Monday, May 25, 2015

Browsing Collection

Since January I've adopted what for me is a new approach to finding new books by authors I don't already know. I browse the New Books section.
In the process I have marveled at the arcane masterly of book cover designers.Somehow my eye is consistently drawn to the sort of books I want to read.
Here is a list of books which "leapt off the shelves at me" over the past five months.

The supernatural enhancements : a novel, by Edgar Cantero

This was a surprising hybrid. It initially presents itself as a ghost story, yet it develops into a sort of steam punk/science fiction mystery.

As Booklist writes, the story is told "through diary entries, transcripts of audio and video recordings, letters, and other media," which means Cantero must lead the reader to piece the twisty plot together through glimpses from different sources.This novel might intrigue Arthur Conan Doyle, were he transported into the 21st century.

Gutenberg's apprentice : a novel, by Alix Christie

I love a well-researched, engagingly written historical novel, especially one which goes behind the sanitized mythology of famous figures to share what the historical record reveals about their real, contradictory complexities.

The author's website writes: "Peter Schoeffer is on the verge of professional success as a scribe in Paris when his foster father, wealthy merchant and bookseller Johann Fust, summons him home to corrupt, feud-plagued Mainz to meet...Johann Gutenberg, a driven and caustic inventor, [who] has devised a revolutionary—and to some, blasphemous—method of bookmaking: a machine he calls a printing press."

Delia's Shadow, by Jaime Lee Moyer

Light, entertaining mix of "cozy murder mystery" and ghost story.  Follows the formula of the first genre, but with interesting twists.

From the author's website: “Spirits seek vengeance while the young try to build a future in a fog-shrouded San Francisco shaken by more than the great earthquake. This bravura mix of ghost story and historical mystery will chill and grip its readers from first page to last.”—Chaz Brenchley , author of House of Doors and House of Bells

The three-body problem, by Liu Cixin

A highly thoughtful and unusual approach to science fiction storytelling as a platform for critiquing modern Chinese history and human nature in genera.

"[Spans] multiple decades and characters, but…zooms in on Ye Wenjie and Wang Miao, two scientists in the very near future. Wenjie is an astrophysicist...daughter of a physicist who was executed during the Cultural Revolution for daring to teach the "reactionary" idea of general relativity. Miao is a nanotech engineer, and he's been swept up in a virtual-reality, online video game called Three Body that's so deeply metaphysical, it's begun to resemble a cult….  

"By the time the book hits its peak, it's unveiled a conspiracy that spans solar systems — one that not only threatens to alter the human race, but the very building blocks of physics that we've evolved to understand."—Jason Heller, NPR Books

The Bend of the World, Jacob Bacharach

Who knew Pittsburgh was so weird? UFOs, a secret society with the world domination ambitions of the Illuminati, and a slacker 20-something antihero who somehow grows up despite himself.Funny, self-deprecating humor with a surprising depth of maturity for a first novel.

"Set in Pittsburgh, the book is a rollicking, occasionally mad blend of dark workplace comedy and crooked love triangle(s), improbably suspended in a web of conspiracies and conspiracy theories involving, variously, UFO sightings over Mount Washington, time travel, a corporate takeover, Bigfoot, secret chambers beneath the Point, Nazi ancestors and plenty of drugs. The narrator is Peter Morrison, age 29, with a fateful 30th birthday party looming."—by Bill Driscoll, Pittsburgh City Paper.com

Us conductors : in which I seek the heart of Clara Rockmore, my one true love, finest theremin player the world will ever know, by Sean Michaels

I had known of Lev Sergeyevich Termen as the early 20th century inventor of the theremin, an ethereal musical instrument played without touch, changing pitch and volume by moving one's hands within an electromagnetic field.

There is so much more to Termen's story in this fictionalized autobiography. Lenin sends Lev to the United States as an industrial spy, something he does with clumsy desperation.  The story is supposedly written later by Lev while in captivity under Beria, Stalin's chief of secret police.

"[Lev] delights in creating new inventions and discussing theory with foreign scientists, but leaves the subterfuge up to his handler. Leon’s chief joy, other than science, is an American violinist named Clara Reisenberg. Their love affair is intense, buoyed by Harlem dance halls and the ethereal song of the theremin."—from The Masters Review: A Platform for Emerging Writers

The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro
(author of The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go)

A fable of a misty, empty post-Arthurian 6th century England in which everyone suffers a supernatural memory loss. An elderly Briton peasant couple set out to find a grown son they vaguely remember having left them as a youth under troubling circumstances. On the way they meet Saxon villagers and warriors, fiercely ascetic monks, Aurthur's sole surviving knight, and the curses and mysteries of this superstitious world.

Ishiguro lets his readers struggle together with his characters as they reconstruct the past and seek to escape the dooms it may hide.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

A funny, emotionally honest, semi-autobiographical YA tale of a teenage Spokane Indian's effort to escape the alcoholism and poverty of "the rez" by transferring to the whites-only high school 22 miles away.

"For 15 years now, Sherman Alexie has explored the struggle to survive between the grinding plates of the Indian and white worlds. He’s done it through various characters and genres, but The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian may be his best work yet. Working in the voice of a 14-year-old forces Alexie to strip everything down to action and emotion, so that reading becomes more like listening to your smart, funny best friend recount his day while waiting after school for a ride home.—Bruce Barcott, The New York Times: Sunday Book Review

Heraclix and Pomp : A Novel of the Fabricated and the Fe, by Forrest Aguirre

Another supernatural tale, this time from 18th century Europe. A necromancer who has brought a golem to life attempts to sacrifice an immortal fairy in a ritual pact with Beelzebub. The two escape and wander from Vienna to Prague to Istanbul to Hell.

Heraclix seeks to rediscover the people from whose body parts he has been reanimated. Pomp seeks to understand the mortality she has now tasted.

I am only a few chapters into this novel, yet it has my full attention.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sir Terry Pratchett, 1948-2015

Another master has crossed over.

And so it is.

Blessèd be,
Michael Bright Crow

Here is a post I first published about Terry Pratchett on May 17, 2012.


Mort, by Terry Pratchett
Back in September 2011, Walhydra was reading Mort, the fourth volume of Terry Pratchett's brilliant Discworld Series. (She thinks it's the fourth...time is weird on Discworld. She's already read The Color of Magic, The Light Fantastic, and Equal Rites.)

Walhydra likes pretty much everything about the Discworld books, but her favorite character so far is—surprise, surprise—Death. Or should we say DEATH, since he always speaks in upper case, without quotation marks? He always appears as a hooded, animated skeleton with glowing eyes.

What Walhydra admires most about Death is his attitude toward...um...death.

As far as Death is concerned, death is not some sort of evil consequence or punishment for mortals. It's just his job. All mortals die, and Death's job is to help them finish the business.

It's the mortals who, clinging to their lives, label death as "evil," as "punishment." Poor Death struggles with the unfair blame...though he always rises above it.

The title character in Mort is a young mortal whom Death takes on as an apprentice.

"Er," [Mort] began. "I don't have to die to get the job, do I?"

BEING DEAD IS NOT COMPULSORY.

"And...the bones...?"

NOT IF YOU DON'T WANT TO.
(12-13)
Death leads Mort to the great twin city of Ankh-Morpork, where they stop for a meal at the Curry Garden. The place is crowded, "but only with the cream of society—at least, with those people who are found foating on the top and who, therefore, it's wisest to call the cream." (19)

Mort is puzzled by the fact that, besides himself, no one seems to see Death.

"Is it magic?" said Mort.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? said Death. AM I REALLY HERE, BOY?

"Yes," said Mort slowly. "I...I've watched people. They look at you but they don't see you, I think. You do something to their minds."

Death shook his head.

THEY DO IT ALL THEMSELVES, he said. THERE'S NO MAGIC. PEOPLE CAN'T SEE ME, THEY SIMPLY WON'T ALLOW THEMSELVES TO DO IT. UNTIL IT'S TIME, OF COURSE. WIZARDS CAN SEE ME, AND CATS. BUT YOUR AVERAGE HUMAN...NO, NEVER.

He blew a smoke ring at the sky, and added, STRANGE BUT TRUE.
(20)
Pretty much sums it up.

And so it is.

Blessèd be.



Here is a beautiful portrait of Terry Pratchett and Death, done by Flynn-the-Cat and posted on DeviantArt and RedBubble.


Death & the Discworld, by Flynn-the-Cat

Flynn's own commentary on the portrait:

A portrait of Terry Pratchett, his Death and his Discworld.

He's the creator of the Discworld, that little planet being carried away into space by the turtle Great A'Tuin, with the sun setting on it.

Death, the walking skeleton with an awful lot of character appears in all his books (however briefly) and spends a lot of time trying to figure people out. he's here because a) it's about dying (mental, age, possible-suicide), b) he's kinda a reflection of people (he is shaped by their expectations, so he's in mirror image to Pterry, c) he's one of Pterry's greater legacies, and d)... well, if anyone outlives the Discworld, it'll be Death.

The lilacs were worn in memory of a revolution in Night Watch and are now the symbol of Wear the Lilac Day on May 25th - Discworld Day, and now dedicated to Alzheimer's Awareness.

Because—oh yes, Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer's Disease. And I started painting this while listening to his documentary on assisted dying: Terry Pratchett: Choosing To Die
.
Here's a link to a new Terry Pratchett interview on the Late, Late Show, and a link to an NPR interview in August 2011.

Terry's own website is here.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015


Leonard Nimoy sat down with the Wexler Oral History Project last year, his impressive Yiddish skills on full display. In this video, Nimoy describes the origin of his famous Star Trek hand greeting: the Jewish priestly blessing, or duchening.

Friday, July 25, 2014

"Miami-Dade Raises Taxes To Pay for Libraries"

A year ago this week, the Library HOTLINE led off with this headline: Miami Dade PL To Close Nearly Half its Branches. Over next few months, the rollercoaster ride came to a somewhat safer conclusion:
The news is better this year, though like many of us publicly funded library folk, Miami-Dade citizens and library staff won't heard the final word until September.

July 28, 2014, Volume 43, No. 30

The following is quoted directly from this week's Library HOTLINE

Miami-Dade Raises Taxes To Pay for Libraries
The continuing struggle to fund library service in Miami, FL, and surrounding Dade County took a happy turn for librarians and advocates. On Tuesday, July 16, Miami–Dade County commissioners voted to increase the property tax slightly, increasing the funding available to the Miami-Dade Public Library System (MDPLS).

The hike would leave libraries with a budget of approximately $52 million for the coming year. That figure is short of the $64 million that advocates were aiming for but represents a major step up from the $30 million earmarked earlier this year in a budget proposed by Miami mayor Carlos Gimenez. It also denotes an increase of $8 million over this year’s library budget. The hike will prevent as many as 90 layoffs that would otherwise have been required by Gimenez’s initial budget.

It remains to be seen whether the mayor will veto the higher property tax for libraries, which the county commissioners approved by an 8–5 margin. The mayor, who was aiming to keep tax rates in the county flat this year by slashing budgets and getting public employee unions to pay more of their own health-care costs, had until July 25 to make his decision. He told reporters following the vote, “I’m going to have to consider my actions.”

John Quick, president of the Friends of Miami-Dade Public Libraries, told Hotline, “We are both happy and disappointed. I think it’s a win because we were able to add $22 million to the budget, but we’re disappointed because we think $64 million is what is needed.” Quick and others who sat on a task force appointed by the mayor had recommended the $64 million figure, which would have let the library restore branch hours that have been shortened over the last four years, as well as reinstate programming that has taken a hit as MDPLS budgets have dwindled since the recession began.

The support of community leaders is all the more crucial because the library’s internal leadership is in transition: Raymond Santiago, MDPLS director and Library Journal’s 2003 Librarian of the Year, is retiring effective August 1.

Advocates and library employees also pointed out that the ink is not yet dry on the higher property tax rate. The commission’s vote set the ceiling for the tax rate for libraries, but a final vote to set rates is due later this fall. “This is the first step in a long budget process,” Sylvia Mora-Oña, assistant director of public services at MDPLS, told Hotline. “We’re cautiously optimistic, but until September 25, anything can happen.”
Hang in there, everyone!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"The kids are alright"—
Danah Boyd's It's Complicated: the social lives of networked teens

Danah Boyd is Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, Research Assistant Professor at New York University, and Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
It's Complicated: the social lives of networked teens (2014)I've just started reading Danah Boyd's brilliant new book, It's Complicated: the social lives of networked teens (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2014).

From 2005 to 2012, Boyd toured the United States, "talking with and observing teens from eighteen states and a wide array of socioeconomic and ethnic communities," as well as conducting 166 formal, semi-structured interviews with teens.

She writes that this book is her
attempt to describe and explain the networked lives of teens to the people who worry about them—parents, teachers, policy makers, journalists, sometimes even other teens....
As I began to get a feel for the passions and frustrations of teens and to speak to broader audiences, I recognized that teen's voices rarely shaped the public discourse surrounding their networked lives. (x)
Coming of age

Boyd brings to the discussion a deep respect for teens, in the place of adult mistrust.  Her key insight is that
Most teens are not compelled by [social media] gadgetry as such—they are compelled by friendship. The gadgets are interesting to them primarily as a means to a social end....
Teens' preoccupation with their friends dovetails with their desire to enter the public spaces that are freely accessible to adults. The ability to access public spaces for sociable purposes is a critical component of the coming of age process.... (18)
Boyd reminds the reader that teens are challenged to envision themselves as young adults. Their efforts to set their own agendas and "to a be with friends on their own terms, without adult supervision, and in public," are part of coming of age.
Paradoxically, the networked publics they inhabit allow them a measure of privacy and autonomy that is not possible at home.... Recognizing this is important to understanding teens' relationship to social media.... [Their] engagement with public life through social media is not a rejection of privacy. Teens may wish to enjoy the  benefits of participating in public, but they also relish intimacy and the ability to have control over their social situation.... [Teens] go to great lengths to develop innovative strategies for managing privacy in networked publics....
Social media enables a type of youth-centric public space that is often otherwise inaccessible. But because that space is highly visible, it can often provoke concerns among adults who are watching teens as they try to find their way. (19)
The Significance of Networked Publics

To focus her work, Boyd broadens and sharpens the concept of "networked publics" first introduced by Mizuko Ito in the "Introduction" to Networked Publics (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2008, 1-14).
Networked publics are publics that are restructured by networked technologies. As such, they are simultaneously (1) the space constructed through networked technologies and (2) the imagined community that emerges as a result of the intersection of people, technology, and practice. (8)
Using this concept, Boyd normalizes teens' use of social media.
Teens engage with networked publics for the same reasons they have always relished publics; they want to be a part of the broader world by connecting with other people and having the freedom of mobility. Likewise, many adults fear networked technologies for the same reasons that adults have long been wary of teen socialization in parks, malls, and other sites where youth congregate. (10)
She then introduces Donald Norman's concept of "affordances" as a way of exploring the new social possibilities offered by technology. [See The Design of Everyday Things, (New York: Basic Books,1988).]
The particular properties or characteristics of an environment can be understood as affordances because they make possible—and, in some cases, are used to encourage—certrain types of practices, even if they do not determine what practices will unfold. (10)
 There are four affordances which Boyd argues make social media appealing to teens:
  •  persistence: the durability of online expression and content;
  • visibility: the potential audience who can bear witness;
  • spreadability: the ease with which content can be shared; and 
  • searchability: the ability to find content. (11)
 Boyd then addresses adult fears more directly, saying that the social lives of teens are far less different from those of their parents than many of us believe.
School looks remarkably familiar, and many of the same anxieties and hopes that shaped my experience are still recognizable today.... All too often, it is easier to focus on the technology than on the broader systemic issues that are at play because technical changes are easier to see.
Nostalgia gets in the way of understanding the relation between teens and technology. Adults may idealize their childhoods and forget the trials and tribulations they faced.... They associate the rise of digital technology with decline—social, intellectual, and moral. The research I present here suggests that the opposite is often true. (16)
Having seen this introduction to Boyd's study, I'm eager to learn from the teens she paid attention to how they understand their own use of social media...and how we adults might nurture rather than fear this aspect of their coming of age.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Florida Legislature increases Library Cooperative & State Aid funds for FY2014-15


The Florida House and Senate have come to an agreement on the 2014 – 2015 state budget.  We have reason to celebrate!

All of you, Florida library advocates and all the members of the Florida LibraryAssociation are to be commended for your tireless efforts before and during the session. You collected data, crafted messages, and met with Senators and Representative in your districts and at the Florida Capitol on National Library Legislative Day, educating them on the important work that libraries do and the significant contribution all our libraries make to our communities – colleges, universities, schools, and towns and cities. Your hard work has paid off.

The General Appropriations Act, HB 5001 [Section 6, Program: Library and Information Services, p.389], includes an increase in funding for the Multitype Library Cooperatives (MLCs) of $500,000, for a total of $2,000,000, and an increase of $5.1 million in the State Aid line item for a total of $27,409,823.

There are also funds for a Largo Public Library bookmobile in the amount of $350,000 and Okaloosa County Public Library Cooperative funding is restored to its previous level of $85,000.

If you want more detail, go to the online PDF of the bill.  Either use find [binoculars icon] and search for “library” or go to page 389 for the details.


Many thanks to our lobbyist Chris Lyon for his hard work on our behalf, to our FLA Legislative Committee members especially Vice-Chair Charlie Parker and to both our Executive Directors during this past “year” Faye Roberts and Martina Brawer for doing great work on behalf of libraries in Florida.

Barbara Gubbin
FLA Legislative Committee Chair
Director, Jacksonville Public Library

Friday, April 18, 2014

"Kansas Teachers Lose Due Process in Firings"

March 10, 2014, vol.43, no.16, pp.4-5

The following is quoted in full from this week's Library Hotline:

Kansas Teachers Lose Due Process in Firings
On April 6, the Kansas State Legislature narrowly passed House Bill 2506, a school finance bill allowing teachers to be terminated without due process. The bill would make it easier to fire teachers and also relax licensing standards for schools hiring teachers in subjects like math and science. The passage of the bill follows the passage of an amendment on April 3 to cease state spending to implement Common Core standards adopted by the Kansas Board of Education in 2010.

Teachers and education activists protested over social media the passage of the bill, and the Moderate Party of Kansas has begun to circulate an online petition to restore due process for teachers.

The bill was in response to the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling in March 2014 ordering the state to address the funding discrepancies between rich and poor schools by July 2014. The school finance reforms have been lobbied by far-right conservatives such as Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and tied to a series of reforms aimed at closing the spending gap between economically diverse schools by allowing the privatization of public schools and their funding, among other changes.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback
The bill has been passed to Gov. Sam Brownback to sign, but he has yet to do so. The Republican governor seeks a second term, and while the Kansas State Legislature is in a firm Republican grip, the powerful Kansas National Education Association— Kansas’s largest teacher’s union—issued a strong message the day after the bill’s passage on April 7, as reported by the New York Times:

“We expect you, Governor Brownback, to VETO this bill as it diminishes teachers’ ability to advocate for their students without fear of retribution,” the group stated.

During the first weekend in April, hundreds of teachers in red T-shirts protested at the capital’s statehouse in Topeka. While Governor Brownback has yet to sign the bill, he issued a formal statement regarding the bill on the Kansas Office of the Governor website on April 6 indicating his support of the bill:

“House Bill 2506 increases funding to Kansas schools by $73 million and includes $78 million of property tax relief. The bill ensures that taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently, putting money in the classrooms to help teachers teach and students learn.”

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