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 http://www.tomperrotta.net/index.php

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.