Monday, December 29, 2014

2030 - by Albert Brooks



After a rather dry spell of reading four books in a row without libraries, I was beginning to think that I would not be blogging about this one either, but about 50 pages before the end of this 374 page work I came upon the one and only mention of a library. And really it was just the idea of a library. As first-lady Betsy Bernstein  prepares to make her husband the first president to become divorced while in office, advisor John Van Dyke talks to her about her decision to leave. Will she stay through this term? "...eighteen months even living separately, is going to be difficult. I offer no guarantees" she answers. Van Dyke realizes she is pretty serious but can do "nothing more than make a joke. 'So fund-raising for his library is out of the question?'"

So, not much of a library book, but I do believe it is the first time I've blogged about a presidential library.

The story itself was pretty good. It takes place in the summer of the year 2030, a world in which cancer and obesity have been virtually eradicated, allowing people to live longer than ever. The "olds" (as the younger generation refers to those over 70) have become the new scapegoats, with the young people believing they are sucking all of the resources from them. It is also the year when "the big one" finally hits Los Angeles. The destruction and devastation of the 9.1 earthquake are so severe that not only are there not enough government resources to rebuild, the United States is unable to borrow the trillions of dollars needed from other countries. This isn't so much of a dystopian novel, though. More of a satire.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Fantastic Holiday Season: The Gift of Stories - edited by Kevin J. Anderson and Keith Olexa


This collection of sci-fi short stories all have a holiday theme, and all wrap up with an appropriately upbeat ending, although some of them take a rather harrowing journey to get there. None of them have any action actually taking place in a library, although three of them did mention the use of a library. In Brad Torgersen's "Astronaut Nick" young Jimmy learns from his school library that the filth inside of a chimney was "equivalent to a spaceship exhaust". Leo, in Nina Kiriki Hoffman's "Close Knit", spends some time in the library reading magazines, and looking at apartment ads, to avoid "the return to his parent's house as long as possible". And at a Hogwart's-like boarding school created by Mercedes Lackey in "The Longest Night" student Vickie Nagy, while sad to not be with her parents over the Christmas break, realizes it won't be so bad as she will "have full access to the school library and other magical amenities" while enjoying the "really posh Guest Quarters".

My favorite story was the last one - "Unappreciated Gifts" by Patricia Biggs, about a heterosexual werewolf set up on a blind date with a gay "fake" vampire. Alas, no libraries though.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Anno Dracula - by Kim Newman


This novel, set in Victorian England about vampires, and "warm" bodies coexisting also brings together the lives of historical figures and literary characters. The story is about the search for the legendary Jack the Ripper who is killing vampire prostitutes with his silver knife. There are cameo appearances by Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, Mycroft Holmes, Beatrice Potter, H.G. Wells, and Dr. Jekyll among many others. It is worth reading just to find the literary allusions, although the only library in the book is the personal library of the spy Charles Beauregard.

An annotation appears at the end of the narrative as a key to all the literary characters.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Unfamiliar Fishes - by Sarah Vowell


I think I first learned about the missionaries who left Massachusetts almost 200 years ago to go to Hawaii from my e-mail subscription to MassMoments which provides me with a daily bit of trivia from my adopted home state. I have enjoyed listening to Sarah Vowell on NPR for at least two decades. My husband and I have also read some of her other books out loud together. Such was the case with Unfamiliar Fishes.

Ms. Vowell is tireless in her research. She visits Hawaiian landmarks, museums, and libraries in her quest to tell Hawaii's history. Her travels take her to the Mission Houses Museum's library where she reads the letters and diaries left behind by New England missionaries. The Mission Houses Museum is a complex of homes where the original missionaries lived - huts made out of tufted pili grass.
In his memoir Hiram Bingham wrote, "A house thus thatched assumes the appearance of a long hay stack." Fitting that a pious expedition first envisioned at the Haystack Meeting in Massachusetts  would find New England missionaries holed up in thatched homes in Polynesia-much to Hiram Bingham's dismay. "Such houses," he grumbled, "are ill adapted to promote health of body, vigor of intellect, neatness of person, food, clothing or lodging, and much less, longevity. They cannot be washed, scoured, polished, or painted." They are no place, he continued, "for the security of valuable writings, books, or treasures." He would be relieved to learn that some day the mission descendants would build a climate-controlled library next door to care for (and lock up) his and his fellows' writings.
Fun Fact:
The Hiram Bingham to which she refers in the above is the grandfather of the Hiram Bingham credited with "discovering" Machu Picchu in 1911

Also at the Mission Houses Museum, she meets librarian Laurel Douglass, alumna of the Punahou School (the same school from which President Barak Obama graduated).
Within about a minute of the librarian from the Hawaiian Historical Society introducing us she (Douglass) was rifling through a thick folder of papers to show me her morning's research. She had been reading the diary of Moses, a student at the school who was a grandson of Kamehameha I.
Vowell quickly realizes, however, that Douglass is not just doing your "garden-variety" genealogical research.
The way she talks about Moses and his schoolmates speaks to her interest in uncovering truth about her forebears. Like any genealogical researcher, her blood pressures rises a bit when she sees Amos Cooke's name in print; in her case it is because she despises Cooke for beating the royal children with a whip.
Douglass also tells Vowell that she lived in Reno, Nevada for a while working as a blackjack dealer - "the worst blackjack dealer Harrah's ever turned out" in fact.

The book includes quite a bit of information about the hula, and its history, and the fact that the missionaries found it rather distasteful. The dance that is now almost synonymous with Hawaii, was actually outlawed at one point in its history when Queen Kaahumanu converted to Christianity. It was brought back to the culture of the islands by Kalakaua who celebrated his coronation with two weeks of festivities, during which "hula performances were featured prominently."

Vowell goes on to connect the censoring of the dance to the censoring of words. She quotes John-Mario Sevilla
When he placed the hula at the center of his coronation, Kalkakua made a significant gesture to the past, which is where Hawaiians traditionally looked for truth and meaning, in the face of rapid contemporary change. By challenging the foreign shame of the hula, he popularized and, therefore, politicized it. It's as if he decided to write and publish books after all the libraries had been burned. (emphasis mine).
The censorship connection was more than just metaphorical, however,
A missionary descendant, William R. Castle, held on to his forebears' disdain for the art form and insisted that the printers who published the coronation program of the hula chants be arrested for obscenity. One of the issues was the inclusion of hula ma'i, the traditional songs praising a chief's genitals. Noenoe Silva points out that the sexuality of these hula was meaningful to the king and his people because the natives "had suffered depopulation caused by epidemics of foreign disease and also by childlessness".
I am again reminded of an important lesson I learned in my library school days: there is something to offend everyone, and everyone is offended by something.

My husband also blogged about this book when we finished reading it last night. His post can be found here.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Cold Case to Case Closed : Lizbeth Borden: My Story - by Rich Little and Beverly Folstad


Living in Massachusetts has piqued my interests in several things. One is the Salem witch trials, another is the Lizzie Borden ax murder case. Of course the jump rope rhyme about Lizzie Borden is well known, and I have seen at least two movies about the crime. I watched The Legend of Lizzie Borden starring Elizabeth Montgomery when it first aired on television in 1975, and more recently Lizzie Borden Took an Ax with Christina Ricci in the title role. We have also toured the Borden home in Fall River, which is now run as a (creepy) B & B. This is the first book I have read about her though. Our town's One Book One Community Committee is considering this self-published work for the spring 2015 read. Although it is subtitled "My Story" only some of the sections of this work are from Lizzie Borden's point of view. Much of it is a factual retelling of what was known, police reports, and how the trial played out. These parts of the work read like any other "true crime" book. I was, personally, much more entertained by the sections of the book that comprised the imagined words of Miss Borden. And I was especially interested in learning how important her library card was to her while she was imprisoned
In my ten months at Taunton (prison), there was seldom another woman incarcerated; the result was a very quiet environment. I spent my time reading, one of my favorite pastimes. When Emma came in on the train to visit every week, she always brought fresh reading materials. The Taunton Free library was only two blocks away; they issued me a library card which I still cherish. While shopping for jail supplies and provisions, Mrs. Wright would pick up several newly published books from the library each week.
I can only imagine that without the solace Miss Borden found in reading that her time in prison would have been akin to solitary confinement - alone with only her thoughts day after day. Books are our friends.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Year of Meats - by Ruth Ozeki


Jane is a documentary filmmaker who lives in New York City. Akiko is a housewife in Tokyo. Both are being abused by the same man: Joichi "John" Ueno who is Akiko's husband and Jane's boss. Jane is working with John on a television program for the Japanese market called My American Wife! which features a different wife preparing a different meat-based recipe each week. John insists that Jane only scout out "wholesome" white families, and insists that Akiko make each "recipe of the week". As Jane learns more about the beef industry (the sponsor of the show) she begins to subvert the message. The diverse families she showcases also provide Akiko with some new ideas for changing her own life.

The story takes place in 1991, a time before the internet, or e-mail. Communication was done by telephone or fax, and research was done at the library. Jane speaks of going to her hometown public library as a child to research her perfect mate. As the daughter of a Japanese mother and a white father she wanted to produce an offspring who "embodied the United Nations"
In my early teens when Polly and the the other girls were assembling ideal boyfriends from the body parts of teen movie idols and lead guitarists, I was conjuring a mate along very different lines. The way I figured it, I had the chance to make a baby who could one day be King of the World...I went to the Quam (Minnesota) Public Library and looked up "The Races of Men" in an old Frye's geography book
The passages she goes on to describe, written in 1902, are certainly racist by today's standards, which is one reason she feels justified in removing Frye's book from the same library when she returns as an adult.
Call it censorship, but on that trip home to visit Ma after the Bukowsky show, I stole Frye's Grammar School Geography from the public library. It was the least I could do for the children of Quam.
Ah, the rallying cry of the censor! 'I must protect others from this book from which I, myself, do not need protection. I have the knowledge and the critical thinking abilities to handle this work, but alas others do not.'

She continues with her other reason for taking the book
But to be perfectly honest, I wanted the book, and it's not the kind of thing you can easily pick up at a Barnes & Nobel superstore. It felt like antique pornography to me, with its musty old text, quaint etchings, and poisonous thoughts. From time to time I still pore over its stained chamois-soft pages, satisfying my documentarian's prurient interest in the primary sources of the past.
She has no concern for other researchers who might also want the book for the same reasons she does. My advice to those who question what a particular book is doing in a library is to ask a librarian about it.  It might be that the the horribly understaffed library has not been able to take on a "weeding" project to remove outdated materials, or that books are still available as primary sources for researchers. Perhaps a case could be made that Frye's work no longer belonged in the children's department, but that does not necessarily mean that it should be removed from the library entirely, perhaps it should simply be moved to the archives.

Grammar School Geography by Alexis Everett Frye is a real book. You can read the whole thing here.

This was a good read, with a lot of disturbing information about the beef industry, feedlots, and hormones. Ozeki skillfully weaves many different themes together, as well as several story lines.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Frankenstein - by Mary Shelley


Every once in a while I feel the need to read a classic piece of literature. Over Halloween weekend I decided the time was ripe to finally read Frankenstein. It is always interesting to read things that have become such a part of popular culture only to discover what is NOT in them. Just as Dorothy does not have red shoes in the original Wizard of Oz (they are silver in the book), and Count Dracula is not burned up by sunlight in Bram Stoker's classic work, indeed the Count walks around in broad daylight, I found several things "missing" from the original novel. There does not appear to be any character named "Igor", nor could I find any indication that Frankenstein's monster comes to life following an electrical storm. In fact, the creation of the monster in a very small part of the story, and Frankenstein spends virtually no time with his creation before it sets out on its own.

Libraries in this book were limited to personal libraries. There was also some information about the importance of lifelong learning and the scientific method as well.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Bulllspotting: Finding Facts in the Age of Misinformation - by Loren Collins


Heuristics - mental shortcuts that allow people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently... and allow people to function without constantly stopping to think about their next course of action. While heuristics are helpful in many situations, they can also lead to biases (from about education)

I've been working with one of the Psychology professors at my University for the last few years researching how students use heuristics in making choices about what to "click" when confronted with thousands of choices in a "Google" result list. Collins explains how we evolved to use heuristics and how the scientific method developed over a long period of time.

As a librarian who teaches Information Literacy (IL) this book wasn't so much "eye opening" for me as it was validation and clarification. Collins explores why people believe pseudo-science, rather than examining things via the scientific method (hint: it's easier and faster) and also how we can be more effective in our critical thinking in an age where false information can be sent around the world in a less than a day.

The author also looks at pseudo-history, and pseudo-law, explaining why "the crank in his basement...with a high school diploma [insists] that he understands American jurisprudence better than the Supreme Court."

I was reminded while reading the chapter on pseudo-law that the O.J. Simpson trial was taking place in 1995 while I was working in a public library. About once a week during the nine-month trial someone would call and ask how they could get in touch with Marcia Clark, the prosecutor in the case, always telling me they had some key information they needed to share with her.

There were a few specific mentions of libraries, but the interest in this one for librarians is less on where and how Collins refers to them, as it is on how librarians can better understand why and how our users are looking for information.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Eat Brains Love - by Jeff Hart



Slacker Jake is so embarassed when he turns into a zombie in the school cafeteria and then goes on a rampage and gobbles up his friends, but it turns out not to be so bad when he discovers that Amanda Blake, one of the most popular girls in school, has also turned and they get to go on the lam together. He is also baffled by the romantic attention he receives from Cass, a psychic teenage zombie hunter. Cass is equally confused by her attraction to Jake. A truly goofy teenage zombie love triangle.

The only play librarians get in this one is as a stereotype/metaphor. Remembering his life pre-zombie Jake recounts going to a club with his friend Adam.

The place was more crowded than we'd been expecting, and some dumb-ass band was playing, and there were all these chicks with tattoos and little black glasses hopping up and down and rocking out like it was GWAR...Adam was in heaven; he loves those alternative librarian types. Give him a girl with bangs, glasses and a tight little cardigan and he goes nuts. I lost him within minutes of stepping into the place.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - by Ransom Riggs


Using real vintage photographs Ransom Riggs creates an eerie story of time travel and creepy kids. Miss Peregrine's charges live in a "loop" in which it is always September 3, 1940. They are visited by Jacob, whose grandfather once lived among them. Jacob tells them about the future, and gives them the sad news that his grandfather, Abe, has died. Jacob discovers that he, too, is "peculiar" and learns that the stories his grandfather told him growing up (about kids with such gifts as the ability to levitate, and invisibility) were all true.

After Jacob witnesses his grandfather's death, and swears he saw a real monster kill him, Jacob's parents send him to Dr. Golan who recommends a visit to the library to see if he can make any sense of his grandfather's last words. He falls asleep over some of Ralph Waldo Emerson's writing, and wakes up screaming, upon which he is "unceremoniously ejected from the library."

Also at Dr. Golan's suggestion, Jacob and his father travel to Scotland to visit the place his grandfather lived. There he finds a library in Miss Peregrine's home. The first time it appears in the present day in an abandoned and bombed out building where "the creep of moisture had bowed the shelves into crooked smiles". He sees it again as it appeared in 1940 where it was in "a real classroom". He finds in the library the Map of Days (easy to find because it was "the largest one in the library").

A good spooky read for October. I plan to read the sequel.

Island Girls - by Nancy Thayer


Like Thayer's A Nantucket Christmas this is a story of family drama and redemption. Three women (Arden, Jenny, and Meg) all daughters of the same man (Rory Randall) but three different mothers must spend the summer together in his Nantucket home in order to inherit it. The three have reason to distrust each other, and when an old family mystery is solved their three mothers are also invited for a completely awkward family reunion.

While not the location of any of the action in the book, the Library is has its role as a place of escape. It was a place that Meg retreated to as a young girl after an altercation with her step-mother, and the three women clearly still appreciated the comfort and proximity of the library as adults as they continued to use it for books and movies all summer. Renewing her library card and checking out a mystery were some of the first things Arden did upon arrival on the island.

This was a simple escape novel. I do like that Thayer brings the women together in the end, rather than going for the cat fight.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Artemis Fowl - by Eoin Colfer



I'm not sure whether I liked this one or not. To be sure, the characters were rather unlikeable. I didn't really sympathize with any of them. I do, however, like a book with a lot of twists and turns, and one that doesn't always have a neat ending in which everyone gets what they deserve.  I also liked that the story hinged on getting and decoding a book (much the same way Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore did). It brings together my two passions of books and languages.

In this work, young Artemis Fowl, a prepubescent mastermind, finagles the fairy code book from an alcoholic gutter-dwelling fairy, and uses his new found knowledge to kidnap fairy Holly Short. The resulting negotiations involve centaurs, dwarves, trolls, and "a ton of gold".

Libraries were mentioned twice, although there were no actual libraries in the book. The fairy from whom Artemis procures the fairy code book originally tells him that she is a healer and has no book. "You want book, go to library" she admonishes him.

The other use of library was as a unit of measure. While it is not usual for a library to be used as a metaphor to denote a large amount of information (I write about this in one of the earliest posts on this blog), I have never considered that there would be a specific measure of this. But, it appears that magical folk have indeed created a system of measurement using libraries as a unit. Specifically we learn that 10 gigabytes equals "half a library." It would of course follow that 20 gigabytes of information is "in paper terms" a full library. So now we know.



Friday, October 3, 2014

The Public Library : A Photographic Essay - by Robert Dawson


Dawson's breathtaking photographs show both the good and the bad of public libraries. Pictures of economic disparity and closures are contrasted with those of  hope, whimsy, innovation, and determination. From the historic Carnegie libraries, to the large modern buildings that also serve as art galleries, to the trailers, to shared post office spaces these photographs show the importance of the public library to its community. Accompanying essays written by those who love libraries support Dawson's visual work. Stories of early colonists who burned books considered blasphemous, and librarians who guarded material, rather than allowing free exchange of ideas are balanced with those who keep libraries open despite shrinking budgets, ensure that all have access to books, and introduce young people to new ideas.

A visually stunning book.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key - by Jack Gantos



My husband and I are renting a house by the water for the fall and are spending our weekends there in blissful quiet and beauty. While walking in my temporary neighborhood last weekend I discovered a "Little Free Library" set up on one of the front lawns. I had heard about the LFL movement (and even "liked" one on Facebook) but had not before encountered any. I could hardly pass up an opportunity to take some new reading material, and was pleased to find Gantos' book, which I took back to my rental and read before the afternoon was over. A quick easy read about a boy who can't keep still, and gets in a lot of trouble. (Really, you shouldn't run with scissors)!  Joey very much wants to please his teachers, and can't understand why they think he's such a "pain". After all, he explains
...most of the time [he] wasn't even in the classroom. [He] was in the principal's office, or with the nurse, or...helping out in the library (emphasis mine), or cafeteria, or running laps on the playground.
Certainly, if he helps out in the library he can't be all that bad!

Little Free Library - Planter's Island MA

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fun Home - by Alison Bechdel

                                        



I first read about Bechdel's book earlier this year when I learned that the South Carolina State legislature was planning to cut $52,000 from the budget of the College of Charleston for using this work in its freshmen "College Reads" Program due to the homosexual themes of the work. Eventually a compromise was reached which allowed the College to keep its budget, but in a truly Orwellian move, the legislature required that the $52,000 be spent on materials that taught about the Constiution. More about the controversy and other attempts to ban this graphic novel can be found here.

Bechdel's graphic memoir tells of her childhood growing up in a funeral home in Pennsylvania with a closeted gay father. It also tells of her own awakening as a lesbian in college. Libraries played an important role for her. Bechdel tells both of working in her college library (putting bar codes on books) and of finding solace in the public library. She compares the lure of the books in the library to Odysseus' siren song. And learns that in the public library she can get the information she seeks without judgement. This may also be the first book I read that contains a poem about a library.

I decided to read this book for Banned Books Week since the focus this year is on graphic novels. When I searched for it on the iBooks store I discovered that it was only available in electronic format in Spanish. I was just about ready to look for a hard copy instead, and then I remembered that I speak Spanish! Some of the vocabulary presented a challenge for me, but I wasn't sorry to learn some interesting new words!

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Giver - by Lois Lowry

Banned Books Week 2014

This book is among those most frequently challenged according to the American Library Association's Top 100 List for the 1990s (#11) and 2000s (#23). It is the story of Jonas who is selected to become his community's "Receiver of Memories" and discovers that the perfectly controlled world he lives in has some dark secrets.

In researching why this book has been so often challenged I discovered this article which uses both the terms "utopian future society" and "dystopian future society" to describe the world of "sameness" created by Lowry. It is a world without poverty, hunger, or war - the "utopia" we see at the start of the novel. However, it is also a world devoid of color, sex,  love, or libraries - the dystopia we see as the novel progresses. I found it especially ironic that one of the objections to the work was that it includes a theme of  "sexual awakening" since the response to any sexual feelings in this dystopia is to squash them immediately. Depictions of euthanasia, and suicide, and "selective breeding" also are cited as reasons for challenging this book.While it is true that all of these things are treated in the work, they are secrets, clearly not things that are meant to be celebrated.

While there are books Jonas' world, each household only has the same few. Only the "Giver" and the "Receiver" know that there are others with much more information than anyone else can imagine.
...the most conspicuous difference was the books. In [Jonas'] own dwelling, there were the necessary reference volumes that each household contained: a dictionary, and the thick community volume which contained descriptions of every office, factory, building, and committee. And the Book of Rules, of course.
The books in his own dwelling were the only books that Jonas had ever seen. He had never known that other books existed.
But this room's walls were completely covered by bookcases, filled, which reached to the ceiling. There must have been hundreds -perhaps thousands- of books, their titles embossed in shiny letters.
This information is withheld from everyone else in the community, in order to protect them. This paternalistic belief is common among those who would ban books.

Lowry has this to say about banning The Giver
I think banning books is a very, very dangerous thing. It takes away an important freedom. Any time there is an attempt to ban a book, you should fight it as hard as you can. It’s okay for a parent to say, ‘I don’t want my child to read this book.’ But it is not okay for anyone to try to make that decision for other people. The world portrayed in The Giver is a world where choice has been taken away. It is a frightening world. Let’s work hard to keep it from truly happening.
Well said.

Watch Jeff Bridges, star of the movie The Giver read from Lowry's book in this Virtual Read Out for Banned Books Week

Thursday, September 25, 2014

All the Oz books - by L. Frank Baum


It took me a bit over a year to read all fourteen "Oz" books. Each was actually a pretty quick read, but I read other books in between. I immediately began to see certain similarities between this series and the Harry Potter books, beginning with the fact that both Harry and Dorothy live with their aunt and uncle and sometimes travel to a magical place. Both Harry and Dorothy encounter, and overcome, evil. A century after the Oz books were written we can also see a parallel in the anticipation that surrounded the publication of each of the Oz book with excitement that came with the release of each of J.K. Rowling's stories, and both sets of books have the same wide appeal across genders, and ages.  It is especially interesting to note the wide appeal of the Oz books as they were written as fantasy stories in which girls (Dorothy, Ozma, and Glinda) were the protagonists and the leaders, providing cause to question the conventional wisdom that boys won't read stories about girls. Even the wizard learned all his magic from Glinda.

While the only library in the Oz books was Glinda's personal library, it is noteworthy in that she had one especially important work : the Record Book "on the pages of which are constantly being printed a record of every event that happens in any part of the world, at exactly the moment it happens." She uses this for good only, but I really saw her, and her partner Ozma, as benevolent dictators. In conjunction with the Record Book, Ozma owned a "Magic Picture" in which she could see anything happening anywhere whenever she wanted. Only Glinda, the Wizard, and Ozma were legally allowed to make magic in the land of Oz. Others knew how, but were not allowed to use it. Whenever Ozma found out about someone else using magic she immediately went to quash it, with faithful Dorothy along to help explain the laws.

In the 1960s there developed a theory about these books, that they were a populist allegory. Although there does seem to be ample evidence of this, it is probably not the case. It was most likely written simply as a fairy tale, although I must say that Ozma's spying and Glinda's data collection seemed to predict some contemporary news stories as well!

One other similarity between the Oz books and the Harry Potter books is that both series had their censors. (Read my Harry Potter Banned Book post here). In a true twist on book banning, however, it was librarians themselves who often kept the Oz books off library shelves until the 1960s, believing the fantasy aspect of the books was "unhealthy" for children.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

50 Shades of Grey - by E L James



Coming in at number four on the list of most frequently challenged books of 2013 James' books have caused quite a bit of controversy for its theme of sexual bondage and domination. Most works that show up on the New York Times bestseller list will be purchased by public libraries without any librarians reading them first to determine if they are good enough. If there is a clear demand, they are purchased. There is no doubt about the demand for the "50 Shades" trilogy (which also includes 50 Shades Darker, and 50 Shades Freed). The question is why are some libraries refusing to purchase it? Some question the "literary merits" of the book. I agree that those merits are questionable, but do libraries really apply those standards to all of their purchases? One could also rightly question the literary merit of Stephen King, or Danielle Steele. Others have stood behind their "no erotica" policy. I agree that collection development policies are important and should be used to make purchasing decisions, but here I question who is deciding what constitutes erotica. Do these libraries not carry any bodice-ripping romances? Or do those get a pass simply because they are classified under the genre of "romance" rather than "erotica"? As a little test, I checked the Gwinnet County (GA) Public Library catalog for Pamela Morsi's Love Overdue (which includes at least two sexually explicit scenes). And indeed, I discovered that this Harlequin Romance is in the catalog, but the Library is apparently steadfast in its refusal to order 50 Shades. 

Personally, I was prepared to never read 50 Shades myself, but when I saw it on the banned books list I felt that I should (strictly as an academic exercise, of course). I discovered that the book's narrator, Anastasia Steele (Ana), not only loved books, but that she also claimed to not like being in crowds and "prefer[red] her own company reading a classic British novel, curled up in a chair in the campus library." She also makes a passing reference, while interviewing for an internship at a publishing house, to the fact that she worked in the library as a student at Washington State University. This revelation comes late in the book, and is so subtle one might not even notice it unless one is specifically looking for the word "library" (or its variations) while reading. For those of us who were looking for such connections, it suddenly turned Ana into the trope of the stuck-up-virgin-librarian-who-just-needs-to-let-her-hair-down. It did make me wonder, also, why she had to ask Christian Grey where she should do research about his "alternative lifestyle". He simply tells her to start with Wikipedia. Really? She couldn't come up with that on her own? Are we left to believe that a graduate of WSU, who worked in the library no less, doesn't know where to begin doing basic research?

Ultimately, I saw this book as a strange mash-up of Twilight and Nine and a Half Weeks.

Read more about some of the libraries that have banned this book here. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - by Sherman Alexie


Banned Books Week 2014

Coming in at no. 3 on the list of most banned books of 2013 Alexie's novel about a Native American boy, Junior (a.k.a. Arnold), who decides to leave his reservation school and go to the "white" school 22 miles away is both funny and sad. Junior's uses his own talent of drawing comics as a way of dealing with the realities he faces on the reservation which include the effects of extreme poverty, alcoholism, and domestic abuse.

This book has a curious history of challenges. Most recently it was challenged in Meridian, Idaho by a grandmother who felt it was only appropriate for people aged "75 [and] up" (being unsuited to age group is one of the reasons cited for its challenges). It has also been challenged in Brunswick County North Carolina. In a truly post-modern twist to this story, teen Brady Kissel arranged to give away copies of the book  as part of the World Book Night program. A concerned parent called the police to report that children were taking the free books without their parents permission! I have to hand it to the police, who did absolutely nothing about the report.

Of course my favorite thing about Junior is that he loves to read. Junior, who is often bullied, finds solace in reading, and he admits to wanting to kiss his Geometry textbook, until he discovered that it was the same one used by his mother over thirty-years prior. This is partially the impetus for his school transfer. At his new school he befriends Gordy who explains to him that books need to be taken seriously, as illustrated in this cartoon.


Gordy also points out that even their relatively small high school library of  three thousand four hundred and twelve books in their high school library represents almost 10-years of reading if one read at a rate of one book per day. "The world" he says even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don't know."

This is true even for those who read a lot, like Junior, who reads so much that he has this knowledge of Gandhi's bowel movements
Gandhi was way into his own number two. I don't know if he told fortunes or anything. But I guess he thought the condition and quality of his number two revealed the condition and quality of his life.
A story of hope in the face of adversity.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Adventures of Captain Underpants: An Epic Novel - by Dav Pilkey

It's Banned Books Week!

I will be blogging all week about banned and challenged books. This year's focus is on graphic novels. I begin with The Adventures of Captain Underpants. 

Clearly written for nine-year-old boys, this novel reads as if it were written by one. I don't necessarily fault it for that. I see the appeal for the target demographic and I chose to read it after all, which is what Banned Books Week is all about - choosing for ourselves what we want to read. There are other books in this series, and I have chosen NOT to read those.

Pilkey's novel topped the list of most frequently challenged books of 2013 for "offensive language" (I guess that would be words like "toilet" and "wedgie" and "doo-doo") and for being "unsuited for age group" - huh? this book is perfectly suited for the age group. I can't imagine for whom else it would be suited!

There are no libraries in this book, but the two main characters, George and Harold, do like to write their own comic books (about Superhero Captain Underpants). They charge 50 cents each for them though, so there is no free sharing of information either.

See what Dav Pilkey has to say about all this:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library - by Chris Grabenstein



The fictitious town of Alexandriaville, Ohio has been without a public library for twelve years. The old library had been "torn down to make room for an elevated parking garage...many said the Internet had rendered the 'old-fashioned' library obsolete." To celebrate the opening of the new town library (designed by famous game-maker, and most favorite native son, Mr. Luigi Lemoncello) all twelve-year olds are invited to enter a contest to be the first to get library cards and to spend the night at the library. Kyle Keeley along with eleven of his classmates win much more than they bargained for when they learn that getting out of the library will require them to use their library skills, game skills, and to cooperate with each other. 

Kyle and his friends learn that the library has a lot more to offer than shelves full of books. They archive local history, have community meeting spaces, games, and cool science-y stuff as well. They also have librarians who will help you find what you need (and in fact, I must point out that Grabenstein dedicated this book to "the late Jeanette P. Myers, and all the other librarians who help us find whatever we're looking for").

I loved that two of the characters (Miguel and Andrew) were aides in the school library, and I also liked that the team Kyle formed had more girls and than boys on it. So often in popular culture I notice that groups of friends have one token girl (think "Harry Potter") but this one had a nice mix, with everyone in the group able to contribute something, and everyone able to learn something as well. 

There were two cool librarians in this work: the town's new head librarian Dr. Yanina Zinchenko described as tall with a breathy voice "with just a hint of a Russian accent." The other is Mrs. Gail Tobin, librarian when young Luigi Lemoncello was a lad who "looked a little like Princess Leia...except she had an old-fashioned bubble-top hairdo, cat's-eye glasses, and a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows...she'd be a hundred and ten if she were still alive." She appears as a hologram to the winners of the contest and assists them in navigating the space.

The games conclude on Mr. Lemoncello's birthday who says "there's no place [he'd] rather be on [his] big day than inside a library, surrounded by books."

Rife with allusions to other books (both classic and more recent favorites) this work is a true celebration of everything that is fun about books, reading, libraries, and librarians. 


Monday, September 15, 2014

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - by Robin Sloan

Clay Jannon, recently laid off from his work as a web designer, takes a job in an unusual bookstore. Working the third shift, when his few customers are borrowing books (rather than buying them) from what he calls the "Waybacklist" (located in the the back of the store) Clay is intrigued by his eccentric clientele. The Waybacklist is three stories high, with the highest shelves accessible by a very tall ladder and Clay gets the job by demonstrating that he is good at climbing, and is not afraid to reach. Clay is also required to describe each of his customers in a log book, explaining their demeanor and what they were wearing on each visit. The books they borrow are written in a cryptic code, and customers always seem to have a sense of urgency about them.

Clay's boredom at work drives him to use his computer skills to create a digital model of the store, and he discovers that there is a pattern to the book requests. In what becomes a bibliophile's National Treasure  Clay and his band of geeky friends attempt to help Mr. Penumbra to find the key to the secret of eternal life. Their quest takes them from Penumbra's quirky storefront in San Francisco, to New York City, to a warehouse in Nevada.

New York City is where the secret library of the Unbroken Spine is housed. Volumes in this library are "encrypted, copied, and shelved...[and] not read by anyone until after [the author's] death." All those who have written books for the library of the Unbroken Spine are hoping that one day the codex vitae will be unlocked, and they will thus be rewarded with immortality. Penumbra explains to Clay
The nature of immortality is a mystery...But everything I know of writing and reading tells me that this is true. I have felt it in these shelves and others.
Although skeptical Clay admits that he is familiar with
the feeling Penumbra is talking about. Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines - it's hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits. That's just a feeling, not a fact...
We also learn about a long ago "between the stacks" tryst. As in often the case, even today, such a thing will likely get you kicked out of the library. A hundred years ago it also would get you kicked out of the order of the Unbroken Spine.

Thousands of computers are used in an attempt to crack the codex, which ultimately requires a decidedly much more low-tech technique.

The answer turns out to be about as satisfying as Douglas Adams' 42 - the answer to "life the universe and everything".

A final note to those who decide to read this book, no need to Google Gertizoon font, or Dragon-Song Chronicles. I already did so. They were invented for this story.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Clash of Kings - by George R. R. Martin


So now that I have read two books in the "Song of Ice and Fire" series, I can honestly say I gave it a good effort, and I officially don't like this story. Although when I blogged about A Game of Thrones I said I would read the rest (if only because I'd already bought and paid for them) I have, nevertheless, decided that I am done. I would be remiss, however, if I didn't point out the reverence with which books, and reading, are treated in this work.

Librarian Samwell makes a brief appearance at the beginning of the book as he shifts through his collection looking for maps. He admonishes Jon to "be gentle" with the books, and, like a true librarian, wishes very much to catalog it all
There's more maps. If I had time to search...everything's a jumble. I could set it all to order, though; I know I could, but it would take time...well, years in truth.
Samwell also understands, as Jon does not, the importance of preserving and archiving information. While Jon believes only silver and gold can be treasures, Samwell knows that information is also valuable
You can learn so much from ledgers...truly you can. It can tell you how may men were in the Night's Watch then, how they lived, what they ate...
Most librarians can tell you how simply frustrating it can be to work with people who do not understand the thrill of finding the tidbit of information we seek, and how much we love finding the right way to organize things so that information is discover-able.

Tyrion expresses the joy of reading for pleasure when he asks his favorite "wench" at the brothel what she does while he is gone. She answers "sleep" but adds that she is being taught to read so that she "will be able to pass the time with a book." Tyrion concurs that "[s]leep is good...And books are better."



Indeed.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Sex Criminals (Volume 1) One Weird Thing - by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky


I appreciate a book that recognizes that librarians are sexual beings. I also appreciate a book that recognizes the superhero status of librarians. In Sex Criminals authors Fraction and Zdarsky have created a librarian character (Suzie) whose superpowers are activated when she reaches orgasm. Suzie can make time stop whenever she comes. She meets her match in Jon, who has the same gift she does. The two decide to use their power to become modern day Robin Hoods - robbing from the rich (the evil banks) and giving to the poor (the about-to-be foreclosed library).

The authors clearly appreciate a good library (and a good librarian). And they make a bit of a dig at the woeful status of sex information a young person might discover at school. Remembering her quest for information when she discovers her special secret Suzie asks
Ever try to utilize the resources of the public school system to learn about sex? No wonder so many dumb kids get knocked up. Nobody knows anything and if they do, they're legally bound from telling you.
However, she "falls in love with libraries" when she gets the assistance she needs from a non-judgmental and super helpful public librarian. (This is clearly what inspired her to become a librarian herself).

There are five books in this series. Although I found this fun, I don't plan on reading the rest. I get the gist.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - by J.K. Rowling



SPOILER ALERTS!

As I have done for the past several years, I re-read one of the "Harry Potter" books in time to blog for Harry's July 31 birthday. I think the fourth book in the series may be my least favorite. It really threw me the first time I read this to find that Lord Voldemort did indeed rise again. And he is really just so mean.

As with the other books, readers will find Harry and his friends using the library quite often for their research. Harry, Ron and Hermione all work tirelessly poring over books trying to find the elusive information on how a person can breathe underwater so Harry can perform the second task of the Triwizard Tournament (even going so far as to asking "the irritable vulture-like librarian, Madam Pince, for help"). Furthermore, students at Hogwarts can't simply "Google" how to perform a stunning hex, you have to look it up in a book. Herminone spends additional time in the library where she researches the history of the enslavement of House Elves in order to start S.P.E.W. (The Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare). Hermione's presence in the library turns the brooding Victor Krum (a visitor from the Durmstrang School, and famous Quidditch player) into an avid library user as well. This causes a bit of chagrin on Hermione's part, not because she doesn't like Victor, but rather because he has a fan club that follows him into the stacks, disturbing the scholarly atmosphere. Eventually the library proves to be just the right mood setter for Victor to find the courage to ask Hermione to the Yule ball.

This is still magical even upon the third reading (even if it isn't my favorite).

And, just in time for Harry's birthday : researchers find a correlation between reading HP books, and feeling empathy for marginalized groups.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Two Library/ASL movies


One of my summer projects was taking an online American Sign Language (ASL) course for librarians. As a result I've been doing a bit a research into deaf culture and learned about the book Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language. I also found out about the 1986 movie Children of a Lesser God and was reminded of an old favorite from my high school days - Voices. Finishing the course coincided with a visit from my Wisconsin cousin with whom I share an affinity for Voices (we must have watched it together half a dozen times on HBO during the summer of 1980). She has also taken, and taught some ASL courses. Given all this, we really had no choice but to watch Voices again. We had to purchase a copy of the DVD as it is not available on Netflix, or Amazon streaming (my go-to places for movies).

Voices stars Michael Ontkean as Drew Rothman, a musician who falls in love with (or in '70s vernacular "really digs") Rosemarie Lemon (Amy Irving) a beautiful deaf dance teacher. While not a comedy, my cousin and I laughed all the way through this, wondering why our teenage selves thought this was such a great film. Ontkean does his own singing, and he really isn't very good. The story is also a bit melodramatic. I told my cousin watching Ontkean in this venue was like seeing Greg Brady as a college graduate. Irving did an admirable job playing Lemon, at least she was challenging herself in the role. There is one scene in a library where, strangely enough, Rosemarie teaches her dance classes. Drew also checks a book on ASL out of the library.

Children of a Lesser God stars William Hurt as James Leeds and Marlee Matlin as Sarah Norman. Like Voices the story is of a hearing man who falls in love with a deaf woman and believes she can be more than she is. In this case Norman is a janitor at a deaf school and Leeds thinks that if she would just learn to read lips and use her voice all kinds of new opportunities would open up for her.  It is in the school library that Norman explains her rather sordid sexual history to Leeds. This one was made seven years after Voices, and the story is much the same. The acting is definitely better in this one than in Voices though, and Matlin plays a much stronger character than Irving does. I am sure they were both breakthrough films in their time, but they seem quite dated now.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language - by Nora Ellen Groce


For over 200 years from the mid 1600s to the early 1900s, on the island of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts a large deaf community thrived. While other deaf people often lived in isolation, those on Martha's Vineyard not only knew many other deaf people (a quarter of the population was deaf at the peak) with whom they could communicate, they could also sign to their hearing neighbors who all also knew sign language. At the time Groce did her research in the late 1970s and early 1980s the last of the population with hereditary deafness had died out, but there were still some on the island who remembered when "everyone here spoke sign language". Through oral histories and old records Groce discovers that the deaf population was fully integrated into the life of the island including business dealings, social life, church, and politics.

One of Groce's contacts, a hearing octogenarian at the time of the interview, remembered her mother talking about a professor who came from Boston before she (the interviewee) was born. The professor wanted to know about Vineyard deaf, and her mother never understood why he was so interested in them. "'There was nothing unusual at all about them, you know' her mother would add." A few months after the interview Groce learns that the professor was, in fact,Alexander Graham Bell. She discovers his notes at the Dukes County Historical Society Library. Bell was researching whether deafness could be inherited - "a very controversial question at that time." Groce tracked down more of Bell's notes, packed away in storage, at the John Hitz Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. - Note I subsequently learned that Bell's research interest was in eugenics. 

There was one other passing mention of libraries. One contact remembered going to Tucker parties
The Methodists didn't believe in dancing, you see, so we walked around and we'd change partners andwe'd face our partners and we went right and left...They [Tucker parties] were benefits usually, benefits for the library or the church, or something.
I checked this book out from the library I work in after I started taking an online class in American Sign Language for Librarians.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Something Wicked this Way Comes - by Ray Bradbury


Earlier this month I posted about the movie Something Wicked this Way Comes and I mentioned that I had not read the book, so I needed to rectify that situation. I had the same trouble following the book as I did the movie, although I followed enough to know that there were some plot points that were changed when the story went from page to screen. However, the important thing remained. One of the main characters, Charles Holloway, is the town librarian, and he helps to save the town from evil (but isn't that what all librarians do?). The library is truly described as a magical place
Out in the world, not much happened. But here in the special night, a land bricked with paper and leather, anything might happen, always did. Listen! and you heard ten thousand people screaming so high only dogs feathered their ears. A million folk ran toting cannons, sharpening guillotines; Chines, four abreast, marched on forever.
What is also clear in the book, is that Mr. Halloway met his wife in the library. As he tells it to his son, Will
I looked up from my great self-wrestling match one night when your mother came to the library for a book and got me instead. And I saw then and there you take a man half-bad and a woman half-bad and put their two good halves together and you got one human all good to share between.
The library also becomes is a hiding place for Will and his friend Jim. And Mr. Halloway actually uses it the old-fashioned way - to do research. He tells the two boys he knows something evil is afoot and that he is going to
"check police records on carnivals, newspaper files at the library, books, old folios, everything that might fit..." in order to come up with a plan to foil the plans of the wicked ones.

When the boys return to the library to find out the plan Will is afraid to go in, and his young mind invents some wild scenarios about what might happen
'The library' said Will 'I'm afraid of it, now' All the books he thought, perched there, hundreds of years old, peeling skin, leaning on each other like ten million vultures. Walk along the dark stacks and all the gold titles shine their eyes at you. Between old carnival, old library and his own father everything old...well...
'I know Dad's in there, but is it Dad? I mean, what if they came, changed him, made him bad, promised him something they can't give but he thinks they can, and we go in there and some day fifty years from now someone opens a book in there an you and me drop out, like two dry moth wings on the floor, Jim, someone pressed and hid us between pages, and no one ever guessed where we went-'
Ultimately the fear of being outside the library overcomes the fear of being in it.

A lot of the action takes place in the library, and some of it is scary, but ultimately the librarian understands what is happening and what needs to be done.

A story about the evil in all of us.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Read My Lips - by Debby Herbenick and Vanessa Schick


The subtitle of this is "The Complete Guide to the Vulva and Vagina." I must say it is rather complete. Readers will find chapters (among others) on arousal; sex toys; birth control; masturbation; menstruation; vaginal health; ideas for vagina and vulva arts & crafts; and information on vagina and vulva maintenance which includes my favorite topic (NOT) - pubic hair shaving. When did this become a thing? I keep seeing articles about it on my FaceBook feed always with the authors explaining their choice to shave or not, as if there is some sort of major policy debate we have to have on this issue. Shave or don't - your partner will just be happy to see you naked.

Anyway, I did learn a lot from reading this comprehensive work. One thing I learned is that viewing Playboy, and similar magazines, is where many young women will find their first images of vulvas other than their own, and these "...may misinform women and men about what's 'normal' for women in terms of their genitals. Because people want to feel normal this is important." But what about women who find images elsewhere, for instance those who "seek out anatomy textbooks in their local libraries." The authors point out that this is not the norm.
Given how private people feel about genitals (some people call them "privates"), it is less likely that people are openly seeking out these images when they have access to a plethora of vulva images on their home computer. 
 They are probably right in this regard. I should, therefore, point out that librarians are trained to use the utmost discretion when assisting people with their research, and also to respect their privacy. This is actually federal law. Unfortunately, this was the one and only mention of libraries in Herbenick and Schick's book. Sigh.

Something Wicked this Way Comes - the movie


I saw this on a list of "library movies". I was worried that it would be scary, and watched it before it got dark out. Then I found out it was a Disney flick. Made in 1983 James pointed out a couple of things that were rather Back-to-the Future-y (1985) especially with regard to time travel and lightning bolts. Neither one of us really understood what was going on in this adaptation of Ray Bradbury's novel (which I have not read). However, we did ultimately get this important message from the film: the town librarian (Jason Robards) saved the day!

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Game of Thrones - by George R. R. Martin


There certainly is an awful lot of hype around this series so much, in fact, that I felt a bit out of the loop. Based on the fact that so many people I knew, with various interests, were reading this and talking about it I was sure I would enjoy this so much that I downloaded the first four books in the series onto my iPad at once. It took me about 3 weeks to read the first one, and I plan to read the rest, but only because I already bought and paid for them. I am really not in a big hurry to get to the others. I doubt I will watch the series at all. I didn't dislike the book, I just wasn't taken in by it the way I expected I would.

The good news of course is that there are libraries in the book for me to report on, and generally books, stories, and libraries are seen as a positive thing. "Warm and snug" is the description used the first time a library is mentioned in the book. Being assigned to work in the library is clearly seen as a salvation for young Samwell who "grew ill at the sight of blood" but whose passions "were books and kittens and dancing". He had, in fact, "read every book in his father's library." He knows, as Taystee does in "Orange is the New Black", that the library is the "best job". On a sadder note, a deliberate fire is set in the library at Winterfell as a distraction in the hope that a murder can be carried out while the flames are extinguished.



Stay tuned for more posts from the "Song of Ice and Fire" Series. Just don't hold your breath.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Conspiracy of Dunces



This map demonstrates how little Americans read compared to those in other countries. Less than one hour a day on average, and that averages in avid readers like my husband and I who tend to read several hours a day - and almost none of that is reading text messages. We read books, newspapers, and magazines. I would read even more if I could, but it appears that there is a conspiracy to keep me watching television. Too often I find myself with a block of time in which I might be able to read, and would actually like to read, but find it difficult to find a spot away from a television (generally tuned to either a so-called "news" show, or daytime talk show) in which I can read in peace. Television sets seem to have proliferated especially in doctor's offices; airport waiting lounges; jury waiting rooms; and regrettably, almost every flat surface at the University where I work. Fortunately the Library is still a tv-free zone, although I recognize that anyone can turn any of our computers into a television if they want. They would have to borrow head phones though, allowing those who still wish to pursue scholarship through reading to do so. I was pleased to discover that my daughter's pediatrician's waiting room eschewed the television set when they moved the office. I always found it ironic that some inane show that we wouldn't ever watch at home was playing every time we went to the doctor's office, and then the doctor would be sure to ask us how much television she watched! I did point this irony out to the pediatrician.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Rollerball - the movie


I saw this on at least two different lists of librarians on film. The library scene is brief, and the library worker readily admits that she is not a librarian, but rather a clerk. In this dystopian future the job of the actual librarians, who are off somewhere else, is to "edit" knowledge. The main character Jonathan E. (James Caan) comes to the library looking to do some research on how corporate decisions are made. He gets an unsatisfactory answer from the pretty, and polite, library clerk. He later asks the same question to a really big computer who provides the answer that corporations make corporate decisions. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Stay Cool - the movie

I won't write a lot about this one for several reasons:

  1. James and I blogged about it on our Noni blog
  2. There is no actual librarian in the film, just a couple of scenes in the school library
  3. What is said about the library is disparaging and stereotypical
"The library is still a sanctuary for the socially challenged."

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Adults - by Alison Espach


This satire follows the story of  Emily, who within the course of a year watches a neighbor commit suicide; experiences the divorce of her parents; becomes a sister to her father's love child; and embarks on an affair with one of her high school teachers. The on-again-off-again relationship with "Mr. Basketball" (a.k.a. Johannes, Jonathan, and Jack) continues over about a dozen years.

Emily's only two mentions of libraries are in stark contrast to each other. The first time demonstrates a certain naivety; the second shows an especially daring sexual side. In describing her grandmother's death, when Emily was 10, she (Emily) recounts her mother suggesting that the family get out of the hospital room for a little while to get some coffee. Emily reminds her mother
I am only ten, my legs are barely covered in peach fuzz, I just found out there are two r's in "library," this whole time it had never been "ly-bary" and how embarrassing, I'm so so embarrassed, Mom, can I have a ginger ale instead?
Much later in the book Emily, while having sex in a public restroom during one of her reunions with Jonathan thinks about going "somewhere else"
off to the basement stacks of the public library, where sex was a dark art and we were just students. Where I had to keep on my wool dress for decorum's sake and he just unzipped his pleated khaki's and out he tumbled like a waterfall.
This is a good summer read - pure escape.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians but were Afraid to Ask - by Anton Treuer


I recently attended a teaching circle about Indigenous Studies at my university. This book was provided to all who attended. Like David Reuben's book (Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex, but were Afraid to Ask), Treuer's book is written in Q&A format. Unlike Reuben, however, Treuer actually seems to have some authority on the the topic he writes about. He also does not pretend to speak for all Indigenous people, and often points out issues on which different tribes, or individuals have differing opinions.  He begins with the question "What terms are most appropriate for talking about North America's first people?" which indeed answered my first question about the use of the word "Indians" in the title of the work and why and he uses the terms Indian and Indians throughout.

Truer also met my low-bar criterion for inclusion on this blog, which is simply: at least one mention of a library or a librarian. The first part of the book treats questions of "Terminology" and includes the question "How can I find out the meaning of place names around me that come from indigenous languages?" Following a little lesson about word roots, along with a bit of geography, he explains that
To find the deeper meaning of the Indian names for the places in which you live, it is often necessary to do a little research. Fortunately, some great books, like Virgil Vogel's Indian Names in Michigan and Warren Upham's Minnesota Place Names, have done a lot of groundwork to help you understand places in the Great Lakes region....There are similar books for other parts of the country-ask your local librarian for advice. 
Reading this prompted me to see what my own library had on the subject. A catalog search on place names in New England brought me to the record for a book called The Real Founders of New England written by Charles Knowles Bolton and originally published in 1929. Mr. Bolton explains in the preface that "History began, as far as New England is concerned, either in 1620 at Plymouth or in 1630 at Boston".

The book does list some Indian names for some New England cities and towns in an Appendix but does not appear to break down any names. The text appears to be useful for researchers who are interested in European view of Native Americans, both at the time of the initial encounter, and how the story was being told in 1929.

The local public library does appear to have a book that might be better for this kind of research Indian names of places in Plymouth, Middleborough, Lakeville and Carver, Plymouth County, Massachusetts : with interpretations of some of them.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Goodbye, Columbus - the movie


In this 1969 "mood piece" Richard Benjamin plays Neil Klugman, a New York City Public Librarian. Ali McGraw (who played the librarian role in Love Story) is his love interest, Brenda Patimkin. Neil and Brenda spend a week together at her parents house, sneaking around at night having sex. When Neil discovers that Brenda isn't on the pill he goes ballistic. When she explains that she tried the pill and didn't like the side effects he insists she go back on it anyway. She finally relents and agrees to get a diaphragm. Of course everyone knows it is the woman's responsibility (and hers alone) to take care of birth control. Condoms were never mentioned. Apparently the two did not even discuss birth control until there was a very real possibility that a pregnancy may have happened. The romance is a bust once Brenda's parents find out about the tryst. But it was probably best this way, who wants to wind up with a librarian, anyway?

It was not until I started this post that I noticed the tag line for this film is "Every father's daughter is a virgin." If you want to see a really creepy film along these lines watch Virgin Tales - a documentary about the family that started  "Purity Balls".

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Feliz Día de los libros/Día de los niños

Children's Book Day is celebrated in libraries on April 30 each year to celebrate multi-cultural children's literature. Started by award-winning author Pat Mora in 1996 "Día" celebrates the joy of reading. This year in honor of Children's Book Day students in my Spanish 101 class helped to create a Library Guide that showcases some of the bilingual Children's Books in the Maxwell Library. The Guide can be found here



In Pat Mora's honor this year on "Día" I read her book Gracias/Thanks. This bilingual book is the story of a boy who tells readers all he is thankful for, including his friend Billy who showed him
the book about a boy giant who puts his little parents on top of a tall tree when they misbehave/
el libro sobre el niño gigante que pone a sus padres pequeñitos en la cima de un gran ábol cuando ellos se portan mal
Wonderfully illustrated by John Parra this book is a 2010 Pura Belpre Honor Book

Read my previous "Día" post here.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Prep - by Curtis Sittenfeld


The discomfort I felt reading this boarding-school book was different from what I felt reading the likes of Testimony, or Looking for Alaska. It wasn't so much the risky behavior but rather the way that I could imagine my own daughter would relate to so many of the other experiences that our protagonist Lee Fiora has as a middle-class scholarship kid at an expensive New England prep school. I cringed (and laughed) when Lee explains how she learned not to open her family's care packages in front of any of her classmates when she found three packages of Kotex inside one of them, along with a note from her mother that "Kroger's was having a sale".  It was actually eerie how many things I read that I knew to parallel my daughter's experiences. As I read farther in the book my discomfort shifted inward when I realized how much I identified with Lee. Although I attended my local public schools for 12 years there are some teen experiences that are universal. Lee's constant over thinking, second guessing, and feeling that she didn't belong, and wasn't good enough probably were consistent with the experiences of most who read this novel. The sex scenes were disturbing in that the consent was so passive. Although her suitor did explicitly ask and Lee provided verbal yes, it was clear that she so desperate for the attention of the boy she had a crush on that she allowed him into her bed knowing that he did not love her, and that their relationship would never be anything except sex.

Sittenfeld is vague as to the timing of the novel. We can guess from some hints that it was probably the early 1990s. For instance "e-mail technically existed, but no one had it." Likewise no one had a cell phone, but rather shared a pay phone in a common area of the dorm. Some students had computers, but the library still had a card catalog. Like my daughter, going to boarding school was Lee's own idea. Unlike my daughter, Lee researched the schools at her local public library and sent away for catalogs, whereas my own child did all of her research online and simply sent us links.

Lee's time at the Ault School ends rather inauspiciously when she is interviewed by a reporter for the New York Times about her experience at the school. The article is published with the school looking less favorable than the administrators and trustees would have hoped. Lee informs the readers that she "aired the school's dirty laundry and there was proof". One only needs to go to a library and "find the microfiche from the month and year [she] graduated." Again, we don't know exactly when that would have been.

I marked a lot of places in this novel where the school library is mentioned, but there really is no action that takes place there. Lee meets people there, and passes by it a lot, and sometimes goes there to study. Like the dorms, and the dining hall, the library is part of the larger setting - what you might expect to find at a New England boarding school.