Feb 28, 2011

Books on TV! More Specifically, on "Friends!"

If it hasn't been made clear yet, I love books.  I also love TV.  So when books are mentioned on TV, it makes my heart skip a beat.  I'm not sure why, but every time I see a book on TV it gives me hope that our lazy generation will be affected by its presence and be inspired to read.  I can dream, can't I?

As great as it is when writers use actual books to add to an episode, I really love when they make up fake books to build a plot around.  It's just so much more creative and usually results in some pretty decent episodes of television fun.  I was trying to come up with a bunch of fake books from various TV shows I'm obsessed with and I realized how many were from How I Met Your Mother, Friends, or 30 Rock.  And so, here are the Friends ones:

Fake Books on Friends
1. Euphoria Unbound 
In "The One with Mrs. Bing" we learn that Chandler's mother is a romance novelist.  Her advice on writing a book: "You just start with half a dozen European cities, throw in thirty euphemisms for male genitalia, and bam! You have got yourself a book."  The release of her newest romance novel inspires Rachel to try her hand at writing one, but her inability to type keeps her from her new dream.  According to Ross, you don't want to be around when the leading male starts writing with his "huge, throbbing pens."  And please note, he's not reaching for the heroine's "heaving beasts." 

2. Be Your Own Windkeeper
In "The One Where Eddie Won't Go" Phoebe lends out this book to Monica and Rachel so they can embrace their inner "I am Woman, Hear Me Roar" and stand up to the men ("Lightning Bearers") who try to suppress them.  It completely makes fun of those self-help and empowerment fad books that exploded in the 90s, especially the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.  The girls go through stages of initial doubt, self-empowerment, sisterhood, and eventual breakdown when their love for the book becomes a competition to be the best windkeeper of the bunch.  The ridiculousness leads to this great line: "How do you expect me to grow, if you won't let me blow?"

3. Rachel's Dirty Book 
"Her father, the vicar...the vicar?"
Despite her inability to write her own, Rachel clearly is a fan of romance novels.  So it shouldn't be too much of a surprise when we find out that she keeps one close to her bed in "The One With Rachel's Book."  However, when Joey decides to take a nap in Rachel's more comfortable bed, he's quite shocked when he finds a copy of her "dirty book" about vicars, chimney sweeps, and "burning loins."   She defends her book, claiming that it's a healthy expression of her sexuality.  As a bonus, we learn that vicar means goalie.  At least, according to Joey it does.

4. Phoebe's book
In "The One Where Ross Meets Elizabeth's Dad," Phoebe lets the group in on the fact that she's written 14 books.  No one had ever read them and since her apartment caught fire, no one will.  However, she's planning on writing book number 15.  Phoebe's book ends up being a not quite fictional account of Marcia and Chester, thinly veiled representations of Monica and Chandler.  She uses their petty arguments as the source of conflict, thoroughly annoying the actual couple, so much so that Monica decides to write a book about Phyllis.  Phoebe eventually attempts to use her documentation of the lovers' spats in order to settle an argument, but her book offers zero help. 

5. Ross' doctoral dissertation
 "The One With Ross' Library Book" is, at some point, most certainly going to end up on my list of best scenes in libraries.  Basically, Ross finds out that the NYU School Library has a copy of his dissertation in the paleontology section.  He's excited to see it on a library shelf (as he should be) and brings Chandler to share the joyous occasion.  However, the paleontology section is the least-visited section of the library, at least for students actually looking for books.  Instead, students seek out this area for some romantic trysts.  Outraged, Ross decides to patrol the area to keep students from having sex in the stacks, but succumbs to the students' favored activity when he meets the one girl who has checked out his book.

I can't believe I forgot this next one, thanks Steph!!

6. Science Boy
Another of Ross' books cherished by only one other person.   In "The One With the Mugging" Phoebe realizes that years ago, when she was living on the streets, she mugged Ross and stole his comic book creation, Science Boy.  When he doesn't warm up to her enthusiasm of now having a great "how we met" tale, she points out that she kept Science Boy after all those years because it meant something to her.  Granted, it was stored in a box labeled "Crap from the Streets," but still, she learned a lot from the test tube wielding comic hero. 

Feb 26, 2011

#TheList, No. 685: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

This may have have the 67th time I read this book and I still found little bits of foreshadowing here and there that I had never noticed before.  Some are for things within the book itself (there's an owl flying toward Hogwarts carrying a note in its mouth that most likely is what brings Dumbledore away from the school), but there is so much just simply tucked away that connects to the last few chapters of the last book in the series. 

That's why J.K. Rowling is one of the best authors ever.  Not that I'm biased or anything.  I've been in love with Harry Potter since 1999, which coincidentally is also when my love for Britney Spears blossomed.  There may or may not be a correlation.

But anyway, Rowling knows that the details are important.  Children notice the little things.  So many people underestimate children's abilities and gloss over the details thinking that children can only see the larger picture.  Rowling not only builds this magical world with details, she is consistent with the details throughout the series unlike a certain Twilight author who negates half of what she's written when it doesn't help her story and creates loopholes when she's boxed herself into a corner. 

I never realized how much the Voldemort plot is on the backburner in this novel until this reading.  Even though there are small moments planted here and there of Harry's wonderings about what's in the off-limits third floor corridor, it's not until Harry's in the Forbidden Forest 265 pages in that he actually knows he's in danger.   Arguably he's in danger during his first Quidditch match, but he technically doesn't know it at that point.  Instead, the majority of this book focuses on making Harry a character worthy of readers' sympathy.

To do this, Rowling doesn't make him anyone special (aside from his amazing flying abilities), she just makes Harry a normal 11 year old boy.  His biggest worries aren't about dying at the hands of the most powerful dark wizard.  Harry's worried about fitting in at a new school, making a fool out of himself when playing Quidditch in front of a large audience, and beating Slytherin in the points race for the House Cup.  In fact, the way Rowling wrote this first book, it seems like Harry's victory over Voldemort at the end was not to save the Stone, but to get enough points to finally knock Slytherin out of its winning streak. The fact that Harry has magical abilities is just a way to tell a normal tale of childhood.

This book and series are amazing.  There's really no other way to say it.

Feb 23, 2011

"Love You Forever"...great, but please go away

Love You Forever seems to be one of those nostalgic titles that will always be cherished for presenting the lasting love of a mother to her child and the cyclical nature of life and all that gushy, sappy stuff chick flicks are made of. 

This book needs to go away. 

In this picture book the mother sings a lullaby to her son.  Most people seem to be familiar with this quote that stems from the book's title:
I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living
my baby you'll be. 

Aww, how sweet.  The reason this book has a long-lasting shelf life: it has a go-to quote for future graduation and birthday cards.  Lovely.  People's perception of this book is well-captured in a Friends episode here, where the characters all weep over the amazing love that is had, given, shared and received (for you Leanne).

For some reason people either have never read the entire book and only recognize it from that one quote, or they are just completely blind to the intense creepiness that the book contains:
But at night time, when that teenager was asleep, the mother opened the door to his room, crawled across the floor and looked up over the side of the bed.
 What's that? It gets creepier?
If all the lights in her son's house were out, she opened his bedroom window, crawled across the floor, and looked up over the side of his bed.
So the mother is a huge creep who apparently isn't afraid of breaking and entering charges or the possibility of raising a real life Norman Bates.  And if this book is supposed to represent a cycle of love, then this son is going to do the same for his daughter.  Thaaaaat's a bit much.  

I don't know, maybe I'm cynical or maybe there's actually nothing unusual about mothers crawling (seriously, crawling) across floors to stare at their children.  Maybe it's just me who gets a visual image of the girl from The Ring crawling out of the TV set.  But I'm pretty sure my mother didn't and still doesn't do that and I'm even more sure that she still loves me.  So lets let this book go already and find a new way to tell kids we'll love them forever, okay?

EDIT: Turns out this book is on the 1001 list. Check! 1000 to go...

Feb 19, 2011

Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go

I love young adult books.  They're some of the most inventive stories out there.  This is one of them:

The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness (2008)

Allegedly the perfect town, Prentisstown consists of only men and the villagers can see and hear every man’s thoughts through “Noise.”  But when Todd Hewitt, the last “boy” in town, stumbles upon a girl in the woods, it sparks his escape from the town he’s known his whole life and a journey to the discovery of a deadly secret.  His world is turned upside down as he is forced to fight for his life and escape the townsmen who can hear his every thought.  

The Knife of Never Letting Go
, the first in Ness’ Chaos Walking series, is a dystopian novel about the struggle to survive.  For me, this first part of the series was amazingly gripping.  I was actually unaware that this novel was part of a series so I was incredibly frustrated, yet thrilled, when I reached the cliffhanger ending, as it meant more time in this strange world Ness created.  Yes, I’m a nerd like that.
See the random words written all over
the cover? That would be the "Noise."

While the plot just follows the archetypal hero’s journey, the way Ness utilizes narration to build suspense is a refreshing take on a traditional literary model.  The first person narration provides a gateway to understand the emotional upheaval Todd experiences as he flees his pursuers and grapples with the truth about his past.  However, the inclusion of “Noise” allows us to experience the thoughts of other men as well.  “Noise” is displayed through various fonts and sizes, effectively garnering attention with its disruption of the traditional text form.  This disruption places emphasis on how “Noise” is such an interrupting force in the villagers’ lives.  It’s frustrating to get used to at first, but because it builds trust in his narration, the impact is great.

It is not only a gripping adventure novel with fast-paced action, but its commentary on the transition from young adulthood to adulthood gives it a more poignant appeal.  At the novel’s beginning, Todd Hewitt believes that age is the definition of entering manhood.  However, throughout his flight from Prentisstown, Todd encounters more realistic determinations of growth that age does not control: leaving home, risking his life, protecting others, admitting defeat, and accepting the truth about his town’s past.  Thus, the novel’s fast-paced action parallels the fast-paced and challenging transition to adulthood. 

Challenged Picture Books, Part 1

I've been on a picture book kick lately, which doesn't surprise most people I know.  It started a few days ago when I helped a friend figure out what his favorite picture book from childhood was purely from his description of the cover art.  I'll take my library science degree now, please!

Picture books are stereotypically seen as cute, meaningless books for tiny tots who like to look at pretty pictures.  And for some, that's exactly what they are.  But many picture books have challenged this outlook with their "controversial" subject matters and risque artwork.  Some parents and teachers have gone so far as to try to get these books banned  from school and public libraries, proving that pictures are worth 1,000 words of complaints and criticisms.  

Challenged Picture Books, 10-8
 10.  The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats (1962)
I don't think I know anyone who dislikes this book.  Kids who've experienced snow days enjoy it because it reminds them of the sheer amazingness that comes with a foot of snow and kids who live in sad, snowless lands enjoy it because it helps them envision what they're missing (or so I assume).  But back when this was first published, people were in a slight tizzy over the main character's race.  This was one of the first picture books to feature a black character as a hero.  While some welcomed this addition to children's literature, many were outraged.

Most were upset when they realized that the author, Ezra Jack Keats, was actually a white man.  Some believed that he was presenting a negative depiction of African Americans.  Others believed he did not have the right to create a black character because he himself was not black.  But do you have to be a part of the culture in order to portray it?  Did Keats set out to help give a voice to another culture or was the choice of skin color made to contrast the snow and make the illustrations more powerful?  Controversy grew again in 1963 when the picture book was awarded the Caldecott.  The argument then became that he created a "black" story in order to be a shoo-in for the award.
9. The Five Chinese Brothers, by Claire Huchet Bishop and Kurt Wiese (1938)
I had never actually read this book until just now, but the cover art alone makes it a huge "yikes!"  Those drawings are definitely not politically correct.  The content itself is actually pretty violent as well.  The plot involves a judge dreaming up ways to execute each of the five brothers.  He fails because they possess mystical abilities that keep them from harm and they live happily ever after with their mother.

The main critique of this picture book is, of course, the illustrations (the brothers look a lot more yellow in the physical copy).  However, some find that the comic-like approach adds to the humor of the story. Others find that the magical elements subscribe to cultural stereotypes about the Chinese.  In response to this criticism, some suggest that if you read the story as a traditional folk tale, the mysticism is expected and welcomed.

8. Baaa, by David Macaulay (1985)
Not all picture books are for toddlers, especially ones about sheep cannibalism.  Having to sing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" after reading this book would probably leave a bad taste in your mouth.  That was a horrible joke.  Did I laugh hysterically at it? Yes. 

When I first heard about this book in school it sounded hilarious, so I made a point to run to the library to check it out (cue awkward stares...).  It starts off as a typical amusing picture book: the humans have disappeared and sheep take over the world. They raid the now empty houses, eat human food, watch TV, etc., etc.  But then the sheep begin to encounter "human" problems like overpopulation, food shortages, and whatnot.  The food problem is mysteriously taken care of and soon there are only two sheep left.  Dunn, dun dunnnnn...

I can see how some parents may not want their first graders stumbling upon this when looking for some light reading.  Then again, some people may want to teach their children about cannibalism via a fun picture book.  To those parents, I say all the power to you.  They gotta learn sometime.  But this book is definitely appropriate for older elementary school kids.  It all boils down to where it's shelved in the library.  Placing it with the Dr. Seuss books?  Probably not the wisest choice.  But there are enough picture books with "advanced" themes and more difficult historical concepts for an entire section to be devoted to these titles, allowing readers of the appropriate age to learn all about cannibalism and the like. 

Up next: People apparently have problems with homosexuality and families...even when it's depicted with cute penguins. 

Feb 17, 2011

Adults Judging Children's Books Pt 1 of 10 Million (I'm sure)

I set off alarms all the time.  It's reached a point where my friends actually refuse to walk into stores with me so they're not subjected to the awkward stares and random questioning that comes from any employee who cares enough about his job to actually do it. 

So today when I went to the library to pick up the million books I had on hold for school, the alarm naturally went off as I departed with my bags of books.  The security guard of course went through all my books and when she reached the newest Caldecott winner, A Sick Day for Amos McGee, she looked at me like I was crazy.   Seriously, what is the big deal about an adult checking out picture, children's or young adult books?  

What if I had a kid or a younger relative and was merely checking out the book so I could enrich said child with the charming tale of a man who is home sick and taken care of by his animal pals?   Granted that's not the case, I checked it out for my own professional development, but still there's really no call for immediate judgment of a 23 year old checking out a picture book.

Feb 16, 2011

This is how we Dewey it...

The blog title is a lie.  I'm not a librarian and I'm not in a cupboard.  Yet. 

I am currently in grad school and in the process of becoming a librarian.  Why? I'll get to that at some point.  But first, it's important that you realize how much I love lists.  My love of lists is mainly the reason I love How I Met Your Mother (seriously people, if you haven't figured out that every episode is full of lists, you have a horrible attention span).  And really, who doesn't like a good list?  So that's pretty much what this blog is for: fulfilling my desire to catalog and organize things into a neat fashion.  Am I ready to be a librarian, or what?

So let's begin.

Top 5 Responses I Receive When People Find Out I'm in Library School
  1.  "Wow, you must really like books."    
    To which I respond with an emphatic, "Duh."

  2.  "Are you going to wear your hair in a bun and yell at kids?"
    No.  First of all, way to subscribe to stereotypes, jerk.  Second of all, my hair doesn't look that great in a bun fashion.  Lastly, when I'm in charge of a Children's Section one day (fingers crossed), I hope it's super loud because it means kids are having fun.  Who wants a silent library?
  3.  "Oooh, are you going to be a sexy librarian? You'll need to get librarian glasses."
    Ok, I do have the glasses, but only because Tina Fey is one of my favorite beings in existence. 
  4.  "You actually need a degree to sit around and read all day?"
    We don't do that.  Trust me, if that job existed, I would want it in a heartbeat.  But there's so much more that goes into being a librarian; we don't just check out books.  I'm blown away by the content I'm learning in school and how much time, work and energy goes into keeping libraries and archives up and running.  
  5. Some variation of "Really?" or "Why?"
    Why not? I wrote my grad school application essay on how librarians are the Power Rangers of the world.  I would like to be a Power Ranger.  The Pink one, please.
Note how none of those are entirely positive responses.  Well, maybe #3 is, but to each their own.  In time, I hope that people will generate more positive responses to my career path less traveled by and accept me for the list loving librarian (alliteration!) that I am.