A humble little blog about books, information, and other things that are good to know.

Archive for the ‘People-Watching’ Category

Glad Day!

Front alcove of Glad Day Books.

Image via Pride Library at the University of Western Ontario.

I had intended to post a Pride booklist, but there’s something else I want to talk about in this post-Pride blog entry: an experience that made me super-excited about a bookstore for the first time in a good long while.

Oh, I’ve been excited about books at a bookstore, books I have the opportunity to buy or can’t wait to read. But this time, it’s the bookstore worth getting excited about.

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Reading With Mom

Two children reading with their mother.

Image via About.com.

Today Twitter gave us a hashtag librarians can hardly help but love: #readingwithmom. Who doesn’t have a sweet memory of shared hours spent with the grown-up who lovingly brought them into contact with the beautiful, imaginative, and somehow extra-grown-up world of books? Or of the classic stories that came to life in those treasured moments?

For me, it was about reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with my dad before bed. It created a Tolkien addiction that I still can’t quite get over, even to this day. I even have an Eowyn costume stored away in my closet. (Nerd!) What did you and your parents – or maybe you and your children – read together? Is it still staying with you even to this day?

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Romance Novel Readers, It’s A New World!

"His for the Holidays"

Image via Carina Press.

When I posted a link to an article on gay romance novels on my Facebook page, I really expected a more positive response.

Instead, the response I got was somewhere between bored and contemptuous. It’s old news, Salcia, they said. Slash has been around for decades. It’s been on the Internet since the start. There’s the yaoi subculture in Japan, and gay communities have been writing fiction as long as they’ve been around. It’s hardly the first time gay male love stories have been published.

I get that. But I still think the popularity of mainstream romance novels featuring male-on-male love stories is a step in the right direction for a more open vision of human sexuality, and I’m excited about it.

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Not Intended For Children

Glasses-wearing baby reading very serious novel

Image via the Vicky Mathan Blog.

I’ve been meaning to spend some time on this question for quite a while, ever since my good friend told me all about her daughter’s trip to the public library. It was a great experience: the little one (who I’ve christened with the blog-name Berry) got her very own library card and took home some picture books that she really enjoyed. But Mommy told me a story about how Berry kept trying to look at cookbooks, and that got me thinking: what happens when little readers (or not-yet-reading book lovers like Berry) get their hands on material that’s meant for grown-ups?

I encountered another example this morning while I was getting winter tires put on my car. A mom and her daughter were sitting in the waiting room; the child was maybe about six years old. Mom paged through an issue of People magazine, then set it aside, where her little girl picked it up and started flipping through. That’s when I noticed the cover story: TEEN SUICIDE TRAGEDIES.

Now that’s an even m0re serious example, and it highlighted the idea that, for me, there are two separate issues here:

  1. What happens when little children get into reading material that leaves them confronting ideas parents would rather protect them from encountering?
  2. Are there any reasons to keep children away from grown-up books that don’t contain anything controversial or disturbing, but they just aren’t designed for children?

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Scary Library: The Haunting of Willard Library

Willard Library

Image via Library Ghost.

Winter, 1937. It was a bitterly cold night in Evansville, Indiana, the kind of snowy winter night that sees most citizens buried under as many blankets as they can gather together. But at least one citizen was up and about – a solitary janitor whose name has been lost to posterity. He worked nights at beautiful Willard Library, keeping the building safe and warm by maintaining the coal-powered furnace overnight and attending whatever mundane maintenance tasks couldn’t be tackled during the day, when people came  in for quiet reading and study. In the early hours before dawn, as our hard-working janitor descended to the basement to stoke the fires yet again, he saw something he would likely never forget.

There was a lady there, clad all in gray, from the veil upon her head to the shoes on her feet. In the dim light, even her skin seemed gray. How could a woman possibly have gotten into the building? The flustered janitor fumbled his flashlight; it hit the hard ground, but it didn’t go out. He watched in shock as the woman before him dissolved into shadows, as if she had never been there.

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Brainy Beach-Reading

This blog entry is dedicated to the Zigar family, who graciously hosted us and our friends throughout the weekend and generously offered me the use of their refrigerator.

"Beach Blues" by Mimi McCallum

Picture by Mimi McCallum. Click to check out more of McCallum's warm and evocative artwork.

I spent the weekend in cottage country – Ipperwash Beach, to be exact – and, predictably, when I wasn’t floating on Lake Huron or toasting marshmallows and singing “Sweet Caroline”, I was sprawled out on a beach blanket reading. I wasn’t the only one. As many librarians know, the reading public is drawn to the concept of the beach read: the fun, fluffy fiction that melds reading and relaxing when you’re taking your summer vacation. (Check out some fairly typical recommendations here and here, or hit Google with the search term “beach reads”.)

When you think about a beach read, you’re usually not thinking about a particularly heavy story; hot summer days don’t need bulky clothes, big meals, or dragging stories to weigh them down. They’re usually short paperbacks, easy to rest in your lap or hold up as a shield from the sun. (My selection this weekend was an exception: Stephen King’s Under the Dome weighs about as much as my cat, and doctors have recommended that I avoid lifting it. My cottage-country companions nicknamed it “Under the Tome”.) Beach reads aren’t usually the kind of stories you want to overthink – never mind deeper meanings or profound life lessons. Nobody wants to overheat their brain any more than necessary under the hot July sun.

Or do they?

The hot trend at Ipperwash Beach this summer seems to be all about expanding your cranium. When it comes to fiction, the classics are back in fashion. Instead of the latest crime thrillers and bodice-rippers, I caught my companions stretched out in lawn chairs with Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. It’s rare to think of non-fiction as material for beach reads, but even that was drifting around. I caught friends toting paperbacks about Kantian metaphysics (really!) and perusing the latest issue of Scientific American, with stories on brain research and climate change.

I’ve got nothing against fun, fluffy fiction. Snobbery has no place in librarianship, or in life; you could miss out on great life lessons by assuming there’s nothing you can possibly learn from a James Patterson or Nora Roberts . . . or, for that matter, an episode of The Bachelor. Or maybe there is no great life lesson in store, but it’s just fun to read. That’s okay too. As long as it piques your interest, there’s really no such thing as a bad choice when it comes to reading material.

But if libraries stick to promoting the more traditional beach reads, they’re missing an opportunity to capture the imagination. A beach escape can be a great place for escapist fiction, but it can also be the perfect place to dive into thought-provoking, reflective reading. Recalling the fresh breezes, soft sands, and soothing wave-sounds of Ipperwash, I find it hard to imagine a more perfect place to pick up a book that will get your mind going in all kinds of new and intriguing directions. The beach is a great place to get wrapped up in the classic literature you’ve been dying to peruse, or to learn more about some subject that’s piqued your interest, or to search for some conclusion on a controversial topic you’d like to understand. And if, like many of the people I saw this weekend, you like to alternate your reading with cookouts, campfires, boat rides, and water games, it gets even better. The breaks between reading sessions can help your mind digest and reflect on the material you’ve read and possibly make interesting connections that just wouldn’t surface in the fast-paced environment of the workaday world.

If you love your beach reads as they are, more power to you. It’s your vacation, after all: read what you want to.

But if you’re a reader (or a librarian) who feels stuck in a beach-reading rut, maybe it’s time to stop overlooking the more daunting reads that will get your neurons fired up. Don’t be afraid of paragraphs that might take a bit of re-reading or things you’ll want to pause and reflect upon as you read. Where better to reflect than on the water? Or while you’re looking up at a summer-home sky full of stars you’d never see in the big city?

You might find yourself thinking thoughts you honestly never expected, fired up in a whole new way, and more mentally rejuvenated than you thought your summer vacation could ever get you.

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