Thursday, November 29, 2007

Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote

Since seeing the films Capote (2005) and Infamous (2006), I have planned to read something by Truman Capote. The obvious choice would have been to read In Cold Blood, which Bonnie and others recommended, but I planned to go for lesser works first. I thought about reading some short stories, but I never followed through. Then, back in October, I found a cheap paperback of his first novel Other Voices, Other Rooms at a book sale at the Iowa City Public Library. We bought it, and I started it while flying from San Angelo to Chicago via Dallas and Minneapolis. It certainly made a long day much shorter.

Capote's novel draws the reader into a strange world full of unusual characters right away. Twelve or thirteen year old Joel Knox is trying to get a ride to rural Noon City (in one of the southern states) from a trucker. He is bound for an old plantation called Skully's Landing where his father, whom he has never met, has invited him. The house and its inhabitants prove to be mysterious.

For about half the novel, I thought that it was a mystery. Why was Joel never able to actually see his father? Who was the woman he saw beckoning from a window? Why was he invited? I thought the answers to these questions would be cleverly revealed. Well, I never found the answers (maybe they were there), but the father was nominally present in the second half as if he had always been there. The issue of the unknown woman was dropped. I was confused.

Plot is not the strength of this book. In fact, it may be anti-plot. Like real life, something different happens every day and little is ever resolved. The reader is a witness. The strength is the descriptive prose. The reader can almost feel the heat and the dust, smell the sour beer, see the squalor, hear the flies buzzing.

What is the reader to make of it all? The easy conclusion is that Joel is a reflection of Capote's youth. His tomboy friend Idabel Thompkins is Harper Lee. They are outcasts of a society that is not worth joining. Still, no matter how much they protest, they do need some form of acceptance.
Other Voices, Other Rooms is a book that will appeal to readers who do not insist on nicely tidy stories. If you can get a group to read it, it is certainly worth discussing, if only to sort it all out.

Capote, Truman. Other Voices, Other Rooms. Vintage Books, 1994. ISBN o679745645

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith

Much of what I like in Alexander McCall Smith books is humorous, but it is always based on real human emotions, like envy, pride, or insecurity. In Love Over Scotland, like in his other 44 Scotland Street novels, the characters struggle with these emotions to make ethical decisions. After a bad start with many misunderstandings, novelist Antonia Collie recognizes that she must reconcile herself to the gruff artist Angus Lordie to maintain her friendship with anthropologist Domenica Macdonald. Near the end of this book, Antonio has this moment of thought:

She arose from the chair and looked out the kitchen window. The sky was perfectly empty now, filled with light; the rooftops, grey-slated, sloping, pursued angles to each other, led the eye away. When Domenica came back, thought Antonia, I shall do something to show her how much I value our friendship. And Angus Lordie, too. He's a lonely man, and a peculiar one, but I can show him friendship and consideration too. And could I go so far as to love him? She thought carefully. Women always do this, she said to herself. Men don't know it, but we do. We think very carefully about a man, about his qualities, his behaviour, everything. And then we fall in love.

The reason Antonia is in the story is that Domenica has loaned the novelist her apartment in Edinburgh while she goes to tropical Malacca to study the rural village society of pirates. She has to negotiate an invitation to the village, where she learns of the death of a previous anthropologist. After dismissing an unreliable translator, she finds the true nature of piracy.

Meanwhile, her friend Pat is attending art history classes at the University of Edinburgh, where she meets a handsome young man who calls himself Wolf. He even likes to howl. Shy Pat does not know what to do about the attention he gives her, especially after her flatmate (his girlfriend) threatens her.

Fans of Bertie Pollock, the six year old who is studying Italian, learning to play the saxophone, and undergoing unwanted psychotherapy, will be please that he has more adventures in this new book. His parents again lose their car, and his mother insists that the Edinburgh Teenage Orchestra let him audition for its upcoming season and trip to Paris. Bertie, who just wants to be allowed to be normal, finds his early introduction to adolescence to his liking. He especially enjoys his free day in Paris.

Love Over Scotland is the third book in the 44 Scotland Street series, each of which ran in daily installments in The Scotsman newspaper. Readers do not have to start with 44 Scotland Street, but I think they will enjoy the series more if they do. All libraries need to have these books.

McCall Smith, Alexander. Love Over Scotland. Anchor Books, 2006. ISBN 9780307275981

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Living with War by Neil Young

Listening to Living with War, Neil Young's 2006 CD, I feel thirty years younger. Like a teen who has just discovered a new musical hero, I'm listening to the album over and over again. Why did it take me so long to check it out?

Though I have always liked some of Young's music, he has never been one of my favorites. I have an old vinyl of Harvest and am always glad to hear "Cinnamon Girl" or "Ohio" but I have not collected Young. His voice is strained, and I never thought the work was consistent. Living with War surprised me with how good every song is. Most have a driving beat, and I enjoy the chorus that joins him on some of the songs. I'm not skipping any tracks when I listen. These songs all fit together well.

As you can guess if you have not listened, Living with War is a politically charged collection of protest songs. The title cut is an anthem for the peace movement. "Shock and Awe," "Flags of Freedom," "Families," and "Roger and Out" sing about the American war experience. "After the Garden" imagines how bad continuing years of war will be. "The Restless Consumer" is a rap song about corporation manipulation of truth. "Let's Impeach the President" is sure to upset George Bush supporters.

The CD has a companion website called Living with War Today. Videos of the recording of the songs, stories about the Iraq War, lists of protest songs by other musicians, and a clock counting down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds of the Bush presidency can be found on this page, which looks somewhat like a newspaper. If you have the sound up, you may listen to the CD.

A look at Worldcat shows that many libraries already have Living with War, which I give an grade A for excellence. I think it is the best thing Young's ever done.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Family Albums from Little, Brown and Company: A Warning

Reality tampering alert! There are two new books from Little, Brown and Company that present very sanitized portraits of their subjects. Frank Sinatra: The Family Album by Charles Pignone and Elvis Presley: The Family Album by George Klein are books written by personal friends with the support of family estates wanting to influence public perceptions. In both books happy times prevail.

The Frank Sinatra book is especially guilty of omitting anything unpleasant. After looking through it, I was almost convinced that Old Blue Eyes had been happily married to one woman all his life. He is shown in many home photos with his first wife Nancy, including some in which their grown children appear. His daughter Tina also looks a lot like her mother, perhaps aiding the illusion. Wives Ava Gardner (1951), Mia Farrow (1966), and Barbara Marx (1976) do not appear and are not mentioned in this book. I guess they are not considered family by the Sinatra estate.

While there are many photos of Sinatra with his entertainment friends, there are few with men who might be mob connections. Photos of his bad behavior are also missing. I guess this is to be expected from a book that suggests that it is a leather bound family keepsake.

The book about Elvis Presley is equally cleaned up. I think there are only a couple of photos that date after 1970. Elvis still looks young at the end of the book. In fact, there is no suggestion that Elvis died. On the other hand, there are some pretty scary-looking characters in the wedding photo on page 131 - especially the bride.

I searched through the Little, Brown website and the databases of Baker & Taylor to see if any more Family Albums are coming. I did not see any. I can imagine more of them: Ronald Reagan, Kurt Cobain, Judy Garland, etc.

Libraries may still want these attractive books, as fans will like them and students can find lots of photos to copy for their reports. We do present all points of view in the public library. These books are living proof.

Pignone, Charles. Frank Sinatra: The Family Album. Little, Brown, 2007. ISBN 0316003492

Klein, George. Elvis Presley: The Family Album. Little, Brown, 2007. ISBN 0316003506

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Old Heart: Poems by Stanley Plumly

While it may be hard to imagine the typical poetry reader, I suspect many enjoy finding a story within the poem. I do. Having a narrative somehow anchors the ideas espoused by the poet. For this reason, I like many of the pieces by Stanley Plumly in his National Book Award nominated collection Old Heart.

The stories may be sketchy, episodic, brief, but there is a person or object, a scene, and an action. In "When He Fell Backwards into His Coffin" on page 50, Plumly tells of a man who died in the bathtub. Many people want the story to be happy and imagine that the man was enjoying a nice bath while listening to opera. Plumly reveals that the man was actually just sitting on the edge fully dressed when he had his final moment of thought. The truly shocking part of the poem is the last thought. The man remembers his mother holding his head down in the water.

"Debt" on pages 34-35 is a bit of memoir. He remembers three creditors standing in the yard with his father on a cold, blustery day, discussing the resolution of a debt. One man is measuring the yard in a threatening way. Plumly links the image to thoughts about debt and poverty from the poets Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, and T. S. Eliot. He leaves us a mystery: did the family lose the house?

Like Robert Hass in Time and Materials, which won the National Book Award for poetry last week, Plumly writes often about birds. The poems include "Spirit Birds,""Magpie," and "Missing the Jays." I wonder about the other nominated poets.

My favorite poem in the collection might be "The Woman Who Shoveled Snow" on page 60. The poet observes and wonders about an older, poorly dressed woman who picks up extra cash by shoveling snowy sidewalks, a job usually performed by kids. In her need, perhaps to support a habit, she does a thorough job.

Old Heart is an accessible modern collection of poem that many readers may enjoy. It should be in many public libraries.

Plumly, Stanley. Old Heart: Poems. Norton, 2007. ISBN 9780393065688

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr

How can I encourage you to read Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr? How about a paragraph showing his passion for the great old city?

"We came to Rome because we would always regret it if we didn't, because every timidity eventually turns into regret. But the enormity of what I don't know about this place never ceases to amaze me. In 1282, the Tuscan monk Ristoro d'Arezzo declared, "It is a dreadful thing for the inhabitants of a house not to know how it is made." Dreadful indeed. What I think he meant was that we ought to understand the earth we live on, its skies, its stones. We ought to understand why we live the lives we live. But I don't even understand the apartment building in which I live. How is linoleum made? Or window glass or porcelain? By what power does water rise to the third floor and pour out of this faucet?"

Coming to Rome was not easy for Doerr and his family, as the twins were only about six months old. It would have been much easier to stay comfortably in Boise, Idaho, but the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts was an offer that was too good to refuse. Can you imagine being paid and housed for a year in Rome so you could work on whatever you wished - your novel, your art, your research?

Doerr does not actually write much on his novel. The wonderful distractions of family and the ancient city are too much to ignore. He walks the streets of the city, looks in the museums and alleys, tastes the food, meets the neighbors. He and his wife visit surround villages. What he tells you makes you want to visit.
  • You can lie on benches to look up at the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel.
  • To see the Crucifixion of Saint Peter by Caravaggio you have to put coins in the vending box to turn on the spotlights.
  • Giotto added ground lapis lazuli in the blue robes in his frescoes in Assisi.
The big event in Rome during Doerr's stay is the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Thousands of people young and old stream into the city during the pope's last days and sit in vigil. The lines to view the body are so long that many never reach their goal. Doerr wades into the crowd to feel the passion.

As interesting as the funeral reporting is, it is the descriptions of Rome and everyday dramas that make this book worth reading. It certainly substitutes well for the novel he has not written. Look for it at your library.

Doerr, Anthony. Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World. Scribner, 2007. ISBN 9781416540014

Thursday, November 15, 2007

At the Ranch in West Texas

I have been in West Texas for a little over a week with my mom. On Monday, I got to go out to the ranch north of Big Lake. I took over one hundred photos of cattle. The photo to the left is just one. Many of them include my mom's calves. I will be posting the better shots on Flickr when I get back to Illinois.

In the next post you will find my review of Wildlife by Richard Ford. In the story, fires are burning outside Great Falls, Montana. There have been daily brush fires outside Big Lake every day since I have been here. The alarm calling for volunteers has gone of daily. We saw one of the fires as we drove in from San Angelo last week. Because there was lots of rain early in the year, there is lots of dry grass and brush now. The cow and calf in this picture are standing in a fire hazard. Do not worry. Should a fire start, they would move.

While in Big Lake, I have been visiting the Reagan County Library every few days to check my email and post. Thanks, RCL.

I have my laptop, so I have been working on my book, rewriting book reviews and working on the index. I am struggling a bit with consistency in the way I apply descriptors. I am sure Bonnie will be able to advise me when I get home. I am looking forward to getting home.

Wildlife by Richard Ford

I have planned to read Richard Ford for years, ever since I read about awards that he won for The Sportswriter. At a recent book sale benefiting the Iowa City Public Library, I found a nice paperback edition of his book Wildlife. The price and time were right, so Bonnie bought it for me, and I brought it with me to Texas.

It is a good traveling book, easy to carry, memorable to read. Ford hooked me in the first couple of pages. I did not read it in one evening sitting because I needed sleep, but I did pick it up in the morning and again whenever I could through a day and half. I had to hear Joe Brinson's story.

Wildlife is a first person narrative told by sixteen year old Joe whose family has moved to Great Falls, Montana. When his father, a golf instructor, is unjustly fired from the country club, he uncharacteristically decides to join a forest fire fighting team, leaving Joe and his mother alone for several days. His mother reacts badly, and Joe's life seems to unravel.

In his book, Ford suggests that we are all only a couple of stupid decisions away from disaster. The bad moves may not even be our own. Joe is not responsible for any of his bad fortune, and his words and actions are confused, as you would expect from a teen whose home and prospects are threatened. I really wanted his parents to straighten up.

Because Ford does not tell us what to think or really spell out why the characters do what they do, Wildlife would be a good discussion book. I also recommend it to teens.

Ford, Richard. Wildlife. AMP, 1990. ISBN 0871133482

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005 by Robert Hass

I am again blogging from the Reagan County Library in Big Lake, Texas. I appreciate that this rural library now has a great computer lab.

Poetry is not easy to read. I have just finished Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005 by Robert Hass, which is nominated for the National Book Award for poetry. I have mixed feelings about this collection. There were some poems I understood and liked, but I was unable on the first attempt to find the meaning of others.

One of the reasons that many people do not like poetry is they do not understand it. That seems a rather narrow view to take, but I think not understanding is why people have many of their prejudices. They do not like certain forms of music, computers, electronic devices, other people, or foreign nations because they do not understand them. Understanding takes effort. With poetry, you can reread. You can read aloud. With a good try, you can eventually get it. Perhaps reading poetry can teach patience and be practice for other forms of tolerance. You do not want to have a closed mind.

In the next to last poem in the collection, "Exit, Pursued by a Sierra Meadow," Hass says that beauty is "unendurable." Humans do not really value what is not immediately useful. He is commenting on the beauty of park land and wildlife in this poem, but he could apply the thought to poetry as well.

Birds appear in many of the poems as the focus or as incidental details. I wonder whether they have a certain meaning to Hass or whether he just likes birds. The truth is probably a bit of both. In "On Visiting the DMZ at Panmunjom: A Haibun," the cattle egrets at the end of the poem seem to be the witnesses of human folly. Perhaps they will even inherit the earth after all the people have been killed by war.

While most of the poems are environmental, the poet does get political in "Ezra Pound's Proposition." Look out, World Bank and Halliburton! Robert Hass has figured you out. I do not know what the reference to Pound in the title means; he is not mentioned in the poem.

My favorite poem is "Art and Life," in which the poet looks at paintings in the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague. When he lunches in the museum cafeteria, he looks at the staff, wondering who has restored the paintings, bringing back their colors, peeling back time. I also enjoyed the little stories in "Domestic Interiors" especially the incident in which a village comes together when it loses its electricity.

Not many libraries have Time and Materials, but I think that they should consider it. It may never be popular but some one is going to enjoy it very much.

Hass, Robert. Time and Materials: Poems, 1997-2005. CCCO, 2007. ISBN 9780061349607.

Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio by Jeffrey Kluger

Before Jonas Salk introduced his vaccine for polio in the 1950s, it disabled and killed many American children every summer. Some years were much worse than others, requiring health officials to shut down swimming pools and movie theaters. My mother remembers a summer in San Antonio when she was not allowed to go anywhere that the virus might be found. Years later, I remember a friend who wore a leg brace because he had contracted polio as an infant. I also remember going to our school cafeteria in the early 1960s to orally take the vaccine on a sugar cube.

In Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio, science writer Jeffrey Kluger profiles reluctant hero Dr. Jonas Salk, who was born in New York at a time when infantile paralysis was an annual concern in the city. Mothers hid their children from the health department patrols, who combed neighborhoods looking for suspiciously ill youths. Salk's mother was especially diligent, making sure he always washed his hands and did not play with other children in the streets. She wanted him to become a rabbi, but he chose to become a doctor dedicated to disease research instead. Before work on polio, he helped develop influenza vaccine.

Though polio primarily attacked young people, it occasionally infected adults, including failed vice presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt. Kluger tells how the future president went to Warm Springs, Georgia seeking treatment in the hot water. His buying the old resort that he modified for polio victims led to the creation of the March of Dimes, which later funded Salk's work.

The story of the development of the vaccine is filled with disappointments and controversies. I enjoyed hearing Splendid Solution read by Michael Prichard, who I have heard on other nonfiction audio books. Baby boomers who grew up in the wake of the polio epidemic will enjoy reading about their roots. Medical professionals will also find the story inspiring.

Kluger, Jeffrey. Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio. G.P. Putnam's Sons, c2004. ISBN 0399152164.

Audiobook: Tantor Media, 2005. 11 compact discs. ISBN 1400101492

Friday, November 09, 2007

Library Technical Competencies: What Do We Have? What Do We Teach? What Do I Hire?

I am posting this from the Reagan County Public Library in Big Lake, Texas, where I will be for the next week.

Zone One Reference Librarians met a couple of weeks ago to discuss computers in libraries and staff technical training. In all our libraries we have computers for staff and clients to use. Most of us also have web sites, and many offer wireless Internet. Our staffs have developed many technical skills in the past ten to fifteen years. No one has totally non-technical staff members anymore.

Technology continues to change quickly, and libraries want to use these developments to better serve clients. This requires us to have well-trained staffs both in public service and working behind the scenes. How to get everyone on a staff up to par on the latest skills is a great challenge. In many cases, some one lags behind, resulting in varying public service. You know your library has a problem when some fairly common client requests are regularly written up and referred to the more savvy staff.

Sarah Houghton-Jan's points out a process to improve staff competencies in her technology report. What she leaves for the reader to discover is the specific competencies needed in her library.

During our conversation, I thought of one way to start the specific list competencies for my library. All staff members in public service can log every technical skill used for several days. These logs can also record when a skill is missing. Before I ask anyone to do this, I thought I should try it out myself.

For two days I kept a running log of technical tasks, including time in public and behind the scenes in support of our library mission. Here is what I listed.

· Turn on public PCs
· Turn off PC security to load software
· Load Firefox browser update
· Troubleshoot printing on the microfilm reader printer
· Read and write email
· Edit online calendar
· Set up projector and laptop for a meeting
· Add to the staff wiki
· Load paper into the copier
· Open an email attachment and save it
· Set up an Excel spreadsheet
· Send document to remote printer
· Add book titles to an online shopping basket
· Post on the staff blog
· Teach client how to create a PIN for the online catalog
· Troubleshoot monitor
· Resize photocopies for a client
· Cut and paste into Word document for our newsletter
· Search remote databases to answer reference questions
· Troubleshoot email with client
· Use Dreamweaver to update library web pages
· Load web pages onto the remote server
· Place holds for clients
· Explain "reply to all" to a client
· Search library catalog
· Load an iPod for a client

As I look at this, there are many skills that I did not have fifteen years ago. It was not hard to learn them, but I can remember times when I was baffled by something that ended up being easy. Luckily for me, my library has always sent staff to classes, workshops, and conferences. The knowledge gained at outside training has laid the foundation of my technical skills. In our meeting, we talked about our libraries sending more staff out for training more often, but we recognized this still is not enough. Besides, we need our staffs in our buildings most of the time.

One of the librarian at our zone meeting told about how her library's technical trainer, a person hired part time to do classes for the public on mostly Internet topics, gives some classes for staff as well. These are helpful but do not meet the need for current awareness of late breaking technical developments. On her own the trainer started sending occasional tech briefs to staff, alerting them to news. We all agreed that she is the kind of person we all need in our libraries.

This reminds me that my library's needs a new reference librarian. I have learned much from and been encouraged to try new things by the last two librarians in this position. Much of this transfer of knowledge happened in our daily unplanned conversations. For this position, we have a brand new job description that more than ever lays out skill sets that are required and activities that will be performed. Teaching other staff members is in the mix. What it does not say is "Will teach the old guy some new tricks." Maybe it should. Teaching the supervisor is important, too.

As important as the formal training and the daily conversations are, I realize further that I am also somewhat self-taught. I think all the best technical minds are. They play with the new technology fearlessly, learning what it will and will not do. They do not wait for their libraries to arrange training. Self initiative needs to be written into all of our job descriptions, too.

For more information on library technical competencies, look at Cultivating Tech-Saavy Library Staff, one of Sarah's presentations as reported by Chad at Library Voice.

They Say: Ida B. Wells and the Reconstruction of Race by James West Davidson

Born during the American Civil War, about the time of Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, Ida B. Wells was witness to the initial promise and subsequent failure of Reconstruction. Her earliest memories were of her father as a local black activist in Holly Springs, Mississippi, and of her mother as a woman determined to see her children live a better life. When Wells was sixteen years old, they both died from yellow fever, leaving her to support her siblings. In They Say: Ida B. Wells and the Reconstruction of Race, historian James West Davidson tells how she transformed herself from a teacher with Victorian attitudes to a crusading journalist dedicated to exposing racial injustice.

As a reader, I enjoy how Davidson weave many colorful details into this small book. He tells us how Wells attended as many as three or four chruch services on Sundays when she first moves to Memphis. He describes the rotten wooden streets in the city and the towers of hay along the docks after regional harvests. He quotes Wells saying that she was "unladylike" at a baseball game and moved by the character of Koko in The Mikado. I see Wells as a person with charms and flaws, not a historical figure.

Central to the story is an incident in which three blacks are executed by a mob for an incident that may have been a set up. For reporting on it and questioning the validity of rape charges in many of the lynchings across the South, Wells has to flee death threats in Memphis. Then she becomes famous lecturing in the Northeastern U.S. and in England on the injustice of Southern lynchings.

Using Wells as the focus, Davidson tells a story of increasing racial violence across the country in the late nineteenth century. He stops the story at the point Wells becomes a full time advocate for racial justice. Many readers will enjoy this lively coming of age story.

Davidson, James West. They Say: Ida B. Wells and the Reconstruction of Race. Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN 9780195160208.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Mongolian Ping Pong

Bonnie brings home some wonderful movies. The latest is Mongolian Ping Pong, a comic look at three young boys in remote Mongolia who find a ping pong ball floating down a stream. Wondering what it is, they ask their parents, a grandmother, and even the local Buddhist monks and get some amusing answers. Even when a wandering merchant, selling odd items from his stripped down van, says that it is just a ping pong ball, they are unenlightened.

There are several things that I really liked about Mongolian Ping Pong. First is the goofiness of the three boys, whose actions make me imaging of Spanky and Our Gang in Mongolian with subtitles. Bilike, Ergoutan, and Dawa run wild with little supervision, cooking up schemes that rival those of old child-star comedies.

I liked the scenery. The vast Mongolian grassland is so green and mostly flat until you see the odd house or rocky outcrop. Anyone who has been to the Serengeti plain will long now to go to remote Mongolia. The background of approaching storms and herds of horses and slow twisting rivers makes me want to see it.

I also liked the camera work, especially how scenes often ended with all of the characters walking out of the frame. The movie watcher is left looking at the beautiful scenery.

There are many themes to contemplate in Mongolian Ping Pong, which seems to show the last days of a rural society being brought into modern society. There are the introduction of technology, the longing of the young to leave, and the care of the elderly. It is a fascinating film that many libraries should had to their collections.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Contemporary Problem of Mass Rape by Allison Ruby Reid-Cunningham

Today I am reviewing something a bit different. The Contemporary Problem of Mass Rape is a self-published book by my niece Allison Ruby Reid-Cunningham, a doctoral student in social work at the University of California at Berkeley. I promise to write a fair review.

The topic about which Ruby writes is mostly ignored by the popular press and commercial publishing. Do a search of "mass rape" in Worldcat from OCLC and you find little. There is an article in Maclean's in 2006 and another in New Statesman in 2005. There are a few university press books. Otherwise, the topic is found only in reports from international organizations and articles from academic journals. Reading Ruby's book, I noticed that most of the references are to reports from groups like Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, and various bodies of the United Nations.

What is mass rape? In the context of Ruby's book, mass rape is sexual violence against women as a part of war. Throughout history, as the saying goes, "to the victor go the spoils." Victorious armies have always celebrated by looting their conquered cities and raping the women and girls. As horrible as this is, the topic of this book is even more shocking. Rape is used as a weapon of genocide.

Ruby's book includes discussions of recent or on-going wars in Bosnia- Hercegovina, Rwanda, and Darfur. In these wars, soldiers were (are) often under orders to rape women. In these wars, commanders at the highest level directed their forces to use all means to humiliate and eliminate the ethnic peoples against whom they fought. In these societies, the ethnicity of offspring is thought to come from the father and not the mother, so rape serves to wipe out conquered populations. To accomplish the work, rape camps were set up where women were systematically raped, kept until pregnancies were verified, and sent back to their own communities. Many babies were subsequently abandoned.

What is to be done about these atrocities? Ruby discusses war crimes trials. According to current conventions, mass rape is a war crime, but it is often not one of the charges that is pursued. The problem is under reported because in many cultures being raped is actually considered a crime of adultery. Women reporting their rapes in these societies condemn themselves to expulsion or death.

Being a student of social work, Ruby discusses the need for social workers in the wake of ethnic warfare and the care which they need to provide.

On her website, Ruby discusses her ongoing work, which includes interviewing women from the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. I hope she writes a narrative book for mass publication. Readers need to know about this subject. In the meantime, Ruby provides a link to buy her book from Lulu. The paperback is $10 and the download is only $1.25.

Friday, November 02, 2007

300 Books, 300 More to Choose

Today is a milestone in the writing of my readers' advisory guide for biography. I have chosen 300 books and written short descriptions of them. I want to choose 300 more and then put them into a useful order with finding aids and further recommendations. I also will add some helpful appendices.

Number 300 is Hershey: Milton S. Hershey's Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams by Michael D'Antonio. I celebrated with a bit of left over Halloween chocolate. Delicious!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

I have just finished my second reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling. I took two months, often reading a few pages or a chapter a day, sometimes skipping a couple of days. At this relaxed pace, the tale becomes an installment story. Of course, I understood much more the this time through.

I was particularly struck on the second reading how Voldemort really is just Tom Riddle, not all powerful. He is so obsessed with Harry that he loses his original vision of dominion. He makes mistakes in front of his Death Eaters, shocking them. He worries about wands and horcruxes. Moreover, you see he is not so different from Dumbledore in his origins. The late headmaster of Hogwarts could have let hate make him into a monster, too. Dumbledore's failing was not finding a better path for Riddle when he might have had influence. Maybe he would have failed, but he did not really try.

Before the seventh book was issued, I worried that it would be a long battle, constantly tense, losing all the charms of the earlier books. At the end of the sixth book, there was such a sense that the time of conflict had come. I need not have worried. I liked how Rowling was able to still include humorous lines and situations in the final book.

I also like how the characters continue to develop in the seventh book. In fact, we learn much about Harry, Dumbledore, Snape, Luna, and Neville. Rowling had many threads to tie in the final book and I think she succeeded, staying fair to all of her characters, even Riddle.

Now what do I do? The story is over. Well, I might reread book six again.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2007. ISBN 9780545010221