Monthly Archives: February 2013

Article – Libraries ‘have had their day’, says Horrible Histories author

Radio silence much?

Yeah, we’ve been a bit busy over here, so the blog’s been a bit neglected. I’ve got Warm Bodies and plan to start reading it tonight (woop!). Otherwise, I’ve been working hard on my resolution to read at least one book per month that’s not related to the book club. I did that with Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore in January (review to come; I’m so behind) and a sequel to a book I’ve already read (I believe I’ll be reviewing the first book at some point).

Why have we been so busy? you ask, and rightfully  so. I can only speak for myself, of course; I believe Meghan may be involved with some international espionage. I’m now the head editor of the South Carolina page at I Need A Library Job, so that’s been a bit hectic. And of course, I’m busy job searching and really trying to focus my efforts in that direction.

I swear, one day I won’t have to job search anymore. On that day I won’t know what to do with myself.

Ah, but I haven’t started this post just to update you on my life (riveting as that may be). No, my friends; I write because of this atrocity:

Libraries ‘have had their day’, says Horrible Histories author

Oh, Terry Deary. I can only hope that you’ve done this as some sort of reverse-psychology. “If I spew the same rhetoric their saying, perhaps they’ll see the idiocy of sentiment!” Please, let this be a mastermind plot that’s secretly in support of libraries. Otherwise, you’re just horribly dense.

Yes, dense. I could use other descriptive nouns or adjectives, but I’m trying to keep this blog suitable to all audiences. So let’s go into the actual article.

Terry Deary told the Guardian that libraries are “no longer relevant”. (You know my librarian-senses are rankling at that, but I shall try to remain objective, or at least coherently subjective.) Deary believes that libraries should close branches in an effort to save money, even as other authors are rallying against this. According to him, libraries “have had their day”.

I think the most coherent way to go about summarizing this is to string together Deary’s quotes, interspersed with my erudite comments:

“I’m not attacking libraries, I’m attacking the concept behind libraries, which is no longer relevant… Because it’s been 150 years [since the Public Libraries Act], we’ve got this idea that we’ve got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers. This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that”.

I…it…really? According to this, the entire purpose of a library is to provide free reading material to people who don’t want to shell out money to support authors. I shall continue to shout it from the rooftops: libraries ARE NOT merely repositories of books. They provide access to information. And it’s not free; they’re supported by tax dollars. And libraries pay for the books that circulate, which don’t hold up forever and need to be replaced (one of the issues behind e-book prices, but that’s for another post).

Deary claims that his opinions aren’t merely based upon selfish financial concerns:

“If I sold the book I’d get 30p per book. I get six grand, and I should be getting £180,000. But never mind my selfish author perception – what about the bookshops? The libraries are doing nothing for the book industry. They give nothing back, whereas bookshops are selling the book, and the author and the publisher get paid, which is as it should be. What other entertainment do we expect to get for free?… [Bookshops are closing down] because someone is giving away the product they are trying to sell. What other industry creates a product and allows someone else to give it away, endlessly? The car industry would collapse if we went to car libraries for free use of Porsches … Librarians are lovely people and libraries are lovely places, but they are damaging the book industry. They are putting bookshops out of business, and I’m afraid we have to look at what place they have in the 21st century”.

Libraries are killing the book trade? Is that really what you believe? Because I know I’ve bought more books because of what I’ve discovered at my public library than I would have otherwise.

But let’s not take my word for it, let’s look at something Neil Gaiman did. In 2008 Gaiman convinced Harper Collins to offer the e-book of American Gods for free online for an entire month. Wanna know what happened? While the book was available for free, book sales increased. Yes, increased. They then fell after the free period was removed. (For a longer explanation, read his explanation here.)

So no, Deary, offering a book for free will not kill bookstores. Your argument is invalid.

Deary then gets off his high horse about the poor bookshops and continues on about his own finances taking a hit.

“People have to make the choice to buy books. People will happily buy a cinema ticket to see Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and expect to get the book for free. It doesn’t make sense… Books aren’t public property, and writers aren’t Enid Blyton, middle-class women indulging in a pleasant little hobby. They’ve got to make a living. Authors, booksellers and publishers need to eat. We don’t expect to go to a food library to be fed… Why are all the authors coming out in support of libraries when libraries are cutting their throats and slashing their purses?… We can’t give everything away under the public purse. Books are part of the entertainment industry. Literature has been something elite, but it is not any more. This is not the Roman empire, where we give away free bread and circuses to the masses. People expect to pay for entertainment. They might object to TV licences, but they understand they have to do it. But because libraries have been around for so long, people have this idea that books should be freely available to all. I’m afraid those days are past. Libraries cost a vast amount … and the council tax payers are paying a lot of money to subsidise them, when they are used by an ever-diminishing amount of people.”

Here’s the thing: libraries haven’t existed this long out of “sentimentality”; they’re still around because they work. And if Deary honestly thinks that a diminishing amount of people are making use of libraries, he likely hasn’t stepped foot in one for many years. Libraries are being used more than ever, especially since the recession started. Don’t believe me? Check out the stats on the American Library Association page. Think this is a trend in the US and not the UK? You’d be partially correct. This article shows that library usage has gone down in the UK. But guess what? So have the number of open branches, which appears to affect the usage numbers. There was also a decline in book-borrowing and library purchasing of books. What did increase was the number of volunteers, needed to keep some branches afloat after necessary staff cuts due to budget problems. Why get volunteers and not just close down the libraries with the cuts?

Because they’re important, because people use them, and based on the stats they’re not just using libraries for borrowing “free” books. (Physical visits to libraries decreased less than book borrowing, which shows people are going to the libraries for other reasons.)

In closing, Deary, I truly hope this is some sort of double-play, that you don’t actually believe all the crap you’ve spouted, because otherwise you’re an ignorant fool.

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Book Choice – February 2013

I’m going to call our first discussion a success. It might have just been me and three (fantabulous) people discussing the books, and there weren’t many comments, but what comments we had were dense and thoughtful. Keep it going! Discussion doesn’t have to end now (nor should it).

However, certain things must happen now. First, we announce the winner of of the January participation prize. Second, we announce the book up for discussion on 1st March.

The winner of the Colin Gilbert chapbook is…JOY!!! I used a random number generator online, so it was totally unbiased. My darling, I shall deliver it the next time I see you (which should be soon, btw).

That being said, the I’m really excited for February’s book. We, the benevolent Powers-That-Be, thought a romance would be in order, what with February’s claim-to-fame being Valentine’s Day (Diana’s birthday a close second). However, we are never ones to be “normal”, so an alternative romance, we felt, was in order.

(A word of advice from Diana: DO NOT Google “alternative romance” and expect to find books with an alternative take on romance. You will instead receive suggestions for badly written “S&M” light erotica novels. Oh, Fifty Shades of Grey, what have you wrought?)

Our February book up for discussion is…

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion.

From Amazon:

R is a young man with an existential crisis–he is a zombie. He shuffles through an America destroyed by war, social collapse, and the mindless hunger of his undead comrades, but he craves something more than blood and brains. He can speak just a few grunted syllables, but his inner life is deep, full of wonder and longing. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he has dreams.

After experiencing a teenage boy’s memories while consuming his brain, R makes an unexpected choice that begins a tense, awkward, and strangely sweet relationship with the victim’s human girlfriend. Julie is a blast of color in the otherwise dreary and gray landscape that surrounds R. His decision to protect her will transform not only R, but his fellow Dead, and perhaps their whole lifeless world.

Scary, funny, and surprisingly poignant, Warm Bodies is about being alive, being dead, and the blurry line in between.

Meghan has already started reading the book, and she loves it. Be prepared for Shakespearean references! Also, the movie just came out, and it might be interesting if we discussed how the movie treats the content of the book.

So, are you looking forward to 1st March? Have any suggestions for next months book? Hit us up! We’re lonely.

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January 2013 Discussion – Good Omens

Reader beware: here there be spoilers. This is a discussion, NOT a review. We (the glorious and fearsomely beautiful powers that be) shall be reviewing the book, yes, but we do so to open a discussion based upon intimate details in the plot. Please do not read further unless you’re either taking part in the discussion or you don’t care about being spoiled.

If you do and you are, don’t come crying to us.

You’ve been warned.

_________________________________________________________________

The Book Club commences! Remember to let us know if you posted a review on your own blog. As we’re gracious overlords, we’ll even include a link.

Before we get into this, a few ground rules. To discuss this book we’re going to have to (at some point) discuss religion. Be respectful. Thus far I know we’ll have a few flavors of Christian, Wiccan, atheist, and a few of a more spiritual persuasion. We have no compunction against deleting any intolerant comments. So play nice.

We also promised a giveaway, didn’t we? So, take part in the discussion and we shall be randomly selecting someone to win a chapbook of Colin Gilbert’s poetry! It’s good stuff, it is, and this particular chapbook is suitable for school children as well. The more you take part, the better your chances of winning. Just don’t be a jerk and post things just to post. We’re quick on the uptake and will delete your nonsense quicker than Meghan finishes off an apple pie.*

*note: that is, very quickly indeed.

That being said, let’s get onto it!

Review

I have a 2007 Harper Collins edition of the book, which also comes with a 2-page forward and two other extras: one 4-page story called “Terry Pratchett on Neil Gaiman” and one 5-page story called “Neil Gaiman on Terry Pratchett”. The forward discusses the current cult-like status of the book while the latter two bits tell each author’s rendition of how they met, how they wrote the book, and their thoughts on the other man. Honestly, if you can get your hands on these I’d highly suggest them.

Speaking of “the current cult-like status of the book”, I warn you now: this book will go through more damage than any book you’ve ever known. It’s something about the very nature of the book and I don’t quite understand it. I’m on my second copy (which is a really good track record, actually). The first I lent out and it was never returned. That happens a lot with Good Omens. So does lending it out and getting it back slightly more destroyed than before.* And you’ll destroy it to. Drop it in a bathtub, have it held together with celo-tape. You name it, it will happen to this book.

(*What is it with people borrowing books and giving them back in bad condition? I HATE this. If I lend you one of my precious books, I expect it returned in the same condition [which is pristine, unless it’s Good Omens]. I think I should get book plates that read, “If you break this spine then I will break yours.”)

The story is about the Apocalypse. It’s time for the Anti-Christ to come into his powers and bring about the end of days. Problem is, Hell seems to have misplaced him (the Anti-Christ), and Heaven isn’t too sure where he is, either. To top is off, certain emissaries of both Heaven and Hell kinda don’t want the world to end. Cue hilarity. What results is a rather deep and poignant discourse on free will, predestination, and God’s ineffable plan. Deep issues like this are best explored through comedy. Aristotle stated that tragedies concentrate on the virtuous, while comedies concentrate on the less-than-virtuous. So it is here. I mean, the main characters in Good Omens are the Anti-Christ and an angel and a demon who don’t actually want (what they think is) God’s plan to come to fruition. They don’t play the roles they’re supposed to, whether that be good or bad. In fact, everything and everyone in Good Omens is a shade of grey. (This is, arguably, a discourse on human nature, but more on that later.) The point is, when you think about it, this is a story that best be told through comedy.

The style and tone are very Pratchett-esque. I think this has something to do with Gaiman deferring to Pratchett’s writing when they were collaborating; at that point, Pratchett was far more published than Gaiman. This isn’t a Pratchett novel, though; there are definite differences between the voice in Good Omens and the voice in Pratchett’s other works. Gaiman and Pratchett’s voices meld together and become a third entity. And it works. It’s seamless; it doesn’t feel like two people writing one book at all, if feels like one. And can we please talk about the footnotes? I’d totally forgotten about them (I think I always forget about them until I’m rereading the novel). They add so much to the novel, both in humor and back story. I feel like this might be an idea born from Pratchett, but I’m not entirely certain. I wonder which author came up with the idea of the footnotes first?

I think the central theme is the question of human nature. Adam is the Anti-Christ, but he’s raised as a regular human with no influence from either Heaven or Hell. What results is Adam as a representation of humankind as a whole. Is he evil because he’s born evil? Is he good? Are humans a blank slate?

I also enjoy that we as readers don’t find out precisely how Adam turns out in the end. The ending really isn’t an ending, but it’s not necessarily ambiguous either. The conflict is resolved (the Apocalypse doesn’t happen as everyone supposed it was going to), but we don’t know how it will turn out later, whether Adam will succumb to his evil nature (if he is evil by nature) and bring about the end of the world later on. Instead, we’re struck by God’s Great Punchline – we just don’t know what will happen, and no other being (besides, perhaps, God, although even that’s not a given) knows how it’s going to end, or if it will. It’s a situation that’s mirrored by Anathema Device throwing away the second part of Agnes Nutter’s prophecies. The rest is left for us to find out as it happens, not to read in a book. There’s even a line at the beginning of the Eleven Years Ago section:

“This proves two things:

Firstly, that God moves in extremely mysterious, not to say, circuitous ways. God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players,* to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.”

(*i.e., everybody)

All of this, of course, was foreshadowed in the beginning. When Crowley and Aziraphale are discussing the fall of Adam and Eve they go back and forth over their own natures. Aziraphale states that he’s not sure it’s possible for Crowley to do good, and Crowley later (sarcastically) quips that he’s not sure Aziraphale can do evil. This is, of course, because they’re both worried that they had. As Crowley states:

“‘Funny thing is,’ said Crawly, ‘I keep wondering whether the apple thing wasn’t the right thing to do, as well. A demon can get into real trouble, doing the right thing.’ He nudged the angel. ‘funny if we both got it wrong, eh? Funny if I did the good thing and you did the bad one, eh?'”

And of course, who’s to say what’s right or wrong in this case? And who’s to say that what we think is the way things are isn’t actually completely wrong and ludicrous?

Question

Ok! Onto some questions. Feel free to pose your own, answer any and all of these, and to comment on what others have said.

  1. What do you think is the main idea behind the novel? Do you think it works?
  2. How does the humor work with the subject matter?
  3. Do you think that in the world of the novel there’s a divine plan? Were the events in the book part of some larger plan unknown by any other character, or is there no plan at all? Explain.
  4. Do you think Adam would have ended up differently had he not been lost? How?
  5. Do you think that Aziraphale and Crowley are distinctly either good or evil? For that matter, do you think any character is either good or evil? Why or why not?
  6. How do you think humanity is portrayed as juxtaposed with the angels and demons?
  7. How do you think this novel treats Christianity? Is it more or less favorable, more in line with different views, etc? [Again, this is all based on the novel; no arguing about your own beliefs unless you’re somehow applying it to how it relates to the novel.]

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