Two Titles on Teaching

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I am hoping to find a job in an academic library, and one skill I’m missing is teaching information literacy in an academic library setting. I have taught in various other settings before, and observed library instruction sessions at the community college library where I work, but have not had any formal training on the topic. I chose two books for July on this topic, hoping to learn about teaching technique, but unfortunately chose my titles poorly…

The first book I read was How to Teach: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Beverly Crane (2014). This book had many of my pet peeves about librarianism textbooks: dated, dry, and written by someone who has never actually worked in a library. Will librarian books ever stop referring to the Internet as new? The content was much more suited to a short presentation than a full length book. There was a lot of fluff, multiple inconsistencies, and a lot of vague, big picture instructions without the details on how to actually complete those instructions. The book presented itself as a beginner’s guide to instruction, but made many assumptions of knowledge on the reader’s part. All-in-all, it was a useless book that was a waste of time.

The other book I selected was Teaching Information Literacy: 50 Standards-Based Exercises for College Students by Burkhardt, MacDonald, and Rathemacher (2010). This book was about what to teach rather than how to teach. It outlines lesson plans for a full course on information literacy, which strikes me as a rare luxury in the academic library world. Each lesson has background information, a description of the assignment, tips for administering, and handouts if needed. It was pretty well written, not as dated as I expected, and fairly interesting, but did not have the content I was looking for. I would recommend this book for librarians looking for content ideas for ongoing instruction, but it’s less useful for those who only have one or two hours with a given class of students.

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Book Review: Resume Writing and Interviewing Techniques That Work: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians by Robert R. Newlen

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Because I have graduated and am now job searching, I thought this would be a fitting first book to review. It was suggested by a colleague, and is just one of a series of “How-To-Do-It” manuals for librarians (why not just how-to?). The book is a bit outdated (2006) and this shows periodically. It is geared towards beginners (I wonder who has gotten through library school without writing a resume or cover letter before), but I found it fairly useful.

Newlen walks the reader through the creation of a resume from scratch, discusses different styles and formats, and provides sample resumes for librarians interested in different types of positions. There are handy checklists and even an appendix full of action verb suggestions for you to use. The section on cover letters was far too short in my opinion. I personally stress about the cover letter more than the resume for a job application, and the example cover letters provided seemed overly simplistic. The final section has good tips for interviews and sample interviews questions, but is fairly generic and has little that is library specific. Despite its flaws, I found this book useful in creating a resume and cover letter for my first post-degree job application and think it would be a useful reference book for my home library.

Professional Development Book Project

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After nearly a year, I am finally returning to this blog. I successfully graduated with my MSLS this May. This means that I have a little more free time now and can really start reading again – hurrah! I also want a good way to pursue continuing education, and have decided to do so through by reading and blogging about professional development books for librarians. My goal is to read and blog about one book a month. The perimeters will be fairly broad: any book written for librarians, library school students, or library staff that are meant to be educational rather than entertaining. Here’s to happy reading!

Book Review: War of the Worlds

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The War of the Worlds is a classic science fiction novel by H. G. Wells, better known through the radio adaption by Orson Wells that may or may not have sparked mass panic. I read The Time Machine last year, and I have similar thoughts on this Wells classic as I did on that one.

The premise of War of the Worlds is that Martians come to Earth bent on taking over after their home planet becomes less inhabitable. In many ways, this is more of a horror novel than a science fiction novel (in a Dracula style, limited gore kind of way). The Martians are violent and destructive, and I was often on the edge of my seat with worry about the narrator and human kind. The only real science fiction aspect of the novel is the premise that aliens with high tech machinery arrive on earth.

Wells is not very good at writing action scenes and the ending is anti-climatic and, at a certain point, very predictable. However, I loved the premise and the many interesting dialogues that Wells has on humanity and potential futures under such a premise. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to others who can handle the slower pace of novels written in the 1800s.

Exploration of Genres Follow-up

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Over the course of this past semester, I read and reviewed a series of novels, analyzing how each fit the typical characteristics of the genre. I enjoyed this project as a whole, especially the additional component of discussing the novels with my classmates. It was like having a mini book club each week! I feel that I learned a good bit about genres and classifying novels, and gained experience talking about books in terms of such characteristics. I did not, however, expand my taste in books. I found that I liked the genres I thought I would, and did not like the genres I expected to dislike (ugh, The Notebook!). This could have been the power of expectation, or poor title choices on my part, but either way, it was not as horizon-expanding as I had hoped. Nor did I become any more comfortable in providing reader’s advisory (book suggestions) to others. It was, however, a step in the right direction and both enjoyable and educational. It has also inspired me to keep posting on my blog. Overall, I would say it was a solid success.

Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane

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The Ocean at the End of the Laneis Neil Gaiman’s most recent book for adults. It begins with a middle aged man (who is never named) visiting his rural home town for the first time in years to attend a funeral. While there, he stops by the farm of an old childhood friend, and memories of the magical and dangerous time he spent with that friend come rushing back. Most of the book is these memories, with occasional commentary from the present-day narrator. The trouble starts when the man renting a room in the narrator’s house drives the family’s car to the farm at the end of the road and commits suicide. At that farm, the narrator meets Lettie Hempstock and her magical family. The renter’s death somehow released an evil spirit from another dimension that causes all sorts of problems for the narrator and his family. The book follows the narrator and Lettie’s attempts to send the spirit back where it came, culminating with Lettie sacrificing herself to save the narrator. Lettie does not truly die, but becomes somehow imbued into the pond on her family’s farm. The narrator returns to present day, where he talks to Lettie’s grandmother at the farm. The narrator returns to the farm every decade or so (for Lettie to evaluate whether it was worth sacrificing her life for hers), remembers the past, and then returns to his real life and forgets all about it again.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane fits the basic definition of fantasy. Magic is an integral part of the story, and the it appeals more to emotions than intellect. There is a decent amount of world building, but it is not particularly believable because of the lack of detail. There is a basic good vs evil struggle, though it’s argued in the book that the evil is not truly evil (but rather just following its nature). There is a melancholy tone throughout, even though the evil is conquered in the end. There are interesting characters and rich scenery, though the book is not long and not part of a series.

This was a novel that read like a short story. Very little was explained, and I was often confused about the nature of the magic and the evil spirit and such. I think this was done intentionally to create a certain feeling, but it really frustrated me. The whole novel is dark and at times rather disturbing. At the same time, it often feels like a book written for a younger audience because of the age of the protagonist (7) and the simplicity of the writing style. I would have preferred if the story were either an actual short story, or a more detailed, longer novel

In terms of genre, this book often feels more like a horror novel than fantasy. I think it would appeal to fans of both who are willing to try something a bit different. It would also probably appeal to readers of short stories.

Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles

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Most of The Martian Chronicles reads like a collection of short stories against a common backdrop. The book begins in the (futuristic) year 1999 with the first Earth mission to travel to Mars. The members of the first three exploratory missions are all killed by Martians for various reasons. When the fourth mission arrives, they discover that all of the Martians have died of disease caught from the humans of the previous missions. Most of the book is stories from the colonization of Mars over the next several years: the humans escaping Earth, the towns they build, their interactions with the few Martians that are left, and how different individuals and families cope with it all. In 2005, World War III starts on Earth and most of the humans leave Mars to return home and join the war effort. In the final chapters, we see the last few humans remaining on Mars, the desolate waste left on Earth, and the first of a couple of families that escaped to Mars before the final destruction of the war on Earth. The book concludes with the new family concluding that they are Martians, with hopes of rebuilding the human race.

The Martian Chronicles explores worlds and technologies which could exist and projects into the future what would happen if humans traveled to Mars. It is set in the future from when it was written, appeals to the intellect, and explores moral and social questions. It can be seen that the book is an extrapolation of the science and the politics of the 1940s, though without the year dating each chapter has it is still relevant today. Most of the book takes place on Mars, and there is a strong sense of ‘otherness’ in every aspect of this planet. The reader feels disconnected from reality and suspends disbelief. Unlike most science fiction, the actual science in the book is more of a background than anything that is actively explored. In many ways, The Martian Chronicles is more about human psychology and sociology than about science and technology. That being said, the characters are less important than the issues and atmosphere, and few characters appear in more than one chapter in the book.

When I first finished this book, I had a distinct feeling of lack of satisfaction. The short-story-like snapshots prevented much character development and so many were sad or upsetting. In living life on a new planet, there’s bound to be many tales of joy and wonder as well, so why didn’t Bradbury include some of those to even it out? However, the more I reflected on it, the more I realized that I appreciated the big picture of the book. Bradbury created a definite world and the book evoked a particular mood that I’m left savoring. The commentary about human nature and tendencies leaves one with a lot to think about. It’s the kind of book that I feel deserves to have an in-depth English literature paper written about it, analyzing the effect Bradbury creates and the commentary he makes. As one side note, the few chapters about the original Martians in the beginning were fascinating, and I would have loved to read more of those.

I would feel comfortable recommending The Martian Chronicles to any science fiction fan. Although it lacks in-depth character development, the unique story telling and commentary on human nature should also appeal to fans of literary fiction. The frequent descriptions of the barren and at times hostile planet Mars may appeal to fans of Westerns, and the world-creation may appeal to fans of fantasy.

The Red Violin (film)

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The Red Violin tells the story of a violin from its creation in 1600s Italy to a present day auction in Montreal. Violin maker Nicolo Bussoti creates a violin that is his masterpiece, intending for it to be used by the son with whom his wife his pregnant. His wife asks one of the family servants to tell her future through tarot cards. Each of the cards and its prediction, which are revealed slowly throughout the movie, correspond to different parts of the violin’s life. When both the wife and the son die in childbirth, Bussoti stains the violin a deep red color and donates it to an Austrian monastery orphanage. Over a century later, the orphanage has a child that shows great musical promise who uses the red violin. The child is sent to study with a patron of the orphanage in Vienna, but dies within a month of heart failure and is buried with the violin. Roving gypsies dig up the violin and over many generations it makes its way to England where it comes to Frederick Pope, a virtuoso violin player. Pope eventually commits suicide and the violin makes its way to China, where it causes difficulty for its owner during the cultural revolution. In present day, the red violin is part of a large shipment of violins that the Chinese are having a Montreal company auction off. The day of the auction is visited throughout the film, as there are bidders from the auction connected to each point in the violin’s history (a group of monks, a Pope scholar, etc). The scholar who discovered that the violin to be auctioned is the lost red violin of history sneaks into the back during the auction and swaps the instrument with a replica, and it is implied that he will give the real red violin to his child.

The Red Violin is historical fiction in that it takes place in the past, but it many ways it is not a typical historical fiction. The viewer is not told the location and year of each scene, but must infer it from the details. None of the characters or events were real, though some speculate that Bussoti and the violin are based on Stradivarius and one of his creations. Some historical details are provided, but the focus is on the violin, the characters, and the drama rather than the details. Rather than focusing on a person/event/place, the movie follows the violin through multiple places and times. The movie was on the slower and longer side. The characters are explored more as individuals than the product of their times.

I really enjoyed this movie. I thought that it was well made and had great storytelling, if not the most believable story line. The slowly revealed tarot cards and frequent flash forward to the auction made great frames for the story. The only thing that annoyed me, surprisingly, was the music. We did not get to hear any of the musicians playing well-known, recognizable violin solo pieces, and the soundtrack composer often did a poor job of matching the tone of the music to the tone of the scene.

Fans of historical fiction would probably enjoy this film. Even though the historical details are limited, there is a strong feeling of place created in each setting. Fans of mysteries may enjoy it as well, as there is a heavy feeling of mystery about the violin as its origin and history are slowly revealed over the course of the film. Fans of general drama films would enjoy this as well.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

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Dracula begins with Jonathan Harker, a solicitor (real estate agent), traveling to Transylvania to meet with a client who has bought a house outside of London, Count Dracula. Harker quickly realizes that he is essentially a prisoner in the castle and starts noticing weird things about the Count (red eyes, sharp teeth, hair on the palms of his hands, never eats, no reflection and a hatred of mirrors). Each night the Count meets with Harker to talk about England and work on his English. Meanwhile, Harker discovers more and more disturbing things (Dracula climbs face first down the sides of the castle, three female vampires that appear out of dust and try to bite him until Dracula stops them, Dracula sleeps during the day in a coffin in the church, etc). Dracula leaves Harker in the castle when he leaves for England, leaving him to the female vampires, but he escapes by climbing through a window and down the side of the castle. Meanwhile, Dracula arrives in England and starts biting and drinking the blood of Lucy Westenra. Several men in Lucy’s life work to save her from the mysterious illness she has developed (odd marks on her neck, tiredness, weird dreams, very pale), calling in Van Helsing, a medical professor from Amsterdam, to help. Lucy eventually dies and turns into a vampire. Van Helsing explains to the others that she has become a vampire and leads the men to kill the vampire Lucy (stake to the heart and cutting off her head). Van Helsing then links up with Jonathan Harker and his wife Mina, who was a good friend of Lucy, and learns of Harker’s experience in Transylvania. The full troupe then set to hunting Dracula, following him back to Transylvania before eventually killing him just in time before he returns to his castle. While there, the team kills the three female vampires, destroying the last of the vampire threat.

Dracula is a classic horror novel. The book is full of a menace, foreboding, and a nightmarish tone, and produces a feeling of fear in the reader. It doesn’t take too long to realize that no matter what happens next, it’s going to get worse before the end of the book. There is a monster (Dracula) and supernatural overtones as well as frequent surprises. However, there is no profanity, gore, or sex. Although the pacing is erratic, it does not seem to move quickly. The ending is completely and solidly resolved – Dracula is killed, and it is thought that he is the last of the vampires, so the danger is gone. The characters are strong, and have strong faith and strong relationships, rather than haunted or shattered characters. Stoker is not particularly heavy in his descriptive details, especially for a book of its time.

I was a bit skeptical about how much a book written over 100 years ago could scare me, but it definitely did. That being said, Dracula is one of the classics considered a classic because of Stoker’s creation, not his writing style. Although parts of the book are suspenseful and gripping, large portions are boring and slow. The book as a whole was a long, slow read. Dracula has an epistolary style, but many of the diary entries and letters that make it up are not convincing as that-day writing. Most of the characters who were not rich and English were written with such bad English that it obscured the meaning at times. The book was full of sexism, was overly religious, and was overly dramatic (swearing friendship to someone you just met, claiming love for every level of friend, and crying, regardless of gender, were frequent).That all being said, the character of Dracula was truly terrifying, and brilliantly done. I would love to read a re-writing of this story by a better author.

I’m at a bit of a loss over recommendations for this one. I’m not sure I would recommend it to today’s horror fans because it is such a long, slow read. It is a classic, but does not have the great writing or strong character development of literary fiction. There are aspects of mystery as the reader slowly learns more about Dracula, but you know all along ‘whodunit.’ It could appeal to readers of thriller and suspense, but is again probably too slow and long of a read. It was written about contemporary times (19th century England) and doesn’t have enough details to attract historical fiction fans. That all being said, I am glad I read it and think that avid readers of classics and those curious about the history of vampires in fiction would enjoy it.

Kathleen Cambor’s In Sunlight, in a Beautiful Garden

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In Sunlight, in a Beautiful Garden tells the story of the Johnstown flood. Johnstown, Pennsylvania is a town located in a valley in the Allegheny Mountains, 67 miles East of Pittsburgh. In the early 1800s, a dam was built to make an artificial lake in a mountain above Johnstown in order to provide water for a canal system that was to provide transportation from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. This project was later abandoned, and the dam started to fall apart over time. In the 1880s, the richest of the rich in Pittsburgh bought the land and the dam to make it into a summer club. Hasty and insufficient repairs were made to the dam and the lake was restored, creating a beautiful mountain get-away. In Sunlight, in a Beautiful Garden begins with a brief summary of this history before introducing us to a handful of characters who live in Johnstown or live in Pittsburgh and visit the summer club. The book begins on Memorial Day 1889, the day before the flood. The author then goes back in time to share parts of the history of these various characters, describing their past, their hopes and dreams, their challenges and problems. The book slowly progresses over time, developing the characters and building suspense about the insufficiently repaired dam. The day after Memorial Day, 1889, torrential rains bring more water and debris into the lake than the dam can withstand, and it breaks. 20 million tons of water go rushing down the mountain, sweeping along everything in its path, before striking Johnstown. The town is virtually wiped out, and 2,209 people die. In Sunlight, in a Beautiful Garden concludes with a final chapter showing one character in 1917 and summarizing her past since the harrowing flood.

In Sunlight, in a Beautiful Garden meets the definition of historical fiction. It was written in recent years about a distant past and attempts to convey the spirit, manners, and social conditions of a past age with realistic detail. There is a huge amount of accurate detail about the times and every aspect of the characters’ lives. The characters are a mix of real historical people (Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Mellon, etc) and fictional characters that convincingly fit the time period. The book presents itself as focusing on a specific event (the flood), but it is really a character story. It is slow paced, but is neither particularly dense nor long (254 pages).

The summary cannot do justice to this beautiful book. The writing was, for the most part, very good, and the author had me deeply invested in all of the characters from the beginning. The book was a fascinating but very tragic read. The author did a great job of making the rich characters complex, with problems of their own, rather than one dimensional villains. I also enjoyed reading something about local history. I have learned about several of the historical characters and visited several of the places in Pittsburgh that were mentioned. My one major annoyance was that I did not like the ending. I feel that the book was insufficiently wrapped up, the ending abrupt. This may have been intentional – creating a feeling of interruption of all the lives of the characters killed in the flood. However, I thought that the author could have done a better job of providing closure and of wrapping together final thoughts on the themes of the book.

I would definitely recommend this book to readers of historical fiction. It is one of the best books I have read recently and fits all of the major characteristics of historical fiction. In Sunlight, in a Beautiful Garden also has many characteristics of a romance, without the happy ending. I would suggest this book to readers of romance who are looking to branch out into new areas. Some aspects of the book may also appeal to readers of Westerns- the strong feeling of place, the historical setting, the focus on the power and danger of nature, and the praise of strong individuals willing to set a path.