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.