Monday, September 28, 2020

George - by Alex Gino

Yesterday was the start of  banned books week, so I read a book that I've been meaning to read for a while. George is really the story of Melissa, a transgender girl. It ranks number five on the list of Top 100 Banned and Challenged books of the decade 2010-2019. According to the American Library Association reasons for challenges of this work include: a transgender character; because schools and libraries should not "put books in a child's hand that require discussion"; for sexual references; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and "traditional family structure". 

The narrator of the story uses George's birth name with feminine pronouns (she/her/hers) to tell her story. Only George's best friend Kelly knows that George is really a girl. Everyone else thinks she's a boy. A fourth grader, George really wants to the part of Charlotte in her class production of Charlotte's Web (a project in conjunction with the school-wide common read). Her teacher (Ms. Udell) thinks George is joking when she reads the spider's lines during her audition. "You know I can't very well cast you as Charlotte. I have too many girls who want the part. Besides, imagine how confused people would be" Ms. Udell tells a disappointed George (who absolutely does not want the part of Wilbur, or Templeton, either).

George keeps a collection of "girl" magazines hidden in a denim bag at the bottom of her closet, the way some might hide a pornography collection. She found her first magazine in the recycling bin of the library. The library is a space that George clearly knows well as it is described as a place that is close enough to her house that she passes by it on her bike on her way to Kelly's house. How lucky for her that she can so easily access this neighborhood treasure.

I'm looking forward to hearing the author speak during a Facebook live event on Wednesday. Gino has been outspoken in their defense of their book.

Lagniappe: This book not only mentioned libraries twice, it also had my favorite word: sesquipedalian - a word that describes itself.

Other books on the Top 100 list that treat the issue of gender identity include:
I am Jazz by Jazz Jennings and Jessical Herthel
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Jacob's New Dress by Sarah Hoffman
My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis

Friday, September 11, 2020

Bats at the Library - by Brian Lies


While I don't much like bats, especially after having had one in my house, I do understand that they are beneficial both as pollinators and as mosquito eaters. In addition to these two helpful qualities, the bats in this book are also library advocates! Bats of all ages find joy in the library at night when they discover an open window. They do research, listen to stories, explore the building, and even get "shushed". 

A lovely celebrations of libraries.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Dude, Where's My Country - by Michael Moore

I picked this book up at a used book sale a few years ago and it was sitting on my to-be-read shelf (along with so many others) until the pandemic and consequent stay-at-home orders had me finally taking a look at some of these neglected works.

Moore's now 17-year-old book written in the aftermath of 9/11 when Bush (43) was president harkens back to a kinder, gentler sort of evil - a time when we could not have imagined living in a this dystopian landscape headed by a complete incompetent. Moore pulls no punches as he points to specific examples of President Bush's poor leadership, both unintentional and willful, following the terrorist attacks in 2001. 

He begins by describing the problems he had in distributing his previous book Stupid White Men in the wake of the crisis

The first 50,000 copies...came off the printing press the day before 9/11, but when tragedy struck the next morning, the trucks that would carry them to the nation's bookstores never left the loading dock. The publisher then held the books hostage for five long months-not simply out of good taste and respect (which I might have been able to understand), but out of a desire to censor me and the things I wanted to say. They insisted I rewrite up to 50 percent of the book and that I remove sections that they found offensive to our leader, Mr. Bush.

Facing the potential of having the books "pulped" if he did not acquiesce, it was a librarian, Ann Sparanese, who came to the rescue. Without benefit of Facebook (which did not exist at the time) Sparanese learned of the impending censorship and mobilized all the other librarians on her e-mail list to contact Regan books. 

Fearing there would soon be a crazed mob of wild librarians storming down Fifth Avenue and surrounding the HarperCollins building...the News Corp surrendered. They dumped my book in some bookstores with no advertising, no reviews, and the offer of a three-city tour...In other words, the book was sent to the gallows for a quick painless death...within hours after the book's release, it went to number one on Amazon-and within five days it had gone to its ninth printing.

There is, not surprisingly, a lot about the USA PATRIOT Act here, and how it allows the government to access otherwise confidential information, especially where library records are concerned. Likewise Moore makes clear throughout that American citizens like and use their libraries and want the government to support them.

When I start reading a book I am always glad to find the first mention of libraries, and in this case I believed it to be in the Introduction (so early in the work the pages are numbered in lower case roman numerals). However, when I opened the book again to write this post I found that the real first time is actually even earlier than that, on the page before the title page (a place one does not usually find any writing). It contains this bit of satire


Wednesday, September 9, 2020

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage - by Ann Patchett

In July I logged in to a virtual author event - "Bookshop Author's Unite" - which featured three bookstore owners who were also authors: Jeff Kinney owner of An Unlikely Story in Plainville, Massachusetts (the only store of the three I've been to); Ann Patchett owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee; and Peter H. Reynolds owner of Blue Bunny Books in Dedham, Massachusetts. Fifty-six year old Ms. Patchett spoke first and I especially liked what she said about the pandemic giving her an opportunity to slow down. Without a book tour to go on she was able to enjoy the time she was spending with her husband and dog and wondered if perhaps she should just rethink the whole book tour idea as being a waste of precious resources. She also mentioned that she had recently been having trouble finding something she really wanted to read. As a fifty-six year old myself who also has been taking this time to enjoy spending time with my husband and dog, and wondering how the pandemic might be changing our collective minds about sustainable practices, and who has likewise had a hard time finding a book that I wanted to read past page 50 I could relate, and I wondered if perhaps I had read any of her books. Turns out not only that I had, but that the last line of my blog post suggested that I would have to look for more of her books, but apparently I hadn't. Until now.

I picked this collection of essays mainly because it was on the shelf at the library where I work. The building is open with limited services and hours so although I am mainly working at home I walked over and checked it out. Not surprisingly, as an author Patchett has a lot to say about books, reading, and libraries. 

In the essay "Fact vs. Fiction" Patchett explains about the two kinds of educational experiences one has in college: passive and active

In the first you are a little bird in the nest with your beak stretched open wide and the professor gathers up all the information you need and drops it down your gullet...your only role is to accept what you are given...In the second kind, you are taught to learn how to find the information, and how to think about it, for yourself. You learn to question and engage. You realize that one answer is not enough and that you have to look at as many sources as are available to you so that you can piece together a larger picture.

Helping people to find the sources and to think about them to determine if they are any good is exactly what I do as a reference and instruction librarian. One might argue that the role of the librarian is even more important than the role of the professor here.

In "The Love Between Two Women is Not Normal" and "The Right to Read" in which she describes what happened when Clemson University assigned her memoir Truth & Beauty to the freshman class of 2006, she discusses the problems and rewards of common reading programs, censorship, and, of course, the right to read.

As a person who loves going to author events and readings I could very much relate to Patchett's analogy of going to her first reading and meeting author Eudora Welty as "heart-stopping, life changing wonder" that she would put up "against anyone who ever saw the Beatles" an event she describes in "The Best American Short Stories 2006".

I highlighted just a few of the library passages here. There are many others throughout. 

While I do wish the pandemic were over so we could all go back to some more normal activities one positive thing I can say about all of this is that since author events have gone virtual geography is no longer a barrier to attending them. In fact, since the event in July which prompted this post, I already attended another event featuring Ann Patchett in which she interviewed one of my other favorite authors, Margaret Atwood, on the occasion of the release of the paperback version of The Testaments. My own signed copy of the book, a bonus for purchasing a ticket to the event, arrived yesterday.