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Archive for the ‘books’ Category

A New Year, a New Start

Whooooa. So much for posting more last year. I expected to have so much to say about my first job as a bona fide librarian, but as it turned out, I was so busy getting my bearings and learning how to do my job that I didn’t have much energy left to formulate sentences about that job. Well, as they say, there’s always next year. Or, this year, as the case may be. As far as resolutions go, mine are usually pretty nebulous, but I do hope to spend some of my free time in 2010 writing more, about my chosen profession, about living in Walla Walla, and about books.

I also hope to read more in 2010. More specifically, I hope to read more new fiction. As you can see, in 2009 I didn’t read much that was shiny and new. I re-read Harry Potter for the fifth or sixth time, and I even re-read the Twilight saga (at which point I realized just how sexist and messed up that story really is). Well, I’m making it a goal in 2010 to read at least one piece of brand, spanking new fiction every month. I’ve already started with Julie Myerson’s The Lost Child, which is so far quite good (though not fiction). And I just picked up Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, for which I have high hopes.

So here’s to hearing more from me this year. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll actually find interesting things to say.

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The podcast for the Banned Books panel we held last fall if finally up on the GSLISCast website. Ellen Giroud, Robie Harris, Penelope Johnson and Anne L. Moore, authors and librarians, spoke about their experiences with book challenges, the history of book challenges, and what you can do if you’re faced with a challenge in your library. This was a great event, one I’m really proud we managed to pull off, and I’m so glad these great speakers were recorded by the always helpful GSLISCast crew.

If you’re interested in book banning in the United States, even if you’re not a librarian, the podcasts are free and open to all, so please check it out.

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Feminist Books for Kids

The Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the ALA (wow, we librarians sure now how to complicate things) comes up every year with the Amelia Bloomer List, a list of great feminist books for kids. The 2009 list has been released! These books all showcase girls and women who go against the grain, stand up for something they believe in, are courageous and unique and cool. The books include fiction and non-fiction, and the list includes offerings for kids off all ages. This list is well worth checking out if you have kids (boys or girls), if you buy books for a library, or if you teach. Man, I don’t do any of these things and I still want half of these books.

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I found this list on a friend’s blog: It is a list created by the National Endowment for the Arts, and she writes that they claim most American adults have read only six of these hundred books. SIX! That is almost nothing. I tried to find evidence for this claim on the internets, but my librarian skills aren’t working very well this morning. I’ll update when I find something. Anyway, someone has turned it into a fun bloggy game.

Here’s what you do:
1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you LOVE.
4) Reprint this list on your own blog.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible (um, how many people have actually sat down to read the Bible? Like, straight through?)
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (the COMPLETE works? Really? No, but I’ve read a significant number of the plays.)
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34 Emma – Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden-
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown (Um, why is this on the list? My confidence in the NEA is faltering.)
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding (Again: Really? Bridget Jones get on here?)
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola (Hmm, not this one, but I’ve read tons of other Zola.)
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – A. S. Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom (Yeah, I concur with Katy: I’m not reading this, ever.)
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad (Many, many times.)
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery-en francais, too
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare (Didn’t we cover this one in the Complete Works? I’m starting to have my doubts about this list…)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Am I a snob because I’m surprised I’ve only read 49 of these?

Whatever, I have my doubts about the reputability of this list anyway. But I do love lists. And I have been reminded of some more books I really want to read.

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The Baby-Sitters Club

I stopped at a thrift store today, and started perusing the books, as I am wont to do. And much to my delighted surprise, I found a copy old copies of Baby-sitters Club books. The series was my absolute favorite when I was a kid, and when I found out a few years ago they were out of print, it made me kinda sad. Of course I had to buy them at the store today. So freaking awesome!

I’ve been reading real, grown-up books lately, too. I just finished Tom Perrotta’s most recent, The Abstinence Teacher, and liked it much more than I expected. I’ve always enjoyed Perrotta’s books, but never found them particularly thought provoking or moving. This new one, though…I can’t stop thinking about it, and thinking about the wave of religious fanaticism sweeping the country, which obviously inspired Perrotta’s book. I’ve actually been working on a more complete review, which I’ll get up here soon.

In the meantime, though, I think I’m going to have to spend an afternoon hanging out with Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, and Stacey. And it will be grand.

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I picked up Everything is Miscellaneous to read while on vacation, and was promptly made fun of by my library school colleagues, because, apparently, it’s an assigned text in one of the cataloging classes. Well, I commend the person who’s assigning this book, because it’s really excellent. David Weinberger does a great job talking about complicated issues of information organization and changing knowledge structures in a way that is accessible and even entertaining.

Weinberger’s book discusses the ways that the new digital order is changing our innate drive to organize the world around us. He claims that humans have always been trying to bring order to an essentially miscellaneous world, and that the growth of the digital allows everything to remain in its miscellaneous state, while allowing each individual to order and access things in his or her own way. According to Weinberger, this frees people up for more higher-order work: innovating, thinking, collaborating, and creating, instead of organizing and ordering.

I think this book has some really fascinating implications for, most significantly, education. Weinberger only briefly discusses the way that students and teachers are using the digital infrastructure to learn and work differently, and I would have liked a little more depth on how students’ learning styles are changing, and how our educational systems are reacting to these changes. My guess is that they aren’t reacting nearly fast enough. I think it could be really interesting to spend some time thinking about how to bring this new disordered order into education, to take advantage of how people really learn.

So whether the book is assigned or not, I highly recommend it. I’m searching for some follow up blog posts, as I’m really interested to hear what other people have to say about Weinberger’s ideas. If you’ve read something interesting about digital organization, please send it my way!

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The Phantom Tollbooth

Ok, so this has nothing to do with libraries and the massive amount of finals work I’m doing now, but I just discovered that The Phantom Tollbooth, one of the greatest movies ever made (no, I don’t love hyperbole at all), is NOT available on DVD. This is a travesty, people. Thankfully, someone else agrees and has set up a petition to re-release the movie. If you find yourself as appalled as I am that you are unable to Netflix this childhood classic, go ahead and add your signature. The petition site is a little funny, and it’s quite likely that signing it will have no effect, but you don’t need to give them your email address or anything, so it can’t hurt, right?

In lieu of blowing off finals-related stress this weekend with that excellent movie, I’ll just have to try to find a copy of the book in the library this afternoon.

(I have been on a serious YA lit kick lately. I’m not particularly interested in reading anything new, though; I’ve been revisiting the classic and not-so-classic books of my childhood. Anyone else remember The Dollhouse Murders? On the list for the coming weeks: James and the Giant Peach, The Borrowers, Anastasia Krupnik, and The Pistachio Prescription.)

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Oh man, I have been totally crap about updating this site. June, you say? No, no, I didn’t go an entire month without an update, did I? Well, I certainly didn’t go an entire month without reading. And I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear about the crazy Harry Potter obsession that was happening in this house. And I mean for weeks before Book 7 was released. We re-read books 1 through 6. Yes, yes we did. We obsessively discussed Snape’s true intentions. Was he evil? Was he good? Was he evil? We pondered who would die and who would live, and whether Rowling would really do the unthinkable and kill off Harry himself. Yes, we were much like many, many other people in this country. In fact, when I perused the HP websites on the interwebs, I felt very comforted that I was actually much less crazy than many other fans.

So what did I think of the final installment? I thought it was freaking awesome, that’s what! I was seriously bummed that I finished reading it in less than 24 hours and I had to go back and re-read immediately, because I just wasn’t ready to be finished with it yet. Was I disappointed? Not at all. Ok, hardly at all. Really! Hardly at all!

It’s almost blasphemous to say anything negative about J.K. Rowling in this household, and I honestly did think Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was the best, most engaging, edge-of-your-seat exciting, moving, awesome of the books. What was I disappointed about? I’m not even entirely sure. Maybe it’s actually just lingering sadness that it’s over and there are no more books to come. I guess I just wanted more answers, as I always do. I wanted to know why the prophecy existed at all. I wanted to know why Harry was the chosen one. I wanted a bigger picture of the wizarding world and the invisible forces that make it work, because, well, I guess that’s just the kind of person I am. And considering those are the kinds of answers you never get in real life, either, I shouldn’t really expect them of a fake world.

The epilogue I thought was a bit unnecessary, but everyone else I’ve talked to wanted to know what happens next, so I guess I’m alone in that one.

Oh, and I’m still confused about the whole elder wand ownership thing. I believe I might have to go back and check out the end of Book 6 yet again for a very close reading of wand-related details.

Overall, yes, I was very happy with this end to the decade-long saga of Rowling’s money-making. I’m sad that it’s over, but I certainly don’t want to see any more books in this series, or books about the next generation of wizards or anything of the sort. I mean, I think it would be great to see more books by Rowling generally, I just hope they’re about something different. And I’ve been having a damned hard time finding other things to read that satisfy me in quite the same way. Ahh well. I guess I just have to get through this period of mourning before I’m reading to move on.

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Last night Eunice asked me to come up with a list of books I think she should read, with brief synopses. I was instantly excited–this is exactly the kind of project I need to keep me busy this summer, as my job starts to wind down and I get ready to go back to school. And it is the perfect thing to include here on this site. You may see bits and pieces in this spot, but the whole list will exist as a separate page, ever expanding and updating. There are hundreds of books I can (and do) recommend, and as Eunice pointed out last night, almost every day of my life I tell at least one person about one book I think they should read.

And I’ll start right now:

Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent is a great piece of summer reading. The man is one of the funniest comedic writers I’ve come across–laugh out loud on the subway funny. The first of his books I read was The Lost Continent, which I picked up because it’s about the place where I was born: the great vast middle of the country. Bryson drives all over small town America, lamenting the loss of small town uniqueness as we move into the twenty-first century, and making hilarious observations about diner food, roadside attractions, seedy hotels, and the joys of driving a non-air conditioned old car down narrow, deserted country roads. This book made me fall in love, both with this country and with this writer, and set me on the path of reading everything he’s ever written. If you haven’t yet been introduced to this brilliant humorist you are sorely missing out, and I’d like to thank my aunt Karen for introducing me to him four and a half years ago. My life has been made better for it.

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Summer by Edith Wharton

When I finished Edith Wharton’s Summer, I slammed the book shut and turned to the boy in a huff: “This ending sucks!” I’m not one of those types who always wants a happy ending, but this heroine seemed to deserve so much better. Wharton created a truly unique character, one who so perfectly reflects the imperfections of human beings, it’s hard to let go and allow her such an imperfect ending. You want, just once, for someone so realistically flawed to get the white horse and the prince and to ride off into the sunset. Especially since you’re so relieved the author didn’t just kill her off or something, as so many literary heroines in Charity Royall’s predicament were punished in the early twentieth century.

Marilyn French’s Introduction in this edition helped me get over my initial disappointment. The Introduction is one of those that most certainly should be read after the novel itself, but it’s well worth going back to. French’s reading of Charity Royall’s character, and the place of a character like this in fiction of the time, is insightful, and brought me a greater appreciation of Charity and her author.

Wharton has always been one of my favorite writers because she does capture women so wonderfully. She had a nuanced way of exploring the restrictions of womanhood, and the emotional life that was all women were allowed. Her novels also shine a light for the contemporary reader onto the places where those same restrictions still apply. Summer, which was quite scandalous for its time, felt out what it was like for a woman who wanted to embody her own sexuality without giving up her dignity and self-worth. And while Charity’s ending belongs in no romance novel, she does, at least, survive. In fact, I didn’t realize how ingrained the literary custom of killing off wayward heroines is until I started realizing that I expected it, even from Wharton.

So while I might have slammed the book shut in disappointment on reading that last word, I quickly came to the realization that Summer truly is one of Wharton’s best novels, and one that shows her courage and willingness to realistically explore the things very few people want to, even now: people who aren’t perfect.

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