Sunday, January 22, 2017

March (Books 1,2, &3) - by Lewis, Aydin, and Powell

Representative John Lewis won the National Book Award for Book Three in this series. I recommend reading all of them. This graphic novel series follows Lewis through his childhood on an Alabama farm and his struggle to become educated (even by defying his own family) to his civil rights work during the 1950s & 60s with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to the historic march with Martin Luther King, Jr., and hundreds of other protesters, from Montgomery, Alabama to Selma, Alabama in March of 1965. Later that year President Johnson would sign the Voting Rights Act ensuring access to the vote for African Americans from whom it had been denied.

Books 1 & 3 of the series make specific mention of libraries. Book One gives us the story of Lewis' childhood. He tells how he "loved going the library. It was the first time I ever saw Black magazines like Jet, Ebony, The Baltimore Afro-American, or the Chicago Defender". He gives shout out to librarian Careen Harvey who told her young charges "My Dear Children, Read. Read Everything."

Book 3 tells us that when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed that, among other things, "it ended segregation in public schools, libraries, and parks".

The poignancy of these two points in the story is magnified when one listens to Lewis' acceptance of the National Book Award.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I'll Take You There - by Wally Lamb

Film professor Felix runs a club that screens classic movies in an old vaudeville theater. It is there that he meets the ghost of movie director Lois Weber. Weber informs Felix that he is being given a special opportunity to watch movies featuring his younger self, and that he would also be able to enter and be part of the films. Episodes focus on the summer before he (Felix) begins first grade when he and his older sisters are excited about helping their former babysitter win the Miss Rheingold title; and the year his twelve-year old self watched as his sister Frances (aka Fran) developed anorexia and a family secret was revealed.

There wasn't much about libraries in this one, but it doesn't take much to make the cut on my blog. I was optimistic at first that there would be some good library stuff when I read that Felix's daughter's boyfriend, Jason, was a New York University Special Collections librarian, but he barely makes any appearance in the work beyond the first mention early in the story. The Miss Rheingold contest is brought up in several contexts in the book, and one is that of a lonely newlywed bride,Verna, ripping an entry form from a magazine she reads at the New London public library (she "looked over at the desk to make sure the librarian was busy" first).Verna also found solace at the library during her long solitary days as the wife of a Merchant Marine. And on a final note about libraries, Felix's daughter, Aliza, writes an open blog post to her mother, Kat, and in something I will dub Gen Y-splaining, reminds her mother that young women in the 1950s had few career options. These included "mother, teacher, nurse, secretary, librarian, fashion model". Furthermore she says Aunt Fran (who eventually became a denist) didn't want to be any of those things. She probably just didn't realize how fun being a librarian could be. I imagine she saw the job as just stamping out books.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hidden Figures - the movie

I don't often go to the theater to see a movie. I prefer to wait until they are available streaming or on DVD so I can watch them in my living room and enjoy reasonably priced snacks from my own kitchen and bathroom breaks whenever they are needed. Yesterday I made a rare exception and went to see Hidden Figures at the local cinema. This film based on the true story of African-American women who worked for NASA during the 1960s lives up to all the hype and was well worth the price of admission. I can also only assume that the racism and sexism we see in the film has a Hollywood sugar-coating and that it was much worse than what is portrayed in the film. 

One thing we don't see is any of the trailers for the film is a pivotal library scene. Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) is thrown out of the public library for daring to look for a book in the "white" section when she realizes what she needs is not available in the "colored" area. Once she is back on the bus with her two sons she pulls out a library book on Fortran from under her coat. When one of her sons asks if she "took" it Vaughn explains that she pays taxes like everyone else, and that you can't "take" what you already paid for. She uses the book to secretly learn to program the new room-sized IBM mainframe computer that has recently arrived at NASA that will surely put her and many of her denizens out of a job. By learning the computer language she not only changes her own destiny, but that of dozens of other women, both black and white, who work for the space program. This episode is one of many in the film that reminds us that what is legal is not necessarily right, and what is illegal is not necessarily wrong. Powerful lessons that are still relevant today.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Girls - by Emma Cline

Emma Cline's debut novel follows the story of fourteen-year old Evie Boyd during the summer of 1969. She is adjusting to her parents' divorce, and getting ready to go away to boarding school in the fall. Eschewing her best friend Connie and suburban life, she is drawn to a group of seemingly carefree girls she sees in a park and eventually follows them to the ranch where they live with their cult-leader, Russell. The ranch is a thrilling and dangerous place that draws Evie in by degrees. The summer culminates in a Helter Skelter-esque massacre. The story bounces between the events of the summer, and reflections of Evie as an adult.

This one almost didn't make the cut for this blog. The lone mention of a library comes on page 297 (of 355). It is, however, exactly the kind of thing that makes me reflect on how we see libraries. Evie accepts a ride from a college student while hitchhiking back to the ranch. She invites him to stay and look around. The not-yet-a-high-school girl showing the naive college boy the ropes makes for an awkward juxtaposition. Evie is aware of the power she has in the situation and susses it out
Tom was clearly uncomfortable. I was sure he was used to college girls with part-time jobs and library cards and split ends. Helen and Donna and Suzanne were raw, a sour note coming off them...I didn't want to notice the hesitation in Tom, the shade of cower whenever Donna addressed him directly.
Evie's simplification that decent people have library cards and dangerous people don't on one level fits in with the stereotype of libraries as "good" places - a place we should support. However, it is also true that there are those who see the libraries as dangerous as well. Providing the masses with books and ideas can only lead to trouble.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

What if the Gilmore Girls were librarians?

This is all because of Logan. 

My husband (James) and I finished binge watching all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls over the weekend and started on the new retread. After watching the first episode -"Winter" - I said to James that if I were in charge of the new mini-series I would have had Logan have a complete change of heart, and he would be a social worker. Then I thought a bit more about it and said "no, better yet, a librarian". Then we started joking about what kind of librarian all the characters would be. From there it just got out of hand. So grab a cup of (fair-trade, organic) coffee (in a ceramic mug) and join me in a re-imagined Stars Hollow where everyone finds their true calling in library work. 

Lorelei  is the community program director of Stars Hollow Public Library (SHPL). As a single parent she is keenly aware "that it takes a village". Parents of young children are especially grateful for her free daytime programs where they can take a break from endless mind-numbing games of Candyland, and talk to some other adults. Her annual Banned Books Week display and reading is anticipated more than the town's annual Winter Carnival.

Rory is a research librarian at National Public Radio. She loves hobnobbing with the national personalities and really can't  tell you how much she wishes that the Organization would just stop taking donations from the Koch brothers. For goodness sake she'd rather take money from the Huntzberger Group!

Jess received the prestigious Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers fellowship from at the New York Public Library.

Luke and Dean are in charge of Library maintenance at SHPL. Dean is fantasy fodder for the bubble gum brigade at Stars Hollow Middle School (and that includes the gay captain of its football team - thank goodness it is finally safe to be out in Stars Hollow!) making the teen center at the library the place where all the cool kids go after school. Luke keeps the coffee maker in the break room filled and takes special joy in reminding patrons who are talking on their cell phones to "take it outside". He also gives cooking lessons at the library on Saturday afternoons. Reliable as ever, there is never a burnt out bulb in the stacks, or an un-shoveled walk after a snow.

Sookie found her passion in food research and got a job as a reference librarian at The Culinary Institute of America. She is royally peeved that the Institute's homepage does not include a direct link to the library, but will continue to fight the good fight on that front. She commutes to work from her home on Long Island, where Jackson maintains a lovely garden and runs an heirloom seed library.

Emily runs a homework helper volunteer program at the Nantucket Atheneum. She thinks some of the children must speak Portuguese, but can't be sure. She understands them anyway.

Lane and Zack finally extricated themselves from Mrs. Kim's control by moving the family to Cleveland to be curators at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They are currently creating a special exhibit of 70s rock star jumpsuits - an idea given to them by a 50-something librarian who thoroughly enjoyed her visit to the museum earlier this year.

Paris writes and maintains the pamphlet collection at Planned Parenthood. Her attention to detail and medical expertise assure that only the most current, accurate, and medically-based information is available at all times.

Doyle works as an archivist at the New York Times

Miss Patty and Babette maintain a Little Free Library adjacent to the town gazebo.

Logan is a systems librarian at Bunker Hill Community College. He had a spiritual reawakening and a realization that he was just a blond jackass after all after his last business deal was such a disaster it caused the lay off of over 1,000 workers. He had to take out a loan to pay for is Master's degree in Information and Library Science because even his father had had enough of his shenanigans. He is a better person for it though, and is glad to provide service with his signature smile.

Marty is the director at the Bunker Hill Community College library and Logan's boss (an irony not lost on Logan, believe you me). They both still carry a torch for Rory, but she is having none of it. Occasionally Marty and Logan will have a cry over some beers together.

In a twist that surprised even them, Kirk and Lulu became nudists and moved to to Kisamee, Florida where they work at the American Nudist Research Library.

April won the student worker of the year award at the MIT's Dewey library.

Michel and Caesar both volunteer two evenings a week at the New Haven Free Public Library. Michel teaches French for travelers and gets a truly perverse pleasure in telling Emily's former cronies from the DAR that he can't understand a thing they say. Caesar teaches English citizenship classes. Whenever one of his students passes the citizenship test he celebrates by making them his famous chilaquiles.

Taylor is archiving the town's historical documents. Every scrap of paper is sacred and must be cataloged, digitized and, preserved in acid-free archival boxes. He is all about acid-free now.

Richard left a colossal amount money to the Chilton prep school library. The will stipulated that they money be used to update the collections, and that the librarian had to be the highest paid member of the faculty and, of course, that the library be renamed in Rory's honor.

I understand that Paul also got a library job... now if I could just remember where?

A special thanks to James for being my Muse on this one, and for helping me to flesh out some of these ideas.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

My Brave Book of Firsts

I found out about this book from "A Mighty Girl" on my Facebook feed. I was drawn to it for several reasons: first, it is a book about firsts - something my friend Jenny has made me realize are to be celebrated no matter what age you are; second, it is a "year of" book; third, and most importantly, it addresses the excitement of getting a first library card, and checking out a book for the first time. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - by Junot Díaz

To wrap up 2016 I re-visited an old favorite. I first read this about 10 years ago when I assigned it to students in my First Year Seminar. I had not read it since, although I did read Díaz's two other books Drown, and This is How You Lose Her. And I did have the chance to meet the author in the meantime - in fact I got to introduce him when he spoke at our campus in 2008! There is movement afoot to bring him back to Bridgewater so it seemed like a good time to re-read this novel.

Oscar de Leon (aka Oscar Wao) is a Domincan living in New Jersey He is also a big nerd. Fat and homely he does not fit in with the rest of the kids in his neighborhood, and not surprisingly, does not do so well with women. He does, however, love to read and spends a lot of time at the library.
Oscar had always been a young nerd - the kind of kid who read Tom Swift, who loved comic books and watched Ultraman - but by high school his commitment to the Genres had become absolute. Back when the rest of us were learning to play wallball and pitch quarters and drive our older brothers' cars and sneak dead soldiers from under our parents' eyes, he was gorging himself on a steady stream of Lovecraft, Wells, Burroughs, Howard, Alexander Herbert, Asimov, Bova, and Heinlein, and even the Old Ones who were already beginning to fade...(It was his good fortune that the libraries of Paterson were so underfunded that they still kept a lot of the previous generation's nerdery in circulation.)
 This may be the first time I've seen a lack of library resources referred to as a stroke of luck.

The narrator, Yunior, takes on Oscar as a bit of a project as a favor to Oscar's sister (Lola). They are college roommates and Yunior attempts to get Oscar to diet and exercise, and to act like more of a Domincano. Yunior mentions using the library a few times himself - once because he had nothing better to do, and once to hit on another student at his college library.

 The author makes heavy use of footnotes, which often provide historical context and are an important part of the story. They are not to be ignored and are written in the same engaging style as the rest of the book. I knew better than to skip them, and was rewarded with not only a better understanding of the story, but also it was where we learn that Lola ("a reader too") always supported her brother's sci-fi mania by "bringing him books from her own school, which had a better library."

The action in this book alternates between New Jersey and the Dominican Republic. There is a fair amount of Spanish language woven into the dialogue. Those who have heard or used Spanglish will recognize the natural use of the language in this work.

It was serendipitous that a friend posted this video on her Facebook page just as I was finishing this work. It explains why the Spanish words and phrases used in the novel are not italicized, but simply embedded into the rest of the text.