Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fear of Flying - by Erica Jong

Because reading 50 Shades of Grey just seemed too trite, I decided to read Jong's classic piece of erotic fiction instead. This is the story of Isadora, torn between her husband Bennett, and her lover Adrian she reflects on her life, loves, and lusts. As a writer Isadora does quite a bit of research and tells of researching the history of the Third Reich at the USIS (United States Information Service Libraries) while her husband was stationed in Germany. After getting a job writing a column for a newsletter Isadora begins doing some research about a Nazi amphitheater she discovers in Heidelberg. In Heidelberg's main public library she finds a guidebook dated 1937 in "English and German on facing pages, with cheap, yellowing paper, black and white photographs and old Gothic type." Most intriguing about this work was that "every ten pages or so a paragraph or photo or a small block of type was covered over with a square of oak-tag. Like any good researcher worth her salt Isadora is determined to find out what is under those tags. "I checked out the book (along with four others so the librarian wouldn't be suspicious) and raced home where I carefully steamed the offending pages over a tea-kettle spout." (Normally, I would be bound by librarian ethics to point out that this would likely cause damage to a book, but censoring is way worse than making the pages a bit wavy, so in this case the ends justify the means).Once Isadora removes the offending tags she finds photographs with swastika flags, and of Nazi salutes and passages that give evidence of the German exceptional-ism of the time. In discussing the censorship with a former Nazi, Isadora begins to question her own honesty in writing, and realizes that she is self censoring her own true feelings.
I refused to let myself write about what really moved me: my violent feelings about Germany, the unhappiness in my marriage, my sexual fantasies, my childhood, by [sic] negative feelings about my parents...I had pasted square oak-tag patches over certain areas of my life and steadfastly refused to look at them.  
The book is the metaphorical removal of Isadora's oak tags as she explores all of the things she describes in the passage above. It is an intellectual exploration as well as a sexual one - and she does explore sex in the library. Isadora tells of flirtations in the Butler Library at Columbia University, as well as describing how she "studied together" (the quotes were in the original) with the man who became her first husband in the Butler Library "where [she] was later shocked to hear that some sacrilegious students actually screwed."

The Butler library was ultimately where Isadora went to escape her first marriage as she "sweated in the stacks...writing a ridiculous thesis on dirty words in English poetry."

And I thought I was going to have a "first" for this blog - a library dream. In the penultimate chapter of the book Isdoara describes a dream in which she is graduating from college. She walks up a flight of stairs "which looked more like a Mexican temple than the steps of Low Library."  But in doing a bit of research, I discovered that the Low Library at Columbia is no longer a library (and was not at the time the book was written). It is now the administration building.

As is true with much erotic literature (most recently with 50 Shades) Fear of Flying has been banned, and censored. See this entry from "The Field Guide to Forbidden Books" blog for more details.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - by J.K. Rowling

Fans of the Harry Potter series of books know that today, July 31, is Harry's birthday. There remains some question as to exactly how old he is. In honor of this day I re-read book 2 of the series (having blogged about book one last year in honor of Banned Books Week). As in the first book, Harry and his friends use the library quite often to look things up and do their homework despite the fact that their librarian, Madam Pince, is so upsettingly unhelpful. They do manage to get a copy of Moste Potente Potions from the restricted section of the library by outwitting their new Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor, Gilderoy Lockhardt, and succeed in making the Polyjuice Potion which allows them to do a magical form of identity theft.

Truly unsettling about this work though, is the fact that Ron and Harry discover a page ripped from a library book in the hand of petrified Hermione Granger. As if that weren't bad enough, in addition she had actually written on the page! There was no need for this destruction, even in the face of evil. She simply could have checked the book out.

None of this is to say I did not thoroughly enjoy the book. I think this must be the fourth time I've read it. Such a great story.

Happy Birthday Harry!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - by Stephen Chbosky

So, a funny thing happened while I was trying to finish this book. I borrowed the book from my daughter, who had borrowed it from a friend at school. But what I discovered when it was my turn to read it was that it actually belonged to her school library, and should have been returned when school let out last month.But since the school and library are now closed, I figured I could just go ahead and read it, and we'd return it in September when the girls went back to school. I got within 25 pages of finishing the book, and then some things came up and I had to put it down, and didn't get a chance to pick it up again until the next day. I brought it in to work figuring I could wrap it up in under 20 minutes. However, sometime between walking in the front door of the library, and getting to my office (a distance of perhaps 5 yards) I set the book down and could not find it again. I had actually had three books with me when I came in, and didn't know where I put any of them. I found one on the counter outside my office, and eventually found a second one on a shelf in my office, but "Perks" continued to elude me. I finally thought to ask the folks at the circulation desk in my library if perhaps I had accidently set it down at the book return.

"Oh, a little green book, from a school library?"
"We didn't know why that was here, so we mailed it back to the school."

Never let it be said that my co-workers are not efficient!

Nevertheless, I was pretty frustrated as I had been so close to the end of the story. But then, one of my colleagues from the Interlibrary loan (ILL) department tells me that someone had just recently requested that book from ILL, and it had just come in, and so another copy of the book was sitting on the "hold" shelf waiting to be picked up. So I seized the opportunity and stood behind the circulation desk and finished reading it before it was too late. Luckily the person who requested the book did not come in during that short window to get her book. So, the good news is, I got to finish the book. The bad news is, that I had marked about a half dozen pages that mentioned libraries, and I lost those markers when the original book went in the mail.So I now must rely on my faulty memory, and I really do not recall much about those references. I do know that when I read some of them I thought that if the story had not taken place twenty years in the past, that some of the trivia-type things the narrator mentioned "looking up" in the library would simply be "Googled" today.

This book is frequently challenged, and made the top ten list of Most Frequently Challenged books of 2009-2010. Marshall University has a pretty comprehensive list as to when and where this work has been challenged, or banned. Reasons run the gamut from drug use to profanity to homosexuality to bestiality to date rape to masturbation. I do find it hard to believe that masturbation is as much a reason for finding offense with a book as date rape is.

When I was in library school, and we discussed book selection and book banning, one of my professors told us that everyone is offended by something, and libraries should have something to offend everyone. It seems that if every library had this book, it would be sure to go a long way towards assuring that the library had "something to offend everyone".

I found this book to be a sensitively written coming-of-age novel. Written in epistolary style and narrated by 16-year old Charlie, it has believable characters, and a tells a good story.

I am looking forward to seeing the movie which opens this fall.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Amazing Spiderman-the movie

Be sure to check out the new Spiderman movie for a good stereotype of a librarian. Otherwise, a fabulous film. I love Spiderman.