Friday, April 23, 2010

No, Atlantic, we don’t

Why We Want Parents To Try To Ban Books

It’s short. Go read it.

The one major flaw in logic I see in the piece is that they seem to be assuming that the people who are challenging these books are actually, you know, reading them, and not basing their evaluation of the book's value (or lack thereof) on a few sentences taken out of context. This is not about a celebration of critical discourse amongst the population at large; this is a celebration of a lack of reading or critical thinking ability. Which is something you should be against, Atlantic.

Also, the people challenging these books are not making choices for their children; they're trying to make choices for ALL children. I’m not much for “slippery slope” arguments, so I won’t make one, but I feel pretty comfortable saying that people feeling like they have the right to make such highly individual choices for other people is bad.

This argument also fails on the “people who live in the real world” front. I’ve never had a book in my library challenged, but I have had books brought to my “attention”, and have hesitated recommending or featuring some books, or putting them on the summer reading list, despite their many merits. This despite being told, when I asked my dean about putting a book with a mildly controversial (and, I might add, hilarious) blow job scene on the summer reading list, that it was no problem and she’d gladly field complaints. I have no real fear of significant repercussions based on any book I’ve bought or recommended—but I still pause and ask myself if I’m asking for trouble. Asking librarians to regularly—nay, frequently, as they’re encouraging here—confront such challenges to their judgment is just plain wrong. Yes, we all need to have the courage of our convictions, but facing such challenges can be exhausting, especially given that the people bringing them are not always interested in a polite exchange of differing ideals.

Encouraging book challenges is not encouraging healthy discourse. It’s encouraging people to question and judge the professional abilities of librarians and teachers. And we get quite enough of that already, thank you.

Also, that “or even ttyl and the Twilight series line is just plain obnoxious. How gracious of you, to deign to acknowledge that YA lit may have a legitimate place on the shelves next to “real” books. A quick search of The Atlantic's archive turns up 463 articles mentioning Dan Brown. Just sayin’.

On a tangentially related note, I find hilarious is that Twilight is challenged for being "sexually explicit.” Seriously? [Obligatory SPOILER ALERT, even though if you haven't read the books by now, chances are you're not going to] When the only actual sex in the entire series takes place the main character is UNCONSCIOUS. Would they prefer she develop amnesia? Is that un-explicit enough? I can think of so many better reasons to challenge Twilight. For example, vampires don’t sparkle; the book gives poor, impressionable children misguided ideas about both vampires and sparkly things.

Friday, April 16, 2010

I suppose it's possible he's the world's most prolific author

Three out of every five Works Cited lists I correct list "Gale, Thomson" as the author for one or more sources.

I suppose this means I need to do some instruction on differentiating between actual author names
and things that sound like author names but are, in fact, publishers.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

And you thought the barcode conversation was riveting

For years (well, since I've been here), I have made a custom spine label for each new book I add to the collection. It was something started when they were automating the collection before I got here, and the other person who was working here at the time insisted that we keep doing it, as it would make things look uniform. And so, despite the fact that every vendor will provide spine labels for the books you buy, I have kept with the in-house production of spine labels, because our labels are big and clear and easy to read and it makes things look nice and uniform and appeals--in a deep, fundamental way--to my OCD.

But, as you might imagine, while it doesn't take a lot of time, it also doesn't take no time. And there are something like 40 labels on a sheet, so there's always a question of how long to wait before printing a sheet, as I don't really order books in nice neat batches of 40. I can run the sheet through the printer multiple times, but after the first time the quality decreases, which does not jibe well with the aforementioned OCD.

So as I get busier and busier (and more behind on book processing), I have begun asking myself why I don't just go ahead and use the vendor-provided spine labels.

And so I did.

Sure, things won't look all uniform anymore. But that didn't seem to be a good enough reason to keep doing something that took time I don't have to spare. The vendor labels look fine. And unlike the barcode thing, I have no problem remembering to do something that doesn't create extra work for me.

Part of me feels like I've compromised my standards in some way. But mostly, I feel. . . liberated.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

No no, thank *you*

My last post reminded me of my list of my “favorite” book donations ever, which I’ve been meaning to share for a while.

Twenty Steps to Power, Influence and Control Over People
Just what every teen needs—a handbook on megalomania

Body Language: Does Her Body Say That She’s a Loose Woman
Find out what exactly about her posture screams “hussy”

Shelter What You Make Minimize the Take (a book on tax shelters from 1982)
While some of my students are probably more in need of tax shelters than I am, I have a feeling that they’re looking for something written after they were born. I’m also assuming they don’t do their own taxes.

Nutrition, Health, and Harmony (1978)
This one was written before *I* was born. And while harmony has probably stayed the same over the past 30+ years, I’m guessing health and nutrition information may have changed a bit

Prescription Drug Encyclopedia (1987)
Drugs not listed include Prozac, Adderall, Zoloft, Viagra

How to Buy Stocks (1962)
One of my students mentioned the other day that he had sold most of his Google stocks right before they pulled out of China. Maybe I should give him this book.

And more by Andy Rooney
What teen doesn’t love. . . Andy Rooney?

Personal Financial Planning Course (1973)
Shockingly, this book mentioned nothing about credit default swaps or mortgage-backed securities.

Official Guide to New York’s World Fair 1964/1965
Is this the World Fair featuring the spaceships from Men In Black? ‘Cause I might be able to booktalk that.

Bed and Breakfast in the Mid-Atlantic States
For my students who are planning a weekend getaway. In a region of the country we don’t live in.

And, of course, the perennial favorite:
400 Creative Ways to Say “I Love You”
(Which would, in a truth-in-advertising world, be subtitled "Misogyny 101")
Featuring, amongst other timeless tips, the advice that you should stand behind your husband on the escalator so you can “pinch his rear.”

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Today's lesson

Receiving a challenge to Beloved* one day does not mean you won't discover
Lesbian Cowboys: Erotic Adventures in a pile of donations the next day.

*Very informal and quickly and easily resolved, for the record.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Positively Amazing

I've been trying all weekend to come up with the words that would effectively, articulately explain how amazing Friday was, but those words either don't exist or continue to escape me, so the following will have to do.

As you may remember, a while back I posted two book trailers; I made them in preparation for a visit by two authors. A visit that was planned way in advance, and seemed like it was always way off in the future. Well, it happened last Friday.

I know. It kind of snuck up on me, too. (Yes, I know that "snuck" is, technically, incorrect. I don't care. Except inasmuch as I care enough to point out that I don't care.)

It was, in a word, amazing.

I was, to be frank, more than a bit nervous. What if no one read the books? What if no one showed up? What if they decided in the middle of it that they hated me, the library, and everything associated with it, and stormed out? (Never underestimate my ability to be completely irrationally neurotic.)

But it was amazing, and I take very little credit for that. Courtney Sheinmel and Regan Hofmann made this event what it was. Their books connected with my students, and, more importantly, they connected with my students.

We started with a book discussion and signing after school in the library, with separate groups for the two different books. Students showed up early; I don't think I've ever seen that many students show up early for something that didn't involve pizza. But they were there and waiting, books in hand. And even though it was a beautiful day outside, and most of their friends were outside enjoying one of the first days of spring, they stayed. And stayed focused and engaged. Which is kind of a big deal at the end of the day on a beautiful Friday--through in some attention issues, and, well, wow.

When I talk with people about working with LD students, most of them do not think of them as readers. . . and are even less likely to take them seriously as readers. Which is a mistake. Because while very few of my students would list reading as a favored pastime (hmm, could that be because people treat them like they can't read? But that's a separate discussion), when they connect to a book they connect like no other. In the discussion with Courtney about "Positively", which is about a girl born HIV-positive, one of my students made a connection between the stigma of HIV and the stigma of LD that took my breath away (more about that at Courtney's blog).

Though I wasn't able to sit in on it, I heard excellent things about the discussion that Regan led as well. And I got to see her in action that night, when she and Courtney addressed the entire student body. The Friday night programming at school can, at times, be a bit of a battle; students doing everything they can to get out of it, faculty doing everything they can to get students to stay in it. But kids--most of whom had not read the book--loved it. I have never seen a response like that before.

And, frankly, aside from my students, this was amazing for me. There were a lot of moving pieces to this project, and while I did drop a few balls and mixed a few metaphors, I pulled it off. And it went really well. The feedback has been amazing. Many students have, without prompting, told me how much they enjoyed the evening. The next day, I saw a group of students as I was walking towards the dining hall for lunch and they made a point of telling me how much they enjoyed the program; one even said she'd told a friend who'd skipped it that he was an idiot for doing so. Today, three days later, I continue to hear from students about how much they enjoyed it. Which, in the attention span of a teenager (particularly with the drama that tends to come with any weekend), is a really long time.

I'm also really excited about this because I think it started the ball rolling (or got the ball rolling again. . .) on us talking seriously about health and sex education on campus, and how what we do now (i.e. nothing) is woefully inadequate and a gross disservice to our students. In the discussions leading up to this visit I heard everything from one student thinking that HIV was spread like the flu, to one girl asking her friend if she could get HIV from sex (the girl explained to her friend that a) yes she could and b)she probably shouldn't be having sex until she was less misinformed). These students have questions, and avoiding them doesn't make the answers any less important.

If you take students seriously--as readers, as critical thinkers, as people responsible for their own education and health--they will, more often than not, rise to the occasion. I've always thought the idea that you somehow couldn't trust teenagers to step up, or give them certain kinds of information because they couldn't handle it, was ludicrous. And right here I have a clear example of why that idea is ludicrous. You know why so many teens don't step up to the plate? Because so many adults in their lives act like they can't or won't. Trust matters.

I feel like I haven't done this event justice. I love words. I count on my words. But they are failing me here, as I can tell that nothing I've said really expresses how amazing this entire day was. I can tell you this, though: I'm not exactly known for my sentimentality, but every time I've thought about it over the past few days, I've gotten choked up.

Courtney Sheinmel, Regan Hofmann, and me