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The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge

by Allison Bearly

This semester, while interning with the Truman State University Press, I noticed a small, slim book titled Valuing Useless Knowledge: An Anthropological Inquiry into the Meaning of Liberal Education by Robert Bates Graber. The title intrigued me and it kept catching my attention, so I finally picked it up to look at it. I knew I needed to continue reading the book after reading the prologue in which Graber states:

The liberal arts may be defined—impishly, but accurately nonetheless—as essentially those areas of knowledge in which practical-minded parents hope their children will not major. “But what are you going to do,” they cry, “with a major in ——?”

This struck a chord with me because I myself am one of those impractical students who decided to major in English and minor in French and anthropology. And with graduation approaching in just a few short weeks, the “But what are you going to do?” question arises more and more frequently—from my parents, friends, and mere strangers who have only just learned what my degree will be in.

In his book, Graber examines the historical and philosophical roots of the liberal arts, saying that it “is a kind of knowledge noted above all for being relatively useless.” Following this statement, it would be a reasonable assumption that a liberal arts education would not be valued by members of our society; however, that is not the case. Graber claims this mostly useless knowledge somehow has the most value of all for students. It is from this starting point that Graber makes his anthropological inquiry as to why we as a culture should place value on useless information.

An anthropologist himself, Graber cites a wide range of disciplines. He draws from religious figures like John Henry Newman, philosophers including Herbert Spencer and Democritus, scientist and naturalist Charles Darwin, and perhaps most importantly, anthropologist Marvin Harris. Within the field of anthropology, Harris is a cultural materialist, which, in his own words, is a concept that “is based on the simple premise that human social life is a response to the practical problems of earthly existence.” Harris is particularly well-known for his study of the sacred cow in India. It is from this research that Graber arrives at his answer to his inquiry about the value of a liberal arts education.

The gist behind Harris’s study of the sacred cow is that while it seems strange that there is a taboo in the Hindu religion against eating cows when so much of India is overpopulated and underfed, there is actually a nonreligious rationale behind the taboo. It is cows that provide oxen that plow the land that in turn grows the food for people to eat. Harris’s conclusion was that if farmers slaughtered their cattle whenever hunger struck, it would be detrimental in the long run because they wouldn’t have sufficient labor with which to plow their fields.

Graber applies this concept to liberal knowledge, equating it with the sacred cow. If one sees human knowledge as sacred, then, Graber says, there is a taboo against judging its usefulness. Human knowledge needs protection, just like the cow in India, because our judgment of what is useful or not is often narrowly defined and biased. In order to avoid this bias, Graber poses three questions to consider: useful for whom, useful when, and useful how? “We must then value ‘useless knowledge’ precisely because we cannot trust ourselves to know truly useless knowledge when we see it. Our vision is too limited, our judgments too archaically short-sighted, self-centered, and simpleminded,” Graber says.

In other words, what is useful is incredibly subjective. Rather than only valuing what we see as useful right now, we need to protect all human knowledge, or else face potentially grim repercussions — repercussions similar to those that Hindus in India would face if they chose to slaughter their cows. Rather than be faced with a hunger due to a lack of food, we would be faced with a hunger for knowledge and no way to satisfy it. Graber concludes by saying he cannot prove any of this—if he could, it would contribute to the repository of practical knowledge. And after all, he points out, a defense of liberal knowledge must itself be a contribution to liberal knowledge.

So it is this new-to-me point of view, this seemingly useless information in my brain that I must keep in mind in the weeks, months and years to come after graduation. While many may see my degree as impractical and useless in comparison to, say, nursing or engineering, it is up to us as humans to value knowledge for its own sake. I hope that others, future employers in particular, will value my love of the pursuit of knowledge, and I know that post graduation I will continue attempting to satiate my hunger for “useless” knowledge.

 

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The Force of Words: An Interview with Laura Bylenok, Winner of the T. S. Eliot Prize

By Allison Bearly and Hannah Brockhaus

Warp by Laura Bylenok is the winner of the 2015 T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry, awarded annually by the Trhttp://quarterlywest.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Bylenok-Photo.jpguman State University Press to the best unpublished book-length collection of poetry. This year’s judge, Arthur Sze—most recently author of Compass Rose—called Warp “a distinguished book of poems that combines imaginative verve with longing to create a rich tapestry across space and time.” See the rest of Dr. Sze’s comments on Warp.

Bylenok talked with us about Warp, providing insight into her creative process and award-winning collection.

What first drew you to the word warp? All poets have an attention to word choice, but yours is particularly evident, and shows a poignant consciousness of the etymology and different definitions of the word. Do you have a background in linguistics or the sciences that may have prompted this approach?

I came across warp by happy accident. I recall I was sifting through the Oxford English Dictionary one afternoon—something I love to do, to start with a word and trace out a net of etymologies—to see how I might flex the meaning in an image of the near-incandescent effect of glacial silt discoloring a lake in the poem “Vessel.” But there, in the entry for the verb warp, I found 54 definitions, a few familiar and many more absolutely startling: ones such as “To lay eggs” or “To trample underfoot” or “Of wind: to rise up.” I found them irresistible because of their strangeness and because of how many of them already contained and suggested scene, tension, and movement. I couldn’t have invented a more compelling interplay of themes: trajectory, impact, distortion, slow accumulation, loss and transformation, reproduction.

The last one—reproduction—is perhaps the most unexpected and the most consequential for my work. In particular, the definition “Of bees: to swarm,” allowed me to visualize reproduction as an act of simultaneous self-splitting and self-preservation, of creation and destruction. This is quite literal: when a hive swarms, which is its method of reproduction, one part splits off, leaving behind the old queen and establishing a new colony with a newly fertilized queen. This splitting happens in our human bodies, as well, with our DNA during meiosis to create the sperm or egg. The gift of warp was that it allowed me to imagine DNA as only one kind of strand on a much larger loom—of identity, of history, of time, of language.

And of course, this brings me to the second part of your question. My first dream was not poetry but genetics. These two are not, I believe, incompatible. I can’t claim a true background in the sciences, but I did study molecular biology as an undergraduate, and for several years I did research in a medical genetics lab. That experience imprinted in me the spirit of scientific inquiry, which is not so different from poetic inquiry. Both share a necessity for imaginative leaps and for searching beneath the visible surface of experience to access a deeper, more hidden reality.

Did you find the quote for your epigraph (“what is a word but wind? … a puff of wind, a word, may warp her”) in the OED as well, or somewhere else? How do you see it resonate with the collection as a whole?

The quote itself was not in the OED, though the entry for warp does reference several other passages from the Ancrene Wisse, the text from which the epigraph is taken. So in a way, the OED did lead me to the epigraph, because I started reading the Ancrene Wisse with an eye to how warp was used in Middle English.

The passage resonates in two ways. First, it unites breath and language with wind, so the natural world becomes a vehicle for the force of poetry. Second, it bestows power on language: language has the power to shape a person and the power to break her. I take seriously Ludwig Wittgenstein’s notion that “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world,” and here not only are we cast by language, with this passage we are warped—distorted, thrown down, even put to death—by it.

I should mention I have taken a small liberty with the translation in the second part of the passage: “a puff of wind, a word, may warp her.” The original Middle English “warpen” has been translated into modern English variously as “fell,” “throw,” and “cast down”—which makes sense because those meanings of warp are now obsolete. However, I wanted to restore the plurality of meanings that warp contained.

You play with form quite a bit in this collection, not sticking to any one in particular throughout the work. When you set out to write a poem, do you do so with a particular form in mind or does the form come out naturally as you’re writing?

I almost never have a specific form in mind before I begin a poem. Form often comes, for me, from the first line, or from a muscular phrase that from its inception suggests or demands an echo in rhythm or in rhyme. That said, I try to resist the deterministic impulse of inherited form, to break away from the expectation and closure that may seem to be predetermined by a given rhythm or structure. I’m deeply interested, too, in idiosyncratic rhythms and shapes, and much—most—of the book depends on these.

I love that you say “play,” because there is delight in the word and in the act. I delight in the sheer variety of rhythms available in the English language: hypnotic, insistent, incantatory, fragmented, syncopated. Some of the most delightful iambic lines are not iambic at all, and it is their breaking away from the lull of a regular rhythm that thrills me. Whether within (or against) inherited form or not, sonic play becomes a kind of self-perpetuating engine on the tongue and in the mind.

How do you approach revision? How do you decide when a poem is finished?

That’s a difficult question, I believe, for many poets. In revision I allow full range and departure from any formal or other constraints I might have imposed on a poem. I read a poem many times out loud. I’m an incurable tinkerer, and I will return to poems, sometimes years later. I may keep only a phrase and rewrite the rest, or I may fiddle over a single line break. Calling a poem finished is perhaps as simple as letting go of the impulse to control if or how it will live on in the world. But in practice, when I read a poem out loud and feel satisfied in my blood with the music of the piece—when I no longer feel the desire to tinker—that’s when I know it’s done.

What poets or writers do you read? Are there any you have found particularly influential on your own poetry or on Warp in particular?

For poetry, Gerard Manley Hopkins holds the place of first love—for his wild music, his sprung rhythm, his consonants, but also for his metaphysics, and for his anxiety about utterance and inscription. There are many poets I return to continually. To Elizabeth Bishop, for her calm. To Marianne Moore, for her meticulous eye. To Federico García Lorca, for duende. More recently, I’ve been startled awake by Marina Tsvetaeva, especially Jean Valentine’s and Ilya Kaminsky’s translations of her poems in Dark Elderberry Branch. Her work is elusive, irresistible, radically lyrical in her conception of the poem as “a created and instantly destroyed world.”

For prose, I can’t and don’t want to escape the gravity well of Jorge Luis Borges’s fiction, and I share his preoccupations with infinities, labyrinths, and paradox. During the period I was writing many of the poems for Warp, I became interested in quantum physics and began reading essays by Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, J. Robert Oppenheimer. At the same time, I was reading a cross section of theoretical and historical texts concerned with the perception of time, including Henri Bergson, Bertrand Russell, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, alongside mystical texts by Simone Weil, Teresa de Ávila, and Julian of Norwich. Each of these inflected the poems and will continue to inflect my investigations (through reading, through writing) into both the failures and the pleasures and possibilities of language.

 

About the author:  Laura Bylenok is currently pursuing her PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Utah, where she is also a new media editor for Quarterly West. Her poems have appeared in North American Review and Guernica, among other journals, and her chapbook, a/0, was published by DIAGRAM/New Michigan Press in 2014.

Warp will be released from the Truman State University Press in September 2015.

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The Girls of Usually isn’t just for girls

by Corbin Kottmann

“It’s in literature that true life can be found. It’s under the mask of fiction that you can tell the truth.” — Gao Xingjian

The Girls of Usually follows the life of the author Lori Horvitz, giving the reader snapshot insights into her family life, her travels, and the relationships she develops along the way. The first part of her book, which comes together as collection of personal essays, grounds the reader in a setting filled with Jewish culture and a search for sexual identity. The inner dialogue present in the essays, along with the image of herself that Horvitz makes so prominent, immerses the reader in the life of the auHorvitz-photothor. However The Girls of Usually is more than just a collection of details surrounding a young, single Jewish girl who struggles to stay afloat in the dating scene while she discovers if she is straight, gay, or somewhere in between. The journey that Lori Horvitz takes, not simply from America to all over Europe, but within herself, calls out to any reader who glances at the page and reads what Horvitz has written about her experiences with past lovers.

Chinua Achebe once said that, “once you allow yourself to identify with the people in a story, then you might begin to see yourself in that story even if on the surface it’s far removed from your situation… this is one great thing that literature can do—it can make us identify with situations and people far away.” Mostly throughout the first part of the book, as we go through Horvitz’s early life, we are introduced to the character of Joseph. While for the author Joseph is a real-life bad ex-boyfriend, to the reader he is every bad ex-boyfriend or girlfriend sitting there on the edge of our memories. We don’t know Joseph, but we know a Joseph, and so feel right at home in Horvitz’s memories of an emotionally chaffing relationship.

Horvitz’s story doesn’t end there, just like our own stories don’t usually end after just one bad relationship. We find more stories to pile on, and Horvitz does so in bulk. Through her essays we are given a first row seat to witness her exploration of the boundaries of human connection. If you were to skim the page you would find simply a story of a girl coming to terms with her sexuality. While that is an important detail in and of itself, a thorough devouring of her story tells us more than what it’s like to be single and gay. It tells us how it is be human, single, and searching not only for yourself but for your place in the world, be it a country, city, or another person. The Girls of Usually not only speaks to the closeted or confused, but to anyone who has felt out of place in a relationship, or even in their own skin.

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A Futile Debate

by Jessica Chiodini

The great e-book versus print debate has been raging since the introduction of the Kindle, the first e-reader, in 2007. The digitalization of our reading experience was right on par with the disappearance of CD collections in favor of invisible MP3 libraries and streaming capabilities of favorite television shows that sent TV Guide right out the window. Listen anywhere, watch any time, read everywhere became a mantra that has replaced the need to make a date with our culture because dates take time, and in our fast-paced world, people only have the length of a subway ride, the wait in a doctor’s office, or the walk to class to digest what’s on a screen before the subway doors swoosh open, the nurse says she’s ready for you, or you realize you forgot about the assignment due in ten minutes. And life starts again.

E-books seem to fit right in with this new mantra. E-books become immediate new additions to our online libraries; they don’t weigh anything or take up space, they allow us to read in the dark or search on a whim–all while engaging our fingers. In the beginning, their success in the marketplace was evident as they were propelled by the technology’s early adopters that made the move to e-books happen quickly.

Despite the early success of e-books, with increases in the triple digits for several years, 2013 saw e-book sales stabilize into single digits. In fact, the first half of 2014 saw printed books outsell e-books, according to a survey by Nielsen Books & Consumer. Hardcover books made up 25 percent of unit sales and paperback books made up 42 percent, for a combined 67 percent of unit sales. E-books constituted 23 percent of unit sales for the first six months of 2014, lower than both hardcover and paperback books on their own. The digital wipe-out of printed books that was predicted to happen hasn’t, and it looks like it probably won’t.

Printed books, while cumbersome in our back pockets or hefty in our bags, still manage to hold a place in our hearts that motivates our wallets. Paper books have no need for electricity. They can survive a coffee spill. You can resell them or give them away without inciting a battle over copyright infringement. Pop-up e-mails and other apps will never be a distraction glowing by the page number. Paper books can’t disappear from your library due to company policy or technical malfunction. And no matter how handy an e-book is, its intangible nature can’t elicit the same sentimental feelings of returning to a dog-eared page or scribbling in the margins.

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Looking in the Mirror: Children Need More Diverse Books

by Melissa Bradford

Vampires don’t have reflections. When these “monsters” look into a mirror, they see no image of themselves staring back at them. I recently read an analogy by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Junot Diaz who compared a vampire’s lack of reflection to how some people cannot see themselves reflected in the books they read.

Those people include the young children—children who are African American, Asian, Latino, and Native American—who visit a library looking for books with characters like them on the cover only to find shelves and shelves of white protagonists.

When these children don’t see themselves represented in media, they begin to ask themselves the same questions Diaz asked himself growing up: Is there something wrong with me? Does society think that people like me don’t exist? They begin to think that since they have no reflection, they must be monsters too.

This of course is not true, and the blame for lack of diverse publications falls onto the publishing industry. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, out of 3,200 children books published in 2013, only 93 were about African Americans, and the numbers are even lower for Asian, Latino, and Native American children’s books. The number of children’s books published about non-white characters adds up to less than 10% of the total, yet the U.S. Census reports that minorities make up almost 40% of the U.S. population and that figure is only expected in increase over the next few decades.

One of the reasons big name publishers aren’t producing more culturally diverse books is because they believe that those books won’t sell as well or that there isn’t a market for them. However a recent social media campaign has set out to prove them wrong. After scrolling through the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag on Twitter for the first time, I saw people from all different races sharing their personal experiences and explaining why their cultures deserve to be published too.

This is why, when I first started interning for Truman State University Press, I was thrilled to find out about their Notable Missourians children’s book series. The series focuses on the stories of significant people who have contributed to Missouri’s history, including former slave Sam Nightingale and Native American leader Great Walker. Whereas some history books only highlight the triumphs of white people, this series makes a point of featuring people not found in the typical textbook, showing young Missouri students that everybody—whatever their skin color, religion, or ethnic background—is part of our state’s history.

In an industry where it’s easier to find more children’s books featuring talking animals than multicultural protagonists, every book counts. Each diverse book published has the chance to be a young child’s mirror. Children will pull the book off of the library shelf, open the pages, and see themselves reflected back at them, reassuring them that they are not the monster here—they never were. They just needed the right book to show them.

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Our Prison Fixation

by Heather Ernst

Prison life and the practice of incarceration has been a subject of interest among the public for years. When public executions and punishments were no longer a public spectacle, interest in the subject did not falter. People began to wonder: What is life like behind prison bars?

It’s part of the human condition to be curious. Prisoners are outliers, the ones who broke societal rules and expectations. A prison has a distinct culture, but over the years, the barred doors have swung open to let us see what life is truly like for the convicted. Many prisons, like Alcatraz and the Tower of London to name a couple, have become tourist hot spots, drawing crowds from all over the world.

Prison life has been featured in many popular movies: Cool Hand Luke (1967), Escape from Alcatraz (1979), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), and The Green Mile (1999). More recently, television shows about prisons like Oz, Prison Break, and the popular Netflix show Orange Is the New Black have used prison and its inmates as subject matter. Documentaries have covered numerous prison-related topics, from daily life to psychological makeup of high-profile felons, to haunted/abandoned prisons. Why do inmates behave the way they do? How do they act once they’re locked up?

In Unguarded Moments, maintenance worker Larry Neal presents an alternative, first-person account of his interactions with inmates at the Missouri State Penitentiary in the 1980s. In contrast to melodramatic presentations in media and television about prisons, this down-to-earth account focuses on Neal’s daily interactions with felons whose crimes aren’t notorious enough to merit a “high-profile” status. Neal’s candid narrative about his interactions with inmates sheds light on these “everyday criminals.”

Since Neal was, in convict slang terms, a “square man” (a staff member who is not an officer), he developed a different kind of relationship with the inmates. He was not a threat; he was there to improve their quality of life in the prison. Often maintenance workers and inmates pulled pranks on each other and would work together on maintenance projects all over the penitentiary. In one instance, a confident younger prisoner continued to bet against an older, more seasoned one, and the stakes were much higher than the normal currency of push-ups.

“One of the bets that became popular for a while was for losers to do a song and dance. That consisted of a shuffling of the feet, a clapping of the hands, and a rendition of the “Quack quack! I’m a duck!” song in a high, quiet, embarrassed voice. … It’s an amazing sight to see some time-hardened, rough, old convict, red-faced and humiliated as a crowd gathered at the plumbing shop door to cheer and whistle.” (58–59)

Stories of harmless practical jokes fill the pages of this memoir, which is surprisingly lighthearted for a work about a major state penitentiary. However, Larry Neal does delve into the more macabre in the chapter “The MSP Gas Chamber.” Even with his inside experience, Neal is not exempt from preoccupation about the room where 40 inmates were executed. He writes:

“I found the chamber fascinating and wondered if that meant I had a twisted mind (something most people took for granted), but I later realized that if so, there were a lot of other similarly warped people. Almost every public tour given of the pen would bog down at this place where men and women had been forcefully launched from the here and now into eternity.” (154)

Our appetite for knowledge on prisons will probably never be satiated. There will always be a burning curiosity about incarceration and the inner workings of a place where society’s worst are kept locked away from the rest of the world.

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Show Yourself Missouri

By Jason Offutt, author of Haunted Missouri & What Lurks Beyond

A few years ago, I got in my car and drove to Canada simply because I’d never been there. It was an amazing experience, and I discovered something on my trip: the inch and a quarter that my wall map said separated me from our friendly neighbors was 700 miles in real life. On that trip I also learned Midwest history, tried new food (if you go to Canada, eat the Poutine once. I think once is all a body can take), and got my feet wet in places like the source of the Mississippi River. Literally. The water there’s cold.

The next summer I tried England.

Yes, travel can get expensive, the vernacular can be a problem (Travel Tip 271: a draw of beer in Wisconsin is called a “tapper”), and there’s that inevitable house in the road. Seriously. On my way through Iowa, I got stuck behind a tractor-trailer pulling a house on a rural highway. You think getting behind a guy driving the speed limit in the passing lane is bad, try a house.

But travel, especially local travel, is also worth it. There are places right here in Missouri you can’t see anywhere else. If you’re thinking about taking a little drive, try these Ten Places to See in Missouri (in no particular order). You’ll notice I’ve left off sites like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, but those are no-brainers. Some of my ten spots you may have never heard of.

Ten Places to See in Missouri
1. City Museum, St. Louis. If you have children, go here. Go here now. The City Museum is located inside, outside, and atop a 600,000-square-foot building that once housed the International Shoe Company. The tubes, slides, mazes, and toys (two built out of actual airplanes, and one out of a school bus) give this place a Willy Wonka feel. The Ferris wheel on the roof gives riders a terrific view of the city, but not if you’re afraid of heights.

2. Battle of Lexington State Historic Site, Lexington. Trenches, and the scars of war can still be seen over these 100-acres where a three-day Civil War battle raged in 1861. The Anderson House, fought over by Union and Confederate forces between Sept. 18 and 20, retains bullet marks and a hole where a cannon ball ripped through the attic. This is one of Missouri’s most well preserved Civil War battle sites.

3. Mizzou Botanical Gardens, Columbia. The campus of the University of Missouri contains an arboretum, butterfly garden, Asiatic and Oriental lily garden, a statue of Beetle Bailey (the cartoon’s creator Mort Walker went to Mizzou), Thomas Jefferson’s original tombstone, and a native Missouri tree collection. While you’re in Columbia, go downtown and enjoy Shakespeare’s Pizza. I said, “enjoy” because you don’t have any other choice. The pizza is that good.

4. Arrow Rock, Highways 87 and 187 in Saline County. This well-kept village is a National Historic Landmark because of its role in Westward Expansion. It was also the home of artist George Caleb Bingham and of Dr. John Sappington, who discovered quinine was effective in treating malaria. While there dine at a local restaurant, stay at one of the town’s many bed and breakfasts, visit the Arrow Rock State Historic Site Museum, and take in a show at the Lyceum Theatre.

5. Big Cedar Lodge, Ridgedale. Nestled in the heavily wooded hills of Southern Missouri, and overlooking the 43,000 acre Table Rock Lake, this 246-room lodge is not only beautiful, it owns a haunted history. The wife of one of the founders, Harry Worman, supposedly haunts the grounds. Guests have reported seeing a spectral woman in white walking though the grass at night, gazing out at the lake.

6. Rockcliffe Mansion, Hannibal. This beautiful, immaculately preserved 13,500-square-foot structure, built in 1898, was at the time regarded as one of the biggest private homes in Missouri. Now a bed and breakfast, its more than thirty rooms are also open for tours. In 1902, Mark Twain, a friend of owner and builder John Cruikshank, gave his good-bye speech to Hannibal inside the mansion to more than 300 people.

7. Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque, Kansas City. Arthur Bryant’s is what people mean when they talk about Kansas City-style barbecue. Don’t visit KC without trying the original restaurant at 1727 Brooklyn Avenue. You’re welcome.

8. Weston Brewing Company and O’Malley’s Pub, Weston. Reopened in 2005 after a bit of problem with Prohibition (yes, the brewery had been closed since 1919), the Weston Brewing Company produces 20,000 kegs of beer each year. The brewer is open for tours (the free sampling at the end was my favorite part). The brewery (part) and pub (all of it) are in the original limestone tunnels carved in 1842 to store beer.

9. The Hornet Spook Light, south of Joplin. Not so much of a specific place as it is any number of spots on a gravel road overlooking Oklahoma, Spook Light Road is said to be home to a ball of light that mysteriously travels up from the Sooner State, through your car, and disappears. Said to be the ghost of a local American Indian who died looking for his love, this light has been seen by the curious since the late 1800s. It’s creepy.

10. The James Brothers tour, lots of places. This is cheating, because it’s more than one location, but let’s just go with the theme here:
Jesse James Home, Kearney, the boyhood home of Frank and Jesse James.
Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Kearney, the final resting place of Jesse and his wife Zerelda.
Hill Park Cemetery, Independence, Frank James’ grave.
Jesse James Bank Museum, Liberty, the site of the first daylight bank robbery in the United States.
• The 1859 Old Jail and Marshal’s Home, Independence, Frank James’ home for six months. His cell was kept unlocked, and he often dined with the Marshal’s family.
Jesse James Home Museum, St. Joseph, where Jesse was assassinated by Bob Ford, a member of his gang.
Richmond Cemetery, Richmond, where Bob Ford is buried.
Mark Twain Cave, Hannibal, Jesse once used this cave as a hideout, and scrawled his name in the rocks to prove it.
Meramec Caverns, Sullivan, Jesse and Frank also once sought refuge in this cave system, escaping the law by squirming through an underground river.

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A Core Change in an Uncommon Way

by Sarah Andrews-Weiss

When I was first introduced to the new young readers’ series that Truman State University Press is publishing (Notable Missourians) at the beginning of my internship, all I really knew about it was that it would focus on successful Missouri residents, and that the series would “meet the Missouri Learning Standards.” As an English major who has shared more than a few classrooms with numerous teachers-to-be, this was when the ominous scary-movie music began to fill my ears.

“Fiction will be de-emphasized.” “Informational texts will be given the classrooms’ attention.” “Good literature will disappear from elementary assigned reading lists…” When it comes to criticism about the new Common Core State Standards, I’ve heard and read it all. So when confronted with this series, I couldn’t decide how to feel. On the one hand, as the books will meet the requirements teachers will be looking for, the series is likely to do well. On the other, it will be doing well by falling in line with a system many find problematic. Left feeling ambivalent with both sides, I did the only thing I could think of: I familiarized myself with the Notable Missourians series…and what I found surprised me.

The series is lovely. People like clowns, athletes, and frontier women are introduced with such fascinating stories that I was surprised they had never been introduced to me before. Eras such as the Great Depression and westward expansion are depicted using specific experiences to help the reader more fully understand how these time periods affected people on an individual level. And clear, understandable writing along with imagery (literary techniques that have been emphasized throughout all of my creative writing courses) are utilized. As I took all of this in, I wondered how a series that utilizes so many narrative elements could possibly comply with an educational change in favor of dull and lifeless “informational texts”?

Confused, I looked at the actual requirements of the core standards, and found that the Grade Level Expectations (or GLEs) for fourth through sixth grade social studies material expects a focus on “individuals from Missouri who have made contributions to our state and national heritage,” an ability to “locate and describe settlements in Missouri,” and information on the causes, effects, and events of the westward expansion… all of which are included within the individual stories in the series.

Instead of taking the new requirements asked for from the Missouri Learning Standards and creating dull accounts of overused historical figures, this series has managed to take these standards and create an end product both informational and enjoyable to read. If other book publishers take the Notable Missourians’ lead when it comes to these new educational guidelines, I am sure the quality of literature our children will be exposed to will be as high as it has always been.

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500 Years of History in 500 Words

by Rachel Goodwin

It’s easy to assume that books have always existed and that you could always pick a book off your shelf or download one onto your e-reader. Most people today take books for granted. Haven’t there always been libraries filled with shelves upon shelves, volumes upon volumes? Haven’t lawyers and scholars always had their offices lined with books or even stacked haphazardly?

The simple answer is no. Books have not always existed. For centuries, information was stored on the clay tablets of Mesopotamia or the painted hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt or the scrolls of ancient China. Fast forward several centuries and we see European monks laboring by hand in scriptoriums to painstakingly create beautifully illuminated manuscript books on calfskin called vellum. (Yes, this means that even the earliest books weren’t on paper!)

So how did books become what they are today? It wasn’t an easy process. The first movable type printing press appeared in the Western world in 1439. This was the first major change in the development of the book. The printing press allowed more books to be printed at a faster rate. Scribes could make mistakes as they tried to copy books in dim candlelight, and type-setters would make the same mistakes as they set the layout for the books in the same dim conditions. But in the time it took a scribe to copy a single book, thousands could be printed by the hand press.

The Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought another major change. Steam power meant that presses could crank out more pages than by hand. Cheaper paper meant that book costs would decrease but the quality of the books also decreased because the paper was so poor quality. As a result of the cheaper paper, publishers started to offer binding on their books. (Yes, this meant that books previously weren’t nicely bound. If you wanted your book to be bound with a cover and spine, you had to pay for someone to do it for you!)

The mid-1940s brought yet another change to book publishing: the paperback. Now books were even cheaper because the binding didn’t have to be the cloth over cardboard hardback editions. Paperbacks were cheaper to produce and buy. But this didn’t mean that hardbacks disappeared, just like manuscripts didn’t disappear immediately after the printing press made its debut.

The new millennium brought even more new changes to book publishing. Books had started going through a more rigorous process to being published so that formatting and errors were caught before the book was even printed. As technology and the Internet appeared on the market (also at a more affordable price) books began to appear on the computers. E-books and e-readers have gained popularity for the convenience of carrying a lot of books in one small tablet and for being a lot cheaper than hard copies (since they don’t have to be printed at all!)

So here ends our (roughly) 500 years of history in 500 words. We have seen books go from being hand-copied and expensive to printed and expensive to printed on paper and less expensive to hundreds available on your brightly lit digital screen. Over these 500 years, books have become more accessible to more people. What will the future of the book be? Will the dream of every student come true? Will we someday be able to put a book (in whatever form it takes) under our pillow at night and in the morning have all the information in our brain ready to go? Who knows? We will just have to wait and see what the future holds in store for the book and for us.

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“See You in the Gumbo”: Mona Lisa Saloy’s Second Line Home

by Kirk Schlueter

It seems odd at first to realize that the best word to describe Mona Lisa Saloy’s Second Line Home is “thanksgiving.” Saloy’s work is, after all, poems written in the wake of (and about) Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of her beloved New Orleans. Nevertheless, in the Crescent City’s survival and resurgence in the aftermath of the storm, Saloy finds plenty to give thanks for.

The book’s title comes from the New Orleans tradition of “two lines” at funerals: the first line, where the mourners carry the body in a grieving, dirge-singing procession to the cemetery, and the second line, where the mourners return from the graveyard singing loudly, celebrating a life well lived, and the ascent of the deceased. It is easy to see the connection to Saloy’s beautiful book of poems, whose sections loosely follow this tradition, first mourning the devastated post-Katrina New Orleans, and then moving to the survival of the people and their attempts to rebuild.

Saloy’s style prizes music; her lines often lack traditional punctuation, but neither the poem nor the reader care. Instead, the eye (and ear) are drawn to the cadence and beauty. It is a unique style, and helps capture the vitality and uniqueness of New Orleans. I know of no other book of poems quite like it. Saloy’s emotion and passion are fluid on the page, and contagious. After even a few poems, you begin to think of New Orleans as your city too.

In the introduction to Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, Luc Sante writes, “Auster has the key to the city … like the key to dreams or the key to the highway. It … allows him to see through walls and around corners, that permits him entry to corridors and substrata and sealed houses nobody else notices. …” The same could easily be said about Saloy and New Orleans, and the Black Creole culture she inhabits. Her manner is always familiar, always inviting, always warm as she shows readers the city she knows and loves, a city with “more churches than bars.” Especially for an outsider to both New Orleans and Black Creole culture, Saloy’s open manner is comforting, and makes for a beautiful and friendly introduction. I won’t say I was able to stand in Saloy’s shoes, but I was certainly able to look right over her shoulder. You couldn’t ask for a better tour guide.

By showing her readers the city through her eyes, Saloy shows without ever directly telling the damage and trauma the survivors of Hurricane Katrina went through. “New Orleans,” she writes, “is everybody’s business,” and her joy at finally returning home shines through every poem in the collection, even those dealing with grief and mourning. I very quickly lost track of how many poems in the book ended with some variation of either giving thanks or praise, because Second Line is replete with those phrases. The poems sing their joy straight off the page.

For Saloy, it is clear, New Orleans is heaven. For those who think New Orleans drowned in August 2005, Second Line Home shows it is rising again, and still singing, still dancing. Second Line Home is not your average book about disaster. It’s a work about death in which resurrection takes center stage. It’s a book about loss and grief in which more time is spent on joy. In Saloy’s eyes, the Crescent City is not Atlantis. It is New Orleans—a city easy to recognize, hard to define, and impossible not to love.