Friday, March 31, 2017

I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This - by Jacqueline Woodson

This young adult novel tells the story of Marie who befriends the new white girl (Lena) at her predominantly black middle school. Lena confides to Marie that her (Lena's) father is sexually abusing her and Marie promises not to tell anyone Lena's secret. Their friendship is challenged on many fronts and Marie learns some difficult truths.

Marie's single father dates Rose, the town librarian (who doesn't actually appear in the book). However, the town library has a small role in this work as Lena's sister's (Dion's) "favorite place in the world. She actually had a temper tantrum if...picked up too early." The library is likely a safe place for the little girl who lives with a neglectful and abusive parent.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

El hijo - por Alejandro Palomas

I have blogged occasionally about children's books in Spanish, or bilingual English/Spanish books, but it has been a long time since I read a whole novel in Spanish. When I saw that the last name of the author of this award-winning book was "Palomas" I really had no choice but to read it. Paloma is the Spanish word for dove. It is also the name of my wonderful, artistic daughter.

This is the story of an enigmatic young boy, Guille, who lives with his father. His mother, a flight attendant, has been away for over a year. His only communication with her comes in the form of weekly letters. When Guille tells his teacher that he wants to be Mary Poppins when he grows up he is referred to a counselor, María, who helps him solve some mysteries he wasn't even aware of.

Regular readers know that it only takes one mention of the word "library" (or in the case of this book "biblioteca") to earn a post on this blog. Guille uses the map in his school library to find the distance between Pakistan (from whence his friend Nazia hails) and Dubai (where his mother is).

I learned some new Spanish vocabulary reading this: most notably ojeras (the bags under one's eyes); and mirilla (peephole).

This book is the winner of the Premio Joaquim Ruyra, and Spain's 2016 Premio Nacional de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil.

Paloma de Palabras

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Public Library and Other Stories - by Ali Smith

I brought this book with me to jury duty on Monday. I arrived about 20 minutes early, went through security, and was directed to wait on a bench. I sat down, opened the book for the first time, and by the time I was called in had read the first story. The rest of the small jury pool and I were led to another room to await further instructions. I was interested to see that most of my companions that morning had also brought something (mostly books) to read. The rest of the morning passed rather uneventfully. We watched a short orientation video, and occasionally a court officer would let us know what was happening with the day's docket, but mostly we were left to read in the blissful library-like quiet of the jury room. Eventually, at 11:00, we were informed that no juries would be needed that day and we could all go home. At that point I had read almost half the book. The next day snow storm Stella closed the University where I work and so I had a day to catch up with my blogging and reading. I finished Smith's book and started another.

The funny thing about this collection is that there is no one story in it actually called "Public Library". However, The stories alternate with pieces of memories, reminiscences, and histories of libraries elicited by the author from acquaintances and strangers alike.  The stories themselves rarely mention libraries. Word play, books as touchstone, and literary allusion are all, however, what make up the mood of this work. Reading this while sitting in silence with my discerning fellow jurors left me with a feeling of connection along with a sense of the energy we still get from books and reading, and knowing that libraries still matter.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Brave New World - by Aldous Huxley

A few weeks ago I read an article by Margaret Atwood explaining why we should all read Brave New World at which point I realized I had no choice but to look it up in the catalog of the library where I worked, find the call number, walk up the two flights of stairs to retrieve it, and check it out.

The brave new world described in the book is painted as a "utopia", but readers easily see it for the dystopia that it is. Humans are created, rather than born, each to a specific caste (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, or Epsilon) for which they are programmed to believe is better than the others. Everyone is happy with their lot, and regularly provided drugs and sex to keep them happy. Everyone also knows that "everyone belongs to everyone else". Worst of all books are censored.

 We learn early on that Deltas are conditioned to hate books. (Presumably this is true of Epsilons, and perhaps Gammas as well). This was because "you couldn't have lower-caste people wasting the Community's time over books, and that there was always the risk of their reading something which might undesirably decondition one of their reflexes". While not verboten for the upper-castes, books are still considered a waste because "you can't consume much if you sit still and read books." And even at Eton (where you can find the Alpha Double Pluses) the library "contains only books of reference. If...young people need distraction, they can get it at the feelies."

Ultimately we learn what is almost always true about those who would keep certain books from others - that those in charge have access to all of them. The censors believe that they alone can handle the information within. The masses simply cannot understand them, and those who might understand may be attracted to them, and then might not like the new things the controllers want them to like.

In the end the propaganda of the Brave New World isn't so new. The same rhetoric has been around for centuries, and still continues today.

Friday, March 10, 2017

La Doctora: An American Doctor in the Amazon - by Linnea Smith, M.D.

After a vacation to the Explorarama Lodge in Iquitos, Peru in 1990 Dr. Linnea Smith gave up her medical practice in Wisconsin to provide care for the people who lived in the Peruvian Amazon. Over an eight-year period her practice in Peru grew from a single exam room in the Lodge with some basic medicines to a multi-room hospital equipped for surgery. She also trained a local community member, Juvencio, to be her assistant. When she noticed the slowness with which Juvencio wrote up patient notes she was reminded that Juvencio's
formal education had extended only through the six grades of primary school, in the one-room, libraryless school down by the river. Since that time, ten years earlier, he written virtually nothing except, in rare intervals when he was employed, his signature on paychecks.
Nevertheless, Juvencio became quite skilled at practicing medicine
capable of examining a patient and reaching a diagnosis...prescribing and administering an appropriate medicine whether oral, intramuscular, or even intravenous, and explaining the necessary follow-up for 80-90 percent of ...cases...
Well, so much for the importance of libraries (or medical degrees, for that matter)!

Smith did bring with her to the Amazon what she called "a reference library in miniature" which consisted of a PDR (Physician's Desk Referenence)...;a small general medical reference; and a tiny looseleaf notebook in which [she] had accumulated ten years' worth of "pearls"...

This was a good read, with just enough of therapeutic drama to keep it interesting without being distressing.