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Disgruntled Furniture

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This is Tuesday, and Tuesday is a day on which I don’t teach.

Today I also have very little to do in the way of correcting or prep. I had a long stretch of office hours yesterday, and as a result I put up all my Blackboard content and worked out  my 102 lecture for tomorrow and did all that kind of thing that I usually put off to Tuesday afternoons.

Add to that the fact that we’ve gotten to the part of the term when practically nobody is handing in assignments, and that I didn’t sleep through the alarm clock going off, and I was looking forward to a nice long stretch of music and book after I finished my writing.

I alsomst managed it, too, except that the arm that got dislocated is still a little sore, and I had a nearly impossible time holding up the book in order to read it.

The book is called Albion’s Seed.  It’s off in another room at the moment, and I’d go look for the complete title and the author, but at the moment I’m mad at it.

I’m not angry at the content.  It’s one of the more interesting books I’ve read in a long time.

It purports to be a study of the ways in which the original settlement of the American colonies was derived from distinct British regions with distinct regional cultures whose characters are with us still.

When I first heard that description, I thought the book was going to be an expanded version of a Thomas Sowell book (Black Rednecks and White Liberals, I think), which is about the ways in which black underclass culture is a direct descendant of white “cracker” (hillbilly?) culture.

That’s a very interesting book, too, but it’s a polemic against the modern fashion for declaring that ghetto culture is “authentically black” while things like getting good grades in school and not fathering children out of wedlock is not.

The Sowell is a very interesting  book, too, and very well researched, and very well worth looking into, but Albion’s Seed is not that.

What it actually is–in spite of what seem to me to be mostly cursory nods to the English regions from which the colonies sprang–is a sociological study of the attitudes, habits, ideas and religious convictions of just those colonies. 

In each case, at end of each such study, we get a look into how the colonists of each particular region defined the idea of “freedom.”

 This, as the saying goes, explains a lot.

It especially explains a lot of my own ambivalent feelings about my own American region. 

The Puritans of New England, it seems, pretty much invented the idea of policing and punishing domestic violence and punishing sexual transgressions of various kinds (adultery, fornication, whatever) equally harshly (and sometimes more harshly) for men as for women.

They also invented something very much like our Child Protective Services, except that they’d take your child away from you and give it to another family if you didn’t punish it enough.

To me, this does not sound like an actual substantive difference.

The book is not answering all my questions about this period, and I’ve got a hunch it isn’t even going to address my big questions about religion (specifically, about Christian denominational histories), but it is very interesting indeed, and it even included an explanation of Quaker belief and practice.

I still don’t understand Quaker belief and practice, mind you, but I’m increasingly of the opinion that it isn’t really possible to understand it in anything like an intellectualized way. 

Reading about this reminds me of the 1960s truism about LSD: you can’t understand what being on acid is like unless you’re actually on acid.

In case you’re wondering–my big question about religion (and particularly Christian denominational histories) is why the Reform denominations seem to predictably and exclusive to descend into some form of what we would now call “left liberalism.”

I’m not talking about the socialist aspects of mainline Protestantism.  Given the New Testament, a bias in favor of at least some forms of socialism makes a certain amount of sense.

I’m talking about the (by now almost inevitable) plunge into what amounts to militant secularism covered in fancy theological language, a recoil against all things supernatural, and the complete abandonment of any concept of personal sin.

If there was one thing the Puritans were convinced of, it was the centrality of personal sin.  Their present day descendants (Congregationalists, United Church of Christ) see sin only in “systemic injustice” and don’t think anything can be done about it unless we get to the “root causes.”

Of course, they’re still true to their heritage in wanting to police everybody’s private behavior and innermost thoughts–so there’s that.

Apparently, one of the things the Puritans had was a guy who went around and inspected life in all the houses to make sure the family was living the way it was supposed to be, with the power to bring charges if they weren’t.  The court could then dissolve the family if it wasn’t behaving as proscribed.

Puritan towns also existed as vast networks of informers, with  neighbors running to tattle to authorities about everything from religious opinions to a husband calling his wife bad names.

At any rate, I’ll get back to that, and probably to my big religious question, too.

At the moment, I’ve got a problem.

The book is fun to read.  It’s well written.  It’s got lots of information in it I haven’t seen before.  It’s got charts and maps and all kind of other things.

It’s also as large and as heavy as a piece of furniture.

Serious furniture.

Which means I probably couldn’t read it for long periods even if the arm wasn’t still aching on and off.

It’s literally too heavy to hold up for long periods of time, and I can’t take it in to school with me at all.

I’ve already ruined two tote bags this years trying to carry heavy textbooks.  Add this thing to the latest one and it would disintegrate on the spot.

Surely somebody, somewhere, ought to have consider this sort of thing when they designed the book.

But then, this year, I’m continually surprised by what book designers aren’t considering.


Written by janeh

April 9th, 2013 at 8:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized

10 Responses to 'Disgruntled Furniture'

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  1. Let me be the first to say that on your Kindle (or preferred e-reader) it wouldn’t weigh anything.

    Yes, I know many people have their own very good reasons not to go E (charts and maps don’t fare well in current e-readers), but for this girl, Kindles are a great boon to weaker, aching arthritic hands and aging eyes. Plus, when eating while reading, one tap is sufficient to turn a page, no picking up & manipulating the whole book. Love it.

    As for Reform religions, I’m not sure that Presbyterianism qualifies, but my brief experience with them was illuminating. When my sister & I were adolescents my very non-religious parents for some reason thought we ought to be exposed. Perhaps it was a kind of inoculation experience. Ha!

    Anyway, it was certainly a Religion Lite experience. No fire, no brimstone, no real mention of sin, or hell or anything remotely unpleasant. Just lots of lovingkindness, God loves YOU! and admonition not to fall into “temptation.” As far as I could determine, at the age of 14, temptation consisted of something resembling being rude to the bank teller or stiffing your server in a restaurant. Maybe, in extreme cases, cheating on your taxes.

    Looking back on it now, I can see that for most of the congregants, the social aspects of churchgoing must have far outweighed any possible spiritual guidance or comfort. Except for Unitarian Universalists, it’s hard to imagine a less God-centered church.

    As for accompanying liberalism, this took place in the late 1960s, in a lily-white suburb of Detroit, pretty much simultaneously with the race riots there. While no one would have advocated actually being RUDE to black people to their faces, many of these folks had fled Detroit when a black person moved onto their block. They weren’t all that damn liberal. And they would NOT have welcomed anyone of color into the church or into their neighborhoods.

    Take care of the dislocated shoulder. My husband dislocated his playing softball in his 20s. Forty years later, his left shoulder will dislocate any time he reaches too far back, or up, or a cloud passes across the sun. Really. Once he reached for something on the floor and it went out.

    He has to then lie on a counter-height flat surface and dangle the arm down, and then in spite of the pain, RELAX all his muscles. The arm will then go back into place. When it first happened, apparently the doctor gave him a heavy bucket to hold to encourage the shoulder back into place. Now he doesn’t need the bucket, and the pain passes quite quickly. But this constant threat is because he never had surgery to repair the surrounding muscles. So if they recommend it, have it. Well worth it not to have continuing dislocations. We get two or three a year here. Such fun!


    9 Apr 13 at 12:16 pm

  2. I think you mean prescribed, not proscribed (towards the end)!

    And another vote for e versions of big heavy books here.

    The Puritans weren’t the first to try policing their neighbours to ensure that they were holy in the proper fashion. There were other early Protestant attempts to set up ‘proper’ communities – some of them rather bizarre. The Catholics, I think, tended to attack outsiders – heretics etc – rather than those they considered their own, although I think that monasteries and convents sometimes required members to police each other in some ways.

    I don’t know as much about reformed churches as I’d like to (especially since I belong to one), but I think the people (usually Catholics) who said that once that once people started making basic changes, they wouldn’t know when to stop had a point. Luther himself didn’t restrict himself to attacking Catholic beliefs – he was also attacked some of his fellow-reformers. It’s a difficult balance, living between the here-and-now and the conviction that there is something more. It’s extremely easy to be overly-influenced by the surrounding culture, especially when so many religious beliefs seem to directly conflict with scientific ideas – and definitely conflict with social norms. Loosen up the pressures to superficially conform, add in a conviction that the individual conscience is all that needs to be consulted when making a decision, live surrounded by a very wealthy, entertaining and seductive culture…it would be a miracle if you didn’t get churches which eliminate mysticism – well, anything that might be considered supernatural (read: simple, primitive etc) – in favour of current popular political and social ideas, with an emphasis on those which seem to parallel some NT teachings. And when churches lose members, a lot of them go for ‘relevance’ – LESS mysticism and theology, and more popular ideas. That approach doesn’t seem to work, though.


    9 Apr 13 at 12:55 pm

  3. Uh guys? The e-reader thing? I don’t care how often you say it, current e-readers WILL NOT WORK for serious history. Case in point, specifically, ALBION’S SEED. My hardcover copy is in storage, so wanting to re-read it, I downloaded it to kindle. After a few days, I admitted I’d wasted my money and bought a trade paper. (So now I own it three ways. Don’t rub it in.) The maps, family trees, sketches of buildings and portraits are not in there for decoration. Fischer continually refers back to them, and while just finding them on a kindle is bad enough, even when you do you won’t get legible maps and geneologies. I strongly recommend the book, though.
    Jane, you realize that if the author (David Hackett Fischer, ALBION’S SEED: FOUR BRITISH FOLKWAYS IN NORTH AMERICA) had attempted to explain the tendency of mainline Protestantism to degrade into pantheism, materialism and socialism, he’d have needed even more pages, and you’d need a two-wheel cart to transport the book? Fischer explains a lot, and it may be unreasonable to ask more of him.
    And he’d have strayed from his topic, since the process is not notably different in the different regions; nor is it inherited from Britain in different forms. (I thought, by the way, he did a better job than you give him credit for of showing the British regional roots of the different cultures. Somehow I got into building ways, and was interested to see detailed work backing him up: New Englanders from different parts of Britain standardizing house design on the predominant East Anglian model by the second generation.)
    As far as I’m concerned, though, you’re right about book size. Given my druthers, all my books would be acid-freee paper signatures (octavo) sewn into hard covers and be between 200 and 400 pages. Art books and map collections could be quartos or folios and thinner, since I wouldn’t be carrying them out to dinner with me anyway.
    Religion. I think the terrible seductive lie the Devil whispers in the ear of the well-off is “you deserve all this” and a supernatural agency of any sort suggests this may not be true. The lie whispered into the ear of the clever and well-educated is “you understand EVERYTHING” which, again, is incompatible with any sort of mystery.
    The first rule of demagoguery is always to tell people something they would prefer to be true.


    9 Apr 13 at 2:56 pm

  4. Turns out that I’ve had Albion’s Seed on my Kindle for a year but haven’t gotten around to reading it. Robert is right – maps, charts and tables do not work well with Kindle.

    Going off topic – does anyone know what is happening to Kindle prices? The price of Albion’s seed has gone up $3 in a year. And I’ve found books where the Kindle price is greater than the paperback!


    9 Apr 13 at 4:11 pm

  5. I think the publishers have figured out that enough people like e-books that they can put the prices up without discouraging more than a few of them from buying. It doesn’t always work for me – I’ve thought once or twice “They want THAT for an e-book!!!” and not bought it.

    I forgot about the important of maps and charts in history books. No, they don’t do well in e-formats.


    9 Apr 13 at 5:33 pm

  6. I agree about maps and charts. But my iPad handles this problem much better. Like JD, I’ve had the book for quite a while, but keep being diverted by other things. I’m well into it, but must try harder.


    9 Apr 13 at 5:58 pm

  7. Prices. Amazon lost a court case a while back. If you check out the more expensive kindle items, you’ll find they’re generally marked “price set by publisher.”
    There’s also going to be some experimentation–perhaps for some years yet–while publishers figure out the sweet spot. Revenue per unit sold goes down with price, but number of items sold goes up. Give the book away, and you have no revenue. Sell it for $1,000 a copy and you also have no revenue. But is maximum revenue $24.99, $2.99 or $0.99? And if it’s different for different types of books, what are the factors? They’ve had generations to work this out for paper books and decades for DVDs. It will take a few years for e-books.
    (Me? Sales resistance is pretty well non-existent at $0.99, and weak at $2.99. Above that I take a lot more convincing. I’ll go up to $7.99 to put one of my top 100 novels on the kindle–but I buy them a few at a time and cheapest first. Above $7.99 means I don’t have the book, I know the author, know and want the series, but will NOT be wanting the book in hard covers. That’s pretty much JD Robb. But I’m not sure how you get from that to a good general rule.)


    9 Apr 13 at 6:17 pm

  8. Being the sentimental fool that I am, I buy all my favourite authors in hard cover, from the country of origin. (I don’t like American books passed through a British editorial filter, or vice versa.) But sticking to that regime is becoming less and less feasible as the floors begin to groan under the weight, and rapidly increasing problems with the mail (price and delays) make ebooks almost too attractive to resist for anything other than sentimental favourites regardless of the purchase price. One compromise to reduce cost is to buy second hand from the Amazon Marketplace. A hardcover book in almost mint condition can often be had for a few cents and, with postage, the total cost will rarely exceed the cover price of a trade paperback in a local bookstore.


    9 Apr 13 at 9:00 pm

  9. I flatly refuse to pay more for a kindle book then for the paperback of the same book.

    But given the mailing cost for books sent to Australia, the kindle book would probably be cheaper.


    10 Apr 13 at 1:17 am

  10. Well, don’t tell Amazon, but I’d rather have an e-copy than a paperback. I buy paperbacks for storage and portability, after all, and that’s precisely where the kindle beats them.
    As we’ve said, e-reader technology still isn’t up to complex non-fiction.
    For the great read and the Important Book–to me, they aren’t always the same–I stil wnat a copy in hard covers. For the great read, they’re the easiest to read. For the Important Book, they’re as near permanent as anything we have: they can’t be altered, recalled, nor made obsolete by changing technology. They’ll still be accessible in five centuries. And I’m afraid long before then, it may be critical that there’s no way of knowing where all the copies are.
    That said, I just finished packing 45 1.5 cubic foot book boxes. not counting what will be transported in the car, nor what is already stored in the garage. If I’m alive and healthy two years from now, there will be some serious thinning.


    10 Apr 13 at 6:20 am

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