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Staff Picks: Books

The Walking Dead Comics on Hoopla

I have a history of being a latecomer to particular pop culture moments. Though I tend to love low and high brow culture fairly equally, I have snobbish moments and tend to assume if millions of people like something I probably won't. The best example of this is Harry Potter. I was about 13 years old when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was published and I had absolutely no interest in joining that craze. I was in Moscow when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published ten years later, and refused to even tag along with friends for the midnight release at an English-language bookstore. But after I started library school I decided I should probably see what all the fuss was about. And of course I loved the books.

That is all to say I am fully aware The Walking Dead is presently one of the most popular series on television, you are probably watching the current season, and you may have already devised ways to cope with waiting a week to see a new episode (or even waiting months between seasons!). I know, I am really late to this party. Since I binge-watched nearly 80 episodes in less than one month, and only four episodes remain of the current season, I'm looking for ways to feed my obsession between new episodes/seasons.

It appears Hoopla, a library service perhaps best known for streaming movies and music, will fill that void. Hoopla now offers access to comics, including all 24 volumes of the collected The Walking Dead. Comics check out for three weeks, and the great thing about Hoopla is that everything is always available – no holds, no waiting.

Improbable Libraries

Having spent most of my life in libraries as either patron or staff, I naturally gravitated to this little 7" x 7" gem. The subtitle gives a good indication of what the book contains: A Visual Journey to the World's Most Unusual Libraries. The seven chapters are 1) Libraries on the Move, 2) Animal Libraries, 3) Tiny Libraries, 4) Big Libraries, 5) Home Libraries, 6) Mobile Libraries, and 7) Not libraries. Most of the 'institutions,' and I use that term loosely, are definitely cutting edge and/or unorthodox. I love the pictures of the camel carrying books as The Mongolian Children's Mobile Library, the Elephantine Library in Laos, the Biblioburro in Colombia, and the book donkeys in Venezuela. Libraries exist in surprising places and are structured in widely diverse ways. The book shows that libraries are alive, well, needed, and used -- all over the world.

Information Wants To Be FREE

 Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand is famously credited with the saying "information wants to be free", but it was hacktivist wunderkind Aaron Swartz who took his quote as marching orders and set out to actually make it free – with both troubling and thought provoking results. The new book The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on The Internet by Justin Peters reads like a highly contextualized biography of Swartz and the history and circumstances that led to his tragically taking his own life in 2013 rather than face what most characterize as an overly aggressive federal prosecution for anonymously downloading massive amounts of academic articles from the JSTOR database. Peters veers off from the Swartz storyline multiple times to give context and a sense of history to the complex history of intellectual property in the US, something that he is criticized for in Stephen Witt’s NYT Sunday Book Review of the book. But I loved the veering off and the lively and accessible prose that Peters uses here. Aaron Swartz believed deeply in the power of open access to information as the central idea that makes our democracy so powerful. I will leave it to readers of this book to make up their own minds about the status of that ideal today and what they are willing to do about it. Highly recommended! 

For more about Swartz and his story, I recommend the great documentary The Internet’s Own Boy.

Part of Our Lives

I recently tuned in to one of C-Span's book review programs, and the author being interviewed immediately struck a chord. Speaking was Dr. Wayne A. Wiegand, an alumnus of WMU's School of Librarianship (an institution still held dear by some of us) in the early 1970s. He also has degrees in history. These, combined with his professional library and professorial experience, make him eminently qualified to write this book. Subtitled A People's History of the American Public Library, this 2015 work observes that 'despite dire predictions in the late twentieth century that public libraries would not survive the turn of the millennium, their numbers have only increased.' He discusses the public library as a public space, a place for accessing information, or a home for reading material that helps patrons make sense of the world around them. The first sentence of the introduction says, 'It's an indisputable fact -- Americans love their public libraries.' What a wonderful thought!

Biblio TECH

John Palfrey’s Biblio Tech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google adroitly and lucidly argues for the preservation of that most democratic of public institutions, the public library. Clearly I am the very definition of “preaching to the choir” when it comes to the premise of this book, but Palfrey’s clear perspective and the light he sheds on a path toward a public library model that keeps pace with technology and our digitally evolving society is well worth reading and thinking about.

101 Two-Letter Words

For someone who loves books and reading, and is inflicted with an incurable case of curiosity, working in a library is often both a blessing and a curse. I read hundreds of book reviews every year, I see tons of books every day, and I talk about books with patrons, coworkers, and friends incessantly. On top of those sources, my love of bookstores and the existence of the internet means there are untold book discoveries to be made. All those books lead me to seek out even more books, and there's really no hope I'll ever get to all the titles that catch my eye. Earlier this week, while working in the 400 Dewey range of adult non-fiction (the section for language) I stumbled upon a newer book called 101 Two-Letter Words by musician Stephin Merritt, front man of pop band the Magnetic Fields. It's a little book of short poems, one for each of the two-letter words allowed in Scrabble. I recently started playing Scrabble again, so this book was a happy discovery. Merritt's poems make memorizing the two-letter words easier and more enjoyable. Here are a few poems:

The ai, a threatened three-toed sloth
Found only in Brazil,
munches on leaves and sleeps in trees.
I hope it always will.

Qi, in Chinese medicine:
vitality, or breath;
say it "chee," as in "Say cheese!"
Its opposite is death.

"Sh," says the librarian,
"people are trying to read.
And turn that goddamn cellphone off,
before I make you bleed."

The book is illustrated by Roz Chast, whose graphic memoir Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, appeared on numerous best of 2014 lists and was a National Book Award finalist. 101 Two-Letter Words persuaded me to finally pick up her book and reminded me that the library's digital magazine service, Zinio, now offers access to the New Yorker, which Chast works for as a cartoonist. My to-read pile continues to grow!

The Public Library

Here's a 2014 book on a subject that's close to my heart. It's a 'photographic essay' about the public library, and has quality photographs of a wide variety of libraries, both active and abandoned, around the nation. Interspersed with the pictures are essays by noted authors. One of these I especially like is the essay called 'What the Library Means to Me,' written by author Amy Tan when she was only eight years old. Among others who reflect on the book that Toni Morrison calls 'profound and heartbreakingly beautiful' are Isaac Asimov, Barbara Kingsolver, and even Dr. Seuss.