Thursday, May 30, 2013

Robot & Frank (the movie)

This was kind of a sweet little movie. Frank Langella plays Frank, an aging ex-con who is experiencing the early stages of dementia. His children arrange for a Robot to come and help him maintain his house, plant a garden, and cook his food. However, Frank discovers another benefit to having a Robot:  teaching the Robot to do breaking and entering helps Frank to sharpen his failing mind. Robot and Frank target the Public Library, as well as the home of the new Public Library Director, Jake (Jeremy Stong), a young whippersnapper who wants to remove all the books and have them digitized. Susan Sarandon plays the old-school librarian who still appreciates printed books.

An Extremely Goofy Movie (a.k.a. An Extremely Mind-Numbing Movie)

When I blogged about Scott Douglas' book Quiet Please I ended the post by saying that I added this movie to my Netflix list based on his recommendation. Wow. Two thumbs down. Even at the standard Disney-movie length of about 75 minutes this film wasted too much of my time. I get it that this is a children's movie, but even so, it has been my experience that movies made for kids try to have something in them to maintain the interest of the adults who are stuck accompanying their children to the theater. Not so for this one, I just wanted it to end. While it did have a librarian as one of the supporting characters - Goofy's girlfriend, Sylvia Marpole, and she was pretty cool as animated librarians go, overall it was just dumb. James and I both noticed that at the end of the film that Sylvia showed up at Goofy's graduation driving a convertible, and then slid over to the passenger's seat to let him take the wheel. Really? In a movie made in 2000? Didn't anyone producing this film think that was incredibly sexist, and stupid? Otherwise, the only other thing I liked about the film was the almost-cool 70s disco-era soundtrack. Gave me a nasty earworm, though.

Final verdit: This movie is only for the truly die-hard librarians-on-film aficionados.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Delusions of Gender - by Cordelia Fine

In a truly paradigm-shifting work, Fine revists the nature vs. nurture debate regarding sex roles. Questioning  conventional wisdom, as well as current scholarship, she delves into how society creates and reinforces gender stereotypes. Even those of us who believe we were raising our children in gender-neutral settings are easily lead into this trap. Explaining how even many feminists, like myself, simply threw up our hands in surrender when our young daughters showed serious preferences for princesses and pink, despite our best efforts to dress them in gender neutral onesies and provide them with sports equipment, Fine provides evidence to show that perhaps we weren't as neutral as we believed. Furthermore, our children are influenced by so many other outside forces we are at a loss to control them all. 

In her chapter entitled "The Glass Workplace" Fine explores the question of why men are drawn to some jobs while women are drawn to other (most notably the "helping") professions, and what happens when those of one gender try to cross-over to a profession of another. It is here that I found the only mention of librarians.
...often, when men choose to enter less-prestigious female professions they quickly find rolled out for them a red carpet leading to a better-paying position within the field...sociologist Christine Williams coined the term "glass escalator" to encapsulate her discovery that men in (what are currently) traditionally female occupations like nursing, librarianship (emphasis mine), and teaching "face invisible pressures to move up their professions. As if on a moving escalator, they must work to stay in place."...Perceived as, in a sense, too competent for feminine occupations, they were tracked into more supposedly legitimate, prestigious ones.
This will come as no surprise to those of us in these professions. In my 20 plus years as a librarian, I have almost always had a male boss. On those occasions when I've worked for a woman director, she was placed in the position only in an "acting" capacity, until a permanent (male) could be found. To be fair, I have worked as a department head, and had men working as my subordinates, but the head honcho has almost always been a man.

One glaring omission from this work was a discussion of transgender children. Transgendered individuals are given minimal mention in "The Glass Workplace", but that is the only place that explores this topic.

A thought-provoking work. I am looking forward to discussing it with my colleagues in the Women's and Gender Studies Program in the fall.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Herotica 3 - edited by Susie Bright

Back in the 1990s, when I was working at a Public Library in Texas, we received a donation of books for the children's collection that claimed to be appropriate for K-12 readers. I don't remember where the donation came from, but I do remember that we were puzzled by their designation as children's books. Some seemed to be appropriate for a variety of ages, but others were clearly adult-themed literature. Susie Bright's collection of short stories, Herotica 3, challenged even my own liberal beliefs about age appropriateness. While I don't deny that the work might be appropriate for a public library, it seemed a bit of a stretch to include this one in the children's, or even young adult, collection. Since the copy we received was also damaged, it didn't end up in the collection at all, and it found its way into my own personal library. I read it at the time, and have not revisited it again, but I recall that my favorite story involved a three-way with a librarian, so I recently re-read that story, strictly for the sake of blog completeness, of course.

In Susan St. Aubin's "Hope" we find a wonderfully different definition of the sexy librarian, rather than a young woman who only needs to remove her big glasses and let her hair down, in Hope we discover a confident 50-ish woman "with shoulder length white hair curled under in a way the seems natural. She's not short or tall, not fat or thin, but has the kind of build [the narrator's] father used to call healthy. Her face in tanned and her long gold earring have some kind of purple stone inlay that glints through her hair. Her skirt is purple too, and her lavender sweater scoops low enough  to reveal the tanned skin of her full breasts...she doesn't wear underpants."

I was especially drawn to this character when I read that she'd "been all over Mexico, and plans a long trip to Peru next year...talking of boats and flights and donkey guides to Machu Picchu". Hmmm must be something about librarians.

A wonderful bedtime story. Read  it with someone you love.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Libriomancer - by Jim C. Hines

I just don't even know where to begin with this one! Where do I start with a book that not only has a magical librarian, and vampires, it also has a polyamorous, bisexual dryad; and chupacabras! The clever premise of this book is that a libriomancer has the power to pull magical devices from books, which of course can be used for good, or evil. Readers will find themselves in real geek-dom with this work. It appears that all allusions are to real books.  While works such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and the Hitchhikers Guide books may be recognizable to even those who aren't big sci-fi fans, Hines also includes many titles that perhaps don't have as large a following. I have to admit to using Wikipedia more than a few times to find out where some of the characters and magical objects came from. I got a big kick from the way the author incorporated so many species of vampires into the story. My husband and I watch a lot of vampire flicks, and we notice that each one has its own rules within the context of its story. Hines' characters are never quite sure which story the vampires they are fighting come from, so they have to have a variety of methods available for killing them.
Back in the days of Dracula  humans had a fighting chance against the undead. But the more they evolved from monsters into angsty, sexy superheroes, the more the odds of a human being surviving an encounter with an angry vampire shrank to nothing.
Fun fantasy aspect aside, though, this book actually gave me a lot to think about from a librarian's perspective.The libriomancer, Isaac Vaino, is a cataloger in a public library on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He was exiled there after misusing his magic, and is assigned by the magical-powers-that-be to find the magic in books and "flag potentially dangerous" ones. Those deemed to be dangerous are locked, so as to prevent other libriomancers from extracting the magic therein. Hmmmm...this sounds uncomfortably like censorship to me. Censors often believe that while they can handle what might be found in books they don't like, you never know when the work might fall into the wrong hands. Therefore, we must protect all from the danger within. This work also treats the issue of book burning. There is a clear message of information loss that comes with the destruction of the Michigan State University Library, but also we get some irony when the Libriomancer commands his fire spider to destroy a copy of a book whose escaped magic is wreaking  havoc. "I pointed and screamed something I never would have imagined myself saying. 'Burn it!'"

This reminded me of a lesson I had when I was in Library School and one of my professors told us about the first time she removed a book from a shelf after a parent complained. She said she never would have imagined herself doing it, but after reading the book, and talking to her principal who also read it, they agreed it was a pretty worthless piece of literature. It is always easy in the abstract to hold true to our beliefs, but when confronted with a real dilemma we may find ourselves making a surprising choice.

Despite his transgression with the book burning, it is clear the Libriomancer sees books as his salvation, not only are they magical they are deliverance.
Even before I learned what I was, books were my escape from the world. This place...bookstores, libraries...they're the closest thing I have to a church.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wild Girls - by Mary Stewart Atwell

Swan River Academy caters to the families of wealthy southern girls. However, Kate Riordan is able to attend the posh school thanks to her mother's job as secretary to the headmaster, which allows Kate and her sister to attend at a much reduced rate. Being a local, Kate not only knows the legends about the Wild Girls, teenagers who start unexplained fires and kill, she is personally acquainted with some of these supernatural beings, and fears she may turn into one herself. She also wonders why there seems to be a conspiracy between the town and the school to downplay any of the violence the Wild Girls perpetrate.

Kate appears to be a regular library user, both of her local public library and her school library. Passages describe her checking books out, and browsing a copy of The History of Swan River Academy. There are several other places in the book where use of the library is evident among other characters as well, mostly for recreational reading or video borrowing, or as a place to meet. The Swan River Academy Library also turns out to be the location of one of the mysterious fires started by a Wild Girl. In this case, Kate's own sister Maggie, who eerily begins to glow just before the destruction begins. The school's headmaster seems strangely unconcerned that a student (an employee's daughter, no less) has burned the library. But even Kate later admits about herself that perhaps "I had seemed more concerned about the fire among the stacks than I was about my sister."

The book wasn't quite as exciting as I expected it to be. It was a good escape, though, and I appreciated the multi-dimensional characters. It is too often the case that books about adolescents have the "mean girls" and the nice ones, who always win in the end. Kate does some self-reflection, as well she reflects on some of her classmates and realizes she was probably just as judgmental as they were.