Showing posts from 2013

Coda: Getting Tenure

The tenure track was a very long track, like the extended-play dance remix of a very long song, and now the time has come to sounds its final notes.  In talking about tenure I join a chorus; in addition to the Chronicle forums about Balancing Work and Life and The Tenure Track , lately some people are talking back about the tenure process on the internet.  The first I saw of it was " The Awesomest 7-Year Postdoc ," which asserts that you can work  for about 50 hours a week and still have a family life, if you organize everything and keep to a schedule. Organizing everything is basically what I did to get tenure, but I did it my own way and with a lot of reflection up front, in the middle, and in this present coda.  What I've learned more than anything else is that, depending on your productivity style, academic field, and goals, there are so many great ways to do this work.   There are myriad smart, creative, and effective ways to get tenure. After tenure, the work

children's & ya literature revisited anew

When I first started my master's program, I was so thrilled that there were any critical studies of children's literature at all that I could hardly stand it.  Now I've been in the field, more or less, since 1997, and there's been huge growth in the scholarship of children's literature, some of it wonderfully inventive, some of it peculiarly intriguing, and of course some not so hot.  It's a delight to be working with a grad student who is contributing some very hot new stuff to the field. And as for me and my reading, well, it seemed appropriate this last few weeks of summer to get back to basics and read a handful of good books for kids and teens. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas YA fantasy fans have yet another tough assassin heroine to admire and envy, and this time she has a genuine ball-gown-fancying girly streak.  Though it takes her awhile to get back into fighting or gown form after a year in the death camp of Endovier.  Background info is filled i

summer nights

From sweltering to blissfully cool... this is the norther midwestern summer.  Humidity is low, sunshine is bright, everything is leafy and alive.  What better time to read on a screened porch? I've just finished  The Great Gatsby  after seeing the recent movie adaptation in St. Louis with my friend Ellen from 7th grade.  Who is also an English professor.  The movie was close enough to the book that it's a bit like re-reading with the images already in my head.  What I notice from the language alone is how very shallow the connection between Daisy and Gatsby really seems to be.  As a teenager, I infused her coyness with my imagination of depth, but if you read the words on the page they are surprisingly flat.  It's obvious from the first moment that Daisy comes to the cottage that she's used to (and thrilled by) people falling in love with her, a chaotic penchant if there ever was one.  Ultimately, it strikes me that the phrase "first world problems" perfect

keep calm and carry on reading

The Urbana Free Library controversy rages on.  Without decisive action on the part of the board, I predict that the conflicts will escalate until we're back in national media in a much bigger way.  I think this has potential to become the poster-child case for discrediting a particular outside consultant's methods as well as for what it looks like when leaders attempt to quietly implement visions not supported by their community.  And refuse to compromise. Meanwhile, I'm returning some books, including Alberto Manguel's The Library at Night .    Initially, I was captivated by the poetry of this book, and excited to see a chapter on "Library as Space" (p. 65-104).  But the content of that chapter ends with Carnegie, and he'd make a better starting point than ending point.  It's a soothing read, but not one I'll be finishing all the way through.  Also returning City Reading:  Written Words and Public Spaces in Antebellum New York, which goes into d

best summer reading quote so far

The best-quote-so-far prize goes to Moonbird:  A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B965, by Phillip Hoose.  This is a children's/YA nonfiction book about an incredible migratory species and one amazing little bird, and the quote comes from p. 25. "This bird has to be among the toughest four ounces of life in the world." Inspiring.  And it's well-written science for kids.  The book won several awards last year, so it has seen greater accolades, but I'm delighted to share this little gem of a quote.  And it's worth reading!

Open Letter re: Weeding Issues

To Whom It May Concern: This recent nonfiction collection weeding situation has damaged public trust, and the only remedy for that is greater transparency in government.  I believe that we, as citizens of Urbana, should be advocating for televised meetings of the Urbana Free Library Board of Trustees. Other city meetings are televised via Urbana Public Television (UPTV, ) .  City council, board of education, park district board of commisionners, and many other local governmental meetings are regularly televised ( http:// schedule ), to name a few examples. Apologies are a start; concrete measures to enhance accountability would be a prudent next step to begin to rebuild public trust. Joining the other local governmental groups that televise their meetings on UPTV would be a good-faith effort to address, rather than avoid, public criticisms. I advocate televising the meetings of the The Urbana Free Library Board of Tru

and the pursuit of happiness

I knew Maira Kalman's work from her having illustrated the classic writing handbook Elements of Style by Strunk and E.B. White of Charlotte's Web fame.  Her book And the Pursuit of Happiness  is a graphic tribute to America, from coast to coast, from the halls of the federal government, through the lives and complexities of historical figures like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and neighborhoods in New York including a Brooklyn sewage plant that looks like a sculpture.  Her strategy of zooming in on the smallest details amidst big stories makes the book feel both epic and, somehow, very intimate. Across from an image of the original patent on the safety pin (1849) is my favorite quote of the book: "Everything is invented.  Language.  Childhood. Careers.  Relationships.  Religion.  Philosophy.  The future.  They are not there for the plucking.  They don't exist in some natural state.  They must be invented by people and that, of course, is a great thing.&qu

Public libraries and information history

Public libraries are a cornerstone of my professional and academic passions.  The kinds of questions I've asked have always been:  how did this come to be?  Not in myself, but in the world... how did libraries, particularly public libraries, come to be the the places they are? I answered some of these questions for myself in my dissertation and subsequent publications for Library Quarterly, Book History, Libraries and the Cultural Record (a journal that has changed names so many times it makes your head spin... it's now Information & Culture), and in a handful of book chapters. But there's always more to learn, and I recently came across a great syllabus by my colleague Greg Downey at UW Madison who teaches in Journalism as well as LIS Here's a sampling of the readings from the week on Public Library Purposes: F. B. Perkins, “How to make town libraries successful,” in United States Departmen

Comedic Comedian Memoirs

Laughter may or may not be the best medicine, but it's what I craved over this past winter, especially during the holidays.  I had many January plane rides as well this year, and comedy is of the essence when trapped on a plane.  All of these have strong YA crossover appeal, and, I have to say, if you gave something like Moranthology  to your 17-year-old niece, you'd probably be about the coolest aunt in existence.   Here's a sampling of what I read: Girl Walks Into a Bar by Rachel Dratch Part comedy and part memoir, this is about Rachel Dratch after the TV appearances dried up.  She bemoans the Hollywood looks machine, but she also goes about inventing a remarkably interesting and appealing life for herself. Moranthology by Caitlin Moran If you loved How to Be a Woman , then you want More Moran.  This is a collection of her essays, and her characteristically smart and cranky British humor is going full force here. A Bad Idea I'm About to Do by Chris Gethard De

grief and healing

Life goes on, and, for anyone who is awake, the list of losses grows over time.  So does the list of joys and wild moments of freedom, if you're paying attention.  This is the space we take up in the world, sad and joyous and all states in between. In the midst of late winter, our little cat died.  He brought us over twelve years of great joy, and saying goodbye was so hard.  I miss him everyday.  He was not just our cat, he was our clown, our cranky old guy, our sweet companion.  He was an amazing jumper, a selective nose-rubber, and always an enthusiastic friend at the food bowl. Three things I read helped me tremendously. First, Mary Oliver's words from the poem "In Blackwater Woods" ( and also in her Pulitzer-prize-winning collection American Primitive), p articularly the last few lines: To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against yo

The arts of losing, of disappearing

This poem by Naomi Shihab Nye is so remarkable for waking its readers up to the realities of a finite world, difficult choices, and the price that comes with not having any solitude: It makes me think of another famous poem, One Art, by Elizabeth Bishop, which starts with the line "The art of losing..." Of course, on a day when bombs went off in Boston, losing feels poignant in a different way, even if the loss is just another perceived loss of safety.

Wasteland, Aristotle + Dante, Splendors and Glooms

These are quick reviews; they have to be done now so that we can return these library books and leave for an international spring break adventure!  Very exciting.  So here are some books I read during the last few weeks: Wasteland by Francesca Lia Block I heard about this at the ALISE conference, when my fellow professors were talking about the kind of YA fiction that would really push some buttons and provoke conversation.  In Block's signature poetic style, she dances over and around the complexities of incest between a sister and a brother.  The scene itself is never shown, and the lead-up to this one sexual encounter is intertwined with tales of its aftermath.  Specifically (BIG spoiler) the aftermath of the sister's experience is overwhelming grief and loss, because now her brother is dead.  In the end, the two "siblings" turn out not to have been related, and, while it's easier to stomach their attraction that way, the revelation comes so late in the boo

once upon the natural world

I've mentioned it before, but it's worth saying again:  this blog is not about promoting books or authors or attempting to break into the blogosphere in some public way.  It's not particularly about my academic life, although what I read certainly fuels my academic life.  It's also not about my life or sharing news, except those friends who are devoted readers themselves and understand that what we read often is the news of our lives.* This blog is about what I read.  That's all.   I'm not fishing for merchandise or debates.  It's a record that I keep for mostly personal reasons, but I'm always glad when my reviews of particular books lead someone to a reading discovery, for themselves or for their libraries.  Who I am is so tied up with libraries and the ideals of librarianship, from intellectual freedom to public service, that it is inevitably relevant to almost any aspect of my way of reading that I'm thinking about to whom a book might appeal a

The Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima

I learned in late high school that the way for me to survive long, stressful days of testing was to read fantasy novels.  During the two-week period when I and my classmates were subjected to AP and IB exams--oral as well as written--I read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, and to this day I think having that parallel fantasy world through which I was imagining traveling allowed me to do better on those tests. Being up for tenure this year is a similar test, only with a much longer period of endurance.  I have passed the test of documenting my accomplishments effectively, with the help of a supportive committee (October).  I have passed through the second gate, the test of school-level approval (December).  I await the final test, approval or denial by the campus-level tenure committee that looks at all tenure cases in the university, results to be announced on May 15. As I wait, I read fantasy, and over this winter I was looking for a really long and hearty fantasy series to c

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate won the Newbery Medal for the 2012 publishing year with good reason.  Written from the perspective of a gorilla named Ivan whose life is circumscribed by his glass cage in a rather grimy shopping mall, the story moves along in miniature chunks and very small chapters, bit by bit.  At first, there's plenty of time to get used to the voice of a gorilla as narrator; not much happens for awhile except the dour and repetitive life of the main attractions in a failing shopping center, and Ivan's companion Stella the elephant also begins to fail physically in her old age.  But then, with the introduction of a new baby elephant, Ivan's wistful loneliness as he longs for gorilla companionship turns to urgency.  Mack, the owner of the place and Ivan's one-time human "dad" (before he grew to be an enormous silverback), begins to threaten to abuse Ruby, the new baby elephant.  These are difficult issues, and, despite the fi