Wednesday, November 30, 2016

post-election special

As commenting on the recent election and forecasting its effect for the next four years seems to be obligatory these days, here are a few thoughts:

Whether you voted for him or not, his administration is going to do something you don't like -- lots and lots of somethings as far as progressives are concerned, but even for most conservatives, there will undoubtedly be things that go too far or cause unexpected difficulties in your everyday life.

The coming administration is shaping up to have a level of cronyism far beyond the norm. It's going to be even harder than usual for the grassroots to influence change at the national level. The bright spot is all those ballot initiatives. The votes on these didn't necessarily follow the "conservative" or "liberal" inclinations of the state. People pay closer attention to, and vote on more carefully and with more independent thought, issues that clearly and directly affect their everyday life, and which they feel they can directly affect.

So get involved locally. Run for office if you can stomach it. Know who your local politicians are, know the local issues, follow the news, and when things veer off in unhealthy directions put pressure on the powers that be -- from the state legislature down to community members with no elected office but with wealth or other local influence.

Form a social safety net and be a useful part of that net. Again, get to know the issues -- the practical, day-to-day issues. Learn useful skills: gardening, carpentry, computer technology, mechanical repair, first aid, the intricacies of filling out forms and negotiating the system for financial aid for college and for daily survival, for immigration, for employment. Above all, learn the second language most common in your area, and/or learn to sign. Take meals to the hungry, fix up a house, mentor a child, mentor an adult, clean a vacant lot, volunteer at a firehouse or a hospital or the local social services, at a public library or a public park. Use your skills to teach others and to help, physically and materially, wherever you can.

We're all gonna need all the help we can get.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

summer reading program 2016

This year's Summer Reading Program is turning out to be a big, popular success. Last year's experiment in online-only registration kinda fizzled, but this summer, from the beginning, the enthusiasm of previous years is back in full force -- and then some. 
Some possible reasons for the upsurge: 
  • Paper sign-up sheets and reading logs. This option hit people's happy buttons in several ways. The forms are simple -- just put pen to paper and write, no signing in,  no passwords, no clicking around. They work even for people who are generally uncomfortable with computers, and with their colorful format they seem less like a form-filling chore (at one time doing it online might have seemed like play, but now there are too many online business forms for that view). And then there is the ever-important aspect of human contact. A human librarian takes your filled-in list of books -- an acknowledgement of your achievement -- maybe even notices the titles you've read, and hands you your prize. For a moment, the reader is center stage. 

  • Pre-registration. Especially useful in a large city with more than one school district, and therefore more than one ending date for the school year. There was a bit of confusion because this just applied to the online registration option, with the program "officially" beginning later, but it did ease the hectic crowding of the opening day. 

  • Having the adult program concurrent with the children's and teens'. This proved to be a real boost for the Adult Reading Program, usually held in midwinter. It benefited from the high publicity of the kids' programs, and in many families summer reading became a multi-generational activity. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

of challenges and limits

So. The main thing I learned from this is that I don't have the sort of personality for keeping up with an extra, regular, obligatory (even if freely chosen at the beginning) activity over a long period of time.

(Also that I react to the guilt of not doing something in time by avoiding the whatever or whoever completely.)

Monday, May 19, 2014

2014 book challenge: month 4, book 4

Yeah, I know May is month 5, but this time I have a real reason for being behind; I had to wait for a copy of the chosen book to became available.

So this was the month for the topic of high school drama, those books about popular kids making each other miserable, etc. The book was Pretenders, by Lisi Harrison, and I also looked at The List, by Siobhan Vivian. These two, at least, are creatively written. The first is told through journal entries by five kids, the second from the viewpoints of girls deemed "pretty or "ugly" by their peers. I really gave it a try, but I still have about as much interest in the doings of the cool kids as I did in high school, which is to say, none.

More interesting is the phenomenon of having to get on a waiting list almost every time for any current, popular book. I don't know if this is due to living in an era of the ability, and therefore the necessity, of reserving everything, or of living in a big city with too many people for too few resources. Or both.

Monday, April 7, 2014

2014 book challenge: month 3, book 3

(O.k., it's month 4 now, but I did read the book in month 3.)

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Beat Your Ass, by Meg Medina (2013) was the "serious issues" book I chose (it came highly recommended), the issue in this case being bullying. When the main character, Piddy, moves, she finds herself at the top of a bully's hit list at her new school, even though she's never actually met the bully, the Yaqui of the title.

Unlike some other things I've read on the topic in recent years (including some supposed nonfiction), this book faces the hard truth: the only way to survive a bully is to stay off of the bully's radar (which is never completely possible). Grownups won't help, would be powerless if they tried, and telling would probably just make the bullying worse. It used to be that you could get away by making it to the end of high school and then moving out of town, but that was before the internet.

On a more pleasant note, the author does a great job of communicating a sense of place and atmosphere, and there are some  realistically portrayed, strong, female characters.

Monday, February 17, 2014

2014 book challenge: month 2, book 2

O.k., this month wasn't much of a challenge. The topic, "near future / postapocalyptic dystopia," is one I often read, and the book, Killer of Enemies, by Joseph Bruchac (2013), is one I probably would've read, anyway. Still, I believe that self-improvement consists not only of getting our weaknesses up to standard, but also building on our strengths. To be a reader's advisory "expert" on a topic includes keeping up to date.

The disaster in this one is a "Cloud" that knocks out all electricity, with the result that scores of genetically modified monsters are set free from their cages, and society quickly re-arranges itself in a brutal form of feudalism.

In having a Native American (American Indian, NDN, whatever name you're most comfortable with) protagonist, the author deliberately makes the point that Indigenous people do not just belong to the past, but are in the present and will be a part of the future.

It's interesting to note that the plot interweaves Apache folklore and videogame structure. The teenaged protagonist and narrator, Lozen, draws on the folk stories for inspiration to kill various monsters, gaining fighting experience, acquiring useful items, and making helpful allies as she fulfills a series of quests. The main quest is to free her family from a prison-like feudal compound (literally a repurposed penitentiary), and yes, there is a powerful boss to defeat at the end.

Monday, February 3, 2014

the j. k. rowling brouhaha

J. K. Rowling has made the terrible confession that she made her marriage choices (at least the one for Hermione) for "personal reasons." And she said it as if it were some sort of awful betrayal of her readers.

The fact is, there are always several ways a story could go. What's important is that the choices made fit the rest of the story and as much of the real world as the story world intersects with, which in the case of character behavior, means human nature (if the characters are human, and sometimes if they're not). And human nature, messy, fickle thing that it is, has plenty of wiggle room.

So, does the Hogwarts kids'  choice of life mates really violate either their characters or human mating patterns in general? I don't think so. It frequently happens that young people who have been very close friends from childhood and from that beginning flirt with romance as teens, wind up marrying other people. As for the lead male and the lead female in fiction getting together at the end, that's contrived, as satisfying as it may be. (I personally prefer satisfying and contrived, and still think Anna should have married the King of Siam, because they sang a duet together, but I have the maturity of a three-year old who loves musicals.)

All of the kids, Ginny included, once she enters the series, are good friends and have bonded through life-threatening adventures. Ginny is pretty and fun, and shares Harry's love of Quidditch. Ron's biggest strong points, that he's a nice guy and comes from a loving family and thus has had a role model for being a good family man, make him a great catch for the long run. Literarily, the story of Ginny and Harry's relationship unfolds over several volumes of the series. Hermione and Ron interact throughout the entire series; the theme of romance finally blossoming with a partner one is at odds with or thinks of the other as dorky or annoying or just a pal is a common one in romance novels.

But the main point is this:
In spite of all the talk of stories "writing themselves" and "wanting to be told," characters "having a life of their own" and "surprising the author with what they do," the prosaic fact is that ordinary, human authors actively, of their own imaginations, write stories. It is an act of the will as much as an act of the Muse. All of it, from the most sophomoric Lt. Mary Jane fanfic to the best serious literature,  boils down to some person writing down a personal fantasy. It needs no apology.