Monday, December 29, 2014

New Year's Resolutions For The Library Geek

First, let's begin the post with the understanding that everyone is a geek about something.  It's not just to describe a passion for  computers, sciences or mathematical numbers. It's about knowing a topic so well that in a Jeopardy category, one would not only know all the questions/answers but would be able to come up with harder questions/answers to stump  highly knowledgeable likeminded geeks  In the case of this blog, well it isn't hard to guess what the "geek" is here.  Libraries. All kinds, shapes or sizes of libraries. It's what can be labeled as an addiction or in some cases abnormal obsession.  Is it wrong to question what is so abnormal about a library obsession?  Nah!  Nothing abnormal about it! Wondering how to spot a library geek?  First, foremost a library card is a MUST for all library geeks. Second,  a visit to a library at least once a week.  Bonus if the visit to the library is while on vacation (triple bonus when on honeymoon) just because it's good to know if the library at home is better (or worse) than the one seen on vacation.  Third,  hearing the mention of "library" on the TV makes the viewer rewind to find out why the library was mentioned.  Four,  library geeks can name every movie that has a library scene in it. Quick: how many times did Indiana Jones movies have a library scene?   Five, conversations with friends and family usually involve one or two mentions about libraries.  Six and yes this is the final test to spotting a library geek,  T-shrits, sweatshirts, or tote bags that have literary quotes or have the word "library" on them is part of the library geek's wardrobe.

Now that the basic understanding about "geek" has been established, it is safe to suggest a  list of New Year's Resolutions for library geeks.

1. Resolve to be more vocal about library advocacy.  Libraries' best weapon to fighting back against legislative budget cuts,  city council demands for more service with less funds and naysayers who claim the Internet has replaced the library is the people who love going to the library.   Legislatures need to know that the library isn't just a building within the community with empty tables and chairs. No!  It's busy with people coming to workshops, leaving with armloads of children books to keep little ones entertained and bustling with librarians who are ready to answer any reference question that patrons' have.

2. Resolve to read at least one book this year that is a "new-to-me" genre or writer.  This gives the opportunity to hear from a fresh perspective and voice.

3. Resolve to read to a child whenever the opportunity is available.  The joys of reading is ten times better when sharing it with a youngster.  It is sure to brighten anyone's day.

4.  Resolve to leave a book for others to pick up.  The Free Little Libraries have inspired many to share the books that they love with with others in the pay it forward ideal.  Why not go with that idea a step further.  Leave books on buses,  at malls, or doctor's offices.  Consider how one simple book could make a difference in a person's day?

Four suggestions for resolutions should be a good start for any library geek.  Then again, library geeks tend to be very creative in finding ways to spread the word about libraries.  I'm sure that these suggestions could very well turn into something unique and interesting as 2015 unfolds.  

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Message of Peace : Libraries As Havens of Hope.

There are moments when the headlines of the news can not be ignored.  Issues that were once considered better to be left alone are now surfacing to the top and ready to boil over.  It would be nice if there were a book that can be accessible to everyone and be read by everyone in order that calmness can conquer chaos.  There doesn't seem to be a book that can put out the flames that have been set by recent incidents in New York and Ferguson, Missouri.  The "mob" mentality seems to be winning the day and clear heads are not prevailing.  Libraries play a vital role in every community.  They provide a place to gather, a place to discuss issues and a place to learn.  This must have been the reason why the staff at Ferguson Municipal Public Library felt that it was important to remain open when the schools shut down due to the civil unrest.   The library was one of the few places where children of Ferguson could go to find a safe refuge.  It can not be ignored that the decision to remain open was powerful and positive for the citizens of Ferguson.   The library isn't just about providing a safe place for children.  It is about finding  answers to problems or finding the truth buried in the issues of the day.  Three days before Christmas,  there is only one gift Americans need most:  PEACE.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if libraries could point the way to that gift of peace through books.

 May wonderful and prolific writers have tackled the complex issue of racism in their works.  Most of these titles have been listed as required reading in high school or entering into a university.  Novels such as Harper Lee's  To Kill A Mocking Bird and  Toni Morrison's Beloved invited readers to see the injustice that blacks in America have faced.  In Lee's book it was about a black man accused of raping a white woman in a small Southern town.  We see the prejudices of the town folks who readily accept that the accusation is true.  Why? Simply because of the skin color of the defendant.  It is a book that forces the reader to examine why it is easy to accept the guilt of a person solely on the basis of his skin color.  Morrison's tome deals with a former slave, Sethe  who had escaped to Ohio.  What follows is the events that depicts her escape from slavery but is forever enslaved by the memories of her past.  In particular, the child she lost who now haunts her.   It seems that with freedom Sethe also needed peace to make her life complete.  Unfortunately,  this was something that was never a possibility for Sethe.  Perhaps life was simpler with Twain's Huckleberry Finn but now  his work has been criticized for having racial overtones because of the language used.  Sadder still is that Laura Ingles Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods has been deemed inappropriate and racist because of the not so positive views of the American Indians.  This  causes a librarian to sigh and wonder where will it end.

It may be that it will end when society as a whole is reminded of  two important facts that all four of these books prove in different yet subtle ways.  First,  as a society we have come a long way.  No longer is it acceptable to judge people with words and deeds solely because they look different.  Thank goodness for that!  These books help readers to understand different is not dangerous or detestable.   It's just merely different.  Learning from other  cultures reinforces the notion that the hopes and dreams of every child are the same regardless of culture or language.  Secondly,  everyone comes into the world the same way and will leave this world in the same way.  Realizing that, it's time to come to the only conclusion that since we share the same planet, we might as well get along.

On a final note, it may just be that humans  have never really changed.   Shakespeare points out so well hundreds of years ago, that humans are greedy, vain, and jealous.  Some are good. Some are bad. One thing that is certain, it is only during a time of tragedy that the truth to life is revealed. It was the same lesson Shakespeare taught through his works years ago that today's authors try to teach and immolate.  It wouldn't be a bad thing if it could be remembered and practiced to forgive often, understanding with patience  and that life is short and fleeting. There are no second chances to do things  over.  It is as simple as that.  At least through books,  it is possible to stop and learn from the characters who have leapt into situations with passion with little thought of the consequences.  Then painful lessons would not have to be relearned over and over again.   Libraries are the safe haven to stop to think,  reflect and learn for children of all ages.  During this season of light, whether it be Christmas, Chanukah or secular celebration, take a moment to be grateful for the good in life.  There is too much sadness that everyone needs to take a moment to see the good and to feel hopeful for the coming new year.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Santa: Finding out The Truth about the Jolly Ol' Guy

       Youngsters have often heard adults say, "If you want to know something, go look it up!"  Back in the day, there were books, encyclopedias, thesaurus, dictionaries and a whole slew of tools to find the answer.  Today, the internet has made it that much more easier to tap into a wealth of knowledge.  Yet there are still some tidbits of information that eludes youngsters.  In particular, Santa Claus and his jolly ways.  Who is this strange man who works only one night a year, dresses in a read suit and leaves presents for good little boys and girls?  Is he for real?  How does he go around the world in one night?   Why did he pick reindeers to help him travel in his sleigh?  Wouldn't unicorns be better?  (No.  Silly, unicorns don't exist!)  The questions go on and on and on.  Luckily there are ways of getting to the truth about the beloved man everyone has come to know as Santa Claus. 

     Harold Myra lays out all the facts in his book Santa, Are You Real?   From the traces of Santa's early history as Saint Nicholas to today as the  jolly red suited man children all over the world recognize. It's sweet and it reminds readers that St. Nicholas' example of love and charity is the way to keep Christ in the heart of Christmas.   The author eludes that Santa is alive through the stories of St. Nick.  However, adults can prove that Santa is real with Ingrid Ostheeren's I'm The Real Santa Claus.  How frustrating must it be for Santa Claus to find so many men impersonating him at Christmas time!  They are everywhere!  No wonder people have stopped believing in him.   In this tale, Santa get the gentle reminder that children still believe in him and in Christmas magic.  Must say, there are so adults who need this same reminder. 

        Now before the more practical, stuffy and so called level headed nonbeliever starts to explode because there need concrete facts.  Gerry Bowler's book  Santa Claus: A Biography gives the facts in a manner that would make every historian rest at ease.  Yes, Bowler insists that Santa  is a legend, mystical wonderful fictional elf that has graced greeting cards,  wrapping paper and commercial ads for centuries but that shouldn't stop the young at heart from enjoying the book.  Having said that,  readers should   not miss out on reading The Christmas Chronicles: The Legend of Santa Claus.  The title should not fool the reader.  Tim Stover probably called it a legend to lure nonbelievers into believing in Santa again.  The details of Santa's life are rich, warm and wonderful!  How could this be fiction?  It simply feels too real to be fake.  Of course, if one really wants to be a cynic that is their choice but the facts of the story are difficult to dispute.  Such as how Santa learned to make wonderful toys, or how he met his love, Mrs. Claus.  Stover even details how Santa was able to get the reindeers to fly.  How could he just make that up?  It's simply must be true.
   In need of more proof of his existence?  Fictional characters are in books.  Authors are not in books, they write the books.  Santa can't be fictional because he wrote a book. He's a published author just as James Patterson and Danielle Steele are.    It's available for anyone who wishes to know the REAL Santa.  (It's even available in e-books, just to prove that old men can still keep up with technology our day)  Santa Responds:  He's Had Enough ... and He's Writing Back!   Frankly, it's about time that he stood up for himself!  All the letters from boys and girls who simply write them to appease their parents but truly don't believe and don't deserve half of the items on their list.  That's okay because Santa has a way of setting the record straight that isn't too confrontational and gets his message across.
      This Christmas, the best gift every reader can give to themselves is the gift of believing in Santa. If  that is too far of a stretch, then at least to start believing that  wonderful magical things can happen. .   It is never too late to start believing again.  After all, through the magic of Christmas every reader is young again and it is possible for one fat elf in a red suit to travel the world in one night on a sleigh with eight flying reindeers.  It's the magic of the season.  It's Christmas.


Monday, December 8, 2014

The Best of Modern Christmas Stories

In the last post, there was a brief run down of the worst that Christmas novels have to offer.  Frankly, the publishing industry has turned this into a niche that many times have no soul and it shows in the style of writing and canned story plots.    It may be awkward to say but this niche has  often proven  that there has to be bad stories in order for readers to find and treasure the truly good ones.  In this post,  there is good news for readers who want a memorable holiday story that will become a favorite for years to come.   If after reading these stories, and  readers don't place them on their  "go to " shelf for holiday books, it will be flat out surprising.  

First on the list is Dave Barry's  The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog (2008) is a nostalgic laugh out loud Christmas tale that only he could write.   Reader's looking for a light hearted Christmas tale of Christmas past that can be read in one sitting have found the perfect match in this story.  Barry's humor shines through page after page keeping the reader in stitches up until the very last word.  It has everything that a reader could want: warm family memories, a Christmas play and beloved family dog.    The story is authentic, honest and humorous. Was the number of laughs per page mentioned? .  It makes one yearn for the good ol' days when life was a little simpler.  A MUST  have for every holiday season.

Another notable  authentic Christmas novel that is a must read is The Christmas Cookie Club: A Novel by Ann Pearlman (2010).   Set in Michigan, this story is about twelve friends who come together every holiday season to share cookies and wine. The friends come from all different backgrounds but they share the holiday traditions that brings them together for a special night that is just for them.  No husbands.  No children.  No work.  Just time for them to enjoy the festive season and each other.   The bond that is shown in this circle of friends proves what women have always known for centuries:  if you can't tell your best friends your troubles than you don't have friends or hope.  The recipes for the cookies shared in the novel are printed  at the end of the book.  It's really a bonus to have a holiday bake book and good story to go along with it.

If the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles is appealing then David Baldacci's holiday novel is a perfect fit   The Christmas Train (2013) takes the reader on a journey with Tom, a writer who is trying to get home in time for the holiday.  Why not take a plane?  Well then the story wouldn't be as eventful as getting into with airport security which leads to Tom being forced to take a train.  This of course leads to him encountering  a memorable  cast of character which sets the story on track for  an unexpected romance.  The icing on the cake to change everyone's plans of the holiday: an avalanche.  Could it get any better?  Nope.

What do all these novels wonderful?  They don't try be something that they are not.  What you see is what you get.  It seems that many Christmas novel try too hard to recapture what The Christmas Carol and The Gift of the Magi did many years ago.  That is create stories with strong emotions and strong moral message.  These classics really don't need to be replaced or rewritten.  That is why they are timeless classics.   Barry,  Perlman and Baldacci understand that the  goal in writing their novels is to capture the readers attention and everything else will fall into place.  They don't need to compete with the classics they simply need to bring enjoyment to their audience.   The Christmas season is all the more brighter with these novels filled with laughter, friendship and the desire to make it  home for the holidays.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Stories With A Formula But No Heart

Every season there are stories that just make the holidays seem a bit brighter.   There is no doubt that every reader has their own favorites that they read and reread to to get into the right mood.  Dickens' A Christmas Carol is one such story along with Andersen's  The Little Match Girl.  Let's not forget O Henry's Gift of the Magi.  Each  of these stories go straight for the heart and elicits the true emotions of the Christmas season.  There are very few stories like this of our generation.  It seems that writers and readers alike have forgotten that at the center of the Christmas messages is love.  Let's be totally honest,  the message may be lost because writers and perhaps their publishes, don't want to sound overly preachy.  In an effort to stay mainstream without getting too religious all the Christmas stories have become the same.  Sweet stories about the holiday season that are empty of a message.

Please stop reading this if you love to read holiday books that have no meaning behind it except to give the author and publisher a paycheck.  Is this a little harsh?  Perhaps but let's lay the formula of the quick, no meaning,  forgettable  holiday novel.  There are at least five elements that make this niche market nauseating.  Readers may find all of these elements in the book or at a minimum two.  Make no mistake, the publisher pushing the novels are trying to make extra holiday dough to add to the bottom line.

First,  there is  someone with a serious illness who is just about to die or has just recently died.  Mom has cancer.  Child has incurable disease that is so rare only 0.01% of the population will get it much less know of the disease.  Yes, this is to make sure that everyone realizes how precious each moment on earth is and that next Christmas we may not be around.   If VanLier's  The Christmas Shoes come to mind, well it should.  It actually is the winner for best of the worst tear jerker story about a dying mother and an adorable child at Christmas.  Seriously, these books are not good for the hypochondriac in the family or for the reader who wants a Christmas the tis merry.  Who wants to think about dying at Christmas?  Well, maybe the depressed reader who wants a little more misery to make their Christmas bluer. Other than that, no one.

Two,  poverty or hard times have just hit home.  Yes, this may seem a little hypocritical to complain about since mentioning   classic stories that deal specifically with poverty.  However, in some of  today's holiday novels the message seems hollow and insincere.  For example,   in Wright's  The Christmas Jars the message of sacrifice is lost. The novel is based on the tradition of putting money in a jar all year long and at the end of the year use the money to help someone who is in a bad situation.  Um, well it would be a great story if the author had not wrapped it into an unbelievable turn of events that leads the main character to find out about her birth mother from complete strangers.  It's a small world scenario that just doesn't add up to reality.  In fiction, suspend reality to enjoy the story, right?  Yes, do that and the book will be fine.

Three,  cute adorable dogs or cats who tug at the heartstring because they were lost but now found or they are on their last legs.  Kleenex time again!  Kincaid's  A Dog Named Christmas is claimed to be  the book to get for the dog lover in your list.  To be honest, it is a good book to give to someone who is not  a serious reader.  As a librarian, this book has been suggested to reluctant readers because of it's brevity and "brain candy" plot.  However,  Kincaid's story is not one to be given to a dog lover. Why?  Simple, what dog lover would love a story about  taking in a shelter dog for only the holiday season and returning it once the season is over.  Really? To be fair that is not how the story ends but the premise there is an animal shelter out there that would consider this as a way to take care of the animals is frightening.   There are so many other stories that are better written and the plots are not as contrived as this one.

Four,  the plot is so predictable that one would think they are reading a Harlequin romance.  Picture this: a lonely Amish widow who is in need of a nanny to help take care of his six uncontrollable but adorable children.  Does the reader really need to think hard on what's the ending of the book will be?  Nope.   Gray's  Snowfall: A Days of Redemption Christmas Novella follows the recipe for quick light romance right to the last page.   The only thing that makes it passable is that it is set at Christmas time and it is perfect for the Christmas niche market.  Was it mentioned this is a quick read?  Good thing because long  sappy stories can be draining.

Five,  build a story around a dysfunctional family that needs to be reminded of the true meaning of life, (otherwise known as the true meaning of Christmas).    Hildebrand's Winter Street has all of the family drama and more.  This is definitely one of the best worst holiday book for dysfunctional family that packs into its pages every storyline from  the history of soap operas.   Let's start with the checklist.  Cheating wife, check.  daughter who is unable to get boyfriend to commit, check.  First son is successful in business but by questionable means, check.  Second son, not as successful and fooling around with a French maid, check.  Youngest son can not be reached because he's in the army and his unit is in Afghanistan, check.  First wife comes in to make all things merry and bright, check.  Well at least by the end of the book the family finds happiness in the chaos.  How?  Who really knows because in soap operas they all live to see another day.

Now don't get discouraged.  Although the books listed here are the examples of why Christmas books may suck the holiday spirit right out of the reader.   There are many worthwhile reads for the holiday season.   Consider this the opportunity to look at the worst Christmas holiday reading season in order to find the great stories that are waiting to be discovered.   Are they out there?  Yes, Virginia there really are good holiday books that do not follow the cookie cutter formula but rather go on a path that is unique and unforgettable.