2014 Book list: 50 states

Any list of states that leaves out DC pretty much bugs me, but 50 books in a year is easier than 51, so I forgive the curator of this one. A novel for each state. I’ve read Alaska already (LOVE MICHAEL SHEA-BON-JOVI CHABON.) I’ve also read Maine, and of course I’ve read Maryland (also a big fan of Michener). I can cross Michigan off my list, as well, but I’ll get my Eugenides fix when Rhode Island comes around. And New Hampshire (In July I bought A Prayer for Owen Meany just to round out my John Irving collection). Finally, I’ve read South Carolina already as well, which leaves 44 books to read in the year. Yes, many of them are classics and it is EMBARASSING that I haven’t read them. Time to make up for that!

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HLS

Sometime around late February last year, I saw a tweet that referred to “HLS.” You all know that I went to Harvard Law School, right? I mean, I don’t tend to boast about it, but I did, and I’m sure it’s opened doors to me, and so when I see the abbreviation HLS it catches my eye.

It turned out that HLS also stands for Hack Library School. There was a “Hack Library School Day in the Life” project the first week of March; you might recall that I participated? (You’d be forgiven for not recalling; I had forgotten myself!)

I’ve followed HLS fairly consistently since then, not that I’ve gotten any more used to it referring to something other than Harvard Law.

Starting today, I am devoting a substantial amount of mental energy to making my brain see “Hack Library School” when I see “HLS.” This is my obligation now as a 2013-2014 writer.

Dear resume: I shall be updating you. Get yourself ready.


My local library, Ralph Nader, and the government shutdown

I live less than 3/4 of a mile from the West End branch of the D.C. Public Library. This week’s cover story in the Washington City Paper is about Ralph Nader’s quest to stop the redevelopment of the land on which that branch is located. The redevelopment would (will) result in a mixed-use property with the library on the ground floor and residences above.

You have to read the article. There are some key points in it. Like the fact that every group that is actually composed of residents of the area support the redevelopment. And that these are groups that never agree on anything. The article does not say that I want to buy a condo above the library. (Can you imagine how awesome that would be?? I’d never be able to afford it, though.)

Land in the West End neighborhood is at a premium. The neighborhood is relatively close to two different Metro lines. There is a Trader Joes a block from the library and a Whole Foods only a few blocks further. It’s close to Georgetown. There are nice restaurants nearby. And so forth. Yet the library is a single story (there might be a second floor with meeting rooms? I’ve never been off the first floor) in this neighborhood that is so thirsty for density.

Nader, however, seems to be stuck in the age of the Carnegie library. Consider this quote of his from the WCP article: “It should have an architectural dignity, free-standing with good landscaping around it.”

Libraries are not built on the Carnegie model anymore. Nor should they be. Libraries are about access to information, not about the building. They should be welcoming, certainly. But welcoming does not equate to “free-standing with good landscaping.” Welcoming means helpful librarians and other library staff. Welcoming means books that people want to read and space where people can sit to work. Welcoming means working computers with useful software. Welcoming means hours that are convenient for people to use the library. And in DC, especially in West End where land is so valuable, a public-private partnership helps the library financially in a way to meet all of those welcoming criteria.

And while I’d rather not alienate any readers who might not share my politics, I cannot help but mention the government shutdown in the context of Nader’s crusade.

Jack Evans, who is the councilmember for my ward/the West End library’s ward), is quoted as having said this:

“Where I’d take issue with … the Library Renaissance Project is, at the end of the debate, you take a vote, and if you lose, you lose. And in this case the vote was overwhelming. Everyone came to an agreement that this was a good project. They were on the losing end of it and refused to stop. That’s where I would say wait, you gotta play by the rules.”

What does this remind you of? The Tea Party faction of the House of Representatives who were on the losing end of the Affordable Care Act and who have managed to wrangle an outsize amount of influence to shut down the government?

Ralph Nader probably wouldn’t appreciate being compared to the Tea Party, but that’s just too bad. Let us have our library and I’ll roll back the criticism.


2013 Reading update, part I-lost-count

Lots of Jewish holidays means lots of time for reading for fun. And my public library‘s fantastic holds system allowed me to have three of my four remaining 2013 books for the last two weeks (along with the have-to-read-before-the-last-book-on-the-list book).

Reviews.

The Yellow Birds. Heartbreaking. A good read, and if I’d put more effort into it, I’m sure that I would understand the canary allusion better. As it is, there is only one explicit mention of canaries, which I assume is the “yellow bird” reference in the title.

A Hologram for the King. Unsettling. And doesn’t really resolve, which just continues the unsettling-ness.

Why Does the World Exist? Thought-provoking. But there were factual errors (at least one, in which a philosopher was once referred to as being from Cambridge and once from Oxford–them’s fighting words), and logic problems, and too often turned to the question HOW does the world exist, so despite the thought-provoking nature of the book, I gave up on it.

Still reading Wolf Hall as preparation for reading Bring Up the Bodies. Reactions forthcoming.

Did you read any of these books? I’d love to hear different reactions to them.


2013 Reading update

Shana tova! The beginning of the Jewish year (and of the school year) reminded me that I had 1. not made very much progress on my 2013 reading list, and 2. not written about some of the books from the list that I had read. So, here we go:

  • Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel (also Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel) — still to read. Placed hold at the library.
  • Building Stories, by Chris Ware — won’t be reading; library doesn’t own.
  • A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers — still to read. Placed hold at the library.
  • NW, by Zadie Smith — wrote about here.
  • The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo — I read this in the last week. HEARTbreaking. This is the true story of a slum in Mumbai and the things that youth do to survive. It’s a tale of poverty and the extremes in society. On a very practical level, it explained for me the many news posts that show up in my Google alert for “juvenile justice” that center on the question of a youth’s age. Kids in these slums really don’t know how old they are, which is so far out of my experience that I didn’t believe it was the case. And yet, it is.
  • Far from the Tree, by Andrew Solomon — still to read. Placed hold at the library.
  • The Passage of Power, by Robert Caro — wrote about here.
  • The Patriarch, by David Nasaw — Interesting to read about events involving JFK from the perspective of his father’s biographer in contrast with the perspective of LBJ’s biographer. Joseph Kennedy’s relationships certainly provide insight into his sons’ experiences with women not their wives. JPK really was not a good man in many respects.
  • Why Does the World Exist, by Jim Holt — still to read. Placed hold at the library.

When January comes around there will be a new reading list, with 50 (!) books on it; we’ll see if I do better with 50 than with 10.


GODORT

Jessica wrote this morning about abbreviations in librarianship. You should go read her post. And maybe the rest of her blog, and her twitter feed. She’s one of the people I want to be when I grow up. Her post reminded me of a brief anecdote:

When I became a member of the ALA (American Library Association), I also became a member of a roundtable/section or two.  Do I remember which? No, of course not. My interests are too varied and it was all I could do not to join them all. I didn’t know what I would get out of membership in said roundtable/section.

Fast forward a few months and I get a random publication in the mail. Let me say that since I’ve become a member of the ALA and of AALL (American Association of Law Libraries) my mail has quadrupled. The DCBar generates nowhere near the volume of mail that each of these organizations generate. I get lots of mail from vendors. And this random publication looked, I thought, like a catalog. I didn’t recognize the name of the sender, and it sounded more like a company name than anything else: GODORT.

I opened the “catalog” and saw some writing, and thought maybe it would be worth skimming. Which is when I realized that it wasn’t a catalog after all. It had interesting stuff in it. I realized GODORT must be an organization of some sort, but I’d never heard of it, so how did they get my address? Or know that I would be interested in it? WHAT IS GODORT DARN IT??

I read half the publication before I found a notice to members of the GOvernment DOcuments RoundTable. Protip: name your organization in your publication. Maybe on the cover. Or with the post office disclosures on the inside front cover.


A rich white man who won’t miss the library

This weekend there was another “woe is us, libraries are obsolete” post by a rich white man. (Who, if his comment about looking down on the library from his apartment on W. 53rd wasn’t enough of a clue, touts his everyman *cough* status in a comment to Magpie Librarian’s blog post, when he reminds us that he founded a company that was bought by the New York Times Companies.)

Now, I actually thought that he made a good point in his post. That is, if one read it twice and spent a lot of time pondering it, and why did he throw in a comment about book burning, and I’m going to be critical of the critics. In other words, his good point was not at all immediately obvious.

His good point was essentially this: we are getting rid of libraries, and what’s the difference between getting rid of libraries and burning the books that would be inside them?

But I don’t think he meant to make that good point. He hasn’t been to the library in 15 years. He won’t miss the library. Why should anyone go to the library? The Web is free! Google has everything! Why rebuild the public library as a gathering space (note that our rich white man of the hour quotes the architect who designed the to-be-built replacement branch on this point and conveniently ignores the word “just” in the statement that “it’s not really about just being a repository of books”) when there’s a Starbucks on every corner?

Why go to the library?

Because a home Internet connection is not free. Because not everyone lives in a physical setting where they are able to have an Internet connection. Because not everyone has a home. Because computers are not free.

Because Google doesn’t have everything, not by a long shot. Want to read the latest bestseller? Not going to find the full text online. Want to read an article from most scholarly journals? Not going to find the full text through Google. (At least not for free.) Because even what Google does have (and of course, Google doesn’t “have” anything*, it just links to pages) might be hard to find. Because not everyone has the advantage of a Williams College education to be able to craft effective searches. Because it can be hard to evaluate  the quality of a source.

Because the latte I had on Friday morning cost me $4.72 and not everyone can afford that. Because Starbucks** doesn’t offer storytime or arts and crafts or a safe space for teenagers to go after school to do their homework. Because Starbucks doesn’t offer book groups. Because Starbucks doesn’t prepare kids for a college education. Because baristas aren’t librarians.

But you know why else one should go to the library? To see that not everyone looks like you, talks like you, reads like you, or — let’s face it — smells like you.

 

A collection of voices on this topic:

 

*Google has a lot of stuff: metadata and code and money; those aren’t what I’m talking about here.

**Sorry to harp on Starbucks here. My $4.72 latte wasn’t even from Starbucks. I hope it’s obvious that none of this is intended as criticism; Starbucks isn’t supposed to provide the same things as a library!