I picked this up at the Tompkins County public library this weekend (shoutout to the reference staff!) and spent the next ten hours reading it, to the detriment of housework, gardening, exercise, and other weekend tasks. This is the story of a group of boys from Sudan who suffered unimaginable hardships during their country’s ongoing civil war, and were brought to cities across the United States as refugees. After three months of governmental support, these “Lost Boys” were required to support themselves in a world where everything was new: stairs, cleaning products, packaged food, the concept of pets. Despite an almost religious desire for education, these young men were introduced to a new form of poverty as members of the American Working Poor. The book follows the lives of four Lost Boys as they travel from war-torn Sudan to Atlanta, Georgia and learn to survive in their new home. Lions no longer lurk in the bushes, but after 9/11, drunk locals pulled a knife on a refugee and called him a terrorist.
Erica: Welcome back to day two of “Librarians Grill Kevin Smokler, editor of Bookmark Now“. Kevin, yesterday you suggested some ideas for improving library services to authors, such as voluntary writer registrations for libraries to identify and partner with their local writers, and late hours (an idea that patrons love and sleepy librarians loathe!). Today let’s talk about literature. In the Introduction to Bookmark Now, you write a passionate rebuttal to the NEA’s Reading at Risk report, which predicts the death of reading and literature in our culture. Could you talk a bit about what made you decide to showcase next generation writers, and have them write about writing, reading, and their place in the cannon?
Kevin: At first it was anger at hearing my parents generation (the baby boomers, the rock n’ roll generation) asking me repeatedly if my generation read books. Which just seemed foolish given the popularity of Nick Hornby, Dave Eggers, Zadie Smith and This American Life. But between then and the book that became Bookmark Now, I got simultaneously more involved in working with publishers and authors and interested in blogs, rss, the next wave of online communication. Because I’m a yenta at heart and would rather have my interests in dialogue with one another, I began speaking to publishing professionals about how these technologies could help them reach readers in a hypermedia 21st century. It was then I realized how far behind this business that I love was, how left out of the cultural conversation it was making itself. And that made me sad as well as angry.
So I took what was left of the first idea–a new generation of writers who we thought were not leading literary lives and then mixed in data from the Reading at Risk report and the great flux we were all witnessing in the larger world of media. Bookmark Now then ended up as a reflection of what what it means to be creating and disseminating literature at this time in our history. I’m very happy with the result.
Special treat, folks. For the rest of the week I’m dedicating this page to an interview with my friend Kevin Smokler, editor of Bookmark Now: Writing in unreaderly times. I met Kevin while sitting on the floor at the South by Southwest Interactive conference. He handed me a slip of paper on which was written directions to dinner that night. “Paper email,” he said.
I’ll be e-interviewing Kevin all this week on subjects writerly and librariany as part of the Virtual Book Tour.
Erica: Kevin, as a long-time advocate of literature and literacy (real literacy, not that “cultural” or “visual” silliness) you and the Librarian Mafia (as we like to call ourselves) have much in common. What do you think librarians can do to improve our services to young writers like those profiled in Bookmark Now?
Kevin: Erica, first off, thank you for having me. The opportunity to speak and share ideas with librarians, the ball and socket joints of our profession, is one I don’t get very often.
A few thoughts: From a professional standpoint, libraries are crucial research centers for us non-fiction authors and many novelists too. But that relationship seems mostly a functional, transitory one, which ends with the book being stocked on the library shelves and the library and staff getting thanked in the acknowledgments. Hundreds of books owe their existence to the research materials afforded by any major library. Why not make hay from that? Why not find the authors using the library in their research and have them give midway seminars about their research and discoveries? Why not have a quarterly reception for all authors using the library to encourage community with the library as the locus? Why not make sure the library is a stop in the publicity efforts for that book? What all this requires, as you can already see, is some way for authors using the library to make themselves known to library staff. Perhaps a special “registration” for authors? There’s probably a less ethically thorny solution I haven’t thought of yet.
Specific to young authors, it comes down to a question of accessibility and convenience. Young folks keep later hours so wouldn’t it be great if fund were available for the library to be open late a few nights a week? Wouldn’t it be great if library announcements, events, new acquisitions were available via a series of rss feeds so I didn’t have to remember to go to the SFPL’s web site to remind myself when that Richard Rodriguez lecture I wanted to see was. Wouldn’t it be great if the library paid some kid on a bicycle to deliver reserved materials to requesters nearby so I didn’t have to remember to walk by the library on X hour and Y day when it’s open. The sad truth is that, with Google available on my desktop, if the library is less convenient, I won’t bother with it. However, unlike google, the library is a physical place. Highlight the benefits I get going to it instead of staying at home. Art galleries do a “First Thursdays” in cities across the country. What about one for libraries?
First, I would like to officially apologize to Peter for talking his friendly Minnesotan ear off at the I.T. thing yesterday. Low blood sugar almost inevitably leads to leftist political rants. I’m sure I read this somewhere in the New England Medical Journal.
The window ledge skateboarders have not returned today.
Someone once pulled a gun on my friend Erin and demanded her skateboard. This was back in Flint, MI. She ran away, and now runs marathons in San Francisco.
At this point I would like to emphasize the Not-Flintness of Ithaca, NY. I feel confident that my library window skateboard boys are back in middle school today, snapping bra straps and setting off stink bombs.
I’ve been reading this book:
Speaking of which, there sure is a lot of ivy in the Ivy League. It all turned red over the weekend, and it looks just glorious. Ivy can cover a great number of architectural flaws. Someone might consider planting some around Olin Library…
I popped in to the Tompkins County Public Library yesterday to take advantage of the few hours that they are open after recent budget cuts. I believe I represent many library workers in my inability to return library materials on time. My friend Mark worked at circulation when I was in college, and I got kind of spoiled as a result.
Anyway, I paid my $13 fine, and received a wonderful reference interview from one of the librarians. And I found this: Truer Than True Romance: Classic Love Comics Retold! a parody of all of those hideous True Romance comics of the 40’s and 50’s. The comic art archive where I used to work collected many of the originals, and shelving them was always a swoopy-swoony blast. Afterward, I took to biting my knuckle in times of stress.
I did a bit of shopping on Sunday afternoon, and had the honor of being informed by a salesgirl that a librarian had appeared on TLC’s A Makeover Story and had been brought to that very store. “See” she implied, “it’s not too late for you!”
On a similar “weird public image of librarianship” line, I had more trouble with the ALA vendors than usual. Since I’m no longer a student, I had to contend with eager sales representatives trying to sell me their wares. I found myself regularly explaining that SOME librarians don’t actually work with books, deal with the public, or care much about the latest installment in the Harry Potter series. Once I made the mistake of mentioning the words “digital preservation research” and was treated to a sales pitch for a music journal.
I did get a chance to see a copy of Revolting Librarians Redux this weekend, and I would like to encourage everyone to buy the heck out of it. Among other things, the book contains a poem that I hadn’t read since I submitted it. I was pleased to see that it didn’t suck quite as badly as I had feared.
News Flash: A woman just walked by my library office window practicing sign language to herself. People often walk by my office and don’t realize they are being observed. Unfortunately, this works both ways, and I’ve often been caught chewing my fingernails by a casual passerby.
The section of the library dedicated to books on librarianship is located outside my office door. I thumbed through a few of them this morning. I was curious what a book on librarianship looked like, since I never really saw that many at “library school”.
Most were from the 70s and 80s, and were dedicated to some pretty abstract stuff, but nestled among the monographs on school librarianship, I found the 1972 classic Revolting Librarians. I’m amazed by the number of librarians and libraryworkers who aren’t familiar with what is the most radical, most groundbreaking, and most hilarious book ever written on the subject of librarianship. Fortunately, it’s in the public domain (because librarians rule), and also fortunately, there’s a sequel due out this fall, edited by the indelible Katia Roberto and Jessamyn West.
I contributed a piece of doggerel whose rhyme scheme should make English majors wince worldwide. Hopefully my library will buy the thing so I can walk by it in the stacks every day and feel all smug.