Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Red, White & Royal Blue - by Casey McQuiston

The Buck(ingham) Stops Here!

James and I read about this book on some listicle back in February while we were on our way to Martha's Vineyard. I remember the description said something about this being covered all over the place during the summer of 2019 and if you didn't know about this love story between the Prince of Wales and the First Son of the United States you weren't paying attention. I really don't know how I missed it. I see the book trade magazines regularly come across my desk, and this is exactly the kind of book that would have caught my eye. But here we are.

Anyway, since the trip to the "Vineyard" was pre-pandemic the local bookstore (Bunch of Grapes) was still open. We went in and purchased it with the intent that we would read it together.  The story takes place in the present day in a parallel universe in which there is no pandemic, and the country isn't being run by a completely incompetent president.

What starts as a bro-mance orchestrated for the press turns into a full on love affair when the biracial, bisexual son of the first woman president of the United States falls for Henry, the gay Prince of Wales. Not prepared to come out to their families, much less the rest of the world, the two manage their long-distance romance by making up reasons to hop across the Big Pond, as well as via chat messages and e-mail. When their steamy electronic messages get leaked to the press the two find themselves in a true diplomatic nightmare for the White House and the Crown. Can these two millennials make history with an international sex scandal?

The real nail biter for me, though, was wondering if these two would ever use a library. James and I very much enjoyed reading this, and I was truly worried that it would not find a place on this blog, as the first time a library is even mentioned is not until page 386 (of 418) and that was simply as a place that was nixed as venue for the official royal "courtship photos".
Alex has to admit, the royal photographer is being exceedingly patient about the whole thing, especially considering that they waffled through three different locations-Kensington Gardens, a stuffy Buckingham Palace Library, the courtyard of Hampton Court Palace-before they decided to screw it all for a bench in a locked-down Hyde Park.
There is a nod to the intellect of these two by way of "a pile of books" stacked up next to the bench in the photos.  The use of the indefinite article in front of "stuffy Buckingham Palace" caused James to wonder aloud just exactly how many libraries there are in the palace, and for me to follow up with, "and just how many of those are stuffy?"

Interestingly, after making me wait until the book was almost done to satisfy my frustration, the author manages to sneak in one more mention of a library - the Library of Congress of course - on page 415.

This is truly a fun romance about a well-matched pair. Equal in good looks, intellect, and political power there's no trite story about a prince pretending to be just a regular guy, or a poor admirer hoping the prince will notice them. Only the use of a library could have formed a more-perfect union between these two.

We started reading this just about the time that our governor issued the stay-at-home order for Massachusetts, and we read a bit each day. It was the perfect antidote to our work-at-home days - a little daily vacation when we could forget about what was going on in the rest of the world and simply have a laugh together.

Sexy, smart satire. Read it with someone you love.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Veronica Mars - great detective, lousy librarian

photograph of Veronica Mars shelving books in the Hearst Library

I missed the Veronica Mars television series when it first aired from 2004-2007. I doubt I even knew it existed. Back then, before there was streaming television,  people had to subscribe to a cable service if they wanted to watch TV, and my husband and I refused to pay for it. The only thing we watched on the boob tube were videos available at our local Blockbuster video store. We now subscribe to Netflix and Hulu which is how I was able to binge watch this smart, sassy show about a young woman who works for her father - a Private Detective. The first two seasons we see Veronica as a high school student. In season three she is a freshman at the fictional Hearst College where she gets a job at the college library. She is disappointed at this appointment, as she feels it is inferior to working for the school newspaper, and her letdown is evident in the crappy way she answers questions. She often appears annoyed, and waves people off to the stacks rather than attempting to do a proper reference interview. Worst of all, she closes the reference desk when her boyfriend shows up so she can go bone him on the ninth floor.

The recently-made fourth season features a grown up Veronica still working with her father at his Detective agency. It also features a reference librarian from the Hearst College library. The librarian has a bit part, and is unimpressed when Veronica points out that she, herself, used to work in the library. Maybe the librarian knew her then, and was aware that she wasn't the best student worker they'd ever had.

Anyway, despite the obvious drawbacks I enjoyed this series. Veronica seriously kicks butt.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Influencing Machine - by Brooke Gladstone, illustrated by Josh Neufeld

Fans of National Public Radio know Brooke Gladstone from the program On the Media. I noticed this graphic non-fiction on a display created by one of my co-workers. Although it is almost 10 years old the messages about how the media influence public opinion are still quite relevant. This book covers history, politics, censorship, bias, echo chambers, misinformation, and the changing nature of the news cycle with good humor in an easy-to-digest format.

Ultimately, what this book is about is information literacy - tracking down sources, verifying sources, and rejecting bad sources. Gladstone explains how bad information can become part of the collective consciousness simply by being repeated by people who don't know anything about it. Furthermore she demonstrates and that it is not always good journalism to provide both sides of an issue if one side is misinformed. She also explains that too much information (information overload) can be harmful. This is not a new concern, and she points to a story in Plato's "Phaedrus" in which "Socrates derides the invention of writing with a story of the Egyptian god who invented the alphabet brags to a king" who reponds that "this discovery...will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls-they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves".  Likewise Gutenberg's printing press had bibliogrpaher Conrad Gesner complaining of the "confusing and harmful abundance of books". Gesner in compiling the Universal Library decided only to include books written in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.

This of course is where librarians come in. As "media theorist Clay Shirky says many people confuse information overload with filter failure". Catalogers, librarians, news aggregators, and other databases services already have those filters in place. Librarians can help people to navigate to the right resources for their information needs.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Banned Books Week - Beautiful Creatures - the book

Back in February I blogged about the movie Beautiful Creatures. My post ended with "A fabulous library movie. I guess I will have to read the book now." I followed through shortly after I wrote the original post, but have been saving my post about the book for Banned Books Week. Although I have not read any official news reports of this work being challenged, based on its "witchcraft" and "anti-Christian" themes, I am sure it has been. As a bonus, banned books are a part of the story. Specifically, Harry Potter books are challenged at the Gaitlin County Library for promoting, you guessed it, witchcraft! A little meta-banning. Plus, there are two libraries that play roles in this work: the fantastic "Caster Library" and the Gatlin (South Carolina)  Public Library. Both are headed by a wonderful librarian character called - what else - Marian! Marian is able to run both libraries, because the Caster library is open only on holidays that the Gatlin Public Library is closed. As Lena points out this "hardly seems fair...the Mortals get so much more time, and they don't even read around here."

The novel's hero, Ethan, loves to read, and dreams of leaving Gatlin. We see this brought together when he tells us "Books were the one thing that got me out of Gatlin, even if it was only for a little while. I had a map on my wall, and every time I read about a place I wanted to go, I marked it on the map." He also tells his new girlfriend, the lovely Caster Lena, that he keeps books (actual novels!) under his bed, and reads them because he "wants to." What a devil!

The town library, "still had a card catalog" which seemed somehow fitting in what is described as beautiful, historic building, one of the two oldest in town - "a two-story venerable Victorian, old and weathered with peeling paint and decades worth of vines sleeping along the doors and windows [that] smelled like aging wood and creosote, plastic book covers, and old paper." It was a sacred place where Ethan's late mother, a serious Civil War historian, unlike the bigoted DAR members, "spent most of her time holed up...looking at microfiche". She told her son that the library was her "church", and that "any book was a 'Good Book', wherever they keep the 'Good Book' safe is also a House of the Lord." The Library was one place where Ethan could still feel his mother's presence. Ethan also knew that "Marian the librarian" was "the smartest Mortal in Gatlin"...and "she looked more like a model than a librarian...pretty and exotic-looking, a mix of so many bloodlines it was like looking at the history of the South itself, people from the West Indies, the Sugar Island, England, Scotland, even America, all intermingling until it would take a whole forest of family trees to chart the course." Ironically, he does describe his best friend's mother, Mrs. Lincoln (the book banner) as dressing "like some kind of punishing librarian out of a movie, which cheap drugstore glasses and angry-looking hair that couldn't decide if it was brown or gray."

Ethan points on several occasions that the library doesn't get much use and goes so far as to use the metaphor of "ghost town" to describe what it is like going in there. Even so, "studying at the library" was still offered up as a convenient lie to adults who wanted to know where he and his friends were going. And in Gatlin which Ethan declares "[not] a big library town" the library was also the place for Alcoholics Anonymous to meet "when the Baptists kicked them out".

The Caster Library or Lunae Libri is described as a crypt below the DAR building and is "thousands of times bigger" than any other library. On Ethan and Lena's maiden voyage into the tomb Marian warns them to trace their steps backward if they get lost "that's why the stacks radiate out from chamber". The Library is so big some parts are still "uncharted".

Marian has some important observations about libraries:
"I'm just the librarian. I can only give you the books. I can't give you the answers."
"'Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future'. Just ask Ray Bradbury"