High vs. low, adult vs. teen? Just read, folks.

[I've had two draft posts sitting around for a week or so without finishing them. Here's one. The next one is about adult library programming!]

I think Lichtenstein is a good illustration for a high/low culture debate. What about pop art, huh, critics?!

I think Lichtenstein is a good illustration for a high/low culture debate. What about pop art, huh, critics?!

Apparently, there’s another article about how books for kids/books for teens/trashy books/comics/not “literary fiction/not the classics/not the books the writer likes to read are bad for you and you shouldn’t read them. This one is about Percy Jackson and how they will steer kids who love them into more Percy Jackson-esque books and not to the Odyssey and what not. This is not true in my experience as a reader and as a librarian: if a kid or adult even is really interested in something, she will seek out whatever information she can find. Some will be a stretch for her as a reader, but her background knowledge – as fictionalized and geared to a specific audience as it may be – will help her decipher, and feel more excited about, more complex texts and themes.

Additionally, I am getting tired of reading these articles and reading about them and thinking about responses and defending YA for teens AND adults or whoever.

It’s just tiring. I’m tired.

So once and for all, let me just say: read whatever you want! Read mysteries, read comics, read Melville, read Jacqueline Carey, or Saga, or Twilight, or Christopher Hitchens, read Elizabeth Bishop, or The Hunger Games, or Derrida, or Henry James, or Nancy Drew, or A.S. King or whatever. Or read them all. Read high and read low. I’ve read some or all of all of those things listed above. Some are “high culture” with supposed, so-called, and sometimes confirmed in my opinion, “literary merit,” and challenge me to think in different ways and are legitimately difficult to read. Some are “low culture” that may be “easier” to read but can still be challenging because of concept, issues, or themes, or can just be escapist. Escapist can be okay and challenging is okay, too. We can be allowed to do a mix of both.

Also, books and stories can important and useful at varying times of life. For example, I did not get Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy as a kid and it’s a children’s book. As an adult, when Aslan says, “‘Child,’ said the Lion, ‘I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own,’” it had a profound effect on me. I was reminded me to be more compassionate for people and to try to listen to their stories. But maybe I shouldn’t have read that kids book.

You can do both. I love YA books AND Henry James even though the New Yorker doesn’t seem to think that’s possible. I am a possible person; I contain literary multitudes. Let’s not be so policing of our reading and remember to every thing there is a season.

Speaking of seasons, here’s another reminder from Ecclesiastes: there’s nothing new under the sun. We’ve been having this high/low culture debate and fear-mongering for pretty much all of time. It’s a fallacy that “now” is any worse than any other time for our level of intelligence, crime, culture, or whatever the “kids these days” do. It’s all old. The world has always been kind of crap and we’ve always had to grapple with that. Humanity has a range of the despicable to the divine, the thoughtful and intelligent, and the exceedingly stupid. Everything has happened before and will happen again. Get over it, and move on.

For another view especially addressing adults reading YA or Children’s books, here’s Sarah Burnes in the Paris Review blog: The binary between children’s and adult fiction is a false one, based on a limited conception of the self. I have not ceased to be the person I was when I was an adolescent; in fact, to think so seems to me like a kind of dissociation from a crucial aspect of one’s self. And the critic should be concerned with what is good and what is bad, what is art and what is not—not with what’s “appropriate.”

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Because survival is insufficient

Listen up: Station Eleven is about a traveling symphony that performs symphonies (duh) and Shakespeare all across post-plague ravaged Michigan

Quite a nice cover as well!

Quite a nice cover as well!

because survival is insufficient. Oh yeah, that’s a Star Trek quote (Voyager, but STILL) and a comic features quite heavily. Despite the fact that I was reading about a plague that kills 99% of those exposed while I have a cold and Ebola is breaking out all over, I could not put this down. It really does have so many elements that I knew I would like: music, literature, comics, Star Trek, post apocalyptic life, and amazing writing.

The novel seamlessly weaves in the stories of a famous actor who dies the first night of the outbreak, the paparazzi-turned-paramedic who once interviewed him and tries to save his life, the child actor who was on stage with him when he died, his first wife, and his best friend. Mandel sees the connections between them but it’s not in a grand, structured Cloud Atlas David Mitchell sort of way, but more of the real life bonds we make that are sometimes passing and sometimes deep.

There is perhaps more I’d like the write about it (the friendship between August and Kirsten?!), but it’s still settling in my mind. It’s really lovely and engaging. I heartily recommend.

Oh and I forgot to recommend Andrew Smith’s 100 Sideways Miles as well. Just briefly: a kid whose father wrote a well-known sci-fi novel with a character eerily similar to him feels trapped in the book. He thinks of time as distance (it takes the earth one second to revolve 20 miles so 5 seconds is 100 sideways miles) and goes on a road trip with his friend. Classic Andrew Smith with great insight into the mind of a teenage boy; always a winner.

I’m now looking at my hold shelf to see what’s coming up for me next. Here’s what I have active or what I am very much looking forward to:

Rooms by Lauren Oliver – I liked Oliver’s writing and this sounds like a nice, creepy read.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber – Jesuits/missionaries in space! Need I say more?

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Steifvater – Book 3 of the amazing YA fantasy series, the Raven Boys.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and more – A Muslim teen becomes Ms. Marvel. Huzzah for diversity in comics!

I could list more but then it’s just me listing the other 22 items on my hold list. That gets a bit dull.

Anything I’m missing and I should have on hold? What are you looking forward to reading this fall?



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Awww yiss, it’s Banned Books Week!

It’s Banned Books Week! Wooooooooo!

Neil Gaiman, Weird Al, and George R. R. Martin representing banned comics readers. So amazing!

Neil Gaiman, Weird Al, and George R. R. Martin representing banned comics readers. So amazing!

I love Banned Books Week. I love getting all ragey about people trying to ban or challenge books. I love making sweet displays and honestly, I love and need the reminder to be careful about selection and collection development. Just because there is a book that I don’t really want to read doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t buy it for the library. This mostly comes up in regards to Christian fiction. I am a Christian, but man do I hate Christian fiction. I have to force myself to buy YA fiction from Zondervan and the like because there might be some people who want to read it. Banned Books Week is always a good reminder of this.

A focus of this year’s Banned Books Week is comics, so make sure you go read some awesome comics, banned or not. Might I suggest Saga, Sex Criminals (main character is a librarian! Woo!), or the Rat Queens? They are all sufficiently saucy so you feel like someone could object to them.

In other not-really-banned-book news, someone protested that Leigh Bardugo had “unnecessary lesbians” in the third book of her amazing YA trilogy of Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising. If you like fantasy, fake imperialist Russia, and magic then these books are for you. They are really great. They remind me a bit of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone books, which I love. Bardugo’s response is delightful so check it out.

Here’s another plug for comics: for some reason it’s been the month of me saying, “Awww yissss!” It’s all Kate Beaton’s fault. (Slightly NSFW because of the swear….) Then a coworker said it to me in a email and I thought, “Another Kate Beaton fan!? YISS!” If you don’t read her comics, you’re a dummy. She’s hilarious and from Canada so she’s so nice! 

Finally, Banned Books Week is also a great week because it leads into my birthday on Sunday. This year it’s my Golden Birthday, meaning I’m turning 28 on the 28th. I expect year 28 to be amazing!


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After School Special

This is Friday afternoon in the Teen Room. (Photo: James Cridland at Flickr.)

This is Friday afternoon in the Teen Room. (Photo: James Cridland at Flickr.)

Last Friday I had one of those dreaded moments in a job: the moment where you think, “Why am I doing this again?”

Friday afternoons in the Teen Room at the library are Crazytown. During the week, some of the kids who would potentially come to the library have sport or activities but on Fridays there usually is nothing. Plus it’s the weekend, so it seems like all of the teens are in the library. Some Fridays we have around 50-60 teens in there. Seriously. It’s insane.

It really wasn’t even that busy of a Friday and I was only there from 4 to 5 but I nearly lost my patience. Kids were just rude to me when I was trying to help them, or basically point blank refused to throw away their trash littering the tables, or thought that they were sneaky enough to sneak in fries – we only allow “packaged snacks” – and eat them when I wasn’t watching.

I am always watching.

Not really, but I did catch Fry Guy. To cut to the chase, I was just at my wit’s end. Why are teens so wretched and annoying, I thought. WHY?!

When I got home and later that weekend I got to thinking. Not all teens are wretched and annoying and even the teens who were there are not always wretched and annoying. If another librarian said that to me, I would freak out at them. I feel like I spend a lot of my time defending teens’ behaviors, explaining that they are just pushing boundaries, that they aren’t thinking, that they aren’t deliberately harassing other patrons, etc. That’s when I realized I don’t really hate my job and that I need to remember all teens aren’t awful. I love my job and I love working with teens, but like with any job and any large group, sometimes it’s going to drive you a little batty.

I have had some very frustrating interactions with adult patrons, but I don’t go home at night at think, All adults are awful. Ok, I might sometimes, but I do recognize that it’s easy to remember the bad interactions and experiences and easy to forget the good ones.

My coworker Clare says she tries to remember that each day starts with a clean slate. Each day is a chance to reset in the Teen Room. Was a teen frustrating yesterday? Fine, but that was yesterday. I need to remember that each day is new and with it comes a new chance to serve these teens.

Some of the teens that were annoying the crap out of me on Friday? They were having an adorable discussion about whether or not they should be concerned that Microsoft was buying Minecraft. So cute and a good reminder that we all have bad days and everyone deserves a second chance.

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The post-summer reading “lull”

Now that Summer Reading is over and the lull after summer reading is over, it’s into Planning Time now. Yup, Capital Letter-type Planning. Since we don’t start our regularly schedule programs until October, September has been a bit of a catch up month. I feel like I barely did any collection development during July and August, and I definitely wasn’t thinking about fall programming or spring. I was just trying to get through the next five programs we had that week! So busy!

So now Clare and I have been talking about and working on all sorts of things: outreach to some community groups like the youth center in town and the Andover chapter of A Better Chance which seems like a really cool program; collection development is back in a more regular rotation; trying to think ahead to Teen Read Week; working on some small Banned Books programming for the end of the month; kicking around the idea of a regional Comic-con with some other libraries; the Teen Poetry Contest in the spring; our VolunTeen Advisory Board; and more.

I’m the most excited about the prospect of a library Comic-Con. As you may know I’m pretty nerdy. And, as evidenced by the popularity of our Random Fandom Summer Reading program, so are a lot of our teens. I mean nerdy in a really good way! They have books, shows, movies, games, and more that they really like and get really excited about. I think that’s awesome. It would be so fun to host a longer program, like on a Saturday, which times for gaming, cosplay, trivia, crafts, and demonstrations all related to different fandoms and interests. It’d be like Random Fandom Lite!

I already have a costume for Comic-Con! A variant Starbuck from BSG who actually looks exactly like me! Brilliant! (Also pictured, Little Red Riding Hood and Where's Ralph Waldo Emerson?)

I already have a costume for Comic-Con! A variant Starbuck from BSG who actually looks exactly like me! Brilliant! (Also pictured, Little Red Riding Hood and Where’s Ralph Waldo Emerson?)

Even more exciting than the prospect of a Merrimack Valley Comic-Con is another program a few of us are working on: library-hosted pub trivia! It’s the dream! We are investigating options of hosting it in the library (with no alcohol, sadly) or at a restaurant nearby in town. Hopefully we could bring in that hard to get demographic of real world Young Adults (the ones in the 20s and 30s) and show them the library is cool! Or maybe not “cool.” Is “cool” cool anymore? I don’t know. Just get them into the library.

Other than planning, I’ve been having a good time checking out the #fyaphotoaday Instagram project put on by Forever Young Adult. Lots of fun and lots of pretty bookshelves!

What are your Septembers like? Busy with back to school or do you get a little break to enjoy the cooling weather?


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