The Future of Libraries

Image result for library of alexandriaWhen someone mentions the public library, many people see the posted image in their mind. The library is seen as an archaic, outdated, little-needed entity.

That could not be further from the truth. Libraries are a vital part of a city’s “soft infrastructure”, and one of the key components in young families choosing a home. Plainly, soft infrastructure is the financial system, the education system, the health care system, the system of government, and law enforcement, and emergency services. Libraries are right in there, with significant cultural significance.

The problem is when you see libraries only as book-lending institutions. They are so much more than that, and continue to move in the direction of becoming community centers, social outreach, networks of people and ideas, and champions of the all-important skill for a modern society: literacy.

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg, in a recent interview, argued that urban resilience can be measured not only by the condition of transit systems and basic utilities and communication networks, but also by the condition of parks, libraries and community organizations: “open, accessible, and welcoming public places where residents can congregate and provide social support during times of need but also every day.”

So, what to do? There needs to be a renewed excitement about the language, reading, books, the coming together of people to discuss thoughts, notions, ideas … a safe and relaxing, welcoming space for the community to gather and receive mental nourishment. To feel connected to one another, their community, and valued as an important member.

Libraries can do this? Libraries which are imbued with life can do this, yes.

Harry’s Trees by Jon Cohen

Harry's Trees

Summary:

Thirty-four-year-old Harry Crane, lifelong lover of trees, works as an analyst in a treeless US Forest Service office. When his wife dies in a freak accident, devastated, he makes his way to the remote woods of northeastern Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains, intent on losing himself. But fate intervenes in the form of a fiercely determined young girl named Oriana. She, too, has lost someone—her father. And in the magical, willful world of her reckoning, Oriana believes that Harry is the key to finding her way back to him.

My take: 3 looks

***Warning: Some Spoilers***

A very nice read! Skittering along the lines of magical realism, Cohen never commits quite as much as a book by, say … Sarah Addison Allen … but it’s hard to chalk everything up to fate, chance, and coincidence here. There is a nice fairy tale quality to it.

The number of characters that are presented in this book screams for a sequel. Ronnie lives in constant mental servitude in an effort to right his perceived wrongs; Olive is the cursing, pipe-smoking, spinster librarian; Hoop lives in a double-wide surrounded by trash-art-dinosaurs; Clive is a shy cattle farmer; Stu, the smarmy realtor who may have just received a new lease on life; and on and on. These characters have wonderful staying power, and their introductions in this book were prime to leave me wanting more.

With that being said, there is a lot of suspending of belief for the reader here. Oriana is a pushy, over-indulged, under-disciplined 11-year old, and can grate on the nerves. Ronnie’s mouth needs an ever-present hand over it, but we all know someone just like him when it comes to the lost art of keeping secrets. Feathers appear at all the right times, only to be from a very specific bird (yeah, right). The fewest of details are given about Henry and Wolf’s life growing up, and that leaves quite a few blanks when it comes to the way these two have turned out.

And that leaves the most perplexing part of the story for me: Wolf. The change at the end of the book was completely unbelievable to me. At my age, I know that a leopard can’t change his spots, and this irritated me. Until I realized that the author had, from the very beginning of the book, positioned this as a fairy tale. And a fairy tale it was. Not a Grimm brothers-type, “who were a morbid pair” (ref chapter 36), but a light and airy tale, with an unbelievably “and they all lived happily ever after” ending. And, indeed, they did.

Recommended.

Heads You Win by Jeffrey Archer

Heads You WinSummary:

Leningrad, Russia, 1968. Alexander Karpenko is no ordinary child, and from an early age, it is clear he is destined to lead his countrymen. But when his father is assassinated by the KGB for defying the state, he and his mother will have to escape from Russia if they hope to survive. At the docks, they are confronted with an irreversible choice: should they board a container ship bound for America, or Great Britain? Alexander leaves that choice to the toss of a coin . . .

My take: 2 looks

Great premise, along the lines of “Sliding Doors”, but at about 100 pages too long, this was a bit of a bore. Traveling with alternating storylines of Alex (New York bound) and Sasha (London bound), the chapters going back and forth are fairly straightforward and easy to follow. However, too much detail is given as the two roads start to veer toward one another. The political career minutia becomes like trying to read through concrete, and had no impactful effect on the ending.

And speaking of the ending … it was one that readers seem to love or hate. I found it predictable, not shocking, and a bit of a parlour trick. I was not impressed, and will be a little hard-pressed to read another by this very prolific author.

Not recommended.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Image result for the tattooist of auschwitz

Summary:

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

My take: 4 looks

The first review of 2019! My reading slump was long and hard this year, exacerbated by a huge change in my personal life, so I am awarding 4 looks to the book that I hope has brought me out of it.

Written on a very easy reading level, this book was a quick read. While I have read many books with the Holocaust as the theme or setting, this one was unique in that it never occurred to me that a prisoner was the one tattooing the incoming masses. The fact that these tattooists were inflicting the same dehumanizing act that had been done to them had an emotional effect on these men that I had never considered.

Enter Lale, a real person and survivor of the notorious prison camp. The story is his, how he survived, helped others survive, and fell in love.  Without going into too much of the horrific detail of life as a prisoner, Morris nicely navigates the humanity that stayed with the prisoners in her story. I was invested in these people and their individual coping mechanisms.

But even more, this book made me do the best thing historical fiction can do: caused me to want to know more, do more research, and read more about some of the people, places, and ways of the story. I had the experience of visiting Dachau many years ago, and this made me remember a few of the things that had gone to the background of memory. And now I know more. More about the color coding patches, the fact that the camp I visited had the most intricate system of such coding, and finding out more about the prisoners and captors named in the story. And I thank Morris for the Epilogue that closed the thread on many of the people.

This book will stay with me for a while, and it is recommended.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs

The House with a Clock in Its Walls (Lewis Barnavelt, #1)Summary:

Orphaned Lewis Barnavelt comes to live with his Uncle Jonathan and quickly learns that both his uncle and his next-door neighbor are witches on a quest to discover the terrifying clock ticking within the walls of Jonathan’s house. Can the three of them save the world from certain destruction?
My take: 3 looks
With a motion picture coming out soon (and starring Jack Black, to boot!), I wanted to pick up this juvenile mystery before seeing it on the big screen. 
Keeping in mind that this is a children’s book, I am giving it three looks. For a 10-12 year old, this would be quite a scary story! The story mixes fun with Uncle Jonathan, seriousness with Miss Zimmerman (when she is not exchanging hilariously funny names with Jonathan), angst with Lewis trying to fit in at a new school, and scary with wizards, witches, and a long-dead sorceress. 
Very quick and easy to read, the book did what I wanted it to do: give me a foundation for comparison when I see the movie. However, there were some questions that I continued to have at the end, like exactly WHAT is happening to Jonathan and Miss Zimmerman when the clocks are striking, what is the significance of the color purple for Miss Zimmerman, and exactly what is the nature of the relationship between the wizard and witch who are now raising Lewis. 
There are 12 titles in the Lewis Barnavelt series, so at least some of these questions may very well be answered in future spooky tales. 
Recommended, especially before the movie!

BBW – Disturbing Trends

Trends & Facts

  • The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 354 challenges to library, school and university materials and services (including books, DVDs, magazines, programs, databases, games, exhibits, displays) in 2017:
    • In those 354 challenges, 416 books were targeted.
    • In total, 491 library materials were challenged.
  • Books on the Top 10 list have a child, teen or young adult audience.
  • OIF is seeing an increase in “blanket bans”: removing collections of books that share commonalities. For example, removing all LGBT books, books by a certain author, or all R-rated DVDs.
  • OIF is noticing more censorship incidents where administrators remove books without following policy because they are trying to (unsuccessfully) avoid controversy.
  • Ten years after its publication, Thirteen Reasons Why resurged to the top of the list, largely because of the popularity (and criticism) of the Netflix series.

It’s BANNED BOOKS WEEK, Y’all!!

Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2017

As the attacks on the right to read escalate, a celebration of reading is needed now more than ever. Banned Books Week Coalition is here to support the community of readers, including students, educators, libraries, and booksellers, in the United States and abroad. Please join us during Banned Books Week, September 23 – 29, 2018!

What are YOU reading this week?