Mythistory and Other Essays

McNeill, William Hardy. 1986. Mythistory and Other Essays. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

I read this book over the last 9 days and I loved it.  I have previously read one other McNeill book and have had another that I have meant to read.  The other book was The Pursuit of Power and I read it for one of Dr. Stivers’ grad seminars and did my book review essay on it.

This book is divided into 3 sections: Truth, Myth, and History; The Need for World History; and Masters of the Historical Craft. It is a collection of essays and lectures dating from the 1960s to the 1980s. The first one is McNeill’s presidential address to the American Historical Association in 1985 and is entitled, “Mythistory, or Truth, Myth, History, and Historians.” I believe this was an excellent choice to open the book and set the stage for his views.

I especially like McNeill’s emphasis on  world history, his scolding of his fellow professional historians and his ethical stance regarding the need for world history and responsible mythmaking.  I particularly adore his views on language and human communication. His main effort in this book is a rehabilitated view of myth.

I want to provide some quotes from the book to, hopefully, whet your appetite.  I may or may not expound further on them, although I hope to allow most to speak for themselves.

“Really important texts are those susceptible of being richly and diversely misunderstood. An author can always aspire to that dignity” (ix).

Part One: Truth, Myth, and History

From “Mythistory, or Truth, Myth, History, and Historians”:

“The principal source of historical complexity lies in the fact that human beings react both to the natural world and to one another chiefly through the mediation of symbols” (6).

This may well be the principal source of complexity in much of human life and living. The amount and sheer range of symbolic mediation is primarily what differentiates humans from other animals.

“Shared truths that provide a sanction for common effort have obvious survival value. Without such social cement no group can long preserve itself. Yet to outsiders, truths of this kind are likely to seem myths, …” (7).

“The liberal faith, of course, holds that in a free marketplace of ideas, Truth will eventually prevail” (9).

This is one of the most sincere beliefs we have inherited from the Enlightenment. But it is also one that causes the most tension in our views of ourselves and the market as paragons of rationality as we see over and over that it is not necessarily the case that the Truth will win out.

“Group solidarity is always maintained, at least partly, by exporting psychic frictions across the frontiers, projecting animosities onto an outsider foe in order to enhance collective cohesion within the group itself” (16).

“We need to develop an ecumenical history, with plenty of room for human diversity in all its complexity” (17).

He claims that this is exactly what professional historians have shied away from.

“If we can now realize that our practice already shows how truths may be discerned at different levels of generality with equal precision simply because different patterns emerge on different time-space scales, then, perhaps, repugnance for world history might diminish …” (18).

“The result might best be called mythistory perhaps ( … ), for the same words that constitute truth for some are, and always will be, myth for others, who inherit or embrace different assumptions and organizing concepts about the world” (19 my empahsis).

From “The Care and Repair of Myth”:

Argues that public myth provides the basis for collective action:

“A people without a full quiver of relevant agreed-upon statements, accepted in advance through education or less formalized acculturation, soon finds itself in deep trouble, for, in the absence of believable myths, coherent public action becomes very difficult to improvise or sustain” (23).

Equates all forms of knowledge, to include scientific knowledge, with his rehabilitated view of myth:

“It may seem whimsical to equate scientific theories to myth, but if one accepts the definition of myth offered at the beginning of this article, surely the shoe fits” (26).

Argues that we need generality, not more detail, and that all of the detail generated by microhistories has undermined inherited myth.

“They have consequently undermined inherited myths that attempted to make the past useful by describing large-scale patterns, without feeling any responsibility for replacing decrepit old myths with modified and corrected general statements that might provide a better basis for public action” (36).

Encounters with strangers, and the assorted things that implies, is the driver of history:

“… troubling encounter with strangers constitute the principal motor of change within human societies” (37).

On comradeship and relating to the Other:

“The most problematic of all these human aspirations is how to define the limits of comradeship, This, indeed, is where humanity’s myth-making and myth-destroying capacity comes elementally and directly into play by defining the boundary between “us” and “them.” Broadly inclusive public identities, if believed and acted on, tend to relax tensions among strangers and can allow people of diverse habits and outlook to coexist more or less peacefully. Narrowed in-group loyalties, on the other hand, divide humanity into potentially or actually hostile grouping” (41).

This serves as another reason for broadly general world histories.

To counteract these tendencies, he argues that:

“What humanity needs is balance between a range of competing identities. A single individual ought to be able to be a citizen of the world and hold membership in a series of other, less inclusive in-groups simultaneously, all without suffering irreconcilable conflict among competing loyalties” (41).

From “The Rise of the West as a Long-Term Process”

Early in this essay are several pages on varied aspects of language:

“The main function of words is to generalize experience, imposing categories and classes upon the flow of sensory inputs, and thereby allowing us to recognize useful objects, e.g., “table,” in innumerable and sharply different encounters with things. Beyond that, our words create the social world we live in to a very large degree, permitting us to recognize and respond appropriately to a policeman, a professor, a foreigner, or a fellow citizen as the case may be. …” (46).

“Symbolic discourse thus gives human being their extraordinary capacity to transform the natural worlds by collective effort. It is, indeed, what makes us human” (47).

He argues that microhistorians use the language of those they write about while macrohistorians need a specialized, but generalized, language that still needs to be developed (50).

“Social process” as a topic for macrohistorians, and his primary view of “social process” and how that view has has changed in the 20 years since The Rise of the West was published occupy several pages at this point. His basic argument was and is that contact with strangers, especially those possessing superior skills, is the principal impetus to change in social life.

“A world history should, accordingly, focus special attention on modes of transport and the evidences of contact between different and divergent forms of society that such transport allowed” (57).

His updated view includes a greater role for communication. Intensified communication and cheapened transportation heightens the impact of tensions in social processes.

Part Two: The Need for World History

From “A Defense of World History”:

On the importance of language groups:

“Since shared meanings, disseminated through communications networks, are what shape and govern collective human behavior, historians ought always to take language groups seriously into consideration” (73).

While discussing the quest for precision and exactitude he tells us:

“Epistemological exactitude is unattainable. To insist on it is an excuse for not thinking. For only by using inexact words to organize confusion, lumping together a range of particulars that differ from one another in some degree or other, can the intellectual enterprise proceed at all” (84).

I fully agree with these  statements and they, in fact, clearly elucidate my concerns and doubts about ontologies and similarly highly structured abuses of words and concepts. This is not to say that they are not of use in limited, highly constrained, domains and contexts but that we must be careful of ontological “creep.”

“Beyond Western Civilization: Rebuilding the Survey” is a call to reform the then dying (now dead?) Western Civ course.

Part Three: Masters of the Historical Craft

In this section, McNeill discusses 4 historians he has known in various ways and that have affected his views in 5 chapters. I am not quoting much from these but they do add another kind of value and dimension to the book as a whole.

“Lord Acton”

“Basic Assumptions of Toynbee’s A Study of History”

“Historians I Have Known: Carl Becker”

“For myth-making is a high and serious business. It guides public action and is our distinctively human substitute for instinct. Good myths—That is, myths that are credible, because they are compatible with experience, and specific enough to direct behavior—are the greatest and most precious of human achievements. Why should we not aspire to make such myths? No nobler calling exists among humankind” (165-65).

“Historians I Have Known: Arnold J. Toynbee”

There is a fascinating section in here on not taking notes (192-94).

“Historians I Have Known: Fernand Braudel”

I highly recommend this eminently readable and erudite book.

A Grand Unified Theory of Librarianship. Seriously?

McGrath, William E. 2002. Explanation and Prediction: Building a Unified Theory of Librarianship, Concept and Review. Library Trends 50, no. 3 (Winter): 350-370.


McGrath advocates that we need a Unified Theory of Librarianship and outlines what he considers to be “some of the traditional areas of concern to librarianship” which will have to be subsumed into such a theory.  He provides some ideas on what kinds of studies we would need to allow us to generate an overarching theory of LIS and lists some (then) recent studies that fit or demonstrate this mode.

According to McGrath, the traditional areas to be considered are: publishing, acquisitions, storage and preservation, classification and organization of knowledge, collections, and circulation.  As he admits on page 356, he completely ignores “the digital revolution” as he believes “while the production of electronic databases, the World Wide Web, and the Internet is technology, their use can be described in terms of traditional library functions.”  While this is, in fact, true it is also an extremely limiting view.  The “digital revolution” has progressed to the point where simply trying to describe it in the terms and categories of traditional librarianship is not a healthy way to move the profession forward. It is, in my opinion, the opposite.

One of my largest areas of complaint with the article is in his treatment of classification and organization of knowledge.  I find it lacking in several ways.

His initial sentences in the section CLASSIFICATION just bother me:

“The classification scheme used by the library is a major property of the collection.  The scheme reflects the librarians’ perceptions of how knowledge is organized or structured” (354).

One can certainly make both of these claims and, in a sense, they are true.  But I do not believe either of them.  The classification scheme, one or more (more in a perfect world) is applied to the collection and provides one form of order to it, but it is not an inherent property of the collection.  That is, the number of books in a collection, whether or not scholarly journals are present, whether or not some edition of  “Tom Sawyer” is present are all facts about, and in a sense properties of, the collection.  But the classification scheme can only be stated as to which is applied, or what to each specific book.  The facts about the classification scheme seem, to me, to be of a different kind and are not inherent in the collection itself. I know that wasn’t explained well but I am having a hard time expressing what I think.

As to his second statement in that quote, while at some historical point it is true that the classification “scheme reflects the librarians’ perceptions of how knowledge is organized or structured” it is also simply not the case at all. I find it hard to believe that many librarians, and especially catalogers and classification theorists, would agree that our library classifications reflect the structure of knowledge, except in some simplistic(and ultimately pragmatic) way.

Take, for instance, the libraries of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Most of the forty or so remaining libraries are organized using the Dewey Decimal System. One of the largest libraries in the world is still using a scheme that is entirely inappropriate for one of its size and complexity. Why is that? Institutional inertia and lack of funds are two of the primary reasons. Discussion of switching to LCC has arisen repeatedly over the decades. Early on it was probably doable but for whatever reasons the choice was rejected. At this point, which has been “this point” for a decade or more now, it is simply inconceivable to switch. The costs and time frame to do so are so out-of-hand that it can never happen.  What can, and may, happen is that they will start doing new acquisitions in LCC and they will end up with a divided classification system complicating life for all concerned, but especially for the users. There is really no way in which it can be said that DDC reflects the UIUC librarians’ view of the structure of knowledge.

Also in the section on CLASSIFICATION, McGrath states:

“Because society is mutable, no classification theory can ever be enduring. Nevertheless, we can still look for structure in knowledge. And even though structure many not be permanent, principles are permanent and are reason enough to look for more enduring structure” (354).

Most of that I fully agree with. But I am really beginning to wonder how permanent the principles really are. They may last longer than the classification systems which are built upon them but the world is changing so rapidly, and the amount of things needing some form of bibliographic control increasing seemingly exponentially, that it seems to me that the principles are being pushed harder and harder and that some of them are at a breaking point, if not already broken.

When I got to the Classification and Organization of Knowledge section of included studies I realized another issue I have with his plan. Earlier we got simply CLASSIFICATION, with organization of knowledge sort of subsumed under it. But that is the wrong way round. Classification is a part, a small part, of the organization of knowledge. But even in this section where they get equal billing in the heading the studies are primarily about classification and its intersection with circulation, browsability and so forth. There is no discussion of, or studies to support, any kind of issues in descriptive cataloging. This oversight would be a major roadblock to any sort of unified theory.

In fact, this is one of those areas where the “digital revolution” is seriously playing havoc with our principles and our practices. What sort of descriptive cataloging is required, or not, when a resource can “describe itself” and the system can make use of those self-describing resources in new and novel ways; ways that our users are turning to more and more. These are fundamental questions in the area of organization of knowledge.

Besides leaving out the digital he also, admittedly, does not address—”the psychology of users and librarians, attitudinal studies, organizational behavior, interaction with other disciplines, scientometrics and informetrics, individual scholarly productivity, citation analysis, LIS education, welfare and status of librarians (tenure, salaries, and prestige), and so on” (356). It seems to me that an awful lot that would be required to turn all of this into a “Unified Theory of Librarianship” is being sketched so broadly, or simply ignored for the purpose of publishable article length, that to even consider the possibility of such a unified theory is hardly thinkable. There. I’ve played my cards. I do think this is a fool’s errand.

As for the studies he included as support towards a possible unified theory, he only included those that use quantitative methods or those which could be quantified. So I guess only the quantitative can make it into a grand unified theory of librarianship. Because, you know, librarianship and information science are such a natural sciences. Well, considering that in the end the Grand Unified Theory of physics will, in my humble opinion, leave out much of what is truly important and ultimately meaningful about the world, as it will include nothing qualitative, I fail to see why we should pursue such an ugly beast.

Besides, the incredible number of studies, even if restricted to the quantifiable, that would be necessary to get us anywhere near a grand unified theory are important in their own right and should be done. And, in fact, they will have to be done first, along with the small and medium-scale theorizing that is necessary to move our field forward.

So whether or not we can, or should, pursue such a beast is currently unanswerable. We are simply too far away from the goal posts. In fact, I fear we are so far away from such an overarching theory that one might say that we aren’t even sure what sport it is we are playing, much less our being “on the field.”

Some things read lately, or, new shit has come to light

This blog used to have a “feature” entitled “Some Things Read This Week” but I ended it before my blogging dropped completely from sight. With no promises one way or the other I’d like to start blogging again about some of the things I read.

As I said a couple of posts back:

I am ramping back up the work on my CAS thesis via several angles of attack. I am working on the paper proper and I am also working on a journal article, which will be highly related (as in with a little reworking can become a chapter), and I am thinking about trying to come up with a presentation for a conference in early December. The conference is “Semantics for Robots: Utopian and Dystopian Visions in the Age of the ‘Language Machine’. ‘The Language Machine’ is one of Roy Harris’ early books, of course.

Thus, I am reading and taking notes again. Along with trying to “reconstruct” work I have done previously, I am also continuing to pursue these interests further, along with pursuing other interests. In these areas I am also reading and taking notes. Having not written much of anything in quite a while I need to get assorted writing chops back in order, be it annotated bibliographic entries, blog posts, general and specialized note taking, summarizing, journal article(s), or CAS thesis.

So I am going to jump in again. Any feedback is appreciated whether on style, further reading suggestions, etc.

The first article I want to discuss is:

Dill, E. A., & Janke, K. L. (2010). “New shit has come to light”: Information seeking behavior in The Big Lebowski. Retrieved from [pre-peer reviewed version of a forthcoming article in The Journal of Popular Culture.]

No doubt, many of you saw references to the Dill & Janke article over the last two weeks. Many people, understandably, could not help themselves in mentioning it in one venue or the other. “New shit has come to light” as the title of an academic paper is worth mentioning in its own right, but assuming you get the reference to The Big Lebowski then you doubly could not help yourself. I can appreciate that. And do. So a quick shout out to the two folks I first saw reference it, Dorothea Salo and Christina Pikas [although probably saw the 1st references in twitter].

The first, and perhaps most important, thing I want to say about this article is that I am glad this is going into The Journal of Popular Culture. It is about time some of the research from our field shows up in other places besides our own stodgy journals. Now, I’d much prefer that other LIS research made its way where it is needed and that it was actually being cited and used in other fields. This, though, is a small start. If no one in another field is aware of our work then they cannot and will not use it. And to my knowledge JPC is pretty interdisciplinary.

This article, as noted above, is a preprint of the prior-to-peer-review paper. It will be interesting to see what changes have been made once it is in print. I am looking forward to reading it again for that reason alone.

The paper uses four characters from The Big Lebowski to highlight some differences in information seeking behavior, going from least effective to most. Along the way the authors use assorted LIS literature on information seeking behavior to support their analysis of these characters styles and methods. Or as they say, “This paper analyzes the information seeking behaviors of Donny Kerabatsos, Walter Sobchak, The Dude, and Maude Lebowski through the lenses of a variety of information seeking theories and models” (pp. 2-3).

Their claim is that “The film’s most important contribution to the study of information seeking behavior is its illustration of how a highly complex information search is not about finding the “answer,” but rather is about an individual’s ability to make sense of and create meaning from the process of information seeking (Dervin par. 8)” (p. 2). This I certainly agree with, both the author’s claim and Dervin’s. “Answers” frequently come along for the ride but then an answer is whatever one is willing to (currently) accept as an answer. This is true whether the one is an individual or a social group of any size.

Some of the assorted theories, models, and researchers used to illustrate the characters information seeking behaviors are the following [for the record, some of these are borrowed from outside LIS]:

  • Selection of dubious information sources : Elfreda Chatman studied the working poor, women, prisoners and retirees.
  • People prefer informal sources for spur of the moment info needs : Kirsty Williamson, older adults
  • Information sharing within groups (ostracism/exclusion) :  Eric Jones, et. al.
  • User’s perspective : Carol Kuhlthau
  • Beliefs : Donald Case on J.D. Johnson’s model
  • Personal construct theory : George Kelly
  • Preference for attitudinally consistent info amongst those with strongly held beliefs : Laura Brannon, Michael Tagler and Alice Eagly
  • Competency theory : Justin Kruger and David Dunning
  • Overconfidence as indicator of incompetence : Melissa Gross
  • Invitational attitude (as in “new shit”) [vs. indicative attitude] : Kelly’s personal construct theory
  • Positive attitude : Kuhlthau; and, Eva Jonas, Verena Graupmann and Dieter Frey (dissonance reduction)
  • Openness to experience : Jannica Heinström

If you are interested in any of these ideas and how they affect info seeking behavior, or you are a library-type and fan of TBL then you ought to have a look at either this preprint or the published article [Sure wish I could tell you when that is].

A friend of mine wrote on her blog (private, no link) that she was watching TBL as she was inspired by hearing about this article.  I told her that I enjoyed the article even if some times some of this research is fairly questionable. She responded that she was glad that “our profession has people like you who can quickly identify questionable research.” To which this was my response:

As for quickly recognizing … well, that’s the problem. It isn’t quick. It takes a weirdo like me who actually checks (and then reads) the things people cite. Are the methods appropriate to that kind of study? Can it be generalized? Or does it only apply to upper middle class, white kids, in private schools from the Midwest, and so on? (Like in many disciplines), most are too lazy to check that stuff so even if an author says explicitly not to generalize from their study and gives excellent reasons why not other people will. Some of our most beloved truisms in LIS come from this sort of thing. (Same in other disciplines, too.) Much of it is fairly intuitive, “Oh, you say depressed people have shoddy info behaviors? They give up easily and tend not to trust themselves? Blah. Blah.” Anyway, I wish it were easier so perhaps others would do more of it.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the article and am glad others might see some of this research. I just hope they do their jobs if they want to make use of it and read the actual studies themselves.

I should clarify that I am not saying that any of the research cited in this article is shoddy.  Nor am I saying that it is generally so in info behavior research. The biggest problem as I see it is that someone does a study and for assorted reasons—only one method used where more are appropriate, small sample size, etc.—they clearly state in the section(s) on further research, limitations of their study, and/or conclusions to not generalize, and give excellent reasons not to do so, and the next thing you know the article is cited over and over again as showing “such-and-such behavior” in general, or in a completely different group of people than studied. This happens far more than one would hope. And while I can imagine multiple reasons for it occurring none of them are good.

I have one particular article in mind which we read in our introductory course, LIS501, which studied a very limited and demographically narrow group of fifth-graders (sample size 10, computer-savvy, bright, middle class+, well-funded school district, etc.). The author clearly stated this was an exploratory study and could not be generalized. According to ISI Web of Knowledge this article has been cited 71 times. I have read some of those articles and I noticed their citations to the one I am thinking of. And believe me, their use of this as article as supporting evidence for their claims is in no way appropriate. I imagine many of the uses are appropriate but of the several I have seen none of them are.

I see this repeatedly. But the “ability” to see this sort of thing does not come easy. One must pay attention as one reads. One must look at the citations an author uses, especially if used as support for their argument. And one must often go and read those sources cited.  You certainly do not have to read everything everyone cites but by looking at what is being cited, particularly around an area of your personal interest, you will begin to notice the things being repeatedly cited. At that point, you ought to definitely read those.

None of that is easy. Nor is it quick. It may even increase the amount of crap you read. [Yes, crap gets repeatedly cited.] I imagine that it qualifies as one form of slow reading; at least, I would argue that it does.

Anyway, I am hoping that this article does not get eviscerated before seeing print. Eviscerated? C’mon. You are familiar with The Big Lebowski, aren’t you?

12 Books, 12 Months Challenge

A friend who was unhappy with her previous attempts at book clubs, in-person and virtual, decided a book club where we each read whatever it is we want to read might work better. Thus, 12 Books, 12 Months was born.

Here are the rules for the 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge:

  • Pick 12 titles from your To Read Pile.  These should be titles you currently own in whatever format you prefer.
  • Acquisition of other formats or translations is permitted.  So, if you have a paperback but want to read on your Kindle, you can get a Kindle copy.  If you have a library copy but want to buy your own, that’s kosher.  Heck, if you own a copy and want to check another out from the library, I’m not gonna stop you.
  • Post your list in your public space of choice by September 1, 2010.  If you prefer not to post, you can just leave a comment with your list.
  • Read all 12 titles between now and September 5, 2011.  Might as well tack on an extra long weekend at the end for cramming.
  • When you finish a title on your list, post about it in your public space of choice.  If you prefer not to post, you can just leave a comment with your review.
  • Once a month, I’ll post a round-up of the reviews posted from that month so that we all know what everyone else has read.

My list:

  1. Ronald Gross, Peak Learning I am trying to find some kind of structure (best word I can think of at the moment) to help me get a grip on my own pursuit of lifelong learning and am hoping this might have some ideas that I can (and will) implement. I know goodreads says that I am currently reading this but that was months ago and I will need to start over. I hadn’t got very far anyway.
  2. Catherine C. Marshall, Reading and Writing the Electronic Book I am interested in e-books for a variety of reasons and while I love print books I also think e-books can one day provide immense value over and above the mostly “convenience factor” that they now provide.
  3. Carol Collier Kuhlthau, Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services Even though I expect to disagree a fair bit, I did like some of the ideas from a short bit of Kuhlthau that we read in 501 (intro course), and, really, the title says it all for me. Also, seeing as Kuhlthau is one of the major players in this area I need to know her ideas better if I am going to be critiquing work in this area of the field.
  4. Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening This is another one that I started a while back. I got almost halfway through before being “interrupted” by a couple of weddings and a move. Going to start over. I am interested in Buddhism and its tenets, at least the non-mystical kind. I have another of his books on my TBR shelf that I am also looking forward to reading.
  5. Michel Meyer, Of Problematology: Philosophy, Science, and Language This came recommended by David Bade via his citing it in a couple of places and then some f2f discussion. What is problematology”? The study of questioning.
  6. George Lakoff and Mark Turner, More than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor Metaphor and poetry. ‘Nough said.
  7. Anthony Grafton, The Footnote: A Curious History From the inside jacket blurb: “The weapon of pedants, the scourge of undergraduates, the bete noire of the “new” liberated scholar: the lowly footnote, long the refuge of the minor and the marginal, emerges in this book as a singular resource, with a surprising history that says volumes about the evolution of modern scholarship.” I have been wanting to read this for several years and finally acquired a copy earlier this year.
  8. John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid, The Social Life of Information I have been wanting to read this ever since it was brought to my attention in LIS501 Fall 2004. In fact, I probably acquired this copy back then so that I could. ::sigh:: Oh well, I’ve had books in storage for this long that I acquired in the mid-80s and still haven’t read. Anyway, hoping that it will have something useful to say about “information” beyond society’s preoccupation with the “stuff.”
  9. Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse I have read a couple of her books and have quite enjoyed them. I am particularly looking forward to rereading Eros the Bittersweet some day.
  10. Jorge Luis Borges, Seven Nights Seven lectures over 7 nights in June and August 1977. Topics are: The Divine Comedy, Nightmares, The Thousand and One Nights, Buddhism, Poetry, The Kabbalah, and Blindness. I have seen these referenced in multiple places and am looking forward to them. I also highly recommend Borge’s This Craft of Verse (The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures)
  11. Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions Can one really have too much Borges? I think not.
  12. George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss I adore Middlemarch and Silas Marner and also enjoyed the other shorter things of hers I have read. I have this in 2 different editions, the Penguin Classics referenced here and a nice leather bound one from some set of “great books.” I have been wanting to get to this for a while and a couple of months back I read some idiot commenting on free e-books that “If I had wanted to read The Mill on the Floss I would have done so in college!” Screw the idiots of the world! I’ve read a bunch of e-books and almost every one of them has been free. And many of them have been exceptional!
  13. S. R. Ranganathan, Classification and Communication This was recommended to me by fellow student, friend, and all-around-brilliant-guy, Tom Dousa. This, as Tom assured me, will probably run counter to what I believe about the interface of these topics but one must understand one’s betters if one is to critique them.

Whoops! How did I end up with 13 books?

There are scores more books I want to/could read and there are certainly more on my goodreads to-read shelf besides being a couple (or more) score not on the list.

The above are all certainly currently near the top of my TBR list but things changes; i.e., interests, focus, discovery of something previously unknown or just published, ….  Thus, I am going to reserve the right to substitute any book for one on this list.  As I see it I will probably read more than 12 books in the next year anyway so maybe they’ll only be additions. One can hope.

What’s on your list? [Whether or not you intend to participate in this or any other challenge, I am interested.]

Running Anatomy, a book review

[This is a copy of the review I posted at LibraryThing. Also posted at goodreads.]

Running anatomy : Your illustrated guide to running strength, speed, and endurance / Joe Puleo and Dr. Patrick Milroy. Champaign, IL : Human Kinetics, c2010

Disclosure: I got a copy of this book for free via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

My qualifications to review this book: Back in the day I was an Army Master Fitness Trainer and was also certified by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) as a fitness trainer. I have been an on again, off again distance runner for over 35 years.

Review: Simply stated, this is an excellent book. Back when I was actively engaged in fitness training and acquiring resources I would have paid really good money for this book, assuming I had been able to peruse it beforehand.

The authors claim 3 goals:

1. “[T]he illustrations … are meant to aid the runner in understanding the anatomy impacted when the runner is in motion” and “to further the runner’s understanding of how” the anatomy “work[s] to move the body.” (vii)
2. Show the significance of strengthening the body via strength training. (vii)
3. Provide exercises that “will improve running performance and help to keep the runner injury-free by eliminating anatomical imbalances ….” (vii).

The book does exactly what it claims and does it in a clear, comprehensive, and understandable way. The illustrations are excellent and support the text.

The opening chapters discuss “The Evolution of the Human Runner,” “Cardiovascular and Cardiorespiratory Components,” “The Runner in Motion,” and “Adaptations for Speed and Terrain.”  Some resources spend more time on these topics but the presentation by the authors of this book are fully detailed, while being concise enough to leave more room for the heart of the work, which follows.

The next 5 chapters cover the “Upper Torso,” “Arms and Shoulders,” “Core,” “Upper Legs,” and “Lower Legs and Feet.”  Each chapter begins with a discussion of the appropriate anatomy, to include illustrations, moves into a discussion of why this area is important to a runner and what can go wrong, and then focuses on specific training recommendations. The core of each chapter is then comprised of recommended strength training exercises for the area.  Each exercise includes discussion of proper execution, the primary and secondary muscles involved, the running focus, any safety tips, and any exercise variations.

The authors have done an amazing job of bringing together all of the important and relevant knowledge about a specific exercise via  their accompanying descriptions and illustrations, and they have done so clearly and concisely.  Back when I was actively pursuing this field I had to synthesize this sort of knowledge from many sources and could never find it all in one source, unless it was one that was poorly arranged and inconvenient to use.

The remaining chapters cover “Common Running Injuries,” “Anatomy of Running Footwear,” and “Full-Body Conditioning.” These chapters, while also short, adequately serve as an introduction to the topics.

The one thing that I feel is seriously missing from the text are recommended sources, especially for the opening and closing chapters which are only able to serve as introductions to their topics. The authors must be familiar with quality sources to address these areas in more detail. Human Kinetics certainly publishes many fine books which should serve the purpose adequately.

I see that this book is one of many in Human Kinetics Anatomy Series. Other books include Yoga, Stretching, Dance, Cycling, Swimming, and so on. If these books are of the same quality as this one then they ought to serve as excellent introductions to the anatomy of, and strength training for, these endeavors.

Overall I highly recommend this book to any runner interested in the anatomy of their sport and a clear and concise description of how to incorporate strength training to improve their performance.

Long time gone

[This post title is, for me, multi-meta in that it refers to several things.]

It has been a long time since I’ve been here. Part of me is sad about this fact and part of me thinks that is just fine.

A lot has happened since I last wrote here:

I quit my job as a serials cataloger at the University of Illinois so I could concentrate on (then) upcoming weddings and our move.

Sara and I were married in late May in a small but wonderful ceremony amongst family and friends in a cabin on the banks of the Sangamon River.

At the very beginning of June I started prepping for our move to Sioux City, Iowa.

A couple of weeks later, my daughter got married in Oberlin, Ohio in an even simpler, but absolutely lovely and moving, ceremony to a wonderful young man that I couldn’t be prouder to be related to.

On the evening of 3 July we left Urbana, IL and headed for Sioux City. As of 4 July we are residents of Sioux City. This is a vastly different place  than Urbana-Champaign, in so many ways. We are still getting it sorted out but we will.

We had a good week and a half before Sara had to start her job and we made good use of it. Sara worked for 3 days and then we took a vacation to the Black Hills of South Dakota to spend some time in a couple of cabins with some friends of Sara’s from high school and their respective significant others and children. On the way home we drove through the Badlands. I have a couple of pictures up but I have 100s more to be tagged, labeled, decided upon and uploaded. Suffice it to say that it was beautiful! And being the against much of pop culture fiend that I am, we skipped Wall Drug (unfortunately not the signs though), Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse.

Once back Sara got back to work and is enjoying learning the ropes of this vastly different, and vastly smaller, university. I got back to work on organizing the house, merging two large book collections, much of which was in storage, along with merging two large CD collections, of which all of hers were in storage. There is still a bit to do on all the house organizing fronts but it is definitely getting there.

Shortly after we got here we bought ourselves a 32″ LG HDTV with built-in netflix streaming so we’ve been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and some other things.

We’ve been taking an online class on HTML5 via SitePoint and in a few weeks will take one on CSS3. They were $9.95 each! So the last 2 weeks that is what we’ve been doing in the evenings when Sara gets home from work. (And, yes, I know the CSS3 course says it is $14.95 but by signing up for both at the same time we got a $5 discount!) I think that for the price they are quite good. As with any class it is (mostly) about what you put in to it.

Speaking of courses, Briar Cliff University has a 100% tuition remission policy for spouses so I’ll be taking a 1 credit class this fall called Madwomen Poets. About all I know about it is that it includes Sexton and Plath. But who cares what, if anything, else it might be? Who could ignore a class entitled Madwomen poets?

I know. I know. I’m supposed to be doing other things, “more important” things. And I am. But it is 50 minutes, 1 day/week. I figure it’ll help keep my mental chops in order. And at this point I still don’t know if I’ll be taking it for a grade or auditing.

As to that more  important stuff … I am ramping back up the work on my CAS thesis via several angles of attack. I am working on the paper proper and I am also working on a journal article, which will be highly related (as in with a little reworking can become a chapter), and I am thinking about trying to come up with a presentation for a conference in early December. The conference is “Semantics for Robots: Utopian and Dystopian Visions in the Age of the ‘Language Machine’. ‘The Language Machine’ is one of Roy Harris’ early books, of course.

As for conferences, I am really sad that I will not be able to attend ASIS&T in Pittsburgh this year. But seeing as we gave up about $40k in income with me not working there is little means of justifying the expense of travel and lodging. And, honestly, the registration cost is plain crazy for an unemployed non-student, non-retiree.

Sara and I decided that the Integrationist conference in Chicago in December, along with being far cheaper, is really more where I need to be right now. I need exposure to more Integrationists and Integrational thinking and I will get far more out of a small conference (as I always do) than a bigger one. Whether or not I can get something submitted (and possibly accepted) I am highly looking forward to it. Nonetheless, this will be the 1st ASIS&T I’ve missed since I started going in 2006.

And if any of my Chicago friends are reading this, I’d adore an invite to stay with you for a couple days in early December (2nd-4th, or so), especially if you are near the Univ. of Chicago.

Tomorrow night we are, thanks to a surprise from Sara, going to see Jackson Browne and David Lindley and the historic Orpheum Theatre here in Sioux City. I have been listening to (early) Jackson Browne for close to 40 years now. I haven’t really kept up with anything since the mid-80s or so but, nonetheless, I am stoked to finally get to see him live for the first time.

We also have a Super Secret Date night scheduled for Sunday night. Sara had that lined up well before we left Urbana. She offered me the chance to find out what it’ll be last night but I passed. I like the surprises! She’s done so well every time in the past. And it also makes me aware that it is past time for me to step up in the Super Secret Date Night scheduling department.

And in case anyone who cares isn’t aware of it yet, my son is in Afghanistan for his 3rd war zone tour. He left just days after we moved. Grrrr.

I guess I best end this for now. It is getting long and the simple shock of seeing a post from me is probably enough already. With any hope I won’t be gone as long before the next time.