Monday, August 30, 2021

Too Much and Never Enough - by Mary Trump

Beyond a "tell all" the forty-fifth president's niece provides a deep insider's knowledge of the Trump family through a psychological lens in this bestselling book. Not surprisingly, there was no mention of the young Trump family heading to the public library for story hour, in fact the only library mentioned is the one in "the House" (the residence where Donald and his four siblings grew up in Queens, New York). I probably wouldn't have bothered at all to create a blog about this except that the description of said library is so telling. About halfway through the book Mary provides this tidbit

When the family was together, we spent most of our time in the library, a room without books (emphasis mine) until Donald's ghostwritten The Art of the Deal was published in 1987. The bookshelves were used instead to display wedding photos and portraits.

Well there you have it. A whole room that could have been dedicated to books but wasn't. I must say, I'm not surprised.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

A Ride to Remember: A Civil Rights Story - by Sharon Langley and Amy Nathan

When I was very young my family and I enjoyed visits to Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Baltimore, Maryland. Hurricane Agnes destroyed the park in 1972 and it was not rebuilt. Rather than an amusement park, it now is a park of the type one might go for a picnic, or to fly a kite. 

Gwynn Oak Park opened in 1893 and like many amusement parks at the time it was segregated.I was unaware that the park had not been desegregated until 1963 when I heard about this book and attended a webinar about it last year. You can watch the webinar here.

My parents moved to Baltimore from the midwest in January of 1962 and started their family. My older sister was born in late September of the same year which made this story, about a girl who was 11 months old on August 28, 1963, especially relevant for me. Sharon Langley was the first African American to ride the Carousel at Gwynn Oak Park on the day it was desegregated. 

Langley explains segregation in this work via a conversation between herself and her parents about her family's role in desegregation.
For a long time, black and white kids couldn't do many things together. They couldn't go to the same schools or to the same restaurants and libraries or even sit together at the movies. It was the law.
    "Why didn't somebody do something about those kinds of laws?" I asked.
    "They did," said Mama.
    "We did," said Daddy.
    Many people - both blacks and whites - knew that segregation was unfair and just plain wrong.
    Some people said, Just wait. Times will change.
    But others said, Why wait? What's wrong with now? They held protests at restaurants, stores, and movie theaters. They tried to get officials and courts to make new laws to create a better city - a place that would welcome and include all people.
    By the time I was born, some unfair laws had changed in Baltimore. Kids could go to the same schools and libraries, restaurants, and some movie theaters, too - no matter the color of their skin. "But the amusement park just wouldn't budge," said Daddy. 

Beautifully illustrated by Coretta Scott King Award winner Floyd Cooper this book tells a story of segregation and desegregation appropriate for young readers.

Monday, August 16, 2021

The Book of Joy - by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams

The One Book One Community selection for the fall 2021 is The Book of Joy. After so much time on lockdown (with only virtual connections) the time seemed right for a book that explores what is joyful in life. Co-author Abrams follows these two religious leaders during a week-long meeting in which they discuss how they remain positive despite their experiences living under apartheid (in the case of the Archbishop) and the extreme difficulties of living in exile (in the case of the Dalai Lama). The Dalai Lama left Tibet for India in 1959 at the age of 24. He describes how during the Cultural Revolution China pledged to wipe out the Tibetan language 
so they burned books, such as the three-hundred-volume Tibetan canon of scriptures translated from India, as well as several thousand volumes written by Tibetans themselves
On a more joyful note however, the week wraps up with a party in honor of the Dalai Lama's eightieth birthday. And what better place to have a joyful birthday celebration than in a library! The party takes place in the Tibetan Children's Village school

As our motorcade approached, we heard the children's soaring voices, their welcome song high-pitched and plaintive, yet indomitable and joyful. It was a song they had composed...The choir and school staff lined the road. All around them sat waves of students in their school uniforms...The car finally arrived at the library and the children were still singing at the top of their lungs.

This was, ironically, a rather challenging book for me. As I read news of building collapses, an earthquake, the Taliban, raging wildfires, all while facing a pandemic that won't slow down because of deliberate manipulation of truth, perhaps remaining hopeful is the best I can do for now. Joy will have to wait.

Cruising the Library - by Melissa Adler

I noticed the title of this book while I was looking for something else in our library catalog. (I don't remember what I was originally searching.) The author begins with a discussion of the Library of Congress catalog subject term "Paraphilias" - a word I had never heard of before reading this book, which is exactly her point. Very few people know this word, and even if they could guess its meaning, they probably wouldn't think to search for it in the library catalog even if they had heard of it. Using the word as a subject heading effectively hides the work even as it is available on the open shelves of the library.

(At the time of this posting my own library had six titles listed under the subject heading Paraphilias.)

Through the exploration of this term Adler demonstrates that how we classify books has more to do with librarians determining what is "normal" (rather than simply reflecting it) especially when it comes to sex. Furthermore, the Library of Congress 

disciplines sex and sexuality by privileging scientific domains and text, granting such disciplines authority while obfuscating the humanities, popular literature, and emerging interdisciplinary and local knowledges.

She also demonstrates how whiteness and heterosexuality are presumed "normal" by searching the catalog for specific terms.

Much of this book is an exploration of the now defunct Delta collection of the Library of Congress - a little known collection of erotica, works deemed obscene, or those containing information about "perverse" or "aberrant" sexual practices. The Delta collection was restricted - those wishing to use it had to ask. By putting certain works in the Delta collection librarians had power in determining what was considered obscene or "aberrant". Now long gone, Adler discovered that even finding information about the existence of the Delta collection was hard to come by. An excerpt from her book about the collection was published on Literary Hub (which you can read here).

Those of us who work in libraries are no strangers to the use of the library as sexual space. Many a library worker can tell you a story of coitus interruptus or of finding post-coital evidence while straightening books the stacks. Adler also sees the library itself as a sensual and seductive place

The library is an erotically charged space. Some might even regard the pleasurable experience of browsing and losing and finding oneself in the stacks as an exercise in sadomasochism. The classificatory apparatuses in the library, with their disciplinary divisions and regularizing and shaming techniques, often bar opportunities for cross-disciplinary play, prohibit the intermingling of bodies, and cut the perverse from the normal (as if such an act was actually possible). In the library space, submission to and enactment of technologies of control facilitate and inhibit promiscuousness in browsing, perverse reading, and bodily pleasures.

I am always interested in what people have to say about book banning. Adler quotes President Dwight D. Eisenhower who had this to say about it in 1953

Don't join the book burners. Don't think you are going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they never existed. Don't be afraid to go into your library and read every book. 

Be like Ike.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Stacked - by Aviva Blakeman

Well, here we are once again in Read-a-Romance Month. As with last year's choice of romance this one was mostly about the sex. In this case wildly unashamed sex between bad-boy biker Oscar "Mags" Magellan and super sexy librarian Imogene (who prefers binding vintage clothing to the practical outfits most of my denizens elect to wear to work). As with every librarian-themed romance I've read the librarian in this one is not only sexy, but competent in their job as well. I do like that. 

A point is made in this work of the importance of  "cycling books out of the collection" (aka "weeding") to make room for new books, as well as to curate the collection. Removing damaged books and those with outdated information not only makes room for new books it provides library users with the best information. Imogene decides that "a complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica that was written when Russia was still part of the USSR" is "definitely getting donated". I do wonder, though who she thinks wants such books. While donating the books may make weeding more palatable to certain taxpayers, some things really just need to get recycled.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Burning the Books: A History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge - by Richard Ovenden

Censorship and book banning are a long-time interests of mine. My father was a "first amendment fundamentalist" and I internalized his beliefs with respect to free expression of ideas, even ideas I disagree with (or find abhorrent). Repression of ideas we don't like is a paternalistic response. Ovenden's book looks at the long history of deliberate book burning across time and space.

He begins his book, not surprisingly, with a discussion of the importance of libraries, and sounds an alarm as to the threats against them including reduced funding and attacks from individuals and authorities "motivated to deny the truth and eradicate the past". Furthermore he states that "the significance of of books and archival material is recognised not only by those who wish to protect knowledge, but also by those who wish to destroy it." Ovenden explores the sequestration of knowledge from the earliest clay tablets to more recent news events and "alternative facts". Rulers have always known that knowledge is power, and keeping knowledge from others increased their power.

South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission was "hampered" by the fact that the apartheid regime had "destroyed documents on a massive scale" in order to silence voices, "remove incriminating evidence and...sanitise the history of oppressive rule."

In 1992 library staff at the National and University Library in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina "formed a human chain" around the library in order to remove materials from the recently bombed building. The Library was the "sole target" of the bombs - a deliberate attack to annihilate the "recorded memory not just of a nation but the culture of the entire region, one that had a significant Muslim population".

During World War I Germans burned down the library at the University of Louvain in Belgium - a clear violation of the Hague Convention of 1907. The Germans again burned the rebuilt library during World War II.

World War II of course also saw the destruction of libraries, Jewish archives, and other books and documents at the hands of the Nazi's.

The persecution of the Jews of Europe under the Nazi regime fell with terrifying force not just on the People of the Book (as Jews have self-identified for thousands of years)  but also on their books. It has been estimated that over 100 million books were destroyed during the Holocaust, in the twelve years from the period of Nazi dominance in Gemany in 1933 up to the end of the Second World War.

The Reformation can be blamed for quite a bit of archival information loss. Records were destroyed and  libraries in catholic monasteries were lost as Henry the VIII questioned papal authority and started the Anglican church.

Of course any discussion of "burning books" needs to include the Library of Alexandria. There are so many versions of the blaze and legends surrounding the destruction of the library it is impossible to know what is true. "What all [the] myths and legends have in common is that they mourn the library as a victim of barbarity triumphing over knowledge."

This book had an interesting take on self-censorship. I generally think of it in the way that Judy Blume has expressed it

It's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.

However, Ovenden's work includes a chapter "To Be Burned" which describes self-censorship as a way for author's to "curate" their own writings - writers destroying their own drafts, notes, and diaries. Interestingly, I recently heard Judy Blume discuss in a webcast the fact that she had disposed of many of her old journals and diaries because she didn't want her family to find them after she died. Writer's are controlling their own legacies.

I enjoyed learning a little library history while reading this work 

The first sense of a university library in Oxford had emerged four centuries  [before the Reformation] with the concept of loan chests: where money could be borrowed in return for books - valuable objects- being deposited.

The first substantial library catalogue to be published was that of Leiden University Library, in 1595, which also marked the opening of their new library building....the collections were arranged under seven categories: theology, law, medicine, mathematics, philosophy, literature, history.

I end my post with this important message from the author.

"Libraries [are] necessary for the future because of the knowledge they collected from the past."