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Archive for January, 2011

Bad Library News

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Everyone’s budget is in bad shape these days. Libraries are struggling to get by, too, but the news from the library in Queens, NY is terrible by any measure. In case you haven’t heard, the Queens Library is taking an unprecedented step in its 104-year history: it is no longer buying new books.

The library director says the library has been trimming hours and staff over the last two years to maintain service as its budget is cut deeper and deeper. Now, it has given up buying books in order to keep its doors open. The library, says CEO Tom Galante, has shifted its mission subtly, “from lending books to providing English lessons, aiding job seekers and providing internet access.”

Of course Queens is not alone. Even the huge New York Public library has stopped hiring and is looking at the posibility of reduced hours and service. In Georgia, there are dozens of libraries who have had to impose changes in their service because of financial distress. These have upset a lot of patrons. But not one that I’ve heard of has chosen to stop buying new books entirely.

What do you think? Is this ultimately a wise and realistic decision? Or is it merely a noisy a way of calling attention to the library’s plight? What do you want and expect from your library? What are you willing to pay for it? And what is and should be the library’s role in our society, our culture?

Your thoughts are warmly invited and will be posted.

Censoring Mark Twain

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

By now almost everyone who cares has weighed in on the “Huckleberry Finn” controversy. The preponderance of testimony so far definitely opposes efforts to bowdlerize — or censor — Mark Twain’s use of the “n” word. Still, the publisher is proceeding with plans to release its version of Twain’s classic tale in this altered format. I’m not opposed to that; after all, objecting to publication is merely another type of censorship, so let’s don’t go there, please.

The Auburn University professor who proposed the changes is no yahoo. He’s a 69-year-old scholar who has studied and written about Twain for much of his academic life. I don’t doubt his sincerity and his belief that by making thee changes he will make “Huckleberry Finn” more accessible to students, especially African Americans. I also believe he’s dead wrong about everything. And that censoring the “n” word is the wrong approach.

That aside, here’s something you may not know: the Center for the Book had booked Dr. Gribben to come to Atlanta in March and talk about his decision. That was before all hell broke loose, and the national media focused its critical attention on Gribben and his publisher, New South Books of Alabama. Soon thereafter, we got a call here from the publisher, telling us they had decided it was “not appropriate” to send Gribben here at this time and canceling his appearance. We had planned to present him in an open forum with an author whose opposition to these changes has been well known. Too bad; that won’t be happening now, apparently.

I suppose there are no surprises about that. I regret it, however, because I believe the more we talk about this out loud, the better. The more we talk, the less the notion of deleting unpleasant or hard-to-take passages in books seems like a worthy idea. And in that sense, maybe Dr. Gribben has really done us something of a favor: he’s brought out dialogue on a touchy subject and made us look again at the issue of censoring. And how silly and pointless and demeaning it is.

So there. If we are ever able to re-book Dr. Gribben, of course we’ll do it. In the meantime, feel free to offer your own thoughts.

New Ways of Reading

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Snow-bound, or rather, ice-bound, and what to do? Actually, such days have always been special delights because they have afforded me rare to try and catch up with the books stacked on my bedside table. The stacks are still there, of course, beckoning me on. But now they’ve been joined by their electronic brethren, newcomers to the stack. It’s taking some getting used to, my friends.

To put it another way: that stack of books is really TWO stacks, each a foot tall, each holding a dozen books awaiting my eyes. The e-readers — a pair of them — now contain a couple of dozen books and comprise a stack less than two inches high. The contrast is difficult to miss. And it’s a bit breathtaking, at least to me, someone who has arrived well after the electronic age of reading has begun.

I swore I wasn’t ready for an e-reader. I’ve been advocating for the printed word for way too long to do anything else. But to be honest about it, the little things are are proving pretty darned cool and convenient. I’ll save detailed comparisons for sometime later, but for this moment I can only echo what others have said: getting used to the e-readers is easier than expected. And reading a 900-page book on a reader the size of the palm of my hand in place of a 5-pound book is definitely an improvement. Especially when I’m someone who reads a lot in bed with the book — or reader — propped on my chest.

So I’ve joined the electronic reading age. I’m still feeling a mite ashamed of myself, but I’m getting over it. I’ve still got my printed books. Not everything — in fact, a lot of titles — aren’t available on e-readers. So I’m not abandoning old friends. Maybe I’m just making new ones. Maybe I’m just trying to justify myself. Maybe I’m …. well, I’m not sure. Others have confronted these issues, I know. One of the regular attendees at our author programs got an e-reader a few months back, and he’s now enthusiastically devouring more books than ever before, in all formats.

So maybe if that’s what in store for me, then bring it on.

Got your own e-reader? Enjoying it? Using it a lot? I’d welcome your thoughts.

New Year Events

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

Happy New Year! And 2011 promises to be an exciting one for those of us who love books and writers and reading. Probably the biggest event of the year in these parts is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the publication of Margaret Mitchell’s classic novel “Gone With the Wind.” There will be a series of events throughout the spring into summer at a variety of locations around metro Atlanta, especially the Margaret Mitchell House and the Atlanta History Center. And we’ll be taking part in many of those activities, too, as well as presenting some of our own events tied to the celebration.

This year also marks the beginning of the four-year observance of the Civil War sesquicentennial. It is in no way a celebration — let us remember 11,000 Georgians died in the war, and another 100,000 were casualties — rather an occasion to look back and try to understand better what happened then and since, and how those events have shaped our lives and our country.  We’re planning a number of special programs to launch the commemoration, beginning with an appearance on January 25th at the Decatur Library by two authors of an most welcome new Civil War book, Barry Brown and Gordon Elwell. Their book is “Crossroads of Conflict: A Guide to Civil War Sites in Georgia,” and it is a thorough and thoroughly researched look at 350 important locations around the state.

This year’s Black History Month observance opens with a very special event: Atlanta author Rebecca Burns visits us on February 1 to talk about her much-anticipated new book, “Burial for a King.” It’s a powerful, memorable book that takes us back to 1968 and the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an event that forever transformed the city of Atlanta.

And we also will be bringing to you during the year dozens of outstanding writers, new and old, for free public appearances. Among those already scheduled are Susan Vreeland (“Clara and Mr. Tiffany”), Karen Marie Moning (“Shadowfever”), Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish (“I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity”), Frances Mayes (“Under the Tuscan Sun”) and Anchee Min (“Pearl of China”). Taker a look at our lineup of coming attractions and you’ll find many more of interest, we know.

And finally, mark Saturday night March 12 on your calendar. That’s the date for “A Mysterious Evening,” a fun gala supporting the DeKalb Library Foundation and starring author Karin Slaughter and some surprise guests. We’ll have more about that coming up soon.