Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mona in the Promised Land - by Gish Jen

I read this novel over about a 10-week period as part of a weekly book discussion, along with some students at the University. The story tells of Mona, a Chinese American teenager growing up in Scarshill, New York in the 1960s. Mona begins to volunteer at a suicide prevention hotline that is run by a local Jewish Temple, and decides to convert to Judiaism, much to her Catholic parents' chagrin. The students in my discussion group, who were all Latin American, were surprised to find so many themes in this work that resonated with them. For instance it is universally true that teenagers will have conflicts with their parents.

Libraries didn't play any real role in this book, but there were a few passing mentions of them. Mona's best friend is Barbara whose family moves to a huge house with six bedrooms, and among other amenities has "a library with chestnut paneling".What home would be complete without books, after all?

Mona is quite bright, and does exceptionally well in school. This leads some of her peers to steer clear of her ("Mona has never admitted how much she reads, figuring, Why act brainier?"). However, the handsome Seth, a pseudo-bohemian/pseudo-intellectual is very interested in spending time with Mona. He is also very interested in spending time with Barbara, and deflowers each in turn. Foreplay involves impressing them with deep philosophical discussions of Kant. "Mona can tell Barbara feels left out by the fact that she's even checked that Kant book out of the library to see how it ends." Seth eventually "begins to share with Barbara his synopses and hypotheses and analyses, his assumptions and suppositions. Whereupon to Mona's confoundment, Barbara goes intellectual."

Throw into the mix the charming Andy Kaplan who everyone wants to be connected to although "for a long time he was just like anybody else, only shorter...[b]ut after he suddenly grew eleven inches, he became the sort of guy  with whom people like to claim some connection. His mom worked his their mom on the library committee. They used to be on his paper route. Even Seth claims to play chess with Andy now and then..."

Barbara, Mona, and Seth spend a lot of time getting high, eating, drinking and "rapping". Their discussions sometimes question whose oppression is the worst: Chinese immigrants, blacks, or Jews. Contemplating history as well as current events they recognize "the auction blocks and the Ku Klux Klan and the fuss over getting even a library card..."

There is one rather convoluted library metaphor. I had to read it several times to get it. Seth and Mona, in trying to help a friend, ultimately feel betrayed. Mona considers how Seth perceives this:
It is as if he is just discovering that he grew up an only child, which in a way, he did. His step-brothers were all buy out of the house by the time he came along; and what with his interests, he could practically have been a Old World scholar boy, the kind with cuff links and green skin and no appetite. Even now, she can see him with a piano, and an illuminated globe, and a sliding wooden ladder that he really does need, to get to all his books. They one day: Enter a group of playmates. And when they leave, the library is a whole different place.
I think my favorite library mention though, was reading that Barbara's parents decided to take a last minute June vacation, even though "it mean[t] doing two research papers without a library." What were they thinking?!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Celestial Bed - by Irving Wallace

As in Wallace's The Seven Minutes this work explores a modern day witch hunt involving sex and an over zealous district attorney (Hoyt Lewis). Aided and abetted by a phony televangelist (Rev. Josh Scrafield), and an aspiring newspaper reporter suffering from premature ejaculation (Chet Hunter), Lewis sets out to investigate and arrest the renowned sex therapist Dr. Arnold Freeburg, and one of the sex surrogates he employs, the lovely Gayle Miller.

Ironically, it is Hunter's girlfriend Suzy Edwards, who is also Freeburg's secretary, who provides the lead that gets her employer arrested. In referring her boyfriend to the sex therapist she also unwittingly opens the door to the investigation.

Hunter and Edwards first meet at the Hillsdale Main Public Library, where Hunter is doing some research for hire:
This fellow, probably in his thirties, surely no more than five years older than she, was carrying some books from the shelves, and the only spot open was the chair next to hers. Apologetically, he eased into the chair tight against her own. She had been taken by him at once. He was of medium build, receding neat brown hair, high forehead, soulful brown eyes highlighted by steel-framed spectacles set near the tip of his pug nose, his manner reserved but obviously an intellectual type.
It is also clear, however, that his work at the Acme Research Bureau "digging up facts from countless sources for free-lance writers graduate students, magazines, newspapers" is no job for a real man, as it barely pays subsistence wages, and at least one of his clients, the Revered Josh Scrafield had always looked at the researcher with "mild contempt [and as] something of a frail grub and intellectual nerd, sallow and frightened of life".

Ultimately, Hunter sees the error of his ways (once he experiences a successful coupling with Edwards), and refuses to cooperate with the DA, and of course, is rewarded with the real job at the newspaper he always dreamed of. A true fairy tale ending in which good sex conquers all.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Reader - the movie

An enigmatic woman, Hanna Smitz (played by Kate Winslet) helps a teenage boy, Michael Berg (David Kross) return to his home after he falls ill and the two begin an affair. Set in 1950s Germany the Hanna insists that  Michael read to her each time they meet, before they make love. Eventually she disappears from his life and the next time Michael sees Hanna she is a defendant at a Nazi war crimes trial. Hanna is sentenced and adult Michael (played by Ralph Fiennes) continues to read to her by way of recorded cassette tapes sent to her in prison.

There is one scene in the prison library in which Hanna asks for one of the books she has been listening to.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Ghosts of the Bridgewater Triangle - by Christopher Balzano

Last month my husband and I attended the premiere of the documentary The Bridgewater Triangle. For those who are not familiar with this paranormal place the Triangle is located in southeastern Massachusetts, centered on the Hockomock Swamp. Bigfoot has been sighted there, along with a big chicken, big cats, UFOs, Pukwudgies, and a host of ghosts. It is named for the three "Bridgewaters" (Bridgewater, East Bridgewater, and West Bridgewater) but includes many other towns, and the spooky stuff also leaks out from the borders of the Triangle.

I am a bit of a skeptic myself when it comes to ghosts and other paranormal stuff, but since I live and work in the Bridgewater Triangle, and make it a habit to explore all things Bridgewater, I was very interested to see the movie, and likewise could not resist this book when I saw it on display at the Bridgewater Public Library. After I began reading it I almost put it down, as it was rather poorly edited - rife with grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and awkward syntax - but since I was so interested in the topic I decided to keep reading. My resolve was rewarded with several stories about librarian ghosts - a first for this blog! 

Just a piece up the road from Bridgewater, is Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. According to Balzano's book, Wheaton has several ghosts, including the "old librarian" Mary Armstrong (aka Aunt Mary) who rides the elevator, moves books, and opens and closes doors. 
The story goes that she joined the staff in the early 1920s and became overworked. She moved away to live with her sister, and for reasons unknown, perhaps the stress of the job she had just left, took her own life. She returned to her true passion though, and continues the job she both loved and hated.
The Wareham Public Library is said to have ghost who (stereo-typically of librarians) doesn't like loud music and is responsible for changing the radio station of cars that pass by the library to classical music.
No name is even given for the librarian, and in fact, she never really existed. The uncommon occurrence in Wareham has nothing to do with a ghost. It just so happens that right on that spot is a weird split in the town's radio reception. Near that spot is a convergence of two different radio stations. One is a rock station and the other a classical, and a radio with weak reception will switch between the two as it drives down the street.
(See what I mean about the poor editing).

The author also mentions a haunted library in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, but does not provide details.

This work also includes details about some of the ghosts who haunt Bridgewater State University (where I work). I've been here 16 years and only learned recently (from a program at the Bridgewater Public Library) that there were ghosts on campus! I never knew about George (who haunts the theater), nor the dorm ghosts in Shea-Durgin Hall and Woodward Hall, nor the phantom horse on the athletic field, nor the ghost that haunts Tillinghast Hall, where I once had an office.

More Information on Bridgewater State University ghosts can be found here and here.

More information about the Bridgewater Triangle can be found here.