Monday, November 9, 2015

Books Celebrating the Heroes of War

 Since Vietnam, there seems to have been a negative trend of not honoring military heroes and wars.  To be perfectly honest,  war is brutal.  It is horrific. Yet, this is not the fault of the veterans. They are simply men and women who served, doing the best that they can in the situation they find themselves.  More often than not, the details in books and movies simply do not do justice to the realities they face.     Most veterans returning home rarely want to share what they experienced because of the trauma.  Having said that,  sometimes war is a necessary evil.  When there are men like Hitler,  Mao and Lenin who have destroyed lives for their own political gains something must be done to stop them.   During these harrowing times,  there are stories that come forth to show the power of the human spirit to overcome darkness that sheds light on good men and women.    The stories give us hope that no matter how bad life is at the moment,  the sacrifice and suffering of today may lead to a better tomorrow.

One such story that captures good overcoming evil is Col. Larry Guarino's   A P.O.W.'s Story: 2801 Days in Hanoi  This is a story of inspirational hope against all odds. Guarino's fellow prison mates at the Hanoi Hilton, as it was affectionally became known as, were inspired by his messages that he transmitted through the floors in morse code.   Not only that, but during his time in Hanoi, he never lost his hope or humor.     This may be what saved him and his prison mates. As the reader turns the pages, questions of how this man withstood the torture keeps recurring in the mind. A harder question to answer,  would the reader be able to endure such horror?   A must read.

In 2006,  Bill Sloan reintroduced readers to  the mostly forgotten battle in World War II.  In Brotherhood of Heroes : The marines at Peleliu, 1944 -- The bloodiest Battle  of the Pacific War    Sloan interviewed the veterans of Peleliu , enabling him to pull together the story, or rather the nightmare that these men experienced between September 15 and October 15, 1944.   One of the most accurate description of combat that does not gloss over the emotions of what it means to fight for one's country and one's life.   By the end of this book, the reader will not be able to help but have a deeper appreciation and respect for the men and women who wear the Marine uniform.

Mitchell Zuckoff is not a novice when it comes to gripping, harrowing  stories of military bravery.  His book Lost in Shangri-La  prepared him to tell the story of the brave men of the Untied States Coast Guard who  braved the vast Arctic wilderness to attempt a daring rescue.   Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II  recounts the story of a US cargo plane that crashed into the Greenland Ice Cap on November 5, 1942.  During the first rescue of the survirs a Grumman Duck amphibious plane flew into a storm and vanished.   Normally a book such as this would end with how the survivors have gone on with their lives..  Not this one.  Bringing readers to the present day,   Zuckoff details  the efforts of  the Coast Guard and North South Polar solve the mystery of what happened  tot he Duck's last flight and recover the remains of the crew.   Were they successful?  Pick up the book and find out.

These are just three very well written books that vividly retell the story of heroism, sacrifice and sense of honor.  Without a doubt, these books will make an impact on how a reader views the military and it's contribution to history.  For better or for worse, the men and women who have defended our country against all odds deserve gratitude and respect.  It goes without saying that a special acknowledgement of gratitude to the authors who have shared the stories so well. 

Veteran's Day  is on November 11th.  There are so many more stories to share, thankfully it is early in the week.  Needless to say, there will be more to come. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Death of A Library

There are times when it is better to say nothing and decide that there are better battles to fight.  This is not one of those times.  This is the time to actually say what needs to be said and let the battle begin.  It has become quite evident common sense is no longer common, in particular  when it comes to libraries and library closing.  Another way to describe it, a death of a library.    It's not pretty.  Not by a long shot and yet in the year 2015 when our "culture" has become better educated,  creative with new technology and willing to adapt to the changes that come, there are too many stories of library either crumbling or closing the doors for good.  Why?  What purpose does this satisfy?

Since 2010, there has been a steady stream of library closings due to budget cuts.  Most of the libraries were in cities that economic times had hit the hardest.  Sadly, what can be said if the financial support in a community dries up.  Even sadder is when that happens the soul of the community dries up along with it.  Yes, the library is the heart and soul of a community.  It is what keeps a community stable and growing.  In 2010,  OCLC produced a publication entitled "Perceptions of the Library."  During the Great Recession it was found that more citizens sought to change their lives by returning to school.   Community Colleges across the country witnessed an increase in student enrollment, and it was not only 18-23 year olds who sought to increase their knowledge and skill base,  students in their late 40's were returning to class to update skills in hopes of landing a better job or begin a second career.   Libraries witnessed an increase in usage as well.  As history has always shown us,  libraries play a critical role in communities  during down economic times.  So again, why close the doors to a service that is needed?

It is a bit of an oxymoron  for leaders to say that communities cannot afford a library because of the cost but in the same breath announce that they are all for educated society.  If education is high on their list, then asking for financial support to keep libraries open would not be a discussion.  Rather the shift in the discussion would be to find ways to keep the doors open.  Sadly more often than not the discussions are closed and decisions have been made.  Doors are shut.  Citizens begin to wonder why the community is on it's last legs.   It's not an exaggeration to point out that the absence of libraries leave a void in the community that can not be filled or replaced.

A death of a library begins with a drop in property tax base.  Next are the budget cuts which leads to fewer new books, databases,  computers and more importantly staff.   One can imagine the next step of desperate fundraising events and awareness to save the library.   When the  financial fundraising dries up as well, it is only a matter of time before officials begin to put a timeline together for when books, shelves, circulation desks, and all of the libraries assets are to be sold or consolidated into other departments.  Sometimes, as in the case of a county library which served as the backup for local municipalities, the death is harder to take.  Not only is the library dismissed by the community but also by surrounding libraries who find it economical to be independent.   In either case, the saddest moment is when the doors are closed forever.  

Yes, the sound of libraries doors closing is quite similar to hearing a coffin closing.  It is hollow.  It echoes in the mind.  It is final.   This can not continue.    Libraries are worth saving, each and every one of them.  

Monday, October 26, 2015

When Horror and Humor Collide

One of perks of working in a library,  is exploring genres that otherwise would never make it on a personal reading list.  What would a genre be called if horror and humor collided?   Harmedy?  Hormor?  Definition:  When a book that is gross yet tickles the funny bone at the same time.    Well, maybe the name isn't so great but here are three suggestions for readers who are in the mood for something frightfully funny.

John Dies At the End is a twisted tale by David Wong aka Jason Pargin.  A reader might think, why read this book when the title gives away the ending?  Or does it?   The novel's origin began as a web series and eventually came to be published into one book.  Readers into alternate realities mixed in with drug hallucinations, strange adventures and murders, this book is definitely needs to be on the reading lists.

Zombies can be a comedic relief in an otherwise boring horror story.  Here is a suggestion for those who love really bad B-movies from the 70's and 80's.  Gil’s All Fright Diner, by A. Lee Martinez, is one of the grossest but funny books to ever get check-out of  a library.  More details, you say?    Think of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure caught in a zombie attack while looking for a place to grab a bite on their way to an alternate universe.  Yes, it is totally unbelievable. Yes it's a guilty pleasure but it's okay.  Everyone needs one or two guilty pleasures in their lives.

If Twilight was not your idea of vampires and Dracula seems a bit outdated, Andrew Fox has got the perfect character for readers wanting a vampire they can relate to and quite possibly befriend    Fat White Vampire Blues,  introduces readers to an anti-Edward.  This 400-pound vampire lives in New Orleans and became obese feeding off of his victims who had one too many meals lathered in butter.   With good feasts like this to chew on day in and day out, who can blame him wanting to protect his turf from a younger and healthier vampire.   From the first page Fox's charm and wit will entertain and delight readers.

This genre is so often overlooked because it can not be taken seriously.  But then again, are B-Movies  ever taken seriously?   No.  It is meant to entertain with the outlandish plots and background allows the readers to say" Yeah, this will never happen but who cares!"    Laugh! Enjoy! Above all, share with other readers who take life and perhaps death a little too seriously.  Life is too short not to laugh.  So read often.  Laugh often.  Above all,  scare yourself silly once awhile.  It's good for the reader's soul.  Not to mention it can break up the "same old thing" routine in reading.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Fall Haunted Tales For Book Nerds Who Don't Like Horror

   As the scariest holiday draws closer there is nothing better than getting cozy on the couch with a warm blanket,  good bone chilling  book and warm cider to sooth the nerves. It's a perfect combination.  Don't think so?  Here's a thought to ponder,  if a reader does not explore outside their favorite genre, then there is no place to "grow" into reading adulthood.   Literature can not be truly appreciated until a reader has read each genre, and format, including plays and poems.  That is for another post.  For the moment the genre is horror.  More precisely, books that can scare the reader into begging for more and never be forgotten.  For those who do not appreciate horror books, and it's not because scaring  easily is a concern, here are a few suggestions to lure readers into stories that rattle the mind and sets the heart pounds just a few beats faster.

Going old school, as in Victorian gothic novels, is the best way to get a quick introduction into the genre.   Dracula comes to mind, Stoker's masterful and horrifying tale that grips the readers by the throat and does not let go.  The darkness, the foreboding and unsettling gut feeling that something is not right,  makes the readers sit on the edge of their seats and wishing they had eyes in the back of their heads to be ever ready in case they are attacked.  A knife, cross and garlic ready at hand will  suffice.  This is a tale that is always good to reread.  Bram Stoker's great-grandnephew wrote the official sequel Dracula the Undead.  Sadly, it never lived up to the original but then again, it would be very difficult to recapture the magical horror that is known as Dracula.  Reader's who don't typically like horror novels will often find that Victorian Gothic and American Gothic are just right.  Not too gory but plenty of fright for the imaginative mind.

No horror title selection would be complete without a haunted house or two.  In the late 1970's the fiction/nonfiction title Amityville Horror was the book that everyone had on their nightstand.  The author, Jay Anson,  swore that the tale was based on actual events.  It was later discovered that   some of the details in the book were embellished in order to make the book "marketable".  Either way, this book will make every reader think twice about purchasing a new home.  Questions to ask before buying might be:  Was anyone murdered here?  Seems like a silly question but after this tale that question should top the list for potential homebuyers and realtors as well.  What is scariest is that it is not haunted by one ghost but a multitude of ghosts.   The exorcist  is a nice touch as well.

If going back to the 1970's for a haunted house story seems a bit "old school".   A more recent title published in 2003 will bring readers to the present day.    Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves is about a house that is bigger on the inside than on the outside.  There is something strange yet inviting about this tale.  It is a simple tale of a dream house that turns literally into a hellish nightmare.  Imagine  two little children wandered off  to explore their new home.  Then picture horrified  parents as they hear their children's voices eerily begin to detail another reality of  a dark abyss behind a closet door, and of an unholy growl that is heard behind the walls, ready at any moment to tear through to destroy their dreams, their lives.   Intrigued?  Scared?   That is the author's intent.  Scare the reader just enough that they will stay with the story because each page is just as intriguing as the first.

Ronald Malfi's Little Girls is an eerie ghost story that comes complete with a distant cold father,  a forbidden room and a young woman who returns to her childhood finding incidents unsettling and memories reawaken.   Malfi expertly keeps the reader on the edge of their seats, wondering what will happen next.   The novel earned Malfi a nomination for the Bram Stoker Award.  Award or no award, this book is sure to become a creepy favorite.

There are a many fascinating and talented authors that know how rock the reader's safe and comfortable reality and take through a unimagined world of horror.   As stated before, it is a good thing to change up genre's once in a while.  Next up for October blog,  what happens horror and humor collide?  Hint:  Grossly funny.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Big Lesssons From a Samll Town Is Pure Michigan

There are a ton of self-help/how to be successful books published yearly.  In the United States the self-help industry rakes in about $10 billion per year.  That's a lot of folks looking for advice on how to live a successful life.   One would think that adding another title to the bookshelf would make for a very crowded shelf.  Michigan  State Attorney General  Bill Schuette's book Big Lessons From A Small Town is worthy making room for on the bookshelf. 

In a down-to-earth style,  that can be compared to sitting down with a friend over a cup of coffee,  Mr. Schuette shares with his readers his views on life, success and family.  Don't be fooled into believing that this book is all about politics and campaigns due to the author's current position in the State of Michigan.   Schuette effectively weaves in anecdotes from sports, his hometown of Midland, and family. It is a quick read with just enough of  a"jolt of encouragement" that readers of all walks of life can relate to and learn from. There is no doubt about the author's pride in his home state,  Michigan and his hometown.  Michigan may not be in the title of the book, but it is front and center in each chapter.   The readers, whether native Michiganders or not, are introduced to the warmth of the Midland community and the uniqueness of this beautiful state. 

Normally speaking about the price of a book is not a consideration on whether to read or not read a book.  Checking out books for a library will definitely save a few dollars rather then purchasing.  However, in this case,  the cover price is $ 17.95, and is well worth the individual investment to own a personal copy.  This book is not a "one-time" read.  Schuette's lessons are timeless and will offer a jolt of encouragement anytime it is read or re-read.  At the very least, it is definitely a book to share with friends over a cup of coffee.

Monday, October 12, 2015

In 1492 Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue... Let's Celebrate!

 There are many occasions to celebrate in October.  There's Sweetest Days and Halloween of course.     Neither of these holidays inspire parades.  In New York,  Chicago and for many Italian communities around the country,  Columbus Day is the perfect time to have a parade.  For the Italian American community this fellow countryman is a symbol of  the Italian roots in the Americas.  Sadly, in recent years,  Christopher Columbus has gotten a bad rap.  Mostly for political reasons, there are educators and others who call Columbus a racist because he owned slaves.   Thus, trying to smear Columbus' place in history.   This is a disservice to youngsters who should learn all of  America's rich stories.

The first opportunity to introduce Christopher Columbus is with Marion Dane Bauer's book simply titled Christopher Columbus, which is part of the My First Biography series.  With simple text and illustrations,  Bauer retells Columbus' story.  Children will learn the basic facts of Columbus success and failures in his quest to complete his voyage.  

For the older elementary school aged child,  Jean Fritz's book on history and historic figures are wonderful.  Her work,  Where Do You Think You're Going, Christopher Columbus?  is one of her best.   The author portrays Columbus a  stubborn yet visionary navigator.   The question in the title reminds the reader that Columbus was convinced that he could reach the Indies and bring back riches to Spain.  Although he was not successful in finding the Indies, he did find the New World.   Another good title is Who Was Christopher Columbus? written by Bonnie Bader of  the Who Is? series.   The chapters are short with black and white illustrations which add to the theme of the chapter.   What is especially helpful with this book is the timeline of Christopher Columbus' life along side the timeline of World history provided at the back of the book.  It is a tool that is helpful for the reader to understand how Christopher Columbus' achievements impacted world history.

For the skeptics who believe that teaching about Columbus is a waste of time Perhaps even going as far as suggesting that the holiday be removed from the American calendar.  Here is something to consider.  First, if were not for Columbus discovery of the New World,  American history would have been different.  Secondly, to label Columbus a racist because he owned slaves is a fact based on emotions.  In the 1400's, the views of humanity were different than what is believed today. Were they wrong to  believe that blacks should be slave?  Yes just as  they were also wrong about  the world being  flat and that the Sun circled the Earth.  It was the "theory" of their times.   Thirdly,  what students can learn from Columbus is that he was a man who steadfastly stuck to his belief that he could find the Indies. Granted his journey was not successful in the way that he had hoped but it is still something to celebrate in the history books.   Last but not least, men and women of historical fame were human.  They made mistakes.  Their mistakes should not take away from what their accomplishments.

Yes, let's celebrate Columbus Day with story times, rhymes, books and crafts.  Children deserve to be taught history in a manner that places facts above biased feelings and opinions.  America owes a debt of gratitude to the man who navigated his ships across the ocean to find a new passage to the Indies.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Reverse Psychology and Banned Books Week

All librarians, and educators as well, want to see children read with as much enthusiasm as they have when playing video games, watching sports and spending time with their friends.   Reading is good for them.   That is not an opinion, it's a fact.  However, ever teens will comment that they don't have time to read or that it's boring.  Yes, it is sometimes tedious when turning to the page and reading from left to right  Isn't it just as  tedious as pushing a bottom continuously trying to make Mario and Luigi get out of Level 4, only to "miss the jump"  again and have to go through the same receptive scenes until there is success.  Success that is to  Level 5 and it is a bit harder trying to save the Princess.  Poor Princess, she keeps waiting to be saved.   What if educators told kids they couldn't  read. They were not allowed  to read.  What would be the impact?

Let's take a look at Banned Books Week as a way to entice children to read. After all it is meant to grab the attention of readers and lure them into reading one of the "banned" books.   The American Library Association have taken the idea a bit too dramatic.  With statements and posts suggesting that children were not allowed to read Where The Wild Things Are or Wizard of Oz because of dark content or other such nonsense. It's a bit of an exaggeration, isn't?    These titles were never banned nationwide.  Only in  a few isolated areas.  This country has never had censorship written into law.   Publishers have set their own standards when it comes to what they will or will not publish.  For example,   vulgar language will not appear in picture books for children.    That is a consensus that the publishers have generally adopted.  There are no American laws which state specifically what an or can not be published.    That is why freedom of speech is protected under the Bill of Rights.   There has been banning of books in other countries and culture, and that is a topic that is worth discussing at another time.   It is difficult  to see how teens, and adults of that matter, are buying into the concept of Banned Books Weeks.  There  needs to be another angle to approach this topic to make it effective.

Back to the question posed previously, what would be the impact if a teen or adult were told they could not read?  Would they demand the book?  Would they demand to read?  This was an experiment that was done on a small scale to teen boys in a private high school many years ago.  Granted it was on a very small scale with only four boys participating, but it proved an important point.  The boys were told that all books were off limit to them.  One title in particular they could not "handle" was , One Who Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.  That title was deemed inappropriate by the library staff and therefore would not be available.  One of the boys, said nothing accepted the ruling.  The other three boys demanded answers.  Why couldn't they read the book?  What was in it that was so  bad?  Couldn't they determine for themselves what was good or bad?  None of the answers from the Library Staff appeased them.   This went on for a day or two until one of the boys walked into the library and proudly sat himself in one of the comfortable chairs and opened, in plain sight for everyone to see, One Who Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.    His friends joined him.  They thought they had pulled off the biggest stunt ever.  Well, what was the library staff to do?  Applaud them for sticking to their guns and going against authority. Applaud them for finding other ways to gain the knowledge that was denied them.   Obviously this is the silliest ban in the history of the school and perhaps, the universe, but it proved a point.  Tell a teen  they can't do something and watch them bend the rules to do exactly what they were told they could not do.

Banned Books Week should take this approach with teens.  Don't bore teens (and adults) with minor little incidents where books were challenged.  Turn it into a reverse psychology game and tell them they can't read this book because  (insert a unique excuse here.)   Perhaps this will generate a positive reaction from readers young and old.  It may even get a few nonreaders to read one book this year.    It just might drive home the point of banned books in a different light.