Libraries’ Transformative Powers

As a student of international development with a boundless love of libraries, I delighted in reading this article from Slate about “The Library’s Global Future.” My involvement in the education sector stemmed from my conviction that education, and libraries by extension, are vital to improving political and economic climates, preventing human rights abuses, and encouraging strong civil societies in developing (and developed!) countries.

As sad as I am to see that a future full of libraries with diminished catalogs of physical books, at least libraries will likely remain in some form as useful spaces for public discourse and inter-connectivity, both in person and via access to the Internet. I would love for the libraries of the future to continue pushing their purview further by providing an increasing array of public services, such as therapy groups and skills trainings. While I applaud the work that the Gates Foundation and others have sponsored, far more can be done in that arena, one in which government, non-profit, or corporate funding could have tremendous impact.

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Happy 1st Birthday!

Image result for dancing animalCraziness – it’s this blog’s first birthday already. I’m really proud of what I’ve done this year. Defying the name, there hasn’t been many tomes read – but this is my 150th blog post! And while it’s not a review (not much of anything really except an expression of my skipping sheep-like joy at getting this far), I hope that I will continue on for another year and that y’all will continue to follow it. Thank you so much for reading! 🙂

In the News: Wolf Hall on Masterpiece

Avid historical fiction/television buffs probably know that a BBC miniseries adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall debuted on Masterpiece. As I mentioned in my post about The Assassination of Margaret ThatcherI’m no fan of Mantel’s. However, this piece in The Washington Post got me contemplating (as the title says) “How ‘Wolf Hall’ will entertain millions – and threaten to distort history in the process.”

The author Gregory Wolfe (and what an ironic name!) suggests that writers of historical fiction have some responsibility to expose real history to their readers, and barring that are culpable for basically propaganda. While Wolfe seems to be among the anti-Thomas Cromwell congregation, he does have a point that Mantel is pushing an anti-Catholic agenda that may heavily conflict with historical facts. If I hadn’t read this article, however much I did or didn’t like the book, I wouldn’t have necessarily thought it to be untruthful just over-dramatized. And maybe it is true, in which case I congratulate her on voicing another marginalized perspective on a controversial figure. No human is entirely bad or good, so Cromwell can both be a self-serving bully and a pragmatic modernizer.

I certainly don’t want to curtail a novelist’s agency or imagination, but this is part of the reason I try to read a variety of fiction and non-fiction on topics I’m interested in, to avoid an author’s inherent bias towards the subject. So while I hope that people enjoy the newest entry in period dramas, I also want them to be aware of potential inaccuracy and take what they’re seeing with a grain of salt. One man’s martyr is another’s villain.

Harper Lee’s New Book!

Long-time followers of this blog (which excitingly just reached 100 posts!) may remember my excitement upon reading the first excerpt of The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee. Now sadly, I still haven’t had the opportunity to read that biography, but it has been eclipsed by this news – Harper Lee is publishing a new book!

According to Huffington Post, it was written in the 1950s as a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird and features an adult Scout. For some reason, Lee never published it until now. Go Set a Watchman will be released in July 2014 and I can’t wait! I promise a prompt review will follow 🙂

In the News: Diversity in YA

When I first read this article in Bustle, complaining that ‘Time’s “100 Best Young Adult Books” of All Time Is Very White…and Not Very YA,’ I had mixed reactions.

On one hand, as a non-white reader, it does occasionally bother me that most of the popular books feature white protagonists and growing up, I read maybe two books that related to the Indian-American experience. On the other hand, I want my best lists to be colorblind, for authors and their books not to be on there to fulfill a racial quota but because they really are the best. And with white authors dominating the market for the last few hundred years, it’s not exactly surprising that some of those classics show up on the list (i.e. A Catcher in the Rye, Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, etc).

It’s a popularity contest and the aforementioned classics have proven themselves by lasting. The most important thing to me is that now you can find diversity on the shelves where you couldn’t before, even when you’re not particularly looking for it. As these books are promoted and popularized, they’ll take over these lists, regardless of who creates them.

More concerning for this list’s authority is that it lacks definition behind “young adult.” Some of these titles seemed middle grade, others what I would consider young adult (high school and early twenties), and a few more I would think of as adult, such as Lord of the Rings. I can think of great authors of color in all three categories, but it’s harder to distinguish them when the field is blurred across age groups.

However, and most concerning of all, how the heck is the mindless drivel that is Twilight on the same level as To Kill A Mockingbird?! After discovering that, all points are moot because I’m not even taking this list seriously.

In the News: “Not Your Mother’s Library”

Followers of this blog may have noted that I post news pieces on libraries semi-frequently. That’s because some of my fondest memories are of libraries and I still find them to be peaceful and relaxing havens; however, I’m seriously concerned about their future. I don’t want them to go the way of bookstores and disappear, yet I can’t get behind this trend of converting them into e-facilities, lacking in real paper books.

The “Not Your Mother’s Library” article by Deborah Fallows in The Atlantic initially caught my eye because of the survey done by The Columbus Metropolitan Library on words to describe libraries of the past versus libraries of the future. While it’s gratifying to see that “books” and “research” remain crucial components in the imagined future, the word cloud suggests that the key purpose of libraries will be being “information” centers for the “community,” places where people can “access” “technology.”

If you combine those items rather than look at them individually, it leads to ideas like free child literacy programs and closer ties between libraries and local schools, which the Columbus Public Library is considering to be strategic priorities. The library isn’t just stopping with children – they also created adult literacy, financial literacy, and career literacy courses. Despite the focus on technology, including beefing up computer facilities, going this route creates a more personal touch to the library, a sense of service to the larger community that brings in a wider group of patrons. I can appreciate that as long as they also serve my bibliophilic needs!

P.S. Isn’t the library facade and Topiary Park gorgeous? I’m jealous I don’t live in Columbus!

In the News: Happy Banned Books Week!

Yes, I realize banning books is not a celebratory topic, but it’s better than burning books a la Farenheit 451, right? This is the 32nd Banned Books Week sponsored by the American Library Association, which uses this time to call attention to the issue of censorship and embrace the freedom of reading.

However, Kristen Scatton, author of this piece in Bustle,  caused me to reflect on how to moderate books without banning them. Because she’s right – while the dissemination of information is crucial to the way our society operates, there’s also some types of information that we don’t expose kids to because it’s inappropriate for their age. Despite how much I currently love George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, I wouldn’t give it to my 12 year-old self to read. At that age, I was obsessed with Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet, which was about growing up without being grown-up and apt for my age, after graduating from my 8 year-old self’s obsession with Harry Potter (not that I still wasn’t obsessed as a 12 year-old or even as a 21 year-old).

My point is that there’s some thematic commonalities between the three works, and all exist in the fantasy genre, but these ideas in each are tackled in ways that are appropriate for different age groups. I heartily agreed with Scatton’s point that it would be useful to create an age-based rating system for books to provide guidance for parents and teachers. Sure, some children have the maturity to read at a higher level and should be encouraged to do so, as my elementary school librarian did for me, but at least more information would be provided upfront rather than after the reader reaches the end of the book when what they know can’t be unknown!

I recently read The Queen of the Tearling and, as I noted on my review, was surprised at the unexpected adultness of some of its scenes. It’s billed as “young adult” so I could’ve easily picked it up as a 6th grader, when the mentions of rape and sex trafficking would’ve shocked my adolescent sensibilities. A rating system could prevent the same mistake being made by an actual 6th grader if they’re not ready for that content.

While I don’t necessarily agree that you need an adults-only section in libraries or that technology will be helpful in blocked access to restricted materials (I actually think the opposite is true), Scatton injects new ideas into the banned books debate, which has mainly centered on the question: Should books be banned and which ones? The answer: NO, none, never.