Wednesday, April 20, 2011

CBR3-16: The Tiger's Wife - Tea Obreht

Full Disclosure: I received an ARC copy of this book from Random House at ALA Midwinter

The sometimes crushing power of myth, story, and memory is explored in the brilliant debut of Obreht, the youngest of the New Yorker's 20-under-40. Natalia Stefanovi, a doctor living (and, in between suspensions, practicing) in an unnamed country that's a ringer for Obreht's native Croatia, crosses the border in search of answers about the death of her beloved grandfather, who raised her on tales from the village he grew up in, and where, following German bombardment in 1941, a tiger escaped from the zoo in a nearby city and befriended a mysterious deaf-mute woman. The evolving story of the tiger's wife, as the deaf-mute becomes known, forms one of three strands that sustain the novel, the other two being Natalia's efforts to care for orphans and a wayward family who, to lift a curse, are searching for the bones of a long-dead relative; and several of her grandfather's stories about Gavran Gailé, the deathless man, whose appearances coincide with catastrophe and who may hold the key to all the stories that ensnare Natalia. Obreht is an expert at depicting history through aftermath, people through the love they inspire, and place through the stories that endure; the reflected world she creates is both immediately recognizable and a legend in its own right. Obreht is talented far beyond her years, and her unsentimental faith in language, dream, and memory is a pleasure. - Publishers Weekly
I read a snippet of this story in The Best Non-Required American Reading 2010 and was curious about the rest of the story.  Plus I sat through a Book Buzz session at ALA Conference and heard about the rave reviews. Also Obreht being picked as part of the New Yorker's 40 under 40 list also made me want to read the book.

The prologue really captures the reader and draws you into the story.  The prose is well written and very descriptive.  I was fascinated by the two stories told by her grandfather.  I was expecting all the stories to connect and relate to each other so much that I got distracted from the plot while trying to figure out the connection.

This book definitely made me think a bit after I was done reading. Even though the subplots were explained and explored a bit, I wanted more.  I wanted to learn more about the main character and what happens to her after she processes her grandfather's death. Check out Scott Simon's interview with Tea Obreht.

Stay tuned for more thoughts on this book.  My fiance Patrick read it as well and will be posting his review in the next week or so.

cbr3-15: Queen Hereafter - Susan Fraser King

Full Disclosure: I won this book as part of a contest from the Word Wenches

In King's follow-up to Lady Macbeth, Queen Margaret feeds the hungry and clothes the poor while war rages at home and abroad in 11th-century Scotland. Margaret transforms from devout exile into devout yet savvy queen when she marries King Malcolm Canmore, 18 years her senior and famous for killing Macbeth and his heir to the Scottish thrown. Newlywed Margaret first hears of Macbeth's unrepentant widow, Lady Gruadh, who has just sent her gifted granddaughter Eva to Malcolm's court to serve as bard, confidant, and spy. With Eva by her side, an emboldened Margaret embraces both Celtic and Latin religious traditions, aids the poor, frees prisoners, introduces the Scots to English manners, and helps negotiate peace. As she matures, Margaret's love for her husband and his people deepens and their relationship comes richly to life. Though clichés often plague the prose ("Tension and turbulence rode the air like dark clouds before a storm"), King's blend of historical figures and fictional characters turns a medieval icon into a believable mother, wife, and ruler. Quotes from original sources offer context and insight as to where the record ends and imagination begins - Publishers Weekly
I haven't read much on Scottish history and was curious to learn more about Margaret & Malcolm.  I appreciated that King focused on the early part of Margaret's "career" and showed how she rose to power and adjusted to life in Scotland. Margaret surely is a model queen showing great generosity, piety and sense of tradition which helped transform Scotland.

I enjoyed the fictional female bard  - Eva - that King created and used as narrator every other chapter.  Eva allowed the reader to understand and "feel" the tension between the Northern Scotland - Lady Macbeth and the Southern Scotland - Malcolm.  I did get a little lost in the battles between Malcolm and King William in England as well as following which relatives were siding with which leader.

King created a very subtle, but lovely love story and the book is well written.  I felt the opening prologue lost its mystery because it took three-quarters of the book to get back to that scene again.  I actually had to reread that chapter to remember what happened and how it related to the plot moving forward. 

CBR3-14: Guns, Germs & Steel - Jared Diamond

**** March Book Club Selection *****

Explaining what William McNeill called The Rise of the West has become the central problem in the study of global history. In Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared Diamond presents the biologist's answer: geography, demography, and ecological happenstance. Diamond evenhandedly reviews human history on every continent since the Ice Age at a rate that emphasizes only the broadest movements of peoples and ideas. Yet his survey is binocular: one eye has the rather distant vision of the evolutionary biologist, while the other eye--and his heart--belongs to the people of New Guinea, where he has done field work for more than 30 years.-
I've never read a Pulitzer Prize winning book before.  I was intimidated by the size of this book and really hesitated to get started reading it, even though I knew I needed the full month to finish it.  I was pleasantly surprised at the readability of the book.  Ultimately though the size of the book ended up being a bit of a pitfall for me.  By the time I made it 75% through, I was skimming the chapters to see if Diamond had something new to say.  It started to feel like a history textbook more than an interesting discussion of facts and situations.

This book was considered a "co-ed" book for our book club, so the boys were encouraged to read it as well.  It turns out that only 3 of us - boys or girls - made it through the whole book.  But Diamond's theories and concepts were able to be discussed even with a brief understanding of his argument.  We ended up having a lively discussion for over an hour.

If you are curious about what Diamond's theories are, but are wary about reading a 500 page book, National Geographic did a 5 part series that is available on Netflix streaming.

Friday, April 15, 2011

National Library Week 2011

All this week libraries across the country have been celebrating their awesomeness and the joy they bring the communities around them as part of National Library Week.

CNN Librarian Kerith Page McFadden wrote a nice post about librarians being the master of the information universe.  Looking through the Google News feed and the #nlw11 tweets it seems like the celebrations are going strong this week in various ways.  

Yesterday was International Special Librarians' Day and we held a little celebration at work due to that and also our wiki hitting 250,000 page views. It was nice to see the staff members we serve or interact with everyday visiting our desks - which are spread among 5 floors - and saying thank you.  Of course I'm sure the free goodies helped to get a few folks to stop by, but just the effort they took to say Thank You was a nice gesture.

I also attended a DC/SLA program that highlighted three librarians who have done international work. 

Allan Overland, Library Director at Democracy Resource Center which is part of the National Endowment for Democracy, explained a grant funded project to create a digital library of democracy related materials.  They decided due to budget and time constraints to just focus initially on the content that was born digital.  They expanded out their current library catalog and made a basic search interface.  They are working with other countries who are democratic to show them how to make a simple digital library for their collections as well.

Edna Reid has spent time working in Singapore and Malaysia. In Singapore, she helped build a library school and also worked at Nanyang Business School.  After working for in Singapore for a few years, she decided to just take a year off and enjoy herself in Malaysia.  But as she started to reach out to colleagues and other contacts she realized she was doing consulting on the side and decided to start her own consultant business.

Edna mentioned that part of her experience abroad was learning about the cultural intelligence and how to work around the society rules. She encouraged librarians who might be interested in an abroad position to think about framing their skills with a mindset of what they could bring to an international setting.  She challenged us to think about what domain knowledge we have that is on demand in other countries.  She suggested looking at the hot issues & discussions happening in other countries as well.

Dr. Sohair Wastawy was the last speaker.  She was the Chief Librarian of the Library of Alexandria in Egypt from 2004 - 2010. Currently she is the Dean of Libraries at Illinois State University.  She talked to us about how the information world is changing and how libraries are transforming to meet those needs.  I was impressed with the ease that she spoke about the different statistics regarding social media trends, wireless and communications overall.  She showed us designs of new & existing library buildings around the world that are transforming to be more than a place that houses books.  One library that caught my eye during the presentation was NC State's Hunt Library.

Dr. Wastawy then transitioned to sharing a little bit about that goals and programs that the new Library at Alexandria offers.  The library building itself is very impressive and they are reaching out to many different types of people - young, old, mentally handicapped, etc. The new Library of Alexandria was built in 2002, but has already made a huge impact on the surrounding communities.  During the recent protests in Egypt, young people linked hands around the library building for hours in order to make sure no harm was done to this place of learning and community.

What I learned from all the speakers last night is that you need to take risks and step outside of your comfort zone when entering into a international librarianship position. Living and working abroad has always been a goal of mine, but at this point in my life I'm not sure its realistic. I was encouraged by an opportunity that Edna mentioned in which the US State Department is looking for short-term assignments for persons with particular skills.  Perhaps that is how I could get my feet wet in international librarianship in the future.

Happy National Library Week!

March Reading Summary & Challenge Update

I'm a little late in posting last month's summary again because of a busy schedule at work and outside of work.

It was a slow month because I only read 3 1/2 books and I'm behind on reviews.
  • Guns, Germs & Steel (March Book Club Pick) by Jared Diamond
  • Queen Hereafter - Susan Fraser King
  • The Tiger's Wife - Tea Obreht
    I also started to read The Metropolis Case by Matthew Gallaway

    Reading Challenges Progress
    Cannonball Read III: 16 of 52 complete
    Off the Shelf: 2 of 15 complete
    Heroines Bookshelf: haven't started
    Outdo Yourself: 16 of 70 complete