25.4.08

Casual racism

I know that one of the "issues" in the Obama/Clinton contest is the topic of race: are people voting for Clinton or are they voting against a black candidate? There's a discussion about the casual, hidden racism this contest has raised. I'm not writing about that (you know my views on the whole political thing) but to write about what happens when we read or watch older works.

One theme in Cranford is the so-called destruction of the town by the incoming railway. One character, one of those village matriarchs so common to Victorian writing, is opposed not just because the village will lose it's solitude and peace, but because there will be workers constructing the tracks and they might be Irish. Gasp! But that was reality then: the Irish were despised immigrant labor. The comment is so casual, so off-hand, that it's all the more shocking given today's PC culture.

It reminded me how I felt reading Ellery Queen mysteries last year. The first time I'd read them, when I was much younger, it was about the mystery and sharing something with my father. This time, I noticed the language. At least once in each book either Ellery or his father said "That's white of you" (sometimes "damned" or "mighty" was inserted into the phrase). The way they treated and spoke to their houseboy(!) was also casually racist.

There's been a lot written about the value of reading Huckleberry Finn: it is good for students to read that sort of language, to be exposed to those sorts of ideas? The same could be asked about these works, yet in the case of Cranford, PBS is ignoring any issues and airing it next month. I suspect we'll all survive, just as I've survived watching All in the Family and reading Ellery Queen.

21.4.08

Notable Quotes

Weakness is not a part of the definition of womanhood

Unknown

19.4.08

Whew!

Made it through the week - five days of Book Fair (Sunday through Thursday), teaching, dealing with staffing issues, working on book orders and insurance claims, etc.. The budget is due and I've got to think about next year's needs and reconcile this month's report. Somehow, Fridays are always the worst because it feels that it's time to dump stuff on me/the library since it's the last day of the week. Making it all worse was a 3pm meeting!

But then I get to thinking about Annoyed Librarian's post about stress. She's got it right:
For pete's sake, people, we work in libraries. We're not saving lives here. Relax.
And even though we in the school library world like to go on about our stresses (including the high stakes testing) and the power struggles and internal crap that goes on at our schools, it helps to remember Henry Kissinger's comment, "There is no politics quite as vicious as academic politics, because there is so little at stake."

I'm off for a Lazyday in the Big City, picking up Lulu and shopping (and brunching) and then home. I'm taking none of my stress and angst with me. You do the same.

13.4.08

Out, damned Scot spot

Yesterday I saw "the Scottish Play" on Broadway. While others (betters?) have already pronounced on it, I thought instead I'd add some meager musings rather than a critique of the whole...
  • I saw Richard III at BAM several years ago, and like this it was set in a vaguely Nazi/Stalinist era. Why is it that Shakespeare's plays lend themselves so well to this type of "updating"? In another 25-50 years, will we find another way present his plays, or will these settings still be relevant?
  • If you want to convince people that Patrick Stewart has left Star Trek behind, don't open the second half with him clearly reacting to something not there, as if the director will CGI Banquo in later.
  • The (infamous?) witches scene (you know, the "double double toil trouble" one) is done as a rap, but comes out like a mash-up of Tainted Love and Eminem.
  • The scene where Mrs. MacDuff and her children are killed included a sound effect similar to the Psycho shower-stabbing violins. Coincidence?
Ok, minor quibbles only. The best news was that the performance I saw, 2pm on Saturday, was filled with younger people - the average age was 25-30 (if that). What a nice change from the usual bluehairs!

If you can, GO!

10.4.08

It's the little things

Thing Two often says "you're just a better person than I", and I'm not sure I buy it. I'm lazy, I have a huge selfish streak, and, well, I don't feel better than anyone.

But there are times...

One of my colleagues' daughter has a blog, which I read. A recent post pointed to some very good news (a Pulitzer prize "runner-up") so I sent a brief "congratulations" e-mail to my colleague. Last night, at dinner, she came up with tears in her eyes and gave me a hug. My 5-second e-mail had meant so much to her. I felt awkward because it really was such a little thing -- but not to her.

I also learned last night (as I catch up on my reading) that another colleague has been admitted to membership at her local Meeting. Again, I've sent an e-mail. And again, it's a tiny thing, taking only a few seconds.

Years ago I worked for a man that handled marketing and "rainmaking" for the company. One of the things he did was to make extensive notes about the people he'd met (on the plane or train, for example, or at a gathering of friends) and then to send follow-up notes. Sometimes it was stupid stuff, like cartoons or an article that might be of interest. Sometimes it was birthday cards or a brief note. Usually, those things didn't garner any response. But - and this is the critical part - all the recipients were grateful to hear from him, for his interest in the little things, and they'd remember him when it came time to suggest a company or service that we provided. Ultimately, all that care and attention paid off.

It's a good lesson to learn, and one I've been lazy about really doing to the degree I should. My new goal? To set aside a few minutes every day for the "little" things.

7.4.08

Notable Quotes

Simplicity is the right ordering of our lives,
placing God at the center.
When we shed possessions, activities, and behavior
that distract us from that center,
we can focus on what is important.
Simplicity does not mean denying life’s pleasures,
but being open to the promptings of the Spirit.

6.4.08

Notes from Mt. Bookpile

Children's/Young Adult
Fiction/Literature
  • The Age of Shiva, Manil Suri A rather passive woman's life during the years after Partition; well-written but I wanted more action and more of India's history
  • The Rosetta Key, William Dietrich If you like Indiana Jones-meets-Dan Brown fiction, this is for you
Humor
Mystery
  • The Dead Place, Stephen Booth I love this series - the darkness, the tension in Cooper's life, the sense of place
  • Death of a Dormouse, Reginald Hill For Hill, meh. For anyone else? Not bad.
  • Now You See Him, Eli Gottleib Stay far, far away
  • Secret Sins, Kate Charles Charles does ecclesiastic mystery in a really good way
  • The Silver Swan, Benjamin Black Wonderful writing, but so-so mystery. Not sure where this series is going, but I'll read another if it comes along
  • Slip of the Knife, Denise Mina Not my thing, but if you like the Temperence Brennan series it might be yours
  • Watchman, Ian Rankin Not a Rebus, but a definite must read
Non-Fiction
Science Fiction/Fantasy
  • The Host, Stephanie Meyer Wow. Wonderful. I just hope this doesn't become a series, because it's a great one-off
  • Ink Exchange, Melissa Marr Great follow-up to Wicked Lovely.

Total removed from Mt. Bookpile this quarter: 32
New books added to Mt. Bookpile this quarter: 52
Net gain: 20

The gain was entirely due to ALA Midwinter; with no conferences between now and the end of this quarter, I should be able to play catch-up. A little.

2.4.08

"I don't want to work that hard"

A couple of days ago, Terry blogged about opera, with a follow-up here. Yesterday I was chatting with the mother of a student, someone I know and respect and with whom I share a similar age and sensibility. She'd told me when the hotline for tickets to Macbeth went live and that she'd gotten two (neither for me; I'm going with a friend in a couple of weeks). Over Break, she'd seen the show and, well, her comment is this post's title.

I think that's the problem with much art today: people perceive it as "hard work". Opera is all-singing, usually in a foreign language (and forget the subtitles!); Shakespeare is something you've had to pick apart and discuss and memorize in school; classical music is for those long-hair effete people who understand themes and motifs and counterpoint. You get the drift. It's not part of our shared entertainment culture in the way it once was.

This mother went on to talk about her recent reading, and how she's veered away from novels that are "work". Once, she'd read War and Peace for fun, but now? Yeah, right. Some other person perhaps, but not her.

The thing is, I understand this. I do like Art, and indulge as often as I can. There is a side of me, however, that doesn't want to work at understanding the plot, or diagnosing the hero/anti-hero dynamic, or figuring out why this Bach fugue is so wonderful. I just want to enjoy, and if that means more "low-brow" entertainment, well, so be it.

As I was pondering all this, I remembered a few posts about education that I've read recently. One bluntly asks if schools are broken. Many bloggers (Will Richardson, for example) talk about making school interesting, using "2.0" tools to appeal to students. My question is: are we also ensuring that they, too, won't want to work hard at something? Not all learning is easy (my struggles with math are proof enough), and not all learning is fun. Fundamentals are sometimes best taught in a kill-and-drill fashion (quick: the 12 times tables, anyone?). I often tell my Middle School student that what we're doing may seem boring or pointless, but as they internalize the research process, including citations, they'll be able to do more creative work with ease.

Rather than taking notes, they want to cut-and-paste information, or Xerox it (seriously - one kid waited for 10 minutes to make a copy of one paragraph, instead of taking 2-3 minutes to write notes). They want instant gratification, and the gurus are telling us to give them a rich experience filled with the latest in ed. tech.. Where in all this do they learn to work hard? When do they learn that not every job will include wikis and social networking?

I could go on, but again, you get the gist.

Working hard shouldn't be shied away from, in education or entertainment. We should be teaching the next generation how to do the work, and to allow them the freedom to choose which they want to do when. My guess is that schools will improve, and that attendance at the theatre and opera will increase. But what do I know? I'm Lazy.