Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Malinche - by Laura Esquivel

Since I started this blog I have read a few books that, although they were good, received no mention here because they did not include any references to libraries or librarians. Two of these were about slavery. One was historic fiction, Copper Sun by Sharon Draper, and the other was a contemporary memoir, Slave: My True Story, by Mende Nazer. I did not expect to find any libraries in these books about people who had no access to them. Furthermore, I did not expect that Esquivel's historical novel about La Malinche would be making a appearance here. La Malinche (aka Dona Marina, and Mallinalli), was a young Aztec woman in the 16th century who was both a lover and slave to Hernan Cortes during the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Her role as translator between the Spanish conquistadores and the Aztec's is explored, and deconstructed. The novel does not refer to libraries in the sense that modern readers know them, especially given that the Aztecs were a pre-literate society, however, preservation of knowledge is an important theme in this work, and codices, the pictograms that the Aztecs used for record keeping are not only represented at the beginning of each chapter, and inside the book's jacket, Malinche creates them. I was also struck by this passage, which resonated with me in the face of the Occupy Movement and the destruction of the Occupy Library (see my November 17 post). Here, Malinche as translator ("The Tongue" ) realizes how much control she weilded as the only one who spoke both Nahutl and Spanish
Never before had she felt what it was like to be in charge. She soon found that whoever controls information, whoever controls meaning, acquires power. And she discovered that when she translated, she controlled the situation, and not only that but that words could be weapons. The finest of weapons.
My Spanish-teacher self must also make an appearance here to extol the virtues of learning more than one language.

Codex of Malinche and Hernan Cortes from the late 16th century codex History of Tlaxcala.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How did I miss this? American Censorship Day.

My American Libraries Direct arrives in my e-mail box every Wednesday evening, so I usually do not read it until I come to work on Thursday. It turns out Wednesday was American Censorship Day. The day was chosen asone that that the Congress holds hearings on the  first American Internet Censorship System.

It Can't Happen Here...

Oh, yes, it can.
When Zuccotti Park was cleared by police on November 15, the People's Library at Occupy Wall Street was not only torn down, its materials were destroyed. Although librarians were told they would be able to recover the books, laptops and other archives, when they went to the sanitation depot to retreive the items they found most of them unusable. Some of these were original documents that cannot be replaced. Threats to our free access to information cannot be ignored. Kudos to the librarians and protesters who immediately began to rebuild. Read more from the American Library Association.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The View from Lazy Point - by Carl Safina

Back in January, my husband, James, wrote on his Environmental Geography blog about an interview he heard on NPR with conservationist and author Carl Safina. Safina was discussing his new book, subtitled "a natural year in an unnatural world". I commented on his post: "Looks like we have another 'year of' book to read together". Shortly thereafter, the book arrived from amazon.com. We began reading it last winter, and finished it last night, fitting since it is Family Literacy Month in Massachusetts. The title of the book refers to the place on Long Island, New York where the author lives. Traveling from his Lazy Point base on six different occasions during the year, to the points in the tropics, the arctic and the antarctic, and others, Safina's elegant prose is used to describe the devastating effects of global climate change, not just in his home, but all over the world. We learn that permafrost is perhaps not so permanent, and that rising tides in Palau threaten the taro crop, the island's staple food.

Safina's inimitable writing style makes poetry out of nasal discharge: 
Here is a comely cow (that's of the seal, not bovine variety), her face full of snot, inhaling the wallow's acrid, urine-scented air with one nostril dilated round, the other closed tight. The muscles that operate the that mighty nostril can shut the schoz tight against the sea.
And who would have thought to take Adam Smith's economic metaphor to this level:
Thus, the "invisible hand" of the market pleasures itself by working with its eyes closed. It's an unsavory business that, in the end, cannot bear fruit. That knock on our door is from our externalized, exhausted land, waters, air, our very bodies.
As if all this weren't enough to make a great work, Safina even invokes libraries on two occasions. In one case he illustrates the importance of being well-read, and of life-long learning, as well as the dividends it might provide when he describes is colleague Rob van Woeskik:
He started as a commercial fisherman and followed his curiosity along a winding path that took him to academia. He spent eight years as a professor in Japan, earning him such respect from his colleagues that a retiring professor bequeathed him his entire personal library, including books two centuries old.
 But the true tribute to libraries comes early in the book. Safina questions those who might say that losing some species of animals doesn't matter, because, after all we can live without them.

Hell yes it matters. Don't let anyone suggest it doesn't matter because people can live without them (extinct species). People can-and most do-live perfectly well without computers, refrigerators, the Winter Olympics, plumbing, libraries, concert halls, museums, and ibuprofen. Whether things are worthwhile for survival or whether they help make survival worthwhile are two quite different things. Whether we "need" them, is a dull and uninteresting question. Need? We never needed to lose our living endowment, our inheritance.
This was a wonderful book to share with my husband. We took many opportunities to discuss what we read, and were enlightened to some of the truly ravaging effects our comfortable American lifestyle wreaks upon others. Safina's work is thought provoking and has caused me to take another step in my own efforts at conservation.

James also posted about this book upon our completion of it. See his post here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

52 Loaves - by William Alexander

As a foodie, and a librarian, I have kept several blogs. My first foray into blogging was a year-long project called My Year of Reading "Year Of" books  in which I commented on books that came from projects such as Alexander's: a one year memoir, or "stunt lit". In this work Alexander documents his efforts in baking one loaf of bread a week for one year. Since my own year-of stunt, er, project  is over, though, (having taken place in 2009) I could not write about this work on that blog. I think when I requested this book from interlibrary loan, I intended to review it on my food blog: "Una Nueva Receta Cada Semana (One New Recipe a Week)" but it lost its spot there as soon as I saw the word "library" used for the first time, which was in the Prologue, on page 2! Alexander describes explaining to a TSA official why he is bringing a sourdough starter, which looks suspiciously like a plastic explosive, onto a plane to Paris. "A thirteen-hundred-year-old monastery in France is expecting this...[t]hey managed to keep science, religion, and the arts alive during the Dark Ages, even risking their lives to protect their library (emphasis mine) from the barbarians who burned everything else in sight. After thirteen centuries, though, they've forgotten how to make bread." Well, there we have it. Libraries are more important than bread. I always knew as much, as clearly the monks did as well. This of course made any other mention of libraries in the work anti-climactic, but in the interest of being complete I include them all here.

It was a good 130 pages later that libraries were mentioned for the second time (to be honest I was beginning to despair that I'd see them again in this work). I was pleased though to see that the author thoughtfully brought a loaf of bread to the librarian at his research institute along with "a long list of interlibrary loan requests" - a nice gesture to someone who is, undoubtedly, underpaid. I did not have to wait nearly as long to find the next mention of libraries: a mere 12 pages later Alexander explains that although he really tried to like one of my favorite books, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which he was listening to on CD, he found it "stilted, pedantic, and preachy" and "with genunie horror" realized that his writing was becoming too much like Persig's (at which point he "slammed the lid on the CD case and returned it to the library"). It is a bit ironic, then, that one of the pull quotes on the back of the edition I read says "[w]hat Zen and the Art of Motorcycle  Maintenance did for, well, motorcycles, William Alexander's 52 Loaves will do for bread...." The monastery's library makes a reprise when Alexander finds himself there, and again, explains the importance of preservation of knowledge, and once more when one of the monks informs Alexander that the monastery's library has a signed copy of Patrick Leigh Fermor's memoir A Time to Keep Silence.

These few, though thoughtfully chosen, references to libraries demonstrate yet again the importance of these hallowed institutions in our lives.

I cannot close this post without writing about one other very important thing: coffee. I almost gagged when I read that the monastery used instant coffee, and worse, that our hero was prepared to drink it except that the hot water dispenser "hadn't yet been switched on." Please folks, don't try this at home. See my husband's "Caring for Coffee" page if you want a cup of joe. Perhaps what Alexander did for the monks with bread, James can do with coffee. I don't think I'd mind a trip to Normandy.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

One Book One Community

Since 2006 I have been on Bridgewater's One Book One Community steering committee, a partnership with members from the University, public schools, public library, and other town organizations. We select books for community-wide reading programs and plan events in conjunction with the themes of the books. The Journal of Library Innovation just published an article I wrote about my experiences doing this rewarding work.

Students at Dartmouth (MA) High School find web-blocking software too restrictive

A recent survey of students at Dartmouth High School in southeastern Massachusetts showed that 89% had been stymied in their research by Fortiguard, the web-blocking software installed on the school's computers. In order to comply with the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) schools and libraries that wish to receive certain E-rate discounts on technology must block or filter certain types of websites considered to be harmful to minors. Students have been frustrated to find sites such as National Public Radio (NPR), and the BBC, among other legitimate news and organization sites, blocked by the software. Teachers can request that individual sites be unblocked, but the request can take 24 hours to fulfill.

See the full article in the Spectrum, Dartmouth High School's student newspaper.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

November is...

Neutral2_100_100_whiteNational Novel Writing Month
Take the challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days!
Get support from others doing the same.
Also find out about 6 Great Novels Written in a Month or Less

MFLCMassachusetts Family Literacy Month
Read together! Enough said.