Monday, January 16, 2012

Things You Never Thought You'd Be When You Grew up

Typographer, gravedigger, grifter .... may not be what most children will tell you they will be when they grow up. The subjects of the memoirs below managed to get there and those paths lead to some engaging stories.

The digital age has made it possible for everyone to have an opinion on something that was an esoteric topic a mere twenty years ago. Just My Type: a book about fonts (M) by Simon Garfield explores the rich history of fonts and the impact that typography has had on our society. Today, most of us are able to declare our favourite font and some have gone as far to join a movement to ban Comic Sans due to its overuse. (I have to admit that I'm feeling a bit sorry for Comic Sans, much as I feel sorry for Pluto's demotion). Garfield also looks at some famous typographers - Claude Garamond, Lucas de Groot and the infamous Eric Gill amongst others.

How many of us can say, or would even want to say, that we spent a summer digging graves? In the Land of Long Fingernails: a gravedigger's memoir (M) by Charles Wilkins is a lively account of a summer spent in a Toronto graveyard in the nineteen sixties. Surrounded by a group of eccentrics, Wilkins learned to navigate his way around the apparently not-so peaceful final resting place where theft and neglect were always a possibility. The death industry has the potential to prey on the bereaved at a most vulnerable point in their lives. It is something we normally do not wish to think about until we are faced with the death of a loved one. It is an engaging and amusing read on a grim and sombre topic

What road leads a person from beginnings in the backwoods of Ontario to a human cannonball act? Shane Peacock answers this very question in The Great Farini: the high wire life of William Hunt. (M) Hunt was a daring adventurous child who, despite his parents efforts, became infatuated with show business when the circus came to town. He trained his muscles and developed fantastic acrobatic abilities which lead him to a high-wire act and eventually to performing feats over Niagara Falls. His career trajectory had him partnering with PT Barnum and later traversing the Kalahari Desert and claiming that he found the Lost City of the Kalahari.

Perhaps working in a library is not the most unconventional career choice out there, however a trip to a modern public library reveals that the library of today is not the fortress of quiet and scholarship it once was. Of this I will say no more but let Free For All: oddballs, geeks and gangstas in the public library (M) by Don Borchert speak for itself. "Not long ago, the public library was a place for the bookish, the eggheaded, and the studious—often seeking refuge from a loud, irrational, crude, outside world. Today, libraries have become free-for-all entertainment complexes filled with rowdy teens, deviants, drugs, and even sex toys. Lockdowns and chaperones are often necessary. What happened? Don Borchert was a short-order cook, door-to-door salesman, telemarketer, and Christmas-tree-chopper before landing a job in a California library. He never could have predicted his encounters with the colorful kooks, touching adolescents, threatening bullies, and tricksters who fill the pages of this hilarious memoir." - publisher

Eyeing the Flash: the education of a carnival con artist (M) by Peter Fenton tells the story of Fenton's transformation from All-American football player to conman and grifter. He showed a capacity for numbers and quickly learned the games and manipulation inherent in swindling. Publishers Weekly said of Eyeing the Flash "The well-paced story heats up as Fenton flees his rocky home life to work for Jackie and gets an education in the intricate chicanery of carnival work, shoplifting and wooing women. After months on the lower rung of carnival duty in Cleveland, Fenton discovers Jackie's been cheating him out of his fair share, so Fenton begins skimming cash from the games he operates. And when a new manager promotes Fenton to the higher stakes scams, Fenton and Jackie's friendship turns intensely competitive. This spirited story of obsession with the carnival's "alternating current of greed-fed euphoria and paranoia" is at once entertaining and informative."

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