Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Back to School

Classes at library school started back up this week. I've had one Monday, a class on Humanities Research. The professor is kind of, well, an odd duck. A lot of students don't like him. HIs lectures are free-wheeling stream of consciousness, often diverging completely from the topic at hand. He also frequently works in references to himself for no reason at all---his ties to French Royalty, his published books, his friendship with big name critics. When I was buying my textbooks Monday morning, I ran into someone I know who expressed great sympathies for my taking a class with him.

I took a class of his last spring, though, and I really like him. I find him entertaining, he really cares about the students and he does know a lot. The work he gives, although sometimes tedious, really pushes the students to learn how to use a variety of sources: databases, standard print reference sources and even old, rare (and hard to find) volumes. I also really appreciate his point of view that librarians need to keep informed of the subject area they work in, and not just know how to look up information. For example, along with the three library science text books we're also reading Jacques Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence, a book that examines western culture from 1500 A.D. to the present day.

My other class is on Thursdays, and is on College and University Libraries. I'm mostly taking that for career reasons. Although I'm working in a public library now, I don't know where the jobs will be when I'm done. I felt like I needed some exposure to how Academic Libraries work before I graduate, and with so many colleges in the area I hope it will help with my job search I've heard mixed things about the professor. That he's kind of dry, but really knows the material and that he gives challenging but fair assignments. We'll see how it goes. All in all, I'm looking forward to the semester.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Review: Against the Stream by Noah Levine

For whatever reason, I've developed a small passion for books that try to explain Buddhist thought to different audiences. One of my favorites in recent years is Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen, a wonderful book that's part memoir, part guidebook that explains the fundamental ideas of Buddhist philosophy by relating them to punk rock, cartoons and monster movies. Dozens of books like these have been popping out the last few years, and they are particularly enticing to teens interested in religion and philosphy. Noah Levine recently entered the fray with his own book Against the Stream.


Levine’s first book, the memoir Dharma Punx, tells the compelling story of Levine’s self-destructive early years, showing a young man mired in the culture of drugs and violence, and how the principles of Buddhism turned his life around. Although a bit unevenly written, it's a compelling story seeing a young man transcend his addictions and problems and move on to a better life.

After spending the last few years teaching teens at various centers in California, Levine delivers this second book that works as a simplified manual introducing readers to the basics of Buddhist thought. Free of the jargon typically found in modern philosophy Levine strips the complicated and often abstract ideas of Buddhism down to its most basic concepts: escape suffering, live simply and treat yourself and others with ethical respect and love. Levine uses these concepts to explore and tackle issues of particular interest to teens like drug abuse, sexuality, the difficulties of abstinence and being an active part of a community. Probably the most useful parts of the book are the appendices, which include point-by-point directions to transcendtal meditation and lists of print and electronic resources for deeper study.

Unfortunately, this volume offers little in the way of cultural references, humor or other hooks to reel in readers who normally ignore philosophy books. Also lacking the narrative of his first book, I can't help but think the best book for Levine would be a merging of his memoir and this guide. As it is, Against the Stream comes off as informative but a little dry----and far from revolutionary. Despite these failings, Levine’s still managed to create an excellent and concise introductory resource for those who have an interest in Buddhism but have found other books too daunting in their language and concepts.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Mighty Media Team-Up

According the AP, Big Time publisher Harper Collins announced this week that they are making single chapter previews available for download and viewing on an Apple Iphone. The hope is that they will pay for the full versions and read full books on their fancy portable device. They are currently offering titles by Ray Bradbury, Faye Kellerman, Michael Korda, and other big names most people will recognize.

I understand what HP is doing----trying to capitalize on the Iphone hype and bring some attention to their titles. And I also understand what Apple is trying to do: expand their tools to yet another form of media. But the Iphone, as cool as it is, has a pretty small screen. I can’t see reading a full book on it. Email, quick news stories, maybe even comic books--sure. But not a full book. And despite all the media attention I don’t know a single person with an Iphone.

In contrast, we get lots of questions about the (somewhat) new
Sony Reader
at work. Probably 2-3 a week, with people asking if we’ve heard about it, if the library ebooks will be supported on the Sony Reader (they won’t---at least not yet). A lot of people are curious about it, and it’s easy to see why. It’s about the same size as a paperback book so it’s an easy transition for reading. Our version of Ebooks is a simple HTML fileI even saw a demo of it at the ALA conference a couple of months back and it’s pretty slick. Lots of memory and real easy to use, especially when you’re just dealing with text. I’m still kind of a Luddite when it comes to books, but I can see making the transition to ebooks for some things if they are quick reads. We’ll see, though.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Crystal Shrine Grotto

So I've made it back from Memphis, TN. It was a relaxing, lazy trip for the most part...discounting the 14 hour drive, of course.

Ate bbq at Corky's, saw Beale Street and visited the Civil Rights Museum located in the hotel where Martin Luther King was shot and killed. But probably the most memorable site I visited was the most wacky.

We were staying in Germantown, a suburb a few minutes outside the city of Memphis. Miss L was driving us down Poplar Ave into the downtown area when she suddenly declared, "I need to make a pit-stop."

She turned us into the Memorial Park Cemetery. I was confused at first, because this really seemed to be an odd place to stop at just to use the restroom. Were we paying respects to a family member I wasn't aware of, or perhaps visiting the resting place of some Memphis luminary? I later found out Sam Phillips, the record producer most noted for discovering Elvis, is buried at Memorial Park but our little stop had nothing to do with him.

Miss L drove us slowly through the hills of the cemetery, finally stopping at an odd site. I saw a small, man-made pond surrounded by plants, trees and sculptures. This in and of itself is not that odd for a cemetery, but the other sites certainly are.

grotto lake

Exterior of the Crystal Shrine Grotto

We were at the Crystal Shrine Grotto, an odd piece of environmental folk art created by Senor Dionicio Rodriquez in the 1930's. After the pond, the next most prominent object is this massive tree a nearby plaque tells us is a reproduction of Abraham's Oak, created "entirely of concrete, reinforced with steel and copper bar as to insure its existence for many centuries to come".

stone tree

Abraham's Oak

Tucked away on the other side of the concrete oak rests the entrance to a man-made cavern. A little eerie at first going inside, but it was nice cool escape from the 100 degree temperatures outside.

most beautiful head

Immediately inside is a plaque, declaring Jesus as "The Most Beautiful Head in History". I've never thought of Jesus in quite that way, but I understand the sentiment. The cavern itself is not large, but could comfortably fit about twenty people or so. It seemed to be made in the same way as the concrete oak outside, with stones like quartz and other semi-precious stones worked into the concrete to give the cavern a slight glimmering effect. Deeper inside the cave we found ten sculptures of biblical scenes, each created by different artists, the most recent created in 1979. Some are quite realistic while the more recent works are bit abstracted.



My camera and the dim lighting didn't get along well, so these shots don't really do the interior much justice. I'm not particularly religious, but I still came away with an odd peaceful feeling after visiting this place. It's kind of a weird testament to the feeling religion can bring to someone. It's also quite a wacky thing to have in a cemetery, and would almost seem more at home in a place like New Orleans or even the South West. But it's in Memphis, and it is well worth stopping at if you manage to find yourself in that part of the U.S.

But my travels are now over and life returns to normal. Back to work, back to reviews and hopefully a little writing before classes start up again on the 27th.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

Shameless Plug

This month's Harp Magazine has a nice review of the Hendrix-inspired anthology Kiss the Sky, edited by Richard Peabody. I'm quite flattered that my own story is mentioned in the review. Congrats to Richard and everyone in the book---if you haven't picked it up yet, please do. It's a lot of fun.

After I get off work at 5 pm, Miss L and I set off for the wilds of Memphis, TN. We're driving, which is great because I love a good road trip. Hopefully I'll stumble across some good stories and photographs to share. My computer access might be a little sketchy, but I'll update as I can over the next week.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Review: Tales from the Farm by Jeff Lemire

This first volume in Jeff Lemire's graphic novel trilogy Tales from Essex County sets a high mark with powerful writing and moving artwork. After losing his mother to cancer ten-year-old Lester moves in with his Uncle Ken, a gruff and solitary bachelor who owns and works a small farm in rural Ontario, Canada. Ken tries his best to reach out to Lester but can’t relate to this weird little boy who wears a super-hero cape all day and prefers reading comics to watching hockey on television. Lester spends most all his time by himself escaping into a rich, super-powered fantasy life until he makes friends with the least likely of characters: Jimmy, a disgraced pro hockey player who now runs the convenience store at the local gas station.

main tales cover

Jimmy enters Lester’s imaginary world by helping him build a fort to stave off an alien invasion and encouraging him to write and draw his own comic book. The bond that grows between the two helps both Lester and Jimmy move beyond the tragedies life gave them. Lemire’s writing---with its spare, tight dialogue---really nails that complicated mixture of anger and sadness that comes with losing a parent. His artwork is equally effective, its rough and chunky lines powerfully recreating the solitary nature of farm life and Lester’s vivid imagination.


There are a number of similiarites in theme and concept to Hornschemeier's Mother Come Home, but Lemire shifts the focus almost completely on Lester's inner struggle to overcome his sadness at being left behind.


The book certainly has an indie feel; it deals with a serious subject and uses artwork that's well outside the norm of daily strips and super-hero comics. In fact, it's probably one of the better matches between artwork and story I've seen in a good while. But a lot of indie titles get too racy or complex for teens, especially younger teens. They will get this book, though. Teens and adults will both love the humor in Lester’s odd imagination and even more love the heart of this book a powerful look at tragedy and how to move on after it strikes.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Recovering From School

My little over three week vanishing was all due to crazy out of control summer school. I only took two classes, but the summer terms are about 1/3 as long with the same level of work. Project built up on top of project and I often found myself scrambling against deadlines. Even more than normal. After working and then spending several hours every day reading and working on homework, the last thing I wanted to do was spend time writing something else. But now, hopefully, I'll be getting back into the habit of blogging and catching up on things.

My class projects were really varied. I Organized my t-shirt collection, complete with a database with full catalog entries. Wrote an essay on the value of Google Scholar and another on Zines in public libraries. But probably the most time consuming project was the lesson plan for my Information Literacy class.

For Information Literacy we had to work with a College Freshman English teacher and develop a lesson plan for a 75 minute library instruction session. Each class came with a theme and I got to work with a class that focused on horror film criticism. The big project for the students asked them to pick a horror film monster that appears in two different movies----Dracula, the blob, etc.----and write an essay exploring the portrayal of the monster and what it has to say about a particular theme. For example, they could write about two different versions of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, examining the paranoia in both and try to determine the societal cause for that fear. So it really was the perfect match for me.

The professor I worked with was pretty cool. We only communicated over email, but I found that she's big into sci-fi criticism and theories dealing with viral language. As far as the class, she was interested in literary theory applied to films and really wanted to get her students into exploring themes more deeply. So I designed a lesson plan that taught them how to use subject encyclopedias and databases to dig up info on their themes and narrow down their topics----like most college freshman, the ideas the kids have are pretty vague, like Dracula and evil.

To jazz up the session a little bit I worked in searching Youtube for video clips. But I really brought out my inner geek with the props I chose.


Yep, I bought a pile of action figures for the students to fidget with as they researched. That big guy in the back is a giant roaring King Kong, which I found in the discount aisle at Target. The big ape is flanked by a Werewolf, a somewhat gay looking Dracula, a Zombie and a very buff Frankenstein's Monster---all of which I found at a Spencer's Gifts at the local mall. I have no idea what I'll do with these toys now that my class is over, but I'm amused that grad school is giving me the excuse to buy toys.

Anyway, I think I did a good job. The comments I got on my lesson plan were all pretty good, and it was fun putting it on. Info literacy was a good class---both challenging and fun. I hope I find ways to apply some of the education theory in my work after I graduate. But as much I enjoyed, I'm really happy to have the next three weeks or so off from school. I need some time to shift my brain to thinking about other things.

I have a big pile of book reviews to catch up on, so those will be appearing over the next few days. And this weekend I head to Memphis, TN for several days. It's Miss L's hometown, and we're going there to visit her family and friends and possibly eat BBQ. More on that on another day.