Tag Archives: Being a reader

On Book Shaming…

One thing you won’t find in the Library.

I realize that my social media feeds probably look very different than most people’s, dear readers.  I subscribe to a lot of book review sites, book lover’s sites, library sites, reader’s advisory sites…to be brief, there’s a lot of book talk going on.  Today, when I logged in, two links were posted back-to-back that got me thinking.

The first was a page that presented a list of books that an “educated, literate” person “would never admit to reading”.   This list, bizarrely, ran the gamut from the Twilight Saga to The Protocols of Zion (a terrifying work of anti-Semitism that was celebrated by the American Nazi Party), from John Grisham’s earlier works to the Scarsdale Diet Manual (a fad diet from the 1970’s that contributed more to heart disease than it did to weight loss).

That a list would run such an enormous gamut without comment or critique was in itself…odd to me.  A lot of the books there were ones I had read in history and literature classes in college (The Valley of the Dolls was on more than one syllabus, actually).  There were a lot of books written by wom

en, or written for a primarily female audience (romance novels, etc).  A lot of them were just old.  And there’s nothing wrong with reading old books.  They may be a little anachronistic, but…so is The Fall of the House of Usher.  But I haven’t heard anyone try and use that against it.

The second link was to a list of “Great Books” that the author had lied about reading (they had told people they had read these books even though they didn’t).  And you know what?  I hadn’t read any of those books, either!

And it got me to thinking…why on earth do we attach so much shame and emotion baggage to the books we’ve read, or the books we haven’t read?  Maybe it speaks to the cultural power of books (or, at least some books) that we feel like we aren’t ‘whole’ people without having experienced it?  But I never finished War and Peace, and I’m still here.  I’ve also read Anna Karenina in the original Russian, and am no better off, either.

Never finished it.

And why are we embarrassed to admit that we have read something?  I ask this as someone who routinely advocates the Choose Your Own Adventure novels for grown-ups, so clearly, this is a genuine question on my part.  I can understand being disappointed by a book.  There have been plenty of times where I am bummed that I spent so much time on a book that wasn’t worth it.  There are times I am embarrassed that I didn’t finish a book on time.  But the implications with these lists is that our self worth is (or should be) attached to our literary choices in a way that is pretty damaging to our psyche…

These kind of lists make me worry.  I worry because there are people out there who don’t read because they don’t know what is “cool” or “right” to read.  Or they don’t read because they don’t have anyone to discuss books with them, or feed their interests.  I worry that people don’t read because other people have made fun of their reading choices.

So let me be very clear here:

At the Library, you can read whatever you want.  And no one has the right to make you feel badly about what you read, or what you don’t read.  Not even you yourself.

If it interests you, if you want to learn something, if you want to try something new, or if you want to re-discover something you loved, we are here for you, and are more than happy to help you find them. And if you don’t like it, if you didn’t learn anything stunning, if you still want to try something new, or go back to something familiar, that’s is absolutely, 100% ok.  But if you never try, or if you spend your time worrying about someone judging you for what you’re reading (or not reading), or, even worse, judging yourself, then you are never, ever, going to get something meaningful out of the book.

So let’s put all these lists about what we “should” read, or what we “shouldn’t” read, and, instead, focus on reading more: Reading outside our boundaries.  Reading to learn.  Reading to live.  Reading to make connections.  Reading to grow.  And not feeling bad about any of it.

When Good Characters Go Blonde…

…As a bit of a preface, I’ve been reading Christopher Brookmyre’s Jack Parlabane series for years.  Back when I was doing my junior year abroad in London, and I had no money and a bag of potatoes to eat, I stumbled across the first book, Quite Ugly One Morning at my local library, and the utterly crazy twists and turns of the plot kept me spellbound.

For those who haven’t discovered this delightfully smart, insightful, and occasionally, startlingly visceral series, the main character is a journalist named Jack Parlabane, who makes his career by taking on the stories that one else even believes exists, and gets his scoops by breaking in, snooping, and hacking the most seemingly impossible places.  And while all these hijinx are exciting, and some of the situations are wildly, almost absurdly outlandish, what I love is that Christopher Brookmyre makes all his characters real, and flawed (sometimes appallingly so), and, generally lovable (this usually doesn’t extend to his villains, who can be pretty appalling,  in the best of ways.

One of the things I love most about this series is that fact that I have massively disagreed with Brookmyre on a lot of aspects of this series (and if you’ve read it too, I will be delighted to discuss at length).  He has made me so unhappy and so angry that I’ve wanted to challenge him to a duel–but even I have to admit that his choices have made the books better, and richer, and kept the trajectory of the series moving forward with consistent energy.  Moreover, they are choices that fly in the face of a lot of prevailing stereotypes and gender assumptions, and I kind of have to respect that, even if I hate the outcome grandly.

Christopher Brookmyre, creator of Jack Parlabane, for STV Glasgow

…until I found out, in the latest book (which is terrific, by the way, go read it), which is the eighth in this series…that Jack Parlabane is blonde.

For the past eleven years, I have been picturing him with black hair.  No.  Scratch that.  For the past eleven years, he has had black hair.

Now, part of this, I am sure, is because David Tennant* read the audiobook of the series opener, and knowing what Tennant looked like probably influenced my idea of the character looked like.  Maybe I was just willfully blind to any previous description, and I just noticed now something I had missed.  But none of those obscures the absolute shock I felt when I read that.  Like someone I knew personally had somehow betrayed me–not Brookmyre, but his fictional character, Parlabane.

There have been some fascinating pieces written about the way we imagined literary characters.  One of my favorites is Peter Mendelsund’s “What Does Anna Karenina Look Like?”,  an excerpt from his eye-opening What We See When We ReadSome of the things that he mentions in the piece is that our emotional attachment to characters can make us feel like we know them, even if we can’t tell you what their nose looks like…or even if we’ve never imagined their nose.  Or that our clearest conception of a character is based on the sketchiest of details provided to us by the author.

There are even websites that use police composite technology to create sketches of characters.  Brian J. Davis has a whole site devoted these sketches.   And, frankly, very few of them look like the people I know in my head.  Part of this is, no doubt, because police sketches always look a little…weird:

Daisy Buchanan, from https://101books.net/2012/03/28/how-fictional-characters-might-actually-look/

But it also makes me wonder…when and how precisely do characters become something different in our heads than what was in the authors’?  What makes our relationship to an imaginary entity so real that we believe that we know them inside and, specifically, out? By what wizardry is that relationship created?

And what about the characters for whom we don’t have a good understanding?  I’ll be honest, I couldn’t really describe what Rochester looks like.  He is one of my favorite characters, I’ve read him countless times, I know his soul; but I couldn’t really describe his looks to you well enough that you would recognize him on the street.  I’ve watched a whole slew of adaptations of Jane Eyre, and seen Rochester portrayed by everyone from Orson Welles (umm…) to Toby Stephens (hooray!), but none of them look like Rochester to me.  Because I don’t know what he looks like.

But that doesn’t mean I appreciate the character any less–or any more–for that.  He is too real to me for his looks to matter.  Just as Parlabane is so real for me that his looks matter enormously.

I don’t have any good answers or explanations here, dear readers.  I am still grappling with this whole blonde thing to be honest with you.  But it’s got me thinking about what is it about fictional characters that make them real and tangible in our lives, and why that is.  And if anything, it’s made me appreciate those characters–and the authors responsible for them–even more.

Have you ever dealt with finding out your favorite character was different than you pictured, dear reader–be it blonde or otherwise?  How did you react?

 

*We don’t have this particular recording at the Library, but I cannot recommend David Tennant as an audiobook reader more highly.

Becoming a Reader

I don’t know if you know this, but the Peabody Library has the best Pages around; a by Pages, I mean the young people who re-shelve books, help with gathering requests, generally do the daily tasks that keep the Library running smoothly…not the paper pages.  Though we have a lot of paper pages, and many of them are delightful, too…

…But anyways…the other day, I got into a conversation with one of our Terrific Pages about the books that made us into readers in our childhood.  It turns out that I was not the only one who was (is) addicted to the Choose Your Own Adventure Series!  And fifteen minutes later, I found three said CYOA books waiting for me, having been snuck up from the Children’s Room by said Terrific Page.  And my day, nay, my week was made.

Seriously, so much fun.

But that conversation got me thinking about those books that made me a reader as a child.  Not just the books I enjoyed, or remember fondly, but those reading experiences that I am still trying to replicate to this day.  Those books that continue to shape my thinking, my reading tastes, my world view…That might be a little exaggerated, but not by much, to be honest.

I don’t know if I’d necessarily want to read all of these books again.  Some of them I didn’t actually enjoy, as I’ll explain below.  Some of them, I know, meant something to me at the time because of some particular Life Thing I was experiencing, and picking them up now, when that Life Thing is over, may actually be a bit of a dream-killer.  The best of this list, however, are the books I have read again as an adult, and loved just as much, though perhaps for different reasons.

So here, in case you were interested, are some of the books that made Younger Me into the reader I am today.  What are yours?

The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye: For the record, my copy of this book had a much more purple cover, and one that looked much less like a story from the Brothers’ Grimm.  But regardless of the cover, this book was my go-to from fourth through sixth grade.  I think I read it five times during those years, and loved it every time.  At her christening, along Wit, Charm, Health, and Courage, Princess Amy of Phantasmorania receives a special fairy christening gift: Ordinariness She is the “plain” one in her family of beauties, the clumsy one in a family of grace and elegance, the one who is unsure of herself in a family that has inherited self-confidence.  But rather than wallow, our heroine heads off on her own, getting a job as a kitchen maid at a neighboring palace, and finding a prince who is just as “ordinary” and unique as she, and who loves her precisely as she is.  I loved the humor in this book, especially the gentle satire regarding Amy’s elitist family, and Amy’s resourcefulness.  This is a book that isn’t meant to make “ordinary” readers feel better.  Instead, it’s a rally-cry to embrace everything about yourself that makes you you, and to demand happiness on your own terms.  And that’s a message we all need to hear, no matter how old we get.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar: I developed a taste for Weird Fiction from a very young age, and I blame it all on Louis Sachar.  Wayside School is a building that should have been built on one story, with the classrooms all next to each other; instead, it was built with one classroom on top of another.  Each story in this book, and its sequel, Wayside School is Falling Down, focus on the students in the classroom on the thirtieth floor.  These stories have their messages–asserting that everyone learns a little differently and that’s ok, that bullying isn’t cool, etc.,–but they are also genuinely bizarre, in that way that the best children’s stories should be.  What I specifically remember is the section of the book that deals with The Thirteenth Floor.  Like many buildings, Wayside School doesn’t have a thirteenth floor (this book was the way I learned that)…but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a thirteenth floor.  Those chapters freaked me out to no end when I was seven, and, after re-reading these stories, they still do.  The same unsettling uncertainty that makes Poe’s or Stoker’s stories so chilling is present in spades in Sachar’s stories, and I was hooked from a young age.  Apparently, there are more Wayside School books now, you lucky readers!

High Trail to Danger by Joan Lowry Nixon: I think I’ve mentioned this book before at some point.  I’m going to discuss it again because it nearly destroyed my life, and extinguished all happiness from my soul.  When seventeen-year old Sarah’s father is killed in the mining town of Leadville Colorado, she decides to travel west to clear his name.  But her search lands her in more danger than she ever imagined.  I lived for this book, and for its sequel, A Deadly PromiseI loved the historic details of Leadville (which was a real place, and just as dangerous and wild a place as Nixon describes), I loved Sarah’s determination and fearlessness.  But I did not love the love triangle that developed between Sarah and the two gentlemen she encountered on her quest.  Because she chose the wrong man.  And then I threw the book across the room and didn’t talk to anyone for two days (this is absolutely true).  I abhor love triangles to this day, for any number of adult, feminist, and literary reasons, but they all stem from my inability to recover from this first, total, heartbreak.

So what do you think?  Would you want to re-read your beloved books today?  If not, how about sharing them with a Younger Person in your life, and get their life as a reader started?

On Book Awards and Class…

Last week, I promised to bring up the issue of class and book awards, and since we didn’t have the time to discuss it last week, as a follow-up to our discussion of the Hugo Awards and the Puppy Invasion, I figured we might as well get to work now, dear readers.

Pardon me while I climb on my soapbox…

One of the issues that was discussed, as reported by Wired, during the Puppy Horror was the class aspect of the awards.  And while most of the points brought up were exclusionary and near-sighted, there is an element to this argument that should be addressed.

In December of 2014, author Adrian McKinty (pictured left, courtesy of The Irish Times), author of the Sean Duffy crime novels, which I adore, and the Michael Forsythe series, which I also adore, among other literary achievements, sat down and wrote a blog post about the Man Booker Prize (fair warning: there is some strong language in the post).  In it, he challenged two-time Booker-prize-winning author Peter Carey’s claim that Americans should not be allowed to compete for the prize since it would, essentially, spoil the ‘particular cultural flavour’ of the award.*   McKinty used this argument as a jumping-off point to argue that the actual “flavour” of the Booker Prize was classicism, not nationalism.  As he noted, the vast, vast majority of the judges for the Booker Prize were attended private schools (which are much more elite than our version), while only 5% of the British population as a whole had attended private schools.  The result, he stated, was that:

…the Booker Prize judging panels are almost always made up of posh people and their chairperson is almost always very posh indeed. Posh people naturally would be sympathetic towards books about their own class and resistant to challenges to the status quo, hence Peter Carey’s worry about vulgar Americans entering the fray. (Peter Carey boarded at Geelong Grammar, one of the most expensive and exclusive private schools in Australia.) In consequence the Booker Prize winning novel is often a safe middle class rather dull book.

He also proposed a short set of practices that might help the Booker Prize improve its nominations, which included allowing publishing houses to send in more than one book for consideration (that way they could be riskier in their nominations, rather than nominating books they think will win based on past years), and encouraging genre fiction, because: “The best science fiction, crime fiction and romance writing is often as good as literary fiction but these books seldom make the Booker shortlist because they are considered to be a low form of writing.”

Surprisingly, McKinty’s recommendations may have actually helped.  As he noted in a blog post last October (language, again, FYI) the last three winners of the Booker Prize have been working-class, which points to a conscious attempt at diversity among the jury (See Paul Beatty, the most recent winner of the Man Booker Prize, below).

There are two big issues here: class, especially in the United States, is less defined by income, and is much more a social thing, as the Center for Economic and Policy Research examined in a recent survey.  That is mostly because the country is so big and diverse that there is no one bracket to determine wealth (look at house prices in Massachusetts vs. Arkansas, for example).  Thus, an income that might define you as “middle class” in one area would put you firmly in the “working class”, or even the “working poor” in other places.  So there is no one experience of class, or an ideology of class cohesion.

Just the fact that a graph like this exists is proof of my point. From the Economic Policy Institute

And class is perhaps the only social identifier that is inherently anti-social.  Capitalism, by definition, is a competition.  In order to win, you have to beat someone else to resources, to funding, to markets, to jobs, etc.  It’s why the relationship between classes is always categorized as a “struggle”.  McKinty alludes to this in his blog post, but the brutal point is that this “class struggles” makes us instinctively want to punch “downward”, or at those we perceive as “downward”….which is where the intersection of race, gender, nationality, and class all become significant together.

Because one of the positive things about encouraging books from and about “working class people”, especially in the US, is that we would inherently get more books by and about women, people of color, and immigrants, all of whom make up a plurality of the “working class”, and all of whom go under-represented in fiction.

But there is a snag to this.  In order to get these stories, we need to encourage these stories.  Because the main identifiers of the “working class”, across the board are A) a lack of higher education and B) a lack of access to continuing education and self-development, for reasons of distance, finances, or familial obligations.  And that is a huge, huge issue.

Because we are not going to get those stories unless we encourage people to tell those stories.  And in order to do that, we need to give people the tools to be storytellers–reading, writing, and practice.  But more than that, we need to provide time and space.  The first two can be acquire via education.  The second two, however, are some of the most difficult to acquire, especially for those without income security.  And no book prize in the world is going to improve its “working class” prejudices until we all show that we value everyone’s stories by listening to them, and providing the space for them to be shared.

 

*I feel the need to state here that Peter Carey is the author of some of the most important books in my life, including Oscar and Lucinda and His Illegal Self, and use this moment to point out that we all, always, have lots of learning and growing to do.

Reading Without Walls

Like many of you, dear readers, I read a lot of books.  Moreover, I spend a lot of time reading things about books…indeed, some of the links on the left-hand side of this page will bring you to our favorite places on the internet for reading about books.

Some of these readings make me very happy, like the Children’s Book Council’s “Reading Without Walls” Initiative, which encourages younger readers to explore books of diverse voices, genres, and formats.  Here is the poster that the CBC produced for the challenge:

How cool is this?!  Helping readers to realize just how many options are available to them, how many voices, how many format, and how many genres, is a terrific way to foster a lifelong love of reading.  Moreover, studies have shown that reading, particularly reading fiction, helps build up empathy.  And Heavens knows that this world needs as many empathetic people as it can get.

I also really appreciate that this challenge also focuses on different formats of books.  I’ve written about my own struggles reading graphic novels, which I attribute, in large part to the fact that I didn’t realize they even existed until I was a lot older.  And as much as I hate to admit it, it is more difficult for an older brain to adapt to new stuff.  So getting readers’ minds and eyes (and ears!) adapted to as many formats as possible as early as possible ensures that they can enjoy All The Books as they continue to grow.

But the real importance of this project wasn’t driven home for me until I saw this article on BookRiot, entitled “A deep dive into Goodreads Top 100 Mysteries and Thrillers“, and discussed the diversity of the authors listed.  As you will see in the graph below, which we borrowed with respect from BookRiot, the Mysteries and Thrillers market is dominated by white men:

Now, I have a number of issues with Goodreads (much of which I blame on you, Amazon), which we can talk about in-depth later, but the gist of it is that their numbers, and especially their ratings, are seldom based on actual living-in-reality fact-based statistics.  If anyone followed the vicious, misogynistic movement to make the new Ghostbuster’s movie the lowest-rated on IMBD, you’ll know to what I am alluding here.  Indeed, Goodreads admitted this was a popularity contest, stating “every one of these books has at least a 4.0 rating from the Goodreads community.”  In order for a book to make it onto Goodreads’ radar like that, it has to be read by a lot of people (admittedly, who had to then have enjoyed their reading experiences–which is terrific.  Yay reading books you enjoy!)

But what we are actually seeing here is a reflection, not of the best books, but of market trends.  No one was asked “what is the best mystery book you ever read”.  Instead, the aggregate ratings of a website that is A) Owned by Amazon* B) Reliant on user input.  If you don’t have internet access or a Goodreads account, you can’t play this game.  More than likely, you are only going to list books read in the last decade or so.  I know that two of my favorite mysteries as a younger reader was The Westing Game and The Haunting of Cassie Palmerbut I never listed them on Goodreads because I didn’t get a Goodreads account until I was in my late 20’s, and if I tried to list all the books I had read to date at that time I’d have starved to death before I finished.

So what we have is a market that isn’t designed for people who are reading without walls.  And that’s where you come in.

Because while this survey can show us very broad changes over time–for example, that there are more authors of color on the list now than there were in 2000 (see the graph below)–it can’t show us how individual reading trends have changed.  If everyone and their mother and their father and their Aunt Rose are reading James Patterson, then the fact that Aunt Rose also went out and discovered Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season means nothing to Goodreads.  But I can guarantee you that it will mean something to Aunt Rose.  And I bet that being exposed to different cultures, different voices, different ways of telling stories, will mean something to you, too.

So come on into the Library and check out our “Reading Without Walls” Display for grown-up readers, and try something new.  I’ll be giving it a whirl, too, beloved patrons, so we can compare notes as we explore all the stories this big world (and even bigger universe!) has to offer!

 

*For the Record: There are aspects of Amazon that I think are terrific–namely, that they have opened the book world to millions of readers who live in book deserts, and opened an e-book market that has made reading (and writing) easier for millions more.  Amazon Smile also lets you donate to NOBLE, which is great.  However, it has also, and continues to do a lot of harm to authors, to independent bookstores, and to readers.  So while I respect the good the corporation has done, I’ll always be a wee bit skeptical of it.  

On Book Stagnation and Readers’ Advisory

Did you ever have one of those days (or weeks….or months…) where you just couldn’t find anything to read?  Where every book you started failed to hold your interest through the first fifty (or twenty…or three…) pages?  Where even the covers annoyed you because you knew they weren’t the book  for you?   Where you genuinely begin believing you will never find another book to read ever again and there is no joy left in the world and all is darkness?

I’ve been there.

We’ve all been there–to a greater or lesser extent.  Your addiction to reading might not be quite as strong as mine, but I think you know what I mean.  It’s a more common issue for readers than we like to discuss.  Sometimes it’s a condition that Lady Pole has described here as a book hangover, when the last book you read was so good, so immersive, so engaging, that you don’t want to leave it’s spell once the final page has turned.   But sometimes, it has nothing to do with the last book you read.  Sometimes, it’s book stagnation.

We haven’t really discussed that one too much, but book stagnation refers to that feeling when you just can’t find a good book; when the publishing market and your personal tastes seem to be on very different pages (proverbially speaking).  Like when every romance novel I picked up wanted to be Fifty Shades of Grey.  If that was your thing, I’m very happy for you.  It just honestly did nothing for me.  Or every mystery I picked up featured a highly-detailed and gruesome murder, as told by the murderer, in the first pages (in italics, because all murderers talk in italics).  Again, if you enjoy these books, then I rejoice for you.  It’s just not my cup of tea at all.  Or when history books don’t have proper citations/footnotes/bibliographies.  That’s one that I refuse to tolerate, sorry.

But, thankfully, there is a remedy to both book hangovers and book stagnation.  And both can be found at the Library.  More specifically, from the people working at the Library.

Speaking for myself, one of my most favorite parts of the job is when a patron comes up and says that they like a certain author, or genre, or topic, and that they don’t like another genre, or a theme, or a type of plot, and asks me to help them find a new book based on that criteria.  Not only is it a fun challenge to find the bookish needle in the bookish hay of our stacks, but it’s also a true, heart-swelling moment of joy to talk about books and stories with another person, and connecting with another reader.  We may not see eye to eye about what makes a ‘great read’…in fact, we usually don’t.  And that makes it so much more fun, because it helps me appreciate the elements of a story that much more.

For example, I’ve had a long talk with patrons about scary stories.  And it was fascinating to learn what scares people in fiction.  For me, as we’ve discussed here, it’s a lot about the unknown, and the unexplored.  For others, it’s haunted houses.  For others, it’s true crime novels.  And for another, nothing was scary unless it had a soundtrack (so we headed to the DVD section of the Library).  Similar things happen with ‘funny’ books.  I delight in absurdities, while some patrons prefer black-as-night humor, and still others prefer humorous non-fiction like Erma Bombeck’s work, because the laughs come from empathy, rather than absurdity.

So imagine my joy when a fellow librarian friend of mine sent out a note to the Social Media last night saying that she was suffering from book stagnation and needed help!

I provide the recommendations she received in this hopes that it might encourage you to come in and find some new books for yourself, as well.

Here were the guidelines:

Books Recently Enjoyed:
The Rosie Project
A Man Called Ove

Dislikes:
Military History, Contemporary Romance, Gruesome Details in general (though mysteries are ok in theory), scenes of animals or children suffering

Recommendations:
(These are just a few of the huge pile that were suggested–feel free to check them out, or bring in your own list of ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ to get some more personalized recommendations!)

Non-Fiction:

Joe Gould’s TeethJoe Gould believed he was the most brilliant historian of the twentieth century. So did some of his friends, a group of modernist writers and artists that included E. E. Cummings, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, John Dos Passos, and Ezra Pound. Gould began his life’s work before the First World War, announcing that he intended to write down nearly everything anyone ever said to him. “I am trying to preserve as much detail as I can about the normal life of every day people,” he explained, because “as a rule, history does not deal with such small fry.” By 1942, when The New Yorker published a profile of Gould written by the reporter Joseph Mitchell, Gould’s manuscript had grown to more than nine million words. But when Gould died in 1957, in a mental hospital, the manuscript was nowhere to be found. Then, in 1964, in “Joe Gould’s Secret,” a second profile, Mitchell claimed that the book had been, all along, merely a figment of Gould’s imagination. Lepore, unpersuaded, decided to find out.

The Soul of an OctopusSy Montgomery’s popular 2011 Orion magazine piece, “Deep Intellect”; about her friendship with a sensitive, sweet-natured octopus named Athena and the grief she felt at her death, went viral, indicating the widespread fascination with these mysterious, almost alien-like creatures. Since then Sy has practiced true immersion journalism, from New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, pursuing these wild, solitary shape-shifters. Octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think?

Hidden Figures : the American dream and the untold story of the Black women mathematicians who helped win the space raceStarting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the civil rights movement, and the space race, [this book] follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances, and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.

Fiction:

Miss Jane:  Brad Watson has mad his career by expanding the literary traditions of the South, in work as melancholy, witty, strange, and lovely as any in America. Inspired by the true story of his own great-aunt, he explores the life of Miss Jane Chisolm, born in rural, early-twentieth-century Mississippi with a genital birth defect that would stand in the way of the central “uses” for a woman in that time and place–namely, sex and marriage. From the country doctor who adopts Jane to the hard tactile labor of farm life, from the highly erotic world of nature around her to the boy who loved but was forced to leave her, the world of Miss Jane Chisolm is anything but barren. Free to satisfy only herself, she mesmerizes those around her, exerting an unearthly fascination that lives beyond her still.

The Spellman FilesIn San Francisco, 28-year-old private investigator Isabelle “Izzy” Spellman works for her parents’ detective agency as does her 14-year-old sister Rae (their brother, the perfect and non-nosey one in the family, is a lawyer). The fact that the Spellmans are outlandishly dysfunctional, have trouble with boundaries, and are prejudiced against dentists (including the one Izzy starts dating) just adds to the fun–but then things take a bit of a serious turn when a family member goes missing.

Good luck, and good reading!

A Letter To You for National Library Week

It’s National Library Week, dear readers, and blogs across the Interwebs have been celebrating in their own way.  If you want to read more about National Library Week, the American Library Association has a great little fact sheet here.  It turns out that in the 1950’s, people were concerned that other people were “spending less on books and more on radios, televisions and musical instruments”, and thus organized to promote Libraries.

Since then, as we sincerely hope you know, Libraries have grown from “a place to check out a book” to a place where you can find radio shows to hear, tv shows to watch, and sheet music to read.  And on that note…no one here begrudges you the time you spend doing anything that makes you happy.  Especially not playing music instruments (yeesh!).  We do, however, try really, really hard, to be one of those institutions at which you would like to spend your free time.

Our pals at NOBLE posted this splendiferous photo of the Lynn Library from 1946 (whoever you are with your back to the camera?  I covet your sports coat).

Courtesy of https://digitalheritage.noblenet.org/

The website ILoveLibraries.org has a whole list of ways that you can celebrate National Library Week, which you can read here.

The American Library Association also released their list of Top Challenged Books of 2016…which we will be discussing in far more detail soon, I promise.

And our pals at BookRiot, in addition to putting out a post to help you talk in (Library) code, which made me faint with nerdy delight, also put out this phenomenal post about How To Support Your Local Library, which I would be delighted for you to read.

But that post got me to thinking…and so, for this National Library Week, I thought it might be fun to make a few suggestions about How to Support Your Local Librarians–this week, and every week:

  1. Please don’t apologize for asking a question.

Truly.  It’s why I am here.  If no one asked me questions, I would be out of a job.  And then I would be sad.  Also, I can promise you that any question asked in earnest is never a stupid question.

2. Please don’t apologize for returning a book late.

I am the reigning Queen of You’re Not Getting It Back ‘Til I’ve Finished It, so I am certainly not going to be the person to chastise you for not getting your books in on time.  That you bring them back to us, so that we can loan them out again, is what matters.  We don’t want anyone to have to wait too long for their stuff, so we would ask that you think about the other patrons waiting for the book/cd/dvd/bike lock/etc., that you checked out.  But please don’t feel bad about bringing those items home to us.

3. Please tell me what you thought of the book you read

I truly cannot tell you how big a kick I get out of patrons telling me that they enjoyed a book/cd/dvd/audiobook I helped them locate, convinced them to try, happened to check out for them.  But you know what?  I enjoy hearing that you hated them, too. From a librarian standpoint, it really helps to know what you, our patrons, think of the materials you check out, as it helps us plan our purchasing for the future, as well as to assemble some good Readers’ Advisory ideas for the future.  From a personal standpoint, I love knowing that you are engaging with your Library.  I get books that I loathe, too.  Viscerally.  And I hold grudges.  Knowing that you care enough to hold a grudge, too, is great!  Granted, if it’s something like Lolita or The Picture of Dorian Gray, I’ll probably make a sad face, but I promise, I’ll get over it.

4. Please Check Out All the Things You Can Carry

Seriously, people seem to treat books like cake or french fries–like they have a portion or a serving size to which consumers must adhere.  This is an untruth.  You can check out all the books and cds you’d like from us (we do have limits on the DVDs, though….sorry about that).  And you don’t have to read/hear/see them all before you return them, if you decide you don’t want to.  Take it from someone who may very well be crushed to death if the pile of books beside me ever topples over the wrong way–you can never have too many books.  So grab as many as you’d like!  And then, see Request #3.

5. Please Tell Us What You Want

We’re your library.  If you need a book renewed, we’ll do our darndest to renew it for you, even if it involves some technical creativity.  If you need a book or other material that we don’t have, we’ll use every resource at our disposal (and our resources are considerable, let me tell you) to get that material for you.  If you want us to buy a book or other material, including computer programs or online resource, let us know!  We have forms for those sorts of things because we want you to tell us what you want.  Granted, the money tree doesn’t bloom with great frequency, so we can’t promise to grant your every wish, but we do promise that we’ll do our very best to do so.

So there you have, it, beloved patrons.  I hope these points help you in loving your Library even more.  Happy National Library Week!