Thursday, July 31, 2014

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


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.