logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: Anthropology
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2018-02-06 19:53
My weird library

BookLikes is not allowing me to "connect" this post with a book that is in the BL catalogue and is listed on my shelves.  I DON'T KNOW WHY.

 

Even when I "search on my shelves," it says not found.  As you can see, the book page shows that it's on my "Read" shelf, which is where I put it when I entered it a few days ago.  I own this book, the 1966 paperback edition.

 

Why do I own it?  Why do I own Coe's The Maya?  Because of Charles.

 

Charles Cooper Schlereth was my high school Spanish teacher my junior and senior years at Arlington High School.  He was a graduate of the City College of Mexico City, where he had earned a degree in Pre-Columbian History.  As a result, we got a lot more history and culture than most foreign language students.

 

Our textbook for Spanish 3 was the third in the Holt, Rinehart and Winston series, Español: Leer, Hablar y Escribir. Formatted into nine issues of a magazine titled "Leer," the book presented articles, columns, advertisements, and other features originally published in magazines and newspapers in Spanish-speaking countries.

 

 

I enjoyed it so much that many years later -- 1981 or thereabouts -- I paid a visit to the high school and managed to obtain a copy of the book, which was no longer used as a current text.  I still have it.  Of course!

 

My senior year, we didn't have a formal text.  Instead, Charles selected several popular novels for us to read and discuss, among them Doña Barbara, Lluvia Roja, and Pensativa.  We watched the film version of Doña Barbara starring María Félix.  I still remember the opening line of the novel, though nothing of the plot stuck with me.

 

"Cuando el bongo remonta el Arauca.. . . "

 

Our fourth year class was somewhat illegal, a distinction we all took pride in.  School policies required that any class have a minimum of ten students registered or it would be cancelled.  On the first day, we had only nine students present -- I can probably name all of us if I think about it long enough -- out of the ten registered.  One of the ten, however, was known to have moved away, leaving us under the legal minimum.  For the first week or two of classes, Charles dutifully marked Kevin Harvell present each day until the time passed for cancellation of classes.

 

Charles talked occasionally about the idea of taking us to Mexico City, perhaps over spring break, but the topic usually faded.  Then one Friday morning we nine took matters into our own hands.

 

Our class met the first period of the day, and we were all seated like good students a few minutes before the bell rang.  Charles had not appeared yet, and we started talking about this Mexico trip.  How we came up with the idea, I don't remember, but we decided to go on strike.

 

At the beginning of the year, Charles had told us we would no longer speak English in class.  We were, after all, fourth year students and we should be able to converse in Spanish by now.  Sometimes we struggled -- we all had dictionaries and referenced them often! -- but the rule had stuck.  So when Charles entered the room that Friday morning, we simply refused to speak at all.

 

"No estamos hablando," we said in response to his comments and questions.

 

That is, we weren't going to talk until he agreed to look into the possibility of taking us to Mexico City over spring break.

 

That was Friday.  He agreed to see about putting something together, and we consented to participate in class once again.  And by Monday, he brought us the proposal:

 

 

Yes, my BookLikes friends, we went from northwest suburban Chicago to Mexico City and back . . . by bus.

 

 

(My brother on the right, my dad holding my sister on the far right.)

 

It was cold the day we left; everyone else was in long pants and heavy sweaters.  I was the only one in cut-offs and a lightweight shirt.  Two days later it was 90-something degrees in Waco, Texas, and everyone else melted.  I was comfortable.

 

We spent a total of 100 hours on the bus -- 51 hours down, 49 hours back -- and only had six days or so in Mexico City.  We didn't see nearly enough.  The pyramids, of course.

 

 

And Obregón's arm.

 

 

(For those interested, the ultimate fate of Obregón's arm is here

http://www.nytimes.com/1989/12/10/world/a-mexican-relic-is-buried-at-last.html)

 

I've remained interested in MesoAmerican history and prehistory ever since.  I have lots of weird books, as a result.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-02-06 04:54
Swearing is Good For You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language
Swearing Is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language - Emma Byrne

I've been waiting months for this to come out; I swear like a sailor and my love of etymology and words in general draw me to books like these.  This one was excellent.  

 

In the introduction Byrne sets the expectations for the reader; not all the chapters are focused on swearing specifically - or how swearing is good for you, but all the topics she discusses are topical to swearing, and all of them contribute to our understanding of why swearing can be fun, powerful, and offensive - often all at once! 

 

There is a lot of science here, written by a woman who is a scientist first and a writer second, and a lot of studies make up a good portion of the narrative, with humor to keep the reading easy. Even when the chapters aren't geared directly at the benefits of swearing, they are fascinating.  In a slim volume of under 200 pages, she covers the interrelationship of pain and swearing, Tourette's Syndrome (a tragic, eye-opening chapter that she describes as 'the chapter that should not be in this book'), swearing in the workplace, other primates that swear (so good!), gender and swearing, and finally, swearing for the multi-lingual.  All fully cited and fascinating.  With citations/notes, a bibliography, and an index in the back. 

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and should have saved it as a suggestion for The Flat Book Society, dammit!  Though I was never going to be able to wait that long to start reading it; luckily it was good enough to re-read someday soon, so perhaps it will find it's way to the voting list anyway.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-01-26 10:41
Nature's Ways: lore, legend, fact and fiction
Nature's Ways: Lore, Legend, Fact and Fiction - Ruth Binney

MT caught a cold and shared it with me, so I'm short on attention span and long on grumpiness at the moment (and on a 3 day weekend too!, she wails), so I'm clearing out the books from my TBR that are 'easy'; bite sized chunks of fact rather than narratives that require more than 2 consecutive minutes of concentration.

 

Nature's Way is just such a book.  1 page of small nuggets, each relating to an animal, plant, health, superstition, etc.  Each one covers more myth, legend and lore than fact, but they're interesting, even if not likely to be useful even on the odd Trivial Pursuit game night.

 

Easy to flick through, put down, and pick up, it's perfect for those times when you're brain is too busy mustering up an immune response to focus on anything ... else.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-01-14 22:36
The Little Book of Lykke
The Little Book of Lykke: Secrets of the World's Happiest People - Meik Wiking

I'd read Wiking's Little Book of Hygge last year, and absolutely loved it; it was one of those right time/right books moments, and I took away a lot of good suggestions.  So when this book's publication was announced, I kept an eye out for it. 

 

In some ways, The Little Book of Lykke is a more interesting one; it's focused heavily on the research behind happiness both on an individual and cultural level.  There are more studies cited, more graphs, more statistics, and case studies from around the globe about how people and communities have come together to create a better atmosphere for themselves and others.  Wiking includes practical tips for the reader, but I don't think that's the book's strength; I think it serves as food for thought about the larger idea of what makes individuals and communities really happy, and the downstream benefits of being happy.

 

My only niggle against the book is that the last chapter ends a bit preachy.  This is not entirely the author's fault, as the last chapter, entitled kindness was the chapter with the least amount of available stats and studies, so it was almost entirely anecdotal.  It's really difficult to talk about being kind to others without sounding preachy, I get that.  But it did leave the book ending weaker than it started by just a smidgen.  Overall, a good book for inspiring introspection and an inspiring one in terms of new ideas.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-12-29 23:57
The Gebusi by Bruce Knauft
The Gebusi: Lives Transformed in a Rainforest World - Bruce M. Knauft

I am not the intended audience for this book; I read it looking for something set in Papau New Guinea from which I would learn a bit about the country and its people, while the book seems intended for assignment in undergraduate anthropology classes as a supplementary textbook. It did fulfill my goal of learning about the lives of the Gebusi, a small tribe living in the rainforest of Papau New Guinea’s huge Western Province. On the other hand, it’s a shame that academic texts aren’t written or edited with the goal of satisfying the reader; the author’s goal seems to be more about teaching students about anthropology and the realities of ethnographic work than answering the reader’s curiosity. In other words, the gulf between this and popular ethnographies like $2.00 a Day or City of Thorns is huge.

Knauft is an anthropologist who initially lived with the Gebusi for two years, from 1980 to 1982, accompanied by his wife Eileen (whether she is also an anthropologist is unclear; though he discusses his feelings about developments among the Gebusi and relationships with individuals among them, this is definitely not a memoir). Despite sporadic contact with Australian officers, during the time that they colonized the country, the Gebusi at the time retained a very traditional culture, including a tradition of spirit mediumship, all-night dances and séances, and elaborate initiation rituals for young men. They were easily able to provide for their material needs with crops that require little effort in cultivation, and enjoyed leisure time and “good company,” along with a cultural flourishing that resulted from the Australians' subduing a nearby tribe with a habit of raiding their longhouses and massacring their people. But it wasn't an ideal life: while they had enough to eat, nutrition was poor, illness rife and few people made it to the age of 40; the society was patriarchal and women excluded from many aspects of it; and execution for sorcery was rampant. The Gebusi believed that all deaths were caused by humans, so deaths by sickness or accident led to sorcery inquests and often more death. Nevertheless, they weren’t the stereotype of a cannibalistic rainforest people (though there is cannibalism in their past): due process was important, including a waiting period after the death and finding a neutral spirit medium to preside over the inquest.

After his initial stay, Knauft returned to the Gebusi in 1998, at which point their culture was transformed: many had moved to a nearby town with an airstrip and government services. They converted to various forms of Christianity, sent their children to school, and gave up sorcery inquests and executions entirely. Men’s leisure time now revolved around local soccer leagues, while women sold produce (usually with little success) in the local market. The several tribes inhabiting the town mocked their own traditional cultures in Independence Day celebrations, and Gebusi practices such as dancing and initiation rites seemed to be dying out as young people attempted to embrace the modern world.

But then in 2008, everything had changed again: loss of funding meant government services had largely vanished, and the Gebusi were reviving their traditional culture, including building longhouses and conducting initiation rites; as they retained their land and ability to sustain themselves, they didn’t seem to miss the government or markets much. But spirit mediumship had died out, so that despite lingering suspicions of sorcery they were no longer able to conduct inquests, and many of the Gebusi continued to attend Christian services.

It is fascinating material, and the author seems to have made personal friends with many of the Gebusi and to respect them and their culture. He is aware of his own fallibility and works to distinguish unique incidents from those typical of the culture. And he spends enough time with Gebusi to get to know them and to be able to tell stories in context about incidents that occur in the community.

However, for all the author’s talk about how this is intended to be less formal and more personal than typical academic writing, and for all that the writing is clearer and more engaging than in most textbooks, the content is still basically that of a textbook. Sometimes its information is incomplete, as if the author has made his point and is ready to move on, regardless of whether readers have more questions. For instance, for all that Knauft mentions sorcery executions frequently, I still don’t know how most of these deaths occurred. Both in the book and on his website (which for some reason includes entire stories in pictures that aren’t in the book but deserved to be), he describes instances in which the accused is killed in the forest by a relative of the deceased, which the community accepts because of the “spiritual evidence” against the accused. How common is this, as opposed to public or formal executions? Is everyone given the opportunity to exonerate themselves via trial by cooking, or only some people? In one case described, the sorcerer purportedly comes from another village and the searchers lose the trail; is this unusual, or common?

In other cases, it can be vague in a way typical of academic writing, obscuring specifics behind general language. For instance, a boy and later young man with whom the author is close leaves his community due to “a dispute” and travels to the nearest city, where he works for two years. This is after he and his younger brother are orphaned when he’s about 12. Who raised the boys after that, and what was the dispute? These are human interest questions, but their answers also speak to Gebusi culture. And despite telling us about their terrible life expectancy in the early 80s, the author has nothing to say about how having and then losing a local medical clinic affected the Gebusi. Their lifespans are still much shorter than Americans’, but were there improvements?

And bizarrely, he mentions only on his aforementioned website, in a caption to a longhouse diagram, that rigidly separate sleeping areas for men and women mean that sexual relations happened in the rainforest rather than in bed. Doesn't this deserve to be in the book, rather than only the "alternative sexual practices" (i.e. adolescent boys giving blowjobs because swallowing semen was supposed to help them become men)? But in the book he does mention a couple caught having an illicit affair in a house, so maybe the rainforest sex only applies to those few families who actually live in the longhouse? Knauft isn't too shy to include a scene of a young man propositioning him, so why isn't this in the book?

Overall, I learned from this book, but I think it would be a little off-base for most non-academic readers (the “Broader Connections” bullet point summaries of key ideas in anthropology at the end of each chapter, with much bolded text, are definitely eyeroll-worthy). While it’s not as short as the page count would have it – there’s a lot of text on each page – it was worth my time.

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?