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Blogging & Musing...

Do we read to find friends?

Wednesday, 12 June 2013 09:28

claire-messud-photo2Mention worthy:  Publishers Weekly (PW) posed a question to Claire Messud in a recent interview that roused a remarkable response. So remarkable, it's worth reporting on here.

The question concerned the heroine in Messud's new book, The Woman Upstairs.

PW said: "I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim."

Messud Responds . . .

For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert?

Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath?
...Saleem Sinai?
...Hamlet?
...Krapp?
...Oedipus?
...Oscar Wao?
...Antigone?
...Raskolnikov?
...Any of the characters in The Corrections?
...Any of the characters in Infinite Jest?
...Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written?
...Or Martin Amis?
...Or Orhan Pamuk?
...Or Alice Munro, for that matter?"

If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?"


Don't Mess with Messud!—was how PW responded to Messud's response. It's comment had clearly "rankled" the author, PW admitted, BUT...it gave Messud a chance to "show her chops. We're so glad we had that conversation," ended PW graciously.

Messud is the author of the 2006 The Emperor's Children (see reading guide here; see LitLovers review here), as well as this most recent 2013 novel, The Woman Upstairs.

For book clubs to consider:
1. Do we read to find friends?
2. How important is it to like the characters in the books?
3. Do we feel let down when we dislike them?
4. Talk about some of the books you've read and whether or not your enjoyment of them—or disappointment in them—had to do with the likability of the characters.


 

Movie Time—Cool book trailers

Monday, 25 February 2013 11:28

film-strip1Book marketers have given in...or smartened up. Either way, they've taken a page from the movie folks and now create film trailers to promote new books. Some of the trailers are pretty ho-hum. But we've found a couple that are ho-ho-hilarious. Really funny.

The first is Teddy Wayne's The Love Song of Jonny Valentine. Wayne is a wonderful comic writer, a terrific satirist, who in this book sets his sights on the commercialization of an 11-year-old rock star sensation, a la Justin Bieber. A child prodigy, Jonny is there for the taking: his life is commodified by just about everyone, including his own mother.

Here's the Video Trailer.
Here's our Reading Guide.

jonny-valentine1


Second up,
is John Kenney's novel Truth in Advertising. Again, like Teddy Wayne's, this is a comic novel: a sardonic take on the advertising world of New York. Finbar Dolan, the book's hero (not a River Elf), carries around a lot of angst—about the job, his family, and his love life. He sweats the big stuff.

Here's the Video Trailer.
Here's our Reading Guide.

truth-in-advert
Have fun with these. The more you watch them, the funnier they are. If your book's trailer is any good, play it at the book club meeting—it's a great way to break off socializing and signal the beginning of the discussion.

 

Whither Go Libraries in the Digital Age?—Part 3

Tuesday, 22 January 2013 15:28

librarianI've written twice* before about what's to become of libraries in the digital age. A widely emailed New York Times article should give heart to all of us who have worried about their fate. Here's the gist...

A Pew Survey found recently that the percentage of those who believe book borrowing is a "very important" library service (80%) is about the same as those who believe computer access is a "very important" library service (77%). As it happens, libraries have been meeting the challenge of the digital age all along:
In the past generation, public libraries have reinvented themselves to become technology hubs in order to help their communities access information in all its new form.
                               —Kathryn Zickuhr, Pew Research Center
It's possible to have too much information. Back in the dark ages, when the web was in its infancy, a friend of mine quipped that it needed a good librarian to get the stuff organized. This was a few years before Google. Today, the web clocks in at nearly 15 billion web pages, and it's still growing at a mind-boggling rate. Google or no Google, we have digital overload.

All of which makes an "information manager" more important than ever—specialists who know how to search, locate, categorize, and vet information. And guess who does that really, really well? Librarians.

What's more, librarians share their skills. Every major library now offers its patrons—not just access to digital equipment—but courses in how to use it...and how to maneuver the vast information galaxy.

So 100 years from now, even if we find their shelves bereft of the printed book, libraries and librarians will be more important than ever—as communal centers of knowledge. We'll still need them—so we better damn well make sure they're around! A warning to us all: we need to keep a close watch on our municipal budgets.

* See Whither Go Libraries in the Digital Age—Part 1 and Part 2.


 

The Help—the real deal

Tuesday, 18 December 2012 08:42

maid-narratives-bookArt imitating life ... imitating art. A new nonfiction book by three academics gives credence to The Help, Kathryn Stockett's novel of black domestics in white families during the South's Jim Crow era.

The real maids interviewed for The Maid Narratives encountered much the same treatment we all read about in the fictional version—separate entrances, toilet facilities, and dining areas.

Yet co-author Katherine van Wormer found much that surprised her: stories that were more positive than expected, a sense of forgiveness, and lack of bitterness.

A few deep bonds were forged between black maids and their white employers. "Love can cross over color-lines," says co-author Charletta Sudduth, whose own mother was a domestic and interviewed for the book:

I think that a lot of women—black and white women—shared a relationship that was genuine and true. They found ways to help each other, found ways to cry with each other, found ways to laugh.
Nonetheless, it was still a one-way racial street. As co-author van Wormer points out:
The whites thought of the maids as members of the family. The blacks didn’t see it that way. They had their own families, and the white people didn’t pay any attention to that.
The Maid Narratives was in research stage when The Help came out. Rather than feeling dismay at having been beaten to the punch, the book's authors saw only benefits. The huge publicity surrounding Stockett's best seller convinced many former maids to come forward and tell their own stories.

"For many of the women," says third co-author David Jackson, "this was the first time they could talk about it and begin to heal. It was therapeutic."

 

 

Classy Literacy Project

Friday, 16 November 2012 12:18

classic-coup-logo6Take a look at these cool t-shirts by Classic Coup, a literacy project started by devoted teacher and avid reader, Cindy McCain in Nashville. For Each T-shirt sold, money is donated to schools and orphanages in Ecuador, where Cindy taught this past summer (2012).

Lots more where these come from. So head over to her Classic Coup Blog and her Classic Coup Store...and buy t-shirts for all your kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews. Spend some time learning more about what she and her students are doing to make the world a better place for those who need it most.

t-shirts2t-shirts3

 

Book Clubs — Pinterest, the new best thing

Sunday, 21 October 2012 10:49

pinterest-logo-4One more addiction—this one's not on a plate or in a bottle but online. Pinterest: more fun than any one person should be allowed to have, but it's a great tool for book clubs. Move over, Facebook.

Pinterest
is a social media site—it's an online "bulletin board" where you "pin" your favorite images from anywhere on the web, especially from other Pinterest users. Or you can pin images and photos you've already downloaded onto your computer. Pinterest does all the formatting for you. It's simple easy and devilishly clever.

Below is what a "bulletin board" looks like—a snapshot of LitLovers' board on Pinterest. Be sure to visit our real page—"Everthing Books" — to see the complete board. The Pinterest button on LitLovers home page (left-hand colum) will also take you there.


pinterest-main
Why would book clubs use Pinterest? Because it's a great way to keep everyone up-to-date and to maintain a visual record of club activities. Your club can have its own page—and you can have as many "bulletin boards" on your club page as you want. You can add everything related to your book club...
  • Add a "bulletin board" for the books you're reading—there's a space for captions (say, for titles or meeting date and locale).
  • Add comments about each book. Any member can comment; it's just like Facebook.
  • Add as many boards as you want—on the same page. Add a 2nd board for potential book ideas, a 3rd for club photos, and 4th for book-related recipes. Anything.
  • Add boards for every member—on the same Pinterest page as your book club. Members can use their individual boards to "pin" everything...from the books they're reading on their own, to book-related gifts or personal photos.

Take a look at a snapshot of a standard Pinterest page. You click on the empty gray boxes to add a new "bulletin board" and a title for your board. Then pin away.

pinterest-wide

It looks more complicated than it is. Believe me... if I can do it, you can do it. Head to the Pinterest Help page to get started. You'll find it under "About" in the upper-right corner. Follow the directions as best you can*...and "pin" to your heart's content.

Be warned, however. Once you get on Pinterest, you'll complsively click all over the place. You may not be able to get off.

* Call on a young person if you get stuck. They know everything.



 

Whither Go Libraries in the Digital Age?—Part 2

Monday, 24 September 2012 09:14

libraries in the digital ageToday's open letter from the American Library Association could have been a warning shot across the bow of U.S. publishers. But that's presuming the ALA could actually make good on its warning...which it can't. Libraries don't even have slingshots to use against publishing Goliaths.

Still, it's a smart move—using an open letter to turn the spotlight on three of the country's (world's) largest publishers, who refuse to sell ebooks to libraries. The ALA's letter puts it this way...

Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin have been denying access to their ebooks for our nation’s 112,000 libraries and roughly 169 million public library users.... The Glass Castle [ebook is] not available in libraries because libraries cannot purchase [it] at any price. Today’s teens also will not find the digital copy of Judy Blume’s seminal Forever, nor today’s blockbuster Hunger Games series —September 24, 2012

Not all publishers refuse to sell to libraries, as the ALA points out. However, without those three major players, ...
If our libraries’ digital bookshelves mirrored the New York Times fiction bestseller list, we would be missing half of our collection any given week due to these publishers’ policies. [ALA's emphasis.]
This week, however, publishers and the ALA are meeting to try to iron out their differences—a hopeful sign, given that talks back in January of this year (2012) reached a stalemate...or worse. Penguin pulled out of library ebook sales altogether.

Random House, on the other hand, stuck around...but nearly tripled its prices to libraries, and Hachette's will more than double. HarperCollins limits libraries to lending its e-books only 26 times. This is according to Publishers Weekly.

But it's not like publishers are the bad guys. They are businesses...and must make money to survive. So stay tuned for another exciting installment in our suspense series—Libraries in the Digital Age.

See both Whither Go Libraries in the Digital Age articles—Part 1 and Part 3
 

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