Methodologies 

Dancing Lives: Five Female Dancers from the Ballet d’Action to Merce Cunningham

Dancing Times

Exploring Body-Mind Centering: An Anthology of Experience and Method

Eye on Dance and the Arts Video Catalog

particularly The VideoDance Project

International Journal of Screendance

Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices

Journal of Movement Arts Literacy

Theatre Survey

The New Yorker

The Drama Review

You might be wondering why Dance Magazine isn’t on this list. One artist mentioned it and I believe she made explicit other faculty members’ thoughts when she said, “if I could get it for free, I would probably look at it when I’m in the bathroom.” (I plan on working this quote into my final publication.)

 

subscription databases

Gender Studies Database 

International Bibliography of Theatre and Dance

JSTOR

ontheboards.tv

Faculty that use this (contemporary/postmodern) love it, though wish there were more performances. They aren’t clear on two things: that ontheboards is continuing to grow (it started in 2010) and that it is subscription.

ProQuest Historial Newspapers

RILM

I asked specifically about Alexander Street Press’ Dance in Video. Some faculty use it, but no one really likes it.

 

libraries, archives, and museums

Dance Heritage Coalition

International Ballet Scenery and Costume Designs, 1941-1951

Library of Congress

Merce Cunningham Trust

The New York Public Library

Rambert Archives

Sokolow Dance Foundation and the work of Anna Sokolow

Stravinsky Foundation

V&A Museum – Theatre and Performance

 

websites and tools

Accelerated Motion: Towards a New Direction in Dance Literacy

Art21

Dance in Israel

dance-tech

empyre listserv

Finale music notation software

KeepVid

KineScribe app

Great Performances

The Guardian website

Motion Bank

The New York Times website

NPR Podcasts

Synchronous Objects

Ubuweb and Ubuweb Dance

side note on video: Everyone uses YouTube and Vimeo for video. YouTube first, for almost all participants, though impermanence and copyright were often called into question about the service. Netflix was also mentioned for video access.

side note on music: For music, iTunes and Spotify rule. Those needing music for performances will edit using GarageBand, though working with composers and having live music is mostly preferred.

side note on networking: Facebook is used much more heavily than I would have imagined (I’m in the group of 30-somethings moving away from the social network) and Skype is preferred to phone calls, when possible.

 

people, places, and other dance companies

Pina Bausch

Chocolate Factory Theater

Faye Driscoll

William Forsythe

Martha Graham

Joyce Theater

Deborah Hay

La Pocha Nostra and Guillermo Gómez-Peña

Ralph Lemon

Liz Lerman

Barak Marshall

Meredith Monk

Redcat

Moira Shearer

Show Box LA

Doug Varone

Wire Monkey

invisible beasts

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 8.12.08 PMInvisible Beasts by Sharona Muir (Bellevue Literary Press, 2014)

This is a collection of short stories centered on Sophie, an amateur naturalist who sees invisible creatures. These aren’t creatures of her imagination, but rather a secondary kingdom of animals that wander among us (including the human-like Keen-Ears).

Though the stories are imaginative, it’s hard to call them fictional. Muir’s tales are full of philosophy, morality, and environmental activism. Some of the essays are much stronger than others; many have been published before and perhaps it’s growth in Muir’s storytelling that makes some stories more interesting than others. The best ones are those that actively involve Sophie as she moves between the seen and unseen, rather than her merely describing the creatures as if writing laboratory notes.

This is the second book by Bellevue Literary Press I’ve reviewed. I reviewed The Odditorium in 2012. When Bellevue sent me my LibraryThing copy of Invisible Beasts, they also sent Widow by Michelle Latiolais. I’m reading Widow now and will have another good review coming soon!

Bellevue publishes “books at the intersection of the arts and sciences.” More from their mission:

“We believe that science and the humanities are natural companions for understanding the human experience. With each book we publish, our goal is to foster a rich, interdisciplinary dialogue that will forge new tools for thinking and engaging with the world.”

I’m really happy a publisher like Bellevue exists. They are producing great work and promoting cross-disciplinary conversation. Librarians, if your collections support literary fiction, please support Bellevue authors!

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.)

the immediacy of emotional kerfuffles

available as Kindle on Amazon; can’t find it through WorldCat…

Greenberg, KJ Hannah. The Immediacy of Emotional Kerfuffles. Bellmawr, New Jersey: Bards and Sages Publishing, 2013.

The summary for this book states that Greenberg is a Pushcart Prize nominee and a National Endowment for the Humanities awardee. So yes, I fell for the “author with prizes” trick in picking up this collection of short stories.

The summation also suggested the stories would be “fiction sprinkled with friendly insanity” and, at times, “profound realism.”

I’ve read about four of the eighty stories and I just can’t continue.

I. Just. Can’t.

The writing reminds me of a college student’s first foray into creative writing, being weird for the sake of being weird to the point where it isn’t weird but incomprehensible. One sentence follows the next and they often don’t seem related. I think there is supposed to be humor, laughing at adversity (remember “profound realism”), but the reader has to spend so much time deciphering the language that everyone misses the joke.

I know this writer has her reader. Those already reading Fallopian Falafel Magazine and Winamop and AlienSkin Magazine (these are all real zines, I checked) will be delighted with Greenberg’s collection. Those of us looking for something different might find Greenberg has a bit too much “friendly insanity.”

The cover is cute, though.

Please note I received a free advanced reading copy of this book through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

bedrock faith by eric charles may

May, Eric Charles. Bedrock Faith. New York: Akashic Books, 2014.

Parkland, a black neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, is turned upside-down by the return of Gerald Reeves, aka Stew Pot. Stew Pot’s reign of terror ended when he was imprisoned. With his release and return home to his mother’s house, many of Parkland’s residents are terrified and want Stew Pot removed. Mrs. Motley, Stew Pot’s neighbor and ever the good Christian, is willing to wait and see.

And Stew Pot has changed since being in jail. He’s now full of religious fervor that borders on insanity. Parkland folk aren’t convinced of Stew Pot’s conversion, his childhood crimes and abuses still fresh in their memory, and his faith-based antics only further fuel Parkland’s fire for revenge.

Sounds intense, doesn’t it? It is, yet Eric Charles May’s first novel is delightful to read. There are a host of characters, each given the opportunity to tell their story, and there is plenty of action. Readers are welcomed into Parkland from the first page. He tackles issues of racism, homophobia, religion, and violence with the language of storytellers like Flannie Flagg or Rebecca Wells.

Yet, as I read the final chapters, I felt disappointment at May’s ending. It didn’t seem fulfilling, though perhaps a bit expected. After I finished the book I realized the source of my dismay; it wasn’t that May had written a bad ending, it’s that I didn’t want it to end. May will have a huge following of readers expectantly awaiting his second novel about Parkland!

Please note I received a free advanced reading copy of this book through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.