Apr 29, 2011

Review: The Magicians

Quick summary of Lev Grossman's The Magicians before I start complaining about it:  It's about a college for magicians, and not the kind of magicians that do illusions (not tricks because "tricks are what whores do for money" - I miss Arrested Development), but the magicians who can alter elements and such.  These socially awkward magicians go through five years of classes while pretty much hating the world they live in.  They realize that there's really no point to life, even with the powers they possess.  Nothing can really make them happy.  Even traveling to the assumed ficional world Fillory, setting of a book series they all loved as kids, can't bring them happiness. 

It's such an uplifting story. 

I liked the book for the most part, because it was more about the characters than plot, and the existential element was interesting.  But there were too many moments when I wanted to throw the book against the wall, something I haven't felt since I read Breaking Dawn when I actually did throw the book.  Characters just disappear without notice.  They assume a large role and then *poof* they're gone for 100 or so pages without explanation.  It's very annoying.  Or to me it is.

But the thing I hated most was how it tries so hard to remind the reader that it's a completely different story than Harry Potter.  I'm fairly certain that the fact that the title does not include the phrase "Harry Potter and the" made it clear to whoever picked it up that it was not part of the HP series.  But the HP series is constantly referenced and it gets old fast. 

But if you like existential novels, then you'll probably really enjoy The Magicians.  There's also a sequel coming out this summer, so there'll be more opportunities to discuss how pointless life is.  Huzzah!

Apr 25, 2011

We Didn't Start the Fire

I'm currently writing a history library lesson plan that involves a Cold War culture review,  and as much as this song is horrible (read: amazing), it gets the job done. Was it just my school, or was absolutely none of this ever covered in class?  

I'm fairly certain that the only way to keep history teachers on track is to have a holiday for every major event.  There's no student out there who doesn't know about Christopher Columbus by Columbus Day, Pilgrims and Indians by Thanksgiving, and slavery by February.  That's great, but there's no holiday for Roe v. Wade, so it tends to get shoved to the sideline in favor of a more celebratory, we can make pictures of this holiday, type of history lesson.  Two weeks before I took my AP U.S. History exam, we still had about 40 years of history to cover.  I'm still not 100% sure what the Vietnam War was except I do know that Tom Cruise came back in a wheelchair because of it. 

I think that's why librarians need to exist.  Seriously.  They're the ones who have all the resources that contain these hidden pieces of history.  Obviously history teachers know what they're doing (hi LLT!), but they can't cover everything.  So library teachers can provide the missing pieces and work with the subject teachers and students to help uncover the missing history.  That sounds super corny, but I'm keeping it anyway. 

On an unrelated note: Happy April 25th!!!!

Apr 21, 2011

#TheList, No. 976: I Am the Messenger

I read Markus Zusak's I Am the Messenger for a class project last semester that involved writing reviews of at least 15 YA novels in about 3 weeks.  Obviously I cheated and mainly wrote reviews of books I had already read, but this book was a new one for me.  I was proud for working in time to read it (I was taking 3 classes, one which stole my soul and another which forced me to devote a huge chunk of time to learning the secret MARC language).  The book is great (aside from the terrible ending), but I don't understand why it's on The List.  If anything, another of Zusak's novels, The Book Thief, should be The List, because it's far more meaningful, original, powerful, yada, yada, ya.  If you know me, I've probably tried to force you to read it and if I was successful, you loved it.  But as for I Am the Messenger:

Basically, the story follows Ed Kennedy: a 19 year old nobody who has a dead-end job he obtained illegally, lives alone with a coffee addicted dog, and passively watches his life go by.  When Ed accidentally assists in the capture of a bank robber, his life suddenly changes.  Following vague instructions on anonymous cards he starts receiving, Ed delivers "messages" to people he doesn’t know, bettering their lives and eventually bettering his own.  Sappy?  Yep.

In this tale of personal growth, humor effectively undercuts the emotional drama constantly present throughout the novel.  Ed is witness to many traumatic events: the bank robbery, rape, physical abuse, poverty, Alzheimer’s and more.  These tragedies could easily become the focus of the novel, however, Ed’s wry, humor-filled narration keeps the focus on his own personal growth and how his new-found responsibilities change his outlook on life.  Sappy?  Yep.  His humor allows him to combat the tragedies he must face and  creates ease for the reader who witnesses the trauma through his narration.

However, I Am the Messenger doesn't have an effective conclusion.  The reveal, or rather lack thereof, of who is behind Ed’s mysterious mission, doesn’t reach the climactic point that the narrative builds toward.  The ending felt too rushed and introduced a completely new character as the mastermind of the entire mission.   In reading I Am the Messenger, I felt that it was the lessons Ed learned from delivering the messages and his consequential personal growth (sappiness) that drives the novel, not his dire need to know who is sending him the cards.  An ambiguous ending, without the reveal of the mastermind, would have been appropriate and perhaps more effective.   

This novel is definitely for fans of Batman.  I mean, come on, Ed Kennedy is Batman, just an everyday version without the fancy gadgets, millionaire bankroll, and immense physical strength.  Once he begins delivering messages, his innate need to do good for his city is revealed.  I would highly recommend this to any fan of Batman, whether through comic books, graphic novels, television or film, as the themes that drive the franchise are incredibly prevalent in this novel. 

Marian the Librarian

This is the best musical number set in a library (that I know of at least).  I once gained the respect of my team at library themed trivia (yep) for knowing that Harold Hill threatens to drop marbles on the floor of Marian's library. 

For a long time I hated listening to this song because it brought back the painful memories of performing this during my junior year of high school.  And not just your average teenage "why-does-everyone-hate-me/nobody-understands-what-I'm-going-through" angsty type painful memories of high school.  I'm talking literal pain. 

In the dance sequence, a guy holding a pile of books falls off a table and a group of girls catches him.  Because of my obvious brute strength (sarcasm hand), I was in this group of catchers.  The fall worked flawlessly the first few times we rehearsed, but then one wrong turn resulted in him falling diagonally and landing on my head.  After that, my glasses were significantly bent with one ear piece not quite touching my ear anymore (it's hilariously obvious in the few pictures I haven't burned from that time in my life).  They stayed like that for a year because I didn't want to ask my parents to spend money on new ones.  It was not a good time.  Plus, you know, my head hurt.  A lot. 

But it's 7 years later, I have new glasses and my head only hurts when it rains, so now I can embrace this song for the awesomeness that it is, even if it does perpetuate the idea of the shhhshing librarian who only stamps books.  Now it just makes me want to dance in a library.  Who's with me? 

I want to go to there.

Apr 15, 2011

#TheList, No. 946: The Golden Compass

Woo!  After having this on my shelf for over 10 years, I finally finished The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman.  I've tried reading this book a few times since my Uncle gave it to me as a gift in the 7th grade, but could never quite get past the first chapter.  I think it's because I hated the word "daemon."  You know how some people hate the word "moist?"  Well, I have that reaction to "daemon." 

So I finally plucked it off my shelf because I knew I'd have to read it eventually, it being on The List and all.  I almost had a heart attack when I double checked The List halfway through and couldn't find the book anywhere.  Turns out, The List has it by its European title Northern Lights and I wasn't reading this book in vain.  But the heart attack seemed justified because recently every book I've started to read thinking that it absolutely had to be on The List, I'd find out later that I was completely wrong.  It's been pretty upsetting, especially since I'd been basing my assumptions off of fellow librarian and librarian wannabes' recommendations for great children's books.  And the books they're recommending are great and should certainly be included over some not-so-great-and-highly-overrated (*cough*Love You Forever) books that are included.  But that's a rant for another day.

I liked this book.  Had I possessed the strength to get over my hatred for the word "daemon," I might have really loved this series as a child.  Anyway, the story is incredibly complex, but basically involves a girl trying to save a bunch of children from the wicked things that adults do.  Pretty simple premise buried incredibly deep in a complicated, well-organized world Pullman creates.  It can get pretty dull and/or confusing at times, or maybe I was just too focused on judging the people around me who were judging me for reading The Golden Compass in public.  But aside from the dull moments, there's a ton of adventure and some pretty witty badass remarks from the heroine (Girl Power! woo!).  It's definitely capable of being a boys book even though boys stereotypically stay away from anything featuring girl characters or written by female authors (which is why J.K. Rowling used initials).  How could anyone not love a heroine who can come up with this blatant lie about her father to avoid a probable child molester:
"'I told you, he's a murderer.  It's his profession.  He's doing a job tonight.  I got his clean clothes in here, 'cause he's usually all covered in blood when he's finished a job.'"
While I didn't love The Golden Compass, it's only because it's not my favorite of the genres.  It's definitely well-written and great for kids.  Plus, the female lead character is always a plus.  Librarians could do a lot of work with ELA and History teachers on this book.  The Tartars a brought up a ton.  History lesson potential!!

Apr 13, 2011

To Google or Not to Google

"So you're gonna be a librarian?  You realize that job will be obsolete soon right?"

--Only if the world actually ends in 2012.

Yes, I love Google.  It's a very handy source for fast searches.  I also love Wikipedia.  It's the best way for me to get synopses of horror movie plots when I don't actually want to sit through the blood, gore, and stupid half-clad girls running upstairs instead of out the already open door. 

But just because they're good for fast searches and brief introductions doesn't make them reliable sources, especially for younger students who don't have a firm grasp on the research process.  It's statistically proven that when children search, they don't look past the first few results they get.  They also like to search in long phrases and when they don't get any good results, they either change the order of their search terms or change the spelling.  Really, children can't rely on Google for finding all of their research information.

Let's try something.  Go Google "Barack Obama biography."  After the ad at the top of the page, you'll see that the second result given is his IMDB page.  I would LOVE if a student turned in a paper that cited information about the President from a movie database (my sarcasm hand is raised).  The actual White House biography isn't listed until the bottom of the first page.  There once was a link to "barackobamaismyhomeboy.com" on the first page.  Thankfully, this one is no longer available.  

Next, let's try a Google image search for "spears" as if you need it for a medieval weapon project.  Every single result is of Ms. Britney.  Even if you do a singular "spear" search, you get a good amount of Brit Brit. 

Then there's Wikipedia.  I think it's a great source for getting a good overview of topics, but it shouldn't be a student's sole source of information.  Especially because anyone can edit the pages.  Remember what happened when  Stephen Colbert told users to edit the elephant page to say that the elephant population had tripled?  Pages can be hacked all the time.  Of course there are monitors on the site, but you can't catch everything. 

So where can you find more reliable information?  Maybe it's a long shot, but I'm thinking libraries and the awesome librarians who work there can help you out. 

Apr 12, 2011

Roald Dahl

A few weeks ago I finished reading Roald Dahl's first autobiography, Boy.  After realizing that 6 of the books on The List are from Dahl's mind, I figured it would be wise to learn about his background to see what evidence of his life can be found in his stories.  The answer: practically everything!

5 Things You Didn't Know About Roald Dahl:

1.  His nose was cut almost clear off of his face.  When his 21 year old sister learned to drive and got her first car, she took the family out for a drive.  However, she didn't know how to slow down to take a sharp turn and consequently crashed into a hedge. Yes, this is why girls are stereotyped as bad drivers, but I digress.  Everyone went flying through the windshield and Roald's nose sliced almost completely off.  It only stayed on by just a small bit of skin and because his mother held it in place as his sister figured out how to drive out of the mess and straight to the doctor.  They almost didn't make it because a man delivering 1000 fresh laid eggs wouldn't get out of their way: "If I don't get 'em to the market by noon today...they won't be fresh-laid anymore, will they?"  To be fair, he was right.

2.  Not exactly the model child for good behavior, Dahl decided to put a dead mouse into a jar of Gobstoppers in a candy store.  His friends found this dead mouse and Dahl came up with "The Great Mouse Plot" in order to seek revenge on the mean sweet-shop's owner, Mrs. Pratchett.  Not exactly as smooth as some of Matilda's pranks, but this act made him a hero in his group of friends.  That is, until she got her own revenge and had his headmaster cane them all.  

3.  Dahl had a sort of Snape-Harry relationship with one of his professors.  Granted, there's no backstory of Dahl's father saving/endangering the professor's life, but the hatred sentiment between student and professor can't be denied in this situation.  Captain Hardcastle (the people in his life have awesome names) caught him asking another boy for a new pen and accused him of being a liar and a cheater.  As a result, Dahl was caned by the Headmaster.  Even worse, Hardcastle opened the door to the Common Room so everyone could hear as Dahl was being caned.  I had a teacher that used to make you stand up behind your desk and cover your mouth if he caught you talking in class.  If you tried to defend yourself, he'd just tell you "he who hesitates is lost" and keep on with the lesson.  

4.  In one of his private schools, Dahl had to deal with the weird hierarchy of power that comes from the prefect system.  The prefect-like older students were called Boazers and their servants (essentially) were Fags.  They had to do whatever the Boazer wanted them to, usually scrub the studies clean, and had to drop whatever they were doing in order to keep the Boazer happy.  Dahl's main duty was to be a toilet seat warmer.  Seriously.  The bathrooms at his school were all outhouses and in the winter, it got pretty icy.  He became his boazer's "favorite bog-seat warmer" and as a consequence, walked around with a paperback book at all times so he wouldn't get bored while performing his seat warming duties. 

5.  Dahl didn't dream of becoming a children's author.  The only thing he wanted was a job that would let him travel, especially to Africa or China.  He ended up working for the Shell Company and after two years was given the chance to work in Egypt.  But Dahl wanted to explore a world of jungles, not a desert, and got out of this assignment by claiming that Egypt was "too dusty."  His supervisor agreed to let Dahl wait for the next assignment, but swore that he would have to take it regardless of how "dusty" the place was.  The next assignment ended up being East Africa, where he got malaria, but had a blast. 

Apr 10, 2011

National Library Week!!

Since 1958, the ALA has sponsored this time to raise awareness for libraries as "centers of learning" and for the librarians who do so much work to keep them alive.  Unsurprisingly, I'm excited for Support Teen Literature Day on the 14th, but I'll most likely gush about that later in the week.  But in honor of libraries:

Things You Didn't Know About Libraries: 

1.  Your thoughts are going to be archived in the Library of Congress.  That is, if you succumb to the social pressures of the Tweeting world, you'll end up forever stored into memory in the LoC.  Every public tweet that enters the world will be digitally archived so people in the future can look back and realize how #selfobsessed technological we all were with our need to document every thought that entered our minds.  It's also a study on how social networks define our existence. 

2.  There are approximately 122,101 libraries total in the U.S.  This one ALA fact brings me some much needed relief: "There are more public libraries than McDonald’s in the U.S.—a total of 16,604 including branches."   I fear the day this statistic reverses.

3.  Most people believe that Jefferson created the first American library.  WRONG!  While Jefferson's undoubtedly important in library history, Benjamin Franklin was actually the one who began the first public lending library.  Because books were so expensive, he came up with the idea that members of his discussion group should pool their money and buy books to share.  This decision led to the Library Company of Philadelphia.  Books were later kept in the State House of Pennsylvania and the first librarian ever was Louis Timothee.  Not too shabby for a man who wasn't President.

4.  Jefferson did, however, sell his entire book collection to the Library of Congress in 1815 after British troops destroyed most of the original collection during the War of 1812.  His collection consisted of almost 6,500 books.  I'm jealous. 

5.  "[Americans] spend $34.95 a year for the public library—about the average cost of one hardcover book."  I've read 42 books this year.  While not every book would be priced that high, by those figures I would have had to spend $1467.90 to read those books without the library.  Ergo, libraries are amazing.

6. Waaaaay before the Online Public Access Catalogs (OPACs) came about, people actually had to physically look through cards to find where books were kept in a library.  Callimachus is considered the first person to keep a record of books by author and subject for easy finding in 245 BC.  While it might be easier to search for items in an OPAC, and by might I mean it is, the information doesn't magically appear online.  Librarians are actually the ones who input every. single. fact. into the system so you can frantically search for that book you used when you need to finish your bibliography 5 minutes before your paper is due.  

Sometimes the information looks like this:

MARC: it's a secret language that librarians learn.

Apr 6, 2011


Bossypants.  Buy it.  Read it.  Love it.  Put it under your pillow and pray that the genius of Tina Fey will transfer to you while you sleep. 

Apr 4, 2011

Adults Judging Childrens Books - the T Edition

With my life consumed by grad school and work, the T is where I accomplish the majority of my reading.  Now, because of the glorious rainy weather we're experiencing right now, I was hit with a few umbrellas this afternoon.  As I looked up to passive aggressively glare at my attackers, I happened to notice the stares of fellow T riders I've grown accustomed to ignoring.  You know, the stares that are the equivalent of "why the hell is she reading that in public?" or "wow, she must be dumb." 

I'll backtrack.  I'm currently reading The Golden Compass because 1) I've owned a  practically untouched copy since the 7th grade; and 2) it's on The List.  It's an insanely long book as far as children's books are concerned so, on a superficial basis, those stares are not merited.  Also, like many other books for children, it is an incredibly complex novel that should be read by any age group so again, those stares shouldn't happen.  But apparently people aren't accustomed to adults reading a book where the cover art pictures a young girl sitting on top of an armored bear.  

I've seen people read some pretty messed up things on the T, but I've never stared them down like they were beneath me.  I thought you weren't supposed to judge books by their covers?

If that's no longer the case, then I'm going to fully judge these people and books I see all the time on the T:

1) The Classic Reader
Yes, I see you over there with your pristine copy of Lolita, Anna Karenina, Jane Eyre, etc.  I also see that despite your smug look of being better than all those around you, you haven't turned a page in 15 minutes.  You probably won't even know what's going on in the book until you consult Spark/Cliffsnotes for a quick recap of all that you "read."   I'm guessing you had a 40% coupon to use at B&N and decided to splurge on one of their $5 classic copies to impress someone.  Good luck.

2) Twilight Reader
Now despite my insane hatred of this series, I've never really judged someone for reading it because hey, at least they're reading.  This one time is an exception.  I was sitting next to a very muscular, macho man on the T one morning and he pulls out a copy of a Stephen King novel.  Or so I thought.  I glanced over and happened to see "Bella," "Volturi," and "Edward" and started laughing my butt off on the inside.  He was reading Twilight, but had switched the book jacket to fool those around him into thinking he was reading something more reflective of his physical appearance.  Oh I judge him so much.  Be proud of what you read!  Even if it's crap! 

3) The E-reader
This is probably what the Twilight man should have invested in instead of a Stephen King book jacket.  These readers are elusive.  While privacy usually isn't the only reason (if one at all) for possessing an e-reader, the fact remains that if you're going to hide what you're reading from the rest of us, you have no right to judge what we're reading.  It irks me when you judge my battered copy of Harry Potter.  However, as I am not yet blind, I can read the insanely large font of your e-reader from my seat.  So despite your great attempt, I still see that you're reading a romance novel, Mr. I Have a Briefcase and Therefore Deserve Two Seats, and I'm going to judge you right back. 

4) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Reader
You think I have the mental capacity of a 5 year old because I'm reading Matilda on the T? Well by that logic, you have the mind of a sadistic serial rapist.  Please don't sit near me and keep your hands visible at all times.  Granted, Matilda rocks, so I would like to be compared to her.  Poor choice of example, but you get my point.

5) iPhone/iPad/Anything with an Internet Connection User
Those who use these to read newspapers or something of merit are fine.  But those who look down at me while looking at the latest Perez Hilton updates are uncalled for.  How are celebrity pictures with unfortunate white MS Paint squiggles more sophisticated than my children's novel?  At least I'm reading something with substance.  

6) Anything with Sarah Palin on the Cover Reader
No explanation necessary. (Sorry Mom!!)

7) The Movie Book Reader
There's a movie coming out soon.  Because there are zero original ideas in Hollywood, naturally the movie is based on a book.  You've never read this book, but you want to impress someone with your knowledge of the story either before or after you see it, so you try to rapidly read before the release date.  The movie poster book cover completely gives you away.  If Robert Pattinson wasn't starring in Water for Elephants you would have never given that book a second glance.  If Julia Roberts' 10 foot smile wasn't a part of Eat, Pray, Love you wouldn't even know that book existed.  Sometimes I take comfort in knowing that when you later quote a fact from the book to compare it to the movie, you'll probably get it wrong. 

To sum up, stop judging kids' books!!! Or at least keep it to yourself and don't make it so obvious that you're looking down at me for reading one on the T.  The end.