Monthly Archives: October 2013

Creepy Reading Just in Time for Halloween

The Lit Reactor has compiled a list of the 10 scariest books ever read.  It’s a pretty great list–it does have The Shining as number one, which is a bit predictable, but it is still a great compilation of titles.

This is perfect timing for Halloween, which is just in a couple days.  I’m planning on curling up with one of these books and giving myself a creepy night off while all the kiddies are outside trick-or-treating.

Which book scared you the most while reading?


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Freedom Internet-tionally

Freedom Internet-tionally

America was a nation built on the idea of freedom of speech, but as we all know–this is not the case for MANY other countries around the world. This does not just stop on the spoken word, or the traditionally written word, but it spreads through the internet realm as well.
If you look at the map (seen above) provided by Freedom House, you can see that although many countries have no data for their study, out of the remaining, only a handful are classified as “free” in terms of internet usage and interactions. The majority of the countries are displayed as “partially free”–meaning the government is pretty open, but with certain limitations. And of course, there are the expected countries that are shown as “not free.”
If you look further into Freedom House’s classification breakdown, you will see that they also broke down how much of these countries ‘went down’ in their freedom. For example, even the United States took a five point hit because of the recent scandals such as the NSA controversies.
Freedom House also showed the range of countries in terms of freedom using a 100 point scale, in which the closer the score is to zero, the freer that nation’s internet. The chart presented Iceland as the most open (with a score of 6) and Iran as the most controlled (with a score of 91).
I am certainly not surprised by many of these scores–a European country ranking at the top and a Middle Eastern nation ranking at the bottom can certainly be predicted, especially with all the news reports as of late.
But how do these numbers make you feel? Why are so many countries still left in the dark in terms of access to internet? Is there something that can be done to make progress with this issue?

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October 22, 2013 · 9:34 am

Neil Gaiman Gives a Beautiful Lecture on the Importance of Literacy, Libraries and the Love of Reading

Neil Gaiman, the unbelievably talented writer, gave a moving lecture on reading, imagination, literature, and libraries in London just a few days ago.  His words were so eloquent and so on point that there truly is not a better way to deliver the message than the manner in which he did.  

He opened up his speech with a rather startling reality:  “I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure.”

Now, this may seem rather blunt.  A statistic like this surely has some wiggle-room–and it does.  But, we must recognize that everything starts off as a child, whether good or bad, and reading is a key to development.  This is the point Gaiman is trying to make:  reading holds the key to growth in every possible way.

He makes the point that literate people are more likely to do good things with their lives, and in turn, literate people read fiction.  The reasoning is this:  children learn to love to read when they are very young and are following the guidance of those around them.  He (and I) encourage parents to read to their kids.  Read anything and everything that engages their children!  There is no such thing as a “bad book.”  Because, the more a child reads, the more s/he will explore the world of literature.  They will become more comfortable and expand their interests.  Our job, as adults, is to support and foster that passion from the very beginning with an open mind.

Gaiman points out the powers of fiction, no matter what format:  “Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.”  This is an incredibly wonderful way of examining fiction and the way it can affect individuals for the better.  Reading opens up our thoughts and it breaks through the limits that reality sometimes creates.  It shows the endless possibilities and the joys upon achieving them.  To put it simply, fiction EQUALS empowerment.

And libraries are one gateway to the empowerment.  “Libraries are places that people go to for information. Books are only the tip of the information iceberg: they are there, and libraries can provide you freely and legally with books. More children are borrowing books from libraries than ever before – books of all kinds: paper and digital and audio. But libraries are also, for example, places that people, who may not have computers, who may not have internet connections, can go online without paying anything: hugely important when the way you find out about jobs, apply for jobs or apply for benefits is increasingly migrating exclusively online. Librarians can help these people navigate that world.”  Gaiman recognizes the immense importance of libraries and why these institutions need to remain standing and continue gaining strength and support.  Libraries serve as an equalizer.  They give a means to people without and they help those who do go further.  

And now, we come to the end of his wonderfully moving lecture, where his point truly hits home:  “Look around you: I mean it. Pause, for a moment and look around the room that you are in. I’m going to point out something so obvious that it tends to be forgotten. It’s this: that everything you can see, including the walls, was, at some point, imagined. Someone decided it was easier to sit on a chair than on the ground and imagined the chair. Someone had to imagine a way that I could talk to you in London right now without us all getting rained on.This room and the things in it, and all the other things in this building, this city, exist because, over and over and over, people imagined things.”  This is a rather simple example in nature, but it is one that certainly reverberates.  Imagination is something that shouldn’t be titled ‘childish’ and a ‘waste of time.’  Imagination is how this world we live in has advanced so much.  Now, more than ever before, people are thinking of new ways to do things–to do it faster, better, more efficient.  How could this be accomplished without imagination?  And, if there was nothing to support that imagination?  Let children read and explore.  Let them imagine.  Let them never stop believing in something that is only just a possibility, because one day, they may make it a reality.

I want to leave you with Gaiman’s closing words:  “Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. ‘If you want your children to be intelligent,’ he said, ‘read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.’ He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand.”

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A Generous Donor Revives Two School Libraries

Today’s post connects to yesterday’s–involving Philadelphia libraries.  As mentioned in the previous post, because of huge budget cuts, MANY public and school libraries have been shut down entirely.

But, thanks to an anonymous donor, two school libraries are able to reopen.  The donor gave $205,000 to Central High and Masterman, two of the top public schools in the city, in order to support their libraries.

It is a shame to see such a large school district to suffer because of financial issues.  What is happening in Philadelphia is exactly what already occurred in Chicago.  Just looking at the figures alone, shows how great the disregard has become.  According to the article, “As a result of this year’s budget cuts, there were only 15 librarians left in the district. In 2011, the district had 65 librarians. In 1992, it had 176.”  It is pitiful that in just a little more than 20 years, this large district lost 161 librarians.

Is it now up to wealthy individuals to step up and fight for what’s right?  How can entire school districts lean on the shoulders of just a couple people?  The community has to step up and find a way to get the government and board of education to realize what needs to be done–and actually do it!

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Providing Books to the Public–One Way or Another

Philadelphia has been suffering from many library closures, both school and public.  This has obviously thrown off the availability of books and information to children and adults alike.  But the people of Philadelphia did not let this stop them from getting (and giving) what they all needed.  They have been creating Pop-Up Libraries, which are basically stands, of various shapes and sizes, that provide free books to the public.  The books provided through these makeshift libraries are more to give away, rather than to borrow.  However, the people who run the Pop-Up Libraries hope that as people take a book, they’ll donate a book.  

This issue has really become a group effort.  People are standing up and working together to fill in the gaps that the government has created through funding cuts.  It shows how reading and literacy is still a very relevant issue and how much it matters to keep it alive.  I really love seeing things like this because it makes you believe in a greater good and the strength of people.

Have you heard of anything similar to this?  Are your neighborhoods fighting the good fight for literacy in a time when libraries are under attack?

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Which book do you loathe?

BookRiot came out with a list of their top 25 most hated books.  When I first scanned the list, I was rather surprised by the titles.  Many of their books were ones I thoroughly enjoyed, and a couple of them are even some of my favorites.  For example, #11 and #12 on their list, Gone Girl and Eat, Pray, Love, were novels I truly loved reading.  Of course, there probably isn’t any one title that will appeal to everyone, but some of their listed books were international bestsellers.  That has to have some weight in an argument against people who loathe these books.  

With that said, I do agree with some of these books in terms of my hate for them.  The Scarlet Letter and The Pearl, two books which I taught to students when I was a high school English teacher, are absolutely horrible.  These titles are know in the literary canon as iconic and classic, but they don’t have that same resonance with their readers as they may have first had with their audience.

BookRiot does mention that some of these books overlapped with other lists of theirs, such as “Riot Readers’ 50 Favorite Novels” and “Books Riot Readers Keep Meaning to Read.”  So which books do you hate?  Did it make it to the list?  Any titles you disagree with?

Reading is truly a subjective experience, and each reader has a unique opinion of every piece of literature they encounter.  What are some reading experiences that really reverberated with you?

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eBooks: The Sneaky Threat to Libraries

With the fast pace developments in the world of technology, everything has an electronic version to it.  And since the entrance of eBooks into the literary world, readers and literary providers have been trying to keep up.  Unfortunately, with the presence of this race to stay relevant, libraries seem to be taking the biggest hit.

The major problem and disparity is that consumers and libraries of eBooks get charged differently.  As a public individual who is simply purchasing an eBook for his/her private eReader, shopping is made easy, and cheap, a lot of times.  However, this is not the case for libraries.

I would like to quote the article to paint a true picture of the predicament libraries find themselves in when entering the world of eBooks:

“Take the example of J.K. Rowling’s pseudonymous book, Cuckoo’s Calling. For the physical book, libraries would pay $14.40 from book distributor Baker & Taylor — close to the consumer price of $15.49 from Barnes & Noble and of $15.19 from Amazon. But even though the eBook will cost consumers $6.50 on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, libraries would pay $78 (through library eBook distributors Overdrive and 3M) for the same thing.”

That is absolutely ridiculous!  Because libraries provide readers with FREE access, ePublishers take complete advantage of these public providers in order to hone in on the biggest profit.  And because libraries are trying to fight shut downs and losing patronage, many pay these heinous prices–simply to stay in the race.

Somehow libraries, because they make books and information possible for every individual (no matter their background), are being taken advantage of by eBook providers.  Also, what makes the situation even worse is the fact that many authors are on the same evil bandwagon.  They are against the institution of libraries–some have gone as far as calling them “fascist.”  It is mind-boggling that people still think this way in terms of the written word, and it certainly creates a huge break between the haves and the have-nots.

Additionally, you may have noticed that eBooks have restrictions in terms of access.  For example, if you buy an eBook on Amazon, you are only able to access it through a Kindle device or Kindle ‘connection’ (such as the Kindle reader app.)  If you purchase an Apple iBook, you can only view it on an Apple device–this is how eBooks are different.  It would be like saying, “You cannot read your paperback of Pride and Prejudice in that student lounge, but you can read it at the coffee shop.”  It truly doesn’t make sense in terms of streamlining access.  Why, once you buy an eBook, from any provider, can you not read it anywhere through anything?

With all of these injustices, we are left to wonder where this is all going.  Because as much as I love books, and support libraries with every fiber of my being, I understand that the world of literature is changing.  (I myself, as a school librarian, am always debating if I should buy print books or eBooks for the school’s Kindles.)  So, what will happen when printed materials are extinct and everything has turned electronic.  Will libraries continue to be financially discouraged by these ePublishers?  How will libraries rise above this and fight for their equal rights to books, in any form?

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