28 March 2010

Weaving a Tale

There are so many books to be read, it doesn't seem productive to read one more than once. There are the select few, however, that become dear enough that you re-read them for comfort more than for the search for new information or the desire for a new thrill.

My copy of Silas Marner is a little more worn than the others.

Silas is, by the time we meet him, somewhat past his shining prime. I think it's Eliot's masterful painting of Silas which appeals to me the most. Guileless, bent and nearsighted from his close work, superbly wretched - what a great heroic figure! Ah! say you. Only a librarian could love this non-hero!

Silas is, of course, a metaphor. (Look up metaphor, kids, because the fine points of this definition are as important as the very delicate development of Silas himself). He carries the weight (by representation) of all the injustice of the world. And he represents the triumph of the true man over all that injustice.

If you have ever trusted my opinion, you must trust it now. Read (or re-read) this book and watch for the real story. If you were required to read it the first time, you almost surely missed the point. Yes, it's a little old-fashioned (published in 1861). Yes, the moral lesson is painted neon yellow and a mile wide. (It's the Victorian era, don't forget.) For Austen lovers, it has sentiment, if not romantic vapors. For the unsentimental, it has a commanding grasp of small-town character-types. The message of redemption never fails to move me.

Come on. It's like gold under the floor boards.

21 March 2010

Tea Time

I am reading Stones into Schools, by Greg Mortenson. I am doing this, in large part, because I read Three Cups of Tea by the same author. Those of you who have read Three Cups of Tea will, I think, identify. Reading more about Mortenson's project is practically mandatory.

Let me start by saying that I do not suffer overblown, preachy, self-serving, pompous diatribes against humanity with the best of will. I become twitchy when I think that writers are offering all problems and no solutions, puffing themselves up as the ONE good man/woman with the ONE good idea. I hate books that lecture - nay scold - me. We readers, I think, are decently aware of some of the big issues and certainly concerned.


Mortenson, bless him, commits none of these offenses. He asks little (and I hope receives much) of us. He does an enormously important small thing and has the great good grace to see miracles in doing the well-placed, well-defined, and limited "something." He builds schools from stones. Schools to educate all children (boys AND girls), children in far remote places. Places, by the way, that we assume hate Americans. Places that don't hate Greg Mortenson and his multinational staff. His basic goodness and the goodness of his mission have prevailed, as love must.

Here's the fun part - these books are truly exciting stories. There are fascinating and admirable characters, harrowing escapes, mortal danger, intrigue, humor, negotiation, politics, in short, all the elements of a good cliff-hanger. You can feel the piety of reading a book about giving and still get the thrill of an action-packed adventure! (Sort of the literary equivalent of chocolate multivitamins.)

So read! Enjoy! It's good for you. (And it's good!)

My trip west: Crand Canyon 2004; Boone County Ky in the Snow; 2008

14 March 2010

Eye Test

Ever looked at a "Magic Eye" book? I find them almost irresistible.

Here's the deal, for those who've never done it: the book is filled with pages of tightly packed images, repeating graphic designs. These can be anything from discernible shapes such as dogs or kites, repeated across the page to more amorphous shapes, less recognizable and densely packed. The pages themselves have nothing specific to focus on and can seem unsatisfying.

The technique is the thing. You select a page, and hold the book up to your face, with good light behind you but no shadow. Your nose needs to touch the page at first. Focus your eyes at a place on the page and once you feel "fastened on" start moving the book away. Don't let your focus wander. You will feel a bit of a pull on your eyes and soon see extra shapes develop. As you get the book about an arms length away or a little less, you will see three dimensional objects emerge. The page is called an autostereogram, and you don't need fancy equipment to see in stereo. In the gentler versions they are a wonderful treat. In some of the more intense ones, the pictures may be odder and more thought provoking.

This is complex science AND great fun. For more information about the science see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autostereogram

For people who are newly acquiring the skill of 'Magic Eye," that first 3D emergence can be quite fun - triumph of imagination over logic.

Some people find it difficult to do. We could ask all sorts of questions about that - do they lack imagination? Are they not patient enough? Do they have an eye problem that prevents them? Are the maybe too logical or analytical?

I do think you have to let yourself believe. I think you have to let go of what you assume and have the eager anticipation that something wonderful (or weird) is coming.

Do try it! Even you cautious serious types. Let your brain do something unusual, stretch its legs, and exercise its magnificent and marvelous capacity.

06 March 2010



As a children's librarian, I am continually impressed by the quality and inventive spirit of many writers for kids. This week's case in point: CDB! by William Steig (1907-2003) Yep, the guy who gave us Shrek!

Published in the 80s, I had not had the pleasure of this book's acquaintance until a colleague recently brought it to me. I laughed out loud when I read it, then I insisted another colleague read it too and it was funnier the second time. We were so amused, in fact, that we ran over to the shelves to find the companion book CDC? I cannot adequately tell you about the gimmick in this book. It has to do with sounding out letters to create an entire phrase or statement, The messages revealed have a wry and witty humor which may be lost on your children. Like Shrek, CDB! seems to speak to a little older (and edgier) crowd.

The artwork is a little New Yorker Magazine cartoon. This is not much of a coincidence since Steig drew for New Yorker early in his career. You must rely very heavily on his illustrations to decipher the messages. This will require some effort, starting with the front cover when the key to this delightful book is revealed. Sit down with this book, with another grownup you like (and who has a quirky sense of humor). Read it out loud together. When you do, I promise you will be charmed.

03 March 2010

Read a Child's Book Now and Then

For those out there who think they are too sophisticated to read kid-lit, you may just find a surprise or two in the short stacks.

Some of my favorite must-reads:
Anything by Sandra Boynton, but especially the music and book sets. Once, when I worked in a fairly pretentious bookstore, we sneaked Grunt: Pigorian Chant onto the sound system. Of course,to get the humor, you have to be following along in the book. We were FOFL, as they say nowadays. And the music is very well done.

Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends. I confess: I have only read the kids books. But the sweet, sassy and slightly seditious poetry dares you to at least raspberry the established order. Come on. You know you want to.

Lately, I read The City of Ember. The movie was nice, but if you want to imagine the edgy fear of lights going out in a city rimmed by the dark unknown, you really have to have the scenario inside your reader-brain. You readers know what I'm talking about.

There are lots more. Sometimes, adult reading becomes predictable in its relentless pounding adult-ness. Give yourself permission to go back to reading books that are meant to instill values, strengthen social commitment, teach cooperation, tolerance and love. We nurture our children on the values we care about. Why, then, do we allow ourselves to believe that we are not "grown-ups" unless we fill our heads with grinding bleakness?

Was I ranting? I think I'll go find a kids book now and lighten up.