Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Testimony - by Anita Shreve

First, a word to the wise: People who send their kids to New England boarding schools should probably not read novels about New England boarding schools. This is especially true if the novel is about a sex scandal. Just saying.

When Mike Bordwin, Headmaster of Avery Academy in Vermont, is presented with a videotape showing  three members of the school's Varsity basketball team, and one freshman girl having sex, he acts swiftly to keep the tape from going public, in the hopes of handling the situation "internally". His plan falls apart when the girl's parents call the police. Testimony, tells the story of what happened before and after the making of the videotape, and the resulting loss of life, derailed careers, and ruined marriages.  Told from a variety of viewpoints; including those in the tape, their parents, friends, as well as other other members of the school and local communities, some players, like Mike Bordwin, appear again, and again; others, like Daryl a townie who supplied the students with alcohol, only get a chapter or two. One character who we only learn about through others is the basketball coach, who, not surprisingly, is fired after the tape becomes public. Not because he had anything to do with it, but rather because in situations like these, there must be a scapegoat. The story did leave me wondering, once again, why institutions (schools and churches particularly) think they can (or should) handle these crimes on their own.

Libraries are scattered in several places throughout this work - as part of a pastiche making up the town, or school, or as places inside of homes. The most significant role a library plays, however, is as a workplace for Rob Leicht, one of the basketball players seen in the tape. After his expulsion, and loss of scholarship at Brown University, he moves with his mother to a town near Boston, where he gets a part-time job in the library. This is not really seen as any kind of salvation, just a place where he works, and can get books to read in his "generous spare time". It is all portrayed as a bit sad, actually.

Although there is some reflection, there is little in the way of redemption here. It is more a story of people trying to put their broken lives back together with pieces that no longer fit.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

50 Jobs in 50 States: One Man's Journey of Discovery Across America - by Daniel Seddiqui

Three years ago, when I was working on my "year of reading year of books" blog, I learned about Daniel Seddiqui's project to work for one week in each of the 50 states over the course of a year. He tried to select a job that was representative of the culture and/or economy of the state (e.g auto mechanic in Michigan; lobsterman in Maine; cheesemaker in Wisconsin). I was looking forward to reading his book, as it also fit in with my (then) upcoming year of Celebrating the States. My Geographer husband and I planned on reading this together when we picked it up at a bookstore in the summer of 2011. A few weeks later, but before we had a chance to start reading the book, we had the wonderful opportunity to host Shay Kelly of Project 50/50 at our home. After losing her job, Shay decided to travel to all 50 states over the course of a year and do a volunteer project in each one.  We asked her if she knew about Seddiqui's project. She told us that she had heard of him because he had contacted her to let her know that she "stole his idea". Hmmm, well this put us off of Seddiqui a bit, nevertheless, James and I started to read the book in January of this year. We finally finished it about a month ago. It took us so long because, frankly, we didn't like it much, and could only read small bits at a time. We would often set it aside for weeks before coming back to it, finally picking it up with a sigh that we should "probably finish it". We kept waiting for it to get better, but it read as if the raw writing from his diary or blog were published with few revisions.  It was poorly edited, rife with awkward sentences and grammatical errors, and had little in the way of the reflection I expect to see in a memoir, but much in the way of complaining when work was hard, or hours were long, or a job in the desired industry didn't pan out. Of course I was not only disappointed that he never considered library work, but also that with all the research he did (and I will say that he did an admirable job of finding appropriate work) he never even mentioned going to a library to do any of it. There is only one library mentioned at all - working in Arkansas as an archaeologist, he reluctantly turns over a horseshoe he finds to the artifact library.