Friday, December 30, 2011

Look at Me - by Anita Brookner

Frances Hinton works in a medical library, this, along with her too-big London flat are the setting for what is  a rather dull life. Frances specializes in archiving historic, pictorial material "an encyclopedia of illness and death." She goes on to say, as only a librarian would "[p]roblems of human behavior still continue to baffle us, but at least in the Library we have them properly filed." As any librarian will tell you, there are certain "library people" who come to the library all the time. Hinton suspects that some of her regular patrons come "because the Library is so very well heated." There is a lot more description of the library, and its regular users, as the book is largely a description of Frances' life. Through some of the library regulars she is able to get a sort of respite from her otherwise banal life. She begins to socialize and starts to date a man named James, but the book only scratches the surface of what she thinks of all this. She seems to be an observer to her own life, and is manipulated by her new friends. It is almost as if she is their pet, and like children who grow weary once the novelty of the pet has worn off, and they realize they have responsibilities to it, the new friends, and her beau discard her.

The library is where much of the action of the novel takes place, but I imagine the same story could probably have been told if Frances had been a waitress.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Yes, Virginia, there is a Librarian

In searching recently for some fun holidy fare to watch on our Netflix Roku, we discovered a Christmas short we had not seen before. Yes, Virginia  is a animated re-telling of the story of eight-year old Virginia O'Hanlon, who, in 1897, wrote to the editor of the New York Sun to ask if Santa Claus was real. This is a sweet family film, which had a special bonus of a scene in which Virginia and her friend go to the library to ask for help researching Santa. They get assistance from a rather traditional looking, yet enthusiastic, librarian who helps them find information on Santas of many lands. In the pictured scene, the librarian is actually shushing herself when she gets too carried away with the research.

See Virginia's originial letter, and editor's response, in this post from Newseum

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Time Traveler's Wife

James and I watched the movie version of the Time Traveler's Wife earlier this month. It is remarkable that I decided to read this book at all, considering how much I disliked the film. the novel, however, is quite good. In fact, I could hardly put it down. Henry DeTramble is a time traveler, and a librarian. He cannot control his time travel, where he goes, when he goes or where or when he arrives. What is always true for him though, is that when he travels he arrives at his destination without his clothes, or anything else that is not part of his person. Henry's wife, Clare, has known Henry since she was a little girl, although he always appeared to her as a grown man. Much of the story is about their relationship before they meet in "real time". Twenty-eight year old Henry has actually never met Clare, when she recognizes him at the Newberry Library in Chicago where he works. While other women might have to go on faith believing that the alcoholic, party animal, womanizer will be able to settle down to married life, Clare knows it will happen all along, and pays no heed to her friends' warnings.

I did not bother to count how many times libraries were mentioned, but I did mark a few passages that were especially intriguing to me. There were a few places where the librarian stereotype was made clear. One of Henry's acquaintances asks him to play her boyfriend for her family at Chirstmas dinner. She implores him "You're a presentable young person of the male gender. Hell, you're a librarian (emphasis in original). Henry even recognizes the stereotype himself when he visits his library school friend, Ben, of whom Henry says "More than anyone else I know, Ben looks like a librarian". Ironic, of course, is that Ben never finished his MLS, and instead provides back-alley meds to those in need. However much Ben must look like a librarian, Henry apparently doesn't, or at least so says Clare's friend Helen who remarks "we hear that you are a librarian. But you don't look like a librarian." To which Henry retorts "[a]ctually I am a Calvin Klein underwear model. The librarian thing is just a front". 

The library is a place where much time travel takes place, both to-ing and fro-ing.  And it is in the library of the Field Museum that five-year old Henry is mentored in time-travel survival by his 24-year old self. It is in Henry's own workplace that his boss and co-workers finally learn why Henry appears to have such a penchant for "airing out his johnson" when two of his selfs (one buck naked) show up at the same time. He explains to his colleagues about "the lying, and the stealing, and the fear...and trying to have a normal life 'and part of having a normal life is having a normal job'". To which one of his co-workers responds "I wouldn't really call this a normal job." Touché.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Ten - A movie with a Spanish-speaking librarian

My very first post on this blog I expressed gratitude to Martin Raish for inspiring this blog with his "Librarians in the Movies" webpage. Martin has since retired and no longer maintains the page. I have seen a few library movies that are not on his page, but so far have not posted about them. I could not hold myself back, however, from writing about The Ten, an exceptionally irreverent look at the Ten Commandments. The movie comprises 10 vingnettes (some of which are tied to each other) and connecting each section is a story of the movie director (played by Paul Rudd) and his wife. The stories are crazy silly. One wonders exactly which drug induced them.

We wound up watching this movie because it hasWynona Ryder in it. We have been fans since we saw her in that classic '80s "mean girl" film Heathers in 1988. Ryder did not play the librarian in this one though. This was ably done by Gretchen Mol. The best part about Mol's character (Gloria Jennings) was that she also spoke Spanish. Gloria travels to Mexico on a long vacation where she meets and falls in love with a young man named Jesus. She soon discovers that the man she is dating is, in fact, the son of God, in town for the Second Coming. He is taking his time, however, getting around to the Apocolypse since he has found other, more interesting, things to do. When Gloria realizes she cannot maintain a long-term romantic relationship with the Savior, she calls it quits and marries Oliver, a co-worker to whom she has no physical attraction. Hmmm. This actually sounds eeriliy like the thirty-something librarian mentioned in my post about the book Your Daughter's Bedroom that I wrote earlier this week. A little spooky, I must say.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Your Daughter's Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Women - by Joyce T. McFadden

McFadden's book is based on questionaires answered by 450 women of various backgrounds crossing cultural, age, educational attainment, and socio-economic statuses. Women were asked to respond to as many of the 63 different surveys they wanted, and the book is based on the three most frequently answered. These were the questions that asked about menstruation; mother/daughter relationships; and masturbation. Part of what she explores in the book is why these were the things women were most likely to respond to. What was it that made women want to tell about these things, and find out what other women were saying about them as well (aside from the obvious reason - that they all begin with the letter "m").

In 1992 Will Manley was fired from the now defunct Wilson Library Bulletin for publishing the "Librarians and Sex" survey. Although the Bulletin never ran the results of the 5,000 plus surveys received, the results are not hard to find. Most astonishing to the world at large was the discovery that most librarians actually DO have sex (see the full results here). So, it did not surprise me at all to find libraries and librarians mentioned in this work. Libraries were mentioned twice, once in a simple acknowledgement that survey respondents might have used a library computer to answer the questions, and the other was the author's memory of walking through her "college library and noticing that about half the students would be twirling, pulling, or stroking their hair while they were studying. Although she calls this masturbatory behavior, she explains "[they] weren't doing for arousal; they were doing it to enhance the clam need to focus. So it is with children [when they masturbate]." Since I work in a college library I will probably notice this behavior all the time, now.

Continuing with the masturbation question McFadden says that women are unlikely to talk about masturbation with their daughters because "we don't want to be seen as perverts, but also because we're so afraid they'll wonder if we masturbate...." She goes on to explain that while it may be true that our daughter may wonder, whether we discuss it or not, they will also wonder if the mailman, librarian, hot guy at the movie theatre, or new girl at school are doing it as well. Manley's questionnaire did not address this issue. Perhaps it's time for another survey.

The last reference to a librarian comes very near the end of the book when McFadden quotes "a librarian in her late thirties" who answers the survey question "If you have ever fallen out of love, when did this happen?" 
I wouldn't call it love, but he has demonstrated that he enjoys having me in his life and I feel bad that I don't reciprocate. I wish he'd fall over dead.
I am surprised how often I find out about people who are not in love with their partners. Some say they were never in love. What keeps these people together?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

On the first day of Christmas...

Here is a project whose time has come: The Banned Books Advent Calendar! Each day until Christmas a banned book video will be featured on the Vimeo Banned Books channel.

Day 1, Banned Books Calendar from Entressen kirjasto on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bed - by David Whitehouse

I noticed this book on my library's leisure reading shelf after I had read several reviews of it. I was intrigued by the story line - something I had not seen treated in a novel before: twenty-five year old Malcolm Ede goes to bed and decides never to come out. Over the course of twenty years he becomes a behemoth at over 1,000 pounds, and unable to leave his bed (now made of two king size mattresses and a twin bound together) even if he wanted to. His family (mother, father, and brother) are all bound to him in different ways, as is his girlfriend, Lou. The story is narrated by Malcolm's brother whose name we never find out. Malcolm acquires a cult/celebrity status and his sibling is regularly asked if he is "Malcolm Ede's brother" by strangers, and so it is by this he is identified in the story.

The non-linear narration alternates between one particular day, the seven thousand four hundred and eighty-third of Malcolm's self-imposed confinement, and descriptions of Malcolm and his brother's pasts, both prior to, and following, Malcolm's decision. Through this we see some insight into both men's psyches, as well as their parents', and learn that the narrator has more "selves" than simply that of "Malcolm Ede's brother".

Library was used as metaphor in this book, and only one time. As a child Malcolm develops pneumonia and must spend time in the hospital. His brother is allowed to visit the ward only one time, and is distracted in thoughts of "what wearing an oxygen mask tastes like" when he bumps into his father who "lifted [him] by the neck...He had serious eyes and a finger jab because here the building has authority. No speaking he staring....Like library rules."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Malinche - by Laura Esquivel

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How did I miss this? American Censorship Day.

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

It Can't Happen Here...

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The View from Lazy Point - by Carl Safina

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 14, 2011

52 Loaves - by William Alexander

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

One Book One Community

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 3, 2011

November is...

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

MFLCMassachusetts Family Literacy Month
Read together! Enough said.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Shoot the Moon - by Billie Letts

Shoot the Moon by Billie LettsThe very first book I reviewed on this blog was Letts' Made in the U.S.A. I had never heard of Billie Letts before I read it; I simply picked the book up off the "leisure reading" shelf at the library where I work. I enjoyed the novel, so when I happened upon another of her books at Somethin's Brewing Book Cafe I picked it up and paid the $2 cost. As a bonus I was told that it was 2- for-1 day, so I also grabbed a copy of Blackbird by Jennifer Lauck (which I have not yet read).

Shoot the Moon is the story of Mark Albright, a Beverly Hills veterinarian, who learns after the death of his parents that he was adopted, and that his birth mother, Gaylene Harjo, is from DeClare, Oklahoma. He travels to DeClare in search of Gaylene only to discover that she was murdered shortly before he was put up for adoption, and that her baby, Nicky Jack, had also been presumed dead, at least, up until Mark showed up.

Libraries were not as important in this work as they were in Made in the U.S.A. There were a few passing mentions, Mark vomits on the lawn of the public library after reading about Gaylene's gruesome ending at the archives of the local newspaper. He also discovers a few library books, 30-years overdue, in the home of his birth grandmother, who has kept her daughter's room exactly as Gaylene left it. He also learns from his aunt that when his teenage mother learned she was pregnant she gave up her dreams of college and "checked out a bunch of books from the library on child care."

This was a good story, with a lot of places to speculate about who done it. The murder mystery is ultimately resolved, but in a way I found anti-climactic, although surprising.

By the way, I highly recommend a visit to Somethin's Brewing for anyone visiting the south shore of Massachusetts. This comfortable cafe features fair trade coffee, used books, and is housed in one of the original Carnegie libraries. In 2005, Lakeville opened a new, modern library across the street from the original.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Reporting Book Challenges - It's Not Just for Librarians Anymore!


The American Library Association (ALA) estimates that only 20-25% of book challenges (formal requests that library materials be removed or restricted) are reported to their office each year. Some libraries report challenges and some do not. In order to get more accurate data on what books are challenged, where, and how often, the ALA is encouraging everyone, not just librarians, to report any challenges they know of to its Office of Intellectual Freedom. Reports to the ALA will be confidential and may be made anonymously. An online reporting form is available here, or may be filled out in hard copy using this form.

For more information about banned or challenged books see my Banned Books Week website, or my Banned Books Week MaxGuide.

Read the Library Bill of Rights for more information about the role libraries play in protecting the rights of all to have access to information.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian - by John Elder Robison

Using stories from his own life, Robison gives readers insight into how individuals with Asperger's Syndome see the world, as well as how others may see them. An eye-opening book for those who know anyone with Asperger's Syndrome, it also provides hope for young people living with it. After reading it I thought it seemed like it might serve as a start to an "It Gets Better" campaign, similar to what is being done for GLBT youth on youtube. After a childhood of being teased, and then dropping out of school, as an adult Robison finds his niche in music, and cars, as well as learning how to compensate for his differences.

The two places where Robison mentions libraries are only 2 pages apart. Interestingly, in the first he is discussing cutting classes, and blowing off all things academic, in high school because he had trouble focusing "[a]fter all, the Hungry U and Augie's Newsstand were far more interesting than the school library." But in the second case, he recognizes the potential of the library as a place where people can study whatever they please, "I knew the value of knowledge, but I assumed I could learn anything I needed on my own (emphasis mine) in the libraries and labs at the university." Here we see he clearly grasps the idea of the library as "the people's university".

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Reading Promise - by Alice Ozma

For 3,218 days in a row Alice Ozma and her father read together. And there is just so much for a JFK-phobic, boy-hating, trapeze-artist wanna-be, fashioned-challenged young woman to say about this experience. Alice's loving tribute to her single (librarian!) father will resonate with anyone who has ever been read to by a parent, been embarassed by a parent, been proud of a parent, or loved a parent. And while I expect my own daughter falls into all of these categories, I somehow doubt that she thinks of her mother as anyone's favorite teacher  (Alice clearly knows this of her father) nor that she will write a memoir about me. If she does I can only hope I come across as well as Jim Brozina does.

I was surprised when I read that Brozina sometimes "edited" the books when he read them out loud. It has always seemed to me that reading is a safe way to bring up difficult topics, and Alice thought the same thing when she discovered that her father had skipped right over some grandmother/granddaughter conversations about puberty, boys and bras in the book Dicey's Song. Even as a high school freshman she realized that  "he had gone to extreme effort[s] to to cut out the exact conversations that [they] should have been having...sure that this is what most single fathers would have done."

I loved reading to Paloma, especially when she was small. I remember the very first time, at age one, that she picked up a book and handed it to me and crawled in my lap as a way of asking me to read to her. The book was called Welcome, Little Baby, by Aliki. I still have the book in her box of special baby things. The first chapter book we read together was The Hobbit when she was three years old. I would read until she fell asleep, which on some nights took up to an hour-she was always so afraid of missing anything. We read the first six Harry Potter books together, but she read the final one on her own, as did I. I do wish she would let me read to her again. The last time I tried to read aloud to the family, on a long car trip, she said she preferred listening to books on tape. I am fortunate that my loving husband stills likes me to read to him, and reads to me as well. We read "Dear Abby" almost every day, and usually have a chapter book we are reading together as well. This provides us with wonderful opportunities to laugh together, cry together (just try reading Charlotte's Web without squirting a few tears!) and to have some stimulating intellectual conversations as well. Ozma's book has inspired me to remember take time every day to read with him.

The book is episodic, and each relatively short chapter can pretty much stand on its own, without any cliffhangers, which would make it a perfect parent/child read together book.

October is National Information Literacy Awareness Month

President Obama has proclaimed October National Information Literacy Awareness Month.

As an instruction librarian I teach information literacy, and I often have to begin by explaining what information literacy is. In a nutshell it is the ability to find, use, and evaluate a variety of information resources in order to do scholarly research, or to research for work realated or personal topics (e.g. health care, hobbies). For a more detailed explanation see the Association of College and Rearch Libraries standards page.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Seven Minutes - by Irving Wallace - October 1

For the final day of Banned Books Week I chose the book that inspired me to become a librarian. I first read this sexy, subversive novel about 25 years ago. I liked it as much this time as I did then. It is a novel about a novel called The Seven Minutes - a "meta" novel - the story of "the most widely and completely banned book of all time" which tells one woman's thoughts during seven minutes of sexual intercourse. Wallace's book is the story of the obsenity trial that takes place soon after the book is published by a mainstream U.S. publisher - some 30 years after its initial publication by an underground press in Paris.What starts out as a "nuisance" case soon attracts international attention, and a major trial, when a college student from a "respectable family" implicates the book as what drove him to rape a young woman. Attorney Michael Barrett is determined to save the book from the censors.

There are two librarians in this book. One is a young man, Virgil Crawford, who runs the Special Collections Department at the fictitious Parktown College in Massachusetts. Described as "lively, boyish...slight, trim bouncy, enthusiastic, and eager to please" he does bust some librarian stereotypes, but not like Barrett's "favorite librarian" Rachel Hoyt. A public librarian for in the town of Oakwood, California, not only is she pretty and "as colorful as a psychedelic poster" she is also funny and thoughtful. When asked if she has read The Seven Minutes she replies "Three times...The first time a half-dozen years ago....Then when I learned...that Sanford House was publishing the book here....Then when Ben Fremont was arrested, I knew I had to make a decision as a responsible librarian. So I read it a third time with a careful, objective librarian's eye." Hoyt goes on to explain how political the job of a librarian is and makes it all seem so exciting. Who wouldn't want to be a librarian after reading this? I was disappointed when I watched the movie version to see the Rachel Hoyt character with such a small role, doing the one thing I didn't like about her character - discussing an individual library patron without a court order.

I stopped counting all the times libraries were used in this story. Business meetings took place in personal libraries, lawyers jetted around to do hands-on research, back at a time before information could be found online, sent by e-mail, or even faxed. One especially meaningful passage I marked described Barrett's reaction at visiting an autograph dealer "an experience new and thrilling. He had known that manuscripts, documents, letters written or signed by renowned men and women...had been collected and preserved in the remote recesses of awesome libraries and museums..." (emphasis mine)I must point out that this book was first published in 1969, back when "awesome" actually meant something. People reserved its use to describe things that were actually "awe" inspiring.

The book clearly illustrates the politics of book banning, and the paternalistic way in which the would-be censors discuss it - they (the censors) can handle the reading the book, but others may not. Those "others" must be protected. In this work we also see the phenomenon Herminone speaks of in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, when the arrest of an independent bookseller for selling the book makes it a most sought-after commodity. See my Harry Potter post.

It was very hard to research the banning of this book. Every time I tried I would simply get a plot summary. It turns out that this work attracted only minor attention from the censors. I found this passage in Irving Wallace: A Writer's Profile by John Leverence:

"The novel had its own censorship problems. Nine newspapers banned advertising because of the jacket, which featured a diffused, gauzy drawing of a nude woman, but other than that, and a few minor flaps, the book escaped the censors." p. 148.

This book was just as good the second time around. I hope it continues to inspire new would-be librarians.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Fahrenheit 451 - by Ray Bradbury - September 30

No celebration of Banned Books Week would be complete without some mention of Ray Bradbury's dystopian novel about a world in which all books are burned. This was Bridgewater, Massachusetts' One Book One Community selection for fall Fall 2008. We planned all of our events to coincide with Banned Books Week, including a reading, and discussion of information loss from author Junot Diaz; as well as a Banned Books Bonfire. We, of course, did not burn any books, but rather read banned books by the light of the flames.

There are no librarians in this book, and all the libraries in it are private, and illegal. Those who love books enough to hoard them in their homes are bound and removed when discovered, and then the firemen are brought in to destroy all their reading material. Bradbury says this work is often misinterpreted, and is not really about censorship, but rather about "how television destroys interest in reading literature". Read more here.

According to the author's introduction in this "Special Edition" created for the "Long Beach Reads One Book" program, the book was written in a library on a typewriter Bradbury rented for .10 a half hour in the early 1950s. It started out as a short story called "The Fireman". The title of the novel comes from the temperature at which paper burns. Bradbury first called the Physics department at UCLA to find out this bit of trivia, when they could not provide the answer he contacted the USC chemistry department, still no luck, finally he called the LA fire department who provided the information. Of course, had he asked a reference librarian in the first place one call would have been all he needed!

Ironic, of course, is that this book is among one of the most censored. Reasons for challenging this work include references to drunkeness, smoking cigarettes, "dirty talk" and the use of "damn" and "hell". In 1992 some students at Venado Middle School in California received copies of this book with some of these "offensive" words blacked out.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Drowning of Stephan Jones - by Betty Greene - Banned Books Week Day 6

The Drowning of Stephan JonesIn this novel, based on a true story, Bette Greene tells the story of Carla Wayland who is torn between her infatuation with the handsome homophobe, Andy Harris, and living the values taught to her by her super cool, liberal, librarian mother. Using his church beliefs as justification, Andy relentlessly harrasses a local gay couple. While out with Andy, and some other friends, Carla finds her strength when the bullying becomes homocidal.

This book has been challenged in several states for its homosexual themes, and "anti-Christian" beliefs (presumably because the murderer belongs to a fundamentalist church) and because it "codones illegal activity" (that would be homosexuality, not murder).
At least one teacher, Penny Culliton, of Mascenic, New Hampshire, was fired for using this book in the classroom. She eventually was reinstated, but the books were not.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Banned Websites Awareness Day - September 28

In conjunciton with Banned Books Week The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) has designated September 28 as Banned Websites Awareness day. Internet filters, installed on many computers in schools and public libraries to filter out pornography and other materials deemed harmful to minors, can also block educational sites that prevent library users from finding information about such topics as breast cancer, or reproductive health. Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual and Transgendered (GLBT) youth sometimes discover that they cannot find positive, affirming sites on their school computers, which may have settings to block out all information regarding homosexuality or transgendered indivduals, or may only allow information about "reparative therapies" through. Because of a recent sutit by the ACLU several filtering companies have reset their "homosexuality" filters so that educational, and supportive content will be "unblocked" from internet searches. Find out more at

Filters also prevent students from learning for themselves how to evaluate information and how to find appropriate materials for their own research.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Day They Came to Arrest the Book by Nat Hentoff - September 27

So much to say about this banned book about a banned book. This novel tells the tale of  two righteous librarians at the fictitious George Mason High School where parents and students are protesting the use of Huckleberry Finn as a class assignment on grounds of racism, sexism, and homosexuality.

First published in 1982, this work definitely seems a bit dated in the 21st century. Nevertheless, as a teaching tool for free speech and censorship issues, it packs much into its 169 pages. Arguments for and against censorship in schools are offered, as well as "compromises" to outright book banning. As well, many of the reasons behind book challenges are given, some historic cases of book burning, and some titles of frequently challenged works including the ubiquitous Are You There God, It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume (see yesterday's post), and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (which I will be blogging about later this week).

In an ironic case The Day They Came to Arrest the Book itself was challenged in 1990 in Charlottesville, Virginia "because it offers an inflammatory challenge to authoritarian roles."

I learned a new word reading this book. In reference to her former principal, librarian Karen Salters calls Mr. Moore "oleaginous" - "resembling or having the properties of oil", or, "marked by an offesively ingratiating manner or quality" according to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary 11th edition.

Many years ago, I watched a made-for-television movie based on this book. Does anyone else remember the CBS School Break Special?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret - by Judy Blume - September 26

"It's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers."
Judy Blume

Still holding on at number 99 on the list of 100 most challenged books of the 21st century, it is hard to imagine why this tame story of a 12-year old girl (Margaret) getting her period for the first time is so threatening. Those who have challenged it have claimed it was "sexually offensive", "amoral", and "anti-Christian." This was my absolute favorite book from about 1975 to 1977. I don't know how many times I read it before it was it was replaced with The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton as my new favorite (although I don't think that one has any libraries).

Are You There God? has one library scene, which was just as I remembered it. Margaret and and her classmate Laura Danker (with the big you-know-whats!) stay after school to do some research in the library. Laura tells Margaret that she can't copy "straight out of the World Book word for word....You're supposed to read it and then write it in your own words. Mr. Benedict will know if you've copied." Of course Laura is absolutely correct. It is uncalled for that Margaret comes back with a nasty accusation about Laura, Moose Freed, and Evan Wheeler and what they allegedly do behind the A&P. Margaret immediately feels awful, and tries to apologize, but Laura will have none of it. Can't say as I blame her. One thing I didn't remember about this part though, is that the librarian has one line in the midst of it all. Can you guess what it is?

"Girls-let's be more quiet." Sigh.

Sightings: Tom Perrotta's satire The Abstinence Teacher includes a passage about book challenges at a middleschool library in which Are You There God? It's Me Margaret is targeted.

Judy Blume talks about banned books in honor or Banned Books Week.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Harry Potter - For Banned Books Week - September 25

I have read all of the "Harry Potter" books at least two times, but I re-read my very favorite, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, in honor of Banned Books Week. For reasons such as the use of witchcraft and occult, anti-family bias, and lack of consequences for disobedient behavior the "Harry Potter" series tops the list of Most Challenged Books of the 21st century.

Although the librarian, Madam Pince, is but a bit player the among the band of celebates who educates young wizards and witches at the Hogwarts School she has caused much chagrin among those of us who practice the hallowed profession of librarianship, considering all we have done to promote Rowling's books. The only interaction Harry has with the school librarian occurs when she finds him in the "restricted" section of the library, and in tone we can only assume is nasty, she asks:

"What are you looking for, boy?"
"Nothing" said Harry.
Madam Pince...brandished a feather duster at him.
"You'd better get out, then, Go on - out!
 According to The Mary Sue blog, J.K. Rowling explains "that she was unable to present a kind librarian in Harry Potter because otherwise all the mysteries would have been solved in a couple of days." Uh huh. Nice save, J.K.

While that was the only time Harry Potter spoke to the librarian in this book, Harry and his friends, Ron and Hermionie, actually spend quite a bit of time in the library doing research and  homework. Even Hagrid resorts to good ol' library books when he needs to find out more about the care and feeding of dragons. All this is done without benefit of Google. They really could have found out all about Nicholas Flamel in a jiffy if they could have searched him on the net. Of course there was no Google when the first Harry Potter book was published, but today there are over 600,000 hits for our alchemist friend Nick - many of which have nothing to do with the Harry Potter books. Turns out Flamel was a real guy. Who knew?

While "The Sorcerer's Stone" is my favorite HP book, my favorite passage appears in book five: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Fans will recall that Professor Delores Umbridge takes over Hogwarts and immediately begins posting new "Educational Decrees." Decree number 23 forbids students from reading The Quibbler magazine under penalty of expulsion. Wise Hermione finds the whole thing funny and when Harry asks her what she's so happy about she explains: "Oh, Harry don't you see?....If she could have done one thing to make absolutely sure that every single person in this school will read your interview, it was banning it!" Right on, Hermione!

I must also take this opportunity to put in a good word about the Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History at Regis College. As I posted previously, the Museum currently has exhibits featuring Harry Potter Stamps, and banned books stamps (where Harry Potter is also found)! We learned a lot of Harry Potter trivia through reading the displays, and talking to the exhibitor himself, Van Siegling, who was walking about with his magic wand. There were stamps not only with images of HP characters, but with plants, animals, and other magical creatures mentioned in the books. My Spanish teacher self must also mention that the Museum is also exhibiting stamps in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. So many reasons to go!

For a good read about the zealots who would ban Harry Potter I recommend "Harry Potter and the Ministry of Fire" from Forbes magazine.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Banned Books Week Starts Today

Each year the American Library Association, in conjunction with the American Booksellers Association, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and other organziations, sponsors Banned BooksWeek in order to celebrate our freedom to read and to bring awareness to the hundreds of attempts to censor or remove books from schools and libraries each year.

I have been doing displays and educational programs surrounding Banned Books Week for last ten years or so, and I am always reminded of an important lesson I learned back in library school: there is something to offend everyone; and everyone is offended by something. Religious works, children's picture books, biographies, novels, and textbooks have all been targets of censors. No library can maintain a collection without some materials that some population will find offensive. Indeed, we librarians would not be doing our jobs if we did not collect materials that explored a variety of viewpoints, however offensive some of those may seem even to us!

In honor of Banned Books Week I will post everyday through October 1 with commentary on banned books that features libraries or librarians. First up will be Harry Potter on September 25. In the meantime see my Banned Books Week websites

And watch the Read Out on the Banned Books Week YouTube Channel.Banned Books Week 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Some of us just can't be helped...

Are you a Literature Abuser?

The Leftovers - by Tom Perrotta

A rapture-like event, which "disappears" people from all over the world without explanation, leaves questions for all those left behind. Why weren't they chosen? Why were they left to grieve? What is the meaning of life? Where do I go now? Some find answers by creating or joining new religions, others try to pick up the pieces and find a "new normal" with what is left.

Unlike what we find in Perrota's The Abstinence Teacherwhich has a librarian as one of the characters, and some action within the library, references to libraries in The Leftovers are few, and always just a thought, rather than a place of action. Seventeen-year old Jill, thinks about going to the library in order to skim a book she should have read for class, but decides against it. When she is late coming home her father guesses that she must be in the library. Nora Durst, who lost her husband and two young children in the "Sudden Departure" comtemplates donating her entire collection of SpongeBob Square Pants DVDs to the library. We do not find out if she actually follows through. Library as metaphor is used in describing Nora's ex-boyfriend "...a charasmatic philosophy major whose library pallor and pudgy waistline...didn't detract in the least from his brainy appeal." To which I ask: how could anyone think that a library pallor would detract from one's appeal? For that matter, why would a pudgy waistline?

This is the third of Perrotta's "suburban" novels I've read. The other two made me feel smug. As a town-center dweller, I know I am not like those cookie-cutter people who live in the suburban boxes. This book, though, made me uneasy. Several sub-cultures emerge from the remains of the Sudden Departure, each with its own set of rules, and here I a recognized myself as just another archtype, different from the suburbanites to be sure, but the same as the rest of my neighbors who also run errands on foot, and shop at the Farmer's Market.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Two worthwhile things to have in your wallet

Kari Haynes learned to drive by making good use of her library card - not by checking out books on how to drive, but by using her learner's permit to visit all 32 branches of the Great River Regional Library in New York state.  She checked out at least one book per branch, and at the end of the summer took her driving test, and earned her license.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Help - by Kathryn Stockett

In Jackson, Mississippi, during the height of the civil rights movement, three women tell their stories in this bestselling novel. Aibileen and Minny, black women working as domestics for white families; and Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan a young white woman who returns from college to find that Constantine, the housekeeper who helped raise her, has "gone to Chicago" without so much as a good-bye. Skeeter's mother is evasive when Skeeter demands to know why Constantine left and how she can reach her. Unable to picture the life her two best friends lead of marriage, family, and bridge, and complaining about "the help" Skeeter sets out to make a difference in the world by writing a book detailing the lives of the black women who work for white families in Jackson. Assisted by Aibileen and Minny she gathers stories from 13 different women, telling the good and the bad (including the "Terrible, Awful" thing that got Minny fired from her last job - something which turned out to be even worse than I'd imagined). The stories are published under pseudonyms and set in a ficticious town called "Niceville".

Most of the discussion about libraries in this work surrounds segregation, and the fact that Skeeter checks out books from the "white" library (a place she describes as smelling "like grade school - boredom, paste, Lysoled vomit") for Aibileen because Aibileen has to wait so long to get them from the "colored" library. But Skeeter also finds something at the white library she does not expect: a booklet entitled "A Compilation of Jim Crow Laws of the South" detailing various state segregation laws. A comment she writes about this work is discovered by her friend Hilly, and marks the beginning of the end of their friendship.
The Ole Miss library is where Skeeter finds out about a job at Harper & Row publishers, and although is not nearly qualified enough, applies anyway. This inquiry, and its follow-up is what starts her on her way to writing her book.

There was also a bit about banned books, one of my passions, in this work. Skeeter receives a copy of The Catcher in the Rye through the mail. She "always order[s] the banned books from a black market dealer in California, figuring if the State of  Mississippi banned them, they must be good." The pseudonym she gives to her own family in the book she writes is "the Millers...after Henry Miller, [her] favorite banned author."

Three copies of Skeeter's completed work are ordered for the Jackson, Mississippi "white" library, but a long waiting list soon grows, and the bookstores sell out, when rumors begin about a new, inflammatory book, that might just be about Jackson!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Dragon House - by John Shors

Shors' novel tells the story a young woman, Iris, who travels to Vietnam to open a center for homeless children, in order to fulfill her deceased father's wishes. The center, of course, needs a library to be complete, and the Tam Tran Center for Street Children does indeed have one. It is only mentioned twice, first only as a dream for the Center "...though a library hadn't been in her father's original design, Iris felt she must build one. How could children learn without rows of wonderful books." And, finally, in the last chapter of the book, when the Center is opened...
In the far corner, a pair of tall bookshelves comprised her library. She'd gathered almost five hundred books, many purchased by the sale of her signed first-edition novels. Several publishing companies where Iris had friends had also made donations. The books were new and written in either Vietnamese or English. The children had opened them with what Iris believed to be awe.  
Dragon House is Bridgewater, Massachusetts One Book One Community Read for fall 2011. Learn more at

Book-themed postage stamps at the Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History

On September 17, 2011 The Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History will open two exhibits of interest to bibliophiles. The "Harry Potter on Stamps" exhibit features stamps from France, Great Britain, the Republic of Taiwan, and the Isle of Man with characters and objects from the Harry Potter series of books and films. The other exhibit, opening just in time for Banned Books Week, features stamps with images of banned or challenged books. A panel discussion about banned books is planned for October 5 at 7:30 p.m.
Watch this blog during Banned Books Week to learn about banned books featuring librarians! Also see my Banned Books Week webpage.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Soul Thief - by Charles Baxter

In 1973, back before "identity theft" was a something people worried about, Nathaniel Mason crosses paths with the spooky Jason Coolberg, who knows more about Mason, and his family, than even his girlfriends do. While the reader may find it disturbing when Coolberg shows up wearing Mason's missing clothes and otherwise stalking him, Mason seems to take it in stride.  A passage that describes yet another buglary of Mason's apartment "more clothes seem to be missing, more objects buglarlized" makes it clear that he knows who is stealing his things, and he has no intention of calling the police. Just past the halfway point in this book the story jumps to 30 years later and Mason is living a rather ordinary existence with his wife and two children in the suburbs and Coolberg reappears in Mason's life, still creepy as ever.

There are several places in the story in which books and reading are mentioned, only one passing mention of a library, though, when Mason wonders where his girlfriend, Theresa, is when she doesn't answer her phone. "Perhaps she is resting up after her social exertions. Or is out in the library, foraging in the stacks." Since she is a graduate student, that is a good bet. There is also one librarian metaphor. Mason and Coolberg reminisce about Theresa during their reunion dinner. Mason says "She was pretty." Coolberg disagrees. "Thesesa was attractive without being pretty. She had the banal sensibilities of a local librarian who's moved to the big city and started serious drinking and making semi-comical overstatements to disguise her obvious gaps." That's quite a specific stereotype. How many librarians are really like that?

A rather surreal story, this probably warrants a second reading, which would likely reveal layers of meaning, and some foreshadowing that I missed. I will leave that for someone else to do, though.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Nominate your favorite librarian for the "I Love My Librarian Award"

Each year the New York Times, the American Library Association, and the Carnegie Corporation sponsor the "I Love My Librarian Awards". Nominate your favorite, school, public or academic librarian for this prestigious award. Nominations for 2011 are accepted through September 12.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How to Be an American Housewife - by Margaret Dilloway

This novel tells the story of mother and daughter - Shoko and Sue. Shoko survived the bombing of Nagasaki as a child, and eventually emigrates to the United States with her American-Sailor husband, Charlie. Sue is born and raised in the United States. In addition to negotiating the generation gap that all parents and children must, they have to figure out a way to bridge a culture gap as well. Shoko has the additional challenge of learning American customs, while she learns to love her new husband.

Libraries were featured a few times in this book. Most notably Shoko tells how she dreamed of becoming a diplomat and  "loved reading about different cultures". She found books at the library about "France, England, and Germany...[and] wanted to learn their languages."

Sue mentions her local public library as a feature in her neighborhood that is a "good place to raise a child". Indeed.

These are juxaposed with Shoko's wishing she had a book while waiting for some lab results: "Charlie and I weren't big readers. Books were too expensive and library books were full of germs from all the people who had checked them out." I was left to wonder what happened to the curious young woman with diplomatic aspirations who read all she could.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fees for public libraries?

When James and I moved to Bridgewater, Massachusetts 14 years ago one of the first things we did was get library cards. Our daughter was born within two weeks of our arrival, and I was thrilled to find out that there was a story hour for infants and their caregivers. I made some of my first friends in Bridgewater through this program. I still cry when I think about how much it meant to me. While Paloma was growing up we took advantage of so many programs the library offered including summer reading, puppet shows, and craft classes. Our whole family was devastated when tax payers' refusal to fund the library forced it to cut its hours to 14 a week (from 65). Programs were virtually disappeared and it was almost impossible to find a time that we were free when the library was open. The wonderful staff of course did the best they could, and although the hours are up to 30 a week now, things have not been the same for several years now. I was recently appointed a trustee to Bridgewater Public Library and hope that the board, along with the enthusiastic new director, can bring the library back to its former glory.

Arguments that the library is expendable in times of economic crisis so as to pay for essential services such as police and the fire department are misguided. We can expect that if there is no safe place to go after school (i.e. a library) that crime will go up, and we will need more money for police. Exacting fees from library users to pay for services was a topic of discussion even back when I was in library school 20 years ago. But Keith Michael Fiels, exectutive director of the American Library Association, explains why we need free public libraries more than ever.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

First We Have Coffee - by Margaret Jensen

Although I very much enjoy memoir as a genre, I usually try to avoid sappy ones, such as Jensen's. It is the story of a Norwegian immigrant family during the early and mid 20th century. James and I picked it up from our church's used book sale. We were drawn by the book's title, and the 50-cent price was right. James immediately set in to reading it as part of his coffee culture research, and within minutes read me this line from the book: "Mama was reminded of the advice her mother had given her earlier in the day: "Take him as he is and you will be happy. He loves God, the library - and you - in that order." So, I knew I would have to read this as well. And while there is no competition between how often coffee is mentioned (on almost every page!) to how many times libraries are (about 12) it is clear that libraries were important to Jensen's father ("Papa") - a Baptist minister. He often must be hustled out of the New York Public Library at closing, and his excitement at being offered a position in Chicago, after many years of serving in Saskatchewan, is induced partially by the thought of the big-city library. When her father is finally sent back to New York, he tells his now-grown daughter to visit so he can show her the sights. He begins by saying "Tomorrow I'll take you to the library..." Carnegie Hall, the Statue of Liberty Radio City and Coney Island can wait until after this most important stop. Of her father's death Jensen and her siblings "couldn't [their] imaginations [they] saw him in the libraries in heaven, talking with his beloved authors."

James' "coffee take" on this work can be found on his "Environmental Geography" blog.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady - by Elizabeth Stuckey-French

The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady
This novel, with its delightfully kitschy title and cover illustration, is based on a real experiment undertaken during the cold war, in which pregnant women were given a radioactive "potion" to drink without their knowledge or consent. Our heroine, Marylou, (aka Nance, a name she takes from a character in a B movie about a 50 foot tall woman) is out to exact revenge upon the doctor who conducted the experiment and ultimately caused the death of her daughter, with whom she was three months pregnant at the time of the experiment. When she discovers the now retired doctor lives in Tallahassee with his daughter and her family, she moves from her home in Memphis and begins picking away at the peripheries of his life by becoming intimately involved with his three teenage grandchildren. It is because of these ties that the doctor's youngest grandchild, thirteen-year-old Suzi, asks MaryLou to take her to the public library, "the big one downtown." When Marylou discovers which books Suzi has checked out she understands why Suzi hadn't asked one of her parents to take her, and why she wanted to read them at Marylou's house, rather than her own home - all the books were about sex. And then Suzi confides a shocking secret that leaves Marylou unsure of how she should proceed.

I thought this passage was a beautiful illustration of why it is important for library records to remain confidential. Although an adult reader may argue that Suzi needs to talk to her parents, the the truth is that teenagers don't like to talk to their parents about sex, especially where it concerns their own sexuality. Suzi needed answers and she knew the library was a good place to start.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Friday Night Knitting Club - by Kate Jacobs

One of my co-workers recently took up knitting and told me she'd come across a "snobby" knitting store. Other knitters warned her to stay away from them. I think that perhaps if there were a real Walker and Daughter yarn store, it would be one to avoid on these grounds. I found myself not caring much for these characters. And I doubt I would have liked this book any better even if  there had been more than one use of "library" in it. I expected that since one of the main characters, Darwin, was a rather brainy graduate student studying women's history that we'd see her in the library more often, but the only time its mentioned is in a description of her childhood when, trying to be popular, she checks out a joke book from the public library.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Right to Read Upheld

Today's Baltimore Sun includes this editorial about the right to free speech, and the right to read in prison libraries.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Abstinence Teacher - by Tom Perrotta

I first read this novel a few years ago, and I not only remembered how much I liked it, but also that there was a librarian in it. It is the story of Ruth Ramsey, a health teacher in an ambiguous New England state, who, against her better judgement, is required to teach an abstinence-only curriculum to students at Stonewood Heights Middle school. After she makes it clear to her students that the lessons are misleading, she is required to attend remedial virginity trainng with some other less-than-enthusiastic health teachers. Further complicating her life is her attraction to her daughter's married, born-again, soccer coach. Helping her negotiate all of this is her best friend Randall, the school librarian; and Randall's partner, Gregory. The stage is set for a librarian-friendly book on the first page when Randall and Ruth share their ritual morning Starbucks in the library, although there are actually not a lot more places in which the library itself is mentioned. A big library issue, censorship, is part of the story though ,and Randall speaks up to save Judy Blume's classic Are You There God? It's Me Margaret from the would-be book banners.

Look for more about Are You There God? and other banned books on this blog during Banned Books Week September September 24-October 1.

More about author Tom Perrotta at

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America - by Thomas Frank

Those who read my Was post know that this book has been on my "to-read" list. So, writing that post prompted me, finally, to read it. I didn't even have to request an interlibrary loan. It was on the shelf at the good ol' Clement C. Maxwell Library all along. This book about how some rural or working class conservatives vote against their own economic self interests in order to vote for a conservative social agenda (pro-life, anti gay marriage) was a real eye-opener for me. I was interested to learn that many of those who vote that way are quite aware of what they are doing, but are willing to sacrifice themselves to the cause. I expected to see a lot in this work about book banning, but there was only a few places where it was mentioned. The first place I found a reference to censorship was in regard to evolution "which we will strike from the books." (If you haven't seen the movie Kansas vs. Darwin it is definitely worth watching - a documentary about a modern-day "monkey trial"). We also learn about a conservative candidate who loses conservative votes for "supporting the availability of AIDS literature in the public library...ten years previously." It was apparently not always thus. Frank recounts a school board meeting in the early eighties in which "an angry parent...wished to remove a number of books from [the] high school library." In those pre-Contract with America days "the presiding administrators had trouble restraining their laughter" as the woman "ran through her list of accusations-prefab stuff that she had probably heard from the John Birch Society."

I laughed reading about Pope Michael I, the sedevacantist, who through reading material in his "personal library of religious books" determined that Pope John Paul II was, in fact, not the pope due to "manifold heresies of the church since the sixties" and through a vote of 5 people, including himself and his parents, was appointed the new pope. I think that the good thing about public libraries is that they really do try to collect a vast array of materials, with differing points of view.

The final word in libraries comes on the second to last page of the book when Frank tells us that the public library of Kansas City, Kansas, described in the 1939 WPA guide, with its "elaborate Italian Renaissance architecture" is gone. Leveled by "progress" along with some other historic features. It is disappointing to lose some of this history, but I guess I don't expect to see many of the things described in depression-era guides. I am also sure that the library that was razed would probably be too small for Kansas City now.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Stepford Wives-by Ira Levin

You can't have a perfect town, if it doesn't have a library, and perfect Stepford has one. It is mentioned over a dozen times in this slim novel. The children go on outings there, and newcomer Joanna Eberhardt uses it as a subject of some of her photographs. Joanna also understands it is the place to go to look up information. In the days before the internet you could find out which government agency might have the authority to find out if there was something poisoning the air or water of your town, and get its address. But more importantly it is where Joanna finds all the back issues of the town newspaper and reads the "Notes on Newcomers" pages to find out where all of her neighbors had lived and worked before coming to Stepford. In the dimly-lit cellar where the archives are held, she makes all the right connections in determining that the wives in Stepford are turned, literally, into cleaning machines by the Men's Association.

There is a librarian in this book, Miss Asturian. We can gather from her title that she is unmarried. She is also described as "plump," and as I was reading I assumed these things meant she was not a robot, but now I'm not sure. She certainly seemed oblivious, and was overly concerned with things being put back in proper order, and making sure the lights weren't left on. There was no orgasmic "OMG" when she learns that a popular children's author is the new patron she is helping. A real librarian would have been beside herself. I guess it would make sense that the men would turn the single women into robots, too. Wouldn't want anyone to let the cat out of the bag.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Library Book - by John Fiske

Well, I really had no choice but to read this one when I saw an article about it on American Libraries Direct.A historical novel about the building of the New York Public Library, The Library Book tells the story of John Carrère and Thomas Hastings, the architects who designed the marble monument. It is also the story of author Fiske's alter-ego Henry Peabody, an architect who is designing a library, and writing a book about the New York Public Library. As is always the case with historical fiction it is hard to tell what is true and what is not, and in the case of The Library Book there is the added layer of wonder about what is true and what is fiction for the Henry Peabody character. And because the stories of Peabody and John Carrère were parallel, I sometimes lost track of which one I was reading about. Fiske does point out in his Author's Note that it is a work of fiction, and offers examples only two "vignettes" that are actual events. Readers are left to wonder about the rest. Was Miss Bough Carrère's lover? Was she even a real person? Did his wife know? How about Horace Avery, the mad artist? Was he real, or simply an artistic device? I did look up the facts around the book's tragic ending, and almost cried when I found them to be true.

There are, of course, library references throughout the book. I highlight some of my favorites here:

In discussing the design of the building early on Hastings has this to say: "It has to be for the people, a democratic place....Not a royal place. It's a public library." Carrère responds "It has to usable for librarians, too. (p. 30). See my May 23rd post to see my feelings about how democratic I think the Library is. I was interested to read that the architects thought of the librarians, too. My own library underwent a major renovation in recent years, and although the planners and architects consulted with us, our ideas were largely ignored, which has made for some rather weird spaces and book arrangements in the building. I did not see any evidence in The Library Book that the architect's spoke to librarians, except to point out that librarians were not consulted in the designing of the Boston Public Library. I did note that the architects themselves determine that "the catalog room is the most important room in the library". Again, I can't tell for sure whether that determination is made with any input from librarians. (For those readers born after about 1985, the catalog room would have housed a card catalog, a drawer filing system that patrons used to locate books, used before catalog records went online.)

Library card catalog

Fiske plays a lot with the ideas of "positive space" and "negative space" and the layers of meaning in each in art and architecture. It was good to see that libraries were ultimately defined as positive space "because those spaces are so wonderful and useful and new with a purpose." (p. 162). And finally I smiled when I saw this passage about children playing with building blocks: "They built an entire town, even the library....It looked like a nice town, and the library was unmistakably the largest building." (p. 236).

This work would have benefited from some better editing. There are stray letters, and other typos in several places. As well, there was one rather glaring inconsistency.  On page 49 there is specific mention of Margaret, Horace Avery's sister, however, on page 61, we learn Avery's funeral was sparsely attended due to the fact that "He had few friends, his parents were gone, and there were no siblings." (emphasis mine.) Perhaps I misunderstood something, but I went back and reread both passages, and I could not see any other meaning in them.