Thursday, July 17, 2008

A frenzy of joy...

Color this blogger PSYCHED!!!! Today is my third day as the Library Director of a small prep school library in Western Massachusetts. So far every day has yielded something else to thrill me beyond belief. First, my library was a stop on the underground railroad (no lie!), escaped slaves actually hid in the basement. Second, the coffee and bakery down the street makes coffee iced cubes, so that when they melt in your coffee they don't water it down. And third, here is a smattering of their summer book list (organized by subject): Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Husseini, What is the What by Dave Eggers, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, One Hundred Years of Solitude (in Spanish) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. For Art: Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (one of my favorite reads), Maus, A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. And, get this, they have a reading list for Phys Ed. Did you hear me... A reading list for Physical Education!!! Including The Teammates by David Halberstam, In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle by Madeleine Blais and A Walk In the Woods by Bill Bryson. They have a math reading list. This place is awesome. So much to read and do, I don't even know where to start. Holy Granola, this rocks!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

wow, I'm a lazy blogger

So many books, so little time. I have been reading a ton of YA books these past two months in mental preparation for my NEW JOB! Woo hoo!!! In July I will become the library director at a small prep school in Massachusetts.

So, what have I been reading?

The Golden Compass -- Phillip Pullman. I really enjoyed this. The story took a lot of concentration. It wasn't mindless reading. Big anti-Church sentiment. Great characters. The main little girl was kick-ass!

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party-- M.T. Anderson. Disturbing, interesting, let-down of an ending. Not sure what all the fuss was about, but the concept was horrifically fascinating.So Yesterday-- Scott Westerfeld. I felt compelled to read something trendy and that girls might like. I was pleasantly surprised. The main character is a 17 year-old 'trend hunter' who looks for fashion innovators/innovations, photographs them and provides them to a fashion consultant in the employ of a large company (possibly one that puts swooshes on all their sports shoes.) He mets an 'innovator' who laces her sneakers an a 'fetch' style and they proceed to hook up and solve the disappearance of the protagonist's employer. The young woman with the fetch shoelaces is a great fearless leader. Westerfeld has another book called Peeps that has a vampire theme. Might be a better read.

Currently reading a mobile library mystery. More on that later.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


We saw James Gurney, author of Dinotopia, speak at The Odyssey bookshop last weekend. He was great. He drew for us and spoke to everyone (kids between the ages of 6 and 14 and their parents) as if we were all fellow amateur paleontologists and artists. His enthusiasm was infectious and I felt that he made us all complicit in his curiousity. He spoke about questioning professional paleontologists about how the large, long-necked dinosaurs would drink, and about how a city made for both humans and dinosaurs might look.

At the end he signed all of our books and drew illustrations for us. He was amazing and although I had not yet read Dinotopia (nor has Max) we fell in love right a way! He is a gracious man who seemed to make everyone feel that they could share his brilliant mind and if we hadn't had these thoughts it's just merely a coincidence and we would all, of course, stumble upon such questions and answers in due time.

The one small snafu was that The Odyssey didn't have copies of his first book, and in fact we went to every bookstore in Hadley, Amherst and Northampton and could not find a copy. But we are working on getting a copy and we now have the latest book Journey to Chandara anxiously awaiting a read.

Thank you Mr. Gurney for sharing your world with us!

Here's a picture of his Waterfall city.

The People of the Book

I finally finished Geraldine Brook's wonderful book-- The People of the Book. Told from the point of view of a young Australian rare books expert, it tells the story of the Sarajevo Haggadah-- the first illumanated Jewish manuscript from the 15th century. This book spoke to me on many levels. As a person who holds Passover as the highlight of the Jewish year, and someone who loves used books not only because they are books and cheaper than new, but because the volumes themselves hold their own history, I found this book to be delightful. The parts about repairing antiquarian volumes, and the history of the haggadah itself were breath taking and clearly the subject of love for the author. The parts about Hanna, the woman doing the restoration, were a little lame and contrived. She was not a character as much as a conduit. But that was fine because the story of the book itself was really the main story and clearly the passion of the author.

I think this book would be wonderful to read back to back with Sheridan Hay's The Secret of Lost Things about a young kiwi bibliophile working in The Strand Bookstore in NYC and following the mystery of a missing Melville manuscript.

You can learn more about the author Geraldine Brooks and the Sarajevo Haggadah by listening to the podcast.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Don't Mess With Our Access!

Today's Librarian Superhero is: Gloria Won, a librarian at the University of San Francisco!!!

I heard a story today on NPR (how often do I say that, it's annoying!) Anyway-- there is this database called 'Popline' and it's the largest database on reproductive rights. Apparently they blocked the search term: 'abortion'. When Michael Klag, the dean of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, which maintains the POPLINE database found out that this search function had been removed, he immediately had it reinstated. Here's a link to the article.

How, might you ask, did Michael Klag find out that the search function had been rendered dysfunctional in the first place? "The block was discovered by medical librarians doing routine searches." Gloria Won, USF librarian, discovered that Popline had decided to turn the term abortion into a "stop word." This means if you search the term 'abortion' you get zero hits.

Won is quoted as saying: "...abortion is a perfectly good noun, there's nothing wrong with it," she says. "And we sent it out to some library list-servs so medical librarians would know about this, and it just spiraled after that."

Woo hoo for Won!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

E.L. Doctorow at WNEC

I went to see E.L. Doctorow speak at WNEC (full disclosure, I'm a librarian there). He spoke about religion and writing. His premise was wonderful, if a little esoteric. Some of the highlights included his idea that there are two types of people who believe that if it is written it must be true-- children and fundamentalists. He told a beautiful story about his grandparents and parents following the same path of secular men and religiously Jewish women.
But I personally had two favorite parts. The first was when he was talking about the importance of librarians in the lives of writers. He said that librarians are the keepers of the canon by which a writer lives. And when he was asked about tips for young writers he said (and I'm paraphrasing here) "Read, read widely and voraciously. Read anything you can get your hands on."
I was so thrilled with this piece of advice because I am a reader. I never stop. I finish one book and the next day I start another. Often I have more than one book going at a time. But I truly believe that many people believe that they can have innate talent without doing the work. In our culture we praise 'talent' without expressing the need for hard work. Example: Musicians should just be born that way or be discovered as a child prodigies, but the idea of hours of practice or years of training is distasteful to us. I believe I can tell when a writer is not a reader. They often fail to recognize the history inherent in a certain theme or they mistake an idea that has often been examined in literature as something that is uniquely theirs. I also find that writers who don't read don't know about creating word paintings and don't know how critical it is to choose the right words to connecting with the audience. They can often focus on basic plot function or character introduction to a fault. They can also be clueless about the editing process. All of this seems to be a function of our concept that we all have a story to tell, therefore, we are all writers. Or that if a person has 'promise' then the practice is not as important.

E.L. Doctorow has thrown down a gauntlet for all of us in higher ed. Our students must read. They must read widely and they must read our historically significant writers to understand from where our cultural touchstones have come. I have often railed against the cultural hegemonic 'lists' of our legacy of Western civilization, ala Allan Bloom, in "The Closing of the American Mind". On the other hand, I don't want our students favoring The Simpsons to the exclusion of Shakespeare, or Family Guy instead of Faulkner.

On the down side I felt that Mr. Doctorow was not fully able to answer audience questions. And I am not sure about his idea that a person's religion or culture is not central to their writing. I feel that most of E.L. Doctorow's work is very much tied to his Jewish heritage. Maybe not his religion, but certainly his culture and his frame of reference. Maybe that is only evident to other Jewish people, I don't know. But I do know that if someone references an Easter dinner or Christmas morning. I am not always able to feel if the writing was authentic. But I am able to see the references and the themes of the culture of literature. I get those references because that is my culture. And it is a culture that we all can share. It's not about where you come from, or how you celebrate your holidays. It's about reading.. and reading and reading.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The People of the Book

I am currently reading The People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks. So far it's really cool. It's a fictional account of the Sarajevo Haggadah.

Alison Bechdel at Amherst

Alison Bechdel
Originally uploaded by fototineke
Ok, so this photo was taken at when I saw her at Amherst last Wednesday evening. But it could have been! I was a little too embarrassed to start snapping photos at such an small setting. Plus I was sitting and chatting with her girlfriend, so it just felt too weird.

Anyway, it was a great talk. She read from her memoir 'FunHome' and I was reminded how poignant it was and how much she relies on bibliography to tell the story of her life and her fathers. Both of her parents were English teachers and much of the action takes place in relationship to the books they were reading at the time. When her father and mother were courting via letters, he was in the army, much of their narrative was based on F. Scott Fitzgerald. And Alison's coming out had much more to do with literary discovery than actual discovery, although there's some of that too!

Alison also spoke at great length about her artistic process and technique. It was fascinating for someone who doesn't even draw stick figures. She is truly one of the most organically geek-y smart people I've ever seen. I was awed!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Thinking about Dr. King

Tomorrow it will be 40 years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. 40 years! I know this as well as I know my own birthday because I was born on March 4th, 1968 and Dr. King was killed on April 4th 1968. This makes my birthday forever linked to his death. When I was little my mother always told me that this meant that working for social justice was central to my being. Nice mom, no pressure there. I am sure that I will never be able to live up to this central creed, but I do my best.

After Max was born we decided that he would have a baby naming instead of a bris. The bris is the traditional way a male child is brought into the covenant of Judaism (it is a ritual circumcision done 8 days after birth). This is an ancient ritual that goes back to Abraham. In contrast, up until recently, when a girl was born there was no covenant to bring her into the Jewish faith. In the past 20 or so years Jews(non-orthodox) have been doing baby naming ceremonies for girls to welcome them into the faith. This seems not to be as binding as the bris, which is also known as the 'covenant of blood'. However, I believe strongly that as our society grows more egalitarian, so our rituals should reflect that. Babies of both genders should be brought into the Jewish faith in the same way. And since I completely disagree with circumcision for girls, the only reasonable alternative is to forgo the brit (or bris) for boys and do baby naming ceremonies for all babies.

The reason I am providing this background is that it is an important part of Max's birth story, and tied to the memory of Dr. King. Lisa and I decided that instead of a bris we would do a baby naming for Max. We chose Martin Luther King weekend for this celebration. In preparation for this ceremony we chose to incorporate many quotes from Dr. King and welcomed Max into our family which is as tied to our belief in social justice and equality as we our to the bonds of Judaism. I hope that in this way our family will continue the tradition of being tied to the memory and beliefs of Dr. King. I hope that as I can not think of my birthday without thinking of Dr. King, Max will think of his ceremony of welcome as inextricably linked to social justice and a celebration of Dr. King.