Thursday, September 19, 2013

Book Review for Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

What is this book about? MAGIC! Though, as you're reading through it, you would be hard-pressed to actually find any particular instances of it, but it's about magic all the same. Childhood magic, deep magic, real magic. The magic of dawn, of memories, of new sneakers, arcades, riding machines, dandelion wine, porch swings, simple rituals, summertime, and of dusk.

This book is for those who remember the magic of childhood and for those who need reminding. I suppose a child of 12 or 13 would enjoy the book, but more than being a children's book, I think it is a book about childhood and growing up. It's about how a 12-year-old sees the world, how he deals with it, how he begins to realize his mortality but also the fact that he is really alive, that his body is amazing and the world is an amazing and, sometimes, horrifying place to live.

I've read Dandelion Wine three times now, and each time I love it just as much or more than the last. There is no grand adventure (besides the day to day adventure all of us live), no spectacular climax, but as I was reading it this time with the mindset of writing a book review, I quite often wanted to transcribe whole chapters to share; alas, that would break copyright laws, so I couldn't do it.

Dandelion Wine takes place in Green Town, Illinois (a made up place based on a town from Bradbury's childhood). It's a smallish town that's fairly quiet, but it's filled with characters who have great stories. The primary character is Douglas Spaulding, a 12-year-old who, during the summertime, basically lives outdoors. The book is somewhat about his adventures, but also about his neighbors' adventures and how Douglas and his brother, Tom, make sense of them all.

Overall, the book is like a draught of sunshine just like, in the book, a draught or even a sip of Dandelion Wine taken in wintertime is like a piece of summertime. It's to be read in summertime as a reminder to notice the little things, and to be read in the wintertime time to remember the sun and warmth of summer. Though the book is essentially light (in emotional tone and brightness) the book also deals with loss, death, growing old, doomed romance, and sadness; but through each of these things a lesson is learned, Douglas and Tom keep on living and growing, and many of the characters become at peace with their experiences.

Like I said before, most of the things I wish to share have to be shared by the chapter, without context, it wouldn't mean as much. But I do want to share what Douglas' grandpa prescribes when Douglas is feeling down, “ Now upstairs, run three times around the block, do five somersets, six pushups, climb two trees, and you'll be concertmaster instead of chief mourner. Get!” Later on in the book Tom shares his ideas of some similar medicine, “A good night's sleep, or a ten-minute bawl, or a pint of chocolate ice cream, or all three together, is good medicine, Doug. You listen to Tom Spaulding, M.D.” Now I know people and kids sometimes have serious problems that they need treatment or medication for, but I also believe that little boys (and some big ones) sometimes just need a little more of what was mentioned, individually or, even better, all together.

So if you're looking for an easy read, something filled with simple wisdom and lessons learned, I encourage you to read this gem.

I would rate it PG or maybe even PG13 because, like I said before, it deals with death and loss. There is a woman murdered and some other characters also die (though they're of natural causes). When you can, I think it's best when you parents read books first or at the same time as your kids, if you can't do that, at least ask them to talk about what they're reading.

Oh, another note. For those of you who have read or tried to read some of Bradbury's short stories and did not like them because of their dark tone and violence, this is not anything like those. If you are of a similar personality to me, within the first couple lines you will be smiling. If you read this book and fall in love with Bradbury's writing, Fahrenheit 451 is a little similar, in the fact that some of the characters notice and love small wonders, but it is somewhat dark. Though I have not read it yet, I think The Halloween Tree has a similar tone to Dandelion Wine, though it has “magic” other than the kind I talked of. Just know that his short stories, particularly The Illustrated Man, start out violent and depressing and, I feel, become more so the further you go in the book.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Some Things You May Not Have Known About Introverts

First thoughts, I seem to be seeing a lot of articles and things about understanding introverts, but I haven't seen many recently about understanding extroverts. Is this because extroverts verbally explain to us introverts how to understand them or is it because many introverts enjoy writing, are introspective, and, thus, like to share our quiet inner workings? Maybe a combination of both and other things.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and share some of the inner workings of my head. I do this because, I think, the things I will share can be related to many introverts...or maybe I'm the oddball out and am just laying my oddities out on a line. If you're an introvert and can relate, back me up. Thanks.

A lot of the articles talk about how introverts are more easily simulated, respond more aggressively to outside stimuli and environments; in certain areas of my life I can very much see how this is true. If I'm in a crowded room with a lot of people talking, my brain tries to listen to multiple conversations at a time, I have a hard time focusing in on one (especially if I am not actively engaged in one of the conversations). After a while, my head just gets a little overwhelmed. Now, this is not to say I don't like being in big crowds (for a little while), I enjoy going to downtown fireworks, parades, and theme parks. I think this is because I like to people watch and there's so many people the “many conversations” kind of get drowned out into background noise. In general, when in groups, introverts like to be observers (aka Wallflowers); perhaps this is one reason we need to recharge after being around people, our brain isn't just processing one conversation, but trying to process many.

Along with this, if I'm sitting in a small room with multiple conversations going on, just because I'm sitting in your little group, doesn't mean I'm focusing on your conversation. I said I have a hard time focusing, but if there's a conversation across the room that I find more interesting, I'm actually pretty good at tuning your group out and listening to that other conversation. Some may consider this “eavesdropping,” but most of the time I wouldn't and the reason may be because the next thing I'm going to share (and the fact that they're talking in a room with other people).

If I'm in a group that is talking, looking at the different people who are speaking and sometimes making eye contact with them, I feel like I'm a part of the conversation, even if I don't actually say anything. A part of this is that I don't like to interrupt (and if it's a group, there's always someone talking). Another reason is, I figure someone will eventually say what I thought of saying, even if it is two minutes later. If you question whether or not I'm actually a part of the conversation, well, I can tell you I've probably heard more of what everybody has said than the people who are are doing most of the talking (unless I'm listening to a conversation 10 feet behind us). A possible slightly embarrassing side effect of actually listening to another conversation than you're in? You laugh at a seemingly inappropriate time. :)

A lot of people assume introverts are shy because we don't often talk to strangers (or even acquaintances), it not that I'm shy, oftentimes I honestly just don't want to talk or feel the need to talk. Actually, if it's a group setting, I may not even really talk to my close friends. I do try to smile at people to let them know I'm not being cold. A common theme running through things I've read about introverts is that we're not a fan of small talk and, well, I think that's true. That's not to say I won't exchange pleasantries, I do out of politeness, but it so often feels insubstantial. Also, I feel the need to clarify. I don't mind “one time” small talk with strangers, like if I'm volunteering at the library, working in a store, or addressed to the cashier checking me out, that's what is expected and to do more would be a little strange; it's when I've already seen you two times today and I know we're not actually going to have a conversation, it's literally quite painful to say “what's up?” or have it said to me yet again...I would rather us not say anything.

Lastly, kind of going along with the previous paragraph, I don't like to compete for people's attention. That's one reason I don't talk much in groups, that's the reason I like to go on hikes with friends (preferably outside of cell reception), try to set up outings with 1 or 2 people, and enjoy meeting people at quiet coffee shops. Basically, I'm selfish and, if I'm going to spend time with you, I don't want to share you with too many people or things at once. :) Maybe this is the reason that, in college, generally I didn't become friends with peer groups, but rather collected people from groups and would hang out with them one on one or two or three. A lot of my friends weren't really friends and I wasn't really friends with their friends.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why I Believe Libraries are Vitally Important and Why I Someday Want to Work in One

Part of this was taken from something that was originally meant to be a post and another part was taken from a letter I sent to different libraries I was applying to. I, sadly, was not hired to any of the 10 or 15 positions I applied to. Ah well, someday.

I was at a wedding a couple months ago and it came up that I was applying to different library jobs. We were also talking about audiobooks and e-books which can be borrowed through the library. All of this lead to someone saying that they think libraries (as a physical location with physical books) are going to, perhaps in the not too distant future, go by the wayside and “librarians” will mostly be a much smaller group of people who are essentially tech support people. That conversation caused me to want to share why I think, and very much hope, this won't come to pass or, if it does, that we are going to be missing a lot more than a few paper books.

First, I suppose I have to admit that some of the things I will speak of are ideal situations, in other words, I know not all libraries live up to the virtues which I am going to attribute to them, not all of them are gathering places. I do believe that some libraries are beginning to understand the possibility of the above situation and are trying harder to make use of their building, personnel, and resources. I have to be fair and also say that there are some who have always made use of all of these things.

Communities used to have naturally occurring community gathering places, the barbershop, the drug store with a soda fountain, the local diner, the schoolhouse, or, in those small communities in which there was only a couple churches, it could be the church. These were places where gossip was shared, stories were told, ideas were displayed and, well, people gathered and connected; in short they were places which helped establish a sense of community. I will not go into the factors that caused many of these entities to no longer be in existence, because that is a whole different tangent.

Since I have only had 4 “professional” haircuts (and have had to go home and re-cut it each time), I cannot really speak about current barbershops with much certainty, but I think most do not encourage people to gather for a cup of coffee, do shop talk, and get no haircut. Though most drug stores now have everything from medicine to the latest “as seen on TV gadget,” I'm not sure they would approve of you pulling out their camp chairs and opening a bottle of soda. A few diners are struggling on and those that do still exist, I think are happy when locals linger a bit, but the diners are too few and far between. I think if you were to try and “gather” too often at your schools, you may end up getting arrested and people would question why you're there. And churches, well, churches are still a wonderful gathering spot, but in most towns, even small ones, there's normally many more than two. So the ones who do go to church only see a small portion of their community and a lot of people just don't go anymore. That leaves the local library. I know many of you may not think of it as a local gathering place, but I think it has the potential to be. I think the local library is one of the few community gathering places that a lot of communities have left.

This is why I've decided to work towards my masters in Library Science, why I someday want to work in a library and a public library in particular. Because I think public libraries are important both as a means for the public to access information and also as a community gathering place. I want to strive to keep public libraries culturally relevant in an increasingly digital age. My wish for doing this is because the aforementioned reasons and also the more selfish reason of, I love stories and especially love paper books which can be held. I am not completely old fashioned, I often enjoy digital audiobooks and have read e-books and realize their worth when traveling, but there is something about the feel and smell of a paper book that I particularly love.

I believe one why to keep physical libraries relevant is through the programs they offer at their building and I would be delighted to be a part of those already established, such as children's story times and book clubs, and maybe help to establish some others. For instance, I know public libraries often feature a little bit of art by local artists, but why not have a rotating selection which features more of it and have a special “gallery opening” in which a percentage of the proceeds goes to benefit the library? Also, I love movies as well as books, so maybe a film club could be established to go along with the book club, featuring movies which have been drawn from books. Then, the following week, the members could discuss the adaptation and just the movie in general.

Around Halloween or periodically throughout the year, have a historical costume party during which people are dressed up either as one of their favorite characters from a story or a favorite author. Depending on how comfortable they are, they could present why they chose who they chose or have cards with information they can hand out to people who ask.

The bookmobile at my local library in TN, which travels around to area schools, caused me to also think that it would be neat to start a lending program with area children's hospitals or children's wards. Also, to have a story time for them there, since they can't come to the library. At one library I applied to, their bookmobile also visited the area senior centers, which is pretty cool.

The next idea is still kind of vague in my head, because I want it to be an area that is aesthetically pleasing, as well as a place to find new books. Wherever I eventually work and get deeply involved, I want to grow a book garden. This would be an area where staff and patrons could put their favorite books so others could find them and there would be a bulletin board or something where people could write about why they placed a particular book in the garden. My desire for this is because people tend to find their niche and genre and then do not really branch out. Until I volunteered in the library, I pretty much went to the adult/young adult fiction but, then as I volunteered and reshelved books and movies, I kept coming across interesting hobbyist books, biographies, and documentaries I otherwise wouldn't have seen. Ideally the book garden would be an area where people could easily be exposed to areas of interest that they didn't know they were interested in.

As I mentioned earlier, I think libraries are important as a means to access information. Well, I think they should be a means to access more than just books and media. I know a lot of libraries have various computer classes but libraries could also make use of their space by having education classes done by local volunteers. Have a hobbyist forum in which people can share why they're passionate about something and what their hobby consists of. You could even involve area schools by doing this in the summer and suggesting teachers have their students chose at least one hobby they have to go and learn about. I believe something like this has the potential to open up “a whole new world” to some people and kids, to expose them to something they could learn to love that they may never have even thought of.

I suppose I will preface this next by saying, I am very much an introvert, I love quiet places. But, saying that, I will say, I think the libraries of today need to get loud and get comfortable. One of the things I loved about my library in Murfreesboro, TN is that the downstairs librarians weren't scared to be loud or have patrons be loud. Upstairs was the reference section where people could go to study and be quiet, but downstairs there was always laughter, visiting, and gossip. If their isn't an upstairs and a downstairs or one section that can be loud and another quiet, maybe even think about having quiet hours and a couple hours set aside during the day for “visit and gossip time.”

I know the “get comfortable” part will be hard for a lot of libraries because space always seems to be an issue, but how hard is it to stick a comfy chair in a few corners or to have a small area that, instead of desks, has a few comfy chairs pushed together? Also, get a few beanbags that can be tossed around the children's area and teen's area. I know funding is an issue, too, well, ask your patrons if they want it and, if they do, ask them to help get it.

Like I said before, offering programs is a great way to keep libraries culturally relevant, but more than that, getting local volunteers involved with these programs is just as important or more so. Have kids volunteer to decorate their areas for each holiday, teens to decorate theirs, and adults to decorate theirs. The more you can get people involved, not only benefiting from but contributing to, the more they will come to view the library as “their” library, the more they will grow to love it and want it to continue.

To wrap things up, recently I've heard from various friends that their stereotype of a librarian is someone who is “mean.” That has not been my personal experience, but maybe it is something to be aware of. Well, until I join your ranks, oh noble librarians, I bid you ado. Keep fighting the good fight and remember that a part of guarding books is to get people to read them and love them.