Monday, August 30, 2010

Questing for books

The whole Mockingjay kerfluffle has made me think a lot about how getting books has changed in the past few decades.

As a young girl, I loved Nancy Drew. Before I knew the word completist, I was one. It was the yellow-spine era, and I spent a couple of years checking every bookstore I came across for any of the 56 hardbacks. Strange how the small bookstores that dotted our town and every other then seemed somehow to have more stock than the massive chains which have replaced them.

When I had all but three of the yellow Nancys, I was allowed to use the form at the back of the book to order the copies to round out my set. My parents wrote a check to the Strathmore Syndicate. It took six to eight weeks for delivery. It was magical when those three books arrived.

Aside from this, which now seems a rather Herculean effort, I always read what was around. At home, it was wildly age-inappropriate things scavenged from my mother and grandmothers. My senior year of high school, I had an after-school job in a used bookstore which did a brisk trade in mass market paperbacks, and I read my way through anything in their stock that looked interesting.

In college, I had ample access to almost anything I wanted to read via the trifecta of an Ivy League college library, an excellent independent bookstore (now, sadly, a Barnes and Noble), and a well-supported public library. I DO remember going to the Strand in 1991, looking for a biography of Gilles de Rai that appeared in the NYT without luck, but most of my bookquesting was fulfilled for a while.

After college, left the vagaries of used book stores and underfunded public libraries, I became a much more eclectic reader, borrowing anything anyone recommended or was new, but always with crumpled pieces of paper in the bottom of my purse listing books I was looking for, questing for, in every bookstore I passed…then everything changed.

In 1997, I was taking a class on Irish literature for my first master’s, and saw a review of The Dower House by Annabell Goff Davis, which manifested the Irish history we had been reading about in fiction, in the New York Times. That was just after I had read about Amazon in the NYT (and that was when we got the NYT by mail, the next day). And then, for the cost of shipping, just about any book in the world could be mine. When I consider all my reading over the last decade – deep forays into Angela Thirkell, Barbara Pym, and Margaret Forester – it overwhelmingly represents things I would never have been able to find locally.

I don’t read many bestsellers, so most of what I’m after is definite long-tail stuff, but I think the Internet has actually tripped me up on Mockingjay. Had I gone to Barnes and Noble, I could have read it Tuesday, but I preordered, Apple’s preorders having spoiled me. I didn’t want the Kindle version, because I wanted to share it with my students before our library copies arrived. So I didn’t get my Mockingjay until Thursday, and was left with that deep dissatisfaction which occurs when you miss the opening weekend of a movie everyone else was buzzing about… and a reminder that there are other, more expedient ways to get those popular books, rather than online.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Intellectual freedom at issue in Humble, Texas

The controversy surrounding Ellen Hopkins' being disinvited from the Humble,Texas literary festival hits a little close to home for me.

Last year, a mother complained to our assistant principal about the language in Burned. It was an exchange my administrator didn't mention to me, one I only heard about because he asked my paraprofessional to make sure the student hadn't accrued a fine when he returned the book. I have an administration who understand and even privilege the importance of access to books teens want to read. But we've already had six classes of freshmen in for orientation this week, and the Ellen Hopkins books were gone with the first group. I fought not to worry as the baby-faced ninth graders checked those books out. I'm sure they didn't have those at the middle schools.

And one thing is for certain, Hopkins' books are among my students' favorites, so much so that not one of our five copies of Burned made it back on the shelf this summer -- I definitely need to place an order there. No one who has read them could possibly think Hopkins' book glorify drugs or sex, and I have had students attest to their bibliotherapeutic qualities, either in reflecting the realities around them or warning them about pratfalls of reckless behavior.

Hopkins is among the fiercest teen advocates I know. Her posts surrounding the Texas incident, like those during the brouhaha in Oklahoma last year, are wonderful. The exclusion, and the subsequent author solidarity in reaction, is all over the biblioblogosphere,  but I especially appreciated Harmony's take as a teen:
NO ONE HAS THE RIGHT TO TELL ME WHAT TO READ. NO ONE. My parents don't even tell me what I'm allowed to read yet ONE person whom most of the teens have probably never even met has the right to decide what ALL of them are allowed to read?
I enlarged Hopkins' 2009 Banned Books Week poem "Manifesto" to poster size. It hangs on our circulation desk, beneath whichever of books we happen to have just gotten back. We keep them there because they won't stay on the shelf for long.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Recent reading, and social networks

After reading Lauren Barnholt's One Night that Changes Everything with its shrugged-off cyberbullying, I've been thinking a lot about depictions of social networking technology in YA lit. My favorite iterations are those where the author creates their own nuanced social networks. Over the weekend, I read Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney, and was terribly bothered by the cycle of these women's frailty at the hands of men as perpetuated by the cell phone with tracking capabilities that Ariel's boyfriend urges her to take. She eventually discards the device, but it was such a negative and menacing symbol, I'm definitely going to track some of these appearance of social networks and mobile technologies and see how they track with larger trends. Somewhat ironically, my next read was Stephen Davies' fun parkour-and-cryptography lark Hacking Timbuktu, which presents facebook as the terrorism-abetting group-dynamic-riddled communication mechanism that could well be.

Speaking of social networks, there's nothing like the social experience of reading. When I opened up my browser, I was thrilled to see book bloggers discussing three of my favorite recent reads. Angie Manfredi takes on teen Kody Keplinger's debut, The DUFF, at her blog Fat Girl, Reading. At GuysLitWire, bookchic focuses on Martin Wilson's debut What They Always Tell Us. And at Becky's Book Reviews, Becky reviews the lyrical historical Leaving Gee's Bend by another first-time Alabama author, Irene Latham.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The great potential in our midst

While librarians elsewhere will be moving from campus-to-campus, or even back into the classroom, we are lucky enough to have three new librarians in our district. One elementary, one middle, and one high school librarian, and, for two of them, this is a new career. The third has moved into the area. And while none of the rest of us have materials funding, one lucky first-year librarian even gets money to build a collection at the new middle school next door. I'll admit to being a little jealous, as I shelve my fifty-five year old books...

But it's interesting to see the processes of what we do through new eyes. I spent yesterday afternoon showing Infocentre, our so-called automation system, with our transplant. We hit an impasse over barcodes. I have never printed my own, that being one of the few aspects of processing I am willing to outsource. She didn't know you could purchase barcodes or generate them outside of the automation system... and she was the experienced school librarian. But it's good to think about these things again. I've had to opine on everything from district-level policies about fines and fees to the local intellectual freedom climate over the last few days.

I think some of the success of my school comes from an almost anthropological sense of having been inducted and complying with the larger group norms.  Our county librarians' group is also a strong one. In what can be an isolating position as a school librarian, you need that constant counsel at the ready. I have found so many like-minded individuals in the biblioblogosphere, I can forget that my local colleagues appreciate community, too. I'm thinking helping these new librarians achieve enculturation into this most fundamental group of allies and advocates is about the most important way I can spend my time as school begins.