Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Strange Library - by Haruki Murakami

I had read a few reviews of this, and was quite looking forward to reading it, expecting to perhaps read a paranormal version of something like Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library. There was a library escape, and it definitely was other worldly, but this was not the fun-ride that Lemoncello's Library was. Rather it is a dark story about a boy who goes to his public library and finds himself imprisoned by a brain-eating librarian, and a "sheep man".

I actually got a little excited when the boy first entered the library and said he was looking for some books, and was sent to room 107 because, in fact, room 107 is also the number of my own office in the library. And, like the librarian in the book if someone came to my office needing help finding books, and then backed off saying that they'd come back another time because they thought maybe I was too busy to help them  I would likewise answer "This is my profession - I am never too busy! Tell me the the manner of books that you seek and I will strive to locate their whereabouts." (I'd say something like that, anyway). The similarities stop there, however, as I would most certainly not lead them through a maze and up a dark staircase and lock them away while their mother waited at home.

While this book is library-centric, it is hardly library positive. It definitely did not have the resolution I was looking for. It is a quick read with a lot of good illustrations.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

2016: A Novel of America and the World - by Marjory Maxwell Donn

I found this work while I was sorting my late father's things. It was inscribed by the author, with thanks for the help my father had provided. His name also appeared on the acknowledgments page which indicated that he and the author had been members of the same writer's group. All of this, in addition to the fact that the author's (middle) name is the same as the name of the library in which I work caused me to immediately move this to the top of my reading list.

This book was published in 2008, so the future Donn envisioned was not far away, even when she wrote it. Although some of what is written is grim, it is not a dystopian novel, and ends on a hopeful note, even as we see that there is still plenty of work still to be done (with regards to climate change, Middle-East Peace, a safe and sustainable food supply, and political corruption). The story follows an international cast of characters from Greece, to South Africa, to Israel, and to the United States. Each is confronting both political and personal crises and their lives intersect in a number of ways. There are twelve chapters, each covering one month of the year, and each with its own Discussion Guide so that book groups can read and discuss the book in smaller chunks.

There are several places where the libraries play a role in this work. One young Palestinian, Ahmad, uses his university library to get away from the noise of his overpopulated home. He also briefly considers using the university library as a safe place to hide from some of his denizens who have attacked him and chased him into Israeli territory. His subsequent arrest prevents him from following through on the plan, however.

Ahmad is not the only character who finds himself in prison. Ahmad is released thanks to the help of his American-Jewish friend Monty Greenberg. Monty then finds himself in the federal penitentiary for airing some opinions in his monthly business column that are unpopular with the government. He finds solace in keeping a journal, and also visiting the prison library where he researches Eastern philosophies.

Esther Perlman, wife of Rabbi Avrim, is a minor character in the book. We don't know much about her outside of her family life, except for the very important fact that she is a librarian. It is evident that this is meaningful work both for her, and her husband. When Avrim loses his job and needs to look for a new congregation. He accepts "the offer of a congregation in Haifa, a big enough city that Esther was sure she could find a library job."

I usually don't read discussion guides, but I made an exception in this case, and was delighted to see that the author gives props to librarians under her "General Suggestions" heading
We [Donn had a partner for writing the discussion guide] have provided Web addresses for more information on the issues raised, and, in some cases, have listed books as well. Discussion leaders who do not have personal computers can look up information on the Web at their local library. Librarians have the training to help people find information, whether through books or on the Web.
Additional Bonus!
While this was not the first book I read written by a fellow Unitarian Universalist (UU) (see my post for Walden), I do believe it may be the first with a UU character. While there are many characters in the book, the action is centralized around one: Martha Greenberg (wife of Monty) who we learn at the end is neither Jewish, nor Christian, nor Muslim, but rather "...something like Unitary Universe?" Indeed, the Greenbergs are UUs who gives thanks before meals in much the same way my family does by thinking
about all the people who worked so that we could have this great dinner...especially the farm workers who planted the potatoes and then dug them out of the ground, the truck drivers who carried them and the people in our stores who sold them to us.

So happy to have had a chance to read this.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Artist's Library : A Field Guide - by Laura Damon-Moore and Erinn Batykefer

I found this book through a stroke of serendipity. I was talking to my husband's "Secret Life of Coffee" class (do you love that name? I thought of it!) about doing research on coffee-related themes (using the handy MaxGuide I created for just such work) and was explaining the difference between a subject search and a keyword search using the word "coffee". I demonstrated that the subject search would be more targeted, and that a keyword search would be broader, so that while one might find some useful books than just those a subject search would turn up, it will also necessarily produce some "false hits" including books by people with the name "Coffee", and others published by Coffee House Press. At which point the record for The Artist's Library which had only recently been added to our catalog appeared. I explained to the students that while it looked like a fabulous book (and that I was most certainly going to read it myself) it probably wouldn't have a lot of information for their research on coffee. After finishing my lesson, I returned straight to my library and checked out the book.

This work looks at the library as creative space - an "incubator" of ideas. Ideas that can be inspired by the architecture of the library, things and people we see in the library, as well as things we learn through reading. The authors provide suggestions for artists from the simple (using computers provided by the library to do creative work - a long standing tradition dating back to the time of typewriters used by writers including Ray Bradbury and Betty Friedan) to more unconventional strategies (browsing the stacks and selecting books based only the color of the cover, talking to strangers) as well as checking out the events calendar for new things to try, and collaborating with librarians to create programming, or art displays. Both the university library in which I work, and the public library for which I am a trustee provide spaces for artists to display work. The public library showcases local artists, as well as artwork created by art students (by which my own daughter has been provided a venue to showcase her work).

The authors define artist broadly as
a person who learns and uses creative tools and techniques to make new things...a professional musician, or a kid learning how to use sound-editing software in a library's digital lab...a world-renowned author, or a senior citizen taking part in a memoir-writing workshop...
With this definition I certainly find myself as part of a meta-project. This blog being my creative outlet which was inspired by the library.

I got a laugh when I read dancer/librarian ChristiWeindorf's self description of as a "bunhead". She was referring NOT to her librarian self, but rather her ballerina self.

Find out more at the Library as Incubator Project 

This video about creating art from old books has recently been making the rounds on the "library land" newsfeeds.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the Television Series) - Seasons 1-7

Thanks to Netflix I was able to watch all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a period of about 3 months. I had heard of the show before, but had not seen it. I had watched the movie of the same name when it first came out in 1992, and frankly didn't like it. Since it has been my experience that television shows based on movies are far worse than the films, I could only guess that I wouldn't like this program much. Its television premier in 1997 also coincided with an 1100-mile interstate move, and my becoming a parent, so adding a television show to my life would have just been too much change. I had been told that I might like the show for its feminist message, and because it had a kick-ass librarian in it, but still, I never got involved. I'm not sure what made me decide late last year to give it a try, but once I started I was completely hooked. Of course, for me Rupert Giles (Anthony Steward Head) Buffy's "Watcher" (undercover as a mild-mannered librarian) was the best part of the show. Giles didn't just pretend to be a librarian, he cultivated good research skills in Buffy and her band of "Scoobies" so that they could most effectively fight their demons. And although Giles was the high school librarian only for seasons 1-3 his determination for instilling good research skills and a love of life-long learning are evident throughout all seven seasons. 

I talked to my sister, a long-time fan of the show,  just as I was starting to watch season 5 and told her that my favorite episode up to that point was "Band Candy" from season 3 and I asked her if anything was coming up that might trump it. She told me to just wait until I got to season six, which was full of surprises. While I concur that that season certainly had a stellar line up of plot lines, plus fun musical numbers, it was seriously lacking in Giles time. And now, after watching all episodes I remain steadfast in my favorite pick. The thing about "Band Candy" is that we see Giles as he was as a teenager - a James Dean-esque bad boy who smoked, and looted, and had sex on the hood of a car. It turned the usual librarian stereotype on its head. So often in pop-culture we see a stuck-up librarian as someone who simply needs to lighten up and let their hair down, but when we are shown Giles as a young person we see the "hair down" persona who then became a straight-laced librarian, and can see that it's okay, good even. And, in this case, the bad boy still comes out when needed to kick vampire butt. Giles is smart, strong, and sexy.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Secret Daughter - Shilpi Somaya Gowda

My sister gave me this novel when I asked her for something I could read on the plane ride home from my recent visit with her. It is the story of three women: Asha, a young woman who was adopted from India and brought to the United States as a baby; Somer, Asha's adoptive mother; and Kavita, Asha's birth mother. The three stories are woven together as Asha goes on a voyage of self-discovery. Ultimately there is resolution and redemption for all.

The Lane Library at Stanford University's School of Medicine is important to Somer as the place where she met her future husband. Serious students, they both spent more time there than their fellow medical school students
It was almost a decade ago, under the dull yellow lights of Lane Library at Stanford's School of Medicine, that they first noticed each other. They were there night after night, and not just on the weeknights when the rest of the class studied, but on Friday nights, instead of going out to dinner, and on weekends, when the others went hiking. There were only a dozen of them, the Lane regulars: the most studious ones, the hardest workers.  
There is no doubt in this librarian's mind that Somer's heavy use of the library was a direct result of the fact that her mother worked in a library, although Somer "has never understood how her mother stay[ed] interested in such a mundane job." This after learning that her mother has just rearranged the reference section to make way for some furniture and was working on organizing a series of workshops on biographies of famous women. Really, how could anyone call that mundane?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Will Grayson, Will Grayson - by John Green & David Levithan

I've read a few of John Green's books, at the recommendations of my daughter and niece (who is especially big fan) and while I also like his books, and find his characters to be funny, witty, and smart they just don't seem to use the library that much. You won't find The Fault in Our Stars reviewed on this blog at all for as much the characters in that book liked to read, they never once mentioned going to the library. And while there was minimal use of the library in Looking for Alaska  it was hardly as a place of intellectual fulfillment. Will Grayson, Will Grayson (titled for the two characters in the book with the same name) follows the same pattern of slim library pickin's as the others I've read. The one and only place I've marked the word "library" is in a passage in which a disgruntled member of the math team, upset that one of the Will Graysons in bailing on the "mathletic" competition, "picks up his (lunch) tray, murmurs something about library fines, and  leaves the table." Good to know that the library will always provide an excuse for leaving a difficult situation.