Book review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

Here goes my first book review. Please let me know if you have any thoughts on this book!

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

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This book is a good one for dog lovers or automotive racing lovers, but especially for lovers of both. Written from the perspective of a dog, Enzo, the book follows a man through a lifetime, a dog’s lifetime that is. Enzo describes his life with his owner Denny and his life with Denny’s family, a wife named Eve and a daughter named Zoe. Enzo’s narration is often humorous as he describes human behavior from the perspective of a dog and is indicative of that unconditional love we all feel from our pets. Enzo’s narration also makes his owner Denny someone you want to root for despite his flaws.

Through family hardships Enzo sticks by Denny, trying desperately to be more than a dog. Enzo’s biggest hope is to be reincarnated as a man in his next life and he works hard to be as close to human as he can be to achieve this goal, trying mightily to communicate with and support the people he loves. Enzo is frustrated by his lack of voice and dexterity.

The first-person narration by Enzo really is the heart of the book and makes the story worth reading. His narration will certainly appeal to any dog owner who has wondered what their dog thinks about their life and any dog owner who has felt comforted by their pet during life’s trials. And Enzo’s reflections on life, living, death, and purpose are also endearing.

Other components of the book are less interesting. Denny is a professional race car driver and as such the book uses racing metaphors throughout, especially highlighting the skill necessary to race on a wet track. I could see the value in these metaphors; however, as someone without interest in or knowledge of automotive racing the extended racing sections with racing history and metaphors were a bit difficult to get through sometimes. Enzo often alternated between narrating events and reflecting on racing history and it was those chapters that related racing history that slowed my reading of this book. I could have completely done without these descriptions of racing champions of the past and didn’t feel that they added anything to the story line, except to add a layer of humanity to Enzo by giving him a hobby or interest.

Overall the point of the racing metaphors seemed to be to highlight Denny’s personality, his drive, his determination, and his hard work, though this point could have been made with less of the lengthy racing sections. He had yet to hit it big despite his talent, partly because of life’s obstacles along the way. It is these characteristics that Enzo implies Denny needed when it came to dealing with life’s trials and a real trial for custody of his daughter.

The main drama of the book, that Denny was accused of taking advantage of a teenage girl and, as such, lost custody of his daughter, is off putting and concerning. Denny is shown to be innocent through Enzo’s eyes, but the false accusation of the young girl is not the best, most accurate, or most responsible way to depict these sorts of occurrences. This drama also follows the illness and death of Denny’s wife, which would have been in itself enough for Denny to deal with, raising his daughter alone in his grief. The additional protracted court battle, which drug on as they do in real life, in tortuous slow motion, made the drama a bit over the top, less realistic, and slow and difficult to read.

While the court battle was a low point and the story moved slow, Enzo’s perspective on his owner’s life was entertaining, humorous at times, and heartwarming at others. This is overall a light-hearted book, a quick, enjoyable read, and a glimpse into the possible thoughts of our dogs, our companions in life. Enzo’s description of Denny and Eves’s life together, the addition of new baby Zoe, and even Eve’s illness and death were all well written through the eyes of a dog, making up for the melodrama that followed and the quick wrap up ending.

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My List of Books to Read in 2018

As promised, the below is a list of books I plan to read this year (at least 15-20 of them). This list is literally a collection of books I have either physically or digitally (on Kindle) acquired over the last year or so that I haven’t gotten around to reading or finishing yet. (I obviously have a book buying problem.) In no particular order, I simply want to read what I already own. The titles range in genre from non-fiction and historical fiction to contemporary. Many were part of the Kindle First program (where I got a free book every month for having Amazon Prime.)

Have some suggestions for after I complete this list? Have thoughts on any of the books here? Let me know! (But no spoilers please!) I plan to review most if not all of these books, but it of course depends on the book and how much I have to say about them. Some will likely merit a deeper dive than others.

1. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (I’m nearly finished with this one!) – A fun, heartwarming book for any dog lover, written from the perspective and in the voice of Enzo, a dog who wants to be a man.

2. The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman, now a major motion picture.

3. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Can you believe I’ve never read this, not even for a class? I can’t and quite frankly I’m ashamed.

4. Serena by Ron Rash (this I started and got decently into it but lost interest–shall try again)

5. The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal – a dive through a family’s history through its material culture.

6. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly – also now a major motion picture!

7. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – now a HBO series.

8. Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice by Paula Byrne

9. Daybreak by Frank G. Slaughter

10. Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography by Susan Cheever

11. Abe: A Novel of the Young Lincoln by Richard Slotkin

12. Miriam: The Southern Belle Who Became the First Woman Governor of Texas by May Nelson Paulissen and Carl McQueary

13. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

14. Surface by Stacy Robinson (Honestly, I bought this book simply because it was on sale at Target for $1.76.)

15. The Antelope Wife by Louise Erdrich

16. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

17. The Shelf Life of Happiness by David Machado

18. It is Well by James D. Shipman

19. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

20. Follow You Home by Mark Edwards

21. Crooked Little Lies by Barbara Taylor Sissel

22. A Dark Lure by Loreth Anne White

23. Crow Hollow by Michael Wallace

24. Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

25. The Dirty Parts of the Bible by Sam Torode

26. Helen of Sparta by Amalia Carosella

27. Wild by Cheryl Strayed (A Major Motion Picture…and pop culture reference in the Gilmore Girls revival. Let’s see if it inspires me to go hiking.)

28. 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

29. Everything Burns by Vincent Zamori

30. Ticker by Lisa Mantchev

On blogging, or not blogging, and starting over. Again.

I’ve not been a very good blogger lately. I could list several excuses about why I haven’t had the time, but the truth is a lack of motivation because I hadn’t found a topic that really inspired me. I think this may be owing to the fact that in the past I’ve kept this strictly professional, reporting on my projects, academics, and professional experience. In my current position, there just isn’t as much that I can write about owing to the collection being private, many of my tasks and projects being repetitive, etc.

In an effort to give myself a broader source of inspiration for writing, I’ve decided to blend the personal and the professional and write about a broader spectrum of things, while maintaining an inquisitive, historically-minded flair. For example…

Personally, lately, I’ve taken an interest in baking and trying to improve my skill. I enjoy baking, not cooking, as a therapeutic release, a hobby that leads to a tangible (and edible) finished product that I can share (or not 🙂 ) with others. While I enjoy baking, the act of doing so coupled with certain reactions I’ve received from sharing my baking on social media have led me to questions about the history of baking as a gendered activity, one done by women. I plan to investigate the history of baking at home as it relates to women and gender roles. Look out for a post on this soon.

My husband and I also spend a lot of our free time with our dog, Dia. As we are currently childless, we are in a position to give her a lot of attention and travel with her, take her on hikes, to the dog park, etc. As such my historically-minded brain has wandered into questions of how pet ownership has changed over time and the history of domestic pets. These questions haven’t fully formed yet, but look out for more on this in the future as well.

Basically, I’d like to start exploring questions related to what is happening in the world around me or that I come across in my hobbies.

I haven’t read as much since graduate school as I thought I would. During the busy academic years of college and grad school I missed leisurely reading and couldn’t wait till I had the time again, but I just haven’t gotten back into it like I thought I would. I’ve read a book here and there, but not nearly as quickly as I used to tear through them. In an effort to read more, I’m making a list of the books I plan to read this year and in an attempt at holding myself accountable will post it. I will then write reviews of each one as I read them. As many are historical fiction, I will also explore how true to the historical record they hold.

Overall, this platform will take on a more personal flair, with my life and interests leading the historical line of questioning; however, I aim to research and discuss these topics with my academic background and professional historical standards. I will pose questions, perhaps more than I answer, but I will search for answers or at least to open dialogue. I hope this blog shows how history impacts our daily lives in a myriad of ways, not just in big ways such as in the political realm, but also in small ways, such as baking traditions, books, & how we treat our pets.

This new direction will be an exercise in historical thought, research, and writing on a personal level. I may throw in a recipe here and there and updates on the baking techniques I’m working on among the historical posts and book reviews. As well as perhaps some pictures of my dog. 🙂

Thanks for reading–feel free to follow along, comment, or make suggestions. First post for this new direction to come later this week!

15 Social Media Tips for Museums and Historic Sites

In my current role as archivist and media assistant for a private company I’ve picked up a few social media tips that can be applied to history museums, historic sites, and other institutions wanting to post historical content to social media platforms. Some of these tips are also informed by my time managing social media for a small non-profit museum. Many of these tips are true across the board -from large company to small non-profit -while a few are more specific to smaller institutions. Putting these out here in the hopes of helping a museum or historic site that is trying to jump start or reinvigorate their online presence. Let me know if you have any other tips to add!

  1. Have goals for your use of social media. Don’t just have accounts because you feel like you should in today’s media age. (Although many, in the millennial generation especially, will expect to find your institution on the web and on social media and not being there could cost you visitors.) Be clear about what you want to achieve with your platforms. Make goals for your audience or engagement levels and aim to use social media to ultimately increase interest in your mission and visitation to your institution.
  2. Tie historical content to the present. To increase reach and interest tailor your content to current events and relevant topics such as holidays, anniversaries, seasons, events, and this day in history type posts, etc. Be prepared to write about how history informs, impacts, and compares with the present. This helps your audience relate to your content and demonstrates the importance of history as lessons for the present. bkiinsta
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    Keep it short and sweet. As much as I completely understand the desire to be educational and share as much information as you can, keep posts short or link to longer content. Social media is a competition for attention spans. Keep it short and catchy and always try to include something visual to draw readers’ attention. Posting a link to your website for more information allows your audience to read more if they’d like without bombarding them with a ton of text in one post. Also, keeping it short may pique your readers’ interest enough to bring them through the doors to learn more.

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  4. Take advantage of popular hashtags to reach a larger audience. #ThrowbackThursday for any content from the past; #TransformationTuesday for compare/contrast photos of a place/person/etc. in the past and today; #FlashbackFriday; #WaybackWednesday, etc. If a trending hashtag applies to your institution, take advantage and weigh in.
  5. But be unique. In addition to standard hashtags that you can piggy back on – branch out and come up with your own unique social media posts that fit your collection – examples – a medical museum I once worked at used #FreakyFriday for followers to guess the use of strange looking medical instruments from the museum’s collection.
  6. Plan in advance. Schedule posts out so you aren’t scrambling for content at the last minute. Take a look through your archives and collections for interesting and relevant content for the next month and plan out posts, images, etc. This helps you to get all of your social media planning done at once and takes up less of your time. Take advantage of Facebook’s scheduling feature and look into HootSuite or similar for scheduling tweets.
  7. Be flexible though. Fortuitous, relevant finds in your archives can make for great posts; world events might result in changes needed to your scheduled posts – be prepared to edit or switch out posts after you’ve planned them.
  8. Know your limits. You don’t have to post historical content every day, especially when you are just starting out. Determine how much staff time can be devoted to social media planning. Also, you don’t want to exhaust all your best content too quickly – spread it out so you aren’t repeating topics too closely together.
  9. Check your stats. Pay attention to engagement results and gear your posts towards what your audience seems to respond to the most. You can also use analytics to find out who your audience is and who you may need to try to reach better.
  10. Go behind the scenes. Consider sharing behind the scenes photos and videos about unique and interesting aspects of the museum or collections care. Instagram, Facebook Live, and Snapchat are all platforms well-suited to behind the scenes action.
  11. You don’t have to have them all. Focus on the platforms that work the best for you and reach your primary audiences. You don’t have to have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr, etc. You can pick the 2-3 platforms that make the most sense for your content and your audiences. Mostly sharing photos of artifacts? Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are probably plenty, but Flickr may interest you as a way to store and organize images into virtual galleries. Videos? YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook may be the three you want to focus on. Wanting to keep more of a blog where there’s a bit more room to write–Tumblr or another free blogging site may be what you’re looking for. And you can share links to the blog content on your other platforms. Trying to reach a young audience with behind the scenes sneak peaks? Snapchat and Instagram may be what you need–but it will likely take a little longer to build audiences there.
  12. Diversify your content. Don’t always post the same thing to all of your platforms. It’s OK to replicate posts across platforms most of the time, but also try to diversify your posts. Facebook is better for longer posts, article shares, and video. Instagram is best for images and short videos. Twitter for short announcements, images, article links, and short videos. Mix and match and have some content be exclusive to a specific platform.
  13. Respond. Try to respond to reviews, comments, questions, and messages that come in through your social media platforms. A quick “like” or simple thank you message would suffice for many comments. Interact with your audience and learn from their feedback.
  14. Keep up your profile. Make sure your institution’s profile is up-to-date with correct hours, address, contact information, and website. Also, keep a consistent style, tone, and voice across your profile, platforms, and posts that fits with your goals for social media as well as your overall mission and brand.
  15. Don’t overwhelm your followers. Don’t post too many times in one day. You don’t want to overwhelm or annoy your followers. 1-3 times a day is usually enough on Facebook and Instagram. Twitter can be a used a bit more, especially if you are live tweeting an event or retweeting relevant, interesting materials for your followers.

 

These tips would hopefully help any institution striving to incorporate historical or educational content into their social media plans. Have patience in growing your audience and engagement. Link to your platforms from your website and be sure to let in-person visitors know what platforms they can find you on. Have any other tips? Does your institution do anything unique or have you had a successful campaign on social media? Let me know!

Long time, no write

It has been almost a year since I last posted. Obviously a lot has happened in that time. Here’s a quick recap:

I worked at the Tobacco Farm Life Museum from September to December of 2015, where I was the Assistant Archivist. In addition to being in charge of the document collection, I wrote grants for upcoming programming, assisted with organizing and giving group tours, running the online gift shop, managing the museum’s social media, planning and staffing special events, and running the front desk. As a small museum, the position was one that required me to be a jack of all trades. It kept life interesting and kept me on my toes. Several of the grants I wrote have been successfully funded and used to start new programming at the museum since I left. Of that I am most proud.

I left the part-time position at the Tobacco Farm Life Museum when a full-time opportunity became available to me. I am now the Archivist with the Gary Player Group, Inc. in Greenville, South Carolina. My fiance and I moved in January and I began working full-time then. I am responsible for the Black Knight Archives which houses materials related to the Grand Slam golfer Gary Player, the company (Black Knight International/The Player Group), and Gary Player’s brother, Dr. Ian Player, a noted South African conservationist, credited with saving the White Rhino. I am part of the Media team, assisting with content development for the company’s newsletter, social media, and website. I write a monthly article for the company’s ENEWS about the Archives or some interesting materials I’ve come across and also contribute to a Tumblr account showcasing the Archives’ holdings.

Currently we are working especially hard on organizing and preserving the Ian Player Collection, moving it into archival storage boxes and cataloging completely. The collection contains many journals and diaries that Dr. Player kept for various purposes including daily diaries, field journals, and overseas journals. The collection also includes papers, reports, and files associated with the Natal Parks Board for which Dr. Player worked, various campaigns and initiatives to save wildlife including Operation Rhino and Campaign for St. Lucia, and other conservation projects. Also found in the collection are photographs and audio tapes, maps, and correspondence. I look forward to delving deeper into the collection.

Recently, thanks to the generous support of my company, I attended the Society of American Archivists conference in Atlanta, Georgia. This was my first archivists’ conference, with all of my previous professional conferences having been geared more broadly toward public historians or museum professionals. The conference included many sessions relevant to my work including those on sports archives, business archives, and dealing with incoming digital materials, of which we receive a great deal owing to Mr. Player’s continued popularity with the sports, luxury, and leisure media.

Moving forward, I aim to update this platform more often, but plan to shift the content from a simple reporting of my projects to more of a discussion of various topics relating to history, archives, museums, and related themes as I come across them either in my work or in the news, when I visit museums, or in literature of the field. I think these musings will help me to stay up on the current goings on in the field, which is more difficult now as an employed professional than when I was a student. And while I’m continuing to learn and gain more experience in my field, less of what I do each day is really a new skill and rather than report on my doing the same things each day, I’d rather use this platform to write more deeply about related issues. Hence, a name change for the blog: From ‘A Public Historian in the Making’ to ‘The Musings of an Archivist.’ Not that I’m not still a public historian in the making–I believe in life-long learning and always improving your skills and widening your horizons–I am now entering my second year of employment in the field after graduate school and think this blog should transition from a student’s showcasing of experiences and skills to a professional’s reflection on the work of our field.

Have topics you’d like to see me tackle? Send them my way! I love to write about anything related to history, museums, archives, public history, or related topics!

New Job

I am finishing up my first month of my new job as Assistant Archivist at the Tobacco Farm Life Museum. My volunteer work turned into a job on September 1st and the month has flown by. I volunteered with both the Tobacco Farm Life Museum and the Country Doctor Museum all the way up to September, continuing work on the projects mentioned in previous posts, including conservation work on the surrey at CDM and grant writing assistance at TFLM.

Now, I work on a wide variety of things at TFLM from grant writing to visitor services to volunteer management. I’ve been working on promoting the museum’s volunteer and intern programs in order to recruit new volunteers and interns. These efforts have definitely increased the museum’s visibility and the Museum has two new students working on projects with us! I also assist with event planning/fundraising, manage the online gift shop, research and write the history-oriented social media posts, help with scheduling, planning, and giving guided tours, manning booths at festivals and fairs as part of our outreach, and a myriad of other things as they arise. That is the benefit (and sometimes difficulty) of working in a museum with a small staff–doing a little bit of everything. It’s excellent experience and I love being kept on my toes. Having something new to do every day keeps the job exciting. It’s certainly never boring. I’m really enjoying interacting with the public, groups, and volunteers and students on a regular basis while also continuing to do things I already knew I loved such as research and writing through my work on grants and social media posts.

Since much of what I do concerns the daily operations and administration of the Museum, I will be posting less, reserving these posts for updates on specific projects or special issues in public history. My personal life has also been busier of late with a new puppy in the house and wedding planning in full swing, making it difficult to post more often.

For now, I will plug our special events coming up at the Tobacco Farm Life Museum. November 14th we are hosting our first ever BBQ Challenge in which 4 to 6 cooks will face off in the ultimate challenge to see who can cook the best whole hog–winner takes home a trophy and local bragging rights. All proceeds from the sale of the BBQ will support the museum’s mission. Family-friendly games and activities as well as live music will also be on-site.

December 8th we will host our Candlelight Tour, offering a night-time, candlelight tour of the Museum and its historic buildings. More details to come!

Check the museum out online, on Facebook, or in person–come and see me!

Transitions, Collections, and Rural History

Since my last post in mid-June, I have moved from Wilmington to my hometown of Wilson, North Carolina. I was working part-time in Wilmington as the Archivist at the Bellamy Mansion Museum where I was organizing the museum’s institutional archives and accessioning and cataloging new artifact acquisitions. As much as I loved that work, practical needs had to be considered and I decided to move back home in order to save money while I pursue a full-time job in the museum field.

In the meantime I have begun volunteering at two local museums. The Tobacco Farm Life Museum and the Country Doctor Museum have both been kind enough to allow me to volunteer with their collections until I find a full-time position. The Tobacco Farm Life Museum in Kenly, North Carolina has been an important part of my career already so far, allowing me to intern there two different summers when I was a college student, teaching me the basics of artifact handling and labeling, storage and environmental concerns, and visitor services. Now I am assisting with the research and writing of a grant for a new digital collections and virtual exhibits project the museum wishes to undertake.

Me on the porch of the Tobacco Farm Life Museum's historic homestead. I assisted with the cleaning and repainting of one of the rooms following the removal of a bee infestation and related replastering. Summer 2010.
Me on the porch of the Tobacco Farm Life Museum’s historic homestead back in 2010 during my first internship there. I assisted with the cleaning and repainting of one of the rooms following the removal of a bee infestation and related replastering. Summer 2010.
Me with an exhibit on Tobacco Auctioneers that I researched, designed, and installed along with another intern. Summer 2010.
Me with an exhibit on Tobacco Auctioneers that I researched, designed, and installed along with another intern. Summer 2010.

The Country Doctor Museum in Bailey, North Carolina has also welcomed me in. There, I am assisting the curator with inventory of the collection, entering items in PastPerfect, and labeling and photographing them. The museum has an interesting collection of medical instruments from the 19th century. (Some of which make me very happy to live in the 21st century.) I am also working on a conservation project. A surrey (like a carriage) that belonged to a rural doctor’s family is in need of some conservation work but the price of a conservator is a bit too much for the museum. I am performing some of the basic tasks of conservation to help preserve this piece of history. Thus far I have (HEPA) vacuumed the surrey. Next up is a careful cleaning of the wood and iron surfaces of the piece. I am following a conservator’s report of the needs of the surrey, only undertaking those tasks that do not require chemical treatments or repairs to delicate materials. Those are tasks better left to a trained conservator.

The surrey at the Country Doctor Museum that I am helping to conserve. Photo by author.
The surrey at the Country Doctor Museum that I am helping to conserve. Photo by author.
The Country Doctor Museum's HEPA vacuum I used to vacuum the surfaces of the surrey. HEPA vacuum limit the particles that reenter the air, helping to preserve a clean environment for the artifacts. Use of a soft brush attachment helped to carefully dust the surfaces to remove dust and dirt and protected the surrey from the hard nozzle attachments.
The Country Doctor Museum’s HEPA vacuum I used to vacuum the surfaces of the surrey. HEPA vacuums limit the particles that reenter the air, helping to preserve a clean environment for the artifacts. Use of a soft brush attachment helped to carefully dust the surfaces to remove dust and dirt and protected the surrey from the hard nozzle attachments.

I am so happy to be doing the work I love – working with history’s tangible remains and helping to preserve them for the future. I can’t wait to see what else I do at these two interesting sites, both working to preserve and educate about the history of this rural area. Support these small museums by checking out their websites or find these sites on Facebook to stay up to date on their events.

The Tobacco Farm Life Museum: www.tobaccofarmlifemuseum.org; Facebook: Tobacco Farm Life Museum, Inc.

The Country Doctor Museum: www.countrydoctormuseum.org; Facebook: The Country Doctor Museum