Monthly Archives: September 2017

Banned Books Week

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

Librarians have their own holiday week. We call it Banned Books Week and this year it runs from the 24th through the 30th of September. This is a week where we look back at classics and other printed works that have been challenged and outright banned in communities around the United States and the rest of the world. We celebrate this week not because books are banned, but because despite attempts to remove books from the public arena, these questioned titles remain available for us all. This is because we are citizens of a country that enjoys the freedom of speech.

Of course, when I say librarians I really mean the American Library Association (ALA) and when I say banned books I mean books that have been banned by or challenged in state sponsored institutions. And what is “challenged,” you say? According to ALA, “[a] challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials.” The ALA and its partner in organizing Banned Books Week, Amnesty International, created this week to bring awareness to the masses that censorship still exists around the world and here at home as well.

Motivations for banning or censoring books usually start out with a desire to do what is perceived as good. These are not the 1933 Nazi cleansings, the burning of books that challenge a political ideal. They are usually attempts to protect a segment of the population from concepts and ideals that some feel may be harmful to others. Nevertheless, an unwillingness to accept ideas outside of our personal world view is still censorship, protective nature notwithstanding.

Banning books in the public domain, most often schools, leads to damage to our students according to an article called “The Effects of Censorship.” “While the attempt to keep children pure for as long as possible is admirable, it takes the form of leaving gaping holes in their education, if not academically, then about life.” The author goes on to explain that missing out on knowledge that is gained from materials some might find offensive can lead to a lack of knowledge that most feel is essential.

The fear of censorship itself is also a form of censorship. Many education professors speak of the self-censorship that teachers impose on themselves. The fear of having a choice they made questioned (or getting them into trouble with the institution) leads to the avoidance of a book or topic altogether.  However, one of the most important parts of education (and reading) is to study and read about both sides. First year composition courses tell students that they need to understand both sides of an argument before you can write a persuasive essay. You cannot refute an argument without understanding its underlying motivations.  What we do not know, we do not know. What gaps do we all have that we are unaware of because some piece of information was denied to us?

Evelyn Hall, in her 1906 Work The Friends of Voltaire, wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Basically, the standard for protected speech cannot be defined by a person’s personal beliefs.  That is the attitude taken by the ALA when it comes to banning books, going so far as to quote Noam Chomsky on their web site “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” Book challenges don’t know political exclusivity. They come from right and left.  Banned books isn’t some week designed to just speak out on the unjust persecution of books we like, it is a time for us to stand against all censorship. Just remember, if books you find offensive are banned, what’s to stop the books you approve of and enjoy  from being banned?

Banned Books Week is a celebration. It is revelry for the written word in which we can see our brightest heights and darkest depths, laid out before the world, to be seen, commented upon and preserved so that they may be remembered and judged by the future.  And I am proud to live in a country that leaves its written testimony open and bare for all to see.


P.S. – The biggest thing to look for every year at this time is the top ten list. These are the most challenged books of the last year.

Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016

Advertisements

Cozy Up To A Good Mystery – Agatha Christie Style

By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

It’s a chilly Sunday afternoon and the rest of your family is parked in front of the large screen watching a football game. You, however, are nestled into your favorite comfy chair in front of a glowing fireplace, steaming cup of tea in hand, a soft throw over your knees. You sigh happily as you open another installment of your favorite “Miss Marple” mystery series. This singular pleasure was brought to you courtesy of Agatha Christie, one of the creators and the chief purveyor of the mystery genre known as the “Cozy.” Forty-one years after her death in 1976, Agatha Christie is still one of the top-selling authors of all time, with novel sales in the billions. This September marks the 127th anniversary of Agatha’s birth. So in Agatha’s honor, we’ll look at this traditional mystery genre closely associated with her novels, and explore ways to find works by other authors that will appeal to Cozy fans.

The heroine of Charlaine Harris’ Aurora Teagarden series is a librarian.

Mystery fiction is divided into several major categories. Hard and Soft Boiled Mysteries generally feature a seasoned professional detective who often must contend with personal demons while investigating a crime. Procedurals offer blow-by-blow analysis of how a crime is solved, either by detailed detective legwork or scientific investigation. Thrillers and Suspense novels don’t always hinge on solving a crime or murder that occurs at the start of a novel, but instead focus on some ever-intensifying threat to the protagonist and feature lots of plot twists. There are also countless mystery sub-genres – Capers, Domestic, Historic, Noir, Romantic Suspense and True Crime, to name a few.

And then there are the Cozies. Sometimes called Traditional Mysteries, the Cozies are distinguished from the darker, grittier mystery genres by several crucial characteristics:

  • Instead of a hard-boiled detective, the Cozy crime solver is an amateur sleuth who is almost always a woman. Agatha’s Miss Marple is a prime example. The amateur sleuth usually has some other vocation – caterer, chef, cat fancier, bed and breakfast owner, or librarian.
  • In a Cozy, the setting is key!

    The setting of a Cozy mystery is critical and helps provide the novel its “cozy” character. It is often set in a small rural town or charming village, or in some cases a closed environment such as an isolated estate or even a train. The intimate nature of the setting allows most of the suspects to know each other. Bishop’s Lacey, the quintessential English village featured in Alan Bradley’s delightful Flavia de Luce series, and Cabot Cove, the location of Donald Bain’s “Murder, She Wrote” novels, both illustrate the perfect Cozy setting.

  • Cozies are lighter in tone than other mystery genres. They are considered “gentle” mysteries with little or no graphic violence or explicit sex. The murder almost always happens “off stage” and the victim is sometimes a less-than-sterling character who may have had it coming. Any sex occurs strictly “behind closed doors.” [Quick note: some current Cozies tend to be edgier than earlier examples of the genre.]
  • The amateur sleuth is not a police officer or forensics expert, but almost always has a friend or significant other who is one. Through this friend, our sleuth gains access to information, such as an autopsy report, not usually available to your average person.
  • The local law enforcement tends to underestimate and dismiss the amateur sleuth, allowing her to “casually overhear” key details at a crime scene.
  • Many Cozy Mysteries are parts of series.

    A Cozy usually features a “red herring” – a clue that steers the reader away from the actual criminal or suggests an inaccurate conclusion.

  • The victim and possibly some of the suspects are often known to the amateur sleuth. They could be old college friends or coworkers.
  • Cozies usually boast a cast of colorful, likeable, eccentric secondary characters who are often as important to the reader as the amateur sleuth.
  • Cozy mysteries are often written as parts of a series. Readers become emotionally involved with the amateur sleuth and other recurring characters and feel they’re “coming home” to a familiar place and old friends when they begin their next Cozy. There are MANY series to choose from, but a few notable ones include Agatha’s Miss Marple series, M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series, Nancy Atherton’s Aunt Dimity series, Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, and the previously mentioned Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley (my personal favorite).

    Two intrepid Siamese, Koko and Yum Yum, help their human solve crimes in the “Cat Who” series.

  • Cozies sometimes center around a hobby or theme – everything from cats and the culinary arts to knitting and holidays to tea shops and libraries. A link to a great list of Cozy mysteries arranged by theme is included in “Further Reading” at the end of this article.
  • The good guys usually win and the evil-doers get their comeuppance.

Once you’ve devoured all of Agatha’s Miss Marple mysteries, what’s next?  The list of possibilities is literally endless. To help narrow the field, check out three of Agatha’s contemporaries who helped establish and refine the Traditional Mystery formula and, along with Agatha, comprised the four great “Queens of Crime”:  Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), famous for her Lord Peter Wimsey series, Margery Allingham (1904-1966), known for her Albert Campion series and Ngaio Marsh (1895-1982), creator of the Inspector Roderick Alleyn series. WCPL has a good selection of works by each of these writers.

For contemporary Cozy novels, there’s no better place to look than the list of winners and finalists of the annual Agatha Awards. Since 1988, Malice Domestic, an organization celebrating the Traditional Mystery, has honored mysteries that best typify Agatha Christie’s works, defined as mysteries that contain no explicit sex, no excessive gore or gratuitous violence, and can’t be classified as “Hard-Boiled.” The 2015 and 2016 Agatha Awards winners and finalists are listed below with titles available at WCPL noted in bold. A link to the complete list of winners and finalists since the Awards’ inception in 1988 is included below under “Further Reading.”

2016

2015

If you’re already a fan of Cozies or just ready to try them, one thing is certain — you won’t run out of reading material any time soon. See below for lists of works that will keep you reading for years to come. Enjoy…and stay Cozy!

Read the rest of this entry

The Proper Way to Read a Book

By Lon Maxwell and Rebecca Tischler, Reference Department

Damaged Books

I blame my sister, it is completely her fault that I refuse to lend out books without making sure the other person understands that if it is not returned to me in the condition they borrowed it, they will buy me a brand new book. I’ve been reading, a lot, ever since a teacher told me to try actually reading the books instead of just looking at the pretty pretty pictures and making up a story.  I was hooked, and bought ridiculous numbers of books.  So of course, at times I was treated as a miniature lending library because of my “surplus.” I was very generous at first, especially to my sister, until she brought back one of my Harry Potter books SPLIT down the spine. SPLIT!! I repaired my poor book to the best of my abilities (I’m still waiting for it to fall apart again), and then my sister brought back another book that had WATER DAMAGE.  It’d been sitting in the RAIN! THE HORROR!!!

Needless to say, I was tired of being brought back books that I had to repair (it wasn’t just my sister, but as the little sister, I feel it is my duty to put as much blame on her as possible for my quirks).  Then I found out that someone who had been reading my copy of Pride and Prejudice until it was literally falling apart (who shall not be named), was buying themselves a brand new copy because they loved it sooo much they needed a copy of their own (after destroying mine).  So when they showed it to me, I gave them the book they had destroyed and told them that the new copy was now MINE!!! There may even have been evil laughter.  And glowing eyes… and the possibility that I grew three feet…. ANYWAY, suffice to say, that I now have rules about book lending and how others treat my books.  And then I realized, these are good ideas for ANYONE.  ALL books should be treated well.  So a co-worked and I have decided to share ideas for, HOW TO READ A BOOK!

Take it away LON!

This entertaining infographic designed by Michael Rogalsky for Quirk Books presents twelve yoga poses that combine the body simulation of yoga with the mental simulation of reading.

There are many suggestions on posture and physical attitude for reading properly, but I think they’re really just nonsense. Find the way you like to read at whatever moment you have. I have known people to hang upside down in chairs and read like that for hours. How you adjust your body is whatever suits you and your environment (I certainly wouldn’t recommend the upside down posture for, say, the bus). Maybe try book yoga.

This brings us to the book itself. For something made out of trees, books are remarkably fragile. You never want to bend a book cover back around the spine of a book. I’ve see many a paperback fall apart because someone felt it would be easier to read if they could view one page at a time. In hardbacks, this is impossible, but paperbacks are sufficiently pliable to be contorted this way. The problem is that the signatures (the individual sections of pages) are glued to the spine. When you bend the book past a certain degree the glue cracks and you can end up with chapter 27 floating free in the wind while you run after it.

When you want to mark a page, never dog ear the corner. Folding paper creates a point of weakness. Over time the corner will break off. Use a bookmark whenever possible, which means always. You don’t need one of those tasseled slips of laminated card from by the register at your favorite book store. Use whatever you have to hand. If you search your pockets wallet or purse you will most likely find a receipt from something. These make excellent improvised place holders. You will want to avoid things that may have food residue or adhesives on them as these can degrade the paper over time, so that gum wrapper is not the best idea.

Often you will find that you run across a section or passage of a book that you want to preserve or share. Writing and highlighting in books has two camps, those who shudder at the thought and those that think we who shudder need to take a deep breath more often. I hate running across a used book that I’ve been seeking for ages only to find the pages marked up by some prior bibliophile, and librarians will go apoplectic when they find it in the lending books. Personally, I endorse the use of sticky notes and flags, but only for temporary use. The preservation department of the Smithsonian Institute thinks differently. The notes and flags do leave behind an adhesive that will attract dirt and can contain chemicals harmful to the paper over time. If there is something that impresses you so much that you want to preserve, annotate or expound on it, then purchase a little journal to record the passage and your thoughts. You can even note the page in your book journal to return for later perusing.

Now for the big no-nos:

  1. Don’t read while you eat. Think about a bag of Cheetos and your favorite tome. Imagine how every page would end up with greasy orange fingerprints if you ate them while reading. I’m pretty sure that my wife would murder me and never feel a moments remorse if I got cool ranch powder on her first edition of Visions of Cody. The thing is, all food has these residues. They’re just not the color of orange highlighter.  Food residue contains acids and oils that damage paper as well as attract bugs that eat paper like roaches. Always eat lunch while reading? Your bookcase is full of enough food particulates and paper to make a cockroach buffet.
  2. Don’t read in the tub, regardless of whether the book is in the tub with you or not. Paper and water do not play well. That includes the humidity that steams up your mirrors.  The same goes for the beach with the added dangers of sand and salt, camping with its grime and weather, and boating with all of the above and an unsteady platform on which to place yourself. I know the joys of reading on the beach and while camping, so if you do decide to chance it, try to save it for those cheap mass market books you pick up at the pharmacy or grocery store.

After all this you may think that I’m some sort of book preservation fanatic, and you’d probably be right. I work in a library after all. However if you enjoy books, you most likely want to share that love with others. Give them the best possible book when you loan them out by avoiding simple damage. If you like these suggestions and want to learn more about preserving your collection as a whole, please see our printed material preservation article.

Patriot Day

By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department

Most of us vividly remember the morning of September 11, 2001. We remember exactly where we were and what we were doing. But today, many children were either born after that date or were too young to remember the attacks. For those kids, here are eleven children’s books about September 11, 2001.

It’s Still a Dog’s New York by Susan L. Roth (J E ROT)
Pepper and Rover, two New York dogs, are miserable after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Pepper feels overwhelmed with sadness and fear and anger. But in a tour of New York City, his friend Rover shows him that even though they’re sad, they can go on.

September Roses by Jeanette Winter (J E WIN)
On September 11, 2001, two sisters from South Africa are flying to New York City with 2,400 roses to be displayed at a flower show. When they land, they learn of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The sisters cannot go home, and they are stranded with boxes and boxes of roses at the airport. When a kind stranger offers them a place to stay, they decide to repay this kindness by arranging their roses in the shape of the fallen towers.

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes (J F RHODES)
As the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, Deja’s fifth grade teacher at her new school begins a unit on the tragedy, but Deja doesn’t completely understand why. Not when she has more important things to worry about, like the fact that her family is living in a homeless shelter or why her father is so sad all the time. As she begins making friends at school for the first time in her life, Deja realizes just how much the Twin Towers affect her.

I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001 by Lauren Tarshis (J F TARSHIS)
When Lucas’s parents decide football is too dangerous and make him quit, Lucas has to talk to his biggest fan: his Uncle Benny, who is a New York City firefighter. So the next morning, Lucas takes the train to the city instead of the bus to school. It’s a bright, beautiful day in New York. But just as Lucas arrives at his uncle’s firehouse, everything changes—and nothing will ever be the same again.

Cyber Spies and Secret Agents of Modern Times by Allison Lassieur (J 327.12 LAS)
The terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, spurred the United States and other countries around the world to develop new spying techniques, new cutting-edge equipment, and new recruits to meet the challenge of 21st century enemies and threats. Learn about the exciting modern world of spies and secret agents.

14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy (J 327.676073 DEE)
Nine months after the September 11 attacks, an American diplomat is surrounded by hundreds of Maasai people in western Kenya. A gift is about to be bestowed upon the American people, and he is here to accept it. Word of the gift will travel newswires around the globe. Many will be profoundly touched, but for Americans, this selfless gesture will have deeper meaning still. For a heartsick nation, the gift of fourteen cows emerges from the choking dust and darkness as a soft light of hope and friendship.

What Were the Twin Towers? by Jim O’Conner (J 725.23097471 O’CO)
When the Twin Towers were built in 1973, they were billed as an architectural wonder. At 1,368 feet, they clocked in as the tallest buildings in the world and changed the New York City skyline dramatically. Offices and corporations moved into the towers—also known as the World Trade Center—and the buildings were seen as the economic hub of the world. But on September 11, 2001, a terrorist attack toppled the towers and changed our nation forever. Discover the whole story of the Twin Towers—from their ambitious construction to their tragic end.

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein (J 791.34 GER)
In 1974, French aerialist Philippe Petit threw a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center and spent an hour walking, dancing, and performing high-wire tricks a quarter mile in the sky. This picture book captures the detail, daring, and drama of Petit’s feat.

September 11 Then and Now by Peter Benoit (J 973.931 BEN)
This nonfiction book in the True Book series for young readers recounts the events before, during, and after the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001.

America Is Under Attack: The Day the Towers Fell: September 11, 2001 by Don Brown (J 973.931 BRO)
Straightforward and honest, this account of September 11, 2001, moves chronologically through the morning, from the terrorist plane hijackings to the crashes at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania; from the rescue operations at the World Trade Center site in New York City to the collapse of the buildings.

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman (J 974.7 KAL)
A fireboat, launched in 1931, is retired after many years of fighting fires along the Hudson River but is saved from being scrapped and then called into service again on September 11, 2001.

Children’s Books That (Some) Librarians Don’t Love

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

Darling Reader, I’m going to let you in on a little industry secret.  A couple of them, actually.

Most human librarians have not read–and occasionally don’t have an awareness of–every single book in their respective libraries.

And . . . brace yourselves for Librarian Secret #2 . . . there are books that some librarians don’t even like.

Okay, okay, simmer down now.  I know this may come as an unpleasant shock to some of you, but it really shouldn’t.  Just as even the esteemed Dumbledore enjoyed lemon drops but didn’t much care for Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, so it goes with those of us who spend our days surrounded by the good, the bad, and the ugly of literature.  (Dirty little secret #3: there are actually librarians who do not like the Harry Potter series, but in the interest of good citizenry, I shall not reveal their identities here.  Hey, just because I love those books to the point of dressing up as Bellatrix Lestrange on Halloween and random Tuesdays doesn’t mean that everyone has to love them.)

Since it is a bankable fact that I’m a tremendous slacker and try to get my colleagues to do my work for me whenever any opportunity presents itself . . . oh, wait . . . I mean, since I value the viewpoints and opinions of my co-workers and try to practice inclusion whenever I can . . . and because this would be a really boring article if I just rattled on about the books that I despise (Johnny Tremain), I have solicited (and paraphrased in some instances) opinions from my smart and talented fellow librarians, and several of them have been kind enough to share their thoughts with me about children’s books that they personally find odious, irksome, or just plain weird.  I have also given my “guests” pseudonyms taken from the aforementioned Harry Potter series (and did I mention how much I love those books?) so that no repercussions may befall them for placing their confidence in me.  Therefore, Darling Reader, I present to you in no particular order a short list of books that are disliked by at least one (and sometimes more) WCPL employee.

“The only book that I can truly say that I despise is Madonna’s The English Roses.  And the reason has more to do with the fact that Madonna says she wrote it because, when she had her child, she ‘couldn’t find any good books out there for children, so she had to write her own.’  The arrogant ignorance of that statement caused me to hate the book on general principle!” says a kind and lovely librarian to whom I’ll refer as “Madam Pomfrey,” Hogwarts’ school matron, or school nurse, in American parlance.  (Author’s aside:  a used hardcover copy of The English Roses is available at Amazon for the astonishingly low price of fifteen cents.  I am so not making this up.)

Librarian “Godric Gryffindor” is also not a fan of Madonna’s alleged books, or of those by almost any celebrity or pop-culture figure, whether they go by one name, or two or three.  “However, I doubt if I could name a specific title, because I’ve banished all the crappy ones from my mind,” Gryffindor states.  And by Merlin’s beard, don’t even get him started on some of the adult “classics” . . .

Next up, a two-for-one.  Staffers “Kingsley Shacklebolt” and “Professor Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank” weigh in on Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.  “This book is sweet if you don’t think too hard about it; very stalker-mom if you do think about it, and once you do, you can never go back to sweet,” says Shacklebolt.  “It is just so incredibly sad!” states Professor Grubbly-Plank.  The author concurs on both opinions.

“I like books that teach or are an example of good behavior or qualities, and use proper grammar.  Also, humor is wonderful, but not bathroom humor,” says a librarian I’ll refer to as “Molly Weasley.”  Again, the author agrees.  I adored the late Barbara Park, author of the popular Junie B. Jones books, as she was a wonderful person and a fellow alumna of the University of Alabama, but I truly cringe every time I connect a child with ol’ Junie B.  Some folks find Junie B. charming and funny, others find her to be ill-mannered and obnoxious.  Ditto for Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books, as well as Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  Personally, I try to make myself feel a little better about young patrons being devoted to these series; at least they’re engaged and reading something, I tell myself.  The darker side of my psyche usually responds with a profanity-laced reply that I keep to myself.

The final entries in this ridiculous annoying snarky insanely funny blog are brought to you by two fabulous librarians to whom I shall bequeath the pseudonyms of “Luna Lovegood” and “Hermione Granger.”  Hermione told me that she put some thought into my query, and that there aren’t that many kid-lit choices that she really detests, but that any books featuring Caillou (that whiny bald-headed Canadian kid who torments his little sister Rosie and the family cat Gilbert) are definitely on her list.  Also, “there was this dead bird book that was pretty morbid.”  Indeed—The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown, author of the  classics Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny.  Luna’s least-favorite children’s book also contains a theme of death and grieving:  I Cried Too by Jim Schmidt.  Our sweet Luna wants to make it clear that she doesn’t dislike this book, but that the subject matter just makes it so hard to get through.

Darling Reader, if you’ve stuck with me this far, thank you.  I hope this blog made you laugh, made you think, but most of all I hope it made you want to read—even if it is something that isn’t universally loved by librarians.  Because really, that’s the whole point, isn’t it?  Read what YOU love, and have fun.  Until next time–


Unlike most of my other blogs, the opinions and viewpoints in this article DO represent those of some other employees of WCPL.  Names and other identifying details have been altered, via my intense love for the world of Harry Potter, to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent.  Lastly, just because your favorite librarian may not like a particular book, that doesn’t mean that she or he won’t help you find that one, or thousands of other amazing and wondrous books that are available at WCPL. Happy reading!
%d bloggers like this: