Saturday, February 18, 2017

Forgotten Alabama

Forgotten Alabama

by Glenn Wills

I don't know if other parts of the country are like this, but in the south (specifically Alabama) you will just be riding down a country road and suddenly, through the kudzu, you'll spy a tin roof. If you take more time to look you will see the house attached to it that is slowly succumbing to neglect and nature. There are stories in that house that you can never know, and may be completely forgotten now by those once connected with it. You may go down that road a year later, and the house will have completely fallen down. It may just be a blank forest now, or a plowed field, or a shopping center, and you'll know something has been lost.

Since I was a child these places have fascinated me. I have very vivid memories of making the drive from Lafayette to Opelika with my mother and wondering about these places that no one was tending to anymore. Willis has gone into so many communities I have never even heard of before (there was a lot of googling happening while experiencing this book), the ones that are slowly being lost to time and technology. The "forgotten" places. I came across one image from Fort Deposit that was as moving as it was sad in how neglected their main street has become. 

There are images of vacated factories and farm equipment that has been abandoned and you can only imagine that whoever left it there has forgotten they even did it. Having recently also read Historic Rural Churches of Georgia I was especially touched by the images of neglected churches that once meant so much to rural communities in the south. Especially those of the African American tradition knowing how important they were to that community. 

My only complaint about this book are the missing timestamps for the pictures. I know they were taken over a long period of time, but I really wanted to be able to date them so I could see if some of these places are still there anymore. Of course, knowing the south and how slowly we move here, most of them are probably still going strong.

The type of photography that Glenn Willis exhibits in this collection is beautiful, simple, and moving. It's a little sad, it's deeply poignant, and it's completely Alabama. I adore this collection and will probably annoy people for years by making them look through it when they come over to my house. It's just too beautiful not to share.

A History of Courtship: 800 Years of Seduction

A History of Courtship: 800 Years of Seduction

by Tania O'Donnell

The title of this book seems really promising. I was hoping this was an in-depth look at courtship over the centuries with some solid research and interesting concepts I didn't know before. 

Instead what I got was a surface level look at the courting practices of the super rich in England. Specifically Regency era London. It really felt like an overview of things I've picked up on from years of reading regency romances. At a few points the vox populi are mentioned but not very often and not to tell me anything I didn't already know (like the practice of hand-fasting).

There was also an annoying tenancy of the author to insert too-long descriptions of events from Pride and Prejudice. Pretty sure the author is a fan, which is fine because, hell, I am too. But it just made the whole book feel like a fangirl wrote a book after reading a Wikipedia article on regency London. 

That might be a bit harsh, but it's how I felt so I'm sticking to it. If you want a surface level look at (mostly) Regency courting rules and don't already know a lot of it this could be an ok read. For me, it was a bit of a failure.

Copy courtesy of Pen & Sword History, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing

The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing

by Damion Searls

I'll admit it. The most contact I have had with the Rorschach test was thanks to The Watchmen. I vaguely understood that it was a psychoanalytical test from the same time period as Freud and Jung, and always kind of figured it was like their theories; right on the edge of reaching too far.  I don't know that my views have changed much after reading this book, but it was fascinating none-the-less.

The Inkblots consists of two parts: a biography of Hermann Rorschach and a historical exploration of the test itself, most specifically in America. The biographical section relies heavily on Rorschach's letters where he expresses his ever-evolving feelings towards this thing he creates. This wasn't just a personality test for him, it was a diagnostic tool for mental illnesses. His thought processes that created the images themselves, as well as the hours of testing and retesting prove how convinced he was of the tests veracity. His death was sudden, and occurred well before his book was first published so he wasn't able to see how the test changed when put into the hands of others.

He created a tool that is so subjective that there have been fights for decades over how you are actually supposed to even score the results. What is the difference between someone saying an image looks like a bird or a spider? Or someone who goes into detail versus someone who is brief? One of the most interesting case studies was of the Nuremberg detainees, and how normal their test results were. The most compelling evidence given to support the test being effective are the "blind test" results, as well as a few anecdotal stories showing the Rorschach as the only test that was about to crack a particular case.

Overall, I don't know that I have a much better understanding of why the test is used so widely, or even why it works at all. However, I do have a firm sense of how it can be used incorrectly simply because it is so subjective and the intense level of bureaucracy that is involved in psychological testing. I'm glad I read this book, but I'm not sure I'm coming out the other side understanding the test itself much more than I did before.

Copy courtesy of Crown Publishing, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Ain't There No More: Louisiana's Disappearing Coastal Plain

Ain't There No More:
Louisiana's Disappearing Coastal Plain

by By Carl A. Brasseaux and Donald W. Davis

I recall hearing a story years ago on NPR regarding LA's disappearing coast. What stuck with me was the idea that the "boot" we are all familiar with from maps isn't as "boot-like" as it once was. Just for an idea of what I'm talking about, here is an image from the USGS publication Louisiana Coastal Wetlands: A Resource At Risk.

Crazy right? This book is the first in a series to be published by the University of Mississippi about the disappearing coastal mashes of Louisiana. Their intent is to influence the bureaucratic machine that is currently making major decisions affecting the coast without understanding what they are doing. This first installment gives a primer on coastal erosion and the manmade systems in place, as well as the history of industrialization and agriculture in the state.

Being honest, I'm not sure that I understand much more about the problem than I did before. The chapter on the history of LA's mashes and waterways went above my head in several places and wasn't especially easy for me to understand. The chapters on industrialization and agriculture were very interesting and they gave a general idea of how each industry affected coastal erosion. The last chapter was the most impactful since it mainly concerned the damage that storms and levy systems have wrought upon the coast. At the end the authors even list over 20 coastal communities that don't even exist anymore because they are underwater.

Under. Water. Ya'll. 

And maybe it's just my fear of the ocean, but that is scary in a real way. Places that just don't even exist anymore because the ocean is slowly encroaching and we have systematically destroyed the natural systems that kept this from happening for centuries.

I'm looking forward to the rest of this series being published because I feel like the authors have a lot more to say. A lot of the photos and documents shown throughout are from the authors private collection so they clearly are passionate about stopping LA's coastal erosion. Definitely worth a read if you are even remotely interested in the topic.

Copy courtesy of University Press of Mississippi/America's Third Coast Series, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

In Bed with the Georgians: Sex, Scandal and Satire in the 18th Century

In Bed with the Georgians: Sex, Scandal and Satire in the 18th Century 


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Fit for the Presidency? Winners Losers, What-If's, and Also-Rans

Fit for the Presidency? Winners Losers, What-If's, and Also-Rans

By Seymour Morris

The premise of this book is quite interesting: What might we learn by examining, exclusively, the resumes and references of various candidates for the presidency? Forget the crazy media train, here we're just looking at qualifications and how their peers felt about them. Each chapter lays out the candidates essentials, their resume, an overview of how they are viewed by the media and their contemporaries, and a conclusion relating what actually ended up happening to them. Some became President, some weren't even nominated, and some are just a footnote as an "also ran".

Morris takes a look at both winners and losers of the Presidency in an effort to be as well-rounded as possible. He covers the usual suspects of Washington and Lincoln, though I wouldn't say there are any new revelations there. William Henry Harrison was thrown in as well, and I always enjoy reading about Old Tippecanoe. Morris even delves into Jefferson Davis, the first (and only) President of the Confederacy, as well as General Marshall who was never even chosen for a ticket but was highly considered. I loved that Morris went off the beaten path in order to discuss candidates you might know nothing about. The chapter on DeWitt Clinton had me looking for his biography when I realized I didn't know anything about this amazing man.

The only issue I had with this book was formatting. Reading the resumes backwards was confusing. I understand it since this is the standard format of real-world resumes, but here it was just confusing to keep up with each mans accomplishments since you were reading them in descending order. Also, as a personal aside, I wish Morris had covered President Buchanan since he was arguably the most well qualified person to ever run and win the presidency, which made it even more sad that he wasn't up to the job itself.

While I don't think I learned much about the candidates who became Presidents, I certainly discovered more about those who didn't. I love discovering things I never knew about, and this book as definitely made me look up books on other related people and topics. On the whole, I don't know that I am walking away knowing who was more qualified then anyone else, but I am thinking more about how important the "also-rans" are to history and that they have a story outside their candidacy.

Copy courtesy of University of Nebraska Press/Potomac Books, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Historic Rural Churches of Georgia

Historic Rural Churches of Georgia

by Sonny Seals; George S. Hart

Having lived in the Deep South/Bible Belt all my life I've been inside a fair number of historic churches. Though I'm not personally Christian, I've always been attracted to the sense of peace and joy that emanates from these places that isn't present (for me at least) in their modern cousins. There's something to be said about a place of worship that has been standing for longer than you can trace your ancestry back.

This book is published by the University of Georgia Press, and was created by the founders of the Historic Rural Churches of Georgia non-profit. There is a deep love you can feel throughout the pages as you see the incredible preservations as well as the devastating ruins. The authors do an incredible job of providing history specific not just to GA generally, but also to these specific churches and the communities that worship there, or in some cases left the area and disbanded.

It took me quite a while to finish this book because I was trying to savor the stories and images from each church. The authors give a truly beautiful look at these rural churches that were so important to their communities. Buildings don't just spring out of the ground, people need a reason to build them and they also need a reason to preserve them. Even though many of the examples no longer have active congregations they have been restored. One can only hope that the few sad examples of near-ruin will also have a happy ending.

And with that, I'll leave you with a few of my favorite images from this incredible collection.

The author doesn't specify but considering the time period I would guess the galley was for slaves. You can also see the separation in the pews for women to sit on one side and men on the other. How far we've come... (Penfield Baptist - Greene Co - 1839)

Natural baptismal pool. (Powelton Baptist - Hancock Co - 1786)

In desperate need of love and restoration. (Ezekiel New Congregational Methodist, Ware County, 1899)

This is an amazing example of restoration potential. Before picture, then After. (Barnett Methodist, Warren County, 1876)

Copy courtesy of University of Georgia Press, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.