Miskatonic University Press

Easy Reader


When I was a little kid in the early ’70s, I liked watching The Electric Company. My favourite character was Easy Reader, and even though Morgan Freeman has had a great career since then, that’s how I always think of him. I just realized today that Easy Reader must have been a play on Easy Rider. I didn’t clue in at the time, but after all, I wasn’t even in grade one yet.

Here’s Easy chatting up a librarian and having fun with words:

Play It Again

music reviews

I highly recommend Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible, by Alan Rusbridger. It’s a delightful book, full of fascinating detail, and will get you thinking about music in new ways.

Cover of Play It Again
Cover of Play It Again

Rusbridger was editor of The Guardian from 1995–2015. He’d played the piano when he was young, then stopped. In his forties he got back into it. In the summer of 2010 he decided to tackle Frédéric Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G minor. It’s a very difficult piece, but he decided to learn it over the next year so he could perform it the next summer. The book is the story of that year and a bit more.

(See Play It Again by Alan Rusbridger – review by Iain Burnside for a full review of the book (in the Graun) including a video with Rusbridger talking about the book and playing some of the piece.)

Now, being editor-in-chief of The Guardian is an incredibly busy and stressful job in any year, but the year in question was also the year of major Wikileaks releases and the British phone hacking scandal, in both of which The Guardian played a leading role. What’s more, at one point Rusbridger had to fly to Libya to negotiate the release of a Guardian reporter who had crossed the country’s border illegally and then been arrested.

All through this, when he can, when he’s not working sixteen- or eighteen-hour days (and even sometimes when he is), he’s grabbing twenty minutes in the morning to practice, and taking lessons when he can.

Some of the book is about his life as an editor, which is astonishing stuff, but most of it is about playing the piano, and the amount of detail is remarkable. I had no idea people spent so much time thinking about and practicing one bar in a score. One bar!

Along the way Rusbridger talks to several pianists about the piece. I think my favourite interview was in New York with Charles Rosen, who lived in the same apartment from when he was six to when he died. Rosen studied under Moriz Rosenthal, who studied under Liszt … who studied under Chopin.

The story of his study and practice of the piece is wonderful, but I was also struck by the rest of his musical life. He often gets together with other amateurs and semi-professionals (including Richard Sennett) to play chamber pieces or bash their way through two-piano eight-hands transcriptions of symphonies. The thrill and joy of playing such music with friends comes to life in his writing, and if, like me, you can’t play the piano, you’ll wish that at least you could sit in on a night like that.

Research data management librarian job posting at York University

code4lib yorku

Research data management librarian wanted at York University Libraries in Toronto, where I work.

York University Libraries (YUL) seeks a dynamic and innovative individual with strong leadership potential to advance York University Libraries’ research data management portfolio in support of the research community across campus.

The successful candidate will be a member of the new Research and Open Scholarship division and will report to the Director for Open Scholarship. The incumbent will lead the development of a research data management program on campus and will coordinate ongoing support in this area within a team-based environment. The incumbent will work collegially with departmental members to advance the wider responsibilities of the Open Scholarship Department.

I’m not on the search committee and am happy to answer any questions I can from anyone interested in applying, by email or even by phone. They’re looking for someone who knows RDM and also can handle chemistry and other physical sciences.

Pay at York is good. I’d guess someone five years out of library school would get over $90,000 CAD. We have good benefits, time for (and expectations about) research, and of course the subway comes right on campus now. After six years the person will be up for continuing appointment (what we call tenure) and then get a sabbatical year. On the bad side, of course, CUPE 3903 is on strike right now.

YUL is going through a restructuring and this position will be in a new department. Anyone taking the job should ask serious questions about how the department will work and what support they will have in the role, but all in all I think the new structure will work pretty well and there is a lot of promise ahead.

Non-Canadians are welcome to apply. The way it works, any qualified Canadian trumps any non-Canadian, even if the non-Canadian is actually better, but don’t let that stop you from applying. The bigger the pool the better for us, of course, but with specialized knowledge like this, you never know what will happen or how many Canadians will apply.

Anyone whose career has taken unusual turns or had to take some time out (for parental or caregiver leave or something else) should mention that in the cover letter, and the search committee will consider it.

You Are

john.cage listening.to.art marcel.duchamp

I just finished Begin Again: A Biography of John Cage, by Kenneth Silverman, which is a fine account of the amazing entirety of John Cage’s incredible life. I agree with John Adams’s review where he says, “Silverman is concerned less with parsing Cage’s aesthetics than he is with carefully recounting the life, which he does in a matter-of-fact, occasionally plodding manner,” but also where he says, “Cage himself is revealed in a richly shaded and profoundly human portrait” and that the book shows “Cage’s enormous capacity for work, together with his exceptional self-discipline as an artist (something learned from Schoenberg) and his willingness to approach every new challenge with a ‘beginner’s mind.’ For this alone it is a book worthy of being read by anyone, young or old, who is faced with the daunting task of a new creative beginning.”

Cover of Begin Again
Cover of Begin Again

Every page is filled with remarkable details and incidents, like p. 41 for this in late 1940 when Cage is raising money for his Center for Experimental Music:

He played some of his percussion records for the artist Diego Rivera, who became “very enthusiastic,” Cage said; Rivera spoke to influential people on behalf of the Experimental Center and “referred” him to Charlie Chaplin.

These two names appear out of nowhere. However, two pages later we read, “He learned that people of Chaplin’s celebrity were ‘very difficult to get to.’” No doubt! Still, pretty good for a 28-year-old.

About Cage’s friendship with Marcel Duchamp (p. 228):

Their new friendship pleased Duchamp no less than Cage. “We’re great buddies,” he told an interviewer; “we have a spiritual empathy and a similar way of looking at things.” On many key points their aesthetic thought matched.

Cage once joined Duchamp and his wife on vacation in Spain, where the Duchamps regularly hung out with Salvador Dalí and his wife Gala:

One time at Cadaqués, Duchamp persuaded Cage to accompany him and Teeny to visit Salvador Dalí, living in a group of connected fishermen’s shacks at nearby Port Lligat. Cage disliked Dalí’s paintings, and in person disliked the painter no less. Dalí showed them a huge painting that Cage though “vulgar and miserable.” And the artist talked and talked, he said, “as though he was the king.” He found it hard to understand Duchamp’s admiration for Dalí.

I was particularly struck by this (p. 276) work with William Anastasi:

But in 1977 he came across a painter he had briefly met a decade earlier who became his lifelong chess partner—the innovative conceptual artist William Anastasi (1933–). At the time, Anastasi was seeking a narrator for his performance piece You Are, to be presented at a gallery show of his large silkscreened paintings. Allen Ginsberg and some others had turned him down. So Anastasi’s partner, Dove Bradshaw, a young artist working in clay sculpture and photography, suggested Cage.

The couple spoke with Cage at his Bank Street apartment. Anastasi explained that Cage’s role in You Are would be to report what sounds he heard in the gallery. Cage liked the idea and agreed to appear. (As he later did, telling of rubber-soled shoes, a coat button scraping the wall, someone sneezing: “do you have a cold?” he asked the sneezer; “do you need some kleenex?”)

In Listening to Art, there is no narrator.

CUPE 3903 strike

solidarity yorku

CUPE 3903 Units 1, 2 and 3 are on strike at York. That’s graduate teaching assistants (1), contract faculty (2) and graduate assistants (3). (Unit 4, the part-time librarians and archivists, are not on strike. They only recently unionized and settled their first collective agreement, which is out of phase with the others and expires next year.)

Me on the march, recording the rally.
Me on the march, recording the rally.

The same colleagues were out three years ago, and also in 2008–2009 for the longest academic strike in English-speaking Canada. In that one they got legislated back to work, which I expect is what will happen this time. The Employer says it wants to bargain and end the strike, but they are not meeting with the union. If this goes on for a while—and right now there’s no reason to think it won’t—I predict the the Ontario premier, Kathleen Wynne, will force everyone back and hand negotiations over to binding arbitration, as happened with the province-wide college strike late last year. There is an election in June and this strike looks bad.

Inside York, there’s a lot of confusion over suspending classes. The deans seems to have received instructions to be hard on full-time professors who are exercising their rights to suspend classes for reasons of academic integrity (for example, because they have TAs to lead tutorials or do marking). That’s aside from all the hundreds of courses suspended because they’re taught by contract faculty, of course. All this must be having a bad effect on many students.

One big change from the last strike is the new subway station on campus. Before, all buses (over 2,000 buses a day used to enter the York campus) stopped outside and we all had to walk in. Now everyone can pop into a tunnel and come up in the middle of campus inside the picket lines. People who need to drive are affected, but I think a lot of drivers are going to nearby subway stations, parking there, and travelling one or two stops underground. The strikers have lost a lot of leverage.

I think the York administration is playing this one hard, and they’re playing it unfairly (for example by seemingly trying to set the York University Faculty Association, which I’m in, and CUPE against each other over a particular employee category). I don’t like it.

CUPE 3903 has my full support in this strike and I wish them a speedy, fair and equitable settlement. We all want things back to normal and for the students to be back into the full swing of their studies.

For a good explanation of some of the issues involved, this Reddit thread is very interesting.

Ordering Things

publications york

I’m delighted to say that Ordering Things, by Sarah Coysh, Lisa Sloniowski and me, is now available freely and openly. It is our chapter in the new book The Politics of Theory and the Practice of Critical Librarianship, edited by Karen P. Nicholson and Maura Seale, published by Library Juice Press.

Cover of the book.
Cover of the book.

This book features original research, reflective essays and conversations, and dialogues that consider the relationships between theory, practice, and critical librarianship through the lenses of the histories of librarianship and critical librarianship, intellectual and activist communities, professional practices, information literacy, library technologies, library education, specific theoretical approaches, and underexplored epistemologies and ways of knowing.

Our chapter is a reflective essay and a conversation. It’s about “collaborative reading of critical theory as an act of resistance and inspiration for workers inside neoliberal institutions,” as Lisa put it. Here’s the first paragraph:

In autumn 2010 three librarians at York University in Toronto formed a group to read Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things. Our academic backgrounds were diverse, but we were all hungry for the kind of idea-based conversations that weren’t happening in our bureaucratic workplace. We wanted to move beyond granular discussions about daily operations into reflecting upon the implicit ideologies behind decision-making and practices in our field. Together we sought to explore how these ideological bases connected to broader trends in society, the production of knowledge, and the politics of memory. At the outset at least one of us was fairly skeptical about post-structuralism and its practical application, and none of us were well versed in this literature or in Foucault’s work.

(I was the skeptical one.)

In the chapter we explain what we did in the reading group, what it meant, and how it changed us.

Karen Nicholson and Maura Seale were wonderful editors. Our first draft received very helpful large-scale comments about structure, and as versions went back and forth they got down to very fine detail about sentence structure and grammar. They gave very close attention to every line of our manuscript, and every suggestion was welcome. Of course, any remaining mistakes or complaints a reader might have are our fault, but there are far fewer of them than originally existed.

I haven’t yet read anything else in the book, but am eager to do so when my copy of it arrives. It looks like a great collection and I’m very happy to be part of it.

P.S. I was happy to get my Foucault parody in:

Its representation lay dormant in the recrudescence of its own finalities, simultaneously dissolving and coalescing, becoming fluid and solidifying, disappearing from existence while yet fixedly becoming utterly real.

Riverdale High School library in "Nerd Word"

archie libraries

Here’s another view of the Riverdale High School library, from “Nerd Word,” which I read in B&V Friends (Jumbo Comics) Double Digest 259 (April 2018).

One panel from Nerd Word.
One panel from Nerd Word.

The aisles are unreasonably wide, and once again we note the lack of shelf labels on the books.

Veronica is aghast because Jenna (not someone I recall ever seeing in any other stories) has invited Betty to be an honorary member of The Nerd Girls.

Veronica: Girls have usually focused on more traditional pursuits … like boys. make-up and fashions!

Betty: And what makes you think many of The Nerd Girls aren’t into those things?

After showing how Ethel and Nancy are admired by boys for their technical skills, Betty points out that Veronica’s interest in the details of how the Lodge businesses are run is also a bit geeky. In the end Veronica decides to get a t-shirt made that says “Geek is Chic.”

“The Nerd Word” was written by George Gladir, pencilled by Jeff Shultz, inked by Jon D’Agostino, coloured by Barry Grossman and lettered by Phil Felix. It may have first appeared in Betty and Veronica Comics Digest Magazine 203 (June 2010). It is copyright Archie Comic Publications.

Listening to Art 02.08


Listening to Art 02.08 is up, and it’s a field recording of Joan Mitchell’s Chasse Interdite, recorded at the Art Gallery of Ontario show Mitchell/Riopelle: Nothing in Moderation. The show runs to early May, so you have a chance to listen to it yourself and compare.

Spectrogram of 02.08 field recording.
Spectrogram of 02.08 field recording.

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