Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More than the Mona Lisa

"I long ago stopped counting how many times I’ve seen the Mona Lisa. The most visited work of art at the Louvre is, alas, at the top of the must-see list of every houseguest on a first visit to Paris.
"Mona is surprisingly small (30 by 21 inches), dark and hard to see behind the barriers and bulletproof glass. After a while, she gets — dare I say it — boring. So do the Winged Victory of Samothrace (No. 2 in popularity) and Vénus de Milo (No. 3)."
Elaine Sciolino writes about "The Louvre Less Traveled" in a recent New York Times article.

What does she recommend? --
  • Michelangelo’s two marble nude Slaves
  • Samuel Van Hoogstraten, “View of an Interior or the Slippers” (shown at right)
  • A collection of paintings donated by by Victor Lyon in honor of his wife, Hélène Loeb -- including works by Monet, Degas, and other artists you wouldn't expect to see in the Louvre
  • Charles V’s gold scepter
  • ... and quite a few more
I always found many surprises on my visits to the Louvre, and this article makes me want to go back there, despite the overpowering size of the space and collections.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Lake Erie Birds

While I was taking photos of the birdwatchers (see yesterday's post), Len was really watching the hawks and taking pictures with his much better-equipped camera.

I loved the lotus. I'm fascinated by the elaborate mechanism that makes the mud roll off of them, not long ago explained by science but of course observed for thousands of years. Their purity makes them a symbol in Buddhist tradition. A heron turned out to be hiding among the lotus blossoms and seed pods.




Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Hawkwatch at Point Mouillee



This morning we took part in the Hawkwatch, waiting for migrating hawks and other raptors as they come across the Detroit River from Canada. From a few points in Lake Erie MetroPark and at Point Mouillee at the mouth of the Huron River, we saw several kettles of hawks and also some smaller groups of hawks, as well as an eagle, but they were all very far away. I've been a birdwatcher-watcher for years; the birdwatchers looked good today.

Also from Point Mouillee at the birdwatching dock we saw the Fermi Nuclear Reactor and its plume of steam, hunters bringing in their prey, water birds, and flowers.

The hunters: On the front of their boat, they had two Canada Geese. Their waders are printed with images of reeds and water.

The Power Plant.

Water Plants: Beyond these reeds, we could see a large stand of lotus. Some were still in bloom, some with the characteristic seed pods.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

What if I need something to read?

Borders Books and Music is going out of business. Unless you live in a sealed paper bag, you know about this. In Ann Arbor, a sealed paper bag probably wouldn't be enough to keep from hearing the post-mortem laments and accusations. The latest one, at the Ann Arbor Chronicle, an online-only local journal, interviewed former booksellers and bookshop workers who were speculating about a replacement for the oldest Borders store in the chain. This flagship Borders was the largest retail business in the downtown area (I think). It occupied two floors of space in the building that was previously a department store: another type of business to which change has come more slowly than to its customer base in this constantly changing world.

Businesses seem to hate change, except the a few that figure out how to keep making money, and these get a lot of criticism for changing things. Journalists -- who have their own problems with change, to say the least -- seem strangely unaware of any big picture about the changes in the book industry. I'm especially annoyed by the writers of these screeds that blame people for shopping online, and seem to imply that the end of Borders is some kind of punishment for the people of Ann Arbor who used to buy books in stores but now are among the best book customers of amazon.

Yes, I used to shop at bookstores and now I rarely do, but things have changed a lot since I acquired the bookmarks below from Borders current and former downtown store and from other bookstores (some still in business). I have tons more like them, and I can't imagine how many have been thrown away.


I'm a reader. I need new reading material all the time. These days, I read a lot on my Kindle. Eventually I'll join the other members of my family who have moved on to reading on the iPad. I also read plenty of books. Almost all the magazines and newspapers I read are online, so I read on the computer as well. But the format in which I read has really made less difference to me than the way that I find what I want to read. I think the journalists writing about the book trade do not fully account for this fundamental change in the way that I and many others behave.

As so many journalism pieces have recently pointed out, the original Borders had a very excellent staff who selected and organized the stock especially well, and who could answer questions. At the information desk, they had a year of NYT Book Reviews and other useful material. Indeed, if you remembered vaguely having read a review somewhere, they could often locate it almost by magic, and produce whatever book you almost recalled. Now, if you remember reading about a book, you can use google or the journal's index find such things easily -- if you didn't keep some type of electronic record of what you saw. But that's not all that has changed.

In the days when I was acquiring all those bookstore-ad bookmarks, I found out about newly published books by reading reviews in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker, sometimes the Atlantic or the New York Review of Books, and in a few other places. I browsed at the public library, I used the card catalog in the university library and I read through the bibliographies of scholarly works, as well as going to helpful bookstores. At the time, I didn't find these methods cumbersome or time-consuming, but I do now! Changes in libraries, especially online card catalogs accessible from home that tell you if a book is available, made another big change for readers, but I'll stick to talking about bookstores.

My book-review horizon has broadened widely because so many more journals, newspapers, blogs, and cross-referenced catalogs are available to me on my computer. Every week I read reviews not only in sources I used before (they're all online and most have added a great deal of material beyond their print editions), but also in British reviews like the Guardian online, in newly invented reviews like Tablet online magazine, in blogs, and in many other places that weren't accessible before or weren't invented yet.

Besides speeding up and expanding my information on new books, this broad access has allowed me new ways to find old books. For example, thanks to a reference in a blog I read, I recently heard of an article written by W.H.Auden in 1948 about mystery novels. His article was available online. In it, Auden praised the novels of Freeman Wills Crofts -- a new name to me. Soon after, I read two of these on my Kindle, one free, one $2.99. Yes, something like this could have happened 20 years ago, but it would have been very cumbersome and involved microfiche and perhaps a very complicated and maybe expensive search for an out-of-print book!

Here's another contrast, between my experience and that of the Chronicle writer. I recently read a review of the book "1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created." I immediately ordered it from for around half the list price, and the book arrived in a couple of days. Here's the Chronicle writer's experience with the same book:
"On a recent Friday afternoon I spent the better part of an hour browsing her [Nicola Rooney of Nicola's books] shelves for my husband’s birthday presents – I came in for Charles C. Mann’s new '1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created' ... Rooney and two of her staffers spent a good 10 minutes – a long time in a small shop – determined to hunt down one of the three copies of '1493' that were, the computer indicated, in the store. None were to be found. So she took my info and promised to let me know when the next copy came in (it was expected, and indeed arrived, on Monday)."
Yes, this is a great level of service, but it saved neither time nor money for the writer. In fact, she had to drive to the store an extra time, while UPS delivered the book to my front porch. For many reasons I choose to pay the annual fee for free 2-day delivery of all purchases, so I suppose that my total cost should be incremented slightly. But I buy so many books on this deal (as well as watching streaming video for the same fee) that the increment is truly small.

Money isn't everything, but the savings on books one buys online are considerable. I resent the suggestion that I owe it to somebody or something to spend more by buying books in stores. I'm honest about it: if I find a book by browsing in a store and decide to buy it, I don't just write down the reference, but I buy it there. There's much more involved than just browsing. If I want to make a charitable contribution, this isn't it.

Automated recommendations from are often compared unfavorably to a discussion with a live bookseller (or librarian). On the whole, I agree, though I admit that the amazon algorithm sometimes results in good suggestions. There are other services from amazon that I find useful, though. For example, I like the ability to maintain lists of books for future reference. I have several "Wish Lists" which actually represent a selection of just about any books that I might read eventually. If a book is too expensive or rare, I put the library call number in the notes; sometimes I also note where I read about a book; however, no notes are really required, and an amazon user can add books to a wish list with just a click and no typing.

After I read the books, the lists also serve as kind of a record of my reading history -- my family are warned not to use these lists as buying suggestions, as I might have them already. If I had been super organized in the past, of course I could have dreamed up a note-card-and-cross-referencing scheme that would have had this function, but I never was that organized or willing to devote the time to writing out all the information that amazon links to.

The combined capabilities of google searching and google books, online reviews and archives, and the collective force of the amazon catalog just makes it all so easy!

I have no idea if the simultaneous changes in the world of journalists makes it harder for them to see the big picture of the changes in the world of readers (who may also be book buyers). I've seen this gap in quite a lot of the coverage of the demise of Borders. By setting this tone, I think the Chronicle article also set up the type of comments that were made: at this point there are close to 30 of them, mainly along the same lines as the article, worrying about the lack of bookstores. I see a gap in these discussions, with much too much interest paid to book sellers, and not quite enough paid to the question of the new Internet-wide world of finding something to read.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

A Walk around Argo Pond





This is a beautiful place to walk. Around a year ago, I posted this.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Mona Lisa Barbie

Here she is: my Mona Lisa Barbie. This is my first -- and last -- Barbie doll in my whole life. I guess. Unless they make a Leonardo Ken with a paintbrush or something.