Friday, March 21, 2014

Becoming Odyssa - by Jennifer Pharr Davis

After graduating from college Jennifer Pharr Davis sets out to hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Her Odyssey prompts her to take the trail name "Odyessa" as she sets out on a journey of self discovery. Davis' writing is honest and funny and demonstrates a true love affair with the trail. Like the other books I've read about the "AT" (A Walk in the Woods; The Things you Find on the Appalachian Trail) I read this as part of my town's One Book One Community program. And while all of these books were enjoyable, and inspiring each in its own way, none have prompted me to want to dust off my old backpack and set out on the hike myself.

The bar for inclusion on this blog is simply that a library be mentioned, and Davis almost didn't make the cut. However, in a break from the trail to visit with family in Connecticut she visits the Yale University library and tells the tale of seeing "two volumes of the Gutenberg Bible at the Beinecke Rare Collections Library.

I look forward to hearing Ms. Davis speak about her experiences when she visits Bridgewater in May.

The author's middle name serves as her aptronynm as the distance as the Appalachian Trail is over 2100 miles long. It is also the name of a town I once lived in.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Divergent-by Veronica Roth

On one of my rare visits to a movie theater last year I saw a trailer for the movie Divergent. It looked like a movie right up my cup of tea with a strong female lead in a dystopian society. And, it turns out, it was based on a book. I always like to read a book before I see a movie based on it, so I read this one in anticipation of the movie's opening later this month.

The setting for this work is some unspecified future time: Chicago, Illinois. Each member of society takes a test at age 16 to determine which faction of society they belong in. There are five factions: Abnegation (the selfless); Amity (the peaceful); Candor (the honest); Dauntless (the brave); and Erudite (the intellectual). Once a person chooses their faction it is theirs for life. There is no crossing over. Those who do not easily fall into one of the factions are called "Divergent" and are considered a danger to the society. The story follows Divergent Beatrice (later called simply "Tris") as she tries to hide from the powers that be.

Overall the story was pretty good and I read it quickly, but I must say I was put off by the fact that the Erudite were the villans in this story, and the only mention of a library was as the headquarters of the Erudite. It all seemed like just more anti-intellectual rhetoric to me. And while not every book I've read about libraries necessarily exalts them, reading about a library as the temple of evil distracted me from enjoying the rest of the book.

I do see the appeal of this work. A novel for young adults, I imagine that most who read it will want to identify with the "divergents", those who do not easily fit into one category - those who can be selfless, and peaceful, and honest, and brave, and smart. I don't think I will rush out to the theater to see the movie though. Perhaps I will watch it when it comes out on Netflix. I am on the fence about reading the rest of the trilogy.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Man in the Empty Suit - by Sean Ferrell

Each time travel story has its own set of rules. Sometimes, one of the rules is something along the lines of  'do not to let a former self see your older self' (a la Back to the Future). Other times this isn't a problem. For instance in The Time Traveler's Wife  time traveler Henry DeTramble not only meets former selves, he mentors them, lets them know what is about to happen, and even engages in circle jerks with them. He is aware that what will be will be, and he cannot change his fate. The unnamed traveler in Ferrell's book not only meets his other selves he actively works to change their fates, and thereby "untethers" himself from many of the selves he meets at the annual convention he arranges for himself on his birthday. His desire to save himself from the pain of a broken nose results in various parallel life trajectories, and alternate realities (again refer to Back to the Future movies for more of how this happens) with some disastrous results. One good thing that happens as the result of all of this, however, is that our Time Traveler finds work at the New York Public Library of the future (year 2071), where our hero literally works for food, an irony that was not lost on this librarian.

The narrator's job is in the "book exchange" where the workers search for books and send them to "those who need them." The books are placed in precariously high stacks and when the narrator asks how they find the randomly placed books again, he learns that "The books just seem to know to go where they'll be found". Well, that would certainly make a lot of  library jobs easier.

There are several other scenes in the library, all seem to involve some sort of confusion, yet are strangely comforting to the Time Traveler. Again, this librarian could easily relate to the feeling.

As with most time travel stories, it is best not to over think this one. It would be too easy to drive yourself crazy with questions about logical fallacies, something else the narrator himself recognizes.