Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What is the internet??

The February pick for the Idlewild bookclub was Tom Rachman’s best-seller, The Imperfectionists—a welcome change of pace from last month’s philosophical textbook.

This was an interesting book club choice. At first, I didn’t think there would be much to discuss, but it turned out to be a good one. The story is about an English-language newspaper in Rome that, after fifty years of publication, is struggling to stay afloat in the changing landscape of news media. While this is the overarching plot, this book is really a collection of vignettes, each focusing on a different employee of the newspaper, in which their personal lives and work lives are interwoven.

The thing about the characters is…none of them are likable and each is flawed. (The one exception, in my opinion, is the lady who collected the newspapers, the one character not an employee.) I felt sympathy for some characters, was disgusted by others, but each of them were journalists, or exhibited what we decided could be described as typical “journalistic behavior”—somewhat cold, ambitious to the point of conniving. The women all seemed horrible, and I’m fully convinced Rachman has some serious woman issues that he was projecting. Despite disliking most of the characters, I was hungry to read each story, and they each deserved to be dissected. However, Rachman has this tendency to write an interesting character study and then slam a sentence onto the very end to indicate complete hopelessness for these characters. I found this trait very obvious, but I’m not sure anyone else at book club found it to be as poignant as I did!

Naturally our discussion led to technology and media and how the newspaper is nearly obsolete. How many people under the age of 30 currently subscribe to the daily print version of a newspaper? Not very many. I’m a lover of print, but realistically, technology allows a faster, easier look at the news. It’s not difficult to see where the newspaper world is heading, but it’s fascinating to see where it and technology have gone in just the past ten years.

To illustrate my point, watch the video below from 1994.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why Libraries Kick Ass

Have I told you about my history in the library? Well, if not, here it is. In the fourth grade, my mom caught me organizing books on the shelves of Barnes & Noble and told me I needed to be a librarian. In high school, I worked in the public library as a Page and found it to be the best job ever (still is). I had so much fun, I was even determined to make a documentary called “The Secret Lives of Librarians” because my coworkers were so fun and interesting and so not your stereotypical librarian.

Now I have a big-girl job and I work in publishing, and I love it (except for the sitting in front of a computer 8 hours a day thing—my eyes, my eyes!). But I also just started Graduate school to earn my M.L.S. Yes, that means I will be a MASTER of Library Science. I hope to one day have a business card with the title “Super Librarian” or “Librarian Extraordinaire” or something to that effect.

Anyway, I read a brief blurb about this book in the NYTimes Book Review last week and…I NEED IT! I’ve put it on hold to pick up at a semi-local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library that is actually open on weekends (because no, MY local branch is neither open on the weekends nor past 6pm on weeknights…SOOOO easily accessible, thanks NYC). Greenpoint, here I come!

I have a strong belief that the public library as an institution will never disappear. Technology will change, methods of finding and using information will change, but the library can and will adapt as it has in the past. Libraries aren’t just places to find books; they are information centers—community centers—constantly changing depending on how society searches for, finds, and uses information. Libraries are necessary to serve a need within a community, support underserved or overlooked populations, provide its users with the easiest and most useful access to the information requested. As much as I want to support publishers by buying their books, I think I’m a bigger proponent of the public library. Libraries inspire, and I don’t think they will ever be irrelevant.

Book blurb:

Buried in info? Cross-eyed over technology? From the bottom of a pile of paper and discs, books, e-books, and scattered thumb drives comes a cry of hope: Make way for the librarians! They want to help. They’re not selling a thing. And librarians know best how to beat a path through the googolplex sources of information available to us, writes Marilyn Johnson, whose previous book, The Dead Beat, breathed merry life into the obituary-writing profession.

This Book Is Overdue! is a romp through the ranks of information professionals and a revelation for readers burned out on the clichÉs and stereotyping of librarians. Blunt and obscenely funny bloggers spill their stories in these pages, as do a tattooed, hard-partying children’s librarian; a fresh-scrubbed Catholic couple who teach missionaries to use computers; a blue-haired radical who uses her smartphone to help guide street protestors; a plethora of voluptuous avatars and cybrarians; the quiet, law-abiding librarians gagged by the FBI; and a boxing archivist. These are just a few of the visionaries Johnson captures here, pragmatic idealists who fuse the tools of the digital age with their love for the written word and the enduring values of free speech, open access, and scout-badge-quality assistance to anyone in need.

Those who predicted the death of libraries forgot to consider that in the automated maze of contemporary life, none of us—neither the experts nor the hopelessly baffled—can get along without human help. And not just any help—we need librarians, who won’t charge us by the question or roll their eyes, no matter what we ask. Who are they? What do they know? And how quickly can they save us from being buried by the digital age?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What I’ve Read Lately

Library school has begun, and I am a busy little bee day-in and day-out. I can barely find time to go to the grocery store, so I certainly haven’t found much time to blog about what I’ve been reading lately (which, actually, has been a lot, thanks to my 2.5 hour total commute to and from class on Mondays and Tuesdays!).  Here’s a quick rundown. I have more to come:

Carolina Moon by Jill McCorkle — It’s been a while, Jill. Colin had me read a story from an F. Scott Fitzgerald collection called “The Ice Palace,” which features a girl from the South. After that, I knew it’d been too long since I’d read some Southern lit, and McCorkle is my go-to. Carolina Moon is about a small town in North Carolina and the eccentric folk whose lives seem to all intersect at a “cigarette rehab” called Quee’s Place. McCorkle is so good at storytelling—weaving the lives and histories of these people together, overlapping yet creating unique stories. Even a murder mystery is thrown in to spice things up a notch. The characters are always the best part of McCorkle books, because they’re so detailed. One section was so beautifully written that I completely teared up. Overall, not as good as Ferris Beach, my McCorkle fave, but still satisfying.

I Heart New York by Lindsey Kelk — I was looking for something lighthearted and sorta mindless before I embarked upon the massive Wolf Hall for my February World Reading choice. This is the story of a Londoner, Angela, who gets jilted by her longtime fiancee at her best friend’s wedding and escapes to the Big Apple to find herself and put her life back together. I do like chick-lit, but I’m a little critical when it’s about New York. Chick-lit always plays up the stereotypes of the city, when I think it should be more realistic. Exhibit A) Angela gets a cab from the airport and asks the driver to take her to “any hotel,” at which point he rudely screams obscenities at her with what was some sort of New York accent. For one, cab drivers are usually on their hands-free device speaking to someone in their native tongue to bother speaking to their passengers. Secondly, in 2000, 84% of cab drivers were foreign-born. The chances of getting a stereotypical guy from Queens as your cab driver are incredibly slim if not completely unrealistic. Exhibit B) Angela goes shopping on Broadway in Soho midday and it’s described as relatively calm. FALSE. Broadway in Soho is hell 24/7. I have strong feelings about that street, which was why I found it necessary to point out.

But anyway, like every chick-lit novel, I totally got sucked in and ended up really enjoying it. I find the whole “New York as mecca to find yourself” theme to be total crap, because this city is pretty rough; nothing happens as easily in real life as it happened for Angela. (Seriously, she didn’t have to do a thing; life came to her.) But, I can understand why people would enjoy it. I was starry-eyed about NYC before I lived here, too. However, I liked Angela. She wasn’t too ridiculous of a human being (except for her obnoxious spending habits. What 26-year-old freelance writer can pay for a week-long stay at an $800/night hotel room and daily shopping sprees that total in the thousands? Yeah right.). And Kelk built the anticipation in the story making me want to know what happens next.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Where was Betsy-Tacy during my childhood? The Conclusion

As I left off with the Betsy-Tacy series back in November, I had just finished Betsy’s high school years and I wasn’t too impressed. I don’t know, Betsy In Spite of Herself and Betsy and Joe just seemed to lack the…imagination…that the earlier titles possessed. It probably had something to do with Betsy growing up and dealing with “serious” matters like school and boys. But I just thought Betsy was kind of a nitwit who tried way too hard.

So luckily, when I picked back up with Betsy and the Great World, Betsy had a couple of post-high school years under her belt and was now a mature 20-something. Thank GOD.

In Betsy and the Great World, our heroine has grown up a bit. Betsy is beyond the childish drama and emotions of high school and is traveling throughout Europe just before WWI breaks out. Betsy and Joe have broken up and Betsy spends time in Germany, Venice, London, and Paris trying to get him out of her head. Of course, she makes quick, close friendships in every place she visits (even on the boat crossing the Atlantic!). This one in the series was so refreshing for three reasons:

  1. Finally, NO MORE HIGH SCHOOL. The previous four books—the high school years—seemed to run together. I was tired of the same old drama.
  2. On the same note, no more frivolous, immature Betsy! I know these high school years were just as necessary for Betsy as they are for everyone else, but I sure was missing the confident, independent gal I’d gotten to know so well. This probably has something to do with my own tendency to shudder a bit and quickly change the subject when I think about my own immature personality in my teen years.
  3. Europe! Betsy had these adventures, the kind that, when you are experiencing them, you just can’t believe you’re actually doing it. Like, I backpacked through Europe after college graduation and frequently stopped and thought, “Wow I am backpacking through Europe.” Nothing seems scary, nothing seems unreasonable, and everything just seems AWESOME. That feeling is fun to read.
One thing I’m always struck by with these books: the descriptions of the clothes and hair and jewelry always sound so elegantly fabulous. Then I see the real-life photos in the back of the book (which I love), and everyone just looks so…Victorian frumpy! Does anyone else suffer from this disconnect??
The final book, Betsy’s Wedding, picks up immediately after Betsy’s European tour with her and Joe’s long-awaited reunion (and, I won’t spoil it, but the way by which they contact each other again is the BEST). Betsy and Joe get married (that’s not a spoiler…you can read that on the back of the book), and suddenly, you KNOW Betsy is grown up. 
This final chapter in the Betsy-Tacy series reminded me a bit of the Betty Smith classic I just read, Joy in the Morning. It’s more about the simple things day-in and day-out in the lives of a young newlywed couple. Betsy’s world traveling adventures seemed to have ended and now she’s focusing on (and excited for!) things like making curtains and having babies. Betsy’s life has gradually been taken over by the Real World; the Great War has begun and things get more serious rather than carefree. It seems like a bittersweet ending, when the unpredictability of youth paves way for adulthood and routine (though one that is loved). But knowing our Betsy, despite reaching the age of husband, babies, and white picket fences, her adventures will never be over.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

World Party: How learning history from a graphic novel made me feel like a bad friend

Iran was the country of choice for the month of January in the World Reading Challenge, and I chose Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, the well-known graphic novel turned movie. It was pretty disgraceful of myself that I had not read it yet, especially considering the graphic novel kick I had last year.

Persepolis is the essentially a memoir of a girl and her relationship with her home country, Iran. Satrapi was a child living in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution that began in 1979. Born with a rebellious nature, Satrapi naturally defies the new rules of clothing and entertainment set by the Islamic Regime. But when her parents see this teenage rebellion could actually land her in jail or, worse, dead, they send her to Vienna to attend high school, avoiding the war that has broken out between Iran and Iraq. She later returned to Iran where she attended university before finally self-exiling from her homeland and moving to France.

Despite having a best friend whose father hails directly from Iran, I knew little about Iranian history and culture. [I am ashamed.] As an American child of the nineties, the middle-east is inextricably linked in my head with war and conservative Islam. So I  was absolutely astounded to see and learn that Iranian culture prior to 1980 looks no different from American culture. Once I did further Google Image searching and found that Iranians in the seventies had mustaches and wore white disco pants just like Americans, my mind was blown. It’s so amazing to think that a country and society I know as dominated by a conservative religion is only a tiny blip in Persian history.

The history of Iran was, without a doubt, my favorite part of Persepolis. In fact, the section in which Satrapi was in Austria during her teen years was way less exciting than hearing first-hand accounts of this huge, society-altering revolution. Satrapi has a powerful voice and she was never afraid to stand up for both herself and what she saw as logic and fairness, despite the constant risk of arbitrarily being thrown in jail. Reading along as grows up and makes sense of what’s going on in her environment felt as rewarding for me as it would’ve been for her as she reflected on her past writing this book.

I know that the mental image I have of Iran—with conservative Islamic veils and beards—is not at all representative of modern Iran, and that a rich, vibrant culture does exist despite years of rule by the traditional Islamic Regime. But this is now a place I am seriously curious to learn more about, and that’s exactly what I’ve hoped to get out of the books I read for the World Reading Challenge.