Thursday, January 21, 2021

Rufus M - by Eleanor Estes

Back in September I attended a webinar with the librarian's librarian Nancy Pearl. She was doing a virtual book tour for her most recent work The Writer's Library (which I have not yet read). She said something that I wish more people would take to heart: "Any book your haven't read is a new book". I have never understood the obsession some people have with buying some hot new book, as if there aren't literally millions of other things they could be reading while they wait for their turn on the waiting list at the library, or until the book is available in paperback. During the Q&A someone asked about library-centric books and it was here that I learned about Rufus M

Pearl specifically said that the first chapter was especially worthwhile for demonstrating the magic of getting a library card. Although the book was published in 1943 this was indeed a "new book" to me. And I imagine even almost 80 years after its first publication that the first chapter will still resonate with anyone who has earned the privilege of getting their first library card. I wonder how many people remember that moment? 

Rufus is tasked with making sure his hands are clean, and learning to write his name before he can get his own card and check out a book. The librarian makes clear both that she wants Rufus to have a card, and that having one is a serious responsibility. She is kind yet firm in her insistence that Rufus learn to sign his own name in order for him to get his own card. 

There is a bit of "shushing" action in this chapter as well. 

There are a dozen other episodic chapters in this work, the library is mentioned again in a few of them. This work will likely appeal to those who enjoy Beverly Cleary's works.

Nancy Pearl discusses her book The Writer's Library

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Not a Scientist: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science - by Dave Levitan

The title of this work comes from a quote made by Ronald Reagan as he was campaigning against Jimmy Carter during his Presidential campaign in 1980. He was speculating that Mt. St. Helen's volcano, which had erupted a few months earlier, was responsible for emitting more sulfur dioxide than were human sources. Reagan was wrong in his assumption, but as the author points out he doesn't get a free pass simply for prefacing his comments with a disclaimer that he's "not a scientist", nor do any of the politicians who have uttered it since whenever they want to dismiss climate science.

There are many other examples in the book of politicians cherry picking data, and sometimes even facts, to make their cases about things from why we should stop undocumented immigration to why Planned Parenthood should be shut down. What I found most interesting in all this was that in some cases they apparently did understand the math and science enough to know that they had to look for very specific data points (in some cases only one) which ironically meant that they did understand, but were counting on their audience not to. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Everything All at Once - by Katrina Leno

About to graduate from high school Lottie is mourning the death of her favorite aunt (Helen) a famous children's book author. Aunt Helen's books are about a pair of immortal siblings (Alvin and Margo Hatter) and are wildly popular among people of all ages. There are of course those who do not like her books "the Anti-Hatters [who] burn the books on YouTube...They say the idea of immortality is a sin against God".

Aunt Helen donated half of her estate to "various charities and libraries of her choosing". She clearly understands the importance of libraries to authors. Some authors seem to think that libraries are somehow stealing royalites from them.

Aunt Helen also had owned the "most expansive private library" of anyone Lottie knew. Helen was even "featured on the front page of Libraries International twelve separate times". Lottie is emphatic in her instance that "Libraries International was an actual magazine". I, however, could find no evidence that such a magazine exists.

We don't actually see much of Lottie using the library although she does meet her friend Sam at one. Sam travels a lot and tells her that he gets a library card wherever he goes "that's important" he tells her.


I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter - by Erika L. Sanchez

Living in the shadow of her dead older sister (Olga) Julia Reyes navigates high school, family, first love, and friendships. Although she is indeed not perfect (but it turns out neither was Olga) she does at least understand the importance of libraries. 

She uses the old standby lie of "I'm going to the library" so she can instead interrogate Olga's best friend Angie about a hotel key and sexy underwear she found among Olga's things.

Julia gets into trouble quite often and by her own account "between the ages of thirteen to fifteen [she'd] spent about forty-five percent of [her] life grounded". She further explains that sometimes when she punished she isn't even allowed to go to the library "the cruelest kind of torture". She also claims she "can't get pregnant at the library" but she obviously has never worked in one and discovered the kinds of things that library workers all to often find indicating that perhaps someone did get pregnant.

Julia really does love books and dreams of becoming so rich someday that she has "a library so big that [she'll] need a ladder to reach all [her] books".

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes - by Susanne Collins

 I read the first three Hunger Games books some years ago. I don't remember if I read them before or after I started this blog, but I somehow doubt any of them would have made the cut to be included here. So I was surprised when this one did. This prequel tells the story of Cornelius Snow and is set decades before the original series - during the 10th Hunger Games.

My husband and I listened to the audio version of this and I didn't download the text so I only have my faulty memory to aid me in writing this post. I recall students being sent to the school library to work on a group project. Disdain for group work appears to be a universal truth.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Close Enough to Touch - by Colleen Oakley

Jubilee Jenkins' allergy to people has kept her a recluse for nine years. Following the death of her mother (who had been supporting her) Jubilee takes her first tentative steps outside of her house. Rather remarkably she almost immediately lands a job in the local public library. She also falls in love and begins a long journey towards living a more regular life.

Jubilee comes to like her job at the library and even comes up with a plan to get more people to use it when budget cuts threaten her job. 

It is sometimes harder for me to write about library-centric books than it is to write about books in which the library or librarian is only a minor part of the story. Where do I start? What do I leave out? In this case the passages I marked mostly seem to indicate things that are especially un-librarian like behaviors.

On her first day she is asked to reshelve some books "according to the numbers on their spines". I think we can safely assume these are Dewey Decimal Numbers. The Dewey Decimal Classification system isn't especially difficult to learn, but I cannot imagine that anyone would be expected on their first day of work to understand it so thoroughly as to need no training whatsoever before being asked to reshelve books. I have seen people with plenty of experience make mistakes in shelving, especially when the decimal place gets past a few digits.

There are some other very obvious places that indicate that the author perhaps doesn't fully understand library work. For instance when Jubilee is asked to fill in for the children's librarian during story time she panics a bit but her co-worker Louise assures her that "it's easy. Roger left the three books on his desk and I think you give out candy and sing a song or something. Over in thirty minutes." Jubilee does manage to get through the program and she "silently thank[s] Roger for at least picking out the right books." I can assure you that Roger didn't simply "pick out" some books. He planned a program.

Besides having Jubilee do the more difficult task of leading the story time while she staffs the Circulation desk, Louise also manages to have Jubilee do her "dirty work" for her when she decides that a patron needs to be told that she can't have "private parts up on computers" because "what if a child walks by". The fact that the website didn't appear to be porn, but rather was likely a medical site made no difference. The patron needed to be told it was "against the rules". I thoroughly disagree with this. Everyone has a right to find the information they need in the library. If there are concerns that others might see something then the library needs to figure out a way to ensure privacy. It is the bedrock of our profession.

Jubilee's love interest, Eric, discovers that the library is the perfect place not only to see Jubilee, but also to check out YA books that interest his estranged teenage daughter in the hopes that if he reads them he can get her to at least get her to return his texts. He checks out The Bell Jar, Twilight (he's Team Jacob), The Virgin Suicides, and The Notebook. He also enlists Jubilee to help him understand the works so that he can better discuss them with his daughter. The library (and Jubilee) also help him with his 10-year old son when he realizes that he cannot leave him home alone after school, and no babysitter wants to stay with the disturbed child. The provision of after-school care is a real issue for public libraries. Many families have no other options except to send their children to the library until they can be picked up when their workdays are done.

Despite its shortcomings in describing the library work, I very much enjoyed this book. It was a good, easy read during the holiday break.