Friday, November 30, 2007

Lists for Book Lovers

I've written before about my love for all things books, including books about books. So, I thought I would share one book in particular that I enjoy perusing, the Literature Lover's Book of Lists: Serious Trivia for the Bibliophile by Judie L. H. Strouf. The book has all of the lists that you would normally expect in such a book: 'Books for All Ages', 'Genres for Every Taste', 'Poetry..Reflections of the Soul', 'Drama..Thereby Hangs a Tale', 'Themes..Under One Umbrella', and 'Literary Periods'. But by far my favorite part of the book is the section entitled 'Potpourri..Weird, Whimsical, and Worthwhile.' There are 22 different lists in this section, which range from the more mundane ('Book Terminology' and 'Library of Congress Classification') to the fascinating. For example, list number 172 is 'Anonymously Written Books and Current Values.' The books in this list were originally published without the author's name on the title page. And, as you can imagine, these books can be quite valuable if the author went on to become famous. Imagine finding Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen at a garage sale only to learn that it was a first edition without her name on the title page. Or what if your next thrift store find turned out to be the 1899 anonymous edition of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde? I don't know about you but it certainly makes me want to look a little harder the next time I go to a yard sale. The only thing the book doesn't do is give exact values for all of the books. It simply groups them into four categories from lowest to highest value. However, it isn't hard to find that information. I usually look at Alibris or ABE to find out what particular editions of books are going for at the moment.

Another fascinating list in this section is 'Epitaphs of Authors.' Some of them I've heard before but others were new to me. I was surprised to find that the vast majority of the epitaphs had been written by the author. One of my favorites is by Dorothy Parker, well actually she has two!
1) Excuse my dust; and 2) If you can read this, you've come too close.

Another good one is by Hilaire Belloc, When I am dead, I hope it may be said: His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.

And finally, I'll just do one more -- the "EST" List (oldest, youngest, largest, smallest, etc.).

The oldest complete novel in the world, The Tale of Genji.

The smallest book, Old King Cole (pictured above)

The longest on the N. Y. Times best seller list, The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck
(more than 300 weeks)

There is so much more in this book! I could keep going, but I guess I'll leave some of it in case you want to check this one out for yourself.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Catching Up

I had a really great extended weekend for the Thanksgiving holiday. I guess I really shouldn't have to say that I ate way too much, but I did. I spent time with family and friends. I know it sounds silly, but I love it when everyone is home. Everyone may be doing their own thing, we may not do anything special, but I just love it when everyone is home. I didn't really do much of anything productive. I should have cleaned my house. I should have finished the two books that I need to read for book club meetings. But, I did get my Christmas tree up and decorated. I love Christmas, but I really don't like decorating. If I were a wealthy woman, I would pay someone to decorate my home for Christmas. But, alas, I'm a librarian. Oh well, enough rambling. While catching up on reading my favorite book blogs, I came across a couple of things I wanted to share with you. You may have already seen it, but here it is just in case. Enjoy!

I found this at and thought it was pretty neat. I'm not sure how I feel about destroying books for the sake of art, but I'm just going to assume that these were library books that were being weeded and were already damaged beyond repair. :)

Then I saw this at the Shifted Lbrarian. I love board games so I think this might be fun. Although, I can't ever talk anyone in my family into playing a board game with me. I read Pillars of the Earth as an undergrad in a Medieval England course that I was taking as a history major. I absolutely fell in love with it. In fact, I loved it so much that I sought out other books by Ken Follett and was disappointed to find that he hadn't written anything else like it -- until now. He has now published the sequel, World Without End. I can't wait to read this one. Like the first it is a rather lengthy tome so I think it may be an "over the Christmas break" book.

Finally, the New York Times has put out their annual list of the year's best reading. I like to look at it and see how many I've read and which ones I may want to read. It's also a good place to get ideas for Christmas gifts, as well.

Look for reviews of a few books coming in the next little while. My reading has slowed down quite a bit while I'm frantically trying to finish knitting some Christmas gifts, but I've managed to finish a couple things.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Decline in Reading

I came across this yesterday at the The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has done a follow-up study to their depressing 2004 report entitled "Reading at Risk." In the earlier report, less than half of Americans (over 18) read for pleasure. This new report sought to build a broader picture by including information on nonfiction reading, as well. The new report claims a link between poor reading scores among children and the decline in reading in this country. Not surprisingly, digital media is blamed for the decline in reading, especially among those under 18.

Statistics regarding the consequences follow. This is my favorite part of any report like this. I just think they're fun. Here are a couple of examples to tide you over until you can read through the entire 99-page report. ". . . nearly three-quarters of employers who were polled rated 'reading comprehension' as 'very important' for workers with two-year college degrees, and nearly 90 percent of employers said so for graduates of four-year colleges." Next, "the data showed that 7 percent of full-time workers who scored at levels deemed 'below basic' on reading tests earned $850 to $1,149 a week, the fourth-highest income bracket, while 20 percent of workers who had scored at reading levels deemed 'proficient' earned such wages." So, you have to be able to read well to get a good-paying job. Makes sense to me. I like to casually drop these quotes into conversations with my sons, one of whom is a sophomore in college and the other is a senior in high school. Yes, I am not above using scare tactics on my children. I think I've mentioned before that much to my chagrin neither of my children like to read.

Like its predecessor, the new report is not without its share of controversy. There are some who believe that the report exaggerates the problem. Some also believe that people may be doing more reading than is reported, such as reading material via the Internet.

Of course, I believe reading is important (I'm a librarian, for heaven's sake!), but I'm not sure if the situation is all that dire. Yes, I agree that people should spend more time reading. However, I disagree with a statement made by the chairman of the NEA, Mr. Dana Gioia, when he said, "we live in a society where the media does not recognize, celebrate or discuss reading." What? Reading groups and book clubs have grown in popularity over the last several years. I haven't done any type of research to support my claim, but I believe it none the less. There are countless online book discussion groups, and many of the social networking sites are devoted to book lovers (i. e. LibraryThing, GoodReads, and Shelfari). Two of the major television networks have book clubs on their morning show, and then of course there is Oprah. Love her or hate her, she has gotten people reading and talking about books. Reading and belonging to a book club has become somewhat fashionable these days.

I don't have a solution to the decline in reading scores. But, I do have some suggestions if anyone is interested. First, get rid of things that take the fun out of reading. Kids hate reading because they associate it with unpleasantness -- tests. Accelerate Reader (AR) and No Child Left Behind both focus on quantity and evaluation. Where's the fun in that? Let people see you reading. Talk about what you're reading. And for heaven's sake, if you're a parent, read to your child early and often. In addition, support programs that provide literacy training to adults, as well. That's my two cents on the matter!

Friday, November 16, 2007

2007 National Book Award Winners

I posted a list of the finalists for the 2007 National Book Awards earlier. The winners were announced this week. The website has interviews and a list of the awards going back to 1950.

Wake County Library Book Sale

The Wake County Public Library will have over 500,000 books for sale this weekend. If you want to pick up some things to read this weekend, check this out.

My Idea of Heaven

I contracted the plague and have been away for a couple of days. Thankfully, I've rejoined the land of the living. I have a lot of catching up to do reading and posting, but for now I wanted to share something I saw on Jen's blog. This is definitely my idea of heaven! Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Last Interview of Norman Mailer

As most of you have heard by now, Norman Mailer passed away at the age of 84 on Saturday. I came across something interesting from the Scotsman. You can listen to the last interview Mailer did here.

Struggling with Ex Libris

I just knew I would love Ex Libris by Ross King. It has everything that I like in a book. It is set in 17th century London. The protagonist is a rare/used book dealer. There are parallel stories and a mystery or two. I have tried. I really have. But, I just can't get into it. I know it's crazy, but I almost feel guilty because I don't really like it. Don't get me wrong, it's not terrible. For me, the biggest problem is the fact that he interrupts the plot and the character development to give long, history lectures. I know some background information is necessary, and I actually love reading about history. But, this is just too much. I have actually caught myself skimming over whole paragraphs waiting to get back to the action. These interruptions have not allowed me to buy into this book. I don't really care about the characters, and I don't really care what happens.

This may not be fair because I haven't even finished it, yet. I'm about 2/3 of the way through it. Maybe it will get better. Maybe if I reread it, it will be better. Maybe if I read it later, it will be better. I will persevere until completion mainly because it is a book I'm reading for two different reading challenges, and because (darn it!) I really thought I would like it. Oh well, I'll let you know how it all ends up. I just thought I would share my frustrations. I'm sure I'm not the only person to have this type of reading experience. But, this is a first for me.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Running out of Reading?

In case you don't already have enough reading to do with all the reading challenges and the overflowing bookcases, here are a couple of book clubs you may want to check out. I saw both of these yesterday on Book Club Girl's blog.

This first one is somewhat different than most that I've encountered and may appeal to a different audience than traditional book clubs. Deadspin, a popular sports blog, has started a new book club that will focus solely on sports books. Their first selection is Running the Table: The Legend of Kid Delicious, the Last Great American Pool Hustler.

Diane Rehm discusses a new book each month on her radio program, The Diane Rehm Show. The selection for November's Reader's Review is Dave Eggers' book, What is the What. She'll discuss the book on her show on November 21. There is a reader's guide available on her website.

Book Clubs

I know I promised a review of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, but I have been putting it off. Here's why:

The Pfeiffer Student Book Club met for the first time back in September. I was a little apprehensive about it because I wondered just how many college students would be interested in a book club. So, of course I used bribery and offered free pizza! To my surprise, we had 12 people in attendance and about five more who indicated that they wanted to come but had class or other obligations. During that first meeting, there was a great deal of energy. The students chose a great book for the first read -- The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Everything went great!

Our second meeting was October 24 (the students decided to keep the meetings on the 4th Wednesday at noon), and one student showed up! I couldn't believe it. After waiting about 10 minutes for stragglers who never came, Cindy (a library staff member), the student and I ended up having a really good discussion about the book. The student had read the book in one sitting and loved it. After the initial disappointment, I decided that as long as one person showed up, I would keep doing it. Over the course of the next few days, several students came by or e-mailed to tell me that they hadn't come for one reason or another but that they read the book and was still interested in the book club. So, I have quit pouting, and here is a brief review.

The Thirteenth Tale fits nicely into the Gothic tradition and was a perfect choice for October. Miss Vida Winter is a reclusive author who has given numerous interviews throughout her career. However, she is not very forthcoming with personal information. In fact, she has given nineteen different accounts of her life. Now, Ms. Winter is dying and wants to tell her story. She chooses Margaret Lea, a young biographer and the daughter of a rare book dealer. She summons Margaret to her estate and begins by asking her if she wants to hear a ghost story. Margaret is soon drawn into the strange world of the Angelfield family complete with ghosts, spooky estates, tragic fires, murder and suicide. Ms. Winter and Margaret have a few things in common -- they are both twins, which plays a huge part in the story, and they both live in a world of books. As Ms. Winter weaves her ghost story, Margaret must face her own ghosts. The mystery comes together in the end in a very unexpected way. This book was a joy to read. The language is absolutely beautiful. She evokes the settings so vividly that you really are drawn into this world. It's hard to believe that it's a first novel.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Another Challenge

The 'idea' of reading challenges appeals to me; however, I haven't been very successful in the past with the ones I've participated in. I'm currently participating in the Bibliography Challenge and have also now joined the From the Stacks challenge. The only reason I've joined this latest one is because I can pretty much choose anything from the piles of books I already have waiting to be read. The idea for this one is pretty simple -- choose five books to read from your existing to-be-read pile. You can't purchase anything new for this one. The rules say you can also count books that you are reading for other challenges. So, I think I may actually be successful with this one. I have chosen the following books for this challenge:

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Ex-Libris by Ross King
Shadow of the Wind by by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A Good Yarn by Debbie Macomber
The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

But, I may change my mind and substitute (not sure if that's allowed) something else. That's another problem I have with reading challenges. I never know what I'll be in the mood for next. We'll see how it goes. I have also been participating in the 50 Book Challenge over at Library Thing. I'm currently at 36 books for the year, so I don't know if I'll make it to 50 by the end of December. But, as I've said before, I'll have fun trying.

Books, Books, and More Books

I'm a true bibliophile. I love everything about books. Of course, I love to read, but it's more than that. I also love books as objects. I decorate my home with them and surround myself with them. I'm not a book snob, though. I love all types of books -- old, new, literary, classic and popular fiction. I also love books about books and reading. I have both of Nancy Pearl's Book Lust books. I have the Complete Idiot's Guide to the Ultimate Reading List, the Literature Lover's Book of Lists, Genreflecting: A Guide to Reading Interests in Genre Fiction, Now Read This II: A Guide to Mainstream Fiction, and Reading Group Choices 2004 to 2008. I even have a copy of the Used Book Lover's Guide to the South Atlantic States because I hope to one day take a road trip and hit all the used book stores along the way. I envision doing this in the fall so I can enjoy the beautiful leaves, as well.

So, as you can imagine, it was a special treat when I came home from work and found a new book in the mail. I got home late after going to my book club meeting and found my Easton Press 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. I spent the next hour looking through it and making a list of books to buy. I was happy to see that I had read quite a few on the list; however, I don't think I'll live long enough to read the rest and read all the others that I already have piled up all over my house. But, it's fun to think about, anyway. So, it's hard to be at work right now knowing the clock is ticking and I have reading to do!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Killer Stitch by Maggie Sefton

This is the fourth book in the Kelly Flynn knitting mystery series by Maggie Sefton. It definitely falls into that "cozy" mystery genre. As with the others, I did enjoy this one; however, maybe not quite as much. I felt a little cheated because the author barely introduces the killer until the last few pages of the book. I don't feel like the reader is given a fair chance to figure out who the real killer is. But, beyond that this book has everything that all the other books in the series do -- beautiful descriptions of Colorado (this time in winter), lots of yarn and knitting descriptions, and the characters that I've grown to care about. There is no doubt that there will be another book to follow according to the ending of this one. The murder investigation is tied up nicely at the end, but Kelly has just bought her dream home in the canyon, which seems to be haunted. Overall, this is a fun, quick read, especially if you enjoy knitting.

Happy Halloween

In the spirit of Halloween, take a few minutes and read a scary story or two. These are all available in the public domain and brought to you courtesy of defective yeti. Check them out.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pfeiffer Student Book Club

The newly-formed Pfeiffer Student Book Club (we're still trying to decide on a more original name) will meet tomorrow at noon in the Reading Room of the G. A. Pfeiffer Library. We'll be discussing The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Students at the first meeting back in September chose this book, and I think it's a perfect choice for the October meeting since it's so close to Halloween. The book definitely falls into the Gothic literature genre. Check back here for a review following the meeting. But for now, I just wanted to remind everyone about tomorrow's meeting. All students, faculty, and staff of Pfeiffer are welcome to attend! We'd love to have you. Come and enjoy great conversation and good food!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Booker Prize Rant

I just came across this post over at Book Chase. Apparently, there are those who not only don't put much stock into awards, but think that they are evil. This is interesting. Check it out.

Man Booker Prize Announced

Anne Enright is the recipient of the 2007 Man Booker Prize for her book The Gathering. The annual award is given to an author from Britain, Ireland or The Commonwealth and includes a $102,000 stipend.

The other authors on the short list included Ian McEwan for On Chesil Beach, Lloyd Jones for Mr. Pip, Nicola Barker for Darkmans, Mohsin Hamid for Reluctant Fundamentalist, and Indra Sinha for Animal's People.

The problem with giving awards for anything (books, movies, TV shows, etc.) is that people do the choosing. We all have our own opinions regarding what makes something worthy of an award. We simply can't understand why everyone doesn't love the same things that we do. So, I do feel somewhat sorry for judges in this regard. No matter what choice is made, there will be some people who are unhappy. For this year's Man Booker Prize, it took the judges two and a half hours to make a decision, and according to the New York Times, Ms. Enright "wasn't everybody's first choice. She was "a choice with which all the judges were happy."

So, what does this mean? Does it mean that The Gathering is a far superior book to On Chesil Beach or Reluctant Fundamentalist? Or Hard Row by Margaret Maron (which happens to be the cozy mystery that I'm currently reading) for that matter? Of course not. It means that according to a particular group of people on a particular day, that particular book was chosen as deserving of merit. I haven't read The Gathering. In fact, I hadn't even heard of it until it won yesterday. I'm sure it's a fine piece of literature, and I may add this book to my ever-increasing to-be-read pile, but, not necessarily because it's an award winner. I'll seek out reviews and recommendations from other book blogs and from Library Thing before I make up my mind.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

2007 National Book Award Finalists

Finalists for the 2007 National Book Award were named yesterday. The winners will be announced in New York in November. After looking at the list of finalists, I am once again surprised at the number of books with which I'm not familiar. As an acquisitions librarian, reading book reviews is a major part of my job, and I normally feel like I'm pretty much on top of things -- until this list comes out each year. This brings up the question of the value of book awards and what they really mean to the average person. The answer is probably not all that much. Yes, as a librarian, I want to make sure that we have all the major award-winning books in our collection. However, that doesn't mean that I necessarily want to read all of them. As long as I'm making confessions, I read more fiction than nonfiction. Nevertheless, I was actually more familiar with the titles on the nonfiction list this year.

On a related note, NPR had a story today about bestseller lists. They make a similar point by saying that bestseller lists, such as the New York Times no longer carry the weight they once did. This probably has to do with the fact that people have access to book news and reviews today that they didn't have before Amazon and Google.

However you choose the books you want to read is fine, as long as you READ!

Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski
Varieties of Distrubance by Lydia Davis
Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat
God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens
Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution by Woody Holton
Ralph Ellison: A Biography by Arnold Rampersad
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner

Magnetic North by Linda Gregerson
Time and Materials by Robert Haas
The House on Boulevard St. by David Kirby
Old Heart by Stanley Plumly
Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006 by Ellen Bryant Voigt

Young People's Literature
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Skin Hunger: A Resurrection of Magic, Book One by Kathleen Duey
Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

Last year's winner for fiction was The Echo Maker by Richard Powers.

Nobel Prize in Literature

Doris Lessing has been awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature. She is a prolific author who is best known for The Golden Notebook, which was published in 1962. She lives in London and is still writing as she approaches her 88th birthday. Her award didn't come without some controversy. Outspoken literary critic, Harold Bloom, didn't agree with the committee's decision. He says, "Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable...fourth-rate science fiction." However, others feel that the criticism comes more from her past political beliefs than from her ability as a writer.

During the announcement of her award, the academy described her most famous work by saying, "The burgeoning feminist movement saw it [The Golden Notebook] as a pioneering work and it belongs to the handful of books that inform the 20th century view of the male-female relationship."

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Count Me In

O.K., I'm finally going to give in and just do it. For a while now, I've been reading and enjoying many of the book blogs out there. One of the things that became apparent pretty quickly is the fact that reading challenges abound. This was new to me, but believe me they're everywhere. The problem for someone like me is choosing between them. For anyone who still doesn't know what these are, I'll explain (however, I'm pretty sure I'm one of the last people to discover them). It's probably easier if I just give an example. One of the ones that I've decided to join is the Bibliography Challenge. In this challenge, participants choose three books about books or stories in which books figure prominently. Once you've chosen your books, you post a comment on the blog of the person who originated the challenge. In this case it is Historia. This just allows everyone to keep up with who is participating. After reading my books, I'll then post reviews here and post a comment with a link on the original blog. I think it'll be fun. I also think it'll be a way for me to start making a dent in my huge tbr (to-be-read) pile.

My tbr pile is currently growing at an astronomical rate. In fact, my husband is going to build me some custom bookshelves covering one whole wall of our dining room (thanks, honey). This is on top of the bookcases that I already have in every room of my house. Books are stacked double- and triple-deep on many of them. So, maybe I should join a couple more challenges?! Or maybe I should join a support group!

For the Bibliography Challenge, which runs from October to December 2007, I have chosen:

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Ex-Libris by Ross King
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Banned Books Display

Since I've been talking about our display, I thought I would post a couple of pictures. It's simple, but we've gotten quite a few people stopping by to take a look. One of my colleagues also gave out snacks as part of a "Taste of Banned Books" the last couple of days. She included oreos for And Tango Makes Three, muffins for In the Night Kitchen, and Hershey's kisses for The Chocolate War. The students liked it. Thanks, Cindy!

Photos by Jonathan

Get Your Head Out of the Sand

"People want to stick their heads in the sand." I overheard this comment from one of the members of the Class of 1957 as they toured the library this past weekend as part of the homecoming festivities. This one comment was worth the effort of putting up the display. I'm a firm believer in every person's right to free access to information. However, I have to admit that I was a little worried about our display of banned books. I just wasn't sure how some of our older alumni would react. It turns out that they were very interested in the issue. One book in particular caught their eye -- And Tango Makes Three. As I described in an earlier post, this is a children's book based on a true story about two male penguins who take turns sitting on an orphaned egg. I told them that book happened to be the book most often challenged or banned this year. After a few more minutes, they continued on their tour. It was as they headed upstairs that I overheard the comment about people sticking their head in the sand. Later on their way out of the building, several of them picked up bookmarks and copies of the banned books list. One of the women told me she was going to take one to her daughter who is a high school English teacher.

I don't really know what I expect when I put up the banned books display each year. I guess I just want people to understand that censorship is dangerous. It may not seem like a big deal if one book is removed from a library shelf or a school reading list. But, that's the way all civil liberties are eroded -- one small step at a time. So, it's time we get our heads out of the sand!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

ALA attempts to keep track of the number of challenges to materials each year and posts the list on their website. The book that tops the list for 2006 is And Tango Makes Three, which is a children's book about two male penguins that take turns sitting on an egg at the zoo. The book is based on a true story that occurred at the Central Park Zoo in 1998. The complaint made regarding the book claims that it promotes homosexuality. In reality, the book simply tells a true story about cute chinstrap penguins that most children will find entertaining. You can see the Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2006 here.

According to ALA, the number of books challenged in 2006 was 546, which is 30% higher than the total for 2005. The mid-1990s saw challenges topping over 750. It's important to keep in mind that these are just the challenges that are reported. There are many more challenges that go unreported each year for various reasons. Another interesting point regarding challenges is the fact that many people making complaints have never read the book or have not read the entire book. They are simply going on hearsay or passages taken out of context.

It's no surprise that the front-runner for most challenged book for 2007 is another children's book, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, which won the Newberry Medal for the best children's book of the year. The complaints regarding Ms. Patron's book are based on one anatomically-correct word used early in the story.

With a few unfortunate exceptions, most people want to protect children. As a parent myself, I have always wanted to protect my children from harm. However, well-intentioned protection can quickly turn into sheltering, which is not healthy. Children have to be taught to deal with reality in a world that is quickly becoming more diverse on a daily basis. No matter what we do, they are going to be faced with situations that we may personally find offensive or that are in contradiction to our values and beliefs. I've found that the best way to handle those situations is to be honest and open with children and let them know that there are many different people in the world and that they are going to have to learn to live among and work with them.

As always, this is just one librarian's opinion. Thankfully, we still live in a country in which we are all entitled to that basic human right.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Banned Books Week

It's that time of year once again. The American Library Association (ALA) sponsors Banned Books Week annually the last week of September. This year the celebration is September 29 to October 6. Since its inception in 1982, Banned Books Week has reminded us that "while not every book is right for every reader, each of us has the right to decide for ourselves what to read, listen to or view."

I have been involved with setting up displays and planning events for Banned Books Week for the last several years. During this time, I have not had a single complaint regarding the appropriateness of the books on display. The comment that I hear most often is something along the lines of "Why are you banning those books?" After thinking about it, it does sound like we are advocating banning books. Librarians and booksellers take it for granted that everyone knows that we're in favor of free access to information. However, that's not the case, at all. People don't always know where we stand because we fail to tell them. Of course, I can't speak for all librarians. This is how I see the matter.

For clarification, challenges are an attempt to remove material from public use, thereby restricting access for everyone. The last word is the key. Who gets to decide for me what I read? Think about it. Who gets to decide for you what you read? We take this right for granted, but we can't really afford to do that. Civil liberties are eroded a little at a time so that it isn't really noticeable. Then one day, it's too late to do anything about it. So, you don't think things like that happen anymore? What would the people in Afghanistan say? How about Cuba? O.K., I can hear what you're thinking. Not in the United States, right? Wrong! It happens all the time. It is usually on a small scale, but it happens.

While a challenge is an attempt to remove a book from access, a ban is when that attempt is successful, and a book is removed from the shelves. Censorship denies our freedom as individuals to choose and think for ourselves. For children, decisions about what books to read should be made by the people who know them best -- parents. However, parents should only have the right to choose for their own children. They shouldn't be allowed to make decisions that affect everyone's children.

American libraries are the cornerstones of democracy. Libraries are for everyone, everywhere. Because libraries provide free access to a world of information, they bring opportunity to all people. We can't allow any individual or group to choose for a whole community what is or isn't appropriate. There are too many different cultures, values, and ways of life to pretend that this is possible. Now, more than ever, celebrate the freedom to read @ your library! Elect to read an old favorite or a new banned or challenged book. Come by the library on Thursday, September 27th to view a display featuring books that have been frequently challenged or banned, pick up free bookmarks and enter a drawing.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I'm almost ashamed to admit this, but this is the first Margaret Atwood book that I've read and it's unlike any other book I've ever read. The book was written in 1985, but I found it to be extremely timely considering many of the things going on around the world, especially in places like Afghanistan. The leadership in the novel clearly resembles the Taliban. In the book, the United States has been taken over by religious zealots hungry for power. In this new regime, Gilead, women are powerless. Declining birth rates, due mainly to AIDS, result in young women being forced to become sexual slaves for high-ranking officials in the hopes of producing offspring.

Atwood reveals the story of the handmaid bit by bit. Offred is telling her story first-person but after the fact. She goes back and forth in time revealing parts of her life in the "other time" and how she came to be a handmaid.

"Historical Notes on the Handmaid's Tale" at the end of the book allows the reader to see that the cruel theocracy ends, but the reader is left to ponder the fate of Offred.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

From Reading Group Guides, here are the discussion questions for The Thirteenth Tale, the Pfeiffer Book Club October selection.

1. Much of the novel takes place in two grand estates --- Angelfield and then Miss Winter’s. How are the houses reflections of their inhabitants?

2. As the story unfolds, we learn that Margaret and Miss Winter are both twins. What else do they have in common?

3. Margaret and her mother are bound by a singular loss --- the death of Margaret’s twin sister. How has each woman dealt with this loss, and how has it affected her life? If her parents had told her the truth about her twin, would Margaret still be haunted?

4. Books play a major role in this novel. Margaret, for example, sells books for a living. Miss Winter writes them. Most of the important action of the story takes place in libraries. There are stories within stories, all inextricably intertwined. Discuss the various roles of books, stories, and writing in this novel.

5. Miss Winter asks Margaret if she’d like to hear a ghost story --- in fact, there seem to be several ghost stories weaving their way through. In what ways is The Thirteenth Tale a classic, gothic novel?

6. Miss Winter frequently changes points of view from third to first person, from “they” to “we” to “I,” in telling Margaret her story. The first time she uses “I” is in the recounting of Isabelle’s death and Charlie’s disappearance. What did you make of this shifting when Margaret points it out on page 204?

7. Compare and contrast Margaret, Miss Winter, and Aurelius --- the three “ghosts” of the novel who are also each haunted by their pasts.

8. It is a classic writer’s axiom that a symbol must appear at least three times in a story so that the reader knows that you meant it as a symbol. In The Thirteenth Tale, the novel Jane Eyre appears several times. Discuss the appearances and allusions to Jane Eyre and how this novel echoes that one.

9. The story shifts significantly after the death of Mrs. Dunne and John Digence. Adeline steps forward as intelligent, well-spoken, and confident --- the “girl in the mists” emerges. Did you believe this miraculous transformation? If not, what did you suspect was really going on?

10. Dr. Clifton tells Margaret that she is “suffering from an ailment that afflicts ladies of romantic imagination” when he learns that she is an avid reader of novels such as Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Sense and Sensibility. What do you think he means by drawing such a parallel? What other parallels exist between The Thirteenth Tale and classic 19th century literature?

11. When did you first suspect Miss Winter’s true identity? Whether you knew or not, looking back, what clues did she give to Margaret (and what clues did the author give to you)?

12. Margaret tells Aurelius that her mother preferred telling “weightless” stories in place of heavy ones, and that sometimes it’s better “not to know.” Do you agree or disagree?

13. The title of this novel is taken from the title of Miss Winter’s first book, Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, a collection of twelve stories with a mysterious thirteenth left out at the last minute before publication. How is this symbolic of the novel? What is the thirteenth tale?

14. When do you think The Thirteenth Tale takes place? The narrator gives some hints, but never tells the exact date. Which aspects of the book gave you a sense of time, and which seemed timeless? Did the question of time affect your experience with the novel?

© Copyright 2001-2007, All rights reserved.

Pfeiffer Book Club

I'm an avid reader and can't really understand why everyone wouldn't want to be in a book club (or 2 or 3!). I belong to two face-to-face book clubs and one online discussion group. But, I know that everyone is not like me. In fact, my own children don't like to read, which is hard to admit. I get my love of reading from my Dad. So, I hold out hope that my boys will come back to reading. After all, they did read when they were young. My oldest devoured the Goosebumps books while my younger son loved historical fiction books, such as Across Five Aprils and My Brother Sam is Dead. Sadly, they are not the only ones who no longer read. An AP-Ipsos poll several weeks ago found that "one in four adults say they read no books at all in the past year." This is reminiscent of the 2004 National Endowment for the Arts report titled "Reading at Risk." It found that only 57 percent of American adults had read a book in 2002.

So, it's no wonder I was a little worried that there wouldn't be much interest in a book club on campus. However, my fears were laid to rest when we had our first meeting of the new Pfeiffer Book Club on Wednesday. We met at noon in the Reading Room and enjoyed pizza and cookies while we discussed how to set up our new club. There were eleven people in attendance! They didn't just come for the free food, either. While everyone took turns making suggestions for our first book selection, I recognized that kindred spirit evident in all book lovers. They were making their case for a book that they loved and wanted to share with others. Participating in a book discussion group can expose you to things you would have never discovered on your own. We all tend to gravitate to the same types of things, including books. So, when we read a book that we wouldn't have picked up outside a book group and discuss it with each other, we see the world through new eyes.

Despite what the polls and surveys say, there are those of us who still read and want to discuss what we read with others. For our first selection, we will be reading The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. If you can, please join us at our next meeting on Wednesday, October 24, at noon in the library. It looks like we have a really good mix of people, and I anticipate some really good discussions.

Because there were a few people who could not attend the noon meeting due to scheduling conflicts, we are going to have another meeting in the evening. Right now, it looks like Mondays around 7:00 or 8:00 will be a good time. I will be posting more information as soon as the date and time is set.

Finally, for students who can't attend either meeting or anyone else who is interested, I will be posting discussion questions for each of the books along with historical context, author biographies, etc.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Literary Events This Week at Pfeiffer

New Student Book Club

Please join us this Wednesday, September 19 at 12:00 noon in the Reading Room (second floor) of the G. A. Pfeiffer Library for the first meeting of the Pfeiffer student book club. Those in attendance at this first meeting will choose a name for the club, elect officers, determine future meeting dates and decide how books will be chosen. Following the first meeting, we will apply to be recognized as an official Pfeiffer club, which will make us eligible for funding.

As our service project, we will also support First Book, which is a literacy-based organization that provides free books for low-income children in our area.

Please join us for lunch (pizza, dessert and drinks provided!) on Wednesday and help launch your new club. If you are interested and can't make it Wednesday, please contact me and let me know what is the best time for you to meet. You may email me at or call ext. 3352 for more information.

Cultural Hour
Friday, September 21

Heather Ross Miller
will be the speaker for the cultural hour this Friday at 10:00 AM in the Chapel. She has published numerous books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. She retired from Washington and Lee University as the first Thomas Broadus Distinguished Professor of English and is currently teaching a poetry course at Pfeiffer. She lives in Badin. Please join us Friday for this special program.

The Grand Complication by Allen Kurzweil

As a librarian, I have wanted to read this book for a very long time. I love reading about books, libraries, librarians and people who love books. Alexander Short is a reference librarian with some unusual hobbies. He is interested in enclosures (a.k.a. secret compartments), coded writing, "girdling" and typography. Without a doubt, the girdling was the most unusual of Zander's hobbies. He carried a small notebook attached to his clothing in which he recorded his observations. If that is not unusual enough for you, he arranged the entries under Dewey Decimal subject headings AND wrote the entries in a secret code.

A strange man approaches Zander at the reference desk of the library and asks for his help in locating a missing object that would complete a collection for him. Zander is soon drawn into a world in which nothing is as it appears.

I loved this smart, well-written book. I found all the library references, including numerous Dewey Decimal classifications, interesting. However, those less enamored with libraries may find it a bit annoying.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Quill Book Awards

On October 27, the third annual Quill Book Awards will air on NBC. According to the site, "The Quill Awards are the only book awards to pair a populist sensibility with Hollywood-style glitz. They are the first literary prizes to reflect the tastes of all the groups that matter most in publishing--- readers, booksellers and librarians." They are also the only book awards to be televised. A group of 6,000 librarians and booksellers choose the winners in 19 categories, including children's literature, biography, graphic novels and debut fiction. Readers can get involved by going to the site and voting on the book of the year from the list of winners in the individual categories.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Creative Writing Murders by Heather Ross Miller

Despite the title, this is not a mystery. The title is a play on words. The murders occur in Professor Rainwater's creative writing class at Pfeiffer College in the Piedmont area of North Carolina. The author lets us get to know each of the students in her class through their writing assignments. There is an eclectic mix of students -- three "townies", and four undergraduate students from the college. Professor Rainwater encourages the students to kill someone in their final writing assignment for the course, which of course is where she gets the title. This is a quick, easy read (130 pages), which made me want to take a creative writing class.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Today is International Literacy Day

Literacy is something many of us take for granted. But for many people, not being able to read is a harsh reality and just getting through the day is difficult. Just stop and think about how many times a day you read and/or write. Simple things like reading a menu or a road sign, filling out a check or a job application are things that 90 million Americans have trouble doing. North Carolina ranks 41st in the nation in literacy.

What can you do about it?

1. If you know someone who needs help with literacy skills, encourage them to get that help. Contact your local United Way, public library, community college or other referral agencies for information.

2. Volunteer to tutor by contacting these same agencies.

3. Check out the International Reading Association and the National Center for Family Literacy for more information.

4. and, Read -- set a good example.

Mark Twain said it best, "A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read."

Monday, September 10, 2007

Literacy Tutors

The Rowan County Literacy Council (201 W. Fisher St., Salisbury) is in desperate need of tutors. RCLC requires that tutors be 18 or older and have a high school diploma, attend the training sessions and be able to tutor 1-2 hours per week. RCLC provides tutoring in both basic literacy and ESL.

If you don't live in the Rowan/Stanly/Cabarrus County areas of North Carolina, contact your local public library to volunteer.

Mr. Dixon Disappears by Ian Sansom

I enjoyed the first book in the series, The Case of the Missing Books, more than I did this second installment. However, Mr. Dixon Disappears does provide some laugh-out-loud moments. From London, Israel Armstrong is currently living in a rural area of Ireland serving as the bookmobile librarian. To say he is a fish out of water would be an understatement. Israel misunderstands and is misunderstood by the local residents, which often leads to those laugh-out-loud moments.

Reluctantly, he has gotten himself involved in another local mystery. While setting up his five-panel display of the history of Dixon and Pickering Department Store, he becomes entangled in a missing person case and ends up a suspect himself.

The book is a quick, light read, but don't expect any deep philosophical meanings or commentary on social issues. This one is purely for fun!

50 Websites for Book Lovers

Mashable Social Networking News has developed an annotated list entitled Books Toolbox: 50+ sites for Book Lovers. The list really has something for everyone who loves books. There are sites devoted to reviewing, swapping, sharing, cataloging, and publishing. This is worth checking out.

Friday, September 7, 2007

North Carolina Bookwatch

Tonight on North Carolina Bookwatch, hosted by D. G. Martin, author James Peacock will discuss his new work entitled Grounded Globalism: How the U. S. South Embraces the World. "The book looks at the impact of globalism on the Southern identity." The author is the Kenan Professor of Anthropology at UNC-Chapel Hill. It airs on UNC-TV at 9:30 PM and will be shown again on Sunday at 5 PM.

A complete list for this season can be found at the website.

Paperback shelf

On the first floor of the library, there is a small section that contains paperback books that you can take out on the honor system. Just browse the shelves, arranged alphabetically by author, and take what you want. There's no due date. Simply bring it back when you're finished. Let's face it -- sometimes you just want to read something that has absolutely nothing to do with school!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Daily Lit

We're all extremely busy and have little time for our hobbies and passions -- like reading. Daily Lit makes it easy to find a few minutes during the day to savor some classic literature.

DailyLit sends small installments of books via e-mail. They're all in the public domain and available for free. It's easy -- simply choose the book you want to subscribe to and choose how often and even the time of day for the e-mail. With over 400 titles, every reader should be able to find something to suit their interests. The e-mail installments can be read on various portable devices, as well. If you have the time, they have recently added a forum where readers can discuss the books, as well.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Careful Use of Compliments: An Isabel Dalhousie Novel… by Alexander Mccall Smith

This is the latest in the Sunday Philosophy Club series by Alexander McCall Smith. The author is best known for his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, which is good. But, if you haven't yet read anything else by this author, you are in for a treat.

I look forward to each new book in this series with anticipation. It is classified as a mystery, but the mystery is really secondary. What stands out is the language, setting, and the main character, Isabel Dalhousie. In fact, I find myself wanting to read this book aloud because the author's descriptions are so vivid. I have never been to Scotland, but I will go some day, and these books just whet my appetite.

Isabel Dalhousie is a moral philosopher and the editor of the Review of Applied Ethics. McCall Smith has a wonderfully dry wit that comes through in all his novels. Isabel is a very well-rounded character, and the reader gets to know her intimately through her interior monologues. She thinks about even the smallest things that happen during her day. She debates with herself the morality of inaction versus taking specific action.

But, where some characters may come across as judgmental or "preachy", Isabel does neither. She is very human and readily admits her faults. At heart, she is an optimist. This book and all the rest of the books in this series are a pleasure to read.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Literary Events this Fall

University of North Carolina at Charlotte
September 10 -- Greg Mortenson, Three Cups of Tea, 7 PM, Robinson Hall
October 9 -- Kathy Reichs and Jim Tabor, "Dead Bones Talk and Silent Stones Speak", 8 PM, Robinson Hall
October 16 -- James McBride, The Color of Water, 7 PM, Cone Center

Carolina Mountains Literary Festival
September 14 and 15
Burnsville, NC
Book signings, author readings, writing workshops, etc.
(there is a fee for the writing workshops)

Rowan Public Library Summer Reading Challenge
Sponsored by the Friends of RPL and Libretto Book Club
October 16 at 6:30
Waterworks Visual Arts Center, 123 E. Liberty St., Salisbury
A reception will follow discussion of the following books:
Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World by Kati Marton
Family History by Dani Shapiro
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
(You may attend even if you haven't read all the books) (free)

Novello Festival of Reading
"A festival celebrating books and learning, presented by the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County."
If you've never attended Novello, you need to give it a try. It is packed full of author readings, book signings, food tastings, and so much more! It begins on Thursday, September 27 and goes through October 27. Many of the events are free (but tickets are required), including the popular Carolina Writer's Night on Tuesday, October 16 at 7:00 PM.

Lenoir-Rhyne College
Visiting Writers Series: In Their Own Words
Among others, the following authors of note will speak at 8:00 PM on the following dates:
Nov. 1 -- Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes, Tis, Teacher Man (free)
Nov. 29 -- Tracy Kidder, author of Pfeiffer's 2007-2008 Freshman Seminar summer reading selection, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World (free)

Appalachian State University
Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series
November 8 at 7:30 PM -- Robert Morgan will discuss his nonfiction work, Boone: A Biography (free)

Davidson College
February 26 at 8 PM -- Michael Chabon will discuss The Yiddish Policeman's Union (free)

Many of these events may qualify for cultural credit.