and that is why I love reading

On Thursday, I went to a lecture at the Salt Lake public library about James Audubon.

Screenshot 2014-08-08 17.01.15The City Library has a copy of The Birds of America, with 435 life-sized, hand-colored aquarium prints featuring 497 species of birds. After yesterday’s lectures, I could tell you a lot about both Audubon and the way the books were produced, but I’ll resist. You can always go read the Wiki entry.

The people at the lecture were mostly members of the Great Salt Lake Audubon Society, with a few other bird watchers mixed in, and me. No, I haven’t suddenly become a bird watcher. I went because I read  and loved Okay For Now, in which the folios play a big part. Months ago, I stumbled upon the library’s copy, which is under glass on the fourth floor, immediately flash-backed to Okay For Now, and spent fifteen minutes poring over the illustration. When I saw the lecture announcement, I decided to attend. And that is why I love reading: one chance encounter with a YA book and there you go, I know more about Audubon than I would ever really want to.

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to the library!

I turned in the keys to my office at the U on Friday. It was quite bittersweet–I have loved having that office.

ImageAnd although I’ll obviously miss the stipend and support that came with the fellowship most, I’m not kidding when I say how much I loved being able to request every single book in the library that struck my fancy to be delivered to my office, if I wanted to.

Anyway, when a Facebook friend asked where I would be going, now that my fellowship is at an end, my sister A. quipped, “to the library!” Which is totally true. As I have lackluster discipline at best (though the SelfControl app certainly has helped with that!), it’s probably a good idea to go work at the library every once in a while, instead of my house with its myriad distractions (netflix! dog! laundry! snacks!). And since I have the downtown public library, the university library, and the Church History Library to choose from (all within what, a three mile radius of my house?), A. was more right than she knew.

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This seemed appropriate in light of my last post.

field trip!

Today we went on a field trip to the Church History Library in Salt Lake City. We got a tour through the library and then went into one of the vaults. We saw two diaries–one by Joseph Smith, the other by Wilford Woodruff.* Woodruff’s diary was intricately decorated: the man not only managed to keep a diary faithfully, but also illustrated it. But the pièce de résistance was one of the original transcriptions of the Book of Mormon. Forget the debate on whether Joseph was divinely inspired or not–you could feel something happen with the people in that room when it was brought out. Even I got goosebumps and I’m not even LDS.

*I always forget his name–I kind of cross it with Woodrow Wilson (the US president) and Felix Woodrow (of Step Ball Change). Which is typical since the guy isn’t actually called Woodrow, but whatever.

On a side note, I asked if you had to be LDS to work at the Library, and the answer was yes, unfortunately. Then the other seminar people reminded me I could always convert. So if I ever do, you’ll know it was because of the library.

After lunch at the City Creek Mall, we walked around Temple Square for a while before going to the Church History Museum.

This is where approximately everyone has their picture taken, especially if it’s their wedding day. So Dino and I decided to join in on the fun. Also, the temple is not leaning. I think that’s just me.

We’ve been working pretty hard so it was nice to stop staring at books in the BYU Library and go look at documents in the Church History Library instead.

(I know. To paraphrase Leonard: “Some kind of nerd? I’m the queen of nerds!” Whatever. I had fun.)

library number 2 this week

So I got me a new library card today–for free. Awesome.

you got to choose your own card–I thought the flying knight would be especially fun.

I think you all know how happy a new library card makes me. Even better is a new library card to an American library, stocked full of all kinds of books I’ve wanted to read for ages but couldn’t find in my Dutch or German library. On the desk next to me, in no particular order, are the three I restricted myself to (mostly because I am here for the seminar and supposed to be thinking deep thoughts about the cultural history of the gold plates, not read for fun all day):

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminister Boy, by Gary D. Schmidt. (Y’all remember how much I loved The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now, right?)
The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig (this is the 9th installment in the Pink Carnation series and I have read all the others, so I snapped this up just for old time’s sake)
The Magician King, by Lev Grossman (I bought and read The Magicians while I was in California in February and loved it, and was disturbed by it. There’s no higher praise for a book than that–it’s powerful stuff.)

I envisage a pool-side afternoon tomorrow with at least one of these. Not bad for a Saturday afternoon a long way from home.

two days in

It seems like a long time ago already, but the seminar officially began yesterday. The way this works is that we each have our own project (mine is the way the gold plates function in children’s literature and children’s music) and do extra readings, bibliographic stuff, etc as assigned and discuss these each morning. As far as I can tell, we’re going to be kept pretty busy! Apparently, the whole Mormons like to work hard thing is true.

So BYU is a dry campus, in more ways than one. No alcohol, yes, but also no tea and coffee. I don’t care about the alcohol or the tea, but studying without coffee is a new experience for me. It’s not even the caffeine I miss so much as it is the moment of respite it gives me–while my cup is still full, I am allowed to do absolutely nothing except enjoy just sitting there. (Or do the crossword, or read my book. You get the picture.)

So last night, I made the thirty-minute trek (on foot!) to The Coffee Pod. It was awesome. The coffee was pretty good, the barista was nice, they had a case of used books for sale, and the hipster guys next to me were discussing the possibility of a Marxist revolution in the US and Canada. It was everything I like in a coffee house (except for the white, privileged boys plotting to save the world–I can do without those). I sat there for an hour and a half, just recharging.

I was feeling discouraged before (being new is always hard), but felt totally okay afterwards. It even carried over to this morning. What a little alone time with a latte with do for you! (Although I did dream I spilled coffee grounds all over my room. Since my contract prohibits coffee on the premises, this freaked me out enough to wake me up. So I guess I’m already internalizing the honor code here.)

I bought the book for two dollars and am loving it.

And then, to make today even better, the weather was lovely (a breeze! not too hot!) and I raided the library, coming home with stacks of books. And to top it off, I got my BYU ID.

quite appropriately pictured on top of my library notes.

Isn’t it lovely? It’s my fifth university ID and I’d love to add at least one more to my collection before I’m finished. A girl can dream, right?

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

Cover of "The Wednesday Wars"

Cover of The Wednesday Wars

The first thing I did after I got my Kindle was go to Everyday Reading and look through all Janssen’s book reviews to find books I wanted to put on my Kindle. I trust her judgment, as you can tell.

As an aside, precisely that is why I love my Kindle – not only because I am  now never without a book, not only because I no longer have to gauge how many pages I have left to go versus the hours I’ll be on public transportation to figure out if I need to lug a second book with me to work or not, but mostly because it’s given me my library back. Sure, I live in a university town, so our public library has a decent collection of English books, even semi-recent publications. But still, it happened so often that I’d read about a book, get all excited, then find out that our library didn’t have it and neither did any public library in the system. Now, after I check the library, I check the internet and download it and usually can start reading it instantly.

Very awesome. Mostly because it allows me to read books like The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt. This is a book I’d never find in a library here, and I wouldn’t buy it because it’s YA and with all the books in the world to buy and my limited resources, I rarely buy YA. If I hadn’t bought a Kindle, I wouldn’t have read this book. And that would have been my loss.

Really. It’s a wonderful book, well-written, with engaging characters, and a lot of Shakespeare thrown in to boot. It’s about Holling Hoodhood, a boy in seventh grade in the 1960s, living with a domineering business-oriented father, with Vietnam and the murders of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and flower children in the background. But of course, Holling has other problems, like the fact that Mrs. Baker, his home-room teacher, hates his guts. Which is all the more problematic because he’s the lone Presbyterian kid in a room full of Jews and Catholics, who go to their respective religious houses for instruction each Wednesday afternoon, leaving him alone with Mrs. Baker. The first month or so, he cleans the classroom and claps all the erasers in the building, but later on, they start to read Shakespeare together. Although this plan convinces him at first that Mrs. Baker really does hate him, for the rest of the book, Holling peppers his speech with Shakespearean curses and learns to relate those old plays to his life. In the meantime, he falls in love, just a little bit, watches the war hit close to home when Mrs. Baker’s husband goes MIA and his sister Heather goes off to be a flower child in California. He sees his father in a new light and realizes he can choose who he wants to be in life but that it’s a choice that needs constant re-choosing, if he doesn’t want to end up as Shylock and become who everyone thinks he is or should be. Oh, and he deals with rats. Huge rats. And, in return for a tray full of delicious cream puffs, he plays Ariel in a local staging of The Tempest, requiring him to wear yellow tights with little feathers on his butt. If you want to know how he lives that down, go pick up a copy of The Wednesday Wars. You won’t regret it.

 

an inconclusive review of an inconclusive book

This is the third book authored by Scarlett Thomas that I’ve read. It’s interesting – I never fill quite fulfilled after reading one of her books, but when I spot a new one, I do pick it up and read it. I found this one at the library, in a stack of newly acquired English-language books. (That stack, by the way, is another reason I love my library.)

What I like about her books isn’t as much the writing, but that she picks up and plays with all kinds of philosophical concepts. This one dealt with narrativity, in particular, the notion of storyless stories versus the formulas used in (genre) fiction. I like how Thomas introduces intelligent, thoughtful characters and weaves these more philosophical questions into a narrative that is first and foremost about someone’s life – usually someone’s messy and somewhat miserable life. But I remain unfulfilled because her books tend to have an open end – both where the plot and the philosophical concept is concerned. This in contrast to, for example, Alexander McCall Smith’s Sunday Philosophy Club series, that features an editor of a philosophy journal and the ethical/philosophical dilemmas she faces in real life. McCall Smith tends to leave the philosophical problem pretty open (that, of course, is the beauty of philosophy, that it can never quite be resolved) but does somewhat close the plot – at least, till the next book. That fits me better.

But I have to say, normally I avoid such open-ended books, so it is quite the feat that Scarlett Thomas always has me coming back for more..