free as in . . .?

Via PublishersLunch from Publishers Marketplace, news that Jonathan Lethem is proposing to subvert the dominant book/movie copyright paradigm, at least somewhat.

Also, I trust others have reported this, but according to US News and World Report, we’re among “25 professions that will growing in demand as baby boomers age, the Internet becomes ubiquitous, and Americans seek richer, simpler lives.”  While I’m happy to get positive press for librarians, I can only assume that the reporters for this story did not spend much, if any, time perusing the many listserv and blog threads on the myth of the librarian shortage.

google, the new yorker, and the economics of access

This will undoubtedly be making the rounds, if it hasn’t already, but The New Yorker has an article on Google Book Search that’s currently available online.

(The New Yorker, it is worth noting, is not committed to making its information universally accessible and useful, at least not unless you buy the Complete New Yorker DVDs. The magazine does not maintain an index of its articles on its website, and its indexing elsewhere has historically been somewhat sporadic. You can read more on the magazine’s indexing, or lack thereof, in the latest Ask the Librarians column at Emdashes, which is, to the best of my knowledge, a labor of love by a writer and New Yorker fan. I should note that, despite my snarky tone, I also am a fan of the magazine–I just wish they’d publish their past tables of contents online so I could remember what the hell issue I read, say, Calvin Trillin’s recently turned into a book piece about Alice. But of course then I’d have less reason to purchase the DVDs.)

2006 in books

2006 is the first year that I’ve actually kept track of all the books I’ve read, though I’ve often done so for part of a year–usually the summer. To celebrate this dubious achievement, I’ve decided to let go of my usually secretive reading habits and reproduce the whole list, with a few largely uninformative notes.

Books with an R in front of them are things I reread; those with an L are ones I listened to. You’ll notice that I tend to reread a great many books.
Leaving You: The Cultural Meaning of Suicide by Lisa J. Liberman–I think I found this listed in the footnotes of another book, but I’ve forgotten what book that might be (here, I suppose, is where something like Google Book Search could come in handy).

R All New People by Anne Lamott

Revolting Librarians Redux edited by KR Roberto (now an ALA Councilor!) and Jessamyn West–I brought this along with me when I was interviewing for my current job, and I read some of it on the plane and some of it in the Irma Hotel in Cody. Note to Dominican: last I checked, your copy of this was missing, but I promise you, I didn’t take it. I got the one I read via interlibrary loan.

R Hard Laughter by Anne Lamott

A Couple of Comedians by Don Carpenter–Anne Lamott mentions Don Carpenter so favorably in her nonfiction that, after my little Lamott kick, when I ran into one of his books on the shelf at the Franklin Park Library, I had to check it out. It was pretty good–the story of a couple of guys who write for Hollywood, and full of the kind of unapologetic drug use that you find in the years before Just Say No.

L A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson–I started reading this around the time it was published, when it was sitting my mother’s bathroom. In the next few weeks, I’ll finish reading it, since we’re talking about it for this month’s book discussion. It was great fun to listen to.

Indigo’s Star by Hilary McKay–I feel much the way Your Fairy Bookmother does about McKay’s books.

The Friend Who Got Away edited by Jenny Offill and Elissa Schappell–I keep reading these anthologies of essays mostly written by affluent white New Yorkers, and I don’t know why, since they invariably piss me off. This one had an interesting premise, but I didn’t think any of the essays really worked.

The Boyfriend List: 15 guys, 11 shrink appointments, 4 ceramic frogs, and me, Ruby Oliver by E. Lockhart–a YA book with footnotes. I love footnotes.

Caribou Rising by Rick Bass–the book I got when my mom said one day at Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City, “Why don’t you pick out a book?”

Holes by Louis Sachar–I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading this. It was good.

R Winter by Rick Bass–This book starts in the fall, so it was a bit odd to be reading it when I first moved to Wyoming, at the very beginning of spring, but it seemed appropriate.

Sight Hound by Pam Houston–Pam Houston’s fiction has gotten more sentimental and less edgy over the years, but I think perhaps she’s a happier person, so while I mourn the loss of the voice that’s in Cowboys Are My Weakness and (particularly) Waltzing the Cat, I still find glimmers of it from time to time.

Oil Notes by Rick Bass–Bass is kind of an odd creature–an oil geologist turned environmental writer. Oil Notes takes place in Mississippi, where he lived before he moved to Montana, as documented in Winter.

I Am the Wallpaper by Mark Peter Hughes–a book I bought for the YA collection at my old library and finally got around to reading at my current library.

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier–read on the recommendation of my friend Felicia. I’ve always been fascinated by people’s ideas about what happens when you die, and Brockmeier’s world of the dead is particularly appealing. And I’m down with any book where Coca-Cola takes a hit.

Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall–another excellent recommendation from Felicia. It could also get a subject heading of Living Apart Together, as the main characters are married but keep separate apartments, if only Sandy Berman had more sway over the Library of Congress.

The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson–who came to read in Meeteetse!

Torch by Cheryl Strayed–I read Strayed’s essays when they were appearing in literary magazines and The Best American Essays and loved them, and so I was thrilled to see she’d written a novel, which, I’m happy to report, was also good.

R Black Sun by Edward Abbey–one of Abbey’s favorites of his novels, and also one of mine, even though it does kind of read like soft porn in the wilderness at times.

L’America by Martha McPhee–a good book to read if you like reading about food, art, Italy, doomed relationships, and the children of hippies.

Everyone Else’s Girl by Megan Crane–chick lit, pure and unadulterated. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.

R The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey

L Julie & Julia by Julie Powell

L The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen–Reading a new book by Sarah Dessen is sort of like finding out that there’s an episode of My So-Called Life that you somehow missed.

Julie & Julia by Julie Powell–I wrote a bit about the differences between the audio and print versions a few months ago.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer–my coworkers loved this. I was sort of unmoved.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffennegger–which is just as good as everybody says it is.

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews–did you know that “Maternal deprivation–Fiction” is a subject heading?

L Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry–it seems like everyone in Wyoming has read this book, or at least seen the miniseries. Since I had done neither, I decided to listen to it. It took a very long time, but it was worth it. I have heard that Wolfram Kandinsky’s recording of it is better.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel–if graphic novels were more like this one, I could really get into them. Also, I encountered nine words in this book that I didn’t know, which is probably a record.

London is the Best City in America by Laura Dave–chick lit dressed up in a nice cover. Eh.

Walking it Off: A Veteran’s Chronicle of War and Wilderness by Doug Peacock–Peacock reflects on what it was like to be the model for Hayduke in The Monkey Wrench Gang, and relates many Ed Abbey stories. Recommended to me by the former Meeteetse librarian.

R Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer–for our first book discussion.

Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Daisy Bates in the Desert by Julia Blackburn–I picked this book out for our second book discussion based solely on some reviews and on the intriguing sounding premise–a woman leaves Ireland to go to Australia in the early 20th century and, at age 54, goes to live among the Aborigines. It’s an interesting book, but not one I’d recommend for a book discussion, though I would have loved to discuss it in a writing class. I did, however, have the opportunity to use librarian blogger connections in prepping for the discussion: I asked CW if there was any way she could get an article about Daisy Bates from an Australian newspaper for me, and, through the wonders of modern technology, the article got from microfilm in Australia to my inbox in Wyoming a day or two later. So cool!

Walking in Circles Before Lying Down by Merrill Markhoe–a book in which dogs talk.

You’re Not You by Michelle Wildgen–set in Madison, which I’ve only been to once, for the first National Conference on Media Reform, but which feels like an old friend anyway.

Postcards from Ed by Edward Abbey, edited by David Peterson–a disappointingly slim collection of Abbey’s correspondence.

R The Door Into Summer by Robert Heinlein–I read this book whenver I get really sick, as I was right after my birthday until right after Christmas (perhaps with the same bug that got the Librarian Avenger–I’m glad the librarians won).

R The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley–McKinley is my favorite writer, and I’m quite fond of this retelling of Robin Hood, though I know many people who don’t much care for it. I just learned all about the difference between different kinds of retellings (adaptations, versions, fractured fairy tales) from the ESSL Children’s Literature Blog, and you can, too.

The Last of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez–another book I found while browsing the subject heading “Radicals–Fiction.”

L Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

A Fabulous Creature by Zilpha Keatley Snyder–an odd entry in the Snyder ouvre–kind of good, but I can’t think of whom I’d recommend it to.

Marley & Me by John Grogan–I was reading this over Christmas. I was near the end one evening when I started crying. “The dog is dying!” I said to my mother. “That’s why I almost never read those books,” said my mother. “The dog always dies.” Grogan is overly wholesome for my taste, but the book is funny as well as sad. I once heard Adam Hochschild give a talk about learning to write from a newspaper editor in San Francisco who encouraged him always to put a dog in a story. It’s not bad advice.

I also read a great many blog entries, a lot of articles in newspapers and the New Yorker and The Nation, and a handful of zines.

into the wild discussion

Last Friday was the first meeting of this year’s book discussion group here at the library. In the past, the library has always done one of the book discussions offered by the Wyoming Humanities Council, but this year we decided to do our own. The theme (roughly) is books in which people have adventures, and we started things off with Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild.

I was extremely nervous going into this discussion, because I have bad memories of teaching undergraduates, which often (though not always) consists of standing in front of the class (or sitting in a circle with the class, if you want to be more 2.0), asking questions and then waiting during the long, pregnant pauses that follow, hoping that someone will have a) read the material and b) have something (anything!) to say about it. So I went in armed with background information on Jon Krakauer (from the online version of Contemporary Authors) and Chris McCandless (from around the web) and lots of questions.

As it turns out, I had a lively group of ten women who were ready and eager to dive into the discussion (and the cookies from the Meeteetse Chocolatier, which we got thanks to the generosity of the Park County Library Foundation), and I asked scarcely any of the questions I had prepared. The biggest surprise? At one point, I mentioned that Chris McCandless has a Wikipedia entry. “A what?” several people said. No one in the group had heard of Wikipedia. Sometimes it’s worth being reminded, in the midst of our discussions about making the library part of the online world, that not all of our patrons are online. As Jessamyn so rightly points out, part of the digital divide is not living in an Internet-aware culture. Part of being a librarian is realizing when that is the case and understanding when, and whether, it’s a problem. I love Wikipedia (for some purposes) as much as the next person, but I also think it is possible to live a full, rich, and satisfying life without it. And the library is here to serve both kinds of people.

Though I didn’t use most of my discussion questions, I thought I would post them for anyone else who might find them useful. They’re free to all under a Creative Commons non-commercial share-alike license.

Discussion Questions for Into the Wild

1. Did you find the book suspenseful? Why or why not?

2. Krakauer’s original article for Outside was called “Death of an Innocent.” He introduced Chapter 12, which includes Chris McCandless’s discovery of his father’s infidelity, with a quotation from GK Chesterton: “For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.” Who is guilty in this story, if anyone? Do they deserve justice or mercy?

3. What do you think about

  • Chris’s relationship with his father?
  • the female characters in the book? (Carine, Billie, Jan Burres [p. 30, 41-46], Gail Borah [p. 63, Wayne Westerberg’s girlfriend]
  • the other adventerurers/explorers/crazy people? (Gene Rosellini [p. 73, attempted Stone Age living], John Waterman [p. 75, climber who went crazy], Carl McCunn [p. 80, guy who forgot to arrange plane to take him out], Everett Ruess [p. 87, Utah explorer], Papar monks [p. 97])
  • the structure of the book and its chronology? How does Krakauer go about telling Chris’s story?

4. Sherry Simpson writes: “Jon Krakauer made up a story about him, by way of telling his own, and every pilgrim since his death has shaped him into something different as well. I’m doing it right now, too.” How much of the story is McCandless’s, and how much is Krakauer’s?

5. Krakauer called his book Into the Wild, which, among other things, sounds a lot like Jack London’s Call of the Wild, one of McCandless’s favorite books. Thoreau noted that “in wildness is the preservation of the world.” What is “the wild”? Is it the same as wilderness?

6. Krakauer describes Chris as living in a “monkish room” but as wanting to feel the “raw throb of existence” and “wallow in unfiltered experience.” What do you make of that contrast?

7. The American Alpine Club estimates that there are about 250,000 climbers and 10-40 climbing fatalities in the US each year. Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air is an account of the deaths of 9 people on Mount Everest. What is it about extreme adventure that draws some people in? Is the pursuit of such extremes selfish or admirable?

Finally, as a last resort, I thought I might read this most famous passage from Walden, which isn’t quoted in Into the Wild but which very well could be:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

Thoreau, from “Where I Lived and What I Lived For” in Walden

Julie, Julia, and the case of the missing smoke

AudioFile describes Julie & Julia as a “seamless abridgement” of the book by the same name. When I listened to it a few months ago, I thought so too–or rather, I thought it was quite good–since I hadn’t read the book, I couldn’t make a comparison.

Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen is the book that developed from The Julie/Julia Project, a blog written by a New York City secretary named Julie Powell who decided to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. I ordered the audio version for the library because it got great reviews, and I listened to it on the way to and from ALA. It’s great–funny, full of arresting, slightly repugnant, but dead-on observations, like the one about trussed chickens looking like sex-crime victims.

Earlier this month, the book showed up in the rotation to our library. (There are three branches of the Park County Library System. A few books we all buy copies of, but when a book is purchased by only one or two of the branches, it rotates to the other libraries before coming home to rest. While you can always get a book from another branch sent to you, it’s nice to get a new collection to browse through on a regular basis at your home library. Since I liked the audio version, and since I was curious to see what had been abridged, I decided to check it out.

The audio book is 5 discs; the book is 309 pages–I didn’t think that much could have been left out. And indeed, I was right. There are two main things left out of the audio version: some occasional imagined scenes between Paul and Julia Child during their courtship and early marriage, and, well, how do I put this?–the debauchery.

There’s quite a bit of cigarette smoking in the book. There’s none, or almost none, in the audio book. There’s some drinking in the audio book, but there’s more in the book. Ditto mentions of extra marital sex.

The audio book is great–Julie Powell is a vivacious but exacting reader, which is good when you have to read a lot of French. I enjoyed listening to it; I laughed, I cried, the whole thing. But when I read the book, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d been oddly cheated–that my experience had, in some way, been censored. You don’t really miss any of the major story in the abridgement, nor do you miss out on how well Powell can frame a scene:

Over a period of two weeks in late December of 2002, at the exhortation of Julia Child, I went on a murderous rampage. I committed gruesome, atrocious acts, and for my intended victims, no murky corner of Queens or Chinatown was safe from my diabolical reach. If new so f the carnage was not widely remarked upon in the local press, it was only because my victims were not Catholic school girls or Filipino nurses, but crustaceans.

But you do miss, well, something. I finished reading with the odd feeling that the anti-smoking lobby has somehow teamed up with Time Warner AudioBooks–which, given news of late, might not be that surprising.

another book, another blog

Now that I’m no longer a teen librarian (or at any rate no longer exclusively a teen librarian–nowadays I’m a little bit of everything librarian–I no longer read quite as many YA books as I used to.  Still, though, I’m a sucker for them, and I especially enjoyed this past year’s Printz Award winner, Looking for Alaska by John Green.

John Green has a new book, An Abundance of Katherines, coming out in the near future, and he also has a blog.  Currently, he’s running a contest, or really a series of contests to give away some copies of the new book. 

Read Roger!

Did you know that Roger Sutton (editor of The Horn Book) has a blog?

We children’s lit people are not so far behind the times after all. (And if you like children’s literature–as I hope you do–and are a reader of blogs–as I assume you are if you are reading this–I hope you’re reading Your Fairy Bookmother. Thanks to Rochelle for pointing that one out to me.)

Sutton (I just don’t quite feel right calling him Roger, even if he does use it in his blog’s name) points out a nifty little article in the most recent issue, complete with a very cool demonstration of what a digital picture book could be. And he points to a little bit of flawed logic coming out of ALA (you’re shocked, I’m sure):

ALA has inserted itself into’s “Don’t Read” ad campaign. For the wrong reasons, I think: “trademark violation,” which is a bit obnoxious given that the ad is a parody and the ALA is allegedly in the business of protecting intellectual freedom.

Good stuff, and worth reading, if you’re so inclined.

book notes

Jessamyn West pointed the other day to a piece about lifehacking books by writing in them, with apologies to librarians. It brought to mind a bit from Roger Tory Peterson that I quoted in a paper I wrote about DRM and e-books last spring:

Roger Tory Peterson, author of the classic A Field Guide to the Birds wrote, when the book’s second edition came out, that he was always happy when people showed him their copies of his book.

“It is gratifying to see a copy marked on nearly every page, for I know that it has been well used. Although the cover is waterproofed, I have seen many copies with home-made oilcloth jackets; I have seeen copies torn apart, reorganized and rebound to suit the owners taste; others have been tabbed with index tabs, or fitted with flaps or envelopes to hold daily check-lists.”*

Nothing new under the sun. (And if you really like reading about how to lifehack your books, if you haven’t picked up a copy of Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, do so soon!)

And on a final note, you can now comment on Apres moi le deluge.

*Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide to the Birds (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1934): xviii.