after visiting friends

After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey (Scribner, 2013). Screen Shot 2013-02-21 at 6.45.22 PM

Michael Hainey’s father, an accomplished journalist, died young and, according to the obits, alone on a street at night. Hainey follows in his father’s footsteps by becoming a newspaperman. As a reporter, Hainey is determined to learn the full story of his father’s death.

Excellent reporting requires excellent investigation skills. After Visiting Friends proves Hainey’s ability to objectively report the facts while still telling a personal story. It’s a very heart-warming story told through conversations and memory. Hainey invites the reader to follow him across the country and into the homes of family, friends, and many new acquaintances. As he searches for the truth about his father, he becomes much closer to his mother – the one person who may not be able to accept that truth.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review as a LibraryThing Early Reviewer).

olde time library humor

Two fragile finds in Denison’s library. First is Library Jokes and Jottings: A Collection of Stories Partly Wise but Mostly Otherwise (on the Internet Archive) by Henry T Coutts. Coutts was a branch librarian and President of the Library Assistants’ Association. A few trinkets:

public services The librarian must ever be a philosopher; he must preserve a calm and unexcitable state of mind in all circumstances. If one reader wants the window opened wide and another wants them shut, the wise librarian will compromise by opening half-way.

Commandment 5 Honour the opinions of an author as expressed in his book, but shouldst thou disagree with his views, pencil thine own notes in the margins. By so doing thou wilt not only give evidence of thy vast learning, but will irritate subsequent readers who will, unmindful of thy superior knowledge, regard thee as a conceited ass.

collection development Select books in haste and repent at your leisure.

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the bookworm (the literal kind)

The Enemies of Books (on Project Gutenberg) by William Blades (second edition, London, 1888) is much more dry. The more interesting chapters include

Dust and Neglect Blades was…politely, but mutely conducted by the librarian into his kingdom of dust and silence.

Servants and Children Children, with all their innocence, are often guilty of book-murder.

Apparently, when children are left alone in the library, they throw books at one another.
Apparently, when children are left alone in the library, they throw books at one another.








And who was so generous as to donate this book, originally at Kenyon College? Fees and Fines, the most difficult of all patrons!

high school prom

Anderson, Ann. (2012). High School Prom: Marketing, Morals and the American Teen. McFarland & Company, Inc.

With a passionate interest in women’s studies, mass culture, and all things kitsch (face it, prom is kitsch), I am delighted to report on Anderson’s new text High School Prom. Though it isn’t lengthy she manages to cover all aspects of prom’s history, commercialism, and pop culture status. Women readers – get ready to self-reflect and men, well, you’re mentioned sometimes too.

Part I – History – is the most in-depth and, unfortunately, the most tedious. Her writing style is a blend of nostalgic longing and well-researched scholarship. Sometimes it feels as if Anderson’s wishful thinking for her own prom do-over is the only reason she invested so much time into this research. However, it pulls through in Parts II and III – Marketing and Prom in Popular Culture, respectively. In these chapters she moves away from memory and writes more analytically about teen magazines, limo companies, and prom-themed B-movies.

Though prom is the core of the text, Anderson has to bring in many other elements of girlhood culture to round out her research. The evolution of the teenager as a social class and generational differences are routinely mentioned. The history and development of the magazine Seventeen play a starring role in marketing and peer pressure issues. And such a strong lure that even Anderson succumbs to it in her writing, the power of prom nostalgia and innocent romance both work to increase movie box office sales.

Anderson’s latest work is better as popular reading and layman’s interest than academic research. This is a bit disappointing for more serious readers, but a lengthy bibliography is sure to please these folks (librarians included!).

(Please note I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.)

it’s all in my head

Badr, Yusra. (2011). It’s All in My Head. Cairo: Shabab Books.

I met Yusra while in Cairo, Egypt interviewing artists (including creative writers like her) about their information-seeking behaviors. Yusra writes in English, a language that is secondary in learning yet has become primary in her thoughts.

Though written in prose, I consider Yusra a poet. Her sentences are short and simple, paragraphs continuously divided into breathing space, giving a staccato rhythm to her essays.

Reading It’s All in My Head is like having multiple conversations with Yusra. The essays vary in theme, from women’s obsession with shoes (“The fact that shoes are not affected by weight gain is one of the reasons why they are very popular with women”) to child labor to the Egyptian Revolution (“For the first time ever, I am not uncomfortable on the streets of my city”).

Likewise, we get a glimpse of her reading and listening preference from the quotes that introduce the essays. Pink Floyd, Creed, Dorothy Parker, E. B. White, George Orwell, Henry Kissinger, Robert Frost, and Kofi Annan are a handful of influences. It’s an unusual approach to publishing; the diversity and fast pace of the reading echoes her home city, Cairo. Yusra presents herself not as serious or flippant or humorous or passionate but rather all of these – at once and without pause.

…the human mind is in a constant state of comparison between self and others.

We are in a state of losing our ability to speak.

When we feel like we don’t have much control on what is going on in our lives, we color our hair.

We are hunched over with experiences…

…forgiving without forgetting is like not forgiving at all.

If you like these bits from her book, follow It’s All in My Head on Facebook for regular thoughts from Yusra!

ucontent: new book on user-generated content

UContent: The Information Professional’s Guide to User-Generated Content by Nick Tomaiuolo

Experienced reference and instruction librarian Nick Tomaiuolo’s (aka the Web 2.0 Librarian) new book is a must-have for all librarians involved in digital content. UContent clearly describes various user-generated content (UGC) tools and how librarians can implement these in their library work and personal development.

UContent is targeted toward the beginner in UGC but tricks and tips will be welcomed by more advanced users. UContent isn’t pretty. It’s a bare-bones how-to do-it-yourself approach, but it works.

Since the content of the book can easily become outdated, Tomaiuolo has created an excellent website to accompany the book. The most important chapters are on blogs, audio and video services,  social bookmarking, and Flickr.

Tomaiuolo provides an overview of the service as well as interviews with expert users or developers. Most importantly, he demonstrates how these services have been implemented by other librarians. This provides real-life demonstrations of the possibilities of UGC and acts as a jumping-off point for developing your own content. And, like any good librarian, he has a terrific bibliography for each chapter. UContent is sure to become a handy reference book for librarians as the enter the Web 2.0 world of UGC.

(I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review)

books for librarians

Some time last year my library acquired The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel. At the time, it reinvigorated me as a librarian. His ruminations and historical accounts had me considering the book as a precious community treasure.

During that time, I also attended the 2011 ACRL conference in Philadelphia. I attended a lecture by Jaron Lanier. Sadly, as it was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday not many people attended. But for me his ideas and blunt honesty as a Silicon Valley insider really awakened me. He made mention that libraries and publishing (as we are today) are doomed. He suggested we stop trying to play technological one-upmanship and refocus on the ROMANCE of the physical – the library space and the book as object. He was slightly critical of librarians and our desire (stereotypical or real) to “fit in” with other academics. We tend to want to be considered intellectuals according to other intellectuals’ criteria. We never really created our own scholarship, in a sense. Lanier seems to be a “you’re doomed, but you can still have fun dancing around the flames” kind of guy.

I’m ok with that.

So, I got over feeling doomed and enjoyed the fire…temporarily. But about a year later I’m anxious about libraries and wondering why we seem so 19th century in our daily practices. Yesterday, while poking around my local library branch, I came across Manguel’s A Reader on Reading. This is a collection of essays in which Manguel poetically argues that reading makes humankind human. It’s a return to the printed word as a foundation of our evolution – and a bridge to our future. He considers Alice in Wonderland, Borges, Saint Augustine, and Judaism. Reading is the ultimate interdisciplinary practice.

Yet again Manguel is reminding me of the pleasures and responsibilities of being a gatekeeper to the book.

afterlives of the saints

Afterlives of the Saints: Stories from the Ends of Faith by Colin Dickey (Unbridled Books, 2012).

Dickey’s latest work is an interesting selection of saints – famous and forgotten, martyred and disfigured, the academics and the ignorant. Afterlives is not a collection of biographies; it is much more a postmodern investigation of their lives. A foundation in Catholicism is less necessary than being well-read in Joyce, Proust, Borges, Flaubert, and Foucault. Because of this, those merely curious about the more strange and macabre saint stories will be disappointed. While Dickey’s examinations can be, at times, tedious and feel forced, they invite the reader to reconsider complex life stories. His insights on the lives of saints in contemporary culture and faith are a welcome perspective in the scholarship.

(I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review)

the little red guard

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The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir by Wenguang Huang (Riverhead, 2012).

Huang tells of growing up in Maoist China with a careful blend of objective journalism and bittersweet memory. The focal point of his narrative is his grandmother’s coffin – a contraband object in a communist country that requires cremation. Huang’s grandmother clings to traditional beliefs of burial and keeping the family together after death so as to protect family members as they continue in life. The coffin becomes an object simultaneously uniting and destroying his immediate family, shaping the adolescent years of the author.

As a memoir of communist China, I became more attached to the characters in LuLu Wang’s The Lily Theater. However, Huang’s involvement in politics, as a young Red Guard and later active in the Cultural Revolution, is a refreshing new look at the complicated and delicate balance performed by citizens under Mao’s dictatorship. His enjoyable and easily read novel provides an open door for engaging in the history of a closed society.

(I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review)