Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Carry On - by Rainbow Rowell

I've read a lot of reviews of books by Rainbow Rowell, but until now I had not read any of her books, so when I saw this one at a Little Free Library at a neighbor's house I picked it up. 

As I started to read it, I thought it was simply a Harry Potter clone (a story about an orphan who doesn't know he's a wizard, who goes to a school for magical folks) but I figured there was probably more to it than that and did a bit of research. I learned that this is in fact some metafiction on Rowell's part. She explains how she came to write the book in an author's note at the end of the book. She begins her note with the following information

If you've read my book Fangirl, you know Simon Snow began as a fictional character in that novel.

A fictional-fictional character. Kind of an amalgam and descendant of a hundred other fictional Chosen Ones.

In Fangirl, Simon is the hero of a series of children's adventure novels written by Gemma T. Leslie - and the subject of much fanfiction written by the main character, Cath.

Rowell goes on to say that while she was able to let go of Cath and her world, she could not let go of Simon Snow, so she wrote her own story about him. 

And so I read the story on its own terms.

When Simon Snow returns to Watford for his final year of school he discovers that his nemesis (and roommate) Baz is missing. Baz's mother was once the headmistress of Watford, but was killed when Baz was very young. The ghost of Baz's mother comes looking for him in his dorm room, but finds only Simon and so she leaves a message with him asking that Baz avenge her death. When Baz does return he and Simon make a truce in order to work together to find the killer (and the expected love story ensues). Meanwhile the entire magic world is fighting an enigmatic monster called the Humdrum who is creating "dead zones" across Great Britain where magic does not work. The Mage (current headmaster at Watford) is spearheading the fight by conducting warrant-less searches of wizard homes, raiding their personal libraries looking for information to find out who is working with the Humdrum. (Books are referred to as "treasures".) The Mage insists that those who have "nothing to hide" have nothing to worry about. Baz's is worried because he knows that his family keeps "banned books and dark objects". The Mage banned some books (and words!) after Baz's mother died. Simon's friend Penny is likewise concerned about what the Mage and his goons might find at her family's house. Simon insists that her family wouldn't have anything, but Penny isn't sure.

You know my mum. 'Information wants to be free.' 'There's no such thing as a bad thought.' Our library is practically as big as Watford's and better stocked. If you wanted to find something dangerous there, I'm sure you could. 

Baz notices that the books in his mother's library are out of order. This is concerning because his mother always had them sorted by subject. Baz "was always allowed to touch her books...to read any book, as long as [he] put it back in its place and promised to ask in something confused or frightened him". Well, imagine that. Rather than censoring what he could read, Baz's mother "parented" him instead.  

In addition to their home libraries Simon and his classmates use the school library regularly. This despite that fact that "most of the magickal books have been removed from the Watford library. It is not okay, however, that Simon "snuck a few bound volumes  [of The Magickal Record - "the closest thing magicians have to a newspaper...out of the library", even if he does believe his reasons are valid. 

Friday, January 13, 2023

Back to the Future Part III (the movie)

Well, it seems that it has been over seven years since I last watched a Back to the Future movie (when I watched Part II in honor of Back to the Future day). While my adult child was visiting recently the whole family enjoyed watching the whole trilogy. Like Part II, Part III features a trip to the library archive to look up some history of Hill Valley. The library itself appears to be closed, so I'm not sure how Marty and Doc Brown got in. 

Many people (my own child for instance) find the third part to be the best of the bunch. I disagree and say the original is still the best (which is not to say that all three are a lot of fun). After watching we came up with a myriad of questions about inconsistencies, and the logistics of time travel. It really is best not to wonder too hard about all of this. Better to just enjoy the ride.

One thing that Part II has over parts I and III is that it passes the Bechdel test. Marty's mother (Lorraine) talks to his daughter (Marlene) about pizza. Part three does not pass, although there is a strong female character in Clara (Mary Steenburgen).

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Mr. Harrigan's Phone - the movie

Our lives are made up of a series of "befores" and "afters". 

Mr. Harrigan's Phone takes place in the years immediately after 9/11, but before the 2016 election. This placement in time is important for the context of the story. The internet was nascent, and the first generation of iPhones were just coming out, and it was fair to be concerned about how we might be monitored electronically. 

Based on the short story by Stephen King this film tells the story of a friendship between an elderly billionaire, Mr. Harrigan (Donald Sutherland) and Craig (Jaeden Martell) a teenager Harrigan employs to read to him. When Craig decides to gift Mr. Harrigan a new iPhone Harrigan is reluctant to accept it for a variety of reasons. However, Craig convinces him that the real-time information he can get on the stock market makes the phone a gold mine. Mr. Harrigan is immediately impressed with the internet, and subsequently predicts a variety of misuses and misunderstandings of it, all of which, eventually, came to pass.

In addition to the Harrigan's lesson on information literacy there are two scenes inside a library. One early scene demonstrates how essential libraries are to accessing information for those who may not have technology available to them otherwise.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Only Murders in the Building - Season 2 episode 8 "Hello Darkness"

 I watched season 2 of this Hulu series back in the summer when it first aired and I've been meaning to write about it ever since. Now that I am on sabbatical I had time to re-watch it and make my post.

For the uninitiated Only Murders in the Building is a comedy series starring Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez. The three play neighbors in a posh apartment building in Manhattan who solve crimes  (only murders in the building) together while producing a podcast.

Season 2, episode 8 takes place during a blackout. Two of the other tenants Lester (Michael Cyril Creighton) and Jonathan (Jason Veasey) begin to flirt by asking each other for batteries for their flashlights. Lester invites Jonathan into his apartment where the two begin to get to know each other by candlelight.

Lester is the Assistant Director of Collection Development at the Central Manhattan Public Library.  Jonathan plays a hyena in the Broadway production of The Lion King but yearns for something more. "What could a Broadway star want to be instead?" asks Lester. "Don't laugh" comes the reply. "I've always wanted to be a children's librarian". Incredulous Lester responds "I'm a librarian". "Shut up!" says Jonathan. Lester then demonstrates his wit with the retort "That's our slogan!" 

Their poignant duet of "The Sound of Silence" not only brings these two together, but the entire building as well.


Friday, December 9, 2022

I Kissed Shara Wheeler - by Casey McQuiston


Being out and queer at Willowgrove Christian Academy is hard enough for Chloe Green without also having Shara Wheeler, the Principal's "perfect" daughter as her rival for class valedictorian. To complicate matters further, Shara disappears after she steals a kiss from Chole. That Shara had previously been presumed to be straight (the girlfriend of a star football player, no less) confounds everyone. Chole, Smith (Shara's boyfriend), and their friend Rory begin a search for Shara based on some rather complicated clues. 

No YA novel would be complete without some action taking place in the school library. Rory and Chloe sneak into the Principal's office after hours via the library air duct. They are able to get a key to the library from Chloe's friend Georgia who works as a library aide, although Georgia is unaware of what they were planning. While the ruse of traveling through air ducts is comically common in fiction, I don't know anyone IRL who has ever done it, although apparently it has been used with some success. Read about one case here.

Chloe and Shara have a unique library connection but only Chloe knows about it until close to the end of the book. Chloe witnesses Shara throwing away her bejeweled cross necklace in the library trashcan, which Chloe retrieves and then keeps. There are other mentions of studying and meeting in the library sprinkled throughout, but my favorite use of the library was this metaphor, written by Chloe's friend Georgia for a creative writing assignment
There's a girl with brown eyes who reminds me of the first book I ever loved. When I look at her, I feel like there might be another universe in her. I imagine her on a shelf too high for me to reach, or peeking out of someone else's backpack, or at the end of a long wait at the library. I know there are other books that are easier to get my hands on, but none are half as good as her. Every part of her seems to have a purpose, a specific meaning, an exact reason for being...

Another fun romp from the author of Red, White, and Royal Blue.


Thursday, December 8, 2022

Cape Cod - by Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau spent a year on Walden Pond; howver, he spent only a week visiting Cape Cod in October 1849 before writing this book (although he does mention three visits in total). He traveled from shoulder to fist, back before there was a canal that cut the town of Onset off from the rest of the Cape and before the Cape was such the destination that it is today. He talks to many locals during his travels.

In Pond Village he talks to some blackfish fishermen.  

the Social Whale, Globicephalus Melas of De Kay; called also Black Whale-fish, Howling Whale, Bottlehead, etc.

he learns that these whales are valuable for their oil and that whole schools of them have been caught and then sold for thousands of dollars.

In the Naturalists' Library, it is said that, in the winter of 1809-10, one thousand one hundred and ten "approached the shore of Hralfiord, Iceland, and were captured". 

When Thoreau got to Provincetown he took a"little steamer" back to Boston and describes the scene at the wharf

I see a great many barrels and fig-drums, - piles of wood for unbrella-sticks, - blocks of granite and ice, - great heaps of goods, and the means of packing and conveying them, - much wrapping-paper and twine, - many crakes and hogsheads and truck, - and that is Boston. The more barrels, the more Boston. The museums and scientific societies and libraries are accidental.  
I found this book on one of the many bookshelves in my house, although I believe my husband had read it before, it was previously unread by me. It is available for free through Project Gutenberg.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Dress Coded - by Carrie Firestone

I do love Little Free Libraries, of which there are about half a dozen near our weekend home in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. I found this book in the LFL located closest to our house. This novel tells of Molly Frost and her comrades at Fisher Middle School who are sick of having their clothing monitored. Shorts and skirts that aren't longer than the end of one's fingertips, bare shoulders, and other "distracting" attire is cause for being "coded". When Molly's friend Olivia is humiliated by the principal for exposing her shoulders because she removed her sweatshirt to tie around her waist to hide the period blood on her white pants Molly starts a podcast to protest. The protest gains serious momentum which ends with an Occupation in the schoolyard.

The school library, the public library, and a "fantasy library" where Molly imagines a decent older brother who protects her from the bullies who pelt her with ice balls are all part of this story.

Molly's mother attends a lecture at the local public library on "how guinea fowl and possums are better than chemicals for managing ticks."

The school library is a place where parents meet to discuss an upcoming end-of-year trip; where (girl) students are sent to have their clothing scrutinized; and where Molly and her friend Navya meet to write their speech for the School Board meeting. While writing their notes they find an ally in Mr. Beam, the school librarian, who "drops a blue folder on the table, winks, adjusts his tie, and walks away...It's stacked with articles about dress code protests and how, by law, student dress codes cannot be evenly enforced". You can always count on a librarian for assistance with subversive activity.