Jane Hutcheon


01 Feb

Dumping Old Friends Books

Jane Hutcheon

I took a bunch of old stuff to the Salvo's the other day.

As usual, the store was overflowing. There were bags of old stuff literally spilling out of the shop. One of the volunteers tried to move some of the goods out of the rain which had just started. She looked down at my offering and quick as a flash said:

We don't take encyclopedias.

"No worries," I replied cheerily, lugging the basket of all but one of the 24 volume Mammals of the New Illustrated Animal Kingdom back to the car.

Last week, my Dad was told something similar. Someone came to his house and gave him $40 to take away 20 books.  But the book dealer shook his head at the offer of a complete set of 1986 Encyclopedia Britannica's.  

The only place for those is in the bin, he said.

For anyone who grew up in the era of printed books, there is something almost sacred about a set of bound books acquired gradually until you have the complete. Books were, quite simply, knowledge.

For people like Olympic Diver Matthew Mitcham, encyclopaedia's were a lifeline. 

He told me once that as a kid, he read them on the toilet because it was a silent past-time that wouldn't disturb his Mum, who suffered from chronic fatigue.  

It was through reading an encyclopedia that he first heard of 'aversion therapy'.  He was ten and thought about boys rather than girls.  After that, he kept a rubber band around his wrist and every time he had a gay thought, he snapped the rubber band against his wrist to associate pain with that thought.  

Thankfully, aversion therapy didn't work. 

And now it seems, neither do encyclopedias.

Mammals Of the New Illustrated Animal Kingdom was published in the fifties and sixties in the United States. There were twenty-four volumes of which I have twenty-three, picked up from a neighbour's front yard (I must add, with permission) during a clean-up.  It seemed like a good idea at the time. Something for my daughter for when she got a bit older.

And there's the problem. So much of what we call knowledge, changes.  Even to find out about the origin of the Mammals series, I went to Google.  When in doubt, ask Google.  Google isn't always right, but these days we're prepared to sacrifice accuracy for speed, because it's there at our fingertips. And does anyone really want to search through twenty-four volumes of animal facts?  Perhaps a budding vet.

So now I have plenty of old books about animals and there are nice drawings in them too.  I cannot bring myself to put them in the recycle bin.  So I'm trying to turn them into something; wrapping paper, greetings cards, bookmarks, craft...  I'm open to ideas.  

Once, ripping up an old book would have seemed like desecration. Now, it's about preservation.

The drawings really would look pretty on cards.  You're welcome to take a couple. Go on, how about a few more?  

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09 Oct

Hannah Arendt Journalism Books

Jane Hutcheon

Is there such a thing as the Banality of Evil?

I saw the film Hannah Arendt a few years ago.

I've read Hannah Arendt's New Yorker articles.

But a consensus against her views has been building ever since she wrote Eichmann in Jerusalem

Now I'm awaiting a copy of Bettina Stangneth's book.

And there are plenty of other recent pieces trying to reason why Arendt reached the conclusions she did.

It's one of humanity's enduring questions: where does evil begin?

(Photo of Arendt in 1949 by Fred Stein)


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17 Sep

Fiery Lady of Books Books

Jane Hutcheon

In 1900 Anne Caroll Moore became the first Children's librarian at the New York Public Library.

She was a missionary of kids' lit.  That's her on the far right of the photo.

From her annual 'Best Books' lists to children's book reviews to her fiery opinions in the New York Herald-Tribune, she turned the library from a NO DOGS OR CHILDREN ALLOWED zone into a haven of enrichment.

She also bought foreign language books and hired a multi-racial, multi-lingual staff.

She toured the libraries of England and France and met some of her idols, including Beatrix Potter.  The NYPL now has some original drawings by Beatrix Potter and the original soft toys which inspired A.A. Milne to create Winnie the Pooh.

As a result of her work, libraries around the world introduced similar reforms to open the world of books to small children.

Yet Anne Caroll Moore isn't a total heroine.

She took a strong dislike to the work of journalist and author E.B. White.  You can read about that here.

E.B. White is one of my absolute favourite author's.   Charlotte's Web is a gem.  

Each reading reveals something new.  Unlike many books written long ago, the language remains contemporary and the story is plainly beautiful.  He also wrote a great little book on grammar that we just called Strunk and White at uni.

But I'm grateful to Anne Caroll Moore for her work.  Even today, I always find solace in a library.  And the NYPL doesn't disappoint. 







(Photo of Anne Carroll Moore is my own, of a photo at the recent NYPL exhibition Why Children's Books Matter)

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23 Aug

Optimistic Men Life Books

Jane Hutcheon

Two good books came across my desk this week.

They were "An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth" by Col. Chris Hadfield and "Optimism" by Bob Brown.

Two men from very different walks of life.

(Oh how I'd love to interview them together)

There was a single, over-riding message: spend your life working at being positive in a job you are passionate about. Keep doing this day in, day out.

The books, of course go far deeper than this, but this was the ultimate take-away.

I thoroughly enjoyed how both Bob and Chris used stories from different stages of their lives, honing the processes for staying motivated, committed yet open to adjustment.  Simple mastery.  

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