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Book Review: Dead Until Dark By Charlaine Harris

October 28, 2009 17 comments

Since I watched the first season of True Blood and loved it, I decided to read the book the first season is based on.  This was an interesting reversal for me, since usually I’ve read a book then seen the tv show/movie that is made from it.  Anyway, this review naturally contains comparisons between the two, so be warned there are spoilers for both Dead Until Dark and the first season of True Blood.

0441016995.01._SX140_SY225_SCLZZZZZZZ_Summary:
Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress in a bar in a small town in Louisiana, has been wanting to meet a vampire ever since they came out of the coffin a few years ago.  She gets her chance when Bill Compton, a vampire who was made right after the Civil War, moves to her town of Bon Temps.  Bill is in turn intrigued by Sookie, because she is different from other humans–she can read minds.  They start dating, but it’s not always easy to date a vampire–especially when local women known to hook-up with them are being murdered by an unknown killer.

Review:
Charlaine Harris’s strength as a romance novelist is definitely witty conversations between our heroine and the various male characters in the books.  They are witty and come across remarkably real considering the paranormalness of the plot.   She also sets scenes well.  I’ve never been to Louisiana, but I could just feel the humidity in the air as Sookie partook in various night adventures.

Something that bothered me when watching True Blood was I just couldn’t understand what Sookie found appealing in Bill.  I find him dull, boring, and ugly.  In the book, though, it is abundantly clear that what is so appealing about Bill is that Sookie can relax around him since she can’t read his mind.  The amount she relaxes in scenes with just him is palpable.  I therefore understand why she chooses to overlook his various faults.

The book is written in first-person, and I think this was an unfortunate choice.  It limits our ability to see everything that is going on in Sookie’s world.  Most notably missing is Jason’s storyline.  In True Blood vampire blood is sold as a drug, V, and Jason becomes addicted to it.  Thus, his odd behavior with Sookie is understandable.  In the book though we only hear hints of V being used by anyone and certainly not by Jason.  Jason is just a douchebag.  This limits the levels of story in the book, and I missed the multiple storylines.

*spoiler warning*
The end of Dead Until Dark almost makes up for this though.  In True Blood the murderer comes for Sookie, and she is saved by Bill and her boss, Sam.  In the book though Sookie is left entirely on her own and saves herself.  She finds the faces the murderer alone and defeats him.  She finds her inner strength and just keeps fighting back.  The murderer even says that the Stackhouse women were the only ones to fight back (he also killed her grandmother).  They didn’t just lay back and let it happen.  That’s what makes Sookie such a great romance heroine–she is strong and independent.  She doesn’t need her relationship with Bill, but she does want it.  This makes their romance much more fun.
*end spoiler*

Finally, if you’re a romance novel reader, you might be wondering about the quality of the sex scenes.  Well, they do exist, and they are not corny.  However, they also just aren’t that exciting.  Harris keeps them short and to the point.  No witty, fun double entendres are used, either, which is one of my personal favorite aspects of romance novels.  This book isn’t one to read for the sex scenes; it’s one to read for the storyline.

If you could mash up the best parts of Dead Until Dark with the best parts of True Blood, you would have a truly amazing story.  Unfortunately, both versions have flaws that hold them back from excellence.  Dead Until Dark is worth reading if you enjoy paranormal romance.  If you just want to read the books because you like True Blood for anything but the main Sookie storyline, though, don’t bother reading the books.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Sources: I bought Dead Until Dark and Netflixed True Blood.

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The Problem With the Twilight Series

October 23, 2009 13 comments

This week there’s been a bit of internet commentary that librarians can be a bit elitist when it comes to books.  They’re saying that librarians scorn the likes of Dan Brown and attempt to force-feed works like Catch-22 to patrons.

Now, I personally know some librarians who harbor a hatred of Dan Brown, but I also know that they bought multiple copies of The Lost Symbol for their library.  Similarly, I’m a librarian, and I read my fair share of “trashy,” easy literature.  Hell, I’m currently reading the Sookie Stackhouse series.  Given these facts, I’d prefer it if the commentators said *some* librarians try to force patrons to read what they want them to read.  There probably is one out there somewhere who does that.  What really pisses me off, though, is the people who’ve accused me of being elitist due to my loathing of one particular series.

I’m looking at you Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer.

The minute I say I hate this seriese, people accuse me of being elitist.  Judging it for being “light” reading.  They’ve even told me something is wrong with my taste when 40 million other people love it.  Well, you know what?  My problem with Twilight has nothing to do with the writing style.  Like I said, I’m reading Sookie Stackhouse.  I like romance novels, and they aren’t exactly known for their Shakespearean style.

My problem with the series has nothing to do with the writing style.  It’s the content.  I’m sure many of you have heard teen girls say how they’d love to have an Edward all their own.  The problem with this is that Edward is an abusive boyfriend.

Let’s start with the fact that Edward stalks Bella.  He repeatedly watches her sleep at night from her window without her knowledge.  This is how the relationship starts.

It progresses further.  Once they’re dating, he tells Bella who she can hang out with.  He verbally abuses her, saying things like “I’ve seen corpses with better control,” “You’re utterly absurd,” and “You are a terrible actress–I’d say that career path is out for you.”  In a health relationship, a significant other is supportive, loving, and on your side.  Even if s/he disagrees with you, s/he expresses this disagreement without attacking who you are as a person.

Let’s not forget the whole plot sequence in which Edward first threatens then attempts to carry out suicide because he claims he can’t live without Bella.  This is abusive, because people should be in a relationship out of love, not fear the other person will harm himself.

Bella doesn’t only fear for Edward’s life, she’s also legitimately afraid of him.  Some people would say this is because he’s a vampire, but that’s no excuse.  She should feel safe with her boyfriend, not afraid.

I’m not saying abusive relationships shouldn’t ever be in a book, but Meyer presents this as a good thing!  Edward is supposedly Bella’s knight in shining armor, but he is controlling, possessive, and demeaning of her.  She is afraid of him, but she loves him so supposedly that’s ok?  No.  It’s not ok, and it is not  ok that Meyer is glorifying this in her books.  Not ok at all.

The themes I hate in the book go beyond the abusive relationship being glorified, however.  When Bella and Edward break up, there are four nearly blank pages in the book.  These are supposed to represent how empty Bella’s life is without Edward.  Yes, let’s tell the teenagers reading this book that their entire life is their romantic relationship.  This is obviously an unhealthy perspective.

Meyer also demonizes sex.  I’m not saying books should swing the other way and tell teenage girls it’s cool to go suck a new dick every night, but Meyer is totally on the sex is evil side of the fence.  First there’s the fact that Bella wants to do it with her steady boyfriend (*gasp* the horror), and Edward insists they wait until they are married.  It’d be fine for them to wait until they were married, if it was what they both wanted.  However, Edward looks down on Bella’s desire to sleep with him and insists waiting until marriage is better.  No.  Waiting until marriage isn’t “better,” it’s just “an option.”  An option among many options, and one that I feel leads to impulsive young marriages and divorce or a life-time of misery, but I digress.

Then, when they finally do get married, having sex with Edward seriously injures Bella.  Apparently having sex with a vampire in Meyer’s land is like having sex with a marble statue.  That sparkles.  So now teenage girls are not only being told sex before marriage is evil, but also that sex is scary, and it really hurts!  This hearkens back to the days of old when engaged women were told by their mothers that sex with their husband was something to “be endured” for the joy of having children some day.

Speaking of children, the last plot theme that I hate in Meyer’s series is that Bella becomes pregnant with a fetus that is literally eating her alive and killing her, yet she chooses to bring it to term anyway.  This is, naturally, glorified in the series.  Because we want to tell our girls that it’s better to die giving birth than to abort and save your own life.  What the hell, Meyer?!  Making a choice like that is, essentially, suicide.  She knows she’s dying.  She could stop it.  She chooses not to.

So in one series Meyer glorifies abusive relationships and suicidal behavior and demonizes sex.

I am horrified that a FEMALE writer wrote such a misogynistic series.  I am also saddened as it is evident that Meyer has internalized the harmful patriarchal culture she grew up in.  She’s a self-hating woman and doesn’t even realize it.  Unfortunately, she’s now helping to spread that internalized misogyny to the next generation of young women.

This is why I hate Twilight.  It isn’t because I’m supposedly an elitist.  It is because I am a feminist.

Female Genital Mutilation

October 21, 2009 Leave a comment

Today while perusing links posted on twitter, I came across this story on Newsweek.  Now, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is no new topic to me.  We actually covered it in one of my sociology-type classes in high school.  This article though made it re-hit home akin to the way it did the first time I learned about FGM.

For those who don’t know, FGM is a cultural practice in which some part of a little girl’s genitals are cut off.  This can range from the least severe of “circumcising” her clitoris to the most severe where the clitoris and inner and outer labia are cut off and the vagina is then sewn closed with only a pin-sized hole left for urinating and menstruating.  To top it off this procedure is most often done in people’s homes with dirt floors by the elderly women of the community who use unsanitized knives and sometimes even shards of glass to perform the procedure.

Why is this done to these little girls?  Because their cultures perceive women’s sexuality as evil and dangerous.  Because if the woman gets actual pleasure from sex, she will be less subservient to her husband and more likely to leave him.  Mainly though, it’s that they think a woman’s genitals are evil and must be cut off.

To put it really lightly:  THIS IS FUCKING WRONG.

A basic human right is the ability to have an enjoyable sex life if you so choose, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else.  Can you imagine if you knew you were completely incapable of ever having an orgasm?  Can you imagine what an affect that would have on your relationship?  It is a scientific fact that when a woman orgasms oxycontin is released in her brain causing her to bond with her sexual partner.  These women don’t even have that opportunity.  It was cut away from them.  It gets worse, though.  According to the victims in the article, sometimes the procedure is done so poorly that the woman is left with painful scar tissue, thereby making it not only not pleasurable but also painful for her partner to touch her.  This isn’t a case of a woman making the choice to abstain from sex.  It’s a case of a woman wanting to enjoy the pleasure others take for granted, but she can’t because of what was done to her as a child without her consent.  Honestly, Sila talking about her love for romance novels being marred by the fact she couldn’t have even a little bit of the pleasure the main characters have broke my heart.

Apparently though, there is some hope for women who had this atrocity committed against them.  The Newsweek article states that there is a new medical procedure that can at least partly restore the female genitals.  According to the article, this new surgery was discovered due to the work to discover genital restructuring for gender reassignment surgery.  NATURALLY, this surgery is deemed “cosmetic” by American insurance companies, leaving these mostly immigrant, poor women having to pay for their own reconstruction surgery.  This is akin to telling a burn victim her reconstructive surgery is cosmetic.  It is WRONG.

Well, Dr. Bowers of the hospital where Sila got her surgery won’t stand for it.  Dr. Bowers knows what it’s like to feel that your genitalia doesn’t match who you are.  She is a transgendered person herself, and she performs the procedure free of charge for these women.  Dr. Bowers says, “you cannot charge money to reverse a crime against humanity.”  Dr. Bowers is a hero.

Of course in an ideal world, Dr. Bowers wouldn’t need to perform this surgery on women, because their genitals wouldn’t be mutilated to start with.  I REFUSE to kowtow to political correctness and say “it’s a part of their culture.  We shouldn’t condemn it.”  It is WRONG, and I will keep saying it is WRONG until no more little girls are mutilated.

If you would like to help a woman who is a victim of FGM, please visit the nonprofit Clitoraid’s website.

Click here for more information on FGM.

Medical Librarian Appreciation Month

October 20, 2009 1 comment

According to the National Library of Medicine, October is medical librarian appreciation month.  Yay!  Now, I’m not just pointing this out because I’m a medical librarian myself (*blush*), but I have noticed a dire lack of knowledge even among librarians about just what a medical librarian does all day.

A medical library, contrary to popular belief, is not just a public library inside a hospital.  It’s more akin to an academic library, but even that isn’t a fair comparison.  The medical library exists to serve doctors, researchers, lab technicians, and nurses in keeping on the cutting edge of scientific knowledge.  It also helps them practice evidence-based medicine.  When your doctor tells you that she wants you to take a certain drug because that drug has proven to be beneficial to people like you, in all likelihood your doctor found an article about a study supporting that information in her hospital’s medical library.

A medical librarian doesn’t generally deal with typical reference questions.  Although we get the “where’s the bathroom” and “how do I photocopy” just like any other librarian, our reference questions are much more often something like:

  • “I found this citation at the end of this article in the current Archives of General Psychiatry.  Can you help me find the original?”
  • “I’d like to set up a recurring search on PubMed for anorexia in men, how do I do that?”
  • “The hospital is getting a VIP patient soon, and I need all articles in the last 10 years on handling VIP patients.”
  • “I have a patient who I believe is presenting with symptoms of schizophrenia, but that is not my expertise.  Can you help me brush up on it?”
  • “We have a patient presenting with delusions, tremors, and missing hair.  Can you run a search in Ovid on those symptoms and see what comes up?”

As you can see, medical librarians, likes subject area academic librarians, need to have a general knowledge of the type of medicine their hospital deals in.  Medical librarians need to speak scientists’ lingo so their patrons won’t get slowed down explaining what they mean to the librarian.  Medical librarians deal with highly educated patrons who generally think with scientific-oriented minds.  They are intelligent, but busy.  The medical librarian is a part of the hospital team.  She is one of the many cogs that exists to provide quality patient care.  She must stay up to date and trained in utilizing scientific databases, in what research is going on in her hospital, and in current medical knowledge and terminology if she is going to help her patrons efficiently.

You won’t find a medical librarian presenting a story hour, themed reading week, or a summer reading program.  You will find a medical librarian skimming the new medical journals cover to cover.   She may have been assigned specific doctors and researchers.  She knows exactly which area of medicine they specialize in and keeps her eye out for new information to forward to them.  They know her by name and stop her in the hospital halls to ask her to find things for them.  A medical librarian may be called upon to conduct a search on a certain condition in a certain type of patient asap for a patient in critical care.  Unlike a public librarian, a medical librarian’s job isn’t to encourage reading or continuing education for the pure fun of it.  Unlike an academic librarian, a medical librarian’s job isn’t to educate people on how to conduct good research.  A medical librarian’s patrons may or may not enjoy reading for fun, but that’s none of her business.  Most of a medical librarian’s patrons already know how to conduct good research.  A medical librarian’s job is simply to provide exactly the type of information her patrons need when they need it.  Sometimes even before they ask for it.  In this sense, it probably makes a lot more sense to call a medical librarian an information specialist.  Indeed, many hospitals are moving toward calling their librarians “informationists.”

I’m taking the time to write all of this simply because I feel medical librarianship is one of the many misunderstood professions.  I suppose this is fine for the general public, but if you are a librarian or a library student, you should understand what it is your medical librarian colleagues do.  Simply not having to explain over and over again that we are not like public librarians would, frankly, be all the appreciation we need from other librarians.  As for any doctors, researchers, nurses, lab technicians, etc… who might be reading this–I know you’re busy.  You may not have ever even gone into your hospital’s library yourself, but your librarian works hard.  Please take the time to tell her or him thank you.  Even if you just happen to spot her in the cafeteria.  Please tell her thank you for being part of the team.  Medical librarians truly enjoy helping you, but we really appreciate being recognized as part of the team.

Book Review: The Year of the Flood By Margaret Atwood

October 19, 2009 14 comments

covertheyearofthefloodSummary:
Toby, a spa-worker, and Ren, an exotic dancer and prostitute, have both survived the  waterless flood–a global pandemic that has killed almost all of humanity.  They also both used to live with The Gardeners, a vegetarian cult that constantly warned of the impending apocalypse.  A series of flashbacks tells how they survived the pandemic while the question of what to do now that the pandemic is mostly over looms large in their lives.

Review:
Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors.  I love dystopian books, and she has an incredible talent for taking the current worries and news items and turning them into a near-future dystopia.  Toby’s and Ren’s world prior to the waterless flood isn’t anything to be happy about.  Slums dominate.  Gangs run rampant.  The world is now run by a giant evil corporation (which is somehow worse than a giant evil government? *shrugs*).  It’s really the little things that makes this future world believable.  Kids wear bracelets that have live mini jellyfish in them.  Species have been spliced together to make new, more usable ones, such as the Mo’Hair–a sheep whose wool makes perfect fake hair for women.  The people who don’t live in slums live in corporation-run compounds where everything they do is monitored. What makes this dystopia wonderful is how plausible it all seems.

Really, though, all of these dystopian features are just a back-drop for the real stories.  Toby spends years hiding with The Gardeners and running because one man, Blanco, decided he owned her upon having slept with her.  When Toby defied him, he vowed to kill her.  He haunts her life for years on end.  Similarly, Ren falls in love with a boy in highschool who breaks her heart yet somehow keeps coming back into her life and repeating the damage.

This is a book about mistakes.  About how thinking we own the Earth and its creatures could cause our own demise.  About how sleeping with the wrong man just once can haunt you for years.  About how loving the wrong man can hurt you for years.

This is what I love about Atwood.  She has such wonderful insight into what it is to be a woman.  Insight into what haunts women’s dreams.  When women talk about what scares them, it isn’t nuclear war–it’s the man in the dark alley who will grab her and rape her and never leave her alone.  Toby’s Blanco is the embodiment of this fear.  She sees him around every corner.  She’s afraid to go visit a neighbor because he might find her on the street walking there.  Setting this fear in an other world makes it easier for female readers to take a step back and really see the situation for what it is.  Yes, he’s a strong, frightening man, but Toby let him disempower her by simply fearing him for years.  This is what Atwood does well.

The pandemic, however, is not done so well.  Too many questions are left.  Where did the pandemic come from?  Does it work quickly or slowly?  Some characters seem to explode blood immediately upon infection, whereas others wander around with just a fever infecting others.

Similarly, the reader is left with no clear idea as to how long it has been since the pandemic started.  On the one hand it seems like a month or two.  On the other hand, the stockpiles of food The Gardeners made run out quite early, and that just doesn’t mesh given how much attention they gave to them prior to the pandemic.

I also found the end of the book extremely dissatisfying.  It leaves the reader with way too many unanswered questions.  In fact, it feels completely abrupt.  Almost like Atwood was running out of time for her book deadline so just decided “ok, we’ll end there.”  I know dystopian novels like to leave a few unanswered questions, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to leave this many unanswered.

The Year of the Flood sets up a believable dystopia that sucks the reader in and has her reconsidering all of her life perceptions.  Unfortunately, the ending lets the reader down.  I think it’s still worth the read, because it is enjoyable for the majority of the book, and I am still pondering issues it raised days later.  If you’re into the environmental movement or women’s issues, you will enjoy this book–just don’t say I didn’t warn you when the ending leaves you throwing the book across the room. ;-)

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: Leviathan By Scott Westerfeld

October 14, 2009 Leave a comment

Thanks to my friend Margaret for lending me her ARC of Leviathan!  I’ve enjoyed Scott Westerfeld’s other YA books, and my recent surge in curiosity about steampunk (due to love of the fashion) made me extra-curious about this new YA steampunk book.

coverleviathanSummary:
World War I takes on a whole new look when the Allied powers function utilizing machine-like, genetically engineered animals, and the Axis powers use tanks that walk using steam power.  In this alternate history reside Deryn and Alek.  Deryn is a teenaged Scottish girl who pretends to be a boy so she can join the air service working aboard the Leviathan–an ecosystem that resembles a zeppelin.  Alek as the son of the assassinated Austrian archduke must go into hiding in Switzerland, escaping with a few loyal servants and a walker–one of the walking tanks.  Their worlds end up colliding, as worlds tend to do in a world war.

Review:
This book should come with a warning.  “By YA we mean for middle schoolers younger than the characters, not late teens like Westerfeld’s other books.”  Although this is technically YA, it reads like a children’s book.  Some would say the lovely illustrations throughout made it feel that way, but I don’t think that’s the case.  Some adult books are full of wonderful illustrations, yet we still know they are meant for adults.  I really think it’s the storyline and the writing that came off so young this time.  Maybe Westerfeld wanted to write younger, but his publisher should have notified his fans that this is a book meant for younger people.

Westerfeld does an excellent job of explaining the Darwinist world in a subtle way to the reader.  I have difficulty even explaining the flying ecosystems to people, yet I understood them perfectly in the book.  Similarly, I had no issue picturing the walkers, even though I couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to build such a thing.  I also liked Deryn.  She is a well-rounded character–with flaws, but still someone a young audience can look up to.  Similarly, the most intelligent person on the airship is a woman, which is a feature I highly appreciated.

On the other hand, I found Alek to be a completely confusing and unsympathetic character.  At first I thought he was about nine years old, then overnight he seems to be fifteen.  Yes, I know his parents died, but I don’t think a fifteen year old would be playing with toy soldiers the night prior, regardless.  Similarly, Alek repeatedly makes stupid decisions.  I know characters sometimes make them, but he makes them so often that I just want to slap him upside the head.  There is very little that is redeemable about Alek.  By the time he makes a wise decision, I was so sick of him that it failed to raise my opinion of him at all.

Similarly, I’m bothered that all of the servants loyal to Alek are men.  Why couldn’t a single woman be loyal to him?  Deryn’s world consists of both powerful men and women, yet Alek’s is entirely male except for his low-born mother.  I know this is early 20th century, but if you’re going alternate history, why not empower a few more women along the way?

Even though there is steam power and Victorian clothing in an alternate history, Leviathan didn’t feel very steampunky to me because, well, the setting is Victorian!  Maybe I’m too into steampunk fashion, but I would have been far more impressed if all these things were true in an alternate history of the Vietnam War, for instance, or even World War II.  I think World War I is just far too close to the actual Victorian age to truly feel like an alternate, steampunk world.  I get enjoying books written in the Victorian era from a steampunk viewpoint, but current authors could be far more creative when utilizing this genre.

Finally, I have to say, I hate the ending! I know Westerfeld is a huge fan of writing trilogies, but this ending is far too abrupt.  I was left going “what the hell?” instead of feeling pleasantly teased about the second book in the series.

Leviathan isn’t a bad book.  It isn’t painful to read, and the storyline is enjoyable.  It’s kind of like a mash-up of Jurassic Park, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and your typical 21st century YA novel.  Only minus all the blood, guts, and gore.  Middle schoolers with a taste for the whacky will enjoy it.  Older teens and adults should choose more sophisticated steampunk–perhaps even the classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed ARC from a friend

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Why BookSwim Is Bad for Reading

October 13, 2009 15 comments

BookSwim is a business that essentially claims to be the book version of Netflix.  I’d been to their website a few months ago, but when someone reposted it on Twitter I revisited.  I was immediately struck by how the whole thing bothers me.  After a bit of pondering, I realized why.

BookSwim is attempting, subtly, to become a monopoly in the supply of books.

They claim to be more convenient and better than borrowing from a local library, cheaper than buying books, and more trustworthy than eReaders.  They also claim to be better than swapping services like SwapTree, since you’ll be getting new or barely used books instead of old copies.  However, they understand you may still want to buy a book, so you always have the option of buying a book you have rented from them and then just not returning it.  Soon, all you will need for books is a BookSwim account.

Everyone knows monopolies are bad from an economic standpoint.  Where there’s a monopoly there’s horribly high prices, and the item being offered becomes a mark of wealth rather than something everyone uses.  However, I see a monopoly of this type as dangerous to literacy, intellectualism, and even freedom.

How easy would it be to censor what the public reads if everyone attains their information from the same book provider?  Can you imagine the nightmare for freedom of thought it would be if one congolmerate controlled all collection development for an entire nation?  Already they claim to have almost every book you would ever want to read, yet when I searched for five books on my to be read list, only the most recently published one (this year) was held by BookSwim.  (Most of the other were from 1960s to the 1980s, though one was a classic).  They claim to be willing to buy any book they don’t have that you want, but I honestly am skeptical about this.  Maybe I’ve received too many promises like that from cell phone providers, but I can just see the “sorry, there wouldn’t be enough demand to warrant the price” email now.

I know most users wouldn’t limit themselves to just BookSwim for getting their books.  At least not right now.  Yet this scenario of a Big Brother monopoly over where we can acquire our books is clearly what BookSwim wants.

“But, Amanda,” I can hear you saying, “Shouldn’t a business want to become a great succcess?”  Well, yes, but they could have come up with a business model that is more supportive of the community of reading and learning.  A website such as IndieBound, for instance, that makes it easy for users to find local independent bookstores.

Reading and learning isn’t just about “Oh I got this book that’s popular right now, and it came so conveniently in my mail.”  Reading and learning are about the journey and the connections.  When I go to my local independent bookstore and browse for something to read, I not only get a used book cheap, but I also chat with the owner and other browsers.  I leave knowing that my book came from someone else in the community.

I like knowing that the books I read come from many sources.  I use the local public library, borrow from friends, buy used from indie bookstores, buy new copies, receive ARCs from LibraryThing and blogs, and plan to swap via SwapTree in the near future.  My knowledge-base is fluid and about a community.  It isn’t one business that ships my books to me in the mail.  It’s the various communities of readers that overlap and interact to make for my own unique learning experience.  If a company such as BookSwim did become a monopoly, I would lose all that, and that is one of my favorite aspects of reading.

Book Review: Fourth Realm Trilogy By John Twelve Hawks

October 9, 2009 5 comments

coverethetraveler_small coverthedarkriver_small coverthegoldencity_small

Summary:
John Twelve Hawks presents us with a near-future dystopia in the Fourth Realm TrilogyThe Traveler, The Dark River, and The Golden City.  In this vision of the world Earth as we know it is actually just one of six realms of parallel universes.  Travelers are the only ones who can move between these parallel universes.  Saints with visions of heaven and hell and motivating, compassionate people such as Buddha are examples of past travelers.  They seek to keep people aware of their “Light” aka soul.  An evil organization called The Brotherhood has been seeking for generations to wipe out travelers, as they believe they cause dissent.  Working against The Brotherhood are Harlequins–people raised from birth to defend travelers at all costs.  The Brotherhood thought they had succeeded and have started building a panopticon–a virtual prison in which everyone is constantly under surveillance for “their own protection.”  However, two brothers–Michael and Gabriel–are actually travelers.  Michael sides with The Brotherhood in an effort to ensnare humanity, while Gabriel teams up with Maya, a Harlequin.   The two brothers thus are pit against each other in an effort to enslave or save humanity.

Review:
The Fourth Realm Trilogy is decidedly a series with a message and an agenda.  “John Twelve Hawks” is actually a pen-name, and the publisher claims that he does try to live off the grid out of a concern about loss of freedom via invasion of privacy with new technology.  There is skepticism as to whether this is true or a marketing hype.  Regardless, whoever the author is, his main concern is definitely loss of privacy to technology, and this is abundantly evident in the trilogy.

This is a plot-driven trilogy.  It reads like an action film in the feel of The Matrix.  Further it is exciting because the world the characters live in looks exactly like our own, right down to the surveillance cameras in London.  The only difference is these parallel universes, which is a feature I enjoyed a lot.  Dystopian novels are usually either completely bound in our world or take place in an entirely different one.  This trilogy utilizes both approaches, and this kept it from feeling like an updated version of 1984.

There are many characters.  Thankfully, they are distinct enough that keeping track of them is relatively easy, but sometimes Twelve Hawks does not pay enough attention to character development.  Particularly toward the end of the trilogy, characters will suddenly make a decision or behave in a manner that comes out of nowhere and is completely out of character.  These moments are jarring and distract from the plot.

The plot itself is a good, complex one.  It takes place all over this world and journeys to every single realm.  Two plot sequences I particularly enjoyed were one in an off-the-grid commune in the south-west US and another in Japan.  Twelve Hawks must have travelled extensively, because the descriptions scream “I’ve been there. I know what it’s really like.”  There was one plot hole in The Dark River that still bothers me.  I think what probably happened is there’s an explanation for the action, but Twelve Hawks neglected to write it in.  However, the ending makes up for the plot hole as I was unable to predict it.  I absolutely love unpredictable endings that keep me page-turning right up until the end.

Another enjoyable element of the trilogy is the violence.  It is chock-full of creative deaths, and even characters who don’t die get beat up a lot–in all realms.  An example of the level of violence is a scene where three characters’ limbs are simultaneously wripped off in front of an audience.  However, most of the violence is more of the ninja type, due to the presence of the sword and martial-arts trained Harlequins.  Twelve Hawks’s strength is writing action sequences, so these are great fun to read.

A mark against the trilogy is periodic character speeches that are obviously Twelve Hawks voicing his opinion.  This a typical short-coming of dystopian novels though.  Authors with a dark vision of the future can’t seem to help proselytizing in an attempt to save it.  I don’t hold this against the novels, but other readers might find it more annoying.  There’s essentially one speech a book.

If you enjoy Quentin Tarantino movies or want a more grown-up, spiritual version of The Hunger Games, definitely give the Fourth Realm Trilogy a chance.  I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Bought The Traveller, borrowed The Dark River and The Golden City from the library

Buy The Traveller
Buy The Dark River
Buy The Golden City

Library Advocacy and Promotion

October 6, 2009 2 comments

Libraries exist to serve specific populations but, contrary to popular belief, their demand for their local library is not guaranteed.  Without enouogh patrons and usage, a library will be closed down as undesire or irrelevant in its community.  This idea of advocating for and promoting the library in the community it serves has come up quite a bit lately both in my classes and at my job.  I like to think of advocating and promoting as the double-edged sword of keeping the library an important part of the community.

I took an online workshop for my job about advocating for your library in the community.  This essentially means garnering support for the value of the library to the community first from the people primarily responsible for keeping it open.  For medical libraries this is the hospital board of directors.  While public libraries must prove that the community utilizes  the library enough to justify the budget, medical and special libraries must additionally prove that they are not just a budget drain on the institution.  This means librarians must do things like compile statistics of usage, of what specific evidence-based medicine instances they helped with, of how much they are considered an asset in a teaching hospital, etc…

Advocacy goes beyond just statistics though, and I think this is the part many librarians could do better at.  Advocacy means being on friendly terms with both those responsible for keeping the library open and those utilizing the library.  Librarians can’t afford to be the hermit of the community.  If we are on a first-name basis with stakeholders we put a face on the library for them.  Additionally this gives us more informal opportunities to casually mention elements of the library.  The library becomes a facet of the stakeholder’s life instead of some budget-draining other.

Promoting the library is the other edge of making the library an important part of the community.  No librarian wants her library to be empty and devoid of patrons.  We got into the profession to help people find information.  In this age of ever-increasing amounts of information, not to mention types and methods of retrieval, this means we have far more eduating to do than before.  It used to be that a community knew to go to the library to get a book or to look at an encyclopedia.  Now we must outreach to our community to show all the non-conventional, non-traditional information resources we have to offer.

We can’t just limit ourselves to reaching out to those in our community who are already regular users.  They are the easy ones to reach with workshops, readings, etc… There are also the potential and lost users.  (Lost users are those who used to use the library but stopped).  There is some debate as to how exactly to go about this, and even if both groups should be pursued equally.  Obviously the answer to this is different for different library types.  In medical libraries potential users are generally new employees.  Including a brief blurb during orientation and in orientation packets about the library would certainly be a step in the right direction.  I would consider lost users in a medical library to be any employee employed at the institution for longer than six months who does not use the library, whether she once did or not.  For these people I would say there is probably some misconceptions about what exactly the library has to offer.  I admit I am at a bit of a loss as to how to reach these people.  We all know how quickly all-employee emails get deleted without being read.  However, I have faith that these people can be reached.  Maybe this goes back to the friendly librarian I was discussing earlier.  If she meets a lost user in the cafeteria and informs them she is one of the librarians, this could easily lead into a “what do you do all day?” conversation with the lost user.

Sometimes in all the hub-bub of economic downturn, budgets, and emerging technology advocacy and promotion get lost in the shuffle.  Libraries only exist because of the people in the community.  We need to remember that the main goal of a library is to help people and start humanizing the institution within our respective communities.

Book Review: Setting Free the Bears By John Irving

October 5, 2009 Leave a comment

coversettingfreethebearsSummary:
John Irving is an American writer best-known for The World According to Garp and A Prayer for Owen Meany.  Setting Free the Bears is his first novel and is set in Europe as opposed to New England.  Hannes Gaff has failed his exam at university in Vienna.  Distressed he goes to a motorcycle shop where he meets Siegfried Javotnik.  Siggy convinces Gaff to buy a motorcycle together to adventure across Europe.  Their adventure takes a side-turn though when Siggy becomes obsessed with letting loose the zoo animals in Vienna and Gaff becomes obsessed with a girl named Gallen.

Review:
Irving utilizes a storytelling technique I’ve always particularly enjoyed–a character finding a notebook and the character and reader reading that notebook together.  Here Siggy’s voice is bookended by Gaff’s.  I had a difficult time getting into the book and was frustrated with it at the end.  It wasn’t until reflection that I realized I enjoyed Siggy’s story, but not Gaff’s.

Siggy is an excellent character.  Through his notebook we see how his parents’ unconventional meeting and marriage as a result of uncontrollable war circumstances has made him the slightly crazy person he is today.  Personally I think he is just misunderstood, which is why I had issues with Gaff worrying about going crazy like Siggy.  Siggy isn’t crazy; he’s just unconventional.

Gaff, on the other hand, is not a well-rounded character.  He is someone who I don’t understand and couldn’t relate to.  Although his crush on Gallen is the catalyst for a key plot point, I actually felt that he had infinitely more feelings for Siggy.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it did make some plot points feel forced.

Overall, this is a typical 1960s generation book.  Siggy and Gaff feel like the middle lost generation.  Their parents were defined by the war, but they are defined by nothing.  All that matters about their lives is their pre-histories–how their parents met and were impacted by the war.  They are left meandering through history on a motorcycle attempting to figure out exactly how things turned out this way from the few clues the war-time people will let them have.  Those who enjoy this theme of the 1960s will enjoy this book.  Others who enjoy Irving’s writing style would be better off reading The World According to Garp.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

Buy It

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