Lifelong Dewey

Reading through every Dewey Decimal section.

Month: January, 2012

952: Samurai William by Giles Milton

952.024092: Milton, Giles. Samurai William: The Englishman Who Opened Japan. New York: Penguin, 2004. 324 pp. ISBN 978-0-14-200378-7.

If all the books available in my collection for this challenge, I’m heaviest in the 900s. After reading classic fiction for so long for my English degree, I developed a taste for history books. When I compare our day to those of the past, you get an understanding of where we come from from both a sociological and technological standpoint. Today’s history falls squarely in the history sections: 952–History of Japan.

On April 12, 1600, the citizens of the fishing town of Hirado, Japan watched, mouths open, as a strange ship from the East India Company drifted onto their shore. Most of the men were dying from scurvy or dysentery, but one man–William Adams– was strong enough to leave the boat and became the first Englishman to step foot in Japan. Being a stout and resolute ship pilot from England, he began to openly and politely study the Japanese culture and learn how to co-exist with his new surroundings.

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327: Her Majesty’s Spymaster by Stephen Budiansky

327.12420092: Budiansky, Stephen. Her Majesty’s Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage. New York: Plume, 2006. 215 pp. ISBN 0-452-28744-2.

Part of the dumping ground of the 300s is 327–International relations. Espionage gets its own subsection: 327.12. I can see how it fits, though, given that espionage, if done properly, is the use of social connections and information for security and intelligence purposes.

The cast of players in Stephen Budiansky’s Her Majesty’s Spymaster is immense. Not War and Peace immense, but lengthy just the same. In his slim, 215-page treatise on European espionage in Elizabethan England, there are 96 people to learn about and keep track of. They all had some part to play in palace intrigue of the 16th century.

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529: Calendar by David Ewing Duncan

529.3: Duncan, David Ewing. Calendar: Humanity’s Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year. New York: Avon, 1998. 241 pp. ISBN 0-380-97528-9.

529 is a curious section in the DDC. 520s are astronomy, but the last section in the division–529–is classed as chronology. This is because for many millennia, cultures have counted their days and nights by the sun and the stars. Long before electric wristwatches and atomic clocks, the hours of the day were tolled out by bell towers and sun sightings.

While Gould’s book (here) was superficial and condescending, David E. Duncan’s Calendar is vast and learned. You can tell just from the first chapter that the author consulted as many sources as is possible for this book. His goal is to track the evolution of the modern 12-month, 365-day (or 366) from its earliest form to the present. Along the way, he weaves a thread through Cro-Magnon bone carvers, Egyptian pharoahs, Indian mathematicians, and Catholic philosophers.

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811: The Book of Nightmares by Galway Kinnell

811.54: Kinnell, Galway. The Book of Nightmares. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973. 75 pp. ISBN 0-395-12098-5.

While trying to finish another book for today, I got sidetracked and stumbled into this wonderful collection of 1970s American poetry. It’s a shame that all of American poetry gets jammed into 811. There’s so much to choose from, starting the colonial Puritans of the 1620s to current U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine. My selection for this section is one my favorites (my other favorites include Wallace Stevens, A.R. Ammons, and Gabriel Gudding).

A decade before he won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, Galway Kinnell issued a small book-length poem entitled The Book of Nightmares. It centers around the birth of his children, their meaning to him, and the pain he sees in the world around himself. It is at once a treatise of hope and tragedy.

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901: Questioning the Millennium by Stephen Jay Gould

901: Gould, Stephen Jay. Questioning the Millennium: A Rationalist’s Guide to a Precisely Arbitrary Countdown. New York: Harmony, 1997. 179 pp. ISBN 0-609-60076-1.

History is huge. Everything that has happened before now is history. That’s why history gets 90% of the 900s (geography and travel gets the 910s). And, as an added bonus, they’ve edited out the racism. Every continent (almost) gets its own division–Europe gets the 940s, Asia gets the 950s, Africa gets the 960s, North America gets the 970s, and South America gets the 980s. The 990s are reserved for other parts of the world (and outer space, just in case, which is 999). But, when we talk about history as a whole or as a science, it gets classed all the way up at 901.

Stephen Jay Gould is best known for this NOMA theory–the Non-Overlapping Magisteria theory, that treats religion and science as two separate, mutually exclusive areas of study that can neither be pitted against each other nor combined to form a perfect whole. He was a brilliant scientist and award-winning theoretician, but this particular book was sub-par.

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333: Cod by Mark Kurlansky

333.956633: Kurlansky, Mark. Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. New York: Penguin, 1998. 276 pp. ISBN 0-14-027501-0.

The 300s are a dumping ground of things that don’t really fit anywhere else. The class title is “Social Sciences,” but this tends to mean anything that isn’t hard science, technology-related, philosophy, or psychology. It contains (in no real order) economics, social services, criminology, folklore, government, and so forth. The 333 section is a tricky one–Economics of land and energy. This includes land ownership, recreational land, natural land resources, and for our purposes, “other natural resources.” 333.95 is biological resources, 333.956 gets us to fish resources. The extra bit is tacked on because 597.[63] is the section on the biology of cod fishes and you need those last two digits to denote what particular biological fish resource is the subject. Needless to say, it can get complicated.

Mark Kurlansky has made a good living on writing “object biographies.” He’s penned a book on salt (which is slated for 553) and another one on oysters (641, but I’ve already got a book for that one). They are a lot of fun, but many times they tend to get away from their subject. That may be rightfully necessary; who wants to read 270-plus pages on cod?

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808: The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo

808.1: Hugo, Richard. The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing. New York: W.W. Norton, 1992, [1979]. 109 pp. ISBN 0-393-30933-9.

The literature (800s) and history (900s) classes of the DDC are perhaps the most Euro-centric. In the 800s, each division (set of ten) is allocated to a region of the world that produces literature. 800 is general books on literature, 810 is American, 820 is British, and–you guessed it–the 890s are reserved for “literature of other parts of the world”, basically anything that isn’t Europe or the US. Today’s book is a general book on poetry and miscellaneous other writing subjects, so it gets 808. This miscellaneous area comes in handy when you have a book with both poems and plays, or essays and letters, or any other combination of writing forms–838 is miscellaneous German writing, 848 is French, and so on.

It occurs to me that I need to make these posts a little bit longer. After ten books, you would think I would have this down by now. But, unfortunately, my thoughts are getting skimpier and skimpier.

I first read Richard Hugo’s The Triggering Town when I took a class on advanced poetry writing at Hiram College. We all thought were decent poets until the professor took us down a peg or two with a combination of Hugo’s essays and an encyclopedia of poetry and poetics on the first day. Leave it to an old dog to teach new tricks. Hugo’s essays are a great reality check for the budding poet. His advice is both cheeky and heartfelt. The essays cover not so much what you should do, but rather what you shouldn’t do. He tries to excise the bad habits early in his classes.

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