For the long weekend, I took a brief trip to NYC and explored several bookstores and the exhibition at the Morgan Library: Tennessee Williams No Refuge but Writing, hosted in the Engelhard Gallery. Only a quick glimpse demonstrated what a huge collaboration this exhibition was. Manuscripts were brought from the Harry Ransom Center, Columbia University, New York Public Library, Harvard, and many others, with the collaboration of many librarians and curators. The exhibition was made possible by generous donors, and it is exemplary work by the librarians and curators at the Morgan Library. Walking through the exhibition I felt absolutely inspired! Inspired to write, to learn, to read, to live! The way the exhibit was set up, the information provided, the research done, all was put together so well that—in my mind at least— it brought Tennessee Williams back to life.
The way my high school English courses were set up, and coincided with my theater classes, I accidentally had to read A Streetcar Named Desire about five times—not only read it, but study it, memorize it, and write several essays on it, as well as performing parts of it on stage. In undergrad I studied The Glass Menagerie, and this put me on a bit of a Williams crusade. His tragic female characters who cannot let go of an idealized past, his confrontational men who are mere bullies incapable of understanding the delicate nature of their sexuality, in addition to the intensity of the plot—are absolutely unforgettable.
The way the exhibition is set up we get glimpses into Williams’s life in chronological order. Artefacts include one of his many typewriters, keys he collected from hotels, manuscripts and first drafts of his plays, elaborate plans for some of his character development, as well some of his well-deserved awards. Because Williams wrote on the cusp of the Golden Age of Hollywood, there are many playbills from Broadway, images of Elizabeth Taylor, Vivien Leigh, and Marlon Brando, and posters/still images of these great actors playing a role in one of his many plays.
Tennessee Williams’s inner life, however, was most intriguing to me. On display was a letter Williams sent to his grandfather explaining how anxious he was for receiving a grant from the Rockefeller fellowship, the ways in which he based Belle Reve (the location from which Blanche arrives—the idealized past) on a poem he wrote many years prior, the way he dissects Blanche’s character and psyche before writing her into dialogue, and his many oil paintings. This was new information to me—I had no idea Williams painted—in a style I very much admire. His painting style resembles a cross between Cezanne and Van Gogh—a form of expressionism/impressionism but with a flat brush. I remember a moment from Streetcar where he went through a lot of trouble to outline the setting by means of a painting:
“There is a picture of Van Gogh’s of a billiard-parlor at night. The kitchen now suggests that sort of lurid nocturnal brilliance, the raw colors of childhood’s spectrum. Over the yellow linoleum of the kitchen table hangs and electric bulb with a vivid green glass shade. The poker players—Stanley, Steve, Mitch and Pablo—wear colored shirts, solid blues, a purple, a red-and-white check, a light green, and they are men at the peak of their physical manhood, as coarse and direct and powerful as the primary colors.” (Streetcar Named Desire)
According to one of the information panels next to his drafts of Streetcar, Williams got the idea for the play when living in New Orleans with his new lover Pancho Rodriguez where he famously wrote:
“’I was and still am Blanche…[although] God knows I have a Stanley in me, too,’” drew on their tumultuous relationship for the play. This he wove together with elements from earlier poems, shorter plays, and character studies to draft and redraft The Poker Night, the immediate precursor to A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Clearly, he drew a lot from Van Gogh’s art and allowed it to guide the poker night scene which became the heart and beginning of his most famous play.
Lastly, and what I found most interesting, was the way Tennessee Williams regarded writing as a kind of madness. In a diary where he noted anxieties about his play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which he feared was a failure, he wrote:
“I love writing too much, and to love anything too much is to feel a terror of loss: it’s a kind of madness”
Then, below the typewriter on display The Morgan Library wrote:
“Two of Williams’s most important possessions were his copy of Hart Crane’s Poems (also on view) and his typewriter. As a young man, he would write through the night, seeming to subsist on strong black coffee and creative expression alone. Even at his poorest, when his typewriter was seized by his landlady, he borrowed one. When he pawned the borrowed typewriter, he found another and promptly spent 15 cents of his last $2.00 on paper. ‘I must be mad,’ he wrote in his journal, ‘It’s all a little too much, too much.’”
It was so interesting to see it all laid out and to get so close to his handwriting, and most prized possessions. The exhibition will be on at the Morgan Library until May 13, 2018, so if at any point you find yourself in New York, try to see it if you can. If not, the exhibition has been put together in a library catalog titled Tennessee Williams No Refuge but Writing, which is available for purchase online.
Note: all pictures above were taken by me (no flash) at the Morgan Library, and are the property of the sources listed in the opening paragraph. According to their website: “Images may be printed out for study, or downloaded for presentations, dissertations, or non-commercial websites or blogs.”
“I had already noticed the peculiarities of the typewriter, and wrote to the man himself at his business address, asking him if he would come here. As I expected, his reply was typewritten and revealed the same trivial but characteristic defects. The same post brought me a letter from Westhouse & Marbank, of Fenchurch Street, to say that the description tallied in every respect with that of the employee, James Windibank. Vila tout!” – Sherlock Holmes, “A Case of Identity”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s chemistry and print culture knowledge embedded in his iconic character Sherlock Holmes comes from his medical background and hands on experience with the publishing world. The letters exchanged between Doyle and The Strand Magazine’s editor H. G. Smith validate just how detail-oriented Arthur Conan Doyle was when it came to the ways in which his stories were represented in the paper—from selecting his favourite illustrators, to showing concerns for how his work would be perceived by his readers.
In Canada, the largest collection of Doyle’s works can be found on the fifth floor of the Toronto Reference Library –part of the Toronto Public Library system. The idea of a special Doyle collection was conceived in 1969 when a local collector, Mr. Hugh Anson-Carwright sold 200 books from his collection of Sherlock Holmes to the Toronto Library. At the same time, another Torontonian, a “S. Tupper Bigelow, [had] a splendid collection of secondary material –books, pamphlets and magazines about the Sherlock Holmes stories.” The library’s Literature Department purchased the large Doyle collection from Anson-Carwright, the Bigelow collection, and the smaller Mortlake collection. The Collection became accessible to the public in 1971 and continued to grow rapidly since. According to the collection’s current curator, the library back in 1969 could afford to make such purchases based on its allotted budget from donations made by Friends of the Library, benefactors, and/or Sherlock Holmes Specific groups—such as The Bootmakers of Toronto.
Since then, the Toronto Reference Library has purchased secondary material such as “critical, biographical and bibliographic studies” and ephemera such as tickets, brochures and advertisements related to any Sherlock Holmes play, film, exhibit, in addition to literary works that are written by other writers but inspired by Sherlock Holmes (even House M.D featuring Hugh Laurie is such a secondary work because it’s inspired by Holmes).
The Collection itself is composed of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s letters to the press, specifically to Mr. Herbert Greenhough Smith—whom he always refers to in letters as “My dear Smith.” Doyle traveled across Canada in 1914 (staying mainly in Alberta at Jasper Park) where his wife kept a handwritten journal which is also currently in the TPL Special Collection. Doyle’s notes on fauna and flora (beasts, birds, fishers) of North America, which he saw on his subsequent trips in 1922-1923 on his American Lecture Tour, his notebook on coin collecting, and notes for a speech delivered in Canada, are all part of the manuscript collection at the Reference Library. Equally important are two rough drafts for his literary works intended for publication and/or performance of The Crown Diamond (a short Sherlock Holmes play) and The Marriage of Brigadier Gerrard.
Doyle’s manuscripts have been acquired over time by the library at various auctions in the ‘70s, by means of donations, and from private collectors. In London a significant portion of Doyle’s manuscripts was sold at an auction where the work became instantly scattered—“Christie’s held the sale in London at their King Street location on 19 May 2004.” The Toronto representative at the 2004 Christie’s auction was Doug Wrigglesworth (chair of the Friends of the ACD Collection of the Toronto Public Library and contributor to The Magic Door newsletter). When it comes to a collection like Doyle’s, due to such a large fan-base worldwide, his works are purchases by extremely wealthy collectors at times where libraries can barely stand a chance in the competition. Such collectors appear on mainstream book-selling websites like AbeBooks where they sell either hardcover first editions, or manuscripts for prices that are difficulty to match with a library budget.
The largest collections in North America—besides the Toronto Reference Library—of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works and manuscripts are: The Newberry Library (Chicago, Illinois), The University of Minnesota Library (Minneapolis, Minnesota), and the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas. In the UK the Portsmouth Library, The British Library, Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, and National Library of Scotland possess most of the largest European collections. There are several smaller libraries in both North America and Europe containing Doyle’s works and manuscripts yet they are not often frequented by scholars as much as the ones mentioned above. Doyle’s papers are extremely divided among institutions, libraries, and wealthy private collectors—making the TPL’s collection incomplete.
If you happen to visit the special library you will come across a small room with a wooden desk, a lovely carpet, and walls lined from the ceiling to the floor with books that have to do with Sherlock Holmes retellings. The rooms have decorations like busts of Holmes, chess pieces shaped like Sherlock characters, and illustrations. The special collections I mentioned above have to be requested in advance from the librarians. If you do access them make sure to follow the instructions from the librarian on how to use them: no pen, clean hands, delicately and carefully.
Letters to Sherlock Holmes
While I was at the library exploring the collection, I was told this anecdote on tour, which I would like to share with you. As it turns out, over time, people from all over the world wrote letters to Sherlock Holmes at 221b Baker Street. Little did they know that in London at this address was the location of a bank. The bank received so many letters they hired a secretary to archive these letters, and at times, respond to them. Richard Lancelyn Green compiled some of the best and funniest letters in 1985 and published Letters to Sherlock Holmes. The book is available at the public library and for sale on bookseller websites. This is one of those books that makes you laugh out loud. There are people asking Holmes for his picture, for information on mysteries in their home towns, personal questions like: “I want to buy your violin, how much does it cost?” or “what kind of tobacco do you smoke?” There are letters from children asking him for math or chemistry homework help, people who truly believe he is real, or making inquiries for meeting him.
Here’s an example from one letter:
Dear Mr. Holmes
I often wondered how you met Dr. Watson, and what was your hardest mystery, and have you ever made love to any of your clients?
Sincerely yours, Robert Lawrence (Deer Park, NY, USA)
If you want to have a good time by yourself and laugh, I recommend you find this book and read it. It can be easily done in one sitting so there’s no pressure.
I hope you enjoyed this post. I was very happy when I discovered this library two years ago, so I wanted to know as much about it as possible. If you get a chance, do stop by because the librarians there are some of the most wonderful people you will ever meet, and the room is highly atmospheric. Just being there will make you want to run home and read all the Sherlock Holmes books.
P.S. Sherlock never says “elementary my dear Watson” in the books….but you should know this by now. Here’s a fun article on it.
 Toronto Reference Library. Arthur Conan Doyle Collection. Toronto: Toronto Reference Library, 2015. Print.
I couldn’t resist—I had to request this book for review because: LIBRARIES. As a librarian and bibliophile I think it’s vital to encourage young children to know more and more about the library world and the important figures in its history, so I am very happy this book exists. The targeted audience for this book is children grades 1-3, and I’m fairly certain it is intended for school libraries or public libraries to purchase and have in their collection—mainly because near the end of the book the author writes:
“Andrew Carnegie built public libraries so that someday someone like you could feel the joy of borrowing a book like this.”
The text is written by Andrew Larsen and it’s accompanied by Katty Maurey’s beautiful illustrations.
The main story is non-fiction and simplified for the targeted age group. The language makes this book very accessible and I found myself rooting for Andrew the whole way through.
The book covers Carnegie’s life: born in Scotland facing extreme poverty, his family’s immigration process to Pittsburgh, U.S.A, and the help he himself received from Colonel Anderson who opened his doors to his own private library so that Andrew may read. Larsen writes:
“Andrew knew that learning was the key to the future.”
After several smart investments Andrew Carnegie became quite wealthy but instead of hoarding his savings he decided to invest in things to help his community and everyone around the world:
“he believed that riches are for sharing.”
I loved this story, and I hope they stock many school libraries with it. It’s vital for children to admire philanthropists for their kind work rather than their lavish lifestyle. I also think it’s important to introduce children to a time when libraries and access to information didn’t exist. It’s so hard to imagine now a time when this was true. Also, I’m a big fan of library history being taught early on. The first time I heard of Andrew Carnegie was in the first year of my Masters.
Overall this book is awesome and I think it achieves what it sets out to do for the intended age group. It’s difficult to criticize a book for children that encourages sharing, kindness, and respect for libraries and learning. If anything my only criticism is that it could be longer. Strongly recommend to elementary school libraries.
“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow. of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy“
David Foster Wallace Bibliography
By David Foster Wallace
- The Boom of the System (1987) Written as Masters Thesis
- Infinite Jest (1996) Excerpts from Infinite Jest first appeared in Grand Street, 1992.
- The Pale King (2011) Published posthumously—his unfinished novel.
Short Story Collections:
- Girl With Curious Hair (1989) published in Europe as: Westward the Course of Empire Tales Its Way
- Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (19(99)
- Oblivion: Stories (2004)
Non-Fiction / Essays
- Signifying Rappers: Rap and Race in the Urban Present (1990), coauthored with Mark Costello
- A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (1997)
- Up, Simba (2000)
- Everything and More (2003)
- Consider the Lobster (2005)
- McCain’s Promise (2008 paperback reprint of Up, Simba)
- This is Water (2009) Transcript of Convocation Speech
- Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will (2011)
- Both Flesh and Not (2012)
- String Theory: David Foster Wallace Essays on Tennis (2016) published posthumously
About David Foster Wallace—Biography/ Interviews
- Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself by David Lipsky (2010) Mostly a transcript of an interview between David Lispky and David Foster Wallace back in 1996 near the end of the tour for Infinite Jest. Recent film The End of the Tour featuring Jason Segal as DFW is based on this transcript.
- Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max – Biography of DFW
- Conversations with David Foster Wallace edited by Stephen J. Burn (2012) A compilation of several interviews with David Foster Wallace/ The transcripts
- The Last Interview Series: David Foster Wallace (2012)
- “Farther Away” Essay by Jonathan Franzen
Academic Works about Wallace’s Work
- Elegant Complexity: A Study of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (2007) Greg Carlisle
- David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest: A Reader’s Guide by Stephen J. Burn (2012)
- The David Foster Wallace Reader (2014) This 976 page book contains almost every other aspect of David Foster Wallace’s work, for instance it has the syllabus he designed as a professor for writing/reading courses at Pomona College, and additional excerpts not present in the texts above.
- Audible and Downpour have great Audiobooks for Infinite Jest, and all his other works are there as well. I found that the audiobook really kept me going the first time.
- Most of David Foster Wallace’s Archives are at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin Texas
- The Howling Fantods – largest DFW fan group promoting News, Resources, and updates about DFW since 1997.
- Several Facebook Groups: The Broom of the System being a dominant one
- Goodreads Groups
- Several interviews with DFW have been placed on YouTube
- Two Films have come out based on 1. His life: The End of the Tour (based on Lipsky’s perspective of Wallace in 1996) and 2. His Work: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
- Don’t forget your public library! Both academic libraries in universities and public libraries will have most of Wallace’s works. If you prefer the online forum, OverDrive is connected through your library card and you can access most of the works mentioned.
- In 2015 another group kept detailed records of their reading in a blog called Infinite Summer
- A great Video Book Review of Infinite Jest by “FortheloveofRyan“
I thought it would be fun to write a post of my top favourite and most inspiring librarians in history (and a bonus one). There are many others I have left out, but these are the ones whose works I have had the pleasure of reading. It will become apparent shortly as to why they are so inspirational:
- Jacob Grimm
Jacob Grimm is by far my favourite librarian. This man, like most librarians on this list, was multi-talented. First, he’s one of the two ‘Brothers Grimm’ which is what he’s most famously known for. The two brothers (Jacob and Wilhelm) collected fairy tales and wrote them down (and refined them). Jacob though, was also a prominent linguist and he contributed greatly by creating “Grimm’s Law” which was very useful when studying Old English. Jacob Grimm also worked as a librarian in Kasel, after graduating with a law degree. His work on language, and fairy tales has had a huge impact on my life and career trajectory, which is why he gets the #1 spot.
- Lillian H. Smith
Lillian H. Smith was the first head of the children’s services at the Toronto Public Library in the earlier days of the public library (starting with the 1920s). She created many programs for children like story time and founded the Girls’ and Boys’ House. The reading clubs that she hosted expanded in all aspects of storytelling like puppet shows, literary discussion/debate, and historical subjects. She was a firm believer that a librarian’s job was to deliver “the right book, to the right child, at the right time.” Her published work The Unreluctant Years: A Critical Approach to Children’s Literature (1953) includes the choices of literature she deemed appropriate as well as her new classification system specific to children’s literature. Her services for children and philosophy spread worldwide and she was a highly influential woman. Her name is currently used as the name for one branch of the Toronto Public Library.
- Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges was an Argentinian writer who made significant contributions to literature in the 20th century and nominated many times for the Nobel Prize in literature but alas did not win. He lost his sight completely in his later years. He was a municipal librarian from 1939-1946 in Argentina, before getting fired by the Peron regime. One of his most famous short stories, “The Library of Babel,” depicts the universe as a huge library and is one of my favourite stories of all time. His poetry, essays, and reflections on literature, as well as his own major contributions have made him a prominent author—and often his librarian role is discussed as an extra.
Eratosthenes the chief librarian at the Great Library of Alexandria. In addition to pretty much running the world’s greatest wonder, Eratosthenes discovered the system of latitude and longitude and made significant contributions to astronomy. He calculated the circumference of the earth without ever leaving Egypt, and has been nicknamed “the father of geography.” His work Constellation Myths: with Aratus’s Phaenomena was recently reprinted by Oxford Classics.
- Lewis Carroll
Carroll is known for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland but his main career was in mathematics. After graduating from Oxford with a B.A. in mathematics, he became a sub-librarian at Christ Church there. He left that position in 1857 to become a Mathematical Lecturer. In addition to this, my favourite fun fact about him was that he was a stickler for near writing. He would often get great ideas for writing after he had already gone to bed but didn’t want to wake up and light the lamp, and he also didn’t want to have messy writing under any circumstance.
So he created this rectangular device called the nyctograph, where he would have his own “alphabet” and write in code at night, so it looks neat in the morning. Recently someone printed a copy of Alice completely in nyctograph from, and that’s just awesome. Carroll’s bibliography is vast and I don’t have to convince you that he was amazing. The key thing here is that he was also a librarian which makes him extra amazing.
Bonus Librarian: Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin founded America’s first lending library the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731. He served as librarian there for three months (Dec.1733-Mar.1734). He was a huge fan of John Baskerville’s printing work back in England and is responsible for bringing back to America the font of John Baskerville. Franklin also started the first medical library in Pennsylvania. I can’t list in a paragraph all the incredible things Franklin did in his lifetime. He was an inventor, a printer, an intellectual in every sense of the word, a newspaperman, a library founder, politician, mathematician, oceanographer, and scientist. I think sometimes his other works are so incredible that they overshadow the fact that he was a librarian and founded many of America’s firsts special and lending libraries—which is pretty amazing.
I requested this book for review when I saw the word ‘librarians’ in its title. I did not expect to love it as much as I did. This book is 5 Star rating for me, and I pre-ordered the hardcopy from Amazon after reading the introduction. This is by far my favourite anthology. Sci-Fi & Fantasy on the topic of Librarians and Libraries. Need I say more? Okay I will:
Paula Guran, the editor of this anthology, has compiled 24 short stories that have been previously published in Sci-fi and Fantasy magazines like Uncanny, and Clarkesworld which have at its core the topic of libraries and librarians. Some of the authors include Elizabeth Bear, Scott Lynch, Ray Bradbury, Ken Liu, and Xia Jia (the last two were in a short story anthology I reviewed last month Invisible Planets). These writers are contemporary giants in the Science Fiction and Fantasy community, and I was pleasantly surprised by the stories they wrote.
In library school the subject of “the image of the librarian in the public sphere” was a topic that was frequently discussed. We often looked at film adaptations and the usual depiction of a librarian was either the frumpy/spinster librarian like Marian the librarian in The Music Man, stern-shushing librarian figures like the librarian in Monsters University (Pixar Film), and real-life elderly librarian figures like Nancy Pearl (who is now an action figure), or the sexy librarian like Evy from The Mummy, Tammy Swanson from Parks and Recreation, or seductive library-figures in ads like Margot Robbie’s skit on SNL.
What Paula Guran outlines in the introduction is that librarians in fiction tend to be unhappy or stereotyped, but since this is science fiction and fantasy, the librarians expand beyond that. She writes:
“Science fiction and fantasy, is thank goodness, not ‘serious fiction’ (whatever that is). The troubled, gloomy librarian does, of course, occur in speculative fiction, but librarians are also characterized in many other ways.”
She explores libraries and librarians in sci-fi and fantasy works that have been published with the exception of the stories in this collection. She explores Borges’s Library of Babel, The Library of Dream in Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel series The Sandman, to Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library Novels, Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom Series, and even projections of future libraries like in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, to give just a few examples. I was so intrigued that for the first time, a discussion of librarians explored literature that entertained possibilities rather than capturing stereotypes. Guran provided me with a bibliography of the many books I must read with a library at its core (added to my TBR).
I must admit that I read the Ray Bradbury story “Exchange” with a lot of passion—particularly since Bradbury is famously known for having been made a writer by the public library. He said in an interview with Sam Weller:
“I graduated from the library when I was twenty-eight years old. So that’s why I’m here tonight—because I believe in libraries. They’re more important than universities. They’re more important than colleges. Libraries are the center of our lives.”
My favourite story in this anthology however is “In the House of the Seven Librarians” by Ellen Kloges. It’s about a small child who is left at the doorstep of a library where seven librarians ‘live.’ Library space and time are explored in a way I have not yet encountered in literature. These are just a few lines that stayed with me:
“Librarians are guardians of books. They help others along their paths, offering keys to help unlock the doors of knowledge.”
“knowledge is not static; information must flow in order to live.”
“Books were small comfort once the lights were out, and their hard, sharp corners made them awkward companions under the covers.”
“time had become quite flexible inside the Library. (This is true of most places with interesting books. Sit down to read for twenty minutes, and suddenly it’s dark, with no clue as to where the hours have gone.)
I recommend this book to everyone, particularly librarians, people who love libraries and book descriptions, and lovers of science fiction and fantasy. This book will be published on August 15, 2017 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon. Many thanks to Diamond Book Distributors and Prime Books for sending me and ARC.
A few words of kindness before the list:
First of all: if not reading is something you call “a slump” and it’s something that makes you feel sad, not yourself, and guilty—then clearly my friend, you are a reader. That in itself is an encouraging thought because only a reader can feel those emotions when not reading. So don’t despair, and don’t feel hopeless because there are many ways to get back into doing what you love most. Sometimes it’s really not your fault. Maybe you had several bad reading experiences in a row. Maybe life events took over. Either way, guilt is not something you should associate with this tragedy that has befallen you (the reading slump). The following methods are taken out of my personal experiences. If there are ways I left out I encourage you to comment and contribute suggestions that have helped you with your reading experience.
Step One: Get Inspired by Others
- In my experience nothing has been more inspiring than Booktube. Book lovers sharing their reading experience, their book hauls, and TBRs on YouTube. Over time I felt like each one of them was my friend. When you find someone whose reading tastes are so similar to yours it’s like a book is recommending a person; then in turn, when that person recommends a new book you have not read, you know you can trust them.
These are some people who have completely inspired me to get back into reading in the past:
- Sci-Fi and Fantasy: Kalanadi, James Chatham, Inkyspyglass Reads, Kitty G, Daniel Greene, FinalBlow Joe
- Mainstream Lit (new): Jen Campbell, Mercedes, Jean, Reads and Daydreams,
- Classics enthusiasts: Books and Things, Kate Howe, All the Shelves, Climb the Stacks
- Mystery and History: Lil’s Vintage World
- YA: PeruseProject, ProblemsofaBookNerd
Following these people often leads to Buddy-reads on Goodreads, Reading along with a booktuber a specific book (like Books and Things is currently reading Our Mutual Friend six chapters at a time) and other online book groups that keep alive the reading momentum through encouragement and support.
- The only thing better than hearing/seeing reading communities talk about books with enthusiasm is to watch some of your favourite authors talk about their books or with other authors. For me personally watching Neil Gaiman, Brandon Sanderson, Markus Zusak, David Mitchell, and Robin Hobb discuss some of their books at Google Talks, classes, or reader events have brought back the “feels” for what I enjoyed in books in the first place.
- Join Bookstagram. Instagram for Books. When pictures of new books, classics, and pretty covers show up on your daily social media you feel a surge of energy that draws you to pick up a book. You can follow other people’s, or start one of your own. I found that even when all you have to work with is a pretty book cover, readers still communicate with each other in encouraging ways. The greatest part is that you get to know readers from all over the world that way. You get to see what’s popular in Australia, the UK, North America, etc.
Step Two: Proactive Steps You can Take Alone
- Go to the Library. I know this sounds strange, but as a book lover (like all you reading this) I have been drawn to buying books. Buying, collecting….hoarding. The pile of “to be read” has grown and grown. I get used to the covers and over time I end up with far more unread books than read ones. Going to the library gives me an activity that ties into my reading experience. I get to meet people, interact with other human beings, and take a walk. The time limitations force me to actually finish the book (and I would recommend taking out just one book at a time). Walking through a library also results in stumbling across books you might have never heard of and taking a chance on them. There’s also no pressure because they are free so if you don’t like them, you can return them (no strings attached).
- Audiobooks. For me this has been a huge one. I used audiobooks as a crutch through undergrad (studying English Lit) because I had so many books to get through a week and I needed my mind to stay focused. I would listen to an audiobook AND follow along in the text for highlighting/note-taking. I divided my reading based on audio TIME rather than pages. After my degree was done, I fell into a reading slump as I forgot what it was like to read for fun and not for homework. I got back into audiobooks as a means of having company. I would listen while commuting, while shelving books, and while doing other things in my room. There are some books (believe it or not) that only exist in audiobook format and not in print yet, like Kel Kade’s Free the Darkness for instance. I read George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo on a single train ride to Montreal, and Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn on the ride back with the help of well-done audiobooks and then picked up so much reading momentum for the weeks to follow. I wrote an entire post on Audiobook Resources (some are free and connect through your library card).
Start Small. The very first book I read this year was Richard Wagamese’s Embers. It’s one of my favourite books now. The truth is, it’s not really a novel, or a non-fiction book. It’s Wagamese’s (Ojibway writer) morning reflections. Every page has pictures with a paragraph on something to meditate on like: silence, nature, etc. Because I was interested in the topic, and because it was short, I felt the need to finish it and having finished it, I felt good about myself. I felt great having closed that back cover. It felt like an achievement. Perhaps for you that is the same book, or a different small books, or even a collection of short stories, or poetry. Finishing something will automatically make you feel good and you will pick up momentum.
- Return to topics that make you excited. For some this may be re-reading a Harry Potter book, or a classic that got you on this path, or adventure travelogues, or nature guides. I have three topics that get me so pumped I can’t even explain why: islands, dragons, and pirates. This year I worked on an early review of The Whydah (a sunken pirate ship). At first it felt like an assignment/homework but because it was a topic of interest to me I got so excited I wanted to read more books on ships and pirates. Everyone has those topics that get them so excited (I kid you not one of my friends has read every book about Tuberculosis because that’s her favourite topic). Return to one of yours.
- Read the Bio of your Champion (or interviews with them). If a person interests you/inspires you, then read their biography. Weirdly enough reading biographies sometimes doesn’t even feel like reading because it’s you finding out more about a person you already love. Some of these people for me are: David Foster Wallace, Walt Disney, Jane Austen, George Sand, George Eliot, Vincent Van Gogh, The Brontes, J.R.R. Tolkien (and the Inklings), Octavia E. Butler, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and H.G. Wells. I always return to their biographies when I feel down. It just feels like you’re in good company rather than going through an assignment.
Final note of encouragement: whenever my friends have talked to me about a reading slump they almost always have been giving themselves “assignments” like “read the top Nobel winners,” or “read only classics,” “read only the Nebula/Hugo awards…” etc. and when that happens you start looking at your reading list like it’s a homework assignment so you do what’s familiar to student problems: procrastinate. Take it one book at a time, and think of it as YOUR personal sacred time, your healing time, your YOU time. You don’t owe anyone a thesis, a report, or an explanation for what you are reading. If it makes you happy and gets you onto reading again, then read what makes YOU feel right.
This month has been very hectic. The first two weeks I was writing final essays, wrapping up my Masters degree. I did get some good reading in this month. I was pleasantly surprised by the poetry collections I got a hold of this month because they really nourished the soul. Overall it was a good reading month. Here’s what I read starting from the most recent:
The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy – Edited by John Brehm
This collection is an amalgamation of poems from various authors who are a source of wisdom in both the East and the West. The collection brings together a spiritual community that remains connected in that they wrote of essential human truths universally experienced. The collection includes poets like Frost, Whitman, Shakespeare, Kerouac from the West as well as poets from the East like Han Shan, Wei Ying-Wu, and Li Po. I wrote a full review here.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things – Patrick Rothfuss
Earlier in the month I finished the first book and while I am saving the second volume for later on in the year, I thought I would give the novella a chance: The Slow Regard of Silent Things. I read a few reviews and people seem to be very angry at this novella for its lack of plot and character depth. I too expected a history of Auri. I hoped we would find out what happened to her, how she ended up in the Underthing, maybe some secrets she knows from overhearing conversations. I had to connect some dots from the first book. First I remembered that Elodin told Kvothe that he had known Auri for many years around the University and that she herself had been a student studying Alchemy. Also Elodin with Auri are both mentally unstable characters so it’s subtly hinted that Auri may have also been affected by the Naming of things. Reading this novella is almost like a play or a very concentrated experience of what it’s like to be Auri. We don’t get a history, we don’t get much plot, or even much character development, but you get ‘a day in the life’ of Auri in case you wondered as a reader what she does all day.
In the novella she moves around the Underthing and has a lighted object or bio-luminescent creature that she has named Foxen. She observes objects and rooms. I think this concentrated experience is in a way appropriate for Auri because it still keeps her a mysterious figure but it captures the isolation and loneliness of the most hermetic character in the series. Her experience of life is certainly going to be different and perhaps less exciting than Kvothe’s—who experiences more things than anyone else in the entire first book.
This is my theory: she messed up something in Alchemy and out of that she got Foxen and became unstable, but Foxen keeps her alive somehow—which is why Elodin could have known her for years and she still looks young. Foxen is tied to her existence and daily habits/routine. That’s what I got out of this novella. I look forward to moving on to the second book The Wise Man’s Fear.
The novella is also accompanied by the beautiful illustrations of Nate Taylor.
The Hour Wasp by Jay Sheets
I received an ARC for early review from April Gloaming Publishing. The Hour Wasp is a poetry collection written by Jay Sheets and illustrated by Robyn Leigh Lear. This is a debut collection for Sheets and I read this on a lovely Sunday afternoon in the Month of April. If you’d like to know more about this collection you can read my full review. The book will be published on May 28.
This is What a Librarian Looks Like by Kyle Cassidy
I received a copy of this book as an ARC from Hachette, Black Dog & Leventhal for early review. The book will be officially published on May 16. This book is a combination of library history, author interviews on what the library means to them, and over 200 photographs of individual librarians across America with a little excerpt on them. Interviews include Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, Nancy Pearl, Cory Doctorow, and George R. R. Martin, among others. The purpose of this book is to promote and celebrate libraries and the role of librarians in our society, particularly now when the funds of libraries are threatened by Trump’s proposed “skinny budget.”
Invisible Planets Translated by Ken Liu
This is a short story anthology of contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in translation. I wrote an individual Review for this collection. Invisible Planets is a 2016 TOR publication. The thirteen short stories had been previously featured in short story publications like Clarkesworld, Uncanny, and Tor.com. The short stories are written by Chen Qiufan, Xia Jia, Ma Boyong, Hao Jingfang, Tang Fei, Cheng Jingbo, and Liu Cixin. All the stories are translated by Ken Liu. Each author’s stories are preceded by a brief biographical note on the author.
Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
I then half-read, half-listened to (on Audible) Lois McMaster Bujold’s second book in the Vorkosigan Saga Shards of Honor because she suggested starting with Shards of Honor and follow it with Barrayar. I will say in advance that this is definitely what is called a hard sci-fi book. There is a lot of military speech and military tactics. The main character whose point of view we follow is Cordelia Naismith’s, she is the captain of a Betan Astronomical ship. I love the way Bujold characterised Cordelia because she is strong and has a backbone. The work begins with the Betan base camp being attacked and Cordelia remaining behind with only one other person from her camp and Captain Aral Vorkosigan of Barrayar. A romance ensues between Cordelia and Vorkosigan but it’s very subtle in terms of ‘cheesiness,’ because as I mentioned this is a strong character and a hard sci-fi book. This may sound weird but Cordelia and
Vorkosigan reminded me of Commander Rourke and Helga Sinclair from Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire. The relationship is complicated, there is a mutiny, and a lot going on that I can’t explain without spoiling it. I am willing to give the rest of series a try but not in a row. It’s an easy and pleasant listen/read and very exciting so it doesn’t require too much effort but it’s not a series I can binge.
Peter Darling by Austin Chant
This book is a retelling of Peter and Wendy only it reads more like a sequel or continuation. In this retelling Peter is trans and was born as Wendy. He returns to Neverland ten years after leaving and choosing to grow up as Wendy. I have written a full review on this book. There is a romance aspect between Peter and Hook, however most of this novel deals with issues of identity, losing and finding oneself, and fighting to reclaim one’s spaces.
The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked & Found by Martin W. Sandler
This is a book about the Pirate ship: Whydah. I received this book from Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review: Full Review. In short, the first half of the book Sandler begins by following our main Captain pirate: Samuel Bellamy and the ship he hijacks: The Whydah. He explains the Articles of Agreement (among pirates), fun facts about the origins of The Jolly Roger, details of torture methods on board, punishments, as well as the good parts of pirate atmosphere on the ship, and facing the wrath of the sea as well as critical weather conditions. The second half of the book focuses on the wreck of The Whydah and the importance of each artifact which was retrieved in 1984. The details of each artifact, its history, and importance are absolutely fascinating and throughout Sandler debunks many pirate myths.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
This book is written by Patrick Rothfuss and was published in March 2007 by DAW Books, Inc. That year he won the Quill Award.
The Name of the Wind is about Kvothe—a young, red-haired man who tells his life story to Chronicler (a scribe whose life he saves and who is ultimately writing the ‘true history’ of Kvothe) and Bast—a young man who is absolutely enchanted by his master Kvothe and is eagerly listening to his life story. There are few interruptions but overall, The Name of the Wind is a bildungsroman. We follow Kvothe from his childhood where he is raised by a guild of actors, follow him through several years on the Tarbean streets where he lives in absolute poverty, and eventually through his University education where he studies Sympathy (among other subjects). Finance and poverty drive Kvothe’s plot as he must always make another strategic move to earn a day’s living, or another semester’s tuition. By the end of this book you’ll feel like you understand their economic system and all about ‘jots’ and ‘talents.’ The characters he meets at University and in town are diverse and very interesting, though no character is as flushed out and dimensional as Kvothe himself. His main talent on top of his studies is being a skilled lute musician. What is particularly strange to me, is the “magic” system. It’s very difficult to explain because it exists, it’s ‘different,’ and somehow it’s not very present. At the university, students study Arcanist’s arts which include Sympathy, Sygaldry, Alchemy, and Naming and then there’s a sort of Fae-world kind of magic. Some professors study things that make them fall into madness like “learning the name of the wind.” The description of classes sound a lot like courses in our world (including tuition), and a little bit like alchemy. The use and presence of ‘magic’ is really subtle and sometimes I wonder if it’s even there. There are mysterious figures like Auri, the Chandrion, and the professor who is held up in what resembles the University’s ‘asylum.’ Things like ‘forbidden stories’ and the effects of ‘sympathy’ used outside of the University give off a ‘magic’ element, but when as the story is told I sometimes forget that this is a different realm at all. There is also a romance woven in, but it is not overpowering. This book is 722 pages, so being brief in describing what it’s about is complicated without giving too much away.
What I love most about this work is how it is told. The storytelling and world building makes me feel like I’m listening to one of Scheherazade’s stories. What really accomplishes that for me is the many ‘stories within stories.’ There is a man at a tavern telling stories, there are songs being sung resembling medieval songs and filled with mythology and …well…stories. There are tutors, actors, guilds, dealers, clans, a hierarchy of class systems, and languages. All these components added while discussing the growth of Kvothe as a character give the reader a full experience of this world. It’s all in the details, like on page 300 where Kvothe and Wilem discus Siaru idioms:
“it means ‘don’t let it make you crazy’ but it translated literally as: ‘don’t put a spoon in your eye over it.’”
My favourite of all though has to be THE ARCHIVES. Descriptions of books in this novel are phenomenal. The presence of codices, and archives are everywhere. The descriptions of books, the presence of them, the contents, the things they help characters achieve just make this book so perfect. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys fantasy, books, schools, and bildungsromans. Here are a few of my favourite lines:
“You’d be surprised at the sorts of things hidden away in children’s songs” (39)
“I hope they spent those last few hours well. I hope they didn’t waste them on mindless tasks: kindling the evening fire and cutting vegetables for dinner. I hope they sang together, as they so often did. I hope they retired to our wagon and spent time in each other’s arms. I hope they lay near each other afterward and spoke softly of small things. I hope they were together, busy with loving each other, until the end came.” (124)
“The door of forgetting. Some wounds are too deep to heal, or too deep to heal quickly. In addition, many memories are simply painful, and there is no healing to be done. The saying ‘time heals all wounds’ is false. Time heals most wounds. The rest are hidden behind this door…there are times when reality is nothing but pain, and to escape that pain the mind must leave reality behind.” (135)
“[Skarpi] – I only know one story. But oftentimes small pieces seem to be stories themselves…it’s growing all around us…sometimes the story is growing in squalid backstreet bars” (202).
“‘What do we need libraries for? We’ve got the Internet now!’ FACEPALM” – Cory Doctorow
“Wherever you are in America, there is a librarian fighting to get YOU something”
This book will be published on May 16, 2017 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.
Last week I recommended five non-fiction books on libraries which were mostly academic and history-focused.
This book is not a history book but a celebration of libraries, and librarians, accomplished by a collaboration between photographers, librarians, publishers, and authors. By comparison to last week’s recommendations, this book is much more accessible. Kyle Cassidy published a photo essay on Slate in 2014 called “This is What A Librarian Looks Like,” a montage of portraits and a tribute to librarians. The essay had success and spread widely through social media. Cassidy expanded this project into what is now the new-coming book This Is What a Librarian Looks Like: A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to Information.
The book has three components:
- Brief essays on the history of the American Library
- Photographs of contemporary American Librarians
- Essays by writers, journalists, and commentators including Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, Nancy Pearl, Cory Doctorow, Jeff VanderMeer, and others who discuss what the library means to them now, and what memories they have of the library from their childhood and/or youth.
The three sections are woven beautifully combining the history, interviews, and photographs according to historical periods and American geographical regions. Cassidy opens with an introduction to this book on the ideal of the library by discussing the Library of Alexandria. He writes:
“What made the Library of Alexandria great wasn’t just the collection of books, but rather, its intellectual raison d’être: the insatiable pursuit, creation, and dissemination of knowledge as a force to drive civilization.”
While discussing the leap across the digital divide and community service provided by librarians, this book urges readers not to look away while the Government is taking funds away from libraries. One such initiative is called Send Librarians to Congress, where the goal is to put a copy of this book in the hands of each member of Congress before Federal funding for libraries is eliminated as proposed in the “Skinny Budget” from President Trump. Cassidy writes:
“libraries in America today are at a crossroads, facing dangers not unlike those of the Great Library [of Alexandria] as well as an evolving technology that has the power either to make libraries exponentially more valuable or to erode their foundation if we are not careful.”
The book then focuses a chapter on America’s First Lending Library: The Lending Company of Philadelphia which was opened in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin. The second history-based chapter is on artifacts and tablets interviewing Sumerologist Steve Tinney at the Tablet Room at the University of Pennsylvania, who focuses on the tablets similar to those which got us the Epic of Gilgamesh (British Museum) and Cuneiform writing.
Cassidy then turns his attention to individual library histories like the chapter “The Little Library That Tried” on M.N. Spear Memorial Library in Shutesbury, Massachusetts and “History you can Hold” focusing on the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library. There are also insights to libraries collecting non-texts like the Franklin Public Library which collects ‘The American Girl’ dolls instead. The book closes with “Archiving the Past” at University libraries in Texas and Iowa with a conversation between Cassidy and George R.R. Martin.
I really enjoyed this book with all its components, however, as a reader and librarian I was much more interested in the essays written by authors and the history parts. I wish they were longer. Some author interviews were only a paragraph long. For 220 images of librarians to fit in this large book, expect a coffee-table-style book. I understand the political undertones, specifically the one I mentioned above, where this book aims to put a face to the community of librarians in America for Congress, but as a physical codex, the book will become immediately dated because of the abundance of contemporary photographs. On the other hand, the same component makes it somewhat unique to preserving the ‘here and now.’ I would urge the reader to look at this book first and foremost as an art/photography book, where the histories and author essays are the supplements for the images, not the other way around as is usually the case. Nonetheless, the book advertises itself as a celebration of libraries and librarians, and in that respect, it has succeeded.
In terms of librarians photographed, this book is America-centric. Though the librarians are multicultural and diverse, the workplaces of the librarians photographed are mostly in the United States covering an array of public libraries, special collections, school libraries, and academic libraries. The authors interviewed are American, Canadian, and British. Overall this book focuses on the Western experience of the library.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in libraries, photography, and who has enjoyed blogs/books like Humans of New York which focus on individuals with an excerpt on what they do, and what they enjoy. I especially recommend this book to Congress.
Many thanks to Hachette Books, Black Dog & Leventhal for sending me a copy of this book for an early review.
I will leave you now with this excellent quotation on the importance of librarians taken from the introduction to the book :
- Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles
In this book Battles covers the history of the library, giving an overview, starting with Alexandria and working his way to present times. This is a great starting point to get a general history of the library and readership. Battles takes into account Chinese and Middle-Eastern approaches to librarianship in history though it is mostly Euro-centric, particularly in the sections discussing the Medieval period and the Renaissance. I would highly recommend this book as an introduction to the long history of libraries. To go from Antiquity to Present time in only 222 pages is a lot to cover so he doesn’t go into too much detail. Very pleasant.
- Apostles of Culture by Dee Garrison
This book covers the history of the American Public Library System since its conception post-American Civil War until present times– which for this publication is 1979, missing a rather large portion of the technological advances in the digital revolution. Its main focus is expository from an objective standpoint though it dives into the ideals and theoretical beginnings of the library and contrasts them with what the library eventually has done/become over time. It focuses on the transcendentalist ideals and key figures such as Melvil Dewey, and Andrew Carnegie and their role in the transformation of the library from a private institution to a public one. In addition the book explores the role of the librarian both from a gender studies perspectives exploring the collision between men and women in the field, the feminization of the field as well as the librarian’s role moving from imposing censorship to advocating for freedom of information. This book focuses on the public library as we know it today as it was begun by the United States in the mid-1800s.
- Part of Our Lives by Wayne A. Wiegand
This book covers the history of the American Public Library as well, like Garrison’s book, but it’s published in 2015 so it incorporates newer concepts and does a much more detailed job. What makes Part of Our Lives different from Apostles of Culture is that it uses many anecdotes. Wiegand interviewed many people who had experienced the library and uses the anecdotes to draw conclusions on American Public Library history. It’s not as history-heavy as Garrison’s book, but the anecdotes bring history to life. Wiegand wrote a lot on librarianship history. He also wrote a book focusing on Lewis Sinclair’s library mentioned in Main Street and looks at four small town libraries and argues that although people claim the library to be the pillar of democratic culture of an entire country, libraries actually cater to each individual town locally, and each individual community. Wiegand contextualizes the library within specific communities and shows how they specifically adhere to local rules that are negotiable and adaptable rather than broad and nation-wide. He published that book in 2011 and it’s titled Main Street Public Library.
- The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
More famously known for A History of Reading, Manguel focuses on readership histories and reading patterns in a lot of his published works. In this one he focuses on library history, but more on the library as an idea. For instance he examines how the library exists in our society as order, as space, as power, as shadow, as mind, as imagination, or identity (among others). It’s an easy and pleasant read. Unlike Dee Garrison’s book this is not as academic heavy. Manguel takes into account non-Western libraries and explores readership practices in other parts of the world as well. It’s more inclusive than books 1-3 mentioned above.
- The Library Book (2012)
This is a tiny book and contains 23 essays written by different authors. Each author discusses in a brief non-fiction essay what books as print culture or the library as space means to them on a personal level. They contextualize the library into their history as they were growing into the authors they became today. Authors include Lionel Shriver, Stephen Fry, Zadie Smith, Kate Mosse, China Miéville, Caitlin Moran, and Tom Holland, among others. Its main goal as the foreword suggests is to celebrate libraries. This is an easy read, it’s pleasant, and it’s the least academic form the five listed.
BONUS: Essay by Neil Gaiman (the first in The View from the Cheap Seats) Called “Why our future depends on libraries, reading, and daydreaming.”