Tuesday, January 10, 2012

More on Digital Books

Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, contributed an article to the Wall Street Journal that I found both interesting and relevant. Books That Are Never Done Being Written addresses the issue of revision in e-books, with or without the reader's consent or knowledge. As Carr points out, when a book is in printed form, it is immutable. Carr writes:"Beyond giving writers a spur to eloquence, what the historian Elizabeth Eisenstein calls "typographical fixity" served as a cultural preservative. It helped to protect original documents from corruption, providing a more solid foundation for the writing of history. It established a reliable record of knowledge, aiding the spread of science. It accelerated the standardization of everything from language to law." In e-books, however, texts are constantly updated, and although it assures greater accuracy, a constantly changing text can be easily abused. Read more on the Wall Street Journal website.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Slave Songs of the United States

As part of our unit on slavery in America, we were each asked to find information about slave songs and post a link on our blogs. I found an electronic copy of the book Slave Songs of the United States, published in 1867. The book is a compilation of over 100 songs, complete with sheet music, sung by slaves in the 1800s. Slave Songs of the United States is the earliest book surviving today that records slaves songs from America. The electronic copy is hosted by the website "Documenting the American South."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Response to Washington Irving's Short Stories

The two most famous short stories by American author Washington Irving are The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has inspired many adaptions, two of which are compared below. Rip Van Winkle has also provided a story for adaptations, but it seems to be an adaptation itself of a German folktale.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, published in 1820, tells of Mr. Ichabod Crane, a traveling schoolteacher, who comes to a small town in New York called Sleepy Hollow. He lives there for some time as the teacher and chorusmaster of the town, and falls in love with the wealthy farmer's daughter, Katrina Van Tassel. He attends a party hosted by Katrina's father, where the guests tell of the legends surrounding the town. Ichabod's rival for Katrina's affections, called Brom Bones, recounts the story of the headless horseman, a specter who is said to haunt the town. After the party, Ichabod confesses his love for Katrina, and seems to be rebuffed. On his way home, he is haunted by Brom's tale of the headless horseman, and spooks at every noise in the dark. Suddenly, he sees the horseman behind him, and races to the bridge, which, according to the legend, the horseman cannot cross. As he crosses the bridge, the horseman throws what Ichabod believes to he his head at the terrified schoolteacher, who promptly faints. The next morning, the only trace of either Ichabod or the horseman to be found is Ichabod's hat, and next to it, a shattered pumpkin. In a postscript, the narrator implicates Brom as pretending to be the horseman, and admits to not believing much of the story himself.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
© Disney Pictures 1949
I have seen two adaptations of this story, each of which focuses on a different element of the story. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad,  released by Disney in 1949, follows the plot of the story very closely, but, as a cartoon, makes light of it, rather than keeping with the spooky feel of the short story. Ichabod's character is comically exaggerated, yet follows the descriptions in the Irving story very well. In fact, many times throughout the short film, the narration incorporates quotes from the text of the story. The Disney animators, however, obviously went to great lengths to make the film appealing to children. Although the scene when Ichabod is chased by the horseman is quite scary for younger children, all in all, there is far less to scare in the Disney adaptation than the original. Ichabod is portrayed as a kind, if ungainly teacher, Katrina as a flirtatious and flighty coquette, and Brom as a man who, through no fault of his own, is made a buffoon by Ichabod, and tries to get back at his rival by scaring him away from Katrina and Sleepy Hollow altogether. In addition, several songs have been added, sung by Bing Crosby, who also contributes the narration. Overall, although the mood has been lightened considerably, the Disney version stays true to the original story and is overall a fun and enchanting adaptation.

(Note: The Mr. Toad portion refers to an adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, on the same disc as but not combined with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.)

Poster for Sleepy Hollow
© Paramount Pictures 1999
Sleepy Hollow, released by Paramount Pictures in 1999, focuses more on the mood of the story rather than the plot. Other than the character of the headless horseman, who has few similarities to the horseman of Irving's story, the Tim Burton adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is nearly unrecognizable. Ichabod Crane, no longer a schoolteacher but a detective from New York City, comes to investigate several suspicious beheadings in the town of Sleepy Hollow. As people in the town are killed by the headless horseman, Ichabod slowly unravels the plot, and has several close encounters with the horseman himself. One eventually finds out that the horseman is not merely a legend, but a being called from the grave by a magic practitioner in the town, who uses the horseman to kill those who have found out her secrets and plans of revenge.

The Tim Burton adaptation of the story, unlike the Disney version, does not shy away from the scarier elements of the story. In fact, the film is rated R for "graphic horror violence and gore, and for a scene of sexuality." In the Burton film, Ichabod is no longer the ungainly schoolmaster described in the original and Disney versions, but played by Johnny Depp, who is nether "tall, [and] exceedingly lank" nor has a "head... small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose" (see comparison below), and no longer travels as a schoolteacher "tarrying" in Sleepy Hollow but is a detective investigating murders. Of interest is Katrina, who rejects Ichabod's affections in the original story, falls for the character in the Burton adaptation. Another notable difference between the Burton film and the original story can be found with Brom, who wins Katrina in the Irving story, and is a very minor character in the adaptation. Brom, rather than pretending to be the horseman, is killed by him. In the Burton adaptation there is the addition of Katrina's stepmother, who masterminds the plot and is eventually defeated by Ichabod and Katrina. Burton also adds a backstory for Ichabod which does not at all fit with the sense one gets from the original. Overall, I prefer the Disney adaptation over the Tim Burton adaptation because it stays true to the original story in plot in characterization rather than focusing on the scariness of the tale.

Ichabod Crane and Katrina Van Tassel
From the Tim Burton film Sleepy Hollow
© Paramount Pictures 1999
Ichabod Crane
From the Disney movie The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
© Disney Pictures 1949
Rip Van Winkle, Irving's other well-known story, published in 1918, tells of a man, easygoing and happy, who goes into the mountains one afternoon to hunt and get away from his sharp-tempered wife, and comes across a small man calling his name. The man asks Rip to help him carry his load. Rip complies, and follows the man up the mountain until they come across a crack in a wall of boulders. When they squeeze through, they find a group of odd looking people stoically playing ninepins (similar to bowling). Rip is ordered to serve wine to the beings, and eventually, he takes a sip, then two from the wine himself. He soon becomes very drunk, and falls asleep. He wakes on a mountainside, and finding his gun rusted and dog gone, makes his way back to the rock face. He finds that the crack is gone, as if it had never been there at all. Returning home, he finds no one who he recognizes, and no one seems to recognize him. He talks with several of the townspeople, to find that somehow there has been a revolution in his absence (the American Revolution), and that all of his friends are dead. Finally, he asks a young woman who she is, and when she responds, who her father was. She tells him that her father was Rip Van Winkle, who had gone missing 20 years earlier and was presumed dead. Rip finds out that his wife is dead, and joins his son and daughter, living out his life to the end and telling everyone of his strange adventure.

This story may seem familiar to those acquainted with the Grimm Brothers' tale of Karl Katz. In fact, the story is nearly identical. Karl Katz comes across dwarf rather than a "small man," pours the wine for unearthly beings rather than strangely dressed people, and there is no mention of the American revolution, as Karl Katz is a German folktale.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Calling All Guest Posters!

Several days ago, I posted my opinion on why print books need to be saved, and why e-books are not as wonderful as they seem. If you have an opinion, you are welcome to contact me to write a guest post on the subject for English by Day.

And I welcome opposing opinions! No need to agree with me when you are writing your post (DJ, I'm looking at you).

Your post can be about your personal reasons for choosing print books or e-books, experiences with books in either form, or anything else you choose related to the topic.

If you wish to write a guest post, please fill out the form below or click HERE to be referred to the form page.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

On Digital Books

In class, we were assigned to write pamphlets based on Thomas Paine's Common Sense on a topic we were passionate about. I wrote mine on the growing e-book trend and why books must stay in print. A snippet from my pamphlet is below. You may view a PDF version here.

     Have you ever felt the wonder of spending time in a bookstore or library, surrounded by painstakingly crafted stories? Or felt the rush of excitement when opening a package to find that book you’ve been waiting for? The generations of the future may miss out on these experiences that define many people’s experience of reading. Even today, many readers choose instead to scroll through a list of titles and read their books on an e-reading device.
      A “book” has always been understood to refer to a physical object. The word “book” comes from the Germanic languages and are “[g]enerally thought to be etymologically connected with the name of the beech-tree, Old English bóc , béce , Old Norse bók < (see beech n.), the suggestion being that inscriptions were first made on beechen tablets, or cut in the bark of beechtrees” (Oxford English Dictionary). When we hear the word “book,” we think of a precious object that we can cradle in our hands.
      Yet now there are some who would do away with our books—who would, in a sense, have us burn them—in favor of digital technology. In the new era, they say, we will read only on computerized machines. They point to data showing the rapid growth in digital readership. According to the Association of American Publishers, “For the year to date (January/February 2011 vs January/February 2010)… e-Books grew 169.4% to $164.1M while the combined categories of print books fell 24.8% to $441.7M” (Publishers.org). Because of the falling sales of print books, several publishers, including romance publisher Dorchester Publishing, have began publishing exclusively to e-readers. (Publisher’s Weekly) Additionally, many authors are bypassing the traditional publishing system and self-publishing their books for computer, Nook, iPad, Kindle, and other e-reading devices (Business Info Guide).
     Those who laud this movement to digital media are sadly mistaken. Getting rid of print completely is not a positive change, but unless we do something, it will indeed be the future.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Response to Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America

In Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America, by Benjamin Franklin, published in 1784, the author shows the gap between how the Native Americans were thought of by the European settlers, and indeed, how they are often thought of today. Franklin points out that although the natives were thought of as savage and uncivilized, they in some ways were more civilized than the Europeans.

For example, after describing the custom of the native people never to speak when another person is, Franklin states, "How different this is from the conduct of a polite British House of Commons, where scarce a day passes without some confusion, that makes the speaker hoarse in calling to order; and how different from the mode of conversation in many polite companies in Europe, where, if you do not deliver your sentence with great rapidity, you are cut off in the the middle by the impatient loquacity of those you converse with, and never suffered to finish it!" (Franklin 228).

Franklin also highlights the racism against Native Americans by including the anecdote about the native coming in to town to sell the beaver skins, and the white people in town meeting in order to agree on the lowest price they would pay for the skins; and the native's point of view on the lack of kindness and hospitality toward the "Indian dog[s]" without provocation (Franklin 230).

Franklin's insight into and openmindedness about the native culture is sorely needed in today's world. Today's America is filled with ignorant people who mindlessly shut out any possibility of understanding another's culture. A relevant example is present when discussing American attitudes toward Middle Eastern countries. Many Americans do not try to understand, as history teacher Carole Winter puts it, "why they hate us," instead villianizing middle-easterners without any insight into their worldview. If today's Americans lessened their xenophobia and took a leaf from Mr. Franklin's book by attempting to understand other cultures, they would find it much easier to work out their differences.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Response to Common Sense, Part One

In Common Sense, by Thomas Paine, published in 1776, the author explains his reasoning on why the people of Colonial America should revolt against British rule. Common Sense was originally written as an anonymous pamphlet, one of many circulating America and Europe at the time, and Paine took credit for the work in only later editions.
     In the first part of the pamphlet, On the Origin and Design of Government in General, with concise remarks on the English Constitution, Paine introduces his argument through a discussion of the purpose and origin of government and points out the flaws in the British monarchy. Paine proposes that the British government of the 1770s was incapable of fulfilling the purposes of government because of its attempt to create a system of checks and balances despite its fundamentally flawed structure.
     Paine opens the first part of Common Sense with a comparison between society and government. He states, "Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil, and in its worst state is an intolerable one" (Paine 17). He expands on this idea by explaining that people create government themselves, and are therefore responsible for the treatment they receive at the hands of government.
     Paine continues by explaining the necessity for government. He proposes a hypothetical situation in which a small number of people grow into a large community and inevitably need to form a government. He begins with the origin of society. He states,
In this state of natural liberty, society will be their first thought... [T]he strength of one man is so unequal to his wants... that he is obliged to seek assistance and relief of another, who in his turn requires the same.... Thus necessity, like a gravitating power, would soon form our newly arrived emigrants into society. (Paine 18)
As the time goes on and the community overcomes its initial challenges, Paine reasons, the people will have less need for society and begin to act only for their own benefit. Thus a government is formed, in order to keep people from harming each other. "It is more than probable," he asserts, "that their first laws will have the title only of Regulations and be enforced by no other penalty than public disteem. In this first parliament every man by natural right will have a seat" (Paine 18). But then he goes on to say that as the size of the colony increases, it would no longer be reasonable for every member to take part in regulating the colony; a few would be chosen to run the affairs of the community. Paine proposes the best way to do this would be to hold elections often, "[so] that the elected might never form themselves into an interest separate from the electors" (Paine 19). He goes on to say that the greater the motivation for the elected to act in the best interest of the people, the stronger and more prosperous the government would be.
     Paine then moves from analysis of government in general to analysis of the British government in particular. He points out that the simpler a government is, the easier it is to understand the faults in it, and therefore fix them. But if a government is as complex as the British government of the 1770s, "the nation may suffer for years together without being able to discover in which part the fault lies" (Paine 19).
     He then enumerates specific contradictions and flaws in the structure and system of the British monarchy. He names the divisions of power to be between the King, the Aristocracy, and the (House of) Commons.
The two first, by being hereditary, are independent of the People; wherefore in a constitutional sense they contribute nothing towards the freedom of the State.

To say that the constitution of England is an union of three powers, reciprocally checking each other, is farcical; either the words have no meaning, or they are flat contradictions.

First. — That the King it not to be trusted without being looked after; or in other words, that a thirst for absolute power is the natural disease of monarchy.

Secondly. — That the Commons, by being appointed for that purpose, are either wiser or more worthy of confidence than the Crown.

But as the same constitution which gives the Commons a power to check the King by withholding the supplies, gives afterwards the King a power to check the Commons, by empowering him to reject their other bills; it again supposes that the King is wiser than those whom it has already supposed to be wiser than him. A mere absurdity! (Paine 20)
Paine then expands upon this point by showing further flaws in the English system. He states that the rank of a king isolates him from the matters of his people, yet it is upon those matters that he is called upon to rule. He also points out that although the king is supposed to be sent by God through the divine right of kings, he must be checked by the other branches of government, namely "the Peers" and "the Commons." Paine asks, "how came the king by a power which the people are afraid to trust, and must therefore always be obliged to check?  Such a power could not be the gift of a wise people, neither can any power, which needs checking, be from God; yet the provision which the constitution makes supposes such a power to exist" (Paine 21).
     Paine writes this first part of Common Sense in a style that appeals to reason rather than emotion. For nearly all of the points he presents, he refers to a counter-argument, which he then disproves. For example, when explaining the contradictions within the system of checking the king's power, he introduces his argument with, "Some writers have explained the English constitution thus: the King, they say, is one, the people another, the Peers are a house in behalf of the King, the commons in behalf of the people; but this hath all the distinctions of a house divided against itself" (Paine 21). He goes on then to explain exactly why this system does not work so well as one might assume. The entire section is an introduction in which Paine does not state his main point, although the reader may infer his position. In this section, Paine familiarizes the reader with the topic of the British rule and the general subject upon which he is writing, and he more specifically addresses his thesis, that the American colonists should separate from British rule, in the subsequent sections.