A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Two books on elements of everyday life that I found interesting.
Twisted by Bert Ashe
This is a memoir about hair. As a person who has had short hair all my life, because I “don’t want to fool with it” as they say, I do understand that for some people hair is more important. Some years ago, I realized that hair is part of certain people’s identity as I listened to my sister talking about hers, which she’s always worn long. At first, I wasn’t sure why I’d decided to read this account of a black university professor trying to grow dreadlocks, but as he delved into the history and sociological aspects of that hairstyle, I became intrigued.
Evidently, there’s an authentic way of creating dreadlocks and an opposite path with lots of shortcuts. Even though it takes longer, the author goes the authentic route and I found myself cheering his progress. It was interesting seeing the responses from people in his life and getting a glimpse into the salon culture. And of course, hair, like clothes, is always about more than hair and clothes. The narration had a friendly, conversational flow, which also contained amusing anecdotes and historical references. I was happy to see the author photo at the end where his dreadlocks were quite long, showing that his patience had paid off and he’d successfully met his goal.
Agate Bolden 2015 250 pp. ISBN-13: 978-1932841961
Neither Snow Nor Rain by Devin Leonard
A very readable history of the U.S. Postal Service that begins and ends with a man who travels around the country trying to see as many post offices as possible. So far, he has seen about 2,000.
The first three-fourths of the book is the most intriguing, beginning with Benjamin Franklin’s seamless conversion of the colonies’ mail service to supervising it for the fledgling United States. The challenge of meeting the postal demands of a growing country led to all sorts of innovations and some which were not successful. I was startled to learn that companies such as Wells Fargo and American Express, which today are financial institutions, began as alternatives to the Post Office. The famed Pony Express only lasted about 19 months and was extremely expensive, with a half ounce letter costing $5 to send. Once airplanes were invented, quite a bit of time and money was invested in attempting to make them a viable transport device, but for the longest time, the railroads were the most organized way of shipping mail. At their peak, there were cars where the mail was actually postmarked and sorted and pick up and drop offs were scheduled at tiny stations where the trains would stop for mere minutes for the exchange.
In the mid-twentieth century, things started to go wrong. Delayed or botched technical advancements slowed delivery. For years, they had sorting machines that could not read hand-written addresses and later an early computer system that proved a useless waste of money. These technical issues coincided with strikes and other personnel problems. While these issues needed to be included in the history, the author spent too long on them, bogged down in endless names and dull details, which was a very different style than the earlier parts of the book. Up until that part, I had enjoyed the book, but the end was disappointing.
Grove Press 2016 288 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0802124586