The End of Your Life Book Club

ImageI really need to start keeping a pad of paper next to me when I read.  It seems that whenever I finish a book there is always something I want to go back to, some quote or reference or thought, but it can be hard to find or the book is due back at the library or I am already on to the next book, and the thought is lost.  Why don’t I just keep a notebook and a pen nearby when I read?  I’m not sure.  I think it feels too much like work, like reading a book for some college course where I will need to be ready to answer questions later.  Taking notes in the middle of reading seems to somehow distract from the total absorption that I have come to know and love and associate with books.  And then there’s the extra paraphernalia required, the notebook, the pen, a place to set them down, the awkwardness of reaching for them and balancing them on my lap while not losing my place. I know, I know, taking notes while reading is much easier to do with e-books.  But while I gratefully own a Nook Tablet, and use it extensively whenever I travel, all of my reasons for preferring the real thing are a subject for another day and another rant…

The End of Your Life Book Club is due back at the library, tomorrow, but I am going to have to take the time today to skim back through it and capture a few things.  Mostly, all of the titles of the wonderful books that I want to add to my “to read” list (which is already impossibly long, not to mention my “to re-read list!).  The book tells the true story of the author and his mother and the relationship that they share through books.  His mother, Mary Anne, has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and for the time they have remaining, they share books, their thoughts on books, and how they relate to life in the midst of chemotherapy appointments and hospice care.  Their conversations cover a wide-range of topics, both global and intensely personal, giving them the opportunity to know and understand one another more fully.

The ending is no surprise, and leaves you wishing you had been given the opportunity to know this amazing woman. She believed that “books are the most powerful tool in the human arsenal, that reading all kinds of books… is the grandest entertainment, and is also how you take part in the human conversation…  books really do matter: they’re how we know what we need to do in life, and how we tell others… that books can be how we get closer to each other, and stay close, even in the case of a mother and son who were very close to each other to begin with, and even after one of them has died”.  I could not agree more.

I cannot count the number of times I have reached for the phone to call Dottie, my dear friend and mother-in-law, about tell her about something, anything, a book, a day at the library, something the kids have done, only to remember that she is gone.  And like the author, many times I tell her anyway…

Now back to the book to add to my “to read” list!

    Title: The End of Your Life Book Club
    Author: Will Schwalbe
    Genre: Non-Fiction
    Pages: 326
    Publication: Knopf, October 2012

Mr. Deary, Who cares?

So, I should probably not let today go by without commenting on the library news of the day.  It seems that British children’s author Terry Deary told The Guardian that public libraries are no longer relevant and spoke out against them at a council meeting.  He believes that people should have to go out and buy their own books if they want to read them, that public libraries hurt authors, the publishing industry, and bookstores.  He believes that schools provide access to literature for children and that grown-ups should basically pay up and shut up.  By the way, do you know how many teachers and students come into my library in a week looking for things they can’t get at the school?  You can find the full article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/feb/13/libraries-horrible-histories-terry-deary?CMP=twt_gu , if you care to read the ramblings of a mad man whose opinions have no basis in fact or reality.

What I can tell you is what I see, every day.  First, let’s talk about books since that seems to be his main concern.  I do not believe that public libraries hurt book sales.  First of all, libraries actually do buy the books that are on their shelves, they don’t get them for free.  A great number of library patrons use the library as a way of discovering new authors and the proceed to go out and buy books by the same author.  These are books they never would’ve purchased had they not discovered something new at their public library.  Many of the books that I own are ones that I first read in a library and then decided that I wanted to own.  Come to think of it, most of what was on my Christmas list was books that I had first seen at the library.  I have personally spoke to many library patrons, young and old, adult and child, who have become book owners and lovers because of their public library.  As author Neil Gaiman responded via Twitter today, “libraries make readers. They don’t starve authors.”.

But really, whether or not people buy books or not because of libraries is really irrelevant.  Who cares?  Because the whole argument assumes two things.  One, that everyone can afford to buy books, and that simply is not true.  Two, that public libraries are only about giving people free books to read, which is also not true.  Books are not cheap, even if you wait for them to come out in paperback.  A voracious reader could spend hundreds of dollars a month on books, if they had the money.  You know a lot of people with that kind of extra money?  I don’t.  So, would Mr. Deary like us to limit the joy, education, inspiration, entertainment, and knowledge that can benefit readers to only those that can come up with the dough?

The public library is a great equalizer, and not only when it comes to books.  Libraries offer so much more to their communities.  And I’m not just talking about the story hours, early literacy activities, summer reading programs, computer classes, art classes, art exhibits, guest speakers, book discussions, exercise classes, teen groups, and other activities.  I won’t even start on all the proven benefits that those activities provide… What about computers and internet access?  No Mr. Deary, not everyone can afford that either.  And no Mr. Deary, they are not just using the computers to check their Facebook page.  I have personally seen the computers in my small public library used to write resumes, fill out job applications, prepare for GED exams, take online courses, do research for school assignments, find health information, and so much more.  What would those people do if they couldn’t go to the library to use a computer?  What would their options be for getting the information they need to better their life? What about the experts, yes those librarians (the greatest advocates for books and authors by the way) that you would send to the unemployment line?  What would those same people do when confronted with an overload of information and opportunities but no one to help them figure out how to find and access the right ones?  Going back to Neil Gaiman again, “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.”.

We live in a time when information is abundant and literacy (of all types – basic, health, digital, financial, etc) is more crucial than ever.  When we limit access to literacy we limit the opportunities that individuals have to grow, learn, and prosper.  When we limit access to only those that can afford it, we widen the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots”.  Public libraries are not about “sentimentality” Mr. Deary, they are about creating a place where everyone is truly equal, with equal access, and equal opportunity.  Where all books are welcome.  Yes, even yours Mr. Deary.  Because public libraries do not believe in censorship, they do not believe in limited access, they believe in open discourse and freedom of information.  They are the great equalizers and the foundation of a truly democratic society.

So Mr. Deary, who cares what you think?

The Death of Bees

ImageFor my birthday last month Todd got me a subscription to Indiespensables from Powell’s Books in Oregon.  Every six weeks I will get a first edition of a new book, signed by the author, in a specially designed slipcase, with extra prizes inside!  Best present ever!  My first installment was going to be The Death of Bees and was shipping on January 31st.  Every day, starting on February 1st, like a little kid waiting for the toy they ordered with cereal box tops, I would run home and check the mailbox.  I was excited about the book, I’m always excited about a book, but I have to admit that I was just as excited about the extra surprise gifts inside.  I’m a sucker for that stuff, and it’s going to be a little like Christmas every six weeks, opening the box to see what Santa (or Powell’s) sent me this time.  Finally it was here (it didn’t take 6-8 weeks, but it sure felt like it!).  I ripped the box open the minute I walked in the door, finding a jar of organic honey, a tube of beeswax lip balm, an ARC for another book, and yes, the main attraction, The Death of Bees, signed, in a beautifully designed slipcover.  I took care of those pesky little things that need doing, feeding the kids, walking the dog, helping with homework, and settled onto the couch with my new book.  And there I stayed, engrossed, until I was done.

I’m not sure I’ve ever read a starker opening paragraph:

“Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved.”

The book, set in the slums of Glasgow, Scotland, tells the story of two sisters, Nelly and Marnie, and their struggle to stay together while hiding the death of their parents.  Enter the ostracized neighbor Lennie, and it is a story of three people that need each other, a story of a family-formed vs a family-born.  It is a dark tale, sometimes humorous, often horrific, but almost always sad.  Parents don’t always do the best they can by their children, the “system” often fails those it is designed to protect, even the “good guys” are flawed, and the age of innocence never exists for some.  It is a story of secrets, “I’m never getting a tattoo. My secrets are etched safely on the inside and I intend to keep them there.”, and a story of death, “I fear death.  I have always feared death.  It comes like a gale and never with permission.  I would meet it again today.”.  But ultimately The Death of Bees is a story of love, hope, and sacrifice.

    Title: The Death of Bees 
    Author: Lisa O’Donnell
    Genre: Fiction
    Pages: 310
    Publication: HarperCollins, January 2013

And so it begins…

For awhile I’ve been contemplating of finding a way to share my thoughts on books: what I’m reading, quotes that inspire me, what’s happening in the world of libraries.  Today I woke up and decided I would try to put together this blog as a way of doing that.  I am sure it will take me a little while to work out the kinks, so please be patient and hang in there with me!

A little about me and why I am inspired to do this.  I received my BSEE from Clarkson University in 1995 and spent the next 16 years working in the engineering field.  Feeling unfulfilled by my career, in 2009 I announced to my husband that I was going to go back to school to get my degree in library science.  Why?  Definitely not for the power or the money!  😉  I have long felt that the power of the written word to entertain, inform, educate, and inspire is immeasurable.  To me, there is no greater purpose than to provide everyone with open and free access to books.  There are very few things that have the same capability to change people’s lives.  The greatest good that a community can provide for its citizens is to support a public library.

So began my journey.  For the next two years my family would provide unwavering support as I pursued my MLIS from Drexel University while continuing my engineering career.  In 2011 I received my degree and was fortunate enough to receive a position as the Director of the Sherrill-Kenwood Free Library in Sherrill, NY.  The destination was worth the journey and I now spend my days pursuing my passions.  This blog is my way of reaching out to an even wider audience, sharing what I love.

Why the name “Watching the Words”?  It is part of a quote from what is probably my most treasured book, The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak.  For now, all I will say about the book is that if you have not read it, you should, immediately.

As for a brief summary about me personally, I live in Canastota, NY, a small town in upstate NY in an old farmhouse.  I share this life with my husband, Todd (still an engineer!), and our children William (16) and Madalyn (11).  Other members of our family include a cranky cat (Jo-Jo), our protector Nala (a German Shepherd), and our newest addition Hugo (a Pug puppy).  Our life here is chaotic, fun, and full.  We are truly blessed.