Sunday, November 23, 2008

Five: The Ring - Jorge Molist

What would you do if a mysterious medieval ring was sent to you on your birthday? Cristina Wilson faced this exact dilemma on her 27th birthday. The Ring, set in post 9/11 New York City & Barcelona, follows Cristina, Oriol & Luis as they follow a series of clues in search of a "treasure" saved by the Knights Templar.

Intrigued by the ruby ring sent by her godfather Enric, Cristina travels back to Barcelona her childhood home to learn of her inheritance. Reunited with her first love, Oriol, and her cousin Luis, the mysteries of her godfather's suicide and the "treasure" he was seeking unravels. Cristina is followed by a crazy monk Arnau, who protects her from an aggressive antique dealer Artur Boix. Artur's father and uncle were murdered looking for the Templar's "treasure".

Jorge Molist's book is full of Templar history and explores the intense history of Spain during the medieval times. Cristina, Oriol & Luis are forced to decide if they are pursuing the "treasure" for the "treasure" itself or for the adventure of a lifetime.

Molist, Jorge. The Ring: The Last Knight Templar's Inheritance. Atria Books(2004). 379 pages. ISBN 0743297512.

This book was a mixture of Da Vinci Code, National Treasure and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I was a little disappointed with how the "treasure" was found. I found myself figuring out what was going to happen next a few times. The book referenced multiple times the tragedy of 9/11 and how it impacted Cristina which was an interesting twist. There also was a big part of the book that focused on the sexual preferences of the characters. At times I felt exploring this topic took away from the main plot of the book - finding the Templar's "treasure". Overall this book was a good choice and often found myself having a hard putting the book down.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Four: Library An Unquiet Library - Matthew Battles

What is a universal library? This question is what Matthew Battles sets out to investigate through history. He quotes Seneca's definition
In the universal library...books are not treated as precious and crysalline essences...Instead they are text, fabrics to be shredded and woven together in a new combinations and patterns...they are not to be praised for particular influences or qualities; they must be counted and classified before they may be desired.
Battles also references Jorge Luis Borges' universal library described in The Library of Babel. The story concerns an infinite library, composed of endlessly connected hexagonal galleries and populated by inhabitants among whom have risen various weird belief systems and subcultures.

The rest of the book focuses on points of transformation in library history - starting with the burning of books at Alexandria, in the far East, Mexico and Rome. Battles then explores how libraries evolved and thrived within Europe during the Renaissance. The next chapter focuses on the essay by Jonathan Swift called The Battle of the Books. This essay tells an account between the ancient and modern books in Saint James' Library.

Battles chooses the late 1700s - early 1900's as the next time period of transformation in library history. The principle - 'a book for every person' is the main theme throughout this chapter. He takes the reader through how the standards that are part of a 21st century library were developed by Mevil Dewey, William Harris, William Coswell and many others. War's influence on libraries is the next topic that Battles' attacks. He points out that fire is not the only way to 'destroy' a library. Nazi Germany during both World Wars, Sarajevo and Bosnia are the wartime situations that Battles analyzes.

The last chapter does focus a short while on the library of the current century. Battle provides his own commentary on the digital library and takes the reader back to the stacks at Harvard to find where his book would be located.

Fun facts I learned:
  • King Ashurbanipal established the first systematically organized library
  • Qin emperor Shi Huangdi ordered the most extensive book burning in the world
  • Julius Caesar created the notion of a public library, but Asinius Pollio actually built the first library in Rome based on Caesar's wishes.
  • In Persia, books were revered as items of beauty with illustrations and calligraphy.
  • San Marco, Florence - first modern public library created by Cosimo de'Medici in 1444
  • Librarians at Sorbonne University in Paris introduced alphabet and Arabic numerals to the organization of books.
  • Vatican Library created the first 'cataloger' position - or scriptore in 1475. The books were organized by profession.
  • First literary reference of the 'doddering librarian' in Swift's The Battle of the Books.
  • Antonio Panizzi developed the first rules of cataloging and the concept of the modern day catalog.
  • Melvil Dewey's library reforms came from being incorrectly diagnosed to die within two years after inhaling smoke while rescuing books from a fire. This awareness of imminent death spurred an interest in time-saving that lasted the rest of his life.
  • Dewey also influenced women as being dominant in the library profession as a means to define the profession down.
  • Lloyd P. Smith wrote an essay called The Qualifications of a Librarian in 1876.
  • Herman Kruk was a librarian in Vilna ghetto during the World War II.
  • Great drawing of the stacks at New York Public Library which appeared in Scientific American, May 1911

Battles, Matthew. Library: An Unquiet History. W.W. Norton & Company (2003). 214 pages. ISBN 0393020290

This was my first non-fiction book that was part of this Cannonball Read. I must admit that I did struggle through this book. The subject of the book has interest to me as a librarian, but the writing style of the author was not the easiest to read. Luckily I was able to make it through most of the book on train ride to and from NYC.

I was disappointed that the author skipped nearly 10 years of library history to just offer his commentary on the modern day digital library. There was no explanation of how libraries evolved digitally. I also thought he would offer more history on the Harvard Library than he did, but it turns out he wrote a whole separate book on the Widener Library. While I learned some interesting fun facts and found some additional reading on libraries, this book was not quite what I was expecting. I felt that sometimes Battles would go off on historical tangents and had a hard time coming back to the main discussion.

Totally unrelated - but Matthew Battles was on NPR's Talk of the Nation - twice! Once talking about the role of libraries and this summer talking about WALL-E. He even wrote a small article for the Boston Globe about WALL-E.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Three: The Queen's Lady - Barbara Kyle

One night in May, Honor Larke watches as her father dies and her arch-nemesis, a priest named Bastwick, deals for her dowry in order to advance himself. A month later, Honor and her best friend Ralph escape from Sir Guy Tyrell's care and head to London. Honor is made a ward of Sir Thomas More and ends up serving as a lady-in-waiting for Queen Catherine. Six years after they had been separated, Honor watches in horror as her best friend Ralph is burned at the stake for transporting bibles in English.

Honor is determined to avenge Ralph's death - which she assumes was ordered by Bastwick - who now is working for the Bishop of London. Overhearing a boatman's conversation, she warns a group of Brethren about an attack by the Bishop's men. Here begins Honor's quest to save the innocent from religious persecution. As she continues to "investigate" Ralph's death, Honor realizes that Sir Thomas More actually was the person who ordered him to be burned.

Honor approaches Thomas Cromwell with a proposition in order to help him serve King Henry directly and influence a new religion in England. Honor travels to Spain for Queen Catherine and ends up turning over the Pope's proclamation to one of Cromwell's men - Richard Thornleigh. Honor and Richard met before in the gardens of Cardinal Wosley. He overheard her giving a secret letter to the Spanish ambassador from Catherine to the Emperor.

Honor again overhears plans to capture a Brethren priest named Frish at Sir Thomas More's house. She promises to safely get Frish abroad and asks Richard Thornleigh to help her. Richard owns multiple ships for his wool exporting business. The first "rescue" goes successfully and suddenly Honor and Richard have a new partnership in smuggling folks who are being persecuted.

The Queen's Lady follows the adventures of Honor and Richard as they both search for answers to their past heartbreaks while influencing the religious views of a country in political turmoil.

Kyle, Barbara. The Queen's Lady. Kensington Publishing (2008). 525 pages. ISBN 075822544X
At first I was hesitant about reading another book on the Tudor family - especially one that covers the same period I'm familiar with. I will admit that when the author chose to focus on Henry and Anne - I skimmed and moved on. While I feel their history is important background for this book - really the religious turmoil is the more predominant historical character. It was an interesting perspective to focus on the historical accounts from Sir Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell's view. While I knew that Henry's persistence in attaining a divorce from Catherine caused England to redefine it's religious beliefs, I didn't realize how much a person's religious views could impact their daily living back then. It's amazing how in present times - there isn't more religious unrest like their was back then.

Barbara's writing is very witty and quick to read. This book was read mostly multi-tasking while watching the last couple of World Series games (Go Phillies!). Many times I had a hard time putting the book down - because I was so curious about what was going to happen next.

I do feel that the time that Honor spent in abroad outside of England didn't fit with the rest of the story. Barbara had Honor ending up back in Germany with her philosopher friend and returning back to England to confront Sir Thomas More right before he was executed. Suddenly Richard was alive (surprising) and somehow caught up to Honor in London to save her from being burned. While all the loose ends were wrapped up by the end of the book - the last 100 pages just didn't flow with the other 400.