Thursday, April 22, 2010

LAB 1: The Reader Advisor is IN

Ben Franz

Putting theory to practice

Since I come from a large family, and the greater majority of them are avid readers, I thought it would be useful to provide reader advisory to five family members. In the interest of non-identification, I shall not reveal which five members of my family they are. Rather, as with all other examples of this sort of narrative, I shall use an initial from one of their names to label them and grant them the required privacy.

The entire clan was gathering for the 8 day festival of Passover, so in preparation of that I provided Reader Advisory to the following initials: R, M, J, L, and S. Before I get into the particulars, let us handle the generalities. I started off each interview with the following 3 questions:

1) What do you like to read?
2) Would you like to read that or something different?
3) What do you not want to read at all?

As with any reader advisory situation, I clearly delineated what each person felt was not of interest to them. For the selections, the tools I used primarily were Fiction Connection and Reader Advisor Online. I also sifted through the IMCPL online catalog to make sure many books were available here, as some of these people do not actually have their own library cards yet, and thus I would have to acquire their books for them. I also decided that 3 books was a good solid number for the 8 day holiday in which they would ingest their particular selections. Without further ado, let’s assess each one’s experience.


R is middle aged, female and generally prone to fits of cackling. She absolutely did not wish to read any romance, although she greatly enjoys watching the romantic dramas each week on Masterpiece Theater. She wanted light and funny materials, preferably by American writers. She especially prefers writers with a Jewish bent. She also enjoys more lyrical fare, particularly about animals. For her, we found the following texts:

Uncle Boris in the Yukon and other Shaggy Dog Stories by Daniel Pinkwater
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

R tackled the first two books, and did not get around to reading the 3rd, citing the need to read many other books she had selected for other purposes already. R thoroughly enjoyed Daniel Pinkwater’s semi-fictional auto-biography of his life through the various dogs he and his family have owned. She thought It was simply ‘charming and hilarious’ great fits of cackling abounded as she wend her way through that book.

The Underneath she found quite haunting and lyrical. R rather enjoys YA literature, so long as it’s not TOO challenging to her principles and morals. With The Underneath, sure you saw acts of abuse against a hound, and a terrible killing happen to a mother cat. It’s really a grim series of violent acts. The conclusion she felt was quite optimistic, and thus made up for the horrible stuff that happened over the course of this story involving a pregnant cat, an old broken down hound dog, her kittens, the terrifying man who owns the hound dog, a Lamia and a thousand year old alligator. R gave it rave reviews, even though it was a hard story to read.


M is a young man, somewhat scattered brained and disheveled of appearance. He has a deep and abiding love of Fantasy-Romance, especially the kind people have labeled ‘trashy’, particularly the word of Mercedes Lackey. He wanted to read some science fiction in a similar vein. I tried hard, but I could not find anything that seemed quite that melodramatic in the vein of science fiction. What I did find, were 3 good books written by women. And they were:

Grass by Sherri S. Tepper
Crystal Singer by Anne McCafferey
The Telling by Ursula K. Leguin

M experiences a ‘fear of success’ sometimes. If he feels he’s doing too well at something, he shuts down and won’t do it anymore. He burned through the first 200 pages of Tepper’s novel, and threw it down and wouldn’t pick it up again. When asked why, he simply responded ‘It was too much’. Working theoretically here, I presumed that he had experienced too much joy reading the first book, and thus was not interested in finishing it; which means, it was an unmitigated failure on my part. The other two books he read, but he would not tell me much outside of the fact that they were ‘okay’. So I was 2 for 3 with M, and was awaiting to see what would go with the others.


J is an analytical young man with a clean shaven head. He has a real penchant for military science fiction and fantasy. However, for this assignment he wanted something ‘light and funny’. Working off of authors I knew he enjoyed, I cobbled together the following 3 books:

The Rumpole Omnibus by John Mortimer
Myth Conceptions by Robert Asprin
The Color of her Panties by Piers Anthony

J solidly worked his way through all 3 books, and thoroughly enjoyed them. There was much guffaws and rejoicing as he tackled for the first time the adventures of Horace Rumpole, who is a barrister specializing in criminal law. The books are written in a humorous manner recounting Rumpole’s thoughts on his life and the legal profession. I found it thoroughly enjoyable, so when the book came up as a read-a-like for Terry Pratchett, it felt a sure recommendation. Myth Conceptions, is a book in the greater Myth Series. This is a very funny fantasy series which explores the mis- (or myth) adventures of a young and novice magician named Skeeve and his mentor Aahz, a large green scaly reptile from the dimension of Perv (It’s pervect, not pervert!). I knew that J had attempted some Xanth books before, so I thought it would be good to try him out on the sequential volume that he had reached. It was very reassuring to see that I had finally nailed someone’s reading interests for once.


L is a very tall girl, and somewhat resembles a ‘teutonic shield maiden’ with the blonde hair, large shoulders, generous proportions, etc. She has a penchant for fantasy and comic books. She absolutely did not wish to read romance either, but if a little romance crept into her books, she wouldn’t stop reading it. She wanted a mix of silly, funny books and space opera science fiction. For L, I recommended the following books:

Startide Rising by David Brin
The 13 ½ lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers
Rendevous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

L did not take to Startide Rising very well. The epic struggle of a ship run by genetically engineered dolphins, did not suit her well. She found Captain Bluebear to be very ‘silly and fun’. Finally she has yet to read the work of Mr. Clarke, so I shall give it a 1/3.

Finally, we come to


S is a high-schooler. An introvert, and painfully shy, she retreats behind novels very effectively. To find her reading would not prove a difficulty. For Passover, she had an assignment to read French and English classics. She wanted action oriented ones. So, having been given my marching orders I found her the following 3:

The Lighthouse at the End of the World by Jules Verne
The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton
The Mysterious Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

She found that though the first book had action, Verne’s writing proved ‘terminally boring’ to S. She absolutely adored the skewed predictive future of an England in Civil War created by G. K. Chesterton, and Dr. Moreau gave her ‘collywobbles, but the good kind’. She too was a two out of three.

Ultimately, I think I did a fair job finding books for each of my readers. It helped that I actually knew most of them well enough to figure things out with the help of reader advisory tools. It also helped that most of them, except M, are fairly easy to please. I find this sort of exercise incredibly thrilling, especially when I successfully find something a reader enjoys.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Annotation 6: Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas
Selected Poems : 1934-1952
New Directions Publishing

There is a famous quote from a Blaxploitation film. Something to the effect of "Some cats just aint right". Dylan Thomas is definitely one of 'those cats'.

A little background, for the uninitiated. Dylan Thomas is a Roman Catholic Irish poet from the mid 20th century. He therefore fits rather squarely into the height of the Modern Poetry age, and school. Like Robert Frost, Thomas did not see a point to free verse. While his poetry does not possess a hard rhyme scheme (example: the first line ends with bee, the second with tree), he does impose a strict rhythm and meter to his poems. He also is fixated on three major topics: 1) Love of people, 2) Love of God, 3) Love of Life. The 'aint right' part comes in his expression of these particular loves. Worry not, I will provide quotes to prove my contentions.

Love of People

Dylan Thomas has a strange way of showing his affection for people, and yes, I do mean ALL people male and female. As he writes in the poem If I Were Tickled By The Rub of Love (p. 12):

'Shall it be male or female? say the fingers
that chalk the walls with green girls and their men.
I would not fear the muscling in of love
if I were tickled by the urchin fingers
Rehearsing heat upon the raw edged nerves.'

The 'I would not fear' line is indicative of a lot of Thomas' poetry. This 'do not fear' motif is a regular thing with the Irishman. It's as if he's done fearing stuff, and he's going to neurotically demand that every body should follow his example. A noble impulse until you get to the "urchin fingers" reference. Urchin can refer to a shellfish, but oftentimes it indicates young children. My mind does not wish to explore the thought that is currently taking residence in one's imagination. However, Thomas has this tendency to write such contentious words and metaphors. I think on a certain level he wants to start a fight, or violate someone. As shall be seen with-


Whoo boy. This is the big one. Thomas was a devout Roman Catholic, true. But he was also this dude ready to spar with anyone and resist the urge to fear or submit himself. There are many confrontational and potentially odious pieces of verse I could quote here, but I decided to go with the least problematic, the debate with God titled Do You Not Father Me? (p. 51):

'Do you not father me on the destroying sand?
You are your sister's sire, said seaweedy,
The salt-sucked dam and darlings of the land
Who play the proper gentleman and lady.
Shall I still be love's house on the widdershin earth,
Woe to the windy masons at my shelter?
Love's house, they answer, and the tower death
Lie all unknowing of the grave sin-eater.'

To be fair, I'm not entirely certain all the imagery he uses here, but it seems to me that he has a tendency to view his lord in a strange light. This seems to parallel conversations prophets have with the creator in the old testament. Where people rail at God until they get the matter explained or handled (more often than not, explained and not in a satisfactory manner). Here however, this seems to be a debate with God about whether or not the lord will serve as love's house, despite an incident of incest (you are your sister's sire). It makes you wonder two things: a) what biblical story he's referencing, and b) why would one want to discuss such things with God? Did Dylan Thomas know from incest? Did he fear the unknowing brought about by this grave sin-eater? I'm afraid the religious part leaves way more questions than answers.

This brings us to:


In many poems, Dylan Thomas is aware that sleep is 1/60th of death. To sleep = die. He's painfully aware of that, and brings it up time and again. You become aware that Dylan does not wish to die. That he might very well attempt to lie in wait for the Grim Reaper and beat the entity senseless. Were Gaiman's Endless analogy accurate, he would probably not care to meet death even if she is a cute goth chick with an Ankh around her neck. To prove this inverse display of love for life I quote my favorite of his poems, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night (p. 122):

'Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Bind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.'

While he seems to be fighting against sleep, this is in point of fact a declaration of war against Death. Dylan does not want anyone to die. He wants them to fight until they collapse of the effort and live on forever. On this point I tend to disagree with Mr. Thomas. While life is great, and I would not mind getting a full measure of life out of it. There's something to be said for death. Death is an endpoint, yes, but it's not the end. While we are not given to know what happens in the next round of existence, I think it's only part of the greater adventure that is your life to find out. Sure, one loves life, but if my dad's death of an industrial mishap taught me anything back in 2002, it's that life is not meant to last forever. At least not life as we know it, in this fleshy body that we wear for however many years.

Ultimately, I thought he's a pretty good poet. But as indicated, there are some interesting issues going on in that man's head. Poetry is the expression of your emotions, your thoughts, your beliefs. By creating a world of strong emotional reactions, you get the real sense that something was not entirely 'on' about Dylan Thomas. To sum up, 'that cat aint right'.

Still, if someone wanted to read modern poetry, I would recommend him.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Open Topic #3 How I would save IMCPL from budgetary disaster

As has been learned in the Indianapolis Star, and was expressed by the MysticMynstrel, the library system in town has a severe budget shortfall. (Something to the tune of 7% of total budget). This is a direct result of the property tax caps which were brought about in 2007, because in 2006 people did not care for the amount of property tax they were paying. Candidly, it's primarily Marion County that seems to be paying the burden of property tax for much of the rest of the state, but the white beards capped it temporarily, and now the library does not have enough funds.

This is a terrible situation. This is when one should really instruct the citizens of Indiana why property taxes are important. But all is not lost, there is as the Star indicates a fairly useless portion of government that is currently hoarding a lot of tax dollars (apparently 48 million in Marion county alone), that if gotten rid would release those funds to our publicly owned stuff like libraries, schools, police and fire department. What is this terrible miser, whose very existence causes all this good money to go unspent on behalf of taxpayers? In a word, townships.

What, you ask, is a township. I know, living on the near north side, that I live in Washington Township. But what does a township do? Apparently, Townships back in the 17th century were the way to demarcate areas where people actually live in a town or city. Taxes are funneled into the township to be distributed to things people need. Except apparently, that is no longer the way a township around here functions. It appears that the townships have now become store houses for tax money. That never gets used on anything. In a country which strictly runs public works on tax dollars, that is not simply intolerable, that is flat out unacceptable. Schools, Libraries, soon Police and Fire departments will be screaming for funds, and the township is hoarding money that should be going to these four utilities.

Yes, I view the public library as a utility. It serves the public good, and tax money is supposed to cover it. Therefore a utility.

In other words, despite the property tax caps, if there was no township system, the library would very likely have to take a much smaller and less painful hair cut than the current 7% shaving. I so rarely agree with the local paper, but I think the op-ed writer is correct at this point. The township system needs to go away. That hoarded money needs to be distributed, and libraries need to stay open.

It's so uncool that not only are they apparently closing 6 branches of IMCPL, but they are all branches that service poor communities. This is intolerable. Andrea exhorts us to be change agents, to rise to the occasion. Well here's a good thing to change, kill the townships and reclaim the tax money. I say we do it now.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Annotation 5: Scott Pilgrim and his epic pilgrimity

Scott Pilgrim:
Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, Vol 1
by Bryan Lee O'Malley
2004 Oni Press
Isbn: 978-1932664089

For this week, we were graciously permitted the option of reading a Young Adult novel, since our soon to be stepping down dean, Dr. Irwin is on point to guest lecture. So, being a fan of graphic novels, comic books and various cartoon desiderata, I thought it would be a good time to 'feed the beast' and pick up a volume that I've been thinking about reading for a few years now. Boy Howdy, that was the right move!

Scott Pilgrim could easily have been talking about me and my college aged 'dork rock and roll friends' - presuming we had access to wormholes, wicked martial arts and a penchant for vegetarian/vegan food (only the last thing was true at the time). By the term 'dork rock and roll' I of course mean the hipster alt-rock thing that has been growing and steadily developing for ages now across the land. It has even infected a small, un-named town in Canada somewhere in the proximity of Toronto where Scott Pilgrim and his buds live. When we meet Scott in this book, he's a 23 year old slacker dating a high school girl - Knives Chau. It's a very chaste relationship, as they haven't even held hands yet, but Scott likes it that way. He also is the bass guitarist in this band created by his friends Stephen Stills and Young Neil called Sex Bob-omb (try saying that five times fast.) Life is pretty good, until he starts seeing this roller skating chick racing through his mind. She shows up often enough, he starts to wonder if he's going crazy, until that is he meets her in person.

Ramona V. Flowers is a fascinating girl, new to town, she's a roller skate delivery girl for She's constantly changing her hair color, and she has a thing for musicians and general slacker dudes. Once Scott determines she's the girl who's literally been in his mind, he hooks up with and instantly dumps Knives for this fantastically strange red haired (not an organic shade I might add) girl. After spending some quality time together, Ramona informs Scott that he may very well have to earn the right to date her, by defeating her seven evil ex-boyfriends. At first, he thinks she means fight, but no it's really defeat, as in destroy. Her former boyfriends have formed a "League of evil ex-boyfriends" and their determined to prevent anyone else from dating Ramona.

At this point, this cute, strange fascinating book goes into the 'wicked martial arts' referenced earlier. It's quite intentional that this black and white book is illustrated much the way some forms of cute manga is. In that way, the action scenes, often involving some superbly wicked martial arts does not entirely derail the artistic portion of the story's narrative.

To say I adore this book is an understatement. To say that I rushed out to the book store and grabbed the other four volumes currently in print is assured. This is one of the most stirring, magical and fantastic series of stories ever compiled. It's so good, that even before the final volume has been released, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) is currently working like a busy beaver adapting the "epic of epic epicness" into a film. They are currently in post production, and prepared to release it in August, a month after the final vol (no. 6!) is released.

Here's the trailer, I dare you to tell me that is not the awesome:

I rather enjoyed this book, and its appeals are very clearly: 1) it's quirky, young characters, 2) the cute manga style of illustration, 3) and the excellent martial art visual sequence which comprise a solid chunk of each volume. There are more fascinating characters in this series than one could shake a stick at. I really would rather not discuss any in depth, but a few off the top of my head include: 1) Wallace Wells, who's Scott's gay roommate. Scott and him share a bed (probably due to the expense of beds when you're slackers) for the first few volumes. 2) Envy Adams: a former girlfriend of Scott Pilgrim, she's the leader of the band The Clash at Demonhead, which features on bass Todd Ingram, one of Ramona's evil ex-boyfriends. She is a very ego-driven girl and she has no problem savaging everyone, which would explain why she and Ramona have a slug fest at one point...

And the list goes on. I cannot recommend this series highly enough, go and check it out. It's probably the coolest things those darn kids are reading.