Dear Publicists, Publishers, Authors and Generous Book People,
I am in graduate school, pursuing a Masters in Information and Library Science.
While the program is fascinating, the coursework and reading load are a little intense.
And I have fallen behind on book reviews. Please limit the books you pitch or send me to the following categories:
- Historical fiction
- Foodie lit or foodie memoir
- Historical mystery or forensic-based mystery
- Extremely well-written YA genre fiction (no vampire romance, please!)
I will still be posting book reviews here when I can. But I cannot guarantee a timely review of your book, though I will do my best.
Thank you so much for keeping me Surrounded By Books
The semester seems to be off to a decent start (except I have a cold, boo!). I’ve had my two classes. (More on those, after I’ve digested at least some of the readings.) I’ve got a decent schedule working at the library.
Last night, my professor for Collection Development had us divide into pairs to interview each other, and introduce one another to the class, to get to know each other. She gave us a list of questions to ask, including what you’d expect: what had we studied so far in the program? What were our future plans? What library experience did we have?
And one of her questions was terrific:
How do you violate the librarian stereotype?
I saw that in the list of questions, looked at my partner and said “Librarian stereotype? she said, wearing a black cardigan and glasses, with her hair in a bun.” True story.
The answers from my classmates were great:
“My hair’s too short to put in a bun!”
“I don’t like cats.”
“I don’t own any cardigans.”
“I don’t like working with people. I’d rather be in the back office.”
“I like football!” offered our instructor, who happens to be a Bills fan.
“I’m more interested in art than in books.”
“I don’t read fiction!”
There are two guys in the class, both of whom offered wry grins before answering. “I’m a metalhead,” said one. And I didn’t catch the other’s answer. (He’s on the quiet side in general, and once told me a joke: “What’s the definition of an extroverted librarian? They stare at YOUR shoes.” Sigh.)
The answer I came up with, after some thought about the many, many ways I fit the stereotype perfectly:
My bookshelves are horribly organized. I claim I have a system, but, really? Yeah. Bad librarian, no biscuit.
Any books or authors you hate? Why? Is it the writing? The stories? The author’s personality? And—would you read their work anyway?
Good question. I can think of a few. The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I hated it because the main characters were whiny and disaffected, so that I thought they squandered their opportunity to go to a magical school and didn’t deserve access to a fantasy world.
Twilight. I only got through the first book, and that was a struggle. In addition to being poorly written, I think the construction of Bella and Edward’s relationship as a romance is problematic at best, dangerously abusive at worst.
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. I read it under duress, at the insistence of a college boyfriend. I disliked the sparse writing style and I think I also hated the main character.
Those are the ones that I can think of where it’s pure hatred. And then, there are a few others, where most of my experience was ire and dislike, but it was tempered by something else.
I remember hating Pride and Prejudice because I remember wanting to reach into its pages and throttle Mrs. Bennett. But, that was tempered somewhat by the fact that Elizabeth and Mr. Bennett likely shared my opinion of her.And I could appreciate how well Austen captured the awfulness of Mrs. Bennett’s shallowness and social aspirations. So, mixed feelings there.
I remember seething with annoyance at Holden Caulfield’s character when I read The Catcher in the Rye, also in high school. But at the same time, I can look back and appreciate that it was beautifully written. I would read something else by Salinger, with a less irritating narrator. Suggestions?
But I think my all-time favorite love-hate of a book was when I read The DaVinci Code. I knew at the outset that I was probably going to hate it. But I read it because everyone was reading it at the time. And also because I read it in tandem with someone who had completed almost all of the studies necessary to become a Jesuit priest before doing a 180 and pursuing a career in law. We shared the cost of a used copy. I read it first, and wrote critiques in the margins, annoyed at the terrible writing and stupid plot twists. “Author badly wants to be Langdon. And/or Harrison Ford!” I seethed. “Oh, of course there’s a stupid albino villain!” Then I handed it off, and had a great time watching as the normally fairly composed law student fumed and waved his arms, outraged at all the Church history, symbolism, and canon law that had been butchered in service of the plot. I really, really enjoyed the rants. There was scowling and wavy arms!. There was the night where we parted company and he called me to continue his tirade on the drive home because he really hated the book. It might be my very favorite memory of book hatred.
That was fun.
As I’ve mentioned here, I spent the summer discovering that I find archives fascinating, and getting acquainted with the archival collections at the Burke Library up at Columbia, as well as working on the social media. I learned a lot this summer, about the theory and practice of processing archives. It’s making me think about my studies differently, and want to read, learn, and work more in the archival world.
It’s also been a summer of thinking and learning about spirituality, and how it’s expressed in missionary work, past and present, and in theological library collections and academic communities. I read an article from Christianity Today, called The World The Missionaries Made” that I found tremendously helpful in orienting me to the academic research about missionaries, and contemporary theological discussion. The article itself is behind a paywall, but here’s the gist on The Emerging Scholars Blog.
In chronological order, the blog posts I’ve done for the Burke Blog and my own blog that capture my summer internship.
And another interesting tidbit: In my Collection Development class, I learned that Union Theological Seminary, the home of the Burke, is used as a location for college scenes on Law & Order. Who knew?
Have I mentioned lately that my internship at the Burke Library is the best thing ever? Well, it is. Today, I joined a busload of other Columbia librarians for a field trip to ReCAP, an offsite storage facility for books and resources shared by Columbia, the New York Public Library and Princeton. ReCAP stands for The Research Collections and Preservation Consortium.
If you came here from the Burke Library Blog, welcome!
When we arrived at ReCAP, I saw a familiar face, Jacob Nadal. Last semester, he was my Digital Curation and Preservation professor (the one who got me hooked on Wikipedia). I’ll admit it, even though he was introduced to the group as Jake, I still wanted to call him Professor Nadal.
Let me show you the inner workings of the library world.
(And a slide show to help you picture what I saw.) Read more…
Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory
Gotham Books, 2008
For once, I’m going to say it: The movie was better than the book.
I love the movie for all kinds of reasons: my own fond memories of attending college a cappella concerts, my absolute weakness for the feel-good story arc of a contest-and-triumph coming of age story, and the excellent musical talent on display in the revisions of pop songs. And yes, some of the personalities in the movie are caricatures- the Prissy Girl, the Tough Girl, the Geeky Love Interest Guy. And you’d have to be blind as well as tone deaf, probably, not to see where the plot is going. There’s a rivalry! There’s a competition! I love every melodic, predictable moment of it. It warms my heart. It makes me smile. I’m up for it, in book or movie form.
So I approached the book, ready to immerse myself in a story that combined an insider’s view of some of the details of a cappella with a feel-good competition arc, and some pleasant college nostalgia. Based on my fondness for the movie, and indeed, on the cover of the book, I was ready for a pretty clear arc as I settled in.
It was an ensemble story of three different a cappella groups: the all-female Divisi from Ohio, the all-male Beelzebubs from Tufts, and the all-male Hullabahoos from UVa (who perform in bathrobes.) The competition story arc is laid out neatly, with an introduction to the competitive world of the ICCAS- International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. The book begins with the 2005 championships, and Divisi not quite making the cut. So I’m expecting to see all three teams, sorry, groups, battle for the finals as the book progresses.
Not so much.
The chapters alternate between the a cappella adventures of the three groups- Divisi trying for another shot at the ICCAs, the Beelzebubs getting mired in tradition and leadership battles, and the Hullabahoos careening from wild success (all expenses paid swank trip to Portland) to Animal House style debauched failure (a party that burned a house down). It’s a little confusing, especially with two all-male groups to follow in alternate chapters, but the distinction between the hardworking, history-steeped Beelzebubs with leadership conflicts and alum backers, and the bathrobe-wearing, frat party vibe of the Hullabahoos helps, as well as some slightly familiar landmarks from UVa. (Sidenote to self- research college a cappella Christmas tracks, especially Beelzebubs.)
The parts where Rapkin pulls back for a longer view of a cappella’s evolution in context, from barber shop quartets to traditional glee club style harmonies, to more freewheeling mimicry of percussion with beatboxing and pop song instruments are the most interesting. That’s what I came to the book for, more a sense of how a cappella works, not just within individual groups but as a phenomenon as a whole. It’s weird, but fascinating. And, when Rapkin takes it at face value, telling groups’ stories and weaving elements from interviews into a narrative, it works for me as a solid music history narrative- a triptych story of three bands in parallel. I’ll buy it. Setting up the context allows Rapkin to set up statements like “Code Red might be the most controversial album in the history of collegiate a cappella,” and having that sound rational to an outside reader.
But at several points, Rapkin’s tone shifts from reporting to being deliberately sly about the weird geeky appeal of a cappella, in a sly and winking way that really doesn’t work. Yes, he sets up a context for a cappella being a pop culture joke on The Office, but that point gets made in the setp- he doesn’t need to keep making these smug asides, as if to have security in his own authorial coolness. It comes off as disrespectful journalism, and very misplaced.
Even though I’m familiar with college a cappella (my own alma mater fielded nine groups) and its pop songs and friendly rivalries, there are parts that just don’t translate all that well to text. It’s no easy task to describe the onomatopoeia and odd noises the backing singers have to make to convey the sound of instruments and percussion. For example, “Oooh//SHADAAA// Ooooh// Doo Doo” is supposed to describe the intro to an a cappella version of U2’s “One,” the Beelzebubs’ set piece. And I have no idea what that would actually sound like. Other attempts at depicting melody also fall (yes, I’m going to say it) flat.
I can see where elements of the book fed into the movie I really enjoyed, but selling this book with a “Now a Major Motion Picture” cover is misleading.
Definitely going to borrow the DVD when I stop by the library to return the book. Off to watch one of my favorite scenes from the movie. (NSFW warning: sexy lyrics)
In two days at the Burke, I did two different kinds of debugging.
And some helping to develop and expand their social media strategy, but I couldn’t shoehorn that into the title of this post.
Freak Show Without a Tent
(review copy received from author)
From Nevis at age six to Vanuatu at age 12 to Tonga and Western Samoa at age 13, Nevin’s family vacations take him to places far more exotic than your average family jaunt to Disneyland. The memoir gathering these stories together is both a fun romp and a detailed view that evokes the places his family visits.
The book works as an armchair travel guide and daydream fodder. Anecdotes about each vacation make it easy to picture the islands themselves, and to feel brought along on the family trips. His writing makes it easy to share the white-knuckles in a small, rickety plane or watching land diving (both firmly crossed off my own vacation to-do list); and to wish for a bite of the johnnycakes or fresh caught fish cooked wrapped in leaves (yum). I’ll be pulling this off the shelf again in February, to cheer me up when it’s gray and slushy out.
Martell does a terrific job of blending the voice of the young boy seeing the islands for the first time (bickering with his sister, rolling his eyes at his dad, uneasy about piranhas swimming too near the boat) with the wry observations of an established writer looking back. Moments that stand out for capturing both voices include his riff on James Bond movies (I giggled out loud on the subway, and nearly missed my stop while reading) and his tale of the family’s experience with the awful-tasting but trippy kava ceremony on Fiji.
In the spirit of full disclosure as to how I got my hands on this book: Nevin and I went to the same college. He was a senior when I was a freshman. He came across my blog and reached out to tell me about his book, wondering whether I remembered him. (Here, I think it helps that he and I both have unique enough names for disambiguation in cyberspace.) He was a senior when I was a freshman, with a few friends in common. I remember a cheerful grin, and that he knew and wrote about cutting edge cool music for various school publications. So that added an extra layer of fun to reading this. But I can safely say it stands alone as a good read, even without prior knowledge.