Monday, April 30, 2012

The Marriage Plot - by Jeffrey Eugenides

The lives of three Brown University students are intertwined in Eugenides’ witty novel. The story opens on the graduation day of Madeleine Hanna; her friend, Mitchell Grammaticus; and his nemesis, Leonard Bankhead, in 1982. Mitchell and Leonard both have designs on Madeline's affections. Over the course of the next year all three go on journeys of self-discovery that take them all over the map, both literally (through world travel), and figuratively (through deep reflection, emotional turmoil, and intellectual inquiry).Through flashbacks we learn the family and personal histories of all three protagonists, and how they all come to be connected personally.

As an English major, Madeleine spends a lot of time reading, and consequently, in the library. I placed my first yellow sticky marker on the first line of the first page of this book, which opens “To start with, look at all the books…” and then goes on to enumerate the vast literary selection found on Madeline’s shelves, including the complete Modern Library of Henry James. From there, I found no fewer than 18 more mentions of libraries. I did not have to read much further before I came across the first use of the library-nerd stereotype with a passage that describes Mitchell, picking up a jar of deep-heating gel in Madeline’s room and asking her about it. He is told that “people who were athletic (emphasis in original) sometimes got sore muscles. She understood that Mitchell might not have experienced this phenomenon, seeing as all he did was sit in the library….” Followed up later with this account of a reunion of two long-distance lovers “She was holding a book, her expression more that of a library patron who’d been momentarily distracted than that of a girl eagerly awaiting her boyfriend’s arrival from across the sea.”  This, however, is countered with demonstration of the library’s unquestionable vitality “Madeline fled to the Rockefeller Library, down to level B, where the stacks exuded a vivifying smell of mold, and grabbed something - anything, The House of Mirth, Daniel Deronda - to restore herself to sanity”. As well the library’s erotic properties are evident through these passages: “She (Madeleine) went to the library to work on her marriage-plot thesis, but the sex-fantasy atmosphere - the reading-room eye contact, the beckoning stacks – made her desperate to see Leonard”, and, later “because Leonard wasn’t a baby, because he was a full-grown sick fuck, he spent Madeleine’s every absence imagining her blowing her tennis partner...or being bent over the stacks in the library.” (Is it getting hot in here?)

And it was also good to see the library as the go-to place to go for any kind of esoteric information one might seek “[Leonard] went to the library and found a study of erectile dysfunction on Tour de France athletes.”

There were so many settings in libraries and uses for libraries in this book that I won’t specify them all here, but also included were: air-conditioned library as salvation from the heat; drinks and conversation in a private (home) library; a college library for student employment; library as place to go and kill time; and yes, even library as a place to study! 

Three Books by Pat Mora in Honor of El día de los niños/El día de los libros

Today is Children's (Book) Day. Sponsored each year on April 30 by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC, a division of the American Library Association) Children's Day ("Día") celebrates reading and multicultural children's literature. Although many other countries have been celebrating Children's Day since as early as 1925, it was not recognized in the United States until the 1990s, and even so, is not celebrated widely outside of libraries.

Children's author, Pat Mora, originally proposed linking Children's Day with literacy. Her brightly illustrated book Book Fiesta celebrates children, books, imagination, and reading, in two languages (English and Spanish). Children in the work read to each other in cars, planes, trains and "la biblioteca también" (the library too). This work was the 2010 the winner of the Pura Belpre Award.

Tomás  y la señora de la biblioteca (Tomas and the Library Lady) tells the true story of Tomas Rivera. Rivera grew up in a family of migrant workers and loved listening to his grandfather tell stories. When he discovers the public library his love for books and reading is fostered by the librarian. Eventually earning his Ph.D., Rivera became a leader in education. This is a truly an inspirational story about how librarians can change lives.

Sor Juana Ines was a mystic, nun, and poet who lived in Mexico during the 17th century. In Una biblioteca para Juana: el mundo de Sor Juana Inés, (A Library for Juana: the world of Sor Juana Ines) we learn about young Juana who was so fascinated with books and reading from a very young age, that she followed her sister to school before she was old enough, and told her mother that she wanted to attend the University in Mexico City when she grew up because "alli hay una universidad muy grande que tiene una biblioteca con miles de libros" (there is a great big university there that has a library with thousands of books). Unable to attend the university because only men could study there, she became the personal assistant of the viceroy where she had access to the palace library. Recognizing that becoming a nun was the only way for a woman of her time to continue studying she entered the convent where she built "una de las mas grandes bibliotecas de las Americas" (one of the largest libraries in the Americas). This book is a testament to the love of lifelong  learning.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dance of the Card Catalog

Back in the day, before libraries had online catalogs, we found books by using card catalogs - drawers full on index cards on which books were categorized by subject, title, and author. There are still a few of these relics around (I saw one last week during my "insiders tour" of the Boston Public Library). The folks at Yale University's Sterling Library created this video to show off the rather large card catalog still housed there.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Beginner's Goodbye - by Anne Tyler

I discovered Anne Tyler's newest book while browsing Maxwell Library' small leisure reading collection. I haven't read all of her books, but since she writes about my hometown (Baltimore, Maryland) I pick up her books when I notice them. This is the story of Aaron, who is left a (relatively young) widower when a tree falls on his home and kills his wife, Dorothy. As he reflects on his life, and marriage, Dorothy starts to visit him, at first in fleeting glimpses, and eventually having conversations with him.

Since the book is about Baltimore, it was no surprise to me that the one library mentioned by name was the (Enoch) Pratt Library. In one of  Dorothy's memories, she recalls the first meal she cooked for Aaron, and realized that she had no idea how to prepare steak, so she "called the Pratt Library's reference section to see how to cook a steak. They suggested grilling or broiling, but [she] didn't own a grill and ...wasn't all that clear about broiling, so they said okay, fry it in a pan...."

Do people still call the reference desk to ask these kinds of questions? I remember answering all kinds of questions about cooking, and recipes, and ingredients when I worked at the McAllen Memorial Library reference desk in Texas, but I imagine people now just Google that sort of information.

Since I lived in Baltimore County, rather than in the City, I didn't go to the Pratt library often. I do remember going to story hour there once or twice when I was very young, and going there to do some research with some old women's magazines when I took my first Women's Studies course at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. It is a great library. I remember a true feeling of reverence using those old bound periodicals.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

It's National Library Week

National Library Week is a national observance sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and libraries across the country each April. It is a time to celebrate the contributions of our nation’s libraries and librarians and to promote library use.

In honor of National Library Week you can:

Friday, April 6, 2012

Books are Our Friends

Last Sunday's Boston Globe included a wonderful treatise, "Let Us Now Praise Libraries," by Anthony Doerr. In it, Doerr explores the joy of reading for its own sake. He reminises about visiting the public library every Friday after school, remembering the variety of books he checked out. Some he liked, and some he didn't, but what he reflects on now is "No one ever told [him] no. Not [his mother], not the prim librarians stamping return dates onto slip after slip. No one ever said: This book is outside your age range; this book is too complicated."

My own parents allowed me to select my own reading materials. They never insited on knowing what I checked out from the library, and kept books on drugs, sex, art, and fantasy on the shelves at our home, which my sister, brother, and I could access any time. Occasionally, if they were curious about something we read, they would read it themselves, and then we might talk about it. My husband and I have followed suit with my own daughter. The results: a family who loves to read, and can talk intelligently about what they've read. Would-be censors and book banners are too often afraid of someone thinking differently than they do. By allowing children to read a variety of things, of their own choosing they learn to form their own opinions. Isn't that what a democratic society is supposed to do?

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Slipping Down Life-The Movie

I discovered after I read Ann Tyler's novel that a movie based on the book was produced in 1999. Starring Lili Taylor as Evie Decker, A Slipping Down Life doesn't follow the book exactly, but one important element is included - Evie works in the local library. Two scenes take place in the library, which seems to be bigger than one might expect in the small town where she lives. In neither case was the setting integral to the story. They were simply conversations that could have taken place anywhere.