The Library of Congress’ Center for the Book is not a sponsor, but has endorsed the week-long promotion.
I find it interesting this celebration, attention producing event, is the week after National Book Festival.
– which is squarely hosted by the Library of Congress. It marks a blur between the abstract notion of being free to read, a general celebration of reading and print culture and the world of authorship. It works as a federally funded library event for the whole family on that Saturday and Sunday. At the same time, both events have investments by retail-based organizations. American Bookseller Association in the case of Banned Books Week and big companies like Barnes & Noble Booksellers at National Book Fest. As far as I know, the book selling tent is coordinated by Barnes & Noble most years.
In no way am I criticizing B & N’s involvement in these events. It’s a great thing to be a large bookseller and to be able to promote literacy events on a national scale. But the book selling tent at National Book Fest is not a store per se – it’s a table full of books featuring the authors at the festival (and a few other sundries published or distributed solely by Barnes & Noble). It is my belief the National Book Festival, given its prominence on the mall, should be an antagonistic force drawing attention to authors who may not often get such a large platform to get noticed. If not authors, then smaller presses carrying high quality authors. I think about presses such as Talon Books, Dalkey Archive, New York Review Books and the fabulous Melville House. As it stands, the list of featured authors at this year’s book festival contains high quality writing from people attached to much larger publishing conglomerates.
These authors, such Don DeLillo, Joyce Carol Oates, James McBride and Linda Ronstadt are published by Scribner, Ecco/Harper Collins, Riverhead/Penguin and Simon & Schuster respectively. These are not independent publishers by any stretch of the imagination. And if we take this festival into context with Banned Books Week starting just the day afterward – a celebration of alternative visions judged by communities as too alternative to be accepted – we find a strange contradiction of terms. On one hand, we find a quieter education model of thinking designed to link the history of culture and oppression of ideas to other ideas discussed in American schools and libraries. The ALA, as a whole, is very supportive of the freedom to read. Banned Books Week is often used as an alternative teaching tool in public schools.
In tandem, Barnes & Noble Booksellers often displays a Banned Books promotion table in honour the same week. In other words, corporate Barnes & Noble is playing both sides of this issue in the name of the dollar. And bless them for doing so. In addition, each of the authors featured is talented in his or her own right. There is no dearth of great writing in every genre at the book festival. I want to be clear, I am a big fan of many authors doing readings and signing this year. And each publisher featured has a roster of real artists in its ranks.
There has to be a better way of unifying NATIONAL BOOK FEST with Banned Books Week. The reason for said position is the scale of ambition implied by the name of the festival itself. It’s called National Book Fest, not Recently Featured on New Release Shelves Fest. Unless that is the point. There is something to be said about using such a large event to promote newly published books each year from the same spot on the National Mall annually. It does not have to be an activist festival. But with a title like National Book Fest, I must admit I keep hoping for a more philosophically well-rounded festival agenda – similar to that of Library of Congress’ Center for the Book mentioned above.
Banned Books Week on the other hand, a promotion of alternative reading and ideas, a celebration with a narrower focus offers a much more philosophical relationship to books, reading, education, literacy and libraries. Center for the Book HAS endorsed Banned Books Week because maybe their relationship to reading is more philosophically rounded than the Book Fest – which seems to be a festival steeped in the NOW. In my humble opinion, National Book Fest could embrace a slightly different rhetoric in order to realize the scope implied by its title.
Just a thought.
Thank you for reading.
PS: I am starting a new #hashtag this year on Twitter to promote bicycling to the National Mall for the Festival: I am calling it #biketobookfest. I see this hashtag as one reusable from year to year. Promote it. Use it. Thank you.
Depths of the Phantom Library:
Jacques Bonnet Reaches for the Unreachable.
Jacques Bonnet writes in, Phantoms on the Bookshelves, of a vast library. No, not the Borgesian library of “The Library of Babel” or “The Book of Sand,” but a personal library he has collected for his own use – some 40,000 + volumes. Massive. I am a fan generally of books describing avid readers and collectors (though I am mostly of the first type) – books such as that fabulous pair of titles by Nicholas A. Basbanes, A Gentle Madness and Patience & Fortitude.
I have been recently rereading Jacques Bonnet’s book. In my progress through that book, I also found this essay/review piece of writing by Alonzo McBride called, “Phantoms and Personal Libraries,” which made stylistic sense to me and by acknowledging the metaphor of books and libraries as phantoms, I thought it perfectly appropriate to bring to light the essay and the book again. In a previous post of mine, I mentioned a quote setting up Bonnet’s premise of the blurred line between what makes a personal library and an institutional library.
The quote is, ““…to return to the library. Once it has been established, it [the library] tends to become an unavoidable transit zone for reality, a sort of vortex that sucks in everything that happens to us” (100).
The library is a cultural heritage space as much as it is a personal heritage space. Sometimes these spaces are the same in space and sometimes they are not. The focus for Jacques Bonnet’s book is the personal library as memory collector for his own life. Even with that “narrow” focus, the book tackles nearly every issue institutional libraries must tackle except maybe ones related to archival technology such as finding aids or physical handling best practices, code such as XML and its publication on the web with CSS or anything having to do with web archiving. Bonnet certainly brings up the internet as it relates to text encoding, information searching, book buying experiences and the like. And in this humble blogger’s opinion, all the above technical services could be extrapolated to take account of Bonnet’s collection. Or…he could reissue the book with all the ways be built a homegrown OPAC for his personal use. 😉
Specifically, Bonnet discusses issues of categorization (the eternal question). He mentions the French OULIPO writer, Georges Perec, when he makes his “brave attempt at listing the possible methods of classifying one’s books: “alphabetically; by continent or country; by colour; by date of acquisition; by date of publication; by size; by genre; by literary period; by language; by frequency of consultation; by binding; by series” (37). One sees from this list how several of the categorization headings would be preferred by a person over an institution – “by date of acquisition” as the best example. Yet, even this category system applies to libraries that have a “recently arrived” or “new” section to encourage library users to catch up on what’s current. Except, even this classification does take into account the difference between newly acquired due to recent publication or newly acquired due to replacement for damage etc. Some of the other categories (which obviously fails to take into account anything like LC Classification or Universal Dewey) are well suited for research libraries – such as “by literary period” or even “binding” in a rare books special collection. The largest flaw, however, in Perec’s classification is the total lack of subject access (which has to be the single most challenging classification of them all) – though some of the other categories work with subject access.
Bonnet does bring to light one aspect of his own classification I will write as ABSTRACT vs. CONCRETE (102-103). In the first he puts subjects such as theology, religion, philosophy, literary topics and science. It is interesting he defines “science” as abstract instead of concrete. In the second category he drops in history, anthropology, biography and documents (though it is not clear to what this term applies). One can appreciate the presuppositions necessary to refer to one subject as abstract and another as concrete even though both may be examples of humans thinking and writing their words. I recommend everyone reading this also go out and take a look at the subdivisions within Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), Dewey, and thesauri such as the one for art and architecture published by Getty by first examining the depth and granularity of each system within its own rules and then by looking through World Cat and Library of Congress catalog records.
I fully understand Bonnet’s book is personal – not designed to be an institutional best standard for understanding large collections. But even from this personal point of view, it is not without meaning (I recommend this book be on the curriculum for all ischools). Other examples of meaning come through his acknowledgment of the internet’s impact on not just information as a whole as it relates to libraries, but also the procedures by which a person or institution acquires new materials – scaled digital content in the form of periodicals searchable through aggregation technologies or the purchasing of new print items such as monographs from academic presses (though he talks about how collectors use the internet to search for titles unavailable locally).
The truth is the book is simply pleasurable to read. And it asks the same questions all libraries ask themselves: how long should a title be kept in a research collection (or a public library) if it circulates infrequently?; how does one best use space limitations (of which every library has a few struggles as such)?; and what happens in the event of the death of the collector or a fire in the library?
Bonnet includes a quote by Petite Larousse (a lexicon) of the term, “fantôme [phantom]” – a sheet or card inserted to mark the place of a book removed from a library shelf, or a document which has been removed” (110).
The remainder of what was there before… What was there before? Was it a resource that got weeded from the collection? Was it a library that became underfunded over time? Was it a trace of an object that was reformatted as a digital object available on the open web or behind a subscription pay-wall? Something is missing. For Bonnet, even if he chooses, as do so many other librarians (personal and institutional), not to lend any out any items from his collection, the fundamental missing feature among such ideas as not having time to read every book in the library, not having enough shelf space to best hold each item and not having a perfect classification system of either knowledge or objects is lack of total control of the library. The library, as the first quite implies, is made of a river of occurrences that enter and exit the way time and life itself enters and exits at varied and uncertain rates. I would say Jacques Bonnet’s fun little book for book geeks revels in, and still tries to make sense from, the powerful uncertainty in this world.
One must be willing to change as the collection itself changes.
The question arises then if anyone will be able to insert a fantôme in every changing moment life as it changes into something else so we’ll be reminded of what used to be.
Thank you for reading.
Reference: Bonnet, Jacques. Phantoms on the Bookshelves. Trans. from French by Siân Reynolds. NY, NY: The Overlook Press, 2010.
I have been reading this blog post by Alonzo McBride and rereading PHANTOMS ON THE BOOKSHELVES by Jacques Bonnet. Great book.
There are plenty of relevant points in the small text to library collections and knowledge/resource organization.
I do, however, want to highlight a few lines right now.
“…to return to the library. Once it has been established, it [the library] tends to become an unavoidable transit zone for reality, a sort of vortex that sucks in everything that happens to us” (100).
Bonnet, Jacques. Phantoms on the Bookshelves. Trans. from the French by Siân Reynolds. NY, NY: The Overlook Press, 2010.
Thank you for reading.
I admit I posted this update to my writing a bit late.
C’est la vie.
LIBRARY JOURNAL has published a starred review written by me of Franco Moretti’s THE BOURGEOIS: BETWEEN HISTORY AND LITERATURE in the 15 June 2013 issue.
Take a look here.
My experience at the 2013 American Library Association conference & exhibition began before the official beginning by joining a Freedom to Read Foundation committee meeting and concluded with a variation on the theme via a Q & A on an important piece of rebel “science-fiction” writing.
In between, I headed into meetings considering the value of education (whether it accomplishes its goals and its ROI), how to work out licensing for research data between research university libraries; we pondered the notion of classroom education vs project-based learning; I learned about a fantastic nonprofit created to link arts conversations to library programing (playing around with the idea of programming as collection development); I learned of public libraries dropping Dewey in their nonfiction sections for eye-readable language-based subject headings favouring the casual browser (logical within the assumption of the browser but not helpful to research-minded library patrons); and enjoyed a lively Q & A on privacy, surveillance and the NSA.
There were plenty more sessions attended by yours truly. I could write an essay on my experience. But here I will restrict my word-count to a relatively blog friendly number.
I wrote in the first paragraph my #ALA2013 experience was sandwiched by intellectual freedom themes…Well, my concluding session was a fascinating learning experience tied to an examination and appreciation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In this discussion we talked about banned books, a recent motion in a small town in Texas to remove the book from school reading lists and I learned the FBI investigated Ray Bradbury for eight years and for another six years only an expurgated version of F. 451 was in print. It was a pleasurable and engaging discourse on intellectual freedom – an abstraction Ray Bradbury referred to as “creative freedom.” Certainly, a theme of creative freedom can be found in library/learning conversations as a whole.
Don’t be afraid to bring up your own #ala2013 experiences or unifying themes. The more themes the merrier. Bring your ideas into the conversation below in the reply box or @Twitter.
Thank you for reading.
I recommend all readers dash over to Gently Read Literature and subscribe to the 2013 publication cycle so you can read my two review essays on Robert Day’s Where I am Now – Stories and Neil de la Flor’s An Elephant’s Memory of Blizzards.
The contents for the current issue can be found here.
Looking forward to the publication of two new book reviews in a literary magazine. Details will follow as the date of said publication draws nearer.
But for the time being, the two books in-process are:
Neil de La Flor’s An Elephant’s Memory of Blizzards.
Marsh Hawk Press, 2013. ISBN: 978098823560
Robert Day’s Where I am Now – Stories. BkMk Press – University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2012. ISBN: 9781886157828
Dr. Black’s Creative Empiricism – A Book Review
E.B. Hudspeth’s The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black. Quirk Books. 2013. ISBN: 978159476161
E.B. Hudspeth has added something new to the world of mid-Atlantic & New England horror/dark fantasy with The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black. He does this by taking the world of art, the world of Edgar Allen Poe and creates an amalgamation with some of the darkest stuff from H.P. Lovecraft. This is not to say The Resurrectionist is derivative of either Poe or Lovecraft. But where some advertising for the book talks about Poe, the book actually exhibits a more subtle reference to ole’ Edgar combined with a heavier reliance upon Lovecraft.
My review copy is incomplete unfortunately. It is an Advanced Readers Copy (ARC) – a galley copy in paperback missing art from some sections. The text is present as well as all organization segments making the book what it will be in the final hardcover publication format. The importance of the missing pages relates to the suggestion in the narration of the importance of the creature, Harpy Erinyes – a female human-like being with bird like legs and large wings – to Dr. Spencer Black, the genius doctor with skills in studying mysterious beings and elaborate surgical procedures. Without these images, one loses a sense of the attention paid this particular creature. Hey, but maybe these missing pages become part of the real “lost work.”
The Resurrectionist is, in part, a biography of Dr. Spencer Black, born in Boston, Mass in 1851 as well as a “lost” work containing detailed genus/species style drawings in which are exhibited deconstructed views of vanished beings no longer commonly seen in the world. This collision of art and storytelling is not new to dark fantasy. I think about Lovecraft’s innovative story, “Pickman’s Model,” a yarn of some darkness about a man who found in the bowels of an old city unseen mysterious inspiration for macabre paintings. There are no images in Lovecraft’s story. But one yearns to see them. In this work, Hudspeth (himself an artist) includes lots of drawings of creatures such as Minotaurus Asterion, Satyrus Hircinus, Siren Oceanus and afore mentioned Harpy Erinyes. The allusion here is not to inspiration. Inspiration comes through in other creative ways in the novel. Rather, the drawings allude to another even older form of scientific art – Dr. Henry Gray’s drawings in his famous anatomy book from 1918 – and also coincidentally published in Pennsylvania. The images are integral to the work. Each one will be present in the final edition.
On the subject of scientific art, it is here where Lovecraft’s influence is most felt through the work. Not art as in images, but the art of dedicating oneself to finding out the “truth.” A large current running through Lovecraft’s work is the type of story in which a main character becomes intrigued to find out something seen or heard and then follows each possible clue until that thing is found. The problem with this choice for nearly every character whose narrative conforms to this story structure is the characters end up locked away or doing their very best to dissuade anyone else from following in their footsteps. They become traumatized. Nearly 100 years earlier (1818), Mary Shelley structured Frankenstein similarly. Dr. Spencer Black is a young doctor with tons of adoration and respect when he begins his tenure at the Academy of Medicine. He performs surgeries and wrote well-received papers on the medical questions of his day – 1870s Philadelphia. Dr. Black is well respected and well paid.
All this changes as he turns more of his energy to figuring out the anatomy of all these mythical beings he is sure exist. And of course, as a scientist, empiricism must reign in his methods. The core of the book and the real Lovecraftian influence is felt through as Dr. Spencer Black’s “methods” are explored by E.B. Hudspeth.
The book is dominated by a detached tone. As if he is writing a history. The sections are even segmented by years, e.g., 1869: The Academy of Medicine or 1878: The Fawn-Child. This reserved style adds a lot to the text. Especially in contrast to the fantastical art and the nearly unbelievable way in which Dr. Black swerves his life away from love and peace. The art, as stated above, is stylized after Dr. Henry Gray. But the subject matter…well…therein is the book’s core and play. I have looked through Gray’s Anatomy and have seen none of Dr. Black’s images in those pages.
I recommend it.
PS: A copy of this review has also been published at LibraryThing.
In an effort to spread the word about libraries, cycling and some otherwise unwritten thoughts in a fun and conversational mode, I have been invited to be on Fairfax Public Access Radio on 05 Feb 2013 at 8:00 PM EST. I will be interviewed by Dennis Price – photographer, general contractor and radio personality – a man of myriad interests.
This marks my second “appearance” on the radio in two years. My first was mostly on the topic of digital projects in a library (bicycles were mentioned though) – that was live on 12 April 2012.
Please take the time to listen. Approximate time from your day: 1 measly hour.