Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel - by Carl Safina

It has been five years since I posted my rave review about Safina's The View from Lazy Point. Like Rachel Carson, Safina writes science for all. His delightful prose is accessible, witty, and smart leaving one with a true sense of wonder. This passage about humans discovering the use of tools by chimpanzees provides a clear window onto his clever writing style
In 1960, Jane Goodall rocked the world with "news" that chimps were using twigs - in other words, tools - to extract termites. Up to that moment, scientists had believed that only humans made any tools, and that tools "made us human." But - wait a minute! In 1844, a missionary to Liberia named Thomas Savage wrote that wild chimpanzees crack nuts "with stones precisely in the manner of human beings." Science did not rediscover the missionary's position for more than a century.
I began reading this book in August on the ferry from New Bedford, Massachusetts to Nantucket on our way to hear Safina give a talk about his work with elephants. 

Both the book and his presentation discussed the question of anthropomorphism (the attribution of human emotions to other animals). Throughout much of the twentieth century scientists only observed and reported on the behavior of animals, but did not seek to understand why they (the animals) might do something, or how they might feel about it. In fact, scientists who suggested that animals might have reasoning skills were considered un-academic. Safina, however, pointed out in his talk that "it is not scientific to not be open". And explains in the book " that [b]y banning what was considered anthropomorphic, the behavorists perpetuated the opposite error that only humans are conscious and can feel anything". Safina simply asks animals the question "Who are you?". The answers, however, are complex.

It took me several months to get through this book because although I read it in small chunks there was always so much to digest. It certainly had me re-examining my own belief that animals don't reason. A belief, no doubt, instilled in me by the fact that I grew up in the 70s and 80s, when behaviorism was the science of the day and so any education I received would have reflected that. I was especially thrown by this explanation about the care of baby turtles
in 2014...scientists announce[d] their discovery that hatchlings and adults of a species of river turtle vocalize to one another, using eleven types of calls. The scientists observed that the calls functioned "to congregate hatchlings with adults for mass migration." Had you asked me before I read that, I (and most turtle experts) would have told you-wrongly-that no turtles provide parental care, at all. 
The passage made me recall the lesson in my second grade science class in which we learned about how turtles laid their eggs, covered them up, and then left the babies to their own devices when they hatched to find their way to the water. I remember a few years later pointing out to our music teacher when she taught us a song about a mother turtle taking care of her baby that such a thing would never happen.

Safina wraps up this section with a quote from his neighbor J.P. Badkin: "if you're not careful, you can learn something every day." 

This is sure to become my new librarian mantra.

Scarce on any actual libraries (the only mention of the word is in a discussion of a the vast scope of elephant noises, which he refers to as a "sound library") Safina's work is included on this blog not so much for this one library metaphor but because the book demonstrates Safina's love of lifelong learning. As a librarian my hope for everyone with whom I interact is that they, too, will develop such a passion.

We were able to have our copy of the book signed by the author when we attended his presentation on Nantucket.

Safina's Ted Talk "What are Animals Thinking and Feeling" can be found here:

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Committed - by Elizabeth Gilbert

When I searched the web for images of the book cover to use here I found some that were different than the edition I read. This happens occasionally, and normally I don't worry about finding an exact match, but in this case I did because the subtitles on the covers were different. It appears that later editions had the subtitle "A Love Story" whereas this one is a decidedly less romantic "A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage". Having gone through a difficult divorce (which you can read all about in Gilbert's phenomenal bestseller Eat, Pray, Love) the author is indeed pretty skeptical about marriage, as is her boyfriend, Felipe, for reasons similar to Gilbert's own. The two are essentially "sentenced" to matrimony when Felipe has some serious problems with the U.S. immigration service. It is made clear to the happily unmarried couple that Felipe (a Brazilian-born Australian citizen) will be unable to return to the country without a fiancé visa. During the long wait it takes to obtain the visa Gilbert explores her feelings and does some research on the meaning of marriage across time and space.

This memoir is bookended (so to speak) with two nearly identical library metaphors. Near the start of the story Gilbert and Felipe arrive at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport together after a trip abroad. Gilbert "passed through immigration first, moving easily through the line of ...fellow American citizens." Meanwhile she waited for Felipe to get through his much longer line. When he finally had his turn with the immigration official she watched as "he studied Felipe's bible-thick Australian passport, scrutinizing every page, every mark, every hologram" growing ever more apprehensive as she waited for the anticipated "thick, solid, librarian-like thunk of a welcoming visa-entry stamp. But it never came." And it is therefore, with some relief at the end of the book that Felipe finally hears "that satisfying librarian-like thunk in his passport."

Of course since I look for libraries in books this use of the metaphor would pique my interest more than some other readers. A "thunk" can be a sound for a lot of things, perhaps some rather unpleasant - the thunk of a jail cell closing behind you, or the thunk of a head hitting the floor, for instance. But here it is used as a reassuring sound - a sound you might expect to hear in a library, a place where one feels safe. And I do think that Gilbert and Felipe ultimately feel safe together in their marriage.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

She's Come Undone - by Wally Lamb

This is the second book I've selected from the Little Free Library on Washington Street in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. It turns out both were choices from Oprah's Book Club. I never participated in Oprah's book club, but back in my public library days I was always aware of what her picks were because people would start calling the library as soon as they were announced to find out if we had them. Anyway, I enjoyed both books I chose (the other was Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts).

In this coming-of-age novel young Delores Price faces a tragedy that eventually tears her family apart. After her parents divorce she is sent to live with her grandmother while her mother recuperates from a mental breakdown, and Delores' life begins a downward spiral. She is obese, and essentially friendless when she leaves for college where more torment awaits her. After several years in a psychiatric ward she tries to strike out on her own, but her pain has not been fully explored or healed.

The copyright on this book is 1992, and the story follows Delores from her childhood in the 1950s through adulthood. All the action takes place before the time of Google, indeed, personal computers were virtually unknown to the characters in this work. Of course that means that they had to go to the library to find things out. Delores is a prolific library user. This is especially evident when she mentions that her school guidance counselor, Mr. Pucci, saw her though "$230 worth of unreturned library books". She doesn't get much better at returning books as an adult.When she takes the feminist classic Our Bodies Ourselves out of the Montpelier (VT) public library she apparently ignores the overdue notices that "begin to appear" along with her bills in the mail.

She takes advantage of the Providence (RI) Public Library's vast collection of telephone books from around the country ("thousands and thousands of pounds of tissue paper pages") to find the address of someone she's been stalking. I guess this is one library service that is no longer needed. Who uses phone books anymore? And it is so much easier to stalk people online as well.

And finally, a first. This is the first book I've blogged about a book that mentioned a hospital library.

The writing is first-rate, and despite Delores' deep cynicism she is someone the reader wants to cheer for. The book really isn't as depressing as my post might make it sound. It has some truly sweet spots.

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age - by Daniel J. Levitin

I downloaded this e-book after watching this short interview with the author. Levitan has a lot to say about information literacy and includes chapters on understanding numbers, graphs, and statistics (and how all can be used to deceive); and how to think critically and logically so as to avoid being duped. Crucially, he discusses the importance of doing our own research in order to verify claims we've heard
Time spent evaluating claims is not just time well spent, it should be considered part of an implicit bargain we've all made. Information gathering and research that used to take anywhere from hours to weeks now takes just seconds. We've saved incalculable numbers of hours of trips to libraries and far-flung archives, or hunting through thick books for the one passage that will answer our questions. The implicit bargain that we all need to make explicit is that we will use just some [emphasis in original] of that time we saved in information acquisition to perform proper information verification.
Levitan also makes clear the importance of librarians in the information age. He specifically mentions asking a librarian for assistance in finding the origin of a quote often misattributed to Mark Twain ("It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."). He tells of consulting expert research librarian Gretchen Lieb at Vassar who explained the difficulty in tracking it down explaining that "Quotations are tricky things. They're the literary equivalent of statistics, really, in terms of lies, damn lies, etc." The quote in question most likely originated with humorist Josh Billings.

Levitan also explains about the scientific process, and what peer-review entails. Further he explains that it is becoming more difficult to tell which journals are reputable with the "proliferation of open-access journals that will print anything for a fee, in a parallel world of pseudo-academia". He goes on to say that "Reference librarians can help you distinguish the two" and specifically gives a shout out to Jeffrey Beall, a research librarian at the University of Colorado, Denver who has created a "blacklist" of disreputable journals.

This book was especially useful for me as I am currently researching how to teach students how best to evaluate websites and other open-access sources. In fact, I would recommend this book to all budding researchers (and I know a few experienced ones who might benefit from it as well). It is written clearly with just enough illustrations and was well worth the time I spent reading it.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - based on a story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

I spent the weekend before Halloween reading the eighth book in the Harry Potter series - a script rather than a novel. Harry and his friends (and enemies, and frenemies) return as adults with jobs, children, and presumably mortgages, and all the other impedimenta (pun intended!) of grown up life.

The story begins where the epilogue of book seven left off - at Platform 9 3/4 with Harry and Ginny's son Albus Severus heading to Hogwarts for the first time. Albus develops a unlikely friendship with Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco, and it is quickly made clear that it's the Potter kid who is the bad influence in this duo.

There is a lot here to entertain Potter fans. I enjoyed the work, and there were plenty of allusions to the rest of the series including fun with the invisibility cloak, the Marauder's Map, and Time Turners.

Libraries and books are key in this work. Hermione (now the Minister for Magic) not surprisingly has a large library in her office, and as Scorpius points out "There are some serious books here. Banned books. Cursed Books" including some that are "not even allowed in Hogwarts!" even in the Restricted Section.

So what we see is that Hermione, who in book five so enthusiastically points out that "if [Professor Umbridge] could have done one thing to make absolutely sure that every single person in this school will read your interview, it was banning it!", now is a practitioner of  censorship herself. It appears that like many book banners she believes that she can handle the information found in the threatening works, but must protect from others from the dangers within. This is not the only place in the story where we see the government hiding information from its people. So scary, really.

There are two scenes in the story that take place in the Hogwarts library. The librarian's role is most disappointing. The unnamed librarian has exactly one line.

All together now, let's hear it...



Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Paper Chase - the movie

There's nothing like a good library caper! In this classic film, first-year Harvard Law student James Hart (Timothy Bottoms) sneaks into Langdell Library, not once, but twice! The first time it appears he merely wants to get a book when the library is closed, but this sets the stage for the second more daring breach. After he is told by an appropriately dowdy librarian (Irma Hurley) sporting a brown jumper and white collared blouse, that the "red set" (the first drafts of all the law-school professor's writings) is off limits to him Hart and his accomplice, Ford, sneak in to the gated area to read the notes written by their hard-nosed contracts professor Kingsfield (John Houseman) from when he was a student at Harvard. Although I certainly can't condone the behavior of Hart and Ford, I must admit that the librarian wasn't very helpful, and the students do seem to give proper respect and awe to the archives.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Peanuts Movie

Charlie Brown wants to impress the Little Red-Haired Girl, and what better way than to read the greatest work of literature ever for his book report: Tolstoy's War and Peace. Our hero goes to the library, and due to a misunderstanding, is looking for something called "Leo's Toy Store" by Warren Peace. Marcie comes to the rescue, telling him the proper title and author, and then pointing out the tome located on the top shelf. Marcie suggests that he pick something else, since he only has the weekend to read the book and write the report, but Charlie Brown is undeterred. Charlie Brown really could have saved himself a lot of trouble by asking a librarian (completely absent in this film - not even by way of the the familiar "wa wa" voice). A librarian could have helped Good Ol' Charlie Brown with book selection, as well as provided the proper title and author information of the book he was looking for, and helped him use the catalog to find its location in the library. Such a lost opportunity. On the plus side, though, this one does pass the Bechdel Test thanks to Marcie and Peppermint Patty who discuss their own book review.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Where the Heart Is - by Billie Letts

This is the third Billie Letts book I've blogged about here. Each one was found by serendipity - the first (Made in the U.S.A.) while browsing the leisure reading shelf of the library where I work, and the other (Shoot the Moon) at Somethin's Brewing Book Cafe. This one I found at The Little Free Library which recently appeared on Washington St. in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, near where my beach house is located. I was thrilled to be able to ride my bike there and pick out a book.

Of the three Letts' books this one is the most library-centric, and includes at least three different kinds of libraries (public, academic, and prison). The libraries tend to be positive forces for the characters in the books; the librarians, however leave a bit to be desired.

When seven-months-pregnant Novalee Nation is abandoned by her boyfriend at the Wal-Mart in Sequoya, Oklahoma she meets an eclectic group of people who help her out in some unexpected ways. She camps out at the store each night, and hides from the employees as they open it each morning. During the day she explores Sequoya and finds the public library "a two-story brick building with a black wrought-iron fence, the lawn planted with joseph's coat, calendula and foxglove." The first library Novalee had ever been in that "didn't have wheels under it". Inside she discovered
a room with dark wood carved into intricate designs, tall windows of thick, frosted glass and red velvet drapes held back with silver cord, chandeliers whose crystal drops caught fragments  of light transfused into rich blues and deep greens, paintings in gold frames of nude women with heavy bellies and thick thighs. And books. Racks of books, stacks of books, walls of books.
The librarian, however, was absent, as she was informed by the only other person in the building. Forney Hull turned out to be the alcoholic librarian's brother who took care of both his sister and her patrons. Forney and his sister live in the library, which before becoming the library was their childhood home. Novalee is enchanted with the idea of  being able to live at the library "to have all those books to read..." She also gets to celebrate her birthday at the library. This is the first library birthday celebration I have come across, and I had actually been wondering if I would ever find one!

Meanwhile, Novalee's good-for-nothing ex, Willy Jack (a.k.a. Billy Shadow), winds up in prison for theft. There he meets Claire Hudson, prison librarian:
She was a big woman who had to shop for queen tall pantyhose and size eleven shoes, double E. She wore dark clothes - stiff gray gabardines, navy twills and black serges...boxy suits with high necks, long sleeves and tight collars. Claire avoided garments with lace, bows and fancy buttons and she owned no jewelry, not even a watch. She held strong disdain for anything showy, allowing herself only one extravagance: Band-Aids....She wore them constantly and in abundance...She covered her warts, moles and ingrown hairs...pimples, cuts and fever blisters...burns, abrasions, hangnails and bites...eczema, psoriasis, scratches and rashes. 
Clair Hudson changes Willy Jack's life when she helps him to get a guitar to keep in his cell and he writes a song. Ultimately, though, she betrays him. It is unclear whether it is out of simple meanness, or perhaps because of some mental illness.

One other library gets a shout out - the one at Bowdoin College in Maine. No other information about the library is provided except that is is "great".

This book had a lot of surprises, and ultimately a happy ending, without being too sappy. Libraries play an important role as places of turning points for the characters.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Lonely Book - by Kate Bernheimer

This sweet tale tells the story of Alice, who loved a library book. The story is a simple one - a library book is that is initially read by many children, becomes worn and abandoned. One child, however, never forgot how much she loved the book and continues her search for it after it disappears from the shelves. It is a charming story with a helpful librarian.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Sexy Librarian's Big Book of Erotica - edited by Rose Caraway

I didn't originally intend to make this post one for Banned Books Week, but in re-reading Bix Warden's foreword I noted his quote from Jo Goodwin "a truly great library contains something to offend everyone" and I was reminded that Banned Books Week is about celebrating the freedom to read. So although I did not find any specific information indicating that this book was banned anywhere it seems especially appropriate for blogging during Banned Books Week. It is a celebration of our right to read what we like.

Bix also notes that "librarians...are often smart and sexy; they read wildly and across many genres, from horror to science fiction to literary fiction and nonfiction. If it's well written and thoughtful, a librarian is likely to enjoy it." As a librarian I appreciate this description. Smart and sexy is appropriate because it is sexy to be smart. I also do enjoy a variety of genres. On this blog readers will find fiction and non-fiction, romances, thrillers, funny books, serious reads, children's books, young adult books, and stories from all over the world.

Although librarians are often the stuff of fantasies only one of the twenty-two stories ("Notes on a Scandal", by Melly Maher) actually featured a librarian (well actually a librarian in training). Lauren's librarian-training program appears to include lessons an sporting an appropriate "librarian look" with "her dark-blonde hair...twisted up behind her head with what looked like chopsticks anchoring it. The dark-brown plastic rims of her glasses...[emphasizing] the chocolate brown of her eyes." As her favorite patron, Brandon, discovers she is also quite a good writer.

While not including a librarian, the first story of the anthology,  "Book Swap" by Rachel Kramer Bussel, does explore a love of reading and sharing books.

I recommend sharing this book with someone you love.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Pagemaster - the movie

This fantasy story features Macaulay Culkin as Richard Tyler, a perpetually scared 10-year old who must conquer three book quests (horror, adventure, and fantasy) in order to get out of the library. With co-stars including Whoppi Goldberg, Christopher Lloyd, and Ed Begley, Jr. this could have been a great movie, but it wasn't. Each of the quests ended without a real resolution. I watched this with my husband who assumed that perhaps since I was a librarian I maybe knew what was going on. He apparently was just as baffled as I was though with the scene jumping. We also both noticed that not only did this one not pass the Bechtel test, in fact all the featured stories were male-centric (Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde; Moby Dick; Jack and the Beanstalk). They did, however, throw those of us of the female persuasion a bone with one allusion to The Wizard of Oz and one quick peek inside Alice in Wonderland. 

While I can see the appeal this might have to young viewers, and those who are interested in movies without much of a plot, I wasn't impressed.

Voices - by Ursula K. Le Guin

I had been told that I would probably like Ursula K. Le Guin's books, so when I saw this one on the list of books Celebrating a Love of Reading: 20 Mighty Girl Books about Books, Libraries, and Literacy it seemed the time was right to read one. This is the story of Memer, who lives in Ansul, a city occupied by the Alds where books and reading are forbidden, and girls and women must stay indoors. Before she died, Memer's mother showed her a secret room in the house of Galvamand where books were kept, and Memer learned the special writing in the air she needed to do in order to open the door to the room. Although she could not read Memer found solace in the room and believed she was the only one in the house who knew about it. That is until the day when she is startled to find Sulter Galva, the Waylord of the house, in the room when she arrives. The Waylord teaches her to read and admonishes her to tell no one of the room. Punishment for reading or owning books in Ansul is death by drowning. Memer loves to read the stories and poetry found within the pages of the books, but as a young adult learns that the books in the dark shadowy side of the room, the side to which she never ventured, held the secrets of the oracles. The Waylord explains to Memer that he believed he was protecting her by not introducing those books to her, but goes on "In my cowardice...  I told myself it was unnecessary to speak of it to you. The time of oracles was past. It was an old story that was no longer true..."

This scene demonstrates a more subtle form of censorship than the outright book banning practiced by the Alds, and certainly the more common form. In fact, it is something we have probably all experienced, and participated in, from the books that our parents chose to read to us, to what we found in our school libraries, to what we then chose to read to our own children, and placed in their libraries. Protection is usually the underlying reason for these decisions, but as the Waylord realizes, each person must ultimately make their own meaning from books and be provided the opportunity to do so. Memer not only learns to read, she becomes a critical thinker as well.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Between the Lines - by Jodi Picoult & Samantha van Leer

About ten years ago our town selected Picoult's My Sister's Keeper for its One Book One Community (OBOC) read. As a member of the OBOC steering committee I read it, and championed it, as I do with all our selections.Honestly, though, I wasn't crazy about it, although I could see why it appealed to so many others. And It did turn out to be a popular choice for the OBOC program. I've not been interested in reading any more of Picoult's books since then though. However, I noticed this one on display at my local public library while I was looking for another book. Picoult co-wrote this one with her teenage daughter Samantha van Leer. Since "Leer" is the Spanish word for "read" I picked it up and read the inside cover description, which specifically mentions an obsession with a library book, at which point I knew I had no choice but to read it myself.

In this fantasy tale The Purple Rose of Cairo meets Toy Story when fifteen-year-old Delilah falls for the handsome prince in an illustrated library book. She discovered the book in her school library placed "upside down and backwards", and on the wrong shelf to boot. The book also, literally, shocked her hand when she touched it. When Prince Oliver starts talking to her, and telling her all about the life he has outside of the story at first Delilah (along with her mother) thinks she must be going crazy, but it doesn't take long before Delilah and Oliver start concocting a way for him to escape the confines of his pages so they can live happily ever after. The two come up with some ingenious ideas, but discover that whatever they do causes the story to "reset" itself as soon as the book is closed, and everything goes back to the way it was. There are so many other things to consider as well. For instance, if Oliver does manage to escape from the story will still he be four inches high and two dimensional? How will he function in this other world that has computers and other electronics unknown to his people?

In one early attempt to be together Delilah and Oliver discover that the pages of the book act as a barrier between them. Oliver suggests tearing the page to see it he can get out through the rip. Delilah, however, is horrified at the idea of ripping a library book. (Somethings are more important than true love, after all). But his smile "the one that makes [her] feel like [she's] the only person in the world" convinces her to make the tiniest, most minute, infinitesimal tear"so they can test their theory on a spider Oliver found. It takes a lot of patience to make love work. Is there any way these two star-crossed lovers can be together?

Some good metafiction, and problem solving going on with this one. I liked it better than I thought I would.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

After Words - The movie

When a loner librarian Jane (Marcia Gay Harden) loses her job she travels to Costa Rica with the object of killing herself, but her plans are thwarted by her gigolo tour guide Juan (Oscar Jaenada). Once again we learn that these stuck up librarian ladies just need to let their hair down (and learn Spanish).

To be fair, despite my glibness in the description above, the movie was actually more nuanced and thoughtful than that. I'm sure the choice of the librarian's name was no accident. She is indeed a "Plain Jane". Juan, while initially only interested in Jane for the money he knows can earn from her, recognizes that she is also pretty smart and asks her advice on reading material. She recommends A Tale of Two Cities and he wastes no time in checking it out of his local library so that he can discuss it with her, although he admits that he is really not a "reader". Ultimately what we end up with is that each changes for the other. Reminds me of the last scene in Grease.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

On Marginalia, or, Why I Don't Write in my Books

While cleaning up my office, and computer this summer in preparation for my sabbatical I found a forgotten file that appeared to be an essay I started in response to this editorial about marginalia from the Bridgewater Review. It seemed rather late to finish it to submit to the magazine, but the ideas in it seemed appropriate for a blog post, so I've adapted the response for publication here.

While we all have been taught that marking up library books is wrong, might we not question that dictum? If you have something relevant to add to what the author is saying, why not share it? As a librarian I respect the argument, but still insist that library books be returned in the same condition that they were loaned.

But what about writing in our own books? Certainly people can do what they like with their own property, including defacing it, as long as it doesn't hurt someone else. And we might even argue that we should write in our books. We might want to refer back to an idea that was sparked while reading, and notes can help us remember those. Additionally, any of us could become another Thomas Jefferson, or a Mother Teresa. Won't our marginalia then be valuable to historians? However, for myself, I will say that if, in time, anyone should ever go looking through my books for musings they will likely be sorely disappointed. I hung up my hi-liter in college, and while I probably made some notes in some of my graduate school textbooks too, I have since been careful not to. I think perhaps what made me stop writing in books all together may have been the purchase of a used copy of Ashes of Izalco by Claribel Alegria and Darwin J. Flakoll from a college bookstore. It was not-so-meaningfully marked up by a previous reader (mostly with a yellow hi-liter), and it was also signed by both authors, something I did not realize when I bought it. I read the book for a class, and honestly don't remember it but still it sits on my special shelf reserved for autographed copies of books. And I really hate that this one has been defaced.

I read a lot of books, and I often blog about them. I use scraps of paper or post-it notes to mark things that I want to return to later. Generally, once I've published my blog post about a particular book I pull all my markings out. Of course, if I've read a library copy this is simply common courtesy to my colleagues who will have to do the work of removing the markers if I don't, but even when I use a personal copy of a book I still take the time to remove any physical evidence that I actually read it. I firmly believe that each reader needs to make up his or her own mind about the meaning of a text, and they don't need someone else's ideas mucking that up. Since I usually pass a book along to someone else once I've read it, the next reader will have a fresh start. (I do, however, make an exception to this rule for cookbooks when I make adjustments that improve the recipe as written. This, of course, will only help the next user, as Harry Potter learned in The Half-Blood Prince!).

I recommend that readers who wish to engage with authors do so directly by writing to them (if they are living). The letter writer is very likely to be rewarded with a response directly from the author. I also occasionally find that an author has commented on one of my blog posts, truly a treat! Of course one cannot communicate directly with a deceased author, and so one must be content with corresponding with scholars, editors, or other fans. All of this can be done online, and so comments will reach a wider audience than those written in a single copy of a book, to be read only by those who happen to pick up the same one.

As an end note, I will concede that sometimes marginalia can have worth, as illustrated in this story of a library book made more valuable when the annotations were discovered.

It also looks like it is time for me to re-read Ashes of Izalco.

Even the cover of my copy is "enhanced" with yellow hi-liter
Autographs inside

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Gone Girl - by Gillian Flynn

I found out about this book when I read Voracious. I don't read a lot of thrillers, but the descriptions on this one made it seem like it had some good twists, so when I found a used copy for 50 cents at a church book sale I picked it up. All the usual suspects can be dismissed in this nail biter. And, in fact, for readers the mystery of what exactly happened to Amy Elliott Dunne (inspiration for the ever-popular Amazing Amy series of books) is solved just past the halfway point in the book, but the thrill of the chase continues to the end. It is hard to write about this novel without giving away any spoilers, so I will simply stick to discussing the brief two library passages. The first describes exactly how popular the Amazing Amy book series was among "the rising  yuppie class: They were the pet Rock of parenting. The Rubik's Cube of child rearing...At one point it was estimated that every school library in America had an Amazing Amy book." There is also one scene in which one of the characters does some research on a public library computer. I can't even say much more about this without giving too much of the plot away, except that the passage demonstrates how important public access computers can be.

I was surprised by how much I liked this one. A good escape read.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Mr. Chef & Ms. Librarian - by Melissa Yi

Can a white-bread librarian on the rebound find true love with a Pakistani chef who promised his parents he'd find himself a nice Muslim girl?

Ivy Appleford is new to her job as a public librarian, as well as new in town and has recently been dumped by her boyfriend. She signs up for some cooking classes and falls for the sexy chef/instructor, Tariq, who is equally taken with her. It doesn't take long for the two to become swept up in a hot, and spicy romance. True to romance novel genre there are some ups and downs in the relationship, but all is well in the end.

The author played around a bit with some librarian stereotypes and fantasies. Even as Ivy notes that being a librarian no one ever expected her to be "a wild party" readers see someone who finds it thrilling to have sex outside, where anyone could have come by, and when Ivy surprises Tariq by deftly opening a condom and sliding it down on him she simply shrugs and says "I should be good at this stuff. I'm a librarian." Neither does she hesitate when her swarthy lover suggests that they have sex on the circulation desk. When Tariq shows up unannounced at Ivy's house late one night and sees her in red flannel pajamas for the first time, his mind, of course, goes right to the uptight librarian fantasy.
He grinned. "You look adorable." To his surprise, he meant it. The tortoiseshell glasses reminded him of a cat. Or, better yet, the Tina Fey, take off your glasses and let down your hair, buttoned-up sexiness."
Ivy's ex-boyfriend, Stephen, is a professor, and apparently she was not completely at ease with him because of it. With Tariq
She didn't have to prove that librarians were as smart as academics. She didn't have to pretend to like his friends. She could just hang out.
I thought about this passage a lot, not so much because I think I need to prove anything to my professor husband (he knows how smart I am, after all) but more because I am an academic librarian. I suppose that I sometimes feel that I have to prove that I'm as smart as my colleagues. This can be especially frustrating when I'm dealing with faculty members (or administrators) who may not, in fact, be as smart as I am! Librarians do know everything, after all.

Early in their relationship, when Ivy isn't so sure she should be getting involved with anyone, she tells Tariq that what she needs is more of a friend "an avuncular type". She specifically suggests that my favorite fictitious librarian - Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer would be a good person for her "someone who won't take advantage of me - or tempt me." Really, Giles wouldn't tempt her? Has she not seen the show, especially the episode called "Band Candy"?!

I must say that Ivy is as much of a multi-dimensional character as one can expect in a romance novel. She has a variety of interests, and cares about her community, plus she is smart, sexy, and witty. This was a fun read for Read-a-Romance month.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Cavedweller - by Dorothy Allison

When 10-year-old Cissy Byrd's father dies her mother, Delia, packs up Cissy in her Datsun  and drives from their home in southern California to Cayro, Georgia. Cissy loves to read, which is a good thing because it is one of the few things that helps to keep her from going crazy as she meets her half-sisters for the first time, and watches as her mother cares for their dying father, a man who once abused Delia. Cissy reads a lot and  finds reading material from a variety of sources including

  •  "pilfering" paperback romances from the mean-spirited twin daughters of her mother's friend M.T. and trading them in for science fiction at Crane's (a downtown book exchange)
  • the public library (natch)
  • borrowing from Nolan, the young man who is lovesick for her sister Dede, and who "meticulously" sorts and shelves his collection

Nolan also introduces Cissy to spelunking, which she discovers she loves perhaps more than reading. The book's most poetic (and sensuous) mention of libraries (which had little to do with books or reading) comes in a description of Cissy's dream about flowstone "the slowly moving rock beneath the dirt" that "comes in shades from pure white to calcium yellow to mottled red"
In her dreams flowstone was not hard but thick and soft as stale meringue. That white paste found in grade school libraries, dense and cloying and slowly stiffening against the skin, that was the flowstone of Cissy's dreams. She lay back into it and it took on the shape of her body, the warmth of her skin. It settled beneath her, gently crept between her fingers and toes, and rose to cradle her hips. Compressed, Viscous. Alive. Growing slowly, but growing. Flowstone made a white noise in Cissy's head, intimate and safe. She waited for it to wrap her around, slowly encase her body, and by that motion season her soul.
Like Cissy I like reading, too,  of course, but I do not share her interest in caving. I tried exploring a cave once and I am really not interested in doing it again. I will, however, occasionally find my way to a cavern tour, the kind in which there are perky guides, lots of colorful lights and other gimmicks, and no belly slithering.

Pam and James crawl out of Breathing cave Bath County, Va. c 1986

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks her way through Great Books - by Cara Nicoletti

This lovely memoir brings together my two favorite hobbies: reading and cooking. Nicoletti is not only an avid reader, she is also a chef. In each of these self-contained chapters the author reflects on a book and what it meant to her, and also provides an appropriate recipe. The work is divided into three sections: Childhood; Adolescence and College Years; and Adulthood so there are chapters about well-known children's favorites as well as darker adult-themed books. I read this one aloud to my husband. We very much enjoyed it and liked that the chapters were short enough that we could read two or three at a time and not be tired afterwards. I read many of the books she writes about which made this even more fun for me. The recipes run the gamut of fairly easy (Perfect Soft-Boiled Egg from Jane Austen's Emma) to rather complex (Chocolate Éclairs from Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dolloway). Many of the recipes (including the éclairs) called for mixing something in an electric mixer using a paddle (or some other kind of) attachment. Much as we love to cook, we are not prepared to invest in some of the equipment needed to make some of these recipes, although we will be trying some of them out, which we will most certainly post on our Nueva Receta blog. Stay tuned.

Of course no book memoir would be complete without at least a few libraries sprinkled in. One of Nicoletti's early library memories is of watching the 1978 movie Puff the Magic Dragon in her school library in first grade each time it rained too hard for the children to have recess outside. She really hated this movie
Not only did the entire premise of it terrify me, but it gave me the saddest most anxious feeling deep in my gut...with those dulled psychedelic colors and Peter, Paul, and Mary's eerie crooning creeping into my nightmares.
After many viewings of the film her intense dislike for it finally caused her to ask her teacher, Miss Walker, if she might perhaps read a book in the library instead of screening the movie yet again. To which Miss Walker replied "Pick a book and you can read quietly until the movie is over." Nicoletti reports that this memory is "one of the happiest of [her] childhood-not only because [she] escaped Puff, but because of Miss Walker's infinite and quiet understanding, and her gift...of thirty minutes surrounded by books." The book she chose "that day, and for many many days afterward was the first installment of the Boxcar Children series..."

I never read any of the Boxcar Children myself. And honestly, much as I love books I imagine given the choice, I would have watched "Puff" for the umteenth time over reading a book as many times as I could as a child. I really love Peter, Paul, and Mary. And I truly dig that '70s animation. Although I must say, this film fails the Bechdel test horribly. There aren't even two women in the film, much less two that have a conversation.

The author also makes note of the fact that the Boxcar Children series "caused quite a stir at first. Parents objected to the children's happy, adult-free world and the tragic backdrop of their story-all very real, scary stuff". She also points out that perennial children's favorite Charlotte's Web has had its share of censors as well.
...it's been banned in Kansas for including talking animals, which some educators deemed 'unnatural', and avoided by others who think the themes of death and sacrifice are too heavy for its young audience. It has also been challenged in England by teachers worried that the discussion of eating pork would be offensive to Muslims.
Nicoletti has a few other places in which she specifically mentions getting books from the library. She biked to the library in fourth grade to find out about Sylvia Plath, and "spent hours on the floor of the library that day, trying to make sense of just one line of Plath's poetry, but...left with only a vague sense of dread that [she] would never be happy again once [she] turned ten.

In her discussion of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice she makes note of the library within the book itself, as well she discusses the fact that she found the book's "lack of food description excruciating" (emphasis in original). She was particularly frustrated by the fact that there is no information about what, exactly, white soup was. So much so that that "one scene...had [her] searching for Regency-era cookbooks whenever [she] went to the library."

And, finally she describes sobbing "ugly, messy cries in [her college] library" following the break-up with her long-time boyfriend while translating The Aeneid for Latin class.

This fun book is based on Nicoletti's Yummy Books blog.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - by J.K. Rowling

It's that time of year again - Harry Potter's birthday! This was my third go round for the sixth book in the series. I still love the stories as much as I ever did, and I still hold steadfast in my opinion that the first book is the best one.  I find the later books, like The Half-Blood Prince, are more scary than magical. Which is not to say I did not enjoy reading this one again. This was my first time reading it looking specifically for library references. The first of which appears almost halfway through the book: Harry and Hermione speak in whispers about Ron and Lavender Brown, love potions, Harry's marked-up copy of Advanced Potion-Making, and how anyone could have snuck Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes into Hogwarts. Meanwhile librarian Madam Pince "prowled the shelves behind them". She apparently prowls until closing time when she "appeared around the corner, her sunken cheeks, her skin like parchment, and her long hooked nose illuminated unflatteringly by the lamp she was carrying." At which point she notices Harry's copy of Advanced Potion-Making and deems him a "depraved boy." And, as it turned out Madam Pince was not the only one lurking. We discover near the end of the book that Draco Malfoy also overheard the conversation about sneaking in potions, providing him with an idea about how to get a bottle of poisoned Mead into the Hogwarts castle.

Even in the wizarding world the library is a good excuse when one needs a get-away plan. Harry gets tired of telling everyone how it feels to Apparate and is "forced to lie and say that he needed to return a book to the library." Likewise Harry lies to Snape when asked where he found out about the Sectumsempra curse. He says it was in a library book, when of course, it was really found in his annotated edition of Advanced Potion-Making.

Super-smart Hermione has always made tracks to the library when she needed information but in this devastating volume "the Hogwarts library...failed Hermione for the first time in living memory. She was so shocked, she even forgot that she was annoyed at Harry for his trick with the bezoar." The library does come through for her, though when she finds a "whole collection of old Prophets up there" one of which contains information about one Eileen Prince. Could the Half-Blood Prince have been a girl?

Librarian Madam Pince makes a final appearance at the end of the book during Dumbledore's funeral "standing beside Filch, she in a black veil that fell to her knees, he in an ancient black suit and tie reeking of mothballs." Well, this certainly gives one pause, doesn't it. Could Pince and Filch be an item? We know Filch is a squib, which may be to blame for his sour personality. I'm beginning to think that Madam Pince is a squib as well, and perhaps that is to what we owe her nastiness. But really, there is no reason for any librarian to feel that way. One doesn't need to work at Hogwarts to know that all libraries are magical places, after all.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

This is Where You Belong - by Melody Warnick

This title piqued my interest because I have steadily lost love for my current town over the past decade. When we first bought our house in 2002 I told my husband that I felt like we lived in a poem. We could both walk to work and to the center of town; had a big backyard; and could hear the train whistle, the church bells, and the chimes from the college. A few years later a loudspeaker system was put in at the sports field across the street and things became a lot less charming. Social media also had a role. I had to get off both the town groups I was on because I found the complaining and negativity to be too much of a downer. Last year we bought a weekend getaway in another town where we retreat to be away from the sports noise in the fall. It is easy to love a second home. There are no work, church, PTA, or other committee obligations there, and in our case it is also near a beach. Learning to love my primary home again, where I do spend most of my time is something I'd been wondering how to do. Warnick, who has made several interstate moves, always looking for the greener grass, sets out to learn to love Blacksburg, Virginia. There were some suggestions in this book that I wish I could do more of here - one was to buy local. For a college town Bridgewater really is lacking in funky, independent shops. Warnick mentions specifically a gift shop where she takes her daughters to buy presents. I remember when we first moved here there was an  independent educational toy shop nearby. Whenever my daughter was invited to a birthday party we would walk over an pick out a puzzle or kit. It has since closed, replaced by a Walgreen's (which I have never been in). The author also mentions an independent bookstore and explains how more dollars are put back into the local economy when one shops local, and then confesses that sometimes rather than buying books at the local bookstore she "made mental notes of titles to check out later from the library". She is a bit ashamed of this, but I see no reason why she should be. The public library is a resource to be used by the community. Getting a book there that you are only going to read once is a good way to be sustainable.

Warnick has a few other things to say about libraries. She does appreciate them and one day while performing random acts of kindness she brings donuts to the thrilled librarians at her public library. She also takes a civics education class at the public library in order to learn more about her town and how to get involved in it. And some years before she began her quest to love Blackburg she was a member of the Ames, Iowa library board. She laments about leaving that city. "As a board member I was a necessary, voting part of the organization and by extension, the city. I mattered, and feeling like you matter makes you feel like you belong. No wonder Ames was the town I left most regretfully." She also suggests reading about your town's history at the local public library, and gives a shout out to one of my favorite things: The Little Free Library

Reading this book does have me thinking about what I can do for my town, and make an effort to appreciate what is here. I will start tonight and attend a free concert at our town's new outdoor music venue: Music Alley. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Maine - by J. Courtney Sullivan

A beach read about a beach house that I read at my beach house. This story brings together four women from across three generations, each with a different relationship to the family beach house in Maine. Alice, the matriarch; Kathleen, her daughter; Maggie, her granddaughter; and Ann Marie, her daughter-in-law all end up at the beach house for the same two-week period. The relationships between and among the women are explored, and memories are surfaced. The characters are multi-dimensional, each with some things to like and some to dislike. One thing all had in common though was that they used the library.

To get to Alice's beach house you go "past the stone library and the Baptist church and a row of grand hotels..." When cleaning out her beach house after decades of use Alice donates her grandson's "collection of thrillers and political biographies" to this same library. It is also clear that she used the library regularly over the years to check out reading material, and sheet music.

Alice's dream was to become a famous painter. She was fascinated by Isabella Stewart Gardner "a great patroness of the arts...[whose] home was turned into a museum and named in her honor. She had been painted by John Singer Sargent, and she threw the most elaborate dinners full of great thinkers and artists. She traveled the world and studied in Paris." Alice checked out the only biography of Isabella Stewart Gardner from the library "which she had already read twice". Then "used her brother Timmy's card to get another book, which she had no intention of ever returning. It contained black-and-white photographs of Paris. Alice ripped them out and stuck them to the wall behind her bed." (As I said, there is something to like, and dislike about each woman).

Alice's granddaughter, Maggie, has a loser of a boyfriend, Gabe (although he is good in bed). A writer, Gabe at first is just an idea to Maggie, the former tenant of her New York apartment who is still receiving mail from Simon & Schuster. Could this mythic Gabe be such a great writer that a major publisher is looking for him, and he can just ignore it? "The thought of him helped her write, helped her keep going, and she'd joke about it to friends, how the literary power of her neighborhood's former tenants-Truman Capote, Walt Whitman, Carson McCullers and Gabe Warner, whose book she could never locate at the library-acted as her muse." Maggie does eventually write and publish her own book of short stories which Alice found "quite polished" and "bragged about it to the librarians at her local branch."

Alice's daughter Kathleen used her public library to do research on cancer after her father is diagnosed.

Ann Marie, Alice's ever reliable daughter-in-law, in making a list of everything she needed to do before heading to the beach house includes returning her library books among the many details to which she must attend.

The tensions between these women ebb and flow throughout the course of their lives. There is no grand resolution, however. One gets the idea that things will continue on, much as they do in real life.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - by Rachel Joyce

When Harold Fry receives a letter from a former co-worker (Queenie Hennessey) letting him know that she is dying, and wanted to say good-bye, Harold writes a short note in response and sets out to the mailbox, but instead of posting the letter he decides he will go visit Queenie - 600 miles away - on foot. Without going back to his house to prepare for the trip, or tell his wife (Maureen) he just starts walking, still wearing his tie and his yachting shoes. His voyage takes about three months, during which time he has a lot of time to think, remember, and reflect. People join him and turn the trip into something different than he expected, and ultimately the quest becomes more than just about seeing Queenie.

Two early memories of Maureen involve the library. He has pleasant memories of their early marriage of how she took care of their home life
...she grew vegetables in the garden,...and waited for Harold every evening on the corner...They would walk home, sometimes taking the seafront, or stopping at the quay to watch the boats. She make curtains out of mattress ticking and, with the remnants, a shift dress for herself. She took to looking up new recipes from the library. There were casseroles, curries, pasta, beans.
Even earlier memories, of their courtship, also surface
Even in those days he had begun saving for their future. He had taken an early-morning job on the rubbish trucks, followed by a part-time afternoon job as a bus conductor. Twice a week he did an all-night shift at the hospital, and on Saturdays he worked at the library. Sometimes he was so exhausted he crawled under the bookshelves and fell asleep...[Maureen] took to nipping into the library and thumbing through cookery books, and he watched her from the main desk, his head reeling with desire and the need to sleep.
The warm memories help him to reconnect with her, just one of the unlikely and unexpected aspects of his journey.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Harder They Come - by T.C. Boyle

Sten Stenson, a Vietnam Veteran, is sure that some Mexican drug dealers have killed his friend Carey. He is devastated when he learns that his unstable son, Adam, was in fact the killer. Adam has become obsessed with John Colter, a legendary member of the Lewis and Clark team, turned mountain man. Adam begins to call himself Colter and becomes involved with Sara, a much older woman who has declared herself independent from the government and ignores state and federal laws. She refuses to wear seat belts, breaks into the pound where her dog is held, aids and abets Adam while he is on the lam, and skips her court date. When stopped by police she makes clear that she has "no contract" with the state of California. A person can do whatever she wants in her own personal car, or her own personal property. Her hostility toward the government makes it especially ironic that she uses her public library. She checked out two DVDs to watch with a friend she invited to dinner. That is the wonder of the public library, you can use the resources even if you don't support it. It is a crazy truth that if a person wanted to do research on how to organize a petition drive in order to shut down the public library, they could do it at the public library.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Part of Our Lives: A People's History of the American Public Library - by Wayne A. Wiegand

Wayne Wiegand was one of the first people I remember learning about in library school in the early 1990s. He was like the E.F. Hutton of libraryland, whatever he said was gospel. When I took a course on Scholarly Communication and we learned about how the peer-review process worked, it was also explained to us that there were certain people who would always get their works published, Wiegand being one of them.

Predictions of the demise of the public library are common in the twenty-first century. I've certainly heard them myself. After all, everyone can access whatever they want from their own home computer, right? People who work in libraries can tell you that libraries are still used, and loved, by the many people who frequent them. They are safe havens after school for students, places for those who do not have internet access at home to research and job search, and according to this New York Times article, the trendy hot spot for the under-five set (for story time). I expect libraries will be around for a while yet. They do however, evolve, and, as always, librarians will be at the forefront of the changes. Just as libraries 100 years ago sponsored cooking, sewing, and English language classes when the need became evident, libraries today have started loaning out tools, gardening supplies, cake pans, and seeds in response to demands.

In reading this book I was especially interested to find out about how librarians' own views of their profession and duties have transformed. Whereas today we librarians largely see our roles as connecting people with whatever information they want, many of our ancestors saw themselves more as gatekeepers. When the Boston Public Library opened in the mid 1800s it had rules in place to "protect ladies' delicate sensibilities...to ensure that none got questionable materials" And for a very long time librarians put a lot of pressure on themselves to make sure their patrons read "good" books, by which they meant non-fiction. It seems that there was quite a bit of hand-wringing over the fact that most people wanted to read fiction. Some libraries considered not stocking any, others required that patrons who wanted a fiction book, also had to check out a non-fiction work. Once librarians conceded to keeping fiction, they then clashed with their patrons about what was considered "trashy". The people wanted series fiction. Librarians saw this as frivolous. From Horatio Alger, to Nancy Drew, to the Sweet Valley High series the same debates have played out for over 100 years.

Questions about censorship, and what constitutes it, have been a perpetual theme in libraries. Are librarians guilty of censorship when they select certain works over others? Is it ever okay to remove a controversial work from the collection? Who gets to decide? Libraries may reflect their own community standards, but often librarians are helping to create those standards. During World War I patrons were likely to find books about Germany (or written in the German language) had "disappeared" from their local library shelves. By World War II, however, librarians were more actively fighting censorship. It was just before the United States' involvement  in the war that the Library Bill of Rights was adopted and waiting lists grew for library copies of Hitler's Mein Kampf.

One new thing I learned about in this book was the word "Inferno" used as a place that libraries designate to "sequester certain books" which must then be specially requested. Librarians are then put in the place of deciding whether or not the requester should be able to have the book. I have been aware that many libraries have such policies, I did not know that there was a special word for it.

While librarians today are sometimes characterized as "hysterical" liberals our profession has not always shown itself to be as actively politically as might now be expected. I was surprised to learn that the American Library Association took no stance on desegregation of libraries in the south during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Throughout the book, though, what I saw was that "the more things change, the more they stay the same". Librarians used the same excuses for refusing to purchase Valley of the Dolls in 1967 as they did in 2014 for not buying 50 Shades of Gray: it wasn't the content they objected to, but rather that the books were poorly written. This is really hogwash. No librarian reads all the books they purchase. All libraries have poorly written works in them. When reading about Madonna's 1992 book Sex ("largely a book of nude photos") I realized that binding the book with cheap spiral was probably the biggest favor the pop icon could have done for librarians. They could refuse to purchase the book based on the fact that it was poorly bound, and would not hold up to wide circulation. Just the kind of thing that was probably already part of the many libraries' collection development policies. A search of WorldCat indicates that today there are only 215 libraries in the country that own a copy. I seem to remember that when I worked at a public library in Texas one of the nearby libraries owned a copy, but it was in the "Inferno". I do recall, though, that at least we librarians got to make a lot of jokes at the time about whether or not we should have Sex in the library.

People still "cover up" Mickey's naked body in Maurice Sendak's In the Night Kitchen (I discovered shorts pasted on the otherwise bare protagonist in my own (academic) library's copy of the book. Reading about people listening around a radio at the New York Public Library to hear the news that Pearl Harbor had just been attacked in 1941was reminiscent of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 when the public library I worked in set up a television set in a meeting room so people could follow the news. We did the same thing when the O.J. Simpson verdict was announced.   Just as in the 1960s people of color, and LGBT individuals, struggle to find books that represent their own experiences; and libraries that serve largely African American populations find themselves with fewer resources that those that serve affluent white communities. And yet, despite all the naysayers and budget cuts, people still love their libraries and  librarians still do change lives.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Code Talker - by Joseph Bruchac

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries many Native American children were sent to government-run boarding schools where they were expected to assimilate into the "American way of life". They were taught English and humiliated and punished for speaking in their native languages. However, during World War II the government discovered that Navajo Marines who were fluent in both their native language and English were valuable assets against the Axis. These Marines developed an unbreakable code based on the Navajo language and were known as the Code Talkers. Their work was so secret that it was not declassified until 1969 - twenty four years after the end of the war.

Bruchac's novel tells the story of Ned Begay who arrived at one of the Indian Boarding Schools as a young child. Although he was forbidden from using his native language at school he did not forget it. He studied hard and became a top student. He makes specific mention of using the school library to "read every book I could get my hands on", as well as reading the newspapers and magazines available there to find out as much as he could about Japan. When he learned that bilingual Navajos were being recruited for a special project by the US Marines Begay dropped out of school and enlisted, lying about his age in order to join. As a Marine Begay continued his love of learning and research, especially in the field of history
I have always loved reading history. All through the war, I did research in ship libraries and borrowed books from Marine officers who were history buffs and who liked the idea of an Indian being a historian.
The town of Bridgewater (MA) has selected this book for its next One Book One Community read. We are looking forward to a visit from Mr. Bruchac sometime this fall. It is a bit ironic that we will be hosting him at a university which does not require students to learn a second language. This book makes clear the benefit of knowing more than one language.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Puss in Books: Adventures of the Library Cat - the movie

I learned about this short documentary when I read The True Tails of Baker and Taylor. Produced in 1997 It is only available on VHS tape. I was able to get a rather grainy copy via Interlibrary loan. Featuring dozens of cats who live in libraries, and the librarians who love them, it was sometimes hard to tell if this was supposed to be satire. The library-cat ladies were real, but appeared to come out of Central Casting. The box blurb says the film "takes a humorous and thought-provoking look at cats that live in libraries". But some of the intervieews seemed to take the issue rather seriously. Librarians (and those who love them) will likely find this film worth watching, others may not see the humor. This film features not only Baker and Taylor, but also Dewey, about whom I have also blogged. I was also interested to see a cat from the nearby Brockton (MA) Public Library , a library I have visited several times. I don't think they have a cat anymore, though.

Iron Frog Productions created a companion map of library cats available on its website. There is no date on it. I suspect it is no longer being maintained.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The True Tails of Baker and Taylor - by Jan Louch & Lisa Rogak

In the following post when writing about cats I spell out the word "and" between Baker and Taylor; when referring to the company the ampersand (&) is used.

Although librarians and booksellers today almost always associate the Baker & Taylor Company with its cat mascots the book vendor existed before the cats named in its honor. According to the company's history page,155 years passed from the founding of the company to the adoption of  the felines Baker and Taylor by the Minden branch of the Douglas County (Nevada) Public Library. Author Louch and then library director Yvonne Saddler decided to get a cat when they discovered mice in their new building. Baker came first, a special breed of cat called a Scottish Fold which Louch and Saddler bought with their own funds. Once they realized that Baker needed a friend, they convinced the company with which they did so much business to buy the second cat for them. Baker & Taylor sponsored the care and feeding of the cats throughout their lives, in exchange for the use of their images on promotional materials. Calendars, tote bags and posters with the cats' likenesses are still highly sought-after items at library conventions even now, long after the cats' deaths. This was, not surprisingly, the intention of the company. As explained by their sales rep when he called with the offer to buy Taylor "the whole idea is to get people into our booth at conferences, and I think the cats will help. At least they have to be better than what we currently use." Louch's commentary on this really struck a chord with me
I had to agree. The freebies Yvonne had brought back from the last American Library Association (ALA) convention consisted of a horseshoe-shaped key chain and a nondescript black paperweight with Baker & Taylor Co. etched on it, which she promptly tucked away in her desk, unused and gathering dust ever since.
So here I must editorialize about one of the things I dislike most about library conventions: the freebies, which, just as Louch describes, so often just wind up forgotten in the desks of the attendees. Meanwhile the manufacturers of such give-aways are exploiting precious resources to make all the junk, which librarians can't seem to get enough of during the convention itself. Do my fellow librarians not realize that they won't use the stuff? Why do they clamor for it every time? I remember once when "going green" was just starting to become a rallying cry, the ALA sent out some information about how they would be "greening" the convention. It included a place where we could offer additional suggestions. Mine was that vendors not bring dumb crap to pass out (I think I used different words, though and I don't think anyone heeded my advice, either).

This book is as much a memoir of all books and pets the author ever loved (as well as her love of libraries), as it is a story of Baker and Taylor. I was especially interested that she continued to love her childhood library even when the "dyspeptic librarian" got tired of her checking out ten items every day, and changed her limit to five. I also got a chuckle of Louch's description of being "shushed" by patrons when her stories about the cats got too loud and animated. I, myself, have been asked to quiet down on at least two occasions by people using the library I work in!

Louch also treats the issue of book banning and censorship.
Libraries also provide unfiltered access to information in the form of books and other resources that reflect a wide variety of opinions and ideas...the purpose of a library [is] to provide a wide variety of viewpoints whether or not you [agree] with them. 
It is for this reason that she defends keeping Mein Kampf in the library, even as she explains how much she abhors the Holocaust deniers who leave brochures in books about World War II.

If you don't agree with something and want to write and publish your own book stating your views, that's fine. Traditionally, public libraries have been very good about finding and putting books with opposing views on their shelves. 

Baker and Taylor succeeded in keeping the mice away, and they also made the library a happier place. Circulation improved as people came in to see the cats, and left with their first library card.

Louch became Baker and Taylor's spokesperson, answering their fan mail, and creating an archive ("because that's what any responsible librarian in my position would do").

Library cats have always been a thing. As noted in the Baker & Taylor website (highlighted above) they have been used since the time of ancient Egypt. Their presence, like Baker and Taylor's, was both practical (mousing) and fun. In fact, this is not the first time I've blogged about a real-life library cat. See my post about Dewey, the library cat from Spencer, Iowa. Louch also intersperses profiles of other library cats throughout the work.

This fun book was a perfect read during my recent vacation. I laughed, I cried, I empathized.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A busman's holiday-in search of the San Juan, Puerto Rico library

In the year 2000 our family adopted a dog from the Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, Massachusetts. Clover was a feisty little mutt who had been rescued from the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico by an outfit called Save A Sato - a nonprofit that helps street dogs find permanent homes. Clover lived with us until her death in 2010. Until last week she was the only member of our family to have been to Puerto Rico. My husband, daughter and I have all now experienced this beautiful island for ourselves.

Clover 1999-2010
In addition to seeing some spectacular sites, visiting a coffee farm (Golden Roseapple Farm), and making the general tourist stops (Arecibo Lighthouse, Arecibo Observatory, San Juan National Historic Site, and the Bacardí Distillery...

My lovely daughter enjoys her rum cocktail at the Bacardi Distillery

we, of course went looking for a public library. We noticed the iconic library sign  when we arrived in Old San Juan, but quickly felt as if we'd been sent on a wild goose chase.

First, we discovered the historic archives library in the Ateneo Puertorriqueño, of which only a small area was open

I noticed this bust of Miguel de Cervantes on top of the shelf. I had actually just downloaded Don Quixote to my iPad to read during the trip. I have not read this classic work since 1990.
Nearby, we discovered this beautiful old Carnegie Library, which was permanently closed.

A web search eventually brought us to the San Juan Community Library, which was nowhere near where we first saw the sign. It was about a seven mile drive, in fact.

The library was open and welcoming

The breezeway entry had books for sale and a place to sit...
And a reminder letting people know to get their library card!

In this library on this very bilingual island, books in English and Spanish sat side-by-side on the shelves. Blue dots marked English-language; red for Spanish.

There was a lot going on in a relatively small space, including a special corner for children
(photo credit James Hayes-Bohanan)
A library quest is always a good use of time. This library had public access computers, tables for reading, and even a small stage for programs all in one space.