Some holiday reading . . .
“From sea to shining sea, here’s a tour of unforgettable fiction that explores matters of the heart.”
As the New York Public Library celebrates its 125th anniversary, “125 Books We Love honors all the books from the past 125 years that made us fall in love with reading.”
Jen Sherman declares “public libraries should be a tourist destination the way museums are.” And she knows whereof she speaks:
I started doing a PhD about public libraries in 2012, and in the past eight years, I have visited 112 libraries in six different countries (primarily USA and Australia). I have been to libraries in the heart of bustling global cities, in quiet suburbia, in small country towns. I have seen some very old libraries, and some very new ones.
She’s seen some fascinating things in public libraries in recent years that you might be interested in reading about.
In this era of Big Data, there have been lots of ideas on how to apply computer analysis to literature. Here’s one:
Starting from the premise that what we write reveals a lot about our underlying feelings, they [researchers] analyzed millions of books published between 1820 and 2009 and used the words in them to measure changes in subjective well-being in four countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy. They chose that time period and those countries because we’ve got sufficiently rich data for them.
Read how researchers conducted this study and what they learned from it.
I initially thought this piece was probably written tongue in cheek, but apparently it’s not. Lily Dunn doesn’t like a lot of the classics of the English literature canon and feels that her students have the right not to like them, either. Here’s the conclusion of the article:
I happen to think there is value in learning how to interact with things you don’t like. In a world that seems full of baseless hate and judgment, teaching students how to engage with things they don’t agree with or just plain don’t like might be the greatest gift I can give them. I want my students to know that they can hate the Classics too, as long as they are willing to use their brains and to engage.
That’s great, but I would argue that this philosophy serves no purpose if students don’t actually READ THE BOOKS. As in book groups, I don’t mind if people don’t like the book, but they should have read it (or at least most of it) so that they can explain WHY they don’t like it. If they can’t point to specific passages and explain what they don’t like about them, I can’t learn anything from their criticism.
Dunn doesn’t specify in the article whether her classes read the books so they can discuss what they don’t like about them or whether she just thinks she shouldn’t have to teach any classic works she herself doesn’t like. I’d really like to know.
This article is from 2016. I’ve seen it (and other similar pieces) before, but I include it here because the question about knowing what happens recently came up in an online discussion about rereading books. There’s interesting information here both about how research on the questioned was designed and about what the results of such studies were.
Here’s a history of papermaking that explains why some books have ragged edges on their pages.
© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown
Content Warning: This piece discusses recent sexual assault headlines.
I want to be as frank with you as is possible: it is increasingly hard for me to find joy or purpose in reading lately, specifically novels. I find myself asking, why read fiction at all when the world is falling apart around me?
D.R. Baker, “a transgender, nonbinary person,” continues to grapple with this question as the distressing headlines continue to pile up.
Because I was born, and spent the first 19 years of my life, in Connecticut, here’s a literary tour of significant places in and around the state’s capital of Hartford. Featured writers include “Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Wallace Stevens, and more.”
Jill Lepore searches for a picture of the private Herman Melville in The New Yorker during the celebration of the 200th anniversary of his birth.
Bestseller lists and book recommendations of best books to read abound, but in this piece Kelly Jensen discusses the Panorama Project, which “looks at the books most frequently requested at libraries across the U.S. and breaks down the popularity by region.” This project can produce a glimpse below all the big, popular titles for “a more micro level look at books which are popular by specific areas of the country.”
The result is lists of fiction and nonfiction for both adults and YA readers exclusive of “well known bestsellers, book club selections and other heavily promoted titles.” Look here for suggestions of books your regional neighbors are checking out from their local libraries.
the novels of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and the “sensation” fiction she pioneered, left an imprint on literature that remains today.
At age 17 Braddon began acting “in everything from comedies to burlesques to Shakespeare.” This background in theater gave her a sense of story and plot that allowed her to turn to writing novels for the masses, books that “earned [her] a reputation as a writer with a knack for presenting the more scandalous side of the upper classes.”
© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown
In honor of Banned Books Week, Time looks at how the focus of book challenges has changed over the past several years.
I love audiobooks; they enable me to read while plodding along on the treadmill or doing chores around the house. I’ve always thought that listening to a book instead of reading it is not cheating as long as I listen to the unabridged version.
And now I feel validated:
This question — whether or not listening to an audiobook is “cheating” — is one University of Virginia psychologist Daniel Willingham gets fairly often, especially ever since he published a book, in 2015, on the science of reading. (That one was about teaching children to read; he’s got another book out next spring about adults and reading.) He is very tired of this question, and so, recently, he wrote a blog post addressing it. (His opening line: “I’ve been asked this question a lot and I hate it.”) If, he argues, you take the question from the perspective of cognitive psychology — that is, the mental processes involved — there is no real difference between listening to a book and reading it. So, according to that understanding of the question: No, audiobooks are not cheating.
Book critic Jennifer Senior writes:
Now, as a person who writes reviews for a living, I am curious to know: How do professional authors handle unsparing criticism, written in just a few days or weeks, of something they’ve toiled over for years?
She put this question to her friend, Curtis Sittenfeld, “author of “Prep,” “American Wife” and most recently, “Eligible,” a modern retelling of “Pride and Prejudice.” Read here how Sittenfeld feels about reviews of her books.
I’m always interested in ways in which literature crosses over into everyday life. Here’s one example:
In 2002, the Supreme Court barred the execution of the intellectually disabled. But it gave states a lot of leeway to decide just who was, in the language of the day, “mentally retarded.”
Texas took a creative approach, adopting what one judge there later called “the Lennie standard.” That sounds like a reference to an august precedent, but it is not. The Lennie in question is Lennie Small, the dim, hulking farmhand in John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”
The article ends with remarks by Thomas Steinbeck, son of author John Steinbeck.
If you don’t yet know Maria Popova’s astounding brainpickings, you’re in for a treat. Here she discusses “the significance of books and the role of reading in human life [that] comes from Neil Gaiman in a beautiful piece titled ‘Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming.’”
© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown
October is International School Library Month, organized by the International Association of School Librarianship. This group is dedicated to establishing and developing school librarianship in every country in the world. The organization pursues the following objectives:
- To advocate the development of school libraries throughout all countries;
- To encourage the integration of school library programs into the instruction and curriculum of the school;
- To promote the professional preparation and continuing education of school library personnel;
- To foster a sense of community among school librarians in all parts of the world;
- To foster and extend relationships between school librarians and other professions in connection with children and youth;
- To foster research in the field of school librarianship and the integration of its findings with pertinent knowledge from related fields;
- To promote the publication and dissemination of information about successful advocacy and program initiatives in school librarianship;
- To share information about programs and materials for children and youth throughout the international community;
- To initiate and coordinate activities, conferences and other projects in the field of school librarianship and information services.
In the United States, the American Association of School Librarians, a division of the American Library Association, provides information about the importance of school libraries and the function of school librarians. Informational pages for parents include What School Librarians Do, How to Get Involved, and What Parents Should Know. For school administrators, the site discusses Best Apps for Teaching and Learning, Best Websites for Teaching and Learning, and certified educational workshops for school librarians of both elementary and secondary schools.
(Artwork above courtesy of the American Library Association)
Banned Book Week is an annual event celebrating the right to read usually held during the last week of September. It’s sponsored by the following organizations:
It is also endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.
A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict the availability of specified materials. A banning is the removal of materials:
Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.
Read more about who challenges books and why at the ALA FAQ page about banned and challenged books.
Check the American Library Association’s Frequently Challenged Books list for 2014. Some of the titles might surprise you.
You can also see statistics in the form of infographics on the number of challenges by reasons, challenges by initiator, and challenges by institution.
Mary Ann Gwinn, book editor for The Seattle Times, receives LOTS of books. As a way to spread the wealth around, her spouse built her a Little Free Library for her birthday.
The Little Free Library movement was started in Wisconsin by Todd Bol and Rick Brooks in 2009. Its mission is two-fold:
- To promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.
- To build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.
Its goal is “To build 2,510 Little Free Libraries—as many as Andrew Carnegie.”
This goal was reached in August of 2012, a year and a half before our original target date. By January of 2015, the total number of registered Little Free Libraries in the world was conservatively estimated to be nearly 25,000, with thousands more being built.
The philosophy behind little free libraries is “Take a book. Return a book.” In other words, for every book you take, you should put one book back. The aim of the process is to promote not only general literacy, but also neighborhood community. These libraries are run on the honor system by community members, for each other.
In addition to allowing Gwinn to share her books, the Little Free Library provides “an added benefit: … a fantastic opportunity for people-watching.” Read her descriptions of these patrons of her LFL:
- The busy mom
- The insomniac
- The wannabe book critic
- The picky reader
- The cruiser
- The grateful recipient
I like her observation that “The key to having a Little Free Library is to release control.” Since patrons put in one book for every book they take out, “You can control the outbox, but you can’t control the inbox.”
Gwinn is certainly experiencing the community intent of the Little Free Library philosophy: “That is the gift of the Little Free Library; you get to know your neighbors, in all sorts of ways.”
New York Times technology writer Nick Bilton describes how books became a bond and a form of communication between himself and his mother:
As I grew up, my mother held my hand as we wandered through the fictional worlds of Harper Lee, Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll. Birthdays and Christmases were always met with rectangular-shaped gifts.
As he got older, he and his mother spend hours discussing plots and characters.
But in 2011, Bilton and his mother got into an argument over books. When he was moving from New York to California, he decided to leave behind most of his books in favor of a Kindle and later an iPad. His mother was appalled:
She spoke passionately about being able to smell the pages of a print book as you read, to feel the edges of a hardcover in your hands. And that the notes left inside by the previous reader (often my mother) could pause time.
After his mother died in March, Bilton and his two sisters learned that she had left her collection of more than 3,000 books to her oldest daughter. Knowing the bond that books had created between Bilton and their mother, his sister offered to share their mother’s library with him, and he “gratefully accepted.”
As a technology writer, Bilton had spent much time discussing the merits of print vs. digital books. But his mother’s death and his receipt of some of her books made him realize that one is not superior to the other: “They each have their place in this modern world.” He caps this realization with a description of how his mother, knowing she would not live long enough to meet Bilton’s unborn son, inscribed her copy of her favorite book, Alice in Wonderland, to him. That book, along with some of her others, sits in her grandson’s nursery, the basis of his own growing book collection.
Novelist Lily Tuck calls fiction a creative act, “an act of the author’s imagination and likewise, ideally, it should be read with imagination.”
Here’s how she hopes people will read her work:
In my own writing, I have been accused of (or is it praised for?) being a minimalist, which I suppose means that I don’t write a whole lot. This is true. For the most part, I avoid adjectives and I definitely avoid adverbs, which also means that I tend not to describe much. I rarely describe what my characters look like or what they wear or how they do their hair. My hope is that this will either not be important or if it is important it will somehow surface within the text. But better yet, by avoiding descriptions and explanations, I allow the reader the freedom to picture for themselves what my characters, their clothes and haircuts look like and thus participate in the text. In other words, I hope my readers will read my work with imagination.
Reading in this way—active reading—allows readers to participate with authors in the creation of the meaning of the text.
And isn’t it just this creation of meaning that allows us to derive such pleasure and knowledge from reading fiction?
Jessica Lahey offers advice, from experts and from her own experience, for getting teens back into the habit of reading for pleasure. One tactic that she found successful was “ to ‘seed”’ my older son’s room with a wide range of books for him to find on his own time and on his own terms.”
Here are some other approaches to try:
- Make reading for pleasure a priority at home.
- Don’t offer rewards for reading.
- Give children the power of choice over the books they read for pleasure.
- Ditch the rules! “Children need to be able to abandon books they don’t like, peek at the endings, and read books they love over and over again.”
- Think outside the Y.A. section of the bookstore.
She suggests providing sports books for children interested in sports or nature books for kids who like animals.
The article concludes with a link to the Dartmouth Bookstore’s “Adult Picks for Teens” recommendations. And that page in turn contains a link to the School Library Journal’s “Best Adult Books 4 Teens.”
This is a double-pronged love story: of two people who met at a bookstore and got married, and of the couple’s love for books and nature.
Jeff Lee and Ann Martin both worked at The Tattered Cover, a bookstore in Denver, where they fell in love. They met in 1986 and married in 1991. On a trip to the London Book Fair they spent some time at “St. Deiniol’s, a castlelike residential library in the Welsh countryside founded in 1889 by a former prime minister, William Ewart Gladstone. He was a lifelong book lover who centered his collection on Victorian history and theology.” (St. Deiniol’s has since changed its name to Gladstone Library.) Enchanted by the place, Lee and Martin envisioned a similar project in Colorado.
The result is the Rocky Mountain Land Library, still under development in South Park, CO:
The project is striking in its ambition: a sprawling research institution situated on a ranch at 10,000 feet above sea level, outfitted with 32,000 volumes, many of them about the Rocky Mountain region, plus artists’ studios, dormitories and a dining hall — a place for academics, birders, hikers and others to study and savor the West.
Lee and Martin found an abandoned ranch, Buffalo Peaks, about a two-hour drive outside of Denver. The City of Aurora leased them the ranch at “a deep discount.” The couple has already amassed a “collection of 32,000 books, centering the collection on Western land, history, industry, writers and peoples.”
The project has received a grant from the South Park National Heritage Area, but so far Lee and Martin have raised only about $120,000 additional of the estimated $5 million renovation cost. They continue to work toward the realization of their dream: “a rural, live-in library where visitors will be able to connect with two increasingly endangered elements — the printed word and untamed nature.”
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, recently finished another book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. While working on the new book, this devoted reader adopted some new habits to allow her to get more reading done. She offers these 10 steps that worked for her and that might work for others as well.
- Quit reading. She doesn’t mean quit totally, of course, but she learned not to spend time continuing to read a book in which she had lost interest.
- Skim. Again, this doesn’t apply to everything. She advises skimming materials that don’t need to be read carefully to leave more time for “high-value reading.”
- Set aside time to read demanding books. She created the habit of scheduling “study reading” each weekend for getting through challenging books.
- Always have plenty of reading material on hand.
- Keep a reading list, and keep it handy.
- Try audio-books.
- Don’t fight reading inclinations. Read what you feel like reading, not what you think you should read.
- Read Slightly Foxed, a magazine containing short essays about people’s favorite books from the past.
- Start or join a book group.
- Join my monthly book club.
More on #10 (Rubin’s monthly book club):
I have a monthly “book group,” where I recommend one great book about habits or happiness, and one great work of children’s literature, and one eccentric pick (a book that I love but may not appeal to everyone).
The article ends with a link where, if you’re so inclined, you can sign up for this group.
This is Part 1 of Jenn Northington’s discussion on BookRiot of applying the principles of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to her overwhelming book collection:
So while I’m not an actual hoarder who will die buried under stacks of mildewed paperbacks, I do have a space and attention-span problem. Which is why I’m spending this weekend picking up every book I own, and sorting them by the KonMarie Method: “Does this spark joy?”
Far more interesting, though, is After the Pull: The Lifechanging Magic of Downsizing Your Book Collection, Part 2, in which Northington describes the process by which she reduced her book collection by roughly half:
And at the end of the day, after I washed off all the dust and had tidied the giveaway stacks and gotten over the sheer shock of reducing my book collection by more than half, I felt good. Now I can actually see what I have, and don’t have to take half of the books off a shelf to see what else is hiding behind them. Now I can see the ones I had promised to read, or been dying to read, or had been sent a personalized recommendation for. And as hard as it is to give up some of them, it is equally fun to imagine who might discover them next. When you know you’re sending them to a good home, it’s easier to wave goodbye.