Today I visited SPL Central to see, first-hand, Shakespeare's First Folio (and Third - one copy of each were on hand). It was a remarkable experience. On the 8th floor of the stacks, a cozy room had been transformed into a miniature exhibit. The First Folio was open to Hamlet, the Third Folio to As You Like It, and everyone I observed was quietly transfixed. In my mind, I'd imagined the volumes to be more rough-hewn and time worn, but they were nearly immaculate. I immediately felt the desire to read as much Shakespeare as possible. When I left the exhibit, I was given a questionnaire to fill out - it asked, among other things, if I felt that the library should hold exhibits like this more often. Strongly Agree.
This year, a friend and I began a book club - he in Oakland, me in Seattle - which kicked off with Angela Carter's The Passion of New Eve, a portentous start which seemed difficult to follow. But something about New Eve brought Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man to mind for my friend, and off we went. The similarities are remarkable - both follow a protagonist as he's cannon-balled through a kaleidoscope of violence, race, sex and conspiracy and both authors write with a fearless imagination fueled by red-hot anger. Published 65 years ago, Invisible Man still speaks directly to the present. Each chapter is a beautifully-rendered, frightening vignette of America's ongoing encounter with racism and power. While the imagery and symbolism of Invisible Man is often direct, the meaning of its events may make more sense to the heart than the head on the first pass. This book was an unforgettable experience. What could possibly follow it?
The first NYRB reissue I picked up was Christopher Priest's The Inverted World - how can you refuse a book with that title? - and was hooked immediately. Then came Cassandra at the Wedding, Lolly Willowes, The Dud Avacado in quick succession. The NYRB series hasn't let me down once, and in fact has introduced me to several life-changing books. When I was a bookseller, I'd often suggest NYRB Classics to adventurous customers who were in the mood for anything interesting. Simone Weil's On the Abolition of All Political Parties is particularly interesting at a moment when her articulate critique of "mob mentality" couldn't be more timely. The adherence to party doctrine which hamstrings its members is, to most, a frustrating fact of reality, but is to Weil a symptom of a very large evil. Written in the aftermath of World War II, On the Abolition has piercing relevance to today's political quagmire. It is a swift, eye-opening read, and bears all the trademarks of what makes NYRB Classics such a unique and exciting series.
For more on the NYRB series listen to series editor Edwin Frank on the podcast the Theory of Everything.
Our family's current home is less than a mile from the U Village shopping complex, and, because it is home to a playground, a toy store and other time-consuming distractions, my son & I waddle over at least once a week. It's also home to Amazon's brick-and-mortar bookstore, Amazon Books. As a former bookseller, I've been curious about this store since the rumors of its existence began in late 2015. My son and I were there on opening day. It is unlike any bookstore - which is not to say it is good. I'm inclined to say that it's not. Here's an example. Recently, we visited the store. My son, as usual, runs straight for his favorite books - on this day, he was on the hunt for The Art of Lego Scale Modeling, and he knew exactly where to go. Except this time it wasn't there. Every Tuesday Amazon Books changes the inventory based on customer data - some new titles make the cut, some old ones don't. My son's confusion as he explored the shelves was an illustration of something I haven't been able to articulate about this retail model - that it is strangely ephemeral and coldly data-driven, and that the store itself feels like a piece of code that stumbled into the physical world, like an inverse Tron. The jury is still out - and we'll see what happens with the new stores - but I'm fairly certain how I'd vote.
I've long known not to judge a book by its cover (even though I do, God help me, as do many), but am only recently learning to not judge a book by its first impression. Consider Nancy Pearl's Rule of Fifty: read 50 pages before giving up (unless you're over 50, in which case subtract your age from 100). When I first attempted The Buried Giant, I gave up on page two(!). The prose seemed clunky and the fantasy elements half-baked and superficial. But a few weeks ago I saw Hanya Yanagihara read from her novel A Little Life, and during the Q&A she stated emphatically that The Buried Giant was her favorite book of the year. As an admirer of Yanagihara, I decided to give it a second try. How many pages did it take? 20? 30? Certainly not 50. I understood quickly that The Buried Giant was a special and incredible book about memory, devotion, love and warfare. For pages and pages I read as if in a trance. Readers out there: take it from me. Or, rather, take it from Nancy. Not all great books will hook you on page one. Or, in my case, page two.
I'd love to put this book in the hands of someone who knows nothing about John Waters - his films, his writing, his library advocacy - and see what they think of Carsick. Would they love it as much as I did? Would they sense the humanity behind the shock value? For those who do know Waters and his work, that Carsick is a one-of-a-kind book will come as no surprise: Waters is a one-of-a-kind artist. But I have a suspicion that this book would be widely enjoyed. The evidence is in Carsick itself - even though Waters isn't recognized as often as he is, the people who do spot him for the Pope of Trash are scattered all over the country. As an artist, Waters appeals to outsiders of all kinds, and outsiders are everywhere. They're even inside the library! Most of all, it's Waters' humanity that makes his work more than a sum of it's 'filthy' parts, and Carsick has a big, filthy heart. I give it a big, filthy recommendation.
(Pro tip: if you can, listen on audiobook. Waters is an ideal reader of his material.)
When I suggested to a friend that we form a two-person "book club", we settled on Angela Carter's The Passion of New Eve for our first read. If the aim of a book club is to generate discussion, it's hard to imagine a better pick. New Eve is confrontational, symbolic, and brazenly unlike anything either of us had ever read. Think Borges infused with Mad Max, or Chuck Palahniuk through a radical feminist lens. You might call it nightmarish magical realism. It's not for everybody - themes of sex, gender, and power drive the plot, and Carter takes the characters to some pretty dark places - but for readers ready for a book that's fiercely intelligent, beautifully written, and passionately told, get ready: you won't come out the same on the other side.
One of the primary goals of my Directed Fieldwork (DFW) with Seattle Public Library was a catalog enhancement - specifically, to tag local authors as "Seattle Author" to improve discovery. To document my progress and leave behind a resource that could be expanded in the future, I created a shareable. editable spreadsheet (link here). At the time of this writing, 100 authors and 123 catalog items have been tagged, increasing the total search results for "Seattle Author" by nearly 40%. Patrons will now be able to discover more local authors through simple searches than ever before, and SPL employees have a resource for Readers Advisory, display building, blog posts, grant applications and more.
Having worked with Erica from SPL Northeast during my time as Community Outreach Lead at University Book Store, I was very excited to attend one of her legenday storytimes. I brought my two-year-old son (he can be seen kneeling at the front of the group, as close to the storyteller as possible) and we were utterly wowed by Erica's presentation. It is not easy to capture and keep a toddler's attention, but for an entire hour this group of rugrats was glued to Erica's books, songs and puppets. Hop over to my Directed Fieldwork page for the full account.
Libraries are powerful institutions, but when libraries team up with other organizations, there's no limits to what can be accomplished. SPL recently partnered with New Horizons, a non-profit that helps youth who are experiencing homelessness, to host "Queeraoke", a celebration of community and a wonderful example of the power of partnerships. My role was to shadow Shelley, one of SPL's head organizers for the event (after a little prodding I joined the fun and sang one of my favorite Prince songs, "1999"). Observing the synchronicity between SPL and New Horizons was a powerful experience - the full account is on my Directed Fieldwork site.
"If you were building libraries for the first time, in this day and age, what would you build?" This is what Marcellus Turner (M.T.), SPL's City Librarian, asked the students when he visited our classroom today. My answer came from my design background - first, go into the neighborhoods and understand needs from the community's perspective. From there, M.T. brought us through a series of questions - "How would hire staff?" "How would you manage your staff?" - until we arrived at the topic of unions. M.T. suggested that unions arise because something happened to cause one to form. M.T. stressed the importance of collaboration with the union - if SPL, or any library, for that matter, doesn't have the support of the union, it's almost impossible to enact substantive change. The goal remains to create the best public library possible, and M.T.'s insights into this important relationship were of tremendous value.
As part of my Directed Fieldwork for SPL, I attended the November meeting of the Northgate Book Club for a discussion of The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. Even though I'm Art Director of Bushwick Book Club Seattle, it'd been a long time since I'd sat down for a group discussion. I was more than a little concerned that I wouldn't be able to find anything intelligent to say. However, the book club members were so friendly and intelligent, and Eric (from SPL) such a capable host, that I had no trouble contributing to the conversation. I hope to have an opportunity to attend more book clubs in the future, and more importantly, to host book clubs in the future (I was so inspired by the discussion that I promptly started a small book club with some friends!). The full account is on my Directed Fieldwork site.
In a meeting with Hayden and Meadow, both of whom work in Community Engagement for SPL, we had a wide-ranging discussion about community engagement, partnerships, event planning, and much, much more. This meeting was particularly exciting for me, as Hayden and Meadow are both doing precisely the kind of work a) that libraries need to be doing to remain relevant and efficacious and b) that I aim to do in my own professional career. A more detailed account of our meeting is posted on my Directed Fieldwork site.
Who doesn't love Graphic Novels? With wildly diverse subjects, styles and themes, Graphic Novels (GN) are well-deserving of the growing attention and acclaim they've received over the past decade. As part of the Directed Fieldwork, I was tasked with creating a display for the 3rd floor of the Central branch, and I knew immediately that GNs would be a perfect fit. I hand-picked over 60 titles, created what I hoped would be an eye-catching sign (left) and arranged the books on the display fixture as carefully as I do my books at home. A full account of the process is described here, on my Directed Fieldwork site.
Jesse Eisenberg, known by most out there as a Hollywood actor, recently went on tour with his first book, a short story collection called Bream Gives Me Hiccups. SPL asked me to assist with event management, and I found myself working alongside some familiar faces, such as Karen from Elliott Bay Books and Chris from SPL. Karen, Chris and I have worked dozens of author events together over the years, and lending a hand with this event felt like hopping back on a beloved bicycle. I was also excited to speak with Sherman Alexie - I'd just read War Dances and felt honored to be able to tell him in person how powerfully the book had affected me. A more detailed account of the event is posted on my Directed Fieldwork site.
Two years without a borrow? So long. That was the criterion for a round of weeding I undertook, and I hardly made it through the B's before two carts were overflowing with titles. From here, the books will be passed on to David for further inspection. While I was weeding the titles, I was tasked with looking not only for the titles from the printed spreadsheet, but also any books that were in visibly bad condition. It was also important to mark any book that was on the spreadsheet but missing from the shelf - these were titles that may be lost, stolen, or otherwise misplaced. I had an experience other librarians have told me about - the pleasure of being so close to the shelves, and taking an intimate look at the collection. A full account is posted to my Directed Fieldwork site.
Any library that aims to expand its reach and impact knows the power of joining forces, and SPL is no stranger to partnerships. SPL recently teamed up with Seattle Repertory Theater (SRT) to host a discussion and film screening in support of SRT's upcoming show, Buyer & Cellar. My role at this event was primarily to shadow Elizabeth, SPL's host of the event, and assist as needed. Little did I know that I'd get into a nearly half-hour conversation with an attendee about, oh, everything under the sun - fortunately, apart from a minor hiccup, the event ran smoothly. I've posted a full account on my Directed Fieldwork site.
SPL hosted a Bookish Happy Hour at the Diller Room, which had the excellent goal of getting people to chat about books and book culture. What an excellent idea! And sure enough, the event was a hit - by the time I got there (as soon as I could get out of class, an hour after the scheduled start), there were about 30 attendees and 5 SPL employees engaged in animated discussion. I saw down and talked with as many people as I could before the event ended. Much to my (happy) surprise, I found someone who loved Vonda McIntyre's classic fantasy novel Dreamsnake as much as I did. Conversations like ours were happening all over the bar - at one point, applause broke out in a corner booth where a book club formed spontaneously! Read the full account on my Directed Fieldwork site.
The Academy Awards might have glitz, gold and glamour, but the Washington State Book Awards have something much more important - fun. The evening was dedicated to celebrating extraordinary accomplishments made by Washington authors in 2015. It was an honor - and a blast - to help make sure the whole shebang ran smoothly. I was able to meet dozens of local authors and the members of the community that came out to support them. I can't wait til next year. Read the full account on my Directed Fieldwork site.
I picked up War Dances on the recommendation of a librarian who, in my effort to complete Seattle Public Library's Summer Book Bingo, suggested Sherman Alexie for the 'Local Author' square. When I revealed my dirty secret - that I'd lived in Seattle almost ten years and never read any of Alexie's work - she grabbed the first book of his within reach and forced it into my hands. After only a few pages, I got it. Alexie's writing is just as remarkable as his reputation would suggest. He's the kind of writer that critics describe as fearless because his stories confront often-sidestepped forms of pain; in particular, pain as experienced by often-sidestepped peoples. I couldn't stop reading War Dances. Even at a blood drive. Later, I ran into Sherman at a bookstore and mentioned that I'd given blood while reading War Dances. He laughed. He said that he'd shed blood writing it.