Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Thanks to my collegue Chris Brown for bringging this lovely tribute to books, and book lovers to my attention. Plus, we can tell, even without any spoken words, that the protagonist is clearly bilingual!

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Faith - by Jennifer Haigh

The Catholic Church faced scandal in 2002 when news broke that the Boston Archdiocese had long-time knowlege of child sexual abuse, by priests, and had covered it up by simply been moving accused priests from one parish to another after counseling. Haigh's novel tells the story of how one family copes with the aftermath when one of their own is among the accused. The story is narrated by Sheila McGann, half-sister of Father Arthur "Art" Breen, who is accused of inappropriate contact with a young boy, Aidan. Shelia tells how the news affects everyone in their family, and causes long-held family secrets to be revealed.

When Art is placed on indefinite leave from the Church he finds some solace in the local public library where goes daily to read the newspapers. After his first visit he decides to skip the local news, where he would, likely, have often found his own picture, in favor of international media. He apparently is also a library card holder as we learn that he checked out a copy of one of his favorite books Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. He also patronizes the school library at Sacred Heart to check out books to read with Aidan. Shelia points out that two of these books, Homer Price and The Red Balloon were ones she remembers reading as a child and points out that "[p]ariochial school libraries are notoriously underfunded. In thirty years their catalogs change hardly at all."  Of course this is not only an issue in parochial schools. Alas, there are still too many people who think that once a library is full of books it needs no additional funding for materials.

Art is not the only library user in the story. Shelia's godmother, Clare checks out books on codepedency that she feels will be useful to Shelia's mother (Mary), mostly as a retailiation measure against Mary's helpful magazine clippings about self improvement.

I learned a bit about the Catholic Church, such as the difference between "solemn promises" and "vows". It was a good story that read like a memoir. It was sometimes hard to keep in mind that it was fiction, especially since it was based on recent history.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The House of Real Love - by Carla Tomaso

The House of Real Love

The pull-quote on the front cover of this novel reads "a true lesbian farce". I don't think I could come up with a more accurate description. Let's begin with the unnamed Narrator and her lover, Connie, living in a house that's shaped like a cave, and Connie kicking Narrator out when it is discovered Narrator has had other girlfriends. Narrator stalks, and then moves in with, her therapist, and finally wins Connie back by pretending to be a man and moving back into the cave as Connie's new roommate. Crazy stuff. But, enough with that. The important thing is that our Narrator knows the value of libraries. In researching Amiee Cabot, the architect of her unlikely dwelling, Narrator, with the assistance of the "eagle-eyed archivist", discovers Cabot's original notebooks, drawings, and letters in the University library, where Narrator spends six hours a day investigating the woman who claims she "never [knew] real love".

A Slipping Down Life - by Anne Tyler

A Slipping-Down Life

I picked this book up at Traveler Restaurant in Union, Connecticut. If you are traveling on Rt. 84 between Massachusetts and Connecticut you can't miss the big sign that reads "Food and Books" from the highway. The food is typical diner fare - hearty and comforting, and you get a free (used) book with every meal. What more could a traveler ask for?

This book was one of Tyler's early works, first published in 1969. It takes place in Pulqua, North Carolina, rather than Baltimore, Maryland, where her later stories are set. It is the story of dowdy Evie Decker, who spends her Saturday evenings at the Unicorn where she can hear Bertram "Drumstrings" Casey play his original  music. The two form a strange friendship, that eventually leads to an awkward marriage. Always low on cash, Evie takes a part-time job at the town library to supplement her husband's meager earnings. Tyler's description of the library, including a card catalog; rubber date stamps; a bespectacled librarian with an orange juice can pencil holder; and the "familiar library smells, [of] paste and buckram..."paints a real portrait of time and place.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Internet Archive Blackout Today

In a protest against two bills now pending in Congress (the Stop Online Piracy and the Protect IP Act) the technology industry is launching a 24-hour prostest today which will black-out many popular websites, including Wikipedia. This New York Times article provides more information.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Life Would be Perfect if I Lived in that House - by Meghan Daum

Daum's memoir, which details every home she ever lived in, and her quest for the perfect abode, is a fun read. I think what drew me to this book was the book-flap description that mentions the author's "hidden room" dreams. Daum brings them up several times in this work, and attempts to interpret them. Since the "hidden room" is a recurring dream that I have quite often myself, and recently discovered my sister does as well, I thought this book might provide some more insight to it. Although I rank the "secret room" dream to be just as exhilirating as dreams of flying, and great-sex dreams, I always wake from them feeling like I am missing out on some potentially great thing, and that I need to find out what it is. Daum has other beliefs about this dream, and also finds some cockamamie dream interpretation website that says that the "secret room" dream is common in women who have given up careers, and other lifestyle choices in order to raise children. Daum doesn't buy it because she has no children, nor I do not cotton to this at all. My kid is off at bording school, and therefore, I've outsourced a lot of my parenting to someone else, and this dream does not go away. I identified with Daum in other ways as well. Although most of my moves took place after I had found my soulmate, and I therefore, never felt that I had to put my house together before I could go on a date, I did fully understand why she felt that way. James and I bought a "handyman's dream" nine and a half years ago and I didn't really want to have any guests come over until we'd had a chance to completly refurbish it. Since this took many years, it didn't really happen that way. I also understood Daum's mania for taking up the wall-to-wall carpeting immediately upon closing, knowing there were hardwood floors to be had underneath. Ripping out the carpets was also the very first project my family undertook right after we signed the papers. Even my not-yet-five-year-old was down on her hands and knees with a flathead screwdriver pulling up staples. And, like Daum, we then hired someone to sand the floors and make them gleem.

Of course, for me, a perfect house is always near a library, and in fact there are two within walking distance of my house, one of which I work in. Daum mentions libraries a few times, but never as a prerequiste for finding a better home. She does however, demonstrate their importance in her description of her father's youth, during which "he would visit the library of his hometown in Centralia, Illinois, and read the [New Yorker] jazz reviews of Whitney Balliet.... He would read descriptions of musicians...he'd never heard of but would later come to revere, and try to imagine what New York would be like in real life." Since her father grew up to be a musician in New York himself we see the life-changing effect that the library had on this lad who did not even have indoor plumbing while growing up.

She mentions libraries two other times: once in a passing mention of a hypothetical library book (Death in Venice) as something that was not as important to her education, as a better dorm room in college was; and the other was a rather unique use of her local public library in Nebraska which she used as a source of clean water. As the water from her taps "ran brown" she regularly took clean containers into town and filled them in the library restroom. This passage actually made me wonder about the library I worked in when I live in south Texas. There were quite a few people who lived in "developments" that were never provided with eletricity or plumbing. I wonder if there were folks who were using the public library there the same way?