Wednesday, September 28, 2011

To Ban, or Not to Ban: The Motivations of Censorship

The drive to ban a book is driven by one or two motives: book challengers wish to protect or control. There is a fine line between protecting and controlling.

Person A, when he's upset and deeply disturbed by a book, wants to protect others from having a similar negative experience by suggesting a book ban. Yet the trouble, of course, is that what bothers someone deeply may be treasured and loved by another. If we let whoever gets offended dictate book bans there will simply be no library. There are books I like with religious connotations, like A Wrinkle in Time, which I know some people have challenged because religious messages bother them. So, when I come across a book that really puts me off I try to remember that the freedom to read A Wrinkle in Time is only guaranteed because others are allowed to read what they want as well and that includes books I find repulsive, false or potentially dangerous.

Person B is driven to challenge a book because he fears ideas in the book will cause others to move outside of his control. Person B often thinks he is protecting the others but really it boils down to control. First, ask yourself, can I really control [people's religious beliefs, my child's sexuality, if my neighbor will grow up to be an ax murderer, etc.]? There is next to nothing we can control so the answer, if we're being honest, is likely a no. Secondly, ask, will banning a book containing religious beliefs, sexuality or violence make these issues go away? I think not. These issues are not in our society because someone wrote a book about them; rather, they are issues our society grapples with so authors are writing about them. 

That being said, I do not want to underplay the power of books. I would not have majored in English or gone to school to be a librarian if I believed books do not have the power to change people. Words are not "just words." Words have meaning, they convey ideas and ideas can be persuasive. But we have minds with the power of discernment, too, and if we want others to respect our minds, our rights to our ideas and beliefs and our rights about what we read, then we must, must, must respect others' rights to the same. Down with mind control!

After much thought, I feel these rights ought to be extended to minors as well. I understand the motivation to protect and minors do need protection but do not forget to respect children and teenagers. Respect their right as growing people to make choices about what is wrong and right. Respect their intellectual pursuit, through reading, of figuring out what they believe about the world. Discuss the issues they are reading about -- don't attempt to ban the issues by banning the book because, well, you can't. The issues are here to stay. If we want kids to be strong thinkers, and not just sponges soaking up every idea they come across, then we must allow them to flap their wings, intellectually with reading, when they are ready and be there to support them if they are unsure of the ideas they encounter in the atmosphere in which we live.

Reading is an intellectual pursuit whether it's a romance novel or a graduate student's dissertation that one reads. Reading is a quiet conversation with oneself of which the text is a catalyst. Reading prompts thinking, thinking prompts creativity and creativity solves problems. Encourage reading and support Intellectual Freedom!

Banned Books Week is celebrated Sept. 24-Oct. 1st, 2001. To find out more, visit ALA's website.

Musings of a Grad Student: Officially a Second Year Student

I am now in my third semester on my way to becoming a librarian. Here's a list of classes I'm taking:

  • Organizational Management: Survey of management issues common to all information environments--understanding organizations, decision making, hiring and personnel, grant writing, and marketing.
  •  Beginning Cataloging and Classification: Systems for describing materials and information in catalogs and organizing them for effective retrieval in libraries, museums, and other information centers; AACR2 descriptive principles, Dewey and Library of Congress classifications, Sears and LC subject headings, cataloging networks and services. 
  • Literacy and Learning: Learning and literacy theory relevant to work in information services; how librarians can help people process information and use it to form understanding and create new knowledge.
             Course descriptions taken from my school's website.

I agonized over what courses to take this semester as there were so many good ones offered. Organizational Management is a required course and so far I think very worthwhile. I feel like much of what I learned in Research Methods last semester is beginning to make more sense as we actually write proposals and create surveys. 

A part of me really wanted to take "Resources for Children" and a topics course on archives/preservation but I knew I wanted to take Literacy and Learning. It was recommended by a recently graduated student and I am enjoying the course. The readings are very theoretical but about important educational issues like convergence culture the nature of research strategies and assignments. Class discussion is very interesting and makes me think about what role public libraries play in supporting literacy and learning.

The cataloging class was a last minute decision and while reading rules from AACR2 (Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, Second Edition) is not the most exciting thing, I do feel I'm learning very useful information that will help me as a librarian some day even if I do not actually do the cataloging. Main entries, the chief source of information, subject headings -- all good things to know about when working in a library.

In addition to classes, I am still working at my public library as the Children's Department intern. I'm hosting Wii Gaming once a week and, about once a month or so, do a storytime. There are lots of little projects to keep me busy otherwise and I'm enjoying working with veteran children's librarians. I even got to order some books for our paperback collection! That was fun! 

Are/were you a LIS student? What are the most valuable courses you took? Thinking about being a librarian? Feel free to ask questions!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Books I Want to Reread

This week's Top Ten Tuesday theme is "books I want to reread." See what others want to reread at The Broke and the Bookish!

1.  Anne of Green Gables - It's been years since I read the book. I recently watched the movies again but I've been wanting to reread this book for awhile! I still have the mass marketed copy I pilfered from my sister's bookcase years ago. And now I have a hardback Reader's Digest copy so maybe I should return my sister's book. Although, I doubt she's missed it too much in the past 15 years since she's never mentioned it.

2.  East of Eden - I credit this book for turning me into a literature lover...and reader for that matter. I like randomly opening it and reading bits. Definitely read the book before watching the James Dean movie. The film is ok but hardly scratches the surface of the book's complexity.

3.  To Kill a Mockingbird - Also a book I enjoy randomly sampling. I was lucky enough not to have been assigned this book. I was able to read it for fun and from what I hear that can make a big difference with this title.

4.  Pride and Prejudice - I read it before I saw the movie and am glad I did - nothing spoiled before hand. I count this book among my favorites but I've only read it once.

5.  Pygmalion - the play that My Fair Lady was based on. The play is like the movie minus the singing. "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain!"

6.  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian - funny and poignant. Worth a reread for sure.

7.  Jane Eyre - love it! Saw the movie first so I knew more-or-less what expect, but I still loved the book.

8.  There Eyes Were Watching God - complex but accessible, beautiful and down to earth. I read it for a class but it became a favorite. There is a movie but I thought Halle Berry did not deliver.

9.  Stargirl - A little book with a big punch. Lovely YA.

10.  Little House on the Prairie - it's been eons since I've read it and really don't remember it well. The T.V. show interferes with my memories of the story.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Review: Lirael by Garth Nix, Read by Tim Curry

“When a dangerous necromancer threatens to unleash a long-buried evil, Lirael and Prince Sameth are drawn into a battle to save the Old Kingdom and reveal their true destinies.Lirael, the second book in The Abhorsen Chronicles/The Old Kingdom series, begins deep within the mountains of the Calyr (those with the “sight,” who see the future). Lirael is parentless and sightless, an oddity in the Clayr household. She is young, too, only 14 and wants nothing more than to gain the sight.  To take her mind of her shortcomings Lirael takes a position as an 3rd Assistant Librarian in the Clayr’s massive library.

The commentary on librarians and librarianship is hilarious if somewhat disconcerting to a future librarian. Lirael chooses the profession because she knows she can hide there and avoid people – a perfect job for an odd, quiet girl! Hmm. On the flip side, Lirael looks forward to the adventures she will have in the library when alone there: long forgotten corridors, chained books with protective spells, interesting ancient trinkets and dangerous creatures! Of course, Lirael opens one too many doors and the story really begins.

Lirael’s companion, the Disreputable Dog, is now one of my all time favorite characters. Smart and sassy this K-9 offers comic relief while proffering mysterious insights for Lirael to digest. “Does the walker choose the path or the path choose the walker?”  A dynamic character, the Disreputable Dog is begging for a walk one minute and guiding a dangerous mission the next. “Dog, I want a straight answer. Who or what are you?” asks Lirael. And dog the replies, “I’m the Disreputable Dog! And your friend.” *Watering eyes*

Garth Nix is a great writer. The content is great. He builds a unique but believable world and sets interesting characters in it. He is a great storyteller but also a good writer in a technical and artistic sense, too. He never complicates passages. I’m never stumbling over sentence structure. The diction is good which shows in the dialog and descriptive passages which made my skin tingle as much as they made me laugh. I feel transported in these stories.

I listened to the audiobook (samples) which is read by Tim Curry who did an outstanding job. I was leery at the idea of listening for 15 hours but, wow, it was worth it. I was sad when the end came. I looked forward to listening to Curry’s dynamic voice every day. So much so, in fact, that I drove to the neighboring town and got a library card there so I could check out the third book, Abhorsen, with Curry reading again. (Oddly, my library only owns Lirael in audio format.) Curry booms, leers, whispers, lingers, rushes and pauses in all the right moments making the listening experience theatrical. It’s not over done but done just right. 

Two tiny issues:

1) Notwithstanding Tim Curry’s awesome voice acting, the first two disks of the story had me worried that Lirael was going to be a dud. Lirael spends a great deal of time moping in the beginning. It’s not that she hasn’t cause to mope but I did want to reach into the story and slap her face, tell her to stop obsessing about herself, to stop waiting for things to happen to her and make something happen! Of course, this is exactly what occurs as Lirael grows up (minus the slapping). And when Lirael began her struggle to find her place in the world I began to like her very much.

2) Lirael is not a standalone novel. It’s not that the reader misses too much info from Sabriel to understand what’s going on in Lirael but the ending is very unresolved. Personally, this did not bother me at all since I am enjoying the story. As I am writing this I have already begun the third book (good so far!) and feel as though Lirael and Abhorsen are the same book, really, just cut in half.

If you are a fantasy fan I highly recommend this series. I fully expect I’ll be purchasing these books in some format. Definitely re-reads. Read my reivew of the first book, Sabriel, here.

Publisher: Listening Library, 2002     Duration: 14 hours, 44 mins on 13 CDs
Rating: 5 Stars     Source: Public Library

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Top 10 Books I Feel As Though Everyone Has Read But Me

Here is my very first Top 10 meme! Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Check it out!

Top 10 Books I Feel As Though Everyone Has Read But Me

The Great Gatsby – there’s something about a Daisy and a Gatsby and I know not what else. I have this notion that the story is depressing and so I haven’t bothered with it but I do feel out of the loop for not having read it.

Catch 22 – same sentiments as above.

Fahrenheit 451 – the classic dytopian novel about censorship. Sounds good but I just can’t bring myself to crack the cover. Speaking of which, the cover sucks.

Eat, Pray, Love – Everyone was talking about it and now no one is. I did see the movie and liked it but not enough to read to the book.

Vampire Academy – this one is waiting on my shelf until I’m done with school and my brain is fried and I will neither notice nor care about cheesiness as I suspect this book may be susceptible to though I could be wrong.

The Devil in the White City – murder at the Chicago’s world fair. It sounds awesome. I saw Larson speak and he was awesome. I tried the book but it moves painstakingly slow. There's TMI about every little detail.
Hamlet – there’s a ghost. That’s all I know. It mocks me every time I walk past my bookcase. I will never be good at Jeopardy until I’ve read this play.

Things Fall Apart – what is this book? I don’t know but I can’t escape references to it.

Outlander – the great Scottish historical romance. I picked up a discarded and falling apart copy from the library. It looks good.

The Lovely Bones – This isn’t something I’d normally choose but I’ve heard such good things. This also waits on my shelf.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Review: Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

This book will make you hungry. I'm not kidding. I had to fight the urge to order chinese takeout more than once. Pon uses culinary dishes to great effect, creating a distinctly east Asian fantasy novel. I swear I could smell the food while reading.

From the back cover: "Ai Ling can see into other people's minds and reach into their spirits. But she doesn't know why this power has awakened inside her. She only knows that it is growing. It leads her on an epic journey -- one that brings her to to edge of the deepest evil."

Mythology plays a significant part in this story as Ai Ling and her traveling companions, two brothers, encounter strange beasts, spirits, immortals and other worlds that seem to co-exist with our own. Some of these mythical scenes went by too fast for me. The text felt too rushed to continue the storyline and so some sections felt like they were not fully realized. Many traditional fantasy novels are heavy on world exploration, developing the setting. Many, what I consider "light" fantasy novels are heavy on character development/relationship building and the setting gets much less attention (Graceling comes to mind). I found Silver Phoenix to be somewhere in the middle but perhaps leaning towards heavier character development.

The text lingers on the relationship between Ai Ling and her traveling companions. A romance crops up between Ai Ling and Chen Yong. With Ai Ling's special ability she spends time analyzing, not unlike regular teen girls, what others are thinking. While there is action in this novel and plenty of other-worldliness, I think young readers who enjoy watching the development of relationships will be as drawn to this story as much or more than traditional fantasy readers. This text counts towards the POC Reading Challenge!

Publisher: Greenwillow, 2011 (hardcover in 2009)     Pages: 338
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: Received from the author for participating in the POC Reading Challenge. Thanks, Cindy!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"The Other Side of the Hedge" by E.M. Forster: A Short Story Saturday Post

It's time for Short Story Saturday! Today's story, "The Other Side of the Hedge" by E.M. Forster, can be read for free here in about 10 minutes or less. I hope you'll read it and share your thoughts with me!

Forster's short story is striking commentary on the drive towards a preconceived notion of success. It also makes me think of times in life when things were in limbo like after highschool when I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do. The protagonist is shocked when the the other side of the hedge leads nowhere: "But it must lead somewhere!" Sometimes there is such pressure (as often self-imposed as not) to proove we are progressing on a prescribed track that it leaves little room for exploration. The man is so consumed with making progress, so focussed on tracking his steps, that he can't see he's been going around in circles and not truly advancing. He's also abandoned relationships with those he viewed as competition.

Though not my favorite short story nor favorite Forster text, "The Other Side of the Hedge" can get you thinking critically about what you're doing and why you're doing it. And if a text as short as this can accomplish that then it gets a thumbs up from me.