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Archive for October, 2012

A look at reading and library habits

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Finally, some good news about readers. It turns out there actually are some out there. Really.

In fact, a new survey released by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project claims that nearly 80% of Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 have read a book in the last year. I gather that’s a book they didn’t have to read, since many in that age group would be students in one institution or another who presumably have assigned reading responsibilities. And not only that, but about 60% say they have used their local public library, although I’m not sure whether they’ e used it for books or computers as opposed to a place to meet their friends.

Here’s how some of the survey results break down among various age groups, according to Publishers Weekly: Among high schoolers, just over half of the respondents say their library is either “very important” or “somewhat important” compared to roughly two-thirds of older Americans. They are also  more likely to be interested in e-books than older folks.

The college-age adults (18 to 24) had the highest overall reading rate, and overall, this group is more likely than high schoolers to purchase their books. Among adults 24 to 29, the percentage having read a book in the last year is lower. Probably not surprising since at this age they are perhaps young married or first job employed with less opportunities for books. About 75% of them, however, said that public libraries are very important to them and their families.

Interestingly, among e-book readers, those under age 30 are more likely to read on a cell phone (41%) or computer (55%) than an e-book reader or tablet. Those numbers get reversed among older respondents.

The survey is the latest in a series of efforts by Pew to figure out library and reading behavior in the digital age. It involved replies from 2,986 people ages 16 and older last November and December.

Interesting stuff. Those of us who work in libraries can find some things to cheer in the results. And librarians know from person contacts over recent years that usage is up almost everywhere: the number of people borrowing books, using computers, asking questions, seeking help of one sort or another. These are difficult times, and the services offered by free libraries have proven more popular and more necessary than ever.

That seems obvious, of course. What seems a bit less obvious is why the budgets for libraries keep getting trimmed. And trimmed. Ah well, save that survey result for another day ….

 

NBA Nominees

Monday, October 15th, 2012

The lists of National Book Award nominees are out now, and they contain some very fine books while omitting at least as many deserving ones. And that’s about par for this course; it hard to get two readers to agree much less entire panels of critics. In case you missed them, here are the nominees along with a few comments by me. (The awards will be presented on November 14).

FICTION

Juniot Diaz: “This is How You Lose Her”

Dave Eggers: “A Hologram for the King”

Louise Erdrich: “The Round House”

Ben Fountain: “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”

Kevin Powers: “The Yellow Birds.”

A good, strong list, but how do you leave off Jonathan Odell’s “The Healing?” Or, Ron Rash’s “The Cove,” another terrific book by probably the least critically appreciated serious writer around?

NONFICTION

Anne Applebaum: “Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1945-1956”

Katherine Boo: “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity”

Robert Caro: The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 4″

Domingo Martinez: “The Boy Kings of Texas”

Anthony Shadid: “House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family and a Lost Middle East”

The focus is clearly on books looking abroad along along with yet another Caro opus. So let’s do the ABC: Anybody But Caro. Please.

POETRY

David Ferry: “Bewilderment”

Cynthia Huntington: “Heavenly Bodies”

Tim Seibles: “Fast Animal”

Alan Shapiro: “Night of the Republic”

Susan Wheeler: Meme.

I haven’t read any of the nominees, so best of luck to all. I spent much of the year re-reading Robert Frost. I say let’s nominate him.

YOUNG PEOPLE’S LITERATURE

William Alexander: “Goblin Secrets”

Carrie Arcos: “Out of Reach”

Patricia McCormick: “Never Fall Down”

Ellen Schrefer: Endangered”

Steve Sheinkin: “Bomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon”

Again, I haven’t read any of the nominees. Wish something by Carmen Deedy has been included, but Judith Ortiz Cofer from UGA was one of the judges, and I accept her choices.

 

 

A Painful Moment

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Although this blog is almost always given over to bookish topics of one sort or another, I find it impossible to ignore the vile, obscene story that came to us from Pakistan about the shooting of a 14-year-old girl by the Taliban. You most likely read it with the same utter astonishment that I did.  A teenage Pakistani girl named Malala Yousafzai who defied the Taliban wicked ideology against women by declaring she wanted to be educated to grow up to be a doctor was gunned down on her school bus by a group of cowardly, face-covered Taliban thugs.

Such is the sick nature of terrorism.

According to The New York Times, a spokesman for the Taliban in Pakistan — of whom you might hope when he becomes ill will be unable to find a doctor — confirmed the hit men targeted the girl because her crusade for education rights was an “obscenity.” And if the girl does not die from her wounds, the spokesman said more killer goons will be sent after her to finish the job. It would make an absurd movie plot if it were only fiction.

You see, Malala first declared her desire for education as an 11-year-old, and for three years the Taliban killers have been carefully plotting how best to get rid of her. Just like they have murdered and attempted to murder who-knows-how-many women in Pakistan and elsewhere.

How do we or anyone else respond to acts like this? Rage is certainly hard to limit, and revenge appears on many lips. Understandably. I share those emotions, at least for a time. But I confess I don’t know what the best response is beyond calling attention to the nature of the act and the belief system responsible for it, and commending the remarkable, awesome courage and bravery of this 14-year-old girl. She lives in a world most of us can never comprehend — mercifully for us — and she has paid a terrible price for it.

My tears and my heart join so many others in her behalf. May those who brought this action against her find their ultimate punishment to be just as awesome.

Banned Books

Monday, October 1st, 2012

I’ve always had the belief that any book someone wants banned is a book worth reading. And this week, as we observe the 30th anniversary of the American Library Association’s “Banned Book Week” — a celebration of our freedom to read — there are lots of reminders about the censors lurking out there. In Arizona, they’re  fighting to keep Harry Potter at Hogwarts and off the shelves. In Texas, some folks still see demons at work in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” And in these and so many other cases, it’s not so much that the censors don’t want to read these books as it is they don’t want anyone to read them.

Can we all together say “intolerance.”?

This is nothing new, of course. The Gutenberg Bible had its detractors beginning in the 1450s, people who found this first book printed with movable type to be the devil’s work and ordered others not to read it, although it’s not as if anyone else could skip down to the local bookstore to pick up a copy. We’ve seen the banning continue unabated since then, whether the work has been by Chaucer, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Swift, deSade, Byron, Goethe and on and on.

The focus for some of the censors this year is on a new target: “Fifty Shades of Grey,” part of the the so-called “mommy  porn” trilogy that has sold millions of copies around the world. If it’s that popular, got to be bad, right? Well, no one ever said that banned books had to be well-written books or anything like that. But the quality of the writing is beside the point. Banning is the point. (Confession: I haven’t read the trilogy, but I have skimmed one of the books while standing in a bookstore recently. I stand by my assertion that whatever the reasons it is selling so well, the quality of the writing is not what’s driving sales.)

A few years ago in South Carolina I was called to testify in a court case that involved censorship. The book at issue was Robert Cormier’s young adult novel “The Chocolate War.” A group of parents had somehow managed to bring to court their demands that the book be stripped from the public library shelves. Absurd on its surface, their argument was exposed for its narrow, obscured judgment. My role was simply to identify the novel’s literary qualities, place it in an historical context and explain its plot and language. I did so eagerly happily, and the parents lost  as well they should have. No one protested their right to keep their children from reading it (blind as that notion may be), but the case was decided in favor of the library (as well it should).

You get the idea. Banned Books Week is just one week in a year full of misguided efforts to censor the reading of others. It could as easily be Banned Books Year. As could last year. Or next year. But for now, let’s all take some time to celebrate one of our most critical freedoms. And to recognize that keeping it will never be easy.