Maggie Nystrom: Big-ass books with Brobdingnagian benefits at the Arcata Library – March 31, 2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The most overlooked section of the Arcata Library is the Oversize section. Did you know that we have special shelves where we put all of the books that are too tall to fit on our regular shelving?

The Reflexology Atlas is in this section. It is so big that the pictures of the hands and feet are almost life size. OK, maybe I am exaggerating a bit, but I have never seen such detail in other reflexology books. Add to the clear photos, the prose explaining the process is clear and fluid. Another thing I liked about this book is that it covers hand, ear and hand reflexology as well as foot reflexology. Refreshingly, the book offers no outlandish promises of healing or even rejuvenation; instead, it plainly spells out the potential benefits while reminding readers throughout that the best results can often be seen when the techniques are used as an adjunct to conventional medical care. Still, those seeking to remedy headaches, back pain, insomnia or weak knees might do well with the solutions featured here.

It is surprising how many of our mythology books are Oversize. One of my favorites is The Encyclopedia of Mythology: the gods, heroes and legends of the Greeks and Romans by Eric Flaum. We have several others that include lots of illustrations from both ancient and modern sources. I like it because it is in an encyclopedia format, alphabetically from Abderus (one of Hercules’ companions) to the Vestal Virgins of Rome. The explanations of each person’s place in Greek or Roman myths are interestingly told, though not as completely as in some other books we have.

Most of the books in our Oversize shelves are about art or travel. Ansel Adams combines both in many of his photography collections, including the one we have that is Oversize. The title is just Ansel Adams and it is a fascinating collection of his vivid black and white photos from all over the western United States and Canada. If you have only seen his panoramic Yosemite photos you may be surprised at the power of his close-ups of leaves from Glacier National Park. Because the book is so tall, the photographs are larger than in some other books reproducing Adams’ work.

Richard Avedon is another photographer whose work is represented in our Oversize section. In the American West, 1979-1984 is not a collection of scenic photography. Rather it is a collection of portraits of people he found in Texas, Wyoming and other western states. The studies are all done in black and white against a stark white background. The people stand and stare directly at you, with no background to distract the eye from their humanity. It is impossible to put in words the power of these photographs and of the humanity they express. Whether showing a patient from the State Hospital in Nevada or oil field workers in Texas or a farmer from New Mexico, all of these photos grab the attention.

Japanese wood block prints occupy a singular position in the world of art. For the Impressionists and many other western artists the prints were the first taste they had of Japanese art. The floating world shown is still what we often think of first when we think about life in Japan. In Ukiyo-e Tadashi Kobayashi has brought together a comprehensive survey of block prints from the seventeenth through the nineteenth century. The prints are lovely and the descriptions of the scene add a dimension as they explain details that would have been obvious to the original viewers. The difference between a geisha and a courtesan is explained in one picture, while another has a translation of the poem written in a cloud. A fascinating way to enter a world we know little about.

People of the Stone Age: hunter-gatherers and early farmers is a lushly illustrated story of early mankind and the dramatic changes that agriculture made. The pictures showing reconstructions of early homes, the photos of the tools that have been found and the maps showing the spread of certain domestic animals all help to clarify the text. A fascinating story well told.

Maggie Nystrom is the Branch Librarian at the Arcata Library, 500 Seventh Street, (707) 822-5954.