Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Anywhere But Here - by Mona Simpson

Set in the 1970s Simpson's story tells of an aspiring teen actress (Ann), who leaves her home in Bay City, Wisconsin, along with her flighty mother (Adele) to find their way in Beverly Hills. Adele's inability to hold a job for very long, and her obsession with finding a husband make for a difficult journey to stardom. When Ann finally does get a break Adele attempts to sabotage it.

Not a very library-centric book, but Ann and Adele do use the public library a few times, and Adele also suggests that Ann go school early one day to study in the library instead of riding in with her classmates. Not surprisingly Ann (a rather mediocre student) declines this advice in favor of hanging out with her friends until her first class.

In perhaps one of the craziest uses of a public library I've read about, Ann's grandmother (Lillian) relates a tale of a man she knew who performed surgery on himself, in the hopes of making himself better looking.
...this man found a way to sneak into the public library at night...he was afraid for people to see him - and read up all about plastic surgery. He wanted to remake his face to be better. He got hold of needles and suture somehow and from studying these books he changed himself. I suppose he used mirrors to see. He said it took months, most of the winter. He had to wait for one part to heal before touching another. And he did it. Well, you can imagine the was a miracle the man hadn't killed himself...there were no infections, only clear, healed scars...There was a write up with a picture in the newspaper and a couple other doctors came to see. But it all died down, because the truth was, he still had such an ugly, ugly face.
We'll file this under "don't try this at home, folks."

Friday, February 2, 2018

So Very Many Books!

I wasn't surprised to find that I'd already read more than a few of these 100 Must Read Books about Libraries and Bookstores. Many can be found on this blog. Looks like there are plenty for me to add to my list, though.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

This Child of Faith - by Sophronia Scott & Tain Gregory

I took on BookRiot's Read-Harder Challenge for 2017. Finding a "book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey" did turn out to be a challenge for me, and so Scott & Gregory's book was the last one I read to complete the list. The book was released on December 14, the fifth anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school. Gregory was a third grader at Sandy Hook on the day of the shooting and one of his best friends (Ben) was murdered that day. He and his mother (Scott) co-wrote this book about their faith and how it sustained them through the tragedy.

Most of the narrative in this memoir takes place prior to the shooting. It tells how the family sought out a church, found one that fit, and began to get involved in church life. Their faith was firmly held prior to the tragedy.

While libraries don't play a huge role in the story, it is distinctive in that all four types of libraries: academic, school, public, and special (in this case a church library) are mentioned and used by the authors:

  • Scott tells how her Sunday morning job at Harvard's Cabot Science Library kept her from going to church while she was in college
  • She tells about the "beautiful library" at the private school her son attended prior to transferring to Sandy Hook elementary
  • And of checking out "Veggie Tales" music CDs from the public library for her young son to enjoy
  • The church library is not just a place she goes to check out books, but is also used as a comfortable place to wait while her son is in choir practice

There is also this passage which describes reading about libraries, and presents them a safe places
When I was a girl I read the book Escape from Witch Mountain in which a girl named Tia could open any locked door simply by turning the handle. It only worked if it was okay for her to be in there, a right place to be, such as library or church...I was enchanted by the prospect of having such a magical power. But even more so I felt comforted by the idea that safe places would always be open and available.
It would be wonderful if anytime a person needed to be in a library they could find one open and welcoming. We do our best with budget and personnel constraints.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor - by Roz Warren

I read a review of this book a few years ago, and wrote it down on my list of potential reading. I decided it would be a good choice for a read aloud with my husband during our Christmas break. I checked it out at my local public library and we did enjoy reading it together, and the short essays were perfect for wrapping up an evening before bed. 

Warren's essays are funny, and also highlight some of the issues that librarians struggle with such as censorship, crappy wages, and patron privacy. None of these things is black and white, and there are, of course, fifty shades of grey in between.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Uncommon Type: Some Stories - by Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks' collection of short stories contains seventeen tales, each featuring a typewriter, but only one ("Who's Who") that features a library. 

In the fall of 1978 Sue Gliebe shows up at the New York apartment of an acquaintance (Rebecca) from the Arizona Civic Light Opera (ACLO) looking for a place to stay as she (Sue) makes her way to the Great White Way. Seven weeks later Sue is wearing her welcome thin, which Rebecca's roommate Shelly has made abundantly clear. Sue knows she needs to update her resume but does not have a typewriter. When she asks Shelly about borrowing one Shelly informs her that "they rent them at the library". A rainy trek to the New York Public Library ("the famous building at Forty-Second and Fifth, the landmark building with the stone lions in front") with a busted umbrella ends with the sad discovery that the Main Library was closed on Mondays. 
Just as a roll of thunder outblared the honking horns of traffic, she lost the battle against tears, the collective disappointments simply too much: New York City roommates were not friendly soul sisters; Central Park was a place of naked trees, unusable benches, and spent rubbers; windows had security gates that locked rapists out and victims in; no cute sailors were waiting to meet a girl and get a kiss...and the Public Library was closed on Mondays 
Sue's sobbing is interrupted by the voice of Bob Roy, the gay general business manager of the ACLO who just happens to live in New York City. Just as if in a fairy tale Bob Roy takes her back to his cozy apartment, feeds her, and fixes up her resume himself. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Which just goes to show you that libraries really do change lives, even when they're closed. 


While "Who's Who" is the only story with a library I would be remiss if I failed to give an honorable mention to the story "Welcome to Mars" in which a young surfer, Kirk, remembers his school librarian Mrs. Takimashi (along with some English teachers, and his first crush) as someone who had recognized that he was special. 

My husband and I listened to the audio version of this work, which is read by Hanks. The last story ("Stay With Us"), however, was performed as a radio play along with actors Peter Gerety, Peter Scolari, Cecily Stong, Holland Taylor, and Wilmer Valderrama.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

George & Lizzie - by Nancy Pearl

Even if there had been no libraries in this book, it would still get a post here for being written by the librarian's librarian Nancy Pearl. However, there are, unsurprisingly, dozens of times libraries are mentioned in this work.

James and I took the train into Boston in September to hear Pearl read from her new novel at the Boston Public Library, and bought a signed copy. She was happy to pose with me for this un-selfie (James took it) and specifically inquired "Are you a librarian?" (with a smile) when I asked her if she minded taking her picture with me. 

Blogger with author Nancy Pearl

George & Lizzie is not your typical love story. While tales of opposites attracting (in this case an optimist and a pessimist - George and Lizzie respectively) are not unusual, George and Lizzie have a lot more going on. Lizzie has two big secrets that she's keeping from George, as well as a host of other issues that stem from her unusual childhood - having been raised by her aloof Behavioral Psychologist parents Lydia and Mendel. Lizzie is bemused by George's desire to help her see the world through a lens of hope, but pushes back at every turn.

George's optimism ultimately makes him famous on the public-speaking circuit. 
in George's world there were no tragedies; rained-out picnics, famine in China, lost library books, monsoons in Bali, divorce, children drinking at ten, mainlining heroin at twelve, and dead at fifteen...In his world there were no irretrievable bad choices or wrong turns. Each one was, instead, an Opportunity for Growth...
The next time I hear a student complain about having to pay I fine I will remind them that it is simply an opportunity for growth...

Lizzie is a library user from a young age. She liked the little library at her kindergarten where "Lizzie's whole class went for an hour two mornings every week". Lizzie's parents insisted that Shelia, her babysitter, take her on outings to "ballets, museums, libraries, operas, theaters, and planetariums" rather than places like the Bowlarama. I would suggest that there should be room in a child's life for the Bowlarama and its ilk along with the the more culturally entertaining places. Libraries, of course, are fun, and Shelia helped make them so by checking out books "that she loved when she was Lizzie's age". Shelia also took Lizzie on four-leaf clover hunts. "Lizzie never met anyone who could find four-leaf clovers like Shelia could". This is probably only because she has never met me! My prowess for finding the rare vegetation has led me to deem myself "The World's Greatest Four-Leaf Clover Finder".

Something Lizzie and I have in common is that we were both born on a Wednesday. Lizzie found the poem "Monday's child" in a library book and after reading it understood was why she was "full of woe". I remember reading that poem for the first time, and my father showing my brother, sister and I how to use the perpetual calendar in the phone book to find out what day of the week we were born on. Like Lizzie I was rather displeased with my lot. As Lizzie realizes it would have been better to have been born on a Tuesday or Friday. 

One of Lizzie's favorite library books was Bonny's Boy about a cocker spaniel and "after searching for years, she finally found herself a copy at a book sale run by the Ann Arbor Public Library".

As a high schooler she goes to the library to read up on football in preparation for something she refers to as "The Great Game" - a game which ultimately becomes one of her big secrets. She also read a lot of teen romance novels from the library where she learned about dating, but was also left with a lot of questions about sex.

In college Lizzie uses the UGLI (Undergraduate Library at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor) to study with her boyfriend Jack (who becomes her other secret) and then takes a job there there "shelving books, all of which looked frightfully uninteresting" in an attempt to take her mind off the fact that Jack left for the summer and seemed to have forgotten about her. In fact, he never returns to school. Jack's "ghosting" of Lizzie is what makes her use of the library as an adult so pathetically sad. Although Lizzie tells George she does "nothing much" with her days, the truth is she spends them at the library "trying to find Jack using the public library's collection of telephone books". Traveling with George provides her with opportunities to visit other libraries and look at their phone book collections as well. Of course today Lizzie could probably reconnect with her old flame within seconds by searching for him on Facebook, or Googling him, but George and Lizzie's story takes place in a magical time called the nineties, a time when a public library's phone book collection was well used. I know because I worked in a public library in the 1990s. We would field calls from people all over the country asking if we had a phone book for a certain city, and if so they'd ask us to look up a phone number for them.

James and I read this out loud together. It was a good read aloud for us as we reminisced about the nineties, and laughed out loud. It also had regular breaking points so we were always able to find a stopping point.

A must-read for all librarians. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Little Fires Everywhere - by Celeste Ng

The first time I heard of Shaker Heights, Ohio was in 1987. I was temping in an office in downtown Baltimore, sending surveys to the company's clients. I remember typing "Shaker Heights, Ohio" onto an envelope and wondering where it was in relation to Oxford, Ohio - the college town to which I was about to move (216 miles, BTW). After I moved to Ohio I heard a lot more about Shaker Heights, a wealthy suburb of Cleveland from whence a fair number of students who attended Miami University of Ohio (one of the so-called "public ivies") hailed.

Developed as a planned community, Shaker Heights has some rather strict zoning laws, and for resident Elena Richardson the orderly layout of the city mirrors the careful planning of her own life: education, marriage, job, children. She didn't count on her youngest child, Izzy, to be a black sheep, and likewise never dreamed of the disruption that her new neighbor, Mia and Mia's daughter Pearl, would bring into her life.

As I wrote in my Stepford Wives post some years ago "you can't have a perfect town, if it doesn't have a library". Shaker Heights of course has a public library - a safe place to which teenager can ride a bike alone, or that offers a convenient lie as to his whereabouts; where an artist can find a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt; where an adoptive mother can take her infant to story hour; or a social worker can arrange a visit for the birth mother of that same baby to have a court-ordered visitation. The public library in Ng's books functions as all of these.

Shaker Heights' excellent schools also have libraries, of course, and attorney Ed Lim knew that there were very few books with Asian characters to be found in them, one exception being The Five Chinese Brothers which Lim's daughter checked out in second grade and had caused her to return "home deeply troubled". Ng's story takes place in the late 1990s, a time when emphasis on diversity in schools was just emerging, before people "would talk about books as mirrors and windows".

Teenager Pearl has spent her whole life traveling with her artist mother from place to place, sometimes moving twice a year and "had spent most of her childhood in libraries, taking refuge among the shelves as a new girl bouncing from school to school, absorbing books as if they were air".

The fact that libraries are often places of stability and comfort can belie the fact that they can also be places of controversy. Is the library really a good place to have a supervised visit? What books are appropriate for young people to read, and what should be the fate of those that are troubling?

There is definitely a shake up in Shaker Heights.