Archive for May, 2009


Secret lives of librarians

May 27, 2009



SHHHH! Devised and directed by Xanthe Beesley
La Mama, Carlton May 24; until May 31
Running time: 60 minutes.
Reviewer Martin Ball

LIBRARIES have a curious reputation in society. Celebrated throughout history as storehouses of knowledge, they are nevertheless lampooned in popular culture as dull places inhabited by prim ladies telling people to “BE QUIET!” It is this second image that provides the considerable comic material for Xanthe Beesley’s Shhh!, a “play without words” that is largely the product of recent VCA graduates. Despite the lack of dialogue, this show is anything but silent, however, since the La Mama audience is invariably in stitches of laughter.

Shhh! is meticulously crafted, demonstrating a great sense of focus and poise. Three characters lead us through the classic stereotypes of librarians, suggesting that underneath all that repression there lies a seething tumult of lust desperate to tear up the pages of all those airport paperbacks and wallow in an orgy of passionate expression. Amy Dwight is exceptional as the apprentice librarian who breaks free, mustering a staggering virtuosity of facial tics and twitches that would make even Bert Newton wince with envy. One moment Dwight is a cardigan-wearing Marion the Librarian, the next she has morphed into Ursula Andress. Fantastic.

Ella Watson-Russell brings terrific presence to a persona of twinset, pearls and sensible shoes. Allen Laverty chips in nicely as the love interest who lures Dwight away from her bibliotechnical responsibilities. An effective set and some constructive lighting round off Beesley’s finely honed direction. A real hoot.


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LIBRARIANS: Please pass this along to YA librarians and your patrons.

Even if you’re stuck at home this summer, you can still get away—just use your imagination!


Listening Library is sponsoring the Fantasy Road Trip Contest, challenging teens to create videos based on an imaginary road trip with characters from one of three great fantasy series. 


Making their entries is a great way to engage teens in what they’re reading and encourage them to be creative.  And since many families will be forgoing expensive vacations and summer camps this year, the Fantasy Road Trip Contest is a perfect (and free!) summer activity.



 Ø       CONTEST INFO: Teens ages 13-18 should create short films that answer the questions, “If you could go on a road trip with a character from your favorite audio series, where would you go?  What would you do along the way?  How would you travel?”  

Ø       PARTICIPATING AUTHORS: Libba Bray, author of the Gemma Doyle Trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing), Tamora Pierce, author of, among many, many titles, the Beka Cooper series (her current series, so far it includes Terrier and Bloodhound), and Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (including the latest, The Last Olympian).

 Ø       HOW TO ENTER: teens can visit to watch a video about how to enter, see video requirements and find out lots of information about the authors and their books.

Ø       WINNERS: Authors will judge the videos, each picking a winner (for a total of three), who will receive an 8GB iPod Touch and a collection of signed audiobooks.

Ø       DATES: The contest will be open from June 1-August 17; it’s a great activity to keep kids entertained while they’re home for the summer

 Check out

for details on how to enter Listening Library’s Fantasy Road Trip Contest!  Featuring your favorite Listening Library fantasy authors: Libba Bray, Tamora Pierce and Rick Riordan!


Article: Reading for Fun

Posted: May 21, 2009 in Uncategorized

Why Is It A Sin To Read For Fun?

Jodi Picoult makes lots of people love books—but has she become too successful to be taken seriously?

Jennie Yabroff


From the magazine issue dated Apr 20, 2009

The young woman with blonde ringlets has a question: where did Jodi get her green-velvet hair scrunchie? Jodi, who has wavy red hair not unlike the blonde’s, admits she stole it from her teenage daughter, then says she’ll write down the name of the Web site where the blonde can order it. It’s a not an unusual interaction between two sisters in frizzy-haired solidarity. Except it takes place not in a salon, but on a stage before a standing-room-only crowd, and the redhead writes the Web address below her signature, on the title page of her 16th book, “Handle With Care.” Jodi is bestselling author Jodi Picoult, but to her predominantly young, female fan base, she is just Jodi, and she is a goddess. For nearly two hours, Picoult effortlessly makes a connection with almost every one of the more than 300 readers in attendance, cooing over a photo of someone’s dog,claiming to recognize many readers from previous years’ events. A woman in rhinestone-studded glasses confesses that she never read a book more than once, until she read “Sister’s Keeper,” Picoult’s 11th novel, three times. “I’m not really a big reader,” Natalie Delpratt, a 19-year-old student says, echoing the woman in the glasses. “But I’m addicted to Jodi Picoult.”

That Picoult can pack a house with fans who might not be reading at all would seem to be good news for anyone who cares about the future of books. “I call her a one-woman stimulus plan,” says Picoult’s publicist, Camille McDuffie, pointing out the number of fans at the reading who are buying six or seven hardback copies of “Handle With Care.” But commercial writers such as Picoult are a thorny subject for the self-appointed literature police. A recent study by the National Endowment for the Arts showed that fiction reading is on the rise, especially among 18- to 24-year-olds. But the news was reported by literary blogs and arts journals with throat-clearing about what kinds of books these young adults are reading, the implication being that popular novels such as the “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” series will lead readers to seek more challenging material. All books are good for you, the assumption goes. Some are just better than others.

This is the “gateway drug” theory of literature—that once introduced to the pleasures of reading, a child will work her way through increasingly difficult and, presumably, increasingly more edifying texts, culminating in perhaps “Ulysses,” or the complete works of William Gaddis. Implicit in this theory is the idea that at some point reading should stop being a pleasurable diversion, and start being work. Writers such as Andrew Solomon and Zadie Smith have argued that reading should not be a passive experience like watching television. A book is not a thing to be opened lightly. You can’t help thinking that Smith has someone much like Picoult’s scrunchie-coveting fans in mind when she writes that “readers fail when they allow themselves to believe that fiction is the thing you relate to and writers the amenable people you seek out when you want to have your own version of the world confirmed and reinforced.”

Smith’s argument has its merits, but it leaves little room for the flashlightunder-the-covers, stay-up-till-dawn-to-find-out-what-happens thrill of reading. For some, this type of reading may lead to engagement with less cozy types of literature. For others, it may exist alongside more strenuous reading. And for yet others, it may be the only type of reading they choose to do.

Picoult says “Gone With the Wind” made her want to write, and cites Alice Hoffman, another Lifetime-friendly novelist, as her favorite author. She knows that her popularity, as well as her accessible writing style, means she’ll never win a Pulitzer Prize. It was a choice she made early on. “When I was at Princeton, there was this guy there, a great writer,” Picoult says, naming a New York author who has since published several sardonic, offbeat novels that have been well reviewed but sold nowhere near Picoult’s 14 million copies in print. “He used to walk around in this black trench coat like this”—she strikes a brooding, hand-to-brow pose—”and I was like, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ I just can’t do that.”

There is a formula to a Picoult book: each takes a controversial ethical issue—”designer babies,” high-school shootings, child abuse, the death penalty—and pits sympathetic characters, often family members or best friends, on either side of the debate. “Handle With Care” concerns a family whose daughter was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle-bone syndrome. The mother learns she can sue her obstetrician for “wrongful birth” because the condition was diagnosable in utero, but that will mean swearing under oath that she would have aborted the fetus had she known about the disease. Picoult, who has visited operating rooms, prisons and an Alaskan Eskimo home researching her novels, sneaks in quite a bit of information about her topics. On her Web site, a fan in remission from leukemia wrote that she learned a lot more about her disease reading “My Sister’s Keeper” than the doctors ever told her.

But it’s reductive to lump Picoult in with all bestselling commercial writers. Her prose is smooth and never gets in its own way. Stephen King recently singled her out as an example of a popular fiction writer who can actually write. Picoult sees herself more in the school of so-called literary writers such as Sue Miller, who also writes about domestic topics despite frequent downmarket comparisons, especially to “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer. “In terms of the literary content of the ‘Twilight’ books, they’re totally escapist. I think technically I am maybe a cut above,” she says. Picoult, who has a master’s in education from Harvard, is grateful to Meyer for getting kids to read at all, and she says many of her fans come to her through the “Twilight” series. “Stephenie Meyer has gotten people hooked on books,” Picoult says, “and that’s good for all of us.”

Yet in subscribing to this notion that all reading is inherently good for you—and that reading “bad” books leads to reading less-bad books—Picoult is complicit in her own ghettoization. If we remove the assumption that reading is virtuous (a Picoult novel is better for you than a reality TV show), then the good/better hierarchy (Virginia Woolf is better for you than Jodi Picoult) collapses, and books are left to stand on their own merits, not their implied nutritional value. In last year’s “The Solitary Vice: Against Reading,” writer Mikita Brottman challenges the accepted wisdom that reading is inherently uplifting, arguing that it turns us into antisocial misanthropes who would do better to be out in the world than home with a book. It’s an intentionally provocative argument, but equating reading—all reading, from the classics to the tabloids—with pleasure feels radical in this age of government-subsidized municipal book clubs. Maybe if reading wasn’t so “good” for us, we’d do more of it.

Okay, let me comment on this one. What I have to say probably won’t be popular, but, as the song says, “I gotta be me!”
Jodi Picoult. I reviewed one of her books once. The title escapes me. That’s because all her books blend together in my head. Likewise, all the  possible disastrous and difficult situations known to man, the subjects of her books, tend to make me very leery of reading more. Do I want to read about a family who has another child in order to have her donate marrow and save her sister from cancer? No. Not really. A bit grim for me, considering my neighbor’s child has leukemia.
Though I enjoyed the book I reviewed well enough (read in fast forward review speed), literary fiction it ain’t. There are so, so many truly good authors out there. So many. Ditto Stephene Meyer, whose first book in her Twilight series annoyed me so much I quit before page 100, though my daughter has read her copies of the series so many times they’re showing wear.
As for the argument any reading is reading, is it really?
Will those picking up Jodi Picoult or Stephenie Meyer be more likely to feel a deep urge to pick up some Dickens or Tolstoy, Edith Wharton or Virginia Woolf after reading about Picoult’s latest disastrous situation? Would that really be likely to happen?
Yeah. Right.
At best, they’ll come into the library, breathlessly asking a librarian for a list of all Picoult’s books. When they’ve read them all, ask “What other books are like Picoult’s?”
The librarian, if a brave soul, may say something like, “Well, if you’d like a wonderful story with compelling characters let me direct you to this book (of actual literary quality).” Skeptical, the patron may or may not take the book home, may or may not enjoy it. It depends how far out of their comfort zone the book winds up being, whether they’re ready to take that next big step.
I have no data at hand as far as, say, Harry Potter books have lead children to read more after having exhausted these tales of witches and wizards. I imagine it varies, according to the child and how many distractions he or she has. Computers and video games are a huge draw. I can tell you my sons are both immersed in The Tunnel series of books. My youngest has put away the first two and begged me to try and snag number three from Britain for him. It’s on my to do list.
I want all my children to read over the summer, but finding something as mesmerizing as The Tunnel books may be a challenge. I can’t name titles off-hand, but you can bet I’ll do my best using sources available to me to find something comparable.
So, is it a sin to read for fun? No, but I don’t consider books with a bit of heft to them as a chore; to me these are recreational, fun books. You may argue that I hold a B.A. in English literature. Certainly, I do, but when I was younger I had no such degree; I just enjoyed good writing.
Reading for fun is a relative term. And I’ll never get over my own personal recoil from people who read Danielle Steel avidly. But, as a librarian, my job will be to give the public what they want. I don’t have to be happy about it, but I do have to do it. If I sense a patron may be ready to move up a notch there’s nothing stopping me from recommending something better, but it’s best not going too far beyond what they love to read. It’s a progressive thing, something to practice with patrons you really know. It wouldn’t work so well on someone you’re meeting for the first time, unless they tell you “I’d like to improve myself and my reading.” Thwang goes the arrow! Say no more. Try reading this …
Reading for fun is a relative term, and I know some read merely for escape, not wanting anything pesky like a bit of literary quality to get in the way of their explicit sex scenes. I could tell them Edna has sex with one of her suitors in The Awakening, but that the language is couched in propriety. Yet, I don’t think it would be any substitute for Julia Quinn. Not nearly enough genital description in Chopin. Sorry about that.
Reading something being seen as better than reading nothing at all … One side of me says, it gets them in the library. But the other, curmudgeonly me has serious doubts they’ll read mass market fiction first, then grasp for literary.
It’s an escape for readers to consume pedestrian books. Much like watching movies, the purpose is entertainment. And, like stupid films I’d love to see stupid movies become less popular, too.  I won’t even go into reality TV.
Is something better than nothing? For the existence of the library, yes. For me not to feel annoyed, no. And there’s really no choice in the matter, so I’ll shut up now.

I can hardly believe it. When I started pursuing my MLIS I thought it would take forever. Now I’m signing up for my final semester and planning to graduate in December.

My final “real” course will be on information needs relating to consumer health topics. Not something that really flips my pages, but two of the other courses I’ve already taken. One other, on children’s lit, I don’t need, and for the last course offered (creating library databases) I was warned by the professor: MANY STUDENTS DROP THIS COURSE. Why? Because it’s possibly the toughest on the curriculum, aside from metadata (SHUDDER).

Oh, yes, sign me up! Not.

So, consumer health issues it is.

Now, to set up my practicum. As usual, I began thinking of glamorous institutions like the Newberry and Northwestern University, two institutions totally unlike the public library setting. Both of these would require long commutes, and I have three children in school. Now, I’m looking at the high school a couple blocks away from where I work – where my daughter will be starting her sophomore year this fall.

Convenient, eh? Not nearly as sexy, but sometimes one must opt for convenience over glamor. Sigh.

It’ll be so nice having this summer off. In my “spare time” (guffaw) I’ll work on reviewing books again, something I’ve missed. The fall semester doesn’t start until September 2, and taking  just one course should be a breeze after two back to back semesters carrying a full load.

I will be a lady of luxury, popping bon bons like mad, reclining upon a chaise longue. No more beating my head against the wall because I have three papers due simultaneously!

Dare I dream?

If you’re anything like me (and considering you’re librarians, I assume a lot of you are), you have so much to read you can’t possibly get to it all. And when you DO get to it, life events are so hectic that after you’ve read the book/article you find yourself unable to recall an awful lot about it.

And that stinks.

I found this wonderful article with tips on how to remember what you read. Here are the basic principles, but the author goes into much more detail in the article:

1. Read with a purpose.
2. Skim first.
3. Get the reading mechanics right.
4. Be judicious in highlighting and note taking.
5. Think in pictures.
6. Rehearse as you go along.
7. Stay within your attention span and work to increase that span.
8. Rehearse again soon.

Read the full article here:


But the good news is …

Posted: May 12, 2009 in Uncategorized

I’ve completed the spring semester of graduate school!

This has been, by far, my toughest semester ever, including undergraduate work. So many papers, so many books to read, so many annotations to write, articles, etc …

I submitted my final paper online last evening at 10:30, and wanted to have a party to celebrate. Instead, I fell asleep on the sofa, while reading. That’s much more my speed.

But hurrah!