Monday, December 11, 2017

Uncommon Type: Some Stories - by Tom Hanks


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

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

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

Lagniappe

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

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

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

George & Lizzie - by Nancy Pearl



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

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

Blogger with author Nancy Pearl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A must-read for all librarians. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Little Fires Everywhere - by Celeste Ng


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

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

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

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

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

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

There is definitely a shake up in Shaker Heights.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Stranger Things 2 - Episode 3 (The Pollywog)



Back in 1984 you couldn't just Google how to take care of a pollywog, or for that matter, shine your iphone's supernatural creature identification app at unknown beings to find out more about them. You had to go to the library. And look things up in books.

"Mr. Henderson, you know the rules. Five at a time." says the unnamed librarian when young Dustin attempts to check out five books, although Miss Librarian Lady knows he already has five books out. Dustin strategically tries to appeal to her sense of discovery, but she will have none of that. Five. At. A. Time. She emphasizes. The whole stereotypical exchange is so hokey we can almost forgive the cliche solution Dustin comes up with when he points to something behind Miss Librarian Lady and gasps "what the hell...", and then runs out with the five books. Does he ever return the stolen books? We may never know.

The Pleasure of My Company - by Steve Martin


Daniel Pecan Cambridge lives in Santa Monica, but inhabits a rather small world. His myriad phobias, obsessions, and preoccupations prevent him from going very far, or very fast. He knows few people yet somehow manages to become a murder suspect, a hero, and to win the Most Average American essay contest. Most incredible is that he is able to make a road trip to Texas with his therapist. It is during this trip that our protagonist makes an unprecedented stop at a library in order to do some research on investing.

This short book has some wonderful character development.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

WLT: A Radio Romance - by Garrison Keillor



Spanning three decades (seven if you count the epilogue) this novel tells the story of the Soderbjerg Brothers (Ray & Roy) and their radio station. Started in the 1920s, along with a sandwich shop, the brothers built a following of listeners as they produced radio programs from weather and crop reports, to cooking shows, to gospel music, to drama. Listeners became attached to the characters from their favorite serial programs as they remained blissfully unaware of the drama and animosity that sometimes played behind the idyllic stories.

One of those stories was Avis Burnett, Small Town Librarian "starring Marcia Rowles as the ever-patient Avis, the woman who sacrifices her own happiness in the service of others", as well as "recommending good books to the ladies of town and fending off the men..."

WLT refused to hire college graduates, especially not fraternity boys, for fear that a "smutty remark" might be made. Ray specifically imagined a scenario that involved Avis
going to work weekends in a tavern, and Dad Benson of Friendly Neighbor unbuttoning her bodice and drinking sloe gin. "Your breasts are as firm as a tabletop," he would exclaim as thousand of families across Minnesota and Wisconsin leaned forward. "Oh boy! and look at those pert nipples!"
Burnett's was not the only library to make an appearance in a radio play. The Darkest Hour featured a plot line in which a grief-stricken Mrs. Colfax
left a large legacy to the [Johnson Corners] library, which stupid Mr. Hooley dropped in a snowbank the same day her playboy pal Emerson Dupont arrived to fetch her in a long black Packard...and the money was lost, and nothing to do but wait until spring and hope for the best
Brother Ray made semi-annual trips to New York City. Sometimes he went with his wife, Vesta, but "more often, with an Other Woman...With Vesta along, it was all High Purpose: they made the rounds of bookstores and toured the sacred sites (Cooper Union, the Public Library, the Museum of Natural History). But with an O.W. he reclined in bed in gorgeous yellow pajamas and was waited on by the dear thing...

Away from the radio station, there were no rules about who could sleep with whom, but Brother Ray had a firm rule of "No Sex On The Premises...spelled out to every man he hired, even the Rev. Irving James Knox way back in 1927". At the time Knox expressed some indignation that Ray would even suggest that such a rule would have to be expressed to a man of the cloth, but Ray was adamant that Knox understand the mandate that "fornication [be kept] out of the station". Knox, as one might expect, succumbed to his weaknesses with a girl from the typing pool. And Ray opened the floodgates of fornication when he failed to fire the minister after he wept and told Roy "that he was troubled by unnatural sexual urges". WLT went through months of heavy erotic activity which included "John Tippy falling in love with the music librarian, a young pianist named Jeff".

It also turned out that the minister's peccadilloes were many. A file box marked "Knox: Testimony in re Patrimony: SAVE" told the story of a man "besotted with lust". Letters gave evidence of "Offers of private swimming lessons! Invitations to travel!  Invitations to pose for photographs! Hikes in the woods! Rendezvouses in the library stacks!"

The Library as salvation is a theme seen through the story of Francis With (a.k.a. Frank White) and his sister Jodie. Following the gruesome death of their father young Jodie found solace in the school library reading "picture books about the lives of rich people in New York City". Francis went to live with his Aunt Clare and Uncle Art (who worked at WLT) in Minneapolis where he "liked to ride the Como-Xerxes streetcar downtown, spend an hour at the main library, and walk to the Hotel Ogden and hang around WLT...".

Ultimately, young Frank gets a job at WLT. It is noteworthy that his first day on the air finds him giving a PSA during Library Week and "sincerely urging people to please, support their public library".

Brother Roy had an epiphany about radio's place in the history of storytelling after reading Soren Blak's Experience of Innocence. Most important though, about Blak's work was that we learn that he "had taught himself English...by reading John Greenleaf Whitterier, the only English book in the Glomfjord Library". 

A cast of quirky characters who use their libraries always makes for a good read.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 - by David Sedaris


I went to my fourth David Sedaris event last Thursday in New Bedford (MA). The very next day James and I wrapped up our reading his latest book together. In the introduction to this work of diary entries he makes clear that this is only a "small fraction" of all that actually appears in the 156 volumes of his diaries. And that a different edit "from the same source material could make [him] appear nothing but evil, selfish, generous, or even...sensitive". What I saw, as a fan who has been following him since I first heard him on NPR in the early 1990s, was a person who was all these things, as well as a person who is a regular, if not frequent, user of libraries.

His introduction points out that the "early years, 1977-1983, were the bleakest" and "fueled by meth". I think it is also significant, then, that he mentions going to the library only infrequently during this time period. The word "library" appears three times during the first five years of entries, and only two of those were to discuss his own visits to the library, the other was as part of an overheard conversation at the IHOP - a place Sedaris appears to have frequented more often than the library - between two blind men one of whom talked about "the library for the blind and some good books he'd listened to lately." There is a definite change in the tone of the entries in 1984 when he moves to Chicago, and, I would add, a slight uptick in his frequency of discussing his use of the library, or reading of a library book.

In one of his first entries after moving to New York in 1990 he rambles about working out his "coffee situation". He is not crazy about either the IHOP which while they serve awful coffee (no surprise), they do give customers a whole pot, nor the Bagel Buffet which serves coffee in paper cups (blech) for .60 each. He wraps all this up with this truth: "Now I need a library card." There is no mention at all of the library in any of his 1991 entries, but he makes up for it by making two references (pun intended) in 1992 - one to lament that the library is closed on Lincoln's birthday. After this there is a concerning drop in the number of times the author uses the word library. I can only hope that this was simply an editing oversight, and that a different edit of this diaries would be in fact teeming discussions of all the great library books the author read, and how helpful and friendly the librarians were, but this edit has only mentions the word library twice after 1994 - one in 1998 (Paris) which was only to relate a story told to him about a friend of a friend, who, when he starting flipping through a magazine at a newsstand was told by the proprietor that they were not a "lending library".

I found the final mention of the word "library" in the last entry for 2001. It was poignant in its wistfulness. While contemplating what to wish for as he blew out the candles on his birthday cake Sedaris laments
When told to make a wish, I settled back in my chair, realizing I should have given it some prior thought. One option was an apartment in London, but in the end I wished for the opposite: the absence of things. Over the past few years I've fallen deeper into the luxury pit. I used to get pleasure from sitting at the pancake house with a new library book, but now I mainly buy things and work crossword puzzles.
Here's hoping that we see a resurgence of library use in the second volume.

If you haven't yet discovered David Sedaris, you really are missing some great humor. Find out more at http://www.davidsedarisbooks.com/

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What's New About Fake News

Last fall I was on sabbatical. My intention during my time of reflection and scholarship was to research how to teach students to evaluate web resources. However, as the 2016 election season heated up I became concerned, as did many, with the proliferation of fake news and falsehoods being reported (both intentionally and unintentionally) in news sources and social media. And so my research was refocused. Ultimately what I concluded was that people need to read more, and read deeply if they are to become informed, critical thinkers, especially where the news in concerned.

I was excited to learn that the MassHumanities Fall Forum this year would bring together a panel of top-notch journalists to discuss the very topic I have been studying and presenting about during the past year. The panel included documentary filmmaker Charles Ferguson; Managing Editor of The Onion Marne Shure; and Claire Wardle, Strategy and Research Director of First Draft. Moderating this impressive group was Pulitzer Prizer winner Sacha Pfeiffer.

Ms. Wardle opened the discussion by admonishing all (panelists and audience members alike) to abolish the use of the term "fake news". She instead identified three different types of information that have been given this moniker:

Misinformation has no bad intent - perhaps something that is mistakenly reported by news media. Once the news source recognizes the mistake they rectify or clarify with the correct information.

Disinformation is deliberate, intentional spreading of news that is not true.

Malinformation is news that while true, should not be disseminated.

Ms. Shure followed with commentary about satire, which is assuredly not the same as "fake news". Satire intends to train, not trick. Satire is used to help us see a larger truth through the use of humor. She specifically stated that when one of the stories from The Onion starts going viral as a "true" story it means that the writers have failed at their job. I especially liked what she said about Facebook's labeling of "satire" for stories such as those from The Onion. Labeling removes the burden of the "mental labor" required on the part of readers to identify satire themselves. This is not a good thing. Labeling essentially takes away the reader's agency.

I learned some new terms from the panel that helped me to think more deeply about how news is consumed and disseminated:

  • Frankenbiting - splicing together of sound bites to make it appear that a person said something they didn't, even though all the words are theirs.
  • Strategic Silence - a move on the part of the news media not to mention a fake news story, even with the intention of debunking it. Even when they report it as false, it helps the story to spread.
  • Emotional Skepticism - Something that we should all employ before hitting the "share" button (or posting a comment). That which tells us to actually read a news story, and then wait a few minutes before sharing it, rather than simply reading the headline and allowing ourselves to become indignant.
  • Arms race on technology - as new technologies are applied to programs in order to fight malicious information, we can be sure something else will be created in order to combat those. When we allow technology to make decisions for us how long is it before the technology is hijaked? Again, this conclusion mirrors one that I came to myself when I did some research for a presentation I gave at the Tafila Technical University in Jordon this summer. Technology is a tool, but it is not the end answer, (there is never just one answer)! Fresh concerns over consumers' agency arise. Most of us (myself included) do not understand the algorithms being used to tell us what to read. When we let other people, and machines, decide what we see we give up control. 

Once upon a time we all consumed the same news. Everyone in the neighborhood got the same paper, and watched the news from the same three networks on television. Now, each person can choose what they see, and what they don't see. This makes for a challenging way to run a democracy.

A special thanks to David Leonard, President of the Boston Public Library for the "shout out" to librarians at the end of the program!

More information about the forum and the panelists can be found here My husband's insights on the program can be found on his Environmental Geography blog.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Knight to Remember - by Bridget Essex


I don't always read romances, but when I do they are about librarians.

One of the tasks in the Book Riot Read Harder 2017 Challenge is to read an LBGTQ+ romance novel. Since I have previously read, and blogged about, a same sex romance featuring men (see my post on Adrian's Librarian), I decided that this year's read-a-romance-month book should be about women.

Librarian Holly doesn't have much in common with her girlfriend Nicole. Nicole isn't crazy about Renaissance Festivals, or Holly's dog, or even (gasp) reading! So when sexy Virago appears in all her knightly-ness to save the world from a supernatural beast it isn't a hard sell for Holly to give up Nicole to follow her fantasy woman.

The book didn't have a whole lot of the straight dope on Holly's library work, except for one section in which Holly takes Virago to work with her. When Holly explains that she works in a library that's "full of books" Virago explains that she has libraries in her world, too. And she loves them.

Holly goes about her day doing library things such as helping her friend Alice with story time. Alice has the sexy librarian thing going with "her long blonde hair...piled on top of her head in a sweeping curve, and her cat glasses twinkl[ing] from a beaded chain around her neck...wearing skinny jeans and a vanilla blouse". Virago meanwhile settles into reading in the castle-like library (with "three brick towers and turrets...and stained glass windows colorfully marching along the side of the building"). The description of Virago sitting on the floor reading is quite sensual (I found it even more enticing than the rather gosh-darn explicit sex scene). After being admonished to be quiet ("with the universal gesture of 'sh'") by fellow librarian Alice, Holly finds her knight
seated on the floor, her back against a shelf of books, her legs folded in front of her gracefully, a book propped up on her lap, and her elbows propped on her knees as she carefully curves her body over the book, utterly intent on devouring it. Her brows are furrowed in concentration, and she traces a few lines from the page with a long finger, entranced by what she's reading.
My heart skips a beat as I watch her read that book. She's so obviously engrossed and delighted by what she's finding between the covers...She seems to be devouring information...
It's no wonder that Holly's best friend Carly reminds her that "librarians are super desirable - they're hot! I mean, they make porn about librarians".

As a librarian herself, Holly understands the importance of super-hero librarians in the lives of others, and remembers the one who inspired her as a geeky gay kid in high school - the one who introduced her to her favorite book The Knight and the Rose. Miss T knew that "everyone need[ed] a heroine like them" and suggests a book about a girl named Miranda who becomes a knight, and falls in love with a princess. 

The book is a "comfort read" for Holly - the one she turns to when she's had a bad day. And so, when Holly's lover leaves her at the Renaissance Faire, Holly eschews her "to be read" pile and instead her "fingers grasp a familiar and well-worn volume" as she remembers the first time she read it, after a good cry in her high school bathroom.

A good librarian book with two different kinds of libraries A fun read overall.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Mermaid Chair - by Sue Monk Kidd


Set in a fictitious place called Egret Island off the coast of South Carolina, Kidd's book tells the story of Jessie, who falls in love with a monk when she travels to visit her mother, Nelle, a cook for the island's religious brotherhood. Estranged from her mother for the previous five years Jessie is called back to her childhood home by a family friend, Kat, who gives Jessie the disturbing news that her mother has purposefully cut off one of her fingers.

Father Dominick is the librarian in this work. It is through him that Jessie's paramour (Whit) learns that Nelle had taken two books out of the library before chopping off her digit. Legenda Aurea: Readings on the Saints contained the story of St. Eudoria a twelfth-century prostitute who cut off her finger and planted it in a wheat field. Indigenous Religious Traditions relates the story of Sedna, an Inuit sea goddess whose fingers are severed by her father as she tries to hold onto a boat. All ten of her fingers become sea creatures. 

I was most intrigued by Sedna's story. When Paloma was young we often read the picture book Song of Sedna together. The version we had was a bit scary, but not as gruesome as the one depicted in Kidd's book. The story of St. Eudoria, by the way, was an invention of the author.

Well, I guess this just goes to show that books are dangerous. If Nelle had not found those books she probably would still have all of her appendages. The idea that reading can be harmful is reinforced by The Reverend Father, Dom Anthony, who forbids Whit (aka Brother Thomas) from reading anything by the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer when it was discovered the Bonhoeffer's writings were feeding Thomas' doubts.

The library is also the site of one clandestine meeting between the forbidden lovers. I don't think that Kidd intended to write a book with the purpose of demonstrating the dangers lurking in libraries, but when reading only the passages that highlight books, the message is clear.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer's - by Greg O'Brien



O'Brien's book is Bridgewater's One Book One Community Read for fall 2017. The author - a father, journalist, and Alzheimer's patient - tells his story of living with the disease and the pain of watching himself lose control of basic skills. Diagnosed at age 59 with early-onset Alzheimer's his frustrations were compounded by the fact that he was still caring for his aging parents, his mother, likewise, suffering from dementia.

One one occasion, while O'Brien's father was recovering from surgery in a rehabilitation facility, his mother, who could not safely stay home alone, was also cared for there
the devoted staff took her by the hand to the library filled with four walls of books, they asked her what she wanted to read...she scanned the shelves for 15 minutes and then pulled out two books.
'I think I'll read these,' she finally said, not grasping title or author.
The books she chose were Secrets in the Sand and Nature on Cape Cod and the Islands - two books of mine...
'They just felt comfortable in her hands', the nurse told me later.
A true testimony to the power of books.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Splendora - by Edward Swift


Originally published in 1978, Swift's tale of about the new librarian (Miss Jessie Gatewood) in a small east Texas town features an ensemble cast of quirky characters. When the enigmatic Miss Jessie arrives in Splendora from New Orleans to set up the town's new bookmobile  (really just "a battered-up school bus with shelves") women begin to imitate her Victorian style of dress and vie to become her new best friend. Miss Jessie has eyes for Brother Anthony Leggett, assistant pastor of the First Baptist Church. He is likewise smitten with the new librarian. Each, however, has a secret that they believe may keep them apart.

Beyond her wearing her hair in a loosely twisted bun, Miss Jessie goes all out in dressing the part of a librarian.
That morning she had dressed beyond her thirty-three years in order to meet the town's and the committee's approval. She was well aware that her hemline fell halfway below her knees and a little farther still for good measure. She was secure in her dress of white eyelet over mint green cut with leg-o'-mutton sleeves, a high neckline, and trimmed with white silk ribbons...Her friend Magnolia had designed the dress and had carefully chosen the accessories: white silk, sweet-scented gloves, flowers at her throat, a pocket watch on a hold chain around her neck, and a white sash tied about her waist giving to her dress a slightly blousy effect, so right for her role...from her elbow dangled a white linen bag...and on her wrist hung a beaded reticule inside which she carried a white lace handkerchief, her cosmetics, and a few cigarettes she had no intention of smoking in public. Her lace-up shoes with one-inch heels have her the feeling a a matron, and her gold wire-rimmed glasses and Gibson-girl hair were just the right touches...
This costume is important, especially considering her credentials are fabricated. She has no library degree or training, Nevertheless, she set to work
converting the school bus into a library on wheels. She designed shelves of various sizes and asked the Ag boys to construct them. She sewed gingham curtains with lace trim for all the windows and found space in the back for a small table and three chairs. Then she began stocking the shelves with every title available and ordered more with funds the county provided.
Miss Jessie, furthermore, makes a map of the county "and a list of all the communities and crossroads to be included on [her] stops" and types "hundreds of file cards" - these of course would be for the card catalog, which libraries in 1978 would most certainly still have been using.

I was most intrigued by Miss Jessie's concern over some donated works, many of which "she lamented, are not suitable as they contain nothing that will advance the mind." This kind of thinking among librarians - that we should be gatekeepers of information, rather than connecting people with whatever information they want - was more common in the mid 1800s  (according to Wayne Wiegand's A Part of Our Lives: A People's History of the American Public Library) than it is today, but certainly fit perfectly with Miss Jessie's Victorian ideals.

The rather Victorian courtship between the assistant pastor and the librarian was, of course, hot gossip for the town.
Chester Galloway saw them in his pasture and said that he did not think it looked too good for the assistant pastor and the town librarian to be entertaining themselves on the ground. His main concern was what the young people would think. But his wife, Verna, said that it looked perfectly all right as long as they were carrying a Bible. 
A quick check through spy glasses (and what's wrong with that?!) confirmed that the two were indeed using a Bible to hold down one corner of the blanket.

Their relationship takes some rather unexpected twists, especially when the town conspires to make it the focus of the annual Crepe Myrtle Pageant. Ultimately, the two find their own way, and more importantly, the town library finds a permanent home on the top floor of the newly renovated courthouse.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Orange is the New Black - by Piper Kerman



I've been intending to read Kerman's memoir ever since the debut of the Netflix series of the same name in premiered in 2013. After recently watching the fifth season, I finally got over to my public library and checked the book out. Much less edgy than the television show, Kerman's book is, nevertheless, a quick and fascinating read.

While the television show's characters Poussey (Samira Wiley) and Taystee (Danielle Brooks) might have one believe that the prison library is a hub of activity, it was in fact barely mentioned in the book. Most of Kerman's reading materials were sent to her by friends and family, so much so that she ended up with her own personal library, which she was glad to share with others. When she left the federal penitentiary in Danbury, Connecticut she donated all of her books to the prison library. She knows her books are being used when a year after her release she receives a letter from Danbury
Formal and stilted, it was from Rosemarie, and folded into it were two photographs of my grandmother. My cousin had sent them to me in prison...Rosemarie wrote that she hoped I was doing well on the outs, and that she had found these photos in a book in the library and recognized who it was. 
Photographs are among the more innocuous things found in returned library books. For some real tales from the stacks see this post from BookRiot, and this one from BuzzFeed.

Another fellow inmate, Levy, upon being released was interviewed by the Hartford Courant newspaper and described her six-month sentence as a "holiday" with a "wide range of classes" as well as "two libraries with a wide array of books and magazines, including Town and Country and People". All of this, of course was a surprise to her fellow inmates who listened to her complain and cry every day of her incarceration.

In the book's Afterword Kerman (now serving on the board of the Women's Prison Association) points out that the United States has the world's biggest prison population with 25% of the wold's prisoners, but only 5% of the world's population. Low level offenders make up a huge proportion of these inmates. She further explains
Most of the women I know from prison have lived lives that were missing opportunities many of us take for granted. It sometimes seems that we have built revolving doors between our poorest communities and correctional facilities, and created perverse financial incentives to keep those prisons full, at taxpayers' expense. America has invested heavily in prison, while the public institutions that actually prevent crime and strengthen communities - schools, hospitals, libraries, museums, community centers - go without.
Sing it, Sister!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - by J.K. Rowling



SPOILER ALERTS

Knowing that Harry Potter does not return to Hogwarts for his final year of schooling in the seventh book, I feared that there would be no libraries to blog about as I wrapped up my seven-year tribute to my favorite literary wizard. Fortunately, it turned out that my worries were for naught. Although librarian Madam Pince never makes an appearance, Harry, Ron, and Hermione demonstrate that books, and libraries are still important information resources, especially when hunting horcruxes. Hermione's "mobile library" (which she carries in a magic beaded bag) proves to be an invaluable asset, especially the book on horcruxes which she most certainly did not steal from the Hogwarts' library.
It wasn't stealing...They were still library books, even if Dumbledore had taken them from the shelves.
So right Hermione, and really Dumbledore must have known, as smart as he was, that removing books from the library only would make them that much more attractive, and as Hermione also points out, if Dumbledore hadn't wanted them to have the books he wouldn't have made getting hold of them as easy as using a simple summoning charm!

In London the friends discover, by looking at library records, that the orphanage where Tom Riddle (a.ka. Lord Voldemort) was raised had been demolished. Convinced that the Dark Lord wouldn't have hidden anything as valuable as a piece if his soul in the place he most wanted to escape anyway, the three move on.

Happy Birthday, Harry - the boy who lived! You need no horcruxes, nor hallows, nor sorcerer's stones in order to live forever. Eternal life is yours through the magic of books, as new generations of readers will discover your story.

Always.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Sin Bravely: A Memoir of Spiritual Disobedience


Of the spiritual memoirs I've read most recently (see my posts for Post Traumatic Church Syndrome and A Year of Living Prayerfully ) Rowe's work was, without a doubt, the most raw. The author tells the story of how her doubts of being saved, despite the fact that she had been baptized, and had, on countless occasions, publicly professed Jesus Christ as her lord and savoir eventually consumed her. As a young college woman in the 1990s this lifetime of confusion catches up with her. The overwhelming feeling that she was not doing enough to demonstrate her Christianity (a condition she discovers has a name - scrupulosity) lead her to check in at Grace Point, a psychiatric hospital "where the Bible comes first". The book details her time at Grace Point and incorporates flashbacks of her life prior to the panic attack that ultimately motivated her to seek help there.

Rowe made good use of her college library. She not only used the viewing room to watch BBC productions of Shakespeare plays for class with her boyfriend she also attacked her "theological demons" there by reading what "theologians and the early church fathers had written about salvation and hell". She specifically mentions drawing a "trench line in a remote corner of the Cornell library, between Dewey decimals 220 and 230". While I don't doubt she did the research, I do question that Cornell University Library used the Dewey Decimal System to classify its books. The Library of Congress system is most commonly used in research libraries and so it appears that Cornell does, at least currently, follow this custom. Perhaps things were different in the 1990s, but that is unlikely. I expect Rowe took a bit of artistic license here.

Rowe worried a lot about the eternal fates of the many good people she knew who were not Christians, including the "Asian librarian with the Buddhist yin-yang symbol around her neck who didn't charge [her] a late fee for [her] overdue books". She needn't have concerned herself, though - all librarians go to heaven! The destiny of those who return library books late, however, is another matter.

Rowe's work is funny, honest, and surprising.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome - by Reba Riley


In my quest to find a religiously-themed, yet light-hearted story for a possible One Book One Community Read I came across Riley's book. Like Jared Brock's A Year of Living Prayerfully Riley makes a "year of" project out of exploring a variety of religions. The purpose of her search, however, is quite different than Brock's, and she also is more willing to examine faiths beyond those with a Judeo-Christian history including Muslims, Wiccans, and Native American spiritualities.

An interesting connection between her book and Brock's however is that both are living with a chronic, undiagnosed illness. The Sickness, as Riley calls it, sometimes prevents her from researching as much as she might before attending a service. For instance she was surprised to learn that visiting a synagogue on Yom Kippur without a ticket just wasn't a thing.

She does mention doing research on several occasions, including twice using a library, even checking out a book on one occasion!

Riley's year goes from her 29th birthday to her 30th attainment day. I cringed when she referred to this as her 29th year. It was her 30th. The day a person is born they begin their first year, which ends the day before their first birthday. Their second year begins, then, on their first birthday, and so on. Her mistake though is common. Let's agree to stop this madness here and now.

Despite my issues with her counting of years, I enjoyed the book. It is funny, and the author kept the focus on herself. It is definitely a contender for One Book One Community.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children (Books 2 & 3) - by Ransom Riggs


I finally got around to reading the rest of the series from Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. When I discovered that the third book was called Library of Souls I really couldn't put it off any longer. Books two and three continue the tale of Jacob and his Peculiar friends using the same vintage photograph device as was used in book one.

Book 2 (Hollow City) is not so library-centric, with the Peculiars encountering only one library as they run through a bombed-out London during World War II seeking shelter, not only from the bombs, but from the hollows chasing them.
Still I could feel them coming. There were out in the open now, out of the cathedral, lurching after us, invisible to all but me. I wondered if even I would be able to see them here, in the dark: shadow creatures in a shadow city. 
We ran until my lungs burned. Until Olive couldn't keep up anymore and Bronwyn had to scoop her into her arms. Down long blocks of blacked-out windows staring like lidless eyes. Past a bombed library snowing ash and burning papers. Through a bombed cemetery, long-forgotten Londoners unearthed and flung into tress grinning in rotted formal wear.... 
Book three finds our heroes in an especially creepy place called Devil's Acre where murder is "tolerated with reservations" and piracy is "discouraged". "Is anything illegal here?" Addison (the talking dog) asks. "Library fines are stiff" is the reply. "Ten lashes a day, and that's just for paperbacks". Astonished that the place even has a library Addison is even more surprised to learn that there are actually two "though one won't lend because all the books are bound in human skin and quite valuable." Neither of these libraries were, however, the Library of Souls, a place where the souls of peculiars are deposited for reuse. As explained in Tales of the Peculiar, the only book in "peculiardom" ever to be banned
It was thought that peculiar souls were a precious thing in limited supply, and it would be a waste to take them with us to the grave. Instead at the end of [their] lives [they] made a pilgrimage to the library where...souls would be deposited for future use by others. Even in spiritual matters...peculiars have always been frugal-minded.
Of course special librarians "who could read peculiar souls like they were books"  are needed in order to access the souls in the mythical library, and finding one of them was near impossible as "a librarian hasn't been born for a thousand years".

Librarians really do matter.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Year of Living Prayerfully - by Jared Brock


Our One Book One Community (OBOC) steering committee is looking for a light-hearted book with a spiritual theme to read next spring. We had a suggestion of Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - And Doesn't by Stephen Prothero which I started to read, and do like, but I am not sure it is a good choice for a community read. Our community likes to read stories, and Prothero's book is not only not a "story" it is also rather didactic (as the title would suggest). These are two things that make the book a less-than-ideal choice for OBOC. With this in mind I started to look for other books - specifically something with a plot. Then I remembered that during my "Year of Reading 'Year of' Books" I read two religiously-themed humorous books that were about spiritual quests: The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs; and My Jesus Year by Benyamin Cohen. I correctly surmised that more such books must have been written the last few years and selected Brock's book as one that had potential for OBOC. Brock's story features a genuine inquiry into what prayer means. He travels across the globe, often with this wife, to talk to religious leaders about their own spiritual journeys and ultimately finds more questions than answers.

As a Unitarian Universalist I respect and support each person's search for truth and meaning (see our fourth principle). I was intrigued with Brock's quest, and especially appreciated his final comments regarding having more to learn
After an intense year of learning about prayer from some of the best sources on earth, I don't feel like I'm further along. If anything, I feel like a first-year university student-I now know all the things I don't know-all the things I haven't yet learned, understood, or experienced. I am not, in any way, a prayer expert. I'm a failing student who's playing catch up, at best. Rather than coming to the end of a journey, I've only just begun.
As he continues his inquiry I hope he branches out beyond Judeo-Christian traditions. His interactions with Muslims were limited and I don't recall him meeting with any imams. Nor did he talk to any Buddhists (he did meet with one who had converted to Christianity) or Hindus. Likewise, his dealings with women religious leaders were rather narrow. I think the woman with whom he had the longest conversation was Rachel Phelps-Hockenbarger, daughter of Fred Phelps of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. I have to give him credit for his perseverance in getting the interview, though.

Brock's travels took him to, Israel, several parts of Europe, his native Canada, the United States, and also to North and South Korea. I was impressed with his courage in voyaging to North Korea, and his refusal to bow down to the body of Kim Il-Sung. There were no visits to any African or Latin American countries, however, and I suspect that if he had spoken to someone in Central or South America about liberation theology, or talked to anyone in Africa about colonialism, or attended a religious ceremony on an Indian reservation in the United States, he might not have simply and naively accepted the comments he found in Christianity Today that
Missionaries brought about reforms, fought colonialism, taught people to read, and rallied support for struggling peoples around the world. The conclusion the article makes is striking: "Want a blossoming democracy today? The solution is simple-if you have a time machine: Send a 19th-century missionary."
I was, of course, glad to see that he began his globe-trotting voyages at his local library. On page one Brock tells us
Michelle and I decided to live prayerfully for an entire year. It was a nice, shiny idea. But where should we start? 
With For Dummies, obviously. I borrowed a copy of Christian Prayer for Dummies from the library.
After reading a bit of the work though, he found himself unimpressed and
called it quits, returning the book to the library, where [he] assumed it would remain until next year's Friends of the library book sale. 
He also visited the library at the Monastery of Vatopedi (and even borrowed a book there) and while on Mount Athos talked to Father Philotheos who, when asked to define prayer, responded
Prayer isn't one thing...You can read a whole university library full of books that have been written just on the Jesus Prayer.
Brock made at least one other attempt to visit a library while on his journeys. Sadly, however he found the library (and the museum) at Monte Cassino closed (this after he paid his entrance fee). The gift shop, however, was open.

Ultimately, I think I will keep up my own search for a One Book One Community read and look for something that explores religion beyond what one will find in the Judeo-Christian traditions.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

J. Edgar - the movie





I learned from reading The Card Catalog that former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover not only once worked in the Library of Congress, but that he applied what he learned there (from helping to organize the card catalog) in his work at the Bureau. I was even more interested though that he attempted to use his insider knowledge of this Great Library in order to impress at least one woman. In one early scene of the film "Edgar" (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) takes Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) on a date to the Library and demonstrates how speedily he can find a book using the wonderful cataloging system he helped to arrange. While he doesn't manage to win the lady's hand , he does convince her to become his private secretary. Together they created a special system of filing at his Bureau office that kept his private file, well, private. To this day no one knows what was in them. I was intrigued that he used a system originally intended to help people find things in order to create a system that did just the opposite.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Road to Little Dribbling - by Bill Bryson


My husband and I couldn't resist picking up Bill Bryson's latest work after so very much enjoying Notes from a Big Country and A Walk in the Woods. We weren't disappointed as we once again enjoyed some laugh-out-loud reading time together.

Following what he designates as "the Bryson Line" the author transected the United Kingdom from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, stopping at a variety of bergs in between, visiting tourist traps, and little known spots alike, he makes keen observations on the people and places along the way.
The Bryson Line

It is unclear whether or not he visited any libraries on this particular journey, however, he did write about things he had learned in libraries
  • Such as the fact that Dwight D. Eisenhower had a home called Telegraph Cottage on the edge of Wimbledon Common during World War II and
  • How the system of road numbering works in Britain in fact he was "surprised to learn that there is a system to British road numbering...it is not like systems elsewhere."
He also discussed libraries as part of an important part of a community
  • Even if the community never existed. Motopia "was a proposed model community based on the uniquely unexpected idea of banishing cars." Motopia, however, was to include "housing, shopping, offices, libraries, schools, and recreational space" with its inhabitants "getting from place to place on moving sidewalks or in taxi boats along lakes and a small network of canals".
  • He also points out that even when Britain was referred to "the Sick Man of Europe...there were flowerbeds in roundabouts, libraries, and post offices in every village, cottage hospitals in abundance, council housing for all who needed it" and wonders why "the richer Britain gets, the poorer it thinks itself"  
  • He notes that Canford Cliffs, while lacking many of the shops he remembered from his previous visit thirty years prior, still maintained "a lovely little library and a proper village center."
  • In a completely deserved dissing of Birmingham, which had announced "massive spending cuts" that would make two-thirds of city employees "redundant" Bryson points out that this move included halving the staffing levels at the new £189 million central library, as well as cutting its hours by 46%, among so many other things. Bryson' sarcasm about all of this is right on target
All of this is being done to save £338 million over four years. That sounds like an enormous sum, but in fact it is a saving of about £1.40 per week per citizen. I wonder what all those lucky people of Birmingham will do with that extra £1.40 flowing into their pockets every week.
American citizens would do well to pay attention. Tax cuts rarely mean that middle and working class people will benefit.

Bryson also uses libraries as metaphors, or simply uses them to make a point
  • He doesn't like it, for instance, "when a hotel puts some books in a bar and calls it The Library."
  • He remembered "the Natural History Museum as being almost empty of other visitors and very quiet, like a library" although, that aspect had changed for his recent visit. He does point out, however, that the whole country of England is quiet in comparison to the United States "like a big library".
  • He suggests that one way to "receive formal adulation" in the United States is by "paying for a hospital wing or a university library or something along those lines." The other way is to "single-handedly take out a German machine-gun nest while carrying a wounded buddy on your back at a place called Porkchop Hill or Cemetery Ridge..."  
This is an entertaining book, and would be a good choice for a vacation read.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Storyteller's Candle/La velita de los cuentos - by/por Lucia González


¡Feliz Día de los niños / Día de los libros! Children's Day/Book Day (or more simply Día) is celebrated every year on April 30 to celebrate multicultural books for children and to encourage literacy. The celebration was started in 1996 by children's author Pat Mora whose work I have written about before (see my previous posts about Pat Mora and Día here and here). 

This year in honor of Día I read a bilingual book about a bilingual librarian, Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian in New York City. The Storyteller's Candle/La velita de los cuentos tells the story of how those who migrated to Manhattan's Barrio from Puerto Rico during the Great Depression found a welcoming library when they discovered that a Spanish-speaking librarian had been hired. Belpré made clear the message that libraries were for everyone by not only ensuring that reading materials in English and Spanish were available to the new arrivals, she also planned story hours, and celebrations that honored their language and traditions.The beautiful illustrations enhance this story about the joy and warmth of family and community. 

Belpré's memory is honored each year with the awarding of the Pura Belpré Award to a Latinx author and illustrator "whose book best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth."

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu - by Joshua Hammer


This was already on my must-read list when we received it as a gift from one of my husband's geography students. This tells the story of the rich history of literature in Africa - a history which contradicted the story told in 20th century Europe "that black Africans were illiterates with no history". Instead manuscripts from medieval times
proved the opposite-that a sophisticated, freethinking society had thrived south of the Sahara at a time when much of Europe was still mired in the Middle Ages
The work of scribes who copied texts at a rate of "150 lines of calligraphy per day" is described and their pay in gold nuggets or gold dust. The ancient texts were threatened several times over the centuries, including during the French occupation at the turn of the twentieth century. Over one hundred years later it was Al-Qaeda that nearly destroyed the literary treasure.

In the ensuing years many of the manuscripts had been hidden in homes, where they were deteriorating. Abdel Kader Haidara tracked down many of these manuscripts in the 1980s and convinced the owners to donate them to Mali's libraries where they could be preserved. By "2011 the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library in Timbuktu was fast becoming one of the world's most innovative manuscript conservation centers and a symbol of Timbuktu's cultural renaisance". In 2012 Abdel Kader Haidara once again worked to save the treasures, as he organized people to smuggle the manuscripts out of Timbuktu where they could be safe from eradication. This tale is not just about librarians, but also about the common people who risked their own safety to move the books.

Controlling information is one way that those in power attempt to keep their authority. It is an old story. One we see throughout history, and just as relevant today as our own government attempts to vilify the press while spouting "alternative facts".

This could be hard to read at times as accounts of be-headings, kidnappings, and other senseless violence were part and parcel to the story. However, it is also a tale of hope and courage. All who understood that knowledge was worth preserving were the heroes of the story and serve as examples to those who may be despairing.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Card Catalog:Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures - by The Library of Congress


Almost anyone who used a library before about 1990 (and many after that) will remember using a card catalog - a now obsolete method of finding books in a library which involved index cards in drawers. The cards were interfiled by book title, author, and subject and had the call number written in the upper left-hand corner. Those who attended the Graduate Library School at the University of Arizona when I did (1990-1991) will remember a cataloging course in which just about all we did was learn how to create proper entries for catalog cards. Machine Readable Cataloging (MARC) records were beginning to emerge in some libraries at the time (including at the University of Arizona) but we did very little with computers in the class, instead we hand wrote entries, and were graded on such things as how close together our punctuation marks appeared to be. What I didn't know at the time was that there was actually a thing called "Library Hand" that prescribed the penmanship to be used on hand written cards. Now that I know this I'm frankly surprised that that wasn't part of the curriculum.

An example of Library Hand from the book

There is a romance around the card catalog. I will admit to missing them. The old oak cabinets were iconic of libraries once upon a time, and as a youngster I was proud that I knew how to use them. My ability to employ the catalog to find information marked me as a learned person. Card catalogs were not without their faults, however. Lazy patrons, rather than writing down a book's call number, would sometimes simply remove the card from its drawer, whence it would never return. Censors could also easily remove all references to a particular library book simply by ripping all the relevant cards from their drawers making it virtually impossible to find the book. This was certainly a lot easier than actually going through the channels to have the offending book removed the library, and frankly a lot more effective. It was also not uncommon for cards to be misfiled, making finding a needed resource into a special kind of challenge.

When I discovered that a new book had been published about this once quintessential symbol of the library I immediately purchased the e-version and downloaded it to my iPad in celebration of National Library Week.

None other than the newly appointed Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, wrote the foreword to this work. I made an instantaneous connection upon reading the first sentence of the book
One of my first assignments when I began my library career was to file Library of Congress card catalog sets into a wooden case in the storefront branch of the Chicago Public Library.
Such was also one of my first assignments at my first library job (as a student assistant at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory Library) in 1991. I imagine this experience parallels that of many Baby Boomer librarians.

The card catalog really dates back to that most venerable of libraries - The Library of Alexandria where books were actually scrolls, and had to be organized in such a way that scholars could find what they needed. The Pinakes was created by Callimachus who divided the scrolls into categories, and created records which included the number of lines, and the opening words of each scroll. You can read an excerpt from the book that describes this early catalog  (published in Time magazine).

I started this blog six years ago, but I've been blogging about books since 2009. My first book blog was called "My Year of Reading 'Year of' Books" a bit of a meta-blog that featured books of the "stunt lit" genre in which the authors took on a yearlong project and wrote about it. In 2010 I wrote a blog called Celebrating the States - a yearlong project during which I posted on each of the 50 states on the anniversary of its statehood. Each post included information about a food or recipe associated with said state, along with a review of a movie that took place in the state, and a review of a book set in the state. Every once in a while I read about a book I've blogged about in another book. I had the good serendipity in reading The Card Catalog to find  a copy of the catalog card from Idaho: A Guide in Word and Picture - written as part of the a program of the Federal Writers' Project during the Great Depression. This was indeed the book I read when I blogged about Idaho. Looking back at the post it seems it was almost in the cards (pun intended) that I mentioned the catalog record for it!




This book has some wonderful pictures, and a lot of history not just of catalog cards, but of the Library of Congress as well. It is a quick read and is sure to be enjoyed by librarians and library lovers alike. Read more about this book, and card catalogs here.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt's Treasured Books - by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya


The ancient library of Alexandria, Egypt (Biblioteca Alexandrina) stood from 300 BCE to 400 CE. There are various legends as to what happened to this "center where great thinkers, scientists, mathematicians, and poets [came] to study and share ideas". We do know that it was burned either intentionally or by accident and today, not far from where the original library was located, a new library made of  granite and opened in 2002, stands in its place.

In early 2011 protesters in Egypt succeeded in their call for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. The eighteen days of protest were violent and the new library was threatened. The director of the Library, Dr. Ismail Serageldin, closed the library and feared that it would be destroyed.
"The Library has no gates that can be locked", he called out. "The doors are all glass. There is nothing that prevents anybody from destroying this building with all its treasures, except the will of the people."
And the will of the people prevailed as crowds of students, library workers, and other demonstrators, surrounded the library and held hands to protect it from the devastation and so "the library still stands today holding all of our stories."

This children's book is beautifully illustrated with collages by co-author Susan Roth.

A perfect story for National Library Week about the breadth and depth of love a society can have for its library.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Stella Louella's Runaway Book - by Lisa Campbell Ernst



In honor of National Library Week, which starts today, I read this book involving a library escapade. Stella Louella is afraid she will never be able to use the library again when she realizes that she has lost her library book. The hunt is on as she spends her Saturday tracking the book across town. One after another she meets people who picked it up and read it, and passed it on to someone else. By the end of the day she has dozens of people helping her to find the lost volume. The librarian has a surprise for her though when Stella Louella shows up at the library at closing time and comes clean that the book is nowhere to be found!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Quabbin: The Accidental Wilderness - by Thomas Conuel


In 1946 the Massachusetts towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott, along with six villages were flooded to create the Quabbin Resevoir in order to provide fresh water to Boston. The inhabitants of the towns were relocated, as were cemeteries and some buildings. 

Conuel's book tells some of the history of the towns and how the reservoir was created, and also tells of the beautiful wilderness that stands today with wildlife including bobcats and bald eagles. This slim work is rife with historic photographs providing a glimpse into the life of central Massachusetts at the turn of the 20th century as well as pictures of flora and fauna found at the Quabbin Resevoir. The book was first published in 1981, and I imagine that even since the 1990 revision I read climate change has brought about some additional transformations to the area.

One cannot write a book such as this without some assistance from archivists, historical societies, and librarians. Conuel found a gold-mine of information in Warren "Bud" Doubleday, a former resident of one of the flooded towns. He was referred to Doubleday by a librarian in New Salem. He also acknowledges Audrey Druckert, the official librarian of the historical society, an expert in wild plants and conservator of "a collection of tapes...as close to a complete oral history of the valley before the reservoir was built as exists anywhere."

This book has been sitting on my shelf for a long time. I finally read it as part of Book Riot's 2017 Read Harder Challenge  which includes a call to "Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location" (among 23 others).

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Elephant Whisperer -by Lawrence Anthony


It was looking mightily like I would not be blogging here about Bridgewater's current One Book One Community read. This story of the author's affinity with a rogue herd of elephants who find their home in Anthony's South African game reserve in the early 2000s didn't have any libraries in it. However, just as the book was winding down (on page 366 of 368) Anthony explains how elephants' reputations for long memories is well deserved as older elephants teach young bulls
masculine etiquette as well as more practical matters of survival in the wild, such as where the best watering holes and the most succulent branches and berries are....An ageing elephant male is not something surplus to be dispatched by some meagre trophy-gatherer. He is a breathing reference library [emphasis mine]; he's there for the health and well-being of future elephants. He teaches the youngster who they really are and imparts priceless bush skills to succeeding generations.
And there you have it.

This was a popular choice for One Book One Community (OBOC) - a favorite of many committee members, and OBOC's fans have shown great enthusiasm for it. I wasn't crazy about it myself though. As much as the author loved animals, and was able to commune with them, he seemed unable to transfer that respect to his interactions with other humans, which I found rather off-putting.

Friday, March 31, 2017

I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This - by Jacqueline Woodson


This young adult novel tells the story of Marie who befriends the new white girl (Lena) at her predominantly black middle school. Lena confides to Marie that her (Lena's) father is sexually abusing her and Marie promises not to tell anyone Lena's secret. Their friendship is challenged on many fronts and Marie learns some difficult truths.

Marie's single father dates Rose, the town librarian (who doesn't actually appear in the book). However, the town library has a small role in this work as Lena's sister's (Dion's) "favorite place in the world. She actually had a temper tantrum if...picked up too early." The library is likely a safe place for the little girl who lives with a neglectful and abusive parent.

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