Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Nantucket Christmas - by Nancy Thayer

'Tis the season for light reading. I noticed this book while we were shopping at Costco and threw it in the cart because I love Nantucket, and I love Christmas. Last year I even got to go to Nantucket during the Christmas season and enjoy all the lovely Christmas trees still decorated from the annual Christmas Stroll.

This book has everything you might expect from a Christmas story: a love story, a martyr, family drama, friends, redemption, a birth, a cute kid, a dog, and of course, a library. The library is the Nantucket Atheneum, which doesn't really have a big role in the book (it is simply the place where the protagonist, Nicole, drops off some cookies for the Christmas Stroll). But, for me it especially significant because it is also the place where I have actually heard the author of this work give a book talk, and where I am personally acquainted with one of the employees. And, in fact, my husband and I gave a coffee talk there ourselves a few years ago. I enjoyed visualizing all of the places Thayer mentions in the book making this an especially fun to read for me.

The Hayes-Bohanan's talk about coffee at the Atheneum November 2007

Monday, December 23, 2013

Love Overdue - by Pamela Morsi

I don't believe I have ever read a Harlequin Romance before. I rarely read romance novels, and I admit to becoming somewhat jaded about them during my long ago bookstore clerk days. The series romances would come in monthly installments, and then the same women (they were always women) would show up and buy the lot of them. I would hear them chattering while they waited in line about how they needed to get to the store the day they came out, lest they miss one. Occasionally, they would explain that such a calamity had befallen them at some point in the past, and they were not about to let it happen again. Even without reading these novels I sensed that they were all pretty much the same, and couldn't understand why missing one was such a big deal. I once made the mistake of suggesting to one of our customers that perhaps she could go to the library and read the books she was missing. No, this was not good enough because, she explained, she needed to own them.

So anyway, I read a review of Morsi's novel in one on the endless stream of trade magazines that comes across my desk, and just couldn't resist putting in an Interlibrary loan request for it. Just take a look at the cover! Look at those sensible shoes! I must admit that this was a fun mindless read. The story starts with librarian Dorothy Jarrow moving to Kansas with her little dog. The "Oz" allusions continue throughout without any subtlety. In fact, there is nothing subtle about this book. Morsi appears to have had a lot of fun playing with the stereotypes, which again, she didn't even try to pretend were anything else:

"...librarians were expected to be law-abiding, as well as sedate, slightly stuffy and incredibly sexless. D.J. was pretty certain she fit that bill perfectly."

It is suggested that the new librarian must be "a homely old maid, married to her cat." Disbelief is expressed when someone says that she actually "looks kind of pretty."

Despite the fact that she is young and "kind of pretty" she is also described as going for that "old maid look... [with a] stuffy business suit, gray on gray with her hair pulled back into a little bun like somebody's grandmother." Variations on this description pop up several more times throughout.

The book flashes back several times, however, to a Dorothy who is eight years younger, and enjoying spring break at South Padre Island, Texas. And it is here that we find out that the librarian is perhaps not as stuffy as she makes herself out to be. Will she ever remove those "bookworm" glasses and let her hair down again? The answer, of course, was not really a big surprise.

I will also say that despite having a rather stereotypical look about her, D.J. is portrayed as a very competent librarian - recognizing how she can better serve her community; figuring out how to rearrange the library for better light; and she of course believes that everyone, including children, should be able to select their own reading materials. She is anti-book banning, and anti-censorship.

One other thing I should point out is that this work not only has a librarian, but also a busybody Library Trustee whom D.J., for some reason, thinks should call her "Ms. Jarrow". Really? I'm a trustee, and we all use first names.

Although entirely predictable (really, there was not plot turn that I didn't see coming pages out) I have to admit to enjoying this one. This is not to say I'm about to start a romance book subscription, or wait in line at the bookstore once a month.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Things You Find on the Appalachian Trail: A Memoir of Discovery, Endurance and a Lazy Dog - by Kevin Runolfson

Bridgewater, Massachusetts' One Book One Community selection for spring 2014 is Bill Bryson's memoir of an ill-fated attempt to hike the entire Appalachian Trial.  A Walk in the Woods is a book which I found hysterically funny. There was some discussion on the One Book Steering Committee, though, about whether some might not enjoy Bryson's particular brand of humor the way that I do, and that perhaps we should suggest some alternative selections. Runolfson's book looks like it is clearly in the running. I think it will have wide appeal with a variety of populations, especially since the author's faithful dog, Rufus plays such an endearing role in the work.

Hiking the entire trail from Georgia to Maine between March and October 2001 in an effort to recover from a bad divorce Runolfson learns much about himself, and the kindness of strangers, as he also finds love on the trail.

Of course, I was thrilled to read that he stopped at several libraries during his six-month quest. He specifically mentions this for the first time as he walks through the Virginia portion of the trail. He first mentions one small library in Glasgow, which I am not sure he actually stopped in, but he is clearly happy to find a "huge library two blocks from the campsite" in Waynesboro where he can access e-mail. He also uses the public library near the end of the New York portion of the trail to use a pay phone (I wonder if those are still functional along the AT?) and to "waste the rest of the day reading". Although normally I would take issue with the using the verb "waste" in conjunction with reading and spending time in a library, I'm going to let this one slide, he did after all, have a long journey with a bit of a deadline. He also mentions visiting the library in Rutland, Vermont.

Public libraries are important institutions that serve many constituencies. It is good to know that a visitor to a town can use the public library to read, check e-mail, use the rest room, refill their water bottle, use a pay phone, or simply take a break. Supporting the library in your own town is the ultimate act of kindness to strangers. When you use the library in another town you are the beneficiary of the kindness of others. This is how a civil society functions.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Dewey's Christmas at the Library - by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter

I first blogged about Dewey the Library Cat three years ago during my year of "Celebrating the States" during which I celebrated the anniversary of each state with a movie, a book, and an appropriate food item. For my Iowa book I read Vicki Myron's Dewey: The Library Cat, a book for middle-grade readers about a real cat who was left in a book drop at the public library in Spencer, Iowa. Dewey Readmore Books was subsequently adopted by the whole town. This book was based on the orginal "Dewey" book: Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat who Touched the World. There are several children's picture books about the Library Cat, including Dewey's Christmas in the Library, which I was able to download on my iPad for a mere $2.99. I am a sucker for Christmas stories, and this one was extra special to me, being about a library after all. This story tells about Dewey's first Christmas and how he helped to decorate the library's award-winning Christmas tree. A sweet story based on Dewey's real life adventures.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Liberal Arts - the movie

During a visit to his alma mater for the retirement party of a favorite professor, Jesse meets Zibby, a sophomore. The two are quite taken with each other, but Jesse is concerned about their 16 year age difference.


In a twist on the usual and expected three plot points, in this movie boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy gets...librarian!

What I also found refreshing about this film was that normally in a movie where there are two women and one man, the audience is made to feel unsympathetic to the woman who doesn't get the man. Not so in this film.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lean In:Women, Work, and the Will to Lead - by Sheryl Sandberg

Back in June I blogged about Betty Friedan's classic feminist work The Feminine Mystique. I mentioned then that I had just started to read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In commenting that if there were any libraries in the book you would find out here. So here I make good on my promise. There is one. Sandberg tells of the first job she took out of college "at the World Bank as research assistant to Larry Summers...[She] spent the first nine months  in the stacks of the Bank library...looking up facts and figures for Larry's papers and speeches." We can safely assume that she was not Summers' assistant, though, when he made his now infamous remarks at Harvard in 2005 about women's (lack of) aptitude in the sciences. I actually found it rather ironic how much she praised Summers in this book. A quick look at the index indicated that he actually gets twelve times as much print space as libraries do!

When this work first came out earlier this year it got a lot of press. There was some controversy of course, what with a woman suggesting that other women can be leaders and all. I read this slowly (two chapters a month) as part of a discussion group on our campus. We met monthly to discuss what we read, and to reflect on how the book might relate to us. There were several dozen women who were part of this group, which included not only librarians, but administrators, clerical workers, maintenance workers, and faculty members. I think it is fair to say that Sandberg's book reflects her own socioeconomic, heteronormative status, but that is not to say that her words are not relevant to those who do not share those statuses. In our discussions we were all able to see how we could lead from where we were, and to suggest ways to make things better for ourselves, and others. There were places though where we recognized that Sandberg's privilege plays a big role in what she is able to accomplish. We also agreed that while we can make some changes for ourselves, there is much that needs to be recognized by society at large. Sandberg, for example suggests to "make your partner a partner". For those of us who have partners this is fine advice as far as it goes, but even for those of us whose husband's drive the carpool, and share other household responsibilities we still have to contend with things like schools only ever calling the mother to pick up a sick child (even when the father's name and number are listed first). I also find that while I generally enjoy working in the same organization as my husband, one major drawback is that some people seem to think of me as his messenger. If he isn't in his office when they happen to stop by, or he is slow to respond to e-mail they have no compunction of contacting me and asking me to "let him know that...", or even ask me to deliver something to him. He virtually never gets messages for me unless they are of the 'remember me to your wife' variety.

Sandberg's message that women should decide what is important to them and ask for it is another place where her socioeconomic status seems to make her unaware of how much of the world functions. I can hardly imagine a woman working two minimum wage jobs having the privilege of telling her boss that she'd like to be home for dinner with her children most days of the week. While she may be just as likely to want such a simple thing, she is not likely to have much flexibility in her scheduled hours, and may be too busy getting from one job to the other to even consider making that dream come true.

Despite its problems, ultimately I give this book a thumbs up. I do believe Sandberg has the best interests of everyone (men, women, and children) at the heart of this work, and everyone can find something from which to benefit in it.