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.

Friday, March 28, 2008


Yesterday. What a busy day. I finally finished Brookland by Emily Barton. It takes place in the late 18th and early 19th century in Brooklyn, New York. The primary characters are the daughters and owners of Winship Daughters Gin distillery. Although I did love the characters and felt very attached to them, their lifestyles, actions and conversations were hardly believable for young women in the late 1700s. The narrator is the eldest daughter, Prue, who is the main owner of the distillery and the behind-the-scenes architect of the first Brooklyn bridge. Throughout the novel she is at times writing her story as a letter to her eldest daughter who has moved away and is about to have her own first child. Despite the twin flaws of believability and plot points, it was a really nice book. As I said, I felt very drawn to the characters and there is a part in the beginning where the river has frozen over and Prue and her sister are escorted across the river for their first trip to Manhattan, by their father. I loved the image of a family in the 1780s making their way across the river from their little hamlet to a 'big' city filled with new and exciting adventures. It was wonderful to imagine this trip. All in all the novel had it's fatal flaws but was an enjoyable journey. And I learned more about the distilling of gin than I ever thought possible.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

On my way home from my PVAAL meeting...

Oops. On my way home, I was so excited about library stuff that I ran a red light and got stopped by a cop. So, He asks me for my license and reg and asks me: "Where are you coming from?" And I say: "Do I really have to tell you, you're gonna laugh at me". And he says: "Well, no, not if you don't want to". And so I told him: "Well, I was at a meeting of Academic Librarians." and in fact he did laugh. So I proceed to tell him that I was so sorry for running the red light and I'm usually very careful, but I was so excited about some stuff that I heard at the meeting that I must have just missed seeing the light. And by this time he was laughing so hard at my honesty routine that he let me off with a warning.

Truthfully, I knew he'd let me off. Who would ticket a librarian driving home from a meeting?! It was pretty funny though.

PVAAL meeting

I am so psyched! I went to a PVAAL (Pioneer Valley Academic Librarians) meeting tonight and I feel so energized. I talked to a lot of librarians and got so many ideas. It was totally great. I think I haven't been so excited by new ideas in a while. G. told me about how he's using libguides to do instruction in his library. I heard a great talk about adjunct faculty, publishing and, generally, being excited about reference and stuff we do in libraries by one of my favorite professors from Library school. Here's a link to her talk

It was so nice to be around librarians who are excited about what they do and who come up with new ideas and thoughts about how to get our services to people. It was really refreshing and it made me realize that it's totally nice to get out in the world and talk to other librarians, not about the piddly politics in our libraries or how much work we have, but about what excites us about librarianship and how we can use new technologies to reach people...
not to mention, older 'technology' or no tech at all. I was talking to two librarians after the shindig and I mentioned that I created a account for one of my departments, and I emailed it to them with instructions on how to log in and add resources, etc. and they didn't respond to my email. And (duh) my librarian pals said (in much nicer terms): "get off your ass and go to them. Make a connection. Have lunch and discuss it". Now why didn't I think of that?!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Bookstores in W. Mass

Yesterday I took my mom bookstoring, one of my favorite activities, in honor of my 40th birthday (which was a few weeks ago). We followed the advice of an article in the New York Times titled: Well-Marked Trails for Bibliophiles. We visited Whately Antiquarian Books and The Meeting House in So. Deerfield. They have been on my list to visit for a while, but I hadn't gotten a chance to go before yesterday. So, Whately Antiquarian is home to 35 rare book dealers. I found a first ed. illustrated Rudyard Kipling for $25-- absolutely a beautiful book with a mix of color and b/w drawings. I can't wait to read it with Max. I also picked up a mint condition Pickwick Papers, with type large enough that I may actually be able to read it. What is the problem with some of these old Dickens editions from the 1920s and 30s? The type is so small and the kerning so tight I can never read for more than 5 minutes. But this one is totally readable. Now the trick is to read it!

I also bought a first edition of my favorite Vikram Seth book-- The Golden Gate and a Dave Eggers novel.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Arthur and the Forbidden City

Well, I didn't love this book, but I adored how fun it was to read aloud with Max. I have such fun discussing literature and reading to him. I will be sorry about the day when we don't read together. I have learned that I love reading out loud and I am pretty good at it.

But the other day we were reading and the line was: "Arthur looked at something like a pig might look at a remote control." and Max said: "That's not a very good description because I don't think I know how a pig looks at a remote control." and I thought: "He's right. It's a poor analogy because it doesn't really describe how Arthur is making sense of what he's seeing."

Literature and kids go together like ice cream and hot fudge! Maybe not all kids, but one can hope.

Vita Sackville-West

grew up in a house that had 52 staircases and 365 rooms. Think about that. How freaky!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I love how much...

my kid loves books. Yesterday we flew home from Florida. We had a stop-over in North Carolina from around 7:30-9:30. Max and I cuddled in a seat and read, read, read. We are currently reading Luc Besson's Arthur duet-- Arthur and the Minimoys and Arthur and the Forbidden City. Granted we were at an exciting part-- 100pgs. to the end of the book. But people stopped and listened; they smiled at us. One man said that I could read audiobooks for a living. Another said that he wished he could sit near us on the plane so that he could hear what happened in the story. Many people complemented Max on how well he listened. Max, Lisa and I discussed what was happening and a few times Max didn't understand a part and we went back and re-read it with some explanation.

I watched people in the airport with their children a lot this week and I did not see much (if any) reading aloud. Kids were playing video games, taking pictures with cell phones, watching dvds and playing on computers. Some older kids were reading to themselves. I did not see families reading to young children. However, I noticed when we did it people were delighted. They wanted to be a part of it. Many older women smiled at me and Max, as if remembering times when they read to their young children.

We are all really enjoying the story, despite a poor review in School Library Journal. And we had seen the movie, so that might have helped us see the action in our minds. But we read and read for hours to finish the first book in the duet. When we were done, Max asked me: Is there an epilogue or something to tell us what happens next? Well, I don't need to tell you that I kvelled! My kid knows what an epilogue is and he knows how it is used as a literary device. How much does he rock?!

So we finished Arthur and the Minimoys and started Arthur and the Forbidden City. I read ahead after Max fell asleep and it gets pretty romantic/kiss-y. I hope he'll still enjoy it, but I can't imagine that it will be as fun as the adventure/battle parts. I guess we'll find out.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


E.L. Doctorow is coming this spring to the college where I work. Many are looking forward to this visit and so we are all reading his works. I have just finished re-reading Ragtime and remembering how much I enjoyed it for it's seamless weaving together of a strong, beautiful quilt of a story, and it's vivid imagery.

I loved seeing the lower east side through Evelyn's eyes: "...Hebrew letters looking to her eyes like arrangements of bones". And of course the very erotic scene between Evelyn and Emma Goldman. It was interesting that Mother's Younger Brother became a participant in this scene between two women instead of merely a voyeur. I believe had the book been written today he might have been the unseen watcher, of a tender yet highly charged encounter between Emma and Evelyn, but in the 1970s our dominant cultural imagination had to see the climax as the providence of a man. (see pgs 52-54 in Random House hardcover edition).

I also found the end chapters of Mother's Younger Brother's journey to Mexico to fight with Pancho Villa and our own Nation's foray into that same war as very pertinent to our situation today. Teddy Roosevelt accuses Woodrow Wilson of "finding war abhorrent". However, history shows us that after Wilson's practice war in Mexico and his entrance into WWI on our country's behalf, he apparently didn't find it so abhorrent as to avoid it. The sentence that makes it so personal for me is: "Neither Theodore Roosevelt's son Quentin, who was to die in a dogfight over France, nor the old Bull Moose himself who was to die in grief not long thereafter, would survive Wilson's abhorrence of war."

It makes you wonder how gung-ho our President would be to wage war if every time he did so his own daughters were enlisted to be on the front lines. War seems easy to wage if someone else's children are fighting it.

Anyway, I digress. It was a great read and I'm glad to have the opportunity to visit and re-visit with a writer of Doctorow's talent. I am looking forward to hosting him this spring. I am also looking forward to hosting Spring (I am soooo over winter).

Monday, January 21, 2008

Barker at the grounds at the Vermont state fair, Rutland (LOC)

From the Library of Congress flickr site. Barker at the grounds of the Vermont state fair, Rutland. 1941.

Deb on LC Flickr site...

On Jan. 18 the Library of Congress opened it's new pilot project on flickr. The LC has uploaded over 3000 photos from it's collection onto a flickr site called The Commons. I am looking forward to viewing them and hopefully adding tags when I get a chance.

Here is a link to The Commons.
Here is a link to the Library of Congress blogpost
the NPR story about it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hugo Cabret Wins the Caldecott!

The Invention of Hugo Cabret was one of my favorite books this year. It is a combination of beautiful prose and breathtaking pencil drawings. Sometimes the prose takes the story and sometimes the pictures. Here's a link to the book's website. It's well worth a look!

The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Here are some of the drawings. Magnificent!

Me at Blogging workshop

Me at Blogging workshop
Originally uploaded by deblev

Blogging Workshop

Shame on me. I taught a Blogging workshop for the Valley Press Club last Wednesday (almost a week ago), but I barely mentioned it here. Color me chagrinned because one of the things I taught in the class was timeliness of posts. sigh.
Well, it was my first blogging workshop to an audience larger than my college community. I think it went very well for a first try. See photos above.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Nope, not a treatise on marriage, gay or straight. It's a quick read I just finished. A friend from work encouraged me to break out of my monstrous book queue to read this instead. It grabbed me at the beginning because the main character started college the same year I did, 1986, and at an alternative college in Western Massachusetts, that could have been Hampshire, my alma mater. It was called Graymont and wasn't as much a portrait of Hampshire as it seemed initially.

I enjoyed the book due to it's Hampshire/not-Hampshire connection, but the situations were contrived and the characters were a little aloof. However, I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, I get a certain pleasure out of a book that I can read quickly (in under two weeks) and feel accomplished when I finish it. Silly, but I'm such a slow reader, it just makes me feel good.

Cheers to snow!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Charlotte's Web

Max, Lisa and I recently listened to George Plimpton read Charlotte's web. We listened to it on the way to NY. Max really loved it and I had forgotten how delightful it is. E.B White was a total word smith and so many of his images were delightful. What fun! I really love listening to books on the ipod on long trips. Almost as much as I love reading aloud. I hope Max will want to read Trumpet of the Swan.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Blogging workshop...

I'm about to teach my blogging workshop to professional communicators. I am a little nervous, but I think it will go ok. I hope I've prepared enough.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Hawksbill Sea Turtle
Originally uploaded by takau99
I am new to SCUBA diving, I just received my certification last summer. I love to look at underwater photography on the web, so I often look at I joined the SCUBA Diving group on flickr so I can see photos like this one!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Chabon v. Diaz

No, it's not a welterweight match-up on ESPN. Michael Chabon, pulitzer prize winner for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Junot Diaz author of the much-lauded The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao are two contemporary writers. Chabon writes from a place where his Judaism and that of his characters is very central. His recent novel, The Yiddish Policeman's Union, takes place in a slightly alternate universe where, after WWII, Jews lost the battle for Israel/Jerusalem to the Palestinians who lived there and were given a temporary homeland in Sitka, Alaska. The area is about to be reverted from a temporary home for the Jews back to Alaskan territory and everyone is having a little trouble with this.

Junot Diaz writes about Domincans in the Diaspora, namely New Jersey. His book is about a dungeons and dragons, nerd-y, sci-fi writing Dominican kid and his family in N.J. A lot of the book takes place in the Trujillo horrors of the island.

Why am I comparing these two? Well, they are very similar. Chabon writes a lot about the Jewish diaspora, peppers his writing with Yiddish-isms and Jewish asides that a non-Jewish reader wouldn't know and he makes no effort to translate or explain. Diaz writesa bout the Domincan diaspora, peppers his writing with Dominican-isms, Domincan/Spanish slang (I think it's Dominican slang because it was not at all similar to Mexican slang which I learned a lot of when I lived with a bunch of Oaxicans in San Francisco), and makes no effort to translate or explain.

The two books, read back-to-back, were very interesting for me because with the Chabon, I felt like the insider and wondered how people on the outside (ie: non-Jews) would relate to this book and with the Diaz, I felt completely on the outside, not in on the jokes or inside view at all and like I was missing a big part of the story. It was an interesting journey to read these so close together. In the end, I really loved both of them and thought they were both great books. However, I do feel like I connected with the Chabon on a gut level and I enjoyed the Diaz on an educational/peer-into-a-strangers-life sort of way. Two very different reactions and two very similarly styled writers. How cool.

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