Wednesday, March 22, 2017

El hijo - por Alejandro Palomas

I have blogged occasionally about children's books in Spanish, or bilingual English/Spanish books, but it has been a long time since I read a whole novel in Spanish. When I saw that the last name of the author of this award-winning book was "Palomas" I really had no choice but to read it. Paloma is the Spanish word for dove. It is also the name of my wonderful, artistic daughter.

This is the story of an enigmatic young boy, Guille, who lives with his father. His mother, a flight attendant, has been away for over a year. His only communication with her comes in the form of weekly letters. When Guille tells his teacher that he wants to be Mary Poppins when he grows up he is referred to a counselor, María, who helps him solve some mysteries he wasn't even aware of.

Regular readers know that it only takes one mention of the word "library" (or in the case of this book "biblioteca") to earn a post on this blog. Guille uses the map in his school library to find the distance between Pakistan (from whence his friend Nazia hails) and Dubai (where his mother is).

I learned some new Spanish vocabulary reading this: most notably ojeras (the bags under one's eyes); and mirilla (peephole).

This book is the winner of the Premio Joaquim Ruyra, and Spain's 2016 Premio Nacional de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil.

Paloma de Palabras

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Public Library and Other Stories - by Ali Smith

I brought this book with me to jury duty on Monday. I arrived about 20 minutes early, went through security, and was directed to wait on a bench. I sat down, opened the book for the first time, and by the time I was called in had read the first story. The rest of the small jury pool and I were led to another room to await further instructions. I was interested to see that most of my companions that morning had also brought something (mostly books) to read. The rest of the morning passed rather uneventfully. We watched a short orientation video, and occasionally a court officer would let us know what was happening with the day's docket, but mostly we were left to read in the blissful library-like quiet of the jury room. Eventually, at 11:00, we were informed that no juries would be needed that day and we could all go home. At that point I had read almost half the book. The next day snow storm Stella closed the University where I work and so I had a day to catch up with my blogging and reading. I finished Smith's book and started another.

The funny thing about this collection is that there is no one story in it actually called "Public Library". However, The stories alternate with pieces of memories, reminiscences, and histories of libraries elicited by the author from acquaintances and strangers alike.  The stories themselves rarely mention libraries. Word play, books as touchstone, and literary allusion are all, however, what make up the mood of this work. Reading this while sitting in silence with my discerning fellow jurors left me with a feeling of connection along with a sense of the energy we still get from books and reading, and knowing that libraries still matter.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Brave New World - by Aldous Huxley

A few weeks ago I read an article by Margaret Atwood explaining why we should all read Brave New World at which point I realized I had no choice but to look it up in the catalog of the library where I worked, find the call number, walk up the two flights of stairs to retrieve it, and check it out.

The brave new world described in the book is painted as a "utopia", but readers easily see it for the dystopia that it is. Humans are created, rather than born, each to a specific caste (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, or Epsilon) for which they are programmed to believe is better than the others. Everyone is happy with their lot, and regularly provided drugs and sex to keep them happy. Everyone also knows that "everyone belongs to everyone else". Worst of all books are censored.

 We learn early on that Deltas are conditioned to hate books. (Presumably this is true of Epsilons, and perhaps Gammas as well). This was because "you couldn't have lower-caste people wasting the Community's time over books, and that there was always the risk of their reading something which might undesirably decondition one of their reflexes". While not verboten for the upper-castes, books are still considered a waste because "you can't consume much if you sit still and read books." And even at Eton (where you can find the Alpha Double Pluses) the library "contains only books of reference. If...young people need distraction, they can get it at the feelies."

Ultimately we learn what is almost always true about those who would keep certain books from others - that those in charge have access to all of them. The censors believe that they alone can handle the information within. The masses simply cannot understand them, and those who might understand may be attracted to them, and then might not like the new things the controllers want them to like.

In the end the propaganda of the Brave New World isn't so new. The same rhetoric has been around for centuries, and still continues today.

Friday, March 10, 2017

La Doctora: An American Doctor in the Amazon - by Linnea Smith, M.D.

After a vacation to the Explorarama Lodge in Iquitos, Peru in 1990 Dr. Linnea Smith gave up her medical practice in Wisconsin to provide care for the people who lived in the Peruvian Amazon. Over an eight-year period her practice in Peru grew from a single exam room in the Lodge with some basic medicines to a multi-room hospital equipped for surgery. She also trained a local community member, Juvencio, to be her assistant. When she noticed the slowness with which Juvencio wrote up patient notes she was reminded that Juvencio's
formal education had extended only through the six grades of primary school, in the one-room, libraryless school down by the river. Since that time, ten years earlier, he written virtually nothing except, in rare intervals when he was employed, his signature on paychecks.
Nevertheless, Juvencio became quite skilled at practicing medicine
capable of examining a patient and reaching a diagnosis...prescribing and administering an appropriate medicine whether oral, intramuscular, or even intravenous, and explaining the necessary follow-up for 80-90 percent of ...cases...
Well, so much for the importance of libraries (or medical degrees, for that matter)!

Smith did bring with her to the Amazon what she called "a reference library in miniature" which consisted of a PDR (Physician's Desk Referenence)...;a small general medical reference; and a tiny looseleaf notebook in which [she] had accumulated ten years' worth of "pearls"...

This was a good read, with just enough of therapeutic drama to keep it interesting without being distressing.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Mary Harman, Mary Hartman - the television show, Season one episodes 1-9

Back in the mid 1970s, two soap opera spoofs aired that pushed the limits of parody. Soap was a weekly, prime time show that my whole family enjoyed watching. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman really went a step further, a daily show that aired during a regular daytime drama slot. The show, however, was far from regular. The usual melodrama found on a soap was compounded and all sets, characters, and scripts were exaggerated. The title character, played by Louise Lasser, represented a suburban housewife in a blue collar family who, in addition to facing the usual stresses of marriage and raising a pre-teen daughter, also confronts the challenges of a mass murderer in the neighborhood, an exhibitionist grandfather, and a host of other problems.

The show is really quite sophisticated in its humor, and without a laugh track the audience is left on its own to figure out what is funny. Exaggerations and stereotypes comprise much of the farce. Re-watching the show now, four decades since it first aired, I commented to my husband that the sets look less like they were created in the '70s and more like they were created in the '90s to look like the '70s. That's quite a trick! Librarian stereotypes are, of course, some of my favorite things to write about, and this show managed to represent two different librarian clichés over two episodes. Episode five ends with our heroine receiving a phone call from a short, bespectacled, older, bun-headed, shusher-type (Iris Korn) informing her that the books she wanted had come in. She goes on to read the titles out loud, all of which fall along the lines of  'Your Orgasm and You', and other sexual self-help titles. The start of the following episode finds Mary arriving at the library to find a rather effeminate male librarian (Ken Olfson) behind the desk. She asks to speak to the "lady librarian" but is informed that she has left. While Mary pretends that the stack of martial aids that were set aside are not really for her, the librarian pretends that he simply cannot check them out to her since they were set aside for someone else. Ultimately Mary manages to wrest the books away from the library and bring them home, where they almost become another character in the story. Mary's husband Tom (Greg Mullavey) is embarrassed when a friend from work notices the books in the kitchen. Tom confronts Mary about them, and is incensed when she doesn't immediately return them from whence they came.

There is practically enough material here to write an entire Master's Degree thesis.

There are two more discs of episodes coming to my mailbox from Netflix. If there is any more drama about libraries or library books you will find out here.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Perfect Little World - by Kevin Wilson

Nine couples, all of whom are expecting their first child, as well as a single expectant mother, Izzy, are chosen by Dr. Preston Grind to be the guinea pigs for the Infinite Family Project. All ten infants are to be raised collectively in a communal living situation, with all 19 parents having equal responsibility for all of the children.

The people who comprise the Infinite Family Project are well aware that they live in a bubble. Bubbles, of course, are formed by tension, and those who live and work in the Infinite Family Project are no strangers to tension. The seemingly infinite number of interpersonal relationships are enough to begin with, add to that tensions around parenting issues when 19 parents are involved, and the inevitable sexual tensions, it is a wonder that the bubble doesn't pop sooner than it does.

Of course one cannot have a "perfect little world" without a library, and the Infinite Family Project does meet this specification. And, in fact, the Chattanooga Public Library plays a role in putting the Family together in the first place. It is where Dr. Grind's assistants meet and interview the Project's potential participants. There are childhood library memories woven into the story as well.

One of the benefits to joining the Infinite Family Project is that all participants receive full funding for educational tuition or job training. One member of the Family, Nikisha, opts to use this perk by getting a Master of Library Science degree from Middle Tennessee State University. Ultimately, she becomes the library director at Rhodes College.

Like the characters in Wilson's The Family Fang the members of the Infinite Family realize that they live in a surreal world, and are not quite sure how to contextualize it. Nevertheless, they manage to make the best of the situation, even when things turn out to be less than perfect.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

March (Books 1,2, &3) - by Lewis, Aydin, and Powell

Representative John Lewis won the National Book Award for Book Three in this series. I recommend reading all of them. This graphic novel series follows Lewis through his childhood on an Alabama farm and his struggle to become educated (even by defying his own family) to his civil rights work during the 1950s & 60s with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to the historic march with Martin Luther King, Jr., and hundreds of other protesters, from Montgomery, Alabama to Selma, Alabama in March of 1965. Later that year President Johnson would sign the Voting Rights Act ensuring access to the vote for African Americans from whom it had been denied.

Books 1 & 3 of the series make specific mention of libraries. Book One gives us the story of Lewis' childhood. He tells how he "loved going the library. It was the first time I ever saw Black magazines like Jet, Ebony, The Baltimore Afro-American, or the Chicago Defender". He gives shout out to librarian Careen Harvey who told her young charges "My Dear Children, Read. Read Everything."

Book 3 tells us that when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed that, among other things, "it ended segregation in public schools, libraries, and parks".

The poignancy of these two points in the story is magnified when one listens to Lewis' acceptance of the National Book Award.