Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Pagemaster - the movie

This fantasy story features Macaulay Culkin as Richard Tyler, a perpetually scared 10-year old who must conquer three book quests (horror, adventure, and fantasy) in order to get out of the library. With co-stars including Whoppi Goldberg, Christopher Lloyd, and Ed Begley, Jr. this could have been a great movie, but it wasn't. Each of the quests ended without a real resolution. I watched this with my husband who assumed that perhaps since I was a librarian I maybe knew what was going on. He apparently was just as baffled as I was though with the scene jumping. We also both noticed that not only did this one not pass the Bechtel test, in fact all the featured stories were male-centric (Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde; Moby Dick; Jack and the Beanstalk). They did, however, throw those of us of the female persuasion a bone with one allusion to The Wizard of Oz and one quick peek inside Alice in Wonderland. 

While I can see the appeal this might have to young viewers, and those who are interested in movies without much of a plot, I wasn't impressed.

Voices - by Ursula K. Le Guin

I had been told that I would probably like Ursula K. Le Guin's books, so when I saw this one on the list of books Celebrating a Love of Reading: 20 Mighty Girl Books about Books, Libraries, and Literacy it seemed the time was right to read one. This is the story of Memer, who lives in Ansul, a city occupied by the Alds where books and reading are forbidden, and girls and women must stay indoors. Before she died, Memer's mother showed her a secret room in the house of Galvamand where books were kept, and Memer learned the special writing in the air she needed to do in order to open the door to the room. Although she could not read Memer found solace in the room and believed she was the only one in the house who knew about it. That is until the day when she is startled to find Sulter Galva, the Waylord of the house, in the room when she arrives. The Waylord teaches her to read and admonishes her to tell no one of the room. Punishment for reading or owning books in Ansul is death by drowning. Memer loves to read the stories and poetry found within the pages of the books, but as a young adult learns that the books in the dark shadowy side of the room, the side to which she never ventured, held the secrets of the oracles. The Waylord explains to Memer that he believed he was protecting her by not introducing those books to her, but goes on "In my cowardice...  I told myself it was unnecessary to speak of it to you. The time of oracles was past. It was an old story that was no longer true..."

This scene demonstrates a more subtle form of censorship than the outright book banning practiced by the Alds, and certainly the more common form. In fact, it is something we have probably all experienced, and participated in, from the books that our parents chose to read to us, to what we found in our school libraries, to what we then chose to read to our own children, and placed in their libraries. Protection is usually the underlying reason for these decisions, but as the Waylord realizes, each person must ultimately make their own meaning from books and be provided the opportunity to do so. Memer not only learns to read, she becomes a critical thinker as well.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Between the Lines - by Jodi Picoult & Samantha van Leer

About ten years ago our town selected Picoult's My Sister's Keeper for its One Book One Community (OBOC) read. As a member of the OBOC steering committee I read it, and championed it, as I do with all our selections.Honestly, though, I wasn't crazy about it, although I could see why it appealed to so many others. And It did turn out to be a popular choice for the OBOC program. I've not been interested in reading any more of Picoult's books since then though. However, I noticed this one on display at my local public library while I was looking for another book. Picoult co-wrote this one with her teenage daughter Samantha van Leer. Since "Leer" is the Spanish word for "read" I picked it up and read the inside cover description, which specifically mentions an obsession with a library book, at which point I knew I had no choice but to read it myself.

In this fantasy tale The Purple Rose of Cairo meets Toy Story when fifteen-year-old Delilah falls for the handsome prince in an illustrated library book. She discovered the book in her school library placed "upside down and backwards", and on the wrong shelf to boot. The book also, literally, shocked her hand when she touched it. When Prince Oliver starts talking to her, and telling her all about the life he has outside of the story at first Delilah (along with her mother) thinks she must be going crazy, but it doesn't talk long before Delilah and Oliver start concocting a way for him to escape the confines of his pages so they can live happily ever after. The two come up with some ingenious ideas, but discover that whatever they do causes the story to "reset" itself as soon as the book is closed, and everything goes back to the way it was. There are so many other things to consider as well. For instance, if Oliver does manage to escape from the story will still he be four inches high and two dimensional? How will he function in this other world that has computers and other electronics unknown to his people?

In one early attempt to be together Delilah and Oliver discover that the pages of the book act as a barrier between them. Oliver suggests tearing the page to see it he can get out through the rip. Delilah, however, is horrified at the idea of ripping a library book. (Somethings are more important than true love, after all). But his smile "the one that makes [her] feel like [she's] the only person in the world" convinces her to make the tiniest, most minute, infinitesimal tear"so they can test their theory on a spider Oliver found. It takes a lot of patience to make love work. Is there any way these two star-crossed lovers can be together?

Some good metafiction, and problem solving going on with this one. I liked it better than I thought I would.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

After Words - The movie

When a loner librarian Jane (Marcia Gay Harden) loses her job she travels to Costa Rica with the object of killing herself, but her plans are thwarted by her gigolo tour guide Juan (Oscar Jaenada). Once again we learn that these stuck up librarian ladies just need to let their hair down (and learn Spanish).

To be fair, despite my glibness in the description above, the movie was actually more nuanced and thoughtful than that. I'm sure the choice of the librarian's name was no accident. She is indeed a "Plain Jane". Juan, while initially only interested in Jane for the money he knows can earn from her, recognizes that she is also pretty smart and asks her advice on reading material. She recommends A Tale of Two Cities and he wastes no time in checking it out of his local library so that he can discuss it with her, although he admits that he is really not a "reader". Ultimately what we end up with is that each changes for the other. Reminds me of the last scene in Grease.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

On Marginalia, or, Why I Don't Write in my Books

While cleaning up my office, and computer this summer in preparation for my sabbatical I found a forgotten file that appeared to be an essay I started in response to this editorial about marginalia from the Bridgewater Review. It seemed rather late to finish it to submit to the magazine, but the ideas in it seemed appropriate for a blog post, so I've adapted the response for publication here.

While we all have been taught that marking up library books is wrong, might we not question that dictum? If you have something relevant to add to what the author is saying, why not share it? As a librarian I respect the argument, but still insist that library books be returned in the same condition that they were loaned.

But what about writing in our own books? Certainly people can do what they like with their own property, including defacing it, as long as it doesn't hurt someone else. And we might even argue that we should write in our books. We might want to refer back to an idea that was sparked while reading, and notes can help us remember those. Additionally, any of us could become another Thomas Jefferson, or a Mother Teresa. Won't our marginalia then be valuable to historians? However, for myself, I will say that if, in time, anyone should ever go looking through my books for musings they will likely be sorely disappointed. I hung up my hi-liter in college, and while I probably made some notes in some of my graduate school textbooks too, I have since been careful not to. I think perhaps what made me stop writing in books all together may have been the purchase of a used copy of Ashes of Izalco by Claribel Alegria and Darwin J. Flakoll from a college bookstore. It was not-so-meaningfully marked up by a previous reader (mostly with a yellow hi-liter), and it was also signed by both authors, something I did not realize when I bought it. I read the book for a class, and honestly don't remember it but still it sits on my special shelf reserved for autographed copies of books. And I really hate that this one has been defaced.

I read a lot of books, and I often blog about them. I use scraps of paper or post-it notes to mark things that I want to return to later. Generally, once I've published my blog post about a particular book I pull all my markings out. Of course, if I've read a library copy this is simply common courtesy to my colleagues who will have to do the work of removing the markers if I don't, but even when I use a personal copy of a book I still take the time to remove any physical evidence that I actually read it. I firmly believe that each reader needs to make up his or her own mind about the meaning of a text, and they don't need someone else's ideas mucking that up. Since I usually pass a book along to someone else once I've read it, the next reader will have a fresh start. (I do, however, make an exception to this rule for cookbooks when I make adjustments that improve the recipe as written. This, of course, will only help the next user, as Harry Potter learned in The Half-Blood Prince!).

I recommend that readers who wish to engage with authors do so directly by writing to them (if they are living). The letter writer is very likely to be rewarded with a response directly from the author. I also occasionally find that an author has commented on one of my blog posts, truly a treat! Of course one cannot communicate directly with a deceased author, and so one must be content with corresponding with scholars, editors, or other fans. All of this can be done online, and so comments will reach a wider audience than those written in a single copy of a book, to be read only by those who happen to pick up the same one.

As an end note, I will concede that sometimes marginalia can have worth, as illustrated in this story of a library book made more valuable when the annotations were discovered.

It also looks like it is time for me to re-read Ashes of Izalco.

Even the cover of my copy is "enhanced" with yellow hi-liter
Autographs inside

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Gone Girl - by Gillian Flynn

I found out about this book when I read Voracious. I don't read a lot of thrillers, but the descriptions on this one made it seem like it had some good twists, so when I found a used copy for 50 cents at a church book sale I picked it up. All the usual suspects can be dismissed in this nail biter. And, in fact, for readers the mystery of what exactly happened to Amy Elliott Dunne (inspiration for the ever-popular Amazing Amy series of books) is solved just past the halfway point in the book, but the thrill of the chase continues to the end. It is hard to write about this novel without giving away any spoilers, so I will simply stick to discussing the brief two library passages. The first describes exactly how popular the Amazing Amy book series was among "the rising  yuppie class: They were the pet Rock of parenting. The Rubik's Cube of child rearing...At one point it was estimated that every school library in America had an Amazing Amy book." There is also one scene in which one of the characters does some research on a public library computer. I can't even say much more about this without giving too much of the plot away, except that the passage demonstrates how important public access computers can be.

I was surprised by how much I liked this one. A good escape read.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Mr. Chef & Ms. Librarian - by Melissa Yi

Can a white-bread librarian on the rebound find true love with a Pakistani chef who promised his parents he'd find himself a nice Muslim girl?

Ivy Appleford is new to her job as a public librarian, as well as new in town and has recently been dumped by her boyfriend. She signs up for some cooking classes and falls for the sexy chef/instructor, Tariq, who is equally taken with her. It doesn't take long for the two to become swept up in a hot, and spicy romance. True to romance novel genre there are some ups and downs in the relationship, but all is well in the end.

The author played around a bit with some librarian stereotypes and fantasies. Even as Ivy notes that being a librarian no one ever expected her to be "a wild party" readers see someone who finds it thrilling to have sex outside, where anyone could have come by, and when Ivy surprises Tariq by deftly opening a condom and sliding it down on him she simply shrugs and says "I should be good at this stuff. I'm a librarian." Neither does she hesitate when her swarthy lover suggests that they have sex on the circulation desk. When Tariq shows up unannounced at Ivy's house late one night and sees her in red flannel pajamas for the first time, his mind, of course, goes right to the uptight librarian fantasy.
He grinned. "You look adorable." To his surprise, he meant it. The tortoiseshell glasses reminded him of a cat. Or, better yet, the Tina Fey, take off your glasses and let down your hair, buttoned-up sexiness."
Ivy's ex-boyfriend, Stephen, is a professor, and apparently she was not completely at ease with him because of it. With Tariq
She didn't have to prove that librarians were as smart as academics. She didn't have to pretend to like his friends. She could just hang out.
I thought about this passage a lot, not so much because I think I need to prove anything to my professor husband (he knows how smart I am, after all) but more because I am an academic librarian. I suppose that I sometimes feel that I have to prove that I'm as smart as my colleagues. This can be especially frustrating when I'm dealing with faculty members (or administrators) who may not, in fact, be as smart as I am! Librarians do know everything, after all.

Early in their relationship, when Ivy isn't so sure she should be getting involved with anyone, she tells Tariq that what she needs is more of a friend "an avuncular type". She specifically suggests that my favorite fictitious librarian - Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer would be a good person for her "someone who won't take advantage of me - or tempt me." Really, Giles wouldn't tempt her? Has she not seen the show, especially the episode called "Band Candy"?!

I must say that Ivy is as much of a multi-dimensional character as one can expect in a romance novel. She has a variety of interests, and cares about her community, plus she is smart, sexy, and witty. This was a fun read for Read-a-Romance month.