I’ve been reading Travelers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd, which compiles the journals and letters and other observations of people who visited Germany starting in the 1920s and the Weimar Republic and into the Hitler regime. I find this a totally fascinating topic because so many people vacationed or conducted business in Germany in the 30s and had no idea how dark it was and would continue to be. Many of these visitors exposed their own prejudices and racist attitudes towards Jews and felt sympathetic towards the Nazis. And sometimes, despite any misgivings they had about the Nazis, they got swept up in the pageantry and cult behavior of the Nazi party. I may blog again about this book as I keep reading it because there’s a lot of interesting stuff in here.
One of the stories that popped out to me was that of Milton S. J. Wright, who at the time of the rise of the Nazi party was a PhD student of economics at Heidelberg University, and was lucky enough to have an audience with Adolf Hitler himself… and what made this all the more eye-opening is that Milton Wright was black.
So last year I was feeling down in the dumps (you know, that whole election thing) and needed something to do as an outlet for my snark. So I decided to start what I called the Hate Read Book Club – and it is what it says on the tin. You hate read a book. What’s a hate read? Reading a book you know you’re not going to like and do it for entertainment value. LOL. Yeah, not for everyone, but I was raised watching Mystery Science Theater 3000, so I’ve been enjoying bad art for a long time now.
So I started with This Victorian Life by Sarah Chrisman. You may know her as the more famous half of the duo known on the internet as That Victorian Couple. I explain them a little in this Tumblr post. I started doing the Hate Read Book Club on my Tumblr, and got a few chapters in, and then I got a new job and all my spare time was taken and I haven’t revisited it since. Until now…
So I’ve decided to pick it up again, but post it here on this blog. Let’s see if I can get through the whole book this time! You can catch up with the previous posts here:
Though my day job is being a librarian, I don’t get asked much what I’m currently reading. It’s actually a point of annoyance for me, since I rather enjoy discussing books with people. So I’ll use the fact that I have a blog I’m not doing much with to post some of my thoughts of my reading pile.
Yesterday I finished reading two books, and both put me in a very pensive mood, though both were dramatically different.
The first book I finished (after picking at it over the course of a week because the week was pretty crazy) was The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition by Linda Gordon. I have always had a fascination with the Klan as a topic. I’ve lived in two areas where the Klan was active (northern Georgia and northern Indiana) and the closest brush I’ve had with them is the time I was in a production of The Laramie Project at Purdue North-Central, and the president of the Gay-Straight Alliance had been told through family members with connections to the Klan that the Klan would protest the production. Ultimately they did not, but it was still a troubling time for a few weeks.
Gordon’s book focuses on the second iteration of the Klan in the early 20th century. The original Klan had come out of Reconstruction era bigotry and white male anger, but had died out over the last couple of decades after the Civil War. The resurgence of the Klan found it far more organized and ritualized (this is when the infamous Kloran was written), and built out of a response to the romantic interpretation of it in D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation film. It was presented as more of a fraternal order that would benefit members’ social and business standing (so not as secretive in many respects), as well as being a front to support white supremacy and push back immigrants and anyone not their version of “white” (African-Americans were naturally the main group discriminated against, but this Klan was anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic as well). I know enough about this revival of the Klan to know that it fell from prominence after only a few years due to a great deal of corruption at many levels of the organization, mostly notably that of Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson.
My big takeaway from the book, and one of the reasons I picked it up, was learning about the women’s activities with the Klan at this time period. A lot of recruitment was done through churches (many Protestant ministers were Klan members), and as such women’s Klan involvement was in a way an extension of any church auxiliary. Oddly enough, the women of the Klan were supportive of women’s suffrage – a progressive cause you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a hate organization at the time. Though the Klan was initially ambivalent or a little against women having the vote, once women did get the vote it was seen as a boon for white supremacy – wives could help vote their causes into local government.
I also read a novel in a day, which I don’t always have the pleasure of doing often. The book was Vox by Christina Dalcher, which comes out in August (a privilege of being a librarian is I have access to digital advance reader copies of books well before their publication date). This is a dystopian novel that I identified very quickly as a The Handmaid’s Tale readalike (I’m obsessed with and horrified by the TV show, but loved the book beforehand) in which a theocratic government has taken charge of the country, and women are kicked out of the workforce and are only allowed to speak 100 words a day. Every woman has a counter on her wrist that keeps track of her words, and gives a shock if she goes over.
This was a fast-paced read, with definite influences of our current administration and Handmaid’s Tale plots. Perhaps at times a little too fast-paced, but I could easily suspend my beliefs for the sake of the story. Jean McClellan, the main character, is complex and imperfect, and that kind of made me love her quite quickly. I understood the flaws and believed them. She had the politically-active friend who warned her what was to come, and she was blind and privileged enough to ignore the signs. She’s a brilliant scientist who is suddenly thrust into a role and reality that takes away much of the joy in her life, and she doesn’t know how to fix it until an opportunity falls in her lap that gives her a glimpse of what is to come, and also a chance to make a difference.
I finished this book and felt a great need to dig out my pussy hat, strap on my Chuck Taylors, pin on my “Love Trumps Hate” button and get marching again because I DO NOT WANT any of these dystopians to happen in any shape or form. We see shades of our current reality in Vox, in Handmaid’s Tale, in Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, and it’s chilling and disconcerting. I don’t want to be bold or blind enough to say that we will for sure avoid the fall from grace we see in our fiction worlds, but it does give one pause and a desire to use that fire in the belly and do something about it.
To sum up: Bhagwan Rajneesh was a spiritual leader from India who brought a large group of his followers to a ranch in Oregon to start a commune called Rajneeshpuram and the surrounding little town of Antelope with it’s white middle-aged/retired Christians WAS NOT HAPPY and then the cult is armed to the teeth and accused of attempted murder. Sheela was Bhagwan’s private secretary for years, was one of the primary interviewees in the documentary, and ended up serving prison time from her activities related to Rajneeshpuram.
Sheela’s book has a weird timeline – the first part is her leaving Bhagwan and Rajneeshpuram and the legal entanglements and prison stint that followed, and then the book backtracks in the second part to when she first met Bhagwan and the development of her involvement with him. If I hadn’t seen Wild Wild Country first I’m not sure I would have been able to follow the storyline and probably would have dropped the book.
Sheela is unrepentant of her time with Bhagwan and the scandals that erupted in Rajneeshpuram that led to her leaving the commune. She maintains that it was part of her spiritual growth and almost inevitable that she would leave Bhagwan. She barely touches on the fact that there were numerous legal entanglements, like the poisoning of many people in nearby city The Dalles and interest in the group’s finances and handling of immigration of its followers, that may have prompted her to leave.
What you do get a clear sense of is that Sheela still loves Bhagwan, still finds solace in his teaches, which is interesting and adds a complexity to their relationship that I don’t think she could properly explain on her own, but I’d love for someone smarter than me to look into that. I do think there’s sincerity on her part, since now she runs an assisted living facility for special-needs adults in Switzerland and you gotta give the woman props for that.
Her memoir probably could have used another run with an editor, but that also means there’s a rawness to it that is refreshing.
At the end of the Netflix documentary one of the other followers of Bhagwan said he was tasked with writing a book giving Bhagwan’s perspective on events, and I’m hoping that becomes a reality soon since I will eat that up.
Ever since becoming a librarian, I have developed a couple of pet peeves. One of them, is the need for local news outlets to sensationalize the relatively common library event of a book being returned to the library. I can sort of see how people think it’s so rare and newsworthy, as these books are old and many years overdue. But they all go the same — the library staff is surprised and delighted to get a book back, the patron frequently does it anonymously out of embarrassment or own up to their guilt and offer to pay the overdue fee, the overdue fee is calculated by the old library fee system or the modern one (though the patron is never asked to pay it), and the news story gets linked on my Facebook page by three people within 24 hours, and by a handful of people over the next eight months until another library gets an old book returned to the library and the cycle starts all over again.
My current library recently was the receiving end of one of these old books being returned to the library. The book dated from the 1890s, it had been checked out at least 40 years ago at a previous location, and while the author was somewhat notable in some circles, the book itself was not worth much. We put it up on Instagram, and by the end of the day the local news station had tweeted about it, and then a couple days later popped by for a TV news spot on it. I was the lucky devil who happened to be the supervisor our absent director picked to be the talking head with regards to this book that had been returned to the library.
Sadly I did not make the news – while I was sent on a wild goose chase to find the book in question somewhere in my director’s office, one of my co-workers with far more knowledge about the history of the library was mic’d and did the honors. My hands picking up the book for a shot and my laugh made the news spot and I’m perfectly content with that. But the thing that absolutely bothered me was that we had a HUGE Star Wars Day event that night, we were all wearing shirts for it, and the local news anchor didn’t mention it.
This is a daily occurrence while at the Reference Desk at my public library. I’m not even joking. I have some version of this exchange almost every day at the Reference Desk.
Patron: Can you help me? I can’t get this dumb thing to work. Me: Okay, sure. What are you trying to do? Patron: I need to get into my email to print something, and it won’t let me! Me: Okay, you’re already logged in the computer, so just double click on a browser to get on the Internet. Patron: I just double click on a browser? Me: Yes. Patron: Which one? [choice of Internet Explorer or Google Chrome] Me: Doesn’t matter. [I know it does, but they wouldn’t understand if I tried to explain it] Patron: But which one? Internet? Me: [resignedly] Sure. Patron: [clicks scroll wheel on mouse repeatedly] Me: No, no, click it on the left side. Patron: The left side? Me: Yes. Patron: [gingerly moves hand on top of computer mouse, gently clicks left side of mouse] Me: You have to double click it. Patron: [clicks twice slowly, achieves moving icon down a little] Me: Here, try this. Click it once… Patron: [clicks it once] Me: … Now hit ‘enter.’ Patron: Hit ‘enter’? Me: Yes. Patron: This right here? [finger hovers over ‘enter’ key] Me: Yes. Patron: [hits ‘enter’]
Browser then opens to the library website as the default homepage.
Patron: It did this before! I don’t know what this is! Me: This is just the library website. You just type where you want to go up at the top. Patron: I want to go to my email! Me: What email do you use? Patron: What? Me: Is it Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo…? Patron: Oh, um, Yahoo. [it’s always Yahoo] Me: Okay, type in Yahoo .com up at the top here. Patron: Up here? [points at address bar] Me: Yes, there. Patron: [starts typing in full email address] Me: No, no, just Yahoo .com. Patron: But I need to get to my email address! Me: Right, but first you have to go to Yahoo .com, and THEN you can get to your email. Patron: [gives me a look like they don’t believe me, types in Yahoo .com, then stares blankly at the screen] Me: Hit ‘enter’ Patron: Hit ‘enter’? Me: Yes. Patron: [hits ‘enter,’ browser goes to Yahoo] Oh, yay! Me: Okay, now click ‘Mail.’ Patron: Click ‘Mail’? Me: Yes. Patron: [clicks ‘Mail’] Me: Now type in your email here. [Indicates screen] Patron: Type it in here? [Points at screen] Me: Yes. Patron: My whole email? Me: Yes. Patron: [Uses search-and-destroy method to slowly type out their email, not knowing where the “@” symbol is, and inevitably getting at least two letters wrong] Me: Okay, now type in your password here. [Indicates space under email address] Patron: My password? Me: Yes. Patron: What if I don’t remember my password? Me: Well, you need your password to access your email. Patron: I do? But I don’t need it on my phone! Me: Right, because your phone is set up so you’re always logged in. But these are public computers, so lots of people access their email through them. Patron: [putters, contemplating this] Okay, maybe I remember it. [starts typing in a password]
This could go on for some minutes while the patron maybe remembers their password or does not and gets increasingly more frustrated. If they do manage to log in —
Patron: [has over 5,000 unread messages in email inbox] There it is! Thank you! I just don’t get these machines!
If they don’t remember their password, I attempt to help them reset it, but they never remember a recently used password, backup email, or answers to security questions, and 9 times out of 10 decide whatever they needed to print wasn’t really that important and storm off.
Now, helping a patron to print something from their email is a whole other story.
The publication of Go Set a Watchman is a pretty significant one in the scheme of things, and I was able to read it the week it came out. Being a book professional, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts about the book.
First and foremost, I want to make one thing abundantly clear: Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel. Calling it a sequel is the not-entirely-correct elevator pitch one says to sell the book. (And overhearing a book seller say that to customer kinda made my blood boil a little. Not something to get too worked up about, sure, but still an irritation for me.) Go Set a Watchman is the initial submission Harper Lee made to her publisher, and was not intended to be published 50 odd years ago. It follows some of the characters we met in To Kill a Mockingbird, but there are inconsistencies that stem from revisions and the fact that this book wasn’t going to be published, so why should Harper Lee worry about correcting it.
The way I chose to approach it is thus: It is entirely separate from To Kill a Mockingbird. These are not exactly the same characters we were introduced to before. These are versions of characters that were developed in a different fashion. I do love the story of TKAM, I just wanted to keep this one apart from that book, and look at it in more of an academic sense.
I couldn’t help but think that it was a bit like if someone from the estate of Harper Lee had authorized this as a sequel (Donald McCaig and his Gone With the Wind sequels come to mind). Sequels like that shift perceptions of well-loved characters to have “adapt” to more modern sensibilities and come up with some slightly fantastical plot lines and introduce new characters. Naturally that’s not exactly the case, but it was another way to frame it.
The opening chapters are absolutely DELIGHTFUL. Full of the charm of To Kill a Mockingbird and a really sweet and comforting return to Maycomb. Of course, this is before the big Atticus reveals are made, but just the same, I was giggling my way through the first few chapters. It totally sucked me in. I would have loved it if it even if it had remained a light-hearted story of Jean Louise returning to Alabama from New York for her annual visit and running into typical Small Town South characters and engage in a few meaningful escapades that means she learns something new about herself and returns to New York with a different heart towards her hometown. Or ultimately decides to stay. It would have made for a cute novel, but Harper Lee does not write that simply. No, no — Jean Louise returns home and makes a realization that changes her whole world so much she becomes physically ill and doesn’t know how to move forward.
Ultimately, I felt the way the story played out of how Jean Louise makes these discoveries, deals with them, and how it is reconciled in the end was effective, but needed a little more editorial guidance to really make it zing. Of course, I may come to another conclusion upon a reread. This is definitely a book I will reread at some future date. Likely not as many times as I have or will read To Kill a Mockingbird, but it will be reread. And considering this was only lightly edited from Lee’s original manuscript submission, it’s impressive from a writing perspective.
The part that stood out the most for me was the chapter of Jean Louise’s Coffee that Aunt Alexandra hosts for her during her visit. I think MANY of us have experienced something akin to this. The way Lee wrote the disconnected conversations happening around the room, and Jean Louise’s internal monologue as she listens and then participates in it is fantastic and depressing. People you’ve known your whole life, or are a part of the community, and you can’t stand them, and their history and current events tidbits are all wrong and you can’t even begin to correct them because they wouldn’t believe you anyway because you lived in the CITY or went to college (or lived in the “Mission Field” for some LDS folks) and you obviously just don’t know how it really is. It’s SO AGGRAVATING and discouraging and makes you want to get outta Dodge as fast as possible. Jean Louise’s frustration with the small-minded and misguided women around her hit close to home, and that chapter in and of itself is a real great piece of writing.
The flashbacks to Jean Louise’s childhood are priceless. Those reminded me of Cheaper By the Dozen hi-jinks and I can definitely see how an editor would say, these are so wonderful, why don’t you write about the kids instead? And the rest is history, really. It was effective storytelling to have Scout tell about life in the 30s in Alabama, and about a few significant events in her life and the town’s history. Those events are barely mentioned in Go Set a Watchman – I can’t recall the Radleys being mentioned at all, and if they were it was in passing.
The ending didn’t entirely sit right with me. The overall feeling of the ending is unsettling, and I think motivations and explanations could have been made clearer with a good editor. (But from what’s been presented, it’s still debatable whether or not Harper Lee really had a hand in allowing this to be published in the first place.) Some have said they would have preferred this be released as an annotated academic book, and I wonder if that may actually happen. Will Lee leave enough of her papers to be used to contribute to an annotated version? It will certainly be dissected for the foreseeable future by many academics and after the initial buzz dies down we might get some productive dialogue going. In the meantime, it’s interesting to me to have this book released as a major publication simply because more people will read it for the very reason. The novel brings up a lot of very uncomfortable questions that are pretty relevant to what’s going on in our society now – even more astounding that it was written almost 60 years ago* – and maybe we can appropriately bring it into the discussion at large of race and inequality. So far my usual book review outlets are preoccupied with the fact that Atticus is not the white knight we know him from To Kill a Mockingbird and not much else is being said… yet.
It’s a good book and I’m glad I read it, and I’m anticipating reading many more in depth and academic reviews and studies of the book moving forward.
*I’m hosting a To Kill a Mockingbird book and film discussion at my library at the end of the month, so I rewatched the film after many years. I watched it only days after the Charleston church shooting, so having that in my mind while I watched contributed to me sobbing through most of the film. It takes place in the 30s and was written in the 50s, and it is still sadly relevant to our society.
I love reader’s advisory. I love learning about new books and backlist titles, and figuring out what someone might like to read next based on their past reading habits or other interests. Sadly it’s not something I’m asked to do a lot in my current community face-to-face (no matter how much I beg), so I channel my energy into making RA bookmarks of various topics that patrons can passively pick up and use. (And some of them have been quite popular, so I must be doing something right!) And since I am the primary selector for adult fiction, I come across A LOT of new titles that sound awesome and I want to make sure don’t get lost in the stacks. My solution? Evernote.
Evernote is a free application (with options to upgrade, but the free version is perfectly acceptable for my needs) for gathering information. I added the plug-in to my browser, and it can clip articles I find interesting so I can access them later. It’s just a nice, clean way to organize. And it dawned on me a number of months ago that it would be a great way to collect book data as well!
As I go through a catalog, or read a book blog, or skim through a publisher’s email push, if a book sounds good to me for any reason, or is part of a trend I’ve noticed recently, is related to a popular movie release that might spark further reading interest, or is applicable to a display I might want to do, I make note of the title and author in an Evernote list. Later on, when I want to make up an RA bookmark on that topic, or am building a display, I have a list ready to go of fresh titles (and some backlist) to suggest to my patrons.
At last count I had 48 lists in my “RA Book Lists” notebook, with topics like “Roaring 20s,” “Small Town Stories,” “Georgia Novels,” “Fairy Tale Twists,” “Ripped From the Headlines,” etc. And that number grows with every month! If a new topic piques my interest, I start another list!
Best part? I can add tags and keyword search! So I can see if I put a book in multiple lists, or if I have already created a list for haunted houses, or if my World War II list is big enough to start breaking out into sub-lists. As you know, the larger the collection, the better the cataloging needs to be.
I have the Evernote app on my iPhone and iPad Mini, and the desktop app on my home and work laptops with my account linked on all of them so I have easy access to my lists wherever I am if I find a new title to add to a list, or to suggest a book to a friend.
This might not be the optimal method for everyone, but I’m sure getting a lot of success out of it! It’s digital, it’s portable, it’s got the metadata I need, and now I can keep tabs on books that might otherwise get lost in the shuffle.
I’ve had a mixed reaction from people I’ve known for years when they find out I’m a librarian. Most go, “Oh, that makes sense!”, but I did run into a high school buddy who had assumed I would end up an accountant. Anyway, a Public Librarian is what I am, and probably will be for the foreseeable future. And while most librarians are not of the “shushing old lady with a hairbun” type (and can we PLEASE move away from that already!), I am not of the “dye my hair a funky color, dress steampunk, and have lots of Twitter followers” librarians either. I’m far more middle ground. I’ve been in the profession a solid two years, and have been reflecting on my career expectations. While I am pleased with the position I am currently in (and very lucky to have it), it has occurred to me that my job is quite different from what I had initially anticipated. And while some of it has to do with the kind of library I work it, some of it has to do with the profession at large.
I rarely talk books with the public. My library keeps track of the “reader’s advisory” interactions we have at the desk (when we talk books with a patron and hopefully make a good suggestion to them of what to read next), and in the past few months we’re still in single digits for the grand total. Which, seeing as many librarians enter the profession because of a love of reading and books, is super sad. I’ve been proactive about reading ARCs (advance reader copies of books), and spend some of my work hours creating book lists for patrons, and practically BEG patrons to talk books with me, and it almost never happens. A lot of this has to do with the community I’m in, and the size of the library. We’re not big enough to have a specific reader’s advisory department, and though we do have some voracious readers for patrons, they tend to be old ladies who have specific interests for what they read, and they don’t need me to help them out. So I find myself brainstorming about ways I can use this book knowledge I’ve curated, channel it, because IRL I tend to only talk about what I’m reading with my library director.
Libraries in general are moving towards a more “community center” kind of mentality, what with the different kinds of programming, MakerSpaces, and things of that nature. But at least in the two communities I’ve worked in thus far, the library is pretty much just the place where harried moms can take their children for a short break, unemployed people can apply for jobs and force me to realize how little they know about computers, and where the odd community organizations will hold some function in our meeting rooms and then maybe one of them will wander into the rest of the building, be impressed, but never set foot in here again. Also, where middle-aged women can get ALL the mystery and romance novels they desire, all by well-known authors or specialty publishers who publish frequently. People in my demographic don’t use the library, and everybody knows that. So many people don’t use the library because they don’t read much, and if they do, they buy the books. Most people don’t even realize they can check out eBooks from the library for free! (This has become my life’s mission, to tell the masses about free eBooks at the library.) In general, college students don’t come here. Professionals don’t come here. My demographic, my people, don’t come here.
When I tell people I’m from the library, I usually get a glazed-over look from them. To a lot of people, I have a super boring-sounding job. They don’t know how much work I put into a program that hardly anyone shows up to. They don’t know all the different kinds of books I buy that nobody checks out. They don’t know that I went to grad school to get this job. They don’t know that I am a creative person, looking for ways to have the library help them. The especially annoying interaction will involve the other party saying something along the lines of, “Oh, I never read. I bet you hate me! Har har har!” When I meet someone new and learn their profession, you can bet I’m already thinking about ways to use your skills in a library program. But some people just brush me off because they think my job is boring.
I’ve been thinking that I may want to get back into book retail someday, since that’s where my interests lie. Maybe I’ll change what kind of library I work in. Maybe I’ll go for another degree and end up in a completely different field. I don’t know yet. But I do know that sometimes it’s really hard to be a librarian.