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?

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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.