Monday, September 24, 2007

Library's Most Wanted Books

Here's a quick look at some of our most requested books from this past month.

Click on the book cover images to find them in our library catalog. There you can read summaries and reviews, find other books by the same authors, or place a hold of your own!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

This Week in Reading September 23 - 29

There are three Nobel prizewinners born this week, Wiliam Faulkner, T.S. Eliot, and Enrico Fermi, but many of the other Americans this week are Pulitzer prizewinners, too: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Elmer Rice, Jane Smiley, as well as George Gershwin, Red Smith, and Al Capp. But then, there are usually Pulitzer prizewinners every week as there are so many categories of writing; Pulitzers are given for individual works but Nobels are given for a lifetime's body of work.

Answer to Last Week's Question:
The American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom's Banned Books Week is traditionally the last week of September which would be this week, but this year it is extended from Saturday, September 29, until Saturday, October 6. We'll post a list of some of the most banned books next week that you can read from our library.

This Week's Question: For what work did George Gershwin receive his Pulitizer Prize?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Web 2.0 and its Discontents

If Bill's post below interests you, as it does me, I would highly recommend a debate between David Weinberger and Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture, that appeared in the July 18th issue of the Wall Street Journal.
While I tend to fall on the side of Mr. Weinberger, I think Mr. Keen brings up salient issues that we, especially as librarians, must not only be aware of, but understand as information professionals. But truly, the issues presented in this fascinating debate entangle us all.
Check it out for yourself and while you're at it, explore other books we have in the library about the Web 2.0 phenomenon.
Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual, by Rick Levine
Citizen Marketers: When People are the Message, by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba
An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths, by Glenn Reynolds
Shaping the Network Society: The New Role of Civil Society in Cyberspace, by Douglas Schuler and Peter Day

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"Authors, Artists & Friends" Series

On Wednesday, September 19, 7 pm come hear Kenneth Burt discuss his book, The Search For A Civic Voice: California Latino Politics at the Glendale Public Library.
Today's 13 million California Latinos will, according to the California Department of Finance, become the new majority population by the year 2050. Kenneth C. Burt's ground breaking new book The Search for a Civic Voice explores the history and the lessons learned by Latino political pioneers and provides the background to today's political landscape.

The Search for a Civic Voice is the story of ordinary people who did extraordinary things. It is a story of firsts. The first appointees to state boards and commissions, the first judges, the first city council members and state legislators. It is also the story of outlawing school segregation, obtaining old age pensions for non-citizens and organizing farm workers.
Burt successfully argues "Latino electoral success occurred much earlier than is commonly understood and was achieved by mobilizing voters and developing coalitions." His historical overview of Latino politics prompted Cal State LA Professor of History and Chicano Studies Francisco Balderrama to praise his book, stating, "The crowning achievement of his thorough and meticulous research is the description and interpretation of 1940s and 1950s East LA, the birthplace of the Latino voice for Los Angeles and California."

Monday, September 17, 2007

Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger

As librarians we use the Dewey Decimal System to place nonfiction books on the shelf. It’s our way of organizing information, invented in the 1870s by the compulsive ur-librarian, Melvil Dewey. While half of the stacks are novels arranged on the shelves in alphabetical order of authors’ last names, with varying subsets for genres such as mysteries and science fiction, the nonfiction books in the other half of the stacks are arranged in ten large categories and each shelf address number is a classified subset of the larger hundred in which it falls, according to Dewey’s Victorian, Anglo-centric view of how things should be arranged so they could be found by those who know the system.
That’s the first order of arrangement and it’s the same for the grocery store cashier who knows where the cabbages and chickens are in her store as it is for the librarian who knows where the job test books and travel guides are in his library. Everything that is stored physically somewhere is limited as to how it can be stored. After a while you get to know where things are.
The second order of arrangement of information is the catalog of the information that is stored. In the case of a library card catalog there are several ways to find where the book sits, by author, title, subject (or subjects) but all point to where the book or item physically resides and you had to thumb through the list to get at it. A commercial store’s mail-order catalog may have an index to various ways merchandise is described, but all the index terms point to which page in the physical booklet that verbal and visual depictions of such items will be found from which to create an order.
The third order of storing information, however, is digital information. According to David Weinberger in Everything is Miscellaneous: the power of the new digital disorder, since digital information does not occupy physical space, (other than on the memory storage medium on which it sits and that can be as wide as the world), arranging it or classifying it does not need to be based on anything physical. The meaning of each piece or combined piece of information can be made by each individual at the moment the information is extracted and without others' judgment.
That is, of course, if the information contains “metadata” (author, subject, format, title, date, and so on), so it can then be molded digitally according to disparate users’ preferences. The tags one uses to mark blog information or photos in sites such as Flickr are a kind of metadata. So are the lists and reviews of books that readers have created in group reading sites. The links and reviews of Wikipedia articles are others. The keywords that be searched and combined cause the information to become relevant at the point of use, not determined before that moment.
“The more metadata the messier and richer the potential,” says Weinberger of Flickr (p. 176.) “Third-order messes reverse entropy, becoming more meaningful as they become messier, with more relationships built in.”
What it means is that, freed of physical limitations and demands, those who control access to information now may not solely do so for long. The social infrastructure of knowledge is changing. Weinberger calls it the “commoditizing of knowledge.” But, he says, rather than cheapening of the value of information, giving it away increases the value of the meaning of knowledge. In the digital wave the user determines the significance of the information for himself or herself, and the social networking of knowledge, as in Wikipedia, which now attracts more agreement among experts who monitor it more and more, actually enhances it in the long run and ever more so as useful knowledge withstands assaults from frivolous pranksters and fact ignorers.
The social implications of the digital age are tremendous. At the Reference Desk I’ve answered hundreds of phone calls in which people have asked us to tell them if a word is or is not “a word.” I would often reply that most dictionaries, unlike the French Academies, merely descriptively record how words are used and do not proscribe whether they have been accepted by a determinate body to “be a word.” New words and phrases come into use all the time and new dictionaries begin to include them when they decide they have come into common enough usage.
Knowledge works the same way. We have spent centuries in a print culture and our classification schemes of information have been tied to physical limitations which disallow thinking outside the box. There are political cultures which do not want others to have control over knowledge. Weinberger reminds us that when Tim Berners-Lee was inventing the World Wide Web he toyed with the idea of structuring it, (somewhat like a classification system like Dewey or the Library of Congress), but he reasoned that merely linking each computer to every other computer (through the HTML he created) was enough. Thankfully for the rest of us he left the web without a proscriptive manager other than a descriptive committee that doles out web addresses when asked for one. (p. 191)
Knowledge now can organize and re-organize itself through use. All of us may begin to use “public metadata” and what we make of it is what we make of it, given the negotiations of groups and societies, some good, some not. Our libraries may change – Will the fiction section remain as it requires some form of physical medium for those who want to read with eyes rather than hear, while the whole nonfiction section disappears into cyberspace to be retrieved as needed? – And our roles as librarians may change. But we will still be knowledge philanthropists who amass knowledge and give it away to anyone who asks.

“It’s not whom you report to and who reports to you and how you filter someone else’s experience. It’s how messy you are connected and how thick with meaning are the links. / It’s not what you know and it’s not even who you know. It’s how much knowledge you give away.” (p. 230)
David Weinberger’s Everything Is Miscellaneous (New Book Shelf -303.4833 WeI) gives rise to many thoughts beyond just these. How are these concepts fitting in with postmodernism, semiotics, and ideas or cultural and scientific revolutions? Seminal stuff and a fun read, too.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

This Week in Reading September 16 - 22

Authors born this week include names whose work you were probably assigned to read in school, William Golding, Upton Sinclair, Francis Parkman, Samuel Johnson, and poet William Carlos Williams. But it also gives us names of the authors we'd read without anyone asking us to, masters of imagination and suspense like H.G. Wells and Stephen King.
It's also a good week to read about civil rights because the United States Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787. In January the library will host a presentation and series of sessions with Dave Kluge, the author of The People's Guide to the United States Constitution, which is being published on Constitution Day this week. (Watch this space for more details as they become available.) Also think about those who have been prevented from enjoying such rights until declared free and about other countries whose people later became free and independent.

This Week's Question: While thinking about civil rights, when is Banned Books Week going to be celebrated at this library and in bookstores?
Answer to Last Week's Question: In "James Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" Mark Twain responded to critics in nineteenth century America and England who had called James Fenimore Cooper an artist based on their seemingly numerical assessments of his work. Tongue thoroughly in cheek, he says "Cooper's art has some defects. In one place in 'The Deerslayer', and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record."

Among these offenses: "That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere"; "that the personages in a tale, being both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there"; "the author shall ... use the right word, not its second cousin"; "eschew surplusage"; and "use good grammar." He goes to list other offenses and ends with "Counting these out, what's left is Art. I think we must all admit that."

Today's critics, however, have begun to look anew at Cooper's work and, as much as I agree with Twain, they say he was satirizing the pedestrian styles of literary criticism at the time, not the author per se. Some are re-assessing Cooper's importance to American literature. Coming soon to both libraries is Wayne Franklin's James Fenimore Cooper: the early years, the first of two such planned volumes.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

"Authors, Artists & Friends" Series

Join us for a free screening of Strangers On a Train and discussion, Monday, September 17, 6:30 pm (screening) and 8 pm (lecture) at the Glendale Public Library.

Farley Granger, the legendary film star of Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers On a Train will discuss and sign his new best selling book, Include Me Out: My Life From Goldwyn to Broadway.

In classic Hollywood tradition high school senior Farley Granger was discovered by Samuel Goldwyn's casting director in an off-Hollywood Boulevard play. Granger describes how he learned his craft as he went on to star in a number of films, giving an insider's view of working with Hitchcock on Strangers On A Train and Rope, Luchino Visconti on Senso, and Nick Ray on They Live by Night.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

This Week in Reading September 9 - 15

I really don't want to believe there are such things as astrological indications of character but how then do you explain that so many authors this week, more than any other week, came to be known by initials rather than full names? Born this week are D.H. Lawrence, H. L. Mencken, J.B. Priestley, O Henry, and the poet who signed her books and poems simply as H.D. (And next week we get H.G. Wells.) Why so many grouped on these days?
But a couple of big names appear in the list, too: Leo Tolstoy of monumental novel fame, (both meanings,) and Agatha Christie, who besides selling more books than anyone else, helped to sculpt a whole genre. Her sedate, wry, logic puzzle mysteries among decent sounding persons in villages, hotels, trains, and other gatherings have given way to police or private investigators in unsavory places and meeting less tasteful people today, but the amateur sleuth mystery that pleasures the Miss Marple reader still exists.
This Week's Question: James Fenimore Cooper, author of Last of the Mohicans, was also born this week. Who wrote "The Literary Offenses of James Fenimore Cooper"? Out of "115 literary offenses," how many did the critic say he committed? And does that assessment still hold true or are critics reassessing Cooper?
Answer to Last Week's Question: Jeffrey Eugenides' Pulitzer prizewinning second novel, Middlesex, is the current choice of Oprah's Book Club.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle 1918 - 2007

Madeleine L'Engle, Newbery Medal winning novelist for A Wrinkle in Time and the Austin Family books has died. A Ring of Endless Light was a Newbery Honor book, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet won the American Book Award. Besides fantasies and other books for children she wrote nearly a dozen novels for adults, and just as many nonfiction books, as well as plays and poems. She was also a teacher and frequent editor.
During her life, her writing career was interrupted for about ten years by being a parent, and for a time she and her husband ran a grocery store while she wrote stories in her off hours that were frequently rejected. In fact, A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by twenty-six publishers over two years before an editor at Farrar, Straus who had liked one of her earlier novels chose to publish it. It was more complex than standard children's stories and L'Engle trusted children of the post Orwell era to understand it.
From the article about her in Contemporary Authors Online, available to library cardholders through Glendale Public Library Online Resources, is her own statement that the book "was written in the terms of a modern world in which children know about brainwashing and the corruption of evil. It's based on Einstein's theory of relativity and Planck's quantum theory. It's good, solid science, but also it's good, solid theology. My rebuttal to the German theologians [who] attack God with their intellect on the assumption that the finite can comprehend the infinite, and I don't think that's possible."
Madeleine L'Engle was eighty-eight when she passed on September 6, 2007.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Book review: Natural Causes

This book scared the bejebus out of me. Natural Causes is an exposé of the politics and practices of the herbal supplement and vitamin industry. That doesn't sound so dramatic, but what author Dan Hurley is really doing is revealing the fundamental lack of sound science that lies behind the use of any "natural" supplements and vitamins. Every chapter begins with a true and tragic story of the grisly results of using the products Hurley covers, even those that are advertised as supposedly benign.

Hurley goes on to detail the utter lack of proven effectiveness of any of these items, leaving little doubt that there is absolutely no reason to be taking any of this stuff. (He does allow for the possible positive use of folic acid--with a caveat--for women trying to become pregnant, and notes that Americans, at least, are actually deficient in vitamin D, but almost nothing else comes through his analysis unscathed.)

The most surprising discussion, of course, is that of vitamin supplements, and while he does not have a vignette of someone being horribly disfigured or permanently messed up from taking too many vitamins, he quotes from a whole bunch of studies revealing that vitamins don't do much good at all.

How can this whole industry escape the notice of the FDA? Hurley explains that successful lobbying by the leaders of the supplement industry, as well as the support of Republican Orrin Hatch (whose native Utah is the headquarters for the vast majority of the supplement companies)--in addition to a PR campaign designed to scare the populace, made mincemeat of any opposition to a bill gutting the FDA's oversight of the supplement industry in the mid-1990s. Supplements, it seems, are legally considered to be neither foods nor drugs (even though in most cases they are derived from the exact same plants as the prescription drugs they are designed to emulate/replace), and therefore are now empowered by definition to fall between the jurisdictional cracks in our regulatory net. Even in the most extreme cases (like ephedra), the FDA is so hamstrung by this legislatory restriction that even the multiple deaths directly caused by the substance weren't enough to allow them to instantly pull ephedra off the shelves without a legal tussle.

Natural Causes is a frightening, necessary analysis that deserves a wide audience.

Search the Book Talk archives!