January 22, 2014

I think this is goodbye, at least for now. For the last couple years I haven’t been able to keep up here as much as I’d like, and it’s not fair to leave it around without offering regular content. I’ve loved talking books and culture with you, and the conversations will go on, in other ways and other places.

Book club

September 21, 2013

So I was asked to run an adult book club at work, aside from my “regular job” that’s teens and e-resources. I said yes, hoping it would expose me to the sorts of books I’ve been too lazy to pick up (literary fiction, which can be uneven…so I’ve been sticking with a lot of non-fiction, which is more predictable) and get me back to the kind of attentive reading I did as a lit student.

And the first book (I can’t speak to the first meeting, that comes on Monday) was a great success. Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s Secret Daughter. Not a perfect book…sometimes the interior lives of the characters are a bit heavy-handed, for instance. But she builds up patterns in a way that’s just subtle enough, and she’s content with a realistic ending, instead of the perfect one so many novelists seem to go for. I’m looking forward to the discussion, and hope I can regain some of the facilitation skills I once had. Time to get nimble again, brain!

Waiting for Godot

September 7, 2013

This may have been the most perfect piece of theatre I’ve ever seen.

The acting was stunning. Tom Rooney and Stephen Ouimette were fabulously balanced; Brian Dennehy was, well, Brian Dennehy; Randy Hughson was heartbreaking and terrifying as Lucky (what a name!) and even the boy(s?) stood their test well.

In the program the director talks about silence and space, and these things are all, in Waiting. How to pass the time while waiting leads to the question of how to exist in time and space when you don’t have any effect…on anything…even to the extent of not knowing where one was the day before.

And what to say about Beckett? It’s as though, in its spareness, the play contains multitudes. The other line to strike me from the program was that “Godot is a comedy whose actions take place in the field of tragedy.” I think this is what we were getting at at intermission as we discussed cruelty/evil in the play. Pozzo’s treatment of Lucky is a scandal, as Vladimir exclaims, but he may not be innately cruel. The world they live in has treated all of them very cruelly, though (if Vladimir and Estragon were to “drop” Godot, he’d punish them, Didi says).

It’s levels upon levels upon levels. There’s the social/class commentary of Pozzo/Lucky and the situation of V. and E., tied up in postwar concerns. There’s meta-theatrical commentary (“But nothing happens!”). These lead to the existential problem — the centre cannot hold; how to find meaning in a world in stasis, with no reaction to (and barely any memory of) your presence.

It’s so spare that every line is endowed with an incredible amount of meaning. And the people who brought it to life were masters, all.

Angry Librarians

March 8, 2013

Doesn’t happen too often, but I LOVE my fellow librarians when they’re angry 😉

Just reading the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions’ Principles for the Licensing, Purchase and Use of Ebooks in Libraries, and came to this:

“5. When publishers and/or authors and/or resellers withhold library access to eBooks, national legislation should require such access under reasonable terms and conditions.”

Take that, Penguin, etc. etc.

One more from Hornby…

October 18, 2012

“…I seemed to have developed some kind of old-geezerish resentment of story collections. Is that possible? Is resentment of short fiction a sign of aging, like liver spots? And if it is, then why? As the end of one’s life draws closer, surely one should embrace short fiction, not spurn it. And yet I was extremely conscious of not wanting to make the emotional effort at the beginning of each chapter, to the extent that I could almost hear myself grumbling like my grandmother used to. “Who are these people, now? I don’t know them. Where did the other ones go? They’d only just got here.” ”

It’s funny, but there’s also something perfectly reasonable and honest in his discussion of the emotional effort that goes into reading fiction. I love it. And Kiirstin, this might not be one for your (I’m assuming) age-spotted book club.

But for a third post today, I wanted to share a photo.

Reflections on Learning

September 12, 2012

So over here I’m blogging for a course I’m taking, and our first posts have been about how we learn and how we interact with others in a learning/working environment. The reflection has led me to a major understanding…that I’m not always conscious enough that other people learn differently, and sometimes have unfair expectations.

I did this reflective work while visiting my in-laws, and, at one of our meal-time conversations, talk turned (as it usually does with a librarian around) to what we’re all reading. My FiL said he doesn’t read fiction, as he “wants to read things I can learn from.”

Well, that got my hackles up. Eventually, I managed, “I think many would argue that there’s a lot to be learned from reading fiction.” And we moved on.

I’d taken it as another piece of evidence of our differences (although I’m finding we have surprising similarities, too). That he didn’t see the value of reading fiction, for anyone, which I thought was something that would be evident to everyone. This was at the same time as I was reflecting on my learning style, and how others are different.

Self-centred as I am, it didn’t strike me till this morning that, although his intended meaning may have been plain, his diction was precise. He might not be able to learn from reading fiction, but that doesn’t have to imply that no one can. And it’s wrong of me to believe that everyone learns the same way, from the same things, I do. Not better or worse. Just different.


June 6, 2012

The title Rachel Maddow chose for her book on the influences of, and on, US military intervention could be equally well-applied to What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, by Michael J. Sandel.

Sandel makes a convincing argument that it’s time for  honest discussion about where we see the place of market forces, and what realms of life and society are best left off-limits: “These are moral and political questions, not merely economic ones. To resolve them, we have to debate, case by case, the moral meaning of these goods and the proper way of valuing them. This is a debate we didn’t have during the era of market triumphalism. As a result, without quite realizing it, without ever deciding to do so, we drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.” (10)

And he offers relevant examples of that drift. In confusing the desire to pay with the ability to pay, a market society justifies tiered services, not only in the cultural realm (skyboxes at athletic events) but also in education, health care, and the rest. Where’s the line between legacy admission or making a large donation to a college and buying your way in? Or between buying citizenship or being given a permanent visa for investing $500K in a US business?

“The more things money can buy, the fewer the occasions when people from different walks of life encounter one another…Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share in a common life…For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good.” (202-203)

It’s a thoughtful, important book.

A quiet moment…

June 3, 2012

Religion for Atheists

March 31, 2012

I’m glad I came to Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists at a somewhat slow time.  I don’t know that I would have had the patience for it otherwise, and alongside some parts I took issue with, there were some good ideas. Mostly, I have quotations to share and discuss:

“Much of modern moral thought has been transfixed by the idea that a collapse in belief must have irreparably damaged our capacity to build a convincing ethical framework for ourselves. But this argument, while apparently atheistic in nature, owes a strange, unwarranted debt to a religious mindset–for only if we truly believed at some level that God had once existed, and that the foundations of morality were therefore in their essence supernatural, would the recognition  of his present non-existence have any power to shake our moral principles.” (79)  I think de Botton is mistaken in calling this argument “apparently atheistic.” None of the atheists I know would make such an argument, and all live according to a convincing ethical framework. Most would agree with Christopher Hitchens that it takes a pretty low view of humanity to believe the only thing keeping us from mistreating each other is our belief in God.

“In the secular sphere, we may well be reading the right books, but we too often fail to ask direct questions of them…We are fatefully in love with ambiguity, uncritical of the Modernist doctrine that great art should have no moral content or desire to change its audience.” (119)  I think we mean postmodern, here, don’t we? He’s talking about books, so for me Modernist means D.H. Lawrence, maybe edging back to Conrad, and while those authors, to name two, may be concerned with issues of moral complexity, complexity isn’t the same thing as ambiguity. And even ambiguity of meaning doesn’t mean the same thing as having ‘no moral content’.  I think most serious students of literature, even the postmodern, recognize works’ desire to change their audience.

de Botton goes into some detail on his feelings about books as revered artifacts, and the importance of revisiting important texts on a regular basis, the same way religions make use of guided study. I only take issue with the idea that religious communities are the only groups that work with texts this way.


And some passages I found interesting and helpful:

“Because the ego is inherently vulnerable, its predominant mood is one of anxiety…Even under the most auspicious of contexts, it is never far from a relentless, throbbing drumbeat of worry, which conspires to prevent it from sincere involvement with anything outside of itself. And yet the ego also has a touching tendency constantly to trust that its desires are about to be fulfilled. Images of tranquility and security haunt it: a particular job, social conquest or material acquisition always seems to hold out the promise of an end to craving.” (148-150)

“It is telling that the secular world is not well versed in the art of gratitude: we no longer offer up thanks for harvests, meals, bees or clement weather. On a superficial level, we might suppose that this is because there is no one to say ‘Thank you’ to. But at base it seems more a matter of ambition and expectation. Many of those blessings for which our pious and pessimistic ancestors offered thanks, we now pride ourselves on having worked hard enough to take for granted.” (188)

“Christianity also knows that any pain is aggravated by the sense that we are alone in experiencing it. However, we are as a rule not very skilled at communicating the texture of our troubles to others, or at sensing the sorrows they themselves are hiding behind stoic facades. We are therefore in need of art to help us to understand our own neglected hurt, to grasp everything that does not come up in casual conversation and to coax us out of an unproductively isolated relationship with our most despised and awkward qualities.” (221)

“It may be that we are asking too much of our own secular artists, requiring them not only to impress our senses but also to be the originators of profound psychological and moral insights. Our artistic scene might benefit from greater collaborations between thinkers and makers of images, a marriage of the best ideas with their highest expressions.” (239)

“There is a devilishly direct relationship between the significance of an idea and how nervous we become at the prospect of having to think about it.” (267)