Friday, April 30, 2010

Doing a little readers' advisory

As an academic librarian, I do not get to do as much readers' advisory as a public librarian might do. However, it is an area of librarianship that I enjoy a lot, and I wish I could get to do it more often. So when I get the rare request for reading recommendations, I am thrilled. Recently a good friend contacted me via Facebook. She requested the following:

  • Some scifi to read for fun over the summer.
  • Something a bit dark like cyberpunk or dystopic novels or graphic novels (yes, I am aware these elements can be diferent, but that was the request).
  • Something intellectual and not just brainless fluff like Star Trek or interstellar romances (I assumed she meant romance as in love affairs, not romance in the classic sense like H.G. Wells).
So, on that basis, I took a little bit of time to think about it, and I sent her a reply. I figured the reply would be good enough to share with my five readers (yes, we have added a follower to our tally) in case they may be looking for reading ideas. Of course, readers of this blog are welcome to comment and add their ideas as well. Anyhow, here is what I recommended with a bit of an explanation or rationale on how it fit the request, and some additional comments I did not include in the original reply. I recommended works that I have personally read and enjoyed:

  • I started by suggesting my new discovery from last year. This was Hiroshi Sakurazaka's All You Need is Kill. It certainly fits within the concepts of dystopia and/or cyberpunk, and it certainly is not fluff. This novel is a good example of Japanese science fiction, done in translation by Haikasoru, a wonderful press "dedicated to bringing Japanese science fiction to America and beyond" (from their website). I enjoyed this novel very much, and I am looking forward to reading more works from that publisher. As for the novel, one reviewer called it "Groundhog Day, but in a war zone." The protagonist is a soldier stuck in time, reliving the same combat day over and over, having to improve his skills each day in order to break from the cycle. And then there is the Full Metal Bitch (I will let you find out who she is).
  • John Scalzi's Old Man's War, which has been compared to Heinlein at his best. Not cyberpunk, but it kind of looks at a future of man that may or not be a utopia. I went on to read the sequel The Ghost Brigades, which was interesting but not as good as Old Man's War. It did turn me off from reading the other works that followed; I got the impression the quality would not be as good. Ghost Brigades looks at a particular type of unit, the titular ghost brigades, which appear in the first novel, so if this interests you, the novel is worth reading. But as I said, not as good as the first.
For the graphic novels, I recommended the following:

  • Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, Batman: The Long Halloween. This work is simply excellent. Basically, there is a serial killer who kills on holidays over a year starting in Halloween. You can read it any time, very immersive. Personally, I have read this twice already, always around October. You can never go wrong with any work by Loeb and Sale, but this one is definitely one of their best.
  • If you want something different and in alternative history, try Neil Gaiman's Marvel 1602. It's Marvel heroes like Spider-Man in the Elizabethan era. My friend is an English Ph.D. student, so I knew she would appreciate this type of work. It does have a very nice dark element to it as well. Also, the work is by Neil Gaiman, and you can never go wrong with Gaiman. There are two sequels done by other writers to this book.
  • From Allan Moore, the Promethea series (link to Book One; the series has five books). This series deals with mythology and takes place in a future time. I presumed my friend had already read Watchmen, which would likely fit more into her request. However, Promethea does take place in an alternate future that does display some dystopic elements (slightly). Again, this will likely appeal to a literature major as well. I did tell her that if she had not read Watchmen, that she should rush to read it.
I gave the above as something to start from. I did throw in a bonus at the end by recommending a book I am currently reading: Shadows Over Baker Street, edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan. This is one of the most delicious anthologies I have read in a while, so to speak. The premise is basically Sherlock Holmes with Lovecraftian mysteries and settings. If you like either Sherlock Holmes or H.P. Lovecraft's works, you will enjoy this. This is a book that is truly made to savor, so I am taking my time reading through it as one takes time to savor a fine cognac. One of the stories, Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald" is very good and won an award. I told my friend that if she wanted a bit of the intellectual with some horror and mystery thrown in, that she had to try this book.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Notes from UT Tyler 2010 Student Poetry Awards

The event took place on Tuesday April 13, 2010. This is our library's major event for National Poetry Month. You can read my brief official account of the event over at my library's blog here. This post is basically for the more extensive notes I made in my journal, which are not included in the official accounts. If you just want to read the brief summary, follow the link.

* * * *

After I delivered some brief opening remarks, Anne McCrady, local poet and friend of the library extraordinaire, provided the introduction for Karla Morton. Karla, the 2010 Texas Poet Laureate, was our keynote speaker for the evening. Anne told us how Karla and her became friends over time. Anne learned various lessons from Karla, including some lessons from Karla's battle with cancer. Anne was proud and excited that we were hosting a woman poet. So were we. I was very happy and excited to learn that this year's Texas Poet Laureate was a woman; it gave us an opportunity here on campus to invite a woman for the first time to be our keynote poet. I was thrilled. Having a woman as our keynote poet was something that Joanne Buendtner, our previous outreach coordinator, who is now retired from our campus, wished for when she was working here. I am glad we were able to make it happen. Anne went on to mention that Karla has an upcoming collection of sufi poetry. I will definitely have to look it up.

Karla took the stage next. She began by showing us two rocks she brought from the Big Bend area (that's West Texas, the area where Alpine is). Karla told us that has always written and that she always wanted to be poet laureate. She moved on to talk about her first published collection, her chapbook entitled Becoming Superman (I bought my own personal copy, which is signed, and which I will be reading later). She chose a chapbook format because she wanted to make it affordable for readers. She told us that, like Superman, we all have an "S" on our chests. We can all find our passion.

  • Karla often gets questions about inspiration. She constantly writes, and she keeps notes in a little notebook, which she then pulls out for ideas. She encourages writers to always be aware. It can be easy to hibernate in your cave. Instead, open yourself to the world.
  • Read the poem "Alamo Coastline."
  • Karla has always been in love with Texas, and this shows in her poetry.
  • On the subject of men, she sees men as interesting people and subjects for her poetry. Thus the poem "Texas Longhorns" goes to the men.
  • On rejection: It took her 20 years to be published and successful. Rejection is the nature of the game. Don't give up. The experience of reading is personal given all different reading preferences (she was referring, likely, to reading on stage, but this seems applicable to any form of reading. It also seems consistent with librarian concepts we learn in reader's advisory, in my humble opinion). Karla advises aspiring writers to send their work, one piece at a time (poem, short story, etc.). Karla also spoke a bit on Anne McCrady and Anne's gift of teaching (Anne runs a series of very successful and inspiring workshops. Check out the link to her site above. In addition, Anne is very generous with students and aspiring writers).
  • If you are stuck (in terms of ideas for writing), Karla suggests going to a writers' workshop or conference (if only I had the time). Confidence is part of your business as a writer. Poetry is every man's art.
  • Karla's second book is Redefining Beauty (you can find it on her website, which is linked above. I also got a signed copy of this one to read later). In these poems, she is using poetry as a way to help herself through cancer. We all have our demons, and writing is a good way of getting through our problems or demons. Being bald (which she was getting her cancer treatment), Karla observed that people would not look her in the eyes. But this can lead to alienation, so she appreciates differences better.
  • At times, God answers our prayers before we know what to ask for.
  • She spoke of people who would tell her bad cancer tales when she was bald. This means someone would see Karla, and if they had a bad cancer tale of their own, they felt a need to share it, something Karla wished they would not do. More positive tales would have been better.
  • Rhyme and poetry are fun. Karla often finds adults who at times are afraid of rhyme, a "Shakespeare class mentality" she calls it.
Other miscellaneous notes and thoughts:

We had 21 attendees for the event. The number may seem low, but this has been pretty consistent over time (at least in the short time I have been here). This is my third event of this kind that I have coordinated. Attendance from the campus community always seems to be a challenge; it is something that I am consistently and continually trying to improve, but there are days when I don't feel as encouraged. As Anne points out, the English faculty shines by their absence; we did have one English faculty member. This is the kind of event I think they should embrace. In other campuses I have worked in, that department would have clamored to sponsor an event like this. The student poets are always a great part of the event. I really enjoy listening to their award winning poems to see what themes and images they bring.

We did get coverage this time around in the campus newspaper, the Patriot Talon. However, it seems the story did not make it the webpage (I have only found it in the print version for 4/20). And as I read it, I did notice some errors, which to be honest, do make me wonder since in some cases the details were things I pointed out pretty clearly to the reporter and she still missed them. The corrections then:

  • I did not judge the poetry contest. The panel of judges was composed of two English faculty members, two librarians (other than me), and a local poet. I made that detail clear at least twice, and it was posted in the library's blog on the post announcing the contest and rules, to which I referred her. A little reading and paying attention would have solved that.
  • Karla Morton is not just "a Texas poet laureate." One, Texas Poet Laureate is a formal title, so it should all be capitalized. Two, she is the 2010 Texas Poet Laureate, sharing in a long line of poet laureates for the state. She keeps the title for life, meaning that she, along with the others, can be addressed as Texas Poet Laureate.
  • Contest rule: 60 lines of poetry total, which could be one long poem or shorter poems totaling that amount. I said most students submit two poems, not that the poems were always 30 lines each.
  • I did not see a mention of the UT Tyler Friends of the Arts. This local organization funds a big part of the event, which I also did mention. So now, to be honest, I am a bit worried I may get a call from someone in News and Information or the FOA to ask.
Oh well, at least they did cover the event. We have been trying to get them to cover it for years now. Maybe next year they will get the details in better form.

At any rate, on a final thought, if you are an outreach librarian like me, and you do events like this, keep in mind that a challenge is for you personally to enjoy the event. I am often worried and moving around making sure everyone is ok, things are in order, minding the little details, etc. I even took photos of the event (see the library's Facebook page). That I managed to sit long enough to listen to the poet and take notes was a nice situation.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Notes from Greg Mortenson Lecture

On Monday, April 12, 2010, the UT Tyler campus hosted Greg Mortenson, author of the book Three Cups of Tea, as part of the the Betty and Louis A. Bower Lecture Series. I had the opportunity to attend. For one, the ticket was free for staff, and two, I have read the book (I reviewed it over in Goodreads). These are then my notes from the lecture.

The event started with the customary remarks by the University President, Dr. Mabry. Dr. Mabry described Mr. Mortenson's life as a testament of service to others and a beacon of hope to children. He also provided a recap of Mr. Mortenson's story; if you read the book, you already know the details. Dr. Mabry noted that the visit is very timely given that we (the campus) just had our campus visit by the accreditation agency, and part of what we presented to them was our QEP (Quality Enhancement Plan) which has a global focus, known as the GATE Program. I have to admit that I did find the visit to be timely as well.

Greg Mortenson then took the stage. These are some of his remarks and statements. Any comments I make will be in parenthesis.

  • Began the lecture with a vignette about a 4th grader who said to him that "peace is noisy." The kid, who was actually from Tyler, TX, has military parents.
  • He explained the meaning of the three cups of tea (read the book, or you can visit the official website here).
  • General David Petraeus read the book. He said that he got three bullet points from the book: listen more, respect, and build relationships. (Personally, this seems a bit like common sense, but it is nice to see the military is finally getting it. Mortenson did make the observation as well about the military "finally getting it.)
  • Lesson: People can be empowered.
  • We are driven to help people, but it is necessary to empower people. There is a difference between helping and empowering.
  • (He asked at one point if there were any first generation college students in the audience. There was no evident show of hands, which does make me wonder. To be honest, this is the kind of event that more college students should be attending, but they do not. From what I have seen, these lectures usually attract a lot of seniors, usually the wealthy types in town, some VIPs, and maybe some community members depending on their degree of concern or interest in current affairs. I could say more, but that is better left for another time).
  • To make the world better, start by taking care of yourself. This is vital.
  • On failure: It is just a means to success. The Balti language has no word for failure. The equivalent would be "fork in the road," and success means you got to your destination.
  • You have to touch and experience poverty to solve it. You can't solve it from a think tank in Washington, D.C. Civic engagement is important as well.
  • A tragedy: Losing the tradition of learning from our elders, which is something mostly lost in the United States. Education (meaning formal education) often eradicates oral education though.
  • His heroes: librarians and teachers.
  • In the end, it was children and pennies that funded his first school, and the idea lives on in the Pennies for Peace program.
  • You need local buy-in for projects. The Taliban and other warrior groups tend to be reluctant to bomb a school they built themselves or that has very strong local support (i.e. the Taliban does not wish to make another enemy by pissing off a village after blowing up their school).
  • If you educate a boy, you educate an individual. Educate a girl, you educate the community. (I am not sure how this makes me feel since I have dedicated my life to educating others in one form or another. However, having said that, I do see his point).
    Educating a girl also means you can reduce the population explosion and reduce the infant girl mortality rate.
  • In Pakistan, they use less than 2% of their GDP for education. There is no national initiative to educate all children. Meanwhile, the Taliban bombs about 3 schools a day in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the end, the Taliban fears the idea of the "ink of the scholar is mightier than the blood of martyrs," which is found in the Hadith (and yes, this is a variant of the old phrase.)
  • In the end, it is the tenacity of mothers who send their daughters to schools, often risking their lives to do so.
  • Education is the long term solution to terrorism; this is a lesson from a military officer Mortenson met. The Taliban recruits in the most illiterate areas, so the recruits are then more easily indoctrinated. But the tide is turning.
  • The Independence Day parade in Afghanistan: First come the widows, the orphans, and the wounded veterans from the armed conflicts of the nation. After they come, only then, you get the soldiers. (Can you imagine if they actually did that here in the United States? I am sure the jingoism would decrease considerably when it comes to war).
  • Mortenson believes that God is on the side of widows, orphans, the wounded veterans, the illiterate children. Until this is solved, no nation has a right to say God is on their side. (I wish the U.S. would actually hear that idea.)
  • Playgrounds also have power. From getting Taliban warriors to relax for a bit to letting children have fun and play. Children need to go outside and actually play.
  • Learn and listen to the elders, then impart it to the kids. Kids are the future.
Some notes from the Q&A after the lecture:

  • There is no simple military solution in Afghanistan. The civil sector and the government need to pick up their roles. Even the military commanders are saying this. The village elders in Afghanistan are crucial. Whether you agree or disagree with them, you have to speak with them. The elders are asking to be involved more. They ask for the military not to bomb civilians (this antagonizes people, duh). Also, it may be risky, but the troops do need to go out to the villages.
  • We cannot run a democracy in secrecy. War is the ultimate decision that a nation makes, and thus the society needs to be informed as they make and carry out the decision. (Then again, this also means that people need to take some responsibility to educate themselves and be informed citizens.)
  • Poverty is the inability to make decisions due to restraints. Money, or the lack of it, is not the only restraint. To start changing things, make a habit to do a daily good deed (I knew that part of Scouting would pay off for me) and teach it to your children.
  • Mortenson's schools teach the basics--math, science, so on--as well as languages, including Arabic. If you teach Arabic, the kids can then learn to read, write, and thus understand the Qur'an. The mullahs hate this because then the kids actually understand that the book says instead of just having to accept what the mullahs may say.
  • Mortenson's greatest fear: that he will get harmed or killed in the United States. He gets tons of hate mail from Americans. White supremacists have lobbed molotov cocktails on his home because he helps Muslims. But he keeps going and speaking anyways. You have to go out and build bridges. He says, if he dies in Afghanistan or Pakistan, it will not be a bullet but a car accident (treacherous roads. And the fact he feels how he feels makes an extremely sad commentary on the American nation that often tolerates such ignorance and bigotry.)

Friday, April 09, 2010

The Ten Books Meme

I came across the "Ten Books that Influenced Me" meme from this post by Dean Dad at Inside Higher Ed. The thing that rubs me about people who usually do a meme like this is that they pick highly pretentious stuff. It is usually an exercise in telling the world how well read the author is by telling us they got through James Joyce's works or some rare book on semiotics. Dean Dad at least mentions Mad magazine and Dr. Seuss. I am sure librarians have done this at one point or another, but I was not able to find any with a quick search. Hey, any librarians out there who did do this exercise, do let me know. I am always curious to see what other people out there are reading.

Well, folks, I am not listing some big fancy book on semiotics (though I read one or two back in graduate school). I am not pretending that I am hot stuff because I plowed through some obscure critical theory book (yep, did that too), or read some literary fiction that only a few academics know about (yes, read some of that as well). In making this list, I am going for the books that have actually stuck with me and have actually told me something. The ones that actually moved me, or taught me something, or that to this day make me smile. If you want fancy lists of thick books that only a few read (or pretend to read) and even fewer are pompous enough to admit it, go someplace else. Here is my no nonsense list of ten books that have had some degree of influence in my life. They are listed in no particular order.

  • The Bible. Whether people love or hate this book (or collection of books if you want to get technical about it), the Bible has a great influence in society and history. Whether as a force of good or evil, you can't get along without at least some passing knowledge of its contents. Since I was raised Roman Catholic, I had to study this book quite a bit. I am a Catholic school survivor, so to speak. The one good thing I took away from that was the discipline. When the clerics actually did their work teaching, they were among the best educators I ever knew. While I am no longer religious, all that studying has paid off. For one, any time some alleged Christian wants to throw Bible verses at me, I can throw them right back at him with some additional verses to refute and bury him. I may not have the Bible memorized, but I know enough of what is in it to know when someone is trying to feed me a line of male bovine solid food waste product with a verse they cherry picked.
  • Gabriel García Márquez, Cien Años de Soledad (translated into English as One Hundred Years of Solitude). I wonder if my mother knew how much this book would influence and shape my life and worldview when she suggested I read it. This was one of her favorites, and it has become one of mine. In fact, if I am asked the old question of what books I want in a deserted isle, this would be on top of the list. This book covers fiction, history, well, the human experience overall, and it also has dark humor, grotesque elements, magical realism. To this day, my friends and I have a saying for certain convoluted, messed up situations. We say, "esto es como una novela de García Márquez" (this is like a García Márquez novel. And it usually refers to this one).By the way, my personal copy is the one that belonged to my mother. It was a bit beat up when I got it, and it is falling apart by now. However, I have not chosen to get a new copy. For one, this is one of the few mementos I have of my mother.
  • Paulo Coehlo, El Alquimista (translated in English as The Alchemist). Coehlo was another of my mother's favorite authors. I read this during the time when I was searching for my first library job after library school. It was a time when I had dropped out of that dreadful doctoral program in English, and I was starting to get over the experience. I basically took the word of a librarian friend and jumped ship to go to library school. While librarianship has had its up and downs for me, overall, I like what I do, and I am glad I became an academic librarian. Coehlo's tale of the alchemist is a tale about pursuing your dreams, and the ending, which I will not spoil, is one of my favorite magical moments in literature. When I was feeling a bit down from the job search, this book reassured me that I would make it. And the book serves as a reminder to me of the need to pursue your dreams and your passions.
  • Mario Puzo, The Godfather. There is a line in the film You Got Mail where Joe Fox, the character played by Tom Hanks, says about The Godfather,
"The Godfather is the I-ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question. What should I pack for my summer vacation? "Leave the gun, take the cannoli." What day of the week is it? "Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday."
He was referring to the film, but this is very applicable to the novel, which I think more people should read anyways. I say this especially to fans of the film. While the film is very faithful to the feel and overall basics of the book, there are a lot of things that did not make it into the film. At any rate, there are some notions and values about family that are worth considering regardless of the fact that we are dealing with a Mob family in the novel. For instance, the simple idea that Don Corleone tells his godson, "a man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man." It was true in that book, and this is very true in society. Granted, some of the men in the novel are less than virtuous, but the message is still a good one. If more men did spend quality time with their spouses and children, not only would they be real men, they would probably have better families. Say what you will--the book glamorizes the mafia, it's a fluffy novel, so on-- but in the end, there is much wisdom in this novel. And it has stuck with me. It is also another book I reread every so often.
  • Eduardo Galeano, Las Venas Abiertas de América Latina (translated into English as The Open Veins of Latin America). I read this for the first time as an undergraduate. I read it for a course in Hispanic Culture, an elective class which would have a lot of influence on helping me decide to become a teacher and study literature and history. This book is a history of Latin America without the sugar coating. It tells it like it is, and it provides detail on how the United States has basically pillaged Latin America. It is written as a narrative, so it can be read almost as novel. But do not be fooled. This is not fiction. When Hugo Chavez gave President Obama a copy of the book as a gift, Obama should have done himself a favor and actually read it. This is regardless of how you feel about Chavez. If you want to truly know the history of the continent, you have to read this book.
  • Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha. Don Quixote was a life shaping experience for me in high school. It was my senior year project in Spanish literature class. We spent a full semester reading this novel, and in baroque Spanish by the way. Not some sissy modernized version, mind you. At the end of the semester, I wrote a paper on it. The topic of the paper was on the influence of the Amadís de Gaula on Don Quixote, looking at how it influenced the character as well as Cervantes in his work. That paper probably made me realize that I could be a good writer as well as literary scholar. Plus it had the added benefit that I read Amadís de Gaula, cover to cover. Reading Don Quixote is quite the undertaking, so I do feel proud that I did it. Cervantes covered a broad range of literary genres as well as forms of human experience that are universal. For me, it was the medieval romance and picaresque elements that stayed with me. This stuff led me to take an interest in more fantasy reading as well, things like The Lord of the Rings.
  • Federico Rives Tovar, 100 Biografías de Puertorriqueños Ilustres. This was a juvenile collection of biographies of famous Puerto Ricans. The book was a collection of short sketches. I read this somewhere in middle school, and I find myself wishing I had my copy of it now. This book was one of the best for me to learn about Puerto Rican history and the men and women who made it. From Ponce de Leon to Cofresi to Ramon Emeterio Betances, they were all there, in an easy to read format, to inspire a young boy.
  • Griselda Gambaro, Information For Foreigners (known in Spanish as Información para extranjeros). I read this for one of the drama studies courses I took in graduate school with Dr. Lee Papa. This play was one of the most moving plays I have read. It goes very well with reading things like Galeano's book. But the play also teaches you about the sense of space in theater and the integration of other genres as well as gives you a good look at Argentina during the Dirty War. This was one of the plays (and literary works overall) that inspired me during graduate school in terms of literary engagement and looking at the broader picture of the world. I even wrote a paper on this play that got accepted to a conference. However, due to personal reasons, I had to withdraw it, so I never delivered it. When most professors were just stuck in "classics" or "canonical" literature that every one keeps reading and rereading and writing yet another dissertation for it, Dr. Papa was showing us a whole other world of relevant, significant, engaging, and edgy literature. This was the kind of work I would have specialized in (or science fiction) if I had finished my doctorate. Works like Gambaro's play made me say, in essence, "damn, look at what you can actually accomplish with literature when you push the boundaries, have a sense of social justice and decency, want to engage an audience, and actually put in some work to make it happen instead of the usual stuff." Unfortunately, there was only one Dr. Papa, and I cannot thank him enough. If you are interested in learning more about the Dirty War, you may also want to read Verbitsky's Confessions of an Argentine Dirty Warrior (see my note on it here).
  • Jonathan Kozol's books, especially Illiterate America and Savage Inequalities. When it comes to pointing out what is wrong with the American educational system, to showing the shameful way American schools are segregated, and the hypocrisy of people who say you can't solve the problem with more money but send their kids to expensive private schools, Kozol is the man to read. His works are books that definitely piss me off when I read them because I know that this nation could have an excellent educational system if people only cut the male bovine solid food waste product, grew a spine, used some serious political and moral will, and just got it done for the sake of the common good. That children in this country are allowed to languish in what are essentially prisons is a shame. That it is done by choice because society does not want to fix it is reprehensible. Kozol had a lot to do with my shaping as a teacher and educator. I was fortunate enough to meet the man when I was in graduate school, and this man is basically a national treasure. Americans ignore his words at their peril.
  • Samuel G. Freedman, Small Victories: the Real World of a Teacher, Her Students, and their High School. I read this right before I went to do my student teaching experience. A lot of my view of teachers came from this book. Personally, I think it is better than Tracy Kidder's Among Schoolchildren, which I had to read at the time. Freedman's work seem much more real, and it spoke to me more. I think in large measure because Jessica the teacher was teaching high school, which was where I was headed as well. By the way, this was before a lot of the books about teachers meant to be inspirational and "feel good" stories really started to hit the bookstores. Personally, I think those books tend to glorify teachers who are exceptions and whose work likely cannot be replicated as easily as most people think. I like Freedman's work because in the end the teacher comes across as a normal person doing work that many would not dream of doing. Later narratives pretty much portray teachers as super heroes (and not in a good way) who can do no wrong, who never suffer defeats, and somehow have a happy ending no matter the setting.
When I started making this list, I had a bit of a hard time coming up with ten. However, as I started writing it, I found myself recalling more works that somehow had some influence in my life. So, this small list, without explanations, is going to be my "honorable mentions." Who knows, maybe I will write a post on "Ten More Books."

Saturday, April 03, 2010

15 Things About Me and Books

Yes, it's the old meme. I got reminded of it by the Pegasus Librarian. By the way, she links to a few other people who have done it if you are curious. Anyhow, this seems like a nice reflective exercise, and since I have not been blogging in a while, which could be a topic for another post, I going to use it as a way to get back on track.

So, here goes:

  1. One of the earliest books I remember receiving as a gift was a copy of Fábulas de Iriarte. It was a children's edition. "Fábulas" is the Spanish word for "fable." It was basically a collection of fables; it was illustrated and very colorful. A gift from one of my aunts.
  2. I read The Illiad as a child; I don't think I was in my teens yet. Basically my mother suggested it since she noticed I liked classical mythology a lot. I had been reading Hamilton's Mythology around that time. That copy of The Illiad was in Spanish translation.
  3. My mother was a big fan of Agatha Christie. She would read them in Spanish translation. The editions were published by Editorial Molino (Spanish Wikipedia entry; I could not find an English version), and they were pretty affordable paperbacks. The publishing house was known for publishing many famous popular authors. To this day, some of their editions are big collectibles. Anyhow, mom had a lot of those Agatha Christie editions, and seeing them on the shelf is one of my memories of her. For her, getting a new Christie mystery was a favorite gift. I remember when she finally read Curtain, the novel that deals with Hercule Poirot's last case. She was not happy at all about the ending. I have read a few Agatha Christie novels, in part because I wanted to know what it was appealed so much to my mother. I personally like those featuring Hercule Poirot the most.
  4. Going back to that edition of The Illiad, it was part of a collection of literary classics my parents acquired over time. I don't know how many folks out there recall this, but there were days when you could get encyclopedia sets, so on one volume at a time at your grocery store (or other retailers). My parents bought volumes of some literary classics set. I wish I could remember the publisher, but they were a pretty good quality hardcover set. It had stuff like The Illiad, The Brothers Karamazov, Becquer's Rimas y Leyendas (Rhymes and Legends), so on. These were in Spanish. I got my first exposure to classic literature from those books that my parents bought, in large measure because my mother believed her three boys should have books, including good classics, in the house. Unfortunately, due to various moves over time, the collection was eventually lost.
  5. I did not read a lot of comics as a kid. In fact, I really came to discover and enjoy comics and graphic novels as an adult. This is now one of my favorite reading formats. I also enjoy reading manga and related formats.
  6. I usually have at least three books going at any given time. It boils down to one nonfiction book, a fiction book, and a graphic novel or manga. This can vary somewhat, but that is the basic pattern. One variation is if I am reading something in Spanish, in which case I could have two novels, for instance: one in English and one in Spanish. I do it so I always have something to read based on my mood.
  7. I am a firm believer in dropping any book that does not catch my interest. Life is too short as it is to waste it on a bad book or on a book that just does not fit my mood at the time.
  8. I reread One Hundred Years of Solitude (in Spanish) every couple of years or so. I basically do it whenever I get the urge to go back to Macondo. I always find something new every time I read it. It never loses the wonder for me.
  9. I wish I was fluent in at least three more languages. While I am thankful that I can read stuff in translation, I wish I could read more stuff in the original. Besides, it is common knowledge the U.S. misses an awful lot of literature from around the world because of lack of translations.
  10. I have read the Bible from cover to cover. And in my case, it was the Roman Catholic edition. In other words, it has a few extra books Protestants leave out. I did this mostly so I could say I did, not out of any particular spiritual need. However, it has proven useful since now I have a pretty good sense of what the book contains.
  11. I have also read a few other sacred books. I have read parts of the Qur'an, all of the Analects of Confucius, all of the Dhammapada, parts of the Upanishads, and all of the Bhagavad Gita. I figured it would be a good idea to have a sense of what other sacred texts say. It was sort of a way to expand my horizons. Also, when it comes to the Qur'an, it is good to have a sense of what that text contains given current geopolitics. And yes, when I say the Qur'an, I mean a translation. I can't read Arabic (see #9 above).
  12. When it comes to books, I will buy books if I want to keep them, add them to my personal collection, or if they are rare, i.e. next to impossible that a library will carry them. If it is a book I just want to read once, I will try to borrow it first. The "read it once" issue usually applies to books in current events and other topics that have a short shelf life so to speak.
  13. I was forced to do a major book weed of our home collections (my wife has her own bookshelves, so does our daughter) when we moved from Indiana to Texas. At that point, I got rid of most, if not all, of the texts I had collected during graduate school. For me, that was a big break with the past. We did another one when we moved from Houston to Tyler, TX. We either donated to a public library or sold them to a used bookstore. The great loss in moving to Tyler was a set of Library of America books, which we donated to one of the public libraries in Houston. It was painful, but when you live in an apartment, you only have so much space. As a result, I am very careful what I purchase. However, I am happy to say I still have a pretty big personal library.
  14. I do not lend books from my personal library. This is specially applicable to my graphic novels. The rule is void for my wife and daughter because I know they can be trusted to return it. In fact, when it comes to my science fiction, especially short stories, my wife usually borrows them and reads them right away (in addition to any she gets on her own). Anyone else, go get your own copy. I will be happy to refer you to your nearest local library, you miscreants.
  15. One of my recent joys as a reader is that my daughter is an avid reader. It is also a joy because we now borrow books from each other once in a while.
I could probably do a couple more above 15, but let's leave it here for now.