2015 in Books, December

In an unsurprising (to me) turn of events, I’m not reading as much these days. I’m in my third trimester, and everything, including reading, takes more effort. Any moment when I’m not building block towers, at the museum, supervising crayon time or cooking meals, I try to sleep. My girl is growing fast, making her momma (more) ungainly in the process.

  • The Empire of Tea by Alan Macfarlane and Iris Macfarlane
    • I love drinking tea. It makes cold nights more comfortable and grading papers manageable. I found this book on a discount rack and decided that it fit in well with my desire for tea, history and cheap books. Alan Macfarlane is an anthropologist and his mother Iris is a retired tea plantation manager’s wife, which gives them unique perspectives on the topic. Their story of tea blends together science, history and anthropology while focusing mainly on the Assam region of India. I like reading about the British Raj, but I do wish they would have spent more pages talking about the role of tea in other parts of Asia.
  • Crusades for Freedom: Memphis and the Political Transformation of the American South by G. Wayne Dowdy
    • I’m rounding out the year with another book from work. As a general rule, I do not seek out political history books because I find them dull. However, another of my general operating procedures is to read as much as possible about the period I am researching. This book deals with the years 1948-1968, which falls squarely within the scope of the exhibits I am writing. Dowdy compiled good information that adds complexity to my understanding of the city during these decades. Frankly, reading this book makes Memphis’ current political climate seem downright tame.

2015 in Books, September

  • The Art of Museum Exhibitions: How Story and Imagination Create Aesthetic Experiences by Leslie Bedford
    • We somewhat jokingly have “Theory Thursday” in my department when my boss and I have our philosophical discussions about museum theory. I also try to read a couple of museum books a year both to stay current in my field and also to pull new ideas into my Introduction to Museum Studies class. I had a hard time getting interested in Bedford’s book, but the last chapter made the philosophical underpinnings of the other chapters worthwhile. Basically she suggests that exhibitions are both education and art, and visitors will re-imagine the story line in a way that resonates with them. Therefore, using exhibitions as aesthetic experiences is not about being didactic, it is about facilitating.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
    • This behemoth of a novel is about the long tradition of English magic, the Napoleonic Wars, personality clashes and a really misguided and vindictive fairy. It took me about a hundred pages to get into the story because Clarke had to lay a lot of groundwork for her alternative history/fantasy to work. Once I made it that far in, though, I was thoroughly hooked. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who is a fan of thoughtful fantasy.
  • Walking on Air: The Aerial Adventures of Phoebe Omlie by Janann Sherman
    • Dr. Sherman’s work on Phoebe Omlie, an aviation pioneer and adoptive Memphian, is astounding. In her afterword, Dr. Sherman lays out just how much investigative research went into piecing together Phoebe’s remarkable life. I would guess that almost everyone knows about Amelia Earhart while very few remember her contemporary female fliers. I happened upon a newspaper article from 1936 that said Phoebe helped organize an exhibit at the Pink Palace about herself and her late husband Vernon, which is what got me down the path of learning more about her and figuring out how we can include part of her story in our new exhibits. This book is a well-researched biography that places Phoebe Omlie and the history of female aviators in a national context.
  • Pretties by Scott Westerfield
    • Pretties is the sequel to Uglies, the YA dystopian novel I read last month. It was an equally entertaining and fast read.
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
    • Rainbow Rowell has the wonderful ability to capture what a period of growing up feels like in a way that makes me remember being there myself. I am a giant nerd who found my people, and I know the relief that comes from knowing that you can be exactly who you are and be loved for that. This novel is a quick read that made me momentarily nostalgic for Harry Potter book release parties.

2015 in Books, May

Another month’s worth of reading:

  • Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America by John M. Berry
    • It took me from mid-March until the beginning of May to finish this behemoth. Berry wrote an exhaustive history of flooding on the Mississippi River, focusing his attention on the engineers who unwittingly created a problem, the 1927 flood, and the relief efforts. He shines specially attention on Greenville, MS, and New Orleans to show how the two cities were profoundly affected by the disaster. I knew that the flood was bad, but I did not understand the massive scale of the fallout or its profound impact on African American migration and national politics. I read this one at work in preparation for next summer’s Nature Unleashed exhibit.
  • Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
    • I’ve watched the Disney version of Peter Pan a few times and Hook a few times more than that, but this was my first time reading Barrie’s classic. It was sadder than I expected with children falling out of perambulators, tertiary characters dying and the focus on how the Darlings felt about their children disappearing. None of those elements come across in Disney’s takes, but I found that they are what make the story a classic.
  • Beale Street Dynasty: Sex, Song, and the Struggle for the Soul of Memphis by Preston Lauterbach
    • Let me preface this review by saying that I met Preston in the archives at the public library when I was doing some Piggly Wiggly research and he was going through newspaper microfilm. He helped me track down some information about 1915-1930 Beale, which I have been researching for the new permanent exhibits at the Pink Palace. This book gave me everything that I needed to understand how this relatively small area came to be the base of African American culture and politics in the Delta. It is well researched, interesting to read and full of anecdotes that make the reading fun. If you’re from Memphis or want to learn about a large piece of the city’s soul, read it. You won’t be disappointed.
  • Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett
    • I thoroughly enjoyed Barnett’s take on rain, a topic I usually only consider when I desperately want it for my garden or to avoid it at an outdoor event. She approaches the subject with a mixture of science, environmental activism and cultural history. I think that she was at her best in her chapters on the recent drought in California and Colorado and the consequences of building in floodplains and historically drought-prone areas. Much like Mark Kurlansky, Barnett takes a broad topic and examines it in relation to multiple facets of science and human history. I received this book for the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.
  • The Water and the Wild by K.E. Ormsbee
    • This book was another from the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. The Water and the Wild is aimed at ages 8-12, but it is an entertaining fantasy read for adults as well. Ormsbee creates a world parallel to Earth that is inhabited by sprites, will o’the wisps and fanged beasts. Lottie, the main character, has to learn the rules of Albion while going on a quest with her new acquaintances to retrieve a cure for her best friend back on Earth. Many of the characters are multi-dimensional; however, Adelaide, one of the young sprites, quickly begins to sound redundant with her focus on refinement. Overall, Ormsbee’s book is a well-written world for young readers, which is why I passed it on to my appropriately aged cousins.

Saint Mary’s Soup Kitchen

I have never once had to worry about having food. I’ve also never had to think about where I would be sleeping or how I would take my next shower. I have always had a home, a support network, and more food and clothes than I truly need. These are big things that I make a habit of taking for granted every day. Of course I’ll be sleeping in my bed tonight; of course I’ll make dinner for my family in my kitchen. I cannot even fathom what it would be like to be without one or any combinations of these necessities that I routinely fail to consider.

Which makes me wonder, what would life be like to not have these be an automatic parts of the day? How would you function not knowing what your next meal would be or where you were going to sleep or when you could take a shower? When I stop to think about how big these big things are, I am stunned at my good fortune. We have more than enough to be safe, sated, healthy, warm and happy.

Hunger and homelessness are multifaceted problem with so many causes–PTSD, income inequality, bad luck, addiction. How do you help? Where do you start? And, to steal from Dr. Paul Farmer, beyond mountains, there are mountains.

One of my favorite things about being Catholic is the emphasis on social justice, and St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen in downtown Memphis takes the biblical imperative to feed the hungary literally. The soup kitchen has been operating continuously since 1870, and it serves hundreds of meals six days a week.

Frankly, I don’t know what to do to end hunger in our community. What I do know is that since we are putting our money where our hearts are, we can at least help provide food to a few people who are in need of a good meal and smile. It’s not going to change the problem, but it will help.

Fugitive at the Museum

Here’s another piece of weird Pink Palace and Memphis history that I wrote for the museum’s blog:

The Pink Palace Family of Museums

October 24, 1950, started as a normal day at the Memphis Museum. Visitors explored the galleries and looked at exhibits of animal heads, glass, documents and fossils. One of those afternoon visitors was James Eddington who made a trip to the museum as part of his vacation to Memphis. Eddington lived in Kentucky and worked as the farm manager at the Kentucky State Reformatory in LaGrange, KY. As he walked through the exhibits, he noticed another museum guest who looked familiar. He recognized the man as an escaped prisoner from the Kentucky Reformatory.

Chester Merrifield was serving prison time for robbery when he decided to make an escape. He had been in Memphis for a few days and struck up a “close friendship” with a Memphis businessman. The police elected to withhold the name of the “well known Memphian” who drove Merrifield to the museum. When Eddington recognized Merrifield, he…

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Overton Park Conservancy

As I mentioned, Greg and I are putting our money where our hearts are so last week we joined the Overton Park Conservancy. When we got married in 2011, we lived in an apartment right at Poplar and Cooper, which made Overton our front yard. The view out of our front window was the tee box for hole 9 on the golf course, which we found out on the day that my dad was playing and called me to say that he was looking at my living room window. One of the only things I really miss about our first home is how close we were to the park. We would go for strolls in the Old Forest on the paved trails and on hikes through its heart. We started our Christmas card tradition in the smack middle of the forest. We also went to the zoo a lot, saw Armed and Dangerous at the Brooks, and attended concerts at the Levitt Shell. I’m a big Paul Thorn fan, and the first time I saw him live was at a Shell concert. For free. Because Memphis.

The back of our first Christmas card said "Merry Christmas from the Old Forest!"
The back of our first Christmas card said “Merry Christmas from the Old Forest!”

At the end of 2011, the Overton Park Conservancy formally entered the scene as the nonprofit management group of the park. The City of Memphis maintains ownership, but the Conservancy protects, preserves and enhances the park. In June 2012, they opened Overton Bark. We had gotten Zeb, our lovable, neurotic mutt from the pound, in January and had been taking him to the city dog park at Tobey Park. There’s not much shade there, which made it very difficult to be motivated to go. Overton Bark on the other hand is a well-designed use of a previously under utilized space. The entrance is architecturally interesting, and there is enough space for my big, goofy dog to get his play on while I sit under some old growth trees on benches made from the few trees they had to fell during construction.

Now that we’ve moved a whole ten minutes away and acquired a baby, we don’t make it to the park as much as we did when we only had to walk across one street. But we go to the zoo and have taken the baby and Zeb on walks in the Old Forest and to romp around the dog park. We also took the kiddo to his first concert ever at the Levitt Shell. He got to see Amy Lavere for free. Because Memphis.

Baby and Greg, watching Amy Lavere play.
Baby and Greg, watching Amy Lavere play.

In a few short months, we will take Noah to play on the wonderful new playground and to borrow books from the Little Free Library that is dedicated to children’s books. We will go to the zoo a lot and make it a point to go and see Brooks’ Marisol exhibit before it leaves in September. I’ll start sharing my love of the outdoors with my kid by taking him on hikes in the middle of his city. We joined the Conservancy because it benefits every member of our family–two and four legged alike–in very real ways, and we want to see them succeed in their longterm goals. If you haven’t seen the work that they have been doing, check out their website and explore the projects that have been completed and what is in the planning stages. It’ll make you happy.

Putting our money where our hearts are

Greg and I love Memphis. We actively choose to make this city our home. We didn’t land here by accident or decide to stay out of a misguided sense of anything. We are here for many reasons–family, friends, work, opportunities, and combinations of the aforementioned reasons that are only possible here.

Part of living here is seeing the potential for what might be. This place is full of movers and shakers, some of whom are dear friends of ours. There are people building up neighborhoods, tearing down stereotypes and teaching others all kinds of things about our shared experiences.

In Memphis, we can hike in an Old Forest in the middle of the city. We can garden our huge community garden plot. We can actively participate in CBU’s alumni association. We can push our preconceived boundaries, reimagine how we want to live and do something about it. We could design our lives anywhere we chose, but I feel empowered to do so here.

Because we love where we live, we are making a planned effort to give monetarily to the local causes we believe in. We can never do as much as we want, but we can put our money where our hearts are and contribute to making this home of ours the place we want it to be. I don’t think Memphis is perfect, but I do believe that it is the place where I want my family to grow. I love Memphis, and I want to make it better–one targeted donation and volunteer project at a time.

Summer

It makes me smile–this whole first week of summer thing. I live in Memphis. We are in planting zone eight, next to a giant muddy river, at the beginning (or end depending on your geographic perspective) of the Delta. It is HOT here. And it’s MUGGY. Since summer starts as soon as you have to start swimming through the air to walk the dog, it’s been the season for a month. It will stay summer until September when the humidity will finally break. Until then, I will play with my baby, laugh with my husband, work in the garden in growing or waning light, have several refreshing beers, can pickles and jam, fry in the car, eat delicious summer veggies, watch fireflies and enjoy the sunshine.

This is Memphis. We sweat here.